Late May air in Florida felt sticky and viscous. Like wading through soup.
It was almost nauseating to breathe in.
Air up in Montana was dry. Even in the middle of winter with snow covering the ground, the air remained dry.
Eva’s first breath after teleporting in had felt almost like she was drowning. Even after spending a few days wandering the streets, her skin still felt far too moist. Like she was in constant need of a shower. She had this constant sheen coating her like sweat. Even on top of her hands and legs, parts of her that didn’t sweat in the slightest.
It was the same as always. No evil slime monster lurked the streets of Florida, spreading its foul excretions around the place. No mad wizard had shown up in her absence to turn the air to soup. Eva had simply become too used to living in the far more arid climate.
While she might have just gotten used to it and was biased in the northern climate’s favor at the moment, Eva decided that she liked Montana better. At least as far as the air was concerned. If only the snow and cold could go away, it would be perfect.
Thoughts about the weather and odd hygiene problems aside, Eva was quite displeased with how her miniature vacation was coming along.
She had considered a stop at the old veterinarian’s office to say hello, but decided not to in the end. Eva walked around Brakket Academy entirely without shame or fear. The thought of walking into Doctor Thompson’s office without any gloves or blindfold just rubbed her the wrong way. Entering with them on was just as bad except in the opposite direction. She had passed by just to check that they were still in business and left without entering.
Without anyone else that she cared to visit in the area, Eva had plenty of time to focus on her primary reason for stopping by Florida.
Frankly, she wished it wasn’t taking so long.
“What is wrong with people?” Eva shouted out to the empty street.
The emptiness was part of the problem, but only part. It never used to be this difficult to get some gangbangers to follow her into back alleys. Or even to find them already engaged in mugging someone else–or worse.
“Am I too old now? Is that it?”
She was wearing her gloves and blindfold again as she didn’t care to scare off any potential scum of society with bright red eyes and claws. Maybe it wasn’t that she was too old. No one wore pants, gloves, long sleeves, and a blindfold this time of year in Florida. Maybe she looked too much like a cripple. Did rapists and thieves have standards against the disabled?
Maybe the seedier parts of town had changed locales after a few years. Police crackdowns or better squats opening up had forced some people to move in the past.
Clenching her fists in frustration, Eva decided to swing past a nearby trailer park. One of the worst upkept areas in town that she could think of that she hadn’t already wandered past.
By the time she made it to the park, she had managed to calm down. At least enough to play the part of the scared little girl.
“Scooby!” Eva called out, keeping her voice just timid enough. “Here boy, come back.”
Her old hospital held plenty of abandoned equipment. Things like tools, medical equipment, and items to assist the disabled. Wheelchairs and walkers, for instance.
After two days of no luck, Eva had decided to add a walking cane to her routine. It was too strange to see a blind girl walking around–even timidly–without bumping into at least a few things. Tapping the walking cane around the ground in front of her should throw at least some suspicion off.
Eva pursed her lips together for a weak whistle.
Making noise was important too. Not so much noise that it frightened off any would be assailants, but enough to draw their attention in the first place. In the past, she had often acted as though she had lost her parents. Being blind gave her a different though no less valid excuse.
“Scooby, where are you?”
Two humans sitting out on lawn chairs were laughing at her. Not so loudly that they were obvious about it, but Eva could see their motions as clear as day.
Sadly, neither got up to follow. They were far too absorbed with whatever they were smoking. She couldn’t actually see anything other than the motions. Eva was once again relying on her sense of blood to navigate, but even if she had been blind for real, the smell was unmistakable.
With a heavy heart, Eva finished her patrol of the trailer park.
Not a single person following me, she thought with a sigh.
Catching sight of a few circulatory systems behind her, Eva slowed her walk. Not much, but enough that it wouldn’t be difficult to catch up to her.
She might have jumped to conclusions just a moment too soon.
Eva recognized the two smokers from the trailer park, led on by a third that she hadn’t seen as she walked by. All three were the burly, muscular sorts.
