A second crack tore through the alley, bringing with it a blinding light. Eva heard her master cry out in pain.
The demon who tackled her quickly tore herself free and moved between the attacks and Eva. She almost charged forward, but something caused her to hesitate.
Eva, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate for a second. She whipped out two vials of her blood. The first was poured in a small circle, setting the radius and center point. The second vial was used to form a golf-ball sized globule hovering over the blood ring. Eva snapped her fingers.
A black-red sphere formed over the two women just as an attack hammered into the shield. The globule shrank noticeably and shrank again as another attack hit.
Confident that the shield would hold for at least a few more attacks, Eva uncorked her vials of demon blood and surveyed the alley.
A large pool of blood trailed to where her master sat against a building’s wall behind a large metal bin. She couldn’t see the pool in the darkness, but she knew it was there. Blood always stood out to her.
The trail ended at a fresh wound on her master’s leg. With another flash of lightning, Eva noted that Devon had chalk out and was inscribing something on the wall.
Eva ignored him, figuring he could take care of himself if he wasn’t dead, and turned her attention to their attacker.
Standing alone at the end of the alley was what could only be described as a nun. She wore a pure white version of the traditional nun’s habit and had a large silver cross dangling from her neck. Her eyes were aglow with white fire and her hands outstretched, sending what appeared to be bolts of lightning down the alley.
Eva withdrew demon’s blood from one vial, forming a golf-ball that seemed to absorb all light. With a flick of her wrist, Eva launched the ball at the nun’s face.
A faint blue light flickered before the nun just as the ball hit. Cracks spread out over the light. The nun ceased her attacks for an instant while her shield regenerated. The moment the cracks mended, the shield disappeared and she renewed her attacks tenfold.
Eva poured the second vial of demon blood into a sphere and dug the fingers of both hands into it. She pulled and twisted. Strands of blood stretched around a small circle in the air forming intricate designs as they moved. Once finished, Eva pulled back her right arm and punched it into the pattern as hard as she could.
A car sized fist fell through the air, directly on top of the nun’s head. The nun stumbled as her blue shield flickered once again. The shield cracked, sending ethereal shards flying around the alley. All too quickly the nun set about repairing her shield.
Out of handy blood, Eva cast her awareness about. Her master still sat, scribbling away on the wall. Arachne, on the other hand, simply stood within Eva’s blood shield. She looked thoughtful and all too pleased with herself for having contributed nothing to the fight.
“Arachne! Do you mind helping out a bit!”
The spider woman shrugged. “I was contracted for the smash and grab. You smashed, he grabbed. This,” she waved her needly fingers about the air, “is past that.”
“I thought we were family, sisters or whatever.”
Arachne shrugged again and pointed at herself. “Still a demon.”
Another spell crashed into Eva’s blood shield. She pulled out the last vial of her own blood and added it to the rapidly shrinking shield orb. “I’ll banish you,” she threatened.
“Aww,” Arachne ran her sharp finger down Eva’s cheek, just lightly enough to avoid cutting, “but then you’ll be out of easy access to help.”
“I can’t say I’d notice much of a difference at this point.”
“Contract with me.” Her flighty nature vanished, replaced by an aura of utmost seriousness.
“What? I can’t–”
“You’re going to your fancy school, right? Take me with you.” She held up a finger to Eva’s lips, stymieing her objections. “One year binding. You’ll have someone to protect you and I don’t have to go back to Hell. Win-win,” she said with a smile.
“Or you can hesitate, your master killed and your shield whittled down until you’ve got nothing between you and the nun but me. I’d probably still protect you, just because I like you, but wouldn’t it be so much easier to just contract now and not have to worry about such fragile words as ‘probably’?”
Eva glared at the demon. Past her, Devon was still pinned down behind the dumpster. Lightning bolt after lightning bolt struck it. It wouldn’t be long before the bolts melted their way through or the nun changed tactics.
As a bolt of lightning slammed into her shield, Eva shouted “Alright.”
The moment the first syllable left her mouth, Arachne grasped the back of Eva’s neck, pulling her close. The demon’s long tongue thrust down her throat as lips touched chitin. It wriggled for a moment before Eva felt the spider woman’s sharp teeth bite down. The oily demon blood ran down the long tongue and dripped down Eva’s throat. Eva felt a small scrape on her own lip and a familiar copper-oil taste on her tongue.
Arachne held on until another bolt whittled down Eva’s shield a notch. She pulled back and licked what passed for her lips. “Now we are talking.”
