Tag Archives: Prax

007.026

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Eva snapped into being on the gate she had made within her new dormitory room. She wasn’t even that wobbly from the teleport. Still, she took a moment to steady herself before moving around.

In that moment, she glanced around. Both with her eyes and her less mundane senses.

She immediately froze.

The very first thing that she noticed was Zagan. She couldn’t see him, but she could feel him. His overwhelming presence occluded everything else. Whatever had happened, he wasn’t trying to hide in the slightest.

It was terrifying and awe inspiring at the same time. Her heart hammered in her chest, screaming at her to run despite her mind claiming that Zagan was an ally.

Eva held her ground. It was all she could do to stand still. Digging her feet into the ground, Eva focused on calming down. Deep breaths helped, but only marginally.

No other presence, not even that of Ylva’s, could be felt through Zagan’s blanket of power. Prax and Catherine had both left the prison before Eva and she couldn’t sense either of them.

Hopefully that was just Zagan overpowering them and not something worse.

Prax and Catherine should at least be nearby. Ylva would be off with Zoe and Juliana. Given that the dorm room was empty of everyone else, Eva was assuming that they were out at the apartment building. Maybe even helping Zoe pack, unaware of the event out here until Ylva arrived. Though, Juliana might be wherever her parents were staying. Even bedridden or wheelchair bound, Eva had a hard time believing that Genoa would miss what was happening at the moment.

In fact, she would be surprised if regular mortals couldn’t feel Zagan.

Eva couldn’t see anything out the window. It looked out the back of the building, away from Zagan’s presence and the main Brakket Academy building, so that wasn’t all that surprising.

What she did notice were the purple lines in the sky. Since they had first appeared, they had been somewhat dim. Faint and barely visible in the daylight while simply there after nightfall. Now they were bright and almost glowing.

Whether that was because of Zagan or because Martina had summoned so many demons was a question better left to Devon.

Of course, he hadn’t come with her.

Eva had left after everyone else because she had taken the time to warn Devon.

Even discounting the issue that he couldn’t teleport alongside her without winding up as ground meat, Devon wanted nothing to do with demon hunters. He was perfectly content to watch Brakket City burn so long as he was left alone. He had even tried to stop Eva from coming.

Something Eva would hear nothing of.

She had friends here. Friends that might need help.

Zagan could hold his own. Whatever he was doing, Eva was sure that he would come out successful. Juliana and Zoe should both be away from the school and with Ylva. Eva considered running after them, hunkering down while Zagan solved all the problems.

But Catherine was still around. Despite all of her complaining about Martina and her words earlier in the evening about lacking loyalty to others, Catherine had still come here with the intention of keeping Martina safe.

And Eva was still somewhat fond of the succubus.

So Eva would help.

Rather than run from her room, Eva opened her window and dropped straight to the ground. Three stories was a long fall, but Arachne’s legs helped to absorb much of the impact. She ran around the side of the building.

And froze.

The walkway between the dormitory buildings was a torn up mess. Potholes everywhere, bricks lying about, and part of the Gillet’s front had been caved in.

An armored man stood against a winged bull. His armor was battered everywhere and even broken in several spots. He held out a sword. One that might have been beautiful with its emerald-encrusted hilt almost glowing in the evening darkness and graceful curve of the blade. But as Eva stared, she felt wary. Revulsion even. Whatever that sword was, she did not want it anywhere near her.

Zagan was looking worse for the wear. His leathery hide was covered in shallow cuts. A few were deeper, one on his muscular shoulder actually showed bone. The wound cleaned itself of blood every few seconds, making the depth clear to see.

Though, for all the wounds on Zagan, the knight might be in a worse state. Not only had he taken his fair share of the beating and had his own wounds of equal severity, but his armor was doing something to his body. Every time he moved, there was a flash. It was almost as if he was teleporting, but he obviously wasn’t. His armor carried him at speeds that human bodies weren’t meant to accelerate to and stop from so quickly.

Eva could see it in his blood.

One moment and everything was normal. The next had his blood and organs pressed up against the back of his body, only for them to lurch forwards when he stopped.

How he was still alive was anyone’s guess. Magic, probably. But it was affecting him. The visible pauses after each flash step as his body put itself back into place were evidence of that. His pausing lasted mere instants, but those instants were long enough for Zagan to capitalize on.

Zagan charged in an odd direction at the same instant that the knight flash stepped. The odd direction became far less odd as the knight appeared right in front of Zagan.

Scraping one of his horns along the ground, Zagan flicked his head upwards, catching the knight right between the legs. The knight went flying, flailing his arms and legs wildly in the air.

Zagan gave chase with a flap of his wings. His flaming hooves hit the knight in the back, crashing both of them down into the bricks.

The ground shattered after a brief moment of silence, leaving concentric circles of cracked brick and earth around the two monsters.

Eva turned away. It was hard. Zagan’s fighting was definitely worthy of watching. But he didn’t need her help. As she had thought, Zagan could handle himself.

What might need her help was at the main school building. A window near the front office area had broken, roughly in the area of Martina’s office. Dust and smoke billowed out.

If Martina was in, that would be where Catherine would have gone. There was no guarantee. Martina could have fled. Or worse, she might have been killed.

Eva didn’t have a better plan at the moment. She took off at a run, leaving the dormitory buildings and the battle behind.

The main school building wasn’t far. At a run and with a few interspersed blinks, Eva reached the broken window almost instantly.

Four circulatory systems were inside the room. Two lying on the ground and two standing upright.

The two upright were Prax and Catherine. Even if Eva hadn’t already memorized their individual blood vessel fingerprint, Prax’s bulk was unmatched by any other and Catherine had wings and a tail at the moment.

The woman who had accosted Eva in the apartment building was one of the circulatory systems on the ground. Martina was the other.

Eva’s ‘eyes’ were immediately drawn to the woman’s heart. It was beating erratically. A beat followed by a too-long pause. Three rapid beats. Another pause. To make matters more complicated, Eva couldn’t be sure that she was even breathing. Though, given the dust in the air, that might not be a bad thing.

Catherine was standing over her, fidgeting a little as if she didn’t know what to do.

Neither did Eva, but there was someone who did know.

“Martina needs to be taken to the nurse,” Eva said as she climbed over the broken glass of the window. The glass on the ground and sill wasn’t strong enough to cut her carapace. She just had to be careful where the rest of her body was. “She’s having a heart attack.”

She wasn’t really, not so long as Eva understood what a heart attack actually was, but time was of the essence and longer explanations would eat that time up.

“Catherine,” Eva said when the succubus made no motion to carry away the dean.

“I know.” There was a short sigh. Catherine’s arms slipped under Martina’s back and legs before hefting her up. “She had better appreciate me,” she said as she dashed from the room.

The nurse’s office was just down the hallway. So long as she was in at the moment, she would hopefully be able to do something. Given the late hour, Eva doubted that she would be in. Still, Catherine was the secretary. She probably knew where the nurse lived and could just head straight there.

Eva couldn’t say that she liked Martina, but she didn’t hate her enough to want her to die. In fact, she really didn’t hate her at all. Martina could be annoying on occasion, but Eva found herself more indifferent than anything.

And if she did die, there would be a lot of contracted demons running around without a contractor. At the moment, Zagan was a bit too tied up to rein them in. If he even cared enough to do so. Prax might be the only one that he focused on because of Prax’s slights toward him.

Eva would hopefully be able to convince Lucy to play nice with people, but the hellhound, morail, and Daru?

Well, Daru was likely dead.

And then there was Catherine. She wasn’t a contracted demon, but rather a familiar. Still, if Martina died, Catherine’s bonds would be broken.

“What about this one?” Prax said in a menacing growl, breaking Eva out of her thoughts.

Eva turned to the other woman—presumably a demon hunter—and found herself frowning.

Her heart rate was normal. Her blood flowed properly. There was a slight burn on one hand, but it didn’t extend deep enough below her skin to damage any real blood vessels.

And two of her fingers were tapping against the ground. Steady, rhythmic taps.

“Kill her,” Eva said, uncorking her vial of Zagan’s blood. “Quickly.”

Prax didn’t hesitate. He lifted his foot, preparing to crush the hunter’s head.

The hunter was faster. She rolled into his still planted foot.

Normally, Eva wouldn’t have expected much. Prax had bulk. Weight. Mass. The hunter, almost smaller than Eva, couldn’t be expected to move such a thing.

But she did. Whether because Prax was already unbalanced from having his other foot raised or some luck on the hunter’s part, Prax fell. His head smashed into the remains of Martina’s desk, sending splinters and papers flying around.

The hunter made it to her feet before Prax’s head hit the ground. A faint glow emanated from one of her rings. The air in front of her fingers filled with a faint white mist.

A globule of Zagan’s blood fell from the air where it had been zooming towards the hunter. It hit the floor as a ball of ice, shattering into pieces.

Beyond that, she didn’t pay any attention to Eva.

Prax was trying to get standing once again, but the hunter slipped one of her feet in the crook of his ankle and pulled. She managed to move his entire body, causing his arms to slip out from underneath him.

She jumped onto his back, knees on either side of his ribcage. One hand gripped one of Prax’s horns. The other took hold of his chin. With a flick of her arms, an audible snap echoed through the office.

Just in time for her to freeze another two globs of blood that Eva had attempted to hit her with while her back was turned. Each shattered on either side of the portal that was swallowing up Prax’s body.

The hunter got to her feet, brushing her hands off as if Prax had been covered in dust.

Though, given the blood on her hands, Eva doubted that the action was all that effective. It was merely an intimidation tactic.

Eva would be lying if she said that she wasn’t a little intimidated at the moment.

