The field wasn’t any different in person. Not that Eva had expected it to be. Her ritual gave her a perfect picture of exactly what Sawyer saw and felt. She had already known how the place would look, feel, and smell. Looking at it with her own eyes didn’t matter in the slightest.
In fact, she was actually feeling better than any time that she had visited through Sawyer’s eyes.
The ritual was fading away. In an hour, maybe two, it would have run its course, leaving Eva all by her self. She could still see Sawyer at the moment, but the sounds were slightly muffled and the colors were muted.
If there was one thing that was different about the real field versus seeing it from Sawyer, it was having Nel and Serena at her side as they looked down at the valley filled with caskets and coffins.
Serena was imitating Catherine at the moment. Her cellphone was out and she was tapping away. Coordinating with the vampires was a full-time job, apparently. Six of them were dotted around the field, keeping themselves out of sight of the many skeletons and enigmas. Two more were just behind Eva.
The ‘Lord’ Kuvon had decided not to grace them with his illustrious presence for the night, sending a portion of his minions instead.
Frankly, Eva wasn’t expecting much from any of them. Sawyer was expecting vampires to attack. Aside from the Elysium Order, Sawyer being prepared to fight vampires would probably be the worst thing that could happen to them.
Eva really didn’t care what happened to any vampire that wasn’t named Serena. In fact, if Sawyer killed them all, she wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over it. That would leave Kuvon and maybe two other vampires that also hadn’t joined in their little escapade. It wouldn’t be difficult to reclaim her blood from them.
And Eva was less than enthused about gifting them a case filled with vials of her blood.
Besides, killing off the vampires would make Nel happy.
At the moment, Nel looked like she could use all the happiness that she could get her hands on.
The summer air was warm, even in the dead of night. Eva wouldn’t have been able to tell that just from looking at Nel. Or from feeling her as she grasped on to Eva’s arm.
It was strange to think that she had been holding back on the trembling. Eva could barely see straight with how much the vibrations traveling up her arm wound up shaking her around. Every single slight noise in the wilderness around them was received with a jump from Nel followed by the girl whipping her head around to find out just what was attacking them.
Nothing. Nothing attacked them.
“Calm down,” Eva said, patting the augur’s non-withered arm. “The vampires are staring.”
“I’m not supposed to be out in the field,” she hissed back. “I can’t fight!”
“Would you rather be back at the hotel? All by yourself? The hotel that the vampires run?”
“Yes! No! I don’t know.” She looked around twice, trying not to be obvious about staring at the vampires. Eva would have to say that she failed, but at least they were being polite about it. Her hysterical voice dropped to a whisper as she leaned her trembling body closer to Eva.
“What am I doing here? I can’t use my magic. All the vampires will know what I am. Even if I had all the frankincense in the world, I can’t catch a glimpse of anything. We’re right in the middle of the dead zone from that stupid little girl.”
“Use your magic if you need to,” Eva said, her voice even quieter than Nel’s. “All the vampires here drank the blood. If they try to bother you, I’ll deal with them.” A little louder, Eva said, “I think you’ll want to be here anyway. Up close and personal, front row seats to Sawyer’s demise.”
Turning to face Serena and the two vampires—she hadn’t bothered to learn their names—Eva clapped her hands together.
Serena started, glancing at the two vampires as if they were about to explode. With good reason. However, Eva hadn’t been channeling any magic into exploding the blood in their stomachs. Not at the moment anyway.
“Sawyer is still in his warehouse,” Eva said. “I don’t think he plans on leaving tonight. Let us see if we can’t change his plans. We’re here to make noise. I refuse to believe that he has no alarms set up to warn him that his precious ritual circle is being destroyed.”
Igniting her hand, Eva gathered up flames into a tight ball. Not quite to the point of the explosive blasts that she used to explode enigmas or blow open the door in her domain. It would need to survive a trip through the air.
Tossing the fireball with all her might, Eva aimed for one of the caskets in the center ring of the ritual circle. With a gleeful smile, she watched as it sailed down into the field.
The fireball fell short of the casket by a good distance. Because of the way the caskets were arranged, it didn’t even hit one of the ones in the next ring out. Some grass and brush caught fire between two caskets, but the foliage wasn’t dry enough to spread quickly. Maybe with time, it would spread and engulf the caskets.
Eva didn’t have time.
The skeletons meandering about in the field took note of the fire. Worse, they took note of the direction the fireball had come from.
