“When he said help, he was talking about Void, right?”
Arachne shrugged. “What else would it be?”
“Well, I don’t know. He was obviously talking to me and not you. You’re the one who has been given the mission, not me.”
“Is there something you need help with?” Arachne paused in her weaving, looking straight at Eva. “You know you only need to ask me.”
Flopping down on the women’s ward couch, Eva shook her head. “I don’t think I need help with anything. Not right now. But he might have been talking about something else. Helping with the tournament?”
“You’re overthinking this.”
Eva stood up, paced back and forth a few times, and stopped. “You’re right. I should just go and ask him.”
Arachne took a breath. She finished the row of the square sheet of cloth she was working on before setting it to the side. “Not without me. There are a dozen demons of unknown temperaments and allegiances. Any one of them could have been convinced through power or prestige—or even the promise of more summonings—to tear you apart.”
“You really think that is likely? It would probably go against whatever contracts Anderson has them bound to.”
“We can’t know unless they told us their exact wording. Even then, they could be lying.”
Eva shook her head. “I can’t hide out here forever. Might as well find out sooner rather than later.”
“It could still be later. They might be waiting for an opportune moment.”
“Well aren’t you paranoid.”
“I would prefer to see you safely through the remainder of your treatments. After that, well, I still would see you safe. However, at least I can rest assured knowing that you won’t be gone permanently.”
“Thanks, I think. Shall we get going?”
Arachne let out a small sigh as her carapace cracked and morphed, shrinking down to her smallest form. She skittered across the floor before leaping up and perching herself right on Eva’s shoulder.
Everything ready, Eva built up a bit of magic and teleported straight into the Rickenbacker dormitory building.
The demons had been lodged down on the first floor. Normally, the first years took over the floor left behind by the graduating class. As a large number of students had chosen not to return and the largest class had graduated at the end of the last year, there had been a bit of reshuffling with the students. As of now, demons lived on the first floor alone while first years lived on the second floor alongside the few students who would be graduating in the spring.
As soon as Eva teleported in, she could feel every single one of them. None had wandered off anywhere. She could tell through subtle movements in their positions that every single demon noticed her arrival as well. Some stilled. Others moved ever so slightly in her direction.
“I still don’t like them doing this,” Eva said as Arachne grew back to her normal size. “This treating me with reverence.”
“They would do it to Zagan.”
“I am not Zagan.”
“No. And if they sensed him next to you, I doubt that they would react as they do. At the moment, you and Ylva are the most powerful things they’ve ever sensed. Don’t throw away that fear and respect.”
“Not planning on it. I have to say, being able to sense them is handy. Even if you weren’t here, I would be able to pick out which room that demon was in.”
Before she left, Eva took a look around the dormitory room. “Where are Shalise and Juliana though?”
After watching Catherine lead off the demons, Juliana, Irene, and Eva had all finished skipping alchemy before heading on to their next class. None of them had wanted to barge into Wayne’s class partway through even though they hadn’t spent as much time with the demons as Eva had been expecting.
Juliana had been intending to visit her family after school had ended, so she might still be gone doing that. Since it was a weekend, she would probably be staying the night there. As she had every weekend since school started.
Shalise had nowhere else to be as far as Eva could tell. She couldn’t think of anywhere Shalise might have gone unless she had gone to seek help from Zoe in some matter or other. Whatever the case, Eva couldn’t see her anywhere nearby through her sense of blood.
Slightly concerning, but Shalise knew how to handle herself.
Eva bit a lip. Shalise knew better than anyone the dangers of demons. She had shared her mind with one for months. But actually handling herself? Probably not.
At least she wasn’t downstairs with the demons. Eva could see most of them with her sense of blood.
Which was almost worse. At least the demons were a known quantity. If she was off with demon hunters…
Well, hopefully they wouldn’t kidnap some random student. Though all were in a human guise, none of the demons were trying very hard to hide. The way they moved as they got off the bus was enough to know that those weren’t regular school children.
Regular school children couldn’t phase through walls, jump high enough to clear the bus’ roof, and didn’t possess wings to allow them to fly through said roof.
That one might not be hiding her inhumanity quite as well as the others.
Eva sent a quick text message off to Zoe and Juliana, asking if either of them knew where Shalise was. At the same time, she started heading downstairs along with Arachne.
