Category Archives: Book 010

010.034

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Devon stalked down the deserted streets of Brakket City. The streets were more deserted than normal. Few people remained in the city. Only a handful stayed. The brave or the foolish. The apathetic as well. A few stubborn townsfolk hadn’t left yet. They had nowhere to go or perhaps they figured that they had weathered everything else, what was one more thing?

Some of Brakket Academy’s staff had remained behind. Or so he had heard from one of the professors that stopped by the prison on occasion. A skeleton crew. Not even enough to properly manage anything save for ward upkeep and various enchantments around the school. Those people and the researchers. The professor with one arm he had spoken with in particular.

Aside from the stubborn and the fools, there were a few guards. Mage-knights down on their luck and unable to find alternate contracts. Devon had seen a number of members belonging to the Elysium Order. They had sneered at him—or at his company—but hadn’t otherwise attacked.

He honestly had no idea what they were doing here. Their little club hadn’t fared too well during the initial incident with the Pillar of Hell. If anything remotely as challenging showed up, they would be decimated. The only thing they were good for was getting rid of enigmas.

As for his company, three demons flanked him. Each followed along a step behind. One was under his direct control. The waxy ruax, aside from the occasional fighting against his domination, had proven handy. Those fights against his control were weak and short-lived. Apparently it took a great deal of time to build up the strength to try. Minor nuisances that he could ignore for the most part. Its debilitating effect against anything that attacked him made it more than worth the effort of keeping it around.

One demon following him was merely under contract—a fairly tenuous contract that very well might wind up annulled before long. Not only was the carnivean not performing its duties as a fill-in for Eva’s treatment, but requesting the presence of a fairy queen was not something anyone did lightly. Luckily, he had written enough loopholes into their contract that he should be able to find an out easily enough. It might upset the carnivean, but losing it wouldn’t be that big of a loss.

The final demon was a succubus. Or perhaps she had been a succubus at some point in time. He wasn’t so sure anymore. The rituals Catherine designed and had performed on herself were similar to Eva’s. Superficially, at least. In reality, they were designed to change Catherine on a far more subtle level. Eva had slowly been changing even before coming to this school and having her arms and legs exchanged for Arachne’s.

Catherine had hardly changed in appearance from when Devon had first encountered her. Her hair might be a different length or color, or her eyes just a few shades brighter, but she was a succubus. Her body was easily malleable. All the better to adopt an appearance appreciated by as many people as possible.

Rather, the change had come in how she held herself and how those around her reacted to her presence. Even walking behind Devon, she strode with the confidence of a leader. He could almost feel the aura of command rolling off her shoulders. Other demons would look to her, be more willing to agree to her demands, and other such deferences.

And that was after only a few treatments. One right before all the mess with the tear and one earlier on with Eva and the Pillar of Hell. There might have been a third, Devon couldn’t recall. He honestly hadn’t been paying too close attention to her rituals. Not as close as he should have been, in any case.

Eva hadn’t ever changed like that. Her appearance showed signs of demonic traits. Especially after the recent three-way treatments. Other demons had commented on her feeling strong. Yet Eva had never acted strong. Sure, she had killed the demon hunters. That had taken some strength, Devon was sure. But she hadn’t commanded legions of demons the way that Catherine might if the succubus had the inclination.

Before Catherine’s treatments, the only one who had commanded that sort of presence had been the Hel. Not even the Pillar forced people to take note of him, though that may have been personal preference on the Pillar’s part rather than any lack of ability.

Devon was extremely thankful that Catherine was more like he was in that research held a value on its own. Had Catherine acted anything like the carnivean—or pretty much any other demon he had encountered in recent years—he probably would have killed her before the first treatment.

After observing Catherine closely over the previous few months, Devon had a mild idea of why Eva had turned out the way she had.

Eva was human. Obviously not mortal. There was a definite difference. But Eva was human. She bothered to attend this school despite not necessarily needing what it taught. Because that was what humans did. Especially human children. And, though she had grown older, she was still a child compared to most of humanity, let alone demons. She interacted with humans and demons alike, but most of the demons she interacted with were pretending to be human. There likely was little functional difference in Eva’s eyes.

School, friends, eating, sleeping. All of it Eva did because that was what humans did.

Because Eva viewed herself as human.

That might change in the future. Humans had an expiration date. Even with necromancy, phylacteries, phoenixes, and various other methods of extending that date, it still ran out eventually. Eva wouldn’t. Not so long as she finished her treatment—if such a thing was even necessary anymore; Catherine’s description of what had happened during the ritual to corrupt a Power had been slightly worrying in that regard. But eventually, Eva would be left bereft of those she knew now.

She might befriend other humans, but how long would that last? Another century or so?

Eventually, Eva would be left with nothing but demons. Arachne and Catherine. Probably a few others as well. Eventually, she would decide that maintaining relationships with humans was more trouble than it was worth and slowly associate with only demons. Some amount of time after that, she would stop viewing herself as a human. Then and only then would her transformation be complete.

It was somewhat disappointing to reach the conclusion of his experiment without having technically finished it. Though it was nice to know the answer. He doubted that he would be around to see Eva’s final transformation.

“We’re here,” Catherine said, coming to a stop.

“Obviously.” Devon curled his lips back into a sneer as he took in the sight before him. The obelisk. The thing that had everyone running away from the academy and the city. Devon couldn’t exactly blame them. It didn’t look like rainbows and unicorns.

Though if anyone around here had actually encountered a unicorn before, they would probably have run just as fast.

“It’s been like this for a week now.”

“All glowing and red?”

