Category Archives: Book 001

003.010

Author’s Note: If you find yourself becoming uncomfortable, skip to the line “time to find some containers”

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“Demon of strength?” Arachne let out a long laugh. “When I kill you, I think I will be taking your title.”

“Fool. Such arrogance will be your demise.”

Arachne laughed again. As if. The carnivean only had one tentacle of any significant length remaining. And that would soon be gone.

It was disappointing, actually. Carniveans were supposed to be strong. Very strong. Sure, if it managed to wrap a tentacle around anything, that thing would break off–two of Arachne’s legs and most of one arm were testament to that.

None of that strength translated to martial prowess.

Still, it was the first real fight she’d been in since the necromancer’s cave.

Arachne intended to enjoy it to the fullest.

The carnivean jumped through the air at Arachne’s laugh. Two glowing red eyes blazed brighter as her three-fanged mouth opened in a snarl.

Arachne swung her entire body around, catching the small body with her bulk. The tentacle slipped off of smooth carapace as the carnivean flew through another charred wall.

More of the wall tumbled over as Arachne gave chase. Creaks and shudders in the house went ignored. She reared back, intending to send several legs into the back of the prone demon.

None of them hit their target.

Using the tentacle, the demon knocked herself across the room and into a kitchen. She slammed into the refrigerator. It teetered and would have crushed her had she not thrown herself out of the way again.

The sight sent Arachne into another fit of maniacal laughter.

The fridge falling probably wouldn’t have killed the tiny thing. Despite her lack of size, she was still a demon.

It might have held her down long enough for Arachne to end her.

Not giving her a moment of respite, Arachne gave chase. She raked a leg across the carnivean’s chest. Whatever scraps of cloth the demon once wore had long since been shred. Another thin line of black spread over her chest.

Arachne missed the tentacle. The demon twisted into the attack to avoid losing her last tentacle.

The carnivean had to know she already lost. Perhaps something in her contract prevented her from fleeing or just ending it herself.

Not that Arachne wanted her to. But she was starting to get worried. Her Eva hadn’t joined against the carnivean, yet was taking far too long against the jezebeth.

Arachne had fought one in the past. Annoying, for sure, but mostly harmless. They’d pop like a balloon if anyone even looked at one funny.

No time to think about that. Arachne had to jump out of the way as the tentacle tried to latch onto one of her legs.

The few strands holding her claw to her arm snapped as Arachne jumped. She grabbed the claw out of mid-air, twisted, and threw the claw.

It caught the carnivean straight in the face. If her fingers hadn’t curled back in flight, it would have stuck.

As it was, the carnivean merely stumbled back.

Stumbling would have to do.

Arachne charged forwards. Two of her legs plunged into the carnivean’s. They split downwards from mid-thigh to knee. Black blood, muscles, and fat all spilled out onto the floor.

Another two legs similarly sheared the demon’s arms.

She was too slow to pin down the tentacle.

It lanced forwards, gripping tightly around Arachne’s throat.

And started constricting.

She could feel cracks forming in her carapace under the pressure.

Arachne’s remaining arm swung out at the tentacle–almost of its own volition.

Her sharp fingers completely severed it from the carnivean’s head. She quickly raked her fingers against her own throat. She couldn’t risk it having any kind of mental connection to the creature and continuing squeezing.

The pieces fell away to the ground with a slop.

“I believe the humans would say ‘checkmate’ at this point,” Arachne said with a laugh.

The carnivean’s eyes burned a bright red as she glared into Arachne’s eyes. “Just end it.” Her deep voice laced hate into each syllable.

Arachne was about to oblige. She wanted to. Crushing the stupid, weak demon’s head with her sole remaining claw would be nothing short of euphoric.

Staring into the demon’s glowing eyes gave Arachne another idea.

“How human-like are your eyes?”

Anger bled away to confusion for the briefest of instants before the carnivean’s face twisted into a scowl. “What?”

“I might be convinced to let you go. You’re in a sorry state, but even if I were to tear off all your limbs, it has to be better than the oblivion of Void.”

A shudder traveled up Arachne’s legs from the pinned demon.

Arachne grinned. She had her now.

“What do you want?”

“Your eyes. They’re human enough, despite the slit pupil and red iris. They’re around the right size too. Though, if my claws and legs are any indication, size won’t matter after a while.”

The demon glanced between all eight of Arachne’s eyes.

Searching for deception?

She better search well.

“You cut my eyes out and you will let me go?”

Hope glimmered in the carnivean’s eyes. Arachne had to keep herself from bursting out laughing. She’d be taking the eyes one way or another. Now that the idea was in her head, she couldn’t let it go.

The only difference was the level of willingness from her captive. If she struggled, Arachne might end up damaging the eyes. Small nicks might be able to heal, but anything big would ruin the eyes. That wouldn’t serve any purpose aside from unnecessary torture.

Not that Arachne took issue with unnecessary torture.

Rather than answer the demon, Arachne moved one of her sharp fingers right next to the demon’s face.

She inched it closer.

Slowly.

Closer.

Arachne would slice her eyelid if the carnivean so much as blinked.

She slid her needle-like finger up and around the eyeball. It was a tight squeeze, she was sure part of it was damaged. Arachne tried to put most of the force onto the surrounding skin and bone. Black blood stained the eye as it dripped down.

To her credit, the carnivean did not scream or even wiggle. It made Arachne’s job far easier.

After a scant few seconds that hopefully felt like forever to the carnivean, Arachne felt her finger cut away at enough connecting material. The glow in the eye dimmed as it started flopping freely around the demon’s eye socket.

Arachne tried to gently nudge it out of the socket. It wasn’t working. Too much resistance.

How to get it out without slicing it in two? Well, the easy answer would be to cut off the carnivean’s face. She might protest that.

So, other eye first.

Arachne carefully withdrew her finger and positioned it in front of the carnivean’s other eye. She repeated the action of severing the eye from the demon.

“Excellent job,” Arachne said. “Still need to get the eyes out. Keep holding still for just a moment.”

The demon didn’t respond. Had her eyes not been rolled back in her head at the moment, she might have tried an intimidating glare.

As it was, Arachne had to suppress another bought of laughter.

She started cutting away bone and skin. Far less carefully.

Once the hole was wide enough for the eyes fit through with plenty of extra space, Arachne tipped the demon’s head forwards. Both eyes rolled out onto her waiting palm.

It wasn’t often that Arachne needed pockets. If she needed something carried, she would simply bring a bag. With no bag and a whole arm missing, Arachne found herself suddenly in need of them now.

She popped both eyes into her mouth, taking care to avoid biting, crushing, or accidentally swallowing them.

“You have them right? Let me go. That was our agreement.”

Almost forgot.

Arachne’s hand jutted forwards and gripped the carnivean’s face. Two fingers went through each eye socket. She shoved her thumb down the demon’s throat.

The screams were music to Arachne’s ears.

Holding her head like a bowling ball, Arachne closed her grip.

The carnivean’s face crushed to a pulp beneath her might. Demon of strength? Ha.

Without her hand as support, the little tentacle monster collapsed to the ground. The pulpy mess of her face squished beneath one of Arachne’s legs.

The remains of the carnivean dissolved into the ground.

Arachne spat the eyes back into her hand. She almost swallowed them as she tried to laugh. The mouth was clearly a terrible storage spot.

“Ah, sorry. I lied.”

Eyes safely in her hand, Arachne threw her head back and laughed.

As the last of her glee slowly left her system, Arachne remembered her missing master.

But first, time to find some containers.

Arachne returned to her human form as she moved to the kitchen. She kept all her remaining legs extended, but walking around as a human inside a human habitation was far more convenient. She could destroy more walls in her full size, but the building might not hold up long enough.

She just needed to find a hard sided container that wasn’t too melted. Most seemed to be resistant to heat. She dropped the eyes in the first one she found.

Lids seemed harder to find, but Arachne didn’t need it to be perfect. The one she chose didn’t snap shut, but it was close enough.

Eyes safely tucked in the crook of her damaged arm, Arachne headed out of the kitchen to find her absent master.

Arachne stepped out of the husk of a home. The first thing to catch her eye was the narrow pillar of fire stretching towards the clouds. Despite its height, it failed to waver in the light breeze. No part of it so much as burned the grass of the yard.

That did not stop it from putting out enough heat for Arachne to feel mildly uncomfortable in its presence.

It took Arachne a moment to tear her eyes towards the small bubble just a few steps away. Her master–her Eva–lay on her back in the shadow of the flame pillar. The blood shield protected her from any detrimental effects of the heat.

Blood spilled from her mouth. Her own dagger stuck straight out of her chest.

Arachne had to fight to stop herself from running straight to Eva’s side.

The jezebeth was still missing.

An illusion? Arachne discarded the idea. Unless she hadn’t actually killed the carnivean, the jezebeth likely hadn’t been anywhere near Arachne. It wouldn’t have had the time to weave a large-scale illusion.

No. What was in front of Arachne was the truth. At most there would be spatial shifts.

But the jezebeth wasn’t visible. Not unless it was around the opposite side of the flames.

It hadn’t run away. Arachne could still sense the demon somewhere around. Somewhere in the direction of the flame and her Eva.

Arachne set the eye container on the ground, hopefully far enough from the building that it wouldn’t come to harm if the building collapsed.

Nothing could be trusted. Sight, smell, sound, touch, taste. Everything was compromised or would be soon enough. The longer she spent in the presence of the jezebeth, the more it could affect her personally.

Time was of the essence. She had to dispatch the creature before even the ingrained ability to sense other demons could be affected.

Arachne ran. She honed in on the other demon and sprinted. Even if she couldn’t see it, she’d hit something. The demon would make a crack in the ground or a small rock–something for Arachne to trip over.

Then she’d strike.

She jumped over Eva’s blood shield, making sure to just barely skim the surface. Two of her legs dug into the shield, just to ensure the jezebeth wasn’t disguising itself.

Doing so was unnecessary.

The jezebeth was sitting–inasmuch as a sphere with legs could sit–in front of the flame. The palpable surprise on its face as Arachne vaulted the shield was to die for.

Arachne’s face split in two with her grin. She had every intention of making that literal.

Her legs swept across as much empty air that they could reach. Missing the demon on account of it being two rolls to one side would be as annoying as it would be embarrassing.

Flesh spilled to the ground from empty air just a few paces from the demon. Arachne immediately turned and jabbed all of her legs into the spot. Over and over she pulled out her legs and jammed them back in.

The sitting jezebeth shimmered away into nothingness. A broken, battered, and screaming demon materialized in front of Arachne.

She absently noted that most of the creature was covered in freshly burned skin. Considering it was a demon that had some level of immunity to flames, that was mildly impressive. Unfortunately, that was likely caused by the professor rather than her Eva.

At least I caught the real one, Arachne thought as another leg entered and retracted from the demon’s eye. Her sense of the demon hadn’t moved since she started stabbing.

She wished, desperately wished that she had time to spare. Slow running of her fingers over the jezebeth’s flesh, cutting away small chunks as it serenaded her with screams. And its screams were so nice. High-pitched and from three mouths at once.

Arachne couldn’t ask for more.

But Eva was in trouble.

Bits of flesh flew off of the jezebeth as Arachne started tearing it to pieces. It didn’t have a head, but it had to have some vital core in there.

It fell apart, bit by bit, like a claw to an overripe tomato. Black goop oozed from every wound.

Arachne continued to pull, rend, tear, and decimate until its screams ceased. The ground opened up and swallowed most of the pulpy mess. An arm here and a leg there along with several strips of flesh and even a few fangs that had broken out all had been left behind.

She couldn’t worry about souvenirs. Arachne spun on a sharp heel and jumped through the shield to land at Eva’s side.

A second shield just inside caught Arachne mid jump.

Two shields? And the second was made without Arachne’s blood. No matter. A few quick swipes of her limbs had that shield out of her way.

“Eva,” Arachne said.

A spike of nearly black blood speared out of Eva’s chest and into Arachne’s own. It failed to penetrate and Eva looked in no mood to clap.

Her breathing was ragged. One arm looked like it tried to lift. It gave up just an inch off the ground.

Arachne ignored the spike as she knelt next to her Eva. Tons of blood made the surrounding grass slick, but that could be from her vials. Apart from the dagger in her chest and the blood trickling from her mouth, Eva didn’t look harmed.

The dagger in the chest was worrying enough.

“All the illusions are gone, Eva. Everything left is real.”

Not caring that her hand was still sticky with the jezebeth and carnivean’s blood, Arachne gripped the sides of Eva’s face. She turned her head to face Arachne.

Despite her soon-to-be-rectified lack of eyes, it almost seemed as if Eva was looking at her.

“It’s okay. I’m really Arachne. All the other demons are dead. You need to heal.”

Arachne paused as she glanced over Eva. Her breathing might have steadied slightly, but she didn’t move a muscle.

“Can you understand me?”

Eva made a slight cough. A spittle of blood flew into the air.

It didn’t fall back down. A thin string slipped from her mouth to join the few droplets already in the air. The moved around until they formed three simple shapes.

YES

“How do I help?”

DO NOT MOVE

LUNG PUNCTURED

HEART PUNCTURED

Arachne frowned with a glance a the dagger. “How do I help?”

SELF HEALING

SLOWLY

NO MISTAKES

DAGGER WILL PUSH OUT WITH HEAL

HOUR OR SO

“Eva,” Arachne said in a quiet voice, “how do I help?”

The blood in the air swirled into a tight sphere before forming into her response.

PROTECT

“I can do that.”

OR

FIND HELP

“That would leave you alone.”

WAYNE LURCHER?

Arachne glanced over towards where the pillar of flame used to stand. It had died out sometime since the jezebeth’s death. Lying near the center of it was the smoldering corpse of Wayne Lurcher. With a smile, Arachne looked back towards Eva. “Looking extra crispy.”

HEART STILL BEATS

Arachne’s smile faltered to a frown as she noticed the slight rise and fall of the man’s chest. “That can’t be pleasant. I shall put him out of his misery.”

TALK

“Wayne Lurcher,” Arachne called out after a short sigh, “are you busy at the moment?”

Rather than the wheeze, cough, or simple silence that Arachne expected, the older alchemist grunted out a, “hurts to talk.”

Arachne cocked her head to the side for a moment before replying. “I think Eva is having a similar issue.”

COMMUNICATE

Arachne sighed again. “Do you have any spells to get help you trust? That is to say, help that you trust seeing Eva and potentially myself.”

“Cellphone,” he said. “In pocket.”

“Pocket? All that remains of your clothes is ash. You realize you’re lying there nude, right?”

That got a few coughs from him. “A good pyrokinetic will fireproof everything–”

“Except clothes?”

“It is around somewhere. Find it.”

Before Arachne could complain to Eva, the blood in the air was already swirling around.

FIND IT

Grumbling under her breath, Arachne started searching the lawn around Wayne Lurcher. She thought about giving him a good glare, but his eyes were closed and scorched over. It would just be wasted effort.

“This little brick it?” Arachne asked as she bent to pick up the little white rectangle. She tapped the only button on the front. “It wants a password.”

“302”

Arachne let out a short snort as she typed it in. “Who am I contacting?”

“Turner.”

“Martina Turner?”

NO ZAGAN

“I still can’t sense him. I can handle Catherine if she shows up.” Arachne stared down at the brick, looking for Turner.

Too many buttons.

Password was easy. Self explanatory. After entering the password, the screen changed. There were so many buttons. Moving a finger to the side only made more.

None of them said Turner.

Arachne glanced over at Eva. She would be fine after some time. At least as long as her self healing worked itself out.

No. Assistance would be for the alchemist. Arachne wasn’t entirely sure what the effects of fire on humans was, but the blackened and cracked skin couldn’t be good. He was talking and conscious, so it shouldn’t be too bad.

In the end, what did Arachne care?

He wasn’t her master. He wasn’t her master’s master.

Arachne was about to toss the brick over her shoulder when the blood buzzed in front of her face.

CALL

With a sigh, Arachne knelt down next to the fallen Alchemist. “Wayne Lurcher,” Arachne said quietly.

“Did she not answer?”

“Um. Yes. That is correct. She did not answer.”

The blood swirled in front of Arachne to form a frown on an eyeless face.

“I mean, I might have called the wrong person.” Arachne grit her teeth together. “Walk me through it to ensure I did it properly.”

If the stupid human had been in any shape to laugh, Arachne was sure he would have. He let out a loud cough before getting to the directions as it was.

A mocking cough.

Most humans were beneath Arachne’s notice. Few could harm her, much less kill her. The nuns knowing how to banish her was an inconvenience that didn’t matter so long as she had a beacon active. Many annoyed her, especially those that surrounded Eva, but some well placed stress relief could manage most negative inclinations towards them.

Never before had she wanted so much to stick her fingers into a human’s heart and crush it in her grip.

Arachne restrained herself as–through her efforts–Martina Turner’s voice picked up on the small brick.

“Wayne? You said you’d call me when you got there. What–”

“He is burnt. He needs help at Zoe Baxter’s house.”

“You’re not Wayne,” the voice said. “What did you do to him?”

“As much as I want to, nothing. Yet. You better hurry with someone who can fix burns. He’s all charred and his skin is cracked. Boils and pus leaking everywhere.”

“Who is this?”

Arachne sighed. Tell her or no? Whatever. Maybe this would finally force Eva away from the academy and away from Zagan. “Arachne,” she said.

“Eva’s demon? Why would you attack Zoe? What happened to the other demons? Catherine says they’re gone.”

“I killed the two demons who were attacking. Wayne was injured in the process. Send help for him or not, I don’t care.”

Arachne crushed the tiny brick in her claws before any more annoying queries could be directed at her.

Wayne let out a short cough as the bits of plastic rained down to the ground. “Someone’s coming then?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. I told her. If I continued talking, I would have ended up stabbing you to death.”

“Me?”

“You. You’re the only thing available to stab in the immediate vicinity.”

The alchemist fell silent and resumed his shallow breathing.

Arachne started back towards Eva before she froze. “I’ll be back in one moment,” she said.

Sprinting full tilt, Arachne grabbed the container of eyes off the ground and ran straight back to Eva.

“Look what I have!”

HA HA

“Ah, you won’t be able to make those jokes soon enough. Surely there is blood inside these, surely you can tell what they are.”

EYES

“That’s correct.” Arachne grinned down at the immobile girl. “As long as you’re lying around not doing anything–”

CONCENTRATING ON HEALING

“And you don’t have to stop that. You didn’t think about your arms or legs at all when we swapped them over, did you? But these things will go bad if we don’t do something with them soon.”

The blood in the air condensed into a bubbling sphere.

“If you delay, we’ll be back to searching for a demon to barter with.”

That got the blood moving. QUALITY OF SIGHT

“I haven’t tried them myself.” Arachne tried to keep the deadpan out of her voice. “But they’re vertically slit pupils. You’ll have fine control over the light entering your eyes thanks to your horizontal eyelids. They don’t look human at all. All the whites are black and the colored part is bright red. Or it was, it dulled somewhat when I detached them.”

