“Yes. That’s what the card says.”
The nun glanced back down at the small scrap of paper in her hands. Her eyes flicked back to Devon and narrowed. “Expert demonologist?”
“Yes. The card says that too. I’m glad the Elysium Order doesn’t stifle the budget for reading lessons.”
The white-robed nun didn’t appear to be listening. Her eyes flared white and she started glancing around.
Devon hopped back, worried she might actually attack.
“Where’s your demon,” she growled. It wasn’t a question. Lightning crackled at her fingertips.
“What?” Devon quickly let out a snorting laugh. “Oh no, you have me confused with a diabolist. It’s an easy mistake to make.” He laughed again, slapping his knee. “They both start with ‘d’ and end in ‘ist.’ I see the Elysium Order’s reading budget isn’t as high as I thought.”
“I should strike you down where you stand.”
“I am an officially sanctioned demonologist. Striking me down would be a crime and your order,” he said as she shook his finger at her, “is in hot enough water as it is, young lady.”
The light in her eyes seethed before being extinguished to a pair of light brown eyes. “I don’t care what the card says. I can’t let you in.” She tossed the paper over her shoulder without a second glance.
Devon followed it as it fluttered to the ground. He pressed his fake glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Ahhh,” he added as much nasally tone to his voice as he dared without sounding fake, “I’m afraid that isn’t your decision to make. I was hired as an independent contractor by the administrators of Brakket city to investigate any possible demonic activity. Given that you are squatting in this building rather than owning it properly, you have absolutely no authority.”
From his pocket, Devon pulled a bundle of folded up papers. He thrust the very realistic looking documents in front of the nun’s face. Something told him they would be wasted on the illiterate girl.
“As you can see,” he laughed with a snort, trying not to groan at himself as he did so, “anyone who interferes with my duties will be, ahha,” he pressed his glasses up his nose one more time, “jailed.”
The gears almost audibly ticked away inside her head. Her eyes scanned over the papers. What was visible of her forehead crinkled away as she got further down. She shoved the papers back into Devon’s chest.
He stumbled backwards as if she’d punched him.
“I’ll need to contact my superiors.” She started to pull out a cellphone.
“You do that,” Devon said as he adjusted his glasses once again; he was adjusting them less for show and more because they irritated him. “I’ll get started. I ah, hope the trail hasn’t run cold because of your delay.”
He shuffled past her. Despite her moving to block the way, Devon slunk around her arm. He hopped up to the front door and, inside and out of the nun’s sight, stepped straight from the bottom of the stairs to the top.
The master bedroom looked like a drunk tornado spent the night. Not a single piece of furniture looked intact. Large stains of dried blood pooled near the door, the center of the room, and the bathroom entrance. Smaller trails connected the three points.
Between them all, and several other spots in the room, were ashen hoof prints. They had burned into the hardwood flooring.
Devon knelt down and brushed some of the ash onto his finger. He brought it up to his nose and took a brief sniff. Using all the air in his lungs, Devon quickly expelled the foul scent from his nostrils.
Brimstone, he winced. It lacked the distinct yellow color, but the odor was unmistakable.
He walked back out of the room to the staircase.
No tracks led up. Just a few paces away from the doorway, two hoof marks appeared side by side. The entire surrounding area had been scorched around ankle height. The walls and floorboards looked like someone had done a poor job spray painting them black.
The footprints had a huge distance between them. Either the demon took large lunges for steps or he had legs up to Devon’s chest. The ceiling wasn’t that high. He’d be hunched over the entire time.
Not very intimidating.
Though, he thought as he looked at the blood splatter around the doorway, if it could do that much damage before the nun could react, it wouldn’t have to look intimidating.
Devon stalked back to the bathroom.
Slumped against the door seemed to be the end of whatever guarded the room. The body had been removed. The telltale signs of a body hitting the door and sliding down were left behind.
The bathroom wasn’t large. A closet and a small bathtub sat inside one wall, a counter with a single sink and a toilet against the other wall. There was a small aisle between.
The footsteps did something odd. They stopped. Two others, facing the opposite direction, were burned into the floor against the wall opposite of the door.
Clothes lay crumpled against the counter and water filled the tub. The abducted nun was in the bath. But the footsteps, why did they teleport to the wall?
He tried to recreate the scene. He searched through the bathroom. It wasn’t until he found a red, orb-type focus half hidden beneath the crumpled clothes that he put it together. He slipped it into his pocket. No reason to let a good focus go to waste.
