The tension in Irene’s muscles had to be reaching their peak. She felt like she had been exercising nonstop for the past two hours. Her body couldn’t possibly tense up any further.
Every impact against the shackles she had set up only caused her grip on her wand to tighten, proving that notion wrong. Every high-pitched whine had her arms shaking just a tiny bit more than they were before. Every cannon blast that followed the whine had her ears ringing and her vision blurring for a second or two afterwards.
Shelby, woken by one of the first cannon blast noises, had her own wand in her hand. Her free hand held Irene’s in a tight grip.
Jordan stood off to one side. His shadow curled around him on the ground and walls, ready to act at the first sign of trouble.
While the noises left Irene with a momentary headache, each seemed to do far worse to Jordan and Lucy. Jordan actually swayed in place for a few seconds. Lucy had given up any pretense of maintaining her human form. She was just a puddle of spaghetti on the ground between Irene and Eva’s room.
Early on, it hadn’t been so bad. The creatures in Eva’s room would make the occasional noise. They were loud enough that most of the Rickenbacker dormitory had woken up, but infrequent enough that the students felt they could wander past and gawk like Eva’s room was some sort of zoo.
That had ended rather quickly once the creatures started their attempts to escape.
Irene wanted to run with the other students. This wasn’t her mess. Lucy was here–though she didn’t look so reliable at the moment. Catherine had asked her to write out the shackles. She hadn’t spoken a word about sticking around and ensuring that nothing escaped.
The safety of everyone would probably be better assured if she just ran and found more of the security guards. Preferably ones that wouldn’t turn to spaghetti upon hearing the noises the creatures made.
But something kept Irene’s eyes glued to the shackles. Some otherworldly feeling that the moment she turned her back, the shackles would break and she would be caught, trampled, and possibly eaten.
Thus far, her shackles were holding admirably. They were a lot stronger than the ones she had set up to contain her first summon. Even the three beasts working together couldn’t break out. Irene might have taken a notion of pride in her work if she wasn’t so concerned about what might happen if they did fail.
One of those three beasts was actually on its side, face bloodied and raw from charging head on into the shackles repeatedly. The other two were more prodding at them than ramming themselves into them.
It was almost disturbing how intelligent they appeared.
“What’s taking so long?”
Irene jumped. Her sister’s voice came just as one of the creatures scraped a few tendrils around the barrier. For a moment, she had thought it shattered. It took her mind a second to process that she was hearing words for the first time in a long time.
“Taking so long?”
“Shouldn’t more security guards have shown up by now?” Shelby asked with a nervous glance at Lucy. “Or a professor? One of the others had to have told someone.”
“You saw the sky.” Irene bit back the tremble in her voice. She wanted to keep strong for her sister’s sake, if nothing else. A moot effort, in all likelihood. Shelby wasn’t so oblivious that she would miss how tense Irene was or the slight shakes in her arms.
Then again, Shelby wasn’t the epitome of steady at the moment either.
“Who knows what all is going on outside. They probably decided that Lucy could handle such a small thing on her own while they deal with other matters.”
“Well, I disagree. I can’t believe you knew about that,” she nodded towards the doorway. She might have been gesturing towards Lucy, but it was difficult to tell with just a nod.
Irene clamped her mouth shut. Shelby could make all the inferences she wanted, but Irene couldn’t offer up any response.
“We’ll be fine,” Jordan said, stepping up next to Shelby. “If anything happens, I can have the three of us at the stairwell in seconds. It won’t be hard to run.”
“Should we run?” Irene asked, grateful for the change in topic and not willing to let it slip away with just what he had said. “If these things escape, they could go on a rampage. Maybe some students haven’t got out of the dorms.”
She hated being contrary. Especially because the contrary position was to stay. But, as she had thought about earlier, she just couldn’t leave. It would be nice to be any other ignorant student, able to run off and bury their head under a pile of sand.
Her eyes had been opened to a larger world.
Could she run knowing that a single one of these creatures had held a being like Catherine for as long as it had, all while fighting off a number of older students?
