Eva stopped at the staircase and stared.
It is a good thing I asked Zoe to wait outside, she thought.
The book showed no one other than herself and Arachne within the building. Clearly that was only partially true.
Part of a person lay halfway up the staircase to the second floor. Two legs and part of a torso. Blood splattered around the walls and ceiling, though there was no sign of anything above his shoulders. All dried to the point where Eva could only vaguely tell it was there in the first place. If she hadn’t been looking for the blood splatter because of the corpse’s presence, she might not have noticed at all.
He should have stopped long before the pain set in, let alone the more explosive parts of the blood ward. The man must not have felt anything. Eva hadn’t kept up with the weather in Florida, but maybe one day was especially cold this past winter. Numbness might account for the lack of digression. That or drugs.
Good to know it is still active.
For half a moment, Eva considered leaving some sort of warning at the base of the stairs for any future explorers of her hospital. She walked over the corpse on her way to the second floor. That would be warning enough.
“Start packing the library. I want every book. Not one left behind,” Eva said to the demon walking a step behind her. If Arachne even took note of the corpse, she did not give any indication. The suitcase she carried smacked into the legs on her way up.
“Slave driving again,” she said with a feral grin. “Ah, how nostalgic.”
“Nostalgic? You only lived here for a day or two.”
“No.” Arachne gave a swipe of her claws through the air. “Not that. The first order you gave me was to collect books.”
“Well,” Eva said as she reached the top of the stairs. “I hope you’re excited. You’re going to be reading a handful of those books to me.”
The grin on Arachne’s face quickly vanished.
For whatever reason, the spider-demon hated reading. She wasn’t bad at it; Eva hadn’t heard her stumble over any words over the past semester. That didn’t stop her from making her distaste for the task clear on multiple occasions.
Getting her to attempt to learn any magic was likewise met with resistance.
“When was it that you were getting your own eyes again?”
“Haven’t even started, though I have a few demons in mind. I would prefer yours, but there would be no hiding them even if we figured out a way to transfer them.” Eva sighed.
While there were plenty of demons with eyes, very few had eyes that looked entirely human. At least not in their natural state, which is what she’d be getting as far as she could tell. Both Zagan and Catherine could hide the slit pupil, colored irises, and black sclera. Zagan’s might actually work, but fat chance of getting those.
She had no ideas on that front and Devon was far from forthcoming in ideas for a solution. He had yet to replace his own arm.
“It is difficult to look for valid eye donors when you’ve got no eyes to both research a subject and see what you’re getting.”
“I will vet every demon you summon for the purpose, but I suggest getting a move on it. You don’t want to get stuck without eyes for eternity.”
“Maybe soon,” Eva said. “Speaking of getting a move on, get to the library. I’ve some things to pack in my room.”
Arachne simply nodded as she walked further down the hallway.
Eva split off towards her old room.
Dust covered most surfaces. It wasn’t all that thick, but it had definitely moved in during Eva’s absence.
Where did I leave it, Eva thought as she moved to her old closet. She rummaged through the few scraps of old clothes she left behind. Most had grown too small for her, doubly so with Arachne’s legs in the case of the pants. None of them interested her.
Some of the skirts might still work, even if they had become shorter than ever. That was a joy she’d have to learn to live without.
Well, Eva thought as she pulled out an old favorite she had somehow missed while originally packing, maybe a few for casual wear around the prison. She couldn’t actually see their colors, but Eva knew her skirts.
The main target of her return trip, aside from the books, wasn’t in the closet. Eva spun back to the room with a handful of skirts in arm. She dropped them in a pile around the center of the room before she ducked under her bed.
A small smile split across Eva’s face. There it was.
Eva stretched her claws beneath the bed and dragged out the small bag.
Sunlight pouring from the window glinted off the shined metal when Eva opened the bag. Gold. All the gold she stole from the museum over a year prior. Originally it had been there to cover her theft of her new favorite bloodstone capped dagger.
