Eva tossed a book over her shoulder.
It didn’t matter how many tomes she went though, none of them described anything remotely similar to the enigmas. A number of creatures had violet blood. Humans could have blood that appeared purple under the right lighting and oxygen levels. A very select few mundane creatures even had natural purple blood.
As such, blood wasn’t much to go off of. Not for her at least. Wayne had taken a sample from the iced enigma to use in alchemy and regular science in an attempt to identify it. Thus far, Eva hadn’t heard back from him.
That left its appearance. Dog-shaped with snake-like tentacles growing from its spine, a round head that opened to the point that Eva’s entire leg could fit within, and a thin tail tipped with a triangle.
Though the color of its blood discounted demons, the shape of its tail and the fact that the creatures were associated with Hell both times Eva had seen them led to her pouring though every demonology book in her library. She even scoured all the books Devon left behind.
After exhausting that library, Eva moved on to books pilfered from the school library. Several at the recommendation of Bradley Twillie. Though he hadn’t been brought to the creature, Eva had described it to him just to see if he knew anything. He didn’t.
The books he suggested were dead ends as well. Surprisingly, a good number of them–the ones written in the last thirty or so years–were authored by Juliana’s father. That, in and of itself, had pushed Eva’s idea to contact him back to the front of her mind.
She was growing increasingly nervous as the days passed by with no response to her letter.
Eva pulled a fresh book from the pile to replace her tossed book. Before she had the chance to crack it open, Zoe stepped into the room.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Zoe said as she lifted up a thin piece of paper. “Hunting you down in Ylva’s domain is tedious.”
Eva’s breath hitched in her throat. Her eyes homed in on the paper and did not wander.
It wasn’t any regular paper. It was an envelope.
Since arriving at Brakket, the total number of letters she had received could be counted on one hand. All of which were missives from the school itself for book lists, schedules, or other announcements.
Using her extraordinarily sharp fingers in place of a letter opener, Eva broke the seal and pulled out the contents. A handwritten letter. The words were something of a cross between chicken-scratch and the loopy cursive of a calligrapher. In short, somewhat unreadable.
Still, Eva narrowed her eyes and concentrated.
Dear Miss Spencer,
Eva winced at both the formal greeting and the use of her last name. She had certainly never mentioned it to anyone. It was something of a shock to see it here.
Your letter has been received. My wife and daughter are well for the most part. Genoa is still bedridden, though conscious for a majority of every day’s hours. She has become somewhat stir crazy as of late.
Juli has been… closed off. She meets with Ylva far too much for my desires. Worse still, she hasn’t told me what they meet about. I know that the ring she still wears ties Juliana to Ylva, but it still weighs on a father’s mind.
Not once has she returned with the slightest scratch. Ylva has assured me that no harm will come to Juliana in her presence. Given my experiences with Ylva in her domain, I’ve no real reason to distrust her.
Eva blinked. She hadn’t been aware of any meetings between Juliana and Ylva. Though Ylva had been missing from her domain on occasion, taking Alicia and leaving only Nel behind. And she mentioned being taken away from something important after Eva returned to her domain from Hell.
An inkling of curiosity welled within her. What could they be doing together?
Along with the feeling of curiosity, a surge of elation flooded through her. If Juliana was associating with Ylva still, maybe she wouldn’t keep her distance from Eva.
Eva had been exceedingly concerned that Juliana blamed both Eva and Arachne for her mother’s current state. Between Arachne’s self-imposed solitude, Juliana being away, and Shalise’s inability to leave Hell, Eva was missing the early days of her schooling.
With what was in the letter, she was wondering if it was a mistake to have not written to Juliana after all. She stayed her hand under the assumption that Juliana would want a little space. Juliana was still quite far ahead of the current curriculum in school, so it wouldn’t be a troublesome thing for her to return even as late as the start of next year.
By then, Eva planned to have Sawyer dealt with. She didn’t know what to do about the Hell thing, but that would affect Juliana whether or not she was at Brakket.
Eva’s elation crashed down around her as she thought more about the implications. Juliana was meeting with Ylva, but neither had mentioned a thing to Eva.
Maybe she didn’t want to meet at all.
Shaking her head, Eva turned back to the rest of the letter.
As for me, I suppose I am well enough. I am merely grateful that none of my family was taken from me. Thank you for asking.
The rest of your letter, I will not lie, has caught my interest. However, I will mention that I find myself conflicted in my interactions with you. Between the scare of losing my daughter and my wife’s injury, and your associates’ proximity to those events, you somewhat frighten me. Though I know, intellectually, that you had little to do with causing those incidents.
