At least two enigmas had landed in the city. Nothing had come close to Eva’s ritual circle. Brakket security had cleaned them up—disabling them and moving them to a containment ward that Anderson had set up within the zoo. Since they couldn’t be permanently killed, they needed to be kept from regenerating and running rampant. Of course, that was all his job. Eva concerned herself with nothing more than a quick run-through of the city.
She was pleased to have found nothing especially concerning. The faint presence that felt almost like a demon was still around. Eva had spent a good quarter of an hour trying to sniff it out. At this point, she was almost convinced that it had consumed an invisible demon. Or something else that could hide well.
Perhaps more concerning was the fact that nobody had seen it. She had mentioned it to Anderson right after the first earthquake, but since then, nobody called up his hotline to freak out about a monster eating everything. The people of Brakket City were all accounted for. No one had come forth complaining about themselves or their loved ones being eaten.
That other demon hunter was somewhere around. Perhaps she had done something. Eva was hoping that she had gotten herself eaten, though she doubted that she would be quite so lucky.
Spinning the thin whistle in her hand, Eva walked down another street. One towards the center of Brakket City, not far from the main school supply shopping section where all the shops for school uniforms and books were located. Snow on the sidewalk melted before her feet, ensuring she neither slipped nor accidentally stepped in the cold ice. To other people, seeing a demon melt snow before her might be somewhat alarming. However, it was just some simple thaumaturgy. No demonic shenanigans going on in the slightest.
“It’s slightly stronger here.”
“Slightly,” Eva said, glancing at Arachne out of the corner of her eye, “is an understatement.”
With nothing better to do with the immediate future, they had decided to try to locate the enigma once again. Having one running around, even if it wasn’t doing anything, couldn’t be good. It could be building its own ritual circle to bring over Life for all Eva knew. She doubted it, but the possibility existed that it wouldn’t be acting in the best interest of humans or demons.
To that end, Eva had finally decided to use the whistle. She had spent a good fifteen minutes scrubbing it clean. There really was no excuse not to try it at this point. Still, she wanted to use it as little as possible. She and Arachne were out searching for where the enigma-demon felt strongest for exactly that reason. Hopefully the whistle would work on it. Sawyer had only had what Eva deemed to be standard enigmas with him. His hadn’t consumed demons or vampires or anything else as far as she could tell. Not until after the attack on his ritual, anyway.
“What do you think? Is this the best we’re going to get?”
Arachne shrugged her shoulders. “We could try a few more streets. I don’t know that much will change. It’s too hard to tell.”
Eva glanced around. There was a small pizza place on their street, not one that she had ever been to. Peeking through their windows, they looked busy enough. It was probably the only pizza place in Brakket, so that shouldn’t be too unexpected. A few of the employees did stop and look out the windows when she got too close, but none looked particularly alarmed at her presence—possibly thanks to the event, which they had undoubtedly watched. She just waved and continued walking until she was out of sight.
Both buildings next to it had been boarded over. She couldn’t see anyone inside either while using her sense of blood. One looked to have been boarded up relatively recently. The boards were newer looking and the sign of a printing company stood out in faded letters above the door. Eva couldn’t tell what the other had been. The wooden barricades looked rotted and worn to the point where it was doubtful whether it kept much of the weather on the outside.
The opposite side of the street was much the same. Half the buildings had closed down while others had found something that the city’s low population still needed and couldn’t get elsewhere.
Walking up to one of the abandoned buildings, Eva coiled the muscles in her legs and jumped. Springing off the ground brought her to a nice and easy stop just at the edge of the single story building. She stood right on the ledge with the tips of her toes hanging off over the sidewalk.
Arachne didn’t leap up in a single bound. She jumped, dug her right hand and right leg into the brickwork of the building, and used that as a platform to launch herself the rest of the way to the roof. Her injuries were mostly healed now, so Eva wasn’t entirely certain why she did it like that. But, upon arriving at the top, she gave Eva a short nod and said nothing more.
So Eva just shrugged and let it go. If she wasn’t feeling quite well enough to jump to the roof, Eva would keep an eye on her when trouble inevitably started.
Spinning the whistle between her fingers again, Eva stopped it with the mouth of the whistle pointing at her. The height of the building, while not an extreme height, should help carry the sound through the air. The surrounding buildings wouldn’t block it.
“If you see the creature run towards populated buildings, try to save the people as much as you can. Also try to corral it towards one of the uninhabited buildings.”
“Perhaps we should do this at night? After these people have gone home?”
With a shocked blink, Eva opened her mouth and held up a finger. But she ended up snapping her mouth shut. She didn’t really have a good response to that. Though she did stare at Arachne with narrowed eyes. She made a decent point about the safety of others? Humans at that? What had happened to her Arachne.
After a moment of thought, she shrugged.
“I was hoping to meet up with Catherine before too long. Zoe as well. Perhaps get their help to finalize as much of the ritual as possible. But…”
Eva knelt down. She carved a small wide-area sleep runic array into the ledge. A single drop of her blood went into the exclusion zone and, with a poke of her finger into Arachne’s leg, Arachne ended up excluded as well. If the sleeping had worked on the other enigma, it should work on this one. Sure, it would put all the humans in the area to sleep. Theoretically, one of the pizza guys could wind up falling into an oven or cracking a head on a counter, but she was close enough that she should be able to get to them before they could come to too much harm. A few stitches into their eyebrow would be much safer than potentially being eaten by an enigma.
