Vague directions, as it turned out, were not the best ways to find people. Especially not people who were spying on Eva and probably knew that she was on her way to find them. Given the time it had taken to gather everyone up, their spy would have had plenty of time to move.
Srey ended up bringing everyone to a stop in an alley some distance from the school.
“This is the spot.”
Eva glanced around, looking for any sign that someone had been around. Her sense of blood wasn’t picking anything up. Neither people nor droplets left behind from cuts or other injuries.
“Here,” Arachne said. She had crouched down, running her long fingers against the ground.
Her fingers were just a few inches away from touching a small metallic emblem. Its silver sheen stuck out against the darker colored ground. There was nothing obviously anti-demon about the simple eye-shaped symbol on the front. But best to err on the side of caution. Especially given the fact that it was metal.
Eva didn’t need to tell Arachne not to touch it. Though she was too close for comfort. With how much the apartment room had been trapped for Ylva, there could be traps lying around for anyone approaching. But Eva couldn’t see any on the walls or ground, so there probably wasn’t much cause for worry. At least on that front.
Touching it was an entirely different matter.
Juliana came up alongside Eva and Arachne, squatting down at their sides. Most of her armor was under her clothes. Still, Eva slid over just a small bit, making a little more room.
Her armor was the perfect example of why she didn’t want to touch the emblem. It was still made up of the metal that had broken off the demon hunter’s armor. No matter what shape it was in, the metal still hurt. While possible it was some lingering enchantment, it was far more likely that the effect came from the metal itself. Something specifically designed to hurt demons. Zoe had a sample that she was investigating, but nothing much had come of it so far.
The small bit Juliana had claimed turned black had a certain resemblance to void metal that was not lost on Eva.
But that had been silver in coloration before changing. This emblem was bright glittery gold.
“We should destroy it,” Eva said before anyone else could offer their input.
“Without investigating it? What if it is important?”
Eva glanced over to Vektul and shook her head. “You usually don’t leave important things lying around. Not to mention, it has an eye on it. We already know that they are spying on us. Perhaps there is information that they cannot glean through whatever methods they are using. Giving this to someone to look at might just reveal more than we want. Touching it might put some curse on us so that even if we destroyed it later, they could still spy.”
“What if it could be reversed? We could spy on them then.”
A possibility. Eva couldn’t dispute that. However, they already had Nel. Her ability penetrated almost any wards. In fact, the only things that could block it would be whatever Sawyer had done to Del and whatever Lynn Cross did—something that was exclusive to the higher-ups in the Elysium Order. Both methods involved the Elysium Order’s eyes.
Well, that and Ylva’s domain. The way domains interacted with the mortal realm while anchored was odd, occupying the same space at the same time. But the demon hunters probably didn’t have access to a domain.
Juliana had mentioned that they were being spied upon the other night, but Eva hadn’t had time to do much about it. Hopefully their method of spying could be blocked through use of her anti-scrying packets. It was a task she planned on working on in the evening. She could slap a packet on Srey and see if he noticed anything.
For now though, Eva just shook her head again. “Not worth it. Also don’t say anything secret while around here,” Eva said, glancing towards Srey. He gave a small nod of his head. “They might hear through it; they’re still watching us. And watch for ambushes.”
As soon as Eva mentioned the possibility of ambushes, Juliana dropped into a combat stance. The metal molded from mostly covering her to completely encasing her. Her head swiveled around as she looked for any sign of impending attack, making her neck look odd where the hard metal of her head and shoulders flowed into liquid metal.
Eva doubted the actions were really necessary. She could see humans through walls for a decent distance. If anyone was around the immediate area, she would have warned them. However, it was good that someone was vigilant. Arachne barely glanced around and Vektul just cocked his head to one side.
Just because she couldn’t see anyone around didn’t mean that they couldn’t attack her. Teleporting in was a possibility. So was some attack dropped on them from above. It was good that the Elysium Order took a ‘not my job’ stance on demons.
Eva did not really want to face that laser beam from the sky again.
But how to destroy the emblem? Her explosions might be good for wood and other, more fragile materials. A small bit of metal would probably just be knocked around rather than take any real damage. And she doubted that she would be able to form a flame hot enough to melt it much.
Since Sawyer’s death and the events immediately after, Eva had become far more wary about using her own blood for frivolous tasks. Especially if she thought she might be fighting soon, which was a possibility at the moment. She had almost passed out after rescuing Lucy from the demon hunter’s clutches.
Of course, she did have a few vials of Arachne’s blood. Again, the possibility of a fight in the near future was quite high. Best to save it for immediate threats.
Demons all used their bare hands to fight. So long as they were counting out touching the emblem, the demons were out as well.