She may have taken Prax mostly by surprise, but Eva was getting serious ‘Genoa’ vibes off this hunter. Eva doubted that she would be able to take on an injured Genoa, let alone one able to walk under her own power.

The best course of action might be to simply flee back to Zagan. He would surely be able to do something.

Unless the presence of the hunter distracted him enough for the knight to get a critical hit in.

And even if Eva fled, there was no guarantee that the hunter would follow. She might chase after Catherine.

Catherine was right. She wouldn’t die. She’d be back eventually.

But she wasn’t the only one there. Martina would be with her. And maybe the nurse.

Eva might have found it amusing that she was more worried for the nurse than Martina had the hunter not decided to charge straight at her.

Blinking past the hunter to the opposite side of the room, she ignited her hands. Blood was obviously not working on this person. Granted, she had only tried twice and neither of those attempts had been her giant blood-claw. That took time, unfortunately.

Time that I really don’t have, Eva thought as she tossed a small fireball at her opponent. She didn’t have time build it up more. She didn’t have the time to stand and watch the explosion.

The hunter twisted around the fireball as an icicle flew towards Eva.

Blinking again, Eva found herself just outside of the office, looking in through the broken window.

The fireball hit the ground, erupting with little more than a snap. Like a small firework going off.

For a moment, the two just stared.

Eva didn’t remain idle while staring. She built up a fireball in each hand, both larger than the earlier one. With slightly more distance between them, Eva actually had the time to do so.

“What are you? You’re not a demon.”

Eva opened her mouth to deny that claim. Except, perhaps she wasn’t a demon just yet. A few more treatments.

In the mean time…

“An abomination.”

The hunter blinked, confusion radiating from her eyes. The confusion gave way to about three other expressions, all competing for dominance. Anger, disgust, and maybe a little excitement. She then blinked again.

“Oh,” she said. “Ohhh, you’re the person that nun was talking about. I have to admit, I wasn’t paying much attention. She was kind of annoying. No. Really, really annoying. She kept going on and on about… well, you. I suppose.”

Waving her hand, the hunter opened her mouth to continue rambling. “Doesn’t really matter–”

As the hunter waved her hand, Eva caught a light glow on her rings.

Without hesitation, Eva blinked.

She snapped into being back inside the office, just to the side of the hunter.

Eva dropped both of her firebombs as a boulder made of ice crashed down into the window right where she had been standing.

Window blocked off, Eva blinked to a corner of the room and uncorked a vial of blood. Her own blood, all of Zagan’s blood was lying frozen on the floor. She formed up a blood shield around herself. All in the time it took for the two firebombs to fall to the floor.

Heat and flames filled the room. Strong enough that Eva could feel a small portion of it through her shield. Much of the already wrecked room turned to cinders. What wasn’t burnable was crushed under the pressure of the two bombs’ shock waves.

Eva’s shield was included in that second category. Demon blood would have been able to stand up to the explosions. Only using her own blood, the shield cracked and shattered after only a few moments of staying up.

Luckily, most of the power in the explosions had already been used up by the time the fractured shield collapsed. All that was left was the fire and the heat.

Neither really bothered Eva.

Except, there was more left behind. One thing stood out.

A pillar of ice, stretching from the ground to the ceiling.

Eva didn’t need her blood sight to tell that the hunter was still alive within.

Uncorking every vial of blood that she had left, Eva formed it all into a massive ball made up of thin rings. The rings all circled around each other, gathering to form a frame of blood wires. Spell set, she plunged both hands into the ball.

Two car-sized hands of blood, mirrors of Eva’s claws, appeared in the room in front of her. Eva pushed her hands farther into the rings of blood. The larger versions of her hands moved together, one of them scraping into a wall and tearing it apart as it continued forwards.

The palms of her blood-hands hit the ice pillar. Eva gripped it and squeezed.

Cracks formed in the ice, starting as small fractures before growing into larger and thicker crevasses.

The hunter was actually panicking now. Her accelerated heart rate and more frantic movements within the pillar were unusually satisfying.

At least, it was until her blood claws started to freeze. They were huge, several hundred times the size of the small globs of Zagan’s blood that the hunter had frozen earlier. But locked around the pillar of ice, slowly crushing it, ice started to form on the palms of the hands.

Eva redoubled her efforts, pressing her hands together as hard as she could, forcing more and more magic into the ball of blood to keep the hands under her control for as long as possible.

The top half of the pillar broke off, collapsing into one of the hands. Eva pulled her real hand out of the ball as if she had been stung. The blood forming the hand fell to the ground, forming a large pool of inert liquid.

Glancing down, Eva found small amounts of frost shining white against the normally black carapace of her hand.

Eva grit her teeth and focused on her remaining hand, crushing the top of the already damaged pillar where it was more brittle.

With the hand still freezing over, it was fighting against time.

And Eva didn’t feel like she was winning.

Pulling her hand away from the pillar, Eva lifted it up and over the broken top. Curling the hand into a fist, she slammed it back down.

The hand fell apart, shards of blood and ice scattered everywhere. Most of it went into the pillar of ice through a hole at the top from where the upper part had broken off.

The shards rained down on the inside, each as sharp as knives, cutting into the hunter.

Unfortunately, that was all they were. Tiny knives. Inflicting nothing more than superficial wounds on the woman inside her makeshift shield.

A moment of silence passed. Eva started building up more compressed flames. Dropping them into the top might be her best option.

Rather than tossing the fledgling fireballs, Eva found herself extinguishing them as she dove to the side.

The pillar exploded outwards. Not in shards, but heavy chunks each at least the size of a large brick.

On the ground and curled into a ball, Eva clasped her hands over her head. Just in time to feel a brick of ice hit the chitin on her arm. It sent a hairline fracture up the carapace, but nothing more.

Eva remained on the ground for a moment after the last brick had struck the wall. Just in case.

A moment too long.

The hunter jumped on top of her. Bleeding from hundreds of tiny cuts, the woman clasped a hand around Eva’s throat. Her other hand grasped towards Eva’s face.

Seeing where the woman was aiming all too clearly, Eva used both of her hands to keep her open hand away. Eva could do without a little air for a short time. She had lost her eyes once already and that was beyond enough for her.

Having been curled up, Eva’s legs were crunched up against her chest.

Between her body and the hunter.

Eva found herself grinning despite the vice-like grip on her neck. She kicked with both legs, sending the woman flying across the room with her letting out a short scream.

Flipping back to her feet, Eva rubbed her throat as the hunter got to her feet.

And she found her fingers running over her bare neck.

Thoughts of the hunter gone, Eva turned her attention to the floor around her. Searching, eyes roaming over everything.

“Looking for this?”

Eva’s eyes snapped to the hunter.

One hand was held up in front of her. From it, a thin black band dangled, swaying slightly in the air. A small black sphere hung off the band.

Arachne’s beacon.

“Give that back!”

“Hmm,” she hummed, tapping a finger to her chin. “You know? I don’t think I will.” She dropped the band, not taking her eyes off Eva as it bounced lightly against the floor. Moving the tip of her shoe over the beacon, the hunter grinned. Her voice took on a sing-song tune as she spoke. “I wonder what would happen if it were destroyed.”

“I said. Give. That. Back.”

“I–”

The hunter cut herself off. She blinked, taking her eyes off Eva and giving a glance around the room.

Eva took a step forward.

The hunter took her foot off the beacon. She had to in order for her to take a step backwards. She didn’t make it very far. When Eva had kicked her, she had slammed into a wall and hadn’t moved far from it. Far enough for a single step.

As Eva took another step forward, the hunter’s face twisted into a snarl.

She lifted up her foot and brought her heel down on the beacon.

As if in slow motion, Eva watched as the orb cracked and shattered to dust. A spiderweb of cracks started from her heel and spread out over the surface. The webs contained within exploded outwards, latching onto the hunter’s foot.

Eva saw red.

— — —

It is time.

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007.024

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Eva woke with a sheen of sweat coating her body. There was a twisting in her stomach, something she couldn’t quite explain. It wasn’t hunger. More like disgust or revulsion.

Something was wrong.

Throwing her blankets off, Eva took a look around her room in the women’s ward. Aside from the messy bed, everything was neatly organized. Her dresser held all of the various knickknacks that she had acquired over the past few years. None had been moved. Her room was just as she remembered leaving it the night before.

The windows were still barred and sealed. It was just barely getting dark out. Eva had decided to take a quick nap after having finished setting up her wards. With all the excitement, sleepless nights, and somewhat severe anemia in the recent days, she hadn’t wanted to fight demon hunters while in such a sorry state. She had intended to just take a short nap—she didn’t even sleep much these days anyway—but by the looks of things, she had somewhat overslept.

However, aside from the pale streaks of purple in the sky, nothing looked amiss outside of her room.

“So what is wrong?” she mumbled to herself as she threw on a shirt and a skirt.

Through the walls, Eva took note of her guests. Ylva, Catherine, and Prax were all out in the common room. None really appeared to be speaking to one another. Prax leaned against a far wall with his arms crossed in front of his chest. Ylva sat in a chair, reclining back with one arm on the armrest. She had her fingers curled underneath her chin, supporting her head as she stared off into the distance. Lying on the longer couch, Catherine fiddled with a cellphone.

Zoe and Juliana weren’t around at the moment. They must have gone back during Eva’s nap. Juliana’s father had given some strict instructions to Zoe regarding his daughter’s extracurricular activities. Something about a curfew.

She would have expected Zoe to return afterwards. Or send a message if she was in trouble.

A quick check of her cellphone showed no new messages.

As she was slowly becoming used to, Eva could sense all three of the demons in the other room. And more. The carnivean and the wax demon were somewhere around as well, though farther away. Along with all those demons was Zagan, though his presence was faint and in the vague direction of Brakket Academy.

