Through a thin slit in a heavy metal door, Eva watched as Sawyer’s body turned to ash in a high intensity fire. Bright orange light bathed over everything around, even though the only exit for the light was the small slit that Eva watched through.
Copying the women’s ward a second time had given Eva plenty of space to create a makeshift kiln. Every scrap of Sawyer’s body was inside except for the finger that Eva had kept. Even the shards of teeth that he had spat out onto the floor.
There were still bloodstains on the floor of the alternate women’s ward, but those would be easy to take care of with some focused fire.
Eva was not willing to take the chance that he had left any surprises for anyone that might kill him. Whether that be coming back as a lich or simply some delayed zombification, it didn’t matter. Eva would be raising the intensity of her flames until not even dust remained.
The heat started with his hair. His skin blistered over, turning charcoal black. Or, just to charcoal. The muscles, soft organs, and other tissues were next. They charred over and were vaporized in the flames. The remaining skeleton started calcifying, becoming brittle and crumbling in on itself. Using a long rod, Eva shoved the remains around. Chunks of bone were still too large. Pushing everything together allowed her to focus the heat in a condensed spot.
And what a heat it was.
Though she considered herself to be quite resistant to the heat, even Eva had her limits. She stood behind one of the metal doors from the alternate women’s ward to help shield her from the heat. It was still leaking through, heating the metal before it radiated out to her, but it was enough of a buffer for the moment.
Outside of her domain, she was mostly sure that she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish such a feat. Though she was much better at her fire magic than she had been even six months ago, this kind of heat was still beyond her. The only way she was able to accomplish it now was thanks to the help of her domain. She wanted the body to burn so burn it would.
Nel stood a short distance behind Eva, well away from the metal door. She was not quite so attuned to the heat. Even the relatively low heat coming off the metal door was a bit much for her.
Since waking up from her little fainting episode, she had calmed down a good deal. Her heart was beating at a regular pace. Eva could almost feel the relief that was emanating from her smile.
Sawyer’s passing had gone by too easily. He had been too calm. Too happy.
Like he had intended to die just then.
Eva kept expecting to keel over dead from some disease that he had released from his body specifically for screwing her over. Maybe a poison gas stored in one of his teeth that she had broken or something.
She was hoping that incinerating him would nullify whatever traps he had.
But it had been too easy. Where was his ghost to come possess her? He had to have something. Unless her domain had nullified any threat he might have posed.
Gritting her teeth, Eva put a burst of magic into her flames and turned the remains of his bones to dust.
After holding the flames for a few moments, Eva sagged back away from the door, feeling somewhat exhausted from the burst of magic. She turned to face Nel with a small sigh.
“Your white flames have undead killing properties, right?”
“They’re specialized for vampires, zombies, and liches. Other fleshy things as well.”
“Want to throw a burst of it in the room? There’s nothing left, but I’d rather be sure.”
Nel took a step forward, but stopped with a wince as soon as Eva moved to the side. “It’s really hot,” she said as she backed up a few steps.
“Well, that was the idea.” Eva continued to fuel the flames for a moment more before she ceased channeling her magic. With their source of fuel cut off, the flames died almost instantly.
The heat remained, still radiating off the door.
Eva took a minute to imagine the room as some kind of refrigerator in an attempt to get her domain to cool it faster. Of course, it didn’t work. Her domain only followed her wants when she didn’t actually intend for them to happen.
Though it did build the second alternate women’s ward building, so that was nice of it.
It would be nicer if she could figure out how it worked.
For the time being, Eva just stepped away from the room. “It will be a few minutes,” she said. Nel’s fire probably wouldn’t matter anyway. There was nothing left in the room.
Nel nodded slowly before backing away to the windows. “How are we getting out of this place?”
“When I first came here, Arachne was able to carry me out when she returned with her beacon. I have a beacon at the real women’s ward, so there’s no problem in getting you out.”
The real problem was that a good portion her things were still in the motel in Idaho. Including one of her few books on blood magic.
If Zoe had returned during Eva’s trip, she might be able to teleport to the motel and collect the things. The vampires would probably not be too happy about half their number dying to the haugbui. They might try to collect her things. If they actually destroyed her things, Eva might have a new target to exact vengeance upon. She didn’t have enough blood magic books to lose the one.
