A wall of cold water slammed into Eva’s face.
Her eyes snapped open. The icy liquid ran down her neck and chest, sending all kinds of shivers through her body.
Cold did not agree with her.
Coughing and sputtering, she tried to reach out with her awareness and get some sense of what was going on.
She was in the women’s ward on her couch. A somewhat soggy couch that had just had ice water dumped all over it.
There would definitely be shouting about that later on.
Devon stood over her with a rusted iron bucket in hand. As Eva blinked up at him, he tossed it off to the side. The loud clatters it made had Eva wincing until it rolled to a stop. He stared down at her with a disapproving frown on his face.
What the frown was for, Eva couldn’t guess. She was far too distracted.
In the distance, Eva could feel a group of demons. Zagan, Catherine, Lucy, and even the carnivean. At first, she thought that she was sensing their blood. With a start, she realized that she was feeling them. The carnivean and Lucy were both stringy, though with enough distinction to tell them apart. Catherine was a ball of chilled emotions.
And Zagan… The only word that came to mind was power. It bordered on overshadowing the rest.
All of them were nearby. Perhaps just barely out of range of her sense of blood.
“You’ve slept for long enough,” Devon said. Without a word of warning, he leaned down and used the fingers of his normal hand to pry open one of Eva’s eyes. His tentacle was coiled around a small pen light that he moved side to side and up and down.
Eva followed the pen light with her eyes. Had she not, Devon would have barked out orders for her to do so. Groggy though she was, she had sat through enough post-treatment examinations to have her reactions being almost second nature.
As soon as he finished with her eyes, he moved on to pinching her cheeks and pulling at her ears.
She just let him perform his examination without protest. Post-treatment examinations were always invasive checkups.
After a moment of more prodding around her face, Devon paused to jot a few notes down in his notebook.
As he did so, Eva took a few moments to focus on herself. One of his questions would eventually be about how she felt and if she had noticed any changes. He always got irritated if she had to think about the answer for too long.
“Open your mouth.”
Eva complied. Opening her mouth turned to a yawn part way through. The yawn wanted to end with her jaw closing, but Eva suppressed the instinct so as to avoid biting off Devon’s fingers.
Though, it almost looked like someone had tried already. Devon’s hand was dotted in cuts and scrapes. Thin lines of blood had leaked out and scabbed over already.
Seeing her looking at his hand, Devon grunted. “You were less cooperative while unconscious.”
Eva meant to ask how long she was unconscious, but the words came out as nothing more than unintelligible mumbles. Devon still hadn’t removed his fingers from her mouth.
Said fingers ran over her teeth, prodded the insides of her cheeks, and even yanked on her tongue.
She smacked his hand away at that last action. “What did you do that for?”
“Your tongue is elongated,” he said almost absentmindedly as he wrote in his notebook. “I’ll get a measurement later.”
Eva rolled her eyes. He said that after just about every treatment. She had never noticed much of a difference and his measurements were usually fractions of a centimeter. That could have just been from natural growth or how relaxed her tongue was at the moment of measurement. Still, Eva stuck out her tongue just to test, feeling it pass over surprisingly sharp teeth on its way out of her mouth.
She blinked at what she saw.
Her tongue was darker in color. No longer the healthy pinkish red, but almost black. Maybe more of a gray color. Previously, she might have been able to touch the underside of her nose with her tongue. Now, it took no effort to get it up and around the peak of her nose.
“We should talk about your use of the word ‘elongated’ and how much it never applied until today,” Eva said.
Devon just harrumphed. He folded his notebook under his arm while he used both his tentacle and hand to run down Eva’s side, counting her ribs under his breath. Once satisfied, he opened his notebook again and jotted something down.
“How do you feel?”
“Like I had a bucket of ice water poured all over me and haven’t been given a towel to wipe it up.”
“Interesting,” he said, making another note. “The water was just normal water from your rune system. No ice added. It had actually been sitting out for about fifteen minutes. Should have been closer to the ambient temperature.”
Eva glared at him. “Are you going to give me a towel or not?”
He tapped the tip of his pen against his notebook three times.
As if he actually has to think about it.
Eventually, he decided. With a resigned sigh, he headed back into the women’s ward shower room. A moment later, he reappeared with a fluffy purple towel.
Which he threw at her.
It smacked her right in the face.
Eva let out a small growl as she started drying herself off. “Apart from that, pins and needles.” She paused her efforts with the towel and held a hand in front of her face. “I can’t seem to stop shaking.”
“Likely left over from the pain rather than any side effect of the treatment itself,” Devon mumbled, noting something in his notebook anyway.
That made sense well enough. “There was a lot more pain than I had expected. It was intense. Drastically different from the treatments with Arachne.”
“I anticipated that.”
“You could have warned me.”
“That would have just caused unnecessary apprehension. Anything else?”
