Tag Archives: Keeper

004.001

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Cold.

Juliana peeled her cheek off the cold floor, wincing as she did so. Her skin stuck to the black metal tiles as if she had been lying there for hours on end.

But that was impossible. She had just been in class…

Juliana pressed a hand to her forehead. Her head felt about ready to burst open. Every thought sent another needle into her brain.

Shaking her head, Juliana grit her teeth as she took stock of her situation.

It didn’t take long. The room was roughly the size of a large closet. Completely unfurnished as well. Every square inch was covered in palm-sized tiles of the same black metal. The door as well, though the door did have a small barred window. It was not big enough to fit her head through.

The only source of light was a faintly pulsing orb of white light that had been inset in the center of the ceiling. Each pulse brought with it another thump of her headache. Whether that was because of the light itself playing havoc on an already existing headache or some magical effect, Juliana couldn’t tell.

The faint pulses did reveal a second form collapsed against a wall.

“Shalise,” Juliana croaked out. She descended into a fit of coughs. Her throat was cracked and dry. Licking her lips did nothing to moisten them.

Crawling over, Juliana put a hand on her friend and tried shaking her. “Shalise,” she coughed out, “wake up.”

Shalise made no response except to slide down the wall. Before her head could hit the floor, Juliana reached out and carefully set the brown-haired girl’s head down on the ground.

She was breathing, Juliana could see that much. But another minute or two of shaking the girl did not help.

Juliana turned away. She pulled herself to two unsteady feet. Leaning against the wall for all the support it could offer, she pinched her eyes shut.

Her head was killing her.

They were clearly in a prison of some sort. Neither of her wands were around, though she still had her ring foci and Ylva’s ring along with her clothes. Attempting to activate her ferrokinesis fizzled out. The magic simply wouldn’t gather.

Which Juliana expected. Only a fool would build a prison and not ward against magic.

It was a good thing she had decided to study medieval armor towards the end of the previous school year. Had she still been relying on her ferrokinesis to provide joints, she would be utterly immobile with suppressed magic.

Opening her eyes, Juliana stumbled to the door. She had to stand on her tip-toes just to see out the window.

More cells. Identical doors to her own lined the wall opposite from her door. A narrow catwalk extended out from both her own door and the doors on the other side with a small gap between. There were at least two rows of cells above and two rows below the floor her cell was on.

She couldn’t see the rooms adjacent to her cell, but Juliana had no reason to doubt that they were cells as well.

A big prison, Juliana thought as she slumped back from the door.

Losing her balance, she fell back against the floor and only managed to keep her head from hitting the hard tiles by quickly moving her hands in the way. The weight slamming her hands into the floor still sent a needle of pain through her knuckles and into her head.

Juliana groaned as her headache redoubled its efforts to rend her mind.

She lay there. Juliana shut her eyes to keep the pulsing light out and simply lay there. She didn’t even try to think of anything until her headache receded to more manageable levels.

They were in class. History. Juliana was playing with her ferrokinesis. They had to leave in the middle because something happened. Something bad.

Remembering hurt. And wasn’t much use, if she was honest with herself.

Whatever facility she had ended up at wasn’t a small-scale hole in the wall. That meant there would be people. Guards and other prisoners. Presumably, they’d be fed at some point. Hopefully they would be given water too.

A light groan from her cell mate roused Juliana from her thoughts.

“Shalise,” Juliana said as she crawled over, “are you okay?”

“My head…” Her voice came out as a dry rasp as well. Shalise propped herself up on one elbow while she rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

Juliana scooted back. “Please don’t.” Their cell wasn’t large enough and it definitely lacked the necessary ventilation.

When Shalise made no heaves or gags, Juliana cautiously moved back to her side. “Do you remember how we got here?”

“Where is here?”

“We’re prisoners of some sort. I haven’t seen any writing or signs to tell more. I don’t think it is Eva’s prison.”

“P-prisoners?” Her voice came out at a high enough pitch to cause both of them to wince.

After a moment of mutual silence, Shalise scrunched up her round face in thought. “There was fighting. And you drew a circle… a summoning circle.”

In the blink of an eye–much faster than Juliana thought she could move–Shalise reached out and slapped Juliana across the cheek. Pins and needles laced through her face. Doubly so as Juliana lightly bit her tongue.

“You pulled me on top of it and now we’re prisoners? Why do you even know how to draw a summoning circle?”

Juliana reared back at the volume of Shalise’s anger.

“I stole a book from Eva.” Juliana flinched back and waited for Shalise’s slap. When none came, she continued with her head hung. “I just wanted to get stronger so that I could help out.”

A second slap–one she had been waiting for–came without delay.

“You beat students years older than us with hardly any effort. You train with your mother. Don’t complain about not being strong.”

“Not strong enough!” Juliana grit her teeth while counting backwards from ten. She didn’t open her mouth until she hit zero. “Not strong enough,” she calmly said.

“In case you forgot, I was right by your side while you were being eaten by zombies. I just stood there, frozen. There wasn’t any earth around to attack with. Even if there had been earth, I wasn’t in the right mindset to fight. I had some metal, not as much as I carry around now, but enough to fight with at least.

“You sat there, getting eaten in front of my face. It wasn’t until Arachne knocked that zombie off of you that I snapped out of it.”

Shalise went silent for a minute.

An agonizingly long minute.

