Eva glanced up from her work to find Serena leaning against the doorway. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she had a slight frown on her face.
Turning away with a slight shrug, Eva continued packing everything that she thought she might need.
“Just a little road trip. Though how I’m actually going to take it is still up for debate.”
Eva tucked a potion satchel filled with poisons into the side pocket of her suitcase. They might not be any good at all, but no sense in leaving them behind. They didn’t weigh all that much and didn’t take all that much room. If she did need or want them, it was better to have them on hand.
Of course, when she applied that logic to everything that she owned, Eva found her suitcase rapidly running low on room. And that was after having removed several books that probably wouldn’t be needed.
“I don’t suppose you know how to drive?” Eva asked. “There’s a certain someone in Idaho that needs to die.”
“I do,” she started. “But that sounds like a long drive. Twelve hours or more? Unless this someone is right on the border. Traveling is hard for vampires. Too much sun and not enough protection inside a little vehicle.”
“Bundles of clothes don’t help? You were out watching my treatment a few days ago.”
“And I got sunburned doing so. Especially around my face.” She rubbed just under her eyes. “The goggles were the highest rated I could find and they still weren’t enough. Besides, you can teleport.”
“Not without a gate. Last time I tried without a gate at my destination, I wound up stuck in Hell.”
Eva zipped up the suitcase. Everything she could think of taking with her was inside. Blood, bloodstones, potions, poisons, a certain cursed dagger that she was hoping to reunite with its owner, the blood magic ritual book, a change of clothes including her blindfold and the dress that Arachne had made for her, Arachne’s necklace beacon—just in case she came back—and an assortment of enticements.
No one was supposed to be summoning demons at the moment, but if the going got tough, one or two probably wouldn’t hurt. Especially so far away from Brakket Academy.
Basila was coming along as well. Eva was somewhat disappointed that the stone basilisk hadn’t healed completely from its excursion into the Elysium Order’s cathedral. Appearance-wise, she was mostly fine. The fresh scales were far weaker than the blood-infused stone and one tooth was missing entirely. Everything else looked normal and Basila acted normal.
Given that it was a stone carving, she really should be happy that it had healed at all. A side effect of the ritual she had performed on it had tried to repair it without any actual living material to grow. That resulted in semi-soft blood filling in most of the spare areas. Eva might have been able to harden the blood more, but she was worried about affecting its movement and flexibility.
“Besides, I think Nel is coming along. My method of teleportation is not kind to those without certain demonic proclivities.” Lynn Cross had definitely not enjoyed it.
“Can she not drive?”
Eva shook her head. That had been one of the first things she had asked. To say that Nel was afraid of driving would be an understatement. Paranoid was the word that came to mind.
“Zoe and Wayne could teleport you both.”
“They could, but they might not be back until mid-to-late June. I’ve put this off long enough. Waiting for another month would just increase the chance that it never gets done.”
Serena shoved off the wall and skipped backwards as Eva walked out of the room with her suitcase in hand.
“I wonder if Catherine knows how to drive?”
“Even if she does, won’t she be too busy researching with the diabolist?”
Eva let out a long sigh. “Demonologist. And probably.”
Really, if it weren’t for Nel, she could probably get to Sawyer without too much trouble. Between running with Arachne’s legs and being able to blink around, she could probably make better time than a car if she pushed herself. Maybe. Probably not. Cars didn’t get exhausted.
“So, transportation for two,” Serena mused. “Do you need to get there in one day?”
“Not necessarily.” She was trying not to procrastinate more, but it had already been a month and a half since Nel found Sawyer. “One or two more days won’t matter much.”
“Then I could drive you. But we’ll be traveling for less than five hours a night.”
“This time a year, there’s a good eight hours of darkness.”
“True. But I would rather not take my chances. Four hours of driving and then we start looking for a motel of some sort to hide away in during the daylight. And then we’ll have to spend some time securing the windows and doors. Motel blinds are not known for their ability to keep away light.”
