Trees whisked past. Brush and ground vanished into the distance.
Long, black hair trailed through the air gracefully, almost parallel to the ground. She was a sight to see.
At least, that’s how Eva imagined it. The sad reality was that her hair clung to the sweat on her back in a giant, tangled rat’s nest. It would take a lot of work to get it back to the normal.
Next time, Eva thought, I’ll put it up in a bun.
Still, Eva couldn’t help but to laugh. She hadn’t run since November and she hadn’t ever run as fast or as long.
And she could go faster. Her brain said that her legs could take it.
Eva wasn’t worried about her legs. She worried about her hips and her spine. They were still regular old human bone.
So she deliberately held back.
It was still faster than normal.
But, speed wasn’t everything. In fact, running seemed natural to her new legs. It was finesse that she had problems with. Walking wasn’t so bad, but she doubted she’d be dancing any time soon.
Of course, Arachne didn’t see it that way. Arachne wanted to start up dance lessons as soon as her legs finished growing back in.
Eva slowed to a stop, using a tree to support her while she caught her breath. Despite her legs not aching in the slightest, she was panting for air. Sweat dripped off of her, out of her thoroughly soaked tee-shirt. Her heart hammered in her chest.
It couldn’t be healthy to keep up such a pace. Her core was still human, after all. Perhaps in a year or two as the treatment took hold more and more.
Arachne followed behind at a languid pace. Her body stayed just inside the bubble of Eva’s vision. She walked along with six of her spider legs due to her humanoid legs not being fully formed. It wasn’t that she couldn’t go faster if she needed to.
But she didn’t.
Clinging to Eva was her thing–physical contact and touching and all the closeness. All of it had vanished. She’d been standoffish as of late.
Eva frowned as the spider-woman slowly approached.
At first, she thought Arachne was upset or even angry about the legs. Her behavior changed the day after Eva got them. Eva dismissed that notion.
Arachne wasn’t upset or angry.
She was worried.
Fidgets, jitters, and general nervousness replaced all the physical affection she once showed. There were marks around her mouth as if she had been biting what passed for her lips.
Even now as she approached, she wrung her claws. Her gaze turned down to the ground and she had an open-mouthed frown on her face.
Six legs carried her forwards, but they slowed down more and more as she got closer and closer.
Arachne was worried and Eva had a feeling she knew what about.
Frankly, it was beginning to grind on Eva’s nerves.
At least the slothful demon had given Eva ample time to catch her breath. “Arachne,” Eva called out as she neared. “Let’s talk.”
There was just a slow nod from Arachne in return.
“What’s on your mind lately?”
Arachne’s sharp teeth clamped down on the hard chitin of her lips. The only real way Eva could tell was the little bit of blood she got on them when she cracked her carapace.
Eva smiled and waited patiently.
After what seemed like an hour, Arachne finally opened her mouth to speak. “I had plans,” she said. “Then the necromancers and your hands. After that, you didn’t let me out of the prison. We only saw each other on weekends,” she trailed off with a frown. “Even after I moved back to the dorm…”
“I–Our contract ends soon.”
“Three weeks, if I remember right,” Eva said with a smile. Her feeling proved correct. “I don’t know about renewing it. You did bite my hands off, after all.”
“That’s–I–” Arachne glanced up at Eva. Her eight eyes didn’t have the same opening and closing methods that a human had. Even still, Eva was certain that the spider-woman’s eyes widened considerably. “I did what I thought was best. And I–”
“Don’t regret it,” Eva said with a smile. “I know.”
It might have been unnecessarily cruel, but Arachne did bite off her hands. Eva had come to see the usefulness of the claws. That did not make them comfortable to have in gloves.
That was deserving of at least a little punishment.
“You’re better this way, anyway,” Arachne said with a quick nod. She sat up straighter, as much as she could with only her six legs anyway.