Eva threw another fireball, this one actually managing to hit one of the closer caskets. Unfortunately, it was a newer casket. One made out of metal of some kind. The flames splashed off, igniting some of the surrounding brush but doing no damage to the casket or the body sealed inside.
Using some of her own blood—demon blood was still being reserved for when Sawyer arrived and she really needed it—Eva created a shield around herself and Nel. Just in time to catch a few arrows that were arching through the air.
Nel let out a short shriek as the arrows pinged against the shield, drawing more attention and more arrows.
Even though the shield was powered with her blood, the arrows weren’t doing enough damage to worry Eva. She could last a good half hour at the current rate before needing to refill the shield’s reserves.
Of course, that would leave her stuck in one spot. Being immobilized would probably not be a good thing once Sawyer showed up.
“Nel,” Eva said as the vampires ran off towards the ritual circle. Their job was to take out the enigmas. And skeletons, if they came across them. The enigmas could burrow and they needed to be taken down before the field became a mine field of monsters. “How well can you aim your lightning?”
“What happened to use it if you need to?”
“I could get us out of this, either with blood or through waiting for the vampires to kill the skeletons. I’d rather be proactive.” Eva raised one of her long claws, pointing at a skeleton that had his bow drawn and aimed towards them. “If I open up a hole, can you hit that one?”
“But the vampires…”
Eva rolled her eyes. “Nel, if you want me to, I’ll explode all of the vampires right now. Except for Serena. Of course, then it will be just us against Sawyer and whatever undead he brings, but I’m sure we can take them.”
Pausing for a moment, Eva took her eyes off the ritual circle to look over Nel. “We’re not friends,” Eva said. “I don’t think so, anyway. But if it is between you and them, I’ll pick you. Mostly because I know you better. Nothing to do with Ylva or how useful you are. In fact, it is definitely not because of how useful you are. You’re absolutely useless if you can’t hit that skeleton.”
Balling her good hand into a fist, Nel glared at Eva. “Fine,” she shouted. “I’ll do it. If those vampires kill me… or the skeletons–”
“Yeah, yeah,” Eva waved a hand, “I promise to feel bad for a few minutes. Now get ready, as soon as the next arrow hits, I’m dropping the shield for a second or two.”
Nel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, they were burning with white light. With her arm outstretched, she waited.
Eva dropped her shield.
A thunderous crack in the air accompanied a blinding flash of light. With her sudden lack of vision, Eva immediately brought up her shield. She didn’t want to risk either one of them getting hit by an arrow because she couldn’t see them coming.
As Eva blinked away the spots in her eyes and the ringing in her ears faded, she looked down at the ritual field.
The vampires had taken notice, but none of them were actually approaching. After they got through their momentary stupor, they continued tearing through the enigmas on the field. Given just how bright and loud it was, it would have been a surprise had they not noticed.
Brush and grass had blackened and charred around where the skeleton had stood. The skeleton itself was still there, though it was no longer standing. The pile of bones sat in the center of the scorch marks, unmoving.
“Excellent,” Eva said. “Though perhaps tone it down for the next one? Your magic eats other magic, so I don’t think you need to put quite so much power behind it.”
“I was nervous,” Nel said. Her voice was weak. She stumbled forward slightly. There was no fire in her eyes as she grabbed hold of Eva for support.
“Are you alright?”
“I tend to get overwhelmed with information when I connect. I’ll shake it off in a moment. In the mean time, I think I know what all the corpses are for.”
Eva raised an eyebrow as she waited for Nel to get steady on her feet again.
“He’s trying to make a Death Stick.”
“You’re going to have to elaborate.”
“It’s a…” Nel winced, rubbing at her forehead with her good hand. “It’s said to call down Death himself to strike down a single living being. That’s not true, but it does kill something. Then it binds their soul to the stick, though the Death Stick doesn’t have to be a literal stick. It can be anything.
“The body continues to be animated and controlled by the bound soul—which is under the control of the necromancer. Essentially, it creates a lich. But one under control of someone else. And, unless he makes the Death Stick out of gold, it will wear away after a few weeks and crumble to dust. The soul will be released and the body killed for good.”
Nel shook her head. Pulling away from Eva, she stood on her own just at the edge of their shield. “Something is wrong though,” she said as she looked down at the field. “You can make a Death Stick with nine corpses. There are far too many bodies down here.”
Eva shrugged her shoulders. “All the more reason to destroy this place. I don’t even know what you would use such a thing for.”
