Eva vanished. Irene vanished. Worst of all, she was in history class.
Easily the most boring class at Brakket. Juliana found most of the practical classes to be fairly dull except on the odd occasion that they let her cast magic at her level instead of the class’ level. Zagan’s class turned out to be one of the better classes in that regard.
Zoe’s class was actually her favorite. She often challenged Juliana to think in new and unusual ways.
History tended to be the exact opposite.
Professor Carr wasn’t a bad person or a bad teacher. She made jokes every now and again, she spoke well, and she was very enthusiastic about history.
The biggest problem was that Juliana wasn’t.
She loved her mother’s tales of her mage-knight adventures. They were fascinating. Part of that was simple respect and love for her mother. The rest was sheer awe at what she’d accomplished. How much she’d survived.
In the end, Juliana just didn’t care about some Orrian vizier and how he doomed himself and his home due to messing with things he simply didn’t understand.
It happened while Egyptians were still building the pyramids. She couldn’t quantify something so old. It didn’t affect her and just wasn’t something that applied in her daily life.
Juliana tended to spend the class fine tuning her ferrokinesis control out of sight from Professor Carr. It wasn’t like she couldn’t pay attention at the same time. Splitting her concentration might even be handy practice for distractions in combat.
“The vizier was eventually destroyed,” Professor Carr said. “A large force of mages managed to stir the dormant volcano he made his home. The nearby village of Pompeii was entirely destroyed and covered in ash. Given the difficulty in eliminating those touched by the Corrupter, this was seen as a necessary cost.”
Juliana formed fine etchings into her metallic gloves. Each ran around her wrist into fine curls leading up to her shoulder. Only a handful of the words the professor spoke actually made it to her ears.
As Professor Carr got into her own lecture, she started pacing back and forth with large hand gestures. “Of course, not everyone thought he died. Even today some people still believe he managed to survive. One theory states that he has spent the last two thousand years rebuilding himself from a single cell. It isn’t widely believed; many think two thousand years is far too long. He should have rebuilt himself long before now.”
Each curl ended with a tiny snowflake. Forming the six-sided fractal took a lot more concentration than simple curls. They would only just be visible without looking right up close, but they would be detailed.
“Others theorize that he is merely trapped on another plane of existence and unable–”
Juliana jumped in her seat as the overhead loudspeaker crackled to life. It took a moment for her to realize what it was; it hadn’t been used as far as she could recall.
The voice of the dean’s secretary cleared her throat twice before she spoke in a bored tone of voice.
“The dean has issued a warning code seven. All professors are to move their students to the gymnasium and remain there. At no point is any student to leave the main building. Security groups two and three are to ready and report to the guard-room for further orders. Security group one is to ready and standby in the gymnasium.”
There was a light sigh from the intercom. The voice continued, though it sounded far away from the microphone. Juliana had to strain to hear her speak.
“Do I really have to repeat it?” A brief pause. “Fine.” She moved back next to the microphone and repeated the message.
With every word in the repeated message, Professor Carr turned paler and paler. She looked back to the class with wide eyes as soon as the loudspeaker crackled off. “Don’t panic,” she said, “I’m sure it is just a drill. Gather up and let’s get to the gym.”
“What is a code seven?” Jordan asked.
“Large force of potential hostiles near the school.”
The rest of the class started fidgeting.
“Like I said, I’m sure it is just a drill,” Professor Carr said in a tone that made Juliana think it was anything but. “Let’s gather up. Is anyone in the restroom?”
“Irene and Eva aren’t here,” Shelby said. “They were here at lunch until Irene dragged Eva off. I don’t know where they are now.”
“Oh dear. Do they have cellphones?” At the shake of Shelby’s head, Professor Carr pulled out a smart phone and started tapping away at it. “I’ve alerted the security team leader. He’s sending one of his people to search.”
Shelby nodded, though she looked somewhat sick.
Juliana wasn’t that worried. Eva could take care of herself.
“Alright,” Professor Carr said, “when we get to the gym, stay together. Don’t mingle with the other classes. We need to know where you are and if you run off, we have to send someone looking for you even if you’re just over with some friends.”