“So you say,” Eva said. “You did give me hands and legs for free, something I understand is quite rare based on my master’s poor luck in finding a replacement arm. I will take that into consideration.”
“Free is definitely rare. Finding arms is not,” Arachne said. The small bit of composure she gained deflated and she returned to nervously flexing her claws. “But, the original plan was for something different once our contract ended.”
Eva blinked her eyes. Or she would have if she had any. “Something different?” She paused for just a second before she said, “oh. You’re wanting a contract that includes a little slice of our mortal realm to merge with your domain?” Eva’s slight smile turned to a frown. “Master wouldn’t be happy with that.”
Her eyes shot up to meet Eva’s face. The eye contact lasted only a few moments before her eyes shifted off to one side. “That would be nice. But, you’ve already got that hel residing at the prison.”
Eva sighed. She rubbed her forehead with the back of her clawed hand, well away from the sharp fingers. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“She is going to be attracting hunters enough on her own without my domain multiplying everything.”
“Arachne,” Eva said as she brushed a hand on the spider-woman’s shoulder. “That’s not something we can run away from. I am walking hunter draw all on my own. Maybe not at this moment, but in a year or two? I’ll need all the help I can get fending them off.”
“You’re not ready for that yet.”
“That’s why I’ve got you,” Eva said with a smile. “And I’m sure I could rope Ylva into defending the prison, at the very least, lest she lose her foothold here.
“For now,” Eva said, “let’s just renew our contract. We’ll talk with Devon later about the domain thing. We don’t want to tie ourselves down here if we have to run away in any case.”
Except for a handful of insects, birds, and other creatures of nature, silence descended upon them. It went on for several moments before Arachne looked up and gave a single, slight nod.
It was so unlike the usual Arachne. Eva decided that she didn’t much like depressed demons.
Eva gave her a smile and pulled her into a hug. She brushed her claws gently through Arachne’s hair tendrils.
Arachne stiffened at first, but soon enough returned the hug and mirrored the action with Eva’s own hair.
At least until Eva felt a tug.
Her head snapped back.
“Ah, tangled hair,” Eva rushed to say. She quickly disentangled herself, ignoring Arachne’s apologies. “I’ll let you brush it later when we hammer out the details for our contract. For now, quit moping about and let’s run!”
Eva took off before Arachne could protest.
The spider-demon’s less slothful speed as she followed put a smile on Eva’s face.
— — —
That is the fifth person I’ve passed by this morning who was out mowing their lawn, Zoe Baxter thought as she strolled down the sidewalk. Three others had been out trimming already immaculate hedges. Two were washing their cars and one simply sat on his roof with a pair of binoculars in hand.
Every one of them stared at Zoe as she walked past.
A small shiver ran up her spine. She was beginning to regret not taking Wayne up on his offer to accompany her.
It wasn’t just that everybody in the little suburb had apparently decided to go outside and do yard work at the same time.
More than once, Zoe spotted a curtain flutter behind one of the windows while she walked by. She never saw a single person despite her mildly enhanced eyesight. That didn’t mean they weren’t there.
The houses themselves were eerie without all the synchronized lawn work or spying neighbors. Each one was built exactly the same as the next, or close enough that Zoe couldn’t see much difference. The only thing that changed between them was the shade of pastel paint.
Only the house at the very end of the cul-de-sac lacked people outside. It, oddly enough, seemed to be the one most in need of lawn care. There was a great tree outside lacking even a single leaf, the grass had seen better days–several patches were nothing more than dirt, the rest had yellowed–and the flower garden appeared to be beyond dead.
Perhaps the owner was meant to be outside today, Zoe thought, and had to change their plans because of me. She sent notice of her visit a few days ago. It wasn’t inconceivable that they would put it off for later, if they didn’t start the yard work earlier.
Zoe walked up, past the white picket fence in serious need of a paint job. She stopped just on the rickety porch and tightened her red butterfly tie. She straightened her suit and brushed off a fleck of lint that may or may not have been in her imagination.