Juliana’s throat was still parched. Talking loud and so much did it no favors. It was all she could do to suppress coughing in Shalise’s face.

“And you thought stealing a book from Eva would help? You didn’t even get her help learning? Now look where you landed us.”

“It wasn’t me!” The knot in Juliana’s throat tightened. She couldn’t help the coughs that erupted.

But it wasn’t her. She couldn’t even remember drawing a summoning circle. Even if she had drawn one, Juliana couldn’t see how that would wind up with them in prison. Not unless some demon hunter or mage-knight found her out. And even then, the later would likely need some specific contract about it. Unless there was a general bounty out on diabolists that she didn’t know about.

Shalise stood up, looking far more steady on her feet than Juliana had felt just a few minutes prior.

Before she could take a single step, she fell down and landed on top of Juliana.

It wasn’t her fault.

An earthquake had started.

Juliana pulled Shalise into a hug and maneuvered herself on top. Even if her ferrokinesis wasn’t active, she could still feel the plates of metal coating her body. It was much better protection than fleshy skin in the case that anything fell on them.

Walls cracked and Shalise trembled as the tremor wracked the prison. More than a few of the palm-sized plates of metal pulled loose from the walls. They crashed down against the ground with far more force than should have been possible.

The earthquake tapered out into nothingness, jiggling one last tile loose.

Juliana did not move. She kept one arm over her head and one arm over Shalise’s head.

Immediate aftershocks were no joke. There could be more of those tiles only holding on by a thread.

They stayed like that until Shalise started squirming.

Juliana carefully moved off the other girl. “Are you alright?”

“What was that?”

“An earthquake, I assume.” Juliana stood up and helped Shalise to her feet.

Oddly enough, she didn’t feel unsteady any longer. The pounding in her head had died away.

Ah, that explains it. The pulsing light at the top of the room no longer pulsed. It held a steady, faint glow. That must have been the cause of her headache.

Even her throat was feeling better. She still desperately wanted a glass of water, but some of the dryness had subsided.

Shalise walked right up to the door and looked out without going up on her tip-toes.

“What a mess.”

Juliana didn’t get a chance to ask. A deep, masculine voice boomed through their cell.

“Prisoners out of confinement. Keeper notified. Return to your cells at once or prepare for a journey to the abattoir.”

Shalise turned back, opening her mouth to ask something. Juliana could imagine a few possibilities, but neither had the opportunity to speak.

The door collapsed outwards. Its hinges pulled straight out of the wall with a crack.

Shalise gasped and threw herself to the side. She cowered in a corner, out of view from the cell’s exterior.

Juliana was quick to join her.

Demons were running along the catwalks. She couldn’t name any specific one, but what else could they be? They weren’t human, that was for sure. Wrong colored skin, glowing eyes, horns. Those were just the human shaped ones. One amorphous blob fell through the grated catwalk before Juliana hid from view.

They were in some sort of demon prison after apparently screwing up some summoning circle.

Nothing like this had been mentioned in the book.

Shalise moved her head right next to Juliana’s ear. Her words came out as mere touches of air, barely discernible from the ambient noise. “What do we do?”

Juliana bit her lip, considering her options. There were two obvious choices. “Stay here, hide from all the demons that might decide they want a snack on their way out, wait for whatever is going to come and fix the door, and hope that our imprisonment isn’t too long-lasting. Or flee. Escape. Try to get into contact with mom or Eva or someone.”

“We’re not going to get our one phone call if we stay, are we?”

“Doubt it.”

Shalise sighed. “You’re leaning towards escaping? What about all the demons?”

“Hiding, avoiding, and hoping that they’re too busy with their own escape to pay us much attention. Here,” Juliana removed one of her rings and handed it over to Shalise. “Can’t use magic in here, but maybe out there. I know you’re used to a wand,” Juliana gave a little shrug, “better than nothing.”

While Shalise fitted on the ring, Juliana took a peek around the corner.

There weren’t all that many demons, considering the amount of doors. In fact, there were only three that she could see. Given that most of the cells were still closed, Juliana didn’t quite know what she expected. All the demons who could get free had likely already fled.

The few demons who were around had the poor fortune of being far less mobile than a square-wheeled caboose.

All of them were on catwalks unconnected to her own. Glancing further around the corner revealed only one damaged door on her floor and side of the cell block. By the look of the bent in claw marks on the catwalk railing outside the door, its occupant had already fled.

“Come on,” Juliana said as she grabbed Shalise’s hand.

Neither direction on the catwalk looked any more appealing than the other. Both stretched endlessly as far as Juliana could see. However, one direction had something the other lacked.

Demons.

While there weren’t many demons visible anymore, Juliana had caught a glimpse when the door first fell down. All the demons were moving in the same direction. Presumably towards some exit.

Hopefully towards the exit.

Alongside Shalise, Juliana made haste. They weren’t sprinting, but there was no dalliance either. Running into a demon that was less interested in escaping would not help matters.

It had to have been an hour before the scenery changed. And it wasn’t all that great of a change.

They came to a crossroads. Their corridor of cells met up with another, perpendicular corridor. The catwalks criss-crossed every which-way and even wound around to the other floors.

“Up or down? And after that, which way?”

“I don’t know.”

No matter which direction she looked, there was nothing but more cells. No demons in sight.

