Eva crushed a glass vial in her hands. She glared up at the teacher. Or the black band of leather over her eyes glared up.
“Gloves off in this class unless they’re lab gloves.”
“I was doing fine until you shouted at me.”
“You’ll soak up materials you don’t want to walk around with.” Professor Lurcher glowered down at the girl. “Gloves off.”
The steel spoon bent in her other hand. Grains of paradise spilled over the table. Eva grit her teeth. She threw down the spoon with a clatter and marched out of the classroom.
Juliana sat for a moment longer, watching her friend leave. She nimbly dodged a stool someone left out as she stormed out.
How the girl compensated for her blindness, Juliana didn’t know. Eva mentioned she could see blood, but Juliana very much doubted that stool had blood in it.
Her hands were another matter. They were obviously Arachne’s hands, but Eva didn’t want to talk about it. She just folded them up into some gloves and went about her day. The gloves only came off inside the dorm room before they left for school.
Juliana hadn’t seen Arachne in a week, since before Eva’s disappearance.
Before Eva came back to school, there was talk that she had left.
The flesh golems and their subsequent cleanup by the Elysium Sisters had simultaneously frightened off and reassured the students. Eva was rumored to be one of those scared away, or pulled by her parents.
She showed up at the start of the day, much to the surprise of everyone except Zoe and Juliana. Eva had been hiding out inside the dorm since she showed up the day after.
There was a brief talk of surprise before everyone’s eyes drifted to Eva’s lack of eyes. The thin leather band stretched over her eye sockets did nothing to actually hide the emptiness.
No one spoke to her, not even Jordan and Irene. Everyone stared for a moment and then quickly pretended she didn’t exist. She spoke to no one in return.
She sat with the group during lunch. Even there, everyone was silent. No one knew what to say. At least, Juliana didn’t. Max didn’t even speak up and Juliana had pegged him as impulsive enough to start up some kind of conversation.
Professor Lurcher was the first to call attention to her while she was around. That she refused to remove her gloves did not go unnoticed by the class.
The room went silent in the wake of her departure, but murmurs started up soon after.
“–saved by the Elysium nuns.”
“How does she see?”
“Think she was a necromancer?”
“Watch the nuns, one of them gave her a nasty glare at lunch.”
Juliana dropped her flask of antimony oil on the ground. Loudly. She made sure it would shatter by helping it drop with a strong swing of her arm.
The classroom went silent.
She got up and walked to the door.
“Rivas,” Professor Lurcher said, “you both have detention with me on Saturday.”
Juliana opened the door and walked out into the hall, ignoring the murmurs of her classmates that were already starting up.
She’d taken too long. Eva wasn’t anywhere in sight. Juliana sighed as she headed towards the dorms. If Eva wanted to be found, that’s where she would be.
If she didn’t want to be found, Juliana couldn’t do much about that.
— — —
Nel tried to stifle a yawn as she leaned back in her chair. It wasn’t so successful. She waved away the lingering wisps of frankincense as she turned from the floating strand of hair. She replaced the large sack of beads in her desk drawer and pulled out her laptop.
“Another unimportant status update,” Nel said as she typed.
Keeping near constant surveillance on the abomination was taxing work. None of it was particularly interesting. The last line in her report consisted of a couple of broken lab materials. Accidentally no less.
Most of the last week consisted of the girl trying to get used to her hands, both with gloves on and off. She never sneaked off at nights to murder other students. There was not consorting with any demons, not even the one Nel saw her with the first night.
Her biggest crime was chopping down nearly a full tree in pencils just trying to hold them without breaking them.
Nel turned to the floating black leg–she’d been told it was a leg anyway–and concentrated. Sister Cross destroyed five legs in holy fire as abominations. The last leg had been squirreled away to the augur’s chambers.
The demon sat still. The same position she’d been in for half a week. The other half of the week had been spent resting and recuperating, by the looks of it. She never left the small room she was in.
Nel had been ordered to keep an eye on her, though why Sister Cross didn’t go to destroy the demon while she was weak, Nel didn’t know.
No one ever told her anything.
With a sigh, Nel added another line to her report.
Pops rippled throughout the small room as Nel cracked her knuckles. She shut and locked the armoire containing a leg and a hair. Her eyes glowed with righteous light as the protective enchantments settled into place. It would take a metaphorical tank to break in.
