Tag Archives: Sawyer

007.016

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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.

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007.015

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Sawyer stood at the crest of a hill that overlooked the ritual site. He turned his head one way then the other, taking in the destruction down below.

His actions gave Eva a nice overview of everything as well.

Much of the field was on fire in some capacity or other. Eva hadn’t managed to explode every casket, but a good chunk of them were nothing more than craters. Most of the skeletons and enigmas on the field were dead, thanks to the efforts of the vampires and Nel.

It was a strange sensation to feel Sawyer’s shoulders slump ever so slightly. Several nights worth of work had just gone to waste with her ten minute romp through the field. Likely more than just several nights. Even if Eva was beaten back, Sawyer wouldn’t be able to recover.

If it were just the work he had put into preparing the bodies, it wouldn’t be all that bad. But with the graveyards mostly dug up already, there might not be enough suitable corpses remaining. He might have to move to an entirely new location and set up everything all over again. Starting from scratch on a project this big couldn’t be fun.

Sawyer’s eyes narrowed to thin slits as he caught sight of one of the vampires dashing across the field. His hand went to his whistle.

But he paused. The whistle was on his lips, but he didn’t breathe out.

The vampire’s motion had carried his vision right to Eva and Nel.

Eva had to admit that the two of them looked absurd. Nel clung to Eva’s back while she hunched over to carry the weight. Lightning shot from a withered arm. Immediately after, Nel wobbled around as the lights in her eyes died off.

Absurd, but not to the point where it was all that humorous.

Yet Sawyer’s lips drew his already wide smile back even further.

Every time she had seen Sawyer, he had been smiling. Even when things weren’t going his way. Something was constantly amusing him.

Eva would have suspected drugs, but she had watched his actions from a front row seat over the last few days. She would have noticed something had it actually been drugs.

“Sawyer is here,” Eva said, turning to the necromancer and giving a little wave.

Through her sense of blood, she could see Nel take notice. Eva’s wave had pointed him out to her.

Her lips drew back into a snarl. Without a word of warning, she raised both of her arms.

Eva had to use both of her hands to keep Nel from falling off her back.

Twin bolts of white lightning fired off from Nel’s fingertips. They were of the same blindingly overcharged caliber that her initial bolts of the evening had been.

The only reason that Eva could still see with the lightning right in front of her face was because of her connection with Sawyer.

Though she couldn’t see from that end of things for very long. Grass and dirt filled her vision. Sawyer dropped to the ground the moment he saw Nel raise her arms. Eva could feel the heat over his back as the lightning careened on to the sky.

He rolled over on his back and brought the whistle around to his lips.

Again, no sound came out when he blew into the opening.

A wave of enigmas charged around him and into the field.

Still blinking away the spots in her eyes and shaking the thunder from her ears, Eva had to rely on her blood sight.

One of the vampires was in the way of the enigmas between Sawyer and Eva. Eva couldn’t tell if he had been blinded by the lightning or not, but he didn’t manage to get very far away once he realized what was happening. Tentacles lashed around his legs and arms from several different enigmas.

The different enigmas pulled in different directions. There was a moment of strain in the vampire’s limbs before they started snapping off.

A few of the enigmas pounced on the vampire, tearing him to even smaller pieces with their sharp teeth.

He didn’t scream for very long.

Most of the enigmas were still charging into the field.

Eva didn’t waste any time. Even while partially blind, she could still act.

The demon blood contained within the vials strapped to her body forced its way out of the vials. Two vials of Zagan’s blood stayed intact, just in case she needed them later on.

As it was, she was going to be stretching her blood reserves rather thin. Thirty enigmas were a lot. Even with Nel and the remaining vampires to assist and distract, dispatching them wasn’t going to be easy.

And then there was Sawyer to worry about. He climbed back to his feet, brushing the dirt off his button up shirt as he went. For the moment, he seemed content to merely watch.

Rings of blood flew out from Eva. She wrapped them around the four nearest enigmas’ necks and promptly clapped her hands. Technically, beheading the beasts didn’t kill them. It still put them down long enough to take them out of the current fight.

Eva didn’t have time to throw out more rings. Another wave of enigmas charged over their fallen brethren towards Eva.

A stream of fire from Nel’s fingertips consumed one and kept the others at bay long enough for Eva to form a shield around the two of them.

Just in time for an enigma’s wide mouth to try gnawing on the shield. Eva sent a smaller marble of blood down its throat and clapped her hands again.

Eva started to form up more rings when she noticed something odd.

Enigmas, despite their oddities with death, acted like any other creature for the most part. They had brains, hearts, blood, and other organs. Eva was concerned mostly with their blood and hearts, as that was what she could see best. Normally, their hearts pumped and their blood flowed.

But not those of the enigmas that had consumed the vampire. There were only three of them, but they weren’t moving at all. Their tentacles were still, their mouths did not open or close, their hearts didn’t beat, and their blood didn’t move.

Though still, they weren’t idle. The blood inside the affected enigmas’ veins was turning stale. Old.

Like the blood within vampire veins.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Eva said, more to herself than to Nel. One of the vampires had landed on top of one of the unmoving enigmas and had started to tear it apart.

That seemed to be the trigger needed to get them moving. The vampire jumped away just in time to avoid getting caught by a tentacle.

The vampiric enigmas jumped after him.

A startled noise from Nel brought Eva back from watching the rest of the battle. She quickly sent a few small marbles down the throats of three enigmas that had approached her shield, dispatching all of them.

None of the other vampires in the field had been caught, thanks to small mercies, but they really were not that effective at taking out the enigmas. Nel’s fire did a much better job, probably because of its magic eating aspects and the fact that the enigmas were definitely magical beings.

Eva hoped that none of them wound up caught. She didn’t know what the enigmas had done, exactly, but something told her that they would be tougher, better regenerators, and possibly contagious. With any luck, they wouldn’t like the sun all that much. Maybe the sun could even kill them permanently.

Unfortunately, Eva had no time to test.

“We’re going to be moving up towards Sawyer,” Eva said.

Nel was back to gripping Eva’s shoulders for support, but she nodded an acknowledgment.

After dispatching one more enigma with a ring of blood around its neck, Eva shut down her shield and started running. She built up a fireball and tossed it towards the vampiric enigmas as she ran.

Vampires didn’t like fire, so why should vampiric enigmas?

That was the theory anyway. Eva didn’t stop to observe the results of her handiwork. She ran straight for the hill that Sawyer was once again standing on top of.

At the base of the hill, she stopped.

Something strange was going on. Her vision and sense of blood were not matching up with what Sawyer saw.

To Eva, the enigmas were fighting with the vampires down on the field. Or, they were being distracted by the vampires. After watching one of their number get quartered and eaten alive, they were being a little hesitant in engaging directly.

Standing atop the hill, Sawyer calmly watched as three of the enigmas turned. They started snarling at him. After a brief moment, they started running. Two of them brushed past Eva on either side of her.

Looking in person, the nearest enigma was some distance away, snapping at the heels of a vampire that jumped over it.

Eva could feel a headache forming again. Just when her nausea had started to dissipate as well. Something was going on and it was messing with Sawyer’s head. Her head by extension.

She had a feeling that she knew what it was, but she couldn’t actually see Serena anywhere around.

The three enigmas in Sawyer’s vision charged up the hill, running straight up to the necromancer.

He stood by as unconcerned as he could be even as the enigmas started circling around him. They growled and occasionally sent out the whistling thunder inside of his head. Sawyer flinched every time, but was otherwise entirely too calm for the situation.

Still, he was distracted.

Eva couldn’t waste the opportunity.

Gathering up one of the vials of Zagan’s blood, she formed it into a large ring and sent it whizzing up the hill towards Sawyer. With Nel still on her back, she ran up after it.

At the same time, one of the enigmas lashed its tentacles around Sawyer’s leg. Eva could feel it squeezing and constricting. The pain just about sent her stumbling in her run.

Sawyer just looked down, his grin widening.

Something was definitely wrong.

Just before Eva’s blood ring could make it to Sawyer, his hand darted out to his side. It gripped something that wasn’t there in his sight. Eva could feel his hands squeezing tight around something fleshy.

In her blood sight, Eva just about started to panic.

The ring of blood flew straight towards his outstretched arm.

Eva just about dropped Nel in an attempt to clap her hands together.

She stopped just in the nick of time.

Sawyer swung his arm around. Eva’s blood splattered across an invisible woman in his hands.

The illusion in Sawyer’s vision died off and Serena shimmered into being, clutching and grasping at her throat, clawing away at Sawyer’s skin.

He didn’t seem to care as blood started dripping from his hand. His smile just grew wider.

“Serena is in trouble,” Eva hissed as she doubled her efforts in getting up the hill.

As she ran, she tried to salvage as much blood as she could from Serena. A lot of it had soaked into her clothing, becoming unusable. That which Eva could scrape up, she gathered just on the back of Serena’s neck. Normally, such a thing would have ruined the blood. It would have gotten mixed up with sweat and grime. Being a vampire, Serena didn’t sweat. Her body was dead.

With Sawyer holding her facing him, it was the perfect spot to hide the blood without him noticing.

“I say, you two are quite the sight,” Sawyer said, turning a grin in Eva’s direction.

Eva glared. She didn’t speak. She didn’t need to.

Nel gave a slight squeak as Eva unclasped her hands from the augur’s bottom. She almost fell to the ground as Eva dropped her, but managed to remain on her feet with a little help.

“Is this one with you?” Sawyer asked as he turned back to face Serena. “She’s a much rarer strain than those riffraff,” he swept his stitched hand towards the valley below. “Almost a shame what I have to do.”

Muscles and blood within Sawyer’s arm started moving. He was squeezing Serena’s throat.

Wasting no more time, the blood from behind Serena’s neck moved around, coating the back of Sawyer’s hand. Given that his hand was throttling Serena’s neck, the blood didn’t have far to move. He didn’t have a chance to pull away before most of the blood got onto him.

When he did release Serena and pull away, it was far too late.

Eva clapped her hands together.

Sawyer shouted out a clipped cry as the blood flashed white and obliterated everything that it was touching.

Namely, his hand.

Eva took care not to harm Serena. The vampire collapsed to the ground, unmoving despite Eva’s efforts. Her neck was bent at an angle that it shouldn’t be.

Vampires died if they were decapitated. Eva wasn’t sure about broken necks. Hopefully Serena would be able to regenerate from it. The vampire had actually grown on Eva since their attack on the Elysium Order’s cathedral.

But there was no time to worry about that now. Sawyer was looking at his hand–or the empty spot where it had been–as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened. Eva only managed to coat his fingers and part of the back of his hand, but his entire arm was missing up to his elbow.

The power of Zagan’s blood. Probably.

Eva charged forward, planting her shoulder right into Sawyer’s stomach. As he fell to the ground, Eva stepped forwards. She planted one foot on his chest and the other foot on the arm that still had a hand.

While Eva didn’t consider herself to be that heavy, she did not spare Sawyer anything. Her sharp toes pressed down on his chest with all the force that she could muster.

For a moment, she wished that she still had Nel on her back.

“You’re not getting away this time, Sawyer. Nel and I want to have a little fun with you.”

He smiled–as always–and laughed. “I can’t wait. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is in the cards for me tonight.”

This time, it was Eva’s turn to laugh. “You think that Des and a handful of skeletons will save you? Or that haugbui that you’ve got locked up in your warehouse?” Eva shook her head. “Think again.”

“How did you–”

Eva pressed down on his chest, digging the claws that made up her toes through his shirt and skin. Blood welled up and stained his shirt.

Drawing her knife from its sheath, Eva stabbed it into her arm. The amount of blood she pulled out was perhaps more than she should have, but she needed it for the next stage of her plan. She wanted to have everything ready before Des showed up with the skeletons.

Shaping her blood into a large circle, Eva hesitated. Sawyer was entirely too calm. Casting around her blood sight, Eva couldn’t find anything that might immediately threaten her.

Though pausing did remind her of something.

Bending over, Eva clawed one hand as she reached out for his pocket. Her hand grasped his whistle, cloth from his shirt, and even some skin. Even in her slowly fading senses from Sawyer, it hurt. Eva had intended for it to hurt.

Sawyer didn’t flinch in the slightest. He had to have some way of shutting off his sense of pain that didn’t protect Eva. There was no other way that he could just sit there smiling.

“Nel, keep an eye out for a bunch of skeletons while I work on this.”

“M-me?” she asked, whipping her head up from glaring at Sawyer.

Eva rolled her eyes. At least act a little confident in front of Sawyer. “Yes, you. They’ll be with Des, so maybe we’ll be able to recover your eyes.”

Slowly, Nel nodded. “Alright. I’d like that.”

Given that the eyes were implanted within Des, it might not be a good idea to put them back into Nel. They had been in the hands of a necromancer for far too long. There could be all kinds of traps and safeguards to keep Nel from reclaiming them.

But Eva didn’t need to comment on that to Nel at the moment. The augur desperately needed a boost to her confidence. Saying such things would have the opposite effect.

Turning her attention back to Sawyer and the ring of her blood in the air, Eva put on a grin of her own. She fingered the small black orb that hung from her neck–Arachne’s beacon. It was a depressing shame that Arachne couldn’t be here to watch her victory over Sawyer.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked as details started to form within the circle.

“A summoning circle,” Sawyer said with a half chuckle. “What horror are you going to call forth to exact your revenge? Oh, I can’t wait to find out!”

