“Everyone must be on their best behavior,” Saija said in a mocking tone of voice. It wasn’t hard to guess who she was mocking.
Anderson had been running around the entire school, snapping at anything out of place. Which, in his eyes, was just about everything and everyone. Especially anyone who had their uniforms crooked, ate messily, slacked off during class, or breathed too loudly. He had landscapers come in and tidy up every visible plant around Brakket.
Eva had been concerned that they might stumble across her fledgling ritual circle until she realized that visible just meant visible from the main building and the pathways in the Infinite Courtyard. They wouldn’t be going half as deep as her circle.
Construction crews had been working at all hours of the day and half the night just to repair the damage to the plaza fountain and the relatively minor damage to the dormitory buildings.
Eva’s blood-based floor replacement was still around. She got the feeling that it was one of the few things he was actually pleased with.
“Apparently, he changed his mind. We are not to display any inhuman characteristics unless told otherwise.” With an overly exaggerated sigh, Saija flopped over on the table, spreading her arms out against the surface. It wouldn’t be surprising if she went off and joined the drama club.
When she first sat down with them, Eva hadn’t recognized her. Without her wings, tail, and bright red eyes, Saija was just an exceptionally pretty human. She still felt like Saija. Eva got over her confusion relatively quickly once she realized that.
Not to mention the fact that she sat down with them and immediately started complaining. Humans, outside her group of friends, did not simply sit down for a casual chat at her table. If they approached at all, they would be timid and constantly shooting glances at Arachne.
Even with demons walking the halls on a regular basis, apparently Arachne was still intimidating enough to ward people away.
Looking around the hall, Eva found that every demon besides herself and Arachne were entirely human looking. Most had been human or human enough anyway, but many of the smaller characteristics had vanished. Horns and tails mostly. She could still feel them, so she knew where to look.
Of course, three demons weren’t anywhere to be seen. Technically four, if she included the deceased Timothy.
It was strange. She knew they were still around. She even knew who they had bound themselves to—three of the older members of the diablery class.
But she couldn’t feel them. Not even the slightest hint. And unless the human was actively channeling one of their demon’s powers, there wasn’t a single tell that she could pick up on from the outside. No changing eye color or sharpened teeth.
Which, really, she shouldn’t be surprised about. Though Shalise and Prax had somehow messed up their bond, Shalise had looked perfectly normal unless using Prax’s muscles.
The whole situation had made Eva somewhat self-conscious. Her first thought upon looking around and realizing that everyone was looking human was to wonder if she shouldn’t be wearing gloves and her blindfold again. Unlike all the demons around her, she couldn’t just magic away her demonic appearance. Neither could Arachne. If the two of them wanted to hide, they had to physically do so.
Her second thought was to screw that. The blindfold was annoying and the gloves uncomfortable. Her contacts had been obliterated along with her disguise when she had paid a visit to Martina, so they were out of the question as well.
The demons were likely to come out sooner or later. Why bother hiding what they were for a day or two.
And poor Saija was obviously thinking the same thing. Unfortunately for her, she had a contract requiring her to obey Anderson. The only way out of it was to get one of the human students to partner up with her, either as a bound familiar or a simpler contract.
In the week and a half since the demon hunters attacked, Saija had been sitting with them at lunch every single day. Always next to Irene. She followed her around and sat next to her in every single class.
The hinting could not be more obvious. Why Saija hadn’t just asked Irene to take up her contract was beyond Eva. Maybe the human had to initiate the request to make it valid. Or maybe she had asked and Irene declined.
But it wasn’t really any of Eva’s business. The succubus could go ahead and–
Her thoughts were cut off as the three tone pre-announcement chime played over the speakers.
“Evaleen Spencer, please report to the dean’s office immediately. Evaleen Spencer to the dean’s office.”
It took a great deal of effort not to grit her teeth. The new secretary had apparently not gotten the memo about her name.
Her anger dissipated with a short sigh. Something she never would have been able to do two years prior. She really didn’t know why she was getting so worked up. What did it matter what she was called. It had been forever since she last saw her father. With any luck, she wouldn’t see him again for the rest of his life.
“Ooh,” Juliana cooed. “Did you get in trouble again?”
