Rapid breaths echoed inside her helmet. Every breath in was warm, stuffy, and stale. Every breath out moistened the air further. Juliana blinked away the extra liquid on her eyes.
With a quick thought, she widened up the mouth holes in an attempt at sucking in more oxygen. A few slits for extra ventilation opened up around her cheeks.
Figuring out the exact balance between protection and breathability was more of guesswork than anything. Acquiring a book on medieval knight helmets might not be such a bad idea.
Acquiring one in the middle of a fight was, sadly, impossible.
Juliana dodged to one side, allowing a shard of rock to fly past her.
More of float than fly.
The rock lazily drifted through the air. Juliana actually hit it with her shoulder as she moved back to where she was before the dodge.
“You’ve got to work on that speed,” Juliana said. She ignored the small echo in her helmet. “An attack like that isn’t going to scare a cat let alone another mage.”
Jason Bradley grunted as he pointed his wand at the stack of premade rocks. One split into an arrow shape. With his wand trained on it, it lifted up in the air around chest height.
While she waited for her sparring partner to send another attack her way, Juliana hopped back and forth on her heels. She kept her heart pumping and her breath ragged. Armor was not light. Even with her muscles growing from carrying around several pounds of metal for several months, moving quickly still wore her down.
Professor Kines’ class had been enlightening in that, at the very least. They didn’t seem to be much good for anything else. She still wasn’t sure why half the students bothered to show up. Hardly anyone actually managed to put up any kind of fight, let alone a decent fight.
Jason was actually ahead of the curve. For a first-year earth mage, that is. Jordan might have him beat. Of course, Juliana herself was on par with at least third-year if not fourth-year students.
Out of the corner of her eye, Juliana saw Jordan send a rock shard flying at Shelby. His shard actually flew, though only just.
Shelby knocked it out of the air with a well placed gust of wind. Unlike Shalise, who seemed to focus entirely on lightning, Shelby embraced the air aspect of aerotheurgy.
A rush of wind hit Jordan square in the chest. Rustling of his clothes and a few locks of his brown hair–which he quickly smoothed back down–were the only indication. It didn’t hit him hard enough to cause even a stumble and it wasn’t sharp enough to damage his protective vest.
Most of the first year aerothurges were much the same way. All of them had more trouble forming their element into actual attacks.
The rock Jason tried to attack her with finally reached Juliana. She ducked out of the way and continued her quick hops from side to side.
Jason groaned as the rock shattered into the floor. “How can you have so much energy. You’re just toying with me.”
“Knocking you on your back in a second isn’t going to help either one of us.”
“You did it to that one kid on the first day.”
“Tony?” Juliana glanced off to one side where the third-year ice mage was engaged in a rather heated duel with his fourth-year brother. “He wasn’t taking this seriously. You’re at least putting an effort in.”
He scuffed his shoe against the ground. “Not a good enough effort.”
“Now, let’s not get whiny or I might knock you down. You’re better than most of the first-years.”
“Not better than you.”
“I was trained by my mother.”
“How did she teach you?”
Juliana paused their dialog as she racked her memories. Eventually she shrugged, though she wasn’t sure how much of the shrug was visible through her armor. “Don’t remember.”
“How can you not remember?”
“I was a little girl. Do you remember how you learned to walk or talk?”
He shrugged back at Juliana.
“You cast an invisibility spell on one of your pranks, right? That’s some high level magic. Use it on those rocks,” Juliana gestured towards the pile next to him. “It is much harder to defend against something you can’t see. Even if it doesn’t hit hard, at least it might hit.”
Jason took off his helmet and ran a hand through his red hair before replacing the protective gear. “My dad taught me that,” he said with a light blush. His small smile slipped off his face. “It won’t work on these. The enchantment disguises an object using its surroundings. It falls apart as the object is moved.”
“Focus more on power then,” Juliana said after a minute. “When I do it, I put a huge burst of power behind the rock and leave it alone. Physics takes care of the rest.”