Even if it was the one with that horrible sensory sharing spell.
Of course, Des might have brought the haugbui into town as some sort of revenge against the vampires if she was unaware of Eva’s actions. That would depend on there being some sort of communication between Sawyer and Des. If she did go on a crusade against the vampires, it would be nice for Eva. Des wouldn’t know about her hotel room or any of the items within. Unfortunately, returning while the haugbui was still around town could be suicide.
Nel would be able to scry out the place and see. Or not, if Des was still around, but at least they would know one way or the other.
Something to consider once they got back and found out for certain just what was going on. In the meantime, Nel had been saying something that Eva hadn’t been paying attention to in the slightest.
She was standing with her hands clasped in front of her stomach and her face waiting expectantly for an answer.
Eva had no idea what to tell her. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“When are we leaving?”
“As soon as you finish burning the body. I’ll take you back. You’ll need to accept a beacon from me so that I can come back and grab Serena.”
That was another concern. The vampire was still unconscious. On a more positive note, Eva believed that she was not actually dead. The blood within Serena’s stomach had started to move about her body. When she had checked before incinerating Sawyer, there had been no visible signs of healing, but hopefully that would come after a short time.
Nel apparently didn’t hear a word past the first sentence. She stepped around Eva, wincing lightly at the heat still coming off the door. Even still, she walked right up to it with her eyes aglow. Holding her hand a short distance from the slit in the door, she begun to unleash a wave of fire.
Eva took a step back and watched as the room filled with the flames of the Elysium Order.
After Nel pulled her hand away from the door, white fire belched forth from the slit for another few moments before it died off. It was a nice sight to see. Nel had passed out during the torture session, but she looked satisfied with the outcome.
Her hands were down at her side, resting lightly by her hips. The smile on her face was small and content.
Eva decided to smile as well. There was no reason not to aside from that bad feeling about Sawyer. It was probably just a bit of paranoia.
After all, there was nothing left of Sawyer’s body but a finger. Even if he was still alive and wound up possessing his finger–or whatever–Eva really didn’t have anything to fear. What could a finger possibly do to her.
And if he did come back, his finger and the blood contained within could very well be another weapon against him. As much as she had hated it, being able to spy on him had come in quite handy.
“That’s that. Can we go now?”
Eva opened her mouth to respond, but a deeper voice interrupted.
Prax stood in the doorway, his entire bulk blocking the way.
Eva eyed him with crossed arms. He didn’t look like he was about to attack, but she only knew of him from Shalise. They had hardly spoken more than twice. Once right after he had been ejected from Shalise and again just before torturing Sawyer. His temperaments, goals, motivations, and everything else were complete unknowns to her.
“You wanted out of here? I assume that you mean to Earth.”
With a short grunt of affirmation, Prax gave a glacial nod of his head. “That is correct.”
“You do realize that Zagan is out there, right? Last time I checked, he was not all that enthused with you. Something about locking you up himself? Or killing you. I can’t remember.”
She had been a bit preoccupied with Genoa at the time.
“I was locked in a cell, chained to a wall for centuries. Being able to walk around is a mild improvement.” Veins bulged in his arms as his fists tightened. “I am still trapped in this… this Hell.”
“You’re free right now. You don’t have to stay here. I’m sure the doll has left your domain by now. Otherwise, you can go anywhere. If Zagan drags you back to your cell, that won’t be the case any longer.”
Prax narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “You do not understand. Nothing here is free.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly through his nose. “I’ll take my chances with Zagan.”
“Alright,” Eva said with a shrug. “I don’t care if you’re here, locked up, or outside. Tell Nel how to summon you.”
“What?” The augur started at being addressed. “Me? But I–”
“There was a girl in the prison with Shalise,” Prax said. “She called herself your friend.”
“She promised to summon and contract with me.”
“I haven’t seen her in a few months,” Eva said with a frown. “With the injuries her mother sustained, she took off the last half of school and went to be with her family. If she was supposed to do something, I don’t know a thing about it.”
And I doubt that her family would be pleased to hear about such a promise.
“But if you tell Nel how to summon you, I’m sure we could find someone willing to do it if Juliana can’t be reached.”
There was a low grumble from the back of Prax’s throat, but after a moment, he nodded.
“I’ll check up on Serena in the meantime.”