Or someone with the authority, like Sister Cross.
She pulled her wimple over her head and attached her collar and veil. Nel straightened her cross and adjusted the rosary at her belt.
“I hope this is perfect,” Nel said to herself. Appearances gave a lot of authority, and she wanted to project as much as she could.
Nel crossed the tiny room to the door.
The Sister on guard jumped at the door opening. She quickly caught herself and smoothed out her scapular before lightly clearing her throat.
“Is there something you need, Sister Stirling?”
Nel took a deep breath of the fresh air. “I have run out of frankincense beads.”
“I shall send someone to fetch more at once.”
“I shall get them myself.”
Sister Mable’s shook her head. “Sister Cross has instructed that I keep you here until we are absolutely sure it is safe.”
“I don’t mind if you guard me, but it has been a week since I left this room.”
A look of pity crossed over Sister Mable’s face. “I’m sorry, Sister Stirling. Sister Cross’ orders.”
Nel took one last deep breath of the fresh air. “Very well. I expect the frankincense will be delivered within the hour.”
She turned inside and shut the door without waiting for a response. People in authority didn’t wait for underlings to acknowledge an order. They expected the order to be taken care of promptly and efficiently as soon as the words were given.
“At least,” she sighed and deflated a little, “that’s how Sister Cross does it.”
She pulled off her veil and almost threw it across the room. She stopped. That might wrinkle it. An augur couldn’t be caught showing disregard to holy items. Instead, Nel set it on the rack, nicely and neatly. She took off her wimple and collar as well. Nel started to take off the rest of her habit, but paused.
The nuns would be delivering frankincense soon, even though she didn’t need it. She wouldn’t be able to take much of a nap before she had to check in on the girl again.
With a sigh, Nel undid the enchants and locks on the armoire and pulled out the strand of hair.
At least she could see outside her room for the next hour, even if it wasn’t anything interesting.
— — —
“Next is,” Martina Turner glanced down at her notebook. She ran a finger down the paper. Halsey would rely on Orgell for any of her meetings. Turner fired the man the day she got in the office and had yet to replace him.
When she paused in her notebook, her sharp eyes turned straight at Wayne.
“Ah yes, Mr. Lurcher. You gave two girls detention this Saturday. The reasons?”
Wayne glared back at the new dean. “I don’t see how it is your business how I run my classroom.”
“Detentions are handed out rarely at Brakket. I’d like to know what kind of trouble these two got into to warrant such drastic action.”
Her tone wasn’t harsh or accusatory, it was just a question. He grit his teeth anyway. “Spencer refused an order to remove her gloves during class. Both girls damaged lab equipment then stormed out of class.”
“I see. Damaging school property is certainly grounds for detention.” Turner made what looked like a check mark on her notebook. “Next–”
“You are aware, Mr. Lurcher, that Miss Eva’s hands were severely disfigured during the recent events?”
Wayne glanced over and narrowed his eyes at Zoe. She hadn’t warned him at all, yet she knew Spencer was coming back looking like she did.
“Disfigured how?” Turner asked.
“Her hands and arms were mutilated during her abduction. The Elysium Sisters were unable to heal her when they rescued her.”
“That’s not all,” Carr spoke up. “I didn’t notice at first… Eva walked into my class as if everything were normal and took her usual seat. She didn’t pull out a notebook to take notes, but then she never does.” The history professor sighed. “Nobody does. It wasn’t until she raised her hand to ask a question that I got a good look at her face without her hair over part of it. She had a thin band wrapped around her eyes.
“Or, around her face. I don’t think there were eyes behind the band.”
“No eyes?” Yuria looked aghast and brought a hand up to her mouth. “Eva’s blind? What happened?”
A mumbling of shock and questioning went among the teaching staff.
Wayne had been wondering that as well. He hadn’t been so inattentive as to miss the band around her eyes when she walked in. He expected her to sit back and not touch anything. Instead, Spencer went about the classroom as normal; even going so far as to collect lab materials and start working.
Zoe looked distinctly uncomfortable. She shuffled in her seat and a small twitch developed at her eyebrow.
“I’m unsure how she is compensating,” Zoe said. “She said the necromancers were experimenting on her. It could be related to that.”
