Eva hit her fist against the barrier. Unlike her first several hits, the barrier barely flickered. Every time she hit it, her strikes got weaker. She could barely lift her arms. Worst of all, she couldn’t tell if it was doing anything. The barrier was still keeping her stuck on the platform.
Even if it was weakening, it wasn’t going to fall before Eva collapsed.
Really, she should just stop. Her arms were exhausted. So was she. She should just sit down for a moment, shut her eyes, and take a quick nap. Just a little rest to reinvigorate her.
The moment her eyelids started to droop, Eva slapped herself on the side of her face.
Whatever she was thinking, it wasn’t her proper thoughts. Something about the circle was draining her and she was falling into its trap.
More than she already had, anyway. How foolish. One step to the side and she found herself caught already.
There had to be a way out.
Teleporting didn’t work. Neither did blinking. They were among the first things that she had tried. Both felt like running headfirst into brick walls. Her flames didn’t scorch the floor. They just slid off the surface. Despite the roof being made of gravel, it was like there was there was a layer of water over the surface that just made her flames stay inert.
Attempting to use her blood to explode the chalky circle was the same. Her blood couldn’t pass through the barrier any further than Eva could. Like her flames, they didn’t damage the ground outside the circle.
Which made a disturbing amount of sense. If a demon could just use their magic or abilities to break the circle while stuck inside it, nobody would bother with shackles. They would be worthless for any demon more magically inclined than Arachne.
There was one thing she hadn’t tried yet.
Her blood hand spell didn’t need to physically pass through a location. They appeared around the targeted area. If she could make a hand appear outside the barrier, she could rake it across the ground and disrupt the circle. Even breaking a single line should be enough to get her out of the trap.
Failing that, maybe it would at least stop the draining effect.
She was exhausted. Not thinking properly. There were probably ten thousand reasons why she shouldn’t try it—it had to backfire somehow—but she was running out of options and time.
The thing that made her most nervous was the hunter. She was still just sitting a few rooftops away. Her eyes were glued to Eva, but otherwise doing nothing.
Eva kept expecting a crackling in the sky overhead. She had a shield all prepared and ready if such a thing did happen. Her shield couldn’t go outside the barrier, but it worked just fine inside it.
But nothing had happened. Maybe the hunter couldn’t use it so soon after firing it off. How long had it even been since then? Five minutes? It couldn’t have been much more, but Eva had been unconscious for a portion of the time immediately after the initial sky cracking.
Or, more likely, the hunter didn’t want to ruin her own trap so long as Eva was stuck inside it.
It was wearing her down. Even if it didn’t kill her, it wouldn’t be hard to walk over and slice off her head if Eva did lie down and take a nap.
So she had to get out.
Drawing her dagger, Eva made a small slit in her upper arm. If her own blood wasn’t enough, she could use Arachne’s blood later. No sense wasting Arachne’s if this experiment failed.
She drew out a strand of blood, formed it into a ball, and took a deep breath as she plunged her hand in.
Eva had been aiming just outside the barrier.
Instead of her claw appearing outside, Eva found herself thrown back and pinned against the opposite wall of the shackles. Her hand was pulled from the ball of blood, killing the spell near instantly. Eva fell to the ground, collapsed in a pile of worthless blood.
Not a drop of blood made it outside the barrier. It had successfully contained her spell.
She was well and truly stuck. Climbing to her feet, ankle-deep in magically worthless blood, she continued hitting against the barrier with her fist. There wasn’t much else she could do.
If she could get a message off to someone, maybe. She should have kept a hold of Juliana’s cellphone.
Eva jumped back from the shackles as something fell from the sky. It landed with a clatter in a heap just on the other side.
“You didn’t have to drop me,” Juliana shouted as she picked herself up.
Blinking twice, Eva let out a small sigh of relief. It wasn’t an enemy. At the moment, Juliana was even better than someone like Arachne or Ylva showing up.
Juliana was a human. She could waltz in and out of the shackles as if they weren’t there.
Again, Eva sighed. The relief brought with it exhaustion. A sudden lack of adrenaline through her system had the barrier’s draining effect feeling ten times as strong.
