Zoe came out of between.
Taking a step forward, Zoe heard the light slap of her shoes in a shallow puddle. Her eyes widened in horror and shock as she noticed the pool of red coating the surface of the floor.
The Gate Room, as Eva called it, was the designated entryway for all arriving teleports. There weren’t all that many people cleared to just show up inside the women’s ward. At least none that would find the experience pleasant–Eva’s wards weren’t the kind one wanted to stumble across. It basically amounted to just herself, Eva, and Wayne.
Because of the limited amount of people who used the room, Zoe immediately thought of Eva. Something had happened to the girl, again, and she just barely scraped out of it alive, again.
A more rational section of Zoe’s mind reminded her that Eva’s blood was black, or close enough that this pool of blood couldn’t be hers.
Wayne then? His meeting should have finished during the previous hour. But had he been injured, he wouldn’t have come here. He would have gone to one of the school nurses or a real hospital. Judging by the amount of blood, he had better have gone to a real hospital. That was not a trivial amount.
A small shudder ran through Zoe’s back. Wayne might have come here first if it was something related to demons.
Zoe slammed open the door and strode out of the room, not even bothering to wipe her feet on the mat–it was already soaked to the core with blood. As she moved, she fished her cellphone out of her pocket and took a moment to shoot off a quick message to Wayne.
Blood in the women’s ward teleport gate. Yours? Know anything?
Two sets of bloody footprints led through the common room and out the exit. Both were of the distinctive, almost skeletal imprints left by Arachne’s feet. One set was slightly smaller than the other, matching Eva’s size.
Zoe followed them in a run. They tapered off a few feet outside of the women’s ward, but that didn’t matter. There were only two real destinations outside of the women’s ward and Zoe couldn’t see a reason to head towards Devon’s building.
Unless all the blood was from him.
A faint buzz in her hand pulled her out of her thoughts and back towards her cellphone.
Not mine. Emergency?
Zoe’s thumb hesitated on the touch pad. Was it an emergency? Possibly. That amount of blood would certainly mean that there was an emergency for someone.
Maybe. Looking for source. Will be inside Ylva’s domain/no cell shortly.
Shaking her head, Zoe decided to press on towards Ylva’s domain. If nothing else, Nel could point her in the right direction.
She didn’t get another reply before her signal dropped to zero. Inside Ylva’s domain, Zoe was surprised to find the main room entirely empty. The throne lay bare and neither Alicia nor Nel hung off its sides.
Zoe almost started off towards the augur room, the location where Nel would most likely have been. She stopped as some movement caught her eye.
The augur in question paced back and forth outside one of the archways. Her pallor was sickly and her hands rubbed one another constantly as she mumbled something to herself.
“What happened?” Zoe called out as she ran over to the archway.
Nel froze in her pacing, back towards Zoe. She turned slowly. Opening her mouth, Nel started to speak.
“It’s already been an hour?”
Nel’s mouth snapped shut as both women turned to the new voice.
Eva stood in the doorway, slightly hunched over with all of her weight on one foot. Arachne stood at her side, offering support with one arm around Eva’s shoulders.
Both were coated in a decent amount of red blood.
Ignoring the demon for the moment, Zoe focused on her student.
A portion of Eva’s shirt had burned away. Zoe immediately recognized the marks on her skin. The tree branch-like pattern marring her thigh and waist was all too familiar to anyone who used lightning. The gaping hole filled with what appeared to be black rods at the center of the lightning mark was slightly less familiar.
Eva moved her hand up, slightly covering the hole. That only served to draw Zoe’s attention to the girl’s arm. A bracelet of lightning marks wrapped around her chitin plates. The marks went up towards her elbow, turning bright red as they crossed over from carapace to skin.
“What happened?” Zoe repeated, this time to Eva.
“Met an old friend. You remember Sister Cross.”
Zoe blinked. Of course she remembered. But… “She did this to you?” Zoe gestured towards where Eva had covered her hip.
“Tried to do more. I’m mostly certain that she was going to kill me until I threatened her with Shalise.”
“She did attack me first,” Eva said, indignant. “Viciously and maniacally, I should add. She’s lucky I didn’t kill her. Twice. Though the second time would have been accidentally.”
“Accidentally? The blood?”
“All hers. I kind of forgot about my wards when teleporting her here. And the teleport wasn’t pleasant on its own,” Eva said, glancing down at herself with a sigh. “Yet another shirt I’ve ruined.”
Zoe winced. She hadn’t forgotten Genoa’s screams when she had first arrived at the prison. “Is she alright?”
