Tag Archives: Catherine

010.037

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Devon stalked around the prison courtyard, staring at the ritual circle drawn out where there had once been a basketball court. Eva’s treatment circle. Likely the very final one. He doubted that it was truly necessary. Taking a sample of her blood and examining it with a few spells, Devon had found nothing human about her. He couldn’t be sure if it had been her actions during the ritual—which he hadn’t seen with his own eyes—or if Void had interfered after pulling her down to Hell. Or perhaps it was merely some sort of metastasis. In the time since the last treatment, Eva’s body could have cannibalized itself in a benign or even beneficial manner. The whole reason for the delay had been because her body hadn’t been stable at the appointed time for her treatment.

However, this was his project. Though it had encountered a great number of bumps along the road, he intended to see it through.

If Eva didn’t require this final treatment, then it would harm her no more than Catherine had been harmed by her own experiments. Not that Devon was particularly concerned for Eva’s well-being.

Devon glanced to the side. A young boy sat in a wheelchair, arms and legs atrophied to the point where they were little more than skin stretched over his bones. Devon didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the boy. Some disease that kept his body from properly processing food and nutrients. He didn’t know the boy’s name. Frankly, he didn’t want to know. His biggest failure in Eva was becoming far too personable with her. Though he thought of her as a test subject, that had merely been a title he had attached to the person.

This boy was nothing but a test subject.

Truly, Devon didn’t know if he would survive. His health, despite his emaciation, was better than that of the other subject Devon had brought in not so long ago. Not by much. The treatment, especially the first treatment, was harsh. Eva had come though alright as a stroke of luck; hale and hearty, her only problem was that she had run away from home—police tended to worry more over healthy people than those already on Death’s doorstep. An easily remedied problem by simply ordering her to attend school and to not raise suspicion much.

So he already had a potential new subject lined up. Since tying up the mess with the Powers, summoning demons was once again possible. He was free to summon entirely new demons with no relation to or even knowledge of Eva. Or anyone around Brakket for that matter.

But first, Eva.

Devon scowled as he stared at the three– No– Four demons. Catherine knelt in one circle. For the other two slots, Devon hadn’t bothered with summoning any demons. The carnivean took one spot. The waxy ruax took the other, forced into its place by Devon’s domination. He didn’t want to use the ruax, and hadn’t used any dominated demon for any previous treatments, because of the concentration it took to keep it sitting still. Concentration he could be using to watch Eva.

There wasn’t all that much to watch. At the end of her previous treatment, Eva had the beginnings of horns poking out of her forehead, right around her hairline. Two bumps on her back that might have been the sprouting of wings had manifested as well. As of right now, several minutes into the ritual, neither had changed much at all. Her hair, short though it was, still covered what might be horns. Nothing had poked through yet. Her back was utterly smooth without even the hint of budding bat wings.

Again, Devon wasn’t sure whether that was the machinations of Powers, something with the ritual involving Powers, or even Eva herself. For all Devon knew, Eva had been capable of sprouting horns and wings for months and simply hadn’t noticed. Just as Catherine hid them from view while masquerading as a human, Eva could be keeping them suppressed.

Which all cycled back into his conclusion that Eva wouldn’t become a proper demon until she thought of herself as such completely and thoroughly. An idea Devon had considered was that she had nubs of horns simply because she thought that her treatments should have some alteration to her physical features. Her teeth and tongue were definitely inhuman, but they were different. Something easily hid simply by not opening her mouth.

Her eyes would have been a different matter entirely. Devon had been expecting them to change and had even gone out of his way to get her contact lenses that she could use to hide said changes. Unfortunately, he hadn’t seen how that played out. Her eyes had been plucked from her skull and eventually ended up replaced by the carnivean’s eyes.

All the more reason to try again on a less adventurous test subject. Though to be true to the original tests, he would have to use the original treatment circle. However, it would be far easier to keep a test subject contained for two years while he used the version developed with Catherine’s aid rather than the one he had started Eva out on several years ago.

Slowly, the ritual circle wound down. The light in the lines of the circle started to dim and peter off. None of the demons looked altered at all, not that the three of them should have changed.

The moment the ritual finished, Devon uttered a few words and banished the ruax back to Hell. It had served its purpose well enough over the past few months, but the strain on Devon’s mind while he was dominating it simply wasn’t worth the effort anymore. The only reason he had put up with it as long as he had was because he hadn’t been able to summon a replacement. That and the solitary confinement building offered breaks where he could release his domination and rest for a short time.

He considered banishing the carnivean as well.

Later. Its… dismissal from his services would need a bit of care due to their contract.

Instead, Devon stalked around the circle. Though his focus was on Eva, he paid a little attention to Catherine as the succubus got to her feet.

“I can’t tell the difference between now and before the ritual,” she whispered as she moved closer to Devon.

“Eva didn’t get stronger? More demonic?”

“I didn’t say that.” Catherine crossed her arms, curling her fingers over her elbows. “Would you notice the difference before and after dumping a glass of water into an ocean?”

Devon ran his fingers through his beard, making an idle note that he should shave or at least trim it one of these days; it was starting to get out of hand. In the center point of the ritual circle, Eva lolled around. Still conscious, which Devon found slightly surprising. Treatments usually made her pass out. It looked like a precarious thing though, as if she could topple over at any moment.

For a few moments, he just watched her struggle with herself. She slowly stabilized into a more lucid state. Her eyes grew sharper and the stubs of her limbs sprouted black blood to support her. It took several minutes, but she eventually clambered to her feet.

“Any changes?” Devon asked as soon as she looked steady enough.

Rather than answer, she moved one of her liquid hands to her forehead and started caressing it. Not the horns hidden in her hair, but just above her eyebrow like she had a headache. “A bit woozy,” she said, taking in a deep breath of air. “Did it finish properly? Or did you interrupt it.”

“No interruptions.”

“Oh good. I was a bit concerned that you had stopped it out of fear for my wellbeing. Glad I didn’t die again.”

Devon narrowed his eyes, glancing aside to Catherine only to receive a shrug. “That was a concern?”

“Had I passed out fully, yes.” Eva shook her head and pulled her hand away from her head. Somehow, she managed to avoid leaving a big streak of blood running down her face. “Still no natural wings,” she said with a halfhearted glance behind her back. “Or tail or horns, for that matter.”

“Feel any different?”

“Not particularly,” she said, rolling her shoulders and cracking her neck. “Aside from the headache. That will probably go away on its own, right?”

“Probably,” Devon grumbled. His earlier theory looked like it was right. For a moment, he considered asking her if she could try to grow wings and such, but eventually shook his head. “Blood,” he said simply. There were still a few tests to do before he completely signed off his research.

Eva held out her arm. A narrow cylinder stretched out of her wrist, roughly the same size as a vial. With her other hand, she plucked it off and tossed it to Devon. “Break it open if you want liquid blood.” Her arm had no evidence that anything had come from it, returning to the slowly churning black liquid that it had been since her return from Hell.

It was a neat trick, but… “I prefer blood untouched by your blood magics.”

“Not a single drop of my blood is ‘untouched’ right now. Nor will it be for the foreseeable future. You’ll just have to make that work.”

Devon grumbled under his breath, but pocketed the false vial anyway. He had expected something like that. The way she used her blood as limbs meant that there wasn’t much in her that couldn’t be used.

“So when is my next treatment? Three months? Or another long delay?”

“Next treatment?” Devon curled his lips back into a sarcastic smile. “What next treatment? You’re done. Congratulations. You’re a demon, Eva.”

“What– But– That can’t– I don’t even have horns,” she finally said after sputtering for a minute. For emphasis, she waved her hand around just above her head.

“I can see the obvious, girl. I expect they’ll grow in over time—perhaps all at once far off into the future.”

“I don’t feel like a demon. I’m just… me. Shouldn’t there be some big… I don’t know. Something.”

“What. Want a birthday party?” Devon snorted. “I don’t do parties. Ask the succubus. She’ll be happy to oblige.”

Eva blinked and glanced towards Catherine, who blinked and glanced towards Devon. Both spoke at the same time.

“What?” “What.”

“Perhaps not a birthday party, but I expected you to be ecstatic over Eva. Aren’t you wanting to use her in your own treatments?”

A certain hunger lit up in Catherine’s eyes as she slowly nodded her head. Looking back to Eva, she said, “That is a good point. Perhaps later, however. After everything, I think I’ve earned a few days rest. Besides, I might have to devise something special for Eva. Yes,” she said, starting to walk away. “Something special indeed.” She snatched up her cell phone from where it lay on a chair just outside the treatment circle.

Devon turned, not quite to follow her—she was heading back towards the women’s ward building. He only stopped when Eva called out to him.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“Back to my building,” he grumbled. “I’m not abandoning you. Not just yet. If you have any problems, I’d like to know about them before I get too invested into another test subject,” he said as he wrapped his hands around the boy’s wheelchair handles.

Eva, who had hand outstretched from when she had called to him, let it drop to her side as Devon started wheeling the boy away. She stayed right in the center of the circle, just standing there. Even the carnivean passing by to follow after Devon didn’t cause any reaction in her.

He turned once, then twice until he reached the iron door to his cell block. He had to step around the wheelchair to open the door before returning back to the other side to push it through. Annoying, but his newest test subject couldn’t run away so long as it was bound to a wheelchair.

All the while, he considered Eva’s situation. Plans ran through his mind, possibilities and variables as well. Had he missed anything important? Was there a need to do another treatment? Some of his questions would be answered after he finished examining Eva’s blood, but for the moment, he couldn’t think up any reason to speak with her again barring sudden problematic developments in her physiology.

“Is that what’s going to happen to me? Are my arms and legs going to be like that?”

Devon blinked. It took him a moment to realize where the noise was coming from. The boy. His test subject. “No,” he said. Immediately, he regretted his words. If, as he had all but confirmed with Eva, the transformation was at least partially mental, he shouldn’t be coloring its expectations with absolutes. He probably shouldn’t be speaking to it at all, but he had already broken that rule. “Or rather, probably not.

“But who knows. Demons come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and… materials.”

— — —

Brakket City wasn’t the sort of place that normally drew much attention. It was hardly qualified for its name. Brakket Town was even too big. Located in the middle of nowhere Montana with a population rivaling the most rural of farming communities, it had but one attraction to entice people to visit. Brakket Magical Academy. Brakket Academy or simply Brakket for short.

For the school was the city.

Though given a scholarship that covered many necessities of school life, the students also brought in outside funds. Some things simply weren’t covered by the school. The students acted as a lifeline. Their outside money didn’t allow the city to thrive, it wasn’t enough for that, but it gave the city an intravenous drip while the school administrators worked out a proper revitalization plan.

That plan had probably almost succeeded. With the publicity Brakket had received from the tournament between magical schools, they could have avoided scholarships the following year. Tourism would have grown. Especially from mundane humans expecting to see something supernatural.

Eva leaned back, sitting on a chair in the middle of her domain at the center of Brakket City. A very abandoned city. With the ‘attacks’ and twelve deaths, including four mundane humans, people were giving the city a wide berth. It probably wouldn’t last. Anderson didn’t seem the type to give up. Not with how much he had invested into the school in the first place.

However, the city was silent for the moment.

A silence Eva enjoyed.

There were no necromancers kidnapping, dissecting, and torturing her. No nuns patrolled the streets, looking like they wanted to take her out behind a barn and put her out of her misery. Zombie-like demons weren’t chasing after her and absurdly powerful demons weren’t making everyone’s lives miserable. Demon hunters stayed away, too afraid to enter after so many of their kind had met their end within the city limits. The tournament—a surprisingly less annoying event when stacked up with everything else that had happened—was still going on, just not around Brakket.

Of course, the Powers that be were leaving the city alone as well.

Eva was surprised about that last one. She kept expecting Void to whisper something to her. Maybe promises of power, maybe offhanded insults. Maybe just a quick question about how her day was going.

