Eva tore open the doors to Ylva’s domain and sprinted inside.
Ylva was on her throne, her skeletal form looking impassive as always under the light shining from the storm clouds overhead. Her pose was as relaxed as it always was. With her fist curled beneath her chin, she slouched back in her throne.
Four others sat around a small table set down at the base of her throne. Alicia and Nel sat at opposite ends of the table from one another with Wayne Lurcher in between the two. Wayne had a scowl on his face as he eyed his neighbors.
Surprisingly enough, Devon had been allowed back inside Ylva’s domain.
Desperate times, I suppose, Eva thought as she ran up to the table.
“It isn’t the entity known as Void,” Devon said. “I’m willing to put a lot of money on the sky being the doing of the Power that is attacking the Void.”
“The point still stands,” grumbled Wayne. “Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t have our best interests at heart.”
Ignoring the others and not caring at all that she was interrupting what was probably an important conversation, Eva placed both palms on the table and gazed straight into Nel’s eyes. “You found Sawyer?”
Zoe had already said as much. Eva trusted her not to lie, but she had to be sure. She had to hear the words from Nel’s own mouth.
Wilting under Eva’s gaze, Nel nodded her head. “He passed out somewhere in Nevada just as… well, you’ve been outside. Just as all that started.”
Eva grit her teeth and balled her fist. A thin layer of marble dust coated her fingers from where they scraped against the table surface. Of course, it would be now. He couldn’t just show up while nothing was happening like a good little necromancer. He had to show up while a potential apocalypse was going on.
If that was what was actually going on. Devon and Wayne’s conversation might have implied otherwise. Eva was too focused on Nel to pay all that much attention to their words.
With a heartfelt sigh, Eva slumped into one of the extra chairs set up around the table.
Even if nothing was going on except for Shalise and the doll, Eva couldn’t put Sawyer in front of her friend.
Well, she could. Lynn would probably kill her if she did. Though Eva couldn’t discount the possibility that Lynn wasn’t going to try to kill her the moment they made it out of Hell anyway.
Eva rested her forehead against the cool surface of the table, idly scratching a claw mark to the side of her head just a little deeper.
“Spencer,” Wayne grumbled with a slight tension in his voice, “what did you do with Zoe?”
She didn’t even have the motivation to protest his usage of her last name.
“Don’t worry so much. She’s just doing a little shopping for me.” Eva pulled out one of the copies of the list and slid it over to Nel. “Can you do anything about the bottom two?”
Nel didn’t even glance at the list. “What about Sawyer?”
“What about him?” When Nel didn’t move, Eva let out another sigh. “I’d love to go gallivanting across the country, but for some reason, I don’t think this is the time. It might have to do with the sky, and Shalise, and,” Eva glanced up at Wayne, “something about my dorm room?”
He opened his mouth to respond, but Nel slammed her fist down on the table.
“So he just gets to walk away. Is that it?”
Eva lifted her head. “Of course not. There’s just…” Narrowing her eyes at the augur, Eva said, “have you even looked outside?”
Nel glanced down. Not at the paper, more at her feet through the table. After a moment of silence, she mumbled something.
“What was that?”
“I said that something bad happens every time I leave. I get inquisitions sent after me. I get kidnapped. Or the sky turns purple! Next time I leave, it just might be the end of the world.”
“So you did go outside.”
Nel shifted. “Not really. I opened the door, saw the sky, and slammed it shut.”
Eva smiled. She wanted to laugh, but the thought of missing out on hunting down Sawyer did put a damper on her mood.
“As much as he is a personal priority of ours,” Eva said, emphasizing the word, “I think you’ll agree that other matters require our attention first. Like that list in front of you.” Eva tapped a sharp finger down on the piece of paper, all but forcing Nel’s eyes to it.
Those eyes widened a moment later.
“The salt is easy,” she said after a moment of rereading the list. “The obelisk, not so much.”
“Let’s start with the salt–”
Wayne, leaning over to read the list, cleared his throat. “What is this for?”
“A cleansing ritual,” Nel answered before Eva could. “The deep, soul level type of cleansing.”
“For Shalise,” Eva added. “Former Sister Cross thinks that she can get Prax out of Shalise and, therefore, Shalise out of Hell. Considering that things down there are possibly scarier than things up here, she’s willing to accept a small amount of danger on Shalise’s part to perform the ritual.”
