Eva’s forehead throbbed.
Not horribly. She had suffered through worse headaches before. The ritual to share Sawyer’s senses for one and anytime enigmas were around for another. And this current headache was already subsiding to unnoticeable levels.
The only reason the headache was special at all was the cause.
A dozen demons were making their way from the outskirts of town towards Brakket Academy. Altogether, they weren’t so bad. It was just that they had all come into Eva’s range at the same time.
Each of them had their own feel. None Eva could really place as anything specific.
All the demons that Eva knew had their own distinct feel. Zagan was power. Ylva had a chill to her aura. Catherine felt a bit sultry. Lucy, Prax, Qrycx, and all the others were easy to separate as well. However, the only reason that Eva knew which feel went with who was because she knew all the demons.
As such, even if she could feel a certain slime from one or a feathery floating from another, Eva couldn’t tell who or even what they were. Maybe in describing them to Devon, he would be able to tell their species. Except they would be in town long before Eva had a chance to run off to Devon. It would be far easier to meet them in person.
But they were still a ways away. Eva didn’t know precisely how far her range extended. And a good portion of that also depended on the relative power of the demons she was sensing. Zagan could be felt in the city while she was all the way out at the prison.
That she felt one or two of the new demons a great deal before the others all made it into her range meant that some of them were stronger than others.
They were all together though. All traveling at the same speed. A bus perhaps. Maybe a shipping container if Anderson was feeling a bit inhumane.
“Are you alright?”
Eva blinked, glancing over towards Shalise. She had a spoonful of… whatever Brakket Academy was serving for lunch today. Some gravy-like slop that made Eva extraordinarily grateful that she didn’t need as much food as regular mortals.
Juliana, Irene, Jordan, and Shelby were all gathered around as well. All eating lunch together for the first time since forever. At least, it felt like forever. Between Shalise and Juliana being gone and school taking a major back-seat to other events, Eva could barely remember the last time that everyone had a bit of downtime for regular school activities.
The only real difference was the lack of Max. He had stopped sitting with them a long while ago. Since before Shalise and Juliana’s trip to Hell. Looking around the cafeteria, Eva couldn’t spot him at all. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen him since the year started.
Maybe he had decided that Brakket was just too exciting for his tastes.
Arachne had taken his seat at the table. Sitting directly across from Eva, she drew the eyes of everyone around even after a week. Of course, anyone who stared too long or got too close got a glare and maybe a growl, but she hadn’t actually done anything to anyone.
Hopefully, people would just learn to ignore her.
Still waiting for an answer, Shalise gave a slight cough as she raised an eyebrow. “Eva?”
“Oh. I’m fine. I was just a bit distracted by all the demons currently on their way to school. Trying to get a feel for them all.”
Everyone stilled, including people not sitting at her table. Eva hadn’t thought that she had spoken too loudly, but nearby forks clattered to their plates catching the attention of people at more distant tables. In short order, the entire room was nearly silent. The only sound was the faint wisp of whispers explaining Eva’s words to those farther away.
Soon enough, even the whispers stopped.
The entire room sat and stared at Eva.
Eva just rolled her eyes. There had been a definite tension among the student body over the last few days. Ever since Anderson’s introductory speech. To have him effectively confirm all the rumors that had been circulating beforehand, especially those about the fight with the demon hunters over the summer, had only served to keep people a little paranoid.
Really, if they were so worried, they should have just left the school.
“They’re on their way,” Eva said, ignoring everyone not sitting at her table. “Maybe fifteen minutes? Twenty? Unless they stop somewhere else for some reason. I sort of just assumed that they’d be housed in the dorm buildings and that they would be heading straight there.”
“What–what are we going to do?” Irene all but whispered. She had hunched over, leaning half past Juliana in an attempt to get a better view of Eva.
Eva had no idea why she was so concerned. Out of all of the people in the school, Irene knew more about shackles and how to at least stop demons from approaching.
Barring Eva, of course. And maybe Juliana. Eva hadn’t actually discussed how much she knew in terms of summoning circles and shackles. Enough to summon Zagan, at least.
