Category Archives: Book 007

007.022

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“Eva,” Juliana called after the rushing girl, “wait up.”

The problem with armor, especially metal armor, was that it weighed a ton. Not a literal ton, but definitely more than a school backpack. Other students never carried even a fraction of the weight of Juliana’s armor during their entire tenure at Brakket Academy.

Being a physically fit person, it wasn’t a big deal most of the time. Her mother’s training had built up her muscles and a slow yet steady increase in the amount of metal she carried built them up as well. She lacked the bulging muscles that Prax had and even the finely sculpted body of Zagan, but they were demons. In terms of humans around Brakket, especially those her own age, Juliana felt confident that she was among the top tier in physical ability.

Heat could sometimes be a problem. Whether that be too little heat or too much heat. The weather at Brakket was cold more often than warm. Summers didn’t last quite as long as they did down south. Though she was an earth mage, Juliana had found the application of mild warming spells to be one of the most useful things she had learned. Time well spent. The same was true in reverse. A mild water-based cooling spell worked wonders in the summer. Even if her ability with water magic was a far cry from her ability with fire, which, in turn, was leagues away from her earth magic.

But it worked for what she used it for. Temperature control combined with a proper distribution of the weight around her body let Juliana barely notice her armor while standing or walking around. Short bursts of activity weren’t a big deal either.

Chasing after a girl with demonic legs was quite another matter entirely.

Thankfully, Eva stopped. The black-haired girl spun around on the sidewalk, sending said hair whirling around her.

“Sorry,” she said. “I was just eager to see if Ylva or Zoe found anything important.”

Juliana used the brief pause to breathe in a lungful or two of fresh air. Her helmet wasn’t formed up. It was hard enough to sprint as it was.

When she started moving again, Eva kept her pace down to a brisk walk.

For just a moment, Juliana continued her rest. When she started following again, she kept a few paces behind.

And she watched Eva’s backside, thinking back to what her parents had said.

“She’s a murderer,” her father had said. “She kills people to fuel her magic. You don’t get more despicable than a blood mage.”

He hadn’t said it to her. Juliana had been sitting outside of her parents’ room, listening in on their conversation. He had gone on to say something about how he should never have trusted her in the first place but had been too blinded by the prospect of examining demons and gargoyles and the like.

Juliana hadn’t focused on her father’s excuses. The bit about fueling her magic with people had stuck in her mind.

It really hadn’t been a surprising revelation. Juliana had never seen Eva kill someone. At least, not someone who wasn’t already dead. Eva had killed zombies and skeletons in her presence. Not much brain power was required to come to the conclusion that Eva was a far cry from being a saint.

Eva had outright admitted to killing one of the necromancers back in her first year. Juliana hadn’t thought much of it then. The necromancers had obviously been evil, killing them was a natural progression.

She probably had her mother’s stories to thank for ignoring any ramifications of that. Hunting down dangerous mages and capturing or killing them was a big part of the mage-knight job description.

Though she didn’t know the exact details behind how Eva’s blood magic worked, the idea that killing people was required revealed a great deal about a certain conversation they had held back in their first year.

Eva had refused to teach Juliana anything about her blood magic. Her abject refusal had probably been one of the main causes of Juliana stealing a diablery book after Eva went blind. Or at least, it had contributed to her feelings of inadequacy.

But now, if that had truly been the reason why Eva had refused, it might have actually raised Juliana’s opinion of the other girl.

Eva did bad things. That was something that Juliana knew. But she hadn’t sought to make Juliana like her. She had tried to wean Juliana off the idea.

Something Juliana had snubbed and gone on to screw up all on her own.

She supposed that she should be worried about the fact that Eva was a killer. But, it wasn’t like she had ever tried to kill anyone that Juliana knew. In fact, Eva tried to save people more often than not. The incident with Zagan and Sister Cross being a prime example.

And then there was her mother’s response to her father’s ranting.

“I’ve killed people as well. Devon assured me that she only used unscrupulous sorts of people.”

Of course, the conversation had then descended into arguments about his trustworthiness, diablery, influences on Juliana, each other, and all manner of topics that Juliana hadn’t bothered to stick around for.

The gist of it was that her mother was conflicted on the topic of Eva. She believed that Eva would push Juliana to work harder on her magic. Life was dangerous and Eva was hardly the most dangerous thing around. Better to be prepared for later than face all sorts of elements such as demons and blood mages when she was unprepared.

Her father and Erich were of the opinion that Eva should be avoided at all costs. Given her mother’s state of being mostly bedridden, they would have won out had it not been for Zagan.

That was a whole other can of worms.

But her brother and father weren’t around right now. She would do as she pleased.

Though, since Eva popped back into the dormitory room, she hadn’t done all that much to prove Erich and Carlos wrong. In fact, just the opposite.

Juliana was still a little queasy from seeing the inside of that apartment room. It was like thin intestines had been splattered around the entire place. Not necessarily the most pleasant of things to have come back to. And then there was that vampire.

A vampire that was apparently Zoe’s friend. That had been something of a surprise.

Juliana shook her head as they reentered the apartment building.

While all the excitement was a nice change of pace compared to sitting around and listening to her family argue over her, she wished that everyone could slow down. Just for a few minutes.

She had barely had the chance to talk to Eva, let alone Zoe and Ylva.

As Eva started skipping up the staircase, Juliana considered just taking the elevator. Stairs were another of those things that were easier without armor on. For as long as Juliana had known Eva, she had never once known the girl to take an elevator. Juliana always followed Eva up the staircase, so it wasn’t like she didn’t have the practice.

My vacation must have made me soft, Juliana thought as she placed her hand on the railing.

The climb wasn’t as bad as she had feared from the bottom floor. Though she had skipped up the first few steps, Eva slowed down after that, keeping pace with Juliana.

“So,” Eva said somewhere around the second floor, “taking any electives next year?”

“I guess so,” Juliana said after a moment. She really hadn’t thought about school much. Even though she was coming back to a school, class just felt like such a low priority compared to everything else. “We have to take at least two, right?”

Eva spun around, climbing the stairs backwards. “I think I’m going to take golemancy and warding. Maybe I’ll be able to apply what I learn towards some improvements to my blood wards. I’d consider adding on enchanting for its relation to warding. Unfortunately, I tend to find myself busy,” she said with a wave of her hand in the direction of the upstairs floors. “Maybe in my spare time.”

Mulling it over for a few minutes, Juliana tossed back and forth a few ideas. She wished that she had a list of all the electives, but it wasn’t like whatever she said to Eva was a binding agreement or anything. “Golemancy,” she said after a moment. “That sounds good. I think my parents were already planning on teaching me how to make the miniature creature golems one day. A background in golemancy can’t hurt.”

“My thoughts exactly. Minus the parents teaching me part. Given how useful Basila was, learning to make more would be handy.”

“Useful?”

“Oh, right. I haven’t talked to you since then,” Eva said, trailing off with a somewhat somber look crossing her features. That look disappeared after just a moment, replaced by a wide smile. “I kind of turned Basila into a monster. She was quite helpful in getting Shalise and Prax separated.”

“You… turned her into a monster?”

“Using blood magic and a growth potion that Wayne got for me.” Eva stretched her arms out as wide as they could go. “She got pretty big. But it is a bit of a long story,” she said as she dropped her arms to her sides. Her smile once again vanished. “Longer than this staircase anyway.”

“Right. I’ll hold you to telling me later then.”

“Can do.”

Eva passed right by the third floor. Zoe and Ylva must still be on the fourth.

“I think that I might take more of Professor Twillie’s classes. A few extra years of magical creatures might make my dad happy.”

Though, that was a big might. Juliana doubted that much of anything would make him happy at the moment. Nothing save for a sudden and inexplicable demise of Zagan and Eva combined with Juliana agreeing to ship off to Scotland.

Eva just hummed at Juliana’s choice in electives. There might have been a slight disapproval in the tone, but nothing too serious. Eva wasn’t the biggest fan of the magical creatures class.

At least it wasn’t history.

Though, that was a required class anyway through the fourth year.

As they climbed up to the next floor, Juliana heard shouting. She tensed before sprinting up the few steps to reach Eva–who was looking significantly less concerned than Juliana felt.

But she didn’t protest as they both sprinted up the final flight of stairs to the floor that had previously held Lucy.

Zoe stood in the hallway. Upon seeing her, the tension in Juliana’s muscles immediately drained away. She was just standing. Not fighting. She didn’t even have her dagger out.

She didn’t look particularly happy.

Juliana wouldn’t be either if there was a man half her height sticking a finger in her face while shouting at the top of his lungs.

Standing there, Juliana found herself stunned. Zoe never struck her as the type to just sit around while being verbally assaulted. Perhaps not the type to retaliate with lightning bolts—that would be more in the style of Juliana’s mother—but somewhere in between.

It took a moment to actually clue into the words that the man was saying. Judging by his repeated gestures towards the room and loud complaints about getting ‘black muck’ everywhere, he was the landlord. If the complaints weren’t enough, the threats about suing Zoe and the school for all they were worth sealed the deal.

Zoe just watched him with a blank expression. Perhaps she had already tried to interrupt or to calm him down. The only time she moved was to wipe a bit of spittle off her cheek.

That movement did bring her eyes off the landlord. She locked gazes with Juliana for just a moment, giving a rueful smile as she did so.

“You think this is funny?” the landlord shouted. An open palm swung out towards Zoe.

It struck skin with a loud smack.

But it didn’t hit Zoe’s cheek.

Ylva hadn’t been in the hallway before.

She was now. It wasn’t a teleport. Juliana had seen her move. It was less of a walk or run and more of a glide. The sudden drop in temperature with her appearance was plain to see on everyone’s breath.

The landlord’s wrist was caught in her firm grip just an inch away from Zoe’s face.

Black lines started spreading up his arm. He watched, face surprised but still angry. That surprise and anger bled away into fear as he started screaming.

“Ylva!”

Zoe’s hand was on Ylva’s arm almost as fast as Ylva had caught the landlord’s.

As soon as her fingers brushed against Ylva’s skin, a pair of cold, dead eyes turned towards Zoe.

Zoe’s back stiffened. She did not release Ylva’s arm. “Thank you,” she said. “But he doesn’t need to die.”

Ylva’s gaze slowly drifted back to the landlord. “This man attempted to harm one under Our protection. Moreover, his duties do not require the harming of others. His actions came unprovoked.”

“I know. But it was not an offense worth his life. Incarceration and fines for assault or battery would have been the standard procedure. However, if you let him go,” she said, turning to the landlord, “and he leaves us to our investigation, I’m sure we can all forget about what happened.”

Ylva stared for just a moment before releasing his arm.

The landlord fell to the ground. He scrambled away, using one arm and his legs to push away from Ylva. His other arm, the one that Ylva had touched, was slowly returning to its normal color. The black veins were receding.

“I’m sorry Mr. Murray. But we need to get back to work.” Zoe paused with a blink of her eyes. “Wait. Who was it that rented out that room?”

The landlord just stared. As if he couldn’t quite believe that he was being asked a question in such a calm manner after what had just happened. Being told that he doesn’t need to die, thereby implying that Ylva had intended to kill him, would be enough to shake anybody up.

At least, it would have shaken up Juliana. As it was, she could barely believe that Zoe hadn’t even asked if he was alright.

Maybe the situation was just that dire. Or maybe she didn’t want to offend Ylva.

Once the disbelief riddling his face passed, it looked for just a moment like he was about to start shouting again. That stopped the moment Ylva moved.

It wasn’t a big move. Just a light shift of her shoulders.

“Some woman and her boyfriend,” he said as fast as he could. “They destroyed the wall a week ago. I should have kicked them out after that, but they repaired it and promised to buy enough paint to give the entire hall a new coat. I swear, if I see them now–”

“You should find me,” Zoe interrupted. “Or a member of Brakket’s security team. Do you have their names?”

There was a slight pause as the landlord got back to his feet. “I got the names they registered with. Gertrude and Clementine, I think. No last names but they paid well so I didn’t ask.” He took a few steps backwards. “But I want you and your friend out of here by five o’clock. You hear me? Consider this your eviction notice.”

He didn’t wait for a response. The landlord backed up another three steps, turned, and started running.

The key word being ‘started.’

Both Eva and Juliana had stepped to the sides to allow him to pass by unhindered.

As soon as he caught sight of Eva, he jumped back again, this time towards Zoe and Ylva. He clutched one hand to his chest, taking a moment to breathe before edging past Eva. The moment he made it past, he flew down the stairs. Juliana could barely hear him mumbling about freaks on his way down.

If Eva heard him, she gave no indication. Her attention was solely focused on Zoe and Ylva.

“That was interesting,” Eva said as she walked up to the two women.

Zoe sighed. “He isn’t a bad man. But,” Zoe trailed off with a glance towards the room, “we did cause an explosion in his building.”

“If you need a place to live, there’s always room at the old prison.”

“Thanks Eva. I think I’ll try to remain around Brakket Academy. If anything happens,” again, she glanced off towards the destroyed room, “I’d hate to be too far to notice. The dormitory buildings are going to be empty enough that it shouldn’t be a problem to find a room inside.”

Eva’s shoulders dropped ever so slightly. “That’s probably for the best. With how empty the prison is these days, I’m going to be spending most of my time at the dormitory.”

After a quick, noncommittal hum from Zoe, she said, “Lucy?”

“With Nurse Post. I think she’ll heal. The important thing is to ensure that no one is around to hurt her anymore.

“Now,” Eva said, “did those hunters leave anything behind for Nel to track?”

“The room was devoid of personal affects. Not a single hair was found in the shower drain or on the pillows.”

“They knew of Us,” Ylva said. “They would have researched those that serve Us. Nel’s abilities have been taken into account.”

“Before we were… ah… interrupted by the landlord stopping by, we did find this in the bedroom.” Zoe held up a small rectangular sheet of paper.

Eva took it in her hand and Juliana read over her shoulder.

Hello! How are you doing today? Not too well, I’d guess, given the mess you had to wade through to reach this note.

In case this letter has been found by someone random, perhaps a first responder or another resident of the apartment building, please see it delivered to the secretary at Brakket Academy. She’ll know who to deliver it to.

Now that this letter is being read by the proper peoples, I’d just like to say that yes, that mess in the apartment room is one of your security guards. Well, half of the mess is. Oh. Right. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably ask whoever delivered this message to show you to the apartment room.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve seen the room, I should point out that the scorch mark at the door was not from your security guard. Just some hel that, as far as we can tell, isn’t associated with everyone else. Don’t worry about it.

You might be looking around and wondering just where your other missing security guard is. I assure you that he is not among whatever remains are left behind.

He’s alive for the moment. Can’t say for how long, but I’m sure that if your devil hurries up, he might be able to save the bastard. He’ll be able to find the morail at a dainty little penitentiary just outside of town. It’s maybe half an hour away by car. I’m sure you all know the place. Sundown seems a fitting time to meet, no?

We’ll be waiting!

P.S. Don’t keep us waiting for too long. We mere mortals don’t have forever.

Juliana blinked with a glance over towards Eva. “I don’t suppose there’s another prison around Brakket?”

In response, Eva clenched her hand into a fist. Rather than crushing the paper, her claws pierced straight through it, tearing one side to shreds.

“Devon is still there. He needs to be warned. All my stuff…”

“Eva–”

Whatever Zoe was going to say, she didn’t quite make it. Eva disappeared, leaving a foul stench behind.

Zoe hissed out a small curse before she disappeared as well. Her vanishing was accompanied by a cold air that cleared out the stench of brimstone left behind by Eva.

Juliana stood in the hallway, feeling somewhat upset at having been left behind. Just because she hadn’t been around in forever didn’t mean that she couldn’t help out. In fact, it was probably best to have more humans while demon hunters were around. Humans wouldn’t get stuck inside shackles or other traps.

Though, maybe with how she had acted upon finding Lucy, Eva was right to have left her behind.

She had forgotten just how… intense things could be around Brakket. It wasn’t something that she had prepared for.

With a sigh, Juliana glanced away from the spot where Zoe had disappeared from.

And found that Ylva was staring straight at her.

Rubbing her thumb across the cold band on her finger, Juliana said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get much of a chance to greet you properly earlier.”

“The circumstances were understandable,” Ylva said. “After securing Nel, We will be moving to join Eva and Zoe.”

“I don’t suppose that you might take me with you?”

There was a slight pause as Ylva looked over Juliana. A slight nod sent her platinum hair flowing around her shoulders. “That can be arranged.”

“Thank you,” Juliana said with a smile and a bow. Her father would have a fit.

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007.021

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“Well that… that… that just rains on my parade!”

Clement pulled the binoculars away from his face to glance towards his partner. Gertrude was leaning half over the edge of the roof with the visor from his armor pressed against her eyes. Her mouth was twisted into a pout.

