Eva hummed a soft tune to herself. She had never been one for music. Unlike most of the students at her old school, Eva never owned any sort of music player. At her old school, nearly everyone had one. They’d listen to them in the halls, during lunch, and in the classroom if the teacher permitted. She had seen a handful of people with headphones around Brakket, but they were far less prevalent here.
As such, her tune was just a formless rhythm. It didn’t have any purpose or meaning beyond filling the silence.
And what a silence it was.
Irene hadn’t said a word in half an hour.
Once they had arrived at the changing room, she just stood around while Eva shed her clothes. Eva had left her behind with a wave and crossed the fake, snowy mountain to one of the slightly more secluded springs. She fully expected to get out five minutes later to find that Irene had run off.
When Irene walked out, trying and failing to cover herself with her hands, Eva had let some surprise show on her face. Irene had stood outside the pool, blushing furiously. She had only slipped into the water after Eva let out a short cough.
Since then, her heart rate increased with every passing second. Irene’s eyes darted between the door and Eva, as if expecting someone to barge in and assign detention. If Eva was feeling somewhat guilty about skipping Zoe’s class, Irene must be freaking out at the thought of missing two whole classes.
Eva was beginning to think her stress relief retreat had backfired.
“If I am bothering you so much,” Eva said without opening her eyes, “you can go. I don’t want you to feel like you have to stay on my account.”
“N-no. I’m just…”
“I’m not going to eat you or anything.”
Irene hugged her knees to her chest. “How did I let myself get talked into this?”
“You didn’t. I dragged you out here.”
Eva’s words fell on deaf ears.
“Mom is going to have that disappointed look on her face. And Shelby,” Irene let out a soft groan, “is going to be insufferable.”
“She’s skipped plenty of times in the past.”
“But I haven’t.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“That’s not the point.” Irene’s voice turned soft, just barely loud enough for Eva to hear. “She’s going to make fun of me.”
Eva frowned and actually opened her eyes to look at the girl. “Your twin bullies you?”
“Not really. But this might warrant extra attention,” Irene said with a sigh. “I can see it already. She’ll ask me where I was and ‘who was the lucky guy’ that I was with. When I say that we were here, she’ll gasp and put her hands over her mouth like it is such a scandal before breaking down in laughter. Maybe even asking if your,” her eyes flicked up to Eva for a second before they turned back to the door, “if your pet was part of our activities.”
Eva’s frown deepened. That didn’t sound as bad as she had been expecting, but it was clearly bothering Irene. “Well, you don’t have to worry about Arachne joining in. She found a new toy to play with and I just haven’t the heart to pull her away from it. She won’t be around until the end of school to pick us up.”
Irene shot a glare at Eva. The glare withered as Eva stared back. “Now you’re doing it,” Irene mumbled.
“Just play it up. Square your shoulders and say ‘it’ was great. Relish the surprise on her face when you turn her little tease around on her.”
Irene sputtered in the water for a moment before she said, “I couldn’t do something like that.”
“When she asks exactly what ‘it’ was, just smile. If it really is so bothersome, tell her you were just relaxing in the hot spring and nothing else.”
A small splash rippled the water as Irene dunked her head beneath the water.
Eva leaned back, shutting her eyes once again. The conversation managed to lower Irene’s heart rate by a small bit. That was a win in her eyes.
Another splash signaled Irene popping her head back above the surface.
Her scream split the silence.
Eva jumped to full alert. Before she even turned, she saw it through her sense of blood.
It was like someone had taken a flesh golem and strapped on the arms of a bear. It had a human head and a mostly human torso, but the thing became a snake from the waist down, ending in a second fanged head.
As Eva’s head turned to fully observe the creature, she realized those were not bear arms. They were the paws of a dog. A dog that left smoking trails of brimstone anywhere it stepped.
The paws of a cerberus.
Eva wasted no time. She gripped Irene around the waist and used her powerful legs to vault out of the hot spring in a single bound.
“Come on,” Eva said as they landed. “We have to get out of here.” She firmly gripped Irene around the wrist and started pulling her off towards the men’s changing room on the opposite end of the room.
She’d probably have bruises in the morning.
To her credit, Irene had yet to scream a second time. Her heart was racing. If Eva thought it was beating hard earlier, it jumped into potentially dangerous territory now.