TIME TO WAIT?

“I have no idea. They were only severed from the carnivean ten minutes ago. If they start to decompose, it will likely be painful, dangerous, or even impossible to transplant them.”

“You’re doing an eye transplant here?” Wayne said with a small cough. “Skipping sterility? Anesthetics?”

Arachne didn’t deign to answer the human. She could sense the lesser succubus moving towards their group. He would be out of her tendrils soon enough.

Keeping an eye on the bubbling mass of blood was far more interesting.

Eventually, the blood coalesced into a decision.

DO IT

“Gladly.”

Arachne plucked the headband from Eva’s face with a snip of her fingers. Carefully moving her fingers to Eva’s eyelids, Arachne inspected the insides.

It didn’t look too bad. Arachne never saw Eva cleaning out the sockets, but perhaps she managed using blood magic to obliterate any dust and debris.

“I’ll need to make fresh cuts for the new eyes to attach to.”

ALREADY SAID: DO IT

Arachne wasn’t one to argue. Using all of her legs, Arachne held Eva still–she couldn’t have her squirming in pain and dislodging the knife in her chest–and made two quick cuts in each eye.

Licking the small amount of blood off her fingertips, Arachne said, “alright. Putting in the new eyes now. The carnivean was much smaller than you, so they should slip right in.”

TOO SMALL?

“Your hands and, presumably, your legs are shrinking to fit your body size. I imagine they would grow even if they were too small.”

PROCEED

Arachne pulled out the first eye. A brief blow of air hopefully brushed off more dust than it added. She tried not to breathe a sigh of relief when the eye slid into place just as Arachne said it would. She hadn’t been entirely sure on that.

Cutting away at the bone around Eva’s eye sockets was terrifying and appealing all at the same time, but not something Arachne particularly wanted to do.

Eva might banish her to the prison again.

The second eye slid in as easily as the first. Arachne quickly oriented each eye with the slits vertical. She wasn’t sure if it mattered–they hadn’t been precise with either the hands or legs and both turned out fine–but she wanted to make sure nothing went wrong. Eyes were far more delicate than arms.

Of course, they might be upside down. It was hard to tell.

“Starting to join them to you,” Arachne said.

Arachne started channeling her magic.

It was an odd feeling. A foreign feeling. She didn’t like it. Magic never worked properly around her. Some side effect of starting her existence as a human, she was sure. Other demons got by without much problem, even if they relied on their own abilities most of the time.

All Arachne had for demonic powers was the ability to shapeshift. An incredibly common ability among demons. It could never match up to something like Zagan or even the jezebeth.

Luckily, all that seemed unrelated to the grafting of limbs.

The hands had succeeded. The legs had succeeded. Arachne wasn’t about to fail her Eva now. The eyes would succeed.

Unlike the hands or legs, Arachne couldn’t actually see them connect. The only indication that it was working were the winces Eva made.

Arachne had to hold her Eva in place as a slight tremor ran through her body. As soon as the tremor ceased, Eva’s new eyes lit up with a brilliant red light.

The flow of magic ceased as Arachne pulled back from Eva.

IT WORKED?

“You tell me. Can you see?”

COLORS OFF

“Off? You’re colorblind?” There was a slight sinking feeling in Arachne’s stomach. She couldn’t have her Eva running around with imperfect eyes. They would do until a new donor could be found, but Arachne doubted she’d be keen on having them cut out again.

NOT COLORBLIND

WILL GET USED TO

“Oh. Good.” Arachne made a note to press for details when Eva was up to talking at length. Speaking of that. “How is your dagger issue coming?”

HEART ALMOST

LUNG HEALS QUICKER

DONE IT BEFORE

AND LESS SENSITIVE

The ball of blood scrunched up into a bubbling ball before spreading out again.

CATHERINE HERE

Arachne nodded to Eva as she stood up. She could feel it as well. Taking a protective position over Eva, Arachne directed her gaze in the direction the blood arrow indicated. She doubted the pathetic lust demon would be able to get through Eva’s shield in any reasonable amount of time, but Arachne would protect her master no matter what.

Not that the demon was supposed to be their enemy.

Was it too much to hope that the succubus would try to attack?

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001.028

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“Spencer!”

Eva crushed a glass vial in her hands. She glared up at the teacher. Or the black band of leather over her eyes glared up.

“Gloves off in this class unless they’re lab gloves.”

“I was doing fine until you shouted at me.”

“You’ll soak up materials you don’t want to walk around with.” Professor Lurcher glowered down at the girl. “Gloves off.”

The steel spoon bent in her other hand. Grains of paradise spilled over the table. Eva grit her teeth. She threw down the spoon with a clatter and marched out of the classroom.

Juliana sat for a moment longer, watching her friend leave. She nimbly dodged a stool someone left out as she stormed out.

How the girl compensated for her blindness, Juliana didn’t know. Eva mentioned she could see blood, but Juliana very much doubted that stool had blood in it.

Her hands were another matter. They were obviously Arachne’s hands, but Eva didn’t want to talk about it. She just folded them up into some gloves and went about her day. The gloves only came off inside the dorm room before they left for school.

Juliana hadn’t seen Arachne in a week, since before Eva’s disappearance.

Before Eva came back to school, there was talk that she had left.

The flesh golems and their subsequent cleanup by the Elysium Sisters had simultaneously frightened off and reassured the students. Eva was rumored to be one of those scared away, or pulled by her parents.

She showed up at the start of the day, much to the surprise of everyone except Zoe and Juliana. Eva had been hiding out inside the dorm since she showed up the day after.

There was a brief talk of surprise before everyone’s eyes drifted to Eva’s lack of eyes. The thin leather band stretched over her eye sockets did nothing to actually hide the emptiness.

No one spoke to her, not even Jordan and Irene. Everyone stared for a moment and then quickly pretended she didn’t exist. She spoke to no one in return.

She sat with the group during lunch. Even there, everyone was silent. No one knew what to say. At least, Juliana didn’t. Max didn’t even speak up and Juliana had pegged him as impulsive enough to start up some kind of conversation.

He didn’t.

Professor Lurcher was the first to call attention to her while she was around. That she refused to remove her gloves did not go unnoticed by the class.

The room went silent in the wake of her departure, but murmurs started up soon after.

“–saved by the Elysium nuns.”

“How does she see?”

“Think she was a necromancer?”

“Watch the nuns, one of them gave her a nasty glare at lunch.”

Juliana dropped her flask of antimony oil on the ground. Loudly. She made sure it would shatter by helping it drop with a strong swing of her arm.

The classroom went silent.

She got up and walked to the door.

“Rivas,” Professor Lurcher said, “you both have detention with me on Saturday.”

Juliana opened the door and walked out into the hall, ignoring the murmurs of her classmates that were already starting up.

She’d taken too long. Eva wasn’t anywhere in sight. Juliana sighed as she headed towards the dorms. If Eva wanted to be found, that’s where she would be.

If she didn’t want to be found, Juliana couldn’t do much about that.

— — —

Nel tried to stifle a yawn as she leaned back in her chair. It wasn’t so successful. She waved away the lingering wisps of frankincense as she turned from the floating strand of hair. She replaced the large sack of beads in her desk drawer and pulled out her laptop.

“Another unimportant status update,” Nel said as she typed.

Keeping near constant surveillance on the abomination was taxing work. None of it was particularly interesting. The last line in her report consisted of a couple of broken lab materials. Accidentally no less.

Most of the last week consisted of the girl trying to get used to her hands, both with gloves on and off. She never sneaked off at nights to murder other students. There was not consorting with any demons, not even the one Nel saw her with the first night.

Her biggest crime was chopping down nearly a full tree in pencils just trying to hold them without breaking them.

Nel turned to the floating black leg–she’d been told it was a leg anyway–and concentrated. Sister Cross destroyed five legs in holy fire as abominations. The last leg had been squirreled away to the augur’s chambers.

The demon sat still. The same position she’d been in for half a week. The other half of the week had been spent resting and recuperating, by the looks of it. She never left the small room she was in.

Nel had been ordered to keep an eye on her, though why Sister Cross didn’t go to destroy the demon while she was weak, Nel didn’t know.

No one ever told her anything.

With a sigh, Nel added another line to her report.

Pops rippled throughout the small room as Nel cracked her knuckles. She shut and locked the armoire containing a leg and a hair. Her eyes glowed with righteous light as the protective enchantments settled into place. It would take a metaphorical tank to break in.

Or someone with the authority, like Sister Cross.

She pulled her wimple over her head and attached her collar and veil. Nel straightened her cross and adjusted the rosary at her belt.

“I hope this is perfect,” Nel said to herself. Appearances gave a lot of authority, and she wanted to project as much as she could.

Nel crossed the tiny room to the door.

The Sister on guard jumped at the door opening. She quickly caught herself and smoothed out her scapular before lightly clearing her throat.

“Is there something you need, Sister Stirling?”

Nel took a deep breath of the fresh air. “I have run out of frankincense beads.”

“I shall send someone to fetch more at once.”

“I shall get them myself.”

Sister Mable’s shook her head. “Sister Cross has instructed that I keep you here until we are absolutely sure it is safe.”

“I don’t mind if you guard me, but it has been a week since I left this room.”

A look of pity crossed over Sister Mable’s face. “I’m sorry, Sister Stirling. Sister Cross’ orders.”

Nel took one last deep breath of the fresh air. “Very well. I expect the frankincense will be delivered within the hour.”

She turned inside and shut the door without waiting for a response. People in authority didn’t wait for underlings to acknowledge an order. They expected the order to be taken care of promptly and efficiently as soon as the words were given.

“At least,” she sighed and deflated a little, “that’s how Sister Cross does it.”

She pulled off her veil and almost threw it across the room. She stopped. That might wrinkle it. An augur couldn’t be caught showing disregard to holy items. Instead, Nel set it on the rack, nicely and neatly. She took off her wimple and collar as well. Nel started to take off the rest of her habit, but paused.

The nuns would be delivering frankincense soon, even though she didn’t need it. She wouldn’t be able to take much of a nap before she had to check in on the girl again.

With a sigh, Nel undid the enchants and locks on the armoire and pulled out the strand of hair.

At least she could see outside her room for the next hour, even if it wasn’t anything interesting.

— — —

“Next is,” Martina Turner glanced down at her notebook. She ran a finger down the paper. Halsey would rely on Orgell for any of her meetings. Turner fired the man the day she got in the office and had yet to replace him.

When she paused in her notebook, her sharp eyes turned straight at Wayne.

“Ah yes, Mr. Lurcher. You gave two girls detention this Saturday. The reasons?”

Wayne glared back at the new dean. “I don’t see how it is your business how I run my classroom.”

“Detentions are handed out rarely at Brakket. I’d like to know what kind of trouble these two got into to warrant such drastic action.”

Her tone wasn’t harsh or accusatory, it was just a question. He grit his teeth anyway. “Spencer refused an order to remove her gloves during class. Both girls damaged lab equipment then stormed out of class.”

“I see. Damaging school property is certainly grounds for detention.” Turner made what looked like a check mark on her notebook. “Next–”

“You are aware, Mr. Lurcher, that Miss Eva’s hands were severely disfigured during the recent events?”

Wayne glanced over and narrowed his eyes at Zoe. She hadn’t warned him at all, yet she knew Spencer was coming back looking like she did.

“Disfigured how?” Turner asked.

“Her hands and arms were mutilated during her abduction. The Elysium Sisters were unable to heal her when they rescued her.”

“That’s not all,” Carr spoke up. “I didn’t notice at first… Eva walked into my class as if everything were normal and took her usual seat. She didn’t pull out a notebook to take notes, but then she never does.” The history professor sighed. “Nobody does. It wasn’t until she raised her hand to ask a question that I got a good look at her face without her hair over part of it. She had a thin band wrapped around her eyes.

“Or, around her face. I don’t think there were eyes behind the band.”

“No eyes?” Yuria looked aghast and brought a hand up to her mouth. “Eva’s blind? What happened?”

A mumbling of shock and questioning went among the teaching staff.

Wayne had been wondering that as well. He hadn’t been so inattentive as to miss the band around her eyes when she walked in. He expected her to sit back and not touch anything. Instead, Spencer went about the classroom as normal; even going so far as to collect lab materials and start working.

Zoe looked distinctly uncomfortable. She shuffled in her seat and a small twitch developed at her eyebrow.

“I’m unsure how she is compensating,” Zoe said. “She said the necromancers were experimenting on her. It could be related to that.”

Turner drummed fingers on the wooden meeting table. “Black magic?”

“Possibly.”

Yuria gasped.

“If it was forced on her,” Turner said, “and is how she is getting around a lack of eyes then I do not see a problem. At least as long as it isn’t a danger to other students. Keep a watch on her though, I’d like to know exactly what it is.”

“I’ll see to talking to her about it,” Zoe said.

“Good. Now then, I expect everyone to treat this girl as normal with respect to her vision. Offer assistance if she needs it or asks, otherwise don’t make a big deal out of it.”

There were nods among the teachers. A few of them, notably Twillie, seemed more skeptical.

Wayne counted himself among the skeptical.

There was so much delicacy in alchemy that required eyes. Needing to see the color of a brew to tell if she should add more of an ingredient or even seeing the result to tell if she completed a potion correctly.

If she could compensate, fine. If not, Spencer would be a danger to the entire class as much as herself.

Wayne would be watching. So long as she swapped her long gloves out for proper lab gloves. If she made a mistake, he’d see her removed permanently.

Turner tapped her finger on the counter. The room slowly quieted. “Sister Cross has informed me that their chapter will be staying in Brakket for the time being. Supposedly for our protection against one of the necromancers they were unable to apprehend. However,” she paused to glance over the staff, “I believe they have ulterior motives of recruitment. One of their nuns was making a ‘pitch’ to a sixth year girl.”

Another murmur ran throughout the staff. The tone seemed to be generally negative. A frown creased across Zoe’s face.

Wayne didn’t much care one way or the other. Kids would need to find jobs after school. If they wanted to spend the rest of their lives hunting down necromancers and the undead, it didn’t hurt him at all. The Elysium Sisters were far more reputable than working as a cashier in some magic shop. Or worse, getting a nonmagical job.

The negative tone seemed to please Turner, in any case. Wayne did not miss the corner of her mouth flicking upwards.

“While I have the utmost respect for their work keeping Brakket safe, I personally find recruiting out students to be distasteful. So long as the necromancers have been routed, I would very much like the sisters out.

“If any of you have ideas for ending their stay here peacefully, I am very much open to them. Other comments or concerns about the sisters are also welcome.”

She looked around the room. No one said anything.

“Well, we will bring this up in future meetings, I am sure. The last thing,” Turner said as she made another check mark in her notebook, “isn’t immediately relevant, but I would find it prudent if we began talking about it. There are two years, or two and a half years until the end fate of our academy is decided.”

Most of the teachers slouched down. Zoe perked up. She had high confidence in her candidates this year as well as last year.

Wayne wondered how she managed that with one student at home, her return tentative at best, and another student disabled.

“I only received this position a short time ago. Personally, I’d be disappointed if my tenure here was so short-lived. I’m sure many of you would like to see Brakket remain open as well. Perhaps even thrive and flourish.”

Turning the state of Brakket around would sure look good on any future job prospects, Wayne thought with a barely suppressed scoff. Turner was young. Not Zoe or Yuria young, but not far off. Spending a decade turning a dump into a castle would be time well spent.

“I have plans for next year, but I’d like to hear ideas for giving our students a sporting chance in the more immediate future.”

Kines spoke up, much to Wayne’s surprise. “I ran a mage-knight club until Dean Halsey shut it down for being too ‘dangerous’ to our student’s safety.”

“Excellent, restart it. Anyone else?”

“The seminars many of us run over summer are intended to keep our students sharp,” Zoe said. “The attendance rate is abysmal. Even the students who attend hardly listen. They mostly come because of boredom or because one of the teachers personally requested it. Promoting them towards the end of the school year may help.”

“Think on the best ways to do that.” Turner glanced over the teachers expectantly. No one spoke up. “Think on that over the week. We are adjourned until next Monday unless anyone has any further business?” She looked around for a moment. “Very well. I will see all of you in a week.”

Turner vanished. A light scent of rotten eggs was left in her wake.

The smell quickly cleared away the rest of the staff from the meeting room. Only Zoe and Wayne stayed behind.

Zoe whisked her dagger out and cleared the air. “That’s horrible,” she said.

“Whatever it is, it isn’t going through between. Frankly, I don’t care to know.” He waved his hand across his face to help clear the remnants of the smell. “I’d offer to teach her to go between. I don’t think I’d like to spend that much time with her.”

“She’s better than Rebbecca, at least as far as keeping the school running.”

“I’ll try to keep my hopes from getting too high.”

Zoe narrowed her eyes, probably at his tone.

“But,” Wayne said before she could comment, “Eva.”

“I honestly don’t know more than I said.”

“She crushed a stainless steel spoon in one hand.”

“That’s,” Zoe bit her lip. “Don’t try to see her hands.”

“Excellent choice of words if you want to inspire me to catch a glimpse.”

“Wayne.”

There was a story there. Wayne could tell. Something Zoe was keeping from him.

He sighed. “You’re giving that girl far too much leeway.” Especially if it is something she wouldn’t talk to him about.

“Probably. For now I’ll handle this myself.”

“I hope you know what you are doing.”

— — —

Shelby was furious with her twin. Jordan and Max too, but they weren’t around to be vented to.

“We can’t just pretend she doesn’t exist.”

Irene looked at her like she was crazy. “I didn’t see you striking up a conversation.”

“You and Jordan are closer to her than I was–I am–but if you aren’t going to talk to her, I will.”

“And what am I supposed to say. ‘Oh, hello Eva, sorry about your eyes. By the way, it is really freaky how you get around without them.'”

“Yes. That would be perfect. Maybe she’d just say how she gets around and we could all get along again.”

“I don’t want to know. What if it is something horrible.” Her twin was shouting now. Not a thing she often did. Irene was supposed to be the calmer and more level-headed of the two.

Shelby sighed. She stood up from her desk and crossed to Irene’s bed. She took a seat beside her sister and wrapped an arm around her. “You’re lucky she doesn’t live next door right now.”

She had a feeling she knew what the problem was. Irene’s problem, at least. Shelby didn’t know why Jordan hadn’t tried to talk to Eva. Maybe, like Shelby herself, he thought she would talk about it on her own. Maybe Eva still would.

Max hadn’t said anything because the boy was awkward; he’d admitted as much after alchemy. A good thing in her book. He would have said the wrong thing.

Maybe that was Eva’s own problem.

“I know Halloween scared you. I know Eva’s mysterious dance partner scared you. Max’s story of her scared me too. But she saved Shalise, she’s not a bad person.”

