Eva coiled the muscles in her legs and jumped off from the ground. She soared through the air, free from the tethers of gravity for a scant few seconds. When gravity finally reasserted itself, Eva fell only a few inches.
Her bare feet impacted the top of the sandstone wall. It was a very light impact–Eva had plenty of practice getting the jump just high enough–but as light as it was, it still caused some of the sandstone to crumble. One of the walls had partially collapsed from Arachne climbing over it while in her largest form.
Something to look into reinforcing at a later date. Carving runes would strengthen it, but the time and effort required to reinforce the entire prison was no laughing matter.
Maybe she could pay Juliana to go around using her earth magic to reinforce the entire place.
Eva dropped off the fifteen foot wall to the interior of her prison. She took stock of the entire prison using her expanded senses within her own blood wards. Nothing seemed out of place.
Hopefully it would stay that way as long as Carlos was inside.
Speaking of, Eva thought. She marched over to the main gate and activated the opening mechanism. Heavy metal bars slowly lifted up to grant entrance to her guests of the night.
Arachne had turned back to her humanoid form since Eva left her. She strutted in with a confident grin on her face, as if she owned the place. Putting on a show for the guests. She certainly had the presence to pull a sultry gait off when the mood struck her.
Hot on the demon’s heels bounced in Shalise. Her head darted left and right in wonder as the prison opened up before her.
Eva wasn’t entirely sure why; the prison wasn’t anything special to look at. At least not around the exterior entrance. But, it was her first time. Eva supposed she shouldn’t fault the excited girl.
Most of Shalise’s excitement likely came from simply being at the prison. Eva invited her on a whim, for the most part. Thus far, her excuses for not bringing Shalise along had been transportation issues. Eva couldn’t use, nor was she willing to attempt, her method of teleporting on others. Zoe adamantly refused to bring another person into ‘this mess’ on the rare occasions she could be persuaded to bring Juliana over.
Convincing Arachne to carry Shalise in her arms wasn’t easy. Juliana and her father rode on Arachne’s back, but they were the whole purpose of walking to the prison instead of Eva teleporting herself and Arachne. In her eyes, Shalise was unneeded baggage.
Carlos Rivas had one bony hand gripped tight on his daughter’s shoulder. They walked in together with the father scanning everything that he could see through his thick glasses, keeping a protective eye out for anything that might harm Juliana. He only released his daughter when he came to a stop in front of Eva.
“That was an interesting experience,” he said. He pulled off his glasses and wiped them down on a corner of his shirt. “Will we be returning in the, ah, same manner?” His eyes darted over Arachne for just a moment as Carlos set his glasses back on his nose.
“Devon, my mentor in magic before Brakket, has a truck. However, I doubt he’d be willing to use it.” Eva gave him a sympathetic shrug.
She hadn’t seen Carlos with her eyes. Eva couldn’t tell his age by sensing his blood. Genoa looked to be in her early fifties, so he should be somewhat similar. Even if he wasn’t feeling the effects of age, riding on Arachne’s back was far less comfortable than being carried.
“If he is even around, that is.”
“Well, it isn’t that big of a deal. I’m hearty enough to survive a return trip.” He took his eyes off Eva and glanced around. “When you said ‘prison’ earlier, I must confess that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Not an actual prison. Some version of Hell flashed through my mind first.”
“And you still decided to jump on Arachne’s back?”
Carlos’ hand clapped on Juliana’s shoulder once again. “I trust my daughter. Besides, passing up a chance to ride on the back of a demon? Too fascinating to ignore.”
Arachne made a small huffing noise.
“Genoa always tells me I’ve no self-preservation instinct and my beloved wife is never wrong. At least not while she’s in earshot.” He gave a light, wheezy laugh. “Anyway, you live here?”
“It is a sort of second home. Come,” Eva gestured down the path, “let’s get inside. Most of the place is empty. Arachne and I have renovated one of the buildings, Devon has taken over the top floor of another building. One other building is in use.”
Eva brought the group across the prison grounds until they reached the entrance to the women’s ward. She bit her lip as she turned to Carlos. This part had the potential to be worse than the demons.
“I’ll need a drop of blood,” Eva said. “The wards use blood to decide who to allow in. You too, Shalise.”
Shalise merely nodded. She’d been warned beforehand.
