“You were noticed?”
Clement started to shake his head, but paused after considering the question. “I wasn’t noticed, but one of the demons was aware that he was being watched.”
“As long as the augur didn’t spot you. The enchantments provided by the naughty nun,” she said with some amount of disdain in her voice, “won’t work if they know where to look.”
“I know,” Clement said for what had to be the tenth time. Just because he couldn’t use magic himself didn’t mean he couldn’t understand simple concepts.
Especially concepts related to enchanting.
The enchantments on his visor—his new visor—were quite the upgrade. Previously, he would be able to track demons. Walls hadn’t been much of an obstacle, but they did lessen clarity. More than that required specialized equipment that Gertrude had enchanted.
Now he could see specific individuals so long as they radiated enough demonic taint. He could tell which direction they were facing, whether they were standing or sitting, and several other minor details.
That wasn’t even getting into the auditory enchantments. Being able to hear a fly land on the wall was somewhat disorienting. Especially when Gertrude’s voice sounded perfectly normal at the same time.
It was handy for spying. Clement had to admit that.
Gertrude frowned, but she didn’t move.
She couldn’t move. Even with all the wonders of magic and potions, there was only so much that could be done about damage to the spinal cord. And Gertrude had a bit more than simple damage. She had three separate wounds that had each punctured straight through different points of her spine.
Clenching his fist, Clement grit his teeth together. She could still work her magic. Gertrude had been churning out a full suit of armor for him, complete with enchantments. His original suit had taken years to make, but this one would be completed within a handful of weeks. A few months total, but nothing that compared to his old suit.
That was about all she could do. With all of her time dedicated to enchanting, there wasn’t much in the way of distractions. No putting down a gauntlet to run off chasing down some demon or other.
She did have another project. Something that might assist her in moving about. Whether or not she would be able to fight was still unknown. At the very least, she would be able to get out and do reconnaissance with Clement.
Clement started. He closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath before relaxing himself.
“I can hear your teeth grinding together. You’ll ruin them, you know?”
Making a noncommittal grunt, Clement moved closer to Gertrude and brushed some of her hair out of her eyes. “Can I get you anything?”
“Not right now. But this is troublesome. We got rid of one of the primary summoners and half of the demons around. Now there are a dozen more? What does it take to put down this infestation?”
“Should we really be here?”
Gertrude’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. They were one of the few things that she still had full control over. As such, she went to every effort to make full use of her glares.
“You’re not suggesting we run, are you?”
“There are other demon hunters in the area now. Leave it to them. You said that healers of the Elysium Order might be able to mend your back. Let us seek them out.”
“And leave this to those amateurs? They run in and get themselves killed. We can’t leave this to them.”
Clement frowned. They hadn’t run in and yet Gertrude was lying in a bed, immobile. She had been caught off guard by a blood magic wielding demon and another demon who appeared entirely out of nowhere. Clement had only succeeded in his mission because of Gertrude’s ring. That was gone now. If another demon of that caliber appeared, they would be dead without a doubt.
“Something is being planned and it does not bode well for humanity. Whatever it is.”
Gertrude wanted to shake her head in frustration. He could tell just from the way her lips curled downwards ever so slightly.
“Did you learn anything?”
Clement grit his teeth again for just a moment before remembering Gertrude’s warning. “Nothing significant. The humans were schoolchildren, discussing being trapped in Hell for a time. After that…”
“After that what?”
Frown deepening, Clement shook his head. “They discussed school. Attending it. The demons—or the female at least—seemed excited. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought they were ordinary children. Only a few comments stood out as things children wouldn’t discuss. Other than being stuck in Hell, that is.
“Of course, I missed portions of their conversation. If I watched for too long, the male demon would sense my observations and comment on it, halting the discussion.”
“Troublesome. Not insurmountable though. And you didn’t hear anything from the main group of demons?”
“I stopped by, but the dormitories are too full of people. All the sound blurs together into one unintelligible mess.”
Clement had been hoping to hear anything. After the girl and the demon who had injured Gertrude teleported in, he had tried for a while. Too long, if he was being honest with himself. Unfortunately, the enchantments just weren’t up to the task of filtering out things he didn’t need to hear.
