Cassandra paused in front of the library doors. Her eyes narrowed. Through the windows, she could see several shadows shambling about amongst the bookshelves. “Damn necromancers.” She blew out a breath, and each of the many mouths dotting her body followed suit. “Why am I doing this?”
For the challenge, she thought to herself. Void Walkers were deadly killing machines, and she’d like to think that she was no exception. But pet masters were a tad…resistant to those skills that were more suited for precise lethal assassinations, not outright brawls. And from the looks of things, this Lich commandeering the library had enough of his pets guarding him that things were likely to get very messy. For her, anyway. Messes that she caused by ripping things to shreds with her claws were fine, of course.
A little niggling voice that she didn’t like to pay attention to insisted otherwise though, in that shrill persistent way it had. It reminded her of the little earnest mortal that had come traipsing through the doors, not long after he had joined their…group a few hours earlier. He was unhurt but looked utterly exhausted, on the verge of unconsciousness. And still he’d managed a warning about the library being occupied by ghouls before he’d slumped into a corner and fallen asleep.
She wasn’t worried about him. The Advocate would fix him right up in no time. He’d probably wake up first thing in the morning, as cheery as a bird. But she’d run that Lich out no more than a week ago, and now he’d come back? Marching deliberately onto the territory that she’d explicitly warned him off? (This warning having come with a good deal of pain on his part and perhaps a minor case of death, also on his part.) She’d stormed out of the building, through the shimmering ward, and now here she was. Purely to preserve her honor, and not because she wanted the library empty and safe for the mortals sleeping next door, nope. Oh, who was she kidding? She knew; she’d pondered and agonized over “going soft.” It was one thing to lurk in an angel’s home to cause mischief and bloodshed. It was another to stray from that intent and start shamefacedly taking care of the little fledglings whom the angel kept under her wings.
At least, if anything, this Lich would make for a good bit of exercise. She didn’t often have the chance to really rend someone apart nowadays. Not an easy thing heading out for a merry and bloody stroll when you have to rip down a ward at the end of the walk just to get back to your quarters. The silly angel and those mortals may treat her as a non-threat now, but the ward still identified her as one of her kind: demonic. Black. Evil.
But enough dilly-dallying. Cassandra pulled her sleeves back, just enough so that light from the library could catch on her claws and make them gleam. Yes, she loved admiring her claws; what was wrong with that? She took great pride in them; now, hush.
Cautiously, she slipped in through the walls, peering about her as soon as her head was free of the bricks. Yikes. She spotted the Lich quickly, slumbering against one of the book stacks, but she also could see the veritable army of the undead guarding him. They saw her too, and she braced herself for their attack. They stayed perfectly still however, watching her as intently as she watched them. Maybe it was fine then, if those mortal bookworms could come and go freely so long as they kept their distance…no, better not to take the chance. She could feel the pulse of his aura and the stench of evil marked his soul as black as her own.
“Alright, you,” she whispered. The ghouls stirred, but did not move. She set one foot down on the library floor, then the other. Still, they remained passive.
She nodded her head in time to a beat inside her head. One. Two. One. Two. Go.
The moment she leapt for the Lich, claws outstretched, his army surged to meet her. One lunged at her and managed to get in a swipe. They too had claws, all ragged overgrown nails, but they served their purpose. She could feel the sting as he drew blood, but she had a clear path to the Lich. Within a second, she was within arm’s reach and she slashed at him viciously. There was little time to aim, for even as she raked her claws across his face again, she felt cold hands grabbing at her body, her arms. They tore bloody stripes across her flesh.
Cassandra kicked at them, succeeding in dislodging most of them. These were no longer insignificant scratches, however, she could feel the blood now, flowing freely down her side. Shit. Well, she’d never been opposed to tactical retreats. She flung herself away from their hands, towards the wall, intent on sliding through to the outside. Catch a breather, drink a few potions, mend her wounds, and then back in for the killing blow.
An arm caught her around the waist. It jerked her off her feet. Cassandra fell. Swore. And then, they were on her. Nails ripped into her back, gouging deep into her torso. One set of claws scraped at her face, slicing across her eyes. Another found her neck.
She swiped wildly at them, but there were too many. She tried to scrabble to her hands and knees but there were too many bodies holding her down. Her mouths turned down into snarls, some shredded beyond recognition and gurgling the crimson liquid spilling from their lips. “Well, if you’re so eager to burn.” She didn’t even have to concentrate to summon the flood of hatred throughout her being.
The windows in the library shuddered from the explosion, but held. They’d survived countless more before this one, and today was not the day that they would finally shatter.
Cassandra spared barely a moment for the emptiness of the void before she was hurtling through the stars, down, down, down. Past Valhalla. Shit, she thought serenely. The anger poured in a second later when she slammed into her new body and opened her eyes to find the frozen wasteland all around her. “Damn it.” She shut her eyes again and, without bothering to even stand up, imagined the less hectic plane of the mortals, the sun-baked buildings, the sound of waves lapping at the shore. Image and feel firmly in mind, she snapped her fingers.
