Category Archives: Book 007

007.029

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Juliana stopped outside the front door of a smaller home on the outskirts of the city.

The very outskirts. It was difficult to get farther away without technically being outside the city limits.

Houses out here were few and far between. Brakket City wasn’t much of a city to begin with, but out here, it was basically farmland. Abandoned farmland. Real rural area.

With the abysmally low price of houses and her family’s own wealth, it hadn’t been much of an issue to purchase one. Juliana’s father had insisted on buying a house as far away as possible. An idea that Juliana heavily endorsed. It gave her a convenient excuse to live in the dormitory building.

She was not walking across the city and back out every single day. Besides, it was probably more dangerous to do so. She would be open and vulnerable while walking.

It wasn’t a great house. One of the windows had been broken. The siding was in disarray even now. Ivy, vines, and all manner of foliage had taken over one side of the house, growing up the walls and even onto the roof. The lawn had been overgrown. Juliana had fixed that up herself with some carefully applied earth magic to churn the dirt, burying most of the weeds and grass.

Tiptoeing up to the front door, Juliana paused.

Her excursion out into the city was supposed to have been for only a few hours. Just enough to unpack in the dorm. Instead, she had spent the full day plus a good portion of the night out and around Brakket. And even a short amount of time out at Eva’s prison. A place where she was supposedly banned from going.

Well, it wasn’t much that she was ‘supposedly’ banned. She was banned.

Her father would definitely know how late she had been out. Hopefully he didn’t know about her little side trip.

Taking hold of the doorknob, Juliana twisted the handle as quietly as possible.

On the off-chance that everyone was asleep, she could claim to have returned an hour or two earlier.

That plan quickly fell by the wayside. Her father, her brother, and her mother were all sitting out in the living room.

She had expected at least one of them to be—the light was on, after all—but she had been hoping that they would have fallen asleep.

“Um, hello.”

Her father got to his feet. “Juliana Laura Rivas. Where have you been?” He took three steps forward before Juliana’s mother cleared her throat.

“Carlos, you promised to remain calm.”

Juliana watched as her father clenched his hands into fists, took a deep breath, let it out, and released his grip. He took a few steps back and sat back down.

“Now then,” Genoa said with a cold smile, “why don’t you tell us all about whatever happened tonight.”

Closing the door behind her, Juliana stepped into the room. She didn’t take a seat.

The faces of all three people were riddled with concern, worry, and maybe a hint of disappointment. Carlos had his lips pressed together as he often did while angry. Meanwhile, Erich sat in a small recliner. Unlike Juliana’s parents, his eyes were glued to the front window. He didn’t look at Juliana more than a brief glance as he fidgeted to one side.

“First,” Juliana said, “I’d just like to say that I was perfectly safe the entire time.”

“That–”

Genoa cleared her throat again before Carlos could speak. He turned to her with slightly narrowed eyes—though his coke bottle glasses magnified it enough that the glare was almost comical rather than menacing.

“That’s reassuring,” he eventually finished, voice flat.

“I was at Zoe’s apartment. With Zoe.” And Ylva, she didn’t bother adding. Mentioning that wouldn’t grant her any favors with her family. “Everything happened at Brakket Academy.”

“And just what was it that happened?”

“Well,” Juliana rubbed the back of her head, “a few demon hunters tried to murder just about everyone. They only halfway succeeded.”

Before anyone could ask what that meant, Juliana powered on. “Eva is fine. So is Catherine. The dean is… unconscious still. Last I heard anyway. They did get the entire security team.”

Lucy was still alive and in the mortal realm, but she wasn’t in a state to act as a security guard.

Juliana didn’t bother to mention Zagan. If her father found out that he was gone, he might send her off to another school. Zagan would be back. Of that, Juliana held no doubts. She did not particularly wish for him to return only to find her not at Brakket Academy.

“A few buildings got damaged, but no students or professors were harmed.”

“I suppose that is better than I had feared,” Genoa allowed with a tilt of her head. “And these demon hunters?”

“Got away?”

“You don’t sound very sure.”

“Well, Eva thinks that one of them is dead. The other got away for sure. But that isn’t the important thing.” Juliana held out an arm. All of the metal she had collected from the battlefield started to coalesce in the palm of her hand. It formed into a sphere.

A sphere of shiny silver metal.

With Eva’s help, she had confirmed that it retained its demon injuring property even after being melded and reshaped.

There hadn’t been enough lying around to completely cover her. And yet, she had shed most of the metal she had been wearing. The new metal was heavy.

Heavy enough that even the small sphere she was forming needed both hands to hold it steadily in front of her. Distributing it around her body—her shoulders, hips, and back especially—helped to lighten the apparent load while wandering around. However, after finding a safe place to store the metal, she would only carry a small amount with her. The rest would be the lighter copper, brass, and iron that made up her normal suit.

Until then, she would carry it with her everywhere.

That Eva trusted her enough to keep all of the metal even despite her track record of failure spoke wonders of the other girl’s opinion of Juliana. It was metal that could possibly kill Eva if she came into contact with it for too long. Juliana would not allow herself to let down Eva by mishandling it.

“I was wondering if you knew what this was. It hurts demons and looks silvery, but Ara–” Juliana let out a slight cough, clearing an imaginary blockage in her throat.

Unlike Zagan, she would have to bring up Arachne at some point in time. The spider wanted to meet with her mother after all. However, that could wait for a time. Maybe when Erich and her father weren’t around.

“Eva told me that normal silver doesn’t hurt her in the slightest.”

Tilting her head to one side, Genoa took her hands off her lap. Gripping the handles of her wheelchair, she rolled herself forward.

“It’s heavy,” Juliana said as her mother held out a hand.

“Please. I may have a hole in my chest and can barely walk, but I’ve been keeping up with my weights.”

So she said, and yet she held out her other hand to help hold the sphere.

With a sigh, Juliana leaned forward, keeping a careful grip on the metal until she was absolutely certain that her mother truly had control. Only then did she release it and step away.

“Incidentally, Juliana…” Genoa trailed off as she turned the orb over in her hands. Activating her own ferrokinesis, she molded it away into a sort of glove. “Incidentally, you shouldn’t be picking up strange bits of metal after a battle. Or strange bits of anything. You never know when something is cursed. This seems alright, so I will let it slide this one time.”

“As long as it isn’t toxic or anything,” Erich muttered from his seat across the room.

Genoa started to turn to him, opening her mouth as if to speak, but she paused.

The metal glove on her hand turned from a shiny silver to a dark black. So dark that the area around it almost felt darker in comparison.

“That’s odd. I was only trying to stretch it out a bit.” She turned the now black glove over, holding it up to the light.

Which did nothing to alleviate the darkness.

“This… seems familiar somehow, but I can’t quite place it.”

