The last few scribbles made their way from one paper to the next. Eva wasn’t using her good ink. This was just a test.
Besides, the less of the good ink Eva used, the more funds she had. While the privacy rune packs were profitable to be sure, it was still money from kids. Kids without a lot of money for the most part.
Drastically overestimating the budget for her supplies to her new employer was like taking candy from a baby. A really rich baby that had no identifiable source of income.
Funny how getting paid made her care much less about the money’s origins.
A mystery to solve later.
Eva took a drink of her… whatever it was. Some sort of bitter fruit drink. She’d told the man at the counter to recommend her a drink. Being unable to read had made menus very inconvenient.
It wasn’t a menu she was familiar with either. Eva had chosen this particular restaurant for her test due to the possibility of violence. The Liddellest Cafe wouldn’t do.
The place had also been chosen for the lack of patrons. Apart from Eva and the man behind the counter, there was a single other person.
Any time Eva tried to leave Brakket’s campus on foot, she acquired a nun escort from out of nowhere. They never interacted with Eva. Instead, they chose to hang back and watch. None of them were ever very good about concealing their presence, though it helped that Eva could easily detect them by the little orb in the chest. Likely one of the eyes that Nel was covered with.
Eva had considered asking for or outright taking two of the eyes. The fact that all the nuns had them in their chests and Nel’s eyes squirmed around her body with minds of their own had turned Eva off to the idea.
The eyes were likely some sort of conduit for the nuns’ powers. That was an extra complication that Eva did not need at the moment. She had enough complications to go around.
Not to mention that Devon would be angry at further anomalies to account for in his experiment.
The nun that followed Eva into the shop today didn’t even bother trying to hide. She brazenly walked just a few steps behind Eva until they reached the restaurant. Without even an acknowledgement of her obvious spying, the nun sat at one of the other tables and ordered her own little brunch.
Exactly as planned. Eva needed her for an experiment of her own.
After ensuring the canceling runes on Eva’s hand and Arachne’s back were active, Eva readied the sheet of paper in front of her. The blood-tainted ink on the paper identified the runes as test thirteen. It was also the one she felt the best about.
Eva channeled her magic into the runes and waited.
She didn’t have to wait long. The magic of the wrath runes took hold almost immediately.
The man behind the counter tensed up. His heart rate increased as he glared at the nun.
The nun did not react in any way, Eva noted with no small amount of satisfaction. Not to the runic magic nor to the man’s glare. She was much too focused on her meal.
Keeping the nuns from feeling the effects was one of the main problems she’d had in her early testing. Eventually she settled on the wrath rune exclusively affecting humans while targeting nonhumans. She had to strictly define human and nonhuman with runes because while the nuns were human, they had that extra organ. Regular humans didn’t have weird eye things embedded in their chests. Strictly defining nonhuman was required as well.
Hurting kittens because of wayward runic experiments would be unforgivable.
The canceling runes kept Eva and Arachne from both sides of the rage effect.
Eva started to mark test thirteen as a success in her notes.
A sudden roar from the man behind the counter froze the pen in her hand.
He climbed on top of the counter and launched himself at the nun.
Eva activated the disintegration runes. Test thirteen crumbled to dust that Eva scattered with a brush of her hand.
That did nothing to stop the man. He reared back a hand and punched the confused nun in the face.
Several vessels in her nose broke as it bent inwards.
The man tried to follow-up with a second punch, but his fist encountered resistance.
The nun activated her shield.
And promptly used her own fists on the man. He went flying over the counter and into the back wall. The landing was not soft, but Eva could see he wasn’t seriously injured. He collapsed and didn’t make the effort to get back up.
Huh, Eva thought as she quickly covered up all the rune papers with homework from Alari Carr’s class. I did not know the nuns possessed enhanced strength.
Eva tried to pretend she had nothing to do with anything when the nun turned her harsh gaze in Eva’s direction. She could tell that the nun’s eyes were blazing with their white fire.
