Eva couldn’t be more pleased with the way things were going.
The second event was coming up in two days. She didn’t have to participate in it. The ritual circle was nearly finished. It wouldn’t be done by the time of the second event, but would definitely be done before the third. Especially if they decided to have a longer break between events for the December holidays.
With Anise and Chris both helping, their progress had been through the roof. Of course, Eva still needed to find people for the ritual itself, but she was actually relatively certain that wouldn’t be much of a problem at all. A quick check-in with Vektul let Eva know that despite having the eye implanted in their chest, both nuns should work just fine. Probably.
He actually hadn’t been absolutely certain. If she could, Eva would try to get fully normal humans. Just in case.
Still, no demon hunters had shown up to accost Eva. Or anyone else, for that matter. No laser beams had destroyed the ritual circle, or her prison, or the school, or anything else. No nuns had shown up aside from the two expected ones, though Ylva hadn’t gone to the inquest in their place just yet. It wasn’t scheduled until just before New Years. And Sawyer was still dead as far as Eva knew.
Not even the vampire had shown up to accost her. Though she had caught him staring at her a few times during lunches or around the halls. It was enough that Eva had taken to either skipping lunch or eating outside. She didn’t eat much anyway and the food served by Brakket Academy often made her lose her appetite even if she did feel peckish.
Since both Chris and Anise were more or less following her around outside school hours, they probably served as a decent deterrent to the vampire as well.
Despite everything going exactly as Eva hoped, she couldn’t help but feel a niggling concern in the back of her mind. Everything was going too well. The metaphorical other shoe was going to drop. It had to. Nothing had ever gone so well for Eva before.
She didn’t know what the shoe was going to be or where it would fall from. She didn’t even have any proper means of preparing for it.
“And that’s why you need to watch out for anything suspicious. Don’t go anywhere alone. Keep an eye out after dark, especially outside the main school building and the Infinite Courtyard. Even take care inside your rooms.”
Eva narrowed her eyes at Chris. Considering how she had acted before Ylva agreed to help them, she was the last person Eva wanted to get a lecture on paranoia from.
“Just be careful.” Eva pointed to Irene, Saija, and Chris. “Especially you three. Who knows what Redford is going to do. If he puts you into a position where you can easily be ambushed, things could go bad fast if one of our enemies decides to make a big deal out of the event.
“Other than that, take tomorrow off. Rest up or prepare for the event. Both. Whatever you want.”
“Take tomorrow off? Since when did you become our boss?”
Juliana’s tone implied that she was joking or otherwise trying to lighten the conversation. Still, something in her voice made Eva feel like she wasn’t being completely humorous.
Her frustration wasn’t wholly incomprehensible. She had been working for the longest amount of time and was easily the hardest worker of the four. Even taking into account her frequent breaks to spar with Arachne, she still got more done than any two of the others combined.
Before Eva could actually comment, Irene stepped up to Juliana.
“Could I ask you a few questions?”
“Sure? You don’t have to ask my permission.”
“Well,” she paused with a glance towards the nuns, “it’s about the event.”
Chris put her hands on her hips. “Oh I see how it is,” she said, turning and walking away. Anise hesitated for a moment before following after her. “Plot your strategies,” she called over her shoulder, “they won’t help you. We might be working on this nonsense together, but we are still enemies.”
As they walked away from the ritual circle, Eva turned back to the other two humans. “If you’re going to be discussing the event, I’m going to take off.”
“Hold on,” Juliana said, grabbing Eva’s arm. “Where are you going?”
“Catherine has been texting me all day. Something back at the prison that she wants to show me, apparently.”
Juliana gave her something of a pointed look before giving a quick glance towards Irene.
Repressing a sigh, Eva said, “Did you want to come along as well? Irene and Saija can come too.” She paused as she tried to remember if either had actually been to the prison before. “I might need a few drops of blood though.”
Saija decided to talk right over Irene’s cry of alarm. “Your mysterious prison? We’d love to go. Wouldn’t we?” She wrapped an arm around Irene’s shoulders. “Irene can ask her questions there.”
Irene, even with her arms all locked up by Saija, shook her head back and forth.
“It shouldn’t be anything big. Catherine said that it wasn’t vital. But it has been a while since I actually visited because of all this,” Eva said, spreading her arms out in a gesture towards the ritual field. “At the very least, I need to make sure that Catherine and Devon haven’t burned the place down.”
Saija perked up at the mention of burning. “Sounds exciting,” she said. “I think I know the place. There’s another group of demons there, right?” At Eva’s shallow nod, Saija grinned. She scooped up Irene before Irene could protest and spread her wings. “We’ll meet you there!”