On the other hand, you have allowed me to witness a great many things I never imagined the possibility of interacting with. Gargoyles, for instance. A species thought to be all but extinct. And I witnessed the birth of a new member of their species. Truly a magical event if ever there was one.
Regarding your trapped creature, because of the ice, I was unable to get a clear idea of what it looks like through the photographs you sent. However, I can’t say that your description matches anything that comes to mind. I would need to do an inspection in person.
Again, I come to a conflicting moment. The opportunity to be among the first to examine what could possibly be an entirely new creature is not one I feel I can pass up. Genoa has practically insisted I go. She must see me as being as stir crazy as she is.
Per your invitation, I will be arriving this weekend. Saturday at noon.
Though I hope you will forgive me for declining your offer of staying at the prison. I believe the hotels of Brakket City will suffice.
Carlos T. Rivas
Eva smiled as she folded the letter back up. That, at least, was some good news. An actual expert coming to look at the enigma could lead to a breakthrough.
Eva suppressed a start as she glanced up. She had completely forgotten that Zoe was still in the common room. After having taken a seat in one of the chairs, Zoe had pulled out a stack of papers and started going through them in silence.
Essays, most likely. She assigned far too many for her own good.
“You could say that,” Eva said as she replaced the letter in its envelope. “Carlos is going to stop by the day after tomorrow to look at our icy little friend.”
Putting on a small frown, Zoe set down her current essay. “Is that a… wise idea?”
“Have him come here? Why not? He’s a magizoologist with several published books under his belt.” Eva thumbed over her shoulder at the pile of discarded books. “If he can’t help even a little bit, I don’t know who can.”
“I mean…” she trailed off, rubbing her forehead just above her eyebrow. “What I mean to say–”
“I know what you mean,” Eva said. “His wife and daughter had quite the hardships recently. Arguably because of me. And if not because of me, probably because of Arachne and Zagan, one of whom will be at the school. We’ll try to avoid him, I think.
“But I still want to be friends with Juliana. She is pretty much the first person that I’ve met who I have become friends with. Not counting Arachne. Sure, it started out mostly because I didn’t want to be seen as an extreme anti-social, and then because we were roommates, but we still became friends.”
Eva paused, thinking. They were friends, right? Eva had thought so, but she had to admit to herself that her experience in such matters was lacking.
Shaking her head, Eva moved on. “And I still want to be friends with Juliana. So consider this testing the waters. If Carlos absolutely hates me, then I suppose there won’t be much I could do. He and Genoa will probably cart Juliana off to some other school, if they don’t just home school her. Otherwise, maybe I can arrange to meet with Juliana. Perhaps just an afternoon at the coffee shop to start with.”
Such an encounter felt like it would be very awkward. Eva could imagine it now, both of them sitting across from each other and not doing more than nibbling at whatever food they ordered in absolute silence.
But baby steps. That could wait until after Carlos.
“In any case,” Eva said, lifting the envelope, “what is written here gives me some hope that he doesn’t loathe or fear me.”
Dropping the letter on the table, Eva reached over and pulled up the next book. Not one written by Carlos, but some other zoologist. She hesitated in opening it up.
All this creature research was getting in the way of her revenge against Sawyer. She really needed to be searching through blood magic books.
Eva frowned as she glanced over to Zoe, specifically her hands. The professor had returned to grading her papers. On the middle finger of her right hand rested a dark ring. It had been rotated so that the skull engraving was on the inside of her hand, but it was unmistakably Ylva’s ring. The void metal made it quite obvious.
Juliana had a ring like that. Presumably, she was still wearing it. Did Sawyer still want it? Was she in danger from Sawyer just by being off on her own?
Ylva meeting with her probably acted as a decent deterrent, but Sawyer was opportunistic. He proved that much when he kidnapped Nel. Unless Ylva had Juliana under constant surveillance, it wouldn’t be hard to slip in between visits and kidnap her.
Replacing the zoology book on the table, Eva got off the couch and headed for her library. She didn’t have all that many books on blood magic. What she did have had been all borrowed from Devon–notably not a haemomancer. That combined with the fact that blood magic books weren’t exactly the sort of thing you could find in a regular bookstore had led to Eva having only a couple.
One was the basics. It held everything from bloodstone creation and attunement to the exact thought patterns needed to properly manipulate free blood. It also contained fairly in-depth descriptions of uses for blood and a few tables on blood potency by creature.
Another was about positive rituals. The healing spell she had used on Sister Cross came from that book. Cleaning the zombie infection from Shalise did as well. It also contained the ritual that gave Eva the ability to heal from minor cuts–an amazing ritual for any self-sacrificing blood mage–and the ritual she had performed on Basila.
