Eva crept closer just as the sun dipped below the horizon. The only lights on were the front living room and the basement. That didn’t bode well. The basement light was never used unless daddy was entertaining a guest.
None of the guests were ever good news.
Eva hopped over the waist-high old-fashioned iron fence and walked to the back door. A peek through the back door window showed an empty dining room. Eva took a quick glance around before stepping into the house. Sounds of laughter and the pungent scent of drugs assaulted her senses the moment she appeared within the house.
Stifling a cough, Eva made her way to the office and quietly shut the door. Eva slunk down in the corner after turning a fan on and opening the window. Her bed had been removed from this room almost a year ago, but she had no desire to sit in her father’s computer chair.
Laughter and discussion continued for nearly three hours. Eva sat the entire time in the darkness of the office with only the buzz of the fan to help drown out the sounds of the house. She tried to meditate, but uproarious laughter would interrupt the moment she felt at peace.
Memories surfaced instead. Constant fighting between her parents. Shouts and violence. Occasionally it would be directed at her. Eva shuddered as darker memories surfaced. Not her. That little girl was dead.
The front door slamming shut woke her from her thoughts. The group noise had ceased and footsteps could be heard moving towards the bedroom. As the footsteps moved past, Eva rapped her knuckles on the wall. The footsteps paused, then moved back towards the office.
The door opened just a crack at first, letting a small amount of light fall just to the side of Eva. He opened the door wider, reveling the mangy form of Edgar Spencer.
“Hmph,” her father grunted. “I figured I’d be seeing you soon.” He stepped into the office, bringing with him the thick smell of whatever drugs he fancied these days. “I’ve warned you not to draw attention to me. You’re lucky they weren’t cops. Or child services. If I ever–”
“Spare me, daddy.” Eva waved her hand in front of her nose, not that it helped. “Just tell me what they wanted and we can go back to pretending neither of us exist.”
He took a threatening step forwards, but Eva didn’t budge. “I didn’t raise you to be–”
“You’re right, daddy, you didn’t raise me.” Eva stood, causing her father to flinch back. “What did they want?”
He eyed his daughter. His upper lip twitched the way it always did when he got mad. Yet there was no cowering daughter before him. Not this time. Just a young woman glaring back.
Eventually he sighed. “They came by yesterday to invite you to one of them magic academies. Once I realized they weren’t after me, I told them that you still went to Auvlub Junior and that I hadn’t seen you since your parent-teacher conference in January.”
Eva scoffed at that. When her father didn’t continue, Eva said, “that’s it? No messages in case I should show up?”
Edgar Spencer shook his head. Shavings of dander fluttered to his shoulders from his long, dark hair. Eva had to force herself not to take a step backwards.
“Well, I’ll get out of your hair then. I hope to not see you soon.” Eva turned to the open window, but a clearing of a throat gave her pause.
“Are you planning on going?”
Eva considered for a moment. “Don’t know. I’ve other people to talk to first. Not sure why it would matter to you in either case.”
Without another word she stepped through the window, heading to her home.
“Aww, did poor little Evaleen lose her cat.”
Eva repressed a flinch. “The name is Eva,” she said through grit teeth. She turned away from the school bulletin board where the final missing owner poster hung. “What do you want, Todd?”
Todd Farkas grinned, showing off a set of shiny braces. His baggy shorts were belted half way down his thighs. A shirt clearly designed with someone of considerably more size and girth covered most of the area left bare by his shorts.
Eva couldn’t help but to shake her head. It would be pitiful if he dressed the way he did because of hand-me-downs, but his mother gave her children the initiative to dress themselves. A poor decision when they had the fashion sense of a troglodyte.
Michael Porter, a boy of similarly deficient dress habits, stood just to Todd’s left. His interest seemed to be solely on a portable game system. Minus the occasional flick of his eyes to Eva, a light blush, and back to his game.
“What I want, Evey, is to just say hi. We’ve only got, what, three days of eighth grade left?” He glanced over his shoulder to a shrugging Michael. “Something like that. It would be a shame not to see my bestest buddy.”
“And just think, two of them are half days. Then I never have to see you again. There aren’t even tests scheduled for Friday. I might just skip.”
“Never again?” Michael said as he looked up from his game. He cleared his throat and turned his head back to his game, but his eyes were all but glued to Eva.
Eva just rolled her eyes.
Todd, if he was surprised, kept it off his face. “Not going to North High?”
“I have some people to talk to. I might be going to an art school out-of-state.” Eva shrugged. The two people in the alley had mentioned an academy and she would be lying to herself if she said she wasn’t a little excited. She almost regretted running from them, but it seemed to impress the woman at least. Of course, there was one other person to talk to before making any final decisions.
“An art school? You can’t do art.”
