“Eva! You look…”
“Terrible. I know.”
Eva let Juliana run up to her. She expected some help. Maybe assistance walking or a potion that probably wouldn’t do all that much for Eva.
But she stopped just short of Eva with a face full of uncertainty and fear.
Without having a mirror handy, Eva couldn’t tell exactly how terrible she looked. For her appearance to have stopped Juliana cold, Eva was now thinking that it was worse than she had expected.
“I’m surprised you survived,” Genoa said from the window, not taking her eyes off the fight going on outside. “And yet you’re climbing a stairwell.”
“Not actually feeling that bad anymore,” Eva said. Which was true, but only relatively. Compared to the pain she had woken up in, what she was experiencing now was significantly less hurtful. Though she did notice that unless she was careful, each step jolted her body and sent short spikes of pain everywhere.
“I think my shield absorbed most of the impact,” Eva said after a moment of silence. “I only caught the tail end. Residual heat and such.”
Which was a total and complete lie. The unglassed brick hadn’t been in the shape of a bubble around her. It had been in a person shape. Which meant that her body had shielded the ground more than her shield had. It helped and had probably taken the initial portion of the blast, but her shield had failed early on in the grand scheme of things.
Genoa just hummed, not giving any sort of real response. To be fair, she was fighting, even if it didn’t look like it from her still position at the window. So she probably wasn’t considering anything related to Eva and her demonicness.
“Zoe and Wayne?” Eva asked, switching the topic away from herself.
“Wayne tackled Zoe to the ground. When the light cleared, neither of them were there. I assume he teleported them out of there. Haven’t seen them since.”
“Neither have answered their cellphones,” Juliana added. “Um, do you need a jacket or anything?”
Frowning, Eva glanced down at herself. “I’m a bit raw at the moment,” she said, glancing back up. “I’d rather not have fabric rubbing against my skin.”
“Fair enough,” she said, looking away. “I got your message. Nel is searching for the other hunter. She said that she would call me back if she found anything.”
Eva wanted to groan. Wasn’t Nel supposed to have been watching specifically to prevent something like this from happening? Eva could give her the benefit of the doubt for the moment. After spotting them in the field, she had said that she could watch them without her vision ‘sliding off.’
Maybe they had split up and Nel had been watching the wrong target, unaware that something like this was about to go down until it was too late.
But Nel would definitely be getting a few harsh questions when Eva next saw her.
For the moment, she just moved up to the window next to Genoa.
The fight was still going on outside.
Sparks exploded off the demon hunter’s sword as he danced around the doll’s blade. Danced might not be the right word. He was definitely on the back foot. Eva had only been watching for a few seconds, but she could already tell that the doll definitely had the advantage.
In fact, the hunter was barely able to keep up a defense against the doll.
Unfortunately, he had gotten free of his ice prison. It gave him the leeway to actually dodge instead of just block. But that was all he was doing. The doll attacked in a flurry. One strike of her sword followed immediately after the last in smooth, fluid movements.
He never actually returned a strike of his own.
Arachne circled around the knight, not really attacking but keeping herself between him and any obvious escape paths. With the doll now fighting as well, actually killing him was looking more viable. Arachne was making the right choice in trying to keep him from escaping.
Genoa’s golem was being far more aggressive. Not to the point where it was hammering its fists over him again and again—she was making an effort to keep out of the doll’s way—but every time the hunter blocked with his sword, the golem tried to grasp on to him. He had to dodge immediately to avoid being rooted in place.
More than that, the ground beneath his feet wasn’t quite as solid as it should have been. Maybe it had been going on the entire time and Eva just hadn’t noticed between her poor eyesight and pain-induced lapses in concentration. Everywhere he stepped was more like mud than any kind of glass or brick. Eva could see it sticking to his boots, slowing his movements.
Whatever speed magic he was using allowed him to escape easily enough, but it did slow him down ever so slightly.
