The demon’s gaping maw snapped shut mere inches in front of Irene’s face. Inches only because something gripped her arm and pulled.
Irene didn’t stop inches from the demon. The force on her arm kept her going. She flew backward, rolling into a table that had been pushed to the edge of the room.
Pain in her shoulder and upper arm forced her to cry out as she came to a stop. Even through her shirt, Irene could see an unpleasant lump. Her arm wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
Gripping her dislocated shoulder with her other arm, Irene grit her teeth and turned her attention to the scene unfolding before her.
The other students were scrambling around. Some of the older students had their wands out, firing off bolts of electricity or balls of fire at the demon. Others moved to the door, clawing at it in an attempt to escape.
There were still five minutes before the official end of class. Catherine had not unlocked the door yet.
A cynical part of Irene’s mind commented on how much of a fire hazard that was. Catherine could probably unlock it quickly. Unfortunately, she was a little tied up at the moment.
Standing in her fully transformed demonic form, Catherine fought against the demon. She didn’t seem to be doing all that well.
Irene would have thought that an oversized rottweiler would have been easy prey for the succubus.
Catherine had one arm caught in a bundle of tentacles. Her other arm was placed firmly on the demon’s head, trying to keep the tentacles from pulling her arm into its mouth. Her face was twisted into a grimace of frustration.
Behind the demon, the students attacking were not having much effect. Fire washed over the demon’s dark fur without so much as singing. Lightning fared better. Oozing scorch marks appeared around the single spot where lightning had struck.
Since that first bolt connected, the demon had taken to intercepting lightning with some of its spare tentacles. It was somewhat odd to watch it bat away streaks of electricity as if they were physical objects. One tentacle slapped away a bolt, sending it crashing into a desk.
It violated everything Irene knew about electricity–which wasn’t all that much, admittedly.
At least one of the water mages had the good sense to focus on extinguishing the flames that sprung up from the redirected lightning.
With a groan, Irene moved to a sitting position. Even little movements of her arm sent waves of pain flooding through her body.
Still, this was her mistake. She had to at least help fix it.
Pulling her wand from the holster at her side, Irene pointed it towards the summoning circle.
Starting just in front of Catherine’s feet, the ground of the summoning circle started to churn.
It was difficult, concentrating as she was. The pain in her shoulder wasn’t helping matters. Between that, the relatively long distance, and the fact that she was acting on tiled floor–some kind of stone, she wasn’t exactly sure what type–Irene was barely having an effect at all.
She was trying to make pits to latch onto the thing’s legs. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Sure, her final exam the previous year had been manipulating dirt–fairly loose dirt at that, but it was the same basic principle.
Her pits were less hole and more some kind of stone slurry. It was, however, doing something.
Despite Catherine having one arm stuck in place by the tentacles, she was putting up quite the fight.
Anytime the tentacles let up for a moment, to deflect lightning for instance, Catherine capitalized on the moment of weakness. She turned the hand keeping the demon from eating her other hand into a vicious claw aimed straight at the eyes.
Two of the demon’s four eyes were already lying on the floor in small puddles of violet blood.
Her tail wasn’t idle either.
Irene had initially thought that Catherine’s spaded tail was for balance or even decoration. The leathery spade at the tip certainly did not look sharp enough to rend limbs.
Yet that was exactly what it was doing.
The tail darted around almost faster than Irene could follow as if it had a mind of its own. A single cut couldn’t take out an entire tentacle. Each swipe amounted to little more than a shallow cut. The speed is what gave her tail its lethality. A flurry of cuts easily dismembered a snake-like tentacle.
The demon’s tentacles continually tried to interfere. They darted hither and thither, attempting to wrap around and contain Catherine’s tail.
For a brief moment, the demon tried to turn its head back towards the students that were slinging spells.
Catherine reared her own head back before plunging it down into the demon’s head. Her platinum hair went flying around her in a wild mane.
Both of her slightly curved horns came back dripping with violet blood.
With Catherine keeping the demon in one place, it started sinking into the softened ground.
Though nothing changed in her concentration, all four of the demon’s legs disappeared beneath the ground with a loud slurping noise. Its fat belly rested against the tiles, sinking only slightly.
Blinking at the sudden change in the tiles, Irene noted Randal standing nearby. He kept his wand trained on the demon.
No, trained on the ground beneath the demon.