Actually, Irene considered as she thought back, yes I can.
Even if they stayed, what could they do? The older students hadn’t done any good until they worked together to freeze the creature. She might have slowed it down by manipulating the tiles at its feet, but that had been with the assistance of Randal.
Irene had no idea what room or even which dormitory building Randal was housed in.
“Wait,” Irene said before either of the others could call her crazy. “We can’t fight them. But maybe we can trap them? More permanently than they are now, at least.”
The ice had been fairly permanent. Long lasting enough to get everyone away safely and Eva in to set up her shackles.
“You have a plan?”
None of them were water mages. Though none of them would be able to conjure up the water necessary anyway. Maybe they could have run the water in one of the dorm rooms.
A moot point without any of them being a water mage.
Irene’s mind immediately latched onto what she had done to the creature back in the diablery class. Turning the tiled floor into a sort of mud-like quicksand to hold them in place. It wouldn’t be easy. Tiles were just rock, but rock was far more difficult to manipulate than dirt and loose earth.
True, she had needed Randal’s help during class. This wasn’t class and the creatures were not already loose. She had the time to concentrate.
Her arm being properly set into her shoulder couldn’t hurt either.
She didn’t know how an air mage would help contribute, but Jordan could help. He was an earth mage.
Moving a few steps down the hall, Irene pointed her wand at the floor. “Step back, near me please. Jordan, help me out. I’m making quicksand.”
Once they complied, Irene set to pushing her magic into the floor. Lucy was left on the other side, still between the shackles and them, but Irene wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the demon. She didn’t exactly have a shovel to scrape her off the floor.
She’d probably be alright. She was a demon.
To protect them properly, the quicksand would need to stretch the entire width of the hallway as well as be a few feet long. She couldn’t risk them jumping over it. “Shelby, if you have any ideas on how to help, feel free to jump in.”
“Into the quicksand?”
Irene shot a glare at her sister. “You know what I meant.”
The quicksand wouldn’t be deep. Maybe an inch or two at most. That was the problem with working on a building. But, unlike regular quicksand, hers could be hardened as the monsters trampled over it. She should be able to stretch it up and trap them. At least for a short amount of time.
“Perhaps you could set up more shackles on this side,” Jordan said. He had his own wand out, pointing at the floor. “They’d get caught in the quicksand and then have a whole other set of shackles to break through. With all the trouble they’re having with the first one, it should buy plenty of time to find other solutions. Like grabbing a few teachers or security guards.”
With a slight groan, Irene slapped her forehead. She should have been doing that anyway. The entire hallway, lined with nonstop shackles. It would take these things days to escape had she done that instead of sitting around watching them.
But she kept her mouth clamped shut. After rubbing her forehead slightly, she went back to liquefying the tiles without so much as a nod.
In retrospect, she should have sent everyone away while drawing the initial shackles. It was somewhat surprising that she could. The contract specified spoken or written words, so sigils and circles must not have counted. Maybe she could use sign language to tell her friends what she had been up to.
Of course, that plan required learning sign language. Worse, it involved Shelby learning sign language. That was never going to happen.
Shelby gripped her arm. “Did you hear that?”
No, I was concentrating. Rather than listen further, Irene hastened her efforts with the floor. If it was nothing, then great, oh well. If it was something, then she didn’t want to pause to listen.
Manipulating the floor was going better than she had expected. Jordan was helping, but she could feel her own magic flowing much easier than it had when she had first failed at summoning the imp. Maybe because she had done this before? Or she was just getting noticeably better at magic in the two months since the previous incident.
“I’m serious,” Shelby said, tightening her grip. “Like glass cracking.”
The all too familiar sound of her shackles failing echoed through the hallway. Maybe it was because she had turned her back or because she had walked out of sight of the creatures. She couldn’t say for sure.
“They’re coming,” Irene whispered as the first creature rounded the corner of Eva’s room.
It had the unfortunate fate to tread on top of Lucy.
Her limp tentacles jumped like they had been electrocuted. As one, they lifted up and encircled the creature, mimicking the bulb of a tulip.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Shelby groaned.