Who knew when it might come in useful. Brackets, rings, necklaces, earrings. It wasn’t all that much, but it was far more than nothing.
Eva dropped the bag of gold down on the pile of skirts. She had one thing left to do. Eva rolled up a sleeve of her shirt.
Drawing her void dagger from its sheath against her back, Eva jammed it straight into her forearm–just above the hardened carapace of her hands. A blob of blood spilled forth and gathered in the air a few inches from her.
A flick of her arm had her flesh mending back together. In the same smooth motion, Eva sheathed her dagger.
With a twist of her fingers, she added the blood to the existing wards. Eva wasn’t about to risk the wards either failing or rejecting her after too many treatments. Even if the hospital had regained its abandoned status, it could always serve as a good fall-back safe house.
If she had the time, she’d add an infernal walk gate. Teleporting cross-country wasn’t something she was looking forward to attempting in any case. She still needed the gate just for getting to and from the prison.
It was probably all psychological these days. Eva knew in her head that a gate wasn’t required. Much like clapping her hands to obliterate her blood, the gate served as a focusing crutch. One she used out of fear.
Trying to obliterate blood without clapping wasn’t scary. The worst that would happen was nothing at all. She’d already failed an infernal walk once and Eva did not have any desires to wind up in Hell again.
Juliana might have given her an escape in that situation, but it wasn’t something she wished to test. She had escaped with Arachne the first time on the technicality of still being human. If that same technicality prevented her from using her own beacon, Eva would be stuck again.
Even if she could use it, she still had to figure out how.
Luckily, she didn’t have the time to draw a gateway circle. Keeping Zoe waiting too long might see her entering the building despite the warning of the wards Eva gave.
Eva gathered up the gold and the clothes into the gold bag and almost ran into Arachne back in the hall.
“Got all the books?”
Arachne held up the suitcase they’d brought as if that were all the answer she needed to give.
They walked down–Arachne once again hit the corpse with the suitcase–and Eva made sure to grab the book showing everyone in the building out of the lobby. It would be easier to modify it for the prison than to create a new one. Part of it could be left alone for the hospital, though Eva wasn’t sure it would work long distance.
Something to test later.
Outside, Eva walked right up to Zoe Baxter. The professor stood against a wall of the hospital.
“Yep, all cleaned out.”
“Sure you don’t have anyone you want to say hello to while in town?”
“We already popped in and said hello to Doctor Thompson’s veterinary clinic. I don’t think I know anyone else in Florida.” Eva certainly did not wish to say hello to Todd or Michael. They weren’t half important enough to warrant consideration.
Zoe gave a light frown, but nodded anyway. “Let’s head back then.” She held out both hands. Eva took one while Arachne shrank and latched onto Eva’s chest.
Eva smiled as her professor didn’t flinch at either the clawed hands touching her or Arachne’s spontaneous transformation.
The smile vanished from her face as the world fell away. Cold set in. She almost shook her hand out of Zoe’s iron-like grip before the world righted itself.
Eva and Arachne collapsed to the floor of her prison, shaking and shuddering.
— — —
“D-Didn’t he die?”
“That’s what I heard.”
“I watched it happen,” Eva said. “He fell from three or four stories. Head first.”
Juliana glanced back at the man behind the counter. His sunken in eyes scanned back and forth over a book he held in pencil-thin fingers. One hand raised to scratch at his hairline. It went back to the book without even being wiped off despite the still-wet-looking gel covering his hair.
I hope he doesn’t touch his hair often while stacking books, Juliana thought with a shudder. The pages would stick together without a doubt.
“His name tag even says Stephen. Was that his name before?”
“Let’s just grab our books and get out of here.”
Juliana nodded. She kept expecting to run across someone or something in the Toomey Tomes bookstore that she’d regret coming across. With Stephen Toomey sitting at the counter, every aisle looked like it should have a ghost roaming around.
