“Welcome. To some of you, this will be a welcome back. To others, an initial greeting.
“This year, we will be making history with our students and among other schools around the country. We will be blah blah blah.”
Eva filled in her own words in place of the new dean’s speech. She already knew what was happening. For the most part, at least. Really, she didn’t know why she had bothered attending. Beginning of the year speeches were never interesting, this one least of all because of her foreknowledge.
And yet, Juliana and Shalise had dragged her into the auditorium for the assembly.
There was one thing that might get her to listen. If he started explaining how he was planning on summoning demons while Devon couldn’t, she would start paying attention. That seemed far too specific for a speech like this.
No new demons had popped up around the academy since Martina Turner’s demise. If he had success in summoning any, he had sent them back while Eva was off at the prison or otherwise gone. More likely than him having any success was that he was either hoping to get lucky or hadn’t even tried yet. Eva was leaning more towards the second option of him simply not having tried in a while.
While there weren’t any new demons, there also weren’t as many professors sitting up alongside the dean. Zoe and Wayne were there of course. Bradley Twillie, the magizoologist was there as well. But Yuria and Alari Carr were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they had resigned. Whether because of fear or because they didn’t want to support Anderson’s plan, Eva couldn’t say without asking.
At least, Eva assumed that Anderson had told the staff what was going on. It was possible that he hadn’t, but hopefully he had planned for more resignations when he revealed it all.
To her sides, Juliana and Shalise were paying a great deal more attention than she was despite Eva having explained this year’s ‘contest’ and new demons to them. Dean Anderson hadn’t actually mentioned demons yet. He had barely touched on the contest, choosing to start with a far more generic greeting.
More of Eva’s friends sat slightly farther away. Irene was next to her sister, chewing on her thumb as she glanced between the dean, Jordan, and Shelby. For her part, Shelby appeared at ease. Far less worried than Irene at the very least.
Eva’s eyes met with Irene’s for just a moment. For a bit of reassurance to the obviously distressed girl, she gave a closed-lip smile—something she had taken to doing since the treatment.
No one had mentioned her teeth. Or her mouth, for that matter. Eva was still not sure if they were being polite, too scared to say anything, or honestly hadn’t noticed.
Irene shook her head before looking back to the front of the room.
Next to her, Jordan was sleeping. Leaning back in his chair, he had his eyes closed as he took in deep breaths.
Eva wasn’t the only one looking around. They were sitting as far back as possible which gave her a decent view of everyone. And everyone had a decent view of her. If she had to guess, hardly anyone was actually paying attention to the dean.
It probably had something to do with Arachne and how she leaned against the wall with her arms crossed just behind Eva. She was only in her humanoid form, so it wasn’t like she was a gigantic spider hogging all the attention.
No one was particularly fearful. A few, obviously. That was to be expected given Arachne’s look and the look Arachne gave people who stared too long. The simple fact of the matter was that all the squeamish people had been filtered out. They were all off attending different schools.
Which made it somewhat amusing that this contest was starting up. They would be meeting with schools—hosting events even—where former Brakket Academy students who had fled or who been pulled out of school would be forced to confront their fears.
Another portion of the student body was staring at the figure next to Arachne. Specifically the figure. Eva doubted that anyone even realized that she was a demon. And that was in spite of the horns, wings, and tail. Catherine’s physical appearance hadn’t changed. It didn’t really need to in order to draw the eyes of pubescent humans.
Eva wasn’t sure what she was doing at the school. Showing off, perhaps. Anderson had to know that Martina was dead and Catherine unbound by her familiar bond.
Now that Eva thought about it, Lucy’s contract had likely terminated with Martina’s death as well. Something should probably be done about her. While Eva doubted that she would go on a rampage, it couldn’t hurt to be safe. But such a thing could probably wait. Lucy wasn’t the malicious type. She was just curious about the world outside her domain.
The real question was whether or not Anderson realized that anything was different about Catherine. She didn’t look different.
She felt different.
Before her ritual the other night, Catherine had had a presence to Eva’s senses. Nothing big. Eva could pick her out from the other demons so long as Zagan wasn’t too close. Now she was different. Bigger. Zagan would still overpower her entirely. Even Ylva was far greater than Catherine.
But Catherine was crisp and clear. A sort of sultry presence filling the auditorium.
While there hadn’t been any physical alterations like Eva had gained, Catherine had certainly not come out of her ritual unchanged. Even discounting her new emanating presence.
Catherine stood against the back of the room, chin high as she drank in the attention the students were giving her. She kept a haughty air about her, never quite glancing at any one student in particular.
Her attitude wasn’t anything new. Ever since the completion of her ritual, Catherine had been absolutely insufferable.
