Zoe sat at her computer, scrolling over her image viewer. Catherine had gone over the entire ritual circle with her cellphone. Upon asking, she had emailed all the pictures to Zoe. She now had fairly high-resolution pictures displayed on the screen. A few were large overviews from higher up showing the entire circle from various angles. Others were much smaller segments to enhance the detail and make them easier to see.
Rituals… she knew about them. Could even perform a few herself. A few weeks of her fifth year class were dedicated to nothing but rituals. Despite all that, rituals had never been the subject of a significant research project for her. Zoe would classify herself as adept. Not an amateur by any means, but neither an expert.
To make matters worse, this ritual circle hadn’t been designed by human minds. It hadn’t even been designed by demon minds. A legitimate Power had designed the entire thing if Vektul was to be believed. Even Catherine had admitted that she couldn’t follow the entire thing and Catherine was well-versed in ritual circle theory far better than Zoe was.
With a sigh, Zoe finished highlighting one of the lines. Just a bright red mark to make it stand out. Sending the file back to Catherine for review—she wasn’t sure if the line was actually an error or not—Zoe spun her chair away from her computer and started rubbing her tired eyes.
“So,” a slightly muffled voice said, “what do you think?”
Zoe finished rubbing her eyes before turning to face Serena. The vampire had commandeered her office couch. Far more than just sitting on it, she spent just about every day sleeping on it, having partitioned off the entire corner with curtains. With the day already in full swing, the vampire was barely awake. She had her face covered by a pillow and her feet propped up on one armrest.
Vampires didn’t need a kitchen or even a shower unless they got dirty thanks to actual dirt and grime. Their bodies didn’t produce oils or sweat. So Zoe’s office had become her home, more or less. All while Zoe stayed next door to Ylva in the Rickenbacker.
She could understand Serena’s reluctance to live near Ylva. Still, she felt like most of Serena’s fears were entirely unfounded. The Nod Complex vampire was living in the same building and there hadn’t been any incidents between them so far. Of course, Ylva never leaving her room unless asked probably kept incidents down. It wouldn’t surprise Zoe to learn that neither knew the other existed.
Still, Ylva sometimes did come visit Zoe. If she found Serena around, who knew what she would do. Did vampires have souls? It wasn’t a question that she had ever really given much thought to. If not, Ylva might not do anything at all. Best not to risk it in any case.
Though, things had been different recently. More and more often, Zoe found herself knocking on the door only to be left outside as her knocks went unanswered. Nel and Ylva had been disappearing to parts unknown nearly every day.
“What do I think?” Zoe repeated, shaking her head. Her thoughts had wandered off from the original question. “I have no idea what to think. The whole thing is… insane. I can’t believe anyone is even considering summoning a Power.”
The former Sister Cross had her own research going. Apparently something like this had happened before. What she really was hoping was that Lynn would be able to figure out what had happened and present that as an alternative they could do instead. Of course, whatever solution she came up with would probably involve summoning some other Power if her luck continued on its current course.
“What about you?” Zoe said after a moment. “What do you think of all this?”
Serena pulled the pillow off her face with a slight groan. She sat up, face set in a grimace, looked at the clock on the wall, grimaced more, and flopped back down. “I don’t know. Whatever happens, happens, right? I’ll keep you two safe and leave everything else to everyone else.”
Irresponsible. But Zoe supposed that she couldn’t talk much. She had done little to help. In fact, with the event, her place in the televised interviews and commentating on the matches, and regular school teaching, she had almost forgotten about all the real problems going on. For a short time, things had felt… normal. How long had it been since that was the case.
And then Juliana got kidnapped and Eva dropped this bomb on her.
“Ah, what must it be like to be another professor,” Zoe said with a wistful tone of self-mockery. “Maybe at a different school. To never have to worry about anything more than how the students will perform on the next test.”
“It’s probably a whole lot more boring,” Serena said, dropping the pillow back on her face and muffling her voice part way through.
“You can have excitement without being in constant peril.” Zoe ticked off a few fingers with each choice. “Like a nice fireworks display or a vacation to an amusement park. Maybe a nice normal pie eating contest.”
“Fireworks? Dull. Amusement parks? Can’t go during the day,” Serena dismissed with a lazy wave of her hand. “Pie eating? Not exactly my cup of tea, if you know what I mean.”
Raising an eyebrow, Zoe gave Serena a pointed look.
“When I think of pie, I imagine something breaded. Like chicken pot pie. Filling one with blood seems like it would get the bread soggy. Not to mention how disgusting bread tastes to my tongue.”
“Right. My point still stands.”
Serena didn’t respond. She slightly rolled over, keeping the pillow on her face but scrunching up her legs closer to her chest.
With a sigh, Zoe closed down the image viewing programs and locked her computer. She wasn’t quite sure how to explain it to Wayne. And she was going to do so this evening provided there weren’t any interruptions to her schedule. If only to avoid a repeat of what happened when she had been learning about demons. Wayne had not been all that enthused with her at the time. It was a small fight, but they fought so infrequently that it had been a little shocking.
But she still had a few hours to consider exactly what to do.
Leaving Serena behind, she moved into her classroom.
