“Damnit Arachne you damn demon,” Devon shouted.
Things quickly descended to chaos in the small room.
Eva’s master had thrown himself to the floor. He clutched one hand with the other. An arrow poked through to the other side of his hand.
“This is the sixth damn time you’ve done this.”
Juliana, to her credit, jumped at the action. She erected a large barrier to cover most of the doorway and was launching large chunks of earth at their attackers.
“The girl wasn’t even in line of sight of the doorway. You could have covered me instead.”
Arachne stood over Eva protectively. She ignored all of Devon’s ranting.
Eva hesitated. Her hand hovered just above the uncorked vials of blood, ready to pull the blood out into orbs and begin her own assault. But she hesitated.
Juliana focused on their attackers, launching attack after attack. Her face twisted into a cruel grimace as she pulled up more earth to block the other half of the door. After a moment, the extra earth dropped back to the ground and she resumed her attacks.
Eva wanted to keep her blood magics quiet as long as possible. If the situation was dire enough, she wouldn’t hesitate. For now, she’d help out elsewhere.
“Arachne,” Eva said, “if you can get out there and tear them to bits without getting hurt, go for it. I’ll get master up and be with you in a moment.”
The demon herself hesitated, but nodded and dashed through the narrow opening in the doorway between arrow volleys.
Eva pulled out three potions, one light blue, one yellow, and one violet. The antitoxin might not help against any strong poisons, but it couldn’t hurt and it was all Eva had.
“Damn arrows. Necromancers can’t even dignify themselves with proper magic.”
“Doubt they taught the skeletons magic,” Eva said as she tossed the vials on her master’s lap.
“Skeletons, you’re sure?”
“We passed ten thousand on the way in, why not fight ten thousand on the way out. Just take those potions and make yourself useful. I’ll run out of fuel long before I take out ten thousand.”
Eva left the grumbling man and moved to the side of the door opposite of Juliana.
“I wouldn’t peek your head out there,” Juliana hissed. She flicked her wand and more shards of the cavern wall broke away and flew out of sight. The blond didn’t peek around herself.
She hoped Arachne wasn’t being hit by friendly fire.
Eva pulled the blood out of a vial and formed it into the pattern for a shield. “Hold your attacks,” she said to Juliana. She waited for the blond to finish her volley of stones before snapping her fingers.
The shield sprung to life around the doorway.
“What is this?” Juliana asked.
Eva shook her head. “Ask later.” She desperately hoped the blond wouldn’t.
Eva waited for a few pings of enemy arrows to strike the shield–no sense getting skewered by something that could penetrate her defenses–and she peeked around the corner.
As Eva expected, the room had filled with skeletons. More entered at a steady pace from the tunnel at the top of the stairs. The skeletons did not seem to care about knocking into each other. Several were bumped over the thin railing guarding the stairs. None who fell into the greenish water ever surfaced.
Several of the skeletons stood in a line around the doorway. They were the only ones armed with bows. One by one they loosed an arrow and casually, almost lazily, readied another.
Juliana, peeking around as well, readied her own attacks. She lined up pointed stones at each of the skeletons and waited to fire.
Arachne ignored almost all of the skeletons unless they dared to get close to her. Lacking fear instincts, most of the skeletons in the room dared. They all were turned to dust by uncaring backhands. She kept her focus on a pile of skeletons.
The thing she fought had at least eight skulls, as many rib cages, and more limbs than Eva could count. Arachne tore into it, breaking bones and throwing limbs across the room. The thing didn’t care. Whole bones would fly off the ground to replace missing parts.
Arachne didn’t appear to be losing either. Two arrows stuck out of her chest but she didn’t even notice. The skeletons swarming her weren’t able to do more than scratch her chitin. Even the ones carrying swords barely got a moment of attention before being knocked away.
Eva pulled back from the doorway. She gave a small nod to Juliana who returned the nod.
Snapping her fingers, the shield vanished. Juliana’s attacks launched away.
Eva reset the shield, adding an extra half a vial to the core at the same time.
All but two of the stone shards struck their targets. Before the skeletons could crumple to the ground, Juliana had conjured two more stones. She lined them up, ready to attack.
Eva pointed up at the ceiling. “Any chance you could hit those guys? They’re still staring at us.”
“I thought they didn’t matter.”
“Yes, well…” Eva glanced back to her master.
Devon sat on the cot. The deeper part of his wound–the inside of his hand–turned an ugly green. The skin around it reddened and cracked. His fingers on his good hand danced with green flame. He seemed to be considering burning the wound with his demonic fire.
Eva shook her head, leaving her master to take care of himself. “The one who thought that is indisposed at the moment.”
Juliana’s face blanched at her own glance at Devon. She turned back to the skeletons and readied another six shards. “Can’t hurt anything I suppose.”
Leaning back inside, Eva brought down the shield long enough for Juliana to fire.
