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A note from Vihyungrang

I feel like I should say something witty here, but I've got nothing. So let's go with the usual instead. I hope you'll enjoy!

Teresa, Anastasia, and a handful of Crimson Witches with a number on their shoulder watched with interest as the shield protecting the Spider Cult’s sanctum came down. The tower maintaining the shield had crashed soon after an explosion had taken a chunk out of the stonework supporting it. “It seems she managed that part of the mission at least.” Teresa clarified for the others that were unable to see the details of what was happening inside the sanctum.

“What about the Champion?” One of the other witches asked.

“The Champion is dead and so is the damn vampire that usually leads their forces. Many of the Death Lords inside the tower also had an unfortunate ending as they struggled to maintain the shield and keep the tower standing. The girl caught them by surprise and didn’t waste her opportunity.” Teresa explained. They had come here in case the coalition failed, in which case they would finish the job. The casualties already inflicted on the cult would make that fight much easier, and many of the more powerful Death Lords had been ambushed by the Five Winds before this battle.

They watched as the bombardment by the coalition started to fall inside the sanctum, and the reinforced buildings started to take the brunt of the assault. The stone filled with magic would protect those inside to an extent, but those protections would soon be worn down. The Spider Cult was not about to just take that punishment though. They were a powerful community and it was time for the Pantheon to find out why. The witches knew that as well. “This is where the real battle begins.” Anastasia voiced their shared thought.

The undead beings gathered at the sanctum had made some attacks before now to draw some pressure away from the protective shield, but now there was no point in holding any of them back. A wave of undead suddenly swarmed out of the sanctum, a number much too large to actually fit inside. There were no low ranking undead within this horde. Skeletal beings made the bulk of the forces, ranging from high-level wights riding atop undead horses and bone giants, to elder liches atop skeletal dragons. A smaller portion was made of rotting corpses ranging from ghouls and things that could only be called horrors, to varghulfs and monstrosities that seemed to be stitched together to form unspeakable abominations.

The coalition forces turned their focus on the approaching monsters, while an elite group of stronger immortals moved straight towards the city, bypassing the undead horde entirely and leaving it for the lower ranked people to deal with. They were hunting for the necromancers and Death Lords directly. Those elites soon ran into another problem. It seemed the avatar of the Spider Goddess was finally taking personal action, as they found that their targets exploded reminiscent of the Champion Dee killed. These explosions were not nearly as powerful as the one caused by the Champion, but they were still dangerous for those that killed any of the goddess’ servants. And the servants were all too glad to die for the glory of their goddess, hurling themselves among the attackers for maximum effect.

“It seems the goddess is now preparing to take part in the battle, and the loss of her Champion has made her serious.” Teresa said, pointing out towards the skies that were suddenly no longer the same skies that had been there before.

It seemed like a large portion of the sky had turned into a gigantic portal into the realm of the Spider Goddess. As the goddess preferred to use an avatar, her realm was less developed than other deities. Still, it was a place filled with the three things she represented, poison, spiders, and undead. It seemed like a rain of poison started falling from the skies, while an endless stream of spider-like creatures and undead spirits streamed out towards the gathered coalition forces. These undead were all ethereal, ranging from high ranking wraiths all the way to spectral dragons that were rumored to possess the ability to curse their targets with the powers of time, rapidly aging them until death.

In any normal world, a storm of enemies and poison like this was an end of the world-type scenario, but on Pantheon, this was just something that happened in battles at this level. Still, the situation wasn’t looking pretty for the coalition forces. “The situation seems pretty grim. Should we intervene?” One of the witches inquired.

Teresa considered for a moment but shook her head. “No. If we intervene now, it will no longer be their victory, but ours. While the situation is dangerous, let’s give them a chance to earn their glory. I’m sure the seer has a plan. She underestimated the presence of an avatar once and was bailed out by the arrival of one of the few people capable of dealing with one. I’m sure she’s not going to make the same mistake twice.”