With that said, the professor grouped them together and started ushering everyone down the halls. Other classes moved through in a similar manner. None of the students broke away to meet with other classmates.
Which wasn’t all that surprising. Juliana’s year consisted of twenty-something students and they were already all together. Few people likely interacted with those in higher or lower years on a regular basis.
Juliana might even be ahead of the curve at that. She had talked with older students on occasion. Usually when delivering new anti-scrying packets. The discussions never lasted long and she wouldn’t call herself friends with anyone, but she was fairly amicable with most students.
As they turned the corner into a hallway with a front-facing window, Juliana bumped right into Shalise.
“What did you stop for?” Juliana asked as she rubbed the bump out of her nose.
Shalise didn’t say anything. She simply stared out the window.
Following her gaze, Juliana searched for what drew her attention. It was dark. Far darker than it had been on the way to school. Dark enough with the heavy storm clouds that it took a moment to comprehend what she was seeing. Juliana let out a quiet, “oh.”
Something moved right in front of her face, prompting a small start. It took a second to realize what it was. She had activated her ferrokinesis and failed to notice until the helmet molded itself around her head.
“Oh,” Shalise repeated.
Two members of the security force stood between the academy building and a group of monsters. A large group. Juliana stopped counting at twenty and that was only a fraction. It didn’t help that it was difficult to tell where some of them ended and the next ones began.
A number of the monsters looked to be swarming into one of the dorm buildings. Her dorm building.
Both of the security members only attacked when one of the creatures got too close. A massive wall of water formed up and swept a creature off its feet before freezing the creature to the ground. Icicles formed in the middle of the air and dropped straight down.
A short distance away, creatures just seemed to die. The two water mages didn’t have anything to do with it. Like an invisible line that would decapitate anything that crossed.
“I think there is someone else there,” Shalise mumbled to herself. “Every time a thing dies, there’s a little humanoid flicker.”
Juliana squinted, but couldn’t make anything out. She did see one of the creatures shrug off the wall of water and the following ice spikes.
Both security guards started backing up as water pooled around its legs and started to freeze.
That did nothing to slow its gradual charge.
A thick arm reached out and gripped one guard around the chest. Icicle after icicle impacted the arm until it froze and shattered. The guard fell to the ground and started crawling away on his hands and knees.
The still-standing guard had to run back and help drag the first to his feet. Still supporting him, they turned back and renewed their attacks against the tide of creatures.
They both were alive, but they lost a good chunk of ground. Worse, their attacks did not seem to be on the same level they were before the creature. The one who had been partially crushed got slower and slower in his casting until he stopped completely.
It was only a matter of time until another creature shrugged off the attacks.
“We need to get out there and help out.”
“You will do nothing of the sort Miss Rivas.”
Juliana turned to face a furious Zoe. She had her own horde of concerned children at her back.
“But Eva’s out there!”
She wasn’t certain, but if Juliana were Eva, she would be out there. It was a pretty good bet.
Zoe agreed if her narrowed eyes and pursed lips were any indicator. “Of course she is. Miss Eva cannot help but involve herself in every trouble in this city. You will not follow her lead.”
“The security force is being beaten back already! Even if Eva and Arachne are out there, they’re still outnumbered a-lot-to-one.”
“Ylva is already moving out there.”
“She’s just one person,” Juliana said without thinking. She bit her lip. Ylva was powerful. She had forced both herself and Zoe to their knees with a single word. But that was inside her domain. Juliana had learned a great deal since then.
Domains twisted themselves and reality within to suit the whims of the owner. It took a great deal of willpower to override the subconscious wish-fulfillment, but even then, the subconscious was still there. A word that forced everyone to kneel likely wasn’t troublesome for someone like Ylva.
Outside the domain, Ylva’s power lessened by orders of magnitude. Juliana had no idea to what degree, but it wouldn’t be insignificant. Surely she wouldn’t object to assistance.
“The little girl?” Someone said, breaking Juliana from her thoughts.
“There she is!”
“She’s all alone. What is she doing?”
Juliana moved right next to the window along with several other students, all shouting about Ylva.
Ylva walked slowly, almost casually, past the two security guards. One shouted something at her. She ignored them.
