“Get out of our town!”
“…more damage than…”
“…cost us our livelihoods.”
Martina Turner stalked through the gathered crowd with a grin on her face. Of course, it was well hidden in the shadows of her hood. Plenty others in the crowd had hoods. She wouldn’t be singled out because of it.
Her entire attire changed simply to avoid being recognized. It was amazing how wearing a distinctive costume every day made people’s gazes shift right over her when she changed to more normal clothing. Of course, a cowl and cloak generally wasn’t considered normal, but in a crowd of similarly dressed rioters, it worked.
Rioters gathered around the old warehouse. A decrepit building that was among the earliest abandoned had been made into the Elysium Order’s local headquarters. Thanks to their inhabitance, the building had been cleaned up nicely. One of its walls looked recently repaired.
Four white-robed guards stood outside the building. All four had eyes aglow, but none of them looked ready to attack. So far, the crowd hadn’t given them reason to attack.
Riot was probably too strong of a word. Residents of Brakket gathered around with signs. Protest more accurately described the current situation.
Of course, with a foci, everyone was armed.
Martina felt it was a good time to change the status quo.
Pulling a sheet of paper from her cloak, Martina held it in her hands. She ran a finger down the front. The large wrath rune in the dead center pulsed. Once. Twice. Three times before the faint glow covered the rest of the rune array. The entire paper melted into black sludge that evaporated into the night’s air.
That was it. No other visible changes. No magic signatures left behind to lead back to the source. Not even any evidence of the runic array. The other runes positioned around Brakket would follow this paper’s example before the night was done.
Martina turned and walked out of the crowd.
Voices were raised as she made her way through. Shouts and cries of rage echoed over the soon to be rioters. As Martina reached the back of the group, a fireball struck the brick building.
A well-formed fireball with a good deal of power behind it, if Martina’s eye hadn’t dimmed over the years. She thought for a moment about which resident of the city might have casted such a spell.
More fire, lightning, and even chunks of earth followed. A white blue shield appeared over the half of the building closest to Martina. Each impact caused a brief flash, but not a single fracture formed.
Regular thaumaturgy held no chance against the shields of the Elysium Order.
Martina took the increasing number of attacks as the cue to leave before the sisters decided to react.
She found herself a secluded corner of the crisscrossing streets and channeled magic into her wand. Once full, she tapped it against her forehead.
The angry roar of the rioting crowd was replaced by the serene screams of her own mind.
Shutting her eyes, Martina tuned out everything. Every noise, every smell, and all the feelings creeping across her skin.
Martina found it to be an unpleasant sort of travel, but had long since gotten used to its illusory effects.
She appeared on top of a rug that hid a six pointed summoning circle within her office. Not that she needed the gate. It just lessened some of the more unpleasant side effects.
Flicking her eyes open, Martina walked to and sat at her desk. She kicked her feet up on the desktop before hitting a button on her phone. She waited.
Happiness from her plans nearing their end kept her from feeling even the slightest tinge of anger at her insubordinate secretary. Nothing the woman could do would ruin this night for Martina.
It wouldn’t do to underestimate the capacity for idiocy amongst her servants.
On the very last ring before the phone switched to voice mail, the line connected. There was no video this time around but Martina could hear the riot progressing in the background. Explosions and the faint crackle of thunder echoed over the speaker.
Yet Catherine did not speak.
Annoying power plays, Martina thought with a grimace. The pissant never spoke first. For a moment, Martina wondered how long her secretary would sit there in silence.
Something to test another time.
Before Martina could speak, a small hissing noise came over the phone’s speaker. It ended abruptly with a loud snap.
“Did you just pop chewing gum in my ear?” Martina asked with a sigh.
“Not gum,” she said just before another pop sounded over the phone.
“Do I want to know?”
“That, Martina, is a question only you can answer.”
Martina grit her teeth together. Thinking about it carefully, Martina decided she did not want to know. Whatever her secretary said would only further grind on her nerves.