Juliana just stared with wide eyes. It looked familiar to her too. Eva’s dagger was made of a very similar material.

Some demon metal, Eva had called it.

But why did demon hunters have demon metal?

— — —

“Welcome to Brakket Academy. I am Alexander Anderson, the dean of this fair school.”

The new dean turned, waving a hand over the area. “As you can see, we’re undergoing a bit of a renovation.”

That’s an understatement, Catherine thought as she glanced back over her shoulder.

Construction crews were milling about. They were a fair distance away. The bus that had dropped off the new students did so with plenty of walking time to spare. Given that the driver came from a different city—Brakket City was far too small to have a landing strip for any sized aircraft—the mortal had probably taken one look at the sky and had decided to get out before anything happened.

The construction crews had taken a great deal of convincing. Getting them to stick around and actually do their jobs had been Catherine’s job, so she knew very well just how skittish mortals were about anything odd or unnatural. Money had won out in the end, as it usually did.

Eventually, they had gotten to work.

Some workers replaced the bricks of the plaza with fresh, unbroken bricks. Others were patching up the Gillet. No load bearing walls had been hit, most of the damage was to the windows and the immediate area around the windows.

It was supposed to have been completed before the new students arrived at the academy. Having to convince them to work in the first place combined with a sudden bout of torrential rain had delayed the repairs just long enough.

Catherine turned back to face the thirteen students. All the new students who were entering the academy this year. She didn’t particularly care about the academy, its wellbeing, or how many students it had, but she did find it surprising that so many mortals were willing to send their kin here. With all the bad publicity, including the fight and murders last week, Catherine had assumed that the school would be shut down.

Weren’t mortals supposed to care about each other? Catherine chuckled to herself.

A slight cough from Anderson froze her chuckle in her throat. He glared as she looked up to him. Shadows around the ground flickered ever so slightly in an unnatural manner.

Catherine shuddered as she burrowed her nose in her phone.

Anderson was almost as scary as Zagan on occasion. He knew how to use his shadow manipulation to alter his features just enough to make himself intimidating. The lines on his face would become more pronounced while his gaunt cheekbones appeared to recede even further. Of course, given that he had a haunter as a bound familiar, maybe it wasn’t so much that Anderson was scary.

It was getting to the point where Catherine was wishing that Martina would just wake up. Unfortunately, that seemed less and less likely with every passing day. Her body was still alive. Mostly unharmed, even. But after diagnosing exactly what she had done, the doctors keeping an eye on her believed that too much lightning had run through her brain. It had disrupted her neural blah-blah—Catherine hadn’t paid all that much attention.

The only reason she had been sticking around Brakket Academy was because Martina’s contract was still in force and holding her here, even if her mind was broken. If she didn’t wake up soon, Catherine might consider using her favor with Eva up on getting the girl to permanently solve her problem.

On a brighter note, a comatose Martina gave her freedom. She could do anything she wanted to without the lingering threat of punishment or banishment hanging over her head. Zagan wasn’t even around to keep her in line.

Most of her days had been spent with the diabolist. They were almost ready to run a new version of their ritual. Unfortunately, there weren’t all that many demons left around Brakket. Something that Zagan being gone actually hurt.

“You’re arriving at Brakket Academy at an interesting time,” Anderson said. “By a show of hands, how many of you have family members who are mages?”

Only two of the thirteen raised their hands.

“In that case, I’ll explain a few things. Our school isn’t in a good state. We’re in danger of shutting down before your school tenure ends. This year, we aim to change that. You are first year students, but you can still help.

“Thaumaturgy is not easy to learn. It is a long process. You have six years at this school and yet you will still be considered an amateur until you have completed several years of extracurricular study. Brakket will give you your foundations. It is up to you to build the house—so to speak.

“However, this year we are introducing a new program.” He waved a hand to his side.

Towards Catherine.

Blinking, Catherine looked up from her phone with narrowed eyes.

“Catherine is the secretary of the school. She has been for two years. She is also a demon.”

The two who had raised their hands didn’t react all that much. A slight widening of the eyes was all their reactions amounted to. They had probably been chosen because they wouldn’t have much reaction.

The others weren’t quite the same. Despite not being mages, even mundane mortals had heard of demons. They obviously hadn’t heard the best of opinions—probably for the best. More than one backed away, looking at her with wide eyes and smelling of fear.

Catherine rolled her eyes. Whatever game he was playing at was going to come back to bite him later on. Publicly announcing demons was just asking to get more demon hunters stopping by.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Catherine won’t hurt you. She does represent a certain shortcut. Thaumaturgy takes years to learn. Binding a demon to you, depending on the type and individual, can offer a wide variety of magic. You could leave a demon unbound, making it into a regular familiar or a mere contracted demon. We will be inviting guests who are interested in all three aspects.

“There is nothing to fear. You’ll go through a long lecture and learning portion. Taking on a bound demon will not be mandatory if, after going through the class, you decide that you don’t want to participate. Either way, you’ll still be expected to learn and practice proper thaumaturgy.”

One of the students asked a question.

Catherine didn’t bother paying attention. She cared little for the mortals or their somewhat justified fears about demons.

More concerning was Anderson’s claim of using bound demons. Particularly in relation to her. He had used her as an example.

Some demons liked to be physically bound within a mortal. It was typically the best way to avoid hunters as there would be little evidence of any demons. With no presence in the mortal realm, there wasn’t even any evidence to find.

But being bound was addictive. Or so Catherine had heard. Prax had appeared fine, but he had only been inside a mortal for a short time. Normal bound familiars tended to serve their masters for the duration of the mortal’s lifetime.

If Anderson forced her into a situation where she had to become a bound familiar, Catherine would tear out her own heart. She liked the current era of mortals. The distractions they had created to pass the time in their short lives worked just as well for demons. However, she wasn’t so enamored with it that she would be willing to give up her eternal freedom.

Sticking around for her work with the diabolist was far a more enticing argument. However, she wouldn’t be able to work on any of it if she were stuck in the head of some mortal brat.

Clapping his hands together, Anderson tore Catherine out of her own little world.

“Now,” he said to the gathered children. He let the silence hang for a moment, looking over them.

Catherine didn’t know what he was looking for. None of the children looked all that impressive. There were no ‘Evas’ in this year’s batch of students. Not even anyone remotely interesting.

But Anderson had a wide grin on his face. Not a malicious grin, but more of the kind mortals got when their moods were just so good that they couldn’t contain it.

“As I said, if you do choose to participate in the program, there will be ways you can help. Namely, a certain contest. It happens every year, but Brakket Academy hasn’t participated in the past decade because of low student population—normally only those in their fifth and sixth years of schooling participate—and…” He trailed off to give a pathetic shrug. “We are a little behind in our curriculum.

