Eva stepped out of the women’s ward gate room to find a corpse lying on her couch.
Somewhat unusual. Not exactly what Eva had been hoping to find immediately after teleporting home. Especially because she was still feeling somewhat wobbly and wanted the couch to herself.
Slumping into one of the chairs, Eva sent a glare in the corpse’s direction.
The corpse didn’t even look up from her book.
“Curls today? Your hair was straight at the cathedral.”
The vampire sat up on the couch, resting the book–one of Eva’s blood magic books–on her lap. “What? A vampire isn’t allowed to style their hair?” she huffed. “For your information, my hair is naturally curly. I straightened it for Wayne.”
Eva opened her mouth to retort, but changed tracks. She really didn’t care about Serena’s hair preference or her preference for middle-aged men.
“I thought you were afraid of this place.”
“This place? Nope, nope, nope.” Serena shook her head side-to-side, sending her blond hair bouncing around her face. “When Wayne told me that you had a miniature Death God roaming around, I decided to keep my distance.”
Eva blinked. It took her a minute to relate ‘miniature Death God’ to Ylva. Hel was the death god, not Ylva. And, being a giant, Ylva was anything but miniature. Most of the time.
“But you’re here now.”
“Mini Death God isn’t here now, is she?”
“Why are you here?”
“It smells nice here. You smell nice.” A flash of hunger appeared in the vampire’s eyes.
Eva immediately tensed and shut her own eyes. She didn’t think the vampire would attack. Better safe than sorry.
After seeing her fight in tandem with Wayne against a handful of nuns, Eva wasn’t entirely sure that she could take her on if needed. She could try to remove her blood from the ward system, but Eva didn’t know if that would stop the vampire.
Her wards worked on blood and the vampire’s wasn’t moving.
Closing her eyes at least kept the vampire out of her head.
As if sensing her tension, Serena let out a soft giggle before flopping back over on the couch.
“Besides. Wayne is looking for me and I needed a place to hide.”
“I was under the impression that you were enamored with him. Or something similar. Wouldn’t him looking for you be a good thing?”
“He’s fun to tease,” she said with a wistful sigh. “But apparently I have had too much fun in the last month all on my own. I told him but he wouldn’t hear a word. Sis will be fine without me. She’s a big girl and can take care of herself.”
Eva had no idea who Serena was talking about. Neither did she ask. The small talk with the vampire was enough to occupy the time it took for the post-teleportation wobbles to wear off.
“Well, feel free to hide out here, I guess. Just don’t go into my room.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Eva wasn’t sure if she should believe that.
“I’m off to the shower,” Eva said, standing. “I don’t mind you reading my books, but put them back when you’re finished.”
“Yes mother,” Serena said, waving an arm back and forth.
Eva had the distinct impression that she would be picking books off the floor later on.
But that could wait. Shower first.
Her shower at the hospital in Florida was almost identical to the one in the women’s ward. She had used the same rune configuration to conjure and heat water. There were no real settings on it. As soon as she rotated the shower heads to line up the runes, everything turned on. Moving it too far turned it back off again.
And yet, the women’s ward shower was much hotter. Much more comfortable. Whatever mistake she had made in the heating rune had been for the best.
In short, Eva had missed her home during her short vacation. It didn’t compare to the bath in Ylva’s domain, but it was a comfortable second.
The sun had been high in the sky when Eva left Florida. Not noon, sometime after. Possibly as late as four o’clock, though there was a bit of time difference between Florida and Montana. She couldn’t actually see the sun from inside the women’s ward. Her overhead lighting was on and working fine, but someone had taken the trouble to hang up a set of blankets over the windows.
Three guesses as to who, Eva thought with a roll of her eyes.
By the time that Eva felt she had enough and twisted the shower head to the off position, the clock on the wall read five o’clock.
“Do you always walk around naked?”
Eva didn’t hesitate in a single step as she walked through the common room towards her bedroom. “Usually,” she said, pushing her door open. She left it open for the purpose of conversation as she fished a clean skirt and shirt out of her dresser. “Habit of living on my own since I was six years old, I guess.”
“Young,” was the vampire’s only response.
“Circumstances conspired. After my mom died… well, I wasn’t going to stay with Edgar. I had already run away twice before then and third time’s the charm. It helped that I had met Arachne and had started learning magic before then.”