Rather than wait for Prax to move out of the way, Eva just blinked straight past him to appear in the sand between the kiln building and the women’s ward. Behind her, Nel’s heart rate spiked as Prax moved closer to her. Eva waited just a moment to ensure that Prax wasn’t going to attack the augur. As soon as they started talking, Eva blinked the rest of the way to the women’s ward.
Arriving in her room, Eva found Serena to be in mostly the same position as she had left the vampire in.
She had left the vampire’s arms at her sides. Now, one arm was up and across her stomach. While it was possible that Prax had moved her arm while Sawyer was being incinerated, Eva couldn’t come up with a good reason why he would do such a thing. So, Serena must have moved it herself.
“Are you still alive?” Eva asked as she walked up to the side of the bed.
While remaining otherwise still, the vampire’s eyes snapped open. Muscles in her back tensed for just a moment before relaxing as if she were trying to sit up.
That was something of a relief. At least she wasn’t dead.
“Your neck is probably still broken, but you’re safe here. Welcome to Hell,” Eva said with a smile.
Bringing Nel back had been something of a sordid affair. While Eva had grown quite used to traveling between the mortal realm and Hell, she had not often brought a person with her. Humans could exit through Ylva’s domain without drawing ire from the Keeper, so they did without hesitation. It was easier for everyone that way.
While bringing Nel back, Eva had just about dropped her in the middle of transit. She had no idea what would have happened had she done so. Nothing good, most likely.
Aside from that little mishap, everything went well. Eva had warned Nel that there might be some discomfort. Frankly, she had been expecting Nel to wind up like Sister Cross. Flayed or crispy, possibly both. But neither had happened.
Which made sense. Eva never suffered any ill effects while using her beacon to return to Earth. Only while teleporting from one point on Earth to another.
It made her wonder if she was doing something wrong. It wasn’t something that she talked about with others, aside from Arachne. And Arachne either couldn’t or wouldn’t teleport on her own, so she wasn’t much of an authority on the matter.
Regardless, returning to her domain had been somewhat awkward as well. Normally, she passed through Ylva’s domain to get to her own. Lacking that, Eva was left with trying to banish herself. She had done so immediately after losing her eyes to Sawyer when he had first captured her. That had been entirely an accident. The intended goal had been to teleport herself away.
Replicating that had turned out to be something of a chore. She had kept teleporting instead of banishing herself.
But, she had eventually got it figured out. Having no particular destination in mind helped a great deal.
“Alright,” Eva said as she rested against the edge of Serena’s bed. “It’s daylight back out in the real world. I could have put up blankets over the windows in the gate room, but I figured that you probably shouldn’t be moving much just yet anyway.”
Serena just stared at the ceiling. Her eyes blinked a few times, but she didn’t try to speak.
Which was probably for the best. Moving too much might disrupt her healing.
“So, we’ve got about twelve hours. You just focus on healing. I don’t know if you can speed it up or not, but try anyway. I’d much rather have you whole and hearty when it is time to go.”
Again, Serena didn’t respond.
Hopefully there wasn’t something else wrong with her. Brain damage or something. Could vampires get brain damage? Their brains weren’t any more alive than the rest of them.
“I would stay with you, but there are a few things that I want to check out while I’m here in Hell. Don’t worry about anything, you’re perfectly safe here.”
Pushing herself off the bed, Eva walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Prax wouldn’t enter outside of an emergency. Eva had already spoken with him. If he did try something, Eva would ensure that Juliana knew not to summon him.
It was a good thing that he was here. If he wasn’t, Eva wouldn’t be able to leave. There had been no enigmas since all the humans got out of her domain, according to Prax. If humans, or residents of the mortal plane, were the things that drew enigmas to Hell, then Serena or herself could have plenty showing up in a short amount of time.
Since he was here, Eva was free to do a little exploring. She had no real reason to do so, it was purely to satisfy her own curiosity.
Walking off into the waters at the edge of her domain, Eva had just one thing in mind.
Catherine, the lesser succubus.
What must her domain look like?
No sense speculating. She was about to find out.
Submerging her head beneath the water, Eva concentrated on Catherine. It didn’t take long before she felt the familiar pull as she was whisked through Hell towards Catherine’s domain.
The water around Eva vanished, replaced by air. The fall wasn’t very long. She quickly found herself sinking into something soft and cushy.