Turner drummed fingers on the wooden meeting table. “Black magic?”
“If it was forced on her,” Turner said, “and is how she is getting around a lack of eyes then I do not see a problem. At least as long as it isn’t a danger to other students. Keep a watch on her though, I’d like to know exactly what it is.”
“I’ll see to talking to her about it,” Zoe said.
“Good. Now then, I expect everyone to treat this girl as normal with respect to her vision. Offer assistance if she needs it or asks, otherwise don’t make a big deal out of it.”
There were nods among the teachers. A few of them, notably Twillie, seemed more skeptical.
Wayne counted himself among the skeptical.
There was so much delicacy in alchemy that required eyes. Needing to see the color of a brew to tell if she should add more of an ingredient or even seeing the result to tell if she completed a potion correctly.
If she could compensate, fine. If not, Spencer would be a danger to the entire class as much as herself.
Wayne would be watching. So long as she swapped her long gloves out for proper lab gloves. If she made a mistake, he’d see her removed permanently.
Turner tapped her finger on the counter. The room slowly quieted. “Sister Cross has informed me that their chapter will be staying in Brakket for the time being. Supposedly for our protection against one of the necromancers they were unable to apprehend. However,” she paused to glance over the staff, “I believe they have ulterior motives of recruitment. One of their nuns was making a ‘pitch’ to a sixth year girl.”
Another murmur ran throughout the staff. The tone seemed to be generally negative. A frown creased across Zoe’s face.
Wayne didn’t much care one way or the other. Kids would need to find jobs after school. If they wanted to spend the rest of their lives hunting down necromancers and the undead, it didn’t hurt him at all. The Elysium Sisters were far more reputable than working as a cashier in some magic shop. Or worse, getting a nonmagical job.
The negative tone seemed to please Turner, in any case. Wayne did not miss the corner of her mouth flicking upwards.
“While I have the utmost respect for their work keeping Brakket safe, I personally find recruiting out students to be distasteful. So long as the necromancers have been routed, I would very much like the sisters out.
“If any of you have ideas for ending their stay here peacefully, I am very much open to them. Other comments or concerns about the sisters are also welcome.”
She looked around the room. No one said anything.
“Well, we will bring this up in future meetings, I am sure. The last thing,” Turner said as she made another check mark in her notebook, “isn’t immediately relevant, but I would find it prudent if we began talking about it. There are two years, or two and a half years until the end fate of our academy is decided.”
Most of the teachers slouched down. Zoe perked up. She had high confidence in her candidates this year as well as last year.
Wayne wondered how she managed that with one student at home, her return tentative at best, and another student disabled.
“I only received this position a short time ago. Personally, I’d be disappointed if my tenure here was so short-lived. I’m sure many of you would like to see Brakket remain open as well. Perhaps even thrive and flourish.”
Turning the state of Brakket around would sure look good on any future job prospects, Wayne thought with a barely suppressed scoff. Turner was young. Not Zoe or Yuria young, but not far off. Spending a decade turning a dump into a castle would be time well spent.
“I have plans for next year, but I’d like to hear ideas for giving our students a sporting chance in the more immediate future.”
Kines spoke up, much to Wayne’s surprise. “I ran a mage-knight club until Dean Halsey shut it down for being too ‘dangerous’ to our student’s safety.”
“Excellent, restart it. Anyone else?”
“The seminars many of us run over summer are intended to keep our students sharp,” Zoe said. “The attendance rate is abysmal. Even the students who attend hardly listen. They mostly come because of boredom or because one of the teachers personally requested it. Promoting them towards the end of the school year may help.”
“Think on the best ways to do that.” Turner glanced over the teachers expectantly. No one spoke up. “Think on that over the week. We are adjourned until next Monday unless anyone has any further business?” She looked around for a moment. “Very well. I will see all of you in a week.”
Turner vanished. A light scent of rotten eggs was left in her wake.
The smell quickly cleared away the rest of the staff from the meeting room. Only Zoe and Wayne stayed behind.
Zoe whisked her dagger out and cleared the air. “That’s horrible,” she said.
“Whatever it is, it isn’t going through between. Frankly, I don’t care to know.” He waved his hand across his face to help clear the remnants of the smell. “I’d offer to teach her to go between. I don’t think I’d like to spend that much time with her.”
