The pleasant heat vanished. A cool musk rushed in to replace it.
Slowly, carefully, Arachne set Eva down on the slightly uneven ground. She used all of her legs to help steady Eva until she got her balance under control.
Eva shrugged her off and kept her own balance.
She stumbled forwards almost immediately. One of Arachne’s limbs reached out and steadied her.
Without toes, Eva had to pick up her feet straight up in order to walk. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t elegant. More of a waddle. Hopefully I can come up with some way to rig toes into shoes, Eva thought with a sigh.
Eva reached out with her sight. Arachne stood just to her left. All her limbs were hovering just inches away from Eva. Her hands were mere stumps, both still bleeding. Either Arachne didn’t notice or she didn’t care.
Eva certainly didn’t at the moment.
The blood dripped down, splashing on the rough floor. It formed a rough topography as it ran down a slight incline. They were almost certainly in a cave.
Some distance away, Eva could feel a lot of bodies. Their biology was weird. Weirder than Arachne’s even. Large sacks with small tubes connecting them. Flesh golems perhaps? Maybe zombies.
“Arachne,” Eva snapped, “where are we?”
“A cave. Maybe a storage room of some sort? There’s a lot of junk lying around.” Eva watched her limbs as they moved off to one side, seemingly picking up something. “Your necklace.”
Eva almost pulled away. Instead she put on her best glower as Arachne’s legs reached around her. Had she been less angry, she might have appreciated the way Arachne manipulated the necklace to attach it behind Eva’s neck with only her legs.
“Arachne,” Eva said. “I am mad at you. More than mad, I am disappointed.”
The muscles making up Arachne’s face contorted. Eva wasn’t sure what to make of the expression. She couldn’t see Arachne’s chitinous face, just the meat beneath. “Eva, I–”
“You’re lucky. For two reasons,” Eva held up one of Arachne–one of her fingers. She’d been trying not to think about it. Her fingers were long. They had too many joints. Moving them was clumsy and unnatural. “The first reason is that I cannot see. I can’t move around this place and it is full of enemies. I can see flesh golems, maybe zombies too. Skeletons? Ghosts? I doubt I’ll see anything.”
Eva extended a lengthy second finger. “The second reason you are lucky is that I am furious with the necromancers. I will tear Sawyer apart.”
No response came except a slight bowing of her head.
Eva shrugged it off. She could yell at Arachne later.
“Is my dagger around here?”
Arachne rummaged through boxes and drawers, by the sound of things. Eva wasn’t expecting results.
The bloodstone she made in the abattoir glowed in her vision as it rested against her chest. It was crumbling and cracked. The escape from the Abattoir cost it a lot of integrity. Controlling so much blood just wasn’t healthy for the poor thing.
Without her dagger, it was all she had.
She knelt down, careful to keep her balance, and dipped it in the small puddle of Arachne’s blood. The blood swirled up to form a small handful of marbles. Not even enough to make toes out of. She needed more.
The flesh golems stood, unmoving, a distance away. They were folded up on each other like chairs might be in a storage room. They would do.
“Enough, Arachne. It isn’t here.”
Arachne stopped searching. The blood in her eyes focused on Eva.
“Books, lots of books. No weapons that I could see.” One of her legs lifted up near Eva. “Your clothes, though it looks like they cut you out of them rather than simply undressed you.”
“Leave them,” Eva sighed. She did not miss the edge in Arachne’s voice when she spoke of undressing. “As much as I would like to take the books, they aren’t much use to me at the moment.” She resisted an urge to tap at her eyes. “Maybe later.
Arachne led Eva with her legs. Eva herself used the marbles of Arachne’s blood to get a rough view of the floor. She tried not to trip over anything as she waddled out into the hallway.
Eva pointed in the direction of the flesh golems and said, “that way.”
An odd concentration of blood appeared in Arachne’s face. Pursing her mouth together?
Eva couldn’t tell. Maybe with practice.
