Category Archives: Book 003

010.032

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After ensuring that she was indeed alone within her domain—she hadn’t found any enigmas, humans, or demons wandering around, nor had she sensed the presence of any—Eva returned to the common room to further inspect the column sticking through the roof.

As it turns out, it wasn’t a column. All four sides angled inwards ever so slightly up until high above the roof where the angle bent sharply towards a central point. She had searched every inch that she could see and found nothing. No markings or inscriptions of any kind. Whoever had built it hadn’t even had the decency to slap on a sticky note telling why they built it.

Eva certainly hadn’t built it. Sometimes her domain did odd things related to creating structures or items that Eva felt she needed—such as a potion kit when Genoa had been injured—but this was a bit beyond anything her subconscious would muster up. Unless it was supposed to have been something meant to help her move about with no legs, but if so, it obviously hadn’t worked.

Luckily, her blood legs worked perfectly.

Under other circumstances, she might have left it behind and pursued a way to get out of Hell, or to at least get a message out to Devon. He would surely summon her. But the strange obelisk wouldn’t have just appeared in her domain for absolutely no reason.

Rubbing her hand, or the blood making up her hand, over the surface, Eva found it completely smooth. The liquid couldn’t find any holes or seams. Each corner was just as solid as the rest of the structure.

Eva did realize a slight problem with her hands as she moved her hand over the obelisk. While she could tell that the obsidian was as smooth as glass, she couldn’t feel it. She saw it. Just like she saw all sources of blood. Her fingers didn’t have nerves. The obelisk could be scalding to the touch and she wouldn’t know. Arachne’s hands suffered from a similar problem, as they were a hard carapace exoskeleton, but there had still been some tactile sense feeding back to her mind.

There might be a solution buried somewhere in her blood books, but it wasn’t such a big deal that she had to drop everything and work on it right this very second. Just a minor annoyance.

Backing away from it, Eva turned and walked out of the alternate women’s ward. The sandy ground was annoying when grains got caught within the blood making up her feet. Too much and she would lose control of the blood as it became more contaminated. Hardening the soles of her feet solved that problem for the moment, but she could fix it with a little construction work around her domain.

First, however, she had a different project in mind.

Standing clear of the women’s ward building and the obelisk sticking out from the center, Eva concentrated on tearing down everything. Her entire domain needed to return to its base state from coast to coast.

Thankfully, her domain bent a knee to her will. The entire alternate women’s ward cracked and shuddered. Bits and pieces chipped off, falling to the ground where they broke apart further. In seconds, the building was indistinguishable from the sand of the island.

All that was left was Eva, a little tree without any leaves, and the towering obelisk.

Of those three, only two were supposed to be around. Eva still wasn’t sure what purpose the tree served, but it had been there on her very first visit. Staring at it, she couldn’t alter it in any way no matter how much she concentrated. It stayed its same brown twiggy sapling without sprouting leaves or crumbling to sand. Some day, she would ask Arachne or Catherine about it. Maybe they had trees in the center of their domains. Maybe they had built their domains over the top of the trees and had completely forgotten that they existed in the centuries since then. Maybe they had nothing at all and it was something unique in Eva’s domain.

For the time being, however, Eva turned her attention over to the obelisk. Bare now that it didn’t have the women’s ward surrounding it, Eva could see it without obstruction. Which only made it seem larger than before. Like the tree, it remained static no matter how much she concentrated. The women’s ward had crumbled to sand at a mere thought. This thing didn’t seem to notice how hard she was thinking at it.

Neither did it light up, change color, turn from the glossy obsidian to a rough granite, or anything else she tried to do with it.

Which really meant only one thing. It wasn’t a part of her domain. It was something foreign.

Something left over from Life’s assault? A beacon? Except Life had been using the enigmas as beacons. Living creatures fit much better with its theme than cold structures, even if the enigmas didn’t count as living ‘enough’ for the sake of her blood magic.

So Void then? Why would it plop down a big obelisk in the middle of her domain. In the middle of her women’s ward, no less. The island wasn’t large, but there was plenty of space outside the walls of the alternate women’s ward. Void could have put it somewhere else without forcing her to relocate her building.

“What a jerk,” she mumbled as she walked back up to the obelisk. For a moment, she considered digging under the sand just to see how deep it went. A better idea came to her. Reaching out again, she brushed her hand over the obelisk. This time, she allowed her hand to partially uncouple from her body. A skeletal finger’s worth of blood dribbled down the smooth slope of the obelisk. Just before the dribble hit the sand, she formed a crystal shell around most of it, protecting it from the sand.

And it burrowed. Deep. Deeper. So far down that Eva eventually lost control as it went out of her range somewhere around two stories deep. Still, there was more to it beneath that. Maybe only an inch. Maybe a mile. She couldn’t tell.

The obelisk grew larger and larger the deeper it went. The angle of the four sides wasn’t that noticeable, but even a single degree could mean thousands of miles if the distance was far enough.

She started to consider just how deep it could possibly be before realizing that she hadn’t the slightest idea how Hell actually functioned. Maybe the obelisk went on literally forever. Maybe if she dug far enough, she would fall into nothingness for eternity. Something similar to the pit in Ylva’s domain.

Whatever the case, it didn’t change the fact that part of the obelisk was above the surface.

Pressing a hand to it again, Eva started to channel some of her magic into it as if it were a rune array or ritual circle of any type. Mostly on a whim. If it failed to produce any notable results, there really wasn’t much else to do with an inert pillar of stone. However, turning her attentions towards returning to Earth wasn’t really appealing so long as there was any sort of distraction. Hence her whim.

Honestly, she didn’t know where to begin in escaping from Hell. There had to be a way out from the Hell side. It couldn’t be a commonly known way out or even a remotely obvious way out. Earth would have been overrun with demons long ago if any old demon could find it.

Eva didn’t consider herself any old demon. Technically, unless something unintended had occurred during the corruption of Life, she was still a sliver human. And that just might be what she needed to get out. Otherwise, there were things to try. When she teleported, she knew that she at least partially left the mortal realm and dipped her toes into Hell. If she could enter the waters and think of a place filled with meat passageways, she just might be able to break into the tunnel from the Hell side.

Of course, she was just as likely to wind up facing some horrible cleaver-wielding demon constantly on the lookout for fresh meat.

That was all for if this obelisk didn’t do anything. At the moment, with her hand pressed against it, she could feel her magic flowing into it. There was a place for it to go. Something inside it accepted her magic.

But it wasn’t actually doing anything. No lights brightening it up, no mystic portals opening up to spit out demons or enigmas, nor any portals opening up to any other plane of existence.

With a frown, Eva pulled her hand away. The obsidian was just as smooth as it had been before. No hand-shaped mark. As another thought crossed her mind, Eva pulled all the blood of her hand back into her body. With nothing more than bare skin, she reached out.

Once again, she tried pressing magic into the obelisk. This time, she really opened the floodgates. If it needed bare skin contact, she had that covered. If it just needed more magic to fill its massive size, the torrential deluge of magic she was releasing should fill it to the brim. It was like trying to overpower thirty of her most explosive fireballs at once while teleporting. Every scrap of magic filling her veins that was not keeping her legs cohesive flooded into the obelisk.

This time, she got a reaction.

A faint glow. A red light right at the very tip. Barely notable. In fact, the only reason she did notice it was because of the pitch black sky in the background.

But red was a good color. Had it been violet, she might have stopped the instant she noticed. Red, Eva associated with demons. Which meant that it was probably not something Life had left behind to restart the rending of the borders between planes. She didn’t know what it was for.

Perhaps it was a gift. She had done fairly well in averting the apocalypse, in her opinion. It might not have gone exactly as Void had planned, but Void hadn’t seemed too upset during her brief death at the hunter’s hands.

She held it as long as she could. But the dim light never got any brighter. Gasping for a breath of fresh air, she tore her hand away. The sweat dripping from her forehead flung through the air as she collapsed down onto the sandy beach.

For a moment there, she almost forgot to keep her blood circulating. Which represented a certain weakness in her new heart—aside from the obvious need to replace it eventually with another bloodstone, perhaps one from her void metal dagger if she could find it. It might take time, but she should heal. She was demonic enough. Her heart would come back sometime. Until then, she absolutely needed to make circulating her blood such a habit, such a regular act of her subconscious that she could circulate it properly while she was asleep or otherwise unconscious.

Something to work on.

Once she was certain that her body wasn’t going to unexpectedly shut down, Eva looked long and hard at the once again dim obelisk. Even straining herself to the breaking point didn’t do enough. There was something, but not enough.

Which made her wonder if two people would do any better. Or four; there were four sides, after all. Unfortunately, as she had been lamenting earlier, she didn’t know three demons in Hell. At least not three she wanted to meet with.

But this was her domain. Why should she need other people? It could conjure up buildings and people-like simulacra like Eva could conjure up fireballs. The entire place was more or less under her control.