“With the support of our new allies,” he said with a gesture towards Catherine, “I think that population and ability will matter far less. People will see what Brakket Academy has to offer. The real trick will be convincing them of the truth that we’re all still human and still in control.

“But enough of that. I’m sure you’re all very eager to see where you’ll be staying. Follow me please.”

He turned and led the group back towards the Rickenbacker.

Catherine didn’t follow. She watched as the little mortals eyed her, giving her a wide berth as they walked around.

It was a strange sensation. Thirteen-year-olds were typically just entering puberty. Humans at such an age were often trying to get closer to her. Not farther away. The idea that merely being outed as a demon could ruin mortals’ impulses towards her was somewhat insulting.

Or depressing.

She really needed to finish the ritual with the diabolist.

As soon as the gaggle of children had disappeared into the doorway of the Rickenbacker to finish their orientation, Catherine turned on her sharp heels and stalked off into the town.

She had been planning on putting this off for a time. With what she had just heard from Anderson, Catherine had no intentions of being tied down. She needed to act now.

The clicking of her heels only stopped once she reached a deserted alleyway.

A minute buildup of magic had her pulled straight into the gate room of the women’s ward.

Eva was sitting in her common room with Arachne. Just sitting, not talking. Perhaps she had been talking and stopped once she noticed Catherine’s arrival. Doubtful, but possible.

Arachne sat upright in her most human form with her back to the couch. Eva rested her head on the spider-demon’s lap, keeping her eyes half-lidded as Arachne stroked her fingers through Eva’s hair.

Both of them had faint smiles on their faces.

Catherine rolled her eyes.

Neither of them bothered to acknowledge her.

“Eva,” Catherine said after a light clearing of her throat, “I need to use my last favor.”

“Are you sure?” The girl didn’t even look up. Her eyes stayed half closed as she nuzzled further into Arachne’s lap.

Not a very comfortable looking lap. Arachne was as far from comfortable as a demon could get without being covered in spines and thorns.

“I’m sure.”

“It could be the last favor that I owe you for a long time yet.”

“Maybe,” Catherine said with a toothy smile. “Maybe not.”

Finally, Eva opened her eyes. She tilted her head up, moving just enough off Arachne’s lap to get the other demon scowling at Catherine.

Catherine didn’t bother getting intimidated. There was a time where she might have worried. Not any longer. She knew Eva well enough. So long as Arachne’s detention in Hell hadn’t altered her too much, she knew that Arachne would heel to Eva.

“What do you mean?”

“Your next treatment. You’ll need more demons, no?” Catherine forced a yawn, glancing at her fingernails before rubbing them off on her shirt. It was an action she had seen a number of times while consuming human media. A sign of derision and contempt.

Where the gesture came from, or what its origins were, Catherine had no idea. For all she knew, it wasn’t even a real gesture. She had never actually seen a person do so outside of mortal entertainment media.

But Eva apparently got it anyway. The girl narrowed her eyes, raising one eyebrow as she did so.

“I don’t know that I can offer my services for free. Another few favors might give me a little more motivation to join in.”

Eva rolled her eyes. Pressing her head back into Arachne’s lap, she twisted around so that she was looking upwards instead of outwards. “Well, your favors have been innocuous enough. I’m sure I won’t mind.”

“I’m glad you see it that way,” Catherine said with a low chuckle. “I need you to kill Martina.”

>>Author’s Note 007<<

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007.028

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Just before the bull slammed into him, it stepped on a bit of rubble. The rubble moved, causing its hoof to slip.

Clement’s fist, and the ring on his finger, went straight over the devil’s head.

Using the enchantments on his boots, Clement hopped back before the bulk of the bull could crash into him. He shook off the brief sensation of nausea—a sensation that had been getting worse as the fight went on—and took a moment to catch his breath. The devil being far enough away and still picking himself up off the ground gave Clement a brief moment to think.

Taking the hit and letting himself get bashed into by the devil might give him a chance to backhand the creature, but just the same, he might simply be crushed before having a chance to fight back.

If he got crushed without managing to tag the devil with the ring, the devil would be free to find Gertrude.

And Clement somehow doubted that he would be able to hit the devil.

Zagan had to know.

The first time that the devil had lost his footing and slipped right under Clement’s fist, he might have chalked it up to coincidence. The second time was a little strange, but perhaps this devil was just extraordinarily uncoordinated.

Ten times? The monster was toying with him.

Panting and sweating, Clement wasn’t sure how much more he had in him. Only about twenty minutes had passed. That didn’t sound like much, but considering most fights were determined in the first two minutes, twenty might as well have been forever.

Worse, his equipment was broken and shattered. Several of Gertrude’s enchantments had failed along with the armor, including ones that enhanced his endurance. The suit of armor no longer supported itself. All of its weight was up to Clement’s natural muscles to carry around. Taking that into account, it might be good that several chunks were missing.

His boots were still intact. Without the speed granted to him by his boots, he might as well have just chopped off his own head. They were pretty much the only things keeping him alive at this point.

It was only a small consolation to know that the devil before him wasn’t having a good day either.

Zagan had been taking pains to avoid the sword entirely as well as the ring. Not that long ago, he had been accepting of small cuts and even a handful of larger gouges if it meant being able to toss Clement around like a rag doll.

Clement hadn’t been able to land a hit in a good five minutes. In fact, the last time that he had been able to hit Zagan, he had sliced off one of the bull’s horns. Obviously, he had been aiming for Zagan’s head. The devil had dodged, just not as well as he should have.

Though, given that he had sent Clement crashing through a second floor window on one of the dormitory buildings at the same time, it had probably been worth it for the devil. Especially considering that that hit had been the final nail in the coffin for Clement’s breastplate.

Out of all the pieces of armor to lose, that was the one with the most enchantments. It offered him the most protection, the endurance boost, minor strength enhancements—his shoulders and upper arm guards gave him more strength. Or, it had offered all of that.

Glancing at the crumpled horn lying on the ground, Clement couldn’t help but wonder if the devil was frightened. His blade had skimmed right across the bull’s head. A few hairs had even scattered to the winds. Just a slight shift in angle would have taken the beast’s brain.

Both hands on his sword, Clement stood firm. The devil was circling him once again. He was looking for any opportunity to charge in. Any weakness in Clement’s defense.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Clement needed him close in order to fight back. Perhaps he would ask Gertrude to craft him an enchanted crossbow once everything was over. Or some magical sword that could release a long-range blade when some trigger was pulled. Just something to grant him a way to attack from at least a moderate distance.

Clement dropped his sword to one side. Putting his guard down had worked to draw in the bull before. This time, however, Clement fully intended to enjoy the mild reprieve from holding up his heavy sword constantly. With his armor damaged, his muscles were starting to feel the strain.

