Eva flopped over on her bed.
“Ah, I’m tired,” she mumbled to nobody in particular.
Nobody else was around. Juliana and Shalise had gone over to Genoa’s house to watch the event. Irene, Jordan, and Shelby were all there as well, along with Saija, Srey, and Vektul. A gathering that might have had Eva worried for their safety from demon hunters had she not been so tired. Especially because she was relatively certain that Genoa had participated in the event as an antagonist to one of the groups.
Carlos was supposedly a decent fighter, if Genoa was to be believed. They had three demons, Jordan, and Juliana as well. If anything had come up, they could probably handle it all on their own.
All in all, the event could have gone much worse. Even aside from how it ended. She had honestly been worried that another sky-cracking laser beam would obliterate half of the contestants. Given the vampire’s presence, the Elysium Order might have attacked all on their own. That combined with Eva and Lucy’s presence, it had been an ideal time to attack for just about anyone.
Well, partially. There were a lot of high-profile mages running about Brakket Academy at the moment. Redford, for one. And the event had been televised. A demon hunter might not care, but the Elysium Order did have something of a reputation to uphold.
Her school hadn’t won, but neither had the vampire’s. As it was, he was probably going to corner her sometime and try to bet on something else. Perhaps his school winning the second event or something similar.
Eva didn’t really care. She couldn’t participate in it. That gave her all kinds of free time. With Juliana’s help, they might be able to finish up the ritual circle before she actually had to worry about it being discovered.
Maybe. It was still a daunting task. They weren’t going to do anything tonight, obviously. Maybe not the day after either, as there was supposed to be another feast celebrating the end of the first event and its victors.
Then, she didn’t know when the second event would take place. It might be the following weekend, it might be in the middle of December. Hopefully the latter.
Even once the ritual circle was finished, she would still need to actually find the people to help participate. The demon side of things should be easy enough. She already had half of them helping out either with the creation of the circle or the security of it. A few more could probably be convinced just by saying that they were summoning Void.
The humans weren’t going to be half as easy to find. Juliana would. She was already involved anyway. Shalise as well, probably. Maybe. Maybe leaving her out of it would be for the best. Her mother wouldn’t approve, to say the least.
Though, Genoa probably wouldn’t either. But it was a bit too late in Juliana’s case.
Maybe Irene would come. If she brought Shelby along with her, that would be good. Beyond that, Eva was somewhat at a loss. Vektul had said humans. Eva wasn’t sure that people with demons bound to them counted as human enough, so that ruled out a good number of people who Eva thought might otherwise not have a problem summoning a Power to Earth.
A tapping at the window of her dorm room interrupted Eva’s thoughts.
And yet, being flopped over face down on her bed was nice and comfortable. Did she really want to get up and open the window?
No, not really.
Three more taps rattled the glass before Eva finally lifted her head enough to see who dared to disturb her slumber.
Ah, but the blinds are in the way, Eva thought as she dropped her face back onto the bed.
She wasn’t that tired. Sure, she had used a lot of magic. Especially blinking and fireballs. But that wasn’t too taxing. Maybe she was tired from all the running and jumping around. There had been a lot of that as well.
Or maybe it was the interactions with other people. Other people were always exhausting. Especially ones she had never met before. And nuns.
Eva tilted her head up with a deep frown on her face as the tapping on the window grew louder. Something about that didn’t feel right. She had never had much trouble interacting with people. Other people often had trouble interacting with her unless she dragged them along at her pace, but not the other way around.
If it wasn’t that…
I’m not depressed, am I?
That would be silly. She had accomplished her objective in preventing the vampire from winning. There was nothing to be depressed about.
The tapping rattled the windows enough that it threatened to break the glass.
Eva finally rolled out of bed, stumbling to her feet as she moved over to the window.
“Alright already,” she mumbled.
Pulling up the blinds, she threw the latch and hefted the window up.
A massive spider skittered into the room, barely making it before Eva slammed the window shut again.
“The door works perfectly fine, you know.”
The spider didn’t respond. She couldn’t as she didn’t have a mouth. Not yet, anyway. Her body was expanding back into its humanoid form.
Instead of waiting and watching her, Eva just flopped back down on her bed and buried her face into her pillow.
“Someone’s in a bad mood.”
“Yeah, can’t wait to see that vampire’s face,” Eva mumbled.
Arachne stood still for a moment longer, standing over the side of the bed. When she finally decided to move, she just sat on the edge.
Eva let out a little squawk as Arachne fell backwards, laying her head and the stiff tendrils that passed for her hair on Eva’s back. They poked into her for a minute or two before Arachne finally made herself comfortable in resting against Eva.
All the while, Eva just lay there, not minding the sudden contact. Neither spoke, choosing instead to sit in a companionable silence.