Eva cupped her hands to her mouth and called out after them as they took off. “Don’t go past the walls without giving me blood! You’ll explode!”
She was fairly sure that she heard a shriek from Irene, but the two disappeared over the forest canopy too quick to tell.
Looking back to Juliana, Eva grinned with a shrug of her shoulders. “I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“We should probably hurry.”
“I had been planning on teleporting…” she said, trailing off with a glance towards Arachne.
The spider demon clicked her tongue. “I suppose I can carry Juliana. Did you want a ride as well?”
Eva opened her mouth, about to decline. Even if she didn’t teleport out there, running on her own wasn’t much of a problem.
How long had it been since she actually let Arachne carry her? A long time. Maybe even before Arachne had given her legs away. Since then, Eva had always run on her own. Or teleported.
“You know what? Sure.”
A smile spread across Arachne’s face. One that Eva couldn’t help but mimic.
“Alright,” Arachne said, growing to her full form. “Hang on tight.”
— — —
Catherine took a few dainty steps around the latest version of her personal transformation circle. It was a bit beyond a mere ritual circle. Instead of just increasing some abstract level of power, this circle should actually grant her traits of other demons involved with it.
Should. So long as she programmed it correctly.
She and Devon had both gone over every inch of it, both in theory and in the actual physical circle. Neither had found anything wrong. At least, not with the latest version. The first concept would probably have killed everyone involved. Potentially permanently for the demons. But they worked out that little kink.
Unfortunately, the way the transformation circle was now set up severely limited the number of demons that Catherine could use. Lucy, for example, was right out. Catherine had absolutely no intentions of becoming a tentacle monster if she could help it. Not even if Lucy was the most powerful demon currently in the mortal realm.
Which she wasn’t.
That title currently belonged to either Eva or Ylva. She wasn’t entirely sure which. If Devon were willing to do another treatment, it would probably be Eva without a doubt. Tragically for her, he was still wanting to hold off and ensure Eva had stabilized before doing anything more.
And tragically for Catherine, Ylva wasn’t willing to participate. Catherine had done everything that she could to ensure that the donor demons would be perfectly safe, but Ylva had still declined.
Eva wasn’t entirely demon. With the old version, that hadn’t mattered so much. This one… she needed to do a few tests first.
Never in a million centuries would Catherine have believed that she would actually want Zagan around. He would have been the optimal subject.
Even though no other demons could be summoned, Zagan wasn’t other demons. Catherine had a theory that if she really tried, she probably could summon him. Or Devon could; Catherine wasn’t interested in ending up on Keeper’s hit list. Especially not with a doll potentially still running around the mortal realm.
However, she didn’t want Zagan around quite that badly and Devon was absolutely unwilling to even entertain the idea.
So she was really hoping that Eva would work out.
Aside from Eva, there were a number of demons back at the school that she had her eye on.
The one demon she could feel coming closer to the prison was not one of them.
With a drawn out sigh, she stepped away from her transformation circle. Eva was rapidly approaching as well. Which was good for her test, but she wasn’t so enthusiastic about having another succubus wandering around.
“Couldn’t she have brought the more worthwhile demons?” Catherine mumbled to herself.
She spread her wings and prepared to take off to meet the guests. It had been weeks since she had hidden her demonic form and weeks since she had worn proper clothing as well. There were a number of distinct advantages to living so far from prudish humans. Devon was the only human around and he didn’t care in the slightest.
Which Catherine found slightly insulting. It was nice that she didn’t have to fend off any advances, but at the same time, he didn’t even act surprised when she had first gone without clothes. Not even the slightest blush on his cheeks. To him, she may as well be a talking wooden board.
Of course, there were disadvantages as well.
Eva’s prison was habitable. Mostly. With runework, it had lighting and running water, heating and cooling, and plenty of space for relaxation or experiments. But that was the end of the amenities. It did not have much in the way of proper electricity or internet connections. Just keeping her cellphone charged was a nightmare.
To say nothing about unwinding by slaughtering countless humans on the various multiplayer games Catherine had taken a liking to.
Ah the sacrifices she made in the name of self-improvement.
Of course, with her being completely free of a contract, she should easily be able to disappear into the mortal world and live out a life of decadence once satisfied with the progress of her rituals.
Touching down on the wall of the prison, Catherine narrowed her eyes as she scanned the horizon. It didn’t take long to pinpoint the flying succubus. Despite it being early December, the sky was bright blue. Save for the purple streaks.
The succubus was the only moving dot on the sky.
