Returning to school just wasn’t quite the same. It didn’t feel right. So much had happened and so much was going to happen that sitting in class and practicing thaumaturgy just felt unimportant. Like being concerned over a mosquito bite while bleeding out from a missing arm.
Eva leaned back in her chair and shut her eyes. She was supposed to be practicing heat manipulation.
None of Isaac Calvin’s directions actually made it to her conscious thoughts. The unending swirl and churn of her worries and imagination all mixed up into one gigantic nightmare. Naturally, such a nightmare occluded most everything unrelated.
Someone or something was trying to pull Void out of whatever plane of existence in which He resided.
Without knowing much about Void or how Powers operated, existed, or worked, most of Eva’s worries stemmed directly from her imagination.
In her imagination, Void was like a planet. Or perhaps an entire solar system. Maybe even a galaxy. A galaxy filled with tens of billions of demons.
It probably wasn’t a very good comparison. Planes of existence were so abstract in every way that a galaxy seemed too normal, too relatable. They were the realms of Powers, inhabited and created by them at the same time.
Despite having been to Hell itself, Eva couldn’t confess any knowledge about how it worked. There were islands and water. And that was it. Travel within Hell was done through the waters, so that must be some connecting factor that linked the place together.
When Eva stepped back from the islands and water to consider just how the layout of the place worked, her mind went blank. A sudden moment of absolutely zero thought going on within her brain. She would always snap back to reality with a surge of fear-fueled adrenaline.
Eva didn’t consider herself frightened of much, but nothing scared her beyond anything else. The idea of an absence of herself, her very being, sent shivers up her spine. It stretched the limits of comprehension and filled Eva’s very soul with an innate sense of wrongness. Void illimitable and so thorough that should her conscious thought vanish, so too might reality itself.
The longer she thought about such things at once, the greater the horror upon snapping back to conscious thought.
Shaking her head, Eva found herself with a layer of uncanny sweat formed on her skin. Again, she was falling prey to her own wandering mind.
That instant blank of her mind when she considered Void was so close to nothing that she couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the reason for Void being named as such.
With regard to all that, thinking of Void as a galaxy solved so many problems.
A galaxy was relatable. Imaginable. Though she had never objectively seen a galaxy with her own eyes–Eva barely glanced up at stars in the night sky–she had seen a number of pictures and drawings. Most of those came from her time in regular public schooling prior to enrolling at Brakket Academy.
Considering the immense size of galaxies and the empty space between might boggle the mind. However, boggle was a far cry from the existential blank of her deeper thoughts regarding Void. She would much prefer a little boggling.
Regardless of how Void would end up manifesting within the mortal plane, Eva held no doubts that it would be anything short of apocalyptic.
Even assuming that Void could enter the mortal plane in a benign manner, the demons that would undoubtedly come along with Him would likely be hostile towards most of humanity.
Those that wouldn’t be hostile to all humans, herself, Ylva, Arachne, and any others, wouldn’t do humanity many favors. Any war between demons fought on Earth would likely destroy it.
And Eva hadn’t the slightest clue as to how she could stop either a war or Void entering the mortal plane. Zagan seemed at a loss. He was back to teaching his combat class, flippant as always.
Far from what she had expected of the Devil. She had expected him to run off and find out who or what was doing the actual Void-to-mortal-plane thing. Then again, maybe he wanted it to happen. Just because Eva couldn’t see any benefits to having Void and all the demons roaming around Earth did not mean that Zagan felt the same.
Eva snapped her eyes open. Isaac Calvin stood at the front of the room, looking at her. Not a hostile look, nor a look of reprimand for having her eyes closed, nor even an apologetic look. Just a look.
At his side stood the ever-sultry Catherine. Unlike the good professor, Eva could feel the daggers that the succubus glared with.
Why? Who knew? Eva didn’t. Neither did she care. She hadn’t done a single thing to the succubus to warrant such a glare. Not that she could remember, at least. Eva narrowed her eyes at Catherine ever so slightly.
Taking her attention from the succubus, Eva glanced back to Isaac Calvin. “Yes? Professor?”