Irene might have been as well, had she not noticed the second creature charging around the side of Lucy. It completely ignored the pig-like screams and pieces of violet-tinted flesh flying out of the mass of tentacles.
It reached the edge of her quicksand and jumped.
Gripping Shelby’s arm, Irene pulled her sister back. Her moat was nowhere near long enough to stop it.
Time seemed to slow down as its round face filled with sharp teeth flew towards them, its tentacles flailing around in the air.
Irene’s vision went black.
This is the end, she thought in a moment of tranquil despair. I’ve failed. And I’ve dragged Shelby down with me.
Shelby’s scream only compounded her despair tenfold.
Until, underneath Shelby’s scream, she heard a sound not unlike a hunk of meat being dropped on the floor.
The darkness passed over her and she could see again. Shelby at her side, eyes wide in horror. The walls and the floor.
And Jordan. He stood just in front of them. A wall of darkness stretching from one side of the hallway to the other.
The darkness collapsed after a moment with a gasp from Jordan, perspiration dripping from his face.
There was the creature, lying on its side in her moat of quicksand.
Suppressing the desire to let loose a hysterical laugh, Irene caught her wits in an instant. Gripping her wand, she hardened the tile as fast as she could. It was much easier than liquefying it in the first place.
Not all of the creature was stuck. At least half of the snake-like tendrils coming off its back were free. And they were not pleased.
The tiles cracked. Even with Irene repairing them as fast and as best as she was able to, it wouldn’t hold for long.
“Lucy!” Irene shouted. “Listen to the sound of my voice and come here. Crawl towards me please!”
Another crack in the tile. Irene tried to repair it as well, but a third crack.
Lucy spat out something from her bulb of tentacles. A violet-stained slab of meat.
The mass of tentacles stretched and inchwormed along the ground. Slowly. Too slowly.
A chunk of tile came off the creature. It clambered to its feet and glared at Irene.
That was the last thing it did.
Lucy’s tentacles came down on top of it. Unlike last time, there was no curtain of tentacles shielding them from the sight.
Thin strands of tentacles binded themselves together into thicker tendrils. They started with the creature’s own tentacles, to keep them from fighting back. Even after pulling a tentacle from its back–releasing a spray of blood as they did so–the tentacles tried to fight. Lucy was having none of it. She squeezed and crushed, pulled and rent until no single piece was larger than her thumb.
At a sudden gagging sound from Shelby, Irene slapped her hand over her sister’s eyes.
There was still one more creature, but it hadn’t shown up yet. Still incapacitated from ramming into the shackles over and over again, most likely. Irene needed to go and fix those before anything more came through.
But for now, she would stick by Shelby’s side and keep her comforted. At least until Lucy had finished with the creature.
As Lucy started on the creature’s legs, Irene held her sister tighter. She wished she had extra arms to cover Shelby’s ears. Yet, she never averted her own eyes.
For some reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to look away.
— — —
Zoe caught the girl before she could collapse to the ground. As expected, she was shivering and seizing up, unable to put strength in her arms. Taking care not to bump her head, Zoe gently placed Eva against the floor of the women’s ward gate room.
With Eva on the floor, Zoe took a good look at her eyes behind her mask. While her pupils were still thin slits, her irises were no longer bright and burning, having returned to their usual red.
The blood coating Zoe’s arms and most of Eva had also stopped moving. It was still there, just inert.
Small mercies, Zoe thought. At least neither of them were in danger from… whatever Eva had been about to do.
“Wayne?” she called out before realizing her mistake.
Wayne wasn’t here. He wouldn’t be here and neither should she be here. In her panic to get them out of the cathedral, she had skipped past the meeting place entirely and went straight back to the women’s ward.
Cursing under her breath, Zoe pulled out her cellphone. Some of the black blood on her hands smeared over the screen. Zoe did not stop typing even for a second to wipe it away.
Out. @ women’s ward.
She sent the text away before anything else. If Wayne went back in thinking that she hadn’t escaped and something happened to him… Zoe doubted she would forgive herself.
