“Well, that’s definitely the doll that I saw in Hell.”
Eva stepped away from the window, looking at the others. Irene and her succubus were standing towards the back of the stairwell. One was trying to look as small as possible while the other continually preened as soon as she thought someone was looking in her direction. Unfortunately for Saija, the doll standing out in the courtyard below was of far more interest to everyone.
Juliana and Genoa were both forward a bit more, both looking out the window. Even after her brief run around her house, Genoa wasn’t looking significantly worse off than she had during their earlier discussion. Still strained, but maybe even better. She didn’t look quite so out of breath as Eva would have expected. Getting out of the house and getting some fresh air might have done her a world of good.
Zoe rounded out their group for the moment. She wasn’t paying so much attention to the doll outside. Her focus was on her cellphone. She was coordinating with other members of Brakket staff to find any possible missing students. Saija’s warning about the recently deceased demon and how he had likely broken some part of their contract.
Given that she was looking much calmer than she had when Saija first mentioned the possibility, Eva was guessing that the headcount was going well.
Srey had gone to find out where Vektul was on Eva’s request. The demon was somewhat essential to Eva and somewhat absentminded. There needed to be some measures in place to ensure he didn’t go do something stupid.
Like run off and try to speak with the doll. For all Eva knew, the doll would strongly object to interacting. Srey had worried that any even extraordinarily minor breach in their contracts would set the doll off. Something that was only a breach because of some innocuous wording that nobody would have complained about under normal circumstances.
Eva didn’t have a contract. So she was feeling fairly safe around the doll at the moment. Neither did Arachne, but Arachne hadn’t been summoned in the usual manner. Eva wasn’t so sure how they might react if brought near each other.
Though, at the moment, Eva wasn’t sure that the doll was even alive anymore.
For the fifteen minutes Eva had been back at Brakket, and longer according to Irene, the doll hadn’t moved. No breathing, no fidgeting of the arms. The doll hadn’t even blinked, as far as she could tell.
Nobody had gone near it. Anderson had made an announcement over the Brakket speaker system warning against going outside. Genoa and Juliana, being unable to teleport long distances on their own, had to have Zoe bring them inside to avoid going too near the doll.
They might have been able to sneak in through one of the back doors, but it was best not to take any risks with someone who could apparently fall out of the sky to skewer people.
“Nobody missing,” Zoe said as she slipped her phone back into her pocket. “However, Cindy Lovechild’s roommate has been unable to wake her. Wayne took her to the school nurse.”
Saija stepped forward, making sure everybody noticed her before speaking. “If Timothy had enraptured someone in his delirium, they should recover soonish now that he’s gone.”
“A day or two,” Saija said with a shrug.
“I suppose that is good. I’ll let them know,” Zoe said, pulling her phone back out. “However,” she said with a nod towards the window, “what do we do about her?”
“If she doesn’t ever move, I suppose we could put her up on a pedestal. A free new statue for the school.”
“Or we could try to talk to her. She was open to speaking the last time I encountered her.”
“Alright. What do we say then? ‘Please leave?'”
“Or find out what she is sticking around for. Maybe another demon has broken its contract in the area.”
“If that is the case, perhaps we should offer our assistance.” She sighed, rubbing her forehead. “I told Anderson that his grand idea was idiotic. One of his perfectly innocent demons has already gone off the wall. When will the rest?”
“Hey,” Saija said. “I’ve got no such plans. I’m rather enjoying myself as I am. I don’t need a sword through my gut either.”
Eva turned back to the window, biting her lip. Being his school, Anderson should be the one out there speaking with the doll. He had a demon bound to him. He should know what it was.
But he was nowhere to be seen or heard of, save for the announcement he had made.
The only real reason why he might not be out there was because he broke his portion of the contract somehow. Perhaps he was worried about being dragged down to the abattoir.
Why isn’t the doll going after him then?
Maybe it was waiting for more orders from Void or the Keeper. Wherever it got its orders from.
