Category Archives: Book 006

006.032

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Eva smiled as she leaned back, enjoying the warm rays of the sun.

It was a nice day out. A nice blue sky with a few clouds, just enough to provide the occasional spot of shade. There wasn’t much wind, not even a light breeze. Eva wasn’t complaining. It wasn’t hot enough in early April to need a breeze and the lack of wind kept her long hair from flailing about.

The only things truly off about the day were the violet streaks that hung overhead. They were almost invisible against the blue hues of the sky, so much so that some people around Brakket Academy might not have noticed if no one pointed it out.

Despite being aware of them, Shalise didn’t appear to care in the slightest. She basked in the sun with a dopey smile on her face.

She had dragged out a set of chairs for the two of them. Shalise did not want to spend more time inside the women’s ward, even if this one was in a completely different plane of existence. It was too much like a real prison, rather than the home that Eva had intended it to be.

While she could see where Shalise was coming from, Eva quite liked the prison. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing around, but it felt secure.

At least, it was supposed to feel secure.

Eva tensed as she noticed a human circulatory system approaching, her hand slowly reached for her dagger at her back. She only had a scant few vials of Arachne’s blood left to fight with and would have to make do with her own should that be consumed.

But Eva did not make any overtly offensive moves. Everything was ready to strike, but only out of sight. She was desperately hoping that she wouldn’t have to fight anyone at the moment.

“Hello, Lynn Cross,” Eva said to the approaching person. She kept her smile on her face and her tone of voice as polite as possible.

Not having Arachne around had her feeling far from secure.

So many people that Eva trusted were just gone. First Juliana–Genoa by extension–and Arachne. Even Ylva was no longer at the prison. Serena wasn’t around, she had been far too afraid to get close to Ylva. Now that Ylva was gone, maybe she could be convinced to stop by. But for the moment, no one was around.

Counting it up like that, it did not sound like all that many people. But felt like half of everyone she knew.

Upon hearing her name, Lynn shot a death glare at Eva. Her eyes narrowed to slits as her lips curled back in an expression of pure disgust. As she had done every time they accidentally found themselves in one another’s presence over the past four days.

Eva was fairly certain that she had Shalise to thank for Lynn not trying to murder her the moment they had got out of Hell. So at least she could count on Shalise being a good person and having her back.

Though her friend had definitely gained an increased respect for Lynn. Perhaps even adoration.

Shalise perked up upon hearing Eva’s voice. A wide smile spread across her face.

“Lynn?” came Shalise’s hoarse voice. Ever since the ritual, she had a slight rasp in every word. It probably hurt to talk as well; she hadn’t been talking all that much. When she did talk, she kept her responses short and to the point.

Eva kept her polite smile even as Shalise jumped up from her chair. She watched as her friend bounced on her feet as to cross the distance to the former nun.

Lynn’s harsh expression melted off as Shalise wrapped her arms around her.

Since Eva had dumped her in Hell, there would have been plenty of opportunities for Lynn to tell Shalise just who her mother was. Eva could not tell if she had done so or not. Shalise still called her by her name instead of ‘mother’ or anything similar. But they were a whole lot closer than before.

Given that Lynn had made up a majority of Shalise’s human interaction in the past months as well as removed Prax, perhaps that wasn’t so surprising.

“What are you going to do now?” Shalise asked.

We are going to leave.”

Shalise made to object, but Lynn held up a hand.

“You’ve had a few days to relax while I made preparations. Say your farewells and let us be gone.”

“But–”

Eva cut in. “Is it wise to take her with you? It could be dangerous, especially for Shalise.”

“Are you threatening us?” Lynn Cross’ eyes once again narrowed to thin slits.

“Not at all. I’m just saying that I might have overheard a certain Sister Cole talking about you getting what you deserve. How well can you, on your own, stand up to the Elysium Order hunting you down while protecting Shalise at the same time?”

Lynn’s face twisted into a sneer. More of a sneer than she already had on, anyway. For some reason, Eva got the impression that it wasn’t actually directed at her for once.

“They won’t hunt me down. They lack the resources at the moment. Your pet ensured that.”

It was a good thing that Ylva wasn’t around to hear that insinuation.

“And someone just broke into a cathedral to steal a priceless artifact. I’m sure they’ll have their hands busy dealing with that little pest for the foreseeable future.”

“There was nothing left behind for their augurs to track.” Technically, large chunks of Arachne were probably all over the floor of their main chapel. Eva somehow doubted that they would get anything useful from that until Arachne returned to the mortal realm. “I ensured that.”

“You’re underestimating them.”

Eva shrugged, not letting her smile slip from her face. “Perhaps. With said priceless artifact having been dropped off on their front porch, I doubt that they will be too interested in chasing me down. No harm, no foul, as the saying goes.”

Lynn opened her mouth to argue.

Eva cut her off. “Even if they do manage to track me and decide to attack me, they won’t be interested once they realize where they’re looking at. You did just mention that Ylva decimated the Elysium Order inquisitors. Will they really risk another confrontation?”

“Your pet isn’t here.”

“Not here here. But she’s around.”

Come to think of it, Eva considered, the prison is going to be empty these days.

No Arachne. No Ylva. Devon had run off and Eva had not seen him since visiting the Elysium cathedral.

He’d probably turn up just in time for her treatment, only to literally explode in rage at finding Arachne gone.

But, with no one else here, Eva wondered if she shouldn’t move back to the Brakket Academy dormitories. She would have to find a new room. Her old one was currently uninhabitable. It had a round-the-clock guard and several shackles set up by her around the entrance, though there had been no incidents apart from the first time.

Ylva was going to take a look at it sometime soon and see if she couldn’t sever the connection.

If Shalise left too…

Eva’s smile almost slipped from her face.

“So what will it be, Lynn Cross? Take your chances on your own, putting Shalise in danger with the Elysium Order on your tail? Or stay here, safe and sound knowing that there is an entity about that the Elysium Order dares not mess with.”

Lynn’s narrowed eyes hardened more. Eva found it hard to believe that was possible, but she watched it happen with her own eyes.

The hardening melted. For just a moment, Lynn Cross almost looked sad.

“Would that the Elysium Order be the only threat revolving around you, and I might consider. You, Eva, are a death trap.”

“Only Arach–”

“This city is a death trap,” she continued, talking right over Eva. “Between the necromancers and the demons, how many people have died here? How many students? Everyone with a hint of intelligence has already left the city. More will follow. I pity the fools who remain behind.

“Shalise has scraped the tip of Death’s scythe at least three times. Far too often for anyone, let alone a fifteen year old girl. We will not be staying.”

“Wait! You can’t–”

Lynn Cross’ eyes flared white. Shalise’s words were cut off as the two vanished with a sudden breeze of icy air.

The smile on Eva’s lips stayed where it was for a few moments longer. She didn’t feel like smiling. She hadn’t felt like smiling even before they had disappeared. The muscles in her lips just wouldn’t quite cooperate.

She had been smiling far too much in the last few days.

Her entire mouth felt numb and sore.

Ever so slowly, her muscles remembered a far more neutral and natural position. Now that Shalise had gone, she no longer felt the need to put on a happy face. No one was around to ask if she was alright again.

She was alone, well and truly, in the once again abandoned prison.

Taking a deep breath of the April air, Eva slumped in her seat.

This isn’t like me.

She needed to get up. She needed to be doing something. Reading a book on blood magic or hunting down Sawyer. Even working on school work. Finals were this week. Or they were supposed to be. Though she still wasn’t sure whether or not the school was staying open, she could be studying at the very least.

Eva drew in another deep breath through her nose, releasing it through her mouth after holding it for a few moments.

It took a good hour before Eva finally felt like dragging herself out of her seat.

Getting up took far more effort than it should have taken.

By the time she had finished dragging the seats back into the women’s ward, she was already feeling ready to just lie down and sleep for the night.

Clenching her fists, Eva shouted out. No particular words, just a frustration-releasing shout. Her rage at Lynn Cross, Sawyer, Arachne, Carlos, Juliana’s brother, annoying schoolmates, the Elysium Order, and everyone else she could think of all came out in a single continuous stream of noise.

Eva kept it up for a good minute before her lungs gave out.

Shouting, as it turned out, was mildly therapeutic. Eva really did feel at least three notches better than before. Childish? Perhaps. Some might call it a temper tantrum.

But no one was around at the moment, so screw them.

It probably would have been even more cathartic had she a certain necromancer or a few nuns to tear apart with her bare hands, but she would have to make do without for the moment.

For the moment.

A real smile grew across Eva’s lips. The first she had felt in several days.

Nel had found Sawyer before they invaded the cathedral. She had found him, and Eva wasn’t going to let the opportunity slide.

With a renewed drive, Eva started running through the women’s ward. She selected a handful of books that might come in handy and dropped them in a large bag. From her potions room, she grabbed a medium-sized potions satchel.

Most of the beneficial potions got tossed out–they barely worked on her anyway. She filled the empty slots with poisons of varying types.

While she really, really wanted to use her claws and nothing more, Eva did not want to charge into anything ill prepared. She had gotten herself captured by Sawyer once before and that was more than enough for her tastes.

Her spare blood situation was dire, however. She had a mere three vials of Arachne’s blood.

Unless she had filled some that Eva had left before they went off to the cathedral.

With a hesitant frown, Eva turned towards Arachne’s room.

She hadn’t been inside since.

Shaking her head, Eva shoved away any unnecessary feelings and pushed open the door.

The room inside wasn’t drastically different from any other room. It was just a normal cell.

In their most recent contract, Eva had offered Arachne the same thing she had offered Ylva that had allowed the hel to link her domain to Earth. However, Arachne had never actually acted on it. Eva had a sneaking suspicion that Arachne did not know how to do it. Like how she didn’t know how to make void metal, or teleport, or even use magic in general.

Arachne relied solely on her strength and natural resilience. She found books to be a chore and had turned down Ylva’s offer of tutelage.

Eva couldn’t actually blame her for that last one. Five hundred years of servitude sounded intensely unappealing, even if Ylva would probably be a kind and fair, if stern, master.

One thing that Eva could say about Arachne’s room was that it was decorated.

Tapestries of varying types hung from the walls. Some were larger, some were smaller. Not a single square inch of brick had been left unadorned. Some were of pure scenery–a forest-filled recreation of the landscape outside of the prison was done up on one of the larger ones. A number of them were portraits of people as well.

Well, not so much people.

One whole wall held nothing but images of Eva.

Red eyes with slit pupils stared back at her. For a moment, she thought she was looking at a mirror. It took a second or two to realize that her reflection wasn’t moving. Her eyes just looked so real, her hair had individual strands matching her real-life self.

But it was just a portrait. The largest of many.

One had her sitting, as if posed for a camera. Others looked like they had been created in the middle of fights. Eva couldn’t recall actually fighting any of the demons or people in most of the pictures, but they looked lifelike enough that she almost considered the idea that her memories had been modified.

One tapestry was an image of her sleeping, with Arachne asleep in her small spider form on Eva’s bare stomach.

Eva wasn’t entirely sure if she should be flattered or disturbed by the shrine of herself, but seeing that last tapestry brought a sick sensation to her stomach.

She should have been more firm. Ordered Arachne back into her spider form earlier in the cathedral.

Their most recent contract had been more verbose than the first one as it had been made in far less haste. After Arachne had exchanged her hands, Eva had decided to include a clause about following orders.

Arachne wouldn’t have been able to go against it. They could have all escaped so easily. Their task had already been finished, after all.

But Eva had never once exercised that clause. It felt gross, to manipulate someone she considered a friend. She had ignored it and forgotten about it on purpose.

Until just now. Seeing the two of them, peacefully sleeping.

It hurt.

Eva grit her teeth and tore her eyes from the portrait wall. She had come in here for any spare vials of blood that she could find.

Instead, she found something else.

Arachne had a bed in her room. Eva doubted that it had ever seen even five minutes of use.

The moment her eyes drifted from the walls, Eva spotted a dress draped over the bed.

It was a simple garment. Long and black with thick straps that would stretch from the top of the shoulder to the edge of the neck. No cleavage to speak of, though it did have an embroidered ‘V’ shape running from the shoulders to a point at the center of the waist.

With careful movements, she lifted the dress up. She had gotten much better at keeping her fingers from cutting things that she didn’t intend to cut, but they were still sharp. Accidentally ruining the dress…

Eva shook her head. Looking at the dress closer, Eva doubted she would be able to so much as snap a single thread. After giving it a small tug, she decided that it was definitely made out of Arachne’s silk.

And it was small.

Holding it up in front of her, Eva found that it would barely reach her mid-thigh.

Arachne was a large woman. Taller than Eva even after swapping her legs out–though Eva was quite certain that she had shrunk back to her normal height since then. The bust would be too tight on the demon, and the waist as well in all likelihood.

In fact, holding it up against herself, Eva had the distinct impression that it was not made for Arachne. That feeling was only compounded by the fact that Arachne had never worn clothes as far as Eva could remember.

Almost in a trance, Eva shed her own skirt and shirt to don the dress in their place.

It fit.

Perfectly.

Eva couldn’t recall ever once giving Arachne her measurements, but the dress hugged her body all the way down to her waist. There, it spread out into a short skirt down her thighs.

She spun in a circle, almost wishing that she had a mirror.

Except, she didn’t need one.

The largest portrait of her, the one whose eyes gazed in such a lifelike manner, was wearing the dress.

Unlike the dress she had on, the portrait Eva’s dress had sleeves. Short things that covered up the human skin but left all of her carapace visible. The portrait version of herself only showed off skin from her neck up.

Arachne must have decided to alter the design at some point.

Either way, this dress was meant for her.

Eva slumped down onto Arachne’s bed. She gripped the dress in her hands–it wouldn’t puncture; Arachne’s silk was far stronger than any pressure Eva could exert.

Slowly, she leaned back until her head came to a rest on the pillow.

She stared at the ceiling. Another portrait hung overhead, one that she had missed before. Arachne sat in a chair, a kind smile on her face as Eva sat opposite with her nose in a book.

Arachne wasn’t gone for good. She would be back. But when? Eva couldn’t say.

For all she knew, it could be years.

With a dry taste in her mouth, Eva decided to put off the hunt for Sawyer, school work, and whatever other responsibilities she had.

One day of rest wouldn’t hurt.

— — —

Nothing.

Absolute nothingness. An absence of everything.

An impossible sensation to describe. The moment any words were added to the idea of nothing, a relatable concept would be introduced. Something relatable that could be explained to a sentient mind would invalidate the idea.

And yet, it was a concept that Arachne was intensely familiar with.

Void had to get his name from somewhere, after all.

Eva, was the first word through her mind upon regaining consciousness. That thought vanished as she took stock of her surroundings.

Or lack thereof.

Arachne had once tried to explain a demon’s death to Eva. Not easy, given Void’s absolute nothingness. She listened intently, but didn’t understand the absolute void of everything.

Well, how could she?

Arachne had eventually decided on likening it to a disembodied brain attempting to claw its way back to its home domain.

And yet, Arachne distinctly recalled her head exploding, so that idea was obviously incorrect. She doubted that she even had a brain at the moment.

That professor had better have teleported my Eva away.

There would be hell to pay otherwise.

Arachne would hunt down the professor, her family, everyone she cared about, and even anyone she had so much as shared a pleasant word with as she passed by them in the street. Once she had them all gathered up, she would start with the youngest first. No! The oldest. The little ones might not fully comprehend their predicament. Watching her flay the older ones alive might drive home the point.

But then the older ones might die before knowing the despair that they were unable to save their children.

Quite the conundrum.

Randomly selecting might be the best course of action.

Of course, the professor would be exempt. Arachne would take her eyelids and nothing more. She would be forced to watch as Arachne slowly worked through every acquaintance–

No. Arachne clamped down on the thought. Eva didn’t want her thinking such thoughts.

Then again, if Eva was dead.

Arachne tried to avoid considering that line of thought any further. It did not stir pleasant feelings.

She had been getting so much better lately, in her own, honest opinion. Weaving was therapeutic that way.

Not to mention, thoughts of revenge were not conducive to getting herself out of the belly of Void.

What thoughts were conductive to her escape, Arachne didn’t know. Over the course of more centuries than Arachne could count, she had only died around ten times. She wasn’t quite sure how that stacked up to other demons. Arachne tended not to socialize with many others. Yet, for some reason, she felt like the number was relatively low.

Granted, that low number might have been because she hadn’t been summoned for a majority of her existence. Her domain wasn’t about to kill her and Arachne never visited other demons’ domains.

Her first death, she hadn’t had a clue what was happening. She only vaguely recalled being decapitated before finding herself out in the endless abyss.

In all honesty, it was lucky that she hadn’t gone insane.

Spending more than fifty years with nothing but her own thoughts for company was a hell worse than any she had ever imagined.

Fifty years was little more than a ballpark figure–to use a recent mortal term. There was no possible way of telling time within the void. Even once she returned to her domain, it wasn’t like she had a timer keeping track of how long she had been gone for. It was an estimate based off of subsequent deaths, ones that she had been more prepared for.

As mortal history advanced, they became far better timekeepers than they had been while she was mortal. That, combined with more frequent summons in the recent centuries, led to her estimated number.

But, I don’t have fifty years. Even if her more recent deaths had been less than fifty years, they were still far too long.

That carnivean had escaped in a mere three months. If that. For all Arachne knew, it had only been dead for a day before making it back to its domain.

Three months would have her missing one of Eva’s treatments, but it was still a far cry faster than fifty years.

But how had it managed that?

As far as Arachne was aware, she couldn’t do anything in this state. She couldn’t transform–or even feel her body. For all she knew, she literally was a brain in a jar on Void’s cupboard shelf. Or even just her soul in a jar. No brain needed.

