At least nothing is on fire, Eva thought with a welling of relief deep inside.
In fact, better than nothing being on fire, nothing looked damaged at all. Everything in the women’s ward was just where she had left it. Outside, well, the prison was a fairly large place. Eva was mostly certain that everything was normal. Her blood wards gave her a view of the place in a manner reminiscent of her using clouds of blood to see and through that, she couldn’t see anything amiss.
Neither could she sense the presence of Daru anywhere. Nor any sign of him physically being here through her sense of blood. If this were a trap, she would have expected some trail of breadcrumbs to point her in the right direction.
Then again, it was barely past dawn. Dew coated the grass and the sun was too weak to give off much heat. The note had said to come at nightfall.
Which meant that she might have a few hours to set up traps before they showed up.
First thing was to prepare her secondary blood wards around the prison. They were wards that Eva had set up after the Elysium Order had attacked. The nuns had sat outside of her wards, taking them down while being a safe distance away. Eva’s secondary wards would lie dormant in a ring around the edges of her main ward, surrounding the prison. If someone walked up and tried to take down the main wards, the secondary wards would activate and hopefully ruin someone’s day.
It probably wouldn’t work against anyone who knew what they were doing. Someone would probably notice.
Hiding her wards better was one of the things that Eva was hoping to learn in next year’s schooling.
But, delaying attackers for a few extra minutes might make all the difference in the world.
Turning back into the women’s ward, Eva ran straight into Zoe. The professor immediately clasped her hands on Eva’s shoulders, freezing her movement.
“What were you thinking?”
“Devon needs to be warned,” Eva said. That was the second thing she needed to do. It would have been the first, but she didn’t want to run from the women’s ward all the way out to Devon’s building only to have to run back to the women’s ward.
“There could have been traps. Shackles in your gate room or even something as simple as a bomb.”
Eva opened her mouth to retort, but found she had no real response. The women’s ward, and the prison by extension, had always been safe. Well, almost always. Barring that one incident with the Elysium Order inquisitors. An incident that her secondary blood wards should mitigate in the future.
But she hadn’t even considered that someone could have taken down her wards in the two or so hours since she was last here, set up traps, and waited.
And if those traps had been intended for Zagan…
Eva shuddered. There likely wouldn’t have been anything left of her.
“Alright. I concede the point. But it is safe right now. My wards are still up and Devon is still around. Or, the carnivean is at least. I assume that he is with her.
“Actually, if you run and warn Devon, I’ll get a few traps of my own set up. We’ve got until, at the latest, nightfall. Best to use our time wisely.”
“What kind of traps?”
“Well, first, don’t walk outside the prison walls for any reason. Obviously, you can teleport back to Brakket if you need to, but the immediate area around the prison might cause bodily explosions.”
“That’s…” Zoe trailed off, rubbing her forehead. She pulled out her cellphone and started typing away. “I’m warning Wayne,” she said.
“What’s your number anyway?” Eva asked as she pulled out her own cellphone. “And Wayne’s. Do you have Catherine’s number as well?”
Catherine was supposed to have met her at the dormitories along with Prax. That was obviously not going to happen now. She needed to get word to them.
But she also needed to do the wards and other traps.
“You got a cellphone?”
“Sort of. I barely know how to work it.” Eva shoved the phone into Zoe’s hands. “Put in everyone’s phone numbers while you walk over to Devon’s building. Tell him that we might be hosting some demon hunter guests.”
Eva didn’t wait for any further protests, questions, or comments from Zoe. She all but ran back into her room.
The hovering orb of blood that both powered her wards and held the blood from everyone keyed in had grown quite large since she had first created it. Just about everyone that Eva knew had wound up keyed in at some point. Though they needed to donate only a small vial’s worth of blood, it all added up. A mixture of black and red, demon and human blood all swirled together.
Seeing the ward only reassured Eva that nothing untoward had happened either while she was hunting down Sawyer or during the few hours that she was gone rescuing Lucy. When people not keyed into the ward tried to walk around inside the area of effect, the orb would shrink. Not nearly so much as one of her shields, but enough to be noticeable.
And when she had finally gotten around to repairing the ward after the attack from the Elysium Order, there had been nothing left of the orb save for the blood used for keying people in.
