Eva watched her master’s reactions carefully as he soaked up the details of what happened. Zoe Baxter seemed calm while delivering the news, but her master’s heart rate jumped. Arachne stood behind Eva’s chair with her arms wrapped around Eva, stoic in her expressions as usual. Her heart tube thing didn’t change its pulses in the slightest.
She was almost sad that she had missed it. It sounded like a lot of fun to watch.
It was her first day out of the infirmary and already she hated her cast. The awkwardness of a glove over it had Eva wondering if she should even bother going to school for a week or two. It would be possible to fit a glove over the cast, but the part that wrapped around the palm of her hand bothered her too much.
“You let it waltz into the cafeteria and just start tossing students around?”
Zoe Baxter’s lips twisted up into a mean scowl. “Not a single student had injuries exceeding a scrape or two. There were two students who claimed to have been nearly charged into by the beast, but how they escaped is unclear.”
“Their safety wasn’t thanks to any of you, according to your story anyhow.” Devon looked positively smug as he leaned back in his own chair with his arms crossed.
Something snapped inside Zoe. Eva could almost see it. “Mr. Foster, the school does everything in its power to assure the safety of our students.”
“Except get an enchanter to magic the glass unbreakable.”
“It should have been unbreakable,” she said through grit teeth. “Lightning shouldn’t do a thing to the glass. Those nuns’ lightning does something odd to enchantments. But,” Zoe said with a glare towards Devon, “I’m not here to discuss the security of Brakket.
“Both Professor Kines as well as a group of fifth year students confirmed that the creature that attacked was not a lamassu. It was far larger, the wings were differently shaped and the face was longer.”
“And that’s why you want me to look at it.” Devon leaned back and stared at the blank ceiling. Eva had had ideas to decorate it similar to one of the Rickenbacker study rooms, but lost the desire when she lost her eyes. “What did the nuns say about it?”
Zoe sighed, slumping in her own chair. Her perfect posture deflated to a lazy recline. “They didn’t. Sister Cross brought in a few of her people to retrieve the corpse. She looked around with glowing eyes for a few minutes before leaving without a word. I think the dean warned them about staying. With no injuries, the school day went on as normal for the most part.”
An awkward silence encircled the group. Devon continued staring at the ceiling, lost in thought. Zoe pulled herself out of her slump and straightened her back.
Eva looked up to Arachne. “What do you think?”
Zoe flinched as the spider-woman spoke. “There are a number of demons that can feely change shape to whatever they want, including a winged bull. I don’t know of any specific ones. Demons aren’t exactly friendly with one another. We don’t all meet up once a month for tea.
“Of course,” her mouth split into a lazy grin. Eva found herself wishing she could properly see the demon’s sharp teeth. “We are looking for a pillar, aren’t we Devon? If anyone can freely shapeshift, it would be one of them.”
“Pillar?” Zoe Baxter turned her sharp eyes to Eva’s master.
“Royalty of Hell. One of the seventy-two attacked the nuns’ augur on Saturday.”
“Royalty of Hell sounds big,” Zoe said with a shake of her head. “And you didn’t think to tell me this?”
“With all due respect,” Eva said, “I haven’t even seen you since Friday. You didn’t show up when I was attacked and didn’t even drop by the nurse’s office while I was incarcerated. One might think you didn’t care.”
Eva smiled a friendly smile. She had been irked by the absence of her favorite instructor. Hopefully Zoe had a good reason.
“Right. I was busy. It was related to the augur.”
Zoe sighed and stood up. “I will be right back, though I will appear outside. Meet me there,” she said with a glance at Eva.
With that and a slash of her dagger, Zoe disappeared. Cold air flooded the small commons room of the women’s ward in her wake. Eva’s runes had to work overtime to return the temperature to the standard level of ambient heat.
“Well,” Eva said, “shall we head out there?”
“I’m going to the school. Unless something changed, there are no nuns around to interfere and it has been less than three hours since the ‘attack.’ I’d rather not wait.”
Eva nodded at her master. He got up and vanished at the doorway, already blinking away.
“Arachne,” Eva said. “Help me up.”
The demon stayed still for just a minute. Her arms gave a light squeeze around Eva’s chest before she let go. She gently hefted Eva up to her feet before lifting her into her arms.