Then, Zoe placed one hand just over her dagger. She kept her hand as inconspicuous as she could but wanted to be able to reach it quickly. Just in case.
With that, she pressed her other thumb into the doorbell ringer.
Only a moment later, almost as if he had been waiting just next to the entrance, a man opened the door. He had slicked back black hair, looked slightly malnourished–his skin was taught and showed off far too much of his skeletal structure–and wore an apron with a splattering of red on it. The wide grin on his face didn’t look very genuine.
Nothing about him set Zoe at ease.
“Indeed. You are Doctor Sam Finnell, correct?”
“Of course, come in, come in.” He stepped off to one side, allowing her in. “Will you be joining us for dinner? I was just in the middle of preparing it. One more won’t be a problem. I’ve invited the Klopeks–such nice people–and I doubt they’d mind one extra.”
“I don’t think so, Doctor Finnell. I’m sorry but I have other visits to make,” Zoe said as she moved inside, keeping her eye on the man’s hands. “You are Hugo Smith’s guardian, correct?”
“Quite so,” he said as he shut the door. “He is just in the sitting room awaiting your visit. There was another matter I wanted to speak with you about, but that can wait until after you see to Hugo, I think. We will–”
He stopped. Just stopped and stared. His already wide eyes opened wider.
“That ring,” he said in a quiet voice, though the wide smile never left his face, “it is quite… eye-catching.”
Zoe frowned and took a step back, covering the ring with her thumb. “It’s just an old heirloom,” she lied.
“Is it? I’m a collector of antique metals. I don’t suppose… no.” Doctor Finnell shook his head. “I apologize for my distraction.” He gave a light tug at his apron and said, “I do need to finish dinner prep. I trust you can handle yourself?”
“It shouldn’t be long.” Zoe said with only a hint of hesitation.
He nodded and started towards the indicated sitting room door. His hand gripped her arm so suddenly, it was a miracle he didn’t wind up with a dagger in his stomach. “Hugo is,” he started. “Well, be patient with him.”
Zoe’s hand held her focus in a firm grip. “Is there something I need to know?”
“No, no.” He pulled away from her. “I’ll leave you to it. If you need anything, I’ll be right in the kitchen,” he said with a gesture towards the back of the house. He trod off to the back, leaving Zoe alone in the entryway.
Most parents liked to be present when their children were interviewed. Some, especially those without any magical background, would insist on sticking beside their children. They tended to ask more questions than the child in question.
Not many parents, magical or otherwise, would leave their children alone with a stranger they had never met before.
Still, it would be fewer questions. And he wouldn’t be in the room. Zoe didn’t like to be too judgmental, but the man gave off some creepy vibes.
Inside the sitting room, a little boy sat in the dead center of a three-seat couch. His back was straight with near perfect posture. He kept his hands right on his kneecaps as he stared straight ahead. He didn’t so much as glance up when Zoe entered the room.
He blinked. His gaze turned up towards Zoe. “I am Hugo,” he said.
“My name is Zoe Baxter. Were you told why I came here today?”
He blinked again. His eyes unfocused, dilating slightly before returning to normal. “You are an instructor at a magical academy. You recruit students. I am a potential recruit.”
“Good,” Zoe said with a small smile. “Do you mind if I take a seat?”
“I do not mind.”
Zoe took a seat in a large, wingback chair that was angled to face the couch. She settled in and pulled an envelope from her breast pocket.
“I teach magical theory at Brakket Magical Academy. The academy is prepared to offer you a full ride scholarship. That means all food, board, and necessities will be paid for or provided. There is also a small monthly allowance for you to use as you choose.”
As Zoe spoke, Hugo’s eyes returned to their unfocused state. When she finished speaking, he blinked and nodded his head.
That must have been what Doctor Finnell was talking about.
“I understand,” he said.
“Good.” Zoe waited just a moment, but Hugo didn’t seem about to say anything. “Do you have any questions, Mr. Smith?”