“Now let’s not be–”
Eva was lifted out of her seat and flew against the wall. The lightning hit her and crackled around her, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much as Sister Cross’s attack. Lower power?
It hit Arachne.
The spider tore herself through Eva’s shirt as she launched at the nun. Arachne twisted into her humanoid form and had her claws out and around the nun’s shield by the time she landed.
Blood leaked out of a massive gash that ran all down her back.
Eva shuddered. If the lightning could damage Arachne that much, Sister Cross was definitely holding back. She did not want to get hit by a full power blast.
“You,” the nun growled again. “You’re the one who killed Sister Stripe. I banished you.”
“You have my thanks for that. Now you are going to die.”
“Arachne!” Eva shouted. This was bad. “We can’t kill her. Too big of a mess. The man behind the counter might wake up. Someone might come in.”
“You’re worried about inconvenience rather than preserving human life?” The nun let out a loud scoff. “So glad I wasted my time being nice to you.”
Eva frowned. She couldn’t remember any nuns being nice to her in any sense of the word. It clicked. “You’re the one from the lunchroom. The one who told me to go kill myself.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No. Your exact words were ‘I hope you go off yourself. You’re a blight on humanity.’ Then you proceeded to tell me that doctor assisted suicide would be the right choice.”
The nun grit her teeth. “I didn’t say that,” she ground out.
Apparently, Arachne did not believe the woman. She renewed her efforts at puncturing the nun’s shield.
Her efforts abruptly ceased as she went flying across the room.
“You cannot beat me.”
“Empirical evidence shows we can beat you. We just don’t want to,” Eva said as Arachne grew to her full size and charged the nun once again.
Tables, chairs, and food all went flying as Arachne barreled over it all. Eva had to grab her notebook before it got run over.
The nun staggered back within her shield as Arachne rammed into it. She pulled herself back to her full height with a brush at imaginary dust on her shoulder. Her heart rate didn’t even pick up.
“You are not convincing.”
“Arachne! Stand down or you’ll be back in prison for the foreseeable future.”
The spider-demon let out a loud growl. She swiped against the nun’s shield one last time before taking half a step back.
“Now, let’s all just calm down. I’m sure it would be bad for your order to have attacked a schoolgirl unprovoked. Again.”
“Unprovoked?” The nun wiped a finger across her upper lip, pulling away some blood that dripped from her nose. “You call this unprovoked?”
“I don’t remember giving you a nosebleed. Arachne? Did you punch her in the face?”
“I’ll tear off her face.”
Eva sighed and shook her head. “We didn’t touch you.”
“That man,” the nun said with a gesture over the counter, “was perfectly courteous when he served me food. You–”
“You didn’t even think the service was bad and you still threw him over the counter? Is he even going to be okay?”
That was more or less a genuine question. He still hadn’t gotten up. Nothing appeared wrong–his heart was still beating and all the blood flow appeared normal. But he hadn’t gotten up. Eva wasn’t a brain surgeon, there may be some trauma to the brain that caused him to fall unconscious without her being able to detect it.
He was an excellent example of why she didn’t want to test anything in a place she liked. If the man remembered anything, the nuns would assuredly be banned. Possibly Eva as well.
“You know what? Fine. Sister Cross wants you constantly monitored? She can do it herself.” The nun started to walk past Arachne and towards the exit.
“What, just like that?” Eva knew she shouldn’t be questioning the woman. Stopping her might invite further attacks.
But she didn’t attack. She sneered over her shoulder. “Our magic is designed to fight undead. We know how to banish a demon. We’re not trained to fight them. If Sister Cross continues to occupy this abominable little town under the pretense of finding a necromancer–a necromancer who has fled by all evidence–then I’ll be happy to accept my promotion when she is excommunicated.”
A small smile grew across Eva’s face. “So, you are saying that you wouldn’t mind if Sister Cross–”
“Do not seek to tempt me into your heretical ways.”