Eva’s own heart was hammering in her chest. She couldn’t help it. Her blood vials and dagger were both back in the girl’s changing room.
With a thought, the blood–pretouched by her dagger–burst out of its vials. She was almost out of preservative vials, they kept breaking or needed breaking. But this was an emergency. She tried to wrap the dagger in blood and move it the way she had with the bloodstones in Hell, but the dagger was too heavy and failed to budge.
Cursing under her breath, Eva left the dagger where it was. She’d double back as soon as she got out of the boy’s changing room.
Eva skidded to a halt at the threshold of the changing room. Her sharp feet dug into the ground in an effort to gain more traction. She threw both herself and Irene to the ground, shielding the two of them from a harsh impact with one fist.
Another creature burst through the wall just as Eva dived out of the way.
It had a human head once again, but it turned into a patchwork mess of parts below the neck. The legs looked more crustacean than anything else and the arms terminated in crystalline spears.
There were at least two more things inside the changing room and another outside.
The crab thing started skittering towards the two girls. Unlike the first, which slithered slow and steady, this thing was fast.
Eva pulled all of Arachne’s blood to her. It formed into five marbles orbiting the two.
One marble split off, forming a ring around one of the crab-legged creature’s legs. With a clap of her hands, the blood detonated. The creature let out an inhuman screech as it lost balance and collapsed.
Eva scrambled to her feet, dragging Irene up with her. There had to be an emergency exit or something. This was definitely an emergency.
“Maintenance room,” Irene said with a gesture towards one wall.
Or something it is then.
They started running again. Eva took care to dig her feet into the ground. Slipping wouldn’t end with just a scrape. Together, they hit the unmoving door.
It was locked.
Eva wasn’t in the mood. Not wanting to waste blood, Eva opted for a strong kick.
Splinters of wood exploded as her chitinous foot connected. It wouldn’t shut properly, but the one creature burst through a wall. Eva doubted an intact door would have helped in the first place.
“Any exits?” Eva said as she entered the room.
Pipes and valves littered one wall. Far less magical than should be allowed at a magic academy. Then again, connecting all the pipes from the obviously space expanded pool room to regular space had to be a headache all on its own.
A small window, barely big enough to fit either of their bodies, rested high in the wall opposite from the pipes. Eva sent one orb of her blood to stretch around the glass. With a clap of her hands, the glass came out in a single pane. It fell outwards and a moment later came the sound of glass shattering against the ground outside.
A sob from behind her stopped Eva’s brisk walk towards the window.
Whatever adrenaline had been holding Irene together evidentially took its leave. She collapsed to her hands and knees. Tear streaks ran down her face. Eva hadn’t noticed until now, but her tears had probably been going on since she first caught sight of the snake-cerberus thing.
Eva placed her hands underneath Irene’s arms and tried to lift her back to her feet. “Can’t stop now. That door didn’t keep me out. It being all broken isn’t going to keep them out.”
Irene shrugged Eva off. “What is this?” Her voice edged with hysteria. “It’s always you. Why is it always you? Jordan manages to not upset everything, why can’t you? Why do you have to be such a freak?”
Frowning, Eva clamped her hands around the girl once again. This time she gripped with far less care. A little blood was surely preferable to whatever those things had in mind. “Questions to ask after we are safe. I’m going to help you up to the window. Be careful with the glass around the edges and on the ground outside.”
For extra safety, Eva sent two orbs of blood up to harden over some of the glass. The blood wouldn’t be half as sharp and could stand up to pressure so long as Eva kept it under her control.
“…don’t have clothes,” Irene mumbled. At least she was getting to her feet.
Once Irene was steady, Eva moved over below the window and clasped her hands together. “Ready to boost you up. And you better hurry.” The snake-cerberus thing was approaching the door. Something else behind it crawled closer as well.
Irene stood frozen until a noise in the other room startled her into action. She might have made a few gymnasts envious with how she jumped from Eva’s hand onto the window sill. It was good that blood covered the glass, as she gripped the edges hard.
Eva kept track of the slithering snake as she helped shove Irene through the small window. “Is there anything out there?” Eva asked. She knew the answer, at least within about fifty feet, but having confirmation might set her own heart at ease.
