Martina smiled as she looked over the assembled guards. Her office was somewhat crowded. It was never the largest room, even if it was the highest office at Brakket. Having herself, Zagan, two demons, three mage-knights, and an elf made it feel very small indeed.
The elf wasn’t her idea. He was some child elf that heard about Lurcher. Upon learning about the hiring of security, he applied. The school’s administrators approved. He was eager to make a name for himself defending human school children or some other foolish plan.
Martina didn’t anticipate many problems from him. He had yet to notice the three demons standing in the room.
Neither had two of the mage-knights for that matter. One had only just earned her pin. Fresh out of the guild. She only graduated from Brakket itself two years ago. Those two did not fill Martina with much confidence.
The oldest mage-knight had noticed Zagan at least. He kept shooting wary glances in the demon’s direction. It was highly likely that he had worked with or perhaps against demons in the past. Either that or he simply felt the power that Zagan was only barely containing.
Neither of the two demons were Martina’s first choice in that department. They were, however, agreeable in temperament and both had the ability to fully disguise themselves as a human.
One, a morail, was an expert in stealth. While not exceptionally strong on his own, he didn’t need to be in order to walk around slitting everyone’s throat. If he did not wish to be found, Martina would be relying on Zagan to bypass his abilities.
The other was normally an unshaped mess of toxic tentacles capable of crushing a car. The mass of limbs compressed itself into a brightly smiling female form and had used its natural camouflaging ability to appear human. A mildly sweaty human, but most of that would be covered by the thick cloaks both demons wore.
“Brakket Academy,” Martina said, “has had a troublesome last year. This year is shaping up to be no different. You all signed up to protect this school and the children attending. If any of you thought this would be a cushy job with easy money, you can get out right now.”
None of the security force moved. Good.
“I thought I would mention some goings on, in case you were unaware. One last chance to back out.
“Last year, necromancers set hordes of zombies loose to indiscriminately kill townspeople and students. They then proceeded to kidnap and experiment on one of our students. One necromancer was killed by the aforementioned kidnapped student. The Elysium Order showed up and scared the remainder off. They then made a right mess of things. They had some monster hunting down their order. They brought their battles into the school, injuring students and ultimately inciting a riot in the town.
“It gets worse. This year, we have evidence that a pair of demons, a carnivean and a jezebeth if that means anything to you, assaulted two of our instructors. While they were both killed, the original summoner is both at large and unknown.
“If that doesn’t sound like things you can handle, please leave and let us fill your slot with someone who can.”
Martina fell silent and waited. Once again, no one moved.
“Good. These two,” Martina said, gesturing towards the two black-cloaked demons, “are our specialists. If there is anything you feel you cannot handle, call one of them immediately. Especially in any matters you believe might be demonic in nature. They are listed in your cellphones as Daru and Lucy.”
The morail harrumphed. He had expressed displeasure towards his nickname. Daroth simply wasn’t suitable. While not exclusive to demons, the ending on his name was too common for Martina to be comfortable using it.
Giggles, or perhaps gurgles, erupted from the axopodia. They cut off quickly enough as Zagan casually turned to look at her.
Martina suppressed a frown. She… might need more lessons in being a human.
It couldn’t be helped. She had never been around people before in any capacity. If it wasn’t for Zagan, she might never have been summoned. Ever. Her eagerness to interact with humans was a major redeeming factor. It was curiosity in a new environment and not the ‘how many ways can I murder them’ kind of curiosity that most demons possessed.
Clearing her throat, Martina continued her speech. “Several of the staff at Brakket have histories in combat and may be called upon in emergencies. The combat capable staff have been entered into your phones with an asterisk before their names.”
Martina gestured towards the oldest mage-knight. “Gregory Lavero will be your primary coordinator. He draws up all schedules and partnerships. If you have an issue or need to change anything, speak to him.
The youngest mage-knight, Eleanore Lorre, lifted one of her hands into the air.
