“Abomination receives treatment for hand maintenance,” Nel mumbled to herself as she typed out the words.
She had no idea what she actually saw, and she didn’t care. Nel doubted it was anything terrible based on the girl’s actions over the last four months. Whatever was going on there, she didn’t want to give any more reason for Sister Cross to think about replacing her.
“Besides, it might actually be treatment for her hands.” She didn’t type those words.
Nel moved back to her altar. At first she’d been worried. The girl was an abomination, but she was still a girl. A scraggly looking man with a disheveled goatee standing next to her set off alarm bells.
She’d only tuned in as they were all naked. The man quickly dressed, however. He walked up and started poking and prodding the abomination. It was only then that Nel had noticed the tubes connecting the abomination to the demon.
The man had left them lying in their chairs and walked over to one of the buildings. Nel followed him. He took out a gigantic binder and started writing.
Nel tried to read over his shoulder, but it was in some kind of code. At least, it wasn’t any of the twelve languages she knew. He returned to the room with the abomination, made a few more notes in a smaller notebook, and started disconnecting the tubes.
The demon and the abomination still slept there and the man returned to his building.
Nothing particularly interesting as far as Nel was concerned.
With a thought, the black strand flew off to one side and a brown strand took its place.
The little brown-haired girl sat alone in her room. Oddly for a Saturday, her blond friend was nowhere in sight.
Nel could have searched around for the friend, but that could take a while without a fetter.
The poor girl sat on her bed. She had her wand out, continually casting a spell over and over again. It was the usual routine for her.
If she–Shalise, if Nel remembered correctly–wasn’t hanging around with her friends or at school, she was practicing. Both the blond and the abomination helped her out when she practiced in their presence.
Nel smiled as she rooted for the girl. She’d pieced together what happened to her on Halloween; it was almost impossible not to figure it out when you watched the people involved all day every day. If Shalise could find happiness in becoming a warrior, good for her.
Learning her past brought up conflicting emotions in Nel. Most of her conflict lay with the abomination. She seemed to be a kind person. Nothing outside of what happened the night Nel first saw her hinted at anything. That was more revenge than anything else.
She even saved the daughter of Lynn Cross.
That was another thing she was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to know about. There was no way she would survive beyond the end of this assignment. The leader of Charon Chapter having a daughter? Unthinkable.
Nel sighed as she swapped the two floating brown hairs. The short one moved into position as the long one hovered off to the side to join the long black hair and the demon’s leg.
As usual, Lynn Cross didn’t appear immediately. She didn’t appear at all. There wasn’t even a trail of light detailing the last fifteen minutes of her life.
Nel rose from the altar, directing the fetters to their storage spots against one wall as she did so. There was no need to check up on the demon. She was right next to the abomination.
Not that the demon ever did anything interesting anyway. She sat almost perfectly still unless the abomination was around.
Time for another bath, Nel thought.
With a spring in her step, Nel moved into the bathroom.
Her new home had a bathroom attached to the master bedroom. She no longer had to round-up the guards to go take a shower. Being able to take one whenever the mood struck her might be the best part about Sister Cross’ failed murder attempt.
It was just another way to separate her from the rest of the nuns. Nel knew this. Nonstop baths made her not even care.
She pulled off her habit and left it crumpled on the floor.
Flipping the ceiling fan on–something that helped with both humidity and frankincense–Nel sat on the edge of the already filled bath. It made too much noise to fill often. Sister Cross would take away this one pleasure if she knew about it.
Taking her focus from her habit, Nel slid the baseball-sized orb underneath the water. She channeled magic into it.
Where she learned thaumaturgy, Nel couldn’t say. She could say that she would be very depressed without it. As the water around the orb started bubbling, it rose to the top of the pool and spread out. Cool water moved in next to the crystal and heated up.
“I am so glad I’m a pyrokinetic.”
Nel shut her eyes as she slipped into the steaming bathwater. She sat and soaked, reclining against the slanted end of the bath. All her tension slipped off into the water and dissipated.