Eva took a moment to reform her legs—they had gone a little jelly-like when she had collapsed—before standing and once again pressing her arm against the obelisk. This time, she only let a trickle of magic pass through her arm.

Most of her concentration went into her domain. The magic of the world that surrounded her. She focused hard, imagining a massive hand squeezing it all down into the obelisk, pressing and draining every droplet of magical energy from the ambient air against the pillar.

With the force of her domain behind her, Eva watched the top of the obelisk. The red light increased in intensity. It doubled over, steadily brightening. But it didn’t stop there. It kept doubling its brightness, reaching a point where Eva had to look away to avoid her eyes burning out.

The current of magic charged the air, making the hairs on Eva’s arms stand on end. At the same time, a pressure built up. Opening and closing her jaw made her ears pop like she had been driving up a steep hill.

As she poured more magic into the obelisk, she could feel the receptacle she had noticed earlier filling up. The reservoir, though deep, was not infinite. It had a ways to go. She increased the efforts of her domain to fill it while keeping herself from straining.

The popping in her ears turned to a loud crack.

Eva found herself flying backwards, leaving her legs behind. It took her a moment as she flew through the air to realize what happened. A quick thought just before she hit a bank of sand drew some of her legs back to her body, but a good portion of the blood had already sunk into the sand around the obelisk.

Veins of red ran down the sides of the obelisk, branching and splitting as they moved downwards, becoming individually thinner but densely coating the sides. It became so dense that Eva couldn’t tell that there was any of the obsidian left from ten feet off the sand and below. And it didn’t stop there. It continued downwards below the sand, presumably until it hit some sort of base. Even if Eva could sense that far down, she wouldn’t have been able to see the lines. They weren’t blood. All she could see was a faint glow squeezing between the grains of sand in a short radius around the obelisk.

Eva stared, rebuilding her legs—much shorter now than they were before—as she waited for it to do something. Though, for all she knew, it might take a good few hours before the red reached the bottom. If it ever did.

It had thrown her away like a used washcloth while still drinking of the magic of her domain. She could feel the flow, though only tangentially. Eva didn’t think that she would run out of magic anytime soon. Her domain was a part of her, yet not. Her subconscious and conscious both contributed to how it worked. The amount of magic it would take to build and destroy nearly anything at will, including semi-sapient constructs of people, had to be extreme. Given that she had never heard of a demon running out of magic in their domain, it had to be excessive.

Or she just didn’t know enough demons.

But all of Hell was essentially a part of Void. That had been the whole point behind Life’s plans in drawing Hell to the mortal realm. It was a way to get at Void. So unless this obelisk was meant to exhaust the magical ability of a Power, she doubted she had to worry about much.

In fact, seeing that it would probably take some time, Eva conjured up a chair. The sands around her rose up, molding into smooth leather as she sat down. The soft cushions of one of the Rickenbacker lobby chairs cradled her, taking away the need to keep legs of blood formed. Comfortable, she sat back and waited.

Something had to happen eventually.

— — —

“An attack,” Dean Anderson said. “An attack on what we stand for. What we are doing here.” He gazed out, peering over the assembled cameras and reporters. Mostly mundane, but there were a number of obvious mages standing around the crowd. “Make no mistake,” he continued in his most authoritative voice, “there are those who do not agree with the decisions of Brakket Academy, Nod Complex, Faultline, Isomer, and Mount Hope to disclose information about the magical community to the world at large.”

Zoe found herself frowning. If her memory served, and she had no reason to doubt it at the moment, Anderson had sprung the idea on the other schools. Faultline, at the very least, had been upset. Mount Hope and the Nod Complex had far more subdued reactions to his announcement during the initial feast between the schools. They very well might have known beforehand.

Yet framing the incident as an attack against all of them made the other schools far more likely to stand with Brakket Academy against criticism and adversity. Which was more of a public relations move on his part than a real call to action. There was no real enemy. Not in the manner he was implying.

Zoe refrained from interrupting. He had obviously put a some thought into what to say. She would wait and see if anything was morally objectionable beyond lying about the potential apocalyptic situation they had been in. Frankly, telling the layperson about an averted apocalypse would probably be worse than lying about nonexistent terrorists. So, with a sigh, she pushed the imaginary dull pain in her missing arm away and focused on his speech.

“Fools,” he said, making Zoe glad she was sitting behind him along with most of the rest of the various schools’ staff members. A bit of spittle might have escaped his mouth as he spoke. “Releasing dangerous creatures into the city? Creating that ghastly illusion in our skies to frighten off good and wholesome people? What do you hope to accomplish by harming children and innocents?”

He slammed his fists down on the podium, sending a loud crack through the assembled microphones. Zoe could actually believe that he was honestly angry.

“It is too late to go back to the way things were. It has been too late for a long time.” Anderson held up a cellphone, raising it high over the microphone-covered podium. “You, who attacked us, may be unfamiliar with mundane technology given your desire to cling to the old ways. Nearly every mundane human carries one of these. They are getting smaller, faster, and smarter.” He flipped it over, pointing towards the camera. “They record everything, uploading pictures and videos to data servers where the images become nigh impossible to remove. It is a wonder, an absolute shock that knowledge of magic was only as widespread as it was before our tournament.”

He dropped his hands to his sides, putting on an expression of remorse. “And yet you would sabotage this attempt at peaceful revelation. I can only hope that whatever trust has been broken between our societies because of this incident can be repaired.”

Silence befell the briefing area as Anderson dipped his head in a solemn nod of respect. It took a few moments for the silence to be broken.

One of the reporters stood, holding up a hand. He didn’t wait to be called upon before blurting out a question. “Do you know who is behind the attacks on the school?”

“Specifically? No. As a group, they’re terrorists, nothing more. We have people attempting to uncover their identities.”

“Hank Hanson,” Hank said as he stood up with an award-winning smile.

Among all the reporters in the audience, very few had actually been present for the ‘attack’ with the exception of Hank. The only real evidence of that was the matted gauze pad on his face from where he had gotten a bit too close to an enigma in his overzealous attempt to get an up-close story. Frankly, he was lucky to have survived. One of the various demons had apparently saved him.

And yet, he was still smiling. Perhaps more impressively, he hadn’t run off screaming.

“You say that you have people looking into their identities. Is it common for schools to take care of constabulary duties?”

“The magical society is not as large as our mundane counterparts. We don’t have anything like a standing army or police force. The Royal Guild of Mage-Knights,” he said with a vague wave of his hand towards where Redford sat not far from Zoe, “are trained bounty hunters who we are working closely with us to bring these terrorists to justice.”

Redford’s hands rubbed over the top of his cane as he stared out with a deep scowl on his face. Zoe had told Anderson the truth, but she had no idea what he had told Redford. Were the members of the Guild looking for terrorists that didn’t actually exist?

“One more question,” Hank said before another reporter could stand up. “Have you…”

He trailed off. Zoe couldn’t figure out why until she noticed the ashen faces of the rest of the crowd of reporters. Most were staring at some point over Anderson’s head. Anderson realized that something was wrong as well and turned to look along with most of the staff.

On the horizon of the city, a faint red glow had encompassed the rooftops. The center point, the area that glowed the brightest, was straight towards where the obelisk was.

Panic quickly set in. Of course it had. They were in a meeting discussing the actions of terrorists. Whether or not those terrorists actually existed didn’t matter. The reporters didn’t know the truth. And that horizon looked an awful lot like another attack.

A thunderclap coming from Redford’s cane as he slammed it down onto the ground silenced the slowly mounting noise. In the same motion, he created a dome overhead. “Do not panic,” he shouted out. “We will keep everyone safe.”

Anderson looked to the staff, to all of the remaining professors, but especially the security guards. “Ensure the students don’t come to harm,” he said loud enough for the reporters to hear.

Zoe shared a look with Wayne. Just a brief look. They wouldn’t be heading to the dormitory buildings. A silent agreement passed between them. Wayne teleported away first.

“It’s always one thing after another,” Anderson mumbled just before Zoe disappeared.

She reappeared on the far end of the street from the obelisk—no sense teleporting into the middle of a hundred enigmas or demons if it was some sort of invasion. Wayne apparently had the same idea. He wasn’t standing far from Zoe.

His eyes twitched back and forth in the tell-tale signs of mental acceleration, so she didn’t bother saying anything for the moment. Instead, she surveyed the situation.

The obelisk was covered in veins of red lines, all lit up like a Christmas tree. A very ominous and slightly evil Christmas tree.

But that was it. No monsters running about attacking people. The dark area of sand around the obelisk wasn’t spreading. Or, if it was, it was spreading so slowly that Zoe couldn’t tell. The few mage-knights who Anderson hired to watch over it were backing away slowly, but none of them were being eaten alive or disintegrated by some wave of magical energy.

