“Alright! Let’s move!” Eva shouted out over the somewhat smoldering field. Arachne was a short distance away, clearing out a few tumbleweeds. Vektul and Srey were both near each other and, as such, near Eva as well.
As soon as Arachne heard the shout, she dropped her tumbleweed to the ground and started running towards Eva without hesitation.
As she ran, Eva took the time to extinguish her lingering flames. While she wanted to burn down a good portion of the area, she didn’t want to start an uncontrollable forest fire. Or field fire, as the case was. Taking the time to do so wasn’t that big of a deal either. It didn’t take long and, more importantly, Eva doubted that they would be attacked. At least not immediately.
They only just started watching.
“We don’t want to run into them on our way out,” Eva said, turning towards Srey. “Which direction are they in?”
“There are actually two separate ones. Both started looking at us around the same time. Not exactly. Maybe a minute or two difference.” He pointed a hand towards the direction of the prison. Perhaps slightly to one side. “There and over there,” he said as he swung the hand. It didn’t actually move all that far. Still in the direction of the prison, but on the other side.
“Not very. Not right on top of us, obviously, but maybe five minutes of walking out.”
“Both of them?”
He gave a curt nod of his head.
“Is it?” Vektul cocked his head to one side, almost pressing an ear to his shoulder. “Friends of yours?”
“No. Great as in: Great, they’re setting up to ambush us on our way back to the prison.”
“Oh.” His head snapped back to a straight position as his smile spread across his face. “Great!” he said sounding perfectly genuine about being happy.
Eva turned away from him, ignoring his antics for the moment. “You hear that?” she asked as Arachne ran up to her side.
“Ambush? Are we running into it? Maybe going around and flanking one of the groups?”
“If they can hear us as well as see us,” Eva said with a glance at a shrugging Srey, “they’ll know we’re coming. There are twelve demons back at Brakket. I’d rather not have us get picked off in small groups. Best to avoid them for now and try to fight as a larger group.”
“Might not be so easy,” Srey said. “I think it is safe to say that they can hear us. Both sources started moving as soon as you said to avoid them. Or maybe as soon as you said not to get picked off in small groups. Either way, they’re coming closer.”
“While still scrying on us?”
Most methods of scrying that Eva knew about required the scryer to sit in one spot. Away from her altar and incense, Nel could only get what were essentially still images. The methods she had used to test her anti-scrying packets also needed someone to sit around still pools of water. Moving the water would disturb it and break the scrying effect.
Srey’s nod at her question was somewhat disturbing, though not wholly unexpected. Eva didn’t know every method of scrying after all. They might not be scrying at all. All she knew was that they were being observed by someone who did not wish them well.
“Right. Arachne, we’re moving. Follow me. Srey, Vektul, stick close.”
Eva took off in a run. Away from the hunters and away from her prison as well.
She could teleport away with Arachne so long as they hadn’t set up any wards. It was doubtful that they had. Srey would have said something the moment that he noticed any observations. Without observations, they couldn’t have known to set up wards.
Still, while Eva could teleport, she wasn’t sure about Srey or Vektul. She couldn’t ask without giving information to the enemy so long as they were being observed. It was something that, in hindsight, she should have asked before.
Too late now.
Either they needed to escape without teleporting or they needed to get far enough away fast enough that they had a moment of privacy.
“Only one of the two are following us. The second is staying where it was. Still observing, but… wait, no. Whoever it is just stopped.”
“But the first observer is still following?”
“Matching pace. Not gaining any distance, but not losing it either.”
Eva didn’t stop running, but she did hum in thought for a few minutes.
“Shall we turn and fight?”
“No,” Eva said, glancing over at Arachne. “Not yet. We just need to distract them a little longer. The others should be almost finished by now. At least drawing them out here was a success.”
Vektul, still running, tilted his head to one side. He opened his mouth for just a moment before snapping it shut.
Eva’s glare ensured it stayed that way.
Whoever the demon hunters were, they probably knew that Eva had been lying just now. However, she didn’t need Vektul confirming it. If their pursuers got confused or worried about something happening back in town or back at the prison and left to check on it, all the better for them.
Unfortunately, even after running for another few minutes, Srey didn’t give any update about their observers.
They were still being chased.
To fight or to flee?
Eva slowed down, motioning for the others to follow her lead. She continued in the same direction. It was just at a walking pace.
“They’re keeping pace with us. No significant distance change as far as I can tell.”
“How far back?”
“Still about five minutes of walking at their current pace, were we to stop moving.”
He raised an arm, pointing.
Eva bit her lip. The hunter was still between them and the prison.
What they were lacking at the moment was information. How were they being spied upon? Who? Someone she knew or some random hunter that showed up while tracking the new demons?
“Counter reconnaissance? Shall we go and see if we can’t catch a glimpse of them?”
“What happened to running… and, uh, distracting.”
Eva frowned at Srey, shaking her head. “If they are matching pace when they could easily catch up, they probably don’t want to fight.”
“You’re fooling yourself.”
