“A cat carrier?” The security agent quirked an eyebrow.
“It just has a few books in it,” Eva said with a shrug. “I’m planning on coming back in a car and bringing a cat with me. I figured I could use it as a carry-on for the flight.”
Too much information? Did I offer an explanation too fast? Eva suppressed a nervous swallow. If she was caught, there would definitely be problems. When the officer didn’t say anything, Eva prodded, “is there a problem with that?”
“No, I suppose not. Run it through the x-ray.”
Eva nodded and set the carrier on the conveyor belt. She pulled off her mostly empty book bag and set it next to the carrier. She stepped through the body scanner.
With no items that could be considered contraband, Eva knew she didn’t have anything to worry about.
That did nothing to stop the sweat and adrenaline. Everything could still go so very wrong. At best she would be kicked out of the airport and have to find another way to her new school. At worst she would be arrested and throughly searched. They would find all her black magic books, among other items.
She gave a sigh of relief when she made it past the checkpoint. She picked up her bag and the cage and had to stop herself from running to the bathroom.
She locked herself in the furthest stall and finally relaxed. Now she had to wait. There was forty-five minutes before her flight was scheduled to leave. Eva moved books from the carrier to her book bag, all except for two. One she cracked open and started to read, the other was left in the carrier.
It didn’t take long before the ceiling tile above her moved. It lifted just a crack and eight red eyes glowed from within. A second later and the tile moved to the side.
A large spider silk net slowly descended into her stall. Eva caught it and pulled out her daggers, the black skull, and her blood and potions. She tossed those into her backpack.
Arachne crawled down the wall and into Eva’s lap after sliding the ceiling tile back into place. She wrapped her legs around Eva’s own legs.
They sat like that for twenty minutes. Just waiting down the time Eva had to spend in the company of other people.
Eva knew most of her worries were unfounded, despite the horror stories surrounding flight security these days. Being around a number of unknown people still made Eva a bit nervous. The feeling was only compounded by her carrying around two daggers, tons of books she shouldn’t be caught with, an artifact of unknown power. And Arachne.
She knew she wasn’t in any danger between her own magics and Arachne. The people around her might not be so lucky.
All that combined with the nerves of having never flown before and Eva could barely sit still. Arachne on her lap was a huge comfort of a familiar situation. Sadly, even that couldn’t last forever.
She stroked the back of Arachne’s smooth carapace. “Arachne,” Eva whispered, “into the cage.”
Arachne slipped her legs beneath Eva’s shirt and started to skitter under.
Eva clamped her hands around her waist. “No, we talked about this.”
If Arachne had a human mouth instead of fangs, Eva imagined she would be pouting. She crawled into the cage in the most dejected manner a spider could.
To be fair, Arachne’s spider form had very long legs and not a small body either. The small cat cage was not made for someone of her dimensions. Eva frowned at the eight red eyes glaring out of the dark cage.
Eva placed the book in front of Arachne and shut the door. Arachne held the book up against the grate. There were still holes in the top portion of the cage but Arachne mostly blended in with the dark bottom.
Satisfied with the camouflage, Eva picked up the carrier. She took a new seat in the waiting benches for her gate. She quickly pulled out a much more benign book than the one she had been reading in the bathroom and buried her nose in it. Hopefully the people around would see a girl involved in her book and not try to make small conversation.
Her plan seemed to work. Not a single person approached her between sitting and her flight being called for boarding. The attendant checking her ticket questioned the cat carrier, but Eva just tilted it back to show the two books carefully pressed against the door. The attendant smiled and waved her through.
The plane was much smaller than Eva anticipated, but much fancier looking. She had seen images of jets before on television or at school or the library and they were nothing like this. She expected rows and rows of seats. Instead she got couches.
There were seats closer to the front than the couches, but they looked more like someone took two recliners and cut off the arm rest in the middle. Definitely not what she thought airplane seats should look like. There were four sets of two, all facing the front of the airplane. A little table was set out a decent space in front of each pair of seats.