Zoe breathed out a sigh of relief.

Still… perhaps it was time to evacuate Brakket City. Anderson might not like it. Then again, he didn’t like much of anything. It could be temporary. Catherine had been concerned over the obelisk for about a day until her search for more came up with nothing substantial. It was entirely possible that these obelisks were merely benign remnants from the ritual.

Better to be safe than sorry.

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010.027

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Devon strode into the Brakket Academy main lobby area with two demons in tow. Once upon a time, doing something so brazen would have gotten him killed without a doubt. Who in their right mind would ever allow a demon summoner and demons into a school?

How times had changed.

His weren’t even the only demons he had spotted around the school. He had spotted a capra demon disguised as a student turning one of the many enigmas into minced meat just outside the entrance to the school. A few nearby human guards hadn’t even batted an eye as Devon passed by. Apparently, so long as he wasn’t a tentacled monster, he was perfectly welcome. Either that or Eva had told them that he would be coming.

The guards hadn’t batted an eye at the capra demon either, so they must have been at least somewhat attuned to the idea of demons running around. Though their faces might have looked a little green when they glanced towards the ground up remains of the enigma. Devon didn’t know what kind of weak stomached guards this school was hiring, but he had thought that they would be able to manage a little viscera.

They would never have survived at Devon’s old school.

Literally.

Tenebris Artes would have eaten them up and spat them out as nothing more than bones. The students—who, around Brakket, were all hiding indoors save for one or two that had worked up the courage to help fight enigmas—as well. In fact, Tenebris Artes had closed down after only a year of him attending.

Something that had absolutely nothing to do with Devon whatsoever.

Times changed. Society became more comfortable for the inhabitants with every passing year. More comfort meant less daily hardships to whip the kids into shape. They would go on to join proper society and hopefully get whipped into shape. But the ever increasing comfort would just mean that one day—maybe not this generation, maybe not even the next, but one day, the pampered children would be the real world.

Then who would be around to save the day?

Fate always had a trial or two up her sleeve. When would the trial become too much for the ignorant masses. There wouldn’t always be a curmudgeonous old demonologist around to save the day.

In fact, he wouldn’t have been around to save the day were it not for that blasted research subject of his. Maybe next time Fate would just leave him alone.

Ah well. Saving the world one last time wasn’t so bad. At least this time he hadn’t been attacked by anything other than enigmas. Those could be summarily dealt with by his demons with him hardly lifting a finger. The waxy ruax handled almost every one. He only had to blast one with infernal flames once, and that was only because the ruax had been distracted by a good six or seven of the beasts.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure exactly where to go. Glass windows separated a secretary’s desk and the main offices from the rest of the open lobby. The hallway went left and right with only room numbers listed in each direction. Straight ahead, the large glass windows opened up into that disaster waiting to happen of an expanded space ward.

No sign for the school’s infirmary.

“Come with me,” he said, more for the benefit of the carnivean than the ruax. One was under his direct control. The other only should be.

Leaving behind the lobby, he headed towards the offices. There had to be someone there and someone there had to know the way to the infirmary.

He walked right up to the vacant secretary’s desk and peered over at an all too tiny building map hanging up behind it. It took him five minutes of searching before he realized that he was standing right next to the infirmary. The room had two doors, one in the hallway just around the corner and one in the office itself.

Naturally, Devon headed to the nearer door.

He slid it open to find a gaggle of people running every which way. Adults ran around between the makeshift beds. In their arms, they carried trays filled with a haphazard arrangement of potions, surgical implements, common medicine products, and clean cloth bandages. Both adults and children filled the floorspace of nearly the entire room, lying on blankets and pads. Most of the beds’ occupants were injured in some manner or other. A band of bandages wrapped around one man’s eye and head, one woman was missing an arm, someone else looked like he had a bite taken out of his leg. A few people were working on that last one, performing some sort of surgery.

In other words, a typical medical facility during an emergency. Nothing notable to see.

He took one step into the room only to find his path blocked by a young girl with an eye patch and a red eye. A few scars tugged at her lips as she started speaking.

“Are you injured?”

Devon leaned slightly closer to the woman. Nurse Post, her name tag said with a little heart in place of the ‘o’. The blood smeared over it and much of her white outfit did not help play up the kind and welcoming school nurse that she had been trying to go for.

Red eyes were not a common human trait, though they did happen on occasion. Usually a faint red accompanied by albinism. Her hair wasn’t the normal white, but she must have dyed it. He couldn’t detect any sign of her being a demon.

Her eyes flicked to the two demons behind him. Neither of which she reacted to in the slightest before turning her gaze back to Devon.

“Sir?”

“No,” Devon said, leaning back. “I’m looking–”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave, sir. If you aren’t here to help and are not injured, you’ll only be in the way. If you’re looking for a patient, the office across the hall has a list of everyone who was brought in as of an hour ago,” she said, gesturing directly behind Devon.

Devon’s lip curled into a scowl. He stepped straight to the other side of the woman and continued walking, leaving her momentarily confused.

“Sir,” she said once she realized that he had got behind her. “You’re wasting valuable time that we could be using to save these people.”

“Yes, and I’m trying to save the entire world,” he grumbled, reaching the center of the room. It must have been magically expanded as well. He had walked far more than what it would have taken to go around to the opposite door.

More people were staring at him now. Lots of doctors or nurses that should be doing their job. He didn’t think he was all that special looking. His beard may be unkempt and his trench coat a little dusty, but his arm was safely hidden away in the sleeve.

Then again, most people in the room were not accompanied by two obviously inhuman demons. Maybe their stares were more directed towards the tentacle-headed thing and the animated wax statue that were following behind him.

“I didn’t ask you to follow me around,” he said in a low tone of voice. “Go about whatever it is you think is right.” Before she could protest further, he raised his voice to be heard above all the moaning and whining of the injured around him. “Which one of you is Genoa?”

Devon stared around the room, waiting and expecting someone to at least raise their hands if not come all the way up to him.

Nobody did.

“Sir–”

“Wait.”

The nurse tried to say something, but a second voice interrupted. Devon turned to find some woman walking up to him with frazzled hair, several bandaged wounds on every bit of bare skin, and an entirely missing arm. He stared at it for a moment before looking back to the woman’s face.

“You’re Genoa?”

“What? No… You can’t have– Never mind,” she said with a shake of her head. “It isn’t important right now, Devon.”

Ah, he thought. Apparently I know her.

“What is important is that Eva is out at the ritual circle–”

“Yeah, I know. It’s part of the plan to fix everything.”

“There’s a plan?” The woman let out a long sigh. She placed her one hand to her chest, though Devon couldn’t actually see the hand. Enough bandages covered it to make it look like a mummy’s mitten. “Oh thank goodness. But what do you need Genoa for?”

“Eva recommended her as a ritual construction specialist. Though,” Devon raised his voice slightly, “I’ll accept any able-bodied mage capable of large-scale earth manipulation.”

He looked around at all the bandaged people lying in beds or bleeding out or whatever injured people were wont to do with a slowly deepening scowl on his face. What was with these people? Not a single one looked like they could hold a wand let alone cast a few spells. What kind of mages got injured fighting these enigmas, let alone allowed the injures to send them to the medimagi. At least the woman in front of him was on her feet, if not clenching her wand between her teeth to fight back.

Though that kid in the corner looked to be just about the right age for experimentation. If he was dying, nobody would miss–

“Devon!” the woman hissed at him, bringing his attention back to the woman. “You are despicable.”

“I get that on occasion,” Devon grunted. “Where can I find an earth mage?”

“Genoa is out trying to clear away enigmas. She should have her cellphone with her. Hand me your phone and I’ll–” She cut herself off as she realized that she was holding out the stump of her arm. With a half-muttered curse, she swapped to her other hand only to realize her bandage predicament.

“Why don’t you tell me the number and I’ll make the call instead,” he said, pulling out his phone.

— — —

Eva lowered her arms as she stared up at the sky. Not at the eyeball, which was still looking down at the Earth and still crying those magmatic meteors that were probably filled with enigmas. She stared at the design for a new treatment circle. One for the demonic enigma and the chunk of brain.

It wasn’t that large. Certainly not as big as the circle that had been used to summon the two avatars. Perhaps as big as a large room. Even that size was only by necessity. The brain avatar was much too large for anything smaller.

The ritual was based on Devon’s work—and she definitely wondered how he would react to finding out that Void used his research—it should be just enough to get what she needed done. At least, that was what Void had said while the designs were being burned into her mind. Satisfied that everything in the design above her head had been copied into the real world correctly, Eva moved on to the next step.

Forming a long tube of blood, she jammed one end into the brain and one into the formerly furry arm of the enigma. This time, she did not stand in between the two subjects of the ritual. A second tube of crystallized blood led out from the other side of the brain, ready to drain into a large vase once the ritual got under way.

