Arachne hissed through her teeth. Another of her legs was lying on the ground. Attacking with them had definitely been the right choice. Arms, and the hands attached to them, were just too valuable. Especially while she was weaving webs.
It hurt to lose them. When Eva had amputated her legs, she had taken several anesthetics to numb herself to the pain. Arachne hadn’t. And frankly, it hadn’t hurt much at all. The following weeks she had spent regrowing her legs had been more annoying than any kind of suffering.
But the hunter’s sword was odd. It cleaved cleanly through her limbs as if they weren’t even there. The human phrase would be ‘like a hot knife through a stick of butter.’ Worse than that, it reminded Arachne of being hit with lightning from the Elysium Order’s nuns. Not so much the time her face had been exploded—she hadn’t felt much from that incident—but she had been hit with it enough otherwise to remember its feeling.
That feeling of it crawling through her, eating away at even her demonic regeneration.
But still, better to lose a leg than lose an arm.
Though, that didn’t mean that the legs were infinitely disposable.
There were only the six on her back plus her two primary legs in her human form. Well, there had been six plus two. At the moment, there were only the two left.
The hunter was getting desperate. With the way the doll moved and hounded him, he had been largely ineffective in doing anything.
Except for when he sliced off her legs.
Really, that was more Arachne’s fault than anything. She didn’t have to put herself in danger. He would hack his way through the makeshift walls penning him in and escape. Arachne could just let him go instead of intercepting him.
But Eva was out there.
Seeing Eva stand up and walk into the dormitory had been a relief. Feeling her leave towards the city had been a shock. Arachne wanted nothing more than to chase after her. Her Eva could be walking into more danger.
Let’s be honest with myself, Arachne thought as she watched the hunter duck under the doll’s sword only to find himself punted across the plaza by the golem’s fist. Eva is definitely heading into danger.
That was just how Eva worked.
Arachne narrowed her eyes as the hunter crashed into Brakket Academy’s brand new fountain, mostly destroying it. The doll jumped high into the air, dropping down with her blade pointed straight at the ground.
The hunter managed to roll out of the way, dodging the attack just as he had the last four times the doll tried to get the drop on him.
It was enough to make Arachne wonder if the doll couldn’t learn properly. If he could dodge it three times, a fourth was probably not going to help. A fifth certainly not. She might eventually get lucky, but Arachne might be dead of old age by then. And Arachne didn’t even age.
The hunter continued his roll for a short distance before snapping up to his feet and charging the webbing separating him from the rest of the city.
And that was another reason Arachne couldn’t leave to help Eva. He was getting desperate to escape. Perhaps he had noticed Eva leaving as well and wanted to stop her from doing whatever she set out to accomplish.
That was something Arachne could never allow.
Glancing down at her severed leg, Arachne picked it up.
Not to mention, he is really pissing me off.
The tip of her leg was still sharp. This one had been severed at the first joint, leaving it looking more like the top of a spear than anything else.
Pulling back her arm, Arachne threw the leg at the hunter. She didn’t expect it to do much damage. His armor could stop the doll’s sword from slicing all the way through.
But the hunter did stop hacking at the webbing long enough to slice at the flying limb.
He backed away from the webbing almost immediately. The doll was still digging her sword out of the fountain, but Genoa’s golem was moving into position.
With two quick steps, he made it to the doorway of the Rickenbacker dormitory building.
Genoa’s golem crumbled to a mound of lifeless earth.
At first, Arachne thought that Genoa was fleeing, running away like a coward before the hunter could reach her.
A wall rose from the ground in front of the Rickenbacker. A smooth sheet of stone stretched high up, rising even higher than the roof of the building.
Arachne grit her teeth. The stupid woman should have just done that in the first place instead of creating the small pillars that Arachne used to web in the plaza. It would have been far more effective.
The reason why quickly became clear.
The golem was down. A fact that did not escape the notice of the hunter. Getting obviously desperate, he charged straight back towards the section of the web he had just been hacking away at. A section Arachne hadn’t had a chance to repair.
Golem down. The doll was still busy for another few seconds.
Too long. He could be gone by the time the doll got into the fray again.
Arachne grit her teeth and charged. Spare legs or not, he would not be making it to Eva.
— — —
Eva landed right on the edge of the roof, almost falling backwards onto the minefield of wards.