“Thanks,” Eva said, absolutely ruining the mood yet still feeling a need to say so. She tried to move as little as possible so as to keep from disturbing the resting spider, though she did lift her head up enough that she wasn’t speaking into her pillow.
“For what? I didn’t do anything.”
“Knowing you were out there following me, ready to jump in at the first sign of anything truly dangerous was enough. I might have been a whole lot more paranoid had you not been there.”
“I wasn’t able to get into the pyramid itself without possibly being spotted on the cameras.”
“Yeah, I figured. But I also figured that not many others would be able to get inside without being seen. I was a lot more worried about demon hunters and the like, not any of the other contestants.”
Arachne didn’t say anything in response. She really didn’t need to.
Having her there was enough for Eva.
Eva dropped her head back into her pillow and shut her eyes.
— — —
“Remember, join in next time for more magical excitement at Brakket Academy.”
Zoe managed to maintain her smile until the little red recording light blinked off. As soon as it did, she couldn’t help herself. A suppressed yawn finally broke free, stretching her jaw as far as it would go for a few seconds.
“Ah, excuse me,” she said as the yawn died off. “Wasn’t expecting that to go quite so long.”
When the schedule had called for her to comment on several highlights after the event had finished, she had expected a half hour of discussion. There had been no final time listed, but three hours seemed a tad excessive. It had gotten to the point where she had been running out of unique things to say for every little display of magic.
Normally, she would have assumed there to be a time limit simply because the station had other programs they needed to get to. They had obviously cleared their schedule. In fact, Zoe wouldn’t be surprised if the station switched to a few analysts—probably unqualified and mundane analysts—who would discuss and replay the event all through the night. Perhaps even into the next week.
There would be backlash, excitement, fear, uproar, wonder, and all manner of people coming out of the woodworks to either praise or condemn everything magical. Mundane people who couldn’t stand the idea that magic existed had been protesting for years and nothing had really come of it. Of course, there had never been such open and obvious proof. Just whispers and conspiracy theories.
But worrying about such things was, quite frankly, not Zoe’s job. She knew that both Wallace and Anderson had public relations people at the ready. Anderson, possibly Wallace as well, had been planning something like this for a while.
The only thing Zoe was truly concerned about at the moment was protesters showing up around Brakket.
Or worse, rioters.
And demon hunters, though enough had died in the area recently to hopefully ward off any more from showing up. Vampire hunters not associated with the Elysium Order might appear, but they were so few and far between that Zoe couldn’t bring herself to be too concerned. Most people who didn’t like vampires joined up with the Elysium Order.
Zoe would be speaking with Anderson in the morning about hiring some new security guards around the place anyway.
“Don’t worry,” Hank said, standing up to stretch his back. “I was thinking we would only spend an hour talking about it. But the viewers just weren’t dropping off, so…” he trailed off with a shrug.
“Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the event.”
“I’m sure they did. Social media is already going nuts over it all. Sorry about your school though.”
“We may not have won, but I think we made a decent showing of it all.” Zoe stood, resisted the urge to mimic Hank’s stretching, and held out her hand. “Thanks for keeping me on track. I have a tendency to go off on tangents on occasion.”
“Not a problem. I look forward to co-commenting on the next event.” He reached out and took hold of Zoe’s hand. He paused for a moment. “I wonder if it might be possible to sit in on a class or two before the next event. With everything going on, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.”
“That… could be possible. I’ll have to speak with Anderson, but I don’t foresee much of an issue.” Especially if I frame it in such a way that it sounds like Brakket gets something out of it. “I’ll mention it to him in the morning.”
“I don’t know how much it will help. These students study for years before performing magic like this.”
“True. Better than nothing, I suppose.”
Zoe couldn’t really disagree with that. She just nodded her head instead. “I’ll send you a date and time as soon as I speak with Anderson. However, if you’ll excuse me for now, there are a few people I should meet with before the night officially ends.”
“Of course. I look forward to working with you in the future.”
Turning, Zoe stepped off the wooden platform and started walking towards the main school building. Four steps later, she had a better idea. Zoe reached into her pocket and took hold of her wand. A slight buildup of magic had her sent through the blinding white of Between, teleported across the city.
She immediately collapsed into Wayne’s couch.
And started groaning.
The television was on. Worse, she was on. Some station was playing a clip from earlier in the evening.
“Is that what I looked like?”
“What’s wrong? You look fine.”
Zoe narrowed her eyes at Wayne.
He just raised his eyebrows as he took a sip from a cup of coffee.
“The station wanted to do my makeup, something about certain colors standing out better on camera.”
Wayne set his coffee down on the table before leaning back in his armchair. He tilted his head back, facing the ceiling of his home as he closed his eyes. “They did a good job, not that I know anything about makeup,” he grumbled.