After another period of silence, Martina asked, “is Zagan with you?”
“Don’t know,” came the nonchalant reply.
Martina felt her lips form a thin line as they pursed together. “I swear, if either one of you fu–”
“There are a couple of teachers and a few of your students.”
Martina sat up, hoping she did not have to go back out there. There were things that needed doing before dawn. “In the riots? I was told th–”
“No. They’re standing on the roof of a building opposite mine. I watched the students arrive on the back of Arachne. The teachers teleported in.”
“Are the instructors going to interfere? Who are the students?”
Catherine made the popping noise before responding, “don’t know.”
Martina opened her mouth and just sat for a moment. She worried she might crack her own teeth if she kept up the pressure. After a calming sigh, Martina said, “describe them.”
“Well, one looks like a knight in shining armor. Not very well made armor, but it is somewhat shiny. She’s a bit shorter than the–”
“I meant describe their mannerisms. Do they look like they’re going to interfere?”
“One of the students has several large spheres orbiting her.”
Martina frowned at that. Eva mentioned that she might be there to ensure nothing goes wrong. That accounted for Arachne. Yet she dragged her roommate and instructors into it. That was conveniently left out of her plans.
“Arachne has a stupid grin on her face. I can tell it is a stupid grin and not a vicious or mirthful grin because it is the same expression you wear sometimes.”
“Stick to them, Catherine.”
“I’d love to. Sadly, I don’t want to have to go roof hopping. It is too much work.”
Martina cradled an oncoming headache with her hand. This is a good day. Everything will be fine. Ignore her. “Catherine,” she said, “what are the instructors doing?”
“Not looking happy. Talking to the students.”
With a sigh, Martina said, “keep an eye on them. If they look like they’re going to interfere, intercept and keep them occupied. Switch to plan six if Zagan doesn’t show up in fifteen minutes.”
There was a small pause before she responded. “Oh. He’s here. Good thing too, plan six was by far the worst of the plans. It had way too much of me in it.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know where he was,” Martina said through grit teeth.
“That was before you forced me to look around. Apparently he’s been standing to my side this entire time.”
Martina pinched the bridge of her nose. She needed a new secretary. “Just start,” Martina said. “And keep an eye on the students.”
Without waiting for a response, Martina slammed her finger down on the disconnect button.
She concentrated on happy thoughts and possible replacements for her secretary. It took more effort than normal to remind herself that Catherine usually gets the job done. A fact easily forgotten every time she opened her mouth.
No, nothing would go wrong. Catherine would play her part. Zagan would play his. Eva and her cohorts would merely observe. If they did interfere, Catherine would stall or remove them.
Hopefully stall. Eva was already a step in the right direction for the academy. She’d lead her friends right along with her. Losing such an asset would slow everything down.
And I, Martina thought as she pulled the first paper off a stack, will play my part.
— — —
No chance this will turn out well.
Zoe Baxter looked over the edge of the roof onto the streets below. There had to be a good portion of the population gathered. Not that a good portion of the population was saying much when talking about Brakket.
She scanned the crowd.
Some had hoods or cowls on. Some faced away from Zoe. A few even had masks, though no theme was present between them; it was doubtful they were related.
Relief flushed through her as she failed to recognize any students. None of her fellow instructors from the academy seemed present either. Aside from Wayne and the residents of dorm three-thirteen.
A few people looked familiar. Shopkeepers and a handful of the more well-known residents stood amongst the mob. The few that Zoe knew better than others were just regular people. At least one, a recent graduate, Zoe knew would never participate in something like this.
Zoe’s heart sank as she recognized a kindly barman shouting and shaking his fist at the warehouse. There was no trace of Tom’s ever-present charming smile on his face. Unlike those around him, he seemed more indignant than outright enraged.
Something was going on. Zoe’s eyes flicked over to her students on the roof of an adjacent building. Whatever was going on, they had something to do with it.