Arachne did know that how soon one returned was somewhat related to how damaged they had been when they died. It took longer the more mutilated one was. Was it based off of their natural regeneration rate? Was the carnivean simply a faster regenerator than she was?

The carnivean had been quite thoroughly mutilated at her hands. Most of its tentacles had been severed along with having its eyes gouged out. And then there was the fact that Arachne had crushed the carnivean’s skull.

But, when she had seen it in Sawyer’s hotel, it hadn’t regenerated fully. It was still missing its eyes and several tentacles, especially the larger ones.

Arachne had never returned even partially damaged. She had always been whole and hearty no matter how damaged her body had been when she died.

There had to be a way to return early.

She had mocked the carnivean at the time, wondering if it died so often that clawing its way out of this void had become second nature. But at the moment, Arachne was willing to give anything to know how it had managed that.

Anything?

>>Author’s Note 006<<

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006.031

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Shalise jumped to her feet, ready for another attack. Lynn was at her side in an instant.

It was somewhat off-putting. Lynn’s lightning and fire was far more effective at dealing with the enigmas than anything Shalise could put out. Sure, her muscles were strong and afforded her a certain level of toughness that she would otherwise lack, but not a single one of the creatures had actually made it within grappling range since Eva had brought along Lynn.

She shouldn’t be complaining, but Lynn just looked so exhausted. Dealing with the constant attacks kept her from having a proper sleep schedule.

This time, however, both women sagged in relief as they spotted just who it was approaching the alternate women’s ward.

Zoe and Eva were walking slowly, carrying something heavy between the two of them.

“She actually got it,” Lynn mused under her breath. “I half expected to never see her again.”

Shalise gave Lynn a frown, but didn’t respond. She threw open the door to the women’s ward and ran out across the closed trap doors to see if she could help out in any way. They were carrying her salvation, supposedly.

Salvation? You were not complaining while using me to escape from the prison.

Shaking her head with a frown, Shalise shot a mental glare at Prax. She was fairly certain that she had been complaining. Even before he had taken over her body.

That was entirely unintentional. I did not intend for us to become stuck this way.

“Sounds like you’re complaining about what might get us unstuck.”

There was an uncomfortable shift in the back of her mind. Between Zagan and the dolls, he started. Whatever he was going to say vanished with a spike of annoyance.

“Well, I can’t stay here. Even with Lynn here, those things will eventually kill me. Then you’ll be stuck dealing with Zagan and the dolls anyway.”

Brushing off the resignation from Prax, Shalise raised her voice to more conversational levels. “Is that the obelisk? Do you need help?”

“Just hold the door and show us where to put it.”

Eva’s words came out quick and strained, so Shalise wasn’t about to argue. She ran up to the door and kept it from swinging shut on them while Lynn directed them to the circle she had drawn.

“Set it down here,” Lynn said. “The corner needs to point towards the center of the circle.”

Zoe and Eva complied without complaint. Once the obelisk was in place, they both heaved out great sighs of relief. Eva collapsed into the couch that had been shoved against the far wall while Zoe just leaned against its armrests, sheathing her dagger as she panted.

Pathetic. Prax’s amusement was almost palpable. We could have lifted that with one hand.

“Shalise,” Lynn said, “strip down while I get everything set up.”

Feeling the heat in her face, Shalise almost protested. Zoe and Eva were still at the couch, now talking softly to one another while Zoe pointed at the ritual circle. Lynn had already moved on to the backpack that Eva had slung on the floor. She pulled a white feather out of the bag and placed it carefully within a small circle at the side of the larger circle.

No one was paying attention to her.

I am paying attention.

“Don’t be a creep,” Shalise hissed as she pulled off her shirt.

Despite his words, Shalise couldn’t feel a hint of interest towards herself from Prax. It was just him being annoying again. A way of protesting his imprisonment within her body without angering her too much.

Maybe he wanted her to summon him once they got out.

That wouldn’t happen, though Juliana had offered to summon him back at the prison. If Shalise never interacted with him again, she wouldn’t be too upset.

But he hadn’t been that bad. He did get both herself and Juliana out of the prison safely and with their souls intact.

And the conflicting combination of anxiety and eagerness towards the ritual had Shalise feeling just a little pity for him.

He would be back in his own body, but had Zagan and the dolls to worry about, as he had just mentioned a short while ago.

Setting her folded clothes neatly to the side of the room, Shalise sat at the edge of the circle, trying and failing to cover herself as much as possible.

Why bother? Everyone in this room has seen you in various states of undress.

“Not this undressed.”

Mortal sensibilities, he scoffed.

Shalise kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to encourage his antics. He was just as nervous as she was, but his way of relieving that tension did not agree with her.

“Center of the circle, Shal. Remain standing and face me.”

After jumping slightly at being addressed, Shalise stepped into the circle. She moved to her spot, making certain that she didn’t scuff any of the markings on the floor.

Facing Lynn meant facing the door. Her back was to the obelisk.

An assortment of items lay out in an array around her. Sigils and markings were covering the floor, all designed to direct the magic in certain patterns, to make them flow through the objects, and all sorts of things that Shalise didn’t pretend to understand.

Both Eva and Zoe moved to stand near Lynn at the front of the circle, though Lynn moved back as soon as they came near.

Taking a bag of white powder in her hands, Lynn moved around to the obelisk behind Shalise.

Craning her neck to see, Shalise watched as Lynn opened the top of the obelisk and started pouring the powder inside.

As she did, the markings and sigils on the obelisk started to glow. It was a pale, white light that sent a shiver of disgust through her body.

Once full, Lynn replaced the cap of the obelisk and returned to the head of the circle.

“We’re going to start now,” she said. “Try to remain standing. Everything will be alright.”

Shalise took a deep breath, nodding.

As she nodded, she caught sight of her shadow. The light of the obelisk filled most of the room, so it wasn’t unusual that she would have a shadow.

But the shadow looked like Prax. She could see his hooves, his horns, and his muscles. Concerning, as Shalise’s arms were currently her own. No Prax’s muscles bulging through her skin. It was also far taller than it should have been, given the angle of the light.

Glancing up, Shalise frowned.

Neither Sister Cross nor Zoe had any shadow to speak of, as if the light was passing straight through them.

“Huh,” Eva said, back turned to Shalise to look at her own shadow.

Things sprouted off the back of Eva’s shadow. Like oddly angled wings made of bones. Except they couldn’t be bones. They were far too fluid. Liquid dripped off the tips of the bones to rejoin the mass of shadow making up the rest of Eva’s body.

There was more to the shadow. Shalise couldn’t see it very well. Eva’s body stood in the way to obscure most of it.

Without a word or glance at the others, Eva walked out the door and disappeared around the side of the women’s ward. Shalise didn’t see her pass by the window, so either she was walking straight out or she had chosen to rest against the wall.

Zoe started to follow, but appeared to change her mind as she set her eyes on Shalise.

Lynn took a step back. She looked over the circle, double checking everything for the hundredth time. Once satisfied, her eyes lit up like they did anytime she used her powers. She started chanting.

Shalise didn’t recognize the words. They weren’t English. Probably–

Latin, Prax confirmed. She could feel an air of dread coming from the back of her mind. I do not think that either of us are going to enjoy this.

“What do–”

Shalise couldn’t get her question out before the pain started.

A tearing, ripping sensation pulled at her back. Prax’s dormant muscles spasmed. They grew under her skin, then shrank, then grew again. Every time, they seemed to be just a little less attached. Her natural muscles strained as they pulled against each other.

All the while, Shalise screamed. Like the rest of her body, her brain felt like it was being torn apart.

Prax’s screams faded in and out of the back of her mind. Unlike her, he needed no air to continue his screams. His vocal chords weren’t wearing and tearing from the stress. His screams came in a constant tone.

Shalise couldn’t say how long it lasted. She was fairly certain that her consciousness lapsed more than once, only to be brought back by the crescendo of pain.

It ended with a sudden thud and a hot, wet, and sticky sensation against her chest.

Shalise slumped forward. The ground was quickly approaching.

She stopped inches away as a pair of arms caught her and pulled her into a tight embrace.

“It’s alright,” Lynn’s voice came faint and distant. “Shal, you’re okay. It worked.”

Shalise blinked twice, trying to clear her mind of the lingering pain. She was pressed tight against Lynn’s body, her head resting on the older woman’s shoulder.

Behind her back, Prax–red skin, horns, bulking body and all–lay face down on the ground.

Eva stood over him, nudging him slightly with her foot while Zoe stood to the side with her dagger out. When Eva had reentered the room, Shalise couldn’t say. She had no idea how long that ritual had lasted. Her muscles screamed at her as if she had been running three marathons in a row, but it had only felt like a moment or two.

A splattering of red and black blood lay about between Shalise and Prax.

Seeing Prax, Shalise’s eyes felt heavy. She tried to keep them open. She wanted to stay awake.

After two more blinks, she found it too difficult to lift them again.

“We’ll let her rest for a few hours,” Lynn’s voice came, distant and quiet. “Then we can return.”

“Fine with me,” Eva said from even farther away. “Keep watching her and don’t worry. If any of the enigmas attack, I’ll deal with them.” A certain violence entered Eva’s voice, one that Shalise couldn’t recall hearing before. “I hope more of the enigmas attack.”

There was a sound not dissimilar to the cracking of knuckles.

“I could use a little cathartic release at the moment.”

Her voice trailed off into a deep silence as Shalise lost consciousness.

— — —

“It’s time.”

Nel jumped at Ylva’s words. She had been concentrating.

Sawyer was on the move. At least, she assumed that Sawyer was on the move.

It was just her luck that he would have noticed that his augur shield wasn’t working. After preparing the salt for Eva, she had immediately returned to watching him.

He had been in the middle of surgery on the little girl when Nel got to her altar. While the girl had torn off the violet-colored organ attached to his hand, there were still traces of it left. Veins, purpler than they should be on a person, bulged from his skin.

He didn’t seem to pay it much mind, choosing to focus on the surgery. In just a single half hour, he had done something that caused everything to go dark.

Likely by repairing whatever he had done with Nel’s eyes.

But all was not lost. After a few minutes of experimentation, Nel found them again. She couldn’t actually see them–anything within a few mile radius just vanished from her sight. But she could monitor that blotch of darkness. The edges of it moved around. Not much, it presumably moved as the little girl moved.

Still, it allowed Nel to track their general movements, if not their exact position.

Five days after Sawyer had repaired the girl, they had started moving north. Not quickly. They made frequent stops in areas that held tiny towns. Perhaps ones that were just large enough to have a motel or some other hostel.

After three days of travel, they had crossed the Nevada border into southern Idaho.

Nel had a feeling that she knew their final destination, even if they weren’t heading towards Brakket Academy in a straight line.

She had been hoping that Eva would be up to enact their revenge on Sawyer sometime before Ylva closed off her domain, but that didn’t seem to be all that likely anymore.

Nel glanced up at Lady Ylva and gave her a resigned nod.

“Shall I stay here? Or do you need me somewhere specific?”

Ylva stared. She didn’t blink or tilt her head to either side, she just stared in silence.

Anyone else might have missed it, but Nel knew her mannerisms well enough after a year and a half of being constantly in her presence.

Lady Ylva was confused.

“You wish to stay?”

Ice cold fear gripped Nel’s heart. This was it. She had allowed herself to grow complacent–comfortable even–as Lady Ylva’s aide.

Now she was being thrown away. Dismissed.

Killed?

Nel could feel her breath quickening.

No. Not killed. Sister Cross had tried to kill her. Discretely, true, but the evidence was plain to see from her position.

If Lady Ylva wanted her dead, she would be dead. There were no superiors to hold Lady Ylva accountable for the death of an augur. No one to complain about all the effort it took to replace an augur.

But Ylva was sending her back to Earth?

Nel wouldn’t miss it. She hadn’t stepped outside of Ylva’s domain more than three times in the past year and not a single one of those times had anything good happened. Generally, it was the exact opposite.

No. Nel wanted to stay.

Nel’s eyes flicked from Lady Ylva’s face to just over her shoulder.

Alicia stood a step behind Ylva, still wearing the dark robes that Nel wore. Her eyes were narrowed in Nel’s direction, but her face was otherwise impassive.

Had she been asked to stay in place of Nel? Or had she chosen to stay?

Was it a choice?

“I want to stay with you,” Nel blurted out.

Lady Ylva nodded. A faint smile touched just the very edges of her lips.

That had been the expected response? Or it was a test?

Nel sagged in her seat at the altar as the tension drained from her body. She spent a moment trying to get her hyperventilating under control.

“Very well,” Lady Ylva said, taking no apparent notice of Nel’s distress. “Gather everything that cannot be left behind. Join Us in the throne room after.”

Nel’s breath hitched in her throat. She glanced up with confusion in her eyes.

Lady Ylva had already turned. Her long platinum hair and low-cut dress swung in the air, trailing after her as she left the room.

Alicia shot a look before turning to follow. Nel wasn’t quite certain what to make of it. Amusement? Ire?

With every passing day, Nel found herself liking the other former nun less and less.

Maybe I misunderstood the question. She was suddenly extremely relieved that she hadn’t said that yes, she wanted to stay.

But she had been left with an order.

Nel did not have much. She came to Ylva with nothing but the tattered remains of her Elysium Order habit. Everything she had, everything she wore, everything she ate, all of it was provided by Lady Ylva.

Aside from a few spare changes of clothes, there was only one thing that she could think to take.

Her fetters.

Most had containers already. Only the one she had most recently been using, Sawyer’s hand, was out of its jar. Nel wasted no time in sealing it up and dropping it into a bag.

She glanced around, ensuring she had everything. Several strands of hair, Sawyer’s hand, the little girl’s friend’s blood. She hesitated in taking the brass sphere that the devil had given her, but decided that throwing away a fetter wouldn’t do anyone any good, even one as disturbing as that.

And that was everything Nel could think to bring. She headed out to the main throne room.

Lady Ylva stood near the exit doors alongside Alicia and one of the professors.

It took a moment to understand the reason for the professor’s presence. Her apartment had been connected to Ylva’s domain as well.

“Ready,” Nel said as she ran up to the group.

“Let Us proceed,” Ylva said, moving to leave her domain.

The two former nuns and the professor all followed her out, with the professor watching Ylva like a hawk.

Once everyone was outside, Ylva gripped the handle of the door and swung it shut. She held on for just a moment longer than necessary.

“It is done.”

“That’s it?” Zoe asked, her voice carrying a hint of disbelief.

Ylva gestured one arm towards the door.

Accepting the wordless invitation, Zoe stepped up and opened the door once again.

Gone was the gigantic room, the pit, the throne, and the storm clouds overhead. What lay behind the door was indistinguishable from any other cell block in the compound.

“What do you intend to do now?” Zoe asked without taking her eyes off the interior of the building.

“The necromancer is still at large. We would stay near your presence until his termination.”

“Because of the ring,” Zoe said, thumbing the black band on her finger. With a slight jump in her stance, she tore her eyes from the cell block and stared at Ylva. “Juliana still has hers. She’s been gone all this time.”

“Juliana has had Our personal attention for a time,” Ylva said, holding up one placating hand. “For the time, We may send Ali to watch over her. It would be preferable were she to return.”

Alicia opened her mouth just a hair. She snapped it shut in an instant.

Nel didn’t much care. She was too busy staring into what used to be Ylva’s domain.

There was something that she had forgotten.

She could almost feel the tears welling up at the corners of her eyes.

With a heavy heart, Nel wondered if she would ever see Lady Ylva’s bath again.

— — —

Embarrassed.

That was the only word that Riley Cole could think of to describe her situation.

Perhaps not her situation, but the situation of the Elysium Order.

They were an upstanding organization that hunted down the evils that lurked in the night. Anything that threatened human life or livelihood. Vampires, undead, zombies, liches, ghosts, ghouls, revenants, wights, wraiths, and even mummies. All fell in the name of protecting the living.

And yet, they had wound up a laughing stock. The inquisitors had been decimated. The few survivors claiming that a literal god of Death had stripped them of their powers. Scattered incidents around the country involving demons had further hampered their efforts to keep the living alive.

They had tried to keep the theft of the Obelisk of the Pure Moon quiet. The thieves had the gall to return it. When they did, they ensured that everyone in the area knew it was there.

Luckily, a stone obelisk with a handful of fireworks going off around it down the road from the cathedral had been passed off as a simple curiosity. No one who saw understood the significance of the obelisk.

Riley recognized the demon that had perished in the cathedral. As had a number of the Charon Chapter nuns. It had been standing on the roof overlooking their warehouse the night of the riot.

It all stemmed from here. Prioress Cross–Former Prioress Cross had antagonized the wrong people at Brakket City. They had spent far too much time around the city itself when they should have been hunting the necromancer. Their augur had been tied up spying on students rather than searching through caves, warehouses, and other necromancer haunts.

Given the demon infestation in the area, Riley could see the logic behind it.

But they were not demon hunters. They were undead hunters. Former Prioress Cross had failed to follow regulations. If she had truly been concerned about the demons, she should have put out the word for hunters to find. Otherwise, they should have stuck to hunting the necromancer and left the demons well enough alone.

Riley had lost more than one good friend to Cross’ madness.

The demons were the ones embarrassing the Elysium Order as a whole, now.

That could no longer stand.

“The tip was right. I would call this a ‘cursed city.'”

One of her companions–Riley restrained a sneer at thinking the word–had his head tilted towards the sky.