“You wouldn’t know art if Bob Ross himself bit you. That doesn’t mean others are so woefully lacking in culture.” Eva glanced over his shoulder. “Speaking of, I think someone I need to speak with just walked in.”
Both boys turned to watch the main entrance, opposite the bulletin board, where the woman from the alley was being led into the main offices. She spotted Eva and gave a small wink before disappearing into the office.
Their homeroom teacher emerged a moment later and made a beeline to the group. After a brief exchange, the boys were dismissed and Eva was following Mrs. Wheeler into the offices. She brought Eva to a small meeting room where the woman sat on the opposite side of the table.
She wore the same black three-piece suit, but added a bright red tie with a stylized butterfly on the front. Her brown hair hung to her shoulders in the front, but cut at a diagonal to the nape of her neck in the back. Her sharp green eyes completed her imposing look.
Eva took the seat opposite of the woman. Mrs. Wheeler, despite all the chairs being moved to the corner quite purposefully, dragged a chair over and sat adjacent to Eva.
The three sat in silence. The woman sized up Eva while Eva tried to do the same. The woman definitely didn’t look like someone to be crossed. She projected an aura of confidence. Confidence that wasn’t well reflected in Eva’s own aura. Eva had yet to discuss any of the possible schooling, if that is what the woman was here for, with her master.
Mrs. Wheeler fidgeted awkwardly the entire time.
Eva began drawing a small sloth rune, tracing the pattern on the under side of the table with her fingernail. It wouldn’t last long, but should be enough to put Mrs. Wheeler to sleep. She began to trace out the broken ring to direct its effects towards her homeroom teacher when the woman’s lips quirked into the start of a small smile.
She said, “Mrs… what did you say your name was?”
The homeroom teacher nearly jumped ten feet in the air at the break in the room’s tension. It took her a minute to realize she was the one being addressed. “Wheeler,” she said.
“Thank you Mrs. Wheeler, I think we can take it from here.”
“Ah, but…” she glanced nervously between Eva and the woman.
“Don’t worry. She’s just come to recruit me for her academy of fine arts. Right?”
“That is correct,” the woman said.
“The arts? Oh congratulations Eva. That’s excellent news. I’ll just,” she glanced between the two once again, “I’ll be out in the office if you need anything.” She stood and left the room, quietly shutting the door with a whispered “good luck.”
The two remaining occupants of the room stared at one another for another minute still. The woman across the table spoke first.
“The academy of fine arts?”
Eva shrugged. “It is just what I told a few other acquaintances of mine. I didn’t know your academy’s actual name, and I doubted you would have said. Magic’s existence might be an open secret, but it is vague enough to keep people guessing.”
“Hmm. And beneath the table?”
“A sloth rune with some Ogham modifiers, directed at my homeroom teacher with the intent of inducing sleep.”
“Runes?” The woman actually looked surprised, rather than her semi-condescending, ‘smarter than thou’ look. “Where did you learn about runes?”
“A book. Why?”
“We don’t even teach runes at Brakket. They are considered archaic, supplanted by most modern forms of thaumaturgy, and not worthy of learning by proper mages.”
“They’ve done alright by me,” Eva said with another shrug. “They keep people away from my home, among other useful things.”
“Indeed.” The woman pulled out a small notepad and marked a few notes. “And getting past the fence yesterday?”
Eva stood up, stepping to her side in the process, and stepped back across the table. “I can be anywhere I can see with a single step.”
She marked another note down. “Can you step to a location in a photograph?”
Shaking her head in the negative, Eva said, “through a window or anything I can see through, but not a picture.”
“And returning someplace you’ve already been? Say the alley from yesterday?” At Eva’s negative answer, the woman marked down another note while mumbling, “rudimentary teleportation.”
“Excuse me, but are you going to introduce yourself at any point during our conversation?”
The woman looked up and blinked twice. “I’m sorry, I got a bit carried away. I am Zoe Baxter. I teach magical theory for all six years at Brakket Magical Academy.”
“And I was not incorrect when I said you were recruiting me?”
Zoe Baxter ran her tongue across her lips. “Indeed. You don’t use a focus when ‘stepping’?”
Eva shook her head. “Never been in a position to get one, nor have I needed one. Is that a problem?”
“All magic at Brakket is taught with a wand,” she said while marking down additional notes, “but students are free to adapt to any focus they wish to specialize in. Fociless magic, on the other hand, is almost unheard of.” She stopped writing and gave a pointed look. “Are you entirely human?”
With a noncommittal shrug, Eva said, “I’m pretty sure both my parents are human. You’ve met my father. My mother is deceased, but I don’t think she was anything special.”
“Hmm,” Zoe marked down another note. “Now then, where did you learn all this?”
