Eva rolled a bloodstone between her fingers. Aside from the bloodstone embedded in the hilt of her dagger, this was her last bloodstone. And it was one of the good ones, too. The ones from the museum that had a drastically longer shelf life than they should.
As such, despite having the ritual circle set out and all the reagents collected, Eva was loath to actually put it to use.
According to the ritual tome, what she currently had set out should give her a one-way connection to the target, allowing her to perceive the target from any distance. It was a little vague on the exact definition of ‘perceive,’ but Eva was hoping that it would function in a manner similar to her blood sight.
Using the blood reclaimed from Sawyer’s fingers, Eva would be able to see and hunt him down.
But was it really worth one of her unique bloodstones?
No one had heard a peep from the necromancer since Nel had been recovered. Zoe and Wayne had been keeping an ear to the ground about any sign of necromantic activity. That included sleepy little towns with a population barely out of the single digits suddenly disappearing overnight.
Maybe, hopefully, he had gone into hiding after his last encounter with Brakket. And, maybe even more hopefully, perhaps he had decided that operating around Brakket was simply too difficult. Too troublesome to continue.
As far as Eva knew, he hadn’t succeeded in much. She couldn’t say for certain without knowing his plans, but several things had failed without a doubt. He had made off with Nel, temporarily, stole a handful–or armful–of her eyes, and learned how to hide himself from Nel, but that had resulted in his hybrid army being all but destroyed for a second time. Whatever he had been planing with Weilks had failed, as had killing Eva with the dagger.
Eva shuddered at the memory, feeling a phantom pain in the small of her back. She glanced over at the dagger. It sat atop her dresser along with a handful of other items she had acquired since arriving at Brakket. Christmas presents, Ylva’s void-metal skull, and Arachne’s beacon among them.
Thankfully, she had managed to procure a glass case to keep any accidents from happening. The case had originally been designed for a football, but the dagger fit inside. And a good thing too. The edge of the blade barely needed to skim the surface of something to curse it.
Shaking her head, Eva went back to her musings.
Because of Sawyer’s few failures around Brakket, it wasn’t too out of the question to imagine him leaving for greener pastures. And yet, Eva had a gut feeling against the idea of him fleeing.
Rather, every passing day felt more and more like something big was going to happen. Every day gave him more time to build up larger armies of demon-human hybrids.
All while she was too preoccupied with larger issues, such as whatever was going on with Void and the enigmas.
Though confirming that Sawyer had indeed run off would be a weight off of Eva’s shoulders, that might actually be the worst situation. Eva had vowed vengeance and she fully intended to extract said vengeance in the most painful ways that she could imagine. Possibly by finishing him off with his own dagger.
Not that she needed to. She hadn’t signed any contracts or made any magical vows. But she wanted to. She held a yearning desire to rid the world of that man for purely selfish reasons.
Eva thumbed the bloodstone, turning it over in her hand once again.
That all brought her back to her current dilemma.
Back in Florida, this wouldn’t have been a problem in the slightest. All she would have had to do was to take a short walk down the shadier sides of the city. Someone would eventually follow her down an alley with less than pure intentions.
Much like Sawyer, the world didn’t need such people.
Unfortunately, bloodstone creation was much more difficult in Brakket City.
The city was tiny. So tiny, it really shouldn’t qualify as a city. A town at most. A commune?
There was almost no population to speak of save for the students and staff, and everybody pretty much knew each other. There was no police department–Brakket Academy acted more as police than anything else, especially with their new security force–and, as far as Eva could tell, there were actually little to no crimes committed by the general population. Occasionally there would be a story about petty theft performed by students, but nothing more.
It was doubtful that she would find anyone outside at night period, let alone those with ill intent.
Eva bit her lip. Maybe a short vacation was in order. She did have the gate set up back at her abandoned hospital.
Gripping the bloodstone in her hand, Eva reseated it in the slot of her dagger’s sheath.
Yes, vacation was a great idea. And maybe she could use it as an excuse to pry Arachne out of her room.
It would have to wait a while. Perhaps after Juliana left again.
Standing from her desk, Eva headed back out to the women’s ward common room to check on her wayward friend.
And promptly frowned.
