Eva came down into her domain hard.
It was supposed to catch her, and probably would have had she not considered her current situation so urgent. Her domain compensated for her urgency by not slowing her down.
That was fine. Her legs could take the abuse.
Eva rolled out of the way and glued her eyes up to where she had come from. She didn’t want to take any chances that the woman had followed her.
This nagging feeling in the corner of her mind told her that the moment she turned, she’d be stabbed in the back.
When nothing appeared for several moments, Eva stood up and started backing away. Her slow movements turned to a full-on backwards sprint across the beach. Eventually, she turned around despite the feeling and began running full-tilt towards the alternate women’s ward.
Eva opened the door and slammed it behind her, startling both of the occupants. Shalise let out a small screech.
Lynn Cross, on the other hand, jumped to her feet and sent a bolt of lightning at Eva before she had even turned around.
A blackish-red shield appeared between the two, catching the lightning. Eva didn’t bother questioning it. She hadn’t intended to form any kind of shield. Obviously, it was some oddity of her domain working to protect her.
“You sure took your sweet time–”
“Later,” Eva interrupted. “We have a problem. Or, to be more specific, Shalise has a problem.”
The girl blinked twice. “Wh-what do you mean?”
Eva stepped up to Shalise, or tried to. Lynn moved between the two. Ignoring the woman, Eva looked around her shoulder at the brunette. “If you’ve got any far-out ideas of how to get out of Shalise, you had best voice them now, Prax.”
“What,” Lynn said with at flat tone of voice as she crossed her arms, “is going on?”
“I found out why Prax’s mother was hanging around in his domain.”
“You hung around to speak with an enemy after deciding it was for the best if we left immediately?”
“No. I hung around to speak with the one hunting Prax’s mother.”
Gently pushing her mother aside, Shalise stepped around to face Eva. “Prax wants to know who would be hunting anyone in his domain.”
“Didn’t catch a name,” Eva said with a shrug. “Didn’t feel like a demon though. Couldn’t see her with my blood sense. She had silver hair, a well-fitting leather duster, and a sword of some sort at her hip.”
That got a gasp from Shalise.
“Someone you recognize.”
“The doll. But-but that doesn’t make sense. The dolls let us escape. They wouldn’t come after us… would they?” She tilted her head to the side. “Would they?”
“Her specific words were ‘cells that were once full must be filled again.’ She didn’t specifically mention Prax, and since she didn’t follow me immediately, I assume she’s not after him right this second. Probably dealing with his mother first and foremost.”
An earthquake punctuated her statement. While in Hell, there had been small tremors every now and again.
Nothing quite like the one that had struck now.
All three of them went rocking back and forth. Shalise and Lynn Cross tumbled forwards and backwards, collapsing in a heap of limbs on the floor. Eva managed to stay upright only through the virtue of her toes acting as claws and digging themselves into the ground, providing an anchor of sorts.
The tremors subsided as quick as they came. Eva ran up to the windows and started watching. She didn’t want any enigmas sneaking around while they were talking. If some showed up, they needed to be dealt with as soon as possible.
Purple lightning crackled across the otherwise empty sky. Where the lightning touched, it stayed purple.
For a time.
The empty void fought back, Eva could see the purple slowly recede as the dark sky overpowered the streaks of purple.
Eva stared and gaped. She hadn’t wanted lightning in any way, shape, or form. She was fairly certain that she hadn’t had any subconscious desires for lightning either.
“Well,” Eva said as she found her voice, “even if this ‘doll’ isn’t going to attack you–something that I would not count on–” Eva gestured at the black and purple sky outside. “That looks like a perfectly good reason to accelerate our efforts to get you out of here.”
Both of the other two had managed to untangle themselves from each other, but by the time they made it to the window, there were only faint traces of purple left over.
It was enough for Shalise to give a light gasp. “That never happened before,” she said.
“The color is the same as enigma blood. Could be a coincidence…”
Lynn gave a light snort. “If only the world were that simple.” Turning away from the window, she put one hand on either of Shalise’s shoulders. She bent her knees slightly to level out their heads, though it didn’t take much bending. Lynn Cross was a tall woman, but Shalise wasn’t far behind.
Staring into her daughter’s eyes, they stood stock still.
Well, Lynn Cross stood still. Shalise fidgeted under her mother’s unwavering gaze.