“We haven’t seen Shalise since then.”

“You haven’t. You were hiding in your room for a week, remember? I spoke with her before she left. She seemed a bit… well, traumatized–”

Irene scoffed. “After hearing Max’s story about the phantom, I can’t imagine why.”

Shelby swatted her upside the head.

“You hid in the room for a week and you didn’t even see anything. How would you feel if you were attacked by zombies. I doubt that she even registered Eva’s dance partner saving her.”

“And how did Eva save her? Shalise had a chunk taken out of her arm by a zombie! There’s no cure for that.”

Shelby shook her head. Her twin could be so dense sometimes. “Doesn’t matter. Eva saved her. How isn’t for us to know, at least not right now. Maybe we could ask that too.

“Now tomorrow, we are going to apologize. All of us.”

“Apologize? For what?”

Shelby flicked her twin’s nose. “For all but ignoring her. Then we are going to ask her if she wants to talk about anything. After that, we’re going to treat her like normal.”

She kept her finger tapping on Irene’s nose. “For you, that means treating her like before Halloween. I will be very cross with you if you don’t. You’re not a cruel person, I know you better than anyone. Being afraid or hating someone because they saved someone else is not your style.”

Shelby bounced off the bed and rounded on her sister, pointing a finger at her face. “Do you understand me?”

“Yes mother,” Irene pouted.

“Good.” Shelby turned back and sat down on her own bed. “I am your older sister and it is my job to set you straight. Call me mother again and I’ll turn you over my knee until your rear turns red.”

Irene stuck her tongue out before flopping over on her bed, shutting off her light as she did so.

With a sigh, Shelby did the same.

Another day like today couldn’t happen again. It felt too gross. Everyone sat around stewing in their own thoughts.

It was a good thing Juliana went after Eva during alchemy. If they managed to talk a little, perhaps that would help in the morning. She’d been surprised that Juliana didn’t say anything during classes or lunch. Juliana, at times, seemed just as awkward as Max.

Shelby doubted that either of the girls had any friends before coming to Brakket.

All the more reason to be friends now.

>>AN.001<<

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001.027

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The pleasant heat vanished. A cool musk rushed in to replace it.

Slowly, carefully, Arachne set Eva down on the slightly uneven ground. She used all of her legs to help steady Eva until she got her balance under control.

Eva shrugged her off and kept her own balance.

She stumbled forwards almost immediately. One of Arachne’s limbs reached out and steadied her.

Without toes, Eva had to pick up her feet straight up in order to walk. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t elegant. More of a waddle. Hopefully I can come up with some way to rig toes into shoes, Eva thought with a sigh.

Eva reached out with her sight. Arachne stood just to her left. All her limbs were hovering just inches away from Eva. Her hands were mere stumps, both still bleeding. Either Arachne didn’t notice or she didn’t care.

Eva certainly didn’t at the moment.

The blood dripped down, splashing on the rough floor. It formed a rough topography as it ran down a slight incline. They were almost certainly in a cave.

Some distance away, Eva could feel a lot of bodies. Their biology was weird. Weirder than Arachne’s even. Large sacks with small tubes connecting them. Flesh golems perhaps? Maybe zombies.

“Arachne,” Eva snapped, “where are we?”

“A cave. Maybe a storage room of some sort? There’s a lot of junk lying around.” Eva watched her limbs as they moved off to one side, seemingly picking up something. “Your necklace.”

Eva almost pulled away. Instead she put on her best glower as Arachne’s legs reached around her. Had she been less angry, she might have appreciated the way Arachne manipulated the necklace to attach it behind Eva’s neck with only her legs.

“Arachne,” Eva said. “I am mad at you. More than mad, I am disappointed.”

The muscles making up Arachne’s face contorted. Eva wasn’t sure what to make of the expression. She couldn’t see Arachne’s chitinous face, just the meat beneath. “Eva, I–”

“You’re lucky. For two reasons,” Eva held up one of Arachne–one of her fingers. She’d been trying not to think about it. Her fingers were long. They had too many joints. Moving them was clumsy and unnatural. “The first reason is that I cannot see. I can’t move around this place and it is full of enemies. I can see flesh golems, maybe zombies too. Skeletons? Ghosts? I doubt I’ll see anything.”

Eva extended a lengthy second finger. “The second reason you are lucky is that I am furious with the necromancers. I will tear Sawyer apart.”

No response came except a slight bowing of her head.

Eva shrugged it off. She could yell at Arachne later.

“Is my dagger around here?”

Arachne rummaged through boxes and drawers, by the sound of things. Eva wasn’t expecting results.

The bloodstone she made in the abattoir glowed in her vision as it rested against her chest. It was crumbling and cracked. The escape from the Abattoir cost it a lot of integrity. Controlling so much blood just wasn’t healthy for the poor thing.

Without her dagger, it was all she had.

She knelt down, careful to keep her balance, and dipped it in the small puddle of Arachne’s blood. The blood swirled up to form a small handful of marbles. Not even enough to make toes out of. She needed more.

The flesh golems stood, unmoving, a distance away. They were folded up on each other like chairs might be in a storage room. They would do.

“Enough, Arachne. It isn’t here.”

Arachne stopped searching. The blood in her eyes focused on Eva.

“Anything useful?”

“Books, lots of books. No weapons that I could see.” One of her legs lifted up near Eva. “Your clothes, though it looks like they cut you out of them rather than simply undressed you.”

“Leave them,” Eva sighed. She did not miss the edge in Arachne’s voice when she spoke of undressing. “As much as I would like to take the books, they aren’t much use to me at the moment.” She resisted an urge to tap at her eyes. “Maybe later.

“The door?”

Arachne led Eva with her legs. Eva herself used the marbles of Arachne’s blood to get a rough view of the floor. She tried not to trip over anything as she waddled out into the hallway.

Eva pointed in the direction of the flesh golems and said, “that way.”

An odd concentration of blood appeared in Arachne’s face. Pursing her mouth together?

Eva couldn’t tell. Maybe with practice.

Together, they walked through a very uneven corridor, almost perpendicular to where the flesh golems sat. It was slow going and more than once, Arachne offered to carry Eva. Eva refused.

It would have been the smart thing to do. Under other circumstances, Eva would have in an instant.

If she didn’t show Arachne she was mad at her, the demon would just try the same trick again next time.

Next time, Eva thought, if she even got a next time.

They moved around the cavern until another blood bag entered Eva’s sight. He sat casually, writing on a desk if Eva was reading his motions correctly. The blood form was slim, a skinny man who towered even while sitting. He shook a finger off to one side as if flicking something away. The way the blood in his mouth flowed, Eva could tell.

He was wearing a wide grin.

Sawyer,” Eva hissed. “Arachne, that way.” She raised one of her pointed fingers, aiming it right at the man. Her hand knocked against a hard wall.

She grit her teeth. “Are there any doors or passages that might lead in that direction?”

Arachne didn’t respond. She was looking down the hall in the direction they had been heading.

“Arachne?”

“Dogs. The ghost kind.”

“Can you take them?” Eva wasn’t entirely sure the dogs could actually hurt either of them, being ghosts. That went the other way as well. Her blood seemed effective on Halloween, but being unable to see severely hurt that plan.

“I don’t think I need to. They took one look and ran off without even a growl.”

“They’re warning Sawyer,” Eva said with a small amount of panic. She pointed again at the wall. “That way Arachne, as fast as we can.”

Without asking, Arachne scooped up Eva into her arms and legs. She took off down the hall at a light run.

Eva almost protested, but she’d asked for fast.

It didn’t matter now. If Sawyer got away…

Her fists collapsed in on themselves as she brought her many jointed fingers into a ball.

Arachne skidded to a halt. She spun, whipping Eva around.

Two light thuds hit Arachne’s back. Eva could see blood trickling out of fresh holes in her back.

“Skeletons,” Arachne said. “Stay here.”

Arachne set her down on the cavern floor. She didn’t even set Eva upright. Another wound appeared in her back before she charged down the hallway.

Sawyer was moving. He was walking calmly, not running or panicking. His heart wasn’t even beating especially fast. Yet he was getting away.

Eva grit her teeth.

He was getting away.

The marbles of Arachne’s blood formed into a single large small ball. She formed it, weaved it into a wire array. She couldn’t tell how well the fight was going. For all she knew, Arachne was in the middle of killing the last skeleton.

It didn’t matter.

“Arachne, hit the floor,” Eva shouted.

Eva didn’t wait. She plunged her hand straight into the blood sphere.

The arachnid turned her head back for just an instant before all but falling straight to the floor.

Her vision warped and twisted as a massive claw made of blood launched down the hallway. She felt her fingers pierce more than a few skeletons as it went. It crashed against the end of the corridor, shaking the entire cavern.

That felt a bit worrying. She couldn’t tell where the cavern ended before her attack. More of those might risk some sort of collapse.

The blood it left in its wake painted a vision of the hallway in her mind. Eva knew from experience that the blood wouldn’t be usable, but it was interesting that she could see it. Five distinct and massive holes buried deep into the cave wall.

She could get used to that.

Arachne clambered back to her feet. She gave the hallway a once over before running back to Eva. Apparently everything was dead.

Deader.

Eva did not miss the extra arrow holes leaking small amounts of blood in her chest.

“I was almost done.”

“No time, Sawyer is getting away.”

There was a brief hesitation before Arachne scooped Eva back up.

While running, Eva tapped her bloodstone against the stubs of Arachne’s wrists.

That did it. The stone crumbled to dust. That attack strained it too far.

Eva tore the lace necklace from her neck and flung it to the floor. Worthless.

Her fingers ticked as she tapped them against the palm of her hand. Fireballs wouldn’t do much of anything other than provide a minor inconvenience. Her wind and earth magic would be worth less than dust in an eye.

She cursed herself for not spending more time practicing regular thaumaturgy.

Arachne rounded a corner.

At least they were making progress towards Sawyer now. He turned down another corridor. This might have been the original hallway he was in before the skeletons delayed them.

“Sawyer!” Eva called out with no idea if her voice would carry to him. She didn’t care. “I’m coming for you!”

He definitely heard it.

He gripped something in one hand, tightly if Eva read the heavy pressure around his fingers, and threw it off to one side. He made motions that were unmistakably closing a door. Seemingly satisfied with shutting something into a room, he pulled out some small object from a pocket.

Not being able to see objects was a curse, though she supposed she wouldn’t be able to see even Sawyer normally from where she was.

With no small amount of satisfaction, Eva watched as his heart picked up a beat.

Whatever it was, Eva didn’t care.

Sawyer slowly walked back towards the corridor Eva was in.

She grinned as her fingers clicked against her palm.

Arachne rounded the corner and stopped. They were face to face.

“Ghosts,” Arachne whispered, “at least three humans and a dog.”

“One possessed me earlier, that’s how I got captured. Be careful.”

Sawyer’s grin widened, Eva could tell. He looked on at them and started laughing. “A crippled girl and a crippled demon come to attack me? I was almost worried for a minute.” He stopped laughing and glanced at Eva again. She could feel his eyes running over her.

“Ah,” he said, “but those fingers are sure to sell far better than your old ones. Have you come back to donate more? Where are your eyes and toes?”

“A work in progress,” Eva growled. “Arachne, we’re not here to talk. We’re here for fun.”

There was an almost imperceptible nod from Arachne. Rather than dash forward, she took one slow step. Eva did not fail to notice her mouth opening into a wide grin. It was almost a shame she couldn’t see her sharp teeth poking though.

The step back that Sawyer took brought a wide grin to Eva’s own face.

Arachne took another step forward.

Sawyer took half a step back. Then he paused. His smile grew wider.

“Arachne,” Eva started.

Sawer waved whatever was in his hand.

The blood configuration Eva decided was flesh golems appeared in front of her. More and more appeared, seemingly filling the hallway.

Eva wasn’t sure if they were being created or transported. It didn’t matter in the end. A plan formed in her mind as they shuffled towards them.

“Hold them off.”

Arachne gently set her on the ground. The moment Eva was steady on her feet, she jumped at the creatures. Eva watched for a moment as six legs lanced into the chests of the first six.

They flew aside as if they weighed no more than a pillow.

Eva set to work on her idea.

Using one of her pointed fingers, she punctured her upper arm. She brought her bloodied finger to the back of her left claw. Keeping her arm as steady as she could, Eva started a circle on the back of her claw.

She found it far easier to move her whole arm, keeping her needle-like finger stiff. Trying to bend the joints felt awkward. It was a far more precise circle than she felt she could draw otherwise.

Slowly, Eva pulled out six spokes and drew an outer circle. The base design was complete. Eva wasn’t finished. Arachne followed her orders perfectly, none of the creatures were getting hear her.

Three tear shaped droplets dripped down from the main circle. A single line crested the top of the circle. Eva added several small marks from the line, stretching out to her fingers.

That would do for now.

Eva walked–waddled–to the nearest downed golem. It wasn’t moving, but its heart beat. That was all she needed.

She dug into the bag of flesh where its heart was located. Her marked hand pressed up against the beating heart.

I hope this is a human heart.

Eva channeled her magic into it.

The heart twisted in on itself, pulling and rending the flesh it was attached to. It compressed until a small glowing sphere appeared in Eva’s vision. As blood collected against the sphere, Eva could tell it still had flaws. Far less flaws than the woman from the abattoir, but it was more porous than a proper bloodstone should be.

A wave of her hand caused the entirety of the creature’s blood to tear out of its corpse. She kept a small amount wrapped around the bloodstone to keep it floating around her.

The rest formed large marbles and shot off towards the heart of every flesh golem Eva could detect. Once they were splattered with her controlled blood, Eva snapped her fingers.

Nothing happened.

Eva snapped her fingers.

She looked down and repeated the motion. She couldn’t see more than the insides, but Eva had her guesses. The smooth chitin rubbed uselessly against each other in the clumsiest way she ever saw someone try to snap.

“Arachne,” Eva yelled, “I can’t snap your stupid fingers.”

The demon didn’t respond, opting instead to skewer another two golems.

Eva sighed and clapped.

At once, all the flesh golems’ hearts exploded in their chests.

As they tumbled Eva could only lament the potency of the blood. It was far better than hers.

At the moment, she reassured herself.

She sent the bloodstone off to collect more blood. Not too much, Eva didn’t want to wear down the new stone too quickly.

“Sawyer,” Eva called as she looked around for the man. “Sawyer, where are you?”

Her calls were just for fun. He sat back behind the line of fallen golems, apparently having fallen backwards when the golems died. His grin was still plastered on his face. She wondered for a moment if it was just stuck like that.

Eva focused on him. All her rage, all her anger. If it wasn’t for him…

She grit her teeth. As carefully as she could, Eva marched up to him. The ground was slick enough with blood for her to see every nook and cranny.

“Ah-ah, my sweetie.” He ticked his finger back and forth. “I should mention this: killing me won’t make it stop.”

Eva tilted her head to the side. “What are yo–”

A brief flash of movement was the only warning she got.

Eva dived to the side, tumbling out of the path of the attack.

“It took all five specters and she is fighting every step.” Eva watched as the meat in his tongue slipped over empty space. His teeth. “I love the feisty ones. She’s a much better fighter than you.”

Arachne lurched forwards. Her steps were unsteady, more like a zombie than some of the actual zombies she’d seen. Another step almost sent her to the ground; one of her legs stretched forward to catch her.

Eva didn’t waste a second of time. Her blood spread forward, wrapping around each of Arachne’s legs at the base of her back. She doubled and tripled up the rings of blood. Arachne was a demon and her carapace was strong.

Eva clapped.

Not strong enough. Six legs violently exploded off the back of the arachnid. Arachne fell on her face a moment later. Eva couldn’t tell for sure, but an arrow sticking out of her chest might have been pushed all the way through. The legs squirmed and writhed on the ground before they went still.

“Heartless,” Sawyer quipped as he looked down at the lamely flopping Arachne.

The stubs on her hands didn’t seem to offer enough grip to prop herself back up. That or Arachne was fighting every movement.

Eva hoped it was the second.

Eva shrugged. “She’ll regenerate. You,” Eva couldn’t help but grin at the man before her, “will not.”

“I had my doubts about you being a demon. I suppose my doubts were unfounded.”

“Arachne,” Eva said as she walked over to Sawyer, “you have until I finish sorting our friend’s organs from smallest to largest to fight off those ghosts. If you fail, I’ll banish you until we find a solution.”

“Smallest to largest?” Sawyer said with mock confidence. “Why not alphabetical? It just seems so plebeian, otherwise. Or,” he gasped, bringing a hand to his mouth, “are you a simpleton who doesn’t even know the names of half the body’s organs?”

“Really, the only organ that matters to me is the heart.” Eva knelt down near the grinning man. “I could coat you in blood and clap my hands. I could, it would be so easy. I could have done it instead of the golems or Arachne.”

Her fingers clicked as they tapped against each other. “I think it would be much more cathartic to do this by hand,” she wiggled her needle-like fingers, clacking them together more, “or claw, as the case may be.”

Sawyer offered nothing but his wide grin. His heart rate increased. Not by a little bit. It hammered in his chest almost as hard as Eva’s own heart.

“Shall we start here?” Eva gripped his little toe, or tried to. The man was wearing a shoe that Eva couldn’t see. Eva pinched, intending to only cut through the shoe. She misjudged her hand’s strength. Her sharp fingers pierced straight through his toe.

He didn’t scream. He didn’t even slip in his smile. His heart beat faster.

“Sorry,” Eva said. “I don’t have much experience with these hands. Something we can explore together. You still have nine toes and plenty more after that.”

Eva reached into the small opening in his shoe. The next toe, Eva rolled back and forth in her fingers. Bone snapped beneath her fingers before she squeezed it off. “Eight now, Sawyer. Any comments?”

“Just one,” he said with a laugh that sounded far less forced than it should have sounded, “I’m glad I took your eyes.”

Eva frowned at that. She reached for his third–

Hot pain pierced her side. Eva gripped her side as something kicked the side of her head.

“Trouble with two naked whores, Sawyer? I am disappointed.”

“Weilks, good to see you.”

Eva couldn’t breathe, not well at least. She could see exactly what happened, at least to her blood vessels. Something pierced her lung. She set to healing as much as she could. Her bloodstone flew into the cut, giving her more control over her own blood. Lungs were far more complicated than skin; as long as it matched the opposite side, it should be fine. Her blood magic could keep her from drowning in her own blood as well.

“The Elysium Sluts are on the move. Now would be the perfect time to find the augur. Except,” the larger man made a show of looking around the chamber, “is this our entire army?”

“A third.”

“Sawyer,” Weilks said warningly.

Eva gripped the thing piercing her side and pulled it slowly out, healing as she went. The blood sticking to the blade made a familiar pattern.

This was her dagger. Her dagger. The bloodstone was missing. It was her bloodstone. The best one she’d ever made. The fat man must have it.

She launched the blood at him, forming rings around his feet and hands.

