Chapter 79 {Part 2}: The Face of a Monster


Jade’s smile barely shifted as Percy’s right hand slammed around her throat. “So, the helpless beggar woman is a thief and a liar.”

“A liar, my Lord?” Jade tilted her head. The movement allowed her jet-black hair to spill over her shoulders and nestle around her chest.

‘What is this?’ Percy wondered furiously. ‘Where the hell does this courage come from? Does this stupid bitch think she can trap me the way I entrapped Evelynn with Acheron?’

“If you want to be rough, you can be,” Jade murmured as she leaned into his hand. “I’m not as delicate as your little Baroness.”

Percy’s lip curled up into a twitching snarl as he tightened his grip. “There is nothing about you that could possibly tempt me.” Whether it was Jade’s sickly green eyes or her gloomy black hair, everything about this woman repulsed him. Especially now, the way Jade’s hair hung around her pale face reminded Percy of an old painting he had seen in Anthraticus’s archives, a historic depiction of the goddess Arachne in her nightmarish human form.

“Oh?” Jade pouted as she flicked the pink diamond and dropped it against her collar bone. “How disappointing. After all, if you are to be King someday—I was hoping I could find a place at your side as a consort.”

Percy’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Her tone was playful and careless, as if she were toying with a child and not a witch who could sever her mortal neck with a single muttered word.

“You’ve been listening in on conversations you shouldn’t,” Percy muttered darkly. He flinched as her fingers trailed down his abdomen. “What are you doing?”

“You’re a man, aren’t you?” Jade’s raised brow was a taunting challenge. “You have—needs.”

“Move another inch lower, and you’ll lose that hand,” Percy growled. “I’m not in the mood for games. Why are you here?”

Jade retracted her hand and then flicked her damp fingers at his face. “You’re quite the ungrateful host. Why hold out for someone who has already rejected you?”

Percy’s jaw and teeth clamped together as he drew in a slow breath. “What are you talking about?”

“Aww, are you trying to hide it? One look at that dejected face when you returned from the ball was all I needed to figure it out,” Jade replied with a condescending sneer. “Baroness Maura isn’t interested in someone as twisted and ambitious as you.”

“Be silent!”

Jade winced beneath his shout. Her jade-green eyes narrowed as she struggled to breathe beneath his tightening grip—yet still, she smiled at him insufferably.

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with,” Percy growled as he pulled her face closer to his. “So stop lying and answer the damn question.”

“I’ll—tell you—if you—reconsider my offer,” Jade wheezed.

“You’re in no position to negotiate with me, Bitch!”

“Don’t you—need me—to get to your precious—Maura?”

Percy snorted. “You’re little more than a stray cat Maura took pity on. Her visits to Hawthorne Manor have hardly increased. She also comes to see her old maid Ivy, who Maura has known and trusted much longer than you. I’d wager if the both of you were trapped burning in a house, Ivy would be the first person Maura saved.”

Something flickered behind Jade’s squinting green eyes. At first, Percy mistook this shift in emotions for pain, but then the woman’s grin widened before a distorted chuckle rippled against his palm.

‘Is she—insane?’

“Your Grace is so heartless,” Jade lamented as she wrapped her hands around his wrist. “Did your mother not teach you how to treat a lady?”

A warning sparked through the air like an electric shock as lightning struck the side of the building. The pale, destructive glow illuminated Jade in shadows, leaving only her gleaming green eyes to stare down at him demonically.

Dark droplets of water rose from the tub in defiance of gravity. They pooled together and coiled around Percy’s arm before yanking it savagely away from Jade’s neck.

The Earl barely responded. His winter-grey eyes trapped by the horrifying visage that appeared beneath the storms terrifying golden light.

Now you see me, Percy Hawthorne.” A voice that was not Jade’s slithered from the woman’s open, unmoving mouth.

Instinctual fear freed Percy’s frozen limbs as he repelled Jade away from him with a wave of air magic. She crashed against the wall by the bathroom window and slid down to her knees as the lightning faded. The lit candlestick in the corner flickered and died out, leaving ghostly trails of smoke that coiled through the room towards a naked Jade, who rose slowly to her feet.

“What—are you?” Percy hissed as he reached for the side of the tub and rose.

Water coiled around his waist and yanked him back down as his footing slipped. His shoulder smacked against the linen-lined tub, and suddenly his head was pulled under. Blood rose like a scarlet ribbon from his nose as the Earl fought against the invisible binds that pinned him down, drowning him.

A small hand broke the bath’s surface and seized his throat before Jade lifted him above the water.

Percy gasped for air and held back a scream in the next breath as he took in the dark, oily, coiled creature that dangled from Jade’s open mouth.

It seems Ramiel has decided to spoil my fun—as usual,” the nightmare hissed through an eel-like mouth of pale purple lips lined with razor-sharp teeth. “And here I thought I could tempt Veles’s Witch King into carrying one of my precious children.