At least someone caught on to what Irene was doing.
Fed up with putting out the small fires around the room, the water mage with burn marks covering her skin started conjuring a large body of water. She managed to rope one of the more panicky students into the task as well.
Before long, a bathtub-sized pool of water hovered over Catherine and the dog-like demon.
Kicking the dog in the face, Catherine swiped her sharp claws and tail straight through the last few tentacles holding on to her arm. She jumped out of the way just as the bathtub of water enveloped the demon.
While the two water mages worked to freeze their water solid, the air mage that had been throwing the largest lightning bolts set to charging up a truly frightening amount of lightning at the tip of his wand.
Steam burst from the watery orb as the most lightning Irene had ever seen outside of a natural storm pierced straight through the demon.
All of the floundering snake-like tentacles seized up. Bubbles of air came from the demon’s mouth as violet blood stained the water.
A moment later and the water froze over. The demon sat within, stilling as the ice froze on the inside as well.
With the demon looking much like an oversized curio jar, the rest of the students started to calm down.
For a moment, there was pure silence.
Well, except for the two remaining students still trying to break down the door.
“You two,” Catherine called out to the students by the door, “do not need to return next class.”
Neither of the two acknowledged her. The locks on the door clicked open as soon as Catherine finished speaking. They both fled from the room without a glance back, shouts and cries fading as they ran down the hall. The noises were cut off as the door swung shut again.
When they were stopped by someone else and asked what was wrong, Irene very much hoped that they would remember the contract that they signed. The consequences of forgetting wouldn’t be pleasant.
Irene had already learned from her actions. Losing her head and fleeing aimlessly was how she ended up nearly dead at the hands of a partial demon just a few months ago. She certainly wouldn’t be making that mistake again.
Brushing back her currently white-blond hair between her horns, Catherine turned in an instant from battle maiden to sultry charmer. The violet blood dripping from her horns and fingers left streaks in her hair. Irene wasn’t quite in the right state of mind to decide whether the blood added to the charm or upped her intimidation factor.
“The rest of you performed adequately. Though Irene,” Catherine said, turning, “should something go obviously wrong again, next time don’t get closer to the circle. I believe that ordeal would have been ended much sooner had my arm not been caught while getting you away.”
Irene grit her teeth. Less because of the admonishment–which she probably deserved–and more because of the increasingly painful ache in her arm. Still, she nodded an acknowledgment at the succubus.
Lightly tapping on the large ball of ice, Catherine frowned. “Now what do we do about–”
“That isn’t an imp,” someone blurted out.
“How very observant of you,” Catherine said as she rolled her eyes. “Yes, this is not an imp.”
Randal took a step forward. “I told her that the circle was inadequate,” he said with a self-righteous tone in his voice.
Catherine shot him a glare. He wilted, taking a step backwards.
“The circle,” Catherine said, “was flawless. Or at least no flaws that would have mattered.”
Irene tried to straighten up at the slight praise and at Randal being shot down, but the pain in her arm ruined that little action. Instead, she looked on as she kept her arm as still as possible.
“I could feel the shackles,” Catherine said. “They might not have kept me in, but they would have given me more pause than they gave our ugly friend here.” She patted the giant ice cube. “And the circle was keyed properly for imps. Nothing else should have been able to come through.”
“Then what is that?” said one of the older students with an exceptionally unnecessary gesture towards the ice.
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
The entire classroom was struck dumb by that single proclamation. A few looked at one another with incredulity.
Irene frowned at the ice ball. Demons had such a variety in appearances and there were so many different ones that she had no clue where to start in identifying the creature.
Humans, for the most part, all had two arms, two legs, a head, and a body connecting it all together. Most humans had hair on their head, two eyes, a nose, a mouth. There were variances in coloring, hair style, muscle mass, and gender dimorphism, but overall, one could look at a photograph and pick out the humans with ease.
Demons weren’t so homogeneous. Arachne had eight eyes, eight legs, and the body of a spider. Catherine had horns, a tail, and wings like a bat. Lucy the security guard had shown up at the previous class and demonstrated her natural form which looked more like a plate of soggy spaghetti than a living thing.
And they all changed. They could turn into something more human-like. Though in Lucy’s case, Irene was having a hard time seeing her as anything but shaped spaghetti noodles since their last class; Lucy’s uncanny appearance just felt so much more pronounced.
