Category Archives: Book 002

002.021

<– Back | Index | Next –>

You saved my life. I’ll spare yours.

This one time.

Do not test my goodwill.

Eva frowned as Arachne read the three lines again. There was no signature, but it didn’t take a lot of guesses to figure out the sender. Eva could only recall saving one life in her recent memory.

Maybe. Zagan agreed to not kill her. As long as he was planning on following through with that, Eva didn’t actually need to interfere.

How Sister Cross got the note onto her pillow without either waking Eva or alerting Arachne was somewhat worrying.

A pulse of magic had Eva’s hand lit with thaumaturgical fire. She plucked the note from Arachne’s claws and crushed it in her fiery hand. The note evaporated into ash. She frowned again as she felt her fire die down.

Her master’s flames were green. Unless something changed in the last few months, her flame was a reddish-orange. Eva wasn’t certain there was anything more than a cosmetic difference. Still, perhaps it was time to ask for another lesson.

Perhaps not. Green fire would draw all kinds of attention. She had enough to go around with the gloves and blindfold as it was.

Eva set her unblemished claw down and looked over her sleeping roommates.

Juliana sprawled out over her bed with one arm hanging off. Her mouth was wide open and, while Eva couldn’t actually see it, there was little doubt a small pool of drool had gathered on the pillow.

Shalise was the exact opposite. She had curled up in a ball and stayed there ever since they returned the previous night. Every so often a shiver would run down her spine. A nightmare perhaps. Her heart rate was slightly elevated.

Neither Juliana nor Eva had mentioned their nocturnal activities, though word of the riot spread through the dorms like wildfire before some professors ushered everyone to their rooms.

As far as Eva knew, Shalise was not aware of her relationship with Sister Cross. They were friends in a sort of weird, generation-boundary-crossing way.

Still, Shalise clearly cared for the nun. She worried over her and hadn’t fallen asleep for a good portion of the night.

Eva flopped back down on her pillow. It was too early to think. Even discounting the late night she’d had. Arachne curled up alongside Eva, though she was at full alertness. Eva wouldn’t have a problem sleeping through the rest of the morning with that vigil over her.

I hope you appreciate what I did, Eva thought at Shalise as she shut her eyes.

Not that she ever intended to tell.

— — —

Lynn Cross fidgeted in the lobby of the Rickenbacker. She wore no coif, no scapular, no rosary, not even a robe. Simple jeans and a tee-shirt did not fit her.

To say it felt awkward would be an understatement.

Headquarters almost relieved her of command over Charon Chapter. She lost Nel, several members of Charon Chapter, and had the public turned against the Elysium Order. The public relations nightmare had been the biggest complaint, followed by the missing augur.

Nel’s disappearance weighed heavily on Lynn’s mind. They didn’t even have a body to perform the final prayers and ministrations upon. Headquarters declared her dead, though they planned to follow the procedure for all rogue augurs. Her blood would be watched nearly twenty-four hours a day for a full year.

Lynn did not hold out much hope.

As a last chance gesture, Lynn was being sent off to some town in Central Africa. Some upstart lich needed its phylactery destroyed and sent on to meet its maker. If the mission was a failure, or even a success with significant losses, Lynn would be relieved of her command.

They weren’t even going to give her augur support.

If she did fail, Lynn wasn’t sure what would happen. She did know that there was a semblance of regret regarding her own vial of blood stored in the Elysium Order’s vaults.

The mission had to be a success.

Lynn sighed as she leaned back in the lobby chair. Everything had become such a mess. She still wasn’t sure who to blame it on. The necromancers, probably. They were always a good target for blame. Eva somewhat.

Herself, as well.

Finding out about the darker aspects of Eva woke a streak of paranoia and mistrust. Overwhelming worry for Shal followed close behind. She was blinded. She ignored the teachings, lectures, and rules of the Elysium Order by focusing so much on Shal.

Plenty of people could have died due to some rogue poltergeist while Lynn stuck around trying to deal with a situation that no one in the Elysium Order was qualified to handle.

Worst of all was that Lynn still was not sure if she had overreacted, or if she hadn’t reacted enough. Eva still wandered the halls of school. She still slept in the same room as her daughter.

Yet she worried about calling in proper demon hunters. They were known to apply scorched earth policies to anything they deemed corrupted by Void.

Shalise walked into the room while Lynn thought. She walked just behind a chattering Eva and their blond friend. Shal looked… lost. She had a smile on, but it didn’t reach her eyes. They were empty and stared at nothing in particular as she walked behind her friends.

“Shal,” Lynn said as she stood up.

All three of the girls stopped in their tracks. The two who weren’t Shal looked on with a hint of confusion. Her daughter didn’t.

A smile crossed Shal’s face. It quickly twisted to a frown before returning to a soft smile. “S-Sister Cross,” she started.

Lynn held up her hand and shook her head. “I’m not wearing my habit right now. Just Lynn.”

“Sister Cross,” Eva said with some slight apprehension. One of her hands moved around behind her back, but she made no further move. Her head moved up and down as if she were examining Lynn’s body. She gave a slight nod and smiled. “You should ditch the habit more often.”

Narrowing her eyes, Lynn shot a glare at Eva. The little cretin couldn’t even see. “Shal,” she said as she turned back to her daughter, “could you spare a few minutes to speak with me. Alone,” she added with a glance back towards Eva.

“That’s fine, I think.” She looked over to her friends and said, “you go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”

Eva nodded and turned to leave the lobby without another word. Her blond friend trailed after her.

Lynn had half a mind to stop the girl. She had more than a few choice words for her. A lightning bolt to the brain, perhaps. Shaking her head, Lynn focused on Shal. Her daughter was what mattered at the moment.

Leading her off into one of the small study rooms, Lynn used her wand to set up a few privacy wards. Her air magic would arrest all vibrations in the air, thereby stopping sound from escaping.

Once done, she turned back to face her daughter. Offering her a small smile was all it took.

Two arms wrapped around her waist as Shalise pulled her into a hug. Pressed against her chest, Shal mumbled something that sounded like, “I’m glad you’re okay. I heard about the riot–”

Lynn ran her fingers through her daughter’s wavy hair. “I’m glad you are okay.”

Shalise looked up, confusion written on her face. “Why wouldn’t I be? The riots weren’t anywhere near the dorm.”

“I know,” Lynn said. “I just needed to check on you with my own eyes. I had a… scary night.”

That was an understatement. The idea that she needed rescuing from Eva had her gritting her teeth once again. Lynn shut her eyes as she took a deep, calming breath.

Lynn patted Shal on her back and gave her a light smile. “I thought about going back for you right after the riot, making sure you were alright and letting you know that I was alright, but I worried that might put you in more danger. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

An almost imperceptible nod came from her daughter before she looked up with her wide, brown eyes. “Eva and Juliana weren’t in our dorm for most of last night.”

A simple statement. One full of implications.

Her mind raced in wonder at how exactly to respond. One thing was certain, Lynn was not about tell her that Eva saved her life.

Eventually, Lynn decided.

“Eva has her hands in some very dangerous things. Things that are going to get her killed one day.” Lynn knelt down to get more on the eye level with her short daughter. “I want you to promise me that you will never get involved in all her mess. I want you to promise me that if things look even remotely dangerous, that you will get away and that you will come find me.”

“Alright,” Shalise nodded. “I can do that.”

“As for this school,” Lynn smiled, “there are other schools, though they will be significantly less free to attend. I’m sure I can arrange something if you want to transfer.”

Shalise shook her head. “Professor Baxter is a good teacher. She’s been privately tutoring me for a while now. I don’t know how other schools would be, but she says lightning is an end of third year spell. With her help I might be able to manage it by the end of next year, if not sooner.”

Lynn blinked at that. She hadn’t managed a proper┬áthaumaturgical lightning bolt until half way through her fifth year. Pride welled up at her daughter. Shal would end up a far better thaumaturge than Lynn ever was.

Still, that didn’t release the school or its inhabitants from her worries. “If anything happens like the incident on Halloween, I will be pulling you out of this school.”

A shiver ran through her daughter. “That’s fair,” Shalise said with a nod. “I can’t say I enjoyed Halloween. Maybe this next year will be better.”

“I hope so too.” Lynn stood back up and rested her hand on her daughter’s head. “I have a mission in Central Africa for the Elysium Order. I’ll be leaving in just a few days. When I arrive, I’ll send some way for you to keep in contact with me. I want reports on everything that is going on in and out of school at least once a month.”

“Reports?” Shalise frowned. “How about friendly letters that sometimes mention bigger news?”

“I just want to know that you are safe, Shal.”