There was something to be said about baths. For one, it wasted time. A simple shower would suffice for cleaning. It also left Nel in a state of idleness. No work got done in the bath. No spying. No sleeping–Nel had tried to sleep once, it didn’t end well.
Yet it was the single most pleasurable thing Nel could remember doing since she became an augur. The water seeped into her skin and she reveled in it.
What she wouldn’t give for a less cramped bath. Nel did not consider herself a very tall woman by any standards, yet knees poked up above the water. Her head rested against the wall with her neck completely out of the water. If she wanted to dunk her head, she’d have to almost completely lift her feet out of the water.
On one of her missions nearly a year ago–just after she became an augur–Charon Chapter had been hunting a cadre of vampires. Nel had been searching for their den. She found it.
The master vampire had a bathtub big enough for his entire coven to–well, it was big. It had these little jets that shot water around.
Nel almost started drooling just thinking about it.
Even with her knees poking out of the water and absolutely no arm room, the bath was still the best part of her day. She spent almost every bit of downtime just soaking.
With a deep sigh, Nel thought for just a moment that she wouldn’t mind staying there forever.
Unfortunately, such a thing was not meant to be. Not only because of the murderous Sister Cross, but also because of the large crash outside the bathroom.
Nel scrambled out of the bathtub. Her foot skidded across the floor. She fell on her back. Pain lanced through one of her eyes as she pulled herself back to her feet.
Another crash outside came with the strangled cries of one of the nuns.
Nel threw on her tunic, ignoring the throbbing pain in her eye. She gripped her focus in her hand. Her scapular, rosary belt, and cross all lay forgotten in a pile.
If this was it, she wasn’t going down without a fight.
She threw open the door, eyes already blazing with white light. Nel was ready to fight off any nuns or necromancers that looked hostile to her.
Neither stood before her.
A man stood with his bare hand shoved deep into a white-robed nun’s chest. His foot plunged through Nel’s scrying altar as she stared.
The moment Nel looked at him, she was hit by an overload of information. She tried to sort through it all.
“Devil,” she started. Augurs weren’t meant for combat. “Asmodeus, subcategory: Mammon? Beelzebub?” Too much information. Her head throbbed. Her eyes stung. She had far too much insight to observe a creature like the one before her.
Nel shut it down.
The demon–devil lunged at her.
She scrambled backwards into the bathroom, falling once again. With her focus, she threw out the largest burst of fire she could.
The thing in front of her laughed. Chuckled?
Nel activated her connection just long enough to send a bolt of lightning straight into his bare chest.
That shut him up.
He took a slow step forwards. His hoofed foot left behind a burning crater as it lifted off the ground.
That would be why he laughed at fire. Nel tried to lick her dry lips. Her tongue was too dry to do any good.
He took another step forward.
I’m going to die here. She almost laughed. He was trying to intimidate her. Toying with her. Before the lightning bolt, he might have just killed her. Now he was mad. I’m going to get pulled apart in the most painful way he can imagine.
At least it wouldn’t be my imagination. Several very unpleasant ways to die flashed through Nel’s mind as she stared in horror.
Death pinged against her. One of her sisters died. The one the demon held. The nun’s passing resonated in Nel’s bones. She had held on for so long with the demon’s hand in her chest.
Nel needed to alert the others.
The demon took another step forward.
She couldn’t spare the concentration. Not now.
Nel closed her eyes and activated her connection again. She blindly fired three bolts of lightning.
If the source had been right–it always was–he was a devil class demon. She might have just tickled him rather than hurt him. Nel kept her eyes closed. She didn’t want to see the end coming.
It didn’t come.
She peeked open one of her eyes.
Nel took in the tiny bathroom. The nun he had had his hand in lay collapsed against the door. Sister Mable’s lifeless eyes stared out at her. The devil wasn’t in sight.
Hot breath stung the back of her neck.