“Doubt it,” Eva said as she stood. “Probably just wants me to make changes to the plaza. Maybe he decided he wants a pattern in it after all.”
Arachne stood along with Eva. As Eva expected of her.
Taking a moment, Eva checked her friend’s stomach. It still had a hole in it from the blade of the hunter. Every so often, Eva needed to readjust the hardened blood. The hole was healing and she didn’t want the blood to be in the way.
But it was so slow.
She could normally heal whole limbs in a week or so. A thin slit like the one in her stomach should have mended itself by the morning after.
All the more reason she had been lucky not to have her heart tube punctured.
“I guess I’ll see what he wants,” Eva said. “See you guys in class.”
With a wave of her hand, she stalked off through the cafeteria with Arachne at her heels.
Arachne being around was something of a great comfort. Eva didn’t like Dean Anderson half as much as she liked Martina and she really hadn’t liked Martina all that much. Being alone with him set her on edge for some reason. Probably just Catherine’s paranoia rubbing off on her.
Whenever Catherine had business around Brakket Academy, she always found an excuse to be escorted everywhere. Usually with Eva being the escort. Though she never said it directly, she was obviously trying to avoid being alone with Anderson. At least, that’s what Eva got from her fairly lame excuses. Often involving Eva sticking around her for some odd reason that didn’t make sense once the situation was over.
Such as asking Eva to walk with her so that they could discuss their upcoming ritual, only to not speak a word of it the entire time.
Thinking on the ritual brought up a flash of irritation. Though it was in the middle of November, the typical month for her treatment, Devon hadn’t said a word about her treatment until Eva asked him when they would be doing it. His response had been to shrug and say that they were delaying it. Possibly by as much as three months.
Ever since Arachne died and they had to use the new version of the ritual, there had been drastic changes to Eva after every one. The nubs on her forehead, the sharp teeth, her elongated tongue, and her blood to name a few. He was concerned that her body wouldn’t hold up to such rapid changes and, despite the danger in waiting, wanted to give her body more time to acclimatize to everything.
And that was in spite of Eva’s protests. She felt fine. Nothing hurt. Even a day after the treatment, she had felt fine. What acclimatizing did her body need to do?
But he was the expert. If he thought his precious test subject needed her rest, she really didn’t have much room to argue.
Eva pushed open the doors to the office area adjacent to the front lobby. The secretary—a distinguished older man with circular spectacles—glanced in her direction. As soon as his eyes met hers, he flinched back.
Something that just had Eva rolling her eyes. If Anderson was going to get a new secretary, he could at least get one that wasn’t uncomfortable around demons. The man should know better.
Though, maybe the secretary wasn’t all that bad. He looked mildly ashamed of himself as he cleared his throat. “The dean is in his office,” he said without a hint of a tremor in his voice. “You can go right in.”
“Thanks,” Eva said as she did just as he suggested.
“Ah, Eva.” Anderson turned around as the door to his office opened up. He had been standing next to the window, staring out into the afternoon light.
Martina’s office had been a dark environment. The window curtains were always closed and the overhead lights kept off. Her only source of lighting came from a desk lamp and a few standing lamps around the corners of the room. Her desk had usually had piles of paperwork mounted on top that never seemed to get any smaller.
The current office was almost completely opposite. Natural light poured in through the open window, joining up with the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling.
His desk was clear of all but a single pen and a sheet of paper. He might have cleared it just because he had called up Eva, but it could also be a sign that his secretary was actually doing his job. A stark contrast from the game-obsessed Catherine.
One more obvious difference caught Eva’s eye.
Anderson’s desk was just in front of the window, angled so that his back would be facing outside. He would face the door in a far more welcoming manner than Martina.
When she had been the dean, her desk had been tucked away in the corner. She still faced the door, but also faced her perpetually closed window. It felt far more paranoid than the welcoming of the current room.
“Please, come in,” he said with a gesture of his hand. “Have a seat.”
His eyes were locked solely on Eva, never once glancing over her shoulder to where she knew Arachne would be glowering at him. But she had no real reason to refuse, so she took the center of three chairs. Arachne stood behind her, not taking either of the empty seats. As she sat down, a thought occurred to her regarding just why Anderson might wish to speak with her.
