Eva’s head spun. Everything hurt. She couldn’t think straight and she couldn’t see straight. The only thing she could see was a blinding whiteness.
Her memories were hazy. A vague sensation of seeing something dangerous followed by pain.
The crackling white in the sky. That had to be it. She saw it and had activated her shield. Had she shouted out to warn the others? No? She couldn’t think properly.
But she was alive. She had to be. If she was dead, she would be in that hallway again. Or the darkness she had fallen into when Ylva tested out her theory. There was far too much pain for either of those options.
As time trickled on, she started to gain an awareness of her surroundings. Not through her eyes, those were still out of action at the moment. But concentrating hard enough let her sense the blood of those around her.
Has it always taken so much concentration to see blood?
Arachne was at her side. As expected of Arachne. She was even on her feet. All eight of them. Arachne had shifted into her largest form at some point.
Possibly because she was fighting.
What was she fighting? A human? If so, it was a very fast human. They jumped around, Arachne slashing with her claws while the human waved around his arms as if he were swinging a club.
It couldn’t be the doll.
That’s right, we were here to talk to the doll. The doll wanted to imprison me.
But the doll hadn’t attacked. Even if it had, Eva couldn’t see the doll through her sense of blood.
Then who had attacked?
Wayne and Zoe should have been nearby. Eva couldn’t sense either of them. Maybe they had been vaporized without a shield to take the brunt of the attack. Maybe she had managed to warn them in time for them to teleport away. She hoped so, but she wouldn’t be able to find out for sure until she managed to get off the ground.
Turning her attention to herself, Eva would have cringed had she not been too busy being in a world of hurt.
Her body was very reminiscent of Wayne’s body immediately after they had gone to Zoe’s house to clear out the demons attacking the place. He had ended up scorched badly enough to require medical treatment from experts at an elven hospital. Not really an option for Eva at the moment.
At least she knew why her body ached so much.
But Arachne was fighting. Fighting someone fast. Someone using a sword. And the sky had cracked.
If she was right, Arachne was fighting the demon hunter who had vanquished Zagan.
Eva needed to get up. She needed to help. Arachne was large, tough, and strong, but she was no Zagan.
And it had to be that hunter. He was the one who had chased them down in the wilderness. His partner must be the one who cracked the sky. Eva hadn’t thought that they would be so cowardly as to attack the school while regular students were around. They hadn’t so far, anyway.
Maybe Eva had been just too juicy of a target. With both her and Arachne essentially standing still along with Zoe—who essentially lived with Ylva—how could the hunters not attack? Wayne might have been a casualty of it all, but Eva doubted they would care. Especially not with him being friends with Zoe.
What about the doll? Did they know who or what she was? Did they care? Did she get hit as well? Maybe they had watched her kill the other demon and assumed that she was another hunter. They might have aimed their spell just enough to miss her.
Eva was guessing that the doll was still alive. Being unable to sense her at all made the guess all the more uncertain.
The hunter kept dodging to the side or locking his blade with something that Eva couldn’t see. Now that she was starting to think properly again, she could easily see that there was another combatant fighting against the hunter. One that Eva couldn’t detect through her sense of blood.
Eva really needed to get her eyes working properly again. All the maybes and mights needed to become certainties. Maybes and mights got people killed.
Gripping her hands into fists, Eva tried to push herself off the ground. She had wound up lying face down in the brick and gravel. She couldn’t feel it in the slightest. Something that probably didn’t speak well of her.
Oddly enough—or perhaps unsurprisingly enough—her hands and legs felt perfectly fine. Between Arachne’s carapace and her own blood shield, she had managed to get away without any damage that she could see through her blood. There might be cracks or warping, but she would have to wait to tell for sure.
Unfortunately, all the important bits were in the rest of her.
Eva paused in her fruitless movements for just a moment.
Focusing on herself again, Eva found her blood-based image of herself not looking quite as poorly as she had mere moments ago. Some of her charred flesh was… still charred. But not quite as badly as it had been.
She was healing. Slowly, but surely.