Her mind remained utterly silent to outside influences.

So Eva leaned back in her chair and stared at the stars with a tall obelisk glowing bright red at her back. She could live out at the prison. Devon and Catherine were both there. But she didn’t really want to. Devon wasn’t a good conversationalist. In fact, with how he had simply walked away from her after her final treatment, she figured that he would be far less willing to entertain her than ever before. Catherine might be more willing to talk, but it would probably revolve around rituals or games.

Eva still didn’t understand the latter and she had been involved with quite enough rituals for a few lifetimes. If Catherine needed help, she would be willing, otherwise Eva intended to stay far away from that branch of magic.

Without any company she wanted at the prison, there was no reason to stay. Her domain could provide anything she wanted at a thought. So long as it was on Earth, she would abuse it to the maximum extent possible.

In order to further that abuse, Eva had started pouring magic into the obelisk once again. She doubted that there would be another sudden explosion of Hell merging with Earth. In pouring magic into the obelisk, she could feel her domain slowly expanding. Her island along with it.

It served two purposes. First, it let her control her surroundings farther out. Eva held no doubts that the current peace would last only as long as other people let it. If she controlled the entire city, it wouldn’t matter how many demon hunters got brave enough to show up or how many necromancers decided that her eyes would make great reagents. Once they stepped on her domain, she would be free to deal with them as she saw fit.

Secondly, Eva could entirely revitalize Brakket City on her own. Obviously, Brakket wasn’t the most ideal of locations for her to attach her domain. She would have preferred Florida, some larger city with plenty of distractions. Until she figured out how to move it, Brakket would have to work. She would make it work. People would be free to live anywhere within her domain. She could build buildings, create food, and so on and so forth. Eva might be a little sneaky about it; food appearing on people’s tables might freak them out. It wouldn’t be much trouble to create a store that endlessly resupplied itself with a variety of products—clothing, food, tools, and anything else she could think of—managed by a construct of her design. She wouldn’t even need it to be permanent. Just something to get people back into town. From there, she could hire real people.

The peace wouldn’t last. Nothing could remain copacetic indefinitely. Eva was counting on it not lasting. She needed bloodstones until her heart healed and for that, she needed people. While she could leave and head to Chicago, Detroit, or anywhere else she was likely to find valid targets for bloodstone creation, she was hesitant to leave.

Arachne would be back. One day, Arachne would be back. The first place she would check for Eva would be in her domain.

Until then, Eva lay back in her chair and counted the stars. She could wait. Arachne would be back. She would wait right here.

END

>>Author’s Notes 010<<

Vacant Throne, a new story! Young woman involved in a robbery-gone-wrong ends up meeting an angel and finds herself trapped in a world of magic and monsters.

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010.035

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Finally

Blood flowed out to fill the vacancy where Eva’s legs used to be. Enough time had passed that she could form nearly full legs with the amount of blood that she had. They might have been slightly thinner than Arachne’s legs, but that wouldn’t impact their ability to carry her around in the slightest. After a few more days, she should have enough blood for a proper set of arms and legs.

Eva glanced to the side of her leather seat—modeled after the most comfortable chair in Brakket Academy’s lobby—and checked the time. Seven days since she awoke and began her work on the obelisk.

Aside from the chair, a tall grandfather clock was the sole decoration on her island domain. That she had created, anyway. Obviously the obelisk still stood not far from her chair and the little tree without leaves was still around. She hadn’t tried doing anything with the latter; and for the former, she was still pumping as much of her domain’s magic into it as she could.

Nothing else existed as far as her eyes could see. She hadn’t bothered recreating the alternate women’s ward building. Shelter didn’t do much here. It wasn’t like she would suddenly be caught out in the rain. Eva highly doubted that it would rain in her domain without her permission. Same with wind or temperature. Nothing would change unless she wanted it to change. Not needing to sleep or eat, she didn’t have much use for a bed or kitchen.

Of course, she hadn’t been idle for a full week. Eva had conducted numerous experiments in an attempt to escape Hell; most of her experiments revolved around teleportation. So far, she hadn’t been able to force herself into the tunnel of flesh that normally ferried her between her prison and the Brakket dormitory.

Obviously. Or she wouldn’t be inside her domain.

It wasn’t just that they were unsuccessful, but any attempt at teleportation worked instantly. One moment she was seated in her chair, the next she was falling on the ground on the opposite end of her island having forgotten to make legs first. She didn’t pass through any tunnel. The world didn’t fall away to reveal that blinding white place she saw when Zoe teleported her. Neither did she feel even the slightest sensation of movement like she did after blinking. She was just there.

Unless she tried to teleport outside her domain. In that case, it simply failed. No headaches or running into brick walls like had happened on occasions where she had tried to teleport out of anti-teleportation wards. Just nothing at all.

But now, finally the obelisk was reacting. She had been thinking about diving into another demon’s domain if it stayed inert for much longer.

She stood. The hardened soles of her blood feet pressed into the sand as she walked closer to the obelisk. Moving closer, she could feel an air of magic about it. Much like how wards felt, though far less directed and controlled. At times, the obelisk felt almost full of magic. Only for it to feel vacant a moment later. No matter how full it felt, Eva had never stopped pressing magic into it. Some of that fluctuation might be the magic leeching into the air.

It wasn’t like the ambient magic would harm her. Her domain absorbed it all without issue when the magic haze got far enough away from the obelisk.

While most of the island’s sand was lighter in color—not quite the earthy yellow of normal sand, it was a bit grayer than that—the sand immediately around the obelisk was a darker hue. And it was spreading. Grain after grain of the tan sand turned dark.

A crack echoed off the nothingness in her domain. In an instant, the black sands covered every inch of her island.

Her attention, however, wasn’t on the sand anymore. As soon as the dark sand spread out beneath her feet, she noticed a set of bodies and quite the assortment of rubble appearing around her domain. Four bodies, to be precise. Three demons and a human. One looked like a reject from a wax museum. Another was human save for the thick tentacles on her head. The last demon was the most traditionally demonic of the three, complete with wings, horns, and a spaded tail.

But Eva ignored them for the moment, squatting down near the human. Garbed in a trench coat, he had a long beard that had been a goatee at one point. He really needed to shave it down. A bit of red blood matted it against his face, but the injury wasn’t too severe. He had no internal bleeding, just a fresh cut on his forehead and a couple of bruises. She reached over and poked him in the shoulder. “Devon?”

His eyes snapped open. With a hiss of pain, he closed the one on the same side as his cut. Getting blood in the eye wasn’t much fun. Eva had some first hand experience. His still open eye darted about, only staring at Eva’s face for a moment before glancing over her shoulder towards the obelisk, then around everywhere else as he propped himself up on his elbow.

“Thought you were in Hell,” he said as he pressed his fingers up against his cut.

“I am in Hell. Or… I was in Hell…” Eva trailed off as she glanced around once again. No matter where she looked, she couldn’t see the waters. Buildings had replaced much of her sandy beach. Buildings that looked an awful lot like a bomb had just gone off in the middle of the street.

Then there was the sun in the sky. She had tried to make one earlier, not long after making the grandfather clock, but it hadn’t worked. She wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps it was because of how difficult it was to visualize the distances between the Earth and the Sun. Either way, there was one up in the sky now, although it was slightly obscured by a few winter gray clouds.

However, all was not normal. While there was a proper sky and buildings—was that a pizza parlor?—the ground was still sand. The obelisk still stood tall not far away. The little tree without leaves was just beyond that.

She slowly stood, conjuring up a set of clothes using her domain’s magic—she hadn’t bothered before, but probably should now if she was back on Earth. Conjuring a black skirt and a white button-up shirt worked perfectly. So did providing a couch identical to that of the women’s ward for Devon to rest on. Yet she could see down the sandy street, past the blown-out buildings. This was definitely Brakket City.

Or some deep delusion she had subconsciously built in her domain.

Frowning, she stepped away from Devon as he started fussing with his eye and approached Catherine. It took more than a poke in the shoulder to wake Catherine up despite her lack of apparent injuries compared to Devon. Dumping a portion of her arm’s blood onto the succubus as one might dump a bucket of water over a sleeping person worked well enough. She started coughing and sputtering as if Eva had gotten it in her mouth and nose despite taking care not to.

Eva pulled back as much blood as she could. It wasn’t a hundred percent of it all, Catherine’s skin and other contaminants prevented that, but it was enough to form her arm back into its proper shape without any noticeable deficiencies.

“Oh my head,” Catherine groaned, flopping over on her back and pressing the palms of her hands to her brow. “I feel like… like someone took the most magically potent wine, filled it with even more magic, then bashed me upside the head with the bottle.”

“How would you even know what that feels like?”

Catherine moved her hands just long enough to shoot Eva a glare. Apparently realizing how undignified and ungraceful she was being, she shot up, moving to a sitting position then standing. She didn’t stay standing for long. Catherine wobbled back and forth, almost toppling to the ground until Eva caught her.

“Are you alright?”

“Were you not listening a moment ago?” she asked with a mild groan. “I’m surprised I’m alive.”

“None of you look particularly hurt,” Eva said as she glanced around. Devon’s small cut aside, everyone looked hale and hearty to her sense of blood. At least, everyone except for the ruax looked normal. It was a bit difficult to get a read on the waxy demon.

Not wanting to hold on to the surprisingly heavy succubus forever, Eva conjured up another chair. The sands around them rose up and formed into a soft leather. Lightly nudging Catherine sent her falling into the seat. One of her wings bent slightly in a way that made Eva wince, but Catherine just leaned forward, rearranged herself, and leaned back again with her wings pressed tightly against her back.

There she sat, once again moving her hands up to rub her forehead. Devon was doing the same thing not far to the side. Maybe he wasn’t fiddling with his cut after all, maybe he had a headache as well. Eva considered waking up the two other demons before realizing that she really didn’t like the carnivean all that much and the ruax would be better off asleep until Devon was feeling positive that he could fully control her.

Unless the ruax was the cause of their headaches. But… no. The ruax’s face was pressed into the sand, half buried even. Devon had said that she required eye contact to work her debilitating ability.

If the ruax did wake up and wasn’t under Devon’s control, Eva was fairly confident in her ability to contain or kill it. With the area around her acting like her domain, as evidenced by her clothing and the seats she had created, she had tools at hand.

Tools that Catherine stared at with a curious look on her face. Her fingers traced over the top of the leather armrest as she inspected its surface. Without any warning, she dug the sharp tip of her nail into the leather and peeled it back to reveal a padding underneath. She plucked some out and stared for a moment more before her red eyes flicked towards Eva.

“What did you do?”

Eva blinked. There was a harsh accusation in Catherine’s voice. If anything, she would have expected a note of thanks for the seat, but apparently that wasn’t a concern at the moment. So Eva shrugged. “Made you a chair. Thought you might want somewhere comfortable to sit rather than the sandy ground.”

A jolt ran through Catherine as she turned to look over the edge of the chair. Eva followed her gaze, but found nothing other than the sand. The obelisk, now dark and back to its smooth obsidian, was the next object of Catherine’s scrutiny. Then the tree, until she finally looked down the road towards Brakket Academy, though the school building wasn’t actually visible from the street.

“We’re in your domain,” she said with a slight note of fear in her voice.

“Something like that, I assume.”

“How? It shouldn’t be possible?”

“Why not? Ylva’s domain was connected to Earth for a year or more. And then there was my dormitory room a while ago. It got connected on accident roughly when the sky first turned purple.”

“Ylva was given permission, was she not?” Eva winced slightly but nodded her head; Ylva’s domain being connected to Earth had been her fault even though it turned out alright in the end. “Your room at the dormitory was given permission by the school, even if it was a vague sort of permission. The other demons residing there were given specifically worded housing permits to prevent them from connecting domains. The same went for me when I was working for Martina.