“She’s better than Rebbecca, at least as far as keeping the school running.”
“I’ll try to keep my hopes from getting too high.”
Zoe narrowed her eyes, probably at his tone.
“But,” Wayne said before she could comment, “Eva.”
“I honestly don’t know more than I said.”
“She crushed a stainless steel spoon in one hand.”
“That’s,” Zoe bit her lip. “Don’t try to see her hands.”
“Excellent choice of words if you want to inspire me to catch a glimpse.”
There was a story there. Wayne could tell. Something Zoe was keeping from him.
He sighed. “You’re giving that girl far too much leeway.” Especially if it is something she wouldn’t talk to him about.
“Probably. For now I’ll handle this myself.”
“I hope you know what you are doing.”
— — —
Shelby was furious with her twin. Jordan and Max too, but they weren’t around to be vented to.
“We can’t just pretend she doesn’t exist.”
Irene looked at her like she was crazy. “I didn’t see you striking up a conversation.”
“You and Jordan are closer to her than I was–I am–but if you aren’t going to talk to her, I will.”
“And what am I supposed to say. ‘Oh, hello Eva, sorry about your eyes. By the way, it is really freaky how you get around without them.'”
“Yes. That would be perfect. Maybe she’d just say how she gets around and we could all get along again.”
“I don’t want to know. What if it is something horrible.” Her twin was shouting now. Not a thing she often did. Irene was supposed to be the calmer and more level-headed of the two.
Shelby sighed. She stood up from her desk and crossed to Irene’s bed. She took a seat beside her sister and wrapped an arm around her. “You’re lucky she doesn’t live next door right now.”
She had a feeling she knew what the problem was. Irene’s problem, at least. Shelby didn’t know why Jordan hadn’t tried to talk to Eva. Maybe, like Shelby herself, he thought she would talk about it on her own. Maybe Eva still would.
Max hadn’t said anything because the boy was awkward; he’d admitted as much after alchemy. A good thing in her book. He would have said the wrong thing.
Maybe that was Eva’s own problem.
“I know Halloween scared you. I know Eva’s mysterious dance partner scared you. Max’s story of her scared me too. But she saved Shalise, she’s not a bad person.”
“We haven’t seen Shalise since then.”
“You haven’t. You were hiding in your room for a week, remember? I spoke with her before she left. She seemed a bit… well, traumatized–”
Irene scoffed. “After hearing Max’s story about the phantom, I can’t imagine why.”
Shelby swatted her upside the head.
“You hid in the room for a week and you didn’t even see anything. How would you feel if you were attacked by zombies. I doubt that she even registered Eva’s dance partner saving her.”
“And how did Eva save her? Shalise had a chunk taken out of her arm by a zombie! There’s no cure for that.”
Shelby shook her head. Her twin could be so dense sometimes. “Doesn’t matter. Eva saved her. How isn’t for us to know, at least not right now. Maybe we could ask that too.
“Now tomorrow, we are going to apologize. All of us.”
“Apologize? For what?”
Shelby flicked her twin’s nose. “For all but ignoring her. Then we are going to ask her if she wants to talk about anything. After that, we’re going to treat her like normal.”
She kept her finger tapping on Irene’s nose. “For you, that means treating her like before Halloween. I will be very cross with you if you don’t. You’re not a cruel person, I know you better than anyone. Being afraid or hating someone because they saved someone else is not your style.”
Shelby bounced off the bed and rounded on her sister, pointing a finger at her face. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes mother,” Irene pouted.
“Good.” Shelby turned back and sat down on her own bed. “I am your older sister and it is my job to set you straight. Call me mother again and I’ll turn you over my knee until your rear turns red.”
Irene stuck her tongue out before flopping over on her bed, shutting off her light as she did so.
With a sigh, Shelby did the same.
Another day like today couldn’t happen again. It felt too gross. Everyone sat around stewing in their own thoughts.
It was a good thing Juliana went after Eva during alchemy. If they managed to talk a little, perhaps that would help in the morning. She’d been surprised that Juliana didn’t say anything during classes or lunch. Juliana, at times, seemed just as awkward as Max.
Shelby doubted that either of the girls had any friends before coming to Brakket.
All the more reason to be friends now.