Eva rested her head on the table with a soft sigh. She had tried to keep her discussion quiet. That had failed within seconds.
Vektul, as Eva had asked of him, had gone around and warned the other demons of the sky cracking idol and the demon hunters. Unfortunately, he had gone around and told everyone during lunch. Everyone, in this case, included more than just the demons. Eva would be surprised if anyone in the whole school didn’t know what had happened the night before.
Having only gotten back to Brakket early in the morning, Eva had promised to tell her friends what she had been up to the night before as soon as school was out and they could have some privacy. After Vektul created an uproar, Eva figured that she might as well explain now.
“There were some flashes on the horizon. Shalise actually woke me up after the first one. I had been asleep.”
“I was just studying,” Shalise said. “I thought it was lightning, but there weren’t any clouds.”
“I can’t believe you ran off to all the excitement without us again,” Juliana said with a half-hearted glare.
Shalise shifted, glancing between Eva and Juliana. “I could do without all the excitement, personally,” she whispered.
“Says the girl who tried to convince Arachne to fight her without even talking to me,” Eva said, pretending she hadn’t heard Shalise’s hushed comment.
“I said I was sorry.”
Eva waved a hand. She really didn’t care if the two sparred or not. It was heartening to see Arachne consider Eva’s feelings. However, as long as she kept herself under control, they could spar all they wanted. There were more important things for everyone to worry about.
“But there wasn’t supposed to be anything exciting last night for you to miss. Just a simple terrain survey and cleanup.”
“You still haven’t explained what for.”
Eva glanced around the cafeteria.
The people who weren’t paying attention to Vektul’s robotic repetition of last night’s events were all leaning in on Eva’s conversation. Originally, he had only spoken with the demons. Loudly. Once a regular human asked for clarification on a point and he had responded without murdering them, that had opened the doors for all kinds of questions.
While the exact details of last night were no longer secret, the ritual still was. He had the sense for that at least.
Eva intended to keep it that way.
Knowing about demon hunters and the ways they could attack might be valuable for someone. Maybe it would even save someone’s life.
But not her ritual.
For Zoe, Eva had simply said that she had noticed something odd outside her prison and had gone to investigate. Eva doubted that Zoe actually bought it, but she hadn’t pressed too hard.
At least not about her reason for being out there. She asked a great deal of questions about the hunters.
Eva could understand her concern. If the hunters decided to use their sky-cracking idol around Brakket, they might kill a few demons. However, they would probably catch a great many humans in the collateral.
Looking away from Juliana, Eva just shook her head slightly. “How did they find us? They weren’t watching us before we went to my prison. Nobody was watching us when I told Srey and Vektul to meet me out there. While they might have wondered why we weren’t at Brakket and assumed that we were at the prison, they weren’t watching us before we left. We didn’t leave much of a trail for them to follow. We could have been anywhere.”
“Some kind of demonic tracking device that doesn’t trigger Srey’s sixth sense?”
“Yeah. Maybe. The good news is that they can’t block Nel’s vision. Or, if they can, they haven’t yet. She’s keeping an eye on them.”
A task she had taken to with a great deal of enthusiasm. When the inquisition had originally attacked Eva’s prison, she had put up a small protest against destroying their idol. Nothing had ever came of her momentary anger. She had either realized the necessity or had forgotten about it with her capture at Sawyer’s hands.
But seeing this mockery of the idol had set her off. Eva had a stack of maps and notes to go through as soon as school ended. Everywhere the hunters had been since their departure last night, everything they had been up to, anyone they had met with, and any possible traps around the farmhouse outside of town that they had co-opted as their base of operations.
“So we’re going to counterattack them, right?”
Eva glanced over with a frown on her face. Juliana had used the word ‘we.’
Her mother would probably kill Eva if she knew what her daughter wanted to get into.
The only real advantage Juliana had going for her was that she wasn’t a demon. None of the traps would work on her. At least, none of the ones set up to counter demons specifically. Eva couldn’t discount the possibility of generic traps.
As for counterattacking them…
Charging into Sawyer’s lair could have ended extraordinarily painfully had Eva not spotted his haugbui. That had been a stroke of luck in retrospect. He never would have gone to it had he not suspected the vampires of treachery. That had only happened because Eva failed to provide some secret passphrase, which had only happened because the vampire had gotten a call off and she needed to try hiding it from Sawyer.
A chain of luck that probably saved her life.