The bass voice rumbled the floorboards. Nel could feel it through her hands.
She scrambled forwards, launching lightning behind her as she went.
Her hand moved too close for the shield to activate. Nel cried out as the devil’s hand closed around her extended wrist. The bone might be nothing more than powder.
He let go.
Nel tumbled forward into Sister Mable’s bloody lap.
The clunk of his hoof moving closer sent Nel into a panic. She crawled out of the bathroom on her hand and knees.
Whatever pain there might have been there was drowned out by the source.
His footsteps clunked closer.
Where are the other guards? “Sister Cross,” she cursed as realization hit her. She must have had them removed from their posts to leave her unguarded.
Not that it mattered now.
With a thought, the demon leg hovering above the remains of her altar launched itself over her head. It flew like a spear towards the approaching devil.
An augur’s powers weren’t supposed to be used that way. She could be excommunicated.
That didn’t matter either.
The demon leg had to do something.
She turned to look behind her, cutting her connection to preserve her sanity.
Pain coursed through her arm and straight to her brain. Terror was the only thing keeping her from screaming.
The devil laughed. He caught the speeding spear out of the air. Green fire burst from the tips of his fingers. The shiny black leg was reduced to ash in seconds.
Nel was sure she heard a whimper. It probably came from her.
Each arrogant step the devil took left a trail of flame. Each step brought him closer to Nel.
Nel shut her eyes and reactivated her connection. The shield would hold him at bay so long as she didn’t move.
Hold him at bay until what? Reinforcements?
Someone started laughing. A high-pitched, hysterical giggle. Far too high to be the demon.
Who am I kidding. There’s no one coming. If Nel didn’t know better, she would have suspected Sister Cross of being the one to send the demon. Weren’t they supposed to be fighting necromancers? Why the hell was a demon attacking her?
Her mind flashed to the abomination. No. It couldn’t have been her. Nel had had her under near constant observation. She’d never even seen the abomination with any demon save for the spider.
The footsteps drew closer.
Never before had she wished she could teleport as much as she did now. Why did only chapter leaders train that ability?
A voice whispered in the back of her mind, because the rest of the nuns are expendable. And augurs, the voice in her head laughed, augurs don’t get human rights.
Something slammed into her shield. Part of it fractured.
Her shield disappeared.
The shield didn’t shatter. She didn’t turn it off.
Nel opened her eyes in horror. Her connection wasn’t even on. She tried to connect. It cut away the moment she tried.
The devil’s laugh rattled the windows. His mismatched horns shook from side to side as he threw his head back.
He was doing something. She couldn’t connect. Her arm throbbed. The focus was lost somewhere long ago.
Nel cowered against the shattered remains of her altar. She shut her eyes and desperately tried to activate her connection.
It flicked off every time she tried.
“That’s it?” A blast of hot air erupted in her face. “Why is my master so worried about you pathetic nuns?”
He poked a single finger into her shoulder. Pain tore through an eye. Her shoulder must be dislocated.
“Please,” Nel sobbed. She barely realized she opened her mouth.
“Please?” The marble altar rumbled at his mocking voice. “Please what.”
“I–” A hiccup caught the words in her throat.
He laughed again. “You’re a weird one. I thought I could have some fun with you because of that.”
The demon leaned down, hot breath scorching her ear. “You’re weak, yeah?”
“I-I’m not a fighter. Any sister would be stronger.”
Nel could almost imagine him glancing back to the dead nun in the bathroom the moment the words left her mouth. He glanced back with a quirked eyebrow. There was rumbling laughter as he walked away, leaving her in her pitiful state while he left in search of more worthy targets. Like Sister Cross.
Her imagination was always her strong suit.
Long nailed fingers gripped her throat. Nel clambered to her feet as the hand lifted.
He lifted too high. Her feet left the ground.
With her one good hand, Nel’s fingers dug into the beast’s arm. Her muscles burned as she tried to hold herself up.
She didn’t have to hold on long.
