Tag Archives: Lurcher

009.013

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“Construction?” Neuro asked with a frown, toying with of the golden triangles that adorned the tips of the demon’s long hair.

“Yep. Building a house maybe,” Eva said with a shrug. She couldn’t really think up anything else it might be.

Saija’s eyes narrowed to thin slits, glancing off to one side to avoid looking at anyone. Her lips curled back into a teeth-clenched grimace.

“Building?” She nudged Irene in the side. “I told you we should have done that last event. How am I supposed to build things?”

That was a good point. Something the other two demons apparently agreed with, judging by the nods of their heads. Really, even regular mages might find themselves not particularly useful. A fire mage wouldn’t have much to do in a house building contest. Unless they acted like a kiln to harden an earth mage’s structure. Really, it was air mages who wouldn’t have much to contribute.

Maybe not building houses then, but something else that still needed construction.

“For all I know, Redford is going to drop you off in the amazon jungle and tell you to survive for a week, build some shelters and hunt or scavenge for food.”

That would certainly be more exciting for viewers than some house building. Though long. Unless they streamed it on-line and let viewers tune into it whenever. Eva didn’t know how that would work with the television station, but maybe they would show a few hours a night. Or highlights from the day.

Henry crossed his arms as he glared at Eva with narrowed eyes. “And where did you get this information? We didn’t win, in case you forgot. Or did you forget which school we belong to again.”

Crossing her arms in front of her chest, Eva returned his glare. “Believe me or not. I don’t care.”

She considered taunting him for running off and having a temper tantrum when Arachne disagreed with him about the gorgon, but doing so would probably have him running off again. As she wasn’t participating in this event, she should probably leave the remainder of the team fully intact.

Though a small part of her mind couldn’t help but wonder if she could talk Anderson into swapping him out for someone else.

Juliana would be nice to have. She hadn’t signed up because of her parents, but they might have changed their minds after having seen—or participated in, in Genoa’s case—the first event. Anderson and Redford were obviously taking pains to make the tournament safe.

Given the cameras centered on the event, there were probably even more safety features behind the scenes. Redford would want to make good impressions on mundanes while Anderson wouldn’t want to frighten away prospective new students. Someone winding up mangled or dead would dissuade most normal people.

“Plan for what you want,” Eva said after a moment of silence. “I told you what I heard. Since I’m not allowed to participate, you can deal with it as you want.”

Henry took his eyes off Eva and looked over the rest of the students with a far less hostile glare. At least, far less hostile when he wasn’t looking at a demon or a human associated with demons.

Which was basically just Rachael.

Still, he reserved the majority of his ire for Eva.

And she couldn’t figure out why. Maybe he was friends with the Burnsides. Or simply had a bad experience in the past.

“There’s two weeks before the event,” he said, getting to his feet. “See if you can find something out for yourselves.”

With one last glance around the room, he snapped his notebook shut. Henry moved out of the room before anyone else could even stand. He barely managed to keep from shoulder-checking Eva on his way past.

Though only two days had passed since the night of the first event, Henry had grown far more hostile. During the feast, he had alternated between glaring at her and avoiding eye contact entirely. She could understand him being upset that Brakket Academy had lost, but he was apparently the only one.

At least, the only one of the competitors. A few regular students had alternated between blaming her or Randal.

More so Randal. His dormitory door had been vandalized with several scathing messages about his heritage and bound demon alike. Something about how a demonic elf should have been faster.

As if they would have done better.

The vandalism only contributed to his now obvious depression.

Even now, Randal sat with his head resting on his knuckles, staring at the ground. He hadn’t spoken once during the entire meeting.

Eva wasn’t sure what to say to him beyond her words at the feast the night before. But he didn’t have to participate in the next event, so he should be able to take some time to himself to get sorted out.

As for the next event, the vampire had so far not come up to Eva to beg for blood or to renegotiate their deal. As such, she was torn between whether she wanted Brakket to win or to lose. Losing could take some heat off Randal. Depending on how and why they lost, it might knock Henry down a peg as well.

On the reverse side of things, winning was generally better. Not to mention the potential amusement if the demon-majority team had lost the predominantly destructive event only to turn around and win the constructive one. The only two humans who could participate and didn’t have bound demons were Henry and Irene, and Irene was heavily associated with Saija.

Of course, like Saija had said, demons really weren’t great at building things. She was a succubus. Her talents lay in manipulative magic, though her raw strength could come in handy.

The other two demons, Sebastian and Neuro, Eva didn’t know half as much about. Sebastian sat in his chair, stirring a cup of tea he had procured from somewhere with an ornate silver spoon held in his gloved hand. He had a faint smile on his face as he stared off towards Henry’s vacant seat.

Neuro’s eyes swirled in thought. Literally. They were a brilliant green rather than the usual demonic red. He was supposedly smart, but Eva hadn’t been in a position to confirm it thus far. Maybe he would come up with something.

Unless he was thinking about something entirely unrelated to the tournament. That was a decent possibility as well.

Meeting apparently adjourned, Eva turned and started away from the small conference room that they had been using for tournament related business. She wasn’t the only one. Rachael had been out the door almost as fast as Henry.

However, she stopped as she reached the door. A completely impulsive thought took hold. A somewhat dangerous thought as well.

“Irene,” Eva said, “might I have a moment of your time before you run off to wherever?”

She sat up straight, offering a slow nod of her head. “Did you need something?”

“Just a little training exercise I thought you might be interested in trying.”

“Training?” she asked with a frown. “For fighting?”

Eva shook her head. “You’re an earth mage and I’ve got a project I’m working on that needs an earth mage.”

“Juliana isn’t helping you?”

“She is, but maybe it will help train you for this event. It isn’t a problem if you don’t want to do it.”

Irene’s frown deepened. She crossed her arms, staring at Eva as Eva moved to the side to let another student out of the room.

Saija stood up, strutted over to Eva, and walked around her in a short circle. She hummed to herself as she looked Eva up and down. When she stopped circling, she was a bit close for comfort.

Eva glared at her the whole time. It wasn’t that she disliked Saija, but the succubus was a bit much sometimes. Eva didn’t know what kind of relationship Irene and Saija had in private. Ever since the demon hunters had attacked, the two had been nearly inseparable. Really, she didn’t care what they did.

So long as she was left out of it.

And, at the moment, she really didn’t need Saija’s face quite so close to hers.

“What are you plan–”

Eva snapped her hand up to Saija’s chin, clamping her mouth shut. “Saija. You can ask your questions from a respectable distance. If you want to go with us, just ask.”

Releasing her with a slight shove, Saija sulked back to Irene and desperately tried to look like she wasn’t hiding behind the human.

Really, it had been months since they started going to school. Yet she was still thinking that Eva would bite her head off at the slightest provocation? Sure, she had just grabbed her jaw. But she hadn’t hurt Saija.

Thinking more, if they likened her to Zagan, maybe it wasn’t such an outlandish thing to do. Even knowing that Zagan wasn’t going to permanently hurt her, Eva still wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.

“Go with you?” Irene said, still frowning.

“Yep! I’ll show you,” Eva said, starting towards the door.

She paused as a thought occurred to her. As sensitive as she was to cold, Eva had barely felt anything the other night during the event. The entire ward had to have been heated. Just because it hadn’t snowed yet didn’t mean that it wasn’t cold. Eva solved the problem through heating spells, but not everybody was a fire mage.

“Ah. You might want to bring a warm coat,” Eva said with a smile.

“Alright, we’re out here without anyone else,” Irene said as she nearly tripped over a stray branch despite the light spell Eva had thrown out for her benefit. Saija caught her, keeping her from falling to the ground. “You avoided mentioning exactly what you need help with. I assume it was because other people were around.”

Eva turned with a smile, walking backwards through the rough brush. “Thanks for having the tact to not ask about anything.”

“Well I’m asking now.”

“We’re almost there.”

Irene stopped moving. “Eva,” she said. “You’re dragging us out here in the middle of the night and being awfully creepy about it. I don’t want to get involved in anything big again. I’ve had enough as it is.”

Eva sighed, stopping as well. Rather than answer right away, she craned her head back to stare at the sky.

“The night you fought the monsters that came out of my dorm room, those purple streaks appeared in the sky.”

Looking up to the sky as well, Irene let out a soft groan. “I knew it. This is something big.”

“They’re a connection between the mortal realm, Void, and Life itself. Two Powers and a battlefield.”

“Right. Way too big,” Irene said, backing up. “Eva, I’m–”

“Involved no matter what you do. Life is trying to pull Void into the mortal realm. Most likely in an attempt to make Void vulnerable. Unfortunately, Void will be bringing along all of Hell. Maybe Hell will take the shape of another planet or galaxy, or maybe it will catastrophically merge with the mortal realm, or simply unleash all the demons of Hell onto Earth. I don’t know.

“One thing is certain, it probably isn’t going to be good for us. Especially because Life’s reason for attacking Void seems to be because Death and Void are allied. Death might be the next target. Something, believe it or not, that would not be good for anyone.”

Eva took her eyes off the sky, looking Irene in the eyes. “So we’re going to bring Void over without the rest of Hell ahead of whenever Life wanted to do it in the hopes that Void will be able to seal away Life. Or at least remove the mortal realm from the playing field,” Eva said with a smile.

Irene didn’t say anything.

Neither did Saija.

After waiting a full minute, neither had so much as moved. Eva felt her smile start to slip. If Irene got scared and went around telling people, things could go poorly. She didn’t want to kill Irene, so maybe Serena could perform a little memory trick to make her forget.

Except Serena wasn’t in on the ritual’s secret either.

Eva bit her lip before smiling again. “So how is that for a sales pitch?” she asked, trying for a small bit of humor.

“Terrible,” Irene said, voice flat. “But you’re serious, aren’t you.”

“Unfortunately.”

Irene’s hands shot to her hair where she started tugging. “Why me?” she moaned.

“Well, because you’re an earth mage and Juliana–”

“I just wanted to come to school, learn some magic, work on my studies, and other normal things. I wanted to become an enchantress, maybe own a shop. I’m not a mage-knight or some thrill-seeker. And now the world is ending?”

“Apocalypse has been used to describe the situation by some of the people who know, yes,” Eva said with a reluctant nod of her head. “But we’re trying to avoid–”

Irene sank down to her knees, getting her pants covered in dirt, and cupped her hands to her face. She wasn’t crying… but she obviously wasn’t taking the information half as well as Juliana had. Of course, Juliana already knew half of it. The only thing she hadn’t known was Arachne’s mission to bring Void over to Earth without Life’s involvement.

At her side, Saija fluttered a pair of wings that hadn’t been out a mere ten minutes ago. She hovered over Irene, bobbing from one shoulder to the other without quite knowing how to help her troubled friend. Only when she placed a hand on Irene’s shoulder did Irene finally move.

She glanced out of her cupped hands, looking at Saija with a half-hearted glare. “Did you know about all this?”

Her head whipped back and forth in a definite negative. “Sounds neat though. I’ve never seen Void. Do you think Powers are cute–”

“I used to think I was the only sane person who went to Brakket,” Irene said, face back buried in her hands. The low volume of her voice combined with her hands forced Eva to take a step closer to properly hear her. “I was right,” she said with a groan.

Irene popped up, brows furrowed. She stuck a finger in Eva’s chest. “You can’t just say that we’re on the verge of apocalypse all nonchalant-like.”

“Ah huh.”

“‘Ah huh,’ she says.” Irene turned to glare at Saija. “‘Do you think a Power is cute,’ she says. Do neither of you have any sense of gravity?”

“Of course I do,” Saija said with a disarming smile. She spread her wings ever so slightly. “Every time I fly, gravity is there to drag me back down to Earth should I lapse in my gliding.”

Irene stared, gaze deader than Ylva’s. Without even a sigh or a simple shake of her head, she turned and started off in the direction they had been coming from.

Saija gave a questioning glance towards Eva.

Eva had her own frown leveled at the succubus.

Saija let out a little noise from the back of her throat before moving straight to Irene’s side.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No. Not really,” Irene said without inflection. “I just need to go have a mental breakdown. Don’t worry about me.”

Eva blinked in front of her, hands up to stop her from going forwards. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to have your breakdown later? There are still a few things to go over. Like who it is safe to talk about this with. Also I’m sure Juliana would–”

“Safe to talk about it with?”

“Well, we don’t want to cause a panic now do we?”

“So you do have a sense of how big this is,” Irene said, hands on her hips.

Eva just smiled, ignoring the panic on Irene’s face. “Come on,” she said. “Juliana should be waiting for us. She’ll probably be mad at me for being so late again, but oh well.”

— — —

Zoe paused as her companion stopped to sniff the air. A vampire’s sense of smell wasn’t good for much aside from the scent of blood. A fact that had Zoe instantly on edge.

“Something wrong?” she asked, hand closing around the hilt of her dagger.

“I don’t think so,” Serena said. “Just a familiar scent heading off towards the forest again.”

“Eva?”

“Yep. Along with a demon who isn’t Arachne and someone else.”

Zoe let her arm drop to her side with a small sigh. Eva and demon likely meant it was nothing to be worried about. Especially because Serena had smelled Eva off in the forests on occasion ever since she arrived. They were probably just training for the next event.

Still, she couldn’t help but ask. “Who is the someone else?”

Serena shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know. A human. I haven’t really interacted with anyone aside from you and Wayne, so everyone else sort of muddles together. No real distinct scent.”

“Could you find them again if they were in front of you?”

“Probably. Why?”

“Just curious,” Zoe said, continuing off towards Wayne’s classroom.

“If you’re really curious, I’m sure you could just ask Eva,” Serena said, skipping up and around Zoe until she was walking backwards down the hall. “Last time I asked, she told me that she was working on a weather ward. Something to keep rain and snow out. I wonder if she’s still working on that.”

“Weather ward,” Zoe repeated with a frown. Maybe something to erect around her women’s ward. She had confessed a certain distaste for snow in the past. Or it could be homework for Chelsea’s class.

Either way, it didn’t sound like anything to worry about.

Zoe knocked on Wayne’s door, waiting just long enough before opening it for Wayne to grunt out an answer.

“Come in,” he said. He didn’t even look up as the door opened. A boiling pot of orange liquid bubbled underneath a stooped over Wayne. His eyes never left the pot even as he gathered up a fistful of powder and sprinkled it in the liquid.

The orange liquid turned almost completely clear. Enough for Zoe to see the cast iron insides of the cauldron.

Which was something that struck Zoe as odd. Not the potion. Finding Wayne tinkering with potions wasn’t strange in the slightest. The fact that he was using a cauldron over an open flame was the real oddity. Modern potionwork almost exclusively used modern tools. Flasks and burners that could be found inside mundane chemical laboratories.

“Do you ever wonder why a potion designed to shrink things doesn’t shrink what it’s made in? Or the flask it is stored in, for that matter.”

“Potions are more your specialty than mine, but I would assume that it is because potion making equipment is enchanted to resist magic.”

“That is more of a safety precaution than anything else,” Wayne said, tapping the edge of the cast iron cauldron. “This thing isn’t enchanted in the slightest. No growth, no shrinkage.”

Zoe stepped closer to the pot, looking it over with sharpened senses. “Perhaps the potion making itself imparts some protection while it is being made and shortly after, keeping it from acting until poured onto something unprotected. Have you tried it in regular glassware?”

“Not yet.”

“What brought on this line of thinking?”

“Watching the first event, actually.”

“Eva’s basilisk golem?”

He gave a slight murmur of agreement as he dropped a crystallized essence of water into the potion. The clear liquid expanded instantly, going from half-filling the cauldron to an inch short of the lip.

Zoe actually took a step away. If that was some shrinking solution, she did not want it spilling onto her.

“Growth and shrinking potions are not very useful,” Wayne said, almost more to himself than anyone else in the room. “You can’t shrink a suitcase as the clothes inside don’t shrink. You can’t embiggen a cube of wood and carve out a house because the wood will revert after a time when the magic runs out. As such, I haven’t worked with them often. Seeing that basilisk grow just sparked my curiosity.”

“There are other potions that should affect the flasks,” Zoe said slowly. “Essence of Luminosity, for instance. It doesn’t usually make the glass glow afterwards.”

“Never really thought about it before. Or had assumed it was because of the enchantments. But watching some of Spencer’s potion spill onto the ground got me curious.”

He took a pinch of leaves and dropped them into the pot, turning the clear liquid to a milky white. Only then did he finally take his eyes off the potion.

“Ah, Serena. You’re here too.”

“You didn’t notice?” the vampire gasped, clutching at her chest like she had been shot before collapsing into one of the empty classroom seats.

Wayne didn’t so much as blink an eye, instead turning to face Zoe.

“I assume you’re here about Anderson’s request?”

Zoe nodded. “I haven’t mentioned it to Ylva yet–”

“Good. Don’t. As…” he trailed off, curling his lip into a nasty smile. “Nice as she seems to be, having her anywhere near children seems to be the worst possible idea that man could have come up with.”

“You were at the hospital at the time, but she has been around the students before. She disguised herself as a little girl.”

“I don’t believe that.”

Zoe just shrugged as she leaned against one of the tables in the room. “It’s true.”

“Well I’m against it,” Serena said. “And I doubt the other vampire would like having a minion of Death running around, trying to rekill us both.”

“I’m actually more worried for the Isomer students. Ylva has not been kind to the Elysium Order.” Zoe shook her head with a sigh. “Unfortunately, I think Anderson intends to speak with her regardless of my choice in the matter.”