“Nobody gave you permission for the middle of a street.”

Eva blinked and stared a moment as her mind churned. “A street is public property, isn’t it? I don’t need permission to use it as I see fit.”

Really, Eva didn’t have a clue what was going on. She was taking things in stride as she usually tried to do. If Void decided to drop an obelisk into her domain that let her forcibly connect to Earth as thanks for her fixing everything, she wasn’t going to complain.

Complaining might make it take its gift back.

However, public property seemed like a good explanation. At least, it did until Catherine started shaking her head.

“It doesn’t work like that. If it did, every demon who ever got summoned would have covered the Earth with their domains long ago.”

“Have you ever tried?”

“I… well, no,” she said slowly and with a slight uncertainty, quickly adding with a glare, “Because it wouldn’t work. How did you even get here? Was the remnant of Hell always your domain?”

Eva blinked and stared around again. Remnants of Hell were what they were calling the bits of land left behind when demonic enigmas died. And this one… Ah, she thought, recognizing her surroundings. She had missed it the first time because it looked like a bomb had gone off, but one of the blown out buildings was clearly the pizza shop she had killed an enigma near.

She was about to answer that no, it hadn’t always been part of her domain and it must have been her charging the obelisk that connected it, but that wasn’t accurate, was it? “Shortly after killing the enigma here,” she said to Catherine, “I walked up to the sand and pulled out a metal bar.” Holding her hand to the side, the sands jumped up, forming into the cold iron that could be found everywhere in her prison, mostly on doors to cells.

“So it was always yours,” Catherine mumbled, closing her eyes and pressing her hands to her head once again.

“I guess. Didn’t really think about it at the time. Neither do I know how it happened, so don’t bother to ask. More importantly,” Eva said, pausing a moment as she turned her gaze upwards. She had noted before, but just wanted to make sure. There were no purple streaks lining the skies, no giant eyeballs crying out enigmas, nor any lightning bolts or earthquakes. Not since she had arrived, anyway. “How are things around Earth?”

“Tedious,” Devon grumbled the instant Eva asked. “But that describes life in general. It’s always an awful bore. If you’re asking about Life, also tedious, though in a different manner.”

“A large number of enigmas have yet to be terminated,” Catherine said. “Though I don’t know what he thinks is tedious. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help. Most of the work is being done by Ylva and her nuns.”

Her nuns?”

Catherine shrugged. “Not sure what she did with the ones who disagreed with her.”

“Ominous.”

“I’m not crying over it.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Lynn completed her research. Killing enigmas permanently is a possibility now. With their semi-shared memory, the Elysium Order are the best cleanup specialists for enigma-related matters at the moment.”

“Except the damn demon ones.”

“Except them, yes,” Catherine said tersely. “We hope you don’t mind, but the prison is something of a zoo these days. Killing the demonic enigmas still results in remnants of Hell spawning around their bodies so we needed to contain them. The prison worked the best given it was already set up to handle a few and we knew how to handle more. Although…” Catherine trailed off as she looked around the sandy area of the street. Eva could almost see the gears grinding in her head.

“Don’t even think about it,” Devon snapped. “You’ll wind up making an even bigger mess than this.” He waved his hands around, splattering a little blood from his fingertips over his seat. Not that it mattered. Eva could easily remake the seats blood free later. “I expect messes from Eva, but you’ve always been tidy.”

“Hey!”

Devon ignored Eva’s outburst, continuing to glare at Catherine. “We continue with our original plan. Gather them up then use a transference circle to make them someone else’s problem.”

“If my domain had a connection point on Earth, we could simply throw them into the waters of Hell and be rid of them,” she said as casually as if she were discussing the weather.

To which Devon scoffed. “Even if that would be significantly less troublesome than a transference circle, which it isn’t, it is also wholly unnecessary now.” He waved his arms in a wide circle around him again. “Eva’s domain will suffice. We can disconnect it later.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, there are no waters around.”

Devon opened his mouth, then snapped it shut as he slowly scanned around the street. As soon as he had finished, he looked back to Eva with an accusatory glare.

Eva spoke before he had a chance to berate her for something she probably had no control over—though, being her domain, she probably had more control over it than anyone else. Maybe she could make a small pool somewhere just to toss enigma bodies into.

“As cute—or disturbing—as it is to watch you two playfully argue with each other, I really am more interested in the goings on outside this street.” She ignored both their glares and continued. “Where is everyone else?”

“Gone.”

“Evacuated.”

“Brakket is abandoned.”

“Not likely to reopen anytime soon.”

“Your obelisk,” Devon thumbed over his shoulder, “scared most everyone away.”

“Anderson was quite upset given all the work he put into the tournament and the academy. Quite the embarrassment,” Catherine said with a vicious grin.

Eva snapped her head back and forth between the two, staring at each until the other began to speak. When it seemed that they weren’t going to continue their routine, she blinked. “Juliana? Shalise?”

“Both gone. Don’t know where they are,” Catherine said with a shrug. She was starting to get a little more animated, leaning forward and stretching out her wings. Perhaps her headache was going away. “I assume they both went home to wherever they lived before attending Brakket.”

Devon, on the other hand, still cupped his face in his hand, barely looking towards Eva even while speaking to her unless he really felt the need to glare. “Which I find concerning. If the girl truly has one of the seventy-two in her head–”

“She does.”

“Then who knows what kind of trouble they are getting themselves into.”

“Better to cause trouble away from us than live around here.”

Devon opened his mouth, but hesitated, considering Catherine’s words for a moment before he ended up nodding his head in agreement. “Can’t argue with that.”

“Zoe,” Catherine said, “is still around. She spends the nights either at the dormitory or her office. A few mage-knights wander around along with a few members of the Elysium Order. I’d be watching out for them if I were you. You’re obviously not an enigma, but they get jumpy sometimes.”

Good news. Zoe was still around. While Devon grumbled and Catherine was mildly helpful, Zoe would help her get in touch with Juliana, Shalise, and everyone else. Before handling the Avatar of Life, she hadn’t had much of a chance to ensure that everyone was alright. Catherine wasn’t mentioning any deaths, but she just might not care enough.

“Right. Going to visit Zoe then. Come find me when you two are feeling better.” She started to walk away, only to stop as a thought occurred to her. A small table built itself up between the two of them with a few glasses of water sitting on top. Sand had formed the water which Eva found somewhat strange, but shrugged her shoulders. It probably wouldn’t hurt either of them. Shalise and Lynn had drunk and ate things provided by her domain for months in the former’s case. Neither had turned out wrong in the end.

With them having a bit of water in case they needed it, Eva took off in a light sprint towards Brakket Academy. She considered blinking, but didn’t want to accidentally leave her legs behind in front of Devon and Catherine. Old-fashioned walking would have to do.

The moment she crossed over the threshold where sand met asphalt, something felt wrong. Just a queasiness in her stomach. Another step and she felt her foot starting to erode away as water splashed against it, dissolving the blood. A quick thought hardened the liquid all the way up to her knees as Eva scowled at the sight before her.

Gone was the asphalt of the street. Before her lay a black void, stretching on for eternity, filled with the familiar waters that surrounded her island.

She turned back to find Devon, Catherine, and the other demons still right where she had left them, along with the half-destroyed buildings in the immediate vicinity of the obelisk. Grinding her teeth together, Eva took a few steps back from the waters of Hell. The sky went back to a sky familiar to Earth. The rest of the street reformed behind her.

Stepping onto the asphalt, her foot plunged straight through as the street wavered like a mirage, splashing into the waters of Hell once again.

“Great. Just great.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.034

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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 –>


010.030

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Catherine sat back on the couch in the women’s ward. With her cellphone in hand, she started jotting down notes. Important observations about the previous twenty-four hours that she felt vital enough to jot down. She had nearly perfect memory. The notes were just in case she did manage to forget something. As unlikely as that was.

What she really needed to do was to print them out and send them to her domain. The cellphone was an amazing tool that the humans had come up with, but it was no replacement for heavy tomes and thick manuscripts. If she did wind up perishing, she doubted that she would be able to recover her notes. Even if she were foolish enough to upload her works to the mystical ‘cloud’ that their computers operated from—foolish as who knew who might read her notes—that would only last for a few decades at most.

By the time she got resummoned, the company would have either gone out of business or deleted her data under the assumption that she was no longer using the service. Not to mention all the moving parts involved in keeping the data intact. Who knew when a power failure would wind up with all the backups erased.

No. Phones were poor replacements to tomes. Yet they were excellent tome creation utilities. Write a tome within a decade or so, print it all out, and enchant it with some longevity. It shaved off all the tedium of writing by hand. Not to mention the handy organizational aspects of technology. If she wanted one paragraph in front of another, it was a simple cut and paste. Physical manuscripts had to have several pages rewritten entirely or absurd annotations detailing where to find a relevant paragraph.

Unfortunately for Catherine, she didn’t get too many notes out before her phone rang.

Juliana.

Catherine stared at the name, trying to remember if the girl had ever called her before. She couldn’t come up with a single time. In fact, she couldn’t actually remember entering the girl’s number into her phone. Nearly perfect memory was only nearly perfect, after all.

With a sigh and a feeling that she would regret it later on, Catherine answered the phone.

“Help me!”

Yep. It’s later on and I am definitely regretting answering. For a moment, she considered hanging up. But, with another sigh, she said, “Maybe explain what you need help with?”

“There is this giant obelisk in the middle of the city. Zagan thinks it’s dangerous… or maybe he doesn’t; he won’t tell me straight, he’s just being annoying. It’s something to do with Hell probably though and I can’t get a hold of Eva or any other demon besides maybe Ylva, I haven’t tried her. My mother doesn’t know much about demon things. So please tell me that this isn’t something terrible that’s also going to destroy the world!”

Catherine blinked, staring at the phone as she held it a few inches away from her ear. Despite the distance, she heard every word that the girl said in her diatribe of near nonsense. Once certain that she was finished, Catherine brought the phone a little closer. “It’s always one thing after another with you people isn’t it? The moment I sit down to relax, the world is in danger again.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t do anything though. I just found it. If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.”

She considered just ignoring the problem. Most problems went away if they were ignored long enough. Unfortunately, if the world really was in danger again, she needed it mostly intact. The Power summoning ritual wouldn’t function from Hell. She had to do it on Earth. Or some other plane of existence, but Catherine had never been to one. Expending additional time researching safe locations within other Powers’ domains was an extra task that was completely unnecessary while the world was safe.

So, heaving a great sigh that she ensured was audible over the phone, Catherine said, “First, calm down. I don’t know what Zagan said but Irene is cute when she is flustered. You’re not.” She ignored the indignant huff on the other end of the line. “Then calm down more and tell me, in clear and concise words, exactly what is happening.”

“I’m at the spot where Eva killed the demonic enigma. An obelisk is jutting out of the remnant.”

Catherine waited. Juliana didn’t continue. “That’s it? That hardly seems like an emergency. Let alone an emergency worth contacting me about.”

“You weren’t my first choice, but Eva wasn’t answering her phone.”

“She isn’t on Earth. In any case, some obelisk–”

“Wait!” Again, Catherine had to pull the phone away from her ear. “What happened to Eva?”

“She disappeared.”

There was another brief moment of silence before Juliana’s voice crackled over the speaker. “What? Just like that? What happened? Did she die or what?”

“Well, she never reappeared. I don’t know if she died or not, but she hasn’t come back. I would know unless something happened to her demonic side—which is most of her these days.”

“What are we going to do about it?”

I am going to sit here and enjoy my respite from her ritual circles. Do you realize how busy I’ve been with all that nonsense ever since she showed me the circle?”

“We’re just going to leave her? Where is she? What if she needs help?”

“She got back from Hell once in less than an hour. That’s faster than Zagan managed.”