Teresa was more aware of the seer’s identity as the previous empress of the Celestial Court than many others. She could sense the power sleeping inside the woman and had dealt with the court before. There was a reason for her staunch refusal to bend knee to the Celestial Emperor, and that reason was not just her pride. She was also aware of the power behind the throne and the recent erratic behavior of the court. It didn’t require all that much intelligence to start putting two and two together. Not that she planned on sharing her speculations.

She was right of course. Trying to tell the future of the deities was always difficult. Considering her previous failure however, the empress had spent quite a bit of effort on divining the actions the Spider Goddess was likely to take and she had prepared accordingly. The elite group of immortals had been warned of the possibility of their targets exploding and they were dealing with the threat accordingly. When possible, they took the enemies out from range and even tried killing the enemies while still among the other cultists, using the explosions of power to their advantage. Enemies who hurled themselves at the attacking group were thrown back before being given a mortal blow. When all else failed, the attackers relied on the powerful defensive items the Five Winds had produced to defend themselves.

As the rain of poison descended towards the coalition forces, it was deflected by obstacles created jointly by air and water mages. The endless stream of spirits ran straight into a storm of holy power created by all the priests and paladins of the Holy Orders and Radiant Sun that had so far stayed back from this battle, saving their strength for this. They had been riled up by the sign of Lumen that had briefly appeared above the sanctum and were now incited to a bit of a fervor, thinking that the Goddess of Light was supporting their endeavors. Even the spectral dragons could not hold their form as they were overwhelmed by the power they were weak against.

To the shock of the gathered people, a graceful phoenix flew over the coalition forces, only to crash among the undead horde like a meteor. The crash unleashed a gehenna of flames that consumed the majority of the undead forces, and the few that did make it through were weakened and already hurt. Unseen by others, the Phoenix returned to stand by the empress, having spent a large part of his powers to increase the intensity of that single attack. The spider creatures found themselves largely unsupported and had the unfortunate fate or running straight into the enchanted weapons of the Five Winds and their allies, all of whom were more than happy to test their new toys.

There was one thing the seer could not do anything about though. As everyone was focused on all the other things spewing from the portal, very few people paid attention to one of the large arachnid beings that stood out from the others slipping towards the heart of the sanctum. Only a handful of people noticed, and even less recognized the large grey and black creature for what it was, a second avatar of the Great Mother. The goddess had sensed the danger creeping towards her inside the sanctum, and was taking measures of her own, bringing her two main avatars together to fight that danger.

One of the people who did notice was Teresa, who decided a closer look was in order. She left the other witches back under Anastasia's command, as she knew Anastasia was even more versed in the diplomatic nuances of when to interfere, if at all.

-----

Moirai cursed as she squashed another fist-sized spider under her foot. Some of the little buggers had come to the sanctum instead of going to the battlefield, and some had been here already before the giant portal even opened. Most of them were not a danger to her, but they were annoying and she didn’t exactly appreciate the things. She had no phobia about spiders, but she didn’t enjoy the sight of them either. Or their internal fluids sticking to the bottom of her new shoes. The red shoes were both practical and looked positively magical. Which they were of course. They were among the magic items assigned to her almost as soon as they returned from the elemental planes.

She had been one of the first to rush towards the sanctum once the shield fell down, and was forced to dodge the bombardment of their own forces for a short while before that power was required elsewhere. That was a small price to pay as there was a reason for her rush. The idiot Dee might not admit to needing help, but she would get help anyway. Just because Moirai could not kill the avatar, did not mean she could not help Dee defeat it, or at the very least guard her rear from other dangers. Unfortunately, she had been forced into battling some enemies on the way, despite her attempts to avoid such entanglements. Her new and rather flamboyant outfit and appearance didn’t help matters. ‘Nyx probably had a hand in picking them.’ She guessed correctly.

And it seemed she was about to run into another such delay, as a man dressed in black robes was standing in her way, with his back towards Moirai. She had been aiming straight at the heart of the sanctum, so of course, there would be enemies on the way, despite her best attempts to avoid them. ‘Perhaps it’s time to take a page out of Dee’s book.’ Moirai thought to herself as she stealthily approached her target.

