“I can’t believe scum like that tasted your blood before me,” Serena sulked once they were back in their room.
“I can’t believe that we’re working with those monsters,” Nel said, gripping her hands into fists. “They should be exterminated, not bartered with.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know that I would very much resent being exterminated.”
Eva moved past the bickering idiots and slumped straight into one of the beds. At this point, she wasn’t sure if she would care about them murdering each other.
Her head was hammering, Sawyer’s actions were just as nauseating as they had been earlier, and now she had Nel and Serena talking far too loudly. Casting a darkness spell around Serena to get her safely back into the room had taken its toll. All she wanted to do was to sleep for the next thirty-six or so hours. Then, the ritual would have worn off.
They would have to move fast once it ended if they didn’t want all the knowledge she had learned to become useless.
Sawyer had worked through about half of the bodies. The light from sunrise was not making their appearance any better. Though she could actually stomach their appearance. It was still the smell that got to her the most.
If only Sawyer would go around and open the caskets before he got to them. Something to let them air out.
At no point in moving between caskets had Sawyer pulled out his cellphone. Perhaps because the sun had risen and most vampires slept through the day. Or maybe he knew that his minion had perished. Eva really didn’t care what he thought so long as he didn’t flee.
On the plus side of everything that had happened with the vampires, Eva now had a cellphone. At least until the phone company didn’t get payments from the dead vampire. Maybe she’d be lucky and he would have some bank account set up to automatically make payments.
What, exactly, she would do if and when Sawyer called, Eva still didn’t know. She would likely just ignore it. Maybe with a text message about how she shouldn’t be contacted for a few days because of whatever reasons.
If she saw an opportunity to taunt him with it that wouldn’t cause him to run, she would probably take it. Maybe a text message right as she launched a surprise attack.
“They can’t be trusted,” Nel said, hands on her hips. “They’ll stab us in the back the moment they see the chance.”
Eva had her face buried in the pillow, but she still used her blood sight to track everything around her. She trusted Nel and Serena to an extent and didn’t think that either would attack her. Like Nel, she didn’t believe in the vampires to half the same extent.
The tenants in the neighboring rooms were still asleep. No one was outside and she couldn’t see all the way to the manager’s office. She wished that they were in a room closer to the vampire’s thralls, but she’d just have to make do.
Eva half expected a bunch of thralls to show up around noon to break in the windows. She would have to keep an eye on her blood sight and watch for anything suspicious outside.
“They made a fuss over Lucas for two reasons. Reason the first,” Serena held up a finger as she spoke, “one of their number had just exploded. They were scared. The other reason is that Kuvon couldn’t appear weak in front of his den. They would have eaten him alive if he had shown weakness. Literally, probably.”
“So what, since we’ve assuaged their worries they’ll just fall in line?”
“Nooo,” Serena said, drawing out the word with a shake of her head. “They’ll fall in line because Eva promised them a whole case of her blood.”
Eva just groaned. “Don’t remind me,” she mumbled into her pillow.
“It might not have been the wisest thing to do,” Serena said with a sage nod.
“I didn’t want to fight. Even if I could have clapped my hands and killed all the vampires, I don’t know that I would have held up against the thralls. And there were a good number of them. With me useless and Nel,” Eva paused, turning her head to the side just enough to stare at the augur with one eye. “Well, you would have had to deal with them on your own.”
Nel just huffed, crossing her arms across her chest. Though, Eva didn’t count that as a disagreement.
“And then there were the extra vampires you mentioned. The ones that might not be there.”
“Those were August strain vampires,” Serena said. “They tend to like large groups. Six just feels small. Even for a town this size.”
“How many more would you expect?”
“Four to six. Ten to twelve in total. Minus the one called Lucas, obviously.”
“So we would have only killed off half of them. Probably wouldn’t have been able to trick the other half into drinking blood either.”
“They would have realized something was suspicious if we offered them a few vials.”
“There you have it,” Eva said to Nel. “Unless you’ve got a better idea, having them as our allies is much better than fighting both them and Sawyer. Doubly so because our fighting would probably draw Sawyer’s attention prematurely.”
Still with her arms over her chest, Nel huffed again. “We should call the Elysium Order. Even if they’ve suspended operations, they can’t ignore an infestation of vampires and a necromancer.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they’d be thrilled as can be to receive a call from you, me, and another vampire,” Eva said with a wan grin. It was half covered up by the pillow, but she was fairly certain that the augur got her meaning if her averted gaze was any indication. “Besides, this is our revenge. I want Sawyer’s blood to rain down around me. Not to watch from afar while some nuns fumble their way into letting him escape again.”