“Sawyer, I am appalled,” Eva said with a shake of her head. “You should really study up on your diablery. Or get your eyes checked.” He was entirely too excited about everything. Normally, such a thing would have worried Eva. She must be missing something.

But the circle was complete. It wouldn’t matter in a few seconds.

Eva started channeling magic into the circle as it hung in mid-air right next to Sawyer’s prone form.

A black void opened up where the blood had been.

“This,” she said, stepping off Sawyer, “is a transference circle.”

Before her words could entirely sink in, Eva dug one of her feet between Sawyer’s back and the ground.

Using the powerful legs that she had been given by Arachne, Eva kicked out.

Sawyer’s body lifted off the ground just a hair–it really didn’t need to go so high, Eva had made the bottom of the circle almost scraping the ground. All she needed to do was to get him inside.

She halfway succeeded. Her foot must have been too far off-center.

Sawyer’s legs and lower waist disappeared into the void, but he managed to flip over onto his stomach. Grasping at the brush and well-entrenched weeds on the ground, he managed to stop himself from falling inside entirely. His head tilted upwards, glaring at Eva as she smirked down at him.

He no longer had a smile on his face.

Eva knelt in front of him and started prying his fingers loose, one by one. He only had one hand, so it wasn’t like he had all that much to hold onto.

“You know,” Eva said as she accidentally broke one of his fingers, “connecting the mortal realm to Hell is supposed to be off limits for a time. I just wanted you to know how special you are to have an exception made just for you.”

Snapping his pinky finger clean off, Eva stood again.

He was slowly being dragged into the portal.

Too slowly.

Eva placed her foot right on his forehead.

“This isn’t over,” he said, all humor and amusement gone from his voice.

“Of course it isn’t. Welcome to Hell.”

Eva gave his forehead just a light tap, sending him tumbling into the darkness.

With a head-splitting smile on her face, Eva pocketed the pinky finger. His blood had come in handy before. Perhaps this would as well. No sense in tossing it, in any case.

Eva blinked as she realized something. There was no connection between her and Sawyer anymore. The moment he had disappeared through the portal, she couldn’t sense him anymore.

Which was something of a shame. Eva had been hoping to get a picture of her domain when he landed.

Oh well, she thought. Sawyer might get torn apart without his whistle, if there are enigmas down there. It would be a definite shame. Eva wanted to torture him. A lot. But if he died to enigmas, she supposed that would have to suffice. Maybe one of his necromancy books would have a guide on how to ensure that he had eternal torment.

Something to worry about later.

She was just about to close the portal when Nel shouted.

“Eva! We have a problem!”

“What is it?” Eva asked, even as she turned to seek out the problem for herself.

It didn’t take long to notice something amiss.

One of the vampires down on the ritual field was in pieces. As if someone had taken a razor-sharp cleaver from his shoulder to his waist and then severed one of his legs.

As she stared, another of the vampires just started to fall apart. An arm followed a leg. It ended with the top half of his head just sliding off the rest of his body.

“It’s the haugbui,” Nel shrieked.

“I thought you said that they couldn’t be moved.”

“I said that it cannot move. Someone moved it!”

“Des,” Eva hissed as another vampire fell to pieces. Apparently, the girl had decided that skeletons wouldn’t be enough. Or Sawyer had somehow communicated with her, telling her to bring it along.

That might explain his unwarranted confidence. He was expecting Des to show up with the haugbui. Eva didn’t know how strong the things were. Based on how it was just slicing apart the vampires without even being visible, it might have been able to slice apart even a stronger demon. Perhaps why Sawyer ‘couldn’t wait’ to see what Eva summoned.

“It’s going after the vampires because that’s what Sawyer told it to do earlier,” Eva said, glancing towards Serena. Her body was still intact, though she was still unmoving with her neck crooked. “But that probably won’t last very long at this rate. Into the portal.”

Nel’s head whipped around, eyes wide. “What? We can’t–Sawyer just–”

“It leads to my domain. Just pretend that this was intentional. Act confident.” Eva knelt down, scooping up Serena into her arms while trying to keep her head from twisting into a worse position. “Unless you want to stay and try fighting off that haugbui.”

Nel shook her head. She stepped up to the portal.

And hesitated.

Eva didn’t have this kind of time. Another vampire was being shredded behind them.

Raising a leg, Eva kicked Nel into the portal. Her sudden scream was cut off as soon as her head vanished into the darkness.

Eva jumped in without hesitation, Serena in her arms.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.014

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The field wasn’t any different in person. Not that Eva had expected it to be. Her ritual gave her a perfect picture of exactly what Sawyer saw and felt. She had already known how the place would look, feel, and smell. Looking at it with her own eyes didn’t matter in the slightest.

In fact, she was actually feeling better than any time that she had visited through Sawyer’s eyes.

The ritual was fading away. In an hour, maybe two, it would have run its course, leaving Eva all by her self. She could still see Sawyer at the moment, but the sounds were slightly muffled and the colors were muted.

If there was one thing that was different about the real field versus seeing it from Sawyer, it was having Nel and Serena at her side as they looked down at the valley filled with caskets and coffins.

Serena was imitating Catherine at the moment. Her cellphone was out and she was tapping away. Coordinating with the vampires was a full-time job, apparently. Six of them were dotted around the field, keeping themselves out of sight of the many skeletons and enigmas. Two more were just behind Eva.

The ‘Lord’ Kuvon had decided not to grace them with his illustrious presence for the night, sending a portion of his minions instead.

Frankly, Eva wasn’t expecting much from any of them. Sawyer was expecting vampires to attack. Aside from the Elysium Order, Sawyer being prepared to fight vampires would probably be the worst thing that could happen to them.

Eva really didn’t care what happened to any vampire that wasn’t named Serena. In fact, if Sawyer killed them all, she wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over it. That would leave Kuvon and maybe two other vampires that also hadn’t joined in their little escapade. It wouldn’t be difficult to reclaim her blood from them.

And Eva was less than enthused about gifting them a case filled with vials of her blood.

Besides, killing off the vampires would make Nel happy.

At the moment, Nel looked like she could use all the happiness that she could get her hands on.

The summer air was warm, even in the dead of night. Eva wouldn’t have been able to tell that just from looking at Nel. Or from feeling her as she grasped on to Eva’s arm.

It was strange to think that she had been holding back on the trembling. Eva could barely see straight with how much the vibrations traveling up her arm wound up shaking her around. Every single slight noise in the wilderness around them was received with a jump from Nel followed by the girl whipping her head around to find out just what was attacking them.

Nothing. Nothing attacked them.

“Calm down,” Eva said, patting the augur’s non-withered arm. “The vampires are staring.”

“I’m not supposed to be out in the field,” she hissed back. “I can’t fight!”

“Would you rather be back at the hotel? All by yourself? The hotel that the vampires run?”

“Yes! No! I don’t know.” She looked around twice, trying not to be obvious about staring at the vampires. Eva would have to say that she failed, but at least they were being polite about it. Her hysterical voice dropped to a whisper as she leaned her trembling body closer to Eva.

“What am I doing here? I can’t use my magic. All the vampires will know what I am. Even if I had all the frankincense in the world, I can’t catch a glimpse of anything. We’re right in the middle of the dead zone from that stupid little girl.”

“Use your magic if you need to,” Eva said, her voice even quieter than Nel’s. “All the vampires here drank the blood. If they try to bother you, I’ll deal with them.” A little louder, Eva said, “I think you’ll want to be here anyway. Up close and personal, front row seats to Sawyer’s demise.”

Turning to face Serena and the two vampires—she hadn’t bothered to learn their names—Eva clapped her hands together.

Serena started, glancing at the two vampires as if they were about to explode. With good reason. However, Eva hadn’t been channeling any magic into exploding the blood in their stomachs. Not at the moment anyway.

“Sawyer is still in his warehouse,” Eva said. “I don’t think he plans on leaving tonight. Let us see if we can’t change his plans. We’re here to make noise. I refuse to believe that he has no alarms set up to warn him that his precious ritual circle is being destroyed.”

Igniting her hand, Eva gathered up flames into a tight ball. Not quite to the point of the explosive blasts that she used to explode enigmas or blow open the door in her domain. It would need to survive a trip through the air.

Tossing the fireball with all her might, Eva aimed for one of the caskets in the center ring of the ritual circle. With a gleeful smile, she watched as it sailed down into the field.

It missed.

The fireball fell short of the casket by a good distance. Because of the way the caskets were arranged, it didn’t even hit one of the ones in the next ring out. Some grass and brush caught fire between two caskets, but the foliage wasn’t dry enough to spread quickly. Maybe with time, it would spread and engulf the caskets.

Eva didn’t have time.

The skeletons meandering about in the field took note of the fire. Worse, they took note of the direction the fireball had come from.

Eva threw another fireball, this one actually managing to hit one of the closer caskets. Unfortunately, it was a newer casket. One made out of metal of some kind. The flames splashed off, igniting some of the surrounding brush but doing no damage to the casket or the body sealed inside.

Using some of her own blood—demon blood was still being reserved for when Sawyer arrived and she really needed it—Eva created a shield around herself and Nel. Just in time to catch a few arrows that were arching through the air.

Nel let out a short shriek as the arrows pinged against the shield, drawing more attention and more arrows.

Even though the shield was powered with her blood, the arrows weren’t doing enough damage to worry Eva. She could last a good half hour at the current rate before needing to refill the shield’s reserves.

Of course, that would leave her stuck in one spot. Being immobilized would probably not be a good thing once Sawyer showed up.

“Nel,” Eva said as the vampires ran off towards the ritual circle. Their job was to take out the enigmas. And skeletons, if they came across them. The enigmas could burrow and they needed to be taken down before the field became a mine field of monsters. “How well can you aim your lightning?”

“What happened to use it if you need to?”

“I could get us out of this, either with blood or through waiting for the vampires to kill the skeletons. I’d rather be proactive.” Eva raised one of her long claws, pointing at a skeleton that had his bow drawn and aimed towards them. “If I open up a hole, can you hit that one?”

“But the vampires…”

Eva rolled her eyes. “Nel, if you want me to, I’ll explode all of the vampires right now. Except for Serena. Of course, then it will be just us against Sawyer and whatever undead he brings, but I’m sure we can take them.”

Pausing for a moment, Eva took her eyes off the ritual circle to look over Nel. “We’re not friends,” Eva said. “I don’t think so, anyway. But if it is between you and them, I’ll pick you. Mostly because I know you better. Nothing to do with Ylva or how useful you are. In fact, it is definitely not because of how useful you are. You’re absolutely useless if you can’t hit that skeleton.”

Balling her good hand into a fist, Nel glared at Eva. “Fine,” she shouted. “I’ll do it. If those vampires kill me… or the skeletons–”

“Yeah, yeah,” Eva waved a hand, “I promise to feel bad for a few minutes. Now get ready, as soon as the next arrow hits, I’m dropping the shield for a second or two.”

Nel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, they were burning with white light. With her arm outstretched, she waited.

Eva dropped her shield.

A thunderous crack in the air accompanied a blinding flash of light. With her sudden lack of vision, Eva immediately brought up her shield. She didn’t want to risk either one of them getting hit by an arrow because she couldn’t see them coming.

As Eva blinked away the spots in her eyes and the ringing in her ears faded, she looked down at the ritual field.

The vampires had taken notice, but none of them were actually approaching. After they got through their momentary stupor, they continued tearing through the enigmas on the field. Given just how bright and loud it was, it would have been a surprise had they not noticed.

Brush and grass had blackened and charred around where the skeleton had stood. The skeleton itself was still there, though it was no longer standing. The pile of bones sat in the center of the scorch marks, unmoving.

“Excellent,” Eva said. “Though perhaps tone it down for the next one? Your magic eats other magic, so I don’t think you need to put quite so much power behind it.”

“I was nervous,” Nel said. Her voice was weak. She stumbled forward slightly. There was no fire in her eyes as she grabbed hold of Eva for support.

“Are you alright?”

“I tend to get overwhelmed with information when I connect. I’ll shake it off in a moment. In the mean time, I think I know what all the corpses are for.”

Eva raised an eyebrow as she waited for Nel to get steady on her feet again.

“He’s trying to make a Death Stick.”

“You’re going to have to elaborate.”

“It’s a…” Nel winced, rubbing at her forehead with her good hand. “It’s said to call down Death himself to strike down a single living being. That’s not true, but it does kill something. Then it binds their soul to the stick, though the Death Stick doesn’t have to be a literal stick. It can be anything.

“The body continues to be animated and controlled by the bound soul—which is under the control of the necromancer. Essentially, it creates a lich. But one under control of someone else. And, unless he makes the Death Stick out of gold, it will wear away after a few weeks and crumble to dust. The soul will be released and the body killed for good.”

Nel shook her head. Pulling away from Eva, she stood on her own just at the edge of their shield. “Something is wrong though,” she said as she looked down at the field. “You can make a Death Stick with nine corpses. There are far too many bodies down here.”

Eva shrugged her shoulders. “All the more reason to destroy this place. I don’t even know what you would use such a thing for.”

“Typically, gaining access to a mage’s personal vault. Or other things that can only be acquired by one specific person. Mind control is almost impossible with thaumaturgy. Most non-thaumaturgical methods can and will be checked for at any respectable bank.”

Waving Nel off before she could continue further, Eva pointed at two skeletons that were still launching arrows in their direction.

“Do you think you can take care of both of them at once?”

“Maybe with a little less flash this time as well.”

Nel nodded as a small amount of blood rushed to her ears and cheeks.