“Liberating isn’t it?” Serena called out as Eva tugged her shirt around her waist. “No parents to tell you when to go to bed or what food you should eat.”
“Or to wear clothes around the house?”
Serena laughed. A cold, mirthless laugh.
It set Eva’s hair on end.
“That as well.”
“It wasn’t much different from living at home,” Eva said. She shut the door to her room and retook her seat in the common room. “My mother worked evenings and nights and my father only acknowledged me when it suited him. Usually in the form of beatings while drunk.”
Her stormy eyes met Eva’s for a brief moment before she turned her gaze to the ceiling.
“I didn’t want to leave my home. I loved my parents and my sister dearly. Still don’t know why my sire murdered them, but that was around the time I had to move out. I spent a year with him–there was nowhere else to go–as he taught me about the ‘night life’ and how to feed, etcetera.
“And then he left. Abandoned me when he got bored or maybe died at the hands of another vampire. Don’t know and don’t much care anymore–that was sixty-something years ago. But left alone in a city with two large clans of vampires and several independent strains? Scary stuff. Different strains tend to not get along with each other.”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Eva said during a pause in the vampire’s speech, “but a sixty year old vampire has got to have a lot of life to their story.” She hadn’t really asked for her life’s story either.
Serena looked back with narrowed eyes. “A vampire with a lot of life in their story. You’re a funny woman, Eva.”
I wasn’t trying to be, Eva didn’t say.
“But there’s a point to this. Listen to your elders.” Serena narrowed her eyes again, this time to thin slits. “And I’m only sixteen, I’ll have you know.”
“Skipping over half my existence… I’d say that I’ve enjoyed the last decade and a half. The difference between now and before? Wayne, Zoe, and Sarah.”
She rubbed a hand through her curly hair with a small growl. “What I’m trying to say is that while our situations might be different, I probably have a good idea how it is to be without friend or family. If you want someone to talk to, I’ll be around. At least until Wayne drags me back home.”
Eva stared at the vampire.
It was hard to imagine that the being before her was sixty years old. The way she was acting had Eva almost believing her claim of sixteen despite knowing better. She shifted her knees and wrung her hands. Serena didn’t have a blush on her cheeks, but that was more because she didn’t have working blood circulation than anything.
A cynical part of Eva’s mind was screaming out that it was an act. That the vampire had been put up to it by Zoe. Or worse, she wanted something.
Still, Eva couldn’t help but to laugh. It started low and quiet. Just a snicker, really. It quickly grew into a full-blown laugh.
The vampire’s face as Eva laughed only added more fuel to the flames.
“You could have just said ‘no thanks,’ jerk,” she said with a pout.
“It isn’t that,” Eva said as she got her breathing under control.
How long has it been since the last time I laughed a real, true laugh? Too long. Far too long.
Eva wiped a tear from her eye. “It was just hard to reconcile how you act with how old you are.”
“Old? I just said that I’m sixteen.”
“I might take you up on your offer sometime,” Eva said, ignoring the outburst from the suddenly angry vampire. “But I do have friends. Aside from Juliana and Shalise, even.”
“Zoe likes me, right?” Holding out her claws, Eva ticked off names on each finger. “There’s Irene.” A second finger ticked off. She took in a breath as she considered more. “Kind of Shelby and kind of Jordan. We don’t actually talk all that much. And they’re all gone for part of the summer break.”
If not for good. Eva knew that Irene and Shelby’s parents were somewhat strapped for cash. Brakket’s scholarship program was what allowed the two to attend school. But their parents would probably choose no school over sending their daughters back into danger.
Jordan’s father had a huge hand in the diablery class, so he might be back. If the class was still around. Eva wasn’t certain that the class was going to continue in the next year. No one was supposed to be summoning demons. They could work on shackles, but that was about it.
The good mood from her laughter was slowly leaking out. “Devon, maybe? I don’t know that we’re friends per se. Ylva? Probably not. Probably not Nel either. Catherine doesn’t hate me. I think.”
Eva frowned as she scratched the back of her head. She still had only two fingers ticked off. There had to be others.
“Quality over quantity,” Serena said with a sage nod.
“Yeah.” Eva stood abruptly. “I needed to talk to Devon upon getting back. Thanks for talking. I do feel better, somewhat.”
One hand waved Eva away while the other reopened her book.