With that said, the conversation ended. The nun walked out with her head held high.
“Well,” Eva said with a turn of her head towards Arachne, “it was worth a shot.”
“You should have let me kill her.”
“Far too messy. We’d be found out too easily.”
“She’s going to run back to the nuns and tell them that I was the one to kill their other member.”
“And that,” Eva said, “is the main reason I wanted you at the prison. You just had to come back.”
“I couldn’t leave you here with nuns and demons running amok.”
Eva didn’t bother to bring up that Arachne didn’t help much with the latter. She’d been angry enough about being tossed halfway across the Infinite Courtyard. Jokingly bringing it up the first time ended up with Eva wrestled to the ground.
That Arachne returned on the verge of panic about Eva’s encounter with the pillar had her feeling slightly guilty.
Eva merely sighed as she pulled out her notebook to strike out the partially written success. She made a short note detailing a few changes for the next version.
Far too many pargon runes.
Testing would be harder without a nun following her around, but she’d manage.
“I’m amazed by the elegance you displayed in handling the nun.”
Eva turned towards the most sarcastic voice she’d heard. In recent memory, at least. The lesser succubus sat in one of the few upright chairs. She casually took a small sip of a drink that she had acquired from somewhere in the ruined restaurant.
“Catherine.” Eva tried to smile. It came off a bit strained. At least Arachne wasn’t trying to take her head off this time. “How are you today?”
“I’d be better if you wouldn’t leave large messes for me to clean up.”
“All in the name of progress.” Eva nodded her head towards the ruined counter. “Is he going to be alright?”
Catherine shrugged. “I’ll drop him off at the school’s medical facility. If he doesn’t remember anything, we’ll say he slipped. If he does, well, we’ll fix it.”
“And the nuns?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem provided that you come through. We want you to be finished by Tuesday.”
The succubus sighed and rolled her eyes. “I spoke clear enough for you to understand.”
“That’s just–I mean…” Eva ran her gloved fingers through her hair. “You mean next Tuesday, right?”
There was a sudden rush of blood to her eyes for the briefest of instants before they returned to normal. If Eva had to guess, they would have flashed red–perhaps even turning her pupils into the typical demonic slit. Her polite smile turned somewhat mocking.
“I thought you were on our side. You even forced all those restrictions on us.”
Arachne growled as she took a step forward.
Assuming succubi hearts were at all similar to humans, Catherine was scared. She tried not to show it on her face. Her smile slipped just long enough to confirm Eva’s suspicions.
“Catherine, Catherine, Catherine. I want the nuns gone as much as anybody else. But it isn’t ready yet. I have a plan for blocking out the students, but it won’t be ready until tomorrow. Then it will take a few days to propagate.”
The demon turned back to Eva–though she kept her eyes on Arachne–and put on a small smile. “Tuesday, Eva. That gives you all day tomorrow plus whatever is left of today to work on it. If you aren’t part of this, I don’t think we can continue to adhere to your conditions.”
“Unacceptable,” Eva said. “I’ll be ready. Though I am still confused on why you need me.”
“Aside from the ‘gesture of goodwill,'” Catherine said with air quotes, “that oversized bovine claims that nothing would be interesting if he handled it all. ‘Why do something yourself when you can force others to do it for you?'” She shook her head. “If I had that kind of power, I wouldn’t be slaving away for some no name human.”
“You want power?”
“Everyone wants power.”
Eva thought back to her meeting with the bull. He had questioned her desires. She hadn’t been able to answer, more due to his interruptions than anything else, but it brought up a good question. What did demons want?
All demons had an enticement–something to draw them out of Hell. That could end up being almost anything. A golden coin, a vial of raven’s blood, or several sacrifices in the case of Ivonis.
That raised the question of what would be required to draw Eva out of Hell, but that was not immediately pressing.
