Eva’s first thoughts upon landing on the sandy beach could be summed up in three simple words: What a mess.
She glanced around her domain with a sinking feeling in her stomach. That unpleasant feeling that she had felt while enigmas were still ‘alive’ permeated the place.
It didn’t take long to figure out why. As Eva moved up the beach to the entrance to the alternate women’s ward, she stopped and froze with a gaping mouth.
Mess was putting it lightly. Just about every one of the trap doors had been opened. Enigmas filled the holes to the brim. Many not injured enough by the spikes to have ceased moving. They would be the primary source of the feeling.
Assuming there weren’t living enigmas inside the building.
Eva took her steps gingerly.
Unfortunately for her, there weren’t all that many safe areas to walk. The courtyard between the walls and the building had been designed to be intentionally treacherous to cross while the trap doors were open. Spikes alone wouldn’t have been a problem. The carapace coating her legs was plenty strong to avoid injury from spikes.
The problem was the enigmas. Before, an enigma had taken off her foot without all that much effort. She was in no rush to repeat the experience.
Eva kicked at the few that dared to snap at her feet. Not many were in the shape to try. All the enigmas looked intimidating, but Eva made it to the doors without any real resistance.
A good number of enigmas had actually piled up in mounds within the trapdoors just outside the entrance. The good news was that these ones appeared more dead than the ones farther out. Singed as well. Eva could clearly see spots on some of them where lightning had hit.
She recognized the scorch pattern well enough.
Eva spent a good five minutes just clearing the corpses away from the door.
Then came the next issue. The door was deformed beyond her ability to push open. Eva shoved her shoulder against the heavy iron to no avail.
Really, Eva thought, can’t my domain just allow me through? She had seen open doors before, on occasion. But willing the door before her open did nothing.
Eva tried slamming her shoulder into the door again, only to have to leap back, almost falling into one of the pits of enigmas.
White lightning crackled across the surface of the rusted iron.
Well, that’s a good sign. At least they’re still alive.
“It’s just me,” Eva shouted. No need keeping them wondering if another attack had come.
All she heard in response was something of a cross between a groan and a sigh, muffled by the door.
Eva had to admit, she wasn’t expecting an attack of this magnitude. Ylva hadn’t had a problem with enigmas aside from that one time after Nel used her augur abilities on the other Power. But Eva wouldn’t put it past the hel to figure out a way of warding away the enigmas.
Something to ask when she got back. Regardless of whether or not Ylva could block the enigmas, extra defenses and wards would be absolutely vital.
For now, Eva had to find a way into her own home.
A more complex task than it felt like it should be. Had Juliana been with her, ferrokinesis could have easily solved the problem just by melting the door. Her own strides in earth magic were barely at the level of being able to brush some dirt around the ground.
Something that she should be working on more. Tests were coming up in March and Eva was scarcely prepared. Almost all of her studying time had gone towards research, typically into blood magic.
But Juliana was not with her. That was another mess and she still wasn’t sure what had happened. Devon had a theory that it was due to the weakening walls between Earth and Hell. She had imposed her will on reality though her domain’s magics.
Unfortunately, it appeared as if Eva had become a persona non grata to the Rivas family. When she had arrived at their hotel room to ask if Juliana wanted to accompany her to visit Shalise, Erich hadn’t hesitated for a moment in slamming the door in her face.
That sparked off an argument on the other side of the door. Eva hadn’t caught all of it, but Juliana did not sound like she was winning.
She would try visiting again later.
While thinking about Juliana, Eva had decided to try melting the door anyway. Not through ferrokinesis, but through pure pyrokinesis. Despite focusing all of her effort on it, she couldn’t get her flames hot enough to even cause a moderate glow from the metal.
Spotting a small bend in the metal that created a space between the outward-opening door and the frame, Eva had an idea.
“You might want to move to one of the side rooms,” Eva shouted.
She didn’t wait for a response before starting. This would take a little time. Plenty of time to move.
She brought forth fire from nothing, continuously fueling a small marble forming at the tip of one of her fingers. More and more flames belched forth from her opposite hand, twisting and compressing into the small space.
Keeping the ball of fire contained was a chore. Sweat dripped from her brow. One wrong move and she might be missing her entire top half.
It was the same technique she had used when her foot got caught in the enigma’s mouth, just ramped up to eleven. Flesh tended to be weaker than metal and stone, after all.
The flames bubbled on the marble. Eva almost lost it. She decided that its current compression would have to be enough. Any more would be too dangerous.
Shoving her flame-tipped finger into the gap in the door frame, Eva gave one last warning. “Stand clear of the door.”
She ran. Leaving the flame ball in the gap, Eva hopped over the enigma pits as fast as she could manage without falling in.
Eva dived around the corner just as the thin shell of stable flames gave way to the chaos underneath.
A veritable earthquake shook powdered rock from the walls of the alternate women’s ward. Eva waited for just a moment to ensure that everything was stable before peeking back around the corner.
Eva couldn’t help but to let a small whistle escape her lips.