But there was something else. Something disturbing.

Whatever it was, it had been the thing to wake her.

Pushing open the door to the common room, Eva looked around at the demons with her own eyes.

None of them turned to look at her.

“Do you feel it too?” she asked no one in particular.

“It’s Daru,” Catherine said in an exasperated tone of voice. She didn’t bother looking up from her cellphone.

Though, moving slightly closer and catching a glimpse over the succubus’ shoulder, Eva found herself surprised at the lack of a game on the screen. Rather, she was in some sort of drawing program, tracing out sigil-inscribed circles with her thumb.

Practicing? Or maybe continuing whatever she had been working on with Devon, Eva thought. Her own version of a treatment circle.

Eva shook her head. “Why does it feel like that? It’s… It’s… vile.”

“He’s in pain. Lots of pain,” Catherine said. “Active torture, I’d imagine. Enough to mess with his aura.”

“And we’re just sitting around?”

Catherine sighed as she set her phone on the couch cushion. She glanced over her shoulder and shook her head. “Martina might have asked me to help you out, but that doesn’t mean that I need to die for you. I rather like being around here. The mortal realm, that is.”

When Catherine failed to jump up and charge out to rescue Daru, Eva turned first to Ylva before moving on to Prax.

“It is a trap,” Prax said. “Your defenses give us the advantage over any who would attack us. Leaving their protections to rescue some morail would be foolish in the extreme.”

“So we’re just going to leave him to be tortured?”

As someone who had gone through torture herself, leaving someone else to such a fate did not sit right with her. Eva had recovered, true. Perhaps even becoming stronger than she had been before with the addition of Arachne’s limbs. But that didn’t mean that others would be the same.

“Eva,” Catherine said, sitting up on the couch. “What you fail to realize is that no one here cares about Daru. No one here cares about each other, except in how they will fare should we need to fight. So long as the others keep me from dying, they’re my best friends. The moment they become a liability to my continued existence…”

With a frown, Eva glanced towards Ylva, expecting at least the hel to deny having the same thoughts.

Ylva turned her head slightly, looking towards Prax. “The cambion’s assessment is correct. This is a trap. Wandering into it, blinded by revenge or some foolish heroism, would suit no one. The morail is not Our servant. His demise matters little.”

Eva closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

With how much she interacted with them on a daily basis, it was easy to forget that most of everyone who she knew was a demon. And not demons like Arachne.

Arachne cared. At least about her.

Maybe that was the problem. She had a skewed perspective because of Arachne. Eva was willing to grant that Arachne likely cared little for anyone else. The only reason why Arachne had helped anyone else was because of Eva asking her to.

“But I care,” Eva said, looking Catherine in the eye. “I care about Arachne. I want her back. She was–is my friend and my companion.” Eva’s hand drifted up to the beacon set around her neck.

“Along with that, I care about you. Ylva too,” Eva said, turning to face the hel. “And,” she started looking towards Prax before snapping her gaze back to Catherine. “Lucy too. If any of you were being tortured, I would jump in and try to save you.”

Silence greeted Eva’s proclamation.

No one moved. No one said a word.

At least, until Prax let out a loud snort.

That broke whatever spell held them still.

Catherine rolled her eyes and picked up her cellphone again while Ylva just looked up at Eva and stared.

“A foolish notion. Mortals lack the ability to permanently kill demons. Any sacrifice you make would be pointless in the end.”

“I might as well try,” Eva said, fiddling with Arachne’s beacon once again. “By that logic, there aren’t any downsides to trying. If none of us die when we’re killed…” Trailing off, Eva stared at Ylva. “Can I die? Permanently.”

The air chilled by a few degrees. Enough so that Eva’s breath condensed into faint puffs of fog as she breathed.

Eva took a step backwards as Ylva moved to her feet.

Though she wasn’t standing in any sunlight, her skin vanished. All that remained was the giant skeleton, stooping over slightly to fit under the relatively low ceiling of the women’s ward. Two tiny white pinpricks of light emanated from the depths of her empty eye sockets.

Eva tried to take another step back.

Ylva was too quick.

Her hand reached out, digging her bony fingers into Eva’s shoulder.

Ice flowed through Eva’s body.

Not just ice. Whatever it was, it was colder than ice. Turning her sense of blood in on herself, Eva could see her very veins freezing beneath her skin. It spread, starting at Ylva’s hand and spreading.

Down her arm.

Down her chest.

Up her neck.

Eva managed only a short scream before her throat froze over.

She was only barely conscious of Catherine staring at her with wide eyes. The succubus made no movements to intervene.

Neither did Prax. He hadn’t even shifted from his position against the far wall.

Those white pinpricks where Ylva’s eyes should be captured her, forcibly holding her gaze and what little attention she could muster.

Tendrils of ice reached up Eva’s neck.

The moment they touched her brain, everything went dark.

— — —

“No one is coming.”

What little there was of the demon had just been swallowed by Void. Bits and pieces of him had been left behind. Void only took the largest chunk of the demon that was still connected to either the brain or the heart, if either were still intact.

Gertrude snapped her tome shut.

“No one is coming,” she said again with a glance around the empty wilderness. “All that work. All for nothing.”

Clement followed her gaze.

They had set up just to the side of the main freeway that passed by Brakket City. Several demon traps had been set up. Slick icy patches created by Gertrude made up the proper rings and symbols for shackles. Some out in the fields around them to capture any that might come by. Even a few on the roads themselves.

Some demons liked to drive for whatever reason. Clement had never talked with one, but he imagined that they didn’t often drive if they ever wound up summoned again. The look on their faces when they drove over a set of icy shackles was one that made him extraordinarily grateful to Gertrude for enchanting his visor with magnification settings.

A demon’s car would find itself relatively unimpeded by the ice. The demon wasn’t so lucky. Even the strongest of demons would find themselves hard pressed to survive both impacting against the wall of shackles at above eighty miles an hour and the crumpling of their car around them when their body got in the way.

A perfect trap if ever there was one.

Except when demons didn’t show up.

“All this sneaking around and trapping,” Gertrude said. She put her fingers into her red hair, giving a light tug. Not hard enough to actually pull the hair out, just enough to try to relieve stress. “I can’t take it anymore. I want to fight. That girl ruined everything,” she said with a loud groan.

Clement placed his hand on his sword. “Are we taking the fight to them?”

“The city has less demons,” she said, not even paying attention to Clement. “Ahh, but it has the devil.”

“Will your enchantments work on him?”

“I suppose that depends entirely on how playful he’s feeling. I wouldn’t rely on anything but your sword. That should work on the Devil himself.”

Clement glanced down towards his boots, opening his mouth to ask.

Gertrude preempted his question. “No amount of speed will matter if he gets serious.”

“Then we must kill him before he gets serious.”

“A trickier task than simple words make it sound.”

“I can handle it.”

Bright white teeth appeared between Gertrude’s lips as their corners curled up high on her cheeks. “If you handle him,” she said with a hum, rubbing her chin. “That might work. You won’t get any support from me.”

Clement blinked. Possibly the most powerful foe they had ever faced and she wouldn’t be there? He suppressed the chill on his neck and gave Gertrude a nod. “If that is what you need of me. Shall we set up traps?”

“The first one might work for a few seconds. I wouldn’t expect anything to work twice.”

Tightening his fingers around his sword’s hilt, Clement took a deep breath. “A few seconds might be all I need.”

“Alright then,” she said, turning and stalking away from the mess of the demon. After taking one step, Gertrude paused. “There is one more thing.”

She tossed a small object towards Clement. With the enchantments on his visor and the rest of his armor, he hand no trouble spotting and catching it in the dim light.

A ring.

An old-fashioned signet ring. It was a dark metal, heavier than he expected though he had no trouble lifting it. Whether that was because of his armor’s enchantments or something Gertrude had done to the ring, he couldn’t say.

The signet part of the ring had heavy embossing. There were two main parts of the signet. The first, the outer circle, was full of dots and lines. Some lines were straight while others squiggled. None of the patterns made any sense to him.

The inner circle had a symbol that looked almost like an old-fashioned keyhole. There were a few excess lines around the keyhole along with the astrological symbols for Mars and Saturn.

“This is your ring,” he said, looking back to Gertrude. “Why give it to me? You aren’t planning on doing something foolish again, are you?”

“Me?” she said with a faux gasp, grasping at her chest as if she had just been struck. “Never!”

Gertrude took a deep breath, her countenance taking on a slightly more serious appearance.

“It’s called the Seal of Solomon,” she said. “Said to be able to seal any demon, including the seventy-two devils. Just press it into their skin and bam! One-way ticket to Hell.”

“Why me?”

“You offered to fight him,” Gertrude said with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t know if it will work. You know me,” she paused to crack her knuckles, “I prefer to drag these bastards back to Hell in pieces.

With that said, she turned back to the van and started walking, leaving Clement staring at the ring.

And wondering just how he was supposed to wear it with his gauntlets in the way.

Perhaps a small chain around his neck would work.

Shaking his head, Clement glanced back towards where their demon guest had been sent back to Hell.

Leaving the mess behind could present a potential hazard to any innocents who came across it. Though morail blood wasn’t caustic or toxic, it was still demon blood. He would hate to have to hunt down anyone who came into contact with the substance. Likely some random person followed by either mundane police or Brakket Academy personnel.

If it was the latter, he wouldn’t feel too guilty about it.

But Gertrude had already slipped through the window of their van. Roars of the engine filled the air as she revved up the vehicle. Three sharp blasts of the horn signaled her impatience.

With a sigh, Clement followed her footsteps and left the mess of the demon behind. With any luck, the remains would be picked off by carrion feeders. A lot harder to hunt down, but significantly less important than hunting down sentient beings.