“I’ll be fine,” Shalise said. “I should go. Today is a review day before finals tomorrow.”

Lynn opened her mouth to protest. She had more she wanted to say. More she wanted to know.

In the end, Lynn simply smiled, patted Shal on her back, and said, “good luck.”

— — —

Finals started on April sixth. An event Irene did not feel ready for in the slightest.

Normal schools had classes that stretched into June. Not so with Brakket. Nonmagical schooling would take over for the remainder of April and the first week of May. After which there would be roughly a month of vacation before the summer seminars started up.

Several other students had entered the examination room. Juliana included. None of them commented on their score and none of them mentioned what the actual exam consisted of.

Some students went in with frowns and returned with smiles. Some did the opposite.

For a brief moment, Irene felt a vindictive smile cross her lips. Drew was one of those who came out with a frown. Petty, but Irene didn’t care. It was a brief island of happiness before she returned to her worries.

Juliana was the only one who looked bored going in and bored coming out.

If that girl got anything less than a perfect on any part of the test, Irene would eat her wand. She tried not to be jealous. She really did. Watching the metal she wore constantly flow over her skin before forming up in intricate patterns made Irene want to scream.

Why couldn’t her parents have given her a head start. They were mages. Surely they could have taught something. Neither Irene nor her sister had their wands before arriving at Brakket. Jordan had his wand. Unfortunately, he focused on things Brakket would never teach. He said he could simply learn thaumaturgy from Brakket Academy and his time was better spent elsewhere.

Irene wished he hadn’t. If only for the sole reason of being able to teach Irene proper thaumaturgy.

A call of her name snapped Irene out of her thoughts. She immediately chastised herself for letting her thoughts wander. The time waiting could have been better used thinking of earth magic thought patterns.

With shaky hands, Irene opened the door to the Earth exam room.

Sitting on a stool over a patch of empty earth was Yuria. A clipboard was in one hand and a pen spun between her fingers in the other.

She was a water mage, but that didn’t affect her observational skills and she could still manipulate earth. Professor Calvin delivered exams to the fire and air mages. Not that Irene minded. In truth, she was happy to have the perpetually cheerful teacher deliver her exam.

“Irene,” she said with a bright and friendly smile, “come in. Come in.”

She took a deep breath and stepped into the room. Her fear dampened through willpower alone as she crossed the room to the small earthen circle.

“Now don’t be nervous,” Yuria said. “You do excellent in class and I have high expectations for your exam now.”

Hearing the word ‘expectations’ did not help at all. Irene meekly nodded.

“If you would be so kind, Irene, I’d like you to try making a hole, a depression in the ground. You’ll get extra points if you make it square. More than three feet deep is not necessary.”

Irene nodded again. She withdrew her wand and pointed it at the ground.

She concentrated. The dirt was loose from prior examinees. That would make it easier to work with. Earth didn’t like to be moved. It liked to sit and be steady. With the proper thought patterns, she could incentivize the earth to move.

After all, the dirt would be even more sturdy when compressed.

Slowly, the dirt patch pressed inwards and to the sides. Once underway, more dirt followed far more easily. Like a landslide. The hole became deeper and larger. The corners formed with a flick of her wand. It wasn’t a perfect square. Irene thought it was pretty close.

“Marvelous, simply wonderful,” Yuria said with a huge smile. “Thirty-seven seconds and using compression.” She looked at Irene over the rims of her glasses. “Some students,” she said with a small hint of disapproval, “dig the dirt out of the hole as if they’re using a shovel.”

Irene just nodded once again, ignoring the praise. She could be happy after her exams finished.

“But this was excellent.” She scratched down some notes on her clipboard. “Next, reverse what you just did.”

With a deep breath, Irene started working. Decompressing the dirt would be more difficult. It was stable and sturdy, especially at the bottom where most of the dirt had compressed.

Still, with some concentration and the proper thoughts, Irene enticed the earth back to a mostly flat surface.

Yuria moved off her stool and stepped down on the center of the dirt pile. Irene noticed she had swapped her usual high heels for some hiking boots. Hiking boots that were covered in dirt.

“Excellent,” Yuria said. “Only sank about half an inch. You did a fabulous job solidifying the dirt. I’m very proud of you.”

“Thanks,” Irene said.

“Now,” Yuria said as she retook her seat, “a pillar. I’d like it to be hard, no crumbling away at a touch. It should also rise up no higher than three feet.”

With yet another nod, Irene set to work.

After several more tasks, including breaking down earth into pure earth essence, the testing concluded. Irene left the room with a smile on her face. While she didn’t know her exact score, she felt good about it. All of the tasks were completed swiftly and were met with high praise from Yuria.

Sure, Juliana might have scored higher than her in every aspect, including the bonus points for ferrokinesis which Irene hadn’t been able to work at all, but that girl was no better than a cheater. Her mother might as well have home schooled her for all the grades, or at least gotten her to skip straight to third year.

At least the scores were not graded on a curve.

— — —

Zoe Baxter had a certain amount of pride in her first year students. All three of them passed every exam. Eva may have skimmed by in her pyrokinesis practical, but she still got a passing grade.

More important than their grades were their actions. Zoe still could not approve of their instigated riot. She desperately hoped that they might confide in her any future plans of that level.

Eva intervening to save the life of her friend’s mother despite the very unsubtle hostility between the two just made Zoe all the more confident that she had chosen correctly when she invited the girl to Brakket Academy.

That Eva’s actions somewhat vindicated both of them in Wayne’s eyes hadn’t hurt her mood.

Zoe frowned as she thought back to that night. She had let Rex–no. She had let Zagan into her home. Had met up with him at Tom’s bar once or twice. All-the-while he had been a wolf in a sheep disguise.

To think he had the nerve to waltz up to her the next day and casually ask how she was doing. And Martina Turner planned to put him in a classroom? With children?

Zoe was at a loss for what to do. She couldn’t fight someone like that. Resigning in protest had crossed her mind. The idea vanished as soon as she realized that it would change nothing. Zagan would still be in a classroom, but she wouldn’t be around.

In the end, sticking with the school while making her displeasure known to Martina was all she could do.

In less than a week, Zoe would have to go out searching for candidates once again. Whispers of one potential had reached her ears. That was one more than all the years before Eva’s year. She’d need to find at least a second for a roommate, if the first potential turned out well enough.

Not a prospect Zoe was looking forward to, not just because of the idea of placing additional children under Zagan’s influence. However, the year under Eva’s would be involved in raising Brakket’s accreditation. If successful, maybe they would be able to hire a proper instructor in his place. It might be good to go the extra mile and find a full three students.

She wasn’t sure she’d find students as talented as Juliana or with the unique talents of Eva. Even Shalise had thrown herself into her studies. The brown-haired girl had been working double time on exercising her magical abilities.

Because of the pride she felt in her students, Zoe had a very conflicted feeling in her chest as she looked over the door to room three-thirteen.

With another sigh, Zoe shook her head. “What is this?”

“Homework,” Shalise said with a smile.

The brunette had been upset shortly after the incident with the riot. She bounced back the day before finals started and had been smiling ever since. A sighting of Sister Cross on campus was the likely culprit.

Zoe was originally worried, but Shalise did not seem to be faking or repressing anything. She was simply her happy self.

So, Zoe tried to keep a smile on her face as she spoke to the girl. “I don’t remember any of my colleagues mentioning anything about carving runes into the wood of the dormitory doors.”

Eva sat up from her bed. A small snake wrapped itself between her fingers and turned to stare straight at Zoe.

She could almost feel the beady eyes trying to turn her to stone. It gave Zoe a small start until she realized what it was. One of Genoa’s little toys.

“Maybe if Brakket wasn’t such a backwards school,” Eva said, “they’d actually have a proper rune class. Juliana thinks I should start up my own seminar over the summer and charge students for teaching them runes. I said it was too much work.”

“You’re already teaching Shal,” Juliana said. “What difference does it make if you add two or fifty students. Charge each student twenty dollars per lesson and hold class once a week. I’ll take twenty percent for the idea. Another twenty percent if I go locate willing pupils for you.”

“I think I’ve been tricked with our privacy packets. You seem to collect a good chunk of money for doing nothing but delivering the packets to our buyers.”

“Those were the terms we agreed on when we started. I don’t think I’m up for renegotiating.”

“This,” Zoe cut in, “is all well and good, but can we return to talking about the door? Specifically the carvings in it.”

Shalise stepped up and ran a finger over the markings. “These should let out a high-pitched noise for a few seconds if the door is broken. There are similar runes on the windows.”