But shackles had been one of the things that Irene was most interested in studying during the diablery class. Eva doubted that she would have let her studies slide over the summer. Not to mention all the lessons she had been given on demons in general.
In comparison, her sister was entirely blasé about the whole thing. Maybe she had spoken to Jordan more. Maybe she just didn’t view demons as being all that scary.
She was sitting immediately adjacent to Arachne. The only reaction Shelby had to Eva’s words had been to shrug and continue to eat.
“Maybe we should go say hello,” Eva said. “Missing out on Wayne’s class wouldn’t be so bad.”
Eva didn’t know why she had bothered signing up for it again in the first place. Potions barely did anything for her.
“Though,” Eva added, “I do want to be back before golemancy. That class has actually been enjoyable.”
Shelby frowned, putting her spoon down. “I like alchemy.”
“We don’t all have to go. But I think I will.”
“Me too,” Juliana said. “It would be better to get a view on who is going to be around early on so that I can come up with explanations for my family.”
“Alright.” Eva gave a pointed glance towards Irene. “Anyone else?”
The girl in question hung her head with a long sigh. “They’re not going to hurt us, right?”
“I doubt it. Arachne and I will be there. I’ve been told that I’m quite intimidating towards demons.” Eva paused, feeling out some of the more familiar demons around. “Besides,” she said with a smile, “Catherine will be there. That should make you happy, right?”
“Not really,” Irene said with another sigh.
“Well, I think Ylva might be there. Though I’m not sure if you’ve actually met her or not…”
Eva shook her head with a shrug. It didn’t really matter. None of the approaching demons were on Ylva’s level, let alone that of Zagan.
“I’ve already met them,” Jordan said. “And I don’t really want to anger Professor Lurcher by skipping his class.”
“Probably for the best.” Eva raised her voice ever so slightly—she didn’t want to be obvious in her machinations, but she wanted to get a message out to all the nosy students who were pretending not to listen in. “We shouldn’t crowd them. Making demons feel like they are zoo animals might disturb them.”
Another moment of silence descended on the cafeteria after a brief whisper session to transfer her message around the room. Eva watched with a barely concealed smile as half the room lost a good deal of blood from their faces. Many had probably been planning on following along. Whether they would have kept a distance or walked right up alongside her didn’t really matter. She would have been annoyed with their presence.
Eva didn’t really care whether or not the approaching demons would feel the same. Maybe they wanted to meet a bunch of mortals. If all of them were like Lucy and hadn’t ever been summoned before, they might find it exciting.
Though, some of the paling faces had Eva worrying. A few people almost looked sick—at least as far as she could tell through blood sight alone. Hopefully her words weren’t being too distorted as they made the rounds. The last thing she needed was to have the people farthest away thinking that she was going to kill anyone who followed her.
“In that case,” Shalise said, “I think I’ll stay here. I’ve had enough of demons to last a lifetime or two.”
“They are going to be around the school. You’re going to meet them anyway, most likely. You know that right?”
“Well… yeah, but…” Shalise trailed off into a short sigh. “I wouldn’t mind one year of school that was just nice and normal. No zombies. No trips to Hell. No camping out in the woods.”
Eva shrugged. “You picked the wrong school.”
“But I didn’t pick it. Professor Baxter came and found me.”
“Anyway,” Eva said with a wave of her hand in Shalise’s direction. She glanced between Irene and Juliana. “You guys ready to go?”
Juliana shoveled in one more spoonful of whatever was for lunch before she nodded her head.
“Great,” Eva said, standing. She nodded to the others. “We’ll see you guys later then.”
“Hello Ylva,” Eva said as she walked up to the demon. “And Catherine.”
Both were standing around the center of the plaza between the dormitory buildings. They weren’t really together, just near enough to speak if they wanted to.
Which created the perfect opening for Eva to slip in.
Catherine didn’t respond save for a shallow nod. She, as always, was absorbed in her cellphone. Peeking over her shoulder, Eva found a lack of a game on the screen. A series of nonsensical scribbles covered the screen. It took Eva a moment to puzzle out just what they were. Catherine zooming out was the clue that Eva needed.