“I feel like I could dig my finger three inches into my face before I actually touched skin.” She sighed. The sigh trailed off into a self-depreciating laugh. “So how was it? Terrible?”
“Not as bad as I expected.”
“Knowing you, you expected the world to end halfway through. ‘Not as bad’ could still be a complete disaster.”
“The slow motion shots were nice.”
“They were,” Zoe said. “I wonder if we could get the original footage from them. It might come in handy for class.”
Wayne let out a loud scoff that had Zoe narrowing her eyes again.
“Everyone in the world is going to be jumping at the opportunity to get magic on camera. I’m sure you could find someone willing to set their slow motion cameras up while you cast spells at them for hours on end. They would probably pay you as well.”
“Maybe. But I think I would still like the footage from tonight. The original footage, not just what they’re going to show on repeat for the next several weeks.”
“Well, I doubt they’ll be deleting any of it. I’m sure the military is going to pay good money to get their hands on a copy. Probably several militaries.”
“That’s something other people can deal with,” Zoe said, reaffirming her decision to stay out of larger politicking matters. She was a magical theory professor. If there was a danger to her students, she would jump in to defend them without hesitation.
That the United States armed services might want copies of the footage was not an immediate danger to her students. Or, probably, a long-term danger. Though it wouldn’t surprise her if they came up with a magical branch of the military. Or perhaps just wrapped up certain mages into the Army or Navy or wherever they fit best.
More career paths were always a good thing. Fighting in the military wouldn’t be significantly different from most Guild work. It might even be safer. They would have a team, support, and presumably tactical training. Most mage-knights worked alone or in small groups.
Swinging her legs off the edge of the couch, Zoe started off towards the bathroom. “I’m using your shower.”
— — —
Why can’t Brakket just serve pizza. Everyone likes pizza.
Knowing Brakket Academy, their pizza wouldn’t be any more edible than anything else they served. They would put toppings on it that Eva had never heard of. Probably anchovies as well.
It was enough to make Eva shudder from the thought alone.
In front of her, she didn’t have any fish topped pizza. Close, but not quite.
Eva nudged the… squid with the tip of her finger.
The squid nudged back.
Eva carefully slid the bowl a few inches away from her. She didn’t even know where to begin eating the thing. She could presumably just pick it up and bite down. It wasn’t alive, missing its brain, though that didn’t stop it from squirming.
None of the rest of the dish looked all that edible either. The squid sat atop a mountain of vegetables and little red balls that were probably fish eggs. Of course, they could be Lucy eggs for all Eva knew.
Caviar was supposedly some high-class food. The rest probably was as well. Eva just couldn’t see herself enjoying any of it.
She reached for a bread roll. That seemed the safe choice by far. Her teeth glided straight through the soft dough without encountering anything unexpected.
Though she didn’t have too much of a problem with the food served by Brakket Academy normally, Juliana had also pushed her bowl towards the center of the table. Shalise hadn’t. She happily chewed on the end of a squid tentacle.
Looking across the room, Eva noticed Anise looking especially queasy as she stared at the squid. Her fellow nun had no concerns about the meal. She gnawed on the end of a tentacle as she alternated a glare between the vampire and Eva.
Eva put on a polite smile and gave a slight wave of her hand when their eyes met.
The nun held her scowl in place for just a moment before turning it on Anise. She didn’t say anything. She just stared.
Though her gnawing on the tentacle became a little more violent as she gnashed her teeth.
“Welcome back,” Anderson said, moving to the center of the stage where the professors were eating. “I’ll spare you all a large speech and move straight to the judging. Wallace, if you would be so kind?”
Redford whispered something into the ear of the woman he had been sitting with. The same woman who had been sitting with him at the previous feast. Just as before, her eyes were closed. She didn’t respond, simply smiling, though she did tap the side of her mouth with a finger.
He stood, wiping some sauce from the corners of his mouth with a small napkin. He moved around the table. Every other step, his cane clicked against the floor. Once at the front, he stopped and stared out over the assembled students.
“Fifth place,” he said without preamble or prelude, “goes to Faultline School for the Magically Adept. Though all three students made it to the pyramid, none reached the final chamber.”
Looking over to the mentioned school, Eva found every single student sitting with clenched fists and grit teeth. Even up on stage, their headmaster—or principal, or dean, or whatever he called himself—had his brow furrowed and lips pressed into a deep frown.
“Isomer Holy Academy comes in fourth place. Two members of Isomer failed to reach the pyramid. One made it inside, however, granting them a place over Faultline.”
Eva didn’t bother looking at them. The nun not named Anise now had her fist clenched hard enough to dig her nails into her skin.
And she was staring right at Eva.
Instead, Eva licked her lips. She hadn’t been aware that there would be rankings beyond winner and losers. So far, that hadn’t been a problem. But if the vampire placed second and she third, he would probably raise a fuss about her blood much sooner than otherwise.
