“This is a disaster.”
Eva took her eyes off Arachne for the first time since the hunter died and the doll ran off. She had plugged every injury that was bleeding, either stopping the blood completely or bridging the gap between veins with solidified blood. Of course, apart from patching them up a little bit, Eva couldn’t do all that much to fix Arachne’s internal organs.
Then again, Eva wasn’t sure how much they mattered. Her brain and heart tube were still intact. So the important parts were alright. But her stomach had a gaping hole in it. Eva had never seen Arachne eat, so it probably wasn’t a huge deal, but having whole organs had to be better than damaged ones.
However, the demon seemed to be alright at the moment. Not in danger of dying at least.
More importantly, a certain someone was walking towards them.
Governor—or Dean Anderson walked across the lake of blood. Though, Eva just about started laughing as she watched him.
He, like most of Brakket Academy’s staff, wore a suit. In order to keep the suit clean, he was walking while hiking up his trousers. More than that, he was tiptoeing across, trying to keep his shoes up and out of the liquid as much as possible. With his hands on his legs and his tiptoeing, the way he walked was almost more of a waddle than anything.
Stopping at the damaged fountain not far from Eva, he lifted one foot up on the ledge before releasing the leg of his trousers. He took hold of a small bit of rubble with his now freed hand, turning it over.
One side was obviously brick. The same material that made up most of the courtyard. As he turned it over, it glinted in the sun. The opposite side was a smooth and shiny glass surface.
The basin of the fountain had been destroyed by the doll. However, now that Eva was actually looking at it, the actual fountain itself was still intact. Functional, even. It spewed liquid out the top.
Eva couldn’t be sure if she had turned the water to blood or if the damaged basin had let in enough blood to stain the water. Either way, she actually somewhat liked the effect.
And if it stayed like that—if Anderson didn’t clean it out, it could be a handy supply of blood in case the school was attacked again. It wouldn’t last. Open air preservation of blood was difficult. Her vials kept it nice and fresh for a good amount of time, but the fountain would be unusable after a few days. So not a real solution.
Fun to think about though.
After a moment of examining the rock, he set it down carefully so as to not splash the pool of blood. Hiking up his pants again, he started waddling towards Eva and Arachne.
“This,” he said as he got closer, “is a disaster.”
“I heard you the first time.”
Eva narrowed her eyes, waiting for Anderson to start laying blame at her feet for the mess the courtyard was in.
It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t Arachne’s fault either. If anything, they had saved the school from far worse damage. Not to mention all the demons that the hunters would likely have torn through.
While the demons were demons without a doubt, they weren’t… too scary. From watching them since they arrived, Eva got the distinct impression that all of them were relatively young. They grew excited about things that Eva couldn’t even imagine demons like Catherine or Arachne blinking an eye at. And they socialized. Perhaps not the way a human would, but they still seemed almost eager to be around people.
Well, except for Srey. Eva had a feeling that his particular abilities made him far more paranoid than the rest of the demons.
They, as a group, had dispatched hunters before arriving. Eva couldn’t guess how dangerous those hunters had been.
Eva glanced over, staring at the remains of the hunter she had just killed. Given how much trouble he had given Arachne, Genoa, the doll, and herself, she was willing to assume that he was a step above the hunters that the demons had fought before their arrival.
Of course, had they not cowered away from the doll, the fight might have ended with far less difficulty.
Or they might have all died.
Hard to tell. However, should anyone ask, Eva was going to claim that she had saved all of them.
“We need to clean this up,” he said, interrupting Eva’s thoughts. “With your specialty lying in…” he trailed off, glancing at the blood on the floor, “all of this, might I ask for more of your help getting rid of it?”
She blinked, not quite expecting that. She had been expecting something like, ‘how could you have let this happen? Why did you destroy half the plaza? Your blood is everywhere!’ To which she would have mentioned something about not seeing Anderson anywhere around, helping out.
“The representatives from other schools are arriving next weekend. I need this place presentable.” Dropping his pant legs, he reached out and touched the web wall. After a sigh, he turned to face the giant earthen wall that had risen up around the Rickenbacker. “What am I going to do,” he mumbled.
Eva bit her lip. Now she was actually feeling a little sorry for the man. Not guilty, just sorry. He wasn’t blaming her and had even asked for her help.