“No wonders about magic or classes or teachers?”
A blink. “I am familiar with magic. Father uses magic.”
“Oh?” Zoe suppressed another frown. “You’ve watched him then?”
A nod and a blink. “Father uses magic to–”
“To assist with minor chores around the house.”
Zoe whirled around to where the voice had come from. She barely realized that she had drawn her focus until Doctor Finnell glanced down at it.
His wide grin didn’t falter in the slightest as he looked it over. If anything, it grew wider. “Do you always draw a dagger on people who startle you?”
“I apologize, Doctor Finnell.” Zoe quickly sheathed her dagger. “I didn’t hear you approach.”
“Quite alright, quite alright. In any case, I am a mage. Sadly, I have no formal education. I am very pleased that young Hugo has the opportunity to attend a proper institute.” His slate gray eyes turned towards Hugo for a moment before he looked back to Zoe. “Is he acceptable?”
“There aren’t any problems. We detected his magic, so that is no issue. So long as he wants to go, he’ll be accepted.” Zoe held out the envelope towards Doctor Finnell. “This contains some informational material as well as a plane ticket. One of my business cards is also within. If you tap it three times, I can come and answer any additional questions.”
He opened up and glanced through the packet. It didn’t last longer than reading a word or two on each piece of information. He folded it back up with a nod. “You’re leaving now? I had hoped you might change your mind about the meal.”
“I am sorry, Doctor Finnell. I appreciate the offer, but I cannot stay for food. I have business to attend to elsewhere.” Not to mention, Zoe really didn’t feel like sticking around in the unnerving suburbs any longer.
She was glad her job did not involve much talking with parents after the students actually enrolled. Brakket had secretaries for that.
Unprofessional? Yes. Definitely. Did Zoe care? Not in the slightest.
“Oh no, that isn’t a problem,” he said with a chuckle. “Though I do wish you would reconsider.”
Zoe simply shook her head.
“However, I was rather hoping you would have time to speak with my daughter as well.”
“For attending Brakket?” Zoe shook her head at the man’s eager nod. “I’m sorry, Doctor Finnell. There was only one candidate listed for this residence. If she can’t do magic, I’m afraid there is nothing I can do. If she isn’t old enough, then I may be back next year or whenever she turns old enough.”
“Oh, I assure you, she is plenty capable of magic. She’s also the same age as Hugo here.” He moved over to clap the very still boy on his back.
It wasn’t impossible for the scan to miss a candidate. Improbable, yes, but not impossible. It nearly missed Eva the previous year. She only got picked up because Zoe ran the scan a second time.
Zoe frowned. She already had bad vibes from this place. If this daughter was anything like Eva, Zoe wasn’t sure she wanted the responsibility. Still, an interview wouldn’t hurt.
“I only brought one ticket with me, Doctor Finnell. If your daughter can indeed use magic, I’ll either come back or mail one out.”
He clapped his hands together. “Perfect,” he said. Zoe didn’t think it was possible for his smile to widen, but somehow he managed. He walked over to the doorway and called out, “sweetie, come show the nice lady your magic.”
A short figure appeared in the doorway alongside her father.
At first, Zoe couldn’t tear her eyes from the girl’s face. Her heart sank as her eyes drifted down to the girl’s arms and hands.
A clearing of a throat caused Zoe’s eyes to snap up.
“This is my daughter, Des.” He gave her shoulder a soft squeeze. “Go on and show the nice lady your magic.”
The little girl gave a nod. Her face scrunched up in concentration. After a moment, a candle-like flame appeared on the tip of her finger. She absolutely beamed at her father.
His face never dropped the large grin.
“Alright,” Zoe said. She couldn’t say no to a smile like that–the daughter’s smile, not the doctor’s grin. “I’ve got time for a quick interview.”
— — —
“Got a plan in mind?”
“As long as she sticks to what you two told me, I’ll be fine.”
