It took most of the rest of the day for Eva to finally shake herself out of her stupor. After having a few minutes to calm down, Lucy’s domain probably hadn’t been the worst thing ever. It was close, but not the worst.
The tentacles weren’t even that bad. Eva could stand tentacles. That monster covered in holes on the other hand…
Another shudder wracked Eva’s body at the thought. Whatever it was, Eva wouldn’t mind never seeing it again.
At the moment, Eva was assuming both the tentacles and the monster–if they were even separate entities–to be a part of Lucy’s domain. Some constructs that she had created. Perhaps out of a desire for company, she had created a companion that was like her self and another that was the inverse of herself.
But if they weren’t created by Lucy… if they were attackers or invaders, then Lucy should probably be made aware of their presence. It could be a new type of enigma. Or even another demon. Whatever the case was, Eva hoped that Lucy wouldn’t be too upset with the brief tour of her domain that she had taken.
As unnerving as the domain had been, Lucy was still a genuinely decent demon to interact with. Sure, she was a bit strange, but who among Eva’s acquaintances wasn’t at least a little abnormal.
“I think I’m alright now.”
Eva turned her head from the window of her alternate women’s ward. Watching the sand and the dark sea had been a calming sort of meditation. But now, duty called.
One of those strange acquaintances stood in the doorway to the bedroom, rubbing the back of her neck. Eva couldn’t rank exactly how strange; Serena was either a highly ranked oddity or a fairly normal person with a few eccentricities. The fact that Eva couldn’t decide probably meant that she deserved a higher ranking than Eva was giving her credit for.
More important than some arbitrary rank of strangeness was the notion that perhaps they were more than simple acquaintances now. They had just gone on a long road trip and fought together. The fighting part had actually happened twice now.
A quick crack echoed through the air, interrupting Eva’s line of thought.
Serena had her head twisted to one side. One hand was on the back of her head while the other gripped her chin. As Eva watched, she twisted her head to the other side, releasing another sharp crack. Rolling her head from side to side, the vampire gave a short nod.
“I’m glad to see you on your feet again. You had me worried for a while.”
Hands dropping to her hips, Serena put on a grin that wouldn’t be out of place on a child that had just learned that they were off to The Happiest Place On Earth.
Eva had never actually been to any amusement parks despite living most of her life only a stone’s throw away from two of the largest ones. She had, however, attended public schooling. Other classmates would often talk about their recent or upcoming vacations. As such, she had plenty of experience in recognizing that particular look.
“Aww,” Serena cooed. “I’m so happy that you were worrying for me.”
Ignoring the blood that she both saw and felt as it rushed to her cheeks, Eva just put on a small smile of her own. “Careful. Things work differently down here. Your inflated ego might just literally make your head balloon up.”
The vampire gave a light snort of laughter as she walked up to the window. All that was outside was sand, water, and the empty black sky.
“So this is Hell, huh? A lot less fire and brimstone than I had pictured.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of areas full of brimstone. As for fire, well, you missed Sawyer’s body being incinerated. It was quite the spectacular show.”
“If it is all the same to you, I’d prefer not being around too much fire.”
“Fair enough,” Eva said as she took a good look at Serena.
Despite her neck having been crooked not long ago, she couldn’t see anything wrong either externally or internally. Well, nothing wrong aside from the fact that Serena was dead to her sense of blood. Interestingly enough, Eva couldn’t sense any blood within her stomach. Given that the other vampires who had partaken in the drinking of her blood had still had some remaining even a few days later, it was something to note. Perhaps consuming the blood had assisted in her healing.
Rather than wallow in ignorance, Eva shook her head and decided to just ask.
“You’re fully healed then?”
“Mostly,” Serena said as she cricked her neck back and forth, eliciting two sharp snaps at either extreme. “I can’t say that having my neck broken like that is one of my more pleasant experiences as a vampire.”
“I imagine not. You did recover fast. Was that thanks to my blood?”
The vampire gave a slow nod as she licked the edges of her lips. “Blood always accelerates healing. I wasn’t really in a state to tell if your blood made healing faster or slower than normal. And,” she licked her lips again, “I wasn’t even in a lucid enough state to enjoy it.”
Serena reached one hand behind her neck and started rubbing. “I don’t think I’m quite healed all the way. I’m sure a little more blood would get that taken care of in the blink of an eye.”
Eva fixed the vampire with a mild glare. Her tone indicated a jest, but her eyes had a hungry glint in them.
“Maybe another time,” Eva said slowly. “Between feeding you and the blood I shed for the transference circle, I’m about a pint away from real lethargy and headaches.”