Looking around, Eva found pillows. Tons of pillows atop a large bed. Not quite as large as the one in Ylva’s domain, but relatively close.
Ylva’s bed had a minimalistic look to it. The impressive part of it was the size, not the colors and patterns.
Picking up one of the pillows, Eva gave it a light squeeze. It was actually somewhat rough. Definitely not a modern pillow. The rectangular shape, lacy trim, and floral patterns were somewhat tacky. Maybe something from a century or two ago?
Not what Eva would have expected from the well-dressed and tech-minded succubus that she knew. Then again, if she hadn’t been summoned in a century, maybe it made sense. When her current contract was over and done with, perhaps she would come back and update everything to be a bit more modern.
Rolling off the bed, Eva got to her feet and looked around the area as a whole.
She was standing atop some sort of raised tower. Tower might be too tall of a word, but there was a decently sized staircase leading down to the main area. Another staircase led off below the main area, adjacent to where the tower’s staircase ended. The steps dipped below the surface of black colored water.
A large red windmill towered over a smaller rectangular building. To the side was a metal elephant, at least twice as large as a regular elephant. Probably more. It looked like there was some sort of room inside. There were definitely windows looking out the front and sides.
The actual main building appeared to be made from brick and stone. There wasn’t any paint, though the red bricks matched the red-painted windmill.
Nothing really matched the iron elephant.
Walking down the steps, Eva wasn’t sure what to think. It was definitely a place. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the windmill or elephant and why they were here. They didn’t exactly scream succubus. Then again, neither had Prax’s castle.
Placing her hand on the handle of the door, Eva paused. Did she really want to go in?
Well, yeah, I do.
But, would Catherine appreciate it? Probably not. Who knew what kind of stuff she had hidden inside that she wouldn’t want other people to see.
If she liked Catherine any less than she did, Eva would have damned the consequences and gone in. Instead, she removed her hand from the door without opening it. Taking a few steps backwards, Eva just looked over the buildings once again.
Eva turned away with a shake of her head. “I don’t get it.”
Maybe that was the point. There wasn’t anything to get. The decor was just something that Catherine liked. Or maybe something from Earth during one of the times when she had been summoned that she fancied.
Walking down the steps towards the waters, Eva considered her next destination.
Lucy was a demon that had never once been summoned before. While Catherine’s windmill and elephant could have been heavily influenced by things that she had seen while summoned, Lucy’s domain shouldn’t have anything like that. It would be completely uninfluenced by anything in the mortal realm.
With how excitable the demon was about everything on Earth, Eva wasn’t expecting all that much. Perhaps a flat featureless plane or the simple island with a tree that Eva’s domain had started out as.
Dipping her head beneath the water, Eva waited for the gripping sensation to pull her off to Lucy’s domain.
Almost immediately, she found herself falling through the air. The fall was already taking much longer than it had in Catherine’s domain. It took a little bit of effort to avoid panicking. If there was nothing soft beneath her, she would be in for a hard landing.
Worse, everything was dark. She couldn’t see anything. For all Eva knew, there was nothing to land on, hard or soft. She would just be falling forever.
Turns out that her fears were unfounded. Almost as soon as she considered trying to blink to some kind of ground even without being able to see, something caught her.
It wasn’t that she landed on something.
Something literally caught her out of the sky, moving downwards just enough to dampen her speed before bringing her to a stop.
Eva let out a slight sigh of relief before feeling whatever it was that had caught her move slightly. It didn’t just move all at once. Thousands of things moved against her back. It was as if she were lying on a bed of snakes.
The latter made much more sense.
Except she couldn’t see any blood inside the things. Though her body didn’t resemble a human beyond the superficial, Lucy still had blood that Eva could perceive. This thing didn’t.
Scrambling to her feet, Eva tried to move. Something–tentacles–caught on her foot. With a slight yelp, she started tipping forwards.
Only to be caught again. Something slithered around her waist before latching out to her arms.
Eva wasn’t about to stick around to find out what would happen next. Her arms and her legs burst into flames. The tentacles holding onto her quickly retreated save for the one around her waist. Clawing at it resolved that situation.
Thankfully, the glow from her fire illuminated the area. She could actually see what was around her.