Leaving just one person.
“Juliana,” Eva said, glancing in her friend’s direction.
The sudden sound gave the girl a small start, but she quickly got over it.
“Can you pull this apart into small pieces?”
Even if it wasn’t violently split apart, it should be enough to destroy most magic on the metal.
Juliana crouched down and reached out towards the emblem. She paused, pulling back after a moment with a shake of her head.
“I’d have to touch it. I can’t– My mom could. We’d have to go–”
Eva put a hand on Juliana’s shoulder, suppressing the wince as her hand started melting. She only kept it there long enough for Juliana to stop talking. Removing her hand was almost as painful. Wisps of smoke came off Eva’s hand.
She ignored it for the moment. Clenching her fist shut solved the problem. Her own natural healing—something Eva had discovered in the recent weeks since her last treatment—would take care of it. It wouldn’t be quick as she wasn’t quite on Arachne’s level of regeneration, but a few boils were well within her ability to heal.
She doubted that she would be able to grow back a full limb.
“Try. You’re the best student in our class. You’ve been using magic since long before school started. You decided to specialize in ferrokinesis. If anyone can do it, you can. No fancy shapes. No delicate molding. Just break it apart.”
That shouldn’t be too hard, right? Eva actually had no idea. Her own earthen talents were far from the best. Definitely not nearly good enough to manipulate metal to the degree that Juliana could. She was casually learning air magic first.
If she had thought that learning pyrokinesis was a nightmare, air was another monster entirely.
While Eva was considering their respective specializations, Juliana had stretched her hand out again. The metal around her face had partially melted away, revealing a face scrunched up in concentration. Her eyes were open and narrowed in a tight glare as she chewed on the edge of her lip.
Eva almost offered a few more words of encouragement. She refrained, choosing to remain silent. As it was, she didn’t want to break that intense concentration.
Instead, Eva concentrated as well. Maybe if she could get the walls to start bleeding, she could use that blood. It was odd that she could use it at all given that it hadn’t ever run through the veins of a living being—to her knowledge at least—but Eva wasn’t about to complain. The greatest limitation to blood magic, aside from the cost of bloodstones, was actual blood. If she could get around it, all the better.
A metallic ting echoed through the alley.
“Ah,” Juliana said, accompanying the ting. A wide grin grew on her face. “I did it!”
Broken out of her thoughts, Eva smiled at her friend.
The emblem had a clean split straight down the center. All without Juliana even moving her hand closer than a few inches.
“Good job. Can you split it again? Maybe a few more times?”
“I… think so.” She paused with a shake of her head. “Yes. Yes I can.”
It took another minute, but Juliana split half of the half. Thirty seconds later had her splitting the other half. Every time she tried, she got faster. By the time five minutes had passed, she had turned the badge-sized emblem into a few chunks and some coarse dust.
“We shouldn’t just leave it here,” she said once nothing significant remained. “It’s enchantments should be broken right? Would it be a good idea to absorb it into my armor?”
“Can you keep it separate? Or, better yet, just float it in front of you? So long as its enchantments are gone, we can deliver it to Zoe for further examination.”
“Let me try.”
As she got to work, Eva got up and headed over towards Srey. “They still watching us?”
Srey, despite Eva asking her not to, gave a slight bow before speaking. “It stopped as soon as you said not to say anything secret. It hasn’t started up again. I can point out roughly where the watching was happening, if you want.”
It might be tempting to chase this person down, but so long as they couldn’t block their sight, it would be almost impossible. They would leave and potentially set up traps on their way out before Eva could make it to them. Maybe something a lot more dangerous than whatever this emblem had been.
Since Srey couldn’t find them while they weren’t looking, it gave them plenty of opportunity to hide or rest. They would only be found when they were ready to be found. Probably with a whole lot more traps as well.
In the end, Eva shook her head. “No. But when we get back to school, make sure you go around and let every other demon know that they could be under surveillance at any moment by demon hunters.”
“Me?” Whatever reverence Srey had for Eva was out the window in an instant. He backed up, looking disgusted. “Most of them should already know. We did kill a few groups already. I don’t see why I–”
“Before you all came here, there was another demon around Brakket. Don’t know if you know him, but he went by Zagan.”
Srey drew in a sharp breath, giving Eva a reason to smile.
So he does know him.
Vektul, standing nearby, didn’t react in the slightest. Not even with a tilt of his head. Eva wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret that.
“A pair of demon hunters came into town. One fought Zagan all by himself while the other went on and killed half the demons around Brakket before finally being driven off.” Possibly dead, Eva didn’t bother adding. Her tale was scarier without that bit of information. If by some stroke of luck she had survived, it would be better for him to be wary anyway.