“As we expected. I may be able to adjust the enchantment. It wouldn’t be ready soon, however.”
“Shouldn’t you at least be working on your own project. Doing something for yourself and getting mobile again?”
“No time. If these demons are planning on something, we need your armor ready to handle whatever that may be.”
“Don’t argue. I’m not able to fight at the moment. It is going to be all up to you. Other hunters are unreliable. They can’t even kill a single demon despite sacrificing their lives trying. Pathetic.”
Clement stood still in their home—one of the many abandoned buildings around Brakket City—and watched Gertrude for a moment.
With his sword still intact, he held no doubts about his ability to handle most of the demons out there. There were a few that might give him pause, but quelling a number of them might be enough to disrupt their plans. Finishing his armor would only increase his chances of success. Especially his chances of success while still living through it in the end.
If he died, was captured, or otherwise became unavailable while Gertrude was bedridden… she might be able to teleport someplace where she could get help, but he doubted that she would trust anyone to do anything. It was a very real possibility that she might choose to starve in this bed.
He didn’t argue against her words, but he didn’t have to like them either.
“Bring me your new boots,” she said after a moment. “I’ll get to working on reweaving the enchantments.”
Clement stood still for just a moment before moving to comply. She was right in the end. He needed to be ready for whatever may happen. To protect her, if nothing else.
— — —
The week couldn’t end soon enough for Eva.
Going to regular school with nothing exciting on the side to distract her was something of a nightmare. She had thought that it would be nice. A vacation from demon hunters, necromancers, nuns, and whatever else had plagued her school career. Unfortunately, that lack of excitement just revealed the true monotony of Brakket Academy—the dull feeling that most normal students experienced over the course of their school years.
Even a dozen demons running around the school and posing as students didn’t create quite the drama that Eva might have expected.
Professor Chelsea Lepus spent a moment loudly clearing her throat. “Now class, I know you’re still excited about our new friends,” she said with only a hint of distaste leaking through in her tone, “but we do have material that needs to be covered in a timely manner.”
One of the demons had been assigned to Eva’s class. The demon called Srey. One of the few who didn’t actually seem to want to be on Earth. He kept to himself in the back of the classroom, shooting glares at… well, mostly everyone, but especially those who approached him.
Not that his glares actually stopped anyone.
Glancing over her shoulder, Eva found a number of people all seated at his table. Mostly girls, but he had a few guys seated nearby as well.
And they were continuously giggling about something or other.
Apparently his appearance was cute. Eva just didn’t see it. As a human, he didn’t look much different from most other teens around the school. He had moderately long hair draped over one eye—though he wasn’t hiding anything behind the hair—and was lean almost to the point of being too skinny.
Of course, nobody knew what he really looked like. Not even Eva. She hadn’t asked and he hadn’t appeared anywhere outside his human form to the best of her knowledge. To her sense of demons, he was somewhat wispy and insubstantial. Not in the same vacuous manner of Vektul, but just lacking a firm presence.
But knowing that he was disguising himself didn’t stop half of Eva’s warding class from gathering around him.
There were two types of human students around the school. Some were fearful. It was easy to tell who fit into that category as they often ran around with their heads down, trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Why they still attended Brakket was anyone’s guess. Maybe they had no other choices either because of family and monetary issues or perhaps their family just didn’t see demons as a big deal.
Or they were first generation mages and had nowhere else to go.
The second category were the ones who were desperately overeager to interact with the demons. People who tried to crowd around the demons during meals, classes, or even between classes in the hallways. They would badger the demons with questions and comments in a manner that Eva would have expressly discouraged in the diablery class.
There were very few people in between the two groups. Her friends, including Irene and Shelby, were somewhat subdued about the whole thing. Most of the students who had participated in the diablery class were as well—which was nice to see. Just about everyone else fit in one category or another.
Amusingly enough, most of the demons seemed to prefer the company of the fearful group of students. Something that didn’t surprise Eva all that much. She wouldn’t want to be pestered with incessant questions about Hell or what she really looked like. A few demons reveled in the attention. The succubus that Juliana had met with chief among them. But the majority either kept to themselves or drifted towards the quieter half of the student body.