She couldn’t actually see his face. His entire body was encased in an armor that was, frankly, medieval. There was nothing to see of his face, the thin slit for his eyes was not wide enough to let any usable amounts of light inside. Faint clouds of mist curled off his armored back in the light breeze.

“We could have found this place on our own,” the woman at his side commented in a sing-song voice. She arched her back in a long stretch, jutting out an indecent chest as she moved. “This sky will be the talk of the nation if it isn’t already. I doubt that even the mundane news will leave it alone.”

Riley frowned. The woman had hardly glanced at the sky. Her sole eye had focused on the town below them and nothing else.

“Shall I cancel the payment?”

“Clement!” She slapped his armored side with her bare hand, not even wincing despite the loud noise it made. “If we don’t pay those who tip us, word gets out and we don’t get more tips. It’s bad for business!”

“I require no payment,” Riley said.

“Not you,” the woman snapped. Her head turned to face a single green eye in Riley’s direction.

Riley was somewhat glad that a simple black eye patch was covering the other side of her face. The sole eye had more than enough ridicule aimed in her direction.

“We only pay the first one to tip us.” Her sing-song voice took on a mocking tone. “Shouldn’t have sat on the information for a year.”

Riley started. That last word had come out harsh and throaty.

“You should leave,” the armored man said. “Gertrude and I can handle this. You’ll only get in the way.”

Narrowing her eye at the man, Riley said, “I’m not about to–”

“Let her stay,” she said, back in her sing-song voice. “She can watch.” Gertrude shoved one hand through her light red hair. Her green eye leveled back at Riley, cold and hard. “Someone has to show them how it’s done.”

Clement’s armor failed to make a single noise as he shifted where he stood. “Plan?”

“Investigate, poke, and prod. Find weaknesses, find domains, poke harder. Disconnect domains. Draw them out. And exterminate every last one of the bastards.” She looked up at the armored helmet with a disgusting smile on her face–it came to a sharp point in the center of her face with the corners drawing up far too high on her cheeks. “The usual.”

“Usually there are far less demons around.”

That already disgusting smile twisted into a too-wide grin.

I know.

Riley shivered as the two went back to staring over the edge of the cliff. The woman’s eye held a dangerous glint that forced her to take a step back. The two were absolutely insane. She had warned them about the devil and the death god.

And these two were excited. At least the woman was.

Taking up the armored man’s offer of leaving wasn’t looking like such a bad idea any longer.

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006.030

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The tension in Irene’s muscles had to be reaching their peak. She felt like she had been exercising nonstop for the past two hours. Her body couldn’t possibly tense up any further.

Every impact against the shackles she had set up only caused her grip on her wand to tighten, proving that notion wrong. Every high-pitched whine had her arms shaking just a tiny bit more than they were before. Every cannon blast that followed the whine had her ears ringing and her vision blurring for a second or two afterwards.

Shelby, woken by one of the first cannon blast noises, had her own wand in her hand. Her free hand held Irene’s in a tight grip.

Jordan stood off to one side. His shadow curled around him on the ground and walls, ready to act at the first sign of trouble.

While the noises left Irene with a momentary headache, each seemed to do far worse to Jordan and Lucy. Jordan actually swayed in place for a few seconds. Lucy had given up any pretense of maintaining her human form. She was just a puddle of spaghetti on the ground between Irene and Eva’s room.

Early on, it hadn’t been so bad. The creatures in Eva’s room would make the occasional noise. They were loud enough that most of the Rickenbacker dormitory had woken up, but infrequent enough that the students felt they could wander past and gawk like Eva’s room was some sort of zoo.

That had ended rather quickly once the creatures started their attempts to escape.

Irene wanted to run with the other students. This wasn’t her mess. Lucy was here–though she didn’t look so reliable at the moment. Catherine had asked her to write out the shackles. She hadn’t spoken a word about sticking around and ensuring that nothing escaped.

The safety of everyone would probably be better assured if she just ran and found more of the security guards. Preferably ones that wouldn’t turn to spaghetti upon hearing the noises the creatures made.

But something kept Irene’s eyes glued to the shackles. Some otherworldly feeling that the moment she turned her back, the shackles would break and she would be caught, trampled, and possibly eaten.

Thus far, her shackles were holding admirably. They were a lot stronger than the ones she had set up to contain her first summon. Even the three beasts working together couldn’t break out. Irene might have taken a notion of pride in her work if she wasn’t so concerned about what might happen if they did fail.

One of those three beasts was actually on its side, face bloodied and raw from charging head on into the shackles repeatedly. The other two were more prodding at them than ramming themselves into them.

It was almost disturbing how intelligent they appeared.

“What’s taking so long?”

Irene jumped. Her sister’s voice came just as one of the creatures scraped a few tendrils around the barrier. For a moment, she had thought it shattered. It took her mind a second to process that she was hearing words for the first time in a long time.

“Taking so long?”

“Shouldn’t more security guards have shown up by now?” Shelby asked with a nervous glance at Lucy. “Or a professor? One of the others had to have told someone.”

“You saw the sky.” Irene bit back the tremble in her voice. She wanted to keep strong for her sister’s sake, if nothing else. A moot effort, in all likelihood. Shelby wasn’t so oblivious that she would miss how tense Irene was or the slight shakes in her arms.

Then again, Shelby wasn’t the epitome of steady at the moment either.

“Who knows what all is going on outside. They probably decided that Lucy could handle such a small thing on her own while they deal with other matters.”

“Well, I disagree. I can’t believe you knew about that,” she nodded towards the doorway. She might have been gesturing towards Lucy, but it was difficult to tell with just a nod.

Irene clamped her mouth shut. Shelby could make all the inferences she wanted, but Irene couldn’t offer up any response.

“We’ll be fine,” Jordan said, stepping up next to Shelby. “If anything happens, I can have the three of us at the stairwell in seconds. It won’t be hard to run.”

“Should we run?” Irene asked, grateful for the change in topic and not willing to let it slip away with just what he had said. “If these things escape, they could go on a rampage. Maybe some students haven’t got out of the dorms.”

She hated being contrary. Especially because the contrary position was to stay. But, as she had thought about earlier, she just couldn’t leave. It would be nice to be any other ignorant student, able to run off and bury their head under a pile of sand.

Her eyes had been opened to a larger world.

Could she run knowing that a single one of these creatures had held a being like Catherine for as long as it had, all while fighting off a number of older students?

Actually, Irene considered as she thought back, yes I can.

Even if they stayed, what could they do? The older students hadn’t done any good until they worked together to freeze the creature. She might have slowed it down by manipulating the tiles at its feet, but that had been with the assistance of Randal.

Irene had no idea what room or even which dormitory building Randal was housed in.

“Wait,” Irene said before either of the others could call her crazy. “We can’t fight them. But maybe we can trap them? More permanently than they are now, at least.”

The ice had been fairly permanent. Long lasting enough to get everyone away safely and Eva in to set up her shackles.

“You have a plan?”

No. “Maybe.”

None of them were water mages. Though none of them would be able to conjure up the water necessary anyway. Maybe they could have run the water in one of the dorm rooms.

A moot point without any of them being a water mage.

Irene’s mind immediately latched onto what she had done to the creature back in the diablery class. Turning the tiled floor into a sort of mud-like quicksand to hold them in place. It wouldn’t be easy. Tiles were just rock, but rock was far more difficult to manipulate than dirt and loose earth.

True, she had needed Randal’s help during class. This wasn’t class and the creatures were not already loose. She had the time to concentrate.

Her arm being properly set into her shoulder couldn’t hurt either.

She didn’t know how an air mage would help contribute, but Jordan could help. He was an earth mage.

Moving a few steps down the hall, Irene pointed her wand at the floor. “Step back, near me please. Jordan, help me out. I’m making quicksand.”

Once they complied, Irene set to pushing her magic into the floor. Lucy was left on the other side, still between the shackles and them, but Irene wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the demon. She didn’t exactly have a shovel to scrape her off the floor.

She’d probably be alright. She was a demon.

To protect them properly, the quicksand would need to stretch the entire width of the hallway as well as be a few feet long. She couldn’t risk them jumping over it. “Shelby, if you have any ideas on how to help, feel free to jump in.”

“Into the quicksand?”

Irene shot a glare at her sister. “You know what I meant.”

The quicksand wouldn’t be deep. Maybe an inch or two at most. That was the problem with working on a building. But, unlike regular quicksand, hers could be hardened as the monsters trampled over it. She should be able to stretch it up and trap them. At least for a short amount of time.

“Perhaps you could set up more shackles on this side,” Jordan said. He had his own wand out, pointing at the floor. “They’d get caught in the quicksand and then have a whole other set of shackles to break through. With all the trouble they’re having with the first one, it should buy plenty of time to find other solutions. Like grabbing a few teachers or security guards.”

With a slight groan, Irene slapped her forehead. She should have been doing that anyway. The entire hallway, lined with nonstop shackles. It would take these things days to escape had she done that instead of sitting around watching them.

But she kept her mouth clamped shut. After rubbing her forehead slightly, she went back to liquefying the tiles without so much as a nod.

In retrospect, she should have sent everyone away while drawing the initial shackles. It was somewhat surprising that she could. The contract specified spoken or written words, so sigils and circles must not have counted. Maybe she could use sign language to tell her friends what she had been up to.

Of course, that plan required learning sign language. Worse, it involved Shelby learning sign language. That was never going to happen.

Shelby gripped her arm. “Did you hear that?”

No, I was concentrating. Rather than listen further, Irene hastened her efforts with the floor. If it was nothing, then great, oh well. If it was something, then she didn’t want to pause to listen.

Manipulating the floor was going better than she had expected. Jordan was helping, but she could feel her own magic flowing much easier than it had when she had first failed at summoning the imp. Maybe because she had done this before? Or she was just getting noticeably better at magic in the two months since the previous incident.

“I’m serious,” Shelby said, tightening her grip. “Like glass cracking.”

The all too familiar sound of her shackles failing echoed through the hallway. Maybe it was because she had turned her back or because she had walked out of sight of the creatures. She couldn’t say for sure.

“They’re coming,” Irene whispered as the first creature rounded the corner of Eva’s room.

It had the unfortunate fate to tread on top of Lucy.

Her limp tentacles jumped like they had been electrocuted. As one, they lifted up and encircled the creature, mimicking the bulb of a tulip.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Shelby groaned.

Irene might have been as well, had she not noticed the second creature charging around the side of Lucy. It completely ignored the pig-like screams and pieces of violet-tinted flesh flying out of the mass of tentacles.

It reached the edge of her quicksand and jumped.

Gripping Shelby’s arm, Irene pulled her sister back. Her moat was nowhere near long enough to stop it.

Time seemed to slow down as its round face filled with sharp teeth flew towards them, its tentacles flailing around in the air.

Irene’s vision went black.

This is the end, she thought in a moment of tranquil despair. I’ve failed. And I’ve dragged Shelby down with me.

Shelby’s scream only compounded her despair tenfold.

Until, underneath Shelby’s scream, she heard a sound not unlike a hunk of meat being dropped on the floor.

The darkness passed over her and she could see again. Shelby at her side, eyes wide in horror. The walls and the floor.

And Jordan. He stood just in front of them. A wall of darkness stretching from one side of the hallway to the other.

The darkness collapsed after a moment with a gasp from Jordan, perspiration dripping from his face.

There was the creature, lying on its side in her moat of quicksand.

Suppressing the desire to let loose a hysterical laugh, Irene caught her wits in an instant. Gripping her wand, she hardened the tile as fast as she could. It was much easier than liquefying it in the first place.

Not all of the creature was stuck. At least half of the snake-like tendrils coming off its back were free. And they were not pleased.

The tiles cracked. Even with Irene repairing them as fast and as best as she was able to, it wouldn’t hold for long.

“Lucy!” Irene shouted. “Listen to the sound of my voice and come here. Crawl towards me please!”

Another crack in the tile. Irene tried to repair it as well, but a third crack.

Lucy spat out something from her bulb of tentacles. A violet-stained slab of meat.

“Hurry!”

The mass of tentacles stretched and inchwormed along the ground. Slowly. Too slowly.

A chunk of tile came off the creature. It clambered to its feet and glared at Irene.

That was the last thing it did.

Lucy’s tentacles came down on top of it. Unlike last time, there was no curtain of tentacles shielding them from the sight.

Thin strands of tentacles binded themselves together into thicker tendrils. They started with the creature’s own tentacles, to keep them from fighting back. Even after pulling a tentacle from its back–releasing a spray of blood as they did so–the tentacles tried to fight. Lucy was having none of it. She squeezed and crushed, pulled and rent until no single piece was larger than her thumb.

At a sudden gagging sound from Shelby, Irene slapped her hand over her sister’s eyes.

There was still one more creature, but it hadn’t shown up yet. Still incapacitated from ramming into the shackles over and over again, most likely. Irene needed to go and fix those before anything more came through.

But for now, she would stick by Shelby’s side and keep her comforted. At least until Lucy had finished with the creature.

As Lucy started on the creature’s legs, Irene held her sister tighter. She wished she had extra arms to cover Shelby’s ears. Yet, she never averted her own eyes.

For some reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to look away.

— — —

“Eva!”

Zoe caught the girl before she could collapse to the ground. As expected, she was shivering and seizing up, unable to put strength in her arms. Taking care not to bump her head, Zoe gently placed Eva against the floor of the women’s ward gate room.

With Eva on the floor, Zoe took a good look at her eyes behind her mask. While her pupils were still thin slits, her irises were no longer bright and burning, having returned to their usual red.

The blood coating Zoe’s arms and most of Eva had also stopped moving. It was still there, just inert.

Small mercies, Zoe thought. At least neither of them were in danger from… whatever Eva had been about to do.

“Wayne?” she called out before realizing her mistake.

Wayne wasn’t here. He wouldn’t be here and neither should she be here. In her panic to get them out of the cathedral, she had skipped past the meeting place entirely and went straight back to the women’s ward.

Cursing under her breath, Zoe pulled out her cellphone. Some of the black blood on her hands smeared over the screen. Zoe did not stop typing even for a second to wipe it away.

Out. @ women’s ward.

She sent the text away before anything else. If Wayne went back in thinking that she hadn’t escaped and something happened to him… Zoe doubted she would forgive herself.

Arachne dead?

She wasn’t entirely sure if dead was the right word to use.

Eva panicked, had to escape.

Setting the phone to the side, Zoe turned her attention back to the girl on the ground.

Even taking into account the effect that her teleportation had on Eva, she had been still for far too long.

“Are you alright, Eva? Can you–”

Zoe’s voice was cut off by her cellphone buzzing against the stone floor of the women’s ward.

Injuries?

Short and to the point.

Zoe considered the question for just a moment. She had a raking pain in her lower back from where Eva’s claws sunk into her skin. She didn’t think that the girl had intended to hurt her, but had simply done so as a reaction to Zoe unexpectedly tackling her.

Eva, on the other hand, was injured. Given that she was covered in Arachne’s blood and that her own blood looked almost exactly the same, it was a bit difficult to tell exactly where she was injured. The few shards of carapace sticking out of her chest were definite signs of injury, however.

Bits of Arachne’s head.

None looked too deep or too large, however. With how well she could heal minor cuts using blood magic, Zoe doubted that she was in any real danger.

Zoe shuddered at the thought as she sent a reply.

Minor wounds on both of us. Nothing life threatening. Bring a few potions anyway. Serena not keyed in, Eva in no shape to do so at the moment. Leave her behind.

“Eva,” Zoe said as she set her phone back down, “can you hear me?”

“I can.”

The answer was cold. No real emotion in it.

“Are you injured? Do you need anything.”

“Arachne,” she said in the same tone of voice.

“Is a demon,” Zoe said softly. She reached up and tried to remove her mask, wanting to look down and offer a reassuring smile to Eva. Only, she found it difficult to remove. Prying her fingers under the seam was almost impossible due to how closely it had been molded to fit her face.

Instead, she reached out and gave Eva’s shoulder a squeeze. “She’ll be fine. Right? Demons don’t die permanently.”

Eva shook her head side to side. Her long hair splayed out behind her own mask bunched up as it rubbed against the ground. “It will be years. At least. Maybe longer. I’ve never,” she choked over her words. “I’ve never seen her die. She hasn’t died for as long as I’ve known her.”

Before Zoe could offer any comforting words about how death was a natural part of life–though that might not be entirely applicable in this exact situation–Eva grit her teeth. She balled up a fist and sent up a scattering of dust as she rammed it into the floor.

“I’m not a stranger to death. I’ve seen people die. I’ve killed people. Ones who weren’t coming back. It’s just a shock. Seeing my friend’s head explode in front of me.” She shook her head again, further mussing up her hair. “Not something you prepare for.

“And now she’s gone. Floating in a void–in Void until she manages to put her head back together.” Eva shuddered. “I can’t–I don’t want to imagine what it is like. Will she even come back? Demons without purpose and drive lose their minds when they die, stuck in the abyss of their own heads.” Eva gave a dark chuckle. “At least, that’s what Arachne said once.”

Zoe pressed her lips together. She wasn’t enthusiastic about Arachne, but she had to say something.

“She has you,” she said, lightly flicking the forehead of Eva’s mask while idly wondering if the girl was ever going to get rid of them. “If she cares for you half as much as she says she does, she’ll pull through. You just need to be ready to receive her when she gets back.”

Eva was smiling. Zoe couldn’t see it through her mask, but the mask did have holes for her eyes. Her eyes crinkled the slightest bit. It wasn’t a bright, tooth filled smile. But maybe just enough to make her feel better.

At least, that is what Zoe thought until the crinkles around Eva’s eyes vanished.

“Void is being attacked. We’re ceasing all summoning. Even Ylva is cutting off ties between the mortal realm and Hell. Even if Arachne does pull herself back together in record time, she may be stranded on the other side.”