She wasn’t entirely sure if dead was the right word to use.
Eva panicked, had to escape.
Setting the phone to the side, Zoe turned her attention back to the girl on the ground.
Even taking into account the effect that her teleportation had on Eva, she had been still for far too long.
“Are you alright, Eva? Can you–”
Zoe’s voice was cut off by her cellphone buzzing against the stone floor of the women’s ward.
Short and to the point.
Zoe considered the question for just a moment. She had a raking pain in her lower back from where Eva’s claws sunk into her skin. She didn’t think that the girl had intended to hurt her, but had simply done so as a reaction to Zoe unexpectedly tackling her.
Eva, on the other hand, was injured. Given that she was covered in Arachne’s blood and that her own blood looked almost exactly the same, it was a bit difficult to tell exactly where she was injured. The few shards of carapace sticking out of her chest were definite signs of injury, however.
Bits of Arachne’s head.
None looked too deep or too large, however. With how well she could heal minor cuts using blood magic, Zoe doubted that she was in any real danger.
Zoe shuddered at the thought as she sent a reply.
Minor wounds on both of us. Nothing life threatening. Bring a few potions anyway. Serena not keyed in, Eva in no shape to do so at the moment. Leave her behind.
“Eva,” Zoe said as she set her phone back down, “can you hear me?”
The answer was cold. No real emotion in it.
“Are you injured? Do you need anything.”
“Arachne,” she said in the same tone of voice.
“Is a demon,” Zoe said softly. She reached up and tried to remove her mask, wanting to look down and offer a reassuring smile to Eva. Only, she found it difficult to remove. Prying her fingers under the seam was almost impossible due to how closely it had been molded to fit her face.
Instead, she reached out and gave Eva’s shoulder a squeeze. “She’ll be fine. Right? Demons don’t die permanently.”
Eva shook her head side to side. Her long hair splayed out behind her own mask bunched up as it rubbed against the ground. “It will be years. At least. Maybe longer. I’ve never,” she choked over her words. “I’ve never seen her die. She hasn’t died for as long as I’ve known her.”
Before Zoe could offer any comforting words about how death was a natural part of life–though that might not be entirely applicable in this exact situation–Eva grit her teeth. She balled up a fist and sent up a scattering of dust as she rammed it into the floor.
“I’m not a stranger to death. I’ve seen people die. I’ve killed people. Ones who weren’t coming back. It’s just a shock. Seeing my friend’s head explode in front of me.” She shook her head again, further mussing up her hair. “Not something you prepare for.
“And now she’s gone. Floating in a void–in Void until she manages to put her head back together.” Eva shuddered. “I can’t–I don’t want to imagine what it is like. Will she even come back? Demons without purpose and drive lose their minds when they die, stuck in the abyss of their own heads.” Eva gave a dark chuckle. “At least, that’s what Arachne said once.”
Zoe pressed her lips together. She wasn’t enthusiastic about Arachne, but she had to say something.
“She has you,” she said, lightly flicking the forehead of Eva’s mask while idly wondering if the girl was ever going to get rid of them. “If she cares for you half as much as she says she does, she’ll pull through. You just need to be ready to receive her when she gets back.”
Eva was smiling. Zoe couldn’t see it through her mask, but the mask did have holes for her eyes. Her eyes crinkled the slightest bit. It wasn’t a bright, tooth filled smile. But maybe just enough to make her feel better.
At least, that is what Zoe thought until the crinkles around Eva’s eyes vanished.
“Void is being attacked. We’re ceasing all summoning. Even Ylva is cutting off ties between the mortal realm and Hell. Even if Arachne does pull herself back together in record time, she may be stranded on the other side.”
“I accepted a beacon from her,” Zoe said slowly. “Did she use it without renewing it with me?”
Zoe could hear Eva’s mouth opening, but it was a moment before she said anything. When she did speak, her voice had the smallest hints of hope. “I don’t think so. As far as I know, she has been in her room for months barring tonight and when Lynn Cross attacked.”