“Dean Turner wishes to see you in her office.” He gestured to his side, “Catherine will accompany you.”
Eva’s first reaction was to ask what the dean wanted to talk about. She quickly discarded that notion.
Anything Martina Turner had to say would likely not be something everyone in her class should hear.
Looking at the clock behind the professor’s shoulders, Eva decided to pack up her bag. There were only ten minutes left in class. Even if the dean only spoke for a few seconds, coming back to class would be a waste of time.
It wasn’t like she was participating in class anyway.
After shoveling her books into her bag, Eva stood and walked past the two empty chairs at her table.
Neither Shalise nor Juliana had been in class since November. Shalise, being still in Hell, would find it troublesome to show up. Juliana was still at her mother’s side in whatever hospital they had ended up at.
Eva wasn’t certain if the latter was going to or even wanted to return to Brakket.
On her way out, she did give a light wave to Jordan, Shelby, and Irene. Shelby returned the wave and Jordan gave a light smile. Irene, on the other hand, pressed her lips together before giving a curt nod.
Since returning to school, Eva hadn’t had much opportunity to speak with any of them. Most every moment of free time was spent back at the prison with Devon and Ylva. Lunches had been silent and awkward for the most part. No real room for discussion there.
Which wasn’t a good thing. Jordan and Shelby had been the ones to inform everyone about Zagan’s nefarious actions towards Shalise and Juliana. They had known to go talk to Ylva and had known who Zagan was.
That warranted, at the very least, asking how they knew such things.
As she walked behind Catherine, Eva made a note to corner Jordan sometime and ask him a few questions.
Politely, of course. They were friends, not enemies or anything.
Martina Turner’s office was just a quick jaunt down the hallway. During their walk, Catherine never once spoke a word. She didn’t turn around. She barely even sauntered.
If Eva had to guess, the succubus was depressed. And angry. More angry than depressed, in fact. As they walked, Eva’s mind drifted back to that glare. She still hadn’t puzzled out what it had meant, but perhaps Catherine was just angry enough at Eva to withhold her seductive wiles.
More of a punishment for the succubus than for Eva, if she was honest with herself. As expected of a member of the succubi race, Catherine had an almost objectively perfect body. Eva just found herself objectively uninterested.
Catherine paused at her desk. She leaned over–unseductively–and hit a button on her phone.
Half a moment later, Martina’s voice crackled through the speaker. “Yes?”
“Don’t just stand out there, bring her in!” There was a loud crash on the other end of the line just before the little red light blinked off.
Eva caught a ghost of a smile cross Catherine’s face as she moved over towards the door.
Martina sat behind her desk. Her elbows were resting on her desk while her fingers were steepled beneath her nose. On either side behind her were the two black-coated security personnel.
Lucy smiled and waved. She snapped back to attention after earning a glare from her compatriot. He–Eva couldn’t remember his name–rolled his eyes and faced forward.
Eva might feel comforted at the idea that Lucy found her presence enjoyable. Unfortunately, she had little doubt that the demon was at least partially unstable. She would kill Eva with that same smile on her face at the first request from Martina Turner.
Long ago, there was a time where Eva frequently found herself scared of Arachne. Probably owing to the circumstances surrounding their initial meeting. Even nowadays, Eva occasionally grew nervous in Arachne’s presence. Especially since returning from Hell.
How could Martina Turner, a perfectly normal human, stand having two demons standing at her back? One constantly made low gurgling noises while the other eyed everything in the room as if deciding in which order he would destroy everything.
Then there was Catherine. While less likely to outright murder everyone simply on account of her being a succubus, Eva knew that the secretary did not like her master.
But then, Martina might not be mentally stable either. Not entirely, at least. She did keep constant company with Zagan. If even half of Devon’s complaints about the devil were true, it was almost a miracle that Martina hadn’t already been killed.
Eva stood around as Catherine came into the room, closing the door behind her. For a good minute, no one said anything. Martina merely eyed her from behind her hands, the morail stared off at some ceiling tile, and Lucy bounced on her heels. Catherine pulled out a smartphone and started tapping away.