The entire front of the common room was missing. The door was in two separate pieces out in the trap-filled courtyard, both absolutely covered in purple viscera from where they skimmed across the tops of the pits.
Maybe a little too much power, Eva thought. She stepped straight to the front of the building, hoping that Shalise at least had made it out of the common room. An idle strand of thought wondered why she didn’t simply step away instead of running.
“Everyone alright?” Eva asked to the debris-strewn room.
A haggard-looking Sister Cross stepped out of one of the side rooms–Eva’s bedroom in the real world. She was not so roughed up as when she had attacked Eva the other week ago, but she was clearly running on less than full steam. Her eyes were aglow with white light while lightning crackled at her fingertips. Dark bags hung under her eyes, only increasing her tired look by standing out more under the harsh white light.
Eva kept herself tense, ready to react to anything the woman might try. Not that she thought that Sister Cross would attack her, but… well, she thought Sister Cross wouldn’t hesitate much to attack her.
They weren’t exactly on the best of terms.
To Eva’s surprise, Sister Cross just groaned, let the light die from her eyes, and turned back to the room and walked inside.
Frowning, Eva followed her. At no point did she let her guard down, just in case it was a trap.
Turns out, she needn’t have bothered. Sister Cross was lying face down on the bed by the time Eva made it across the short distance to the room.
Shalise sat in a chair in the corner. A school book lay open on the table to her side. Rather than looking like Eva’s fairly loud explosion had interrupted her studying, the brunette looked more like she had just collapsed into her chair.
She didn’t look quite so tired as Sister Cross, but the hints of fatigue were present in her face. Neither, Eva noted, looked like they had showered in several days.
“I’m glad you’re here, but did you have to do that? I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she said, clutching her chest. She missed her heart, but that was a fairly common mistake. Not everyone had the ability to see blood.
“The door was stuck,” Eva said with a shrug.
“Now we lack a door,” Sister Cross said, moving her face the bare amount possible to clear her mouth of the pillow. “And a wall. If they attack again, we’re all dead. I’d kill you myself, but…” She groaned, angling her head back into the pillow.
Some muffled mumbles came out that sounded distinctly like she had said, “I’m too tired,” but Eva couldn’t tell for certain.
“I’ll fix it,” Eva said, already concentrating.
It shouldn’t be too hard to restore everything to pristine condition. Creating everything the way it was hadn’t been extremely difficult in the first place, just modifying it all from how she knew it in the real world. Repairing everything shouldn’t be too difficult. They would probably need to get rid of the enigmas though.
That was the plan, anyway. Modifying her domain was always fickle.
Turning to Shalise, Eva said, “I am glad that you’re safe. I was a bit worried when I saw the carnage outside.”
“Non-stop attacks. Never too many at once. Three to five would show up, charge the building, get killed, and then there would be an hour or two before the next one. We’ve been sleeping in shifts, but I can’t do much on my own.” She shot Sister Cross a pitiful glance.
“You could have warned me that I’d be fighting off an invasion force,” Sister Cross grumbled.
“Invasion force?” Eva cocked her head to one side, not that Sister Cross was looking at her to see. “You know something about these creatures?”
“Just what it seems like,” she said, lifting a hand in what might have been a dismissive wave, but was far too incoherent to discern for sure. “Why?”
“Might be accurate to a degree,” Eva said. “We’ve learned that they originate from another plane of existence. What Power calls it their domain, we still don’t know, but invading Hell doesn’t seem too far-fetched.”
Weakening Void to help pull it to the mortal realm? Hard to say without knowing exactly how Void was being brought there.
More of a problem for Zoe, Ylva, and Zagan–if he cared enough to investigate. For now, Eva had more immediate worries.
“Have any made it inside?”
Shalise shook her head. “None. What you did to the windows holds up long enough for Lynn to lightning them up.”
Eva nodded an acknowledgment. That was good, but it didn’t appear sustainable. Given how Sister Cross looked, it was doubtful that she would be able to maintain her defense much longer without help.
Both Eva and Shalise stopped talking at the same time. Eva gestured for Shalise to go first.
“Have you made any progress in finding a way out for me?”
“Actually,” Eva said, “that’s one of the reasons I’m here, other than to check up on you. I have a couple of questions that may seem strange, but they could be extremely important.
“Have either of you noticed any odd happenings? Nothing related to the enigmas. More like lights flickering and going dark, maybe the walls seeming especially oppressive and dripping blood. Inability to move or speak, difficulty breathing. Anything like that?”
The two glanced at one another. Sister Cross actually managed to peel her head off the pillow. That effort was quickly used to shoot a glare in Eva’s direction.
“Am I going to have to deal with freezing up in the middle of a fight?”
“No! I mean, I hope not.” Eva waved her hands in front of her, attempting to placate the angry woman. “But neither of you experienced any of those things?”
“I think I would have noticed the walls dripping with blood.”
Shalise shook her head. “Haven’t seen anything either.”
Eva sighed with a frown. “Oh.”
“What’s with that reaction? Is the walls dripping with blood supposed to be a good thing?”
