It is time.
Arachne growled as awareness returned to her. Her face ached. It was as if it were on fire. Given that she had used her head as a shield for Eva, the pain wasn’t too unexpected.
Lifting an arm, Arachne ran her needle-like claws down the smooth chitin that made up her face. Her fingers nimbly moved between her eyes, not scratching a single one.
A simple action, but it brought back memories. After being cast down to Hell, her body had been corrupted by the jealousy and envy of false gods. Her mind hadn’t been touched. Left unmolested, Arachne had found herself in a whole new body. One with all sorts of nuances that she hadn’t been used to.
The simple action of rubbing her forehead could have wound up with her gouging out an eye. Her natural regeneration made accidentally puncturing an eye much less of an issue than it otherwise would have been, but it still hurt. The first time, she hadn’t even known that she would regenerate like she did. With eight eyes, her vision was somewhat different from humans. It was like being suddenly colorblind even though she could still see.
Needless to say, she had panicked a little. Well, a lot. She had already been panicking over the fact that she was a monster, imprisoned within a desolate island in the middle of a pitch black ocean, and was hearing voices inside her head. The color blindness and pain had just been the icing on the cake.
Not to mention the fact that rubbing her forehead didn’t really do much for her. Her carapace wasn’t like human skin. She got very little feeling out of touching anything. What feeling she did get was more of a sensation of pressure. She couldn’t feel. Petting a cat did nothing for her.
Most of that was in the past. She had centuries to come to terms with herself, centuries to grow used to her new state of being. That wasn’t to say that Arachne didn’t find herself wishing things were different. Being able to hug Eva as a more than a mechanical gesture and to feel her hair through her fingers were sore points with Arachne.
At the same time, she wished that her carapace was harder. Stronger. Had it been better, she might not have died when struck by that lightning bolt.
As it was, she had merely been restored. Her face felt the same as it always did. In one piece, which was nice. Arachne had come out half formed before. Just recently, the carnivean had been missing her eyes and head tentacles.
Clenching her fists, Arachne slammed them into each other. Is it ‘just recently’ still?
There was no way of telling the passage of time within Hell. At least, not within her domain. Other demons might have ways, she wouldn’t know. Arachne refused to slave herself to her peers just to learn a few secrets of being a demon. Well, for the most part. Her current agreement with Void notwithstanding.
But the last events that she could remember in the mortal realm had to have happened somewhat recently. She didn’t feel like a half-century had passed. Void had promised her return in a relatively short amount of time, but that could mean a week or a decade.
If too much time had passed, she would be considering their agreement null and void, consequences be damned.
Swinging her legs—all eight of them—out of the nest of webs that made up her bed, Arachne stalked through the halls of her cavernous domain. She had wasted enough time lying around.
Most of her domain had been designed with her in mind. No one else would be able to climb around the holes in the walls. Any guests or intruders would be relegated to the front entryway. Unless they could fly. Or were as good at climbing craggy walls as Arachne was. Even if that were the case, the tunnels between rooms twisted and wound around like a giant maze. It was entirely possible to leave a room from three separate tunnels only to loop around and reenter the room without passing through any others.
Though it was something of a moot point. Never once had someone invaded her domain. Arachne had never had a visitor stop by. Not unless she counted Eva after her kidnapping. Even if she did count that, Arachne had carried Eva around during her visit.
Arachne charged into the gate room.
And found herself scowling.
The gate room was inert. No glowing patterns in the walls or floors. No feeling of a pathway to the mortal realm.
“You bring me back,” she shouted to the walls, “and my beacon is destroyed? It’s time? Time for what? Me to sit around doing nothing?”
Arachne swung out an arm, cutting five large gouges into a stone pillar.
Seething, Arachne turned from the gate room, ready to rush to Eva’s domain. She likely wouldn’t be around at the moment, but perhaps she still made regular visits. Even if she didn’t, Arachne could leave a message before returning to her domain to await a summoning.
Eva couldn’t summon Arachne herself, not without violating the tenets of Hell. Devon would. All she needed to do was get a message to him.
But, in turning from the room, a shimmer in the air caught her eye. A faint purple haze back in the far corner of the gate room.
The haze grew solid, forming a thick line in the air.
Arachne’s fingers twitched as she watched it spread apart. She spread her legs, steadying her stance and readying for combat.