Eva contracted with demons in the past. It wasn’t her favorite thing, preferring powerful blood magics and simple runes. Yet most of them ended up being nothing more than an exchange of words laced with magic for the binding aspect. A blood contract was something special. A blood contract like that…
Another bolt against her shield shock Eva out of her stupor. She quickly drew her dagger and cut a long slit in her arm, adding fresh black-red blood to her blood shield.
“Are all your contracts like that?” Eva asked.
The sharp toothed grin was her only response as the spider-woman was already changing, growing and sprouting extra legs to support her additional mass. “Prepare some spells. Go for quantity over quality. Distractions. I’m sure I could survive a lightning bolt or few, but I’d rather not have to, if possible.”
Eva nodded. She touched her dagger to the fresh cut on her wrist and drew several marble sized beads of her black-red blood. She looked back to Arachne when twenty of them hovered in the air in front of her.
Arachne had grown to nearly three times her original size. She contorted her upper body around her round abdomen and folded her legs beneath her to keep as much of her as possible within the shield.
“Ready,” Eva shouted. She sent five of her blood marbles arching towards the nun. They spread out and approached from different directions, hopefully the nun would be distracted with repairing her shield or just plain unable to block all of them.
Arachne leapt after the marbles, crossing the distance with amazing speed for her size.
Eva paid her little mind. She launched a second volley without waiting to see the effects of the first. And the third. By the fourth volley launched, Arachne reached the nun. Eva began drawing out a much larger droplet of blood.
Arachne struck. Her front two legs as well as her human arms and their sharp fingers all lanced towards the nun at frightening speed.
The nun didn’t even flinch. A light blue bubble materialized around her, just inches from her skin.
“Demon. Sathanus, subcategory: Asmodeus. Designation: Jorogumo. Response: Banish.”
Arachne continued pressing against the nun’s shield, adding another two pointed legs to the process. “Jorogumo?” She laughed. “Don’t compare me to those fleas.”
The nun frowned and began mumbling to herself.
“Not going to happen.” Arachne laughed again. She withdrew all her limbs and slammed them into the nun’s shield.
Fractures appeared around the shield and the nun flinched. Now looking panicked, she began chanting faster and louder.
As Arachne pulled back for another strike, Eva attacked. A baseball sized orb of dark blood launched itself straight at the nun.
The nun’s shields shattered at the blood’s impact and Arachne’s limbs continued to their target unimpeded. Four legs pierced the nun’s torso until they poked out the back, dripping with viscera. Still the nun continued to chant, strained and weak though it was.
Arachne launched a hand into her throat, ripping and pulling flesh. Her chanting gave way to gurgles. Blood spilled down her front. It stood out to Eva against the bleak surroundings.
“Try to banish me with no vocal chords. I dare you.”
The nun’s only response was to slump forward. She fell to her knees as Arachne withdrew her limbs. The spider-demon launched one last leg at the fallen nun, piercing her spinal cord.
She turned with a grin, melting back to her human form as she walked.
Eva snapped her fingers and the blood shield vanished along with the blood on the ground. She set the blood on her arm to healing the gash as she made her way to her master.
He stopped marking the wall, instead turning his attentions to a partially healed leg. “She dead?” At Eva’s nod, Devon began healing his leg in earnest. “Damn sisters, bet she just wanted the boon for herself.”
Devon continued to prattle but Eva stopped paying attention. She studied the large, nearly complete summoning circle her master had been drawing. When she turned back to him, the look in her eyes brought his whining to a halt.
Far more calmly than she felt, Eva said, “You were going to summon a cerberus. Do you have three cows hidden under that trench coat or were you planning on us being its sacrificial snack?”
Devon flinched at her tone. “I was planning on dominating it, if you must know.”
“That’s even worse.” Eva pointed at the circle. “You don’t even have shackles set up. It would have eaten everyone in the alley before you could even think about dominating it.”
“I was getting to the shackles,” Devon ground out. “Let me remind you that I am the demonologist here, not you. This isn’t my first time summoning a dangerous creature.” He ignored Eva’s huff and extended his hand. “Help me up. The Elysium Sisters never work alone, others in the area would have felt her death.”
A cracking of knuckles came from behind Eva as she helped her master to his feet. “We could rend them to bits just as easily.”
“And you,” Eva whirled on the demon, “you forced a contract on me while I was under duress. We could have died out here. I should banish you, consequences be damned.”
Arachne’s smile slipped into a slight frown.
“You what?” Devon exploded.
“I decided a change in employer was necessary for my life’s ambitions.” She held up her hands in a placating gesture and took a step back from the enraged demonologist. “Don’t worry. I’ll still participate in your little experiments so long as Eva is willing.”