“It’s a start,” Eva said, “as I keep teaching Shalise runes, she might add more features. An alarm is functional, but something that attacks attackers back would be better.”

“But,” Zoe sighed, “why?”

Eva just looked at her like the answer was obvious. And it was, but Zoe still wanted to hear it from the girl’s mouth.

Shalise was, to Zoe’s surprise, the one to speak up first. “We were forced out of our room twice in this very year, though I missed the first incident. Both times were because of the room being assaulted. First Juliana, then Eva. Next time is my turn and I’m not nearly as confident as these two.”

“You said it yourself,” Juliana said, “something went wrong with whatever wards you have set up to alert you of danger. Maybe Shalise’s alarm will alert someone.”

“Not to mention,” Eva said, “Wayne Lurcher’s response time when Sis–” Eva cut herself off with a glance to Shalise. The brunette did make any outward change of emotion. “When I was attacked; his response time left much to be desired.”

Zoe sighed. She rubbed a finger on the center of her forehead. “I understand that. It’s just… these doors are solid wood. Heavy wood. They’re not cheap. And the glass too?”

“Yeah, they’re actually pretty good materials to use. I’ll be charging the runes with Arachne’s blood. They’ll last a lot longer before degrading than if we were to charge the runic array with magic directly.”

Arachne would be a capable defender, hopefully, in the incredibly unlikely event that dorm three-thirteen was indeed attacked again. Then again, she was a demon. Zoe wasn’t even sure that was something to get hung up about anymore. Arachne had proven herself to be, at the very least, not hostile towards the students and staff. Zoe doubted she would care half as much if Arachne were an elf or some other magical creature.

“Just,” Zoe said after a moments thought, “if this starts another riot, I’ll have all three of your hides.”

“Zoe Baxter,” Eva said, “was that a joke?”

“No.”

“I think that was a joke. It was, right?”

“Why my hide?” Juliana huffed. “I’ve got nothing to do with this.”

“You’re complicit by association,” Zoe said.

That got another huff of complaint, though Eva started laughing.

“I do want to know everything you add to this. I want to know when your defenses activate, why, and what they do. This cannot be a danger to innocents who may inadvertently wander into your room for whatever reason.”

“I’ve thought about that, and we will let you know.” Eva nodded. Her voice carried a more serious tone. “For a while, I considered setting up the full array of blood wards that I’ve got running at the prison. You know,” she smiled, “the ones that explode people who get too close.”

Zoe blinked and shook her head. “I’m glad you didn’t.”

“It would have been too much of a pain to key everyone in. Not to mention too revealing that I’ve got and use bloodstones if anyone makes the connection. I’m sure there is some suspicion going around due to the state of the room after I was attacked, but I’d like to keep it at suspicion level and not move to confirmation.”

“Understandable.” Zoe shook her head again. “Seeing as you’ve already damaged the door–”

“Improved,” Eva said.

“I will allow you to continue modifying.” Zoe looked over to Shalise and met the girl’s eyes. “So long as you write essays on why runes work, list out every rune you use and their uses, and stick to what I said earlier about the safety of your defenses.”

“Great. More homework.”

— — —

“School? What would I ever do at a school?”

“Learn something, I should hope,” her father said with a small smile.

“Daddy…” She stood up from their dinner table and ran to the other side. She gave her father a light peck on the cheek. “I’d much rather stay at home and play.”

He ruffled her blond hair. “Oh don’t you worry. There are a few months before you have to be at school. Even while you’re there, I’ll be around. We can have fun on weekends and after school.”

Des sighed. Her father seemed set on it. Once he got an idea in his head, he never let it go.

School had been a thing in their family once. It didn’t turn out well.

Des slunk back to her seat. She picked up her cheeseburger and took a chunk out of it.

“Now now, honey, no sulking.”

“I’m not, daddy. I’ll go.”

He smiled. “Good.” His own burger was already gone.

Her mind whirred as she tried to come up with excuses to get out of going. Nothing would work, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try.

“What if it is like before? I don’t want to be freaky Desi again.”

“That was a regular school,” he sighed, “and a mistake. Don’t worry. This is a school for mages.”

“And they won’t think I’m weird?”

Her father chuckled. “Honey, everyone is a little weird. But in this case, I think they will be happy to have you.”

“They better,” Des said. She started towards her burger but stopped as a thought occurred to her. “It is a mage school? Can I even do magic?”

“Well, no,” he said. If she couldn’t do magic, she didn’t have to go to mage school. He waited just long enough for Des to start feeling happy. “But,” he said just to dash her hopes, “I’ve been working on a little something these past few months. It will be ready to install in the morning.”

She crossed her arms and gave her father a glare. Des hated the word ‘install’ especially when it came out of her father’s mouth. It never preceded anything but pain.

“Ah-ah. I said no sulking.” He ticked his finger back and forth. “If you’re a good girl, maybe we’ll see if Hugo wants to go with you. Now finish your food and maybe we’ll have time for a story before bed.”

Des lunged for her burger. She chomped the last half of it down in two bites.

“Remember to chew,” her father chided with a smile.

Des did. She always remembered. She shook her head. Silly father, she thought as she swallowed. “Story time now!”

>>AN.002<<

<– Back | Index | Next –>


002.020

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Things were going to Hell in a handbasket.

Lynn Cross only wished the situation wasn’t so literal.

Something went very wrong somewhere along the line. Royalty from Hell itself targeting the Elysium Order. Not just any part of the order, but Charon Chapter. The idea would have made Lynn laugh under other circumstances.

Under less dire circumstances.

Now the whole town had shown up to burn the order out-of-town like some sort of puritan witch hunt.

Fools. The lot of them. The town was infested with demons and necromancers. The town her daughter called home, for now.

My daughter, Lynn sighed as she glanced out the window. Her daughter’s friends were standing out there, watching like vultures. At least they hadn’t involved Shalise in their treachery. That was something she could thank Eva for.

Right before boiling her brain with lightning.

Eva assured Lynn that she had nothing to do with the demon attacking her chapter.

There was a slim possibility that she was telling the truth. The demon attacking her sisters stood on a roof on the opposite side of the street from Eva. They may have both simply shown up to watch the fireworks independently of each other.

That thought nearly made Lynn burst out laughing. She should have killed the stupid girl when she had the chance. Summoning a member of Hell’s royalty; how stupid could she get.

“Sister Goose,” Lynn barked out as she turned from the window. One of the white-robed nuns turned to her with a slight decline of her head. “Gather up Sisters Horner, Piper, and Botter. We need to evacuate the injured at the very least.” Lynn turned, glancing out the window once more. “I don’t like this and our injured sisters will only hinder what is to come.”

“Of course, Prioress. To one of our other safe houses, then?”

“No,” Lynn said with a shake of her head. “No. Take them to headquarters. Staying in the town will only see the current situation repeat itself. Ready transport and get them out of here.”

“It will be done, Prioress.” Sister Goose gave another bow before heading off towards the section of the warehouse petitioned off for medical use.

That they needed a medical center was odd. Before a few weeks ago, there were deaths any time that thrice damned bull showed up. The deaths ceased and injuries became far more common. They were gruesome and debilitating, but the attacked sisters were alive.

All except Sister Hubbard. In the midst of all the injuries, Sister Hubbard was the lone death. She likely wouldn’t have died if her holy fire never touched that student.

If Lynn tried to pinpoint the moment her fate was sealed, that would have been it. Never before had she seen so much anger and hate directed towards her by everyone. Brakket as a whole turned against Charon Chapter after that regrettable incident.

She had thought to win back support with the capture or death of Sawyer, but her augur vanished without a trace weeks before. Not even the augurs at headquarters had managed to locate her. She hadn’t received authorization to elevate another nun to the position.

Before that incident, Lynn had thought to win support with the capture or death of the wild bull. After that notice posted of it protecting students, that option was forever denied.

The noose was slowly tightening around Charon Chapter.

Headquarters was already upset at the lack of progress towards destroying the necromancers. They believed that the necromancers had fled. Wasting time and personnel on maintaining a presence wasn’t seen as a valuable operation. It didn’t help that Lynn had had to acquire special permission to move Charon to Brakket in the first place.

She had thought about releasing the information that it was a demon. She thought about it when it first appeared and again after that hateful notice. Lynn worried about panicking the population of Brakket. Few things were more dangerous than widespread panic.

A city of rioters might be one of those more dangerous things.

Lynn grit her teeth and strode out the warehouse door with her head held high. Cool night air assaulted the bare skin she bore on her face. The last night of March wound up far colder than the few days before.

