Eva stopped pacing in front of the makeshift cell for the enigma-like creature. Actually, it wasn’t all that makeshift. Maybe a little run-down and worn out, but it was a genuine prison cell. They had enough of them around the prison to spare, so Eva had insisted.
Originally, she had wanted the creature to be kept within the solitary confinement building. It was isolated from the rest of the prison and had fairly heavy-duty doors and walls. Devon, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that he could handle the creature’s containment in the building adjacent to his own. He had said it was for the convenience of study, but Eva was mostly sure that he was just too lazy to walk to the opposite side of the compound anytime he wanted to inspect the thing.
Looking into the cell, Eva curled her lip into a slight frown. The enigma hadn’t escaped. Devon had made good on his promise to keep it contained at least. Of course, that wasn’t for lack of trying. The interior of the cell, worn down and time-damaged before its occupant entered the picture, had been clawed and scratched almost to the point of light coming through the sandstone walls. Even the floor and ceiling had deep gouges. Dust littered the floor from the marks above. The metal frame of the bed, once attached to the wall with hinges and a chain allowing it to fold up, had been torn from its fixture and had apparently been used as a battering ram against the metal bars on the front of the cell.
The bars were bent. One had come out of its socket, only standing thanks to the crossbars. The one out of its socket had bent inwards. Teeth marks marred the entire bent portion. In fact, looking at it closer, Eva was fairly sure that a good chunk was missing. If the bar were bent back to its proper position, it would be too short by almost a foot. She couldn’t see any bar lying around the room, but she supposed Devon might have taken it away.
However, standing in front of the cell, Eva could scarcely believe that the creature inside had caused all the damage. For as long as she had been pacing, the creature had done nothing but cower in the back of the cell. It used the twisted metal of the bed frame as cover, hiding behind it. Every few seconds, it popped its eyes over the top to peek at what was going on. If Eva was in the middle of pacing, it would watch for a second or two. The moment that Eva turned to look at it, it ducked back behind the frame and clawed at the ground. Its claws didn’t do much good. After all the destruction of the cell, Devon had done something. Now, the tips of its claws scraped over the floor without actually coming into contact with it. Some slight membrane protected the cell from its occupant.
“Interesting, Eva. Interesting” Devon scratched at his scraggly beard as he peered into the cell, staring with his beady eyes. Normally, Devon kept his goatee trimmed short. It was always a little unkempt. However, today’s beard looked like he hadn’t trimmed it in a full week. Maybe more. Coincidentally, that fit roughly in the same time window as Eva introducing Catherine to the ritual circle. He had yet to say a word about it to Eva, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he was worried about it. “This is the first time I’ve seen it calm down,” he said.
However, she turned her attention to his words rather than her musings and watched the enigma frantically claw at the ground for a moment as it attempted to find some escape. Or to create an exit. “This is calm?”
“Well, it isn’t trying to tear apart the cell. Much. But the other few times I’ve observed it, it bounced off the walls like a rubber ball between trying to claw me through the bars. And,” he paused to rub a finger down one of the heavily bent bars, “gnaw on the door. Something I’ve noticed is its fur. When it first came here, it was dark and fluffy looking.”
Devon didn’t need to continue. Though it was hiding behind the metal bed, the bed had been twisted and broken. It didn’t cover the entirety of the creature. Like a child playing peekaboo. The fur covering the enigma’s arms and legs had turned from the fluff Eva had first seen to a bristly metallic coloration. She wouldn’t be able to tell without actually touching it, but she highly doubted that they would be quite as soft. Its fur wasn’t all that had changed. Both tails, which had been just as furry as its arms and legs, had slimmed out. Scales covered both. Stone scales, by the looks of things. Perhaps sandstone. The tan color nearly matched the walls.
“You were right as far as I can tell,” Devon said. “It ate some demons and essentially became them.”
“My question, what happened to the demons it ate? Are they dead-dead or just the usual mostly dead?”
“Wouldn’t know. If we could summon demons at will, I would consider sacrificing an imp or another hellhound. Just to see what happens. I imagine that the demon would return to Hell upon taking fatal damage leaving the enigma to consume whatever gets left behind. However, we already know that enigmas cause strangeness when interacting with Hell. They pop out of summoning circles. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some way to block the return portal.”