“I could get rid of the blood,” she said slowly. With her control over it, that shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, how was the big question. She didn’t have anywhere to store this much blood. Leaving it out would render it useless soon enough. She supposed that she could clap her hands and be rid of most of it instantly, taking care not to kill herself, Arachne, or Anderson.
“But the ground beneath is quite a mess as well,” she continued part of her thoughts aloud. Blowing it up would only make that worse. “Especially where the sky crack hit. Maybe…”
Eva started to smile as a thought occurred to her.
The surface of the blood was perfectly still. Smooth and glass-like. It covered almost the entire courtyard between the dormitories. With a thought, she spread some of the blood out, evening the distance with the fountain as the main center point.
Starting at her feet, Eva hardened the blood. It crystallized, becoming as solid as the claws she had used against the hunter. The crystal portion crawled across the ground, growing larger and larger until the entirety of the blood had solidified into a smooth surface.
Eva grinned. It resembled obsidian. Black glass. She doubted there was anything like it in the world. Even if a solid chunk of obsidian existed at this size, this was made of demon blood. Which, in her opinion, was much better.
“Looks nice, right?” she said, turning towards Anderson. “I can’t do anything about the stone pillars. Genoa could probably…”
Anderson was looking around the landscape with a look a horror on his face. Though that horror was slowly receding to a more thoughtful expression as he crossed an arm over his chest and brought the other up to his chin.
Eva barely paid attention to him beyond that cursory glance. Apart from herself, Arachne, Anderson, and a certain hunter’s legs, the courtyard was empty. Nobody had emerged from either dormitory. Something that would be difficult for most people inside the Rickenbacker given the giant earthen shield blocking the entire front.
With the fight over, she had expected Genoa to have emerged at least.
But there weren’t any windows in the earthen shield. No way for Genoa to know that the fighting had ended. Something that Eva felt was a huge oversight.
What if things had gone poorly?
What if the hunter had circled around to enter the building through another entrance? Or if he had gone towards the Gillet?
Blocking herself off completely was simply irresponsible. More importantly, it wasn’t something Eva believed Genoa would do.
With a worry building in her mind, Eva started to walk away.
“Wait,” Anderson said, finally letting his pants down and getting off the tips of his toes. There were small indents where he had been standing. Things Eva could fix later, along with the spots where Arachne and the remains of the hunter were. “Where are you going?”
“Genoa isn’t here,” Eva said, not stopping. “She might be in trouble.”
“I’m coming with you,” Arachne said, trying to get on her feet.
This time, Eva did stop. She turned with a shake of her head. “You focus on getting better.”
Turns out that she needn’t have stopped. Arachne wobbled on her feet, trying to maintain balance. A futile effort. She overcorrected and fell flat on her face with a growl.
“Mr. Anderson, ensure Arachne comes to no more harm and I’ll help you do whatever you want with this,” Eva said, waving her hand around the plaza.
Without waiting for a response, she turned and ran towards the Rickenbacker.
Not directly towards it, of course. She couldn’t phase through the stone wall. Neither was her earth magic up to taking it down. But there should be doors around the sides. The webbed net posed no obstacle to her blinking past it.
There was a door on the side of the building. A good distance away. Windows were much closer. Eva blinked straight into an occupied hallway. Eva ignored the students—possibly first years judging by their shorter heights, wide-open eyes, and screams as they ran back into their rooms—choosing to run straight for the stairwell she had last seen Genoa in.
She skidded to a stop on the second floor landing, just in front of the large window they had all been looking out from earlier.
The good news was that Genoa was still there. Unfortunately, she wasn’t standing.
Genoa had collapsed with her back against the window. Her head had dropped to her chest with her eyes closed. However, she was breathing. Her heart was beating. Without any obvious injuries, Eva had to assume that she had simply pushed herself too much. Between managing that golem and creating the wall that obscured the window, it wasn’t hard to guess how.
“Genoa?” Eva asked in a quiet voice from several paces away. She didn’t want to startle the former mage-knight. She was liable to get her head chopped off thanks to Genoa’s instincts and reflexes.
Sure enough, that single word was enough for Genoa to snap both her eyes open and her focus up. She held her hand out, keeping the tip of her dagger steady as her eyes focused on Eva.
