“How exactly are these students being screened?”
Without so much as glancing up from tapping away at her cellphone, Catherine shrugged. “That’s up to your governor.”
“That’s the one.”
Eva leaned back in her chair, balancing it on two legs as she rested her feet on a neighboring seat. For a few moments, she just stared at the ceiling tiles.
They weren’t very interesting.
It had never stood out much to Eva, but Brakket was dull. Aside from the Infinite Courtyard, there was very little magic to be had in the school itself. The building itself wasn’t all that different from her old middle school building. Larger, sure, but otherwise as mundane as any other building.
There were other magical schools around America. Even more across the seas. Nobody, students or teachers, ever talked about them. Were they fancy ancient castles with moving staircases or were they just regular school buildings? Maybe they taught things in radically different manners. Or had completely different schools of magic.
Thanks to her magical history class, Eva knew that thaumaturgy was the most widely used form of magic. Part of that had to do with how neutral it was. Thaumaturgy didn’t require any reagents from humans; potions sometimes needed human parts, but not often. There were no morally questionable sacrifices needed to access the magic–Eva doubted blood magic would ever be taught at any regular academy for that reason alone.
Were there ‘underground’ academies that taught less reputable types of magic?
That might be worth looking into. Eva didn’t think she would arrange for a transfer; Brakket Academy was doing a perfectly adequate job of teaching what she wanted to know. Between Devon and her collection of books, including those she had stolen from the necromancers, Eva had plenty of material to go over on her own.
However, it might be interesting to visit a school that taught about demons.
Assuming such ‘underground’ schools existed, how was she supposed to find them? It was doubtful that they would be listed in some public directory. Actually, how did they get students in the first place? Kids probably had to know a person who went to one and get a recommendation from them. Or were children of people who went to one.
Of course, the idea that these rogue schools existed was purely hypothetical. These schools needed to exist in order to be visited.
Then again, she might be witnessing the birth of an ‘underground’ academy in Brakket. Demons were certainly not a reputable species. While Eva was of the opinion that they received a lot of unwarranted bad press, she would be the first to admit that demons tended to be a little out of touch with values that humans generally held in high regard.
Eva dropped her chair back to resting fully on the ground. The clock in the room so-helpfully reminded her that there were still ten minutes before their little class would start. She really should have brought along a book to read.
Catherine was still tapping away at her phone, doing her best to ignore Eva’s presence.
“So,” Eva said, engaging the succubus in conversation anyway, “I admit, I didn’t grow up in a proper magical household where I might have learned these things. What is Alexander Anderson a governor of? The school board? The state?”
“Don’t know,” she said without looking up. “I can’t say I know many demons interested in mortal politics.”
Catherine’s phone chose that moment to emit a shrill noise. The succubus cut it off with another tap of her thumb. With a sigh, she dropped her phone into the back pocket of her all-too-tight jeans.
“He is backing Martina on all this teaching diablery nonsense,” Catherine said, eyes narrowing at the clock on the wall. “You know that they’re using you, right? ‘Acclimatizing’ demons or humans because of the impending Void situation was an excuse. This farce has been planned long before they knew about Void being pulled to this plane.”
Eva looked over the succubus with a frown. She hadn’t actually known that last bit. “Why do they want kids learning how to summon demons?”
“Maybe they think demons are poor misunderstood creatures not deserving of their fate in Hell.” As she spoke, Catherine rolled her eyes. “Ultimately, I, again, don’t know and don’t care. I have a nice job at the moment. No real fighting and lots of spare time to occupy myself with all the oddities of the mortal realm. I’d rather not question those above me too much and risk losing it all.”
“Then why warn me off by saying that they’re using me?”
“You quitting would annoy Martina. Annoying Martina is a far cry from digging my nose deep into their business and something that I try to do at every opportunity.”
Eva had the distinct impression that not many people, or demons for that matter, were all that fond of Martina Turner. Wayne and Zoe hated her for the simple reason that she brought Zagan into the school. Catherine hated her for whatever reason. Martina had managed to offend Ylva at their first meeting and, judging by that same meeting, Zagan wasn’t all that fond of her himself.
Really, it was amazing that she was even alive with how many powerful people disliked her.
“Most of all,” Catherine continued, “you quitting might delay this annoyance. It is going to eat up a great deal of my spare time as it is.
“Frankly, I don’t know what they expect us to do in the first place. I can’t summon demons without potentially being tossed into the Keeper’s hands and I’m betting you can’t either.”
Eva opened her mouth to protest, but her voice died in her throat. She tried to think back to the last demons she had summoned. It took some effort. First she thought it was Ivonis, the haunter she had used to retrieve Devon from wherever he had holed up. Then she remembered Ylva.
It felt strange. Like Ylva had always been around in some form or another. The truth was that Eva had summoned her back when she had a book in need of destruction. That was before she had even lost her eyes. A year and a couple of months at this point.