What she could actually do to defend herself from a ghost, Juliana hadn’t the slightest idea. Nevertheless, she turned on her ferrokinesis spell the moment she set foot in the store.
One couldn’t be too careful after the mishap with the imp the other week.
Maybe they’d have a book on ghosts and necromancy, Juliana thought. Some way to fight back would be nice. Her book list had nothing of the sort on it. The closest was Elemental Offense and Defense; the only new book that wasn’t a volume two to their list over the previous year.
That was a class Juliana could look forward to. Most practical magic classes over the previous year were simply below her skill level. She could see the combat class becoming one of her favorites if they actually practiced tactics and strategies.
If they sat around tossing spells at each other at a second year level… well, Juliana would deal with that if it happened. She had enough of that during Professor Kines’ mage-knight club.
“The least they could do is put all the school books together,” said Eva as Shalise pulled a book off the shelf for her. “I understand that this is a regular bookstore, but a shelf in the front along with a list sent by the academy would simplify everything.”
“I think they want us to browse and buy.”
Juliana frowned as she glanced over the titles on the shelf next to her. “All these are in the Rickenbacker Library. I’d assume they’re at the Gillet and the main library as well. In fact, the main Brakket library is more than twice the size of this entire shop.”
“Why do they need three libraries?”
“And three nursing centers? What about all the swimming pools and hot springs? Does anyone even use those?” Juliana shook her head. “Mom said that all the doorways were supposed to connect to the same buildings out in the Infinite Courtyard. I guess something went wrong. Like, disastrously so.
“When that failed, they should have consolidated it all into the main building. They should have spent money developing their marketing division instead of all the amenities that no one uses.”
“All that was probably from the marketing department,” Eva said. “They were trying to make the school more appealing than its competitors.”
“Why is Brakket in such low standing?” Shalise asked with a quirked head. “I don’t find anything wrong with it, unless you count z-zombies.”
“My mother said that most other schools teach much faster. Students casting elemental attacks by the end of the first year without problem. The pace Brakket takes causes people to look down on us.”
“What?” Shalise dropped half the books in her arms as she spun to face Juliana. “How?”
Juliana just shrugged. “I don’t go there. Mother insisted that Brakket’s methods were better in the end.”
The brunette all but deflated. She stooped down and picked up her books while mumbling under her breath. When she stood up, her head still hung slightly. “I wonder if Professor Baxter knows how they do it.”
“I’d assume so. She is the theory expert.”
“I’ll have to ask. She didn’t tell me when I was asking about tutoring last year,” Shalise sighed, “so I doubt she’d say anything now. I’ll try anyway.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Eva said. She laid a gloved hand on Shalise’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze. “We’re already on the Brakket track. Arachne, Juliana, and I can handle most anything. Keep improving those runic gloves and you’ll be fine until you can use the thaumaturgical lightning.”
“Yeah,” Shalise said softly as they started heading towards the front counter.
Juliana set her own armful of books down and waited.
The last time they faced the owner of Toomey’s Tomes, he had no kind words to say and even less patience. He called me a brat. She had almost thought about having Irene pick up a second copy of the books just to avoid him. It wasn’t until Eva had pointed out that he was dead that she decided to go.
Yet the man at the counter just sighed and put down his book. He rung up their purchases without a word. Not even a ‘did you find everything alright.’
His sunken eyes didn’t linger on the group. The moment Shalise finished paying, he picked up his book and set to reading.
Even still, Juliana couldn’t wait to get out of the building. Maybe if they had proper lighting rather than the eerie faux candlelight and a working thermostat.
After finishing their book shopping, without incident, they decided on lunch. Lunch at the Gooble Gobble Gourmet Grub kiosk. Shalise in particular seemed more than excited to try the food. She bounced heel to heel as they waited for the toque blanche wearing chef to hand them their meals.
How the man could see out from under his overly bushy eyebrows, Juliana couldn’t understand. Not unless he had some alternate means of seeing.