“What—” Percy croaked, then flinched as something dark slithered around his right thigh. ‘What was this—who is she? This is clearly some form of magic, but I would have noticed before now if Jade were a witch. She has no enchantments on her—’ His gaze narrowed upon the pink diamond necklace. ‘No, there’s nothing there—so how?’

Your view of the world is too narrow, Earl Hawthorne,” the nightmare patronized as Jade sat down on the edge of the tub. The creature at his leg uncoiled and raised its knob-like head towards Jade’s offered hand before it slithered up her arm and encircled her waist. Beneath the creature’s pale gray skin, something bulged against Jade’s previously smooth stomach. The shape flickered with a pale green glow and pulsated—like a heart.

“What—is that?” Percy rasped. It wasn’t Jade’s grip on his neck that choked him but the foul stench that suddenly pervaded his sense.

The answer will come to you in time,” the nightmare replied, followed by a series of malicious clicking sounds that might have been a laugh. “After all, Anthraticus has one of the oldest surviving records of ancient magic. Surely you have poured over its books, pages, and pictures long enough to have learned my name.”

‘No.’ The denial shivered down his spine even as the visceral, horrifying truth stood before him.

“I wonder,” the nightmare hissed as its long body stretched further from Jade’s mouth towards him. “Is it love or lust for the ice witch—or Veles who had the foresight to put up a mental block to protect you from me?”


Hahaha,” the nightmare’s grating laugh offered the Earl a rather disturbing image of its throat. “Aren’t you a clever witch?” Its smaller companion had uncoiled itself from Jade’s waist and now slithered up her body towards her ear. Percy clamped back a muffled groan and the sudden urge to vomit as the creature wriggled inside the woman’s head. Jade’s green eyes rolled back, and for a moment, her limbs went slack. Percy held his breath as she wavered—physically ill at the thought of her—and that horrifying creature—falling on top of him.

My children are—hungry,” the nightmare form of Arachne lamented. “Perhaps you could offer us a suitable meal? That slave you’re so keen to get rid of would taste—crunchy.”

“W-what do you want?” Percy repeated, trying not to watch the lump that moved down Jade’s cheek, throat, and even further down her throat.

Well, aren’t you deliciously curious,” Arachne cackled. “Shall I tell you a story, little Earl? The tale of how the Six gods lost their first immortal?”

“A story?” Percy echoed incredulously. “About Viktor?”

Who better to recount such a chaotic moment in the history of witches—than a goddess who witnessed the event?”

Percy flinched as Jade’s brow arched inquisitively. He wasn’t sure which sight disturbed him more. The slimy eel that hung from her mouth, or the empty mannequin expression Jade wore. ‘Is she—even alive?’

We were all there for Viktor’s rebirth. Well—all of us except Ramiel. He has as little use for the Ritual of Rebirth as he does witches and covens themselves.”

‘There’s that name again. Who the hell is Ramiel? And what is this ritual she’s talking about?’

I often wondered who it was who spread that ridiculous story about Viktor being in love with a mortal. Though I suppose it’s not completely inaccurate—it is the way you mortals tell it.”

Her hand pushed against his throat until Percy’s back rested against the side of the tub, the towel pillow having fallen onto the floor earlier.

Viktor and Kritanta both had the disgusting desire to treat mortals as their children. Well, for Kritanta, it was more lovers and soldiers, but I can respect her insatiable appetite. It’s not as if any of her concubines were unwilling. But the offspring they produced—tipped the scales of balance between the gods.”

Jade’s hand withdrew and tapped his nose in a manner disturbingly similar to his mother.

You see, each god and goddess gains power from the love, loyalty, and reverence of their covens. Yet, at the same time, the power we grant to mortals comes at a cost. Every witch we imbue with magic pulls away a thread of our immortal existence. The more threads woven amongst each clan, the more tattered the original tapestry—until eventually, the original masterpiece can barely hold itself together.”

The mannequin Jade stretched her arms and rolled her neck grotesquely as the eel wriggling from her mouth rolled its head with an audible sigh. “The only way to reclaim that power would be to pull back all the threads, which would kill any witch they were tied to.” Jade gripped the side of the tub and climbed in once more to sit on top of Percy. Her remarkably heavier stomach weighed him down at the waist while the eel face of Arachne grinned at his obvious discomfort.

Minerva and I had our covens as well, but we were careful of how many threads and witches we created. Personally, I found the mortal’s physical limitations frustrating, given how much of my domain resides below the ocean’s surface. That is where my true children reside—” the eel reeled back to caress Jade’s cheek with its head, “—though they require meticulous care and feeding to nurture. My sweet babies are able to live for hundreds of years beyond the normal human lifespan.”

“What does—any of this—have to do with Viktor dying?” Percy forced out through clenched teeth as he watched the wriggling eel nervously.

We were talking about covenssss. You can be sure Viktor had his coven’s too, but he only ever took one concubine. A proud mortal pureblood who died giving birth to his child. Tragic, but then, she was only a vessel for Viktor’s true goal. A bloodline of witches with near-immortal life spans.”