It was section of a ritual circle. Likely a new version of what she had already done.
In contrast to Catherine’s lack of response, Ylva turned to face Eva fully.
“I know I technically visited you just the other day when Nel helped to find Shalise, but we didn’t really talk. How have you been? Keeping busy with anything interesting?”
Ylva’s cold eyes stared, forcing memories to surface in Eva.
She suddenly recalled just why she had been avoiding Ylva. Perhaps it was subconscious. Eva didn’t think that she had been thinking much of anything while in Ylva’s presence. At least not towards avoiding her.
But Ylva had killed her—or came close enough so as to be indistinguishable—not so long ago.
“We have been ruminating on the idea of Life being Our opponent. Though the motivations of a Power are difficult to pierce, We believe that We have come to a conclusion.”
“Our mother is a primary target. Hel, being a servant of Death first and foremost, is a direct opponent of Life. Aosoth would be another target as another demon touched by Death. Life is targeting Void because of Void’s alliance with Death. An attempt to weaken Death’s influence and power base.”
“But Death has other, non-demonic… uh, servants?” Eva wasn’t entirely sure what the proper terminology was and Ylva had used the word ‘servant’. She had always called them gods. “The Baron isn’t a demon. He was—or is—a human.”
“And the enigmas have made attempts at breaking into the mortal realm as well. Some through Hell—the issue with your dormitory room was not caused by you, therefore the enigmas caused it. Who is to say that the Baron is not a target?”
Eva fell silent, considering. Ylva was probably right. Life was attacking Death and going through both Earth and Hell to do so. When she had agreed to become a guinea pig for Devon’s demonic treatments, he had failed to mention all the politicking between Powers.
Granted, he probably didn’t know. If he had known, they wouldn’t have been so surprised when the enigmas had appeared in the first place.
As they talked, the demons continued to get closer. Eva had been about to ask Ylva another question.
The question died before she could voice it as she caught sight of the approaching vehicle.
Eva wasn’t sure what she had expected.
No. That wasn’t true.
She had expected a shipping container or a bus. Something large enough to carry a dozen demons comfortably. In that sense, she had guessed perfectly.
A bus rolled up to the edge of the plaza. One of the larger charter buses that would look more at home in Florida than around Brakket City despite the bold text on its side stating the name of the academy. Eva could see and sense a number of demons inside.
What she hadn’t expected was for the bus to look like something out of a junkyard. The sides were dented inwards as if someone had taken a shovel all up and down the length. The windows weren’t faring much better. Not a single one was unbroken. Most were missing entirely.
The top of the bus had been peeled back like the lid of a sardine can. Shards of metal, fiberglass, plastic, and whatever else went into the making of bus roofs all stuck out at odd angles. A portion was gone, but the rest looked as if it had been through a blender.
“I hope they have insurance.”
Eva glanced over to Irene and just shook her head.
“Probably best to sell it for scrap at this point.”
Despite the condition of the bus, none of the demons inside appeared alarmed in the slightest. Their heart rates were calm and their gazes around were cool and collected.
Most of them, anyway.
The poor driver—the only person on the bus with an elevated heart rate—was unable to open the door. Whatever mechanisms opened it had been damaged enough that there was only a slim crack. The first demon to the door just turned into a misty form and slipped through, reforming on the other side.
One demon objected to being forced through the small opening and took matters into his own hands. He tore the door from its hinges, tossing it out to the ground before stepping out of the bus as if nothing had happened.
Three demons elected not to take the door at all. One phased through a shattered window, gliding down to the ground. He solidified, brushing off some imagined dust from his shoulder as another used leathery wings to fly up and out of the bus. She landed with enough grace to make Eva think that she was a succubus of some type. Another demon hopped through the hole in the roof, following after the succubus and landing with a heavy thud against the ground.
At least she didn’t crack the bricks making up the ground when she landed. All the effort gone into restoring the dormitory and plaza area would have gone to waste.
As the rest of the demons filed out of the bus, Eva started to notice something.