Eva patted her chest. “I can walk. I’d rather not be carried in front of Zoe Baxter. I’d rather not be seen as some kind of invalid.”
“Oh? It is far more intimidating to be carried in my arms than simply walking on your own.”
Eva sighed. “Suit yourself. But set me down outside.”
That gave the demon a grin. She slowly carried Eva out to the exterior gate.
And they waited.
Eva just sat in Arachne’s arms. The spider-woman had yet to set her down. Eva wasn’t complaining. She hadn’t slipped into her shoes and the cement walkway would have been rough on her feet.
“She didn’t mean all the way out of the prison, did she?”
“I’ve long since given up trying to understand the thought processes of mortals.” Arachne glanced down at Eva. “Except you of course.”
“If I even qualify anymore.”
“That doesn’t change my attempts to understand you in the past.”
“You do strange things all the time.”
Eva frowned at that, but couldn’t retort. Two circulatory systems appeared a short distance away.
One of them was Zoe Baxter. Eva instantly recognized one of the first circulatory systems that she ever memorized.
The other, Eva didn’t know what to make of her. It was a her, she had all the necessary hardware at least. She had plenty extra as well. Eva couldn’t stop staring.
“You said five days.”
“I said at the most. And you wasted an hour questioning me and then an hour gone. That’s two hours that Sister Cross could have shown up and killed me.”
The woman’s entire body was covered, absolutely covered in orbs. They had the same base pattern as an eyeball.
“There were things to talk about. Important things.”
“More important than my life?”
And they moved. The only two that stayed in one spot were the two on her face. The rest slid around her body. Some were even inside her body. One hovered around the back of her throat. Another rested just inside–Why would anyone need eyes there.
“And you are wasting more time. We’re here.”
All of the eyes swiveled to stare. If it weren’t for the ambient blood wards giving her a very tight topographical view of the woman, Eva might have thought the woman was naked. Not a single eye wasn’t locked on to Eva.
“What the hell are you?” Eva half shouted.
Arachne gently set her down before dropping into a combat stance. “She smells like a mixture of a nun and incense. Can I eat her?”
The woman’s eyes, all of them, grew wide. She took several steps backwards. “No, no, I’m not. I need help.”
“Eva,” Zoe Baxter said, “tell her to stand down.”
“Why don’t we get some explaining first.”
Zoe looked like she was about to say something, but the woman cut her off.
“I’m the Elysium Sisters’ Charon Chapter’s augur. I was the one spying on you. Sorry. But Sister Cross is trying to kill me. I need to hide. I’d normally hide on my own but hiding from augurs is difficult, especially because there is a vial of my blood stored in the Pope’s Vault. You can help. There’s a building here I can hide in. Please let me stay.”
With her rapid speech over, the augur dropped to her knees and clasped her hands together. The eyeballs scurrying over her legs moved away from her knees to avoid being crushed.
Eva just stared. She didn’t know what to say.
The augur stayed on her knees, her eyes closed. At least, the eyes on her face. The rest continued to stare at Eva.
“Why should I trust you?”
It was difficult to tell her facial expression, but Eva was sure she was about to cry.
The nun opened her mouth. It closed without a single word springing forth.
“I see,” Eva said.
Who did this thing think she was that Eva would just allow her to stay at her prison. Far too many people were already keyed into the wards already. Adding some creature that claimed to be affiliated with the nuns wouldn’t let Eva rest easy.
She really needed to set up one of the other buildings as a meeting hall and temporary resting quarters for guests. Then she could remove everyone save herself and Arachne from the women’s ward wards. That didn’t keep people from knowing about her secret lair, but at least she was confident in her protections.
A light clicking pulled her out of her thoughts. The sound of carpenter’s nails tapping against something hard. It didn’t take long to realize that Arachne had taken up drumming her fingers against the palms of her hands.
The nun noticed as well. She cowered backwards, gripping her arms around Zoe Baxter’s leg. Her face turned upwards to the instructor with a pleading look, if Eva had to guess.
Zoe Baxter herself wore a large frown. She glanced back and forth between the nun and Eva.
Eva couldn’t tell who the frown was directed at. Possibly both of them.