The archers were down. For now at least. Another skeleton started picking up one of the bows. Eva sent a tiny splattering of Arachne’s blood rocketing at it before Juliana peeked around the corner. She snapped her fingers and the bow cracked where it had been hit.
Arachne had changed tactics. The demon had grown to her full size and was laying waste to the bundle of skeletons. That still didn’t seem to be fast enough to counteract its healing.
The attentions of the rest of the skeletons had turned away from her. Either the destruction of the archers or Arachne’s new size made them advance on the small hole in the wall.
“Can’t you tunnel us out?”
“Maybe,” the blond replied as she readied a whole line of earth shards. “Maybe we suffocate before we get out. This room is tiny, if we seal it off and start digging then we might not make it depending on how far off the surface it is. With four of us…”
The staircase tunnel hadn’t stopped pouring in skeletons. If anything it had increased the rate it spewed them out. The only upside was that more were being knocked into the pool of water beneath the staircases.
Eva doubted going that way would be very feasible.
“Get working on it. I’ll hold the skeletons here. We can at least delay sealing this room.”
“You can handle it?”
Eva grinned at the blond. “If I can’t, I’ll be sure to make my death as loud as possible to give you some warning.”
She did not look impressed.
“While you’re back there, tell my mentor that if he wants to save any face at all, he’ll get up here and start helping.”
Juliana didn’t say a word as she left Eva’s side. The rocks floating in midair dropped to the ground at her departure.
Probably for the best. They wouldn’t have done enough against the massive horde approaching her shield. The shield itself, even powered by Arachne’s demonic blood, would only hold a few seconds under the skeletons’ assault without additional blood.
Eva had better ideas.
Without Juliana at her side, Eva felt more free. She pulled the blood from the remaining three and a half vials into a large orb floating in front of her.
The skeletons beat down on her shield. They piled up, each trying to get a swing in. They hit themselves more often than her shield, but it didn’t matter. Every skeleton that fell was replaced as a new one stepped in.
Eva twisted and tore at the blood, pulling and shaping until it looked like a wire ball. She grinned and thrust both of her hands into the ball from opposite ends.
Two large hands, each the size of Arachne, appeared in front of her. The shimmering black hands crashed into each other, crushing all the skeletons between them. With a sweep of her real arms, the hands swept out into the room. They left a trail of–sadly, unusable–black blood and bones in their wake.
They vanished along with the blood-wire ball in front of Eva. Skeletons and a few of the closer pews continued with their momentum, crashing into more skeletons and knocking a good number into the green pool.
That should buy a good thirty seconds, she thought with a grin on her face. She pulled open her satchel. Only fifteen of the half sized blood vials were in there, the other fifteen at home. Never enough blood. She used five refilling the core of her blood shield and readied the last ten for another attack.
Her demonic friend noticed the giant attack. Noticed it enough to be distracted. The skeleton pile got in a strike across her chest. Her own black blood leaked out as she howled at the skeletons.
“Arachne,” Eva called, “dump that thing in the pool of water then get back here. Master’s worthless and I’ve only got one good attack left.”
The demon did not respond. Not unless you count more howling and slamming her entire abdomen into the skeletons. The thing shattered and flew. It was already pulling itself back together.
Arachne crashed into it again. Not before an arm swung a sword and took out one of her legs.
The demon swept her abdomen across the floor. Bits of the skeleton pile flew off towards the watery pit. Arachne kicked some extra parts in with her remaining legs. Then she waited. She watched. She picked off any of the regular skeletons that came within reach.
The skeleton pile didn’t reform.
Slowly, the demon turned around. She looked far more exhausted than Eva could ever remember seeing her.
Arachne looked at Eva and grinned.
It wasn’t the best grin Eva had seen. Her sharp white teeth were marred by Arachne’s own black blood. The demon wandered back to Eva’s shield, shrinking as she went. She stumbled the last few steps and leaned against the wall.
Eva ran up to her, half-formed blood ball following at her shoulder. She placed a hand on the demon’s chest where a deep gash oozed blood. The two arrows that had pierced her stomach and shoulder had broken off at some point, leaving just stubs.
“You’re hurt,” Eva stated the obvious.
“Your blood wards did more damage to me in Florida. I’ll be fine.”
Eva frowned. She doubted that but didn’t know what else to do. Potions wouldn’t work on Arachne. They barely worked on herself. The demon had her own healing. Eva walked Arachne back into the small room and set to finishing her next spell.
“Why’s your arm off?”
Arachne’s question almost ruined the spell as Eva whipped her head around.
“Decided I didn’t like it no more.” Her master’s arm was lying on the bed, completely green and rotted. “Your friend didn’t get injured, did she?”
Eva shook her head. “Don’t think so. Neither of us got hit by anything.”