Not a problem for Eva, she had faced far scarier opponents even before school had started.
“Hey hey, where you going girl?”
“Finally,” Eva hissed under her breath. Drawing her hands up to her chest and hunching over slightly to make herself look smaller, Eva turned around and prepared to channel Shalise. “M-my dog ran away. I c-can’t find him and now I don’t know how to get home.”
She would have tried some tears, but doubted that it would be very effective with the blindfold in the way.
“Your dog, huh?” He glanced back at the other two. “Don’t worry, my boys will help you find him.”
Eva tried to keep the frown off her face. So far, she had twelve separate people honestly try to help her find her dog. Twelve people who had steered her away from dark alleys and had been nothing but kind while she led them on a wild goose chase.
In the end, she had led them to a subdivision before ‘recognizing’ the area and running off towards her ‘home,’ thanking them for their help as she ran.
“Of course,” the lead guy said, “we are going to need a little payment first, you know?”
One of the guys behind him let out a short burst of a laugh as he leered at her.
Eva almost sighed in relief. She had her suspicions before, but that almost confirmed that they weren’t going to be the altruistic sort.
Rather than sigh, Eva tensed up. “W-what kind of payment?”
“Payment,” he said with a laugh. “I know a place where we can talk about it, why don’t you follow me for a bit, huh?”
“B-but my dog,” Eva said, turning slightly away from the group. Last chance, she thought.
“Yo, one of my buddies just called me up,” one of the smokers said. “He saw one of them seein’ eye dogs down the street. Said he’d pack it up and bring it with him.”
The guy in the lead shot his ‘boy’ a look. A sort of ‘what the hell kind of fifteen year old would believe that load of garbage, when were you supposed to have time to call, what if she runs off now?’ kind of look.
At least, that’s what Eva assumed the look said. She was thinking much the same thing. Or did she look younger? She was trying to make herself look as small and nonthreatening as possible. Maybe they thought she was only ten.
“You found Scooby?” Eva said, perking her voice up a few notches from the frightened child it had been a moment earlier.
The smoker just shrugged at the leader. “Sure thing, my buddy said its name tag said Scooby right there on it.”
The leader pressed a thumb to his forehead and shook his head slightly. “See? Everything is fine girl.” He clapped a hand on Eva’s shoulder. “Come on, we can take you to your dog.”
With only a modicum of resistance, Eva allowed the men to lead her away.
Contrary to her expectations, the men were not leading her back towards the trailer park. Eva decided that not going back was probably for the best after a moment of thought.
The walls in the trailer park were probably not the most sound proof things around.
After a short walk up the street, they pulled her into a van driven by a fourth thug. Roughly. Eva actually let out a short yelp as one of the thugs picked her up under her armpits. Whoever had her made no effort to avoid knocking her knees against the van’s floor as he shoved her inside.
Had she still had her old knees, she might have torn off his face then and there. As it was, she barely felt the impact against her chitin-covered legs. Eva was even willing to ignore just where his hands had maneuvered themselves to.
It was one of the last things that he would feel.
“W-where are we going?” Eva asked, keeping up the timid act.
She had half a mind to end them all right where they were, but curiosity was getting the better of her. Just where were they going?
Also, the van was already in motion. They had peeled off with squealing tires before the door shut. Eva couldn’t see the speedometer–it was behind a pane of plastic that her cloud of blood couldn’t penetrate–but she had the distinct impression that the thugs were not following the speed limit.
While she could probably find a way to survive a medium-high speed crash, she wasn’t so certain about the thugs. Unfortunately, she needed them alive.
“Don’t you worry girl. We’re just going to the warehouse your dog is at.”
Warehouse? That sounded promising. Less neighbors around to call the police.
Settling back in her seat, Eva put on a small smile. “O-okay. Thanks for going out of your way. You guys are really nice.”
“Hey hey, you hear that? We’re nice guys,” the leader said with a laugh.
The journey didn’t take long. Maybe ten minutes at most. There was a bit of winding around. At one point, Eva was certain that they made four right turns in a row. Maybe they were trying to lose anyone that might be following?