The effect of her presence on the crowd was near instantaneous. Unnaturally so. The attacks against the shield stopped and the crowd quieted to a loud murmur. An improvement over the angry shouts by far.

Still unnatural.

Lynn allowed her gaze to flick up at the demons and the students. There were two professors from Brakket alongside the students. Lynn wasn’t sure what their presence signified. Possibly the school itself was actively against her.

That would be no surprise, Lynn thought with a barely suppressed scoff.

Turning back to the gathered crowd, Lynn scanned the faces. Anger seethed on most of them. Hate on others. Fear on a few.

So far gone were the hopeful and cheerful faces that greeted the nuns after Halloween.

Lynn sighed, but steeled herself against despair. She brought out her focus. A simple wand small enough to fit in a pocket. With a wave, magic flowed into her throat. She wasn’t much of an air mage, but even Lynn could amplify her own voice.

“People of Brakket,” her amplified voice said, “cease this foolishness. We are not your enemy.”

The murmur of the crowd threatened to rise back to full-blown shouts. Lynn cut it off.

“Necromancers attacked your fair dwelling mere months ago, have you forgotten? The horror and pain that accosted your city that night? You welcomed us with open arms and smiles on your faces. While the threat has been defused, one of the necromancers runs free still.”

Lynn watched their faces, those towards the front at least. Some flickered through emotions, others stayed the same. They all ended up with rage in their eyes. Lynn’s eyes once again twitched up to the two buildings containing demons.

“A greater threat lurks your streets. Demons stalk your town, invade your school, and wreak havoc.”

A shout rose up from the middle of the crowd. “Demons you brought here!” Several among the crowd cheered at that. Their cheers turned to jeers aimed at the Elysium Sisters. Aimed at Lynn. “Only you’ve been attacked,” another shouted. “Only you have attacked our students,” another cry came. “That bull protected my son.”

Lynn cut off any further shouts. “Would you have them run free? We are all that stands between you and the darkness encroaching on your town.”

More jeers and angry shouts followed her statement. Lynn tuned them out. One of the demons, a man, just jumped off the roof he stood on. It was only two stories high. Plenty high for a human to get injured, but cakewalk for a demon.

Lynn connected herself to the source. The familiar feeling of dampened emotions and heightened clarity enveloped her. She scanned the crowd, searching for the demon among them.

Before she could lay eyes on the demon, she realized her mistake. Lynn swore at herself just as the first cry rang out.

“Her eyes are glowing. She’s going to attack us,” someone screeched.

That was all it took. The rioters panicked. Some started their own attacks, mostly the fire mages in the crowd. Most, however, simply ran. Seeing their comrades flee, those few brave enough to strike at the Elysium Sister’s shields turned and ran.

Within minutes, the streets were clear. Lynn felt that tingle of unnaturalness in their movement. She had no time to dwell her thoughts on the matter.

Standing in the center of the street was the great winged bull. The fleeing people moved around it without reacting–not seeing or not caring that it was there.

The source fed her all the information she cared to know about the creature.

A devil class monster stood in front of her. Asmodeus of lust was its primary heritage. Secondary was Mammon of greed. It had traces of all the others according to the source. As expected of one of the kings of Hell.

The source had run through every possibility over their previous encounters. Good nuns died teaching the source about the capabilities of that creature.

Lynn doubted it had shown everything it was capable of.

Attempting to banish it would be impossible. It would kill her before she got a third of the way into the chant. Fighting would be impossible. It would kill her before she caused even minor damage. The most she could hope for was to hold it at bay for a few minutes. Fleeing would be impossible. Lynn would die the moment she turned her back on it.

Truly a loathsome beast.

“Designation: Zagan,” Lynn said through grit teeth. Its solid black eyes bored into her. If she was to die here… Lynn’s eyes flicked up to her daughter’s friends. No worry nor concern would be found there.

“Sister Cole,” Lynn shouted over her shoulder. “Evacuate everyone. I will buy time.”

“Sister Cross,” one of the nuns started. They were all seeing the same information from the source–they were all being told to do nothing but despair.

Lynn interrupted whatever she was about to say.

“No arguing. Sisters Peep, Griggs, Lamb. You three are to retreat and evacuate the moment your shield fails.”

“It has been an honor serving with you, Prioress.”

“I am not planning on dying just yet,” Lynn said. “But I can’t leave until you’re all gone. So get a move on it and launch a flare when you’re on your way.”

Hurried footsteps sounded behind her as the winged bull took a step forward. How kind of it to allow me to finish ordering my sisters, Lynn thought with a sardonic frown.

Every step it took left a small pillar of green fire. The rotten egg stench of brimstone filled the air as it neared. A snort of flames erupted from its nostrils, further tainting the air with brimstone.

Her three sisters stood behind her with bated breath. They kept the shield running full without falter as the devil approached. Their nervousness radiated off of them in waves.

Lynn waited.

The longer the bull took to approach, the longer Sister Cole would have to relay her orders, and the shorter Lynn would have to fight the bull.

If she didn’t think it would immediately cease all its posturing, Lynn might have tried banishing it. The source informed her that it would remove the shield near instantly if she tried.

It stopped just in front of the shield wall. It stopped and stared.

Lynn stared back. Her anger leaked away into the sea of the source. A calm settled around her. No rash actions, she promised herself with a deep breath.

The bull threw back its head. Fire and smoke vented from its nostrils as it bleated. The sheer noise caused small cracks to appear on the shield.

One crumpled horn struck the shield. Cracks grew and fractures formed. One of the nuns behind Lynn crumpled to her knees.

Shards of magic flew out from the shield as the bull rammed into it. They dispersed into motes of magic the moment they were far enough away from the main wall. The holes in the shield slowly tried to reform. The nuns behind Lynn strained themselves and the source trying to close the gaps.

It wouldn’t hold. One more good strike would see the shield shattered. Lynn could add her own willpower to keeping the shield up, but that would only add two more strikes worth of stability according to the source.

She’d need that energy in a moment.

There was a brief pause before that moment came. The bull spewed out another stream of fire from its nostrils. The streets were washed in sickly green light as the flames overpowered the few streetlights. As the light dimmed, the bull pierced the shield with its straight horn.

The shield shattered. Shards broke away, dispersing into motes.

“Get out of here,” Lynn said with far more calm than she should have felt. She turned her head slightly but kept her eyes on the demon in front of her. “You’ve done all you can, my sisters.”

Ignoring the few words said to back her, Lynn turned her full attention back to the bull. Despite the source’s warnings, she attacked first.

White fire burst from her fingertips. A stream of flames spread through the air. The street brightened to near daylight levels as the bull was engulfed by holy fire.

All but the strongest vampires would be rendered nothing more than ash within seconds of coming into contact with the Elysium Order’s flames. The strongest might hold on for a minute. A human would be scorched and burned as if they touched regular fire.

The bull–the devil in front of her screeched. It reared back onto its hind legs and flapped its wings, shaking the white fire off. It wasn’t entirely successful. Flames spread out along the ground, but the beast remained entirely contained within the deluge of ever-growing fire.

And it was all for show.

Nothing more than superficial damage, according to the source. Its skin reddened, bubbled, and boiled. Screeches that it let loose rattled Lynn’s eardrums as it landed on all fours.

At the very least, Lynn hoped its pain was real.

The demon scratched its front hooves on the ground. A trail of green flames burst forth from the asphalt. Green tainted the pure, white light of Lynn’s fire.

It charged.

Lynn started to jump out of the way.

Realization from the source stopped her.

If she moved, nothing would stop the bull. It would continue straight through the warehouse doors. A massacre against her unprepared subordinates.

Lynn steeled herself. Plans raced through her mind as she considered her option.

The source helped her decide. Trickles of simulated plans passed by her mind until, together, they selected one with a high probability of a positive outcome.

Every drop of her concentration went into strengthening her shield. It normally reacted to threats automatically, thanks to the source’s backseat casting. Here, she’d need every scrap of magic she had going into her shield.

The bull hammered into her.

Lynn stumbled backwards as her shield shattered.

Shards of her shield exploded inwards. More than a few tore into her. Her habit and, in some places, her skin underneath received small cuts. A few buried themselves into her chest. Luckily none burrowed in too deep before they vanished into motes.

One shard slid across her cheek, just beneath her right eye.

Had her head been tilted just slightly, she would have lost the eye completely.

Lynn did not dwell on the thought. She did not have time to dwell.

Reaching forwards, Lynn gripped the bull’s horns with her gloved hands. She concentrated for a split second.

The street, the warehouse, the buildings, everything fell away. The pure white of the sea of the source replaced everything except herself and Zagan.