Some of the catwalks had claw marks, and one had collapsed completely across the way. She couldn’t tell which direction the fleeing demons had run.

“Well, let’s go down first,” Shalise said. “Get on the ground floor. Maybe they will have a sign somewhere.”

Juliana doubted that. There hadn’t been any signs so far. None of the cells even had numbers on them. “What if we’re underground. Then we should be heading up.”

“Do you really think we’re underground?”

“Just pointing out the possibility,” Juliana said with a shrug. “We can go down, though we might get lost in this place. I don’t suppose you’ve got some chalk on you?”

“I don’t. Oh!” Shalise gripped the top button of her school uniform and yanked down. The button came off with a pop. She pressed the light circle of plastic against the black wall with all her might. Dragging it across the surface, Shalise drew an arrow.

It was very faint, hardly noticeable even when looking directly at it.

Better than nothing, Juliana thought with a small frown. “I don’t know that there is a good reason to relocate our cell, but at least we’ll know where we’ve been.”

Mark completed, Juliana and Shalise headed down a staircase that wrapped around the entire intersection. At the center of it, Juliana noted as they reached the bottom, was a massive elevator. There were tracks on the walls and gears to raise and lower it. No obvious means of activating it, however. No buttons, or knobs, or dials.

Shalise made a second mark at the bottom of the staircase, right on the floor.

Basing their direction on a handful of claw marks on the floor, Juliana walked with one hand on Shalise’s shoulder. So long as whatever demon made the tracks didn’t have backwards feet, they should be heading in a proper direction. They would still be traveling in a direction even if that was the case.

“This place is creepy.”

Juliana jumped half a foot in the air at Shalise’s voice. She gave a light squeeze on Shalise’s shoulder. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Sorry. Just… Where are all the guards? Or other prisoners? After that earthquake and seeing other demons escape, I’d be at the bars watching them go. Probably shouting obscenities.”

“There was that voice saying demons had escaped. And then it mentioned ‘Keeper.'”

“I don’t know that we should–”

The floor shook as a thunk resounded down the cell block.

Juliana stumbled forward, catching herself on a combination of the wall and Shalise.

“What was that?”

“Aftershocks?” Juliana said as she pulled Shalise closer. She moved up against the wall with a safe distance between her and the cell windows on either side.

It wasn’t the best place to stand. If the aftershocks shook the catwalks loose, they could fall right on top of her. They could swing out into the middle of the hallway as well, but that was probably less likely.

Still, something made her want to press up against the wall. A little nagging in the back of her head.

Another four thunks followed the first. They came unevenly, as if it were an animal with a limp. Each one rocked the world.

Each was slightly louder than the one before.

Slightly closer.

“Those are not aftershocks,” Shalise said with her voice barely above a whisper.

Juliana didn’t dare speak that loud. She suppressed her voice to the quietest level possible. “Something walking?”

Every thunk reinforced that idea.

Juliana wanted to run. Each of the steps shook the ground enough that she had trouble just standing still while leaning against the wall.

Shalise went down on her knees and held onto Juliana’s legs.

That did not help matters.

Even if she could run, there was nowhere to go. Towards the noise or away from the noise, it was a single corridor with no alcoves aside from the closed cell doors.

And the noise was moving fast.

“What do we do?”

Juliana hushed the girl clinging to her legs. “Don’t move, maybe it won’t see us.”

“That only works on T-Rexes.”

Juliana did not dignify that with a response.

Another thunk interrupted.

At the edge of her vision in the direction from which the noise came, a metal pole appeared in the dim light.

A second pole slammed into the ground with a resounding thunk, followed by a third, fourth, and a fifth.

Following the poles upwards, Juliana had to crane her neck to see the top. Almost five stories up, a man had been impaled on top of the poles. Each arm and each leg had a thorny metal pole piercing straight through for several feet.

A fifth pole ran through his neck.

He lifted a leg, bringing up the pole with it.

His leg only moved forwards by a few inches, but the five-story pole swung out half the distance between him and Juliana.

It crashed into the ground with an ear-splitting thunk.

That broke whatever spell they had been under.

Shalise cried out.

It was all Juliana could do to clasp one hand over her mouth.

Her action came too late.

The impaled demon stopped moving. All the poles settled down before dragging themselves closer together.

It didn’t take long for Juliana to figure out why.

As the distance between the poles shrank, the human-shaped body impaled at the top moved, sliding downwards at an alarming rate.

Every inch the demon descended had it grow in perspective. Ylva towered over everyone in any given room. Arachne wasn’t far behind.

This thing would dwarf Arachne standing on Ylva’s shoulders.

The demon stopped a foot off the ground. Ignoring the pole piercing his neck, he twisted his head around, searching with milky-gray eyes.

Juliana’s own eyes were as wide as they went when his gaze met hers.

The moment lasted forever. All time and space expanded into an eternity while its eyes stared into her own.

And the demon’s head continued sweeping the area. He didn’t make any moves or acknowledgment.

Taking much smaller steps, the demon walked forwards before beginning his search again.

Blind?

It gave up searching after a few minutes. It ascending to the top of its poles was one of the most painful things Juliana had witnessed. On several levels.

With the thing right in front of them, yet no longer actively searching for them, Juliana took note of a few smaller details. The poles were not smooth shafts. Spines and barbed hooks staggered along the metal. The demon used the spines to climb the poles. Its flesh tore open, dripping black blood as it went.