“Scarier?” Devon said, genuine curiosity in his voice. “What is happening in Hell?”
“Same things, for the most part. The sky had purple streaks through it, much like here. They’ve since faded, I think. The difference between here and there is that Hell has Void actively fighting back. At least, as far as I can tell from a cursory glance.” Eva glanced up at Ylva, but the hel failed to move. Without skin on her face, she couldn’t even see any facial expressions.
“Sounds like her situation wouldn’t improve much,” Wayne said with a slight grunt as he centered himself back in his seat.
“Oh yeah, Shalise might also have some prison warden hunting her down.”
That actually did get a response out of Ylva. Just a slight stirring in her posture that, had she been anyone else, might have been mistaken as movement to get more comfortable. Eva would have missed it entirely had she not already been watching the demon.
Eva raised an eyebrow in her direction, wondering if she had anything to add.
Ylva just gave a slight, almost imperceptible shake of her head.
“Anyway,” Eva said, letting it drop for the moment. She turned back to face Nel. “Where do we get the salt?”
“Anywhere, I think. It needs to be natural sea salt–no iodine. Larger grain size. About fifteen pounds should work for this ritual.” Nel shook her head. “Wait, better make it thirty. I’m… well, out of practice. I’d rather have some to spare if I mess something up.”
“That’s it?” she asked just to be sure. Thirty pounds of salt sounded like a lot, but it wasn’t anything outrageous. It certainly didn’t sound like something that would cause much trouble. Quite the opposite, really.
“Well, I’ll have to prepare it. Shouldn’t take more than two or three hours.”
Still not too bad. Maybe Lynn Cross was simply worried about the time it would take to acquire and prepare it. “So the other thing? Where can I find an obelisk? I assume it is a specific kind of obelisk.”
“Of the pure moon,” Nel said, shaking her head. “It isn’t something you can go to a shopping center and purchase.”
“Then where do I find one,” Eva asked, speaking slightly slower as if she were speaking to a child.
“It’s an idol. Similar to the idol used to crack the sky.” She sent a mild glare at Devon. “The priceless artifact that he destroyed.” There wasn’t much accusation in her voice. Probably because she knew that she would have been far less angry about its destruction had one of those beams of light hit her.
Eva could guess that she would have preferred capturing it over destroying it, but that was in the past.
Devon, for his part, did not appear to be paying attention. He had his thumb on his goatee and his brow furrowed in thought.
“That’s all well and good,” Eva said, slowing down her speech further. “Where, Nel, do I get one?”
Nel bit her lip. She glanced over to Alicia–whose face had remained entirely impassive throughout the entire discussion–before turning to face Eva. “You’ll have to steal one. There are only six that I know about.” Again, she glanced over at Alicia. “The closest would probably be in the Salem Cathedral and Training Center.”
Eva snorted. “A bunch of vampire hunters made a home base out of the home of the witch hunts? Wonder if they worked together with the puritans back in the day. It would make sense, both have far too much zealotry for their own good.”
For the first time since Eva had shown up, Alicia laughed.
Actually, for the first time ever, as far as Eva knew.
It wasn’t a happy laugh. Rather, it set Eva’s nerves on end. Both Wayne and Devon–who had come out of his thoughts at the noise–looked a bit unsettled as well.
Nel shot a glare in the ex-nun’s direction, but turned a pained look on Eva.
“Um… Salem Oregon,” she said, voice barely above a whisper. “Not Massachusetts.”
Her voice wasn’t quiet enough to avoid Devon’s ears, evidenced by him turning a smirk in Eva’s direction.
“Point still stands,” Eva said, ignoring everyone at the table. She cleared her throat when Devon opened his mouth. Whatever snide comment he had could be kept to himself. “Anyway, can you spy on where you expect it to be? I’d rather not waste my time running all the way to Oregon if it isn’t there.”
“I can try,” Nel said with a nod. “But how are you getting there?”
“Well,” Eva shifted her glance towards Wayne, “there are two people I know of that can teleport without needing something at the destination. Although, Zagan could probably do it.”
Nel flinched while Devon glowered.
Eva shook her head before either could say a word. “I’m not going to ask him though. Even if he agreed, it would probably be at some exorbitant price that I am not interested in paying.”
Besides, Eva thought, if I help Shalise myself, I don’t have to answer his riddle about what would be worth having Shalise back home.