Reality reasserted itself a second later. She and the bull reappeared out in the center of the street, far from the warehouse headquarters. It would stay that way if Lynn had anything to say about it.

The bull snorted out another spew of green flames. The front of her habit caught fire.

Lynn released the bull and staggered backwards. She replaced the green fire with her own white flames before extinguishing the spell.

It wasn’t fast enough. The entire front of her habit had burned away. Her skin started to blister and crack. Lynn shunted the pain off to the source and cursed her momentary distraction.

Distractions could kill.

As she looked back at the bull, the vague sense of fright from an attack while distracted vanished and was replaced by confusion.

The bull had collapsed on the ground. It lay on its side, shaking and convulsing. Snorts of green flame spewed from its nostrils.

Lynn felt the source analyzing everything. It ran through possibilities, trying to discern what happened. Hopefully, it would draw conclusions that would keep Lynn alive.

It had something to do with teleporting. The bull reacted poorly to the sea of the source, or perhaps Lynn’s own problem with the teleport. She had been distracted, upset, and in pain when she initiated the teleport.

And she had almost failed. Her concentration had wavered as the world fell apart. She was nearly stuck, trapped forever between realities with only Zagan for company.

The horror of the thought gave Lynn a small shudder.

Lynn pushed the thoughts aside. The source would work it out. Now, her opponent was down, though she doubted it would stay there.

Not that she wouldn’t try to keep it down.

Lynn gathered magic in her core. As much as she could. Electricity crackled at the tips of her fingers.

The Elysium Order’s lightning disrupted magic. Skeletons would fall apart just being grazed by it. The lightning would keep them from reforming. Its disruption lasted long enough to allow any lingering magic to dissipate.

With hope that the disruption effect would keep the demon from recovering or healing, Lynn attacked.

Lightning thundered from her fingertips.

It crashed into the bull’s side with all the force of a wrecking ball. The bull slid halfway up the street before skidding to a stop.

Lynn wasn’t about to give it time to rest. Bolt after bolt coursed over its body. None were as powerful as the first, but the speed made up for it.

She did not stop until the bull was crackling with white lightning on its own. Arcs of electricity ran up and down its body even without her casting.

The source was telling her to run. To teleport while she had the chance.

Lynn stayed where she was. There was no chance the Charon Chapter nuns had managed to get away with all the important artifacts in the short amount of time she had been outside. She would stay until the flare went up.

Wiping the sweat and blood from her face with her sleeve, Lynn took just a few seconds to catch her breath. She hadn’t thrown around that much magic since her days at the abbey. The Eye of God embedded in her chest needed a moment to recover from her magic expenditure as much as she did.

As she rested, the bull let out several, irregular snorts. Green flames accompanied each one.

Lightning lanced towards the bull.

It struck and struck.

The demon did not seem to care. It picked itself up to its feet with only small shudders as each bolt hit. Snort after snort of green fire accompanied its rise.

And it clicked in Lynn’s head. She took half a step backwards.

It was laughing.

It laughed at her. At the damage she was, or was not, doing.

It laughed and laughed.

And it continued to its hind legs.

Lynn watched as the body of the bull folded in on itself. The great wings unfurled to their full wingspan. Parts of them were still lit with holy fire. They shrank in as a more humanoid torso was molded from the meat of the bull.

The final part to change was his head. It pressed in on itself until a brown-haired, human head with sharp features emerged from the molten flesh.

A half-man, half-beast stood in front of Lynn. The legs hadn’t changed much and he retained his wings and horns, though they shrank to more proportional sizes. His bare chest held no injuries from flame or lightning.

He stood, brazen in a lax stance, in front of Lynn.

With a glare and a grin, Zagan raised his head. Golden eyes glinted against the flames and streetlights.

“You can’t win, nun,” he said with a silver voice. “You know this. Your powers are ineffectual against me.”

Lynn remained silent. She didn’t need to win. She needed to delay.

“I find myself fond you. You’re putting up a fiendish fight in the face of futility.” He took a few steps forward, still leaving columns of green flame where he touched the asphalt. “I like you, so I will make this offer once. Kneel before me. Kiss my hooves and beg to become my slave.”

The source screamed at Lynn to run. To escape.

There were still no flares in the sky.

Lynn said the only thing she could.

“No.”

“Pity,” he said, “I think you’d enjoy it. Or learn to enjoy it, at the very least.” His eyes glinted once again against the background lights. “I think I shall have to teach you anyway,” his voice dropped low, barely loud enough for Lynn to hear, “teaching you will be good practice for the future.”

Lynn blinked, but did not have time to process what he said.

Zagan launched himself forwards. His wings beat and he lifted off the ground. Long streaks of fire rose from the ground as his feet skimmed over the surface of the street.

During his conversation with himself, Lynn had not been idle. Every second he talked was a second of preparing lightning. It wasn’t as powerful as the first blow that had knocked his bull form across the street.

It was a close second.

Lynn released the lightning, straight at him.

Just before crashing into him, the lightning swerved. It passed just between his body and his wing. A building in the distance behind him received the bolt instead.

Her eyes went wide. Some kind of a shield, Lynn thought. The source was already denying that opinion.

It took a moment for her brain to reboot. He didn’t slow in the slightest.

She dived out of the way at the last second. Lynn rolled along the ground, away from the trail of green fire. The hard ground opened up more skin as her exposed stomach scraped against the asphalt. Her habit further descended into tatters.

“What is the difference,” a silver voice said from just behind her, “between ‘lightning hitting me’ and ‘lightning not hitting me’ hmm?”

Lynn turned and fired another bolt. Like the first, it curved and struck the second story of a building.

“I’ll tell you,” he said with a grin.

From this distance, Lynn could see his incisors were far longer than normal. They brought up memories of vampires.

Without waiting for him to continue, Lynn fired jets of her holy flame. White fire rose up and spread over his body.

No screams echoed through the night air. No writhing or turning to ash.

The source insisted that her fire wouldn’t work. The flames ceased coming from her hands and Lynn saw that the source spoke the truth. Just once, she wouldn’t mind it being wrong.

Zagan stood just a few steps away. Not a lick of flame touched him. It spread over and around him, burning on the streets and buildings.

He stood, brushing a finger against his long goatee.

That infernal grin flashed on his face again. “Are you quite finished? I’ll tell you the answer. It is the word ‘not.’ That answer also works for ‘burned’ versus ‘not burned’ in case you were wondering.” He looked off to one side, smiling more at himself than anything. “I think I’m a natural at this teaching thing.”

A white flare rose high in the sky behind Zagan just as he finished speaking. The sign from her sisters.

Immediately, Lynn attempted to teleport. She felt the magic build up for the few seconds it took and then…

nothing.

It all vanished. Unsuppressed fear gripped her as the connection to the source vanished.

“Nope, sorry.” He held up a long nailed finger and shook it as if admonishing a child. “‘Not’ going to escape now, are you?”

The nails on his fingers dug into her throat as he lifted her into the air.

No lightning, no fire, no connection, no source. Lynn reached for her wand. She could cast, though far less effectively. It would be sufficient for teleporting out.

Zagan gripped her arm and squeezed. “No escaping,” he said. “You still have much to learn.”

Lynn clamped her mouth shut. He would not get the satisfaction of her shouting out in pain. She glared, staring into his golden eyes with all the fury she could muster.

“That is a good look on you,” he said. “Gets me tingly in all the right places.” He leaned forward. A long and flat tongue slipped out of his mouth. It ran from her chin to her forehead, passing over the cut on her cheek.

A trail of slime was left in its wake. It tingled against her face but burned in her cut.

Lynn paid it no heed. She tried to continue her glare with one eye shut.

A white flash at his shoulder on the arm he held her with distracted both of them.

Lynn pinched her other eye shut to preserve as much vision as she could. She fell to the ground a second after.

When she reopened her eyes, Zagan had taken a step back, though his arm was still gripping her throat. Lynn tore the detached arm and flung it to the ground. She scrambled backwards at the same time, placing distance between herself and Zagan.

A black ring formed around the devil king’s throat. It spun around, picking up speed with every second.

Zagan did not look concerned. “Really?” he said, “I’ve survived decapitation before.”

That seemed to be the wrong thing to say. The ring split in two and formed rings that crisscrossed around his head. Spheres flew in from behind him and formed more rings to trap his head in a sort of cage.

Lynn felt the connection to the source return. She did not wait around to see what happened. The world broke apart and fell away. Spending only an instant among the pure white sea, Lynn returned to reality a few miles up the road the rest of Charon Chapter was supposed to be traveling on.