“Eva,” she said, “she showed up at my office looking like she got run over by a dump truck. A dump truck that dumped shards of broken glass on her after running her over.” Zoe took a deep breath and locked her eyes with Eva’s face. “If I have my time line correct, this would have been just before Sister Cross showed up in your dorm.”
“Oh? Right, the missing augur Sister Cross was talking about,” Eva drawled. She hadn’t forgotten. “The one whose kidnapping nearly wound up with me dead. Except she wasn’t kidnapped,” as her master predicted, “she ran away to save herself and nearly killed me in the process.”
The nun cowered back further, all but hiding on her knees behind Zoe. She was mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know,” and other such drivel. All the while her eyes swarmed over her body, darting between Eva, Arachne, and Zoe.
“Miss Eva,” Zoe said in a tone of voice she used often with students in trouble, “she has no place to go. She is convinced that Sister Cross will be able to locate her, and soon. Are you going to leave her to fend for herself?”
“She hasn’t even said her name. She expects me to let her into my compound, my home, without offering the common courtesy of a proper introduction?”
“That sounds familiar,” Zoe said, almost with a grunt. Eva had never heard her grunt before.
“Nel Stirling,” the nun said. Her voice quivered. “Augur number six-six-four-six. Sorry.”
“And,” Eva said, ignoring the apology, “I thought my runes didn’t protect against whatever augurs use to see.”
There was a snort, almost a laugh from Nel Stirling. It caught in her throat halfway up and she looked at Eva with absolute dread. “They don’t. Whoever set up the wards in that building,” she said with a vague flail of her arm, “knows how to keep an augur out.”
Eva had a sinking suspicion she knew which building the nun referred to despite the unclear gesture. It took more effort than Eva could muster to keep from breaking down in laughter. Arachne widened her already ear to ear grin.
Nel rapidly looked between Zoe and Eva, apparently unsure what to make of the sudden outburst. Her worries seemed to grow along with her heart rate as the anger on the professor’s face paled and melted away to concern. Concern for Nel.
“Eva, I’m not sure–”
Cutting off her professor, Eva said, “I’m convinced. You’ve convinced me Zoe Baxter. Nel Stirling, welcome to the compound. I believe I know which building you refer to and you’re free to stay so long as you convince its owner.”
A cautious smile spread across the nun’s face.
“Miss Stirling,” Zoe said as she changed her targets, “are you sure you have nowhere else to stay?”
“Yes, why? She agreed right? If I talk to this other person?”
“Zoe Baxter, if the nun wishes to reside, Nel Stirling will need to get used to the,” Eva coughed lightly, “quirks of Ylva on her own. I am sure she would not appreciate you speaking of her in any case.”
Zoe pursed her lips. She strode forwards as Nel picked herself back to her feet. The professor leaned down and whispered in Eva’s ear. “I don’t like this. If you’ve raised her hopes only to have that thing kill her–”
Eva waved her off. “I’m sure she won’t kill her.” Probably. “Hopefully a little hurt and a little scare though,” Eva said as she patted her cast. “Returning the favor and all that.”
“That is petty, Miss Eva,” she said as she straightened her back. “You’re playing with things that can have dire consequences. Did you not read those books you lent me?”
“You can’t learn everything from a book. I think you said that. And,” Eva said, holding up a clawed finger, “I’m not playing. If she is innocent and Ylva is the only one who can shield her from other augurs, then good for her. If she has nefarious intentions towards me or anyone here, at least Ylva can take care of it.
“Besides, I’m sure Devon would find her physiology fascinating.”
“He won’t try to dissect her, will he?”
“No. Probably not. Unless she is actually a demon, he probably won’t care too much apart from a cursory look-over.”
Zoe looked back towards Nel. The nun hadn’t moved forward. She had a small smile on her face as she politely waited for their conversation to end.
“I almost came to ask you about that until I heard about your altercation with Sister Cross. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or the nun on the off-chance Sister Cross would try to kill her. How can you tell if she is a demon or not?”
Arachne chose that moment to pipe in. “What color is her blood?”
“All demons have black blood,” Arachne said with a shake of her head. “Not one that I’ve seen hasn’t.”
“Indeed,” Zoe said glancing down at Eva.
