“Eva,” Juliana called after the rushing girl, “wait up.”
The problem with armor, especially metal armor, was that it weighed a ton. Not a literal ton, but definitely more than a school backpack. Other students never carried even a fraction of the weight of Juliana’s armor during their entire tenure at Brakket Academy.
Being a physically fit person, it wasn’t a big deal most of the time. Her mother’s training had built up her muscles and a slow yet steady increase in the amount of metal she carried built them up as well. She lacked the bulging muscles that Prax had and even the finely sculpted body of Zagan, but they were demons. In terms of humans around Brakket, especially those her own age, Juliana felt confident that she was among the top tier in physical ability.
Heat could sometimes be a problem. Whether that be too little heat or too much heat. The weather at Brakket was cold more often than warm. Summers didn’t last quite as long as they did down south. Though she was an earth mage, Juliana had found the application of mild warming spells to be one of the most useful things she had learned. Time well spent. The same was true in reverse. A mild water-based cooling spell worked wonders in the summer. Even if her ability with water magic was a far cry from her ability with fire, which, in turn, was leagues away from her earth magic.
But it worked for what she used it for. Temperature control combined with a proper distribution of the weight around her body let Juliana barely notice her armor while standing or walking around. Short bursts of activity weren’t a big deal either.
Chasing after a girl with demonic legs was quite another matter entirely.
Thankfully, Eva stopped. The black-haired girl spun around on the sidewalk, sending said hair whirling around her.
“Sorry,” she said. “I was just eager to see if Ylva or Zoe found anything important.”
Juliana used the brief pause to breathe in a lungful or two of fresh air. Her helmet wasn’t formed up. It was hard enough to sprint as it was.
When she started moving again, Eva kept her pace down to a brisk walk.
For just a moment, Juliana continued her rest. When she started following again, she kept a few paces behind.
And she watched Eva’s backside, thinking back to what her parents had said.
“She’s a murderer,” her father had said. “She kills people to fuel her magic. You don’t get more despicable than a blood mage.”
He hadn’t said it to her. Juliana had been sitting outside of her parents’ room, listening in on their conversation. He had gone on to say something about how he should never have trusted her in the first place but had been too blinded by the prospect of examining demons and gargoyles and the like.
Juliana hadn’t focused on her father’s excuses. The bit about fueling her magic with people had stuck in her mind.
It really hadn’t been a surprising revelation. Juliana had never seen Eva kill someone. At least, not someone who wasn’t already dead. Eva had killed zombies and skeletons in her presence. Not much brain power was required to come to the conclusion that Eva was a far cry from being a saint.
Eva had outright admitted to killing one of the necromancers back in her first year. Juliana hadn’t thought much of it then. The necromancers had obviously been evil, killing them was a natural progression.
She probably had her mother’s stories to thank for ignoring any ramifications of that. Hunting down dangerous mages and capturing or killing them was a big part of the mage-knight job description.
Though she didn’t know the exact details behind how Eva’s blood magic worked, the idea that killing people was required revealed a great deal about a certain conversation they had held back in their first year.
Eva had refused to teach Juliana anything about her blood magic. Her abject refusal had probably been one of the main causes of Juliana stealing a diablery book after Eva went blind. Or at least, it had contributed to her feelings of inadequacy.
But now, if that had truly been the reason why Eva had refused, it might have actually raised Juliana’s opinion of the other girl.
Eva did bad things. That was something that Juliana knew. But she hadn’t sought to make Juliana like her. She had tried to wean Juliana off the idea.
Something Juliana had snubbed and gone on to screw up all on her own.
She supposed that she should be worried about the fact that Eva was a killer. But, it wasn’t like she had ever tried to kill anyone that Juliana knew. In fact, Eva tried to save people more often than not. The incident with Zagan and Sister Cross being a prime example.
And then there was her mother’s response to her father’s ranting.
“I’ve killed people as well. Devon assured me that she only used unscrupulous sorts of people.”
Of course, the conversation had then descended into arguments about his trustworthiness, diablery, influences on Juliana, each other, and all manner of topics that Juliana hadn’t bothered to stick around for.