Eva could see a second compartment similar to the one she was standing in through a small doorway.
She stood right at the front, hesitating. No flight attendant had led her to her seat. Her ticket didn’t have a seat number on it. She doubted the seats even had numbers. Numbers would just blemish the lounge atmosphere.
A small group of teens around her age sat at the couches. Two girls and two guys. There was clearly space with them, but they hadn’t even looked up when she entered. They quietly chatted away with each other.
A young girl sat in the window seat of one of the pairs of recliners nearest to the couches. The girl’s blond hair was almost as long as Eva’s own black hair. It came down to just above her waistline. She wore a lavender sundress with a light floral pattern.
Eva didn’t want to walk past the group on the way to the rear compartment, but she didn’t want to appear entirely unsociable either. Not if these were going to be fellow students. So she chose the paired seat next to the girl.
In contrast to her bright aesthetics, the girl was downright depressed looking. She had her feet up on the seat with her arms wrapped around her knees and her head buried in her arms.
“Is this seat taken?” Eva asked.
She lifted her head just long enough for a quick glance at Eva. Her bright green eyes were marred by the heavy circles of sleep deprivation.
Maybe she doesn’t like flying, or perhaps stayed up too late. Without an objection, Eva took the seat next to her and set Arachne’s cage beneath the table in front of her.
A moment after Eva sat down, another teen about her age walked aboard the plane. He had a big smile on his face and walked right past Eva without even a glance in her direction. Eva didn’t bother to look to see if he moved to the couch or to the cabin beyond.
The overhead speakers crackled to life. “This is your captain speaking,” a gruff voice said. “We have three more stops to pick up students. A light lunch will be served around one o’clock. If we happen to fly over a time zone and skip one, well you’ll just have to starve.” Eva heard the group behind her give some polite chuckles.
“We’ll be arriving at our final destination by six o’clock mountain time. In the mean time, get yourselves comfortable. We’ve got a long trip from Florida to Montana. Doubly so with our extra stops.
“It is a long flight but you’re free to move about the cabin when we are in the air. We might be on the ground for a while on our stops, but I ask that you do not leave the plane. We might just leave without you. There are drinks and snacks available from our flight attendants and bathrooms between the compartments.
“With all that said, we’ll be taking off shortly. Enjoy your flight.”
The speaker crackled again and cut off.
Eva glanced around the cabin. The group of students resumed their talking, or maybe never really stopped. The blond next to her never even moved a muscle during the captain’s entire speech.
A flight attendant came out and began pointing out exits and showed how to use oxygen masks in the event of an emergency.
Eva wasn’t sure what kind of emergencies were common on flights, but felt that oxygen masks were probably more of a placebo than anything. The fact that seats doubled as flotation devices might have been comforting if they were going to Europe or somewhere, but there just wasn’t that much water between Florida and Montana.
After her speech, the flight attendant went behind a curtain up front. A few minutes later and Eva felt the plane jerk forward.
She almost wished she took a window seat for her first flight, rather than sit next to the curled up girl. Luckily the windows on this plane were fairly large. Not quite car window size, but larger than she had seen in movies.
Eva sighed. She was sure Arachne would have liked to see as well.
Eva had no doubt that the spider-demon was getting restless already. That they would be stuck in the plane, and her in her cage, for over thirteen hours could only be making it worse.
As long as everyone on the plane were students, maybe she could bring her out. At least let her stretch her legs so she wasn’t all folded up for a whole day.
Eva watched past the blond girl as the plane made its way to the runway. It stopped and sat. And sat. Eva felt a jolt of adrenaline as a worry came over her. Maybe there was something wrong.
Maybe they found out about all the contraband she had on her person. Her bag was still slung over her shoulder, but maybe they had magical detectors and had detected her ritual daggers. Or Arachne.
The plane began to move forward and Eva felt relief wash through her. The runway moved past the window as the plane picked up speed. The plane tilted back and Eva found herself pressed into her seat.