A grunt to her side tore her attention from the students and the crowd. Zoe glanced at the scowling Wayne.
“Nasty business down there. Knew we got angry letters. Knew the Elysium Order got more. Didn’t know they were this mad.”
Zoe shook her head from side to side. “I don’t think they are.”
“Mind control then,” Wayne growled. “I’ve heard of demons that can do that.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Have you talked to them?” Zoe nodded in the direction of her three students.
“Your girl’s pet demon has been staring at me since I arrived with a nasty smile on her face. I’m not keen on approaching.”
“I don’t think she’d hurt you.”
Wayne let out a soft snort. “Oh? You can guarantee the actions of a demon now, can you?”
Zoe shifted where she stood. She never wanted Wayne to find out about any of the goings on with Eva. A near impossible task that failed far too fast for Zoe’s liking. “I’ve had conversations with her and have spent time around her and Eva. I honestly don’t think she cares unless you’re a threat to Eva.”
“If she has anything to do with this mess, I’ll definitely be threatening. It will take a single dunderhead casting a spell at the nuns to spark off a full-blown fight.” He stepped forwards, placing one foot right on the edge of the roof. “I fought one of them just a few weeks ago. Her shield shrugged off some of my strongest fire. I might as well have been trying to tickle her.”
Zoe blinked and glanced at him. “Your strongest?”
“Well, I didn’t want to level the building,” he said with a grin, “but no thaumaturge’s shield would have held up for more than five seconds under my attack.”
“I’ve been studying their magic where I can. It is really quite amazing. I had to dedicate two whole notebooks to it and the third one is filling fast. They don’t use any foci, and what I’ve seen of their magic is odd. The lightning they shoot is designed to unravel ench–”
“I’m not here for a lecture, Professor Baxter.” He flashed a small smile. Not something Zoe was used to seeing since their argument. It vanished as quickly as it came. “We need to defuse the situation before this turns into a slaughter. I reckon those four guarding the front door are more than enough to take out this entire mob.”
Zoe gave a nod of agreement and glanced back to her students. “Let’s speak with them. If Eva is here, she likely knows what is going on.”
“I’d say it is more likely she caused what is going on.”
“Maybe so,” Zoe said as she flicked her dagger. The cool embrace of between took hold of her. The sensation lasted a scant few seconds before she appeared on the rooftop her students occupied.
Wayne, Zoe noticed as she glanced back, chose to simply run and jump the gap between the buildings. It wasn’t that far. Zoe could have jumped the distance herself. Doing so added unnecessary risk of landing wrong or even tripping and falling.
He did not approach. Wayne stopped just at the edge of the building. The tome focus in his hand was open to a page as he stood in a defensive stance. His hard eyes never left Arachne.
The demon herself appeared entirely relaxed. She half slouched on Eva’s shoulder. All eight of her red eyes remained focused on Wayne. And she smiled. The sharp, interlocking teeth bared full against the lights carried by the crowd below.
Not wasting any time, Zoe closed the short distance between herself and her students.
“Arachne,” she said, “could you not antagonize Wayne? He is upset enough about the situation as it is.”
“Antagonize,” the demon said in a faux innocent voice, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just watching to make sure he wasn’t about to do anything foolish.”
“Being watched makes him nervous.”
“That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be watched.”
“Arachne,” Eva said as she patted the demon’s arm with her own clawed hands, “I’m sure he won’t hurt us right now. Not if he hasn’t already tried something. Isn’t that right, Zoe Baxter?”
Zoe sighed as she looked to Wayne again. He hadn’t moved, still standing with his tome out. Judging by the few spars she’d done with him over the years, she’d guess he would shield and try to run based on his defensive stance.
“I don’t think so,” Zoe said. “Not unless you attack first.”
“Well,” Eva said, “it is good that you are here. I can’t say I expected it, but good nonetheless. Just in case things do go pear-shaped, you and Wayne can teleport Juliana out of here.”
