Eva dropped out of the sky, seething with her fists clenched tight as she grit her teeth together. Her final blink had carried her over the makeshift wall of the Brakket dormitory plaza.
The first thing she noticed were the arachnid legs scattered about. Arachne’s dismembered legs. Perhaps the source of the disturbing feeling.
Or so Eva thought until she spotted the rest of the demon, the hunter, and the doll.
The hunter’s curved sword was buried in Arachne’s stomach.
Blood boiled the moment Eva saw Arachne’s state. Time stood perfectly still as Eva’s brain screeched to a halt.
Arachne’s eyes were wide. As wide as they could be with the way her facial carapace worked. Her body was half twisted, as if she had tried to avoid the blade only to miss it by just a few inches.
Her carapace was cracked. Black liquid oozed from the wound. It dripped along the length of the sword, staining the edge black. When it hit the emerald encrusted hand guard, the blood flowed over the gemstones until it reached the very lowest point.
From where it dropped down onto the ground, creating tiny splashes as it pooled on the glassed-over surface.
The pool expanded slowly. Blood seeped from the ground, filling the area around the fighters’ feet. It spread outwards, the circle growing to cover more of the plaza with blood. More than could possibly have seeped from Arachne’s wounds. Even with her severed legs, her body simply couldn’t hold so much blood.
Arachne had her mouth open in apparent shock.
But only for a moment.
As Eva watched, Arachne’s mouth curled into a vicious grin.
Time snapped back into place, reality resettling as Eva let out a short breath.
Arachne was still alive. For the moment, at least. No portal had opened to ferry her back to Hell.
Hands snapping forward, Arachne clamped down on the hilt of the sword, locking it in place and preventing the hunter from pulling it out.
He only tried for a moment longer before releasing the sword.
The doll forced him into a retreat. With his sword stuck in Arachne, there was nothing aside from his armor to protect him from the doll’s blade. He was obviously not willing to take the chance his armor could handle the blow.
He slid backwards, just barely ducking his head under the doll’s sword. His head came back up.
And he caught sight of Eva.
She couldn’t see his eyes. The visor of his helmet was nothing more than a thin slit. Even were she closer, she would have trouble seeing what lay behind it. Yet him noticing Eva was plain to see.
He stilled ever so slightly, angling his helmet further towards her.
Eva broke into a run. She could have blinked across the battlefield, but she was still forming a plan in her mind. Without his sword, the hunter would be far less deadly. Though, given how prepared he and his partner were, Eva couldn’t discount the possibility of traps or secondary weapons.
She was half hoping that he would pull out something else before she got to him. Preferably with enough time for her to react.
One thing was certain, this hunter was not leaving alive.
The other hunter had escaped, barring the suicide theory. It didn’t bother Eva that much. She had been able to confirm that the hunter was crippled. More importantly, they had gotten a hold of the idol. So long as it wasn’t a trap, Eva likely had Juliana to thank for that acquisition. She had been the one to knock over the hunter’s chair, putting her farther away from the idol and making sure she couldn’t teleport away with it.
Without the idol, creating a large ritual circle would be significantly easier.
But seeing what this hunter had done to Arachne… for that alone, he would pay.
Eva did note the blood around the hunter was freezing. White frost started close to him. It spread out in an almost perfect circle up to a few feet away from him.
At first, she considered the notion that the other hunter had come back. While a possibility, there was a far more likely explanation.
His armor had been enchanted to freeze liquids that came too close. The other hunter had never been actively protecting him. She had merely been watching from a distance, perhaps looking for another opportunity to crack the sky.
It hadn’t frozen Arachne’s blood as it dripped down his sword, but perhaps there hadn’t been time. In her momentary shock, the moment had felt like it had taken forever when, in reality, the entire interaction between the hunter, Arachne, and the doll had passed by in an instant.
Eva moved close enough for her feet to touch the black liquid. It didn’t splash or even ripple where her feet came down. Rather, it moved to the sides, allowing her to reach the dry ground beneath.
Despite not having touched her dagger into the liquid, it moved.
Which gave Eva an idea.