“Juliana. I need you to destroy this circle as soon as possible.”
Juliana’s eyes went wide as her head whipped over to face Eva. It wasn’t hard to imagine why. Eva was covered in blood and, currently, sitting in an ankle-deep pool of the stuff.
Normally, such a thing wouldn’t be that big a deal for Eva. Good, in fact. Unfortunately, none of it was controllable. It was all magically created blood. She wasn’t sure what was up with the bleeding walls. That blood seemed usable, or at least, Eva couldn’t remember even running low on blood during the previous fight with the hunter. She hadn’t been thinking perfectly straight, but the blood had just been flowing. She couldn’t even remember cutting herself after the walls had started bleeding.
The only real downside was that Eva couldn’t trigger it. It was obvious to see that the walls started bleeding during emotional distress. Obviously, being trapped in a set of shackles and nearly dying was not quite as distressing as Eva thought it should be. Or the shackles were preventing the effect from manifesting.
Either way, she would soon be out of her predicament.
While her hazy mind was going over useless thoughts, Juliana actually got to work.
She recovered from her brief shock at seeing Eva’s state and got to work. With the rooftop covered in a layer of gravel and the shackles drawn out on top in a layer of paint, an earth mage was its greatest enemy. Stretching out her hand, Juliana churned the gravel.
Eva felt herself drop an inch, landing atop the gravel as the blood escaped its confinement and spread over the roof.
Along with the barrier, the draining exhaustion immediately receded. She didn’t feel reinvigorated, but it was like shrugging off a weight from her shoulders. Breathing was easier and, after standing up, Eva didn’t feel a need to go take a nap.
An improvement no matter how one figured it.
“Thanks,” Eva said just as Saija landed on the roof.
Unlike Juliana, Saija landed on her feet. She touched down on the tips of her toes and stepped forward twice, almost like a dancer just landing out of a particularly tricky jump. The smile on her face wasn’t one of pride or joy. It was the nasty grin of someone who realized their rival just stumbled down the stairwell.
“Big bad Eva getting stuck in such an obvious trap? Here I was thinking you were something special. And after that big speech about fighting too.”
Eva didn’t bother responding. She twisted to one side, feeling the cold of an icicle brush past her skin. It landed in the rooftop with a thunk. Had she not moved, she would have an arm-sized hole in her chest.
The thunk was quickly followed by a metallic clang and a wet squelch.
Both Juliana and Saija fell to the ground. The former had torn clothes and a slight dent in her armor with an icicle lying at her side. Juliana quickly got back on her feet, molding over the dent with fresh metal as she moved.
Saija didn’t get up.
“Ahhaha, what?” Saija said as she lay face down in the gravel. An icicle stuck out of her back. Black blood dripped around her side to join with the blood from Eva’s claws. “It hurts.”
“Watch out for flying icicles,” Eva said, ignoring Saija as she glared at the red-haired hunter. “Traps too. And keep an eye on the sky.”
There were only three buildings between Eva and the hunter. Three trap filled buildings. She could try blinking across. Even blinking out to points in the air to avoid the three buildings. However, she didn’t have a lot of time to think while in mid-air. She could just wind up in another trap.
With Saija down and now shouting about a pain in her back and how much the hunter would pay, Juliana would have limited mobility. Assuming Saija had been the one carrying Juliana in the first place.
“What about Saija?”
“Can’t help her while being bombarded. Since no portal opened, she’ll survive.”
Probably. Eva doubted that she would perish because of her injuries. However, the hunter could still drop a spike of ice right over her head. The best way to avoid that was simply to keep the hunter too busy to fight an already downed opponent.
“We need to move,” Eva said, grabbing Juliana by the arm and pulling her out of the way of another icicle. Once clear, Eva didn’t stop. She continued across the roof towards the next building.
She was only barely watching the hunter as they charged across the rooftop. Juliana had armor covering every inch of her body. She had wrapped it around her head with only a hole for her blond hair to trail out the back. Eva herself was fairly resilient. So long as she used her hands to shield herself from any oncoming icicles, she would be fine.