There were a few shared traits according to the book. For instance, demons often had red eyes. Not in one hundred percent of cases. If she had a thousand demons in a hat and picked one at random, Irene would put all of her money on it having red eyes.
Irene blinked as she realized another shared trait. One that the book said had no known deviance.
“That thing isn’t a demon.”
“Very astute,” Catherine said as she turned to Irene. “Much more so than whoever said that it wasn’t an imp. What gave it away?”
“Its blood. The book said that demons all had black blood without exception. Purple is not black.”
“Yes, the first and most obvious thing. Well, while it is injured at least. For me, it was that it has no presence. Demons can sense each other to a degree, you see. This thing doesn’t ping my radar in the slightest. Though it does make me somewhat queasy.”
“So what is it?” someone asked.
For a moment, Irene wondered if she shouldn’t be trying to learn her classmates’ names. On one hand, this class felt like the sort of thing anonymity might be good for. On the other, it was kind of rude not to.
“Something that a few experts will have to come look at. For now, we need to ensure it doesn’t get loose. The shackles stopped it for a moment, something I find fairly interesting. I’ll find and drag Eva over here to have her set up some real shackles.”
“You can’t do it yourself?”
“I could.” She glanced up to the clock. “But class is over,” she said with a shrug. “Not really my responsibility now. Though I guess I should do something.” She hummed lightly for a moment before sighing. “Before I find Eva, I’ll pull our illustrious security guards over to keep an eye on it. In the meantime, if whatever water mages we have here could keep the ice from melting, that might be a good idea.”
Catherine stepped away from the ball of ice as one girl stepped up to it with her wand drawn.
The succubus started towards the door.
For a moment, Irene was sure that she had been forgotten. Catherine tossed on a bathrobe before she walked straight up to the door. As she placed her hand on the handle, she started turning back to her human form, ridding herself of her horns and tail as part of the process.
She stopped just short of turning the handle with a glance over her shoulder.
“I suppose you need to be taken to a nurse?”
Irene nodded eagerly. She tried to get to her feet on her own and wound up bumping her shoulder against the leg of a desk. Clamping down on the cry of pain that wanted to escape, Irene grit her teeth.
She didn’t want to give the rest of the class any more reason to think less of her.
A gentle hand gripped Irene’s shoulder–the one that wasn’t dislocated–and helped her to her feet.
Keeping her hand in place, Catherine looked out over the six remaining students in their class. “Anyone else need an escort to the nurse?”
She didn’t even wait for a response before directing Irene to the door.
“In that case, water mages stick around until someone from security shows up. Everyone else do whatever.”
Getting to the infirmary wasn’t much trouble. After stumbling once and bumping her arm against that desk, Irene was extremely grateful that Catherine had come back for her. Having some support helped a lot.
Along the way, they passed by one of the security guards–the elf.
For having been injured enough to require critical attention, he wasn’t looking too bad. Two full months had passed, plenty of time to recover.
Still, his lustrous hair hadn’t quite grown back all the way.
“Daenir,” Catherine snapped.
The elf started at her harsh voice. He blinked once before realizing who was addressing him. “Yes, ma’am?”
“I’ve told you before not to call me that.” Catherine didn’t even attempt to disguise her irritation.
“Of course. Sorry ma’am.”
“Call up one of the specialists and get them to room A-43. If they haven’t dropped everything and arrived in five minutes, Zagan will have words. And get out of my sight,” she added almost as an afterthought.
He complied with her first request immediately, pulling out a small cellphone and making the call.
Catherine started walking again before he could leave. She kept Irene in a firm grip as they moved away.
“Excellent,” Catherine said with a grin. “I was worried I would have to hunt one of them down. That’s one task complete. Now to finish up with you and then find Eva.” Mumbling under her breath, she said, “stupid girl needs a cellphone.”
Irene kept silent, though she agreed on that. Jordan and Catherine both had one, so it wasn’t like demons were allergic to the things.
The infirmary was only a quick walk from where they left the security guard. Some students, Irene knew, visited the place every month or so with various injuries. Irene was quite glad that she had avoided childish hallway fights. She didn’t find the idea of catching a lightning bolt in the back very pleasing, even one that tickled no more than a nine-volt battery.