Serena stuck out her lips in a pout. The hunger behind her puppy-dog eyes really betrayed the effect.
Eva ignored the vampire. She gave a quick glance towards a watch that she had borrowed. It should be plenty dark out at the real women’s ward building.
“If you’re ready, we can head back to the real world.”
“So soon?” Serena turned from Eva to look back out the window. “Nothing to explore around Hell?”
It took a force of will to suppress a light shudder. “Not much, I’m afraid. You can see a full half of my domain from where we stand. The other half isn’t all that different. Visiting other demons’ domains is not a good idea.”
“What about the other demon? The big red one?”
“Prax?” Eva shrugged. “You could talk to him I guess, but he might be up on Earth soon enough. He’d be available for talking then, I’d imagine.”
Serena’s smile and general happy demeanor took a downward turn partway through Eva’s explanation. “Wayne will probably be quite upset with me for going on our little vacation. He’s left me be for the past while, but this will probably change that. I’ll have to go back home once he finds me.”
“What,” Eva started with a frown, “he locks you up or something?”
“I’m free to do whatever I want.” Serena’s voice was firm. “He doesn’t like things that could draw attention to his sister. I’ll comply with his demands, even if I’d rather do something else. Wayne, Zoe, and Sarah helped me out of more than a few sticky situations in the past decade or so. It’s the least I can do to repay them.”
Eva crossed her arms as she shifted her weight to one foot. The other foot started tapping lightly on the ground as her frown deepened.
That wasn’t fair. She had just started to like Serena. Now Wayne was going to drag her off?
Eva’s foot ceased tapping as a thought occurred to her. “How about if I give you something to draw out inside your house that will let me teleport to you? Then we could at least see each other once in a while. It can be attuned to me specifically, so no one else will be able to use it.”
If she had a gate room in her house, Eva could teleport there quite easily. With her new cellphone that she had liberated from the traitorous vampire, they could probably keep in touch at the very least.
“Maybe,” she said with a solemn nod of her head. “I’ll have to clear it with Wayne. It is his house.”
That ruined Eva’s bettering mood. Wayne did not particularly like her, she could tell. “Maybe speaking about it with Zoe first would be for the best?”
“She would be in a better position to convince him than I am.” Serena shifted, smiling again. “In the mean time, mind if I speak with this Prax guy? It is a rare occasion that I get to meet such fascinating creatures and I didn’t get much conversation in with the demons at your little party the other day.”
Eva shrugged. With a second glance at her watch, she said, “I’m sure you can spend a while talking. There are a good few hours before daybreak.”
“Splendid!” Serena said, already half out the door.
Eva hadn’t mentioned where Prax was, but it wouldn’t surprise her to find that a vampire could sniff him out.
In the mean time, it gave Eva the opportunity to clean up those enigma carcasses.
Hopefully, she and Serena would be gone before any more showed up. Without either of them here, things would go back to how they were with only Prax around.
“You stole my truck.”
Eva had just finished setting Serena down on the ground when Devon charged into the room.
His face lined in a scowl did not give him a happy look. He took two menacing steps forward, sending Eva backwards an equal number of steps.
“And you didn’t bring it back.”
“There’s a very good reason for all of that,” Eva said, holding up her hands in front of her. “And I have to go back for it anyway.”
Though she wished she could leave it behind. When she had considered the idea of having Zoe teleport her out to the motel to pick up the things that she had left behind, Eva had not even considered the truck. It would be so much easier if she could teleport out and teleport back. If Serena didn’t come along, they would be able to drive back during the daytime. That would probably cut the travel time down to a day and a half at the very most, depending on how many stops they made.
Convincing Zoe to teleport Eva out there was one thing. It would take a half hour at most to gather the book and other things that had been left. Zoe wouldn’t have needed to stay. Eva could teleport herself back without assistance.
Convincing her to teleport out there and then return by car might be a good deal more difficult.
But that was a concern for at least a half hour from now.
Eva had an angry Devon to placate before then.
“You stole it in the first place, didn’t you?”
“That’s beside the point,” he snapped. “How am I supposed to cart things around without my truck?”
“Get a new one then. It can’t be that hard to steal another truck. Look how easy it was to steal yours.”
Behind Eva, Serena pressed a hand to her mouth as she started shaking in silent humor. The silent part did not last long, but Devon didn’t even move as the soft giggles filled the air.
Eva ignored the vampire. Serena was probably making herself invisible to his senses or some other thing that Eva wished she could do.
“And, it was for a good cause.”
“I am not a charity.”
“Sawyer is dead.”