Being unable to sense her own presence, Eva couldn’t say how she stacked up to Catherine. Arachne insisted that Eva was far higher than Catherine in terms of power, but Eva wasn’t sure how far she could trust her friend not to exaggerate. Catherine hadn’t shown off any greatly enhanced abilities, so Eva wasn’t sure what she was acting superior over.
Initially, Eva had been somewhat put off by Catherine’s new haughty attitude. After thinking about it more, perhaps even a slight change was worthy of celebration after an eternity of stagnation. Because of that thought, Eva had decided not to complain too loudly. Catherine could have her moment of happiness.
For a while at least. Insufferable Catherine could only last so long before Eva took the word literally. If she kept it up… well, supposedly Eva was kneel-worthy now. Getting Catherine to kneel might be enough to knock the smug superiority out of her.
As for Eva herself, she didn’t really know if she had any new special abilities, but walls had bled around her multiple times in the past. Trying to consciously make that happen was her current project and an ability that still eluded her.
Arachne saying that she had been stuck in her largest form for a hundred years before figuring out how to shrink into a humanoid form hadn’t helped Eva’s mood.
“They are demons.”
Eva’s attention snapped to the dean, breaking her out of her thoughts. Whereas before only the few rows in the back had been facing in Arachne and Catherine’s direction, the entire auditorium swiveled around to gawk at Anderson’s words.
It wasn’t hard to guess what he had been saying immediately before, but Eva still wished she had heard what he had said. Probably just pointing out their guests to anyone who hadn’t noticed. The ones who had already been seated and forward facing when Eva, Catherine, and Arachne had come in towards the end of the seating.
“You need not fear,” Dean Anderson said, voice extra loud through the microphone to talk over the crowd’s growing noise. “Demon is a poor word filled with all sorts of negative connotations. They are beings from another plane of existence, true, but not necessarily evil and certainly not about to steal souls.”
Eva rolled her eyes. Most of the faces still turned in her direction paled at his words, turning all sorts of sickly colors.
More than a few gazes went from Arachne and Catherine straight to Eva.
Great job reassuring them, she thought, glancing off to one side to avoid all the eyes.
“In addition to the interscholastic contest of ability, we will be taking this year to assist in integrating a number of demons into human society around Brakket. Some as students. Others merely as residents. A few have expressed interest in more… contractual bonds with students who have the permission of their parents.” He added the last line after a brief glance towards Zoe.
The theory professor gave a firm nod of her head.
Eva frowned, staring at Anderson as he went on to quell more fears of the student body. Or attempting to, at least. He even took a few questions from the front row.
She didn’t need her fears quelled. She just needed to think for a few moments.
Maybe he didn’t need to summon demons at all. His words sounded like he already had a warehouse full of them that he’d be distributing around the city later on. Which, now that she was considering it, might make a great deal of sense.
It would be foolish in the extreme to just summon up a host of demons and expect them all to play nice. If he summoned them in advance, it would have given him time to watch them. Any that seemed unstable or overly hostile towards humans could have been sent back before even bringing them to Brakket. Assuming he didn’t want to kill the entire student body. But as long as he was careful in picking demons and had warehouses full of Lucys and Catherines, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.
Were they all under contract to not harm anyone?
But Eva wouldn’t like to see an assortment of Arachnes running around. One Arachne was fine. Eva trusted her not to act out against people. However, that likely depended on Eva. If Eva were gone or were to say that she didn’t care, Arachne might not be so kind to those around. She would probably still ignore humans for the most part, but ones that particularly got on her nerves might find themselves in the infirmary.
If they were lucky.
Zagans would be even worse. Hopefully Anderson wasn’t so foolish as to summon more pillars of Hell.
Some demons that Eva had summoned in the past weren’t ones she would like to see around regular people. Some she wouldn’t want to be around herself. The haunter, for instance. Just about anything that Devon summoned as well. If Anderson was planning on having a dozen of those waxy demons running around the place, Eva might just skip school for the rest of the year.
“Lynn wouldn’t be happy about this,” Shalise said in a near whisper.
Eva glanced to her side but didn’t say anything. Shalise was right, most likely. Eva could ask after school if she really felt like having a conversation with the former nun.
To the best of Eva’s knowledge, Lynn hadn’t actually gone to visit Shalise even once after her little rescue from the forest. A simple letter to say that she was alright was the extent of their communication. She had spent the rest of the time around the prison.
Much to Eva’s chagrin.
Lynn had decided to be useful by continuing her research into enigmas and Life itself—as strange as that sounded. Though cordial at the moment, neither liked or got along with the other. Eva tried to avoid her as much as possible and, judging by the fact that Eva had barely seen Lynn since chopping off her arm, Lynn was doing the same.
