“You’re looking… well,” Eva said.
Sister Cross looked anything but. The last time Eva saw the nun, she was in casual clothes. But the time before that, she had been fighting Zagan. During that fight, she had got somewhat beat up. Torn clothes, broken arm, cuts and scrapes.
Whatever had happened to her was apparently worse than fighting a legitimate devil.
As she was now, Sister Cross looked worse than that fight. Her face had bruises aplenty and her clothes were little more than burlap rags. Worse, several of her injuries looked fresh. Her left arm had a definite fracture in it, but she didn’t appear to notice. One particularly gruesome boil on her cheek had a slather of pus running from it.
Even if she had escaped from some horrific battle, she should have taken care of herself before seeking out more trouble. At the very least, did she have no clothes to change into? She could have stolen some. Charity shops would probably have given her a set of clothes for free just for showing up looking like she did.
Eva’s head snapped back, interrupting her observation, as a fist connected with her right eye.
The hand moved back behind Eva’s head. Gripping a fistful of hair, Sister Cross yanked Eva’s head up to look at each other face-to-face.
“Where is she?”
Pinching her eyes shut, Eva bit down on the pain. “Now, now, no need to get violent–”
The hand holding her hair pulled down, ramming Eva’s forehead against a kneecap. Her vision split in two as Sister Cross pulled her head back up.
“I told you before. One chance. And you blew it.” Sister Cross spoke with her teeth grit together. A vein on her forehead bulged slightly. “Tell me where she is and I’ll kill you fast enough that you won’t feel a thing.”
Eva took a deep breath before responding, buying herself a few extra moments to focus past the hammering in her head. “Don’t you mean or?”
The grip on Eva’s hair tightened and started pulling her back towards Sister Cross’ knee.
This time, Eva was ready.
Eva stepped straight past Sister Cross, reappearing at the nun’s back. Without a moment’s hesitation, Eva clasped her fists together and threw all of her weight into knocking some sense upside Cross’ head.
Sister Cross’ rolled with the blow, tumbling to one side before facing towards Eva.
White light burned out of the nun’s eyes.
Eva stepped again, avoiding the path of a blindingly white bolt of lightning by a split second.
Electricity crackled up and down Sister Cross’ skin. Arcs peeled off of her hands, lancing into the ground around her in jagged patterns.
“Get back here!” Cross shouted as she swung an arm towards Eva. Four prongs of lightning trailed after her hand, moving more like a multiple-tailed whip than any sort of bolt.
Given how much it had hurt to be struck by a single and likely low-powered bolt, Eva wanted to keep her distance from the lashes.
But what to do? Eva could step around all day, especially because Cross was clearly injured and not thinking straight. Running away wouldn’t be an issue either. She could step straight back to the school, or even just far enough to get out from under whatever wards Sister Cross had erected.
But that left an angry nun running around. More than angry. One that wanted to kill her.
Having used up most of her stores of blood in the spar with Zoe, Eva was doubting her ability to effectively fight back. Her fireballs wouldn’t do much good. Not when Wayne had troubles with this same nun while the nun wasn’t fighting at full strength. Her claws wouldn’t be much use either. The shields employed by the Elysium Order were almost as strong as shields formed out of demonic blood.
Her hands had connected with Sister Cross’ head just a moment ago, but that had been before her eyes were lit with the white fire.
Had she memorized the pattern for a transference circle, it might have been possible to lure Sister Cross over the top of one and drop her into Eva’s domain. She would probably calm down, at least a little, with Shalise in front of her. And if not, she would at least be contained.
But she hadn’t memorized it.
That left only one good option.
“Sister Cross,” Eva shouted, twisting around a spew of white flames, “calm down!”
The nun snarled. Using both hands, she brought two sets of electricity whips around to where Eva had been standing only seconds before.
“You need help and–”
Sister Cross whirled rapidly, orienting every bit of electricity and flames that she had in Eva’s direction.
A good portion of the forest was actually on fire now, limiting the available safe places to teleport to. And not nice red flames, but the Order’s white magic. Eva wasn’t able to manipulate the flames with thaumaturgy.
Eva spun on her heel, spotting and stepping to a far fresher section of the forest.
Cupping her hands, she called back towards Sister Cross as loud as she could. “And Shalise is safe!”
Either the nun failed to hear or she didn’t care. Sister Cross charged full speed through the woods. She kept her arms fully extended as she ran, down and slightly behind her hips. Electricity trailed behind her, licking at the ground and trees she passed. More flames cropped up in her wake.