Most agonizing of all was the sheer time it took to ascend. Its arm slid up, catching on a hook. Then a leg. The other arm.

By the time it reached the apex, Juliana’s arms and legs had completely locked up.

And then it started moving.

Juliana winced at the thunderous thunk. That single step took it almost to the edge of her vision. Two more and the only sign of it was the sound.

Even with the ache in her joints, Juliana did not move a single muscle until the last of the demon’s heavy thunks had quieted to murmurs.

Shalise moved far sooner than Juliana had wished. She peeled off the fingers blocking her mouth and took a deep gasp of air.

“W-what–that thing–it was enormous.”

“Y-yeah.” Juliana closed her eyes and took a few calming breaths. Her words were not as steady as she wanted. As she needed. It was her responsibility to get Shalise through whatever mess they had gotten themselves into. Especially if it was her fault they were here in the first place. “P-please don’t scream again.”

“I-I’ll try.”

Juliana took a step in the direction the impaled demon had gone.

Shalise didn’t move except to grip Juliana’s arm. “We’re f-following it?”

“It’s either that or go where it came from. We might as well continue in the direction we were going. It didn’t see us, so it should be safe to come across as long as we don’t make noise.”

Shalise’s face was twisted in an expression that Juliana wasn’t sure what to make of. Instead of puzzling it out, Juliana wrapped her arms around Shalise.

“We’ll get out. We’ll be fine. We’ll get back to mom and Eva and Zoe and we’ll have a great story to tell. Adventure, danger, and all that. We could even write a book and sell it!”

Probably not. Telling people they interacted with demons wouldn’t go over well, not if what she’d heard about demon hunters had any grain of truth.

Maybe anonymously? But how would royalties be received? Any competent tracker could follow the money trail.

Perhaps a work of fiction pretending to be real. That might work.

Shalise sniffled, interrupting Juliana’s thoughts.

Juliana moved back, giving her some space. She kept her fingers interlaced with Shalise’s as reassurance.

She just hoped she believed her own words.

Keeping their hands together, Juliana started off after the demon.

It took half an hour of walking–at a decent pace, no less–before the scenery changed again.

Changed might be an understatement, Juliana thought as she glanced around.

The cold cell corridors changed into a series of much larger, open-front cells. Each one had a glowing red barrier capping the open end.

Juliana stopped at the first one and looked in. A gasp came from Shalise at her side.

It was easy to see why.

Ylva was one thing. Regal, tall–a giant, even–and radiated an air of power.

Arachne was another thing. Violent, twisted, and had an eightfold glare.

Neither of them quite measured up to what Juliana would have identified as a demon before actually meeting one for real. And, in fact, very few of the demons she had summoned resembled classical demons. Perhaps the imp. But things like the marionette theater-demon? Not a chance.

The creature chained to the back of the cell was a demon in every sense of the word.

Red skin, hoofed feet, curled horns sprouting from his forehead. His–and it was a he without a doubt–legs were the size of tree trunks and his arms weren’t much smaller. The demon’s stomach looked like it had been chiseled out of a mountain.

A very buff and well-toned mountain that Juliana found difficult to tear her eyes away from.

He looked on with glowing red eyes, somewhat reminiscent of Eva’s own. Surprise turned to curiosity turned to mirth.

A deep laugh reverberated in Juliana’s chest.

When he spoke, his voice rumbled in a deep baritone. Borderline bass.

“Mortals. Free me.”

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001.025

Author’s Note: There is blood in this chapter. Nothing on the level of the previous chapter. You will be able to bypass it by skipping down a few paragraphs.

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Eva jolted awake.

Gritty sand flew in all directions as she flopped over to her back. She could feel it; it ground into her hair, her mouth, her finger stubs, her–

This isn’t the prison or the dorms, Eva thought. She looked around.

Eva landed on a small island. Water stretched endlessly as far as Eva could see.

A small flutter of hope beat in Eva’s chest. She brought her wrist to her face slowly. Her fingers were still gone. She could see them, or rather, she couldn’t see them. But she could see.

Her wrist bumped into an empty eye socket. She slumped back against the sand. It’s just a trick of this place.

Eva clamped down on a tension in her jaw. There had been enough crying earlier. She wasn’t going to cry. It couldn’t be a good idea to cry with empty eye sockets.

She knelt on her stomach and dry heaved at the thought. Her mouth still carried the putrid taste of vomit. She crawled up to the edge of the water.

It was black. The entire ocean had not a single ripple or wave. The entire glassy surface was black. Eva looked up. There was not a single star, sun, or moon in the sky.

There were no fires or lights, nothing that might help her see. She had a brief wonder if that was how things would look if Eva had her eyes. It didn’t matter.

The water, despite its color, didn’t smell different from normal water. Eva touched just the tip of her tongue to it. Normal, as far as she could tell. Not even salty like an ocean. Even if it turned out to be unnatural later, she wasn’t planning on drinking it.

Eva cupped some up in her hands–a task much harder without fingers than it should be–and rinsed it around in her mouth. She repeated the action another few times as well as wiping out her nose–the best she could with no fingers. The water ripples flattened out much faster than they should have.

Feeling much cleaner, if not much better, Eva took stock of her surroundings. The island might have taken her maybe five minutes to run around the edge at a light jog, if she felt so inclined. It wasn’t very big. A single tree with gray bark jutted out of the center. It was a skinny thing that held no leaves on its thin branches.

