[Let’s end this.]
There was so little time to think, but Augustus knew he had to find another option. Neither of the options in front of him felt right, and it only took a moment for him to realize why: either of them would mean making the decision for Vii! Wasn’t that what Vii had hated about the past? Wasn’t that his hope for the future, just to have finally become the person in charge of his own decisions?
Forcing him to become a ghost and giving him the option of possession or dispersal was barely a decision at all! Putting him in a situation where selling his soul was the best of bad options was still a decision made under duress!
But how would it be possible to give Vii the space to decide for himself what he wanted to do while reality’s definitions were still barely bending around his current shape? While Olivia was pulling him forcibly from the Beast Beyond’s body and a decision would have to be made in a heartbeat? When the act of separating him from the Beast Beyond was the only way of saving him from this situation but was the very thing that would force this choice? If only there was an area separate from the planes’ influence entirely, a place where something could exist entirely unnoticed one way or another for a time—
All of a sudden, Augustus knew what he was going to have to do.
And he knew it was going to hurt.
Still, that had never stopped him yet. He grimaced as he made eye contact with Enmity, whose face was flaking off. “Feed me the power I need, love.”
Enmity’s eyes widened. But he didn’t say no, and he didn’t protest; he just nodded once, curt.
Augustus felt the dark flame of possibility rush through him, felt phlogiston boiling through his veins where his blood should be. And he waited. If his timing were off, he’d catch both of them, after all.
Olivia finished, and both Vii and the Beast Beyond howled as suddenly one was torn out of the other, ripped out of its face, leaving the Beast Beyond flailing with an ichorous tear where Vii had been as Vii’s soul tumbled out. And then he couldn’t wait any longer.
Augustus live-cast a voidspace.
It came out of him instead of out of the materials and ritual; his life and energy and nutrients being spent in their place. This was a spell that normally took hours, both in casting and in preparation, and those hours were taken directly from him in sheer hot agony. Enmity helped—Augustus might not have survived it without that support—and half of what came out was black fire to define the space. Even so, he choked, fell to his knees, gagged and saw blood spatter down from his mouth, nose. His eyes were burning, blurred too hard to see and tinted red, and he knew he was crying blood as well. Through that blur, he saw Enmity’s face briefly—a wide grimace splitting it, too many teeth—and knew Enmity was taking some of the pain for him so he could stay conscious for now. It stole Enmity’s disguise from him; he wore his false flesh around him like rags, dripping off his true, beautiful form.
Gratitude suffused Augustus before it was crushed under another wracking wave of pain.
As he managed to lift his head again, blink through the blood to try to focus on what was in front of him, he realized at once that the tear of the two was imperfect. It would have had to be; too much of Vii had become absorbed into the Beast Beyond, and too much of the Beast Beyond had become absorbed into Vii.
Outside the voidspace, carefully excluded from it, the Beast was screaming, howling, being dragged through the gate; it no longer had Vii’s soul in it, and Olivia had known what they were doing. They knew how to craft a perfect clause and term, how to make a definition so precise that it would cause an exception the moment it was no longer in effect. The gate was only open to the Beast Beyond with Vii inside; with Vii outside, the Beast Beyond was pulled through. If they weren’t all of them here in the voidspace, the sound of it would have likely lacerated them again. But they were there, and so the sounds and uncanny sharpness did not reach them.
He could safely ignore the Beast, he decided, and turned waveringly to Vii. Vii, still so obviously himself, but no longer fully human, half eldritch, half mundane. Possession would have probably been a bad idea after all, Augustus thought, a little hysterically. Vii stood there and was odd, warped and elongated. Limbs too long, neck a bit too arched, hair flowing around him in a wind that didn’t exist, branched void-antlers coming from his head. Not one thing and not another.
Olivia let out a sob and ran to Vii, tackling him in a hug. Vii let out a sound that was so familiar despite all those changes, a startled little auditory question mark, and hugged her back.
Talking both felt and tasted like amateur hour at the knife-swallowing club. Hoarsely, Augustus said, “Vii deserves a choice. He deserves to make his own choice about what he wants to do. We can’t make it for him.”
Vii tucked Olivia in under his chin—he should be shorter than her, but his elongated bones changed things. “How did you get me out? What happened?”
Thankfully, Soren stepped up to explain; Augustus didn’t think that he could get the words out, and Olivia was having a full meltdown on their twin brother. Still, he had to interrupt Soren’s explanation early on and say, “The brief version, please,” because otherwise he thought he’d pass out before Soren finished. The voidspace was continuing to draw on him without any materials to consume instead, and it felt like his bones were being chewed on. Enmity stood beside him in his flesh-rags, reaching around to support him, fever-hot and actually trembling a little himself, or perhaps Augustus was shaking so hard that it only seemed that way.
Thankfully, Soren listened, keeping it brief: They’d lost their memories, and had spent years searching for them. When they found each other, they found a way to their memories and thus to know about Vii. Olivia was also trying to find Vii during this time.