A familiar sensation gripped and pulled at her stomach. Eva almost started giggling. It was like jumping with Arachne.
The ground disappeared beneath the plane as it rose into the sky. Even as strong as Arachne was, she would be hard pressed to even hit half the height they were at now. And the plane was still rising.
As the plane leveled off, Eva was brought speechless. The sun glinted off the tops of clouds and the ground beneath was so very tiny.
Eva knew what planes were. She even had an idea of how they worked with wing shape and lift. Yet looking out the window was something special. Not magical, she knew how magic worked better than how planes worked, and nothing about planes was magical.
Well, she thought, maybe this plane. But it was probably close enough to a regular plane that the view wouldn’t be different.
Eva leaned back in her chair and just started to relax when the flight attendant popped out of nowhere. She asked if either of the girls wanted anything to drink and started listing off drinks she could serve. Eva was pretty sure some of those drinks weren’t supposed to be served to someone her age.
Of course she ordered one. A twisted doe.
She had alcohol in the past and didn’t much care for its taste or effects. She was, however, always on the lookout for new things.
The girl next to her spoke for the first time in almost thirty minutes. For the first time as far as Eva was aware. She barely tilted her head up and mumbled, “a coke.”
That had been good enough for the flight attendant. She nodded and walked away. She returned a moment later and set down a bubbling cola in front of Eva’s blond companion. Eva got a clear liquid in a fancy glass.
It didn’t smell like alcohol. She took a cautious sip. Blueberries. Nothing especially special, it just tasted like blueberries. If it had alcohol in it, it was covered up enough that she couldn’t tell.
Her second sip set her on edge. It was most definitely the taste of strawberries without a hint of blueberry. A third sip got her bananas followed by a fourth sip of pineapples.
She smiled and set the glass back on the table. It was a simple concept, but a fun drink. While she knew quite a bit about magic, she had no idea where to even start to make something like this.
If school taught her things like this, it might be really amazing after all.
Her attentions turned to the girl sitting in the seat next to her. She hadn’t even touched her drink. Eva bit the inside of her cheek in thought. Finally, she decided.
“Are you alright,” she said in a quiet voice.
The girl lifted her head slightly and turned to the side. She didn’t say anything and dropped her head back to her knees, still tilted to the side.
Eva reached into her book bag and withdrew the small satchel of potions Arachne had sneaked in with. She held them in her hands, hesitating for just a minute before flipping the flap open. “I have some potions, a number for healing and restoratives, if you think they might help.”
The girl’s head lifted again. This time her eyes narrowed as she examined Eva’s face.
Eva thought she made a mistake in offering the potions. But there was no way potions could be as bad as blood magic or having a demon sitting at your feet. The book list even had alchemy books and supplies. That was basically the same thing. Probably.
Eva’s fears were unfounded. The girl gave a light nod and watched as Eva ran her fingers over the tops of the vials.
“You’re not injured, so these wouldn’t help,” Eva lied as she skipped past a row of poisons. Her finger stopped on one of the light blue vials. “General remedy, try this.”
The girl nodded and tipped back the entire vial. “Thanks,” she whispered as her head dropped back to her knees.
“My pleasure. I’m Eva, by the way.” She held out her hand. It was a bit awkward being so close, but the girl made the effort to shake it.
“Nice to meet you.” Something clicked in Eva’s head. “Juliana Rivas?”
The blond’s head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes again. “You know me?”
“Only your name,” Eva said quickly. “Zoe Baxter, a teacher, mentioned we would be roommates with another girl.” As the blond relaxed, Eva said, “I wonder what the odds of sitting next to you are.”
Juliana dropped her head back to her knees. A muffled voice leaked out from between her arms. “Probably pretty good,” she said. Eva raised an eyebrow and the blond continued. “We’re not exactly going to the most prestigious magical academy around the country. More like the laughing-stock to be honest. I doubt there are more than ten freshmen girls including the two of us.”