“On three,” Eva said.

Once she began her countdown, Nel prepared herself. Fire again burst from her eyes. She held out both hands this time, her good one and the whithered arm covered in a glove. Each pointed at a different skeleton.

“Three,” Eva said as she brought down the shield.

Two bolts of crackling white light speared off into the distance. The moment they connected with the skeletons, the skeletons dropped into unmoving heaps of bones.

Catching Nel before she could fall over, Eva helped her keep on her feet.

“We need to move. I can fire bomb these coffins, but I need to get closer if I want to do any real damage.”

“Bomb them? That’s desecrating the dead.”

“I think Sawyer is way ahead of us on that front,” Eva said as she dragged Nel down the hill towards the caskets.

Around them, vampires were still darting in and out of the place. They seemed to be having more trouble with the enigmas than Eva had expected. Given her experiences fighting them inside her domain, Eva had been hoping that they would tear through them and move on to the skeletons in a few minutes. She hadn’t heard any of the whining and explosion noises that they made. The vampires were keeping them too busy for that at least, thankfully.

Sawyer might have done something to make them stronger. Or, perhaps, they had grown stronger on their own. None of the enigmas that Eva encountered had ever survived for as long as these had. For given values of survival; the creatures couldn’t technically die.

Stopping at the nearest coffin, Eva prepared to destroy the entire thing. She considered opening the lid and setting fire to the contents. That should be more than enough to destroy the corpse.

Experiencing everything that Sawyer had for the past two days was more than enough for Eva to never wish to open a casket again.

After compressing flames into an explosive marble, Eva tossed it at the casket. She reactivated her shield the moment the marble left her hands.

The ball of bright yellow flames touched the side of the casket, shattering the thin layer of stability that Eva had formed as a shell. Noise and a bright flash quickly followed. Neither were as bright as the initial lightning bolt that Nel had cast, but they were enough to momentarily blind Eva.

Shrapnel and body parts went flying through the air. Because the explosion had occurred between the casket and Eva, most parts were directed away from her position.

One large chunk of the metal casket had other ideas. It crashed into Eva’s shield at high speeds, draining almost every last drop of her blood. The remaining bits of bone and steel that hit finished off the shield. The protective bubble around Eva and Nel dropped away.

With a groan, Eva unsheathed her dagger and jammed it into her arm. She drained almost twice the amount of blood. Not enough for her to feel anemic, but she wouldn’t be able to keep up a permanent shield without lethargy creeping up on her.

“I wish Arachne were here,” Eva sighed. And not just because of the powers of her blood. That was useful, but Arachne made for far better company than Nel. It had been nearly two months since Arachne died and Eva was still not used to the lack of her presence.

Aside from that, Arachne’s largest form could easily have trodden over caskets, enigmas, and skeletons alike.

Pushing the thoughts of her lost friend out of her mind for the moment, Eva conjured up another three exploding fireballs. Each one went to a different casket around her.

Again, Eva put up her shield. Again, debris hit it. Nothing quite so hard as the first casket, but a good chunk of her shield’s blood still drained away.

Eva was about to continue. There were a lot of caskets that needed exploding and only so many hours of darkness remaining.

But she paused. Through her gradually dimming connection to Sawyer, she saw something.

Sawyer bolted upright from being hunched over a soon-to-be animated skeleton. He turned his head from one side of the room to the other, slowly looking over every little thing. From all of his tools, the empty caskets piled up at the far end of the room, the unarmed skeletons waiting in a corner for their bows and arrows, all the way to Des and her nearly finished skeleton.

For just a moment, Eva thought that he might just be imagining things. Or at least, she thought that he thought that he was just imagining things.

The whole point of blowing up the ritual site was to draw him out. Well, and to stop the ritual. Him thinking it was his imagination couldn’t be allowed.

Moving forward a few steps, Eva found herself in range of another few caskets. Explosions at each of them had Sawyer dropping his tools.

“The field,” he hissed. Sawyer ran up to a tool shelf and pulled off a small whistle that looked as if it had been carved from bone. “Des, honey, meet me at the field with as many skeletons as you can gather that can fight. We have a vampire infestation.”

Placing the whistle against his lips, Sawyer gave a sharp blow. Eva couldn’t hear anything through his ears. The same was not true for the enigmas in the room. The second he blew the whistle, they perked up and ran over to him, stopping just at his feet.

They followed at his heels, nipping at each other with their vacuous maws and intertwining their tentacles.

Apart from the occasional glance back, Sawyer ignored them. As soon as he got outside, he blew the whistle again.

Nothing happened.

Sawyer didn’t seem too worried by the lack of any action. He walked right past his sports car, stopping at a larger truck around the backside of the warehouse. The truck was hooked up to a long metal trailer with plenty of holes in the sides for air.

Eva heard it before she saw it. The scampering of footsteps as enigmas charged towards him. Three, five, ten… there had to be at least thirty.

It didn’t take long to herd them into the back of the trailer. Either they were well-trained or Sawyer had more control over them than a simple whistle would imply.

They didn’t all fit. Each enigma was roughly the size of a large dog. A few of them might have been able to pass as smaller horses. Very tentacly horses. With wide mouths and sharp teeth. The larger enigmas climbed over and on top of the smaller ones. They all bit at each other, but not enough to do damage, sadly.

Once Sawyer had kicked the last enigma aboard, he closed the back of the trailer and went around to the driver’s seat of the truck.

The field wasn’t far from the warehouse. A fifteen minute drive at most. And Sawyer would be in a hurry.

“Serena!” Eva shouted out, hoping that the vampire could hear her above all the droning thunder of the enigmas around the field.

She dropped out of mid-air in front of Eva just a second or two after shouting.

“Little busy at the moment,” Serena said, baring her fangs in Eva’s direction.

Nel started shaking at the look, again, but Eva paid her no mind.

She was glad to see that Serena had listened to her request of not drinking the enigmas’ blood. Her fangs were shiny white and not stained purple. Eva still hadn’t seen any proof of corrupting effects, but who was she to doubt Ylva’s words on the matter. She didn’t know if the other vampires had listened, but really, she didn’t care.

“You’re about to be a whole lot busier,” Eva said. “Sawyer noticed. He’s on his way with about thirty more enigmas.”

“Thirty! There were only ten here and we are barely dealing with them. What are we supposed to do about thirty?”

“He has a whistle that he’s using to control them. Inside his shirt pocket on the left side,” Eva said, patting her chest in the spot. “Get it and we might not have to deal with them.”

“If I’m that close to him, I might as well tear out his heart while I’m at it.”

Eva slumped slightly. “I won’t say you can’t, but that wouldn’t get rid of the enigmas. Besides, I’d rather he lives. I’d hate to resort to necromancy just to torture him.”

Nel hissed at Eva’s side, but again, Eva ignored her.

“Alright,” Serena said, “I’ll let the other vampires know that we have incoming enemies.”

“Great. I’m going to explode as many of these coffins as I can before he arrives.”

Serena jumped away into the night with barely a nod of acknowledgment.

Eva turned to face Nel with a frown. “Walking with you is slowing me down. We need to move fast if we want to make any progress before Sawyer arrives.”

“What?” Nel shrieked. “B-but, you can’t leave me alone. You promised.”

“I know,” Eva said. She was mostly certain that she hadn’t actually promised anything, but she didn’t intend to leave Nel behind anyway. Ducking to the ground, Eva faced away from Nel. “Climb onto my back.”

“What.” This time, her voice was flat.

“No time to argue. Climb on and shoot lighting at anything that moves. And try not to fall off.”

“I can’t–”

No time to argue,” Eva repeated slowly. “My legs are strong enough to carry you, just hold on tight.”

Her legs were definitely strong enough, but Eva was more concerned about her back. Nel wasn’t overweight or even all that large. If anything, she was malnourished. Eva didn’t think that she had been eating much since the start of their trip. Still, carrying around a human body for any length of time wasn’t easy. She had learned that much from carrying Irene’s unconscious body around when Sawyer had attacked Brakket the second time. And Irene was smaller than Nel.

“Hurry,” Eva said as Nel continued to hesitate.

That seemed to snap her out of it.

Nel climbed on, wrapping her legs around Eva’s waist and gripping Eva’s shoulder with her good hand. Her withered hand was far too weak to keep any real hold of Eva.

Eva had to place one of her hands around Nel’s bottom to stabilize them both enough to move.

With her free hand, Eva lit up another few fireballs.

“Alright, lightning at anything that moves,” Eva said as she took off in a run. “Well, aside from the vampires,” she added.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.013

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Clement walked down the streets towards Brakket Academy.

Naked.

Well, not quite naked. He had jeans and a tee-shirt.

But he felt naked.

Without his armor, anything could kill him. A random bus that had its brake line cut, a brick falling from a high building, even tripping over his own shoelaces could send him to the ground and snap his neck.

Clement glanced down at his tennis shoes. They were still tied in neat little knots.

Too many things could end his usefulness to Gertrude without him being able to do a thing.

Most of all, demons would find him easy prey without his armor. Being a mundane human, Clement had no way to defend himself from the more supernatural threats that lurked in the shadows. He couldn’t cast a fireball to save his life. No teleportation would help him, nor any other miraculous interventions.

He did keep an enchanted dagger at his side. That might help against lesser threats, but not against anything greater. His dagger had been made by Gertrude and it was a marvelous work, even if he didn’t understand the magic behind it. However, it couldn’t hold a candle to his sword. A sword that had been designed centuries ago specifically for the purpose of slaying demons.

Demons were their current targets.

Clement hated this plan.

Walking alone in the chilly morning air, Clement felt more naked than ever. The academy building was the nest of the demons. And he was walking towards it.

But armor was too conspicuous. People took note of a massive hulk wandering down the street looking like a renaissance fair reject. They took far less note of a lanky man with a depressed air about him. Even in a city as small as Brakket.

Worse than people taking notice, armor made demons wary. It really didn’t matter normally when Clement charged at a demon, swinging his sword. They could be wary all they wanted to be. A slash through their chest ended their wariness before they could do much about it.

Brakket City was different from normal. Demons were everywhere. If the demons saw him wandering around in his armor, they would definitely think that something was up. Whether they would attack as a group or flee didn’t matter, neither would end well for him.

Though, all the demons in Brakket City would be more wary after tonight.

At least, all the demons remaining.

Clement just had to believe that he would still be around to see their wariness.

And he did believe. Gertrude was watching him. She wouldn’t let him down.

Pausing with his hand on the door to Brakket Academy, Clement took a deep breath.

He pushed the door open and walked inside.

The offices for the dean and other non-teaching staff were just off to the side of the main lobby. One of the demons around Brakket City, the succubus, constantly sat at the receptionist’s desk. They had spent time watching everyone, learning patterns and plotting out possible ambushes.

That desk was where both he and Gertrude expected the succubus to be this morning.

But the desk was empty.

The only other place where the succubus could be found was a small home near the academy.

That home had been empty as well, he had checked there first.

Clement froze in indecision. Something had already gone wrong. They had watched for weeks and had the succubus’ routine down to the hour. What had changed? Why was it different now?

Did they know?

A chill ran down his spine. He spun, hand going to the dagger at his side.

“Hello, did you need something?”

Clement just about collapsed in relief. He had felt certain that the pillar was the one behind him.

The voice came from a normal teacher. A woman wearing her hair in a ribbon. The ends of the ribbon stretched upwards, giving it the appearance of bunny ears. If he remembered their notes correctly, it was the warding teacher. Chelsea Lepus.

They had already dismissed her as not being related to any of the diabolical events aside from her employment with Brakket Academy. Damning, but not so much that she was a priority target.

He glanced around once before responding. “I don’t suppose you know what happened to the secretary.”

“Actually,” she said slowly, tapping her foot against the ground as she thought. “I don’t think I’ve seen her for a few days. Strange, now that you mention it.”

“A few days?” They had focused on other targets for the last week or so. The succubus’ routine was so regular that neither he nor Gertrude could have imagined that something would have changed. “She didn’t mention taking any vacations?”

“Oh hoh, not to me,” Chelsea said with a bright smile. “Catherine doesn’t talk much. I’ll have to ask the dean when she gets in. Was there something I might be able to help you with?”

“I think it will be sufficient for me to return at a later date. Thank you anyway.”

With their target gone, Clement had no intention of sticking around. He turned and left, trying not to betray any unnecessary haste in his movements. None of their plans had accounted for her absence. He needed to get back to Gertrude and find out what had happened.

He definitely did not want to stick around while there was a pillar wandering the school grounds.

Not without his armor.

— — —

Eva snapped to a sitting position in her bed, pushing the nausea to the back of her mind.

“Sawyer knows,” she said.

Nel jumped to her feet. “W-what do you mean?”

The augur’s heartbeat had been constantly elevated during their little road trip. Every time she glanced in Serena’s direction, it jumped a bit more before settling back down. If Eva hadn’t known better, she might have guessed that the augur had feelings for the vampire.

Feelings other than fear, that was.

The moment the words left her mouth, Nel’s heart went into overdrive. She ran to the door and peeked out the peephole as if Sawyer was right outside at this very moment.

A groan came out from under the covers of the other bed.

Serena could keep herself awake through the day without much trouble. Younger vampires apparently had issues with that. At a half century old, Serena was hardly young. However, with all of the fighting that would be likely be happening in the next few days, she had elected to get some beauty sleep.

And she obviously needed it.