“I can cast a spell that will block out light,” Eva said. She cast said spell off at the far end of the common room to demonstrate.
The entire back half of the women’s ward darkened. An inky black soup filled the air, preventing either of them from seeing beyond the coffee table in the middle of the room.
Serena hummed at the wall of darkness as she walked up to it. She put one arm through the darkness, pulled the arm out and looked at it. After a moment, she stepped inside the shroud.
Eva could see her corpselike body through her blood sight as Serena tried to navigate around. It was almost amusing to watch the old vampire bump into the back of the couch. The loud yelp accompanying the bump did give cause for a few giggles before Eva let the spell dissipate.
“Well, that’s handy,” Serena said as she tried hard not to look like she had just run into the couch. She was draped over the top like she had intended to lean against it. “A bit darker than I’d like, but it could work. How long does it last?”
“Until I stop maintaining it.”
“And how long can you maintain it?”
“I,” Eva started. Then she paused and thought. “I’ve never tried for more than a minute or two. But it doesn’t cause much strain or concentration.”
“Handy in an emergency,” Serena amended her earlier evaluation. “I’d rather not rely on it. If you fell asleep or we came under attack, I could wind up a pile of ash.”
“I think I could maintain the spell for a full day. But it isn’t a big deal if you don’t want it.”
“Speaking of coming under attack, if anywhere we visit has vampires, they’ll likely be able to sniff me out. I hope you’re prepared.”
Eva shifted. That could complicate things. She wasn’t sure how much she wanted to confront vampires.
“Don’t worry,” Serena said. “We’ll be leaving not long after nightfall every night. With any luck, we’ll be gone before they have time to come looking for us. Besides,” Serena paused as she glanced down at her fingernails. She buffed them against her white dress. “I don’t like to brag, but I am quite powerful.
“Though, that raises another question. You said that you’re on a quest to kill someone. If I’m going to be a part of this, I’d like to know the details. Who is it? Should we expect attacks from your target in the middle of the day? Those kinds of things.”
Eva shrugged. It was no secret. “How do you feel about necromancers?”
Devon’s truck was not designed for three people. Eva still had no idea from where he had acquired it. She had a strong suspicion that it was stolen. A police officer pulling them over for outdated license plates had only reinforced that idea. Serena had mind-tricked him away. This was apparently not the truck that he was looking for.
But it got Eva thinking.
Couldn’t he have stolen a better truck?
The tiny pickup had its driver seat and its passenger seat just as any other vehicle. Cup holders and a storage compartment separated the two sides. Then, there was this tiny fold out chair just behind the passenger seat. It had no arm room and little leg room, the seatbelt was broken, and the padding was missing from half the seat.
Since Serena was in the driver’s seat, Eva had taken the passenger seat.
Poor Nel, Eva thought with a smile as she glanced over her shoulder.
The augur did not look happy. But really, it was either Nel or Eva and only one of them had demonic claws that the other was nervous around.
Still, Eva tried to be nice. She had slid her seat forwards to give the former nun some elbow room. It wasn’t much, but it kept Nel from having to keep her shoulders scrunched in.
It did not, however, stop Nel from glaring at Serena.
Given all of her time around demons, Eva had expected Nel to handle a vampire better. Old habits died hard. When they had first stopped outside of Nel’s apartment building, the augur had tried to cast a lightning bolt at Serena.
When she had missed, Nel moved on to fire.
Serena had weaved around that, punctured Nel’s shield with a hard hit from her elbow, and just about tore off Nel’s head before Eva managed to intervene.
The resulting conversation had not been pleasant, but Nel had finally decided that Sawyer was the greater of two evils.
Aside from the glaring and the lack of space, Nel looked a little green around the gills. Even after taking some medicine. Eva had to wonder if she got carsick normally or if it was because of how Serena drove.
She was leaning towards the latter. On the highway, it wasn’t so bad. It was mostly a straight line or long banking curves. The speed might have frightened Eva had she not been able to simply blink away. When they passed through cities for fuel or food, things started to get a bit more… hectic.