She was in the bath, but jumped out and tried to fight. The demon teleported behind her.
Devon moved back to the bedroom and took a look around. The window had been completely shattered. That fit in somehow. The hoof prints came to an end next to the window. They didn’t turn or go anywhere. Devon peeked out the window.
The window opened over the side of the house. Devon stepped out, onto the snow.
A large impact hit and slid across the snowy ground. The snow was melting somewhat, but enough remained behind to be plainly visible. A pair of footprints, bare feet by the look of it, trailed off towards the front side of the house.
No hoof marks were anywhere in the snow.
None on the sidewalk either.
It didn’t chase her?
Devon frowned and made his way back inside. He used the back door to avoid the nun around the front.
In the bedroom once again, Devon started snooping. He pulled open desk drawers. He sifted through remains of the marble table.
The only thing of any notice was the melted hunk of plastic and metal that might have been a laptop at one point in its life. Devon had no hope of recovering anything useful from its hard drives.
Devon pulled out a prepared card. A small ritual circle covered one side. He scraped a good pile of ash from one of the hoof marks onto the center of the circle. He found a relatively clear spot on the floor and set the card down.
As he channeled magic into the circle, a small flame erupted. It stayed the standard red and yellow for only a moment before it flared a brilliant purple.
Devon sighed as he stared deep into the flame.
“Find something interesting?”
Devon stumbled forwards, his sleeve caught fire. Luckily the demonic flame gave way to regular fire that he quickly patted out. He sighed again. That was his favorite trench coat. He quickly stomped out the indicator flame with the soles of his much more hardy combat boots.
A nun, wearing a black habit rather than the standard white, stood in the doorway. Just behind her sneered the white-robed nun from the entryway.
Devon immediately readjusted his glasses–they actually needed it this time. “Tell me,” he said, “who was it that was kidnapped?”
The lead nun narrowed her eyes. “A subordinate of mine. The nun’s identity is not up for disclosure.”
“Was she actually kidnapped?”
“What else would you call what happened here? I have one dead and one missing nun. The demon that attacked did not attempt to cover its tracks at all.”
“No, I ah, suppose not. In that case, who did you piss off?”
The nun blinked at that. “What do you mean?”
“That,” he pointed to the little stomped on scrap of paper with a snort, “burned bright purple. You know what purple represents?”
“Royalty,” she almost snarled.
“Oh, an educated nun. Surprising.” Devon wasn’t lying. It may have been a guess. Purple was traditionally a royal color. Yet it wasn’t incorrect in this situation. “The question then becomes, why is one of the seventy-two after your nun?”
She glowered. Not really at him, but her entire face darkened. “Frankly, Mr…”
“Carter,” Devon said as he offered a hand. His only hand.
She didn’t spare it a second glance. “Mr. Carter, I think it is time for you to go.”
Devon pulled back his hand to his chest. He let his fingers twitch before the dove into his trench coat and withdrew his forged documents. “I have these papers that–”
The papers exploded out of his hand as a lightning bolt struck them. Tiny flakes drifted to the floor in a miniature snowstorm.
“Well I never,” he said as he thrust his glasses up on his face. “My superiors will be hearing about this.”
“You tell them that this is an internal matter of the Elysium Order. Do not let me catch you skulking about our business again, Mr. Carter.” She stepped to one side of the door and thrust her arm out, pointing at the doorway.
She almost caught the white-robed nun in the chest. That nun hopped to one side of the door. She stared as Devon quickly made his way past.
He had at least three more tests to run, more depending on the results. It wasn’t worth getting a blast in the face over.
The white-robed nun followed him out, all but stepping on his heels. The other nun didn’t follow. She stopped at the edge of the property.
Devon could feel her eyes glaring holes into his back as he walked off.
— — —
“Stay out of it. I sure as hell am.”
Eva crossed her arms. She tried to glare at her master, but it didn’t seem to have much of an effect. “You can tell me what you found.”
“You’ll run off and try to get involved. Then you’ll either get yourself injured or have to summon a demon worse than that hel. You’ll then offer it a whole building in the prison to mark as its territory.”
“I won’t,” Eva protested. “Last time, they found me. I didn’t run off. I’d rather know what I’m up against in case anything similar happens.”
A low rumble came from his throat as he considered. “It was one of the seventy-two.”
“The pillars?” Arachne asked from her position beneath Eva. She had her arms locked tightly around Eva as she sat in the spider-woman’s lap. “What are they doing out of the Void?”
“You tell me,” Devon growled.