“See?” Zoe said with a small smile. “She’ll be back. And I highly doubt that she’ll bother with staying in Hell even if everyone told her not to come back.”
Eva opened her mouth, only to jump slightly as Wayne appeared in the gate room. He held his emergency sack of potions in one arm and a smaller vial of dark liquid.
Probably far too many potions. Zoe’s text had asked for a few potions. Not all of them.
For a moment, he just looked between the two. Eva, lying flat on her back and Zoe sitting over her.
Zoe did not miss his eyes darting to the wound on her back. She couldn’t actually read his expression as he still had his mask on as well, but what she could see of his eyes did not look pleasant.
She hadn’t actually seen her wound for herself, choosing instead to focus on Eva. Following his eyes, she found four thin lines of red along with her clothing torn around the area.
The actual part where Eva’s claws had first hit her back would have required a mirror or far too much twisting. As it was, just moving to look sent a sharp pain through her side.
Nothing near as bad as when she had been hit by lightning from the inquisitors, and even further from the agony she endured at the hands of the jezebeth and carnivean.
Shaking the pain off, Zoe met Wayne’s eyes. “Just a scratch,” she said, voice firm and leaving no room for argument.
Eva didn’t need to be shouted at by Wayne at the moment.
Without a word, he reached into the sack and withdrew two vials. He tossed both to Zoe. He dropped the dark vial right on Eva’s chest.
“Serena’s blood,” he said. “Add it to your wards. I’d rather have her here than back at home. If they do find a way to follow us, proximity to Ylva should discourage any ideas they might get. So long as she is around, that is.”
Eva held up the vial, her first real movement since arriving, and turned it over in front of her eyes. “Will it work? This blood is… dead. I think.”
“You’re the blood mage.”
“Yeah, but I’ve never met a vampire before. I mean, I can try. I’ve no real objections to her being here. Just, maybe start her outside the prison and walk her in slowly. Any tingling or pain and she should stop immediately. Do vampires even feel pain?”
Wayne just shrugged.
“Maybe have her walk with her arm out. If her arm explodes, don’t go in any further.”
Wayne took a moment to glance around the room. “You did get that thing we went for, right?”
Eva started, jumping a hair into the air.
Placing a hand on her chest, Zoe shook her head. “It’s alright. I got it before we left.”
Taking out her dagger and pointing at the ground, Zoe pulled the obelisk out of its storage. It appeared an inch above the ground. The loud thud that it made as it hit the cement floor was enough to send a few cracks through the ground.
Thankfully, the obelisk itself was undamaged.
“Hope this was worth it,” he said. “Time to lay low for the next ten years again.”
Eva pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Yeah,” she said. “I hope it works.”
For a moment, a silence fell over the three. Until a grunt from Wayne shattered the peace.
“Now quit moping around, Spencer. Get these damn masks off us and go get Ward out of Hell.”
Eva jumped at his voice. She shot him a glare, but nodded. Both of their masks melted off their faces after Eva fingered her dagger.
“I’ll add Serena’s blood to the wards before,” she trailed off as she glanced at the obelisk. Her eyes flicked up to meet with Zoe’s. “It’s heavy. Even for me. I might need help.”
“I can levitate it, at least partially.” Zoe didn’t hesitate in her response. She could almost imagine the thoughts going through Eva’s mind. Arachne could have lifted it without breaking a sweat. “Landing in your domain might be awkward, but we can manage.”
“Great,” Wayne said. His tone was almost sarcastic and he spoke with a frown, but he didn’t say anything more about her going to Hell again.
Maybe this time, I’ll have a chance to look around and inspect some things, Zoe thought. Her tutoring sessions with Shalise were just that, tutoring. All of Shalise’s classes compressed into the span of an hour or two every other week left no time to really get a thorough understanding of how Hell worked. I’ll need to grab a notebook.
“I’ll bring Serena in five minutes. Be finished by then.” Without waiting for an acknowledgment, Wayne vanished with a burst of cold air.
“Better get started,” Eva said with a sigh as she climbed to her feet. “I hope Nel finished with that salt.”