Of a much greater concern were the wards and shackles. None of them would be good to get stuck in.
Although, she didn’t have much to worry about. Juliana was being extremely proactive in keeping the roof churned. Shackles vanished before Eva even had to worry about standing in them.
The wards weren’t so easily removed. The roof wasn’t large. It shouldn’t take longer than about a minute to run from one end to the other. However, the maze of wards that Eva could sense had her backtracking half the time.
By the time they made it, Juliana had formed an arm’s worth of metal into a shield, holding it out in front of them as they ran.
“We’re jumping across,” Eva said, planting her feet just at the edge of the building.
Juliana screeched to a halt.
“Can you make it?”
Eva didn’t wait for her hesitation. She scooped up Juliana much like how Arachne had carried her on occasion. The girl was heavy, especially on her upper arms, but she could hold her for the few seconds it took to cross the gap. It wasn’t even that long a gap. A few feet at most.
Arachne’s legs could carry the two of them that far, at least.
Eva took two steps back, giving them a short runway to springboard off the ledge.
Juliana made it. Being a foot forward in Eva’s arms, she sailed onto the next roof with ease. Eva would have made it as well had she not run into another barrier. She smacked into it, stopping straight away with a pain in her hands and face.
And started falling. A tiny bit of the ledge was barely within the barrier.
Eva stretched, grasping for it.
Her fingers scraped along the brick, leaving long gashes as she failed to slow down. Eva kicked a foot into the wall. Brick shattered under her carapace. She still fell a bit more as the bricks crumbled, but managed to slow herself enough to dig her hand into the wall as well.
Only the tips of her fingers made it in before she felt the barrier prevent her from going any further. So long as she wasn’t tipping backwards and falling on her head, she was fine with being stuck for the moment.
Glancing over her shoulder at the alley below, Eva snarled. Rows of shackles had been set up adjacent to one another. No matter where she would have jumped from, she would have wound up stuck. There weren’t any shackles out in the streets, but Eva could feel wards out there. Not as visually obvious as the shackles, but still potentially as problematic.
Worse, the wards would probably hurt Juliana as well. In that line of thinking, jumping over shackles had been the correct choice.
Of course, it would have been better to have checked before jumping. They could have avoided this whole mess.
“Eva?” Juliana called out from somewhere up above.
“Over the edge!”
A metal helmet peeked over the top of the building, accompanied by a metallic clang as an icicle glanced over the top of her head. It wasn’t a direct hit. Just enough to clip the helmet.
But it had enough force to send her forehead straight into the ledge, eliciting another clang.
“I am sick of these icicles,” Juliana said, lifting her head and rubbing her forehead. The rubbing probably didn’t do much given her helmet.
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Eva said. “It isn’t practical to throw car-sized ice boulders at us from this distance.”
A crumbling of a brick forced Eva to dig her other hand into the wall for stability. She couldn’t dig it in too far. The barrier of the shackle extended only a few inches into the brick wall, not giving her much room to dig her claws in. She wasn’t sure if the barrier extended beyond the exact lines of the drawing or if the building was leaning or otherwise built poorly.
Given that this was Brakket, probably the latter.
Either way, she was thankful for it. While she wouldn’t die from the fall—she had jumped from the top of the dormitory building before—it would still be unpleasant and all the more distance to go to get back up to the roof.
“Worry about the icicles and boulders later. Mind destroying the shackles down there?”
She stretched out her hand.
But the shackles stayed where they were.
“I really wouldn’t care if it was reinforced concrete. It needs to go.” Preferably before any sort of secondary effect started up. Eva did not need magical sleep trying to take her while hanging off the side of a building. “If you have to make a sinkhole that swallows up both buildings beneath them, do it.”
Eva paused as a thought occurred to her. “Actually, could you swallow up the building the hunter is on in a giant sinkhole? She isn’t very mobile, so she would probably get caught in it.”
“I’m not my mother, Eva…” Juliana’s voice came slightly strained. And slightly annoyed. As if she were carrying a couch all by herself while Eva just sat to the side and watched.
