Sister Abbey had turned out useful after all.
The door to the next staircase had been not only locked, but warded as well. Said wards went far over Eva’s head. She knew her blood wards and some runic equivalents to certain wards, and that was about it.
She was fairly certain that the wards were beyond Zoe’s expertise as well. At least the ones specific to the Elysium Order. Regular thaumaturgical wards, Zoe could probably have taken down herself. With study, Eva had no doubt that Zoe would have been able to do something about the Elysium Order wards, but they didn’t exactly have the time at the moment.
Regardless, both Eva and Zoe watched the sister like a hawk as she worked. Both had been in agreement that she had done nothing aside from unlocking the door.
So take that, Wayne Lurcher.
Sister Abbey walked at the head of the group. Everyone was able to keep their eyes on her. All the better to watch her and ensure that she didn’t drop any notes for other nuns to find. When she would have had a chance to scrawl out some message, Eva couldn’t say. No sense in not taking precautions.
Arachne still clung to her. Because of Arachne’s legs, Sister Abbey could barely move her arms to write a note in the first place. With the two needle-like legs pressing up against her throat, Sister Abbey had a constant reminder of what would happen should she attempt a betrayal.
So it wasn’t like they weren’t being careful.
It might not be the ideal situation, Eva would freely admit that. However, Sister Abbey was helping them get through their task faster. The quicker they were gone, the less chances they had to be discovered.
More discovered, anyway.
Though Eva wasn’t so sure that being discovered was much of a concern now that they had gone down a floor.
The ground floor was the most crowded with a good ten or so nuns–at least that came into Eva’s range. Only three of which they had had to pass nearby. The two at the doors and one wandering the hallways. For that one, they had all ducked into a janitorial closet while she passed by.
It had not had the most elbow room with all four of them inside.
The next floor had had the two augurs and the one regular nun.
But this floor… They had been walking for a good ten minutes since descending the last staircase. Eva hadn’t detected a single person.
“Where is everybody?” Eva asked, breaking the silence of their group. “And shouldn’t there have been guards at the stairs?”
Eva wasn’t asking someone in particular. She would have been happy to have an answer from anyone. Arachne apparently thought that the question was directed at the augur, judging by the sharp poke in the side that the nun received after a short silence.
“The Elysium Order has refocused their efforts overseas. Primarily Eastern Europe and North Africa. Most Cathedrals on North America are running,” she paused as a hint of a smile appeared on her face, “skeleton crews.”
Eva had to hand it to the augur. Had Sister Abbey and Nel swapped places, she was fairly certain that Nel would be bawling her eyes out between shaking herself to death out of fear. Sister Abbey was cracking jokes.
Maybe I need to do a little more threatening. Can’t have the captive getting uppity.
“Oh puns? I loove puns. Have you heard the one about the nun that married the zombie?”
Serena beat her to the punch.
“Perhaps it would be best if we limit our conversation with the sister, S,” Wayne said with a grunt.
Eva had lucked out on not being referred to as ‘S’ by the fact that Serena’s name and her last name shared initials. Wayne had almost decided that Serena should be ‘P’ for some reason, but a glare from the vampire had ended that discussion.
“Well at least someone is talking. Breaking in last time wasn’t half as boring.”
“Something you should be thankful for.”
The smile on Sister Abbey vanished and her back stiffened. “You people do this often?”
“Once every year or so,” Eva said before anyone else could preempt her. Unless Wayne and Serena actually robbed the Elysium Order on some kind of regular schedule, claiming to do it often might help throw them off the track. “Whenever we find a child in need of saving.”
“How altruistic. You threaten my life ten times over and–” Sister Abbey bit her tongue as Arachne poked her in the side hard enough to draw blood through her habit. After a quick grimace, her countenance turned to anger. “And yet you claim to work for another’s sake? If you’re so concerned about others, stand with the Order and work to better the world.”
Eva tried to hold in a bout of laughter. She really did.
It didn’t work so well.
Absently, she noted that Serena was laughing as well. A light bubbly giggle compared to her more scornful laugh.
“Ah yes, because the Elysium Order is all about bettering the world.” Eva rolled her eyes, though with Sister Abbey at the lead and facing forwards, the nun wouldn’t be able to see.
Serena, however, saw and started off on another round of giggles. “Every member I’ve ever met has tried to kill me within five minutes. If that.”