“Ah,” Eva murmured with a frown. Neither the pamphlet nor Mrs. Baxter mentioned anything about the school being poorly regarded. Not that it was really something to advertise. Not to mention she wouldn’t be going anywhere at all without the scholarship provided by the school.
“Don’t worry about it. My brother said that the teachers are decent. It just uses teaching practices that are ‘untraditional’ in his words.” She shrugged, cracking her neck from side to side before dropping back to her knees. “Besides, if you are the one who brewed that potion, you’re probably at least a few years ahead of any school. In that department at least.
“Now,” she said, “I’m going to try to get some sleep.”
Eva nodded. “I’ll try not to disturb you.”
With that, the blond’s head dipped back to her knees.
Eva leaned back in her chair. She took a quick sip of her drink, lemon this time, and decided she may as well sleep too.
Two guys and a girl got on the plane at the first stop. All three headed straight towards the second compartment after hesitantly glancing about.
The captain had come on again repeating his speech, but this time saying that they would be waiting a good half-hour before departing.
Juliana stirred awake at the loudspeakers’ noise. She seemed to be feeling much better. Whether it was the nap or the potion, Eva didn’t know.
An awkward silence settled between the two. They exchanged greetings after she awoke, but Eva just didn’t know what to talk about. She never had much of a social life apart from Arachne and Devon. Maybe a handful of other demons that she or her master regularly summoned. Nothing they discussed seemed like a very safe topic with regular people.
Just as she was about to ask a few general questions about magic and the academy, the group that had been sitting on the couch approached. Two guys and two girls, all looking Eva’s age, stood around.
Eva felt a pit in her stomach. She had never been a victim of bullying in her old school, not unless you counted the minor annoyance that was Todd Farkas. This could be dangerous. At least, Eva thought so until the boy with brown and short, wavy hair offered his hand.
“Jordan,” he said.
Eva hesitantly shook his hand. “Eva,” she said.
The group then went through and introduced themselves to both Eva and Juliana. Maximilian liked to be known as simply ‘Max’. He was a bit taller and had the beginnings of brown facial hair poking off his face.
Irene and Shelby were twins. They didn’t really look it; one had brown hair and the other had black, Shelby seemed a bit more developed than Irene as well.
Jordan and the twins grew up together and all decided to attend Brakket despite the twin’s parents wanting them to go to a different school. They met Maximilian while shopping for school supplies and became fast friends. At least, according to Max. The face Irene made while he was telling his tale led Eva to believe it was a bit tall.
“I couldn’t help but overhear earlier,” Jordan said as soon as introductions were over, “you gave her a potion?”
Eva grimaced. “Yeah, is that a bad thing? I don’t know much about magical society.”
“Oh no. At least, I don’t care. I doubt anyone else would either. I’m quite interested in brewing myself though and was wondering if you might let me take a look.”
Eva shrugged and pulled out her potion case. She withdrew another light blue vial and handed it to the boy.
He held it up to the light of the window and rolled it back and forth. Eva wasn’t sure what he was trying to learn from it. After a moment of everyone just staring at him, he eventually handed it back with a nod. “Pretty good,” he said.
Eva wasn’t sure if that ‘pretty good’ had qualifiers attached to it like ‘for an amateur,’ but she decided to take it as a compliment anyway. “Thanks.”
Maximilian had knelt down during Jordan’s examination. Eva froze as she saw him try to peek past the book blocking the front of the carrier. “Who is in here?” he asked far to innocently.
“Aww,” Shelby cooed as she knelt down. “Have you got a little kitten?”
The black-haired girl started to stick her fingers into the small holes at the top. Eva lurched forwards and grabbed her wrist. She wrenched the poor girl’s hand away far harder than she probably should have.
“Not a cat. She’s probably cranky from being cooped up and I don’t want her needlessly agitated.”
She didn’t apologize as the girl rubbed her wrist. What kind of lunatic sticks her fingers into dark enclosed areas anyway. At the group’s stunned silence, Eva glanced over to Juliana. The blond was no longer buried in her knees and appeared far more interested in the cage than she had been before.