Eva wondered just how it was that Shalise hadn’t noticed that Lynn was her mother. The resemblance was uncanny. Their hair was about the only thing different between the two. Shalise had shoulder-blade length wavy hair while her mother had her hair cut short–to better fit in her habit, most likely.
Then again, perhaps Shalise had noticed. That almost made more sense. Shalise had noticed and hadn’t mentioned anything because Lynn Cross had not mentioned anything. If her mother kept silent on the matter, then there must be a reason.
And that reason certainly wasn’t that Lynn Cross did not care for her daughter. She had come to Hell itself to be with and protect Shalise.
Though Eva may have forced that in part.
Eva’s speculation came to an abrupt end as white flames erupted from Lynn’s eyes.
Shalise jumped a good foot in the air, letting out a startled squeak as she flew.
Eva jumped forward with far more purpose than simple shock. She was seriously considering the notion that she had been grossly inaccurate in her assessment of Lynn Cross’ care for her daughter.
Before she could lay a hand on the older woman, Lynn released Shalise.
“I think,” she said slowly, “that it could work. A chance, at least.” She turned, her face drawing a disgusted countenance as her eyes settled on Eva. “But I will need assistance.”
“You’re going to have to be more vague. I almost guessed at what you are planning.”
“There may be a way to exorcise the demon inhabiting Shalise’s body.”
Eva gave her a flat glare. “Why didn’t you say so sooner? I’m not keeping her here because I find it fun, you know. If Prax gets out of her, she can go back to the mortal realm through Ylva’s domain, or even me carrying her while traveling back using my beacon. Arachne did the same–”
Hold on, Eva thought, cutting herself off as she remembered something. While Shalise was looking hopeful, Lynn Cross was anything but. The white flames pouring out of her eyes obscured a good deal of her emotions, but she did not have anything resembling a smile on her face.
“Can I talk to you for a moment?” After a glance over Lynn Cross’ shoulder at Shalise, Eva looked the former nun in the eyes and added, “privately?”
Her frown twisted into a scowl. She hesitated for a moment, but eventually nodded.
Leaving a somewhat confused Shalise behind, Eva dragged Lynn off to her room. The moment the door shut behind her, Eva said, “I have just one question, with a small story before it.
“Back when you and your minions were strutting around the academy like you owned the place, one of your nuns came up to me one day. She started harassing me and ended up telling me that I should be… I believe the word was ‘cleansed.’ Immediately after, she said that I would die during the process, but should undergo it anyway despite that fact because it would be for the ‘betterment of the world’ or some such nonsense.”
Eva paused, watching for any reaction. Lynn kept her face as expressionless as she could.
With a sigh, Eva shook her head before continuing. “Are you planning on putting Shalise through a process that is likely to wind up with her dead?”
“Of course not,” she snapped. “There is always danger, but that danger can be mitigated. I would not put her through something that I thought would kill her.
“The two of you are fundamentally different in the nature of your corruptions. Shalise and her leech are two distinct entities. They merely need to be separated. You are…” Though her eyes hadn’t once lost their fire, the intensity flared. “You are an abomination.”
Eva shrugged. “Heard that before,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Don’t care. But, why haven’t you mentioned this exorcism before if you’re so sure it will succeed?”
“I said there were dangers. Risks that I would rather not expose her to. Trouble getting the items needed as well. But if she is to be hunted down and killed or tossed in some hellish prison… or worse,” she gestured towards the window. “Then the possible consequences of not separating the two outweigh that of the exorcism itself.”
Eva nodded. That made sense enough. Though she had to ask, “what are the dangers? The consequences?”
“Death, obviously, though I intend to minimize that as much as possible. More likely things include coma, disfigurement, pain…” Lynn shook her head. “Basically, the sort of consequences one would expect from such a ritual.
“In addition, there is a further complication. We are in Hell. The very air here–if it even is real air–is so steeped in the demonic magics that it may interfere with the ritual. I plan to properly ward our ritual circle, so this is only a slight chance. One I am willing to take if Shalise can return to the mortal realm.”
Pressing her lips together, Eva nodded. “As long as you’re sure.”
“Have you any other options?”
“Possibly. None that I know of at this precise moment.”
“Then exorcism it is.”
“Two things first,” Eva said. “First, what assistance were you talking about?”
Sighing, Lynn leaned back against the wall. “This ritual will not be a simple affair. The circle alone could take hours to draw out.”