Eva didn’t care all that much. By the time they arrived, Eva was just glad that the leader had to take his wandering hands off her shoulders for a few minutes.
Sure enough, he hadn’t been lying when he had said that their destination was a warehouse. She had been expecting something smaller. A long-term storage unit the size of a decent bedroom at the most. This warehouse was clearly intended for shipping containers.
Though it didn’t look like it had seen much use in the recent years. Using her blood to feel the place out, Eva counted at least seven broken windows and a catwalk on the inside that had collapsed. The doors made horrid screeching noises as the thugs pushed them open. She was willing to bet that the walls were coated in a thick layer of graffiti as well.
There were three more people inside the building. Two on the ground floor on the other side of the main doors and one upstairs, sleeping. No one else as far as her range could stretch.
As the burly thug behind her closed the doors, Eva flicked off the caps on a few vials of blood under her jacket.
Her own blood. She wasn’t about to waste her precious few vials of Arachne’s blood on mere mortals.
“Scooby?” Eva called out as a tendril of blood snaked down her leg and out the bottom of her pants. It split off into three parts and each portion headed off towards all the doors that she had noticed.
Her call was met with raucous laughter from the gathered thugs.
Eva didn’t care. Even as she was surrounded and one of the thugs started spewing some nonsense about how she had been tricked, Eva didn’t pay attention. She was focused on sabotaging the doors.
With the doors all but impossible to open without breaking them down and the only windows up high to prevent theft, no one would be escaping any time soon.
Dropping her arms to her side and straightening her back, Eva cricked her neck back and forth.
Only the leader seemed to notice her change in posture. His heart rate hitched and he put a single foot backwards.
“Hey hey, she look nervous to you guys?”
“Trapped here with us? Oh, she’ll be nervous quick,” one of the others said.
That last guy stepped forward, winding up a punch. He was behind her, aiming at the small of her back.
The only thing Eva could think was, what a coward. Attacking a blind girl, half his size, from behind?
Eva stepped out of the way, catching his missed swing with her own hands.
She started squeezing.
For all his size, muscles, and apparent toughness, the thug started screaming like a newborn baby long before Eva heard the satisfying snap of bone.
Before letting him go, Eva yanked his arm towards her. She lacked the upper body strength to properly fist-fight, but he was already off balance.
And her legs were far from lacking in strength.
Her knee connected with his sternum with another crack as several ribs broke.
Eva imagined it felt somewhat like being struck square in the chest with hydraulically powered brass knuckles. Or brass kneepads, as the case was.
The thug collapsed to a moaning heap on the floor as Eva turned back to the rest of the group.
If the leader had been slightly nervous before, all of them were moderately nervous now.
Sighing, Eva peeled off her blindfold, making sure to keep her eyes firmly shut. She stretched out her claws after tossing both her gloves on the ground.
All the thugs’ heartbeats skyrocketed.
“Wait,” Eva said, holding her hand up in front of her. She brought her hand to her chin, rubbing it a few times in apparent thought. “How does it go again? Something-something, you’re trapped here with me.”
She opened her eyes as she spoke the last word, staring the leader dead in the face.
His eyes rolled back into his head as he tottered and fell to the floor.
No reason not to have a little fun, Eva thought with a grin that Arachne would be proud of.
“Shit,” one of the other thugs cried out. “It’s one of them! Wake up Eddy.”
Eva’s smile faltered. One of them?
She shrugged it off. Plenty of time for interrogations later.
Two of the thugs immediately moved in to attack with a third grabbing a bar from the collapsed walkway. The only other thug on his feet turned and sprinted away.
Not to any of the doors, but to a staircase that hadn’t collapsed on the opposite end of the room.
Eva frowned in confusion for just a moment. He might run and jump through one of the higher up windows, but he hadn’t even tried the door before heading upstairs. Eva’s frown deepened as she realized her mistake.