Eva clapped.

Weilks fell forwards, nearly crushing Sawyer. He tumbled without even a scream.

The skinnier man scrambled out of the way. Eva noted with some satisfaction that the smile finally slipped from his mouth.

Eva let him scramble to the side. She mostly ignored him as she rolled Weilks over on his back.

“Where is my bloodstone,” Eva said. She felt a distinct need to cough, but suppressed it. Her claws pressed around his neck as she straddled his chest. “My bloodstone, I want it back.”

“You whore,” he said.

Eva jammed one of her claws straight into his side. “My bloodstone?”

The man just glared.

“I’ll need to make a new one then.”

Using the bloodstone floating near her, Eva cleared off the back of her hand. She cut open a small cut on her upper arm and touched the bloodstone to it, careful to keep the flesh golem blood separate from her own.

She formed the sigil on the back of her hand using purely blood magic. Eva fancied it up as much as she could. Smooth, clean lines. The droplets of blood being actual droplets rather than a mere drawing.

Once ready, Eva tore into his chest with her other claw. She was careful. Her vision helped keep from even scratching the man’s heart as his flesh tore away.

Eva ignored his screams. His thrashing arms were held down by rings of the flesh golem blood. They also served to keep him from bleeding out.

With his beating heart exposed, Eva pressed her sigiled hand against it. She felt its beats even through the exoskeleton. It was best while his heart still beat strong.

Eva channeled her magic.

The heart twisted in on itself, repeating the same motions the flesh golem heart made.

This time came with the added benefit of watching the very life being sucked out of the man she was sitting on. His blood stopped pumping immediately. She watched as the blood in his veins came to a standstill. His eyes bulged for a moment before a last gasp of breath escaped from his lifeless corpse.

Cradled in his open ribcage was a perfect bloodstone. At least, as perfect as Eva could make them. It might be better than her old one, she couldn’t be sure. Her old one she inspected with her eyes. This one she used the blood surrounding it.

Eva stood up, stepping irreverently on the corpse as she did so. Both stones and her dagger hovered around her, coated in blood. The dagger may have gotten dirty, not something she could worry about now. She’d set the stone later.

Now, she looked over to the figure standing to one side. She paused, frozen in her steps. The figure had two mounds of blood on her chest and a distinct lack of blood between her legs. She was not Sawyer.

Arachne slowly picked herself off the floor. Her biology was different enough that Eva couldn’t mistake her for anyone.

“Who are you?”

The woman raised an arm.

Eva didn’t hesitate for a second. She’d had enough of being injured for one day. A blood shield formed around her and Arachne with a mere thought. With all the available fuel, it wouldn’t be running out anytime soon.

Eva never got to play with this much blood. A shame, really.

“I’ll not ask again,” Eva said.

“You don’t recognize me.” Her voice came out soft, almost as a song.

“Voice is familiar, but no eyes.” Eva pointed two fingers at her empty eyes, careful to keep from touching her skin with her sharp fingers. She gave a hard kick at the corpse behind her, almost tumbling due to her balance issues. “Thanks to these necromancers. Did you happen to see the other one?”

“You are a blood mage.”

Eva didn’t know what to say to that. It would be hard to hide in her current state.

“That’s how you saved Shal.”

“Shal? Shalise?”

“And your hands?”

“Didn’t have much choice in the matter.” Eva shot a hard glare at the now standing form of Arachne. “Are you yourself?”

“The ghosts left along with Sawyer,” Arachne hung her head, “sorry.”

“Consider your lack of limbs both a lesson and a punishment. The first of many, I think.”

“You know that demon?”

“Something like that.”

“I’ll spare your life for saving my daughter.” She paused, turning her head to point at Arachne. “That thing killed one of my sisters. I demand its obliteration.”

“Your sisters?” The voice finally clicked in her head. “Sister Cross?”

“I can ensure the augur doesn’t speak of you to any others, but you must hand over that demon.”

“I’ll do no such thing. Her punishment is mine. Although,” Eva tapped a finger on her chin. She winced away at a cut as she healed it. “Now that you mention it. The other necromancer mentioned your augur. She was their main target.”

“What?” Sister Cross’ heart picked up a handful of beats.

“Given that he disappeared from here, with two-thirds of their flesh golem army, I sure hope your augur is protected.”

“Come here. I’ll take you back to the academy.”

“How stupid do you think I am? I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Eva,” Sister Cross half shouted, “I came here alone to pull you out before any others saw you; as thanks for saving my daughter. My sisters would kill you on sight when they storm this place.”

“Thanks but no thanks,” Eva said. “As you so astutely deduced, I am a blood mage and here,” she waved her arm over the littered corpses of flesh golems, “I am in my element. Are you in yours?”

Sister Cross dropped into a fighting stance. “You’re going to try to fight me?”

“I certainly don’t want to. With all the corpses and two bloodstones, I’m sure I run a sporting chance.”

“Most of all,” Eva said, “I don’t think I have to. If all your nuns are poised to strike here, who is defending your augur?”

Sister Cross’ heart picked up another few beats.

“Go, take your nuns and save your augur. I’ll find my own way back.”

The nun’s jaw grit to one side. A moment later, she vanished.

“If you find Sawyer,” Eva called to the empty air, “please, don’t kill him. I owe him a dismemberment. Several, actually.”

Tension drained out of the air and Eva felt herself drain with it. She stumbled forward only to be caught by Arachne’s stumps.

“I thought you might hand me over for a moment.”

Eva spun out of Arachne’s arms and slammed her foot into the corpse of Weilks as hard as she could.

Sawyer got away.

She kicked again. The wound in her toes opened up again. Eva healed it quickly and kicked again.

Sawyer got away.

Eva kicked one more time and sighed.

“You might wish I handed you over when I’m done with you,” Eva said. She felt in a particularly vicious mood at the moment.

Arachne grinned. A wide grin. Eva didn’t need to look to see it. Eva didn’t mirror the expression.

She gave Weilks another kick.

“My legs would kick harder, if you want.”

“Later,” Eva said. “I need a bath. And a shower. And a nap. And…” Eva sighed. “And a lot of things. Let’s get back to the prison.”

Arachne moved to pick her up. Eva allowed it. She was too tired to complain.

Arachne walked slowly, careful to keep Eva from slipping out of her smooth arm stubs. They did stumble across a storage room. Eva collected a few books, using blood to carry them.

She had no idea how she’d read them. Maybe she’d force Arachne to read them to her. That might be a worse punishment for the demon than anything Eva could come up with.

Together they wandered, lost in the cavern until they found the exit.

Eva shut her–relaxed in Arachne’s arms.

Next stop: home.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


001.026

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Juliana ran out of the small building titled Womens Ward.

Even without asking her, Zoe could see the blond hadn’t found her roommate.

Truly a troublesome student. If Eva just ran off somewhere with Mr. Carter without telling anyone, Zoe would be sticking a tracking tag on the girl.

If she hadn’t run off… well, she would probably still be getting a tracking tag, so long as she came back in one piece.

“I couldn’t go into her room,” Juliana said, “but I made a lot of noise at the door. I don’t think she’s home.”

Zoe frowned at that. She wished Eva had just added her to the wards set up around the place. She’d been warned not to wander aimlessly, but if this was an emergency then her professorial duty must be done.

“Let’s check the other buildings.”

“That building,” Juliana pointed towards a nearby cell house, “I think is her mentor’s building. I’m not even sure Eva is allowed inside; we should probably avoid it.”

“Good to know. Any others?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Let’s hurry then.”

Zoe and Juliana explored the rest of the complex. They avoided the two burned out buildings as well as the large machine shop. No one would stay in the burned out areas and the machine shop didn’t look like it had been opened in decades.

That left the remaining cell houses. The newer ones all seemed devoid of life. One, the furthest from Eva’s appropriated home, seemed less than devoid of life.

The smell leaking from it affected Juliana, Zoe could tell. She fidgeted. Her hand gripped tighter around her wand. Traces of flowing metal creeped up her neck to her chin.

Juliana’s nervousness only increased Zoe’s agitation. It was like some kind of paranoia plague leaking off the girl.

In truth, it wasn’t just Juliana. Necromancers were one thing. They dealt with the dead. What you would face fighting them was a known factor for the most part.

Diabolists were unpredictable. There were so many demons Zoe could think of and it wasn’t even a fraction of what a true diabolist would know of. Even that number wouldn’t be half the total number of demon types, let alone demons.

Zoe didn’t consider herself that great of a combatant. She could demolish students by the dozen, but they were just students. In her mock battles with Genoa, she did alright. If the mage-knight went all out, she doubted she’d be able to keep up.

That wasn’t even getting to nonthaumaturgical battles. The sisters favored lightning–an odd sort of lightning–there was no way that was all they were capable of. Their eyes glowed and they would suddenly know things a regular person shouldn’t know. Not to mention their lack of foci when casting. Whatever secrets they held, they never shared.

“You don’t have to come in, Juliana.”

The blond gave her a glare. “I can fight on my own.”

“Don’t. Demons are not to be trifled with. If a demon attacks us, I will immediately teleport us to the academy.” She rested one hand on Juliana’s shoulder and kept her dagger ready in her other hand. “Don’t move away from me.”

With no small sense of foreboding in her heart, Zoe opened the door to cell house two.

Luke warm air drifted out. The air smelled far fresher than the putrid stench outside the building. It was almost pleasant.

The interior consisted of a white marble ring surrounding a deep pit. Large arches held what looked like open doorways leading outwards. A black marble platform was suspended in the center of the pit. The only support it seemed to have were from chains bigger than Zoe herself stretching high into the sky.

A sky.

There was no way any of this fit in the relatively small cell house.

From the gray clouds in the sky, a single pillar of light shone down on a black throne raised up on steps in the center platform. A skeleton clothed in a pure white gown sat the throne. Its legs were spread as far apart as the armrests would allow. It seemed to have sunk down into the chair, barely keeping on the seat. One elbow rested on the armrest; its knuckles curled at the cheek of the skull, propping it up. The other arm draped over the other armrest.

It hadn’t moved a muscle–figuratively–since the door had opened, but Zoe couldn’t shake the feeling that it was watching her.

Zoe exchanged a quick glance with Juliana. Nothing on the girl’s face looked like she wanted to enter. A sentiment Zoe mirrored.

Still, she was in charge of Eva. If Eva went in here then it would be neglect to not enter.

At least, that’s what Zoe told herself as she stepped into the room.

Echoes spread through the chamber as her heels clacked on the marble floor.

Now that they were inside, the room only seemed larger. The marble ring could hold a whole classroom without any students feeling like they might fall. Railings would make Zoe feel much better, but whoever designed this place obviously didn’t feel the same way.

The door slammed shut, sending more ominous echoes through the room.

Zoe immediately flicked her dagger to send them between.

The walls did not drop away. The room stayed exactly as it was.

That’s a first, she thought. She’d have to check with Wayne, but Zoe never had between cut off before.

Zoe kept a firm grip on Juliana’s shoulder.

The blond scanned the whole room as if expecting an attack from anywhere. Her eyes kept darting back to the still skeleton.

“Show yourself,” Zoe called out. There had to be someone here. If not, she’d only embarrassed herself in front of Juliana.

“You would make demands of Ourself?”

The feminine voice boomed around them.

Juliana jumped. Zoe grabbed her shoulder and pulled her closer.

“Who are you?” Zoe asked.

“Another demand. Asking for a title before introducing yourself no less. Mortal manners have fallen over the centuries, We see.”

“KNEEL”

Juliana was all but torn from her hands as her knees slammed into the marble. Zoe didn’t manage much better. Someone tied ropes around her knees and pulled them into the ground.

She hissed as one of her knees felt like it cracked.

Juliana didn’t make a sound. Perhaps the metal flowing beneath her clothes cushioned her.

“We have observed you wandering about the grounds. We will not tolerate quidnuncs in Our presence.”

“I am Zoe Baxter, an instructor at a nearby magical academy. To my side is a pupil of mine, Juliana.” Zoe spoke quickly. She did not want to be on a list of intolerable things, not when a voice that could move her body against her will with a mere word had that list.

“We are searching for another pupil of mine, Eva.”

Zoe chanced looking around when the voice did not return. Nothing had changed in their surroundings. The skeleton, still sitting atop the throne, hadn’t budged and there was nothing else around.

“She has gone missing,” Zoe continued. “If you have any information, it would be graciously appreciated. If not, we apologize for our intrusion and will leave at once.”

“So mortals can display manners when their lives are endangered.”

The skeleton drew itself to its feet. It took one step down from its throne. Then another. At the third step, it moved out of the ray of light.

A woman stood in place of the skeleton. At first glance, she looked beautiful. Her square jaw kept high as she descended the stairs. Her eyes never left the two kneeling girls.

The longer Zoe stared, the more everything seemed off. Subtle cues, but they were there. Her dress was cut low enough that Zoe could see straight down to her navel. There was not even the slightest rise and fall of her chest for breaths of air. Not a sign of life could be seen on her blue lips.

Her eyes were like steel as the gazed down on her subjects.

When she got to the edge of her black marble platform, she took another step forwards. Small sections of a bridge flickered into existence with every one of her calm strides.

Invisible? Or was she materializing it with every step. Zoe’s mind couldn’t help but wonder.

She stopped just ten feet from the kneeling girls. “You mentioned Eva. Missing you said?”

Her voice no longer boomed throughout the chamber. It lost none of its power.

Juliana spoke up before Zoe could. “Arachne said she went missing from the school dorms. We came here, hoping she was safe in her home. There have been necromancers plaguing our school as of late, we were worried she was captured or killed by them.”

“Eva is not dead. We would know if she passed. This may prove providential.”

The woman paused, looking between her subjects.

“One of you will deliver a message to Eva.”

Zoe cringed at the wording. Before Juliana could say anything, Zoe said, “if you are planning on killing the other, Juliana will carry your message.”

The woman shifted and placed one hand on her hip. “You would die for your pupils?”

“I would,” Zoe replied without hesitation.

“Do you wish for death?”

Zoe hesitated. She didn’t wish for death. Not by a long shot. If this was a trick question where she said as much, the woman might kill Juliana instead. Zoe mulled over wording then said, “if it means saving my students, then yes.”

“Death will come for you on His own time. We have no wish to hasten His coming.”

“I understand,” Zoe said. She bowed back down.

“A man known as Griffin Weilks must die by solstice. That is your message. See that it is delivered and We will reward you.”

The hold on her knees vanished. Zoe slowly stood up, careful to avoid placing weight on her knee. Only at her full height did she realize that the woman before her stood almost three heads taller.

“We will deliver your message,” Zoe said as she helped Juliana to her feet. She started ushering the younger girl to the door.

Juliana stopped moving. She turned back.

The woman hadn’t moved a muscle. Her hand was still on her hip as she stared at them.

“I am Juliana Rivas,” she said with a deep bow. “If… If I can ask,” Juliana said, keeping her head down, “I mean, if it isn’t impolite. What or who are you?”

The woman tipped her chin the slightest bit higher. “Ylva, daughter of Hel, daughter of Loki.”

“Thank you,” Juliana said, holding her bow before she slowly raised her head.

Ylva gave the barest nod of her head. “We will remember the name you have given.”

Zoe half pulled, half threw Juliana out of the cell house door. She slammed it behind her. She leaned in on the door, almost panting for breath.

Adrenaline left with the demon’s presence and the pain in Zoe’s knee flared full on.

Before she got distracted by the pain, Zoe grabbed onto Juliana’s shoulder and flicked her dagger. No small amount of relief flooded into Zoe as the world fell to pieces around her. The Rickenbacker medical room appeared around them.

A surprised Nurse Naranga stood up from behind her desk and ran over to the two women.

“Are you injured,” Zoe asked the younger girl.

She shook her head.

“Just a bone mending tonic for me, Lisa.”

The nurse nodded and rummaged through a cupboard. “What happened?”

“Cracked my knee falling on ice,” Zoe said. “Nothing big.”

Lisa gave a knowing look–one she often used when the two were still students–but handed a white vial to Zoe without a word.

Zoe downed it with a barely mumbled, “thanks.” She took hold of Juliana and transported both straight to dorm three-eighteen.

“Stay here,” Zoe said. “We’ll discuss ‘Arachne’ and your parting words to that demon later.”

“She seemed polite when we were polite,” Juliana said.

“Later,” Zoe said with a sigh. “For now, I think I will be asking the Elysium Sisters to help locate Eva.”

It would be remiss of her duty as an instructor not to use all the tools at her disposal.

Still, an involuntary shiver ran through Zoe’s spine at the thought.

— — —

Arachne crawled over the craggy terrain of her own domain in her largest form. It was the easiest way to move around in it. Her tiny corner of Hell had been designed to be difficult to traverse without Arachne’s mostly unique biology.

It kept her domain safe.

Her Eva nervously rode in her arms.

Without eyes, she couldn’t see. The small island granted her vision on account of it being her domain. At least, that was Arachne’s theory.

If she was demon enough to have a domain, she might be too demon to slip through a flimsy loophole. A loophole that might not even exist.

“There is no precedent for this, Eva,” Arachne said as she rounded the cave mouth into her lair.

“I don’t care. It is better than sitting around.”

“If I vanish–”

“Then we’ll get Juliana to try summoning me. Wasn’t that why you helped me make a gateway on the beach?”

That didn’t mean Arachne liked their alternate plan.

Any plan that relied on people who weren’t Arachne was a bad plan.

“Eva, there are two outcomes for this. Either I disappear, leaving you to find your way back to your island on your own–quite a feat for anyone in my domain, let alone you as you are right now–or we arrive together wherever the necklace is. That is going to be with the necromancers unless they decided to throw it away along the way.”

“So what?”

Arachne turned back into her human form, still with Eva in her arms, as she walked through her lair’s corridors. The cave mouth opened up into an expansive almost palace. Almost.

It was fanciful and enormous, carved almost entirely by hand, or claw, over the course of millennia. Tapestries, woven by herself of course, adorned key spots along the main hall. Some were simple images, other depicted legends–mostly hers.

Eva’s blindness was a travesty that Arachne intended to return tenfold and tenfold again on the necromancers.

“If Juliana can’t summon you, or something happens to me with the necromancers, you could be stuck here for a very long time.”

“Your point, Arachne?”

“Reconsider taking my hands.”

There was a short pause before Eva said, “alright, I’ve reconsidered.”

Arachne set Eva down on her bed. It was a rather normal bed for her. She didn’t sleep often, but on the occasions she did, it was usually in her human form.

It was a good thing Eva was blind. There were several tapestries hanging around the room. Most were of Eva, though one was of Devon–Arachne must have been ill that day–and the rest were all scenery.

The scenery ones she might have shown off.

“You agree then?”

“No.”

“Eva, I am not going anywhere without you having something you can use as a weapon.”

“I have this,” Eva said as she tapped the crumbling bloodstone hanging from around her neck. She’d already vanished all the blood, it had grown too old to be used properly before her story finished.