Juliana let out a short snort. “Good luck. I consider myself fairly decent and she still manages to thrash me. Not this year though. I’ve been training with my mother.”
Shalise frowned. She was nowhere near Juliana’s level and she knew it. Unlike Juliana, Shalise had a secret weapon. She was counting on that and being underestimated to snatch a surprise victory.
Her nerves sent jitters all throughout her body as they approached the outdoor amphitheater. She had missed every one of the seminars before the first year of school.
Not that attending would have done any good. According to Eva and Juliana, no first years aside from the two of them actually managed to put up any kind of fight, let alone a good one.
“You might be fine,” Eva said, “but Zoe Baxter isn’t aiming to hurt or maim. The real trick is getting a hit in.”
“Like you said, she won’t see it coming.”
“I don’t know,” Juliana said, “Zoe can be pretty attentive. She’ll definitely notice gloves that you have never worn before.”
“But,” Eva said, “she won’t understand what they’re for until it is too late.” The black-haired girl turned her head towards Shalise. “If you can keep from acting like they’re anything special, that might help. Just put them on now and try not to think about them.”
If there was one sure way to get her thinking about something she shouldn’t think about, it was telling her not to think about it. Still, Shalise complied and donned her black gloves. She resolved to keep them clenched or hidden until the last moment. Professor Baxter might recognize the metal plates on the last digit for what they were.
Shalise and Juliana both jumped. Eva, Shalise noted, merely gave a light chuckle. As one, the three girls turned to look behind them.
A slightly sweaty Max was rushing up the sidewalk. He came to a stop just in front of them, slightly panting. “I’m glad you are here,” he said between breaths. “I thought I was going to be the only person I knew.”
His eyes lingered on Eva for several seconds longer than anyone else. Shalise knew why. Even with Eva slouching and keeping her knees slightly bent beneath her baggy pants, she was still Shalise’s height. A few weeks ago, she’d only come up to Shalise’s chin.
They’d had plenty fun teasing Juliana while towering over her. Much to the blond’s chagrin.
“No Jordan and co?” Juliana asked, breaking the spell Eva’s height had over Max.
He shook his head. “Irene and Shelby are vacationing with Jordan’s family. Somewhere in Europe I think.”
“We’ve had class with the same group of twenty-something students for a year. You must know someone else, surely.”
Max shook his head. “That might be true, but only vaguely. I know of Drew and Jason and people, but I’ve never really spoken with them.”
“Hmm,” Juliana tapped her finger on her chin. “I can’t say I’m much different. Something to work on this year.”
“I’ll pass,” Eva said. “I’ve gotten through a whole year not talking to anyone outside our group, I’m sure I’ll get through another with no trouble. Besides,” she waved a gloved hand, “it is hard enough keeping secrets in our little group.”
Max quirked an eyebrow. “Secrets?”
Eva’s face immediately twisted into a scowl. Juliana quickly gave her a little nudge. There was an unnatural wiggle beneath her shirt as Juliana’s elbow ribbed her.
Arachne, Shalise thought. Since Eva finished her vacation, the demon had been living in their dorm without trying to hide at all. It was a tad creepy watching her walk around in her humanish form. Shalise had to keep reminding herself that the demon helped to save her life.
For that demon that saved her life, Shalise did the first thing she could think of to pull attention to herself. She smiled and nudged Max in his side. “Oh you know, secrets like which boys we like and who among us girls is most developed.”
His face changed colors. It was almost imperceptible, but it was there. His eyes struggled to maintain contact with Shalise’s own.
Seeing his reaction, Shalise’s smile curled into a grin. “I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t Juliana,” she said in a stage whisper.
“Hey! I’ll have you know that I’ve got more muscles in my pinky fingers than the rest of you put together.” She glared at Shalise. “I’m not afraid to use them.”
“Ooh, spooky,” Shalise giggled. She half skipped, half hopped down the path. “We’re going to be late if we keep dilly-dallying.”