Martina had to try hard to avoid rolling her eyes. They weren’t in school anymore. Well, they weren’t students anymore. “Yes?” she said with a nod in the girl’s direction.
“You said demons, right?” Her voice came out with a slight tremble. Nervousness at demons or perhaps nervousness at her first job. Both were understandable.
“That is correct,” Martina said.
Eleanore flinched back slightly.
Her voice may have come out terse and clipped, but the girl should have been paying attention. Martina did not mind a few nerves showing at the mention of demons. It was healthy even. Failing to pay attention was significantly less healthy.
“Is there any dossier on what we can expect, strategies, and the like?”
Martina softened her face. “That is a good question.” Much better than what she had been expecting. “Apart from our two specialists, Rex Zagan,” she gestured to her side, “is something of an expert in demonic matters. He will be giving a full report on everything we know so far and will be happy to answer any questions you might have.”
“I’ll bet he’s an expert,” Gregory mumbled.
It probably wasn’t meant for her ears, but Martina couldn’t let that go. “Are we going to have a problem, Gregory?”
“So long as things remain smooth and in control, I don’t care.”
“Good. We’ll have no issues. Other questions?”
The elf stepped forwards after a moment of silence. His voice hummed out from the back of his throat, giving him a much deeper voice than his appearance would suggest. “Are there problematic students we need to watch out for?”
Martina raised an eyebrow. She had expected the topic of demons to dominate any questions. “Zagan, being one of our professors, will be able to give you a rundown on most students. The staff has been more than adequate at maintaining order, but if you see a fight break out or anything similar, intervene. Don’t hurt the students, obviously, but stop the fight. You can report students for discipline to myself or any professor.”
The elf nodded and moved back in line with the mage-knights.
Martina looked pointedly at the spectacled man standing among the mage-knights. Of all of the new hires, she had a read on him the least. Fredrick Hatter spoke only when spoken to during the interview and in very short sentences at that. His name came with a myriad of recommendations, so Martina had no cause to actually turn him down.
He didn’t respond. Neither did any of the others.
“Very well. Zagan will further brief you on the situation in the staff meeting room.”
“Follow me,” Zagan said, sounding extremely bored, “we’ll get everything sorted out, yeah?”
Everyone filed out after him, including the two demons. They’d already been briefed on everything and more that wasn’t going to be revealed to the regular security force. Their purpose in Zagan’s meeting was simply for the appearance of solidarity among the new hires.
Martina started to turn back to her desk–and the endless supply of work it seemed to conjure up–but stopped when she noticed Gregory hadn’t moved to follow Zagan.
“I thought we weren’t going to have an issue,” she said.
“That doesn’t make my curiosity go away.”
Martina frowned. She’d already considered letting the guards know about the demons running around and had dismissed the idea. Gregory had already found out. She made a swift decision.
“There are currently six demons allied with Brakket Academy. Two of which are not directly under my contracts. My secretary, Catherine, is a lesser succubus and my familiar. Zagan. Just Zagan, no species. Both of the specialists, a morail and an axopodia.
“The two not under my direct command belong to a student, one who calls herself Eva. Ylva, a daughter of Hel, and Arachne. No species there either. Eva is fond of the professor who was attacked and moved Ylva in to protect her. Arachne stays on Eva’s person at all times.”
He hummed for a moment. “A bonded familiar?”
Martina felt her eyebrows raise. This mage-knight must have more of a history with demons than she initially suspected. “No,” Martina said, “she is her own entity. Zagan believes she is not even a familiar, merely contracted.”
“Temperaments of those two? I assume those contracted with you will not be a problem.”
“They won’t,” Martina said with as much finality as she could muster. So long as Zagan followed her orders, neither of the specialists would be a problem. “No problems from either of Eva’s demons are expected so long as they’re not antagonized. I’ve never met Arachne, but Zagan believes she will violently defend against perceived threats to Eva.”
“And the girl?”
“Happy to attend school. She’s had some problems recently due to her inhuman appearance, but most of that has died down in the past week.”