“I can’t say the same,” Eva said. “I’ve met and talked with plenty of nuns without fighting them. They usually resorted to poorly disguised death threats with me.”
“E, S,” Zoe said, voice terse. “Please desist.”
“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Wayne grunted. “We’re here.”
Eva blinked. Glancing down at the map and quickly counting the doors in her head, she found that he was right.
Though perhaps she needn’t have counted. The large door before them wasn’t like most of the other wooden doors. It had clearly been made from two slabs of stone and had a deep relief carved into its surface. In the relief, a series of figures wearing garb fairly similar to the nuns’ habits were depicted laying skeletons to rest in mass graves.
There were words inscribed on the front, running around the images on a sort of carved ribbon. They looked like words anyway. Whatever language it was written in was not one that Eva could understand.
Looking at the door did give Eva a slight sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t explain why, it was just there.
Not ominous at all.
Several other, far more regular wooden doors continued on into the distance.
Really, how large is this place?
Unlike the floor above, this second basement had far lower ceilings and a certain dampness that reminded Eva of the crypt that Sawyer had used a few years prior. They could stand to have a cleaning crew go through and freshen up the place a bit.
But this floor wasn’t the last.
Eva knew for a fact that there was at least one more floor below them. She could see something down there. A lone zombie perhaps. It was dead or undead. That much was certain. The blood within its veins might be moving slightly more than Serena’s, but its heart didn’t seem to be beating. It had several golf ball sized holes dotted around its corpse. Anything further was difficult to discern through her blood sight.
“This door?” Sister Abbey whispered. “We can’t go in this door.”
“Oh? Well, I guess we’ve come all this way for nothing,” Eva said, putting as much sarcasm into her voice as possible. “Let’s pack up and go home then.”
“You don’t understand.” Sister Abbey’s voice rose in pitch, becoming more strained. She tried to turn her neck, but Arachne’s needle-like legs put an end to that. Instead, she turned her full body around. “This door can only be opened by a prioress. Or someone given specific access through the source.”
“And you don’t have that access.”
The nun scoffed. “I’m an augur. They’d tear out our eyes if they weren’t necessary to our duties. We aren’t allowed in such secure areas.”
Eva pressed her lips together. It always seemed like it came back to the eyes. Though in this case, she was probably referring to the ones implanted around her body, rather than the eyes on her face.
“Even if you could find a way to enter the room, you wouldn’t make it out. The alarms will go off without fail. Everyone in the cathedral will be waiting for you to exit.”
“We know,” Wayne said as he brushed past Sister Abbey.
That was news to Eva. She didn’t know. Not wanting to show disunity in front of a prisoner, she just nodded in agreement and watched Wayne work.
He knelt before the door, pulling out a small satchel of tools. He started fiddling with the lock on the door after selecting three thin rods. As he started jiggling the rods around, he glanced back over his shoulder. “You sure are helpful for an enemy. Something you’re not telling us, E?”
Eva blinked, surprised that she was the one being addressed. “Ah, I can see why she might be concerned.” Eva said after a moment of thought. “The other nuns being alerted to our presence was one of the conditions for her demise.”
“Ev–” Zoe cut herself off at almost using Eva’s full name. “Might I speak with you for a moment?”
“Don’t worry,” Serena said with a bright smile behind her mask, “I’ll keep the dear sister from committing any nefarious deeds while you’re away.”
Eva eyed the vampire, but just shook her head.
Arachne would be plenty of pairs of eyes on the nun.
She turned and followed Zoe a short distance down the hallway. They were not quite to the next door when Eva felt the air around them change. Zoe had erected another sound barrier between the two groups.
“Eva, I know this is a stressful situation. But… just…” Zoe pinched her eyes shut as she rubbed her temple. “How many ‘conditions for her demise’ were there?”
“A lot, I’d say. There were a few specific ones. After that, I just said that if she did pretty much anything then Arachne would kill her.”
“I know what you want to say,” Eva said. Probably something about how killing was bad or death threats on helpless prisoners were bad. “But if these nuns catch wind of us, they’re not going to come and ask us to quietly surrender. You’ve done this before, you should know that.”
“First, I do know that. But there is no reason for us to descend to the level of psychopaths. Second, I have not done this before.”
“But Wayne said–”
“He and Serena did it. I was twelve. They didn’t bring me along with them. And,” she glanced over Eva’s shoulder to where Wayne had pulled out his tome at the door, “we weren’t stealing things.” She frowned. “It was more of a rescue than a theft. They were headed towards a dungeon, rather than a storage room.”