Eva wanted nothing more than to glare daggers at the spider-woman. Without eyes, that was near impossible. She didn’t even move her head. Had Zoe Baxter ever seen her blood? Eva couldn’t remember.
“Well,” Eva said loud enough for Nel to hear, “let’s go then. We’ll walk you over.”
Eva took a step forward, then paused. Her feet were still bare. “Arachne, I don’t want to walk.”
Without a second of hesitation, Arachne swooped down and picked up Eva.
After a few strides away from Arachne, Eva realized that her professor hadn’t budged. “Are you coming?”
Her lips pursed together again as her heart rate jumped. “I’ll walk with you. I think I will remain outside.”
The three walked across the compound. Eva didn’t walk, carried in Arachne’s arms instead. It was slow going. Not only was the compound huge, but Nel didn’t have shoes either.
“So, augur, tell me about yourself. I’d like to know just who you are, if you’re going to be hanging around my compound.”
“I–Yes, of course. Um,” she stalled, drawing out a long hum. “I don’t know what else to say. I’m an augur. I was made into one last May.”
“Made? Were you human before?”
She glared for a brief moment before seeming to realize what she was doing. In a very neutral tone, Nel said, “I am still human.”
Arachne turned her head, grinning at her. “Most humans I’ve met only have two eyes.”
The nun stumbled and immediately patted herself down. Eva couldn’t see her clothes clearly as they moved away from the women’s ward, but she assumed the nun was checking to see if any of her eyes were visible. “I did–There’s not–How?”
“When you were cowering on the ground like a pathetic–”
“Arachne, be polite for now.”
The demon gave a light growl, almost playful. “Your robe flipped up and I saw at least three on your leg.”
“She’s got far more than three. Maybe around fifty?” Eva hadn’t tried to count them all. “Some you wouldn’t see even if she was naked.”
Another stream of sputtering came out of the nun’s mouth. The last word was, once again, “how?”
“You’ve been watching me since November and you don’t know how I see?” Eva chuckled.
“You spread blood around in the air.”
Zoe sped up to bring her in line with Arachne. “Half right?”
“I can see circulatory systems. And her system,” Eva pointed at the nun, “is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.” There was a slight pause before Eva added, “and I’ve seen Arachne’s circulatory system.
“The eyes all move around while her capillaries, veins, and arteries all disconnect and reconnect to keep them constantly attached. The way I see the skin split in front of and form up behind an eye as it moves is very disturbing.”
The nun hung her head. All of her eyes took on what Eva would consider to be a sad look. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to.”
“Why do you smell like incense?” Arachne asked.
“Incense, specifically frankincense, is a key component in helping to activate my far sight.”
“The real question you should be asking,” Zoe Baxter said, “is why is Sister Cross trying to kill one of her own nuns?”
The nun drooped her head to her chest. In doing so, she stumbled and almost completely fell to the ground.
She had better watch herself if she doesn’t want to fall down Ylva’s pit. Eva still had no idea what, if anything, was down there.
“I don’t know. Things just didn’t add up. She seemed to be using me as bait for the necromancers. She isolated me from the other sisters. I don’t think she wants word getting around about her daughter, or even about the ab–” All of her eyes flicked up to Eva before returning to their general scan of the prison walkways. “I mean, she wants to keep all the demon business quiet.
“Knowing everything I knew, I was a liability.”
“That seems cutthroat and underhanded for a member of the Elysium Sisters.”
“We get praise from the public for going after dangers like liches, necromancers, vampires, ghosts, and the like. No one really sees the inner workings of the order.”
“Why,” Eva asked, “does she want to keep ‘all the demon business’ quiet? I assume that refers to me and Arachne.”
At that, the nun shrugged. “Maybe she thinks it is the least she can do. You did save her daughter.”
Eva wanted to scoff at that and dismiss it. If that was all there was to it, Sister Cross should have considered that debt paid a long time ago. Eva knew she would have.
Instead, she went silent. The others followed suit until they reached the heavy iron doors leading into cell house two. Zoe decided to throw her two cents in.
“Be polite. Introduce yourself.”
The nun glanced up at the professor. “I’m Nel Stirling. I already–”
“Not to me,” Zoe said. She tilted her head towards the door. “To her.”