“I accepted a beacon from her,” Zoe said slowly. “Did she use it without renewing it with me?”

Zoe could hear Eva’s mouth opening, but it was a moment before she said anything. When she did speak, her voice had the smallest hints of hope. “I don’t think so. As far as I know, she has been in her room for months barring tonight and when Lynn Cross attacked.”

“See?” Zoe said with a small smile. “She’ll be back. And I highly doubt that she’ll bother with staying in Hell even if everyone told her not to come back.”

Eva opened her mouth, only to jump slightly as Wayne appeared in the gate room. He held his emergency sack of potions in one arm and a smaller vial of dark liquid.

Probably far too many potions. Zoe’s text had asked for a few potions. Not all of them.

For a moment, he just looked between the two. Eva, lying flat on her back and Zoe sitting over her.

Zoe did not miss his eyes darting to the wound on her back. She couldn’t actually read his expression as he still had his mask on as well, but what she could see of his eyes did not look pleasant.

She hadn’t actually seen her wound for herself, choosing instead to focus on Eva. Following his eyes, she found four thin lines of red along with her clothing torn around the area.

The actual part where Eva’s claws had first hit her back would have required a mirror or far too much twisting. As it was, just moving to look sent a sharp pain through her side.

Nothing near as bad as when she had been hit by lightning from the inquisitors, and even further from the agony she endured at the hands of the jezebeth and carnivean.

Shaking the pain off, Zoe met Wayne’s eyes. “Just a scratch,” she said, voice firm and leaving no room for argument.

Eva didn’t need to be shouted at by Wayne at the moment.

Without a word, he reached into the sack and withdrew two vials. He tossed both to Zoe. He dropped the dark vial right on Eva’s chest.

“Serena’s blood,” he said. “Add it to your wards. I’d rather have her here than back at home. If they do find a way to follow us, proximity to Ylva should discourage any ideas they might get. So long as she is around, that is.”

Eva held up the vial, her first real movement since arriving, and turned it over in front of her eyes. “Will it work? This blood is… dead. I think.”

“You’re the blood mage.”

“Yeah, but I’ve never met a vampire before. I mean, I can try. I’ve no real objections to her being here. Just, maybe start her outside the prison and walk her in slowly. Any tingling or pain and she should stop immediately. Do vampires even feel pain?”

Wayne just shrugged.

“Maybe have her walk with her arm out. If her arm explodes, don’t go in any further.”

“That works.”

Wayne took a moment to glance around the room. “You did get that thing we went for, right?”

Eva started, jumping a hair into the air.

Placing a hand on her chest, Zoe shook her head. “It’s alright. I got it before we left.”

Taking out her dagger and pointing at the ground, Zoe pulled the obelisk out of its storage. It appeared an inch above the ground. The loud thud that it made as it hit the cement floor was enough to send a few cracks through the ground.

Thankfully, the obelisk itself was undamaged.

“Hope this was worth it,” he said. “Time to lay low for the next ten years again.”

Eva pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Yeah,” she said. “I hope it works.”

For a moment, a silence fell over the three. Until a grunt from Wayne shattered the peace.

“Now quit moping around, Spencer. Get these damn masks off us and go get Ward out of Hell.”

Eva jumped at his voice. She shot him a glare, but nodded. Both of their masks melted off their faces after Eva fingered her dagger.

“I’ll add Serena’s blood to the wards before,” she trailed off as she glanced at the obelisk. Her eyes flicked up to meet with Zoe’s. “It’s heavy. Even for me. I might need help.”

“I can levitate it, at least partially.” Zoe didn’t hesitate in her response. She could almost imagine the thoughts going through Eva’s mind. Arachne could have lifted it without breaking a sweat. “Landing in your domain might be awkward, but we can manage.”

“Great,” Wayne said. His tone was almost sarcastic and he spoke with a frown, but he didn’t say anything more about her going to Hell again.

Maybe this time, I’ll have a chance to look around and inspect some things, Zoe thought. Her tutoring sessions with Shalise were just that, tutoring. All of Shalise’s classes compressed into the span of an hour or two every other week left no time to really get a thorough understanding of how Hell worked. I’ll need to grab a notebook.

“I’ll bring Serena in five minutes. Be finished by then.” Without waiting for an acknowledgment, Wayne vanished with a burst of cold air.

“Better get started,” Eva said with a sigh as she climbed to her feet. “I hope Nel finished with that salt.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.029

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Zoe dove to the side, ducking into the white room while narrowly avoiding the returned lightning from the stairwell.

While her own lightning might not have been the most powerful thing she could have thrown, she had serious misgivings about killing people who were just doing their jobs. Especially when she was the one breaking and entering with the intent to steal priceless artifacts.

The Elysium Order was under no such hesitations. White lightning that only narrowly missed colliding with Zoe hit the ground a short distance behind her.

A resounding thunder sent Zoe’s head ringing. Enhancing her ears to hear the approaching guards worked against her. She couldn’t hear a thing aside from a high-pitched whine. Zoe wasted no time in retuning her hearing to normal levels. It would take a minute or two, but she needed a clear head and the ability to hear.

For the moment, she could still see. It would have to do.

Lightning crackled against the stone bricks making up the floor. There was a brief instant where nothing happened.

Dust filled the hallway as the stones exploded. Chunks of stone that had not been obliterated or pulverized into dust flew through the air. A few pieces impacted the outside wall of the room, sending cracks through the pure white of the inside. The ward keeping the walls white flickered twice before failing.

One brick struck Serena in the stomach, forcing the air out of her lungs as it carried her back into the growing cloud of dust.

Probably for the best. The vampire wouldn’t die from a rock to the stomach, and the dust would help keep her hidden from the nuns.

Her invisibility trick wouldn’t work while their eyes were aglow.

Of course, Zoe thought as two less powerful bolts careened down the hallway, they don’t really need to see if they flood the hallway with lightning.

The lightning sparked a hint of fear in Zoe. Before anything else, she sent a breeze through the air to clear a good portion of the dust. Enough was left for some cover, mostly for Serena, but they shouldn’t have to worry about a spark setting off a dust explosion.

Air partially cleared, Zoe immediately set to returning fire–or lightning, as the case was. They couldn’t be allowed to advance down the hallway. She barely angled her arm around one of the stone doors to attack.

A lightning bolt struck the door frame just as she pulled her hand back. Unlike the floor, the door took the lightning without complaint. In fact, it was more like the door absorbed the lightning.

The hallway wasn’t that large. Randomly firing bolts downrange would end up hitting one of them sooner or later once they stepped out of the room.

A far more effective tactic would be to simply flood the hallway with fire. Perhaps they were simply attempting less destructive tactics to start with.

Or Wayne is keeping the fire down, Zoe thought with a glance towards her colleague. He was right at the door frame of the stone doors, tome out and eyes shut in concentration. Since there were none of his flames cropping up, he must be keeping their flames dampened.

“–need you off of the nun. I’ll keep her from doing anything.”

Eva’s voice was muted. Muffled slightly by some lingering damage to Zoe’s hearing. It would have to work well enough for the moment.

By the time Zoe turned to her student, Arachne was back to her human size. Eva knelt on the ground with a short stone obelisk standing next to her. She was in the process of smearing something black across the captive augur’s face.

“Lie down,” Eva said, “face down. So much as move and you won’t have much of a face. Probably not much of a head in general. And rest assured, I’ll know if you move. Even while on the second floor, I’ll know.”

Zoe might have had something to say about Eva’s callous threat to the obviously terrified augur had she not been engaged in slinging more bolts of lightning blindly down the hall.

“We can’t teleport out,” Wayne said with a slight grunt. His eyes were still closed, but he had moved up closer to Zoe. “We’ll need to get to the main floor at the very least, if not entirely out of the cathedral itself.”

“Any plans?” Zoe called out between bolts.

“Working on it,” Eva said as she slung her backpack off. “Just keep them busy for a moment.”

Zoe’s question had been directed more towards Wayne. Or, she had expected a response from Wayne more than Eva. The girl had been insistent that she could do this on her own. Failing at the first sign of resistance would definitely hurt her pride.

If she did fail, Wayne would have to step up. Escaping situations like this was basically his job–his old job. Though he hadn’t ever done such a thing with so many people to her knowledge.

So Zoe focused on doing what she could to help out. Namely, redoubling her efforts in holding back the Elysium Order.

She slipped in a few slashes of razor wind between the lightning. The dust in the air curled around them, making them partially visible. Still, the first few came as a surprise if the startled shouts were any indication.

Zoe wasn’t sure how to feel about that and she didn’t really have the time to put into thinking about it.

The brief worry did remind Zoe that the Elysium Order had powerful shields. Better than anything Zoe had created through thaumaturgy over the course of her career. They were probably unharmed.

With that in mind, she ramped up the power of all of her attacks.

“You know what you’re doing?”

Zoe turned to Wayne as he spoke. He was no longer concentrating, but rather moving as far away from Eva as he could get without pressing up against the wall.

“Guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Zoe fired off another two bolts into the dust before turning to find out just what Eva was doing.

One look and Zoe promptly took three steps away from the girl, pressing herself against the heavy stone door.

Eva had Genoa’s snake golem on the floor in front of her and was in the process of pouring a dark orange potion over the top of it. She was being careful not to let a single drop fall to the floor, something that was becoming easier and easier as she continued.

Once she finished upending the vial, she knelt down and picked up the obelisk before taking a few steps back herself. There was a short strain in lifting the stone structure, but Arachne caught and steadied her until Eva managed to get herself under control.

The stone carving swelled. It stretched out, quickly becoming large enough to fill out the entire width of the hallway. The tail thrashed, sending the wooden center door flying back into the room it once guarded. With the added room for its tail, the snake appeared to relax.

For a moment, at least. Once the snake’s width grew enough for its scales to reach both ends of the door frame, it started squirming again.

The walls were giving way more than the blackish scales.

“E,” Zoe said, warning in her voice. At least, as much warning as she could cram into a single letter.

The snake whipped its head to Zoe at the sound. Its silver and black eyes bored into her.

Zoe took another three steps back, extremely grateful that the creature was stone and not turning her to stone. A fact that the basilisk seemed to realize as well.

“Stop!” Eva commanded as the sculpture started slithering towards Zoe. It continued forwards for a second–growing all the while–before an unnatural stillness overcame it. “Holding it with the blood inside,” Eva said without a hint of concern in her voice, though there was a bit of strain as she shifted the obelisk in her arms. “Too much growth potion?”

“Get it out of here before it crushes us,” Wayne shouted.

“Right. Down the hall,” Eva said, pointing her arm. “Don’t try to bite or stare. Just crush everything.”

The head of the snake was forcibly dragged away from Zoe. Eva set it to looking out the stone doors.

“Is it going to follow your orders?” Zoe asked.

Eva tried to shrug. The effort was there, but her shoulders barely moved. “Doubt it. She hasn’t followed anything else I’ve said. I don’t think it was designed for that. Maybe I will take golemancy next year,” she mused under her breath.

“Will it attack us?”

“No. She is full of blood that I can manipulate. Just stay behind her as she charges out of here. I think she should take at least a few bolts of lightning before anything bad happens to her.”

“Maybe more than that,” Zoe murmured. She wouldn’t be able to say for certain without seeing it in action, but it was doubtful that they would be able to ‘kill’ it unless they hit the golem animation core. The main body was carved from stone which should be somewhat hardy.

Of course, if they hit it a few times with blasts as powerful as the initial lightning that created the dust cloud, it might not matter all that much in the long run. Half of the thing could turn to dust before the actual core was exposed.

“Get it moving,” Wayne ordered, still backing away as the snake grew larger.

Eva didn’t argue. The snake’s unnatural stillness ended after a slight nudge out into the hallway. It slithered out, body winding back and forth as it pushed its scales against the ground.

Arachne moved up to Eva’s side, using her body to help cover Eva from any enemy fire while helped to hold the obelisk. The two of them charged out in a slight crouch so as to keep behind the snake’s bulk. Eva paused for just one moment to vaguely gesture with a nod of her head into the still settling cover of dust.

“Serena is lying there, if anyone cares. Can’t tell if she’s alive or not.”

Keeping herself low to the ground, Zoe sent out another dust clearing gust of wind. She was careful to keep a wall of the dust between them and the stairwell. No need to make it easy on the nuns.

Serena had a brick-sized hole in her stomach. One bloodied brick was stuck half in her side along with several smaller shards of stone.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” the vampire said with ragged breath.

“No time to argue,” Zoe said. She flicked her dagger towards Serena, levitating her just above the ground.

Wayne appeared at her side. Without a word, he incinerated the ground that Serena had been lying and bleeding on.

As one, they turned and ran to catch up to Eva, Arachne, and the snake.

They emerged from the cover of the lingering dust between the room and the stairwell. There was a sharp cry of “Basilisk,” from one of the nuns. The lightning cut off almost instantly. The few bolts that hit the snake did only marginal damage to the stone scales.

Tuning her ears’ sensitivity ever so slightly, Zoe heard the rustling of clothes moving farther away. They were retreating up the stairwell. Probably to set up an ambush that could take out a basilisk without exposing themselves to its gaze.

The nuns were obviously not yet aware that its gaze was entirely impotent.

“Don’t dawdle,” Wayne grunted. “There aren’t many here, but if they call for backup, escaping will be problematic.”

Zoe had no intention of slowing down. Neither did the snake. It crashed its bulk into the closed stairwell door, turning it to wood pulp as it started its scramble up the stairs.

The second floor wouldn’t be so bad. While there were plenty of augur rooms to set up ambushes in, Eva should be able to spot anyone inside with her blood sight. Wayne would be able to seal the doors by melting the handles. Zoe could toss up a few barriers of solid air around the doors for good measure. It wouldn’t stop anyone permanently, but it would delay them.

And delaying them was all they really needed. Once they arrived at the top floor, they should be home free according to Wayne.

At the staircase’s landing, the stairs looped back. The basilisk turned with the stairs, offering Zoe her first good look at the front of it.

She did not like what she saw.

What she had originally thought to be only marginal damage–judged by the lack of debris coming off the basilisk when it got hit–looked far worse now that she got a better view.

The scales that had been hit looked like a slab of meat being pulled apart. Each spot was roughly the size of her head. Not what she would have expected from a stone carving.

Both spots that had been hit looked like they were trying to repair themselves. As Zoe watched, one thin strand of meat latched on to the opposite side of the wound and started growing. It didn’t make it very far before disintegrating into dust.

The anti-magic qualities of the Elysium Order’s lightning at work, no doubt.

Whatever Eva had done to the snake was too far out of Zoe’s expectations to accurately predict anything.

Though, Zoe thought as they came up to the first basement level’s landing, Eva’s plan appears to be working well so far.

Just before exiting the door–or making a new exit as the case may be–the basilisk was overcome by the same unnatural stillness that it had when Eva stopped it earlier.

“Four hiding in the room immediately on our right. Another three in the room after that. They’ll probably wait for us to pass before pinching us against whatever lies at the end of the hallway.”

“Wayne and I will take care of that.”

“You concentrate on keeping your monstrosities from murdering us,” Wayne added with a disgruntled grunt.

Eva didn’t rise to his comment. She might not have had the energy to. There were small beads of sweat forming on her forehead.

Zoe almost asked why she hadn’t just handed the obelisk off to Arachne when the answer became obvious. Arachne was a front line fighter. If and when the basilisk fell, Arachne would need to rush in to take its place. Doing so with an obviously weighty obelisk wouldn’t be easy. Probably. That would have been Zoe’s plan, anyway.

With a short nod towards Wayne, Eva released her hold over her basilisk.

It didn’t hesitate to charge straight through the door, taking part of the wall with it.

Lightning rained down the hallway. The majority of it sunk into the semi-organic scales of the sculpture. A few bolts did get past, but they were ones that had been angled upwards. Though she kept low anyway, Zoe doubted she needed to duck to avoid anything. The snake’s bulk was simply that massive.

Purposeful or not, the few bolts that missed the snake did impact the ceiling. Most only left scorch marks.

Zoe and Wayne had to pause their blocking of the side rooms to erect quick thaumaturgical shields around themselves. Almost as an afterthought, Zoe tossed a quick shield around Serena as well.

The vampire was visibly looking better than she had only a minute ago, but it didn’t look like she was quite ready to walk just yet.

After shielding Serena, Zoe thought to put up a shield around Eva as well. Her spell stopped mid-cast.

Arachne, ducking low at Eva’s side just behind the basilisk, plucked a stray brick right out of the air without so much as glancing in its direction. It would have struck Eva in the shoulder otherwise.

Pulling herself up to her full height, Arachne reared back and pitched the brick like it was a baseball.

It zipped through the air before coming to a stop with a meaty thud. Zoe’s enhanced ears picked up a masculine groan.

A monk perhaps?

The lightning stopped a moment later–nuns rushing to his aid?–but not before a stray bolt struck the still standing Arachne square in her chest.

Shards of carapace exploded off her front and back.

Wayne was on point in incinerating every piece that detached from the demon. They didn’t have time to land before an orb of intense heat enveloped each individual shard. Several of them were flying towards the two of them, but they wouldn’t be anything a shield couldn’t handle. It was more likely that he was incinerating them to keep them out of the hands of the Elysium Order’s augurs.

Zoe couldn’t begin to calculate how hot the flames had to be to disintegrate Arachne’s carapace, but it obviously was not inconsiderable. She caught sight of more than a few pages of his tome going up in flames as his eyes twitched back and forth between each piece. Judging by the twitches of his eyes, he had altered his mental perceptions as fast as he could go.