She called on the blood, willing a small orb to move up to her hand just as if she were manipulating regular blood.
The black liquid answered her call.
Eva let out a small chuckle as she ran, calling up more and more to surround her in a nearly opaque whirlwind of blood. Of course, with the hunter still able to freeze it, it wouldn’t do that much good. Perhaps she could bury him, but that could give him time to think of a way out.
She would much rather just tear out his throat and be done with it.
The blood twisting around Eva drew in close. It ran along her skin and her carapace. With a thought, she formed it into sharp claws extending from her hands. As soon as the blood was in place, she solidified it into razor-sharp crystal claws.
If the hunter was going to freeze it anyway, she would act first. Better yet, if her theory was correct and the hunter was only freezing liquids, she would still have enough control over her solidified crystals to explode them should any shards make it through his armor.
Eva called up the blood around her feet. It was nice that it wanted to give her a decent grip on the regular ground instead of the likely slick surface caused by the blood. However, that wasn’t what Eva wanted at the moment.
The last—and first—time she had tried this had been during her first trip to Hell. She had stood on liquid blood, using it as a step-ladder to get over a wall. The blood had only been able to act as a platform because of her will holding it together.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t been thinking much at the time. The reaction had been mostly fear driven.
The sounds the Keeper made as he moved, the pain, and being blind had all made the situation somewhat hectic at the time.
Just before she reached the hunter, Eva pushed off the ground. A jump with Arachne’s legs could carry her straight over the hunter with no problems.
The hunter pulled a dagger from his armor, slicing it through the air right in Eva’s path.
Still in the air, Eva kicked. The blood on her feet acted as a solid platform for a mere instant. The strength behind her kick ricocheted her at a right angle. With the hunter turning to slash at her old position, it put Eva right behind him.
Eva wasted no time. There was a small seam near his waist. Larger gaps in his armor just under his armpits and the backs of his knees.
She swiped at the easy to reach spot first. With his arms raised to attack Eva, it was almost like he was offering himself to her.
The crystallized claws extending out from her regular hands barely skimmed the surface of one of his pauldrons. Before Eva even realized what had happened, the hunter had vanished.
Without the expected impact and the unfamiliar weight on her hands, Eva stumbled forwards. Her foot hit against the ground.
In trying to dig her foot into the ground to catch her stumble, her foot slid out from under her. Eva did the splits as she fell to the ground.
She grit her teeth, letting out a slight hiss of pain.
Ice crystals coated her feet. The blood had stayed liquid long enough for her to pull off her aerial trick, but it had frozen soon after. Combined with the already frozen ground, her footing was in a precarious spot.
Eva rolled along the ice, avoiding a dagger in her back thanks only to a moment of forewarning from her blood sense.
He didn’t stick around for long. Somehow, someway, he noticed the doll sprinting up behind him. Her blade sailed clean through the air as the hunter moved to escape.
“Thanks,” Eva said as she climbed back to her feet. She made sure to brush off the lingering ice before planting her feet down again.
A quick glance behind her showed Arachne still around. She wasn’t moving much, just lying on the ground while holding tight to the hunter’s sword. That she hadn’t been drawn into a portal to Hell filled Eva with relief. If she had survived this long after being skewered, Arachne would live.
So long as she kept the hunter from finishing the job.
The doll twitched her head ever so slightly in Eva’s direction. “This… human is a troublesome opponent. He doesn’t move like a human.”
“Fighting is taking its toll on him,” Eva said, swinging her head back around to face the hunter full-on.
He was just standing there, panting for breath. He gripped his dagger tight in his hand.
For all the similarities between wards and enchantments, Eva couldn’t actually tell if it was magical or not. His sword gave off a feeling of revulsion that made Eva want to avoid it. But his dagger looked utterly normal to her eyes.
The bones in his body were slightly misaligned. Especially down in his legs. Were he to take off his boots, he would probably need a cast for several weeks. There were a couple of spots that looked as if they had broken clean through. He was held up thanks only to the rigid armor he wore.
Of course, Eva fully intended to help him avoid such a dismal fate.
