After hearing Anderson’s true plan—getting children to summon demons and either bind them within their bodies similar to what Shalise had done with Prax or contract with them—Eva was significantly less worried. If Anderson was trying to turn more humans into demons or even just amputating limbs to graft demon limbs on, she imagined that there would be no small amount of outrage from just about everyone. Parents, teachers, and plenty more would be rioting.
Not that summoning demons was much better. The two hunters who had attacked were not going to be the last ones. As soon as word spread just a bit more, Brakket would be under attack from all sides.
Anderson’s response to that had been to simply summon more demons. There were an infinite amount of demons and a limited amount of demon hunters. With a decent portion of the school summoning demons, they should be able to deter just about any attacks.
Eva had considered arguing against summoning so many demons. It hadn’t exactly worked out for Martina and that wasn’t even counting the Hell situation. They needed to summon Void without rending reality and bringing all of Hell with him.
However, Devon had been unable to summon demons since Arachne arrived. He had the carnivean and hadn’t sent the wax demon back—she was locked up in solitary confinement with several sets of shackles to keep her in place—but a few other attempts had produced nothing but enigmas.
So unless Anderson knew something Devon didn’t, she wasn’t too worried. He would fail a few times and give up as Devon had.
Genoa cleared her throat, breaking Eva out of her thoughts.
“Juliana?” she said as they traveled down the streets of Brakket City—Wally Redford had stayed behind to hash out details with the new dean.
“You’re not allowed to participate. No more demons.” Genoa paused for just a moment before turning her head towards Eva and Arachne. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Eva said as Arachne gave a half-hearted shrug.
Juliana frowned, turning her head off to one side. For just a moment, Eva thought that she might argue. In the end, she nodded. “Alright.”
“Good. I’ll be checking in on you every now and again.”
“Moom,” Juliana said, exaggerating the word as she pushed her mother’s wheelchair. “I can take care of myself.”
“Honey?” Genoa reached a hand over her shoulder, putting it on Juliana’s hand near the wheelchair’s handles. “I love you, but I think we’ll have to wait and see whether or not you can. Your past choices haven’t exactly inspired confidence.”
Silence descended. An uncomfortable silence broken only by the sound of footsteps and wheels against the sidewalks.
“I know,” Juliana eventually said. “I will do better.”
“That’s all I can ask.” Genoa waved a hand through the air. “But enough of the heavy topics. What happened to your other friend? Is Shalise coming back to school?”
Juliana looked over towards Eva raising an eyebrow as well.
“I mentioned that she was in Switzerland the last time Nel checked in on her. Or was it Sweden?” Eva shook her head with a shrug. “I suppose Zoe could try contacting her, but given that it was her mother who kidnapped her, I doubt she’ll be back anytime soon. Lynn Cross doesn’t particularly like me, demons, or Brakket Academy. Or much of anything, really. She is kind of a grumpy woman.”
“Her sentiment is understandable. I have qualms about having Juliana here. While I’m far more willing to allow Juliana to make up her own mind than my husband and son, I can’t say that I did much to dissuade them from their mania. If it weren’t for Zagan, Juliana would be far from this school.”
Another silence fell over the group at the mention of Zagan. Juliana and Eva shared a look. Neither wanted to talk about him.
Or rather, Juliana didn’t want anyone to talk about him. Eva wasn’t quite so averse, but she was willing to respect her friend’s wishes.
No one had summoned Zagan back yet. Martina was as good as dead and either nobody else cared or nobody else was willing. Devon certainly wasn’t willing. Anderson might be, but if he hadn’t already tried, he probably wouldn’t ever. Assuming Zagan could be summoned without enigmas pouring through the portal instead.
Neither had Zagan come back himself—something Eva was certain he would do. Maybe he couldn’t, but he had somehow got back after Juliana had summoned him to Hell. Unless Martina had resummoned him, there had to be a way. Perhaps something that only the seventy-two knew about.
Juliana was getting nervous. Unless she had changed her mind from their last conversation, she was still worried about the lack of Zagan. The longer Zagan was gone, the greater the chance that her family would find out. If her family found out, they would probably force her away.
And if Zagan came back after that, something bad might happen. What, exactly, she was afraid of, Juliana had been vague about. Some agreement about staying at Brakket Academy. Whatever it was, it had her scared.