“Arachne!”

Eva set the obelisk down on the floor, making sure not to damage the structure. The second it was down, she had her dagger out and aimed at Arachne’s chest. The demon caught her hand just before she could plunge it in.

“I’m fine,” Arachne growled. She was clutching at her chest, black ichor dripping from between her fingers.

Wayne was incinerating the drops that touched fell through the air as well, though it was taking far less effort than the chitin.

“Focus on your snake. I can heal.”

Eva shook her head. “Have to stop your bleeding.” With a flick of her wrist, Eva’s dagger crossed the short distance between where her hand was caught and Arachne’s chest. Her other hand caught the dagger and pressed the flat of the blade against the wound.

In seconds, Eva had formed a plate wrapping around Arachne’s torso. It was the same type of blood hardening that went into making their masks. While it meshed surprisingly well with Arachne’s natural carapace, Zoe doubted it would provide even half as much armor.

“Keep your head down,” Eva said as she finished. “That’s why we have Basila.”

“I can take a hit from those pathetic creatures.”

“Obviously not,” Eva tapped the plate. “Were you not paying attention when we picked up Sister Abbey? At least that one nun has prepared for demons. Probably her whole chapter. Maybe the whole of the Elysium Order.”

Eva turned from Arachne to pick up the obelisk again. “Just be careful.” That said, Eva hefted up the obelisk and started walking the short distance between where Arachne had been hit and where her basilisk had charged off during the brief lightning intermission.

By the time they made it a good three-quarters of the way down the hall, the lightning had started up again. This time, however, they seemed to be much more careful in not missing the basilisk.

The basilisk was obviously slowing down. Zoe had a feeling that Eva was doing a lot to help push it forward and keep it going through her blood magics. Its slithering side to side had all but stopped. At this rate, they’d be stuck behind it before getting to the top of the stairs.

Zoe was tossing the occasional lightning and razor wind of her own while Wayne was doing the same with fireballs. But after seeing Arachne nearly finished off by a single bolt, she was far more hesitant about sticking her arm around the basilisk’s bulk.

She had taken a hit from the Elysium Order’s lightning before and it had not been pleasant then. If Eva was correct in that they had been adapting their magic to combat demons, then it was entirely possible that the lightning wouldn’t do anything unusual to her, as she wasn’t a demon.

Taking the chance did not seem wise.

With her attacks not doing much, Zoe kicked her mind into motion.

If their eyes are closed, how are they aiming?

It was entirely possible that they had realized the deception of the basilisk. Or perhaps thought that the nun that had originally called that out had simply been mistaken. Alternatively, all the nuns could have blindfolds on while following the directions of an augur. The augur wouldn’t need to see it directly and thus, would have no danger of looking in the basilisk’s eyes.

Neither of the two options were easily interruptible.

“Serena, any cover or distractions you can provide would be most welcome.”

“Are their eyes glowing?”

“Most likely,” Zoe said.

“Then I can’t–”

“Serena,” Wayne interrupted. “We are taking over.”

The vampire stilled as she met Wayne’s eyes. He gave her a brief nod.

“Fiine,” she said with a sigh. “If I die, I’m haunting you forever.”

“Sounds annoying. Try not to die.”

“Aww, you do care!” Serena cooed. “Set me down.” When Zoe hesitated, Serena pointed at her stomach. “This is just a flesh wound. I’ll heal it up as soon as I get some blood in me.”

Zoe put an arm on the shorter vampire’s shoulder to help steady her as she regained her balance. “What are you going to do?”

“I hate getting my hands dirty, but I am a vampire. And a hungry one at that. Smelling this mask,” she took a deep breath, “I just want to bite into it. Gobble it all up. Like a potato chip!”

Her voice took on a slightly more dangerous tone than her normal frivolous cadence. “I’ll just have to sate my appetites on something else for now.”

“Grab Spencer and get ready to run,” Wayne said, looking towards Zoe.

Wayne and Serena took off in a sprint. Serena vaulted onto the basilisk’s back while Wayne just went around its side. The moment they cleared its head, a wall of flame erupted in front of Wayne. It stretched from wall to wall, floor to ceiling.

It took off. With the sound of a jet engine, it moved from the tips of Wayne’s shoes down the hallway, growing faster and louder the more it moved.

Once enough space had cleared between the fire wall and Wayne, Serena vaulted off the back of the snake over Wayne’s head. She took off in a sprint fast enough that she was hard to track with Zoe’s enhanced eyes.

Leaving them to their own devices, Zoe ran up to a slightly shocked Eva.

“What are they doing?”

“Clearing the area, I assume. We’re following.” Taking Eva’s arm in hand, Zoe started to move after the other two.

But Eva did not budge.

“I can’t leave Basila,” she said, handing the obelisk off to Arachne.

The demon took it easily, not even shifting her stance despite the added weight.

Reaching into her backpack, Eva started digging around. She pulled out vial after vial, checking each one.

If they had the time, Zoe would have loved to have let her finish. They didn’t have any time. Wayne was getting farther away with every passing moment and they couldn’t afford to fall too far behind. If the nuns back in the sealed off rooms managed to escape, the situation would turn quite sticky.

“It was an admirable attempt and worked surprisingly well. I’m sure Genoa would be happy to know that her toy played such a significant role in saving Shalise. But we must go.”

“I can’t leave Basila. She’s full of my blood. I could try pulling it out, but a good deal would be left behind because it is too ruined from contact with the basilisk and the lightning,” Eva said as she dumped a vial of red liquid over the sculpted basilisk. “I’d rather not have it fall into the hands of the augurs.”

Zoe mistook the vial for more blood for a moment before noticing that the basilisk was slowly losing inches off its length. A shrinking potion to counteract the growth.

But it was taking too long.

“Can you use your blood to push it forward?”

“Holding it still is one thing, helping it move is another, moving it on my own is another entirely.” Eva frowned at it. “I don’t know that it will move on its own again. Once it is small enough, I can handle it.”

Zoe could understand that. From the front, it looked less like a snake and more of pulped meat. She found it mildly disturbing just how organic appearing something that she knew had been carved from stone was.

“We’ll move it,” Arachne said. She started growing a bulbous behind and several extra legs. “The professor’s air magic, Eva’s blood, and my strength.”

As she grew, Arachne handed the obelisk back to Eva. The younger girl stumbled for just a moment before Arachne stabilized her with something resembling a hug. The two stayed together, neither moving save for Arachne’s continued growth.

After reaching her full height, the full-bodied Arachne positioned herself directly over the front of the snake. She hefted the front in the air, using her arms and two of her legs to hold it against her body.

Zoe hoped that the potion had already been fully absorbed into the basilisk. As Wayne had said, it wasn’t designed for living creatures.

Still, if anyone could handle parts of themselves shrinking, it would be Arachne. Zoe concentrated on levitating the tail of the sculpture. They could worry about side effects for Arachne later.

With Eva taking care of most of the mid-section through her blood magic, they started off towards the staircase, Wayne, and Serena.

It was somewhat of an awkward situation, moving as they were. Though Arachne had the worst of it by far. The basilisk was constantly shrinking. Though it wasn’t fast, Arachne occasionally had to stop to get a better grip on the front of the snake. Combined with her walking on only six of eight legs, using the other two to help lift the basilisk, their group wasn’t moving all that fast.

But they were moving.

Zoe just hoped that Wayne and Serena could hold out up ahead for a few more minutes.

The very stone itself was on fire in some places. The occasional tapestries that Zoe had taken note of on the way down were gone entirely. No corpses, though one nun had fallen into a torpor with blood dribbling down her neck.

Zoe doubted that she had been left alive out of the goodness of Serena’s heart. More likely that someone had interrupted her feeding, or she simply decided that moving on to her next target was needed more than killing the nun.

By the time they reached the base of the staircase, the snake had shrunk by half. Still too large to carry on any one of their owns, but it was becoming far more manageable for Eva and Zoe.

They started climbing the stairs with Arachne still readjusting her grip every few steps.

“When we get to the top, we shouldn’t have much farther to go. Once Wayne gives the signal, we’re going to teleport.”

“If they haven’t set up more wards,” Eva grumbled.

“Hopefully they have been too busy dealing with us to set up wards. There aren’t many of them and several are still locked up in the rooms below us.”

“They won’t have warded against banishment. Probably. If your teleport is broken, I can get us out. It won’t be pleasant. At all. Though, judging by how the vampire reacted to your teleport, she might find it more agreeable than your teleports.”

Zoe had a picture of the mostly mutilated Sister Cross suddenly surface in her mind. She shook it out of her head as Eva continued talking.

“It is how I intended to escape before you all insisted on coming,” Eva continued. “Even downstairs, I don’t think they would have warded for banishment.”

“Can’t take Serena to your prison without adding her to your wards,” Zoe commented as she considered what Eva had said.

With how well her basilisk had performed, she might have actually been able to do this entirely on her own. She supposed it depended on the stone door and how well it held up to a basilisk ramming into it a few times. Arachne would have been able to help.

It certainly would have skipped over this portion of their theft. But, had Eva followed through with her plan to remove the two guards outside the first staircase, she would have alerted everyone much sooner. It was entirely possible that she would have been forced to retreat before even making it to the second basement.

As they reached the top of the staircase, Wayne and Serena once again came into view.

And fire. Lots of fire.

Unlike the basement levels, the cathedral had been constructed with plenty of wood in addition to stone.

And all of it was on fire.

Serena bounced around the hallway like some hyperactive child while Wayne stood his ground, unleashing powerful bursts of flame to keep the Elysium Order from moving from where they had taken cover. He only made minute movements when an attack came his way. Just enough to dodge.

Zoe used her magic to clear the smoke from the air. The snake was small enough now that Eva could handle it on her own, though Arachne continued to help out.

Catching sight of them at the top of the stairs, Wayne called out, “final push then be ready to get out.”

“Okaay,” Serena replied as she landed on top of a screaming monk. No shield appeared around him. There was nothing to keep her off or to prevent her fangs from tearing a hole in his neck.

“I can handle Basila. Arachne, latch on to me.”

Arachne stayed where she was, interposing herself between Eva and the Elysium Order. “You won’t have anything to block lightning without the snake or me.”

“You’re going to get left behind,” Eva said, exasperation clear in her voice. “Maybe if you’d learn to teleport yourself.” She glanced over to Zoe, “If Arachne continues to be stubborn, I can teleport us out as soon as you guys leave.”

Though she didn’t take her eyes off the combat ahead of her, Zoe shook her head. “I’m not leaving before you.”

Eva just sighed.

The basilisk, which had been as long as a van when they got to the top floor, was shrinking ever more rapidly as it grew smaller. It was down to the size of her arm. Before long, it would be back to its original length, able to easily wind itself around a set of fingers. Probably. Would it stop at the original size? Smaller? How would the potion know? She would have to double-check with Wayne.

Her own potion theory was lacking.

Shaking her head, Zoe decided that now was probably not the best place to worry about such things.

Instead, Zoe pressed forward with Eva and Arachne–still in her largest form. They were so close to getting away. The end of the hallway would be the end of the wards.

Should be the end.

Wayne and Serena were doing a perfect job of pushing back the Elysium Order despite their increased desperation. It helped that there were not many of them. Zoe only counted six nuns and the sole monk. A few of which were no longer able to fight back.

Zoe added her own attacks to the mix now that she was close enough to the fight. A number of Eva’s orbs of blood fired off, splattering against the nuns’ shields before exploding violently.

Now that she could clearly see her enemy, Zoe felt a pang of regret. Only one of the six here was in the proper Elysium Order attire. Her habit was rumpled and coated in blood–probably the monk’s blood. Everyone else looked to be dressed in sleepware of various sorts. One even had pink bunny slippers.

Zoe shook her head and pressed forward.

They were almost out. Only a few feet more to go.

Without a word of communication between them, Wayne and Serena found themselves with their backs against each other. He wrapped an arm around her waist. After a brief nod towards Zoe, they both disappeared. All that was left behind was a blast of cold air followed by a heat wave as a wall of fire sprung up between Zoe and the nuns.

That answers that question, Zoe thought.

“Arachne,” Eva shouted as she wrapped the basilisk around her arm, “shrink down!”

The spider-demon was already shrinking back into her human form when Eva shouted.

At Eva’s shout, Arachne dove over just in time to catch a bolt of lightning that had been aimed at Eva.

She caught it against the side of her face.

Shards of carapace exploded outwards, some cutting into Eva.

The girl didn’t move in the slightest. She stared onwards as the bright glow in Arachne’s four remaining eyes dimmed slightly.

The demon slumped over, crashing into the ground just as a dark portal opened up beneath her.

“No!” Eva dove to the ground, dropping the obelisk at her feet and narrowly avoiding a second bolt of lighting. The obelisk landed on its side with a heavy thud.

Thankfully, the stone hadn’t cracked.

Eva gripped Arachne’s limp arm and pulled. “You can heal damn it.”

In spite of Eva’s grip on Arachne’s arm, the spider demon was still sinking into the portal. Eva’s hands were inching closer and closer to it.

“Eva, let go!”

Zoe dove and tackled Eva, pulling her away from the portal. She didn’t know if Eva could get sucked into it, but she wasn’t willing to take the chance. Recovering Shalise and Juliana had been trying enough. She did not want a repeat of that incident.

“Arachne,” Eva cried out. Her outstretched claw dug into Zoe’s back.

Biting down on her own cry of pain, Zoe rolled twice with Eva before coming to a stop. They were dodging enough lightning as it was. Wayne’s flame wall wouldn’t last forever.

Gripping her dagger in hand, Zoe reached out and touched the obelisk. Wayne had undoubtedly already tried to place the heavy object in storage. The wards would have prevented his action. Here, she had already seen Wayne and Serena disappear. There were obviously no wards in place at the moment.

As soon as it was safe and sound, Zoe started to turn the teleportation on herself and Eva.

The sound of glass shattering stopped her cold as much as the color of Eva’s luminescent eyes. The slits of her eyes were drawn so tight that it was almost as if there wasn’t a pupil at all. The normally blood-red iris was glowing as if someone had shoved two dying suns into her face.

A fountain of black blood erupted from Eva’s backpack. The jar must have broken.

Except, this was far too much blood.

It just kept spewing forth like a bad cartoon. The liquid flowed up and down Eva and Zoe’s arms. A good portion of it started forming a wire frame ball around the two of them.

Zoe didn’t stand by to see what would happen. Her teleport would incapacitate Eva for a minute or two, hopefully giving the girl a chance to calm down.

She gripped her dagger in one hand and hugged Eva with the other before allowing the world to fall away as the cold white of Between replaced it.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.028

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Sister Abbey had turned out useful after all.

The door to the next staircase had been not only locked, but warded as well. Said wards went far over Eva’s head. She knew her blood wards and some runic equivalents to certain wards, and that was about it.

She was fairly certain that the wards were beyond Zoe’s expertise as well. At least the ones specific to the Elysium Order. Regular thaumaturgical wards, Zoe could probably have taken down herself. With study, Eva had no doubt that Zoe would have been able to do something about the Elysium Order wards, but they didn’t exactly have the time at the moment.

Regardless, both Eva and Zoe watched the sister like a hawk as she worked. Both had been in agreement that she had done nothing aside from unlocking the door.

So take that, Wayne Lurcher.

Sister Abbey walked at the head of the group. Everyone was able to keep their eyes on her. All the better to watch her and ensure that she didn’t drop any notes for other nuns to find. When she would have had a chance to scrawl out some message, Eva couldn’t say. No sense in not taking precautions.

Arachne still clung to her. Because of Arachne’s legs, Sister Abbey could barely move her arms to write a note in the first place. With the two needle-like legs pressing up against her throat, Sister Abbey had a constant reminder of what would happen should she attempt a betrayal.

So it wasn’t like they weren’t being careful.

It might not be the ideal situation, Eva would freely admit that. However, Sister Abbey was helping them get through their task faster. The quicker they were gone, the less chances they had to be discovered.

More discovered, anyway.

Though Eva wasn’t so sure that being discovered was much of a concern now that they had gone down a floor.

The ground floor was the most crowded with a good ten or so nuns–at least that came into Eva’s range. Only three of which they had had to pass nearby. The two at the doors and one wandering the hallways. For that one, they had all ducked into a janitorial closet while she passed by.

It had not had the most elbow room with all four of them inside.

The next floor had had the two augurs and the one regular nun.

But this floor… They had been walking for a good ten minutes since descending the last staircase. Eva hadn’t detected a single person.

“Where is everybody?” Eva asked, breaking the silence of their group. “And shouldn’t there have been guards at the stairs?”

Eva wasn’t asking someone in particular. She would have been happy to have an answer from anyone. Arachne apparently thought that the question was directed at the augur, judging by the sharp poke in the side that the nun received after a short silence.

“The Elysium Order has refocused their efforts overseas. Primarily Eastern Europe and North Africa. Most Cathedrals on North America are running,” she paused as a hint of a smile appeared on her face, “skeleton crews.”

Eva had to hand it to the augur. Had Sister Abbey and Nel swapped places, she was fairly certain that Nel would be bawling her eyes out between shaking herself to death out of fear. Sister Abbey was cracking jokes.

Maybe I need to do a little more threatening. Can’t have the captive getting uppity.

“Oh puns? I loove puns. Have you heard the one about the nun that married the zombie?”

Serena beat her to the punch.

“Perhaps it would be best if we limit our conversation with the sister, S,” Wayne said with a grunt.

Eva had lucked out on not being referred to as ‘S’ by the fact that Serena’s name and her last name shared initials. Wayne had almost decided that Serena should be ‘P’ for some reason, but a glare from the vampire had ended that discussion.