The road was just outside the city, just before the woods the road passed through. She quickly ran through an inspection of herself, before allowing the source to help her heal.

Cuts, scrapes, second or third degree burns on her chest, and a broken arm.

Not bad, she thought to herself. It definitely could be worse. It would have been worse if he hadn’t been toying with her.

Lynn felt the source chastise her for teleporting near her sisters rather than the middle of nowhere. She decided to ignore it for now. If Zagan was planning on pursuing, he’d be able to track the rest of the nuns down with little difficulty after dispatching Lynn.

She slumped against the ground, resting while letting the Psalm level healing course through her body. It wouldn’t fix her broken bone, or her larger cuts, or her burned chest. It was, however, an excellent pain reliever. At least for the minor injuries.

Soft, lush, roadside grass became Lynn’s cushion as she laid back and stared up at the night sky. She watched the stars with wonder. Nothing like a near death experience to make one appreciate all of existence. Not that Lynn ever wished for near death experiences. They just happened, and far too commonly for her tastes.

With a start, Lynn nearly teleported straight back to that street. Shal was still in that city. If that demon decided to go on a rampage when Lynn vanished… Thoughts swirled in her mind. She bit her lip until she bit through it.

Lynn slowly sank back into the grass.

Shal was friends with Eva. Eva had tricks of her own, and was probably in cahoots with Zagan. There were two academy staff standing with them. Those two, at the very least, wouldn’t allow the students to be harmed. One of them had thrown himself at her to protect a student.

On the other hand, Lynn returning could endanger her daughter if another fight started up.

She’d wait. It went against every instinct she had. Lynn would wait anyway.

And if anyone harmed Shal, she’d raze Hell herself using whatever means she could get her hands on.

Headlights in the distance broke Lynn out of her thoughts. She stood up and waved the truck down with a palm full of white fire. Of course, Lynn used her good arm to do so.

The eighteen-wheeler truck that carried artifacts and equipment slowed to a stop. Other, more habitable vehicles behind it followed its example.

Lynn walked up to the artifact truck and hopped into the vacant passenger seat.

“Sister Cross,” Sister Cole said with no small amount of surprise in her voice. Her eyes drifted up and down Lynn’s sorry state. “I didn’t–I mean, are you well?”

Lynn snorted. The snort turned into a full bout of laughter. What a stupid question. “Well enough,” she said. “Get us home.”

“Yes, Prioress,” Sister Cole said. “Of course. Right away.”

Lynn leaned back into the seat as the convoy started up moving again. It took mere moments before she felt sleep take her.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


002.019

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Get out of our town!”

“…more damage than…”

“…cost us our livelihoods.”

Martina Turner stalked through the gathered crowd with a grin on her face. Of course, it was well hidden in the shadows of her hood. Plenty others in the crowd had hoods. She wouldn’t be singled out because of it.

Her entire attire changed simply to avoid being recognized. It was amazing how wearing a distinctive costume every day made people’s gazes shift right over her when she changed to more normal clothing. Of course, a cowl and cloak generally wasn’t considered normal, but in a crowd of similarly dressed rioters, it worked.

Rioters gathered around the old warehouse. A decrepit building that was among the earliest abandoned had been made into the Elysium Order’s local headquarters. Thanks to their inhabitance, the building had been cleaned up nicely. One of its walls looked recently repaired.

Four white-robed guards stood outside the building. All four had eyes aglow, but none of them looked ready to attack. So far, the crowd hadn’t given them reason to attack.

Riot was probably too strong of a word. Residents of Brakket gathered around with signs. Protest more accurately described the current situation.

Of course, with a foci, everyone was armed.

Martina felt it was a good time to change the status quo.

Pulling a sheet of paper from her cloak, Martina held it in her hands. She ran a finger down the front. The large wrath rune in the dead center pulsed. Once. Twice. Three times before the faint glow covered the rest of the rune array. The entire paper melted into black sludge that evaporated into the night’s air.

That was it. No other visible changes. No magic signatures left behind to lead back to the source. Not even any evidence of the runic array. The other runes positioned around Brakket would follow this paper’s example before the night was done.

Martina turned and walked out of the crowd.

Voices were raised as she made her way through. Shouts and cries of rage echoed over the soon to be rioters. As Martina reached the back of the group, a fireball struck the brick building.

A well-formed fireball with a good deal of power behind it, if Martina’s eye hadn’t dimmed over the years. She thought for a moment about which resident of the city might have casted such a spell.

More fire, lightning, and even chunks of earth followed. A white blue shield appeared over the half of the building closest to Martina. Each impact caused a brief flash, but not a single fracture formed.

Regular thaumaturgy held no chance against the shields of the Elysium Order.

Martina took the increasing number of attacks as the cue to leave before the sisters decided to react.

She found herself a secluded corner of the crisscrossing streets and channeled magic into her wand. Once full, she tapped it against her forehead.

The angry roar of the rioting crowd was replaced by the serene screams of her own mind.

Shutting her eyes, Martina tuned out everything. Every noise, every smell, and all the feelings creeping across her skin.

Martina found it to be an unpleasant sort of travel, but had long since gotten used to its illusory effects.

She appeared on top of a rug that hid a six pointed summoning circle within her office. Not that she needed the gate. It just lessened some of the more unpleasant side effects.

Flicking her eyes open, Martina walked to and sat at her desk. She kicked her feet up on the desktop before hitting a button on her phone. She waited.

And waited.

Happiness from her plans nearing their end kept her from feeling even the slightest tinge of anger at her insubordinate secretary. Nothing the woman could do would ruin this night for Martina.

Probably.

It wouldn’t do to underestimate the capacity for idiocy amongst her servants.

On the very last ring before the phone switched to voice mail, the line connected. There was no video this time around but Martina could hear the riot progressing in the background. Explosions and the faint crackle of thunder echoed over the speaker.

Yet Catherine did not speak.

Annoying power plays, Martina thought with a grimace. The pissant never spoke first. For a moment, Martina wondered how long her secretary would sit there in silence.

Something to test another time.

Before Martina could speak, a small hissing noise came over the phone’s speaker. It ended abruptly with a loud snap.

“Did you just pop chewing gum in my ear?” Martina asked with a sigh.

“Not gum,” she said just before another pop sounded over the phone.

“Do I want to know?”

“That, Martina, is a question only you can answer.”

Martina grit her teeth together. Thinking about it carefully, Martina decided she did not want to know. Whatever her secretary said would only further grind on her nerves.

After another period of silence, Martina asked, “is Zagan with you?”

“Don’t know,” came the nonchalant reply.

Martina felt her lips form a thin line as they pursed together. “I swear, if either one of you fu–”

“There are a couple of teachers and a few of your students.”

Martina sat up, hoping she did not have to go back out there. There were things that needed doing before dawn. “In the riots? I was told th–”

“No. They’re standing on the roof of a building opposite mine. I watched the students arrive on the back of Arachne. The teachers teleported in.”

“Are the instructors going to interfere? Who are the students?”

Catherine made the popping noise before responding, “don’t know.”

Martina opened her mouth and just sat for a moment. She worried she might crack her own teeth if she kept up the pressure. After a calming sigh, Martina said, “describe them.”

“Well, one looks like a knight in shining armor. Not very well made armor, but it is somewhat shiny. She’s a bit shorter than the–”

“I meant describe their mannerisms. Do they look like they’re going to interfere?”

“One of the students has several large spheres orbiting her.”

Martina frowned at that. Eva mentioned that she might be there to ensure nothing goes wrong. That accounted for Arachne. Yet she dragged her roommate and instructors into it. That was conveniently left out of her plans.

“Arachne has a stupid grin on her face. I can tell it is a stupid grin and not a vicious or mirthful grin because it is the same expression you wear sometimes.”

“Stick to them, Catherine.”

“I’d love to. Sadly, I don’t want to have to go roof hopping. It is too much work.”

Martina cradled an oncoming headache with her hand. This is a good day. Everything will be fine. Ignore her. “Catherine,” she said, “what are the instructors doing?”

“Not looking happy. Talking to the students.”

With a sigh, Martina said, “keep an eye on them. If they look like they’re going to interfere, intercept and keep them occupied. Switch to plan six if Zagan doesn’t show up in fifteen minutes.”

There was a small pause before she responded. “Oh. He’s here. Good thing too, plan six was by far the worst of the plans. It had way too much of me in it.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know where he was,” Martina said through grit teeth.

“That was before you forced me to look around. Apparently he’s been standing to my side this entire time.”

Martina pinched the bridge of her nose. She needed a new secretary. “Just start,” Martina said. “And keep an eye on the students.”