“Sorry for the slight delay,” she said to the gathered students. “I had a little personal matter to attend to. Today, we will be discussing, if you’ll turn to page 323, static magic fields. Areas where magic contamination has affected the very fabric of reality with no apparent fuel source.”
As the students opened their books and flipped through the pages, Zoe continued her lecture without pause. She had spent just a little too long highlighting the image and speaking with Serena.
“These can be benign, such as a slight instability in the gravitational field leading to a moon bounce-like effect. One has been documented to teleport anything that enters exactly twelve point three meters forward. Not extremely dangerous, but at the same time, not necessarily safe as two objects entering the field at roughly the same time will teleport inside each other.
“Others aren’t quite so simple to study. One that has been around since the beginning of recorded history is located in Death Valley, California. It is a constant raging inferno, reaching upwards of six hundred degrees Celsius. The area around the anomaly has been warded off to keep people stumbling across it, but it combined with the local environment is one of the primary reasons for the overwhelming heat around Death Valley.”
One of the Faultline guest students, sitting in the center of the room with her back straight and eyes glued on Zoe, raised her hand. She did not wait for Zoe to call on her. “The temperature in Death Valley fluctuates. Our school isn’t far, so we have first hand experience. In the winter, it can get quite chilly. Not as cold as it gets here, but still a little cold.”
“That would be because of magical efforts to artificially regulate the temperature. Also, to the best of my knowledge, the anomaly has been in something of a remission for the past century or so. Something researchers have been trying to replicate in other hazardous magic fields.”
Aside from that, someone who lived and spent most of their time around California probably had warped ideas of what chilly meant. Still, she appreciated the question. Older students who were ready to learn were always a treat.
“In any case, there is actually a static magic field anomaly near Brakket Academy. Provided we can get a few extra security personnel in, we will be taking a short field trip before vacation begins.”
A lot of security at that. Theoretically, there was only a single hunter who was only after people related to Eva. Zoe was one of those people. Being responsible for the students both local and from abroad, she could not take the risk that the hunter might decide any one of them would work. Zoe wanted to hire Genoa, so long as she was feeling up to it.
Maybe even Arachne as well.
— — —
Eva began her plan. Her genius idea to locate and defeat the hunter was underway. The simplest way to find her was to get captured. Nel could watch from afar and get following her again, maybe stop her far sight from slipping for a little while.
And for that purpose, Eva wandered around the city completely alone. Nobody liked the idea of using herself as bait, but Eva had her own tricks.
At the same time as she walked around, she sat attentive in Professor Lepus’ class. Or rather, she was pretending to be attentive. She was actually trying to avoid spewing projectile vomit all over her classmates. To be fair, the sensory feedback from her blood clone was nothing compared to the horrors of Sawyer eating macaroni and cheese without washing his hands after dissecting bodies. The odd feeling of being in two places at once still had her a little dizzy.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much going on. No hunters dive-bombing her. It had been two hours of her blood clone wandering around with no sign of any enemies. Srey was in her class and hadn’t yet sent her the message that anyone had been watching them. So they shouldn’t know that she was in two places at once. But a demon hunter might have methods of telling her clone apart from her real self.
Alternatively, the hunter was watching her clone and was trying to figure out just how the ambush was going to go down.
There wasn’t an ambush, but the hunter wouldn’t know that.
Unfortunately, if the hunter never showed herself, Eva’s plan would die before it could get off the ground.
“So,” Juliana said, leaning over to whisper into Eva’s ear, “how is it going?”
“Same as last class,” Eva said, voice slightly strained. Arachne was with her as well, but Arachne was actually doing as Eva had asked and hadn’t spoken a single word. The only thing she had done was to help her get to class. “It’s just wandering around as I ordered.”
Juliana opened her mouth to say something else, but a glare from Professor Lepus stopped her cold.
“Miss Rivas. You are new to this class. However, I’ve heard you are something of a prodigy. As such, I will not complain if you have managed to finish constructing your ward.”
With a wince, Juliana glanced down at her desk and the jar of live flies. They buzzed around within the jar, searching for an escape route. Professor Lepus gave them one. She reached down and unclasped the lid.
The three flies took to the air and flew off into the room.
“Your ward,” Professor Lepus said, watching the flies zoom through the room, “it doesn’t seem complete. It allowed me through, but also allowed the flies through.” She took her gaze off the flies and turned back to Juliana. “Or perhaps there was no ward around your jar at all.”
Pulling out her wand, Lepus tapped the jar. All three flies flew straight back inside. She capped the lid back on before they could escape a second time.
“Might I suggest working on your ward rather than speaking.” Turning to Eva, the professor smiled. “And how is yours coming along?”
“I wouldn’t be ready to test it just yet, Professor,” Eva said without a hint of shame.
“Then I suggest you work as well.”
Eva gave a shallow nod as the professor walked off to inspect another student’s ward. Closing her eyes in apparent concentration, she tried to tune out as much of the classroom as possible and focus only on the clone’s senses. So far, she hadn’t even tried to make a ward. She just didn’t have the mental fortitude at the moment.
“Kind of strict, isn’t she?”
“Just doing her job.”