The gist of it was that her mother was conflicted on the topic of Eva. She believed that Eva would push Juliana to work harder on her magic. Life was dangerous and Eva was hardly the most dangerous thing around. Better to be prepared for later than face all sorts of elements such as demons and blood mages when she was unprepared.
Her father and Erich were of the opinion that Eva should be avoided at all costs. Given her mother’s state of being mostly bedridden, they would have won out had it not been for Zagan.
That was a whole other can of worms.
But her brother and father weren’t around right now. She would do as she pleased.
Though, since Eva popped back into the dormitory room, she hadn’t done all that much to prove Erich and Carlos wrong. In fact, just the opposite.
Juliana was still a little queasy from seeing the inside of that apartment room. It was like thin intestines had been splattered around the entire place. Not necessarily the most pleasant of things to have come back to. And then there was that vampire.
A vampire that was apparently Zoe’s friend. That had been something of a surprise.
Juliana shook her head as they reentered the apartment building.
While all the excitement was a nice change of pace compared to sitting around and listening to her family argue over her, she wished that everyone could slow down. Just for a few minutes.
She had barely had the chance to talk to Eva, let alone Zoe and Ylva.
As Eva started skipping up the staircase, Juliana considered just taking the elevator. Stairs were another of those things that were easier without armor on. For as long as Juliana had known Eva, she had never once known the girl to take an elevator. Juliana always followed Eva up the staircase, so it wasn’t like she didn’t have the practice.
My vacation must have made me soft, Juliana thought as she placed her hand on the railing.
The climb wasn’t as bad as she had feared from the bottom floor. Though she had skipped up the first few steps, Eva slowed down after that, keeping pace with Juliana.
“So,” Eva said somewhere around the second floor, “taking any electives next year?”
“I guess so,” Juliana said after a moment. She really hadn’t thought about school much. Even though she was coming back to a school, class just felt like such a low priority compared to everything else. “We have to take at least two, right?”
Eva spun around, climbing the stairs backwards. “I think I’m going to take golemancy and warding. Maybe I’ll be able to apply what I learn towards some improvements to my blood wards. I’d consider adding on enchanting for its relation to warding. Unfortunately, I tend to find myself busy,” she said with a wave of her hand in the direction of the upstairs floors. “Maybe in my spare time.”
Mulling it over for a few minutes, Juliana tossed back and forth a few ideas. She wished that she had a list of all the electives, but it wasn’t like whatever she said to Eva was a binding agreement or anything. “Golemancy,” she said after a moment. “That sounds good. I think my parents were already planning on teaching me how to make the miniature creature golems one day. A background in golemancy can’t hurt.”
“My thoughts exactly. Minus the parents teaching me part. Given how useful Basila was, learning to make more would be handy.”
“Oh, right. I haven’t talked to you since then,” Eva said, trailing off with a somewhat somber look crossing her features. That look disappeared after just a moment, replaced by a wide smile. “I kind of turned Basila into a monster. She was quite helpful in getting Shalise and Prax separated.”
“You… turned her into a monster?”
“Using blood magic and a growth potion that Wayne got for me.” Eva stretched her arms out as wide as they could go. “She got pretty big. But it is a bit of a long story,” she said as she dropped her arms to her sides. Her smile once again vanished. “Longer than this staircase anyway.”
“Right. I’ll hold you to telling me later then.”
Eva passed right by the third floor. Zoe and Ylva must still be on the fourth.
“I think that I might take more of Professor Twillie’s classes. A few extra years of magical creatures might make my dad happy.”
Though, that was a big might. Juliana doubted that much of anything would make him happy at the moment. Nothing save for a sudden and inexplicable demise of Zagan and Eva combined with Juliana agreeing to ship off to Scotland.
Eva just hummed at Juliana’s choice in electives. There might have been a slight disapproval in the tone, but nothing too serious. Eva wasn’t the biggest fan of the magical creatures class.
At least it wasn’t history.
Though, that was a required class anyway through the fourth year.
As they climbed up to the next floor, Juliana heard shouting. She tensed before sprinting up the few steps to reach Eva–who was looking significantly less concerned than Juliana felt.
But she didn’t protest as they both sprinted up the final flight of stairs to the floor that had previously held Lucy.
Zoe stood in the hallway. Upon seeing her, the tension in Juliana’s muscles immediately drained away. She was just standing. Not fighting. She didn’t even have her dagger out.
