Eva glided to a stop just outside of what she had taken to calling the alternate women’s ward.
The women’s ward of her domain.
And something was wrong. She could feel it. Some uncanny sense of sickness in her stomach that told her something was wrong.
It had nothing to do with her gliding. Whenever Eva entered her domain, she never had to fear. Everyone else who came in fell from some height. After tiring of having to stop her fall every time, Zoe had created a sort of air cushion to land on.
Eva felt that she should be able do the same or better, but she was still far too new at controlling her domain properly. Replicating real-world things she had seen and experienced was easy enough. Accidental conjuring of things she thought of was annoying enough. Purposeful creation of new concepts wasn’t that easy.
Since she had seen Zoe create the slow-fall area, she thought it would be easy to copy. It was something she had been meaning to attempt for a while now.
Unfortunately, that would have to wait.
The alternate women’s ward had its heavy steel doors closed.
That was unusual. Every other time she had been here, the doors were open. Seeing them shut only reinforced that feeling of wrongness.
Within Eva’s domain, there wasn’t much temperature difference between indoors and outdoors. There was a comfortable warmth spread throughout the entire area. With no insects or other pests to keep out, there really was no reason to shut the doors.
“Shalise?” Eva called out as she walked up to the doors.
She paused as she spotted a possible reason why the doors were closed.
Deep gouges marred the steel. One corner had been peeled back. Claw marks dug into the stone surrounding the door.
The handle had been torn off, as had the lock. Given that the lock was on the outside–the place was originally a prison–it probably didn’t help much against whatever was trying to break in.
Sticking her fingers into the holes where the handle used to be, Eva tried to pry it open. It started to give, only to catch on something. Her fingers slipped.
The door snapped back into place with a crash of thunder.
Gritting her teeth, Eva dug both of her hands into the door.
This is my domain and I will not be denied.
Eva braced herself with one foot against the wall. And then she pulled.
There was the telltale creak of metal straining against metal. The creak climbed to its crescendo before something snapped.
The door swung open, Eva swinging with it. Balance lost, she fell back onto the ground.
Shards of metal rained down around her. Brushing it off, she got to her feet feeling glad that she was alone at the moment.
It took her a moment to realize what the metal was.
A bed frame had been torn up and the long metal bars had been slid through the handle on the inside of the door, preventing it from opening. Her dresser and what looked to be the couch had been propped up in front of the door as well.
Though, since the door opened outwards, the furniture didn’t provide much in the way of an obstacle. Eva easily slid them off to one side.
She stepped inside, half expecting a scene of carnage to greet her.
Why, she wasn’t quite sure. The door had been intact.
Instead, it appeared mostly normal. The only real exception was the furniture that had been rearranged into a barricade.
Looking closer gave cause for Eva to frown. Purple liquid had splattered around one of the walls near a cell. The door–this time a sliding door–had been pinched shut around something oddly familiar.
The same thing that had been frozen in a block of ice back at Brakket.
Was it dead? It was difficult to tell. Its blood still moved, but it didn’t. Not very fast. Its heart only beat once in the time Eva spent looking at it.
The iced creature at Brakket had a far more regularly beating heart.
“Shalise!” Eva shouted, running up to the room.
The window had been broken open. Bars the size of her wrist had been bent inwards, most dripping with purple blood. But apart from the creature in the doorway, nothing was inside.
In the real world, the room would have been her teleport gate room. Here, it was just empty.
Eva started to put together a picture of what had happened. These things attacked. Shalise managed to make it inside and barricade the door. One or more broke through the window. Alerted to that fact, probably by the noise, Shalise ran over and tried to shut the door.
But instead caught the creature.
Judging by the hand-shaped indentation in the door, Shalise was using Prax’s muscles as well. That would help explain why the creature was nearly bisected.
Eva hesitated continuing her search for Shalise. If the creatures were still here, she would need a weapon.
Not having expected an enemy to be within her own domain, Eva was ill equipped to deal with them. All she had on her was her dagger.
Really, all she needed.
Eva buried the dagger into the back of the monster on her floor. Its violet blood welled up, leaping to be controlled by her haemomancy.
A good sign. She had been worried that it might be a construct of some sort and unable to be controlled.
Unfortunately, it felt runny. Swishing it around in the air before her gave Eva the impression of water more than blood. Like it had been diluted. Regular human blood was probably better, though she wasn’t entirely certain how her own blood stood up in comparison without actual testing.
Gathering up a decent amount of the blood–almost all of the blood still in the corpse–Eva looked around with her blood sight, seeing beyond the walls of the rooms. Something she should have done beforehand.
None of them had much out of place that she could see without entering. No traces of blood, more creatures, or Shalise.
Except for the potions room.