“I can feel the other demons. Before, I might have been able to sense Zagan if I was concentrating. Never could tell about the others though. Now it is like they’re broadcasting themselves to me. Each one is distinct and clear, though Zagan still towers over the rest.”
“Really?” Devon’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead a good inch. “With the somewhat drastic changes to your body–”
Eva glanced down at herself, double-checking that she still looked like a human on the outside. She did. And, through her sense of blood, she decided that she was mostly human internally as well. Although, most humanoid demons tended to look indistinguishable from humans even on the inside. Had she not already memorized their circulatory systems, Eva wouldn’t be able to tell Zagan and Catherine apart from anyone else while they were in their human form.
Lucy was a bit different, being a mass of tentacles compressed into a humanoid form.
Blinking, Eva realized that Devon was still talking.
“–jump started or skipped over part of the process. I doubt you’re fully demon yet, but this may have accelerated things. I’ll need a more in-depth examination to be certain.” Devon hummed for a moment, tapping a finger on the edge of his notebook. “What about farther away? Can you sense the hel? Or any other demons at your school?”
Eva closed her eyes in concentration. Leaning in and listening, metaphorically, she found nothing more than the four demons around her prison.
“Nope,” Eva said. “Maybe Zagan is overpowering anyone who is too far away. Or I just can’t feel them from this far away. Once I get back to the city, I’ll feel around a bit and let you know.”
Devon marked a few things down with a nod. “Speaking of the demons. You need to go get rid of them. They won’t leave.”
“Won’t leave? How long has it been since the end of the ritual.”
“Two hours. And the succubus keeps trying to corner me. You can tell it that I am not interested.” He blinked before shaking his head. “In fact, use harsher words than that. Much harsher words.” He snapped his notebook shut and regarded her with a glare. “And that devil hasn’t moved at all. Get rid of them then come back and see me. We’ll get those measurements.”
He wandered off towards the kitchen, muttering something to himself that Eva couldn’t quite catch.
Rather than jump up to go confront the gaggle of demons outside, Eva just sat back on the couch.
She didn’t want to move.
Pins and needles poked all through her body with any kind of movement. She had been keeping a straight face in front of Devon, but her face had taken on an unpleasant grimace now that he had gone. It wasn’t that bad of a pain. Cutting herself for blood hurt worse. Having her eyes removed had hurt far worse.
But it was constant and everywhere. That was more than enough to make it annoying.
Hopefully it would die out after a few minutes. If it continued for any length of time, she might just go insane.
Apart from the pins and needles, Eva didn’t feel all that bad. Her treatments with Arachne usually left her feeling lethargic for most of the day. If she even woke up before the next day. Now it had been a mere two hours, according to Devon, and she felt full of energy.
Of course, the ritual itself had lasted a lot longer. They had started not long after noon and it was now dark outside the window. Maybe just a short time after dusk, maybe it was almost morning. Eva couldn’t see the clock from where she lay and getting up just to check sounded painful.
But she couldn’t just lie around all night. Especially not with all the demons sitting around.
Zagan did whatever he wanted. The fact that he had decided to stick around wasn’t any more surprising than finding out he had disappeared immediately after would have been.
Catherine, on the other hand, didn’t make sense. The succubus hadn’t even wanted to come. Eva had expected her to be the first one gone. She had games to get back to, or whatever else the succubus did.
And what had Devon said? She was trying to corner him? Eva couldn’t help but make a face at the thought.
Stalking Devon shocked Eva more than anything else. Succubi sure had strange tastes. Weren’t they supposed to be extraordinarily vain creatures?
Devon was not handsome by anyone’s definition of the word. His beard was scraggly and unkempt at the best of times, as was his hair. With his nose looking like it had been broken a few too many times, wrinkles lining his face, and small scars around where the wrinkles weren’t, Devon couldn’t attract an ogre, let alone a succubus.
At least, that was what Eva had assumed before hearing that. Maybe Catherine saw something beneath his rugged exterior. Some inner beauty. His charming personality, perhaps?
The thought had Eva bursting out in laughter—laughter that rapidly turned to groans as the ache of her body flared.
Regardless of what Devon and Zagan said about the ritual, Eva hoped beyond hope that she wouldn’t pick up any strange traits from having Catherine as a donor.
Though, she had to admit that she wouldn’t mind having the succubus’ body and natural grace.
With a sigh, Eva swung her legs over the edge of the couch while trying to ignore the needles poking her body. It was actually somewhat like having a limb fall asleep.
Something that hadn’t happened to her since she got Arachne’s limbs.
Pushing herself up to her feet, Eva took one step.
She immediately stumbled into the table, hopped twice to get away from it without crashing onto it, bumped into a chair, and promptly fell to the ground.