Carlos didn’t nod. His eyes widened and his heart rate jumped a few notches. “Blood?” He shot a quick glance towards his daughter. “You can do some awful things with someone’s blood.”
“I assure you that I have no such intentions. If you’d like, I can destroy it when we’re done tonight.”
“I did it and I’m fine,” Juliana said. “You’ve trusted her this far.”
Carlos stared at his daughter for a few moments before he shook his head. “You need to be extremely careful about letting others get some of your blood. Especially willingly. There is magic in intention.”
Just when Eva was about to offer a different location, Carlos sighed. “What do you need me to do?”
Eva held out two vials and drew her old crystal dagger. It still lacked a bloodstone and therefore wouldn’t raise any uncomfortable questions about that subject. “Just a few drops from each of you. We’ve got potions inside to cure small wounds.”
Carlos stepped forward and ran his thumb along the dagger’s edge. Five drops fell into the vial. Eva capped it off and turned to Shalise.
Her heart pounded against her chest as she slowly reached a finger out. Three times she drew her hand back to her chest and had to take a deep, calming breath before trying again. Eva could feel her eyebrow twitching as Shalise pulled back for the fourth time.
“It’s just a shallow cut that will be healed in a few seconds. You’ve had far worse.”
“I-I know. I j-just…”
“Do you want Juliana to hold your hand?”
“Or perhaps Arachne?”
The spider-demon’s grin grew three sizes in that moment. She took a menacing step forward.
Shalise reached out and swiped her finger across the knife blade. In her panicked state, she may have cut a bit deeper than necessary. It wouldn’t matter once she had healed up.
“Arachne, potions for our guests while I register the blood with the ward.” Eva turned back to Carlos and Shalise. “It’ll be just a minute.” She took a step to follow after Arachne when a thought occurred to Eva. “Don’t wander,” she said. “There are more wards that aren’t mine around here. Juliana should know her way around well enough, but if you ever find yourself alone here, don’t enter any building you know you haven’t been in before.”
Shalise gave a few eager nods with her finger in her mouth.
Carlos frowned slightly but nodded anyway. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Hurrying towards her task, Eva all but ran up to the entrance of her home. Her void metal dagger was out of its sheath the moment she stepped inside and out of view from the waiting guests. Both vials of blood tipped downwards to pour out the contents.
As soon as the blood touched her bloodstone socketed dagger, Eva felt it fall under her control. Two small beads of blood hovered in front of Eva’s face before she flicked her wrist. Both beads flew off into her room to join the already-in-place ward scheme.
She waited an extra few seconds for Arachne to return with two potions in hand.
“Remember,” Eva said, “best behavior. Even if he gets invasive. He is a research–”
“I know,” Arachne snapped. She actually let out a low growl as her teeth grit together. “I do not enjoy ferrying around these humans like some mule.” After a deep breath through her nose, Arachne unclenched her claws and her smile became more natural. For her. It still looked like she wanted to bite somebody’s head off. “I’ll play nice. Just remember your promise.”
Eva rubbed her own gloved hand against Arachne’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. I remember.”
Plucking the vials from Arachne’s grip, the two headed back outside.
“Here, drink,” Eva said as she offered the vials to Carlos and Shalise. “Those will get you fixed up. Now, if you start feeling tingly, something went wrong with adding you to the wards. If the tingle turns to pain, run back out here immediately.”
“You do know what you’re doing, right?”
“I don’t expect any complication. Still, no sense in being unprepared.
“In any case,” Eva swung an arm out towards her building, “welcome to my home.”
Carlos froze as he entered into the common room. His jaw dropped slightly as he looked around. Shalise and Juliana had similar expressions on their faces.
Good, Eva thought. She and Arachne had spent several hours cleaning and preparing over the weeks since Juliana first mentioned meeting with her father. Eva spent even more hours listening to Arachne’s complaints. It was nice to know that her hard work had paid off.
Higher quality furniture had replaced Eva’s old couches, chairs, and table. The metal bars on all the doors had been replaced with wooden doors. The cinder-block walls had a fresh coat of paint. Everburn candles lit the room from their holders.
A brand new floor rug lay beneath all the furniture. This one was big enough to completely cover the treatment ritual circle still drawn underneath.
It was a shame that Eva couldn’t enjoy most of the changes. The comfort of the new furniture was the limit of her perception.