“So not a ticking time bomb in the middle of a school.”
“Good. You don’t want the others to know?”
Martina paused in thought for a moment. It wouldn’t be feasible to keep it hidden in the long run. Especially with questions that would undoubtedly be asked about Eva’s appearance. “Get to know them and use your own discretion. I’ll leave it up to you.”
“Alright. I can work with that.”
“You seem well versed in demons.”
Gregory shifted his weight to the opposite foot. “I had a gangrel that I summoned on occasion.”
Martina frowned, but otherwise did not say anything. Hellhounds were not something she felt much fondness for. She liked her demons to be smart enough to comprehend orders at the very least.
“He was a decent companion. For a demon. He was crushed in a trap meant for me a few years back.” His shoulders slumped ever so slightly. “I haven’t been able to summon him since.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Martina said as she tried to keep her expression neutral. A companionship with a hellhound? Unheard of. “If it makes you feel better, the demon is not dead. They have to reassemble themselves, for lack of a better word. A demon of Zagan’s power could accomplish that in a few days, but non-sentient demons could take thousands of years.”
Gregory drew the obvious conclusion. “And Toto was probably not very powerful.”
Martina pressed her lips together. She carefully got herself under control before even attempting to speak. “If there’s nothing else, you should attend Zagan’s briefing. He will be unhappy at having to repeat himself.”
“Of course,” he said. He left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Martina stood stock still for another minute before she finally moved around her desk and slid into her chair. With well-practiced movements, she retrieved the bottle of Hellfire and poured herself a tall glass.
Even through the burning pain, Martina struggled to contain her laughter.
— — —
It didn’t take long for the student body to notice the now omnipresent security force hanging around every hallway. There were whispers and rumors about each member of the team, as per anything new in Brakket Academy. The place had so little news that anything could become the flavor of the month for discussions.
The elf was easily the most discussed member of security among the female population. Eva hadn’t even seen the thing in person yet. She’d sensed its blood as it walked by a classroom, but nothing more.
Their presence did not actually change much. Brakket wasn’t a violent school. There were a lot more fights at Eva’s old middle school in a week than there had been all last year.
Unless Eva counted all the business with necromancers and nuns.
What did change was the amount of attacks against Eva between classes. While walking around with Ylva had temporarily stopped the harassment on the basis that Ylva was intimidating, the students quickly reverted to slinging mud balls in the halls.
The security force, on the other hand, had given detention to two separate groups that had been harassing Eva. After that, the rest got the hint. She still got glares or the occasional whispered comment under someone’s breath.
Nothing she couldn’t handle, but it was good that they had ceased. Arachne would probably have killed half of them in their sleep had they continued.
Well, she would have if she were around. Arachne spent most days at the prison, fighting Genoa.
Eva didn’t have much problem with that. Especially since Arachne, while she didn’t outright lose, didn’t seem to win. The training could only be good for her.
But Arachne’s absence did lead to an interesting predicament. One she was certain would have been resolved with much blood and disembowelment with Arachne around.
“So, spill the beans,” the sixth year student who hadn’t bothered to introduce himself said. “What are you? I know half-breeds and you’re nothing like them. What kind of a monster spawned you?”
Eva sighed, wondering how she managed to get maneuvered into a corner. Juliana and Shalise were nowhere to be seen, but it wouldn’t surprise Eva if some other students had pulled them away as they had done to her.
“I was born human. Through a series of experiments, I don’t think I qualify anymore. But,” Eva said before they could comment, “none of those experiments altered my hands, eyes, or legs.
“Thanks to a certain necromancer, I had fingers and toes cut off with a rusty, dull knife. It took hours. I was awake, conscious, and given no painkillers. The rusty blade hacked and sawed away until I could see bone, then it hacked and sawed more until it broke away.”
Not true, but close enough. Their imaginations would be much worse than reality. Eva proceeded to describe the removal of her eyes mostly without exaggeration. Not a memory she liked revisiting, but the steadily sickening pallor of her harassers made it all worthwhile.