She could speculate all she wanted. It wasn’t going to change matters until someone went down there to speak with her.
“We shouldn’t all go down at once. It might startle her,” Eva mumbled to herself.
Not quiet enough, apparently.
“You’re not going alone,” Arachne said almost instantly. “In fact, you’re not going at all. Someone else can deal with this. You don’t need to be involved in all the things that go on around this place. You’re already involved in enough.”
Eva shook her head. “You might think that, but there are enough complications around Brakket as is. It is in our best interest, and everyone else’s, to ensure that another one doesn’t crop up from this. I’d prefer if everything went as smooth as possible in the future.”
Like the ritual, she mentally added. With everyone around, she wasn’t about to speak aloud. Arachne should understand without being explicitly told.
She still wasn’t sure what to do about the ritual. They had cleared that area of the wilderness beyond the prison, but so long as the demon hunters had that replica of the nun’s ability to crack the sky, using that field was somewhat untenable. Perhaps if they had someone running an actual distraction for them. They could still be caught off-guard by a beam of light from the sky.
That wasn’t to say that the wilderness they had started on was the only possible location. The Infinite Courtyard was another possibility. It was still open to the sky, but at least it had Brakket Academy surrounding it. They could set up some sort of defenses around it.
A blood shield might work. It would have to be enormous. Larger than any Eva had ever made. She was fairly certain that she could power it through bloodstones. Provided her minion in Florida had done his job in finding suitable targets for more bloodstones, it could potentially be run indefinitely.
The only real problem with that was that she wasn’t sure how well a shield might hold up to an attack of that magnitude. Her blood shields were strong. Stronger than anything she could produce through thaumaturgy. But strong enough to withstand what was essentially a massive laser from the sky?
Eva wasn’t so sure.
The other option she had considered was somewhere indoors. Someone had set up a thaumaturgical ward that expanded what would have been a few hundred square feet into a few square miles for the Infinite Courtyard. Surely something similar could be done to a room. She wouldn’t even need a single square mile of space. So the ward could be drastically scaled down.
It would be much safer than going outside. Depending on who Eva had to get to set up the ward, the whole thing could be kept much quieter as well. No big fanfare or large crowds to find out what might be going on if people stumbled across the ritual circle. It could all be done in the privacy of one of the side rooms in the women’s ward.
She would cast the spell herself, but she had only been in her warding class for two months. Not even quite that. They hadn’t even discussed spacial expansion. What they had discussed was complex enough that Eva doubted anything useful would be covered for some time.
The teacher, Professor Chelsea Lepus, seemed the easygoing sort so long as her class wasn’t being interrupted. Eva might have to ask her.
But that would be neither here nor now.
They had a doll to deal with first.
“I’ll go,” Zoe said before Eva could open her mouth. “As a member of Brakket staff and someone who wants to ensure that the students are kept safe—safe as can be at Brakket anyway—it falls to me.”
“I’ll follow along at a distance, ready to blink in if anything goes wrong.”
Eva held up a hand. “It will be great if you can shoo the doll away. Unfortunately, this is a demon thing. You’re not much of a demon.”
“Thanks. I think.”
“I’ll be there as well,” Genoa said, stepping forward.
“Mom, no. They can handle it.”
The older woman sighed, glaring down her daughter. Juliana drew herself up, unwavering under Genoa’s gaze.
“You’re staying right here,” Juliana said, voice firm.
Closing her eyes, Genoa shook her head. “You’re not supposed to be taking care of your old mom for several years. At least.”
“Then focus on recovering. You can go back to being mom after that.”
“Very well. But if something does happen–”
“If something does happen, you can cast long-range support from up here. I’ll be up here to protect you from anything that might come near.”
“If that doll comes up here, I’m running away. I’m not going anywhere near that doll,” Saija said, hands on her hips and chest puffed out with a certain amount of pride that didn’t really fit her words.
Half-hiding behind the succubus’ wings, Irene glanced down towards the ground. “Me too.”