Unfortunately, despite her recent increase in power and her widening array of skills, stealth was still not something she excelled at. While her steps didn’t make a sound, as she got closer she kicked some loose stones, sending them clattering across the ground. ‘Gods dammit.’ She cursed silently.

The man turned around and recognition suddenly dawned in both of their eyes. “Well, well. If it isn’t the Meilin Guardian I ran into so many years ago. It seems time has treated both of us well.” The rather handsome man with clean and dark looks uttered with a small smile.

“I’m pretty sure time has treated me better. And I think we have some unfinished business.” Moirai replied, pulling out a heavily enchanted weapon. This time some Hexwraiths would not be enough to deter her. She would make this quick and then rush to help Dee.

“I wonder. I feel the situation is somewhat similar to last time. Last time one of your friends was walking into a trap laid by a lich. I do hope that particular friend survived, by the way. My relationship with the lich was strictly business. And now another friend of yours is walking into another trap, laid by our great goddess herself. I have no idea what gives that person the confidence to challenge an avatar of a god, but I doubt they can deal with two avatars at the same time. I wonder if you’ll rush to help them again.” The dark man pointed out, his attitude rather easygoing.

‘Two avatars?!’ Moirai thought panic settling in. She managed to keep that panic from showing on her face though. “I’m rather confident they will be able to deal with it. I wonder if you’ll be just as accommodating in letting me pass like last time?”

The man suddenly grinned. “You know what? I think I will be. Unlike the rest of these fanatics, I can see the writing on the wall. Even if we did manage to defeat all of you, I’m pretty sure there are other enemies waiting in the wings to finish the job. I got what I wanted from the Spider Goddess, and I wouldn’t even care if you manage to kill her for real. I wonder if the Night city could use a Death Lord?”

“Well then…” Moirai suddenly opened a small portal towards the heart of the sanctum. She had managed to locate an empty spot void of enemies, most likely cleared out by Dee now that she thought of it, and the portal would cut down on the time needed to reach her goal. Portals were usually blocked in battlefields like this, and this battle was not an exception. The huge portal created by the goddess had shattered that particular restriction. As Moirai passed close to the dark man, the man suddenly lunged at her with a blade clad in green energy but found nothing but air.

“You didn’t think I would be that stupid, did you?” Moirai asked rhetorically as the dark man was cleaved into several smaller chunks. She had used the ability she and Nyx had learned in the plain of storms from the glass dragon. The spatial cracks had no trouble cleaving through the form of the dark man, while at the same time the illusion the man had slashed at disappeared. The man had been prepared to defend against psionic intrusion into his mind, but with their visit to the Plane of Light, there were other ways of creating illusions in Moirai’s arsenal. And that he had not been expecting. Not that Moirai would have had too much trouble in dealing with him straight on, but it would have taken more time. She might have some stealth ability after all, as long as it didn’t include sneaking.

She looked at the mangled corpse on the ground and spoke with a voice filled with pity. “Don’t think I’m not aware of the bond that forms between the Spider Goddess and those she graces with her kiss. You might have gone in with the mercenary spirit you were showing earlier, but in the end, you are now bonded to the goddess. Or were at least. I’m pretty sure the goddess will be joining you in death pretty soon. Dee has that effect on almost everyone.” She then stepped through the portal she had made. It had been mostly a bluff, but as long as it was there…

-----

Another Death Lord fell to the ground with the power of cleansing light eating away half of his face. Dee herself was almost glowing with the aura of Lumen settling around her. It had been difficult enough to hide the aura when she had attacked the tower, so now she didn’t even bother. Luckily the aura was only the result of her recent elevation in status and would go away soon enough. Or at least most of it would go away. Luckily the beings protecting the heart of the sanctum provided her with a good outlet for the power of light. The Death Lords were on the border of being alive and undead, but apparently they were undead enough that the anti-demon spells Lumen had taught her were highly effective. The spider creatures, in turn, had taken one look at her and decided to find their prey elsewhere.