“I don’t think he was meant to be in such a prolonged battle. So long as we keep him from escaping, he will wear down until he makes a mistake.”
“I would prefer if this ended sooner. I do have other business I must attend.”
Like standing around, frozen in indecision?
Eva almost spoke her thoughts, but the doll had moved before she could open her mouth.
Rather than follow after only to find that the hunter had moved before she got there, Eva waited. There was almost no chance that he would attempt to engage with the doll using only the dagger. Either he would reveal some other trick from up his sleeve or he would be forced to move.
If he didn’t… well, no need for Eva to get involved in that case.
The second before the doll reached the hunter, he vanished. As Eva expected.
He was dashing back towards the web wall in a straight beeline.
Straight to his sword and Arachne.
Eva blinked towards him with a snarl. Three rapid blinks to disguise her intentions. One to his left, one to his right, and finally one right in his path. Eva kicked off some of the slowly freezing blood to dodge a downward slash of his knife. On her way, she raked the jagged tips of her claws across his armor.
It wasn’t the weak points. Her claws scraped across his chest and arms, shedding thousands of tiny shards into the air. A few even got caught in his armor.
She blinked just a short distance away before he could properly retaliate, clapping her hands together even before she had fully rematerialized. Eva made sure to target only the crystalline shards. Normally, when she clapped her hands, she obliterated any blood that wasn’t near her body. That usually covered any attacks she had thrown. A few special cases, such as when she amputated her legs, required more precise targeting.
In this case, such indiscretion could be bad. She had considered just detonating the entire battlefield. But who knew how much debris would fly around. Not to mention the problem of Arachne. The spider-demon was lying right in the middle of the deepest puddle. Theoretically, she could try only exploding the pooled blood around him.
Theoretically, she could accidentally explode it all.
Not to mention the fact that he froze the blood around him. That would give him enough of a buffer that his armor could probably take any residual impact from the still-liquid blood.
Loud snaps accompanied the clap of her hands. Pockmarks dotted his breastplate and arm guards. A few of the holes even started bleeding, especially those around his arms. Not much red liquid dripped out of the holes. But Eva could still see it. It dripped down his arms, pooling inside his armor.
More important were the holes. Openings for a second, deeper attack.
The hunter had to break off his charge for the sword. Eva’s interception bought time for the doll to close the distance. Again, the hunter chose to retreat rather than meet her blade. He moved quick enough that Eva couldn’t follow. Somewhere to the side.
Eva heard a soft groan just behind her. She started to turn.
Only to feel the cold edge of a blade against her throat.
“Stop her,” the hunter hissed with wet words. Though her back was to him, she could clearly see blood splatter against the inside of his helmet. “And you get to live,” he added after taking in a labor-filled lungful of air.
Her first thought was to simply blink away. She could. She had just before been blinking around him, so he didn’t have any sort of mobile anti-teleportation wards about him.
In front of Eva, the doll was approaching. Not with the speed that she normally used, but walking. The heels of her leather boots made slight ripples in the sea of black blood as she moved. Her sword was held downwards in a single hand with her arm stretched at a slight angle to keep the tip from touching the ground or the liquid.
Her eyes stared forwards with a certain coldness that Eva might have otherwise ascribed to only Ylva. Only, they lacked the dead milky grey of Ylva’s eyes, being a vibrant silver instead.
For some reason, staring into those eyes, Eva got the distinct impression that the doll wouldn’t hesitate to run her through to reach the hunter. It would probably resolve her indecision as well.
More to the point of the hunter’s request, Eva doubted she would be able to stop the doll. At least, not without fighting. Fighting the doll didn’t seem like it was the smartest idea.
So Eva just stood still. She spent a moment, listening to the heavy breathing of the hunter behind her. Each breath came in strained and sounded as if he were gargling blood with every exhale.
It was a wonder he was even standing.
“Tell her to stand down,” he hissed into Eva’s ear as he dug his blade deeper into her throat. It was still not quite cutting. He held it at just the right angle to where most of the pressure came from the flat of the blade rather than the edge.