Serena pushed the covers off her with another groan, looking like the risen dead that she was. Her eyes were half lidded and there was a certain stiffness in her movements. With her hair unkempt in a halo around her head, she sat up and groggily glanced around the room. A stark contrast to her normally chipper and well-groomed appearance.

Eva, however, was barely paying attention. She was focused on Sawyer and his reading of the text message that they had sent. “He took one look at the message and realized that something was wrong.”

Eva jumped out of bed and ran to her backpack, fighting off the sensory nausea. She had to get everything ready. All of the demon blood and bloodstones, Basila and an engorgement potion, a certain cursed dagger, and her blood that she was going to use to bribe the vampires with. She would have to skip over one ritual that she had wanted to perform on herself.

The movements were making her sick. Sawyer’s agitated state didn’t help much either.

“They must have had some sort of pass phrase that we didn’t include.”

“Calm down,” Serena said slowly, her words transforming into a long yawn partway through. “He doesn’t know that it is you, does he?”

Eva paused her frantic movements, thinking about and watching what Sawyer was up to.

Sawyer had spent the remainder of the day making skeletons with Des. An hour after nightfall, he headed back to the graveyard and started looking through corpses, just as he had the night before. He spent some time sorting through a number of caskets and sending them either to the warehouse or the field. Once finished, he had gone to the field himself.

After he had his hands elbow deep inside the second casket of the night, Eva had sent off her text message.

A simple note about how ‘the boss’ was having him do a few tasks and the vampire might be out of contact for a time.

As Eva had hoped, Sawyer didn’t check his phone immediately. As before, he had forgotten about it until noon. Or maybe he had been deliberately not responding. Either way, he hadn’t looked at the message for several hours.

That was when everything had gone awry.

His eyes had roamed over the words. With an unnatural calm, Sawyer turned off the phone and slipped it into his pocket. He moved back into the room where Des was still slaving away with the skeletons.

“Des,” he had said, “if you would be so kind, we need to prepare for guests.”

The girl had looked up and raised the stitches that made up her right eyebrow.

“No, no,” Sawyer had said with a chuckle. “I imagine these guests are not the sort we want to set tea out for. Set all skeletons on alert and ensure that they are armed. I shall see if I can’t do something more about what may be occurring.”

Focusing herself on her surroundings as Sawyer wandered off, Eva shook her head.

“Sawyer doesn’t know that it is me. He just thinks that something is going to be attacking.”

Serena gave a light hum as she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Is he fleeing?”

“No,” Eva said with a shake of her head. “He’s preparing defenses.”

“Then we still have time,” she said with another yawn.

Why vampires needed to yawn, Eva couldn’t quite understand.

But, at the end of her yawn, Serena pulled the covers of her bed up over her head, leaving only a few strands of curly blond hair peeking out at the top.

Eva stared for a moment at the unmoving lump beneath the blankets before shaking her head. Serena was right. There was no need to run into things right away. Sawyer had obviously invested a great deal of time into setting up his ritual. He wouldn’t just abandon it without a fight.

And there definitely would be a fight now.

Sawyer was pacing through his warehouse. Somewhere along the way, he had gained four enigmas and four skeletons at his back. One room that he passed through had a summoning circle set up inside.

Oddly enough, there were no shackles anywhere to be seen. It was a wonder that he was still alive.

Then again, perhaps he had found a way to specifically target the enigmas. Eva hadn’t seen any demons wandering around. Not even the demon hybrids that he had used to attack the academy. However he had managed to tame the enigmas, it probably worked instantly. Similar to Devon dominating demons. He would have no need of protection between himself and his summonings.

Unfortunately for Eva’s curiosity, he didn’t actually stop to summon more enigmas. He went outside the warehouse and into a smaller building that might have been offices at one point in time. It was dark inside; the windows had all been boarded up. The sunlight coming in from the door didn’t reach very far beyond the entryway.

Walking through the corridors made from cubicles, Sawyer eventually came to a small room deep inside. There were no windows at all, not even boarded up ones. Maybe a custodial closet of some sort.

Pulling on a string that led to an overhead lamp, incandescent light from a fading bulb washed the small room in an orange glow.

“Hello Amelia,” he said.

Eva just stared. Not that she could do much else, at least on Sawyer’s end of her senses. But Sawyer was definitely doing something stare-worthy at the moment.

‘Amelia’ was a corpse. And Sawyer was talking to it.

Its jaw hung wide open. With its lips rotted away to reveal the teeth, it looked like it was screaming in horror. Gaping holes and the back of a skull were all that remained of its eyes. Its skin was tight and gaunt around its bones. Both hands were frozen, clawed across its chest as if she had died while eating something upsetting. Its bony legs were pressed together, crossing right at the ankles. Rope had been strung around the ankles to suspend the entire corpse upside down in the small room.

Oddly enough, there was no smell. Not like the other corpses. Eva was mostly certain that she hadn’t just grown used to it.

The decay was different as well. All of the skin was a tan color with a leathery texture–she could tell when Sawyer reached forward to brush against the thing’s arm. Its stomach and chest were so sunken in that there couldn’t be anything left inside.

Which probably helped the smell, now that Eva thought about it.

“My dear Amelia. I might be having guests soon. Unwanted guests. Vampires, most likely. I don’t suppose that you might be able to do anything about them?”

The rictus gape of horror didn’t move in the slightest. No sound came forth. No motion was made on the part of the corpse.

It was somewhat surprising. Sawyer, being a necromancer with walking skeletons handling his laundry out in the other room, could easily make something like this move.

“No, no. The Elysium Order has quit. They decided that operating in North America is just too costly these days.”

Sawyer moved into the room and took a seat on a small stool. It was the perfect height so that when he sat, his head was level with the corpse’s upside-down face. They could stare at each other without having to crane their necks. Which was good for them. ‘Amelia’ might find turning its neck to be a little difficult given the fragile-looking state of its body.

That state didn’t stop Sawyer from nodding his head as if he were agreeing with something the corpse had said.

“It could be bounty hunters. But I doubt it. It is far more likely that my pet vampire was found out and now the rest of the coven is upset.”

Sawyer started to shake his head. “No. Just vampires. But do let them get a ways in before you do anything. We wouldn’t want any to escape, would we? Besides, their bodies may prove useful to me.”

With two pats against the corpse’s cheek, Sawyer said, “thank you, my dear.”

Eva started to get a bad feeling as he leaned forwards.

Her bad feeling was temporarily placed on hold as Sawyer jerked back.

“I come talk to you all the time,” he said, affronted at whatever he imagined the corpse had said. “It’s pure coincidence that I need your help every time we talk.”

“She’s doing well, as you well know,” Sawyer said after a brief pause. “I might expect a bit much of her from time to time.”

Sawyer was always insane. Eva knew that. Normal people didn’t unleash zombies on unsuspecting townsfolk or turn little girls into monsters. But this was taking it to a whole new level.

“No, the stitches aren’t necessary. She ruined one of my plans for petty revenge. It’s been a few months, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give her another chance.”

He sighed, shaking his head back and forth. “Des’ abilities continue to improve, albeit slowly. Too slowly. I almost wonder if some of the modifications damaged her. She acts younger than she should. Her infantilism was possibly the main reason why she tried attacking–”

Taken aback, he paused for just a moment. “What? Never. I’m not blaming her for my–No! Don’t you worry. Our little honey will be better at this than me one of these days.”

Again, Sawyer patted the corpse on the shoulder. Given that ‘Amelia’ was upside down, it was somewhat awkward. He managed all the same. “No, but I do need to get going. People to kill and all that. You just keep a watch out for those vampires.”

The bad feeling that Eva had felt earlier resurfaced in full force as Sawyer leaned in again.

Sure enough, Sawyer’s lips pressed against the corpse’s teeth. His tongue traced the backs of the teeth and a good portion of the inside of its mouth.

Sawyer was kissing a corpse. Passionately at that.

Eva felt like screaming.

So she did.

“Nel! Is frankincense edible?”

The augur, who had still been staring out of the room’s peephole, jumped at Eva’s outburst. “W-What?”

“I need something, anything, that might help get the taste of corpses out of my mouth.”

“Wha–”

“This ritual is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. And I did it to myself. I’d rather have my eyes torn out again and again and again and again than spend another minute in Sawyer’s life. I swear, I’m going to burn the entire book just to spare anyone else this horror.”

Serena had woken up again, still looking like death warmed over. Both she and Nel were staring at Eva.

“Your necromancer is eating bodies?”

“Kissing,” Eva snapped. “He’s kissing a corpse! A husk of a mummy!”

The two continued staring.

“Affectionately,” Eva added before slamming her face back into the pillow.

“Well,” Serena said, “it ends tonight, right? Only about twelve hours to go.”

Eva just snorted. As if that would make everything better. All she knew was that Sawyer was going to pay for putting her through two days in his life.

Nel shifted, her fingers touching as she spoke in a soft tone of voice. “How does him finding out that we’re attacking lead to him kissing corpses?”

“He doesn’t know that we are the ones attacking. He thinks it is the vampires. And he thought that this corpse that he’s kissing could help defend against them.” Eva shook her head. “He’s crazier than I thought. The mummy didn’t even respond to him. It was just a hanging corpse. A really dead one.”

“H-hanging?” Nel squeaked out. “H-hanging how?”

“By a rope around its feet, head down,” Eva mumbled into her pillow as she watched through her blood sight. Nel was scared. That much was clear. She was trembling. Eva was almost worried that she was having a seizure.

“What is it, Nel? You know something. Quit shaking and spit it out.”

“A haugbui. Norse origins. It cannot move but it will defend the place it calls a tomb. Violently. W-we can’t fight it. If we get near, it will kill us.”

Eva sat up to stare at the trembling woman with her own eyes. “It can’t move but it will kill us? How?”

“I don’t know. I’m an augur. I just watch. You can always tell when a haugbui is in the area. A sister’s head will just fall from her shoulders. Or all their limbs will fall off. Or their stomachs will fail to hold in their insides. People just die around them.”

“Cutting attacks then? I wonder–”

“No. Armor doesn’t stop it. Nothing stops it.”

Eva crossed her arms, narrowing her eyes at the augur. “The Elysium Order must have plans and guidelines on how to deal with them.”

“Annihilation. They can’t defend too large of an area, so sisters will typically form a circle around the haugbui. Then, fire. Lots of fire. Everything within turns to ash including the haugbui.”

“Doesn’t really sound like an option for us.”

“It isn’t,” Nel said. She reached for a water bottle and tried to take a drink. Her hands were shaking enough that she ended up spilling part of it down her front. “We need to call in help.”

“There’s no one to call in.” Eva sighed, lying back down on her bed.

At least Sawyer wasn’t in the same room as that mummy anymore. He had wandered off. Shoring up defenses with orders for the skeletons and enigmas that patrolled the warehouse. Eva paid attention to them as they could help. But if that mummy was as dangerous as Nel’s shivers, none of them would be going anywhere near the skeletons and enigmas.

“You said that these things have a small area that they affect? How small?”

“I don’t know. A hundred feet?”

Eva sat up. Smile on her face. “Then it is simple. We don’t go to the warehouse. At all. We target the field and the ritual. Preferably while Sawyer is there.”

“We won’t know once your ritual runs out.”

“No,” Eva agreed. “But he has gone to the graveyard and then the field every night. He might take a break just in case the vampires attack, but I doubt it. That might delay his ritual.”

“What if he has another one? They’re hard to make, but he has one. He clearly knows how to make them.”

“I doubt it. This one feels personal. Like, an old lover or something.”

“Just send the vampires in first,” Serena said with a groan. “If they fall to pieces, who cares. Now try not to wake me again unless you want to do this all without my help,” she said as she flopped back down underneath her covers.

Eva looked to Nel and gave the augur a half-hearted shrug.

“Sacrificing vampires? Works for me,” the augur said. Her voice was a few notches chillier than normal. “As long as I get to stay here.”

As she returned to peeping out the peephole, Eva followed Serena’s example and covered herself back up.

If Sawyer did have another of those mummies, she desperately hoped that he wouldn’t be quite so affectionate with them.

Less than twelve hours left, she thought as she immersed herself back into his world.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.021

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Catherine’s heels clicked in a steady rhythm as she walked down the empty hallway of Brakket Academy.

She considered running. The quicker she made it home, the sooner she could join in on her clan’s planned raid against those pathetic humans and elves. Well, they were all humans–probably–including her own team. But her team had chosen the demonic race, so their hearts were in the right place.

As it was, she was already a full half hour late because of ‘secretarial duties’ that she had been purposefully neglecting.

Thanks, Martina, she thought. Because of course Martina would choose today of all days to check up on my work.

Filing paperwork in its proper place had cost her dearly.

She wanted to teleport. It would have been so much simpler. Not to mention faster.

Again, Martina was standing in her way. The paranoid woman had banned everything that could potentially hint towards demonic activity around Brakket Academy. That, naturally, included the method of teleportation that both Martina and Catherine employed.

The one consolation Catherine had was that Martina had condemned herself to walking about like a common plebeian.

What she was afraid of, Catherine couldn’t even begin to fathom. Demon hunters were ruthless, no arguing that. However, Martina had Zagan on call. If he wasn’t around to swat annoying flies away with the back of his hand, what good was he?

Surely he wasn’t being kept around for his teaching skills.

Catherine shook her head. The idea was laughable.

Mid-head shake, Catherine stopped. Just in time to avoid three people coming around the corner.

“Ca–Professor Catherine,” Irene’s twin said as she jumped back. “What are you doing here?”