“Just wait until my family hears about it. I’m going to be grounded for sure. Or have dad escort me everywhere. He already threatened to do so, you know.”
This time, Eva raised an eyebrow as Juliana groaned. “They already know, don’t they? That was the whole point in having a meeting with Anderson and your mom.”
“He didn’t mention a word about ‘integrating’ demons into society. There are going to be demons everywhere. It’s going to be impossible to hide it from them.”
“Maybe he means only one or two,” Shalise said, voice lacking any sort of conviction.
“There are twelve.”
As one, everyone turned their heads to glance at Jordan. Even Irene and Shelby turned to look.
“Though seven are looking to find a suitable master for a familiar bond. Eagerly looking.”
“You’ve met them then?” Eva asked. “Any that seem… troublesome?”
“I can’t say for sure. None have been homicidal in my presence. Most were content if given tasks by my father. Busy work, things to pass the time. Of course, they might be deceiving me for all I know. Father has a contract with each of them at the moment to dictate their behavior while around the academy, so we shouldn’t have to worry too much.”
“At least until one manages to get out of its contract.”
Arachne had managed to get out of her contract with Devon and create one with Eva thanks to a wording error on Devon’s part. If Devon, the master of demonology, could make an error like that, who was to say that Anderson couldn’t?
Of course, Devon had likely been lax in his vigilance. Arachne was a demon who he had frequently summoned in the past for more than just Eva’s treatment. She was the only demon that Eva had known him to have summoned, allowed out of the shackles, and not dominated. At least until the carnivean. Had he used another demon that night, he would have probably been more careful about the wording of the contract.
Jordan didn’t respond to Eva’s suspicion. He just shrugged his shoulders before looking back to his father up on the stage.
“None of them are named Willie,” Juliana said after a few moments, “right?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Good. Then I’m fine with it.”
Anderson continued his speech, never quite giving out enough information to interest Eva while still allaying fears of the rest of the students. It took a while, but he eventually moved off the subject of demons. The rest of his speech consisted of simple announcements and notifications that would be standard for any school. Changes in staff and important dates.
Whatever was happening with the interscholastic contest was still to be decided.
The only thing that immediately stood out to Eva was the date the demons were arriving.
Two weeks from now. Halfway through September.
— — —
Catherine grit her teeth together. The moment Anderson’s speech had ended, swarms of mortals encircled her, blocking off any and all avenues of escape as they invaded her personal space. Their mouths opened, spilling forth inane questions and comments.
None were showing her the proper fear and respect that she deserved.
Even Arachne had taken on a more respectful tone while speaking to her. Somewhat. Probably.
It was really hard to say. They didn’t speak all that much. Before or since.
Glancing to her side, she found Arachne gritting her teeth almost as much as Catherine was. Maybe more.
The children were mostly avoiding the armored spider. That was to be expected. Even before the ritual, few demons could hope to attract as much attention as a succubus. Even one as lowly as Catherine had been. It was only natural that she be the center of attention.
But whatever Arachne’s opinions towards Catherine were, they barely mattered. The ritual had worked. Catherine could feel it deep within her chest. A swelling of something more than she had been before.
The thing that did matter was Arachne’s slowly clenching and unclenching fists. She was about to tear somebody apart. While Catherine really didn’t care what happened to most of the mortal children, she really didn’t want to get into a fight. She had ritual circles to improve and maybe a game or two to play.
Now that this first ritual was complete, she felt like she deserved a little bit of unwinding downtime.
Letting out just a hair of that swell within her chest had the entire auditorium falling silent. The children looked at her with lovestruck eyes, mouths still gaping open yet silent.
“Do me a favor,” Catherine said, injecting just a hair of magic into her voice. “Go to your classrooms and leave me alone.”
A few vacant nods followed before the children started scrambling off to follow her orders.
Catherine started chuckling. She couldn’t help it. The spell would wear off after a few minutes, but she had just charmed an entire auditorium full of mortals like it was nothing.
The adults at the far end of the room were still around. Catherine had specifically excluded them from her spell. Some were staring at her with mild disapproval. Others were the opposite; perhaps because she hadn’t killed anyone.
Really, it was absurdly easy to exceed expectations when expectations couldn’t possibly be any lower.
Zoe had her lips pressed thin. Despite her obvious disapproval, she gave Catherine a brief nod of her head.
Catherine rolled her eyes. She didn’t need the professor’s approval.
There were a few others in the auditorium. A couple of the students who had participated in the diablery class the previous year. They would have spent enough time around Catherine to understand what she had done and were able to resist it. Catherine had no doubts that she could ensnare them should she wish. All it would take was a little more power.