He pulled open the rear doors of the van and climbed inside, setting the weight of his armor down on one of the reinforced seats.

Gertrude slammed on the gas pedal, lurching the van forwards, before he even had a chance to shut the door.

As usual.

— — —

An empty void. Nothing existed anywhere. There were no landmarks, no scents, no lights. Nothing at all. Nothing but cold.

Eva couldn’t feel her fingers. She couldn’t feel her toes.

And yet, it was somehow familiar. Except for the cold.

The hallway that she had been trapped in after being stabbed by Sawyer. Or rather, the void that she had fallen into just before waking.

Eva had taken the entire thing to be a near death experience brought on by the cursed dagger. Some delusion that her mind had wrought as a way of coping with her imminent demise.

That she was experiencing it again did not fill her with happy feelings. The implications elicited almost the exact opposite; feelings of dread.

Ylva had killed her. Or, at least came close enough to throw her back into a comatose state. A state that, last time, Eva had required outside assistance to wake up from.

Though, last time, the emptiness had immediately preceded waking up. Perhaps she wouldn’t need to muck about with the hallway this time.

Of course, she had retained the ability to feel things last time. Eva distinctly recalled using her claws to cut herself as a test. No matter how much she tried to move, she couldn’t feel even the slightest movement of her own body.

And she was trying.

With nothing else to do, Eva continuously tried to flex her fingers. Back and forth, back and forth.

Slowly yet surely, the lack of any feeling gave way to a sort of tingling numbness. The sort of feeling that happened when a limb fell asleep. It was painful, but not overly so. Nothing quite compared to having her eyes pulled out. Or even the curse from the blade.

As the numbness worked its way up her arms, Eva started trying the same with her legs. Anything to get more feeling in her body.

After a moment or two of working over her fingers, Eva had a thought.

If Ylva had frozen her body, what was the best way to get rid of that ice?

The answer was obviously fire.

Eva ignited her arms and legs.

Warmth poured into her. She didn’t go further than her carapace–the flames would end up going too far and taking her from frozen to extra crispy. A few warming spells around her chest and stomach helped, though not to the same degree.

Still, Eva was quickly regaining her range of motion.

And her hearing.

A buzzing at her ears that slowly grew louder. Shouts, perhaps?

Cries to put it out.

What are they talking about? The fire?

Eva couldn’t put it out. Not before she was thawed.

Casting a heating spell right in the middle of her face seemed like a good idea. If she could hear, maybe she could thaw out her eyes.

Seemed was the key word.

As the heat melted away whatever ice had frozen her eyes shut, Eva’s eyes burned. It was not the tingling numbness in her limbs. It was shards of ice digging into her eyelids and the flesh of her eyes.

It was not melting fast enough.

Eva strained through it with clenched teeth. She pulled her eyelids open with as much might as she could gather.

Which wasn’t all that much. For as strong as her hands and legs might be–and even the parts of her that were human–eyelids were not very powerful muscles.

Thin strips of light widened until Eva could see again despite that lack of strength.

Eva found herself staring at the ceiling of the women’s ward common room.

Ylva and Catherine stood over her. Ylva looked as elegant as ever.

Catherine had changed into singed tatters of clothes for some odd reason.

And the couch was on fire.

Eva closed her eyes again and just sat on the cold hard floor. She still felt iced over just about everywhere. Lifting her arm, she cast a few more warming spells all over her body.

Whether or not there was actually ice, she couldn’t tell. At the very least, she didn’t feel like she was lying in a puddle.

After spending a few minutes warming herself, Eva opened her eyes again.

Catherine had skulked off to the side, but Ylva still stood over her.

Eva opened her mouth only to find her jaw stiff. As if she had been clenching her teeth for far too long. Opening and closing her mouth a few times to stretch out her weary muscles, Eva tried to speak again.

“You killed me.”

“Only for a moment.”

Eva blinked, not having expected Ylva to outright admit it. She tried to push herself up. A combination of pain in her back and stiffness in her shoulders and hips kept her from succeeding. Even moving her arms was a chore.

After a moment of failure, Eva let herself flop back down to the floor, lying flat on her back. Her lack of ability to sit up did not detract from the glare she leveled at Ylva.

“You killed me!”

Ylva stared. Her cold eyes looked down at Eva without a shred of regret, remorse, or even sympathy.

It was enough to send a chill up Eva’s still frozen spine.

This woman–this demon was someone who Eva had come to trust. She had slept within the demon’s domain, walked with her on the streets, talked with and sought advice from her on occasion.

Now Ylva looked down with alien eyes devoid of emotion as if she couldn’t understand why Eva might find it alarming that she had just been killed.

“Why?”

“To ascertain the answer to your question.”

Eva would have shaken her head had she the strength to do so. Instead, she settled with merely closing her eyes. This is my fault somehow, isn’t it. Rather than ask a question that Eva was fairly certain she knew the answer to, she just opened her eyes and said, “can we maybe talk about killing me before actually doing so next time? No, wait. Let’s just not kill me next time.”

“There was no danger,” Ylva said with a slight tilt of her head. “We have long suspected that your soul is too corrupt to be gathered by psychopomps and ferried to the Land of Death.”

“That…” Eva actually did shake her head this time. Forcing herself into a sitting position despite the creaking protests of her body, she leaned against the small table.

The couch was still on fire, as were her hands and legs. There wasn’t much left of her skirt either. Eva took a brief moment to channel her magic into the flames, controlling, dampening, and finally extinguishing them.

“What if you were wrong?” Eva turned to Ylva with a glare. “What if I had actually died?”

“There was no danger. Our initial purpose in placing Ourself near you was to investigate the status of your soul. We succeeded in Our task and were not wrong.” Ylva paused for a moment with a blink of her eyes. “Had your soul been uncorrupted, repelling a reaper is a simple matter for a short time. Time enough to restore your body and soul for one such as Ourself.”

Eva stared with her mouth half-open as she processed what Ylva had said. It took another minute for her to figure out anything to say. “There are so many things wrong with what you just said that I don’t even know where to start.”

“We were not wrong,” Ylva repeated.

Eva clamped a hand around her face to keep her from shouting out at Ylva. Offending the servant of Death who could kill with a touch and had done just that was not a good idea. Eva was self-aware enough to realize that.

The disgusting feeling was gone, Eva noted with a certain disconnect. Either Daru was dead or he was done being tortured. Eva was leaning towards the former. She couldn’t feel anything of him. While that had been true for most of the day, Eva doubted that he would have been kept alive for very long.

At least he was out of that pain and suffering.

Despite her speech earlier, Eva couldn’t say how much she cared.

The fact of the matter was that she barely knew Daru. He wasn’t a Catherine or Lucy and was certainly not an Arachne. He wasn’t all dead like Eva’s mortal friends would have been in the same situation. So maybe all the demons had been right.

Though Ylva hadn’t needed to kill her to get the point across. Probably. Maybe being killed had put things into perspective. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and not one she would be eager to try again. Especially not for someone she didn’t know.

A minute of calmly breathing and thinking had Eva feeling much better. Both in terms of the icy stiffness that permeated her body and in terms of dealing with Ylva.

She would be extraordinarily careful in her wording of simple questions in the future. Especially ones relating to dying.

But the question still remained.

“So I’m not going to see Death soon,” Eva started, trying to figure out exactly how she wanted to word her question. “But… neither am I floating in some void with–” With Arachne, she couldn’t help but think. She shook her head, banishing the thought from her mind. “No portal opened around me, right? Or did you stop that as well.”

“Void’s hold over your soul is unstable. He attempted to draw you in, but failed.”

“So… So what happ– Without killing me again, what happens if my head gets chopped off right now?”

“Your soul will stagnate, unable to inhabit your mortal form. Separate from your body, any with a passing knowledge in the subject will be able to collect it. We recommend not dying outside of Our presence or outside of Hell if you wish to continue with your existence as it is.”

Eva shuddered. Was that what the hallway had been? Her disembodied soul trapped until her body had been repaired enough to inhabit it again? Unable to die and yet unable to be claimed by Void. Would she be stuck permanently?

“I hate to interrupt,” Catherine said. “I just got a text from Martina. Apparently one of the demon hunters is marching up to Brakket Academy.” She let out a long and obviously fake sigh. “Prax and I are to return at once, I guess.”

“Is there a need?” Eva stood up, taking a moment to make sure she wasn’t too wobbly. “Zagan should be able to handle anything, right?”

That was the whole purpose behind him sticking with Martina Turner after all.

“I hope so. Fighting is not my thing.”

“Shall we–” Eva started, glancing towards Ylva. She actually flinched back when she met Ylva’s eyes.

“Nel, Zoe, and Juliana are all within the city. We will take steps to protect them.”

“Right.” Eva slapped her cheeks. Ylva isn’t bad, she reminded herself, she just doesn’t think like regular people. “Okay. Let’s go.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.021

<– Back | Index | Next –>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clement jumped back, jerking away from his binoculars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall we intercept?”

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

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

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

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

Merely his swordsmanship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had taken his visor as well.

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

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

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

— — —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you bring her to a school?”

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

“And if they do come back?”

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

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

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

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

“I’m not a demon.”

“Then leave her to the hunters.”

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

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

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

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

“I–Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

“About the sky?”

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

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

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

“Sounds complicated.”

“I try not to worry about it.”

“That seems…. irresponsible.”

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

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

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

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

Catherine’s desk was empty.

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

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

“–can’t allow them to–”

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes were drawn over Martina’s shoulder.

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

Eva immediately realized her mistake.

She had seen this demon before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even her enhancements didn’t reach Hell.

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

“Of course I have.”