Devon let out a loud growl and threw his hand towards the corpse of the nun. Green fire danced from his fingertips, engulfing the body. Rage spent, he let out a sigh. “I wish we could stay and collect the ashes; I’m running low. Lets get out of here.” He turned and stepped away.
Eva stepped after him with a sprinting Arachne trying to keep up behind her.
Devon threw open the door and limped to the couch, dropping the phylactery on a table on the way.
Eva followed her master into the old train station with a somber Arachne close behind her. Eva took a seat at the table well away from the phylactery and withdrew her newly acquired dagger. She began casting simple diagnostic spells, poking and prodding for any hidden traps. A light groan interrupted her efforts and drew her attention to the couch.
Devon lay unmoving, injured leg looking worse under proper lighting than it did in the dark alley. The entire leg of his pants had been burned off. Well, except for the parts that looked like it fused with his skin. A large blotch from his ankle to just under his knee had turned bright red. The skin itself was wavy and bubbly. Large boils had already begun to form on the warped skin.
Eva made a face as green pus leaked onto the couch.
“Master,” Eva called, “are you alright?”
“Whatever that the nun was throwing around wasn’t regular lightning.” His voice was far more subdued than it had been in the alley. The injury, constant stepping on the way back, and the demon flame had taken a lot out of Eva’s master.
Eva moved to a filing cabinet and pulled open the second to bottom drawer. Rows of neatly organized glass vials gleamed under the light of runes Eva herself had carved into the metal. She withdrew a handful, idly wondering if potions were also considered archaic in mainstream thaumaturgy.
Shaking her head, Eva deposited the vials of potions on her master’s chest. “While you’re tending to yourself,” Eva said, “would you like me to summon something to get rid of that?” She gestured towards the table. The plastic bag had fallen to gravity, revealing the golden skull in the process. Its two ruby eyes looked out over the couch. “I feel like it’s just glaring at us.”
Devon downed a vial of light blue liquid. He uncorked a vial of clear liquid and began tenderly rubbing it into his leg. With a wince, he said, “do you think you can handle a hel? You could try contacting Aosoth but unless you’re very confident, we’d probably all die.”
Eva shuddered. “I’m not summoning the goddess of Death even if we are, temporarily, working for Him. I’d appreciate it if you left the Nine Angles alone as well.”
“A hel it is then. Make sure to use raven blood, not crow blood.”
Eva nodded, ignoring his insinuations that she didn’t know what she was doing.
She pulled open the top drawer of the filing cabinet and withdrew a vial of raven blood. With that in hand she walked out to the summoning chamber.
Summoning chamber was a bit of an exaggeration. It was less of a chamber and more of a room. One of the larger office rooms that had been converted into a useful thaumaturgical room. In the center of the floor held a universal summoning circle. Shackles surrounded the circle to keep the summoner safe while a contract is discussed. Heavy duty shackles lined the walls, ceiling, and door, just in case.
Crossing the threshold gave Eva shivers. They didn’t used to, but in the last year or so, her master’s heavier shackles started to give her tingles. Eva could easily trap herself within the chamber if something went wrong. Possibly with whatever creatures the shackles were meant to contain.
Eva knelt down and placed the vial of raven blood in the center of the circle. She stepped back, out of the shackles, and channeled magic into the summoning.
“I seek a daughter of Hel, blessed by Death. Answer my call for aid in a task in service of Him.”
A fist erupted from beneath the cement floor and gripped the vial. The cement rippled away like a rock thrown into a pond. The vial blackened and crumbled away to dust while the blood flowed down the disembodied arm.
Slowly, a woman emerged. She walked out of the summoning circle as if there were stairs leading up to the surface.
The woman who now towered over Eva could only be described as regal. Her straight posture and the way she held her head high was like a queen observing her subjects. Yet her eyes were dead and gray. Her lips blue as ice. Her skin looked a step away from death and no pulse beat beneath her bare chest.
She took one look around the room before focusing her gaze on Eva. It wasn’t a hostile gaze, but it had weight. Eva had to force herself not to take a step back.
“Daughter of Hel, name yourself,” Eva said calmly. She found herself trying to replicate the taller woman’s posture.
Like her gaze, the woman’s voice was heavy, commanding, yet not hostile. “Ylva,” she said, “daughter of Hel, daughter of Loki.”
“I am Eva, familial ties severed.”
The regal woman gave a mere nod to acknowledge that she heard.
“A soul, long denied Death’s embrace, has found its way into my possession.” Eva placed the golden skull on the ground, careful not to touch it with her bare skin, and slid it across the barrier of the shackles. She took care to keep her skin out of the shackles. Hel were supposed to be docile, but when a single touch could kill, you didn’t take chances.