Even if they spied on the demon hunters for a week, Eva doubted that Nel would see every trap they had set. Even if she did see them all, who knew if she would recognize things dangerous to demons.
She could still remember opening up their apartment door to find Lucy amidst so many anti-demon magical circles that it had taken the complete destruction of the room to get her out. According to the note left behind, Eva had just about stepped into a trap that was supposed to have reduced Ylva to a scorch mark.
Attacking the hunters in their home base would likely leave them facing far stronger and far more prepared defenses.
“I don’t know,” Eva eventually said. “But something has to be done. We need a large place to work with. Their sky cracking thing ruins outdoor locations.”
“You’re just going to leave them alone? They tried to kill you!”
“I know. I’m not going to do nothing. But I’m not sure what to do.”
Juliana fell silent. She idly stirred some green sludge that had been served for today’s lunch. Eva hadn’t seen her actually take a bite of it. She couldn’t tell what it was and wasn’t about to put it in her mouth. For all she knew, it could be poisonous towards demons. Or humans. Both, probably.
“Do you want to talk with my mother? She’ll have interacted with these sorts before. Maybe enough to give you good advice.”
Not really, Eva thought. Seeing Genoa was just a little awkward these days. Avoiding the woman in the wheelchair felt wrong and yet Eva still did it. But… thinking about it a moment longer and it didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
“Maybe,” she said. “Though I’m not so sure about Carlos and your brother.”
“Brother left, actually. His vacation from his job ran out a while ago. ‘Family emergency’ only held out as an excuse for so long.”
Well, that was a positive, at least.
“Of course, if we go there, we might be leading the demon hunters right to your family. With your mother still not up to full speed…”
“I’ve been going there every week since school started,” Juliana said with a shrug. “Given my relation to you, I’m sure they already know about it.”
“But they might not have attacked because they’re seemingly unrelated to me outside of our friendship. This might be just what it takes to warrant an attack.”
“You know what?” Juliana said as she pulled out her cellphone. She held up a finger when Eva went to respond. After tapping twice, she held the phone up to her ear.
“Mom? I– No, everything is fine. Nobody is in trouble… No. Nobody died as far as I know.” She paused, rolling her eyes towards Eva before shaking her head. “I don’t know! Look, no emergency at the moment. I just wanted to ask if Eva could come over and ask you a few questions.”
“Also,” Eva added, “we might be dragging demon hunters to her home.”
Juliana rolled her eyes again. “Eva wants you to know that she is worried that some demon hunters might notice where she’s going and attack you sometime.” She paused while her mother answered on the other end of the line. After a few seconds, she turned to Eva and smiled. “She said that’s very nice of you, but you don’t have to worry about her.”
Back to her phone, Juliana said, “I told her. Yes. Alright, we’ll be over after school. Bye. Love you too, mom. Alright, bye.”
Juliana slipped her phone back into her pocket. “There. No more excuses.”
“They weren’t excuses. I was just concerned.”
“Well, be concerned no longer.”
Eva sighed, but nodded. “Alright. I’ll go.”
Now I need to think up some actual questions.
— — —
Irene watched as Eva, Arachne, Juliana, and Srey took off for the day. During their conversation at lunch, she had kept quiet and tried to draw as little attention to herself as possible. She had already gotten involved in far too many things with the group of them.
Learning about shackles and even demons was one thing. A mildly enjoyable thing.
Being chased around town by demon hunters was another entirely.
And it did not sound appealing in the slightest.
With a sigh of relief at having gone apparently unnoticed all day, Irene started into the dormitory.
The exterior door opened up just before she could reach it and she found herself running into another troublesome individual.
“Irene!” A certain succubus said, beaming at her as she skipped the short distance between them. She put her hands on Irene’s shoulders before drawing her close and planting a kiss on each cheek. “It’s been so long.”
Pushing away from the other girl, Irene wiped off both of her cheeks before glaring at her. “You pulled me aside in the halls just earlier today. And what’s with the kissing?”
Saija was a succubus, but she had never been touchy feely like that before.
“Drew said that humans greet each other this way.”
“Maybe in France. And I don’t believe that anyway. It’s just a thing that happens in movies that people think is real.”
Saija pouted. A real lip-out pout. “Then why would he say that?”
“Because he just wants you to kiss him. Next time slap him or something,” Irene said. Drew was such a slime ball. He was supposedly going out with Kristina anyway. What was he doing tricking a succubus into kissing him?