Not fast enough. She might heal, but if Arachne died in the meantime, it wouldn’t even matter.
Again, Eva pressed her fists into the ground. Even as the aches and pains increased, she didn’t stop pushing. Once she got to her knees, everything became far easier. Her legs still worked just fine, after all.
The blinding whiteness in her eyes was slowly fading away as well. Like looking straight into a camera flash, blinking it away seemed to work. Though, half the problem was probably just her lying face down.
Fumbling around her waist, Eva found her dagger lying on the ground. While she couldn’t feel much of anything aside from pain, the black metal was still cool to the touch. Even through her carapace.
Unfortunately, not much else survived the sky cracking. Her vials of blood were nowhere to be found. There was some half-broken, half-melted glass stuck to her stomach that must have been shielded partially by her body. Not shielded well enough to keep the blood safe.
Her eyes were still blurry and everything still hurt. Moving in to engage with her person was absolutely out of the question.
That didn’t stop Eva from taking her dagger and jamming it into her upper arm, slicing out a relatively large gouge. Blood spilled forth, drawn out by her magic. Some, she spread throughout the area to get a better view of her surroundings.
The first thing she noticed was a human-height wall between Eva and the fight going on with Arachne and the demon hunter. The second thing was that the doll was not fighting with them.
The doll was still standing off to one side. Eva hadn’t been paying that much attention to her exact pose, but she was still staring at the sky. She probably hadn’t moved at all.
There was still something fighting the demon hunter. Something Eva couldn’t detect with her blood magic. As she spread more blood around it, she started to get a better picture of just what it was.
Nearly twice as tall as Arachne, a mass of stone had taken the shape of a person. A very bulky person. Who didn’t so much have legs as it had a tornado of earth that it was propped up on. Eva wasn’t entirely sure why it needed a face. Given that the eye and mouth holes were just that, holes, they really didn’t provide much function. Another twenty arms would have been better. Just a relentless hammering of fists instead of the two it currently had.
But it had to be Genoa. She had probably made the wall around Eva as well. Fighting, as Juliana had insisted, from the dormitory building. She had to be. She wasn’t anywhere else around the battlefield as far as Eva could tell.
And with her eyes slowly getting better, she was able to tell a little more after peeking over the top of the wall.
The ground around her was… less brick and stone than it had been. For a certain radius around Eva, everything was glass. Everything save for a small person-shaped patch right where she had been lying.
Perhaps it was a good thing that she could only feel pain at the moment and not something more specific. If her surroundings had become hot enough to turn the landscape to glass, she didn’t want to know what her back looked like.
Though maybe she had been unconscious long enough for her slow healing to heal enough.
More importantly, a fight was going on.
The rock golem crashed down both fists on top of the hunter. He intercepted with his sword, letting the blade take the full brunt of the attack. His arms and legs bent ever so slightly from the impact. Whatever was keeping his armor undamaged was working to his advantage, keeping his limbs from snapping entirely.
Arachne skittered around to his side while he was distracted. Though fuzzy, Eva spotted long coils of her thread all wound up, ready to throw out and lasso the hunter.
Eva ducked back below the wall. The knight was preoccupied. With his back to her at the moment, he wouldn’t have seen her get up just yet. The other hunter might have. Eva didn’t know where she was at. But for the moment, Eva would operate under the assumption that she was distracted as well.
Rather than send out her blood in plain sight or in large flashy attacks, she formed up a few balls and sent it out slow and low to the ground. If she could get some underneath his armor, she could bypass all his defenses.
The blood didn’t make it far. With no indication that the knight had even noticed, her blood froze solid a few feet away from his legs. The balls rolled along the ground aimlessly, no longer directed by her magic.
Eva grit her teeth. The other one was here and she was watching.
But from where and why weren’t there icicles raining down on Eva?
“Nel,” Eva rasped out. She grasped for her cellphone only to have her fingers brushing against bare skin.
My new phone, Eva thought, wanting to slam her head against the wall. If the vials of blood didn’t survive, what hope had her cellphone. Maybe if it had been enchanted against heat like Wayne’s, but Eva didn’t know how to do anything like that.