Eva left her behind, wandering towards Devon’s cell house with her thoughts on the subject of friends.
She had left Juliana and Shalise out, but those two were her friends. Regardless of what their parents thought. Eva would never let her father dictate her friendships, but not everyone had her luxury. Shalise, less than Juliana.
Eva made a mental note to check in with Nel about Shalise. The last time that Eva had her check, Shalise and Lynn Cross had been hiding out somewhere in Switzerland with Shalise looking somewhat displeased with the situation. According to Nel, she interacted with Lynn, but only for regular living necessities. There was no small talk and neither did she remain in the same room with the other.
By the time that Eva reached Devon’s building, her mood had soured considerably.
Shalise had only spoken of her home life on one or two rare occasions. She came from a group home for wards of the state.
Had Lynn even mentioned to whoever needed to know that Shalise was going to be living abroad?
The more she thought about it, the more it sounded like kidnapping.
Eva pounded her fist into Devon’s door to let out a little frustration at the situation.
She should have objected more when Lynn had first told Shalise to say goodbye.
Eva had to knock another three times, each knock coming with more force than the last, before Devon finally opened his door.
For just a moment, they stared at each other.
“You’re back,” he said.
“Get out. I’m busy.”
Eva moved her foot forward, catching the heavy iron door on her chitinous toes.
“Too busy to hear about some demon hunters?”
Devon sucked in a breath. His tentacle shot out and grasped Eva by her shirt. Eva couldn’t help but to let out a small yelp as he pulled her into the room, slamming the door behind them.
“Did someone follow you back?”
Eva would have slapped him away, but he had already released her. His ring-foci hand was pointing to the windows to shore up some wards while his tentacle reset all five-hundred latches on the door.
“If you’d calm down for a moment and let me talk,” she said as she smoothed out her shirt.
Devon was extremely lucky that his tentacle wasn’t of the slimy type.
“It was about two months ago. A taller man in armor and a female companion were on the local news down in Florida. They claimed to be demon hunters. By the time I got there, they had already gone. I figured you should know since it is a safe bet that they were looking for us.”
“Your place wasn’t ransacked?”
“Looked untouched. Can’t say the same for yours. Though that looked more like the city had decided to finally demolish the old train station. Something new was under construction when I stopped by. Hope you didn’t have anything important in there.”
He scratched at his beard with his tentacle, shaking his head. “No. Everything is here.” His words came out more as a mumble than an actual response to Eva. “I wonder…”
“Hold still.” Devon’s hand snapped up to eye level. The rings on his fingers emitted a faint glow as he waved them in Eva’s direction.
A chill ran down her spine. Like someone had dropped an ice-cube down the back of her shirt.
Eva ignored it as well as she was able to. When Devon said to stand still and started casting unknown spells on her, she wasn’t about to budge. Even if nothing bad happened from moving–such as suddenly exploding into a million meaty chunks–Devon was probably doing something important. He’d be annoyed if he had to start over.
As the process went on, several flashes of light lit up around his fingers. Most were dark violet hues, but one or two were a lighter blue color.
After five minutes of mimicking a statue, Devon finally dropped his arm to his side. Eva shook her arms slightly just to get some movement in them. Glancing around the room, she caught sight of something interesting. Eva moved to lean against the edge of his desk as Devon fiddled with his rings.
His notebook was lying open on the top. Designs for her treatment ritual were out for the world to see. More importantly, they were out for her to see.
The circles were wrong. Or different, at least. She had long since memorized the circle for use by herself and Arachne. The biggest difference were the large circles equidistant apart around the center. Judging by the markers for people, there were supposed to be four people–herself in the very center and three demons–involved in this version.
A stark change from her old version; Arachne and Eva were both between the center and the edge with Devon initiating the ritual from the center position.
Before she could ask any questions about the new design, Devon spoke up.
“Not really my specialty, but I can’t detect any spells on you that might be used for tracking.”
“That’s good,” Eva said. “Right?”
Devon just hummed in response. “You didn’t bring anything back with you?”
Eva shook her head. “A pouch of bloodstones. The clothes I wore back were the ones I left in. Despite being smaller, I used some old clothes I had left behind between when I arrived and when I left.”
“Freshly made. They were in my sight or in my pockets from the moment I made them to when I dropped them off at my room.”
“And you didn’t trip any alarms?”