Eva held her breath.
“Second and third place were difficult. In the end, third goes to the Nod Complex for the Supernatural. Only two members of their school made it to the pyramid. Though the two who did made it to the final chamber first, they squandered their advantage by preemptively attacking the quetzalcoatl and further failed to claim victory.”
Eva had been about to turn to the vampire with a smug grin when she caught a hint of movement.
Just a slight movement in both her sense of blood and her actual vision.
The yellow-haired woman opened her eyes. Not wide, just a slight sliver.
Enough for Eva to notice one being green and the other being violet with a golden pupil.
Eva blinked and the eyes were shut again. The woman looked perfectly average as she smiled her calm smile.
“Brakket Magical Academy had all three members of their school make it to the top of the pyramid, although only two made it inside. They then figured out what to do and made a plan using members of the other schools to enable themselves a victory… Only to have it snatched out of their grasp by our first place school.
“Only one member of Mount Hope Academy made it to the pyramid, but that was enough to place their marble on the activated pedestal. Congratulations.”
He clapped his hands together a few times, prompting most of the staff to begin clapping as well. The Faultline headmaster notably kept his hands at his sides. As soon as the students joined in, Redford tapped the ground with his cane, sending out a silencing click as it hit the wood.
It must be enchanted, Eva thought. The noise was simply too loud to be natural. It had silenced the students during the first feast as well.
“The second event will take place in two weeks’ time. Mount Hope has received a few hints on what might be required for victory. For everyone else, you may be wondering why you were ranked at all. The answer: You will be required to make a selection. Mount Hope will select first. Faultline last.” Redford paused for a moment, looking out over the students. “That is all,” he said, turning to go back to his seat.
Anderson moved to the center to take his place, clapping his hands together to bring attention over to him.
“Exciting, exciting!” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I hope you all are looking forward to the next event. Enjoy the rest of your feast and the rest of your nights!”
As he slipped back behind the table and retook his seat, Eva stared down at the squid bowl.
“Nope,” she said standing. “I’m done.”
Juliana popped up at the same time. “Me too.”
“Don’t worry,” Eva said, putting a hand on Shalise’s shoulder. “We’re just going back to the dorm room.”
Shalise, having started to shovel down as much food as she could, started to slow down. She swallowed up her current bite before looking at Eva with narrowed eyes. “You’re not disappearing again?”
Eva glanced towards Juliana and shook her head. “Not tonight. Take your time, we won’t be going anywhere.”
“If you’re sure,” she said slowly, looking back to her meal with a smile.
With a small chuckle, Eva waved goodbye to Irene, Shelby, Saija, and Jordan as she passed. She did pause as she came up to Randal.
The half-elf sat with poor posture. Something everyone did, but it was notable on the normally appearance obsessed elf. His fork pushed around a few eggs in his bowl without real direction or meaning. Not out of disgust, but out of depression.
She knew that a few of the other students had been giving him a hard time about being too slow or… whatever.
So she patted him on the back. “Cheer up. We’ll get them next time,” she said with a false optimism in her voice.
With the rankings given by Redford, Eva was feeling much better than she had the night before. The vampire couldn’t dispute any claim of who won between them. Neither did she actually care about ‘next time’ or anything after that. She was still hoping that the world would ‘end’ before the third event.
He just gave her a sad smile before going back to toying with his food.
Eva and Juliana almost made it back to the Rickenbacker before Eva noticed someone running up behind them.
She turned, ready to blink or toss a fireball depending on the situation. Despite her paranoia, she smiled.
“Emily, did you need something?”
The girl flinched, stopping several paces away. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “You guys deserved to win.”
Eva just shrugged her shoulders. She almost told her that they were better than the Nod Complex, but decided to remain silent instead. Mostly because that should be obvious from their elevator trip where Eva had all but told everyone that she didn’t care what happened so long as the vampire lost.
“The next event involves construction. Magic assisted building.”
“That… sounds really dull. I’m glad I can’t participate in it.” Though she supposed she could tell the rest of her team. It wouldn’t hurt any. And if they kept it quiet from the vampire and beat him again, all the better. “Does the rest of your school know that you told me?”
“I– No, they don’t,” she said with a sigh.
“Then better run along before people get suspicious. Thanks for telling me though, we’ll try not to beat you guys too bad,” Eva said with a grin.
As she ran off again, Juliana turned to Eva. “What was that all about?”
“Don’t know. Maybe I made a friend.” Eva watched her go, thinking back to the event.
She had used both flames and earth with roughly equal proficiency. Something that could be handy in construction. Of course, since she was barred from participating in the second school event, maybe Eva could offer her another opportunity to show off her skills.
“Think she wants to help bring a Power into reality to do battle with another Power and potentially end the world?”
Juliana shook her head with a sigh. “You should work on your sales pitch.”