Enticements didn’t seem like the kind of desires or ambitions that a mortal would have. It certainly did not seem like power. Not unless feeding Ylva raven’s blood would increase some arbitrary measure of strength.
“What options are available for you gaining ‘power?'”
Catherine blinked as she set her cup down on the table in front of her. It took another second or two before she quirked her head to one side. “What?”
“Well, you’re a lesser succubus, right?” The demon narrowed her eyes but did not dispute the claim. “Can you become a full succubus? Or perhaps something else entirely?”
There was a moment of silence as Catherine tilted her cup back and forth. Eva did not miss Arachne’s odd glance in her direction.
“I am what I am,” came the eventual reply.
“You can at least become stronger amongst your peers, can’t you? Even Ylva offered to teach Arachne how to–”
A quick and forced cough from the spider-demon interrupted Eva. Was her being unable to create void metal some stigma?
Eva shook her head and changed her line. “How to do something she hadn’t known how to do.”
“Where are you going with this?” Catherine asked with a frown.
“I’m just curious about you and your motivations, I suppose. You said it yourself. You’re slaving away for some no name human. Does doing so grant you power or prestige?”
Catherine’s frown wordlessly deepened.
After another few moments of silence, Eva shrugged her shoulders. “At the very least, you could be following the old adage of knowledge equaling power. Surely you don’t know everything. I bet there are plenty of books in Brakket’s libraries that you’ve never read.”
The cup in her hand shattered. Shards fell to the table. Not one cut her delicate fingers.
A strong smell of brimstone replaced the woman as she vanished from her seat. It took Eva a moment to realize that the man behind the counter disappeared as well.
Eva sighed. Catherine was certainly more personable than many demons, but she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d offended the succubus.
She definitely got Arachne to stare at her.
Eva turned towards Arachne and raised one eyebrow.
“What was that all about?”
“Like I told her, just curious. It has come to my attention that I don’t know nearly enough about demons. Especially given my close proximity to so many.”
“You’re putting ideas into the mind of a creature that likely hasn’t had an original thought in several millennia.”
“So what?” Eva made a couple of last-minute notes about the rune system before she forgot. As soon as she snapped the notebook shut, Eva glanced up to the silent demon. “Is she going to become some sort of super succubus and try to destroy the world? Because I told her to read a book?”
“You laugh now,” Arachne said with a feral grin. “You won’t think it is so funny when you’ve got a super succubus running her fingers down your spine.”
“That is a possibility then?”
“Doubtful. She’ll run off, grab a book, start reading, and then stop. She’ll remember that she hates doing anything not involving copious amounts of bodily fluids and continue brooding about how miserable she is.”
Eva frowned. “That sounds like a dreadful existence.”
“She–most demons know nothing outside their own little domain. They found their niche long before the dawn of time and haven’t changed since. Those that do get out,” Arachne waved her arms around the shop, “treat it as a brief vacation.
“We are different. I might be old, but compared to a creature like that,” Arachne pointed a finger at the empty chair, “I might as well be a baby.”
“How much have you changed over the years?”
Arachne went silent. She glanced off to one side for a moment before she shrugged. “It is hard to see your own change. When did you notice you stopped being a six-year-old girl and became what you are today?”
Eva just shook her head with a frown.
That wasn’t the answer she had hoped for. Surely Arachne could look back on the thousands of years and see something different in her past self.
Even if it were impossible to notice the day-to-day changes, Eva could see a clear difference between herself of today and herself of the past. A small shudder ran up her spine. Especially the six-year-old who called herself Evaleen.
Eva shook her head, trying to disguise the shudder with a brush of her hand. “We should get going before someone else walks in. Not to mention all the work I need to do before Tuesday.”
— — —
“Free? I can’t believe it.”
“Not just to our customers. Every student. Every room. Both the Rickenbacker and the Gillet.”
“Even the boys?”
“Almost everyone has already discovered the scrying packets,” Eva dismissed with a wave of her sharp fingers. “Besides, shouldn’t their privacy be protected just as much as ours?”