Eva shrugged. She had no idea. There had been no overt beeping or wailing, so any alarms would have been silent notifications to whoever set them. “If I did, no one showed up to murder me.”
“Too busy to respond?” Devon mused to himself. He let out a small sigh. “Or just inexperienced or plain bad at their job. Either way, probably best for both of us to avoid the entirety of Florida for a while.”
“Not worried about them tracking us down up here?”
He let out a clipped laugh. “We were in Florida for ten years, some of that before Arachne and I found you. They still showed up two years late. We probably have some time left.”
“If you’re sure,” Eva started.
She decided to let it drop. Devon had been a diabolist longer than she had been alive. He had to have plenty of experience in evading demon hunters.
Instead, Eva tapped the notebook containing her treatment circle.
After a pointed look from Eva, Devon frowned. “Still a work in progress. Since you’ve barged in here–”
“You dragged me in here,” Eva said, crossing her arms.
“Since you’re already interrupting my work, I may as well explain now rather than later. You’re going to need three donating demons.”
“I gathered as much. Why?”
“Stabilization. With Arachne, there were no variables. You and her. One and one. Changing the demon, especially so late into your treatment, could bring thousands of unknowns into play. If we select the carnivean and only the carnivean, what if it is missing things that the ritual was drawing from Arachne?”
“Something bad, I assume.”
He scoffed. “To put it mildly. So we add a second demon. If the carnivean is a point seven-five to Arachne’s one, a second demon could help fill in the blanks. A third, even better. I would prefer five or seven, but we would probably have to summon at least a few demons. Given the situation with Hell, I would rather make do with what we have on hand.”
“Alright. I can see how that would make sense.” Barely. Eva wasn’t a diabolist and even further from a demonologist than Devon claimed to be. She might be able to puzzle out several functions of the ritual circle, but she’d have no idea where to begin in creating one from scratch or even how modify the existing ones without killing herself.
“Using your number analogy,” Eva said, “what happens if a demon is greater than one? Or Arachne was less than one? Wouldn’t two fractional demons add up to more than one anyway?”
He waved his tentacle, dismissing the concern. “It is just an analogy. But it shouldn’t matter. The ritual should take what you need. Anything extra should either be ignored or integrated without issue. However, once we perform this round of treatment, you will not be able to go back to Arachne alone. Even if it shows up the very next day.”
That felt like a mild punch to her stomach. “She could be one of the three, right?”
Devon nodded. “No reason she couldn’t.”
That was a relief. Partially. Arachne would be upset either way.
“Alright. And just who are these demons going to be?”
Devon actually smiled. “Well now, that’s going to be your job isn’t it? Go convince some of the demons around town to lend their aid.”
Devon ignored her. He moved around the desk and pulled a second notebook from the drawer. After flipping through a few pages, he started speaking again.
“The carnivean can be one. She had already agreed to the two-year contract, it would be pointless not to use her. Unless you really want a different third and convince that third. But I’m hoping that the fact that you have her eyes will aid in compatibility.
“The hel would be another good option. She’s powerful, which can’t hurt. Not sure how her pact with Death will affect things, but that is a minor issue at worst.”
Eva nodded at that. She had already considered Ylva back before she knew that they would need three demons.
A thought struck her as Devon flipped a few more pages through his book. An insane, suicidal thought.
“You said that powerful is good, right? What about–”
“I came plenty close to brushing shoulders with the pillar back in your domain, thank you very much.”
Eva pouted for a moment, just a moment, before a cruel smile crossed her lips. “The great demonologist. Scared.” She shook her head in mock sorrow. “Who would have thought that he would pass up the opportunity to experiment with and research a legitimate devil.”
Devon narrowed his eyes. “I don’t need your cheek, girl.”
“It isn’t like he doesn’t know. He doesn’t call me ’embryonic’ because I’m a teenager. Since you’re not dead, he obviously doesn’t care.”
“Exactly. He doesn’t care. Let’s not give him a reason to start.”
“It can’t hurt to ask.”
Devon brought his tentacle to his forehead and started rubbing it raw. “If you wind up enslaved, killed, disappeared, changed, or otherwise unable to undergo treatment in one week, I will find out where you are and murder you. Again, if necessary.”
Eva beamed at him. “See? You do care. Still going to ask though. It isn’t like he is going to say yes.”