She had been too focused on the thugs in front of her. He was heading up to the other person, the one that was sleeping in what had probably once been an office. She did a quick double-check of the area to ensure she wouldn’t have any additional surprises.
Letting him go, Eva ignited her hands and focused on the remaining three. Six was already far more than she had expected to be getting. And if he came back with the seventh, then all the better for her.
The man with the bar swung it like a baseball bat.
Eva caught it in her left hand with a wince. Her hands and wrists might be strong enough not to shatter from the force, but the jolt it sent up her arm and into her back was nothing to scoff at. Had the angle been slightly different, she might have had to fight with a dislocated shoulder.
As it was, she simply closed her fingers around the pole with a grin. “Mine now.”
The flames in her left hand ramped up. Not hot enough to melt the steel beam, but hot enough that the thug could definitely feel it in his hands only a few inches away.
At the same time, she gathered up a ball of flames in her right hand and spread it towards the other two thugs in a long stream. More to keep them at a distance until she was ready for them than to actually harm them, but she wasn’t being too careful.
One guy’s shirt caught a trail of the flames.
If he ended up slightly crispy… Well, he only needed to survive just long enough.
Wrenching the bar out of the thug’s weakened grip, Eva took it in her own two-handed grip and brought it down on the guy’s knee with as much force as she could muster.
He went down to the ground screaming with his knee bent the wrong direction.
The guy she had caught in her flames was on the ground, rolling back and forth in a mad effort to put out the flames.
After causing the remaining fire to flare, Eva continued on past him. The final guy had run off towards the door during her beat down of bar-man. He was repeatedly slamming his shoulder into the door.
Shame the doors opened inwards.
Eva marched towards him at a glacial pace, making her footsteps as loud as possible on the concrete floor.
“No, please!” He pressed himself against the door, raising his arms in front of him for some minute amount of protection.
Eva paused just a step away from him. “You want mercy,” she growled out.
She lifted the bar overhead and brought it down on his outstretched arm. The snapping noise barely audible under his screams was not the bar breaking.
“I’ll show you the same mercy you were going to show a little blind girl who had lost her dog.”
Eva raised the bar again, preparing for a second strike.
Something cold and hard penetrated through her side. Right where Lynn Cross had taken a chunk of her hip.
It had healed, but perhaps not as well as it should have. Though thinner at her hips than her legs, the carapace should still have stopped most everything that hit her.
Letting out a cry–frustration more than anything–Eva used one of her vials of blood to form up a shield around herself.
Just in time for two loud cracks to ring out through the warehouse.
Two flattened bullets hit the ground just outside of her shield.
With a feral growl, Eva tore the icicle out of her side, unsheathed her dagger, and plunged it back into the hole. Eva shored up the damage as best as she was able as she turned to face her attackers.
The thug that had run off stood on the second floor walkway with a small revolver in his hands.
The man standing at his side held a small metal stick.
Another bullet and four more icicles hit Eva’s shield in the time it had taken her to turn and glance up to the walkway.
The moment her eyes met those of the mage, he took a few steps backwards. Eva might have smiled at that had she not been fighting through the pain of having a hole in her side again.
After a few more impacts from both men, her shield had started to crack. They were far from the tier of attacks employed by the Elysium Order, but she was using her own blood.
Eva fired off an oversized fireball towards the two along with an orb of blood.
The blood homed in on the gun. The moment it hit, Eva clapped her hands to obliterate most of the gun.
Parts of the thug’s hand as well, but Eva couldn’t bring herself to care.
Both men dove off to opposite sides to avoid the oncoming flames. The fireball wasn’t intended so much as an attack as way to obscure the mage’s vision. Eva charged in straight after it, leaping off the bottom floor.
With Arachne’s legs, reaching the walkway was no issue.
Eva tore through her fireball, emerging on the other side to land on top of the diving mage.
One hand crushed his wrist while the other snapped his silver wand in two.
Digging her claws into him, Eva hefted him up and over the railing.
She would rather have them all on the ground floor.