“Eva,” she said, dropping her arm back to her side. “I see you’re alive.”
“I am. The hunter in the courtyard isn’t doing nearly as well. The other hunter ran away. Again.”
With Genoa’s focus down and the woman recognizing her, Eva finally felt safe to approach a few more steps.
“We should get you to a nurse. I don’t want to explain to Juliana why her mother died of exhaustion.”
As soon as Eva was close enough, Genoa’s hand shot out again. This time, lacking her focus. Her fist gripped the front of Eva’s shirt before she had a chance to react.
“Where is Juliana?”
Eva winced at the harsh tone of voice. “She’s fine. I left her on the roof where we fought the other hunter. Not a scratch on her.”
Wincing again, Eva nodded her head.
“You didn’t think the hunter might return?” Genoa pushed Eva back, releasing her shirt. “Go find her. Ensure she’s safe.”
“I can handle myself. Get out of here.”
With the glare Genoa was giving Eva, she didn’t try arguing again. As before, she ran up the stairs. She skipped over her hallway this time. The clothes and equipment she had on already would work just fine.
Now that she was running, she realized Genoa was right. Leaving Juliana alone was stupid. How could she have done such a thing? Even if the crippled hunter didn’t come back, she knew that other hunters were in the area. Someone might come along to check out what had happened with that second sky cracking.
Juliana was human, but would a hunter stop to ask? Probably not.
Eva reached the roof and immediately started blinking through the air. Having just done this, it wasn’t difficult to follow her path back. Thanks to Juliana having already destroyed all the shackles, navigating through the remaining wards wasn’t an issue.
She stopped on the first roof. Saija was still lying on her stomach with a slowly melting shard of ice sticking out of her back.
Eva paused in her rush to find Juliana. On one hand, Juliana could be in trouble.
On the other… Saija was looking pitiful. Very pitiful. And she had saved Eva from the first set of shackles, if only because she had delivered Juliana.
So Eva nudged the fallen succubus with the tip of her foot. “How are you doing?”
“Oh, just fine,” the succubus drawled without turning her head to face Eva. “This roof was so comfortable I thought I would just lie here a little longer.”
“In that case,” Eva said, starting to walk away.
“Wait! You can’t just leave me here! What if those hunters come back?”
“One is dead. The other hasn’t come back?”
Eva sighed. That was good news. If nobody had been around, Juliana should still be safe.
No longer in quite the rush, Eva knelt. Pressing one hand on Saija’s back, she gripped the icicle and yanked it out of her in a single twist of her hand.
Saija shouted out, clawing at the roof. “That hurts!”
“Oh quit being such a baby.”
Eva stood, inspecting the wound. She could block off the blood vessels and keep her from bleeding out, but it didn’t actually seem to be bleeding that much. Maybe the ice had helped close off the punctured veins or maybe that was just natural demonic healing at work.
Either way, Eva shrugged her shoulders.
“It missed your spine. You shouldn’t be paralyzed or anything.”
“I hurt when I try to move.”
“Well, just sit tight here then. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve found Juliana.”
The succubus started to protest, but Eva ignored it as she walked away. Following her path across the rooftops, Eva reached the partially destroyed, partially glassed building.
The roof was empty. No Juliana. No metal-encased idol.
But that wasn’t surprising. Nothing to worry about. Juliana wouldn’t have wanted to stick around on an unstable roof. She would have gone down inside, maybe even down to street level.
“Juliana!” Eva called out as she leaned over the edge of the roof.
No Juliana down on the street. No answer either. She must be inside.
Eva dropped down into the main building, landing roughly where she and Juliana had landed after the crack in the sky. Landing elsewhere could be dangerous. In fact, moving through the building could be dangerous. The kind of dangerous that wound up with her stuck in shackles.
And if Juliana was in trouble, it might be some time before someone came along to free her. A potentially deadly situation should the shackles drain her as the other shackles tried to do to her.
“Juliana,” Eva called out again.
This time, she actually heard something in response. Nothing clear. A mumbled noise coming from somewhere below.
The staircase leading up to the roof had fallen with the blast. The way down from whatever floor Eva was on looked more or less intact.