Even if he did twist his arm, Eva doubted it would be that troublesome to deal with. Small cuts could be healed in an instant. Even deeper gouges could be repaired or at least contained with assistance from her dagger.
In contrast to his already fast heartbeats increasing in speed, Eva was the epitome of calm.
She had a plan.
She just needed a few more seconds.
It would be nice if the doll would hurry up.
To be fair to the doll, her languid approach might possibly be an attempt to give Eva the time to escape. Eva wasn’t sure if the doll would or even could think along those lines, but the only other option was that she was moving for intimidation purposes.
Smelling the rancid stink of sweat pouring out of the hunter’s armor, Eva doubted that he needed anything more to intimidate him.
Tapping her leg, Eva gave the slightest jerk of her head towards the hunter. Just moving her neck a fraction of a hair in the hopes that the doll might hurry up.
While she could escape, as she had already considered, doing so would just continue the chicken chase around the arena.
The doll apparently got the message or got tired of waiting. She kicked off the ground, sending a wave of black blood high into the air as she rocketed forwards.
Eva felt the hunter tense through his armor. She wasn’t sure if he tensed to run or to slice her throat.
Shedding the larger portion of her crystalline claws to avoid jabbing herself in the face, Eva snapped her regular claws up to the hunter’s arm. She clamped down, holding his arm, and the rest of him, in place.
The dagger he had half stuck into her neck didn’t even factor into her concerns.
She was too busy watching the doll.
Three more steps, Eva thought. Two.
Once the doll raised her sword to strike, Eva released the hunter and blinked away.
A clang of metal on metal echoed across the battlefield.
Eva wasted no time, she turned and blinked straight back behind the hunter.
The hunter had both arms in the air. One still held his dagger, dripping with Eva’s blood. The other crossed his dagger, using both his armor and the blade to catch the doll’s sword. Despite stopping the doll’s blade, his own dagger had been half buried into his arm.
Bending her wrists, Eva moved the remainder of the crystallized blood into place. A single spike on the end of each arm. She pulled back and jammed both straight into the hunter’s armpits and pulled away, leaving the spikes in place.
He let out a cry. Knees buckling and arms weakening, it wouldn’t be long before the doll beheaded him.
Eva didn’t give her the opportunity.
Blinking away, Eva clapped her hands as she moved. She didn’t even turn to face the hunter when her hands touched.
A spray of warm liquid hit her back.
She waited for just a moment as more blood rained down, joining with the black demon blood.
Eva let out a long sigh before finally turning around.
The doll stood to one side, covered in red with her sword angled downwards at her side. Eva half expected her to be caught in the blast. If she had, oops. But obviously the explosion hadn’t harmed a hair on her head. Aside from the red, she looked as pristine as she had when Eva first saw her.
As for the hunter…
His legs were still there.
Some of his torso as well. Everything from ribcage and up was simply gone. His armor had split apart like a soda can that had been left in the freezer. One of his arms was lying a good distance away, sticking out of the black blood. Scanning the area, Eva couldn’t see the other.
Or a head, for that matter.
Despite the lack of head, Eva felt quite confident in proclaiming him deceased. The jury was still deliberating over Sawyer, but this man had not been a necromancer.
In fact, now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure that she had seen him cast a single spell.
Breathing out a sigh of relief, Eva just about sat down for a rest. She did take a quick moment to patch up the hole in her neck before she remembered something.
“Arachne,” she hissed to herself as she whirled around.
The spider-demon was still lying on the ground. Still grasping the sword. Still on Earth.
Eva blinked over.
Arachne was staring up at the sky with her teeth set in a grimace. The moment Eva stepped over her, that grimace turned to a smile.
“Don’t worry,” Eva said before the spider-demon could try to speak. “I’ll take you to the nurse right away.”
That smile immediately slipped back into a grimace.
Just as Eva was reaching out to pull the sword from Arachne’s stomach, she felt another blade against her neck.
“We have yet to resolve our dispute.”
Eva closed her eyes as she drew in a deep breath. She was really getting sick of having blades at her throat.