Together, they walked through a very uneven corridor, almost perpendicular to where the flesh golems sat. It was slow going and more than once, Arachne offered to carry Eva. Eva refused.
It would have been the smart thing to do. Under other circumstances, Eva would have in an instant.
If she didn’t show Arachne she was mad at her, the demon would just try the same trick again next time.
Next time, Eva thought, if she even got a next time.
They moved around the cavern until another blood bag entered Eva’s sight. He sat casually, writing on a desk if Eva was reading his motions correctly. The blood form was slim, a skinny man who towered even while sitting. He shook a finger off to one side as if flicking something away. The way the blood in his mouth flowed, Eva could tell.
He was wearing a wide grin.
“Sawyer,” Eva hissed. “Arachne, that way.” She raised one of her pointed fingers, aiming it right at the man. Her hand knocked against a hard wall.
She grit her teeth. “Are there any doors or passages that might lead in that direction?”
Arachne didn’t respond. She was looking down the hall in the direction they had been heading.
“Dogs. The ghost kind.”
“Can you take them?” Eva wasn’t entirely sure the dogs could actually hurt either of them, being ghosts. That went the other way as well. Her blood seemed effective on Halloween, but being unable to see severely hurt that plan.
“I don’t think I need to. They took one look and ran off without even a growl.”
“They’re warning Sawyer,” Eva said with a small amount of panic. She pointed again at the wall. “That way Arachne, as fast as we can.”
Without asking, Arachne scooped up Eva into her arms and legs. She took off down the hall at a light run.
Eva almost protested, but she’d asked for fast.
It didn’t matter now. If Sawyer got away…
Her fists collapsed in on themselves as she brought her many jointed fingers into a ball.
Arachne skidded to a halt. She spun, whipping Eva around.
Two light thuds hit Arachne’s back. Eva could see blood trickling out of fresh holes in her back.
“Skeletons,” Arachne said. “Stay here.”
Arachne set her down on the cavern floor. She didn’t even set Eva upright. Another wound appeared in her back before she charged down the hallway.
Sawyer was moving. He was walking calmly, not running or panicking. His heart wasn’t even beating especially fast. Yet he was getting away.
Eva grit her teeth.
He was getting away.
The marbles of Arachne’s blood formed into a single large small ball. She formed it, weaved it into a wire array. She couldn’t tell how well the fight was going. For all she knew, Arachne was in the middle of killing the last skeleton.
It didn’t matter.
“Arachne, hit the floor,” Eva shouted.
Eva didn’t wait. She plunged her hand straight into the blood sphere.
The arachnid turned her head back for just an instant before all but falling straight to the floor.
Her vision warped and twisted as a massive claw made of blood launched down the hallway. She felt her fingers pierce more than a few skeletons as it went. It crashed against the end of the corridor, shaking the entire cavern.
That felt a bit worrying. She couldn’t tell where the cavern ended before her attack. More of those might risk some sort of collapse.
The blood it left in its wake painted a vision of the hallway in her mind. Eva knew from experience that the blood wouldn’t be usable, but it was interesting that she could see it. Five distinct and massive holes buried deep into the cave wall.
She could get used to that.
Arachne clambered back to her feet. She gave the hallway a once over before running back to Eva. Apparently everything was dead.
Eva did not miss the extra arrow holes leaking small amounts of blood in her chest.
“I was almost done.”
“No time, Sawyer is getting away.”
There was a brief hesitation before Arachne scooped Eva back up.
While running, Eva tapped her bloodstone against the stubs of Arachne’s wrists.
That did it. The stone crumbled to dust. That attack strained it too far.
Eva tore the lace necklace from her neck and flung it to the floor. Worthless.
Her fingers ticked as she tapped them against the palm of her hand. Fireballs wouldn’t do much of anything other than provide a minor inconvenience. Her wind and earth magic would be worth less than dust in an eye.
She cursed herself for not spending more time practicing regular thaumaturgy.
Arachne rounded a corner.
At least they were making progress towards Sawyer now. He turned down another corridor. This might have been the original hallway he was in before the skeletons delayed them.
