Eva snapped her eyes open. She took a deep breath, glancing around as she took in her surroundings.
She was on her back, staring up at the starry sky. Arachne, Catherine, and Qrycx the carnivean all stood around her with Arachne being the closest. Hovering over her with occasional glares at the other demons, Arachne had a protective air about her.
It couldn’t have been too long since the end of the ritual. Pre-ritual, everything had gone roughly the same as last time. Obviously Zagan wasn’t around and Arachne had taken his place, Serena wasn’t around, and Lucy was missing. None of that had actually changed the ritual itself.
Last time, however, she had been unconscious for such a long time after the ritual that Devon had moved her back into the women’s ward. That she was still lying in the center meant that so much time couldn’t have passed.
Or Arachne hadn’t let anyone approach her. Eva wouldn’t put that past the spider-demon. That theory didn’t explain why Catherine and Qrycx would have stuck around. Catherine had work to do to prepare for her own ritual while Qrycx hated everyone and would not stick around for no reason.
The strangest thing was the lack of Devon. Every time she had woken up after every other treatment, he had been hovering over her, bombarding her with questions or tugging at her tongue. Eva couldn’t even see him in range of her blood sight.
Realizing that he was missing sent a chill down Eva’s spine.
She patted herself down, feeling her skin and her body, checking her insides with assistance of her blood sight, and ensuring that nothing had gone wrong. Something going wrong with the ritual was the only reason that Eva could see why he wouldn’t be feeding her incessant questions.
There were two nubs on her forehead, just above her hairline. The beginnings of horns? A huge number of demons had horns. Eva having them wasn’t all that surprising. Doubly so if her shadow had any truth to it.
While cleansing Shalise of Prax, Shalise’s shadow had been an image of Prax. Or a muscular version of Shalise with horns and hooves. But it was probably safe to assume that it had been of Prax. Neither Zoe nor Lynn had shadows at all. Not human in appearance or demon.
Eva had cast a shadow. One with wings that dripped as if they had been made of liquid. Blood, Eva had guessed based on her magical preference. Along with those wings had been horns. Not gigantic ones like Zagan or even the moderately sized horns on Catherine’s succubus form. Eva’s shadow had just a few inches worth of horns.
But in real life, Eva could only feel a slight bump. Like a knuckle. Not even a half-inch. Interestingly, the skin on her forehead felt like it ended right around the horns. So she definitely had something poking out.
She would have to look in a mirror later on to get a better grasp of what she looked like. Just from the feel, her hair should be able to adequately hide them. So long as they didn’t grow, that was.
Another thing that Eva noticed were the bumps on her back. Unlike her forehead, the skin wasn’t broken. In fact, it might be nothing at all. Eva didn’t often feel up her backside and doing so was awkward. For all she knew, she might just be feeling her shoulder blades. The only reason she had checked in the first place was because of that shadow.
Finding nothing else abnormal or immediately alarming, Eva glanced up to Arachne. “What happened?”
“Your ritual was interrupted.”
Eva blinked, turning towards Catherine. “Interrupted? How?”
“A Void portal opened beneath your body just as the ritual was finishing.”
“Well,” Eva said, patting the ground. “I’m not in Hell.” The cement platform that the ritual circle had been drawn on was just as solid as it ever was. No sign of any portals around her at the moment.
“We thought you had died in the middle and were being drawn in. Tendrils came out, holding you in place rather than pulling you down. One touched your forehead before the entire thing vanished.”
Eva frowned. Rubbing at her forehead, she couldn’t feel anything off aside from the horns. Her fingers came away clean. No goop or muck. She didn’t think that she was thinking differently, but then, would she know if she was?
Perhaps the horns had been a gift from Void Himself. Flattering yet terrifying that she had the personal attention of a Power.
Catherine shook her head. “I have no idea what to think. Even though I know that you’re a weak little girl who is still partially human, I feel as though I should either be fleeing or bowing.”
“Really? Huh,” Eva said with a slight frown. She resented being called a weak little girl. At the same time, physically, Catherine was right. Partially. Hands and legs aside, Eva felt human.