Eva blinked, not expecting the blunt response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I rescued Lucy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There are three of them including Prax?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.018

<– Back | Index | Next –>

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think I’m alright now.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Much better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re fully healed then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You stole my truck.”

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

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

“And you didn’t bring it back.”

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

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

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

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

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

Eva had an angry Devon to placate before then.

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

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

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

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

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

“And, it was for a good cause.”

“I am not a charity.”

“Sawyer is dead.”

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

“I don’t even know who that is.”

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

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

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

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

“Sawyer was kind of important.”

“To you.”

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

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

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

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

“I know who she is,” Devon snapped.

“Good! Is she back yet?”

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

“Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you moving around?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Probably?”

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

“You seem… calm about that prospect.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That human lived, right?”

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

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

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

“So meaan.”

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

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

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

Gathering her magic, Eva teleported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For drinking blood, that is.

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

Looked.

There was definitely something wrong.

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

“Whoa.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t seem to be.

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

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

“Are you alright?”

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

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

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

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

“Juliana, meet Serena. Serena, Juliana.”

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

“Uh huh. Umm, what–”

“A vampire.”

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

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

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

“Oh, is she up and about?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”

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

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

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

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

“Which two?” Eva asked with narrowed eyes.

<– Back | Index | Next –>

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


007.017

<– Back | Index | Next –>

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

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

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

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

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

And what a heat it was.

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

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

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

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

Almost.

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

Like he had intended to die just then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The heat remained, still radiating off the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When are we leaving?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s that. Can we go now?”

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

“Not yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Juliana?”

“She promised to summon and contract with me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Serena didn’t respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine, the lesser succubus.

What must her domain look like?

No sense speculating. She was about to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing really matched the iron elephant.

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

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

Well, yeah, I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t that she landed on something.

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

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

Or tentacles.

The latter made much more sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a terrible idea.

Taking a deep breath, Eva stepped forwards.

The tentacles in front of her retreated further back.

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

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

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

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

Her first thought was to head towards it.

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

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

Slowly.

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

One of those shadows came just a little too close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing jumped out at her.

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

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

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

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.016

<– Back | Index | Next –>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And she can’t make another circle?”

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

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

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

“So, this is Hell, huh?”

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

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

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

“Instead of a regular house or an apartment?”

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

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

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

What about Lucy? Or Zagan?

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

Their domains might give her ideas on her own domain.

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

Guests like Sawyer.

A few steps closer to her domain and Eva started smiling. She had found Sawyer. He was present in her blood sight up ahead, just outside of the main women’s ward building.

“Come, Nel. Let’s get Serena into a bed and then have some fun.”

“Fun?”

Eva glanced over her shoulder with a grin. “Are you forgetting that I sent Sawyer through first?”

Nel’s eyes widened. She started looking around like Sawyer might jump out of nowhere and attack her.

“Don’t worry,” Eva said with a laugh. “I know exactly where he is. He won’t hurt us.”

Although Nel didn’t look entirely convinced, she gave a slow nod and followed after Eva.

When she reached the courtyard before the women’s ward, Eva spotted several trap doors in the open state. Prax was standing over one of the ones closest to the entrance, glaring into the wide-open pit.

Moving up next to him, Eva looked down inside.

Sawyer sat in the pit. He grasped at one of his legs. A long metal spike had punctured straight through from just above his ankle to his knee. His other foot had a hole in it, but he had managed to pull it off the bloody spike. Looking up to Eva as she leaned over the edge, he smiled. It didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Nimble bastard,” Prax grumbled. “Jumped over three traps before I came out. I guess I was enough to startle him into the pit.”

“Slippery as well,” Eva said. “But there is no escape this time, Sawyer. As I said before, welcome to Hell. It might not live up to the biblical tales, but I will try my best.”

With that, Eva continued on towards the women’s ward. Sawyer wouldn’t be going anywhere. Even if he managed to climb out of the hole, there was nowhere to go. He could try for the waters, but Eva doubted that he knew enough about Hell to know what the waters were. If he had, he would have run to them first and avoided her women’s ward like the plague.

If he accidentally stumbled into the waters anyway, it probably wouldn’t do him much good. The first time that she had gone anywhere, she had accidentally gone to the abattoir. In retrospect, that was probably one of the better choices. Winding up in a domain like Willie’s could have been far more unpleasant.

So, if Sawyer wanted to take his chances, Eva would wish him luck. It wouldn’t be as satisfying as torturing him herself, but other demons probably had much more experience than she did.

Eva’s focus was on Serena for the moment.

It was worrying. She still hadn’t moved the slightest bit. Eva didn’t know a thing about vampires, but this couldn’t be healthy. For all she knew, she was carrying around a corpse.

A real corpse.

Carrying Serena into her room, Eva set the vampire down on her bed. She tried to straighten her neck as much as possible in the hopes that vampire healing would work its magic. Beyond that, she had no idea what to do.

“Unless…”

Eva glanced around. Nel and Prax were both still outside, keeping an eye on Sawyer.

Alone with Serena, Eva pried open her jaw to expose her sharp fangs.

Eva’s forearms would be the easiest part of her to use, but they were covered in hard carapace up to her elbows. She tried for a moment to get her upper arms into Serena’s mouth. After a few minutes of awkwardly changing position, she gave up on that.

Eva leaned over the vampire and rested her neck inside the wide open maw. She half expected Serena to jump up and bite down of her own accord, but the vampire was still unmoving.

With a shake of her head, Eva pulled away. “What am I doing?” she mumbled to herself. “Am I a blood mage or not?”

Pulling out her dagger, Eva sliced a cut on her upper arm.

Blood started trickling down into the vampire’s mouth after a little manipulation on Eva’s part.

To create the transference circle, Eva had shed a good deal of her blood. Now she was giving up more. It probably wouldn’t be a problem. She would be a little light-headed from the anemia, but she wasn’t expecting any sort of fight in the near future. Even with Sawyer around.

The blood just pooled in the back of Serena’s mouth. She had wanted the vampire to swallow it herself, but that wasn’t looking like it was going to happen. Eva sent it all down Serena’s throat to her stomach.

Blood safely inside Serena’s stomach, Eva stepped away from the body. It still wasn’t moving, but hopefully it would just take time.

Eva was feeling somewhat guilty over not letting the vampire drink her blood before. If she was dead, she would never get to enjoy it.

But there was nothing more that she could do at the moment.

Pushing the guilt and worry from her mind, Eva put on a smile as she stepped back outside the women’s ward.

Nel, contrary to Eva’s expectations, did not appear wary of Prax in the slightest. She stood at his side with a hateful gaze locked on Sawyer. So focused was her gaze that Eva wondered if the augur had even realized that Prax was a giant, red-skinned, horned demon with muscles capable of snapping her in two if he decided he didn’t like her.

On the other hand, Prax had clearly taken notice of Nel. He was leering at her with a fanged grin just as one might expect from the spawn of a succubus.

Actually, it might have been more of a curious stare than anything nefarious. His demonic features removed a lot of the innocence from his looks. As far as Eva knew, cambions had none of the proclivities that succubi possessed. Shalise had never mentioned him being anything less than a gentleman, anyway.

That was if the rumors about succubi were true in the first place. Catherine sure didn’t fit in with the popular depiction. Sexy and easily able to draw attention, definitely. Anything beyond that still remained to be seen.

Shaking her head, Eva cleared her throat. Only Prax looked up, but that was fine. Eva waved him over.

“While I do appreciate you capturing him, I hope that you wouldn’t do that to everyone that shows up here. Some might be friends.”

“I could tell that he was not your ‘friend,'” Prax said with a sneer. “Your domain was hostile to him. So I was as well.” His sneer twisted into a grin, punctuated with a short chuckle.

“Really? Huh.” That was good to know. Of course, unless her domain had been the one to activate the trap doors, it probably hadn’t done anything aside from informing Prax. Maybe something could be set up in the event that she had future prisoners.

Prax’s deep bass voice interrupted her thoughts. She made a mental note to ask him about domain defenses later.

“I want out of here.”

“You’re free to leave,” Eva said with a shrug, intentionally misunderstanding the demon. “Were the enigmas too much for you?”

“They have not been around since you all left.”

Eva blinked in confusion. Prior to rescuing Shalise, they had been showing up with alarming regularity. Now they were just gone?

Unless it had been Shalise and Lynn that had been attracting them. In which case…

Eva’s head snapped to the side as a crack of thunder shattered the silence.

Nel, standing over the pit, had her withered arm outstretched. The glove that normally covered the arm was lying on the ground. A small trail of steam was coming off her fingertips.

Running over, Eva was glad to note that Sawyer’s heart was still beating. His right arm, the same one that had his still existing hand, had ruptured. The scarring to his blood vessels looked distinctly familiar. Eva had seen enough injuries caused by nun lightning to recognize what had happened.

Injured, but he wasn’t dead yet. Though, with the amount of blood around him, that was slightly surprising.

“Nel–”

“He deserved it.”

“I’ve no doubt about that,” Eva said, looking down at the lightning burn marks on his arm. “Why don’t we get him out of there and take him inside.”

Glancing down in the pit herself, Eva frowned. “But first,” she said as she reached behind her back. Curling her fingers around the hilt of her dagger, Eva knelt over the pit containing a certain unhappy necromancer. She dug it deep into his shoulder with all the force that she could muster.

Sawyer didn’t make a noise. In fact, he started smiling as he glanced down at the dagger.

The smile was slightly unnerving, but Eva ignored it. The more of his blood flowed over her dagger, the more he was under her control. Eva left the dagger in his chest as she stood back up. It was too late for him to grab it and use it against her. He would be dead faster than the vampire that had tried to call him.