“What if I was asking a real question. Like, I’m still a little fuzzy on how exactly to form the outer magic shell.”
“Are you actually asking? I thought your mother caught you up on the basics of warding? That’s like the very basic of the basics.”
“Well, she did. But her method of explaining is less teaching and more demonstration. Something that doesn’t help so much when you can’t visually see a ward.”
“Ah, well, you might have to ask Professor Lepus. I could explain, but I’ve got a bit too much of a headache at the moment. There–”
Eva cut herself off, staring through her clone’s eyes. A dark shadow moved overhead. Her simulacrum, ordered to look at anything suspicious as she wandered around, didn’t even get to look up. A brief spike of pain preceded all her secondary senses being cut off.
“Are you alright?” Juliana whispered again.
“Fine. I’m… not sure what happened though. I think my body was destroyed. Other body.”
“Obviously,” Juliana said with a roll of her eyes. “How was it destroyed?”
“Not sure. Saw a shadow then a split second later, nothing.”
“Is it the hunter?” Arachne said, leaning close so she could whisper without disturbing the class.
Eva, not wanting to draw Professor Lepus’ ire, merely nodded and proceeded to cast a small ward around her jar of flies. As she constructed the layers she would need, she thought. The hunter would be completely willing to instantly obliterate Eva should the opportunity present itself. At least, based on the what Eva knew of her so far. She might have wanted to torture her, but maybe had decided that Eva was just too dangerous of a target.
Assuming the hunter had even attacked her clone. Something about the situation felt off. The hunter had used the white beam from the sky before, so maybe she had found a shadow beam.
Eva shook her head. Ten minutes until class ended. She would be able to call Nel. The augur was supposed to have been watching.
Just as soon as she considered Nel, her phone buzzed in her pocket.
Which meant something bad. Nel would know that she was in the middle of class. Even had Eva not told her, she almost undoubtedly would have spied in on the real Eva after seeing the clone fall. So something must have happened that needed an immediate call.
“Eva,” Professor Lepus said, sweeping back to Eva’s table. “Was that a phone I heard?”
“Ah, just a slight personal emergency. I can take the call in the hallway–”
Both paused and glanced upwards to the overhead speakers as they crackled to life.
“Dean Anderson has issued a warning code four.” The voice of the new secretary came over the announcement system loud and clear. “All professors are to keep their students in their classrooms and remain there until the all clear is sounded. At no point is any student to leave the main building. Security groups one to three are to get geared and report to the guard room for further orders.”
Eva merely frowned as the speakers clicked off. However, at her side, Juliana actually jumped. The blood drained from her face as she snapped an accusatory gaze over to Eva.
“I didn’t do anything,” Eva said, holding her hands up to shoulder level.
“Last time I heard that kind of message was the day Shalise and I got trapped in Hell,” she hissed, leaning towards Eva.
“Like I said, wasn’t me.”
Professor Lepus sighed, breaking her gaze off Eva and Juliana. “Constant interruptions. How am I supposed to teach with all this nonsense going on? Well,” she said, raising her voice for the whole class. “As long as we have been told to stay here, we may as well finish our lesson. Has anyone managed to properly construct their insect ward?”
After sending a few nervous glances around, a handful of students raised their hands. Eva didn’t. She waited for Professor Lepus to move off to one of the students before pulling out her cellphone. Nel had called and apparently left a voice message. Eva quickly put the phone to her ear.
“Eva,” Nel’s recorded voice shouted in her ear. “I didn’t see any hunter. But those things are falling around the city. I counted only eight, but there could be more. I hope you’re alright. Ylva has already gone out to deal with the two near the dormitory. Maybe more? Not sure, gotta go meet up with her.”
The message cut off right after with her phone asking if she wanted to save or delete the message. Eva ignored either option and simply hung up on her voice mail and slipped the phone back into her pocket. As she did so, she stood and moved towards the windows with Arachne following just a step behind. If things had fallen to the city, the window seemed a good place to spy from.
And sure enough, Eva found herself staring. The violet streaks in the sky were pulsing. Rather than the faint purple, several were bright purple, standing out against the semi-gray winter sky. She couldn’t see anything falling from them, but that didn’t necessarily mean that nothing was.
“Is this my fault?”
Eva glanced over to where Juliana had moved up to her side. “No? Why would– Oh, right.” Zagan. Eva had almost forgot. “Doubt it. If summoning one demon could trigger whatever happened, it probably wasn’t far off from happening naturally. Or whenever someone else summoned a demon. Don’t worry about it.”
The real question was what had fallen. Eva could feel something. Maybe something that was a demon. But not eight of them. Only one or two. Then, perhaps, were they enigmas? Really, Juliana opening a portal to Hell—especially for Zagan and successfully summoning him at that—could probably have started off everything. Though why there had been a few days between then and now was anyone’s guess.
Pulling out her cellphone again, Eva sent off a message to Zoe telling her to look at the sky. Though if Ylva was out handling everything, she wasn’t too concerned. Still, best to be ready for anything.
Author’s Note: Hope you all enjoyed. If you did, consider voting at top web fiction. It’s just a quick button (or captcha if you have never voted). Thanks!