Catherine nodded her head. “We first noticed it shortly after you sealed off the tear in realities. It spent three days inert before lighting up like this.”

“And you waited this long before telling me about it?”

Her eyes flashed for just a moment with some slight hint of irritation. “I am not beholden to you. We have worked together as colleagues on occasion. Nothing more.”

“So why bring me here now?”

Catherine shifted. This time, she didn’t look angry. Merely embarrassed. A slight loss of her earlier confidence. Devon curled his lip into a small smile as she struggled to find the words to answer.

“I’ve exhausted my investigative skills and magical knowledge,” she eventually said. Devon waited for just a moment longer, prompting her to cross her arms with a scowl. “I don’t have the slightest idea what that is,” she said with a nod towards the obelisk. “I don’t know why it is glowing. I don’t know what made it start glowing in the first place.”

“You think I do?” Devon looked back to the obelisk. The veins of red that branched off from the top until red covered the entire thing vaguely looked like actual veins. Or perhaps tree roots. But he hadn’t ever seen something like the obelisk before.

“A human might have a different perspective. Given our research together, I know you are knowledgeable about many demonic matters. Most diabolists I have known merely summon a demon for a task then dismiss them immediately after. None ever do actual research into what demons are and other matters of Hell. In that regard, you’re the best diabolist I know.”

“Demonologist,” Devon grumbled as he walked up to the obelisk. A wave of his hand stilled two of his three followers. If the obelisk was some sort of beacon of inexorable power, he did not want either the ruax or the carnivean to get their hands—or tentacles—on it.

It definitely had some power about it. Just breathing, the air felt thick and heavy with magic. It wasn’t the easiest thing to be around; like breathing in a sauna, except less moisture and more ambient energy. Or perhaps it was more of a sharp smell. Something not dissimilar to chlorine.

Whatever it was, it was unnatural.

Devon made a circuit around the obelisk, briefly examining all four sides. They were identical to one another on a superficial level. He did spot a few differences in how the vein of red coming down from the peak branched outward.

He reached out, about ready to brush his fingers over the surface. It looked like the veins were merged with the obsidian background. At the same time, there was a vague shadow like they stood out. However, a subtle stiffening in Catherine’s back in his peripheral vision had him withdrawing his hand.

“Something bad happens if you touch it?”

“Haven’t tried since it lit up. Before then, it just felt like a smooth pane of glass.”

Devon hummed as he bent over. He scooped up a small pebble from the road, took a step back, and tossed it towards the obelisk.

The pebble flung backwards over his shoulder with a crack as it shattered the sound barrier. The brick wall of a nearby pizzeria caught it. It stuck in the wall, half embedded as it radiated a certain heat that he could feel from across the edge of the sidewalk. The pebble glowed a bright red, though one of heat and nearly molten rock rather than the magical red of the obelisk.

“Good to know,” he said as he took a short step away. He eyed the carnivean, considering ordering it to move a dozen steps away. While their contract should prevent it from killing him, he couldn’t discount the possibility that it had slipped a loophole into their contract that would allow it to bump him into the obelisk, letting it kill him through a proxy.

He pulled a small card out of his pocket. One with a prepared ritual circle already inscribed on one side. A simple ritual circle. One for a simple test. No need for some large-scale carvings.

“There are ways of telling where demons come from,” he said, partially for Catherine’s sake. “Not so long ago, I scraped up a bit of ash and found it came from a Pillar, one of the seventy-two.”

“Zagan.”

“Just so. It burned a brilliant purple. A sign of royalty.” For a moment, Devon considered asking Catherine for a drop of her blood. Normal succubi would cast flames of a pink-hued red. He wasn’t so sure what hers would indicate.

But he only had one indicator paper. It wasn’t difficult to create another one, but this one would be best put to use on the problem at hand. He could always ask Catherine for a drop of blood later.

He took the card between his index and middle fingers of his only proper hand. A flick of his wrist sent it flying. The card landed with its back flat against the obelisk. Frankly, Devon was surprised it hadn’t spontaneously activated just walking up to the obelisk. But it hadn’t.

Unlike the pebble, it didn’t fly away; the magic had a constructive path to travel along inside the card. The obelisk activated the circle drawn on the front through sheer ambient magic. All the lines lit up in an instant, glowing a faint neutral amber. The actual paper of his card wasn’t holding up well. Flames appeared at the corners, slowly eating their way inwards. They didn’t quite make it to the center.

His card exploded off the side of the obelisk, chasing after the pebble. To the untrained eye, it left a trail of dark smoke in its wake. Devon stared at it, following it to where the card had landed on the nearby sidewalk. It wasn’t smoke at all. Black flames hovered above the circle until the more natural flames that had been eating away at the corners broke the ring around the center. Dark smoky fire dispersed into nothingness.

“Huh.”

“‘Huh’ what? I assume the indicator paper was made up by humans, because its colors don’t mean anything to me. What would black smoke mean?”

“Not sure. I’ve never seen it before.”

“Is there no documentation involved with the spell?” Catherine walked around with clicking heel, pacing back and forth in front of the obelisk. “I suppose we could reverse engineer the spell and discover exactly what the smoke meant, but that–”

“Black flames, not smoke. And it shouldn’t have been a possibility anyway. I programmed in common colors; red, blue, green, yellow, and so on. I invented the spell, so I know a little something about its inner workings. Black doesn’t mean anything at all.”

“It’s not demonic in origin then?”

“It is, or there wouldn’t be a flame at all,” Devon said as he reached back into his pocket. This time, he pulled out a thin rod. “Take this,” he said, offering it to Catherine.

She didn’t move to take it, staying a few paces away from Devon as she eyed the offered rod. “A wand?”