Saija just shrugged, not looking disturbed at having been taken advantage of in the slightest.
Whatever, Irene thought. If the demon wanted to go around kissing everyone, it really wasn’t any of her business. Just so long as Irene didn’t get kissed anymore.
“Was there something you wanted?”
“You ran away from me in the hall earlier today. Did I do something wrong?”
Irene hesitated, about to deny the claim. She thought better of it after a moment and decided to simply answer with honesty. “The people who you have leashed to your little finger are not really the sort of people I hang out with.”
“Leashed to my finger? My friends?”
Irene snorted, cutting it short as she shivered a little. Summer had dragged on a little longer this year, but it was still getting to the point where she needed a light jacket while outside. Winter was coming early. She hadn’t brought a jacket as she hadn’t expected to be stuck in the entryway of her dorm for ten minutes.
“If you think those people are your friends…” Irene shook her head. “Well, you’re probably wrong. Is there a reason you stopped me out here instead of somewhere inside?”
“I didn’t want you running away again. If I’m here, then you have to get past me to get to your room.”
“There are side entrances.”
“That’s… Why aren’t they my friends? I thought humans who hung out with each other were friends?”
Irene tried to slip past Saija. The succubus spread her wings out, blocking entrance as she had said she would. While Irene could go all the way around to a side entrance, now that she had mentioned it to Saija, the succubus would probably just move to block her there.
“Those kinds of people–” I assume “–are shallow. You’re the cool new thing. A demon and a beautiful person. Once something new comes along, you’ll be dropped so they can worship that instead.” Irene paused, glancing down at the succubus’ chest. “Well, at least the ones who aren’t following you around because they’re enamored with your… assets.”
Saija glanced down at her own chest, up at Irene’s chest, then up at Irene’s face.
With a smirk.
“Don’t worry. You’re still growing, right? Humans keep developing for most of their life. Especially if you eat more,” she said, poking at Irene.
Slapping her hand away, Irene said, “I don’t care about that. Just go… play with your fake friends.” Again, she pushed past the succubus. This time, when Saija spread her wings out, Irene pressed into the leathery material until it gave way and let her into the building.
Though it took a lot more force than she had anticipated. The wings gave way not because Irene pushed more than they could handle but because Saija let her past. Without the resistance of the wing, Irene stumbled forwards. She almost fell to the ground.
A tail wrapping around her waist kept her upright.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Irene said with a sigh.
“If you really wanted past that badly, you need have only asked.”
“I’m sorry. I just…” She trailed off with another sigh, dropping her head as she did so.
I suddenly wish Eva were here.
The diablery class, barring a certain specific incident, had been somewhat enjoyable. With Eva there to watch and keep an eye on the more rowdy elements of the class, it had been a safe environment to learn in. At least, as safe as such a volatile subject could be.
Interacting with demons—even Eva on occasion—was not something she envisioned herself doing more than strictly necessary. They didn’t act like humans. They didn’t react like humans. They didn’t think like humans.
Without Eva around to act as a buffer, Irene just didn’t know what to do.
Irene idly thumbed at the leather cord around her waist.
Maybe the problem wasn’t in the demons. Maybe it was her.
Saija was easily the most personable demon of the bunch. Almost everyone got along with her just fine. But other demons had been opening up in the recent weeks. Each had their own cadre of friends, though none had as large of a group as Saija. They all, people and demons, seemed to handle themselves fine.
It was just her.
Of course, some days had Irene thinking that she was the only student in school who got bullied. Jordan never got bullied. Juliana never got bullied. Even Shalise never got bullied. Her own twin sister never got bullied.
Eva did get bullied for a short time last year just after her appearance had been revealed to everybody, but that had died off quick enough. Irene wasn’t sure if it was Eva’s menacing appearance or something else, but it wasn’t a thing that had lasted very long.
So maybe it wasn’t the demons that were the problem.
It was that Irene couldn’t properly interact with other sentient beings.
Shaking her head, Irene pulled her hand back from the leathery tail as if it had been shocked. Saija was a succubus and Irene didn’t want a scatter-brained idle action while she had been lost in thought to give the demon any ideas.
“Are you going to let me go any time soon,” Irene asked, glancing towards Saija.
But the demon wasn’t even paying attention to her.
Saija’s eyes were narrowed, glowing bright red as she gazed outside the dorm building.
Following her gaze, Irene peered out into the courtyard.