There was a pause. Devon pulled back from his slightly threatening stance to stand straight up. For almost a full minute, he stared. His dark eyes bored into hers.
“I don’t even know who that is.”
Eva let out a long sigh, ignoring the vampire’s outburst of giggles. “He’s the necromancer. You know, the one that stabbed me in the back, cut off my fingers, and gouged out my eyes?”
Realization dawned across Devon’s lightly scarred face. “Ah. He had a name?”
“I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve told you before.”
Devon waved his tentacle off to one side. “Lots of people tell me lots of names. I can’t be bothered to remember them all.”
“Sawyer was kind of important.”
Eva glared. Sawyer had been a personal target for a number of reasons, but that didn’t mean that everyone else didn’t also benefit from his death. He wouldn’t attack Brakket Academy again, Devon wouldn’t have to worry about her getting a cursed dagger in her back, Nel was safe, and, most of all, he was no longer doing anything with enigmas. She might have gone to Hell a few times, but that was nothing compared to the number of enigmas that Sawyer had.
If Devon and Ylva’s theories were correct, that could only be a good thing.
But Eva didn’t give voice to her thoughts. Were she speaking to Zoe or Wayne, she would have. They might have listened and changed their opinion. She knew Devon too well. He wouldn’t care much about any of her reasonings. Brakket and Nel could burn for all he cared, Eva wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked if she didn’t stick her neck out, and… well, he might be concerned about Hell. At the moment, Eva couldn’t say whether he cared more about that or his truck.
With a exasperated sigh, Eva shook her head. “I don’t suppose you know if Zoe is back from her trip? She can help recover your truck.” Eva paused, waiting for an answer. A thought occurred to her before Devon could respond. “Zoe is a professor at Brakket Academy. She’s got brown hair down to the bottom of her chin, wears a suit most of the time, and spends a lot of time here–”
“I know who she is,” Devon snapped.
“Good! Is she back yet?”
“How should I know? I’m not her minder.” He turned away, sinking his hands—rather, his hand and his tentacle—into the pockets of his long coat. Eva followed him out into the common room with Serena at her back. “Though, someone was skulking about the place yesterday.”
He shrugged. “Didn’t go check. Someone you know. Unless your wards in this place have failed again.”
“They haven’t.” Eva could say that with certainty. Based on her own blood, the wards in the prison were essentially an extension of herself. She could feel them wrapping around her and everything else around.
So, perhaps Zoe had shown up. Who else would have visited her? Catherine, Ylva, Zagan, and everyone else that Eva could think up would have known that she was off on a road trip. Except Wayne.
He wouldn’t have been looking for Eva. Serena would have been his target.
But if they were back, that was good news. She would have to have Nel find Zoe.
When she had dropped Nel off at the gate within her new dormitory room at Brakket Academy, she had asked the augur to see if she could find out where Des was. Whether that meant actually being able to see her or merely a dark spot, Eva really didn’t care. Asking her to find Zoe had slipped her mind.
Going to Nel would cut down on a lot of intermediary nonsense. Then she could be off to grab Devon’s stupid truck and the rest of her things. Getting it out of the way would be for the best.
“Bring my damn truck back or I swear…” He trailed off with a sorry shake of his head. “Just bring it back. It’s a pain to move things around by hand.”
“What are you moving around?”
“Chalk, mostly. I’ve been going through a lot of it lately. Buying in bulk is much easier than small boxes of sticks.”
“For ritual circles?” Eva asked. Receiving a clipped nod in response, she let out a short hum. “Still working with Catherine?”
Devon narrowed his eyes. “Haven’t seen it in a day or so. Something going on at the city. But the succubus has the occasional decent idea and knows its way around a ritual circle.”
“Better be careful. That could almost be interpreted as praise for a demon.”
Harrumphing, Devon stormed up to the door. “Just get my truck back.”
Eva did not follow him as he left the women’s ward. Rather, she went back to her room and placed the cursed dagger on top of her dresser. It was far too dangerous to just carry around anywhere she went. If the stone-like sheath ever failed, it would be far too easy to get accidentally cursed by its blade.
As she placed it on top of her dresser, she let out a short sigh of disappointment.
She hadn’t even had the chance to use it on Sawyer. After torturing him, that was how she had wanted to end his life. A certain cruel irony. He had stolen even that from her.
“So,” Serena said from the doorway. She couldn’t actually step into the room as it ran off separate wards that only Eva and Arachne were keyed into. “What do you suppose is going on back at the city? That demon seemed far too excited about the rituals to skip researching them for anything small.”
