“Eva?” Devon Foster blinked in the dim light. “You almost lost your head, girl.”
“Yeah. Nice to see you too, master,” Eva said as she gently pushed the blade away from her throat. “Expecting trouble?”
“Not exactly,” he said, replacing the dagger. “We were just about to leave. You surprised me is all.”
“We?” Eva peeked further into the building. Spinning in a swivel chair was a woman with six too many eyes and glossy black chitin in place of skin. “Ah. Hello Arachne.”
The spinning woman slammed one of her bare feet to the ground. Sharp claws that passed as her toes dug into the cement floor. She regarded Eva with all eight eyes. Slowly, a grin filled with pointed, interlocking teeth spread across her face.
In a single leap, she crossed the ten feet between her seat and the doorway Eva stood within. Eva made a quick step past the flying woman to her vacated chair. Turning, Eva found the woman had sprouted four additional spiny legs from her waist; all of them, and her arms, were wrapped around the spot Eva had just stepped out of.
“Aww, you don’t need to be so cold.” Arachne turned and put on the fakest pout Eva had ever seen. “We’re practically sisters now. Or you’re my daughter?” She shrugged.
“Arachne,” her master cut in, “we’re short on time. You can play your games when we get back.”
Eva crossed her arms and sent a glare at Devon. “You’re going on a job without telling me again?”
“It is just a small pick up. A smash and grab, as it were.”
“You wound up sick with the pale fester for weeks last time it was just a ‘quick pick up.’ Remember? We had to summon a bile demon to suck out all the puss.”
Eva’s master went a bit green, probably more at the demon than the illness. He said, “the last time you came on a job, you nearly had your leg detached.”
“Yes, well,” Eva kicked her right leg back and forth, “I’m fine now, aren’t I. Besides,” Eva said before her master could retort, “I’ve something urgent I need to speak with you about.”
Devon shook his head. He pulled his brown trench coat off a hook by the door and started out the door. “Fine,” he said, “but talk while we walk.”
Eva jumped to her feet and followed him out the door. “First,” she said, “this job. Anything I need to know to not get killed or horribly maimed?”
“Probably not,” Devon said, shaking his head, “the museum has a new tour going around. A missive from Death said that–”
“Oh, we’re dealing with Death now?” Eva interrupted with narrowed eyes. “The Great Corrupter and Endless Void not enough for you?”
Devon sighed and shot Eva an annoyed glare. “It isn’t like that. And I’m not exactly best friends with the other powers. Death is willing to grant a small boon in exchange for the destruction of a phylactery that is currently in our museum.”
Eva considered for a moment before asking, “I thought liches worshiped Death.”
“They generally do, mostly because they’re all fools. Death is patient and won’t bat an eye at you finding ways to extend your life a few hundred years.” Devon paused as he glanced up and down a crossing alley. Satisfied no one was around, he continued, “a phylactery on the other hand is basically an attempt to seal your soul from Death indefinitely. I think He takes it as a sort of slap in the face.
“He will use liches, but when an opportunity arises to destroy their soul jar. Well, that’s where people like us come in. This particular one has evaded him for some time, I believe.”
Eva frowned. “So we’re up against a lich tonight. Splendid.”
Devon shook his head. “Not if I understood Death correctly, always a challenge with his cryptic metaphors, but I think this lich had his body destroyed a long time ago and was unable to create a new one.”
“That’s good. No offense to Arachne’s prowess,” Eva said with a glance at the spider-woman draped over her shoulder, “but I’d have probably demanded we stop and summon up a succubus or two. Maybe a minotaur if you had any goat blood.”
Arachne ran a sharp finger down Eva’s cheek in an endearing manner, just lightly enough to make the touch known. “I’d tear your minotaur limb from limb.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Eva said with a smile, “but liches are known for their magical aptitude, having the longevity to master magics others couldn’t dream of. The minotaur’s magic resistant hide would, hopefully, give him the time to do some damage.”
Arachne gave a light huff and went back to leaning on Eva’s shoulder. Devon just looked to Eva with a raised eyebrow.
“What?” Eva glared back at her master. “You think I ask for all those books because they make my shelves look pretty? Just because I don’t know why Death wants all the liches dead doesn’t mean I don’t know what a lich is.”
“No, no,” her master smiled, “it’s just that we’re here.”
“Oh.” Eva looked around. The stone plaque for the Bellmont Museum of History sat just in front of their group. “Right,” Eva said, “so what’s your plan?”
“Well, I did say ‘smash and grab’ earlier.”
“Don’t these places have night security guards? We can put down a wide area sleep, step in, grab the phylactery, and step out.”
“That is essentially what I said.”
“What you said had significantly more instances of the word ‘smash’ in it.”