That was it. An endless black ocean in every direction, a small beach, a tree, and an empty night sky.

And heat. Eva was quite thankful for that. Being broken and naked in a cold place might have been unbearable.

It wasn’t as hot as she’d been lead to believe Hell should be, if that was truly where she was. It was the only place she could think of based on what she had been doing. Obviously the infernal walk failed. Unless she was supposed to walk somewhere here.

Eva didn’t know how to get back. She could try summoning herself or the same reverse summon she did to get here. For now, she’d look around.

Rather than try to stand, Eva tried to step. A small amount of relief filled her sick stomach when the step worked. She appeared kneeling next to the tree.

As happy as she was about her step working, Eva didn’t know what she expected. The island didn’t suddenly grow, no doors magically appeared, and the tree didn’t have any levers or buttons she could see. All she’d accomplished was moving a few feet to the center of the island.

Eva sighed and stepped back to an edge of the water. She still had dried vomit all down her front, butt, legs, and feet. The bloodied stumps of her toes, while not bleeding thanks to her healing efforts, had both blood and vomit caked on them.

She slowly inched herself into the water. She couldn’t see through the black, mirror-like surface. That made her nervous. Still, the water was without even a single ripple, other than her own.

Eva relaxed back with the water up to her neck. She rested her head on the beach and let the hot water soothe away her aches. Her eye sockets would need cleaning eventually. They had partially filled with blood, tears, and probably a little sand.

The idea of sticking fingers into her empty sockets sent shivers up her spine. Luckily she didn’t have any fingers. Eva didn’t count herself as the squeamish type, but there was something horrifying about her own empty eyes.

The emptiness was there. Almost as tangible as her eyes had been. She could feel the lack of anything pressing on the surrounding socket. Not to mention her eyelids. Without her eyes putting pressure on them, she kept trying to move them and they would just flap.

Eva shook her head. Not the line of thought she wanted to get into right now.

This place is nice, Eva thought as she lay in the water. If it wasn’t for… for that grinning man, she might have enjoyed coming here. Provided she could leave.

That was something she’d worry about later. Now, Eva just wanted to rest.

Channeling magic into herself didn’t work in any way, shape, or form.

Eva awoke after what felt like a very long nap. There was no way to tell exactly how long. The sky was as empty as it had been since she arrived. It felt like a good nap.

All her aches vanished. Eva half expected to have grown new fingers while she was out.

The water ran off her finger nubs as she lifted her arms out of the water. With a sigh, she put any thoughts of immediate recovery behind her. Devon was supposedly getting a whole new arm. How hard could a few fingers, toes, and eyes be.

She’d need to get off the island and back to reality if she wanted her master’s help in recovering lost limbs. Nothing she tried helped. Trying to get out the same way she got in did nothing.

Drawing a summoning circle and trying to summon anything did nothing. Standing in it and trying to leave by walking into it did nothing. Ylva did that both times she left reality. Eva wondered what would happen if her master tried to summon Eva into the real world. Did she need to set up some sort of gate on this side to get back?

Eva had no idea how demons really worked. They could get through to reality even without a summoner making a connection. That required a beacon like the one Eva suspected the black skull might be.

If she could use anything she left behind as a beacon, Eva didn’t know how.

That exhausted her total demonic knowledge. Something she really would like to brush up on one of these days. Her master could probably escape, so long as this truly was Hell.

It matched no description Eva had ever heard. It was hot, but not unbearably so. There were no other demons around. The only reason she still thought this was Hell was Arachne describing Hell as a void on a single occasion and that the Endless Void supposedly held dominion over the entire realm. Whatever that meant.

Devon would know. Eva would definitely ask to restart their demonology lessons.

For now, it left Eva in the terrible position of not knowing what to do. Her magic worked. Mostly. Darkness spells did absolutely nothing that Eva could see. An effect of her eyes being gone or the place, she didn’t know.

Her blink worked. Her fireballs worked. She could dig through the earth as Juliana taught her. Her light spell worked though it was just a dot in the sky, no actual illumination seemed to happen; her fireballs produced no light either.

She sent a ball of light across the glassy water until she couldn’t see the spot anymore. There was nothing but emptiness out there.

Nothing tried to eat her while she slept, so Eva decided to go for a short swim around the island. It was an awkward affair. Fingers, despite being so small, made enough of a difference that it was almost like relearning how to swim with just her square meat pads of hands.

She tried her hardest not to think about that.

The further out she went, the odder the water got. There was more pressure than normal water even at the surface. When she went down the sandbank to a neck-deep level, the water felt like it was hugging her.

Eva lifted a hand out of the water, expecting the liquid to cling to her skin. It didn’t. The water ran off into the pool creating tiny ripples that quickly dispersed. It was also completely opaque, something she failed to notice when she cleaned herself off.

She doubted she would see anything, but it couldn’t hurt to try. Anywhere would be better than her little island. Taking a deep breath, Eva dunked her head underwater.

The water pressed into her empty sockets. It met no resistance from her flaps of eyelids as it squeezed past.

Then it was gone. Not just the water in her eyes; all the water vanished.

A brief feeling of weightlessness took hold of Eva’s stomach.

She fell.