Maybe so. Eva didn’t want to fight. She didn’t even want to spy on them. Getting too near to them would likely commit them to a fight. Worse, it would leave them open to that second observer circling around and flanking them.
There could even be more individuals or groups out there who weren’t actively spying but were in contact with the others.
At the same time, if they could spot their enemies, they could start planning around them…
“Actually. Wait,” Eva said as she pulled out her cellphone.
They might be able to see what she typed. If they did, it wouldn’t really matter. There wasn’t much they could do about it.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have Nel’s cellphone number. She wasn’t sure if Nel even had a cellphone.
Zoe. I need you to get to Nel as fast as possible. Have Nel scry on me. Then, have her search a short distance south until she sees any other groups of people.
With a tap of her thumb, Eva sent the text out to Zoe.
It would solve at least one problem. Namely, who their pursuer was. If Nel could continue watching them until they went back to wherever they had made their base, it would be possible to turn the tables. They could be more offensive.
Unfortunately, Zoe would be wondering what Eva and three demons were doing out in the middle of nowhere. She would have to explain that later on. Maybe the truth, maybe some excuse. That could be decided whenever she had to explain. Hopefully she would go on and ask Nel with haste and without complaint.
The return message came almost instantly with a light beep on Eva’s phone.
Please tell me that you aren’t out looking for demon hunters.
Well, that’s an easy enough request.
I am not out looking for demon hunters. Nel?
Setting up her altar. Also not happy about being woken up.
“Well tough for her,” Eva said aloud. She didn’t bother replying, though she kept her phone out and in her hands just in case Zoe sent a reply. “Any change in their distance, Srey?”
“No change in the last few minutes,” he said, glancing off in the direction of their watchers. “I don’t like this. What are they waiting for? We’re doing nothing interesting and they’re still watching us.”
Eva glanced over towards Arachne and Vektul. Arachne stood as a silent aegis over her, ready to protect Eva if need be. Her eyes were glued on the horizon of the rolling hilltops as if daring the hunters to crest the top. Hands curled at her sides, Arachne stood slightly hunched. Just enough to easily leap into motion at the first sign of trouble.
Vektul, on the other hand, stood far more lackadaisically. Like a bored student. Not a single muscle in his body was tense.
Though he was staring up at the sky with some intensity.
Following his gaze, Eva found herself frowning at the clear night sky. The sun had finally fallen below the horizon not long ago—just before they had started running—and the stars had come out in force. With no nearby lights of any kind and the moon a mere crescent, Eva could even see the milky arm of her galaxy against the stars.
But nothing more interesting than that.
“Something up there?” she couldn’t help but ask.
“It might not be a good idea to stand still,” he said without a hint of fear in his voice.
But something sent a chill up Eva’s spine. She glanced towards the sky again, staring at one particularly bright star directly overhead.
Something clicked. Eva didn’t argue with Vektul.
She immediately turned and blinked in the direction away from the observers. Arachne caught on quick, actually lifting Vektul off the ground and carrying him over her shoulder. Srey turned to mist and whisked off ahead of even Eva.
They cleared the area just in time for a white beam of magical light to crash down right where they had been standing. The cold of the night was chased away by the blistering heat of the beam.
“It’s that thing from the Elysium Order,” Eva hissed.
Not the most articulate response Eva could have come up with. Nobody else present had even been around for the inquisition’s attack on the prison. She had told Arachne in the time since, but Arachne hadn’t been nearby.
At the moment, she was too busy running away to explain more.
This was bad. The nuns hadn’t used the device—Nel had called it cracking the sky, if Eva remembered accurately—while Eva had been indoors. They didn’t have shelter out here. Nothing but fields, hills, and occasional trees. Nothing that would stop a magical weapon of that magnitude.
Eva’s cellphone started going crazy. A constant stream of beeps indicating messages gave way to an incoming call ring.
She slapped the phone to her ear without stopping running. “Zoe? Little busy here.”
“I-it’s Nel! There’s an armored man following you. I think he is reading out your location over a phone.”
“Right. Thanks.” Nothing unexpected there. She had assumed that whoever was observing her was in contact with others. It was good to know that it was the armored man again. She wasn’t entirely sure how that helped at this exact moment, but so long as they got out of there, it could come in handy.
“There was another observer,” Eva said into the phone. “One that hasn’t been following us. If you look between us and the prison, there should be a large patch of scorched earth. Keep following it back towards the prison and you might see that observer, if they haven’t moved that is.”
In the mean time, Eva had to get her group out of here.
Preferably without revealing too many abilities, but with that sky cracking thing, Eva wasn’t about to discount anything.
“Vektul,” she said as they ran, holding the phone a short way away from her ear. Still close enough to hear if Nel had anything important to say. “Your portals. Can other people pass through them?”
She hadn’t wanted to ask while her pursuers could hear. With that Elysium Order beam, she didn’t have much of a choice.
“I suppose so,” he said, voice vibrating slightly with each of Arachne’s footsteps. “As long as I kept it open for others.”