The rest of the group followed, though they skipped the skipping. Soon enough, all four were seated around the middle of the amphitheater. Just in time too.
Professor Baxter appeared on stage near a pile of silver marbles. She scanned the crowd. Her eyes stopped briefly on their group and she gave them a light smile. At the end of her scan, she frowned for just a moment. The frown vanished as quick as it came.
“Welcome to my seminar,” Professor Baxter said. She then launched into a short speech, one that was exactly the same as the year before according to Eva. Despite her mentioning discussing battle tactics, apparently such events were few and far between. It was similar to Professor Kines’ club except they fought the professor instead of each other.
She started off with some student she named Mr. Burnside. He put on a dazzling show of fire with the occasional pillar of earth to block her marbles. They kept the fight going for almost a minute before one of the marbles struck his shoulder. After that, more hit him and he went down to the ground.
“Excellent, Mr. Burnside. A vast improvement over last year.”
Mr. Burnside didn’t seem to think so. He was grumbling under his breath as he walked back to his seat.
Juliana leaned over as another student took to the stage. “A lot of them seem to show up for only a seminar or two to fight Zoe. He is one of those. In a few weeks he’ll be back with some new gimmicky way to fight.”
“I didn’t think that looked that bad.”
Juliana scoffed. “He used a massive amount of tiny fireballs in a vain attempt at getting a lucky hit in. None of them even made it close as a light gust of air extinguished them.
“His use of earth magic was atrocious, but as an earth mage, I might be biased. Still, he could have tried to open a pit beneath her feet to throw her off-balance.”
Shalise was feeling the butterflies settle into her stomach. What she planned on doing was in no way as impressive.
“Don’t worry,” Juliana patted her thigh. “I’m a little nervous myself. Last year I didn’t carry thirty pounds of metal around with me.”
“I said I had more muscles than all you.” She rubbed her hands together. “Zoe likes to use lightning a lot, and she will with me because her metal marbles won’t touch me at all. But I’ve been doing some research lately; I think I can nullify her lightning as well.”
“Think? You’re not sure?”
“It’ll be a fun test. Zoe doesn’t use her full power. At least, I hope she doesn’t.”
Shalise wasn’t sure she’d be willing to test Professor Baxter’s lightning strength on the whims of hope. Juliana just smiled and went back to watching the spar between the professor and a water mage.
Once he got knocked down and wandered off the stage, Shalise decided to act. Waiting any longer wouldn’t help. She’d only get more and more nervous.
“I-I’d like to go next,” Shalise said as she stood up.
Professor Baxter glanced at her with a puzzled look on her face.
Good, thought Shalise, she wasn’t expecting me to volunteer. Keep her guessing.
The confusion didn’t last more than a second or two. Professor Baxter gave her a smile as she gestured to the opposite end of the stage. “Miss Ward, excellent. Come on stage.”
Shalise gripped her wand in her hand as she walked up to the raised platform. Quelling the shakes in her hands with a loosened grip, she pointed her wand at her professor.
“Are you ready?”
She gave a single nod in response.
“Very well. Prepare yourself.”
A single marble flew towards Shalise. It didn’t appear to be moving very fast. Shalise sidestepped it without trouble.
Shalise smiled. She moved her fingers apart in a ‘v’ shape with two fingers on either side. The metal plates on the fingertips of her offhand glove tapped together and Shalise started channeling magic.
Two more marbles flew through the air after her. Shalise lacked the magical prowess to deflect the projectiles on a shield, but she could at least disrupt the cushions of compressed air they were riding on.
She sent out a gust of wind. One marble dropped and rolled along the ground. The other wavered in the air, but stayed aimed at her. Without the second marble blocking her movements on the stage, she easily dodged around it.
Before Professor Baxter decided to ramp up the fight, Shalise tried to subtly aim her hand at the professor. Her fingertips pulled together, bringing all four fingers into alignment.