Books everywhere. Piles of books surrounded the little coffee table. More were strewn about on top of the table, half-open and half closed. Juliana poured herself over a good three at once while her brother sat in a chair, idly thumbing through one of the more innocuous tomes on the subject of shackles.
“I hope you put every single one of those back where you found them.”
Juliana looked up with fury in her eyes.
“Have you never heard of organization? Or labels? You don’t even have that many books. I should be done by now.”
Eva shrugged. “I’ve adopted Devon’s organization system.”
“Don’t be silly. I’d never find anything like that.” Eva allowed Juliana’s glare to slide off without effect. “Of course, the method is to always know where your books are. It makes you look mysterious when you pull the exact right book off the shelf while everyone else fumbles around looking foolish.”
“Who is it you have to appear mysterious to?” she half-shouted. “And this one,” she said as she slapped down on one of the open books, “it isn’t even a real book. More like you took the pages of ten different books and shoved them into one binding.”
Eva swept around the room until she could see the book in question. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t know how that one got there. It’s one from Devon’s library. I must admit shame at the fact that his sorting system is just that much more mysterious than mine.”
It was hard–much harder than Eva had imagined it would be–to hold in her laughter while Juliana looked about ready to scream in frustration.
A look of horror replaced the frustration on Juliana’s face. “You mean to tell me that when we go through Devon’s library, it’s going to be worse?”
That set Eva off. She started laughing.
It was good to have Juliana around again.
Really. Eva felt bad about what happened to Genoa. She didn’t want to keep Juliana tied up here. Not if her mother needed her.
At the same time, Eva wanted to keep Juliana all to herself. Things had just been so glum over the past while that Juliana was like a breath of fresh air.
“Don’t worry. After moving my stuff from Florida, I haven’t had a chance to sort through it all. It got a bit jumbled in transit. And that book,” she pointed at the mish-mash tome open on the table, “shouldn’t have too many like it. Devon likely found damaged tomes and slapped what was salvageable inside a spare book cover.”
Still chuckling, Eva took a seat in the chair opposite from Erich and pulled out her tome of blood rituals.
She had offered to go through her library with Juliana, but the mad woman wanted to do everything on her own. Or rather, she insisted on double checking every book Eva tried to go through. Instead of feeling useless by having her work overwritten, Eva had decided on going back to her own projects. Namely, the project involving Sawyer.
But, with that project on hold until she had a chance to acquire more bloodstones, Eva was left with idle time. There were the enigmas, but Eva was at a loss what to do with that. Carlos could have used some help, probably–he had taken samples of the enigma back to his hotel for testing with larger equipment that he had brought with him–but Eva found being in the company of Juliana far more preferable.
Luckily, in her search for both the ritual for Sawyer and the ritual she had wasted a bloodstone on healing Sister Cross, Eva had come across some rather interesting rituals.
One in particular looked all too enticing. Sawyer, of all people, had hinted at it the very first time he had captured Eva. Back when he had first snipped off her toes.
She really hoped that he hadn’t kept any of those. Eva made a mental note to see if Nel couldn’t track her missing limbs down. They were human limbs and had been taken a good year and a half-worth of treatments ago. For all Eva knew, she was too different now for them to be used against her in any meaningful way.
But Sawyer had found it humorous that Eva couldn’t reattach her own toes with a mere thought.
One ritual contained within the tome sounded a lot like it would accomplish just that. It offered such a great control of her own blood that an arm coming off would be a literal flesh wound. A wound as easy to fix as minor cuts were at the moment. It didn’t actually state how it would repair bone, but Eva assumed that she would be able to hold her arm together using blood until it could heal on its own.
That was, of course, assuming she could be damaged at all. Eva could already harden blood under her control to the point where it could be used as weapons. If, during combat, she could harden her flesh into armor, or perhaps pull a thin layer of blood outside her body to coat her skin, her durability would be through the roof.
As far as she understood the ritual’s effects, that is.
Unfortunately, Eva doubted she would be able to perform the ritual for some time. It required five bloodstones to be consumed in the ritual itself, plus an extra one embedded within her heart. That last one had to be replaced with startling frequency.
All the more reason to save her good bloodstones. If she could get away with not replacing that one by using a good one, she would take it.
Though most of her research had been centered on rituals, as those would be the most likely candidates for ways of finding Sawyer, she had looked through her tomes for any hint of bloodstone creation. If she could find a way to create everlasting bloodstones, it could be one of the most important discoveries in her haemomancy career.