A hard, flat surface rushed up to greet her. It greeted her hard.

She crumpled and landed on her stomach, face hitting the floor a moment later.

Everything was black.

She couldn’t see.

Eva’s breath raced.

A light spell did nothing. No illumination, no little dot against whatever background was around her.

A heavy thunk hit the ground behind her. And then another. Then another and another and another.

Five thunks, each slightly different in sound as they hit. One higher, then another lower.

There was a short pause before five more thunks hit the ground in the same sound order. High, low, high, mid, mid. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

They were closer than before.

Something was coming her way.

Eva scrambled along the ground on all fours. Away from the noise.

It kept coming. Five thunks. Each sounding closer than the last.

Eva hit a wall. She felt around. It was smooth metal. No door handles, no openings.

She scurried along the wall, desperate to move away from the noise.

It was louder, almost deafening.

Her hand slipped in something. Eva’s arms fell out in front of her. Her face hit whatever she slipped on.

She could see it.

Blood.

Another thunk.

The thing was right on top of her. Eva cowered into a ball.

Another thunk.

A huge, metal sounding pole impacted the ground mere inches from her.

She could feel it hit the ground. The blood splattered up onto the pole.

Another thunk.

This one past her. Opposite of where the pole right next to her was. It sounded muffled.

Another thunk.

Another thunk.

Her bare backside almost was skewered. If she had clothes on, they would certainly be torn.

Another thunk.

The pole right next to her lifted up. It passed over what she decided was a wall and settled down on the other side with a muffled thunk.

Another lifted up, one she couldn’t see. She could feel the air as it passed over her.

The pole against her backside scraped against her as it lifted.

The contraption froze.

Eva froze.

She held her breath, not daring to even breathe. If she had the tools, she might have speared her heart to keep it from hammering so loudly.

Her backside cut open as the contraption moved once more. Eva could sense blood trickling down her butt. Her cut healed more on instinct than any conscious act on Eva’s part.

Eva watched the pole, with mere droplets of her blood on it, as it lifted up and over the wall.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

Eva gasped in air. Her lungs were on fire. Her heart felt like it might explode.

She lay in the pool of someone else’s blood, thankful to be able to see anything at all, and waited for her shaking to stop.

Eva rolled in the blood, smearing it on herself. It meant she could see at least herself. Wiping on her face and soaking it in her hair created the odd sensation of seeing herself from outside her body.

Or like she had mirrors all around her.

She wished she had a container. She could splatter it around while she moved and at least get some simulacrum of the environment in her head.

That was not to be the case. There was nothing she could use.

Calmed down enough to think, though her heart still racing, Eva concentrated on the blood that was there.

She followed it up, her vision expanding as she concentrated and calmed. A person hung from chains attached somewhere out of her blood sight. He had a large hook through his chest. Blood dripped down from his toes.

He writhed and moaned, obviously still alive.

She ignored him. He wasn’t in any state to help her.

Eva splashed through his blood, splattering it around as much as she could. She crawled through it as far as she could stretch it.

Eventually, Eva ran out. She crawled along, blind to everything but herself and the rapidly diminishing trail of blood she made.

The sound of someone sobbing slowly grew audible.

She concentrated as hard as she could on expanding her vision as she crawled.

A small pool of blood entered her range about fifty feet away. She crawled towards it.

Another person, a woman this time, hung above the blood. Eva wasn’t sure she had a full grasp on interpreting her blood vision. There were two long poles on chains leading up to the ceiling like the kind trapeze artists swung on. They crisscrossed each other through the woman’s neck.

How her head hadn’t torn off her body, Eva couldn’t begin to fathom. Her body didn’t look like the lightest thing around.

Eva smeared herself in the pool of blood. It wasn’t as much as the man’s blood, but it freshened her up.

Do you wish to go back in time?

Eva whirled. She couldn’t find any source of a voice. That only meant they didn’t have blood on them. The woman above her continued sobbing, not taking notice of any voice.

You could regain your eyes. Your fingers. Your toes. Just say yes.

The voice came from all around, yet nowhere at the same time.

Devon was mad enough at her for Ylva’s throne room. Ylva had to be more benign than whatever lived here. She was sure she’d regret any contract made with whatever this was.

With time on your side, you could get revenge on all those who slight you.

Eva ignored the voice. She had a thought. Why couldn’t she sense someone who didn’t have blood on them. If they had blood in them, what difference would it make.

Eva focused on the woman above her. She had blood in her. She’d have to, in order to bleed.

The blood flowed from the holes in her neck. It fountained from her arteries and veins. Eva concentrated on that. Deeper and deeper inside.

You could get revenge before they hurt you.

Shut up, Eva thought. Her concentration broke. The sight of the blood shrank back to the woman’s neck. Eva focused again.

It was easier this time. Her sight sank into the woman. Limbs, organs, a beating heart. The woman’s whole body opened up to Eva. Every pulse brought her sight to life.

A neat trick, but not helping me escape. Even searching around for any other people brought up a blank.

Eva launched a fireball at the chains on the woman’s neck. It fizzled out without doing any damage. At least, none that Eva could see. For all she knew, that could be a lot.

She tried again, aiming for the same spot.

I wouldn’t do that.

On her twentieth try, the chain snapped. The woman swung to one side. The remaining pole tore through the woman’s neck as she swung. She landed with a plop in the pool of her own blood.