A stunted response. Eva shook her head. She’d deal with that later. “Good. Watch your feet.”
Eva sent her last orb of blood through the crack in the door. It splattered against the human face of the snake-cerberus creature–it was getting far too close for comfort. The moment Irene’s foot left Eva’s hands, Eva clapped.
The head exploded. Absolutely and completely. Through her blood sense, Eva could see all the bits of viscera that flew around the room. The main body dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. Only the snake head writhed around. Without the rest of the body holding itself up, the snake didn’t have enough strength to move.
What a waste, Eva thought. She should have split the orb in half. The human face was mushy enough. Then she could have used the rest on the other creature.
It trampled right over the top of the snake-cerberus without a moment’s hesitation. If the thing wasn’t dead before, it was now. The thing was partially an elephant. At least, it was large enough to be one.
Eva had half a mind to run back into the room and slip over into the girl’s changing room for her dagger. Two things stopped her. She didn’t want to leave Irene when there could be more creatures outside and she didn’t want to run back into the hot springs when she could see another three things behind the elephant.
Hoisting herself up, Eva climbed out the window. She had to kick in footholds to get the proper traction.
Irene was already running away, holding herself awkwardly in an attempt at covering herself. She headed towards the corner of the building that went towards the front.
That was a mistake.
“Irene! Stop!” Eva ran. Each of her legs cracked the cement around the building as she sprinted.
Irene had too much of a head start.
Eva wouldn’t make it.
A creature barreled into Irene as soon as she reached the corner. While the creature merely stumbled, Irene went flying. She hit the ground five feet away and tumbled and rolled another few feet.
It turned its taloned wings towards Irene and stalked forwards on bird-like legs.
Eva leaped high into the air. Her claws ignited.
She wasn’t the best at thaumaturgy. It and her claws were all she had.
The creature let out a squawk as Eva’s weight sent it to the ground.
Eva blinked and failed to move for a second. The creature had stitching keeping its limbs on. The muscle structure had been altered and several organs were completely missing.
It was a flesh golem with demon parts sewn on.
Eva shook her head. She wasted no time digging her flaming claws into the base of its neck.
Her claws did not make it very far.
The thing’s wing batted Eva into the wall of the building.
Pain lanced up her side. Her skin was unbroken, but something hurt. A broken rib perhaps.
Nothing to worry about now; Nurse Naranga could put her back together. The creature was already getting up.
Forcing down the pain, Eva brought her hands together. She channeled magic into the largest fireball she’d ever created. It took a moment, but she did it.
Mostly. Zagan’s class provided ample opportunity to practice and she had been getting better. The fireball was still unstable. It bubbled and twisted like a boiling pot of water rather than any sort of proper fire. Holding it too long would wind up with it splashing all over Eva.
So she projected it forwards.
The bird-golem shrieked as its feathers went up in flames.
Eva did not waste her opportunity. Ignoring the heat, she jumped onto the flaming bird and dug her claws into its throat.
She didn’t stop until it did.
The heart in its chest was not a human heart. Eva almost started to convert it to a bloodstone despite that. It wouldn’t be hard; she even had actual fingers now instead of fumbling around with her elbow. Unfortunately, it already ceased beating.
Eva pulled herself off the creature and ran over to Irene. She hadn’t moved since she fell, but her heart was beating. Her eyes were shut and her breathing somewhat shallow. Eva knelt and gently smacked her across the face. “Don’t be unconscious. We need to move.”
Irene failed to respond.
A crash and crumbling of walls brought Eva’s attention to the window they had escaped from.
A six-legged elephant stumbled through a hole in the wall. She could see an almost full human body somewhere in the center of its mass. Only the head poked out. It turned until it found Eva–it twisted almost fully around, facing directly backwards. Without turning back, the thing started charging.
Eva scooped up Irene into her arms. Ignoring the pain accompanying a grinding in her side, Eva started running. If it wasn’t for Arachne’s legs, she’d have collapsed in five steps. Irene was not light. The strain on Eva’s arms and back was unsustainable.
Worse, the six-legged elephant was not slow. With its target in sight, it was gaining. Every step Eva took brought the elephant three steps closer.
If she ditched Irene, Eva doubted she would have a problem outrunning it. But if she was willing to do that, she would have simply teleported away through an infernal walk.