With a gentle hand, Clement pulled her back. She wouldn’t die from the fall. They were on top of some sort of dancing club for the students to waste time in, it was only a few stories high. The idea that she would even be injured was laughable. Still, he didn’t want to jump down after her. Neither did he care to wait around with their guest until she climbed back up.

Once sure that she wasn’t a stiff breeze away from falling, Clement brought his binoculars back up.

It wasn’t the best view. The roof of the club was a bit lower than the floor of their apartment. He could still see most of the room. Better yet, he could see the demons through the walls. Just faint outlines, enough to track them. A similar enchantment was on his visor, though of slightly higher quality.

Though there wasn’t much to see anymore with the naked eye. Before he had put his binoculars down to deal with Gertrude, the demon that they had captured had already been in the process of being carried out of the room. The only thing he could still see was their original target, the hel. She stood, gazing around the room with eyes as dead as a soulless corpse.

At first glance, she was a beautiful woman. Long hair, regal features, smooth skin. She had everything needed for a classical sort of beauty. But that all disappeared the longer he looked. The iced over lips, skin too smooth, dark veins barely visible underneath her skin, and her lifeless eyes. All of it added together to give the hel an unnerving quality.

Clement jumped back, jerking away from his binoculars.

She had stepped towards the window. In doing so, she had put most of her body into the early morning sunlight.

Watching her skin vanish as if a bucket of paint thinner had been dumped over a sheet of freshly painted glass was the worst. Clement had seen skeletons before. They didn’t bother him. But this hel… there was intelligence behind those empty sockets that just shouldn’t be.

With a shake of his head, he pressed the binoculars back to his eyes. This time, he angled towards a movement at a street-level door. Faint outlines were near the door.

The girl, the one who had been first on the scene and had broken the seals on the door, walked out of a side entrance. Her bright red eyes glanced around, but didn’t spot anything suspicious. With a wave of her hand, she gestured to her companion.

Some person wearing a poor imitation of his armor followed her out. Between the two of them, they had a bundle of blankets.

It didn’t take many guesses to figure out what was squirming around inside. It took even less guesses when a few tentacles slipped out into the air.

Clement reached back. His armored hand curled around the hilt of his sword.

“Shall we intercept?”

Gertrude hummed. Then she hawed. She hummed some more while running her fingers through her red hair.

With a frown, Clement released his sword. If she was pretending to think about it, the answer was no. Gertrude often came to quick, near instant decisions. Her current actions were just for her own amusement.

“Nope,” she said after a few more indecisive scratches of her head. “We could end the tentacle monster easily enough. Possibly the girl as well. We just don’t know enough about her at the moment to say for certain. Somehow, she learned of the tentacle demon’s presence and ruined everything. How?”

Clement did not respond. He had no insights to offer. Gertrude was the magic specialist. He couldn’t create even a small spark if his life depended on it. Luckily, with the armor that she had made for him, his life never depended on his magical abilities.

Merely his swordsmanship.

“Besides,” Gertrude said with a nod towards the apartment window, “the hel is still watching. Fun as it might be, we’ll get her attention and possibly attract every other demon in the area. I don’t think the girl is any kind of big shot, but there is a reason we tried to trap the Hel instead of fighting.”

“We could–” Clement cut himself off with a frown. The hel was powerful, true. Not so powerful that a well placed swing of an enchanted sword couldn’t lop her head right off. With both him and Gertrude, he doubted that she would have much of a chance.

If other demons joined in, even if only as distractions to him and Gertrude, that slight chance grew immensely. It was why they had gone with the trap plan in the first place.

And that was assuming that the devil stayed content to merely watch.

There was a tingle going up Clement’s spine. Some small shiver as if he were being watched. Glancing around, he couldn’t see anything that might be the source.

The hel and everyone else at the apartment building were too far away. It couldn’t be them. There was a reason that he was using binoculars. Of course, someone there might have enhanced vision. Peeking through his binoculars again, he couldn’t find anyone looking in his direction.

Every time he thought of the devil, he felt the hairs on his neck rise up.

It was that devil. It had to be. The only question was whether or not the devil was actually causing the sensation. It was entirely possible that everything was all in his head.

Gertrude never felt anything. He had asked. She was certain that whatever magic she was doing was enough to keep them off the devil’s radar. It worked for the rest of the demons. No one really noticed them while wandering around. So far, he hadn’t seen any sign that the devil actually was watching them. As far as he knew, it was working.

Glancing around, Clement still couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched.

Gertrude paid no mind to his unease. She spun around with a bright smile on her face before resting against the raised lip of the building’s roof. “Anyway, all is not lost. We’ll just have to modify our plan for the other one. It wouldn’t be good to face them all at once. Besides, with him around, we can try trapping the hel again.”

Clement turned to face their guest. He couldn’t see anything. Morail were annoying like that. There was no doubt that the demon was trapped within the shackles on the roof. They had been hastily constructed, but they were no less effective. Even better, they were suppressing his demonic aura. None of the other demons should be able to sense him.

Of course, that hadn’t helped with the girl. As Gertrude had said, she had found out somehow. She hadn’t been concerned going into the apartment complex. Clement could guess that there was some range limitation on whatever ability she had. If not, then this morail would already be known to them.

Since they weren’t under attack, no one knew.

“They’ll be wary if we try the same trick again, Gertrude.”

“Ha! They’ll be wary no matter what we do. Still, just need to draw them out to where we’ll have the advantage. Otherwise…” Gertrude trailed off, rubbing a finger over the ring on her hand. “Well, we might just have to straight up fight them. No tricks or traps. But that’s for later.”

“And where will we try again? Not the original location?”

Gertrude’s smile grew ever so slightly. “Pack him up,” she said with a nod towards the apparently empty set of shackles. “Tight. Compact. I doubt he’ll need limbs. Then meet me at that little gas station on the edge of town, right near the highway.”

With that said, she pushed back with the tips of her toes, falling over the edge of the roof backwards.

Clement didn’t bother with checking over the edge. She would be fine.

Instead, he gripped his sword, hefting if off its mount and readying it in front of him.

And he paused. Gertrude wanted his limbs off, but the rest of the demon should probably be intact. Somewhat of a difficult prospect while his target was invisible.

She had taken his visor as well.

With a frown, he brought the binoculars up to his eyes. It was dizzying to look at something so close, but he could see a thick outline around the demon through the lenses.

It would be hard to aim. One of his hands had to keep the binoculars pressed to his face.

Oh well, he thought as he started his advance, it might be a bit messier than otherwise.

— — —

Eva and Juliana set Lucy down on a bed in one of the Brakket Academy infirmary rooms. They hadn’t known what else to do with her. At least not before talking with Martina Turner.

Nurse Post stood to the side, watching with a frown on her face. “You know,” she said, “I remember a time when it would be seen as odd to walk into the infirmary with a bundle of tentacles. I don’t even know where to begin with treatment.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, you probably won’t have to treat her. She’ll heal on her own over time.”

Nurse Post made a face. It was a bit hard to see behind her surgical mask and gauze covering one eye. The blood behind the coverings didn’t lie. Her lips were twisted into a grimace and her nose had wrinkled.

Eva wasn’t sure why she felt the need to don a surgical mask. Maybe she thought that she would be operating on Lucy.

Upon seeing her when first entering the nurse’s office, Eva actually had to do a double-take. Both Nurse Post and the woman who had likely kidnapped Lucy had eye patches. It was such an unusual trait that Eva’s eye had been drawn to it first while her mind jumped to conclusions.

Stupid conclusions. Nurse Post had much darker hair. The woman’s was red. Their facial structure was different. Nurse Post lacked that somewhat disturbing smile as well.

“She?” the nurse asked, face still wrinkled in a mixture of confusion and discomfort.

“Oh. Right.” Eva rested a hand on the bed near Lucy. “Meet Lucy. The security guard,” she added when Nurse Post failed to show any recognition. “This is what she looks like when not doing her poor impression of a human.”

Narrowing her eye ever so slightly, Nurse Post said, “that should surprise me. Somehow, it doesn’t.” She sighed as she shook her head. “She and the other specialist went missing. Shall I prepare to receive another wad of tentacles?”

“Oh no. Daru looks like a human for real. Lucy is something of a special case.” Eva paused for just a moment before continuing in a more somber tone of voice. “Also, we haven’t found him yet. I don’t even know if he is still… around.”

Something of a depressing silence fell over the group, only to be broken by Lucy knocking a tissue box off a table next to the bed.

Eva turned to find Lucy squirming a whole lot more than she had been just a moment ago.

Figuring that there was no harm in asking, Eva said, “I don’t suppose you know where Daru is?”

The thrashing tentacles stilled. Eva took that for a negative, but that was mostly a guess.

As Eva watched, Lucy started trying something. Her few remaining tentacles were winding around each other. Lips, or something vaguely resembling them, started to form as the tentacles tightened together. Unfortunately, as she tried to form a throat and some lungs, the lips started to come unwound.

Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t form enough of a face to speak while still having lungs to draw in air needed to create the sound of words.

So much of her body was missing that she couldn’t even put together half of a head to speak. It was amazing that she was still alive at all. Decentralized nervous and circulatory systems were awe inducing.

Eva grimaced at the sight. Absently, she noted Juliana glancing off to the side while trying to not look like she was disturbed. Nurse Post placed a hand over her masked mouth after gasping.

“Alright stop,” Eva said, placing her hands over Lucy. “You’re not helping. If you could write, that might work better.”

The tentacles ceased their formations of various organs, instead just flopping out onto the bed. Eva, once again, took that as a no.

“Just focus on getting better.” Turning back to Nurse Post, Eva said, “you should know that she was taken by demon hunters. They might not be so excited that she got away.”

“So you bring her to a school?”

Eva shrugged. “Summer time. School is out. Most students aren’t even back for the summer seminars yet. If they come back at all. Besides, I can feel Zagan nearby. I doubt that they’ll come here. Still, something to be aware of.”

“And if they do come back?”

“Hide. Let them take Lucy. She won’t die even if they kill her. You will.”

There was a bit of squirming from Lucy at Eva’s suggestion, but Eva paid it no mind. A thought entered her mind about whether or not her statement was true.

“I think, anyway,” Eva said. “The red eyes throw me off, are you a demon or are you not?”

Eva couldn’t sense anything from her. That didn’t necessarily mean anything. Zagan was nearby. Probably just down the hall in Martina Turner’s office. With him so close, Eva could barely feel Lucy and they were just about touching. Inexperienced in her ability to detect demons, it was entirely possible that one she hadn’t known about would slip through.

“I’m not a demon.”

“Then leave her to the hunters.”

If she caught wind of the hunters coming after Lucy again, Eva would jump in without hesitation. Asking the same of a school nurse was not really something that she could do. She was counting on the fact that Zagan was fairly intimidating when he wanted to be.

“Now,” Eva said, “I don’t supposed you know if Martina Turner is around?”

“Last I heard, she was in her office.”

With Zagan, Eva thought with a nod of her head. “Right.” She glanced back towards Juliana. “Coming along?”

“I–Yeah.”

As they headed out into the hallway, Juliana let out a long sigh.

“Figures,” she said, “I’m back and in less than half a day, big things are going on.”

“I imagine your little vacation wasn’t quite so eventful,” Eva said with a chuckle.

“Not really. Aside from Zagan showing up, about the only interesting thing was watching this town on the news.”

“About the sky?”

Juliana glanced around the empty hallway. “I know it isn’t some agricultural thing,” she said in a low voice. “What is it?”

Eva shrugged. Juliana had been there when Zagan had explained about the situation with Hell. Of course, her mother had a hole in her chest at the time, but Eva was fairly certain that she had heard enough to get the gist of it. As such, she didn’t feel a need to explain all that.

“Don’t know for sure. The idea that Wayne, Zoe, Devon, and Ylva came up with is that it is some form of attack on Void. It and the enigmas–” Eva cut herself off as a thought occurred to her. “The creatures that your dad came to inspect are the enigmas. I can’t remember if they had their name when you were here last. The idea is that they’re designed to weaken the barriers between the mortal realm and Void. Whether the sky is the cause or a side effect is still up for debate.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“I try not to worry about it.”

“That seems…. irresponsible.”

“It’s sort of like knowing that a meteor is careening towards the Earth. What am I really supposed to do about it? Devon and Zagan don’t seem particularly worried. Devon is a coward as well. If he isn’t running around like a chicken without a head, I don’t know why I would.

“I prefer to focus my energies on things that I can actually affect. Sawyer, for instance. These demon hunters for another.”

Juliana made a small humming noise. Not really one of agreement or derision, just of acknowledgment.

Inside the main office area, Eva paused with a frown on her face.

Catherine’s desk was empty.

She could sense her somewhere. That probably meant that the demon hunters didn’t have her. But she wasn’t nearby. At least, she wasn’t inside Martina Turner’s office. Zagan was. Now that Eva was closer, she could sense someone else inside as well. A demon that Eva found familiar, but couldn’t quite place. It was probably her imagination. She hadn’t run into very many demons since her latest treatment anyway.

With no one around to wave her into the dean’s office, Eva pushed open the door without hesitation.

“–can’t allow them to–”

Martina’s voice cut off as soon as the door opened. She turned away from Governor Anderson to glare at the interruption. As soon as she saw who it was, her face twisted. As if she couldn’t decide whether to soften her features or to glare harder.

For his part, Anderson merely turned to regard Eva with a raised eyebrow.

Zagan was leaning against the wall just to the side of the door. His golden eyes were already staring at Eva as she entered, obviously expecting her. He hadn’t needed to turn his head.

One of his hands was fiddling with the cufflinks on his other wrist. His hands dropped to his sides as he spotted who was behind Eva. His lips split to reveal teeth that a dentist would be hard pressed to find a flaw in.

But Eva paid him no mind. Zagan was a known demon. A devil and a scary one at that, but one that Eva could at least somewhat predict.

Her eyes were drawn over Martina’s shoulder.

The other demon that she had felt was standing there, staring at her.

Eva immediately realized her mistake.

She had seen this demon before.

“Prax?” Juliana said from behind Eva. “What are you doing here?”

The cambion huffed, crossing his beefy arms in front of his bare chest while glancing off to the side.

“What indeed,” Eva murmured with an aside glance towards Zagan.

The devil shrugged his shoulders. “I heard he got loose from his fleshy prison and wanted into the mortal realm. For a time, I considered torture and execution. Now I’ve decided to have him serve out his insult to me by taking over so many of my duties. Marvelous idea, yeah?”

“I only saw him just a few hours ago. He asked to get out of Hell then.”

Just how quickly had Prax been summoned up by Martina? She could understand if Zoe had let slip that Prax was out, but wanting to get out of Hell was another matter entirely. Eva could understand him being able to hear conversations while he wasn’t immediately present. Zoe could do the same through enhancing her hearing beyond human limits.

Even her enhancements didn’t reach Hell.

“Have you been spying on me?” Eva asked.

“Of course I have.”

Eva blinked, not expecting the blunt response.

“I told you before, I have a vested interest in you. A few simple enchantments on your person and…” he trailed off with another shrug and a nod towards Prax.

For just a moment, Eva had half a mind to protest. To demand the removal of whatever enchantments he had applied to her.

Those protests died off when she caught sight of his eyes.

He wasn’t glaring or anything, but Eva couldn’t help the shiver running up her spine.

Ignoring her discomfort, Zagan turned back to his original object of interest. “Juliana,” he said as he reached out a hand to ruffle her hair. “Welcome back.”

She just sat there and allowed him to mess up her blond hair. “Thanks.”

Her voice came out as a whisper as Zagan withdrew his hand.

Eva yearned to ask. Juliana’s earlier request to not talk about Zagan held her tongue. For now.

With a slight shake of her head, Eva turned to face Martina Turner.

“I rescued Lucy.”

“So I’ve heard,” she said, eyes flicking towards Zagan. “No sign of Daru?”

“None. Ylva is convinced that it was a trap for her. I’m inclined to agree.” Eva raised an eyebrow in Zagan’s direction. “Perhaps Daru is intended to be a trap for someone else?”

“A trap for me?” Zagan said with a chuckle. “I’d like to see that. Perhaps I’ll walk into it just to see what happens.”

“Well, I can’t imagine people fighting you in a fair fight. Even if you went as easy on them as you went on Sister Cross.”

“Dammit.” Martina slammed a fist on her desk. “I thought you were keeping these hunters off my back,” she said in a half shout.

“I told you that it wouldn’t last forever,” Anderson said, keeping his voice carefully controlled.

Picking up a large glass off the desk, she downed the dark brown contents in a single swig. A long and harsh sigh escaped her lips as she set the glass back on the desk. “Should have been longer than a handful of months. I expected a year at least. We’re not ready for hunters.”

Eva cleared her throat. Just a light cough before speaking. “You summoned Prax, right? I feel a few others too.”

“Replacements,” Martina said through grit teeth. “With Brakket’s security force decimated, I had to get more in a hurry.”

“There are three of them including Prax?”

“A second morail and a hellhound under his command.”