“I’m not wearing gloves or a blindfold,” she said firmly, brokering no room for an argument.
Apparently, she had guessed wrong. Anderson frowned as his face changed from false pleasantry to confusion.
“I’m sorry?” he said after a moment of pondering.
“You told all the other demons to disguise themselves as humans,” Eva said, figuring she may as well continue with her line of thought. “I refuse.”
“Ah.” Anderson closed his eyes and gave a tiny shake of his head. “No, no, that isn’t why you’re here at all. The demons are as they are for one simple reason; I merely wished for our guests to not be too shocked upon their arrival.
“One or…” he trailed off, finally glancing towards Arachne for the first time since they entered the room, “or two abnormalities is far more palatable than a dozen.”
Well, that was good news. For a moment, she thought he was going to ask her to skip class and stay hidden for a few days. Something that Eva would have been opposed to in principle, but would have gone along with anyway to work more on the ritual site.
As it turned out, having an open-sky field was more troublesome for rituals than she had expected. It had rained the day after they started tracing out ritual lines, ruining much of their efforts. Mostly Juliana’s efforts as she was the one who could dig out deep troughs in the ground. Luckily, rain soaked into the ground, vanishing after doing only a little damage.
She would probably be a whole lot more irritated if it had been cold enough to snow.
As such, they had decided not to waste their time trying to dig more until Eva had the time to set up some protections against the weather.
Blood wards were neat things. They didn’t require much effort to set up. Just a little globule of blood being told to keep an area safe would have a sort of invisible mist spread through an area, killing anything not keyed into the ward. It needed a bit of blood as fuel, but not much.
Unfortunately, a blood ward did nothing to protect against falling rain or falling anything for that matter. It certainly hadn’t protected against the falling boulder that Genoa had dropped on the women’s ward during her first meeting with the former mage-knight.
She could put up a blood shield. She had done so during the aforementioned incident with Genoa. Such a shield was not cheap. With the area it needed to cover, she would be going through as much blood as currently made up the ground of the new plaza every week.
Probably. Rough estimates were hard when she had never done such a large shield for any real length of time.
Not really a tenable option unless she was willing to sacrifice huge numbers of people. Which she was, so long as they were the wrong sort of people. But even with her contact in Florida—whatever his name had been—Eva doubted that she would have enough people for more than few days of powering a shield of that magnitude.
Luckily, she had a third option. Thaumaturgy. Setting up such a large ward would be complicated, but not impossible. To make matters better, weather wards were among the simpler types and didn’t take much magic unless it was raining or snowing. Even then, the magic required was mostly negligible. Stopping by once a day to ensure that it was topped off should be plenty.
Eva was planning on trying to conjure up a ward as soon as school ended for the day. She hadn’t ever done a weather ward as part of class, but how hard could it be?
Anderson clearing his throat snapped Eva out of her thoughts. He stared at her, clearly expecting a response to a question that Eva had not been paying attention to.
“Sorry,” Eva said, shaking her head. “What did you say?”
“I said that I called you here to ask about this,” he said with a frown as he tapped the sheet of paper on his desk.
Eva leaned forward to read it as he continued speaking.
“You didn’t sign up for the interscholastic–”
Cutting him off with a wave of her hand, Eva slid the sign-up sheet away from her. There were several names written down. More than she had honestly expected. A number of perfectly normal humans—mostly those in the top two years of school—along with all three of the former diablery students who had taken on demons.
Saija had put her name down for whatever reason, just above Irene’s name. Both names were in the same handwriting and Eva was betting that the handwriting hadn’t come from Irene’s hand. Shalise, Shelby, and Jordan were all missing from the list while Juliana’s name had been crossed out.
Eva distinctly remembered hearing Juliana complain for a few days about how her parents didn’t want her participating.
A few other demons aside from Saija were listed as well. Some on their own, but a few on the same line as human names in parentheses. Bound demons and their contractors, most likely.
“I’m really not interested,” Eva said, keeping her voice polite yet firm.
“After the show you put on last week, and several other events that Martina made me aware of before her untimely passing, I’m afraid I really must insist.”
“Show?” Eva said through grit teeth. “You mean when I skewered a man with crystallized demon blood and blew it up to the point where nothing but his legs remained?”