“That’s fine,” Eva said. She hadn’t been counting on either one of them for any kind of support.
“If you do get into a fight, try not to die quite as fast as Timothy did. I mean, it was cool, but a drawn out fight would be better I think.”
Eva gave the succubus a light glare. Just a simple glare of annoyance.
That didn’t stop Saija from jumping backwards, trading places with Irene to hide behind her back.
Cowering behind a human? Eva had to stop herself from speaking aloud. It was amusing, but she just rolled her eyes in the end. Especially because saying something might just bring up the topic in everyone else’s minds. They had surely noticed how the demons acted when in Eva’s presence. It was annoying enough to deal with as it was.
“Right,” Eva said. “I’ll keep that in mind. If there is nothing else of note, let’s get moving.”
Arachne moved in front of Eva, leading the way down the stairwell. Zoe, though she was supposed to be the one speaking with the doll, was trailing behind. Her cellphone was out, typing away almost like Catherine with a deep scowl on her face.
Eva found the reason for her typing as soon as they hit the ground floor.
Wayne teleported in. He appeared entirely unannounced and just about got one of Arachne’s limbs through his throat for his troubles.
To his credit, he didn’t flinch. Though that might have just been him not noticing until Arachne had already started to draw back. Or maybe his mind was accelerated to the point where he had processed the shock of everything already.
Were Eva in his place and she saw Arachne’s leg coming straight for her, she would have moved out of the way. Just in case Arachne didn’t stop in time.
“I told you not to come,” Zoe said. “We don’t want to startle the doll into rash action. We already have more than enough people with Eva and Arachne.”
Wayne just gave a light grunt before narrowing his eyes in Eva’s direction. “We could argue. I’d win. Let’s just get this over with. I have tomorrow’s classes to prepare for.”
He turned and marched out of the the lobby ahead of everyone else, leaving no opportunity for argument.
Zoe just looked on, somewhat stunned as Wayne threw open the lobby doors and beelined towards the doll. She recovered fast enough and chased after him. Eva had to step to the side in order to avoid being trampled.
Following along behind the two of them, Eva just hoped that he wasn’t about to do something rash. Poorly thought out actions didn’t seem like the kind of thing that Wayne would do often. In fact, he was quite level-headed. But who knew what Zoe had sent him in her texts. She might have said something that would set him off.
Now that she was on ground level and fairly close to the doll, Eva could clearly see the woman. Only with her own eyes. As before, Eva couldn’t sense the slightest sensation of blood from the woman. Her silver hair framed her face. The entrance and exit of Prax’s domain had been lit, but not nearly as well as proper daylight. As such, Eva wasn’t entirely sure if she had noticed the doll’s eyes.
They were bright silver. Almost glowing.
And currently staring off into nothing. They didn’t move to track Wayne and Zoe as the two approached. They just… stared.
Neither Wayne nor Zoe spoke. They stopped about ten feet away, more at a loss of what to do than anything else. Both seemed to expect the doll to speak first. A fact made evident as Wayne cleared his throat. Loudly.
The doll didn’t react. Not even a twitch of her gloved fingers.
“Can we help you?”
Wayne shot Zoe a questioning glance out of the corner of his eye.
Zoe answered with a shrug. ‘We had to say something,’ she mouthed back.
“Perhaps,” the doll said, drawing all attention back to it. “I am locked in indecision.”
Literally, it seems, Eva thought.
She had moved her mouth, but the doll was still as a statue even after acknowledging the two professors.
“Well, we can help you come to a decision,” Zoe said. “Though I must ask before anything else, do you intend harm—physical or otherwise—to any of the humans around the area?”
“Not at this time,” the doll responded in a whisper. Her head turned slightly. While her eyes were still unfocused, Eva got the distinct impression that she was staring straight at the prison.
Eva immediately made a mental note to warn Devon that an enforcer from Hell might have an interest in him. Of course, the prison was a fair distance away. For all Eva knew, the doll was staring at something else. Maybe one of the demon hunters around town was off in that direction and had done something to displease the doll.