Eva paused, blinking. In all the excitement with the enigmas, she had almost forgotten about Basila.
Plucking the negative blood ritual book from the shelf, Eva slipped into her room and plucked Basila from her end table. She brought both out to the common room.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about this,” Eva said as she set Basila down on the table. She slipped the blood tome just under the couch. It wasn’t something Zoe needed to know about just yet.
Zoe leaned forward to inspect the miniature basilisk. “This is one of Genoa’s statues, is it not?”
“It is,” Eva said with a nod. “She gave it to me for Christmas a year ago. I’ve since made a tiny modification to it. Basila on.”
The little snake let out a huge yawn. Both black fangs had the tiniest droplet of blood hanging off the tips. Its jaw unhinged enough to make its mouth open almost a full half circle. As it glanced around the room, Eva watched as it stopped on Zoe and opened its eyes wide.
Probably trying to turn her to stone.
After a moment of abject failure, Basila turned and slithered up Eva’s outstretched arm.
Eva smiled as its coils tightened around her wrist. She had been worried when, immediately after the ritual, Basila tried to attack her. The ritual was supposed to instill some loyalty among other things. That failing wouldn’t have been good, but it seemed like it took some time to take hold. Not once since had Basila attempted to attack Eva.
Basila hadn’t even tried to petrify her.
Of course, the downside was that it still couldn’t attack anything. It wanted to–placing it in a cage with a rat showed that much–but it just couldn’t.
“You might notice that the scales, teeth, tongue, and the eyes aren’t quite the normal color for a basilisk.” At least, she was pretty sure they were the wrong color, given her little blood infusion. Its eyes were still silver, but the black veins definitely stood out.
“It was a ritual normally intended for actual living creatures. Blood enhances the durability of the scales in a manner similar to my shields. Strength and loyalty should also increase. And in this case, the venom glands have been replaced with blood glands. Blood that I should have some control over once injected.”
Truthfully, she hadn’t actually tested that part just yet. Mostly because she couldn’t.
“The problem,” Eva said, “is that it is hard to inject blood when it refuses to bite. Some kind of mental conditioning that Genoa put on. Probably to avoid lawsuits and such.”
“You’ve turned Genoa’s gift into a weapon?”
Eva winced at the incredulity in Zoe’s voice. “Not a weapon per say. A pet. A super cool pet that can defend its owner from threats. It could be a whole new marketing line for them!”
Assuming people were willing to resort to blood magic.
“At least for me,” Eva amended.
With a sigh, Zoe rubbed the exact same spot on her forehead that she had brushed over while they were discussing Carlos.
Pretending she hadn’t noticed, Eva continued. “I was wondering if you might have any ideas on how to circumvent that limitation.”
“I’ve asked her about them in the past. Fascinating bit of magic. Unfortunately, neither Genoa nor Carlos ever mentioned how they work. Family secret is all they said.”
“And you’ve never taken one apart yourself?”
Zoe blinked and shook her head. “You said this was a gift. Have you seen how much she normally sells these for?”
Eva shook her head.
“Let’s just say that I would be somewhat upset if I damaged mine in experimenting on it. There are jokes about teachers’ salaries being poor, but even with the hazard pay I get from Brakket, I wouldn’t be able to buy more than one or two of the cheaper ones.”
Falling silent at that, Eva glanced down at the coiled basilisk. Juliana had mentioned that they had only created a handful of basilisk replicas. And each replica needed an imprint from the origin species.
Eva was no magizoologist, but she had a feeling that basilisks were not the most common of snakes nor the easiest to work with. They probably needed all kinds of special equipment just to ensure safety against a stray glance at their eyes. And then there was venom and the pure crushing power of the rest of their body.
“You got one,” Eva asked, “as a gift? What kind of creature is it?”
“A winged manticore. Something similar to a sphinx though far more ferocious. Manticores are not one of their cheaper products. It came as quite the surprise, really.”
“Shortly after I dropped out of the guild’s training program, Genoa stopped by. She had it all wrapped up and basically thrust it in my face saying, ‘here, sorry.'”
Eva frowned. “Sorry?”
“She may have been partially responsible for a handful of the trainees leaving the guild. Though in retrospect, she couldn’t have known what would happen. It is, however, something of a long story. Regardless, to this day, I still don’t know if she was feeling guilty or if she merely wanted to remain on friendly terms. Either way, we met up several times for lunch or, in the earlier days, an impromptu spar. Became friends through that.”