The bull moved again, though not as Clement had expected. It had only taken to the air thrice since their fight began. Great wings flapped, propelling it high up.

For a moment, Clement entertained the idea that it had finally broken off their engagement. While good for an extended reprieve, he still hadn’t seen any sign from Gertrude that she had accomplished her mission. He had to delay at least a few moments longer.

So Clement stood his ground, watching and waiting as the beast circled around overhead.

And, with his left hand, he started pulling off the ring. Punching or backhanding Zagan was obviously not working.

The bull’s wings folded flat against its back as it turned into a nosedive. Beneath the glowing gold eyes, smoke billowed out of its nostrils. Flames burned deep within its gullet. Some escaped from the sides of its mouth.

Clement didn’t move. He had been hoping that Zagan would charge again. This worked just as well. He held the ring in his hand, waiting.

Just a moment more, he thought, watching the bull fly towards him. Just a moment more…

With his thumb pressed against his middle finger, Clement flicked the ring up into the air.

At the same time, he activated the enchantments on his boots.

In a flash, he was at the window of one of the dormitories. A student on the other side of the glass let out a short shriek before running out of the room.

Clement couldn’t bring himself to care. He turned back to the plaza with weary eyes.

Zagan was back in his human form, coughing and sputtering with a hand clasped to his throat. Black bands shot out of the ground, wrapping around his wrists as a portal opened up beneath him.

Two golden eyes met Clement’s, burning with promised pain and death.

And then he was gone, dragged beneath the surface of Earth, back to Hell where the demon belonged.

Clement collapsed to his knees. He dug the tip of his sword into the ground, using it as a crutch to keep from falling flat on his face.

And he sat. He reached up to his forehead, wiping off a streak of blood that had dripped down into his eyes earlier.

It was over. For him at least.

He was in no shape to find Gertrude and help her. The largest threat had been dealt with. Gertrude could handle whatever was left.

Using his sword to push himself back to his feet, Clement headed back to their safe house. Not the apartment, but a regular house on the outskirts of town. A long walk, doubly so given Clement’s speed. To make it even more troublesome, he took back alleys.

The back alleys were where he and Gertrude had set up their traps for Zagan. They went unused for the fight, but they might still be useful. If anyone was following him, he hoped that would slow them down long enough for him to slip away.

He really didn’t want to use the enchantments on his boots anymore. Every time he used them, stopping was like running into a brick wall. It was worse without the enchantments of the rest of his armor.

But eventually he made it. Daylight was starting to peek over the horizon, but he made it. He took one last look around for any enemies; his visor, cracked and shattered as it was, wasn’t up to the usual task of highlighting any demons around. Still, he didn’t see anything suspicious.

With a weary sigh, Clement hopped the back fence, walked up to the door, and entered the house.

His breath hitched. His heart skipped a beat.

An icy cold gripped him, filling him with dread.

Gertrude was already home. Lying face down on the floor, she had her shirt off.

Three holes ran up her spine, starting at her lower back and ending towards the middle. All three had been frozen over, preventing her from bleeding out. But they were deep.

Zomorrodnegar, Clement’s sword, fell from his limp fingers to the ground with a soft clatter. Tearing the remnants of his helmet off his head and tossing it into a corner of the room, Clement charged forward before falling to his knees at Gertrude’s side. He reached out his hands…

and drew back immediately. Moving her could agitate her injuries. Even touching her might leave her worse off than before.

She was breathing. Her chest pressed against the hardwood floor with each shallow breath. Ice crystals came out of her mouth, only stopping as she breathed in.

The iced over holes in her back were the most obvious injury, but they were far from the only ones. Shifting his position slightly, Clement’s eyes were drawn to her arm. Or lack of arm. As with her back, ice covered nothing more than a stump just below her elbow.

Though, that wasn’t to say that her arm was completely missing. It was underneath her, fingers sticking out near her shoulder.

Her head had a similarly treated injury. A simple slit up the top of her scalp, visible through her red hair only thanks to the ice.

“Forget bleeding to death,” Clement hissed. “You’re going to freeze to death.”

Gertrude didn’t respond. Looking obviously unconscious, Clement hadn’t expected her to, but it was disheartening all the same.

Climbing to his feet, Clement ran to the bedroom. They had a supply of potions stashed away. Gertrude normally handled potion administration—Clement wasn’t a mage and, as such, he couldn’t brew potions. As such, he wasn’t the most knowledgeable.

They had labels. He would be fine.

Clement shook his head.

Gertrude would be fine.

— — —

“The walls have stopped bleeding.”

Eva hummed, not really paying attention. She was too busy enjoying the embrace with Arachne.

Being a spider-demon made entirely of hard chitin, she wasn’t all that comfortable to hug. Arachne was smooth, not covered in spikes or anything, but it was like hugging a marble statue.

Not that she had ever hugged a marble statue, but it was how she imagined it to be.

“It happened before,” Eva said without opening her eyes. “Blood came out of the walls while Juliana was around. I didn’t see it myself, but I don’t believe she would lie about that. And then again when you… died. I don’t remember it exactly, but I guess there was a lot more blood around me than there should have been.”

“That isn’t caused by your blood magic?”

“I don’t know what it would be. I haven’t performed any rituals that might make walls bleed around me. It has to be a demon thing.

“A portion of my domain got attached to the dormitory. Ylva thinks that it is because I had humans inside the domain while I was out here. Whatever is attacking Void latched onto both me and Shalise, creating a connection through our dorm. I don’t know if I believe that, but after she showed me how to disconnect domains from reality, it went away.” Eva shrugged. “It might have something to do with that.”

“Part of your domain manifests as blood through the walls?” Arachne tipped her voice at the end, skeptical.

“It’s just a theory,” Eva said quietly. “Devon and I haven’t been on the best of terms since you died, so I haven’t had much of a chance to ask him about it all.” Not to mention how busy she was.

“Enough of me. How?” Eva pulled away from Arachne. Not much, just enough to look her in the eyes. She kept her hands firmly around Arachne’s wrists, just to make sure that she was real and wouldn’t disappear. “How are you here? I saw your beacon crushed with my own eyes.”

Arachne smiled. Moving one arm out of Eva’s grip, she ran her claws gently through Eva’s hair.

Despite knowing just how sharp the tips of her fingers were, Arachne didn’t cut her in the slightest as her fingers ran over Eva’s scalp. It felt light and tingly. Almost as if something was crawling through her hair—not in a creepy sort of way, but rather a relaxing and calming feeling.

Perhaps more like a massage.

“I accepted a bargain. The proverbial deal with a devil.”

And just like that, a dark storm cloud moved over Eva’s good mood. “What do you mean by bargain? What do you have to do?”