Arachne was in charge of the color coordination and general layout of everything. Managing anything of the sort while blind was near impossible.
It seemed she did a reasonable job. Shalise’s gaping mouth turned into a smile at some point as she looked around. If she smiled, it couldn’t have wound up as anything too terrible.
“My room,” Eva said with a point towards one of the wooden doors. It sported a little metal plaque with her name engraved in. “Don’t go in. The wards within are separate from the ones out here and will react violently to people who are not Arachne or myself.”
Carlos nodded to himself. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it without a sound.
“How violently?” Shalise asked.
“Well, if you stick an arm in my room, you probably won’t be getting it back.”
“Seems excessive,” Carlos said with a small frown.
“My room has things in it that shouldn’t ever find their way into untrustworthy people’s hands,” Eva said with a shrug. “Like with the main building, there is a brief period of pain as a warning, though the length of the pain field is drastically smaller.”
“What have you got in there that requires such protection?”
“Books, mostly. Several of the ‘big’ books on demons. A handful of other miscellaneous items. All the books I stole from the necromancers are in there; I haven’t had a chance to sort through all the ones that are not extremely dangerous on account of my eyes being missing.” With an aside glance to Arachne, Eva stage whispered, “it is hard enough getting Arachne to read my schoolbooks to me.”
“Well,” Carlos said with a slight adjustment to his glasses, “that sounds responsible I suppose.”
Eva had a feeling he wanted to comment on whether or not Eva herself should be in possession of those books. Distracting from the topic, Eva moved on.
“Arachne’s room,” Eva pointed to another door with a plaque on it. “She doesn’t use it much, but similar idea, don’t go in.”
Continuing to point around the room, Eva listed off the library, potion storage, kitchens, bathroom, shower, gateway room, and a guest bedroom.
Carlos sat down in one of the chairs, directly across from Eva and next to Juliana. “This seems very nicely done, I can’t imagine it came with the place.”
“Devon has a truck, as I mentioned earlier. We’re sort of wealthy. It wasn’t difficult to get everything furnished.” An unrelated sentence, a lie, and a truthful statement.
Eva hadn’t the slightest idea where Arachne found all the furniture. Presumably, some furniture store who knew how far away was currently missing several display items off their store floor.
How she managed to transport the furniture was another mystery Eva doubted she’d ever bother solving.
“It helps that we’re not paying for the land or buildings. No utilities either, though magic fixes most of that problem. Technically we’re squatting,” Eva said with a shrug. “Nobody else has used it in a long time.”
A small smile grew on Carlos’ face. “I can’t fault that. Genoa and I have stayed in similar places, though never for as long. Juliana tells me you’ve had this place set up since you started school?”
“I first saw it last September,” Juliana said. “It was a lot messier back then.”
“And your mentor lives here as well?”
“Not here in this building. He remodeled the top floor of one of the cell houses into a sort of penthouse suite.”
“I see,” he said with a nod.
An awkward silence descended on the group for a few minutes. Carlos’ eyes were glued on Arachne the entire time. His daughter sat a bit stiffly but otherwise relaxed.
Shalise’s head bounced around the room as she looked over everything again and again. She had a bright smile on her face despite the room not being all that interesting.
Eva fought of a grin as she wondered how she would react to Ylva’s domain.
“So,” Carlos broke Eva out of her thoughts, “you’re Arachne.”
Arachne tilted her sharp chin up in the air. “You asked that before we arrived.”
It came out a bit terse. Eva rested her hand on Arachne’s arm as casually as she could.
“I mean: the Arachne. From Greek mythos.”
“And you were turned into a demon by the gods due to your hubris?”
Arachne scoffed. “It isn’t hubris if you can back it up. It is skill. Besides,” her mouth curled up into a sharp-toothed smile, “I outlived all those so-called ‘gods’ didn’t I? Hardly a punishment in the long run.”
“So you were human once?”
“No part of my humanity remains. The sorcerers who called themselves gods were quite thorough with their spell. I remember very little apart from the contest that I won.”
“Ah,” Carlos said softly. “I’m not a history researcher, but it seems a little sad we can’t hear firsthand experiences about our past. You don’t remember anything?”
“No.” Eva could see the muscles grind her teeth together as she spoke.
“Okay,” Carlos said. If he noticed Arachne’s rising irritation, he didn’t show it. “You’ve been living with my daughter for the last year, according to her.”