Clearing her throat, Eva decided to change the topic away from Zagan. “Maybe we should stop by with Nel. She can peek in on Shalise unless she threw away her hair. Maybe Shalise will be in great danger and we can go on a quick adventure to save her.”
“You shouldn’t hope that your friend is in danger,” Genoa said with a hint of admonishment in her tone.
Eva shrugged. “I don’t! However, trouble seems to follow us around. A lot. Unless it’s all Brakket Academy’s doing. My life never used to be this hectic.”
“Nor mine,” Juliana said.
“I doubt Shalise’s life was so crazy either. It’s settled then. We have to check in on her. For her sake.”
Turning around, Eva walked slowly until Juliana had turned her mother’s wheelchair around and caught up.
They had been walking aimlessly after meeting with Anderson. Just a nice walk around town to enjoy the fresh air and the warm summer day. Not so long ago, they had passed by the new home that housed Ylva and Zoe.
And Nel as well.
As such, it didn’t take long to return. A walk up a short path had them right at the door. The front porch wasn’t wheelchair accessible, but Arachne helped lift the chair up the two steps. As she did, Eva scanned the neighbors with her sense of blood. No one suspicious came up. No hunters living in the adjacent houses.
At least, none that she could see.
There hadn’t been any sign of the demon hunters returning so far. Nel hadn’t been able to get anything from the pieces of armor that the one hunter had left behind. Perhaps because they were broken or maybe because Juliana had used her ferrokinesis on them beforehand. Whatever the case, they weren’t tied closely enough to the hunters to get a lock on them.
With the aid of her sense of blood, Eva had been able to find blood from both hunters around the scenes of battle. Unfortunately, it had all been contaminated beyond use. Too much dirt and debris and not enough blood.
Zagan’s horn had worked out, or the blood on it. However, she kept saying that her vision just ‘slid off’ the demon hunters. Something happened that made her mind go fuzzy when she tried to look at them.
Nel had gone back to standard augur procedure when no fetters existed and checked around the city at random, but she hadn’t found anything. Of course, the last time that Eva had checked in had been nearly a week ago. Maybe something new had happened.
Probably not. Nel didn’t have a cellphone, but Zoe did. Living in the same house, she should have gotten a message out somehow.
Before knocking, Eva performed a quick check of the interior. She didn’t want to disturb people if they were busy, after all. The only person inside Ylva’s room was Alicia—who looked to be reading a book. Nel, Ylva, Zoe, and Wayne were all inside the living room, not far from the door.
At Eva’s knock, whatever conversation they were having ceased. Everyone’s muscles tensed; Zoe’s hands curled around what could only be her dagger while Wayne held up a book. At least, that was what Eva guessed by the movement of their circulatory systems. She couldn’t actually see the dagger or tome.
The only person who remained calm was Ylva. She said a few words, ‘Eva’ being one of them—Eva had been trying to learn to lip read through her blood, her own name had been fairly easy to figure out. As soon as Ylva finished speaking, the tension in the room died off.
Zoe stood, dagger still in hand, and approached the door. As she peeped through the peephole, Eva gave her a little wave.
Though she couldn’t see it with her own eyes, Eva didn’t miss the eye roll as Zoe unlatched and opened the door.
“Eva,” Zoe said by way of greeting. She blinked as she turned towards the rest of her guests. “Genoa, Juliana,” she said with a nod to each. There was a slight pause before she continued. “And Arachne. To what do I owe your visit?”
“Well,” Eva said, “we were actually hoping to talk with Nel. But with everyone all gathered together, what’s up? Nothing bad, I hope?”
Zoe shook her head, stepping out of the doorway to let everyone file into the room. “Not really. Or, at least nothing deadly. At the moment. Bad could be left up to interpretation. For example, you would probably think it is a good thing.”
Eva moved into the room. There wasn’t much room on the couch. Ylva had taken up a portion of it on her own. With Nel at her side and a vacant seat that Zoe had been in, there wasn’t any room unless Eva wanted to steal her spot. Wayne was leaning against one wall, glowering in Eva and Arachne’s direction as they shimmied around the room.
These apartments were really not made for six people, one of whom was in a wheelchair, and a demonic giant.
“We were discussing this upcoming school year. Dean Anderson’s idiotic plan, mostly.”
