"Cassandra, we can't do this! Th- What this will do- did you seriously not listen to anything I just said!? This is going to open a portal that will let some kind of very powerful being into our world. I can't-" Varian startled back with a yelp as Cass slammed her fist down on his work table, making several beakers wobble dangerously.
"Shut up and just do what you're told!" She glared down at him, lip curling in a snarl. Blue energy crackled around the moonstone on her chest, making her twitch slightly.
Varian swallowed, inching around the table. "C'mon Cass. You can’t seriously believe this is the right thing."
"Do you have the stuff for the ritual or not?" Her tone was icy, and she was so so pale. This was all wrong.
"I- noooo, I mean, I- I'd need to get supplies for sure." Blue eyes glared down at him. "Heh, d-definitely would-"
"Don't lie to me Varian."
"L-lying, I'm not-"
"Just get the ritual ready. Before I do something you'll regret." He swallowed hard.
"I'm sorry, no?" She leaned across the table separating them, making him flinch back.
"Y-ya, you heard me." He could feel his heart hammering wildly in his chest as he scanned her face, searching for some hint his friend was still in there, that she might listen.
Varian startled as he felt a hand close around his wrist, desperately trying to jerk backwards. Pain spiked up his arm as she twisted. "Care to rethink that answer kid."
Tears pricked at his eyes, a whine of pain escaping him. He let out a shuddering breath, stilling as his struggles only increased the pain blossoming from her tight grip.
"Fine, okay! I-I'll help you. But jeez, I'll need that hand to do it."
She released him, and he stumbled, steadying himself on the table.
"Don't get anymore ideas about putting up a fight. I'm watching you."
"Great," he breathed sarcastically, rubbing his aching wrist.
The time preparing the necessary components for the ritual was filled mostly with tense silence and the clinking of lab equipment. Varian would sometimes glance over at her, taking in the changes in his friend.
Sure he’d known she’d betrayed Rapunzel; he knew a thing or two about that. But he’d hoped he could reason with her.
His attempts at conversation were stilted, and Cass cut them short, tone clipped and body coiled with tension. She looked sick, exhausted, but he didn’t doubt that she could still snap him in half if he pissed her off. The clack of Cass's heels as she paced set his nerves jangling.
There wasn't going to be any talking her out of this, and the further he got in the preparations, the more certain he became that no help would come in time to stop the ritual.
He glanced down at the parchment he was consulting. Dread settled cold and heavy in the pit of his stomach. He barely even had the ability to stall with how intently she was watching him.
And then there really was no more time. No easy way to delay it any longer. He let out a shaky breath, looking up at Cassandra through his work goggles.
"Good." Cassandra swept over to the table, making Varian stiffen nervously as she leaned over his shoulder. “Nice job kid, let’s do this.”
His breath caught, heart twisting in his chest, as she set a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently. For a moment she just sounded like Cassie again, like his friend.
Varian’s voice came out weak as he replied, “Ya… I guess we’re doing this.”
Time seemed fuzzy as panic clawed inside him. Cassandra was painting a sigil on the ground with the bright green solution. He’d made that.
His hands trembled on the parchment, making the words hard to read. Or maybe that was just the panic. Was he breathing right? He did need to do that. The text and images on the parchment blurred into a smudged mix of black and tan.
Varian’s world snapped back into focus as Cass snapped her fingers in front of his face. When had she finished painting the sigil? She frowned down at him, and he had to be imagining the flicker of concern there right? He was going with that because he couldn’t handle the other option right now.
“Hey, stay with me here.” She gripped his hand, leading him into the circle with her.
It felt like the temperature dropped the moment he started reading, the old language strange on his tongue. About halfway through all the candles, the main source of light in the room, went out- almost as though some creature had blown them out.
He shivered, the room now only illuminated by the blue of the moonstone on Cass’s chest and the green symbols glowing beneath them.
Somehow this didn’t make it harder to read the incantation. An eerie calm had settled over him, reasserting itself forcefully as he realized that he didn’t think he could stop reading if he wanted to.
