Eva smiled as she leaned back, enjoying the warm rays of the sun.
It was a nice day out. A nice blue sky with a few clouds, just enough to provide the occasional spot of shade. There wasn’t much wind, not even a light breeze. Eva wasn’t complaining. It wasn’t hot enough in early April to need a breeze and the lack of wind kept her long hair from flailing about.
The only things truly off about the day were the violet streaks that hung overhead. They were almost invisible against the blue hues of the sky, so much so that some people around Brakket Academy might not have noticed if no one pointed it out.
Despite being aware of them, Shalise didn’t appear to care in the slightest. She basked in the sun with a dopey smile on her face.
She had dragged out a set of chairs for the two of them. Shalise did not want to spend more time inside the women’s ward, even if this one was in a completely different plane of existence. It was too much like a real prison, rather than the home that Eva had intended it to be.
While she could see where Shalise was coming from, Eva quite liked the prison. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing around, but it felt secure.
At least, it was supposed to feel secure.
Eva tensed as she noticed a human circulatory system approaching, her hand slowly reached for her dagger at her back. She only had a scant few vials of Arachne’s blood left to fight with and would have to make do with her own should that be consumed.
But Eva did not make any overtly offensive moves. Everything was ready to strike, but only out of sight. She was desperately hoping that she wouldn’t have to fight anyone at the moment.
“Hello, Lynn Cross,” Eva said to the approaching person. She kept her smile on her face and her tone of voice as polite as possible.
Not having Arachne around had her feeling far from secure.
So many people that Eva trusted were just gone. First Juliana–Genoa by extension–and Arachne. Even Ylva was no longer at the prison. Serena wasn’t around, she had been far too afraid to get close to Ylva. Now that Ylva was gone, maybe she could be convinced to stop by. But for the moment, no one was around.
Counting it up like that, it did not sound like all that many people. But felt like half of everyone she knew.
Upon hearing her name, Lynn shot a death glare at Eva. Her eyes narrowed to slits as her lips curled back in an expression of pure disgust. As she had done every time they accidentally found themselves in one another’s presence over the past four days.
Eva was fairly certain that she had Shalise to thank for Lynn not trying to murder her the moment they had got out of Hell. So at least she could count on Shalise being a good person and having her back.
Though her friend had definitely gained an increased respect for Lynn. Perhaps even adoration.
Shalise perked up upon hearing Eva’s voice. A wide smile spread across her face.
“Lynn?” came Shalise’s hoarse voice. Ever since the ritual, she had a slight rasp in every word. It probably hurt to talk as well; she hadn’t been talking all that much. When she did talk, she kept her responses short and to the point.
Eva kept her polite smile even as Shalise jumped up from her chair. She watched as her friend bounced on her feet as to cross the distance to the former nun.
Lynn’s harsh expression melted off as Shalise wrapped her arms around her.
Since Eva had dumped her in Hell, there would have been plenty of opportunities for Lynn to tell Shalise just who her mother was. Eva could not tell if she had done so or not. Shalise still called her by her name instead of ‘mother’ or anything similar. But they were a whole lot closer than before.
Given that Lynn had made up a majority of Shalise’s human interaction in the past months as well as removed Prax, perhaps that wasn’t so surprising.
“What are you going to do now?” Shalise asked.
“We are going to leave.”
Shalise made to object, but Lynn held up a hand.
“You’ve had a few days to relax while I made preparations. Say your farewells and let us be gone.”
Eva cut in. “Is it wise to take her with you? It could be dangerous, especially for Shalise.”
“Are you threatening us?” Lynn Cross’ eyes once again narrowed to thin slits.
“Not at all. I’m just saying that I might have overheard a certain Sister Cole talking about you getting what you deserve. How well can you, on your own, stand up to the Elysium Order hunting you down while protecting Shalise at the same time?”
Lynn’s face twisted into a sneer. More of a sneer than she already had on, anyway. For some reason, Eva got the impression that it wasn’t actually directed at her for once.
“They won’t hunt me down. They lack the resources at the moment. Your pet ensured that.”
It was a good thing that Ylva wasn’t around to hear that insinuation.
“And someone just broke into a cathedral to steal a priceless artifact. I’m sure they’ll have their hands busy dealing with that little pest for the foreseeable future.”
“There was nothing left behind for their augurs to track.” Technically, large chunks of Arachne were probably all over the floor of their main chapel. Eva somehow doubted that they would get anything useful from that until Arachne returned to the mortal realm. “I ensured that.”
“You’re underestimating them.”
Eva shrugged, not letting her smile slip from her face. “Perhaps. With said priceless artifact having been dropped off on their front porch, I doubt that they will be too interested in chasing me down. No harm, no foul, as the saying goes.”