Unfortunately, her current class fit into the latter category.
Really, she wished that they would stop.
Chelsea Lepus was the warding professor for Brakket Academy, one of the electives that Eva had decided would be good to take. It had a vague relation to shackles that gave her a familiar enough grounding while still being something new. So far, it actually had very little to do with her blood wards. Those were constructed and acted entirely differently from thaumaturgical wards.
A good teacher, but she was strict.
Every time she stopped to address any disruptions, time just seemed to drag on.
Eva watched the clock, wondering if it had always been so slow. Each tick seemed to take longer than the previous.
“As I’m sure you’ve learned in your theory classes,” she said as the giggling died down. “Circles are an excellent basis for magical effects. They contain the magic put into them, allowing it to be used to power whatever you’re trying to do.
“In rituals, we draw a circle and define a height in the pattern itself. This contains the magical effect to a limited area. Were you to leave this part out, the magic would disperse upwards and downwards, still within the circle though too thin to work with in most cases.”
Professor Lepus drew a somewhat lopsided circle on the board and filled it with what Eva was almost certain were nonsensical scribbles until there was very little of the whiteboard visible.
“However, we are not learning how to create ritual circles. Thaumaturgy is all about phasing out such tiresome and cumbersome work used in the ways of old magics, replacing physical drawings with mental thought patterns. However, with only thought patterns things become both simpler and more complex.
“Some of you may be able to look at this and memorize all the intricate details contained within so thoroughly that you can form a perfect picture of the circle within your mind’s eye. And that will work for spell casting. But memory is prone to error. Sometimes a catastrophic error. Dangerous to cast and if I catch anyone doing so, you’ll be out of this class instantly.”
Pacing at the front of the classroom with her hands clasped behind her back, Professor Lepus stared out over the class as if daring them to go ahead and try.
After a few moments of staring, she took the eraser and wiped out a sizable portion of the circle.
“I just erased the spatial limiting portion of the circle. There is still a lot left, but it is far easier to memorize now, wouldn’t you say?”
“Won’t the magic just leak out the tops and bottoms now?” someone from the back of the class called out.
“Raise your hand before speaking Ana, but yes. Were you to attempt to power the circle as is, the magic would disperse. However, outside the physical space and with the power of thought, we can contain the magic elsewise. Can anyone think of how?”
The class fell silent for a moment. Even the people in the very back of the room were paying attention.
Eva had a feeling that she knew the answer, it was really quite obvious. But she didn’t want to get it wrong. With her distinctive appearance, she often felt that other people noticed her more often than they noticed others. And she really didn’t want to give demons a bad name by failing what was probably an extremely simple question.
At Eva’s side, Irene raised a hand into the air, saving Eva from having to answer. When called upon, she cleared her throat before speaking. “Think of a sphere.”
“Very good, Irene. In the physical world, drawing a sphere isn’t the easiest thing,” she said with a chuckle. Pointing a finger at the blank spot on the board, she continued. “But a simple object like a sphere can take the place of a portion of the circle. In this class, we’ll learn how to take more away from the ritual circle until all that remains is an easily memorizable spell. Casting it won’t be as quick and easy as your lightnings and fireballs, but it will be much faster than drawing it all out. Not to mention the lack of back problems from being hunched over the floor for hours on end.”
Looking around the classroom, Professor Lepus gave a firm nod of her head. “That will be class for the day. There will be no extracurricular work, though try to think up ways to simplify ritual circles with the power of thought.”
As soon as she finished speaking, the chime rang, signaling the end of class. Perfectly timed as always. No matter the disruptions, her lessons so far all had ended just as the bell was ringing.
Almost as if she planned for the disruptions.
Standing up, Eva arched her back, listening to the light pops going up her spine. Sitting in one spot for too long really put a crick in her back.
But at least she felt like she was learning something. Without all the excitement and danger going on, she actually had time to pay attention to the lessons. They were finally going more in-depth on the order and chaos side of thaumaturgy.
“I can’t believe you guys visited some demons without me.”
“I thought you would be showing up,” Irene said with a sigh. “Juliana said you might be coming.”