Zoe spared a glance at the other students. Juliana had her armor fully covering herself with only a few holes in the front and her blond ponytail poking out the back. She sat with her legs dangling over the edge of the building. Two metal spikes jutting from her backside seemed to be anchoring the girl to the roof.
“I’m confident everything is under control. If things do go wrong, I need to be here to keep people from dying.”
“And what is happening–no.” Zoe shook her head. Students first. “Juliana, are you alright?”
“I asked her to be here. I don’t have any eyes,” Eva tapped the leather band around her head, “so I asked her to keep an eye out for things I might miss.”
“And that’s fine with you?” Zoe asked with a glance towards Juliana.
Metal covering her face melted off. Zoe had to marvel once again at the control she had over her ferrokinesis. That skill alone could get her through her class four exam despite her age. Zoe held herself up as the best during her school days. Whatever Genoa did to get her daughter to this level was a wonder indeed.
The blond looked up to Zoe and gave a light nod of her head. “I trust Eva not to get us killed.”
That gave Eva a laugh. “I don’t know that I’d trust myself,” she said. “It was only a few months ago I found myself in a situation to lose my hands, eyes, and toes.”
“That was different,” Juliana said. “You were ambushed, alone. Here we’ve got both of us, Arachne, and now two professors. And we’re not going to be ambushed.”
“Keep on your guard anyway. Neither the Elysium Order nor myself ever found Sawyer. He could very well use what happens tonight as a distraction for his own purposes.”
“And what,” Zoe said, “is happening tonight?”
“Running the nuns out of town, of course.”
“That… I don’t… Are you sure that is a good idea? You just said yourself that Sawyer is still on the loose.”
“They weren’t searching for him,” Eva spat out. “I spoke with Nel and another nun. I know that they had no interest in anyone but us.” She gestured her hands towards her roommates and Arachne. “The other nun was unhappy with that fact, so we’re doing all them a favor anyway.”
“And you got the whole town in on it?”
Zoe sighed and gave Eva her best stern teacher glare. “Sort of?”
“Well, they were already angry with the nuns. A few wrath runes placed around the town might have made them angrier. That was followed by an inverted sloth rune to spur them into action.” Eva gave a bright smile. “That is heavily simplifying it, of course. It really was some of my best work. Figuring out all the nuances of timing everything and keeping students and staff from feeling the effects.”
“You brainwashed them?”
“Let’s not be silly.” Eva crossed her arms. The action somewhat destabilized her, but Arachne held her tight. A good thing too, they were right on the edge.
“Can’t you move back from the ledge a few steps?”
“Nope. This is the furthest I can be while still being able to turn on shields around the people if things go bad.”
Zoe blinked. “Shields?” she asked.
“First,” Eva held up one pointed finger, “not brainwashed or mind controlled or anything silly. Simple amplification of specific emotions–in this case, anger towards the nuns.” She held up a second finger. “I’ve got an array of blood shields lined up between the crowd and the nuns’ headquarters. Or I will, in a moment or two. I didn’t want to be too obvious too soon.”
Zoe blinked again. It took a moment to process what she said. “Right. Blood mage. I forgot. Distracted by the diablery, I suppose.” Zoe sighed. That was another thing she had been meaning to broach with the young woman. “Wayne is very accomplished with thaumaturgical order shields and he said that his shields went down very quickly against Sister Cross. How would yours hold up?”
“I guess I can get ready and show you some of it.”
Eva leaned down to her feet. Plunging her fingers into the cork of a jar resting near the edge of the roof, Eva pulled back and uncorked the jar. It was fairly large and made of glass. What was inside blended with the darkness too well to see.
Zoe flicked her dagger slightly. Immediately, her senses flared. The crowd below became almost deafening in their shouts. Zoe tweaked her sense of sound down to more manageable levels. Her hearing remained enhanced, just not to the maximum level possible.
Vision, she left at full. With her vision, she looked into the jar at Eva’s feet. A midnight black liquid filled it to its brim. The jar was about a gallon in size, if her estimate was correct.