“Well at least someone is talking. Breaking in last time wasn’t half as boring.”

“Something you should be thankful for.”

The smile on Sister Abbey vanished and her back stiffened. “You people do this often?”

“Once every year or so,” Eva said before anyone else could preempt her. Unless Wayne and Serena actually robbed the Elysium Order on some kind of regular schedule, claiming to do it often might help throw them off the track. “Whenever we find a child in need of saving.”

“How altruistic. You threaten my life ten times over and–” Sister Abbey bit her tongue as Arachne poked her in the side hard enough to draw blood through her habit. After a quick grimace, her countenance turned to anger. “And yet you claim to work for another’s sake? If you’re so concerned about others, stand with the Order and work to better the world.”

Eva tried to hold in a bout of laughter. She really did.

It didn’t work so well.

Absently, she noted that Serena was laughing as well. A light bubbly giggle compared to her more scornful laugh.

“Ah yes, because the Elysium Order is all about bettering the world.” Eva rolled her eyes, though with Sister Abbey at the lead and facing forwards, the nun wouldn’t be able to see.

Serena, however, saw and started off on another round of giggles. “Every member I’ve ever met has tried to kill me within five minutes. If that.”

“I can’t say the same,” Eva said. “I’ve met and talked with plenty of nuns without fighting them. They usually resorted to poorly disguised death threats with me.”

“E, S,” Zoe said, voice terse. “Please desist.”

“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Wayne grunted. “We’re here.”

Eva blinked. Glancing down at the map and quickly counting the doors in her head, she found that he was right.

Though perhaps she needn’t have counted. The large door before them wasn’t like most of the other wooden doors. It had clearly been made from two slabs of stone and had a deep relief carved into its surface. In the relief, a series of figures wearing garb fairly similar to the nuns’ habits were depicted laying skeletons to rest in mass graves.

There were words inscribed on the front, running around the images on a sort of carved ribbon. They looked like words anyway. Whatever language it was written in was not one that Eva could understand.

Looking at the door did give Eva a slight sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t explain why, it was just there.

Not ominous at all.

Several other, far more regular wooden doors continued on into the distance.

Really, how large is this place?

Unlike the floor above, this second basement had far lower ceilings and a certain dampness that reminded Eva of the crypt that Sawyer had used a few years prior. They could stand to have a cleaning crew go through and freshen up the place a bit.

But this floor wasn’t the last.

Eva knew for a fact that there was at least one more floor below them. She could see something down there. A lone zombie perhaps. It was dead or undead. That much was certain. The blood within its veins might be moving slightly more than Serena’s, but its heart didn’t seem to be beating. It had several golf ball sized holes dotted around its corpse. Anything further was difficult to discern through her blood sight.

“This door?” Sister Abbey whispered. “We can’t go in this door.”

“Oh? Well, I guess we’ve come all this way for nothing,” Eva said, putting as much sarcasm into her voice as possible. “Let’s pack up and go home then.”

“You don’t understand.” Sister Abbey’s voice rose in pitch, becoming more strained. She tried to turn her neck, but Arachne’s needle-like legs put an end to that. Instead, she turned her full body around. “This door can only be opened by a prioress. Or someone given specific access through the source.”

“And you don’t have that access.”

The nun scoffed. “I’m an augur. They’d tear out our eyes if they weren’t necessary to our duties. We aren’t allowed in such secure areas.”

Eva pressed her lips together. It always seemed like it came back to the eyes. Though in this case, she was probably referring to the ones implanted around her body, rather than the eyes on her face.

“Even if you could find a way to enter the room, you wouldn’t make it out. The alarms will go off without fail. Everyone in the cathedral will be waiting for you to exit.”

“We know,” Wayne said as he brushed past Sister Abbey.

That was news to Eva. She didn’t know. Not wanting to show disunity in front of a prisoner, she just nodded in agreement and watched Wayne work.

He knelt before the door, pulling out a small satchel of tools. He started fiddling with the lock on the door after selecting three thin rods. As he started jiggling the rods around, he glanced back over his shoulder. “You sure are helpful for an enemy. Something you’re not telling us, E?”

Eva blinked, surprised that she was the one being addressed. “Ah, I can see why she might be concerned.” Eva said after a moment of thought. “The other nuns being alerted to our presence was one of the conditions for her demise.”

“Ev–” Zoe cut herself off at almost using Eva’s full name. “Might I speak with you for a moment?”

“Don’t worry,” Serena said with a bright smile behind her mask, “I’ll keep the dear sister from committing any nefarious deeds while you’re away.”

Eva eyed the vampire, but just shook her head.

Arachne would be plenty of pairs of eyes on the nun.

She turned and followed Zoe a short distance down the hallway. They were not quite to the next door when Eva felt the air around them change. Zoe had erected another sound barrier between the two groups.

“Eva, I know this is a stressful situation. But… just…” Zoe pinched her eyes shut as she rubbed her temple. “How many ‘conditions for her demise’ were there?”

“A lot, I’d say. There were a few specific ones. After that, I just said that if she did pretty much anything then Arachne would kill her.”

“Eva…”

“I know what you want to say,” Eva said. Probably something about how killing was bad or death threats on helpless prisoners were bad. “But if these nuns catch wind of us, they’re not going to come and ask us to quietly surrender. You’ve done this before, you should know that.”

“First, I do know that. But there is no reason for us to descend to the level of psychopaths. Second, I have not done this before.”

“But Wayne said–”

“He and Serena did it. I was twelve. They didn’t bring me along with them. And,” she glanced over Eva’s shoulder to where Wayne had pulled out his tome at the door, “we weren’t stealing things.” She frowned. “It was more of a rescue than a theft. They were headed towards a dungeon, rather than a storage room.”

The zombie below them might have been in a dungeon. It wasn’t moving around much.

“But if that was the case, he probably hasn’t opened a door like that before. Can he do it?”

“I think,” Zoe started, putting on a smile, “that he is about to show us.”

Turning back to the door, Eva watched as Wayne stood up. He looked over the door once. With his tome held open in front of him, he began flipping through the pages. It took a minute, but he eventually stopped on one in particular. He took a deep breath. As he exhaled, the page started to glow with a white light. It was eerily reminiscent of the same glow that came from the nuns’ eyes as they channeled their peculiar brand of magic. With a flick of his wrist, the light siphoned off to the metal rods that protruded from the door. Both rods turned white for a brief instant before all the light discharged into the door itself.

There was a loud crack that echoed down the empty hallways.

Satisfied with whatever he had done, Wayne snapped his tome shut and moved up to the door. He pulled the rods from the door, taking great care as he replaced them within his satchel.

Even if her conversation with Zoe wasn’t finished, Eva headed back to the rest of the group. No time to delay if the door really was unlocked.

“Finished so soon?” Eva asked.

She only received a grunt in response.

“It took for-ev-er,” Serena said, pronouncing each syllable distinctly on their own. “Seriously, you used to be so much better. Getting old? You know that there is a cure for that, right?”

“I’m rusty,” Wayne said, voice firm, “not old.”

“Uh huh.”

“Anyway,” Eva said before their charades could continue any longer, “the door is unlocked now?” She took a step towards it only to be interrupted by a cough from Zoe. “Oh, whatever.”

Sister Abbey looked almost sickly green. Whether that was thanks to her impending doom or the proximity with which Serena had decided to keep an eye on her, Eva couldn’t say. But she could say something to remove one of those two options.

“In the event that alarms go off through our own actions, I suppose you don’t have to be killed. But siding with any nuns that show up will be inexcusable.”

Sister Abbey swallowed once. “How gracious of you.”

“Too gracious, if you ask me,” Serena said. Her voice lacked the frivolous tone that she had spoken every other word in.

It surprised Eva for just a moment, but deciding that the vampire probably had more reasons to hate the Elysium Order than most, she let it go with a light shrug of her shoulders. She turned back to the door, but caught sight of a thin-lipped Zoe in the corner of her eye. Zoe stared for a second or two before giving a reluctant nod.

“Well,” Eva said to Wayne, “that’s done. Going to open the door? Or shall I?”

“I was waiting for us to be ready. Everything on the door is disabled, but if there is anything beyond that I couldn’t reach then we may not have much time.”

“Alright. S and Z keep an eye on the hallway. Sister Abbey will accompany W and I to help spot and disarm any traps that may be lying about. Sound good? Anyone not ready?”

“Oh good,” Serena said, eying the doors, “I was going to stay here anyway.”

Shrugging at the quip, Eva glanced around the group. From the ill-looking Sister Abbey and Arachne hanging off of her back, Serena prodding at Arachne’s limbs, to the professors–one of whom looked far more confident than the other–no one objected.

“Let’s do this,” Eva said as she pulled open the door.

The heavy stone slabs making up the doors slammed into the walls with a resounding thunder. Parts of them chipped and fell away while cracks formed in the brick walls.

Eva kept very still as she watched for any sign that the doors would fall off. It was a good thing that no one had been standing near the walls. They would have been crushed.

She might have used just a little too much force. In her defense, they were stone slabs; she figured that they would need a little force to get moving. Clearly, something had been done to them.

Ignoring the snort of a giggle from Serena, Eva pulled out her map. “It’s not far.”

Inside was a much shorter hallway containing three far more mundane doors. From Nel’s brief description from scrying inside, she knew that they were essentially storage rooms. Shelves full of dangerous objects or equipment that the rank and file weren’t supposed to handle. The idol-like devices that the Elysium Order used were in the third room.

And in there should be the obelisk.

Eva took a single step forward, only to be bathed in blinding white light.

The walls, the floor, the ceiling, it all turned white. For a moment, she thought that she was being teleported by Wayne or Zoe. The cold chill settling in didn’t help dissuade her thoughts.

The doors still standing before her were her first clue that she was not being teleported. As was the fact that, while chilly, the cold was more like a winter’s day than the debilitating freeze of their teleport.

“You’re not undead?” Sister Abbey said, genuine surprise in her voice.

“Oh? You knew this would happen? Thought you’d lead us–”

“I didn’t know!” She jumped in place as Arachne’s legs pressed inwards. Her voice raised pitch a few notches as she spoke with haste. “It is a common trap used to immobilize undead. I didn’t know that it would be here.”

“An alarm too, I’d bet,” Wayne said as he brushed past the two. He reached the correct door only to find it locked. Rather than pull out his toolkit, he opened his tome.

One page burst into flames. The flames went out and nothing but ash remained. It dusted off into the air, dispersing and disappearing as it went.

Just as the page burst into flames, the wooden door was quick to follow suit.

He stepped over the threshold before the flames had even died down.

Eva charged in after him. Arachne could handle the augur on her own.

“Back left shelf?” he asked.

“That’s what Nel said,” rushing to the place herself.

There were so many things in the room. It was hard not to stop and stare. Most were in the form of stone or wood sculptures. Some, more organic.

One that Eva did stop to look at–for only a second–was a beating heart inside a glass case suspended by four silver prongs. An eyeball dangled off the bottom. Probably the same kind as the nuns’ implanted eyes. Despite its obvious beating, Eva couldn’t see the thing itself through her sense of blood.

That didn’t stop the eye from glowing bright white as she watched.

Eva jumped back and ran to the shelf that Wayne had stopped in front of.

“We should hurry,” she said. “I don’t like this place.”

“No arguments.”

He closed his hand around an arm-sized replica of the Washington Monument. This version was covered in all kinds of markings and scribbles. The top was not a square pyramid. Rather, it had a cone with engravings on it. The first engraving had a circle. That circle was repeated just to either side, except with a sliver taken off. The pattern went around, waxing and waning until it returned to the circle at the front.

Just as Nel had described it.

He hefted it up a few inches before setting it right back down. “Heavy,” he grunted.

“Zoe can levitate it, right?”

Frowning, he tucked his tome under his arm and tried again with two hands. “Maybe,” he said, holding it in the air for a few seconds before setting it down. “Won’t be easy.”

Rather than try again, Wayne pulled up his tome. He tapped the obelisk on the front.

There was a clipped rush of cold air. Nothing else changed save for Wayne’s frown deepening further. Whatever he had intended to do had failed.

“Between is warded off here,” he grumbled to himself. “It wasn’t on the main floor…”

Again, he tapped the obelisk. Aside from another burst of cold air, nothing happened.

Eva shook her head. They didn’t have time for this. If Wayne could lift it with two hands, surely she could as well. As long as she lifted with her legs and not her back, it probably wouldn’t be all that difficult.

Putting one hand around the base and the other halfway up, Eva hefted it up.

Heavy was an accurate word. Wayne had chosen well. However, it didn’t feel quite as heavy as carrying Irene’s limp body around after their little hot springs incident. She would be useless in combat, but she had plans to help with that. With the blood in her backpack already attuned to her dagger, she would be able to control it without much physical effort.

Taking a few steps away from the shelf, Eva found the load much easier to carry as she readjusted her center of balance. It left her leaning back, but… I can do this.

“Got it?”

“I do. Let’s go.” Before she moved more than two steps, Eva paused and took another look around the room. A golden necklace with an hourglass set in the middle particularly caught her eye. “Not going to take anything else?”

“I’d rather not give them more reason to hunt us down,” he said as he moved back through the room. He didn’t so much as glance at the objects on the shelves. “This obelisk is damning enough on its own.”

“Fair point,” Eva mumbled before following after him.

Sister Abbey stood at the room’s threshold, just behind the pile of ashes that once was a door. Her mouth was agape as she looked into the room.

“Lot of good your ‘door unlocker’ was, Spe–E.”

“She unlocked one door,” Eva said as she hefted the obelisk, shifting its position ever so slightly. “That was useful.”

“Could have done it myself. You’d have done better to let S knock on the door and give you a few seconds to escape.”

“Maybe if she did that sooner. As it was, had to act quickly. I didn’t want our dear augur friend to notice me while I was unprepared.”

“Too much talk. Not enough running.”

Eva just frowned as Wayne ran into the white room. “You started it,” she mumbled to herself.

With a nod of her head to Arachne and Sister Abbey, she walked back into the icy cold room, carrying the obelisk all the way.

They got through the pure white room just in time to see a lightning bolt travel down the hall from Zoe’s dagger.

“Company,” she said through grit teeth as blindingly white lightning crackled down the hall.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.027

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Three things made getting into the Elysium Cathedral much easier than it had any right to be.

The first was the map. Drawn by Nel both from memory and from scrying, it had possible routes to the relic chamber along with some annotations about which directions would have them encounter how much resistance. Most of it was guesswork and estimations. Nel had to remain behind to prepare the salt, so she couldn’t give real-time updates. The nuns could and would move around and invalidate most of her efforts.

But that was the second thing. For whatever reason, there were hardly any nuns about. A handful of guards was about all that they had to sneak by. They hadn’t passed the sleeping quarters, so it was entirely possible that the majority were asleep. Nel had mentioned that there should have been more guards, so Eva wasn’t about to question their luck.

Eva wanted to say that the third thing was her own blood sight. The ability to effectively see through walls, see which direction guards were facing, and to tell whether or not a guard was asleep at their post was an amazing asset on a job like this. Something that Eva wished she had figured out back when doing odd jobs with Devon.

However, while it helped, Eva had to begrudgingly give a nod to Serena and her unique abilities.

Two guards stood alert outside of the doorway leading to the basement of the cathedral.

There was another way inside, but they would have had to backtrack through a good portion of the building, negating much of their work so far. And, if this one was guarded, that door was likely guarded as well.

Turning to the others, Eva said, “Arachne can handle this.”

At hearing her name, the spider demon poked her head out from under Eva’s shirt.

They didn’t actually need to be silent. Something that Eva was beyond grateful for. Part of her reason for wanting to go in alone was that it was far easier to be stealthy with fewer people. Arachne had shrunk and latched onto Eva’s chest just to help reduce their total footprint. More people meant more noise, no exceptions.

Except when Zoe was part of the group. She just twisted her dagger and the air itself didn’t allow sound to pass beyond a small radius around their group. The vibrations froze in mid-air.

That hadn’t made Arachne unshrink. A group of people was already a larger visual target than a single person, and Arachne was larger than any one person in their group. Zoe’s air magic couldn’t hide them from sight.

“How?” Serena asked with a wide smile.

The tone of her voice wasn’t hostile and it was a fair question. It still sent Eva’s eye twitching. Not only was it a question that Eva had been about to answer on her own, but it was Serena asking.

She wasn’t certain that she liked the vampire. Every time she glanced in Serena’s direction, she found the vampire staring at her. Every single time.

To Eva, it didn’t feel much like a friendly stare or even one of the curious stares that her classmates often gave her hands and eyes. It was of the hungry variety of stares. Like the vampire was just waiting for her to let her guard down so she could have a quick snack.

“Arachne climbs on the ceiling–no one ever looks up,” Eva said, glancing up herself.

If asked, she would say that she had glanced up as emphasis on her words. It was definitely not because she too never bothered to look up. While her blood sight worked in a sphere around her, there could be nonliving concerns on the ceiling.

Looking up only to find a trapped ceiling slowly descending to crush them would be terrible. She did not want to become an Eva sandwich.

Bringing her eyes back down to Serena after finding nothing, Eva said, “Arachne then drops on their heads, bites them, injects venom, and then we walk past two recently deceased nuns.”

Zoe shifted, probably about to say something about killing people.

Serena beat her to the punch. “Buut, that will leave two dead nuns.”

“You care?”

She shrugged. “I’ve no love for the Elysium Order. However,” she held up a finger, “what if the changing of the guards happens or someone walks by? Even if we hide the bodies, the lack of guards will alert the others. If there is an augur here, and there probably is, the entirety of the cathedral will be on alert near instantly. That makes our job far more difficult.”