“Nothing so pedestrian.” He tossed it towards Catherine, which made her catch it more on reflex than anything else. She narrowed her eyes at him, looking about ready to tear his head off. “If I wanted to harm you, I would have had the ruax debilitate you with a series of headaches. I need you to turn it into void metal.”

She looked down at the silver rod in her hands with a certain realization dawning in her eyes. Her fingers lightly brushed over the surface, leaving a trail of absolute black in their wake. Though she did miss a few spots and had to return to touch it up. It made Devon a little worried about the quality of the interior. A worry that definitely did now show on his face—he could give a poker champion a run for their money—yet Catherine somehow picked up on it anyway. “It would have been pure had you given me a golden rod rather than this impure silver,” she paused to hold the completed rod up. “But I made it work anyway. The question is how are you going to make it work? I had a decently sized ritual circle set up when I tried with Eva.”

Devon let a sly smile cross his lips. A wave of his proper hand sent a burst of thin green flames dancing about the street. His fire scorched a trail into the sand around the obelisk and the asphalt. Soon enough, he had scorched a fully-fledged ritual circle into the ground. Almost. He hadn’t completed it fully. Just in case the ambient magic did activate the circle.

It was somewhat haphazard and crude. Precisely the reason he would never try that trick on a ritual circle of any great importance. If this one failed, the worst that would happen would be them having to try again. Maybe a small explosion, but nothing too terrible. The ritual circle would only be active for a split second.

At least, that was the theory.

Catherine walked forwards and jammed the rod into the ground within what would normally be the recipient portion of the circle, easily understanding Devon’s intentions. He had gotten the idea from her, after all. It was a modification to the treatment circle. Catherine had used a variation while testing some of Eva’s more esoteric attributes not so long ago. A fairly brilliant idea, for a demon. Devon had almost exclusively been going off physical appearance along with a few tests on samples of Eva’s blood.

She hadn’t shared her results. Devon hadn’t really pressed that hard. He had intended to run his own version—the same thing he had drawn on the ground just now—after Eva’s New Year’s treatment.

Of course, she had to go and disappear before that could happen. At this point, Devon was fairly certain that she did things like that solely to be a thorn in his side.

As soon as Catherine ensured that the rod would remain upright, she took a few steps back. Devon fired up his green flames at his fingertips once again. He backed away, giving the ritual circle a fair space. A second thought had him backing even further away. Thirty feet should work fine. Both his demons and Catherine followed him back.

Once ready, he tossed out his flames.

The ritual lit up the moment his flames connected the circle together. Much like the card, he could see it trying to burn away under the stress of all the magic in the air. Ash, cement, asphalt, and sand tended to be a bit more resilient to burning away than a paper card. It would last long enough to get a clue as to what the obelisk was.

Hopefully.

The rod started to vibrate where Catherine had jammed it into the ground. A haze of heat surrounded it like a bubble, distorting everything around it. Which shouldn’t be possible. Void metal didn’t heat up no matter what forces were applied to it.

Devon actually took two more steps back as the onyx metal started changing colors, brightening first to a dull red before turning white-hot.

“Stop it,” Catherine snapped. “Quick.”

His hands had already been moving. A burst of green flame scattered across the ritual circle, scoring new lines into it not unlike an artist scribbling out a failed drawing.

The reaction was almost instantaneous. The magic, until he disrupted the circle, had been flowing along the proper paths as the lines dictated. Smoothly flowing at that, if a bit strained because of the sheer volume of magic being pushed around. His newest scorch marks didn’t disrupt the flow in anything resembling a controlled shutdown.

A high-pitched tone similar to a pin dropping echoed through the silence of the street. It was the only warning Devon had before the street was torn up and filled the air with chunks of rock.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.033

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Nel Stirling, formerly of the Elysium Order, augur to the Charon Chapter, stood in a position that she had never thought she would occupy.

She sat at the head table in the Elysium Grand Cathedral. Not the Salem Cathedral. Not any of their other training centers. The Grand Cathedral. To the Elysium Order, there was no place more central to their power. It was within this building that the leaders resided. Within this building was the vault containing a vial of every augur’s blood, ready to be given to the inquisitors should one go rogue. All the primary secrets and artifacts collected by the Order since their inception in ancient times were kept in the vaults as well.

Including the source of the Elysium Order’s eyes. Deep down in the bleakest basement vault, under twenty-four hour guard by some of the highest trained individuals the Elysium Order had ever produced, was the Skull of God. She hadn’t ever seen it with her own two eyes, but she had more than two eyes. She doubted it was the skull of an actual god in biblical terms. It looked like a human’s skull, sized like one too. Knowing what she now knew about the Elysium Order and the magic they used, perhaps it had originally been a part of one of Death’s minions. Someone like Ylva’s mother or the Baron.

Whatever it had been, now it was just a skull. A skull that produced two eyes every decade. No more and no less.

It was the primary reason for the Elysium Order’s Inquisitorial Chapter. A single nun going rogue represented a significant amount of time required to replace them. An augur, with their many, many, many eyes would take centuries to create from scratch. Thus recovering as many eyes as possible was vital to the long-term survival of the Elysium Order as a whole.

Nel couldn’t say she cared much about that. Even had she known exactly how long it took to create new eyes, she would still have run away. While it had a few bumps and bruises, her life had been drastically more pleasant since she had asked Eva for shelter.

Now she was back. This time on the other side of the table, looking down on all the nuns scurrying about rather than being looked down upon by leaders who hated augurs merely for the possibility that they might escape.