Eva took a hard right back towards the dorm building, hoping the elephant would be unable to stop moving forwards.
Her hopes did not hold out.
The elephant stopped on a dime and angled towards Eva. Its charge started up an instant later.
Eva set down Irene as gently as she could without taking more than a second or two. She turned on the demon and started her own charge.
Her hands ignited in thaumaturgical fire. Against the feathers, fire did well. The tough looking hide of the elephant might be resistant, but it didn’t hurt to try.
Eva took the full brunt of its charge with her claws out. She couldn’t risk jumping over and having it not follow. Its current course would take it right over Irene otherwise.
The leg Eva hit was nearly her size. And it was sticky.
The impact was not what Eva had expected. Rather than flying off or being trampled, Eva stuck to the leg like glue. It stilled completely, once again stopping instantly.
No, not stuck to it. The flesh around her arms split apart and started pulling her into the beast.
Eva struggled backwards. It didn’t give an inch back, slowly drawing her claws further inside.
Lifting her foot, Eva tried to kick off her arm. Arachne would be happy to donate another one, Eva was certain.
A sudden lurch by the elephant got Eva’s leg stuck inside the thing.
Eva could feel panic settling in the back of her mind. She could handle being trampled or tossed, so long as her head and chest wasn’t crushed.
Even using the strength in her hands to crush the flesh did no good. All the surrounding flesh still drew her further in.
Eva ceased all her struggles. Maybe it is one of those things where the more you resist, the harder it gets.
She breathed a sigh of relief as her hand stopped slipping further into the elephant. It wasn’t coming out, but at least she wasn’t going to be swallowed up.
The elephant pressed its leg forwards, into the ground.
Eva took a brief gasp of air before her face pressed against the leg.
Fine, Eva thought while trying very hard not to panic. You want me inside? That’s perfect.
The resistance slipped away as Eva actively pressed into the elephant. She clawed and squirmed, trying to get further and further inside.
The human body was just out of reach. Its heart, however, was not a human heart. As large as a human’s head, it stuck out of the chest.
And Eva clawed towards it.
The moment the tips of her fingers raked across the heart, she felt a tremor go through the beast. Her fingers slipped away.
Oh no you don’t. Eva knew she was being somewhat hysterical as she clawed back to the heart. You wanted me in here, you don’t get to push me out.
The pushing got stronger, but not strong enough and not fast enough. The tip of Eva’s middle finger severed one of the major arteries leading out of the heart.
The tremors got worse. Eva’s head broke out of the elephant’s leg as it collapsed onto the ground. She took a huge gasp of air. She hadn’t been under its flesh for long, but she couldn’t risk it sucking her back in.
A shudder ran through the beast and it stopped pushing Eva out.
Her arms were still stuck in the meat.
“Great,” Eva mumbled to herself. A major mistake; some viscera got into her mouth.
It tasted like ash and sawdust.
Eva struggled against the now still leg. It was hardening. That set off a whole other wave of panic.
A childlike giggle drew Eva’s attention. She craned her neck, though she also looked through her blood sense.
Another of the monsters stood just a few paces away from the hardening elephant. Each of its four limbs seemed to have originated with different creatures. One looked like another cerberus paw, one was a tentacle, or perhaps a snake, another looked like a human foot with curved talons instead of toes, and the last was a metallic spear.
Stood might be the wrong word, Eva thought mirthlessly.
Thousands of thin tentacles coiled together around the thing’s waist. Together, they squeezed and crushed until the multi-armed creature was nothing more than a bloody pulp. The tentacles all traced back into the back of a young-looking woman. More giggles poured out of her, though her mouth was shut tight.
Lalum, no. Lilith? No. “Lucy,” Eva shouted.
The tentacle-woman didn’t so much as turn to face Eva as she simply formed a second face on the side of her head. Her smile stretched all the way from the face facing the creature to the face facing Eva.
Watching it melt into only the face facing Eva was somewhat disconcerting.
A coil of tentacles stretched towards Eva before they froze just a few inches away from her head. An eyeball and a mouth formed at the end.
“Oh! You’re Zagan’s embryonic thing.”
Eva frowned. She wasn’t Zagan’s anything. “I’m Eva. I need help getting out of here,” Eva said. “Try not to hurt me.”
