Eva stared down at the blade, even ignoring the startled shout from Zoe and the sudden movement from the demons who might as well have been statues up until now.
Normally—and her experience with blades so far in her life supported this fact—blades hurt when they jabbed through her. This one… didn’t. Not more than a slight pinch, anyway. In addition, Eva had killed people before. A number of them. Perhaps not as many as Sawyer, but she had killed enough. And she had killed enough of them through stealing their hearts. She knew very well the time to death once the heart had been damaged.
Demon or not quite, she shouldn’t be standing anymore. Even that was an understatement. Frankly, she should be lying on the floor with her soul detached from her body until someone like Void or Death got around to claiming it. Or until Ylva managed to shove it back into her body. Probably after her body had healed enough at that.
Even demons died when their hearts were destroyed.
And yet, here she was, standing. Her heart didn’t even look damaged to her sense of blood. It had a blade running straight through it without a doubt, but her heart just wrapped around the blade to accommodate it. Even when it twisted to one side and tore through her body right between where her ribs should have been, Eva felt nothing more than a scratch. Her heart, lung, blood vessels, and everything else in the way healed up near instantly. The flowing blood coating her body sealed as if it had never been torn.
“What does it take to kill you?”
“A lot more than you can muster,” Eva said with the same unnatural calm and slight apathy that she had felt since the ritual had ended. Turning, Eva faced her assailant. “Why am I not surprised.”
The demon hunter stood before Eva in a very nude state. One hand clutched a thin metal blade about as long as Eva’s arm span. Her red eye blazed with unbridled fury. But the other side of her face, off-arm, back, and half of her chest…
“What–” Eva started.
“What did you do to me?”
The second she spoke, the hunter jumped back. A series of Lucy’s tentacles slammed into the ground right where she had been standing. Her landing wasn’t quite as steady as Eva felt it normally would have been. Probably because she wasn’t used to the weight of a massive arm or the violet-colored growths running up her back. Her shoulder wasn’t so much a shoulder as it was an eyeball staring right at Eva.
Perhaps a lightning bolt had struck her. Maybe a meteor landed on top of her.
Oddly enough, she didn’t actually have any tentacles. Not unless Eva counted her arm. While huge and bulky, it didn’t look all that danger–
Her arm snapped out towards Eva. Despite the relatively large space between them, it didn’t stop. It stretched out, catching Eva right in the chest. Blood splattered everywhere from the impact, but still nothing hurt. The fist was large enough to entirely wrap its fingers around Eva, which the hunter did without delay.
And it still didn’t stop.
Leaving a trail of blood, the hand carried Eva far across the ritual circle and even beyond. Right up until she hit a tree, splattering more blood everywhere around.
The arm snapped away the second she hit. Most of it must have returned to the hunter. The rest dropped to the ground as a little parasite-like worm with fingers for feelers.
It immediately started burrowing into the snowed over ground.
Eva, slightly stunned but entirely unharmed, stared at it as its tail wiggled around in the air. It dug deeper and deeper before Eva shook her head and came to her senses. She gripped its tail, tore it from the earth, let her blood flow around it, and tossed it back onto the ritual circle. Watching it futilely try to burrow through the stone, Eva grit her teeth as she felt an anger rise up inside her.
Aside from being a constant thorn in her side, the hunter hadn’t done much. Nothing permanent anyway. And yet, she had clearly been… infected. Unless all humans were going to turn out that way. Or all life in general. Regardless, she was the only one at the moment.
And that made her the perfect target. A Proxy of Life. The whole cause behind this mess. The reason Arachne been taken over by Void. Someone who not even Zoe would have qualms about Eva taking out her anger on.
Eva didn’t know if she could kill the hunter. It was infected by Life. Since the enigmas couldn’t die, maybe she couldn’t either.
But they could come pretty close.
She clapped her hands together, obliterating the worm. Only a few smatterings of unmoving blood and viscera remained behind. A burst of flames from Eva’s fingertips cleaned the remains from the stone platform.
Where did something go that couldn’t be killed when blown up and burned away to the point where there was nothing left? Hopefully nobody had been contaminating the entire mortal realm when they destroyed enigmas, or parts of them, thoroughly. But it was probably far too late to worry about that.
With a deep glower, Eva walked back across the ritual circle, past the still form of the Avatar of Life, and back to where the demons and Zoe had surrounded the hunter.
The hunter’s sword slid through Lucy’s tentacles as if they weren’t there. As Lucy recoiled with a gurgling hiss, the hunter continued her swipe, bringing her sword down on Neuro’s charge. The poor demon split straight in two as if he were made out of butter on a hot day. The glowing green of his twisted eyes faded and both halves disappeared into Hell portals before he even had a chance to hit the ground.
A small part of Eva wondered where she had got the sword. Juliana had stripped her of everything and vanished her gear to nowhere, as far as Eva could tell. There was a possibility that it had been a part of the package deal with her infection, but the sword seemed entirely too human. It was a straight silver sword with four little circles of brassy metal on the ends of the crossguard and the end of the hilt. Had Life provided it, Eva would have expected something a little more visceral. Like what had taken over the hunter’s arm, back, and face.