A barrier from a set of shackles that she had landed on saved her. It caught her, acting like a wall to lean against. Juliana wasn’t stopped by the barrier. She went straight through. It was a bit disorienting to have the weight on her shoulders not be stopped by the wall that Eva hit, but the situation quickly resolved itself as Eva shoved off the barrier.
At the same time, she slung Juliana around, dropping her onto the rooftop. Eva hadn’t intended to drop her, but the sensation of being off-balance combined with Juliana’s weight had her moving not quite how she wanted.
“Shackles,” Eva said.
Though her words were unneeded. Eva was kept from interacting with the shackles and the rest of the roof by the barrier. Juliana wasn’t. The moment she hit the ground, her flailing hands disturbed the chalk enough to break the shackles.
And a good thing too.
Eva needed the mobility.
She gripped Juliana’s hand and pulled, dragging both of them out of the way of an icy boulder crashing down right where the shackle had been.
After making sure that Juliana was actually on her feet this time, Eva ignited her hands and started tossing fireballs. It didn’t matter that the hunter intercepted every single one with a flurry of snow. So long as she was busy defending herself, she couldn’t conjure up giant balls of ice.
Eva let out a sharp hiss of pain as something tore into her side. Just because the hunter couldn’t conjure boulders didn’t mean that she couldn’t slip in an icicle.
She realized in an instant what had happened. Eva hadn’t see it coming. When her fireballs hit the hunter’s snowballs, they exploded in a burst of steam, snow, and flames. The icicles came straight through, leaving her with very little time to react.
Worse, Eva couldn’t take cues from the hunter’s body language. Now that Eva was closer, she could clearly see that the hunter wasn’t moving in the slightest.
She had something around her neck, encrusted with gemstones. Some kind of focus, probably. But she barely moved her neck. Her arms hadn’t moved. Her legs were just as still, bent in her chair at a slight angle. It would have been an awkward position to sit in. Eva doubted that she could feel it.
The holes in her back were still there. Someone had tried to stitch her skin up, but they hadn’t fixed up the actual punctures in her spine.
Really, it was amazing that she could cast at all. Eva didn’t need a focus. Her entire body, being mostly demonic, acted as a focus. But even though the woman clearly had a demon’s eye, Eva doubted that would allow her to cast spells with no focus.
Devon had a tentacle for an arm and still used his rings on his other hand.
If Zoe were here, Eva might consider asking her how foci worked with severe nerve damage and how magic flowed through the body. But she wasn’t. Eva didn’t know where she was. Maybe Wayne had teleported her back to her house only for them to get caught up in whoever was attacking Ylva.
Also, probably not a good idea to have idle conversations while fighting.
The fact of the matter was that the hunter was casting spells and she was doing it without moving. The hows and whys just didn’t matter.
Of course, being close enough to see into her body through her blood gave Eva hope. The hunter was undoubtedly paralyzed from the neck down. At least.
To the hunter’s side was a small table. Atop it sat the corrupted idol, the one Nel believed to be the cause of the sky cracking effect.
Eva jumped to the side, avoiding an array of icicles while launching a few more fireballs of her own. None of her fireballs were the big explosive kinds. The hunter would likely see them coming from miles away. Even in her debilitated state. Eva didn’t want explosions being somehow rebounded on her.
Juliana was finally getting her bearings. Only a few seconds had passed since they landed on the roof, so Eva couldn’t blame her too much for being a little stunned. Especially with the dropping and dragging. The icicles pinging off her armor probably didn’t help much either.
But once she finally got to work, she didn’t waste much time in becoming effective.
The rooftop gravel around the hunter exploded. Her chair tipped straight backwards as rock flew up into the sky.
Eva didn’t waste the opportunity. They might not get another one.
She charged forward. There were no wards on this roof to get in her way. Juliana had handily taken care of all the shackles with her explosion. Nothing was in her way.
Not even a wall of ice sprouting from the ground would stop her.
Eva vaulted it, hopping over to the other side with only her hands grazing across the top.
She landed on the other side and purposefully fell to her knees. Between her knees, she pinned the hunter down.
Just in the off-chance that the hunter was feigning her paralysis.
Eva drew back her fist and brought it down, bashing out a few of the hunter’s teeth. She had to keep the hunter as disoriented as possible to avoid becoming an icicle pincushion.