Genoa folded her arms across her chest as Juliana found a spot for her at one end of the coffee table. “We just got out of our own meeting with Anderson. Wally was there, you remember him?”
“Director Redford? Haven’t seen him in years. It does make sense. If Anderson is going to enter Brakket into the guild’s contest, he’ll need approval from the director for these demons.”
“For the record,” Eva said, “I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing. Devon is going to throw a fit when he hears that the school is going to be summoning demons in droves. He was already quite displeased about the smaller summoning program of Martina’s.”
“He isn’t the only one,” Wayne grumbled from his corner of the room.
“We,” Zoe waved her hand towards the rest of the room as she retook her seat, “are actually more worried about the state of Hell. The whole reason Ylva closed down her domain was to help cut off ties between Earth and Hell.”
Eva shared a quick glance with Arachne. Neither had breathed a word of Arachne’s mission to anyone. Not Devon, not Zoe, not even Juliana. Even Eva, someone who was undoubtedly on Arachne’s side, wasn’t entirely enthused with the idea. While theoretically less destructive, Zoe and Wayne would vehemently—possibly violently—disagree with their summoning.
As it was, Eva was desperately hoping that Arachne was right and rumors of an apocalypse were grossly exaggerated.
Best just to change the subject.
“Not worried about a school full of children making contracts with demons?”
Zoe pressed her lips into thin lines, looking like she had licked a lemon. “That is an issue as well.” She glanced back towards Ylva and gave a shallow nod of her head. “I acknowledge that demons aren’t omnicidal.” Gripping her arm, she shivered. “But they aren’t angels. If a student wound up summoning something like those demons that assaulted me, everyone is going to have a problem.”
“Angels are not the benevolent creatures that humanity romanticizes them to be. We do not believe you would enjoy an encounter with one.”
Blinking her eyes, Zoe glanced towards Ylva. “Well… that’s… just great,” she said, kneading her forehead with both hands. “I just don’t know what we’re supposed to do about anything.”
“Unless you’re planning on a coup against Anderson…” Eva trailed off, leaving her suggestion hanging until Zoe shook her head. “Then there isn’t much you can do.”
Wayne shook his head, pushing off from the wall. “That’s not true,” he said, staring Zoe in the eyes. “Teach them yourself. Speak about your experiences, express caution. Talk to parents too.” He turned to face Genoa. “You as well. Some will still go through with it, but you might limit the damage.” He drew himself up, glancing around the room. With a short grunt, he said, “the rest of us will handle students or demons that step out of line.”
His eyes stopped at Eva. He stared for a moment before shaking his head. “It’s going to be like having a school full of Evas.”
“Hey!” Eva gave him a mock glare with her hands on her hips. After a minute, she chuckled.
Wayne didn’t seem to find the amusement, choosing instead to intensify his glower.
“But I hope it isn’t going to be like that. I’m well aware of just how much trouble finds me. Though I would like to point out that I only rarely go looking for trouble. I’m pretty sure that it is this school that causes all the problems. I just happen to go here.”
“It was peaceful before you showed up.”
Eva just shrugged. “Anyway,” she said, “Nel? Can you check up on Shalise for us?”
The augur jumped at being addressed. She blinked as she glanced up to Ylva. Giving her no response, verbal or otherwise, Nel nodded her head. “I suppose so,” she said with a half-hearted sigh. “Right now?”
“As much as I’d like to continue arguing just how much my presence has or hasn’t ruined Brakket Academy, I don’t really see the conversation going anywhere.”
Aside from that, Eva didn’t really want to argue over Anderson’s plot for the school.
Nel stood from the couch, smoothing out the front of her black robes before walking over to Eva. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
“You don’t sound so excited,” Eva said, following her out of the room. Arachne was right on her heels. Juliana was on her way as well, having left Genoa behind to continue speaking with the adults.
“I think I’m just a little bit depressed as of late. Sawyer… well, that wasn’t quite as satisfying as I was hoping it would be.” She lifted up one arm, still wrapped in a glove. “And we didn’t recover any of my eyes either. I can barely use it for anything. I’ve no grip strength. And there’s a constant dull pain. Nothing that has me screaming out at all hours of the day, but it’s there.”
Pushing open the door to Ylva’s room caused Alicia to perk up. She looked over the top of her book with a smile growing across her face. The moment she saw who was actually entering the room, the smile disappeared and she buried her nose back into her book.