Some of the blood that she had control of moved down to his leg and foot, blocking off circulation. Messy and it would potentially ruin the limb for all future use. Eva didn’t really care. The spike from his ankle to his knee had actually punctured through some major blood vessels. The spike itself was keeping his blood in, but that wouldn’t be the case once he got out of the pit. She only needed him alive long enough.

Eva looked up towards Prax. “Mind helping me get him out of there? No need to be careful. I’ll keep him from bleeding to death.”

Prax’s lip curled. Not quite a smile, nor a sneer. It was just him baring his teeth. With a clipped grunt, he reached into the pit and grasped Sawyer’s unstabbed shoulder. His claws dug into Sawyer’s flesh and even his bone as Prax used a single hand to yank the necromancer out of the few foot hole.

Sawyer still hadn’t made any noise.

Though it had been fading, Eva was extremely grateful that kicking Sawyer into Hell had broken the effects of her blood ritual. Sawyer looked to be in a sorry state, covered in blood and with several holes in his body. Eva had no desire to feel even a second of that sorry state.

Besides, being able to feel his pain would only ruin what she had planned for next.

Taking over for Prax, Eva dug her own claws into Sawyer’s arms and started dragging him into the women’s ward. His legs were trailing limp along the ground and he made no effort to fight against her.

And he was smiling.

Eva hated the feeling that she was missing something. The idea that he still had some card up his sleeve was preposterous. They were in Hell, Eva’s own domain. He was missing one hand, his legs were unusable, she had control over most of the blood in his body, and he had three enemies here. One of whom was a full-blooded demon.

For just a moment, Eva thought Sawyer might have convinced Prax of something in the brief time between his and Eva’s arrivals. Prax had just barely expressed a desire to leave Hell, unless Eva grossly misunderstood him. Maybe Sawyer had promised to summon him.

But then why would Prax have told her that he wanted to leave? Whatever the case, she would try to mollify him if he brought it up again. Zoe could probably summon him. Or Nel could be persuaded.

Technically, they weren’t supposed to be summoning demons. But Eva had already broken that rule. What was one more summon?

Her thoughts reassured Eva. Whatever Sawyer thought that he was planning, it wasn’t going to work.

Lacking any kind of real torture chamber in her little home, Eva just threw Sawyer right into one of the seats in her common room. She pulled her dagger out of his shoulder and sheathed it.

Enough of his blood was under her control that leaving it in wouldn’t do much more.

She did make sure to plug up the wound with hardened blood. The shoulder had many major blood vessels. He could bleed out in minutes.

Minutes would be far too fast for him. Eva wanted him to suffer.

“Comfortable,” Sawyer quipped as he settled into the chair.

“I do apologize for not being able to meet your standards in my accommodations. I hope you won’t mind.”

“It leaves something to be desired.”

“Well, I’m afraid I must disappoint further.” Eva reached out, taking hold over his ring finger and bent it straight backwards.

Sawyer didn’t appear to notice despite the sickening snap. The hand was stitched to him. It was entirely possible that he had absolutely no feeling in it, but Eva had been hoping for some sort of reaction.

Ignoring it for the moment, Eva just flashed a small grin. “All those fancy tools you had for me… I don’t have anything similar here.”

“A shame, to be sure.”

“Nonsense!” Eva dug her claws into his middle finger and crushed her hand into a fist. Not only could she hear the snapping of his bones, but also the blood and flesh that leaked out and ran over her smooth carapace. “This way is far more intimate.

“But I can’t have all the fun,” Eva said as she wiped the finger pulp off on the side of the chair. She turned around to find Nel actually shying away while eying the smear of blood on the chair. “Nel? He has a finger and a thumb left.”

The augur blanched, taking a step back.

Eva rolled her eyes. Given that she had just fired lightning at him while he was helpless and likely hadn’t provoked her, her shying away from a little harmless torture was somewhat disappointing.

Though, Eva wasn’t feeling the torture herself.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

This was to be her revenge. She finally had Sawyer helpless. Thinking back to when he had her strapped to a chair barely got Eva fired up.

Part of it was because of his smile. His failure to cry out in pain as she crushed his finger didn’t help matters. Eva wanted to hear his screams, but that wasn’t happening. The other part of it might be her mindset. It just wasn’t satisfying. Serena had her worried and being watched by the obviously squeamish Nel had her spirits dampened somewhat.

Maybe she didn’t have the inclinations to be a proper torturer.

Prax was standing back a short distance, watching with obvious disapproval on his face.

Probably thinking about how much better he could be as the torturer.

Steeling herself, Eva turned back to Sawyer with a glare. Even if she wasn’t feeling it, that was no excuse to let him off easy.

“I guess it’s just me and you right now.”

“I’d be disappointed if you handed me off to others.”

Eva gripped his hand as a whole and crushed the entire thing all at once. “You took my fingers, my toes, and my eyes. I really don’t care about your toes and your hands are mutilated enough.”

“My eyes then,” Sawyer said with a smile.

Lip curling in distaste, Eva shook her head. “Eventually.”

There was something else that she wanted to take from Sawyer more than his eyes.

Lifting up her hand, Eva moved the sharp tips of her claws towards his face no faster than particularly viscous honey flowing down a slight decline. She was hoping that the apprehension of not knowing where she was targeting would make Sawyer squirm at least a little. Unfortunately, that was a failure.

Sawyer kept his eyes locked onto Eva’s eyes, seemingly taking no notice of her hand.

An inch away from his face, Eva shot her hand forwards. Her claws found their way into his mouth. Pinching his teeth between her fingers, Eva squeezed.

Teeth were hard. That was essentially their entire purpose. For a scum of a necromancer who wound up eating dead flesh that fell into his food, Sawyer’s teeth were actually well cared for. Perhaps that was why he smiled so often; he wanted to show off all the hard work he put into his teeth.

Unfortunately for poor Sawyer, Eva’s fingers were stronger.

Shards of calcium exploded between her fingers.

The top row of Sawyer’s front teeth was just stubs and his gums.

Twisting her hand around, Eva dug her claws into the bottom of his jaw. She broke off the teeth from partway through his gums. His stumps of flesh started to fill his mouth with blood.

Eva pulled her hand out of his mouth and smiled.

“Your incessant grin looks so much better now.”

Sawyer twisted his head to one side and spat, expelling as many of the shards as he could.

When he looked back, Eva couldn’t actually tell whether or not he was trying to smile.

It was a definite improvement.

“Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what next? Nel, Prax,” Eva turned her head over her shoulder, “any ideas?”

The red demon’s scowl twisted into a grin. “If you are going for pure mutilation, there is a spot on any man which cannot be topped.”

Eva narrowed her eyes. Of course the cambion’s mind would head in that direction. Obviously she had been wrong about him being dissimilar to succubi. She did not want to touch Sawyer anywhere around there.

Although, Eva thought as she turned back to Sawyer, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea.

Sawyer’s eyes were wide. Even with his mutilated mouth, he didn’t appear to be smiling in the slightest. It was probably the first thing that actually caused a spike in his heart rate as well.

If it was the one thing that could get him to lose his cool, who was Eva to pass it up?

But she still wasn’t going to fondle him or anything resembling such an act.

Thankfully, her hands weren’t her only inhumanely strong limbs.

Lifting up a foot, Eva brought it down right on top of Sawyer’s groin. Sawyer drew in a sharp gasp as Eva crushed everything all the way to his hip bones. Grinding her foot in, Eva was almost disgusted by how his organs compressed and ruptured beneath her foot.

Blood and viscera dripped off the edges of the chair. Eva was holding most of it in, but some of the blood was outside of her control. His intestines and stomach and spleen and whatever other organs were falling out of the suddenly opened cavity were just a bit too heavy for her to contain. Not that she cared all that much about keeping it in. As long as she kept his blood circulating through any ruptures, he’d live for now.

And that’s really all Eva needed.

Sawyer started coughing. Blood and spittle flew from his mouth as his coughs shifted in tone.

Eva grit her teeth.

Sawyer was laughing.

“‘oo should haff killed me when ‘oo had the chance,” he mumbled out through his broken teeth.

“Wha–”

Eva didn’t have a chance to question what he meant.

Sawyer’s heart seized up. His eyes rolled back up in his head the moment it did so.

Using her blood magic and her control over his blood, Eva tried to force his circulation. Carrying his blood through his lungs and the empty air itself in an attempt to oxygenate it enough to keep his brain alive.

Despite her efforts, Sawyer slumped over in the chair, arms and head all falling limp as he moved.

“No,” Eva hissed.

She clenched her fists even as she stepped forward. With as much haste as she could, Eva clasped her hands on either side of his face and shoved her thumbs into his eyes. The twin orbs burst beneath the pressure of her claws, spilling blood and clear liquid all over her carapace.

Her fingers dug into his skull, burrowing through the bone until she reached his brain.

“You should have waited before killing him,” Prax said. “Let him feel the pain and humiliation a little longer.”

Eva pulled her fingers out of Sawyer’s skull, flinging blood and brain matter to the floor. “It was all too late,” she hissed. “He died before he even felt his eyes explode.”

“Died? You must have damaged the wrong spot.”

Eva shook her head. “I hit nothing. He knew he was going to die. He killed himself, taking the satisfaction away.” Turning around, Eva was about to ask Nel if she had any ideas on what happened.

The augur was lying on the ground, eyes closed.

“She passed out around the time your foot passed through his body,” Prax said with a deep grunt.

Eva just stared.

In a way, it was something of a relief. Her torturing Sawyer just hadn’t felt right. With him dead, she could rest easy. At least on the necromancy front. Des was still around, but she was just a little girl. If she carried that mummified corpse around with her constantly, she could be problematic. Between Eva, Nel, Ylva, and Zoe, they should be able to find a way to neutralize it.