“Alright enough. She’s been stuffed full of potions. Apparently she has a method of healing herself as well, though I don’t know if it will work in Ylva’s prison. I couldn’t get more than two words out of her mouth before she started shouting at me.”
Enhancing her hearing, Zoe shut her eyes to listen to the room beyond. Apart from slightly laborious breathing, there wasn’t a peep. “Seems quiet now.”
Zoe stood there as she considered how to react. She couldn’t be sure without meeting the nun in person, but the woman known as Sister Cross had always struck Zoe as being a level-headed person during her brief tenure as self-proclaimed protector of Brakket City. Even during the fight with Zagan, she had radiated a certain calm aura up until the last few minutes when her powers failed her.
‘Viciously and maniacally’ attacking Eva didn’t sound like her style.
Eva reacted first. “Postponing our meeting might be for the best,” she said with a wince on her face. “I’m going to miss my other appointments for the day as well. Need to get some medical attention for myself, though I’m not sure what.”
Zoe shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Right, of course. I–”
“You’re just going to leave her here? Alone?” Nel said in a high-pitched shriek.
“She’s in Ylva’s prison,” Eva said, already limping by with the aid of Arachne. “It’s probably the safest place for her to be for you. And if you’re that scared, I’m sure one of these rooms has a good hiding place you can cower in until Ylva gets back. Besides, I’ll be back after I see to myself. Have to make sure she doesn’t bleed out or anything stupid.”
Nel’s sputtering response went ignored by Zoe. Torn between making sure herself that Sister Cross was okay and ensuring that her student was okay, Zoe decided on keeping near her student.
“Are you going to see a nurse?”
“Not really considering it. As much as half of everyone knows already, I’d still like to keep my exact physiology a secret from the rest.”
“Laura Post knows what you are, so you wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
“I don’t know what she would do for me,” Eva said.
“She could examine you, tell you exactly what is wrong, administer potions.”
“Potions are having less and less effect on me as time goes by. Maybe Wayne can invent some demon-compliant potions that do work–maybe there would even be a market for such a thing in the near future.”
“Don’t joke about that.”
Sighing at Eva’s callous shrug, Zoe pursed her lips together. Her pressed lips twisted into a frown as Eva’s words reminded her of the despicable experiments carried out by Devon Foster.
“We’ve never talked about your… condition,” Zoe hedged. While the topic might be interesting, from a purely theoretical point of view, Zoe couldn’t be sure she wanted to discuss the subject of what amounted to child exploitation.
Eva paused. The arm Arachne had around her shoulder squeezed tighter for a bare moment.
“I don’t know what there is to talk about. I agreed to it and I have no intention of stopping now. In fact, it might be more dangerous to stop.”
“That’s…” Zoe bit her lip. “I just want to make sure you weren’t being coerced into something. That you’re alright.”
“I,” Arachne said, voice hard, “will ensure Eva’s well-being. Nothing will bring her harm. This topic is outside your expertise, professor.” The last word came out with venom.
Not literal venom–Zoe wasn’t entirely sure whether or not Arachne was venomous–but metaphorical, verbal venom.
She contained far more ire in that single word than any Zoe had heard her speak in the past. Granted, Arachne didn’t often address Zoe. Especially in the recent months. In fact, this could be the first she had heard Arachne speak at all since the incident involving Genoa.
“Do you get this involved in the personal lives of all of your students?”
Zoe blinked at Arachne’s question, slightly taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“Or is it just that she makes for a fascinating research subject? You and Devon might have a lot in common if you looked past your foolish sense of self-righteousness.”
“Arachne,” Eva said, silencing the demon.
“Excuse me,” Zoe said. “No student I have ever had has found themselves in as much trouble as Eva so frequently attracts. Nor am I likely to instruct such a troublemaker–trouble finder,” Zoe corrected at a glare from Eva, “again. Very few children find themselves at the unpleasant end of necromancers and the Elysium Order.”
Eva snorted and mumbled under her breath. “You’re going to have a whole lot more troublemakers if Martina is still the dean in a year’s time.”
Zoe narrowed her eyes in Eva’s direction. The only reason she caught that little tidbit was because of mildly enhanced hearing. “What do you mean by that?”
“You know of her little specialty class, right?”
Shaking her head, Zoe answered, “I do not.”
“Ah, maybe I’ll invite you one of these days.”
Before Zoe could question what she was talking about, Eva continued speaking.
“To answer your original question, no. I’m not going to go find a nurse or a hospital. I’ll fix myself up myself, even if I have to remake my entire side out of molded blood. Though it would be nice if I could regenerate on Arachne’s level… The whole demon transforming thing could at least have that as a payoff.”
