Everyone in the room turned to look at Eva.
Nobody knew what the event would be. Wallace Redford had been keeping extremely tight lipped about the matter. Eva knew that more than one demon had tried following him around. Probably several humans as well. Then there were the other schools which probably had their own spies. If they had found anything, they weren’t sharing.
They were supposed to be discussing possibilities. Personally, Eva was just hoping for straight up combat. Maybe a secondary objective of a flag or something. Nothing strenuous and, more importantly, nothing weird. She had enough weird things on her plate as it was.
But Eva wasn’t interested in discussing. So long as they didn’t know, it really didn’t matter. More, she was supposed to be meeting with Juliana out in the Infinite Courtyard.
Her ward was holding steady. Mostly. It required near constant maintenance. To the point where she was thinking about talking with Professor Lepus again about the possibility of using a runic array to store magic that could be slowly fed into the ward.
But it kept water out, both the frozen and liquid varieties, while allowing Eva and anyone else to pass through into the center. In that aspect, it was an amazing success.
She had no idea how Professor Lepus managed to find the time to maintain all of the spacial expansion wards that were set up everywhere around Brakket Academy. Actually refueling the ward wasn’t hard. It wasn’t even taxing. But did take a bit of time.
And that was including her ability to cheat a little. Normal humans didn’t store magic in their bodies, requiring a focus. Eva did store magic. She didn’t have a way to quantify the difference. If she really cared to find out, she would have to ask Zoe. The fact of the matter was that she could dump more magic into the ward at once.
Of course, Professor Lepus was a professional while Eva an amateur. The weather ward was a rough, barely stable piece of work. The space expansion wards were so subtle that Eva barely noticed them at all. The professor probably had all kinds of tricks.
But it didn’t need to last forever or anything. Just long enough.
Unfortunately, the events were going to make her keep it up longer.
Hence her volunteering for the first event. Best to get it out of the way as soon as possible.
The nine other competitors had gathered together to decide on who was to participate in the first event. A fairly diverse bunch. Anderson had selected people from all walks of the school environment.
Sitting next to Eva, Irene and Saija looked to her. One just looked bewildered and in over her head. The other perked up, nudging the former in the side as she whispered in Irene’s ear with excited motions of her hands.
Irene clearly hadn’t signed herself up. Anderson still picked her. Given her familiarity with Jordan, they probably knew each other.
Unfortunately, as much as Eva spent time with her, she had no idea how advanced Irene was in thaumaturgical terms. She was the youngest in the room if Eva didn’t count herself. Eva had gone through all the same classes with the exception of enchanting—Eva had taken golemancy instead.
But would Irene be able to keep up with everyone?
She supposed she would have to wait and see.
Eva brought fiery explosions, physical strength, and the ability to blink to the table. A fairly well-rounded deck of cards. In fact, she thought, musing over the possible events Redford might have come up with, instead of combat, maybe a race would be interesting.
It was doubtful that many people could blink, though Eva had to admit that she didn’t know the other schools’ curriculums.
Across from them, the light-haired Randal just frowned. Eva wasn’t sure which demon was inside him—she couldn’t detect even the slightest demonic sensation from him—but he had been acting like the leader of their little group.
“You don’t even know what we’re supposed to do.”
“Neither do you. As such, it hardly matters who participates in which events.”
“On the contrary,” he said, crossing his legs. “You don’t know what the event is. I might.”
Eva rolled her eyes.
Glancing around the room, everyone else had expressions ranging from disbelief to straight up confused. Henry… something-or-other—a student a few years older than Eva—was actually glaring daggers at Randal as he sat back in his chair with his arms crossed. Eva had to wonder if his stare had something to do with him being one of only three humans in the room.
Pure human, anyway. Randal and two others had bound familiars. The three others in the room were demons. Then Eva, whatever she counted as.
“Alright, Randal,” Eva said with a sigh. “What do you know?”
With a grin fit for a demon, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small silver cube.
Eva blinked, about to ask why he was showing her a metal die of dubious quality—Juliana could have made something far more ornate—when Irene’s sudden breath interrupted her thoughts.
“That’s a gorgon scale.”
Eva looked back, wondering how bulky gorgons were if they had cubes for scales, only to find Randal rotating it between his fingers. It was much flatter looking from the side. Not quite a cube.
