“Weren’t you supposed to go back and visit your mother tonight?”
Juliana glanced over to Shalise and shrugged. “Still plenty of tonight left.”
“But… why are we here?”
Leaning back in the booth, Juliana snacked on a plate of chips. “There aren’t many places open in the evenings.”
Shalise frowned, sulking slightly in her third of the booth, leaning into the corner.
Her dislike of the location was understandable, though not very sensible. The Vertex club had a bit of history with Shalise. It being the location of the little Halloween party during their fist year. Also the location of Shalise nearly dying from zombies.
It wasn’t a very sensible distaste because zombies really had nothing to do with the place. The structure had been fixed up, cleaned, and reopened for business. Sawyer was dead, so there was a much smaller chance of zombies spontaneously wandering in through the doors. Even if they did walk in, they could handle them now.
The zombies had shown up roughly two months into their magical education. Juliana could have taken them out then; she hadn’t. Seeing some zombies earlier in the year might have given her a small bit of trauma related to zombies. Since then, however, she had seen and done plenty of things far worse.
Shalise wasn’t incapable though. Sure, she had missed a portion of her first year and a larger portion of her second year, but she still kept up in her studies. Her tutor hadn’t been the best. That was something Juliana was slowly finding out about as she helped get Shalise up to speed. She could only help a little though. General basics and theory. Air and earth magics just weren’t compatible. But she knew that Shalise was getting extra tutoring from Zoe to help catch her up.
At the very least, she should be able to create strong enough gusts of wind to keep shambling zombies away from her. Her lightning was a fair weapon as well, though probably not the best to use against zombies.
“Besides,” Juliana said, “if there is one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that demons like entertainment. Anywhere else around here lacks the small bit of excitement that we can use for distraction if need be.”
A thunk to Juliana’s other side rattled the plates on the table.
Irene’s forehead was pressed against the table. She let out a small groan. “How did I get dragged into this?”
“Has anyone told you that you get pressured into things too easily?”
Juliana patted her on the shoulder. “Ah. Well, don’t worry about it. If you weren’t here, Shalise wouldn’t have agreed to come.”
“We should have waited for Eva, at least.”
Pulling out her cellphone, Juliana shook her head. “No response. Must be busy still.”
In truth, Juliana had never sent out a text in the first place. Eva’s text asking where Shalise was had come as a surprise, but she had played it off as if Eva sent a message saying that she would be busy for a time and couldn’t join them.
It might be a dangerous game that she was playing, but Juliana wanted to meet with a few of the demons outside of Eva’s presence. The way that they had all but ignored everything around them to focus on Eva had been both disturbing and off-putting. Not a single one of the demons had looked at anyone else while getting off the bus.
With Eva gone, hopefully things would be a little bit more normal.
And it shouldn’t be too dangerous. Not more dangerous than sleeping in their rooms, anyway. These demons were going to be hanging around school and the dormitories. Slipping a note under a few of their doors to meet out in the club should be safe enough.
“Are they going to show up soon?”
“Maybe they couldn’t find the place.”
“We found it just fine.”
Juliana jumped at the sudden voice. The least exaggerated reaction of those present. Shalise stiffened like a board after letting out a surprised noise. Irene bolted upright, flipping a spoon halfway across the room as her elbow bumped against the table.
The spoon stopped in mid-air. A hand shimmered around it, coming into vision along with the rest of a body. A fairly regular human body. There were no obvious signs of his demon side despite him almost undoubtedly being one. No hands or eyes like Eva had or the odd facial expressions and mannerisms of Lucy.
Appearing out of thin air wasn’t typically a mortal ability, even for mages. Teleportation was one way, but that wasn’t teleportation. More like invisibility. Which was possible, but not easily. Therefore, he was likely a demon.
“You’re scaring the poor humans, Srey.”
A second demon—and this one was obviously a demon with the leathery wings sticking out of her back—came up the stairs to the second floor of the club. She sauntered up to the first demon and plucked the spoon from his hand. She turned it over once, looking at her reflection as she adjusted a strand of hair. As soon as she finished, she flung the spoon over her shoulder with a shrug.
Her eyes roamed over the three seated humans, watching each with the intensity one might give a venomous spider slowly creeping closer.
The look disappeared as she put on a radiant smile and offered her hand. “Saija. Charmed to meet you.”
Irene was the first to move forwards to shake the offered hand, being the one sitting closest to the two demons. She reached out almost instantly, pure reaction and conditioning forcing her to shake hands when one was offered.