“And hours would mean multiple incursions of the enigmas. Unless this latest earthquake put an end to that.” Eva shook her head. “Doesn’t matter, I can handle defending you. Or, I could try helping you.”
Drawing her dagger–and trying to keep her movements as nonthreatening as possible–Eva made a shallow cut on her arm. She proceeded to form a simple ritual circle in the air between the two of them.
“I can manipulate it to your instructions,” Eva said, demonstrating altering the symbols in the air. “It should save time and effort.”
Lynn did not look pleased in the slightest. “This is a purification ritual. I would rather it not be tainted with blood and haemomancy.”
“Fair enough,” Eva said. She put the blood right back where it came from and let the matter drop. She wasn’t interested in a long argument, especially if they would be limited on time in the near future. “I can handle watching your back so you can work undisturbed.”
“In addition to the work,” Lynn said, “it will require reagents that your cupboards simply lack. And…” Her calm expression turned to a glower. “I believe I spotted Sis–Nel Stirling. I’ll need her help with the actual ritual.”
“Because she is an augur? Or because she is a former nun and has your eye things implanted?” Seeing the confusion on her face, Eva held up her hand before Lynn could respond. “Let me put it this way: Would a regular nun work for this ritual?”
“So long as they are knowledgeable about certain Elysium Order secrets. Why?”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I’d rather have my bases covered. Ylva has a second former nun in her retinue. I figured I would ask, just in case Nel is uncooperative. Though I would much prefer Nel. I’d rather avoid the other as much as possible.”
Moving to the bedside table, Eva pulled out a notebook and a pen. She hadn’t been entirely sure that they would be there, but the writing implements were there in the real world, so it made sense. Probably.
“I’d offer to see if my domain couldn’t just make your reagents, but I have a feeling that you’ll reject them for the same reason you rejected my haemomantic ritual circle.” Eva tossed the writing implements to Lynn–the former nun caught them without issue.
“Write down a list of your reagents,” Eva said. “I’ll get what I can from around town. Zoe should be able to teleport to larger cities for anything more esoteric. I’ll bring them back when I grab Nel.”
“I do not require her presence. Her assistance will be for acquiring a certain artifact as part of the reagents. Speak to her after I give you the list. She will be able to answer your questions better than I, most likely.”
“Fair enough. The second thing,” Eva paused for a moment, double checking everything through her blood sight. Shalise was back in the common room, seated on a couch. Her heart was beating at a fairly high rate, but otherwise appeared calm.
“The second thing is just a curiosity. What do we tell Shalise? The dangers? Why you didn’t bring this option forward before?”
Lynn took a deep breath through her nostrils, flaring them as she inhaled. “Leave that to me. I will inform her myself. Should she decide not to undertake the risks, I will stay here as long as it takes for you to find another solution.”
“I imagine that she will agree.”
“As do I. She is my daughter, after all. I would not stand for such an infestation within me longer than necessary. Go clear out the other room, I’ll have your list ready momentarily.”
Eva rolled her eyes before leaving Lynn to her task of writing down the reagents. She threw open the door to her room and walked back out.
A nervous looking Shalise jumped to her feet at the noise. Wide eyes glanced over, calming slightly once she spotted Eva. Her hands fiddled with each other as she held them in front of her chest.
“Congratulations,” Eva said, clapping her hands together. “You might just be rid of Prax sooner than you thought.”
Shalise’s expression broke into a hesitant smile. “R-really?”
“Yep. Some nun ritual. Remember when you had half your arm eaten by zombies?”
“I-I try not to.”
“Well, it will be like that.” Probably. “Except without the half eaten arm. Your–Lynn Cross will explain more when she finishes writing down a handful of things that she needs. In the meantime,” Eva walked up to the couch and gripped one end of it, “help me move these out of the way.”
Eva watched, keeping her face impassive, as Shalise’s arms bulged out with an extra bulk of muscles before she took her own end of the couch in hand. She barely exerted any effort in lifting the couch.
She could probably have moved the entire thing on her own.
“Oh, and Prax,” Eva said as they dropped the couch in the back of the room, “you’ll be free to do whatever. You can even stay here, so long as you don’t cause trouble. Sending you right back to your domain would be cruel while that doll might still be there.”
Tilting her head to one side, Shalise winced. “He says thanks.”
“I’m sure he does.”
Moving back to the center of the room, Eva picked up one of the remaining chairs.
Shalise, on the other hand, decided that moving furniture one at a time was too slow. She picked up the table with one arm and leaned the last chair against her other shoulder, moving both at once.