Without waiting for a response, Martina slammed her finger down on the disconnect button.

She concentrated on happy thoughts and possible replacements for her secretary. It took more effort than normal to remind herself that Catherine usually gets the job done. A fact easily forgotten every time she opened her mouth.

No, nothing would go wrong. Catherine would play her part. Zagan would play his. Eva and her cohorts would merely observe. If they did interfere, Catherine would stall or remove them.

Hopefully stall. Eva was already a step in the right direction for the academy. She’d lead her friends right along with her. Losing such an asset would slow everything down.

And I, Martina thought as she pulled the first paper off a stack, will play my part.

— — —

No chance this will turn out well.

Zoe Baxter looked over the edge of the roof onto the streets below. There had to be a good portion of the population gathered. Not that a good portion of the population was saying much when talking about Brakket.

She scanned the crowd.

Some had hoods or cowls on. Some faced away from Zoe. A few even had masks, though no theme was present between them; it was doubtful they were related.

Relief flushed through her as she failed to recognize any students. None of her fellow instructors from the academy seemed present either. Aside from Wayne and the residents of dorm three-thirteen.

A few people looked familiar. Shopkeepers and a handful of the more well-known residents stood amongst the mob. The few that Zoe knew better than others were just regular people. At least one, a recent graduate, Zoe knew would never participate in something like this.

Zoe’s heart sank as she recognized a kindly barman shouting and shaking his fist at the warehouse. There was no trace of Tom’s ever-present charming smile on his face. Unlike those around him, he seemed more indignant than outright enraged.

Something was going on. Zoe’s eyes flicked over to her students on the roof of an adjacent building. Whatever was going on, they had something to do with it.

A grunt to her side tore her attention from the students and the crowd. Zoe glanced at the scowling Wayne.

“Nasty business down there. Knew we got angry letters. Knew the Elysium Order got more. Didn’t know they were this mad.”

Zoe shook her head from side to side. “I don’t think they are.”

“Mind control then,” Wayne growled. “I’ve heard of demons that can do that.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Have you talked to them?” Zoe nodded in the direction of her three students.

“Your girl’s pet demon has been staring at me since I arrived with a nasty smile on her face. I’m not keen on approaching.”

“I don’t think she’d hurt you.”

Wayne let out a soft snort. “Oh? You can guarantee the actions of a demon now, can you?”

Zoe shifted where she stood. She never wanted Wayne to find out about any of the goings on with Eva. A near impossible task that failed far too fast for Zoe’s liking. “I’ve had conversations with her and have spent time around her and Eva. I honestly don’t think she cares unless you’re a threat to Eva.”

“If she has anything to do with this mess, I’ll definitely be threatening. It will take a single dunderhead casting a spell at the nuns to spark off a full-blown fight.” He stepped forwards, placing one foot right on the edge of the roof. “I fought one of them just a few weeks ago. Her shield shrugged off some of my strongest fire. I might as well have been trying to tickle her.”

Zoe blinked and glanced at him. “Your strongest?”

“Well, I didn’t want to level the building,” he said with a grin, “but no thaumaturge’s shield would have held up for more than five seconds under my attack.”

“I’ve been studying their magic where I can. It is really quite amazing. I had to dedicate two whole notebooks to it and the third one is filling fast. They don’t use any foci, and what I’ve seen of their magic is odd. The lightning they shoot is designed to unravel ench–”

“I’m not here for a lecture, Professor Baxter.” He flashed a small smile. Not something Zoe was used to seeing since their argument. It vanished as quickly as it came. “We need to defuse the situation before this turns into a slaughter. I reckon those four guarding the front door are more than enough to take out this entire mob.”

Zoe gave a nod of agreement and glanced back to her students. “Let’s speak with them. If Eva is here, she likely knows what is going on.”

“I’d say it is more likely she caused what is going on.”

“Maybe so,” Zoe said as she flicked her dagger. The cool embrace of between took hold of her. The sensation lasted a scant few seconds before she appeared on the rooftop her students occupied.

Wayne, Zoe noticed as she glanced back, chose to simply run and jump the gap between the buildings. It wasn’t that far. Zoe could have jumped the distance herself. Doing so added unnecessary risk of landing wrong or even tripping and falling.

He did not approach. Wayne stopped just at the edge of the building. The tome focus in his hand was open to a page as he stood in a defensive stance. His hard eyes never left Arachne.

The demon herself appeared entirely relaxed. She half slouched on Eva’s shoulder. All eight of her red eyes remained focused on Wayne. And she smiled. The sharp, interlocking teeth bared full against the lights carried by the crowd below.

Not wasting any time, Zoe closed the short distance between herself and her students.

“Arachne,” she said, “could you not antagonize Wayne? He is upset enough about the situation as it is.”

“Antagonize,” the demon said in a faux innocent voice, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just watching to make sure he wasn’t about to do anything foolish.”

“Being watched makes him nervous.”

“That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be watched.”

“Arachne,” Eva said as she patted the demon’s arm with her own clawed hands, “I’m sure he won’t hurt us right now. Not if he hasn’t already tried something. Isn’t that right, Zoe Baxter?”

Zoe sighed as she looked to Wayne again. He hadn’t moved, still standing with his tome out. Judging by the few spars she’d done with him over the years, she’d guess he would shield and try to run based on his defensive stance.

“I don’t think so,” Zoe said. “Not unless you attack first.”

“Well,” Eva said, “it is good that you are here. I can’t say I expected it, but good nonetheless. Just in case things do go pear-shaped, you and Wayne can teleport Juliana out of here.”

Zoe spared a glance at the other students. Juliana had her armor fully covering herself with only a few holes in the front and her blond ponytail poking out the back. She sat with her legs dangling over the edge of the building. Two metal spikes jutting from her backside seemed to be anchoring the girl to the roof.

“Not you?”

“I’m confident everything is under control. If things do go wrong, I need to be here to keep people from dying.”

“And what is happening–no.” Zoe shook her head. Students first. “Juliana, are you alright?”

“I asked her to be here. I don’t have any eyes,” Eva tapped the leather band around her head, “so I asked her to keep an eye out for things I might miss.”

“And that’s fine with you?” Zoe asked with a glance towards Juliana.

Metal covering her face melted off. Zoe had to marvel once again at the control she had over her ferrokinesis. That skill alone could get her through her class four exam despite her age. Zoe held herself up as the best during her school days. Whatever Genoa did to get her daughter to this level was a wonder indeed.

The blond looked up to Zoe and gave a light nod of her head. “I trust Eva not to get us killed.”

That gave Eva a laugh. “I don’t know that I’d trust myself,” she said. “It was only a few months ago I found myself in a situation to lose my hands, eyes, and toes.”

“That was different,” Juliana said. “You were ambushed, alone. Here we’ve got both of us, Arachne, and now two professors. And we’re not going to be ambushed.”

“Keep on your guard anyway. Neither the Elysium Order nor myself ever found Sawyer. He could very well use what happens tonight as a distraction for his own purposes.”

“And what,” Zoe said, “is happening tonight?”

“Running the nuns out of town, of course.”

“That… I don’t… Are you sure that is a good idea? You just said yourself that Sawyer is still on the loose.”

“They weren’t searching for him,” Eva spat out. “I spoke with Nel and another nun. I know that they had no interest in anyone but us.” She gestured her hands towards her roommates and Arachne. “The other nun was unhappy with that fact, so we’re doing all them a favor anyway.”

“And you got the whole town in on it?”

“Sort of.”

Zoe sighed and gave Eva her best stern teacher glare. “Sort of?”

“Well, they were already angry with the nuns. A few wrath runes placed around the town might have made them angrier. That was followed by an inverted sloth rune to spur them into action.” Eva gave a bright smile. “That is heavily simplifying it, of course. It really was some of my best work. Figuring out all the nuances of timing everything and keeping students and staff from feeling the effects.”

“You brainwashed them?”

“Let’s not be silly.” Eva crossed her arms. The action somewhat destabilized her, but Arachne held her tight. A good thing too, they were right on the edge.

“Can’t you move back from the ledge a few steps?”

“Nope. This is the furthest I can be while still being able to turn on shields around the people if things go bad.”

Zoe blinked. “Shields?” she asked.

“First,” Eva held up one pointed finger, “not brainwashed or mind controlled or anything silly. Simple amplification of specific emotions–in this case, anger towards the nuns.” She held up a second finger. “I’ve got an array of blood shields lined up between the crowd and the nuns’ headquarters. Or I will, in a moment or two. I didn’t want to be too obvious too soon.”