For just a moment, she paused. Eva almost said something incredibly silly. ‘That was for Martina,‘ or something similar. But it was too embarrassing. In the end, Eva just shook her head and punched the hunter a second time.
As she drew her hand back again, Eva opened her fist. She clawed her hand, preparing to tear the hunter’s throat out.
But paused again.
Though a few of her teeth were missing, the hunter was smiling.
Eva felt a chill run down her spine. She had missed something. Some trap. Some weapon.
Had she still had hairs on her neck, they would be standing on end. Eva blinked away from the hunter. The ice wall was still just behind her. It had grown for a few moments more after Eva had vaulted it, but it wasn’t much of an obstacle when she could blink straight up.
Landing on the top, Eva was overjoyed to see Juliana standing right where she had been. Her first thought had been that something had happened to Juliana. That not being the case did not mean that everything was fine. She could hear a light crackling somewhere in the air.
Eva jumped from the top of the ice wall. As she moved, her vials of Arachne’s blood exploded, releasing their contents. The blood swirled around behind her. She landed on Juliana, tackling her to the ground. The blood formed into three overlapping shields around the two of them.
The outermost shield collapsed almost instantly. The second followed, lasting a few seconds longer than the first before succumbing to the heat.
Eva never got to find out how the third shield would have fared. A lurch in her stomach and a lack of building beneath her had Eva falling straight downwards.
She lay still for a moment. Powdered brick and sawdust clouded the area, making breathing unpleasant.
On a brighter note, while the heat was still around, it wasn’t scorching her. In fact, it was at the point where it was almost a pleasant heat.
Juliana was… not screaming. However, she wasn’t sounding as if she were enjoying a nice vacation on the beach either. Muffled moans and groans escaped from the vents in her helmet.
“Are you alright?”
At her words, Juliana just gave a loud groan. A louder groan.
“Right,” Eva said, taking her eyes off Juliana to look around. Just because she wasn’t dead now didn’t mean that the hunter had expended all of her traps.
While there was evidence of more shackles having been drawn on the walls and what was left of the ceiling of the building they had fallen into, it was all damaged beyond a working state. Probably meant to hinder or trap Eva if she chose to get to the roof from street level instead of hopping across the neighboring buildings. It certainly wasn’t meant to operate after destroying half the building.
It wasn’t hard to imagine what happened. The hunter had obviously been channeling magic into the false idol during their fight. She made another of those sky cracks.
And, unless she had been intending to commit suicide, she was likely still alive somewhere.
“Juliana, I’m leaving for just a moment,” Eva said, turning away.
She had to find out what happened to the hunter and whether or not they were still in immediate danger. Before moving, she did glance down at the obviously in-pain girl. Through her sense of blood, Eva could see no immediate problems. She wasn’t bleeding out or even hemorrhaging blood internally.
“Try not to die. Your mother would kill me.”
“Me too,” she said after drawing in a labored breath. “She threatened me with necromancy.”
Eva smiled for just a moment. It disappeared as she turned away again.
The building had survived the attack for the most part. Half of the roof had collapsed. A good portion of the debris was glassed over similar to the bricks in the Brakket dormitory plaza. The edge of the roof looked to be relatively stable. Mostly because of the brick wall beneath it. It hadn’t collapsed and it wasn’t swaying. Even if Eva’s weight disturbed it enough to cause the whole wall to come tumbling down, the building’s roof was only three stories high.
She would survive a fall.
Eva blinked up to the top and froze again.
She hadn’t been able to see the top of the intact portion of the roof from below. It was a solid sheet of glass. No evidence of the ice wall remained. No chair. Not even splinters of the table. Even the neighboring buildings had their roofs half glassed. A good portion of the wards on them had failed entirely. At least, Eva could detect nothing from them.
Because the roof was a smooth surface, it didn’t take long to find one thing that had survived the destruction.
A simple idol. A statue of a woman in tears, holding her hands up to her face. It was small enough for Eva to carry. About the size of an extra-large water bottle.
But there was no way she was going to touch it.
There was a zero percent chance that it was not a trap in some way or form. The hunter might have teleported away after being knocked down. She might have actually gone through with the suicidal route and vaporized herself in her own attack. But no matter what, she wouldn’t leave behind a weapon of such a magnitude. Even if she assumed that Eva had perished in the attack, there were still other enemies of the hunters around.