Eva nodded. The hellhound wouldn’t be sentient, but it made sense that she could sense it. Still, Martina had Catherine, Lucy, Daru, this new morail, a hellhound, and Zagan all contracted to her. The most she had seen Devon summon was three, and that had just been half a year ago or so. Before that, his highest was two at once.

She could only imagine what Devon would say about Martina. Her imagination filled in several uses of the words idiot, menace, and suicidal.

But, it wasn’t her problem. If Martina wanted to surround herself with demons, that was her choice.

Eva just hoped that she had a bag of popcorn nearby when Zagan decided that he didn’t want to take orders anymore.

“Anyway, I think Ylva is wanting to hunt down these hunters. I’m going to help her. Any resources that you could spare would be appreciated, I’m sure.”

Martina went silent for a moment. Her finger ran around the edge of her now empty glass. “Take Prax and Catherine. Zagan will stay at my side. Cereth and the hellhound will remain patrolling around Brakket Academy.”

Eva expected Zagan to stay with Martina. Unless she was far more altruistic than Eva knew her to be, Martina wouldn’t want her strongest asset away from her. Though he could probably kill the hunters in one shot, it would leave her far too vulnerable. The other morail, Cereth, would likely be a backup. Or, he would be sent in to die first while Zagan watched and laughed.

Maybe it was a good thing that Zagan wouldn’t be at her side.

Standing up, Martina placed the palms of her hands against the top of her desk, leaning over. “Get these bastards out of my town.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.020

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva saw them arrive on her floor just as another of Lucy’s tendrils snapped off.

Zoe had her dagger out in her hand already while Juliana was in nearly full combat armor. Her face was clear, but she otherwise had a metal helmet covering her head. It looked as if she would be able to fill in the hole at the first sign of trouble.

They weren’t running with half as much speed as Eva thought they should be. Of course, one doesn’t simply rush Ylva. The rest of them had no excuse.

“I need you to destroy as much of the inside of the room as possible,” Eva said, shifting her gaze between Zoe, Nel, and Juliana. “And fast.”

In the short time that she had been left waiting for the others to arrive, Eva had shed more blood in an attempt to damage the shackles and other circles around Lucy. Whatever had been done to the door had also been done to the floor, rendering her efforts worthless for the most part. The ceiling hadn’t been protected. She had managed to destroy a few markings up there. Whatever was pulling Lucy apart had slowed, but not stopped.

Most of the circles and shackles were on the floor.

Nel would be the best person to help out. If her magic-eating lightning could remove whatever protections were on the floor, everything would be easier for everyone else. She didn’t even need to damage the floor herself, just enable Eva’s fireballs and Zoe’s lightning.

She was hoping that Juliana and Zoe would be able to overpower whatever damage resistance enchantments there were.

Unfortunately for Eva, and more so for Lucy, both women balked as soon as they caught sight of the room.

Zoe reared back as she covered her mouth with the back of one hand, gazing into the room with wide eyes. She recovered quickly enough and started lashing out with both lightning and razor wind. She gave no complaint nor asked what had happened as she set into her work.

Juliana did not fare half as well. She stumbled backwards, one hand clasped around her mouth and the other across her stomach. After a few dry heaves, she managed to hold down her lunch–or whatever was the last meal that she ate. Still, she didn’t immediately move to help. She stood to the side and breathed in a few gasps of air.

Opening her mouth, Eva just about berated Juliana for her weak stomach while Lucy needed help. The thought only lasted an instant before Eva turned away. Not in disgust. This would be one of those things that Juliana would berate herself over later. One of the things that had caused her to dabble her fingers in diablery in the first place.

Besides, Nel was far more deserving of Eva’s disappointment. The moment the augur looked into the room, her eyes rolled back into her head as she collapsed against Ylva. Really, with how she had acted during Sawyer’s torture, Eva didn’t know why she had expected anything else.

Berating an unconscious woman wouldn’t do any good.

Instead, Eva focused her irritation on her fireballs. Already feeling lethargic and annoyed from a thumping in her head, she had abandoned using more of her own blood. Passing out wouldn’t help Lucy at all.

Exploding fireballs worked well enough in place of her blood. In fact, they probably worked better. Maybe if she had Zagan’s blood with her, but that was back at the women’s ward. A casual visit to Ylva and Zoe shouldn’t have needed the blood. It was stupid and foolish, something that Eva wanted to blame on her anemia-induced headache.

The explosions were somewhat problematic. Though she had managed to destroy the floor containing the shackle right at the doorway, it had taken a lot of power behind the fireball. Enough that trying the same thing near Lucy would probably do a whole lot more harm to the already severely injured demon.

Eva was toying with the power near Lucy. So far, she hadn’t managed to scratch the floor. Before long, it might be better just to explode Lucy and hope that she could survive.

“Eva,” Zoe said. Her own lightning was having less effect than Eva’s fireballs. “The spot you just hit, on the count of three, hit it again with everything you’ve got.”

“I can do fairly large explosions,” Eva said.

“Probably not larger than Wayne’s.”

Eva shrugged and started building up a fireball.

“One.”

The same spot that she had hit previously was a larger scorch mark just at the edge of the main shackles holding Lucy in place. Whatever was peeling her apart could stick around as long as it wanted if she could get Lucy out of there. Unfortunately, scorch marks weren’t enough to break the shackles. They had been carved into the linoleum, not just drawn on with some chalk.

“Two.”

Eva started compressing the gathered flames. This would definitely be a larger one. It was just what Zoe had asked for.

Hopefully she knew what she was doing.

There were shimmers in the air around Lucy. Enough of them to make it almost hard to see through. Zoe’s dagger was out and pointed straight at the disturbance in the air.

And she was taking a long time in getting to three.

All the while, Eva continued streaming fire into the small marble. She didn’t want to lose control of it while it was in her hand, but Zoe had asked for her best.

“Three!”

As soon as Zoe spoke, the semi-translucent bubble of air around Lucy went completely opaque.

Eva didn’t question the effect. She tossed the unstable marble of fire.

It landed just to the left of the already existing scorch mark. The moment it hit, the fragile shell of stable flames broke, unleashing everything inside.

Though she normally enjoyed a bit of heat, this was a bit much. Eva took a step back, shielding her face with an open palm as the wave of heat and noise rushed over her. Even half covering her eyes didn’t help block out the light.

For a moment, she stood in the doorway, not quite able to tell what was going on. She could still see through her blood sight. Juliana was behind her and Zoe had stepped around the edge of the doorway to avoid most of the heat. Whatever Zoe had done had worked. At least, in as far as Lucy was not a pile of ash after that.

But she couldn’t see the important thing. Was the floor broken?

Blinking away the spots in her eyes, Eva shook her head in an attempt to clear the fading ringing from her mind. As soon as her senses were back to a more normal sate, she took a look in the room.

Or what was left of it.

The floor around whatever shield or bubble or whatever Zoe had done was practically nonexistent. Only half of the couch was left behind, the rest was on fire. And that wasn’t all that was on fire. The curtains over the windows were smoking and the walls had embers glowing along parts. Over the kitchen counter in the back of the room, the windows had been blown out.

Given that the windows faced the street, hopefully no one had been walking around out there.

With her real eyes and a bit of closer look through her blood sight, Eva could see that Lucy had not survived unscathed. The skin covering her tendrils closest to the explosion had darkened and cracked. There was a bit of singing going on even on the opposite side of her body.

Whatever had been peeling her apart must have been damaged in the explosion. All of her tentacles were lying on the floor, writhing somewhat, but not being pulled from her main mass.

The important part was that she had survived. With her lack of a central heart or even a central brain, Eva doubted that Lucy would suddenly disappear into a portal to Hell. She would be able to heal as long as she didn’t bleed out.

It probably wouldn’t come to that, but Eva could ensure that it wouldn’t with her dagger.

“Careful,” Zoe said as Eva took a step into the room. She put a hand on Eva’s shoulder, stopping her from moving in any farther.

“I am.”

And she honestly was. This room had been set up to be extremely unfriendly towards demons. Half the markings inside were nothing that she had seen before. She almost wished that she had had the presence of mind to take a picture of it with her shiny new cell phone for Devon. He would have been able to tell her what it was all for.

But she hadn’t. She had been worried for Lucy and had immediately jumped to act on that.

Gingerly walking into the room, Eva approached the wiggling mass of tentacles. She had already broken the shackles that were right in front of the door. The shackles holding Lucy were broken as well. Much of the floor was broken between them and Eva couldn’t see anything on the walls or ceiling that might be dangerous.

At least, nothing between her and Lucy. Moving around the room, she could see some drawings around the kitchen windows and the bedroom doorway.

Eva stayed well away from there as she approached.

“Hey Lucy, I’m here.” Eva spoke in a soft tone of voice, keeping as calm as possible. “It’s Eva. You remember me, right?”

Lucy could be absolutely vicious when pressed. She had heard from Irene just what had happened to the enigmas that had infested her room. Startling Lucy could be a quick way to get herself killed.

The pile of tentacles didn’t respond. It just continued squirming around itself. Eva hadn’t really expected otherwise. In order to speak, Lucy not only had to form a mouth, tongue, throat, lungs, and everything else required, but she also had to use her tentacles to do so. With how injured she was, Eva wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t hear from the woman for a long while.

It was reassuring that she wasn’t lashing out in an attempt to strangle Eva.

“I’m going to press the flat of my dagger against your body,” Eva said as she knelt down next to Lucy. “It will help stop your bleeding. Don’t worry. You’re safe right now.”

Eva waited just a moment before reaching her dagger out, slow and steady. For all she knew, Lucy wasn’t in a state to understand a single word that she had said. The moment she touched her blade to the tentacles, she might find herself without an arm.

But, nothing happened. The flat of her blade pressed against one of the more profusely bleeding spots just as she had said it would. Lucy wiggled, but didn’t try to reach out.

If anything, she drew back in on herself.

Ignoring the reaction, Eva concentrated on the blood. She didn’t do anything with it for a moment but press her dagger against Lucy. As it pumped through her body, Eva gathered more of it under her control. When blood reached the points where her tentacles had been pulled off, Eva hardened the blood.

It wouldn’t be comfortable. Plates of hardened blood, even without any sharp edges, would be inconvenient when walking around. Or crawling, or whatever Lucy did when she wasn’t shaped like a human. But it would keep her blood inside of her. That was the important part.

The blood at the tip of her dagger hardened as she pulled away. It was done. Lucy was still a blob, but she wasn’t a bleeding blob.

Standing up, Eva let out a sigh of relief. She had been worried. Real worry. Not some superficial concern like she had felt for Lynn Cross after just about killing her with a teleport. The only reason she had cared for and healed Lynn was because of Shalise.

It was a bit strange. Not something that she really would have expected of herself under the best of circumstances. And after tromping through her domain, Eva had been all but certain that she would have reacted with revulsion upon seeing Lucy outside of her human form.

With a shake of her head, Eva looked back to the rest of the group. Zoe and Ylva were both looking around the apartment, though Ylva’s eyes were glued on a certain half-a-hexagon on part of the undamaged floor. Nel was slumped against the door frame. Clad in full armor, Juliana stood over her. Two elongated bars of metal stuck out from her hands as she posed herself half-crouched and ready for anything.

Eva was at a lost about what to do now. Tracking down those people who had been living in the room was a good start, but perhaps not this very minute. Certainly, Lucy couldn’t stay here. She needed a safe place to rest and recuperate.

The women’s ward would work. Her blood wards might have been taken down by the Elysium Order in less than a half-hour, but they would keep plenty of people from just wandering in.

And that was a definite concern.

No one seemed to live on this floor. Perhaps the owners of this apartment room had rented out the entire place. Maybe they had done something worse. But there were people on the floors above and below.

Her explosion hadn’t been one of those silent kinds. People had definitely heard. Some of those in the closer rooms might have even felt it. A few people were already on their way downstairs.

But Eva wasn’t sure that she could just wander off with her. Lucy was contracted to Martina Turner. It might be some sort of faux pas to just run off with her.

Whatever happened, something needed to be done now.

“Zoe,” Eva said, “people are coming to investigate the noise.”

After snapping one last picture with her phone of a partially intact ritual circle, Zoe glanced back towards the door. “How many?”

“Uh, all of them?”

“Great. You don’t see the original occupants of this room anywhere?”

Eva shook her head. “Not anywhere in my range. Didn’t see them on the way up either.” Though she hadn’t exactly been paying attention then, she was fairly confident that she would have noticed someone familiar.

“It is probably safest for them to remain in their rooms.” She started towards the door, but paused. “So long as this place doesn’t burn down. Can you extinguish–”

A chilled wind blew through the apartment room. Nothing Eva or Zoe had done. It took Eva a moment to notice Ylva looking around the room.

The fires weren’t anything large. Small smoldering cloths or wood. Whatever was flammable that hadn’t been put out by the force of the blast. Though none of it was major, there was the possibility that it all could flare up and ignite something.

Not that it mattered. All the flames died instantly under Ylva’s gaze.

“Thanks,” Zoe said as she stepped out of the room to intercept the other tenants.

She went out, holding her hands up as she approached the nearest person. Not as if she were being held up by a gun—or a wand, as was more likely at Brakket—but in a calming manner, trying to assure everyone that everything was just fine. Perhaps not fine, but rather under control.

Whatever the case, Zoe could handle it.

Eva had more important things to focus on.

Namely, sitting down and taking a nap.

Now that the immediate danger and excitement was over with, Eva could feel herself becoming less steady on her feet. Between Sawyer, Serena, and now Lucy, Eva could barely extend her fingers. She simply couldn’t maintain the pressure needed to keep her palms open. Normally it wasn’t something she had to even think about doing.

Potions, being almost exclusively designed for humans, had been doing less and less for Eva over the past few years. Even still, taking a blood replenishing potion might not be a bad idea. She would have to take a good ten or so before it affected her even a fraction of what a human would need, but every little bit would help.

Of course, that was something of a personal matter. More pressing was the fact that there was an enemy about.

Someone had tried to kill Lucy. Not just kill, but torture her along the way.

Eva blinked as she sat down on the floor. Juliana had mentioned that both Lucy and Daru were missing. If Lucy was here, where was Daru?

Tuning her senses for the morail demon, Eva found nothing. He wasn’t in the building. Or if he was, he was hidden behind whatever suppression field had hidden Lucy. But she also couldn’t see him with her sense of blood, so he probably wasn’t around.

Taken away by the people who put Lucy into this situation? Fled? He may already be dead, back floating in the Void along with Arachne. If he wasn’t, maybe he had something left behind that Nel could use to track him down.

Glancing over, Eva found the augur slowly coming around. Thanks entirely to Juliana’s diligent efforts in waking her.

Likely a waste of time. She would take one look around the room and pass out again.

Or maybe not, Eva thought as she looked around the room herself. A good amount of Lucy’s torn tentacles had been vaporized by her explosion. The ones that hadn’t were gathered in the corners of the room. A far less gruesome sight than having them scattered everywhere.

Looking up, Eva noticed Ylva’s gaze. She had returned to the hexagonal marking on the floor.

“Thoughts?” Eva asked. She had no idea what the marking was. Her question was broad enough that it could also include thoughts on the former occupants. She had warned Ylva, or mentioned them at least, but obviously nothing had been done.

Ylva’s cold eyes turned up to Eva for just a moment. “Hunters,” she said as she looked back to the hexagon.

Eva brushed some of the lingering soot and debris away from the mark. The hexagon had a simple symbol contained within. Not any sort of magical sigils or runes, but a simple skull with feathered wings stretching out from behind it. “What is it?”

“A sign. A sign We have not borne witness to in centuries.”

“What does it do?”

“Do? Nothing.” Ylva’s head shook ever so slightly. “Not how it is now. Upon someone being released from their mortal restraints, it calls out an agent of Death. Nothing so high as a god of Death, but a mere servant such as Ourself. Used in ages long past to ensure that a loved one passed on properly, it has fallen out of use in recent centuries.”

“That’s…” Eva glanced back towards the entrance of the room. There had been shackles set up. Complicated ones. She had never seen anything quite like them, nor could she guess about their specific purpose. Nothing good, that was for certain. “You’re the nearest agent of death, aren’t you. This was a trap for you?”

“We came to the same conclusion.”

Eva looked back to Lucy. A thought crossed her mind and she almost reached out to pat the now still demon. She didn’t know whether or not Lucy would appreciate the contact. It might still be a bad idea to unnecessarily touch her.

“Would it have worked with Lucy? Demons don’t die like mortals do.”

“We are… unsure. We would not feel a demon’s passing under normal circumstances. Such a symbol would force the call no matter what died. The hunters believed that it would work that way, at least.”

Obviously, Eva couldn’t help but think. “So, you didn’t notice anything about them while we were gone?”

“Our observations were limited. They came and went at several points, never acting overly suspicious.”

“Well, they got Lucy in here somehow.”

“The woman carried in a larger case yesterday evening. We believed it to be mere luggage. Never once did we feel the presence of a nearby demon.”