Olivia pulled away a little, clearing her throat and scrubbing an arm over her eyes. “So what do you want? I was going to make you a ghost. Let you possess me, or find something else you could possess. Or if you wanted to move on, I’d understand. Anything’s better than what you had going on.”
“Yes, it is,” Vii said. His gaze tracked to Enmity. “I want to be everything.”
“What do you mean, Vii?” Olivia asked, low.
“I mean, I’ve always wanted to be something of everything,” he said, and then he laughed, unstable and uncanny. “I’m not saying that just because I’m a fucked up creature from beyond now, but, Liv, I’m human and I was killed but I never died. I’m a spirit but I’m alive. I’ve become something from outside the planes, but I’m a mundane creature. I don’t want to just die and see what waits for something like me. I want more, I want—I want to be something so unrecognizable that I cannot be rejected. I want to be beyond definition. So I need something in me that’s from the other planes, not just our plane and the nonplanar space. And there’s a demon right here.”
Enmity let out a low laugh at that, gently letting Augustus sit and rising properly. He stood strong now, head tilted, arms parting as if the fleshy remains of his old body were a minister’s robes. “Would you like that? I think I could make something like you into something demonic. I think I could make you one of my imps, certainly.”
“Violin, no,” Soren protested.
At the same time, Olivia grabbed on to Vii again. “No way. I just got you back, I’m not about to damn you. You’ll lose what makes you you if you become demonic!”
“That wouldn’t be something of everything, would it?” Augustus managed to croak. He met Enmity’s gaze; Enmity looked back, looked frustrated—then tired, then accepting.
“Yeah, listen to Augustus, he clearly gave up his soul, so he should know,” Olivia said. “Even if he was fooled by this creature, you shouldn’t be—”
Enmity snorted at that, scornful, and tossed his head. “Augustus knew more of what he was getting into than I did,” he said, which was just confusing; there was no way that was true, Augustus thought. “But I have sympathy for you, Violin Spiders. I love knowledge and freedom, and I too hate being confined to one place instead of going wherever I want to be whenever I want to be there.”
Vii was warping as he listened to this; it looked like it should be painful, but he didn’t act as if he were in pain, almost seeming to enjoy his form shifting and changing. He reached up to his void antlers thoughtfully and twisted them into horns. “Well. You gave me a choice, and I don’t want you to take it back,” Vii said. “I don’t want to be a demon, but I want some token of demonicness. I want to be everything. I told you.”
“Everywhere I go, spoiled brats,” Enmity said. “Fine. I won’t damn you, but I can give you a gift that none of the rest of these could.”
“That’s not—” Olivia began.
“Let’s hear him out,” Soren said slowly. Someone listening to sense, finally, Augustus thought desperately. But then, Soren had entrusted himself to Enmity during the divination, and came out whole and safe.
Another wave of pain wracked Augustus, and he braced himself against the ground of the voidspace. Everyone was standing except him; they towered over him, vague, wavering shapes that were hard to see around the increased red haze.
Enmity sighed, seeming particularly put-upon. “You have my word that his soul will remain his own so long as he wants it to be, and you know a demon’s word is bond. But—” he shook his arms. “I can give him some demonic power that can become his. I’ve created flesh for myself as a disguise, and I can take the remnants of this and shape it into a body for Vii. It won’t be human,” he warned. “And it’s something that’s mine, not just demonic. But it’ll be worn by a soul that was once human and is now other, and I have sworn that I won’t use it to harm him. So you’ll get to be something of everything, Violin. And you’ll have flesh you can wear about without possessing anything.”
Soren said, “If that’s what you want, Vii, I’ll support it. And—my specialty is Aetherial Spirits. I’ll turn all my studies into making sure you can stay in that flesh and also stay protected from it. All right?”
“Soren,” Vii said, in an odd voice, like he recognized a debt here, but also the simple desire to help emanating from his old friend. “Thank you.”
Olivia grimaced, but slowly nodded. “I know enough about contracts to know your word is your word, yes. If you won’t damn him, I don’t have any complaints. I’ll make sure to keep the debates about the definitions of the planes active just in case, too. I should be able to be argumentative about it for a good long time.”
Yes, this was right, Augustus thought hazily. Soren was protecting Vii. Olivia allowed this situation to happen to bring Vii back at all. Enmity was able to give him flesh. Augustus had created a space so Vii could have the final say. They were all a part of this, but not the deciding factor for it. That was all Vii.
So Vii got to become something else. That was right. It was good. It was a magician’s job to look beyond a dichotomy, after all.
Enmity looked at Augustus for a long moment, and said, apologetically, “This will hurt thee, thou sweet mewling kitten,” and then he turned back to Vii and offered his hand, flesh beginning to slough off of it and pool. “What do you say?”
Vii took it, and as Enmity had to stop taking his share of the pain to focus on crafting a body, The agony hit him like a wall.
Augustus, thankfully, passed out.
When he woke, he didn’t recognize where he was at first. He thought, for just a moment, that he was back in his school dorm. But no—it was his bedroom in his townhouse. He looked around slowly, seeing Soren asleep in the chair next to the bed.