Once again, Catherine held the phone away from her ear as the increasingly irritating young girl kept sputtering nonsense about needing to rescue Eva. As if such a thing was necessary. Had someone even summoned her after she had died? Catherine didn’t know a single demon who could manage to return so quickly. Possibly Zagan or other members of the seventy-two. Yet he hadn’t after he had died at the hands of the other hunter. That made Catherine lean towards the idea that he could not.

No. In Catherine’s mind, if Eva wasn’t on Earth, it was because she didn’t want to be on Earth.

And if she didn’t want to be on Earth, Catherine wasn’t going to risk her ire by trying to drag her here. Catherine didn’t know what Eva was capable of while angry, but she had a fairly good idea from her fights with the hunter. Even after her most recent treatment, she doubted that her paltry tricks would have much of an effect on Eva.

“Juliana,” Catherine said, stopping the flood of words from the phone. “I told you before that you are not cute when you’re flustered. If you have nothing to say that doesn’t involve Eva, I have other things to be doing.”

“Wait! What about the obelisk?”

“I was hoping that you would forget about it,” Catherine murmured. She swung her legs off the couch, standing in the same smooth motion. Might as well get whatever was going on over with.

“How could I forget? I’m standing right in front of it!”

“Yes, yes. Just tell me where you are.”

Catherine stared up at the obelisk with a frown on her face. “It’s definitely something from Hell,” she said, walking around it. Each of its four sides were only a few feet wide. It hardly would have been worth noting were it not for the height. “Perhaps a construct from some demon’s domain.”

“How do we get rid of it?” Genoa asked with crossed arms. She stood just to the side of her daughter, half protective, half trying to look like she wasn’t looking protective.

It would have made Catherine laugh under other circumstances. For now, she just felt a little depressed. A chunk of some domain was sitting on Earth. Similar to how a demon could connect a portion of the world to their domain, except without the permission of a mortal and, most likely, without a demon being involved at all.

Having her domain connected to the world would be a great boon. She would be able to organize all of her notes without the possibility of a transference circle losing them somewhere in Hell. Unfortunately, she doubted many people would be willing to give her permission. Maybe tricking someone into it would work, but not around here. Ylva disconnected her domain from the mortal plane willingly because of the theory that it would accelerate Life’s plans. Even though the plan had been foiled by all appearances, she didn’t want to risk coming under attack because of a linked domain.

Besides that, Brakket Academy had way too many demon hunters running around. Even if they were all dead for the moment, it probably wouldn’t stay that way for long. More idiots would rush in and fill their spots. It was high time she sought out greener pastures, to use a human phrase.

“Catherine?”

Catherine shook her head. “Sorry. Just have had a lot on my mind since everything ended.”

“Everything has not ended,” Genoa said, tapping an impatient foot. “This obelisk gives me a bad feeling. After it’s gone, maybe I’ll consider things done. Until then…” She trailed off, glancing up at the four-sided pyramid capping the pillar. It wasn’t really visible, as she was standing near the base and the sides leaned in, but stared anyway, perhaps just wanting to look up.

“I doubt this is anything to be overly concerned about.” There weren’t any markings around it like it might be some magical construct. Nothing really decorative either. Just an obsidian pillar, gleaming slightly in the moonlight. “However, other demonic enigmas died, leaving behind remnants of Hell. If they also have obelisks, I’ll be mildly concerned.”

The mother and the daughter glanced between each other for just a moment before Genoa looked back to Catherine. “I’ll be right back.” With that said, she blinked away, leaving behind Juliana.

Precisely the situation Catherine didn’t want.

Catherine started walking around the obelisk again, moving to the opposite side from where Juliana had been standing. Had been. The moment Catherine started to move, so did Juliana. Juliana moved ever so slightly faster as well.

The girl caught up and opened her mouth.

“If this is about Eva,” Catherine said before Juliana could say anything, “I don’t want to hear it. Demons aren’t allowed to help other demons reach the mortal realm, remember? Anything I say may constitute help and then I’ll end up at the mercies of the dolls.” She tilted her head up with a slight shake. “No thank you.”

That was a complete lie. Mostly. Catherine was almost certain that whatever she said, it wouldn’t matter. She could tell everyone exactly how to summon demons and no dolls would come after her. So long as she didn’t directly participate in the summoning or circle construction, she should be safe. Not only did she want to avoid testing that theory, but it served as an adequate excuse for avoiding a discussion that she had no interest in participating in.

Sure enough, Juliana’s mouth shut with a light clack of her teeth.

Catherine kept the smirk off her face as she pretended to observe the obelisk. It was somewhat of an odd structure to have leaked through. Mostly because it hadn’t been there before. If anything was going to appear over the remnants, she would have expected it to appear shortly after the remnants formed.

More than that, the base of the obelisk almost perfectly occupied the ovular section of Hell on the ground. Any random construction in a domain would likely have appeared incomplete. A section of a wall. Maybe even a floating chunk of a building that was connected to the rest of the structure beyond the borders of the remnant.

In fact, the more Catherine stared at it, the more she decided that it couldn’t just be some random section of a domain. A sinking feeling built up in her chest. Something was definitely off about the obelisk. No markings. No inscriptions. From the base, the tip was just a little too hard to see with how it leaned inwards.

Spreading her wings behind her, Catherine took off without a glance at Juliana.

She circled around. No part of her crossed the threshold of the remnant. She had ensured that on the ground and it remained true for up in the air. Crossing over into another demon’s domain was dangerous enough under normal circumstances. Especially unknown demons. Not only had this been created from an enigma, but the entire thing shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Catherine had no intention of being sucked into nonexistence should the remnant suddenly cease to exist. Which, frankly, wasn’t that far-fetched of an outcome. Normal domains had their links to Earth broken when the demon died. Since it had been created from a demonic enigma and that demonic enigma had, by all evidence, perished, Catherine didn’t believe for a moment that the area was as stable as it looked.

With Life’s corruption and subsequent sealing of its portals, she couldn’t say what was keeping the remnant around. Unless, of course, it was some odd interaction because of the enigmas’ inability to perish. Which might be what had caused the remnant in the first place.

Ensuring Lynn finished her research into killing enigmas might be a higher priority than it had been not so long ago.

Like the rest of the obelisk, the top wasn’t inscribed or detailed in any way. Facets that faced the moon gleamed a brilliant white while their opposites were as dark as the night. She didn’t touch them, but figured that they would feel smoother than a pane of glass. The very tip stood a good ten feet above the base of the pyramid, which, itself, was on top of the rest of the obelisk. It was more of a spire than an actual capstone.

But, Catherine breathed out a sigh of relief. There wasn’t any kind of activity at the top. No laser beams, no buildup of magic about to destroy the world. It was as inert as the rest of the structure. Probably just some demon’s poor idea of aesthetic architecture.

Feeling much calmer, Catherine dipped down and landed on the ground just a short distance from Juliana and the girl’s mother, who had apparently returned during the flight.

“Well?”

“I only checked one other. The one just outside the city, not far from our home. There is something there, but not like this. It might have been an obelisk–”

The relief vanished from Catherine faster than it had come, leaving her with a vacant empty feeling. “Another obelisk? Same type, same size? Give me more details.”

“Identical, as far as I could tell, but destroyed. I didn’t exactly sit around and measure it, I doubt I could tell the two apart. However,” Genoa paused, holding her hand up above her head. “From about here on up, it was rubble. Bright red lava leaked down the side, spreading out across the ground.”

Frowning, Catherine pulled out her cellphone. One of the applications was a map. On that map, she had already pinned the location of each known remnant. One from Eva, three from Ylva, and another two from Brakket security guards, and the one from Genoa. Staring at their location, she couldn’t see any sort of pattern to their placements. The five didn’t form the points of a pentagram or a star, neither were they arranged in anything resembling a circle or a straight line. They were simply random dots on the map as far as she could tell.

Wondering when the obelisk had appeared, she started towards the pizza place—they would have noticed it popping up—only to find a sign out front stating that the building had closed. Permanently. Apparently its owner didn’t feel comfortable in a city filled with earthquakes and raining enigma.

Which sent another, far more worrying thought through Catherine’s mind.

The earthquakes had really only started up after Juliana summoned Zagan. Catherine doubted that Zagan really had anything to do with the quakes; his summoning had merely been the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the mortal saying went. Some of those earthquakes hadn’t been accompanied by falling enigmas.

Unless they had and nobody noticed. The affected area beneath the purple shimmers in the sky had extended well beyond Brakket City’s borders. If things had fallen out there and never wandered close to the city, they could still be out there. Or they could have died. That enigma they had captured had tentacles that were eating the creature itself. Who was to say that another enigma’s tentacles hadn’t taken a big bite out of their jugular vein.

And some of them could have easily perished in the fall itself. Some demons, and demonic enigmas by extension, had wings. Those that didn’t could easily not have the hardiness required to survive a fall from such a height. One could have hit the ground at a velocity most terminal, been sucked into a Hell portal, and left behind a remnant that an obelisk now occupied.

It was a silver lining that Genoa’s obelisk had been destroyed. Perhaps it had been some other plan of Life’s to bring more of Hell over. Perhaps something else entirely. With one destroyed, any sort of magical array wouldn’t function properly.

Still, they couldn’t leave it alone.

They needed to do a complete sweep of every inch of the affected area and probably several miles around as well. Unfortunately, they couldn’t even count on being able to spot obelisks cropping up as easy ways to spot the remnants. The obelisk had popped up sometime within the last twenty-four hours. Likely during the ritual after the guards were called away to deal with the situation closer to Brakket Academy. If the obelisks appeared based on time, another remnant could easily remain nothing but a dark blight on the land, easily missable during a quick flyover, only to turn to an obelisk later on when nobody was looking.

“Gather up your mage-knights,” Catherine said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

And a lot of work that would further delay her own research.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.029

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Catherine snapped a quick picture of the ritual circle Devon had devised to close the portals. It could be handy in the future given her other plans. For the moment, it had served its purpose. Magic now spent, the faint glow dimmed and was extinguished, plunging the entrance to Brakket Academy in the dark of the night.

As it should be. Her phone’s clock and the light of the sky now matched without the portals flooding daylight everywhere. She scanned the dark, starry sky—cleared of any clouds by the final blast of magic—for any hint of a leftover scar. Not a sign of the portals remained. No shimmering streaks. No slight distortions in the sky. It should be fairly easy to spot anything as the portals glowed. Against the backdrop of night, they would stand out. Later on, she could set up a camera to record the moon transit just in case. With its distinctive pattern, any distortions should be easy to spot.

For the moment, everything seemed to be winding down.

For Catherine.

Who could say how many monstrosities made their way to earth before the portal closed. Someone would need to deal with them. They would probably need to scour a fairly large area around Brakket as well. If any escaped… well, it wouldn’t be another apocalypse, but tons of people could get hurt.

Tons of people who Catherine didn’t care about in the slightest. A clear job for someone else.

As she heard the academy doors opening behind her, Catherine gave the approaching woman an appraising look.

Yes, she thought. Perhaps someone like Lynn. Or the whole of the Elysium Order. The Elysium Order specialized in things that didn’t die properly and Lynn had been working on that captured enigma for quite some time. Ylva as well, though she had been conspicuously absent for quite some time. Last Catherine had heard, Ylva had gone to visit the Elysium Order’s headquarters. Perhaps she had finally been done in by them.

Wrapped in Lynn’s arms while putting up a marginal effort to escape was the more useless of Eva’s mortal friends. Really, Catherine couldn’t fathom why Eva had her as a friend. Pity, perhaps. Though, seeing the brunette reminded Catherine that she hadn’t checked in on Irene since the end of the ritual.

She just about started heading off to find Irene when she realized that the former nun was trying to talk to her.

“What was that?”

“Is it over?” She sounded tired. Exhausted. Looked it too, with her dark hair hanging disheveled off her head. Catherine wasn’t sure what for. It wasn’t like she had done anything at the ritual site or elsewhere.

