“Lucy?” Eva called out as she crept into the dormitory room assigned to the demon in question. Unlike the student demons—who were all housed in the Rickenbacker—Lucy’s assigned room was over in the Gillet. Eva honestly didn’t think that she had ever been inside. It was eerie. She was so used to everything being where it was in the Rickenbacker that walking inside its identical twin sent shivers down her spine.
Everything was mirrored. Instead of turning left at the top of the stairs, she had to turn right. The dorm rooms were on the wrong side of the hallway. The doors even opened to the wrong side.
Eva really just wanted to pop in, say sorry, then pop out.
But Lucy was hiding. Or rather, she had pressed herself flat and was hiding between the drawers underneath one of the beds.
“Lucy, I can see you. And sense you, for that matter.” Eva started tapping her foot.
By the third tap, Lucy had started squirming out from under the bed. She didn’t push out a drawer to do so. Tentacles emerged through the thin slits between the wood of the frame and the actual drawer. It was somewhat disturbing to watch at first, when not much of Lucy was actually through. Even knowing how her body looked through her blood sight, Eva didn’t know how she maneuvered around all four sides of the rectangular drawer without either tangling herself up or getting part of her caught on the other side. Somehow, she made it. A moment after piling herself up on the floor, she spread out to a proper humanoid form.
“Here to tear me apart again?”
“I’m not going to tear you apart. And it’s your own fault for not letting go.”
“You could have just pelted me with fireballs.”
“I tried fireballs.”
“I was supposed to let go after thirty direct hits from students’ attacks. You only made it to twenty-two.”
“Did chopping off each tentacle not count as a direct attack? Because I probably chopped off more than that.”
Lucy shrank in on herself—literally—before shaking her head. “I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting to get torn apart.”
Eva sighed as she placed a hand on Lucy’s shoulder. Something Lucy initially flinched away from until she realized that Eva wasn’t going to hurt her. “Look, I’m sorry about all that. I might have gotten a little hot-headed. How about this, would you like to go to a feast? You missed the big after-event dinner last time. I bet you could even sit up at the professors’ table with all the other important people! It will be fun! New experiences!”
“I do like new experiences. And fun. As long as it isn’t the hurting kind of experience.”
“Great!” Eva slapped Lucy on the back. “I’ll see you there.”
Time to go visit Anderson and ensure he knew to leave out an extra seat.
— — —
As Eva sat in the middle of the event closing feast, she couldn’t help but wonder if Anderson’s smile could get any wider. The results hadn’t even been announced yet. Brakket was obviously going to win. They wound up with seven crystals. It would have been eight, but one crystal had been taken out of the boundaries of Brakket’s camp right at the last second.
No crystals outside the border of the camps counted for any team in the end, so Brakket was in first place. Second place would be going to Isomer with five crystals. Nod Complex and Faultline had two each, and Mount Hope was left with one. And that was thanks only to Irene being unable to carry that one. All other crystals has been ‘in transit’ and therefore uncounted.
So with Brakket in the clear lead, it wasn’t hard to understand just what Anderson was so happy about. Still, in Eva’s opinion, he could at least have had the decorum to look a little subdued before the results were officially announced. At this point, she would find it hilarious if Redford and his judges had some other criteria for who would be winning first place.
“He’s still there,” Juliana whispered, setting down a fork.
She leaned in so close that Eva actually scooted away. Even still, her voice didn’t quite carry to Eva’s ears despite them sitting right next to each other. Luckily, what little did reach Eva’s ears, combined with her burgeoning lip-reading skills, was enough that she could understand.
In response, Eva didn’t offer anything but a slight hum. Juliana couldn’t lip read. More, she didn’t want to say anything just in case one of the many air mages around was using magic to carry what little air Juliana disturbed to their ears. She doubted anyone was doing so, but she couldn’t be sure.
“I can feel him. And his magic.” Juliana said, apparently not picking up on the reason for Eva’s lack of response. Though Eva couldn’t really blame her. This feast the day after the event and her kidnapping was the first opportunity for them to be together without her parents in the immediate area.
Of course, her parents were still at the feast—Zoe had invited them up to the front of the stage. They weren’t sitting with Juliana though, and apparently that was good enough for her.
“He hasn’t said a single word since teaching me how to use his magic.” She ran her fingers through her hair, tugging slightly as she went. “What if he is upset? Am I not entertaining enough? What–”
“You’re getting a little loud,” Eva said, her own voice still a whisper but not nearly so quiet as Juliana had first been. “Besides, you worry too much. Obviously he hasn’t…” Pausing, Eva considered her words.