Devon shrugged. “Since this is your master plan we’re going with, I’ll let you do the honors of sleeping the property.”
Eva narrowed her eyes at her master. “I feel like I got tricked into this.”
“Nonsence. You’re just a much better planner than I.” He clapped his hands together. “Come on, chop chop. Don’t have all night; there might be others after Death’s boon.”
Eva grumbled under her breath as she withdrew chalk from her bag. She walked up and down the property, counting her paces each way. She stopped when she reached the stone plaque and set to work. A sloth rune, several pargon runes, length and width modifiers to match her paces, height was guessable as too high or too low wouldn’t matter, followed an exemption rune. She traced the exemption rune on the back of her hand with a pen and did the same for her master and Arachne.
She withdrew her dagger and sliced her finger open. Eva dropped a single droplet of blood on the runes on the back of their hands. Several drops of blood went to key points on the runic array.
“Blood?” her master asked.
Eva shrugged. “Faster than channeling magic into all of us.”
“If I fall asleep–”
Waving him off, Eva said, “Your hand runes barely take any power, the blood will feed them long after the sloth rune has decayed.
“Besides, the runes cause a massive wave of sleep followed by low-level suppression to keep people under. You should be able to fight off its effect at least until you get outside.”
Eva flicked her finger, healing the cut at the same time, and said, “everyone’s gone nighty-night. Let’s get to work.”
Her master nodded and stepped into the building without another word.
For a moment, Eva watched his step, trying to see if he was using the mere ‘rudimentary teleport’ that Zoe Baxter had called her steps or something more. She had never seen him use any sort of long distance teleport that the woman had implied was possible. Perhaps even what she did when she left the alley after their first meeting.
She shook her head and almost stepped into the building when a voice cleared behind her. Turning to find Arachne behind her, Eva wondered when the spider-woman detached herself from her side.
“You two go on ahead,” Arachne said. “I can’t do your step thing and I am not going to Hell to pass a few inches of glass.”
“It’s alright to be scared,” Eva said in her most condescending voice. “Keep an ear out and if there is trouble, you can employ the ‘smash’ step of my master’s illustrious plan.”
Without waiting for a response, Eva followed her master through the glass.
“Second shift comes on at midnight and finishes at eight. We need to be done before they start.”
“Three hours then? Shouldn’t we have waited for the second shift?”
Her master shook his head. “Like I said, we might have competition for the job. Arachne?”
“Standing guard. I’d let her in but I’m not sure if they have alarms on the doors or not.” Eva gestured around the slumped over figures in the front lobby. “They obviously don’t have motion sensors or the guards and cleaning crew would set them off.”
“Maybe it’ll deter any others.” Devon turned, glancing about the ceiling. He stopped and pointed almost immediately. “Cameras though.”
Eva groaned and ran her fingers down her face. “You should have reminded me before we stepped in.”
He chuckled and said, “don’t worry. While you were working your runes, I made myself a bit useful. For the next six hours we should appear as nothing more than shadows on any sort of recording. Hopefully.”
“Better than having to hunt down their server room only to find they have off site backups.”
“Right,” Eva grumbled. “What does this phylactery look like?”
“Golden skull, not sure on the size but it has two rubies for eyes and opal teeth. If you find it, don’t touch it just destroy it. I doubt anything bad would happen as it was handled by the archaeologists without problem, but take no chances.”
“Splitting up then?”
Nodding, Devon said, “it might not be on display yet. I’ll check the storage rooms, you run through the main areas. If it proves resistant to your efforts at destroying it, find me and I’ll see what we can do.”
With that said, her master turned and stalked down the hallway.
Might as well start at the second floor, Eva thought with a shrug.
Eva had never been in a museum before. As she walked through the silent halls, she couldn’t help but wonder if museums were as creepy during the day as they were at night.
Main lights were turned off in all the rooms except one room. That room had a number of the custodial crew that looked to be in the middle of polishing glass and waxing floors before a sudden drowsiness overtook them. Dim lights illuminated the floor, probably for patrolling security.
The display lights were the worst. Most were turned off to prevent damaging the works, but some were left on. The hallway leading to the Egyptian exhibit was lined with statues, each with a spotlight trained on them.
Eva walked through the Egyptian exhibit, looking through the displays for any sign of the phylactery. She passed by a set of scrolls spread out on the wall. There was not enough light to read them even if she had the time.
She focused on gold objects instead. There was a surprising amount. Several amulets and knickknacks glinted under the dim lighting. A small fortune could probably be made off just the gold in the room, let along whatever historical value the objects themselves had.
One of the displays caused Eva to do a double take. Beneath a thick glass display case sat a golden dagger. The information plaque to its side said that such gold knives were flaunted by the extremely wealthy and that the displayed dagger was one of the few intact ones they had come across.
Eva had to struggle to keep from bursting out laughing.