“Neither did I, on my way here. I only found her because I can see through walls.”

“It is fortunate that you did.”

“So,” Eva said after a lull in the conversation, “how do we find them?”

If they knew about Ylva, they probably knew about Nel as well. She would look around for any part of them that might be used to track them. If they did know about Nel, Eva doubted that they would have left anything behind.

But they couldn’t be allowed to get away with this. She had learned her lesson from Sawyer. She was no good at long and drawn out torture sessions. A quick kill would get the same end result.

“We will be wary. Do not seek them. Anywhere they might live could be as trapped as this building. Charging into battle with a foe as prepared as this would end poorly.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.019

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The young elf and the older man were both dead. Eva had never really talked to either of those security guards. Her interactions were strictly limited to Lucy and Daru, the two demonic members of Brakket’s security team.

Who were both missing, according to Juliana.

Eva closed her eyes and concentrated on feeling out for any demons around.

She quickly found Zagan. His power was just so overwhelming and radiant that missing him would have been impossible. From his power, Eva got a vague sense of direction. She couldn’t tell exactly how far he was, but it was in the direction of the main school building.

Ylva was somewhere in the opposite direction, inside the city. If Zagan were the sun, Ylva could be compared to the moon. A large body that was difficult to miss as long as it was around, but not quite so overwhelmingly radiant.

In comparison to them, Catherine would be more like a star. At least, so long as Eva wished to continue her celestial bodies analogy. It was there, but not all that prominent. So much so that it was almost a strain just to sense her.

The analogy broke down with the fact that there weren’t a million other demons to help cloud out Catherine’s existence. In fact, there were only three. None of which felt anything like Lucy. They could be Daru as Eva hadn’t interacted with him since her most recent treatment and didn’t know what he felt like to her senses.

All three of them and Catherine, were somewhere in the direction of the school building.

“Has Martina Turner been summoning demons?” Eva asked as she snapped open her eyes.

Martina hadn’t been part of the whole meeting where they agreed not to summon things anymore, so it was possible that she had gone ahead and done so. Wayne or Zoe should have mentioned something. Maybe they forgot with the whole cathedral thing. Or, more likely, Martina Turner just didn’t care about other people.

While waiting for Juliana to respond, Eva gave a quick glance towards their resident vampire.

Serena was still sitting on the floor with her back against Eva’s desk. Her gaze was fairly blank, but none of her muscles were tensed in the slightest. So long as she stayed like that and regained her sensibilities, Eva would be perfectly happy.

If Serena did go berserk again and couldn’t be neutralized without harming her, Eva would probably choose Juliana over Serena. Eva had grown fond of the vampire over their little vacation, but not that fond.

Juliana stood off to the side with her armor clamped firmly around her neck, though most of the rest of her head was uncovered. Eva did take the time to note that her hair was shorter by almost half compared to how it was when she had visited the other month ago. Her long blond hair now stopped somewhere just below her shoulders.

Shoulders that were currently lifting up and dropping in a mild shrug. “How should I know?”

“Well, you knew that the security guards were dead. With how I’ve been gone for the past week, I thought you might be a little more informed than I.”

“I literally got into town just an hour ago. The only reason I knew about that in the first place was because of notices posted around the town stating that an investigation was ongoing.” With an armored hand, she gestured back towards her bed where a suitcase lay open. “I haven’t even unpacked all the way.”

Eva glanced down at her watch. Her family was driving in at five in the morning? Unless one of them had recently come down with an acute case of vampirism, Eva couldn’t quite understand why they would travel overnight. Better yet, why not send Juliana on the Brakket school airliner.

More importantly, for the moment at least, daylight was fast approaching.

And Serena was still sitting on the floor.

“Help me hang up some of these blankets,” Eva said as she tore the covers off her bed.

“Hang up?”

“Sunlight and vampires don’t exactly agree with one another,” Eva said with a nod towards Serena.

Juliana’s eyes widened for just a moment before she moved up next to Eva. “Oh.” Her voice dropped to a whisper that Eva was certain could be heard with whatever enhanced hearing a vampire might possess. “What’s up with that anyway? A vampire?”

“Serena is a friend of Zoe and Wayne,” Eva said as she had Juliana hold up a corner of the blanket over one of the windows. “She was helping me kill Sawyer.”

Eyes wide, Juliana opened her mouth to say something. It snapped shut before she reconsidered. “Sounds like I missed out.”

Eva grinned. Juliana almost sounded disappointed, but she had a smile on. At least someone was happy about that.

Putting her mind to the task at hand, Eva decided how she wanted to hang the blankets. She didn’t have any duct tape with her, which is what they had used to hang up blankets all throughout their trip, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem. Pulling out her dagger again, she cut a thin slit along her upper arm. The blood flowed outwards, hardening into sharp nails.

It might be somewhat dangerous to leave her own crystallized blood around Serena. The vampire might try to eat it. Of course, she would wind up taking down the blankets and possibly exposing herself to the sunlight when that came around, so hopefully she could resist.

Without turning her head, Eva watched the vampire through her blood sight. She hadn’t so much as moved when Eva cut open her skin. There had to be a smell. Probably a good one at that, given how often Serena mentioned scent around Eva.

But her muscles were dead. Indistinguishable from an actual corpse.

Shaking her head, Eva used her blood magic to drive the nails into the wall near Juliana’s hands.

The act of shaking her head sent Eva wobbling slightly. She quickly caught herself, but the light-headed sensation stuck around.

She really needed another vacation. A real one this time.

But this was Brakket. No rest for anyone, wicked or not.

Really, she didn’t need Juliana’s help to hang the blankets. She could have held up the blankets at the same time as she used her magic to attach them. Having Juliana help her gave them an excuse to interact. It also kept Juliana from standing around awkwardly while Eva worked.

Though, with her suitcase only partially unpacked, she could have finished with that.

Oh well.

“You said that your family was staying in a house?” That might be a good reason why she hadn’t taken the Brakket Academy flight. It didn’t account for the hour at which they were traveling, but maybe with multiple people able to drive, they had just taken shifts.

Juliana gave a clipped nod as she held up the other corner of the blanket. “They wanted me to stay with them as well. I refused. My brother and father have only got more overbearing since Zagan showed up wondering why I wasn’t going to school anymore. I need a little space.”

“Doesn’t your mother need like… physical therapy or something?”

“She’ll be in bed, chairs, or her wheelchair for almost the entirety of the school year. Exercising is going to be very important. The doctors gave a list of things for her to do and how often to do them. They weren’t all that happy with her decision to come here. But… well, you know how headstrong she can be.”

“I doubt that someone who can throw down with Arachne would be stopped by a few doctors,” Eva said with a firm nod of her head. That nod gave way to a sorry sigh.

“Where is Arachne anyway?” Juliana asked as they moved over to the second window.

Eva did not miss the careful pace and neutral tone that she used. She looked off to the side, pointedly avoiding a glance in Eva’s direction.

During her visit earlier in the year, Eva had ensured that Juliana and Arachne would not cross paths. It just seemed to be a poor idea for the two of them to meet, given that Arachne was technically responsible for Genoa’s current condition.

Now, at least she wouldn’t have to worry about that.

“Arachne died. Her head exploded when nun lightning hit it.”

Juliana’s head snapped over to look at Eva with wide eyes. For a moment, she just stared. After that moment, she walked over to Eva and wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a loose hug.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’d say that I am fine. I’m not sure if that would be the truth or not. But it really doesn’t matter,” Eva added with a shake of her head. “I can’t just stop living because Arachne isn’t around. Besides, she’ll be back eventually.”

There was a short exhale from Juliana before she spoke. “How long?”

“No idea. Another month. Maybe a year. Ten? Fifty? I don’t know how a demon’s death truly works. The carnivean was back in a few months. So was the succubus that had her head crushed by Prax. The last time I asked Arachne about it, she told me that her previous death had been at least a few decades.”

“That’s… a long time.”

Eva half chuckled. “Yeah. You could say that.” Ducking out from Juliana’s hug, she tore the covers off Shalise’s bed. “Let’s get this other window covered before the sun comes up.”

While Juliana lifted up the blanket, Eva formed another four blood spikes.

They weren’t very large, but her headache was worsening. Between the transference circle, two feedings for Serena, and these spikes, it was starting to add up. Though it was now nearly five days ago, the blood she had packaged up for the vampires was probably adding to her anemia as well.

She doubled down on her thought to take a few days for a real vacation. A little rest and recuperation.

“What’s with us being in dorm three-one-seven? I thought they had split us up when I came back, but then I saw all your things lying around.”

“Ah, you missed all the excitement. Long story short, room three-thirteen got connected to my domain. The school gave us the room. However, with Shalise in another plane of existence and you officially dropping out of school—something I’m glad to see you got reversed—I was the sole owner of the room.

“That alone shouldn’t have been enough to allow me to link my domain. Not to mention the fact that I don’t know how to do that. Ylva thinks that it was the enigmas trying to push through into Earth that ended up making the connection. She showed me how to close it, but Martina felt that I should reside in a different room that had her name listed as an owner as well.”

“Sounds complicated.”

Eva gave a slight snort. “Yeah. Annoying as well.”

“Speaking about Shalise, how is she?”

“Presumably, she’s alright.”

“Presumably?”

“She’s not in Hell. Prax is out of her head.”

“Well,” Juliana said as the second nail pinned both upper corners of the blanket to the wall, “that’s good. I’m not seeing the presumably yet.”

“Lynn Cross kidnapped her and I have no idea where they are. They were camping out in some woods on the other side of the world, but they could have easily moved since then. I’ll ask Nel to check the next time I’m around. Which will probably be as soon as we’re done with this.”

As she spoke, Eva sent the last two nails into the bottom two corners. It probably didn’t need the bottom pinned to the wall, but she didn’t want to risk the ventilation kicking up the blanket and letting the sun in while Serena was unawares.

Speaking of, Eva thought as she turned from the windows.

Moving up to Serena, Eva knelt down at her side. The vampire’s stillness was unnatural at the best of times. At the moment, it was actually starting to creep Eva out.

“Hey,” Eva said as she placed a hand on Serena’s shoulder.

The vampire flinched back. It was slight, but enough for Eva to pull her hand back.

Even with the slight start, Eva pressed on. “Are you alright?”

“Fine.”

Eva frowned at the clipped answer. Obviously, she wasn’t fine. In fact, most times someone said that they were fine, it meant that they didn’t want to talk about whatever was bothering them. She had just about done the same to Juliana when asked about Arachne.

Still, Eva could respect not wanting to talk about certain things. Her sudden loss of control was probably something personal. A vampire thing that she just wanted to not think about.

That didn’t mean that she had to leave her entirely alone. “Can I get you anything?” Eva hesitated for just a moment before continuing. “I could probably spare some more blood if you needed.”

She didn’t really want to. Eva very much enjoyed her blood inside her own body and no one else’s. Unless, of course, she was about to explode said other person. She had no plans to do so to Serena at the moment.

Though, with her stomach already half full of Eva’s blood, she could put the vampire down if she went berserk again. Eva hoped that it wouldn’t come to that, but the possibility was there if it was needed.

If shedding another half-pint of blood could help prevent a rampage through the dorms and needing to obliterate the blood within the vampire’s body, Eva would gladly hand some over.

But Serena just shook her head. “No. I think I’ll sleep today away.” She looked up to Eva, the first real motion since she had propped herself up against the desk. With a sorry smile, she said, “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to accompany you.”

“That’s fine.” Eva put on a hopefully comforting smile as she stood up. “You’re free to stay here for the day. Use my bed, the one you’re leaning against, if you want.”

“Thanks. I think I will.”

So she said, but Serena glanced back to the floor, resuming her unmoving pose.

With a mental shrug, Eva turned to face Juliana. She didn’t have a chance to speak for Juliana opened her mouth.

“I’m coming with you,” Juliana said, trying as hard as she could to not look at Serena. “I can unpack later,” she said with a glance towards the open suitcase. “I want to know what’s going on as well. And I’m sure mom will want to find out sooner rather than later. Were it not for Zagan, I’m sure my father would have turned the car around the moment he saw the investigation notices.”

Eva nodded towards the door. “No sense wasting time then.”

Juliana didn’t need further urging. She pulled a light sweater out of her suitcase and slipped it on as she walked out of the room.

With one last look at Serena, Eva followed her out.

Hopefully nothing bad would come of leaving her alone in the dormitories.

Together, Juliana and Eva walked in silence. Given both the early hour and the fact that it was summer, not many other students were out and around the academy. They found no one on the stairs and, once they arrived outside, found no one wandering around the campus.

The silence lasted up until the two reached the sidewalks outside the dormitory.

“Vampire–” “So you–”

Both girls’ mouths snapped shut as they turned to each other.

After a moment of silence, Eva smiled and shook her head.

“You first.”

“Just to make sure that I heard you correctly, that vampire is friends with our professors?”

“Yeah. I don’t exactly know how that came about, but they’re familiar enough that Serena gave Zoe a hug and Zoe returned the hug.”

“Huh,” Juliana said with a frown. “Not really what I would have expected.”

“Like I said, she’s normally a lot nicer than you saw. Teleporting had some adverse effects, I guess.”

“I meant Zoe. Friends with a vampire? Not really something I’d picture given all of mother’s stories about vampires.”

Eva shrugged. Her only real experience with other vampires were those in Idaho. They had been half threatened into playing nice, so their behavior probably wasn’t all that typical. And, even before they had been threatened, they had been under the impression that Eva and Nel were some kind of servants owned by Serena.

“But you were saying that Zagan kept you from going to a different school? That seems nice of him.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from Eva’s side. After a quick stumble, all of Juliana’s blood fled from her body to concentrate around her face and ears. Her ripe tomato impression was going exceedingly well, but it was somewhat worrying.

“Are you alright?” Eva couldn’t help but to ask.

“Fine,” she said with a forced cough. “Just swallowed a bug down the wrong pipe.”

Eva frowned. Bugs had blood. Granted, they weren’t something that Eva normally paid attention to. With it pointed out, she tried looking and couldn’t see anything that might have gotten caught in her throat.

“If you’re sure…”

“Yeah. Zagan,” she paused to cough again. “When he helped out in Willie’s domain, we had a sort of agreement about me leaving the school. Or not leaving it.”

“An agreement with Zagan?”

That didn’t sound good. He hadn’t really done anything to do permanent harm to Eva. Though, after their conversation before her treatment, she now believed that to solely be because of her unique position as a ‘non-template’ demon. Juliana didn’t have any such insurance.

“It isn’t anything big,” Juliana said, face as red as before. “But it is a bit personal.”

Eva waited, but Juliana fell silent and did not continue. Whatever it was, she wasn’t going to elaborate if she didn’t have to.

Taking a deep breath, Eva said, “I just–”

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“That only makes me worry more. Zagan is a powerful demon who essentially wants for nothing. If he wants something from you, it’s all the scarier.”

“I know what he wants.”

Again, Eva waited to see if Juliana would explain.

She didn’t.

“So,” Juliana said after a few moments of awkward silence, “Sawyer’s dead?”

Though she had to frown at the obvious topic change, Eva nodded her head. “As far as I can tell. He was a necromancer, so I’ve been expecting all kinds of ways he could have cheated death. Nothing has popped up so far. Though, he only died last night. Maybe it will take a little longer.

“He also died in Hell. Are there reapers in Hell? Anyone to go around and collect his soul?” Eva mused, mostly to herself. Maybe he was floating around, plan foiled and trapped within her domain because he was on a whole other plane of existence from where he had probably planned on dying. “Then there was the fact that he died telling me that I should have killed him when I had the chance.”

“That’s not ominous.”

“Definitely not,” Eva said as she turned down a street a ways away from the Brakket Academy campus.

Living in a small city was actually kind of nice. Everything was in walking distance of everything else. Technically, most everything in Florida was within walking distance if she blinked around constantly. As long as she didn’t care about maintaining a low profile, getting seen wasn’t even an issue.

The apartment building that Ylva, Nel, and Zoe lived in was closer than most buildings to the academy. A few other teachers lived in it as well, the ones that didn’t own an actual house around Brakket.

As Eva stared up at it, she wondered just where Wayne lived. She had never had a reason to visit him at his home, but was fairly certain that he didn’t live in the apartment building. He probably had a home somewhere, but with the ability to freely teleport, he could live on the other side of the country if he really wanted to.

Whatever the case was with Wayne, Eva didn’t really care. It was just a momentary thought. She had no reason to visit him and didn’t want a reason to do so.

Taking the stairs up to the third floor, Eva found herself frowning.

The room up above that had previously held that overexcited woman was not empty. Neither the woman nor her companion were inside. Something else definitely was.

Something familiar.

Being nothing but densely packed tendrils, Lucy had something of an odd circulatory system no matter how she looked on the outside. Because of that, she was extraordinarily distinctive. Eva could pick her out of a crowd made up of demons and humans far easier than anyone else.

And there above Eva was Lucy.