Devon had performed five treatments on her since then. Her blood had grown blacker. While she was in Hell, Ylva had refused to allow Eva back into her domain simply to prevent any accidental crossings into the mortal plane from Hell. Eva had to use her beacon to return to Earth.
My beacon, Eva realized, needs to be replaced. Zoe would probably accept one. And it would be a good idea to visit Shalise sometime soon.
But the point about the Keeper stood. For all Eva knew, she was too far over the line to summon a demon herself.
“So what are we teaching this class for?” Eva asked, aghast. She had far better things to do with her time than waste it all on sitting around twiddling her thumbs.
Catherine pressed her lush lips together in a sneer. “I believe our job was more supervision than actual teaching. That’s why we have books with all the diagrams needed.”
“That’s slightly more reasonable,” Eva said. “I can’t believe they’re making a student supervise this class. Couldn’t they spare one regular human?”
“I believe that was the point in asking for Devon Foster. Though after Zagan–” she said his name with undisguised venom “–foisted his responsibility off on me, he actually suggested you by name.”
“This was supposed to be his job then?”
Catherine’s eyes briefly lost their glamor, reverting to their natural red.
That answered Eva’s question adequately enough for her. “Still,” Eva said after a short pause, “I’m more of a haemomancer than any sort of diabolist.”
“Unfortunately, the only two summoners that I know of, aside from you and your mentor, are Martina and the governor. Both consider themselves far too busy for such a menial task.”
Eva shook her head. Again, she was having bad feelings about this whole thing. She had told Martina that it was a disaster waiting to happen. That was only enhanced by the realization that she couldn’t actually do much herself. Not to mention that the students would be drawing shackles. Shackles would definitely be dangerous for Catherine to accidentally step over and probably for Eva as well. She actually hadn’t tested in a long while.
“So we just stand around and wait for something to go wrong?”
“Between the two of us, we should be able to clean up any of the mortals’ accidents.”
Under her breath, Eva muttered, “now I’m reconsidering whether or not I should have told Arachne.”
The moment she finished speaking, the door to the classroom creaked open. Eva got her first look at one of the students she was expected to supervise.
And immediately groaned.
Eva didn’t recognize his face, but his circulatory system stood out to her. Currently walking through the door was that kid that tried to trip her at Zoe’s lecture after Eva lost her eyes. The kid that refused to fight her properly in Isaac Calvin’s fight club.
Something Burnside. For the life of her, Eva couldn’t remember his first name. Thinking harder, Eva wasn’t certain she had ever heard it. Zoe had always called him ‘Mr. Burnside’ and nothing else.
Mr. Burnside paused in the doorway as his eyes met Eva. There was a brief pause in both their actions.
Part of Eva wanted to send him away immediately. He didn’t respect her and she didn’t respect him back. Trusting him to listen to directions and to summon demons was going to make this project even more of a disaster than it already was.
On the other hand, if he stayed then he would start summoning demons. Eva might accidentally be slightly too slow to save him from being eaten by some nasty demon.
It probably wouldn’t come to that… probably. In the end, Eva decided to ignore him. Catherine could be in charge of that little nuisance.
Burnside came to his own decision. Averting his eyes from Eva, he went and took a seat in the farthest corner of the room.
A broad-shouldered man arrived next. He immediately moved up to the closest seat in the room, giving Eva and Catherine both an appraising look as he moved.
There was a large empty space between the first row of desks and the desk at which Catherine and Eva sat. Plenty of space for these budding diabolists to draw out whatever markings they needed to.
One red-headed girl, Eva noticed, was covered in scars not dissimilar to a more pronounced version Wayne’s own disfigurement from the fire in Zoe’s apartment. It took Eva a minute to realize who that was.
It was the girl who had been injured by the nuns’ white flames almost a full year ago. The one who Eva had been just slightly too slow to erect a shield around.
The scarred girl glanced around the room, eyes dipping down to Eva’s claws, but otherwise completely passing over her. She moved up and sat near a mousey, brown-haired girl who entered as she was looking. Both immediately entered into a hushed conversation.
A handful more students filed in over the course of the next few minutes. Eva barely paid attention to them. Most were older students that she had limited interactions with, if anything at all. As such, none of them particularly interested Eva.
At least not until a timid girl walked into the room, biting her lip.
Eva balked at the sight. No matter how she looked at it, this girl was far younger than any of the others in the room.
“Irene,” Eva said as she stood.
Her voice got Catherine’s attention. The succubus took her sneer off one of the students and turned to the doorway. Her sneer morphed into an almost-smile as she waved Irene over.
“What are you doing here?” Eva said to the approaching girl.
“I invited her here.”
“What?” Eva glanced between a nodding Irene and a very smug Catherine. “Why?”