Eva threw open the door and charged inside only to stop dead in her tracks. Gasping a quick breath of fresh air, Eva covered her mouth.
Visible fumes hung in the air like thick smog. The ceiling dripped all colors of potions from condensation. In the back of the room, the window was torn open much the same way as the gate room.
Eva’s largest potions cabinet had been tipped over. A pool of potions spread out on the floor. Some mixing into foul colors, others staying separate like oil on water.
The cabinet wasn’t lying flat. Something was under one corner of it. It didn’t take a lot of guesswork to figure out what; the snake-like tentacles were a dead giveaway. It was one of the enigma creatures.
Shalise was draped over the top of the cabinet. It looked like she had been pressing down on top of the enigma. The fumes had likely overpowered her.
She was still alive, passed out, but alive. Her heart had a steady beat to it.
Taking another breath of fresh air, Eva pinched her eyes shut and entered the room. She scooped up Shalise, extremely grateful that the girl wasn’t currently a muscle-bound hulk, and beat a hasty retreat.
Slamming the potions room door shut behind her, Eva quickly moved and set Shalise down on the couch. Her white tee-shirt had splatters of blood covering it. Luckily, it was just the purple blood. She looked whole and hearty aside from being unconscious.
Eva decided to secure the alternate women’s ward before attending further to Shalise. She finished checking all the rooms with her own eyes to make sure there wouldn’t be any sudden surprises and then secured all the doors. That done, Eva made her way back to Shalise.
With her potions room in shambles, Eva had nothing magical to help wake Shalise up. She settled for lightly smacking the girl’s cheeks. Her light slaps turned harder and harder as Shalise refused to return to consciousness, though she took care not to injure her.
Just as Eva was about to leave to find a glass of water to dump on Shalise’s head, her eyes snapped open.
For just a moment, she stayed on the couch and pressed herself farther back into the cushions.
Recognition surfaced as she blinked. Shalise flew off the couch to wrap her trembling arms around Eva.
For her part, Eva went stiff as a board. “It’s alright,” Eva said once the shock of suddenly being grabbed wore off. She placed a few hesitant pats on Shalise’s back. “Can you tell me what happened?”
A long moment of silence passed before Shalise pulled back from Eva. “I-I was out walking along the beach as I do every morning,” she said.
Eva nodded along when she failed to continue.
“I saw t-them out there, on the beach. I thought they were dogs at first. Then I saw the tentacles and thought they were demon dogs. They were walking along the beach as well, occasionally nipping at each other.
“When they n-noticed me, they glanced at one another before letting out a terrible howl.” She shuddered. “It was like a high-pitched whine, a sudden silence, and then a cannon going off right next to my head. Around that time, Prax started shouting at me to run.”
Eva frowned. If the enigma creatures looked at each other before attacking, did that speak of some intelligence? She didn’t know enough about pack animals to say one way or the other, but it almost sounded like something humans might do to reaffirm their position with each other and ability to attack.
“Does Prax know what they are?” Eva asked.
Shalise shook her head. “Just that he got an intense feeling of fear from them.” She glanced off to one side, eyes narrowing. “Not that he is admitting it.”
“I’m glad you’re okay.” Eva patted her on the back another two times. It was a stiff action, but Shalise was one of those people who would be comforted by it. “I think I’ve decided to call them enigmas since no one else knows what they are either.”
“Is someone else here?” she asked, looking over the back of the couch to the rest of the room.
“No, just me. But Zoe and I saw one back in the mortal realm. A few others too.” Eva waved the tangent off. “Anyway, you made it back here and barricaded yourself in then killed the two of them? You were passed out in the potions room on top of the cabinet.”
Shalise nodded. “I’m glad the other one didn’t get me. I didn’t even notice I was feeling lightheaded until Prax pointed it out. Another second or two of heavy breathing had the world swirling around me.”
“Other one?” Breaking off eye contact with Shalise, Eva started scanning the room. Every corner, floor to ceiling. “How many did you see on the beach?”
Eva tensed. The blood started orbiting her at a high speed. “I only saw two corpses.”
Once again, Eva ran a quick search through every room in the women’s ward. She took the extra time to check beneath her bed, in cupboards, and anywhere else a dog sized creature might hide. Her blood sense was turning up nothing, but these things were strange enough. If they could hide from her while alive, she wouldn’t be surprised.
Shalise trailed behind her, looking every which way. Her muscles were slowly bulging out with Prax’s magic. She didn’t help much in the actual searching, but that was fine with Eva. If Shalise could provide a lookout while Eva was hunched over under a bed, she was being more than useful.
They found nothing. No sign of another forced entry. Nothing in Eva’s blood sight except herself, Shalise, and one corpse–the other having been drained of blood.
“Alright,” Eva said, “we’re going on a quick run around the island. I’ll not suffer an enemy running free in my domain.”