Juliana grabbed hold of Irene’s arm just before she could make contact and pulled it back slightly. Both Irene and Saija looked aghast at her actions. Irene looked more scared with her eyes widening as she whipped her head towards Juliana.
Saija narrowed her eyes, lifting her chin slightly so as to glare downwards all the more effectively.
“Sorry,” Juliana said as fast as she could. “I don’t mean any offense, it is just that we’ve heard about a demon called the Lord of Slaves. Apparently shaking his hand isn’t a good idea.”
Saija’s face softened somewhat as she gave a heavy nod of her head. “I’ve heard of such a being. Enslaving mortals and demons alike. Truly a fearsome creature. Though you need not fear such from me! I am a succubus,” she said, fluttering her wings in obvious pride.
The demon she had called Srey stepped forward, closer to the table. He didn’t extend his hand, smile, or look very personable at all. In fact, he looked like he wanted to be just about anywhere but where he was.
His eyes weren’t on the three humans. They were darting around the club, never stopping on any one thing for any length of time. After a moment, he sighed and leaned in to Saija.
“We were being watched,” he said softly, though not so soft that Juliana couldn’t catch what he was saying. “They noticed that I noticed and quit.”
Saija groaned. “More demon hunters? How many do we have to kill before they get the hint? There are a dozen of us plus however many were already around. And that one…” She trailed off with a slight shudder. “They had better have brought an army this time.”
Juliana blinked before glancing around herself. She didn’t know what she expected to see. Nobody was around save for their group—how this club managed to stay in business was probably the same sorcery that let Brakket continue to operate. “If someone has been spying on us from afar, it might not have been demon hunters.”
“Oh hoh?” Saija said. Though she slipped into the bench opposite from Irene, she turned her head to look at Juliana. “And you would know more than Srey?”
Shalise retreated further back into the corner of their booth. She wasn’t able to go too far because of the wall, but she still slid away.
Juliana wasn’t quite sure why. The question didn’t come out hostile. More as a curiosity. She wasn’t glaring anymore either, apparently having forgotten the earlier slight about shaking hands.
“I might not in general,” Juliana said, “but I do know of someone who is able to spy on people from afar. A friend of ours.”
And Eva had been looking for Shalise earlier. Juliana replied to Eva’s message stating that Shalise was with her at her parents, but she might have still asked Nel to look for them. Somewhat annoying and kind of an invasion of privacy, but overall, Juliana would rather have someone worried about them and checking in than them being abandoned during a time of need.
If they disappeared and nobody noticed for a day, that would be too late.
“Ahh,” Saija said, “but Srey detects hostile intent. Unless your friends aren’t so friendly, we might have company.”
“Company?” Irene shouted as she jumped to her feet. She banged her knees on the table and sank back down with a groan. “Shouldn’t we alert the rest of the demons?”
Saija chuckled, shaking her head side to side. She reached over to the plate in front of Irene, took a potato chip and ate it. “If a fight starts, they’ll know. Besides, they stopped spying on us. Probably just gleaning information.”
Looking up towards Srey, she patted the seat next to her. “Come sit down. Enjoy yourself. How often do you get to interact with mortals?”
Srey harrumphed, but did as she said. Because Saija had taken the end seat opposite from Irene and didn’t appear to be moving anytime soon, he hopped over the back, putting his feet up on the middle section as he pressed his back into the wall on Shalise’s side of the table.
“Now, you two,” Saija said, pointing between Juliana and Shalise, “smell like home. My home, that is.”
Juliana exchanged a quick glance with Shalise before sighing. “It’s a long story.”
“We’ve got time. Do they serve beer here?”
— — —
When Vektul had said that they needed demons and mages, the first thing that had popped into Eva’s mind was related to human sacrifice. She wasn’t sure why. Perhaps because Void was a full Power that would need the ultimate sacrifice to draw into the real world.
After a moment of thought, she wondered why her mind had gone in that direction. Some demons had humans as their enticements. Though, not necessarily because they needed some mystical power inherent in mortals. Maybe they liked the taste, maybe they wanted a toy or companion.
Void wasn’t a necromancer. He wasn’t even related to one. Neither was Void related to blood magic. Two things that actually did require human sacrifices.
As such, there should be no real need for the sacrifice of humans in the summoning of Void.
To be fair, Eva wasn’t completely appalled at the thought. Which probably said something about how terrible of a person she was, but bloodstones came from human sacrifice. It wasn’t something she was diametrically opposed to. Plenty of people existed whose deaths would only improve the remainder of humanity.