Motioning with his hand, Devon led Eva down the cell block hallway. The moment they moved away from the cell door, the whine of twisted and torn metal echoed down the hallway. Devon didn’t stop moving so neither did Eva. He didn’t lead her far from the enigma’s room. Two doors away, he came to a stop in front of another cell. Eva slowed down, queasy feeling surfacing in her stomach as she peered in.
The demonic enigma felt more like a demon than an enigma. Normal enigmas gave her something of an upset stomach. In those terms, she much preferred the demon versions. However, turning the corner, she felt that familiar illness. Only a far weaker version. So weak that she hadn’t felt it at all a mere ten paces away.
It only took a quick glance into the room to realize where that feeling was coming from.
The tops of the tentacles were spaced out in the room. Each hovered just a few inches above a small air essence crystal. They snapped and nipped entirely impotently. Everything in the room, including the metal beds that would have been hung on the walls, had been cleared out. As far as Eva could tell, the room had even been swept and scrubbed clean. Devon certainly hadn’t been the one to sweep. For some reason, Eva couldn’t really picture Catherine doing any kind of manual labor either. It had probably been the carnivean.
Only the crystals and the enigma tentacle heads were in the room. Nothing else.
Of the six semi-spherical tentacle heads, two were marginally different from the rest. They were set apart from the others. One, the one that Eva had stopped from eating the cement of the sidewalk, was mostly unchanged from when she had last seen it—stony gray and slightly rough-looking. The others were all smooth and leathery.
One other had been placed right in the center of the room.
It was much larger than any of the others. Where Eva could hold one of the others comfortably in the palm of her hand—so long as it didn’t try to bite her that was—this one was much closer to the size of a thin cat. It actually looked a lot like a cat. Sort of. Maybe like a fat snake with stubby little legs. And it did have legs. Six of them, as all enigmas had. At least, all that Eva had seen. Unlike most standard enigmas, this one had fine and short hairs covering its body. A half-dozen nubs lined its back.
Despite its overall profile looking something like a cat—or maybe a squirrel?—its face was anything but. Four pale eyes twisted and turned to look around the room. Its head swiveled to face Eva as she moved into view. Round mouth baring its sharp teeth, it started snapping at the air.
“We’ve been feeding it.” Devon had his arms crossed over his chest. His tentacle didn’t quite sit still, moving much like a worm squirming to escape the grasp of his other arm. “It was Catherine’s idea. After hearing you talk about that cement one, she wanted to find out what would happen if they ate other things.”
Eva raised an eyebrow. Devon wasn’t one to refer to demons with proper pronouns. All demons were ‘it’ to him. Was it a slip of his tongue? Or was he starting to see Catherine as more of a person than a demon? There was a third possibility. He could be caught in some mental compulsions that Catherine had put him under. She might have grown tired of being called ‘it’ all the time.
She couldn’t even point it out. If she did and he started talking about Catherine again, he would almost assuredly call her ‘it’ out of either spite or embarrassment. Devon was all cantankerous like that. Unless it was Catherine’s compulsions. Assuming it wasn’t, if she mentioned it, then she would never know if it was a slip of his tongue or him actually calling her by a proper pronoun.
So Eva just nodded her head. “You didn’t feed it a demon, did you? Not like one of the carnivean’s tentacles?”
Eva winced, but it was what she had expected. At least it wasn’t a cat. Not that Devon would care. Nor would Catherine, probably.
“Though feeding one a portion of the carnivean’s tentacles might be an interesting experiment. I’ll bring it up with Catherine.”
The carnivean wouldn’t be happy. Hopefully she wouldn’t find out about Eva’s involvement in sacrificing her tentacles to the enigmas. Though, if she did find out, it wasn’t like she could do much to Eva. Arachne had handily destroyed Qrycx on their first meeting. She would undoubtedly be able to do so again. In fact, Eva could probably take on the carnivean all on her own without breaking a sweat.
“So what’s the plan then? Just keep them here and feed them until they’re too fat to move?”
