Ylva and Nel popped into the room, hand in hand. Nel in her dark robes and Ylva in her white sheer dress.
Eva jumped. Still leaning back in her chair with her feet propped up, she just about lost her balance and fell backwards. She managed to save herself with a quick blink to her feet just in front of the table.
To the best of her memory, Ylva had never teleported on her own before. She didn’t know why she hadn’t expected her to be able to. Given Ylva’s power level, it would be more surprising if she couldn’t teleport. Even Catherine could teleport.
She had been expecting Ylva to walk over from her home. Something that would take a few minutes. Eva hadn’t even put away her cellphone yet.
The two nuns were faring less well. Eva had been planning on warning them of Ylva’s appearance. With how fast Ylva had shown up, she hadn’t had the chance.
Both had jumped back with their eyes burning. A battle-axe made of white light had formed in Anise’s hand while Chris had lightning crackling at her fingertips again.
Eva was just about to blink between them and Ylva to keep anything unfortunate from happening when Ylva’s lips twitched into a frown.
The light disappeared from the nuns’ eyes. The lightning and axe faded into nothingness. They both jolted backwards as if physically struck. Anise actually stumbled as she took a few steps backwards in an attempt to retain her balance.
Ylva drew in a deep breath.
Eva stepped between them before she could say anything. Knowing her, she was probably about to bellow out a command for them to kneel or some such.
“Wait wait wait,” Eva said, holding up one hand palm out towards Ylva and another towards Anise and Chris. “I didn’t get a chance to warn them that you were coming. And you just sort of popped into a tense situation. So don’t hold them being startled against them. They need help, not a fight.”
“Help?” Chris just about shrieked from behind Eva. Her teeth grit together as soon as she spoke. Both of her hands were pressed up against her eyes with her fingers rubbing her scalp. “That demon is the one who killed the inquisitors.”
“Yeah, she is,” Eva said. “Who better to protect Anise than someone who has already proven themselves capable?”
“Eva,” Ylva intoned with her deep voice. “Explain why you have brought these two before Us.”
Feeling her mouth dry out a little, Eva swallowed. Ylva did not sound happy. She hadn’t minded when Nel asked for asylum. Though had she made Nel kneel? Nel might have knelt on her own after prompting from Eva and Zoe. She couldn’t actually remember.
Maybe she should have just let Ylva kneel them.
“Alright,” Eva said slowly. Might as well start explaining from the start. “If you want to take a seat, it might be a few minutes.”
Eva had considered leaving. Juliana and Irene both were still out at the ritual field, after all. While they shouldn’t be expecting her right away because of her excuse to find more help, she still wanted to get out there and at least supervise if not help out as well.
She had been planning on leaving initially. Perhaps even before Ylva arrived. Her main goal in bringing Ylva to meet the two nuns had mostly been to dump the problem off on somebody else. But then Ylva had ordered her to tell the story of what was going on.
And now she had to admit that she also wanted to stick around just to find out what was going to happen.
Nel, a paranoid former nun and augur, had nodded her head every time Eva mentioned the possibility of the Elysium Order being mildly unpleasant towards its members. She would be doing absolutely nothing to convince either of the two nuns that they would be safe if they submitted to the inquest.
Especially because Chris seemed somewhat paranoid on her own.
Ylva, a demon and servant of Death, had something of a habit of collecting nuns. So long as Nel and Alicia were enough to form a habit.
At least Chris and Anise weren’t going to be tortured into serving her. Probably.
Eva would be lying if she said she was upset about Alicia’s death. Alicia had been… creepy. And not like normal creepy, which most people Eva associated with were. Eva had been almost certain that Alicia would snap some day and try to kill everyone. Especially Nel. Possibly including Ylva.
Throughout Eva’s explanation, helped along at certain points by Chris and Anise, Ylva had remained silent. Her cold eyes had followed Eva’s every move. She had only glanced away when Chris or Anise spoke up. They had never spoke for long. Never more than a word or two before Ylva’s glare had them falling silent and looking down at their laps.
Which Eva had found mildly annoying. This was their problem. Not hers.
But she made it through the explanation anyway.
“We see,” Ylva said slowly. She still wasn’t sounding happy. Then again, Ylva never sounded happy. At least she wasn’t sounding absolutely livid. “And these two children seek protection?”
Both shirked under her gaze.
Eva looked to both of them. She may have told their story, but they needed to be the ones who actually decided. They were perfectly capable of answering on their own. Not to mention, Eva didn’t want to assume. If they really wanted to, Eva wouldn’t stop them from going back to the Elysium Order. A poor idea in her opinion. Still, it was their choice.
It took a moment for them to realize that Eva wasn’t going to respond for them.
Anise looked up first. Blinking in confusion, she met Eva’s eyes with a slight tilt of her head.
Eva returned her gesture with a nod towards Ylva.
Meeting Ylva’s gaze lasted less than a second before Anise found her feet to be the most interesting things in the room once again. She stared for another few seconds before clenching her fists.
“I’m not going to sell my soul to a demon just to avoid the inquest.” Her eyes were still glued to the ground, but she spoke with a firm conviction.
