Eva kicked back in her chair, flipping a page in her blood magic book. It wasn’t an extremely comfortable seat, being a simple wooden seat she had dragged over. There wasn’t any padding on it and its back was far too low.
Padding didn’t matter much. Her legs were stiff carapace and her butt had been reinforced–for lack of a better word–around where her legs met her skin. It was far from the worst chair she had ever sat in. The most uncomfortable aspect was the hole that was still in her side.
Eva had filled it completely full of blood and hardened parts to give some structure, but it didn’t come close to proper skin. Reading, at least, took her mind off the pain.
And pain had been a big deal. It hadn’t hurt quite so much in the hour following her fight. Something that Eva chalked up to adrenaline. And then there was the pain in her wrist and legs and everywhere else. She was sore. Everywhere.
Considering all of that, a more comfortable chair might have done some good. But she could push all of that away. Blood mages were no strangers to pain.
Really, the worst thing was the lighting. Ylva’s prison wasn’t a dank dungeon filled with moss and dripping water. It was, however, a far cry from a proper reading room.
Arachne forewent a chair entirely. She simply sat on the stone floor and rested against the back wall. Never once in their hour of sitting had she taken a single one of her eight red eyes off of their prisoner. In fact, she had hardly moved at all. Her stillness was almost uncanny.
Still, she was out of her room and at Eva’s side. A nice change from how it had been the last few months.
That was something she could thank Sister Cross for.
In a very silent sort of way.
Pausing in her book, Eva took a moment to look over the sleeping prisoner.
During the brief hour that Eva had taken to focus on herself and her own injuries, Sister Cross had done something prior to passing out.
Her flesh was still torn off in long strips, but the remaining skin was slowly crawling over the spots where it had been torn. Somewhat reminiscent of how Eva healed herself with blood magic, though on a much larger scale.
But it was slow. Molasses slow. It had been almost another hour since she got back from tending to herself and Sister Cross’ newly created skin was only a few hairs up her arm. At the rate she was going, it probably wouldn’t be fixed for a few weeks at best.
When Shalise had half her hand eaten by a zombie, it had taken a healer from the Elysium Order to mend it. So Eva wasn’t too surprised to find Sister Cross healing herself. The speed did surprise her.
Shalise had never gone into much detail about her own experience having her body mended. Eva had always imagined it had been some nun waving her hands with some white light for a few minutes.
Now she was starting to reconsider that. Shalise had a lot less to mend, true, but this was agonizingly slow.
It was for that reason that Eva had put a hold on her Locate And Slash Or Murder Sawyer With Blood Magic plan and pulled out a book on beneficial blood rituals. She still intended to drop Sister Cross into her domain at her earliest convenience, but dropping her on Shalise looking like she had just been through a meat grinder seemed in poor taste.
Aside from that, Eva still had a hole in her side. A painful, anti-magic hole. Neither she nor Arachne quite knew what to do about it. She had already found a few flesh mending rituals–Sister Cross could wait in pain a little longer, just as punishment for attacking Eva–but even if they could power through the lightning’s magic eating aftereffects, the rituals did not mend or regrow bone.
Frankly, Eva was quite certain that blood magic wasn’t exactly designed for bones.
Still, no harm in double checking. Well, no harm aside from what Sister Cross was feeling.
So no harm at all.
“Nel mentioned a guest.”
Eva refrained from jumping only because she had kept a mild awareness on her blood sight. Ylva had approached from behind in absolute silence and only spoke once she closed the distance to a few feet.
Closing her book, Eva stood and gave her full attention to Ylva. Eva doubted the hel would call her a friend, but she did believe that they were on thoroughly cordial terms. Still, Eva had dragged in a prisoner and used a cell without permission; no sense in taking the chance at causing further offense.
That said guest riled Ylva’s pet up just made it more important not to be brazen or offensive.
“Ylva,” Eva said with a slight nod. Gesturing towards the occupied cell, she said, “Sister Cross. Shalise’s mother.”
Stepping in front of the cell, Ylva peered inside. “The one sharing her body with a cambion,” she stated, more to herself than anything. “We see the resemblance.”
“I apologize for bringing her into your domain without asking. You were gone and I lacked the facilities to store a hostile teleporter.”
“See that it does not happen again,” Ylva said without taking her eyes off the contents of the cell.
Eva merely nodded. The words weren’t said in a harsh tone or with anger and it was a perfectly understandable request. She wouldn’t want to come home only to find an enemy sitting around her room.
“You inflicted these injuries?”
“In a manner of speaking. It was more of a teleport oversight followed by her being within my wards and not keyed in.”
Looking away from Sister Cross, Ylva asked, “We were under the impression that your blood wards were deadly.”