Eva sighed. “I was planning on letting her out at some point. This flight is way to long to leave her in there.”
She could hear Arachne already rustling at her words. The rest of the group apparently heard as well. Juliana leaned in closer, trying to peer through the holes. The twins gave an uneasy glance at each other.
“You have to promise not to scream or shout or really do much of anything. I had to smuggle–” Eva paused for a split second and tried to think of a good nickname. “Rach,” she decided, “past security and I doubt she’d take it well if a flight attendant tries to separate us.”
“That’s reassuring,” Juliana said. The girl was far too interested for her own good.
“Rach?” Jordan questioned.
Eva frowned. “Rach is a West African tarantula. Very large and a bit old. For a spider anyway.”
Shelby looked like she was going to be sick. She brought her hand closer to her chest as if being near the cage was going to hurt her.
Eva reached down to the clasp of the carrier door, but paused. “The moment she starts running around the plane or looks like she might even be considering thinking about the possibility of even scratching anyone, she is going straight back into her cage for the rest of the trip,” Eva said in a stern voice, mostly for Arachne herself.
Eva opened the door. Four long, black legs stretched out of the carrier.
Shelby shook her head and walked straight back to the couches, mumbling ‘nope’ over and over.
The rest stayed and watched as Arachne emerged from the carrier. She crawled out, each leg making a careful step. She turned around slowly, examining all the group with her eight eyes. Arachne turned back towards Eva and twisted her body a little, like she was trying to cock her head to one side. She felt out with her legs against Eva’s own, as if she was making sure who she was.
Eva frowned. The spider-demon was obviously showing off. For intimidation or for attention was up in the air. Probably both.
She scurried up Eva’s legs with frightening speed, eliciting a gasp from Irene. She slid right under Eva’s shirt and continued climbing out the neck hole. Arachne settled herself in on the top of Eva’s head, wrapping some legs around her chin. Her fangs drifted lightly to the top of Eva’s vision.
“Show-off,” Eva mumbled out the corner of her mouth. Juliana quirked an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Eva snapped her mouth shut and suppressed a sigh.
“Well,” Eva said aloud, “meet Rach.” She brought her hand up and slowly stroked the smooth chitin.
The group as a whole did not look like they knew how to react. The sole exception being Maximilian. “Can I touch her?” he asked.
Arachne immediately tapped her left shoulder.
Eva shook her head. “I’d rather not needlessly upset her. Perhaps after we get to school and she gets acclimated to living in a new place.” Eva gestured at the fangs hanging into her vision. “You wouldn’t enjoy being on the business end of these.”
The larger boy withdrew his partially outstretched hand. He gave a half chuckle and said, “personal experience huh?”
Eva gave a short laugh at that. “I’m not sure I’d be around to tell about any personal experiences, if I had any.” Second hand experience, I might be able to talk about…
“Oh,” was his only response.
Irene spoke up for the first time since her introduction. “We should be getting back then, don’t want to crowd your spider after all.” She gave a nervous giggle and all but dragged Max away.
Jordan, however, stood there. He just stared at Arachne.
Eva fidgeted under the look. “Is there anything else?” she eventually asked.
“A West African tarantula, is it?” he asked with a bit of a skeptical look.
Is he already suspicious? Eva suppressed a groan. If some kid her age suspected within a few minutes, Arachne would be outed as a demon before the week was through if she wasn’t more careful with who saw the spider-demon. “From West Africa. The scientific name is long and hard to remember.”
Jordan gave a small ‘hmm’ noise. “Well, Eva, I’ll head back with the others. Let’s talk again sometime.”
With the strange boy gone, Eva relaxed back in her seat. The relaxing only lasted a moment.
Juliana quickly had her face right in front of Eva’s. Eva pressed herself back. She felt Arachne’s abdomen pinched between her head and the seat, but the spider could take the meager amount of pressure of Eva’s head. It would also help keep the spider from launching at the blond.
