Irene stood outside, enjoying the bright sun beating down on her skin. Brakket Academy just didn’t get enough sun. Doubly so given that the last two months had purple streaks in the sky. They were disturbing and unnatural.
Most of her time had been spent inside as much as possible.
As if that would save her from anything.
Shaking her head, Irene put thoughts of Brakket Academy out of her mind. She was back home in New York and a safe distance away from everything troubling.
Probably. Demons were involved. It was hard to tell if any distance was safe.
Irene slapped her cheeks. “Stop worrying,” she mumbled to herself.
It wasn’t like she was going back anytime soon. Normally, her parents wanted her and her sister out of the house and back at Brakket in time for the summer seminars. This summer would be different. The summer seminars were optional after all.
She would be keeping far away until the very day that school started.
“So, you going to tell me now?”
Pushing her sunglasses up to the top of her head, Irene glanced over at her sister. She had a feeling that she knew where this conversation was about to head. Even still, she decided to play dumb.
“Tell you what?”
“Oh come off it. There are no teachers around, no Jordan, no Eva, no Arachne, not even any parents.” At Irene’s questioning look, Shelby shrugged. “They went out to dinner together. It’s just us. No one else is home. So spill. What was all that?”
Irene let out a long, exhausted sigh. Her dear sister could make herself quite the annoyance when she wanted to. It was bad enough that waving her away to Eva, someone who could answer questions, hadn’t worked. Eva barely spoke to anyone since that night.
“I told you,” Irene said, “I can’t tell you. Literally cannot. Ask me again when we’re eighteen.”
The contract wouldn’t hold her tongue after that.
“That’s two and a half years away. Two whole years!”
“You have to give me something.”
“Look, if Eva won’t tell you, ask Catherine.”
“If she asks you to agree to anything, I would recommend against it.”
“What would she ask me?”
Irene just fell silent with a shake of her head. Saying anything more might be treading dangerous waters.
Shelby let out a sigh of her own. She walked around the porch to stand right in front of Irene. Without a word of warning, she pushed herself into the chair.
Irene had to scoot herself to the side to make room. Once Shelby finally stopped her squirming, Irene gave her sister a glare.
“You’re not going to disappear, are you?”
“What?” Irene said, blinking away her glare. “Of course not. What do you mean by that?”
“Well, Juliana disappeared. So did Shalise. Max as well.”
“Max has been hanging out with Drew,” Irene said, not even trying to hide her disgust. “Juliana’s mother got hurt. She went back home.”
Irene didn’t have a good answer for that one. Eva had said that she was fine. Where and with who had been left out of the explanation. “She disappeared after Halloween, but she came back. I’m sure she’ll be around again.”
“As long as you don’t go anywhere,” Shelby said with a sigh. “I don’t know what I’d do. Or what I’d tell mom and dad.”
Irene flicked her sunglasses back over her eyes. “Me neither.”
— — —
Eva closed the door of the warehouse, again solidifying blood inside the locking mechanism and keyholes.
Not her blood. Eva had dutifully reclaimed every stray droplet of her own blood. She had used some of the thugs’ blood to reseal the doors and windows.
It wasn’t impervious. Anyone dedicated enough would break it with little effort. The solid blood was more to keep any passers-by from stumbling across something that would scar them for life.
Part of her was hoping that there were more members of that little gang and that they would be the ones to take a hammer to the door. Maybe it would scare them straight.
Eva frowned outside the building. Unless they thought it was the actions of a rival gang. That could very well start some kind of gang war.
She glanced back to the door. There needed to be… something.
An idea popped into her head. A terrible, horrible, no good idea. But Eva decided to go with it anyway.
Six crooks thought they had smarts
And kidnapped a girl for her parts
The girl fought back
Six crooks she did sack
And claimed every one of their hearts
Looking over what she had just scrawled in blood on the door, Eva’s already deep frown deepened further.
It identified the assailant as a girl. Hopefully that would keep any gang wars from springing up. That was where the good points ended. The fourth line could be misinterpreted to make it seem lewd. Worst of all, the rhythm was off.