Unfortunately, her secondary set of wards couldn’t be activated from her room. They were essentially small yet overlapping bubbles set up around the walls of the prison.
Turning to her window, one inside her room that hadn’t been obstructed by Serena, Eva blinked straight out to the nearest wall. It didn’t take long for her to open up the small box that held the blood ward.
While the main ward had started out around the size of a basketball and had grown to match a small beach ball, the secondary wards were much smaller. About the size of a tennis ball. They had much less area to cover, but there were a lot more of them.
The container was just a simple plastic storage box. While it would have been nice to have Ylva make some solid void metal cubes with intricate locking mechanisms, Ylva had already offered Eva so many favors for free. Even though the favors suited Ylva’s designs just as much as Eva’s, asking for more seemed to be in poor taste. And, while she had money, even just a mundane lockbox was out of price range for the number that she needed.
So plastic boxes it was. Eva had added a few runes to lock them down, but that was more to keep the elements out than people. If someone managed to get this close to them, they would either be exploding from the main wards or find the runes to be less of a deterrent than a plastic tarp.
Opening the box, Eva activated the ward. It wouldn’t actually cause death just yet, but it was ready to be fully turned on.
Unfortunately, that was only one of… a lot. Eva blinked straight to the next box after sealing the first and repeated the process.
She blinked to the next.
And the next.
And the next.
She only made it about halfway around before Devon stormed out. Zoe and the carnivean trailed just behind him, with Zoe wincing and rubbing her forehead. The reason for her headache quickly became apparent.
Just behind the carnivean was a certain familiar demon with waxy skin. The same one that he had summoned immediately before the Elysium Order had attacked.
Eva didn’t bother to stand and greet them. She finished activating the ward that she had been working on before turning to regard the newly summoned demon.
Through her sense of demons, she had felt it pop into existence–or the mortal realm–somewhere around a third of the way through the wards. However, as before, she couldn’t see any blood within the wax construct. Until she had looked at it with her eyes, all she had known was that a new demon had been summoned.
Whether or not it was the same one that he had summoned before, Eva couldn’t say. The demon was female in form, made of black wax with green flames for hair and glowing red eyes. It looked like the same one, but Eva didn’t know much about that species of demon. For all she knew, they all looked exactly the same.
It didn’t help that she only vaguely remembered the demon. Being skewered by Sawyer’s cursed blade had overshadowed pretty much every other event that day.
Eva turned her gaze away from the waxy demon’s glowing eyes. The intense pain coursing through her mind was something that she definitely did recall.
Nowhere in sight was the Lord of Slaves or the non-euclidean demon.
Something that didn’t fill Eva with confidence. These demon hunters thought that they could take on Zagan. A laughable prospect, but not something to take lightly anyway.
Arachne had been able to kill the carnivean without much trouble. The wax demon had a formidable ability, but it didn’t look like it could take much punishment.
Eva would be feeling much safer if Devon had gone all out.
It was a good thing that Zoe had shown up. Going around activating all the wards wasn’t a difficult task, but it was time consuming. If he was prepared earlier, all the better.
“Thought you said you weren’t followed, girl,” Devon called out as he neared, somehow managing to grumble under his breath and shout out over the short distance at the same time.
“Still don’t think I was,” Eva said. “They were here the very day I got back from Florida.” She gave a light nod towards the wax demon. “I thought that we weren’t supposed to be summoning things.”
“Either I’ll be alive and worry about the consequences later or I’ll be dead and not care much,” he said with a shrug.
Martina feels much the same way, Eva didn’t bother saying. It wouldn’t surprise her in the least if Devon didn’t even remember who Martina was.
Eva glanced back to the wax demon. It was obviously dominated. The way it moved was stiff and unnatural. In comparison, the carnivean had her hands deep in the pockets of a sweatshirt and was glancing off to one side with an impotent scowl on her face.
“You’re going to summon any other demons?”
“She,” he thumbed over his shoulder, “said nightfall. I’d rather not sit around with dominated demons for the whole day.”
“Nightfall is when they’re expecting to fight Zagan,” Zoe said, still rubbing her forehead. “They could show up at any time between.”
Devon’s already dark countenance took a turn for the worse. “He is coming here?”