“Bah. I doubt it’d work on you. I’ll keep an eye on Arachne, given its injuries, but I don’t think anything will happen for the same reason as you. I’d just hate for our tunneller to come back a zombie.”
Eva frowned as she felt a ping against the shield. “Arachne, fetch Juliana. I’ve got one attack left and then we’ll seal the door. Hopefully we get out of here before we suffocate.”
Arachne nodded and started up the tunnel.
The shield had another ping against it. And another. The skeletons were gathered again.
Eva finished her spell and waited. And waited. When the skeletons gathered and the shield was down to its last threads, Eva struck again. The skeletons once again were crushed and thrown across the room.
“What was that?”
Eva sighed internally as she turned to the voice. “Not something I can do often,” she told the blond. “If you can seal a lot of the main room, more air for us. If not then we’ll have to make do. We’re all out of fighting.”
She nodded and a thick stone section rose from the ground, plugging the entire short area where the steel plate used to be.
“I think I’m almost at the surface.”
Arachne and Devon followed the blond up the angled tunnel. Eva stayed behind for an extra minute and grabbed another few books. No sense leaving them for the enemy after all.
She headed up the tunnel until Eva met up with the group. Devon snorted at the pile of books in her arms. Eva just shrugged. Her master was taking losing an arm far better than she thought he would. Eva lost a leg on one of their jobs, but it had been recovered and reattached. Devon incinerated his arm before heading up the tunnel.
Juliana flicked her wand side to side, sending dirt to be compressed against the walls of the tunnel. The process went a lot slower than Eva expected. Juliana must have been working hard to have dug so far. Either that or she was slowing as she exhausted herself.
Eva hoped it was working hard. The thought that Juliana would collapse and leave them to dig their way out by hand sounded like a terrible idea.
Her fears were unfounded as Juliana broke into the night’s sky.
Devon immediately stepped in the direction of the prison. He didn’t leave a single word before parting.
With a flick of her wand, the tunnel collapsed behind Juliana.
The spider-demon shifted back into a seven legged Arachne-mode. She helped Juliana onto her back, if a bit begrudgingly, and then swooped down and picked up Eva, books and all. Arachne’s chest still oozed blood, Eva noted as the demon took off at a much slower pace than she had taken to get to the church.
As they got a steady pace going, Eva couldn’t help but ask, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Arachne said.
“Eva. I’ll be good as new tomorrow. I just need to rest for a bit.”
Eva went silent and wriggled up against Arachne. It took a minute before she thought to ask the other member of their group.
“Juliana, are you doing okay?”
The soft sound of Arachne’s steps was all that answered her.
“Shouldn’t we have collapsed the tunnel inside the church?”
Eva smiled as a thought occurred to her. “Did you see how they handled the stairs? I doubt they can climb ladders.”
“They were shooting bows and arrows at us.”
“That’s…” Eva felt her face slip into a frown. “We’ll tell Zoe Baxter when we ask her to destroy the book. She can decide what to do about it.”
— — —
Juliana sat on the couch in Eva’s… home? She tried very hard not to look sick. She tried extra hard not to throw up. Something she was slowly getting a grip on as the night progressed.
She especially didn’t want to look weak in front of Eva. Not while the girl was nonchalantly wandering about the place like nothing even happened. Who knows, maybe nothing had happened for her.
The skeletons hadn’t bothered Juliana near as much as a single zombie had. They were far less grotesque and she was more or less waiting for something like that to happen. Doubly so after passing by the huge piles of bones on their way in.
She had asked Eva’s mentor–master, she thought Eva said once–if she should block them up. Maybe if he had agreed, the man wouldn’t be missing an arm.
Was it wrong to think that way? It felt a bit vicious.
The man’s arm had been lying there on the cot. It looked as bad or worse than the zombie’s she had seen in the abandoned house. It was sickening, but the worst was when he just flicked his wrist and enveloped it in the same horrible fire he used to destroy the book. He did it like he didn’t even care.
She hadn’t seen him since they returned. Apparently he had taken over one of the other buildings in this prison.
For being a prison, Eva’s area did have a certain warmness to it. She had rugs and warm wooden furniture. She even had working showers that used the same rune configuration as she set up in their dorm.
Juliana gratefully accepted when her black-haired roommate offered the use of her showers. They were insanely hot for her tastes, but she’d accept a little scalding to get rid of the musk of those crypts. She had been a bit depressed at the thought of putting on her old clothes until Eva walked into the shower room–not even caring that Juliana was completely naked–and set down a clean set of her own clothes. Clean clothes she accepted with thanks.
It was like the girl could read her mind. Maybe she could. The girl had her shield and that spell she used at the very end. They were like nothing Juliana had seen before. Certainly nothing she ever used in her fights with Mrs. Baxter.
Juliana thought that said something about the powers. Something dark.