She had half a mind just to erase the entire thing.
But it wasn’t that bad. At least the rhymes worked. It got the message across for any other thugs that might see it. She wasn’t afraid of being identified to any gang members. She planned to be back at Brakket before long anyway, far out of either the police or the gang’s jurisdictions. Eva knew the truth about the fourth line and didn’t much care if anyone actually misinterpreted it.
Not to mention the time it took to come up with. If she got rid of it now, she’d have wasted a good half hour of retooling the words and figuring out just what to say.
It probably said something about her that the rhythm bothered her most.
That and the last line wasn’t entirely accurate.
They’d find a seventh body in there, but she hadn’t touched the mage after he broke his neck. Bloodstones couldn’t be made from the deceased after all. Whoever found him could come up with their own conclusions about the reasons for that.
She had, however, stolen his wand and burned a handful of books that were up in the room he had been sleeping inside of. The books weren’t anything special. Eva was relatively certain that Brakket’s library held copies of them all.
As far as she could tell, he was entirely self-trained.
Eva built up magic and teleported across the city to her abandoned hospital. After stumbling out of the hospital’s gate room and taking a long drink from a water bottle, Eva sat down at her desk.
There she lined up four fresh bloodstones.
The first three had been done by the book. With the proper sigil inscribed in blood on the back of her hand, Eva pressed her hand against the still beating hearts of the thugs before channeling her magic.
After those three, Eva had decided to experiment.
She had altered the sigil slightly in an attempt to puzzle out just what each little line did.
The first alteration had produced a bloodstone slightly smaller than the average. Despite that, it felt just as heavy as the others, if not heavier. Eva lacked any sort of precision scales at the moment.
She would just have to wait and see how it held up in the long run. It lacked the pure sheen and crystal clear transparency that those she had recovered from the museum possessed. Because of that, Eva doubted that it would last forever.
In fact, she assumed that it would be the first to show signs of decay.
The bloodstone she had made out of the necromancer had been larger than normal and had lasted longer than an average bloodstone as well. Unfortunately, she didn’t know what she had done to get that result–Eva hadn’t been thinking all that clearly at the time. Having recently undergone torture at Sawyer’s hands would do that to anyone.
Her fifth and sixth attempts at experimentation didn’t turn out so well.
As an attempt to produce a larger bloodstone, she had tried altering the same line she had altered to produce the fourth except in the opposite direction.
The heart had been consumed but the bloodstone had crumbled away to dust as soon as she tried to pick it up.
Resetting the sigil back to default, Eva had then tried to alter the parts that she thought affected the bloodstone’s power.
There wasn’t a heart left. Neither was there most of a ribcage or other internal organs. The carapace on her hand had actually cracked from the force of the explosion. Had she had her original hand, she would probably be needing a new one at the moment.
Still, four bloodstones wasn’t a bad amount. She had only been expecting two at most. Stumbling across a gang had been a stroke of luck.
She had half a mind to extend her vacation. The leader had mentioned other gangs. Finding them would mean more bloodstones and more experimentation.
And really, what was at Brakket that required her attention?
Not a lot these days.
Despite the brief panic over the sky, the school year had finished out as per normal. Eva had even received decent marks on her pyrokinesis exam. The month of more mundane schooling had passed by in a flash–and something of a daze as well.
It had been… melancholic. Even hanging out with Irene and company had felt far more somber than it should have.
No Shalise, no Juliana, and no Arachne. A few other students had been pulled out by their parents. Brakket just felt empty.
There had been an announcement stating that the sky was part of a long-term magical experiment and that it presented no immediate danger. Not entirely inaccurate, but Eva had a feeling that she wouldn’t be seeing all of her classmates at the start of the next year despite Martina Turner’s machinations.
Aside from the fact that there was nothing going on at Brakket while there was still another reason to remain in Florida.
The leader had mentioned that someone had been around looking for demons.
