Eva threw herself to the ground. A near invisible blade of wind skimmed over the tips of her hair.
That’s fine, Eva lied to herself as the ends of her hair drifted to the ground around her, my hair was getting too long anyway.
A second gust of wind curled between the ground and her body. Eva’s eyes grew wide as she felt the air draw in on itself. She felt a moment of panic before being launched up into the air.
The world spun. Sky turned to trees which turned to ground before snapping back to the sky. Bile churned in her stomach as she flipped end over end. A small, very unterrorized sounding scream escaped from Eva’s lips as she reached the peak of her flight.
Eva pushed herself as hard as she could, clamping down on her fear and focusing her concentration on the thing she had been trying to do since the start of the fight. She pushed her mind and her magic, trying to gain a slight advantage in the speed her perception.
For a brief moment, Eva felt something. A sudden moment of clarity made it through the blur of motion.
On the ground below her, Zoe Baxter stretched her arm out. The tip of her dagger glowed with crackling electricity.
In that continuing moment of clarity, Eva switched tactics. Her current strategy of uncontrollably flinging through the air was just not working out for her. Being wildly opposed to lightning bolts coming anywhere near her, Eva stepped.
All of her concentration switched to the act of stepping. Her body warped through space, moving from several feet in the air straight to the ground. She aimed for a cluster of trees that would hopefully obscure her from Zoe long enough to get back on the offensive.
To Eva’s surprise, she managed to land on her feet.
Phantom momentum sent her stumbling backwards. Eva landed flat on her butt with a thorned bush prickling at her back.
Eva stepped to her feet again, this time managing to stay standing.
Before anything else, Eva stepped directly to another crop of trees. Zoe would have heard her stumbling around. Her enhanced hearing wasn’t something to be dismissed easily.
To further combat the professor’s enhanced senses, Eva did something she hadn’t done in a long time. With a burst of pure chaos magic, Eva flooded her surroundings in darkness. Zoe still had her ears and nose, but sight made up such a drastic portion of human senses that it would definitely be worth it.
Even more so for Eva. A little darkness wasn’t about to get in the way of her sense of blood.
Unfortunately, it did interfere with her teleportation. Eva did not have enough blood to coat every surface of the forest. Even if she split the blood into fine particles and scattered it around, it would be too easy to miss a thin tree. She did not want to wind up with her leg destroyed by stepping into a tree.
As expected, Zoe compressed air around the area Eva had initially stepped to. She released it in an uncontrolled explosion of bark and wood just as the inky black darkness enveloped the area.
Eva’s first instinct was to unsheathe her dagger, jam it into her arm, form up a wire ball of blood, and launch a car-sized fist made of blood at her professor.
But Eva had something new to try.
She was supposed to have been searching through her books for a way to strike at Sawyer from afar. It didn’t quite hit her just how much she missed learning blood magic until she had started reading.
After starting at Brakket, Eva had weaned off the blood books in favor of proper thaumaturgy. Then she had lost her eyes and had to get Arachne to read to her. Because of the demon despising that particular activity, Eva barely managed to keep up in her classes.
Once she recovered her sight, Eva started off on the necromancy books she had stolen from Sawyer. What a bore. One would think that dead bodies, skeletons, blood and gore, and all that would be exciting. Even aside from the loathsome aspects of murdering everyone, the magic involved was simply uninspiring. All of it revolved around life, and how to instill that life into just about everything.
Not quite what she had been expecting. It made a certain sort of sense. However, Eva felt it would be far more practical to just acquire the help of regular living people rather than mess around with brain-dead zombies.
Blood magic, on the other hand, was something that just spoke to Eva. Every little tangent wound up all the more interesting simply due to how long it had been since she last read a blood magic book. Everything she came across had been just too tempting to skim or skip over.
As such, Eva had a number of things to practice.
Eva pulled out a large metal flask. Unlike most blood Eva used, it wasn’t her blood or Arachne’s blood. It was filled to the brim with the blood of an animal.
Normally, an animal’s blood would be useless. Even more so than her own semi-demonic blood. Animals simply lacked the worth that humans, demons, elves, and other magical creatures possessed.