His bones ached, but he was alive and well and his mind was his own. But where was Vii? Had he gone home with Olivia? Had he not made it back after all? Augustus began to slowly sit up, trying to decide if he had the energy to check the rest of the townhouse.
It turned out he didn’t have to; a shadow moved across the ceiling, and Augustus looked up to see Vii clinging to it like some sort of absurd lizard. He dropped, landing weightlessly on the bed—but no, his weight was there, he’d just turned it off for a moment so that he wouldn’t hurt Augustus as he fell.
He looked human, though his eyes were black fire. “Hello, Auggie,” he whispered.
Augustus felt tears well up. Memories rose slowly, as if through sludge, and he reached out, hugging Vii hard.
Vii felt good in his arms. Familiar, yet strange. He’d pinned Vii’s arms to his side, but something rippled, and Vii managed to slide his arms out from under Augustus’s by simply shifting where his flesh actually was. He certainly wasn’t human, however he looked, but he hugged Augustus back.
“How are you?” Augustus whispered to him, trying not to wake Soren.
“Odd,” Vii said. He considered. “I meant that I feel odd, but I also am odd, I suppose. I belong here and I don’t belong here. But that’s good too. The planes haven’t recognized me as a threat; I don’t know how much that’s Olivia’s doing with redefinition, and how much of it is the flesh made specifically to disguise me, and how much of it’s my own soul. Maybe that’s why the Beast first absorbed me, trying to claim some part of this plane so it could stay here. I mean, that would have been bad, it would have wrecked the world, but our half-assed casting at least prevented that.”
Augustus made a series of faces, trying to decide what to say to that with his brain still feeling pickled. “Vii … I’m sorry.”
“Why? I made my choices. And I can keep doing that, it seems.” He shapeshifted, briefly, so he wore Soren’s face on his body, winked, and then changed it back. “I’m having a good time. I was waiting for you to wake up so I could make sure you were okay. So I could thank you. But I think I’ll go explore the woods now. The world … it looks different to me, with all this. Exciting. It’s full of light and colors, and I want to see it.”
“Then go see it,” Augustus said softly, feeling a little sorry for himself.
“I’ll be back, stupid, I’m not saying I’m leaving. I’m just going to the woods,” Vii said gently. “I’ve got too much energy, I’ve been climbing the walls.”
Augustus had to laugh at that, brief and soft. “So you have. Go on, then.”
Vii kissed Augustus’s forehead, then scrambled off the bed, opening the window and oozing out of it. A long arm reached up and closed the window behind him.
Odd indeed. But Augustus was relieved, and it brought the exhaustion back on him. He slid back down in the bed, closing his eyes and drifting back into sleep.
Enmity came to him in a dream, as he was wont to do. “Hey, sport,” Enmity said, sprawling back against his throne. Crackling heatless flame surrounded them. “You’re looking awful.”
“I’m feeling awful,” Augustus admitted. “But also very self-satisfied. You know. I did this.” He came to sit at Enmity’s feet, leaning his head on Enmity’s knees.
“Thou didst fuckin’ do this,” Enmity agreed lightly. Long talons caressed Augustus’s hair.
Augustus closed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “It might be a while before I can bring you through now. Olivia’s obviously going to try to keep planar definitions hazy, which may have some advantages, but by stealing my work and then doing this … I won’t be able to make a sudden splash, the way I’d wanted. There’ll be defensive reactions out already.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Enmity said. “Seriously though, this might be better.”
“Oh?” Augustus asked, frowning a little. He raised his head.
Enmity pushed it back down to his knees, holding onto one of Augustus’s ears to keep him there. “Right. Because if you adjusted the definitions, other demons might be able to take advantage too, thou silly mole. Right? And other entities, too, who knows what they’d get up to. But now I have a tie to this world that goes beyond pact.”
“The body?” Augustus asked.
“Sure. I didn’t think I’d actually get much out of it, you know?” Enmity sounded almost confused. “It was sacrificial. I was giving it up. But it turns out, having some of my flesh roaming around being unable to be detected by the planes as demonic intrusion means maybe more of me can do the same. I, personally, am marked as not a threat because of this.”
Augustus frowned. “How is that better? Your armies can’t take advantage of it.”
“You’re right, they can’t,” Enmity sighed. “Oh well. We’ll figure that part out later. Yet … there may be other advantages.”
“I’m resting now too, don’t get me wrong, this took a lot out of me. But I’m thinking of seeing what I can do with it. I’m going to try to come around to your place soon.”
This time when Augustus sat up, Enmity didn’t force him back down. “What are you saying?”
“The two of us could live together. You know, as husbands usually do. Husband and lowly worm, together. Dost thou wish it?”
“If thou dost,” Augustus said, almost a whisper.
“I’m not taking your last name, though,” Emmet said. “Like, fuck, it’s so nerdy. You can take mine if you want.”
Augustus put his head back down on Enmity’s knee of his own will and laughed until the tears started to flow.
Thank you for playing/reading!
Please swing by my Wrap-Up/Q&A!]