“She’s an Elysium Order nun. They’ve got really strong shields. It lasted long enough for me to shut off my wards.”
“Elysium Order?” Ylva turned back to the cell. “Her attire is lacking for such a station.”
A set of robes appeared within the cell, looking very similar to the red and black attire that both Nel and Alicia wore. They draped themselves over the edge of the bed.
“You have quite a collection of nuns,” Eva said, not entirely sure of Ylva’s intentions. “While I don’t exactly care if you collect this one, I don’t think she would be very happy to join up.”
“Ali did not believe she would serve Us in the beginning, yet serves Us she does.”
Eva bit her lip. “Are you… certain about that?”
Ylva glanced over with one eyebrow raised. “Your meaning?”
“I mean she appears to serve you now, but…” Eva trailed off, not entirely sure how to broach the subject. After Nel had mentioned her concerns, Eva had spent a while thinking on the subject. This wasn’t how she had planned to bring it up, but it was a convenient segue.
She gave a quick glance to Arachne only to receive a shrug in return. A lot of good you are, Eva mentally sighed.
After casting her blood sight and regular sight around to check for any hint of the former nun in question and finding no trace of her, Eva took a deep breath. “She seems unstable, to a degree. I just want to make sure she isn’t going to betray you–” or me, “–in the future.”
“We will not tolerate betrayal.”
“No,” Eva said. “Of course not.”
Eva let the topic drop. Even if Alicia tried to kill Ylva, it was doubtful that she would succeed in doing any harm. In fact, it really wasn’t any of her business. Alicia was Ylva’s servant and therefore, Ylva’s problem. She could handle it herself.
“Anyway,” Eva said, “I was planning on dropping her into my domain with Shalise after she had healed a bit. Unless you had a better idea?”
Ylva shook her head side to side. Slightly. The movement was subtle enough that Eva almost missed it. Taking her eyes off of the cell, she turned to fully face Eva. “No. We find no issue with that plan.”
“Good,” Eva said, half-surprised that Ylva hadn’t objected on the grounds of adding another servant to her collection. “I’ll keep an eye on her as much as possible until then. You don’t think there will be any issues keeping her here, do you?”
“So long as she isn’t removed from the cell, she will not be able to affect anything outside of the cell. We suggest you keep her contained.”
Eva frowned slightly, but nodded. That might put a damper on her plan to heal Sister Cross with a blood ritual. Oh well, Eva thought, not feeling vindictive in the slightest, she’ll just be in pain for a little longer.
Zoe walked into the prison before Eva could verbally respond to Ylva’s suggestion. Her normally impeccable hair had been tossed up in disarray, like it had been an extraordinarily windy day.
She walked up to them, footsteps about as heavy as her breathing. She leaned up against the wall with a small sigh. “Great,” she said to her captive audience, “I need another shower.”
“You smell pleasant.”
Zoe’s eyes flicked over to Ylva with a questioning glance. “I… um…”
“Like a campfire,” Eva offered after taking a deep breath for herself. “A very pine-woody campfire.”
“Ah,” Zoe said, confusion disappearing with a nod. “We got your little accident under control.”
“Mine? I didn’t even use fire magic.” Eva thumbed at the cell. “And I didn’t ask to be attacked either.”
“Be that as it may, you could have at least sent off a message to us earlier.” With an exasperation-filled sigh, Zoe glanced over into the cell. Immediately, she winced. “She looks… Is she going to be alright?”
“Fine enough,” Eva said. “She’s actually mending her skin on her own. Maybe I’ll toss in a few potions if she is on her best behavior.”
“Really?” Zoe said, pressing closer to the cell for a better look. After a moment of inspection and apparently not finding what she was looking for, Zoe frowned. “Are you sure?”
“It is excruciatingly slow, but yes.”
Zoe hummed for a moment before pulling away. “Alright,” she said slowly as she turned to face Eva. “Now, what exactly happened and what are we going to do about her?”
Sighing, Eva wondered if she shouldn’t just call in everyone for a quick meeting. It would save a lot on the repetition.
Unfortunately for Eva, Ylva turned her attention towards Eva as well. Resigned, she started explaining everything from the start.
It was all Eva could do to keep in her irritation when Wayne wandered in fifteen minutes later asking what had happened.
— — —
Irene’s arm trembled as she sketched out a wide circle on the floor. The chalk in her hands left a trail of excess dust from the unsteady pressure, much of which smeared under her sweaty palms. Droplets of sweat fell from her brow, landing on her chalk and further marring her circle.
“You call that a circle? Looks more like an egg.”
Pausing for a moment, Irene looked at her drawing. It looked great. She had used string attached to her chalk and the center point. Unless the school had some computerized circle drawing laser machine, it was as perfect of a circle as anyone would be getting.