Nel tried not to look down upon her old comrades and coworkers in the metaphorical manner, most had never done anything to her, but avoiding looking down on them literally was a much harder task. Despite the table at the far end of the chapel being only a few steps higher than the rest of the hall, everyone seemed so tiny as they scurried about to carry out their tasks.

Maybe it was the lighting. The chapel had high ceilings, vaulted to the point where the only way anyone could change light bulbs was with magic. Yet there wasn’t a dark corner anywhere. Between the high-powered lights and the massive windows behind the head table, it was brighter than day inside. The vaulted ceiling just made everyone else look tinier in comparison.

Of course, Nel wasn’t sitting in the center of the table. Lady Ylva occupied that prestigious position. She had done away with Provost Willem’s ornately carved chair. It would have been too small for her even had she not preferred to slouch in her marble throne. To Ylva’s left, the two students sat, trying to keep from shaking in fear. They were probably the two newest members of the Elysium Order and they were already sitting at the table reserved for the most important members. It was almost enough to make Nel laugh at their predicament.

As for herself, Nel was feeling fairly good. Sure, her arm was still shriveled up. Even with the skull down below pumping out eyeballs every so often, she doubted that she would ever regain full use of her limb. It had simply been too long. In fact, it should probably be amputated. Who knew what kind of infections she could wind up with if something started festering in the vacant cavities.

But it was highly unlikely that any inquisitors would ever hunt her down in the future. Without that giant bag of stress weighing her down, she actually smiled on occasion.

Most importantly, she was seated at Ylva’s right hand side. Not only did that mean that she was the most trusted of all of Ylva’s contacts, but it meant she got to be a personal advisor. Probably. She hadn’t actually done much advising since Ylva performed her little takeover of the Elysium Order. Or much of anything.

Being an advisor would be a big turnaround from her earlier days as an effective slave to Ylva, but if she wasn’t actually advising her…

She might be replaced.

A jolt of fear ran up Nel’s spine and she suddenly started paying close attention to the goings-on before her. A nun, one of the chapter heads—Phobos Chapter, if she remembered correctly—was giving a report. On what? How could she advise if she hadn’t been paying attention to anything?

What a disaster.

Nel shook her head and stared.

“–Coven of vampires around the Liverpool area. They’re difficult to uproot due to the high population, but–”

“Enough,” Ylva said in a tone like marble grinding across granite. “Vampires do not concern Us.”

Prioress Daniella, whose arms and legs started shaking at Ylva’s voice, blinked and stared up at the giant. “But… But they’re a p-plague.” She paused, wincing slightly as if she expected to be berated for speaking against Ylva’s statement. When none came, her confidence grew. “They have been primary enemies of the Elysium Order since the Order was founded.”

“And that is precisely why We are here. The mismanagement of this organization cannot be allowed to continue. Vampires lack souls. Their existence is nothing more than magically animated masses of flesh deluded into thinking they have the autonomy a soul grants. They do not concern Us.

Nel chose that moment to clear her throat, hoping that she wasn’t out of line in interrupting. But it was a perfect moment to jump in and advise. “Lady Ylva,” she said, angling her body slightly in her seat to properly address the demon. “Most members of the Elysium Order joined specifically to hunt down vampires. Recruitment spiked especially after the Lansing Incident. For most nuns, I would assume that vampires represent a personal vendetta that they need to participate in hunting down. Even more members may leave if you shut down vampire hunts entirely.”

Contrary to Nel’s expectations based off her actions in dealing with the inquisitors, Ylva hadn’t slaughtered anyone who made to escape once it became clear that she intended to command the organization. Most of the high council and several dozen nuns fled immediately after the meeting with the two girls. And that was just the people around the Grand Cathedral. Given the Elysium Order’s status as a global organization, who knew how many overseas chapters would simply fail to report in.

Nel fully expected splinter organizations to crop up in the coming years. Possibly several of them. Whether they would simply continue with the Elysium Order’s mandate of hunting down undead or whether they would become enemies of Ylva and her faction remained to be seen. Optimally, they would just leave each other alone. Somehow, Nel doubted that would be the case.

Without a way to create new eyes, any splinter factions would eventually die off. The Elysium Order took great pains to salvage eyes. So long as these other nuns continued that tradition and kept the eyes from being destroyed in combat, other factions dying off could take a very long time.

In her private opinion, Ylva should have at least kept the high council from running off. They were the ones most likely to present a hostile front to Ylva. A single chapter running around after vampires in Russia wasn’t going to hurt anyone. It was the ones who had lost their power and would be wanting it back who were the real threats.

Only one of the high council had remained behind. High Inquisitor Witman, garbed in the black and gold of the inquisitors, sat to the right of Nel. She didn’t know why he was here. Perhaps he thought he might get fame, fortune, and power by working under Ylva. Perhaps he merely lacked the power and connection with the others on the High Council and had been left behind because of that. Even Saint Adal had disappeared–which disturbed Nel somewhat; Saint Adal had more than twice as many implanted eyes compared to any other augur and Nel had a feeling most of those would be removed to fashion into new recruits for the splinter faction.

Really, she couldn’t help but wonder how splinter factions would work given the shared consciousness within the eyes. If anyone developed a spell for countering magic of the Elysium Order, everyone else would know about it right away and be able to prepare countermeasures. With a bit of luck, everyone might be forced into non-hostilities simply because of that.

Whatever the reason for Witman’s presence, Nel didn’t like him. Since Ylva hadn’t made to get rid of him, he must serve some use. For the moment, Nel would pretend he didn’t exist. It wasn’t like he could harm her. Not with Lady Ylva at her side.