“Thought I’d ask anyway,” Eva said.
A cracking below her pulled Eva’s attention back to the ground. The center of her shackle was sagging downwards, unable to support itself fully as Juliana moved the earth beneath. Another moment—and several clangs of ice off Juliana’s armor—and a part of the center fell inwards.
Eva immediately kicked her foot back and dug it deep into the brick wall. She repeated the action with her hands and other foot, giving her a much better hold of the wall.
“Thanks,” Eva said.
Juliana let out a few short pants. “Just don’t ask me to do that again,” she said between breaths. “I’m really not so great at manipulating earth I can’t see.”
Eva had really only touched earth magic. Nothing more than dipping her fingers into it. And what she had tried had been inside a classroom. Not enough to really get a grasp on the limitations of the element.
So she just nodded.
Rather than try to climb up the wall, digging holes into it as she went, Eva blinked upwards. Just above the level of the roof. Without hesitation, she blinked straight forwards.
And landed on her feet just a step away from Juliana.
Thankfully, not in another set of shackles. Twice in one day was beyond enough. A third time would just be embarrassing.
She did have to dodge one icicle, bat a second out of the air, and catch a third mere seconds after landing. The third icicle exploded into shards of ice as Eva crushed it in her fist.
Glaring at the hunter a mere two roofs away, Eva dared her to sling a fourth icicle over.
She wished that she had a valid means of striking back. The hunter would just freeze over any blood that came close. Even fireballs had been woefully unhelpful during their previous engagement. Ice could work as a shield just as well as a projectile.
Really, Eva was putting far too many eggs in the basket that kept the hunter from moving. Injured though she appeared to be, it could all be a feint. She could throw off the blanket that covered her chair to unveil forty shotguns aimed right at Eva. As soon as they fired, she might blink straight behind Eva and slice off her head.
At least, that was one of the worse case scenarios that Eva could come up with.
It really didn’t fit with what little she knew of the hunter’s personality, however. The hunter seemed more like Arachne. The kind of person to charge her foes head-on with as much force as she could put behind her attacks. This mostly ineffectual long-range bombarding wasn’t doing much of anything except for annoying the two of them.
Though, if they let their guards down, they could easily wind up like Saija.
Eva took off. She didn’t need to look behind her to tell that Juliana was following. The traps on the roof disappearing as the gravel churned was proof enough of that.
The next building didn’t have a large gap between the rooftops. At least not a horizontal one. There was a few foot drop, but nothing that Eva couldn’t handle with a small jump. Juliana took a little bit longer to climb down as she decided to lower herself down. Eventually, she made it.
Only this roof left before the hunter’s roof.
“Why aren’t we moving?”
“I’m not sure where is safe,” Eva said.
Though Juliana had taken out all of the shackles before them, Eva still stood frozen. Bubbles of magic that Eva had taken to be wards dotted the rooftop. She wasn’t entirely certain that they were wards; Eva had only been in the warding class for a short while. But if the previous roofs had been mazes, this was a minefield.
It wasn’t a long minefield. Whatever was inside the building obviously didn’t need much floorspace. Were the wards gone, Eva could be across the roof in ten steps. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see a path through.
The only real consolation was the short drop. It put them out of line of sight of the hunter, granting them a short reprieve from the ice. Though the hunter should still be able to see them through the walls if Nel was right.
Which meant that the reprieve might only be around until they were successfully distracted or lulled into complacency. She would then rain ice down upon them from above. Possibly with the boulders that Eva had mentioned earlier.
Great. One more thing to be worried about.
“So what do we do?”
“I’m not playing her games. We’re skipping this trap.”
“Skipping? What do– Hey! E-Eva! Wait–”
Juliana’s protests were torn from her mouth as Eva hefted her up and slung her over her shoulder. Perhaps not as comfortable as the princess-carry that she had just used to cross the gap, but Eva needed a proper center of balance and a much better grip.
“Just clear out any shackles you can see when we land. I’m not getting trapped again today.”
Before Juliana could protest, Eva coiled the muscles in her legs and sprung off from the side of the roof.