Every single demon paused for a moment after getting out to stare at Eva. At first, she thought that they were merely looking in her direction. Idle curiosity at the group of humans and demons that had come to greet them.
She quickly decided that idle curiosity was not the reason for their stares.
They were staring at Eva and no one else. Not Ylva. Not even Arachne or Catherine.
Really, she should have expected as much given how Catherine, Qrycx, and Arachne acted around her. But it was still somewhat shocking to see.
And she didn’t quite know how to react to it. Should she go up and say hello? What would they say in response? Surely they wouldn’t try attacking her. If they did, Arachne would jump in without a doubt. Maybe Ylva and Catherine as well, though with how they left Daru out to hang while the demon hunters were around, Eva wasn’t too sure about them.
The last of the demons made it off the bus. They were quickly joined by Anderson, who gave a light pat on the shoulder of the bus driver before stepping through the doorway. He looked around, passing straight over the group of humans and demons as he searched the area. Whatever he was looking for, he didn’t find it. Which seemed to please him for some reason, if the smile he turned towards Eva was any indication.
Catherine stepped forwards first and Eva followed after. Arachne, Juliana, and Irene took a minute but followed along as well. Ylva stayed where she was, not moving forwards or away.
“Trouble on the way?” Catherine asked as soon as they were close enough.
“Demon hunters.” Anderson glanced back to the bus with a sorry sigh. Before Eva could ask who the demon hunters were, he responded as if he had known her question was coming. “A small group of four, not the same ones that attacked earlier in the summer.”
That was somewhat disappointing. Eva hadn’t seen any evidence that the two hunters were still around. If the female had even survived, that was. If she hadn’t, then perhaps the armored knight would run off.
Which, every passing day, was looking all the more likely.
Of course, Eva wasn’t letting her guard down. She had shown up to ruin Sawyer’s day completely unannounced and entirely successfully. The demon hunter might be planning the same.
“I take it you fended them off without issue?”
“They are dead. Though, I expect that they won’t be the last group to come after us in the coming months. How they found out about the bus schedule is a much more interesting question.”
“Obviously they knew about Brakket Academy. They may have just been watching for our buses to move out and collect someone.”
“Possibly,” Anderson allowed with a nod of his head. He placed his hands on the shoulders of one of the demons. “Srey believes that they had been watching them for weeks now at their apartment.”
The demon narrowed his eyes at the touch, but otherwise didn’t protest the contact.
“Now then,” Anderson said, addressing the gathered demons. “This is Catherine. She will be in charge of finding you suitable rooms. If you require any accommodations outside what is offered by default, simply ask her and she will get you what you need. I’ll be back to meet with you all later this evening.”
With that said, Anderson walked off towards the direction of the main school building.
“I have so many better things to do with my time,” Catherine mumbled to herself. “Why did I agree to this?”
Eva shifted, somewhat uncomfortable with the stares that she was receiving. Now that Anderson was gone and everyone else was closer, it was plain to see just how much they were staring at her and not at anyone else.
Catherine, in an act that unintentionally saved her from further scrutiny, led off the majority of the group towards the Rickenbacker dormitory building.
One stayed behind.
A shorter demon with eyes just a bit too large for his head. He walked right up to Eva despite Arachne posturing for defense.
As he approached, Eva watched him and felt him out with her sense for demons.
All she got was a blank spot. She could sense him, feel a demon in front of her, but there wasn’t anything to that feel. No sultriness or slime. No feeling of power. Just a demon.
“I am here to help,” he said, voice toneless and face lacking any emotion.
Before Eva could say a word, he turned and followed the rest of the group towards the Rickenbacker.
“Well, that happened,” Irene said, sounding much more confident than she had during lunch. “I thought we might talk with them a bit more. They didn’t even glance at me. If that is how they act around school, I’ll be fine with it.”
Juliana stepped up beside Eva. “What did he mean by that?”
“Not sure,” Eva said. Glancing over Juliana’s shoulder, she met Arachne’s eyes for just a moment before focusing back on her friend. “I’ll have to ask when I see him next.”