“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
Eva shared a glance with Juliana. Both girls sighed.
Shalise quirked her head to one side as she shoved a spoonful of lasagna and bean pie into her mouth.
Eva couldn’t actually see the meal, but she could smell it. She was very glad she didn’t often get hungry for lunch.
“I’m going,” Jordan said.
“Me too,” Shelby piped up quickly.
Max shook his head. After finishing his food–someone had mentioned his bad habit over the last few months, Eva wasn’t sure who–he said, “I don’t think I’ve got a good enough grasp on magic to even start using it in fighting.”
“No, not for me,” Irene shook her head. “I plan to be an artificer. Not much fighting in my future, I hope.”
“You never know when knowing how to fight will save your life,” Shalise said sagely. “I’m going.”
With a long sigh, Eva said, “I’ll go. If it turns into Zoe Baxter fighting us for two hours, I’m quitting.”
“Same,” Juliana said.
“Good.” Shalise looked over to Irene and Max. “You two sure you don’t want to go?”
“I’ll be using the time to study and practice, I think.”
“If it turns out to be something amazing,” Irene said, “We can start going to it later.”
“If you’re sure.”
The bell rang and everyone stood up.
Everyone except Eva.
Juliana and Shalise both stopped and looked back.
“Go on without me. I don’t think I’m getting much out of alchemy lessons these days.”
“I didn’t mean to take your place,” Shalise said.
“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t getting much out of them towards the end of last semester either.” Eva gave her a smile. “I’d just feel bad if I left Juliana alone. With you here, I don’t have to feel bad at all.”
“What are you going to do?” Juliana asked.
“Head to the dorms, or maybe my place. Check up on things there.”
“You’re not hunting bulls with wings, are you?”
Eva almost laughed at that. “Run around in the cold for who knows how long? I don’t think so. Like I said last week, I don’t think it is such a big deal.”
“Good.” Shalise smiled. Her smile turned stern. “Don’t make skipping a habit.”
Eva didn’t respond with anything but a smile and a wave.
They took that as the cue to run and catch up with the others.
Eva stayed in her seat for a few minutes, watching as the rest of the students walked by.
More than a few students gave her odd looks. Even a full two months after she’d come back to school, she was still the freshmen freak show. A blind girl who never took off her gloves yet still managed to get around fine–for the most part.
Not that Eva cared. The opinions of her friends mattered to her, but only just. The opinions of random people whose circulatory systems she couldn’t be bothered to memorize? Not even worth thinking about.
As the lunchroom cleared, one of the circulatory systems walked with purpose towards Eva’s table. An adult, one she didn’t know. Or perhaps a very big student.
A nun, Eva decided as she looked closer. All of the nuns had something right in the center of their chests. Something no one else had. It wasn’t very big, maybe the size of a ping-pong ball.
Whatever it was, it had blood flowing through it.
“Shouldn’t you be heading to class?”
“Should be. Not going to,” Eva said. She crossed her arms and leaned against the edge of the table. “Shouldn’t you be hunting necromancers?”
Eva grit her teeth just thinking about it. It was her fault Sawyer got away. She’d been too distracted with his friend. Too unused to her new sight to pay attention to her surroundings.
The metal of the table leg creaked from where she’d had it gripped. Eva took a deep, calming breath before resuming her eyeless glare at the nun.
“The Sister’s business is none of yours.”
“I can say the same to you.” Eva shooed the nun away with her hands.
The nun didn’t move.
“Is there something else you needed?”
“I know what you are.”
“Yes,” Eva sighed. “You and most of your order, if their stares are anything to go by.”
Despite her words, Eva couldn’t help but feel the hairs on her neck rise. She couldn’t move towards the knife on her back without being obvious about it, but a vial of Arachne’s blood could be opened easily under the table.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
The question caught her off guard. Eva expected her to fight, but she almost sounded concerned. Her glare–if it was a glare, a thing not always easy to tell without eyes–remained steady in either case.