“Somewhat. Cleanup is needed. Killing enigmas and such. I expect you have it well in hand, given your research.”

“I… I haven’t actually finished a spell to kill enigmas. I’m close, but Eva took away my test subject.”

“Ah, yes. She did show up with that thing.” Catherine sighed for a moment and checked her phone. “Pity about your research. I’m sure you can find another enigma lying about,” she said with a casual wave of her hand. There were enough pieces of enigma scattered around the courtyard. Surely Lynn could scrape some up and resume her tests.

Before Catherine could walk away, the younger version of Lynn escaped from the elder’s iron grip. She stepped right up to Catherine without looking like she had been pulverized and broken in the slightest. “Do you know where Eva and Juliana are?”

“Not a clue for either. Eva isn’t on Earth. Or she’s extremely far away. For all I know, she was in those fireballs that launched towards the eye.”

The girl gasped as she looked up. Obviously there was nothing to see. Catherine tried to step away again—she really wanted to get some notes down while everything was fresh in her mind or go bother Irene—but the girl glared at her with a look befitting Eva.

“You don’t even sound concerned!”

“Should I be?” Catherine said, shifting her eyes slightly towards Lynn—who just gave her a shrug in return. Given a few of the former nun’s comments about Eva, Catherine wouldn’t be surprised to find her throwing a party upon finding out that Eva died. For herself, Eva would have been a valuable subject to repeat the treatment ritual with. Given recent plans, Catherine was slightly less concerned with that than she otherwise would be.

“As for Juliana…” She shrugged. “I don’t know why she wouldn’t be on Earth, but I am not her minder.” Catherine doubted that she would have died given who she was hosting, but that was a separate matter entirely.

Catherine tried to step away once more, yet found herself nearly walking into Lynn.

“You said that Eva appeared with my engima? Is it still around?”

“I suppose somebody should clean up the ritual circle,” Catherine said after a long sigh. And, now that she was actually thinking about it, ensuring its destruction sooner rather than later would be a good idea. Not only would it prevent others from inadvertently pulling things to this plane that were never meant to be on it, but it would keep more people from stumbling across what she intended to make her magnum opus.

Yet neither were earth mages. Leading them there would ultimately be a waste of time. For her, at least. Besides, the girl knew the way.

“Hold on for a few minutes. I’m going to get Genoa to take you out there. She can destroy the ritual circle while you collect your enigma. Also the other nun there. A certain Cole, I believe Eva said.”

“Sister Cole?”

Catherine didn’t bother humoring her, instead pulling out her phone. “Oh,” she said as she typed out a message, “tell Srey that he is free to leave once the circle is destroyed. If Saija is still out there… you can probably leave her out there. I’m sure she’ll heal someday.”

And that should be the last thing she had to take care of. At least for now. Time to go write down a few notes. With maybe a stop to check on Irene on the way.

— — —

Zoe slumped back in the couch in her office. The nurses had tried to shove her into one of the infirmary beds the moment Devon left, but they needed those beds for others. Maybe that was a bit too selfless. She was missing an arm, after all.

She stared down at her arm, half expecting it to be there yet knowing it wasn’t. It gave her a strange sensation. Like she was constantly off-balance. When she had been walking towards Devon, she felt almost certain that she was tilted to one side even though everything looked straight.

Of course, how much of that was her injury and how much of it was the cocktail of potions keeping her sensation of pain numbed, she couldn’t say. Frankly, she was surprised that she was conscious and lucid at all. Then again, maybe she wasn’t conscious or lucid and everything was a pain induced hallucination.

She shuddered at the thought that she might be hallucinating and decided that no, the bed was real. Her body was real. Her eyes were really seeing and her arm was really sitting under a stasis ward not far from the bed. Just in case it could be reattached.

It should be able to be reattached. Even mundane medicine was capable of fixing a severed limb so long as it happened within six or so hours after being severed. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses were far too busy dealing with all the other injuries sustained to look much at her own arm. Eva’s cap was adequate enough while there were more serious things to attend to.

After ensuring that she wasn’t going to bleed out, they had dumped a few potions down her throat and went on their way.

She sighed as she stared out a window. The sky was back to normal, but she could still see security guards patrolling about. Not so long ago, she had watched them fight off an enigma as large as a bear, though it lacked the tentacles dangling off its back. Maybe it actually had been a bear.

At the ritual circle, everything had seemed so calm. Relatively, anyway. The ‘brain’ had lashed out its tentacles and Eva had fought back, but aside from that, nothing had really happened until the hunter attacked well after the ritual had ended. Well, lots of things happened, but not fights or attacks. Shalise’s incident excepted.

Spotting Shalise around the infirmary had been such a relief as well.

But outside the ritual circle, all those lightning bolts, meteors, and earthquakes hadn’t been for show. All of it had meant chaos in the city.

Luckily, it was holiday vacation. Plenty of students left to visit their families. Some did not, however. With how many people were inside the infirmary, Zoe couldn’t help but fret over what had happened. Had an enigma made it into one of the dormitory buildings? Were they having a party out on the streets or in a club?

Zoe couldn’t help but jolt as the door opened. Her hand—her only hand—tightened around her wand. Only for a moment. Her fingers relaxed as Wayne entered the room.

“How are things?” she asked before he could speak, ignoring the way his eyes darted to her arm. Talking about her arm wasn’t something she cared to do at the moment. It would either be reattached someday or she would learn to work with a prosthetic.

But Wayne didn’t respond. He crossed the office, stopping at the table to her side with… not a scowl on his face. A gentle frown. He stared down at the severed arm. His hand reached out.

Not to grab it. Zoe didn’t know why he would want to touch it. Just looking at it sent a wave of nausea through her stomach. There was something disturbing about looking at a part of herself that wasn’t a part of her.

No. His fingers never touched the stasis ward over the severed arm. He picked up her once elegant dagger, frowning deeper as part of the handle fell to the table. Glancing over, he managed to ask about a hundred questions without opening his mouth.

Zoe just sighed again. “I don’t think I can repair it this time.”

It had been damaged not too long ago. But only the handle. This time, the blade itself had been shorn in two. And not a clean cut either. The hunter’s sword connected with the edge of the blade and cut right through it to the base of the wooden handle, which had split in two. She could look over to her severed arm and see where the hunter’s blade had bit into her hand.

If she were a little less lucky, she could have wound up not with a severed arm, but with it mangled and torn to shreds. Something that would have been significantly more difficult to repair than a clean cut.

The dagger would never function as a dagger or a focus again. Not unless it were completely reforged. And if she reforged it, would it even be the same dagger? No. It would be no different from going and purchasing a new one.

“I think I’ll frame it. Put it in a thin glass case and hang it on the wall.”

“It was all we salvaged from Lansing. From your home.”

“Which is why I’ll frame it.”

“I thought this ritual was supposed to be safe,” Wayne said, dark eyes moving to stare at Zoe’s arm before looking up to her eyes.

“It was safe.” Mostly. Minus the Shalise part. She didn’t feel the need to mention that at the moment. Sometime when she was feeling better, she was certain that they would go over every detail together. “This happened afterwards. That demon hunter attacked.”

“Where is she?” Despite the calm of his voice, she could see a fire in his eyes. A different kind of fire compared to that of the Elysium Order. More of a hatred than anything magical.

“Last I saw, at the ritual site. The hunter killed Eva–”

“At least that’s one problem solved,” he grumbled, though immediately looked ashamed of himself. Mildly. More for Zoe’s sake than actually caring about Eva.

“She came back roughly fifteen minutes later,” Zoe said, to which Wayne just made a disgruntled grunt. “In the interim, I held off the hunter as best I could. She had said that she wanted to kill everyone at Brakket. I couldn’t let her walk away.” Zoe let a sorry chuckle escape from her lips as she nodded towards her arm. “My best wasn’t good enough.

“Based on the sky,” Zoe said, turning towards the window without looking at Wayne’s face, “I assume that Eva won her second fight with the hunter. She and Catherine likely fixed everything.”

“I’ll believe it when nothing happens over the next year.”

Rolling her eyes at Wayne’s grumbling, Zoe looked back to him. “How are things outside? I didn’t get much of a chance to go and look for myself.”

“Lots of injuries. One of those flaming meteors struck the Gillet,” he said, confirming Zoe’s fears. “It burrowed down to the second floor before stopping. Things crawled out not long after. Anderson made an announcement shortly before that everyone should remain indoors. Had he gathered everyone in the gym, several injuries could have been avoided.”

“Perhaps, but he couldn’t have known.”

“The people… and demons, I suppose, that he has guarding the buildings have been doing an adequate job aside from that incident.”

“That covers the students. What about the rest of the town?”

“Genoa’s mercenaries are proving that the money she spent on them did not go to waste. Or so I understand. Haven’t left Brakket’s campus myself.” He paused for just a second, glancing towards the door the instant it opened.

An ashen-faced Anderson entered the room, flaps of his undone suit billowing behind him in his haste. His eyes flicked between Zoe and Wayne for just a moment before he crossed the room. “Good,” he said as he dragged one of the chairs in front of Zoe’s desk over to the couch she was lying on. “I’ve been looking for someone who can explain to me exactly what happened. The nurse told me I might find you here.”

“Some nurses should mind their own business,” Wayne grumbled just barely loud enough for Zoe to catch it as he moved to lean on the wall next to the couch.

Anderson’s eyes flicked to the severed arm on the table for just a moment before he looked back to Zoe. He showed no disgust or revulsion at its presence. “I need to know everything.”

All so he can come up with a proper excuse for the public, Zoe thought with a slight frown. Then again, so long as he was up to it, she wouldn’t have to go in front of a camera and mention all the injures. Had there been deaths? Wayne hadn’t said. Maybe he didn’t know. Regardless, Anderson’s task was not a job that Zoe envied.

So she decided to start from the beginning, just in case he actually believed Martina’s lie about the sky being an agricultural project.

— — —

Things are winding down, it seems.

Juliana jolted at the foreign thought intruding on her stream of consciousness. That jolt just about turned the street inside out. She quickly released all holds she had on Zagan’s magic. “Don’t scare me like that,” she snapped.

But she couldn’t deny Zagan’s words. Ever since those lasers appeared in the sky, there hadn’t been any earthquakes, bolts of lightning, or any teardrop meteors. That didn’t get rid of all the enigmas already on earth. Those were slowly being cleaned up. At least none of the enigmas falling from the sky had been the demonic enigmas that left behind bits of Hell when they died.

Which raises an interesting point. Go, seek out one of the locations. See if it has vanished back to normalcy.

“The closest one is on the other side of the city.”

Is that whining coming out of your mouth?

“No,” Juliana said as fast as she could. “Merely an observation.” As she spoke, she turned and started walking. There were probably more enigmas up ahead. At the same time, there were probably more enigmas in the direction of the remnant of Hell. Which direction she chose to go hardly mattered.

“So, you’re talking again,” Juliana said as she slipped into a narrow alley off the main street. Of course two enigmas were trying to eat each other—Juliana had a feeling that they would be cleaning enigma out of the streets for months in the future—but neither posed her the slightest bit of a threat. With a single tug on Zagan’s power, their insides were their outsides. “I hope that doesn’t mean anything bad,” she said as she exited the alley.

Your usage of my power leaves much to be desired.

Despite the casual tone, Juliana couldn’t help but feel her mouth run dry.

Once you find something that works, you repeat it. Again and again and again. No variation. It is, suffice to say, less than amusing.

Juliana started biting her lip. The moment Zagan spoke, she spotted another enigma wandering down the street. She froze, staring at it.

What are you stopping for? We don’t have all night.

The undercurrent of laughter was plain in his tone.