If Eva didn’t end this soon, there wouldn’t be a forest left. As it was, she needed to find Zoe and have her teleport a water mage in.
Did water even put out white flames?
Zoe would probably have some idea if not.
But this had to end soon.
“I can take you to your daughter, but not while you’re trying to kill me.”
Eva teleported away just as Sister Cross reached her. Not quite fast enough. One tendril of electricity coiled around her wrist.
Pain coursed through her body when she reappeared on the opposite side of the forest.
Letting out a cry of pain, Eva teleported away again. Three rapid steps put her far enough away to give her a moment of time.
Black liquid oozed out of the cracks in her carapace. Right around her wrist were several lightning-shaped marks burned into the chitin. A small segment of the armored plate had come off entirely, revealing the meat underneath.
Eva clamped her good hand over her wrist, putting pressure on it. It didn’t help the pain; it was much like biting down on a bit, the pain was there but something else drew attention from it.
In the distance, Sister Cross continued her maddened charge.
Forget the forest, I’m going to be the one in trouble if this doesn’t end soon.
Eva uncorked her solitary vial of Arachne’s blood. She had to be careful with it. It was all she had.
The blood bobbed in the air around Eva as she weighed her options. There was only so much she could do with so little.
Before Sister Cross reached Eva, she wrapped the blood around her fist and teleported. Leaving her blood behind would be detrimental.
Or would it?
Eva split the blood off into two small globs before teleporting again. She made no move to attack with the blood. Not even the slightest intention crossed her mind. Based on all of her previous experiences in seeing the Elysium Order’s shields in action, she had a theory that they worked off of actual attacks. That was only compounded by the fact that Sister Cross had to push past stray branches as she pressed on in her pursuit.
Sister Cross, unseeing or uncaring, charged right into the blood.
Her shield did not so much as flicker.
It was possible that it was because she had moved into them, rather than Eva attacking her with the blood. Still no real proof of how the shield worked. However it happened, the two balls of blood landed on her tattered shirt.
Some of the blood was immediately rendered unusable because of the frankly disgusting amount of dirt on the woman. Eva redirected the rest of the blood. One glob went straight up her nose while the other wrapped around her mouth.
The electricity hanging off of Sister Cross’ fingers vanished as she brought her hands up to her mouth. Her fingers pried at the liquid clinging to her face.
As Sister Cross’ ungainly fingernails started to dig their way into the seams between her lips and the blood, Eva dug the blood into her skin. Tiny little barbs pierced and latched on.
Finding her efforts stifled, she tried a similar tactic at the blood blocking her nose.
This time, Eva unblocked a single nostril.
Sister Cross drew in a deep breath as fast as she could with only half a nose.
The moment she finished inhaling, Eva blocked it again.
“Now,” Eva said, “you–”
A lightning bolt hit Eva in the hip, spinning her around and knocking her to the ground.
Eva’s efforts to get up were interrupted by a weight landing on her back. A punch against the back of her head had her eating dirt.
“Killing me won’t make it stop,” Eva groaned out as she spat out a mouthful of grass. “Even if you cut an air-hole in your throat, you won’t see Shalise again without me.”
The pressure on her back increased, but there was no actual attack. Through her blood sight, Eva could see the woman’s heart beating faster as she attempted to heave in more air.
“If you get off of me right now, maybe I will let you have a small air hole.” Eva kicked back, trying to knock the nun off of her back.
That only sent a jolt of pain through Eva’s body. Taking a look at her own body through her blood sight revealed quite the disaster around her midsection. About an inch of meat was missing entirely from the edge of her hip inwards. Based on how the blood was flowing, part of the bone was missing as well as some of the carapace from her legs.
Not a good sight to see. Too big of an injury to heal away as she often did with smaller cuts. Warm blood was pooling on the forest floor, soaking into her clothes, and smearing over Sister Cross’ thighs.
It took almost a full five minutes before Sister Cross finally got off of Eva. It was less ‘got off’ and more like she slumped off to one side, but the end effect was the same.
Gritting her teeth in preparation for the pain, Eva withdrew her dagger and jammed it into her side. She carefully kept herself from bleeding out using her control over her own blood. A small portion flew over to reinforce the blood around Sister Cross’ mouth.
Though the nun didn’t need it. Her eyes were closed and her heart rate, while still elevated, had dropped.
Eva moved the blood from her nose. It hung off of her face like a mustache, but cleared her nose entirely.
After a heart-wrenching moment of fear that she would have to perform mouth-to-mouth on the woman just to get her breathing again, Sister Cross’ body took over with a sudden lurch of fresh air.