Perhaps if Eva had held him still from the waist up, Genoa could have better glued down his legs.
“I tried collapsing some of the earth into sinkholes,” Genoa said, as if reading Eva’s mind. “None of them worked. He moves too quickly. Almost as if he can sense where they are before I actually place them down. A field a mud everywhere he steps is far more effective.”
“I wish there was more I could do,” Eva said.
“The ice hands were good.”
“The ice wasn’t mine,” Eva said, leaning slightly away from the window. “And the hands take a bit more blood than I can comfortably lose during a big fight. Too many and it leaves me full of headaches and lethargy.”
Genoa fell silent for a few moments as she concentrated on directing her golem to attack. Her golem’s hand actually managed to grab hold of his sword. Unfortunately, the armored hunter managed to slice off the fingers in time to catch the doll’s blade on his own.
“They kept him in place long enough for you to convince that doll to work with us.”
Eva frowned, watching the doll flash between her attacks. “I think she is doing this more out of personal need than interest in helping any of us.”
“Eva,” Juliana said, running the short distance over to the window. Again she paused, leaving a small space between herself and Eva. She had her cellphone in hand, hesitating just long enough for Eva to notice her hesitation before she held it out. “It’s Nel.”
“I hope she has good news,” Eva said as she took the phone. Speaking into it, she said, “Tell me something–”
“Rooftop. Near the school but towards the city. She’s watching with a pair of binoculars and keeps flicking them straight towards you even though there are like three buildings in the way of seeing you. Not to mention the building you’re inside.”
“She can see through walls,” Eva said for the benefit of everyone else. “Good to know.”
There was a loud crash on the other end of the phone. Loud enough that Eva had to pull the phone away from her ear for a few moments while it died off. When she finally put it back to her ear, Nel was already talking at a rapid pace.
“–got to go,” she said, pausing for another crash in the background. This one was much quieter than the last. “The hunter on the roof has the idol. Please destroy it this time. It’s… not right.”
Eva ignored the former nun’s concern. She would destroy the idol. Not because of some idea that the Elysium Order had the ‘pure’ version of the idol, but because it was dangerous to Eva and her plans.
Instead, she focused on the noise in the background. It was still going on, but nothing extraordinarily loud at the moment.
“Are you in trouble?”
“Other hunters are here. Ylva is taking care of them. I don’t think–” She cut herself off again. Eva held the phone away, expecting another cacophony to partially deafen her.
“I’m fine,” Nel said as Eva moved the phone closer. “Got to go.”
With that, she hung up. A simple click on the other end and nothing. Eva paused just a moment before handing the phone back to Juliana.
“Hunters attacking Nel and Ylva as well, but Nel thinks Ylva has it covered.”
Which gave Eva a new theory. The reason Nel didn’t call Eva to warn her was not because she had been lazy or skipping out on her auguring. She had her own problems at the moment.
In fact, the hunters—Eva’s hunters—had probably conscripted the ones attacking Ylva specifically to distract Nel long enough to launch their own attacks. It might have been nice to have been warned about that, but Eva could understand the pressure of imminent attacks. Though she apparently had the time to glance over at Eva’s fight with her augur sight.
She might still get a somewhat harsh talking to from Eva when all this ended.
“The other hunter—that’s attacking us, at least—is on a roof towards the city. I’m going after her. She’s the one that casted the light beam and can’t be allowed to do it again.”
“On your own?” Genoa asked just as Juliana opened her mouth.
Juliana snapped her mouth shut, giving a slight glare at her mother. It only lasted a few seconds before the glare softened. “I’ll stay here,” she said. “Make sure mom stays out of trouble.”
“I should be fine,” Eva said with a half-smile towards Juliana. She turned to face Genoa full-on before continuing. “The hunter was injured worse than you were far more recently than you were. No offense, but I think I might have a sporting shot against you as you are now.”