Someone to her side let out a loud scream–causing Juliana to jump a few feet–as an ogre of some sort swung a club at Ylva.
She sidestepped. The club crushed the concrete and nothing else.
Ylva moved up and placed one hand on the ogre’s wrist. Charcoal black veins spread outwards from her touch.
The ogre jumped backwards, leaving its club and part of its arm behind.
Someone broke the silence. “What was that?”
“Nothing to concern yourselves over,” Zoe said with a note of finality. “Keep away from the windows. It isn’t safe. And keep moving.”
With the help of Professor Carr and another teacher that showed up, Zoe got the students moving again, if slowly. Some backed away immediately upon hearing that it was unsafe. Most tried to stare out the window as much as possible before they went out of view.
Juliana was one of those in the latter group. She languished behind alongside Shalise. Zoe and the other professor led the students while Professor Carr kept up the rear.
The moment they turned a corner, Juliana gripped Shalise’s arm and mouth before she pulled her companion into a classroom. It had already been evacuated. Holding her breath, and hoping Shalise was doing the same, Juliana waited for the last few students to walk past.
She let out a light sigh when no one called her out.
“What are we doing?” Shalise shout-whispered the moment Juliana took her hand off her face.
“Ylva is just one person,” Juliana whispered as she shut the door. “She can be attacked from behind, she can be hurt. Eva’s out there somewhere, she has to be. And Irene too. We can’t just not help them!”
“That thing almost crushed that poor elf. I don’t know how he kept standing. All the ribs in his chest had to have been crushed. We can’t go out there.”
“I never said we were.” Juliana rummaged through her bag and pulled out a stick of chalk. “We’re going to get some help and then go to the gym. No one will even notice we were missing. Help me move these desks around.”
Shalise went silent as Juliana got to work. She waited until Juliana finished clearing the floor, finished the circle, and started the far more complex diagrams that went within the circle before speaking. “What do you mean by that?”
Juliana froze her hand where it was. “Exactly what it sounds like. They’re outnumbered. We are going to help even that number.”
She started moving her hand again, trying to remember exactly where each mark went. This would be a lot easier with the book, Juliana thought. She’d done it a million times and only used the book as an occasional reference after a while.
But this was different. There were pressures. Juliana wasn’t in her safe room. She didn’t have the book to double-check everything. A teacher could walk in at any time.
And a giant army.
Juliana had to stop and take a few calming breaths. Her hand was shaking. Shaking enough that she worried the shackles or the summoning circle itself would fail completely.
“We shouldn’t do this. I’m sure they have it under control. They would have said something if they didn’t.”
“Did you see the same thing I saw? There were like a hundred of them. And you said it yourself, one of those defenders is already all but out of the fight. How long will it take for the others to fall. There’s only four of them, including Eva if she’s out there. All it would take is a lucky strike and there goes another.”
“Why don’t we get Arachne and your mother? The two of them could probably take them all on at once.”
That gave her pause. Juliana had just started marking out more of the shackles. She pulled back and put her hands in her lap as she thought.
“That may be,” Juliana eventually said, “but I’m not so deluded into thinking my mom is immortal. All her scars are testament to that. I’d rather throw away things I don’t care about than put my mother in the middle of all that.” She leaned forwards to continue drawing lines. “Besides, I don’t have a good way to get to the prison.”
“I’m sure Zoe would take us.”
Juliana paused once again before shaking her head. “No. They’re after our rings. What if the prison is under attack and we teleport right in the middle of the enemy? It isn’t like we can teleport directly into Ylva’s domain. They could be waiting for us.”
Shalise frowned, but Juliana paid her no mind. The circle and shackles were nearing completion.
“Just keep an eye on my back for a minute and we can get back to everyone else.”
“Fine,” Shalise muttered.
Juliana watched as she moved between the summoning circle and the door. She had half a mind to send the other girl out of the room, but that might draw attention if another class passed by on their way to the gym. Watching out the window in the door would have to suffice.
After making the last few marks, Juliana reached into her bag and started searching. At the very bottom, in a small pouch that Juliana had sewn herself, she found the object she was looking for.
A small eye made of glass.
He said he wouldn’t come unless Zagan was gone, but surely they’d be working together.