The eyeball turned downwards to inspect the carcass. It snapped back up to meet Eva’s eyes. “You jumped into a cutvoro?” The mouth split in two separate mouths. They started to dance around Eva on their tentacles, echoing as she spoke again. “Insane! How are you not it?”
“Don’t know. Get me out, please.”
The eye and mouths vanished as the mass of tentacles increased. They wormed their way right next to Eva’s skin as they burrowed into the elephant’s flesh.
Eva could feel the tentacles as they started pulling away from her. The elephant split apart, crumbling as it did so. The smell was rancid, but Eva was happy to be out.
“You’re all fleshy!”
Lucy had moved to right next to the elephant, all the while still churning the multi-armed creature in her tentacles across the way.
“I thought humans needed clothes?” She rubbed her fingers over the black trench-coat she wore. “Mistress Martina said never to ever take clothes off no matter how much they get in the way.”
“First,” Eva said, “humans just don’t like to be naked most of the time. Second, give me your trench coat.”
“What? I can’t!”
Eva rolled her eyes. “You have other clothes on and I have none. Don’t worry. If Martina Turner complains, tell her it was all my idea.”
Lucy seemed to mull it over for a moment. Eventually, she nodded. At the end of her nod, all of her dissolved into a pillar of tentacles. They squirmed out of one of the trench coat sleeves and reformed into Lucy a step away, still wearing the suit she had on beneath.
Eva picked up the trench coat and slipped into it. There was some slickness on the inside, but she didn’t feel sick or hallucinatory so Eva paid it no mind. The coat was too big for her, she noted with some distaste.
“Third,” Eva said as she turned back to the still prone form of Irene. “I need you to take her to one of the school nurses. Very carefully. No toxins, no squeezing too hard, just gently carry her to a nurse. Do you understand?”
“What about all the monsters?”
Eva frowned. She needed her dagger back. Without Irene, she could teleport and grab Arachne. Together they’d be able to plow through everything.
“What is the rest of the security force doing?”
“Daru is killing things. So is the old guy and the elf. The children are protecting the other children with teachers.”
“Okay, then the old guy and Daru can take care of the other monsters. Once you get her to a nurse, you can rejoin fighting.”
Again, Lucy mulled it over before nodding. She deformed and reformed with Irene in her arms.
Her suit must be part of her body. There was no way it could just float in the swarm of tentacles and put itself back perfectly.
Eva idly rubbed her fingers on the trench coat. It might be tentacles too. Just a sheet of tentacles that had been colored and detached from the mass. It probably wasn’t since Daru wore an identical one, but the possibility was there.
Maybe I’ll get a new trench coat for master, Eva thought as Lucy ran off with Irene. His got more raggedy every time she saw it.
Eva shook her head. Not the time.
She sat down in the shadow of the elephant and started to carefully channel magic into herself for an infernal walk.
Five minutes and a quick flay through Hell had Eva stumbling out of her gateway circle in the prison.
After taking another minute to collect herself, Eva grabbed her old, crystalline dagger and her spare bloodstone–the one from Weilks. Fitting, she thought with a sardonic grin. The bloodstone was still unmounted, still too large to fit, but she could cut and then touch the bloodstone to the blood.
In fact, Eva thought. She slit open her arm and coated the bloodstone in enough blood to keep it aloft on its own. Quickly healing the cut, Eva rummaged through her spare vials of blood. Her stock had not recovered from Genoa’s attack. Less due to a lack of Arachne blood and more due to the shattered vials she hadn’t replaced. She pocketed two vials–enough for one good blood-claw, a dismemberment ring, or a small shield–and marched outside.
The area still looked like a war zone. They were supposed to clean up after themselves. Maybe they decided the day wasn’t over yet and they could clean up later. Eva couldn’t hear any signs of battle, so they must be done or taking a break.
Except they hadn’t ever taken a break while she was around.
Frowning, Eva headed towards Ylva’s domain. She pulled open the door.
A curled up Nel sat in front of Ylva’s throne. Her knees were pulled up to her chest. Very reminiscent of how Irene was acting before everything went to hell.
As Eva got closer, she could hear Nel mumbling to herself.
“They’re coming for me.”