“How is she?”
Nurse Post blinked as she looked up from a clipboard in her hands. A number of graphs and charts covered the topmost paper.
Even if Eva had been standing at a proper angle to clearly see the papers, she doubted that she would understand most of it. A squiggly line here. A flat one there. Tons of words that were shorthand for something. One really had to be in the medical profession to understand any of it.
Which was why she had asked.
Rubbing her temple, Nurse Post shook her head with a sigh. “No change. Martina is still unconscious. We’re going to transfer her to a separate facility next week, one with better facilities to take care of her body and hopefully better facilities to wake her up.”
“I see,” Eva said, putting a thumb to her chin in thought.
A full month after the demon hunters attacked and Martina was still in a comatose state. Every day that passed was another day that Eva considered carrying out Catherine’s favor. And every day, it was slowly getting easier to stomach the idea. It was looking more and more like Martina was already dead. Her body just didn’t know it yet.
It was somewhat odd. Eva hadn’t blinked an eye when she had killed a group of criminals down in Florida. She hadn’t lost sleep over it or even thought about it much after the fact. They were far from the first people she had killed as well.
But Martina… she knew Martina. Eva couldn’t say that she liked her. At the same time, she didn’t really hate her. Worse, killing her while she was unconscious just felt wrong in general. She should at least get a fair fight for her chance to continue living.
Unless, as Eva suspected, she was already dead.
“Any reason you’re not moving her sooner? Or at some point last month?”
“Moving her has to be delicately handled. I and some other doctors who I have spoken with are concerned about shocks to her body. It’s taken a while to arrange smooth transportation.”
“You can’t have Zoe teleport her or something?”
“Don’t know what effects teleporting might have on her,” Nurse Post said with a shrug.
Eva nodded. That made perfect sense to her. She would be the first to admit that Zoe’s teleportation wasn’t suited to demons. Given the sulfur scent left behind on the rare occasions when Martina teleported, she likely used the same method that Eva did. Something that was not kind to regular mortals, even if her familiar contract with Catherine kept her safe from the worst effects.
“In your professional opinion, how would you rate her chances of recovering with the help of this other hospital?”
Nurse Post frowned. Uncrossing her legs, she pushed away from her desk and walked to the side room where Martina was sleeping. She crossed her arms as she leaned against the door frame and peeked in through the window, not opening the door.
Eva followed her up. Being aware that most people who didn’t interact with her on a daily basis found her presence to be at least somewhat off-putting, she kept a short distance. Though, she had noticed that Nurse Post had never shown any real aversion to Eva.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe there is much hope. Not after a full month. Had she woken up even for a few moments at any point, I would have said that there was a chance. As it is?” She shook her head.
“That’s… unfortunate. No potions or magical treatment that might help?”
“Not that I know of. Everything that I thought might work has either been tried or been dismissed as potentially causing a worsening in her situation. The specialists we’re taking her to might know more—I’ll freely say that this is a bit out of my area of expertise. I’m a school nurse, not a brain surgeon. Most of what I’ve tried has been based off the consultation of other professionals.”
Eva sighed and backed away from the room, but paused as she peeked in the window of the room next to it.
There was a bed in the room, but no one in it. That wasn’t to say that the room was unoccupied. A pile of tentacles sat in one corner of the room, slowly twisting and turning the tendrils in the air.
“How is Lucy doing these days?”
Nurse Post moved over to stand just at Eva’s side.
“Again,” she said, “Lucy is a bit outside of what I studied in school. She seems energetic.” The nurse paused as she glanced into the room. “Well, not right now. When she does that seaweed drifting in water act, I think that is her sleeping.”
“And is that a raw steak I see in there?” Eva said, pointing towards a plate on the bedside table. A small plate held a chunk of blood-red meat.
“She hasn’t eaten anything that I’ve put in there for her. I first tried cooked meat, vegetables, fruits, and the like. She still hasn’t eaten as far as I can tell. Despite not eating, she is slowly growing in size.”
“Not as fast as I had expected,” Eva said softly. Arachne could heal an entire limb in a week or two. She had figured that Lucy would be back up and running in a similar amount of time.