Juliana flicked her wand at the earthen floor. Three blunted spearheads burst from the ground. They angled themselves at Jason and launched off, one by one. Once the final spearhead fired off, Juliana raised both her hands in the air to show him that she wasn’t controlling the projectiles anymore.
Surprise showed clear on Jason’s face as the rocks closed their distance. Despite the speed that Juliana attacked him with, he managed to bring up a shield. The first spear hit it, sending huge fractures through the bubble. The second spear shattered the remains of the shield leaving the third to strike him square in the chest.
Jason let out a grunt and fell back on his rear.
“Hey,” Juliana said as she crossed the small dueling ring. She offered out a hand to the fallen red-head as she said, “that was a pretty good shield and pretty good reflexes with it.”
“I wasn’t even thinking,” he said as he gripped Juliana’s hand and pulled himself to his feet.
“A dodge would have been better, tactically, because I wasn’t controlling the spears beyond the initial launch. Good nonetheless.”
“Thanks,” he said with a small smile.
The sound of shattering glass echoed behind Juliana. A bolt of white lightning shot mere inches from her shoulder into a wall.
Juliana did not hesitate for one moment. She shoved Jason back to the ground and followed him down. Only then did she dare to look back at what happened.
It was the bull. Eva’s winged bull lay sprawled out on its side in front of one of the windows. Sickly black liquid left streaks where it slid across the ground.
Four white-robed nuns jumped through the window as the beast lumbered to its feet. They wasted no time in slinging lightning at the beast.
A bleat from the beast all but shattered Juliana’s eardrums. It rattled around inside her helmet just as much as it rattled her skull. The ringing in her ears died down after a moment and the sound of the room returned to Juliana.
Professor Kines’ voice faintly drifted over the sounds of panicked students, lightning, and the bull charging. He shouted at the students, ushering them out a door.
Eva ignored him. She stood in her dueling ring with a blank face. Even as Shalise ran towards the door, Eva merely watched in her usual, eyeless manner. A few globules of black liquid hung in the air just above her outstretched hand.
Juliana looked down at Jason. Her dueling partner crawled away from the battle on his hands and knees. Figuring he could take care of himself, Juliana turned towards Eva.
With a flick of her wand, earth pushed against her feet and hands. She surged forth in the direction of Eva. Juliana’s balance failed her half way there. She tumbled and rolled to Eva’s feet.
There would be bruises in the morning. It was the first time she’d ever tried anything like that.
Eva barely registered her. Her face remained blank through dodging a bolt of lightning. Juliana felt a tinge of pity for any who dismissed the girl on account of the band of leather covering her eyeless face.
“Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?”
“There are students stuck there,” Eva pointed across the room.
Sure enough, several pairs of students were trapped between the wall opposite the door and the battle that was slowly moving to the center of the room. Most huddled together or were as far away from the fight as possible. None looked in a good position to get up and run around the edges. Not with all the lightning that missed the bull.
How they missed, Juliana couldn’t fathom. The bull was as big as a small shed. Missing the broad side of a barn definitely applied here.
“I didn’t know you cared,” Juliana said.
Eva turned her face down to look at Juliana. “I don’t really. None of them are my friends.”
“How heartless. We should leave them to Professor Kines and get out.”
“I’m curious. I’ve never seen the Elysium Sisters use anything other than lightning, fire, and their–admittedly powerful–shields. This is a rare opportunity to see if they have any other tricks.”
“We could get killed,” Juliana said. Even so, she turned her eyes towards the unfolding conflict. “How is this a rare opportunity?”
“Well,” Eva said slowly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “this time none of those attacks are aimed at me. A stark difference compared to every other time I’ve seen the nuns fight.”
The nuns were putting up quite the fight.
Juliana hadn’t been present for the battle in the cafeteria. She had other matters to attend to that day. This wasn’t one on one. Irene described the cafeteria fight almost as a Spanish bullfight. Except bulls used in bullfighting tended to not have the wings that contributed to that nun’s downfall.
So far, all but one of the nuns stuck with lightning. The spare held a battle-axe made of pure white light in one hand. Staring at it caused Juliana’s eyes to sting. Like staring at a bright light after spending too long in the dark. She could feel her pupils trying to constrict. Despite the pain, it took an effort to pull her eyes away from the axe.
