“They thought I had lied to them. Led them into a trap.”
Shalise started at the anger in Sister Cross’ words. “So they threw you into prison?”
Lynn shook her head. “After the public relations disaster with the riot involving my chapter, my augur disappearing, and the failure of the inquisitorial squad after being briefed by me, they stripped me of command.
“Leading them into a trap was just an excuse to dispose of me. I warned them about the devil-class demon and his involvement in Sister Stirling–in the augur’s disappearance. When this ‘Lady Ylva’ stepped in–whom I knew nothing about, I might add–they used my lack of briefing them about her to toss me into the cathedral’s dungeon.”
“But you escaped.”
“I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Lynn said with a sad smile. Her smile vanished as she threw a glance around the alternate women’s ward common room.
It didn’t matter how much Shalise insisted that Eva hadn’t hurt her. Even mentioning that Eva had saved her from that enigma didn’t help. Sister Cross was dead set on suspecting Eva of everything from mind-control to torture.
“The six inquisitors that returned from their assignment were treated with hostile suspicion. Especially after word of their report got out. The mission had failed when one of the inquisitors that didn’t return went crazy and started attacking the others. One that had spent time, by her own admission, with the demons. No one wanted to be around the six that might go crazy themselves.
“After that, three of the six disappeared. Mind you, I was in a cell with few methods of finding out information on the outside. I learned all this afterwards.”
Lynn took a hesitant sip of a bottle of water–one of those endlessly provided by the kitchen.
For the first few days, Shalise had actually been worried for Sister Cross’ health. She had been refusing to eat or drink anything, even going so far as to make attempts at keeping Shalise from consuming the food as well. The words ‘tainted’ and ‘vile’ had been thrown around more than once.
It got bad enough that Shalise had leaned on Prax’s support and abilities to force feed Sister Cross lest she starve herself completely.
Even now, she wasn’t eating as much as Shalise thought she probably should.
Baby steps, Prax reminded her.
Yeah, yeah. Shalise suppressed rolling her eyes. Doing anything to give away the fact that Prax was speaking with her again would only lead to another lecture. Sister Cross had not been amused upon finding out about him.
She felt Prax’s presence recede to a small corner of her mind. Luckily for her, he had agreed with Eva regarding Sister Cross’ presence. Having someone around who could fight, should the need arise again, was a plus in his book.
“Suspicion immediately centered on the three remaining inquisitors. The thought going around was that one of them had betrayed their comrades. The three were worried that the higher-ups were targeting them.”
Lynn shook her head. “A foolish notion. Had they been marked for termination by the higher-ups, all six of them would have been taken care of at the same time precisely to avoid what did happen. Namely, the three flew the coop.
“They sneaked out during the night through the old church catacombs. I managed to threaten them into letting me out as well.”
“You threatened them?”
“Well, asked politely for them to let me out. I might have implied that I would make all kinds of noise for the guards if they didn’t–they didn’t want to be found missing until everyone woke up for the morning, you see. Anyway, they–”
Sister Cross was cut off as the entire women’s ward started trembling. She was on her feet in an instant. Her eyes, aglow with power, darted in every direction, looking for any kind of threat.
Shalise stayed in her seat, casually catching the bottle of water before it fell off the table. This quake wasn’t even that bad. Nothing to get up in arms about.
Seeing the worry, fear, and alarm on Lynn’s face, Shalise decided to explain that fact.
“Just a hellquake. They come and go–in fact, they’ve been somewhat infrequent as of late. I wonder if that means anything for the whole Hell situation,” Shalise mused to herself.
“We found out–”
Shalise paused and sighed as another quake rumbled over her words. Her sigh froze in her throat as the rumble was accompanied by an all-too-familiar noise.
A high-pitched whine.
Muscles already growing, she leapt to her feet.
It hurt that Sister Cross jumped away, putting up her guard against Shalise. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to complain.
The whine ended with a cannon blast inside her ears. Both Shalise and Sister Cross stumbled in disorientation.
“T-that,” Shalise said as she steadied herself, “was not a usual part of earthquakes.”
“Those enigmas that Eva mentioned?”