“Sawyer!” Eva called out with no idea if her voice would carry to him. She didn’t care. “I’m coming for you!”
He definitely heard it.
He gripped something in one hand, tightly if Eva read the heavy pressure around his fingers, and threw it off to one side. He made motions that were unmistakably closing a door. Seemingly satisfied with shutting something into a room, he pulled out some small object from a pocket.
Not being able to see objects was a curse, though she supposed she wouldn’t be able to see even Sawyer normally from where she was.
With no small amount of satisfaction, Eva watched as his heart picked up a beat.
Whatever it was, Eva didn’t care.
Sawyer slowly walked back towards the corridor Eva was in.
She grinned as her fingers clicked against her palm.
Arachne rounded the corner and stopped. They were face to face.
“Ghosts,” Arachne whispered, “at least three humans and a dog.”
“One possessed me earlier, that’s how I got captured. Be careful.”
Sawyer’s grin widened, Eva could tell. He looked on at them and started laughing. “A crippled girl and a crippled demon come to attack me? I was almost worried for a minute.” He stopped laughing and glanced at Eva again. She could feel his eyes running over her.
“Ah,” he said, “but those fingers are sure to sell far better than your old ones. Have you come back to donate more? Where are your eyes and toes?”
“A work in progress,” Eva growled. “Arachne, we’re not here to talk. We’re here for fun.”
There was an almost imperceptible nod from Arachne. Rather than dash forward, she took one slow step. Eva did not fail to notice her mouth opening into a wide grin. It was almost a shame she couldn’t see her sharp teeth poking though.
The step back that Sawyer took brought a wide grin to Eva’s own face.
Arachne took another step forward.
Sawyer took half a step back. Then he paused. His smile grew wider.
“Arachne,” Eva started.
Sawer waved whatever was in his hand.
The blood configuration Eva decided was flesh golems appeared in front of her. More and more appeared, seemingly filling the hallway.
Eva wasn’t sure if they were being created or transported. It didn’t matter in the end. A plan formed in her mind as they shuffled towards them.
“Hold them off.”
Arachne gently set her on the ground. The moment Eva was steady on her feet, she jumped at the creatures. Eva watched for a moment as six legs lanced into the chests of the first six.
They flew aside as if they weighed no more than a pillow.
Eva set to work on her idea.
Using one of her pointed fingers, she punctured her upper arm. She brought her bloodied finger to the back of her left claw. Keeping her arm as steady as she could, Eva started a circle on the back of her claw.
She found it far easier to move her whole arm, keeping her needle-like finger stiff. Trying to bend the joints felt awkward. It was a far more precise circle than she felt she could draw otherwise.
Slowly, Eva pulled out six spokes and drew an outer circle. The base design was complete. Eva wasn’t finished. Arachne followed her orders perfectly, none of the creatures were getting hear her.
Three tear shaped droplets dripped down from the main circle. A single line crested the top of the circle. Eva added several small marks from the line, stretching out to her fingers.
That would do for now.
Eva walked–waddled–to the nearest downed golem. It wasn’t moving, but its heart beat. That was all she needed.
She dug into the bag of flesh where its heart was located. Her marked hand pressed up against the beating heart.
I hope this is a human heart.
Eva channeled her magic into it.
The heart twisted in on itself, pulling and rending the flesh it was attached to. It compressed until a small glowing sphere appeared in Eva’s vision. As blood collected against the sphere, Eva could tell it still had flaws. Far less flaws than the woman from the abattoir, but it was more porous than a proper bloodstone should be.
A wave of her hand caused the entirety of the creature’s blood to tear out of its corpse. She kept a small amount wrapped around the bloodstone to keep it floating around her.
The rest formed large marbles and shot off towards the heart of every flesh golem Eva could detect. Once they were splattered with her controlled blood, Eva snapped her fingers.
Eva snapped her fingers.