She took hold of a tendril of his magic. Gnawing on her lip, she tried to think up another way to kill one of the monsters. It shouldn’t be that hard. Life, she had discovered, was fairly fragile when one had Zagan’s power. Since she got it, she had considered plenty of possible ways of killing enigmas or even the hunter.

At the moment, the only thing on her mind was turning the enigma inside out.

Which it promptly did.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered out. “I’ll do it differently next–”

Zagan burst into a raucous laughter before she could finish her pleas. She pinched her eyes shut, hoping that Zagan tearing himself out of her body wouldn’t hurt half as much as it sounded like it would.

Just get a move on already. Before I really do decide to go myself.

Juliana didn’t need telling twice. She sprinted down the streets, ignoring the enigmas she came across, until she reached the spot where Eva had killed the demonic enigma. There, she stopped and froze, staring with a gaping mouth.

After Eva had killed the demonic enigma, Anderson had set guards around the spot. Both Eva and her mother had described it as a dark spot. A taint upon the land. Her mother had added that it was just a little too dark, unable to be lit by any source of light. Anderson’s guards put up an enchanted glass dome to keep things from escaping easily while allowing them to see any possible interlopers. Demonic shackles surrounded the entire thing as an added layer of security.

But the glass dome had shattered. An obsidian pillar reached out, stretching high into the sky. Its smooth, glossy walls towered over the surrounding buildings. The pizza shop’s facade was the highest thing around and it didn’t even reach the halfway point of the obelisk.

“Please,” Juliana said in a slight whisper. “Please tell me this is just a harmless monument from Hell and nothing dangerous in the slightest.”

This is just a harmless monument from Hell. Nothing dangerous in the slightest.

“I think I hate you.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.028

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The sky burst into flames.

Catherine couldn’t help herself. Despite the mild danger of being stuck in an almost hypnotic trance should she stare at the massive eye overhead, she looked up.

Burning meteors raced towards the eye from the edges of the shimmering portals. One impacted one of the molten teardrops. Rather than be forced down towards Earth, it continued straight towards the eye, neither stopped or slowed. Everywhere one of the meteors hit, the eye caved inwards. Like a giant bed sheet with bowling balls dropping on top of it.

Plumes of flames burst forth from the impacts.

Less than a minute after Eva disappeared and it already looked as if the world truly was ending.

Though, Catherine didn’t find herself all that concerned. This had been the plan. Probably. Had it occurred when she wasn’t expecting something to happen, Catherine might have worried a little. But Eva said that something would happen and something had happened.

So she turned on her heel. Srey stood there, still staring at the spot where Eva and the avatar had vanished. Unlike Eva, Catherine had a feeling that she knew what had shaken the other demon so.

It was all she could do to pretend nothing had changed.

During Eva’s initial ritual to corrupt the Avatar of Life with the Avatar of Void, she had gone been between the two avatars. And that had not left her unscathed.

Unscathed was probably the wrong word to use. It implied that something bad had happened to Eva. By all appearances, Eva hadn’t been distressed in the slightest. No. She had changed. In a few short minutes, she had gone from feeling like a miniature Zagan to eclipsing him so completely and thoroughly that Catherine had thought she had witnessed the birth of a new Power. For a moment. Further thought revealed the truth.

Obviously Eva hadn’t become a new power. She had only absorbed a sliver of a sliver of a Power. Just because Catherine had trouble distinguishing the feeling between Eva and the Avatar of Void before it had vanished did not mean that Eva had become such a thing.

Of course not.

How silly.

And yet, Catherine couldn’t help but wish that she had been the one to propose that plan. If she had just been the one to suggest that she stand between them while Eva performed a standard treatment from outside the circle… Catherine shivered just thinking about it.

The ritual circle was well and truly ruined. The hunter hadn’t cared about destroying it in the slightest. Neither had Eva or anyone else for that matter. It would be completely unusable should anyone try. Worse than merely fail, it would probably explode. Violently at that. Catherine did not want to be on this continent when that happened.

But it was unlikely that anyone would be able to gather up six humans and six demons and try to start it anytime soon. Zoe had mentioned wanting to destroy it and all records of how to construct it once they had finished.

Not a bad plan. It would certainly keep those humans who liked to meddle in things they shouldn’t from setting off another apocalypse.

Catherine had a feeling that she wouldn’t be deleting her copy from her phone. It was far too valuable. Perhaps not this century, perhaps not even the next, but one day, Catherine would redo this ritual. Not the whole thing. She had no desire to summon up Life. Just the Avatar of Void.

Of course, the ritual would need to undergo some changes. When the avatar had first formed fully, it had gone around to sniff at each and every participant in the ritual. Never before had Catherine felt such a sensation of impending doom.

Yet nothing had happened.

Unless she made some changes, she had a feeling that such would not be the case in any future rituals of the same type. What she needed was an inert avatar, much like it had become after the ritual had been interrupted. Perhaps after running one or two such rituals of that type, she would feel hearty enough to try with an avatar that was not inert.

Catherine shuddered again. Maybe after one or two hundred inert avatar treatment rituals.

Yes. That was a good plan. The century or two she planned to wait just to ensure that everyone save for Eva and the other demons were dead might actually be mandatory given how many modifications she would need to make. Everything in the ritual circle to do with Life could be safely stripped out. Then she needed either a way to turn the avatar inert without it being a fluke or a modification to summon only inert essence.

Much much to do. But she had time. All the time in the world, in fact.

For the moment, she had another ritual circle to go inspect.

Catherine just about teleported herself when she hesitated. “Srey,” she said, glancing to the stunned demon, “remain here. Ensure no one attempts to interfere with this ritual circle unless they mean to demolish it.” When he didn’t immediately respond, she drew on her magic forcing him to look at her. Such a simple thing would have been impossible on another demon not so long ago. What would she be capable of in a few centuries?

“Yes,” he said immediately. “Sorry. I just… with that thing staring at me.” He tremor ran through his whole body before he shook his head. “And was that demon really the same demon we’ve been helping for the past several months?”

“Don’t get any smart ideas,” Catherine said with a curl of her lips. “The day is not yet over, be vigilant. If there are any surprises, come find help.” She glanced over towards the edge of the circle. “And keep an eye on that nun. If she’s still alive. I don’t know if Eva wants her alive for some reason, so I recommend not killing her without due cause.”

“Of course.”

Catherine couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle as she teleported back to the main Brakket Academy building.

Now to find Devon.

— — —

Go take a rest, Eva had said. Take a rest indeed.

How was she supposed to rest when the town was under siege? Every one of those meteors—accompanied by the occasional lightning bolt—spawned another dozen of the enigmas. None of them had hit the ritual circle, so no one there really knew.

Though Genoa had to admit, she had been in far less restful battles. In fact, this might as well be a vacation for her. Juliana was doing a good portion of the work.

Watching her daughter walk down one of the streets of Brakket City while enigmas of varying size, shape, and material—not all of them were fleshy, they had passed one almost entirely made of stone not long ago—turned inside out around her was somewhat disconcerting. Juliana didn’t even have to move a hand. She just looked at them. Boom, inside out enigma.

Disturbing hardly seemed a big enough word. Genoa couldn’t even begin to categorize the feelings running through her as she watched Juliana turn around with a mournful smile.

“So that’s how it is,” Juliana said, a note of finality in her voice. Like she was absolutely certain that she was about to be disowned or something equally ridiculous. She turned away from the most recently inverted enigma with a shudder, looking rather sick.

Genoa couldn’t really blame her. She had never been able to handle such things. It was a wonder she hadn’t fainted outright.

“I can see why you said that you would be fine on your own,” Genoa said as she wrinkled her nose at the last in a long line of twisted monsters. Juliana had insisted that they would do more work saving the town if they split up. Obviously she had been correct. Nothing had sneaked up on Juliana. The one thing that tried ended up just as inverted as everything else. “Can’t you just do that to the entire city at once?”

“Probably. Zagan’s power is finicky though. I don’t want to accidentally kill everyone by messing up.”

“That’s a possibility?”

“Well, yes. Kind of. Zagan listed off a few limitations when he first was showing me how to use his power. One of which was that I cannot directly kill someone. However, turning these enigmas inside out doesn’t directly kill them. They die because they’re inside out.” She paused and scowled at herself. “Or maybe it is directly killing them, but it works on them anyway since enigmas don’t die like normal things. I’ve never actually tried it on a non-enigma.”

“Good. Don’t.”

“Of course not. But that’s a perfect example of how it could be finicky.”

“But if–” Genoa cut herself off as a few rhythmic beeps came from her pocket. Her cellphone. And the default ring tone as well, meaning it wasn’t Zoe, Eva, or anyone else she had programmed in. “Hello?”

“Is this Genoa?” came the rough yet familiar voice.

“Devon?”

“Why does everyone know who I am?”

“We’ve met. I lived at the prison for a few months just a year ago. How could–” Genoa shook her head. “Never mind. Did you need something?”

“You come… highly recommended in the ritual construction industry,” he said, somehow managing to sound extraordinarily sarcastic without changing his gruff tone in the slightest. “I need you back at the Brakket Academy building.”

“I can’t–”

For the second time in half as many minutes, Genoa cut herself off. This time, it wasn’t because of some minor distraction in her pocket. Nor was it because a horde of enigmas had descended on her and Juliana—her daughter took care of everything that came near without any intervention needed on Genoa’s part—but it was because of the sky.

All the clocks said that it should be night-time. Given how early night came in the winter, it should really be pitch black out. Yet there was this ever-present light around everything. Not strong enough to cast any hard shadows around, yet bright enough that no one needed to worry about seeing. Eerie, but not too unusual given that eye overhead, the light it put off, and how bright the edges of the portal were.

If she had thought it was bright before, it was nothing compared to now. The edges of the portal hurt to look at. They turned a brilliant golden-yellow, though the interior remained much the same. Like a perfect solar eclipse. Though that only lasted for a few moments.

Great meteors, completely unlike those that had been falling as teardrops, streaked across the sky, crashing into the eyeball hard enough that Genoa could actually hear it as distant thunder.

“What is that?” she snapped simultaneously to her daughter and to the man over the phone. One had been keeping secrets from her for a long while and might have a clue. The other called just in time to be too convenient.

“Eva’s signal, I presume,” Devon said with a slight grunt, answering before Genoa’s daughter could even open her mouth. His tone hadn’t changed in the slightest. Or, if it had, it sounded bored. “Which means I need you here now. I don’t know if this is a temporary window of opportunity or not.”

Genoa glanced down at her daughter. They were in the very center of the city. Not the farthest possible distance, but Brakket had been built on one edge of the city. A fifteen minute walk, at least. She could blink with her daughter, but that would still take more time than blinking without her.

Her eyes drifted over one of the inverted carcasses and she found herself putting on the same mournful smile that her daughter had on just a few minutes ago.

“I’ll be there in two minutes.”

“Good enough,” Devon said just before the line went dead.

Looking back to her daughter, Genoa put on a confident smile that she didn’t quite feel. “That was a signal from Eva,” she said, pointing a finger overhead.

“I don’t know anything about that. Giant fireballs in the sky were never–”

“No time to talk. I’m heading back to the academy. Can I trust you to stay safe out here?”

“Of course. I told you, I’ll be fine on my own.”

Genoa closed her eyes for just a moment. Juliana was so young and already trying to be independent. Independent with all that demonic magic, at that. When Erich had cut ties with the family, it had been… expected, frankly. The second he graduated, he disappeared. Even before then, he had been distant. Largely Genoa’s fault.

But this wasn’t the same. Juliana wasn’t cutting ties. Independence and abandonment were two entirely separate things.

Genoa would still watch over her. At least until she graduated.

If only to ensure she did not use the demon’s power in the wrong manner.

“Good,” Genoa said, blinking away in an instant before Juliana could respond.

Two minutes, as it turned out, had been an overstatement in the extreme. Genoa finished blinking into the academy’s lobby a mere thirty seconds after she left.