Nel threw a confused look towards Eva before nodding at Zoe.
“That reminds me,” Eva said, “don’t agree to anything you cannot personally deliver.”
“Like land. You can’t give her land. Nothing around here is yours to give and I doubt a nun owns property. Just be careful about what you offer to do in exchange for staying. Anyway,” Eva clapped her hands together, “let’s meet Ylva.”
Without being asked, Arachne pulled open the door and prodded Nel inside with a few rapidly sprouted extra limbs. The nun gave a high-pitched shriek as she crossed the threshold, hopefully without any real time to consider what Eva just said.
If nothing else, Eva wanted the one who had been spying on her and nearly got her killed to put on a good show. That show would be watched closely. She didn’t want to accidentally give Ylva anything that Devon would object to.
“Sure you don’t want to come?” Eva asked Zoe.
If Eva was reading her blood correctly, the woman paled. A lot. “No, I am more than fine out here.”
With a shrug of her shoulders, Eva nodded for Arachne to carry her into the room.
The door slamming shut without Arachne shutting it did not go by unnoticed.
While the nun’s heart rate was lightly elevated on the trek across the compound, it now skipped a few beats and jumped straight into scared rabbit territory. She must have been part owl for her head swiveled around as she tried to take in every detail of the strange environment.
Arachne set Eva down, though she kept two steadying arms wrapped around Eva’s shoulders. The awkward stooping over she had to do to keep her arms where they were did not seem comfortable in the slightest. Yet she didn’t fidget or move much except to use four extra legs as stabilizers.
The nun turned back to Eva, her mouth gaping open. After a minute of continued staring, she got her wits about her enough to speak. “I don’t understand. What is this place?”
“No idea,” Eva lied. She raised her voice and called out, “Ylva, I have someone here who wishes to make a request of you.”
Nel spun around. Her eyes and her head darted around, searching. Whatever she was looking for, she came up empty. Her head twisted back to Eva with confusion written all over it.
“Ylva is here, right?” Eva whispered to Arachne.
Glad I didn’t make a fool of myself then. Eva gestured forwards. She couldn’t see the pit or the throne, but they hadn’t turned at all since entering the room. “Go on then. Make your request. She’s waiting for you.”
Nel Stirling cocked her head to one side before facing in the direction Eva assumed was the throne. “I, um, need help?” She glanced back at Eva who rewarded her with a shrug. “I’m being chased by people who can find me almost anywhere, but not in here?” Another glance at Eva. “Oh. My name is Nel Stirling,” she said with a nod, apparently remembering Zoe’s advice. “I’m an augur.”
The nun gave one more glance towards Eva. The silent plea for advice went unanswered.
There were times for advice and times where it was simply too late. Eva felt strongly that this situation fell into the second category. It wasn’t entirely the nun’s fault, Eva supposed; speaking to an unmoving skeleton on a throne wasn’t an obvious thing to do. Still, she could have made a real request at the very least.
While Eva didn’t like to interact with Ylva often–the hel had a very imposing presence that Eva tried to ignore–she had to admit that not a one of their encounters had been anything less than cordial. Near as Eva could tell, the hel rewarded politeness with politeness. Juliana’s tale of her and Zoe Baxter’s encounter only strengthened that theory.
“Our patience wanes.”
The voice thundered throughout the room. It echoed off the walls and surrounded them.
If Nel’s heart rate could go any higher, Eva would be surprised. It looked like it was trying to escape out her back and run away.
Eva’s own heart rate picked up, though not as much. That must be the booming voice Juliana mentioned. That was the first time she heard it. It sent a chill through her spine despite not being directed at her.
Hopefully it wasn’t directed at her.
Arachne didn’t budge.
The nun collapsed to her knees. If Eva couldn’t see her heart, she might worry that it had given out completely. Her mouth gaped open but only a choking sound came forth. She cleared her throat several times. “I-I’m sorry.”
“Your manners are noted. Make your plea. We are busy.”
What with? Every time Eva had ever seen Ylva, she was slouched on her throne doing nothing obvious. At least, she was slouched over it the first time. Eva felt it was a safe bet that she hadn’t changed her pose since Eva lost her eyes.
“P-Please. I request asylum within this place. My former comrades hunt me.”