“That is going to do you no good Eva, and you know it. It is barely holding together as it is. I know nothing about blood magic, but that can’t last more than another hour of use, can it?”

Eva said nothing.

“You can’t see right? You’re telling the truth?”

There was a bit of nervousness when Eva answered. “I can’t see.”

“What if you were asleep?”

“I think I’d wake up at my hands being torn off.”

Arachne grinned. Her domain, her rules. Mostly. “Human doctors cut up people all the time while they are asleep. Just say yes, Eva. Agree to sleep in exchange for my hands. A contract.”

“You’re forcing another contract on me.”

“No,” Arachne said as she took a seat on the bed. Eva shifting away from her pulled at something in her chest. Arachne shook it off. “No. If you don’t want to, I’m not forcing anything.”

Eva sat there. Thinking? Considering? Hopefully about ready to agree.

“If,” Eva started, “if I say yes…”

That was as far as she got. Eva slumped over.

Arachne gently caught her and laid her down on the bed gently. There was a brief thought about moving her off the bed. Arachne banished it as quickly as it came.

It was a rare opportunity to infuse her bed with her Eva’s scent, after all. She wouldn’t mind sleeping in her Eva’s blood. There shouldn’t be much of it if Arachne did this properly and quickly, in any case.

All of her extra limbs sprouted from her back. They couldn’t form into the fine fingers she used, but she was dexterous enough to overcome anything for her Eva.

With Eva’s arm held steady, Arachne placed her own hand inside her mouth. A sharp and firm bite severed her hand just behind her wrist. She pulled it out with her other hand and quickly snapped down on Eva’s wrist in the same spot.

She was in too much of a rush to enjoy the taste of Eva’s skin. Arachne quickly spat out the squarish pad of meat. It might come in handy later.

Her Eva’s wrist was much squishier. Maybe she’d accept a full arm later.

Arachne pressed her severed hand against Eva’s stump. She slowly channeled magic into the spot where they touched.

If there was more to it than that, Arachne didn’t know. Eva might wake up without working hands and then hate Arachne for a lot longer than she would if she woke up with working hands.

The trick she’d pulled, if she could call it that, would anger Eva far more than any issue with her hands. Arachne knew that. But Eva was about to say yes. So surely it wouldn’t be that bad. If she’d said no, the contract would have just dissipated.

Eva’s wrist made an odd noise. It almost scared Arachne into stopping the magic. She continued, not wanting to risk stopping and restarting.

Her bone stretched outwards to meet the edges of Arachne’s hand. A weird thing to watch. Arachne’s hand stretched over the bone in turn. Holes appeared in the bone and veins and muscle stretched through the holes, presumably connecting to something inside the hand. The black exoskeleton stretched over the openings in her wrist about half way to her elbow.

That was a good sign. Hopefully.

Soon enough, Arachne’s magic felt like it was being wasted, vanishing into the void. She stopped channeling and inspected the new limb.

It looked good. The exoskeleton dug into then slowly merged with her skin as it got to her elbow. She gave it a light tug–a very light tug for Arachne–and was pleased to find it didn’t budge. She could see the tendons moving in the skin part of Eva’s arm when she wiggled the fingers, another good sign.

Happy with how it turned out, Arachne repeated the process with Eva’s other hand.

It was a bit tricky getting her own hand out of her mouth with her legs. Something she was glad Eva was both blind and asleep for. It couldn’t have been pretty.

Once the other hand was attached, Arachne gave her a full once over. The hands weren’t quite symmetrical. The part that merged with her skin went up to about the same spot, but the designs formed large curls as it merged. The curls were different on each arm.

Overall, Arachne thought it looked good. Hopefully Eva would think so too.

Eva’s feet, Arachne couldn’t do much about at the moment. Their contract was only for hands. Even if it was for feet, Arachne wasn’t sure she’d go for it right now. Not with her hands needing to heal. If she was going to enter battle before long, she didn’t want to cripple herself too much.

Perhaps later, Eva would consider allowing Arachne to chop off both her entire legs and the rest of her arms. She’d have to be careful moving at full strength while her torso was human, but she could at least have extra partial strength.

Maybe if the unthinkable happened and Eva found herself captured, she’d be able to escape with Arachne’s limbs.

For now, she’d have to deal with and adapt to her lack of toes.

And eyes.

Arachne had no solutions for eyes. Eva would need all of Arachne’s eyes to have proper sight, and even if it was only her two humanish ones, they wouldn’t fit in Eva’s eye sockets. Something similar to what happened on her arms might fix that, but that left the issue of the other eyes.

Perhaps the hel would have a deal on eyes that wasn’t horrible. It left a bad taste in her mouth even thinking of the creature, but the hel seemed at least mildly interested in Eva.

Something to think on later. For now, she could adapt and deal with her vision.

Arachne sighed. She ran a leg over Eva’s hair and another over her cheek. It might be a while before the girl let her near.

“Eva,” Arachne said, “contract complete. You can wake up now.”

Her black-haired girl groaned. One of her new hands slowly rose up to Eva’s head. Not to be inspected, but in the way humans cradled headaches.

Arachne moved to stop it. She didn’t want her Eva’s opinions on the new hands to be marred by a pierced skull.

“Arachne,” Eva groaned. Her groan had a sharp edge to it.

“I’m here. Everything went perfect.”

“Arachne. What went perfect.”

Arachne didn’t respond. She watched as Eva flexed the hand caught by her legs. Even the extra joints flexed; not something Arachne even thought about when she started.

“Arachne,” Eva snarled, “what did you do?”

She winced back at Eva’s voice. She expected it, and it was much better angry than sad. Arachne just wished the anger was directed somewhere else. “I completed our contract.”

“You did it again. I can’t believe you.” Her fingers clicked as she tapped them together. “You couldn’t just wait for me to say yes, could you?”

“I…” Arachne sighed. “I didn’t want to risk you saying no.”

Eva turned away, pulling her arm out of the legs holding it. She carefully kept her hands away from her bare skin. Probably a good idea until she got used to them.

“I don’t know why I bother trusting you. You clearly have no trust in me.”

“I just want what’s best for you.”

“And this is what’s best for me?” She held up a hand, clacking the long fingers together. “How am I supposed to hide these from people. Let me decide what’s best for me and I’ll let you know how you can help. This is not it. You didn’t even let me agree on my own…”

“Humans have gloves. If you fold up the top two segments, you’ll fit.”

Eva sighed. She fell backwards on the bed and just lay there.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Eva should be fired up. Yelling. Angry. Or Eva should be thankful. Glad. Happy.

This was…

Pathetic.

No. Arachne shunted the voice from her mind. This was her domain. Her rules. There would be no machinations of the Void here.

“Can we go now?”

Arachne looked down at Eva. She hadn’t moved except for a slight drumming of her fingers.

“Eva, I’m… sorry.” This felt gross. Arachne didn’t like it.

“Me too.”

Using all of her legs to help hold Eva, Arachne picked the girl up. At least she isn’t flinching away.

She carried her Eva through the halls to the gateway chamber. It was a small place. No ostentatious carvings or tapestries. Apart from the last several years, it went mostly unused. The only real designs were the gateway diagrams on the floor. Almost a mirror of what summoners in the mortal realm used.

Arachne walked up to the gateway and channeled magic into it. She focused on the necklace as she did so.

“Remember, if you don’t make it through–”

“Place my left hand on a wall and follow it until I reach a sandy beach. Then think of the island.”

“I will come for you. I promise.”

Eva didn’t acknowledge anything. She stared off into a corner of the room. Or she would have, if she could stare.

The floor rippled. A black emptiness tore open.

Arachne fell. She kept all her legs tightly wrapped around Eva as the void swallowed them whole.

— — —

Nel Stirling concentrated on the floating strand of hair in front of her.

Her concentration yielded nothing even after hours of searching.

It was next to impossible to hide from an augur when one had something personal. Hair should definitely work. Yet there was nothing but darkness in her vision.

If this went on, she’d be excommunicated for being abandoned. Or worse. Very probably worse. The Sisterhood wouldn’t leave a rogue augur running wild.

With fear in her heart, Nel redoubled her efforts.

Nel pulled her hand away from the long strand of black hair as if it shocked her.

She felt her eyes fade from the glowing white back to their normal brown as she glanced at the person impatiently tapping her foot.

Sister Cross stood next to her, arms folded with an obvious question on her face.

“I found her,” Nel said.

“But?”

Nel bit her lip. Sister Cross was already on edge from losing one of the sisters. Now this.

It wasn’t my fault. Sister Cross wouldn’t do anything to me. The reassurance rang hollow in her own head.

Delaying telling would only be worse. Sister Cross would find out anyway. In a quick decision, Nel began telling everything she saw in the instant the endless abyss opened in a small cave north of the academy.

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001.025

Author’s Note: There is blood in this chapter. Nothing on the level of the previous chapter. You will be able to bypass it by skipping down a few paragraphs.

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva jolted awake.

Gritty sand flew in all directions as she flopped over to her back. She could feel it; it ground into her hair, her mouth, her finger stubs, her–

This isn’t the prison or the dorms, Eva thought. She looked around.

Eva landed on a small island. Water stretched endlessly as far as Eva could see.

A small flutter of hope beat in Eva’s chest. She brought her wrist to her face slowly. Her fingers were still gone. She could see them, or rather, she couldn’t see them. But she could see.

Her wrist bumped into an empty eye socket. She slumped back against the sand. It’s just a trick of this place.

Eva clamped down on a tension in her jaw. There had been enough crying earlier. She wasn’t going to cry. It couldn’t be a good idea to cry with empty eye sockets.

She knelt on her stomach and dry heaved at the thought. Her mouth still carried the putrid taste of vomit. She crawled up to the edge of the water.

It was black. The entire ocean had not a single ripple or wave. The entire glassy surface was black. Eva looked up. There was not a single star, sun, or moon in the sky.

There were no fires or lights, nothing that might help her see. She had a brief wonder if that was how things would look if Eva had her eyes. It didn’t matter.

The water, despite its color, didn’t smell different from normal water. Eva touched just the tip of her tongue to it. Normal, as far as she could tell. Not even salty like an ocean. Even if it turned out to be unnatural later, she wasn’t planning on drinking it.

Eva cupped some up in her hands–a task much harder without fingers than it should be–and rinsed it around in her mouth. She repeated the action another few times as well as wiping out her nose–the best she could with no fingers. The water ripples flattened out much faster than they should have.

Feeling much cleaner, if not much better, Eva took stock of her surroundings. The island might have taken her maybe five minutes to run around the edge at a light jog, if she felt so inclined. It wasn’t very big. A single tree with gray bark jutted out of the center. It was a skinny thing that held no leaves on its thin branches.

That was it. An endless black ocean in every direction, a small beach, a tree, and an empty night sky.

And heat. Eva was quite thankful for that. Being broken and naked in a cold place might have been unbearable.

It wasn’t as hot as she’d been lead to believe Hell should be, if that was truly where she was. It was the only place she could think of based on what she had been doing. Obviously the infernal walk failed. Unless she was supposed to walk somewhere here.

Eva didn’t know how to get back. She could try summoning herself or the same reverse summon she did to get here. For now, she’d look around.

Rather than try to stand, Eva tried to step. A small amount of relief filled her sick stomach when the step worked. She appeared kneeling next to the tree.

As happy as she was about her step working, Eva didn’t know what she expected. The island didn’t suddenly grow, no doors magically appeared, and the tree didn’t have any levers or buttons she could see. All she’d accomplished was moving a few feet to the center of the island.

Eva sighed and stepped back to an edge of the water. She still had dried vomit all down her front, butt, legs, and feet. The bloodied stumps of her toes, while not bleeding thanks to her healing efforts, had both blood and vomit caked on them.

She slowly inched herself into the water. She couldn’t see through the black, mirror-like surface. That made her nervous. Still, the water was without even a single ripple, other than her own.

Eva relaxed back with the water up to her neck. She rested her head on the beach and let the hot water soothe away her aches. Her eye sockets would need cleaning eventually. They had partially filled with blood, tears, and probably a little sand.

The idea of sticking fingers into her empty sockets sent shivers up her spine. Luckily she didn’t have any fingers. Eva didn’t count herself as the squeamish type, but there was something horrifying about her own empty eyes.

The emptiness was there. Almost as tangible as her eyes had been. She could feel the lack of anything pressing on the surrounding socket. Not to mention her eyelids. Without her eyes putting pressure on them, she kept trying to move them and they would just flap.

Eva shook her head. Not the line of thought she wanted to get into right now.

This place is nice, Eva thought as she lay in the water. If it wasn’t for… for that grinning man, she might have enjoyed coming here. Provided she could leave.

That was something she’d worry about later. Now, Eva just wanted to rest.

Channeling magic into herself didn’t work in any way, shape, or form.

Eva awoke after what felt like a very long nap. There was no way to tell exactly how long. The sky was as empty as it had been since she arrived. It felt like a good nap.

All her aches vanished. Eva half expected to have grown new fingers while she was out.

The water ran off her finger nubs as she lifted her arms out of the water. With a sigh, she put any thoughts of immediate recovery behind her. Devon was supposedly getting a whole new arm. How hard could a few fingers, toes, and eyes be.

She’d need to get off the island and back to reality if she wanted her master’s help in recovering lost limbs. Nothing she tried helped. Trying to get out the same way she got in did nothing.

Drawing a summoning circle and trying to summon anything did nothing. Standing in it and trying to leave by walking into it did nothing. Ylva did that both times she left reality. Eva wondered what would happen if her master tried to summon Eva into the real world. Did she need to set up some sort of gate on this side to get back?

Eva had no idea how demons really worked. They could get through to reality even without a summoner making a connection. That required a beacon like the one Eva suspected the black skull might be.

If she could use anything she left behind as a beacon, Eva didn’t know how.

That exhausted her total demonic knowledge. Something she really would like to brush up on one of these days. Her master could probably escape, so long as this truly was Hell.

It matched no description Eva had ever heard. It was hot, but not unbearably so. There were no other demons around. The only reason she still thought this was Hell was Arachne describing Hell as a void on a single occasion and that the Endless Void supposedly held dominion over the entire realm. Whatever that meant.

Devon would know. Eva would definitely ask to restart their demonology lessons.

For now, it left Eva in the terrible position of not knowing what to do. Her magic worked. Mostly. Darkness spells did absolutely nothing that Eva could see. An effect of her eyes being gone or the place, she didn’t know.

Her blink worked. Her fireballs worked. She could dig through the earth as Juliana taught her. Her light spell worked though it was just a dot in the sky, no actual illumination seemed to happen; her fireballs produced no light either.

She sent a ball of light across the glassy water until she couldn’t see the spot anymore. There was nothing but emptiness out there.

Nothing tried to eat her while she slept, so Eva decided to go for a short swim around the island. It was an awkward affair. Fingers, despite being so small, made enough of a difference that it was almost like relearning how to swim with just her square meat pads of hands.

She tried her hardest not to think about that.

The further out she went, the odder the water got. There was more pressure than normal water even at the surface. When she went down the sandbank to a neck-deep level, the water felt like it was hugging her.

Eva lifted a hand out of the water, expecting the liquid to cling to her skin. It didn’t. The water ran off into the pool creating tiny ripples that quickly dispersed. It was also completely opaque, something she failed to notice when she cleaned herself off.

She doubted she would see anything, but it couldn’t hurt to try. Anywhere would be better than her little island. Taking a deep breath, Eva dunked her head underwater.

The water pressed into her empty sockets. It met no resistance from her flaps of eyelids as it squeezed past.

Then it was gone. Not just the water in her eyes; all the water vanished.

A brief feeling of weightlessness took hold of Eva’s stomach.

She fell.

A hard, flat surface rushed up to greet her. It greeted her hard.

She crumpled and landed on her stomach, face hitting the floor a moment later.

Everything was black.

She couldn’t see.

Eva’s breath raced.

A light spell did nothing. No illumination, no little dot against whatever background was around her.

A heavy thunk hit the ground behind her. And then another. Then another and another and another.

Five thunks, each slightly different in sound as they hit. One higher, then another lower.

There was a short pause before five more thunks hit the ground in the same sound order. High, low, high, mid, mid. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

They were closer than before.

Something was coming her way.

Eva scrambled along the ground on all fours. Away from the noise.

It kept coming. Five thunks. Each sounding closer than the last.

Eva hit a wall. She felt around. It was smooth metal. No door handles, no openings.

She scurried along the wall, desperate to move away from the noise.

It was louder, almost deafening.

Her hand slipped in something. Eva’s arms fell out in front of her. Her face hit whatever she slipped on.

She could see it.

Blood.

Another thunk.

The thing was right on top of her. Eva cowered into a ball.

Another thunk.

A huge, metal sounding pole impacted the ground mere inches from her.

She could feel it hit the ground. The blood splattered up onto the pole.

Another thunk.

This one past her. Opposite of where the pole right next to her was. It sounded muffled.

Another thunk.

Another thunk.

Her bare backside almost was skewered. If she had clothes on, they would certainly be torn.

Another thunk.

The pole right next to her lifted up. It passed over what she decided was a wall and settled down on the other side with a muffled thunk.

Another lifted up, one she couldn’t see. She could feel the air as it passed over her.

The pole against her backside scraped against her as it lifted.

The contraption froze.

Eva froze.

She held her breath, not daring to even breathe. If she had the tools, she might have speared her heart to keep it from hammering so loudly.

Her backside cut open as the contraption moved once more. Eva could sense blood trickling down her butt. Her cut healed more on instinct than any conscious act on Eva’s part.

Eva watched the pole, with mere droplets of her blood on it, as it lifted up and over the wall.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

Eva gasped in air. Her lungs were on fire. Her heart felt like it might explode.

She lay in the pool of someone else’s blood, thankful to be able to see anything at all, and waited for her shaking to stop.

Eva rolled in the blood, smearing it on herself. It meant she could see at least herself. Wiping on her face and soaking it in her hair created the odd sensation of seeing herself from outside her body.

Or like she had mirrors all around her.

She wished she had a container. She could splatter it around while she moved and at least get some simulacrum of the environment in her head.

That was not to be the case. There was nothing she could use.

Calmed down enough to think, though her heart still racing, Eva concentrated on the blood that was there.

She followed it up, her vision expanding as she concentrated and calmed. A person hung from chains attached somewhere out of her blood sight. He had a large hook through his chest. Blood dripped down from his toes.

He writhed and moaned, obviously still alive.

She ignored him. He wasn’t in any state to help her.

Eva splashed through his blood, splattering it around as much as she could. She crawled through it as far as she could stretch it.

Eventually, Eva ran out. She crawled along, blind to everything but herself and the rapidly diminishing trail of blood she made.

The sound of someone sobbing slowly grew audible.

She concentrated as hard as she could on expanding her vision as she crawled.