She didn’t power it right away, however. The array was fine just sitting and waiting. If she ended up putting the enigma to sleep before blowing the whistle, it would just stay hidden, unable to hear the sound.
Everything ready, she stood and placed the whistle on the edge of her lips.
No sound actually passed through the thin tube of bone. Nothing more than the rush of air, anyway. No high-pitched whine that people normally associate with whistles. Which wasn’t much of a surprise. Eva had heard, or rather seen Sawyer use the whistle. The biggest problem was that the whistle lacked any immediate feedback. For all she knew, the whistle had been damaged at some point. Either when she had grabbed it away initially, in Hell, or even when she had been cleaning it not so long ago.
So she just crouched own and waited, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. She kept an extra watch on the humans in the few occupied buildings around her. Just in case the enigma had sneaked down into their storage cellars or broom cupboards. While she hoped it would come straight to her, there was always the possibility that it would attack people on the way.
To Eva’s side, Arachne twitched. Just a small thing. Her fingers curled unnaturally. It had been a few seconds since she had blown the whistle, so it probably wasn’t that.
“Something wrong?” Eva asked, glancing up to see her friend’s face.
“You don’t feel it? It’s moving.”
Eva blinked and concentrated. She had been too focused on her sense of blood and the humans around. As soon as she focused on the faint sensation of the demonic enigma, she realized just what Arachne was talking about. The sensation was moving. Like a pressure wave after a particularly large firework. Nothing world changing, but enough to notice.
“So the whistle did work then. Good.”
“Perhaps. Be on your guard. The necromancer may have done something to the enigma in his company to keep them loyal and merely used the whistle as a call.”
“I know,” Eva said, holding her hands over the rune array, preparing to activate it the moment she saw the enigma. “What do you think this is for?”
Arachne let out a low growl. “Just be ready. It worked on one. That doesn’t mean it will work on others. These things… unnerve me.”
“Me too.” Though, as with the other demonic enigma, Eva wasn’t getting an unsettling feeling in her stomach. Perhaps things would change once it got closer. She was hoping it didn’t.
Another oddity, one she only realized as she was thinking about how the enigmas normally felt, was that not once had her captured enigma done the high-pitched whine into cannon boom attack. It hadn’t even tried as far as she could tell. She would have to ask Catherine to confirm. If it had eaten something that ended up changing whatever mechanism of its body produced that sound, it might become an imperative to feed that something to any other enigmas they ran across. Working around them with a constant headache would be nearly impossible.
Eva’s head snapped to the side, staring up the street she and Arachne had been walking up. She had thought that she saw something. Just a shadow in the corner of her eye. Yet staring down the street, Eva couldn’t see anything except the pizza place’s returning delivery truck. Which, at its languid pace, wasn’t nearly concerning enough to get her to look. Not on its own anyway.
The driver exited the beat-up car, grabbed some bag with the pizza company’s logo, and headed inside the building while being entirely unaware of Eva and Arachne’s presence. The shadows beneath the car remained still. No creatures crawled out from underneath.
A bristle against the hairs on Eva’s neck had her standing and whirling around.
Again, nothing was there. Just plain white snow, even on the flat roof, unbroken by footsteps.
The spider-demon had spun around as well, though more in reaction to Eva’s turn than anything else.
“I don’t see anything.”
Eva took a step forward, farther away from the edge. She brushed her foot over the snow, melting it away while keeping an eye out for any inconsistency in the melting. “Could it be illusions of some sort?”
“Would it be able to use any abilities it gained from eating demons? The other one flopped about, barely able to utilize its wings.”
“But it did manage. Even if it was bad at it.” Eva shook her head. Turning back to the rune array, she brought the whistle up to her lips. “Just keep an eye out. I’m going to try calling it again.”
The second she blew on the bone whistle, she heard it. A high-pitched whir coming from the street below. She didn’t get a chance to clasp her hands over her ears before the inevitable explosion crashed through her skull. Glass exploded up and down the street. The car’s side windows instantly turned to little diamonds of glass while the larger windows of the shops spider-webbed before they fell out of their frames.
Leaning over the roof while clasping her ears in case of a second blast, Eva spotted the enigma. More animal-like than the one she had captured, this one still had its rounded mouth filled with sharp teeth. Unlike the other, it was lacking all the tentacles on its back. She only had a moment to really look at it. Its eyes met hers. As soon as they did, it took off running, fading out and blending in with the snowy sidewalk.
“Arachne!” she called out as she slammed her magic into the runic array.
She didn’t need to give out any further orders. Arachne jumped from her perch, nearly flying out as she chased after the enigma. Its six legs left a clear trail in the snow even though it visually blended in. Staring at Arachne and the footprints, Eva realized that it was well within her sight range yet she couldn’t sense any of its blood. Which meant that it wasn’t merely invisible, but blocking most perception as well.