“I don’t think he knows,” Eva said. Given how often he appeared out of nowhere knowing things, she quickly amended herself. “At least, I haven’t told him. And I don’t think that Zoe showed him the letter either.”
The letter that was a torn, crumpled mess back in the women’s ward.
Zoe, meeting Eva’s eyes, shook her head. “Unless Ylva or Juliana went to tell him.”
“That is a possibility. But if they didn’t, should we tell him? This was his trap after all. If he gets here early enough, he might be able to do something about it.”
Zoe glanced around the old sandstone buildings, looking over the wall of the prison and off into the distance towards the center of the complex. “Unless we’re already inside of a larger trap.”
Eva started, jumping slightly. Not so much at Zoe’s suspicion, though the idea that the trap had already been set was a worrying one, but at the loud scoff from Devon.
“If you’re thinking that there are some shackles around the prison, don’t. The strongest shackles will become worthless graffiti at the first mistake. Shackles large enough to ring in the prison would have many points of failure.”
“Not to mention the time setting up something so large would have taken,” Eva added. “Surely Devon, myself, the carnivean, or someone else would have noticed a few demon hunters running around outside.” Though she had been gone for a few days. Still, Devon wouldn’t have dropped the vigil quite so hard. “And no one has been inside the prison. My wards prove as much.”
Devon scoffed again, putting on a light sneer as he spoke. “Are these the same infallible wards that kept the nuns out?”
“They worked just fine until the nuns took them down. I would have noticed had someone taken them down again.” Glancing back to the plastic crate, Eva shook her head. “Speaking of, I need to get back to work.”
“Do we tell Zagan or not?”
“No,” Devon snapped. “He’s been here enough.”
“And he didn’t do a single thing against you,” Eva said. “I’d say tell him. But up to you I guess.”
Eva blinked away, straight to the next blood ward. She had no desire to get into yet another argument with Devon about Zagan. Especially not when half the prison was still unprotected from the secondary array.
After a few minutes of discussion between Zoe and Devon, Zoe teleported away. Probably to go find Zagan, though Ylva and Juliana were other possibilities.
Eva paid them no mind, watching Devon skulk back to his cell block as she rounded a corner. By the time she had finished traversing the perimeter of the prison, the sun had climbed the sky. Noon.
Still no sign of any demon hunters.
— — —
Martina Turner propped her elbows up on her desk and clasped her hands together just beneath her nose as she stared at the wall of her office.
She was not having a good day.
What else is new.
Most days weren’t good, these days. Tolerable was about the best that she could hope for. Days where nothing happened, where Governor Anderson held his tongue on any reports that he may have, where investigative journalists weren’t harping at her door about the sky—or worse, mundane journalists taking the sudden notoriety of Brakket City as an opportunity to question magic.
Those last ones were the worst. People should mind their own business. Especially the mundanes. It was getting to the point where she was thinking about sending Zagan to answer questions instead of Catherine.
Of course, it hadn’t helped that she had personally had to chase away some of the journalists over the past week.
Catherine, her familiar, had gone missing for several days. As Martina had later found out, the succubus had been off gallivanting with the self-proclaimed diabolist. And not gallivanting in the manner normally associated with succubi. Rather, she had been researching some ritual circle nonsense.
Martina did not consider herself a slave driver in any sense of the phrase. Both her familiar and her contracted demons were free to go about whatever it was that they got up to in their spare time, so long as they did as she asked when she asked. Having Catherine just up and disappear for most of a week had Martina pulling hair from her head in large clumps.
Not literally, but the stress was there.
Just when she had reeled in the wayward succubus, the current situation sprung up.
Two of her security team murdered. Two demons missing.
Worse, the murders had not been behind closed doors. Not when both bodies had been lying out in the courtyard between the dormitory buildings in the early morning hours, ready for any students still around to wake up and spot them. It was a great deal more difficult to cover up public killings.
Two demon hunter related killings.
The only bright spot in the whole mess was that the hunters were not applying scorched earth tactics. They hadn’t announced themselves in any manner, the school wasn’t in flames, and the citizens were largely unaware of the possible danger posed by the hunters. Typically, if a community was suspected of willingly or knowingly harboring demons, all involved would be killed. Though exact amounts of survivors often depended on the temperaments of the specific hunters.