The girl’s eyes didn’t even register Eva’s distress. After staring at Arachne for almost a minute, the blond sat back in her chair. Eva relaxed slightly.
“She’s very pretty,” Juliana said.
Eva rolled her eyes at Arachne repeatedly tapping her right shoulder.
“Smart too.” Her eyes were glued on the tapping leg.
“That’s just… She’s well-trained.” Eva frowned at the single left shoulder tap. “I’m glad no one started screaming, unlike the last time I showed people Rach, but you seem very comfortable.”
Juliana waved a dismissive hand. “My mother is a retired mage-knight who frequently goes on ‘safaris’ with my father around the world. They catalog and frequently return home with various creatures. Safe, dangerous, magical, mundane. It’s all the same to them.” She wiggled a finger across her face. “When I was eight, I woke up with a very poisonous centipede crawling on me. It was probably as big as your spider.”
“That’s…” Eva felt a slight tremor go up her spine.
“You shiver at that while you have a giant spider on your head?”
“I know Rach. I’ve been around her for as long as I can remember.”
The crackle of the overhead speaker stalled their conversation. The pilot said they would be taking off momentarily.
“Rach,” Eva said as she lowered her head and patted the table.
Arachne climbed off and turned to face Eva, cocking her body to one side again.
Eva gestured to the window. “It is quite a view when we take off.”
The spider-demon walked to the edge of the table near the window. She gave a sidelong glance at Juliana before resting her abdomen against the table.
The blond raised an eyebrow in Eva’s direction.
Eva shrugged. “I thought she might want to see. Don’t worry, she’s clean. We took a shower this morning.”
Juliana smiled. Probably the most emotion she Eva had seen so far, discounting the vested interest in Arachne. Eva’s face flushed red, but she couldn’t just say that Arachne took a shower on her own.
As the plane rose in the air, Eva smiled as Arachne actually perked up. She leaned forward, pressing two legs against the glass. Juliana found it very amusing if her smile was anything to go by.
After takeoff, Arachne crawled under Eva’s shirt and latched around her chest; After Jordan’s suspicion, Eva didn’t really want to interact with any flight attendants or students. Juliana did give a quirk of her eyebrow as Arachne slipped out of sight, but she didn’t comment on it.
They passed the time with small talk, mostly about Juliana’s parents. Several stories about her run ins with various creatures. Her mother’s job, mage-knights, were apparently some sort of elite bounty hunters that went after dangerous magical criminals.
That made Eva more than a little nervous.
She felt a bit bad about deflecting most personal questions. There was just so much that she wasn’t sure if it was safe to mention. She mostly stuck with her school life, work at the vet’s office, and a partially made up home life.
Their next stop had them picking up around ten students. They split off, some in the back cabin and some sat in seats near Eva and Juliana. None made an effort to introduce themselves and Eva wasn’t going to get up and wander with Arachne under her shirt, even as hidden as she knew the spider would be.
The moment they were in the air again, lunch was served. Eva was a bit disappointed in the food. While the sandwiches and fruit were good, great even, they were just a bit disappointed compared to the drink from earlier.
Only two students boarded on their last pickup.
Eva kept Arachne under her shirt the rest of the flight. She would occasionally peek down and check on her, but the spider seemed more than content to just nestle between her breasts. Eva had been petting the spider for a time, over her shirt, until she realized how odd that must have looked to others. She definitely caught Juliana’s odd look every once in a while.
The plane touched down in Montana. She decided to leave Arachne beneath her shirt, pulling her out in the much more crowded plane didn’t seem like a good idea. She gathered up her belongings and departed with Juliana.
Jordan’s group joined them outside the gate. Shelby was notably keeping her distance. Her eyes were all but glued to the pet carrier. Eva just smiled and gave her a little wave. If only she knew where Arachne really was.
Waiting in the lobby to greet the new students was Zoe Baxter. The gruff voiced man who had been with her in the alley stood just behind her.
“Welcome,” Zoe Baxter said, “to Brakket Magical Academy.”