Shalise looked in their direction, obviously having noticed that they were speaking. She raised a curious eyebrow to which Eva just smiled. Eva had told her what had happened in the privacy of their dormitory room, so she wouldn’t have a problem bringing her into the conversation—she was the expert of the three of them on having a demon inside her, after all. However, that would just increase the volume of their words. Better to just table it for the moment.
“He hasn’t tried to escape, so nothing to worry about.”
“Easy for you to say,” Juliana said in a much more normal tone of voice, slouching her shoulders as she shoved around her food, mixing the mashed potatoes with the mashed lychee.
Before Eva could say anything else, a certain vampire plopped down in the vacant seat directly opposite Eva. Saija, to his side, narrowed her eyes as she looked over to him.
But the vampire didn’t even notice. His smug face had eyes for nobody but Eva.
“Who are you again?”
His smile slipped into a lip-curling scowl. “Your humor is lacking.”
“Oh, except it wasn’t a joke. I honestly can’t remember your name. Do you know it?” Eva asked, glancing towards Juliana. At the shake of her head, Eva turned towards her opposite side where Shalise also shook her head. Turning back to the vampire, Eva frowned. “There you have it. Nobody knows who you are.”
It took a great deal of effort to suppress her smile as the vampire ground his teeth together. “I’m–”
“Before that,” Eva said, holding up a hand, “Juliana, do you mind if I try something?”
“Ah… that depends. There are a lot of things you might want to try that I do not particularly want to be involved in. Or that my mother would like me involved in, for that matter.”
“Oh don’t worry,” Eva said with a wide grin, “nothing scary. Just a thought experiment. Let’s say that somebody can jump but we really don’t want them to…” She trailed off and waited.
It took a moment. Not a long moment. Soon enough, Juliana had a similar grin on her face. “I think I can do that,” she said. And then she started mumbling, more to herself than to Eva. “Though we should change it to communicate. That way writing it down or sign language wouldn’t work. I should probably make sure there aren’t any dead man’s switches, though I might have to think that one over for a bit on exactly how to word it.”
“Take your time, I doubt it needs to be done tonight.”
The vampire’s impatience at being ignored peaked. He put a fist down on the table hard enough to clatter the plates and cutlery. A few people glanced over, but no more than what was usual for Eva kept looking for very long. “What are you two talking about?” he said.
“Like I said,” Eva said, turning back to the vampire with an even wider grin. It was almost as big as Anderson’s. “Just a thought experiment. Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time keeping up. I wouldn’t expect a rot-addled brain to comprehend.”
His dead eyes narrowed to thin slits.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but try anything against me and you’ll regret it.”
Eva snapped her face back to a serious expression. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Especially not while entertaining the thought that Juliana could use Zagan to get rid of her vampire problem. “Right. I wouldn’t dare so long as you’re holding any secrets over me.”
“And don’t you forget it.”
“So, what did you come over here for?”
The vampire—who still had yet to introduce himself properly—straightened his back as he stared over at Eva. “The third event will be beginning after the New Year’s holidays. The two of us will be able to participate once again. I was thinking we might have another little wager.”
“About my blood again?”
“What else?” he said with a smug shrug.
Eva frowned. Even if Juliana could correct his ability to open his mouth about things she didn’t want said—without him knowing at that—it would still be best to keep him believing that he could say something. If only to prevent him from trying to and potentially finding a way around whatever Juliana was going to do.
Really, it would be so much simpler if the Elysium Order did their job. Though Eva supposed she was partially to blame for that. And then they might also catch wind of Serena, which she didn’t want to happen. Not all vampires are terrible. Just all of them that weren’t named Serena.
Supposedly Wayne’s sister was also a vampire, or so Serena had said, but Eva had never met her. For all she knew, Serena was an absolute anomaly and Wayne’s sister would be insufferable as well. Then again, thinking about it for a few minutes, Serena was fairly insufferable in her own way. It was just that Eva had gotten used to it.
“Why don’t we raise the stakes?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“If Nod Complex comes out on top of Brakket, I’ll supply you with a weekly vial of my blood for a year. Fifty-two vials, in other words.”
“I see no issue with that.”
“If Brakket wins…” Eva tapped her chin in thought. “An equal amount of your blood.”
She had no real concrete plans, but she was a blood mage! If she couldn’t find anything worth doing with it, she probably needed to rethink her choices in magic specialization. The vampire hadn’t done anything really worth killing him over, but she was sure there would be several other annoyances she could come up with.