When she thought about it more, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Lucy had lost a good portion of her entire body mass. And, if she went by the Arachne metric, Lucy had lost several hundred more limbs than Arachne ever lost at once. Each limb was much thinner than Arachne’s arm, but much longer.
Not to mention, she had lost them to a magical circle constructed by demon hunters. If anyone had a way to stunt demonic healing, it would be hunters. If the room hadn’t been mostly destroyed, she could have asked Devon about the circles. Unfortunately, the time for that had long been lost.
“I wouldn’t worry about feeding her. I don’t have much hunger these days. My eating is almost purely driven by memories and the taste. Arachne hasn’t ever eaten much in my presence either.”
“Doesn’t make much sense. I don’t know how demons can function without fuel. To say nothing of how you can heal on your own.”
“Magic,” Eva said with a shrug.
With a weak chuckle, Nurse Post went back to her desk and retook her seat. “I should have known.”
“So no forming into a person at all? Or even enough to talk?”
“Not that I’ve seen. I do admit that I haven’t spent all that much time inside Lucy’s room.” Nurse Post shifted, crossing one leg over the other. “There is something a little unnerving about Lucy. I try to remain professional, but…”
Eva waved a hand as the nurse trailed off, suppressing a shudder at the same time. “Oh, don’t worry. I feel the same.”
Not so much about Lucy herself. Tentacles could be creepy, but Eva felt relatively used to them. A good number of demons had tentacles. After seeing her domain, Eva had second thoughts about the whole ordeal. Lucy’s domain was disturbing. There was simply no other word for it. Every time she thought about it, she got slight shivers.
“Anyway,” Eva said, “I’ve got to run. I’ll check in again. Maybe just before Martina leaves.”
“I’m sure she would appreciate that.”
With a parting wave, Eva stepped out of the room.
Right into Arachne’s waiting arms.
“No blood on your hands?”
Eva shook her head. “Not this time.”
“The succubus will be irritated.”
“Let her be. Even if Martina can’t recover, I won’t be doing anything here. Not under the Nurse’s nose. It will be at least a week.”
Arachne curled her fingers in the air as they walked down the hallways of Brakket Academy. “Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll keep her away from you if she grows violent.”
Eva reached over and took hold of one of Arachne’s hands. She leaned just a little closer. “Thanks,” she said softly.
As the summer went on, Brakket Academy was slowly coming back to life. A surprising number of students were actually returning. Mostly in the top two years of school—they were probably thinking that they could tough out one more year. However, there had been a marginal decline in student population among the earlier years. Apparently the new first years numbered less than fifteen. Not a particularly good number.
Eva was hoping that the older students were right about nothing too dangerous going on this year.
Maybe next year would be better so long as this year went well. It would be a good thing if nothing happened.
Apart from Arachne’s mission. Eva still hadn’t talked with her about that little issue.
She really didn’t want to. Things were peaceful at the moment and Eva didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.
“It’s nice,” she said as a student passed by them in the hallway. He gave them their room, but otherwise didn’t so much as blink at Arachne. Eva might have expected that of someone from the diablery class, but she didn’t recognize this particular student.
“It’s nice,” she repeated. “Here we are, walking side by side in broad daylight. No one even cares.”
“And after all the pains I went through to hide around here the first year and a half,” Arachne grumbled. She left her mouth in a half-open grimace.
“Oh don’t be like that. If we would have walked around like this my first year, everyone would have freaked out.”
“Then why now?”
“Well, first, general people probably don’t know what you are. We have a zoo out there,” Eva said as she gave a vague gesture off towards the Infinite Courtyard. “It’s full of strange creatures. But that alone wouldn’t be enough to prevent panic.
“The fact is that enough crazy things have gone on around Brakket that you walking around just isn’t that strange anymore. Especially when you’re walking around without being too menacing. And you’re walking with me. Most people are at least vaguely aware of me because… well…” Eva waved a hand around. “Given that you look like me and people haven’t known me to be dangerous, they assume that you aren’t either. Despite what you look like.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“Depends. Is being scary to most mortals a compliment?”
Arachne tilted her chin up, preening. “I suppose it is.”
“You have to admit, this is much better than hiding under my shirt in your spider form.”
“There is more room out here,” she allowed slowly, stretching out an arm as she arched her back. “There are a few advantages to being more discrete.”