The liquid jumped out of the bottle. The large glob quickly split down to golf ball sized orbs.
“Arachne kindly donated a large portion of her blood. I bled her out for half the night.” The demon to Eva’s side nodded vigorously at that. “Some is down on the streets already, ready just in case. This is all backup.
“As for shield strength,” Eva gave a light chuckle, “blood shields are, for the most part, impenetrable so long as I have blood. And I don’t just have blood. I have Arachne’s blood. Demon blood is several orders of magnitude better than human blood which is still better than my… Well, the shields will be strong.
“Personal experience has taught me that a golf-ball sized orb of blood can withstand several bolts of lightning. With all this backup, we’ll have plenty of time to evacuate the crowd if anything goes wrong.”
Zoe sighed and glanced over the assembled crowd once again. Even with her enhanced sight, she couldn’t pick out any students. Her eyes did spot a woman atop the building opposite from the one Zoe stood on. It took several seconds before she recognized the slouching woman as Martina Turner’s new secretary. Cathy something.
Martina had become increasingly vocal about her dislike for the nuns during staff meetings over the course of the semester. It didn’t come as a big surprise to Zoe that the dean had some sort of hand in this.
“No one is going to die,” Zoe half asked, half stated.
“Not if I can help it.” Eva pulled several papers from a book bag at her side. “I have a few ways of influencing the emotions of the crowd already drawn up. Some less subtle than others, but I’ll use them if the people need to evacuate in a hurry.” Eva turned her head from the streets below for the first time since Zoe approached. Her empty eye sockets honed in on Zoe. “I’m not a monster,” she said.
Eyes were such a huge part of reading emotions on the face. Eva lacked that key detail. The rest of her face was blank and stony.
Zoe wasn’t sure how to respond to her statement. Keeping the people from harm was good, and she seemed to be taking several precautions. Of course, she dragged them into the mess in the first place. If anyone did get hurt, it would be on her head. And Martina Turner’s head.
Their heads and Zoe’s head, if Zoe did nothing to stop it. No ideas came to mind for stopping Eva safely, try as she might.
Arachne saved her from having to respond. “I am a monster,” she said.
Eva turned her head to her demon with a smile. “Yes, but you are my monster.”
The demon all but preened at that. She rested her head against Eva’s shoulder in a very awkward position that would have sent both tumbling to the ground. Only two legs jutting from her back and digging into the roof stopped them from falling.
Eva ignored Arachne’s actions. She turned her head back to the streets below.
“If things get dire, Arachne and I will personally intervene.”
“And me,” Juliana said.
Zoe turned to the armored woman. “Your mother–”
“Would be very happy to know I helped save lives.”
“You helped put them in danger.”
“Nope,” Juliana shook her head. “That was all Eva. Neither I nor Shalise knew anything until Eva asked me to keep watch. Well, Shalise still doesn’t, but we both unknowingly helped. Of course, that doesn’t mean I like them much. They forced us out of our dorm. That’s the second time this year.”
“I will agree that that was irksome indeed. There was copious amounts of blood everywhere, though I doubt that was directly the fault of Sister Cross.” She eyed Eva. “Not a good reason to go to battle with them. Dorm rooms are easily fixed, you should be able to move back in by the–” Zoe shook her head. “Not important right now. What about the Elysium Order’s nuns? Are they to make it out of this night unscathed?”
“The nuns have been a pain in my backside since they showed up and I’m not going to let them continue to walk over me. Sorry Shalise,” Eva added half under her breath.
“But, and I will admit that this is mostly because of Shalise, I don’t want to see them come to further harm either.”
Zoe sighed, but nodded her head. “I understand where you’re coming from. Can we not defuse the situation and discuss it more peacefully?”
Eva gave her own sigh at that. “I’d say it is too late.”