Frankly, it was amazing that they had only been pulled over the one time.
“Next exit has lodging,” Serena said, pointing towards an information sign at the side of the highway.
Eva glanced down at the clock. “We’re stopping then?”
“We are,” Serena said. The tone of her voice invited no arguments.
They had been traveling for just over four hours. She still thought that they could go at least six hours before coming close to dawn, but she wasn’t about to say anything. Serena had been kind enough to offer her services as a driver, it would be rude to insist on driving more than she was comfortable with.
Not to mention, neither of them were very familiar with the area. Both Montana and Idaho were more wilderness than city, even along the main highways. If they wound up missing a motel, it was entirely possible that they wouldn’t pass another for several hours. Eva didn’t want to rely on her darkness spell any more than Serena wanted to if only because it would be exceedingly dull to sit around all day long inside the blacked-out vehicle.
Most motels were just off the side of the highway. This one was no different. As such, it didn’t take long to reach.
A bright neon sign handily informed them that not only did the motel have vacancies, but it was also open twenty-four hours. Which was excellent news. Serena had been concerned that they might have to break into one if they couldn’t find an open motel at the late times of the night that they were traveling at.
Leaving Nel behind in the truck, Eva and Serena walked up to the reception counter. The bell on the door startled awake a pimply faced young man at the counter. He had a bright red mark running across his forehead from the edge of a computer keyboard.
“Welcome to–” His voice caught in his throat with a loud hiccup as he caught sight of Eva. Scrambling backwards, the guy tipped over his chair and fell to the floor.
It didn’t take Eva long to figure out the reason for the reaction. “I should have brought my blindfold,” she hissed under her breath. Walking around Brakket wasn’t a big deal. Out here, that was definitely not the case.
“We’re not here to hurt you,” Eva said, louder. “We just want a room. We’ll be gone tomorrow at dusk.”
Two wide eyes peeked up over the edge of the counter. As far as Eva could tell, he hadn’t even noticed Serena.
Not until she stepped forwards with a kind smile. “Hey there,” she said in a sweet tone of voice that definitely did not fit her. “How much for a single room until tomorrow night for three people?”
His eyes swiveled over to meet with Serena’s. Immediately, he started to calm down. She was probably up to more mind control things.
Eva didn’t bother asking. Whatever worked.
“Eight–” His voice cracked. “Eighty-four dollars.”
Serena glanced over towards Eva. “Eighty-four, he says.”
“I can–” Eva paused. Her words turned to a sigh.
Eva had money. Anti-scrying packets, though she hadn’t made any in a while—Juliana had been the main driving force behind their continued business—had provided her with a decent income for her first year and a half at Brakket Academy. All that money was back at Brakket.
“I knew I was forgetting something.”
Serena rolled her eyes. “I’ll pay.”
Meeting with the clerk’s eyes, she reached back behind her dress and pulled out…
She didn’t even have pockets on the back of her dress.
From the thin air held in her hands, she started miming as if she were counting out dollar bills. Eventually, she held out her hand and offered absolutely nothing to the clerk.
He accepted and started counting it out as well.
“There’s an extra ten here,” he said as he reached the end. One of his hands held up some more empty air.
“For you,” Serena said with a sickeningly sweet smile. “For putting up with us. Also, because we value our privacy and would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone we were here.”
His eyes shifted towards Eva for just a moment. “I can do that,” he squeaked out in his cracking voice. The one hand drifted to his back pocket, slipping nothing into it. He put the rest of the nothing into the cash register.
Reaching under the counter, he pulled out a very real key. “One-oh-eight,” he said as he held it out to Serena.
“Thank you my dear.” She took the key and turned. Her smile vanished before her back was fully facing him. “Come on,” she said to Eva. “Let’s get Nel and get the blankets set up around the windows.”
Eva waited until they were back out at the truck before whispering to Serena. “Won’t they notice that the register is short by almost a hundred dollars?”