Eva and her group of friends hadn’t moved either. Catherine had not expected her spell to work on Eva and wasn’t sure that more power would be the answer. Though Catherine had become stronger, Eva felt stronger still. Even if the girl didn’t act like it.
More worrying was that Devon said that there were still treatments to undergo. At least one though possibly as many as three. His original schedule had been thrown off with the death of Arachne. He hadn’t locked down the exact functions or limitations of the new one just yet.
And if Eva decided to perform more rituals of the type that Catherine was doing…
Catherine shuddered. She didn’t want to think of what might result. There had to be a limit to the power one could gain. But where was that limit? For all Catherine knew, it was far enough out that it wouldn’t really matter that there was a limit because nothing but a Power would be able to stand up to Eva.
Of course, if Catherine continued with her rituals, maybe that would be her instead.
Whatever the future held, Catherine was still just a little giddy at the moment. She walked up to Eva and glanced around.
Jordan, Irene, and Eva had all come out of that unaffected. Irene had her arm clamped around her sister’s shoulder, keeping her from wandering off to class. Eva’s blond friend was rubbing her forehead while Eva had an arm on the other’s shoulder, similar to Irene.
Catherine didn’t much care for any of them. She looked right towards Eva and grinned. “Did you see that? The whole room fell under my sway in an instant.”
“You couldn’t do something like that before?”
“Maybe to a small group of people. This was a whole auditorium. At least a hundred people, right?”
Eva glanced over to her friends before she shrugged. “No idea. Do that many people even attend Brakket?”
“They do. Trust me. I used to be the secretary here.”
“You never even did your job. You just played games the whole time.”
“She did enough of her job to cause trouble now that she is gone.”
Catherine scowled as she turned to Anderson. He had left the stage and was walking straight towards her. Or as straight as he could walk with all the auditorium seats in the way.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come back?”
“Quite certain,” Catherine said. “Replacing me cannot be that difficult. A monkey could do the job.”
“Even monkeys get nervous when hearing about demons around. Truly an unfortunate name for your species. Imagine if you were named ‘hoogoozlaps’ instead of demons. No one would fear you or take you seriously in the least.”
Catherine, and the children still around, stared. Anderson wasn’t one to make a joke. At least, Catherine hadn’t known him to. Perhaps he had always been so ticked off with Martina that his humor had fled.
That was something that Catherine could understand.
But if this was his sense of humor, perhaps he should have left it alone.
“I think I will stick with demon,” she said after a moment of awkward silence.
“Very well. Anyway, thank you for coming. I know you don’t have to follow my directions at the moment.”
Catherine narrowed her eyes. She didn’t much like his phrasing. At the moment sounded like he intended to get her under his thumb. “I don’t appreciate being made into a zoo animal for your students. I came solely because you offered a computer.”
“Don’t worry. You served your purpose well enough. Dismissing the students as you did helped immensely as well. It calmed a great deal of my professors, though I did hear a comment demeaning mind control. But I can see that this does not interest you,” he said as Catherine just glared. “If you’ll follow me, I can get the computer I promised you.”
Finally, Catherine smiled. She took a single step before a thought crossed her mind.
“Eva,” Catherine said, “if you and Arachne would accompany me. Perhaps along with your mortal friends.”
The semi-demon in question blinked before slowly nodding her head. “I don’t have a problem with that. Zoe is my first class and I’m sure that she would understand. Why?”
“Computers have many small components. I’m strong enough to carry just about anything, but carrying so much can be tedious. A few extra hands would be appreciated.”
So Catherine said. In truth, she did not want to be alone with Anderson after that comment of his. It might be completely innocuous, but Catherine was unwilling to take chances.
Anderson didn’t look upset in the slightest, lending credence to the idea that it had been an innocent comment.
Their entourage had made it through the school and into the offices area unmolested. With the classes starting, the hallways were empty.
There was a cardboard box on top of Catherine’s old secretary desk. From a brief glance inside, she found it to be full of her the secretary computer. That suited her just fine. Everything was already customized for her.
Though her excuse for having Eva come along with her now sounded somewhat weak, but Catherine really didn’t care what they thought so long as she was left free.
“The other reason I asked you here was to ask a favor,” Anderson said. “I wanted to ask if you might meet with the demons I have coming in. Address a few questions and concerns.”
“Demons have concerns?” Catherine didn’t believe it. A nervous demon? Preposterous.
“This is something of a special batch. Selected specifically with the help of Zagan before his untimely disappearance.”
That had Catherine on edge. Anything Zagan came up with had to have some catch.
But maybe some of them would work well for her next ritual. Zagan had been the initiator for her ritual research. Perhaps he had thrown in a few demons that had special characteristics.
“What would I have to do?”