“You’re going to have to be more specific.” Eva cast her awareness around the room, there weren’t any stragglers save for a handful of people in the adjoining kitchen. They were probably too far away. Just in case they weren’t, Eva added, “not too specific. I’d rather not have the whole school know.”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“I’ve done a lot of things to myself that I imagine nuns would take issue with.”
Her straight face turned downwards and a frown spread across it. “Your hands,” she said softly.
“Ah, that.” Eva brought one hand out from under the table and flexed the fingers. The other held onto an opened vial of blood.
The nun took a quarter-step back.
“Some terrible person decided I didn’t need hands anymore. Naturally, I disagreed. When a passing creature offered new hands with no strings attached, I accepted.” More or less anyway. Mostly less. Close enough for the nun in any case.
“There are always strings attached.”
“In this case, there weren’t. Though I imagine there might be some strings when I get around to replacing my eyes.”
“You’re planning on doing it again?”
“And my toes,” Eva said, pointing downwards. The nun wouldn’t be able to see it, not unless she was doing the thing Sister Cross already did. “I plan to use the stringless method for those, however.”
The nun gave Eva a sad look–as far as she could tell. “One day you will look back on your corruption and weep.”
Not likely, Eva thought with a small smile. She was rather looking forward to her blood being as powerful as Arachne’s for blood magic.
Another thought occurred to Eva. “Are you offering assistance? I’ve heard the Elysium’s healers aren’t too bad at their job.”
Eva wasn’t sure if she was supposed to know about healers. The nun’s reaction didn’t turn hostile, however.
The nun shifted nervously. She glanced side to side herself before answering in a whisper. “There are only six in existence at any one time. Petitioning one to heal you would,” she sighed, “be a waste of time.” The nun placed her hand on her chin. “Perhaps if you were to join us…”
“You’d accept someone like me?” If her earlier question had caught Eva off guard, recruiting her threw her for a complete loop.
“You would have to undergo cleansing. Very thorough cleansing. You might not survive.” The nun sighed. “No. You almost assuredly would perish. But that would be more desirable than your current path. If you did manage to survive, a healer would surely see to you.”
Eva almost responded–in the negative of course; even if surviving was assured, she wouldn’t take it–but something made her stop and jump ten feet into the air.
“I’ll not have you stealing one of my students in the middle of the school day,” a voice all but shouted behind Eva’s back. “Leave at once.”
The nun opened her mouth, about to say something. It snapped shut almost immediately. She turned on her heel and stalked straight out of the cafeteria.
Eva cast her sight around as she turned despite already having recognized the voice. She never remembered being startled this easily when she had eyes even though she couldn’t see behind her at any time. Keeping constant awareness with her new method of seeing needed work and practice.
“You’re the last person I would have thought they would recruit.” Eva could tell that her eyes narrowed the slightest amount. “You’re not thinking of joining them, are you?”
“I don’t know,” Eva said with a ponderous expression. She might as well have a little fun. “They offered to heal my eyes.”
“Eva,” Zoe’s teeth grit before she let out a sigh. “I know things have been hard. I don’t think you would be happy–”
“You don’t want me to remain blind when avenues of recovery are at hand, do you?”
Zoe’s eyes narrowed again. “You don’t intend to join.”
Eva let out a short laugh. She overdid that last line. “Of course not. Not even if she didn’t say I would assuredly die being ‘cleansed,’ whatever that means. I plan to acquire new eyes without a high chance of death.”
“Eva,” Zoe Baxter started in a warning tone. “You’re going to wind up kicked out of school.” Her voice dropped to a hushed whisper. “I’ll be kicked out as well if anyone finds the stack of books I’ve got.”
“Don’t look at me,” Eva said as she held her hands up, “I didn’t force you to take them.”
“I’m reading them because demons,” she hissed almost subvocally, “are deeply related to the well-being of a certain student.”
“Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying reading them. I know at least three of the ones I lent you had nothing to do with anything about me.”
“Academically as a theorist only,” she said standing up to her full height. “It isn’t often a pile of books of that type are available to me.”