As she got closer and as Catherine squinted just a little more, she saw something carried in the succubus’ arms. Something familiar.
Catherine couldn’t help but grin. She hadn’t toyed with Irene in quite some time. Maybe she could thank the other succubus just for that.
Catherine’s smile slipped. Just what was Irene doing with another succubus anyway?
Crossing her arms, Catherine tapped her foot against the wall as she waited for them to get closer. Only to deepen her frown as they pulled a tight u-turn away from the wall. It took her a moment to realize just why they had done so. Neither had been to the prison before. Obviously they had been warned of Eva’s wards.
Squinting her eyes more, Catherine found Eva. Or, more accurately, Arachne. The massive spider wasn’t too far behind Irene despite being land based. She had to wonder just how big of a head start Arachne had.
They made it up to Irene just as her feet touched the ground outside the prison walls. Some talking went on between the groups—which also contained that other human Eva was fond of hanging out with—before Eva drew some blood from each of the newcomers.
A jump and a blink had her up on the wall next to Catherine. “I’ll be right back,” Eva said. Without giving time for a response, she blinked off towards the women’s ward.
Catherine considered following for a bare moment before shaking her head. She looked back down to Irene—who was in the middle of arguing with the other succubus.
Irene said something to the succubus only to turn away with a huff. As she turned, she finally noticed Catherine.
Putting on a wide grin, Catherine gave her a wave.
She didn’t seem all that happy to see Catherine. Which just made Catherine want to toy with her more.
Eva blinked back after only a minute or two and skipped past Catherine once again.
As everybody climbed on top of Arachne—including the succubus—Catherine hopped off the wall and made her way back to the transformation circle.
The demons, humans, and Eva joined her as soon as Arachne scaled the wall.
“Don’t go into any of those buildings,” Eva said, pointing out the cell blocks. “Actually, don’t go into any buildings except the women’s ward. And inside the women’s ward, don’t go into my room.”
The succubus started to jump off Arachne’s back without giving more than a hum in response. Eva gripped her by the chin and yanked her head over to lock eyes with her.
“Am I understood, Saija?”
Now panicking and squirming, the succubus nodded her head up and down as much as she was able to with Eva’s hand clamped down on her chin.
Against Catherine’s will, she actually felt herself shudder. Eva’s smile was not a happy or genuine smile. It was one that promised pain if her rules were broken.
There was something of a saying among demons. One always had to be wary of the polite ones. If a demon was being polite, it generally meant one of two things. Either they were mentally unhinged or they had enough power to back up their words without needing to resort to open threats and violence.
Sometimes both cases were true at once.
While Eva’s smile and voice glowed with politeness, her actions weren’t quite there. A truly scary demon would have stopped Saija with her sweet voice alone and not have needed to grab hold. Still, she was shaping up to be a fine demon. Though Catherine couldn’t help but wonder if Eva had even noticed.
“Good,” Eva said as she released Saija. “Then you’re free to wander around as you will. Just don’t break anything.” An subtle softening of her features crossed Eva’s face as she turned to look at Irene. “If you have any questions, you can ask Juliana. She knows her way around.”
With that said, Eva blinked off Arachne’s back and helped both Irene and Juliana down.
“What are you going to be doing?”
Eva glanced to the blond girl with a shrug. “Finding out what Catherine wants. Maybe paying a visit to Devon if he is around at the moment. After?” She shrugged again. “Honestly, sad as it is, there isn’t much here at the moment. Probably just head back to the dormitory. We shouldn’t worry Shalise and Shelby by being out too late.”
“I’ll send out some texts, just in case.”
“Sounds good,” Eva said, starting to turn to Catherine. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Saija wandering off through the prison. With a sigh, she turned back to Juliana, leaned in close, and whispered something that Catherine couldn’t quite catch.
Though Catherine could guess at what she was saying. The succubus obviously required a chaperon.
“Anyway, show them around I guess. I’ll catch up with you guys later.”
As Eva left the humans behind and walked up to her, Catherine sighed. She would have to speak with Irene later. Perhaps while Eva was speaking with Devon.
If he was even around. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t seen Devon in a few days. He kept whining about needing a new test subject. Maybe he had finally gone off to find one.
Oh well. There would surely be time.
“So,” Eva said, “you’re looking well.”
Catherine had to suppress a little preening at the praise.
She was a succubus. It was in her blood to be vain.
“You as well. Sort of.”
“I liked your hair better when it was longer.”
Eva sighed as she ran her claw through the short hairs on her head.
“It’s a work in progress. So, I got your text,” Eva said as she leaned around Catherine to see the inscriptions on the cement platform. “What did you need?”