“Indeed,” he said. “Now, I know there are all manners of creatures wandering the halls of Brakket Academy, especially with the Nod Complex representatives, but I haven’t seen any giant snake monsters so hideous that a mere glance at them will turn you to stone, have any of you?”
“No,” Eva said slowly, getting a few echoing statements from the others.
“So where did you find it?” Rachael Davis—another student a few years older than Eva—asked.
“I was following Redford into the Infinite Courtyard. Trying to snoop around on what he was doing, you know? He disappeared, but right next to where he vanished, this was lying on top of a small mound of dirt.”
“Suspicious,” Rachael said, “but that hardly confirms anything. They wouldn’t put us in an arena with a creature so horrible that no one can even look at it. Didn’t they say that this was being filmed? If the cameras accidentally catch a glimpse, the whole world will be turned to stone. Because you know everyone is going to be watching.”
Randal actually seemed to deflate a little. “Maybe there’s some special shielding on the cameras? A filter to block the magic.”
“Is that actually how gorgons work?” Irene asked, almost more to herself than anyone else. Despite her quiet tone of voice, everyone turned to look at her. She started for a moment before clearing her throat. “I mean, the turning to stone. Like… demons aren’t quite what I imagined when I first heard of them,” she said with a glance towards Saija and Eva. “So maybe gorgons are different.”
Henry twisted in his seat, pulling out a notebook. “Professor Twille has taught about gorgons during his Greek lessons,” he said, flipping through a few pages. He stopped, putting his finger to the page before speaking. “Non-sapient beings with snakes for hair, scales made of platinum, horrifying visage that turns people to stone. But they live exclusively on the islands between Greece and Turkey, nobody has even seen one in centuries as far as he knew. They were thought to be extinct. Obviously that’s wrong.”
Eva crossed her arms with a frown. “Scales made of platinum? Defeated by a mirror? That doesn’t seem right.”
“Oh?” Henry said, voice dropping a few notches as he turned to glare at Eva. “And have you taken sixth year magizoology?”
“I thought not.”
“But doesn’t that seem too easy? They would have been hunted to extinction. Especially given their limited living area.” Eva paused in thought before turning to the door. “Arachne,” she called.
The spider-demon—who Eva had asked to watch out for anyone from the other schools, namely the nuns and the vampire—burst into the room in an instant, ready to fight. She calmed down after only a few moments upon seeing that there was nothing to attack. Though she didn’t completely drop her guard, she did walk up to Eva’s chair.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine. But we were just having a discussion about gorgons. I don’t suppose you know anything about them?”
Arachne frowned, opening her mouth.
Henry cut her off, actually standing as he glared at her. “And what would a demon know of the species of Earth?”
Arachne reacted much as Eva would expect her to act while being demeaned or insulted. Ignoring the noises coming from the back of her throat, Eva just smiled.
She had no idea what Henry’s problem was. Maybe he didn’t like that only three people in the room were normal humans. Maybe a younger sibling had been the one Timothy attacked before the doll showed up. Frankly, she didn’t care.
Eva just smiled and said, “Are you deaf? Or just a complete idiot.”
“Arachne. The Arachne. The weaver from the time when the Greek pantheon walked the Earth. I’d say she knows a little bit about the creatures of the era.”
Without waiting for Henry to cobble together a response, Eva turned back to Arachne and waited.
Glare vanishing in an instant, Arachne took a deep breath as if buying time to gather her thoughts. “The gorgons were protectors,” she said slowly, her words coming uncharacteristically uncertain. “Terrible, yes, but terrible to their enemies. They often took up residence in villages and smaller townships, defending the town from roaming bandits, raiders, and the like.
“We carved their box-like faces and wide grins into all kinds of architecture, coins, pottery, and even tapestries and other weavings. Partially as warnings to any who would do us harm, partially as worship. So long as they were respected, the gorgons were said to be far better protectors than those so-called gods.”
“So,” Eva said after an extended moment of silence in the room, “we’re fighting protectors, not monsters.”
“Fighting?” Arachne asked with a far more dangerous edge in her voice. “How are you fighting gorgons?”
“I suppose that is what we are discussing today,” Eva said. “I still volunteer myself. I can see perfectly fine without my eyes, so gazing upon anything that turned me to stone will–”
Eva blinked. Arachne interrupting her was not a common occurrence.