You keep telling yourself that, Eva thought with not a small amount of amusement in her mental voice. Not that she enjoyed corrupting her teacher. Really. Eva was just pleased that she hadn’t alerted demon hunters or even kicked her out of school.
“Although, you probably shouldn’t talk about things like that with me.” When Zoe Baxter raised her eyebrows, Eva continued, “Sister Cross stopped by on Christmas. She mentioned that I was still under surveillance.”
“I thought you improved your anti-scrying runes?”
“I thought so too. As far as I can tell, they’re not doing anything unless Sister Cross is lying.”
“I doubt it,” Zoe said as she crossed her arms. “Not with Shalise being so close to you.”
Eva stretched back. She still hadn’t told either Juliana or Shalise about Sister Cross’ daughter. Zoe Baxter was her sole confidant in that matter. She apparently knew Shalise was more than a regular orphan, she just didn’t know who the parent was.
“What are you doing anyway, sluffing classes?”
“What about you? Don’t you have a class right now.”
“I have an open period, you don’t. I know you have class with Way–Mr. Lurcher.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t call that a class so much as a waste of three hours.”
“Miss Eva, alchemy is a fundamental–”
“I would love to do alchemy, but I think I’ll learn more back at my place working on my own brewing than sitting to the side and not touching anything.”
“Mr. Lurcher is still not letting you participate?”
“Nope. I don’t mind though. On weekends I have Arachne read me the alchemy lab book and I go over the things in class. I was considering skipping class and heading straight to my place.”
Zoe Baxter’s mouth tipped into a frown at the mention of Arachne. “You still associate with that creature?”
“Please. She lived in the dorms for six months and never hurt anyone. Saved students, in fact.” Saved Shalise, at least. At Eva’s command.
“You’ve mentioned as much before. She killed a nun and damaged school property.”
“We keep having the same argument, over and over again,” Eva sighed. “There were circumstances that night. If she hadn’t acted the way she had, I’d be dead.” Or worse. “Besides, the nuns were trying to kill her back.”
Zoe leaned over slightly, pointing a finger. “She’s a dangerous creature, Eva. The books agree with me on that.”
Eva raised her hands, wiggling the fingers lightly. “I’m a dangerous creature.”
“That isn’t the same and you know it,” she hissed.
A lot closer than you might realize, Eva thought.
“At least tell me you’ve gotten rid of the other one.”
“Same answer as last time.”
Zoe’s teeth ground together. She took a seat next to Eva at the table. “Eva, your pet tarantula is one thing. If it got out of hand, it could do a lot of damage, but it is ultimately containable. For the most part.
“Your other ‘pet’ isn’t the same. If she got out of hand–”
“She won’t,” Eva said firmly. She double checked the area. No one was around to overhear. “Ylva doesn’t want to go around killing everything. She won’t even leave the cell house without asking me.”
“She views the prison as part of my ‘domain’ and will not encroach on it without my permission. It’s a d–creature thing.”
“But she can leave if she wants to.” Zoe didn’t leave room for question.
“That’s why Arachne is there.”
“Can Arachne stop her? Contain or defeat her?”
Eva didn’t answer. She didn’t have one. Arachne would say yes without hesitating, but Eva couldn’t be so sure.
“At the very least, Eva, you need safeguards. I’ve been reading about shackles. You know how to do them, right?” At Eva’s nod, Zoe said, “can you place shackles around the entire building? Or even the entire prison, if that is possible.”
That would be massive. Eva hadn’t measured out the exact dimensions of the prison, but it was larger than the entire campus of Brakket by at least four times–discounting warped space in the courtyard.
“That might be doable,” Eva said, more as a placating gesture than any promise of carrying out the task. Ylva had been quite pleasant in her few meetings with the hel despite Zoe Baxter’s harsh comments about her first meeting. Erecting shackles would likely do away with any goodwill between Eva and Ylva.
“Have you still not heard from Mr. Foster?”
Eva shook her head. “He’ll be back before February ends.”