With an extra heap of gravel in his voice, Wayne said, “you feel you must drag myself and Zoe into this?”
“It is for Shalise. When I told Zoe before heading here, she essentially gave a blanket offer of assistance.”
He mumbled something under his breath that sounded roughly like a curse, but Eva let it pass.
“If you are scared,” she said, “you could just wait outside. Stealing it won’t be that hard, right? Just have to get around a couple of nuns.” Eva glanced at Devon.
While she was fairly certain that he hadn’t had to use her before, if he could summon up that waxy, headache inducing demon again, they could probably just walk right in. The demon would incapacitate everyone while they browsed the Elysium Order’s wares.
Eva tried not to consider raiding the place straight away, but she couldn’t help but think that perhaps there would be more of value than just the obelisk. The Elysium Order had to collect a number of artifacts and tomes that they could not or simply did not destroy.
Under her stare, Devon’s eyes grew wide. “Oh no. Nope. Don’t look at me. We’ve tangled with the nuns enough for one decade. Call me again in ten years when they’ve had a chance to cool off.”
“But just a few demons with the right abilities will make it our easiest job in years. Probably.”
“Probably.” He let out a slight snort. “I wouldn’t count on them just laying down and allowing you to walk away with priceless artifacts because Arachne showed up.”
Eva gave a slight start. She glanced around the table to confirm her fears.
“Has anyone talked to Arachne since all the sky and things have happened?” Eva was staring mostly at Devon, but was open to a response from anyone.
No one said a word.
With a sigh, Eva said, “I’ll have to go see if she has even noticed the sky after this.”
“If you’re done with that drivel,” Devon said, “I would like to hear more about the happenings of Hell.”
Eva shrugged. “I don’t know what more there is to say. There was an earthquake. Sky turned colors. That’s pretty much it.” Eva glanced up towards Ylva before asking, “were there tremors here?”
“Enough for only Ourself to notice, not enough to shake the walls of Our domain.”
“And your sky?” Eva asked, glancing upwards. She still wasn’t certain that sky was the proper term, but said it anyway for lack of a better word. The storm clouds overhead obscured any view of the dark void, but Ylva probably had enough awareness of her own domain to know what was happening regardless of whether or not she could see it.
Unless something had changed in the last several hours, there weren’t any storm clouds over the beach portion of her domain. She would be able to observe from there in any case.
Ylva’s head gave a slight incline. “It has since returned to normal.”
“That fits with what I saw.” Eva gave a sorry shrug towards Devon. “Can you make anything out with that little information?”
He hummed for a moment, again stroking his beard. “I imagine that the Void fought back. And succeeded, for now at least. Here, however, we have no Power to fight for us.”
Wayne leaned forward on the table. “So we fight back ourselves. Is that what you’re saying?”
Devon snorted, slowly shaking his head from side to side. “If you think you can match power with a Power, be my guest. If you can, you’re a far scarier person than I gave you credit for.”
Dismissing Wayne with a wave of his hand, Devon put a finger down on the table. “Here is my theory. The events of tonight are not caused by any mortal or demon. Rather, a Power is the cause. I do concede that a mortal, demon, or other non-Power entity may be assisting the Power, but they are not the primary cause.
“The effect observable in the sky does not extend far beyond Brakket City, ending within a few miles in any direction around the town with the exception of the direction of this prison in which it extends and encompasses this area as well.” He drew his finger around in a large circle around the initial point he had touched.
“The reason for this is the concentration of demons around Brakket City. I mean, there’s what, ten to fifteen demons in and around the city at any given time? One of which is a pillar.” He glanced down towards Eva as if asking for confirmation.
Eva just shrugged. “Sounds about right. That we know of, at least. Who knows what Martina has in reserve.”
“As someone who has dealt with demons in one manner or another throughout my entire life, I have never once heard of such a thing. Diabolists are rare. Typically, they won’t have more than one or two demons out at once and then, not often for any length of time.”
He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms before him. “I posit that this concentration of demons has given the attacking Power a medium through which to target Void.”
“So we send them all back to Hell,” Wayne said, rising to his feet.
Eva watched him, trying to keep the amusement off of her face, as he slowly realized just where he was. She could spot the very moment when he knew that he had done something wrong.