“Fair points,” Eva said with a frown. “But you can’t just complain without putting forward a suggestion of your own. What’s your plan?”

“Hmm,” she tilted her head back and forth a few times. “Something like this.”

Before Eva could so much as react, Serena had jumped around the corner, extending her arm out like she was holding a pistol.

Through her blood sight, Eva could see the guards’ eyes widen a fraction of an inch.

Neither of their hearts had the chance to spike in pace before Serena’s invisible pistol sent a recoil up her arm.

As her wrist flicked back, a dark beam erupted from her eyes.

Both guards slackened slightly, but not enough to topple over.

“Hurry,” Serena said, already taking off running towards the door. “Not much time.”

Wayne and Zoe were already in motion, apparently having experienced such antics from the vampire in the past. Eva scrambled after them a moment later.

Both guards had a dazed look on their faces. Neither was quite focusing on any one thing in particular.

“Locked,” Wayne grumbled from ahead of the pack.

Serena whipped her head to one of the guards, staring at the nun for a moment.

For a bare instant, the nun’s eyes refocused. Eva tensed, ready for a fight.

But the nun just turned without actually seeing any of them. She pulled a key from her pocket and unlocked the door, tapping the lock with a wand before returning to her position at the side of the door. As she retook her position, her eyes lost their focus once again.

Wayne and Zoe charged through the door. Serena gave a little pat on the shoulder of the nun. “Thanks,” she said before following the other two.

With one last look at the glossy-eyed nuns, Eva ran through the door.

“A little warning next time,” Zoe said as she shut the door and flicked the deadbolt back into place.

“Ohh, but there’d be no fun in that.”

Zoe ignored her, clicking the locks on the door shut. “The nun touched the door with her wand. There was probably a magical lock in place. I hope it wasn’t tied to any alarms.”

As they spoke, Eva watched the other side of the door through her blood sight. Both nuns shook their heads slightly as they lost the sag in their pose.

Eva waited at the door, preparing to charge through and stop the nuns from running to get help. Serena was right in that killing them would be troublesome. They could at least restrain them. That would give them plenty more time than having them run off right away.

Neither made a move for or away from the door. Each simply resumed her guard without so much as a word to the other.

“Eva,” Zoe called up from the bottom of the staircase, “we’re not there yet. Best to keep moving before they notice the spells on the door are gone.”

“What was that?” Eva asked anyone as she reached the others. She paused for just a moment, looking around. “People inside the large room on our right. Only three. A meeting of some sort?”

Eva wished that her blood sight could provide more details. Or maybe she needed to get good at reading lips through blood veins. As it was, all she could tell was that three people were seated around a table, discussing something. Two of them were augurs, judging by the copious amount of eye-shaped organs dotted around their bodies.

They were fairly far away. Just at the edge of her range.

The end of the stairs opened up into a long hallway that, after a curve, followed back along the hallway they had just been in one floor up. The main chapel room sat directly adjacent above, though if there were a replica down here, they hadn’t gone down enough steps for it to copy the vaulted ceiling.

Unless the room had been partitioned off, the nuns would be sitting in the far corner from where Eva was.

Perhaps much of it had been made into a storage area? There were doors on either side all along the hallway. Offices? What did the Elysium Order need with such a large space?

And they still had to go down one more floor before reaching the room that contained the obelisk.

“That,” Serena said from the head of the group, “was just a figment of their imaginations. Staring at a wall for hours on end has a habit of playing tricks on the mind. Whatever they thought they saw was probably nothing.”

“‘Probably nothing’ unlocked the doors?”

Serena shrugged. “Not my fault that she had a sudden pressing need to open the door and forget about it afterwards.”

Frowning, Eva glared at the vampire’s back. “If you can do that, why are we bothering with all this sneaking around? We could just walk up to a nun and have her go get the obelisk.”

“Ah, but it doesn’t last that long, does it now? And if their eyes are glowing, forget about it working entirely.” She glanced over her shoulder as she walked. Her stormy eyes made contact with Eva’s as she flashed a grin. “Learned that the hard way.”

Eva was about to ask a few other questions about her ability. It seemed a neat trick to have and definitely warranted learning, if she could.

The three nuns moving in the far end of the room gave her pause. She waited just long enough to be certain that they were headed towards the hallway before alerting the group.

“Heads up,” she said. “Three nuns incoming from the far door. Serena?”

The vampire shook her head. “If they come out one at a time, I might get the first one but the other two will notice. If I try to wait, I might not get any of the three.”

“Hide then,” Wayne said from behind. He and Zoe had fallen a fair distance behind Eva and Serena during the short walk through the hallway.

As one, they turned and moved towards one of the rooms that Eva had presumed to be offices. Eva expected it to be locked for a moment, but Wayne turned the knob and walked right in.

Eva and Serena started towards a closer room to where they were. Serena stopped partway and vanished from Eva’s sight. She was still there in her blood sight, unbeating heart and all.

At least she can’t sneak up on me, Eva thought, taking the disappearance in stride. It wasn’t until Serena backed away from the door to position herself at the wall directly opposite that Eva hesitated.

Through her blood sight, Eva glanced through the walls towards Zoe and Wayne’s hiding spot. They had positioned themselves behind where the door would open, ready to ambush anyone who entered. There must not be any good hiding spots in the room itself. For a moment, just a single moment, Eva thought to go and join them in their room.

Shaking the notion from her mind, Eva entered the door before her.

Running down to their room would be cutting it too close. The nuns were almost to the hallway.

“Arachne,” Eva said to her one companion as the door shut behind her with a soft click, “ceiling. Keep quiet and don’t attack unless the situation looks dire.”

If Zoe and Wayne were setting up an ambush, she would take their lead.

The spider-demon gave her a quick tap on her right shoulder before climbing out the top of her shirt. Leaping from her shoulder to the wall, Arachne skittered up to a corner of the ceiling where her dark carapace blended in with the shadows.

Arachne in place, Eva looked around the room in an attempt to find her own place to hide.

There weren’t many options. The room was not an office as she had initially suspected. There was a single altar in the center of the room along with a small closet to one side. The room looked an awful lot like the room Nel had set up for herself within Ylva’s domain, if a far less gaudy version of it.

The thick wooden citrus of frankincense hung in the air like smog, reinforcing Eva’s growing fears.

These rooms were not safe places to hide with two augurs walking down the hall.

With nowhere better to hide, Eva moved to the opposite side of the altar. It was thick, heavy, and solid stone of some sort. Marble, probably. Sitting was all that was required to hide behind it, and she was left with plenty of space to spare overhead and to the sides. With a large pillow between the altar and the door, it was fairly obvious that the augur would sit with her back to the door. She wouldn’t come around the side.

Eva withdrew a vial of Arachne’s blood as she watched the two augurs walk down the hallway alongside the regular nun. No sense in not preparing for the worst.

The group stopped outside of a room a few doors down, opposite of the direction that Zoe and Wayne were hidden. They spoke a few words to one another before one of the augurs split off and entered the room. The other two continued on down the hallway.

Continued towards her.

Closing her eyes, she hoped that they would just pass by. Surely only one augur needed to be on duty at such a late hour. The other should go to bed.

Serena did nothing but lean against the wall, head turning to follow and watch the two nuns.

Couldn’t she just use her magic trick right now?

No. They were both looking at each other. One would see her before the other saw leading to the second turning on their power.

Eva stifled a groan as they stopped outside of her door.

Of course, she thought as the door cracked open.

“–allowed to roam free, Sister Abbey,” the non-augur said. “We must–”

“If you wish to pursue demon hunting,” the augur spat, “I will look the other way. But I will not accompany you. A few rogue sisters will be overlooked in this time of crisis. A second rogue augur will be hunted down by the few remaining inquisitors without question.”

Chagrin filling her voice, the non-augur all but whined at the augur. “Sister Abbey–”

“And, Sister Cole, I trust I do not need to remind you of the last time your chapter encountered demons. What was the casualty rate for that mission, forty percent?”

The augur shook her head as she turned to the altar.

Eva stilled her breathing as much as possible. Please leave, please leave. She wished she had possessed the foresight to stab her own chest with her dagger. Oxygenating her blood through exposure to the air was far quieter than breathing.

The other nun stayed in the doorway. Her hands, balled into fists, trembled. “Thirty seven percent. And we are far more prepared. We’ve had time to analyze and employ better countermeasures. And this time, we won’t have Cross and–”

“The former prioress’ faults are well-known,” Sister Abbey said with a glance over her shoulder. “It is amusing to me that you wish to repeat her mistakes so soon after gaining her title, Prioress.

Sister Cole grit her teeth. Even had she not been able to see her muscles clenching, Eva would have heard the grinding.

“You are just an augur. You’ll be–”

“Looking the other way. If you continue pressing the matter, I may find myself in a more active role of alerting the inquisitors before they find cause to go after me.” Turning fully from Sister Cole, Sister Abbey knelt down at the altar. “This conversation has been most enlightening. If you would remove yourself from my presence, I have work that must be done.”

Clenching her fists again, Sister Cole turned from the door, slamming it shut in the process. She stormed towards the staircase.

At least they would know if the nun noticed those missing spells. If she came running back down the stairs, she would probably have spotted them and alerted the two guards. Hopefully her anger would cloud her perception.

Unfortunately, Eva had a more pressing problem.

The augur sighed. A long, drawn our, exasperation-filled sigh. She reached up and pulled her habit’s cap off, setting it on the altar with reverence. With a sudden clenching of her fists, she stood up, walked to the door, flicked the deadbolt into place, and sat down.

“And stay out,” she murmured.

Outside of the room, Serena walked up to the door and pressed her ear against it.

Unless the vampire had unlocking doors as an ability, Eva doubted that she would be getting any help from there.

Down the hall, Zoe and Wayne had emerged from their room. Zoe had likely enhanced her ears beyond the point of safety to determine if the hallway was empty. They ran up to Serena–who must be visible again–and started speaking to one another.

No sound penetrated the door. Whether due to the door’s construction or Zoe dampening sound, Eva couldn’t say. Them speaking without her being able to listen did reaffirm her decision to figure out how to read lips through blood. They were probably plotting ways to get her out. It would help a lot to know what they were talking about.

Inside of her room, the augur didn’t actually appear to be doing any auguring. A lot of sighing and breathing exercises, but no scrying. Something of a shame. Nel tended to block out most of the surroundings when she dipped into her abilities. Maybe not enough for Eva to sneak out, but it couldn’t hurt.

Eva expected the closet to be filled with all the objects the augur would use to scry with, so it was a good thing that the augur wasn’t doing her job. If she went up to the closet, Eva would come into view.

It would be so easy to signal Arachne from where she was. Arachne had moved to directly over the augur. An angle from where she would definitely be able to see Eva.

But Serena was right. If the augur died, everyone in the area would know and be after them immediately.

Best to find a non-lethal solution.

Eva mentally cursed at her stupidity in not packing her poison satchel. Even a mild paralytic would keep her down long enough for them to get in and out. Probably.

Zoe and company were probably looking for a solution, but they didn’t know what the inside of the room looked like or really anything that would give them a concrete plan.

With a mental sigh, Eva started forming precise directions for Arachne out of blood.

As she finished, Arachne dropped. She dangled from the ceiling on a single thread. Her eight legs touched the ground behind Sister Abbey without the slightest noise.

Arachne sprung from the ground. Six of her legs latched around the woman’s chest–arms included–breaking at least one of her bones based on the noise. Arachne’s front two legs snapped up and positioned themselves at either side of the woman’s neck. They pinched her skin inwards, but managed not to pierce her throat.

Yet.

“If your eyes glow, you die,” Eva said before anything else, even before the nun had a chance to cry out in pain from her broken bones.

While she wouldn’t put it past a member of the Elysium Order to go out in some suicidal attack, the augur had been worried about inquisitors; it was reasonable to assume that she feared for her life.

Eva managed to hold in a sigh of relief as the nun stilled. Her heart had jumped to a couple thousand beats per minute, but she clamped her mouth shut and did not ignite her eyes. Eva couldn’t actually see her eyes, but Arachne hadn’t killed her. Therefore, her eyes were normal.

“Congratulations,” Eva said without standing from her hiding position. “Through an inestimable amount of bad luck, mostly on my part, you get a choice tonight. One choice, obviously, is death. I do not think I need to explain that one.”

On the other side of the door, Serena was shushing the two conversing professors while trying to press her ear even further into the door.

Eva ignored them for the moment. It was a bit too late for anything they might do.

“The other choice: you can help save a little girl whose life is in danger.” Shalise probably wouldn’t appreciate being referred to as a little girl–Eva wouldn’t–but the facts were that she was not here and little girls were far more sympathetic than teenagers. “That could use some explanation, but I am pressed for time and really, what choice do you actually have?

“Rest assured, I am not here to hurt anyone. As I said, you’re only in this position because of bad luck. I’m just here to steal something. Hell, I don’t even need to keep it.” Unless an obelisk is somehow consumed during the ritual. “You can have it back in an hour.” Or however long the ritual lasted plus time to get back. “Maybe a day? Definitely less than a week. I’ll drop it off on the front lawn.”

Eva hummed for a moment, giving the augur time to process what she had said. “Saving the life of a little girl or having your own life extinguished. I intend to get what I came for either way, so I suppose those aren’t mutually exclusive. You only need to worry about your own life.”

The augur remained silent. Arachne pressed one leg ever so slightly deeper into her neck, causing her to jump.

“Go ahead, make your choice. I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day. If time runs out, the default choice is death, in case you were unsure.”

While the nun mulled it over, Eva took the orb of blood in her hands and formed it into a sort of mask and a pair of gloves to lessen the pointedness of her fingers. Serena had mentioned having masks on whatever previous experience she had with the Elysium Order, so it couldn’t be a terrible idea.

If she did end up agreeing, as Eva expected she would, Eva didn’t want to give any clue as to who she was. Given the distinction of her eyes and hands, it wouldn’t be difficult to find out who she was.

Probably wouldn’t be difficult anyway, Eva grumbled to herself as she finished shaping the blood. The moment anyone noticed anything demonic going on, they would immediately turn to Brakket.

Perhaps shoving Serena in front of a nun would distract them for a few months while they hunted down some nonexistent vampire coven.

Unless she had an actual coven that they could locate. That might be something of a jerk move in that case.

Encountering augurs made Eva feel woefully unprepared. She would have to make sure that no significant part of herself was left behind. Nel used vials of blood and strands of hair to locate her targets.

They should have all worn hair nets. And bindings on their bodies to keep arm hairs and such things from falling out.

How small could augurs go? Flakes of dead skin? Individual skin cells? If so, it was far too late from the moment they walked inside without a hard suit and recirculated air.

With a sudden sinking in her stomach, Eva resigned herself to being hunted by the Elysium Order for the foreseeable future. Even if Ylva’s presence kept them at bay, that would probably not last through the week if she was serious about removing herself from the mortal plane.

Still, no need to make it easy on them. Eva attached the mask to her face, allowing the semi-solid blood to flow over her exposed skin. It was difficult to tell without a mirror, but she was fairly certain that she looked a lot like Arachne minus a few pairs of eyes.

Plunging her dagger into her arm, she quickly made three other masks out of her own blood. They would be thin and wouldn’t cover all skin, but it would be better than nothing.

“Alright.” The nun slumped slightly and her voice came out strained. Arachne might be holding on a bit too tight.

But whatever. She’d live.

“I’m glad you can see reason. Surprising in a way, but I suppose that all the augurs I’ve met have been far less trigger happy than the rest of your lot.”

Standing from behind the altar, Eva ignored the gasp as she stared the augur in the eye.

“If at any point your eyes glow, you will die. If you shout or try to escape, you will die. If the other members of the Elysium Order are alerted to our presence before we leave, you will die.” Eva paused as she thought of other circumstances, but there were far too many to list. “If you think something you do might possibly in some minor probability wind up with you dead, it will.”

Eva smiled behind her mask. A pointless exercise as the nun couldn’t see. Unless… Eva quickly manipulated the surface of her mask into a wide smile. Far wider than her normal smile. Much closer to Arachne’s smile.

In fact, Eva thought as she etched in sharpened teeth. She wasn’t sure that it would be visible as the light in the augur’s room was fairly dim, but it was the thought that counted.

“Aside from that,” Eva said, “Sister Abbey, welcome aboard. Now stay right here and don’t move.”

Stepping around the suddenly statue-like nun, Eva walked up to the door and flicked the lock.

Zoe and Wayne ceased their conversation, both jumping to high alert. Serena just casually walked away from the door with a grin on her face. She had probably heard everything.

Neither of the professors let their guard down. Rather the opposite. A dagger was thrust in her face while Wayne readied his tome.

Rolling her eyes, Eva allowed part of her mask to roll off of her face for a few seconds. “It’s just me. Put these on,” she said, handing her masks off to the three.

Zoe accepted one first, frowning at it. “Are these–”

“Made out of your blood?” Serena snapped between Eva and Zoe, wrenching one of the masks out of Eva’s hands. She pressed it up to her face, drawing in a deep breath.

Eva took the moment it was pressed to her face to remodel it slightly to better fit her face. The large bushy eyebrows and tongue sticking out that appeared on the front were completely unintended consequences of reshaping it.

“This is the best present anyone has ever given me,” Serena said with a mild glare towards Wayne. “I’ll cherish it forever. Not to mention, much better than the ski masks we wore last time.”

Or until I make it explode when we’re done, Eva didn’t say. She hoped that she remembered to tell the vampire to take it off first.

Wayne was the only one hesitating, so Eva tossed the last mask at him. “Put it on unless you don’t care if an augur sees you.”