Nel narrowed her eyes, but didn’t respond.
Eva just burrowed her head back into her pillow. She really didn’t care what the augur thought at the moment. Her head was hammering. As Sawyer cracked open another casket, it was all she could do to keep from rushing to the bathroom again.
The side of her bed sank in under Serena’s weight as the vampire sat down. “I know you’re not feeling well,” she said in a gentle voice, “but it would be better for you to drain your blood for the vampires now. So you can rebuild your strength before we go meet them again.”
Eva groaned. Serena was right, but that didn’t mean that she had to like it. “You just want a taste.”
“Maybe,” she said with a light chuckle. “But I suppose I can save it for the vampires given our limited supply.”
Grasping around behind her back, Eva’s fingers curled around the hilt of her dagger. She brought it around and jammed it into her shoulder. The pooling blood left the surface of her skin and hovered in the air over her back.
“Just set out the empty vials we got back,” Eva said, ignoring Serena licking her lips. “I’ll take care of the rest. And, if it isn’t too much trouble, I’d appreciate quiet for a while. If anything happens with Sawyer, I’ll let you guys know.”
Around noon, Sawyer finally finished with his gruesome task. In the process, he gave Eva some hope that he wouldn’t do anything particularly terrible for the remainder of the time she had to spend with him.
Her hopes were quickly dashed.
Sawyer closed the lid of the last casket and proceeded to direct the skeletons around. They carried off the caskets to fill in the ritual circle rings.
Not every slot got a casket placed into it. Sawyer skipped over a few of them.
That was cause for some concern. Eva didn’t know if they would be filled in later with more appropriate corpses or if they were intentionally left blank. If it was the latter, Sawyer would need less corpses. He would be finished sooner. Regardless of what the ritual did, Eva did not want to see what would happen if she let him finish it.
But for the moment, he was taking a break. After heading back to his warehouse, Sawyer decided to get something to eat. It was somewhat shocking to see this horrible, terrible person slip a bowl of macaroni into a microwave and then proceed to eat it while looking over a tome. Eva couldn’t read whatever language the tome had been written in; undoubtedly, it was a necromantic text on some fiendish activity that he intended to unleash on the world. But the situation itself was just so normal–something that Eva could see herself doing–that it was almost surreal.
At least until she realized that he hadn’t washed his hands since having them elbow deep in several corpses. The same pale light that had killed the maggots earlier briefly lit up his arms before he had started to eat. That might have killed off bacteria and such, but it didn’t help all the grime coating him.
Eva almost vomited again at the thought of pieces of dead bodies falling into his meal. Little chunks of skin, stomachs, or intestines.
Haemomancy was not a clean art. Between her own blood and others’ blood, it was just the opposite. Eva was hardened against most feelings related to blood. That didn’t mean that she sat around drinking it all day like some sort of vampire.
She might occasionally get coated in blood. She might occasionally go elbow deep into someone’s body. They were typically far fresher bodies than Sawyer’s corpses, but it was a similar ordeal. But Eva at least washed her hands or showered before eating.
Eva immediately regretted thinking such thoughts as soon as they had crossed her mind.
Sawyer finished with his meal, dumped the bowl in the sink, and proceeded into the shower as if he had read her mind.
Of all the things that Eva didn’t need to see in her life, Sawyer showering ranked among the highest.
Though, on second thought, him showering was far more preferable to him cracking open more caskets and releasing the noxious fumes contained within. At least he was getting clean.
Why he even bothered, Eva couldn’t say. As soon as he finished toweling himself off and dressing, Sawyer walked into a larger side room of the warehouse.
Rows of caskets were lined up inside. Several were open, others were closed. Dirt covered the floor where it had come loose from the caskets. A large skylight overhead let in the early morning light. Not that the light was needed. A number of heavy-duty floodlights were hanging from the second floor, all illuminating the room to the point of leaving almost no shadows.
Skeletons shambled about the area alongside a number of zombies. Some carried things, buckets for the most part. Others looked like guards, all equipped with various medieval weaponry. Except for a handful that appeared to have guns bolted onto their hands.
There was a small group of skeletons accompanied by a handful of enigmas and even a few zombies.