The succubus had been watching patiently and staring at the ritual circle that Eva had constructed. Only when she switched to the tubing did Catherine walk up to her.

“You’re doing it again?”

“Not quite,” Eva said as she turned back to Catherine. “Apparently, we overdid it earlier. Shoving the entirety of Void’s Avatar into this thing was not only unnecessary, but overly harmful to the Powers’ ecosystem of… power.”

“So diluting it then?”

“That’s a good way to put it.” Eva glared down at the demonic enigma. “We put some of that in and take some of the avatar out.” And some of Arachne as well. After taking a few steps back, Eva motioned for Catherine to do the same.

Srey had hardly moved from his initial position near the avatar until Eva physically dragged him away. Eva wasn’t sure what was up with him. Had he actually struck up some sort of friendship with Vektul and was in shock over what happened?

She supposed it didn’t really matter. So long as he didn’t screw with anything important, he could sit around in his vacuous state for all Eva cared.

“Alright. This shouldn’t take long,” Eva said as she pressed her magic into the hovering ritual circle of blood.

The effect started immediately. A faint glow emanated from the lines. The demonic enigma remained unconscious, but started writhing as blood started flowing through the tube. Or whatever filled enigmas’ veins. It didn’t work well with Eva’s blood magic and Devon had mentioned something about it only being superficially similar.

Clasping her hands behind her back, Eva started stalking around the circle. The avatar was as inert as it had been since she had finished the initial ritual. She needed to keep an eye on it. With her at least marginally reversing the process of corrupting it, it might become a little more active. But that wouldn’t be for at least a short amount of time.

No, Eva barely glanced at the large mass of the avatar as she walked past. She stopped in front of the little jar that she had set up to collect the excess essence that the ritual was now removing. The previous ritual hadn’t had the disposal tank despite all of Eva’s treatments requiring it. She was somewhat surprised that the avatar hadn’t exploded after realizing that she had forgotten that little detail. Devon had always warned her to not let him forget about it or she might explode.

Then again, that was Devon. He had probably just been grumping about it for the sake of having something to grumble about.

Everything looked like it was working properly. Black particles of dust and smoke trickled out of the tube and into the crystalline pot. The smoke, looking just like the smoke that made up Void’s avatar, didn’t settle into the bottom of the pot, choosing to swirl around in dark clouds.

Which had Eva wondering if she shouldn’t have put a proper top on it. Nothing was spilling out yet, so she wouldn’t do anything that might potentially interfere with the ritual until something actually went wrong.

“Now,” Eva said, “while this finishes, we need to prepare to send this hunk of flesh back to its master.”

“Another ritual?”

“Actually no.”

“No?” Catherine blinked, genuinely surprised. “You’re not going to toss it up there,” she said, pointing towards the portals overhead.

“My arms are a little stretchy at the moment.” As demonstration, she enlarged her hand until the fingers could wrap around her entire waist. “However, I think those portals are a bit higher than I could reach.”

“I’m sure we could work out some magical propulsion to launch it up there.”

“As amusing as a brain rocket ship would be, there’s already a plan in place. Something that should seal the deal and ensure that Life cannot recover. At least not anytime soon.”

“And is sealing the deal also going to seal the portals overhead?”

“Nope! Devon has actually been working on that. Though he’s supposed to be waiting for me to get rid of this avatar. If I finish, you might need to go tell him that he can start should he not clue in. I directed him to the infirmary.”

“Devon? I didn’t bring the ritual up with him after he dismissed it. You told him more? I thought he wanted no part of any of this,” she paused, frowning towards Eva for a moment. “Or perhaps I figured that he would tie you down in the solitary confinement building if he heard you were actually working on the ritual.”

“I’m sure he would have. Had he known.” Eva shot her a quick grin before double-checking on the status of the ritual. As she ensured that the swirling clouds of black smoke within the pot were not spilling out, she continued speaking. “Devon saw what was going on and developed a solution. All within the last few hours.” Or so Void had said before releasing Eva so that she could use her beacon to get back to Earth.

It took Catherine a few moments to respond. Her eyebrows knitted into a scowl as she thought. “Without knowing anything about what was going on?”

“Nothing more than what you told him and what he observed from the prison.”

Which only sent Catherine’s scowl deeper into fury. Eva had to wonder whether Catherine could have done the same. Probably. In the same amount of time? Maybe. Judging by her furrowed brow, she was rapidly trying to put together her own solution to sealing the portals overhead.

Eva left the jar for a moment, moving back around to the opposite side. The demonic enigma was actually shriveling up. Its skin looked more like that of a raisin than a proper living being. Not even old people on their deathbeds looked quite so bad.

Was it because of all the organs she had stuffed inside without care or order? Or was it because it was an enigma and, while it wouldn’t die, it had far slower regeneration than demons did. How much blood had Arachne lost during Eva’s treatments? She must have regenerated at a rapid rate to keep from dying and being sucked into a Hell portal.

At the same time, she could still see blood traveling through the tube and into the avatar. Until it ran completely dry, Eva would try not to worry too much. Besides, the ritual was actually nearly finished. The demonic enigma still had a decent amount of blood left. It should be enough for another few minutes.

“Do you need me here?”

“I would prefer some help here. If something goes wrong, I’d like second opinions,” Eva said, turning towards Catherine. She paused as her line of sight passed by Srey who was facing Eva’s direction with his head bowed. Not really in respect. He kept rubbing his forehead like he had a headache. “I don’t think Srey would be up to helping much.”

She finished turning to Catherine and put on a wide grin. “You’ll just have to restrain your curiosity as to what Devon came up with. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll show you. Unless, of course, he thinks that this is all your mess since you were the one to show him the ritual.”

Catherine, straightening her back and looking down on Eva with half-lidded eyes, put on an evil smile. “I am not above throwing you under the bus, so to speak.”

“Do as you will,” Eva said, walking back to the jar. When the ritual finished, she wanted to watch and ensure that nothing went wrong on that front. “I don’t think Devon will get too upset with me. Not unless he decides that his experiment has transformed too much from his original plans.” As she said so, she glanced down at her hands. They weren’t so different from Arachne’s limbs. In fact, they were probably better. No outside demonic influence to mess with Devon’s plans. Just blood magic.

Demonic blood magic rather than bloodstone-based, but it functioned nearly the same as far as Eva could tell.

Magic draining from the circle pulled her attention back to the jar. The ritual was winding down. Only a little left. The avatar still hadn’t moved, so she didn’t even need to worry about that.

She watched the jar until the very last trickles of avatar essence dripped out from her blood tube. The moment the dripping finished and the ritual shut off, a Hell portal opened beneath the jar. The entire thing, essence and all, disappeared within.

A small sigh escaped her lips. Hopefully that was enough.

“What was that?”

“Oh nothing. More importantly, time to get rid of this thing.”

As she walked up to the avatar, she coated the demonic enigma with blood, ensuring that it couldn’t move in the slightest. She didn’t detonate the shriveled husk just yet. It might still have uses. If only for Lynn’s research. She just crystallized the blood around it.

“Alright,” Eva said, turning her hands into long blades twice the length of her arms. “So long as everything goes well, make sure that Devon starts his ritual.”

“What about you?”

Eva turned her head over her shoulder to grin at Catherine as she built up magic inside her for a teleport. “Well, I’ll stop by if I can.”

Without any further delay, she plunged her arms into the avatar.

“Was that supposed to do something?” Catherine asked after a moment of absolutely nothing happening.

“Just… hold on a second. This thing is gigantic. I’ve never teleported with something so big. Usually only another person-sized thing.” As she spoke, she felt her magic hit the threshold. Without any chance to resolve the moment of awkwardness, Eva and the avatar vanished into the infernal teleportation.

Just as usual, the tunnel of flesh and screams surrounded Eva, squeezing her and the avatar ever closer to the prison gate.

But this time, Eva did something a little different.

She let go. She pulled her hands back to her sides, separating her from the avatar. With a slight kick of her foot, she sent the egg-shaped blob of meat off into the walls of flesh. It tumbled, falling into pieces from the force of their speed until it finally vanished beneath and into the walls.

Unfortunately, Newton’s laws apparently worked within the semi-alternate dimension of the teleport tunnel. Eva spread the blood of her limbs out into wide parasols in an attempt to slow her steady glide in the opposite direction. It must have worked a little, but not enough. She barely got to watch the avatar be torn to shreds before she crashed into the opposite wall.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


003.027

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Has she woken up yet?”

Shelby stirred at the soft voice. She pulled herself out of the puddle of drool that had gathered on her sister’s bed. Wiping off her cheek, she looked towards the doorway.

“I don’t think so. What–” An involuntary yawn drowned out her words. “What time is it?”

“Ten o’clock in the morning,” Jordan said as he pulled up a chair. “I was just talking with Nurse East. He said that she should be waking up anytime now.”