Magenta energy streaked away from the ritual circle, crackling before them in the air and growing larger. The portal. That was the portal. The air felt charged with anticipation. He finished reading
Something seemed to release him as he spoke the final words, and he felt oddly disconnected as he crumpled towards the ground.
“Varian!” His gaze flitted away from the portal— something was in there— to Cass. She’d... caught him?
“S’okay,” he slurred, even as some deeper part of him screamed that wasn’t right.
He was so tired.
Cassie looked scared. And Varian noted for the first time the coils of magenta energy streaking away from him, twined around him. Oh that couldn’t be good. That shape was getting closer in the portal, but he was so tired. That didn’t seem like his problem right?
Energy was crackling on the moonstone as well, making Cass seem to glow. It was reacting.
Varian tried to shake off the fog in his mind, glancing back toward the portal. This was bad, he reminded himself. He couldn’t just rest now, no matter how much he wanted to.
He squinted into the painfully bright vortex in front of them and felt a jolt of horror course through him. The shape in the portal had finally come into focus. It was the horned silhouette that had become known in legend as Zhan Tiri. And he knew at some deep level that Zhan Tiri couldn’t be allowed to get a hold of the moonstone.
He still felt horribly weak, and he really did want nothing more than to just let Cass hold him and to fall blissfully into unconsciousness. But he couldn’t.
With a great effort he forced himself back to supporting his own weight, gripping Cass’s arm to steady himself.
The form in the portal was starting to reach out and there wasn’t time.
“Sorry Cassie,” he said with a weak smile. And then he put as much energy as he could into shoving her out of the ritual circle. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t have even worked if she hadn’t been caught off guard by the action.
He shuddered as he felt a presence manifest in the spell circle, tendrils of shadow wrapping around him. A voice incensed with rage reverberated through the air. Or maybe just his own mind? Who was to say. Even if he’d had the energy, he didn’t want to turn around and face the being.
“You insolent boy! You think that will keep the moonstone from me?” The darkness writhed within the circle, green and magenta energy crackling anytime it touched the invisible barrier.
There was a furious shriek that echoed in frequencies he was sure he couldn’t comprehend, and he pressed his hands over his ears, sinking to the ground.
He felt more than saw the presence turn its focus on him. And then a heavy darkness pressed in on him, a voice whispering in his mind “Sleep, pet.” He couldn’t find the will to fight anymore.
The energy wove itself into him and he collapsed into the darkness, mind going blissfully blank.
Cassandra watched in horror as Zhan Tiri manifested inside the circle, clawing at the barrier and staring at her with glowing green eyes.
Varian had slumped in the center of the sigil, covering his ears desperately against something she couldn’t hear. Tears were dripping down his face.
Her heart dropped as the being turned toward Varian. “No.”
The darkness fell upon him like a heavy fog. It seemed to settle over his skin, then sink down deeper. The energy crackled around him, and that lock of turquoise hair that she’d long just accepted as part of him glowed a toxic green. His head lolled to the side, and then with a jerky movement his gaze snapped toward her, eyes one expanse of glowing green.
A voice, too distorted to truly be Varian’s, rang through the room. “Hello Moondrop.”
Cass took a step back, before whirling angrily on the spectral form of her ghostly blue companion. “You said opening the portal would help expand my powers! This isn’t what I wanted!”
“Zhan Tiri can help you expand your powers. She has so much knowledge to share, so much power.”
Cass grimaced, glancing back at the figure in the spell circle. He—they?— had risen to their full height. But, given that Zhan Tiri was in Varian's body, that wasn't much. They flexed their hands experimentally, and Cass noticed the solidified darkness that had formed claws at the end of Varian’s gloves.
The painfully bright green and magenta energy had settled into all the metal on Varian’s clothes, writhing like a living thing.
“Let her out of the spell circle Cassandra,” the ghost said, floating around to her other side. “All you need to do is break that circle and so many possibilities will open up to you.” There was a pause before she continued. “That is, unless you want her to keep your friend?”