The demon who had spoken with them earlier started moving. As Eva reached the second floor, he reached it as well from a different staircase. Eva stopped just off the stairwell and waited, watching as the otherwise unassuming boy walked up to her.
Neither spoke. They stood and stared, eying each other. Arachne was all but forgotten behind Eva.
“Are you ready to begin?”
Eva blinked with a frown. “Why don’t we talk for a moment first.”
“What could we have to discuss?”
“You,” Eva said simply. She didn’t like this demon already. Every word lacked inflection. His eyes were too still and he didn’t seem to breathe or even move. His heart was beating beneath his chest, carrying blood around his body, but he was otherwise still. Serena was more alive than this demon.
And she still didn’t know his name.
“Your goals,” Eva added. “What you hope to achieve by… helping me.”
“Was there a misunderstanding? I aim to achieve your goals. That is what helping you means, is it not? I apologize for any confusion in my language.”
Behind Eva, Arachne’s arms dropped to her sides. Her hands clenched before releasing into open claws. She let out a small growl as she bared her teeth.
The demon took no notice. He kept his overlarge eyes glued to Eva.
“Look,” Eva said, rubbing her forehead. “Why don’t we start with your name.”
“I have been called Vektul.”
“Great. Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Vektul glanced around. His face was as expressionless as ever, but there was something off about how he looked. Almost as if he was confused.
Eva sighed. “It is just an expression, an idiom. We’re not physically moving anywhere.”
“I assumed as such.”
Rolling her eyes, Eva shook her head. If he really was here to help pull Void into the mortal realm, couldn’t Void have sent someone else? Anyone else, really. Catherine was normalish. Ylva as well, even if Ylva was somewhat obtuse in her speech and mannerisms.
Even Zagan would be better than this Vektul person. And Zagan had a habit of forcing everything onto Eva and not doing anything himself.
“Second question: What kind of demon are you?”
“I do not believe that one of my kind has been summoned before. We have been given no names by mortals.”
“And you don’t call yourselves something?”
“We are, simply, demons.”
“Alright. Fair enough. Do you always look like this?” Eva waved a hand towards him. “Or is this a disguise?”
He glanced around, looking up at the ceiling before shaking his head. “I’ve been told not to damage the facilities or the students here.”
Eva had to suppress taking a step back. If his real form was dangerous enough that simply changing into it could violate his contract, she wasn’t sure how close to him she wanted to be. Though it was good to note at least a few elements of his contract. Eva assumed that all the demons had been given the same contract.
Thinking of the other demons brought a new question to mind. “Are any of the other demons here aware of what you’re doing?”
He opened his mouth, but Eva held up a hand.
“Let me rephrase.” Based on her conversation with him so far, he would say something like ‘no, none of the demons know I’m on the second floor of this building talking to you.’ Or maybe, ‘yes, you and Arachne are aware.’ Some literal and technically correct answer that told Eva nothing in the end.
“You’re here to help me. With what, we’ll determine in a minute. But first, are any of the other demons here to help me in the same way that you mean?”
Unlike every other question Eva had asked, Vektul did not respond instantly. He took a moment to think and consider with the occasional glance towards the rooms other demons were staying in, as if he were looking straight at his kin.
“Not to my knowledge,” he eventually said.
“Are any here to hinder me, acting against your help?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Eva moved slightly, going to lean against the wall of the hallway. Standing in one spot was somewhat tedious. More importantly, it blocked off the stairwell. Eva moved to the side just in time for the door leading to the staircase to open.
A girl, younger but unfamiliar to Eva, stepped out. She spotted Eva first, but her eyes only lingered for a moment. Arachne stole her attention right out.
She stopped and stared.
Eva was about to ask if she was alright before the girl’s eyes rolled back in her head.
Blinking behind the girl, Eva managed to catch her before she fell all the way to the ground.
“Great,” Eva groaned, slowly lowering the girl to the ground. “Now what?”
“It isn’t dead,” Vektul said.
Eva shook her head with another mental sigh. “Obviously.”
“Fainting. She’s just unconscious. In fact…”
Eva gently used the back of her hand to pat against the girl’s face. Really, she shouldn’t be doing this. If she did rouse the girl, the first thing that she would see would be Eva’s eyes. Or her hands. Or even Arachne standing over Eva’s shoulder. She would just pass out again.