“I’ve been living with Eva.”
Carlos quirked an eyebrow with an aside glance to Eva.
Eva couldn’t do much besides shrug. “We have been living in the same dorm room, yes.”
“Me too,” Shalise said with a smile.
“I see.” Carlos turned to face the brown-haired girl. “And what is your opinion on your… living arrangements?”
“Well,” Shalise said after a moment of humming in thought, “it is okay I guess. I don’t know that I like having the center bed, but I can’t complain too much.”
In a slightly more serious tone, Shalise said, “if you are talking about Arachne… she was scary at first, but not so much anymore.” Arachne’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly at the girl. “She mostly keeps to Eva’s side of the room and barely talks to me. Of course, it is probably safer with her around what with how often our room gets broken into.”
Carlos slowly nodded. “Genoa almost had a heart attack when she heard a bunch of necromancers let loose zombies and again when Juliana was attacked.” He let out a soft sigh. “I digress. The real question is whether or not you have any problems with being so close to a demon.”
“Not at all.”
His eyebrows jumped up his forehead an inch or so. Probably in surprise at her sudden response.
Surprise welled up in Eva as well. Shalise didn’t even take a moment to think. That was even despite the nervous glances that Eva knew Shalise gave Arachne on occasion.
“She and Eva saved my life. I would be a zombie if it weren’t for the two of them.”
“I see. And Juli?”
Juliana shifted a bit beside her father before answering. “No problem here. I can’t say she saved my life, but she’s lived with us for over a year. It’d be somewhat hypocritical to object now.”
“Very well,” he said with a soft sigh. “And Eva? You don’t have any objections to living with her I take it?”
“Of course not. I’d have banished her if I did.”
“And Arachne?” Eva raised an eyebrow, she hadn’t expected him to question her. The thought made Eva a little scared at what Arachne might say in response. “Any objections to living with my daughter and Shalise?”
Her eight eyes glared at Carlos for a moment. Slowly, her head shifted towards Juliana and Shalise before returning to Carlos. “I don’t care. So long as they don’t hurt Eva.”
Eva let out a small sigh. There were probably worse answers to that question.
Carlos stared back at the demon. His eyes crawled over Arachne. Looking for deception, probably.
After a five-minute long staring contest, Carlos finally nodded. “You all know each other better than I do. I doubt a single night of conversation will change much.” He glanced down at his daughter. “Your mother is going to have a fit when she finds out.”
Juliana gave a small shiver. “But you’ll help calm her down. Right?”
Carlos chuckled. “I don’t think I have that much influence over an enraged Genoa, but I’ll try. For now…” He reached into his pockets and pulled out a small notebook and a pen. “Let’s get to the fun part.”
His gave Arachne a hungry look. “How do you reproduce? Can you reproduce? Are there more like you? What temperatures do you find most comfortable? What is Hell like? How much do you sleep at one time? How often? Do you even sleep? What about food and eating ha–”
Eva held up a gloved hand. She could see Arachne’s ire grow with every question. If he continued, she’d very likely tear out his tongue.
Not to mention the holes her claws were putting in the brand new couch.
“Before we do anything else, there’s one more thing.” Without waiting for any questions, Eva pulled off her gloves. She flexed out and fully extended her needle-like fingers.
Carlos sat and stared, his mouth fully agape. As soon as he recovered, he reached forward and gripped Eva’s hand in his own. He quickly set to work prodding, pinching, squeezing, flexing, folding, feeling, and generally making a nuisance of himself.
“May I?” He said with a glance towards Arachne.
He actually asked her, Eva thought with a mental huff. He didn’t ask me.
Arachne shrugged–only after receiving a nod from Eva–and offered him a hand.
A hand he started inspecting just as closely as Eva’s own.
“You gave her your hands?” Carlos said, mostly to himself.
“The necromancers disagreed with several parts of my anatomy.”
“And they attached without issue? And grew back on Arachne without even a seam where the cut should be?”
“Demon,” was Arachne’s sole response.
He started mumbling to himself as he made a few notes in his notebook. One particular statement caught Eva’s ears. “They’re smaller on Eva.”
“What?” Eva quickly moved one of her arms over Arachne’s. Sure enough, her hands were far slimmer than Arachne’s hands. It wasn’t just a minor thing either. Looking side by side was very noticeable. “Have you been putting on weight?”