The zombie below them might have been in a dungeon. It wasn’t moving around much.
“But if that was the case, he probably hasn’t opened a door like that before. Can he do it?”
“I think,” Zoe started, putting on a smile, “that he is about to show us.”
Turning back to the door, Eva watched as Wayne stood up. He looked over the door once. With his tome held open in front of him, he began flipping through the pages. It took a minute, but he eventually stopped on one in particular. He took a deep breath. As he exhaled, the page started to glow with a white light. It was eerily reminiscent of the same glow that came from the nuns’ eyes as they channeled their peculiar brand of magic. With a flick of his wrist, the light siphoned off to the metal rods that protruded from the door. Both rods turned white for a brief instant before all the light discharged into the door itself.
There was a loud crack that echoed down the empty hallways.
Satisfied with whatever he had done, Wayne snapped his tome shut and moved up to the door. He pulled the rods from the door, taking great care as he replaced them within his satchel.
Even if her conversation with Zoe wasn’t finished, Eva headed back to the rest of the group. No time to delay if the door really was unlocked.
“Finished so soon?” Eva asked.
She only received a grunt in response.
“It took for-ev-er,” Serena said, pronouncing each syllable distinctly on their own. “Seriously, you used to be so much better. Getting old? You know that there is a cure for that, right?”
“I’m rusty,” Wayne said, voice firm, “not old.”
“Anyway,” Eva said before their charades could continue any longer, “the door is unlocked now?” She took a step towards it only to be interrupted by a cough from Zoe. “Oh, whatever.”
Sister Abbey looked almost sickly green. Whether that was thanks to her impending doom or the proximity with which Serena had decided to keep an eye on her, Eva couldn’t say. But she could say something to remove one of those two options.
“In the event that alarms go off through our own actions, I suppose you don’t have to be killed. But siding with any nuns that show up will be inexcusable.”
Sister Abbey swallowed once. “How gracious of you.”
“Too gracious, if you ask me,” Serena said. Her voice lacked the frivolous tone that she had spoken every other word in.
It surprised Eva for just a moment, but deciding that the vampire probably had more reasons to hate the Elysium Order than most, she let it go with a light shrug of her shoulders. She turned back to the door, but caught sight of a thin-lipped Zoe in the corner of her eye. Zoe stared for a second or two before giving a reluctant nod.
“Well,” Eva said to Wayne, “that’s done. Going to open the door? Or shall I?”
“I was waiting for us to be ready. Everything on the door is disabled, but if there is anything beyond that I couldn’t reach then we may not have much time.”
“Alright. S and Z keep an eye on the hallway. Sister Abbey will accompany W and I to help spot and disarm any traps that may be lying about. Sound good? Anyone not ready?”
“Oh good,” Serena said, eying the doors, “I was going to stay here anyway.”
Shrugging at the quip, Eva glanced around the group. From the ill-looking Sister Abbey and Arachne hanging off of her back, Serena prodding at Arachne’s limbs, to the professors–one of whom looked far more confident than the other–no one objected.
“Let’s do this,” Eva said as she pulled open the door.
The heavy stone slabs making up the doors slammed into the walls with a resounding thunder. Parts of them chipped and fell away while cracks formed in the brick walls.
Eva kept very still as she watched for any sign that the doors would fall off. It was a good thing that no one had been standing near the walls. They would have been crushed.
She might have used just a little too much force. In her defense, they were stone slabs; she figured that they would need a little force to get moving. Clearly, something had been done to them.
Ignoring the snort of a giggle from Serena, Eva pulled out her map. “It’s not far.”
Inside was a much shorter hallway containing three far more mundane doors. From Nel’s brief description from scrying inside, she knew that they were essentially storage rooms. Shelves full of dangerous objects or equipment that the rank and file weren’t supposed to handle. The idol-like devices that the Elysium Order used were in the third room.
And in there should be the obelisk.
Eva took a single step forward, only to be bathed in blinding white light.
The walls, the floor, the ceiling, it all turned white. For a moment, she thought that she was being teleported by Wayne or Zoe. The cold chill settling in didn’t help dissuade her thoughts.
The doors still standing before her were her first clue that she was not being teleported. As was the fact that, while chilly, the cold was more like a winter’s day than the debilitating freeze of their teleport.
“You’re not undead?” Sister Abbey said, genuine surprise in her voice.