Eva’s seat jiggled beneath her.
“Why would I know? I don’t keep tabs on other demons. To my knowledge, they never leave. Not unless some teenager learned one of their sigils and specifically summoned one. They usually kill the sorry summoner, but bouts of boredom have caused them to humor the summoner on occasion.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
The two stared daggers at each other with Arachne winning on account of her extra eyes.
“Rather than what is it doing here, how did it get here?”
Devon ceased his pacing and kicked one of the armchairs around to face half away from Eva. He plopped down in the seat.
Eva was not amused. This was her furniture. Sure, she didn’t pay for it. She didn’t have a clue where Arachne got it. That didn’t mean her master could just walk around damaging her property.
Before she could protest his actions, Devon said, “no idea. Possibly a beacon.”
“That,” Arachne said, “or someone didn’t have proper shackles around the summoning circle. Whichever pillar it was just decided to stick around instead of going back.”
“So,” Eva said to break the brief silence, “what’s the plan.”
“Did you not hear me, girl? I said to stay out of it.”
“I agree,” Arachne said with a pat to Eva’s chest. “If the nuns did something to garner the ire of one of the pillars, we don’t want to get in the middle of it.” She gave a throaty chuckle. “Besides, who cares if it rampages through a few of them. I only wish I could join in.”
Eva added a hint of disapproval to her voice as she said, “Arachne.” Only a hint.
“Just let everything play out until we see some motives or actual hostility directed at us. Do not interfere.”
Agreeing to that might not be possible.
Despite her ire for Sister Cross, especially after recent events, the woman was Shalise’s mother. Even if Shalise herself was unaware. Allowing her to get hurt wasn’t something Shalise would forgive.
Never having friends certainly put a damper on how to handle situations like this. Eva didn’t know what the societal norms were for when a friend’s loved ones were in danger.
Eva jumped in Arachne’s arms. Arachne tightened her grip and Devon jumped to his feet with his ring hand out.
“Spencer,” the voice shouted again.
There was only one man who would dare call her by her last name. Eva sighed and pried herself out of Arachne’s grip. As she neared the entrance to the women’s ward, a circulatory system came into her sight.
“Stay here,” she said as she walked out of the building.
Neither her master nor Arachne followed her orders. Both followed at her heels. Her master likely followed to protect his investment. Arachne needed no explanation.
“Yeah, I thought I’d find you here you little troublemaker.” Wayne Lurcher half slouched against the gate leading to the women’s ward courtyard. His heart rate didn’t shoot up nearly as much as Eva expected despite Arachne and Devon being plainly visible at her back.
The alchemy professor wasn’t finished. “You think it is okay to just up and disappear from your infirmary bed? Now you’ve got me out of my nurse ordered bed rest, freezing my butt off on a Sunday morning because Zoe is indisposed and no one else has a clue where you might be.”
“Glad I could help get you out of whatever stuffy hospital they had you stuck in.”
Wayne Lurcher smiled. Or sneered. It was so difficult to tell without proper eyes.
“So you are a diabolist. Zoe hinted as much before she stopped telling me anything. Those accusations that nun leveled your way sealed the deal.”
“Not really a diabolist.”
“Oh? I suppose that’s an elf then?” He thrust an arm at Arachne. His arm swung to point at Devon. “And what’s he? Some incubus?”
“Please,” her master scoffed. “Incubi have a skin tone ranging from blue to midnight black. They have a little spaded tail and horns. I’ve never seen one wear clothes, either,” he said with a tug at his trench coat. “I am a humble demonologist.”
“So what’s the deal then,” Wayne Lurcher said, completely ignoring Devon. “You rile up the nuns and get me injured? I show up to save you and you’re the cause of all this?”
“I did nothing of the sort. Whatever Sister Cross was on about, I had nothing to do with it. That’s why I’m here,” Eva said with a gesture back to Devon, “we’re trying to figure out what is happening.”
Wayne Lurcher let out a low growl. His fists clenched and unclenched as he grit his teeth. “And what is happening?” he asked after a minute.
“There’s some damn scary shit going down in your town. I’d get the hell out of there if I were you.”
Eva turned her head back to give her colorful master a look. She wasn’t sure it had the same effect without eyes. Not that she’d ever intimidated her master with a look.
Wayne’s eyes continued their focus on Eva. “What kind of things are going down?” He sounded cowed, slightly.
Eva shrugged. “He’s the demonologist. I’m really a lot more normal than you might think despite the company I keep.”