“Well, I mean…”
“Unless you’ve been scrying on some of them.”
Juliana felt her face heat up despite the ridiculousness of the accusation. “Of course not.”
“Then there is no problem,” Eva said as she shoved the box into her arms. “Your job was to collect money and distribute the packets. Hop to it.”
“Consider it this way: we’re expanding our market. We’ll be charging for the next round, that’s for sure. Think about it. Twice the customers; twice the money.”
“Twice the work,” Juliana mumbled as she peeked into the box.
It was nearly full. It felt nearly full. Her heavy training sessions, both personal and in Kines’ class, made the box not difficult to lift or carry. Her training did not help relieve the pressure on her hands. Using one of her rings, she activated her ferrokinesis. The liquid metal provided a modicum of cushioning between her fingers and the heavy box.
“When did you even find the time to make all these?”
“Shalise helped,” Eva said as she rested her hand on the brown-haired girl’s head and gave a light scratch.
As much as she trusted Eva not to murder her unnecessarily, Juliana wasn’t sure she wanted those claws anywhere near her head. She’d seen what they could do to brick.
Yet Shalise just beamed up at Eva from her desk chair. Almost leaning into the petting.
Juliana just shook her head. “Do we need to refigure our cuts of the profits?”
“Shalise’s payment will be me teaching her a little about runes. Most of what she did for the packets was merely copying, but I’ll be teaching more in the future.”
That’s good. Juliana barely had any responsibilities in their little venture, but she wasn’t looking forward to getting a reduced income from it.
Not that she had much to spend the money on anyway. Still, mom always said to plan for the future.
“What is in these packets anyway? I noticed you added a whole extra sheet that normally isn’t in the things.”
“Additional protection, specifically against certain emotion altering magics.”
“Emotion altering magics? That sounds bad.”
“It is mostly just a test. I don’t plan to leave them in the packets permanently. Way too much work.”
“Of my skills,” Eva said with a shake of her head. She mouthed ‘later’ with a nod towards Shalise.
The brown-haired girl was entirely oblivious to the action.
“Anyway,” Eva said, “I need them fully delivered tonight. Just tell people that we’re having a special. If no one is home, leave them at the door. All of them have a brief note about the ‘special’ and why they’re free.”
“So soon?” Juliana said. That put a hamper on her plans. There were a lot of packets. And she’d have to go to the Gillet. She had never been beyond the lobby of the Rickenbacker’s mirror dorms. All their customers had arranged for pickup in the lobby.
This would take the rest of the night.
“Can I recruit help?”
“Doesn’t matter to me.”
“Good,” Juliana said. It wouldn’t save her plans, but maybe she’d have some spare time at least. She put on her best smile and her biggest puppy-dog eyes. “Shalise?”
The brown-haired girl shook her head. “My hand is killing me,” she said with a flick of her wrist. “I don’t have some tireless demon arm to write with.” All of her excitement quickly deflated into a look of pure horror. “And I haven’t finished the essay for Professor Carr.”
Juliana nodded, quite glad she had finished said essay a week ago. “Eva?”
“Even if you weren’t taking a huge cut to perform this one job, I’ve got plans. Still have more work to do.”
Juliana frowned, but nodded anyway. She turned to the last occupant of the room. “Arach–” Eight red eyes glared out from beneath the covers of Eva’s bed. Every one of them spoke of copious amounts of pain. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.” She turned towards the door of their dorm. “Maybe Irene will help me, since none of my roommates are at all reliable.”
One of them threw a pillow at her. It struck her shoulder and almost made her drop the box. Juliana spun around to find all three of them looking intensely busy in their own tasks. Eva and Shalise at their desks, engrossed in papers, and Arachne under Eva’s covers, still glaring.
Arachne was the only one near pillows, but…
Juliana shook her head as she left the room. It couldn’t have been her.