Arachne whispered in Eva’s ear. “I expected her to run away. This must be the first nun with a backbone.”
“Or she actually has nowhere else to go.” Perhaps she was more scared of Sister Cross than Ylva. That could simply stem from not knowing what Ylva actually was.
“What have you to offer?”
A small, weak voice escaped from Nel’s lips. “Offer?”
“If a mortal stays within a building owned by another, they pay. You will pay for the privilege and honor of staying within Our domain.”
Nel Stirling glanced back at Eva before turning her gaze to the ground. “I am an augur, a powerful seer. Though I require reagents to use my abilities to their fullest. I can offer nothing apart from myself.”
Bad choice of words, Eva thought. The chuckling in Eva’s ear told her that Arachne agreed.
“R-Really?” A cautious smile crept across her face. “I can stay here?”
“You are being hunted? We would be derelict in Our duties to allow Our servant to come to harm.”
“S-Servant?” She glanced back at Eva with wide eyes. All of them.
Eva smiled and gave her a shrug.
There was a momentary tinge of guilt. It might not have hurt to prepare Nel better. That tinge of guilt vanished as quick as it came. The girl had been spying on her and it was likely her fault Eva was attacked in the first place. Not to mention that Eva disliked the nuns in general.
It was out of her hands now.
The stifled shaking of Arachne’s chest grinding into Eva’s back was slowly becoming annoying.
“Your first duty: arrive at Our side. We require a closer inspection of Our property. Rid yourself of those robes.”
“Property?” A light hiccup escaped the woman’s throat. Eva couldn’t see her tears, but imagining them wasn’t difficult.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. At least you’ll be well protected from Sister Cross.”
A tinge of laughter edged Arachne’s voice. “Best not to keep your new master waiting.”
Nel hiccuped again. “Master?”
“Ohhh, it isn’t so bad. Eva is my master and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have own me.”
The nun quietly, maybe tearfully, shed her clothes.
“Ylva,” Eva called out while Nel undressed, “your new servant mentioned abilities that require reagents to use. Given she is being hunted, it is probably unwise to send her outside. At least in the near future. I don’t know what means you might possess to acquire these reagents.” She paused a moment, just to see if the hel answered that.
“In exchange for using her on occasion for my own purposes, I would be willing to acquire these reagents. Provided they are nothing impossible for me to acquire.”
There was a slight pause before Ylva’s voice echoed throughout the chamber. This time it lacked the thunderous boom. “We take no issue with your proposal.”
“Excellent. Have her write up a list sometime. We’ll stop by later to pick it up.” Eva patted the chitinous arm around her shoulder and shook her head towards the door.
Ylva spoke before Arachne could move to pick her up. “Eva, there is someone standing outside with whom We wish to speak.”
Eva shrugged. “I’ll see if she wants to come in.” She might give her professor a few more tips than she gave Nel. Just in case. It wouldn’t do to have someone she actually liked bind themselves to Ylva.
— — —
They had been in there too long.
Zoe sighed. She should have gone in there with them.
The dagger trembled in her hands. She gripped it tight in an attempt to stop shaking. It didn’t help.
How long had they been in there? Zoe cast a quick spell. Nearly a half hour.
How long had she spent in there with Juliana? Surely not more than five minutes. That had been more than enough in her opinion.
Eva seemed confident. She waltzed right in there without a moment’s hesitation. Or her pet demon did, in any case. Did she actually know what she was doing?
Not a question that Zoe could answer.
Her own foray into diabolist activities consisted of nothing more than reading tomes. Tomes that Eva picked out. They were probably far tamer than others in an attempt to ease Zoe into diablery.
Zoe recognized it as an attempt to do the opposite of what she wanted to do with Eva. She had no idea where to begin easing Eva out of diablery. It was so heavily ingrained in her. Not just her hands, or even heritage if that was the case–that would explain her ability to use spells without a focus–but that Arachne creature as well.
The looks she gave Zoe were downright predatory.
Yet she hung off of Eva like a clingy girlfriend.
Zoe wanted to speak with the creature alone. Without her censoring anything because Eva was around. It would be easy as well. Eva told her she was leaving the demon at the prison while the nuns were in town. Zoe could pop into the prison while she knew Eva was away, pretend she was looking for Eva, and strike up a conversation.