Unfortunately, despite the relatively low height of the walkway, she had thrown him over head first. Eva watched with a frown as his body stilled, neck bent at an angle necks were not supposed to bend at.
The mage had been fairly small, a skinny guy without the muscle that the rest of the thugs had. The thug was the exact opposite. Possibly the largest person in the room. He was a pain to deal with. Especially with the struggling.
Eva had to break his nose and crush his hand that hadn’t gotten blown off just to get him to stop resisting.
Taking more care with the handless guy, Eva pushed him over feet first, dangling him by the shoulders to help lessen the height. He landed in a heap.
Jumping back down to the ground floor, she snapped the thug’s leg before he could move.
Eva surveyed the damage. Most everyone was moaning or screaming in pain. The guy with several broken ribs and a crushed wrist had actually managed to get back to his feet.
Eva shoved him to the ground and crushed a leg with a well placed stomp.
Her flames had died out on the man she had hit earlier. Despite being one of the least injured of the bunch, he wasn’t moving. He was lying still. Very still. Had she not been able to see his heartbeat and other minor movements, she might have thought he had died.
Pretending to be unconscious? Cute.
She left him be for the moment as she counted up the thugs.
Broken ribs, destroyed knee, fire guy, broken-arm-by-the-door guy, dead mage, handless guy.
Six including the mage.
Someone was missing.
“Oh leader,” Eva called out. “Where have you run off to?”
Given the fact that he had passed out right at the start of the fight, she had been expecting the least amount of trouble from him. Maybe the noise of the gun going off had woken him. Whatever the case, he couldn’t be allowed to escape.
Eva walked left. She walked right.
All, including her call, for show. For fun.
The leader had slipped away during her fight and had hidden himself behind the collapsed section of the walkway.
Eva tossed a few rocks in one direction while she tiptoed around the heap in the other. For a moment, she actually considered creating a blood-clone of herself to make the effect all the better, but that would have taken far too much effort.
Not to mention the disorienting effects that she still hadn’t overcome.
Instead, she just kept quiet as she sneaked up behind him.
“Guess who?” Eva said as she clasped her hands over the leader’s eyes.
He immediately started struggling and shouting.
“Struggle more and you might not have any eyes,” Eva said, voice hard. “Not a fun experience. Trust me. I know. How about you answer my questions instead, hmm? Doesn’t that sound far more pleasant?”
“W-what do you want?” he squealed.
“I want to kill a few pedophiles and rapists.” His heart-rate jumped through the roof. “But for the moment, I’m content to find out just what a mage was doing hanging out with a bunch of low-lives.”
That calmed him back down. Slightly.
“Eddy? Shit–he helps us get into places. Helps fight rivals. That sort of shit.”
There had to be better magic-needing jobs than working for a small-time gang. It didn’t even sound like he led the gang. Eva had been calling this guy the leader just because he had been at the head of the group, but for all she knew, he was the leader.
“And what did they mean by ‘it’s one of them’ earlier?”
He didn’t immediately respond. Eva scratched one of her fingers across his forehead.
“I’ll talk, I’ll talk!” he screamed out. “Some people showed up a few months ago, investigating or some shit. Big guy in armor and a smaller woman. Talked to just about everyone in town, police, gangs, everyone. Wanted to know about all kinds of strange shit. Especially anyone that might have colored eyes–demons they called them. If it weren’t for Eddy, we would have laughed in their faces. He talked to them, not me. Ask him!”
“I see,” Eva said with a hum. Asking him wasn’t going to be possible at the moment. But the information wasn’t totally worthless. Someone looking for demons. Neither she nor Devon had been in the area for two years. Less depending on exactly how many months ago this was.
Were there other demons in the area that had drawn attention to themselves? Or someone following an old trail?
“Well,” Eva said, “can you think of anything else that might interest me?”
“Please, just let me go.”
“Aww, I’d love to.” Eva loosened her grip ever so slightly. “But then you might go kidnap some other poor girl. No. Best to take preventive measures.
“Besides, I still haven’t got what I originally came here for.”