Martina wasn’t sure what these particular hunters believed in, but she believed that a large portion of their passiveness—if kidnapping Lucy and Daru could count as passive—was because of Zagan. And the hel, to a lesser extent.
“Even the most insane demon hunters would be hesitant to engage in combat with them,” Martina said as a sort of conclusion to her speech. “So I’m sure that you can understand my disinclination towards sending Zagan away. Especially out of town, even if the old penitentiary isn’t all that far. Him being away could spell doom for the city as a whole.”
“To be perfectly honest,” Zoe said after a moment’s pause, “I don’t know the correct course of action. Given that Zagan was named in the letter, I felt it prudent to let him know.”
Martina did not miss the narrowed eyes and the clenched teeth on Zoe as she looked over Martina’s shoulder.
“As there is no evidence thus far of any traps at the prison, whatever these hunters had intended might be something that can be set up quickly. Something to be aware of regardless of whether or not they follow through with their original plan. Even that is in question given both Lucy’s survival and Ylva having avoided whatever trap had been intended for her.”
Pausing for a moment, Martina leaned back in her chair. She half expected Zagan to cut in with his own observations. Or, more likely, for him to run off without her explicit consent.
He did neither, seemingly content to remain standing just behind Martina.
“Perhaps there was never a trap,” Martina eventually said. “The letter could have simply been a means to draw Zagan away from town, giving these hunters free rein to wreak whatever havoc they wished.”
After a brief noncommittal hum from Zoe, she said, “I suppose that is possible. Either way, it is better to be safe than sorry. I will be returning to the prison to render whatever assistance I can.”
Martina nodded and waved the professor away. She had half a mind to insist on her staying around Brakket. Though they didn’t often agree on things—especially things related to demons—Martina had to admit that Zoe was a talented mage. However, what she could do that Zagan couldn’t was essentially nothing.
“Before you go,” Martina said as a thought hit her, “where is the hel?”
“The last I saw of her, she was still at the apartment building.” She paused after she spoke, turning her gaze to one side. Nodding to herself, Zoe glanced back towards Martina. “I’ll be finding her before heading back to the prison.”
“Very well.” Martina couldn’t do much about that, as much as she wanted to. Ylva wasn’t a demon under her control. “Stay safe.”
Zoe blinked, regarding Martina with an odd look in her eye before she finally nodded. “You as well,” she said as she stood.
Martina just rolled her eyes as Zoe walked out of the room. She couldn’t be quite sure what that last look had been, but it was almost as if Zoe had expected her to wish her death.
Obviously, Martina didn’t want Zoe to die. Finding a replacement theory professor would be a nightmare. Especially if she was more or less alright with demons. Something of this scale would be near impossible to cover up. Half of her staff would probably be resigning before next year started.
As such, if Zoe and her little group could clean up these demon hunters quietly and away from Brakket, all the better for Martina.
As soon as the door had firmly shut behind the professor, Martina kicked back in her chair, propping her feet up on top of her desk. She pulled a bottle of Hellfire from her desk drawer and didn’t even bother to pour it into a glass before drinking down half the bottle.
She slammed the bottle down on the desk. Breathing out a breath that felt like it was on fire, she glanced over her shoulder.
“What do you think?”
Zagan walked around her desk, seating himself in the chair that had just held Zoe.
“When you offered me excitement, I was focused on a single topic. That of the odd happenings in Hell. Never did I expect you to actually deliver on your promise.”
“I’m talking about the demon hunters.”
“I agree with your assessment. They were trying to get me out of the way. A distraction while they cleaned up the rest of the demons in town, most likely. Powerful though I am, I am limited to a single location at a time.
“Whatever their plan is to dispatch me does catch my interest. I look forward to their attempts.”
“Can you not simply deal with them now? Nip this problem in the bud before it gets worse?”
Zagan turned his eyes up, glaring at Martina. “You promised me excitement. Sending them on to Death before they are ready for me would be the opposite of excitement.”
Martina didn’t so much as feel the slightest discomfort under his gaze. She had spent enough time around him for any danger he might have posed to have worn off. His words were another story. She buried her head into her hands, rubbing her eyes.
“I was afraid that you would say that.”