“Six? Only six?”
“Of each,” Vektul said. “We can do more if you wish. Too many may cause instabilities with overpowering the ritual. The barriers between realities are already sundered. Six should suffice.”
Eva stared at Vektul. The demon had acquired a second apple from the fridge and was calmly eating it as they continued their discussion of the ritual.
“No. No more. I just figured that it would be six hundred sixty-six or something. At least thirteen. Some amount a bit more significant than six.”
Six was one less than the amount of people she had killed at the start of summer. Really a tiny amount in the grand scheme of things.
There had to be a trick to it. Some hidden payment. Like, all of them had to be newborn babies or virgins or something. Something where she couldn’t just go grab criminals from her minion down in Florida and not lose a bit of sleep over her choices.
“Any particularities about these people? States that they have to be in or specific qualities in the people?”
Maybe they didn’t even have to die. A drop of blood was technically a sacrifice. Typically, people only used the word sacrifice when talking about actually killing people. Vektul hadn’t displayed a great deal of competence in using typical human language though. Best to make sure that he spelled out everything as simply as he could.
And the word had only been going around Eva’s head. Vektul hadn’t actually said that they were sacrifices. Merely that they needed people and demons.
“Magically attuned humans–”
Arachne leaned forward, tapping a finger on the table before Vektul could continue.
Vektul’s mouth snapped shut. He didn’t glare or even look offended at being interrupted.
Probably didn’t know how to be offended. Or perhaps didn’t know that he should be.
Eva looked towards Arachne with somewhat narrowed eyes. The idea that Arachne already knew aspects of this ritual and hadn’t told her was somewhat upsetting. She had said that she hadn’t known anything, but she kept making small comments that made Eva think otherwise.
But for the moment, Arachne ignored Eva’s glare.
“Void put part of the ritual in my head. Nothing about it required killing mortals.”
Eva blinked. Apparently Arachne had come to the same conclusion that Eva had.
“Killing mortals?” Vektul tilted his head. “There has been some confusion, why do we need to kill mortals?”
Eva sighed. She had been right. Well, she had been wrong first, then right. Sort of.
One thing was clear, Vektul needed to go take a lesson on how to properly interact with people.
“The mortals need to be capable of performing magic. They will be stationed around the primary ritual circle, feeding magic to further rip the fabric of reality apart.”
Pressing a hand to her forehead, Eva shook her head back and forth. Why did I instantly think sacrifices.
“The demons will be stationed within the circle. Then myself and Arachne will be at the north and south ends with you in the center.”
Eva shivered slightly. He had mentioned that before, her being needed. But being in the center? She was in the center of her treatment circle, but she knew exactly what that ritual was for.
Maybe she should bring in Catherine and have her go over everything.
His head, still tilted to one side, swung over to the other side. He was getting a bit exaggerated with that particular expression, but Eva let it slide. Someone could tone that down once she found him a human mannerisms teacher.
“I can’t say for sure. Were I to guess, I would say that you represent a bridge between humans and demons. Mortals and Void.”
“Well, I suppose that makes sense.”
“I don’t like it,” Arachne said with a slight snarl. “We can find some other center point. Make Devon find another kid to start the treatment on and then use him.”
Eva stared at Arachne. “I don’t have much of a problem sacrificing people, but children?”
Arachne just shrugged, glancing to the side. “Better than you.”
“I appreciate that. But we have time. You yourself said that this ritual is not small.”
Despite her calm words, Eva was somewhat worried. The center of a demon summoning circle was normally where the enticements went.
Enticements were an odd thing. Ylva needed a vial of raven blood. Arachne, a living black widow spider. Neither, to Eva’s knowledge, actually did anything with their enticements except for to accept them. A haunter usually wanted fresh meat. And then a storehouse—or in Eva’s case, a jail house—full of meat to help calm them down. The haunter actually consumed the meat. Whether it was considered a treat or actual nourishment, Eva had never asked.
The thing Devon had summoned for fighting the nuns, the one that was hard to look at, seemed to have had a portion of its body used as an enticement. The waxy headache inducing demon had an actual wax candle used for its enticement that turned into its body.
So, while using terms like enticement, Eva would much prefer to not be in the circle. There was a much higher chance of nothing terrible happening if she were far away.
What was it that Void said during one of my first trips to hell? I’m destined for greater things? This is probably what he was talking about.