“I have no such plans beyond occasional experimentation. It may be interesting to see if we could cause a reverse of their consumption ability. Perhaps injecting a subject with enigma blood and seeing if they turn into an enigma, though I doubt they will. In fact, your…” he trailed off, face curling into a sneer. “Your Elysium Order friend—who, I might add, has been rushing in here day in and day out, begging for me to open the cells so she might collect some blood samples or perform some tests using that white magic of hers like some kind of menace—believes that the blood is barely related to the enigmas.”
Eva waited for a moment, but Devon didn’t elaborate any further. With a sage nod of her head, she said, “I might know what she means. When I tried to use my blood magic on them, it barely reacted. Explosions didn’t explode so much as they fizzled and controlling it felt sluggish.”
At least, that was true as far as she could remember. She had really only tried the one time in Hell. The same time that she had her foot bitten off. That it didn’t work as well as even her own diluted human blood was about all she really recalled.
“No problems keeping them contained?”
“Not with these.” He thumbed his tentacle over his shoulder back towards the hellhound-enigma. “That thing was a little trouble at first, but I think we got it under control.”
“Good. I don’t want to stop by one day only to find everyone eaten and the prison overrun with enigmas.”
Devon snorted but didn’t get a chance to respond. Loud clicks of high heels against the stone floor echoed up the hallway. Catherine—wearing tight-fitting pants and an almost translucent shirt, which were the first clothes that Eva had really seen her wear since she took up residence at the prison—stopped just to the side of Devon. Not behind him nor in front of him. Though, Eva did note Devon stiffening his back, glancing at the succubus out of the corner of his narrowed eyes.
While he instantly snapped to a guarded stance, Catherine barely took notice of him. She didn’t so much as glance in his direction, just stopping at his side with a hand on her hip.
“Hello, Eva. I’ve been trying to teach the demonoid one to speak,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “I had hoped that we might be able to acquire first hand information directly from an enigma. With a proper mouth and vocal cords, it should be able to speak. However, it might not have the brain capacity to vocalize any coherent thoughts.”
“You’ve only had it for a few days. Were you expecting instant results? Learning a new language takes months of dedicated study.”
“For a human,” Catherine scoffed. “Demons have innate skills with language. I can speak to you as easily as I can speak to someone on the opposite side of this planet. The enigma clearly consumed demons. A hellhound and another demon with wings. While a number of demons possess wings, I concur with your initial suggestion that it ate a succubus. But while it took on physical traits, it did not utter a single intelligent word during my attempts. Neither does it appear to possess any graceful traits common to succubi.”
Humming in thought, Eva moved around the two. Approaching the enigma’s cell, she could hear noise. Not the high-pitched whine into a cannon explosion, but the screech of twisting metal. It stopped the moment Eva moved in front of the cell door. The creature within, which had been right up near the bars, flipped over its own back in an attempt to scramble back behind the bed frame.
Except for one little problem. The bed frame had been crushed and thrown to one corner of the room. Likely what the noise had been as soon as they left. The more recent noise had come from the broken bar on the cell door. Another inch was missing from the top. Teeth marks lined the top.
As soon as Devon saw it, he started scowling.
But Eva wasn’t too concerned. Devon and Catherine would figure out how to properly keep it contained. She focused on the creature’s back. Its wings, specifically. With it having further damaged the bed frame, it couldn’t even hide properly. However, Eva couldn’t tell the difference between the enigma’s wings and Catherine’s wings. Both were almost identical to the wings of a bat. Leathery and with a little claw poking out right at the midpoint.
The only real difference was the angle. Catherine’s wings perched behind her back with the clawed tip pointed high above her head. When spread, the ends pointed outwards almost perfectly perpendicular to the rest of her body. The enigma’s wings, if it were standing upright, would have been pointing down towards the ground.
“A lot of demons have bat-like wings, don’t they? Is it possible it ate something else?”
“Demon-like wings, Eva,” Catherine said with an air of haughtiness. “Bats have demon-like wings. In fact, there is a theory that bats are actually demons—or were once upon a time—that simply found their way to earth and bred out of control.”
“But they don’t have black blood, do they?”