If worse came to worst and Juliana couldn’t get rid of their problem, she could always try out the sense-sharing spell. Despite her poor experience in using it on Sawyer, two days of spying on him could easily reveal whatever backup plans he had.
“My blood? Why would you want my blood? You don’t drink blood, do you?”
Shalise made a face, looking almost like she was going to be sick.
Eva ignored it. “I don’t drink blood,” she said with a shrug. “However, I’m not averse to making money. I’m sure vampire blood can be used in all sorts of potions and magical reagents.”
“Selling my blood?” He scoffed, shaking his head. With a prideful flourish, he stood from the table. “It won’t matter. If you think I haven’t learned your tricks. And this time, you won’t be allied with the…” His lips curled again as he trailed off, shooting a glance at the Isomer table. “Elysium Order,” he eventually finished, sounding more like he was swearing than actually talking. “But I can agree to your bet. Fifty-two vials. Plus no less than ten direct feedings.”
Did he have to be so creepy about it? It was hard enough to keep her smile from faltering. Shalise had her eyes closed and her nose scrunched up. Even Juliana had shoved her meal away from her as she stared at the vampire.
On the other hand, Saija’s glower at having the vampire sitting next to her reached its peak. “Great. Now that you’re done, do you mind?” She wafted her hand in front of her nose. “Ugh. Dead people. Reeks like raw fish. Or worse. You shouldn’t be allowed around everybody’s meals. It’s not like you can eat it anyway.”
“No one asked you, demon,” he snarled.
“Your breath isn’t doing you any favors either,” she said, turning her head with her nose wrinkled. “Even if you’re dead, you could still have a mint every now and again, right?”
Eva cleared her throat before more snide remarks could be thrown. Not that she really minded, but the nuns had started to stare. “You should probably head back to your school’s table. I’d rather have as little known fraternization as possible between us.”
He gave a slight snort but turned and walked off towards the Nod Complex’s seating.
“Creep,” Juliana mumbled under her breath, to which Shalise gave a few vigorous nods.
“Yeah. I wish Devon would get on with my next treatment already. Apparently my most recent treatment made me unpalatable towards one other vampire. Maybe another would work on this guy.”
Juliana’s back stiffened. “Other vampire? The one from our room?”
“Yeah. She’s been around somewhere. I saw her just after the hunters attacked. Not since though, I wonder where she’s been,” Eva mumbled to herself. “But don’t worry, she’s back to her normal self. No lunging at you and trying to eat you. Too much, anyway.”
“You sure know how to make people feel better,” Juliana said with a sigh.
“I do try,” Eva said with a smile. She was going to say more, but Anderson chose that moment to get up on center stage.
As with the previous event, he introduced Wallace Redford. Redford stood from his seat—he wasn’t next to the quetzalcoatl this time. In fact, Eva couldn’t see the quetzalcoatl anywhere around. Maybe her presence had been a one-off thing. Redford announced the results exactly as Eva had expected. Brakket first, Isomer second, Faultline and Nod Complex tied for third, and Mount Hope fifth.
Throughout it all, Eva barely paid attention. The results were a mere formality at this point. Though she did give Irene a thumbs up when Brakket was announced as first. Had it not been for her, Brakket and Mount Hope would have tied for second underneath Isomer.
And, frankly, Irene deserved a little praise. Getting carried around by Saija all night didn’t look like the funnest thing that could have happened.
Irene didn’t look all that happy at the minor praise. Though she smiled, she quickly ducked her head and stared down at her plate, avoiding eye-contact with everyone else for a few minutes until she thought nobody was looking.
To be fair, nobody was looking. Eva only observed her through her blood sight. However, her thoughts were interrupted before she could consider Irene more.
“The next event will be held the second week of January. As with the other events, you will be unaware of what is required to succeed until immediately before the event. Enjoy your holidays, though do not neglect your training. It just might mean the difference between success and defeat.”
“Thank you Wallace,” Anderson said, stepping back into his spot as Redford headed back towards his seat. “Now, before we all disperse for the evening, I do have a few… announcements to make. I do not wish to imply that Brakket Academy may be unsafe; however, there was an incident recently that I feel it is necessary to make everyone aware of.”
At Eva’s side, Juliana shifted, she moved her hands down to her lap and mimicked Irene in avoiding people’s gaze.