Or worse, start screaming.
But before Eva could reconsider her actions, the girl’s eyes fluttered open.
The girl blinked twice and stiffened like a board. For a moment, Eva thought that she was going to scream. She didn’t.
She did start shaking.
“Don’t worry. We’re not going to hurt you.”
“You’re those demons,” she said in a voice that, though shaky, was definitely trying to be light-hearted, “aren’t you?” A tilt of her head punctuated her question. Her eyes darted towards Vektul and some of the fear waned as she narrowed her eyes in confusion.
“We are,” Eva said, bringing the girl’s attention back to her. “And we’re not going to hurt you. Now, let’s get you up.”
She was still stiff and a little shaky, but Eva managed to get her to her feet.
Now that she had a better look at the girl, Eva found herself frowning. Last year’s new students had resided in the Gillet and this year’s first years and sixth years both lived on the second floor of the Rickenbacker so that nobody would be on the same floor as the demons.
While she could be a freshman, this girl looked about nine. She couldn’t be. Thirteen was the absolute youngest it was possible to attend Brakket. And they would have a birthday sometime soon after starting school if they entered that young.
“Are you going to let go of me?”
“Oh. Of course.” Eva shook her head. If the girl was out looking for the demons—which Eva was guessing based on her being far too young for school—she should toughen up a bit when finding one.
Eva shot a quick glance towards Vektul. The boy—or the demon who appeared as a boy—just stood to the side. It was a curiosity filled stare. Possibly puzzling out how he had thought her dead only for her to wake and be standing in a minute.
“Do you live on this floor?” Eva asked, turning back towards the girl.
With a short nod and a gesture towards one of the rooms, she started to speak. Only started. She made a small noise before something caught in her throat. It took a few coughs for her to actually get the words out. “Just–just over there.”
Which threw Eva’s theories out the window. She must just be a baby-faced teen with a severe height impairment. Or maybe she hadn’t started school but lived with a relative in the dorms for some reason.
“Do you need help getting there?”
Her head swung side to side as she moved away from Eva. She took a ginger step around Vektul before sprinting straight to the door she had pointed out. With one final glance at Eva and her group, she disappeared into the room.
“Perhaps,” Eva said to Vektul after a moment, “we should move elsewhere. Are you hungry? Do you get hungry?”
“I can eat. Upon arriving, I was given a… strawberry? I think they called it that.”
Vektul shrugged. In a voice as toneless and as emotionless as he had used before, he said, “I could eat more.”
Eva chuckled. “Alright. Let’s head to the kitchens. We should be able to scrounge up some things and, hopefully, not stand right outside doors where people are going to be wandering about. Especially not younger people. They aren’t quite as accustomed to my appearance as the older years.”
As she led him down the stairs and towards the kitchen, Vektul cocked his head to the side.
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t understand.”
Eva shook her head. This demon really needed to spend some time around regular people. Were all the demons that Anderson had brought like this? “I mean, what is it that you don’t understand?”
“That human. Why was she… I don’t understand her motivations.”
“Motivations?” Eva said as she pushed into the kitchen.
Nobody was around. That was somewhat expected. It was earlier in the evening. Not so early that everyone would be hungry, but generally before the majority of the students ate. Some people might show up to eat an early snack before going to study or work on homework.
Hopefully keeping away from that door would give anybody who entered a moment or two to process the demons gathered around and not freak out instantly.
“She had no ‘motivations’ for fainting. Maybe you could say that her motivations after waking were to get away from us as soon as possible. To remove herself from our presence.
“Above all, you could say that fear ‘motivated’ her.”
“We have a contract to not harm the students,” Vektul said, taking a seat.
Arachne plopped down in the seat opposite from him, slouching in her seat slightly. “I’ve no such contract. I could kill them all if I so choose.”
Eva paused her movements towards one of the great refrigerators to shoot a glare in Arachne’s direction.
The spider-demon stiffened almost immediately, pulling out of her slouch to look mildly ashamed of herself.
“Maybe we should get you a contract.”
“That is completely unnecessary. I assure you. It was just an example.”
“Uh huh.” Eva pulled open the fridge and rummaged through.