Trying to reach out and detect her with her sense of demons failed entirely.

Some kind of ward?

That was the only explanation that Eva could come up with. Lucy was still alive. If only just. Her tentacles were moving ever so slightly. Perhaps she was drugged.

With how much blood was splattered around the room, it could be that she was just about dead.

Shaking her head, Eva started sprinting up the stairs, past the third floor.

She paused just long enough to turn to Juliana. “Room three-oh-four. Ylva should be inside with Nel and Zoe.” Eva could see all three of them through her sense of blood. “Let Ylva know that Lucy is upstairs in the room of that woman I warned her about. She’s injured.”

Without waiting to see if Juliana would do as she had asked, Eva continued her sprint upstairs.

Eva had already lost Arachne. She wasn’t such good friends with Lucy, but she didn’t want to lose her as well.

Reaching the door, Eva didn’t hesitate in jamming her dagger into her arm. Smearing a ring of blood around the deadbolt and handle, she stepped back. Even her blood should be strong enough to take out a wooden door.

Eva clapped her hands.

Her blood vanished with a flash of light.

Blinking away the spots in her eyes, she found the door to be entirely unharmed. Not even a scratch.

Undaunted, Eva lifted one leg into the air.

The door might be impervious to magical harm. Maybe mundane as well. The wall right around the handle had streaks of unpainted plaster filling in some gap. It clearly had been repaired recently. It likely wouldn’t have the same protections.

With all of her might, Eva kicked out her leg into the wall.

Shards of drywall, wood splinters, and dust filled the air as her foot went clean through the wall. Suppressing a cough, Eva jerked her foot back as fast as she could. Just in case something was on the other side.

Waving her hand to clear the dust from the air, Eva peeked through the hole.

Lucy was lying in the center of the room, unformed, within a set of glowing shackles. Tentacles had been removed from her main mass. Bits of Lucy were spread around, some in piles while others were scattered around the room. Furniture had been shoved aside to make room for all of the drawings on the floor.

“Hold on Lucy. I’m here,” Eva said as she reached through the hole she had made.

Fumbling around, she eventually managed to flick open the locks on the door. There was a chain set in place, but whatever enchantments had been placed on the door itself did not apply to it. At least, not all of it. With a grasp and a pull, the chain came off the wall.

She had expected the chain itself to break, but it was the latch attached to the wall that actually came apart.

Door unlocked, Eva swung it open.

Being able to see the room in full view did not make the sight any better. In fact, it was worse. Most of Lucy was not part of her anymore. As she stood at the threshold of the door, one of Lucy’s tendrils lifted in the air.

Lucy was obviously trying to fight it, but her fight wasn’t going so well. She either lacked the strength or whatever was lifting the tentacle was just too strong.

The tendril went taut. For just a moment, it held steady.

With a light popping noise, the tendril snapped off Lucy’s main body. It went flying, smacking against a wall where it slid down to the floor. Black blood splattered everywhere both around Lucy and against the wall.

This had to stop soon. Lucy couldn’t take much more of it.

Eva just about took a step into the room.

A faint glow at her feet held her up short.

There were more shackles carved into the entryway linoleum.

More than shackles.

Despite her associations, Eva was not a diabolist. She didn’t consider herself one and doubted that she knew enough to be considered anything other than an amateur. Still, she had something of an education from Devon. Whatever was on the floor, it would definitely do more than just trap demons. She couldn’t tell exactly what it would do, but it would be painful.

Gritting her teeth, Eva froze and watched as another of Lucy’s tentacles started lifting up into the air.

Juliana better get here soon.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.018

<– Back | Index | Next –>

It took most of the rest of the day for Eva to finally shake herself out of her stupor. After having a few minutes to calm down, Lucy’s domain probably hadn’t been the worst thing ever. It was close, but not the worst.

The tentacles weren’t even that bad. Eva could stand tentacles. That monster covered in holes on the other hand…

Another shudder wracked Eva’s body at the thought. Whatever it was, Eva wouldn’t mind never seeing it again.

At the moment, Eva was assuming both the tentacles and the monster–if they were even separate entities–to be a part of Lucy’s domain. Some constructs that she had created. Perhaps out of a desire for company, she had created a companion that was like her self and another that was the inverse of herself.

But if they weren’t created by Lucy… if they were attackers or invaders, then Lucy should probably be made aware of their presence. It could be a new type of enigma. Or even another demon. Whatever the case was, Eva hoped that Lucy wouldn’t be too upset with the brief tour of her domain that she had taken.

As unnerving as the domain had been, Lucy was still a genuinely decent demon to interact with. Sure, she was a bit strange, but who among Eva’s acquaintances wasn’t at least a little abnormal.

“I think I’m alright now.”

Eva turned her head from the window of her alternate women’s ward. Watching the sand and the dark sea had been a calming sort of meditation. But now, duty called.

One of those strange acquaintances stood in the doorway to the bedroom, rubbing the back of her neck. Eva couldn’t rank exactly how strange; Serena was either a highly ranked oddity or a fairly normal person with a few eccentricities. The fact that Eva couldn’t decide probably meant that she deserved a higher ranking than Eva was giving her credit for.

More important than some arbitrary rank of strangeness was the notion that perhaps they were more than simple acquaintances now. They had just gone on a long road trip and fought together. The fighting part had actually happened twice now.

A quick crack echoed through the air, interrupting Eva’s line of thought.

Serena had her head twisted to one side. One hand was on the back of her head while the other gripped her chin. As Eva watched, she twisted her head to the other side, releasing another sharp crack. Rolling her head from side to side, the vampire gave a short nod.

“Much better.”

“I’m glad to see you on your feet again. You had me worried for a while.”

Hands dropping to her hips, Serena put on a grin that wouldn’t be out of place on a child that had just learned that they were off to The Happiest Place On Earth.

Eva had never actually been to any amusement parks despite living most of her life only a stone’s throw away from two of the largest ones. She had, however, attended public schooling. Other classmates would often talk about their recent or upcoming vacations. As such, she had plenty of experience in recognizing that particular look.

“Aww,” Serena cooed. “I’m so happy that you were worrying for me.”

Ignoring the blood that she both saw and felt as it rushed to her cheeks, Eva just put on a small smile of her own. “Careful. Things work differently down here. Your inflated ego might just literally make your head balloon up.”

The vampire gave a light snort of laughter as she walked up to the window. All that was outside was sand, water, and the empty black sky.

“So this is Hell, huh? A lot less fire and brimstone than I had pictured.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of areas full of brimstone. As for fire, well, you missed Sawyer’s body being incinerated. It was quite the spectacular show.”

“If it is all the same to you, I’d prefer not being around too much fire.”

“Fair enough,” Eva said as she took a good look at Serena.

Despite her neck having been crooked not long ago, she couldn’t see anything wrong either externally or internally. Well, nothing wrong aside from the fact that Serena was dead to her sense of blood. Interestingly enough, Eva couldn’t sense any blood within her stomach. Given that the other vampires who had partaken in the drinking of her blood had still had some remaining even a few days later, it was something to note. Perhaps consuming the blood had assisted in her healing.

Rather than wallow in ignorance, Eva shook her head and decided to just ask.

“You’re fully healed then?”

“Mostly,” Serena said as she cricked her neck back and forth, eliciting two sharp snaps at either extreme. “I can’t say that having my neck broken like that is one of my more pleasant experiences as a vampire.”

“I imagine not. You did recover fast. Was that thanks to my blood?”

The vampire gave a slow nod as she licked the edges of her lips. “Blood always accelerates healing. I wasn’t really in a state to tell if your blood made healing faster or slower than normal. And,” she licked her lips again, “I wasn’t even in a lucid enough state to enjoy it.”

Serena reached one hand behind her neck and started rubbing. “I don’t think I’m quite healed all the way. I’m sure a little more blood would get that taken care of in the blink of an eye.”

Eva fixed the vampire with a mild glare. Her tone indicated a jest, but her eyes had a hungry glint in them.

“Maybe another time,” Eva said slowly. “Between feeding you and the blood I shed for the transference circle, I’m about a pint away from real lethargy and headaches.”

Serena stuck out her lips in a pout. The hunger behind her puppy-dog eyes really betrayed the effect.

Eva ignored the vampire. She gave a quick glance towards a watch that she had borrowed. It should be plenty dark out at the real women’s ward building.

“If you’re ready, we can head back to the real world.”

“So soon?” Serena turned from Eva to look back out the window. “Nothing to explore around Hell?”

It took a force of will to suppress a light shudder. “Not much, I’m afraid. You can see a full half of my domain from where we stand. The other half isn’t all that different. Visiting other demons’ domains is not a good idea.”

“What about the other demon? The big red one?”

“Prax?” Eva shrugged. “You could talk to him I guess, but he might be up on Earth soon enough. He’d be available for talking then, I’d imagine.”

Serena’s smile and general happy demeanor took a downward turn partway through Eva’s explanation. “Wayne will probably be quite upset with me for going on our little vacation. He’s left me be for the past while, but this will probably change that. I’ll have to go back home once he finds me.”

“What,” Eva started with a frown, “he locks you up or something?”

“I’m free to do whatever I want.” Serena’s voice was firm. “He doesn’t like things that could draw attention to his sister. I’ll comply with his demands, even if I’d rather do something else. Wayne, Zoe, and Sarah helped me out of more than a few sticky situations in the past decade or so. It’s the least I can do to repay them.”

Eva crossed her arms as she shifted her weight to one foot. The other foot started tapping lightly on the ground as her frown deepened.

That wasn’t fair. She had just started to like Serena. Now Wayne was going to drag her off?

Eva’s foot ceased tapping as a thought occurred to her. “How about if I give you something to draw out inside your house that will let me teleport to you? Then we could at least see each other once in a while. It can be attuned to me specifically, so no one else will be able to use it.”

If she had a gate room in her house, Eva could teleport there quite easily. With her new cellphone that she had liberated from the traitorous vampire, they could probably keep in touch at the very least.

“Maybe,” she said with a solemn nod of her head. “I’ll have to clear it with Wayne. It is his house.”

That ruined Eva’s bettering mood. Wayne did not particularly like her, she could tell. “Maybe speaking about it with Zoe first would be for the best?”

“She would be in a better position to convince him than I am.” Serena shifted, smiling again. “In the mean time, mind if I speak with this Prax guy? It is a rare occasion that I get to meet such fascinating creatures and I didn’t get much conversation in with the demons at your little party the other day.”

Eva shrugged. With a second glance at her watch, she said, “I’m sure you can spend a while talking. There are a good few hours before daybreak.”

“Splendid!” Serena said, already half out the door.

Eva hadn’t mentioned where Prax was, but it wouldn’t surprise her to find that a vampire could sniff him out.

In the mean time, it gave Eva the opportunity to clean up those enigma carcasses.

Hopefully, she and Serena would be gone before any more showed up. Without either of them here, things would go back to how they were with only Prax around.

“You stole my truck.”

Eva had just finished setting Serena down on the ground when Devon charged into the room.

His face lined in a scowl did not give him a happy look. He took two menacing steps forward, sending Eva backwards an equal number of steps.

“And you didn’t bring it back.”

“There’s a very good reason for all of that,” Eva said, holding up her hands in front of her. “And I have to go back for it anyway.”

Though she wished she could leave it behind. When she had considered the idea of having Zoe teleport her out to the motel to pick up the things that she had left behind, Eva had not even considered the truck. It would be so much easier if she could teleport out and teleport back. If Serena didn’t come along, they would be able to drive back during the daytime. That would probably cut the travel time down to a day and a half at the very most, depending on how many stops they made.

Convincing Zoe to teleport Eva out there was one thing. It would take a half hour at most to gather the book and other things that had been left. Zoe wouldn’t have needed to stay. Eva could teleport herself back without assistance.

Convincing her to teleport out there and then return by car might be a good deal more difficult.

But that was a concern for at least a half hour from now.

Eva had an angry Devon to placate before then.

“You stole it in the first place, didn’t you?”

“That’s beside the point,” he snapped. “How am I supposed to cart things around without my truck?”

“Get a new one then. It can’t be that hard to steal another truck. Look how easy it was to steal yours.”

Behind Eva, Serena pressed a hand to her mouth as she started shaking in silent humor. The silent part did not last long, but Devon didn’t even move as the soft giggles filled the air.

Eva ignored the vampire. Serena was probably making herself invisible to his senses or some other thing that Eva wished she could do.

“And, it was for a good cause.”

“I am not a charity.”

“Sawyer is dead.”

There was a pause. Devon pulled back from his slightly threatening stance to stand straight up. For almost a full minute, he stared. His dark eyes bored into hers.

“I don’t even know who that is.”

Eva let out a long sigh, ignoring the vampire’s outburst of giggles. “He’s the necromancer. You know, the one that stabbed me in the back, cut off my fingers, and gouged out my eyes?”

Realization dawned across Devon’s lightly scarred face. “Ah. He had a name?”

“I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve told you before.”

Devon waved his tentacle off to one side. “Lots of people tell me lots of names. I can’t be bothered to remember them all.”

“Sawyer was kind of important.”

“To you.”

Eva glared. Sawyer had been a personal target for a number of reasons, but that didn’t mean that everyone else didn’t also benefit from his death. He wouldn’t attack Brakket Academy again, Devon wouldn’t have to worry about her getting a cursed dagger in her back, Nel was safe, and, most of all, he was no longer doing anything with enigmas. She might have gone to Hell a few times, but that was nothing compared to the number of enigmas that Sawyer had.

If Devon and Ylva’s theories were correct, that could only be a good thing.

But Eva didn’t give voice to her thoughts. Were she speaking to Zoe or Wayne, she would have. They might have listened and changed their opinion. She knew Devon too well. He wouldn’t care much about any of her reasonings. Brakket and Nel could burn for all he cared, Eva wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked if she didn’t stick her neck out, and… well, he might be concerned about Hell. At the moment, Eva couldn’t say whether he cared more about that or his truck.

With a exasperated sigh, Eva shook her head. “I don’t suppose you know if Zoe is back from her trip? She can help recover your truck.” Eva paused, waiting for an answer. A thought occurred to her before Devon could respond. “Zoe is a professor at Brakket Academy. She’s got brown hair down to the bottom of her chin, wears a suit most of the time, and spends a lot of time here–”

“I know who she is,” Devon snapped.

“Good! Is she back yet?”

“How should I know? I’m not her minder.” He turned away, sinking his hands—rather, his hand and his tentacle—into the pockets of his long coat. Eva followed him out into the common room with Serena at her back. “Though, someone was skulking about the place yesterday.”

“Who?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t go check. Someone you know. Unless your wards in this place have failed again.”

“They haven’t.” Eva could say that with certainty. Based on her own blood, the wards in the prison were essentially an extension of herself. She could feel them wrapping around her and everything else around.

So, perhaps Zoe had shown up. Who else would have visited her? Catherine, Ylva, Zagan, and everyone else that Eva could think up would have known that she was off on a road trip. Except Wayne.

He wouldn’t have been looking for Eva. Serena would have been his target.

But if they were back, that was good news. She would have to have Nel find Zoe.

When she had dropped Nel off at the gate within her new dormitory room at Brakket Academy, she had asked the augur to see if she could find out where Des was. Whether that meant actually being able to see her or merely a dark spot, Eva really didn’t care. Asking her to find Zoe had slipped her mind.

Going to Nel would cut down on a lot of intermediary nonsense. Then she could be off to grab Devon’s stupid truck and the rest of her things. Getting it out of the way would be for the best.

“Bring my damn truck back or I swear…” He trailed off with a sorry shake of his head. “Just bring it back. It’s a pain to move things around by hand.”

“What are you moving around?”

“Chalk, mostly. I’ve been going through a lot of it lately. Buying in bulk is much easier than small boxes of sticks.”

“For ritual circles?” Eva asked. Receiving a clipped nod in response, she let out a short hum. “Still working with Catherine?”

Devon narrowed his eyes. “Haven’t seen it in a day or so. Something going on at the city. But the succubus has the occasional decent idea and knows its way around a ritual circle.”

“Better be careful. That could almost be interpreted as praise for a demon.”

Harrumphing, Devon stormed up to the door. “Just get my truck back.”

Eva did not follow him as he left the women’s ward. Rather, she went back to her room and placed the cursed dagger on top of her dresser. It was far too dangerous to just carry around anywhere she went. If the stone-like sheath ever failed, it would be far too easy to get accidentally cursed by its blade.

As she placed it on top of her dresser, she let out a short sigh of disappointment.

She hadn’t even had the chance to use it on Sawyer. After torturing him, that was how she had wanted to end his life. A certain cruel irony. He had stolen even that from her.

“So,” Serena said from the doorway. She couldn’t actually step into the room as it ran off separate wards that only Eva and Arachne were keyed into. “What do you suppose is going on back at the city? That demon seemed far too excited about the rituals to skip researching them for anything small.”