“I’d rather speak with him sooner.”
“I have no way of contacting him,” Eva lied. Though it wasn’t much of a lie. Summoning Ivonis to track down Devon was possible, but gathering up another fifty animals to sacrifice would be annoying at best. “You’ll just have to wait.”
“You’re sure he’ll be back by then?”
“Unless he’s gone off and gotten himself killed.” If he had, Eva was in trouble.
Juliana might be able to start up one or two of the rituals for Eva, provided Eva told her about the rituals in the first place. If anything went wrong or changes needed to be made as the treatment progressed, neither Juliana, Eva, or Arachne would be able to make alterations.
Zoe Baxter let out a long sigh. She propped her elbows up on the table behind her and shut her eyes. After a moment of rest, she seemed to realize that she wasn’t acting entirely professional. In a quick motion, she stood up, brushed down her suit, and tweaked her red butterfly tie.
At least, Eva assumed it was the butterfly tie. She sometimes wore a white that turned black at the tips, or an orange one with a coat of arms featuring a dragon on it. The red one was by far the most prevalent of the three.
Once finished, Zoe Baxter turned and faced Eva. “Miss Eva. I cannot condone skipping class. Today, you are already late. Arriving now would only disrupt whatever lesson Mr. Lurcher is currently teaching.” She cleared her throat. Completely unnecessarily. She had been talking just fine. “You’ll be serving detention with me this Saturday.”
Eva sighed. She was pretty sure she was the only student to ever get detention at Brakket. At least, apart from the one time she scrubbed lab room floors and counters with Juliana.
A spike of ice left a trail of cold air as it flew past Eva’s chest.
It didn’t even come close to hitting her before she hopped to one side. After hopping, it missed by a mile.
Another spike launched away from his wand.
Eva raised an order magic shield. Professor Kines taught how to cast a simple shield designed to block projectiles. She wasn’t very confident in it. It didn’t hold a candle to her blood shield.
It didn’t matter. The ice spike tapped against it and fell to the ground. It might have fallen before touching the shield. Some things were difficult to tell with her current vision.
Three fireballs returned against her attacker. One missed, the other two struck a shoulder and his stomach.
He had a fire resistant jacket on. Even if Eva could cast decent fireballs, he wouldn’t have burst into flames. Everyone had magic retardant armor. Expensive, but left over from the old mage-knight club.
Despite her weak fireballs, he staggered backward for several steps until he put a foot out of the ring.
Tony Burnside hadn’t even tried to raise his own shield.
Eva sighed as she dropped her wand hand to her side. “I saw you fight against Zoe Baxter during her seminar. I know you can do better.”
The third year student brushed off his jacket without even glancing at Eva. “I don’t think this is what I signed up for,” he said quietly.
“Oh? And what did you sign up for?”
“I signed up to learn to fight better.”
Eva grit her teeth. Juliana and Shalise paired off as had Jordan and Shelby. They were going to switch out after a short while, but until then Eva wound up with the wimpiest third year student she could imagine.
A fireball shot from her hand at Tony. He wasn’t in the ring. Eva didn’t care.
He grunted and stumbled as it hit him in the side.
“You want to learn? Fine. First lesson, fights don’t end because you don’t want to fight.”
Another two fireballs launched towards the student. The first one managed to strike him in the chest. He actually put up a shield for the second.
“Second lesson, just because your opponent looks frail or helpless, doesn’t mean she is.”
He launched an ice spike after another fireball hit his shield.
Eva didn’t bother dodging. It was a good two inches from her shoulder.
“Third lesson, you learn nothing by standing around and half-assing it.”
In truth, Eva had small apprehensions about fighting. In a real fight, she would increase the amount of blood in the air. Here, she didn’t want to make it too thick and give herself away. It would be easy for a shard of ice to slip through to her without her noticing.
But in class, that didn’t matter. She wore armored clothes the same as everyone else.
In order to see, Eva relied on watching his wand hand and watching when he cast spells. If she lost track of a projectile, she’d put up a shield.