The school kept it stocked with a fairly poor assortment of goods. Eva, not being the best chef around, just found a few apples and decided that would have to do. If Vektul wanted to have something a bit more gourmet for tasting the cuisine of the mortal realm, he would just have to visit a real restaurant.
“Besides,” Arachne continued, “a demon cannot hold a contract with another demon. Otherwise I’d probably be in the Keeper’s claws for what I did to get your eyes. And I do not want to be beholden to some random mortal.”
“Juliana isn’t a random mortal. Zoe isn’t either. I’m sure that Zoe at least would sleep much better if she knew that you couldn’t hurt anyone.”
“I like to keep the option open. What if the necromancer’s daughter returns? I’d like the freedom to deal with her as I see fit.”
“Well,” Eva said, setting a pair of apples on the table. Arachne wouldn’t want one and really, she didn’t either. She would just nibble at it to make Vektul not feel alone in eating. “I doubt she would be coming as a student again. Her appearance is a bit distinctive. Even if she covered it up on the outside, I’d be able to spot her insides and would kill her before she could do anything.”
Vektul stared at his apple as Eva took a seat next to Arachne. He plucked off the stem and popped it right into his mouth. No expression of disgust or enjoyment came over his face as he swallowed. He turned the apple over, continuing to stare at it.
Taking pity on him, Eva took a large bite out of the side of the apple. Her razor-sharp teeth glided through the meat of the fruit as if it were no more solid than cotton candy.
Even now, almost a month after her most recent treatment, it was still surprising just how sharp they were. More surprising was the fact that it was incredibly difficult to bite through her own tongue. She had accidentally bit her tongue one time and almost hadn’t noticed. That incident had prompted a few experiments. To actually injure her tongue took more force than she would ever use eating anything normally.
Maybe they could be used as a weapon. However, given her experiences in Sawyer’s mind, she was going to need to be extraordinarily desperate to put other people’s body parts in her mouth.
Mimicking her actions, Vektul took a bite out of the side of the apple. His own teeth weren’t quite as sharp as Eva’s. They certainly weren’t the triangular interlocking knives that made up most demons’ teeth. Of course, Catherine’s teeth weren’t sharp while in her human form. He was probably hiding them.
After the first bite, he took a second. That was quickly followed by a third.
Soon enough, he had finished off the apple, core and all.
“She wanted to be alone?”
Eva blinked, confused for a moment before realizing that he was still talking about that student.
“Maybe not alone, but not with us. Demons scare most people.”
“Most. But not all?”
“No. Not all. In fact, I’m sure that plenty of students will be all to eager to meet with you all.”
“Good,” he said. There was a note of finality to his otherwise emotionless voice. “Though I have my mission to assist you, I hoped to speak with mortals.”
“Speak with mortals?” Eva frowned. “Anyone in particular?”
“No. Merely beings who are not constructs or Void. Someone… new.”
Eva fell silent for a few moments.
Much like Lucy, this demon must have been one of the ones who had never interacted with anyone or anything outside of his domain. His isolation was manifesting itself in an entirely different manner. Rather than the fascination with everything around and an almost unbearably chipper attitude that Lucy possessed, Vektul was emotionless. As if he didn’t know how to act, let alone how to react to everything around him.
“Now that you mention it, your mission. What exactly is the intended outcome of assisting me?”
He tilted his head to one side. He must have learned that gesture from somewhere.
“To complete the ritual to tear open the fabric of reality.”
Eva shared a quick glance with Arachne.
“Ah. That ritual. To bring Void to the mortal realm?” It was a question, but she was trying to make it not seem like one.
“Were you working on another ritual?”
“Me personally? No. I wasn’t working on any other ritual.” Or that one. “Everything we were working on was in the mere theoretical phase. Perhaps we should discuss this ritual further with you before starting on anything concrete.”
His lips curled downwards into a slight frown in possibly one of the first real facial expressions she had seen on the demon. “You haven’t collected the necessary demons and mages? Or begun clearing a space for the ritual circle?”
Eva blinked, confused for just a moment before she grit her teeth. He was acting like she should have known this already. A quick glance at Arachne showed nothing but confusion on her face. Why was she expected to know these things.
“At least we have yourself. That is the most important part.”
“Why don’t we start at the beginning and go over this ritual step by step. Everything that you know about it.”