Remembering the dean’s earlier power plays with Ylva, Eva sighed. She could definitely understand why Catherine disliked the woman. Perhaps it would be possible to poach Catherine off of Martina. Eva would have to look up some information about familiar bonds, though it might all be a moot idea anyway. If Catherine didn’t like her better, there was no reason to alter the status quo.
Besides, she already had Arachne to worry about.
“Unless you’ve summoned me here to deliver reparations for Zagan’s actions towards Shalise and Juliana, I’m leaving.”
After another few seconds of silence, Eva turned on her heel and reached for the door.
“Eva,” Martina said. “You’ve heard why Zagan did what he did.”
Ignoring the woman, Eva tried the door.
Locked, of course.
Eva started building up magic for a teleportation to the prison as she turned to Martina.
“That doesn’t excuse his casual disregard for my friends.”
“And,” she continued, in a tone that suggested she was ignoring Eva’s statement, “Miss Rivas even thanked Zagan for his actions.”
Eva raised an eyebrow.
“You didn’t know that, but it’s true. I was present alongside Catherine and Governor Anderson. Even if you distrust Catherine and myself, Governor Anderson doesn’t particularly like Zagan or myself. Ask him to confirm it.”
“I will,” Eva said.
Governor Anderson had been wandering around since Eva’s return. He never once spoke to her, mostly choosing to spend his time moving from place to place with a sweeping coat. Eva would have assumed him to be a part of Martina’s demon security had Jordan not greeted him between classes one time.
“If there is nothing else you wanted?”
“Actually,” Martina said as she leaned back in her chair, “I have a certain initiative that I would like to start. Among students. Another club, if you will. Potentially a full-blown elective course for the fifth and sixth year students.”
“You’re really dancing around the subject.”
Martina pulled back her lips into a not-so-kind smile. “I would like to enlist Devon Foster and get his assistance and expertise in instructing a select group of students.”
Eva blinked. Her mind crawled through processing exactly what Martina had implied. Devon’s name wasn’t one she expected to hear. As a teacher no less.
That thought sent Eva into a short fit of giggles. She doubled over, hands clutching at her sides.
“Something the matter?”
“Just,” Eva took in a deep breath of air, “just picturing him in a room with a bunch of students.”
“And what is wrong with that?”
“You’ve clearly never met him.” Eva sighed. It had been a long time since she really laughed. The feeling was somewhat euphoric. “Devon in a room with twenty kids? Recipe for disaster. He hates kids. Including me, I’m pretty sure. And what would he be qualified to teach, summoning demons?” Eva let out a short chuckle.
Eva’s laughter died off. Martina wasn’t laughing. “You’re serious.”
Martina Turner’s face betrayed no deception.
Finally, Eva shook her head. “I misspoke earlier. He doesn’t hate kids. He thinks they’re annoying and should leave him alone to his research. What he does hate, however, are demons. He loathes the entire population of Hell.”
“He’s a man so steeped in diablery, yet hates demons?”
“Demonologist. And he loathes them. Aside from Arachne, every demon he has ever summoned, to my knowledge, has been subjected to domination.” Catherine and the morail both flinched. Lucy was too busy off in la-la land to notice. “Not to mention,” Eva said, “he would never work in such close proximity to Zagan.
“And that isn’t even getting into the fact that you want a bunch of kids to summon demons. Are you insane? A couple loose will make Sawyer look like a peaceful hippy.”
“You heard Zagan,” Martina said. “Demons may be flooding to Earth in the future. It is important now more than ever to broaden people’s horizons. To interact with demons, to know demons, and, if necessary, to fight demons. Widespread knowledge of shackles alone could save millions.”
“Starting with a few kids is the way to go then?”
“Children are the future,” Martina said, smiling as she leaned back and clasped her hands across her stomach. “What better place to start could there possibly be?”
Eva shook her head with a laugh of disbelief. “Doesn’t matter either way. I can ask him, but I guarantee that he will vehemently decline.”
“In that case, you step up and help teach your fellow students.”
“What? I know hardly anything about–”
“You don’t need to. Catherine will be the primary instructor.”