“You might notice that Zagan is no longer around. No one has resummoned him since he was defeated. The human walked away. I can almost guarantee that you guys haven’t fought against that group of demon hunters.”
Eva was absolutely confident that Zagan had been messing around and his hubris led to his defeat more than anything, but the end result was the same.
“So please, do as I ask. Perhaps relay that bit of information about Zagan as well.”
In the meantime, Eva had her own allies that needed to be informed about the situation.
He didn’t argue again, but he didn’t look very happy at being ordered around. Or maybe it was because he had found out that Zagan used to be around. Or that Zagan was defeated. Whatever the case, Eva didn’t much care.
Turning over to Juliana, Eva found her wand out in her hand with an amalgamation of metal hanging off the tip. The wand was odd. Normally Juliana used her rings almost exclusively. Though, thinking about it for a moment longer, it made some sense. The school required her to use a wand. She learned spells with it. Though Eva had no use for a focus, she knew that wands were easier to use than just about anything else.
The metal was all back together, but it wasn’t quite floating.
At least she wasn’t touching it with her hands or anything.
“Let’s get that to Zoe. Hopefully she has a secure place to hold it.” Her little pocket dimension would probably work if nothing else.
Every week that passed gave Eva just a little more paranoia. Nothing would happen one week so it had to happen the next. But nothing happened the next week either.
Her anti-scrying packets had an effect immediately after she had created them. Srey hadn’t complained about anybody watching them for a few days. All of a sudden, it had started up again. Whether they had been taking a break or found a way around it, Eva couldn’t say. Either way, she hadn’t found a way to actually block whatever was watching them a second time. She had given up for the time being. Without knowing how she was being spied upon, it was extremely difficult to come up with passive countermeasures.
Even a few thaumaturgical wards set up by Zoe hadn’t solved the problem.
For the time being, they had to take more active measures against anything they didn’t want to be revealed by being overheard. Namely by not discussing anything. Even writing things down could be dangerous.
As for the emblem, Zoe hadn’t been able to discover any magic on the metal. Traces were there, but whatever magic there was had been broken when the metal had broken. It was, however, the same metal that burned Eva when she touched it despite the different color. That only led credence to Eva’s belief that the demon hunters from before were still around. At least the knight of the two.
Juliana had added the small bit to her armor after being doubly sure of Zoe’s results. It probably wouldn’t be useful against demon hunters, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stock up on just in case.
Though it might not be needed soon. None of the demons that Anderson had brought in were all that… objectionable. In fact, Eva got the impression that most of them were like Lucy in that they had never been summoned before. The way they reacted to things and people were just not quite right in comparison to most other demons that Eva had come across.
Apart from Srey, all of them were happy to be here.
“Did you sign up?”
Eva jumped out of her seat. Half of the cafeteria turned to glance at her as her knee hit the bottom of the table, causing plates and cutlery to jump along with her.
Shooting them a minor glare was enough to get everyone back to minding their own business. Or pretending to, at least. A few ears were still tilted in her direction.
She didn’t know why. Most of the time, she and her friends discussed matters of trivial importance. Nothing interesting. Especially so in the recent days with their watchers watching them.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“I thought you could see behind you?”
Turning to Shalise, Eva shook her head. “Only if I’m paying attention.”
“Then pay attention more. But you haven’t answered my question. Have you signed up yet?”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Eva said. “I really have no desire to be involved in some battle between schoolchildren.”
“You are a ‘schoolchildren.'”
“But I usually fight with people who are actually trying to kill me. Or at least people intending to cause me serious harm. I wouldn’t want to accidentally go overboard.”
Shalise huffed as she sat down. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do just a normal school activity without all the threat of imminent death or zombification?”
“Normal school activity?”
“Yeah. That’s what this is. I looked it up. Other schools do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Like football except for magical schools.”
“Football with demons.”
Crossing her arms, Shalise glared at Eva.
“That’s why they’re here.” Supposedly. “To help Brakket cheat at magical football.”
“But, they’re not going to do anything overt, are they? I mean, it’s still a secret.”
“Doubt it. I’m not planning on hiding myself.” Now that she actually had eyes, wearing a blindfold wasn’t comfortable or enticing. Gloves were too cramped and shoes were worse. “And some of them,” Eva said with a pointed glance towards Saija, “couldn’t hide among people if their existence depended on it. Even if she could, she wouldn’t shut up about it.”
The demon in question was seated among a gaggle of hangers-on. She was by far the most popular of demons. Even the people not pleased to be attending school with demons didn’t seem to object at her company.