“Come at me anytime and we’ll see just how sporting of a chance it is,” Genoa said. Her gaze never left the battle down below save for one brief moment to glance at Eva. “Though now might not be the best of times.”
“Later then,” Eva said with a half chuckle.
Much later. Like around never. She really didn’t want to seriously fight Genoa. Not only might her injuries reopen, but Eva didn’t fancy losing to a cripple.
I need to win against this hunter.
Three punctures to the spine should have been enough to keep anyone down and out for a good amount of time. It had been a few months, but that was far from what Eva had in mind. Shalise had the nerves in her wrist torn out when the zombie bit her. That had taken Elysium Order magic to heal. Without it, she hadn’t been expected to regain much use of her hand.
The holes in the hunter’s spine should have been Shalise’s injury compounded over and over again. She should be paralyzed. If she wasn’t and Arachne had missed ever so slightly, then she still should be too wounded to move around much.
Which meant she would have other ways of defending herself.
“Be wary of traps,” Genoa said, interrupting Eva’s thoughts while echoing them at the same time. “Juliana told me about the room you found the other demon in. Lucy, was it?”
“I know. I was just thinking the same thing.”
All the anti-demon shackles and circles in the apartment room with Lucy had been doubly protected by either wards or enchantments over the walls and floors, preventing them from being destroyed easily.
With Eva’s warding class, she might be able to spot some wards. But this was likely an expert and Eva had only been taking the class since the start of September. Unraveling them was a bit beyond her abilities at the moment.
Still, if she spotted a magical ward making something invulnerable and couldn’t see any demonic shackles around it, it was bound to be some other type of trap. Good to know, at the very least.
“Just keep that hunter here. Even if you can’t kill him. I can’t do much against him at the moment and won’t be able to fight the other one if he shows up.”
“Don’t worry about that. I can handle him. Focus on not dying. I am not interested in finding out how Arachne would react.”
Eva glanced down at the spider-demon. She was now going between a number of pillars that Genoa had created and creating spider webs between them, further blocking in the hunter. The weavings were abnormally thick. Each strand stood out simply because they could be as thick as one of Eva’s fingers. She was really outdoing herself. Arachne’s threads were normally thinner than a single hair.
She must really be worried about the hunter’s sword.
“As am I,” Eva said quietly. She turned away, preparing to head up the stairwell. A quick comment from Juliana stopped her.
“Same to both of you,” Eva said without turning. “Stay safe.”
With that, she sprinted up the stairs.
She stopped at the third floor. There were a few things in her room that might help out. And she might not have been entirely in the right when she declined Juliana’s offer of clothing. She needed pockets for vials of blood, after all.
“Aww, I liked your long hair.”
Eva paused with her hand on her room’s handle.
Irene and Saija emerged from the former’s room just in time to catch Eva heading in. Both were staring. Saija was a bit more obvious about it. Irene kept glancing off to the side before looking back at Eva. More specifically, the top of Eva’s head.
Running her fingers through her hair, Eva found a distinct lack of resistance. Not a single strand of hair came away as she dragged her hand in front of her eyes. She was completely bald.
Eva grit her teeth. “Me too,” she grumbled.
That hunter was going to pay.
“Well, don’t worry. I’m sure there is some hair growing magic around. You should worry about your skin.”
Eva shook her head. “No time to talk. I have hunters to kill.” She swung open the door and took a step inside before pausing. “Speaking of, why aren’t you and all the other demons out fighting? You know he’ll come after you next if he wins.”
“With the doll out there?” Saija said as she slipped around Eva into her room. “Not a chance.” She glanced around the place, eying the fairly spartan room.
There wasn’t much in the room. Everything important was over at the prison. As such, Eva just ignored her to focus on finding some clothes and a few spare vials of blood. She wasn’t sure how much help the blood would be. Not if the hunter could just freeze it all.
But best to take it anyway. Just in case.