The first thing that came to her mind was the creatures that Eva called enigmas. Monstrous little beings—by Eva’s description—that had been attacking Hell. The second thing was the purple streaks in the sky that had appeared just before the ill-fated venture to the nuns’ church. Purple streaks that were supposedly related to the enigmas.
Between the violet lines, a deep darkness formed. Staring into it brought back the same uncomfortable sensations as when she had been dead. A hole into pure nothingness, so empty that putting words to it couldn’t be done.
Arachne took a step back, waiting for some creature to emerge forth and attack.
Not even I will violate my laws. However, a few back doors have been left open by my attacker.
Arachne didn’t budge. Her instincts were shouting at her to flee. Her thoughts screamed at her to run from this anomaly before she wound up dead once again, further delaying her reunion with Eva.
It was obviously a portal of some sort. Reminiscent of the portals Void used to drag deceased demons back home. It wasn’t dragging Arachne into it and nothing was coming from it.
It just sat there, inviting someone to wander inside.
Arachne took a step forward.
If this was a trick, there would be hell to pay. Mortal, demon, or even Power, she would tear them to shreds.
Another step had her right in front of the portal. She was too large to fit through in her largest form. With a thought, she started shrinking. The bulbous abdomen sticking out of her melted into her torso. Her legs pulled up, recessing into her body one by one until only two legs were left.
Reaching an arm out, Arachne let the tips of her fingers scrape against the surface of the hole in space. She half expected something—magical force or a creature—to grasp her fingers and drag her into it, but nothing happened.
Nothing but a sensation of not being able to feel her fingers. As if they suddenly ceased to exist.
Pulling her hand out, Arachne found her fingers to be whole and intact. Wiggling them, she made sure that she could feel them again.
Everything seemed fine. She clawed through the stone walls of her domain, checking to ensure that the strength and toughness of her fingers hadn’t been ruined by exposure to the portal.
Stone crumbled into chunks and dust while her fingers came away with just as much sheen as they had started with.
Moving back just a bit, Arachne took a deep breath and charged at the portal.
There was a brief sensation of nothingness, as if she were back in the depths of Void again, before she could feel the wind rushing past her body.
Violet filled her vision. That only lasted a few seconds.
She was falling.
Soon enough, the all encompassing violet distanced itself from her, becoming nothing more than purple streaks in a starry sky.
The tendrils making up her hair whipped around in the roaring air. Her flailing arms failed to find any purchase.
Twisting her body, Arachne oriented herself towards the Earth.
And it was the Earth. There could be no doubt about that. Not only could Arachne not see an end to the ground, but she could see a few distinctly familiar sights.
Brakket Academy, the city that shares its name, the forest and the lake.
She was back.
Eva had to be somewhere. The dormitory or the school itself. Perhaps at the prison.
If not, someone would know where she was. The professors or Devon, if he was still skulking about the prison.
But first, she had to survive this fall. While she might be able to hit the ground and walk away without much issue, Arachne wasn’t willing to take any chances. She had never fallen from such a height that she had time to think about how she wanted to land before, that alone had her a little nervous.
Though, if Void wanted her to fulfill her end of their agreement, dropping her off in the middle of the sky only to have her fall to her death didn’t seem like a good way to go about sending her to the mortal realm. Of course, that assumed that a Power who had never been to Earth wasn’t completely out of touch with quite literally everything.
Best to take matters into her own claws.
Twisting in the air again, Arachne shrank. Her body collapsed in on itself until she was little more than legs sticking out from a hand-sized body.
Regular spiders survived falls from great heights all the time. And, while it was true that Arachne’s spider form was a great deal larger than most spiders, she could help slow her fall by rapidly spinning thread between her legs.
A task that was easier said than done.
With the wind, her threads whipped around and went everywhere. Just ringing it around her legs was a chore. Once she got it going, the air resistance built up. Had she not been a demon with exceptionally strong webbing, the threads would have snapped long before she had it woven.
Woven implied a certain finesse that was lacking in her final result. The threads wrapped around her legs were patchwork quilts, full of holes and stitches.
Arachne couldn’t bring herself to care at the moment. Not only was weaving while falling a challenge, she had to rush.
The ground was rapidly approaching.