Unfortunately, she spotted several demon shackles just waiting for some poor demon to try to walk up it without glancing above them. They were much easier to notice while facing the stairwell from the wrong direction. However, they spoke of just how on guard she would have to be while walking through the building. Or any of the buildings around.
If she had her cellphone on her, she might have called up Irene to see if she could get a human walking her through the area. At the very least, Irene should be able to scuff up the shackles enough to break them.
Not a choice at the moment, sadly.
Eva overpowered a fireball, throwing it right at the shackle before it exploded. When it did go off, it took most of the ceiling with it.
Surprising, given the difficulty in destroying the shackles within the apartment building. Perhaps they hadn’t had time to make them difficult to remove. Though they had managed to set up all the other wards that littered the rooftops.
“Oh well,” Eva mumbled to herself. “No complaints here.”
She carefully descended the staircase, checking every nook and cranny for more shackles. Even underneath the handrail and the vertical slat on each stair. Rubble from the ceiling of the stairs or the roof itself littered the landing, nearly causing her to miss another set of shackles.
This time, she tried a far less explosive fireball. Just enough to chip into the concrete platform and disrupt the shackles.
She made it all the way down to the first floor.
And promptly froze.
“Am I glad to see you,” Juliana said.
Eva wasn’t sure what to say in response.
A half-sphere of water sat in front of her. Somewhat like an above-ground swimming pool. Except there were no walls. The water was entirely held in by magic.
Juliana stood inside it, feet about an arm’s length away from the ground, standing on a pillar of metal. Her pillar let her stick out from her chest up, but she had clearly fallen in at least once. She was soaked from head to toe.
Obviously, given her toes were underwater.
The pillar was probably made of her armor; she was only wearing her regular clothes at the moment. The only metal on her was her ring foci and Ylva’s black band.
The metal-encased idol was lying on the floor right next to the metal pillar.
Eva reached out, about to touch the bubble of water.
Juliana’s shout had her pull her hand back, clutching it to her chest.
“What if you got stuck in here? How would we get out then?”
“I’m just confused as to how you managed to fall into this trap?”
In slow motion because of the water, Juliana placed a hand on her hip. “It wasn’t full of water when I walked in. I didn’t see a thing until I ran into an invisible wall. Then it started to fill with water.” She paused, lifting a hand out of the water. Her hand hit something about a foot over her head, roughly twice as high as the water level. “I’m glad somebody showed up before it finished filling. I was about to try summoning a demon.”
She pointed down at her feet. As she lifted one foot out of the way, Eva found a mostly formed summoning circle had been etched into the top of the pillar.
“Of course,” Juliana continued in a quieter mumble, “probably would have gotten an enigma which would have just killed me. Better than drowning though. Even if I got a demon, no room for shackles here.”
“Don’t worry about either. I’m going to get you out of there.”
An easy statement to make. Much harder to follow through with. Now she was wishing she had a phone to call up Professor Lepus. The warding professor should be able to tear it down in the time it took to snap her fingers.
“How fast has it been filling?”
“Fast enough that I’d rather get out now than later.”
“You didn’t think to call someone once you got trapped?”
Juliana pulled a cellphone out of her pocket. One long dead from the water.
“Was the first thing I thought of once I realized I was trapped. Unfortunately, the water was rushing in much faster then. Enough to knock me down.” She dropped the phone with a shrug. It sank down alongside the idol and her pillar. “I honestly thought I would drown before I even had a chance to form the summoning circle,” she said.
Faster before, but now the water was slowing? The ward is running out of magic. Or maybe not the ward but whatever is filling it with magic, Eva thought, slowly circling around the bubble.
She kept a careful eye out for any shackles as she moved.
Packing both the invisible wall and the water conjuring into the same ward wasn’t impossible. Difficult maybe. Especially for someone who had only been in the class as long as Eva. But probably difficult for others as well.
With the staggering amount of wards and shackles around the place, Eva couldn’t imagine that they would have gone with the more complicated and more time-consuming route of wrapping both effects up into a single spell. They would have built everything within the last hour or so, or people might have noticed. Two people did all that. Maybe a few more if they had recruited the hunters who were attacking Nel and Ylva.
They had to have made mistakes in their castings. Eva doubted that the water conjuration was supposed to have given time to escape.