This particular spell required animal blood from a large work animal. Cows, oxen, and donkeys would all work. Probably camels too, but they weren’t exactly on hand. Eva had selected a horse from a nearby farm. She hadn’t taken enough to kill the thing–it didn’t need to suffer for her experiments–but it might be lethargic for the next day or few.
As if animal blood wasn’t enough, it needed some of her own blood mixed in. Mixing blood tended towards diluting effects or otherwise making the blood worthless.
And yet here she was, making a cut on her wrist and adding to the pool.
Shaping the blood in the air, Eva formed a humanoid shape that wouldn’t look out of place as an ancient cave-drawing. Convinced that her amazing work of art wasn’t getting any better, she started channeling magic into the blob.
As she channeled, the flask-worth of blood started multiplying. It churned in on itself, exploding outwards with twice the amount of blood before collapsing in on itself again to start the process over. Eventually it reached her size.
And then Eva started feeling a little queasy.
Eva considered herself as far from squeamish as one could get. She blamed the turning of her stomach on the massive amounts of magic she was pouring into the human-sized column of blood.
Vague shapes formed on the surface of the blood. It started out as depressions in the blob. Before long, it morphed into more recognizable human features. A mirror image of Eva formed along the surface of the blood. Eva couldn’t see the colors due to the darkness, but she had no doubt it would look proper. If her blood sight only extended a centimeter beneath the skin, she wouldn’t be able to tell her clone apart from herself.
Eva gave her clone-self a poke. She could see that it was made up of nothing but blood. No bones or musculature at all. Despite that, it felt relatively solid. She wasn’t even holding it together with her magic anymore. It was entirely on its own.
Poking it did give Eva a slight turn of the stomach.
The real queasiness didn’t come from looking at her blood-mirror. She could feel what it felt. After about sixty seconds of construction, Eva realized she was seeing double. Double of nothing, again because of the darkness, but the odd sensation was still there. It would take some getting used to.
There was a problem with the darkness. Though she could see through her clone’s eyes and she could sense blood, her clone didn’t operate on her mind. It gave a one-way flow of information. She couldn’t tell it where to go or what to attack without real words.
A full minute of construction time left much to be desired as well. Against any opponent like herself, Eva wouldn’t be able to use anything similar to this technique. It simply took too long. As it was, she felt relatively safe from Zoe. The professor was still tossing razor wind aimlessly.
Canceling the darkness spell, Eva almost threw up as she looked on herself. It was like looking into two mirrors with both facing one another. An endless recursion of herself.
It would definitely take some getting used to.
She pinched her eyes shut and leaned in to whisper to her other self. “Attack Zoe,” she said, pointing for good measure.
A razor wind immediately slammed into the tree they were hidden behind. The clone didn’t notice or care. It had received its orders and moved to carry them out.
Eva stayed behind the tree with her eyes shut.
Through her clone’s eyes, she watched Zoe’s eyes widen as fake-Eva charged. They widened even more as a wind blade passed harmlessly through fake-Eva’s midsection. The blood parted to allow the wind to pass before reforming seamlessly.
The clone threw an open-clawed punch at Zoe. The blood mimicked carapace in every way that mattered.
For a moment, Eva felt a jolt of fear. She hadn’t directed her clone to do anything but attack. No qualifiers like ‘non lethal’ or ‘spar’ to dampen any blows.
It swung with all of its might, putting every ounce of strength it had behind the sharp tips of its claw.
Eva’s real body winced as Zoe lifted an arm to block the strike. Her empathetic pain turned to confusion. Zoe hadn’t raised any thaumaturgic shield, yet the claws stopped before touching her arm with space to spare.
Before Eva could begin to consider what had happened, an explosion of air knocked the clone’s arm clean off. It was just blood molded together by magic, after all. The loosed liquid splattered against the ground.
Feedback from the clone jolted Eva’s own arm. Or her phantom mental image of her clone’s sensation. It hurt no worse than the tingling from a limb that had fallen asleep. Something, Eva suddenly realized, that she hadn’t felt in her legs or hands since the transplant.
Zoe faltered. Her expression turned to one of shock as she stared at the missing limb.