Eva didn’t move from her spot on the rug in the middle of the common room. So much for a succubus’ grace, she thought with a sardonic smile.
After several minutes of just resting against the floor, the ache in her body died down enough that she was willing to try again. Eva climbed to her feet and managed to remain steady all the way to the door.
The pain was dying down. Slowly. A good nap would probably have it gone entirely by the time she awoke.
She felt far too awake to even think about taking a nap.
Walking around agitated the feeling of needles under her skin. At the same time, every step seemed to lessen the feeling. By the time she reached the ritual circle at the basketball court, Eva could barely feel any discomfort at all. Although she still felt shaky.
Eva took one glance around the basketball court and shivered. An eerie feeling overcame her as she spotted Zagan.
The devil was meditating. Or, he had his eyes closed and his hands resting in his lap. An apparently meditating Zagan was one of the strangest things that Eva had seen in a long time. Worse, he was still naked; he apparently hadn’t bothered to put on his clothes again.
Neither had the carnivean. She had an unwavering glare fixed on Zagan. If looks could kill…
Well, Zagan would probably survive.
Catherine—now in her full demon form, wings, tail, and all—hadn’t bothered to gather up her clothes either, but Eva had somewhat expected that. The succubus didn’t like clothes at the best of times and had even less shame than Eva. She was pacing around in the grass to the side of the cement and had been at pacing for a while if the shallow trench was any indication.
Glancing down at herself, Eva realized that she was still naked as well. The only ones with any clothes on were Serena and Lucy, though Serena had doffed her heavy winter clothing now that night had fallen.
The two clothed people were talking to each other at the far end of the court, too quiet to be heard.
It didn’t really matter. None of the demons would care about nudity. Devon didn’t care. Eva doubted that he actually saw people as people, let alone women as women or men as men. To say nothing of how he felt about actual demons.
Serena had whistled at both Zagan and Catherine, but she probably didn’t really care either, being dead and all. If she did, oh well.
Eva was curious about what Serena and Lucy were talking about. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a chance to go find out.
The moment Catherine noticed Eva’s presence, the succubus flapped her wings twice. That carried her just high enough over the ground for her to glide over and swoop down in front of Eva.
“I want to use another favor,” she said before her feet had even settled on the ground. “Make that man listen to me.”
Eva thought back to her thoughts on Devon and frowned. “Are you sure you want to waste a whole favor on Devon? He isn’t that good-looking. Surely you have higher standards than him.”
Catherine blinked. Her eye twitched as she shot Eva a glare. “Make him put me in the center of that circle.”
“You,” Eva started after a moment of silence. “I don’t… I mean, you’re already a demon.”
“Every few months, you would show up stronger than you were the day before. I knew something unnatural was going on, but I couldn’t figure out what.”
Somehow, Eva doubted that Catherine had tried very hard to figure it out. She hadn’t even asked. Though Eva was trying to keep her treatment a secret from most mortals, she would probably have told Catherine. Maybe. It was a prospect that had been more likely over the last semester, after Eva had a chance to get to know the succubus better during the diablery class.
“When I first met you, you were barely a blip on my mini-map. Now…” The succubus took in a deep breath. “I want in on it. I finally know what was being done to you and I want it.”
“Well, I don’t have a problem with it,” Eva started. A slight glint over Catherine’s shoulder caught her attention.
Zagan, still in his meditative pose, had opened his eyes. His gaze met with Eva’s for just a moment. The corners of his lips curled upwards just a hair.
He knew. Somehow, some way, he knew what Catherine would ask. And he planned for it.
Eva broke her staring contest with the devil to glance at Lucy. She had wondered—had assumed that he had asked to bring Lucy along in case he decided to skip out. But no. Now Eva could see it. Lucy was here to be a third demon for Catherine. Zagan and Qrycx being the first and second. It was why he was still hanging around and likely why Qrycx was glaring at him. He must have ordered the carnivean to stay.
Obviously, Qrycx hadn’t wanted to die again so she had complied.
He knew, Eva thought again as she turned her eyes back to Zagan. Whether through some demonic ability or just through reading her personality, he had expected her to ask about being involved in the ritual.
And he had called it an experiment.
Frowning, Eva again met with Catherine’s eyes. Having recalled that last little tidbit, she was actually worried about Catherine. Being involved in something that Zagan called an experiment couldn’t be good for her health.
“Will it even work for you though?” Eva asked, mostly as a way to delay as she continued to think. “It was meant to turn me into a demon, not turn a demon into a stronger demon.”
“It will take modification, but that shouldn’t take long. I understand ritual circles, a former master ensured I had a background in basic mortal magics. While I could modify it myself, double checking with the creator will help remove any unforeseen problems that I might miss on my own.”
Eva raked her claws through her hair, sweeping it all back behind her head. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to ask him. About talking about it, at least.” She fixed Catherine with a glare. “Be careful, be sure if and when you actually do the ritual.”