“You didn’t notice?” Serena asked with an eyebrow raised. “He forgot to actually record our stay. When they go to empty the register, the amount contained within should be the same as whatever it is supposed to be had we not been here. Unless someone has been embezzling.”
“Let’s hope that they don’t come knocking at the door in the middle of the day.”
Serena frowned, but shrugged after a moment. “If they do, I’ll hide out in the bathroom. They probably won’t have windows in there. You can scare them off.”
“You’re the one who didn’t bring money,” Serena said as she pulled a roll of duct tape and a large bag of thick blankets from the back of the truck.
Inside the truck, Nel looked to be struggling with escaping. It seemed that she couldn’t find the lever to push the seat forwards and allow her exit.
Serena noticed, deepening her frown as she watched Nel. “I’ll try to stay awake, but I might sleep through part of the day. Don’t leave me alone with her. I’d rather you didn’t leave the room at all, but if you have to, wrap me up in some blankets and dump me in the bathroom. Just take Nel with you.”
Eva blinked. She hadn’t been planning on leaving at all. She still had research to do. Even if she needed a break from that, there was probably a television.
Except, while she could go without food for a time, Nel would probably be starving by nightfall.
“We might leave for food at some point in the day. I’ll be sure she goes with me.”
“We’re stopping again?” Nel asked as the group pulled into another side-of-the-road motel. “But we’re almost there.”
Eva glanced over her shoulder at the augur. She had been fairly quiet over the course of their three-day journey. She never spoke to Serena and really only spoke to Eva while the vampire was asleep. Nel herself only slept while in the truck. Since they only drove for a handful of hours a night, she was looking awfully tired.
Bags lined her eyes and her lids drooped as she looked out the truck window.
Maybe Eva would do her a favor and slip a sleeping potion into her drink tonight. She could understand nervousness and paranoia given who they were after, but there was a point at which it just became reckless and damaging to everyone else.
“Still have some preparations. If we want Serena with us, it would be better to start off on a fresh night, rather than one half gone. Unless you want to go and fight Sawyer on your own with no help.”
Nel fell silent, glancing down at her feet.
“I’ll get us a room,” Serena said as she cut off the engine and hopped out of the truck.
Ever since that first night, Eva had kept herself hidden from as many people as possible. Serena could pass herself off as a human much better than Eva could. Vampires did so all the time. With Eva’s distinctive appearance, no one wanted any rumors about her to spread around and potentially reach Sawyer’s ears.
“How long will these preparations take?”
“Potentially all day tomorrow. I’ve got one ritual in particular that I want to try as soon as we get the room set up. A few things depend on the success of that ritual.”
“What will it do?”
“I’d rather not get your hopes up. If it works, you’ll see. If it doesn’t, no hopes dashed.”
Frowning, Nel gave a slight nod of her head.
Neither of them spoke until Serena returned. There was a small trickle of red dripping down her chin that did not go unnoticed by Nel.
Nel’s face turned colors as she pointed at the vampire’s lips. “You didn’t!”
“It was just a quick snack,” Serena said with a shrug as she licked the blood from her mouth. “He won’t even feel anemic when he wakes up. More importantly,” she held up a key.
“Don’t worry about it,” Eva cut in before Nel could make a scene. “Let’s just get everything set up. Unless you want to spend even longer outside of Ylva’s presence.”
That silenced Nel faster than anything else. It was something that Eva had picked up on over the past few days. Nel had a problem with Serena, that much was clear. But she had a bigger problem being away from Ylva. The hel represented safety and protection for her, or something like that.
Argument over, they quickly carted everything they needed into their room. Nel and Serena actually managed to work together in duct taping thick blankets over the windows. Eva shoved one of the beds out of the way and got to work.
The ritual circle didn’t need to be all that large, thankfully. Her room would work just fine. Performing it out in the middle of the parking lot would reveal herself to all spectators or passers-by that were around and create more chances that Sawyer would hear of their proximity to his location.