The succubus grit her teeth together loud enough for Eva to hear.
Ah, Eva thought, she isn’t angry at me, she’s just angry.
“Being a demon, Catherine is quite knowledgeable about the subject. You need to provide a human element. Perspective from a human point of view. Things that a demon wouldn’t think to consider.”
“You want me to babysit Catherine while she teaches–”
The bell signaling the end of class interrupted Eva. She let the annoying chime complete its tones before speaking again.
“Kids are stupid. You know that right? One of these idiots is going to get themselves killed. Others too.”
“The initial test group will all be properly screened for any troublesome individuals. Aside from that, you are a child. You had to have started dipping your fingers in diablery quite some time ago. While I haven’t seen any of her work personally, Zagan informed me that Juliana’s summoning circle was passable and the relative strength of the demons we have attributed to her summoning was not low.”
“And look where that has gotten us!” Eva waved one chitinous hand through the air for emphasis. “I’m barely human anymore. I don’t particularly mind, but others? I can’t speak for them. And Juliana? It was Zagan’s fault in the first place! Her mother might be bedridden for life because of demons.”
“That’s a pessimistic outlook.”
“Now you want to bring other kids into this? How long before one of them gets trapped in Hell, sharing their body with a demon?”
Eva pressed her fingers to her forehead and slowly shook her head. “You know what? I don’t even care. Because of Shalise and Juliana’s recent experiences, I’m getting worked up over a bunch of people I probably haven’t even interacted with.
“So I’ll tell you what. I’ll do it.”
“Excellent. Catherine, start–”
“Not so fast, Martina Turner. You have something I want.”
The dean narrowed her eyes. “What would that be, Eva Spencer?”
Clenching her jaw, Eva folded her arms. “Zagan.”
Catherine whipped her head over and spoke for the first time since entering the room. Her face twisted into a look of disgust. “You want Zagan?”
Eva dismissed the succubus with a wave of her hand. “Not in whatever manner is floating through your mind. Order Zagan to get Shalise out of Hell. Order Zagan to fix Juliana’s mother. Do that and I’ll teach your stupid class.”
A silence settled over the office, broken only by a light gurgling from Lucy’s corner of the room.
The silence gave way to a deep chuckle from behind Eva.
Eva narrowed her eyes. She did not turn around. A circulatory system matching Zagan’s had appeared behind her immediately before the chuckle.
“So demanding, my little embryonic one. What has you all fired up?”
“Can you do it or not?” she demanded. He hadn’t even been here to hear, but Eva had no doubts that he had heard.
“Oh I can. With hardly any effort on my part as well.” A hand clapped down on Eva’s shoulder. “Can is a far cry from will.”
Eva steeled herself. She wasn’t about to let Devon’s rhetoric dictate a fear of Zagan. Like most demons in Eva’s experience, Zagan liked politeness. He hadn’t hurt her, directly at least.
Except that one time when they first met. He had pulled her arms off. But he fixed them right away, so did it still count?
“You see, you must ask yourself one question. Does what I offer meet the worth of what I am asking?” He let out a snort, filling the air with the rancid odor of sulfur. “I don’t know that a little teaching position is worth all that much. You know what I mean, yeah?”
“And what, Zagan, would be worth it?”
“That, little one,” he said in a mocking tone of voice, “is something you will have to find out for yourself. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to think it over while you keep dear Catherine out of trouble.”
Catherine let out a sharp scoff, but otherwise remained silent.
Eva ceased speaking as well. Her own teeth were grinding about as hard as Catherine’s had been. Zagan implying that she would accept irked her, but also gave some hope that he might actually help.
The real question was just what Zagan might consider valuable enough to help her friends.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen. I’ll sit in on the stupid class, but don’t come crying to me when the school is set aflame.”
“Excellent,” Zagan said as he clapped her on the back. “I knew we could count on you.”
Eva clenched her fists as Zagan moved up towards Martina’s desk. After a single calming breath, she relaxed. Much better than Catherine was doing, Eva noted out of the corner of her eye. The lesser succubus was actually shaking in rage.