“Not only did Void put me back together far sooner than I would have been able to, but he gave me transport out of Hell. I suppose… you might say that I must return the favor.”

“You must… I’ll assume you don’t mean anything related to healing Void,” Eva said, receiving a light nod of confirmation. “Which means you have to transport Void out of Hell?”

Arachne rolled her neck, nodding with not quite as wide of a smile on her face. “Essentially.”

“That’s… We’ve been trying to prevent that from…” Eva trailed off as she thought.

No one was actually trying to prevent anything. Both Martina Turner and Devon had summoned demons the first time they needed to. And that was despite Devon being the one to theorize about summoning demons and destabilizing Hell. Ylva had shut down her domain. That might have been one of the worst offenders, according to Devon.

And yet, that was all anyone had done.

No one was actually doing anything. The apocalypse was still approaching, just slower than before.

And now Arachne was supposed to help it along?

“Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. Void is bored.”

“Bored? Bored! He wants to start the apocalypse!”

“I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. Actually, if I understood everything he explained to me, this should be less destructive to the mortal realm.”

“Oh? And how do you figure that?”

“Zagan said that Void and all of Hell was going to be dragged into and merged with the mortal realm. We are only summoning the entity.”

“No Hell along with him?”

Arachne shook her head. “And if Void wanted to destroy the mortal realm, he could just unleash all of the demons on Earth as he did with me. We wouldn’t need much prompting to run wild.”

“That is not reassuring.” Eva fell silent with a sigh. “Besides, what about the entity that was attacking Void? It wanted Void in the mortal realm, isn’t this just playing into its hands? Things don’t usually attack unless they think they can win.”

“Void thinks he can win.”

Eva put her hands on her hips, glaring at Arachne.

What am I supposed to say to this?

If it was going to happen anyway, maybe it was for the best. Especially if Void was going to be coming over on his own terms, rather than be dragged over into a trap or whatever it was that the second Power had in mind. Not knowing much of anything about the other Power, Eva definitely wanted Void to win this entire engagement.

Especially given her own jump-started leap into demonhood.

Eva shook her head with a long sigh. “I just–”

A chill ran up Eva’s spine. She could feel the tension in Arachne’s arms as well.

Something was missing. Some warm, ever-present sensation of power.

She took a deep breath. “Zagan,” she said.

Arachne nodded her head. “I feel it too.”

“He died?”

“I don’t… think so.”

Eva kept a tight hold of Arachne’s arm. She wasn’t going to lose her again. “What happened then?”

“It feels more like he was banished. A subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless. Namely, he’ll merely go back to his domain and won’t be stuck in the Void. Though, I doubt Zagan would spend more than half a day putting himself back together if he had been killed.”

Which meant that Martina would just be summoning him back the moment that she was back on her feet.

Keeping Arachne’s arm in hand, Eva dragged her over towards the window.

Martina’s office window overlooked the plaza where Zagan had been fighting. Considering the damage done to both dormitory buildings and the ground, it was a good thing that the fight hadn’t gone anywhere else. The Gillet had several person-sized holes on it, especially towards the bottom. Not the structurally sound building that it had once been.

Eva doubted that she would be willing to stay overnight inside.

In comparison, the Rickenbacker was mostly undamaged. It had a few holes around it, but it looked superficial. A great number of hoof prints dotted the sides. Perhaps Zagan had run along the walls?

But there was no sign of the great winged bull anywhere. The knight who had been fighting against him was hobbling off in the distance, heading towards the city.

Arachne tried to hop over the edge of the window and chase after him. Eva stopped her with a vice-like grip on her shoulder.

“Zagan may have been toying with him, but that guy still beat him.”

“He is injured. Badly. Look at him move.”

“Arachne,” Eva said, grabbing both of the demon’s arms and yanking her around. Staring at her eye to eye, Eva waited for a moment, letting the tension drain out of Arachne. “I’m not losing you. Not again.”

Arachne stared for a minute more before dropping her shoulders. “He’ll come back,” she said.

“We can deal with him later. You, me, Ylva, Devon’s demons, Zagan—if Martina brings him back—and everyone else. We, as one, will fight him. The other hunter is injured at the very least, possibly dead.”

Taking her eyes off Arachne and looking back out over the plaza, Eva couldn’t spot the hunter anywhere. The plaza was too far from the school building for her blood sight to function. The city was even further.

More than that, people were starting to emerge from the dormitory buildings. Mostly the Gillet.

“Come on,” Eva said. “Let’s go look around before people trample over everything.”

Eva considered blinking straight over the windowsill. Not wanting to release Arachne, she decided to move on her own two feet.

But Arachne didn’t budge.

“There are people out there.”

Eva rolled her eyes. Arachne had been ready to run off after the hunter, but now she was getting cold feet?

“I think we’re long past the point of hiding from mortals,” Eva said. “I doubt that anyone at the dorms missed that fight.”

Tugging again, Eva got the shy demon moving.

As expected, people quickly took notice of their approach. Or rather, they took note of Arachne’s approach. Eva followed their eyes for a moment. None gave more than a glance in her direction.

Perhaps it was because of shock at witnessing the fight, but nobody really reacted much except to back away. A few people ran back into their dormitory buildings. A few others took one look at the state of the Gillet and decided to take their chances outside.

As the spectacle that was Arachne became less of a frightening sight—helped by the fact that she was walking calmly and not flying into a murderous rage—the people still outside began to turn their attention towards Eva. In some, she could see recognition light up. Others, especially the older students, just looked more confused.

She caught sight of a number of the students that she had taught with Catherine. One particular boy with grayish-white hair started to head in her direction before Eva waved him off.

Eva really didn’t consider herself friends with or even peers of any of those students. Whatever questions he had for her weren’t anything that Eva was interested in answering. Martina Turner would come out with some fabricated explanation for all the events of the night. Whatever she said probably wouldn’t answer any questions, but it was better than nothing.

“Just ignore everybody,” Eva said.

There were far more interesting things than the people anyway.

Reaching down, Eva picked up a flat piece of metal. It might have been a part of the hunter’s chest plate. Maybe an arm or leg piece.

Eva only held onto it for a second before dropping it.

The carapace on her hands had melted. She stared, watching as bits of chitin flaked off her hand as it cooled.

Arachne repeated the action, holding it for less time before she dropped it.

“Enchanted,” she said as she stared at her own hand. “Something against demons.”

“Troublesome. It still works while broken?”

“Maybe it isn’t enchanted. Something in the metal itself,” Arachne said, shrugging. “I’m not an expert in magic. Not even a novice.”

She paused, glancing around before leaning in a little closer. “Which is why Void said he would send someone else to help with that thing we were just discussing.”

Eva nodded slightly, but didn’t respond. Too many people around.