She didn’t look particularly happy.
Juliana wouldn’t be either if there was a man half her height sticking a finger in her face while shouting at the top of his lungs.
Standing there, Juliana found herself stunned. Zoe never struck her as the type to just sit around while being verbally assaulted. Perhaps not the type to retaliate with lightning bolts—that would be more in the style of Juliana’s mother—but somewhere in between.
It took a moment to actually clue into the words that the man was saying. Judging by his repeated gestures towards the room and loud complaints about getting ‘black muck’ everywhere, he was the landlord. If the complaints weren’t enough, the threats about suing Zoe and the school for all they were worth sealed the deal.
Zoe just watched him with a blank expression. Perhaps she had already tried to interrupt or to calm him down. The only time she moved was to wipe a bit of spittle off her cheek.
That movement did bring her eyes off the landlord. She locked gazes with Juliana for just a moment, giving a rueful smile as she did so.
“You think this is funny?” the landlord shouted. An open palm swung out towards Zoe.
It struck skin with a loud smack.
But it didn’t hit Zoe’s cheek.
Ylva hadn’t been in the hallway before.
She was now. It wasn’t a teleport. Juliana had seen her move. It was less of a walk or run and more of a glide. The sudden drop in temperature with her appearance was plain to see on everyone’s breath.
The landlord’s wrist was caught in her firm grip just an inch away from Zoe’s face.
Black lines started spreading up his arm. He watched, face surprised but still angry. That surprise and anger bled away into fear as he started screaming.
Zoe’s hand was on Ylva’s arm almost as fast as Ylva had caught the landlord’s.
As soon as her fingers brushed against Ylva’s skin, a pair of cold, dead eyes turned towards Zoe.
Zoe’s back stiffened. She did not release Ylva’s arm. “Thank you,” she said. “But he doesn’t need to die.”
Ylva’s gaze slowly drifted back to the landlord. “This man attempted to harm one under Our protection. Moreover, his duties do not require the harming of others. His actions came unprovoked.”
“I know. But it was not an offense worth his life. Incarceration and fines for assault or battery would have been the standard procedure. However, if you let him go,” she said, turning to the landlord, “and he leaves us to our investigation, I’m sure we can all forget about what happened.”
Ylva stared for just a moment before releasing his arm.
The landlord fell to the ground. He scrambled away, using one arm and his legs to push away from Ylva. His other arm, the one that Ylva had touched, was slowly returning to its normal color. The black veins were receding.
“I’m sorry Mr. Murray. But we need to get back to work.” Zoe paused with a blink of her eyes. “Wait. Who was it that rented out that room?”
The landlord just stared. As if he couldn’t quite believe that he was being asked a question in such a calm manner after what had just happened. Being told that he doesn’t need to die, thereby implying that Ylva had intended to kill him, would be enough to shake anybody up.
At least, it would have shaken up Juliana. As it was, she could barely believe that Zoe hadn’t even asked if he was alright.
Maybe the situation was just that dire. Or maybe she didn’t want to offend Ylva.
Once the disbelief riddling his face passed, it looked for just a moment like he was about to start shouting again. That stopped the moment Ylva moved.
It wasn’t a big move. Just a light shift of her shoulders.
“Some woman and her boyfriend,” he said as fast as he could. “They destroyed the wall a week ago. I should have kicked them out after that, but they repaired it and promised to buy enough paint to give the entire hall a new coat. I swear, if I see them now–”
“You should find me,” Zoe interrupted. “Or a member of Brakket’s security team. Do you have their names?”
There was a slight pause as the landlord got back to his feet. “I got the names they registered with. Gertrude and Clementine, I think. No last names but they paid well so I didn’t ask.” He took a few steps backwards. “But I want you and your friend out of here by five o’clock. You hear me? Consider this your eviction notice.”
He didn’t wait for a response. The landlord backed up another three steps, turned, and started running.
The key word being ‘started.’
Both Eva and Juliana had stepped to the sides to allow him to pass by unhindered.
As soon as he caught sight of Eva, he jumped back again, this time towards Zoe and Ylva. He clutched one hand to his chest, taking a moment to breathe before edging past Eva. The moment he made it past, he flew down the stairs. Juliana could barely hear him mumbling about freaks on his way down.