For the time being, Eva just shook her head again. Leaving Nel on the floor, Eva walked off towards the shower room.

She was feeling somewhat drained. Getting the remains of Sawyer off her seemed like a good way to start feeling rejuvenated again.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.031

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Shalise jumped to her feet, ready for another attack. Lynn was at her side in an instant.

It was somewhat off-putting. Lynn’s lightning and fire was far more effective at dealing with the enigmas than anything Shalise could put out. Sure, her muscles were strong and afforded her a certain level of toughness that she would otherwise lack, but not a single one of the creatures had actually made it within grappling range since Eva had brought along Lynn.

She shouldn’t be complaining, but Lynn just looked so exhausted. Dealing with the constant attacks kept her from having a proper sleep schedule.

This time, however, both women sagged in relief as they spotted just who it was approaching the alternate women’s ward.

Zoe and Eva were walking slowly, carrying something heavy between the two of them.

“She actually got it,” Lynn mused under her breath. “I half expected to never see her again.”

Shalise gave Lynn a frown, but didn’t respond. She threw open the door to the women’s ward and ran out across the closed trap doors to see if she could help out in any way. They were carrying her salvation, supposedly.

Salvation? You were not complaining while using me to escape from the prison.

Shaking her head with a frown, Shalise shot a mental glare at Prax. She was fairly certain that she had been complaining. Even before he had taken over her body.

That was entirely unintentional. I did not intend for us to become stuck this way.

“Sounds like you’re complaining about what might get us unstuck.”

There was an uncomfortable shift in the back of her mind. Between Zagan and the dolls, he started. Whatever he was going to say vanished with a spike of annoyance.

“Well, I can’t stay here. Even with Lynn here, those things will eventually kill me. Then you’ll be stuck dealing with Zagan and the dolls anyway.”

Brushing off the resignation from Prax, Shalise raised her voice to more conversational levels. “Is that the obelisk? Do you need help?”

“Just hold the door and show us where to put it.”

Eva’s words came out quick and strained, so Shalise wasn’t about to argue. She ran up to the door and kept it from swinging shut on them while Lynn directed them to the circle she had drawn.

“Set it down here,” Lynn said. “The corner needs to point towards the center of the circle.”

Zoe and Eva complied without complaint. Once the obelisk was in place, they both heaved out great sighs of relief. Eva collapsed into the couch that had been shoved against the far wall while Zoe just leaned against its armrests, sheathing her dagger as she panted.

Pathetic. Prax’s amusement was almost palpable. We could have lifted that with one hand.

“Shalise,” Lynn said, “strip down while I get everything set up.”

Feeling the heat in her face, Shalise almost protested. Zoe and Eva were still at the couch, now talking softly to one another while Zoe pointed at the ritual circle. Lynn had already moved on to the backpack that Eva had slung on the floor. She pulled a white feather out of the bag and placed it carefully within a small circle at the side of the larger circle.

No one was paying attention to her.

I am paying attention.

“Don’t be a creep,” Shalise hissed as she pulled off her shirt.

Despite his words, Shalise couldn’t feel a hint of interest towards herself from Prax. It was just him being annoying again. A way of protesting his imprisonment within her body without angering her too much.

Maybe he wanted her to summon him once they got out.

That wouldn’t happen, though Juliana had offered to summon him back at the prison. If Shalise never interacted with him again, she wouldn’t be too upset.

But he hadn’t been that bad. He did get both herself and Juliana out of the prison safely and with their souls intact.

And the conflicting combination of anxiety and eagerness towards the ritual had Shalise feeling just a little pity for him.

He would be back in his own body, but had Zagan and the dolls to worry about, as he had just mentioned a short while ago.

Setting her folded clothes neatly to the side of the room, Shalise sat at the edge of the circle, trying and failing to cover herself as much as possible.

Why bother? Everyone in this room has seen you in various states of undress.

“Not this undressed.”

Mortal sensibilities, he scoffed.

Shalise kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to encourage his antics. He was just as nervous as she was, but his way of relieving that tension did not agree with her.

“Center of the circle, Shal. Remain standing and face me.”

After jumping slightly at being addressed, Shalise stepped into the circle. She moved to her spot, making certain that she didn’t scuff any of the markings on the floor.

Facing Lynn meant facing the door. Her back was to the obelisk.

An assortment of items lay out in an array around her. Sigils and markings were covering the floor, all designed to direct the magic in certain patterns, to make them flow through the objects, and all sorts of things that Shalise didn’t pretend to understand.

Both Eva and Zoe moved to stand near Lynn at the front of the circle, though Lynn moved back as soon as they came near.

Taking a bag of white powder in her hands, Lynn moved around to the obelisk behind Shalise.

Craning her neck to see, Shalise watched as Lynn opened the top of the obelisk and started pouring the powder inside.

As she did, the markings and sigils on the obelisk started to glow. It was a pale, white light that sent a shiver of disgust through her body.

Once full, Lynn replaced the cap of the obelisk and returned to the head of the circle.

“We’re going to start now,” she said. “Try to remain standing. Everything will be alright.”

Shalise took a deep breath, nodding.

As she nodded, she caught sight of her shadow. The light of the obelisk filled most of the room, so it wasn’t unusual that she would have a shadow.

But the shadow looked like Prax. She could see his hooves, his horns, and his muscles. Concerning, as Shalise’s arms were currently her own. No Prax’s muscles bulging through her skin. It was also far taller than it should have been, given the angle of the light.

Glancing up, Shalise frowned.

Neither Sister Cross nor Zoe had any shadow to speak of, as if the light was passing straight through them.

“Huh,” Eva said, back turned to Shalise to look at her own shadow.

Things sprouted off the back of Eva’s shadow. Like oddly angled wings made of bones. Except they couldn’t be bones. They were far too fluid. Liquid dripped off the tips of the bones to rejoin the mass of shadow making up the rest of Eva’s body.

There was more to the shadow. Shalise couldn’t see it very well. Eva’s body stood in the way to obscure most of it.

Without a word or glance at the others, Eva walked out the door and disappeared around the side of the women’s ward. Shalise didn’t see her pass by the window, so either she was walking straight out or she had chosen to rest against the wall.

Zoe started to follow, but appeared to change her mind as she set her eyes on Shalise.

Lynn took a step back. She looked over the circle, double checking everything for the hundredth time. Once satisfied, her eyes lit up like they did anytime she used her powers. She started chanting.

Shalise didn’t recognize the words. They weren’t English. Probably–

Latin, Prax confirmed. She could feel an air of dread coming from the back of her mind. I do not think that either of us are going to enjoy this.

“What do–”

Shalise couldn’t get her question out before the pain started.

A tearing, ripping sensation pulled at her back. Prax’s dormant muscles spasmed. They grew under her skin, then shrank, then grew again. Every time, they seemed to be just a little less attached. Her natural muscles strained as they pulled against each other.

All the while, Shalise screamed. Like the rest of her body, her brain felt like it was being torn apart.

Prax’s screams faded in and out of the back of her mind. Unlike her, he needed no air to continue his screams. His vocal chords weren’t wearing and tearing from the stress. His screams came in a constant tone.

Shalise couldn’t say how long it lasted. She was fairly certain that her consciousness lapsed more than once, only to be brought back by the crescendo of pain.

It ended with a sudden thud and a hot, wet, and sticky sensation against her chest.

Shalise slumped forward. The ground was quickly approaching.

She stopped inches away as a pair of arms caught her and pulled her into a tight embrace.

“It’s alright,” Lynn’s voice came faint and distant. “Shal, you’re okay. It worked.”

Shalise blinked twice, trying to clear her mind of the lingering pain. She was pressed tight against Lynn’s body, her head resting on the older woman’s shoulder.

Behind her back, Prax–red skin, horns, bulking body and all–lay face down on the ground.

Eva stood over him, nudging him slightly with her foot while Zoe stood to the side with her dagger out. When Eva had reentered the room, Shalise couldn’t say. She had no idea how long that ritual had lasted. Her muscles screamed at her as if she had been running three marathons in a row, but it had only felt like a moment or two.

A splattering of red and black blood lay about between Shalise and Prax.

Seeing Prax, Shalise’s eyes felt heavy. She tried to keep them open. She wanted to stay awake.

After two more blinks, she found it too difficult to lift them again.

“We’ll let her rest for a few hours,” Lynn’s voice came, distant and quiet. “Then we can return.”

“Fine with me,” Eva said from even farther away. “Keep watching her and don’t worry. If any of the enigmas attack, I’ll deal with them.” A certain violence entered Eva’s voice, one that Shalise couldn’t recall hearing before. “I hope more of the enigmas attack.”

There was a sound not dissimilar to the cracking of knuckles.

“I could use a little cathartic release at the moment.”

Her voice trailed off into a deep silence as Shalise lost consciousness.

— — —

“It’s time.”

Nel jumped at Ylva’s words. She had been concentrating.

Sawyer was on the move. At least, she assumed that Sawyer was on the move.

It was just her luck that he would have noticed that his augur shield wasn’t working. After preparing the salt for Eva, she had immediately returned to watching him.

He had been in the middle of surgery on the little girl when Nel got to her altar. While the girl had torn off the violet-colored organ attached to his hand, there were still traces of it left. Veins, purpler than they should be on a person, bulged from his skin.

He didn’t seem to pay it much mind, choosing to focus on the surgery. In just a single half hour, he had done something that caused everything to go dark.

Likely by repairing whatever he had done with Nel’s eyes.

But all was not lost. After a few minutes of experimentation, Nel found them again. She couldn’t actually see them–anything within a few mile radius just vanished from her sight. But she could monitor that blotch of darkness. The edges of it moved around. Not much, it presumably moved as the little girl moved.