“Books.” At Zoe’s raised eyebrow, Eva continued, “I currently live out of a hundred year old hospital turned retirement home that has been condemned since before I was born. There is a hidden bookshelf that had a handful of books.” Not a complete lie, even if the hidden bookshelf was installed by Eva.
“Well the age would explain the runes,” Zoe mused. “In any case, we can discuss that later. Per your earlier question, I am indeed here to recruit you, as you put it.
“Brakket has a fund set aside to offer a scholarship of sorts to talented individuals such as yourself. It is a six-year schooling with optional summer classes to catch you up on any nonmagical interests you may have. We provide room and board on campus..”
Eva nodded. “That sounds good,” she said, “but as much as I want to say yes right now, there is someone here I cannot simply abandon. At least not without speaking to and making sure they can handle themselves while I’m away.” It was downplaying the issue a bit. While her master would likely not blink an eye if she ran off, he would definitely hunt her down. He would not be so passive as to allow his life’s work to go to waste.
“If I can give you the answer tomorrow,” Eva continued, “I am meeting with them tonight.”
Zoe considered for a moment. She clasped her hands together and held them just under her nose. “And if I ask,” she finally said, “you won’t tell me.”
Eva shook her head. “Perhaps after I speak with them, with their permission.”
“Very well.” Zoe reached into her suit and withdrew a folded pamphlet. “Some additional information for you, plus a card with my name on it. Tap it three times and I will come find you.” She stood across the table. “I’ve got another student in the area to acquire.” She extended her hand. “You have three days Miss Spencer.”
“Eva, please,” she said as she nodded and shook her offered hand. “I look forward to our next meeting.”
Most people would be terrified of entering a hospital turned retirement home turned abandoned horror building. It would be perfectly reasonable for them to feel that way. The possibility of running into trigger happy squatters or teens looking for a cheap thrill or cheap makeout spot, not to mention the creepy atmosphere such a place exuded.
Yet the former McKinzie Retirement Center was the only place Eva felt at home.
The runes were usually enough to keep the miscreants away. Even if they failed, blood magic permeated the entire second floor. People who weren’t Eva… well, she wouldn’t envy their experience.
Still, you couldn’t be too careful. Eva flipped through a book in the main lobby. Each room in the building had an accompanying page that would list occupants. Her name in the lobby was the only filled in page. She replaced the book in a drawer, careful not to disturb the layers of dust.
Eva headed up to the second floor. She kicked off her shoes and left them at the top of the stairs. The first floor might still look like it hadn’t been touched in twenty years, but Eva spent time and effort cleaning the second floor.
Eva slouched off her book bag in her room and headed straight for the shower, shedding her clothes as she went. She twisted the shower head just enough to complete the runes she etched into the inside of it. Soon enough she was soaking under the hot water.
Archaic indeed. Sure there was probably another way to make magical showers, maybe even better ways. The ease of use and activation for runes, not to mention the low magic usage, how could they have fallen out of use.
Sighing, Eva turned off the water and walked out to dry herself. She picked up her clothes and dropped them in a hamper. Replicating a washing machine with runes was something she had significantly less success with. Instead, Eva relied on a small coin operated laundromat. Maybe this academy will teach me a better way to clean clothes.
Eva pulled her work clothes out of the wardrobe. The pants were some rugged hiking pants she had borrowed from a sports store. Her boots were generously donated by the same store.
Her top was a simple, long-sleeved black shirt, though she had long since removed the sleeve on the left arm from the elbow down. A light leather jacket, with the same sleeve cut off, finished main part of the outfit.
The last piece was a simple belt, looped through her pants, with a sheathed dagger and a few vials. Three of the vials were dark red, containing and preserving her own blood. The last two held the signature black of demon blood.
The dagger came to rest at her left side. Eva pulled it out of its sheath and gave it the usual inspection. The crystal blade glimmered underneath her bedroom’s runelight. Not a single nick could be seen along the edge, as it should be.
The dagger was made for drawing blood and nothing else. Using it in combat would likely see it shattered in an instant. Eva didn’t look forward to making a new one, making this one had been unpleasant enough.
A petrified snake made up the handle, coiled around until the mouth bit into the crystal blade. A red bloodstone capped the end of the snake’s tail.
Satisfied everything was in order, Eva sheathed the dagger. The check was probably unnecessary, but her master constantly warned of needing tools only to find them damaged or missing.
Eva emptied her book bag of all schoolbooks and dropped in the latest tome she had been reading, a book on blood rituals. She double checked her chalk, pens, and notebook, and slung the bag over her shoulder.
One final pat down ensured her clothes were in order and Eva stepped straight out of the second floor window onto the roof of a nearby building. Twenty minutes later, under the cover of night, Eva found herself in front of the old train station.
Eva pushed open the door. The cold edge of a knife at her throat froze her footsteps in their place.