“That would be nice,” Shelby said as she looked back down to her sleeping twin.

For the first time in weeks, Irene lacked the furrowed brow. She wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t frowning either. She seemed… peaceful.

“She’s going to be alright, right?”

“He said it was just a concussion. A bad one, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few potions.”

“She’s not going to be like, possessed, is she?”

“Those weren’t demons,” Jordan said. His features darkened, looking like he wanted to spit. A look of pure disgust. “Just parts of them.”

His voice lacked all the inquisitive excitement usually present within.

Shelby shook her head. “And you knew about that Ylva girl? And Professor Za–”

A finger pressed to her lips. She felt her face heat up even as Jordan shook his head.

“Don’t say his name. There are ways to find out if someone talks about oneself. I don’t know if he is doing that, but I’d rather not give any excuses to draw his attention.”

He sighed, pulling his finger away as he glanced off towards Irene. “I knew about Ylva. She wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding herself. When you’ve got a family like mine, you notice things like that.”

“A family like yours,” Shelby said with a half-suppressed yawn. She didn’t know what time she had finally fallen asleep the night before, but it was clearly too late.

As she thought over what he said, Shelby slowly put her head back down on her sister’s bed. She had to wiggle a little in her chair to avoid the damp patch of her own drool. “You’re like Eva then? All into demons or something?”

“Well,” he said. His voice had an audible smile in it. “I like to think I can keep a secret much better than she can.”

Shelby snorted into the blankets. “I’ve known you my whole life. I’ve only known Eva for a year and a half. It’s clear who the secret keeping winner is.”

That got a small laugh from Jordan. “But my family values knowledge and an open mind, I guess you could say.”

“Irene knew, didn’t she. That’s why she freaked out about Eva last year and kept her at an arm’s length since then. She asked you, or you just told her.”

Jordan took in and let out a deep breath. “She stumbled upon me in a fairly compromising position a few years ago.”

Shelby snorted again. It came out slightly pained. Her heart just wasn’t in it.

“Not like that,” he said. “She just walked in on me manipulating shadows like I did yesterday. My family Swore her to secrecy. That’s Swore with a capital ‘S’ otherwise we would have told you too.”

“That doesn’t seem like something Mr. Anderson would do.” Shelby frowned as a though occurred to her. “Are you going to do the same to me?”

“We’re older now. I’ll have to tell my parents, of course, but that was mostly so that Irene couldn’t talk about it. Kids are known to talk about things they shouldn’t, after all.

“I actually wrote to them last night about Eva, all the demon-things, and Juliana and Shalise. I completely forgot to mention you.”

Shelby reached out and jabbed him in the stomach, eliciting a small grunt. That had to be one of the most offensive things she’d ever heard.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “you can tell my dad yourself. I got a call this morning. He said five words: ‘I am on my way.’ I don’t think he is very happy.”

“That’s not the point, Jordan Anderson. You’re not supposed to forget about your gi–” Shelby cut herself off with a barely disguised cough, “–your childhood friend.”

They weren’t officially going out. They hadn’t even been on a date. He didn’t pay extra attention to her. Their entire relationship felt entirely one-sided.

It was entirely one-sided. They were friends and nothing more.

Shelby sighed. He’d probably prefer going out with someone like Eva anyway.

“I couldn’t help it. So much went on yesterday. I decided to e-mail it instead of texting it because it was so long.”

“That’s just–”

Shelby froze as a light groan came from the sleeping patient.

“Wha–”

Irene didn’t get any further than that before Shelby wrapped her arms around her. Carefully, of course–Irene wasn’t supposed to move or be moved much until the nurse signed her off.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Shelby said when she finally pulled herself away. She had to wipe something away from her eyes. Her vision had gone all blurry. It certainly wasn’t tears.

“What happened?”

“Long story,” Jordan said. He stood up and headed towards the door. “I’ll go let Nurse East know you’re awake.”

Shelby watched Jordan’s backside as he walked out of the room. She shook her head and looked back to her sister. “What do you remember?”

“I was–” Irene’s half-lidded eyes burst wide open. Her face heated up to the point where Shelby was wondering if some of the old Irish blood wasn’t showing itself.

“Are you okay?”

“Nothing!” Irene squeaked. She shook her head and immediately winced. “I was just in the hot springs with Eva.”

Shelby frowned and quirked her head to one side. “We don’t have bathing suits.”

Irene’s already red face turned roughly the color of an overripe tomato.

“Oh,” Shelby said with a nod. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“That’s not–It wasn’t–” Irene devolved into sputtering while Shelby tried to keep her face straight. “There were monsters! I was running and then… I don’t know. What happened?”

“Nurse East said one of the security force people brought you in. You’d have to get the full story from them, but I guess Eva was fending off the monsters until the security guard got to you.”

“Oh.” Irene went silent for a moment. “Where is she?”

“The security guard–”

“Eva.”

“I don’t know. I heard Professor Baxter herself say that Eva had been stabbed with a cursed knife, but I haven’t seen her. It’s only been a day.” Shelby paused, but decided to add, “Juliana and Shalise are missing.”

She’d been told in no uncertain terms not to reveal where they went missing. Juliana’s mother was a scary woman and Shelby wasn’t about to disobey, even to her sister.

“One of the school nurses died. A different security guard is in critical condition, I guess.”

“Start at the beginning.”

Shelby shifted to be more comfortable in her chair before speaking. It could take a while.

— — —

The amount of paperwork involved with the recent incident was beyond staggering. Every form that Martina filled out and filed was replaced by three new ones. Catherine just kept digging out more.

While she wasn’t about to complain about her secretary’s new-found work ethic, Martina couldn’t help but think that it was yet another method of getting under her skin. Half the forms were only tangentially relevant. Half of the remainder were so out of date, Martina couldn’t see how they applied to the modern school.

Still, Martina filled them out. The attack was a large incident that had occurred on Brakket property. She wasn’t going to get herself fired over a misplaced RF-Two-Three-Three form.

It helped matters that Gregory had finally delivered his personal report over the incident. Martina Turner set the report down on her desk. It wasn’t everything she had hoped it might be.

While unexpected, the incident proved to be an effective test. Only Daenir, the elf, had been injured among the security team. Gregory’s claim that the addition of several unaffiliated allies had ‘saved the day’ was unneeded.

She’d be sure to leave that bit out when the time came to make a report to the administrators and whatever they ended up telling the public.

The specialists performed their task most admirably. Neither had been on either end of a friendly-fire ‘accident’ which, if Martina was being entirely honest with herself, was a concern she had had. Lucy even dragged that delinquent that had skipped class to an infirmary.

Without eating her. That was a success all on its own.

If it hadn’t been for that nurse, the day would have been almost perfect.

That was the biggest disappointment of all. If only Lisa Naranga had found a proper place to hide or simply escaped…

Nothing to do about it now. Catherine had already notified the next of kin.

The door to Martina’s office burst open, slamming into the wall.

A man wrapped in a black winter coat walked in. He stood in the doorway, taking in the room with a slow sweep of his head from one side to the other. Every inch his head moved only served to deepen the man’s frown.

Martina caught sight of Catherine. The succubus was in the middle of filing her nails into sharp points. As if feeling eyes on her, Catherine looked up and threw a glance in Martina’s direction with a nasty smile. The secretary’s eyes flashed red for a brief instant before the closing door cut off Martina’s view.

“Governor Anderson,” Martina said. She kept a scowl off her face and even managed to turn it into something of a mournful smile. “You should have sent word that you were coming, I would have arranged–”

“Spare me your pleasantries,” he snapped. “The administrators did not put you in charge so that you could run Brakket’s name further into the ground.”

Martina felt her smile slip. “I’m not sure what you’re implying,” she said slowly. “The new security team I assembled defended the academy against an overwhelming force with only one loss and no major student injuries.”

Governor Anderson shook his head. He folded his hands behind his back. “Have you done a headcount on your students?”

“Not as such,” she said with narrowed eyes. “I know that there are three students not currently at Brakket Academy. All three are known to… disappear at times.”

“Irresponsible. After an incident such as this, the first action you should have taken was to ascertain the location of all students. I don’t care where you think they are. If a student took a week off to visit relatives in Europe, you find out for sure that that student is actually there.”

Martina thought for a moment about calling in Zoe Baxter. That woman would have information about the girls. She stopped before her hand had even twitched towards the phone.

Something was wrong about the whole situation. A member of the board of administrators doesn’t just show up and start talking about missing students after a hundred hostile monsters show up on the school’s front porch. Perhaps the conversation would lead there, but he immediately went into the students.

“I take it you know something.”

“Two of those students are no longer on the mortal plane.”

Martina nodded. “One of those students is only human by the loosest definitions. It is somewhat alarming that she left our plane of existence, more so in that she took a friend with her. Their actions are not the business of Brakket Academy.”