Eva couldn’t remember exactly when those words had been said, but she was relatively certain that it had been before any enigmas had shown up. For how long had Void known that everything that had happened would happen?
Unless he hadn’t known. Maybe he had been planning this even beforehand.
Of course, like sacrifices, Vektul hadn’t actually mentioned the word enticement. It was probably all in her head.
Turning back to Vektul, Eva frowned. “Though Arachne isn’t the best mage around,” she said, continuing her earlier thought. “So I’m loath to trust her words about the ritual circle’s size. In fact, I’d trust a freshman before her. I hope you have a good idea of exactly how this circle is to be drawn.”
“That statement would be accurate.”
Arachne gave another low growl.
“Don’t be offended, Arachne. You know it’s true.” She kept watching Vektul, waiting for him to continue.
Only to realize he had no intentions of doing so.
“How large is this ritual circle?”
“I believe the measurement is meters here? We need ten thousand square of them.”
“That’s…” she paused. Ten thousand square meters didn’t mean all that much to her. She knew that a football field was one hundred yards long, so maybe a square field? But she didn’t have a very good mental model of just how large that was.
Eva was not a sports fan.
“Probably pretty large,” she finished.
They fell into a light silence as Vektul finished off his second apple—again, including the core and its seeds. She could tell that everyone was deep in thought.
Or at least she was. Arachne as well. Probably deep in concern about being used as a ritual reagent while Eva was in the middle.
“What is going to happen?”
She hadn’t meant to ask anything, but she was worried.
Void would manifest in the mortal realm. Even if she didn’t perform the ritual, even if she actively sabotaged it, Life was working to that end as well. The difference would be on whose terms Void came over. If Void came over on his terms and without merging Hell and the mortal realm. On his own terms, he might be able to disrupt or foil any plots against him.
Otherwise Void might be injured, weakened, or even killed. Such a result would not bode well for demons in general and Eva in particular.
Not so long ago, Eva had held a conversation with Catherine. It had been shortly after the demon hunters had attacked. In discussing the murdered security guards, the topic had turned towards elves.
Catherine had gone on a long rant about how much she hated elves. Something about how they used to be some great warriors and their decline into ‘pathetic, mortal-pandering weaklings’ who were shades of their former selves.
Apparently there was some history between Catherine and the elves. At least, the rant had continued for far longer than Eva had been interested in the conversation.
But she had got one thing out of the conversation, the elves’ current state wasn’t because of their own fault. Not really. They had once been beings akin to demons. They had a Power that created them and they all lived primarily in another plane of existence. The only times they ventured out was to enact war.
How they got out of their plane of existence, Catherine had never said. Neither had she said its name or the name of their Power.
What she had said was that nearly everyone, Powers included, had grown tired of constantly being brought into conflicts that didn’t suit their interests. Banding together, they destroyed the patron Power of the elves, leaving the elves both bereft of their unique magics and without a home.
Upon being asked, Catherine hadn’t been certain what happened to those elves who were in their home realm at the time.
Those stranded on Earth tried to keep a low profile, eventually transforming into how everyone knew elves existed today. Most of their warrior ways had died off. Human mages now knew them as herbalists and healers. Very little evidence of their fearsome past or mysterious magics remained.
Hearing that tale had put a bit of fear into Eva. Being almost a demon, it could be said that Void was her Power. She didn’t know what magic, if any, she actually got from Void. Perhaps none at all and all of her magic was fueled solely off what humans could produce. Though that did leave open the question of where the bleeding walls came from that had happened once or twice in recent months.
She still couldn’t cause that to happen intentionally.
The immortality that demons enjoyed probably came straight from Void. Demons had intense regenerative abilities—something Eva was still lacking—but when terminally injured, Void opened a portal to reclaim them. If demons could regenerate from anything, such an action would be unneeded.
Unless it was just a punishment for dying.
That was all just problems that might be if Void did not manage to fend off his attacker. After that, there was still the issue of Void being brought to the mortal realm in the first place.
Though, from the sound of the ritual thus far, it was sounding more like they were summoning a much smaller demon-like being. Far from the literal universe that Eva had originally pictured. Just Void and not the whole of Hell along with him.
Sundering reality doesn’t sound very good though.
Glancing between the two demons seated around her, Eva found neither of them jumping to respond to her question. Though, in Vektul’s case, her question had probably been too vague.
Sighing, Eva shook her head. “Alright, let me grab a notebook and we’ll get all the minor details written down. We can start real planning after that.”