“When you suggested he bring on security guards, I had been hoping he would not go the route of Turner. Let’s just find some nice retired mage-knights and throw them in front of him before he wanders around to all the demons in the area and begs for their help.”

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009.012

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Eva flopped over on her bed.

“Ah, I’m tired,” she mumbled to nobody in particular.

Nobody else was around. Juliana and Shalise had gone over to Genoa’s house to watch the event. Irene, Jordan, and Shelby were all there as well, along with Saija, Srey, and Vektul. A gathering that might have had Eva worried for their safety from demon hunters had she not been so tired. Especially because she was relatively certain that Genoa had participated in the event as an antagonist to one of the groups.

Carlos was supposedly a decent fighter, if Genoa was to be believed. They had three demons, Jordan, and Juliana as well. If anything had come up, they could probably handle it all on their own.

All in all, the event could have gone much worse. Even aside from how it ended. She had honestly been worried that another sky-cracking laser beam would obliterate half of the contestants. Given the vampire’s presence, the Elysium Order might have attacked all on their own. That combined with Eva and Lucy’s presence, it had been an ideal time to attack for just about anyone.

Well, partially. There were a lot of high-profile mages running about Brakket Academy at the moment. Redford, for one. And the event had been televised. A demon hunter might not care, but the Elysium Order did have something of a reputation to uphold.

Her school hadn’t won, but neither had the vampire’s. As it was, he was probably going to corner her sometime and try to bet on something else. Perhaps his school winning the second event or something similar.

Eva didn’t really care. She couldn’t participate in it. That gave her all kinds of free time. With Juliana’s help, they might be able to finish up the ritual circle before she actually had to worry about it being discovered.

Maybe. It was still a daunting task. They weren’t going to do anything tonight, obviously. Maybe not the day after either, as there was supposed to be another feast celebrating the end of the first event and its victors.

Then, she didn’t know when the second event would take place. It might be the following weekend, it might be in the middle of December. Hopefully the latter.

Even once the ritual circle was finished, she would still need to actually find the people to help participate. The demon side of things should be easy enough. She already had half of them helping out either with the creation of the circle or the security of it. A few more could probably be convinced just by saying that they were summoning Void.

The humans weren’t going to be half as easy to find. Juliana would. She was already involved anyway. Shalise as well, probably. Maybe. Maybe leaving her out of it would be for the best. Her mother wouldn’t approve, to say the least.

Though, Genoa probably wouldn’t either. But it was a bit too late in Juliana’s case.

Maybe Irene would come. If she brought Shelby along with her, that would be good. Beyond that, Eva was somewhat at a loss. Vektul had said humans. Eva wasn’t sure that people with demons bound to them counted as human enough, so that ruled out a good number of people who Eva thought might otherwise not have a problem summoning a Power to Earth.

A tapping at the window of her dorm room interrupted Eva’s thoughts.

And yet, being flopped over face down on her bed was nice and comfortable. Did she really want to get up and open the window?

No, not really.

Three more taps rattled the glass before Eva finally lifted her head enough to see who dared to disturb her slumber.

Ah, but the blinds are in the way, Eva thought as she dropped her face back onto the bed.

She wasn’t that tired. Sure, she had used a lot of magic. Especially blinking and fireballs. But that wasn’t too taxing. Maybe she was tired from all the running and jumping around. There had been a lot of that as well.

Or maybe it was the interactions with other people. Other people were always exhausting. Especially ones she had never met before. And nuns.

Eva tilted her head up with a deep frown on her face as the tapping on the window grew louder. Something about that didn’t feel right. She had never had much trouble interacting with people. Other people often had trouble interacting with her unless she dragged them along at her pace, but not the other way around.

If it wasn’t that…

I’m not depressed, am I?

That would be silly. She had accomplished her objective in preventing the vampire from winning. There was nothing to be depressed about.

The tapping rattled the windows enough that it threatened to break the glass.

Eva finally rolled out of bed, stumbling to her feet as she moved over to the window.

“Alright already,” she mumbled.

Pulling up the blinds, she threw the latch and hefted the window up.

A massive spider skittered into the room, barely making it before Eva slammed the window shut again.

“The door works perfectly fine, you know.”

The spider didn’t respond. She couldn’t as she didn’t have a mouth. Not yet, anyway. Her body was expanding back into its humanoid form.

Instead of waiting and watching her, Eva just flopped back down on her bed and buried her face into her pillow.

“Someone’s in a bad mood.”

“Yeah, can’t wait to see that vampire’s face,” Eva mumbled.

Arachne stood still for a moment longer, standing over the side of the bed. When she finally decided to move, she just sat on the edge.

Eva let out a little squawk as Arachne fell backwards, laying her head and the stiff tendrils that passed for her hair on Eva’s back. They poked into her for a minute or two before Arachne finally made herself comfortable in resting against Eva.

All the while, Eva just lay there, not minding the sudden contact. Neither spoke, choosing instead to sit in a companionable silence.

“Thanks,” Eva said, absolutely ruining the mood yet still feeling a need to say so. She tried to move as little as possible so as to keep from disturbing the resting spider, though she did lift her head up enough that she wasn’t speaking into her pillow.

“For what? I didn’t do anything.”

“Knowing you were out there following me, ready to jump in at the first sign of anything truly dangerous was enough. I might have been a whole lot more paranoid had you not been there.”

“I wasn’t able to get into the pyramid itself without possibly being spotted on the cameras.”

“Yeah, I figured. But I also figured that not many others would be able to get inside without being seen. I was a lot more worried about demon hunters and the like, not any of the other contestants.”

Arachne didn’t say anything in response. She really didn’t need to.

Having her there was enough for Eva.

Eva dropped her head back into her pillow and shut her eyes.

— — —

“Remember, join in next time for more magical excitement at Brakket Academy.”

Zoe managed to maintain her smile until the little red recording light blinked off. As soon as it did, she couldn’t help herself. A suppressed yawn finally broke free, stretching her jaw as far as it would go for a few seconds.

“Ah, excuse me,” she said as the yawn died off. “Wasn’t expecting that to go quite so long.”

When the schedule had called for her to comment on several highlights after the event had finished, she had expected a half hour of discussion. There had been no final time listed, but three hours seemed a tad excessive. It had gotten to the point where she had been running out of unique things to say for every little display of magic.

Normally, she would have assumed there to be a time limit simply because the station had other programs they needed to get to. They had obviously cleared their schedule. In fact, Zoe wouldn’t be surprised if the station switched to a few analysts—probably unqualified and mundane analysts—who would discuss and replay the event all through the night. Perhaps even into the next week.

There would be backlash, excitement, fear, uproar, wonder, and all manner of people coming out of the woodworks to either praise or condemn everything magical. Mundane people who couldn’t stand the idea that magic existed had been protesting for years and nothing had really come of it. Of course, there had never been such open and obvious proof. Just whispers and conspiracy theories.

But worrying about such things was, quite frankly, not Zoe’s job. She knew that both Wallace and Anderson had public relations people at the ready. Anderson, possibly Wallace as well, had been planning something like this for a while.

The only thing Zoe was truly concerned about at the moment was protesters showing up around Brakket.

Or worse, rioters.

And demon hunters, though enough had died in the area recently to hopefully ward off any more from showing up. Vampire hunters not associated with the Elysium Order might appear, but they were so few and far between that Zoe couldn’t bring herself to be too concerned. Most people who didn’t like vampires joined up with the Elysium Order.

Zoe would be speaking with Anderson in the morning about hiring some new security guards around the place anyway.

“Don’t worry,” Hank said, standing up to stretch his back. “I was thinking we would only spend an hour talking about it. But the viewers just weren’t dropping off, so…” he trailed off with a shrug.

“Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the event.”

“I’m sure they did. Social media is already going nuts over it all. Sorry about your school though.”

“We may not have won, but I think we made a decent showing of it all.” Zoe stood, resisted the urge to mimic Hank’s stretching, and held out her hand. “Thanks for keeping me on track. I have a tendency to go off on tangents on occasion.”

“Not a problem. I look forward to co-commenting on the next event.” He reached out and took hold of Zoe’s hand. He paused for a moment. “I wonder if it might be possible to sit in on a class or two before the next event. With everything going on, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

“That… could be possible. I’ll have to speak with Anderson, but I don’t foresee much of an issue.” Especially if I frame it in such a way that it sounds like Brakket gets something out of it. “I’ll mention it to him in the morning.”

“Excellent.”

“I don’t know how much it will help. These students study for years before performing magic like this.”

“True. Better than nothing, I suppose.”

Zoe couldn’t really disagree with that. She just nodded her head instead. “I’ll send you a date and time as soon as I speak with Anderson. However, if you’ll excuse me for now, there are a few people I should meet with before the night officially ends.”

“Of course. I look forward to working with you in the future.”

Turning, Zoe stepped off the wooden platform and started walking towards the main school building. Four steps later, she had a better idea. Zoe reached into her pocket and took hold of her wand. A slight buildup of magic had her sent through the blinding white of Between, teleported across the city.

She immediately collapsed into Wayne’s couch.

And started groaning.

The television was on. Worse, she was on. Some station was playing a clip from earlier in the evening.

“Is that what I looked like?”

“What’s wrong? You look fine.”

Zoe narrowed her eyes at Wayne.

He just raised his eyebrows as he took a sip from a cup of coffee.

“The station wanted to do my makeup, something about certain colors standing out better on camera.”

Wayne set his coffee down on the table before leaning back in his armchair. He tilted his head back, facing the ceiling of his home as he closed his eyes. “They did a good job, not that I know anything about makeup,” he grumbled.

“I feel like I could dig my finger three inches into my face before I actually touched skin.” She sighed. The sigh trailed off into a self-depreciating laugh. “So how was it? Terrible?”

“Not as bad as I expected.”

“Knowing you, you expected the world to end halfway through. ‘Not as bad’ could still be a complete disaster.”

“The slow motion shots were nice.”

“They were,” Zoe said. “I wonder if we could get the original footage from them. It might come in handy for class.”

Wayne let out a loud scoff that had Zoe narrowing her eyes again.

“Everyone in the world is going to be jumping at the opportunity to get magic on camera. I’m sure you could find someone willing to set their slow motion cameras up while you cast spells at them for hours on end. They would probably pay you as well.”

“Maybe. But I think I would still like the footage from tonight. The original footage, not just what they’re going to show on repeat for the next several weeks.”

“Well, I doubt they’ll be deleting any of it. I’m sure the military is going to pay good money to get their hands on a copy. Probably several militaries.”

“That’s something other people can deal with,” Zoe said, reaffirming her decision to stay out of larger politicking matters. She was a magical theory professor. If there was a danger to her students, she would jump in to defend them without hesitation.

That the United States armed services might want copies of the footage was not an immediate danger to her students. Or, probably, a long-term danger. Though it wouldn’t surprise her if they came up with a magical branch of the military. Or perhaps just wrapped up certain mages into the Army or Navy or wherever they fit best.

More career paths were always a good thing. Fighting in the military wouldn’t be significantly different from most Guild work. It might even be safer. They would have a team, support, and presumably tactical training. Most mage-knights worked alone or in small groups.

Swinging her legs off the edge of the couch, Zoe started off towards the bathroom. “I’m using your shower.”

— — —

Why can’t Brakket just serve pizza. Everyone likes pizza.

Knowing Brakket Academy, their pizza wouldn’t be any more edible than anything else they served. They would put toppings on it that Eva had never heard of. Probably anchovies as well.

It was enough to make Eva shudder from the thought alone.

In front of her, she didn’t have any fish topped pizza. Close, but not quite.

Eva nudged the… squid with the tip of her finger.

The squid nudged back.

Eva carefully slid the bowl a few inches away from her. She didn’t even know where to begin eating the thing. She could presumably just pick it up and bite down. It wasn’t alive, missing its brain, though that didn’t stop it from squirming.

None of the rest of the dish looked all that edible either. The squid sat atop a mountain of vegetables and little red balls that were probably fish eggs. Of course, they could be Lucy eggs for all Eva knew.

Caviar was supposedly some high-class food. The rest probably was as well. Eva just couldn’t see herself enjoying any of it.

She reached for a bread roll. That seemed the safe choice by far. Her teeth glided straight through the soft dough without encountering anything unexpected.

Though she didn’t have too much of a problem with the food served by Brakket Academy normally, Juliana had also pushed her bowl towards the center of the table. Shalise hadn’t. She happily chewed on the end of a squid tentacle.

Looking across the room, Eva noticed Anise looking especially queasy as she stared at the squid. Her fellow nun had no concerns about the meal. She gnawed on the end of a tentacle as she alternated a glare between the vampire and Eva.

Eva put on a polite smile and gave a slight wave of her hand when their eyes met.

The nun held her scowl in place for just a moment before turning it on Anise. She didn’t say anything. She just stared.

Though her gnawing on the tentacle became a little more violent as she gnashed her teeth.

“Welcome back,” Anderson said, moving to the center of the stage where the professors were eating. “I’ll spare you all a large speech and move straight to the judging. Wallace, if you would be so kind?”

Redford whispered something into the ear of the woman he had been sitting with. The same woman who had been sitting with him at the previous feast. Just as before, her eyes were closed. She didn’t respond, simply smiling, though she did tap the side of her mouth with a finger.

He stood, wiping some sauce from the corners of his mouth with a small napkin. He moved around the table. Every other step, his cane clicked against the floor. Once at the front, he stopped and stared out over the assembled students.

“Fifth place,” he said without preamble or prelude, “goes to Faultline School for the Magically Adept. Though all three students made it to the pyramid, none reached the final chamber.”

Looking over to the mentioned school, Eva found every single student sitting with clenched fists and grit teeth. Even up on stage, their headmaster—or principal, or dean, or whatever he called himself—had his brow furrowed and lips pressed into a deep frown.

“Isomer Holy Academy comes in fourth place. Two members of Isomer failed to reach the pyramid. One made it inside, however, granting them a place over Faultline.”

Eva didn’t bother looking at them. The nun not named Anise now had her fist clenched hard enough to dig her nails into her skin.

And she was staring right at Eva.

Instead, Eva licked her lips. She hadn’t been aware that there would be rankings beyond winner and losers. So far, that hadn’t been a problem. But if the vampire placed second and she third, he would probably raise a fuss about her blood much sooner than otherwise.

Eva held her breath.

“Second and third place were difficult. In the end, third goes to the Nod Complex for the Supernatural. Only two members of their school made it to the pyramid. Though the two who did made it to the final chamber first, they squandered their advantage by preemptively attacking the quetzalcoatl and further failed to claim victory.”

Eva had been about to turn to the vampire with a smug grin when she caught a hint of movement.

Just a slight movement in both her sense of blood and her actual vision.

The yellow-haired woman opened her eyes. Not wide, just a slight sliver.

Enough for Eva to notice one being green and the other being violet with a golden pupil.

Eva blinked and the eyes were shut again. The woman looked perfectly average as she smiled her calm smile.

“Brakket Magical Academy had all three members of their school make it to the top of the pyramid, although only two made it inside. They then figured out what to do and made a plan using members of the other schools to enable themselves a victory… Only to have it snatched out of their grasp by our first place school.

“Only one member of Mount Hope Academy made it to the pyramid, but that was enough to place their marble on the activated pedestal. Congratulations.”

He clapped his hands together a few times, prompting most of the staff to begin clapping as well. The Faultline headmaster notably kept his hands at his sides. As soon as the students joined in, Redford tapped the ground with his cane, sending out a silencing click as it hit the wood.

It must be enchanted, Eva thought. The noise was simply too loud to be natural. It had silenced the students during the first feast as well.

“The second event will take place in two weeks’ time. Mount Hope has received a few hints on what might be required for victory. For everyone else, you may be wondering why you were ranked at all. The answer: You will be required to make a selection. Mount Hope will select first. Faultline last.” Redford paused for a moment, looking out over the students. “That is all,” he said, turning to go back to his seat.

Anderson moved to the center to take his place, clapping his hands together to bring attention over to him.

“Exciting, exciting!” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I hope you all are looking forward to the next event. Enjoy the rest of your feast and the rest of your nights!”

As he slipped back behind the table and retook his seat, Eva stared down at the squid bowl.

“Nope,” she said standing. “I’m done.”

Juliana popped up at the same time. “Me too.”

“Don’t worry,” Eva said, putting a hand on Shalise’s shoulder. “We’re just going back to the dorm room.”

Shalise, having started to shovel down as much food as she could, started to slow down. She swallowed up her current bite before looking at Eva with narrowed eyes. “You’re not disappearing again?”

Eva glanced towards Juliana and shook her head. “Not tonight. Take your time, we won’t be going anywhere.”

“If you’re sure,” she said slowly, looking back to her meal with a smile.

With a small chuckle, Eva waved goodbye to Irene, Shelby, Saija, and Jordan as she passed. She did pause as she came up to Randal.

The half-elf sat with poor posture. Something everyone did, but it was notable on the normally appearance obsessed elf. His fork pushed around a few eggs in his bowl without real direction or meaning. Not out of disgust, but out of depression.

Probably.

She knew that a few of the other students had been giving him a hard time about being too slow or… whatever.

So she patted him on the back. “Cheer up. We’ll get them next time,” she said with a false optimism in her voice.

With the rankings given by Redford, Eva was feeling much better than she had the night before. The vampire couldn’t dispute any claim of who won between them. Neither did she actually care about ‘next time’ or anything after that. She was still hoping that the world would ‘end’ before the third event.

He just gave her a sad smile before going back to toying with his food.