Sawyer paid them no mind, even despite the zombies’ proximity to him. They didn’t even notice him. He might as well have been invisible to everything in the room.
His focus was on a younger girl who stood over one of the open caskets. Des, the blended girl who looked like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, held a long knife in her hand. She was shearing off the flesh of a corpse’s arm as if she were peeling a fruit.
The scraps of flesh were dropped into a bucket carried by one of the skeletons.
Sawyer walked up to the young girl, ruffling her hair. “And how are we this fine morning?”
Des looked up to him and just gave a slight, jerky nod of her head. Her lips were still sealed together with stitches.
When she was last able to spy on them, Nel had mentioned a heart transplant involving the girl and an enigma. Eva had to wonder if that actually got completed or not. Externally, there was no sign of it. Eva wasn’t sure what sign there would be, but she had expected bright purple veins at the very least.
Thinking about that got Eva considering another topic. Her tongue was dark in coloration after her latest treatment. Her skin was the same as it always had been despite her blood being pitch black. Eva had to wonder just what color her heart was. And the rest of her organs. Devon had never cut her open to check after any treatments and Eva couldn’t exactly say that she wanted him to do so, but it might be interesting to find out.
Something to discuss with Devon when she got back home.
“You’ve made it through less than half of them,” Sawyer said, glancing around the room. His eyes stopped for a moment on each open casket before moving on to the next. “Better than yesterday, I suppose.”
After giving Des two pats on the head, he moved over to the wall. A number of tools had been hung up on a rack. Some, shiny new metal. Others looked like rusted implements from a horror movie.
A few tools were set out that Eva recognized. Unfortunately. The small silver cigar cutter-like device hung from a thin metal rod. Not far from it was the flexible knife that he had used to remove her original eyes.
Lying in her bed, Eva clenched her fists and ground her teeth together. They were good reminders of just why she was out in the middle of relatively rural Idaho, stalking a necromancer.
He ignored all of them. Instead, he walked up to a large tool chest and opened a few of the drawers. It took him a moment of searching, but he finally found what he was looking for. Sawyer pulled out a large silvery knife. One almost identical to the one held by Des. He pulled a few other things from the rack, a saw, a hammer, and a large spoon.
With the tools in his hands, Sawyer walked over to one of the unopened caskets. He cracked it open, much to Eva’s despair, and proceeded to remove flesh from the bones.
From what Eva had seen of Des, the girl was an amateur. Her knife hacked where Sawyer’s glided. Her strips of flesh were jagged and chunky where Sawyer’s were smooth and long. Eva could feel the lack of resistance as his knife cleanly severed muscles, ligaments, flesh, and everything else.
The way he moved and cut was so elegant that Eva almost forgot that he was slicing up a corpse.
Once finished with the limbs, Sawyer moved on to the torso. He used his knife to remove any excess flesh on the outside of the ribcage. Using the large spoon-like tool, he scraped out the entirety of the insides in a single go. It was sharp at the edges to cut any meat from the bones that might be still attached, but small enough to fit into a wide variety of chest cavities.
All of the mostly decayed organs got dumped into a bucket carried by the skeletons. Eva couldn’t see where the skeletons were taking the flesh, but she couldn’t help but wonder just what the purpose of all this was.
If he wanted to remove everything from the bones, surely the older corpses that he had sent to the ritual field were better for the task. They had all been in a far more advanced state of decay. More decay meant less flesh to remove. Unless, of course, the ritual required corpses of a certain age.
It was hard to say without knowing much about necromancy. Part of her hoped that he would go and review his plan with Des, or read a tome that Eva could understand that detailed everything he was intending to do.
Eva doubted that it would be that easy.
Though Des had a head start on the corpse she had been working on, Sawyer finished well in advance.
He finished scalping the skull. From looking at the skeletal remains, Eva had assumed he was finished. That was until he had grabbed hold of the saw.
Sawyer took the tool to the base of the skull and started removing the back of the skull, right near where the spinal cord connected to the brain. When he finally got it open, he looked inside.
There wasn’t much of a brain left. A lot of black goop that Eva wouldn’t have wanted to touch. Not much else.
Sawyer stuck his bare hand inside without a care and proceeded to scrape out the insides into one of the bucket skeletons’ buckets. Once the inside was mostly clear, he carried it over towards the tool rack.