Lynn opened her mouth to argue.
Eva cut her off. “Even if they do manage to track me and decide to attack me, they won’t be interested once they realize where they’re looking at. You did just mention that Ylva decimated the Elysium Order inquisitors. Will they really risk another confrontation?”
“Your pet isn’t here.”
“Not here here. But she’s around.”
Come to think of it, Eva considered, the prison is going to be empty these days.
No Arachne. No Ylva. Devon had run off and Eva had not seen him since visiting the Elysium cathedral.
He’d probably turn up just in time for her treatment, only to literally explode in rage at finding Arachne gone.
But, with no one else here, Eva wondered if she shouldn’t move back to the Brakket Academy dormitories. She would have to find a new room. Her old one was currently uninhabitable. It had a round-the-clock guard and several shackles set up by her around the entrance, though there had been no incidents apart from the first time.
Ylva was going to take a look at it sometime soon and see if she couldn’t sever the connection.
If Shalise left too…
Eva’s smile almost slipped from her face.
“So what will it be, Lynn Cross? Take your chances on your own, putting Shalise in danger with the Elysium Order on your tail? Or stay here, safe and sound knowing that there is an entity about that the Elysium Order dares not mess with.”
Lynn’s narrowed eyes hardened more. Eva found it hard to believe that was possible, but she watched it happen with her own eyes.
The hardening melted. For just a moment, Lynn Cross almost looked sad.
“Would that the Elysium Order be the only threat revolving around you, and I might consider. You, Eva, are a death trap.”
“This city is a death trap,” she continued, talking right over Eva. “Between the necromancers and the demons, how many people have died here? How many students? Everyone with a hint of intelligence has already left the city. More will follow. I pity the fools who remain behind.
“Shalise has scraped the tip of Death’s scythe at least three times. Far too often for anyone, let alone a fifteen year old girl. We will not be staying.”
“Wait! You can’t–”
Lynn Cross’ eyes flared white. Shalise’s words were cut off as the two vanished with a sudden breeze of icy air.
The smile on Eva’s lips stayed where it was for a few moments longer. She didn’t feel like smiling. She hadn’t felt like smiling even before they had disappeared. The muscles in her lips just wouldn’t quite cooperate.
She had been smiling far too much in the last few days.
Her entire mouth felt numb and sore.
Ever so slowly, her muscles remembered a far more neutral and natural position. Now that Shalise had gone, she no longer felt the need to put on a happy face. No one was around to ask if she was alright again.
She was alone, well and truly, in the once again abandoned prison.
Taking a deep breath of the April air, Eva slumped in her seat.
This isn’t like me.
She needed to get up. She needed to be doing something. Reading a book on blood magic or hunting down Sawyer. Even working on school work. Finals were this week. Or they were supposed to be. Though she still wasn’t sure whether or not the school was staying open, she could be studying at the very least.
Eva drew in another deep breath through her nose, releasing it through her mouth after holding it for a few moments.
It took a good hour before Eva finally felt like dragging herself out of her seat.
Getting up took far more effort than it should have taken.
By the time she had finished dragging the seats back into the women’s ward, she was already feeling ready to just lie down and sleep for the night.
Clenching her fists, Eva shouted out. No particular words, just a frustration-releasing shout. Her rage at Lynn Cross, Sawyer, Arachne, Carlos, Juliana’s brother, annoying schoolmates, the Elysium Order, and everyone else she could think of all came out in a single continuous stream of noise.
Eva kept it up for a good minute before her lungs gave out.
Shouting, as it turned out, was mildly therapeutic. Eva really did feel at least three notches better than before. Childish? Perhaps. Some might call it a temper tantrum.
But no one was around at the moment, so screw them.
It probably would have been even more cathartic had she a certain necromancer or a few nuns to tear apart with her bare hands, but she would have to make do without for the moment.
For the moment.
A real smile grew across Eva’s lips. The first she had felt in several days.
Nel had found Sawyer before they invaded the cathedral. She had found him, and Eva wasn’t going to let the opportunity slide.
With a renewed drive, Eva started running through the women’s ward. She selected a handful of books that might come in handy and dropped them in a large bag. From her potions room, she grabbed a medium-sized potions satchel.
Most of the beneficial potions got tossed out–they barely worked on her anyway. She filled the empty slots with poisons of varying types.
While she really, really wanted to use her claws and nothing more, Eva did not want to charge into anything ill prepared. She had gotten herself captured by Sawyer once before and that was more than enough for her tastes.
Her spare blood situation was dire, however. She had a mere three vials of Arachne’s blood.
Unless she had filled some that Eva had left before they went off to the cathedral.
With a hesitant frown, Eva turned towards Arachne’s room.
She hadn’t been inside since.