Eva pushed open the doors leading out of Brakket Academy, stepping out into the warm summer sunshine. The air was still for the most part, but every once in a while, a light breeze came by and ruined the warm temperature.
There wasn’t a trace of the battle left behind. Every brick glowed underneath the cloudless sky as if they had been individually waxed. What once had been an empty plaza between the dormitory buildings now held a large fountain. Benches encircled the fountain along with several beds of flowers. It was almost more like a grassless park than a plaza now.
To go along with the new park, both dormitory buildings had received a fresh paint job. Eva had attended Brakket Academy for two full years and she had no idea whether or not there were school colors. If there were, she hadn’t a clue what they were. However, the dormitory buildings were decked out almost like bees. They had a dark gray base with golden highlights around windows and doors.
The main school building hadn’t been painted over. Most of it was red brick, but it had been pressure washed. The windows had all been cleaned. It might be scheduled for a paint job, but Eva hadn’t bothered asking anyone.
One thing was certain, whatever the new dean had planned for this year, he wanted to make an impression.
Eva had heard rumors about some sort of contest or tournament, but she hadn’t paid much attention. They were merely rumors. And that was assuming that Eva even wanted to participate in it.
Probably not. She had enough on her plate with Arachne’s mission.
Letting go of Arachne’s hand, Eva skipped forwards a few steps. “Juliana!” she said as she waved an arm through the air.
A certain blond-haired woman was wheeling a wheelchair down the sidewalk towards Brakket Academy.
“And Genoa,” Eva added with a nod towards the woman actually sitting in the wheelchair.
She was looking well. Eva couldn’t see her legs with her eyes as Genoa had her lower half hidden by a quilted blanket, but they had definitely atrophied at least a small amount. Her arms might not be quite the tree trunks that Eva remembered and her cheeks might be a hair towards the gaunt side, but given that she had been sitting or bedridden for months, that was to be expected. Her eyes still held tight to the vibrant life that Eva had seen in them during some of her spars with Arachne.
Those eyes passed over Eva to stare at the spider-demon.
“Juliana told me what you said.”
Arachne stepped forward, moving up to Eva’s side. “I’d like to apologize.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Genoa said, rubbing her chest just beneath her breast. “You did what you thought might get you out of there. I just have one thing to ask. When I get back on my feet, we’re going to fight again. No one else for distractions. No holds barred.”
“To the death?”
One corner of Genoa’s lips curled upwards. “I don’t intend to lose.”
“Mom!” Juliana smacked the back of Genoa’s head. Lightly, but hard enough to wipe the smile off the older woman’s face. “Just accept her apology and move on. Dad would kill you if you got hurt again.”
“Oh please,” Genoa said with a chuckle. “This little hole in my chest is hardly the worst I’ve had. That giant scar across my stomach and chest? I was almost chopped clean in half once. As long as Arachne’s limbs aren’t cursed, I’ll recover.”
“Unless you die!”
“Such little faith you have in your mother,” Genoa said, shaking her head and sparing no exaggeration in doing so. “I’ll be fine. You just watch.”
“I’ll be too busy covering my eyes…” Juliana trailed off as she put her palm to her forehead.
Eva just looked between the two of them, partially in disbelief. Neither one appeared to be taking Genoa’s desire to fight seriously. Glancing towards Arachne, Eva found the spider-demon to be just as confused as she was.
Head tilted to one side, Arachne had her mouth turned downwards in a confused frown. Much of her expression was difficult to tell precisely—a good portion of her face was made up of hard chitin with only the area around her mouth having plates that could slide over each other to form expressions. Eva knew her well enough to feel her confusion.
Catching Arachne’s eye, Eva gave a twitch of her head. Just a hair of a shake.
But enough to get the message across.
Whatever ended up happening, Arachne wasn’t allowed to kill Genoa without exceptionally good reason.
“I’m sure it will be entertaining, no matter what,” Eva eventually said, keeping her tone of voice flat. There was no need to agitate matters by arguing against their little duel.
So long as it went similar to their earlier spars—no real winners—Eva couldn’t care less.
Juliana snapped her eyes up, meeting Eva’s. Her eyes took on a thoughtful look for just a moment before nodding her head.