“Typically, gaining access to a mage’s personal vault. Or other things that can only be acquired by one specific person. Mind control is almost impossible with thaumaturgy. Most non-thaumaturgical methods can and will be checked for at any respectable bank.”
Waving Nel off before she could continue further, Eva pointed at two skeletons that were still launching arrows in their direction.
“Do you think you can take care of both of them at once?”
“Maybe with a little less flash this time as well.”
Nel nodded as a small amount of blood rushed to her ears and cheeks.
“On three,” Eva said.
Once she began her countdown, Nel prepared herself. Fire again burst from her eyes. She held out both hands this time, her good one and the whithered arm covered in a glove. Each pointed at a different skeleton.
“Three,” Eva said as she brought down the shield.
Two bolts of crackling white light speared off into the distance. The moment they connected with the skeletons, the skeletons dropped into unmoving heaps of bones.
Catching Nel before she could fall over, Eva helped her keep on her feet.
“We need to move. I can fire bomb these coffins, but I need to get closer if I want to do any real damage.”
“Bomb them? That’s desecrating the dead.”
“I think Sawyer is way ahead of us on that front,” Eva said as she dragged Nel down the hill towards the caskets.
Around them, vampires were still darting in and out of the place. They seemed to be having more trouble with the enigmas than Eva had expected. Given her experiences fighting them inside her domain, Eva had been hoping that they would tear through them and move on to the skeletons in a few minutes. She hadn’t heard any of the whining and explosion noises that they made. The vampires were keeping them too busy for that at least, thankfully.
Sawyer might have done something to make them stronger. Or, perhaps, they had grown stronger on their own. None of the enigmas that Eva encountered had ever survived for as long as these had. For given values of survival; the creatures couldn’t technically die.
Stopping at the nearest coffin, Eva prepared to destroy the entire thing. She considered opening the lid and setting fire to the contents. That should be more than enough to destroy the corpse.
Experiencing everything that Sawyer had for the past two days was more than enough for Eva to never wish to open a casket again.
After compressing flames into an explosive marble, Eva tossed it at the casket. She reactivated her shield the moment the marble left her hands.
The ball of bright yellow flames touched the side of the casket, shattering the thin layer of stability that Eva had formed as a shell. Noise and a bright flash quickly followed. Neither were as bright as the initial lightning bolt that Nel had cast, but they were enough to momentarily blind Eva.
Shrapnel and body parts went flying through the air. Because the explosion had occurred between the casket and Eva, most parts were directed away from her position.
One large chunk of the metal casket had other ideas. It crashed into Eva’s shield at high speeds, draining almost every last drop of her blood. The remaining bits of bone and steel that hit finished off the shield. The protective bubble around Eva and Nel dropped away.
With a groan, Eva unsheathed her dagger and jammed it into her arm. She drained almost twice the amount of blood. Not enough for her to feel anemic, but she wouldn’t be able to keep up a permanent shield without lethargy creeping up on her.
“I wish Arachne were here,” Eva sighed. And not just because of the powers of her blood. That was useful, but Arachne made for far better company than Nel. It had been nearly two months since Arachne died and Eva was still not used to the lack of her presence.
Aside from that, Arachne’s largest form could easily have trodden over caskets, enigmas, and skeletons alike.
Pushing the thoughts of her lost friend out of her mind for the moment, Eva conjured up another three exploding fireballs. Each one went to a different casket around her.
Again, Eva put up her shield. Again, debris hit it. Nothing quite so hard as the first casket, but a good chunk of her shield’s blood still drained away.
Eva was about to continue. There were a lot of caskets that needed exploding and only so many hours of darkness remaining.
But she paused. Through her gradually dimming connection to Sawyer, she saw something.
Sawyer bolted upright from being hunched over a soon-to-be animated skeleton. He turned his head from one side of the room to the other, slowly looking over every little thing. From all of his tools, the empty caskets piled up at the far end of the room, the unarmed skeletons waiting in a corner for their bows and arrows, all the way to Des and her nearly finished skeleton.
For just a moment, Eva thought that he might just be imagining things. Or at least, she thought that he thought that he was just imagining things.
The whole point of blowing up the ritual site was to draw him out. Well, and to stop the ritual. Him thinking it was his imagination couldn’t be allowed.
Moving forward a few steps, Eva found herself in range of another few caskets. Explosions at each of them had Sawyer dropping his tools.
“The field,” he hissed. Sawyer ran up to a tool shelf and pulled off a small whistle that looked as if it had been carved from bone. “Des, honey, meet me at the field with as many skeletons as you can gather that can fight. We have a vampire infestation.”