A small pool of blood entered her range about fifty feet away. She crawled towards it.

Another person, a woman this time, hung above the blood. Eva wasn’t sure she had a full grasp on interpreting her blood vision. There were two long poles on chains leading up to the ceiling like the kind trapeze artists swung on. They crisscrossed each other through the woman’s neck.

How her head hadn’t torn off her body, Eva couldn’t begin to fathom. Her body didn’t look like the lightest thing around.

Eva smeared herself in the pool of blood. It wasn’t as much as the man’s blood, but it freshened her up.

Do you wish to go back in time?

Eva whirled. She couldn’t find any source of a voice. That only meant they didn’t have blood on them. The woman above her continued sobbing, not taking notice of any voice.

You could regain your eyes. Your fingers. Your toes. Just say yes.

The voice came from all around, yet nowhere at the same time.

Devon was mad enough at her for Ylva’s throne room. Ylva had to be more benign than whatever lived here. She was sure she’d regret any contract made with whatever this was.

With time on your side, you could get revenge on all those who slight you.

Eva ignored the voice. She had a thought. Why couldn’t she sense someone who didn’t have blood on them. If they had blood in them, what difference would it make.

Eva focused on the woman above her. She had blood in her. She’d have to, in order to bleed.

The blood flowed from the holes in her neck. It fountained from her arteries and veins. Eva concentrated on that. Deeper and deeper inside.

You could get revenge before they hurt you.

Shut up, Eva thought. Her concentration broke. The sight of the blood shrank back to the woman’s neck. Eva focused again.

It was easier this time. Her sight sank into the woman. Limbs, organs, a beating heart. The woman’s whole body opened up to Eva. Every pulse brought her sight to life.

A neat trick, but not helping me escape. Even searching around for any other people brought up a blank.

Eva launched a fireball at the chains on the woman’s neck. It fizzled out without doing any damage. At least, none that Eva could see. For all she knew, that could be a lot.

She tried again, aiming for the same spot.

I wouldn’t do that.

On her twentieth try, the chain snapped. The woman swung to one side. The remaining pole tore through the woman’s neck as she swung. She landed with a plop in the pool of her own blood.

Somehow, she still sobbed and showed no signs of stopping. Eva wondered if she was even aware of anything outside her head.

Either way, her being alive was good.

Eva wiped the back of her right hand off on a relatively clean part of the woman’s body. At least, clean of blood. Cleaner than Eva was, in any case.

She shuddered at the thought that she might have been crawling through more than just blood. At least Eva wouldn’t be getting any infections.

With the back of her hand somewhat cleared off, Eva dipped her opposite thumb stump into the pool of blood. She carefully drew a circle on the back of her hand. Six lines spread outwards from the circle, touching the edge of a larger circle.

Probably the worst drawing Eva had done ever.

Hopefully it would work.

Moving to straddle the woman’s stomach, Eva whispered, “sorry, but you’re worth more dead than alive at the moment.” Her voice was hoarse and scratched in her throat.

Eva channeled magic into the back of her hand. She pressed down hard on the woman’s chest. A light pop was the only indication anything happened for a moment. The woman’s slowing cries were the next indication.

There it was. Looking inwards, Eva could see it covered in the woman’s blood. A bloodstone, right where her heart once was.

Eva smiled for the first time in a long time. She hadn’t expected that to work. Normally one should touch a beating heart directly. Not to mention the very malformed circle on the back of her hand.

Still, it had worked. The woman’s blood swirled around the bloodstone. With some effort and direction, the bloodstone erupted from her chest, covered in blood.

Eva inspected the bloodstone by covering it with blood. The blood filled every crevasse on the small marble.

That was a bad sign. Bloodstones were supposed to be smooth. The most perfect spheres to exist. Eva doubted this one would last a week. Less with use.

Eva planned to put it to good use.

She touched it to the pool of blood and the woman. Once sucked dry, Eva brought up as many blood marbles as she could. The marbles fell into a fast orbit around her, two merged together to form a sort of rolling-pin to run along the ground in front of her and check for obstacles. They were the only things Eva could sense in this place.

A small amount of blood kept circling around the stone. Without fingers, it was more convenient to have it hover in front of her. No dagger to mount it in, she would have a hard time drawing her own blood. A full, large bodied woman should be plenty for now. The woman’s blood was probably far more pure, according to blood magic, in any case.

Snapping fingers would be hard. Clapping would have to suffice for now. It was all a crutch in her mind, Eva knew. At least, theoretically. She’d never managed to vanish or obliterate blood without snapping in the past.

The blood swirled around her, touching against surfaces to grant her sight. Armed with her tools of war, Eva felt far more confident.

At least until a thunk sounded in the distance.

Now you’ve drawn the attentions of the keeper.

Eva shook the sing-song voice out of her head. It was not helping.

She ran.

Or tried to. The moment she shifted weight to her nonexistent toes, she fell.

Eva growled as toppled forward. She could fix this now. Several blood orbs dashed to her, catching her and righting her. She sent a handful of marbles to her feet. The spread out, forming makeshift toes. More blood stretched around her feet to anchor them in place.

Tentatively testing her temporary toes, Eva was happy to find they worked. At least for now.

She ran.

Whatever the keeper was, it couldn’t be a good thing to have the attentions of.

The walls of wherever she was ran in a large circle. At least from what she could tell of the short distance she ran. Another few bodies hung around the arena.

Eva happily sent her bloodstone skimming over the surface, gathering even more blood to herself.

There were no doors, no windows.

No roof either. At least not within her rough fifty foot range. Whatever the chains were attached to was so high, she couldn’t sense it.

Rather than continue around the arena–something that would bring her closer to those thunks–Eva created pillars out of the blood. Steps leading over the edge of the steel wall. She wasn’t sure the steps would hold her weight.

It was the first time she’d tried something like this. She’d never, ever had this much blood to play with. At least not since she made her last bloodstone, but she didn’t need to use the blood then. There was no way she could store this much blood without it degrading beyond use.

The steps did hold her weight.

Eva dashed up. She already sent an orb over to see the other side. There was ground there.

The thunks were slowly getting closer.

Rather than wait and form up steps on the other side. Eva just jumped.

One of her slippers splattered on landing. Eva tumbled into gritty sand.

Sand! That meant water, hopefully. Water brought her here, water could take her away.

Eva reformed her toes and ran. It was much harder to maintain cohesion while running across sand. Eva didn’t care. More blood was sent to her feet as she ran.

Her feet hit water before long.

Not sure that it would come with her otherwise, Eva popped her bloodstone into her mouth along with as much blood as would fit. She filled her eye sockets, ears, and other crevasses with as much as she could hold. The rest wrapped around her body.

She dived into the water thinking of nothing but home.

Like before, the water squeezed in on her and vanished.

A brief feeling of weightlessness took hold of Eva’s stomach once again.

And she fell.

Not a hard fall. Not like last time. She gently wafted down to a sandy beach.

A wave of nausea passed over Eva as she looked over the island with a single tree through blood filled eye sockets.

With a thought, the blood drained from everywhere she stuffed it. She was happy to note that the blood she wrapped around herself came through. It began orbiting around her, searching for any threats despite how the island felt safe the last time she was here.

One splattered against something. Something that wasn’t on the island before.

Eva whirled around, sending more orbs.

The orbs froze in midair. They dropped to the ground a moment later.

Eva fell to her knees and started crying.

She couldn’t help it. She tried to stop. Tried to stand up.

There was just no strength.

All her adrenaline was spent. Just a broken girl lying on a beach.

Sharp claws thrust out and grabbed Eva’s shoulders in a vice grip.

“It’s alright,” Arachne said. She pulled Eva close, squeezing her tighter than ever. “It’s okay.”

Eva threw her arms around the spider, squeezing just as hard as she cried into the demon’s shoulder.

Eva could see the agitation building in Arachne as her story went on. She looked about ready to tear something apart.

Unfortunately, the only thing to tear apart was Eva herself or the tiny twig that passed as a tree.

“The abattoir was a dangerous place to go. You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I didn’t know,” Eva snapped. “I was trying to get out of here. I didn’t want to end up in some demon’s private torture room.”

“The people there are being punished for severe breaches in contracts. Or rather, caught breaching contracts.”

“As nice as that is, I don’t really care.” Eva sighed as she leaned against Arachne.

Never had she been so glad to see a friendly face. They settled down at the edge of the beach and Eva couldn’t stop talking. Arachne silently listened to Eva’s day, even when Eva stopped at a few points.

Arachne had Eva’s hand in her own. She gently rubbed her claws over the back of her hand.

“I can fix this, I think.”

“What?”

“Not your eyes, I don’t think mine would fit.”

Eva pulled away from the demon and looked at her in her gray eyes. Everything was gray here, an odd irregularity she hadn’t noticed when she was alone.

“I’m not sure what you’re saying.”

“How do you think Devon is going to get his arm back? He’s going to make some deal with some demon. That demon is going to chop off its own arm and slap it on Devon. Demons do it all the time.”

Arachne stopped and shifted against the said. “I’ve never done it before. I’m sure it isn’t hard, I watched it happen once. My blood is your blood which can’t hurt.”

Eva pulled her hand out of Arachne’s grip. “I can’t take your fingers. Arachne, I–”

“It isn’t even a big deal to demons, we regenerate things quickly. You would too, if you were further along. It–” She stopped again and gripped Eva’s hand, running a finger at the base of her wrist. “It would be your whole hand. My fingers,” she wiggled her needle-like claws, “aren’t exactly compatible with human hands. The wrist is much closer.”

“Arachne,” Eva said firmly, “I can’t take your hands.”

“If you don’t, you’ll be going through the same thing Devon is going through. Summoning demon after demon, asking what they want for their body parts. Finding a good deal will be difficult, I assure you. You’re going to have to do that for your eyes already, since mine aren’t analogous to human eyes.”

“You said it yourself, I’ll regenerate when I’m further along.”

“I wouldn’t take that risk, if I were you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“When you reach the point where you can regenerate, your body might decide how you are then is how you should be. You might not be able to regenerate your missing parts at that point. You’d then have to go through the summon and bargaining process anyway and hope that whatever you’re given works.”

Eva frowned. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

Arachne pulled Eva’s hand up. “Close your– or just don’t think.”

“Wait,” Eva half shrieked. She pulled her hand back to her beating heart.

“You’re not going to find a better deal than free hands.”

“I know. I just–” Eva didn’t know what she just.

Arachne pulled her in close. Extra legs sprouted from her back, holding her steady. Two of the legs pinched Eva’s arms, holding them steady.

“Arachne,” Eva panicked. She tried to pull away. The restraints held her down tight, too tight. “I don’t think–”

“Don’t think,” Arachne said softly. “If you have to think about something, think about pulling those necromancer’s hearts out with your new claws.”

Eva stepped. She turned and looked at Arachne.

The spider-demon stood there frozen. Her legs still wrapped around the empty air Eva vacated. A moment after, she slumped. A dejected slump, like Eva just turned down her best attempts at helping.

In a way, she might have.

It didn’t matter.

“Not like that. That was too close to being in that chair again.” Eva took a deep breath. “I don’t want to hate you like that.”

Arachne didn’t respond. Her back still faced Eva, not having moved since she slumped down.

“It is a good deal, I’m sure,” Eva said slowly. “If I thought about it long enough, I’m sure I would agree.”

“Let’s wait.”

A long sigh escaped Eva’s lips. She stepped back to Arachne and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m glad. I was scared.”

“I wouldn’t have done anything to hurt you. I mean,” Arachne hesitated, looking off away from Eva, “it might have hurt having the rest of your hands removed. But it would have gotten better in the end.”

“It is the emotional hurt that I am worried about. I don’t want to see you like I saw Sawyer.”

“We have all the time here. When you feel up to it, let me know.”

Eva sat down on the beach, her back pressed against Arachne’s back. “We can’t get back?”

“I can. It will take some preparations. Your necklace is a beacon I can use to break the rules and escape from here without being summoned.”

Eva expected the necklace to be a beacon. “But not me.”

“There are rules in place to prevent other demons escaping with one’s beacon.”

“I can’t make my own beacon for you to take with you?”

Semi-tough hair tendrils smacked the side of Eva’s face as Arachne shook her head. She dodged their return trip. “Again, there are rules. I can’t take another demon’s gift with me without being summoned regularly. Even if I could, gifts must be accepted in the hands of a mortal–a mortal who knows they are gifts from a demon–before they become active.”

“So,” Eva said with a trepidatious smile, “we just need loopholes in these rules. I’m not a demon right? Try taking me back with you.”

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001.024

Author’s Note: Chapter may contain disturbing elements. If you find yourself becoming uncomfortable during Eva’s POV section, skip down to “Her Eva was missing.” This bypasses the section.

There will be an Author’s Note summarizing Eva’s POV beneath the bottom chapter navigation.

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“You knock on your own room?” Irene quirked an eyebrow in Juliana’s direction.

The two finished shopping in record time. The subpar selection offered by shops around Brakket certainly helped. Still, Juliana made out with a new uniform and plenty of everyday clothes. Her favorite purchase was a brand new winter coat. It was cut long with an outer layer of wool and fleece lining.

Her old coat wasn’t technically ruined due to being hung up near the door when the golems attacked. As long as Zoe lifted the limit on her miscellaneous spending, why not spend it.

“Eva tends to sleep naked. I like to give her some warning in case she’s already stripped down.” And to make sure Arachne wasn’t hanging around in her human form.

It had only been one day since Arachne came back to the dorms. Juliana spent most of that day at school. The night before and the morning, after their talks with Sister Cross and Zoe, Arachne spent the entire time as a human. Apparently she no longer felt the need to hide in her spider form. At least around Juliana.

Juliana expected her to take over the third bed in the room. Instead she cuddled up with Eva in her bed. They weren’t made for two people, barely made for one person, but Arachne didn’t care and Juliana heard no complaints from Eva.

In a way it was comforting to have her around. If the necromancers decided to send more golems to attack, Arachne should be able to deal with them without any trouble if her show at the club was any indicator.

“So, are we going in then?” Irene shifted the bag she was carrying to her other arm.

“There’s no answer. Maybe she’s out.”

Juliana slipped both of her bags onto one arm and pulled out her card. With a quick swipe, the latch clicked open.

An empty room greeted them.

Papers were strewn about Eva’s desk and her book bag lay underneath. If Eva really was gone, Juliana might take a brief peek; so long as Arachne was gone as well.

Irene set her bag down near Juliana’s bed.

“Can I offer you some–” Juliana stopped herself. “Well, our fridge and cupboards are empty. I’ll owe you something as thanks.”

Irene waved a hand. “That’s okay. I’m glad to have helped.” She wandered over to Eva’s desk. “What’s all this?”

“Hmm,” Juliana said with a peek over her shoulder. “New version of the scrying packets, maybe. She doesn’t use regular pens when she draws out the real ones.”

“Ah, well,” Irene glanced around the room almost nervously. “I guess I’ll be heading out now.”

“There’s no rush. I don’t know when Eva will be back, but I’m sure she won’t mind.”

“Shelby wanted me to help her with a thing when I got back, so I couldn’t stay long anyway.” Irene half skipped to the door. She paused with her hand on the handle. “Tell Eva I said hello.”

And with that, she was gone.

“You’d almost think she was avoiding you.”

Juliana whirled around. Metal turned to liquid beneath her shirt.

All her adrenaline meant nothing as she faced the speaker.

Eight red eyes poked out from beneath the covers of Eva’s bed. Arachne ducked back under the sheets leaving just the crest of her hair… things visible.

Juliana took a moment to allow her heart to come down to a more normal pace.

“I’d say she’s trying to avoid Eva, actually. We just spent two hours shopping together.”

“Why would anyone avoid Eva?” came the muffled response. Despite the muffle, it was almost a growl.

Deciding that might not be the safest topic, Juliana just shrugged. “Where is Eva anyway?”

“She went to the library an hour and a half ago.”

“And left you here?”

“She didn’t want to run into any nuns in the hallway with me hanging off of her.” The woman sighed from beneath the covers.

Juliana shuffled her feet. She thought about putting her new clothes away, but the atmosphere turned sour with Arachne acting dejected. “I’ll go see if I can’t drag her back up here.”

Arachne gave no protest as Juliana slipped out of the room.

Dealing with Arachne normally wasn’t much of anything. Except when Eva instructed, Arachne would all but ignore Juliana. A moping Arachne was far more uncomfortable to be around.

Juliana walked back down to the first floor and into the dormitory library. It wasn’t nearly as big as the main campus library, but it had several copies of all grade’s schoolbooks. There were a good number of extra books for extracurricular study.

Being smaller, none of the shelves were higher than Juliana’s head despite her rather petite stature. For now. Her mother would tower over nearly everyone she came across and one day Juliana was sure she would too.

No long black hair could be seen over the tops of the shelves. She walked up and down the few aisles anyway, in case Eva was kneeling down.

Juliana had yet to receive any kind of notice from her mother. She had just gone home Sunday night. There was no way she didn’t get a call about the golems on Tuesday morning, if not the night before. Juliana half expected to get pulled out of Brakket Academy, for good, by Friday.

Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. Despite all the goings on, she’d actually been having fun at school. Even if most of the classwork was below the level of her mother’s tutelage.

Without finding her quarry, Juliana stopped by Mr. Sunji’s desk. The curly-haired man peeked over the rims of his glasses.

“Can I help you?” he asked in a soft voice.

“Have you seen Eva? A girl, slightly taller than me, black hair down to just below her hips,” she added at his puzzled look.

“Oh, I’ve seen her. She comes in with you sometimes.” Juliana nodded a confirmation. “Yeah, came in an hour or two ago. Only stayed about fifteen minutes. Haven’t seen her since.”

“I see. Know what books she was looking at?”

“Sorry. I don’t usually pay much attention unless people need something.”

Juliana sighed. “Thanks anyway Mr. Sunji.”

He nodded her off with a polite smile. Juliana doubted he knew her name. Not that it mattered.

Juliana headed back upstairs, ready to tell Arachne the bad news.

— — —

“Wakey-wakey.”

A hot sting burned into the side of Eva’s face. Her neck creaked as her head twisted to one side.

Her eyes snapped open. Sawyer’s wide grin was mere inches from her face.

“There we go. I was worried we killed you.”

The bone thin man stood alone in a small room. At least, the part she could see. He moved his hands just behind Eva’s head. There was a light clicking noise and a band tightened around her forehead. It held her head straight forwards, she couldn’t move it an inch in either direction.

A single light bulb hung from its cord just behind Sawyer. The dim light was barely enough to reach the rocky walls of the room. A barred door was firmly wedged in the opening.

If Eva didn’t know better, she’d think she was in one of the older buildings at her prison. She inspected every inch of that place. None of the buildings looked this much like a cave.

Eva tried to shout at him. Her mouth wouldn’t move. Rather than the cold grip of a specter, leather was taut against her mouth and chin. She couldn’t even move her lips.