Governor Anderson’s eyes turned dark. “I backed your plan. Convinced the others that there was merit in broadening the scope of magical curriculum. You assured me that you could keep your minions in line.”

“I’m not–”

“Find Zagan. Ask him about your missing students.” He turned on his heel and opened the door. It slammed into the wall with as much force as he had entered with.

Catherine did not look the slightest bit perturbed as he stalked by with his shadow curling up the wall. Rather, she looked interested. Her eyes turned a unique shade of red before she reined herself in.

“Find Zagan,” Martina repeated to herself as the outer door to the offices slammed shut with Governor Anderson on the other side.

“Ah,” Catherine said. She stood from her desk, grabbed a sheet of paper off the top, and tottered over through Martina’s open door. “Zagan stopped by last night, wanting you to have this. Slipped my mind until now.”

“A leave of absence?”

“He is taking a few days off, citing the traumatic incident as the cause.”

Martina tore the sheet of paper in two. She tore it again and again before scattering the pieces in Catherine’s face.

“Find him. And find all residents of Rickenbacker three-one-three.”

The lascivious grin on Catherine’s face died. “Is that an order?”

“Don’t try my patience.” Something had gone on. Something that the governor knew about despite not even living within Brakket city.

Something that involved a king of hell.

— — —

“If the immediate family would gather around for the final prayer and rites.”

A husband, a father, a mother, two older brothers, and a little sister all stood from their seats and approached the closed casket. Before a single word could be spoken, the mother broke down into sobs. The father pulled her into a tight hug while the eldest brother placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

The other brother stood off to one side with an unreadable expression. Boredom? Perhaps shock. The reality of the situation might not have hit yet.

The sister stood back with her brother. Her face was twisted in an expression of confusion as she watched her mother. She had to be in elementary school. Probably too young to understand everything that was going on.

Especially since the casket had been kept closed. The body was in no state to be displayed. Only the parents and the husband had been allowed to look.

The husband stood apart from the family. Silent tears streamed down his face as he waited patiently for everyone to collect themselves.

Zoe Baxter watched the proceedings from the back of the room. She hadn’t gone up an introduced herself. None of Lisa’s family knew her and she’d only met Lisa’s husband once at their marriage nearly six years ago.

She’d considered pleading to Ylva. What about, she wasn’t certain. Restoring her to life or a last chance to talk, maybe. In the end, she decided against it. Even if Ylva could do something–and Zoe wasn’t sure she could–it didn’t feel right.

Lisa and her family were highly religious. Even if it could return her to life, Zoe doubted that they would accept it if it came through a bargain with a demon. Would Lisa herself accept it?

Zoe shook her head. She couldn’t get caught in that loop of thinking again. There was nothing to be done about death.

The family prayer had gone on while Zoe was distracted with her thoughts. She only realized that fact when the undertaker and pallbearers started taking the casket out to the hearse. The family followed and soon after, so did the rest of the congregation of Lisa’s friends.

Zoe remained in her seat until the last person had filed out of the funeral home. She pulled out her dagger.

Dirt and grime coated the blade. Normally, it would have easily caught and reflected the dim light in the funeral home. She hadn’t had the time to clean it after everything.

Or rather, she forgot. There was so much going on.

Still so much going on.

Zoe ran her thumb over the flat of the blade. Most of the dust was crusted onto the blade. It would need the full works when she found the time.

She took a deep breath, wincing at the jolt of pain in her side. Break over.

Rising to her feet, Zoe picked up her cane. She wouldn’t need it in a few weeks–she barely needed it now–but it was nice to have something to lean on during long hours of standing. The nun’s lightning was problematic to heal.

It actively undid any magical attempts to heal the affected area. The magic simply fell apart. Trying to remove the lingering magic from it had suffered similar failures.

Devon had said it would disperse on its own after a week or two and then magic-assisted healing could begin. He spoke from personal experience, apparently.

The effect was something that she’d normally be overjoyed to experience, in a manner of speaking. Figuring out how such a spell worked, especially given that it wasn’t thaumaturgical in nature, would have made an excellent project.

She’d only had time to do a cursory analysis. A theory had almost immediately popped into her head about how to replicate the effect using thaumaturgical chaos magic, but not without also unraveling the spell itself. She had yet to even write down her theories let alone solve the issue.

With a sigh, Zoe teleported through between to the prison.

The place still looked like a battlefield. Half-scorched body parts were still scattered around. All belonged to the minions of the ‘Lord of Slaves’ that no one had bothered to pick up. No one cared, not with their other worries.

Zoe shuddered as her thoughts drifted to that particular demon.

Ylva and Arachne were one thing. Arachne was a psychopath, plain and simple. Plenty of humans were psychopaths, and plenty more were worse than she was. Ylva was more of an enigma. While she did somewhat enslave Nel, it wasn’t the same thing.

The very concept of the Lord of Slaves was fundamentally disgusting. She would be all too happy if Devon never felt the need to summon such a creature again.

A shout echoing through the empty compound pulled her attention away from her thoughts.

“Why can’t you send me?”

Zoe turned and stalked off in the direction of the noise. She tried not to look like she was hobbling, an endeavor she wasn’t sure was entirely successful. Every step sent pain up her leg and around her chest.

Teleporting was, unfortunately, not an option. Genoa had been on a hair-trigger temper since she had been informed about her daughter’s status. Teleporting around her was liable to result in injury at best.

Both Devon and Ylva had advised them not to confront Zagan or Martina over the matter, or even let on that they knew. Not until they could recover the girls.

That irked Zoe more than anything. She was once again considering resigning in protest. And once again coming up with a lack of results that resigning would achieve.

Zagan would have to go.

Later. And with a lot of planning.

Zoe rounded the corner of Devon’s cell house. Genoa, Devon, and Carlos all stood outside. The latter was in the process of trying to calm the two down.

Carlos was looking thinner than normal. He looked far more weary behind his coke bottle glasses. An older look. The lines on his face were pronounced and deep.

It had only been a few days and he was already looking ill.

Her daughter’s absence took a different sort of toll on Genoa. In addition to her hair-trigger temper, she’d become irritated with everyone at the prison. She was eating healthy and took proper care of herself, all in the name of mounting some kind of rescue mission.

Even when the attitude turned in her direction, Zoe couldn’t fault the woman. They weren’t her children, but they were her students. Leaving them in Hell was not an option.

Zoe at least possessed the ability to acknowledge that she was so far out of her element that she wouldn’t be much use. She was willing to heed the advice of Devon and Ylva.

“I didn’t say can’t, woman, I said won’t.” He thrust a sheet of paper at her. The drawing, or a copy, of the transference circle Zoe had taken a picture of. “Draw it yourself if you’re so desperate. But you’re throwing yourself away.”

Genoa snatched the paper from his hands. “I won’t abandon my child.”

“You’ll be abandoning them no matter what you do. You might as well use the connection in Ylva’s domain. That circle has no destination sigil. You could wind up anywhere. Hell is a big damn place. The odds that you’d wind up with your kid are astronomical.

“Then we have to figure out how to get you back, potentially delaying the rescue of your daughter. What a pain. Damn Ylva and its damn payment. I don’t have the time for this shit. It was going to save Eva anyway, I could tell.” Devon devolved into muttering under his breath.

Zoe stepped forwards, ensuring that Genoa saw her before she spoke. She didn’t want to wind up attacked on accident again. “Is Ylva still gone?”

Both Devon and Genoa turned to glare at Zoe. Carlos was the one to finally respond. “Still gone. Is she really going to help get our daughter back?”

“I think so,” Zoe said. And she honestly believed it. Ylva had been protective of her ‘things’ if nothing else. “How is Eva?”

“Unchanged.”

“No one is watching over her?”

“Arachne was with her when we left.”

No one responsible then, Zoe thought with a small sigh.

Genoa crumpled the paper into a ball and turned away. Without a word, she stalked off towards Ylva’s building.

Carlos started after her, but paused and looked back. “I-I better keep her from doing anything rash.”

“Is that true? About the destination thing,” Zoe said as soon as Carlos and Genoa were safely out of earshot.

“I consider myself an expert in these kinds of things. Demons and such. Frankly, that circle shouldn’t work. It’s like a mirror of a proper summoning circle. But if it does work, it will work the way I said it does.”

“You haven’t tested it?”

“Of course not. I don’t want to tip anything off and I definitely do not want to have anything to do with any of the seventy-two. I warned Eva.” He descended once again into mumbling complaints about seemingly everything he could think of as he turned and walked away.

Zoe stood there in the prison courtyard, leaning on her cane, wondering just what she could be doing to help her students.

— — —

Des sat in her chair without moving. She didn’t have much choice in the matter, but struggling would only make things worse.

She did glance over towards Hugo. Unlike Des, he wasn’t strapped down. He even had clothes on. Hugo simply sat and stared with his usual vacant look.

