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.”

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