Juliana didn’t know whether or not Eva could even detect the axe. She’d describe it later.
Apart from the lightning, scorch marks–from fire by the looks–lined one side of the bull. If so, it had been extinguished.
None of the nuns seemed keen on testing their ‘admittedly powerful’ shields.
As soon as the bull came anywhere near one of the nuns, that nun would turn and run, dodging if she had to. Her sisters would move in and distract.
The bull did not do the long charges that Irene had described. It tried to get close and crush the nuns with its horns.
“You’re crazy,” Juliana said as she flattened herself against the ground. A lightning bolt crackled overhead a moment later.
The bull used its wings to close the distance between it and one of the nuns leading to the other nuns firing into empty space.
Without making a sound, the nun dove to the ground and rolled a short distance just as the bull landed where she had been standing. With a kick in the air, the nun went straight from her back to her feet and immediately continued the assault.
“People may have mentioned that before.”
“So what if the nuns start losing?”
“I’m not going to jump in and help either party. I have no love for the nuns and I’m sure that demon can take care of himself.” She motioned towards the black blood floating near her hand. “This is just for a shield if things get too hot.”
Juliana balked, eyes wide as her head whipped towards Eva. “Demon?” She didn’t stay looking to gauge Eva’s reaction. Getting hit by a stray lightning bolt simply wasn’t worth it.
Out of the corner of her eye, Juliana saw Eva tilt her head back down before cocking it to one side. “Did I not tell you?”
Juliana shook her head.
“Oh? That’s it? Did you summon it?”
Eva let out a loud scoff. “I am not so suicidal. That thing could probably take on both Arachne and Ylva at the same time without breaking a sweat. I don’t know how or why he is here, other than him having some sort of issue with the nuns.”
“So it isn’t going to attack us?”
“Well, let me put it this way,” Eva said, “I am not going to go anywhere near him if I can help it.”
The battle raging before them seemed far too ‘near him’ for Juliana’s tastes. Still, she stuck by Eva. Or knelt by her. Too many lightning bolts flying around for her to want to be higher.
All four nuns glanced between each other before nodding in unison. All four raised both hands. Lightning–at least twice the size of their regular lightning–burst from their hands and struck the bull in the side.
The bull flew through the air–not because of its wings. It crashed into the floor. Dust and debris scattered around as the bull dug into the ground. It skidded to a stop mere feet from a few of the frightened students.
One of the nuns did not seem to care. She sprinted forward. As she neared the downed bull, white flames spurted from her hands.
Pulling itself to its feet with haste, the bull merely stood there. The flames engulfed the beast as its wings unfurled. Not a drop of the fire got past.
Juliana stared on in shock. She glanced up at Eva’s unperturbed face. “Is it protecting the students?”
The black-haired girl simply shrugged. “Maybe it thinks demon on fire is scarier than demon not on fire.”
If that was the case, Juliana couldn’t argue with its effectiveness. From one tip of its wings to the other, the demon burned. White fire danced across it so hot that Juliana could feel it through her metal armor.
It simply stood there. No bleating or screeching or whining. The glow of its yellow eyes brightened against the flames.
The nun ceased her flamethrowing. They stared for just a moment before the beast begun scratching its hooves against the ground.
Rumbling earthquakes shook the ground as it trampled across the dueling arena.
The nun hurled herself out of the path. Her arm met the ground hard enough to make Juliana wince. It might even be broken. She turned and fired more fire as the beast lumbered past her.
The demon charged too quickly and the fire flew through empty air.
And landed on one of the cowed students.
Screams filled the air. Not of fright or fear, but out of pain and agony.
Before Juliana could blink, a shield formed around the student. A black-red shield. Eva’s shield.
It was too late. It caught some of the fire, but too much had gotten through.
The nun’s eyes immediately lost their fire. Flames on both the student and the bull rapidly diminished to nothing. The damage was done. The student continued screaming as she held up bright red, raw arms in front of her face.
Gazing in horror, the nun locked up. Her sisters shouted out at her.