Juliana set the blue eye down in the center of the summoning circle and took a few steps back, almost bumping into Shalise in the process.
“And what do we have here?”
Juliana felt her heart lurch out of her chest as she jumped to her feet. Her grip tightened, crushing the bit of chalk between her metal-lined fingers.
Shalise fared no better. She let out a soft squeak before stuttering out, “P-Professor Zagan.”
“I thought you were watching,” Juliana hissed as she looked at the intruder. Both golden eyes danced with a sort of amusement that put her nerves into shock.
Slowly, Juliana dragged Shalise back onto the summoning circle. It wasn’t active yet and the shackles should keep demons out. A traitorous thought crossed Juliana’s mind. Not a demon of that caliber. He could walk over the shackles without even noticing their presence.
“I-I was. He just appeared.”
“My, my. Children missing from the gym? And here I find them setting demons loose to terrorize their peers.” He shook his head in mock sadness before he ran fingers through his wavy, brown hair. “Where did I go so wrong that my own students became such malefactors.”
“No!” Juliana shouted. “We were trying to help.”
“Help bolster the enemy forces? You’ll never get away with such deviance!” Zagan sighed. A long, drawn out, fake sigh. “Then again, you did skip out on your other punishment. Perhaps we’ll have to go with something harsher than mere detention, yeah?”
Juliana blinked. It took a moment to jog her memory enough to realize what he was talking about. “That was the first week! Zoe got attacked. I had a lot on my mind.” She took a breath and added, “you should have said something the week after, not now.”
“I let it slide because I thought you were normally a good student. Now I find you here and you don’t even try to deny bolstering the enemy?”
“And what about this mess?” He gestured towards Juliana’s feet.
With a flash, he was standing right in front of her, just outside the shackles. He flashed again and he moved around the circle, towards Juliana’s one o’clock. He moved to two with another flash. It was like watching someone dancing in a strobe light.
Shalise huddled in right next to Juliana. Her shivers could be felt through the thick layer of metal covering her arm.
“Shoddy work,” Zagan said with a tut. “I’d have expected Eva to be far better a teacher than this.”
“I learned it from a book.”
“I’m surprised you managed to get anything out of this. Without killing yourself,” he added.
Juliana felt her face heat up. She was mostly sure this circle was no different from the other ones she’d used. “I’ll have you know that I’ve summoned plenty of things. Without killing myself.”
He laughed. Laughed. “So I see. Still, far too dangerous for an uneducated student. I think Martina plans to do something about that, but it will come too late for you, I’m afraid.” He flashed in front of Juliana with his lips curled into a grin.
If he hadn’t already got the hairs on the back of Juliana’s neck to stand on end, that grin would have done it. Shalise actually let out a small whimper.
“And you,” Zagan said as his golden eyes flicked to Shalise. “What’s your role in this treachery.”
“N-nothing. We weren’t doing anything.”
“The circle you’re standing on begs to differ.”
Juliana took half a step forwards. Not enough to move off the circle, but enough to get slightly in Zagan’s face. “Is this really the time? The school is under attack! If you’re half as powerful as Eva thinks you are, you could stop everyone with less effort than a snap of your fingers.”
He took a step back, looking far more affronted than he had any right to be. “I’m but a humble teacher. We hired the security guards to protect the school. As a teacher, my job stops at instructing students and correcting mistakes.
“Ah, and it seems you’ve made a mistake.”
A chill ran through Juliana’s spine as she broke eye contact with the demon. Following his pointed finger, she glanced down at the light glow beneath her feet. The summoning circle started rotating.
It wasn’t the circle she drew. The lines were all wrong. Arrows turned the wrong way. Crosses became circles. A curve to the left became a curve to the right. She couldn’t have messed it up that badly.
A cold sweat dripped down Juliana’s back as she turned her eyes towards Zagan. His golden eyes spread a faint glow through the suddenly dark room.
“That isn’t a summoning circle,” he said. “That’s a transference circle.”
“Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for you to make up your detention.”
Juliana’s stomach dropped. The ground no longer supported her weight. The classroom shrank to a tiny dot in the all-encompassing darkness.
Gripping Shalise’s arm, both fell screaming into the void.