Zoe blinked again. It took a moment to process what she said. “Right. Blood mage. I forgot. Distracted by the diablery, I suppose.” Zoe sighed. That was another thing she had been meaning to broach with the young woman. “Wayne is very accomplished with thaumaturgical order shields and he said that his shields went down very quickly against Sister Cross. How would yours hold up?”

“I guess I can get ready and show you some of it.”

Eva leaned down to her feet. Plunging her fingers into the cork of a jar resting near the edge of the roof, Eva pulled back and uncorked the jar. It was fairly large and made of glass. What was inside blended with the darkness too well to see.

Zoe flicked her dagger slightly. Immediately, her senses flared. The crowd below became almost deafening in their shouts. Zoe tweaked her sense of sound down to more manageable levels. Her hearing remained enhanced, just not to the maximum level possible.

Vision, she left at full. With her vision, she looked into the jar at Eva’s feet. A midnight black liquid filled it to its brim. The jar was about a gallon in size, if her estimate was correct.

The liquid jumped out of the bottle. The large glob quickly split down to golf ball sized orbs.

“Arachne kindly donated a large portion of her blood. I bled her out for half the night.” The demon to Eva’s side nodded vigorously at that. “Some is down on the streets already, ready just in case. This is all backup.

“As for shield strength,” Eva gave a light chuckle, “blood shields are, for the most part, impenetrable so long as I have blood. And I don’t just have blood. I have Arachne’s blood. Demon blood is several orders of magnitude better than human blood which is still better than my… Well, the shields will be strong.

“Personal experience has taught me that a golf-ball sized orb of blood can withstand several bolts of lightning. With all this backup, we’ll have plenty of time to evacuate the crowd if anything goes wrong.”

Zoe sighed and glanced over the assembled crowd once again. Even with her enhanced sight, she couldn’t pick out any students. Her eyes did spot a woman atop the building opposite from the one Zoe stood on. It took several seconds before she recognized the slouching woman as Martina Turner’s new secretary. Cathy something.

Martina had become increasingly vocal about her dislike for the nuns during staff meetings over the course of the semester. It didn’t come as a big surprise to Zoe that the dean had some sort of hand in this.

“No one is going to die,” Zoe half asked, half stated.

“Not if I can help it.” Eva pulled several papers from a book bag at her side. “I have a few ways of influencing the emotions of the crowd already drawn up. Some less subtle than others, but I’ll use them if the people need to evacuate in a hurry.” Eva turned her head from the streets below for the first time since Zoe approached. Her empty eye sockets honed in on Zoe. “I’m not a monster,” she said.

Eyes were such a huge part of reading emotions on the face. Eva lacked that key detail. The rest of her face was blank and stony.

Zoe wasn’t sure how to respond to her statement. Keeping the people from harm was good, and she seemed to be taking several precautions. Of course, she dragged them into the mess in the first place. If anyone did get hurt, it would be on her head. And Martina Turner’s head.

Their heads and Zoe’s head, if Zoe did nothing to stop it. No ideas came to mind for stopping Eva safely, try as she might.

Arachne saved her from having to respond. “I am a monster,” she said.

Eva turned her head to her demon with a smile. “Yes, but you are my monster.”

The demon all but preened at that. She rested her head against Eva’s shoulder in a very awkward position that would have sent both tumbling to the ground. Only two legs jutting from her back and digging into the roof stopped them from falling.

Eva ignored Arachne’s actions. She turned her head back to the streets below.

“If things get dire, Arachne and I will personally intervene.”

“And me,” Juliana said.

Zoe turned to the armored woman. “Your mother–”

“Would be very happy to know I helped save lives.”

“You helped put them in danger.”

“Nope,” Juliana shook her head. “That was all Eva. Neither I nor Shalise knew anything until Eva asked me to keep watch. Well, Shalise still doesn’t, but we both unknowingly helped. Of course, that doesn’t mean I like them much. They forced us out of our dorm. That’s the second time this year.”

“I will agree that that was irksome indeed. There was copious amounts of blood everywhere, though I doubt that was directly the fault of Sister Cross.” She eyed Eva. “Not a good reason to go to battle with them. Dorm rooms are easily fixed, you should be able to move back in by the–” Zoe shook her head. “Not important right now. What about the Elysium Order’s nuns? Are they to make it out of this night unscathed?”

“The nuns have been a pain in my backside since they showed up and I’m not going to let them continue to walk over me. Sorry Shalise,” Eva added half under her breath.

“But, and I will admit that this is mostly because of Shalise, I don’t want to see them come to further harm either.”

Zoe sighed, but nodded her head. “I understand where you’re coming from. Can we not defuse the situation and discuss it more peacefully?”

Eva gave her own sigh at that. “I’d say it is too late.”

Steeling herself into instructor mode, Zoe said, “then all I can say is that I am disappointed, Miss Eva. I approve of the lengths you’re going to protect people. That they needed to be protected in the first place is where my real disappointment lies.

“I am truly sorry you do not feel you can trust me enough to talk to me about matters of this severity. I hope you will come to trust me more in the future. At the very least to get a second opinion on your plans.”

“Perhaps next time, Professor Baxter.” Under her breath, though not quiet enough to avoid Zoe’s enhanced hearing, Eva said, “didn’t have much choice this time.”

Zoe pretended to ignore it. It wasn’t meant for her to hear, though it raised questions. Her eyes flicked back to the secretary that now appeared to be tapping on a cellphone. “If you’ll excuse me,” Zoe said, “I should speak with my colleague.”

Turning on her heel, Zoe walked right up to Wayne. He didn’t appear to have moved during any part of the conversation. His book was still out and he looked ready to run at the first sign of trouble.

“I warned you she’d be trouble,” Wayne grunted out.

“I know.” Zoe nodded. “But I’m not ready to give up on her.”

“Give up on her? Zoe,” Wayne sighed, “I know all this stuff must be fascinating to you. It isn’t safe. Not for you and not for Brakket.”

“Think of what an asset she would–”

“She would slaughter everyone.”

“I disagree. Just look,” Zoe waved her hand at the crowd. “Not a single one is a student nor are they staff. There is not a single child either. She didn’t explain how she kept kids away, but I can’t imagine that wasn’t planned as well.”

“Those are still innocent people, Zoe.”

“And she’s taken steps to protect them. She’s not a bad person.”

“She might not be. I can admit that.” That was the most grudging admission that Zoe had ever heard from his mouth. “The company she keeps is what makes her a danger to herself and everyone around.”

Zoe nodded. There was really nothing to argue about that. “At the moment, I’m more concerned about her,” Zoe said as she pointed a finger across the street.

“I can see someone. Can’t make them out.”

“It is our beloved dean’s secretary.”

“What’s she doing here?”

“Not sure. I forgot to ask.” Zoe headed back towards the side of the roof that Eva stood upon. Wayne followed at a more sedate pace. “Eva, the–”

A thundering boom accompanied by small shock waves interrupted Zoe. Zoe steadied herself against a second shock wave.

Zoe ran up beside her students. Eva had knelt down with her hands hovering over three sheets of paper. One of the sheets had glowing runes covering the entire top.

“Don’t worry,” Eva said before anyone could ask, “this isn’t unexpected and the nuns are playing nicely.”

Zoe glanced up.

Four nuns stood outside the building with their arms raised. A shimmering blue bubble encircled the warehouse. Part of the building was on fire where a fifth nun used a thaumaturgical wand to conjure water.

None of them looked like they were going to attack despite more attacks from the crowd. The crowd’s attacks failed to penetrate their shield. Most pinged harmlessly against the bubble.

“This was planned?” Wayne asked with his voice raised over the attacks and shouts from the crowd.

“One of the plans,” Eva said. “Not my favorite one, but the one she was most interested in.”

Zoe’s eyes flicked up across the street. ‘She’ had to be Cathy. Or her boss. The figure who appeared next to the secretary surprised Zoe. He looked like Rex. The same suave hair and fancy suit, though it was a different suit than the one he wore earlier.

Their eyes met for just a moment. He flashed a smile and a casual wave of his hand.

Of course he would be in on it too, Zoe thought. He had ties to Martina and a background in combat. She’d have to interrogate him later. Zoe shook the thoughts from her mind and turned back to Eva.

“She?” Wayne asked at the same time as Zoe said, “what happens now?”

“Now we wait, watch, and hope the Elysium Sisters do not attack the crowd. Arachne, Juliana, be ready to intervene.” Eva turned her head backwards, but did not remove her hands from the two papers that were not glowing. “If you professors want to jump in, that’s fine. Just be careful of the bull.

“He isn’t the king because of amazing politics or lineage.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>