Eva wasn’t sure if she was being literal or speaking metaphorically. “You shouldn’t worry about that,” Eva said, deciding to answer the literal worry. “Demons don’t care about your soul.”
“We could not claim a soul as recompense,” Ylva said. “Your soul is your own. Only Death may claim otherwise.”
“See,” Eva said with a smile. “No soul selling.”
“Payment to Us would be rendered through servitude.”
“I’m not going to be a slave,” Anise shouted. She actually stood up and turned a glare on Ylva, apparently more angry about that than about selling her soul. The glare only lasted an instant before she stumbled back. Chris pulled her back down to her seat.
Ylva didn’t react much beyond a simple frown.
Nel, on the other hand, went from slightly slouched to completely stiffening her back. Her eyebrows scrunched together as she narrowed her gaze. “I am not a slave,” she said, voice barely above a whisper. “I serve Lady Ylva of my own free will. Not because she forces me to, but because I am grateful to her. She saved me from a situation very much like your own.”
Her hand reached up to her throat. She brushed the tips of her fingers over the black band as her thumb ran over the small skull dangling from the front.
“If you want to go back and face the Elysium Order, that is your choice. Don’t disparage mine because of your ignorance.”
Eva found herself frowning as she stared at Nel. The augur was loyal to Ylva. Extremely so. Not a bad or fanatical kind of loyal either. For the most part, at least. But Eva hadn’t thought that she might get so upset about someone calling her a slave. Especially because, if memory served, Nel had thought the exact same thing upon accidentally indenturing herself to Ylva when they first met.
Obviously she had gotten over that little hang-up.
Ylva kept her face impassive and expressionless as she looked down at Nel. The two were seated side by side on the opposite end of the room from the nuns. Even seated, Ylva towered over everyone else.
For just a moment, nothing happened. Something passed between Nel and Ylva. Something that Eva was not privy to.
“They’re children,” Nel said after looking back to the two nuns. She shook her head. “They probably have family. Unless they’re willing to abandon everything, they won’t be able to work with us the way I do or Alicia did.”
After a curt nod of Ylva’s head, she stood. “Very well. We shall leave them be.”
“But,” Nel said with a slight sigh, “we should help them. If only because Eva thinks that the Elysium Order is biding its time until they can try to recover or kill me.”
Ylva went silent for a long minute. Nel shifted under her gaze, trying to look Ylva in the eye with confidence while fighting with her more subservient personality.
At least, that was what Eva got out of her expression.
The two nuns sat in their seats. Although they kept glancing to one another, neither made any attempt to speak. They looked more like two kids from Eva’s old school when they knew that they were in trouble and were sent to the principal’s office.
“What do you propose?”
Nel brightened, her fight ended as her lips curled into a small smile.
“We could go to the inquest in their place. Tell the Elysium Order, again, to leave us alone. Them as well,” she said with a slight nod towards the two girls. “Leave the inquisition with some ominous message like how we’re always watching them or something. That might discourage them from trying to come after me, at least.
“Of course, the Elysium Order probably won’t like it. They’ll probably be watching those two for a long time with a great deal of suspicion. But it is better than having their eyes torn out.”
“Acceptable,” Ylva said after another long silence. “Though We still require some payment. If they do not wish to serve Us, they will report to Us. Any rumors of the Elysium Order acting out against Ourself, you, or them.”
She clasped her hands together, not really in a clap, just cupping them as if she were hiding something. Both hands went palm down on the table. When she pulled back, two black rings with faint skulls engraved on the front had appeared on the table. A flick of her fingers sent them skidding across the table.
“Place them on your fingers,” she said as they came to a rest in front of the two nuns.
The two stared at the rings, then at each other, then back to the rings.
“Is it really that simple?” Anise said, holding her hand out in front of her as she examined the little black ring. “We put this on and all of our problems go away?”
Chris didn’t look half as convinced. She kept putting the ring on then taking it off, as if checking that such a thing was even possible. She almost tripped over a small depression in the dirt because her focus was on her ring.
Eva shook her head. “Nope. Not that easy. The ring won’t actually do much except ward off a few demons. Unless, of course, Ylva did something different this time. Maybe you can talk to her through them. You need a way to report in, after all.”
“I can’t believe we’re spying for a demon of all things.”
“Yeah,” Eva said with a slight shrug, “It isn’t that weird. The Elysium Order are undead specialists. I don’t see why you can’t work with a demon who also fights against the undead.”
“What is Ylva?” Chris said, finally taking her attention off the ring. “What makes her trustworthy? Why does she fight undead? I saw it. It was just for an instant right when she appeared, but she was a skeleton. At first I thought it was just because of teleporting, but thinking back, Augur Stirling appeared like a normal person.”
Eva gave Chris a pointed look. Had she worn glasses, she probably would have been looking over the top rim. “Those are all questions you should have asked before accepting the rings. But,” Eva said, raising a hand before Chris could open her mouth, “Ylva is a hel. One ‘l’. A daughter of Hel, one of two demons who are Gods of Death.”
Both girls stilled. It was subtle as they both were still walking alongside Eva, but still noticeable. Especially to her sense of blood.