Eva and Juliana almost made it back to the Rickenbacker before Eva noticed someone running up behind them.

She turned, ready to blink or toss a fireball depending on the situation. Despite her paranoia, she smiled.

“Emily, did you need something?”

The girl flinched, stopping several paces away. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “You guys deserved to win.”

Eva just shrugged her shoulders. She almost told her that they were better than the Nod Complex, but decided to remain silent instead. Mostly because that should be obvious from their elevator trip where Eva had all but told everyone that she didn’t care what happened so long as the vampire lost.

“The next event involves construction. Magic assisted building.”

“That… sounds really dull. I’m glad I can’t participate in it.” Though she supposed she could tell the rest of her team. It wouldn’t hurt any. And if they kept it quiet from the vampire and beat him again, all the better. “Does the rest of your school know that you told me?”

“I– No, they don’t,” she said with a sigh.

“Then better run along before people get suspicious. Thanks for telling me though, we’ll try not to beat you guys too bad,” Eva said with a grin.

As she ran off again, Juliana turned to Eva. “What was that all about?”

“Don’t know. Maybe I made a friend.” Eva watched her go, thinking back to the event.

She had used both flames and earth with roughly equal proficiency. Something that could be handy in construction. Of course, since she was barred from participating in the second school event, maybe Eva could offer her another opportunity to show off her skills.

“Think she wants to help bring a Power into reality to do battle with another Power and potentially end the world?”

Juliana shook her head with a sigh. “You should work on your sales pitch.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.002

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After hearing Anderson’s true plan—getting children to summon demons and either bind them within their bodies similar to what Shalise had done with Prax or contract with them—Eva was significantly less worried. If Anderson was trying to turn more humans into demons or even just amputating limbs to graft demon limbs on, she imagined that there would be no small amount of outrage from just about everyone. Parents, teachers, and plenty more would be rioting.

Not that summoning demons was much better. The two hunters who had attacked were not going to be the last ones. As soon as word spread just a bit more, Brakket would be under attack from all sides.

Anderson’s response to that had been to simply summon more demons. There were an infinite amount of demons and a limited amount of demon hunters. With a decent portion of the school summoning demons, they should be able to deter just about any attacks.

Eva had considered arguing against summoning so many demons. It hadn’t exactly worked out for Martina and that wasn’t even counting the Hell situation. They needed to summon Void without rending reality and bringing all of Hell with him.

However, Devon had been unable to summon demons since Arachne arrived. He had the carnivean and hadn’t sent the wax demon back—she was locked up in solitary confinement with several sets of shackles to keep her in place—but a few other attempts had produced nothing but enigmas.

So unless Anderson knew something Devon didn’t, she wasn’t too worried. He would fail a few times and give up as Devon had.

Genoa cleared her throat, breaking Eva out of her thoughts.

“Juliana?” she said as they traveled down the streets of Brakket City—Wally Redford had stayed behind to hash out details with the new dean.

“Yes mother?”

“You’re not allowed to participate. No more demons.” Genoa paused for just a moment before turning her head towards Eva and Arachne. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Eva said as Arachne gave a half-hearted shrug.

Juliana frowned, turning her head off to one side. For just a moment, Eva thought that she might argue. In the end, she nodded. “Alright.”

“Good. I’ll be checking in on you every now and again.”

“Moom,” Juliana said, exaggerating the word as she pushed her mother’s wheelchair. “I can take care of myself.”

“Honey?” Genoa reached a hand over her shoulder, putting it on Juliana’s hand near the wheelchair’s handles. “I love you, but I think we’ll have to wait and see whether or not you can. Your past choices haven’t exactly inspired confidence.”

Silence descended. An uncomfortable silence broken only by the sound of footsteps and wheels against the sidewalks.

“I know,” Juliana eventually said. “I will do better.”

“That’s all I can ask.” Genoa waved a hand through the air. “But enough of the heavy topics. What happened to your other friend? Is Shalise coming back to school?”

Juliana looked over towards Eva raising an eyebrow as well.

“I mentioned that she was in Switzerland the last time Nel checked in on her. Or was it Sweden?” Eva shook her head with a shrug. “I suppose Zoe could try contacting her, but given that it was her mother who kidnapped her, I doubt she’ll be back anytime soon. Lynn Cross doesn’t particularly like me, demons, or Brakket Academy. Or much of anything, really. She is kind of a grumpy woman.”

“Her sentiment is understandable. I have qualms about having Juliana here. While I’m far more willing to allow Juliana to make up her own mind than my husband and son, I can’t say that I did much to dissuade them from their mania. If it weren’t for Zagan, Juliana would be far from this school.”

Another silence fell over the group at the mention of Zagan. Juliana and Eva shared a look. Neither wanted to talk about him.

Or rather, Juliana didn’t want anyone to talk about him. Eva wasn’t quite so averse, but she was willing to respect her friend’s wishes.

No one had summoned Zagan back yet. Martina was as good as dead and either nobody else cared or nobody else was willing. Devon certainly wasn’t willing. Anderson might be, but if he hadn’t already tried, he probably wouldn’t ever. Assuming Zagan could be summoned without enigmas pouring through the portal instead.

Neither had Zagan come back himself—something Eva was certain he would do. Maybe he couldn’t, but he had somehow got back after Juliana had summoned him to Hell. Unless Martina had resummoned him, there had to be a way. Perhaps something that only the seventy-two knew about.

Juliana was getting nervous. Unless she had changed her mind from their last conversation, she was still worried about the lack of Zagan. The longer Zagan was gone, the greater the chance that her family would find out. If her family found out, they would probably force her away.

And if Zagan came back after that, something bad might happen. What, exactly, she was afraid of, Juliana had been vague about. Some agreement about staying at Brakket Academy. Whatever it was, it had her scared.

Clearing her throat, Eva decided to change the topic away from Zagan. “Maybe we should stop by with Nel. She can peek in on Shalise unless she threw away her hair. Maybe Shalise will be in great danger and we can go on a quick adventure to save her.”

“You shouldn’t hope that your friend is in danger,” Genoa said with a hint of admonishment in her tone.

Eva shrugged. “I don’t! However, trouble seems to follow us around. A lot. Unless it’s all Brakket Academy’s doing. My life never used to be this hectic.”

“Nor mine,” Juliana said.

“I doubt Shalise’s life was so crazy either. It’s settled then. We have to check in on her. For her sake.”

Turning around, Eva walked slowly until Juliana had turned her mother’s wheelchair around and caught up.

They had been walking aimlessly after meeting with Anderson. Just a nice walk around town to enjoy the fresh air and the warm summer day. Not so long ago, they had passed by the new home that housed Ylva and Zoe.

And Nel as well.

As such, it didn’t take long to return. A walk up a short path had them right at the door. The front porch wasn’t wheelchair accessible, but Arachne helped lift the chair up the two steps. As she did, Eva scanned the neighbors with her sense of blood. No one suspicious came up. No hunters living in the adjacent houses.

At least, none that she could see.

There hadn’t been any sign of the demon hunters returning so far. Nel hadn’t been able to get anything from the pieces of armor that the one hunter had left behind. Perhaps because they were broken or maybe because Juliana had used her ferrokinesis on them beforehand. Whatever the case, they weren’t tied closely enough to the hunters to get a lock on them.

With the aid of her sense of blood, Eva had been able to find blood from both hunters around the scenes of battle. Unfortunately, it had all been contaminated beyond use. Too much dirt and debris and not enough blood.

Zagan’s horn had worked out, or the blood on it. However, she kept saying that her vision just ‘slid off’ the demon hunters. Something happened that made her mind go fuzzy when she tried to look at them.

Nel had gone back to standard augur procedure when no fetters existed and checked around the city at random, but she hadn’t found anything. Of course, the last time that Eva had checked in had been nearly a week ago. Maybe something new had happened.

Probably not. Nel didn’t have a cellphone, but Zoe did. Living in the same house, she should have gotten a message out somehow.

Before knocking, Eva performed a quick check of the interior. She didn’t want to disturb people if they were busy, after all. The only person inside Ylva’s room was Alicia—who looked to be reading a book. Nel, Ylva, Zoe, and Wayne were all inside the living room, not far from the door.

At Eva’s knock, whatever conversation they were having ceased. Everyone’s muscles tensed; Zoe’s hands curled around what could only be her dagger while Wayne held up a book. At least, that was what Eva guessed by the movement of their circulatory systems. She couldn’t actually see the dagger or tome.

The only person who remained calm was Ylva. She said a few words, ‘Eva’ being one of them—Eva had been trying to learn to lip read through her blood, her own name had been fairly easy to figure out. As soon as Ylva finished speaking, the tension in the room died off.

Zoe stood, dagger still in hand, and approached the door. As she peeped through the peephole, Eva gave her a little wave.

Though she couldn’t see it with her own eyes, Eva didn’t miss the eye roll as Zoe unlatched and opened the door.

“Eva,” Zoe said by way of greeting. She blinked as she turned towards the rest of her guests. “Genoa, Juliana,” she said with a nod to each. There was a slight pause before she continued. “And Arachne. To what do I owe your visit?”

“Well,” Eva said, “we were actually hoping to talk with Nel. But with everyone all gathered together, what’s up? Nothing bad, I hope?”

Zoe shook her head, stepping out of the doorway to let everyone file into the room. “Not really. Or, at least nothing deadly. At the moment. Bad could be left up to interpretation. For example, you would probably think it is a good thing.”

Eva moved into the room. There wasn’t much room on the couch. Ylva had taken up a portion of it on her own. With Nel at her side and a vacant seat that Zoe had been in, there wasn’t any room unless Eva wanted to steal her spot. Wayne was leaning against one wall, glowering in Eva and Arachne’s direction as they shimmied around the room.

These apartments were really not made for six people, one of whom was in a wheelchair, and a demonic giant.

“We were discussing this upcoming school year. Dean Anderson’s idiotic plan, mostly.”

“Ah. That.”

Genoa folded her arms across her chest as Juliana found a spot for her at one end of the coffee table. “We just got out of our own meeting with Anderson. Wally was there, you remember him?”

“Director Redford? Haven’t seen him in years. It does make sense. If Anderson is going to enter Brakket into the guild’s contest, he’ll need approval from the director for these demons.”

“For the record,” Eva said, “I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing. Devon is going to throw a fit when he hears that the school is going to be summoning demons in droves. He was already quite displeased about the smaller summoning program of Martina’s.”

“He isn’t the only one,” Wayne grumbled from his corner of the room.

“We,” Zoe waved her hand towards the rest of the room as she retook her seat, “are actually more worried about the state of Hell. The whole reason Ylva closed down her domain was to help cut off ties between Earth and Hell.”

Eva shared a quick glance with Arachne. Neither had breathed a word of Arachne’s mission to anyone. Not Devon, not Zoe, not even Juliana. Even Eva, someone who was undoubtedly on Arachne’s side, wasn’t entirely enthused with the idea. While theoretically less destructive, Zoe and Wayne would vehemently—possibly violently—disagree with their summoning.

As it was, Eva was desperately hoping that Arachne was right and rumors of an apocalypse were grossly exaggerated.

Best just to change the subject.

“Not worried about a school full of children making contracts with demons?”

Zoe pressed her lips into thin lines, looking like she had licked a lemon. “That is an issue as well.” She glanced back towards Ylva and gave a shallow nod of her head. “I acknowledge that demons aren’t omnicidal.” Gripping her arm, she shivered. “But they aren’t angels. If a student wound up summoning something like those demons that assaulted me, everyone is going to have a problem.”

“Angels are not the benevolent creatures that humanity romanticizes them to be. We do not believe you would enjoy an encounter with one.”

Blinking her eyes, Zoe glanced towards Ylva. “Well… that’s… just great,” she said, kneading her forehead with both hands. “I just don’t know what we’re supposed to do about anything.”

“Unless you’re planning on a coup against Anderson…” Eva trailed off, leaving her suggestion hanging until Zoe shook her head. “Then there isn’t much you can do.”

Wayne shook his head, pushing off from the wall. “That’s not true,” he said, staring Zoe in the eyes. “Teach them yourself. Speak about your experiences, express caution. Talk to parents too.” He turned to face Genoa. “You as well. Some will still go through with it, but you might limit the damage.” He drew himself up, glancing around the room. With a short grunt, he said, “the rest of us will handle students or demons that step out of line.”

His eyes stopped at Eva. He stared for a moment before shaking his head. “It’s going to be like having a school full of Evas.”

“Hey!” Eva gave him a mock glare with her hands on her hips. After a minute, she chuckled.

Wayne didn’t seem to find the amusement, choosing instead to intensify his glower.

“But I hope it isn’t going to be like that. I’m well aware of just how much trouble finds me. Though I would like to point out that I only rarely go looking for trouble. I’m pretty sure that it is this school that causes all the problems. I just happen to go here.”

“It was peaceful before you showed up.”

Eva just shrugged. “Anyway,” she said, “Nel? Can you check up on Shalise for us?”

The augur jumped at being addressed. She blinked as she glanced up to Ylva. Giving her no response, verbal or otherwise, Nel nodded her head. “I suppose so,” she said with a half-hearted sigh. “Right now?”

“As much as I’d like to continue arguing just how much my presence has or hasn’t ruined Brakket Academy, I don’t really see the conversation going anywhere.”

Aside from that, Eva didn’t really want to argue over Anderson’s plot for the school.

Nel stood from the couch, smoothing out the front of her black robes before walking over to Eva. “Well, let’s get this over with.”

“You don’t sound so excited,” Eva said, following her out of the room. Arachne was right on her heels. Juliana was on her way as well, having left Genoa behind to continue speaking with the adults.

“I think I’m just a little bit depressed as of late. Sawyer… well, that wasn’t quite as satisfying as I was hoping it would be.” She lifted up one arm, still wrapped in a glove. “And we didn’t recover any of my eyes either. I can barely use it for anything. I’ve no grip strength. And there’s a constant dull pain. Nothing that has me screaming out at all hours of the day, but it’s there.”

Pushing open the door to Ylva’s room caused Alicia to perk up. She looked over the top of her book with a smile growing across her face. The moment she saw who was actually entering the room, the smile disappeared and she buried her nose back into her book.

Eva did her best to ignore the other nun. Though she had apparently accomplished her task of not letting anything bad happen to Juliana, Eva still didn’t like her.

“I don’t know how to help you with that,” Eva said as they slipped into the bedroom. “Although, Anderson is going to be summoning a lot of demons. I got my eyes from a demon, maybe you could shop around?”

Nel shook her head. “Eyes used by the Elysium Order aren’t just your everyday eyes. They’re rare foci, magical implements, and capable of generating their own magic. Grown, not found. Implanting one into a mundane human will allow them to use magic.”

Turning to a cabinet, Nel pulled out a small burner. Zoe had teleported the two of them back to Idaho shortly after the demon hunters had fled. They managed to recover all their belongings from the motel.

Well, most of their belongings. Devon’s truck was still out there.

Eva had no intention to return for it. Whatever vampires had survived could take it as a gift for all she cared.

“Augurs aren’t hunted down just because we can spy on just about anything—though that is part of it—the eyes implanted within my body are worth more than any other single artifact owned by the Order.”

“Your problem isn’t the eyes though. That’s the Elysium Order’s problem.”

Pausing with a small glass jar in her hand, Nel raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean by that?”

“You just want a working arm, right?” Eva held up her own hand, looking it over as she showed it off to Nel. “Arachne’s limbs have been quite handy. They don’t look human, but other demons do. Catherine’s arms look normal most of the time.”

So Eva said, but she doubted that Catherine would be willing to part with an arm. Even if she could regenerate it without much trouble.

Nel balked. Her face took on a sickly pallor. “You want me to cut off my arm?”

“You were just talking about putting eyes into your arm,” Eva said, voice flat. “Now you get all shocked?”

“Putting things in my arm is a far cry from chopping it off.”

Eva shook her head. Her own limb issue had been forced for her hands, but she had willingly taken on Arachne’s legs. Maybe her perspective was skewed.

“Your choice,” Eva eventually said with a shrug.

With a shake of her head, Nel knelt down next to an altar at the side of the room. She pulled a slightly curled brown hair from the jar and threw it up in front of her, letting it float in the air. With her gemstone focus, she sparked the frankincense.

It didn’t take long for the air to fill with piny-citrus scent that was so common around the augur.

As she settled down to perform her auguring, Eva double-checked her surroundings. She wasn’t paranoid, but if anyone had worse luck than Eva, it was Nel. Eva couldn’t dispute her claim that terrible things happened every time she left Ylva’s domain. Now that Ylva’s domain was gone, it was something of a shock that Nel hadn’t been found dead.

Everyone was still where they were supposed to be. Alicia in her half of the room and the rest in the living room. The neighbors were going about their regular business. A woman and a child playing with toys on one side. A man fixing a car out in the garage of another house. None seemed to be spying on Zoe’s house.

“Not sure what I’m seeing,” Nel said, eyes closed as she leaned over the frankincense burner. She took a few slow and careful breaths before leaning back. “Maybe nothing at all?”

“Nothing? What do you mean, nothing?”

Nel opened her eyes, glancing over to Eva. “Probably not something to worry about. Sister Cross would often disappear for hours on end.”

“The same thing that Sawyer did?”

“No. Sawyer was like he didn’t exist. The only evidence of him was a shroud of darkness. Sister Cross exists—or rather, Shalise does—but I can’t see exactly where she is.”

“So what does that mean?” Juliana asked. “You used to be able to find her, right?”