While Nel’s thoughts wandered to the council, Ylva had apparently mulled over Nel’s words.

“Very well,” Ylva said, voice dragging reluctantly along the ground like a quartz slab. “You are to deliver your reports on vampires to Witman.”

“Me?” “Him?”

Nel shot the inquisitor a glare, which he shrugged off as he turned to Ylva. “My… Lady, pardon my impertinence to your illustrious grace–”

“Your facetious flattery is unnecessary. Move on to your point or be silent.”

He jolted, obviously unnerved—it put quite the smirk on Nel’s face—but he ended up continuing anyway. “I had assumed that you would wish for me to form a task force for going after those who have fled from the Order. If I am weighed down with the hunting of vampires, I will be unable to find my former comrades.”

“Indeed,” Ylva said, entirely uncaring. A slow movement of her head had her staring back at the chapter head before the table. “Any reports dealing with vampires or mummies are to be given to Witman. Move on to your reports on liches. We are aware of thirteen roaming the Earth and find Ourself curious whether mortals know of any others.”

“I…” The nun looked down at the stack of papers in her hands.

A stack that Nel would bet her entire life with Ylva against it having anything but vampires. Liches were the rarest targets of the Elysium Order. If asked, the Elysium Order—the old version anyway—would have said that they hunted liches down. The truth was that liches tended to be exceedingly dangerous and often held grudges. If they couldn’t locate a phylactery, the lich would just come back with a chip on their shoulder. When phylacteries were located, they were quickly destroyed, but the Elysium Order tended to avoid them otherwise.

Sure enough, she glanced back up with a rapidly paling face.

“Necromancers?” Ylva said as her eyes half closed, making her look upset.

“I–I’m sorry, Lady Ylva. My report was too narrow in scope. I shall correct this immediately,” she said in a much higher pitched voice. Turning, she started to run.

Only for Ylva to say, “Stop.”

The nun’s feet locked to the ground as if magnetized, causing her to shout out a clipped scream. Or maybe it was Ylva’s voice that made her scream. Nel could almost see teardrops forming in the corners of the nun’s eyes.

“You are to gather your reports on liches and deliver them to Anise.”

The girl sitting immediately to Ylva’s left, who had been trying her hardest to avoid drawing attention to herself, sat ramrod straight with a slight squeak. “Me?”

“Nel will delegate a contingent of augurs to you for the purpose of locating phylacteries.”

“Yes, Lady Ylva,” Nel said immediately. Being the head of the augurs was nice even if several had run away. It meant that she could get others to slave over an altar for hours and days on end instead of doing it herself.

“Anise, you will prioritize liches and assemble teams to destroy them and their phylacteries.” Ylva turned her head ever so slightly without removing her chin from her fist to look at the now shaking girl. “If you require assistance, you need only ask.”

Without waiting for an answer, Ylva looked back to the nun. “All reports on necromancers are to go to Chris.” She turned her head to her left once again. “You will receive a contingent of augurs to assist with locating and prioritizing targets.”

Prioress Daniella trembled slightly as she nodded her head. “Yes. Of course. Right away, L-Lady Ylva.”

Nel couldn’t help but roll her eyes as the woman fled as fast as she could manage without actually looking like she was fleeing. Everyone was making such a big deal over Ylva. It wasn’t like she would kill them if they didn’t do their jobs properly. If they were really so scared, they could leave without any repercussions. She had already demonstrated that with the ones who had left. Ylva wasn’t even trying to get them back. During this very meeting, she had effectively disbanded the inquisitorial task force entirely and set them to hunting vampires.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Witman grumbling about just that under his breath.

She completely ignored him. He wasn’t her problem to deal with. Slightly more concerning was the two girls. Not even out of school and yet they were asked to organize some hunts for vampires and necromancers? Nel might need to speak with Ylva and see if she couldn’t get that assignment pushed on someone else. Someone older. Even though Ylva had given them both rings, Nel didn’t believe that they were any more trustworthy than various members of the Order who had stuck around.

But maybe Ylva knew something she didn’t. Whatever the case, it didn’t seem like a vital emergency that needed to be handled right away. Standing, Nel arched her back in a long stretch. Sitting still for hours on end had put several aches around her spine. Sometime soon, she should speak with Ylva about getting more comfortable chairs. Hopefully the constant meetings would lessen once things had a chance to stabilize.

Before Nel could head off to the baths for a nice relaxing soak—they weren’t as grand as the bath in Ylva’s domain, but still managed to be a far cry better than the cramped showers in Brakket’s dormitories—another nun approached the head table. A Sister Griggs, one of the sisters she had worked alongside in Charon Chapter. Nel had never really spoken to her, but she knew her face and name at least.

With a mild groan, she retook her seat. There weren’t any other scheduled meetings for the day, but if Ylva wasn’t getting up, she supposed she should stick around to find out what the nun wanted.

“Lady Ylva,” Sister Griggs started out with a slight bow and without a hint of nervousness in her voice. Nel had to wonder if everyone called her Lady Ylva solely because that was how Nel had introduced her as or whether they would have called her that on their own. “We captured an individual attempting to gain access to the cathedral,” she said. “When she mentioned your name, we decided to alert you as soon as your meeting was over.”

“In the future, any intruders are to be brought to Our attention immediately.”

Sister Griggs closed her eyes and slightly bowed her head. “Yes, Lady Ylva. Shall I have her brought before you? Or would you prefer to attend to her within the dungeons?”

“Here will suffice.”

“Very well.” With yet another bow, she turned and left the great hall.