If Eva heard him, she gave no indication. Her attention was solely focused on Zoe and Ylva.
“That was interesting,” Eva said as she walked up to the two women.
Zoe sighed. “He isn’t a bad man. But,” Zoe trailed off with a glance towards the room, “we did cause an explosion in his building.”
“If you need a place to live, there’s always room at the old prison.”
“Thanks Eva. I think I’ll try to remain around Brakket Academy. If anything happens,” again, she glanced off towards the destroyed room, “I’d hate to be too far to notice. The dormitory buildings are going to be empty enough that it shouldn’t be a problem to find a room inside.”
Eva’s shoulders dropped ever so slightly. “That’s probably for the best. With how empty the prison is these days, I’m going to be spending most of my time at the dormitory.”
After a quick, noncommittal hum from Zoe, she said, “Lucy?”
“With Nurse Post. I think she’ll heal. The important thing is to ensure that no one is around to hurt her anymore.
“Now,” Eva said, “did those hunters leave anything behind for Nel to track?”
“The room was devoid of personal affects. Not a single hair was found in the shower drain or on the pillows.”
“They knew of Us,” Ylva said. “They would have researched those that serve Us. Nel’s abilities have been taken into account.”
“Before we were… ah… interrupted by the landlord stopping by, we did find this in the bedroom.” Zoe held up a small rectangular sheet of paper.
Eva took it in her hand and Juliana read over her shoulder.
Hello! How are you doing today? Not too well, I’d guess, given the mess you had to wade through to reach this note.
In case this letter has been found by someone random, perhaps a first responder or another resident of the apartment building, please see it delivered to the secretary at Brakket Academy. She’ll know who to deliver it to.
Now that this letter is being read by the proper peoples, I’d just like to say that yes, that mess in the apartment room is one of your security guards. Well, half of the mess is. Oh. Right. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably ask whoever delivered this message to show you to the apartment room.
Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve seen the room, I should point out that the scorch mark at the door was not from your security guard. Just some hel that, as far as we can tell, isn’t associated with everyone else. Don’t worry about it.
You might be looking around and wondering just where your other missing security guard is. I assure you that he is not among whatever remains are left behind.
He’s alive for the moment. Can’t say for how long, but I’m sure that if your devil hurries up, he might be able to save the bastard. He’ll be able to find the morail at a dainty little penitentiary just outside of town. It’s maybe half an hour away by car. I’m sure you all know the place. Sundown seems a fitting time to meet, no?
We’ll be waiting!
P.S. Don’t keep us waiting for too long. We mere mortals don’t have forever.
Juliana blinked with a glance over towards Eva. “I don’t suppose there’s another prison around Brakket?”
In response, Eva clenched her hand into a fist. Rather than crushing the paper, her claws pierced straight through it, tearing one side to shreds.
“Devon is still there. He needs to be warned. All my stuff…”
Whatever Zoe was going to say, she didn’t quite make it. Eva disappeared, leaving a foul stench behind.
Zoe hissed out a small curse before she disappeared as well. Her vanishing was accompanied by a cold air that cleared out the stench of brimstone left behind by Eva.
Juliana stood in the hallway, feeling somewhat upset at having been left behind. Just because she hadn’t been around in forever didn’t mean that she couldn’t help out. In fact, it was probably best to have more humans while demon hunters were around. Humans wouldn’t get stuck inside shackles or other traps.
Though, maybe with how she had acted upon finding Lucy, Eva was right to have left her behind.
She had forgotten just how… intense things could be around Brakket. It wasn’t something that she had prepared for.
With a sigh, Juliana glanced away from the spot where Zoe had disappeared from.
And found that Ylva was staring straight at her.
Rubbing her thumb across the cold band on her finger, Juliana said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get much of a chance to greet you properly earlier.”
“The circumstances were understandable,” Ylva said. “After securing Nel, We will be moving to join Eva and Zoe.”
“I don’t suppose that you might take me with you?”
There was a slight pause as Ylva looked over Juliana. A slight nod sent her platinum hair flowing around her shoulders. “That can be arranged.”
“Thank you,” Juliana said with a smile and a bow. Her father would have a fit.