Yet none of the books had any hint towards solving that mystery. She reread through the book that originally taught her how to make them to no avail.
By merely sitting back and theorizing, Eva felt that she had achieved more than she could have by reading the same old tomes on that topic.
Evidence showed that the more detailed and ‘proper’ the symbol used to create bloodstones was, the higher quality bloodstone was produced. During her first stint in Hell, she had created a bloodstone using her elbow. That had only lasted about an hour before crumbling to dust.
The symbol had just been the very basics. Really, it probably shouldn’t have worked at all. An elbow was far from a precision drawing instrument.
Drawing it out with Arachne’s precise claws produced a better result. She had been able to form more of the intricacies. Forming the symbol using blood magic itself produced the best result.
By that logic, an even more perfect symbol would create an even more perfect stone.
But how to create a more perfect symbol? Sure, she had been in a rush while creating the bloodstone from Weilks. But she had created ones before under less strenuous circumstances using that same method that hadn’t turned out significantly different.
So, was something missing?
Some knowledge of the symbol itself was perhaps lost to the ages? A small but key part?
Or else, the quality of the heart affected the quality of the bloodstone. Eva had no evidence for that idea, but it made sense.
Maybe, just maybe, humans just produced short-lived bloodstones being the short-lived creatures that they are. The book strictly specified humans and humans only as being able to be turned into bloodstones, but Eva had to wonder just how accurate that statement was.
Had the author tried on demons?
It was a thought she would have to table for now. Eva wasn’t about to go summoning up demons for experimentation. Definitely not while summoning demons might cause more enigmas to show up.
But if she ever came across Willie in a compromised and vulnerable position…
A throat clearing broke Eva out of her musings. She glanced up to find Erich glaring at her from across the table.
“Something you needed?” Eva asked with a polite smile.
“This, right here,” he flipped his book around to reveal the pages open to a diagram of a particularly complex set of shackles. “Would something like it work on you?”
Something must have changed in her expression. Though Eva couldn’t be sure what–she had tried to keep her face as neutral as possible–something definitely changed.
Erich’s free hand shot straight to the pocket that held his focus. He didn’t quite manage to pull it out before Juliana shouted at him.
“Erich! You just… I don’t…” She cupped her face in her hand, shaking her head side to side. “Could you just not.”
“No,” Eva said with a strained smile, “it’s fine.” Turning her whole body to face Erich dead on, Eva said, “do my limbs and eyes bother you?”
Erich frowned, but didn’t respond one way or the other.
“What about the thought of a little girl being strapped to a chair and having her limbs and eyes removed through repeated applications of rust and offal covered blades?”
Again, he didn’t respond. He did, however, shift in his seat. Uncomfortable? Perhaps?
Eva smiled, flashing her teeth. For a bare instant, she wished they were as sharp as Arachne’s teeth, if for no other reason than to set him further on edge.
On the other hand, Juliana was off to the side rolling her eyes. Eva was almost regretting having told her the real story.
Embellishments always made everything better.
“No? Feeling nothing about that?” Eva shook her head. “Quite the heartless brother you have, Juliana.”
Before Juliana could open her mouth and ruin the atmosphere, Eva got to her feet and leered over Erich.
It was a good thing that he was sitting. The effect would have been lost had he been standing. Erich was a few inches taller than her.
“How dare you judge me without having an inkling of an idea of what I have been through.”
Eva watched him shift and squirm in his seat, idly noting that Juliana was shifting around in much the same manner.
Probably trying to decide whether or not to interfere on her brother’s behalf.
That was not something Eva could allow. If he was so much as entertaining the idea of using shackles on her, Eva wanted to nip that thought in the bud. She was hoping that a little intimidation thrown around would dissuade other such attacks.
After letting him writhe for a good minute, Eva plastered a blatantly false smile on her face and retook her seat.
“To answer your question: no. Though I overcame torture and disability through demonic prosthetics, I remain human.”
A lie. And one that Juliana would know was false. But so long as Juliana, Shalise, Zoe, and Wayne all kept from spreading around the nature of her treatments, Erich wouldn’t know. Eva wanted to keep it as much a secret as possible.