If they decided that the necromancers were the cause of the experiments, all the better.
“A short time later, I had my hands removed and replaced by what you see now. Legs as well. Found the eyes later, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth just because they’re red. Do you know how hard it is to see without eyes?”
Eva couldn’t help but smile at her little joke. It wasn’t a big smile, but apparently it rankled the sixth year’s nerves.
“Freak,” he spat. He looked back towards his cronies and jerked his head away. Soon enough, they had vanished around a corner.
Eva sighed again. So much for the ‘I suffered through having limbs violently removed’ plan. She squared her shoulders and continued towards her next class.
Botany with Professor Kines. Outside in the Infinite Courtyard’s greenhouse. Through the cold.
At least it hasn’t snowed yet, Eva thought as she cast a quick warming spell on herself.
She’d initially been reluctant to switch over to a thaumaturgy spell over the heating runes she’d used the previous year. But Eva couldn’t deny its effectiveness. It kept her warm and didn’t even take an hour of drawing out symbols. If all of her rune effects could be replaced, she could easily see why they were no longer used.
There were wards for anti-scrying, wards for putting people to sleep, and enchanted objects that could project lightning among other things. Whether or not there were spells that could replace the emotion manipulating rune systems she’d developed at the end of last year, Eva wasn’t sure.
Zoe might know, but Eva had been somewhat reluctant to bring that incident up with the professor. Partially because Zoe had been disappointed with her about the riot, but also because Eva didn’t want to find out that her hours and hours of effort could have been replaced by a simple wave of her hand.
Outside, Eva caught sight of Jordan, Irene, and Shelby. Or the backs of their heads at least.
Sprinting, lightly, to catch up, Eva pulled alongside Jordan.
He gave Eva a nod, Shelby put on a smile. Irene gave a wary look, but didn’t pull away to put space between them.
Good! Progress, Eva thought with only a small amount of sarcasm.
Glancing around the rest of the students moving towards the greenhouse, Eva found herself disappointed at the lack of either of her friends.
“Have you guys seen Shalise or Juliana?”
“Not since lunch,” Jordan said. “Lose them?”
“Something like that.”
It was somewhat worrying. She had been pulled away and harassed. Eva felt quite confident in her mental ability to ignore or otherwise shrug off the attacks of mere hu–
Eva shook her head. That thought had come out of nowhere.
–of her fellow schoolmates.
But if those schoolmates were harassing her friends…
“Anything the matter?”
“I don’t think so,” Eva said. She stopped moving and glanced back towards the school. “I’m going to go look for them.”
“They might already be at class,” Shelby said. “Might as well check there first.”
Eva cracked her neck from one side to the other.
She had a point.
“Alright,” Eva said as she resumed walking.
“So, any plans for Halloween?”
“We’ve been kind of avoiding the subject. I imagine Shalise will be wanting to stay inside for the most part. Personally, I’ll be spending some time with Arachne.”
“That’s understandable,” Jordan said with a glance over towards Irene. “I think we’ll be mostly staying inside as well. The party wasn’t that great last year anyway. Aside from all the zombies, that is. Maybe we could meet up like we did at Christmas.”
“They haven’t been staying at the dorms,” Irene blurted out. She had the decency to look embarrassed as she glanced off to one side.
“We could stop by, I doubt it would be much of a problem.” Though Genoa might insist on coming as well.
“Cool,” Jordan said. “I’ll see if Max will swing by as well. He might have made other plans with his other friends. I’m not sure.”
They walked into the greenhouse a moment later. Eva was relieved to find both her friends in their usual spots. Shalise noticed and waved, returning Eva’s own wave.
Max was not in his usual spot. Eva might not have even noticed had Jordan not mentioned him just before they got in.
He wasn’t at lunch with them earlier either.
Odd, but none of her concern.
Eva was just glad she didn’t have to go beating up older students to find her friends.