The clone was under no such distress. It lashed out with its still intact arm even as the blood within its body bubbled out into a new arm.
Zoe’s distraction almost cost her a rather unflattering scar across her face. As it was, she had to stumble backwards to avoid the claws. Not enough to fall down, but enough to send her off-balance.
And then she noticed the new limb on the clone. Zoe tried to say something, but was immediately cut off by the clone not caring to hear her words in the slightest.
The clone pressed its advantage, moving in harder and faster.
For a few minutes, Eva watched Zoe, surprised at how much of a back foot the professor had found herself on. The clone was nothing if not relentless.
As she watched, Eva opened her own eyes. She sat behind a tree, just focusing on taking in the two differing inputs. It was disorienting and nauseating, but got better as time passed. Definitely not something she should be testing in a combat situation.
And then, while watching her clone’s no-holds-barred beat down of Zoe, Eva had another idea. Another idea that shouldn’t be tested in a combat situation.
Too bad, Eva thought at absolutely nothing, I’m doing it anyway.
Zoe lifted her dagger. Lightning crackled on the end. She pointed the sharp tip of the dagger directly at the clone’s chest.
The clone knocked her arm to one side, sending the charged lightning off into the sky.
Eva used that moment of thunder to enact her plan.
Not to anywhere she could see. Rather, Eva tried to step in her clone’s field of view, directly behind Zoe.
The world moved. Eva’s view through her clone remained relatively steady but her own vision twisted and spun. Dirt and twigs smacked into her face as she flopped over on the ground.
For a moment, Eva just lay there.
Her clone was still fighting Zoe and the professor was far too concerned with fighting back the onslaught to look behind her.
Zoe had started pushing back. Her initial timid attacks had given way to far more vicious strikes. The clone was slowly shrinking as it lost more and more blood. Reddish-black blood had splayed absolutely everywhere; a good portion of the blood was coating Zoe herself and had soaked into her exercise clothes.
Like the giant blood hands Eva could produce, none of the created blood was actually useful. A huge element of blood magic was the shedding of blood. Stolen or otherwise unwillingly taken blood had different properties compared to willingly given blood and both were different from unknowingly given blood. Blood stolen from a third party or taken while the donor was unconscious would both count as unknowingly given.
For a good number of spells, such a thing didn’t matter all that much. It was mostly the more ritualized aspects that required keeping it in mind. Taken blood worked best for damaging effects while given blood strengthened positive rituals.
Magically created blood was neither given nor taken. It wasn’t even shed. It never flowed in the veins of any living creature. As such, it was worthless for haemomancy. Even more so than the blood of an animal.
Still, Eva had been hoping that the clone’s lost blood would rejoin with the whole–it was made out of the stuff–but that didn’t appear to be the case. Her clone was a full head shorter than it should have been.
And it was only shrinking more. Zoe stepped forward, burying her dagger in the clone’s chest. A lightning bolt exploded out its back. Blood splattered around the woods and an acrid scent filled the air.
Through her clone’s eyes, Eva saw herself lying face down on the ground. There was a small twig sticking through her foot, but that wasn’t such a big deal. Her teleport had been successful, if painful.
Eva’s nose wrinkled as she pushed herself up, clamping down on a groan that wanted to escape from the effort. Lying unmoving felt nicer, but she had to end this before she threw up.
Clambering to her feet made enough noise to finally alert Zoe to Eva’s presence a few feet behind the woman.
A breeze brushed a few hairs back behind Eva’s head. That breeze picked up into a gale.
Eva’s feet left the ground. Both of her perspectives flew apart from one another and away from Zoe. One vanished as the clone splattered against a tree.
Lacking the luck of being made out of blood, Eva’s back slammed into a tree. Harsh bark cut into her back–straight through her brand new tee-shirt–and left small wounds. She slid down the tree, further scraping her back, until her feet caught the ground.
Zoe was sprinting towards her. Eva tried lifting an arm to toss out a wreath of flames. Suddenly missing the senses of a second person was just as disorienting as suddenly gaining them. Unable to think clearly, her flamethrower ended up more of a flame-spittle, drooling on the ground in front of her.
A gust of wind knocked her hand to the side before she could try again.
She felt a sharp tap on the top of her head.