Nel held out her hands, palms up.

“No. Try again. Shrugging this off isn’t going to help it.”

“I don’t–” Nel cut herself off with a sigh. Leaning over her altar, she breathed in a deep breath. “There’s just nothing. I see where they might have been several minutes ago. A sort of campsite out in a forest. Two tents, a fire pit, a wooden bench. Nobody around though.”

Lips curling into a frown, Nel tapped a finger against her altar. “There is one thing odd. What looks like canned food is sitting out. Not near the fire, but it had to have been at one point. I can see steam coming out of the can.”

“Like it had been abandoned recently?”

“Maybe.”

“Alright. Figure out where it is. I’m going to grab Zoe. If it is a false alarm, we can leave peacefully—maybe rekidnap Shalise if she wants—otherwise, better to be safe than sorry.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.030

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The tension in Irene’s muscles had to be reaching their peak. She felt like she had been exercising nonstop for the past two hours. Her body couldn’t possibly tense up any further.

Every impact against the shackles she had set up only caused her grip on her wand to tighten, proving that notion wrong. Every high-pitched whine had her arms shaking just a tiny bit more than they were before. Every cannon blast that followed the whine had her ears ringing and her vision blurring for a second or two afterwards.

Shelby, woken by one of the first cannon blast noises, had her own wand in her hand. Her free hand held Irene’s in a tight grip.

Jordan stood off to one side. His shadow curled around him on the ground and walls, ready to act at the first sign of trouble.

While the noises left Irene with a momentary headache, each seemed to do far worse to Jordan and Lucy. Jordan actually swayed in place for a few seconds. Lucy had given up any pretense of maintaining her human form. She was just a puddle of spaghetti on the ground between Irene and Eva’s room.

Early on, it hadn’t been so bad. The creatures in Eva’s room would make the occasional noise. They were loud enough that most of the Rickenbacker dormitory had woken up, but infrequent enough that the students felt they could wander past and gawk like Eva’s room was some sort of zoo.

That had ended rather quickly once the creatures started their attempts to escape.

Irene wanted to run with the other students. This wasn’t her mess. Lucy was here–though she didn’t look so reliable at the moment. Catherine had asked her to write out the shackles. She hadn’t spoken a word about sticking around and ensuring that nothing escaped.

The safety of everyone would probably be better assured if she just ran and found more of the security guards. Preferably ones that wouldn’t turn to spaghetti upon hearing the noises the creatures made.

But something kept Irene’s eyes glued to the shackles. Some otherworldly feeling that the moment she turned her back, the shackles would break and she would be caught, trampled, and possibly eaten.

Thus far, her shackles were holding admirably. They were a lot stronger than the ones she had set up to contain her first summon. Even the three beasts working together couldn’t break out. Irene might have taken a notion of pride in her work if she wasn’t so concerned about what might happen if they did fail.

One of those three beasts was actually on its side, face bloodied and raw from charging head on into the shackles repeatedly. The other two were more prodding at them than ramming themselves into them.

It was almost disturbing how intelligent they appeared.

“What’s taking so long?”

Irene jumped. Her sister’s voice came just as one of the creatures scraped a few tendrils around the barrier. For a moment, she had thought it shattered. It took her mind a second to process that she was hearing words for the first time in a long time.

“Taking so long?”

“Shouldn’t more security guards have shown up by now?” Shelby asked with a nervous glance at Lucy. “Or a professor? One of the others had to have told someone.”

“You saw the sky.” Irene bit back the tremble in her voice. She wanted to keep strong for her sister’s sake, if nothing else. A moot effort, in all likelihood. Shelby wasn’t so oblivious that she would miss how tense Irene was or the slight shakes in her arms.

Then again, Shelby wasn’t the epitome of steady at the moment either.

“Who knows what all is going on outside. They probably decided that Lucy could handle such a small thing on her own while they deal with other matters.”

“Well, I disagree. I can’t believe you knew about that,” she nodded towards the doorway. She might have been gesturing towards Lucy, but it was difficult to tell with just a nod.

Irene clamped her mouth shut. Shelby could make all the inferences she wanted, but Irene couldn’t offer up any response.

“We’ll be fine,” Jordan said, stepping up next to Shelby. “If anything happens, I can have the three of us at the stairwell in seconds. It won’t be hard to run.”

“Should we run?” Irene asked, grateful for the change in topic and not willing to let it slip away with just what he had said. “If these things escape, they could go on a rampage. Maybe some students haven’t got out of the dorms.”

She hated being contrary. Especially because the contrary position was to stay. But, as she had thought about earlier, she just couldn’t leave. It would be nice to be any other ignorant student, able to run off and bury their head under a pile of sand.

Her eyes had been opened to a larger world.

Could she run knowing that a single one of these creatures had held a being like Catherine for as long as it had, all while fighting off a number of older students?

Actually, Irene considered as she thought back, yes I can.

Even if they stayed, what could they do? The older students hadn’t done any good until they worked together to freeze the creature. She might have slowed it down by manipulating the tiles at its feet, but that had been with the assistance of Randal.

Irene had no idea what room or even which dormitory building Randal was housed in.

“Wait,” Irene said before either of the others could call her crazy. “We can’t fight them. But maybe we can trap them? More permanently than they are now, at least.”

The ice had been fairly permanent. Long lasting enough to get everyone away safely and Eva in to set up her shackles.

“You have a plan?”

No. “Maybe.”

None of them were water mages. Though none of them would be able to conjure up the water necessary anyway. Maybe they could have run the water in one of the dorm rooms.

A moot point without any of them being a water mage.

Irene’s mind immediately latched onto what she had done to the creature back in the diablery class. Turning the tiled floor into a sort of mud-like quicksand to hold them in place. It wouldn’t be easy. Tiles were just rock, but rock was far more difficult to manipulate than dirt and loose earth.

True, she had needed Randal’s help during class. This wasn’t class and the creatures were not already loose. She had the time to concentrate.

Her arm being properly set into her shoulder couldn’t hurt either.

She didn’t know how an air mage would help contribute, but Jordan could help. He was an earth mage.

Moving a few steps down the hall, Irene pointed her wand at the floor. “Step back, near me please. Jordan, help me out. I’m making quicksand.”

Once they complied, Irene set to pushing her magic into the floor. Lucy was left on the other side, still between the shackles and them, but Irene wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the demon. She didn’t exactly have a shovel to scrape her off the floor.

She’d probably be alright. She was a demon.

To protect them properly, the quicksand would need to stretch the entire width of the hallway as well as be a few feet long. She couldn’t risk them jumping over it. “Shelby, if you have any ideas on how to help, feel free to jump in.”

“Into the quicksand?”

Irene shot a glare at her sister. “You know what I meant.”

The quicksand wouldn’t be deep. Maybe an inch or two at most. That was the problem with working on a building. But, unlike regular quicksand, hers could be hardened as the monsters trampled over it. She should be able to stretch it up and trap them. At least for a short amount of time.

“Perhaps you could set up more shackles on this side,” Jordan said. He had his own wand out, pointing at the floor. “They’d get caught in the quicksand and then have a whole other set of shackles to break through. With all the trouble they’re having with the first one, it should buy plenty of time to find other solutions. Like grabbing a few teachers or security guards.”

With a slight groan, Irene slapped her forehead. She should have been doing that anyway. The entire hallway, lined with nonstop shackles. It would take these things days to escape had she done that instead of sitting around watching them.

But she kept her mouth clamped shut. After rubbing her forehead slightly, she went back to liquefying the tiles without so much as a nod.

In retrospect, she should have sent everyone away while drawing the initial shackles. It was somewhat surprising that she could. The contract specified spoken or written words, so sigils and circles must not have counted. Maybe she could use sign language to tell her friends what she had been up to.

Of course, that plan required learning sign language. Worse, it involved Shelby learning sign language. That was never going to happen.

Shelby gripped her arm. “Did you hear that?”

No, I was concentrating. Rather than listen further, Irene hastened her efforts with the floor. If it was nothing, then great, oh well. If it was something, then she didn’t want to pause to listen.

Manipulating the floor was going better than she had expected. Jordan was helping, but she could feel her own magic flowing much easier than it had when she had first failed at summoning the imp. Maybe because she had done this before? Or she was just getting noticeably better at magic in the two months since the previous incident.

“I’m serious,” Shelby said, tightening her grip. “Like glass cracking.”

The all too familiar sound of her shackles failing echoed through the hallway. Maybe it was because she had turned her back or because she had walked out of sight of the creatures. She couldn’t say for sure.

“They’re coming,” Irene whispered as the first creature rounded the corner of Eva’s room.

It had the unfortunate fate to tread on top of Lucy.

Her limp tentacles jumped like they had been electrocuted. As one, they lifted up and encircled the creature, mimicking the bulb of a tulip.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Shelby groaned.

Irene might have been as well, had she not noticed the second creature charging around the side of Lucy. It completely ignored the pig-like screams and pieces of violet-tinted flesh flying out of the mass of tentacles.

It reached the edge of her quicksand and jumped.

Gripping Shelby’s arm, Irene pulled her sister back. Her moat was nowhere near long enough to stop it.

Time seemed to slow down as its round face filled with sharp teeth flew towards them, its tentacles flailing around in the air.

Irene’s vision went black.

This is the end, she thought in a moment of tranquil despair. I’ve failed. And I’ve dragged Shelby down with me.

Shelby’s scream only compounded her despair tenfold.

Until, underneath Shelby’s scream, she heard a sound not unlike a hunk of meat being dropped on the floor.

The darkness passed over her and she could see again. Shelby at her side, eyes wide in horror. The walls and the floor.

And Jordan. He stood just in front of them. A wall of darkness stretching from one side of the hallway to the other.

The darkness collapsed after a moment with a gasp from Jordan, perspiration dripping from his face.

There was the creature, lying on its side in her moat of quicksand.

Suppressing the desire to let loose a hysterical laugh, Irene caught her wits in an instant. Gripping her wand, she hardened the tile as fast as she could. It was much easier than liquefying it in the first place.

Not all of the creature was stuck. At least half of the snake-like tendrils coming off its back were free. And they were not pleased.

The tiles cracked. Even with Irene repairing them as fast and as best as she was able to, it wouldn’t hold for long.

“Lucy!” Irene shouted. “Listen to the sound of my voice and come here. Crawl towards me please!”

Another crack in the tile. Irene tried to repair it as well, but a third crack.

Lucy spat out something from her bulb of tentacles. A violet-stained slab of meat.

“Hurry!”

The mass of tentacles stretched and inchwormed along the ground. Slowly. Too slowly.

A chunk of tile came off the creature. It clambered to its feet and glared at Irene.

That was the last thing it did.

Lucy’s tentacles came down on top of it. Unlike last time, there was no curtain of tentacles shielding them from the sight.

Thin strands of tentacles binded themselves together into thicker tendrils. They started with the creature’s own tentacles, to keep them from fighting back. Even after pulling a tentacle from its back–releasing a spray of blood as they did so–the tentacles tried to fight. Lucy was having none of it. She squeezed and crushed, pulled and rent until no single piece was larger than her thumb.

At a sudden gagging sound from Shelby, Irene slapped her hand over her sister’s eyes.

There was still one more creature, but it hadn’t shown up yet. Still incapacitated from ramming into the shackles over and over again, most likely. Irene needed to go and fix those before anything more came through.

But for now, she would stick by Shelby’s side and keep her comforted. At least until Lucy had finished with the creature.

As Lucy started on the creature’s legs, Irene held her sister tighter. She wished she had extra arms to cover Shelby’s ears. Yet, she never averted her own eyes.

For some reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to look away.

— — —

“Eva!”

Zoe caught the girl before she could collapse to the ground. As expected, she was shivering and seizing up, unable to put strength in her arms. Taking care not to bump her head, Zoe gently placed Eva against the floor of the women’s ward gate room.

With Eva on the floor, Zoe took a good look at her eyes behind her mask. While her pupils were still thin slits, her irises were no longer bright and burning, having returned to their usual red.

The blood coating Zoe’s arms and most of Eva had also stopped moving. It was still there, just inert.

Small mercies, Zoe thought. At least neither of them were in danger from… whatever Eva had been about to do.

“Wayne?” she called out before realizing her mistake.

Wayne wasn’t here. He wouldn’t be here and neither should she be here. In her panic to get them out of the cathedral, she had skipped past the meeting place entirely and went straight back to the women’s ward.

Cursing under her breath, Zoe pulled out her cellphone. Some of the black blood on her hands smeared over the screen. Zoe did not stop typing even for a second to wipe it away.

Out. @ women’s ward.

She sent the text away before anything else. If Wayne went back in thinking that she hadn’t escaped and something happened to him… Zoe doubted she would forgive herself.

Arachne dead?

She wasn’t entirely sure if dead was the right word to use.

Eva panicked, had to escape.

Setting the phone to the side, Zoe turned her attention back to the girl on the ground.

Even taking into account the effect that her teleportation had on Eva, she had been still for far too long.

“Are you alright, Eva? Can you–”

Zoe’s voice was cut off by her cellphone buzzing against the stone floor of the women’s ward.

Injuries?

Short and to the point.

Zoe considered the question for just a moment. She had a raking pain in her lower back from where Eva’s claws sunk into her skin. She didn’t think that the girl had intended to hurt her, but had simply done so as a reaction to Zoe unexpectedly tackling her.

Eva, on the other hand, was injured. Given that she was covered in Arachne’s blood and that her own blood looked almost exactly the same, it was a bit difficult to tell exactly where she was injured. The few shards of carapace sticking out of her chest were definite signs of injury, however.

Bits of Arachne’s head.

None looked too deep or too large, however. With how well she could heal minor cuts using blood magic, Zoe doubted that she was in any real danger.

Zoe shuddered at the thought as she sent a reply.

Minor wounds on both of us. Nothing life threatening. Bring a few potions anyway. Serena not keyed in, Eva in no shape to do so at the moment. Leave her behind.

“Eva,” Zoe said as she set her phone back down, “can you hear me?”

“I can.”

The answer was cold. No real emotion in it.

“Are you injured? Do you need anything.”

“Arachne,” she said in the same tone of voice.

“Is a demon,” Zoe said softly. She reached up and tried to remove her mask, wanting to look down and offer a reassuring smile to Eva. Only, she found it difficult to remove. Prying her fingers under the seam was almost impossible due to how closely it had been molded to fit her face.

Instead, she reached out and gave Eva’s shoulder a squeeze. “She’ll be fine. Right? Demons don’t die permanently.”

Eva shook her head side to side. Her long hair splayed out behind her own mask bunched up as it rubbed against the ground. “It will be years. At least. Maybe longer. I’ve never,” she choked over her words. “I’ve never seen her die. She hasn’t died for as long as I’ve known her.”

Before Zoe could offer any comforting words about how death was a natural part of life–though that might not be entirely applicable in this exact situation–Eva grit her teeth. She balled up a fist and sent up a scattering of dust as she rammed it into the floor.

“I’m not a stranger to death. I’ve seen people die. I’ve killed people. Ones who weren’t coming back. It’s just a shock. Seeing my friend’s head explode in front of me.” She shook her head again, further mussing up her hair. “Not something you prepare for.

“And now she’s gone. Floating in a void–in Void until she manages to put her head back together.” Eva shuddered. “I can’t–I don’t want to imagine what it is like. Will she even come back? Demons without purpose and drive lose their minds when they die, stuck in the abyss of their own heads.” Eva gave a dark chuckle. “At least, that’s what Arachne said once.”

Zoe pressed her lips together. She wasn’t enthusiastic about Arachne, but she had to say something.

“She has you,” she said, lightly flicking the forehead of Eva’s mask while idly wondering if the girl was ever going to get rid of them. “If she cares for you half as much as she says she does, she’ll pull through. You just need to be ready to receive her when she gets back.”

Eva was smiling. Zoe couldn’t see it through her mask, but the mask did have holes for her eyes. Her eyes crinkled the slightest bit. It wasn’t a bright, tooth filled smile. But maybe just enough to make her feel better.

At least, that is what Zoe thought until the crinkles around Eva’s eyes vanished.

“Void is being attacked. We’re ceasing all summoning. Even Ylva is cutting off ties between the mortal realm and Hell. Even if Arachne does pull herself back together in record time, she may be stranded on the other side.”

“I accepted a beacon from her,” Zoe said slowly. “Did she use it without renewing it with me?”

Zoe could hear Eva’s mouth opening, but it was a moment before she said anything. When she did speak, her voice had the smallest hints of hope. “I don’t think so. As far as I know, she has been in her room for months barring tonight and when Lynn Cross attacked.”

“See?” Zoe said with a small smile. “She’ll be back. And I highly doubt that she’ll bother with staying in Hell even if everyone told her not to come back.”

Eva opened her mouth, only to jump slightly as Wayne appeared in the gate room. He held his emergency sack of potions in one arm and a smaller vial of dark liquid.

Probably far too many potions. Zoe’s text had asked for a few potions. Not all of them.

For a moment, he just looked between the two. Eva, lying flat on her back and Zoe sitting over her.

Zoe did not miss his eyes darting to the wound on her back. She couldn’t actually read his expression as he still had his mask on as well, but what she could see of his eyes did not look pleasant.

She hadn’t actually seen her wound for herself, choosing instead to focus on Eva. Following his eyes, she found four thin lines of red along with her clothing torn around the area.

The actual part where Eva’s claws had first hit her back would have required a mirror or far too much twisting. As it was, just moving to look sent a sharp pain through her side.