Still, Eva was hoping her runes would work out. Rather than chase after it herself, she brought the whistle back up to her lips and blew again. It slid to a stop, leaving a long streak in the snow.
Arachne slammed into the enigma, not quite able to stop in time. The enigma turned fully visible the moment she did. Its wide mouth snapped at Arachne, but missed by a few inches. It opened its mouth for a better shot, but Eva blew down on the whistle before it could try again.
Its head snapped over to stare at Eva.
The whistle worked, apparently. She didn’t know if it would eventually grow tired of looking towards her when she used it, but for the time being, the enigma was forced to look at her every time she used it. Just letting out a low, continuous stream of air through the whistle had it moving back closer. It didn’t even resist Arachne as she got back on her feet and started tying up the enigma.
She stood up, only replacing the whistle in her pocket once Arachne gave her a thumbs up. The enigma’s eyes didn’t droop in the slightest. Eva might have worried that she had drawn out the runes wrong, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Humans in all the occupied buildings around her had passed out. Even with the adrenaline from all the windows shattering, they hadn’t been able to resist the call of the sandman.
None looked like they were in immediate danger, but Eva used her feet to scratch away the runes anyway. It would take a few minutes, but they should wake up before the pizza ovens burned down the buildings.
Stepping off the roof, Eva landed just in front of the enigma. It didn’t try to snap at her, but it did start up another whine. Eva kicked it in the jaw before it could finish the noise.
“We should just kill it,” Arachne said, pressing down on its back with her leg. “If the succubus wants to perform experiments on it, it should revive later, right?”
“That could take weeks.”
“Better than it getting loose during transit. I’d rather not have my back half eaten.”
Eva hummed for a moment, scratching at her chin. They already had the one enigma safely in containment. Same with the separated tentacles, if they needed them for some reason. This one had scales instead of fur or leathery skin. Catherine or Lynn might want to figure out what it ate to gain those. Lynn could still take blood for whatever she was using it for. Which was really something she should check in on. So far, Eva had been assuming that Lynn would report anything important when she discovered something. But it had been quite some time since Eva had spoken with the former nun.
However, that was for later. For the moment… Eva stared at the enigma. With the whistle, it escaping probably wasn’t much of an issue. Judging by how it twisted back to stare at Eva despite its attempt to escape, it wouldn’t be able to resist more calls. But Arachne was right. It could take a chunk out of her before Eva could react.
“With pleasure.” Arachne lifted her foot off the enigma’s back. She held it for just a moment before dropping down on the base of the enigma’s neck. Not quite severing it, but violet blood did splatter around as the bones of its neck pulped. The rest of the body immediately went still. And yet, despite the definitely severed spinal cord, its heart still pumped blood.
“Well, let’s pick it up and–”
Eva cut herself off, jumping back and away from the fallen enigma. Arachne did the same.
A wide portal, black as night, opened up beneath the enigma. Unlike normal demons, the enigma did not immediately fall inside. Violet bled into the black portal. It shimmered, much like the sky overhead. Only once all black had turned colors did the enigma sink into the portal. Even then, it was a hesitant sink. Normal demons fell in like a stone in water. The enigma sank like the portal was filled with tar.
After finally disappearing beneath the surface, the violet portal hung around just long enough for Eva to worry that it would stay open permanently. It did eventually collapse in on itself.
The violet shimmers faded away into nothingness.
But the street wasn’t back to normal. The portal was gone, but it left a dark splotch of land left behind.
“That was an enigma, right?”
“As far as I could tell.”
Eva knelt down, touching just the tip of her finger to the darkness. The moment she did, she felt a certain familiarity. Like being back within her domain in Hell. As a quick experiment, she tried forming a single metal bar from her prison, just like how she built the alternate women’s ward.
Her fingers wrapped around cold metal almost as soon as the thought crossed her mind. She withdrew her hand, pulling a narrow bar of rusted iron from the darkness. Exactly like what she might find in one of the cell blocks at her prison.
A scowl crossed her features. “This must be what Nel meant.” She had never followed up on the augur’s message about enigmas leaving things behind. If it had been important, she figured that Nel would follow up on her own. Obviously she couldn’t trust the nun to do that much.
“Do you suppose this is Life’s plan?” Arachne said. She leaned down next to Eva, but kept her hands well clear of the dark splotch. “We kill enigmas, they leave some of Hell behind. It seems like it would take forever to bring all of Hell through.”
“Seems like it would take forever to get meaningful results.” The entire spot of distorted terrain covered less than a five foot circle. It wasn’t a perfect circle at that, somewhat elongated. Perhaps using the outside edge of the enigma’s body to determine its radius.
“Powers are different beings. They don’t think like we do. I doubt they experience time like we do either. Still, if other things can come through this at will…”
“Then we kill more, which makes more, which means more and more things will come through.”
“It might not take as long as we think.”
Eva stood, backing away from the dark area. “Let’s see if Anderson will set up a few guards—guards impressed with orders to not kill the enigmas—around this and ones Nel and Ylva made. Then… we need to finish the ritual circle. Immediately.”