For clothes, Eva picked out the lightest shirt and skirt that she could find. Things that wouldn’t agitate her raw skin yet still had pockets. Her belt and its pouches that were specifically designed to hold vials—potion vials, but they worked for blood just the same—was gone. Destroyed along with her hair and her old clothes.
“I have to say that I think most of the demons are hoping that the hunter will win. After the doll is dead, then I’m sure some of us will help out. The–”
“Are you still talking?” Eva said as she glanced around the room one last time.
She wished she had time to go get Basila, damaged though she was. Maybe a few spare bloodstones just in case she found a use for them. Unfortunately, they were important things that she kept at the women’s ward. Teleporting was quick. However, Eva had a really bad habit of finding herself distracted.
It would be just her luck to teleport over there only to find out that nuns were attacking again. Or more hunters. Devon, Catherine, Qrycx, and the waxy demon were all over there. They could handle whatever problems had arisen. Problems that Eva was now certain were definitely going on.
Ignorance was bliss at the moment, or so the saying went.
Saija had her hands on her hips and was glaring at Eva. At least, she was until Eva turned to her. A flap of her wings carried her back behind Irene, once again hiding behind the human girl.
“If you aren’t out fighting, I really don’t care what you have to say at the moment. Of course, I don’t know what I expected from a lowly succubus anyway. Run and hide. Just know that humans are fighting while you cower.”
Eva blinked past them, not even bothering to squeeze by or push them out of the way. Nel hadn’t bothered to say which roof, so she had some scouting to do. Even this little detour to collect clothes and blood might have been enough time for the hunter to leave. Especially if the hunter could see through walls.
Not really the scrying method Eva had expected when Srey mentioned it, but it probably counted as being watched. If the hunter saw or suspected that Eva was coming after her, she would probably leave. Or set up more traps.
But she wasn’t in such a rush that she couldn’t stop for one quick moment. She felt a little bad about her words. Eva didn’t feel bad for Saija. But she wasn’t the only one around.
Irene was looking guilty, rubbing her hands together and averting her eyes—not in an embarrassed way as she had before, but just to avoid looking at Eva.
“Don’t worry, Irene. There are real monsters out there. I wouldn’t expect anyone to fight unless they were monsters as well.”
She stayed paused for just a moment, wondering how Genoa might react to being called a monster before shaking her head. It really didn’t matter at the moment.
The shake of her head almost sent her stumbling. Not because of the all-encompassing though gradually lessening pain of her body. It was almost like she was shaking too hard, despite not moving her head any faster than normal. Her hair wasn’t there to act as a counterweight to her brain. Probably her imagination, but the sensation was there.
Without waiting for a response from Irene, Eva sprinted back to the stairwell and climbed it to the top. From the roof, she blinked straight out towards the nearest building. It was a bit too far. Eva reappeared mid-air. She blinked again before she could fall more than a full foot, landing on the roof of another building.
About three inches away from a circle drawn in chalk that was not quite shackles but was definitely unfriendly towards demons.
“That could have been bad,” Eva hissed to herself as she took a step back. She double checked to make sure that there wasn’t another circle behind her before doing so.
Scanning the rooftops, Eva frowned. They were a veritable minefield of shackles. Concentrating harder on more magical effects, she found a number of spherical wards set up around the rooftops and down on the streets. Some might be barriers. Some Eva couldn’t even tell what they might be used for.
Best to avoid them.
However, in scanning the rooftops, Eva spotted her target.
The bright red hair made her difficult to miss.
Eva had no doubt that she had been spotted. And yet, the hunter made no motion. Not a twist of her head or an attack slung in Eva’s direction. For a moment, Eva thought she might be a mannequin designed to lure people closer into some larger trap, but she caught the hunter’s eyes moving ever so slightly.
A couple of roofs away and who knew how many traps in between, Eva now had her target in sight.
Author’s Note: Analyst 001.002 up over on the preview site.