Eva turned directions without responding. The others would follow her lead. Probably. If they kept running in a straight line, the hunters would be able to target them by just casting the sky cracking spell some distance ahead of them.
“Eva,” Nel’s voice half-shouted over the phone.
Eva moved it closer to her ear before responding. “I’m here. What is it?”
“There’s some woman in a wheelchair. She’s sitting in front of… it’s like some sort of mockery of the Elysium Order’s idol. Twisted and evil. You must destroy it!”
“That’s nice Nel,” Eva said. “Tell me, does this woman have an eye patch? How about a few holes in her back?”
“Eye patch, yes. But she’s wearing clothes. Would the holes be in her clothes as well? I don’t see any.”
“Thanks Nel.” Eva disconnected the call. If something really important came up, she was sure that someone would call back soon.
New mission: Survive. That was always a priority, really. However, Eva really did not want to allow her enemies to possess a sky cracking idol.
“Vektul, can you portal us back to the field?”
“That might be too far away.”
“As close as you can then.”
Just as had happened back at the prison, a dark portal opened in the air in front of them. It started small before widening to a proper size.
Eva didn’t break her stride. She charged right into the portal and out the other side. Whether through clever portal placement by Vektul or simple luck, the ground was at the perfect height and incline to keep her from stumbling.
Less lucky was the addition of a new humanoid in range of her blood sense. Her demonic companions emerged from the portal behind her one by one. None of them concerned her.
Ahead and to the side, Eva found herself close enough to see one of their pursuers.
Not the woman.
A man clad in shiny metal armor stood at the crest of a hill only a quick blink away. The same man who had defeated Zagan at the start of summer.
Notably, his armor was not the same. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that large portions were missing. His arms and boots were clad in metal. One of his legs as well. His other leg and chest just had some kind of padded undergarment.
There was no surprise or shock in his posture. His heart rate remained steady as he drew his sword. A long, curved sword.
The same one that had torn up Zagan.
The vials of demon blood beneath Eva’s cloak exploded, releasing the liquid into the air. Two orbs formed into rings, flying off towards the hunter. Another two orbs formed up into a shield around Eva.
Her shield solidified just in time. The knight dashed forwards in the blink of an eye. His sword came down on the shield.
The blade bit into the membrane, piercing a portion of it, but stopping before it could cleave through Eva.
Both rings she had sent out passed the knight during his charge. She recalled them, but by the time they reached the knight’s back, he had already dashed away.
“Arachne!” Eva shouted, seeing his target a moment before he reached the demon.
She jumped backwards just a hair too late. One of her back legs fell to the ground even as her body flew backwards.
Eva’s shield, or what remained of it, collapsed into solidified daggers of blood as she blinked straight to the hunter. If they were hovering orbs, they wouldn’t blink with her. Daggers would.
And with much of his armor missing, he had plenty of soft spots for Eva to jam the daggers into.
Eva aimed for a particularly soft spot right around his armpit.
His body wasn’t there by the time her dagger reached her target. Somehow, he had managed to get behind her with his blade already swinging towards her neck.
Eva blinked again, not really aiming anywhere in particular. Just so long as she wound up far enough away from that sword.
Srey moved in to Eva’s vacancy, letting the sword pass harmlessly through his ethereal vapor form. The moment it was safe, he solidified.
When he did so, he wasn’t in the form that Eva had become accustomed to.
He looked humanoid, but his body looked like molten vapor. Dark plumes of smoke erupted from a white-hot mist that made up the solid portions of his body. He reached forwards, hands passing through the helmet of the hunter. He retracted his hands almost immediately in apparent pain.
But not before Eva heard a cough.
The hunter stumbled slightly as he coughed a second time.
Eva wasted no time. She didn’t know how long they might have even a slight advantage.
She blinked forward again, arm already posed to bring a dagger down into his shoulder.
He moved a gauntlet up, catching the solidified blood with the back of his hand. Shards split off. Some larger chunks dug into the metal. Other smaller bits sprayed around the area.
Eva clapped her hands together anyway, blinking away as she did so to avoid his raised sword.
His gauntlet protected him from the explosion. Partially. Most of the metal scattered around the area in tiny shards—shards that burned her skin anywhere they touched. She obviously hadn’t blinked far enough away.
But he was still in a worse state. Save for a few fingers, he no longer had a gauntlet on his off-hand. Unfortunately, save for a slight blemish, his actual arm was otherwise untouched.
He was still coughing. More frequently than before.
Before Eva could blink back in and offer him the other dagger, he disappeared.
Eva’s head whipped around as she searched for where he dashed off to this time.
Except, neither her eyes nor her sense of blood could find him anywhere nearby.
Eva pulled out her cellphone, speed dialing Nel before it even hit her ear.
The augur picked up the second the ring sounded.
“The eye patch woman is going to crack the sky again!”
“Vektul,” Eva shouted. “Portal to anywhere that isn’t here! Everyone else, get through it.”
It took only seconds for the demon to comply. Eva dashed into the portal alongside the others, chased by the white beam of light crashing down on their position.