Just to the side of the tools was a large brick structure that came up to Sawyer’s waist. Eva could feel the heat coming off it through her link to Sawyer.
He put on a heavy glove, gripped a rod that was sticking out the top, and pulled it back.
The head of the rod was an intricate design of weaved iron. And it was glowing red hot. A branding iron.
What’s more, Eva recognized the design. As Sawyer shoved the hot end of the iron into the hole in the skull, Eva realized just what he was doing.
It was one of the things that she had come across while skimming through the necromancy tomes that she had stolen.
Sawyer was making skeletons. The animated kind of skeletons. Ones that would wander around, doing his bidding and being nuisances to everyone else.
More skeletons. Between the field, the graveyard, and his warehouse, he already had so many skeletons.
Then, Eva remembered the crypt. The one that she, Arachne, Devon, and Juliana had all entered. The one that had been packed full of the monsters. There had been so many in the cave that, weak though skeletons were, Eva’s group had nearly been overwhelmed anyway. And then there was that giant mass of skeletons that Arachne had fought.
Eva considered the idea that Sawyer had some sort of compulsion to make skeletons. Although, the skeletons at the crypt probably hadn’t required so much effort to make. He would have just had to run around branding skulls. They would have been far less fleshy than most of the corpses he had dug up for this batch.
As Sawyer withdrew the branding iron from the skull and replaced it into the kiln, Eva could feel magic being channeled. The still hot sigil glowed slightly before fading.
The bones in the jaw creaked. A faint glow in the back of the skull’s eyes lit up.
Sawyer turned the skull over, inspecting it. Looking towards the casket, he watched as the rest of the skeleton tried to sit up.
After a satisfied nod, Sawyer reached over to the tool rack and pulled a scouring pad from a small bag. He shoved it between the teeth of the skull and chucked the skull back to the casket.
The skeleton’s body managed to catch it, but fell back down at the force.
“Clean yourself off,” Sawyer shouted at it. “Then fall in line with the others.”
It wasted no time in following his directions. Using the pad, it started scrubbing off bits of flesh that had been left behind by Sawyer.
Walking back to the casket himself, Sawyer picked up his discarded tools and moved on to another body.
Sawyer paused before opening the lid. He glanced towards Des, shaking his head sadly.
“Carry on without me for a time, honey. I’ll be back shortly.”
The girl looked up at him with wide, questioning eyes. With her lips sealed, she couldn’t speak.
Sawyer apparently got the message anyway.
“Don’t worry,” he said as he walked towards the door leading back into the livable section of the warehouse. “Just something that I forgot to take care of. It won’t take long.”
Her stitched lips turned downwards in a frown, but she nodded anyway.
As soon as Sawyer left the room, he pulled out a small cellphone from his pocket. Not a smart phone, but an older-style flip phone. One covered in grime and dirt. With all the brain goop on his fingers, it wasn’t getting any cleaner.
The contacts list held only two numbers in it and no names. He scrolled through to the second before Eva could even try to memorize either.
Eva tensed. A moment later, she felt a vibration. One that was on her side of their link, right at her hip.
Remaining unmoving, Eva waited.
The vibration continued for far too long. Sawyer leaned against the wall and started tapping a finger against it. The taps grew more and more impatient with every unanswered ring.
Finally, the rings ceased. On Sawyer’s side of things, she heard the phone connect to a voice mail system. As soon as it finished, Sawyer began to speak.
“I am aware that your kind dislike the middle of the day, but I do not appreciate being made to wait. Do return my call before something unfortunate has to happen. Next time, leave a message. That’s what it’s there for.”
Eva rolled her eyes. He doesn’t like people making him wait? Sawyer had ignored the initial call and then forgot about it for half the day.
With a displeased shake of his head, Sawyer dropped the phone back into his pocket.
Eva watched him return to making skeletons for a moment longer. When he didn’t do anything suspicious, Eva pushed herself out of bed.
She had until nightfall to discuss with the others just what they should do. Not responding at all would be too suspicious, but they needed to keep him in the dark for one more day. At least. Two, ideally.
Eva’s ritual would run out halfway through tomorrow night. While they could try assaulting him with the remainder of the darkness, Serena and any vampires that showed up to help might have to leave early to avoid the sun. If they managed to keep his suspicions low, they would have a full night to work with.
Either way, Eva was starting to get excited about just what she wanted to do to Sawyer. Maybe she would take the little cigar cutter off the rack and put it to use.