The door to the heart of the sanctum was right in front of her and she could already sense the avatar inside. Or avatars as it happened. The second avatar might have avoided the notice of most people but could not avoid her senses. The recent arrival was perched above the door she would have to pass through, just like a good spider would. Contrary to what the goddess might have planned, Dee considered the presence of a second avatar a good thing. It might make the battle more difficult, but if she managed to kill them both, then it was much more likely that she would be able to cause the death of the goddess as well.

What gave her pause were two rather important things she had hoped to deal with before facing the goddess. The first one was the fact that her totem was almost complete. In fact, it seemed almost ironic that only a single skull was missing from her totem. She had tried to finish the totem before getting here, but the damn Death Lords had scattered like a flock of birds, though in fairness they had other things to worry about. This last one at her feet had been one of the few brave ones to stay and protect the door. The spider creatures were numerous, but unfortunately not all that powerful. Maybe it was destiny that the skull to finish her totem would come from a goddess?

Another thing demanding her attention was Umbra following in the footsteps of Lumen. Apparently, the goddess didn’t want all the glory to go to her sister. The request didn’t bother her, though she did find the timing amusing and bothersome. What gave her pause was the fact that she wasn’t sure if this was the best time to accept becoming the Champion of Umbra. It might be chalked up by most to Umbra picking a Champion to counter Lumen’s, except that if she then proceeded to kill the Spider Goddess, then everyone would realize that the two Champions were working together. In the end, she decided to accept, simply because it would be rather problematic to anger the goddess. While it had been made clear that she was not servile to the deities, the relationship between her and the gods had turned from antagonistic to at least cordial and even cooperative. Civility demanded she accede to Umbra’s wishes in this case.

This time there were less outward signs of her promotion as the Goddess of Shadows also knew the importance of discretion. She did still receive the knowledge about Umbra picking a Champion thanks to her position as Lumen’s Champion. She had held a faint hope that this information would not be sent out thanks to Umbra’s peculiarities, but that had been too much to hope. Not that it would make much of a difference anyway.

She kicked the door open and flashed inside to avoid the second avatar from striking at her. It didn’t even try as it chose to wait for the perfect moment instead. The whole room was thick with poison, but the paths leading up to here had been the same and Dee was already prepared to use the black flames, which became necessary as soon as she entered. Even with the flames, she had trouble breathing as the air was so thick with the poison.

“I thought there would be two of you. Don’t tell me those two bitches have set aside their differences and picked the same person as their Champion? Hah, Order would have an apoplexy.” The voice of the avatar sounded as if a chorus of tormented souls were talking at the same time. As the physical form of the deity, the avatar could, of course, sense that Dee was the Champion of both Lumen and Umbra.

The avatar itself was rather grotesque. Its form roughly matched that of a large Arachnid, with the lower body of a spider and the torso of a humanoid taking the place of the spider’s head. The spider portion was rather bloated and oozing poison in several places. It was mostly black with some dark green splotches and covered in long black hair. The torso qualified as humanoid only barely, with sickly grey and wrinkled skin covering a grotesquely fat body. The vaguely female form had no clothing, but no one would find the feminine portions appealing. Instead of hands, the avatar had four spiky appendages roughly similar to the spider legs below the torso, all of them sharp and covered in the glow of the goddess’ power. The face of the avatar was a twisted combination of a fanged maw and beady eyes, while the head was topped by black chitinous plates that looked vaguely like a crown or a headdress of some sort.

“I think I figured out why Umbra dislikes you so much.” Dee muttered mostly to herself. She had seen fairly appealing arachnids outside and most deities tended to be embodiments of the physical beauty in the imaginations of their followers. Alternatively, they were often majestic and dignified with more elderly appearance. The Spider Goddess was almost a caricature of all of that. In short, it gave a bad name to all the dark deities.