Flexing her legs allowed her to glide—almost. Enough that she could control her direction.
Spotting and feeling a certain winged bull down below, Arachne angled herself towards the roof of the dormitory building.
Arachne landed without the slightest hint of grace. She struck the building at speed. Failing to remain upright, Arachne tumbled. End over end, she skidded across the roof. She had come in at far too shallow of an angle. The gravel on the rooftop scattered, some exploding outwards while some dug into her carapace—a feat that was only possible thanks to the speed that she hit the roof at.
Burrowing her legs into the building itself, Arachne managed to come to a stop.
For a full minute, Arachne didn’t move. Her entire body ached. Granted, her body wasn’t that large at the moment. Still, she was fairly certain that one of her legs had twisted the wrong way while the carapace on another had shattered.
But she was back.
Unfurling to her full height, Arachne charged towards the edge of the building.
Zagan, in his full demon form, fought against a man. A mere human, presumably. He certainly didn’t fight like a demon. Too much dodging, too much maneuvering.
And, of course, the sword.
Just looking at the emerald sword gave Arachne a bad feeling. It could be likened to the sensation she got from being near Zagan. That disgusting sensation of far too much power.
Both of them together had Arachne shuddering.
Something was obviously going on, but Eva wasn’t down there. She had to be nearby. If Eva had managed to keep herself uninvolved in whatever was happening, Arachne would eat her own legs.
Charging off towards a thin plume of smoke at the school building, Arachne leaped from the roof, crossing almost the entire distance in a single bound.
She promptly froze as she came to the wall of the school. A certain window looked as if a bomb had gone off inside. A bomb filled with ice.
A person-sized lump of ice was blocking part of the window, but more had shattered outwards, scattering across the lawn. Smoke billowed from the hole.
Much of the smoke was coming off the faintly smoldering remains of a desk. Or the pieces of a desk, at least. Much of the room looked as if a small bomb had gone off inside. In particular, the wall around the doorway wasn’t much of a wall anymore. The ceiling light in the room had snapped at one end and was dangling in the middle of the room by its power cord. Sparks jumped from the cable every time it swung against the metal brace that had once held the light.
More alarming than the state of the room were the walls themselves. Beads of black blood sweat from the walls. Each droplet dripped down, joining with other droplets to pool along the edges of the room. The pools were drawn into thin streams leading towards the middle of the room.
Eva stood amidst a whirlwind of blood. She had her void metal dagger clenched in one hand as she glared with burning eyes at a woman on the opposite side of the room—just to the side of the window.
The woman had a small patch of ice around her feet. Any liquid blood that dared to venture too close wound up frozen solid.
Arachne had no idea who the woman was. She had never seen the woman before. Or, if she had, she couldn’t remember. The woman wasn’t Genoa and she wasn’t the professor at the very least.
It was clear that she was an enemy of Eva.
Her Eva was in danger.
What more motivation did Arachne need?
Leaping over the half destroyed wall that might have been a window at one point, Arachne sprouted extra legs from her back.
Swinging three legs and a hand, Arachne raked her razor sharp limbs through the air.
The woman ducked and rolled, freezing the blood around the floor and walls as she moved.
“Another one? How many of you must I kill before you stay dead!”
Neither Arachne nor Eva responded. Arachne was far too focused on watching the woman’s every move.
Whether she had heard Arachne or had picked up on some tell from Eva, her dodge wasn’t unexpected. Eva would have killed someone weaker without issue. Her blood magic was strong enough to defeat most foes.
Therefore, this person was somewhat exceptional.
But still a mortal.
A mortal that wasn’t dressed like the nuns. Unless she had decided to attack out of uniform, that meant that Arachne wouldn’t need to worry about their horrible lightning.
Arachne didn’t pause for a moment. Pushing off the wall with her legs, she lunged forward.
Her hand caught the woman right in the stomach.
Arachne snatched her hand back in shock and pain. The tips of her fingers had crumpled, her carapace cracked.
The woman had a tee-shirt on. Nothing fancy. Simple cotton. And yet, Arachne’s fingers slammed into it as if they had struck a brick wall—something harder than a brick wall. Her claws could tear apart solid stone if she was trying. The only evidence that she had even touched the woman were a few dark pinpricks on the shirt.