“Death?” Anise said in a barely audible whisper.
“Powers are a myth,” Chris said with a wave of her hand. “A tale to tell children to get them to behave. ‘Oooh, better be good or the leprechauns will drag you off to Knocknasheega.'” Rolling her eyes, she scoffed. “Please.”
Eva couldn’t help the grin that grew on her face.
“We live in a world full of demons and undead, dragons and magic, and you don’t think that there can be something else out there? Something larger than all of that? You don’t think Death takes offense to liches when they seal their soul within golden idols?”
“Of course there can be. But they aren’t watching us. A being equivalent to the mythical Powers wouldn’t care about Earth or people. Death wouldn’t care about a handful of random undead.”
Eva shook her head with a slight chuckle. “I wonder how long ago the Elysium Order was founded.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Oh just something I was told about their origins. More specifically, from where they first got all those eyes in your chests.”
“You aren’t going to say a Power did it, are you?”
“Yes, actually. How do you think Ylva, a servant of Death, shut down your magic so hard that you actually physically felt it?”
Chris scoffed again. “She’s a demon. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had some anti-magic field that she could activate at will.”
Anise, trailing slightly behind, took a few quick steps to catch up. She cleared her throat. “Why was she able to block our connections?”
“That would probably be because the power that powers your power is the Power known as Death.”
“Well,” Eva said with a shrug, “believe what you want to believe. But since you’re so adamant about not believing in Powers, perhaps you might help me construct a large ritual circle designed to do absolutely nothing at all?”
Both of them stopped cold and exchanged a look with each other.
“What are you talking about?” Chris asked. While her tone had been conversational, she had taken on a somewhat hostile stance. Her eyes were narrowed to thin slits.
Did the talk of a ritual circle spook them? Or the Powers? Both put together?
Eva wasn’t sure.
But she pointed at Chris. “You said you would do whatever I asked if I helped you with your problem. I’m in the middle of constructing a large ritual circle and could really use some help with it. So you’re going to help me. Right?”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Anise said, backing up a few steps. “We never agreed to anything. Except the spying.”
“Nope. I distinctly heard Chris saying she would do whatever I wanted. What I want is for you to help me with this thing. One of you has to be at least mildly proficient with earth magic, right?”
The two looked at each other. Neither confirmed it, but neither denied it either. Unless they were both air mages, one of them should at least have the capability to manipulate earth, even if they couldn’t match Genoa or even Juliana.
Really, what she was doing was risky and dangerous. For all Eva knew, they would try to destroy the ritual circle upon seeing it. She was counting on them to be at least somewhat grateful that she had helped out, even if Ylva was the one who was going to be doing all the work.
Even then, by Ylva showing up in their place and threatening or potentially killing everybody, Eva was really doing nothing at all to dissuade them of their belief that Eva could mind control anyone that came near.
Which wasn’t that bad of an idea, now that she thought about it. If sending more people after her wound up with them ‘mind controlled’ then they would stop sending people at all sooner or later. Hopefully. She might be giving the Elysium Order too much credit.
As for Anise and Chris, Eva had definitely learned from Irene. No mentioning the apocalypse or Ragnarök or Armageddon or any other end of the world scenario. In fact, she might be a little stingy on exactly what the ritual circle was supposed to accomplish as well. She wasn’t quite sure what to tell them instead, but she was sure she could come up with something.
Maybe looking through a ritual book might give her some ideas. But were there even other kinds of ritual circles this large?
Eva leaned back, staring up to the sky. Despite the purple streaks still hanging overhead, not many from the other schools seemed to even notice. She certainly hadn’t heard murmurs about it from all the other students wandering the halls these days. Did they all believe the made-up story given by Martina?
Her smile widened as a thought occurred to her.
“Well, we’re already out here. Might as well show you the ritual circle.”
Anise blinked and glanced around. She almost looked like she hadn’t even realized that they had been walking through the Infinite Courtyard.
After leaving Ylva and Nel, Eva had started walking off mostly on her own. It wasn’t her fault the two decided to follow after her with all their questions and concerns.
“What are we doing out here?”
“Not much farther,” Eva said as she walked up a short incline. The top of the ridge led out to the area she had cleared away for the ritual. “Irene, Juliana! I brought help!” she called out.
Only to frown as she looked over the football field sized clearing.
Irene was out in the middle of the clearing with Saija walking alongside her. But no Juliana and no Arachne. No Srey either, but he hadn’t been around near as much since the hunters stopped spying on them.
She looked up at Eva’s call and started walking, only to get swept up by Saija. The small cry of alarm as they flew over was something Eva almost wished she had been able to record, if only to play it back for her own petty amusement.
“Juliana went off to fight Arachne again,” Irene said once she got her feet firmly on the ground. Her eyes flicked over to the two nuns as she leaned in to whisper. “What are they doing here?”
“They are going to help out,” Eva said, turning to the two girls and pointing at the sky. “I assume you’ve seen the purple streaks.”
Chris nodded. “Hard to miss. Some agriculture project, right?”
Eva didn’t answer. She simply smiled. “We’re trying to recreate part of how that came to be,” she eventually said with a wide grin.