“Maybe it will run out of magic soon,” Eva said, mostly to herself.
Apparently Juliana heard. “I’d rather not take that chance.”
Eva considered going back up the stairs and finding a decently sized bit of rebar and having Juliana smack it against the top of the shell for a while. But if the shell and the water were separate as Eva suspected, the shell could last for a very long time before running out of magic enough to release Juliana.
She would have to try deconstructing the ward.
It was simple in theory. Being able to tear down their own thaumaturgical wards was one of the first things taught. Otherwise the teacher would have to go around and dispel everybody’s practice wards every single time they went into class.
Professor Lepus had warned them never to tear down other people’s wards. It was possible to build traps into the things that activated upon attempts to break them. From simple things such as alarms to full on explosions.
But in the hunters’ haste to erect these defenses, would they have put more time and effort into trapping them?
Eva reached out again, keeping her hand hovering just above the bubble. She channeled her magic through her fingers as if she were conjuring a fireball. Instead of flames, she forced the magic into the shell.
All while focusing on the level of the water.
The water did not significantly rise from her added magic.
“Excellent.” She could toy around for a moment without accidentally drowning Juliana.
Forcing her magic into the bubble again, Eva waited just a moment before yanking it back. Much like removing excess hair with a strip of hot wax paper. Or so went the example Professor Lepus had used; Eva had never had a bikini wax in her life. They sounded painful.
Also, since about a half an hour ago, entirely unnecessary given her lack of hair.
Eva held her breath, waiting and watching.
No explosions. She was taking that as a good sign.
Trying again and a third time, Eva smiled.
A leak had formed in the shell.
“I see the water going out,” Juliana said slowly, “but it’s up to my shoulders now.” Her voice had just a tinge of panic in it. “And still rising. I can make my pedestal bigger, but not by much.”
Eva grit her teeth. Is it trapped then? Or worse, is it intended to cause slow and painful drowning? These hunters were terrible, if so. Still terrible anyway, but worse. Absolutely sadistic.
“Just hold on a minute,” Eva said, pouring more and more magic into the shell.
She tore it all away, peeling it back. More cracks were forming. More water escaping.
“My chin, Eva.”
As she had said she could do, Juliana’s pillar stretched, growing slightly narrower at the top. The water level moved from her chin back to her shoulders as her head bumped into the top of the ward.
“Working as fast as I can,” Eva said, continuing to rip apart the shell.
“When this thing shatters, try not to get washed into another ward.”
“Gee, okay. That’s first on my priority list at the moment!”
The water had risen back to her chin despite the additional cracks in the shell.
“If you get washed into another one, I’ll have to do this all over again. And maybe it will be fire instead of water.”
Juliana grimaced without speaking. She had to tilt her head back to try to keep her mouth above the water line.
As she continued ripping apart the ward, Eva considered something. It might not have been designed to speed up because she was ripping apart the barrier. The fact of the matter was that the shell was in the shape of a sphere. Beyond the half-way point, for every inch the water level rose, less water would need to exist to fill the next inch.
That didn’t really help much, but at least she knew that she wasn’t fueling some trap.
Feeding in enough of her magic to detonate several of her most explosive fireballs, Eva tore it away in a single jerk of her hands.
It started around the middle. Water exploded outwards in a ring. The rest of the water held its shape for just a moment. All at once, that sphere failed. The ring traveled upwards and downwards, letting the water collapse in on itself as it rushed to fill the rest of the first floor.
It was enough water to almost knock Eva off her feet.
Juliana, being in the water, did exactly as Eva had asked her not to and started to head towards where she knew another ward was waiting.
Eva snapped a hand out, grabbing Juliana’s arm. Her other hand wrapped around Juliana’s waist.
As soon as her arms were around Juliana, Eva stopped fighting the water and let it sweep her backwards. The stairs were already clear of traps. She could fall towards them all she wanted.
Juliana coughed a few times, sputtering out a bit of water.
She didn’t speak.
Neither of them did. They just sat, soaked to the bone. Eva had her arms wrapped around Juliana while the other girl coughed every once in a while.
As the water settled—save for a weak fountain floating in the middle of the air where the bubble had been—Eva gently shoved Juliana off.
“Let’s not do that again, shall we?”