While she took her time returning, Nel couldn’t help but wonder if she had bowed to Ylva half as many times in her nearly two years of working under her as Sister Griggs had in less than five minutes. She probably had. Recently? Maybe not so much. But Nel had been far more cowed in her initial few weeks—or maybe even months—of getting to know Ylva. She couldn’t help but wonder how the Elysium Order might act after a year. They were an organization and most of the members would probably have far less intimate relationships with Ylva than Nel.

Sister Griggs soon returned with a pair of other nuns who Nel didn’t recognize. She did recognize the nun between the pair, chained up.

“Sister Cross,” she gasped, leaning forward in her chair.

“Sister Cross,” Inquisitor Witman repeated in a much lower tone of voice. “We’ve been looking for you.”

“I’ll bet you have,” Lynn said with a snort. She gave a derisive shake of her head before looking straight at Ylva. “I don’t know if you’ve heard about the goings on in Brakket City at the moment.”

Nel blinked. That sounded important. And ominous. It couldn’t be anything too serious. Eva probably would have messaged her wanting her to spy on something or other as she usually did. A bit annoying but it did keep her and Ylva up to date on matters they might otherwise miss while off on their frequent trips.

“To be succinct, Ylva,” she said without a hint of the respect that the other nuns were giving or trying to give, “I have developed a method to kill enigmas more permanently than we have been able to in the past. However, I cannot do it alone. Brakket city is… infested with enigma. Many more are likely spread around the surrounding wilderness, getting further and further away every day. With the city all but abandoned, the situation is only going to get worse. The enigmas will spread. We can’t contain and kill them fast enough.” She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “So I figured I would ask for a loan of a few nuns.”

Ylva slowly leaned forward on her throne, staring down at Lynn. “Abandoned? Tell Us more.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.031

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva opened her eyes, surprised to find she had eyes to open after watching the avatar being torn apart in the walls of the teleportation tunnel. She had fully expected to be torn apart as well. Even if Void reclaimed her, she would still have awoken in that void where nothing existed save for her mind.

Awaking in a familiar place, staring at a familiar cracked sandstone ceiling, Eva let out a soft sigh. The women’s ward. Her own bed. Definitely a far cry from the endless abyss that had been her earlier death. The blankets felt soft and fluffy against her skin, as if they had just recently been laundered.

She didn’t want to get out of bed. For so long, she had felt this stress building up. And now, everything was over. Or it should have been over. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say that with absolute certainty. As much as she wanted to just lie down and relax for a week straight, Eva needed to find out what had happened. To find out whether or not everything worked out properly.

Mustering up her willpower, Eva threw off the blankets and swung her legs out of bed.

Only to fall straight to the floor, unable to even catch herself on the edge of the bed.

She had no legs. Her arms ended as stubs just beneath her elbows. Unlike how she had woken after using her beacon, no coalesced blood served to replace her missing limbs. Neither had Arachne’s carapace returned. Just raw skin that terminated around her bones.

However hard she tried, she couldn’t force her blood to pierce her skin. Or move it much at all, for that matter; trying to manipulate her blood within her veins worked, but the blood couldn’t escape her body.

Which wouldn’t stand.

Maybe it was her skin being too demonic, too strong for such a weak manipulation to work. Maybe it was something else entirely. Even if she had a cut, she doubted that her control over her blood was to the level where she could form limbs from it.

If her demonic power involved blood, that was great. She knew blood. Practically her entire life had been spent as a blood mage. But if it only activated when she was under extreme stress, what good was it? Especially now that she lacked Arachne’s limbs, she really needed it.

Propping herself up into an upright position, Eva glanced around with a scowl on her face. Nothing around the room would help her. Her dresser held clothes and books. The end table had a few runes to control the lighting of the room—which she hadn’t activated, and yet she could see perfectly fine despite the dark sky outside the window. Perhaps another demonic aspect? Night vision? Neat, but useless as far as mobility was concerned.

She didn’t have a wheelchair. Even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to wheel it. Her thaumaturgy wasn’t good enough to help. Fire wouldn’t do much except make a mess and her skills in air magic levitation were lacking. Earth magic might be able to push her around, but she was barely experienced enough to work with dirt, not the hard cement of the women’s ward floor.

Dragging herself around was a possibility, if an unpleasant one. She hadn’t had clothes since before her transformation at the ritual circle, so she would be dragging her bare skin across the ground. Bearable until she reached someone, she supposed, but that was another problem in and of itself. Did she really want to appear before anyone else while crawling across the ground? Juliana and Shalise might help her out without question, but they weren’t likely to be at the prison. Catherine, Devon, or Devon’s demons were the ones who should be around.

Eva had a sinking feeling that the demons would lose all respect for her while Devon would see it as an opportunity to lock her up and keep her from getting into more trouble. All for his experiments, of course.

Arachne was the only one she would trust and she was obviously not around. If Arachne were anywhere nearby, Eva had no doubts that the spider-demon would have sensed her presence and sought her out above all other happenings. Even were the world back in peril of ending.

In attempting to clamber back onto the bed—because so long as she was stuck thinking, she might as well be stuck in comfort—Eva knocked over the end table. A crystalline dagger, one she hadn’t touched in years, slid across the floor away from her. The hilt lacked a bloodstone. It hadn’t had one in years as well, the same years in which she hadn’t touched it. Neither did she have the means of creating a new bloodstone.

Her void metal dagger, and the gems it held, were likely lost. She had the dagger on her person before the ritual began. After transforming into the bloody winged version of herself, she hadn’t checked for its presence. After returning to Earth from Hell, she had wound up naked. Maybe it was lying out on the surface of the ritual circle. Maybe it was gone forever. She would make a few attempts to look for it, but obviously not at the moment.