“Didn’t know you cared,” Catherine said with a frown.
Catherine snorted. She turned half-away, staring at the ritual circle with unblinking eyes.
Zagan had again closed his eyes and resumed his meditation.
Lucy and Serena looked like they wanted to come over and talk. At least, Serena looked like she wanted to come talk. Lucy was staring at the starry night sky with a wide grin on her mouth. A too-wide grin.
If any student at Brakket Academy still thought that she was even partially human, it would be a miracle.
Eva gave Serena a sorry smile—one that said that they could talk later.
“I do care about you,” Eva said. “As far as all the people I know go, you’re one of the more agreeable to speak with. And with Arachne… with that incident, I’d rather not needlessly lose any more friends.” The last word came out almost as a whisper as she remembered her conversation with Serena the other day.
“Friends?” Catherine gave a small snort.
But she didn’t deny it, Eva thought with a smile. That was another friendship finger that she could tick off. Her smile faltered just a hair as her thought process continued onwards. Unless the snort was her denying it.
Catherine turned back, eying Eva up and down. “Just go get the diabolist.”
“Demonologist,” Eva corrected. “He’ll get mad if you call him otherwise.”
“Whatever.” Catherine dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. “Hurry up. We’re on a time limit. I want this done before Zagan decides to leave.”
Eva shrugged, but didn’t argue. Zagan probably wouldn’t go anywhere since he was the one who wanted the experiment to go ahead.
But, Zagan was a fickle creature. Eva complied with Catherine’s request.
“Devon,” Eva called out as she entered the women’s ward.
“In here, girl,” came a voice from the kitchen. It sounded as if his mouth was half full of food.
Sure enough, Eva walked in to find Devon shoveling a bowl of ramen down his throat.
He held up a set of calipers in his tentacle and waved her over with them, not bothering to actually verbalize anything as he slurped up another noodle.
“The demons aren’t gone just yet,” Eva said. That actually got him to glare at her. Before he could empty his mouth and start berating her–or worse, not empty his mouth and start berating her–Eva said, “but I think you should talk to Catherine first.”
His narrowed eyes blinked wide open. A moment later, he leaned back in the chair and looked up with a long groan at the ceiling. “The harsh words… it liked them, didn’t it?”
“Not really. Probably. Actually, she wants to be part of an experiment.”
Devon shifted, looking back at her. “What sort of experiment? I am not interested in most things that a succubus would consider experimental.”
“Catherine wants to be in the center of the treatment circle.”
His fingers tapped against the table, beating out an irregular rhythm. He stared. The gears turning in his head was almost audible. Slowly, Devon’s gaze shifted to his notebook.
“It wouldn’t work,” he eventually said. “The succubus wouldn’t gain anything. Not unless…”
Devon trailed off. Ramen forgotten, he picked up his notebook and started flipping through the pages.
“She says that she knows a few modifications that would need to be made. And, the reason why all the demons are still here is to run this second experiment. I think she wants to do it tonight. Like, now. Or as soon as the modifications to the circle can be done.”
Eva had been hoping that telling him why the demons were around might help entice him further.
She should have known better.
Devon’s eyes narrowed. “The pillar wants to do it,” he said with a flat voice. “It wouldn’t stay here otherwise.” He snapped his notebook shut with a loud clack. “Forget it. I’m not playing into a bunch of demons’ hands. And definitely not the devil’s.”
Really should have known better, Eva thought. But still, this was Catherine’s request. Zagan might have known about it, but he hadn’t forced Catherine to suggest it as far as Eva could tell. Not only was she using up a favor in asking to get him to come, but she was a friend.
Could she just leave it with him declining? Catherine wanted to use up a whole favor on this, so probably not.
“Ah,” Eva said. “That’s a shame.” She turned towards the kitchen exit. “I suppose I’ll just go tell Catherine and especially Zagan that you don’t want a thing to do with them. I’m sure that Zagan will be only mildly disappointed that he wasted his time by waiting around.”
Eva started walking away. Slowly. All while counting down in her head.
The second she hit zero, Devon spoke.
Eva stopped, glancing back with a vapid smile on her face.
He did not sound happy.
“I know what you’re doing.”
“I know you know. That doesn’t change the fact that I wouldn’t want to anger Zagan. And that’s taking into consideration that he wouldn’t kill me on a whim for the simple fact that he is interested in finding out what lies at the end of my treatment.”
Eva turned, facing the door again. “Besides, what do you want me to do? Sit around so they end up waiting even longer? Zagan might just be more angry at that. Glad to know that you’ve got such confidence in your abilities though.”
Devon didn’t move. Not to speak. Not to get up. So, Eva left.
By the time she reached the wall around the women’s ward, Devon was scrambling after her.