The writhing and squirming tentacles surrounding her were not what she wanted to see. Long and thick tubes of flesh curled around the ground, far thicker than any one of Lucy’s tentacles. At least there were no eyes or mouths. They were all coated in some sheen that glistened against the light.
Looking down, Eva found some of clear ooze around her shirt where the tentacle had grabbed hold. She couldn’t risk any sort of toxicity seeping in through her skin. With her hands still on fire, Eva carefully burned off most of her shirt. It took a bit of care to not get any of the gunk on her skin, but eventually she managed. She had nothing on from the chest down.
Both of her hands and her legs were clean of any ooze. The fire coating her carapace was enough to burn it off.
There was a small bubble of space around her that was clear of any tentacles, but they swirled around her as if looking for any weakness in the light.
As the light danced across the moving worms on the ground, Eva’s breathing started to pick up. Light moved one way while the tentacles moved another. It blurred together to create a nauseating illusion of motion despite Eva’s feet being firmly planted on the solid ground.
The all-encompassing darkness beyond the small ring of light weighed down on her. Even flaring the brightness didn’t serve to penetrate the darkness any further.
Absolute silence did not help matters. Eva could hear nothing but her own heart beating and her increasingly ragged breath. Though the ground had a foot-thick layer of tentacles squirming across it, they made not even the slightest sound.
This was a terrible idea.
Taking a deep breath, Eva stepped forwards.
The tentacles in front of her retreated further back.
That was good. As long as they kept their distance, everything would be just fine.
Eva reared back and threw a few balls of fire. Each one exploded into a bright flare high above the ground level, providing some extra light all around.
Three out of four directions, there was nothing but tentacles on the ground.
Off in the distance, there was some kind of structure. Eva could just barely see some light from her flares glinting off it. It was crooked and twisted. Probably not a building. Maybe some kind of natural formation. At least, as natural as one could get down in Hell.
Her first thought was to head towards it.
Looking around at the mass of tentacles writhing along the floor, Eva decided that she had lost all of her curiosity towards this place. If she really wanted to know, she would come back with Lucy as a guide.
Water so still that it could have been mistaken for a sheet of glass encompassed most of the direction opposite from the structure. That looked to be the safer direction, so Eva started walking.
Trying to pretend that she didn’t see the larger shadows that moved around at the edge of her ring of fire.
One of those shadows came just a little too close.
A flesh-colored mass roughly the size and shape of a human was in Eva’s sight for less than a second before it retreated back to the shadows. Goosebumps spread across her skin as she tried to make sense of what she saw. She took a subconscious step away from the thing.
Its pale flesh was dotted with thousands of holes. Tiny black circles that Eva’s light failed to illuminate. They were clustered together. Some in large groups, others scattered across the surface like stars in the nights sky. There was no organization, or order or rhyme or reason. They were just there.
As the thing retreated, it turned ever so slightly. As if a person was looking over their head.
Yet there were no eyes. No mouth. Just more of the tiny holes clustered together without any real pattern.
That second was all Eva needed to know that she never wanted to return again, with or without Lucy’s guidance.
With an unnatural panic, Eva gathered fireballs into her hands. She started throwing them at the ground between herself and the water. As the tentacles ahead of her began retreating from the bursts of flames, Eva started running.
She didn’t stop until she dove into the water head first.
There was a slight pulling sensation in the pit of her stomach before she found herself gently gliding down to the sandy beach within her domain.
She had been intending to visit Zagan’s domain. It would probably be more like Ylva’s or Catherine’s domains, but Eva really wasn’t about to take the chance. Maybe some day, but for the moment, she was just relieved to be landing back in someplace familiar.
Eva didn’t move. She stood on the sand, taking deep breaths that she let out slowly.
It took her a few moments to realize that there was still a sickly sensation in her stomach, but it wasn’t from Lucy’s domain.
It was the same sensation as what she felt from enigmas.
With one last deep breath, Eva started towards the women’s ward. She took care in keeping watch for anything that might have burrowed beneath her.
Nothing jumped out at her.
Several of the trap doors were opened wide, each had at least one enigma inside. Eva counted up a mere four before she reached the doors.
Prax was standing just inside, saying something about how everything was more peaceful before she had showed up. Eva shook her head and waved him off without fully comprehending whatever it was that he was saying.
Sinking down into a chair in her common room, Eva spent a moment just shuddering.