Eva raised an eyebrow as she slung off her backpack. There were still a few vials of demon blood left, including one from Zagan. That was a nice positive. It was always good to have a supply of quality blood.
With the load off her back, Eva focused on Serena’s question. “Nothing good, I bet.” Far from it, in fact. Hopefully it wouldn’t be another mass attack. “This is Brakket City after all. At least whatever is causing the disturbance isn’t Sawyer. Probably.”
“He died too easily. There has to be some last minute middle finger to the face. Maybe he set up some plague or zombie apocalypse to go off in Brakket in the event of his death.”
“You seem… calm about that prospect.”
“Brakket has been attacked once or twice before. With all the demons running around, I’d be surprised if whatever situation that had cropped up wasn’t already resolved. Aside from that, I did drop Nel off at Brakket and didn’t see any fires outside the dormitory window. It can’t be that bad.
“Still, I suppose that I should go check it out.”
“You can’t leave me behind,” Serena said with a half pout. Her tone lost its playfulness and became far more serious. “If something has happened and Wayne is in trouble, I should be at his side right away.”
Eva turned to glance outside, but the thick blankets covering the windows of the common room impeded her efforts. She still knew roughly what time it was. Her watch worked fine whether the windows were covered or not.
“It will be daylight soon.” Her and Prax’s conversation had occupied much of the night.
“I am aware, but I still can’t do nothing. If the sun does rise, I will be able to find some closet to hide away in.”
“If you’re sure.” Eva couldn’t claim to have spent too much effort in saving Serena from the haugbui, but it would still be somewhat depressing if she just went and accidentally burned to death in the sunlight after all they had been through.
“Do you have a quick way of moving about? I was planning on teleporting to the gate in my dorm room. I’d offer you a ride, but the last human I brought with me looked like they had fallen into an industrial grade paper shredder. You aren’t human, but I still don’t know how pleasant it would be.”
“That human lived, right?”
Hesitating ever so slightly, Eva nodded her head. “Yes.”
“I’ll be fine. Besides,” she paused for just a moment to lick her lips, “if I do wind up severely injured…”
“Then I’ll throw you in some closet while I take a look around,” Eva said with a false smile. Deliberately injuring herself just to get some blood was less than endearing. She probably would give Serena blood if it came down to it, but she wouldn’t have to like it.
“Yep. Now come here, hold on tight, and don’t let go.”
Serena came up to Eva and wrapped her arms around in a tight hug. Slightly shorter than Eva, her head was nuzzled right beneath Eva’s chin. She drew in a deep breath through her nose.
For a moment, Eva worried that she might bite down. She didn’t, but it was still somewhat creepy.
Gathering her magic, Eva teleported.
The familiar screams and meat grinding filled Eva’s head. She waited with clenched teeth, preparing for and expecting the incineration of her non-chitinous flesh. It and the fact that she needed an exit gate were really the only two downsides to her method of teleportation.
So long as she had a gate, it was far superior to Zoe and Wayne’s teleportation.
As the teleportation continued, Eva realized that something was off. There was pain. Not much, but it was there. Rather than her flesh burning off until there was nothing left but bones, boils formed on her skin. They spread, charring the skin until it flaked off like ash. Muscles were exposed without the skin.
The effect didn’t go much deeper than that. It tried, but the pain just slid off her muscles.
It also afforded her a good view of her muscles. Much like her tongue, they had darkened considerably since the last time that she had teleported. Not quite to the same black void that her blood was at, but a very definite dark gray.
Until she had teleported with Lynn Cross, Eva had thought that all the pain and effects that she experienced during teleportations were mere illusions. When she emerged from the teleportation, she was always undamaged.
After seeing Lynn’s flayed body, she had altered that theory. What she was seeing was most likely real. Were she to slice off strips of her skin in the real world, she imagined that she would find the same sight.
As long as her body continued to function, Eva didn’t much care that the insides had changed colors. Devon might find it interesting. She made a mental note to tell him the next time she saw him.
Turning her attention to Serena, Eva found the vampire holding it together much better than Lynn had. Her skin was trying to fall apart and burn off, but with her teeth grit together hard enough to give worry for their integrity, Serena managed to overpower the damage through her vampiric healing.
It wouldn’t last forever. Small chunks of flesh flew off from her body to join with the fleshy walls of the teleportation tunnel around them. Every piece that managed to escape her body was ever so slightly larger than the previous one.
Lucky for Serena, she didn’t have to last forever. Not even half of forever.
Just as Eva was wondering what was taking the teleport so long compared to normal, the flesh walls and screams vanished. They both reappeared at the foot of Eva’s bed within her new dorm room.