“To put it short,” Devon said, “a demon ranking in the seventy-two–those are the big ones no one should be crazy enough to mess with–attacked some of the nuns. There was one death for sure, though I believe the demon allowed its other target to escape.”
“Escape? The nun said kidnapped.”
“That just means the missing nun hasn’t returned to the sisters.” Devon shrugged his shoulders. “Or she got hunted down later and no body has been found yet. I lost the trail somewhere in the alleyways near the house.”
“You said Zoe Baxter was indisposed,” Eva said, “is she hurt?”
“She says she’s fine, but she’s been holed up in her office since yesterday. She hasn’t come out even to speak with her students,” Wayne sighed lightly, gaze drifting off to the side. His eyes snapped back to Eva. “Not that she needs your insincere concern.”
Eva crossed her arms and tilted her head to one side. “Why would you think that? I genuinely like Zoe Baxter.”
Devon gave her an odd look from behind her back. He clearly did not agree.
The four stared at each other. Arachne started drumming her sharp fingers into her legs. The clicks were the only sound in the quiet prison.
“Did Zoe actually know about all this?” He waved his hands around, mostly towards Eva and Arachne. “About your hands?”
“She did. She had a chat with Arachne,” Eva gestured to her silent companion. “She’s even keyed into my wards in my home now.”
Devon took half a step back. “What.”
Eva waved him off. “My home. I decide who comes and goes.”
“That.” Wayne pointed. “Arachne?” His hand pressed against his forehead and slid down his face. “Your pet tarantula. That thing lived in the dorms?”
Arachne let out a low growl. “Used to. Not anymore.”
“Because of the nuns,” Eva clarified. “I don’t think they’d take too kindly to her.”
A silence descended on the group again. Devon apparently got fed up with it. Without a word, he turned and slunk back into the women’s ward.
Eva shifted uncomfortably under the alchemy professor’s glare. Even without being able to see the slate gray of his eyes, they still held a piercing look.
“So what now?” Eva asked.
His answer could determine her future. She very much wanted to know if it was time to retreat to Florida, or even elsewhere. The prison had grown on her, a lot, since she came here. Leaving both it and the school would be something tragic.
“You weren’t the cause of whatever made Zoe lock herself away?”
Eva shook her head. “I am concerned to hear that myself.”
Wayne Lurcher spat on the ground.
Her ground. Her prison walkway. Spitting is a dirty habit, Eva thought with a frown.
“I need to talk to Zoe.” He turned and hobbled a few paces away.
Eva winced. His legs didn’t look all that bad to her vision. Her own shoulder didn’t hurt unless she knocked it against something. Walking had to be a nightmare if the same was true for him.
“I’m no hypocrite.” He paused and turned back to Eva. “Let it never be said that I treat my own students differently from others.”
Whatever he was saying, it wasn’t making sense to Eva. It was mostly under his breath. Talking to himself, probably. Without any directions, Eva stood there, staring at him.
Eva tilted her head to one side. “Well what?”
“Are you coming back or not?”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Eva said. She couldn’t help shifting her weight to one foot and lightly tapping the other on the ground.
“What’s not to understand?”
“Are you going to be alerting demon hunters?”
“Alerting hunters?” He flailed one of his hands in her direction the way he did when someone screwed up big time in his class. She’d never had that flail pointed in her direction. “I came out here to bring you back to the dorms. That’s what I’m going to do. You can explain how you got out of a locked room on your own.
“If you would hurry, that’d be great. I need to have several words with Zoe.”
Eva glanced at Arachne. It was less to see her and more to elicit a response from the spider-woman. That response ended up being a mere shrug of her shoulders.
With a sigh, Eva turned back to Wayne Lurcher. “Alright.” She walked up to him. Arachne followed with her claw gripped around Eva’s good arm.
Wayne clasped a large hand over her other shoulder.
Eva winced. “How are your legs?”
“Fine. How’s your shoulder–” His grip loosened slightly as he cut himself off. No apology.
The stinging sensation that spiderwebbed across her back lessened slightly. Eva would have preferred him moving his hand to her other shoulder.
“What do you think you’re doing?” He glared at Arachne. His heart rate didn’t jump in the slightest.
“I’m going too.”
“Arachne,” Eva started. The demon quickly cut her off.
“You were just attacked in your own bedroom. I’m not letting that happen again.”
“The nuns will be on the lookout for demons. You can’t come.” Eva opened her mouth but Arachne wasn’t finished. “And he,” she leveled a sharp finger at Wayne, “hasn’t actually said that you aren’t going to be arrested or lynched.”