At least, that was her plan. She hadn’t needed to do anything of the sort against Tony Burnside. None of his attacks intended to hurt her. Even the few times she’d intentionally tried to test her shield, he just stopped his attacks.
So Eva tossed fireball after fireball at him. Even a few came from her off-hand. Her new finger ring foci adorned the index finger of her glove as a distraction. Students might have a hard time learning the nuances of alternate foci, but which hand she used didn’t matter to Eva’s unique casting.
Her fireballs splashed against his shield. They were too weak to get through. That didn’t deter her.
Tony Burnside launched token ice spikes any time she let up. For the most part, she ignored them. Most weren’t even properly aimed at her.
“Stop trying to miss me and hit me,” Eva roared.
One almost hit her chest. She only noticed too late. Rather than fail to put up a shield, she batted it away with the back of her hand. They were blunted and weren’t traveling fast enough to do any serious damage. Her claws could take the beating.
“Eva,” a voice called out.
She’d just barely caught one of his icicles that went wide and was about to throw it back at him. Eva paused and turned to the voice.
Franklin Kines ran up to the two students. “What are you doing? You’ve got him out of the ring. You’re out of the ring.”
“He won’t fight me,” Eva said, pointing her wand at Tony.
He pulled up a shield the moment she did.
“You’re out of the ring. You’re not supposed to fight out of the ring.”
“He won’t fight me in the ring.” She held up the ice spike. “These just go flying past me. I haven’t had to use a shield or even dodge.” She crushed the spike in her hand, the two pieces falling to the ground amidst a shower of crushed ice.
“Eva,” Kines said softly, “surely you can understand him not wanting to hurt a younger student.”
“No.” Eva pulled off her helmet and threw it to the side. She tapped her padded vest. “We have these to keep us from getting hurt.”
“Maybe we should shuffle groups,” Franklin Kines said. He clapped his hands to get the attention of everyone who wasn’t already staring at the scene–which was almost no one. “Everyone find a new partner, one who uses a different element, if possible.”
He turned on one of the groups. “Shalise,” he said, “would you please be Eva’s partner?
“This exercise is for getting used to shield spells,” he said a little louder, Eva was pretty sure it was directed to her, “not for fighting.”
Juliana gave Eva a light smile as she walked straight to Tony Burnside.
Eva nodded and picked up her helmet on her way to Shalise.
“You’re not going to fireball me into a corner, are you?”
Eva quirked an eyebrow at Shalise. She’d be able to see it through the clear visor. “Are you going to fight me like I’m a little blind girl who needs to be coddled?”
Eva exaggerated out a sigh as she walked into the ring. The floor of the small dueling arena was made of earth, mostly for earth mages. The carved in rings helped a lot with Eva’s sight. She wouldn’t be able to tell painted on rings. “Then I suppose I won’t fireball you into a corner.”
That elicited a smile and a soft giggle from the girl. “It was a little scary, watching you,” she said quietly.
“He wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” Eva dismissed. “Even if his shield failed–a feat against my weak fireballs–we’ve got all this armor.”
“It was more of your face.”
“You looked very angry.”
Did she? Eva didn’t know. She could see her own blood as well as she could see others, but she never paid attention to it. “Maybe if he’d just man up and fight me properly, I wouldn’t have got so mad.”
“I don’t know how much of a fight I’m going to put up.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t get mad at you.”
Shalise flicked her wand.
Eva readied a shield.
Nothing pinged against it. She couldn’t see anything with the flecks of blood around the arena.
Shalise slumped over. “That was my best attack. A puff of air. I don’t think air magic is very suited for combat.”
“Zoe Baxter uses lightning. Have you tried?”
Once again, Shalise flicked her wand.
Unlike before, there was a small crackle in the air. A very small crackle. Without eyes, Eva couldn’t tell if anything left Shalise’s wand. If it even came from Shalise’s wand.
It might have been another student standing near Shalise that Eva heard.