Somehow, she still sobbed and showed no signs of stopping. Eva wondered if she was even aware of anything outside her head.

Either way, her being alive was good.

Eva wiped the back of her right hand off on a relatively clean part of the woman’s body. At least, clean of blood. Cleaner than Eva was, in any case.

She shuddered at the thought that she might have been crawling through more than just blood. At least Eva wouldn’t be getting any infections.

With the back of her hand somewhat cleared off, Eva dipped her opposite thumb stump into the pool of blood. She carefully drew a circle on the back of her hand. Six lines spread outwards from the circle, touching the edge of a larger circle.

Probably the worst drawing Eva had done ever.

Hopefully it would work.

Moving to straddle the woman’s stomach, Eva whispered, “sorry, but you’re worth more dead than alive at the moment.” Her voice was hoarse and scratched in her throat.

Eva channeled magic into the back of her hand. She pressed down hard on the woman’s chest. A light pop was the only indication anything happened for a moment. The woman’s slowing cries were the next indication.

There it was. Looking inwards, Eva could see it covered in the woman’s blood. A bloodstone, right where her heart once was.

Eva smiled for the first time in a long time. She hadn’t expected that to work. Normally one should touch a beating heart directly. Not to mention the very malformed circle on the back of her hand.

Still, it had worked. The woman’s blood swirled around the bloodstone. With some effort and direction, the bloodstone erupted from her chest, covered in blood.

Eva inspected the bloodstone by covering it with blood. The blood filled every crevasse on the small marble.

That was a bad sign. Bloodstones were supposed to be smooth. The most perfect spheres to exist. Eva doubted this one would last a week. Less with use.

Eva planned to put it to good use.

She touched it to the pool of blood and the woman. Once sucked dry, Eva brought up as many blood marbles as she could. The marbles fell into a fast orbit around her, two merged together to form a sort of rolling-pin to run along the ground in front of her and check for obstacles. They were the only things Eva could sense in this place.

A small amount of blood kept circling around the stone. Without fingers, it was more convenient to have it hover in front of her. No dagger to mount it in, she would have a hard time drawing her own blood. A full, large bodied woman should be plenty for now. The woman’s blood was probably far more pure, according to blood magic, in any case.

Snapping fingers would be hard. Clapping would have to suffice for now. It was all a crutch in her mind, Eva knew. At least, theoretically. She’d never managed to vanish or obliterate blood without snapping in the past.

The blood swirled around her, touching against surfaces to grant her sight. Armed with her tools of war, Eva felt far more confident.

At least until a thunk sounded in the distance.

Now you’ve drawn the attentions of the keeper.

Eva shook the sing-song voice out of her head. It was not helping.

She ran.

Or tried to. The moment she shifted weight to her nonexistent toes, she fell.

Eva growled as toppled forward. She could fix this now. Several blood orbs dashed to her, catching her and righting her. She sent a handful of marbles to her feet. The spread out, forming makeshift toes. More blood stretched around her feet to anchor them in place.

Tentatively testing her temporary toes, Eva was happy to find they worked. At least for now.

She ran.

Whatever the keeper was, it couldn’t be a good thing to have the attentions of.

The walls of wherever she was ran in a large circle. At least from what she could tell of the short distance she ran. Another few bodies hung around the arena.

Eva happily sent her bloodstone skimming over the surface, gathering even more blood to herself.

There were no doors, no windows.

No roof either. At least not within her rough fifty foot range. Whatever the chains were attached to was so high, she couldn’t sense it.

Rather than continue around the arena–something that would bring her closer to those thunks–Eva created pillars out of the blood. Steps leading over the edge of the steel wall. She wasn’t sure the steps would hold her weight.

It was the first time she’d tried something like this. She’d never, ever had this much blood to play with. At least not since she made her last bloodstone, but she didn’t need to use the blood then. There was no way she could store this much blood without it degrading beyond use.

The steps did hold her weight.

Eva dashed up. She already sent an orb over to see the other side. There was ground there.

The thunks were slowly getting closer.

Rather than wait and form up steps on the other side. Eva just jumped.

One of her slippers splattered on landing. Eva tumbled into gritty sand.

Sand! That meant water, hopefully. Water brought her here, water could take her away.

Eva reformed her toes and ran. It was much harder to maintain cohesion while running across sand. Eva didn’t care. More blood was sent to her feet as she ran.

Her feet hit water before long.

Not sure that it would come with her otherwise, Eva popped her bloodstone into her mouth along with as much blood as would fit. She filled her eye sockets, ears, and other crevasses with as much as she could hold. The rest wrapped around her body.

She dived into the water thinking of nothing but home.

Like before, the water squeezed in on her and vanished.

A brief feeling of weightlessness took hold of Eva’s stomach once again.

And she fell.

Not a hard fall. Not like last time. She gently wafted down to a sandy beach.

A wave of nausea passed over Eva as she looked over the island with a single tree through blood filled eye sockets.

With a thought, the blood drained from everywhere she stuffed it. She was happy to note that the blood she wrapped around herself came through. It began orbiting around her, searching for any threats despite how the island felt safe the last time she was here.

One splattered against something. Something that wasn’t on the island before.

Eva whirled around, sending more orbs.

The orbs froze in midair. They dropped to the ground a moment later.

Eva fell to her knees and started crying.