At absolutely nothing. A handful of students were meandering about. None doing anything suspicious. It was only a half-hour after school. Given the only mild cold, it wasn’t too odd to see her peers outside enjoying themselves. Two of the demons were out there as well, speaking with humans.
Interacting with people. And people were interacting with demons. Casually.
It was enough to make Irene sigh.
Though they had been warned about the sky laser beam thing—they and most of the school thanks to Vektul—apparently they felt safe enough to be outside around people.
Irene watched the two of them for a moment before deciding that nothing worthy of alarm was going on with them. They were just chatting. No rampant murders or demon hunters attack.
“Is something the matter?”
When Saija failed to respond, Irene pushed a wing out of the way to place a hand on the demon’s shoulder.
The demon jumped at the contact. Her tail tightened around Irene’s waist. Not painfully. Just reflexively as part of her startled jump.
“Sorry. I thought I– It’s probably nothing.”
That made the hairs on Irene’s neck stand on end. “What was nothing?”
“Nothing,” Saija said with a smile and a shrug.
Irene shook her head. “No. You don’t get to say nothing. There are demon hunters running around, hunting demons–”
“As demon hunters are wont to do.”
“So you can’t just dismiss something that had you glaring at the air as nothing,” Irene continued, ignoring Saija’s quip.
“Sure I can. I dismiss tons of things every day as nothing,” she said, waving a hand to one side with a chuckle. “I’m not paranoid.”
“It isn’t paranoia when they’re really out to get you!”
Someone was watching them. Some demon hunter saw Irene with a demon’s tail wrapped around her waist. They would come after her thinking that she was related somehow. Her throat would be slit in the middle of the night without her even knowing.
Irene froze solid. I sit with Eva and Arachne at lunch. I am already related.
She didn’t have special powers to help defend herself. No super strength. No wings to fly away quickly. She was just a boring human caught in things that she really shouldn’t have ever–
Though already frozen, Irene stiffened further.
Saija had her chest pressed against Irene. Both arms were wrapped tightly around Irene’s shoulders as the tail tightened and dragged Irene closer. Her wings wrapped around her, shielding them from any prying eyes.
Or shielding Irene. Saija would obviously still be visible from the outside.
For a moment, Irene thought she was about to be eaten. Or something equally as terrible. But the succubus just rested her chin on Irene’s shoulder and stood there in the entryway of the dormitory building.
It took two minutes of enduring the… hug? —before Irene welled up the courage to push Saija off her.
She made sure she touched nothing but the demon’s shoulders. And even that was as ginger of a touch as she could manage.
“Um, Saija? No offense, but I don’t think I really… like you in a way that involves so much touching.”
“Drew said that hugging helps humans when they’re worried, nervous, sad, happy, and several other thing.”
Irene frowned. At least Saija’s tail wasn’t wrapped around her anymore. But…
“You really need to stop listening to Drew.”
“Alright,” Saija said, voice firm and slightly chipper.
“I’ll tell him to go hang around with someone else.”
“I don’t– I mean, why? Why listen to what I say?”
“You were the first human to talk to me. You even invited me out to that place outside of school. It’s made me sad that you never come talk to me during school.”
“That…” Was Juliana, Irene thought. She had only been there—and at the demons’ initial arrival—because she had been dragged there by the others.
“Besides, he’s obviously been lying to me. I came to the mortal realm because someone summoned me. However, I’m still here to learn and have fun.”
“Well, okay,” Irene said. That sounded far more innocent than she had expected. Especially of a succubus. Were all of the student-demons like that?
Irene glanced over Saija’s shoulder, watching the other two demons interact with the humans around them. Maybe so.
And besides. The dean of the school wouldn’t have brought dangerous demons to interact with schoolchildren, would he? She knew Jordan’s dad. He could be scary, but he wasn’t evil.
She shuddered a little as she considered, remembering just why she had ‘needed’ that hug in the first place.
“What did you see just now?”
“Just an older woman in a long leather coat running around.”
“Well, she had white hair. That means old for humans, right?”
Irene considered Randal. His hair varied between white, silver, and plain gray depending on the lighting. But he was an exception, not the rule.
“Yeah, I suppose so. She was running?”
“Yep. Just dashed across my field of vision. She was pretty quick, I almost wasn’t sure I saw anything. Probably nothing. Though I do wonder why she had a sword. Most humans don’t carry them. Just that one professor.”
“Sword?! That doesn’t sound like nothing!” Irene paused, trying to think of something to do. There really was only one option. “We should warn Eva.”