“She’s not being arrested or lynched.” He batted the spider-woman’s hand away. “At least not until I’ve chewed out Zoe.”
“Arachne,” Eva gripped her hand with her own before she could attack the professor. “Go back inside. I promise I will keep you up to date–”
“No,” Arachne said. “You could have been killed and now there’s a pillar running around town.”
Eva turned to give Arachne a glare.
The demon had a point. As much as Eva hated to admit it, she might not have lost her eyes in the first place had she allowed Arachne to go with her.
But her isolation at the prison was more for the demon’s safety than any actual punishment. Arachne killed one of the nuns herself, after all. Eva didn’t want any revenge seekers to stir up trouble.
Then again, based on her actions the other day, Martina Turner might not allow the nuns to stay around the academy much longer. Something she would have to ask about when she got back.
“Alright,” Eva said. “On the condition that you do not antagonize the nuns at all. No even looking at them unless I am about to die at their hands.”
Arachne smiled at first, but her smile slipped to a frown as she heard the conditions. “Even the one who tried to kill you?”
“Especially the one who tried to kill me.”
“This is great and all,” Wayne butted in, “but I can’t take both of you and I refuse to do two trips. I’m tired and I’m cold and I still need to speak with Zoe.”
“What if Arachne were smaller?”
“Maybe. How small?”
“Arachne?” Eva turned her head to face the spider-woman.
“Can’t we take our method back?”
“I’m not very fond of our teleportation method. You know this.”
“What makes you think his is any better?”
“Won’t know until we try.”
“Let’s get a move on,” Wayne grunted.
Arachne growled at him even as she started shrinking. Soft squelching sounded in the air as her body folded in on itself until all that was left was a face sized spider.
“Freakiest thing I ever saw,” Wayne said as Arachne crawled up Eva’s arm.
Eva couldn’t honestly disagree. She’d seen a lot of things in her life from the mundane to horrifying, but there was just something about watching a human shrink down to a spider that nothing else ever matched. Watching how the blood pumped out of her heart tube throughout her body change as she shrank only added to the oddity.
Without a single motion from Wayne, everything changed. Her blood wards vanished along with her detection of every speck of her blood she had floating in the air.
Both of their circulatory systems twisted and broke.
She went completely blind. Weightlessness overtook her. She was in a constant free fall. Only Wayne Lurcher’s hand on her shoulder kept her from total sensory deprivation.
The cold settled in next. It plucked at her skin, pulling goosebumps out. It didn’t stop there. Eva tried to take a breath. Ice poured down her throat and settled in her lungs.
It all stopped.
The ground reappeared beneath her. Eva collapsed to it. She couldn’t help it. Shivers tore across her as her body tried to warm itself up. It bordered on convulsing.
The feeling lasted only a few seconds. She got a grip on her muscle spasms and pulled herself to her knees.
Arachne didn’t fare much better. She was on her back, her legs writhing and twitching. Eva might have been worried if the spider hadn’t flipped back over to her legs. Arachne looked like she was going to charge at Wayne in her spider form, but her legs weren’t finished twitching and she slid back to her stomach.
Not caring of Wayne’s circulatory system standing over her, Eva pulled out her dagger and jammed it into her arm. Her blood divided and spread throughout the room. There was a single bed, cabinets of potions and other medical supplies, and a smooth floor. The nurse’s office. Or one of the patient rooms.
“Ah, a blood mage too.”
“Don’t act–” Eva broke down into a short coughing fit. Wayne Lurcher actually patted her on the back. “Don’t act surprised. You had to have seen something in my dorm room.”
“That’s how you see,” he said, ignoring her. “I’ve been wondering. It is good you skip alchemy. You’d contaminate everyone’s brewings.”
“I’m careful to keep it off the ingredients and lab equipment.”
“Even worse. You can’t even tell what is what.”
Eva started coughing again. “I don’t think I like your teleportation. Not that mine is much better.”
“Oh? And what’s yours?”
Eva shook her head. “Some other time.”
Wayne stood up, helping Eva to her feet as he did so. Arachne managed to climb up Eva’s leg and hold on before she started moving.
“You’re right. I need to speak with Zoe.” He turned towards the door. “I’ll let Naranga know you’re back. You can explain how you got out and where you were.”
Eva stumbled over to the bed and took a seat. She immediately dropped her head into one hand and idly stroked Arachne with the other. Headaches weren’t conducive to coming up with excuses.