Ignoring the improper title–Catherine was not a professor, the diablery class did not count–Catherine eyed her student. Irene’s sister looked… worried. Perhaps just shocked at meeting someone in the hallway, but probably not. Moving on to the spawn of Governor Anderson, Catherine’s frown deepened. He was calm, but still had jitters.

Something must have happened that rattled them.

And then they ran off to get a professor. Wayne Lurcher didn’t look worried so much as he looked annoyed. So either he hadn’t seen whatever had startled the children, or he didn’t care.

Possibly both, it was hard to tell with him.

“I,” Catherine said, turning her gaze back to the sister, “happen to work here. I am allowed to be within the school after hours. You two lack that excuse.”

“We–”

“Something is wrong with their dorm,” Wayne said, interrupting the girl. He continued with a sneer. “In fact, probably something more suited to a secretary than a professor. You would know how to contact the proper custodial or maintenance personnel.”

Catherine’s heel clicked as she stepped forwards. “You’re not foisting more garbage off on me. I’ve got to get home and–and do important things.”

That got a scoff from the professor.

“As I was saying,” the Anderson spawn cut in, “I don’t think it is that kind of issue.” He glanced up to Catherine. “We’re heading to Eva’s room. Irene is keeping an eye on it.”

“An enigma?” Catherine frowned as no recognition lit up in the kids’ eyes.

Though that made sense after a moment of thinking about it. Irene wouldn’t be able to say anything about them without violating her contract.

“Where is Eva?”

“She doesn’t stay in her dorm much these days. Less than once a week, I’d say.”

Wayne pulled out his phone and started tapping away. A moment later, he dropped it back into his pocket. “Zoe will check her other residence,” he grunted. “In the meantime, let’s take a look at whatever mess the menace has caused this time.”

Catherine stood still as they all started to move. For a moment, she considered just ignoring the problem. Most problems had a tendency to resolve themselves or just go away if they were ignored long enough.

Unfortunately, she doubted that she would hear the end of it if Martina found out. And besides, it was a good opportunity to see her student and how she handled herself. Considering Irene’s performance against the other enigma, it would be something of a wonder if the girl hadn’t killed herself.

It didn’t take long to get to the dorms. They were, after all, just a stone’s throw from the school building itself.

All the while, the kids and the professor were talking quite animatedly amongst themselves. Arguing over some mortal problems, Catherine assumed. She really didn’t care enough to listen in.

The moment they reached the third floor of the Rickenbacker dormitory, a wave of nausea hit Catherine. She doubled over, one hand braced against the wall to keep her up. She couldn’t recall ever even imagining the sensation that caused mortals to vomit, but this had to have come close.

Brushing off a suddenly concerned group of mortals, Catherine pulled out her cellphone.

Rickenbacker. Third floor. You’ll know it when you feel it.

She sent the message off to Zagan as she shoved the Anderson boy off of her.

“I’m fine,” Catherine snarled.

The feeling had been growing since entering the stairwell, but she was caught entirely unawares by just how pungent the very air felt on the top floor. It was similar to the feeling she had felt upon first seeing the enigma that Irene had summoned, so she hadn’t paid it much mind while it was a minor effect. She had already assumed that there would be an enigma around anyway.

Catherine’s heels clicked against the floor, unsteady as she half-stumbled her way to the source of the feeling.

One of the dormitory rooms had its door wide open. At least, she thought it was one of the rooms. The number outside listed the door as three-thirteen, though part of the lettering had worn off.

Moving to check the adjacent doorways, Catherine found that they were regular dorm rooms. Logic held that three-thirteen was supposed to be a room as well.

Or at least a broom closet of some sort.

She stepped into the room, heels mushing against the sand covered flooring. The sharp spikes making up the heels of her stilettoed boots barely encountered any resistance for the first few inches from the surface. Even with sand over the floor, they shouldn’t have sunk in so far. The solid floor beneath should have held firm.

But, other than a light stumble, Catherine barely noted her feet. Her attentions were drawn straight up. There was no roof. No ceiling. No lights, wiring, or structural support for the building.

There was nothing. A pitch black lot of familiar nothingness.

Forcing her gaze off of the emptiness, Catherine glanced around. There were no waters. In fact, there was nothing but a slice of the beach. It cut off sharply where the walls of the room were–for they were in their normal spot.

Irene stood a few steps forward, enraptured by the void overhead.

“You shouldn’t stare.” Catherine placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Or even be inside. There are enigmas somewhere in here.”

Blinking three times, Irene shook her head. The glazed look over her eyes subsided. “Wha–what happened?”

“I guess that you came inside, a stupid move, and proceeded to look up for far too long. Another stupid move. Get out of the room and draw the highest tier shackles you can remember how to draw correctly just in front of the doorway.”

“What about you?”

What about her? There were enigmas somewhere around. Perhaps on the other side of the walls, or underground. Sticking around didn’t seem like the best of ideas.

Catherine shrugged. She had already sent a text to Zagan, this seemed more like his job anyway.

“Probably go home. I have other things to do.”

— — —

“For the last time, she didn’t attack me, dad.”

Juliana wanted to slam her head against the window of their tiny car. Every clank of her father’s cellphone as it knocked back and forth in the cup holder only increased her irritation. A cloudless starry sky hung cheerily overhead in stark contrast to her current mood.

Brakket City was slowly shrinking into the background. Along with it went her school and her friends.

She didn’t even get a chance to visit Shalise before her father ushered her off into the car.

“And she didn’t attack you either,” Juliana said, sticking a finger in Erich’s arm.

Calling him up had been a mistake. She had thought that he would be worried about their mother. Turns out that was wrong.

Basically, it was the opposite. Erich had barely said two words to their mother. Even taking into account her few periods of wakefulness during the first few months, that was far too few in Juliana’s opinion.

Instead, he had spent all of his time babysitting her, complaining about her parents when they weren’t in the room, and making things awkward when they were in the room. Juliana knew that he had poor relations with their mother, but there was a point where it got ridiculous.

He could at least pretend for her sake.

“It doesn’t matter what Eva did or did not do, Juli. I finalized my initial report and sent it off to her. I sent a copy to Zoe and the Dean as well. My job was done, it was time to leave.”

“You mailed them. You could have at least given them in person.”

Juliana crossed her arms in a huff. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to get back to her mother. She did. Even though her mother had doctors to keep her healthy, they didn’t exactly keep her company.

But she also wanted to say goodbye at the very least.

“You know,” Erich said as he moved to rest a hand on her shoulder, “when I went to school here… it was a calming center of learning and research. No zombies or monsters attacked the school.”

“Sounds boring.”

The point,” he said, “is that you should be learning in a safe environment.

“You’re a powerful mage and Genoa has taught you well. But you are still a child. You’re inexperienced and still learning. There will be plenty of time for danger and adventure later. When you are better equipped to handle it.”

Juliana shrugged off his hand and went back to leaning her forehead against the cool window. Yeah, right, she thought. Not if the world ends soon.

That was the one thing that she hadn’t told anyone. Her mother might know, depending on how conscious she had been while Zagan was talking to Eva in Willie’s domain. If she did know, she hadn’t said a word.

Juliana was leaning towards her not knowing. She hadn’t started up an extensive training regimen. Neither had she insisted on bulking up their already massive food storage. Bedridden or not, Juliana knew her mother and her mother would not just lie down and not prepare.

Getting her own training in had become a daily routine for Juliana. She tried to think up what her mother would have her do and then double it. It probably wasn’t close to what her mother actually would do, but it kept her from becoming rusty. Unfortunately, Juliana doubted that thaumaturgy would be enough.

Her excursions with Ylva served a dual purpose. It was true that she was searching for references to Willie and talkina in general, but if Hell merged, it probably wouldn’t matter much. A good portion of her time went into seeking out weapons. Anything that could be used effectively against demons.

Her findings weren’t the most heartening of things. Shackles were easily the most prevalent defenses against demons. But there must be more. Demon hunters had to have proper tools for actually hunting them.

Juliana thought that they would be more publicized.

And then there was the ‘domination’ that Devon apparently used. Juliana had never seen it in person, but Eva had mentioned it on occasion. How to do so was not listed in a single book.

“The classes and professors that have come on since I graduated are less than reassuring as well,” Erich said, bringing Juliana’s attentions off of the fast-moving scenery. She turned just in time to watch his face darken considerably. “That’s to say nothing of your… friend.”

“Don’t you dare. I would be dead several times over if not for her.”

“And that,” Carlos said from the front seat, “is exactly why we’re looking into alternate schools. I’m thankful to Eva, I really am, but you should never have almost been dead even once. If Scotland is too far, why not Charmbridge? The dean there is a strict woman and would never allow all of this,” he paused to wave one hand in the vague direction of Brakket Academy.

Rolling her eyes, Juliana kept silent. Protesting would lead to another argument. Agreeing was exactly the opposite of what she wanted to do.

Though, Erich and dad are in agreement. The world really is ending.

As she was staring out the window, Juliana gave a start. The normal sky wasn’t quite so normal any longer.

Streaks of purple cut through the sky like jagged clouds. The purple pulsed lightly to some unheard beat. Every pulse spread the streaks out like lightning made of molasses.

“Um, dad?”

“I see it.”

Though her eyes were glued on the heavens, Juliana’s peripheral vision caught the ground moving much faster beneath their car.

“We’re not stopping?”

“The sky is clear up ahead.”

“But what about–”

“Juliana,” her father said, voice firmer than she had ever heard it. “This city has come so close to taking away everything I hold dear. I’m not giving it another chance.”

“But my friends… Zoe…” Juliana bit her lip. The way Zagan and Eva had talked about Hell being brought to the mortal realm sounded much farther off than now. It hadn’t even been half a year. But if that was what was happening, driving away likely wouldn’t save them.

Her lip-biting turned to grinding her teeth as anger welled up within her. She was running away.

“Mom would go back.”

“Genoa isn’t here,” Carlos said softly, his speed only increasing.

Gripping the door handle with white knuckles, Juliana watched the speedometer pass one hundred. It won’t matter what’s going on behind us if we crash into a mountain.

Shaking her head, Juliana reached forward and pulled her father’s cellphone from the holder.

At the very least, she could warn Zoe and Wayne, both of whom were in his contacts list. To her surprise, the dean and Catherine were entered in as well. One of them had probably seen the sky and already alerted the others, but Juliana sent off a group text anyway. If they were asleep, maybe, just maybe her text could save someone’s life.

Turning in her seat, Juliana watched helplessly as the purple lightning-streaked sky shrank behind her in the rear window.

“This city is cursed,” Erich mumbled under his breath.

— — —

Staring at the inky blackness of nothing became tedious after a while.

Actually, it got tedious after a matter of seconds. There was no one to speak with, nothing to look at, nothing to do save for wander her own mind. Unfortunately, Nel felt that she was reaching the limits of even her own thoughts.

There were only so many things she could think about. After weeks and months of nothing but blackness for most of every day, Nel was starting to worry for her own sanity. She had already thought about everything she could think of.

Other augurs didn’t have to deal with an empty target under normal circumstances. There weren’t many things that could block out the scrying of an augur. In fact, apart from Ylva’s domain and a few higher-ups in the Elysium Order like Sister Cross, whatever Sawyer had done with her eyes was the only thing that she had ever encountered that could block her sight.

There were probably more things. Nel had only been an augur for a year prior to entering into Ylva’s service. The more experienced sisters had probably encountered at least a handful of things that could block out their sight.

For a moment, Nel wondered what the nuns did to occupy their time.

Shaking her head, she realized that she knew the probable answer.

Any long-term observation would have multiple augurs assigned to the task. They didn’t have to deal with such things.

Unfortunately for Nel, she lacked any companions to foist the responsibility off to. Any breaks she took to sleep, eat, or just stretch her legs would gnaw at the back of her mind until she returned to the altar.

What Sawyer did might have been permanent. In which case, she was entirely wasting her time. But there was a chance that he had to consume the remaining eyes that he had stolen to power whatever he had done. Or that it couldn’t be moved easily.

All she needed was a sliver. A slight glimmer of where he was. Even if he occluded himself immediately after, it would give Nel a starting point. A point where she could look around, find street signs or other landmarks. Maybe, just maybe, she’d be able to follow the disturbance around. If she got a good enough sense for what the disturbance was, Nel was hoping that she might be able to lock onto that. Even if she couldn’t see what he was doing, seeing where he was could have infinite value.

Of course, none of those thoughts were things that Nel hadn’t already thought before, furthering her own opinion that she was slowly going crazy. Her thoughts were just cycling around themselves, never going far in one direction or the other.

“Eva really needs to finish her project with his blood,” Nel mumbled to herself for what had to be the hundredth time.

Originally, Nel had wanted to be the one to locate Sawyer. Partially out of pure revenge, but also because she had a feeling that it would be her only real contribution to bringing him down.

She wasn’t much of a fighter and she knew it.

Nel nearly fell from her seat as a sudden image filled her vision. A quick burst of fear-filled adrenaline was all that gave her the reflexes to catch herself on the altar.

She did not want to miss out on what could possibly be the sliver she had been waiting for by falling and losing concentration.

Her vision came into focus. Blurry at first, but it slowly sharpened as time dragged on.

As it cleared up, Nel tried to glean as many details as was possible. There was a lot of red. Blood, Nel decided. It would fit with the more fleshy tones surrounding the red. Violet was another predominant color, though Nel couldn’t tell what that was. Perhaps a cloth draped over a table–she was fairly certain there were tables.