It was obviously a ritual dagger. The gold blade would be worthless for any sort of combat, but that could be confused with a simple ornamental or ceremonial dagger. The bloodstone capping the hilt is what gave it away. Eva smiled at the plaque which mistakenly identified it as a ruby.
A golden sheath, inlaid with several more bloodstones, lay just beneath the blade in the display case. Eva wondered at that. Her own sheath was a simple wrapping of hardened leather with no bloodstones or magical properties of its own.
Something to research later, Eva thought as she licked her dry lips.
All the bloodstones were in pristine condition. Almost like the dagger had never been used. It struck her as odd for ancient bloodstone. Use and time would degrade them. Eva had to replace her own twice so far, though her first one had been very poorly formed. Whoever made the ones on the golden daggers knew what they were doing.
Eva brought her own dagger to the bare skin on her left arm and drew blood. Dark-red droplets ran down the edge of the blade. Rather than drop to the ground, the blood hung in the air. Three marble sized globules formed before Eva sheathed the dagger. A quick flick of her wrist set the residual blood to healing the cut.
She tapped her index finger to a globule and dragged a small trail to the glass. She completed a circle and snapped her fingers. The blood circle flashed and with a light tap of her finger, fell into the display case.
Dipping her finger into one of the remaining globules, Eva reached into the case and smeared blood across the blade of the dagger. She repeated the action with the sheath, just in case.
“You’ve lost your master, to death or abandonment I know not. As a trophy, a relic, you’re left to dull and rot. I give a taste of what I can offer, with promise to increase your sheen and luster, so forgo your old ties and chose a new master.”
The rhymes were unnecessary as was the verbal request. Yet there was a certain magic in words, or so books told her. When dealing with an artifact that, according to the plaque, was over five thousand years old, it paid to be careful. A loyal blade was much less likely to cause problems with any protections left on it than a stolen blade. She made a note to give it a thorough examination before using it.
The bloodstones, on the other hand, did require a conversion to her. Again though, that could probably be done without a chant.
The blood sat on the blade long enough for Eva to wonder if it was rejecting her offer. Her rhymes weren’t very good. The first line popped into her head and she’d liked it. She started speaking without thinking and had to make up the second line as she went along. She frowned, mentally apologizing for not being a professional poet
A sigh of relief escaped her lips when the blood simmered and vanished within the golden metal. The bloodstones on both the sheath and the dagger darkened to black-red of her own dagger.
She sheathed the golden dagger and dropped it into her bag with a whispered “thanks.” Covering up the theft would be near impossible, and Eva didn’t care enough to try. It would be impossible to cover up the fact that people were here on account of the sleeping guards. As long as no trails led back to Eva, she was happy with the outcome.
To help cover up the theft of that specific item, Eva broke into a few other displays. She didn’t want the wrong sort of people looking into the dagger and finding it to be anything other than a simple ornament. She liberated a pair of earrings, a handful of rings, a bracelet and a necklace adorned with sapphires. All of it made of gold.
Eva didn’t think any of it was anything magical, but the presence of the dagger made her second guess herself. She promised herself to give everything a once over when she got home.
Eva quickly finished checking the rest of the room for the phylactery, unsuccessfully. She left the Egyptian exhibit with a significantly heavier bag.
She turned the corner and ran into someone. One hand had her dagger out and pressed against her arm and the other hand reached for a vial of demon blood before she even registered her master’s face.
“Did you find it?” Eva asked, slowly replacing her equipment.
Her master held up a plastic bag as far away from himself as he could. The outline of a palm sized skull could be seen through the thick plastic.
“I thought we weren’t going to touch it.”
“I haven’t touched it directly, but I was having trouble destroying it. I’ll need more specialized equipment.”
“Let me try?” She doubted she’d be able to succeed where her master failed, but blood magic was powerful. Her master was not fond of it. He probably didn’t try it.
“Later. I think a silent alarm was tripped. At least, there are police cars outside with their lights on. Your sloth rune may be deterring their entry.”
“Ah.” Eva glanced back at the Egyptian exhibit.
Her master crossed his arms, careful to keep the bag well away from his body, and gave her that look.
“There was a ritual dagger,” she said, “it would have been irresponsible to leave such a dangerous object lying around.”
“We’ll talk later.” He started moving down the hall. “Lets find a window. Preferably one that doesn’t have cops hanging around it.”
Eva nodded, though he couldn’t see with his back turned, and followed behind him. “Arachne?”
Devon gave a half shrug. “Probably climbed to the roof. At least, it wasn’t tearing the police to shreds when I saw them. It’ll find us after we get out.”
“Speaking of talking,” Eva said with a hint of trepidation, “I met someone today.”
A grunt was all she got in return.
“A Zoe Baxter. Know her?”