And Catherine had already assured everyone that Saija was not using any sort of endearing powers from her succubus nature to gather her crowd.
Saija sat with the humans, talking and laughing. She didn’t just have people around her. She was popular. Any compliments paid towards her, especially towards her wings, would be met with obvious pride and a compliment in return.
Though a succubus, she shared a trait with Catherine. Neither acted as Eva would have expected succubi to act. While Catherine dressed provocatively, she held utter disdain for interpersonal connections. That included human contact as far as Eva could tell.
In contrast, Saija reveled in the people around her. The only time Eva had seen her without a smile had been at the very start of school, before she had met anyone. And yet, she had something of a fascination with clothing. So much so that she hadn’t worn the same thing twice.
Brakket Academy had a uniform. Though wearing it wasn’t enforced in the slightest, most students chose to wear it. Probably because of the nice material and self-cleaning aspects. Saija had done so on her first day.
Where she got the clothes or who gave them to her, Eva couldn’t say. Though some articles of clothing may have been from her… Do those people count as her friends?
Even stranger, the bulkier the clothes, the better. Apparently. Coats, scarves, hats, and even earmuffs on one day. It was only the middle of October, just starting to get cold.
But not that cold.
All of her clothes had been modified with holes in the backs for her wings and tail. Two things that she had never put away.
Maybe she couldn’t.
Eva shook her head, glancing back to Shalise. “If it was supposed to be a secret, it won’t be for very long. Besides, weren’t half the demons going to be becoming bound familiars? I hope you didn’t sign up for that unless you want another demon in your head.”
Shalise backed up slightly, aghast and face drained of blood. “I don’t think– That’s not– Regular humans can participate too, right?”
“They can indeed, Miss Ward.”
Eva rolled her eyes before shifting to see over Shalise’s shoulder. “Mister Anderson,” she said in her least sarcastic tone of voice. “Welcome back. We… missed you.”
“Back?” he said as confusion twisted his face. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”
“We haven’t missed you either.”
Eva couldn’t say why she felt antagonistic towards Alexander Anderson. Something about him rubbed her the wrong way. He acted too professional. The way he spoke implied that he cared about the students around Brakket. And yet Eva doubted that was the case.
At least Martina hadn’t lied about it. At least not to Eva.
“Well, I’m glad to see you’ve still got a sense of humor. I hear rumors that you’ve been somewhat on edge lately.”
Maybe it is him who is spying on us. Eva quickly dismissed the thought. He was spying, or he had his demons spying, but he couldn’t be the only one. There were definitely demon hunters out there.
“I was just stopping by while looking for someone,” he said, glancing around the table.
“Jordan’s already gone ahead to class, if that’s who you’re looking for. He wanted to get a question or two in before his enchanting test starts.”
“Good for him. But I was actually looking for Juliana Rivas.”
Eva sat up straighter, narrowing her eyes slightly. A thousand possibilities for his reasons ran through her mind. Most involved her parents. Were they injured or in trouble? Or had they found out that Zagan wasn’t even on the mortal plane and were going to pull her out of school.
“Whatever you’re fearing, don’t,” Anderson said. He shook his head. “It isn’t anything bad. I assure you. I merely wished to discuss a few matters with her. Matters involving demons and the possibility of her becoming one of our dear friends’ host.”
“Oh,” Eva said with half a chuckle. Her sudden tension died almost immediately. “That. I doubt she’ll agree.”
“She had an interest in diablery before, did she not?”
“Yeah. It almost got her mother killed.”
“Ah, yes. The mess with Zagan. I was hoping we might look past that now.” He paused to look around again. “I thought I might ask, at the very least. Yet she isn’t here. Did she head to class early as well?”
“Actually, she is skipping school today. Sort of. I mean, she’s here. But she isn’t going to class. You’ll have to try tomorrow.”
“Skipping school? You’re admitting that to the dean?”
Eva shrugged. It wasn’t like the attendance records would have shown her here.
“She wanted to borrow Arachne. They should be out in the Infinite Courtyard.”
Eva would be out there as well, except she had a test today. She wasn’t sure why she bothered. School was there to prepare oneself for the future and she had no idea what she wanted to do after school ended.
Maybe she would be in Hell. Maybe she could join the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights. At the very least, that would keep her appraised of any bounties that might get put on her head.
For the moment, she figured she might as well learn. Especially golemancy. Poor Basila was still not quite her usual self.
Author’s Note: The first chapter of a new story tentatively titled Analyst is over on my preview site. Meant to have it up a few weeks ago, but delayed because I’m not sure that I write military tactical type things very well. Much less happy with it than I am with Demi-God, but I also wanted to post something. Bigger notes at the bottom of the chapter over there.