Then there was Arachne. Arachne currently sat on the other couch in the room. She had her head resting in Eva’s lap while the girl stroked her hair tendril things. It would have been sweet, but there was something off about the way Arachne reacted when Eva offered her lap.
Juliana knew the spider wasn’t just some tarantula. When she introduced herself as Arachne, as the Arachne, Juliana felt she had an answer. If she was telling the truth, that would make Arachne at least two thousand years old. What was she doing clinging to a thirteen year old mortal?
And if the legends were true where Arachne was the progenitor to all spiders, then Arachne would be very old. Older than dinosaurs probably. If she heard Eva’s mentor correctly and Arachne was a demon then she could be as old as time itself.
Juliana didn’t know that she believed that. He could have just been calling her a demon meaning a terrible person. That was the theory she wanted to believe, in any case. That and it seemed more plausible with how Arachne and Eva were… cuddling, for lack of a better word. Not to mention all the sitting around not getting into wanton slaughter around the school.
In any case, sitting and drinking tea in the same room as them felt incredibly awkward. Juliana didn’t know if she should look at them or look around. Arachne seemed to be staring right at her, but Juliana wasn’t sure she had a choice. Her eight eyes could narrow, but she had never seen the woman blink in the half hour they were sitting there.
Just as she brought the cup of tea to her lips, Eva spoke. “I trust everything will remain secret.”
It wasn’t a question. “I won’t say anything. In fact I’d rather not have news of me being a part of tonight reaching my mom’s ears, which means me not telling Mrs. Baxter.”
“Oh? I thought you were on good terms with your mother.”
“I am,” Juliana said quickly. “She wanted to home school me after the abandoned house thing. I don’t think she’d approve of me being nearly killed or zombified while running around with–” She cut herself off and stared at her tea.
Eva didn’t seem perturbed.
Arachne was the one who spoke. “Running around with what?” Threatened more like.
“Strange people,” Juliana offered after a sip of her tea.
She didn’t think she was ready for a conversation like this. Especially not in a place where Eva controlled wards that apparently blew off one of Arachne’s legs. If Eva took a sudden dislike to Juliana, she might be in for some serious pain.
Eva seemed to have the same idea. “I understand you must have questions,” she said. “There are just some things I don’t think I’m ready to answer. Suspect all you wish for now, I just ask that you don’t tell anyone anything. In the future I may be more open. After we’ve spent more time together. For now just know that no one in this complex wishes harm on you or anyone in Brakket.”
“That sounds good,” Juliana said. It was concerning that Eva felt the need to explicitly state she didn’t want to hurt anyone.
“Were we not before?”
Eva smiled at that. She patted Arachne’s head. “And how are you feeling?”
“I told you, I’m fine.”
“How are your wounds then?”
Juliana gasped as Arachne dug her long, spindly fingers beneath the large gash in her chest. Her fingers were clean when she pulled them away.
“See, no blood. Carapace will take a while to heal, however.”
“Good. Maybe it is time to go back to the dorms then?”
Arachne resettled her head on Eva’s lap. “Not that better,” she said.
“So,” Juliana nodded towards the pile of books they had liberated from the cave, “planning on becoming a necromancer now?”
“Hardly,” Eva scoffed. Juliana felt a bit of relief at the disdain with which she said that. “They may come in handy if we’re going to keep running into necromancers. Even if they don’t, I like adding to my library, no matter the book.”
“Just owning them could land you in prison.”
“Already there,” Eva said with a gesture around the room.
Juliana sighed. She had a feeling there was more to that statement than the obvious.
“Get a few hours of sleep,” Eva said. “We will head back to Brakket before dawn. You can use that couch. If you end up being a frequent visitor, maybe we’ll scrounge up another bed.”
Eva roused Arachne and they retired together into Eva’s room. Juliana wondered at their relationship once more. She decided it couldn’t possibly be anything. Arachne was way too old for Eva no matter what.
The cell door slammed shut. It had been fitted with panels of wood between the bars, as had several other doors on that side of the common room. Juliana could probably fix it up better, using her ferrokinesis.
That thought brought her attention to the heavy metal flowing beneath her shirt. Once she fell asleep, it would either flow off of her and make a mess on the floor, or it would harden and possibly suffocate her. She set to storing it.
She flexed the muscles in her arms out as much as possible before hardening a layer over them as bracers. That gave enough space when she relaxed to keep circulation while keeping them from jiggling around. She repeated the action on her lower legs. There was still a lot of metal left. She thickened the metal on her arms and legs and turned the rest into a ball around the size of a skull.
Juliana shuddered. Not a skull. A cantaloupe.
She hefted it onto the floor beside her. It was much heavier all in one lump than spread around her body.
She laid down on the couch and carefully shut her eyes, all while thinking of a beautiful sunrise cresting over a flowery field. Juliana desperately tried to ignore the horde of skeletons that had joined the zombies trampling over the hills.