Still, it allowed Nel to track their general movements, if not their exact position.

Five days after Sawyer had repaired the girl, they had started moving north. Not quickly. They made frequent stops in areas that held tiny towns. Perhaps ones that were just large enough to have a motel or some other hostel.

After three days of travel, they had crossed the Nevada border into southern Idaho.

Nel had a feeling that she knew their final destination, even if they weren’t heading towards Brakket Academy in a straight line.

She had been hoping that Eva would be up to enact their revenge on Sawyer sometime before Ylva closed off her domain, but that didn’t seem to be all that likely anymore.

Nel glanced up at Lady Ylva and gave her a resigned nod.

“Shall I stay here? Or do you need me somewhere specific?”

Ylva stared. She didn’t blink or tilt her head to either side, she just stared in silence.

Anyone else might have missed it, but Nel knew her mannerisms well enough after a year and a half of being constantly in her presence.

Lady Ylva was confused.

“You wish to stay?”

Ice cold fear gripped Nel’s heart. This was it. She had allowed herself to grow complacent–comfortable even–as Lady Ylva’s aide.

Now she was being thrown away. Dismissed.

Killed?

Nel could feel her breath quickening.

No. Not killed. Sister Cross had tried to kill her. Discretely, true, but the evidence was plain to see from her position.

If Lady Ylva wanted her dead, she would be dead. There were no superiors to hold Lady Ylva accountable for the death of an augur. No one to complain about all the effort it took to replace an augur.

But Ylva was sending her back to Earth?

Nel wouldn’t miss it. She hadn’t stepped outside of Ylva’s domain more than three times in the past year and not a single one of those times had anything good happened. Generally, it was the exact opposite.

No. Nel wanted to stay.

Nel’s eyes flicked from Lady Ylva’s face to just over her shoulder.

Alicia stood a step behind Ylva, still wearing the dark robes that Nel wore. Her eyes were narrowed in Nel’s direction, but her face was otherwise impassive.

Had she been asked to stay in place of Nel? Or had she chosen to stay?

Was it a choice?

“I want to stay with you,” Nel blurted out.

Lady Ylva nodded. A faint smile touched just the very edges of her lips.

That had been the expected response? Or it was a test?

Nel sagged in her seat at the altar as the tension drained from her body. She spent a moment trying to get her hyperventilating under control.

“Very well,” Lady Ylva said, taking no apparent notice of Nel’s distress. “Gather everything that cannot be left behind. Join Us in the throne room after.”

Nel’s breath hitched in her throat. She glanced up with confusion in her eyes.

Lady Ylva had already turned. Her long platinum hair and low-cut dress swung in the air, trailing after her as she left the room.

Alicia shot a look before turning to follow. Nel wasn’t quite certain what to make of it. Amusement? Ire?

With every passing day, Nel found herself liking the other former nun less and less.

Maybe I misunderstood the question. She was suddenly extremely relieved that she hadn’t said that yes, she wanted to stay.

But she had been left with an order.

Nel did not have much. She came to Ylva with nothing but the tattered remains of her Elysium Order habit. Everything she had, everything she wore, everything she ate, all of it was provided by Lady Ylva.

Aside from a few spare changes of clothes, there was only one thing that she could think to take.

Her fetters.

Most had containers already. Only the one she had most recently been using, Sawyer’s hand, was out of its jar. Nel wasted no time in sealing it up and dropping it into a bag.

She glanced around, ensuring she had everything. Several strands of hair, Sawyer’s hand, the little girl’s friend’s blood. She hesitated in taking the brass sphere that the devil had given her, but decided that throwing away a fetter wouldn’t do anyone any good, even one as disturbing as that.

And that was everything Nel could think to bring. She headed out to the main throne room.

Lady Ylva stood near the exit doors alongside Alicia and one of the professors.

It took a moment to understand the reason for the professor’s presence. Her apartment had been connected to Ylva’s domain as well.

“Ready,” Nel said as she ran up to the group.

“Let Us proceed,” Ylva said, moving to leave her domain.

The two former nuns and the professor all followed her out, with the professor watching Ylva like a hawk.

Once everyone was outside, Ylva gripped the handle of the door and swung it shut. She held on for just a moment longer than necessary.

“It is done.”

“That’s it?” Zoe asked, her voice carrying a hint of disbelief.

Ylva gestured one arm towards the door.

Accepting the wordless invitation, Zoe stepped up and opened the door once again.

Gone was the gigantic room, the pit, the throne, and the storm clouds overhead. What lay behind the door was indistinguishable from any other cell block in the compound.

“What do you intend to do now?” Zoe asked without taking her eyes off the interior of the building.

“The necromancer is still at large. We would stay near your presence until his termination.”

“Because of the ring,” Zoe said, thumbing the black band on her finger. With a slight jump in her stance, she tore her eyes from the cell block and stared at Ylva. “Juliana still has hers. She’s been gone all this time.”

“Juliana has had Our personal attention for a time,” Ylva said, holding up one placating hand. “For the time, We may send Ali to watch over her. It would be preferable were she to return.”

Alicia opened her mouth just a hair. She snapped it shut in an instant.

Nel didn’t much care. She was too busy staring into what used to be Ylva’s domain.

There was something that she had forgotten.

She could almost feel the tears welling up at the corners of her eyes.

With a heavy heart, Nel wondered if she would ever see Lady Ylva’s bath again.

— — —

Embarrassed.

That was the only word that Riley Cole could think of to describe her situation.

Perhaps not her situation, but the situation of the Elysium Order.

They were an upstanding organization that hunted down the evils that lurked in the night. Anything that threatened human life or livelihood. Vampires, undead, zombies, liches, ghosts, ghouls, revenants, wights, wraiths, and even mummies. All fell in the name of protecting the living.

And yet, they had wound up a laughing stock. The inquisitors had been decimated. The few survivors claiming that a literal god of Death had stripped them of their powers. Scattered incidents around the country involving demons had further hampered their efforts to keep the living alive.

They had tried to keep the theft of the Obelisk of the Pure Moon quiet. The thieves had the gall to return it. When they did, they ensured that everyone in the area knew it was there.

Luckily, a stone obelisk with a handful of fireworks going off around it down the road from the cathedral had been passed off as a simple curiosity. No one who saw understood the significance of the obelisk.

Riley recognized the demon that had perished in the cathedral. As had a number of the Charon Chapter nuns. It had been standing on the roof overlooking their warehouse the night of the riot.

It all stemmed from here. Prioress Cross–Former Prioress Cross had antagonized the wrong people at Brakket City. They had spent far too much time around the city itself when they should have been hunting the necromancer. Their augur had been tied up spying on students rather than searching through caves, warehouses, and other necromancer haunts.

Given the demon infestation in the area, Riley could see the logic behind it.

But they were not demon hunters. They were undead hunters. Former Prioress Cross had failed to follow regulations. If she had truly been concerned about the demons, she should have put out the word for hunters to find. Otherwise, they should have stuck to hunting the necromancer and left the demons well enough alone.

Riley had lost more than one good friend to Cross’ madness.

The demons were the ones embarrassing the Elysium Order as a whole, now.

That could no longer stand.

“The tip was right. I would call this a ‘cursed city.'”

One of her companions–Riley restrained a sneer at thinking the word–had his head tilted towards the sky.

She couldn’t actually see his face. His entire body was encased in an armor that was, frankly, medieval. There was nothing to see of his face, the thin slit for his eyes was not wide enough to let any usable amounts of light inside. Faint clouds of mist curled off his armored back in the light breeze.

“We could have found this place on our own,” the woman at his side commented in a sing-song voice. She arched her back in a long stretch, jutting out an indecent chest as she moved. “This sky will be the talk of the nation if it isn’t already. I doubt that even the mundane news will leave it alone.”

Riley frowned. The woman had hardly glanced at the sky. Her sole eye had focused on the town below them and nothing else.

“Shall I cancel the payment?”

“Clement!” She slapped his armored side with her bare hand, not even wincing despite the loud noise it made. “If we don’t pay those who tip us, word gets out and we don’t get more tips. It’s bad for business!”

“I require no payment,” Riley said.

“Not you,” the woman snapped. Her head turned to face a single green eye in Riley’s direction.

Riley was somewhat glad that a simple black eye patch was covering the other side of her face. The sole eye had more than enough ridicule aimed in her direction.

“We only pay the first one to tip us.” Her sing-song voice took on a mocking tone. “Shouldn’t have sat on the information for a year.”

Riley started. That last word had come out harsh and throaty.

“You should leave,” the armored man said. “Gertrude and I can handle this. You’ll only get in the way.”

Narrowing her eye at the man, Riley said, “I’m not about to–”

“Let her stay,” she said, back in her sing-song voice. “She can watch.” Gertrude shoved one hand through her light red hair. Her green eye leveled back at Riley, cold and hard. “Someone has to show them how it’s done.”

Clement’s armor failed to make a single noise as he shifted where he stood. “Plan?”

“Investigate, poke, and prod. Find weaknesses, find domains, poke harder. Disconnect domains. Draw them out. And exterminate every last one of the bastards.” She looked up at the armored helmet with a disgusting smile on her face–it came to a sharp point in the center of her face with the corners drawing up far too high on her cheeks. “The usual.”

“Usually there are far less demons around.”

That already disgusting smile twisted into a too-wide grin.

I know.

Riley shivered as the two went back to staring over the edge of the cliff. The woman’s eye held a dangerous glint that forced her to take a step back. The two were absolutely insane. She had warned them about the devil and the death god.

And these two were excited. At least the woman was.

Taking up the armored man’s offer of leaving wasn’t looking like such a bad idea any longer.

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