Eva raised an eyebrow as she slung off her backpack. There were still a few vials of demon blood left, including one from Zagan. That was a nice positive. It was always good to have a supply of quality blood.

With the load off her back, Eva focused on Serena’s question. “Nothing good, I bet.” Far from it, in fact. Hopefully it wouldn’t be another mass attack. “This is Brakket City after all. At least whatever is causing the disturbance isn’t Sawyer. Probably.”

“Probably?”

“He died too easily. There has to be some last minute middle finger to the face. Maybe he set up some plague or zombie apocalypse to go off in Brakket in the event of his death.”

“You seem… calm about that prospect.”

“Brakket has been attacked once or twice before. With all the demons running around, I’d be surprised if whatever situation that had cropped up wasn’t already resolved. Aside from that, I did drop Nel off at Brakket and didn’t see any fires outside the dormitory window. It can’t be that bad.

“Still, I suppose that I should go check it out.”

“You can’t leave me behind,” Serena said with a half pout. Her tone lost its playfulness and became far more serious. “If something has happened and Wayne is in trouble, I should be at his side right away.”

Eva turned to glance outside, but the thick blankets covering the windows of the common room impeded her efforts. She still knew roughly what time it was. Her watch worked fine whether the windows were covered or not.

“It will be daylight soon.” Her and Prax’s conversation had occupied much of the night.

“I am aware, but I still can’t do nothing. If the sun does rise, I will be able to find some closet to hide away in.”

“If you’re sure.” Eva couldn’t claim to have spent too much effort in saving Serena from the haugbui, but it would still be somewhat depressing if she just went and accidentally burned to death in the sunlight after all they had been through.

“Do you have a quick way of moving about? I was planning on teleporting to the gate in my dorm room. I’d offer you a ride, but the last human I brought with me looked like they had fallen into an industrial grade paper shredder. You aren’t human, but I still don’t know how pleasant it would be.”

“That human lived, right?”

Hesitating ever so slightly, Eva nodded her head. “Yes.”

“I’ll be fine. Besides,” she paused for just a moment to lick her lips, “if I do wind up severely injured…”

“Then I’ll throw you in some closet while I take a look around,” Eva said with a false smile. Deliberately injuring herself just to get some blood was less than endearing. She probably would give Serena blood if it came down to it, but she wouldn’t have to like it.

“So meaan.”

“Yep. Now come here, hold on tight, and don’t let go.”

Serena came up to Eva and wrapped her arms around in a tight hug. Slightly shorter than Eva, her head was nuzzled right beneath Eva’s chin. She drew in a deep breath through her nose.

For a moment, Eva worried that she might bite down. She didn’t, but it was still somewhat creepy.

Gathering her magic, Eva teleported.

The familiar screams and meat grinding filled Eva’s head. She waited with clenched teeth, preparing for and expecting the incineration of her non-chitinous flesh. It and the fact that she needed an exit gate were really the only two downsides to her method of teleportation.

So long as she had a gate, it was far superior to Zoe and Wayne’s teleportation.

As the teleportation continued, Eva realized that something was off. There was pain. Not much, but it was there. Rather than her flesh burning off until there was nothing left but bones, boils formed on her skin. They spread, charring the skin until it flaked off like ash. Muscles were exposed without the skin.

The effect didn’t go much deeper than that. It tried, but the pain just slid off her muscles.

It also afforded her a good view of her muscles. Much like her tongue, they had darkened considerably since the last time that she had teleported. Not quite to the same black void that her blood was at, but a very definite dark gray.

Until she had teleported with Lynn Cross, Eva had thought that all the pain and effects that she experienced during teleportations were mere illusions. When she emerged from the teleportation, she was always undamaged.

After seeing Lynn’s flayed body, she had altered that theory. What she was seeing was most likely real. Were she to slice off strips of her skin in the real world, she imagined that she would find the same sight.

As long as her body continued to function, Eva didn’t much care that the insides had changed colors. Devon might find it interesting. She made a mental note to tell him the next time she saw him.

Turning her attention to Serena, Eva found the vampire holding it together much better than Lynn had. Her skin was trying to fall apart and burn off, but with her teeth grit together hard enough to give worry for their integrity, Serena managed to overpower the damage through her vampiric healing.

It wouldn’t last forever. Small chunks of flesh flew off from her body to join with the fleshy walls of the teleportation tunnel around them. Every piece that managed to escape her body was ever so slightly larger than the previous one.

Lucky for Serena, she didn’t have to last forever. Not even half of forever.

Just as Eva was wondering what was taking the teleport so long compared to normal, the flesh walls and screams vanished. They both reappeared at the foot of Eva’s bed within her new dorm room.

Serena collapsed to her knees immediately. All the strength that she had been using to hold on to Eva vanished. The only reason that she wasn’t gasping for breath was because she was a vampire. She had as much need for oxygen as Eva had need for blood.

For drinking blood, that is.

Aside from small chunks of flesh missing from around her body, Serena looked mostly fine.

Looked.

There was definitely something wrong.

Her head turned upwards with a sharp snap. All of the barely concealed hunger that Eva had felt from the vampire ever since they had first met was on full display. Her lips pulled back to reveal sharp fangs hanging out of her wide open mouth.

“Whoa.”

Both Eva and Serena snapped their heads to look at the source of the voice on the opposite side of the room.

Juliana stood next to her bed, gaping open mouthed at the vampire.

Through her blood sight, Eva saw the vampire’s muscles tense.

She didn’t wait around to see what would happen. Swinging her arm down, Eva gripped the vampire by the throat. She threw her entire weight behind slamming the vampire down against the floor.

Closing her eyes to avoid any hypnotism or mind tricks, Eva pulled her dagger out of its sheath with the hand not around Serena’s throat and plunged it into her shoulder. Blood streamed straight through the vampire’s mouth and into her stomach. After about a pint of blood was inside the vampire, Eva cut off the flow and focused entirely on keeping Serena pinned to the ground.

If it looked even a little bit like she would break loose, Eva fully intended to break the vampire’s neck. She had survived it once, she could do so again.

Eva watched through her sense of blood as the vampire’s struggles died off. After a minute or two, she was lying still on the floor as her wounds healed up.

“Sorry,” the voice came out as a whisper. Barely audible even to Eva despite being only a few inches away.

Eyes still closed, Eva asked, “Can I let you go without you attacking anyone?”

“Yeah,” Serena said, not moving anything save her mouth. “I just–I don’t think it is a good idea to teleport with you on an empty stomach.”

“Fair enough.” Eva almost commented on how she had a bunch of blood just about twenty-four hours ago, but most of that had probably gone to healing her neck.

Slowly, she pulled away from the vampire. Eva’s eyes were still closed, just in case it was some kind of trick.

It didn’t seem to be.

The vampire was on the ground, arms and legs spread out as she stared up at the ceiling.

Eva moved a full step away and the vampire still hadn’t moved.

“Are you alright?”

“Give me a minute. I’ll be fine.” She let out a soft chuckle without otherwise moving. “I was hoping that your teleport wouldn’t leave me lying on the ground.” There was a slight pause before her voice dropped to a whisper again. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. You didn’t hurt me or–” Eva glanced up to find Juliana fully encased in metal armor. The only holes were a few slits around her mouth and eyes. “I thought you were going to a school in Switzerland or something.”

“Scotland.” Her voice came muffled through her helmet. “Talking it over with my father and mother, we decided that Brakket would be the best choice. But…”

Juliana’s head tipped downwards to look at the fallen vampire.

“Juliana, meet Serena. Serena, Juliana.”

“Charmed,” Serena said without taking her gaze off the ceiling.

“Uh huh. Umm, what–”

“A vampire.”

Juliana took a step back. Her heart started beating beneath the thick armor coating her body.

“She’s normally pretty nice,” Eva said with a shrug.

“That’s… Um… Don’t let my mom find out.”

“Oh, is she up and about?”

That would be good news to hear. Eva genuinely liked Genoa and honestly wished that Arachne hadn’t done what she had.

“Wheelchair,” Juliana said softly. “She, my father, and my brother are all staying in a home out on the outskirts of the city. Bought it for dirt cheap I guess. They’re all living in separate rooms.” Shaking her head, Juliana looked back towards Serena. “She isn’t a student, is she?”

“Despite her looks, she’s old enough to be your grandmother. A little past school age.”

“I’m sixteen,” Serena said through grit teeth as she pushed herself to a sitting position. She gave a clipped glance towards Juliana before scooting backwards so that her back was resting against the drawers of Eva’s desk. “Friend of yours?”

Eva put on a proud smile. “Yep.” Turning her head towards Juliana, Eva said, “and she’ll never guess what we did over the past few days.”

“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”

“No,” Eva said slowly, her smile slipping. “Well, I mean… I killed a vampire. And then was probably responsible for six more vampires dying. And then someone died who I wanted to murder. I don’t think that counts though.”

“You didn’t kill anyone around here though.”

Eva blinked. That was something of a strange question. “Should I have?”

“Two of Brakket’s security guards were killed. I thought that you might have gone after whoever did it.”

“Which two?” Eva asked with narrowed eyes.

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Author’s Note: Minor note in the comments again, mostly for supporters. Thanks everyone for reading and stuff!


007.017

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Through a thin slit in a heavy metal door, Eva watched as Sawyer’s body turned to ash in a high intensity fire. Bright orange light bathed over everything around, even though the only exit for the light was the small slit that Eva watched through.

Copying the women’s ward a second time had given Eva plenty of space to create a makeshift kiln. Every scrap of Sawyer’s body was inside except for the finger that Eva had kept. Even the shards of teeth that he had spat out onto the floor.

There were still bloodstains on the floor of the alternate women’s ward, but those would be easy to take care of with some focused fire.

Eva was not willing to take the chance that he had left any surprises for anyone that might kill him. Whether that be coming back as a lich or simply some delayed zombification, it didn’t matter. Eva would be raising the intensity of her flames until not even dust remained.

The heat started with his hair. His skin blistered over, turning charcoal black. Or, just to charcoal. The muscles, soft organs, and other tissues were next. They charred over and were vaporized in the flames. The remaining skeleton started calcifying, becoming brittle and crumbling in on itself. Using a long rod, Eva shoved the remains around. Chunks of bone were still too large. Pushing everything together allowed her to focus the heat in a condensed spot.

And what a heat it was.

Though she considered herself to be quite resistant to the heat, even Eva had her limits. She stood behind one of the metal doors from the alternate women’s ward to help shield her from the heat. It was still leaking through, heating the metal before it radiated out to her, but it was enough of a buffer for the moment.

Outside of her domain, she was mostly sure that she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish such a feat. Though she was much better at her fire magic than she had been even six months ago, this kind of heat was still beyond her. The only way she was able to accomplish it now was thanks to the help of her domain. She wanted the body to burn so burn it would.

Nel stood a short distance behind Eva, well away from the metal door. She was not quite so attuned to the heat. Even the relatively low heat coming off the metal door was a bit much for her.

Since waking up from her little fainting episode, she had calmed down a good deal. Her heart was beating at a regular pace. Eva could almost feel the relief that was emanating from her smile.

Almost.

Sawyer’s passing had gone by too easily. He had been too calm. Too happy.

Like he had intended to die just then.

Eva kept expecting to keel over dead from some disease that he had released from his body specifically for screwing her over. Maybe a poison gas stored in one of his teeth that she had broken or something.

She was hoping that incinerating him would nullify whatever traps he had.

But it had been too easy. Where was his ghost to come possess her? He had to have something. Unless her domain had nullified any threat he might have posed.

Gritting her teeth, Eva put a burst of magic into her flames and turned the remains of his bones to dust.

After holding the flames for a few moments, Eva sagged back away from the door, feeling somewhat exhausted from the burst of magic. She turned to face Nel with a small sigh.

“Your white flames have undead killing properties, right?”

“They’re specialized for vampires, zombies, and liches. Other fleshy things as well.”

“Want to throw a burst of it in the room? There’s nothing left, but I’d rather be sure.”

Nel took a step forward, but stopped with a wince as soon as Eva moved to the side. “It’s really hot,” she said as she backed up a few steps.

“Well, that was the idea.” Eva continued to fuel the flames for a moment more before she ceased channeling her magic. With their source of fuel cut off, the flames died almost instantly.

The heat remained, still radiating off the door.

Eva took a minute to imagine the room as some kind of refrigerator in an attempt to get her domain to cool it faster. Of course, it didn’t work. Her domain only followed her wants when she didn’t actually intend for them to happen.

Though it did build the second alternate women’s ward building, so that was nice of it.

It would be nicer if she could figure out how it worked.

For the time being, Eva just stepped away from the room. “It will be a few minutes,” she said. Nel’s fire probably wouldn’t matter anyway. There was nothing left in the room.

Nel nodded slowly before backing away to the windows. “How are we getting out of this place?”

“When I first came here, Arachne was able to carry me out when she returned with her beacon. I have a beacon at the real women’s ward, so there’s no problem in getting you out.”

The real problem was that a good portion her things were still in the motel in Idaho. Including one of her few books on blood magic.

If Zoe had returned during Eva’s trip, she might be able to teleport to the motel and collect the things. The vampires would probably not be too happy about half their number dying to the haugbui. They might try to collect her things. If they actually destroyed her things, Eva might have a new target to exact vengeance upon. She didn’t have enough blood magic books to lose the one.

Even if it was the one with that horrible sensory sharing spell.

Of course, Des might have brought the haugbui into town as some sort of revenge against the vampires if she was unaware of Eva’s actions. That would depend on there being some sort of communication between Sawyer and Des. If she did go on a crusade against the vampires, it would be nice for Eva. Des wouldn’t know about her hotel room or any of the items within. Unfortunately, returning while the haugbui was still around town could be suicide.

Nel would be able to scry out the place and see. Or not, if Des was still around, but at least they would know one way or the other.

Something to consider once they got back and found out for certain just what was going on. In the meantime, Nel had been saying something that Eva hadn’t been paying attention to in the slightest.

She was standing with her hands clasped in front of her stomach and her face waiting expectantly for an answer.

Eva had no idea what to tell her. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

When are we leaving?”

“As soon as you finish burning the body. I’ll take you back. You’ll need to accept a beacon from me so that I can come back and grab Serena.”

That was another concern. The vampire was still unconscious. On a more positive note, Eva believed that she was not actually dead. The blood within Serena’s stomach had started to move about her body. When she had checked before incinerating Sawyer, there had been no visible signs of healing, but hopefully that would come after a short time.

Nel apparently didn’t hear a word past the first sentence. She stepped around Eva, wincing lightly at the heat still coming off the door. Even still, she walked right up to it with her eyes aglow. Holding her hand a short distance from the slit in the door, she begun to unleash a wave of fire.

Eva took a step back and watched as the room filled with the flames of the Elysium Order.

After Nel pulled her hand away from the door, white fire belched forth from the slit for another few moments before it died off. It was a nice sight to see. Nel had passed out during the torture session, but she looked satisfied with the outcome.

Her hands were down at her side, resting lightly by her hips. The smile on her face was small and content.

Eva decided to smile as well. There was no reason not to aside from that bad feeling about Sawyer. It was probably just a bit of paranoia.

After all, there was nothing left of Sawyer’s body but a finger. Even if he was still alive and wound up possessing his finger–or whatever–Eva really didn’t have anything to fear. What could a finger possibly do to her.

And if he did come back, his finger and the blood contained within could very well be another weapon against him. As much as she had hated it, being able to spy on him had come in quite handy.

“That’s that. Can we go now?”

Eva opened her mouth to respond, but a deeper voice interrupted.

“Not yet.”

Prax stood in the doorway, his entire bulk blocking the way.

Eva eyed him with crossed arms. He didn’t look like he was about to attack, but she only knew of him from Shalise. They had hardly spoken more than twice. Once right after he had been ejected from Shalise and again just before torturing Sawyer. His temperaments, goals, motivations, and everything else were complete unknowns to her.

“You wanted out of here? I assume that you mean to Earth.”

With a short grunt of affirmation, Prax gave a glacial nod of his head. “That is correct.”

“You do realize that Zagan is out there, right? Last time I checked, he was not all that enthused with you. Something about locking you up himself? Or killing you. I can’t remember.”

She had been a bit preoccupied with Genoa at the time.

“I was locked in a cell, chained to a wall for centuries. Being able to walk around is a mild improvement.” Veins bulged in his arms as his fists tightened. “I am still trapped in this… this Hell.”

“You’re free right now. You don’t have to stay here. I’m sure the doll has left your domain by now. Otherwise, you can go anywhere. If Zagan drags you back to your cell, that won’t be the case any longer.”

Prax narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “You do not understand. Nothing here is free.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly through his nose. “I’ll take my chances with Zagan.”

“Alright,” Eva said with a shrug. “I don’t care if you’re here, locked up, or outside. Tell Nel how to summon you.”

“What?” The augur started at being addressed. “Me? But I–”

“There was a girl in the prison with Shalise,” Prax said. “She called herself your friend.”

“Juliana?”