She looked down and repeated the motion. She couldn’t see more than the insides, but Eva had her guesses. The smooth chitin rubbed uselessly against each other in the clumsiest way she ever saw someone try to snap.
“Arachne,” Eva yelled, “I can’t snap your stupid fingers.”
The demon didn’t respond, opting instead to skewer another two golems.
Eva sighed and clapped.
At once, all the flesh golems’ hearts exploded in their chests.
As they tumbled Eva could only lament the potency of the blood. It was far better than hers.
At the moment, she reassured herself.
She sent the bloodstone off to collect more blood. Not too much, Eva didn’t want to wear down the new stone too quickly.
“Sawyer,” Eva called as she looked around for the man. “Sawyer, where are you?”
Her calls were just for fun. He sat back behind the line of fallen golems, apparently having fallen backwards when the golems died. His grin was still plastered on his face. She wondered for a moment if it was just stuck like that.
Eva focused on him. All her rage, all her anger. If it wasn’t for him…
She grit her teeth. As carefully as she could, Eva marched up to him. The ground was slick enough with blood for her to see every nook and cranny.
“Ah-ah, my sweetie.” He ticked his finger back and forth. “I should mention this: killing me won’t make it stop.”
Eva tilted her head to the side. “What are yo–”
A brief flash of movement was the only warning she got.
Eva dived to the side, tumbling out of the path of the attack.
“It took all five specters and she is fighting every step.” Eva watched as the meat in his tongue slipped over empty space. His teeth. “I love the feisty ones. She’s a much better fighter than you.”
Arachne lurched forwards. Her steps were unsteady, more like a zombie than some of the actual zombies she’d seen. Another step almost sent her to the ground; one of her legs stretched forward to catch her.
Eva didn’t waste a second of time. Her blood spread forward, wrapping around each of Arachne’s legs at the base of her back. She doubled and tripled up the rings of blood. Arachne was a demon and her carapace was strong.
Not strong enough. Six legs violently exploded off the back of the arachnid. Arachne fell on her face a moment later. Eva couldn’t tell for sure, but an arrow sticking out of her chest might have been pushed all the way through. The legs squirmed and writhed on the ground before they went still.
“Heartless,” Sawyer quipped as he looked down at the lamely flopping Arachne.
The stubs on her hands didn’t seem to offer enough grip to prop herself back up. That or Arachne was fighting every movement.
Eva hoped it was the second.
Eva shrugged. “She’ll regenerate. You,” Eva couldn’t help but grin at the man before her, “will not.”
“I had my doubts about you being a demon. I suppose my doubts were unfounded.”
“Arachne,” Eva said as she walked over to Sawyer, “you have until I finish sorting our friend’s organs from smallest to largest to fight off those ghosts. If you fail, I’ll banish you until we find a solution.”
“Smallest to largest?” Sawyer said with mock confidence. “Why not alphabetical? It just seems so plebeian, otherwise. Or,” he gasped, bringing a hand to his mouth, “are you a simpleton who doesn’t even know the names of half the body’s organs?”
“Really, the only organ that matters to me is the heart.” Eva knelt down near the grinning man. “I could coat you in blood and clap my hands. I could, it would be so easy. I could have done it instead of the golems or Arachne.”
Her fingers clicked as they tapped against each other. “I think it would be much more cathartic to do this by hand,” she wiggled her needle-like fingers, clacking them together more, “or claw, as the case may be.”
Sawyer offered nothing but his wide grin. His heart rate increased. Not by a little bit. It hammered in his chest almost as hard as Eva’s own heart.
“Shall we start here?” Eva gripped his little toe, or tried to. The man was wearing a shoe that Eva couldn’t see. Eva pinched, intending to only cut through the shoe. She misjudged her hand’s strength. Her sharp fingers pierced straight through his toe.
He didn’t scream. He didn’t even slip in his smile. His heart beat faster.
“Sorry,” Eva said. “I don’t have much experience with these hands. Something we can explore together. You still have nine toes and plenty more after that.”