Shalise nodded. Not wasting any time, she ran for the window with the trap door levers. “I don’t know how many t-there are, but they burrow under the sand. Don’t assume they’re all gone just b-because we can’t see any.”
A heavy hand came to rest on Shalise’s shoulder.
Shalise jumped a good foot in the air.
“Don’t worry,” Lynn said. “Nothing will hurt you so long as I’m here. They won’t know what hit them.”
And then she did something entirely unexpected.
She reached out her arms and wrapped them around Shalise.
In all of Sister Cross’ visits to the home, never once had she shown any kind of physical affection towards any one of the children. She brought gifts and kind words. Advice and support.
But a hug?
Shalise stood still, not quite sure how to respond. Eventually, she allowed her instincts to take over. She reached out and patted Lynn on the back.
Carefully of course. Prax’s muscle strength was not to be underestimated.
“Thanks,” Shalise said, voice barely above a whisper.
As Lynn released Shalise, her eyes started to glow. White light flooded through the room. Lightning crackled off of her fingertips.
“Let them come,” she said.
— — —
Ylva, Eva could tell, was not amused.
The corners of her lips were drawn back into a snarl. It wasn’t an expression that Eva had ever seen on the normally regal woman.
Though the time after Zoe had been attacked came close.
Eva just shrugged her shoulders as she kicked another of the enigmas down the giant pit. She felt as if she should be shouting some taunt with every kick, but after the fifth one, it lost its novelty. That they probably couldn’t understand her added to her reluctance.
“Is that all of them?”
Ylva gave a slow nod without glancing in Eva’s direction. Her eyes were focused off towards one archway where Alicia had just emerged. Nel trailed after her, touching the tips of her fingers together as her eyes darted around.
Alicia dragged the smoking carcass of another enigma behind her. With a grunt, she flung it over the edge of the pit.
“We no longer feel the taint left behind by those creatures.”
“Right,” Eva said. “So any clue? Any insights from the Death side of things?”
At this, Ylva finally turned to face Eva. Her eyes narrowed into thin slits.
Eva took an involuntary step back, wondering if she hadn’t overstepped some bounds. The only thing that kept her from fleeing and returning while Ylva was in a better mood was the fact that the gaze wasn’t hostile. She could feel herself being weighed and measured, but not being considered for extermination.
Ylva cricked her neck to one side while her expression returned to its usual regal impassiveness. The pressure on Eva lifted as she broke eye contact.
Whatever Ylva had been measuring her for, Eva breathed a sigh of relief that she had not been found wanting.
“These creatures do not die. Neither do they return from whence they came, as demons do. Their souls remain trapped and tethered within their unmoving flesh, tainting and corroding. No part of them touches Death’s domain.”
“Does that mean they can heal themselves and come back?” The corpses back in her domain had been dumped without ceremony within a small pit on the island. If they could indeed return, they would probably need incineration to ash at the very least. Removed and then stored someplace where they wouldn’t be able to escape would be a good second.
At the very least, she needed to warn Shalise and Sister Cross.
But Ylva shook her head. “They displayed a mild regeneration during their time in Our domain. Further study upon the one you captured may be required.”
“The source doesn’t know anything about them, Lady Ylva. Holy fire burns their bodies well enough.”
Eva turned to Alicia as the latter got to her knees before Ylva. Though she found the behavior to be disturbing to the highest degree, Ylva merely nodded an acknowledgment.
At least Nel didn’t feel the need to be so sycophantic.
“Then,” Eva said, “the tainting and corroding. There are a couple of these things dead in my domain. Will bad things happen if they aren’t removed?”
“That is how We feel. Surely you noticed the unpleasant aura surrounding these creatures.”
“I have,” Eva said with a slight shudder. Unpleasant was a light word for the feeling. “But it went away after the enigmas died–or stopped moving.”
“Went away?” Ylva asked with a raised eyebrow. “Or perhaps became too subtle to notice.”
Add getting rid of those corpses to my to-do list, Eva thought with a frown. Maybe I can find a good way of dumping the corpses in Willie’s domain. If he wasn’t already back, his domain might be all nice and ruined by the time he got back.
“I know what they are,” Nel blurted out.
She wilted as everyone turned their gaze in her direction.