While everything cleared up, Nel moved her vision outside of the building. It was a large warehouse built out of rusted metal. Or rather, it had probably been built out of regular metal that had rusted through time and disuse. Either way, there were no large signs indicating what the structure had been originally intended for.

Everything outside was clear instantly, so she wasted no time in maneuvering her view to the nearest crossroads. Nel scrambled for a pad of paper and proceeded to write down the road names.

She would be able to come back to those later to find the state or country, if he had left the states. The signs looked like they were from the United States, but Nel hadn’t been to every country.

For the moment, Nel moved back inside. On her way back to the original point, she scoped out some of the rest of the warehouse. A good number of those creatures he was so fond of creating stood locked up in a makeshift cage. Skeletons patrolled the catwalks overhead, most armed with bows and arrows. One appeared to have a revolver bolted onto its hand.

Nel shook her head. Wouldn’t the kick of firing just send the whole arm flying off the body?

Then again, those skeletons could draw the string of a bow, and that wasn’t supposed to be easy.

A sick feeling welled up in Nel’s stomach as she spotted piles of bones. The piles formed four distinct pillars, each capped with a human skull, all positioned around a circular table. A sacrificial dagger lay between two basins. An assortment of rings rested on one side of the table.

It was something that all augurs had been trained to recognize. Bones dug from a graveyard built up to form the soul binding altar. One of the easiest signs to recognize budding necromancers with. They would use the altar to call and bind ghosts to anchors.

And, since moving in with Ylva, Nel had discovered that soul binding was the greatest affront to Death. Even moreso than sealing ones own soul away into an immortal object made of gold. The souls to create ghosts were stolen directly from his plane of existence.

Yet it was one of the easiest branches of necromancy to start off with. All it really required was digging up a graveyard. Even the more squeamish of necromancers could do it. No killing required.

Back at the origin point of the scrying, Nel couldn’t help but frown at what she saw.

Sawyer was lying flat on his back between two operating tables. His wide smile was missing from his face.

While covered in blood, he didn’t actually appear injured. Nel couldn’t spot a single injury. There was, however, a pulsing lump of violet fused with his hand.

That probably had something to do with his condition.

Nel almost wanted to cry out in frustration. He couldn’t just die. Not without being killed first. And made to suffer.

A slight movement of the collar on his button-up shirt quashed Nel’s rage. Moving her view closer, she could see that he was breathing.

Satisfied for the moment, Nel looked around the rest of the operating theater. One of those enigma creatures was dismembered on top of one table, mostly unmoving.

The other table held a far more gruesome sight.

The little girl who Sawyer referred to as ‘honey’ or ‘Des’ had her chest carved open. Eyes wide with panic, she was in the middle of swinging her ribcage shut. The bones appeared to be attached to the rest of her with hinges of some sort. As soon as she snapped it into place, the girl pulled a needle and thread off the side of the table and started stitching herself together with skilled fingers.

She had obviously done it more than once.

Before she managed to seal up her skin, Nel spotted something. She did not, in any manner of the word, profess to being an expert in anatomy. However, she was relatively certain that eyes did not belong on the inside of the chest. Whatever rapidly pulsating organ that they were connected to was probably not supposed to be there either.

It looked like a miniature brain.

Even for an augur, that would be strange.

Nel grit her teeth. Those are my eyes.

She must be the one preventing augurs from finding them. Her panic must have caused a lapse of concentration. Or perhaps Sawyer severed something he shouldn’t have when he fell–there was a bloodied scalpel on the floor near his hand.

Once Des finished sewing herself up, she jumped off the operating table and started fretting over Sawyer. An action that boggled Nel’s mind. Des had been as much a victim of Sawyer as she had been during her brief stay in his care.

After watching a bit longer–Des had apparently decided that amputating Sawyer’s hand was the best course of action–Nel pulled herself out of her scrying and got up from her seat.

It didn’t look like whatever was preventing her augur abilities would get itself fixed soon. If Sawyer regained consciousness, he would also have to realize that Des’ brain-eye thing was broken. That should buy time on its own. Even if he did notice, Nel had a good idea of the location. A sign welcoming visitors to Nevada had been a short way along one of the roads.

For now, Nel needed to find Eva.

Swapping fetters to the long strand of black hair, Nel frowned. More of the inky nothingness. A different inky nothingness, though no less familiar than that of Sawyer’s scrying protection.

Eva was somewhere in Hell.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.019

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Irene sat in her seat, shifting back and forth.

Her first day back in diablery class had her feeling intensely nervous. She had been the one to cause the brief intermission in their lessons.

Surprisingly enough, the rest of the class wasn’t staring at her in one way or another. She had expected a glare or two at least. She did almost cause them injury–from their perspective. Or worse.

Perhaps those that were the type to glare had already been kicked out of class.

Those that were left tended to all sit on their own. Few spoke with one-another. In fact, only two were whispering amongst themselves. Susie Bobo and Rachael Davis. Everyone else was either writing in notebooks, reading, or staring towards the front of the classroom.

It wasn’t hard to guess what they were staring at. Catherine was back to her demonic form–sans clothes and all.

Irene was trying to ignore her as much as possible. Catherine, Irene had decided, was pure trouble.

At least Eva was present this time. She was far more sensible than Catherine.

“Mind if I sit here?”

Irene glanced up. She only managed to suppress a groan through biting her tongue.

Randal.

She wasn’t sure how to feel about the white-haired boy. On one hand, he was obviously an idiot. What with wanting to ‘spruce up’ a summoning circle. On the other hand, he had saved her from Drew.

Anyone who didn’t like Drew had to be a good person, right?

The question was a matter of whether or not he could overcome his idiocy and learn from his mistakes.

“Sure,” Irene said. Might as well give him a chance.

At the first sign of him causing unnecessary danger with his antics, Irene would be speaking with Eva.

“Cutting it a little close, aren’t you?”

Randal took his seat and pulled out a book. “Still have a good three minutes,” he said, flashing a smile. “Plenty of time to get some emergency studying in before tomorrow’s test.”

Irene shook her head. How irresponsible. Leaning forward, she tried to catch a glimpse of what subject he had a test in by the cover of the book. None of her professors had mentioned any tests, but Randal was a full two years ahead of her. What subjects would an older diablery student be taking?

Printed in a floral manuscript on the cover of the tome were the words Enchanting and Warding, the Entwined Arts.

“You’re taking enchanting and warding?”

“Just warding, though I took enchanting intro last year. Interested?”

Irene shifted. “I was interested in them. Now I’m reconsidering just how respectable they are if someone like you is taking them.”

He raised an eyebrow. “And just what is that supposed to mean?”

“You strike me as the sort of person who is lazy to the extreme and who insists on doing things their own way. Someone who would succeed in more free-form artistic subjects.”

Harrumphing, he said, “I’ll have you know, warding requires plenty of artistry and imagination. If you just follow the book, any two-bit ward breaker can unravel your wards in seconds. Out in the real world, nothing is more respectable than a good warder. Except, perhaps, a ward breaker.”

“Ward breakers are respected?” That didn’t sound right. Criminals breaking into places they shouldn’t had to be on the opposite end of the respect spectrum. But then, anyone in diablery class had to have their perspectives skewed.

Irene had a brief thought about whether or not that applied to herself as well.

“Of course,” Randal said, oblivious to her thoughts. “Someone dies and their family can’t get into their home, or room, or safe. Who gets called? Ward breakers. Can’t sell a house with half the property warded off, can you? Or think about the villainous hideouts, ancient crypts, and other such areas that regular mage-knights can’t break into easily. They’ll hire on a breaker to get them in.

“But don’t take my word for it. Sign up for warding next year. It’s a blast. And the professor is completely insane.”

“That doesn’t sound like a good quality for a professor to have,” Irene said with a frown.

Randal shrugged. “Oh, she’s good at her job. Don’t doubt that. Just don’t be surprised when you walk into class and find her standing on the ceiling. Or wind up going through class backwards.”

Irene blinked. “How does–”

“Alright,” Eva said, interrupting their conversation. “I heard you all had an interesting class last time.”

You could say that again.

“Unfortunately, I was off being attacked by an insane nun of the Elysium Order. But don’t worry, I, and a few experts, had a chance to examine the thing. I thought I’d give you a little update on the creature that we’re calling an enigma.”

Irene blinked. Again. Elysium Order? What?

“You can’t just say that and expect us to ignore it,” someone said, echoing Irene’s thoughts.

Eva had the audacity to look confused. Clarity lit up in her eyes after a moment of thought. “Oh, sorry. It was a tautology, I know. What member of the Elysium Order isn’t insane?

“Anyway, that creature is something that has been infesting Hell as of late. They are not demons and, in fact, share more in common with zombies than actual living creature. They don’t have a virus that will infect you upon contact with their blood, but they’re almost impossible to kill permanently. Their organs will keep working even after their apparent death and they’ll slowly regenerate. Freezing it solid was probably the best choice, so good job to whoever thought of that.”

Irene had to agree there. While she was sure that Catherine could have done something more than get held up by its tentacles, locking it in a block of ice tidied everything up without much mess.

A dislocated shoulder was comparatively easy to explain away to the nurse and anyone she could have passed by in the halls. Being covered in blood was not.

Catherine set her phone down for the first time since she walked into the room. Looking out over the classroom, her eyes narrowed.

Until her gaze crossed Irene. Then, she smiled.

Irene shuddered.

“From now on,” the succubus said, “anytime we do any summoning in class, you must use what your books call tier three shackles. Those should hold the ‘enigmas’ without issue. At least long enough for us to deal with it.”

Eva clapped her hands together. “Now, since your summoning was interrupted last time, I’d feel bad if the rest of you didn’t get to at least make an attempt.”

Irene groaned. Eva was supposed to be the sensible one. The one who says that they still need more studying before any more attempts.

The class really needed proper supervision.

— — —

Martina Turner sat at her desk. The reports coming in were all positive. Not a one had her feeling down.

Average student attendance was up. Either the professors were being more interesting than normal or there was less reason to skip class.

Some of it might be related to the fact that zero teachers were on leave for any reason. No illnesses or worse. Less substitutes meant the students were less likely to skip. The regular teachers held more authority in that they could easily see who was absent and give them penalties.

No one wanted to flunk out of what was commonly seen as one of the worst magic academies on the continent. If they couldn’t succeed here, they couldn’t succeed anywhere.

The only substitute who managed to retain her students was Catherine. That was something of an interesting data point, though not wholly unexpected. Succubi simply had that certain allure that drew people to them.

Perhaps it would be a wise idea to order Catherine to sit in on classes randomly. Students would attend more in hopes of being in her presence.

Had to keep the numbers up, after all.

Especially with all the troubles plaguing the academy in the last two years.

There hadn’t been an incident in almost four months.

A record, Martina thought with a sarcastic tone.

Despite that long stretch of relative peace, word had definitely spread. Especially regarding the zombie incident under Dean Halsey’s tenure and the more recent demon-hybrid attack.

Established families, even those that couldn’t afford it, were looking at other academies to send their children to. Safer academies.

Pathetic.

The magical side of the world was a dangerous side of the world. Maybe that wasn’t true, and it was just that mages were more aware of the dangers that existed, but there was no reason to coddle children. Best expose them to it while in a relatively safe environment. Smash any preconceived notions about their safety as a mage early on.

Based on her security team’s handling of the hybrid incident, Martina felt confident in saying that Brakket Magical Academy was safe.

Relatively.

There were a handful of families that were not afraid. At least, not more afraid than they were interested. Her strategically leaked information about the diablery class was drawing in a few new student applications for next year, even a few prospective transfers for the later years.

Martina set her reports down on her desk and leaned back in her chair. She took out a bottle from the bottom drawer of her desk. Pouring herself a small glass of Hellfire, she pondered just what to do about school attendance.

They didn’t need money. The school governors had ensured that much. As such, families with a good amount of disposable money were not required.

But they did need fresh young bodies.

The parties interested because of the diablery were not enough to outweigh those leaving. Just enough to mitigate the damage, somewhat.

They still needed more.

Those extra bodies would have to come from first generation mages inducted as freshmen.

Martina scrawled a note down to ensure that the professors were well aware of their targets before the next round of student-hunting.

Not a hard task. Many first generation mages slipped through the cracks every year, condemned to go through their lives ignorant of the fact that they could be one of those rumored magic users.

Of course, having first generation mages wasn’t a bad thing. They would come into the magical world with open minds.

And would be far less prejudiced than their more magical-lineage-inclined counterparts.

No parents to tell them what magics were good and what were bad. No stories passed down to ‘warn’ them of certain types of magical creatures.

In other words, first generation mages would be far easier to induct into diabolical methods of magic.

Of course, it was dangerous. Not so much because of the demons, but because of fellow humans. Too noisy, and they would attract the attentions of demon hunters.

Eventually, such a thing wouldn’t be a concern. They would become powerful enough to defend themselves. A handful of students, all able to order multiple demons into battle, would wipe the floor with most assailing forces.

Unfortunately, that would be far off, relatively speaking. There were–Martina glanced down at one of the reports–a mere eight students remaining in the current class. None of them had formed any kind of proper contract yet.

For the time being, Martina would have to rely on herself, Catherine, the security force, and Zagan. And Zagan was far from reliable.

After his antics involving the missing students, Martina was almost doubling the priority of finding a way to dismiss him without winding up killed herself.

Aside from them, Eva had a small contingent of demons following her. A force that she might be inclined to use to help out the academy in the face of danger. But, like Zagan, Martina did not find the young diabolist reliable in the slightest.