With her quick speech delivered, Eva pulled up her book and pretended to read.
Instead of actually reading, she sat and watched the two of them through her blood sight.
She hoped that Juliana wouldn’t take offense at her theatrics towards her brother. As soon as that thought crossed her mind, Eva quickly resolved to never refer to anything she did as ‘theatrics’ in front of Juliana. She didn’t want any possible link or connotation between herself and Willie, the theater demon.
It didn’t take long for something to happen.
Juliana gasped. She sucked in air like she had been held underwater for far too long.
Erich had much the same reaction with the added effect of him jumping to his feet.
After taking a few breaths of air, Juliana whipped her head towards Eva. “What was that?”
“Juliana,” Erich snapped, “we are leaving.”
“Wait!” She turned to Eva. “What did you do?”
Blinking in confusion, Eva glanced between the two. “What are you talking about?”
“I-I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move.” Juliana shivered. “The walls all darkened for a moment.”
Eva glanced up at the ceiling with a frown. Throughout the women’s ward, and the rest of the civilized portions of the prison, lighting was done purely through runes–the everburn candles she used to have for lighting the place had long since proven the falsehood of their name. It was a pain to go around recharging them every few months, but that wasn’t too different from mundane lighting.
The lighting was holding steady. It had been a few months, but usually they would start flickering before outright failing.
Not to mention the fact that Eva hadn’t noticed anything herself.
Juliana gripped her arm, rubbing it up and down. The metal armor coating her body had shifted from its solid suit of armor form to a more liquid form. She was ready to shape it into whatever she needed at a moment’s notice.
“And then they started leaking blood.”
Eva sat and stared. She wasn’t entirely certain how to react to that.
There was nothing on the walls or floors. She didn’t even need to look. All she could see through her blood sight was well-contained blood. Either within bodies or vials.
And Eva was fairly certain that she hadn’t learned any magic that could create illusions. That left just two possibilities.
Juliana could be lying. Not an extremely likely possibility. Eva couldn’t see a reason why she would lie. And then there was her and Erich’s reactions. Both had taken in a large breath at almost the same time and both had squirmed while Eva was speaking.
Standing once again, Eva ignored Erich as he flinched back in his chair and went straight to the window.
She breathed a small sigh of relief as she watched the red and yellow hues of sunset color the clouds and sky.
“What is it?” Juliana asked from a few steps away. She was staring out the window, but kept a good couple of strides away.
Erich had a firm hand on her shoulder, but she made no effort to shrug it off and come closer.
Great, Eva thought with another sigh. Now she’s keeping her distance from me.
And after how well their reunion had been going too.
“Nothing,” Eva said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know what happened. Nothing I intended. However, Erich may be correct. When strange things are afoot, sticking around is not a good idea.”
“You’re going to stay.”
“Naturally. I’ve got to figure out what happened.”
“But you didn’t even notice. You need someone–”
“Juliana,” Erich cut in, “take your friend’s advice. Your father will be expecting you back before nightfall anyway. And when he hears about this–”
“Don’t you say a word.” She whirled around, sticking her finger in his chest. “You threatened her first.”
Erich merely shrugged.
“Don’t worry about me,” Eva said. She would have to leave it to Juliana to handle her family. “I’m sure Devon will have an idea of what happened.”
Eva doubted that, but he would probably be interested nonetheless. Hopefully, interested enough to help her.
“Go. Keep your dad from worrying. And keep me posted on anything he figures out about the enigmas.”
Eva turned away, ignoring the mounting argument between Erich and Juliana, and started prodding the wall. Just double checking. As expected, it didn’t feel the slightest bit different from normal.
“Juliana,” Eva said, interrupting whatever Erich was saying, “I’ll walk you out.”
“No buts.” Gripping her arm, Eva pulled Juliana close. “If you notice anything strange, call Zoe or Ylva as soon as you can.”
Eva didn’t resist as Erich wrenched Juliana out of her claws.
Keeping a firm grip on his sister’s wrist, Erich dragged Juliana out of the women’s ward. He made a beeline towards the car they had driven in, not stopping for any last words.
Eva followed behind, leaving a good distance between them.
The space kept them from conversing. That was fine with Eva. She was too busy lost in her own thoughts to entertain either of them. It had the added benefit of not antagonizing Erich further.
What just happened?