Eva doubted that she would be able to do the same. The chairs weren’t the heaviest things in the world, but they were fairly bulky and awkward to carry. Lifting one one-handedly might be a bit much, especially with a table in the other hand. Her legs were strong, as was her grip strength, both thanks to Arachne. The rest of her upper body could use some work.
“You know,” Eva said once they finished clearing out the room, “you’re not going to have those muscles, assuming all goes well.”
Shalise started. She glanced down at her body as if she hadn’t quite realized what she had done.
Eventually, she spoke. “I know. He tricked me into it–sort of–but they have come in handy.”
“Well,” Eva held up her own hand, examining her shiny carapace in the light, “if you’re going to miss it that much–”
Hands on her hips, Shalise glared. “I’m not amputating my arms.”
Rather than respond, Eva stiffened. Lynn Cross stood just behind her, her pose radiating irritation.
Slowly, Eva turned. She wasn’t surprised in the slightest to see lighting crackling between the ex-nun’s fingers.
“I’ll thank you not to put foolish ideas into others’ heads,” Lynn said, shoving a leaf of paper into Eva’s chest. “The last two items are those that may prove troublesome. The augur should be able to assist.”
Eva nodded. Without so much as a glance at the list, she folded it up. Slinking away as fast as she could, Eva made her way to the gate room.
Empty though it was, it was still the gate room. It was the room that Eva had taken to using in traveling from Hell back to her beacon. As she stood in the center, a pattern colored in and brightened on the floor.
It was almost identical to the summoning circles used in the mortal realm. Soon enough, the symbols upon the floor began a clock-like rotation. Ripples formed on the surface.
A gaping, void filled maw opened up at her feet. Eva dropped straight down, not concerned in the slightest.
She had long since become used to the sudden weightlessness.
Eva wasn’t certain how long she spent drifting aimlessly through the emptiness. She had tried timing it once. She brought along a mechanical pocket watch. That had actually exploded on her wrist, though not until she had tried a small light spell to see it in the darkness.
If she didn’t try to look, time appeared to pass by at a regular pace. She could leave for her domain at four in the afternoon, spend an hour in her domain, and return at five. That all led Eva to believe that this limbo between Hell and the mortal realm didn’t actually exist on a proper time line.
It felt like it took forever, but no time had actually passed once she got out.
Her musing came to a sudden stop as she found herself spat out of the nothingness into her gate room. The one in the regular women’s ward.
At least, it should have been the regular gate room. There was a thin layer of sand on the floor.
Everything else appeared normal, however, so she ignored it for the moment. Shalise was a far more pressing concern than a bit of loose sand.
Eva plucked a black marble with a streak of red–her now inactive beacon–from a shelf in the gate room. It would need to be given to Zoe to reactivate it before she returned to Hell.
Deciding to pull out the list of reagents before doing so, Eva found that most of the items were familiar. Simple things that she could get around Brakket City. Given the late hour, she would probably be breaking into the apothecary and any other shops she needed, but Brakket Academy paid for everything anyway as far as Eva could tell.
Zoe had probably at least heard of the things she did not recognize.
The last two, the ones that Nel should be able to help with, didn’t look any more or less difficult to acquire than the items she didn’t recognize. Purgato salis and obelisci lunam pura.
Eva started to move to her bedroom. The state of her common room had her pause.
All of the furniture had been shoved off to the back of the room. Just like it had been in the alternate version of the room.
“Shalise?” Eva called out, suddenly unsure as to whether or not she actually made it back to the regular women’s ward. “Lynn Cross?”
There was no response. And no sign of either of the two in her blood sight. She shook her head. It was probably just Devon wanting to do something to the treatment ritual circle.
Continuing on to her bedroom, Eva pulled out some paper and made two copies of the list. One for Nel and one for Zoe.
“Now to find the two.”
She decided to start with Nel. The augur was closer and the least likely of the two to have gone someplace outside of her usual haunt. Nel could also help find Zoe without a whole lot of guesswork.
Eva took one step outside of her room and stopped.
The sky… didn’t look much like how she had left it.
Zoe was running up towards her. She was plainly visible to Eva’s blood sight.
But Eva was far too enraptured with the purple streaks running through the night sky.
“Nel said you were back,” Zoe said as she got closer. “We have problems.”
“Yeah,” Eva said, voice as flat as possible. “I can see that.”