Martina started as her door opened with a click.

Catherine hadn’t said a word.

Slacking again?

Martina shook her head, shaking off both the unexpected arrival and the missing Catherine.

Obviously she was off tending to her class, thereby allowing Anderson to walk in unannounced.

There goes my good mood for the day.

Anderson never brought good news.

“Something I can do for you, Mr. Anderson?”

He took a moment to dally about the entrance of her room. Removing his coat and hat, placing them on the rack, and then straightening out his suit gave him plenty of time to change up what he wanted to say based on who was in the room. He had a markedly different personality whenever Zagan was present.

It also meant that he was planning on staying for some time.

With a barely concealed groan, Martina reached down into her desk and withdrew a second glass. She tipped it in his direction, a silent question.

He, thankfully, shook his head. “No thank you, Martina. I’m here on business. Afterwards, I must depart for a meeting with the other governors.”

“Suit yourself,” she said as she replaced the glass. The less Hellfire liquor she had to waste on others, the better. “This business?”

He didn’t appear outwardly angry with her. That was good at least. Ever since he had shown up talking about two missing students, they hadn’t been on the best of terms.

Or rather, Martina was fairly certain that she only managed to keep her job through being the one holding Zagan’s contract.

“Unpleasant,” he said.

Of course it is, Martina thought.

“The Elysium Order has suspended operations in North America.”

Martina winced. “The entire continent? I was unaware that we had such a large impact on them.”

“One of our other ‘test runs’ down south may have had a brief run in with them as well. But this has two direct implications, neither pleasant and both affecting Brakket.

“First and most obvious, the pressure on everything they hunt will be off.”

“And that includes necromancers. Including the one that attacked the academy twice.” Martina reached out to her glass and took a long drink. “Why did they have to announce it? This is only going to make their job harder when they restart their crusade. Vampires will be out of control. Liches too. Even ones that aren’t here already will be looking to move to where the Elysium Order is not.”

“As of this time, the Elysium Order has submitted several bounties to the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights. Time will tell how effective the guild is in keeping undead under control.

“More importantly, they explicitly cited demonic interference as their reason for suspending operations.”

Martina froze mid drink.

That was… bad.

Downing the rest of her Hellfire in a single gulp, Martina slammed the glass on the desk, shattering it. She swept the shards off of her desk, ignoring the small cuts she got on her hand.

“Any two-bit hunter will easily be able to glance at recent Elysium deployments and make guesses at what they are talking about.”

“Indeed,” he said. “Keep your head down. Act like everything is normal. Gather students as usual and continue with the program. The others have agreed, given Zagan’s revelation, the program must continue. A handful of hunters aren’t going to save us from an apocalypse.”

Martina grit her teeth.

Anderson had stood up, but she was only scarcely paying attention.

The stooges of the board of governors now thought diablery lessons were a good idea? Just a few months ago, they were considering terminating the project.

Saving the world? Is that what they expect of me? Even ten thousand diabolists wouldn’t be capable of stopping an uncountable number of demons. And she had eight? Assuming no more dropped out, that is.

Well, it will certainly get me in the history books, Martina thought. If there’s anyone left to write them, that is.

Martina shook her head. Problems for later. For now, she had more immediate problems.

Hunters.

As if sensing her thoughts, Anderson glanced back over his shoulder. “I’ve put in motion a handful of projects that should keep the hunters off your back for a time. Hunters will find pockets of demons suddenly popping up all around the country. But don’t count on it occupying them for long. Sooner or later, someone will look into Brakket.” He plucked his bowler from the rack and placed it on his head, adjusting it side to side, slightly. “Be prepared.”

Martina scoffed as he walked out the door. “Be prepared,” she mocked.

Easy to say.

But what to do?

Pulling her spare glass from her desk, Martina started to pour herself a new glass. Halfway through, she stopped.

She drank straight from the bottle until it was half empty.

“I think I need more security personnel.”

— — —

Laughter.

Maniacal laughter.

It was about all she had heard in the recent weeks. Enough to drive her insane.

“It’s a gift,” her father shouted. Fingers stained purple, her father held up what she would guess was a heart. She had seen plenty of hearts in her life. Most came from humans, but she had dissected animals under the strict guidance of her father numerous times before moving on to humans.

The blob of meat held in her father’s hand was far too smooth and spherical to be a proper heart. The only imperfections that she could see from the neighboring table were the arteries and veins that jutted from the orb.

“A genuine boon from a Power,” her father continued, grin stretching from ear to ear.

Des wanted to ask just what he was talking about, but her father had yet to see fit to remove the stitchings binding her mouth closed. Left only to watch and speculate, Des spent most of her time waiting for the next outburst of a discovery to help fill in what exactly he was so excited about.

She didn’t have to wait for long. If there was one thing her father loved, it was talking while working.

“Look,” he shoved the heart straight over her face.

Up close, Des could see the pulsating flesh as the heart beat in his hand. As experienced as she was, she didn’t feel the need to count the heartbeats. It should have already stilled based on how long her father had held it in his hands.

Yet it wasn’t even slowing.

“The magic does not merely animate the whole, as is the case with zombies, skeletons, and such. It animates everything. And I can not stop it.

He spun back around to face the body lying on the other table, laughing as he turned.

“Watch the panel, honey.”

Des strained her neck. A panel of lights sat at the head of the table. Her father had designed it to connect to a subject’s brain through wires and monitor activity. In this case, however, the creature’s brain was no longer attached to the creature’s body. It sat on a small shelf, wires running into it.

The rows of blinking lights weren’t too surprising. The human body maintained some level of activity for a handful of minutes after death. There were more lights blinking than normal for a human brain five minutes postmortem, but that didn’t mean anything. This wasn’t a human brain. They had no benchmark for creatures like this.

As she was watching the blinking lights, her father grabbed a scalpel, spun it between his fingers a few times, and jammed it straight into the severed heart.

Des’ eyes widened of their own accord. A spike of red lights lit up the entire panel.

“Not only is the creature still alive–even demons die upon removing their hearts and brains–but it still feels pain. It is still connected.” He waved his hands around the heart, as if double checking that there weren’t any strands of flesh connecting the organ to the brain.

Satisfied with whatever he found, he turned again to face Des.

“And then it starts healing itself. Slowly, perhaps not as fast as the healing ability most demons possess, but steadily.”

Her father’s eyes caught a glint of the operating theater’s lights, giving them a sinister look. Her father’s too-wide grin widened further as he looked down at her bare, stitch-covered chest.

Des’ heart sank as she watched him lift up his scalpel.

“Time for another installation, honey.”

She had the strangest feeling that her heart wouldn’t be hers for much longer.

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004.012

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Abominations this, sacrifice for the people that. Does Brother Maynard never tire of hearing himself speak?

Standing at attention while listening to speeches about the glory of a combat death in the service of fellow men was possibly one of the most tedious things Ali had ever experienced.

Especially when, despite the necromancer being present, their primary goal was the hunting of one of their own. The rogue augur Nel Stirling would surely be comforted by the false sorrow projected by Brother Maynard in having to terminate her.

“Go, my sisters, and do your best endeavors.”

It took real willpower not to roll her eyes. As it was, Ali still glanced up to the overcast night sky and let out a small sigh through her nose.

There hadn’t been any big speeches prior to assaulting Ylva’s compound. No time.

Apparently, there was time now.

Ali much preferred it without. The speeches might have been intended to motivate, but they had the opposite effect. Brother Maynard had to know how it sent her fellow sisters’ hearts into their boots. There were only so many times one could hear about the heroes of the grave before adopting a fatalistic outlook.

Maybe that was the intention. Maybe not.

Either way, it didn’t matter to Ali. She didn’t have any plans to stick around.

When she turned her eyes back to Brother Maynard, he wasn’t talking. His eyes were locked on Ali.

She licked her lips and swallowed.

After a moment, he finished what he had been saying. “…we’ll sever. But your foes will be fierce and ruthless. Most importantly, they’ll be unknowns. The Source will be analyzing the necromancer’s constructs. We currently believe that they will behave as regular flesh golems, but be prepared to use your own judgment.”

At least it isn’t raining, Ali thought as her mind wandered away from the speech once again.

She felt her before she saw her. A warm, comforting feeling centered around the skull implanted within her chest. Ali started to smile before she caught herself.

Brother Maynard cut off his speech a moment later. As one, he and the nuns turned to look down the street.

A giant stood out, silhouetted against the dark alley.

As one, the inquisitorial squad’s eyes burned white. All of them raised their arms.

All except for Ali. She hadn’t even connected. There was no point. Nothing they did would be able to harm Lady Ylva.

Ylva proved that by raising an open palm. She clenched her grip and tugged.

As one, the burning eyes died out.

Gasps echoed around the assembled inquisitors. Two fell to their knees. One, a certain Sister Beck, actually threw up.

Only two were unaffected. Brother Maynard did not possess the necessary implants to connect. Ali did not connect in the first place.

“Your magic was a gift. A privilege. Privileges can be revoked.”

Ali watched out of the corner of her eye as Brother Maynard’s crystal thaumaturgical focus slipped down his sleeve and into his hand. He twisted the crystal and pointed it at the demon.

Water formed around Ylva, encapsulating her.

He intends to drown her? Ali actually started laughing, drawing a few looks from the nuns. Several of them had pulled out their spare foci, but none moved to attack.

The outside of the water capsule frosted over with ice.

From within the water, Ali could see nothing had changed about Ylva save for a slight quirk of her head.

Brother Maynard was not finished. He conjured several sharpened rods of ice and plunged them into the sphere.

One pierced through Ylva’s arm. Another entered her stomach and exited her back. Both legs were pinned to the ground by two more.

All-the-while, Ylva did nothing. The only movement was at the corners of her mouth. They tipped downwards.

Ali shivered, barely noticing that several of the nuns had followed Brother Maynard’s lead in piercing the snow globe. No fire or lightning, they weren’t taking chances with melting the shell. They stuck with stone and extra ice.

Ylva could escape. Ali knew she could. This was a daughter of Hel for God’s sake! Ali had done her research since returning to the Elysium Order. She knew what those touched by Death could accomplish. If Ylva possessed even a sliver of her mother’s power, she should be able to wade through the assembled chapter of inquisitors without a scratch.

So why didn’t she?

Was she actually that weak?

Or… no. Ylva had turned her eyes to Ali.

They stared. A wordless communication passed between the two.

And Ali realized the truth. That probably wasn’t even the real Ylva. Some effigy in her likeness was trapped in that bubble.

No. This was a test. For her.

Ali broke eye contact with Ylva to look at Brother Maynard.

And she hesitated.

She held no particular love for Brother Maynard. He had all but admitted that there were no plans to rescue her after she was captured. She had been left for dead. Or worse.

But that wasn’t unexpected. Ali held no special position. A new internal affairs inquisitor could be trained as her replacement. They had probably already started before Ali returned; a few others had died in that failed assault and would have needed replacing. What was one more?

Ali’s eyes twitched back to Ylva.

Just in time to watch a rock enter the front of her skull and exit the back of her neck. Her eyes never wavered from their position on Ali.

The nuns and Brother Maynard continued pelting her with projectiles.

The demon–for she was, without a doubt, a demon–had tortured her.

Brother Maynard had never done that. At least not so obviously. Some of the punishments for various transgressions in the order skirted the lines.

If Ali considered for a moment, Ylva hadn’t actually hurt her. Ylva’s presence had always been a comfort. She stopped the turning, and the clicking. So long as Ali remained cordial, Ylva gave her a reprieve from the wheel.

Really, all the torture was her own fault. Ali had to be restrained. She was a danger to others and herself. All the time she spent refusing Ylva or otherwise annoying her–which inadvertently led to the wheel starting up–had been entirely her fault. She was still berating herself about the time she spat in Ylva’s face.

And wasn’t the situation now the exact same thing in reverse? Ylva was taking a beating. Being punished–no, punishing herself for what Ali forced her to do inside the torture chamber.

Within the ice-covered sphere, Ylva smiled. A kind and understanding smile.

Ali smiled back.

Ylva wanted her to be happy. Whatever choice she made.

A few giggles escaped Ali’s smile as she turned her eyes towards Brother Maynard.

With a thought, Ali connected to the source. Power and information flooded through her veins.

There it was. The information about her target. “Subject: Brother Rudolph Maynard,” she said.

Several of the nearby nuns turned her way with wide eyes. A few realized that she had connected and attempted to connect on their own, if their clutching at their chest and falling to their knees was any indication.

Ali paid them no mind as she continued to read aloud from the source. “Crime: Transgressions against the property of Lady Ylva, daughter of Hel. Response: Termination.”

Brother Maynard, so concentrated on attacking Ylva, turned to Ali only after she had finished her announcement. His eyes started narrow. They widened as he raised his focus in her direction.

It was too late.

The holy flames that Ali had conjured were upon the Elysium monk in an instant.

His screams resonated with Ali’s uncontrollable giggles.

Ylva wanted Ali to be happy. She made her choice.

She wanted Ylva to be happy too.

— — —

“So,” Catherine said, breaking the ice.

She allowed herself to smile at her own internal joke.

On the streets beneath them, Ylva’s ice ball shattered. A mostly whole and healthy Ylva joined up with the mad nun in mowing down the inquisition. The show was somewhat fascinating to watch. The way the nun continued to laugh while killing her former comrades… she was beyond broken.

Whatever tricks Ylva had done to avoid having her skull crushed had piqued Catherine’s interest.