Grinning, the woman stepped forwards as Arachne stared at her fingers. She grabbed hold of Arachne’s hand, ducked under a set of swiping legs, and used one of those legs as a brace for Arachne’s arm. Giving only a slight push, the woman managed to shatter the chitin on both Arachne’s arm and the leg it had been braced against.
Eyes blazing brighter than before, Eva charged forwards. One hand brandished the dagger while her other lit up in flames.
The woman raised her guard, conjuring a set of icicles as she moved away from Arachne.
As Arachne went for the icicles, slashing them out of the air, Eva blinked behind the woman. Dagger already raised, she brought it down, aiming for the woman’s neck.
Just as she did when Arachne attacked, the woman had something of a sixth sense about the direction Eva was striking from. She moved to the side, ducking just enough to fit her head between two of Arachne’s limbs. A swipe of her legs knocked Arachne’s legs out from under her.
Arachne had to use her extra legs to grapple onto the wall, preventing her fall.
While Arachne was busy catching her balance, Eva’s dagger did not slip by without resistance. The tip of it scraped against the woman’s arm as she dodged, just enough to draw a thin red line from her hand halfway to her elbow.
Eva immediately blinked back to the other side of the room. She let out a short, satisfied hum as she clapped her hands together.
A bright flash filled Arachne’s vision.
Arachne jumped back, not wanting to be anywhere near someone who could break her arm with her bare hands while blind.
Her loss of vision lasted only a moment. She hadn’t even landed on the ground near Eva before things returned to normal.
Normal for her, at least. The woman wasn’t quite so lucky.
Red blood dripped through her fingers as she clutched at a ragged stump. Her hand and part of her arm was lying on the floor at her feet. Face set in a grimace, she glared out with one red eye and one green eye.
“You’ll pay,” she said as ice started to form over the stump, cutting off the flow of blood.
Under other circumstances, Arachne might have indulged in a little meaningless banter. She had done so with the carnivean during their first encounter.
But now… this woman is standing in the way of my reunion with Eva.
Grinding her teeth together, Arachne stole a glance to her side.
Eva appeared healthy for the most part. There was a darker mark around her neck, roughly in the shape of a hand. A few cuts and scrapes dotted her skin and the carapace of one of her hands was damaged. All in all, things could be worse.
With a light twitch of her head, Arachne was back to focusing on their current enemy.
She readied herself by spinning a few quick threads. Thin yet long ones.
Arachne charged forwards once again as Eva blinked around the room. In near perfect sync, they attacked.
As expected, the woman dodged Arachne’s limbs.
The thread trailing off her fingers and legs weren’t quite so easy to dodge. Swinging her arms quick enough, she managed to loop a section around the woman’s body. With a flick of her wrist, Arachne pulled the threads tight, tying off her movements as Eva came in with the dagger.
A ring of ice formed around her neck just in time to block Eva’s dagger.
Not having any of that, Arachne used one leg to lift up the woman’s shirt and another three to plunge into her spinal column.
Eva took matters into her own hands. She went above the woman’s neckline, digging and dragging the dagger through her red hair. Eva didn’t try to cut the bone of the skull, but she didn’t need to.
Blinking away, Eva stared for just a moment.
Arachne pulled her legs from the woman’s back, letting her slump down to the ground.
The moment she hit the ground, the woman vanished. Nothing but the faint scent of sulfur remained.
A clapping sound echoed through the room just as she vanished.
Looking up to Eva, Arachne tilted her head. “Did you get her?”
“I don’t know. If she comes back anytime soon, I’ll get her right away.”
“Good,” Arachne said. Shifting awkwardly, she flexed the spare legs from her back. “I doubt that she’ll be back soon. If she can ever walk again.”
Standing there, Arachne didn’t know what to say. Looking at Eva fresh out of a battle—sweating and panting with her hair thrown in disarray—Arachne found herself at a loss. Before dying at the hands of the nuns, they hadn’t been on the best of terms. Mostly due to the Genoa incident.
What to do? What to say? Such a treasure in front of her and yet…
The decision was taken out of Arachne’s claws.
Eva blinked over to her, wrapping both arms around Arachne’s body.
“I missed you.”
Arachne stretched one arm and several legs around Eva, forming a protective net as she returned the hug.
“I missed you too.”