Which the hunter used again. She thrust her arm straight below her. Half a second later, it popped out of the ground directly underneath Sebastian. He tried to jump out of the way, but the thing grabbed his foot. As with Eva, it didn’t stop once it hit him. He disappeared up into the sky. Probably not quite high enough to pass through the portals—if such a thing were even possible.
The fall back down probably wouldn’t kill him, but Eva hoped he had the presence of mind to kill the little worm thing if there was one.
The hand drew back in an instant, leaving the vacant tunnel behind, and reformed into the same arm that had been at the hunter’s side before with no evidence of any additional mass. Not even the slightest flicker of surprise crossed the hunter’s face as she lashed out with her sword, barely missing Catherine’s wings. The arm must have included an instruction manual.
Eva, finally back close enough to act, moved right up to the hunter without heed for the blade. It hadn’t hurt her the first time. Sure enough, it struck her right where the neck met the shoulder and continued down and out the side of her stomach. Eva barely felt a pinch as her body sealed itself in the blade’s wake.
Without breaking her stride, Eva drew back a fist and punched forwards.
A disgustingly purple bruise spread across the hunter’s bare stomach far faster than any bruise Eva had ever seen. She wasn’t sure if that was because of her infestation or because her heart was beating about ten times faster than normal hearts during stressful situations. Either way, Eva didn’t much care. She took a certain satisfaction from watching the hunter’s face twist in pain.
Eva pulled back, ready to punch again. She should have created shards of blood sticking out of her knuckles, but she didn’t. Maybe later. For now, the hunter would be her punching bag.
Punching bags tended to work poorly while punctured.
But Eva didn’t make it. The hunter’s arm swung out in a wide sweep, smacking both her and Catherine as it grew. It didn’t pin them this time. It just knocked them back.
Eva flew uncontrollably through the air. Her own wings sprouted out from her back and formed a thin membrane of blood between the tips of the hard bone-like structure. Stretching them out, she caught the wind, slowing considerably. Her uncontrolled flight shifted to a far less turbulent glide.
A lightning bolt crackled out ahead, striking the hunter in the chest. A thankfully normal lightning bolt of thaumaturgical make, not one from another plane of existence.
For a moment, it seemed to have some effect. The hunter convulsed while clutching at her stomach. But the massive violet eye making up most of her shoulder snapped open and looked right at Eva.
Zoe’s bolt of lightning crashed straight into Eva. It hit her right between her breasts, sending blood exploding outwards from her back. One of her wings blew clean off. Without it, Eva crashed down onto the stone ritual circle, leaving a trail of blood as she skidded across the surface.
Eva went down but she didn’t stay down. Pushing herself up, she got a clear view of her own insides with her eyes rather than her sense of blood.
Everything inside her chest was black and shiny. A familiar liquid. Her ribcage and sternum should have been shards of calcium coated with viscera. Instead, she found liquid blood racing to fill in the gaps. Her organs were much the same. The top of her lungs should have been distinct from her throat, stomach, and heart; all were normally slightly different colors. Not anymore. They regenerated rapidly in the same demonic blood as her ‘skin’ melded over until she couldn’t even tell that she had been hit.
Despite the awe in the change of her healing factor, Eva could really only think one thing as she stood up. Devon is going to be furious.
Oh well, he’s wanted a new test subject for a few years now. This might just be the excuse he needed to get off his ass and go find one. One who wasn’t a terminal child at any rate.
Eva could worry about him later. For now, she clenched her fists even as her dismembered wing flowed across the stone as a puddle. It touched her foot and flowed into her body. Within seconds, she had fully absorbed the wing and spat it out her back, fully formed.
Though she didn’t need it anymore. Her short gliding had carried her close enough that, after a blink and a short sprint, her fist connected with the hunter’s face. Eva’s momentum carried both of them down to the ground.
She wailed on the hunter’s face. Eva made no distinction between the human side and the more grotesque infected side. Blow after blow rained down until teeth started flying.
All the while, the hunter struck back. Or tried to. Eva pinned down her mutated arm using both of her wings. It was a struggle, but she had the high ground and the leverage. The sword barely registered as a threat to Eva. Not even when it entered her neck and exited out the other side.
A bright flash from the hunter’s normal hand made Eva hesitate. The straight sword had disappeared. In its place, a smaller dagger had appeared. The sword might have transformed. Eva doubted it. Transported seemed the more likely answer. Which made perfect sense. The hunter wouldn’t want her toys to be taken away like Arachne had done to the sword her partner had fought with.
Luckily, neither of the weapons gave off that sickly eerie feeling that the demon-slaying sword had emanated. If she could pull that sword out of thin air, then Eva would get worried. Until then…
Eva balled up her fist and broke the woman’s jaw.
As her fist connected, the hunter jabbed the shorter dagger into Eva’s side. Like before, she felt the slightest pinch. Only when a heat grew in her side did Eva pay any attention.
She tried to reach for the hunter’s hand.
A light flashed before she could.