With a small sigh of relief, Eva kept a careful eye on the woman. No sign of her being conscious surfaced. If she was awake, she was doing a very good job of playing possum.
Unfortunately, if she was unconscious, that left an injured Eva with a full-grown woman to lug around.
And she was injured in both her hand and her waist.
For the moment, Eva tended to herself. She couldn’t do much about the missing bone, but she could at least complete her veins and arteries with hardened blood so as to keep her from bleeding out if she let her concentration slip.
It took more than a few minutes of strengthening the passageways to her satisfaction. They needed to be able to survive a moderate jostle while still being flexible enough to move in. As it was, she would have to keep her hip straightened out for the most part.
Fixing her blood vessels did nothing for the pain.
Still, with as much self-maintenance as she could do completed, Eva turned to the probably unconscious nun.
“Now,” Eva said to herself through grit teeth, “what do we do with you?”
After a few minutes of deliberation, Eva made her decision. She propped up the nun, slung an arm around her shoulder, and started dragging.
Every so often, Eva suffered through the debilitating headache and lurch of the world as her teleport failed. It wasn’t quite so bad on repeated attempts as it had been the first time. Either the wards were weakening with distance or with the brute force of her teleport attempts.
Ten minutes into dragging Sister Cross through the woods and Eva was starting to get nervous. The nun’s heart rate and breathing showed signs of her waking up. She still hadn’t moved significantly on her own, but she could wake up at any moment.
Eva’s next teleport attempt nearly got through the barrier. She could feel it; both in that it caused very little mental pain and that it tainted the air around her with the pungent scent of brimstone.
She lugged Sister Cross’ unconscious carcass another ten feet, built up her magic, and teleported.
Eva’s method of teleportation wasn’t pleasant at the best of times. The sound of meat tearing and slopping against hard floors combined with the screams–Eva wanted to say ‘of the damned’ but that didn’t seem likely; the teleport took them through Hell, not through Death’s realm–burned on her very being. Then there was the more literal burning of her flesh. Skin seared off down to her bones.
Over time, Eva had either grown accustomed to the pain of having her skin flayed off or her increasingly demonic nature was protecting her from the ill effects. She could keep a level head through the pain and come out only slightly shaky when she arrived at the gate.
Sister Cross had neither her demonic nature nor her pain tolerance.
The nun’s eyes snapped open the moment the real world had been replaced with a tunnel of flesh. She tried to scream. Eva’s blood kept her mouth sealed for the moment, but it wouldn’t hold under the nun’s fright. Only moments after the teleport had begun and her skin and lips were already tearing from the strain.
Where Eva felt her skin incinerated during the teleport, Sister Cross experienced the pain differently. Her skin started peeling off in long strips. Like someone took a potato peeler to the woman and went crazy.
As her skin vanished into the walls of flesh, the unseen entity exchanged its potato peeler for a cheese grater. Thin strands of her muscles and organs separated themselves from her body.
All at once, the pain ended. Eva’s teleport spat both of them out in the gate of the women’s ward.
The screams, however, did not end.
Sister Cross lay on the floor in a bloodied mess. Unlike Eva, who was whole and hearty, the nun was still missing huge chunks of skin. What little scraps of clothes she had worn had been almost completely torn away and her flesh had gone with them.
Her shield bubbled up around her, but she continued to scream like she was still being mutilated.
It took Eva only a second to figure out why.
Slamming her dagger down into the pooling blood around the nun, Eva gathered up a small marble as fast as she could.
She sent it whizzing off through the air to join with her blood wards with as much haste as possible.
Eva felt the blood join with the ward just as Sister Cross’ shield shattered into shards of solid magic. They disappeared into tiny motes, leaving an extremely injured Sister Cross on the floor.
It was a good thing that Sister Cross had that shield. Eva’s wards were not designed to cause mere discomfort.
That crisis over for the moment, Eva turned her attentions to the downed woman and how to save her from her injuries.
Luckily enough for Sister Cross, the effects of the teleport seemed to have reverted to before the cheese grating had started. She was only missing surface skin.
Which would probably still have her bleeding out in a record time. The human body wasn’t meant to survive without skin.
“Arachne!” Eva shouted out, even though she could already hear the stomping footsteps coming her way over the screaming noise coming from the hole Sister Cross had torn in her mouth.
The spider-demon burst into the room a second later.
“Eva–” Arachne stopped as she spotted Sister Cross on the ground. Her eyes drifted over to the injury on Eva’s side. Her hands clenched together, squeezing tightly for just a moment. “I’ll fetch the potions,” she said, turning on her heel.