After finishing with the windows, Nel covered up the smoke detectors and set up a miniature altar. As soon as she was done, she lit up some frankincense.
Frankincense, Eva thought with absolute revulsion. She tried to ignore it, but ugh.
Ever since she had first met the augur, Nel had always had the scent of frankincense clinging to her person and clothes. Eva had never spent enough time in her presence to become so thoroughly disgusted with the scent. She really had no idea how the augur could stand it. Three days of being stuck in a stuffy car and tiny motel rooms with Nel almost had Eva in a murderous rage.
As soon as she finished up with Sawyer, Eva vowed to research and invent time magics that would allow her to go back and slaughter whoever it was that invented frankincense.
It was made worse in that it didn’t help. Nel couldn’t see Sawyer. All that pungent scent of pine and lemon did was tell them that Sawyer hadn’t moved much since the day before.
Serena never seemed to mind, but Eva wouldn’t be surprised to find out that all of her senses were dulled unless blood was involved.
For that specific reason, Eva was not using blood to quickly draw out her ritual circle. She made do with regular chalk. It was dusty and got everywhere–including inside the joints on her hands–but she didn’t want to torment the poor vampire with the scent of her blood.
“Alright,” Eva said as she brushed the dust off her hands. “I think I’m done.” She did a quick double-check of the circle. During the previous days at motels, there had been a lot of spare time. Enough for her to memorize the ritual circle in full. Still, double checking cost nothing but a few extra moments and had the potential to save her from fatal mistakes.
Satisfied that her memory had served her well, Eva placed one of the thugs’ bloodstones in a small circle at the far end of the larger circle. The vial of Sawyer’s blood, she emptied into a glass bowl in the center of the circle.
She stripped her clothes off and sat down at the edge of the circle, just inside the ring.
With the others gathered around outside the circle, Eva started channeling her magic.
The bloodstone disintegrated almost instantly. Powder flew through the air and landed in the bowl of blood. It stirred and mixed together on its own. Once dissolved, the blood lurched from the bowl in a small ball and flew directly towards Eva’s face.
She didn’t dodge. And she tried not to wince as the blood seeped into the corners of her eyes.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Eva said as her vision split in two. There was a cold chill on her skin that she didn’t actually feel along with a light drizzle of rain.
Obviously, it wasn’t raining inside of their motel room. It might have been a cheap place, but it wasn’t that run down. Even if it was, Eva wouldn’t have drawn out a ritual circle beneath a leaky pipe.
Serena stepped forwards. “Did something go wrong?”
“No,” Eva shook her head. That action just made her stomach churn. She shut her eyes and lay back against the floor. “I just see and feel everything that Sawyer sees and feels.”
“You can see Sawyer?” Nel just about shouted. “With a ritual that simple? Then what have I been–”
“It will only last forty-eight hours. I figured that it would be more useful now rather than back at Brakket where it would run out and the information would be too out of date by the time we got here.” Eva smiled as she watched Sawyer’s actions. He didn’t even know. Or, if he did, he made no indication of it. “I can’t tell where he is either, though I’ll be able to find landmarks and figure out just what he has defending him.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to fight though. It’s too disorienting. We’ll have to wait until it wears off.”
Serena hummed for a moment. “Forty-eight hours? I’ll have to ask for an extension on our stay.” Through her blood sight, Eva caught Serena licking her lips.
Nel crossed her arms and huffed. Eva could almost understand her frustration. Scrying was supposed to be her specialty, after all.
“Well? What is he doing?”
“Digging up a graveyard.” Eva watched through his eyes for a moment longer before correcting her statement. “I guess that he isn’t digging it up. He’s watching an army of skeletons dig it up.”
“An-an army?” Nel squeaked out.
Eva shrugged. They would be annoying, but she wasn’t going to consider the skeletons that big of a threat.
“More importantly, he has two enigmas at his side. Both looking incredibly docile.”