“Welcome to Transformation Circle version twelve point oh-seven.”
Eva looked it over for a few minutes before shaking her head. “I don’t know enough about the previous version… versions? To tell what is different about this one.”
“Well, it needs only one donor demon this time around. In fact, it can’t have more. There is no room for them. The total time it takes to run should be drastically shorter than previous versions and it shouldn’t knock the center person out. Both improvements should be applicable to your treatment circle I think. With Devon’s approval.”
“That sounds nice.”
“However, this circle is specifically keyed to me. If someone else sits in the middle, I don’t know what might happen. I can’t recommend it. Aside from that, a lot of the code is the same.”
Catherine’s grin widened. “I’m so glad you asked. Ritual circles work a lot like programming an application on a computer. They have their own language, essentially. You write them out with a goal in mind. It is purely theoretical at the moment, but I’ve been looking into the possibility of developing a computer programming language that I can use to write spells. Even rituals. All, after some programming, at the touch of a button.”
With both hands on her hips, Catherine stood with her chest puffed out and her wings spread wide. Come now, she thought, praise me!
“Huh,” Eva said, face blank.
Catherine felt an eyebrow twitching. She waited for just a moment, just in case Eva was about to say something slightly more profound.
“Huh? That’s it? I can potentially revolutionize all spell casting for mortals and demons alike and all you have to say about it is huh?”
“Sorry. I can type essays on a computer. Beyond that, I don’t know anything. And I know even less about computer code.”
Catherine let her shoulders droop. Her wings sagged behind her.
“Don’t worry,” Eva said, patting her arm. “I’m sure it’s amazing. It’s my fault I don’t see it.” Despite her words, she was sounding fairly patronizing. As if it were Catherine’s theory that was bad. “Maybe if you talked with Zoe, she could properly appreciate your genius. She might be able to help you too.”
“I suppose,” Catherine said as she scratched at the base of her horn, brushing a lock of hair out of her face. It wasn’t a bad idea. The theory professor was fairly intelligent. For a human. “I’ll send her a text sometime.”
“Good. Now, was that everything?”
“Actually, I wanted to run a test on you. It should only take a few seconds.” Catherine thumbed over her shoulder towards the transformation circle. “If you just sit down in the donor circle, I’ll get it started up.”
“Alright. I can do that,” she said, stepping over to the proper spot without even questioning Catherine’s intentions.
It was weird. Demons didn’t normally trust one another like that.
Shaking her head, Catherine pulled out a long rod of void metal from its holder near the edge of the circle. A slight flap of her wings carried her straight to the center of the circle where she would normally sit. She pressed the rod into a small hole in the ground, leaving it standing up to roughly her waist.
Rod in place, Catherine flew back to the edge of the circle.
“What’s that for?”
“A stand in for me. Don’t worry about it. Are you ready?”
“I guess so.”
Catherine nodded. Pouring a tiny portion of magic into the circle had everything lighting up. A black wispy tendril stretched out from Eva and connected with the void metal rod.
The ritual circle powered down. The tendril disappeared.
And Eva looked up at her with a raised eyebrow.
“That was it?”
“I told you it would only be for a few seconds.”
“Well, yeah but… I expected something a little more… dazzling. What now?”
“Now? I’ve got a number of tests to do on the rod,” she said, fluttering forwards to grab it. “If all the tests go well, we can do the transformation ritual for real.”
Catherine paused at the rod. Her fingers hovered over it for a moment.
She could feel the heat coming off it. And see it. Little hazy lines in the air distorted the neat lines of the transformation circle.
Which was odd. Void metal didn’t get hot. Ever. She could leave a ring of it in a crucible capable of melting steel and still be able to touch it the second she pulled it out.
What might have caused that?
“On second thought,” she said, backing away. “I think I’ll test it later. Maybe it is time to go visit Irene. I haven’t teased her in so long.”
Eva made a face. Catherine wasn’t sure what the face was supposed to mean, but it didn’t matter. The face turned back to normal after a quick shake of Eva’s head.
“Hey, I’ve got my own ritual circle I’m working on. Maybe you would like to come see it soon. You can even visit Zoe about your computer project at the same time.”
“Your own ritual?”
“I’ll let you see if you can figure out what it does. It’s supposed to be secret, but it requires a few humans and a few demons. So it can’t be completely secret much longer.”
“Demons and humans?” Catherine said with a frown. It probably wasn’t a copy of Devon’s treatment circles. Not with plural humans. But she couldn’t think of anything else that it might be for. “I think I’d like to see that.”
At the very least, it might be interesting.