“All the others get their little pets, why not me?”
Irene blinked. “Pet?”
Ignoring that tangent, Eva asked, “do you even know why you’re here?”
The brown-haired girl shook her head side to side.
“No one has been informed. Not until they sign the contract.”
Eva looked out over the students. Only one person had shown up after Irene. Counting quickly, Eva found that their class had reached thirteen people, including Irene. That should have been everyone. “None of you know why you’re here?” Eva said, raising her voice slightly.
Everyone shook their heads in silence.
“We were told to keep quiet about this meeting on the penalty of expulsion,” the mousey girl said. Several of the other students nodded in agreement. “I recognize a few students who have parents of… less than scrupulous backgrounds. So,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone, “we are here for something less than scrupulous.”
Dropping her voice’s volume once again, Eva turned over to Catherine. “Governor Anderson screened these people based on their parents?”
That fit with how Eva suspected most students got into the ‘underground’ schools. Still, she expected at least one person to have an idea about what the class was for.
“And where is he, anyway? Shouldn’t he and Martina Turner show up for the first class at the very least.”
“I believe the phrase is ‘plausible deniability.'”
“So when–and that is a when and not an if–something goes wrong, they’re going to blame us.”
“Like I said, they’re using you. Us.”
Eva shook her head with a sigh. “Look, Irene, you probably want to leave. Being–”
“And how do you know what I want?”
“You’ve complained about me before. Something about how it is ‘always me’ and I believe the word ‘freak’ was thrown in at some point.” Irene winced, but Eva continued talking. “This is going to be one of those ‘freak’ things.”
Irene took a deep breath and straightened out her back. “Will running and hiding make those things disappear?”
Eva gave a curt shake of her head. “No.”
“Then why shield me from it.” She stuck a finger in Eva’s chest. “You’re not the only one with ‘freak’ things anyway. If this is one of those things, then I want to stay and learn.” Though her eyes were wavering, Irene’s voice came out firm. That firmness washed away as uncertainty surfaced in her expression. “This is a class, right? You’re going to keep us safe, right?”
“Fine,” Eva said, ignoring the last few questions while knocking the girl’s hand away. “Stay. Go take a seat with the others.”
“You know,” Catherine said as Irene walked towards the desks, “I’m not sure if I should take some offense at that conversation. Then again, I am something of a freak.”
Eva rolled her eyes, snatching a stack of papers off the front desk.
“Alright,” she said as she walked up to the students’ desks and started placing the sheets out, “we still cannot tell you what this is about. Not until you’ve signed your name on this paper.
“This is a fae contract. For those who don’t know what that means, consider this a binding magical contract where breaking it results in enslavement to the particular fairy that wrote them up. I suggest you read through it carefully.”
Catherine groaned. “If you’re too lazy for that, it boils down this: You are not allowed to discuss anything that occurs within this classroom with anyone not currently in the classroom. Not unless you want to be a fairy slave for eternity.”
“The contract lasts until you turn eighteen, so it isn’t forever, but if you can’t handle that or think you might accidentally slip to one of your friends or parents, get out now.”
Two students immediately got to their feet.
Before they could start moving towards the door, Eva said, “be aware that just because you didn’t sign this contract does not mean that you won’t be expelled if you talk about this meeting.”
The two nodded and left the classroom without a word.
A silence descended on the assembled students as they read through the papers, much to Catherine’s chagrin. Two more students decided to drop out early after reading the contracts.
The nine students remaining all penned their name on the papers. As soon as they lifted their pens from the paper, the papers vanished with a puff of smoke. The first student let out an alarmed cry, drawing a few chuckles from the rest of the students once they realized what had happened.
Once the final paper vanished, Eva maneuvered around the desks towards the door. With a flick of her long fingers, the deadbolt slid into place. A quick channeling of her magic activated a secondary lock and some basic privacy functions.
For their little lessons, they had commandeered one of the less-used staff rooms. The door had no windows and the actual windows had heavy blinds that blocked all light.
Eva had even taken the time to set up a few of her anti-scrying runes around the room. Though Martina had provided a separate thaumaturgy-based ward system to keep any would-be eavesdroppers from eavesdropping, Eva wasn’t about to take chances.
“Alright,” Eva said as she arrived back at the front of the room. “You want to tell them or show them?”
“Show, of course,” Catherine said with a wistful sigh. She gripped the front of her barely-there shirt and tore it clean off, eliciting the expected response from the gathered students. After removing her cellphone and setting it carefully on the desk, Catherine then tore off her pants in much the same manner.
The students’ frankly deplorable behavior turned to gasps of shock as Catherine’s skin shimmered. Her skin turned pale violet and her eyes glowed in demonic red. Two leathery wings sprouted from her back along with a single spaded tail.