Nothing near as bad as when she had been hit by lightning from the inquisitors, and even further from the agony she endured at the hands of the jezebeth and carnivean.

Shaking the pain off, Zoe met Wayne’s eyes. “Just a scratch,” she said, voice firm and leaving no room for argument.

Eva didn’t need to be shouted at by Wayne at the moment.

Without a word, he reached into the sack and withdrew two vials. He tossed both to Zoe. He dropped the dark vial right on Eva’s chest.

“Serena’s blood,” he said. “Add it to your wards. I’d rather have her here than back at home. If they do find a way to follow us, proximity to Ylva should discourage any ideas they might get. So long as she is around, that is.”

Eva held up the vial, her first real movement since arriving, and turned it over in front of her eyes. “Will it work? This blood is… dead. I think.”

“You’re the blood mage.”

“Yeah, but I’ve never met a vampire before. I mean, I can try. I’ve no real objections to her being here. Just, maybe start her outside the prison and walk her in slowly. Any tingling or pain and she should stop immediately. Do vampires even feel pain?”

Wayne just shrugged.

“Maybe have her walk with her arm out. If her arm explodes, don’t go in any further.”

“That works.”

Wayne took a moment to glance around the room. “You did get that thing we went for, right?”

Eva started, jumping a hair into the air.

Placing a hand on her chest, Zoe shook her head. “It’s alright. I got it before we left.”

Taking out her dagger and pointing at the ground, Zoe pulled the obelisk out of its storage. It appeared an inch above the ground. The loud thud that it made as it hit the cement floor was enough to send a few cracks through the ground.

Thankfully, the obelisk itself was undamaged.

“Hope this was worth it,” he said. “Time to lay low for the next ten years again.”

Eva pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Yeah,” she said. “I hope it works.”

For a moment, a silence fell over the three. Until a grunt from Wayne shattered the peace.

“Now quit moping around, Spencer. Get these damn masks off us and go get Ward out of Hell.”

Eva jumped at his voice. She shot him a glare, but nodded. Both of their masks melted off their faces after Eva fingered her dagger.

“I’ll add Serena’s blood to the wards before,” she trailed off as she glanced at the obelisk. Her eyes flicked up to meet with Zoe’s. “It’s heavy. Even for me. I might need help.”

“I can levitate it, at least partially.” Zoe didn’t hesitate in her response. She could almost imagine the thoughts going through Eva’s mind. Arachne could have lifted it without breaking a sweat. “Landing in your domain might be awkward, but we can manage.”

“Great,” Wayne said. His tone was almost sarcastic and he spoke with a frown, but he didn’t say anything more about her going to Hell again.

Maybe this time, I’ll have a chance to look around and inspect some things, Zoe thought. Her tutoring sessions with Shalise were just that, tutoring. All of Shalise’s classes compressed into the span of an hour or two every other week left no time to really get a thorough understanding of how Hell worked. I’ll need to grab a notebook.

“I’ll bring Serena in five minutes. Be finished by then.” Without waiting for an acknowledgment, Wayne vanished with a burst of cold air.

“Better get started,” Eva said with a sigh as she climbed to her feet. “I hope Nel finished with that salt.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.029

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Zoe dove to the side, ducking into the white room while narrowly avoiding the returned lightning from the stairwell.

While her own lightning might not have been the most powerful thing she could have thrown, she had serious misgivings about killing people who were just doing their jobs. Especially when she was the one breaking and entering with the intent to steal priceless artifacts.

The Elysium Order was under no such hesitations. White lightning that only narrowly missed colliding with Zoe hit the ground a short distance behind her.

A resounding thunder sent Zoe’s head ringing. Enhancing her ears to hear the approaching guards worked against her. She couldn’t hear a thing aside from a high-pitched whine. Zoe wasted no time in retuning her hearing to normal levels. It would take a minute or two, but she needed a clear head and the ability to hear.

For the moment, she could still see. It would have to do.

Lightning crackled against the stone bricks making up the floor. There was a brief instant where nothing happened.

Dust filled the hallway as the stones exploded. Chunks of stone that had not been obliterated or pulverized into dust flew through the air. A few pieces impacted the outside wall of the room, sending cracks through the pure white of the inside. The ward keeping the walls white flickered twice before failing.

One brick struck Serena in the stomach, forcing the air out of her lungs as it carried her back into the growing cloud of dust.

Probably for the best. The vampire wouldn’t die from a rock to the stomach, and the dust would help keep her hidden from the nuns.

Her invisibility trick wouldn’t work while their eyes were aglow.

Of course, Zoe thought as two less powerful bolts careened down the hallway, they don’t really need to see if they flood the hallway with lightning.

The lightning sparked a hint of fear in Zoe. Before anything else, she sent a breeze through the air to clear a good portion of the dust. Enough was left for some cover, mostly for Serena, but they shouldn’t have to worry about a spark setting off a dust explosion.

Air partially cleared, Zoe immediately set to returning fire–or lightning, as the case was. They couldn’t be allowed to advance down the hallway. She barely angled her arm around one of the stone doors to attack.

A lightning bolt struck the door frame just as she pulled her hand back. Unlike the floor, the door took the lightning without complaint. In fact, it was more like the door absorbed the lightning.

The hallway wasn’t that large. Randomly firing bolts downrange would end up hitting one of them sooner or later once they stepped out of the room.

A far more effective tactic would be to simply flood the hallway with fire. Perhaps they were simply attempting less destructive tactics to start with.

Or Wayne is keeping the fire down, Zoe thought with a glance towards her colleague. He was right at the door frame of the stone doors, tome out and eyes shut in concentration. Since there were none of his flames cropping up, he must be keeping their flames dampened.

“–need you off of the nun. I’ll keep her from doing anything.”

Eva’s voice was muted. Muffled slightly by some lingering damage to Zoe’s hearing. It would have to work well enough for the moment.

By the time Zoe turned to her student, Arachne was back to her human size. Eva knelt on the ground with a short stone obelisk standing next to her. She was in the process of smearing something black across the captive augur’s face.

“Lie down,” Eva said, “face down. So much as move and you won’t have much of a face. Probably not much of a head in general. And rest assured, I’ll know if you move. Even while on the second floor, I’ll know.”

Zoe might have had something to say about Eva’s callous threat to the obviously terrified augur had she not been engaged in slinging more bolts of lightning blindly down the hall.

“We can’t teleport out,” Wayne said with a slight grunt. His eyes were still closed, but he had moved up closer to Zoe. “We’ll need to get to the main floor at the very least, if not entirely out of the cathedral itself.”

“Any plans?” Zoe called out between bolts.

“Working on it,” Eva said as she slung her backpack off. “Just keep them busy for a moment.”

Zoe’s question had been directed more towards Wayne. Or, she had expected a response from Wayne more than Eva. The girl had been insistent that she could do this on her own. Failing at the first sign of resistance would definitely hurt her pride.

If she did fail, Wayne would have to step up. Escaping situations like this was basically his job–his old job. Though he hadn’t ever done such a thing with so many people to her knowledge.

So Zoe focused on doing what she could to help out. Namely, redoubling her efforts in holding back the Elysium Order.

She slipped in a few slashes of razor wind between the lightning. The dust in the air curled around them, making them partially visible. Still, the first few came as a surprise if the startled shouts were any indication.

Zoe wasn’t sure how to feel about that and she didn’t really have the time to put into thinking about it.

The brief worry did remind Zoe that the Elysium Order had powerful shields. Better than anything Zoe had created through thaumaturgy over the course of her career. They were probably unharmed.

With that in mind, she ramped up the power of all of her attacks.

“You know what you’re doing?”

Zoe turned to Wayne as he spoke. He was no longer concentrating, but rather moving as far away from Eva as he could get without pressing up against the wall.

“Guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Zoe fired off another two bolts into the dust before turning to find out just what Eva was doing.

One look and Zoe promptly took three steps away from the girl, pressing herself against the heavy stone door.

Eva had Genoa’s snake golem on the floor in front of her and was in the process of pouring a dark orange potion over the top of it. She was being careful not to let a single drop fall to the floor, something that was becoming easier and easier as she continued.

Once she finished upending the vial, she knelt down and picked up the obelisk before taking a few steps back herself. There was a short strain in lifting the stone structure, but Arachne caught and steadied her until Eva managed to get herself under control.

The stone carving swelled. It stretched out, quickly becoming large enough to fill out the entire width of the hallway. The tail thrashed, sending the wooden center door flying back into the room it once guarded. With the added room for its tail, the snake appeared to relax.

For a moment, at least. Once the snake’s width grew enough for its scales to reach both ends of the door frame, it started squirming again.

The walls were giving way more than the blackish scales.

“E,” Zoe said, warning in her voice. At least, as much warning as she could cram into a single letter.

The snake whipped its head to Zoe at the sound. Its silver and black eyes bored into her.

Zoe took another three steps back, extremely grateful that the creature was stone and not turning her to stone. A fact that the basilisk seemed to realize as well.

“Stop!” Eva commanded as the sculpture started slithering towards Zoe. It continued forwards for a second–growing all the while–before an unnatural stillness overcame it. “Holding it with the blood inside,” Eva said without a hint of concern in her voice, though there was a bit of strain as she shifted the obelisk in her arms. “Too much growth potion?”

“Get it out of here before it crushes us,” Wayne shouted.

“Right. Down the hall,” Eva said, pointing her arm. “Don’t try to bite or stare. Just crush everything.”

The head of the snake was forcibly dragged away from Zoe. Eva set it to looking out the stone doors.

“Is it going to follow your orders?” Zoe asked.

Eva tried to shrug. The effort was there, but her shoulders barely moved. “Doubt it. She hasn’t followed anything else I’ve said. I don’t think it was designed for that. Maybe I will take golemancy next year,” she mused under her breath.

“Will it attack us?”

“No. She is full of blood that I can manipulate. Just stay behind her as she charges out of here. I think she should take at least a few bolts of lightning before anything bad happens to her.”

“Maybe more than that,” Zoe murmured. She wouldn’t be able to say for certain without seeing it in action, but it was doubtful that they would be able to ‘kill’ it unless they hit the golem animation core. The main body was carved from stone which should be somewhat hardy.

Of course, if they hit it a few times with blasts as powerful as the initial lightning that created the dust cloud, it might not matter all that much in the long run. Half of the thing could turn to dust before the actual core was exposed.

“Get it moving,” Wayne ordered, still backing away as the snake grew larger.

Eva didn’t argue. The snake’s unnatural stillness ended after a slight nudge out into the hallway. It slithered out, body winding back and forth as it pushed its scales against the ground.

Arachne moved up to Eva’s side, using her body to help cover Eva from any enemy fire while helped to hold the obelisk. The two of them charged out in a slight crouch so as to keep behind the snake’s bulk. Eva paused for just one moment to vaguely gesture with a nod of her head into the still settling cover of dust.

“Serena is lying there, if anyone cares. Can’t tell if she’s alive or not.”

Keeping herself low to the ground, Zoe sent out another dust clearing gust of wind. She was careful to keep a wall of the dust between them and the stairwell. No need to make it easy on the nuns.

Serena had a brick-sized hole in her stomach. One bloodied brick was stuck half in her side along with several smaller shards of stone.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” the vampire said with ragged breath.

“No time to argue,” Zoe said. She flicked her dagger towards Serena, levitating her just above the ground.

Wayne appeared at her side. Without a word, he incinerated the ground that Serena had been lying and bleeding on.

As one, they turned and ran to catch up to Eva, Arachne, and the snake.

They emerged from the cover of the lingering dust between the room and the stairwell. There was a sharp cry of “Basilisk,” from one of the nuns. The lightning cut off almost instantly. The few bolts that hit the snake did only marginal damage to the stone scales.

Tuning her ears’ sensitivity ever so slightly, Zoe heard the rustling of clothes moving farther away. They were retreating up the stairwell. Probably to set up an ambush that could take out a basilisk without exposing themselves to its gaze.

The nuns were obviously not yet aware that its gaze was entirely impotent.

“Don’t dawdle,” Wayne grunted. “There aren’t many here, but if they call for backup, escaping will be problematic.”

Zoe had no intention of slowing down. Neither did the snake. It crashed its bulk into the closed stairwell door, turning it to wood pulp as it started its scramble up the stairs.

The second floor wouldn’t be so bad. While there were plenty of augur rooms to set up ambushes in, Eva should be able to spot anyone inside with her blood sight. Wayne would be able to seal the doors by melting the handles. Zoe could toss up a few barriers of solid air around the doors for good measure. It wouldn’t stop anyone permanently, but it would delay them.

And delaying them was all they really needed. Once they arrived at the top floor, they should be home free according to Wayne.

At the staircase’s landing, the stairs looped back. The basilisk turned with the stairs, offering Zoe her first good look at the front of it.

She did not like what she saw.

What she had originally thought to be only marginal damage–judged by the lack of debris coming off the basilisk when it got hit–looked far worse now that she got a better view.

The scales that had been hit looked like a slab of meat being pulled apart. Each spot was roughly the size of her head. Not what she would have expected from a stone carving.

Both spots that had been hit looked like they were trying to repair themselves. As Zoe watched, one thin strand of meat latched on to the opposite side of the wound and started growing. It didn’t make it very far before disintegrating into dust.

The anti-magic qualities of the Elysium Order’s lightning at work, no doubt.

Whatever Eva had done to the snake was too far out of Zoe’s expectations to accurately predict anything.

Though, Zoe thought as they came up to the first basement level’s landing, Eva’s plan appears to be working well so far.

Just before exiting the door–or making a new exit as the case may be–the basilisk was overcome by the same unnatural stillness that it had when Eva stopped it earlier.

“Four hiding in the room immediately on our right. Another three in the room after that. They’ll probably wait for us to pass before pinching us against whatever lies at the end of the hallway.”

“Wayne and I will take care of that.”

“You concentrate on keeping your monstrosities from murdering us,” Wayne added with a disgruntled grunt.

Eva didn’t rise to his comment. She might not have had the energy to. There were small beads of sweat forming on her forehead.

Zoe almost asked why she hadn’t just handed the obelisk off to Arachne when the answer became obvious. Arachne was a front line fighter. If and when the basilisk fell, Arachne would need to rush in to take its place. Doing so with an obviously weighty obelisk wouldn’t be easy. Probably. That would have been Zoe’s plan, anyway.

With a short nod towards Wayne, Eva released her hold over her basilisk.

It didn’t hesitate to charge straight through the door, taking part of the wall with it.

Lightning rained down the hallway. The majority of it sunk into the semi-organic scales of the sculpture. A few bolts did get past, but they were ones that had been angled upwards. Though she kept low anyway, Zoe doubted she needed to duck to avoid anything. The snake’s bulk was simply that massive.

Purposeful or not, the few bolts that missed the snake did impact the ceiling. Most only left scorch marks.

Zoe and Wayne had to pause their blocking of the side rooms to erect quick thaumaturgical shields around themselves. Almost as an afterthought, Zoe tossed a quick shield around Serena as well.

The vampire was visibly looking better than she had only a minute ago, but it didn’t look like she was quite ready to walk just yet.

After shielding Serena, Zoe thought to put up a shield around Eva as well. Her spell stopped mid-cast.

Arachne, ducking low at Eva’s side just behind the basilisk, plucked a stray brick right out of the air without so much as glancing in its direction. It would have struck Eva in the shoulder otherwise.

Pulling herself up to her full height, Arachne reared back and pitched the brick like it was a baseball.

It zipped through the air before coming to a stop with a meaty thud. Zoe’s enhanced ears picked up a masculine groan.

A monk perhaps?

The lightning stopped a moment later–nuns rushing to his aid?–but not before a stray bolt struck the still standing Arachne square in her chest.

Shards of carapace exploded off her front and back.

Wayne was on point in incinerating every piece that detached from the demon. They didn’t have time to land before an orb of intense heat enveloped each individual shard. Several of them were flying towards the two of them, but they wouldn’t be anything a shield couldn’t handle. It was more likely that he was incinerating them to keep them out of the hands of the Elysium Order’s augurs.

Zoe couldn’t begin to calculate how hot the flames had to be to disintegrate Arachne’s carapace, but it obviously was not inconsiderable. She caught sight of more than a few pages of his tome going up in flames as his eyes twitched back and forth between each piece. Judging by the twitches of his eyes, he had altered his mental perceptions as fast as he could go.

“Arachne!”

Eva set the obelisk down on the floor, making sure not to damage the structure. The second it was down, she had her dagger out and aimed at Arachne’s chest. The demon caught her hand just before she could plunge it in.

“I’m fine,” Arachne growled. She was clutching at her chest, black ichor dripping from between her fingers.

Wayne was incinerating the drops that touched fell through the air as well, though it was taking far less effort than the chitin.

“Focus on your snake. I can heal.”

Eva shook her head. “Have to stop your bleeding.” With a flick of her wrist, Eva’s dagger crossed the short distance between where her hand was caught and Arachne’s chest. Her other hand caught the dagger and pressed the flat of the blade against the wound.

In seconds, Eva had formed a plate wrapping around Arachne’s torso. It was the same type of blood hardening that went into making their masks. While it meshed surprisingly well with Arachne’s natural carapace, Zoe doubted it would provide even half as much armor.

“Keep your head down,” Eva said as she finished. “That’s why we have Basila.”

“I can take a hit from those pathetic creatures.”

“Obviously not,” Eva tapped the plate. “Were you not paying attention when we picked up Sister Abbey? At least that one nun has prepared for demons. Probably her whole chapter. Maybe the whole of the Elysium Order.”