— — —

Devon stared at the ground. The lightshow growing more and more intense over his head did nothing to distract him.

His design had gone from an inconceivable null in his mind before realizing what had happened to plans in his head to a full sketch in less than six hours. In all his life, he couldn’t recall having made a ritual circle in such a short amount of time. From design to construction, his rituals normally took several weeks at minimum while he went over all possible variables.

To say he was mildly nervous about this current construct would be putting it lightly. Not that he would allow a hint of his feelings to show on his face. Even having it looked over by Catherine in the few minutes it took for the earth mage to arrive did little to assuage his concerns.

He merely watched the earth mage work with a critical eye, pointing out every inconsistency no matter how small. From the depth of one line in comparison to another, the shape of a circle that wasn’t quite circular, an ellipse that was too circular, Devon corrected everything. Everything had to be perfect. Every last little thing, every single tiny microscopic little thing had to go according to his plan.

The earth mage grew more and more impatient with every passing correction. For the life of him, Devon couldn’t figure out why. Did she want the Earth to implode thanks to a crooked line?

Devon gave a sad shake of his head as the woman stepped away from the stone platform.

“Adequate,” he said.

“Adequate,” Genoa repeated in a flat tone of voice. “You rush me over here, making me leave my daughter in the middle of a city infested with those enigma things, and you spend ten minutes micromanaging my casting for adequacy.”

“Yes.” Was that truly hard to understand?

Before the woman could shout at him, which she had obviously been about to do, Catherine cleared her throat. “It’s finished. What now?”

“You remain here,” Devon said. “The ritual is simple enough to activate with an influx of magic. I assume you are capable. I’ll send your phone a message when it is time to activate it.” He paused, turning back to the earth mage. “Despite your performance, we have two more to complete.”

“Two more? Two more with you sitting around pointing out minor scratches in the stone?” She gave a most unladylike groan. “Even Eva’s massive ritual circle didn’t have this many minute details that needed correction.”

“Yes,” he said with a deeper than normal scowl, turning towards Catherine at the mention of Eva’s ritual. “And we can see how well that turned out.” He paused for a moment to point a finger at the raging inferno above the planet. “Can’t we?”

Nobody answered, giving Devon cause to smirk. Foolish Eva. And foolish Catherine. In fact, near everyone was a complete and utter fool, but especially those who had been involved in that ritual project.

“Stay here,” Devon repeated to Catherine. He leaned down and dropped a tiny portion of green flames right in the very center of the ritual. A marker for later. “And you,” he said to Genoa, “come with me. I assume you can blink.”

He knew she could. He had seen her appear in the lobby. So, without waiting for her to confirm her abilities, he stepped away. Slowly at first, to ensure that she knew where he was headed. Once they got going in a straight line, he started stepping as easily as walking. She managed to keep up, surprisingly enough.

The second point for the ritual was roughly half the distance between Brakket City and the prison. The center of the distortion overhead should be in the middle between this unconstructed circle and the one in front of Brakket Academy. Flaring a small bit of green flame in his hand, he followed the top of the flame as it leaned one way or the other until his movements brought him to a point where the tip was straight upwards.

“Here,” he said. “The ritual needs to be rotated exactly sixty degrees.” With a wave of his hand, the green flame lashed out in a thin line. “The central layline should align with this flame.”

With that, he stepped back. The woman scowled for a moment, but eventually got to work.

As it turned out, she was faster than last time. She made about as many errors, but fixed them with less complaining. Leaving the same marker of fire in the center of the ritual circle, Devon started blinking off towards the third spot.

While Genoa got to work, he double-checked his calculations. It was one of the things he actually enjoyed about modern technology. The whole reason he had even purchased a cellphone after watching Eva and her friends use them. They were amazing calculation aids for rituals. Catherine had taken it to an art form with how she drew out the rituals on the phones themselves. Devon still stuck with paper for the most part. His fingers weren’t quite so dexterous as the succubus’.

Catherine’s hands made it look much easier than it actually was when he had tried it.

But for now, he merely checked the trigonometry he had already mentally calculated. Perfect. Of course it was. The angles should all be correct. Some of the positioning was guesswork. He didn’t have an exact location for the boundaries of the tear, but he had included a little leeway in his ritual design.

The second Genoa finished the ritual to his standards, Devon turned away. “Stay here. We will be coordinating with Catherine to start all three circles at the same time.” He stepped away, only to return one step later. “You do know how to initiate a ritual circle, do you not?”

“Of course I do,” the increasingly irritable woman snapped at him. She started to say something else, but Devon didn’t really care how much she was annoyed with his attitude, so he stepped away again.

The moment he returned to the second ritual circle, he whipped out his phone and sent off a few short messages. One to each of his helpers. A mere note asking for confirmation of their readiness. In less than ten seconds, he had received a response from each. So he sent out one more message.

Giving them only two seconds to read it, he knelt down and activated his ritual with a burst of magic.

Three beams of violet light crashed into each other in the middle of the air. Two of which came from far enough away that he couldn’t see their sources. Where they met, a three-sided pyramid formed. One made of pure magic. It twisted in the air, aiming a single point downwards, touching each of the three beams with just the tip, and three points outwards.

From each of the three points, a much thicker beam fired off, crashing into the sky. Or rather, the edge of the portal.

The first rotation carried all three beams in a full circle. It took nearly ten minutes.

The second rotation only took a little over nine minutes and forty seconds.

The third rotation went shorter than that.

The pyramid spun around. Each pass went faster and faster. As it completed passes, the portal overhead shrank. It was barely noticeable after the first few, but by the time ten rotations had been completed, it was impossible to not notice.

Trails of smoke accumulated in the air where the portal made contact with the regular sky. It was… probably harmless. Devon wouldn’t want to breathe it, but he didn’t see why anyone else would be worried.

Devon watched as the pyramid spun faster and faster. Until he couldn’t even tell the difference between the three separate beams. They left such a trail of light behind that it looked like a single cone. Eventually, that cone narrowed down to a thin beam of light.

A pulse of magic formed into a ring that exploded across the sky. Clouds, both natural and the smoke left behind from the tear, rippled as it sliced through them.

But that only lasted a moment.

The pyramid between the three ritual circles underwent a rapid unplanned deconstruction, filling the air with motes of violet colored magic. All of which dissipated into nothingness. Plants bent as an invisible shockwave crashed over them. Devon threw himself to the ground as the air cracked over the top of his body.

He remained still for a minute, ensuring that there wouldn’t be any follow-up blasts. None came. With everything settled down, he got back to his feet and looked around. The sky was whole and unbroken once again, clear of any violet shimmering or massive eyeballs. Though it wasn’t exactly clear. A dark cloud of smoke hung overhead.

Devon gave a faint nod of approval to no one in particular. A job well done if he said so himself. He turned away, stepping rapidly back towards the prison. He had some wards of his own to set up. Defenses—for that ritual wouldn’t have eliminated the enigmas still present on Earth—and possibly something to purify the local air.

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010.027

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Devon strode into the Brakket Academy main lobby area with two demons in tow. Once upon a time, doing something so brazen would have gotten him killed without a doubt. Who in their right mind would ever allow a demon summoner and demons into a school?

How times had changed.

His weren’t even the only demons he had spotted around the school. He had spotted a capra demon disguised as a student turning one of the many enigmas into minced meat just outside the entrance to the school. A few nearby human guards hadn’t even batted an eye as Devon passed by. Apparently, so long as he wasn’t a tentacled monster, he was perfectly welcome. Either that or Eva had told them that he would be coming.

The guards hadn’t batted an eye at the capra demon either, so they must have been at least somewhat attuned to the idea of demons running around. Though their faces might have looked a little green when they glanced towards the ground up remains of the enigma. Devon didn’t know what kind of weak stomached guards this school was hiring, but he had thought that they would be able to manage a little viscera.

They would never have survived at Devon’s old school.

Literally.

Tenebris Artes would have eaten them up and spat them out as nothing more than bones. The students—who, around Brakket, were all hiding indoors save for one or two that had worked up the courage to help fight enigmas—as well. In fact, Tenebris Artes had closed down after only a year of him attending.

Something that had absolutely nothing to do with Devon whatsoever.

Times changed. Society became more comfortable for the inhabitants with every passing year. More comfort meant less daily hardships to whip the kids into shape. They would go on to join proper society and hopefully get whipped into shape. But the ever increasing comfort would just mean that one day—maybe not this generation, maybe not even the next, but one day, the pampered children would be the real world.

Then who would be around to save the day?

Fate always had a trial or two up her sleeve. When would the trial become too much for the ignorant masses. There wouldn’t always be a curmudgeonous old demonologist around to save the day.

In fact, he wouldn’t have been around to save the day were it not for that blasted research subject of his. Maybe next time Fate would just leave him alone.

Ah well. Saving the world one last time wasn’t so bad. At least this time he hadn’t been attacked by anything other than enigmas. Those could be summarily dealt with by his demons with him hardly lifting a finger. The waxy ruax handled almost every one. He only had to blast one with infernal flames once, and that was only because the ruax had been distracted by a good six or seven of the beasts.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure exactly where to go. Glass windows separated a secretary’s desk and the main offices from the rest of the open lobby. The hallway went left and right with only room numbers listed in each direction. Straight ahead, the large glass windows opened up into that disaster waiting to happen of an expanded space ward.

No sign for the school’s infirmary.

“Come with me,” he said, more for the benefit of the carnivean than the ruax. One was under his direct control. The other only should be.

Leaving behind the lobby, he headed towards the offices. There had to be someone there and someone there had to know the way to the infirmary.

He walked right up to the vacant secretary’s desk and peered over at an all too tiny building map hanging up behind it. It took him five minutes of searching before he realized that he was standing right next to the infirmary. The room had two doors, one in the hallway just around the corner and one in the office itself.

Naturally, Devon headed to the nearer door.

He slid it open to find a gaggle of people running every which way. Adults ran around between the makeshift beds. In their arms, they carried trays filled with a haphazard arrangement of potions, surgical implements, common medicine products, and clean cloth bandages. Both adults and children filled the floorspace of nearly the entire room, lying on blankets and pads. Most of the beds’ occupants were injured in some manner or other. A band of bandages wrapped around one man’s eye and head, one woman was missing an arm, someone else looked like he had a bite taken out of his leg. A few people were working on that last one, performing some sort of surgery.

In other words, a typical medical facility during an emergency. Nothing notable to see.

He took one step into the room only to find his path blocked by a young girl with an eye patch and a red eye. A few scars tugged at her lips as she started speaking.

“Are you injured?”

Devon leaned slightly closer to the woman. Nurse Post, her name tag said with a little heart in place of the ‘o’. The blood smeared over it and much of her white outfit did not help play up the kind and welcoming school nurse that she had been trying to go for.

Red eyes were not a common human trait, though they did happen on occasion. Usually a faint red accompanied by albinism. Her hair wasn’t the normal white, but she must have dyed it. He couldn’t detect any sign of her being a demon.

Her eyes flicked to the two demons behind him. Neither of which she reacted to in the slightest before turning her gaze back to Devon.

“Sir?”

“No,” Devon said, leaning back. “I’m looking–”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave, sir. If you aren’t here to help and are not injured, you’ll only be in the way. If you’re looking for a patient, the office across the hall has a list of everyone who was brought in as of an hour ago,” she said, gesturing directly behind Devon.

Devon’s lip curled into a scowl. He stepped straight to the other side of the woman and continued walking, leaving her momentarily confused.

“Sir,” she said once she realized that he had got behind her. “You’re wasting valuable time that we could be using to save these people.”

“Yes, and I’m trying to save the entire world,” he grumbled, reaching the center of the room. It must have been magically expanded as well. He had walked far more than what it would have taken to go around to the opposite door.