A thin bolt of lightning shot out.
And promptly crashed into Professor Baxter’s already raised shield.
Four marbles launched out at Shalise. She managed to knock one out of the air and dodge another. The two remaining struck her in either shoulder and knocked her on her butt.
“Secret weapons are an excellent idea, but lose effectiveness when their secrecy ceases.” Professor Baxter walked forwards and offered a hand to Shalise.
Shalise accepted the hand. Half of her wanted to channel a small amount of magic into the gloves and give her a little shock, but gripping the professor’s hand moved the plates out of alignment.
“You weren’t attacking with your wand,” the professor said, loud enough for the audience to hear. “I knew something was up. Combined with your arm and hand being far too stiff and I narrowed it down to that. As soon as you aimed that hand at me, I shielded.
“Next time, throw out a few attacks to distract from your secret weapon, rather than call attention to it.”
Professor Baxter’s voice dropped to be less audible to the audience. “I am curious, but we’ll talk later. Even though you didn’t hit me, good job. Take a seat.”
Shalise nodded and headed off to her smiling friends. Juliana gave her a friendly pat on her knee.
“Miss Eva. I believe I felt your hand in that last performance. Why don’t you come down and we’ll see what your actual hands are capable of.”
Eva’s friendly smile towards Shalise turned to a far more feral grin. The grin faltered for just a moment as she leaned over to whisper something in Juliana’s ear. The blond nodded a moment later.
Long, black legs crept out from beneath Eva’s slightly lifted shirt. Arachne’s body followed a moment later and all of her came to a rest on Juliana’s lap. The blond partially covered Arachne with her own shirt, though she left the eight glowing eyes peeking out.
The sight of her two long fangs resting on Juliana’s legs sent an involuntary shiver down Shalise’s spine.
“Don’t worry and don’t do anything, I’ll be fine,” Eva said to the spider before she marched up on stage.
Professor Baxter had crossed her arms and started tapping her foot.
“Sorry,” Eva said, “felt like I had a spider on me. Had to get it off.”
The professor sent a glance back towards Juliana. Shalise thought she might have sighed before turning back to Eva. “Prepare yourself,” she said.
“Way ahead of you.”
Before the professor could even lift up a marble, Eva lifted her wand. The entire stage was covered in a cloud of darkness.
Juliana leaned over. “Since she doesn’t have eyes, she doesn’t have any impairment from being unable to see through the blackness. Of course,” she said with a sigh, “we can’t see anything so there isn’t much to comment on.”
And there really wasn’t. The pitch black of the stage wasn’t much to look at. Some sounds–generally metal hitting earth–escaped every now and again, but nothing else.
At some point, the darkness vanished. A slightly disheveled Professor Baxter stood over a very torn up Eva. Her shirt and her pants had a few holes in them. Luckily, for Eva, the holes on her pants were not big enough for anyone to question why they couldn’t see anything beneath.
Once again, the instructor offered her hand to the student and helped her up.
“No secret weapon from you?”
“I decided that I needed to get better at standard fighting in a safe environment before I’m caught without all my secret weapons against someone trying to actually kill me.”
Professor Baxter shook her head. “I suppose I can’t fault you for using your resources as you see fit. I do believe you’ve singed my hair,” she said as she pulled a lock by her chin out to her eyes. “On an unrelated note, I do hope you’ll be here next seminar.”
“Count on it,” Eva said with a grin.
On her way back to the seats, a boy sitting right on the aisle stuck out his foot. He stuck it out right in Eva’s path, right before she was about to step past it.
Shalise started to call out a warning.
It was too late.
Eva reared back and stomped onto the outstretched foot. Hard.
A sickening crack echoed through the amphitheater. It was accompanied by a cry of pain a moment later.
“What’s your problem, trying to trip me up?” Eva paused, seemingly looking at him. “I know you,” she said. “You’re that pathetic excuse for a water mage. I thought you weren’t fighting me out of some misplaced sense of chivalry, but it seems like I was wrong. You’re a coward who tries to trip girls on their way back to their seat.”