Steeling herself into instructor mode, Zoe said, “then all I can say is that I am disappointed, Miss Eva. I approve of the lengths you’re going to protect people. That they needed to be protected in the first place is where my real disappointment lies.
“I am truly sorry you do not feel you can trust me enough to talk to me about matters of this severity. I hope you will come to trust me more in the future. At the very least to get a second opinion on your plans.”
“Perhaps next time, Professor Baxter.” Under her breath, though not quiet enough to avoid Zoe’s enhanced hearing, Eva said, “didn’t have much choice this time.”
Zoe pretended to ignore it. It wasn’t meant for her to hear, though it raised questions. Her eyes flicked back to the secretary that now appeared to be tapping on a cellphone. “If you’ll excuse me,” Zoe said, “I should speak with my colleague.”
Turning on her heel, Zoe walked right up to Wayne. He didn’t appear to have moved during any part of the conversation. His book was still out and he looked ready to run at the first sign of trouble.
“I warned you she’d be trouble,” Wayne grunted out.
“I know.” Zoe nodded. “But I’m not ready to give up on her.”
“Give up on her? Zoe,” Wayne sighed, “I know all this stuff must be fascinating to you. It isn’t safe. Not for you and not for Brakket.”
“Think of what an asset she would–”
“She would slaughter everyone.”
“I disagree. Just look,” Zoe waved her hand at the crowd. “Not a single one is a student nor are they staff. There is not a single child either. She didn’t explain how she kept kids away, but I can’t imagine that wasn’t planned as well.”
“Those are still innocent people, Zoe.”
“And she’s taken steps to protect them. She’s not a bad person.”
“She might not be. I can admit that.” That was the most grudging admission that Zoe had ever heard from his mouth. “The company she keeps is what makes her a danger to herself and everyone around.”
Zoe nodded. There was really nothing to argue about that. “At the moment, I’m more concerned about her,” Zoe said as she pointed a finger across the street.
“I can see someone. Can’t make them out.”
“It is our beloved dean’s secretary.”
“What’s she doing here?”
“Not sure. I forgot to ask.” Zoe headed back towards the side of the roof that Eva stood upon. Wayne followed at a more sedate pace. “Eva, the–”
A thundering boom accompanied by small shock waves interrupted Zoe. Zoe steadied herself against a second shock wave.
Zoe ran up beside her students. Eva had knelt down with her hands hovering over three sheets of paper. One of the sheets had glowing runes covering the entire top.
“Don’t worry,” Eva said before anyone could ask, “this isn’t unexpected and the nuns are playing nicely.”
Zoe glanced up.
Four nuns stood outside the building with their arms raised. A shimmering blue bubble encircled the warehouse. Part of the building was on fire where a fifth nun used a thaumaturgical wand to conjure water.
None of them looked like they were going to attack despite more attacks from the crowd. The crowd’s attacks failed to penetrate their shield. Most pinged harmlessly against the bubble.
“This was planned?” Wayne asked with his voice raised over the attacks and shouts from the crowd.
“One of the plans,” Eva said. “Not my favorite one, but the one she was most interested in.”
Zoe’s eyes flicked up across the street. ‘She’ had to be Cathy. Or her boss. The figure who appeared next to the secretary surprised Zoe. He looked like Rex. The same suave hair and fancy suit, though it was a different suit than the one he wore earlier.
Their eyes met for just a moment. He flashed a smile and a casual wave of his hand.
Of course he would be in on it too, Zoe thought. He had ties to Martina and a background in combat. She’d have to interrogate him later. Zoe shook the thoughts from her mind and turned back to Eva.
“She?” Wayne asked at the same time as Zoe said, “what happens now?”
“Now we wait, watch, and hope the Elysium Sisters do not attack the crowd. Arachne, Juliana, be ready to intervene.” Eva turned her head backwards, but did not remove her hands from the two papers that were not glowing. “If you professors want to jump in, that’s fine. Just be careful of the bull.
“He isn’t the king because of amazing politics or lineage.”