She wasn’t expecting them to be difficult to kill either. Shalise managed two on her own. Catherine hadn’t killed hers, but Eva didn’t think she had much trouble containing it based on her story.
Besides, she was in her domain. While she might lack the absolute control that Willie had, Eva was confident in its desire to protect her.
Shalise gave a shaky nod of her head. Her eyes were still darting all around the common room as if one of the enigmas would jump out at her at any moment.
“Stick close,” Eva said as she threw open the main door.
There wasn’t all that much land to cover. The alternate women’s ward, its small courtyard and walls, and then the beach surrounding it. There was nothing else within Eva’s domain. Even the beach didn’t extend too far. Perhaps just far enough that Eva had to move to keep the entirety of the island within her blood vision.
The lack of anything on her island had been the cause for some concern. When Eva first built up the alternate women’s ward, she had been worried that the showers and sink would flood. Water was created from her runic arrays, but the drainage pipes didn’t lead anywhere.
After leaving the water on for a long while under her watch, Eva came to the conclusion that the drains simply disappeared the water because that was the apparent effect of the real life version. She never thought about or cared about where the water was going so her domain didn’t either.
She actually hadn’t checked to see if the water drained off into the ocean, though she doubted it did. If Eva were to take a shovel all the way around the building, she doubted she would ever find a pipeline leading out.
But unless the enigma had crawled down the pipes, the point was moot anyway.
Eva and Shalise stuck to the surface. They walked around both the building and the exterior of the walls around the beach. Eva even jumped up to the roof just in case the enigmas could hide from her blood sight while they were alive.
The only two living things they could find on the island were Eva and Shalise.
There weren’t even prints in the sand. Not even from the two that Eva had seen with her own eyes.
“Could you have been mistaken about the number?”
Shalise shook her head. “There were definitely three. Prax saw them too. Maybe one wandered back into the waters?”
“Maybe,” Eva said, not really meaning it. That feeling of wrongness she had when she first stepped into her domain, the feeling of something uncanny that did not belong, whatever it was, she was still feeling it.
She walked out onto the largest portion of the beach, directly in front of the gateway of the alternate women’s ward wall. As she walked, she closed her eyes and focused on that feeling. The moment she felt it weakening, she stopped and took a step backwards. Moving side to side, Eva came to a stop on the point where the feeling felt the strongest.
Opening her eyes, Eva looked around.
There was nothing special about the location. It was a spot on the beach. No markings, no discolored sand. The spot wasn’t lined up with the gateway, but slightly off to one side. There was nothing above her but the pitch black void that encompassed the entirety of her sky.
With a frown, Eva turned back to Shalise. “I–”
Eva jumped, leaping with all the might that her version of Arachne’s legs could provide.
It wasn’t far enough. She felt something clamp down on her ankle. Something with sharp teeth.
The enigma had burrowed so far beneath her that it had been out of her blood sight. Eva hadn’t known that her domain existed that deep. Even once it came into her sight, it had moved so fast she hadn’t had the time to properly react.
Eva fell from her leap, dragged and hindered by the thing that was gnawing her foot off. She hit the ground. Sand scraped against her face.
Sending the purple blood to coat the enigma, Eva rolled over to her back and clapped her hands together.
Rather than the utter obliteration she had been expecting, the blood just fizzled. The top layer of skin on the enigma actually came off. That was about it.
Either the enigma was incredibly durable–unlikely based on how Shalise killed the two–or their blood was so weak that even Eva’s mixed blood was leagues ahead in terms of strength.
Dismissing blood magic for the moment, Eva ignited her entire leg. She started building up her flames, much as she had against Willie-Arachne’s giant beetle. Explosions from within a creature tended to work out in the most excellent of manners. If the enigma did have an armored exterior, its insides wouldn’t.
While her flames built, she kicked out with her other foot. Her sharp toes caught the enigma right in the eye.
Eva let out a scream as she felt the enigma’s teeth crunch down on her leg. The flames building at the end of her foot snuffed out with her foot no longer attached to her leg.
She kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked. Its face turned to ground beef under her rage-filled fervor.
Out of nowhere, Shalise landed on the enigma. Her muscled form ground it into the sand.
The thing dead–even had Eva’s kicks not finished it off, its heart had clearly been crushed by Shalise–Eva clenched her jaw. Her fist slammed down into the sand again and again in a mad effort to distract herself from the pain of her severed foot.
It wasn’t quite as bad as having her fingers, toes, and eyes cut out. Here the pain was all focused on one point. Had she been allowed free range of motion back under Sawyer’s knife, she probably would have done a lot more than punch the ground a few times.
Eva pulled herself back under control with long meditative breaths.
“I know,” Eva snapped through grit teeth.