“Ah yes, your restraints. I did them myself, quite proud of them. Go on, struggle.”

Eva tried. She didn’t even move. Something was wrapped around her forehead, several points on her arms and legs, and all along her torso. Judging by the cool air, she wasn’t wearing much other than her restraints.

“Not even a budge?” Sawyer tsked his tongue. “You should really try lifting a little. Exercise never hurt anyone.”

Eva was willing to bet she could arm wrestle the skinny little twig in front of her. With the restraints on, she couldn’t do much but glare.

“I wouldn’t worry about it anymore though.” He moved back and to the side, out of Eva’s vision. She tried to cast a fireball at herself. Even if her fireballs were weak, they should work on the restraints.

Or not.

The fireball fizzled out before it even left her fingertips.

Eva took a deep breath through her nose and tried again. Same response.

“Fascinating,” he said. “Do you have an implanted focus? Or is that… No matter. Magic doesn’t work in the dungeons. Can’t have our precious prisoners accidentally acquiring a focus and escaping, now can we?”

Eva let out a low growl. He was lying, of course. Magic did work. At least, it worked for her. Just not further away than her body.

She tried stepping straight forward.

Eva groaned. It felt like walking headfirst into a wrecking ball.

“Unexpected. Something just pinged against the anti-teleportation wards. Was that you?” He pinched Eva’s cheek from off to the side. “That school must be something special. I almost regret attacking it now.

“Now then,” he said, “apart from all your other tricks, blood mages are tricky sorts. Let’s test just how tricky you are, hmm?”

He walked back in front of Eva. In his hands was a small steel rectangle. It looked like the kind of thing a fat businessman would chop off the end of his cigar with. Kind of. Sawyer’s cigars must be made of steel.

Two sharp slices rang as Sawyer tested it on the air.

Eva tried to pull away as he brought it right next to her ear. The bindings gave no quarter.

He sliced it in the air again.

“Now, the test.” He knelt before her.

Without being able to tilt her head, Eva couldn’t see him.

Another slice through the air.

Eva kept her breathing calm and steady. Whatever he was going to do couldn’t be that bad. The contraption was too small for a foot. It would just be a toe.

Toes aren’t even big deals, really. Just little stubs of flesh and bone.

Cold metal touched against her little toe.

Eva tensed. She tried to curl her toes but a strap over her foot made it near impossible.

The cold disappeared and another slice shirked through nothing but air.

Eva didn’t relax.

The cold reappeared around her toe.

Eva screamed out. Or tried to. Her mouth wouldn’t budge. It came out more as a loud hum.

Her toe was off. It hurt. It hurt.

Sawyer popped back up holding a small, fleshy colored thing between his fingers.

“It was just a little toe and you’re trying so hard to thrash around? I’d have assumed a blood mage would be used to the pain. Are you really a blood mage?”

Eva glared at him, grinding down on her own teeth.

“I mean, there are no shards of blood exploding in my eyes. Not a single tendril of blood between your foot and the toe trying to reattach it. And,” he gave it a squeeze. Blood dripped down, pooling on the floor.

Eva could sense it. She could ‘see’ it. The blood on the floor, his fingers, his shoe. She could see it all even without turning her head.

“And its black. I thought something was odd back in the woods. It might have been a trick of the light. Nope.” He laughed. “Black blood? You’re a demon yourself, aren’t you?”

With the restraints on, Eva couldn’t respond. She didn’t want to. With a deep breath, Eva concentrated on healing her damaged foot. Stopping the bleeding was the only thing she could do.

“That my restraints can hold a demon… Well, that brings a tear to my eye.” He laughed again. “I thought we’d barely get any money from selling off your body parts, but demon parts? Ohh boy, we’ll be living like kings. At least for a week or two.

“To be honest,” Sawyer leaned down, all but licking Eva’s ear. “I don’t care about the money, or the stupid book. Weilks’ plan wouldn’t have turned it into the real thing. He’s a deluded fool getting on in age and getting a fear of Death.”

Eva glared. It was all she could do. Desperately willing the blood on his fingers to do something, anything, wasn’t working. Even if she could snap her fingers, the blood hadn’t touched her blade.

“If your kidnapping draws out the Elysium Sisters, all the better. Them trying to use their augur to find you would be the best case scenario. Weilks is out watching their movements.

“Meanwhile,” he snipped the cutter again, “I get all the fun!”

He knelt back down, snipping the cutter as he went.

“Oh good, you stopped your bleeding. It’d be a shame if you missed out on the fun by passing out or, Death forbid, dying.”

Eva hummed as another toe splattered to the floor.

Her last pinky dropped off its nub. Sawyer caught it in a small sack along with the others. He wiped a lock of blond hair back over his forehead. He didn’t seem to mind it being stained black with her blood.

“Ten toes, ten fingers. I honestly have no idea who would want to buy demon toes.” Sawyer’s grin was visible even through Eva’s tears. “I’m sure someone will. There are a lot of real freaks out there, you know?”

Eva couldn’t think. Her right thumb was the last to go and it didn’t even hurt. There was too much other hurt going on. She felt light-headed. Not a lack of blood. A lack of air. Her heart hammered non stop. Two nostrils were not enough for her needs.

“Now,” Sawyer said. He pulled a long, shiny knife off a side table, “there are a lot of real expensive goods inside here.” He patted her stomach.

Eva froze. Not that she had any choice, none of the restraints had loosened in the slightest. She might not have to worry about a hammering heart much longer.

“Not a lot you can live without though.” The knife glinted as he slid it back towards the table.

Eva almost relaxed. Almost. She’d learned better over the last hour.

“Then again, you are a demon. Who knows what you can live through?” His hand flashed to her chest. The knife drew across her skin.

Eva healed herself as fast as she could. The cut itself was barely a scratch against the pain pulsing out of her fingers. She glared at him all the while.

Sawyer drew back. “That’s an annoying ability. I might actually have to knock you out to get in there.” He pulled the whole tray of surgical materials into Eva’s line of sight. “I’m sure there is lots of other fun we can have until then.”

His hands passed over various implements. With each one, he paused and looked at Eva as if considering whether to use it or not.

None of them looked like anything Eva wanted used on her.

“Ahhh, this one might work.” He picked up an odd-looking metal stick. It was long and flat, with clear pincers at the end. “Watch close and I’ll explain how it works.”

Eva gave him her best glare.

“Enucleation. Know what that means?”

He got a glare in response.

“No? Well then, this thing here is flexible, see?” He bent the tip of the thing. “By pulling on a string at the end, it can hug whatever it is around. By pulling another string it goes snip-snip.” He demonstrated. The little flexible end snipped shut.

“Would you like to see how it works?” He laughed and pinched Eva’s cheek. “Of course you do.”

Sawyer gripped her forehead with one hand and pulled her eyelid open. With one deft movement, he jammed the thing into her eye.

Eva tried to scream. She tried to step. She tried fireballs and blood. Nothing worked. Nothing helped.

“Snip.”

Eva’s eyeball jiggled in its socket as Sawyer slid the implement around.

“Snip.”

Her toes and fingers were nothing. Losing her leg was nothing.

“Snip and snip. Okay, now the big one. Big smiles for the last one.”

Eva tried to scream. She tried to cry.

The cutter shoved further back. She could feel it. It wrapped around the backside of her eyeball.

“Snip.”

Her left eye went dark.

“And,” Sawyer made a popping sound with his mouth as he forced her eyeball out of its resting spot.

He held it up. A red-hazel eye stared back at Eva.

Eva threw up. For the first time in nearly eight years, Eva threw up.

It flooded into her mouth. With nowhere to go, it spewed out her nose. Two nostrils were not enough for her stomach. It dribbled down her bare chest, pooling under her seat.

Her lungs burned. Her nose cleared. Eva greedily inhaled, some of her own stomach acid flew back in, burning her lungs from the inside. With great effort, she swallowed back the stuff in her mouth before she started coughing.

Coughing didn’t work so well with your mouth covered.

It just hurt more.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Sawyer said, having taken a step away from her. “There’s still one left though.”

He moved in while Eva was still reeling from the first one. He quickly snipped out the smaller cuts and then stepped back.

Eva couldn’t move her eye anymore. It hung loosely, affected more by gravity than any of her will.

“You know,” he said, “demon eyes will fetch quite the price. Regenerate them quickly enough and maybe we won’t kill you. We’ll just harvest your eyes until you pay us back.

“With interest, of course.” He lunged forward, jamming the tool into her eye.

Eva’s vision went dark.

“If you promise to work on growing back your eyes, I’ll leave you alone for now.”

Eva felt fingers touching her cheek. They pulled away. A moment later, footsteps walked away from her. A door opened and slammed shut.

It took all of her willpower to concentrate on stopping the blood. Her eye sockets were slowly filling up behind the useless flaps that were her eyelids.

Eva slowly got herself under control. It might have been an hour or ten hours, she couldn’t tell.

Eva couldn’t even slump. She just sat in her chair. Body fluids still dripped from her chin down her chest. The dried parts cracked and stuck to her, but they were far from the most unpleasant thing she was feeling.

Grow back my eyes? Eva almost laughed at that. She wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

Maybe if she had been caught a few years from now. Somewhere in the final stages of her treatment.

As it was, Sawyer would just come back and see no progress in healing. She’d get her stomach cut open and everything valuable taken out.

She tried casting fireballs. The heat just fizzled out the moment they left her finger nubs. She tried another midway up her arm, right next to a restraint. There wasn’t even any heat with that.

Stepping didn’t work. Her blood wasn’t working. She could still see it. It was the only thing she could see, though it wasn’t true sight.

There wasn’t much to see. It was mostly a small section of the floor splattered in front of her, the ends of her feet and hands–and her face. Maybe some of the tools as well; they were too far away to do anything with even if she could move.

Demonology wouldn’t help either. She had no summoning circles nearby to call out to. No runes anywhere to charge. She hadn’t read the necromancy books, but she doubted they would–

Or would demonology help. Arachne was always pestering her about moving through Hell to reach their other home.

Infernal walks were dangerous for mortals. Even if Eva went, she assumed Arachne would be there to help.

Hell couldn’t be any more dangerous than waiting for Sawyer to return.

Eva concentrated. She would have closed her eyes but…

Eva didn’t shake her head. She tried, but failed.

Focusing, Eva channeled her magic into herself. Not elemental magic, not chaos magic. She channeled it into herself the same way she channeled magic to summon demons. Arachne hadn’t been clear on exactly what to do–the demon had never done it herself–but Eva got the gist that it was almost the same as summoning.

Except backwards.

Eva vanished from the room.

— — —

Her Eva was missing.

The stupid human returned without any real answers. She flopped down on her bed and shrugged it off saying Eva was ‘probably fine.’

Like Arachne would believe that. Necromancers running around and a missing Eva? ‘Probably fine’ her tuberous abdomen.

Juliana conceded to that. She’d gotten her teacher to teleport the two of them out to the prison.

Eva wouldn’t be there.

Her Eva wouldn’t just run off without her. She promised never to do that again.

She promised. Eva wouldn’t lie to Arachne.

Which meant she had been kidnapped. Her Eva was in trouble and Arachne had no idea what to do. She was still alive; Arachne could feel it through their contract. But where at.

Arachne had left the dorms through the window. She marched around the area looking for any clues.

There were none.

If the necromancers were so easy to find, the foolish nuns would have found them already.

Arachne got the jitters as she walked along the forest near the Academy. She had half a mind to go get herself banished with the help of a nun. Then she could claw her way back into the mortal realm wherever her Eva’s necklace was.

That held dangers of its own. Aside from Hell–dangerous enough on its own–there was also the location of Eva. If she wasn’t in trouble, Arachne very well might expose her Eva as a diabolist. Their contract might be another problem.

Its wording was loose and vague, mostly on purpose. When they had made it, Arachne mentioned not having to go back to Hell as part of the deal. She wasn’t sure if wanting to go back to Hell would break the contract. If it did, Arachne would be at fault. She could handle the punishment the Void would dole out.

The real problem was that she wasn’t sure Eva would want to reforge their contract.

Everything was going smoothly with her plan. Eva seemed to enjoy Arachne’s company. Her Eva no longer complained about Arachne carrying her places, or physical contact in general. If anything, she expected it. That was a good sign. The necromancers helped, oddly enough, boost Eva’s reliance on Arachne. They had a home that was mostly meant for just them.

Nevertheless, Arachne couldn’t help but feel it was too soon. If she did anything to jeopardize their contract, would Eva be the one to reestablish their connection?

Her Eva would.

Would Arachne want it? She had another plan for after their contract ended naturally. A plan it was far too soon to enact. But maybe, if Eva–

Something happened. She could feel it in her heart tube. The binding coils of their contract were still there, so Eva hadn’t died. Something had happened.

Something bad.

Eva felt far away. Distance meant nothing to the Void’s contracts in the mortal plane. Yet it was there. A distance between them.

An involuntary shiver ran up Arachne’s exoskeleton.

Her Eva was in trouble.

Arachne ran.

She couldn’t banish herself. Arachne only tried magic once well over ten thousand years ago. It was a tedious annoyance when her job usually consisted of crushing skulls.

The nearest summoning circle she knew of was in the prison. She could charge it and use it to traverse to Hell. That was more than an hour away. There were closer ways to get to Hell.

Arachne ran until she reached the school. There. A suitable target walked away from Arachne just outside the building.

A white-robed nun spun to face the approaching demon. It didn’t matter if she heard Arachne’s approach or if she felt the murderous rage pouring off the demon. She turned too slow.

Arachne had her sharp fingers gripped around the nun’s neck. “Banish me,” Arachne growled out.

The nun’s eyes flashed white, a burning glow coming from within. Lightning arced from her fingers into Arachne’s shoulder.

Almost involuntarily–almost–Arachne crushed the nun’s neck. She went limp and sank to the ground. It didn’t matter. Devon said they could feel each other die, or some nonsense. More would be here quickly enough.

Arachne thrust her hands inside the chest of the nun, piercing her with her needly fingers over and over again. It had been such a long time and Arachne couldn’t wait calmly.

By the time Arachne changed to pulling limbs off, two more nuns raced across the campus.

One immediately launched a lightning bolt towards Arachne. The mutilated remains of the first nun kindly blocked it.

The third nun began speaking as the other kept up her assault.

“Demon. Sathanus, subcategory: Lucifer. Designation: Arachne. Response: Banish.”

At least they had her name right this time, Arachne thought as she dodged another bolt of lightning. She didn’t know what the Sathanus and Lucifer nonsense was about, but she was Arachne.

A game. Arachne would make it a stress reducing game. Could the nun banish her before her companion was a pulpy mess.

Arachne intended to find out.

She launched up into the air, unfurling herself to her full glory. A lightning bolt lanced up into her abdomen before she landed. She shrugged it off. It wouldn’t be pleasant later but right now, Arachne just didn’t care.

The lightning nun rolled out of the way just as Arachne landed where she had been.

Arachne barreled forth, barely avoiding another lightning strike. A blue shield enveloped the nun, stopping her claws just inches from her body. As much as she hated to admit it, she would have been banished in that alley if Eva hadn’t helped break the shield.

This time, she had no help. Arachne could feel the Void opening up beneath her. She almost stopped and let it take her. Not before she gave the nun a last parting gift.

Arachne swung her bulbous abdomen around, the same move that had scattered a mass of bones five times the nun’s size. Even with the shield, the nun went flying. She crashed straight through the cinder block wall.

Empty tendrils grew out of the ground. They wrapped around Arachne and pulled her down into a large portal.

She gave the remaining nun a grin as the mortal realm vanished above her.

The web covered crag of her domain rapidly approached Arachne.

Odd, Arachne thought as she fell, the contract with Eva feels closer now.

>>Extra Chapter 002<<

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Author’s Note: Eva was tortured by Sawyer. She had her toes, fingers, and eyes removed. She attempted an ‘infernal walk’ to escape.


001.023

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“It was trying to climb up onto the counter. I just added spikes to the bottom of my shoes and stomped on it. Professor Baxter and Sister Cross came into the room a moment later.”

Eva leaned back, listening to Juliana’s story. She’d already heard it once, though that one was a lot different. A shame really. All the good parts were left out of this version.

Of course, the audience might not be able to take the unsanitized version.

Irene sat across from Eva. Her pork riblets had been shoved to the side after the initial description of the flesh golems. Her face grew greener almost every time Juliana said a line. She kept flashing a look at Eva as well.

A bit odd. Eva pegged her for the braver of the twins based on how she initially wanted to see Arachne.

Shelby also stopped eating her goulash, but she almost seemed interested in the story rather than scared or disgusted. Almost.

Jordan listened to the story with rapt attention. He shoved his food aside more for concentration than loss of appetite. “So where was Eva for all of this?”

“In the Rickenbacker medical center with Nurse Naranga,” Eva said, glad she and Zoe Baxter had come up with that cover story. “It was quite a shock to return to the room.”

“It was a shock to smell the hallway,” Irene grumbled, more to herself than anyone.

Eva gave the girl an understanding smile. The room smelled worse, but not by much. The real surprise for Eva was walking down the hallway.

At some point, the room entered her sphere of blood sense. She could almost ‘see’ the entire kitchen from the hallway. All the cupboards and the furniture, she could even tell where the ceiling was from the splatter that landed there.

It was all a bit disorienting.

Irene just shivered and looked down at her plate.

“Still though, first Shalise and now you?” Max glanced over at Eva. “Better be on your guard, you’re next.”

Shelby elbowed him in the side. Hard. Max doubled over, groaning.

“You can’t say things like that,” Shelby said. “What if she really gets hurt? Then how would you feel?”

Eva let her smile drop, but didn’t respond. They were probably after her in the first place.

Arachne now waited in their temporary room as a guard, just in case. If Eva had to run to the prison again, she’d probably bring Juliana with her. Eva was still unwilling to have the spider-demon anywhere near the nuns patrolling the campus.

Outside of their dorms, the nuns had almost tripled overnight. Two stood around the cafeteria and a fourth seemed to patrol between the tables every minute or so. Unnecessary, in Eva’s opinion.

She was still unsure what to make of Sister Cross’ theory of another necromancer in town. It seemed far-fetched. That there would be two separate groups of necromancers in town with both having run into Eva, or at least Eva’s room in the second case, she found to be incredibly unlikely. If it was true, however, they likely wanted the book as well.

What Eva really needed to do was inform the necromancers that the book was destroyed. For some reason, just hanging up notices like missing posters for a lost cat did not seem like it would do the trick.

“I can’t imagine having to sleep in that room.”

“We don’t,” Juliana said. “We’ve been moved to room three-eighteen until the room has been ‘sterilized.'”

“Even then, it can’t be pleasant going back to it.”

“I’m more concerned with my clothes. The things landed right by my bed. Some blood and puss got into my drawers.” Juliana sighed. “I think I have to burn the entire thing.” She pulled at the tee-shirt she had on, the only student in the cafeteria who wasn’t in uniform. “These are Eva’s even. Not that they’re bad or anything,” she said quickly with a glance at the owner.