“Eva,” Professor Baxter half shouted as she ran up the aisle. “What did–”
“He tried to trip me,” Eva said with a point of her finger. “Even a blind girl could see that.”
“It’s true,” Shalise said. She stood and took the few steps down next to Eva. “I watched him stick his foot out almost underneath Eva’s own foot.”
The student just clasped at his foot and whimpered. Actual whimpers. It was somewhat sad, given he was a year or two older.
Professor Baxter sighed. “There are better ways to deal with bullies.” She turned and shouted, “you’re all dismissed for the night. I’ve got an infirmary run to make.”
She gripped the student by the shoulder and both promptly vanished with a flick of her dagger.
Shalise shivered as a wave of cold air brushed past her. The rather hot June air that rushed in afterwards was very welcome. Not that Shalise didn’t like the cold, just not when it was already hot out.
“Did you have to hit him so hard?”
Shalise turned to see Juliana walking up behind them. Arachne, beneath her shirt, squirmed back and forth as she tried to escape to Eva. It was doubtful she was trying all that hard. If she was, Shalise imagined she could get away without much trouble.
Max, Shalise noted, still sat in his seat. He fidgeted, torn between following after Juliana or just leaving with the rest of the students.
“I honestly didn’t mean to,” Eva said to the blond. “Although, I can’t say I’m going to lose sleep over it.”
“You’ve got to watch your new legs. I mean, I didn’t even get my turn to fight her.” Juliana sighed as Arachne slipped out of her hands.
The spider launched herself at Eva. Once on her, Arachne immediately burrowed beneath Eva’s shirt. A few of her red eyes poked out of the holes.
“Hey, what was that all about?”
All three of the girls turned to face the new voice. A well-built student stood in front of them. Even disguised beneath his loose clothing, Shalise could see some serious muscles on him.
It took a blink and half a second longer to realize that he was the fire throwing mage who first fought the professor. He looked a lot smaller up on stage.
“Like I told Zoe Baxter, he tried to trip me. Hopefully, he learned his lesson.”
“He’s my brother.”
“That does not change anything about my previous statement.”
The two stared at each other for a good minute while Shalise fidgeted. Juliana had a bored look on her face, though Shalise noticed her wand somehow got in her hand.
Eventually, Eva sighed. “Are you going to fight me or something?”
Shalise hoped not. Between Juliana and Eva, he’d surely end up in tears and in the infirmary alongside his brother. Seeing older students in tears didn’t sit right with Shalise.
That was, of course, if Arachne didn’t jump in first.
It was a good thing he shook his head. “Papa always said to never hit a girl.”
“Shame he didn’t say anything about tripping a girl.”
“I don’t know what your problem is with my brother, but you keep away from him. He wouldn’t shut up about you for five minutes these past few months.”
Eva frowned and cocked her head to one side. “I forgot he existed until just a few minutes ago.”
“Sounds like unhealthy obsession to me,” Juliana said as she crossed her arms. “Oh, maybe he likes you.”
The glance Juliana got sent her into a short burst of laughter. Eva just shook her head.
“Curious,” Eva said, “if I were a monstrous demon that was hell-bent on murdering you and your brother, would you hit me then?”
The Burnside brother gave her an odd look. Shalise couldn’t blame him.
“Just something to think about. Not every bad guy is actually a guy.”
“U-um, maybe we should be going now?” Shalise said. She took Eva’s arm in her hands a lightly pulled her away. Thankfully, Eva didn’t protest.
“Y-You’re not actually going to kill them, r-right?” Shalise whispered.
Eva looked at her like she was crazy. If she had eyes, Shalise imagined that Eva would be rolling them. “Of course not.”
“Good,” Shalise said with a smile. “Sometimes, it is hard to tell if you’re joking or not.”