“Oh? You knew this would happen? Thought you’d lead us–”
“I didn’t know!” She jumped in place as Arachne’s legs pressed inwards. Her voice raised pitch a few notches as she spoke with haste. “It is a common trap used to immobilize undead. I didn’t know that it would be here.”
“An alarm too, I’d bet,” Wayne said as he brushed past the two. He reached the correct door only to find it locked. Rather than pull out his toolkit, he opened his tome.
One page burst into flames. The flames went out and nothing but ash remained. It dusted off into the air, dispersing and disappearing as it went.
Just as the page burst into flames, the wooden door was quick to follow suit.
He stepped over the threshold before the flames had even died down.
Eva charged in after him. Arachne could handle the augur on her own.
“Back left shelf?” he asked.
“That’s what Nel said,” rushing to the place herself.
There were so many things in the room. It was hard not to stop and stare. Most were in the form of stone or wood sculptures. Some, more organic.
One that Eva did stop to look at–for only a second–was a beating heart inside a glass case suspended by four silver prongs. An eyeball dangled off the bottom. Probably the same kind as the nuns’ implanted eyes. Despite its obvious beating, Eva couldn’t see the thing itself through her sense of blood.
That didn’t stop the eye from glowing bright white as she watched.
Eva jumped back and ran to the shelf that Wayne had stopped in front of.
“We should hurry,” she said. “I don’t like this place.”
He closed his hand around an arm-sized replica of the Washington Monument. This version was covered in all kinds of markings and scribbles. The top was not a square pyramid. Rather, it had a cone with engravings on it. The first engraving had a circle. That circle was repeated just to either side, except with a sliver taken off. The pattern went around, waxing and waning until it returned to the circle at the front.
Just as Nel had described it.
He hefted it up a few inches before setting it right back down. “Heavy,” he grunted.
“Zoe can levitate it, right?”
Frowning, he tucked his tome under his arm and tried again with two hands. “Maybe,” he said, holding it in the air for a few seconds before setting it down. “Won’t be easy.”
Rather than try again, Wayne pulled up his tome. He tapped the obelisk on the front.
There was a clipped rush of cold air. Nothing else changed save for Wayne’s frown deepening further. Whatever he had intended to do had failed.
“Between is warded off here,” he grumbled to himself. “It wasn’t on the main floor…”
Again, he tapped the obelisk. Aside from another burst of cold air, nothing happened.
Eva shook her head. They didn’t have time for this. If Wayne could lift it with two hands, surely she could as well. As long as she lifted with her legs and not her back, it probably wouldn’t be all that difficult.
Putting one hand around the base and the other halfway up, Eva hefted it up.
Heavy was an accurate word. Wayne had chosen well. However, it didn’t feel quite as heavy as carrying Irene’s limp body around after their little hot springs incident. She would be useless in combat, but she had plans to help with that. With the blood in her backpack already attuned to her dagger, she would be able to control it without much physical effort.
Taking a few steps away from the shelf, Eva found the load much easier to carry as she readjusted her center of balance. It left her leaning back, but… I can do this.
“I do. Let’s go.” Before she moved more than two steps, Eva paused and took another look around the room. A golden necklace with an hourglass set in the middle particularly caught her eye. “Not going to take anything else?”
“I’d rather not give them more reason to hunt us down,” he said as he moved back through the room. He didn’t so much as glance at the objects on the shelves. “This obelisk is damning enough on its own.”
“Fair point,” Eva mumbled before following after him.
Sister Abbey stood at the room’s threshold, just behind the pile of ashes that once was a door. Her mouth was agape as she looked into the room.
“Lot of good your ‘door unlocker’ was, Spe–E.”
“She unlocked one door,” Eva said as she hefted the obelisk, shifting its position ever so slightly. “That was useful.”
“Could have done it myself. You’d have done better to let S knock on the door and give you a few seconds to escape.”
“Maybe if she did that sooner. As it was, had to act quickly. I didn’t want our dear augur friend to notice me while I was unprepared.”
“Too much talk. Not enough running.”
Eva just frowned as Wayne ran into the white room. “You started it,” she mumbled to herself.
With a nod of her head to Arachne and Sister Abbey, she walked back into the icy cold room, carrying the obelisk all the way.
They got through the pure white room just in time to see a lightning bolt travel down the hall from Zoe’s dagger.
“Company,” she said through grit teeth as blindingly white lightning crackled down the hall.