Instead, she carefully stepped over the bit of metal, watching out for any other shards of metal lying on the ground. Maybe Juliana would be interested in it. If Willie ever surfaced again, she might find it extremely useful.

Blinking, Eva pulled out her cellphone and shot off a quick text message to Zoe. She had no idea if they were even alright. She assumed that they were fine. Ylva should be with them. While not nearly so scary as Zagan, Ylva could hold her own.

But she needed someone over here, someone with authority. All the bits of metal were potentially dangerous to Eva and every other demon around. She didn’t want random students getting a hold of pieces of them.

Message sent, Eva glanced up from her cellphone.

And froze.

Lying right in the center of the plaza was an oddly shaped object.

A horn.

Walking up to it alongside Arachne, Eva bent down and picked it up.

Heavy, but not overly so. About the same as a bowling ball. It was curved just a little bit too much, giving it a crumpled look. The tips of it were dark black, though it grew almost white at the end that had been cut. Red blood lined a good portion of it as well.

The hunter’s blood.

“Perhaps Nel can use this,” Eva said, keeping hold of it.

A pair of circulatory systems appeared behind Eva, closer to the Rickenbacker dormitory building.

With a smile on her face, Eva turned to greet the new arrivals.

“Good news,” she said as she leaned just a little closer to her companion. “Arachne is back!”

Zoe pressed her lips together. Her eyes drifted over Arachne, narrowing just a hair. It took a moment, but she eventually smiled. A small smile. It didn’t quite reach her narrowed eyes, but it was still a smile.

Juliana, not so much.

The last time that Juliana had seen Arachne would have been just after watching her mother get skewered. Eva could understand her presence not bringing up the best of memories.

But even watching Juliana’s slight scowl couldn’t dampen Eva’s current mood. Zagan might have lost, but who cared? He was Zagan. She had Arachne back and that was all that mattered at the moment.

Except… Arachne took a small step forward. Not enough to pull away from Eva, but enough to say that she was acting on her own.

“I had a lot of time to think,” she started, speaking slowly. Her words lingered in the air for a few moments before she continued. “I apologize. For any harm I caused your mother.”

Eva smiled, a new sort of respect for Arachne welled up in her. When she had first proposed to Arachne that the spider-demon should apologize to Genoa, she had thought that she would be dragging Arachne in by the legs. That she apologized to Juliana on her own filled Eva with pride.

Juliana stared. Her scowl disappeared, but she didn’t smile.

An awkward silence between the group stretched on. Eva found herself shifting slightly, wondering if Arachne’s apology wasn’t being quite as well received by Juliana as Eva had found it. It had sounded sincere to her ears.

Eventually, Juliana sighed. “I don’t know why you’re apologizing to me.” A bitter tone carried her voice at a volume a fair bit lower than she normally spoke at. “None of it would have happened if it wasn’t for me.”

“That isn’t true,” Eva said. She kept her voice firm as she stared at Juliana. “Zagan was the one who dumped you into Hell. Maybe it would have happened had you done nothing, maybe not. But you did nothing wrong.”

“I could have turned and walked away from Willie before you even arrived! Willie sweet talked me into sticking around after he knew that people were coming after me! I shouldn’t have bought into it. There were a million things I could have–”

With a hand on her shoulder, Zoe cut Juliana off.

“We have a crowd,” Zoe said, voice quiet and with a soft smile for Juliana’s sake. “Perhaps this is a conversation best left for later.”

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007.027

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It is time.

Arachne growled as awareness returned to her. Her face ached. It was as if it were on fire. Given that she had used her head as a shield for Eva, the pain wasn’t too unexpected.

Lifting an arm, Arachne ran her needle-like claws down the smooth chitin that made up her face. Her fingers nimbly moved between her eyes, not scratching a single one.

A simple action, but it brought back memories. After being cast down to Hell, her body had been corrupted by the jealousy and envy of false gods. Her mind hadn’t been touched. Left unmolested, Arachne had found herself in a whole new body. One with all sorts of nuances that she hadn’t been used to.

The simple action of rubbing her forehead could have wound up with her gouging out an eye. Her natural regeneration made accidentally puncturing an eye much less of an issue than it otherwise would have been, but it still hurt. The first time, she hadn’t even known that she would regenerate like she did. With eight eyes, her vision was somewhat different from humans. It was like being suddenly colorblind even though she could still see.

Needless to say, she had panicked a little. Well, a lot. She had already been panicking over the fact that she was a monster, imprisoned within a desolate island in the middle of a pitch black ocean, and was hearing voices inside her head. The color blindness and pain had just been the icing on the cake.

Not to mention the fact that rubbing her forehead didn’t really do much for her. Her carapace wasn’t like human skin. She got very little feeling out of touching anything. What feeling she did get was more of a sensation of pressure. She couldn’t feel. Petting a cat did nothing for her.

Most of that was in the past. She had centuries to come to terms with herself, centuries to grow used to her new state of being. That wasn’t to say that Arachne didn’t find herself wishing things were different. Being able to hug Eva as a more than a mechanical gesture and to feel her hair through her fingers were sore points with Arachne.

At the same time, she wished that her carapace was harder. Stronger. Had it been better, she might not have died when struck by that lightning bolt.

As it was, she had merely been restored. Her face felt the same as it always did. In one piece, which was nice. Arachne had come out half formed before. Just recently, the carnivean had been missing her eyes and head tentacles.

Clenching her fists, Arachne slammed them into each other. Is it ‘just recently’ still?

There was no way of telling the passage of time within Hell. At least, not within her domain. Other demons might have ways, she wouldn’t know. Arachne refused to slave herself to her peers just to learn a few secrets of being a demon. Well, for the most part. Her current agreement with Void notwithstanding.

But the last events that she could remember in the mortal realm had to have happened somewhat recently. She didn’t feel like a half-century had passed. Void had promised her return in a relatively short amount of time, but that could mean a week or a decade.

If too much time had passed, she would be considering their agreement null and void, consequences be damned.

Swinging her legs—all eight of them—out of the nest of webs that made up her bed, Arachne stalked through the halls of her cavernous domain. She had wasted enough time lying around.

Most of her domain had been designed with her in mind. No one else would be able to climb around the holes in the walls. Any guests or intruders would be relegated to the front entryway. Unless they could fly. Or were as good at climbing craggy walls as Arachne was. Even if that were the case, the tunnels between rooms twisted and wound around like a giant maze. It was entirely possible to leave a room from three separate tunnels only to loop around and reenter the room without passing through any others.

Though it was something of a moot point. Never once had someone invaded her domain. Arachne had never had a visitor stop by. Not unless she counted Eva after her kidnapping. Even if she did count that, Arachne had carried Eva around during her visit.

Arachne charged into the gate room.

And found herself scowling.

The gate room was inert. No glowing patterns in the walls or floors. No feeling of a pathway to the mortal realm.