The nun did not hear. She took a head-butt from the bull straight on. A red smear appeared on the floor in her place.
She never saw it coming.
It was too much. The scent of charred skin. The nun. Juliana retched as she turned to one side. She tried and managed to hold it down. Her helmet was still covering her head and mouth.
As the remains of the nun settled on the ground, Juliana felt a hand on her shoulder.
“You need to get out of here,” Professor Kines’ voice came from just behind Juliana.
“Don’t worry about us,” Eva said calmly. She raised her hand and pointed past the battle. “She needs far more immediate attention.”
Professor Kines followed her finger. “Susie,” he said softly as his eyes came to rest on the burned student. The shield around her had vanished. His voice hardened as he spoke. “I’ll handle her. You two get out of here before anything else happens.”
The professor ran off, skirting along the edges of the room.
Cold sweat formed on Juliana despite the heat. She could feel her skin turn clammy within her suit.
Slowly, she turned her head back to the fight. A small bit of metal moved to obscure the red stain on the ground.
How could Eva just watch without reacting?
Fury at their sister’s death seemed to engulf the remaining nuns. The fire in their eyes brightened as they launched attack after attack. They also seemed to disregard their surroundings. Every one of their attacks seemed far more reckless than before.
As two lightning bolts came far too close for comfort in a short amount of time, Eva looked down at Juliana. “Well,” she said, “even if they aren’t aimed at me, I think I’m done watching.”
Finally, Juliana thought. She scrambled to her feet and backed away from the fight as fast as she could. Juliana paid careful attention to where the nuns were aiming their fists.
Eva didn’t bother keeping an eye on the battle. She turned her back to it and casually walked towards the door.
The moment they were out, Juliana collapsed to her knees. She barely managed to move the metal away from her mouth in time.
Juliana greedily sucked in oxygen the moment she could. A small, clinical portion of her mind told her that she indeed did not have nearly enough airflow into her helmet.
A wave of lightheadedness passed over Juliana as she tried to stumble her way to her feet.
She almost fell.
Two arms wrapped around her, steadying her.
Juliana didn’t know when Shalise had appeared at her side. Possibly the moment she first collapsed to her knees.
At the moment, she didn’t care. Juliana fell into the offered arms as another wave of nausea ran through her system.
“You’re heavy,” the brunette mumbled.
“Don’t call me fat.” Juliana tried to laugh. That was a mistake. Her tongue moved and tasted. She needed to scrub out her mouth. The strong taste of half digested vinaigrette she had for lunch would have sent her to her knees again had it not been for Shalise.
She didn’t seem to be doing so well. Shalise leaned back, almost tipping over before she managed to slowly lower Juliana to the ground.
“What happened in there?” Her voice was soft and very slow.
Juliana managed to shake her head. “Later.”
— — —
Notice: Attack on Brakket Academy
At approximately 7:15 Thursday evening, a magical creature, a winged bull relative to the African lamassu, was attacked by nuns of the Elysium Order. Their engagement spilled over into Brakket Dueling Hall located within the Infinite Courtyard. Students from all years were attending an optional extracurricular activity within the building at the time.
During the engagement, one of the nuns performed a spell commonly known as Holy Fire. Students at the scene reported the magical creature attempting to protect students from the flames which were spread wildly and without regard for innocent bystanders by the Elysium Order nun.
One of the students was severely burned before the flames could be extinguished. She is currently receiving medical treatment at the Fallaner Medical Center under care of the elves.
The staff of Brakket Magical Academy wish to remind all students and citizens of Brakket not to antagonize the Elysium Order nuns occupying our town. They have shown plain disregard for the wellbeing of any but themselves. Approaching may be hazardous to your health.
Despite eyewitnesses stating that the magical creature protected students, Brakket Magical Academy wishes to remind all that approaching the creature could be as dangerous as approaching any wild animal. Even should the creature prove to be docile or even friendly, so long as the Elysium Order remains in our town, we cannot be safe.
It is unknown what other creatures may entice the Elysium Order’s rage. Brakket Magical Academy encourages all residents to stay clear of anything unknown. Anyone wearing the garb of the Elysium Order should be avoided and considered dangerous.