Being bowed to might be nice though.
Climbing to her feet and brushing off some specks of dirt, she glanced towards Qrycx.
And watched in confusion as the carnivean flinched.
“Alright,” Eva said slowly. Disregarding the demon, she turned to Arachne. “What about you?”
“I won’t care what you become,” the spider-demon answered without hesitation. She didn’t flinch, look away, or avert her eyes.
“But you’re saying that I have become something,” Eva said slowly.
No one responded to that. They didn’t really need to. Something had obviously happened.
Glancing around with her own eyes, Eva still couldn’t spot Devon anywhere. The basketball court that had become her ritual circle had a decent sight range of everything around. It was just outside the machine shop building that Eva hadn’t bothered entering since her first tour of the place. The four cell block buildings separated the courtyard from the rest of the prison; the women’s ward, the burned out dining hall, solitary confinement, and some of the official buildings.
“Devon? He didn’t fall into the portal I hope.”
Catherine shook her head. “He ran off as soon as the portal closed, grumbling something about needing his notebook.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Five minutes?” Catherine said with a shrug. “The portal event didn’t last long at all. Maybe a full sixty seconds at the most. After that, the ritual circle expended its power.”
Eva rubbed her chin, mind churning over everything that she had already thought all over again. Unfortunately, whether or not her treatment was still on track would have to wait for Devon to return.
“What about your ritual? Still planning on it?”
“Of course,” Catherine said, suddenly a great deal more haughty than she had been. “Your troubles don’t concern me in the slightest. I shall get the ritual circle ready immediately.” An almost feral grin appeared on her face. “In fact, if Void wants to touch me, I’ll gladly accept any offering of power.”
She turned slightly, addressing the full group rather than just Eva. “Leave now unless you intend to help. Actually, no. Just leave. I’ll not have any of you sabotaging my work.”
Eva was about to protest the suspicion. She wouldn’t have done something like that. Especially not after Catherine had just helped out with her ritual.
With the glare Catherine had leveled towards Qrycx, it was clear that the comment hadn’t been intended for Eva in the first place.
Taking her leave, Eva headed off towards the cell blocks. Arachne followed along behind her. Eva only stopped for a moment at the edge of the ritual circle to collect her clothing and dagger.
Specifically, she aimed for Devon’s building. She went straight to the top floor where Devon had set up his makeshift home. A few cells had their walls knocked down to make a larger space for him. The bars blocking off the front of the cells had been melted out with Devon’s flames and had been replaced with plywood that he had probably stolen.
Not the most secure place with such weak walls, though he had put up a few wards to strengthen the wood. It was still secure enough that Eva wouldn’t want to force her way in.
So she knocked.
Devon opened the door almost immediately. Eva had expected that he would as he had been standing just on the other side, moving towards it as if he had been about to open it anyway.
He cut himself off as he saw who was at the door. Narrowing his eyes, he looked Eva up and down. “You’re awake.”
Reaching out, Devon’s hand immediately found the two bumps on her forehead. He hummed and hawed for a moment before snapping open a notebook and marking a few quick notes down. “I need a vial of your blood.”
It was Eva’s turn to narrow her eyes. “You’ve never asked for blood before. What are you going to use it for?”
“Tests.” He rolled his eyes. “Obviously.”
“How long will these tests take? What will you do with it after?”
“As long as I need. Might even ask for more later. We have to make sure that nothing has gone wrong.”
Eva sighed. As much as she didn’t want to place her blood in the hands of anyone else, Devon was one of the least likely people to do anything untoward with it. She pulled her dagger out and dug it into her arm.
Just as Devon held up his tentacle. “Not that blood. I’d prefer blood untouched by other magic.” He ducked back into his room, leaving Eva to heal her cut. “I have a syringe somewhere around. Just give me a minute to find it.”
“A syringe?” Eva said as she moved into the fairly spartan room. There wasn’t much to it, just a bed, a desk, and a great deal of locks on the door. While it was tidy, it wasn’t necessarily clean. “That is ‘somewhere around’ here? How long has it been sitting around? Has it been used? Why do you even have a syringe?”