“You bring me back,” she shouted to the walls, “and my beacon is destroyed? It’s time? Time for what? Me to sit around doing nothing?”

Arachne swung out an arm, cutting five large gouges into a stone pillar.

Seething, Arachne turned from the gate room, ready to rush to Eva’s domain. She likely wouldn’t be around at the moment, but perhaps she still made regular visits. Even if she didn’t, Arachne could leave a message before returning to her domain to await a summoning.

Eva couldn’t summon Arachne herself, not without violating the tenets of Hell. Devon would. All she needed to do was get a message to him.

But, in turning from the room, a shimmer in the air caught her eye. A faint purple haze back in the far corner of the gate room.

The haze grew solid, forming a thick line in the air.

Arachne’s fingers twitched as she watched it spread apart. She spread her legs, steadying her stance and readying for combat.

The first thing that came to her mind was the creatures that Eva called enigmas. Monstrous little beings—by Eva’s description—that had been attacking Hell. The second thing was the purple streaks in the sky that had appeared just before the ill-fated venture to the nuns’ church. Purple streaks that were supposedly related to the enigmas.

Between the violet lines, a deep darkness formed. Staring into it brought back the same uncomfortable sensations as when she had been dead. A hole into pure nothingness, so empty that putting words to it couldn’t be done.

Arachne took a step back, waiting for some creature to emerge forth and attack.

Not even I will violate my laws. However, a few back doors have been left open by my attacker.

Arachne didn’t budge. Her instincts were shouting at her to flee. Her thoughts screamed at her to run from this anomaly before she wound up dead once again, further delaying her reunion with Eva.

It was obviously a portal of some sort. Reminiscent of the portals Void used to drag deceased demons back home. It wasn’t dragging Arachne into it and nothing was coming from it.

It just sat there, inviting someone to wander inside.

Arachne took a step forward.

If this was a trick, there would be hell to pay. Mortal, demon, or even Power, she would tear them to shreds.

Another step had her right in front of the portal. She was too large to fit through in her largest form. With a thought, she started shrinking. The bulbous abdomen sticking out of her melted into her torso. Her legs pulled up, recessing into her body one by one until only two legs were left.

Reaching an arm out, Arachne let the tips of her fingers scrape against the surface of the hole in space. She half expected something—magical force or a creature—to grasp her fingers and drag her into it, but nothing happened.

Nothing but a sensation of not being able to feel her fingers. As if they suddenly ceased to exist.

Pulling her hand out, Arachne found her fingers to be whole and intact. Wiggling them, she made sure that she could feel them again.

Everything seemed fine. She clawed through the stone walls of her domain, checking to ensure that the strength and toughness of her fingers hadn’t been ruined by exposure to the portal.

Stone crumbled into chunks and dust while her fingers came away with just as much sheen as they had started with.

Moving back just a bit, Arachne took a deep breath and charged at the portal.

There was a brief sensation of nothingness, as if she were back in the depths of Void again, before she could feel the wind rushing past her body.

Violet filled her vision. That only lasted a few seconds.

She was falling.

Soon enough, the all encompassing violet distanced itself from her, becoming nothing more than purple streaks in a starry sky.

The tendrils making up her hair whipped around in the roaring air. Her flailing arms failed to find any purchase.

Twisting her body, Arachne oriented herself towards the Earth.

And it was the Earth. There could be no doubt about that. Not only could Arachne not see an end to the ground, but she could see a few distinctly familiar sights.

Brakket Academy, the city that shares its name, the forest and the lake.

She was back.

And Eva…

Eva had to be somewhere. The dormitory or the school itself. Perhaps at the prison.

If not, someone would know where she was. The professors or Devon, if he was still skulking about the prison.

But first, she had to survive this fall. While she might be able to hit the ground and walk away without much issue, Arachne wasn’t willing to take any chances. She had never fallen from such a height that she had time to think about how she wanted to land before, that alone had her a little nervous.

Though, if Void wanted her to fulfill her end of their agreement, dropping her off in the middle of the sky only to have her fall to her death didn’t seem like a good way to go about sending her to the mortal realm. Of course, that assumed that a Power who had never been to Earth wasn’t completely out of touch with quite literally everything.

Best to take matters into her own claws.

Twisting in the air again, Arachne shrank. Her body collapsed in on itself until she was little more than legs sticking out from a hand-sized body.

Regular spiders survived falls from great heights all the time. And, while it was true that Arachne’s spider form was a great deal larger than most spiders, she could help slow her fall by rapidly spinning thread between her legs.

A task that was easier said than done.

With the wind, her threads whipped around and went everywhere. Just ringing it around her legs was a chore. Once she got it going, the air resistance built up. Had she not been a demon with exceptionally strong webbing, the threads would have snapped long before she had it woven.

Woven implied a certain finesse that was lacking in her final result. The threads wrapped around her legs were patchwork quilts, full of holes and stitches.

Arachne couldn’t bring herself to care at the moment. Not only was weaving while falling a challenge, she had to rush.

The ground was rapidly approaching.

Flexing her legs allowed her to glide—almost. Enough that she could control her direction.

Spotting and feeling a certain winged bull down below, Arachne angled herself towards the roof of the dormitory building.

Arachne landed without the slightest hint of grace. She struck the building at speed. Failing to remain upright, Arachne tumbled. End over end, she skidded across the roof. She had come in at far too shallow of an angle. The gravel on the rooftop scattered, some exploding outwards while some dug into her carapace—a feat that was only possible thanks to the speed that she hit the roof at.

Burrowing her legs into the building itself, Arachne managed to come to a stop.

For a full minute, Arachne didn’t move. Her entire body ached. Granted, her body wasn’t that large at the moment. Still, she was fairly certain that one of her legs had twisted the wrong way while the carapace on another had shattered.

But she was back.

Unfurling to her full height, Arachne charged towards the edge of the building.

Zagan, in his full demon form, fought against a man. A mere human, presumably. He certainly didn’t fight like a demon. Too much dodging, too much maneuvering.

And, of course, the sword.

Just looking at the emerald sword gave Arachne a bad feeling. It could be likened to the sensation she got from being near Zagan. That disgusting sensation of far too much power.

Both of them together had Arachne shuddering.

Something was obviously going on, but Eva wasn’t down there. She had to be nearby. If Eva had managed to keep herself uninvolved in whatever was happening, Arachne would eat her own legs.

Charging off towards a thin plume of smoke at the school building, Arachne leaped from the roof, crossing almost the entire distance in a single bound.

She promptly froze as she came to the wall of the school. A certain window looked as if a bomb had gone off inside. A bomb filled with ice.

A person-sized lump of ice was blocking part of the window, but more had shattered outwards, scattering across the lawn. Smoke billowed from the hole.