She couldn’t help it. She tried to stop. Tried to stand up.

There was just no strength.

All her adrenaline was spent. Just a broken girl lying on a beach.

Sharp claws thrust out and grabbed Eva’s shoulders in a vice grip.

“It’s alright,” Arachne said. She pulled Eva close, squeezing her tighter than ever. “It’s okay.”

Eva threw her arms around the spider, squeezing just as hard as she cried into the demon’s shoulder.

Eva could see the agitation building in Arachne as her story went on. She looked about ready to tear something apart.

Unfortunately, the only thing to tear apart was Eva herself or the tiny twig that passed as a tree.

“The abattoir was a dangerous place to go. You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I didn’t know,” Eva snapped. “I was trying to get out of here. I didn’t want to end up in some demon’s private torture room.”

“The people there are being punished for severe breaches in contracts. Or rather, caught breaching contracts.”

“As nice as that is, I don’t really care.” Eva sighed as she leaned against Arachne.

Never had she been so glad to see a friendly face. They settled down at the edge of the beach and Eva couldn’t stop talking. Arachne silently listened to Eva’s day, even when Eva stopped at a few points.

Arachne had Eva’s hand in her own. She gently rubbed her claws over the back of her hand.

“I can fix this, I think.”

“What?”

“Not your eyes, I don’t think mine would fit.”

Eva pulled away from the demon and looked at her in her gray eyes. Everything was gray here, an odd irregularity she hadn’t noticed when she was alone.

“I’m not sure what you’re saying.”

“How do you think Devon is going to get his arm back? He’s going to make some deal with some demon. That demon is going to chop off its own arm and slap it on Devon. Demons do it all the time.”

Arachne stopped and shifted against the said. “I’ve never done it before. I’m sure it isn’t hard, I watched it happen once. My blood is your blood which can’t hurt.”

Eva pulled her hand out of Arachne’s grip. “I can’t take your fingers. Arachne, I–”

“It isn’t even a big deal to demons, we regenerate things quickly. You would too, if you were further along. It–” She stopped again and gripped Eva’s hand, running a finger at the base of her wrist. “It would be your whole hand. My fingers,” she wiggled her needle-like claws, “aren’t exactly compatible with human hands. The wrist is much closer.”

“Arachne,” Eva said firmly, “I can’t take your hands.”

“If you don’t, you’ll be going through the same thing Devon is going through. Summoning demon after demon, asking what they want for their body parts. Finding a good deal will be difficult, I assure you. You’re going to have to do that for your eyes already, since mine aren’t analogous to human eyes.”

“You said it yourself, I’ll regenerate when I’m further along.”

“I wouldn’t take that risk, if I were you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“When you reach the point where you can regenerate, your body might decide how you are then is how you should be. You might not be able to regenerate your missing parts at that point. You’d then have to go through the summon and bargaining process anyway and hope that whatever you’re given works.”

Eva frowned. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

Arachne pulled Eva’s hand up. “Close your– or just don’t think.”

“Wait,” Eva half shrieked. She pulled her hand back to her beating heart.

“You’re not going to find a better deal than free hands.”

“I know. I just–” Eva didn’t know what she just.

Arachne pulled her in close. Extra legs sprouted from her back, holding her steady. Two of the legs pinched Eva’s arms, holding them steady.

“Arachne,” Eva panicked. She tried to pull away. The restraints held her down tight, too tight. “I don’t think–”

“Don’t think,” Arachne said softly. “If you have to think about something, think about pulling those necromancer’s hearts out with your new claws.”

Eva stepped. She turned and looked at Arachne.

The spider-demon stood there frozen. Her legs still wrapped around the empty air Eva vacated. A moment after, she slumped. A dejected slump, like Eva just turned down her best attempts at helping.

In a way, she might have.

It didn’t matter.

“Not like that. That was too close to being in that chair again.” Eva took a deep breath. “I don’t want to hate you like that.”

Arachne didn’t respond. Her back still faced Eva, not having moved since she slumped down.

“It is a good deal, I’m sure,” Eva said slowly. “If I thought about it long enough, I’m sure I would agree.”

“Let’s wait.”

A long sigh escaped Eva’s lips. She stepped back to Arachne and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m glad. I was scared.”

“I wouldn’t have done anything to hurt you. I mean,” Arachne hesitated, looking off away from Eva, “it might have hurt having the rest of your hands removed. But it would have gotten better in the end.”

“It is the emotional hurt that I am worried about. I don’t want to see you like I saw Sawyer.”

“We have all the time here. When you feel up to it, let me know.”

Eva sat down on the beach, her back pressed against Arachne’s back. “We can’t get back?”

“I can. It will take some preparations. Your necklace is a beacon I can use to break the rules and escape from here without being summoned.”

Eva expected the necklace to be a beacon. “But not me.”

“There are rules in place to prevent other demons escaping with one’s beacon.”

“I can’t make my own beacon for you to take with you?”

Semi-tough hair tendrils smacked the side of Eva’s face as Arachne shook her head. She dodged their return trip. “Again, there are rules. I can’t take another demon’s gift with me without being summoned regularly. Even if I could, gifts must be accepted in the hands of a mortal–a mortal who knows they are gifts from a demon–before they become active.”

“So,” Eva said with a trepidatious smile, “we just need loopholes in these rules. I’m not a demon right? Try taking me back with you.”

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