Eva turned from Arachne to pick up the obelisk again. “Just be careful.” That said, Eva hefted up the obelisk and started walking the short distance between where Arachne had been hit and where her basilisk had charged off during the brief lightning intermission.

By the time they made it a good three-quarters of the way down the hall, the lightning had started up again. This time, however, they seemed to be much more careful in not missing the basilisk.

The basilisk was obviously slowing down. Zoe had a feeling that Eva was doing a lot to help push it forward and keep it going through her blood magics. Its slithering side to side had all but stopped. At this rate, they’d be stuck behind it before getting to the top of the stairs.

Zoe was tossing the occasional lightning and razor wind of her own while Wayne was doing the same with fireballs. But after seeing Arachne nearly finished off by a single bolt, she was far more hesitant about sticking her arm around the basilisk’s bulk.

She had taken a hit from the Elysium Order’s lightning before and it had not been pleasant then. If Eva was correct in that they had been adapting their magic to combat demons, then it was entirely possible that the lightning wouldn’t do anything unusual to her, as she wasn’t a demon.

Taking the chance did not seem wise.

With her attacks not doing much, Zoe kicked her mind into motion.

If their eyes are closed, how are they aiming?

It was entirely possible that they had realized the deception of the basilisk. Or perhaps thought that the nun that had originally called that out had simply been mistaken. Alternatively, all the nuns could have blindfolds on while following the directions of an augur. The augur wouldn’t need to see it directly and thus, would have no danger of looking in the basilisk’s eyes.

Neither of the two options were easily interruptible.

“Serena, any cover or distractions you can provide would be most welcome.”

“Are their eyes glowing?”

“Most likely,” Zoe said.

“Then I can’t–”

“Serena,” Wayne interrupted. “We are taking over.”

The vampire stilled as she met Wayne’s eyes. He gave her a brief nod.

“Fiine,” she said with a sigh. “If I die, I’m haunting you forever.”

“Sounds annoying. Try not to die.”

“Aww, you do care!” Serena cooed. “Set me down.” When Zoe hesitated, Serena pointed at her stomach. “This is just a flesh wound. I’ll heal it up as soon as I get some blood in me.”

Zoe put an arm on the shorter vampire’s shoulder to help steady her as she regained her balance. “What are you going to do?”

“I hate getting my hands dirty, but I am a vampire. And a hungry one at that. Smelling this mask,” she took a deep breath, “I just want to bite into it. Gobble it all up. Like a potato chip!”

Her voice took on a slightly more dangerous tone than her normal frivolous cadence. “I’ll just have to sate my appetites on something else for now.”

“Grab Spencer and get ready to run,” Wayne said, looking towards Zoe.

Wayne and Serena took off in a sprint. Serena vaulted onto the basilisk’s back while Wayne just went around its side. The moment they cleared its head, a wall of flame erupted in front of Wayne. It stretched from wall to wall, floor to ceiling.

It took off. With the sound of a jet engine, it moved from the tips of Wayne’s shoes down the hallway, growing faster and louder the more it moved.

Once enough space had cleared between the fire wall and Wayne, Serena vaulted off the back of the snake over Wayne’s head. She took off in a sprint fast enough that she was hard to track with Zoe’s enhanced eyes.

Leaving them to their own devices, Zoe ran up to a slightly shocked Eva.

“What are they doing?”

“Clearing the area, I assume. We’re following.” Taking Eva’s arm in hand, Zoe started to move after the other two.

But Eva did not budge.

“I can’t leave Basila,” she said, handing the obelisk off to Arachne.

The demon took it easily, not even shifting her stance despite the added weight.

Reaching into her backpack, Eva started digging around. She pulled out vial after vial, checking each one.

If they had the time, Zoe would have loved to have let her finish. They didn’t have any time. Wayne was getting farther away with every passing moment and they couldn’t afford to fall too far behind. If the nuns back in the sealed off rooms managed to escape, the situation would turn quite sticky.

“It was an admirable attempt and worked surprisingly well. I’m sure Genoa would be happy to know that her toy played such a significant role in saving Shalise. But we must go.”

“I can’t leave Basila. She’s full of my blood. I could try pulling it out, but a good deal would be left behind because it is too ruined from contact with the basilisk and the lightning,” Eva said as she dumped a vial of red liquid over the sculpted basilisk. “I’d rather not have it fall into the hands of the augurs.”

Zoe mistook the vial for more blood for a moment before noticing that the basilisk was slowly losing inches off its length. A shrinking potion to counteract the growth.

But it was taking too long.

“Can you use your blood to push it forward?”

“Holding it still is one thing, helping it move is another, moving it on my own is another entirely.” Eva frowned at it. “I don’t know that it will move on its own again. Once it is small enough, I can handle it.”

Zoe could understand that. From the front, it looked less like a snake and more of pulped meat. She found it mildly disturbing just how organic appearing something that she knew had been carved from stone was.

“We’ll move it,” Arachne said. She started growing a bulbous behind and several extra legs. “The professor’s air magic, Eva’s blood, and my strength.”

As she grew, Arachne handed the obelisk back to Eva. The younger girl stumbled for just a moment before Arachne stabilized her with something resembling a hug. The two stayed together, neither moving save for Arachne’s continued growth.

After reaching her full height, the full-bodied Arachne positioned herself directly over the front of the snake. She hefted the front in the air, using her arms and two of her legs to hold it against her body.

Zoe hoped that the potion had already been fully absorbed into the basilisk. As Wayne had said, it wasn’t designed for living creatures.

Still, if anyone could handle parts of themselves shrinking, it would be Arachne. Zoe concentrated on levitating the tail of the sculpture. They could worry about side effects for Arachne later.

With Eva taking care of most of the mid-section through her blood magic, they started off towards the staircase, Wayne, and Serena.

It was somewhat of an awkward situation, moving as they were. Though Arachne had the worst of it by far. The basilisk was constantly shrinking. Though it wasn’t fast, Arachne occasionally had to stop to get a better grip on the front of the snake. Combined with her walking on only six of eight legs, using the other two to help lift the basilisk, their group wasn’t moving all that fast.

But they were moving.

Zoe just hoped that Wayne and Serena could hold out up ahead for a few more minutes.

The very stone itself was on fire in some places. The occasional tapestries that Zoe had taken note of on the way down were gone entirely. No corpses, though one nun had fallen into a torpor with blood dribbling down her neck.

Zoe doubted that she had been left alive out of the goodness of Serena’s heart. More likely that someone had interrupted her feeding, or she simply decided that moving on to her next target was needed more than killing the nun.

By the time they reached the base of the staircase, the snake had shrunk by half. Still too large to carry on any one of their owns, but it was becoming far more manageable for Eva and Zoe.

They started climbing the stairs with Arachne still readjusting her grip every few steps.

“When we get to the top, we shouldn’t have much farther to go. Once Wayne gives the signal, we’re going to teleport.”

“If they haven’t set up more wards,” Eva grumbled.

“Hopefully they have been too busy dealing with us to set up wards. There aren’t many of them and several are still locked up in the rooms below us.”

“They won’t have warded against banishment. Probably. If your teleport is broken, I can get us out. It won’t be pleasant. At all. Though, judging by how the vampire reacted to your teleport, she might find it more agreeable than your teleports.”

Zoe had a picture of the mostly mutilated Sister Cross suddenly surface in her mind. She shook it out of her head as Eva continued talking.

“It is how I intended to escape before you all insisted on coming,” Eva continued. “Even downstairs, I don’t think they would have warded for banishment.”

“Can’t take Serena to your prison without adding her to your wards,” Zoe commented as she considered what Eva had said.

With how well her basilisk had performed, she might have actually been able to do this entirely on her own. She supposed it depended on the stone door and how well it held up to a basilisk ramming into it a few times. Arachne would have been able to help.

It certainly would have skipped over this portion of their theft. But, had Eva followed through with her plan to remove the two guards outside the first staircase, she would have alerted everyone much sooner. It was entirely possible that she would have been forced to retreat before even making it to the second basement.

As they reached the top of the staircase, Wayne and Serena once again came into view.

And fire. Lots of fire.

Unlike the basement levels, the cathedral had been constructed with plenty of wood in addition to stone.

And all of it was on fire.

Serena bounced around the hallway like some hyperactive child while Wayne stood his ground, unleashing powerful bursts of flame to keep the Elysium Order from moving from where they had taken cover. He only made minute movements when an attack came his way. Just enough to dodge.

Zoe used her magic to clear the smoke from the air. The snake was small enough now that Eva could handle it on her own, though Arachne continued to help out.

Catching sight of them at the top of the stairs, Wayne called out, “final push then be ready to get out.”

“Okaay,” Serena replied as she landed on top of a screaming monk. No shield appeared around him. There was nothing to keep her off or to prevent her fangs from tearing a hole in his neck.

“I can handle Basila. Arachne, latch on to me.”

Arachne stayed where she was, interposing herself between Eva and the Elysium Order. “You won’t have anything to block lightning without the snake or me.”

“You’re going to get left behind,” Eva said, exasperation clear in her voice. “Maybe if you’d learn to teleport yourself.” She glanced over to Zoe, “If Arachne continues to be stubborn, I can teleport us out as soon as you guys leave.”

Though she didn’t take her eyes off the combat ahead of her, Zoe shook her head. “I’m not leaving before you.”

Eva just sighed.

The basilisk, which had been as long as a van when they got to the top floor, was shrinking ever more rapidly as it grew smaller. It was down to the size of her arm. Before long, it would be back to its original length, able to easily wind itself around a set of fingers. Probably. Would it stop at the original size? Smaller? How would the potion know? She would have to double-check with Wayne.

Her own potion theory was lacking.

Shaking her head, Zoe decided that now was probably not the best place to worry about such things.

Instead, Zoe pressed forward with Eva and Arachne–still in her largest form. They were so close to getting away. The end of the hallway would be the end of the wards.

Should be the end.

Wayne and Serena were doing a perfect job of pushing back the Elysium Order despite their increased desperation. It helped that there were not many of them. Zoe only counted six nuns and the sole monk. A few of which were no longer able to fight back.

Zoe added her own attacks to the mix now that she was close enough to the fight. A number of Eva’s orbs of blood fired off, splattering against the nuns’ shields before exploding violently.

Now that she could clearly see her enemy, Zoe felt a pang of regret. Only one of the six here was in the proper Elysium Order attire. Her habit was rumpled and coated in blood–probably the monk’s blood. Everyone else looked to be dressed in sleepware of various sorts. One even had pink bunny slippers.

Zoe shook her head and pressed forward.

They were almost out. Only a few feet more to go.

Without a word of communication between them, Wayne and Serena found themselves with their backs against each other. He wrapped an arm around her waist. After a brief nod towards Zoe, they both disappeared. All that was left behind was a blast of cold air followed by a heat wave as a wall of fire sprung up between Zoe and the nuns.

That answers that question, Zoe thought.

“Arachne,” Eva shouted as she wrapped the basilisk around her arm, “shrink down!”

The spider-demon was already shrinking back into her human form when Eva shouted.

At Eva’s shout, Arachne dove over just in time to catch a bolt of lightning that had been aimed at Eva.

She caught it against the side of her face.

Shards of carapace exploded outwards, some cutting into Eva.

The girl didn’t move in the slightest. She stared onwards as the bright glow in Arachne’s four remaining eyes dimmed slightly.

The demon slumped over, crashing into the ground just as a dark portal opened up beneath her.

“No!” Eva dove to the ground, dropping the obelisk at her feet and narrowly avoiding a second bolt of lighting. The obelisk landed on its side with a heavy thud.

Thankfully, the stone hadn’t cracked.

Eva gripped Arachne’s limp arm and pulled. “You can heal damn it.”

In spite of Eva’s grip on Arachne’s arm, the spider demon was still sinking into the portal. Eva’s hands were inching closer and closer to it.

“Eva, let go!”

Zoe dove and tackled Eva, pulling her away from the portal. She didn’t know if Eva could get sucked into it, but she wasn’t willing to take the chance. Recovering Shalise and Juliana had been trying enough. She did not want a repeat of that incident.

“Arachne,” Eva cried out. Her outstretched claw dug into Zoe’s back.

Biting down on her own cry of pain, Zoe rolled twice with Eva before coming to a stop. They were dodging enough lightning as it was. Wayne’s flame wall wouldn’t last forever.

Gripping her dagger in hand, Zoe reached out and touched the obelisk. Wayne had undoubtedly already tried to place the heavy object in storage. The wards would have prevented his action. Here, she had already seen Wayne and Serena disappear. There were obviously no wards in place at the moment.

As soon as it was safe and sound, Zoe started to turn the teleportation on herself and Eva.

The sound of glass shattering stopped her cold as much as the color of Eva’s luminescent eyes. The slits of her eyes were drawn so tight that it was almost as if there wasn’t a pupil at all. The normally blood-red iris was glowing as if someone had shoved two dying suns into her face.

A fountain of black blood erupted from Eva’s backpack. The jar must have broken.

Except, this was far too much blood.

It just kept spewing forth like a bad cartoon. The liquid flowed up and down Eva and Zoe’s arms. A good portion of it started forming a wire frame ball around the two of them.

Zoe didn’t stand by to see what would happen. Her teleport would incapacitate Eva for a minute or two, hopefully giving the girl a chance to calm down.

She gripped her dagger in one hand and hugged Eva with the other before allowing the world to fall away as the cold white of Between replaced it.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.028

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Sister Abbey had turned out useful after all.

The door to the next staircase had been not only locked, but warded as well. Said wards went far over Eva’s head. She knew her blood wards and some runic equivalents to certain wards, and that was about it.

She was fairly certain that the wards were beyond Zoe’s expertise as well. At least the ones specific to the Elysium Order. Regular thaumaturgical wards, Zoe could probably have taken down herself. With study, Eva had no doubt that Zoe would have been able to do something about the Elysium Order wards, but they didn’t exactly have the time at the moment.

Regardless, both Eva and Zoe watched the sister like a hawk as she worked. Both had been in agreement that she had done nothing aside from unlocking the door.

So take that, Wayne Lurcher.

Sister Abbey walked at the head of the group. Everyone was able to keep their eyes on her. All the better to watch her and ensure that she didn’t drop any notes for other nuns to find. When she would have had a chance to scrawl out some message, Eva couldn’t say. No sense in not taking precautions.

Arachne still clung to her. Because of Arachne’s legs, Sister Abbey could barely move her arms to write a note in the first place. With the two needle-like legs pressing up against her throat, Sister Abbey had a constant reminder of what would happen should she attempt a betrayal.

So it wasn’t like they weren’t being careful.

It might not be the ideal situation, Eva would freely admit that. However, Sister Abbey was helping them get through their task faster. The quicker they were gone, the less chances they had to be discovered.

More discovered, anyway.

Though Eva wasn’t so sure that being discovered was much of a concern now that they had gone down a floor.

The ground floor was the most crowded with a good ten or so nuns–at least that came into Eva’s range. Only three of which they had had to pass nearby. The two at the doors and one wandering the hallways. For that one, they had all ducked into a janitorial closet while she passed by.

It had not had the most elbow room with all four of them inside.

The next floor had had the two augurs and the one regular nun.

But this floor… They had been walking for a good ten minutes since descending the last staircase. Eva hadn’t detected a single person.

“Where is everybody?” Eva asked, breaking the silence of their group. “And shouldn’t there have been guards at the stairs?”

Eva wasn’t asking someone in particular. She would have been happy to have an answer from anyone. Arachne apparently thought that the question was directed at the augur, judging by the sharp poke in the side that the nun received after a short silence.

“The Elysium Order has refocused their efforts overseas. Primarily Eastern Europe and North Africa. Most Cathedrals on North America are running,” she paused as a hint of a smile appeared on her face, “skeleton crews.”

Eva had to hand it to the augur. Had Sister Abbey and Nel swapped places, she was fairly certain that Nel would be bawling her eyes out between shaking herself to death out of fear. Sister Abbey was cracking jokes.

Maybe I need to do a little more threatening. Can’t have the captive getting uppity.

“Oh puns? I loove puns. Have you heard the one about the nun that married the zombie?”

Serena beat her to the punch.

“Perhaps it would be best if we limit our conversation with the sister, S,” Wayne said with a grunt.

Eva had lucked out on not being referred to as ‘S’ by the fact that Serena’s name and her last name shared initials. Wayne had almost decided that Serena should be ‘P’ for some reason, but a glare from the vampire had ended that discussion.

“Well at least someone is talking. Breaking in last time wasn’t half as boring.”

“Something you should be thankful for.”

The smile on Sister Abbey vanished and her back stiffened. “You people do this often?”

“Once every year or so,” Eva said before anyone else could preempt her. Unless Wayne and Serena actually robbed the Elysium Order on some kind of regular schedule, claiming to do it often might help throw them off the track. “Whenever we find a child in need of saving.”

“How altruistic. You threaten my life ten times over and–” Sister Abbey bit her tongue as Arachne poked her in the side hard enough to draw blood through her habit. After a quick grimace, her countenance turned to anger. “And yet you claim to work for another’s sake? If you’re so concerned about others, stand with the Order and work to better the world.”

Eva tried to hold in a bout of laughter. She really did.

It didn’t work so well.

Absently, she noted that Serena was laughing as well. A light bubbly giggle compared to her more scornful laugh.

“Ah yes, because the Elysium Order is all about bettering the world.” Eva rolled her eyes, though with Sister Abbey at the lead and facing forwards, the nun wouldn’t be able to see.