One of Devon’s old contacts? Or someone searching with more hostile intentions?
Well, Eva thought as she spun one of the marbles around on her desk, the former doesn’t necessarily discount the latter.
Eva had met someone who Devon knew before he had found her. Just once. It hadn’t turned out well for anyone involved.
Though, one might say that Devon had come out better. At least he was still breathing.
Eva would have considered contacting Devon about it, but he had been livid last time they spoke. Though she couldn’t say that she was guiltless of shouting once or twice during their discussion. She wasn’t feeling particularly up to arguing with him again.
Had he come with them along with one of his dominated demons, Arachne would probably still be around.
Pausing in her fiddling with the bloodstones, Eva reached up to her collar. She had once again taken to wearing Arachne’s beacon around. The little black orb filled with intricate spider webs. Whenever Arachne was ready to return, Eva would be ready and waiting.
It might cause problems if she came back in the middle of school, or something similar, but Eva couldn’t muster up the effort to care at the moment. And when Arachne came back, for she would without a doubt, Eva doubted that she would care then.
But that could still be a long way off. More immediate problems revolved around Devon and whoever was looking for him. He wouldn’t be in the mood to entertain questions though. Especially not about his past acquaintances. Shortly after hearing of Arachne’s demise, he had locked himself inside his room with explicit instructions not to be disturbed while he puzzled out what changes needed to be made to her treatment.
The entire ritual had to be altered to accommodate a different demon.
Neither of them were holding out much hope that Arachne would be back in time. There were only a few weeks left before the maximum length of time that she could go without treatment. The one saving grace, according to Devon, was that Arachne’s death had happened soon enough after her previous treatment that it allowed him enough time to work.
There were plenty of other demons around Brakket–Ylva, Catherine, Zagan, the security guards, and the carnivean Devon had summoned after learning of Arachne’s demise–at least one of whom would probably be willing to donate some blood.
It put a sick feeling in the pit of Eva’s stomach to use one of them, but there wasn’t much she could do. If she refused the treatment without Arachne then she ran the very real possibility of permanently damaging herself.
The only other reason to return to Brakket at the moment would be to coordinate with Nel against Sawyer.
A big reason to be sure, but one that Eva was hesitant about acting on.
Eva had spoken with Nel before she had gone on her vacation. Sawyer had been holding position in eastern Idaho, a land of empty wilderness, though not quite to the extent of Montana. He was almost a full day out from Brakket Academy. What, exactly, he had been doing there for the past month or so, Nel couldn’t say. She had been unable to regain exact sight of the necromancer and was estimating his position based off the disturbance caused by his hiding.
The thought of confronting Sawyer actually sent a chill down Eva’s spine. She wasn’t sure if it was from apprehension or excitement. The occasional daydreams she had over the past year or so made her think it was excitement. Imagining wiping that smile off his face, ruining all of his plans, and finally killing him… it was enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
The apprehension came from the fact that he had been in one spot for a good amount of time. For all Eva knew, Sawyer currently lived under an ancient graveyard. Charging in to attack him would end up worse than the cave Devon had found in her first year at Brakket.
Eva was quite certain that they wouldn’t have come out of that quite so unscathed had Juliana not been there with them. And Devon had still lost his arm in that incident. This time, Arachne wouldn’t be around to distract half of the skeletons.
On the other hand, if Sawyer came to attack Brakket, he would be out of his home base and Eva would have all of the professors and security personnel to help.
But Eva was starting to lose hope that he was going to move in the near future.
Scooping up the bloodstones, Eva came to a decision.
There were a number of rituals she wanted to perform before confronting Sawyer. Some beneficial to her, some detrimental to Sawyer. Having a few spare bloodstones would be for the best as well.
Thinking on it now, Eva was almost disgusted that she had experimented with a few of the bloodstones. She should have just done it all by the book and walked away with a full six bloodstones.
There were other gangs in this corner of Florida. Other potential bloodstones.