A second chair sat in the room, though it was facing the wrong way. The back was tall enough that she couldn’t see anyone, but it was probably there for a reason. A new test subject for her father, perhaps.

“You disappoint me, Des.”

Her father was smiling. Not at her and not because he was happy. In fact, that was one of the worst smiles she’d seen.

“Don’t worry, we can fix that. But first, let’s discuss why you disappoint me.”

Everything had gone so wrong. Des couldn’t even point out where things failed. Eva wasn’t supposed to have gotten away. She wasn’t supposed to have been an enemy in the first place.

Des was willing to admit that she had let her anger get the best of her. But it wasn’t her fault. If Eva had just played nice, none of this would have happened.

They were supposed to have been friends. Two outcasts joining together against mutual enemies.

That was what her father had said anyway.

“You took our little friends, Des, and got all of them killed. You didn’t tell me first. There was no plan.” Sawyer hung his head in mock sadness. “Worst of all, you ran. You got scared. They were held off by six people and a demon or two because no one was controlling them.”

His voice was soft. Calm. Completely unlike what happened when other people got mad. That was the fifth scariest part of the whole situation.

“That was the whole point in making them. Demons have far too much agency, but they’re strong. With us controlling our demon-golems…” he trailed off with another shake of his head.

“And Hugo helped you.”

Hugo blinked and glanced up to Sawyer. His eyes focused for a brief moment.

Her father snapped his fingers.

Hugo slumped forwards, falling out of his seat. He collapsed to the floor without attempting to catch himself.

Des tried to scream out. She struggled against the chair’s restraints.

They didn’t budge.

“Don’t worry, honey. We’ll build you a new toy. A better one!

“But that is the price he had to pay. Don’t disappoint me again, Des.”

The restraints didn’t even allow Des to slump back in her chair. She didn’t want a new toy. Hugo was hers.

“Not all was lost. I noticed your errant actions fast enough to act myself. I caught us a little souvenir.”

He spun the spare chair around.

There was a woman sitting in it with wide eyes and short, messy hair. Milky white eyes were inset in her body everywhere Des could see. At least, between the straps. Some of the spots shouldn’t even be possible. There was definitely not enough meat on her wrist to support an eye and have a functional bone structure.

A small spot on her other arm had dried blood crusted over a hole that might have held an eye at one point in time.

“I’m going to have to change my original plan. There were unexpected complications, but all will be well. We might have to move quickly over the next few days until I figure out how to hide us from the other nuns. Their inquisitorial squad is reeling from losing half the members and one other augur, but they’ll be back.”

As she tore her eyes from the woman’s eyes, Des noticed one odd thing. When her father strapped in subjects, he stripped them to ensure they had no hidden items on their person.

The woman had a choker around her neck. A small, obsidian black skull dangled from the front end. It was highly detailed. For all Des knew, it was fashioned from a real skull. A real tiny skull, but a real one nonetheless. All the teeth were perfectly detailed, the cheekbones had all the proper shapes, and the eyes…

It drew her eyes in. She couldn’t look away even if she tried.

And she tried. She wanted nothing more than to not have to look at the necklace.

Two tiny white pricks were set so far back in the eye sockets that they could be on the opposite end of the universe.

Two tiny white stars, fueling their burning with sheer anger.

>>Author’s Note 003<<

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003.026

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“What does it mean?”

Neither of them had dared to speak for the longest time. Her voice felt dry and hoarse–though not simply because of the time. What they watched drained all the moisture from her mouth. Most of it had gathered on the palms of her hands.

Jordan shook his head as the shadows around them faded back into the background. He’d waited long enough. It had been several minutes since anyone walked by.

“The professor is a demon of some sort,” Jordan said. “I’m certain of that. Not as friendly as Eva and Arachne, by the looks of it. I don’t even want to say his name. He might notice us.”

Shelby shuddered.

Eva was one thing. She kept Arachne out of sight and out of mind. Her own physical changes were easily overlooked simply because Shelby had known her for a year and a half.

But Professor Zagan was a demon too? And Professor Baxter knew about it? Not only that, but she looked about ready to attack him too.

Shelby walked up to the classroom door. There was a solid wall of air keeping her from even opening it, but it didn’t stop her from peeking in the window.

Just as Professor Baxter said, there was a magic circle in the room. A ‘transference circle’ according to Professor Zagan. Desks had been shoved aside to make way. A broken bit of chalk lay just outside the circle.

A book bag rested on top of one of the desks. Juliana’s bag?

“They’re not in there,” Shelby said.

“Of course not.”

Jordan paced up and down in front of the door, looking scary. Terrifying even. While the shadows that had been hiding them in the alcove of another classroom had receded, he still had shadows curling off of him.

This must be one of the things my sister was always talking about.

“Professor Baxter asked where they were. If they were in there, she’d know. Didn’t you hear how he dodged her question? He claimed not to remember their names.

“No.” Jordan stopped pacing. “He couldn’t be bothered remembering ordinary mortal names. That might be true, but he remembers our names. He says them in class often. He said it himself. A lie of omission.”

“Then, where are they?”

“Transference circle. Sends things to Hell. He answered that as well.”

“They’re in Hell.” The last word came out as little better than a choked up whisper.

Jordan reached out and gripped Shelby’s hand. “We don’t want to get caught around here.”

Under normal circumstances, Shelby might have enjoyed having her hand held. Now, her hand was cold and clammy. All thoughts of affection had been replaced by fear.

“We need to find Professor Baxter.”

“What about Irene?” Her sister was the whole reason they’d followed after Juliana and Shalise in the first place.

“Her too,” Jordan said as he led them through the halls in the same direction Professor Baxter had gone several minutes earlier. “Though she wasn’t with Shalise and Juliana. She’s probably not in Hell.”

That was only a small relief. Shelby had seen the army outside. If her sister had gotten mixed up in that…

She didn’t know what she’d tell mom.

“I still don’t know why she skipped class. It isn’t like her.”

“She has been on edge lately,” Shelby said. “Every day seems worse. I was hoping she was finally going to make up with Eva, or just relax, but now this. I can’t help but wonder if it was all a lie.”

“I doubt Eva had anything to do with this,” Jordan said, giving her hand a small squeeze. “Not unless I severely misread her personality.”

Shelby smiled at the reassurance. She wasn’t about to decide either way until she heard it straight from the horse’s mouth, but Jordan knew plenty she didn’t. More than that, Shelby trusted him to give a straight answer. Especially about serious issues.

“Come on, out there.”

“Out there?” All the faint happiness died with those four words. Jordan was looking straight out at the army. “We can’t go out there. Even if you can keep your shadow thing–”

“The little girl, the one from Professor Baxter’s class, is a demon too.”

“Another one? Then we definitely–”

Jordan shook his head. Shelby barely registered him pulling her close and putting an arm around her shoulders. “Arachne is out there too. They’re helping fight. And the fight looks almost over.”

Shelby’s vision went black before she could protest.

When her vision returned, it was accompanied by the cool outside air.

A black-nailed hand stopped moving just an inch from her face.

Shelby stumbled backwards with all the reaction time of a sloth. A drunk sloth. She fell to the ground, dragging Jordan down on top of her.

“You are students.”

The owner of the black-nailed hand stared down at the two of them with cold, dead eyes. Despite the fact that the eyes were sitting on the face of a ten-year-old, Shelby felt herself being weighed and measured.

If she was found wanting, she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would not survive.

“We are. We need–” Jordan cut himself off with a glance to one side. After a brief moment, he nodded and looked back towards the demon.

“I apologize for intruding on your shadow.” He bowed his head until he was looking straight down at the ground. “We have information we felt should be delivered with haste.”

Shelby held her breath as the weighing continued. After what felt like an eon and then some, the demon–Ylva, Zoe had introduced her as–lowered her arm.

“We will receive your information.”

Jordan glanced up with a faint smile on his face. “The male professor that is also a demon–”

“Zagan.”

Jordan flinched at the demon’s word, but nodded. “We watched him follow Juliana and Shalise into a room with a transference circle. He left. They disappeared from the room. He then failed to mention either of them when Professor Baxter asked. We knew you were associated with Professor Baxter and Eva. Not knowing where they are, we sought you out.”

Silence grew as they waited for her to respond. Every second that passed brought along a slightly colder wind. Shelby didn’t have her jacket with her and the cold quickly leeched away the warmth from being indoors.

Out of the corner of Shelby’s eye, she noted the black carapace of Arachne run towards one of the few remaining creatures that made up the army. She tore off the creature’s arms, then legs. Shelby pointedly turned away when she started pulling the thing’s insides out.

“We understand your implications. You wish to be rewarded for this information?”

“No. Nev–”

“Yes,” Shelby cut Jordan off. He looked at her with wide eyes and slowly shook his head. Shelby ignored him. “My sister, Irene. She’s been missing since the start of this. The last time we saw her was with Eva at lunch.”