“What did you do?” he hissed. Wayne hesitated three times, bringing the mask near to his face and pulling it away again before he finally placed it against his face.

Eva fit the masks to both Wayne and Zoe without any unnecessary additions.

“Sister Abbey,” Eva said with a turn of her head, “come introduce yourself.”

The augur, who had been sitting as still as she could manage with her heart beating as it was, jumped slightly at being addressed. After a slight prod from Arachne, she finally made it to the doorway.

Upon seeing the augur, the other three all took a step away. At least until their eyes dipped down to where Arachne’s legs were wrapped around her like some kind of ominous rib cage.

“What did you do?” Wayne grunted through grit teeth.

“I got us a door unlocker!”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.026

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Wayne isn’t coming with us?” Eva asked as she shook off the icy cold of Zoe’s method of teleportation. Digging her claws into the brick wall of the building they had appeared next to, she pulled herself into a proper standing position. “I thought you said he would be here.”

“He will be. He just had to make a brief stop somewhere else first.”

Rubbing her claws up and down her arms, Eva watched an equally shaky Arachne as she unfolded herself from her smaller spider form.

Without a gate nearby, they didn’t have much choice but to go with Zoe despite the downsides to her teleportation. Zoe didn’t have a problem with her teleportation. She stood on watch for the few minutes that it took Eva and Arachne to recover, completely unaffected by the shivers and shakes.

No one else had a problem with it either. Eva had personally watched both Shalise and Juliana teleport alongside Zoe, and both had always walked away without the slightest shakes immediately after arriving at their destination. Yet both Eva and Arachne suffered after every teleport.

Maybe her method just wasn’t meant for nonhumans. At least it didn’t flay them alive as Eva’s teleportation had done to Lynn Cross.

“Well, I hope he gets here soon.” Eva slung off her backpack of supplies. “I need those potions.”

With Devon having fled into the night, Eva wasn’t about to try summoning demons. She was fairly certain that the wax demon had just about killed the both of them last time he summoned it. They had only been saved by Devon dominating it at the last minute.

Eva possessed neither the desire nor the ability to dominate demons. Devon had never taught her how. The textbooks that Martina Turner had assembled for the diablery class didn’t so much as mention the discipline, let alone devote a chapter to how to perform it.

So, Eva had decided to forgo any demonic support.

Aside from Arachne.

That was a whole other can of worms. Arachne had agreed to come along without hesitation. There wasn’t a problem with that.

Eva watched the unnaturally still demon through her blood sight as she pulled a large jar of fresh blood from her pack. She couldn’t help but let her mind wander to the demon.

Despite regular visits over the past few months, Eva felt as if she hadn’t spoken with Arachne in forever. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Arachne’s thoughts were impenetrable at the best of times.

Now, it was like looking at a blank wall.

Eva shook off the thoughts. They could have a sit-down discussion after the current crisis was over.

For now, she had work to do.

Pulling out her dagger, Eva dug the tip into the crook of her elbow. After drawing out a decent sized globule, she healed the cut and dug into her backpack.

It didn’t take much rummaging to find what she was looking for. It already had a large core of blood that was shining brightly in her vision.

As soon as she moved her hand nearby, Basila coiled around her fingers, squeezing tightly. Eva pulled her out and started looking over the stone basilisk.

Everything appeared in order. Her scales had the same dark sheen and luster that they had had immediately after Eva performed her little experiment. The teeth and silver eyes still maintained their changes as well. None of the blood in the center of the basilisk replica had degraded–odd, given Eva had altered Basila back in January, a good two and a half months ago. Almost three.

Eva shrugged off that oddity. Probably intentional. Given that the spell was supposed to have been performed on an actual living creature, it made sense that the blood that actually imbued the effects would have to be preserved and not overwritten by the creature’s natural blood production.

Even still, she streamed the fresh globule of her own blood down the basilisk’s throat.

Had it always had a throat? It was just a sculpture, wasn’t it? Surely the Rivases wouldn’t have carved out the insides as well.

“What are you doing?”

“Taking an extra security measure.”

Eva didn’t glance up to Zoe as she responded. She had to ensure that Basila both swallowed all the blood and that her addition didn’t disturb the changes to Basila. Given that Basila was just an enchanted sculpture, she doubted that she could kill it. Still, she would rather not mess everything up.

The book she had acquired the spell from didn’t have any sections on fixing an altered sculpture.

“Security for what, exact–”

Two new people popped into the alley.

Eva jumped to her feet, the jar of Arachne’s blood bubbling and boiling at the ready. At her side, Arachne sprouted her spare limbs and dropped into a combat stance.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Zoe going for her dagger only to stop halfway there.

It didn’t take much to figure out why. Wayne was one of the two people.

Still, Eva and Arachne kept up their guard as the girl at his side started towards them.

Or… not, Eva thought as she watched the girl fall forward. She didn’t even try to catch herself as her skull cracked against the asphalt. Another demon?

It sure looked to be suffering from the same problem that she did when teleported by Zoe and Wayne. Eva rubbed her own chin, feeling some semblance of empathy. While she had managed to catch herself on her knees this time, Eva distinctly recalled landing flat on her face the first time Wayne had teleported her.

Did Wayne know any other demons? Eva couldn’t think of any possibilities. The girl wasn’t Ylva, Catherine, or either of the Brakket security guards. While the girl could be Zagan, Eva couldn’t think of a reason why he would appear as a teenage girl.

Wayne stepped over the girl without so much as a downward glance. He quickly found himself at Zoe’s side where the two engaged in a hushed conversation.

Eva thought about listening in, but found herself more interested in the demon. As the minutes dragged on, the girl didn’t push herself up. She didn’t move at all. The thought of her being a demon vanished as Eva noted the oddity in the fallen girl through her blood sight.

Her blood did not move through her veins. Her heart wasn’t beating. Her chest didn’t expand and contract with each breath. There wasn’t the slightest sign of minute movements in the body’s blood that was so tell-tale of other living beings.

“She’s dead,” Eva said, feeling somewhat foolish at pointing out what was now plainly obvious. It was somewhat shocking. Had the girl died from the teleport? Wayne was one thing, but Eva couldn’t imagine Zoe just ignoring Wayne killing some teenager.

Wayne turned from his conversation. He regarded Eva for a good minute before shrugging his shoulders. “Yeah.”

With that, he went back to his conversation.

Or tried to.

“That’s it? ‘Yeah,’ and nothing else? You can’t just–” Eva paused.

With a shake of her head, she shunted the thought from her mind. Zoe wasn’t freaking out. Given how she had reacted to Devon and his potential new subject, a hushed conversation was out of character for her. Therefore, she expected this to happen.

She had known that Wayne would be dragging along a corpse.

So, Eva thought, what use is a corpse in sneaking through an Elysium Order owned church? Spare blood for me?

There wasn’t any sign of life in the blood and it felt old. Eva doubted it would be usable. If Wayne had intended that for her, it wasn’t a very good gift. He should have just raided a blood bank, not a morgue. Even then, Eva had a decent amount of Arachne’s blood to use. Stale blood just couldn’t hold up a candle to that.

“Whatever,” Eva said. She had already intended to steal the obelisk with only herself and Arachne. If Wayne could help, great. Otherwise… “Did you get my potions?”

“You’re lucky I keep examples on hand.” Wayne Lurcher reached into his suit and pulled out two vials. One was dark orange while the other could have been mistaken for blood. Regular blood.

“Thanks,” Eva said as she reached for them.

Wayne snapped his wrist back, pulling the vials just out of reach. “Not for use on huma–” He cut himself off with narrowed eyes. Those eyes flicked over towards Arachne before he continued. “Not for use on living flesh. You’re not going to be able to shrink yourself to get in.”

Eva shot out her hand and snatched the vials. “I know that,” she said. “Just because I don’t go to your class doesn’t mean that I haven’t read the books.” Technically, Arachne had read her the books. Wayne didn’t need to know that.

Rolling the vials around with her fingers, Eva double checked that the color and consistency was what the book described. She didn’t believe that Wayne would make a mistake–no matter how annoying he was, Eva believed that he knew his alchemy–but it couldn’t hurt to double-check.

“Actually,” Eva said as she finished. Satisfied with the results of her inspection, she set the vials within a potion satchel inside her backpack. “I don’t wear those gloves anymore. That was your main complaint with me, right?”

“You want to come to my class again?” He shook his head. “Wrong question. Are you going to be disrespectful and disruptive again?”

Balling her hands into fists, Eva glared at him. “You were rude to me–”

Wayne held up a hand. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll talk about this later.” Under his breath, he grumbled, “I might not have a job if the school shuts down.”

Eva’s mild anger dissipated into a slight sensation of melancholy. “That’s a possibility, is it?”

“Can’t tell what the dean will do. I’ve long since stopped trying to figure out how Turner thinks. But she won’t matter much if the sky spooks off all you kids. Can’t have a school without students.”

Although there were plenty of problems surrounding Brakket Academy, including the one going on at the moment, Eva had taken a liking to school. Without it, she would probably still be doing the odd job with Devon. Few and as far between as those jobs were, she would be going to mundane school. Her most recent experience with a mundane school had left her bored out of her mind.

Eva turned away from Wayne, not bothering to question him further. As he had said, it was something to think about later. For now, she was wasting time. With the potions delivered, she was fairly certain that they were ready.

Arachne didn’t have many preparations to make as she was made up of everything that she used to fight with. She was no longer shaking from the effects of the teleport either. When Eva gave her a glance, she nodded.

“Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Wait. We’re not going to let you do this on your own.”

Eva turned back to Zoe with a frown on her face. She tried to keep her voice polite as she said, “Wait? For how long? You do realize that Shalise could be in danger?” Eva bit down on a harsher response.

While she respected Zoe and understood that she wanted to help, Eva was somewhat anxious about finding the obelisk and getting back to Shalise. When Sister Cross had said there might be problems acquiring the obelisk, Eva had not expected that an assault on an Elysium Order controlled church to be in the cards.

“But don’t worry, this is just like a job with Devon. I’ve done tons of them. In fact, this is better than a job with Devon. This time, thanks to Nel, we actually have a map with the destination marked and a good idea of how many nuns are around. That’s ten times the preparation that ever went into any of Devon’s jobs.”

Zoe had her lips pressed into a thin line. Probably at the thought of Devon dragging her off on jobs.

“Eva, you–”

“Smell good…”

Eva jumped, whirling around to face the corpse on the ground. The sound had come from below and behind her. Right where that corpse had been lying.

The body was still dead. Still unmoving face down on the asphalt. No blood flowed through its veins. It was even in the same position that Eva had last seen it in.

No, Eva thought as a glob of Arachne’s blood started hovering around her, not quite the same position.

The jaw had slackened from the hardened rictus that it had arrived with.

Eva jumped back as the body lifted a hand. She did a quick double-check of herself, the professors, and Arachne just to ensure that her blood sight was working properly.

Everyone’s blood was flowing just fine.

Everyone except for the currently animated corpse.

Her first thoughts were of necromancy. None of the skeletons or zombies that she had encountered had ever spoken, but the ghost that had assisted in her initial capture had responded to queries. Could ghosts possess corpses?

Then there was the blended girl and her friend. Both were strange to her blood sight and both had a connection to Sawyer. Their status of being alive was in question solely because of that. But even the friend had a pulse. A slow, lethargic pulse, but a pulse nonetheless.

It did, however, answer the question of why Wayne had brought along a corpse. If the Elysium Order thought that there might be undead in the general area of their church, they would probably send at least a portion of their forces to investigate.

Unfortunately, it would probably set the rest on high alert.

Maybe the undead should be contained and set to be released if they needed a distraction. A much better plan than alerting everyone right away.

Eva kept a careful watch on the girl as she pushed herself up to her knees and then to her feet. All the while, Eva had a portion of Arachne’s blood ready to strike or shield at a moment’s notice.

Arachne had moved back in the shadows and climbed partway up the building, looking about ready to pounce on the animated corpse.

“I told you to warn me before teleporting,” the girl whined as she tried to brush dirt and grime from her clothes.

Given that she was wearing a white dress, she failed miserably. If anything, she only worsened the problem by smearing the dirt around herself.

The girl seemed to realize the problem only after it was too late.

As she looked up to glare at Wayne, Eva caught a dead-on view of her eyes.

Or rather, the endless abyss behind them. They were like little snow globes with storms in place of the snow that would be right at home inside of Ylva’s domain.

“You would have ended up on your face no matter what,” Wayne said.

His voice broke Eva out of her trance. She shook her head and averted her eyes, determined not to get stuck in that trap again.

“I also told you to catch me. You’re so meaan to me,” she said, drawing out the word. “And after all the favors I’ve done for you over the years.”

Eva heard the distinct sound of Wayne scoffing behind her back.

“Now I’m all embarrassed and dirty in front of,” she took a deep breath through her nose, “someone who smells soo fantastic.”

The girl appeared in front of Eva. It wasn’t teleportation; Eva managed to track her movements just enough to tell that much. She was, however, fast enough to startle Eva.

Barely thinking, Eva activated her shield as she stumbled back from the other teenager.

She passed through the side of the shield and left the animated corpse behind, trapped within the bubble.

“What strange eyes,” the corpse muttered to herself.

“Look who’s talking.”

The corpse took another deep breath. “Ah, blood magic,” she said. A wide smile formed on her face as she poked the orb of blood powering the shield. “But you should have taken this with you.”

It doesn’t work like that, Eva almost said. The orb had to stay in the direct center of the shield or it collapsed. She had tried otherwise in the past, but nothing had never worked.

But Eva kept her mouth shut as her mind raced to toss out all of her previous assumptions about the girl. The twin fangs hanging out of her smile introduced a new theory.

The girl was a vampire.

Eva had never before encountered a vampire. In fact, she had assumed that the entire species was a myth up until Genoa had told the story of why she disliked the Elysium Order.

As if to prove Eva’s new theory, the vampire leaned down and slurped up the core of the shield. The actual shell collapsed immediately, freeing the trapped vampire.

For just a moment, Eva considered clapping her hands together and exploding the blood inside the vampire’s stomach. The only thing staying her hands was the fact that the vampire had arrived with Wayne and Zoe had clearly been expecting her arrival. She was probably not an enemy.

A blur of movement in the upper corners of Eva’s eyes had her shouting as fast as possible. “Arachne!”

The spider-demon twisted in midair, moving just enough to land behind the vampire rather than on top of her. All of her spare legs were spread out, hovering dangerously close to the vampire’s throat.

The vampire turned around to face Arachne, calm and languid as she could be.

Or the vampire’s calm exterior could be a facade. Perhaps she was nervous out of her mind.

Eva was finding it incredibly difficult to tell one way or the other. It made her realize just how much she had come to rely on her blood sight to tell when people were nervous. Anyone with even a modicum of self-control could keep their face straight in stressful situations, but keeping their hearts steady was another matter entirely.

“That was your blood?” The vampire wrinkled her nose. “I’m not sure it agreed with me. Too tangy. Too sweet.”

Arachne stood motionless over the far smaller vampire, radiating a menacing aura.

“Do you talk? You clearly listen,” she said with a glance at Eva. “Yet I cannot say I’ve ever encountered a creature like you.”

“Serena,” Zoe said, “we have time constraints. You can socialize later.”

The vampire spun on her heel and skipped straight to Zoe. Wrapping her into a hug around the waist, Serena said, “Zoe! I haven’t seen you in forever. You’re so big now. Have you thought more on joining?”

“Not in the slightest,” Zoe said. Her voice was flat, but she returned the hug.

Eva just blinked. Zoe knew the vampire too? And was hugging her?

“Wayne told you what we’re going to do?”

Serena shook her head. Her voice dropped into a mocking growl as she spoke. “‘Remember Boston? We need to do that again,’ was all he said. But since we’re in an alley and not a sushi bar, there are no circuses around, and Wayne doesn’t have makeup on, I’m not sure how we’re going to–”

“Not that part of Boston,” Zoe said as fast as she could.

Unlike the vampire, Eva could actually see Zoe’s heart pick up the pace a few notches.

“Oh,” her eyes narrowed. “I thought we agreed not to bother the Elysium Order again. I’ve enjoyed relative peace for the last few years and would really rather not antagonize them any further. Can’t you just ask them for whatever you need?”

“While I respect the Elysium Order for most of their work,” Wayne said as he took a half step forward, “I’d rather not walk up to them openly and announce myself. I doubt they will be so forgiving if they tie us to Boston.”

Zoe nodded along with that. “And they probably wouldn’t be willing to give a relic of theirs away. This is an emergency. Necessary, even. If you want to back out, I’ll understand.”

“Do we even have masks this time?”

Zoe gave a short shake of her head.

Releasing Zoe from the hug, Serena huffed as she turned around. Her eyes found Eva and for a moment, she just stared. “What’s your role in all this?”

“My friend is the one in danger. And we,” Eva gestured towards Arachne, “will be proceeding with or without anyone’s help.”

“You think you can fight the Elysium Order on your own? I don’t know what the two of you are, but you can’t seriously believe that running head on into one of their strongholds will turn out well.”

“Run in? Fight?” Eva shook her head. “Not in the slightest. I doubt I could fight a single nun. So long as they’re healthy, at least. No, my plan involves a great deal more subtlety and stealth. We have a map. We know roughly how many nuns are around. It is late at night; many nuns will be asleep.” Eva glanced at Arachne. “Shapeshifting into smaller forms won’t hurt our chances.”

“Sneaking in?” The vampire hummed. After a moment of thought, she turned a glare on Wayne. “That’s a far better plan than what we did last time. And, it is something that my talents will be useful for.”

“Great. Splendid. Can we please get a move on?”

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