“The Isbrand bloodline.”

Yessss.” The eel’s fangs glistened as it hissed the word. “If Viktor ever truly loved any mortal, it was his one and only child. Half-god, half-mortal, more powerful than any of Kritanta’s offspring or concubines, the Isbrand Witch. The offspring of a passionless match of mortal and immortal meant only to provide a monarch who would lead the Ice Witches against Kritanta’s fire-breathing warlords.”

‘So the feud between the ice and fire covens was the result of the gods desire for dominance?’ Percy pressed his lips together and remained silent. The reality of the god’s influence over the coven’s dark history came as no surprise to him.

Minerva and I—acknowledged Viktor’s child. She certainly did her part in keeping Kritanta’s horde in check. But she had a very mortal tendency to—interfere.” The eel’s body quivered in anger as it swelled in size, stretching Jade’s mouth grotesquely. “For a witch who shared her father’s impenetrable heart—incapable of what you mortals describe as love—the Isbrand Witch was surprisingly driven to uphold justice for those she considered weak and defenseless. There was a time the mortals even called her a Saint.”

‘What?’ Percy nearly choked in disbelief at the thought of a witch ever being called a saint.

I knew her weakness for mortals would give rise to trouble—but I never imagined that she would interfere with my offeringsss.”


In order to receive my blessing, the Water Coven’s were required to—sacrifice their young and limber offspring to feed my babies,” Arachne explained as a long red tongue slid forward to lick the eel’s fangs. “The Isbrand Witch disapproved of my—human sacrifices. So she—turned my babies into blocks of ice and shattered them into pieces!”

The eel’s voice rose in a sharp, wail-like tone. Its purple lips drew back to display rows of flesh-tearing fangs that dripped with vile spit.

But there was no way I could kill her. Not without Viktor coming after my children for revenge. So Kritanta and I decided there was only one way to stop the tyranny of the Ice Queen’s reign. She and Viktor had to go!

Lighting flickered outside the window, further away now, and Percy caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a toppled elm tree, sagging behind the rain-covered glass.

When it was finally Viktor’s turn for the Ritual of Rebirth, we convinced Veles not to intervene. He agreed in exchange for that jewel you’re wearing—” she gestured to the Earl’s signet ring, “—and the promise that we would let him raise the next ice god.”

Percy blinked in confusion. “The next?”

Well, that is a secrettt,” Arachne teased maliciously. “But, in simple terms, when a god dies, a new god is born. The cycle was meant to keep the balance between gods in check—but very few gods have died since learning to live off the worship of our covens. That and the addition of the Rebirth Ritual all but eliminated the need for the old ways.

But back to Viktor. During the Rebirth Ritual, god and goddess are at their most vulnerable. Like a hermit crab, they must shed one shell and then transfer their soul to a newly prepared shell. The Ritual requires that all four gods be present, so naturally—even though Viktor and Kritanta were at odds—she was still able to attend. And then, when Viktor was at his most vulnerable, we struck.”

A distant rumble of thunder filled the silence as the eel’s mouth grew still.

I should have expected it—but I was still disappointed when Minerva intervened. She was always so fond of Viktor’s child—and even spoke of having her own one day. She blocked my attack and shielded Viktor’s soul—but Kritanta had already shattered his new shell.”

The eel wriggled further back inside Jade’s mouth as its voice lowered to a hushed whisper. “Minerva was outraged. If you think a goddess of fire is terrifying, you have yet to feel the sensation of the earth opening up to swallow you from existence. Veles changed sides quickly, as is his way. The gods were split by this betrayal—and Ramiel was furious!”

Percy glanced from the eel to the window, half expecting another bolt of lightning to strike—but the storm remained silent.

Still, with Viktor severely weakened and without a shell to use his powers—the Isbrand Witch was ours to killl,” Arachne hissed with hollow anger.

“But—her descendants survived,” Percy whispered.

Some—enough,” Arachne nodded her head dismissively in agreement. “Most of them learned their lesson when their immortal Queen died. Those that didn’t were beaten into submission by Kritanta’s concubines.”

“And Viktor?”

The eel drew in a long, wet breath and sighed. “The soul of a god is tied to their heart where all the god’s magic resides. Minerva made Viktor a temporary shell and hid his heart in a realm where neither Kritanta nor I can enter.”


Kritanta, unsatisfied with this half-victory, took the Isbrand Queen’s heart and consumed it. Naming herself the Goddess of Ice and Fire,” Arachne continued. “But when it came time to perform Kritanta’s Ritual for Rebirth, we found ourselves not one—but two gods short! Minerva, carrying the secret of Viktor’s final resting place, sealed away her soul—and died.”

Something that might have been regret trickled through the abomination’s voice.

We have waited centuries for her heir to claim his place. But while we were distracted by the birth of a new god, Viktor found a way to thwart us once more—by giving his heart—to a mortal.”

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