Much of the smoke was coming off the faintly smoldering remains of a desk. Or the pieces of a desk, at least. Much of the room looked as if a small bomb had gone off inside. In particular, the wall around the doorway wasn’t much of a wall anymore. The ceiling light in the room had snapped at one end and was dangling in the middle of the room by its power cord. Sparks jumped from the cable every time it swung against the metal brace that had once held the light.

More alarming than the state of the room were the walls themselves. Beads of black blood sweat from the walls. Each droplet dripped down, joining with other droplets to pool along the edges of the room. The pools were drawn into thin streams leading towards the middle of the room.

Eva stood amidst a whirlwind of blood. She had her void metal dagger clenched in one hand as she glared with burning eyes at a woman on the opposite side of the room—just to the side of the window.

The woman had a small patch of ice around her feet. Any liquid blood that dared to venture too close wound up frozen solid.

Arachne had no idea who the woman was. She had never seen the woman before. Or, if she had, she couldn’t remember. The woman wasn’t Genoa and she wasn’t the professor at the very least.

It was clear that she was an enemy of Eva.

Her Eva was in danger.

What more motivation did Arachne need?

Leaping over the half destroyed wall that might have been a window at one point, Arachne sprouted extra legs from her back.

Swinging three legs and a hand, Arachne raked her razor sharp limbs through the air.

The woman ducked and rolled, freezing the blood around the floor and walls as she moved.

“Another one? How many of you must I kill before you stay dead!”

Neither Arachne nor Eva responded. Arachne was far too focused on watching the woman’s every move.

Whether she had heard Arachne or had picked up on some tell from Eva, her dodge wasn’t unexpected. Eva would have killed someone weaker without issue. Her blood magic was strong enough to defeat most foes.

Therefore, this person was somewhat exceptional.

But still a mortal.

A mortal that wasn’t dressed like the nuns. Unless she had decided to attack out of uniform, that meant that Arachne wouldn’t need to worry about their horrible lightning.

Arachne didn’t pause for a moment. Pushing off the wall with her legs, she lunged forward.

Her hand caught the woman right in the stomach.

Arachne snatched her hand back in shock and pain. The tips of her fingers had crumpled, her carapace cracked.

The woman had a tee-shirt on. Nothing fancy. Simple cotton. And yet, Arachne’s fingers slammed into it as if they had struck a brick wall—something harder than a brick wall. Her claws could tear apart solid stone if she was trying. The only evidence that she had even touched the woman were a few dark pinpricks on the shirt.

Grinning, the woman stepped forwards as Arachne stared at her fingers. She grabbed hold of Arachne’s hand, ducked under a set of swiping legs, and used one of those legs as a brace for Arachne’s arm. Giving only a slight push, the woman managed to shatter the chitin on both Arachne’s arm and the leg it had been braced against.

“Arachne!”

Eyes blazing brighter than before, Eva charged forwards. One hand brandished the dagger while her other lit up in flames.

The woman raised her guard, conjuring a set of icicles as she moved away from Arachne.

As Arachne went for the icicles, slashing them out of the air, Eva blinked behind the woman. Dagger already raised, she brought it down, aiming for the woman’s neck.

Just as she did when Arachne attacked, the woman had something of a sixth sense about the direction Eva was striking from. She moved to the side, ducking just enough to fit her head between two of Arachne’s limbs. A swipe of her legs knocked Arachne’s legs out from under her.

Arachne had to use her extra legs to grapple onto the wall, preventing her fall.

While Arachne was busy catching her balance, Eva’s dagger did not slip by without resistance. The tip of it scraped against the woman’s arm as she dodged, just enough to draw a thin red line from her hand halfway to her elbow.

Eva immediately blinked back to the other side of the room. She let out a short, satisfied hum as she clapped her hands together.

A bright flash filled Arachne’s vision.

Arachne jumped back, not wanting to be anywhere near someone who could break her arm with her bare hands while blind.

Her loss of vision lasted only a moment. She hadn’t even landed on the ground near Eva before things returned to normal.

Normal for her, at least. The woman wasn’t quite so lucky.

Red blood dripped through her fingers as she clutched at a ragged stump. Her hand and part of her arm was lying on the floor at her feet. Face set in a grimace, she glared out with one red eye and one green eye.

You’ll pay,” she said as ice started to form over the stump, cutting off the flow of blood.

Under other circumstances, Arachne might have indulged in a little meaningless banter. She had done so with the carnivean during their first encounter.

But now… this woman is standing in the way of my reunion with Eva.

Grinding her teeth together, Arachne stole a glance to her side.

Eva appeared healthy for the most part. There was a darker mark around her neck, roughly in the shape of a hand. A few cuts and scrapes dotted her skin and the carapace of one of her hands was damaged. All in all, things could be worse.

With a light twitch of her head, Arachne was back to focusing on their current enemy.

She readied herself by spinning a few quick threads. Thin yet long ones.

Arachne charged forwards once again as Eva blinked around the room. In near perfect sync, they attacked.

As expected, the woman dodged Arachne’s limbs.

The thread trailing off her fingers and legs weren’t quite so easy to dodge. Swinging her arms quick enough, she managed to loop a section around the woman’s body. With a flick of her wrist, Arachne pulled the threads tight, tying off her movements as Eva came in with the dagger.

A ring of ice formed around her neck just in time to block Eva’s dagger.

Not having any of that, Arachne used one leg to lift up the woman’s shirt and another three to plunge into her spinal column.

Eva took matters into her own hands. She went above the woman’s neckline, digging and dragging the dagger through her red hair. Eva didn’t try to cut the bone of the skull, but she didn’t need to.

Blinking away, Eva stared for just a moment.

Arachne pulled her legs from the woman’s back, letting her slump down to the ground.

The moment she hit the ground, the woman vanished. Nothing but the faint scent of sulfur remained.

A clapping sound echoed through the room just as she vanished.

Looking up to Eva, Arachne tilted her head. “Did you get her?”

“I don’t know. If she comes back anytime soon, I’ll get her right away.”

“Good,” Arachne said. Shifting awkwardly, she flexed the spare legs from her back. “I doubt that she’ll be back soon. If she can ever walk again.”

Standing there, Arachne didn’t know what to say. Looking at Eva fresh out of a battle—sweating and panting with her hair thrown in disarray—Arachne found herself at a loss. Before dying at the hands of the nuns, they hadn’t been on the best of terms. Mostly due to the Genoa incident.

What to do? What to say? Such a treasure in front of her and yet…

The decision was taken out of Arachne’s claws.

Eva blinked over to her, wrapping both arms around Arachne’s body.

“I missed you.”

Arachne stretched one arm and several legs around Eva, forming a protective net as she returned the hug.

“I missed you too.”

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