“Once upon a time,” Catherine repeated slowly, as if speaking to a child. “They’ve had their demon blood bred out of them. Probably. It isn’t an area I have studied much. Incidentally, I’ve never seen a bat in Hell, though I do admit that I haven’t explored much beyond my own domain.”
“Anyway, back to my point, is it possible it ate something that had demon-like wings? Something without much intelligence and without the grace of a succubus?”
“Possible, yes,” Catherine eventually admitted. “But I am still leaning towards a succubus. The way its chest bulges, the shape of the hips… Physically, it is a very appealing being. Though obviously lacking anything more functional than form.”
Eva took a moment to stare at the enigma. She just wasn’t seeing whatever Catherine thought was appealing about it.
“Well maybe it didn’t eat the brain of whatever succubus fell into its mouth. Is that even how these things work?”
“That is what we hope to find out with our experiments. If we had a demon to feed it, things would be different.”
Devon stepped up, grumbling under his breath. “There are a dozen demons around the school. I’m sure one wouldn’t be missed.”
Catherine just made a thoughtful hum.
A hum that had Eva sighing. “Just leave Saija alone,” she said. “Vektul and Srey as well. I guess Neuro and Sebastian too.”
“What did you do? Befriend the whole lot of them?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m ‘friends’ with any of them. Some of them are participating in the event. Wouldn’t want them going missing. Others are useful.”
Catherine shook her head. “Probably not a good idea anyway. We would have to kidnap them alive. I’m not sure on the exact details of their contracts, but they are required to assist each other in times of danger in some manner or other. Something that would turn out poorly for us if we acted against them. For now,” she paused, turning to the side, “Eva, I wish to speak with you regarding a hypothetical ritual I’ve come up with.”
As she spoke, Devon rolled his eyes. “Idiotic ritual more like. You’ll have no part of it,” he said, locking eyes with Eva. A moment later, he glanced to the side with a scoff. “Though speaking of rituals, I believe I have a date for your next treatment. Bring three demons the day after New Year’s. Otherwise Catherine will fill in, along with Arachne and the carnivean.”
Piece said, Devon stalked off down the hallway until he reached the exit. He didn’t so much as throw a glance over his shoulder as he walked out the door.
“I take it he didn’t like the prospect of the ritual circle,” Eva said, leaning against the wall next to the enigma’s cell as she turned to face Catherine.
“He glanced at it for a mere second,” Catherine said with a sigh. A second later, she lost her perfect posture to take on a slouch. Her voice dropped a few octaves. “‘Too complex,'” she snapped, mimicking Devon’s voice. “‘Anyone who tries to put together something so foolish will blow themselves up. Either you made a mistake in designing it or you will make a mistake in drawing it out.'”
Returning to her proper posture with her head held high, Catherine continued. “Of course, I didn’t tell him that a Power designed it. I presented it as a hypothetical that I had been thinking about on my own. He never heard your name in the same sentence until just now.”
All of a sudden, Eva was glad she had brought Catherine in on the project. Not only had she found those errors on the first night, but she had also taken steps to completely leave her out of the mess while speaking with Devon. Which was much better than Eva’s original plan of just having her not ask him at all. Of course, it wound up with the same effect. Devon didn’t look like he was planning on helping Catherine look over it. Still, the thought counted.
“What did you want to talk about?”
The smile on Eva’s face froze.
“And by that I mean that Zoe and I have uncovered no less than forty-seven errors between the two of us when comparing the photographs and the design papers. As perfect as I may be, I still must admit that I could have missed another forty-seven in finding those. We’ve barely even scratched the surface of actually examining the ritual and its intended effects. Not for lack of trying, I assure you.”
“I see. Will that–”
Eva’s head snapped to the side. The enigma had moved right up to the bars. Slowly. It hadn’t run up to attack her. She had been watching through her sense of blood and hadn’t been too concerned. She wasn’t so alarmed that it had slipped up and done nothing but stare at her.
What freaked her out were the sounds it was making.
Author’s Note: Well, this worked out pretty well last time. Void Domain actually hit number 12 for a day or so. Thanks! And, if you enjoyed, consider voting at top web fiction. It’s just a quick button (or captcha if you have never voted).