They wouldn’t be as hard to find as that first gang. Eva hadn’t walked away entirely empty-handed. She was almost a thousand dollars richer and had a small stash of drugs that she couldn’t even begin to properly identify. Some were plant-like, others were powder. They would probably just rot inside her home–Eva hadn’t a clue what she would do with them.
The most important thing that she had looted from the gang’s warehouse was a small diary kept by the leader. Eva still wasn’t certain if her leader was the leader, but it was probably a moot point now.
Diary would be stretching the word as well. It was more of a notebook detailing a few people who owed money and a few people who the gang didn’t seem to like much. Rivals.
And it contained a few addresses.
Eva stood from her desk, ready to head out to one nearby that looked mildly promising.
“Jack,” Eva said, raising her voice slightly louder than the previous time.
The man didn’t move from his face down position on a sweat-soaked bed.
Feeling mildly frustrated at how heavy his sleep was, Eva slammed a fist into the wall.
That did the trick.
Jack–as he was called in the little notebook–jumped a few feet in the air. With almost practiced motions, his hand snapped under his pillow and pulled out a pistol. He swung it around until it was pointing right between Eva’s eyes.
There was a moment of hesitation as he took in Eva’s appearance before he fired.
Three bullets slid harmlessly off Eva’s shield.
“Tsk tsk. That’s not very nice.”
He fired again.
Eva didn’t bother to suppress a roll of her eyes. “If it didn’t work the first three times, what makes you think it will work the next–”
Another series of ear-splitting cracks echoed through the tiny room. It was somewhat irritating that she actually had to feed some additional blood into her shield to keep it from failing under the continued fire. Arachne’s blood would have been able to hold up to attacks of that caliber with barely any blood lost, but Eva wasn’t willing to waste the precious few vials that she still had.
Not on some random drug dealer.
Sawyer might be worthy of them.
Thankfully, the cracks shifted to a series of impotent clicks before she totally lost her sense of hearing.
He immediately started reaching down the side of his bed. As soon as he pulled out a spare magazine for his pistol, Eva canceled her shield and moved up next to him.
“That is more than enough of that.” She gripped his gun—hand and all—and squeezed.
The gun was fairly solid even under the pressure of her claws. There were creaks. The barrel bent inwards. Yet it still looked like a gun. Not too surprising given that it was designed to handle miniature explosions going off inside.
His hand was not designed to stand up to even a fraction of that kind of pressure.
“You’ve made several people very angry by pushing your drugs in the wrong sections of town, Jack. And you are not doing yourself any favors with me,” Eva said over his cry of pain. “I want information and you’re going to give it to me.”
He grit his teeth as he looked up with hate-filled eyes. “What do you want, bitch?”
Eva ignored the slight.
“First, do you know anything about an armored man and a woman passing through town a few months back?”
He shifted away, eyes glancing down to her hands before returning to her eyes.
Eva gave his hand another light squeeze. “Don’t move. The air is foul enough without your movements stirring up the stench on your bed.”
Eva’s other hand darted up to his face. Her claws dug into his cheeks. “You will answer my questions and say nothing else. I’ve other people I can ask. It would be a mistake to think that I need you alive.”
There wasn’t much of a visible response to that. Perhaps some more sweat, but that might not have been all that unusual given his current, soaked state. But the heart was much harder to disguise.
“I know them,” he said. “Demon hunters, they called themselves.”
Eva felt a slight chill go down her spine.
Maybe she would be skipping out on acquiring more bloodstones. As busy as he might be, there was no way that Devon wouldn’t want to hear about demon hunters around their old city.
“Didn’t see them myself.”
Eva blinked away her thoughts. “But you know them?”
“Some of the others talked about them. One moment they’d ask Barney in the middle of his route. The next they’d be talking to a school teacher. Eventually, they asked Channel Seven.”
“And they got on the local news,” Eva said.
Jack nodded a confirmation.
Her first reaction was that they should have done that in the first place. Get the word out there. Unless they were afraid that the demon would flee. It wasn’t something that Eva could imagine Arachne doing, but other demons might be more cowardly. Or smarter.