Zoe frowned but said nothing. Despite it being her suggestion, she didn’t know what a medical professional could do for Eva. Especially with how uncooperative she would likely be. Slathering on bone regenerating potions might actually do more harm than good, given her hip injury was right where skin met carapace.
“Actually,” Eva said, looking up at Zoe, “could you go back to where we fought? Sister Cross hit me pretty hard,” Eva said, once again gesturing towards her hip. “Between Nel, Sawyer, and my own blood ritual experiments, I’ve been somewhat conscious of leaving pieces of myself around. If you could grab Wayne and have him burn down a section–”
Eva froze, voice catching in her throat. Her eyes grew wide.
For a moment, Zoe was worried that something happened. Heart failure or some other sudden illness. She reached forwards, placing a hand on the young girl’s shoulder.
“Um, if there is even a forest left. Sister Cross might have set a good chunk of it on fire and I might have forgotten until just now.”
Zoe blinked. “She attacked right after the spar?”
“Put up anti-banishment wards, probably while we fought, which have the unfortunate side-effect of breaking my teleportation.”
There hadn’t been a hint of that anywhere. Even with all her enhanced senses on, Zoe hadn’t so much as suspected that someone else had been in the area. And she knew that Eva had a method of sensing any living person within quite a range around her.
“How did we miss her?” Zoe asked, dumbfounded.
Eva shrugged. “I was focused on fighting you. You were as well. Don’t forget that Sister Cross can teleport; it wouldn’t be difficult to stay on the edge of our senses with that. But maybe worry about the fire first?”
“Right,” Zoe said. She swung open the heavy entrance to Ylva’s domain and let Eva head off towards the women’s ward.
As soon as her phone found a signal, it started vibrating like crazy. Six missed messages from Wayne. All despite having told him she was entering Ylva’s domain. After skimming through them, she sent out her responses.
No immediate emergency.
Sister Cross attacked Eva, wound up injured instead.
May need help w/fire. Investigating. Will send location if assistance needed.
Messages on their way, Zoe pulled out her dagger and allowed the world to fall to between.
— — —
Irene lay back in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She traced out a wide circle in the air with her finger.
As far as she understood, shackles were the single most important aspect of dealing with demons. Some might say that summoning circles were the most important, but Irene had already disregarded those ideas–and half of her classmates–as idiots. Sure, there might not be a demon without a summoning circle, but without the shackles, there was no protection. Shackles were the things that kept a summoner alive.
Really, it was some fascinating magic from a purely analytical point of view. Very similar to some of the stuff she had already decided she wanted to do for a profession. Irene had already signed up for enchanting and warding for next year’s electives. Shackles were very much a sort of written ward.
As the book explained, it was technically possible to wave a wand and erect shackles purely through magic. Unfortunately, all but the weakest of demons would break through a magic-based ward almost instantly. Being highly magical creatures, demons required their shackles to be set in stone–so to speak.
Drawing the patterns out in the air didn’t do much for practice however. She really needed to draw it out on a paper to see how it all came together. The boundary, sigils to strengthen the boundary, demonic magic suppressants, thaumaturgical magic wards, and so on and so forth, they all were far too complex to wave about in the air.
But that wasn’t something Irene could do. While drawing on a piece of paper wouldn’t violate any terms of her contract, Shelby would be sure to have questions about what she was doing. Shackles and summoning circles looked like rituals–and they were in a certain sense–but rituals weren’t something Irene had ever expressed much interest in.
Jordan would probably recognize demonic shackles right out.
Irene was already struggling to explain her two-hour twice-a-week absences without violating any of the contract. The terminology was uncomfortably strict about describing any aspect of the class. A good portion of the others didn’t look like the types of people who had many friends, so it probably wasn’t such a big deal for them.
So far, ‘reconnecting with Eva’ had worked out well enough. And Eva was actually present, if as a teacher, so it was mostly true.
Irene let her arm flop to her side. The pointless exercise was little more than a time sink until it was time to go. She had already finished her homework for all of her regular classes, but they could always use more studying. Especially the practical side of things, given end of the year exams were a scant few months away.
But there wasn’t time for that now. The classroom doors locked on the hour. Though it wasn’t something she had really decided she wanted to pursue, if she wasn’t there on time, she would fall behind. Irene worked her hardest to keep up in everything no matter what it was.
Halfway out of bed, Irene paused. A jolt of panic sent her almost flying out of bed.
Are there going to be end of the year exams in demon summoning?
There was no room in her schedule for studying for yet another final. If it had an exam, she’d have to reorganize everything. She needed to ask Catherine or Eva as soon as she could.