Eva reached up and rubbed the top of her head.
“I was confused at first,” Zoe said, breathing in deep pants. She reached her arm up and wiped off a slew of sweat onto her sleeve. “You charged out at me. Naturally, I didn’t want to kill you. ‘You’ didn’t seem to have the same reservations.”
Eva shook her head, fuming at herself for failing again at defeating Zoe. Sure, it might have been a bad idea to have tested something new in the middle of battle, but it wasn’t like things were going swimmingly before that point.
“Then your arm came off and everything. It was quite the shock, I almost stopped then and there.”
“Good thing you didn’t,” Eva said with a sigh, “it wasn’t told to stop fighting.”
“What was it?”
“A new spell I found. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to before I try again in a fight. There’s a one-way sensory feedback from it to me, so I saw double of everything. Extremely disorienting.”
Zoe tapped her chin. “Sounds useful if you can overcome that issue.”
“Maybe I’ll practice by sending it to history class.”
“I think that someone bumping into it too hard might raise a few uncomfortable questions. Can you make one of someone else?”
“Not sure. The book didn’t mention anything about that, but I’d need a sample of someone else’s blood at the very least. I’m not sure if they’d get the feedback effect or if I would… or if it would even work at all because they weren’t the ones to cast the spell.”
A musing hum from Zoe filled a few minutes of silence.
“You never said why the sudden interest in sparring,” Eva said. “Not that I don’t appreciate the opportunity to test out my new stuff…”
“Frankly, you’re too much trouble.”
Eva immediately tried to protest. Zoe held up a hand.
“Since you came to Brakket, there’s been zombies, nuns, and demons–so many demons–all running about causing problems.”
Eva pressed her lips together in a frown. “I’ll have you know, very few of those are my fault. Especially the necromancer and the nuns.”
“Be that as it may, the relaxing life of a teacher just isn’t what it used to be. And then there is the thing.” She shook her head from side to side. “I can’t afford to sit around unpracticed while the world turns to chaos around us.”
“So why not Wayne?”
“Oh, we have been sparring. You think this is my first day? He just had a meeting to attend with a parent. I thought you might be interested. And it made for a nice change of pace.”
That made sense. She seemed a lot better than she had during her summer lectures. Until just now, Eva had assumed she had been simply holding back for the students’ sake.
Which just made all those losses all the worse. If Eva couldn’t even beat ‘relaxing teacher life’ Zoe, how was she supposed to compete against a gung-ho version of the woman.
Maybe it was time to go for some hardcore combat lessons herself.
“That reminds me,” Eva said, “I have a little project that I’m working on that I could use some help with. Nothing vital or urgent, just something I’d like to talk to you about in the near future.”
“I have time tonight,” Zoe said. “All my papers are graded and lessons are planned. For the most part. I still have a good amount of work to catch up on from when Catherine took over my post. Taking a break from that for today, however.” She leaned into her shoulder, removing more sweat. Pulling away with a face, she said, “I could use a shower first. We’ve been out here far longer than I wanted.”
“Ugh,” Eva muttered to herself as she peeled away from the tree, healing the small cuts on her back as she moved. She tugged at her shirt. There were more holes than back on it. “I think this shirt has outlived its usefulness. How about in an hour at the women’s ward?”
“You need a ride out?”
Eva shuddered. “No thank you.”
With a shrug of her shoulders, Zoe vanished. A chilling blast of wind, colder even than the ambient February air, gave Eva the shivers.
Building up magic for her own teleport, Eva activated it, fully expecting and preparing for the unpleasant trip through Hell.
She was not prepared for the head-on collision with a brick wall.
Eva collapsed straight to her knees, clutching at her brain. It wasn’t a literal brick wall, but a metaphysical one. Wards.
A female figure appeared in her blood sight, standing just in front of her.
“No one ever thinks to ward against banishment. Who would want to keep demons from being sent back to Hell?” There was a sharp laugh from the woman. “You should have left with the other.”
Eva didn’t have the energy to snip out a witty response. She recognized the blood veins and the object inserted into the woman’s chest. Putting on her most confident expression, Eva glanced up.
“Hello, Sister Cross.”