To show the anger of the goddess, the poison inside the room grew in intensity. It made breathing entirely impossible despite the cleansing flame, so Dee had to slip into her fox form and turn entirely into to the black flames. While the universe still found the flames unnatural, the feeling of wrongness had reduced to a fraction of what it had been before, and the surrounding were no longer rebelling against the form either. Dee didn’t feel like she would be able to maintain this form forever, but at least it wasn’t a large strain either. And one of the benefits of this form was the lack of need to breathe.

“Do you think your little flames will protect you from my poison? My poison can corrode even the elements themselves.” The avatar cackled.

“Any other flame? Probably not. My flame? Oh, most definitely.” Dee countered as the poison in the air started burning away even without Dee doing anything.

The avatar hissed. “The Flames of the End?! What did Umbra do this time?” Instead of waiting for an answer, the avatar took action. She was the Goddess of Undead after all, so it was not a surprise that three of the most powerful undead creatures suddenly appeared out of the surrounding air.

The Dark Rider was the epitome of the physical power of undead and the aura of death surrounding it would drain away the life-force of both enemies and allies nearby, reinforcing the creature in turn. The spectral form of an ancient dragon didn’t waste any time as it channeled all its power into a single curse before disappearing, causing a phantom hourglass to appear above Dee’s head, turning rapidly. The most dangerous enemy was the Banshee Queen, who also unleashed the most dangerous ability any undead possessed, the scream that could instantly kill almost anyone.

Dee found herself stunned for a fraction of a second, even as Death’s blessing blocked the true effect of the scream. The avatar above the door didn’t miss this small moment as it moved with speed that seemed impossible due to the large frame. The spiked ‘hands’ swung at Dee, who felt the world slow around herself as Lumen’s blessing took full effect. The problem with Dee’s current form was that it didn’t have the strength or the durability of her physical form, and it was also more susceptible to attacks that could affect non-solid forms like hers. The glow around the approaching spiked appendages certainly qualified.

The armor of light sprang into place around Dee, further away from her skin than usual. The armor was just for these kinds of situations, but Dee didn’t rely just on that. Her Domain materialized, drawing the avatars inside and crushing the area around her. The avatar’s speed slowed down further as the heavy suppression from the Domain pressed down, and the two remaining undead beings were swept away by the ever prevalent power of Death in her Domain, the Dark Rider having been dealt with before it could show its true strength. The phantom hourglass above her head was crushed by the holy symbol of Eternity, nullifying the effects.

The avatar’s strike still hit the armor of light despite the slowdown, as Dee finally regained control of her body at the same time. Despite everything, it was still a strike from an avatar of one of the most powerful deities and couldn’t be that slow. The hastily erected armor seemed to crack under the weight of the blow, but it mostly held. A single spike had managed to push through, but could not reach Dee.

Meanwhile, the other avatar was frozen in place as it saw Dee’s totem. More precisely it was frozen in place as it saw the blessings connected to the four upper levels of the tiered pyramid. “Eternity and Death. You’re backed by all four of them?” It asked almost feebly. The Spider Goddess considered herself a worthy rival for Lumen and especially Umbra, but it recognized the vast gulf between her and the two highest ranked deities.

“My turn.” Dee growled in anger. She knew only one of her abilities could truly affect the avatar, so there was little point in wasting time and her powers on anything else. She could also sense Moirai approaching so she had to act before her overprotective teacher was caught in the flames.

The Domain exerted the maximum level of suppression on the avatar to cut down on any defenses or surprise abilities the goddess might still possess. The totem glowed with power as the black sun in the sky came crashing down on the two avatars. She channeled as much of the power towards the goddess’ soul as possible, while the totem tried to use Death’s power to rip that soul from the goddess’ grasp. Her Domain would of course not be damaged by the crashing sun, though the sun would take a bit of time to recover. The same could not be said about the heart of the sanctum as it was consumed by the dark flames spilling out of Dee’s Domain.

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A note from Vihyungrang

No Kumo-chan here. Sorry.


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Vihyungrang

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