“I-I mean… not what they are. But I’ve seen them before. That devil,” she spat, “he brought me an object to use my augur abilities upon. That happened earlier today.” Nel’s eyes grew to the size of saucers as she looked at Ylva in horror. “I-I meant to tell you immediately. But you were gone and then the earthquake and the creatures…”
“Calm yourself.” Ylva placed a hand on Nel’s head. “You have done nothing wrong.”
Being such a giant, Ylva’s hand encompassed almost the entirety of Nel’s hair. Slowly, she rubbed her hand back and forth as if she were petting a dog.
It struck Eva as an odd display of affection. Probably something she picked up while going to school with Zoe.
“Continue your tale.”
Nodding under Ylva’s hand, Nel did so. “I don’t know how to describe what I saw. Like a planet, except it was made up of things. Those things,” she gestured towards the pit, “and other creatures. There was so much to take in, I feel I only got a sliver. And that’s just what I could see.
“The most important thing was what I felt. The stretching and pulling of my consciousness. It felt just like when I was searching for Eva’s friends while standing in the waters.”
Eva blinked. “Another plane of existence?”
“That’s just what I felt. I can’t see into Hell without standing in the waters. And I can’t see into Ylva’s domain from outside. So I don’t know why I would be able to see some other plane.”
“These things have been popping up all around Hell related things. The imp summoning proves that it isn’t just me and Ylva. There is something with Hell,” Eva waved her hands vaguely around the air, “that connects with these things, and their home plane.”
“We concur.” Ylva brought a finger to her chin as her brows furrowed in thought. “Question instead what Power lies behind these creatures’ creation and actions.”
Eva waited, expecting her to continue on and reveal the Power’s name.
But she didn’t. Her thoughtful look continued long enough for the silence to become somewhat awkward.
“Perhaps we should speak with Devon, he might know,” Eva eventually said. “He has had a number of associations with the minions of various Powers.”
A look devoid of amusement appeared on Ylva’s face. “It is difficult to believe that a mortal would have knowledge on powers that We lack. That is aside from his distasteful personality.”
Eva just shrugged, heading off towards the exit of Ylva’s domain. “A second opinion then.”
Besides, she thought, if I’m to get rid of those corpses in my domain, I’ll need to get Zoe to accept another beacon.
— — —
“You are a despicable man.”
“Funny,” Devon said. He stood up from the circle drawn on the floor, cracking his back as he moved. “I imagined you to be the type to want to save kids’ lives.”
Zoe bristled. Her brief anger dissipated with a few soft words. “Not like this…” Louder, she said, “you’re going to turn him into the same thing that Eva is.”
Gritting her teeth, Zoe pinched her eyes shut. The only thing that kept her from physically assaulting Devon was her current task.
Tending to the child called Simon. Close up and despite her relative lack of medical skills, Zoe could tell that he was beyond feverish. If something wasn’t done soon, he could suffer brain damage just from the heat of his own body. She was doing her best to keep him cool, but that was superficial at most.
For some reason, she got the impression that Devon didn’t care either way. So long as he could perform his experiments.
Pausing for a moment to take a lackadaisical drink of his water, Devon meandered over to a circle drawn on the other side of his cell block.
Zoe had become at least somewhat familiar with summoning circles and shackles. Yet the patterns and designs formed around the standard summoning circle still boggled her mind.
He pulled a knife from his pocket and proceeded to shave a thin layer of skin from his tentacle arm. Not deep enough for him to really bleed. He placed it right in the center before stepping clear of the circle.
“What are you doing?”
“Wondering if I shouldn’t find a way to erase your memory,” he grumbled. “You were far more manageable a few months ago.”
“Try it and–” Zoe cut herself off as the circle started to glow and rotate. “You’re summoning a demon?”
“Course I am. Takes two to tango. Luckily for you, I haven’t worked out an agreement with a demon ahead of time. Saw the kid as an opportunity and took it. You might just get your wish of that kid dying a slow and painful death from whatever cancer he has if this demon declines.”
Before Zoe could think to interrupt, two thick tentacles erupted from the rotating circle. They slapped down on the ground before lifting out a body.