She had only been to the infirmary twice. Once with an injured wrist, thanks to that idiot Drew, and again thanks to her own idiocy in running aimlessly while the Academy was swarming with fake demons.
The second time she had been brought in unconscious.
So when she walked in and the nurse on duty, Nurse Post, turned to her with a knowing smile, Irene was slightly surprised.
“Irene Coggins,” Nurse Post said, “what seems to be the trouble?”
“Her arm,” Catherine said before Irene could open her mouth. “She slipped down a set of stairs.”
“And you brought her in yourself? Why Catherine, you had better watch yourself. It sends the wrong impression. One might think you cared about someone other than yourself.”
“You could say that I’ve taken a special interest in this one.”
Nurse Post blinked. A somewhat odd look with one of her eyes hidden behind a cross-taped gauze patch. Her face blanked for a moment as her single red eye wandered to Irene, looking her up and down.
“But,” Catherine said, “I’ve got things to do. Fix her up.”
She let go of Irene, pushing her into the seat as she moved away. She took one step away.
Catherine’s hand reached out, gripping Irene’s good shoulder like a vice. She bent down and leaned in close to Irene.
Her lips brushed against Irene’s ear as she spoke.
“Don’t let what happened scare you away. I’ll see you next class.”
Irene blinked and Catherine was gone. The door clicked shut leaving only two occupants in the room.
“Well, that was interesting.”
Irene turned to the nurse with an eyebrow raised.
“But never mind for now. Your arm is dislocated,” she said, eye wandering to the disturbing bulge in Irene’s shoulder. “A simple dislocation. I would say that most of your tissues and nerves are still in place, just shifted. We can pop it back into place without much trouble. It will hurt for a moment with some lingering ache, but should be fine otherwise. Would you like some painkillers?”
Irene didn’t hesitate in her answer. “If it isn’t too much trouble.”
Nurse Post chuckled to herself as she turned to a potion cabinet. “Drink it down quick,” she said as she handed a vial to Irene. “You’ll have general numbness for about an hour. Overkill? Maybe. But we need to move fast before you swell up too much. That creates all kinds of complications.”
The potion tasted a lot like rubber. Flavorless chewing gum in a liquid form. Not very pleasant. Luckily, the numbing dampened Irene’s sense of taste almost immediately. The rest of her body soon followed.
As the potion took effect, Nurse Post laid out a large mat on the floor. She guided Irene over to it and had her lay down on top.
“That potion had a slight muscle relaxant, but I’d still like you to keep as relaxed as possible. I’m going to turn your arm nice and slowly,” she said, taking Irene’s hand into her own.
Placing her other hand at Irene’s elbow to keep it from moving, she started moving Irene’s hand away from her chest.
Every now and again, the muscles in Irene’s shoulder would have a small spasm.
“Sorry,” Irene said after the third time. “I’m trying not to.”
Nurse Post just smiled. “Oh don’t worry, it is expected. Now, we are getting to the point where your shoulder will slide back into position. There might be a light snapping–”
Irene winced, more out of shock than pain, as her arm snapped back to where it was supposed to be. She tried to move it almost immediately.
Nurse Post gripped her arm and held it steady. “Let’s get you a sling before you start moving around. You should keep it on until the inflammation dies down.”
While the nurse moved to find a sling, Irene propped herself up.
“What was all that about Catherine caring?”
“Oh, not much. Dean Turner hired her on last year. She’s attended all the staff meetings and maintains the reception desk. Yet she’s never really interacted with any other staff. It has become something of a running joke among us that the public face of Brakket is so against socializing.
“Of course, that was before I learned a few things that shed some light on the situation,” she said as she pulled a pale blue sling from a drawer. “But that’s neither here nor there. Arm out, carefully if you would.”
She attached the sling around Irene’s arm and neck. “I’d like to keep you here for about the hour it will take for your potion to expire. Your deadened senses could be problematic. You might leave you hand on a burner and not notice. Apart from that, we should make sure your swelling starts subsiding. I can offer you a bed or a desk for homework.”
“No, that’s fine. I have an essay to finish for Professor Carr anyway. Though I need my bag.” Irene pulled out her cellphone intending to call Shelby and have her grab it.
But that would mean explaining how she had become injured in the first place. That was impossible. Catherine had used the excuse about stairs, but even that was embarrassing enough on its own.
“On second thought, I am fairly tired. Perhaps I’ll just take a nap.”