When the bright spots in Eva’s eyes faded, she found herself halfway across the ritual circle, missing her lower half. Entirely missing. From her stomach downwards, there was nothing left. She had landed upright. Were she not intrinsically aware of her own body through her sense of blood, she might have thought that she had been sucked into a pitfall. Obviously that was not the case. It didn’t hurt. She didn’t feel much of anything, pain least of all. But something was wrong.
The ground around her shimmered. A thin red line split out across the ground where she had landed. It opened wide into a dark empty void with her at the center.
Eva lashed out with a startled cry, gripping the edge where the portal met stone. She could still fight. She was still alive. All she needed to do was find out where her legs had gone. If her body was working like she thought it was, touching them should reconnect her halves.
“Eva!” Zoe shouted. She sprinted towards the portal.
But the portal was not cooperative. It stretched open ever so slightly. Just enough for her fingers to lose their grip. For the ground under the tips of her wings to disappear.
With nothing to grab onto, she fell into the abyss. The sound of the hunter’s mad cackles chased after her.
And she fell.
Downwards and deeper.
At some point, Eva lost track of herself. She couldn’t see anything with her own eyes; there was no light. Her sense of blood failed as well. Even trying to use her hands to feel herself didn’t do anything for her. She couldn’t even tell if her arms were moving. It felt as if her brain had been stuck in a jar, kept alive through magic or technology while leaving her completely isolated from everything. Her mouth didn’t work. Or if it did, she couldn’t hear or feel anything. Even the sensation of falling vanished before long.
She simply was.
How long that took, she couldn’t say. Her sense of time had gone out the window the moment she fell into the portal. The rate of her thoughts seemed slow and sluggish.
My my, come to visit so soon?
It was that voice again. Similar to the first times she had visited Hell, it pierced her mind and spoke directly to her very being. It skipped over the elegant and flowing sounds that Void had used while on Earth.
Frankly, Eva preferred this way. It was easier to understand.
Eva tried to talk but she just couldn’t speak. The sensation of isolation continued even now that she was being spoken to by her captor.
Captor? My dear, you perished.
I was fine, Eva thought. Thinking was the one thing left to her and, so long as Void could read her mind, she might as well think. Where is Arachne?
Arachne? Ah. The spider. I don’t believe that any of my creations have had to regenerate from dust before. It will be interesting to see if she can maintain a sense of self despite her pitiful state.
Eva couldn’t even grind her teeth together. As far as she could tell, she didn’t have teeth. Just a voice in her head.
Put her back together.
Look at you, ordering me around. Fascinating. Sadly, for you, I am still in the process of collecting enough of the spider’s remains to actually begin healing her. You have brought me a great deal, carried in your heart, but it is not enough.
Eva blinked. Or she would have had she been capable. It took her a moment to realize exactly what it was talking about. She had used her own body as part of the conduit for corrupting Life. The treatment ritual, her old one, always had needed blood and she hadn’t been sure that the Avatar of Void’s gaseous mist counted. Since her body had been a conduit, a good amount was still inside her. Or had been.
My legs, she thought with a sudden jolt of elation. And my arms. They were originally Arachne’s. If her limbs could get Arachne back to her, she would gladly sacrifice them. Though… had her legs even made it to Hell? Probably. Void should be able to drag them down here if not.
As she stewed in her consciousness, she felt something. A little something. Not much, just like a weight removed from her shoulders. If her shoulders even had meaning at the moment.
Hmm. This isn’t all that much.
Then send me back, bastard. I’ll tear open that cancerous sack of flesh and find every last bit of her.
That is not an option. I have only just begun clearing out the remnants of our enemy and those corrupted by its minions. Such a shame, so many of my creations lost permanently. But doing as you suggest may result in a relapse–
I do not care.
of the attacks. And with the portal already open in the mortal realm, it will likely not survive.
That… actually did sound like something she should care about. Earth was her home. And the home of everyone she cared about. Even demons, for the time being.
Worse, everyone she had left was still in the company of that infected hunter.
You have to send me back.
Perhaps in time. For now, you are mine.
I am no one’s. I might work with you, but Devon created me. Not you.
Ah yes, the mad warlock. I find myself curious about his end goals.
There is no time. My friends are in danger. And if that hunter decides to attack the avatar, as you said, Life will relapse. Send me back.
For a few moments, there was nothing but silence. There had been silence all throughout the conversation as Void wasn’t truly speaking. But the absence of his thoughts piercing her mind was all the more apparent without some noise.
Eva held her metaphorical breath. She couldn’t be sure whether the Power was trying to decide if she should be sent back or had abandoned her because she had attempted to order Void around. If she had been abandoned, she didn’t know what she could do. Every sensation save for her thought simply didn’t exist. She couldn’t even feel magic flowing through her mind as she tried to cast a spell. Blinking did nothing.
But she didn’t have to wait forever.
I agree that the situation could turn precarious should Life’s champion act against us. However, the planar gaps need to be sealed. Your haphazard corruption will work for an eon or two, but not if mortals have access to any higher being. Mortals are nosy and tend to disturb things that should be left well enough alone, as you are well aware.
So tell me what to do and Send. Me. Back.