There should be a few spare stones lying about from her trip to Florida however.

Before she could get excited about digging them out from whatever corner of the room she had tossed them in, Eva realized just when her trip to Florida had been. She had gone on the very first day school had ended. While she had spent a few days wandering about before finding the gang she had dismantled, it hadn’t been a significant length of time. Which meant that the bloodstones were at least seven months old. Probably closer to eight.

Normal bloodstones lasted only about three months before deteriorating. Those left over from her altercation with Sawyer would be nothing but dust. Her void metal dagger and its stones had spoiled her.

Slumping back against the bed, Eva scowled. She had such a simple solution to her problem and yet no bloodstones with which to enact that solution. She could try teleporting to the dormitory. Crawling around, she would be more likely to encounter Genoa, Shalise, or another human. But there were also a number of demons there. Possibly including Catherine. They would be able to sense her without much difficulty and might investigate.

Though, given that no one had come to see her at all was somewhat strange. Her room was a separate ward scheme than the women’s ward and the rest of the prison, but they could still have knocked on her door without exploding. Something… was wrong.

Eva slid herself across the floor, angling herself towards the window. Nighttime, just as she had seen before. But it wasn’t a proper night.

There were no stars in the sky. No clouds, not even a wisp. She couldn’t see the ground or any prison walls from her position, but she bet that there wouldn’t be much out there. Nothing besides sand and an endless ocean outside the walls of her women’s ward.

The alternate women’s ward.

Eva grit her teeth. Of course. She should have realized the moment she woke up. The normal women’s ward had been destroyed by enigmas during the attack. She had seen it with her own eyes.

Her first thought was to simply use her beacon to return to the real world.

But she didn’t have one. In the short time between returning to Earth and taking the Avatar of Life through the teleportation tunnel, she hadn’t had time to create one. She hadn’t even thought of it.

“Void!” Eva shouted. “Put me back on Earth! There are still things that need doing.”

She waited, but for once in Hell, only silence answered her. Eva had to concentrate to keep her teeth from grinding together. The plan to return Life’s avatar hadn’t included this. Had it even succeeded? Void was supposed to have used the connection Life had forged between their realms to punt the brain back at the Power. But if she were here, was it here as well?

Eva did not want to walk outside to find chunks of Vektul or the avatar lying strewn about her domain.

Though, she didn’t want to be in her domain in the first place. In fact, she really didn’t want to be in her domain. There was nothing here. Nothing at all save for what she created. Which she knew about, and had known about for a while, but it hadn’t really registered with her until just now. She had always figured that Arachne would be around to keep her company. Unless some significant amount of time had passed, she doubted that Arachne would be hanging around in her domain. Same with Lucy. Not that Eva ever wanted to return to that domain, but maybe she could have gotten some imp to go to Lucy’s domain and extend an invite. Catherine and every other demon that she knew would be back on Earth.

Well, not every demon. Visiting Willie didn’t seem like a good way to pass the time, however. Prax died a while back, he might have returned from Void’s pit of Hell, but Eva didn’t really care to see the cambion again.

There had to be a way out.

Though first, she needed to get mobile.

Being in her domain, she should be able to conjure up something. She had built the entire alternate women’s ward, after all. But what to conjure up? A set of crutches clattered to the ground to her side. Without hands to grab them, she wouldn’t be able to use them even if she had the balance of a succubus. She couldn’t even reach the doorknob let alone turn it without hands.

Destroying the door, or the entire women’s ward would be possible. That would just leave her on a sandy beach and while she could roll into the waters of Hell and visit another domain, she had already decided that that probably wouldn’t be the best of ideas. Especially not while missing limbs and unable to defend herself. Sure, winding up in trouble might increase her control over her blood based on what happened in tense situations in the past. At the same time, she might wind up torn apart at the hands of another demon.

A dozen bloodstones dropped out of mid-air at Eva’s next request, rolling across the floor. One rolled right up to her arm. Despite the bad feeling about it, Eva ground the stub of her arm against the ground until it started bleeding. Dripping the black blood over the bloodstone, Eva waited for just a moment before sighing.

It wasn’t working. She felt no control over her blood beyond what little there was from being in her veins. And that was rapidly dissipating now that the blood had left her body.

The lack of control was probably because the bloodstones were simply constructed from her memories and not from the heart of a living being. Even if she conjured up a body, she doubted that creating a bloodstone from it would work as it would be a construct and not a real living person.

Really, she was the only living being that she had ready access to.

A sardonic smile crossed her face. Of course, her body was the only one she had access to. Her heart beat in her chest, ready to go.

And she had a modicum of blood under her control within her own veins. Likely not even anything demonic, but rather from the ritual she had performed before even coming to Brakket that allowed her to heal from the small cuts that were so prevalent in blood magic. She probably could have controlled the blood within her veins years ago, she had just never had a reason to do so.

Now? She did. She needed to get back on her feet. She needed to be able to move around. Perhaps more importantly, she needed something she could use as an active weapon.

Everything seemed calm at the moment. Seemed being the key word. She had not forgotten the enigmas that had once run rampant around her domain. Void had mentioned that he had been cleaning up after the invasion, but it had sounded like a work still in progress. If there were things outside her room, destroying the building or leaving could be dangerous. She was not invulnerable within her own domain. This was where an enigma had bitten off her leg, after all.