“Of course not,” said a quite affronted Arachne.
Shalise leaned forwards, looking over Carlos’ shoulder along with Juliana. “Perhaps shrinking to fit the rest of your body better?”
Eva’s stomach sank as she realized that was probably true. “Does this mean I’m going to shrink back to my old size?”
“I hope so,” Juliana said with a disturbingly wide smile. “You’re too tall right now.”
Eva cut open her pants with a few quick swipes of her fingers. They were an old pair that she’d worn specifically to cut away. Before long, the carapace on her legs was showing.
“I see,” Carlos said. He moved in and started looking over her legs, though in a far less invasive manner. He confirmed her fears after a moment. “These are smaller, though not nearly to the degree of your hands.”
“Well,” Eva said with a sigh, “the hands had an extra six or seven months compared to the legs. If they’re shrinking slow enough I failed to notice, then it will probably be another few months for the legs.”
The real question was whether or not her hands were still shrinking. Something Eva would have to keep on eye on.
“In any case, my hands and legs are one of the reasons I wanted–”
Another circulatory system popping into existence behind Eva’s seat cut her off.
Zoe took one step towards their group before she fell to her knees. Blood flowed from a gash in her arm and another in her back at an alarming rate.
All over my new rug.
Eva sprung into action as soon as she realized what she just thought. She jumped over the couch and knelt next to her professor. “Arachne, potions.”
Keeping her dagger palmed–she still had the presence of mind to hide the bloodstone–Eva pressed the flat of the blade against Zoe’s injuries. She couldn’t heal other people’s wounds, but she could shape the blood to keep Zoe from bleeding out.
Immediate concerns out of the way, Eva sheathed her dagger beneath her jacket and took a moment to look over the professor. She ignored the noise everyone else in the room was making.
Zoe wasn’t wearing her usual suit. The fabric felt far too thin. It was torn in several places apart from the large hole on her back and covered in coarse grit across most of her back–dirt most likely. Eva couldn’t see for sure, but Zoe likely had several bruises showing on her chest and face. If they weren’t visible yet, they would be soon enough. Several more shallow cuts lined nearly her entire body.
One arm bent at an awkward angle just above her elbow. A leg was similarly twisted.
Her breathing was shallow and labored. Despite that, her heart pounded in her chest. Drastically less blood than normal pumped through her body. It shouldn’t be an issue so long as Arachne hurried.
Apart from the largest two wounds, nothing appeared lethal. Still…
“You should have gone to a proper medical center.”
“No time,” Zoe wheezed. “Attacking demons.”
“Demons?” Eva’s response was echoed by everyone save Arachne who chose that moment to languidly toss a few vials in Eva’s direction.
“My home.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but Eva put a sharp finger over her mouth.
“Drink first.” Eva shoved one vial after another down Zoe’s throat.
Some of the effects were near instant. She could see the veins knitting back together. The skin started mending, but it would take significantly longer due to the size of the wounds.
“Two demons, larger than before,” Zoe said. “Burst into home. I fought.”
“I don’t know where you live.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Arachne said. The spider-demon bounced from heel to heel with a wide smile on her face. “I should be able to sense them. Let’s go,” she said as her grin turned feral.
“Right,” Eva said. “Can’t leave them to attack others.” She started building magic for a teleport. Arachne took the time to shrink to her spider form.
“Clean towels in the kitchen and showers,” Eva said to Carlos. She gestured towards one of the rooms. “Potions in there. Hope you have medical training, if not then don’t worry, she won’t die I don’t think.”
“You’re going to go fight two demons on your own?”
“Arachne will be with me and I’m sort of the only person who can be considered an expert–” Eva cut herself off as a thought occurred to her. “Actually. Juliana, you know which building Devon made his lair?” Eva asked, earning a nod from the blond in question. “Go tell him what happened.”
“I can do that. Nel and Ylva?”
“Probably already know,” Eva said, thinking of the black skull. “I doubt they’d do anything. Nel can’t leave. Not sure about Ylva.”
Arachne, in spider form, crawled up onto Eva. “Don’t worry,” Eva told everyone, but turned directly towards the shaking Shalise. “Everything will be fine. We’ll be back soon.”
Without waiting for complaints or protests, Eva released the gathered magic and vanished from the room.
The strong odor of brimstone was all that remained in her place.