She shut her eyes and took another deep breath. It wasn’t Shalise’s fault. She should have realized that the thing was under the sand.
“I’m fine,” Eva said.
“Your whole foot is off!”
Eva grit her teeth, remaining silent until she had taken another breath. She really didn’t want to snap at Shalise, but the excitable girl was making it so hard not to.
“It’s just a flesh wound,” Eva said. “I’ve had worse.”
Leaning forward and concentrating on anything but the feeling in her leg, Eva wrenched open the jaw of the enigma. She stuck her arm in and pulled out her foot.
It didn’t look too bad. Not a clean break by any stretch of the word, but the majority of the foot was whole. Being a demon limb, and herself at least somewhat a demon, Eva couldn’t see any reason why she couldn’t reattach it the same way she had originally when she got it from Arachne.
Lining up the foot with her leg, Eva started channeling magic. She wasn’t entirely sure if there was a specific way to go about reattaching it, but she tried replicating the feeling she had when Arachne had done it. Not the easiest task given she had been under several doses worth of numbing potions, but magic did not feel quite the same as mundane stimuli.
Eva smiled even as she bit down on a sharp pain. The two parts reconnected. It was working. She continued channeling her magic, watching as the meat weaved itself back together.
The carapace worked much slower. After a point, nothing happened. Eva continued to channel magic, but the carapace ceased to mend. There were still cracks, chips, and even a whole chunk missing.
Better than missing the whole foot, Eva mused. It helped that the pain had died down to much more manageable levels.
“That’s really disgusting,” Shalise said with a shudder. Still, she was good-natured enough to hold out a helping hand.
Eva, with the help of Shalise, got back on her feet.
And almost immediately fell back down. Putting weight on her damaged foot caused it to wobble and give way. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much pain.
Shalise caught Eva and turned herself into something of a crutch. “Are you alright?”
“Fine enough,” Eva said. Realizing what happened, she explained for Shalise’s sake. “My legs don’t have bones in them. It’s all exoskeleton. With it damaged as it is, it can’t support my weight properly.”
“You’ll heal though, right?”
“Probably,” Eva said with a shrug. Her blood magic didn’t work on the chitin as well as it did on her skin, so that method was out. But Arachne could heal from entire limbs being taken off. Surely she could manage mending an inch or so of chitin.
Taking her dagger in hand, Eva drained off a small amount of her own blood and filled in the cracks in her carapace, hardening the blood as it filled in. It wouldn’t be half as strong as the natural carapace, and Eva wasn’t about to try putting weight on it, but it would keep the meat inside.
Her arm and side were still damaged from Sister Cross’ lightning whip as well. All holes stuffed full of blood to keep them from being open to the air. She either needed to heal fast or find a good ritual that would work, though a ritual might have to wait until the Elysium magic dissipated on its own.
That reminded Eva of half the reason she had even come down to visit Shalise.
After using her friend as a crutch all the way back to the women’s ward couch, Eva opened her mouth to speak.
Shalise beat her to the punch.
“You’re going to leave again, aren’t you.”
“Yes,” Eva said without hesitation. Before Shalise could protest, she continued. “But someone came by today wondering where you were. Someone who might want to live here.”
“Who would want to live here?” Shalise’s eyes went wide as soon as the words came out of her mouth. Off to the side, she hissed, “shut up. I didn’t mean it like that.”
Eva just smiled. Sister Cross wasn’t going to be given much choice in the matter. “I have to leave to go get her, but Sister Cross should be more than capable of handling these little creatures. Though you might want to avoid walks on the beach.”
Shalise’s bright eyes lost some of their luster. “Sister Cross?” Slumping slightly, she asked, “does she have to come?”
Blinking–that wasn’t quite the response that Eva had expected–Eva tilted her head to one side. “Unless you want to be alone if more of those things show up.”
After biting her lip, Shalise shook her head. “No. I don’t.”
“Alright,” Eva said. “Good. I’m going to stay here for a day or so, I think. Mostly to heal.” And to give time for Sister Cross to heal. Hopefully Arachne would be able to handle any complications back in the real world without overreacting. Potion distribution for instance. “While I’m here, we’ll fix this place up and reinforce some things. Can’t have you being unsafe while I’m out fetching Sister Cross.”
“That sounds great,” Shalise said with a long sigh of relief. “But are there going to be more of them?”
“No idea. Hopefully not.”
Eva frowned. If they showed up in her domain, would they show up in Ylva’s domain? Hers was attached to the real world–something Eva desperately wanted to learn how to do–and could let a bunch loose if she wasn’t careful. And then there was Zoe living in a sliver of Ylva’s domain.
Biting her lip, Eva decided. She needed to get a message back as soon as possible. If Zoe fell asleep and these things showed up, she might be missing more than an easily reattachable leg.