And yet, Eva couldn’t leave it where it was. The hunter was gone at the moment, but leaving it behind to rejoin the fight against the armored hunter would let somebody else collect it.
Eva grit her teeth. She had accomplished her objective. The hunter wouldn’t be bombarding them with the idol anymore.
Unless it was a fake. That was also a possibility.
But for the moment, she was going to both assume that it was real and that the hunter had retreated.
Glancing back down into the building to make sure that Juliana hadn’t been attacked while Eva had been distracted, Eva found her to be sitting upright. Which she took as a good sign.
“How are you?” Eva called down.
“Achy. I could use a massage.”
“Just be glad you didn’t get boiled alive in that armor.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.”
“I need you to come up here and encase something in a solid block of metal. Can you do that?”
“Probably.” Juliana slowly got to her feet. There were a few choked off grunts of pain as she moved. Most of them happened as she tried to straighten out her back. Once on her feet, she placed her hands on her hips and arched her back.
The pops were audible even from where Eva was standing.
“The stairs,” she said once she finished stretching and had a moment to look around, “I think they’re gone.”
Eva jumped off the edge of the roof, touching down next to Juliana. “Don’t worry. I can carry you.”
Juliana immediately took a step backwards. Holding up her hands in front of her, she said, “I don’t think–”
“No time to argue,” Eva said, grabbing one of Juliana’s outstretched arms. She used the arm to help heft Juliana up into a fireman’s carry. “Don’t worry. It’s a higher jump than last time, but not as far horizontally.”
“Eva, I don’t–”
Eva jumped back up to the roof. This time, she didn’t land right on the edge where the brick wall turned into the roof. It wasn’t a very wide landing spot. With a squirming person on her back throwing off her center of balance, Eva wasn’t feeling too confident balancing on a thin beam.
Especially with how she had nearly fallen off the roof the first time, only saved by the shackles.
The glassed over part of the roof that was still intact had looked stable enough.
Eva’s carapace-covered feet touched down on the smooth surface. She immediately froze.
Cracks spread out from where she landed. A spiderweb of lines appeared in the glass, accompanied by high-pitched snaps.
Holding her breath, Eva waited. She didn’t think that falling through the roof would kill her. Or Juliana, for that matter—though she had been banged around a lot, she was well protected within her suit of armor—but it could cause more of the roof to collapse on top of them after they fell through.
The cracking stopped shortly after Eva landed. She let out her breath in a sigh of relief.
“Let’s be careful where we step,” Eva said as she gingerly set Juliana down.
Juliana didn’t move from where Eva set her. “This doesn’t look very safe.”
“Probably not. The sooner you encase that thing in metal, the sooner we can both…”
Eva trailed off. There was something. Something in the air. A feeling she had not felt for some time.
And a feeling she had only felt once before.
Confusion settled in as Eva tried to puzzle out just what was causing the disgusting sensation in her stomach.
“Eva?” Juliana said, voice full of concern. She glanced this way and that as if she was expecting an ambush. “Are you alright?”
Waving her hand, Eva closed her eyes. The feeling wasn’t around them. It was coming from the direction of the school. Not a danger to them. No ambush to be worried about.
At least, not one from the sensation she was feeling. There was still the possibility that the hunter was still around.
“I’m alright,” Eva said, snapping her eyes open. “But someone else isn’t.”
Eva was gone. Blinking away as fast as she could.
The feeling was something she had felt before. Right before her first real encounter with the hunters.
When Daru was being tortured. Given that Daru hadn’t ever turned up again, he had probably died as well.
Someone, some demon was in a serious state of injury back towards the school.
Clenching her teeth together, Eva felt her rage burning.
Only one demon had been in direct danger. Only one demon had been fighting with the other hunter.
“Arachne,” she hissed. “I’m not letting you die again.”
— — —
Juliana watched as Eva disappeared, leaving her all alone on the roof. At least the hunter was gone. And the thing Eva pointed out…
Thinning the metal armor on her legs gave her plenty to work with. She set to covering the disturbing little idol with metal. After a few moments, she had a shiny smooth tube. It looked like something that would be launched out of the main guns of a battleship. Except much smaller.
With that done, she tried nudging it with her foot.
She picked up the encased idol. Just in time for a small portion of the roof to crack and fall into the rest of the building.
I really need to get down from here, Juliana thought as a few more cracks spread across the top.