Running a hand from her chest to her hip, Catherine sighed in absolute contentment. Her wings stretched out, giving her a good eight foot wingspan.
“You know,” Eva said, “you could have just taken off your clothes like a normal person.”
“I have no idea how the entirety of the human race has stayed sane while wearing those portable prisons.”
“Yeah, but now I’m going to have to get you a change of clothes after class. Unless you’re planning on living out the rest of your days in this room?”
Catherine glanced down at the scraps of cloth littering the floor. She met Eva’s eyes and gave an unapologetic shrug.
Eva sighed. “Anyway,” she said to the utterly silent classroom, “Catherine, as you may have guessed, is a demon. A lesser succubus to be specific. Not as powerful or strong as regular succubi, but decidedly more human-looking and able to completely disguise herself as a human.
“Incidentally,” Eva pointed at her eyes. “My eyes were stolen from a carnivean. My hands and legs,” she lifted her skirt slightly, “were gifted to me by my dear friend Arachne.”
“Any questions?” Catherine said, sounding fully committed to playing up her seductive succubus voice. Then again, maybe that was just how she sounded while back in her normal body.
The broad-shouldered man who Eva had noted earlier raised his hand as high as it could go. Without even waiting to be called upon, he blurted out, “can we–”
“Before you ask questions,” Eva interrupted as fast as she could, “this is not sex education.” In the corner of her eye, Catherine’s lusty look twisted into one of disgust. “We are here to discuss demons and, eventually, instruct you on summoning. With that in mind, are there any questions pertaining to us or demons in general?”
Broad-shoulders slowly put his arm down.
Mousey-girl once again set herself apart by speaking up. “Your eyes and limbs come from demons? How does that work?”
“Demons typically have incredible regeneration abilities. A demon arm could regenerate fully in a week or two. Even when severed, that regeneration ability still persists, though a severed arm won’t try to grow back into a full demon.”
“Mostly,” Catherine butted in. “There are a few species that can multiply that way.”
“Mostly,” Eva repeated. “But if you place that arm next to something, say the stub of your arm…” Eva motioned to the swirls of carapace connecting her hand to her skin. “It will try its hardest to regenerate and fulfill its function. In this case the function of being a hand.”
A student with gray hair raised his arm. After Eva nodded in his direction, he said in an incredulous tone, “you chopped off your arms, legs, and eyes to get demon parts?”
Eva narrowed her red eyes in that kid’s direction. He looked far too young to have the hair of an old man. “The necromancer who has been plaguing this city since two Halloweens ago kindly removed my fingers and toes, and gouged out my eyes.” She clicked her fingers against the desk. “My hands were something of an emergency treatment while my legs and eyes were far more voluntary.”
Again, broad-shoulder kid raised his arm in the air and spoke without waiting for acknowledgment. “So you can just chop off any body part and slap on a demon one instead?” he asked with a wry grin.
Eva suppressed a roll of her eyes. “I personally wouldn’t try chopping my head off, but essentially, yes. Internal organs would work as well so long as you could survive without them for about ten minutes to a half hour. But,” Eva forestalled any further questions on the topic with a raised hand, “that is getting far ahead of ourselves.
“Any questions not related to body part exchanges?”
One student with a multitude of lip and face piercings raised their hand. “You’re going to teach us to summon demons?”
“That is the current plan–”
“But,” Eva said with a slight glance towards Catherine.
“Shackles,” the succubus said, picking up on the hint admirably in Eva’s opinion. “Demons can be bound to select locations within the mortal realm. By drawing out specific patterns on the ground, you can contain most demons and their powers. These are vitally important as most demons will attempt to kill their summoner before anything else.”
“Why?” someone asked.
Eva pulled a stack of thick books out from under the teacher’s desk as Catherine answered.
“Freedom. Kill the summoner and any witnesses and the demon will be able to do as they please without any nasty contracts or restrictions. In the event that a demon does end up serving a mortal, they like to know that they’re not serving a weakling.”
“As you all read your contracts, you should already know this. It still bears repeating just so there are no accidents. These books,” Eva said as she started handing them out, “are not to leave this room. It is considered a violation of your contract and the penalty will be paid.”
The books were far thicker than any one that she owned. Probably thicker than most Devon owned. From her cursory glance through them when she first arrived in the classroom, Eva was surprised to find them set up like any regular textbook. She fully intended to borrow one and read through it.
It wasn’t like she had signed any contracts.
“If you’ll all turn to chapter one, we’ll start discussing shackles in-depth.”
Far more in-depth than any lessons Devon had given, that was for sure. While she could read far faster on her own, at least something good would come of wasting her time with this disaster.
Catherine pulled out a thick piece of chalk and swiped it around the board, leaving an almost perfect circle in its wake. “Like most drawn magic, shackles all begin with a circle…”
And thus, the lesson was underway.