Eva reached into the small opening in his shoe. The next toe, Eva rolled back and forth in her fingers. Bone snapped beneath her fingers before she squeezed it off. “Eight now, Sawyer. Any comments?”
“Just one,” he said with a laugh that sounded far less forced than it should have sounded, “I’m glad I took your eyes.”
Eva frowned at that. She reached for his third–
Hot pain pierced her side. Eva gripped her side as something kicked the side of her head.
“Trouble with two naked whores, Sawyer? I am disappointed.”
“Weilks, good to see you.”
Eva couldn’t breathe, not well at least. She could see exactly what happened, at least to her blood vessels. Something pierced her lung. She set to healing as much as she could. Her bloodstone flew into the cut, giving her more control over her own blood. Lungs were far more complicated than skin; as long as it matched the opposite side, it should be fine. Her blood magic could keep her from drowning in her own blood as well.
“The Elysium Sluts are on the move. Now would be the perfect time to find the augur. Except,” the larger man made a show of looking around the chamber, “is this our entire army?”
“Sawyer,” Weilks said warningly.
Eva gripped the thing piercing her side and pulled it slowly out, healing as she went. The blood sticking to the blade made a familiar pattern.
This was her dagger. Her dagger. The bloodstone was missing. It was her bloodstone. The best one she’d ever made. The fat man must have it.
She launched the blood at him, forming rings around his feet and hands.
Weilks fell forwards, nearly crushing Sawyer. He tumbled without even a scream.
The skinnier man scrambled out of the way. Eva noted with some satisfaction that the smile finally slipped from his mouth.
Eva let him scramble to the side. She mostly ignored him as she rolled Weilks over on his back.
“Where is my bloodstone,” Eva said. She felt a distinct need to cough, but suppressed it. Her claws pressed around his neck as she straddled his chest. “My bloodstone, I want it back.”
“You whore,” he said.
Eva jammed one of her claws straight into his side. “My bloodstone?”
The man just glared.
“I’ll need to make a new one then.”
Using the bloodstone floating near her, Eva cleared off the back of her hand. She cut open a small cut on her upper arm and touched the bloodstone to it, careful to keep the flesh golem blood separate from her own.
She formed the sigil on the back of her hand using purely blood magic. Eva fancied it up as much as she could. Smooth, clean lines. The droplets of blood being actual droplets rather than a mere drawing.
Once ready, Eva tore into his chest with her other claw. She was careful. Her vision helped keep from even scratching the man’s heart as his flesh tore away.
Eva ignored his screams. His thrashing arms were held down by rings of the flesh golem blood. They also served to keep him from bleeding out.
With his beating heart exposed, Eva pressed her sigiled hand against it. She felt its beats even through the exoskeleton. It was best while his heart still beat strong.
Eva channeled her magic.
The heart twisted in on itself, repeating the same motions the flesh golem heart made.
This time came with the added benefit of watching the very life being sucked out of the man she was sitting on. His blood stopped pumping immediately. She watched as the blood in his veins came to a standstill. His eyes bulged for a moment before a last gasp of breath escaped from his lifeless corpse.
Cradled in his open ribcage was a perfect bloodstone. At least, as perfect as Eva could make them. It might be better than her old one, she couldn’t be sure. Her old one she inspected with her eyes. This one she used the blood surrounding it.
Eva stood up, stepping irreverently on the corpse as she did so. Both stones and her dagger hovered around her, coated in blood. The dagger may have gotten dirty, not something she could worry about now. She’d set the stone later.
Now, she looked over to the figure standing to one side. She paused, frozen in her steps. The figure had two mounds of blood on her chest and a distinct lack of blood between her legs. She was not Sawyer.
Arachne slowly picked herself off the floor. Her biology was different enough that Eva couldn’t mistake her for anyone.
“Who are you?”
The woman raised an arm.
Eva didn’t hesitate for a second. She’d had enough of being injured for one day. A blood shield formed around her and Arachne with a mere thought. With all the available fuel, it wouldn’t be running out anytime soon.
Eva never got to play with this much blood. A shame, really.