Placing the whistle against his lips, Sawyer gave a sharp blow. Eva couldn’t hear anything through his ears. The same was not true for the enigmas in the room. The second he blew the whistle, they perked up and ran over to him, stopping just at his feet.
They followed at his heels, nipping at each other with their vacuous maws and intertwining their tentacles.
Apart from the occasional glance back, Sawyer ignored them. As soon as he got outside, he blew the whistle again.
Sawyer didn’t seem too worried by the lack of any action. He walked right past his sports car, stopping at a larger truck around the backside of the warehouse. The truck was hooked up to a long metal trailer with plenty of holes in the sides for air.
Eva heard it before she saw it. The scampering of footsteps as enigmas charged towards him. Three, five, ten… there had to be at least thirty.
It didn’t take long to herd them into the back of the trailer. Either they were well-trained or Sawyer had more control over them than a simple whistle would imply.
They didn’t all fit. Each enigma was roughly the size of a large dog. A few of them might have been able to pass as smaller horses. Very tentacly horses. With wide mouths and sharp teeth. The larger enigmas climbed over and on top of the smaller ones. They all bit at each other, but not enough to do damage, sadly.
Once Sawyer had kicked the last enigma aboard, he closed the back of the trailer and went around to the driver’s seat of the truck.
The field wasn’t far from the warehouse. A fifteen minute drive at most. And Sawyer would be in a hurry.
“Serena!” Eva shouted out, hoping that the vampire could hear her above all the droning thunder of the enigmas around the field.
She dropped out of mid-air in front of Eva just a second or two after shouting.
“Little busy at the moment,” Serena said, baring her fangs in Eva’s direction.
Nel started shaking at the look, again, but Eva paid her no mind.
She was glad to see that Serena had listened to her request of not drinking the enigmas’ blood. Her fangs were shiny white and not stained purple. Eva still hadn’t seen any proof of corrupting effects, but who was she to doubt Ylva’s words on the matter. She didn’t know if the other vampires had listened, but really, she didn’t care.
“You’re about to be a whole lot busier,” Eva said. “Sawyer noticed. He’s on his way with about thirty more enigmas.”
“Thirty! There were only ten here and we are barely dealing with them. What are we supposed to do about thirty?”
“He has a whistle that he’s using to control them. Inside his shirt pocket on the left side,” Eva said, patting her chest in the spot. “Get it and we might not have to deal with them.”
“If I’m that close to him, I might as well tear out his heart while I’m at it.”
Eva slumped slightly. “I won’t say you can’t, but that wouldn’t get rid of the enigmas. Besides, I’d rather he lives. I’d hate to resort to necromancy just to torture him.”
Nel hissed at Eva’s side, but again, Eva ignored her.
“Alright,” Serena said, “I’ll let the other vampires know that we have incoming enemies.”
“Great. I’m going to explode as many of these coffins as I can before he arrives.”
Serena jumped away into the night with barely a nod of acknowledgment.
Eva turned to face Nel with a frown. “Walking with you is slowing me down. We need to move fast if we want to make any progress before Sawyer arrives.”
“What?” Nel shrieked. “B-but, you can’t leave me alone. You promised.”
“I know,” Eva said. She was mostly certain that she hadn’t actually promised anything, but she didn’t intend to leave Nel behind anyway. Ducking to the ground, Eva faced away from Nel. “Climb onto my back.”
“What.” This time, her voice was flat.
“No time to argue. Climb on and shoot lighting at anything that moves. And try not to fall off.”
“No time to argue,” Eva repeated slowly. “My legs are strong enough to carry you, just hold on tight.”
Her legs were definitely strong enough, but Eva was more concerned about her back. Nel wasn’t overweight or even all that large. If anything, she was malnourished. Eva didn’t think that she had been eating much since the start of their trip. Still, carrying around a human body for any length of time wasn’t easy. She had learned that much from carrying Irene’s unconscious body around when Sawyer had attacked Brakket the second time. And Irene was smaller than Nel.
“Hurry,” Eva said as Nel continued to hesitate.
That seemed to snap her out of it.
Nel climbed on, wrapping her legs around Eva’s waist and gripping Eva’s shoulder with her good hand. Her withered hand was far too weak to keep any real hold of Eva.
Eva had to place one of her hands around Nel’s bottom to stabilize them both enough to move.
With her free hand, Eva lit up another few fireballs.
“Alright, lightning at anything that moves,” Eva said as she took off in a run. “Well, aside from the vampires,” she added.