“Its container,” Eva continued, “has proven resistant to damage. On behalf of my master, Devon Foster, I seek the aid of a servant of Death to return this wayward soul to its rightful place in His arms.”
Ylva knelt and retrieved the golden skull from the ground. If she took any offense to being forced to kneel, she didn’t show it.
The moment her fingertips touched the gold, it darkened and tarnished the way silver might. The ruby eyes and opal teeth fell to the ground, shattering to dust. The golden skull finished tarnishing in her hand, turning as black as obsidian.
“It is done,” the demon said.
Eva blinked, but nodded and gave a respectful bow. She hadn’t expected the demon to work for free. “Thank you, Ylva, daughter of Hel. I will–”
“Wait.” The hel knelt once more. She placed the black skull, facing Eva, on the ground at the edge of the shackles. Using both hands, the woman slid it back across the shackles. “A gift,” she said as she stood.
Eva blinked. It took a moment for her to regain her wits. She smiled and gave a deeper bow. She wasn’t about to reach down and touch it. “That is far beyond what you were summoned for. If I might ask its purpose and the reason for your favor?”
The hel narrowed her eyes. “It won’t harm you, if that is your concern.”
Cold fingers ran themselves up and down Eva’s spine. Her breath hitched at the demon’s glare. She wanted to run out of the room. Yet she forced her instincts down. It is all psychological. The shackles are still strong. The hel didn’t even touch the edges. “I–” She coughed as the imaginary fingers on her spine made their way to her throat. “I apologize. I meant no slight against you or your generosity. Mere curiosity was all that I had in mind.”
That seemed to pacify the demon despite it being an obvious lie. Her glare became less hostile.
Eva stifled a sigh of relief as the weight of Ylva’s presence lessened. She knelt down and, suppressing her hesitation, picked up the skull with both hands. “I accept your gift.”
Ylva smiled. Despite the lack of obvious malice, Eva felt a chill run through her body at the sight of it.
Half of her wanted nothing more than to throw the skull to the ground and banish the demon. The other half told her to just keep smiling and avoid angering the servant of Death any further.
The temptation was taken out of her hands when the summoning circle rippled once more. Ylva turned without another word and walked down into the circle. When the tip of her head disappeared beneath the floor, the circle ceased its rippling and returned to an inert state.
Out of the presence of Death’s servant, Eva took deep, calming breaths. She carefully set the blackened skull within the summoning shackles, just in case.
Back in the main room, Arachne sat at the table, toying with some of the garbage jewelery from the museum. Devon’s swelling looked like it had… not worsened. He was dedicating all his efforts to healing his leg.
“Arachne. You bound yourself to me. Time to put you to work.”
The spider-demon smiled. Her claws flexed in anticipation.
“Go find me all the books on hel that we have.”
Her smile slipped, but she walked out of the room without complaint.
Devon ceased healing and stared at Eva. “What went wrong?”
“Oh nothing, summoned a hel, soul jar destroyed. Mission complete.”
“She returned the remains of the skull to me as a gift. When I asked its purpose, she got mad until I accepted the gift. Then she left without answering. I left it within the summoning shackles.” At her master’s scrunched up frown, Eva prodded, “any ideas?”
“A demon that favors a specific summoner will often give gifts to entice additional summonings. Depending on the item, they can use it to force themselves out of Hell without being summoned. I’ve got a handful of ‘gifts’ myself,” he said with air quotes. “I keep all of them locked away in the heaviest shackles I can make.”
Eva sat down on the table, facing her master. “I’ve never summoned a hel before, let alone this one, and we barely interacted before she offered the gift.”
“It is odd,” he said with a nod. “Unless,” he buried his face in his palm, looking about like he wanted to cry.
He grabbed an empty vial and threw it. Sounds of broken glass sounded from out of sight. “That damn nun. The pain in my leg isn’t letting me think clearly.”
Eva remained silent, not wanting to draw her master’s ire.
“Well,” he huffed, “I doubt I’ll be able to cash in Death’s boon. Your hel is probably doing that right now.”
“Ah.” At her master’s raised eyebrow, Eva said, “I expected to bargain for her services. She destroyed the phylactery before I could even make an offer.”
Devon sank back into the couch, looking more depressed than angry.
“Well,” Eva said as she scooped the gold jewelery into her bag, “I’ll fetch Arachne and we’ll leave you to your healing and meditations.”
Eva popped out of the room before her master could respond. She stopped by the summoning chamber and retrieved the obsidian skull.