In fact, glancing over some of the other groups’ summoning circles, Irene was sure that hers was by far the best even taking into account the sweat droplets and other minor errors.
Gritting her teeth, Irene shot a glare at her partner, Randal Hemwick.
He sat on top of one of the tables that had been shoved aside, lightly swinging his dangling feet as he frowned at her drawing. Apart from constant criticisms, he hadn’t offered the slightest bit of help. And his criticisms were more complaints than anything useful.
Though him not helping was mostly her fault.
“I don’t want to summon a demon with something that shoddy,” he said, brushing a hand through his light gray hair. “Couldn’t you add some flourish to some of the designs? If your circle works at all, any demons we summon would be offended at your poor craftsmanship. And you’re so slow. Look,” he pointed, “those two groups are already done.”
Following his finger, Irene frowned. Had they looked at the book more than once? Despite her not having the actual summoning part of the circle memorized, she could see plentiful errors in the shackles. And those, as she firmly believed, were by far the most important part if people wanted to stay alive.
“Go draw your own if you hate it so much,” Irene said, grumbling more to herself than for her ‘partner’ to hear.
He heard anyway. “Aww, Irene. I would, but then who would summon your demon for you?”
Irene winced before falling silent. That had been their agreement. She would draw the entire summoning array and he would do the summoning.
But when he put it like that, it made it sound like she was frightened.
She was. Still, he didn’t need to say it so loud.
Choosing to ignore him, Irene returned to drawing out the lines, curves, circles, and so on. Almost every mark she made on the floor got double-checked in the book.
The sudden shout caused Irene to jump. Her chalk went sliding across a small portion of her circle, ruining the last five minutes of work.
Sighing, she looked over to what caused the disturbance.
“If I can walk through your shackles without even trying, an imp will overpower them without breaking a sweat.” Catherine swiped her high-heeled foot through the circle on the ground, ruining perhaps the entire hour’s worth of work. “Do it again or watch another group.”
With that said, the succubus wandered off to evaluate another circle.
That was a relief at least. When Catherine had announced that today they would change the fact that this diablery class contained no diabolists, Irene had worried a lot that she was going to take up her usual routine of not supervising the students. She would feel much better had Eva shown up–Eva seemed to be far more responsible of the two, a scary thought on its own–but an active Catherine was good enough so far.
Picking up a fresh corner of her cleaning cloth, Irene set to work removing all traces of her mistake. It didn’t take long, and redrawing the affected lines as she erased sped up the process by skipping over the need to double-check in the book.
She still did, of course. But not until everything had been redrawn.
Setting down her book, Irene jumped.
Randal had slid off of the desk and was leaning uncomfortably close.
“So,” he hissed in her ear, “what would happen if we drew out a set of shackles and hid it under a mat in front of the door?”
Irene blinked. Shooting him an incredulous look, she said, “how could you not have read the book?”
It was Randal’s turn to blink. He opened his mouth to respond.
Irene talked over him. “Shackles can’t have anything but air between them and the demon. Even covering the circle with a thin sheet of tissue paper will break the shackles.”
“Are you an idiot?”
“This isn’t some normal class where the worst you’ll do is burn down a desk before the professor intervenes. These are demons. Deadly dangerous creatures that don’t care about humans except in how much they can exploit us. They’ll kill us without blinking an eye. And you haven’t even read the book?
“In addition you, what, want to play a prank on Catherine? Are you insane?” Closing her eyes, Irene sighed. I wish Eva were here.
Of course, if Eva had shown up, they probably wouldn’t be in this situation. Summoning a demon wasn’t supposed to happen for another month at the earliest.
Irene snapped open her eyes, cutting him off with just a glare. She narrowed her eyes at the idiot in front of her. “You know what? Do go make your own circle. Then you can add all the flourishes you want. When you get kicked out for your disrespect and general idiocy, don’t come crying to me.”
For a moment, Irene thought he was going to object. And loudly at that. Maintaining her glare for a few moments put a stop to that.
Randal got to his feet. Hands in his pockets, he marched over to another group. One of the groups that had finished already, but that hadn’t been looked over by Catherine just yet.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Irene turned back to the task of finishing her circle.
She froze as a thought occurred to her. Now alone in her group, there was no one but her to perform the actual summoning.
With a look at the clock, Irene decided that no, they would not be summoning anything today. At least not her. She had a good quarter of the circle remaining still. If she timed it perfectly, she would only just be finishing as the doors unlocked.
Then next time, Eva could put an end to this madness.
Filled with relief and a great deal of pressure removed, Irene set to work. She still wanted to do a good job. Catherine had trusted her enough to offer her a slot in the class, despite her being the youngest person in the room. She could pay that back with a proper set of shackles and the summoning circle.