Eva did her best to ignore the other nun. Though she had apparently accomplished her task of not letting anything bad happen to Juliana, Eva still didn’t like her.
“I don’t know how to help you with that,” Eva said as they slipped into the bedroom. “Although, Anderson is going to be summoning a lot of demons. I got my eyes from a demon, maybe you could shop around?”
Nel shook her head. “Eyes used by the Elysium Order aren’t just your everyday eyes. They’re rare foci, magical implements, and capable of generating their own magic. Grown, not found. Implanting one into a mundane human will allow them to use magic.”
Turning to a cabinet, Nel pulled out a small burner. Zoe had teleported the two of them back to Idaho shortly after the demon hunters had fled. They managed to recover all their belongings from the motel.
Well, most of their belongings. Devon’s truck was still out there.
Eva had no intention to return for it. Whatever vampires had survived could take it as a gift for all she cared.
“Augurs aren’t hunted down just because we can spy on just about anything—though that is part of it—the eyes implanted within my body are worth more than any other single artifact owned by the Order.”
“Your problem isn’t the eyes though. That’s the Elysium Order’s problem.”
Pausing with a small glass jar in her hand, Nel raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean by that?”
“You just want a working arm, right?” Eva held up her own hand, looking it over as she showed it off to Nel. “Arachne’s limbs have been quite handy. They don’t look human, but other demons do. Catherine’s arms look normal most of the time.”
So Eva said, but she doubted that Catherine would be willing to part with an arm. Even if she could regenerate it without much trouble.
Nel balked. Her face took on a sickly pallor. “You want me to cut off my arm?”
“You were just talking about putting eyes into your arm,” Eva said, voice flat. “Now you get all shocked?”
“Putting things in my arm is a far cry from chopping it off.”
Eva shook her head. Her own limb issue had been forced for her hands, but she had willingly taken on Arachne’s legs. Maybe her perspective was skewed.
“Your choice,” Eva eventually said with a shrug.
With a shake of her head, Nel knelt down next to an altar at the side of the room. She pulled a slightly curled brown hair from the jar and threw it up in front of her, letting it float in the air. With her gemstone focus, she sparked the frankincense.
It didn’t take long for the air to fill with piny-citrus scent that was so common around the augur.
As she settled down to perform her auguring, Eva double-checked her surroundings. She wasn’t paranoid, but if anyone had worse luck than Eva, it was Nel. Eva couldn’t dispute her claim that terrible things happened every time she left Ylva’s domain. Now that Ylva’s domain was gone, it was something of a shock that Nel hadn’t been found dead.
Everyone was still where they were supposed to be. Alicia in her half of the room and the rest in the living room. The neighbors were going about their regular business. A woman and a child playing with toys on one side. A man fixing a car out in the garage of another house. None seemed to be spying on Zoe’s house.
“Not sure what I’m seeing,” Nel said, eyes closed as she leaned over the frankincense burner. She took a few slow and careful breaths before leaning back. “Maybe nothing at all?”
“Nothing? What do you mean, nothing?”
Nel opened her eyes, glancing over to Eva. “Probably not something to worry about. Sister Cross would often disappear for hours on end.”
“The same thing that Sawyer did?”
“No. Sawyer was like he didn’t exist. The only evidence of him was a shroud of darkness. Sister Cross exists—or rather, Shalise does—but I can’t see exactly where she is.”
“So what does that mean?” Juliana asked. “You used to be able to find her, right?”
Nel held out her hands, palms up.
“No. Try again. Shrugging this off isn’t going to help it.”
“I don’t–” Nel cut herself off with a sigh. Leaning over her altar, she breathed in a deep breath. “There’s just nothing. I see where they might have been several minutes ago. A sort of campsite out in a forest. Two tents, a fire pit, a wooden bench. Nobody around though.”
Lips curling into a frown, Nel tapped a finger against her altar. “There is one thing odd. What looks like canned food is sitting out. Not near the fire, but it had to have been at one point. I can see steam coming out of the can.”
“Like it had been abandoned recently?”
“Alright. Figure out where it is. I’m going to grab Zoe. If it is a false alarm, we can leave peacefully—maybe rekidnap Shalise if she wants—otherwise, better to be safe than sorry.”