“How are you fighting gorgons? King Polydectes ordered their destruction, both using his army and with enough gold on bounties to turn a slave into a prince. The last gorgon was killed before I was born.”
Another bout of silence followed her statement.
Until it was broken by Henry bursting into laughter. He got to his feet, mumbling something about how this whole meeting had been a waste of his time as he stormed out of the room.
“Huh,” Rachael said with a lazy shrug, “I guess he’s opting out of this event.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Eva said. She wasn’t even lying.
Though he was annoying with his disdain for demons, Henry had arrived prepared. As much as she wanted to get out of the meeting, she wanted to find out if they would be expected to fight something actually dangerous before she found herself face-to-face with something too strong for her to tackle.
“What other creatures are there with metallic scales?” she asked. After receiving no answer for a few moments, she looked around the room. “Please tell me somebody else took magizoology.”
The demons couldn’t be counted on. None of them were from Earth, save for Arachne. Her expertise was limited to Greece and even then, Arachne had not been a mage. Gorgons were one thing. As she had said, they were protectors with their visages carved into everything. Quite prevalent. Other creatures, not so much.
But there were still six humans in the class. Five if she didn’t count Irene, given that Irene probably didn’t know much more than she did about magizoology.
Yet nobody jumped up to respond in the affirmative.
“Well, we still have some time,” Eva said. “I suppose we’ve got our homework cut out for us. Though keep your questions quiet and your research in private. I know for a fact that several members of the opposing schools have been following some of us.”
Eva blinked, wondering just when she had become so invested in the tournament. Wasn’t she supposed to not care, or even actively sabotage her own team if the events were too annoying?
Yet, it was kind of fun.
More importantly, Eva didn’t like losing.
— — —
Juliana twisted to her left.
A series of cracks ran up her spine.
She twisted to her right.
More cracks echoed the first set.
And yet, she still felt as if she needed to stretch for another hour. Or maybe just hang from her arms and let her spine decompress.
Juliana had drawn out ritual circles before. Well, summoning circles. Summoning circles were a type of ritual circles.
And this ritual circle was designed to summon something.
The terminology was fairly moot.
The point was that she had performed similar tasks before, carving out channels in raw earth to achieve a magical effect. However, nothing she had done had been larger than a small room. Also, she hadn’t needed to harden the surrounding land.
To be fair, ‘harden’ was a fairly generous word for what she was doing. Her mother could have waved a hand and turned the whole landscape into sandstone. Or close enough to not be particularly worth noting. Juliana was barely managing a soft clay-like texture that hardened over time. Enough to keep casual footsteps from deforming the lines she dug for the actual ritual.
That was another major problem. Where ‘harden’ was too generous, ‘line’ was far too weak. The circles she had drawn to summon Willie and the other demons had lines about as thick as the width of her finger. Channels or maybe troughs fit what she was carving out now much better than lines. Her shoe couldn’t fit in lengthwise, but it had a little space on either side of her foot when she angled it in-line with the carving.
Juliana didn’t know why it needed to be so thick. The whole circle could be shrunk down if the lines were smaller.
At least the work was fairly simple. A bit repetitive. Definitely in need of double and triple checks to verify that everything was in its proper place. But not that taxing of a job. Juliana and Eva had taken Vektul’s designs, applied them to a grid, sketched each section of the grid out on a piece of paper, and were slowly making their way through each segment. They had a whole tub filled with papers.
Correction, Juliana thought with a tinge of annoyance. I am working my way through.
Eva was supposed to have popped into the meeting with the other participants, told them she would be entering into the first event, and run right out to join in the misery that was massive ritual circle creation.
An hour later and Juliana had still seen no sign of Eva.
She wasn’t sure if she should be worried of angry.
Worse, it was dark and had been for most of the hour. Juliana could make little lights through the use of order and fire magics, but they were dim and flickered. Eva’s light spells were much more advanced. Because of the poor lighting, Juliana had a feeling that she would be redoing a good chunk of her current segment.
With a resigned sigh, Juliana decided to stop what she was doing. Instead of fumbling around in the poor light, she turned to her only companion.
“I would have mentioned if there were,” Srey replied, not even looking up from his book.