Serena, however, saw and started off on another round of giggles. “Every member I’ve ever met has tried to kill me within five minutes. If that.”

“I can’t say the same,” Eva said. “I’ve met and talked with plenty of nuns without fighting them. They usually resorted to poorly disguised death threats with me.”

“E, S,” Zoe said, voice terse. “Please desist.”

“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Wayne grunted. “We’re here.”

Eva blinked. Glancing down at the map and quickly counting the doors in her head, she found that he was right.

Though perhaps she needn’t have counted. The large door before them wasn’t like most of the other wooden doors. It had clearly been made from two slabs of stone and had a deep relief carved into its surface. In the relief, a series of figures wearing garb fairly similar to the nuns’ habits were depicted laying skeletons to rest in mass graves.

There were words inscribed on the front, running around the images on a sort of carved ribbon. They looked like words anyway. Whatever language it was written in was not one that Eva could understand.

Looking at the door did give Eva a slight sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t explain why, it was just there.

Not ominous at all.

Several other, far more regular wooden doors continued on into the distance.

Really, how large is this place?

Unlike the floor above, this second basement had far lower ceilings and a certain dampness that reminded Eva of the crypt that Sawyer had used a few years prior. They could stand to have a cleaning crew go through and freshen up the place a bit.

But this floor wasn’t the last.

Eva knew for a fact that there was at least one more floor below them. She could see something down there. A lone zombie perhaps. It was dead or undead. That much was certain. The blood within its veins might be moving slightly more than Serena’s, but its heart didn’t seem to be beating. It had several golf ball sized holes dotted around its corpse. Anything further was difficult to discern through her blood sight.

“This door?” Sister Abbey whispered. “We can’t go in this door.”

“Oh? Well, I guess we’ve come all this way for nothing,” Eva said, putting as much sarcasm into her voice as possible. “Let’s pack up and go home then.”

“You don’t understand.” Sister Abbey’s voice rose in pitch, becoming more strained. She tried to turn her neck, but Arachne’s needle-like legs put an end to that. Instead, she turned her full body around. “This door can only be opened by a prioress. Or someone given specific access through the source.”

“And you don’t have that access.”

The nun scoffed. “I’m an augur. They’d tear out our eyes if they weren’t necessary to our duties. We aren’t allowed in such secure areas.”

Eva pressed her lips together. It always seemed like it came back to the eyes. Though in this case, she was probably referring to the ones implanted around her body, rather than the eyes on her face.

“Even if you could find a way to enter the room, you wouldn’t make it out. The alarms will go off without fail. Everyone in the cathedral will be waiting for you to exit.”

“We know,” Wayne said as he brushed past Sister Abbey.

That was news to Eva. She didn’t know. Not wanting to show disunity in front of a prisoner, she just nodded in agreement and watched Wayne work.

He knelt before the door, pulling out a small satchel of tools. He started fiddling with the lock on the door after selecting three thin rods. As he started jiggling the rods around, he glanced back over his shoulder. “You sure are helpful for an enemy. Something you’re not telling us, E?”

Eva blinked, surprised that she was the one being addressed. “Ah, I can see why she might be concerned.” Eva said after a moment of thought. “The other nuns being alerted to our presence was one of the conditions for her demise.”

“Ev–” Zoe cut herself off at almost using Eva’s full name. “Might I speak with you for a moment?”

“Don’t worry,” Serena said with a bright smile behind her mask, “I’ll keep the dear sister from committing any nefarious deeds while you’re away.”

Eva eyed the vampire, but just shook her head.

Arachne would be plenty of pairs of eyes on the nun.

She turned and followed Zoe a short distance down the hallway. They were not quite to the next door when Eva felt the air around them change. Zoe had erected another sound barrier between the two groups.

“Eva, I know this is a stressful situation. But… just…” Zoe pinched her eyes shut as she rubbed her temple. “How many ‘conditions for her demise’ were there?”

“A lot, I’d say. There were a few specific ones. After that, I just said that if she did pretty much anything then Arachne would kill her.”

“Eva…”

“I know what you want to say,” Eva said. Probably something about how killing was bad or death threats on helpless prisoners were bad. “But if these nuns catch wind of us, they’re not going to come and ask us to quietly surrender. You’ve done this before, you should know that.”

“First, I do know that. But there is no reason for us to descend to the level of psychopaths. Second, I have not done this before.”

“But Wayne said–”

“He and Serena did it. I was twelve. They didn’t bring me along with them. And,” she glanced over Eva’s shoulder to where Wayne had pulled out his tome at the door, “we weren’t stealing things.” She frowned. “It was more of a rescue than a theft. They were headed towards a dungeon, rather than a storage room.”

The zombie below them might have been in a dungeon. It wasn’t moving around much.

“But if that was the case, he probably hasn’t opened a door like that before. Can he do it?”

“I think,” Zoe started, putting on a smile, “that he is about to show us.”

Turning back to the door, Eva watched as Wayne stood up. He looked over the door once. With his tome held open in front of him, he began flipping through the pages. It took a minute, but he eventually stopped on one in particular. He took a deep breath. As he exhaled, the page started to glow with a white light. It was eerily reminiscent of the same glow that came from the nuns’ eyes as they channeled their peculiar brand of magic. With a flick of his wrist, the light siphoned off to the metal rods that protruded from the door. Both rods turned white for a brief instant before all the light discharged into the door itself.

There was a loud crack that echoed down the empty hallways.

Satisfied with whatever he had done, Wayne snapped his tome shut and moved up to the door. He pulled the rods from the door, taking great care as he replaced them within his satchel.

Even if her conversation with Zoe wasn’t finished, Eva headed back to the rest of the group. No time to delay if the door really was unlocked.

“Finished so soon?” Eva asked.

She only received a grunt in response.

“It took for-ev-er,” Serena said, pronouncing each syllable distinctly on their own. “Seriously, you used to be so much better. Getting old? You know that there is a cure for that, right?”

“I’m rusty,” Wayne said, voice firm, “not old.”

“Uh huh.”

“Anyway,” Eva said before their charades could continue any longer, “the door is unlocked now?” She took a step towards it only to be interrupted by a cough from Zoe. “Oh, whatever.”

Sister Abbey looked almost sickly green. Whether that was thanks to her impending doom or the proximity with which Serena had decided to keep an eye on her, Eva couldn’t say. But she could say something to remove one of those two options.

“In the event that alarms go off through our own actions, I suppose you don’t have to be killed. But siding with any nuns that show up will be inexcusable.”

Sister Abbey swallowed once. “How gracious of you.”

“Too gracious, if you ask me,” Serena said. Her voice lacked the frivolous tone that she had spoken every other word in.

It surprised Eva for just a moment, but deciding that the vampire probably had more reasons to hate the Elysium Order than most, she let it go with a light shrug of her shoulders. She turned back to the door, but caught sight of a thin-lipped Zoe in the corner of her eye. Zoe stared for a second or two before giving a reluctant nod.

“Well,” Eva said to Wayne, “that’s done. Going to open the door? Or shall I?”

“I was waiting for us to be ready. Everything on the door is disabled, but if there is anything beyond that I couldn’t reach then we may not have much time.”

“Alright. S and Z keep an eye on the hallway. Sister Abbey will accompany W and I to help spot and disarm any traps that may be lying about. Sound good? Anyone not ready?”

“Oh good,” Serena said, eying the doors, “I was going to stay here anyway.”

Shrugging at the quip, Eva glanced around the group. From the ill-looking Sister Abbey and Arachne hanging off of her back, Serena prodding at Arachne’s limbs, to the professors–one of whom looked far more confident than the other–no one objected.

“Let’s do this,” Eva said as she pulled open the door.

The heavy stone slabs making up the doors slammed into the walls with a resounding thunder. Parts of them chipped and fell away while cracks formed in the brick walls.

Eva kept very still as she watched for any sign that the doors would fall off. It was a good thing that no one had been standing near the walls. They would have been crushed.

She might have used just a little too much force. In her defense, they were stone slabs; she figured that they would need a little force to get moving. Clearly, something had been done to them.

Ignoring the snort of a giggle from Serena, Eva pulled out her map. “It’s not far.”

Inside was a much shorter hallway containing three far more mundane doors. From Nel’s brief description from scrying inside, she knew that they were essentially storage rooms. Shelves full of dangerous objects or equipment that the rank and file weren’t supposed to handle. The idol-like devices that the Elysium Order used were in the third room.

And in there should be the obelisk.

Eva took a single step forward, only to be bathed in blinding white light.

The walls, the floor, the ceiling, it all turned white. For a moment, she thought that she was being teleported by Wayne or Zoe. The cold chill settling in didn’t help dissuade her thoughts.

The doors still standing before her were her first clue that she was not being teleported. As was the fact that, while chilly, the cold was more like a winter’s day than the debilitating freeze of their teleport.

“You’re not undead?” Sister Abbey said, genuine surprise in her voice.

“Oh? You knew this would happen? Thought you’d lead us–”

“I didn’t know!” She jumped in place as Arachne’s legs pressed inwards. Her voice raised pitch a few notches as she spoke with haste. “It is a common trap used to immobilize undead. I didn’t know that it would be here.”

“An alarm too, I’d bet,” Wayne said as he brushed past the two. He reached the correct door only to find it locked. Rather than pull out his toolkit, he opened his tome.

One page burst into flames. The flames went out and nothing but ash remained. It dusted off into the air, dispersing and disappearing as it went.

Just as the page burst into flames, the wooden door was quick to follow suit.

He stepped over the threshold before the flames had even died down.

Eva charged in after him. Arachne could handle the augur on her own.

“Back left shelf?” he asked.

“That’s what Nel said,” rushing to the place herself.

There were so many things in the room. It was hard not to stop and stare. Most were in the form of stone or wood sculptures. Some, more organic.

One that Eva did stop to look at–for only a second–was a beating heart inside a glass case suspended by four silver prongs. An eyeball dangled off the bottom. Probably the same kind as the nuns’ implanted eyes. Despite its obvious beating, Eva couldn’t see the thing itself through her sense of blood.

That didn’t stop the eye from glowing bright white as she watched.

Eva jumped back and ran to the shelf that Wayne had stopped in front of.

“We should hurry,” she said. “I don’t like this place.”

“No arguments.”

He closed his hand around an arm-sized replica of the Washington Monument. This version was covered in all kinds of markings and scribbles. The top was not a square pyramid. Rather, it had a cone with engravings on it. The first engraving had a circle. That circle was repeated just to either side, except with a sliver taken off. The pattern went around, waxing and waning until it returned to the circle at the front.

Just as Nel had described it.

He hefted it up a few inches before setting it right back down. “Heavy,” he grunted.

“Zoe can levitate it, right?”

Frowning, he tucked his tome under his arm and tried again with two hands. “Maybe,” he said, holding it in the air for a few seconds before setting it down. “Won’t be easy.”

Rather than try again, Wayne pulled up his tome. He tapped the obelisk on the front.

There was a clipped rush of cold air. Nothing else changed save for Wayne’s frown deepening further. Whatever he had intended to do had failed.

“Between is warded off here,” he grumbled to himself. “It wasn’t on the main floor…”

Again, he tapped the obelisk. Aside from another burst of cold air, nothing happened.

Eva shook her head. They didn’t have time for this. If Wayne could lift it with two hands, surely she could as well. As long as she lifted with her legs and not her back, it probably wouldn’t be all that difficult.

Putting one hand around the base and the other halfway up, Eva hefted it up.

Heavy was an accurate word. Wayne had chosen well. However, it didn’t feel quite as heavy as carrying Irene’s limp body around after their little hot springs incident. She would be useless in combat, but she had plans to help with that. With the blood in her backpack already attuned to her dagger, she would be able to control it without much physical effort.

Taking a few steps away from the shelf, Eva found the load much easier to carry as she readjusted her center of balance. It left her leaning back, but… I can do this.

“Got it?”

“I do. Let’s go.” Before she moved more than two steps, Eva paused and took another look around the room. A golden necklace with an hourglass set in the middle particularly caught her eye. “Not going to take anything else?”

“I’d rather not give them more reason to hunt us down,” he said as he moved back through the room. He didn’t so much as glance at the objects on the shelves. “This obelisk is damning enough on its own.”

“Fair point,” Eva mumbled before following after him.

Sister Abbey stood at the room’s threshold, just behind the pile of ashes that once was a door. Her mouth was agape as she looked into the room.

“Lot of good your ‘door unlocker’ was, Spe–E.”

“She unlocked one door,” Eva said as she hefted the obelisk, shifting its position ever so slightly. “That was useful.”

“Could have done it myself. You’d have done better to let S knock on the door and give you a few seconds to escape.”

“Maybe if she did that sooner. As it was, had to act quickly. I didn’t want our dear augur friend to notice me while I was unprepared.”

“Too much talk. Not enough running.”

Eva just frowned as Wayne ran into the white room. “You started it,” she mumbled to herself.

With a nod of her head to Arachne and Sister Abbey, she walked back into the icy cold room, carrying the obelisk all the way.

They got through the pure white room just in time to see a lightning bolt travel down the hall from Zoe’s dagger.

“Company,” she said through grit teeth as blindingly white lightning crackled down the hall.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.027

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Three things made getting into the Elysium Cathedral much easier than it had any right to be.

The first was the map. Drawn by Nel both from memory and from scrying, it had possible routes to the relic chamber along with some annotations about which directions would have them encounter how much resistance. Most of it was guesswork and estimations. Nel had to remain behind to prepare the salt, so she couldn’t give real-time updates. The nuns could and would move around and invalidate most of her efforts.

But that was the second thing. For whatever reason, there were hardly any nuns about. A handful of guards was about all that they had to sneak by. They hadn’t passed the sleeping quarters, so it was entirely possible that the majority were asleep. Nel had mentioned that there should have been more guards, so Eva wasn’t about to question their luck.

Eva wanted to say that the third thing was her own blood sight. The ability to effectively see through walls, see which direction guards were facing, and to tell whether or not a guard was asleep at their post was an amazing asset on a job like this. Something that Eva wished she had figured out back when doing odd jobs with Devon.

However, while it helped, Eva had to begrudgingly give a nod to Serena and her unique abilities.

Two guards stood alert outside of the doorway leading to the basement of the cathedral.

There was another way inside, but they would have had to backtrack through a good portion of the building, negating much of their work so far. And, if this one was guarded, that door was likely guarded as well.

Turning to the others, Eva said, “Arachne can handle this.”

At hearing her name, the spider demon poked her head out from under Eva’s shirt.

They didn’t actually need to be silent. Something that Eva was beyond grateful for. Part of her reason for wanting to go in alone was that it was far easier to be stealthy with fewer people. Arachne had shrunk and latched onto Eva’s chest just to help reduce their total footprint. More people meant more noise, no exceptions.

Except when Zoe was part of the group. She just twisted her dagger and the air itself didn’t allow sound to pass beyond a small radius around their group. The vibrations froze in mid-air.

That hadn’t made Arachne unshrink. A group of people was already a larger visual target than a single person, and Arachne was larger than any one person in their group. Zoe’s air magic couldn’t hide them from sight.

“How?” Serena asked with a wide smile.

The tone of her voice wasn’t hostile and it was a fair question. It still sent Eva’s eye twitching. Not only was it a question that Eva had been about to answer on her own, but it was Serena asking.

She wasn’t certain that she liked the vampire. Every time she glanced in Serena’s direction, she found the vampire staring at her. Every single time.

To Eva, it didn’t feel much like a friendly stare or even one of the curious stares that her classmates often gave her hands and eyes. It was of the hungry variety of stares. Like the vampire was just waiting for her to let her guard down so she could have a quick snack.

“Arachne climbs on the ceiling–no one ever looks up,” Eva said, glancing up herself.

If asked, she would say that she had glanced up as emphasis on her words. It was definitely not because she too never bothered to look up. While her blood sight worked in a sphere around her, there could be nonliving concerns on the ceiling.

Looking up only to find a trapped ceiling slowly descending to crush them would be terrible. She did not want to become an Eva sandwich.

Bringing her eyes back down to Serena after finding nothing, Eva said, “Arachne then drops on their heads, bites them, injects venom, and then we walk past two recently deceased nuns.”

Zoe shifted, probably about to say something about killing people.

Serena beat her to the punch. “Buut, that will leave two dead nuns.”

“You care?”

She shrugged. “I’ve no love for the Elysium Order. However,” she held up a finger, “what if the changing of the guards happens or someone walks by? Even if we hide the bodies, the lack of guards will alert the others. If there is an augur here, and there probably is, the entirety of the cathedral will be on alert near instantly. That makes our job far more difficult.”

“Fair points,” Eva said with a frown. “But you can’t just complain without putting forward a suggestion of your own. What’s your plan?”

“Hmm,” she tilted her head back and forth a few times. “Something like this.”

Before Eva could so much as react, Serena had jumped around the corner, extending her arm out like she was holding a pistol.

Through her blood sight, Eva could see the guards’ eyes widen a fraction of an inch.

Neither of their hearts had the chance to spike in pace before Serena’s invisible pistol sent a recoil up her arm.

As her wrist flicked back, a dark beam erupted from her eyes.

Both guards slackened slightly, but not enough to topple over.

“Hurry,” Serena said, already taking off running towards the door. “Not much time.”

Wayne and Zoe were already in motion, apparently having experienced such antics from the vampire in the past. Eva scrambled after them a moment later.