“Yeah, she didn’t tell me about it until after. Though not wanting them to be focused on me was a decent reason, it would have been nice to at least have been told.”
“Well, it was a strange experience. I had to keep reminding myself that we were meeting with demons and not some random student. Catherine is much more… obvious once you know what to look for.”
“They would definitely blend in a whole lot better if nobody knew that they were demons beforehand,” Eva said, glancing over her shoulder towards the demon in their class.
Srey was staring right at her. All the students around him were packing their bags or otherwise getting ready to go on to their next class. He just sat and stared.
Until Eva met his eyes.
With a slight jerk of his head towards the doorway, he stood up, slipped between the students crowding him, and made his way to the hallway.
Eva sighed. “I think he wants to talk with me now too.”
Irene, having watched the whole thing, just shook her head. “What gave you that idea?”
“Just the words of a little birdie passing by. Come on, let’s go see what he wants.”
“Me too?” Irene asked, taking a step back. After a moment, her shoulders slumped. “Fine. Save your breath. I would have just gotten talked into it in the end anyway. Or dragged along somewhat unwillingly.”
“That was one time. Every other time has been entirely your choice.”
“And that one time just so happened to be the time monsters almost killed us. At least nothing too bad happens when I go willingly.”
“You’re acting far too melodramatic,” Eva said as they got out into the hallway.
Looking around, she couldn’t find Srey anywhere. She could still feel him around, but his body was gone.
Which meant he had to be invisible.
Walking towards the insubstantial sense Srey emitted, Eva reached out with a single finger. “Poke.”
She had been anticipating her finger touching something invisible, but it passed freely through the air. As her lips curled into a frown, the air drew together, solidifying into the shape of Srey.
Not invisibility then. Or not solely invisibility. Either intangibility or some gaseous form.
It didn’t really matter right now. Maybe not ever, even. It was still nice to know.
And it gave just a little more reason for the insubstantial feeling she got from him.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he said, averting his eyes to one side while giving a slight bow.
Eva waited for him to explain what he was sorry about or what he was disturbing her for, whichever one he thought to call her out for. But Srey stayed frozen in his half-bow, head angled towards the ground.
Glancing towards Irene, Eva rolled her eyes. These demons were getting annoying. She was extraordinarily grateful that Arachne, Catherine, and Ylva hadn’t changed their mannerisms around her. It would be absolutely miserable if she couldn’t hold a conversation with any of them.
“Alright. What do you want?”
“I thought you might be interested to know that you are being watched.”
“That doesn’t sound particularly new.”
“They hate you. A lot. And me as well.”
Eva shook her head. “Nope. Still doesn’t sound too new.”
Though if Des was the one watching her, things could get troublesome. She was already known to not be too careful in involving innocents in her plots. Unless Eva was grossly underestimating her, she shouldn’t be that difficult of an opponent unless she had brought the haugbui with her.
Which she probably had, if it was her. However, Nel had been keeping track of the dark spot in her vision that followed Des around. Last Eva checked in, she hadn’t been moving anywhere close to Brakket. If she had been, Eva imagined that Nel would be running straight to Eva to let her know. Or borrow Zoe’s cellphone and just send off a simple text. Either would work.
The only other people who might hate Eva—at least the only others she could think of off the top of her head—would be demon hunters. They were a far more likely choice given the amount of demons openly walking around. If it was the hunters that had attacked Martina Turner, all the better. Eva hadn’t pretended to like the woman, but getting a little revenge on her and Lucy’s behalf might be fun.
“I don’t suppose you know who or where these people are?”
“They were watching us long enough that I just might. A vague direction to check out, at the very least.”
Eva took a deep breath. “Let me contact Arachne and perhaps Vektul. Irene–”
“I’m not going.”
“Wasn’t going to ask you to,” Eva said with a smile. “Just let Zoe know when you see her in class. We’re on a pure reconnaissance mission. The first sight of anything amiss, we’ll retreat. So tell her not to worry.”
“She’s going to cancel class to come and find you.”
“Maybe.” Eva paused, considering a thought. “Maybe I’ll go find Juliana. If she’s sneaking around meeting with demons, maybe she’s bored enough to go searching for demon hunters.”