“Well, it would be a thing. Maybe a thing that would help with something else, but no matter.” Eva shook her head. “How long has it been since the last attack?”
Shalise tilted her head to one side as if listening. She tapped her finger against her head a few times before shooting a frowning glance at the face-down Sister Cross. “I don’t think it will be long before the next one. They aren’t entirely regular, but it has been a while.”
“Alright,” Eva said. “Sister Cross, get some sleep. I’ll handle this next attack. Before and after that,” Eva turned to Shalise, “we should probably build up some better defense and dispose of the bodies. They don’t die entirely, so as long as they’re here, they might join in a fight.”
“I can–” Sister Cross started. She was pushing herself up off the bed.
Shalise snapped to her feet and pulled Sister Cross’ arms out from under her, sending her crashing back to the soft embrace of the bed.
“You can get rest for when Eva can’t be here. I’m not helpless and she less so.”
Smiling at the great Sister Cross getting a talking down by her daughter, Eva stepped out of the room before any arguments could start.
She had work to do.
And something of an idea of what to do.
The enigmas that had been struck by the white lightning were a whole lot more dead than the ones that had merely been spiked to ‘death.’ If she could somehow incorporate that into any traps she created, and maybe the doors and windows, the burden on Sister Cross should decrease by a fairly dramatic amount.
Eva wasn’t sure that she could replicate what was undoubtedly Death magic. For all Eva knew, it was completely untouchable without a boon of one kind or another from Death Himself. The eyes served as that for the nuns, Eva was fairly certain of that. But Zoe had failed while trying to cure Eva and magical theory was her specialty.
Zoe lacked one thing that Eva had.
A domain. A domain that could do all kinds of impossible things.
Eva had seen the lighting in action. She had even felt its effects on multiple occasions. While it was true that she hadn’t ever casted it, she had never built a prison either. Her domain was perfectly capable of recreating that.
A light cough behind her pulled Eva out of her musings. She turned to find Shalise shutting the door to the bedroom.
After taking one look around the debris-filled common room, Shalise shook her head. “Went overboard much?”
Eva could see herself dawn a light blush. “I just don’t know my own strength.”
“Clearly,” Shalise said, voice flat. “Did your domain help you out? Or could you do the same thing in the real world?”
“That’s…” Eva frowned, “a good question. I can’t say I’ve tried creating an explosion of this magnitude on the mortal plane. However, if my domain was helping me, it’s a jerk. It should have just opened the door like I had originally wanted.”
Shalise fell silent, her gaze drifting towards her feet. “I was wondering… I mean, not that this place hasn’t protected us, but shouldn’t we move?”
“Move? Out of the women’s ward?”
Prisons were, by definition, made to resist unwanted entrances and exits. The only places more protected would be military fortresses and maybe bank vaults. Though bank vaults lacked most amenities that made living possible. Not really a problem here, Eva could probably create the whole women’s ward within a bank vault if she tried hard enough.
“I suppose I could change things around a little bit. What did you have in mind?”
But Shalise shook her head. “I-I mean, move out of your domain.”
Eva narrowed her eyes. She had the feeling that she knew where this conversation was headed. Asking anyway, Eva said, “to where?”
“P-Prax’s domain. I could control things there like you do here. So I thought it would be better if we didn’t… you know, have to hope that you come by to fix things up if they go wrong. And I could make more active defenses, right? Traps in his castle. And he has a castle, which is as good a defense as the women’s ward right?”
Closing her eyes, Eva crossed her arms. Yep, she thought, as I guessed.
“Sounds like a decent idea.” Snapping her eyes open, Eva bored her eyes into Shalise. “I have just one question. Was this Prax’s idea?”
Shalise flinched like she had known the question was coming. “He… may have brought it up once. Or twice. A handful of times.”
“I thought so. Last time you were there, your positions were reversed. You were in the back of your mind with him in control. Yet you had power over his domain. What if it is different this time? What if you don’t have control over his domain?”
Tilting her head off to one side as she often did when listening to Prax, Shalise nodded a few times before speaking. “In his words: I have more reason to protect this–” Shalise winced. Shaking her head, she said, “I think I’ll paraphrase instead. He’s scared of Zagan and of going back to the prison.”
“So you think that he will protect you.” It was a fairly selfish reason. That made it much more believable than him protecting Shalise out of the goodness of his heart. “With that in mind, I have one more question. Do you trust Prax?”
“No,” she said without hesitation. That brought a small smirk to Shalise’s face. Probably for Prax’s sake, though Eva wasn’t certain that Prax could even tell if she was smiling or not.
“But in this case, I do,” she said as her smile slid off. “I can feel what he feels, and I feel sincerity and fear.” Her head tilted to one side again. “Yes you are. Don’t deny it.”
“Alright,” Eva said before Shalise could get further in her one-sided conversation. “If you think it is best, I won’t stop you. Of course, I’m not about to explain the situation to Sister Cross. That can be your job.”
Shalise gave a nervous chuckle. “Maybe we should stay here.”