The demon pulled her in close. Close enough for his rough lips to brush against her cheek. An actual kiss.
She wasn’t next to the demon anymore. It took her a moment to comprehend.
Nel flew through the air. Her back impacted something hard.
She kept going.
Glass shattered all around her. Pain laced through her back and arms.
Fresh air rushed into her lungs as she gasped in a breath. The cool February sun cradled her as she cried out.
Pain pierced one of her eyes as she landed. A shard of glass dug into her side.
Nel lay in the thin layer of melting snow. She couldn’t move. She didn’t want to move. The thought itself sent needles through her entire body. Actually moving would only be worse.
Maybe the devil would leave. Maybe it would think she died.
No. He knew what he was doing. Even if he did leave, Sister Cross would show up sooner or later. She’d finish the job.
Nel tried to connect again. The source wrapped around her like a warm blanket. Her pain flooded through the connection rather than to her mind.
With the source’s strength, Nel dragged herself to her feet. “Diagnostic: Self,” Nel mumbled. Information trickled into her mind. She started hobbling away. Anywhere else.
“Fractured left ulna. Fractured left radius. Blood loss detected.”
Nel trudged through the snow. She didn’t look back. If the devil was there, she didn’t want to look.
“Major lacerations across full body. Foreign objects detected. Additional details available.”
Whatever additional details the source had for her could wait. They wouldn’t be good news.
“Level Psalm healing available. Seek designated mender for additional care.”
Nel cursed to herself. Not that she expected better for an augur. On the bright side, she wouldn’t bleed out anytime soon. The burn of Psalms gushed through her veins. She grit her teeth as she continued moving.
The snow had melted off the sidewalks earlier in the week; at least she wasn’t leaving a nice footpath to follow. The blood would stop soon enough, if it hadn’t already. No one could follow her at the very least.
Transportation. She needed transportation. Something, anything to get her away.
There were people at the school. People who could teleport. It wasn’t a far distance. Nothing was a far distance from anything in Brakket. She could make it.
She had to make it.
The main part of the city drew closer. Tall buildings. Tight alleys. Places to hide.
Nel leaned against the brick wall of a shop. She slumped against it, but stayed on her feet. There was no guarantee she would get back up if she collapsed to the ground. She struggled breathing a few deep, raspy breaths.
The shop owner. They could contact the school. Nel wouldn’t have to walk all the way.
No. What if they contacted the nuns. What if whoever the shop owner got a hold of at the school misunderstood and contacted the nuns.
What if they contact Sister Cross anyway?
Nel pushed off the side of the building. She stumbled around back, moving through the alley. She couldn’t think about such things. They had to help her.
Without frankincense, Nel couldn’t concentrate on seeing. There were brief glimpses ahead of her path, nothing more. Her sight jumped around the corner of the alley before she did. Just enough warning to stop.
An older man, balding, stood just outside his building. He leaned against the wall near a doorway. Every now and again, he’d bring a cigarette to his mouth and take a deep drag.
Nel waited. She couldn’t do much else. Her eyelids started to droop. She shook it off. Launching her vision around the corner, Nel watched the man. It took an eternity, but he went back inside the building.
A sigh escaped her lips. It took another minute to muster the effort to move on.
Pushing off from the wall, Nel continued.
Lumbering along through the alleys had Nel feeling the pain. All of the pain. Even shunting it off to the source didn’t stop it from existing. The longer she shunted it, the more prominent it became. Before long, being connected wouldn’t help at all.
The most bothersome feeling came from her tunic. It was soaking wet. She forgot about her bath.
Her nice, hot bath.
It seemed so long ago.
The diagnostic hadn’t mentioned hypothermia or frostbite. She’d only been outside for a few minutes at that point. Her feet were bare. No doubt she’d stepped on things not meant for bare feet while walking down the alleys. The source would have dampened a lot of pain, not to mention the overpowering feeling from her other wounds.
Nel stretched out a hand. White fire danced from her fingertips. She kept it small, not wanting any accidents. Nel huddled up as close as she dared.