This is a public announcement.
Brakket Magical Academy
Catherine turned away from the bulletin board in the Gillet lobby with a sigh. The Rickenbacker had already been done, as had several notice boards in Brakket Academy’s main building.
That left a stack for the rest of the town.
All major businesses were required to have bulletin boards easily visible for announcements to be posted. Normally notices would simply be emailed or faxed. These notices were ‘special’ and needed to be hand delivered. That damnable Martina Turner wouldn’t even give her help.
Catherine let out a string of curses under her breath as her high heels clicked down the sidewalk. There was no reason why Zagan couldn’t help, or the stupid little girl, or any one of Martina’s other minions.
But no, the woman had to give it to Catherine.
Catherine had dropped to her knees in front of Martina. One patch on her thrice handed down pants tore loose. She clasped her hands together and looked up at her tormentor. “Please missus,” she had definitely said, “the nuns stalk the streets. They hunt for black blood. I’ll never survive.”
“You are my familiar. You will do as you are told,” Martina had said immediately before laughing in the most evil manner possible.
That laugh might have been impressive under other circumstances. It would have been more impressive had it not rested firmly within Catherine’s imagination. She might not have minded serving someone with a laugh that good.
The actual conversation may have involved several undocumented uses of specific fingers on the human hand, but that wasn’t how Catherine would be repeating the story.
There was one specific element she had actually been worried about. Apart from her general distaste for menial labor, that is.
Walking through the town in the early morning alone with those abhorrent nuns stalking around was going to get her killed.
Worse, Catherine’s clothes itched. Every step she took rubbed some part of it against some part of her. It was supposed to be real fur, yet it brushed against her skin in the most unnatural way.
When she had first been appointed as Martina’s secretary, Catherine tried to minimize the amount of cloth touching her sensitive skin. Martina put a stop to that. Apparently it wasn’t appropriate for a secretary to dress in such a manner. Parents would look down on a school that had one of its staff dressing in such a revealing manner.
Every last one of them.
Her current attire seemed to be pushing the limits if Martina’s expressions meant anything.
Catherine would push them more, if only to annoy Martina. She’d find the exact limits and go one step further. A new dress was set to arrive in the early days of next week specifically for that task.
With any luck, it would be more comfortable too.
That might as well have been forever away. Walking through the town in her current clothes would have to be dealt with for now.
Using her sharp fingernails, Catherine ran her fingers down the seams at her sides. The dress split straight down the sides. Only a thread at the very top of her dress, just beneath her arms, kept the back and front of her clothes from peeling apart.
Far more maneuverable.
Modesty stayed intact as well. For the most part. The dress might have swung too far apart from her belly and her legs as she walked. But who cared about that anyway. Even if someone did care, it wasn’t like anyone else was going to wake up at such a horrible time in the morning.
Anyone aside from nuns, that is. Catherine kept a careful eye on the early morning shadows.
She’d be teleporting out at the slightest hint of a nun. Martina could go screw herself. Her familiar status protected her from banishment, but she wasn’t willing to risk having to claw her way out of the depths of the void if they attempted more hostile actions.
Catherine opened the glass cover on the first bulletin board outside the nearest building off Brakket campus. She carefully pinned the sheet of paper up with four thumb tacks exactly on the designated points.
Messing that up would just bring more ire from her employer. And not the good kind.
With the paper firmly in place, Catherine double checked that she hadn’t damaged the paper in any sort of excessive manner. Nodding to herself, she pressed her palm up against the paper. She was sure to keep her sharp fingernails from scratching or puncturing the thin paper.
A light push of her magic charged the intricate runic array printed on the backside.
Catherine gave a vicious grin as she slammed the glass cover shut. Sadly the stack of notices did not seem to decrease in the slightest with only one missing. A hundred left to go.
She ignored the flapping of her dress as she walked to the next bulletin board.
Now she just had to survive the rest of the distribution. Hopefully, the nuns would be too busy with the aftermath of the previous night to notice her.
At least that problem would be taken care of soon.