“She promised to summon and contract with me.”

“I haven’t seen her in a few months,” Eva said with a frown. “With the injuries her mother sustained, she took off the last half of school and went to be with her family. If she was supposed to do something, I don’t know a thing about it.”

And I doubt that her family would be pleased to hear about such a promise.

“But if you tell Nel how to summon you, I’m sure we could find someone willing to do it if Juliana can’t be reached.”

There was a low grumble from the back of Prax’s throat, but after a moment, he nodded.

“I’ll check up on Serena in the meantime.”

Rather than wait for Prax to move out of the way, Eva just blinked straight past him to appear in the sand between the kiln building and the women’s ward. Behind her, Nel’s heart rate spiked as Prax moved closer to her. Eva waited just a moment to ensure that Prax wasn’t going to attack the augur. As soon as they started talking, Eva blinked the rest of the way to the women’s ward.

Arriving in her room, Eva found Serena to be in mostly the same position as she had left the vampire in.

Mostly.

She had left the vampire’s arms at her sides. Now, one arm was up and across her stomach. While it was possible that Prax had moved her arm while Sawyer was being incinerated, Eva couldn’t come up with a good reason why he would do such a thing. So, Serena must have moved it herself.

“Are you still alive?” Eva asked as she walked up to the side of the bed.

While remaining otherwise still, the vampire’s eyes snapped open. Muscles in her back tensed for just a moment before relaxing as if she were trying to sit up.

That was something of a relief. At least she wasn’t dead.

“Your neck is probably still broken, but you’re safe here. Welcome to Hell,” Eva said with a smile.

Bringing Nel back had been something of a sordid affair. While Eva had grown quite used to traveling between the mortal realm and Hell, she had not often brought a person with her. Humans could exit through Ylva’s domain without drawing ire from the Keeper, so they did without hesitation. It was easier for everyone that way.

While bringing Nel back, Eva had just about dropped her in the middle of transit. She had no idea what would have happened had she done so. Nothing good, most likely.

Aside from that little mishap, everything went well. Eva had warned Nel that there might be some discomfort. Frankly, she had been expecting Nel to wind up like Sister Cross. Flayed or crispy, possibly both. But neither had happened.

Which made sense. Eva never suffered any ill effects while using her beacon to return to Earth. Only while teleporting from one point on Earth to another.

It made her wonder if she was doing something wrong. It wasn’t something that she talked about with others, aside from Arachne. And Arachne either couldn’t or wouldn’t teleport on her own, so she wasn’t much of an authority on the matter.

Regardless, returning to her domain had been somewhat awkward as well. Normally, she passed through Ylva’s domain to get to her own. Lacking that, Eva was left with trying to banish herself. She had done so immediately after losing her eyes to Sawyer when he had first captured her. That had been entirely an accident. The intended goal had been to teleport herself away.

Replicating that had turned out to be something of a chore. She had kept teleporting instead of banishing herself.

But, she had eventually got it figured out. Having no particular destination in mind helped a great deal.

“Alright,” Eva said as she rested against the edge of Serena’s bed. “It’s daylight back out in the real world. I could have put up blankets over the windows in the gate room, but I figured that you probably shouldn’t be moving much just yet anyway.”

Serena just stared at the ceiling. Her eyes blinked a few times, but she didn’t try to speak.

Which was probably for the best. Moving too much might disrupt her healing.

“So, we’ve got about twelve hours. You just focus on healing. I don’t know if you can speed it up or not, but try anyway. I’d much rather have you whole and hearty when it is time to go.”

Again, Serena didn’t respond.

Hopefully there wasn’t something else wrong with her. Brain damage or something. Could vampires get brain damage? Their brains weren’t any more alive than the rest of them.

“I would stay with you, but there are a few things that I want to check out while I’m here in Hell. Don’t worry about anything, you’re perfectly safe here.”

Pushing herself off the bed, Eva walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Prax wouldn’t enter outside of an emergency. Eva had already spoken with him. If he did try something, Eva would ensure that Juliana knew not to summon him.

It was a good thing that he was here. If he wasn’t, Eva wouldn’t be able to leave. There had been no enigmas since all the humans got out of her domain, according to Prax. If humans, or residents of the mortal plane, were the things that drew enigmas to Hell, then Serena or herself could have plenty showing up in a short amount of time.

Since he was here, Eva was free to do a little exploring. She had no real reason to do so, it was purely to satisfy her own curiosity.

Walking off into the waters at the edge of her domain, Eva had just one thing in mind.

Catherine, the lesser succubus.

What must her domain look like?

No sense speculating. She was about to find out.

Submerging her head beneath the water, Eva concentrated on Catherine. It didn’t take long before she felt the familiar pull as she was whisked through Hell towards Catherine’s domain.

The water around Eva vanished, replaced by air. The fall wasn’t very long. She quickly found herself sinking into something soft and cushy.

Looking around, Eva found pillows. Tons of pillows atop a large bed. Not quite as large as the one in Ylva’s domain, but relatively close.

Ylva’s bed had a minimalistic look to it. The impressive part of it was the size, not the colors and patterns.

Picking up one of the pillows, Eva gave it a light squeeze. It was actually somewhat rough. Definitely not a modern pillow. The rectangular shape, lacy trim, and floral patterns were somewhat tacky. Maybe something from a century or two ago?

Not what Eva would have expected from the well-dressed and tech-minded succubus that she knew. Then again, if she hadn’t been summoned in a century, maybe it made sense. When her current contract was over and done with, perhaps she would come back and update everything to be a bit more modern.

Rolling off the bed, Eva got to her feet and looked around the area as a whole.

She was standing atop some sort of raised tower. Tower might be too tall of a word, but there was a decently sized staircase leading down to the main area. Another staircase led off below the main area, adjacent to where the tower’s staircase ended. The steps dipped below the surface of black colored water.

A large red windmill towered over a smaller rectangular building. To the side was a metal elephant, at least twice as large as a regular elephant. Probably more. It looked like there was some sort of room inside. There were definitely windows looking out the front and sides.

The actual main building appeared to be made from brick and stone. There wasn’t any paint, though the red bricks matched the red-painted windmill.

Nothing really matched the iron elephant.

Walking down the steps, Eva wasn’t sure what to think. It was definitely a place. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the windmill or elephant and why they were here. They didn’t exactly scream succubus. Then again, neither had Prax’s castle.

Placing her hand on the handle of the door, Eva paused. Did she really want to go in?

Well, yeah, I do.

But, would Catherine appreciate it? Probably not. Who knew what kind of stuff she had hidden inside that she wouldn’t want other people to see.

If she liked Catherine any less than she did, Eva would have damned the consequences and gone in. Instead, she removed her hand from the door without opening it. Taking a few steps backwards, Eva just looked over the buildings once again.

Eva turned away with a shake of her head. “I don’t get it.”

Maybe that was the point. There wasn’t anything to get. The decor was just something that Catherine liked. Or maybe something from Earth during one of the times when she had been summoned that she fancied.

Walking down the steps towards the waters, Eva considered her next destination.

Lucy was a demon that had never once been summoned before. While Catherine’s windmill and elephant could have been heavily influenced by things that she had seen while summoned, Lucy’s domain shouldn’t have anything like that. It would be completely uninfluenced by anything in the mortal realm.

With how excitable the demon was about everything on Earth, Eva wasn’t expecting all that much. Perhaps a flat featureless plane or the simple island with a tree that Eva’s domain had started out as.

Dipping her head beneath the water, Eva waited for the gripping sensation to pull her off to Lucy’s domain.

Almost immediately, she found herself falling through the air. The fall was already taking much longer than it had in Catherine’s domain. It took a little bit of effort to avoid panicking. If there was nothing soft beneath her, she would be in for a hard landing.

Worse, everything was dark. She couldn’t see anything. For all Eva knew, there was nothing to land on, hard or soft. She would just be falling forever.

Turns out that her fears were unfounded. Almost as soon as she considered trying to blink to some kind of ground even without being able to see, something caught her.

It wasn’t that she landed on something.

Something literally caught her out of the sky, moving downwards just enough to dampen her speed before bringing her to a stop.

Eva let out a slight sigh of relief before feeling whatever it was that had caught her move slightly. It didn’t just move all at once. Thousands of things moved against her back. It was as if she were lying on a bed of snakes.

Or tentacles.

The latter made much more sense.

Except she couldn’t see any blood inside the things. Though her body didn’t resemble a human beyond the superficial, Lucy still had blood that Eva could perceive. This thing didn’t.

Scrambling to her feet, Eva tried to move. Something–tentacles–caught on her foot. With a slight yelp, she started tipping forwards.

Only to be caught again. Something slithered around her waist before latching out to her arms.

Eva wasn’t about to stick around to find out what would happen next. Her arms and her legs burst into flames. The tentacles holding onto her quickly retreated save for the one around her waist. Clawing at it resolved that situation.

Thankfully, the glow from her fire illuminated the area. She could actually see what was around her.

The writhing and squirming tentacles surrounding her were not what she wanted to see. Long and thick tubes of flesh curled around the ground, far thicker than any one of Lucy’s tentacles. At least there were no eyes or mouths. They were all coated in some sheen that glistened against the light.

Looking down, Eva found some of clear ooze around her shirt where the tentacle had grabbed hold. She couldn’t risk any sort of toxicity seeping in through her skin. With her hands still on fire, Eva carefully burned off most of her shirt. It took a bit of care to not get any of the gunk on her skin, but eventually she managed. She had nothing on from the chest down.

Both of her hands and her legs were clean of any ooze. The fire coating her carapace was enough to burn it off.

There was a small bubble of space around her that was clear of any tentacles, but they swirled around her as if looking for any weakness in the light.

As the light danced across the moving worms on the ground, Eva’s breathing started to pick up. Light moved one way while the tentacles moved another. It blurred together to create a nauseating illusion of motion despite Eva’s feet being firmly planted on the solid ground.

The all-encompassing darkness beyond the small ring of light weighed down on her. Even flaring the brightness didn’t serve to penetrate the darkness any further.

Absolute silence did not help matters. Eva could hear nothing but her own heart beating and her increasingly ragged breath. Though the ground had a foot-thick layer of tentacles squirming across it, they made not even the slightest sound.

This was a terrible idea.

Taking a deep breath, Eva stepped forwards.

The tentacles in front of her retreated further back.

That was good. As long as they kept their distance, everything would be just fine.

Eva reared back and threw a few balls of fire. Each one exploded into a bright flare high above the ground level, providing some extra light all around.

Three out of four directions, there was nothing but tentacles on the ground.

Off in the distance, there was some kind of structure. Eva could just barely see some light from her flares glinting off it. It was crooked and twisted. Probably not a building. Maybe some kind of natural formation. At least, as natural as one could get down in Hell.

Her first thought was to head towards it.

Looking around at the mass of tentacles writhing along the floor, Eva decided that she had lost all of her curiosity towards this place. If she really wanted to know, she would come back with Lucy as a guide.

Water so still that it could have been mistaken for a sheet of glass encompassed most of the direction opposite from the structure. That looked to be the safer direction, so Eva started walking.

Slowly.

Trying to pretend that she didn’t see the larger shadows that moved around at the edge of her ring of fire.

One of those shadows came just a little too close.

A flesh-colored mass roughly the size and shape of a human was in Eva’s sight for less than a second before it retreated back to the shadows. Goosebumps spread across her skin as she tried to make sense of what she saw. She took a subconscious step away from the thing.

Its pale flesh was dotted with thousands of holes. Tiny black circles that Eva’s light failed to illuminate. They were clustered together. Some in large groups, others scattered across the surface like stars in the nights sky. There was no organization, or order or rhyme or reason. They were just there.

As the thing retreated, it turned ever so slightly. As if a person was looking over their head.

Yet there were no eyes. No mouth. Just more of the tiny holes clustered together without any real pattern.

That second was all Eva needed to know that she never wanted to return again, with or without Lucy’s guidance.

With an unnatural panic, Eva gathered fireballs into her hands. She started throwing them at the ground between herself and the water. As the tentacles ahead of her began retreating from the bursts of flames, Eva started running.

She didn’t stop until she dove into the water head first.

There was a slight pulling sensation in the pit of her stomach before she found herself gently gliding down to the sandy beach within her domain.

She had been intending to visit Zagan’s domain. It would probably be more like Ylva’s or Catherine’s domains, but Eva really wasn’t about to take the chance. Maybe some day, but for the moment, she was just relieved to be landing back in someplace familiar.

Eva didn’t move. She stood on the sand, taking deep breaths that she let out slowly.

It took her a few moments to realize that there was still a sickly sensation in her stomach, but it wasn’t from Lucy’s domain.

It was the same sensation as what she felt from enigmas.

With one last deep breath, Eva started towards the women’s ward. She took care in keeping watch for anything that might have burrowed beneath her.

Nothing jumped out at her.

Several of the trap doors were opened wide, each had at least one enigma inside. Eva counted up a mere four before she reached the doors.

Prax was standing just inside, saying something about how everything was more peaceful before she had showed up. Eva shook her head and waved him off without fully comprehending whatever it was that he was saying.

Sinking down into a chair in her common room, Eva spent a moment just shuddering.

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007.016

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Eva landed within her domain with far more grace than Nel. Given that jostling Serena might kill her if she wasn’t dead already, that was probably a good thing.

The first thing that Eva noticed was the lack of any ill feelings. Every time she had shown up while Shalise had been residing inside, Eva had felt sick. The same enigma sickness that she felt around the field. It was entirely absent.

There were no tracks in the sand that might have belonged to enigmas either. They had burrowed beneath the sand before, but Eva had still felt their presence.

Eva was quite confident in declaring her domain free of enigmas. And after she had been all prepared to use Sawyer’s whistle too. At least she wouldn’t have to touch her lips to that thing.

Why it was free of enigmas was another matter entirely. She had cleared all the carcasses out after freeing Shalise from Prax. But it had been months since then. Eva had expected there to be at least some buildup.

Prax was around somewhere. Eva could feel him as clearly as she had been able to feel Zagan and the other demons during her treatment. Maybe the lack of enigmas was all his doing. Honestly, Eva hadn’t expected him to stick around for very long. Though with that doll snooping around his domain, Eva couldn’t really blame him.

Surely the doll was gone by now? Maybe he just liked the humbleness of Eva’s abode.

Shaking her head, Eva moved towards the alternate women’s ward building. Sawyer was around somewhere. She could feel him as well, though it wasn’t quite the same sense as that of Prax. If she had to guess, it was her domain providing her with information about an enemy.

Eva paused as she realized that Nel wasn’t following. Turning back, she found the augur just staring at the pitch black sky.

“They’re not going to follow us, are they?”

“As soon as I left the mortal plane, channeling magic to power the transference circle was interrupted. If that wasn’t enough, all the blood making up the portal would have fallen to the ground without me there to hold it up.”

“And she can’t make another circle?”

“If she knows how to,” Eva said with a shrug. “But she would have to know how to target my domain specifically. Otherwise she’ll wind up who-knows-where.”

Accepting that response, Nel took her eyes off the sky and looked towards the alternate women’s ward.

Eva did not miss the frown on her face as she took in the sight.

“So, this is Hell, huh?”

“You lived inside of Ylva’s domain for more than a year. You’ve been in Hell before.”

“That… it was different. I didn’t even know that it was literal Hell for the first several months. After that, it was just strange to think about,” Nel said with a shrug. “Besides, I was expecting something a little more grandiose. I didn’t realize just how attached you were to that prison.”

“I wouldn’t say that I am,” Eva said slowly. “I just needed something for Shalise to live in and this was the first thing that popped into my head.”

“Instead of a regular house or an apartment?”

Eva just shrugged. She had never really lived in either one. The closest that she came to living in a regular dwelling was the Brakket Academy dormitories. With the women’s ward fresher in her mind than anything else, it was a natural and almost subconscious choice.

Something more grandiose, as Nel had put it, would be nice. Her first thoughts on that went towards Prax’s castle. It didn’t fit Prax and Eva didn’t think that it would fit her, but it was along the right ideas.

Eva had to wonder just what Catherine’s domain looked like. Would she have a large castle as well? Eva couldn’t really imagine that for her. Maybe just a small room with a computer inside.

What about Lucy? Or Zagan?

All of them were in the mortal plane at the moment. Before she left, maybe she would go see their domains. It should be relatively safe with them absent. Zagan’s domain especially, now that she had thought of it. Surely that would be a sight to see.

Their domains might give her ideas on her own domain.

It was a thing that Eva decided that she would work on when she found some spare time. Perhaps it would start out as a few doodles in a notebook. Maybe some research into buildings and architecture on Earth. Her domain should be something more impressive and imposing that would intimidate any guests who saw it.

Guests like Sawyer.

A few steps closer to her domain and Eva started smiling. She had found Sawyer. He was present in her blood sight up ahead, just outside of the main women’s ward building.

“Come, Nel. Let’s get Serena into a bed and then have some fun.”