Zoe, after finishing speaking, got a distant look in her eyes. As if the world around her just disappeared and left nothing to stare into but space.
Eva was mostly certain that Zoe was far too young to have that look on her face. “I had been wondering how you two knew each other,” she said after a moment of silence. “You are like thirty or forty years younger, aren’t you?”
Zoe’s faraway look turned to a low-effort glare. “I doubt she would appreciate being called so old.”
With another sigh, Zoe picked up an essay. “Anyway, I don’t know the answer to your problem. Maybe you could ask Carlos when he comes by.”
“Maybe.” Telling him that she had modified their gift might not go over so well, especially if they actually had risked their life to imprint the basilisk.
Before Eva could think to pull out her book, the door to the women’s ward slammed open.
Devon, old trench coat and all, walked inside with heavy footsteps.
Without waiting to be acknowledged, he tossed a vial in Eva’s direction.
She plucked it out of the air, careful to avoid crushing it on accident, and looked over the contents.
Blood, but she had known that from the moment it entered her sixth sense. It was light red. Likely human. Freshly drawn, she would guess.
Eva glanced up at Devon with an eyebrow raised.
“Add it to your wards,” he said as he turned his back to her. “Got an emergency case coming in.”
She wanted to ask more, but he was already gone. For a moment, she considered not adding it. What if he was bringing something dangerous into her home?
With an internal chuckle, Eva dismissed that possibility. If there was one thing she could count on no matter what, it was that Devon wouldn’t do a thing to harm his precious test subject.
Obliging him, Eva got out of her seat and went to her room. Adding the blood to the wards took mere seconds. As soon as she had finished, she returned to the common room and waited.
Zoe had leaned forward in her seat. Her papers had been set to the side as she fiddled with her dagger. Worry lines riddled her forehead.
Eva gave her a sympathetic shrug. ‘Emergency case’ wasn’t very descriptive.
They didn’t have to wait long. Devon was back through the door less than a minute later. Perhaps not in quite as dramatic of an entrance, but Eva couldn’t help but stare at him.
What really drew the eye was what he carried in his arms.
Bundled up in a patchwork coat was a child, maybe half as old as Eva, fast asleep. A half-full intravenous fluid bag hung from Devon’s shoulder, pinned up with a few bobby pins. The most striking thing about the child was his utter lack of hair and gaunt, pale skin.
After taking one look around the room and not finding what he was looking for, Devon barked out, “Eva. Fetch Arachne and get everything set up. As soon we finish your treatment, we’re starting on this kid.”
Zoe was on her feet in a flash, dagger drawn and pointed at Devon. “Kid? What is he doing here? Whose kid?”
Devon just shrugged. His tentacle arm moved in a very inhuman manner beneath his trench coat. During his shrug, the kid’s arm flopped up in front of Devon. Using his tentacle, he maneuvered the wrist out of the ragged coat. A light blue wristband just about fell off the kid’s bony wrist.
“Jones, Simon D. Blood type A positive, entrusted to Doctor Paul Johnson. No allergies. No parents listed.”
Sparks started growing on the end of Zoe’s dagger. A few managed to escape her control and bolted straight for the ground–burning through a handful of scattered essays on their way to oblivion.
“You kidnapped someone’s child from a hospital?”
“Frankly, who cares? The kid’s parents are the ones who signed the do not resuscitate order. At least with my help, he’ll reach nine years old. Probably. Maybe.”
Though her arm stayed steady, the uncontrolled electricity actually faltered as Devon spoke.
“Kid’s terminal,” Devon said as blunt as a wall. “But since you care so much, I can tell you exactly where I got him. Take him back to his death-bed. Maybe stick around and watch him die if you’re not as cowardly as you look.”
Eva could hear the grinding of Zoe’s teeth. Half a dozen incomprehensible expressions crossed her face before she settled in an angry grimace.
“Or leave me alone. The kid has a chance at living. I’ll take care of him after Eva’s treatment. She’s almost late as it is.”
“Damn you,” Zoe hissed. With almost palpable resignation, she let her dagger drop to her side.
Eva waited just a moment to ensure there wouldn’t be any outbursts from Zoe. She spoke with some hesitance after letting the silence linger for an extra minute. “There is still a week before the end of February. We have time. Shouldn’t you get him, ah, stable?”
“He’ll live a couple of hours, at least. Maybe even a day or two.” He turned a glare on Eva. “Of course,” he half growled, “if you hustled, we’d have all the more time.”
Eva didn’t pause to nod an acknowledgment. She headed straight for Arachne’s door.
Time to clear out the common room and set up the chairs.