Devon paused his rummage through his desk. “You ask far too many questions, girl.”
“I think that I’d rather just cut myself with a regular knife and bleed into a vial.”
“Not an option. I want as little contamination as possible.”
“At least that means that the syringe is probably clean,” Eva mumbled.
Thankfully, Eva couldn’t sense any blood—dried or otherwise—on the glass or needle when Devon pulled the syringe from his desk. The glass looked clear and it even had a little plastic cap over the sharp point.
Eva held out her arm as Devon uncapped the needle and approached. With her main complaints apparently unfounded, she had no real excuse not to let him. Especially with how much he would grumble if she made a fuss about it all.
The blood entering the glass portion of the syringe was as black as Arachne’s. It was the first thing that Eva noticed. Even in the last few months, her blood had still had a faint red tinge to it. Just enough to signify her inferiority.
Now that tinge was entirely gone.
She needed to do some blood tests of her own. If her blood was fully demonic, she wouldn’t need to rely on bloodletting Arachne all the time. She was certain that Arachne would still offer to donate some, and Eva would accept if only to keep her own lethargy down, but being entirely made up of worthwhile reagents would help in plenty of situations where she might otherwise be in trouble.
“Catherine still wants to perform her ritual,” Eva said as Devon withdrew both the needle and the tentacle around her arm.
“After what happened with you? Foolish,” he said. However, after a moment, he shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose earlier is better. Doing so while the status quo hasn’t changed would keep any oddities from happening. And if whatever entity or Power interfered with your treatment expended energy doing so, she is less likely to have anomalies in her ritual.”
“I think that is the opposite of what she is hoping for,” Eva said. She paused for a moment as she considered his words. “Whatever entity or Power? You don’t think that it is Void?”
“Most likely, given the portal and the intention of the treatment. With all the oddities going on, I’ll hold off on ruling out anything for the moment.”
Devon set the syringe on his desk. “I’ll get back to that as soon as I initiate Catherine’s ritual.”
“So, I am going to be involved in this ritual?”
“You haven’t seen any other demons around, have you?”
“Actually, yes. The wax demon is somewhere around here right?”
“Off in solitary confinement with plenty of shackles around her cell. Not going to bring her out for the ritual. Keeping her dominated throughout would be tiring.”
Eva gave a slight nod of her head. Losing control of that one could be intensely painful at best. The headaches it delivered were not to be underestimated. “But I thought you might try one last time to summon a demon or two.”
“It is concerning that we haven’t been able to summon any demons, but not something that should interfere with the ritual. Catherine and I have taken your incomplete nature into account.” He paused in thought for a moment. “It is starting the ritual immediately?”
“As soon as she finishes the modifications to the circle.”
“I don’t know why you bothered to dress,” he said with a slight harrumph. Eyes drawing up to her forehead, he crossed his arms. “Any other changes aside from the obvious?”
Eva pulled off her shirt without hesitation. Turning to face her back towards Devon, she glanced over her shoulder. “Is there anything odd on my back?”
His hands reached out—or a hand and a tentacle—tracing a line from the small of her back up to her shoulder blades. “Is there any pain around here,” he said, moving his tentacle back down her spine.
Eva shook her head. “I feel you, but nothing hurts.”
As soon as she spoke, Devon’s fingers pinched a bit of skin, twisting slightly.
With a yelp, Eva turned, freeing herself from his assault as she swatted at his still outstretched hand. “What was that for?”
“Just ensuring that you do feel pain. Your back has bright red lines, starting from a single ‘trunk’ at your shoulders and branching out in periodic intervals down your back.”
Eva twisted, trying to see something for herself. There might have been something at her shoulders. Without a mirror, she wouldn’t able to see much. “Red lines? What are they?”
“No idea. Physical mutations weren’t unexpected. Your tongue and teeth…” He trailed off with a frown. “Open your mouth.”
Eva complied, wondering just what had caused his frown.
As he ran his finger over her teeth, Devon actually winced and pulled his hand back. Eva watched as a droplet of blood fell to the floor.