“There was an attempt at kidnapping a Brakket Academy student over the weekend. Mage-knight Genoa Rivas, Eva Spencer, and the demon Arachne managed to recover the student unharmed shortly after the incident; however, the kidnapper managed to escape. Until the situation can be resolved and the perpetrator captured, students are not to wander Brakket City unaccompanied. Anywhere beyond the dormitory buildings is considered off-limits for the time being. If you need to shop for clothing, supplies, or anything else, please ask one of the professors you see up on stage,” he said with a wave of his hand back to the assembled teachers and headmasters.
Lucy, Eva noted, waved right back with a bright smile on her face. Eva wasn’t certain if she was supposed to have been included in that grouping, but maybe someone would ask her. That might be amusing to watch.
“Finally, if you see a woman with bright red hair down to her shoulders and an eye patch over her right eye, please keep your distance and contact help immediately. She may be wearing metallic armor.” He lifted his wand into the air and drew out a series of flaming numbers. They hung in the air just above his head. “I highly encourage everyone to add this number to their speed-dials. There will always be someone manning the phone ready to dispatch assistance.”
He clapped his hands together. The numbers kept hovering over his head, but his morose expression shifted back to a bright smile. “However, we expect to have the situation well in hand. Be aware, be safe, but try not to worry too much. There are a few more lighthearted announcements to make before I let you all go.
“We’ll be hosting a special event on the twenty-eighth. Optional to attend, but if you wish to intermingle with your fellow schools outside a school or contest setting, this will be the event for you. There will be a number of games and prizes–”
Eva’s attention waned. Her interest in holiday events for the various schools rated somewhere between being stuck in Sawyer’s head for a weekend and being strapped to Sawyer’s operating table. If everyone else wanted to have some fun party, that was perfectly fine with her. She had other things to think about.
Catherine for one. The succubus was going to stop by Brakket later on to inspect the ritual circle. Eva still had yet to describe its purpose to Catherine—she wanted to see if the purpose was evident in the design. If Catherine said that the circle was designed to split apart the Earth and send both halves cascading into the Sun, then she might be speaking with Vektul about some miscommunication regarding the ritual.
If she did divine just what the ritual was for, Eva was really hoping she wouldn’t have too many concerns over it.
Of course, that was assuming it got finished anytime soon. With Juliana’s parents both going into a completely overprotective mode, she might not be able to help out much. Eva had considered asking her to use Zagan’s power to instantly complete it, but considering a second time, she really didn’t want any magic-induced errors to appear. The circle was almost finished. With her non-Juliana help, it wouldn’t take forever. Then they could go over the entire thing by hand, double checking it all.
Might still be a good idea to recruit someone else as well. And then she still needed the actual people to help power the circle. A combination of demons and humans. Juliana probably wouldn’t work anymore with her having been bound to Zagan. She could check in with Vektul, but better to be safe than sorry.
But that was still a little further off than even the completion of the circle.
The other big issue was the hunter. Despite Anderson’s claims of having the situation well in hand. Frankly, she just didn’t believe that he would do much of anything. He might believe it, but not Eva. In her opinion, Genoa was far more likely to do something.
Which might have been what Anderson was counting on.
Still, the possibility of him actually doing something didn’t mean that Eva would sit idle. The hunter was after her, after all. And she had just the idea in mind. She would wander around on the streets and get herself captured.
Her thoughts broke as the dinnerware before her began clattering. It was a small thing. The clattering didn’t last more than a few seconds. The only reason it was audible at all was because the entire room fell into a brief silence. Eva scarcely felt it herself.
“An earthquake?” Anderson said from up on the stage, confusion marring his features. He waited a moment as if listening for anything else. But nothing came. “Huh. Well, probably nothing to worry about. Brakket Academy isn’t just brick and mortar. It’s magic. It won’t fall to something as mundane as an earthquake. As I was saying, celebrations!”
Again, Eva tuned him out as she glanced to her side. Shalise had her arms wrapped around her and trembled. “You alright,” Eva asked, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“There were enough earthquakes in Hell,” she whispered.
Ah, right. Eva rubbed her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Like Anderson said, it was probably nothing. Some slight ripple from a far-off quake. And even if it is less benign, we’re all here this time,” she said, gesturing to the whole table.
Still… Earthquakes were rare in Montana. Not unheard of, but not exactly common either. And Eva wasn’t the type to believe in coincidence. It was probably that hunter. Since her sky beam had been destroyed, she was probably trying something else. This time from below.
Eva definitely needed to deal with her.