“I’ll not ask again,” Eva said.
“You don’t recognize me.” Her voice came out soft, almost as a song.
“Voice is familiar, but no eyes.” Eva pointed two fingers at her empty eyes, careful to keep from touching her skin with her sharp fingers. She gave a hard kick at the corpse behind her, almost tumbling due to her balance issues. “Thanks to these necromancers. Did you happen to see the other one?”
“You are a blood mage.”
Eva didn’t know what to say to that. It would be hard to hide in her current state.
“That’s how you saved Shal.”
“And your hands?”
“Didn’t have much choice in the matter.” Eva shot a hard glare at the now standing form of Arachne. “Are you yourself?”
“The ghosts left along with Sawyer,” Arachne hung her head, “sorry.”
“Consider your lack of limbs both a lesson and a punishment. The first of many, I think.”
“You know that demon?”
“Something like that.”
“I’ll spare your life for saving my daughter.” She paused, turning her head to point at Arachne. “That thing killed one of my sisters. I demand its obliteration.”
“Your sisters?” The voice finally clicked in her head. “Sister Cross?”
“I can ensure the augur doesn’t speak of you to any others, but you must hand over that demon.”
“I’ll do no such thing. Her punishment is mine. Although,” Eva tapped a finger on her chin. She winced away at a cut as she healed it. “Now that you mention it. The other necromancer mentioned your augur. She was their main target.”
“What?” Sister Cross’ heart picked up a handful of beats.
“Given that he disappeared from here, with two-thirds of their flesh golem army, I sure hope your augur is protected.”
“Come here. I’ll take you back to the academy.”
“How stupid do you think I am? I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Eva,” Sister Cross half shouted, “I came here alone to pull you out before any others saw you; as thanks for saving my daughter. My sisters would kill you on sight when they storm this place.”
“Thanks but no thanks,” Eva said. “As you so astutely deduced, I am a blood mage and here,” she waved her arm over the littered corpses of flesh golems, “I am in my element. Are you in yours?”
Sister Cross dropped into a fighting stance. “You’re going to try to fight me?”
“I certainly don’t want to. With all the corpses and two bloodstones, I’m sure I run a sporting chance.”
“Most of all,” Eva said, “I don’t think I have to. If all your nuns are poised to strike here, who is defending your augur?”
Sister Cross’ heart picked up another few beats.
“Go, take your nuns and save your augur. I’ll find my own way back.”
The nun’s jaw grit to one side. A moment later, she vanished.
“If you find Sawyer,” Eva called to the empty air, “please, don’t kill him. I owe him a dismemberment. Several, actually.”
Tension drained out of the air and Eva felt herself drain with it. She stumbled forward only to be caught by Arachne’s stumps.
“I thought you might hand me over for a moment.”
Eva spun out of Arachne’s arms and slammed her foot into the corpse of Weilks as hard as she could.
Sawyer got away.
She kicked again. The wound in her toes opened up again. Eva healed it quickly and kicked again.
Sawyer got away.
Eva kicked one more time and sighed.
“You might wish I handed you over when I’m done with you,” Eva said. She felt in a particularly vicious mood at the moment.
Arachne grinned. A wide grin. Eva didn’t need to look to see it. Eva didn’t mirror the expression.
She gave Weilks another kick.
“My legs would kick harder, if you want.”
“Later,” Eva said. “I need a bath. And a shower. And a nap. And…” Eva sighed. “And a lot of things. Let’s get back to the prison.”
Arachne moved to pick her up. Eva allowed it. She was too tired to complain.
Arachne walked slowly, careful to keep Eva from slipping out of her smooth arm stubs. They did stumble across a storage room. Eva collected a few books, using blood to carry them.
She had no idea how she’d read them. Maybe she’d force Arachne to read them to her. That might be a worse punishment for the demon than anything Eva could come up with.
Together they wandered, lost in the cavern until they found the exit.
Eva shut her–relaxed in Arachne’s arms.
Next stop: home.