Irene swung open her dormitory. In her haste, she almost ran face-first into Jordan’s raised fist.
He took a step back, blinking in surprise. “I didn’t even get to knock,” he said, moving his raised hand to brush back a lock of hair.
“Sorry,” Irene mumbled, averting her eyes to one side to avoid looking him in the eye. If there was one thing diablery class was good at, it was making her feel guilty. “I was just on my way to find Eva. Did you need something?”
“Thought you were afraid of Eva,” Jordan said, leaning against the door frame with a joking smile. “Or Arachne, at least. You’ve sure been spending a lot of time with them lately despite that.”
“I’m not afraid of them.” Irene stamped her foot down. “I just… didn’t understand.”
“Well, she did at least help to save me during that thing,” Irene shuddered slightly at the memory. “I figured I should give her the time of day once in a while. Turns out, we actually have a lot in common.”
That was lying through her teeth.
Crossing her arms, Irene glared at Jordan. “What’s it to you, anyway?”
“Nothing,” he said, holding up a hand. “But speaking of changes, have you seen Shelby around?”
“Not in the last hour or two. I think she has been getting extra tutoring from Professor Carr. Why?”
“It used to be that I could speak at all kinds of odd hours during the day, and she, being always at my side, would hear. That’s not the case so much anymore.”
“Aww,” Irene mock cooed. “You miss my sister?”
This time it was Jordan’s turn to avert his eyes as a light blush surfaced on his cheeks. “I wouldn’t put it in those exact words.”
“I’m sure she would be delighted to hear it.” Irene shuffled past Jordan, shutting the door to her dorm room behind her. “But you’ll have to tell her in person when you next see her. As I said, I’ve a meeting with Eva to get to.”
“Ah, of course,” he said, suddenly looking downtrodden as he stepped aside.
To Irene’s great chagrin, Jordan did not decide to wander off. He ran up alongside Irene and kept pace.
Irene chose to ignore him as much as possible in hopes that he might head off and find something else to do. Something that wasn’t following her all the way to a classroom he couldn’t enter without causing a lot of trouble.
Her efforts were all for naught. Jordan stuck by her side.
Irene was going over excuses to leave him in her head, but wasn’t coming up with anything halfway decent. By the time they hit the ground floor, he was still at her side.
“So, going to be doing anything fun?”
Irene jolted at the sudden attention. Entirely misplaced guilt was making her nervous. There was absolutely no reason to feel like she was doing anything wrong. If anything, he should be the one feeling awkward because of his own dalliances in less than savory magic.
It didn’t help that she was absolutely forbidden from mentioning anything real, despite the fact that Jordan was probably the one person she should be talking with. Or at least, the one person who wouldn’t judge her.
“Nothing,” Irene said, feeling as lame as her one word response.
“Nothing huh?” Jordan allowed a coy smile to slip onto his lips. “No visits to the hot springs in the nude?”
Fire burned in Irene’s cheeks as she whipped her head around to her insolent friend. “Of course not. Nothing means nothing.”
“Hmm? Well,” he cocked his head from one side to the other, “I just worry that you might be being forced into doing things you don’t want to. You’ve had fairly vocal ahh… arguments against her in the past.”
Irene fell silent. He wasn’t exactly wrong.
Though it had been Catherine who dragged her into this, rather than Eva.
In the end, Irene had been the one to read and sign the contract. Nothing had forced her into that.
“No,” Irene eventually answered. “I’m doing this because I want to do this.”
Jordan hummed again, capping it with a small sigh. “And this thing that you want to do is nothing?”
“It is,” Irene said, keeping her voice firm. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Jordan waved her off, stopping just inside the dormitory entryway. “Just don’t become a stranger.”
“I’ll try not to.” With a small smile, Irene waved a farewell.
It was a quick trip to the main school building and, from there, a quicker trip to the class room.
Irene slipped inside and took her usual seat. A good half of the class was already in the room thanks to her dawdling with Jordan. Questioning Catherine about end of year exams would have to wait.
The rest of the class filed in shortly after Irene arrived.Only when the door’s lock clicked did Irene notice that Eva was nowhere in sight.
“Leaving me alone with a bunch of degenerate mortals?” Catherine said, loud and clear despite clearly speaking about Irene and the rest of the students. “I’ll feed Eva to hellhounds.”
The irritation on the professor’s face vanished as soon as she finished speaking. It was replaced by thoughtfulness.
A scary look on the succubus.
“Or perhaps,” Catherine said, flashing her teeth in a wide smile, “today’s lesson can be a bit more fun than usual.”