Not that it would help now. A bit late for that.
The wall around her separated Eva from most of the plaza between the dormitories. It was open towards the Rickenbacker. If she wasn’t being attacked as she was, then the other hunter might not be able to see her.
She still couldn’t see well enough to pick someone out on the roof of some building.
She needed to get a message to Nel.
Wayne and Zoe, if they survived the initial attack, were probably evacuating students. Or keeping them away from everything. Or in the infirmary if they had been injured.
Genoa was fighting along with Arachne, though Eva wasn’t sure how much concentration that golem took. Probably best not to try to get her concentrating on multiple things at once.
But Juliana should be somewhere around. Eva couldn’t see any attacks that might be from her, so she had to be free to act. And she should have a working cellphone.
Glancing up towards the glass windows of the stairwell where they had been watching the doll from, Eva couldn’t see a thing. Both the glare from the glass and her own fuzzy eyes were contributing to the problem. Eva was counting on her still being there—or on Genoa not letting her daughter out of her sight.
Using her own blood, she formed it into a quick message.
Juli. Call Nel. Find other hunter. In area, watching armored guy.
She held it steady for a few seconds before wiping it away. Juliana hadn’t given any indication in return, but Eva wasn’t sure what she would say anyway. She just had to hope that Juliana got the message and would do something.
Just in case the first attack had been a fluke, Eva sent out several more orbs of blood. All from different directions.
As the marbles rushed towards the hunter, Eva pulled out another strand of blood. She considered making a clone of herself for just a moment, but the nauseating side effect was just too debilitating. Instead, she went with her tried and true spell of enlarged blood-fists.
Even if it did end up freezing, like the orbs she had just sent out, it might be enough to trip him up. Arachne and Genoa could capitalize on any opportunity she could create.
Peeking over the wall again, Eva aimed her spell and pressed her hands into the wireframe ball. Two dripping replicas of her claws manifested around the knight. They immediately started icing over, but their size meant that the ice had to work to encompass the hands.
So she still had some time.
Eva used her time to wrap her hands around the knight’s legs, leaving him exposed and stationary. Her hands were still freezing.
As she thought about it more, it might not be such a bad thing. Her control was failing. However, he would be stuck within several tons of ice.
Genoa’s golem hesitated. Arachne did as well, glancing towards the golem in a brief moment of confusion. The golem didn’t glance back.
It was just a golem.
Eva doubted that either had known that she woke up. Well, they did now. Both recovered quick enough. The golem slammed one fist down then the other again and again on the immobilized hunter.
Arachne stayed back for just a moment longer, not wanting to get in the golem’s way. When she did finally act, it was only with her thread. She took care to not touch with her hands or legs, just trying to tangle him up in a makeshift netting.
Squinting her eyes, Eva realized why. Two of Arachne’s legs were little more than stumps. One looked like it had been cut off, but the other looked more like it had been melted.
Eva should have expected that. The knight was the one who left behind the metal that injured demons. The same stuff that Juliana had collected. It would actually be more surprising if the metal didn’t hurt demons.
Shaking her head, Eva pulled her hands out of her spell. The blood hands had long since frozen over.
A stiffness in her fingers had her glancing downwards.
Her real hands were covered in a thin layer of ice. Forcing her fingers to clench sent shards flying around. Her carapace was undamaged. It was stronger than a little ice could hope to damage. But this happened before to a much lesser degree. Just a little frost after she had attacked the demon-eyed hunter had her recoiling in pain.
Either her healing was keeping her from feeling much of it or she was in enough pain that a little frostbite was barely noticeable.
The knight was still putting up a fight despite his immobility from the ice and webbing. A good amount of that was because of Genoa’s golem. While it kept him busy, it failed to do anything more than that. His armor could take the beating. There were only light dents in the metal. Nothing fatal or even mildly significant.
Between catching the golem’s fists on his sword, he alternated between hacking away at the ice and slicing through the more restricting threads. The only way he managed to move fast enough to get so much done was because of the unnatural speed that his armor carried him at.