More people were staring at him now. Lots of doctors or nurses that should be doing their job. He didn’t think he was all that special looking. His beard may be unkempt and his trench coat a little dusty, but his arm was safely hidden away in the sleeve.

Then again, most people in the room were not accompanied by two obviously inhuman demons. Maybe their stares were more directed towards the tentacle-headed thing and the animated wax statue that were following behind him.

“I didn’t ask you to follow me around,” he said in a low tone of voice. “Go about whatever it is you think is right.” Before she could protest further, he raised his voice to be heard above all the moaning and whining of the injured around him. “Which one of you is Genoa?”

Devon stared around the room, waiting and expecting someone to at least raise their hands if not come all the way up to him.

Nobody did.

“Sir–”

“Wait.”

The nurse tried to say something, but a second voice interrupted. Devon turned to find some woman walking up to him with frazzled hair, several bandaged wounds on every bit of bare skin, and an entirely missing arm. He stared at it for a moment before looking back to the woman’s face.

“You’re Genoa?”

“What? No… You can’t have– Never mind,” she said with a shake of her head. “It isn’t important right now, Devon.”

Ah, he thought. Apparently I know her.

“What is important is that Eva is out at the ritual circle–”

“Yeah, I know. It’s part of the plan to fix everything.”

“There’s a plan?” The woman let out a long sigh. She placed her one hand to her chest, though Devon couldn’t actually see the hand. Enough bandages covered it to make it look like a mummy’s mitten. “Oh thank goodness. But what do you need Genoa for?”

“Eva recommended her as a ritual construction specialist. Though,” Devon raised his voice slightly, “I’ll accept any able-bodied mage capable of large-scale earth manipulation.”

He looked around at all the bandaged people lying in beds or bleeding out or whatever injured people were wont to do with a slowly deepening scowl on his face. What was with these people? Not a single one looked like they could hold a wand let alone cast a few spells. What kind of mages got injured fighting these enigmas, let alone allowed the injures to send them to the medimagi. At least the woman in front of him was on her feet, if not clenching her wand between her teeth to fight back.

Though that kid in the corner looked to be just about the right age for experimentation. If he was dying, nobody would miss–

“Devon!” the woman hissed at him, bringing his attention back to the woman. “You are despicable.”

“I get that on occasion,” Devon grunted. “Where can I find an earth mage?”

“Genoa is out trying to clear away enigmas. She should have her cellphone with her. Hand me your phone and I’ll–” She cut herself off as she realized that she was holding out the stump of her arm. With a half-muttered curse, she swapped to her other hand only to realize her bandage predicament.

“Why don’t you tell me the number and I’ll make the call instead,” he said, pulling out his phone.

— — —

Eva lowered her arms as she stared up at the sky. Not at the eyeball, which was still looking down at the Earth and still crying those magmatic meteors that were probably filled with enigmas. She stared at the design for a new treatment circle. One for the demonic enigma and the chunk of brain.

It wasn’t that large. Certainly not as big as the circle that had been used to summon the two avatars. Perhaps as big as a large room. Even that size was only by necessity. The brain avatar was much too large for anything smaller.

The ritual was based on Devon’s work—and she definitely wondered how he would react to finding out that Void used his research—it should be just enough to get what she needed done. At least, that was what Void had said while the designs were being burned into her mind. Satisfied that everything in the design above her head had been copied into the real world correctly, Eva moved on to the next step.

Forming a long tube of blood, she jammed one end into the brain and one into the formerly furry arm of the enigma. This time, she did not stand in between the two subjects of the ritual. A second tube of crystallized blood led out from the other side of the brain, ready to drain into a large vase once the ritual got under way.

The succubus had been watching patiently and staring at the ritual circle that Eva had constructed. Only when she switched to the tubing did Catherine walk up to her.

“You’re doing it again?”

“Not quite,” Eva said as she turned back to Catherine. “Apparently, we overdid it earlier. Shoving the entirety of Void’s Avatar into this thing was not only unnecessary, but overly harmful to the Powers’ ecosystem of… power.”

“So diluting it then?”

“That’s a good way to put it.” Eva glared down at the demonic enigma. “We put some of that in and take some of the avatar out.” And some of Arachne as well. After taking a few steps back, Eva motioned for Catherine to do the same.

Srey had hardly moved from his initial position near the avatar until Eva physically dragged him away. Eva wasn’t sure what was up with him. Had he actually struck up some sort of friendship with Vektul and was in shock over what happened?

She supposed it didn’t really matter. So long as he didn’t screw with anything important, he could sit around in his vacuous state for all Eva cared.

“Alright. This shouldn’t take long,” Eva said as she pressed her magic into the hovering ritual circle of blood.

The effect started immediately. A faint glow emanated from the lines. The demonic enigma remained unconscious, but started writhing as blood started flowing through the tube. Or whatever filled enigmas’ veins. It didn’t work well with Eva’s blood magic and Devon had mentioned something about it only being superficially similar.

Clasping her hands behind her back, Eva started stalking around the circle. The avatar was as inert as it had been since she had finished the initial ritual. She needed to keep an eye on it. With her at least marginally reversing the process of corrupting it, it might become a little more active. But that wouldn’t be for at least a short amount of time.

No, Eva barely glanced at the large mass of the avatar as she walked past. She stopped in front of the little jar that she had set up to collect the excess essence that the ritual was now removing. The previous ritual hadn’t had the disposal tank despite all of Eva’s treatments requiring it. She was somewhat surprised that the avatar hadn’t exploded after realizing that she had forgotten that little detail. Devon had always warned her to not let him forget about it or she might explode.

Then again, that was Devon. He had probably just been grumping about it for the sake of having something to grumble about.

Everything looked like it was working properly. Black particles of dust and smoke trickled out of the tube and into the crystalline pot. The smoke, looking just like the smoke that made up Void’s avatar, didn’t settle into the bottom of the pot, choosing to swirl around in dark clouds.

Which had Eva wondering if she shouldn’t have put a proper top on it. Nothing was spilling out yet, so she wouldn’t do anything that might potentially interfere with the ritual until something actually went wrong.

“Now,” Eva said, “while this finishes, we need to prepare to send this hunk of flesh back to its master.”

“Another ritual?”

“Actually no.”

“No?” Catherine blinked, genuinely surprised. “You’re not going to toss it up there,” she said, pointing towards the portals overhead.

“My arms are a little stretchy at the moment.” As demonstration, she enlarged her hand until the fingers could wrap around her entire waist. “However, I think those portals are a bit higher than I could reach.”

“I’m sure we could work out some magical propulsion to launch it up there.”

“As amusing as a brain rocket ship would be, there’s already a plan in place. Something that should seal the deal and ensure that Life cannot recover. At least not anytime soon.”

“And is sealing the deal also going to seal the portals overhead?”

“Nope! Devon has actually been working on that. Though he’s supposed to be waiting for me to get rid of this avatar. If I finish, you might need to go tell him that he can start should he not clue in. I directed him to the infirmary.”

“Devon? I didn’t bring the ritual up with him after he dismissed it. You told him more? I thought he wanted no part of any of this,” she paused, frowning towards Eva for a moment. “Or perhaps I figured that he would tie you down in the solitary confinement building if he heard you were actually working on the ritual.”

“I’m sure he would have. Had he known.” Eva shot her a quick grin before double-checking on the status of the ritual. As she ensured that the swirling clouds of black smoke within the pot were not spilling out, she continued speaking. “Devon saw what was going on and developed a solution. All within the last few hours.” Or so Void had said before releasing Eva so that she could use her beacon to get back to Earth.

It took Catherine a few moments to respond. Her eyebrows knitted into a scowl as she thought. “Without knowing anything about what was going on?”

“Nothing more than what you told him and what he observed from the prison.”

Which only sent Catherine’s scowl deeper into fury. Eva had to wonder whether Catherine could have done the same. Probably. In the same amount of time? Maybe. Judging by her furrowed brow, she was rapidly trying to put together her own solution to sealing the portals overhead.

Eva left the jar for a moment, moving back around to the opposite side. The demonic enigma was actually shriveling up. Its skin looked more like that of a raisin than a proper living being. Not even old people on their deathbeds looked quite so bad.

Was it because of all the organs she had stuffed inside without care or order? Or was it because it was an enigma and, while it wouldn’t die, it had far slower regeneration than demons did. How much blood had Arachne lost during Eva’s treatments? She must have regenerated at a rapid rate to keep from dying and being sucked into a Hell portal.

At the same time, she could still see blood traveling through the tube and into the avatar. Until it ran completely dry, Eva would try not to worry too much. Besides, the ritual was actually nearly finished. The demonic enigma still had a decent amount of blood left. It should be enough for another few minutes.

“Do you need me here?”

“I would prefer some help here. If something goes wrong, I’d like second opinions,” Eva said, turning towards Catherine. She paused as her line of sight passed by Srey who was facing Eva’s direction with his head bowed. Not really in respect. He kept rubbing his forehead like he had a headache. “I don’t think Srey would be up to helping much.”

She finished turning to Catherine and put on a wide grin. “You’ll just have to restrain your curiosity as to what Devon came up with. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll show you. Unless, of course, he thinks that this is all your mess since you were the one to show him the ritual.”

Catherine, straightening her back and looking down on Eva with half-lidded eyes, put on an evil smile. “I am not above throwing you under the bus, so to speak.”

“Do as you will,” Eva said, walking back to the jar. When the ritual finished, she wanted to watch and ensure that nothing went wrong on that front. “I don’t think Devon will get too upset with me. Not unless he decides that his experiment has transformed too much from his original plans.” As she said so, she glanced down at her hands. They weren’t so different from Arachne’s limbs. In fact, they were probably better. No outside demonic influence to mess with Devon’s plans. Just blood magic.

Demonic blood magic rather than bloodstone-based, but it functioned nearly the same as far as Eva could tell.

Magic draining from the circle pulled her attention back to the jar. The ritual was winding down. Only a little left. The avatar still hadn’t moved, so she didn’t even need to worry about that.

She watched the jar until the very last trickles of avatar essence dripped out from her blood tube. The moment the dripping finished and the ritual shut off, a Hell portal opened beneath the jar. The entire thing, essence and all, disappeared within.

A small sigh escaped her lips. Hopefully that was enough.

“What was that?”

“Oh nothing. More importantly, time to get rid of this thing.”

As she walked up to the avatar, she coated the demonic enigma with blood, ensuring that it couldn’t move in the slightest. She didn’t detonate the shriveled husk just yet. It might still have uses. If only for Lynn’s research. She just crystallized the blood around it.

“Alright,” Eva said, turning her hands into long blades twice the length of her arms. “So long as everything goes well, make sure that Devon starts his ritual.”

“What about you?”

Eva turned her head over her shoulder to grin at Catherine as she built up magic inside her for a teleport. “Well, I’ll stop by if I can.”

Without any further delay, she plunged her arms into the avatar.

“Was that supposed to do something?” Catherine asked after a moment of absolutely nothing happening.

“Just… hold on a second. This thing is gigantic. I’ve never teleported with something so big. Usually only another person-sized thing.” As she spoke, she felt her magic hit the threshold. Without any chance to resolve the moment of awkwardness, Eva and the avatar vanished into the infernal teleportation.

Just as usual, the tunnel of flesh and screams surrounded Eva, squeezing her and the avatar ever closer to the prison gate.

But this time, Eva did something a little different.

She let go. She pulled her hands back to her sides, separating her from the avatar. With a slight kick of her foot, she sent the egg-shaped blob of meat off into the walls of flesh. It tumbled, falling into pieces from the force of their speed until it finally vanished beneath and into the walls.

Unfortunately, Newton’s laws apparently worked within the semi-alternate dimension of the teleport tunnel. Eva spread the blood of her limbs out into wide parasols in an attempt to slow her steady glide in the opposite direction. It must have worked a little, but not enough. She barely got to watch the avatar be torn to shreds before she crashed into the opposite wall.

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