Still, best to err on the side of caution.
“That’s good,” Zoe said after a moment of silence. She probably didn’t like the phrasing, but would take what she could get. “Why don’t we move somewhere to sit down and discuss this then?”
Somewhere away from the children, Eva mentally added.
But the doll didn’t move. A brief moment of silence passed before she spoke. “The target of my indecision is present. I was considering tracking down my target, but that option has been removed. Until I have come to a decision, none shall move. Leaving may allow an escape.”
Up until the doll spoke, Eva had been fairly calm. With both herself and Arachne present, she was suddenly somewhat concerned.
She had several vials of blood. Both her own and Arachne’s. She could form shields and she could attack with ease. But would she be able to in time? Juliana had spoken of the doll’s speed from her experience in Hell.
In preparation, Eva uncapped one of the vials behind her back and prepared a decently sized shield. It would be up and around her in the blink of an eye.
Zoe shared a brief look with Wayne before continuing her questioning.
“What is it you’re having trouble deciding?”
“A demonic beacon was taken from Hell to the mortal realm by a demon. Multiple times. A crime worthy of five centuries imprisonment.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a problem from where I’m standing,” Wayne grumbled. “Less demons around, the better if you ask me.”
“Why don’t we not interrupt the… person,” Zoe said, clearly fumbling for words to call the doll. Facing the doll again, she said, “What is the problem anyway?”
“My information was incomplete,” she whispered. “The demon in question is not quite a demon.”
Both Zoe and Wayne turned slightly to glance in her direction while Arachne moved from ahead and to the side of Eva to directly between her and the doll. The latter let out a low growl as she bent her knees, ready to jump into action.
Eva grit her teeth, mind searching for possibilities. Unless there was another ‘not quite a demon’ running around, the doll was talking about her. But I haven’t done anything wrong. What is she talking about?
Her hand drifted up to brush at her throat. The only beacon she had been in contact with aside from her own—something that never left the mortal realm—had been Arachne’s. But that had been destroyed. Arachne had never used it. Void sent Arachne to Earth.
It had been around her neck nonstop before that.
Eva clenched her fists together.
Including when I sent Sawyer to Hell.
She had taken both Nel and Serena up to the mortal realm. And the beacon had gone with her both times.
“I destroyed it,” Eva said, stepping around Arachne. The blood was still floating behind her, just in case she needed to use it. For the moment, she would try to get out of this mess through words. “I realized my error and destroyed the beacon. It was never once used.”
Through her sense of blood, Eva could tell that Arachne was looking at her. Her carapace didn’t have blood flowing through it, but she was still obviously questioning Eva’s words.
Eva didn’t glance to the side in the slightest. Her focus was on the doll.
Who was now focused on her. Bright silver eyes stared straight at Eva.
“I didn’t help any demons to the mortal realm. The beacon was destroyed. So there shouldn’t be a problem regardless of my status of being only a partial demon.”
That should work. Hopefully. The logic was sound from Eva’s perspective. But would a demon—no, a doll feel the same?
“It is not my place to make such a decision. And something…” the doll’s whispering voice trailed off, staring at the sky for a moment. “Something is preventing my contact with the Keeper.”
Thank Life for that, Eva thought to herself. Had everything been working properly, Eva might have found herself on the receiving end of a sword falling from the sky. It would have come completely unnoticed, as it likely had for that Timothy demon.
“But you said that perhaps these humans might be able to assist in your decision,” Eva said, turning her stare on to Zoe.
“Right,” the professor said after clearing her throat. She shifted slightly, even less comfortable now than she had been when first approaching the doll. “Well, if no crime was committed, there shouldn’t be a punishment, right? There wasn’t even any intention in the actions.”
Still staring at the sky, the doll made no indication that she had even heard Zoe. “I need to reestablish contact.”
Eva followed her gaze up to the sky.
And noticed something.
A white crackling stood out against the blue sky, the clouds, and the violet streaks.