Eva lightly chuckled and waved her off.

“Oh,” Irene perked up for the first time since lunch started. “We’ll go shopping after class ends. We’ll have to be quick though, curfew has been moved to an hour before sunset after your thing.”

“That seems odd,” Eva said. “A student is attacked in their dorm so now we have to be in the dorms sooner?”

Jordan looked up at Eva’s comment. “Professor Lurcher assured us that additional wards were being erected to prevent another incident,” he said.

Then why weren’t they erected after Halloween.

Eva didn’t have much confidence in the school. She had half a mind to erect her full blood wards when they moved back into three-thirteen. Sadly, such a thing would be hard to subtly key in everyone to the wards. Eva couldn’t very well go around to the entire faculty and ask for a blood sample.

Not to mention the wards might be detected by the Elysium Sisters. Their complete capabilities were still a mystery to Eva.

“No more zombie talk,” Irene said, flicking a finger at Jordan. Her finger whirled around to Juliana. “We’re going to get some new clothes and a new uniform for you with no talking about zombies either.”

The bell rang with only half of them having finished even part of their food. Together they sauntered off to alchemy.

Alchemy was the odd class out. Unlike all the classes with proper desks, they had counters with sinks and gas valves poking out the top. Four students could fit at each counter rather than the three per desk.

Normally, Irene sat with Eva and Juliana.

Today, Eva watched with furrowed eyebrows as the brunette stopped and hesitated. She glanced at her usual seat at Eva’s side before hurrying over to Jordan’s table, taking a seat beside Max.

Eva shot a questioning glance at Juliana. The blond shrugged and shook her head, looking just as confused as Eva felt.

Without Shalise, their table was down to two.

Understanding dawned on Eva as she moved to the stool next to Juliana. Most of Wayne Lurcher’s lessons were for pairs. Without Shalise, there would be an odd person out. It might be weird for Max to have a partner for the first time since school started, but it probably worked out better this way.

Wayne Lurcher got the lesson started the moment the bell rang. He pulled a bucket of crystals out from behind his counter. Eva recognized them immediately as crystallized magic spanning all six colors of thaumaturgical magic in various shapes and sizes.

“Today we will be melting this entire stock into liquid magic.” He held up one of the sapphire spheres. “Water is the easiest. As many of you may remember from Calvin’s class, getting it into the crystal form is the hard part. It wants to be liquid.”

That was an understatement. The water crystal class had been the worst general magic class so far. They’d had small glass bowls of water to turn into crystal. Getting it into a crystal form wasn’t that hard. Keeping it there was. A good portion of the class tried to pick up their crystals before they stabilized, despite warnings from Professor Calvin. The moment they touched it, the crystals would explode into liquid magic, soaking everyone around.

Shalise ended up soaking Eva and Juliana more than once.

“Earth,” he picked up one of the jagged green crystals, “is the opposite. It wants to be solid, though I imagine you’ll have less problems than you did getting water into a crystallized form.”

He held up a small lump that looked like a potato. If potatoes were transparent and had raging sandstorms inside of them. He put a glove on his other hand before lifting a pointed red crystal that had very visible heat waves emanating from it.

Eva did not miss Juliana’s wince at the sight.

“Both air and fire can simply be melted with heat. Extreme heat in fire’s case. We have special ovens for that.”

Only two types remained. “Order and chaos are the two odd ones. We will be dissolving and then distilling the two.” He tapped the smooth white sphere against the black box. A loud hiss echoed through the room. A portion of each crystal vanished. “It might look gone, but the essence is still in the air. It will dissipate after a few minutes. With a special still to trap it, we can condense the two into liquid order and liquid chaos.

“If you mess up, you’ll have homework of making more crystal of whatever type you ruined.”

The rest of the class was spent making large flasks of each type of liquid magic. Wayne Lurcher showed more in-depth ways of liquefying each type of crystal. Neither Juliana nor Eva had any problems.

The only group to wind up with any of Wayne Lurcher’s homework was the Jason Bradley and Peter Mason duo. They somehow screwed up making liquid fire. It was so simple. The fire crystal was placed in the oven and liquid fire dripped into a flask. How they messed it up Eva couldn’t fathom, but a large pile of slag had replaced their oven.

Max didn’t mess up anything, which came as a surprise to Eva. Probably due to Irene rather than any bouts of competence from her partner.

The moment Wayne Lurcher dismissed the class after the bell rang, Irene ran over and half dragged Juliana away. The poor blond gave a half-hearted wave to Eva as she vanished through the door.

That Juliana seemed to be done with her cold shoulder was nice. Four days of living in the same room right next to each other, without school even as a distraction, was awkward. She didn’t even have any good books to read. Almost her entire collection, including the as-of-yet unread necromancer books were all out at the prison.

Eva would have to thank the necromancers for sending those flesh golems before tearing out their hearts.

In the meantime, she had work to do.

Once inside dorm three-eighteen, Eva stepped straight to her desk. She had moved all of her supplies the night before.

Arachne peeked out from under her covers in spider form. She glanced around the room. A moment later, Arachne shifted into her human form, already reclining on Eva’s bed.

“It was boring without you around,” Arachne said.

Eva held up her finger to her lips.

“What?” Arachne whispered. She looked around the room again, getting up from the bed in an alert stance.

“I had the theory before,” Eva said as she pulled out a stack of fresh paper and a pen. She’d use her good ink after she was sure of her runes, the anti-scrying papers were getting exceedingly complicated, but it was a fun problem to work out.

Eva continued, “Juliana’s description of the golems seemed to confirm it.”

“Confirm what?” Arachne whispered.

“It also revealed a massive flaw I can’t believe I didn’t correct earlier.

“I’m pretty sure that those flesh golems couldn’t see thanks to my runes. I mostly expected that. After all, skeletons don’t have eyeballs yet they can still see. Those flesh golems seemed to hear Juliana’s footsteps.”

“Your runes don’t block sound?”

“No.” The oversight made Eva sweat buckets when she first thought about it. “If someone heard one of our discussions in the shower…”

“They’d just think you were with Juliana or Shalise, right?”

“I can’t say that you sound like either of them,” Eva said. “Not to mention the things we talked about were definitely dangerous.”

“So you’re going to fix that?”

“At least for our room, I will.”

Eva set to work. She started with a blank piece of paper. It was easiest to start from scratch and then tie the sound runes into her already existing anti-scrying runes rather than try to get everything working at once.

Waves in the air cause sound. It seemed a good place to start.

Isaz tied to aesh to freeze the air. She tied them together and set up a boundary similar to the scrying runes. A uath and naudiz would be tied in later to cause fear and distress in anyone attempting to listen. For now, they were just to the side, unconnected. With the simple array in place, Eva charged the runes.

Nothing happened.

Of course nothing happened. She’d need to try to listen in. Eva didn’t know how to do that.

Eva looked up to ask Arachne if she had any way of testing.

She tired to speak, but no words came out.

A small feeling of panic settled in.

Eva took a big gasp of air. Relief replaced panic as air flowed into her lungs. She wasn’t sure if Arachne needed to breathe or not, or how often, but Eva still needed air. Adding pargon power runes might have solidified the air. If she had frozen the air so solidly she couldn’t even move, she would probably still be able to overload the regular ink, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Glad nothing went seriously wrong, Eva tore the paper in two, ending the effect.

The mistake was an obvious one, one she’d learned when she first made her anti-scrying runes. She forgot the praecantatio rune attached to the isaz rune.

Her first runic sheet blinded herself and Juliana, scaring the poor girl for a minute.

Praecantatio changed whatever it was attached to into magic, in this case, freezing magic that interacts with the air. Hopefully most forms of magical listening would pick something up from the air.

Eva quickly redrew the paper, changes in place, and activated it.

“Arachne,” Eva said, “know any means of scrying with sound?”

The spider-woman shrugged and nestled back into Eva’s bed.

Eva didn’t expect any other response. In all her years knowing the demon, Eva never once saw her casting any magic. Her blood was magical, very magical if Eva’s blood magic was any indicator, so she could in theory. Arachne was probably just too lazy to learn.

“I’ll be heading to the library for a few minutes then,” Eva said.

The runes were a good start. They felt promising, at least. It wouldn’t do to leave them untested. They almost assuredly needed testing. Hopefully, she would find a book on the subject.

Arachne perked up.

Eva was quick to crush her hopes. “I’ll only be gone for a minute. Stay here. We don’t want to run into any nuns out in the halls.”

Arachne fell face first onto the bed. She grumbled something into the pillow. Eva had a decent guess as to what she said.

Eva moved up next to her, patting her on her back. “Don’t be like that. They’re to our advantage right now. Plus there are at least thirty of them, probably more.”

Another set of grumblings rumbled out of the pillow. It sounded suspiciously like, ‘eh, I could take them.’

Eva ran her fingers through the semi-stiff hair tendrils running off onto the bed. “One other thing. Juliana is out shopping with Irene. When she comes back, Irene might help carry things into the room. It is safer for you to be a spider when that happens.” At further rumbles in the pillow, Eva added, “they won’t be back until curfew, I bet. Just keep an ear out. If you hear anything, change into a spider quickly.”

She gave a quick pat on Arachne’s head and headed down to the library.

The musty scent of the Rickenbacker library filled the air as usual. It seemed to have gotten worse after snowing. Students tracking in snow made the books moist.

If Eva were in charge of the library, there would be several runes set up around the entrances to keep dampness at bay. She’d done that at the prison and her Florida home.

David Sunji wasn’t Eva. He sat at his usual spot behind the counter and gave Eva a polite nod. He made no effort to make sure her shoes were clear of snow and water.

They were clear, of course. She cranked up the temperature in her shoes at the prison the night before to help dry any wayward snow.

Her next task at the prison was to inscribe some more permanent runes along every path in the prison. Something to keep the winter away while walking around.

Sadly, winter proofing the prison was not an immediate concern. Necromancers were. Ensuring privacy in dorms came pretty close to necromancers.

Eva made her way to the section she found the scrying book at. There had to be something around that she could use.

It didn’t take long before she found a book that looked promising.

Claircognizance: Clairvoyance, Clairsentience, Clairaudience, Clairalience, and Clairgustance

Written by Claire de Puységur

Rather than the smooth pools of water her other book instructed to use, Claire insisted crystal balls were the best form of clairvoyance possible. Unfortunately, crystal balls weren’t easy to come by. Filling a bowl with water was far more convenient.

Eva skipped to the clairaudience section. By burning fresh needles from pine trees, a good amount of smoke would be produced. Using a wand to channel magic into the smoke and focusing on a location, clairaudience could be achieved.

That seemed doable. Too doable. A crystal ball might be hard to acquire, but books like these shouldn’t be accessible by children. That was just asking for trouble.

Still, that was why Eva was working on her new runes.

There were pine trees in the small section of woods behind the outdoor auditorium.

Eva snapped the book shut. The auditorium wasn’t far. A jog from the dorms would take less than ten minutes and another ten minutes to get back.

Half way there, Eva started regretting coming. She should have gone shopping and picked up some boots. The paths were shoveled or at least trampled between school and the dorms. The path to the auditorium hadn’t been used since school started.

Snow a good five inches deep filled the entire area. The heating runes were not keeping up. Eva shivered, wishing she was better at fire magic.

Once far enough away from the dorms and the nuns, Eva started stepping. Skipping huge amounts of the snow helped a little, even if that little was just to get her out of the cold sooner.

In retrospect there were probably pine trees in the Infinite Courtyard. Most of its paths would probably be trampled down after two days of school. At least ones far enough in to reach a pine tree.

Eva toughed it out. The auditorium sprawled out before her, covered in snow. She’d just step straight past and be done with the cold for the rest of the week.

Just before the tree line, Eva withdrew her dagger. She tapped out just a tiny amount of blood. It formed an intense heating rune on each of her shoes. Blood wouldn’t last long for making the entire rune, but she’d rather walk on hot coals on the way back than trudge through the snow.

With steam rising at every step, Eva went up to the nearest pine tree and started pulling needles. They were slightly sticky. The self-cleaning enchantments on her school uniform better be up to the task.

She filled her pockets and took an extra double handful. After clearing a spot on the ground, Eva set the needles on a spot dried by her shoes. Might as well test her existing rune and clairaudience while she had the spare needles to gather if she screwed up.

A small, controlled flame was much easier to create than a fireball and that is what Eva used to get a smoldering clump of pine needles. As the book said, she channeled magic, wandlessly, into the smoke and visualized room three-eighteen.

Nothing happened.

If her rune was working, she wouldn’t be able to tell if she was doing the spell properly. She tried to focus on the dorm cafeteria which usually had at least someone in it.

Still nothing.

Eva pulled another handful of pine needles off a tree and added it to her pile. She settled down, ready to try again.

She spent a half hour testing various locations before she heard even the faintest murmur of noise that wasn’t from the near silent woods around her. There was a conversation going on in one of the classrooms in school. It wasn’t clear enough to make out details or even what the speakers sounded like.

At least the spell worked. Closing eyes seemed to help more than anything.

Nothing.

That might be because Arachne was quiet and Juliana wasn’t back. Not for the first time, Eva wished she had a way to contact the spider. Zoe Baxter seemed to use a cell phone for her long distance communication. Eva almost thought about buying one for her and another for Arachne, but didn’t think Arachne would like it so much. She didn’t wear clothes and would probably crush it any time she tried to type on it.

There had to be a proper magical way to communicate easily. If she could teach Arachne clairaudience, that might be a solution. If they both used it at the same time. And always had piles of the sticky pine needles on hand.

Sighing, Eva opened her eyes.

A large, murky spike of ice jutted out of her pile of needles.

Eva scrambled backwards, looking upwards to make sure she was in the clear from other icicles.

Her cheeks heated up with a wave of foolishness as she realized what the icicle was.

Huh, she thought as she tipped over the spike, I suppose isaz worked.

A light chuckle escaped from her lips.

The chuckle and any accompanying smile vanished as snow crunched behind her.

She pulled her dagger out from its place on her back and glanced around the woods.

“No demon to watch your back tonight?”

Eva whirled, sending a splattering of blood in the direction of the voice.

A large flesh golem jumped in the way of the blood, shielding its masters.

She snapped her fingers and the blood flashed. The golem staggered and collapsed to the ground.

“I’m quite capable on my own,” Eva said with far more confidence than she felt. The golem fell due to luck, more than anything. Had that been Arachne’s blood, the golem would have vaporized.

And she still hadn’t gotten around to having Arachne refill the vials she’d used on Halloween.

The skinny figure behind the fallen flesh golem clapped his hands twice with a wide grin on his face. “I thought that was blood magic the other night. It was too dark to tell for sure.”

A spectral hound growled at Eva from between the two men standing before her. Ectoplasmic foam dripped from its mouth to the snow. Around ten flesh golems stood around the two men.

The wider man shot a glare at his companion. “We’re here for the book, not for compliments, Sawyer.”

“Book?” Eva said with false swagger. “Oh, you must mean the pile of ashes I scattered to the winds after Halloween.” She ticked her finger back and forth. “Shouldn’t have shown your hand. Especially to me.”

The large man started forwards. Three more flesh golems jumped forwards with his movement. Sawyer placed his hand on the larger man’s shoulder, but the golems didn’t stop.

Eva jammed her crystal dagger into her arm. She drew a thin thread of her dark blood into a razor wire in front of her.

With a snap of her finger, the wire whipped out from her. She slashed it across the nearest golem.

The golem staggered, but kept coming.

Eva thrust out, wrapping the whip around its neck. She snapped her fingers, decapitating it.

The other two barreled onto her. She stepped straight behind them, forming a small blood needle in each hand as she moved.

The golems each got a needle in their backs. With a snap of her finger, the needles exploded. They collapsed with damaged spinal cords.

Eva whirled on the remaining group. None of them had moved. “Come on,” Eva said, trying to contain her anger. “I’ll take on the rest of them and you.”

Revealing her stepping was not something she wanted to do. Especially without her wand in her hand. She tried very hard to make her finger ring more obvious.

Sawyer just laughed and clapped again. His grin never left his face.

“What a ferocious display.” He leaned over to his companion. “If that’s what they teach kids at that school, I might have to enroll my daughter.”

“Sawyer,” the man growled. “No jokes. If she destroyed the book…”

“It isn’t like the book was our main plan.” Sawyer paused and brought his finger to his chin. “It was expensive. We’ll have to gather just recompense from the young lady.”

A golden glint passed through his eyes as he spoke. It sent shivers up Eva’s spine. She quickly glanced around the woods. A number of flesh golems wandered up to form a loose circle around her. She almost stepped away when Sawyer’s companion spoke.

“I don’t care about the Elysium whores.” The word was all but spat out. “I want my book.”

None of the golems moved and their footsteps would crunch the show if they did. She’d have warning enough to step. Information might be more handy at the moment.

“What do you want with the Elysium Sisters?”

“Nothing much. Every chapter travels with an augur. We just want her skull polished and carved into a container. Her soul can stay inside until we tire of her blathering.”

“That doesn’t sound like something Death would like much.”

Sawyer shrugged without breaking eye contact. “It isn’t like we’re turning her into a lich. Did you even read those books you stole?”

Eva shifted uncomfortably.

His voice dropped to a low rumble. “Those who squander knowledge are the worst sorts of people.”

Eva opened her mouth to retort only for it to snap shut. A cold chill gripped her spine. The cold branched out to the tips of her fingers and the bottoms of her feet. Even the boiling runes in her shoes couldn’t fight off the cold.

She tried to step away. Even towards the necromancers when she couldn’t turn her head.

Instead, Eva teetered and fell into the snow.

“That took longer than expected,” Sawyer’s companion grumbled.

It took all her concentration to lift her head up. She struggled to look at the necromancers. Her head moved slowly, like she was in a pool of honey.

“Don’t fight the possession, my sweetie. You’ll just hurt yourself.”

Eva didn’t listen. She fought as hard as she could. Slowly she got to her feet.

It wasn’t her doing.

“Well?” Sawyer’s companion barked out.

“Something’s strange,” a voice said. “She’s strange,” Eva’s voice said. She lurched forwards. Her dagger tumbled out of her twitching fingers.

The large man walked up to Eva. He gingerly plucked the dagger out of the snow. Only his forefinger and thumb touched the hilt.

If only he accidentally cut himself.

He gripped Eva’s chin with a meaty hand and pinched her mouth open. A cold liquid flooded into her mouth.

“Make her swallow.”

Eva tried to spit. Tried to avoid swallowing. Cold tendrils snaked through the inside of her mouth. The potion was in her stomach soon enough.

If only she was further along in her treatments. The drowsiness wouldn’t have taken hold.

“Now,” Sawyer’s voice came through murky water, “what were we talking about?

“Ah yes, recompense.”

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