“Fun?”

Eva glanced over her shoulder with a grin. “Are you forgetting that I sent Sawyer through first?”

Nel’s eyes widened. She started looking around like Sawyer might jump out of nowhere and attack her.

“Don’t worry,” Eva said with a laugh. “I know exactly where he is. He won’t hurt us.”

Although Nel didn’t look entirely convinced, she gave a slow nod and followed after Eva.

When she reached the courtyard before the women’s ward, Eva spotted several trap doors in the open state. Prax was standing over one of the ones closest to the entrance, glaring into the wide-open pit.

Moving up next to him, Eva looked down inside.

Sawyer sat in the pit. He grasped at one of his legs. A long metal spike had punctured straight through from just above his ankle to his knee. His other foot had a hole in it, but he had managed to pull it off the bloody spike. Looking up to Eva as she leaned over the edge, he smiled. It didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Nimble bastard,” Prax grumbled. “Jumped over three traps before I came out. I guess I was enough to startle him into the pit.”

“Slippery as well,” Eva said. “But there is no escape this time, Sawyer. As I said before, welcome to Hell. It might not live up to the biblical tales, but I will try my best.”

With that, Eva continued on towards the women’s ward. Sawyer wouldn’t be going anywhere. Even if he managed to climb out of the hole, there was nowhere to go. He could try for the waters, but Eva doubted that he knew enough about Hell to know what the waters were. If he had, he would have run to them first and avoided her women’s ward like the plague.

If he accidentally stumbled into the waters anyway, it probably wouldn’t do him much good. The first time that she had gone anywhere, she had accidentally gone to the abattoir. In retrospect, that was probably one of the better choices. Winding up in a domain like Willie’s could have been far more unpleasant.

So, if Sawyer wanted to take his chances, Eva would wish him luck. It wouldn’t be as satisfying as torturing him herself, but other demons probably had much more experience than she did.

Eva’s focus was on Serena for the moment.

It was worrying. She still hadn’t moved the slightest bit. Eva didn’t know a thing about vampires, but this couldn’t be healthy. For all she knew, she was carrying around a corpse.

A real corpse.

Carrying Serena into her room, Eva set the vampire down on her bed. She tried to straighten her neck as much as possible in the hopes that vampire healing would work its magic. Beyond that, she had no idea what to do.

“Unless…”

Eva glanced around. Nel and Prax were both still outside, keeping an eye on Sawyer.

Alone with Serena, Eva pried open her jaw to expose her sharp fangs.

Eva’s forearms would be the easiest part of her to use, but they were covered in hard carapace up to her elbows. She tried for a moment to get her upper arms into Serena’s mouth. After a few minutes of awkwardly changing position, she gave up on that.

Eva leaned over the vampire and rested her neck inside the wide open maw. She half expected Serena to jump up and bite down of her own accord, but the vampire was still unmoving.

With a shake of her head, Eva pulled away. “What am I doing?” she mumbled to herself. “Am I a blood mage or not?”

Pulling out her dagger, Eva sliced a cut on her upper arm.

Blood started trickling down into the vampire’s mouth after a little manipulation on Eva’s part.

To create the transference circle, Eva had shed a good deal of her blood. Now she was giving up more. It probably wouldn’t be a problem. She would be a little light-headed from the anemia, but she wasn’t expecting any sort of fight in the near future. Even with Sawyer around.

The blood just pooled in the back of Serena’s mouth. She had wanted the vampire to swallow it herself, but that wasn’t looking like it was going to happen. Eva sent it all down Serena’s throat to her stomach.

Blood safely inside Serena’s stomach, Eva stepped away from the body. It still wasn’t moving, but hopefully it would just take time.

Eva was feeling somewhat guilty over not letting the vampire drink her blood before. If she was dead, she would never get to enjoy it.

But there was nothing more that she could do at the moment.

Pushing the guilt and worry from her mind, Eva put on a smile as she stepped back outside the women’s ward.

Nel, contrary to Eva’s expectations, did not appear wary of Prax in the slightest. She stood at his side with a hateful gaze locked on Sawyer. So focused was her gaze that Eva wondered if the augur had even realized that Prax was a giant, red-skinned, horned demon with muscles capable of snapping her in two if he decided he didn’t like her.

On the other hand, Prax had clearly taken notice of Nel. He was leering at her with a fanged grin just as one might expect from the spawn of a succubus.

Actually, it might have been more of a curious stare than anything nefarious. His demonic features removed a lot of the innocence from his looks. As far as Eva knew, cambions had none of the proclivities that succubi possessed. Shalise had never mentioned him being anything less than a gentleman, anyway.

That was if the rumors about succubi were true in the first place. Catherine sure didn’t fit in with the popular depiction. Sexy and easily able to draw attention, definitely. Anything beyond that still remained to be seen.

Shaking her head, Eva cleared her throat. Only Prax looked up, but that was fine. Eva waved him over.

“While I do appreciate you capturing him, I hope that you wouldn’t do that to everyone that shows up here. Some might be friends.”

“I could tell that he was not your ‘friend,'” Prax said with a sneer. “Your domain was hostile to him. So I was as well.” His sneer twisted into a grin, punctuated with a short chuckle.

“Really? Huh.” That was good to know. Of course, unless her domain had been the one to activate the trap doors, it probably hadn’t done anything aside from informing Prax. Maybe something could be set up in the event that she had future prisoners.

Prax’s deep bass voice interrupted her thoughts. She made a mental note to ask him about domain defenses later.

“I want out of here.”

“You’re free to leave,” Eva said with a shrug, intentionally misunderstanding the demon. “Were the enigmas too much for you?”

“They have not been around since you all left.”

Eva blinked in confusion. Prior to rescuing Shalise, they had been showing up with alarming regularity. Now they were just gone?

Unless it had been Shalise and Lynn that had been attracting them. In which case…

Eva’s head snapped to the side as a crack of thunder shattered the silence.

Nel, standing over the pit, had her withered arm outstretched. The glove that normally covered the arm was lying on the ground. A small trail of steam was coming off her fingertips.

Running over, Eva was glad to note that Sawyer’s heart was still beating. His right arm, the same one that had his still existing hand, had ruptured. The scarring to his blood vessels looked distinctly familiar. Eva had seen enough injuries caused by nun lightning to recognize what had happened.

Injured, but he wasn’t dead yet. Though, with the amount of blood around him, that was slightly surprising.

“Nel–”

“He deserved it.”

“I’ve no doubt about that,” Eva said, looking down at the lightning burn marks on his arm. “Why don’t we get him out of there and take him inside.”

Glancing down in the pit herself, Eva frowned. “But first,” she said as she reached behind her back. Curling her fingers around the hilt of her dagger, Eva knelt over the pit containing a certain unhappy necromancer. She dug it deep into his shoulder with all the force that she could muster.

Sawyer didn’t make a noise. In fact, he started smiling as he glanced down at the dagger.

The smile was slightly unnerving, but Eva ignored it. The more of his blood flowed over her dagger, the more he was under her control. Eva left the dagger in his chest as she stood back up. It was too late for him to grab it and use it against her. He would be dead faster than the vampire that had tried to call him.

Some of the blood that she had control of moved down to his leg and foot, blocking off circulation. Messy and it would potentially ruin the limb for all future use. Eva didn’t really care. The spike from his ankle to his knee had actually punctured through some major blood vessels. The spike itself was keeping his blood in, but that wouldn’t be the case once he got out of the pit. She only needed him alive long enough.

Eva looked up towards Prax. “Mind helping me get him out of there? No need to be careful. I’ll keep him from bleeding to death.”

Prax’s lip curled. Not quite a smile, nor a sneer. It was just him baring his teeth. With a clipped grunt, he reached into the pit and grasped Sawyer’s unstabbed shoulder. His claws dug into Sawyer’s flesh and even his bone as Prax used a single hand to yank the necromancer out of the few foot hole.

Sawyer still hadn’t made any noise.

Though it had been fading, Eva was extremely grateful that kicking Sawyer into Hell had broken the effects of her blood ritual. Sawyer looked to be in a sorry state, covered in blood and with several holes in his body. Eva had no desire to feel even a second of that sorry state.

Besides, being able to feel his pain would only ruin what she had planned for next.

Taking over for Prax, Eva dug her own claws into Sawyer’s arms and started dragging him into the women’s ward. His legs were trailing limp along the ground and he made no effort to fight against her.

And he was smiling.

Eva hated the feeling that she was missing something. The idea that he still had some card up his sleeve was preposterous. They were in Hell, Eva’s own domain. He was missing one hand, his legs were unusable, she had control over most of the blood in his body, and he had three enemies here. One of whom was a full-blooded demon.

For just a moment, Eva thought Sawyer might have convinced Prax of something in the brief time between his and Eva’s arrivals. Prax had just barely expressed a desire to leave Hell, unless Eva grossly misunderstood him. Maybe Sawyer had promised to summon him.

But then why would Prax have told her that he wanted to leave? Whatever the case, she would try to mollify him if he brought it up again. Zoe could probably summon him. Or Nel could be persuaded.

Technically, they weren’t supposed to be summoning demons. But Eva had already broken that rule. What was one more summon?

Her thoughts reassured Eva. Whatever Sawyer thought that he was planning, it wasn’t going to work.

Lacking any kind of real torture chamber in her little home, Eva just threw Sawyer right into one of the seats in her common room. She pulled her dagger out of his shoulder and sheathed it.

Enough of his blood was under her control that leaving it in wouldn’t do much more.

She did make sure to plug up the wound with hardened blood. The shoulder had many major blood vessels. He could bleed out in minutes.

Minutes would be far too fast for him. Eva wanted him to suffer.

“Comfortable,” Sawyer quipped as he settled into the chair.

“I do apologize for not being able to meet your standards in my accommodations. I hope you won’t mind.”

“It leaves something to be desired.”

“Well, I’m afraid I must disappoint further.” Eva reached out, taking hold over his ring finger and bent it straight backwards.

Sawyer didn’t appear to notice despite the sickening snap. The hand was stitched to him. It was entirely possible that he had absolutely no feeling in it, but Eva had been hoping for some sort of reaction.

Ignoring it for the moment, Eva just flashed a small grin. “All those fancy tools you had for me… I don’t have anything similar here.”

“A shame, to be sure.”

“Nonsense!” Eva dug her claws into his middle finger and crushed her hand into a fist. Not only could she hear the snapping of his bones, but also the blood and flesh that leaked out and ran over her smooth carapace. “This way is far more intimate.

“But I can’t have all the fun,” Eva said as she wiped the finger pulp off on the side of the chair. She turned around to find Nel actually shying away while eying the smear of blood on the chair. “Nel? He has a finger and a thumb left.”

The augur blanched, taking a step back.

Eva rolled her eyes. Given that she had just fired lightning at him while he was helpless and likely hadn’t provoked her, her shying away from a little harmless torture was somewhat disappointing.

Though, Eva wasn’t feeling the torture herself.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

This was to be her revenge. She finally had Sawyer helpless. Thinking back to when he had her strapped to a chair barely got Eva fired up.

Part of it was because of his smile. His failure to cry out in pain as she crushed his finger didn’t help matters. Eva wanted to hear his screams, but that wasn’t happening. The other part of it might be her mindset. It just wasn’t satisfying. Serena had her worried and being watched by the obviously squeamish Nel had her spirits dampened somewhat.

Maybe she didn’t have the inclinations to be a proper torturer.

Prax was standing back a short distance, watching with obvious disapproval on his face.

Probably thinking about how much better he could be as the torturer.

Steeling herself, Eva turned back to Sawyer with a glare. Even if she wasn’t feeling it, that was no excuse to let him off easy.

“I guess it’s just me and you right now.”

“I’d be disappointed if you handed me off to others.”

Eva gripped his hand as a whole and crushed the entire thing all at once. “You took my fingers, my toes, and my eyes. I really don’t care about your toes and your hands are mutilated enough.”

“My eyes then,” Sawyer said with a smile.

Lip curling in distaste, Eva shook her head. “Eventually.”

There was something else that she wanted to take from Sawyer more than his eyes.

Lifting up her hand, Eva moved the sharp tips of her claws towards his face no faster than particularly viscous honey flowing down a slight decline. She was hoping that the apprehension of not knowing where she was targeting would make Sawyer squirm at least a little. Unfortunately, that was a failure.

Sawyer kept his eyes locked onto Eva’s eyes, seemingly taking no notice of her hand.

An inch away from his face, Eva shot her hand forwards. Her claws found their way into his mouth. Pinching his teeth between her fingers, Eva squeezed.

Teeth were hard. That was essentially their entire purpose. For a scum of a necromancer who wound up eating dead flesh that fell into his food, Sawyer’s teeth were actually well cared for. Perhaps that was why he smiled so often; he wanted to show off all the hard work he put into his teeth.

Unfortunately for poor Sawyer, Eva’s fingers were stronger.

Shards of calcium exploded between her fingers.

The top row of Sawyer’s front teeth was just stubs and his gums.

Twisting her hand around, Eva dug her claws into the bottom of his jaw. She broke off the teeth from partway through his gums. His stumps of flesh started to fill his mouth with blood.

Eva pulled her hand out of his mouth and smiled.

“Your incessant grin looks so much better now.”

Sawyer twisted his head to one side and spat, expelling as many of the shards as he could.

When he looked back, Eva couldn’t actually tell whether or not he was trying to smile.

It was a definite improvement.

“Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what next? Nel, Prax,” Eva turned her head over her shoulder, “any ideas?”

The red demon’s scowl twisted into a grin. “If you are going for pure mutilation, there is a spot on any man which cannot be topped.”

Eva narrowed her eyes. Of course the cambion’s mind would head in that direction. Obviously she had been wrong about him being dissimilar to succubi. She did not want to touch Sawyer anywhere around there.

Although, Eva thought as she turned back to Sawyer, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea.

Sawyer’s eyes were wide. Even with his mutilated mouth, he didn’t appear to be smiling in the slightest. It was probably the first thing that actually caused a spike in his heart rate as well.

If it was the one thing that could get him to lose his cool, who was Eva to pass it up?

But she still wasn’t going to fondle him or anything resembling such an act.

Thankfully, her hands weren’t her only inhumanely strong limbs.

Lifting up a foot, Eva brought it down right on top of Sawyer’s groin. Sawyer drew in a sharp gasp as Eva crushed everything all the way to his hip bones. Grinding her foot in, Eva was almost disgusted by how his organs compressed and ruptured beneath her foot.

Blood and viscera dripped off the edges of the chair. Eva was holding most of it in, but some of the blood was outside of her control. His intestines and stomach and spleen and whatever other organs were falling out of the suddenly opened cavity were just a bit too heavy for her to contain. Not that she cared all that much about keeping it in. As long as she kept his blood circulating through any ruptures, he’d live for now.

And that’s really all Eva needed.

Sawyer started coughing. Blood and spittle flew from his mouth as his coughs shifted in tone.

Eva grit her teeth.

Sawyer was laughing.

“‘oo should haff killed me when ‘oo had the chance,” he mumbled out through his broken teeth.

“Wha–”

Eva didn’t have a chance to question what he meant.

Sawyer’s heart seized up. His eyes rolled back up in his head the moment it did so.

Using her blood magic and her control over his blood, Eva tried to force his circulation. Carrying his blood through his lungs and the empty air itself in an attempt to oxygenate it enough to keep his brain alive.

Despite her efforts, Sawyer slumped over in the chair, arms and head all falling limp as he moved.

“No,” Eva hissed.

She clenched her fists even as she stepped forward. With as much haste as she could, Eva clasped her hands on either side of his face and shoved her thumbs into his eyes. The twin orbs burst beneath the pressure of her claws, spilling blood and clear liquid all over her carapace.

Her fingers dug into his skull, burrowing through the bone until she reached his brain.

“You should have waited before killing him,” Prax said. “Let him feel the pain and humiliation a little longer.”

Eva pulled her fingers out of Sawyer’s skull, flinging blood and brain matter to the floor. “It was all too late,” she hissed. “He died before he even felt his eyes explode.”

“Died? You must have damaged the wrong spot.”

Eva shook her head. “I hit nothing. He knew he was going to die. He killed himself, taking the satisfaction away.” Turning around, Eva was about to ask Nel if she had any ideas on what happened.

The augur was lying on the ground, eyes closed.

“She passed out around the time your foot passed through his body,” Prax said with a deep grunt.

Eva just stared.

In a way, it was something of a relief. Her torturing Sawyer just hadn’t felt right. With him dead, she could rest easy. At least on the necromancy front. Des was still around, but she was just a little girl. If she carried that mummified corpse around with her constantly, she could be problematic. Between Eva, Nel, Ylva, and Zoe, they should be able to find a way to neutralize it.

For the time being, Eva just shook her head again. Leaving Nel on the floor, Eva walked off towards the shower room.

She was feeling somewhat drained. Getting the remains of Sawyer off her seemed like a good way to start feeling rejuvenated again.

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