Luckily, it didn’t affect the quality of their food. The grub came out on three plates and smelled delicious. After they took a seat at one of the plaza tables, Shalise dug right in and Juliana was quick to follow.
It had a slight acidic-sweet goo for insides; easily slurped down with a straw. Of course, the straw missed all the crunchy exterior. That was fine to eat plain, but not as good as eating it together.
Eva didn’t touch her plate. She backed off, mumbling something about “not eating oversized maggots.”
“Oh well,” Juliana said as she pulled the black-haired girl’s plate in front of her. “More for me.”
“So, what is next?” Shalise asked as Juliana finished her lunch.
“I need new potion supplies,” Eva said.
“You don’t even go to that class.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t need to maintain my personal stock of potions.”
“Are you going to be going to skip all this year too?”
“Probably,” Eva said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I’m not going to be allowed to touch the chemicals again, no point in going to watch.”
Shalise pouted, though it didn’t look too serious. “What if we make something useful that you don’t know about?”
“I’ve had Arachne read the book. Unless you’re making things not in the book?”
“Not so far,” Juliana said. “But alchemy is required. How are you graduating?”
“Only two years of alchemy is required. Further classes are all elective. I’ve claimed that I’m getting special tutoring due to my,” she tapped a gloved hand against her blindfold, “issues. After Zoe Baxter discussed it with the dean, they agreed that was acceptable. Alchemy shouldn’t even be on my class schedule this year.”
“Who is tutoring you?”
Eva put on a small grin and merely shrugged.
Nobody then. Not that it was her business, but Juliana couldn’t help but feel that was a mistake. There were so many useful potions. So many that she was considering buying a small satchel and keeping a few healing, restorative, and general utility potions on hand at all times. Eva had one of those back on the flight over.
Juliana wasn’t sure the girl actually carried it on her anymore. Maybe she could ask Eva if she could have it.
It would make a great addition to her multiple foci and armor. Maybe add in a few more hostile potions as well. Throwing a potion of air thickening would, at the very least, slow down a pursuer. They’d have to almost literally swim through the affected area until it wore off.
She would need a separate satchel for the more caustic potions. Accidentally throwing a titan potion or drinking a poison potion would not end well for Juliana.
“I could also use some new clothes,” Eva said. “My, ah, growth spurt has turned perfectly fine clothes into scrap cloth.” She gave a slight knock against her leg as if to emphasize her meaning.
Not that either of the girls would fail to understand. Shalise had been disturbed, to say the least, when Eva first stripped down in their dorm. The poor girl might have fainted if Eva hadn’t warned her beforehand.
It went against everything she knew about biology, as small as that might be, but she couldn’t deny Eva’s new legs were cool. Awesome, in fact. Still, Juliana had no plans nor the slightest desire to chop off her own limbs.
She wasn’t stupid.
Yet, if the unthinkable did happen, Juliana knew where she wanted to get new limbs from. Even if she had to hide them from regular people for the rest of her life, they appeared far better than any prosthetic she knew about.
“New clothes would be nice. My old uniform won’t last me the whole year,” Shalise said with a pat at her chest. “It was getting tight at the end of last semester.”
“Yeah,” Juliana said with a pat at her own chest. “I think I could use a new uniform too,” she lied.
Juliana let out a small sigh. She hadn’t grown at all in the last year. Both of her roommates were bigger than her in every way that mattered. She had to look up to face both of them, Eva especially with her new legs.
It just wasn’t fair. Her mother was tall, though not very busty. Her father had some height to him, though not too much. Yet Juliana was still the smallest and shortest in her class. It had been that way ever since she was young.
Just once, she wanted to be taller than someone her own age. Or even someone a few years younger than herself. All of the first year students she’d seen wandering around Brakket were at least her height.
Juliana sighed once more as she followed her friends past the dancing uniforms and into the clothing store.