Shaking her head, Eva shoved away any unnecessary feelings and pushed open the door.
The room inside wasn’t drastically different from any other room. It was just a normal cell.
In their most recent contract, Eva had offered Arachne the same thing she had offered Ylva that had allowed the hel to link her domain to Earth. However, Arachne had never actually acted on it. Eva had a sneaking suspicion that Arachne did not know how to do it. Like how she didn’t know how to make void metal, or teleport, or even use magic in general.
Arachne relied solely on her strength and natural resilience. She found books to be a chore and had turned down Ylva’s offer of tutelage.
Eva couldn’t actually blame her for that last one. Five hundred years of servitude sounded intensely unappealing, even if Ylva would probably be a kind and fair, if stern, master.
One thing that Eva could say about Arachne’s room was that it was decorated.
Tapestries of varying types hung from the walls. Some were larger, some were smaller. Not a single square inch of brick had been left unadorned. Some were of pure scenery–a forest-filled recreation of the landscape outside of the prison was done up on one of the larger ones. A number of them were portraits of people as well.
Well, not so much people.
One whole wall held nothing but images of Eva.
Red eyes with slit pupils stared back at her. For a moment, she thought she was looking at a mirror. It took a second or two to realize that her reflection wasn’t moving. Her eyes just looked so real, her hair had individual strands matching her real-life self.
But it was just a portrait. The largest of many.
One had her sitting, as if posed for a camera. Others looked like they had been created in the middle of fights. Eva couldn’t recall actually fighting any of the demons or people in most of the pictures, but they looked lifelike enough that she almost considered the idea that her memories had been modified.
One tapestry was an image of her sleeping, with Arachne asleep in her small spider form on Eva’s bare stomach.
Eva wasn’t entirely sure if she should be flattered or disturbed by the shrine of herself, but seeing that last tapestry brought a sick sensation to her stomach.
She should have been more firm. Ordered Arachne back into her spider form earlier in the cathedral.
Their most recent contract had been more verbose than the first one as it had been made in far less haste. After Arachne had exchanged her hands, Eva had decided to include a clause about following orders.
Arachne wouldn’t have been able to go against it. They could have all escaped so easily. Their task had already been finished, after all.
But Eva had never once exercised that clause. It felt gross, to manipulate someone she considered a friend. She had ignored it and forgotten about it on purpose.
Until just now. Seeing the two of them, peacefully sleeping.
Eva grit her teeth and tore her eyes from the portrait wall. She had come in here for any spare vials of blood that she could find.
Instead, she found something else.
Arachne had a bed in her room. Eva doubted that it had ever seen even five minutes of use.
The moment her eyes drifted from the walls, Eva spotted a dress draped over the bed.
It was a simple garment. Long and black with thick straps that would stretch from the top of the shoulder to the edge of the neck. No cleavage to speak of, though it did have an embroidered ‘V’ shape running from the shoulders to a point at the center of the waist.
With careful movements, she lifted the dress up. She had gotten much better at keeping her fingers from cutting things that she didn’t intend to cut, but they were still sharp. Accidentally ruining the dress…
Eva shook her head. Looking at the dress closer, Eva doubted she would be able to so much as snap a single thread. After giving it a small tug, she decided that it was definitely made out of Arachne’s silk.
And it was small.
Holding it up in front of her, Eva found that it would barely reach her mid-thigh.
Arachne was a large woman. Taller than Eva even after swapping her legs out–though Eva was quite certain that she had shrunk back to her normal height since then. The bust would be too tight on the demon, and the waist as well in all likelihood.
In fact, holding it up against herself, Eva had the distinct impression that it was not made for Arachne. That feeling was only compounded by the fact that Arachne had never worn clothes as far as Eva could remember.
Almost in a trance, Eva shed her own skirt and shirt to don the dress in their place.
Eva couldn’t recall ever once giving Arachne her measurements, but the dress hugged her body all the way down to her waist. There, it spread out into a short skirt down her thighs.
She spun in a circle, almost wishing that she had a mirror.
Except, she didn’t need one.
The largest portrait of her, the one whose eyes gazed in such a lifelike manner, was wearing the dress.
Unlike the dress she had on, the portrait Eva’s dress had sleeves. Short things that covered up the human skin but left all of her carapace visible. The portrait version of herself only showed off skin from her neck up.
Arachne must have decided to alter the design at some point.
Either way, this dress was meant for her.
Eva slumped down onto Arachne’s bed. She gripped the dress in her hands–it wouldn’t puncture; Arachne’s silk was far stronger than any pressure Eva could exert.
Slowly, she leaned back until her head came to a rest on the pillow.
She stared at the ceiling. Another portrait hung overhead, one that she had missed before. Arachne sat in a chair, a kind smile on her face as Eva sat opposite with her nose in a book.