The library of the train station was poorly named. The small office that Devon had added some bookshelves to only resembled a library in that they both had books. Arachne stood between shelves, one needly finger brushing over the spines of the shelved books. She had two books tucked under the opposite arm.
“Arachne,” Eva said, “we’re leaving.”
Eight red eyes turned away from the shelves and focused on Eva. For a moment, Eva just stared, wondering why the undead queen had terrified her with a mere glare. She had dealt with plenty of demons before. Arachne herself was entirely capable of ripping Eva to shreds without a second thought. Yet there was no fear with this demon, unlike Ylva.
“Leaving?” The spider-woman’s word brought Eva out of her reflections.
“I’d like to get home before Master stops being sad and starts being mad.”
A grin spread across Arachne’s face. “Eva’s home?”
Eva found herself frowning. She crossed her arms and said, “I’m still mad at you.”
The grin vanished as Arachne put on her serious aura. “I understand,” she said, “I do not regret my actions.”
Eva maintained her frown for a moment longer. “Come on,” she said as she left the room.
Arachne pulled one more book from the shelf and followed her new master out of the room. Her excitement was almost palpable.
“So, this is where you sleep.”
Eva looked up from her log book, which showed only Arachne and herself in the building, to glare at the grinning demon. “Don’t be creepy,” she said.
“I’m not,” she said while glancing about the main lobby. “You place is very… dusty.”
Eva rolled her eyes. “I live on and have cleaned the second floor. But,” she gripped the eager demon’s chitinous shoulder, “you are not keyed into my blood wards. If you go upstairs, you’ll be flayed alive.” Eva paused as a thought occurred to her. “At least, I hope you would be flayed alive. I haven’t actually tested against a full-fledged demon.” Eva replaced the book and turned back to the demon. “Come, let’s go try.”
Arachne folded her arms, her fingers clacking as she drummed them against her armored arm. “Very funny.”
“Suit yourself,” Eva shrugged. She ran upstairs, ignoring the protests of the spider-demon.
Eva tossed her bag onto her bed. Obsidian skull in hand, she made her way to her own summoning room. It was admittedly smaller than the one her master set up in the train station. Far less protected as well. Still, it had the standard level shackles around the universal summoning circle.
It was also the only room not protected by her blood magic. Summoning something only to have them turn into chunky red salsa was a sure-fire way to make all the wrong sort of enemies.
Eva set down the obsidian skull within the shackles. If it was, as her master mentioned, a sort of beacon for Ylva, she didn’t want her popping up anywhere with that touch of death of hers. Eva supposed killing her via her blood wards would be in poor taste, even if she did try to pop in uninvited.
If the obsidian skull wasn’t a beacon, the shackles should still contain most magics until she had a chance to research it properly.
Back in her room, Eva rummaged through her drawers for as many spare vials as she could find. She pulled out ten empty vials and a small cloth bag that had slots for thirty half sized vials. She added in the five vials she used earlier in the evening and headed back downstairs.
Arachne had moved to a bench left in the lobby. Eva almost started giggling at the spider-woman. The normally shiny black chitin of her body had turned half gray simply from sitting on the bench.
“You’re disturbing my dust,” Eva said with a barely straight face.
“Your dust has gotten in all my cracks,” the demon said with a frown. To punctuate the statement, she ran one set of her needly fingers through the joints on her other hand, coming away with a small amount of grime. “Among other places.”
“Maybe you should wear clothes.”
Arachne scoffed at that. “They’d just get torn up when I change.”
Eva just shook her head. “In that case, I’m sure you’ll be excited to get started on your next task so you can get out of this dust.”
Eva handed the spider-woman the vials. “Fill these up.”
“If you’re lucky,” Eva said with a sigh, “maybe I’ll use one of them to key you into the upstairs wards when I wake up.”
“When you wake up?”
Eva nodded. “It is late and I have to meet with the lady from the school tomorrow.” She left out that the meeting time would be set by when Eva decided to tap the business card.
It was Arachne’s turn to sigh. “The same way I filled them last time, right?”
“Yep.” Eva turned back to the stairs but paused at the first step. “Oh, do try to keep dust out of the blood. I’ll be able to tell and you’ll be redoing them.”
“You’re a regular slave driver, you know that right?”
With a small smile, Eva said, “do it for me and I’ll consider it the first step of your apology.” She continued up the stairs, giving the demon a halfhearted wave.
Once back in her room, Eva stripped off her clothes and crawled under her covers. She twisted a coaster on her end table, breaking a light rune and plunging the room into darkness.