They had probably realized that their targets weren’t in the area any longer and ended up deciding to put the word out in an attempt to gather more information.
Some demon or diabolist might have passed through town since Eva had started school, but she doubted it. As Zagan had mentioned a long time ago, diabolists were rare. Maybe not so rare that one could walk the entire continent without encountering one, but rare enough that one wouldn’t be likely to find two unaffiliated diabolists in the same area.
Brakket was something of an oddity in that regard. However, Brakket was a school. Eva was willing to give it a pass on the assumption that schools attracted all kinds of strange sorts. Sawyer and the Elysium Order backed up that assumption.
But if the demon hunters had reason to believe there were demons in the area, then they had been after Eva and Devon.
No, she would definitely be skipping out on the rest of bloodstones. Devon needed to know soon and she didn’t want to stick around on her own. If Arachne were around, perhaps things would be different. As it was, fleeing immediately was the best choice.
“You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”
Narrowing her eyes, Eva looked back at Jack. He sounded resigned. Not a glimmer of hope in his voice. That lack of hope was apparent in his posture as well. He was still in bed, slumped over and staring at the floor.
What to do with him?
“Perhaps,” Eva said, watching as he slumped further. “Perhaps not.”
Pulling out the notebook she had borrowed from the recently deceased leader, Eva looked over Jack’s entry.
There was nothing listed apart from him dealing drugs on the wrong side of town, invading the ‘turf’ of the gang that Eva had essentially dismantled. Of course, she doubted that they would list anything about him being a known sex offender or other degenerate tendencies. Almost all entries in the notebook were about people who owed the gang money in some manner or other.
“Tell me, Jack, have you ever kidnapped anyone?”
His eyes snapped up to meet hers, mouth open to answer. As soon as he made eye contact, he flinched away.
“Answer truthfully. I’ll know if you’re lying.”
Maybe, Eva thought. She could watch his heart rate, but it was erratic enough at the moment that it was doubtful that she could tell a lie from a truth. Jack didn’t know that, however.
“No,” he said, keeping his eyes glued to the floor. “Never.”
“Really?” Eva asked, glancing over to the gun he had tried to kill her with. “No rival drug dealers? No former customers that might have failed to pay you?”
“Look,” he said, meeting her eyes again. This time he managed to hold his gaze. “I sell drugs. Kids mostly, in high school. Dropouts. Some older clients. But I never killed anyone man, you gotta believe me!”
Eva hummed, tapping her finger on top of the book. After a moment of thought, she snapped it shut and tossed it to him.
“I’ll be back. When? Who knows. Maybe in a week, maybe in five years. What I want from you is to find me a list of people who no one will care about. To be clear, I don’t mean homeless people with no families. I’m talking about gangs, murderers, rapists, and pedophiles especially.”
“I’m sure that within the next few days, you’ll hear about seven deceased people all missing their hearts. Yet, I need more. I had to spend far too long hunting down those scum. Next time I need hearts, I want to come here and get a nice neat list from you.” Eva tapped the book with one of her sharp fingers. “Maybe that will help, maybe not. You might be able to make money off it, I don’t care. Though I’d keep it a secret as it is tied to the dead.
“Change your name, move away, blah-blah-blah, I’ll hunt you down and take your heart. Do your job well and there might be rewards.”
Hunting him down might be annoying. In fact, if he ran, Eva doubted that she would bother. But, as with her claim that she could pick out his lies, it was all about the image she gave off. Right now, Eva was going for scary.
Eva had no idea what those rewards would be, but she was sure that she could come up with something. Even if it was just a cheap enchanted object from one of the stores around Brakket. For a mundane person, a safe that could turn invisible would probably be amazing.
But not something she had to worry about now.
Eva built up her magic and teleported away.
Disappearing without waiting for a response should add to the mystique of her presence as well as lock him into agreement.
Besides, she had wasted enough time on him. She had to make a quick pit stop at her hospital.
Then, back to Brakket.