She opened her eyes to see an endless expanse of apple trees. “Ugh.”
Snap. Apartment buildings.
Snap. More apartment buildings.
Snap. More apartment buildings and she could see the orchard in the distance. “AGH.”
Snap. Cemetery. “DAMN—wait.” She looked beyond the tombstones, paused, and ran. She just barely leapt onto the train before it left the station. Once aboard though, she didn’t wait, running through the walls of the cars until she was in the empty engine room. Even so, it was still an impatient wait as she watched the slew of identical-looking office buildings give way to identical-looking university buildings, then finally water as they crossed to the first of the many smaller islands of Valhalla. The domes of the governmental buildings—now all abandoned—came into view, and, finally, the train pulled into the station. Although, by that time, Cassandra had already leapt off the train and was running back to the familiar doors of the library.
She stopped at the doors again, smirking at the sense of déjà vu that wanted to creep over her. One. Two.
She threw dignity to the wind, and dove through the walls once again. The ghouls all looked up in one motion, but she ignored them. One. Two. Three. She missed the third swipe, but by that time, the familiar moans and cold raking hands were upon her, and she wasn’t about to make the same mistake as she had in her last body. Before they could grab her, she hurled herself away from them and out the walls.
Slumping against the outside wall, she counted, waiting for her breath to even out. As she panted, she fingered through her possessions. A potion of invisibility. Specially brewed for her, and she traced the neck of the bottle fondly. Precious mortals. But that Lich was on the verge of a more lifeless state of existence, and she wasn’t going to waste this gift just to get in her killing blow. A bottle of painkillers, though. She downed the contents without a thought, chewing and grimacing at the taste. It would take a few minutes before the wounds lining her body began to throb less insistently, but during that time, she could patch herself up a bit. By the time the pleasant buzz had kicked in, she’d managed to stop most of the bleeding, although, in doing so, had used up the last of her healing supplies. Ah, well. This would be enough. As long as things didn’t go completely awry.
She took a deep breath. Leapt back in. Swipe, swipe, swipe—SHIT. She almost screamed in frustration, even as she threw herself out again, away from those grasping hands. She’d had a perfect shot at the jugular vein as the Lich’s head had lolled back with the force of her blows. But one of his undead minions had torn open her shoulder as she’d swung at its master, and even the painkillers hadn’t been quite enough to keep her aim straight.
She pressed a hand tightly to the shoulder and hissed. The skin was in tatters. There was no way she was going to staunch the blood flow, not by applying pressure with only her hand. And that wasn’t the only place bleeding heavily by this point. Dark blood flowed heavily from her thigh, staining the ground in large splatters. Deep slashes also ran across her face, one narrowly missing her eyes.
Cassandra grinned, baring all her teeth. The bleeding cuts on her face stretched with it. Her eyes danced with blue fire. With a howl, she threw herself through the wall one last time.
She saw hands reaching for her out of the corners of her eyes. But her eyes were fixed on what lay dead ahead.
Her claws sank deep into the decaying flesh of the Lich, and she yanked them across, feeling the skin split and the blood flow cold and thick down her fingers.
She wrenched her claws away, ready to bury them in the Lich’s throat again before she realized that the cacophony of mindless grunts had ceased. It was further punctuated by the beginning of many thumps as the now-truly mindless and dead bodies of the ghouls fell to the floor.
Cassandra slowly stood. She staggered towards the door and was halfway there before she remembered that a ward lay between her and that which she called “a safe place to sleep where the worst threat is being drawn on instead of being torn to pieces.” And she was in no condition whatsoever to tear that ward down. The most she felt like she would be able to do to it right now was maybe give it a few paper cuts before collapsing upon it.
She had no choice. Leaning heavily against the wall, she turned and surveyed the room. Kicking aside a few ghouls (and nearly falling in the process), she collapsed in a shadowy corner and turned her head towards the door. With any luck, she’d survive until morning. Hell, the angel or those little mortals may even stumble upon her during the night.
Or maybe not. She stiffened as she heard footsteps approaching. Heavy, clanking footsteps. She saw her death even before the untimely visitor had turned the corner. Glowing red eyes. Artificial eyes. There would be no reasoning with this Seraph. Ha. As if Seraphs ever listened to reason, whether they were mechanical or not.
In the moments before her death, Cassandra had time to play out this imaginary exchange in her head, and she had to smile wryly. Even she wouldn’t believe her own explanation. “Oh, despite the fact that I’m a bloodthirsty demonic assassin, I’ve taken up with this Advocate and the mortals she protects next door. And, you know, when one of those precious babies came in, complaining about a Lich in here, I just had to come and make sure he wouldn’t threaten any of those innocent souls again.” Ha.
The footsteps came to a stop before her and she looked up into the blank face of the robotic angel. He raised his sword. Her teeth flashed in the darkness as the blade arced towards her.