His shoulders jumped slightly. Slowly, he turned to face Ylva. He cleared his throat before speaking. “Ah, no offense,” he mumbled.
Ylva raised one skeletal hand and brushed his worries off to the side. “Nothing occurs to Us that might contradict the presented theory, given our collective knowledge is so limited.”
“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Devon said as he scratched at his chin with his tentacle. “Probably too late. Even if you sent back every demon currently roaming the Earth, I doubt the sky would turn back to normal. The connection has already been made.”
“But the sky in my domain is back to normal,” Eva said. She gave a short nod in Ylva’s direction. “Presumably everywhere in Hell.”
“That just means that the Power must try again on the Void side of things. In fact, I recommend the opposite. Limit the connections going between the Earth and Hell. No more teleporting. No more summoning. No more banishing. It might just slow things down while we learn more.”
He turned his eyes to bore straight into Ylva. “And I will put money on the notion that your domain will become more dangerous. The enigmas that have been attacking are just the vanguard. Placed there to weaken Void. More dangerous things will be appearing in preparation for another attempt.”
Devon narrowed his eyes in Eva’s direction. “Keep out of it. I have no intention of stopping my work just because of a little apocalypse. And that will be hard to do if you’re dead or trapped in Hell.”
Eva harrumphed, but didn’t disagree. All the more reason to get Shalise out sooner rather than later.
“Of course,” Devon said louder, angling his head back just so Ylva was in the corner of his eye, “that means severing this domain’s connection to the mortal realm. I’d say I’m sorry to see you go, but that would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told, and I have told a few.”
He turned away, mumbling under his breath just loud enough for Eva to pick up. “Stupid girl shouldn’t have allowed it in the first place.”
Eva glowered at the man. Instead of giving him a response, she watched Ylva. She half expected Ylva to come down from her throne and toss Devon around for a minute for the insult, but her actual actions surprised her.
After taking a moment to consider, Ylva’s skinless skull dipped into a grave nod. “We concur.”
Devon blinked, apparently surprised as well. The confusion on his face shifted into horror as he jumped to his feet, heart suddenly beating faster and faster.
“You’re not doing it now, are you?” He glanced towards the door and looked ready to start running.
Eva’s own heart jumped in pace. She did have an active beacon, having handed hers off to Zoe, so returning wouldn’t be that big of an issue. But it would still be an inconvenience as she still needed to go collect an obelisk.
Ylva shook her head as she stood from her throne. Her dress draped around the floor as she walked down the steps. “We have Our own business to attend before severing Our domain. We shall start with haste. Finish your business here and vacate at once.”
As she stepped down from her throne, she left the column of light. Her flesh returned just in time for her cold eyes to shift to Alicia. “Come,” she spoke.
Alicia snapped to her side fast enough that Eva wondered if she hadn’t teleported there.
Ylva’s eyes turned to Nel. The augur’s eyes ceased their glare at Alicia to meet with Ylva.
“Assist Eva in her task. Find Ourself upon finishing.”
“Yes, Lady Ylva,” Nel said, head ducking in a sitting bow.
As Ylva and Alicia headed off towards one of the back archways–not one Eva could remember entering before–Devon all but ran from the throne room. He paused for just a moment at the edge of the throne platform, hesitating. After tapping his foot against the thin air to reassure himself that he wouldn’t fall through, Devon walked across and out of the domain.
It seemed silly to Eva. She had walked across without even thinking about it, as she had on occasion in the past. Then again, she had also helped throw an enigma or two down the pit, and was fairly certain that she had dangled her legs over the edge one time. A brief bout of curiosity tickled the back of her mind as she considered just how it worked.
She dismissed the thought as quickly as it came. It probably wasn’t the most pressing of matters at the moment.
Turning back to those remaining at the table, Eva stopped her gaze on Nel. “Let’s check that the obelisk is where you think it is, then we’ll get you some salt. After that…” Eva gave an involuntary shudder as she realized that she would have to be teleported through that cold ‘between’.
But that was a momentary discomfort. Shalise being stuck in Hell would be worse.
Shaking her head to clear her mind, Eva looked at Wayne. “After, if you’d teleport us to wherever this chapel is, Dev–”
Eva whipped her head towards the door leading out of Ylva’s domain.
That coward just ran away.
“Actually,” Eva said after a short sigh, “I might need a few minutes to consult with Arachne.”