Even if one of the other groups finished their circle to Catherine’s standards and started summoning, the circles they had been directed to draw were specifically designed to call imps. A hierarchy of common demons found within the text had imps at essentially the lowest place. Non-sentient blobs of slime were apparently more dangerous than imps.
Irene was beyond relieved that Catherine hadn’t directed them to summon up cerberuses or anything.
With the circles being specifically for imps, no verbal request or tricky magic channeling was required. Only the imps’ enticement.
Honestly, what would an imp ever want with a rusted copper coin? Did they collect them? Hoard them off in some vault?
And it apparently did not matter what kind of coin it was. Anything from some ancient Greek coin to a penny. So long as it was a currency, predominantly copper, and tarnished–not necessarily rusted as copper didn’t truly rust, though that was the term the book used. The jar on Catherine’s desk was full of green pennies, so presumably they would work.
“Class,” Catherine spoke just as Irene was making the last few marks on her circle, “I am disappointed.”
She moved up to her desk, taking up a reclining pose against it. “Two hours, you’ve had to work on your summoning circles. Two hours of failure. Your shackles are lacking. Your circles couldn’t summon a demonic gnat.”
Irene quirked an eyebrow. She didn’t know there was such a thing as a demonic gnat.
“You’re here to learn proper diablery practices. You may not have known that initially, but nothing is keeping you here. Children, your contract ensures your silence, not your presence. If diablery does not appeal to you, you’re welcome to never return.
“Of the nine of you, split into four groups, only one managed to complete their circle to my standards.”
Glancing around the other circles, Irene started to get a sinking feeling in her stomach. Irene distinctly recalled Catherine moving between each circle, making disparaging comments at each. The only circle that had been left alone was hers.
Whipping her head to the clock on the wall, Irene almost groaned. She had misjudged her speed. There were still ten minutes left of class. Plenty of time to summon something.
That sinking feeling only grew as Irene turned back to find Catherine staring right at her.
One of the rusted coins spun at the tip of Catherine’s sharp fingernail. With a light flick of her finger, the coin went sailing across the room.
It rolled along the floor before losing momentum and falling flat on its side.
Right in the center of Irene’s summoning circle.
“Go on,” Catherine said. “Channel your magic into the circle. Become the first true diabolist of the class.”
“I, um…” Irene took a step back from her circle.
Oh great, she thought, looking around the room. Everyone was staring at her. Some with curiosity but most had a look of envy. Randal was less staring and more glaring.
Alright, Irene thought, Catherine is right there. It’s just an imp. Zoe killed an imp all by herself last summer without problems. The whole class working together could stop it if it goes out of control.
Taking a deep breath, Irene moved back up to the summoning circle. She knelt down at the edge and shut her eyes–more to block out the sight of the watching students than any part of the ritual. With another deep breath, Irene started pushing her magic into the circle.
She had never used a ritual circle before. Summoning circles operated much the same way, from what she understood from books. There was a strange tingling sensation that was completely absent when she used a regular wand.
When she opened her eyes, Irene almost jumped back away from the circle again. The runes and markings she had drawn on the tiled floor were moving, rotating around the center point she had used to mark her initial circle. None of the symbols in the circle seemed to move at the same pace as the rest of it. Outside runes moved slower while the geometric shapes towards the inside spun around like the blades of a fan.
Irene did note that the shackles weren’t rotating. The shackle lines glowed faintly even in the light of the classroom. Otherwise, they were the same as when she had drawn them.
She actually did jump back when a gaping black maw erupted from the rotating circle. Shark-like teeth chomped around the coin.
A snake-like appendage erupted from beneath the circle. Despite coming through the floor as if through water, the appendage clamped down on the tiles like the hard floor it was.
More tentacles pulled the rest of the body through the floor until the entire thing was above ground.
With all the snake-like tentacles hanging off of its body, it looked something like a cross between Medusa and a large dog. Definitely not what an imp was supposed to look like.
Four red eyes glared around the room, moving from one silent student to the next. Settling on Irene, the dog slammed into the barrier formed by the shackles.
Irene jumped back again, letting out a startled shriek.
Her shackles lost some of their glow, flickering lightly as the demon reared its head into the barrier again.
Irene only vaguely heard the startled shouts coming from the other students. All of her attention was focused on a desperate feeding of more of her magic into the shackles.
Though the glow strengthened for a moment, the shackles flickered again as the demon rhythmically pounded into the wall.
“Help,” Irene said, glancing towards Catherine.
The succubus was wide-eyed with her mouth slightly agape, almost pressing herself away from the circle and into her desk.
Irene didn’t have time to consider the implications.
A resounding sound of glass shattering preceded her shackles going dark.