He had no lights around him. Demon eyes must be amazing.
It made Juliana wonder just how Eva saw the world. She had said that her eyes only made things mildly crisper. No night vision or heat vision. But was that actually the case?
Maybe she was trying to hide what her eyes actually did. She was trying to hide her teeth.
Juliana had not missed how infrequently Eva flashed a grin these days.
If Eva was trying to hide things, who was Juliana to argue. She was just curious. Though, if she could do something awkward like see through clothing, Juliana could completely understand why she might keep it secret.
“What are you reading?”
Srey flicked his eyes to her. Contrary to the hostile glare she had expected to get for interrupting his reading, he just stared. He set his book down in his lap after a moment, keeping a finger between the pages.
“A tale about a city, the inhabitants, and how it was all built and destroyed by one man who thought he might be a being equivalent to a Power.”
“Fiction?” Juliana said, surprised at the choice.
His voice turned a few degrees colder when he next spoke. “Is that a problem?”
“Not at all. I just wasn’t expecting that. Maybe magical theory book, spell casting, or a book on rituals.”
“Just because I am a demon and you a mage does not mean that we can only read related books. We are allowed our pleasures, after all.”
Juliana was about to ask what else the demon enjoyed doing when his head snapped to the side. He stared off into the darkened woods with narrowed eyes.
“Trouble?” Juliana asked as the metal coating her body started flowing, ready to encase her in a suit of armor.
“I don’t sense anything,” he said slowly. “I just thought I heard something.”
Oddly enough, that had Juliana relaxing. Someone was nearby and he wasn’t sensing any hostile intent. That probably meant Eva. Or maybe Vektul decided to help out.
Ha, she thought, like that would ever happen.
In Juliana’s personal opinion, all these demons really should be making the ritual circle themselves. At least helping a whole lot more than they were.
“About time you showed up,” Juliana said. She didn’t quite call it out in a shout, just in case it wasn’t Eva. But neither did she whisper it to herself.
“I didn’t realize I was expected,” a suave voice answered from directly behind where Juliana and Srey were looking.
Juliana didn’t hesitate for a moment. That was not Eva’s voice. Neither was it Vektul.
A blade sprouted from her wrist as she spun around, lashing out.
Her blade struck something solid, sending reverberations up her arm. The metal snapped. Juliana’s arm continued in it arch as the tip flung off, hitting the ground and continuing for a short distance.
Juliana ignored the destruction to the segment of earth. It wasn’t that bad and she would already have to redo most of it.
Instead, she flung out a small light from her ring foci, brightening the area enough to properly see her foe.
The first thing she noticed were the two sharp points on either side of a toothy grin. Her eyes flicked upwards, staring at two dark almost burgundy-red eyes. Dressed in a fanciful suit, the student from the Nod Complex casually waved at her.
“Vampire,” Juliana hissed.
She had only ever met one vampire, that being Serena. Despite Eva’s assurance that Serena was normally a happy-go-lucky girl who might have been starved for attention, Juliana really couldn’t see it that way. Her first experience with Serena had nearly ended in being eaten. That incident combined with her mother’s stories really did not endear her to the blood-dependent race.
Srey snapped his book shut as he stood, setting it down almost lovingly on the small segment of log he had been using as a chair.
The vampire glanced at him. Srey looked back. Both regarding each other, sizing each other up.
Neither made to attack.
Which made sense. Srey hadn’t detected any hostile intent. The vampire wasn’t here to attack them. Unless drinking their blood didn’t count as a hostile action and therefore wouldn’t trip Srey’s senses.
Still, she was glad to have the demon at her side.
“What do you want?”
The vampire took his eyes off Srey, looking towards Juliana with bared teeth—she couldn’t think of him as smiling anymore.
“I was just taking a little walk, looking for a hint of what the event might be. Imagine my surprise when I catch the sent of a snack I had been wanting to try. I followed the trail here.” He mimed glancing around, not taking his eyes off Juliana and Srey. “But no snack is here. Pity.”
“I,” a voice behind Juliana thundered.
Juliana whirled around.
Twin eyes blazed in the darkness, bathing Eva’s face and short hair in a bright red light. Eight more eyes, far fainter than Eva’s, glowed just behind and over her shoulder.
“Am not a snack.”