“Zagan,” Eva said, “are you doing anything to stop Hell from being brought into the world?”
He paused his movements, glancing back over his shoulder, he said, “no. Not a thing.”
“You want it to happen.”
“I think,” he said slowly, “that it would be a bad thing–”
A vice grip clamped down on Eva’s jaw. Zagan’s fingers clenched to the point where Eva could feel the strain in her bones.
“Don’t interrupt me, Eva. I do not appreciate it.”
He held on for another moment until Eva managed a slight nod of her head. When he pulled away, his fingers stuck to the thin layer of perspiration on her skin. It took a conscious force of effort to avoid rubbing her face. There would definitely be a mark there in the morning.
Unless, Eva considered, I can make the marks go away with blood magic. Redness and bruises were both caused by blood beneath the skin. It should be possible to clear it out.
But not at the moment. Eva remained silent as she waited for Zagan to continue speaking.
“It would be a bad thing. Void being in the mortal realm would open Him up to attacks. Make Him vulnerable. Potentially to the point of destruction. The why,” he said, narrowing his golden eyes, “is simply because it is something that has never happened before.
“If it comes down to a battle for survival, I will fight. And I will win. Because that is simply what I do. Anything else will be interesting to watch.”
Eva waited for a moment extra, just to ensure that he had finished speaking. “Because you’re bored?”
“A very good reason to do things,” Zagan snapped. “Finding ways to pass the time without boring myself to death is a much better reason to do something than most mortals have for committing atrocities.”
“If someone were to try to stop it,” Eva said, “would you stop them?”
“You? You mean?” He laughed. Both of the demons behind Martina hedged away from his rumbling bass tones. Martina herself managed to remain steady, though she did glance over at him with narrowed eyes. “Not even I know what is causing it nor how to stop it. Some massive ritual, I presume. Granted, I’m not actively looking. If someone were to try to stop it?” He shrugged. “It wouldn’t be any fun if I intervened too much. In the meantime, Catherine, fetch me a bucket of popcorn!”
The succubus jumped at being addressed. The surprise on her face quickly turned to a scowl. She opened her mouth for just a moment before snapping it shut. She turned and walked out of the room, apparently having decided that Zagan was serious.
Eva turned back to the rest of the room. She decided that she didn’t have much to say to them either. Martina Turner would pull her out of class at some point, presumably, for more details about the nonsense with diablery class.
With a quick thought, her built up magic discharged and swept Eva from the room.
A high-pitched scream filled Eva’s ears. No matter how much she tried to ignore it, it pierced her like a needle to the brain. Burning heat tore her flesh from her bones as she flew through a tunnel of viscera.
The agony induced by her method of teleportation was half as intense as it used to be. This time in the previous year, all flesh was seared off in the heat. Even her bones had turned black and charred.
Now, however, most of her bones were already black. A shiny sheen covered them in a manner similar to her carapace, rather than the charcoal-esque burning and cracking of her bones even a year ago. Even some of her muscles managed to weather the storm–especially those near Arachne’s limbs which were unaffected by the process entirely.
The heat didn’t touch her eyes either. Something Eva was extremely grateful for. She had had enough eye horror in the last few years to last a lifetime.
When her women’s ward gate spat her out, she still stumbled, gasping for breath. It wasn’t as bad, but the pain was still there. She had thought she might build up a tolerance for it, but every time she teleported, it felt exactly the same.
She needed more treatments.
Grasping at the water bottle she had started keeping inside the gate room, Eva uncapped it and took a long drink, moistening her sore throat. She tossed the empty plastic into a small trash bin without a second glance as she made her way into the common room.
Without pomp or circumstance, Eva flopped over on her couch. She needed to get to Devon and tell him about the dean’s plan. At this point, she wasn’t sure whether he would burst out laughing or start swearing up a storm at Martina’s idiocy. Probably some combination of the two.
Arachne could be told as well. But that could probably wait.
No, it could definitely wait.
Using as few muscles as possible, Eva stretched a hand under the couch and pulled out her current research project.
The Arte of Bloode Magicks