“No.” He paused at a window. “That rooftop across the street, close enough for you to step to?”
Eva had barely glanced out the window when her master vanished from her side. He reappeared on the rooftop and gave a small wave. Eva stepped out after him, appearing at his side. “And if it had been too far?” she whispered.
“I’m sure a master burglar such as yourself could have found a hundred alternate escape routes.”
“Uh huh,” Eva turned back to the museum.
Arachne, in her full spider form, sat atop the roof. She scanned the ground, looking torn between wanting to pounce on the humans or remain hidden behind the roof’s ledge.
Eva cast a small light spell, small enough to be mistaken for a firefly, and waved it back and forth. It didn’t take long for Arachne to notice. The spider-woman folded her arms in what looked like a pout, though it was difficult to tell at a distance.
Arachne’s bulbous abdomen slowly absorbed back into her human torso, along with six of her eight legs. Her remaining two legs shifted to a more proper place for a human, and thickened to their usual size. Eva had never bothered to ask how all that mass fit into the spider-woman’s rather lithe body. She assumed she would get a stupid answer like ‘magic’ and it wasn’t even the strangest shape-shifting the woman could do.
After backing up a few steps, Arachne full on sprinted to the edge of the roof. She leapt just as she reached the edge.
Eva waited with bated breath for the cries of the police in the street below. None came. Of course, Eva thought, people never look up.
The landing Arachne made did make noise and that noise drew attention. Before the police could even finish saying “what was that noise,” Eva’s master stepped to another rooftop.
Eva turned to follow when Arachne grabbed her shoulder. She spun her around and scooped her up in one smooth motion. Before any protests could be made, the spider-woman leapt after Devon.
Not again, thought Eva.
Biting down her screams and her protests, Eva held onto the black chitinous shoulders of the spider-woman for dear life. She pinched her eyes shut at some point, but it didn’t stop the feeling of her stomach dropping out with every leap. Eventually, Arachne stopped her jumps and slowly walked up to Devon, still holding a little girl with her eyes squeezed shut.
“So,” Arachne said, “everything go alright?”
Eva peeked her eyes open to find herself staring at the sharp, interlocking teeth of the spider-woman’s grin.
“Oh quite,” Devon said. He lifted the bag containing the phylactery in show. “I followed Eva’s plan to the letter. Eva, on the other hand, felt there was some merit to the smashing part of my plan.”
Arachne’s grin widened, showing off far too many teeth. “Good for you. Smashing is the best part of any plan. Well, aside from maiming, eviscerating, and dismembering.”
“Yes, yes, very funny you two.” Eva squirmed in the spider-woman’s claws but the grip was too tight to wiggle her way out. At least her long and sharp fingers were in the air rather than tearing into her clothes and skin. “We got in, completed our objective, and got out with some extra goodies. No harm done.”
“Indeed,” her master said with a slight glare.
“Speaking of indeeds,” Eva said, ceasing her wriggling and resigning herself to her fate in the spider-woman’s claws, “I was talking about a Zoe Baxter.”
“Still don’t know her.”
“She teaches magical theory at a school called Brakket Magical Academy and invited me to attend her academy on some sort of scholarship.”
Arachne’s grin shrank by several inches. “You’re leaving for some school?”
“I told her I would think about it.” Eva shrugged, or tried to. Arachne’s grip tightened leaving little room. “So here I am. Thinking, with you two.”
Arachne gave a light smile at that. Devon merely looked thoughtful. “I can’t say it is a surprise,” he said, “you’re at the age. How she found you is more worrying.”
“I don’t think she knew about you, if that is your concern.”
“That’s reassuring.” He brought up his hand as if to stroke his goatee when the bag rustled. He quickly pulled his arm away and set the bag on the ground. “I don’t have a problem with it. It might do you good to learn some magic from proper teachers. As long as you can get away for a few days every month or two for your treatment.”
“Ah, about that,” Eva said with a small frown, “she asked about me not using a focus. When I answered that I had never used one, she immediately asked if I was fully human.”
Devon waved her off. “You’ll never need to use a focus, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to get one. At the very least it will keep other people from asking that question.”
Eva nodded. “I’ll contact her tomorrow then.”
“Lets get this phylactery taken care of.” Devon grabbed the bag and stepped off the roof into the alley below.
Arachne didn’t move.
Eva glanced up to find a slight frown on her face and four sets of eyes staring off into the distance. Wriggling her arm loose as much as she could, Eva patted the spider-woman just above her breasts. “It’s alright, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to see each other.”
With a smile that was only half there, Arachne set Eva down and leapt off the roof. Eva sighed and stepped down to her master’s side before the demon could even land.
The spider-woman landed on Eva, tackling her to the side, just as an ear-splitting crack tore down the alley.