Both guards had a dazed look on their faces. Neither was quite focusing on any one thing in particular.

“Locked,” Wayne grumbled from ahead of the pack.

Serena whipped her head to one of the guards, staring at the nun for a moment.

For a bare instant, the nun’s eyes refocused. Eva tensed, ready for a fight.

But the nun just turned without actually seeing any of them. She pulled a key from her pocket and unlocked the door, tapping the lock with a wand before returning to her position at the side of the door. As she retook her position, her eyes lost their focus once again.

Wayne and Zoe charged through the door. Serena gave a little pat on the shoulder of the nun. “Thanks,” she said before following the other two.

With one last look at the glossy-eyed nuns, Eva ran through the door.

“A little warning next time,” Zoe said as she shut the door and flicked the deadbolt back into place.

“Ohh, but there’d be no fun in that.”

Zoe ignored her, clicking the locks on the door shut. “The nun touched the door with her wand. There was probably a magical lock in place. I hope it wasn’t tied to any alarms.”

As they spoke, Eva watched the other side of the door through her blood sight. Both nuns shook their heads slightly as they lost the sag in their pose.

Eva waited at the door, preparing to charge through and stop the nuns from running to get help. Serena was right in that killing them would be troublesome. They could at least restrain them. That would give them plenty more time than having them run off right away.

Neither made a move for or away from the door. Each simply resumed her guard without so much as a word to the other.

“Eva,” Zoe called up from the bottom of the staircase, “we’re not there yet. Best to keep moving before they notice the spells on the door are gone.”

“What was that?” Eva asked anyone as she reached the others. She paused for just a moment, looking around. “People inside the large room on our right. Only three. A meeting of some sort?”

Eva wished that her blood sight could provide more details. Or maybe she needed to get good at reading lips through blood veins. As it was, all she could tell was that three people were seated around a table, discussing something. Two of them were augurs, judging by the copious amount of eye-shaped organs dotted around their bodies.

They were fairly far away. Just at the edge of her range.

The end of the stairs opened up into a long hallway that, after a curve, followed back along the hallway they had just been in one floor up. The main chapel room sat directly adjacent above, though if there were a replica down here, they hadn’t gone down enough steps for it to copy the vaulted ceiling.

Unless the room had been partitioned off, the nuns would be sitting in the far corner from where Eva was.

Perhaps much of it had been made into a storage area? There were doors on either side all along the hallway. Offices? What did the Elysium Order need with such a large space?

And they still had to go down one more floor before reaching the room that contained the obelisk.

“That,” Serena said from the head of the group, “was just a figment of their imaginations. Staring at a wall for hours on end has a habit of playing tricks on the mind. Whatever they thought they saw was probably nothing.”

“‘Probably nothing’ unlocked the doors?”

Serena shrugged. “Not my fault that she had a sudden pressing need to open the door and forget about it afterwards.”

Frowning, Eva glared at the vampire’s back. “If you can do that, why are we bothering with all this sneaking around? We could just walk up to a nun and have her go get the obelisk.”

“Ah, but it doesn’t last that long, does it now? And if their eyes are glowing, forget about it working entirely.” She glanced over her shoulder as she walked. Her stormy eyes made contact with Eva’s as she flashed a grin. “Learned that the hard way.”

Eva was about to ask a few other questions about her ability. It seemed a neat trick to have and definitely warranted learning, if she could.

The three nuns moving in the far end of the room gave her pause. She waited just long enough to be certain that they were headed towards the hallway before alerting the group.

“Heads up,” she said. “Three nuns incoming from the far door. Serena?”

The vampire shook her head. “If they come out one at a time, I might get the first one but the other two will notice. If I try to wait, I might not get any of the three.”

“Hide then,” Wayne said from behind. He and Zoe had fallen a fair distance behind Eva and Serena during the short walk through the hallway.

As one, they turned and moved towards one of the rooms that Eva had presumed to be offices. Eva expected it to be locked for a moment, but Wayne turned the knob and walked right in.

Eva and Serena started towards a closer room to where they were. Serena stopped partway and vanished from Eva’s sight. She was still there in her blood sight, unbeating heart and all.

At least she can’t sneak up on me, Eva thought, taking the disappearance in stride. It wasn’t until Serena backed away from the door to position herself at the wall directly opposite that Eva hesitated.

Through her blood sight, Eva glanced through the walls towards Zoe and Wayne’s hiding spot. They had positioned themselves behind where the door would open, ready to ambush anyone who entered. There must not be any good hiding spots in the room itself. For a moment, just a single moment, Eva thought to go and join them in their room.

Shaking the notion from her mind, Eva entered the door before her.

Running down to their room would be cutting it too close. The nuns were almost to the hallway.

“Arachne,” Eva said to her one companion as the door shut behind her with a soft click, “ceiling. Keep quiet and don’t attack unless the situation looks dire.”

If Zoe and Wayne were setting up an ambush, she would take their lead.

The spider-demon gave her a quick tap on her right shoulder before climbing out the top of her shirt. Leaping from her shoulder to the wall, Arachne skittered up to a corner of the ceiling where her dark carapace blended in with the shadows.

Arachne in place, Eva looked around the room in an attempt to find her own place to hide.

There weren’t many options. The room was not an office as she had initially suspected. There was a single altar in the center of the room along with a small closet to one side. The room looked an awful lot like the room Nel had set up for herself within Ylva’s domain, if a far less gaudy version of it.

The thick wooden citrus of frankincense hung in the air like smog, reinforcing Eva’s growing fears.

These rooms were not safe places to hide with two augurs walking down the hall.

With nowhere better to hide, Eva moved to the opposite side of the altar. It was thick, heavy, and solid stone of some sort. Marble, probably. Sitting was all that was required to hide behind it, and she was left with plenty of space to spare overhead and to the sides. With a large pillow between the altar and the door, it was fairly obvious that the augur would sit with her back to the door. She wouldn’t come around the side.

Eva withdrew a vial of Arachne’s blood as she watched the two augurs walk down the hallway alongside the regular nun. No sense in not preparing for the worst.

The group stopped outside of a room a few doors down, opposite of the direction that Zoe and Wayne were hidden. They spoke a few words to one another before one of the augurs split off and entered the room. The other two continued on down the hallway.

Continued towards her.

Closing her eyes, she hoped that they would just pass by. Surely only one augur needed to be on duty at such a late hour. The other should go to bed.

Serena did nothing but lean against the wall, head turning to follow and watch the two nuns.

Couldn’t she just use her magic trick right now?

No. They were both looking at each other. One would see her before the other saw leading to the second turning on their power.

Eva stifled a groan as they stopped outside of her door.

Of course, she thought as the door cracked open.

“–allowed to roam free, Sister Abbey,” the non-augur said. “We must–”

“If you wish to pursue demon hunting,” the augur spat, “I will look the other way. But I will not accompany you. A few rogue sisters will be overlooked in this time of crisis. A second rogue augur will be hunted down by the few remaining inquisitors without question.”

Chagrin filling her voice, the non-augur all but whined at the augur. “Sister Abbey–”

“And, Sister Cole, I trust I do not need to remind you of the last time your chapter encountered demons. What was the casualty rate for that mission, forty percent?”

The augur shook her head as she turned to the altar.

Eva stilled her breathing as much as possible. Please leave, please leave. She wished she had possessed the foresight to stab her own chest with her dagger. Oxygenating her blood through exposure to the air was far quieter than breathing.

The other nun stayed in the doorway. Her hands, balled into fists, trembled. “Thirty seven percent. And we are far more prepared. We’ve had time to analyze and employ better countermeasures. And this time, we won’t have Cross and–”

“The former prioress’ faults are well-known,” Sister Abbey said with a glance over her shoulder. “It is amusing to me that you wish to repeat her mistakes so soon after gaining her title, Prioress.

Sister Cole grit her teeth. Even had she not been able to see her muscles clenching, Eva would have heard the grinding.

“You are just an augur. You’ll be–”

“Looking the other way. If you continue pressing the matter, I may find myself in a more active role of alerting the inquisitors before they find cause to go after me.” Turning fully from Sister Cole, Sister Abbey knelt down at the altar. “This conversation has been most enlightening. If you would remove yourself from my presence, I have work that must be done.”

Clenching her fists again, Sister Cole turned from the door, slamming it shut in the process. She stormed towards the staircase.

At least they would know if the nun noticed those missing spells. If she came running back down the stairs, she would probably have spotted them and alerted the two guards. Hopefully her anger would cloud her perception.

Unfortunately, Eva had a more pressing problem.

The augur sighed. A long, drawn our, exasperation-filled sigh. She reached up and pulled her habit’s cap off, setting it on the altar with reverence. With a sudden clenching of her fists, she stood up, walked to the door, flicked the deadbolt into place, and sat down.

“And stay out,” she murmured.

Outside of the room, Serena walked up to the door and pressed her ear against it.

Unless the vampire had unlocking doors as an ability, Eva doubted that she would be getting any help from there.

Down the hall, Zoe and Wayne had emerged from their room. Zoe had likely enhanced her ears beyond the point of safety to determine if the hallway was empty. They ran up to Serena–who must be visible again–and started speaking to one another.

No sound penetrated the door. Whether due to the door’s construction or Zoe dampening sound, Eva couldn’t say. Them speaking without her being able to listen did reaffirm her decision to figure out how to read lips through blood. They were probably plotting ways to get her out. It would help a lot to know what they were talking about.

Inside of her room, the augur didn’t actually appear to be doing any auguring. A lot of sighing and breathing exercises, but no scrying. Something of a shame. Nel tended to block out most of the surroundings when she dipped into her abilities. Maybe not enough for Eva to sneak out, but it couldn’t hurt.

Eva expected the closet to be filled with all the objects the augur would use to scry with, so it was a good thing that the augur wasn’t doing her job. If she went up to the closet, Eva would come into view.

It would be so easy to signal Arachne from where she was. Arachne had moved to directly over the augur. An angle from where she would definitely be able to see Eva.

But Serena was right. If the augur died, everyone in the area would know and be after them immediately.

Best to find a non-lethal solution.

Eva mentally cursed at her stupidity in not packing her poison satchel. Even a mild paralytic would keep her down long enough for them to get in and out. Probably.

Zoe and company were probably looking for a solution, but they didn’t know what the inside of the room looked like or really anything that would give them a concrete plan.

With a mental sigh, Eva started forming precise directions for Arachne out of blood.

As she finished, Arachne dropped. She dangled from the ceiling on a single thread. Her eight legs touched the ground behind Sister Abbey without the slightest noise.

Arachne sprung from the ground. Six of her legs latched around the woman’s chest–arms included–breaking at least one of her bones based on the noise. Arachne’s front two legs snapped up and positioned themselves at either side of the woman’s neck. They pinched her skin inwards, but managed not to pierce her throat.

Yet.

“If your eyes glow, you die,” Eva said before anything else, even before the nun had a chance to cry out in pain from her broken bones.

While she wouldn’t put it past a member of the Elysium Order to go out in some suicidal attack, the augur had been worried about inquisitors; it was reasonable to assume that she feared for her life.

Eva managed to hold in a sigh of relief as the nun stilled. Her heart had jumped to a couple thousand beats per minute, but she clamped her mouth shut and did not ignite her eyes. Eva couldn’t actually see her eyes, but Arachne hadn’t killed her. Therefore, her eyes were normal.

“Congratulations,” Eva said without standing from her hiding position. “Through an inestimable amount of bad luck, mostly on my part, you get a choice tonight. One choice, obviously, is death. I do not think I need to explain that one.”

On the other side of the door, Serena was shushing the two conversing professors while trying to press her ear even further into the door.

Eva ignored them for the moment. It was a bit too late for anything they might do.

“The other choice: you can help save a little girl whose life is in danger.” Shalise probably wouldn’t appreciate being referred to as a little girl–Eva wouldn’t–but the facts were that she was not here and little girls were far more sympathetic than teenagers. “That could use some explanation, but I am pressed for time and really, what choice do you actually have?

“Rest assured, I am not here to hurt anyone. As I said, you’re only in this position because of bad luck. I’m just here to steal something. Hell, I don’t even need to keep it.” Unless an obelisk is somehow consumed during the ritual. “You can have it back in an hour.” Or however long the ritual lasted plus time to get back. “Maybe a day? Definitely less than a week. I’ll drop it off on the front lawn.”

Eva hummed for a moment, giving the augur time to process what she had said. “Saving the life of a little girl or having your own life extinguished. I intend to get what I came for either way, so I suppose those aren’t mutually exclusive. You only need to worry about your own life.”

The augur remained silent. Arachne pressed one leg ever so slightly deeper into her neck, causing her to jump.

“Go ahead, make your choice. I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day. If time runs out, the default choice is death, in case you were unsure.”

While the nun mulled it over, Eva took the orb of blood in her hands and formed it into a sort of mask and a pair of gloves to lessen the pointedness of her fingers. Serena had mentioned having masks on whatever previous experience she had with the Elysium Order, so it couldn’t be a terrible idea.

If she did end up agreeing, as Eva expected she would, Eva didn’t want to give any clue as to who she was. Given the distinction of her eyes and hands, it wouldn’t be difficult to find out who she was.

Probably wouldn’t be difficult anyway, Eva grumbled to herself as she finished shaping the blood. The moment anyone noticed anything demonic going on, they would immediately turn to Brakket.

Perhaps shoving Serena in front of a nun would distract them for a few months while they hunted down some nonexistent vampire coven.

Unless she had an actual coven that they could locate. That might be something of a jerk move in that case.

Encountering augurs made Eva feel woefully unprepared. She would have to make sure that no significant part of herself was left behind. Nel used vials of blood and strands of hair to locate her targets.

They should have all worn hair nets. And bindings on their bodies to keep arm hairs and such things from falling out.

How small could augurs go? Flakes of dead skin? Individual skin cells? If so, it was far too late from the moment they walked inside without a hard suit and recirculated air.

With a sudden sinking in her stomach, Eva resigned herself to being hunted by the Elysium Order for the foreseeable future. Even if Ylva’s presence kept them at bay, that would probably not last through the week if she was serious about removing herself from the mortal plane.

Still, no need to make it easy on them. Eva attached the mask to her face, allowing the semi-solid blood to flow over her exposed skin. It was difficult to tell without a mirror, but she was fairly certain that she looked a lot like Arachne minus a few pairs of eyes.

Plunging her dagger into her arm, she quickly made three other masks out of her own blood. They would be thin and wouldn’t cover all skin, but it would be better than nothing.

“Alright.” The nun slumped slightly and her voice came out strained. Arachne might be holding on a bit too tight.

But whatever. She’d live.

“I’m glad you can see reason. Surprising in a way, but I suppose that all the augurs I’ve met have been far less trigger happy than the rest of your lot.”

Standing from behind the altar, Eva ignored the gasp as she stared the augur in the eye.

“If at any point your eyes glow, you will die. If you shout or try to escape, you will die. If the other members of the Elysium Order are alerted to our presence before we leave, you will die.” Eva paused as she thought of other circumstances, but there were far too many to list. “If you think something you do might possibly in some minor probability wind up with you dead, it will.”

Eva smiled behind her mask. A pointless exercise as the nun couldn’t see. Unless… Eva quickly manipulated the surface of her mask into a wide smile. Far wider than her normal smile. Much closer to Arachne’s smile.

In fact, Eva thought as she etched in sharpened teeth. She wasn’t sure that it would be visible as the light in the augur’s room was fairly dim, but it was the thought that counted.

“Aside from that,” Eva said, “Sister Abbey, welcome aboard. Now stay right here and don’t move.”

Stepping around the suddenly statue-like nun, Eva walked up to the door and flicked the lock.

Zoe and Wayne ceased their conversation, both jumping to high alert. Serena just casually walked away from the door with a grin on her face. She had probably heard everything.

Neither of the professors let their guard down. Rather the opposite. A dagger was thrust in her face while Wayne readied his tome.

Rolling her eyes, Eva allowed part of her mask to roll off of her face for a few seconds. “It’s just me. Put these on,” she said, handing her masks off to the three.

Zoe accepted one first, frowning at it. “Are these–”

“Made out of your blood?” Serena snapped between Eva and Zoe, wrenching one of the masks out of Eva’s hands. She pressed it up to her face, drawing in a deep breath.

Eva took the moment it was pressed to her face to remodel it slightly to better fit her face. The large bushy eyebrows and tongue sticking out that appeared on the front were completely unintended consequences of reshaping it.

“This is the best present anyone has ever given me,” Serena said with a mild glare towards Wayne. “I’ll cherish it forever. Not to mention, much better than the ski masks we wore last time.”

Or until I make it explode when we’re done, Eva didn’t say. She hoped that she remembered to tell the vampire to take it off first.

Wayne was the only one hesitating, so Eva tossed the last mask at him. “Put it on unless you don’t care if an augur sees you.”

“What did you do?” he hissed. Wayne hesitated three times, bringing the mask near to his face and pulling it away again before he finally placed it against his face.

Eva fit the masks to both Wayne and Zoe without any unnecessary additions.

“Sister Abbey,” Eva said with a turn of her head, “come introduce yourself.”

The augur, who had been sitting as still as she could manage with her heart beating as it was, jumped slightly at being addressed. After a slight prod from Arachne, she finally made it to the doorway.

Upon seeing the augur, the other three all took a step away. At least until their eyes dipped down to where Arachne’s legs were wrapped around her like some kind of ominous rib cage.

“What did you do?” Wayne grunted through grit teeth.

“I got us a door unlocker!”

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