Anderson winced ever so slightly.
“I didn’t realize this contest would be so vicious and that killing the other schools’ competitors was the goal.”
“It certainly isn’t the goal. It isn’t even an option.”
He sighed, sliding into his chair. “Eva, I know you’re smarter than that. You’re a powerful mage as clearly evidenced by your various altercations with enemies of Brakket Academy. Participating would go a great deal towards ensuring Brakket’s victory.”
“I thought this tournament was to show off our school, what we learn, and how it stacks up to the other schools around America.”
“That’s all true,” Anderson said, dipping his head in an agreeable nod.
“Then I should be the last one to participate. Nothing I do has come from this school. I’m a few months into my third year of instruction. In thaumaturgy, I think I’m right where I should be. Juliana is far ahead of me in that respect. You should be speaking with her instead of me.”
“As soon as we are done here, I will be calling her and her parents in to discuss just that.”
“Outside thaumaturgy,” Eva continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “I have a handful of demonic traits. Which I could ignore and participate with. It might even be representative of Brakket Academy. Especially if you make demons a more permanent fixture.”
“That is the plan.”
“Demons are one thing, but I consider myself primarily a blood mage. I can’t imagine that would be a subject coming to Brakket anytime soon.”
“No, certainly not. In fact, that is another topic I wished to discuss.” He clasped his hands together and looked over the top of his fingers with his elbows on his desk. “I must ask that you do not use blood magic while the other schools are in the area.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
And that was the honest truth. Being a diabolist did not automatically make one a murderer. The same wasn’t true about blood magic. While her demonic secrets had pretty much all come out over the course of her school days, she was quite pleased that her blood magic was still a secret to most people.
Even her fairly public use of blood magic when she had killed the hunter wasn’t obviously blood magic. Most humans saw black liquid and didn’t make the connection with blood. Given the size of the pool, who would ever think it was blood? Even if they suspected, she could claim that it was a demonic trait that allowed her to control it.
Which, for all Eva knew, was the truth. She hadn’t dipped her dagger into the blood. It had heeded her commands without any bloodstones touching it. Though it was a useless point to consider. Not a single person had commented about it while Eva could hear.
Though a number of people had started avoiding her. More than normal, anyway. Probably because she had publicly killed a man. Though it was a clear case of self defense.
“Good,” Anderson said with a smile as he put his hands down into his lap. “Now, about signing up…”
Eva let out a long groan as her mind searched for some other excuse to skip out on the stupid contest. Anderson was giving her a feeling that he would keep pressing no matter what she said.
“You haven’t even told anyone what the contest is going to entail. I have so many things to be doing and zero time to study for written exams or whatever this is going to be.”
“No one is going to be told until after the other schools arrive. There will be a large feast on Sunday night where most of the details will be announced. I will say that it is nothing so boorish as exams.”
“It isn’t going to be something like fighting dragons or finding your way through a trap-filled maze, is it?” Both of which sounded far better than exams, but still not things that Eva wanted to do.
Anderson just gave a slight shake of his head before sliding the paper over towards her. He dropped the pen right on top of it.
Eva sighed, glancing towards Arachne and getting nothing but a shrug in return. She could keep fighting against Anderson, but missing golemancy would be annoying. Sitting here staring at his unpleasant smile, Eva very much doubted that he cared how many classes she had to miss.
Whatever, she thought as she picked up the pen. It’s not like this is a binding contract.
Fae could make a binding contract, but this obviously was not one. There were no contract details. Just a simple note at the top saying what the sign up sheet was for. And there were more than ten names. Unless Brakket Academy had some home-school advantage and could field a lot more students than the other schools, some of these people wouldn’t be chosen to participate.
Demons could also form a contract, but their contracts weren’t written ones. If a demon wrote down the terms of their contract, it was more to get a full look at what was being agreed upon before actually committing.
“Happy now?” Eva said, dropping her pen. “If this contest is tedious, I’ll skip it. Find a way to force me to and I’ll deliberately sabotage our school.”
“Don’t worry,” Anderson said, smiling as he took the paper back, “I’m sure you’ll find it both entertaining and enjoyable.”