“It would be entertaining. A spectacular spectacle. We could sell tickets.” She paused just long enough to glare at Arachne and her mother, though Genoa couldn’t see while sitting in the wheelchair. “As long as you two don’t try to kill each other.” She punctuated each word with a tap of her finger on Genoa’s head.
With a great sigh, Juliana slumped her shoulders. “Anyway,” she said, drawing out the word as far as it would go. Looking back to Eva, she said, “What are you two doing out here? Out for a walk? That’s what we’re doing. A little breath of fresh air away from the men of the house.”
“Just came back from the infirmary. Visiting the long-term residents.”
“Ah. Any changes?”
Eva shook her head. “None. Martina is…” Trailing off, Eva leaned to one side, looking past Juliana and her mother.
A man was walking up the road towards Brakket Academy—straight towards Eva and the others. Eva had noticed him through her blood sight, but hadn’t thought much of it until she actually caught a glimpse of him over the top of Juliana’s head.
Walking with a slight limp, the man used a cane. It tapped into the ground with every other step. His hair came to a tight widow’s peak, from there it swept back over his head. Not like it was combed back, but more like he had just run his fingers through his hair a few times after hopping out of the shower.
His face was somewhat flat and wide, giving him a boxy appearance. Lips pressed into a thin, wide line, he didn’t react in the slightest as Eva met his eyes.
Something that had Eva instantly on guard.
Pulling out her dagger, Eva uncorked two vials of Arachne’s blood—and isn’t it nice to have Arachne’s blood again—and readied herself for fighting.
Both Arachne and Juliana noticed Eva’s actions. The former tensing her muscles, preparing to spring into combat the very moment that Eva moved. For Juliana, silvery metal flowed up around her neck and down her arms. One arm kept going, stretching out into a short sword.
Genoa didn’t miss the tension either. She reached under her blanket and withdrew a thin golden wand. It wasn’t the focus that Eva had seen her use in the past—that had been rings—but she wasn’t wearing more than a wedding ring at the moment.
Despite two orbs of blood hovering around in front of Eva, the man didn’t slow his off-beat stride.
Which only made Eva more nervous. People who acted strong typically were.
Unless they were suicidal. Eva hadn’t met too many in that second category.
Turning her wheelchair around on her own, Genoa actually set her wand down.
“Wally?” she said as the man approached.
“Genoa. Good to see you out and around.” He looked over her shoulder, looking over Eva and Arachne. “I’m not so sure about the company you keep.”
“I know who they are. Their appearances were described to me when Mr. Anderson called. I have to say, his proposal to enter children into a contest meant for class three mages on the verge of graduating is intriguing yet equally disturbing. I was unaware that you were a part of it.”
“I’m not.” Genoa glanced up and over her shoulder. “I’m just here to keep an eye on my daughter. She finds herself in an uncanny amount of trouble around here.”
Flicking his eyes from Genoa to Arachne, he gave a slow nod of his head. “Indeed.”
Eva still hadn’t put away her blood or her dagger. Just because Genoa seemed to be friendly with him didn’t mean that he wasn’t looking for an opportunity to attack. In fact, it was all the more likely. Genoa had to know some dangerous people.
Genoa seemed to sense the tension at least. She took in a sharp breath before speaking. “Oh, this is Wallace Redford, current director of the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights.” She turned back to face the guild leader. “You said that Governor Anderson called you in?”
“Quite so.” Wallace took a step forward, looking Arachne up and down before shifting his focus to Eva. “He’s asked me to oversee his little experiment. I can’t say that I am enthused with the prospect. Turning children into monsters?” He turned to Genoa. “I’m surprised to find you supporting this. I’m further surprised to find no bounties filed against anyone involved in this mess.”
Eva cleared her throat before Genoa could speak. “I’m not a monster. And I don’t know what Anderson has planned, but he never touched me. I’ve barely said five words to the man.”
He blinked, drawing the lines of his face down as his mouth twisted into a frown. “I think… that I had better have a word with Mr. Anderson.”
“I think we should come with you,” Genoa said, voice hard. “If he is making children into monsters…” She trailed off with a glance towards her daughter.
“Wheelchair bound or not, I shall vehemently oppose.”