When Varian woke up, reality didn’t make much sense. He felt like he was in a void, flickers of color or sound occasionally drifting down to him. It wasn’t unpleasant really, but he couldn’t quite remember how he got there, or why.
His surroundings, if anything, seemed fluid. But he could breathe fine. Or maybe it was just that he didn’t feel the need to breathe. The specifics didn’t seem to matter. There was something so tranquil about the space; an underlying whisper of “You are safe, stay here and you can always be safe.”
Part of him wanted to listen. But Varian had never been particularly good at avoiding danger.
And so he pressed toward the distant sounds. It didn’t really feel like he was making any progress. But then, it was also hard to say what the passage of time even was in this state.
After what felt like an eternity, he reached the threshold of the void. When he broke through, it was like all his senses were crashing into him at once. The comforting darkness sucked at him like tar, persistently pulling him back down. It would be so easy to let it.
He shook off the thought, blinking until his senses settled into something understandable. It felt like he was looking at the world from the end of a long tunnel, vision tinged with green.
His limbs were not his own, and his voice was talking, but it wasn’t him. Pain was splitting his skull.
“I don’t trust you,” Cass spat, stalking around the sigil still containing Zhan Tiri.
They were grinning, head cocked to the side as they tracked her. “Well, that just means you have some sense.” They trailed a claw along the barrier, which left magenta sparks in its wake.
“Alright, then answer my questions.”
“I suppose that’s fair.”
“First off, why are you possessing Varian?”
“Silly girl, I need a physical form to stay in this plane of existence. He was... available.”
Her lips curled in disgust. “Available?”
“Oh, don’t shove your human morality on me moondrop. He’s fine, he’s resting.” They let out a derisive huff of laughter. “Seems like he doesn’t do nearly enough of that.”
Cassandra couldn’t argue with that, but that really wasn’t the point. And despite whatever rest Varian’s consciousness was experiencing, she was sure the possession wasn’t physically doing him any favors.
“Fine. I’ve heard that you can help me expand my powers?”
The grin widened in a positively unnatural way that made her skin crawl. “Of course. While you’re only human, I can lend you the power to withstand the strain the moonstone is putting on your body. Surely you’ve felt it.”
Cass clenched her fist, scowling at them. “And if I have? What? You’re going to possess me instead? I’m not just going to surrender control.”
A soft chuckle. “I’m sure we could work out an arrangement. Perhaps a time share of sorts?”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
She didn’t end up receiving an answer to that, not that she’d really been seeking one. Their expression twisted, a mix of surprise and pain, and the green receded into their irises. A hiss escaped them.
Cassandra’s eyes narrowed, watching as they swayed on the spot.
“What?” They put a hand to their head, shaking it in disorientation. There was a flicker of blue in their eyes, voice losing the ethereal edge as they spoke shakily.
Shadows snaked up Varian’s neck, knitting together into a mask of sorts and cutting him off before he could finish saying her name. Because that had definitely been him and not Zhan Tiri. She was sure of it. Green energy settled into a grin on top of the mask— no, the gag— even as his eyebrows rose in distress. The green reasserted itself in his eyes.
Cass felt rage swirl inside her, black rocks rising around her in response. “What was that?! You said he was sleeping; you said he was safe!”
They flexed their hand, the grin on the mask continuing to shimmer unnaturally. The voice that answered was far more distorted than before. “He’s a surprisingly resistant host. But that’s hardly my fault. If he would settle down, he’d be perfectly comfortable.”
Their other hand rose to the mask, trying to figure out how to get it off, and the green mouth turned down into a frown. “Really, so much drama over a little possession.”
They grabbed that hand by the wrist, forcing it down. Cass had the feeling there was a conversation happening that she wasn’t privy to.
Guilt and uncertainty rose inside her, and she tried to keep them both well in check. This was a mess, and she had no idea what to do from here. But she’d have to figure it out soon, for everyone’s sake.