She quickly squashed her curiosity. As a succubus–and not even a ‘real’ one at that–there was nothing Catherine could do to match something like Ylva’s power.

Again, her mind wandered back to that question Eva had asked.

What options are available for you gaining ‘power?’

The girl didn’t know what she was talking about. A lesser succubus didn’t just become a real succubus. Learning the paltry magic tricks used by mortals wouldn’t change her into a higher tier of being. Nothing she ever learned could ever compare to something like Zagan and his ridiculous ability to alter reality itself.

The only thing that was within her reach that might surpass Zagan was her being touched by Void himself. And that was so far out of her reach that thinking about it was nothing more than wasted time.

There were rumors that Zagan, along with several others among the royalty, were gods and goddesses of Void, but Catherine did not believe that if only because they weren’t powerful enough.

Shaking the thought from her mind, Catherine realized that she hadn’t followed up on her little icebreaker.

She glanced up at her–ugh–partner. Not a partner partner. The thought of that made her want to vomit. And vomiting was something demons simply did not do.

“Why are we here?”

Golden eyes flicked over, meeting hers.

Catherine went very still until Zagan turned back to the battle below.

As soon as he did, she let out a soft sigh of relief and withdrew her cellphone from her pocket.

She had made the most amazing discovery not five days prior. A most fascinating method of distracting oneself from any ongoing duties–such as being dragged out to some no-name city to watch a few nuns die.

Games had been around in some form or another since ancient times, but nothing from her last visit to the mortal plane could match up to electronic games. She could only hit a hoop with a stick so many times before going insane.

It took only a handful of hours to discover games on her work computer that allowed her to play with real humans in real time. Her demonic nature gave her several advantages in terms of reflexes and dexterity and Catherine ensured those pathetic mortals knew of her superiority at every available moment through liberal use of her computer’s microphone.

“We are here,” Zagan said, startling Catherine enough that she nearly dropped her phone, “because something has been happening down in Hell. Something strange. Violent tremors tear through domains heedless of the owner’s desires. Just the other day, there were about five or so very close to one another.”

Catherine frowned. “You were in Hell the other day?”

“Every day, for two weeks now. I have a sort of experiment that I am running to determine the–”

“You’ve been in Hell? Martina has been flipping her lid!”

Zagan turned to her with one eyebrow raised.

Clearing her throat, Catherine revised her statement. “I mean, she has been concerned about your absence. It is ruining some plans for some new club of hers.”

“Ah yes, the demonology club. Would you believe that she wanted to hire the embryonic girl’s master to teach children a few nuances of diablery? Now she wants me to do it.”

“Sounds like a terrible idea. Or great. Depends on how much you care about mortal children.”

“Oh, I’m not opposed to it in concept. I have no desire to be the instructor. Seems like a waste of my time, yeah?” He paused and turned to Catherine with a golden glint in his eye. With a silver voice, he said, “you might make a good–”

“Suggest me to Martina and I’ll–”

“What? Hurt me?”

He laughed.

Catherine turned away with a bad feeling about the future. In a mad effort to change the subject, she said, “but that doesn’t answer the question. Why are we here, now, watching this massacre?”

He turned back to face the streets. “The hel seems odd to me. Why is she here? Interacting with mortals on a daily basis? Protecting them?”

Frowning, Catherine looked down at the streets herself. Only six of the nuns were alive. It looked like they might stay that way. None of them had a weapon in their hands and all of them were cowering together.

Ylva was holding the half-crying half-laughing nun against her very voluptuous chest. Catherine crushed the flicker of envy with a disgusted shake of her head.

“And then she goes and does that. Kills a good fourteen Death worshipers.”

Catherine frowned as she glanced around. “Probably not very good ones then. Or this is sanctioned. Someone would be hunting her down by now. The Baron himself maybe.”

“Possibly,” Zagan hummed. “I’ve never heard of a rogue Hel. And these were human hunters rather than undead hunters. Despite being part of the same organization, they may not count for much.

“Either way, I’m not certain that Ylva is related in the slightest to what is occurring with Void.”

“Wait… Void? As in, our Power, Void?”

“I said that there were tremors–earthquakes, if you will–in Hell. And Hell…”

“Is Void,” Catherine said softly. Her breath caught in her throat as she made the connection. “Someone is attacking Void Himself?”

Zagan shrugged. “Maybe He just came down with a little illness.” He turned away from the sight of Ylva ordering the six survivors to deliver a message to their superiors. “Come,” he said. “We shall stop by Martina’s office. I’ll check in before returning to hell. And maybe remind her about your upcoming position as head demonologist.”

Catherine sighed, but did not protest. Her mind was too busy racing over what Zagan had said.

— — —

Arachne swung out of the elevator shaft, landing in front of the two humans. Both backed up partially down the hallway they had just come from.

She kept her eyes locked on the widely grinning male, Sawyer.

The little girl with the stitched shut mouth did not even register as a threat.

“Look who we have here, Des.” There was a subtle twitch of his fingers, disguised by waving his hand as he spoke.

Arachne did not miss it. She reacted immediately, jumping to the side. As she jumped, the extra legs jutting from her back swiped through the air she had just vacated.

Ethereal mist scattered. It reformed into an old man at Sawyer’s side. He hovered half a foot off the ground. All of him–clothes, skin, and hair–glowed pale white and semi-translucent. With vacant eyes, he stared into empty space.

Sawyer clicked his tongue without letting his smile slide. “Distasteful beings. Weilks was always better at commanding them. Much faster.”

Again, Arachne was forced to spin to the side. Her legs acted as scythes as they disrupted another ghost.

“But if being possessed is your weakness, well, let’s just say that I have been expecting you.”

A chill penetrated her legs. All of them. Arachne twisted out of her spot and slashed through a whole batch of ghosts.

One of her legs didn’t react in time with the other three. It pulled back before plunging straight through her exoskeleton.

With a growl, Arachne reached behind herself and tore the offending limb from her back at the joint.

Sawyer let out a small chuckle. “Self mutilation? I hope you are prepared to tear the rest off.”

Arachne was moving before Sawyer finished a single word, running straight at him. Whatever he was using to control and tether the ghosts had to be on his person. Nothing big and obvious. He was a slim man wearing slim clothing. There were no bulging pockets on his jacket or his pants.

Something smaller then.

He had a gold ring around his ring finger and a silver necklace with a pendant on the end. Both were possibilities. Unfortunately, the ghosts could be tied to a flat card in his pocket as well.

A wall of ghosts appearing in front of Arachne had her skidding to a stop. While she could disrupt them, charging through that many would be foolish.

“Des, my sweet honey, be a dear and collect that leg for me.”

Through the hazy wall of ghosts, the little girl’s eyes went wide. With slow, jerky movements, she stumbled forwards.

Possessed as well? And fighting it by the looks of things.

She felt a sudden pressure to her left. With a snarl, Arachne jumped to the side.

An expanding gust of air caught her at the edge of its blast, sending her off-balance.

Arachne flailed her limbs around her to disrupt any ghosts that might take the opportunity to invade as she regained her balance.

In the short moment her eyes had wandered to Des, Sawyer had pulled out a… spinal cord? He had it aimed straight at Arachne’s chest.

A glowing ball of electricity crackled on the end.

Normally, Arachne would ignore such a pathetic threat. The nuns’ lightning was far worse and she had been hit by that without much trouble.

Arachne dove out of the way, rolling on the floor before jumping to her feet. Her limbs whirled around her to keep the ghosts at bay.

The lightning thundered past a split second too late.

If her limbs started spasming, it could provide opportunities for the ghosts.

Arachne wasted no time in planning her next move. The wall of ghosts still surrounded Sawyer.

They weren’t around the little girl.

Moving, Arachne gripped her arm and yanked her back.

A light snap came from the girl’s shoulder as Arachne flung her through the wall of ghosts. Whatever had been holding the arm to the rest of her body had broken. Arachne found herself the proud owner of a freshly unstitched arm.

Not what she had intended. Still, it was the perfect thing to swing around without risking any possession.

Following in the wake of the girl, Arachne charged in. She batted away ghosts with the girl’s arm while bobbing and dodging the various air-based attacks Sawyer sent her way.

His smile slipped. It didn’t quite make it to a frown or even a neutral expression, but it definitely lost some of its wideness.

Arachne’s own grin appeared on her face, mirroring his former smile. If there was any contest in their grins, she was beyond certain that her best would beat his. Her teeth were just too perfect.

She clamped down on his ring hand. Her sharp claws shredded the meat and bone. With a tug, the whole hand tore apart.

The ghosts did not stop. Rather, they increased tenfold. They shook and jittered as they lurched towards her.

Taking the scrap of flesh from Sawyer with her in one hand and the girl’s arm in the other, Arachne used her mighty legs to catapult herself to the edge of the elevator landing.

Arachne lowered the makeshift club, assessing the situation. The limbs on her back kept in constant motion to protect from any unseen ghosts from behind.

There were too many. Just too many. Arachne found herself wishing that she had dragged some backup up the elevator shaft. They would have just gotten possessed, but tossing their possessed body at Sawyer might have disrupted the ghosts long enough for her to dive in and tear out the man’s throat.

For a moment, she actually entertained the idea of taking a step backwards and falling thirteen stories to the ground. She had seen the demon-golems and had no desire to become one–even if her actual consciousness was off in the Void.

But she couldn’t do that. Nel was the thing that would save Eva. If she backed off, Sawyer would collect Nel and undoubtedly escape before anyone could catch up to him.

No. She had to hold out long enough for the others to put the pressure on Sawyer. To force him to flee without reclaiming Nel.

Arachne gripped the detached arm in her hand. A thin strand of thread wove itself around the arm’s wrist. Her thread. Thin as it was, Arachne was beyond confident in its durability.

With a swing of her own arm, the arm flew through the air. The strand of her own webbing slid through a gap between her fingers. Her thread would be too thin to disrupt any ghosts it passed through.

The arm, however, was not. It punched through the face of one of the ghosts, scattering it into a puff of mist.

Swinging her arm around sent the arm at the end of the thread moving in a quick arc, scattering another set of ghosts.

Arachne charged forward. Her own arm dispersed a ghost on her way as she yanked the arm back to her.

She was forced into something of a dance as the ghosts circled around her. Her makeshift club swung around on its rope, darting this way and that. She interposed her own body between the thread, catching the it on the tips of her limbs to alter the arm’s direction and to keep its momentum moving.

The flurry with which it moved kept the ghosts at bay. The few that did slip past were so infrequent that it was barely a concern to swipe at them with one of her legs.

A lightning bolt crackled past her. Not dodged out of any real intention, it simply missed because of her erratic motions.

All the while, she continued her slow yet inexorable march forwards.

Until Sawyer changed tactics.

A cold tingle spread out through the bottom of her feet.

Arachne jumped off the floor just in time to watch a pale form float up through the tiles. She landed heavily a few feet forward, cracking tiles.

Thanks to her sudden movement, the arm smacked her across the face.

Growling, she tossed the arm again, setting it in motion.

More started to rise through the floor while others descended from the ceiling.

This had to end, and soon. She could feel ever more chills at her back as her limbs lashed out to strike at them.

Lightning crackled across her chest. As expected, it was more like a tickle than any real pain. The distraction was enough to cause the chills to gain a stronger hold.

Arachne tossed the arm straight forward, running behind it. She dropped the thread attached to the arm and stretched–stretched her arms to their limits in order to reach Sawyer that much sooner. Her body went almost horizontal, kept up by her extra legs marching forward, in her attempts to glean a slight extension.

She stretched her fingers to their limit.

The tip of her pointed black finger snapped the necklace from Sawyer’s neck, cracking the gem in the center.

That did the trick. The eyes of the ghosts gained awareness for a split second before all of them turned to fog. Even the little girl was getting to her feet after vomiting out a pale mist.

Arachne knocked the spine-focus out of his other hand as she pulled herself back to her full height. Her maniacal grin widened to touch both sides of her head as she locked eyes with Sawyer.

“I win.”

And she stared. Her eight eyes bathed his face in a faint red glow. The pathetic meat sack would cower before her.

For a moment, Sawyer almost looked like he was going to frown.

The moment didn’t last. A defiant grin spread across his face.

Arachne spun just in time to receive a knife in her stomach. It sunk in right through where her leg had carved a hole earlier.

The little girl stepped backwards, leaving the knife where it was.

Unsheathing the knife from her belly, Arachne took a step forward to return it to its owner.

She faltered. A chill ran through her carapace.

“I’ve been experimenting on demons lately,” Sawyer said.

Arachne tried to reach out, but her arm just wouldn’t move. She tipped forward and hit the ground like a statue toppled over.

“I don’t expect that to hold you for long, but it will be a decent test anyway. Des, we are leaving.”

There was a bit of motion in her peripheral vision as the little girl bent down to pick up her arm.

“Unfortunately, we have been prevented once again from testing out our little toys to their full potential. But I must take care of my hand before I bleed out. Farewell for now, Arachne. I’ll be practicing my ghost control for next time.”

With that said, two sets of footsteps petered off towards the elevator.

All the while, Arachne was thrashing about within her own skin, trying to get herself moving.

As her carapace started to unfreeze, Arachne managed to tilt her head just enough to look back at where Sawyer had been.

If she had the capability to laugh, the deranged bout of laughter she would have erupted into would have landed her in Bedlam.

Now, all she had to do was find Nel alive. For her Eva and for her Eva’s revenge.

Clenched in her off-hand, Sawyer had left behind his fingers and his ring.

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