A small, childlike body.
With slit-pupil eyes as red as Eva’s new eyes.
No. They were Eva’s eyes.
A brief tremor ran though Zoe’s body as she remembered her home burning down around her.
The carnivean screamed out once she spotted Devon. She launched herself, slamming her whole body into the shackles.
The glowing inscriptions flickered, but otherwise remained intact.
Devon just smiled behind his goatee.
An awful look on the man.
“Yep,” he said. “Me. I was worried you would still be off in the depths of Hell. Glad to see you’ve climbed out since our last encounter.”
His words sent the carnivean into another rage. She slammed her fists and tentacles against the barrier, each causing the shackles to flicker lightly, but causing no sign of them being in danger of collapse.
Devon didn’t look alarmed in the slightest at the demon’s antics. His smile had slipped, but had been replaced with a narrow-eyed look of annoyance.
“I’m not afraid to dominate you. And I will if you refuse to settle down. But I would rather have you willing.”
“Here to take more of what isn’t yours?” the carnivean snarled, punctuating her question with another fist against the shackles.
“In a sense. I’ve had time to consider your proposition regarding the fae. Dangerous business, but I might be convinced to summon the queen. That is, if you’re still interested in your,” he scoffed, “wish.”
Zoe might have found his overly haughty attitude amusing. A small bit of schadenfreude against the demon. Unfortunately for Devon and her petty revenge, she distinctly recalled how his last encounter with this carnivean ended. Namely, unconscious and needing to be carried out by Zoe.
Despite his attitude, the carnivean calmed down. She actually appeared to be considering his offer.
“You want something for it.”
“Course I do. It isn’t much. Just a sample of your blood every few months and your cooperation. Two years of that and I’ll perform your little ritual.”
“My blood,” the carnivean said, voice flat.
“Not for anything nefarious. I’ll destroy any excess under your supervision if you insist.”
“Two years?” She shook her head. “Too long.”
“And you think you’ll find someone else to summon the fae for you?”
The carnivean shrugged. She paced around the summoning circle twice before stopping at the far side. Leaning against the invisible barrier provided by the shackles, she said, “perhaps I will. There’s always the necromancer. Or the little girl who follows him around.”
Devon’s smile grew to be downright predatory. “After failing him twice, you think he will summon you back? To torture you, I could believe that. Or to turn you into one of his creations. To give you what you want?” He shook his head. “Not a chance.”
“Someone else then,” she shouted, swinging her fist into the shackles at her back.
“I offer a two-year guarantee. Fulfill my tasks and I’ll summon your fae. It will be a full contract. Forged with blood rather than mere words, if you need the extra reassurance. But if you continue to be difficult, I’ve other demons to make the offer with. You have one minute to decide.”
With that said, Devon moved away from the carnivean. He went back to the circle he had been drawing and started checking it over against a little notebook.
Though she hadn’t stopped during their conversation, Zoe renewed her efforts at making the child as comfortable as possible. There really wasn’t much more she could do. Even if she brought him to a proper healer, they wouldn’t be able to help him. Some types of cancer could be cured by cutting off parts of the offending organ and regrowing it entirely.
Unfortunately, Simon was very obviously in the final stages of whatever his specific illness was. Cancer would have spread all over his body. And if it was in his brain…
Zoe wondered just how Devon’s miracle cure could possibly pull him back from this late stage. Her mind started wandering, considering the possibility of reworking his ritual for a cure without whatever side-effects his experiment was sure to have.
After what was probably just over a minute, Devon snapped his book shut. He wandered back to the summoning circle.
“Time is up and time to send you back.”
Devon crocked his head to one side. “Waiting.”
“Two years? No loopholes? No wordplay?”
“If you want it all in writing–”
“I do.” The carnivean nodded, a shallow smile appearing on her face. “Writing. Blood contract. And I get to go over the entire thing before either of us seal the deal.”
“Excellent,” Devon said as he rubbed his hands together. “Assistant,” he called out, “drop the kid off on the left side circle–the one closest to the door.”
Zoe blinked. It took a moment to realize just who he was addressing.
“The contract details won’t take long. I just hope that kid doesn’t kick it in the middle of the ritual.”