She was afraid. Arachne seemed polite enough while Eva was around. If Eva was gone, would she still be so polite? Or would Zoe end up as lunch for the spider.
Bringing Wayne might not be a bad idea. He wasn’t keyed into the wards, but they could speak outside. Now that he knew about Eva, there wasn’t much point trying to keep more secret from him.
Zoe sighed as she slumped against cell house two. She wasn’t sure she wanted to meet with Wayne so soon after their argument. Argument was putting it lightly.
The door ground open. Zoe jumped to a combat stance.
Eva’s head poked out.
Zoe didn’t drop her guard.
“Ylva wants to speak to you.”
Zoe stared at the black-haired blind girl. What was she supposed to say to that. She wanted to say no. Zoe bit her lip.
“I don’t think you should decline. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you don’t make the same mistakes our friend made.”
There was a slight sinking feeling in her chest. “The nun?” Zoe asked. She didn’t know the woman apart from caring for her for nearly three days. That didn’t stop the nun from being pitiful in Zoe’s eyes. “Did–Is she dead?”
“Oh no. She’s alive and will be well hidden from Sister Cross in Ylva’s care. She may have accidentally,” Eva gave a light cough, “entered into a long-term service agreement in exchange for said protection.”
“That… doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It really isn’t, though I wouldn’t want either of us to be in her position if we could help it.”
Zoe couldn’t argue with that. “What did she want with me?”
“Didn’t say,” Eva said with a nonchalant shrug.
“And you think this is a good idea?”
“Ylva is big on politeness and respect. I didn’t say it was a good idea, but I think it is a terrible idea to refuse.”
Zoe sighed. There was a reason she had stayed outside. Lots of reasons, if she was honest. Most revolved around not wanting to be in Ylva’s presence again.
With reluctance and not a little trepidation, Zoe walked through the open door. Eva followed just behind her with Arachne at her heels.
The door slammed behind her. Zoe dropped to one knee.
Eva stayed standing and Zoe was pretty sure she heard a snicker from Arachne.
Humiliating. But she didn’t want to crack her kneecaps if the demon decided to force her to kneel.
“We see you have acquired proper decorum in the time since our last meeting.”
Zoe chanced a glance up. Like last time, a skeleton sat in a great throne atop a platform suspended over a bottomless pit. A ray of light shone down from the tempest above.
Unlike last time, the skeleton was not slumped backwards in the throne. It leaned forwards, still resting its skull on its fist. Its other hand stroked the black hair of a woman sitting on the floor between the skeleton’s spread knees.
It took a moment to recognize the face of the woman through the tears. Nel Stirling. Every time that skeletal hand brushed through her hair, the nun quaked in her seat. The robe Zoe loaned her was missing. A black collar around her neck that was not there before was the only visible clothing.
“Ylva didn’t like the robe,” Eva explained without being asked. “She said she’d find some proper attire after we leave.”
Zoe cleared her throat as a stalling tactic while she tried to overcome her shock. That didn’t sound so bad, she thought back to what Eva had said. Long term service. It looks much worse. She couldn’t help but wonder just how long-term that service was supposed to be.
“I had time to reflect on my actions,” Zoe said. “I apologize for my behavior. I was scared, nervous, and worried due to missing a student at the time.”
“Thank you.” Zoe didn’t know what else to say.
“You have arrived in Eva’s domain many times. You never visited Our domain. We promised a reward for delivering Our message, something Eva mentioned was accomplished. Do you not wish to be rewarded?”
“Don’t decline,” Eva said quickly, “she was offended the last time I declined a gift.”
“I meant no slight,” Zoe said after taking a minute to decide her words. “I presumed you wished to reward my student, as she was the one who actually delivered the message.” Zoe bit her lip. Did I just throw Juliana to the wolves? I shouldn’t have said that.
“Juliana Rivas. We remember. The reward was offered to both for a single task. We offer Our reward to both. Present yourself alongside her within thirty days.”
The door slid open behind her, grinding on its hinges as it went. Zoe understood that she had been dismissed.
With a last look at the still crying Nel, Zoe turned and tried her hardest not to look like she was running away.