Eva took a deep breath. Not willing to waste any more time thinking—just in case an enigma barged into her room—she started to act. Blood, under her direction, etched itself into the surface of her heart. A perfect etching of circles and sigils. The most detailed version of bloodstone creation that she knew how to create. Normally, she drew it on the back of her hand and pressed her hand to the chest of whoever she was turning into a bloodstone. If she could, she pressed her hand directly against their still beating heart. With the sigil directly etched into the heart, something she had never tried before, she was expecting a high quality stone.

Hopefully. She had a slight comfort in knowing that Void would reconstitute her body should she screw everything up. Not the best reassurance, but a reassurance nonetheless.

With another deep breath, she flooded the shallow etchings with magic.

The pain came instantly and without remorse. Eva cried out, screeching at the top of her lungs. If anything was in her domain and hadn’t known that she was there, it did now. Though Eva didn’t spare a moment of her thought to consider that terrible prospect. She didn’t have a moment of thought to spare. Not a single coherent thought formed.

Her heart crunched down, tearing itself apart from the veins and arteries that connected it to the rest of her body. It twisted. The flesh of her heart chaotically folded in on itself, hardening as it shrank down. The rough walls of her heart smoothed out, becoming as glass.

Despite her heart being completely disconnected from her body, the pain in her chest didn’t stop. A burning fire welled up within her. At the same time, she started to see spots in front of her eyes. Her arms, even though they were half gone, felt as heavy as lead.

Eva failed to maintain her half-sitting position. The muscles in her back just wouldn’t respond.

As she slumped down to the floor, a single coherent thought made it through the jumbled mess that had become her stream of consciousness.

She needed to circulate her blood.

The moment the thought crossed her mind, her blood started pumping again. A second later, she gasped in a deep breath of air.

Her heart didn’t pump. She had no heart. Just a gemstone the size of a marble. And it… worked. Blood flowed around the stone, filling her veins and carrying that vital essence of life around her body. She didn’t know why she had started to see spots so soon. Being ninety-nine percent demon, she barely slept, ate, or did other human things. Breathing was something of an automatic reaction, so she hadn’t really stopped doing so, but had thought that she could go without oxygen for some time.

Obviously not something she was about to test.

For what seemed like an hour, Eva lay on the floor in a puddle of her own sweat that she hadn’t realized she had even shed. That entire time, the pain slowly lessened and lessened until she could stand to actually think for a few moments about how foolish her solution had been.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so foolish had she already had an implanted bloodstone. Something that she could have kept her blood flowing with while her heart underwent its transformation. Of course, had she already had a bloodstone in her chest, she wouldn’t have needed to make one in the first place.

By the time Eva felt well enough to actually move, her body was sticky and somewhat unpleasant smelling.

But it had worked.

It had worked.

Her blood was flowing rapidly through her body, all according to her direction. Much like when the hunter had stabbed her in the chest. She didn’t need a heart. She had blood magic. And maybe a little demonic constitution helping out as well. A normal human might have a bit more trouble recovering from that pain or even standing up again.

Speaking of standing… Eva glanced down to her sweat covered arms. One was already injured, lightly leaking a little blood from it. She stretched the blood out, forming it into a hand shape. A mass of liquid hand. Glancing to her other arm, she watched as thin needles of blood burst from the smooth skin, wrapping around the stub until it too formed a hand.

She repeated the action with both of her legs, pouring blood from her stumps.

Which almost had her passing out again. Eva quickly sucked the blood back into her body as she considered a second, albeit smaller problem.

Unlike before, she wasn’t mass producing an endless supply of blood. That had been some demonic power. Maybe she would learn to harness it fully one day. For now, she only had the blood in her body.

Trying again, this time Eva did not make solid arms and legs. Her hands were thin and bone-like. As if the bones of her arm were the only things that extended out, no meat and no muscles. Her legs were the same. She only had narrow bones of liquid blood stretching out from the stubs at her hips.

She still felt a little anemic, but it was better than nothing. So long as her body continued to produce blood cells, she could fill out her thighs and hands to their proper shape. For now, skeleton Eva it was.

And she stood, shaky at first. Whether the shakes came from how narrow her legs were, the dull thumps of pain still pounding in her chest, or simply because she wasn’t quite used to walking around just yet—using the blood as legs before had felt a whole lot more natural—she couldn’t say. But she did stand.

Standing was an improvement worthy of praise in and of itself.

Technically, she didn’t need to stand. Neither did she need long legs. Floating around on platforms of blood should be possible. It was basically what she was doing anyway—unless she hardened the bones of blood, they were fairly poor supports for her body. And she could harden them, and probably would later, but only once she had enough blood to spare for proper legs.

However, half her reason for not wanting to crawl around was appearances. Specifically not wanting to appear weak in front of other demons. Floating around on a platform of blood might be convenient, but didn’t look imposing enough. In that respect, skeletal legs were probably more intimidating than filled out thighs.

Similarly, she didn’t really need hands. She could form her blood into tentacles or just leave it all within her body until she needed to manipulate something. Even in that case, she wouldn’t need to move her arms. Floating blood was a trick she had learned a long time ago.

Maybe some day, she wouldn’t feel the need to maintain appearances. For now, she walked out of the room on two feet made of blood with two skeletal hands.

And, as she left the room, she found herself in the common room of the alternate women’s ward.

In the real world, and the last time she had seen the alternate version, the common room merely held a table and a few stolen couches. It normally sat between all the cells of the prison and led out into the main walled off courtyard.

However, as she walked into the common room, Eva found herself face to face with an obsidian column. Sandstone bricks from the roof and floor of her domain littered the floor around the common room as if it had risen from under the ground.

Eva found herself staring into her own glowing red eyes in the reflection of the smooth obsidian wall. “Huh,” she said, slowly walking around the construct. “I don’t remember creating that.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>