It barely warmed her, if it warmed her at all. She couldn’t feel the heat. Holy fire wasn’t hot, not unless it was burning evil. The other sisters could probably stand in it without any side effects. Nel didn’t have any other options.
The red crystal focus was as good as gone.
Nel extinguished the fire with a wave of her hand. It wasn’t doing enough. She shoved off the ground and stumbled her first few steps until she fell into a rhythm. She kept one hand–her good hand–on the alley wall, as much as she could.
Doors, dumpsters, and bins all forced her to push off of the wall. The alleys went on around until she reached the entertainment plaza outside the school. There were no alleys after that. Wide open space lay between her and the school.
Space filled with nuns.
Not filled. Nel shook her head. There were only two. They sat together on a bench outside of one of the two dorm buildings.
She hadn’t been told explicitly–Nel never got told anything if Sister Cross could help it–the new dean of the school didn’t like the nuns wandering the grounds. That should help her, at the very least.
Now to get rid of those two.
Nel took a deep breath.
She pinged out Sister Mable’s death across the source, aimed at the Charon Chapter nuns.
Even at the distance she was at, she could see it work. The two nuns jumped from their slouched postures to being ramrod straight. They glanced at each other before standing. There was no hurry in their footsteps. No haste, nothing to betray that something was wrong to any watchers.
But they were agitated.
It was a dangerous move. If anyone knew her building had been attacked, it would be very suspicious that she didn’t relay the death sooner. Her only hope was that none knew. They would show up and find the body of Sister Mable. Nel wouldn’t be there, of course. They’d think she had been kidnapped or killed.
Hopefully killed. In either case, she should have a few days before Sister Cross could secure the release of her fetter from the vaults.
As the nuns left down the main street, Nel emerged from her alley. She didn’t want to pass between the dorms. Too many people could see her there.
Nel slogged through the mushy snow behind one of the dorms. There were still windows, but only the ground floor would be able to see her. Far fewer people than between the dorms.
It wasn’t pleasant. Her toes ached. That couldn’t be a good sign. If she could feel her toes ache over the pain in her wrist, eyes, or back, it must be bad.
She was so close.
The dorms left behind her. The school approached. Nel had wandered the halls enough while spying on the students to know where she needed to go.
The main lobby was deserted. A Saturday wouldn’t have students inside. There was no school. She might not find the help she sought.
Nel had to try.
The large open windows let the sun in while keeping out the cold.
It was glorious. There was a slight urge to raise her arms in praise of the warmth.
She couldn’t muster the effort.
The sofas near the entrance looked so inviting. So soft. Nel stumbled towards one. A brief rest.
No. Nel had to continue. The lobby was too open. Too easy to get caught. Too easy to lie down for a nap and never stand up again.
Nel tore herself away.
Using her glimpse to avoid any confrontation, Nel made her way though the school.
She found the classroom.
Nel threw her glimpse into the adjoining office.
Nel almost laughed. She might have, it was hard to tell. The teacher was inside. Grading papers or something, the vision didn’t hold out long enough to tell for sure. It didn’t matter.
She was inside.
Not wanting to be mistaken for an attacker, Nel shut off her connection. As her eyes ceased burning, the pain flooded over her. She clamped her jaw to avoid screaming.
Nel reached for the door.
The handle was locked. Nel hammered on the door. It didn’t come out as strong as she intended. She kept at it. Banging on it. Rattling the latch. She almost thought about kicking it before remembering her lack of shoes.
Forever passed before the door opened. The professor stood in the doorway. Her hair, cut from the chin to the nape of her neck, tossed behind the teacher as she dashed forward to catch Nel in her arms.
“H-Help me,” Nel’s voice croaked as she stuttered. Without her connection, she could feel the cold. It surrounded her. Enveloped her. Closed in on her. She had to get one more sentence out.
“Sister Cross is trying to kill me.”
Nel’s vision went dark.