Serena collapsed to her knees immediately. All the strength that she had been using to hold on to Eva vanished. The only reason that she wasn’t gasping for breath was because she was a vampire. She had as much need for oxygen as Eva had need for blood.
For drinking blood, that is.
Aside from small chunks of flesh missing from around her body, Serena looked mostly fine.
There was definitely something wrong.
Her head turned upwards with a sharp snap. All of the barely concealed hunger that Eva had felt from the vampire ever since they had first met was on full display. Her lips pulled back to reveal sharp fangs hanging out of her wide open mouth.
Both Eva and Serena snapped their heads to look at the source of the voice on the opposite side of the room.
Juliana stood next to her bed, gaping open mouthed at the vampire.
Through her blood sight, Eva saw the vampire’s muscles tense.
She didn’t wait around to see what would happen. Swinging her arm down, Eva gripped the vampire by the throat. She threw her entire weight behind slamming the vampire down against the floor.
Closing her eyes to avoid any hypnotism or mind tricks, Eva pulled her dagger out of its sheath with the hand not around Serena’s throat and plunged it into her shoulder. Blood streamed straight through the vampire’s mouth and into her stomach. After about a pint of blood was inside the vampire, Eva cut off the flow and focused entirely on keeping Serena pinned to the ground.
If it looked even a little bit like she would break loose, Eva fully intended to break the vampire’s neck. She had survived it once, she could do so again.
Eva watched through her sense of blood as the vampire’s struggles died off. After a minute or two, she was lying still on the floor as her wounds healed up.
“Sorry,” the voice came out as a whisper. Barely audible even to Eva despite being only a few inches away.
Eyes still closed, Eva asked, “Can I let you go without you attacking anyone?”
“Yeah,” Serena said, not moving anything save her mouth. “I just–I don’t think it is a good idea to teleport with you on an empty stomach.”
“Fair enough.” Eva almost commented on how she had a bunch of blood just about twenty-four hours ago, but most of that had probably gone to healing her neck.
Slowly, she pulled away from the vampire. Eva’s eyes were still closed, just in case it was some kind of trick.
It didn’t seem to be.
The vampire was on the ground, arms and legs spread out as she stared up at the ceiling.
Eva moved a full step away and the vampire still hadn’t moved.
“Are you alright?”
“Give me a minute. I’ll be fine.” She let out a soft chuckle without otherwise moving. “I was hoping that your teleport wouldn’t leave me lying on the ground.” There was a slight pause before her voice dropped to a whisper again. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. You didn’t hurt me or–” Eva glanced up to find Juliana fully encased in metal armor. The only holes were a few slits around her mouth and eyes. “I thought you were going to a school in Switzerland or something.”
“Scotland.” Her voice came muffled through her helmet. “Talking it over with my father and mother, we decided that Brakket would be the best choice. But…”
Juliana’s head tipped downwards to look at the fallen vampire.
“Juliana, meet Serena. Serena, Juliana.”
“Charmed,” Serena said without taking her gaze off the ceiling.
“Uh huh. Umm, what–”
Juliana took a step back. Her heart started beating beneath the thick armor coating her body.
“She’s normally pretty nice,” Eva said with a shrug.
“That’s… Um… Don’t let my mom find out.”
“Oh, is she up and about?”
That would be good news to hear. Eva genuinely liked Genoa and honestly wished that Arachne hadn’t done what she had.
“Wheelchair,” Juliana said softly. “She, my father, and my brother are all staying in a home out on the outskirts of the city. Bought it for dirt cheap I guess. They’re all living in separate rooms.” Shaking her head, Juliana looked back towards Serena. “She isn’t a student, is she?”
“Despite her looks, she’s old enough to be your grandmother. A little past school age.”
“I’m sixteen,” Serena said through grit teeth as she pushed herself to a sitting position. She gave a clipped glance towards Juliana before scooting backwards so that her back was resting against the drawers of Eva’s desk. “Friend of yours?”
Eva put on a proud smile. “Yep.” Turning her head towards Juliana, Eva said, “and she’ll never guess what we did over the past few days.”
“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”
“No,” Eva said slowly, her smile slipping. “Well, I mean… I killed a vampire. And then was probably responsible for six more vampires dying. And then someone died who I wanted to murder. I don’t think that counts though.”
“You didn’t kill anyone around here though.”
Eva blinked. That was something of a strange question. “Should I have?”
“Two of Brakket’s security guards were killed. I thought that you might have gone after whoever did it.”
“Which two?” Eva asked with narrowed eyes.
Author’s Note: Minor note in the comments again, mostly for supporters. Thanks everyone for reading and stuff!