Eva stayed where she was, blinking in confusion.
She had fully expected to have to order Arachne not to slaughter Sister Cross. Instead, she runs off an gets potions?
But gathering potions was what Eva was going to ask her to do, so she refrained from protesting.
Instead, Eva pulled out her dagger and pressed it against Sister Cross’ arm. With her shield shattered, there was nothing to get in the way.
With her dagger, she could keep the woman alive for the moment. Circulating the blood over such a huge surface area took a huge amount of concentration, but it should work long enough for the potions to make their way through her system.
Arachne reentered with a whole case of potions. Eva broke her concentration just long enough to rummage through and pick out anything that could help repair tissue or replenish blood.
Especially blood replenishment.
Selection made, Eva tossed the rest of the case back to Arachne before turning to Sister Cross.
It took both Eva and Arachne working together to pry open the nun’s mouth despite the hole at her lips. Even then, she tried to spit out the potions. At least, she tried until Eva covered her mouth. Eva didn’t even have to use her hand, she just replugged Sister Cross up with the plentiful amounts of blood coating the woman.
Potions administered, Eva kept her concentration on containing Sister Cross’ blood. They would need time to work, after all.
“We need a safe place to store her where she can’t teleport out of,” Eva said. “You think Ylva would mind us using one of her prison cells?”
“What about your injuries?”
Eva glanced down at her side. The hole was still there, blood tubes still holding. It didn’t even hurt so much. Nothing like a trip through a Hell-based teleport to put pain into perspective.
“I’m fine for now. She’s the more pressing matter at the moment.”
Arachne grit her teeth together hard enough to make noise. Otherwise, she remained silent.
“Come on,” Eva said, “help me get her to Ylva. I doubt that she will mind. She has a thing about collecting nuns anyway.”
As Arachne moved in to pick up Sister Cross, the nun started to thrash about. Her eyes blazed bright white with the Order’s unique brand of magic.
Before she could manifest a so much as a spark, Eva hovered her sharp fingers over the twitching eyeball set into the woman’s chest.
“Try anything and I will tear out your eye,” Eva said, voice stone cold.
Sister Cross glared, but the white died down to her natural brown.
“The only reason you are alive is because I still consider myself friends with Shalise. I’ve turned people’s hearts into bloodstones for less than what you’ve done to me. You’re lucky to be as you are now.”
True, Sister Cross’ current state was a complete accident thanks to Eva’s teleportation and wards. She hadn’t ever teleported anyone but Arachne before. It wasn’t a thing she had known would happen. Martina Turner used the same method of teleportation, based on the pungent sulfur left in her wake, but there was almost no chance she was anything but human.
She had to have some sort of protection. The familiar bond with Catherine, perhaps. That was something that Sister Cross lacked.
It looked like she wanted to say something. Vague, word-like noises came out of the back of her throat. Anger was all that came out with her mouth still sealed shut.
“Come quietly,” Eva said, inwardly smiling at her own little joke, “and maybe I’ll keep you alive long enough to see your daughter again.”
When Sister Cross ceased her thrashing, Eva gave a light nod towards Arachne.
It wasn’t a long walk to Ylva’s domain. The entire time, Eva kept one hand on Sister Cross’ chest while they walked. Arachne carried Cross entirely, leaving Eva free to concentrate on the blood.
While not overtly thrashing about, Sister Cross radiated rebellion, anger, and pain all at once. Two of those all but vanished once Eva swung open the doors to Ylva’s domain.
Faced with the ever-present storm clouds, massive throne, pit, and archways lining the room, Sister Cross actually managed to take her glare off of Eva to drink in the sight despite her injured form.
Eva couldn’t help but think that it would be more impressive for her had Ylva actually been in her throne.
Sister Cross’ glare returned full-force as a certain augur wandered over from the throne platform.
It took a moment for Eva to remember how Nel arrived at the prison in the first place. She had been convinced that Sister Cross was trying to kill her for some reason. It probably would have been better had the two not met, but it was too late for that. Judging by her glare, Sister Cross already recognized Nel, though the same was not true in reverse.
Eva tapped her sharp fingers against Sister Cross’ chest as a reminder before glancing to Nel. “Where’s Ylva.”
“She took Alicia and–” Nel cut herself off, squinting at Sister Cross. That squint turned wide-eyed as she stepped a few feet backwards. “S-S-Sister Cross? What did you do to her?”
“Nothing. But we’re going to be using a cell. When Ylva gets back, let her know that she has a new guest in her prison. If she gets back soon, I might still be there.”