“A spark,” Shalise said, apparently seeing the confusion on Eva’s face. “Irene and Max might have had the right idea. Maybe I’ll try back next year after I practice magic more.”
“What about the shield Professor Kines taught us?”
Shalise casted a spell. Something appeared in front of her, Eva could tell by how some of her blood hit a barrier.
Eva tried casting a small fireball at it. Her shield shattered on impact, though the fireball didn’t make it through. At least that was something.
It didn’t seem that Shalise considered that a victory. “That is that,” she said dejectedly.
“We’re here to practice, right? So let’s practice.” Eva readied her wand again, not that she needed it. “Bring up your shield and when you do, imagine the biggest, strongest wall you can.” She was just repeating Franklin Kines’ words from the start of the lesson. Her blood shields didn’t need any sort of thought behind them.
Shalise did so. Eva tossed another small fireball at her.
The shield shattered again.
They spent ten minutes practicing against Shalise’s shield. One of the fireballs actually splashed against the shield instead of shattering it. Shalise got so excited she lost concentration and the next fireball hit her square in the chest.
It was just a small impact; Eva couldn’t amp up the power much at all. Still they continued.
A loud crash drew the entire room’s attention.
Tony Burnside was lying on his back. His wand rolled a few feet away. He struggled against something.
Eva sent some flecks of blood over to find he was almost entirely encased in earth. The only part that wasn’t was his head.
Juliana stood over him. She had a sword pointed at his neck.
“Juliana Rivas, what are you doing?” Franklin Kines ran over to their ring.
“I want this man removed from class,” she said firmly. “If he isn’t going to take it seriously, it is only going to hurt anyone who has the misfortune of partnering against him.”
“This is not a sparring session,” Professor Kines said. “You’re supposed to practice shields.”
“I can’t practice shields if he won’t even try to hit me.”
Professor Kines whisked his wand out and pointed it at the prone Tony. The earth crumbled off of him.
Tony batted the sword out of his face and stood up. He tore off his helmet and armor. Without a glance at anyone, he marched straight out of the classroom.
“Alright,” Professor Kines shouted. “Class dismissed. Everyone out.” Juliana turned and Kines added, “except for you, Juliana.”
Eva walked over to Juliana’s side, leaving Shalise looking very uncertain in her ring. Jordan and Shelby walked over to her a moment later.
“I don’t believe I asked for your presence, Eva. Return to your dorms.”
“I had the ‘misfortune of partnering against him.’ I’ll say my input to defend my friend.”
Juliana smiled, still facing away from Professor Kines.
“You both will be kicked out of this class if anything like tonight happens again.”
“Us?” Juliana spun to face the professor. “He is the one who wasn’t following your directions.”
“Should he return to class, he will be given one more chance as well.” Franklin Kines pointed a finger at each of the girls. “You two will come to me if you have a problem with another student. You will not take matters into your own hands or you’re gone.
“Am I understood?”
“Sure,” Juliana said. Her sword squirmed back up underneath her clothes. She turned on her heel. A smile spread across her face as she walked away.
Eva shrugged at Kines as she followed after.
“That was fun,” Juliana said. “I could get used to knocking over upperclassmen.”
Shelby snorted. “Yeah, but you’ll probably make enemies that way.”
“You didn’t have to go fight him,” Eva said as they walked through the Infinite Courtyard back to the dorms. She felt guilty about almost getting her friend kicked out of class.
“No. I did. My mother would never have stood for someone slacking off if she taught a class like this.”
“She’s a retired mage-knight, right?” Jordan asked. “Maybe she would teach a class like this. Not that I think Professor Kines is a bad teacher, I just wonder what kind of background he has to be qualified to teach a class like this.”
“Well, she’s in Russia right now.” At Jordan’s questioning glance, Juliana added, “don’t ask. After that, I don’t know. Teaching doesn’t seem her style. It isn’t adventurous enough.”
Last semester wasn’t adventurous enough with all the necromancers and nuns? Eva sighed and followed the others back to the dorms.
Genoa Rivas was a scary woman.