Trying to sneak another two globs of blood beneath the large frozen claws wound up with them being frozen again. Eva wasn’t yet suffering a headache from the blood loss—or if she was, she couldn’t tell because of all the other pain—but so long as her attacks weren’t working, she wouldn’t be doing much more of it.
Best to save her strength.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure what she should do to help in the fight. Her flames didn’t seem very likely to work any better than her blood. While they wouldn’t freeze, she doubted that they could do more damage than Genoa’s golem. Rushing in and fighting with her bare hands was completely out of the question. Even putting aside the fact that his armor hurt to touch, she was still in enough pain that she would be a liability, not an asset.
Eva grit her teeth, boiling in frustration. What was she supposed to do? Throw rocks at him? He was armored enough that a ten ton golem couldn’t significantly hurt him. She couldn’t even do that anyway as the ground had turned to glass.
Glancing towards the dormitory, Eva blinked straight through the glass entry door. If she couldn’t fight out here, she could go find Juliana and see if she had made contact with Nel.
The second she tried to take a step, a crash of glass both echoed and exploded around her. Shards of glistening glass tore through her raw flesh and bounced off her carapace. Eva stumbled, only to be caught by a pair of cool hands.
“I cannot allow you to leave until I have resolved my quandary.”
Eva spun around, just about falling over again in order to get out of the doll’s grip.
Her face was placid and neutral. Not a hint of anger could be found in her features. She didn’t even try to stop Eva from slipping out of her fingers.
“I thought we resolved it,” Eva said, trying not to cough. Her throat was dry enough that coughing would only make things worse. “Remember? No crime committed so no reason to chase me down.”
Glancing over the doll’s shoulder, Eva frowned. The knight was starting to break out of the ice. In a few moments, he would be free to start hounding down Arachne once again while avoiding the golem.
“Besides, I’m not leaving. I’m going to find some way to kill that hunter.” Eva paused for just a moment while the doll glanced back over her shoulder. “But perhaps if you might be willing to lend a hand, I wouldn’t need to go anywhere.”
The doll stilled. More than normal, anyway. She turned back to face Eva after a moment.
Her lips were curled downwards in a shadow of a frown.
“It is a human.”
“A human that is standing in the way of your job. And besides, he tried to kill you. And the rest of us.”
At least, Eva was pretty sure that they had tried to kill the doll. She had been standing within the glassy area of the courtyard. More towards the edges, as Eva had been standing a decent way away and she was relatively certain that she had been at the very center of the beam. But the doll had still been within its radius.
Her outfit was barely singed, however. The leather was still leather-looking and her skin and hair were perfectly normal.
“He won’t see a difference between demons and dolls. As soon as Arachne gets killed, he’ll be coming after the both of us. Might be hard to do your job when your head is cut off.”
The doll turned back to the hunter, her slim frown turning more into a scowl. “I see,” she said after a moment of thought. “You must accompany me.”
Eva grimaced behind the doll’s back. She was having enough trouble standing on her feet as it was. Running around while two sword-wielding maniacs were fighting did not sound like something all that survivable.
“I’ll be upstairs,” Eva said. When the doll turned her scowl on Eva, she quickly made up an excuse. “There is another hunter. The one who launched that bright beam. Something needs to be done with her before she launches another beam. I’ll need to find her.”
It wasn’t really an excuse. She really did need to find the other hunter. But hopefully the doll would let her go.
“Don’t worry,” she added after a moment of silence, “I’m not leaving the area. And even if I do, I’ll be back here eventually. You can proclaim me innocent then.”
“That remains to be seen,” she said, turning back to the hunter. This time, rather than just glancing over her shoulder, she actually turned her entire body.
She charged out of the Rickenbacker’s lobby in the blink of an eye, joining the fray.
Unfortunately, her first sword strike was intercepted by the armored hunter’s sword. A shame as it would have taken off his head otherwise.
Eva turned to the stairwell, hoping that Arachne wouldn’t find herself on the end of either of the blades. But for the moment, there wasn’t much she could do to the hunter.
To that hunter.