Arachne wasn’t gone for good. She would be back. But when? Eva couldn’t say.
For all she knew, it could be years.
With a dry taste in her mouth, Eva decided to put off the hunt for Sawyer, school work, and whatever other responsibilities she had.
One day of rest wouldn’t hurt.
— — —
Absolute nothingness. An absence of everything.
An impossible sensation to describe. The moment any words were added to the idea of nothing, a relatable concept would be introduced. Something relatable that could be explained to a sentient mind would invalidate the idea.
And yet, it was a concept that Arachne was intensely familiar with.
Void had to get his name from somewhere, after all.
Eva, was the first word through her mind upon regaining consciousness. That thought vanished as she took stock of her surroundings.
Or lack thereof.
Arachne had once tried to explain a demon’s death to Eva. Not easy, given Void’s absolute nothingness. She listened intently, but didn’t understand the absolute void of everything.
Well, how could she?
Arachne had eventually decided on likening it to a disembodied brain attempting to claw its way back to its home domain.
And yet, Arachne distinctly recalled her head exploding, so that idea was obviously incorrect. She doubted that she even had a brain at the moment.
That professor had better have teleported my Eva away.
There would be hell to pay otherwise.
Arachne would hunt down the professor, her family, everyone she cared about, and even anyone she had so much as shared a pleasant word with as she passed by them in the street. Once she had them all gathered up, she would start with the youngest first. No! The oldest. The little ones might not fully comprehend their predicament. Watching her flay the older ones alive might drive home the point.
But then the older ones might die before knowing the despair that they were unable to save their children.
Quite the conundrum.
Randomly selecting might be the best course of action.
Of course, the professor would be exempt. Arachne would take her eyelids and nothing more. She would be forced to watch as Arachne slowly worked through every acquaintance–
No. Arachne clamped down on the thought. Eva didn’t want her thinking such thoughts.
Then again, if Eva was dead.
Arachne tried to avoid considering that line of thought any further. It did not stir pleasant feelings.
She had been getting so much better lately, in her own, honest opinion. Weaving was therapeutic that way.
Not to mention, thoughts of revenge were not conducive to getting herself out of the belly of Void.
What thoughts were conductive to her escape, Arachne didn’t know. Over the course of more centuries than Arachne could count, she had only died around ten times. She wasn’t quite sure how that stacked up to other demons. Arachne tended not to socialize with many others. Yet, for some reason, she felt like the number was relatively low.
Granted, that low number might have been because she hadn’t been summoned for a majority of her existence. Her domain wasn’t about to kill her and Arachne never visited other demons’ domains.
Her first death, she hadn’t had a clue what was happening. She only vaguely recalled being decapitated before finding herself out in the endless abyss.
In all honesty, it was lucky that she hadn’t gone insane.
Spending more than fifty years with nothing but her own thoughts for company was a hell worse than any she had ever imagined.
Fifty years was little more than a ballpark figure–to use a recent mortal term. There was no possible way of telling time within the void. Even once she returned to her domain, it wasn’t like she had a timer keeping track of how long she had been gone for. It was an estimate based off of subsequent deaths, ones that she had been more prepared for.
As mortal history advanced, they became far better timekeepers than they had been while she was mortal. That, combined with more frequent summons in the recent centuries, led to her estimated number.
But, I don’t have fifty years. Even if her more recent deaths had been less than fifty years, they were still far too long.
That carnivean had escaped in a mere three months. If that. For all Arachne knew, it had only been dead for a day before making it back to its domain.
Three months would have her missing one of Eva’s treatments, but it was still a far cry faster than fifty years.
But how had it managed that?
As far as Arachne was aware, she couldn’t do anything in this state. She couldn’t transform–or even feel her body. For all she knew, she literally was a brain in a jar on Void’s cupboard shelf. Or even just her soul in a jar. No brain needed.
Arachne did know that how soon one returned was somewhat related to how damaged they had been when they died. It took longer the more mutilated one was. Was it based off of their natural regeneration rate? Was the carnivean simply a faster regenerator than she was?
The carnivean had been quite thoroughly mutilated at her hands. Most of its tentacles had been severed along with having its eyes gouged out. And then there was the fact that Arachne had crushed the carnivean’s skull.
But, when she had seen it in Sawyer’s hotel, it hadn’t regenerated fully. It was still missing its eyes and several tentacles, especially the larger ones.
Arachne had never returned even partially damaged. She had always been whole and hearty no matter how damaged her body had been when she died.
There had to be a way to return early.
She had mocked the carnivean at the time, wondering if it died so often that clawing its way out of this void had become second nature. But at the moment, Arachne was willing to give anything to know how it had managed that.