Blinking, Eva ran her tongue over the tops of her teeth, feeling the mountains and valleys that now made up her teeth. Her tongue didn’t get cut. Even pressing it down into the sharp blades kept it whole and hearty. Clamping her mouth shut, she found her top and bottom teeth fit in neatly with each other. The triangular teeth interlocked. A smooth wall had replaced the slightly bumpy teeth that she used to have.
“How did I miss that?”
Devon shrugged. “I barely noticed and I was looking for oddities. Perhaps if you smiled more.” He waved a tentacle before Eva could complain. “We should head down and prepare for Catherine’s ritual. If we’re going to do it, best to get it started as soon as possible. I don’t want to be stuck outside all night.”
Eva sighed, but nodded and followed him out of the room. Arachne kept herself positioned close by.
They made it all the way to the bottom of the building before running into a certain carnivean. The shorter demon blocked the way out of the cell block with her hands on her hips and a glare leveled at Devon.
“This ritual was not in our agreement.”
“So you say every day,” Devon said, brushing past her without apparent concern on his face. His heart rate betrayed his nervousness.
“Last time, the Great King forced me. Not this time. I’m not going to do it.”
Devon paused, turning slightly to frown in her direction. “You will and I’ll tell you why. First, we have another demon we can use if need be,” he said, contradicting his earlier statement about not using her at all. “Second, I still have something you want. If you think that there was only the one loophole in our agreement, you’re fooling yourself.”
Qrycx opened her mouth, but Devon held up his tentacle. The same tentacle that Qrycx had hanging off the top of her head. She glared at it almost harder than she had been glaring at Devon.
“Third, you know what we have been pulling out of Hell lately. I don’t know what is going on down there. You don’t know either. But complain and I’ll banish you to figure it out for yourself.”
Without a second glance, Devon pushed past Qrycx and moved outside.
Eva gave the carnivean a sorry shrug as she moved on, but didn’t really feel bad for the demon. It wasn’t like she was losing anything. Catherine might have helped to create the ritual circle, but Devon wouldn’t have let anything happen to his precious research subject. Catherine couldn’t have changed it to kill them or drain them of their demonicness, if that was a thing. And Qrycx didn’t have anything better to do.
Qrycx didn’t respond save to shy away from Eva. That might have something to do with her newfound power—power that Eva didn’t actually feel herself, having to take Catherine’s word for it. Of course, it might also have something to do with Arachne hovering over Eva’s shoulder, glaring at the carnivean.
Arachne had killed Qrycx twice, after all.
Despite her protests, Qrycx followed along a short distance away from Eva as they made their way back to the ritual circle.
“Eva,” Catherine snapped as they approached. She stood right in the middle of one of the donor spots of the circle. “Remove those scraps of cloth and take a seat here.”
With a slight roll of her eyes, Eva proceeded to do as Catherine instructed. As she did so, Catherine went around getting both Arachne and Qrycx into position. Devon hovered about, checking the entire ritual circle.
As soon as everything was in place, Catherine sat down in the center point and Devon stepped out of the circle to stand just at the edge. “Everything ready?”
“If you didn’t find any problems,” Catherine said. As soon as Devon shook his head, she nodded her head. “Then get on with it.”
Devon glared for just a moment before kneeling down and placing his hands at the edge of the circle.
Almost immediately, Eva felt a tingle around her throat. A trickle of blood ran from major veins in her neck out towards a single point just at the nape of her neck. She quickly grabbed her hair and pulled it around her shoulders just as the blood sprayed out into the air as a fine mist.
The pain that she had been somewhat apprehensive about was nowhere to be seen.
Catherine, unfortunately, couldn’t say the same. There was a brief silence as the blood gathered overhead before Catherine started grinding her teeth. Another few seconds and she started screaming.
Eva couldn’t say for how long Catherine screamed. Sitting in one spot with nothing to do for hours while the ritual progressed had a way of messing with her sense of time.
All she knew was that at some point, Catherine’s screams stopped. She was still sitting upright. She was still awake.
And she started laughing.