“We own a clairvoyant. She spotted Eva with a companion when this began, according to Arachne,” the demon said with a slight glance off to the side.

Shelby sagged in relief, not even caring that her own eyes had drifted to the other demon and the target that was being disemboweled.

Her relief ground to a halt with Ylva’s next words.

“Eva’s whereabouts are unknown. As are those of her companion.”

“But… that–”

Jordan squeezed Shelby’s hand once again. “Doesn’t mean any harm has come to either of them.”

“I just want to find her.”

“And we–”

Professor Baxter appeared before them, a single step behind Ylva.

At least, she thought it was the professor. Shelby’s eyes widened as she took in the state of the woman.

Most of her suit was covered in dirt. Half of it had been burned clear away. Whatever hit her suit hadn’t stopped there. A massive spot of charred flesh lay just beneath her right breast. Several boils and burns spread out from the burnt circle.

Her mud covered face was twisted into a tight grimace. She had her lips pressed into a thin line and Shelby could tell that her teeth were clenched tightly behind.

Zoe looked like she was only standing though sheer force of will.

“Professor Baxter,” Jordan said, “we–”

“I’m sorry. No time.”

Professor Baxter twitched the dagger in her hand. Her voice boomed out over the battlefield.

“ARACHNE!”

— — —

Genoa narrowed her eyes. “Which side is the enemy?”

“The nuns,” Zoe said. “Eva did not part on good terms with them. Though I’m not sure who or what the peasants are. They could be just as hostile.”

“Everyone then.”

Genoa had a look in her eye. One that Zoe had never seen before. It was a dangerous look, something she’d expect to see on Arachne. The only difference was that Arachne got the look for no reason, while Genoa had reason enough.

The rage of a mother was a scary sight to behold.

Noticing the look Zoe gave her, Genoa pressed her sunglasses up on her face, obscuring her eyes.

“We’re wasting time.”

Zoe gripped her dagger. With a deep breath, she glanced at her friend. “Right.”

In the blink of an eye, Genoa vanished.

A dust storm erupted over the combatants. Only Zoe’s enhanced sight allowed her to see the vague outlines of the nearest group.

She moved out while the dust had everyone occupied.

There wasn’t much cover in the prison aside from the walls of buildings. It was designed that way on purpose. Letting prisoners hide from guards would have led to ambushes and escapes.

Zoe walked out in the open. Room to dodge was more important than hiding behind the handful of sagebrush that had grown since the prison last saw proper maintenance.

Repeated slashes of her dagger sent razor-thin blades of wind through the air.

The black-cloaked mage didn’t even acknowledge the wind. A shield flickered up around her, tanking the hits. She didn’t even turn towards Zoe, choosing instead to incinerate one of the peasants with white fire.

For all Zoe knew, the mage didn’t notice. The wind was invisible and Wayne had said that their shields were ridiculously strong.

Zoe sent a light gust of air. Nothing big, nothing sharp. Air had to be getting through their shields or they would asphyxiate.

She was pleased to note the billowing of the mage’s cloak. Some things could get through.

Evacuating all the air was a possibility, but Zoe didn’t want to kill if she could help it.

Zoe set the wind around the mage’s feet to compress. More and more air pulled in beneath the mage.

There had to be a threshold between wind and attack. She’d love to run a few tests, but now was not the time. Finding a way around their shield was more important.

The mage noticed something. It must have been the wind moving strangely, though she did not look down. Had she noticed the sphere of compressed air at her feet, she would have moved.

After incinerating one more peasant, she turned to face Zoe. One hand raised up.

Lightning, probably, Zoe thought as she tensed her legs. Dodging lightning might seem impossible to a layperson, but Zoe knew lightning and she knew magic. The Elysium Order might use slightly different magic, but it had the same principles.

Probably.

The instant Zoe’s enhanced eyes noticed a slight change in the mage’s arm, she threw herself to the ground.

Lightning careened through the spot where she had stood.

Not giving the mage a second chance, Zoe released her control over the compressed air.

The shock wave was like a little bubble expanding outwards. Zoe could see it coming. She pinched her eyes shut just as it rocked over her prone form.

A thundering boom came an instant later.

She tried to pop her ears, but nothing made the high-pitched ringing go away.

Looking up, Zoe found the mage knocked a good twenty feet away, slumped against the wall. Not moving.

Too much force? She deliberately kept it small, relatively speaking. Was it still too much in the end?

Zoe shook her head.

No time to check on her.

The cloud of dust had partially cleared away thanks to the blast, revealing another three mages. All turned to look at Zoe.

“Shit.”

Zoe rolled away as spot she occupied quickly turned into a black scorch mark.

With a flick of her hand, a shield sprung up in front of Zoe.

It fractured and shattered as the mages released two lightning bolts.

The first mage had gotten to her feet.

She reached out, aiming her hand.

With wide eyes, Zoe saw white fire forming at her fingertips.

Buildings, mages, even the sky itself fell as the cool white of between replaced everything.

The opposite end of the prison compound rebuilt itself around Zoe. Far from any nuns.

Adrenaline gave her the strength to stand. That same adrenaline had her hands violently shaking. Zoe tried to wipe the thick layer of sweat coating her hands onto her pants and wound up with a thick layer of damp dirt.

Zoe knew that Genoa was still out there. Fighting. Winning, in all likelihood.

She slumped against whatever building she had teleported against. Devon’s, probably.

Their cloaks hid their faces. All features were obscured save for the brilliant white glow of their eyes. That first and last nun, staring into those eyes as she prepared to incinerate Zoe as she had to those peasants…

A fear-infused shudder ran through her body.

Breathe in, Zoe thought. And out.

A short laugh followed her exhale. To think she’d been worried about using too much force in that compressed air blast.

She should have used more.

Zoe slapped her cheeks, regretting the action immediately. Dirt ground into her sweat-covered cheeks.

Situations like these were exactly why Zoe never went farther in the guild than the initial trials. She liked research. Developing, discovering, and rediscovering secrets of magic were her passions.

Applying those passions to combat did not interest her in the least.

Zoe slapped her cheeks again. This time, she ignored the extra mud her slap smeared around her face. She had to get into the right mindset. The mindset she’d had to adopt when going through the guild’s trials.

The Elysium Order did not play nice. They acted with excessive force and violence.

Zoe let out a small laugh as she ran her fingers through her hair.

With a flick of her dagger, between enveloped the world.

Before the battlefield finished reassembling itself around her, Zoe raised her dagger. She fired off a lightning bolt at the nearest nun.

As expected, it collided with a shield about three inches from the nun’s face.

That was something she could work with.

Without waiting for any kind of retaliation, Zoe teleported.

She couldn’t do the rapid blinking that Genoa was capable of–something she was regretting never taking the time to learn–only the long-range teleportation that Wayne had taught her. Her way took more energy, concentration, and time. Only a few seconds but a few seconds was an eternity in combat.

Zoe reappeared in front of another nun.

The nun was in the process of incinerating another peasant. One who had a hatchet buried in his back.

Hatchets weren’t a weapon used by the order as far as she knew. Zoe didn’t have time to frown.

As the peasant collapsed into a pile of ashes–without a single cry of pain–the nun looked to Zoe.

Who had already been preparing her attack. With the flick of her wrist, a sphere of compressed air exploded. Zoe kept the air shaped so that most of the force would aim towards the nun.

It wasn’t large. She lacked the time to create one as large as earlier. It made up for it by being placed an inch and a half from the nun’s forehead.

The nun’s head snapped back, though no sound of cracking bones reached Zoe’s enhanced ears. The rest of her body staggered for a moment before she fell backwards against the ground. White glow faded from her eyes as she landed.

There was no time to check on the results of her attack. Zoe teleported away just as the lightning from one of the downed nun’s comrades crackled through the spot she had been standing on.

She reappeared just behind the attacking nun and immediately started compressing air next to her head.

As soon as the nun turned to fire, Zoe let the compressed air loose.

The nun’s shield flickered in around her head, only half an inch away.

“Shit.”

Zoe cried out even as the world fell apart around her. She held on to her dagger for dear life. Wayne had warned her about losing control while teleporting. She had no desire to suffer that fate.

When the far side of the compound asserted itself in front of her, Zoe collapsed into the side of the building. Her shoulder slammed into the rough, sandstone bricks.

Her dagger-less hand gripped her side. Zoe winced and immediately let go.

The side of her suit had been burned clean through. A black circle the size of her fist lay just under her right breast. From it, red lines reminiscent of natural lightning snaked down through the side of her body to some point beneath her clothes. Boils and blisters had already started forming.

Zoe took a few deep breaths. She tried not to expand her chest as she did so. Every movement caused pain.

She couldn’t sit idle. Gritting her teeth, Zoe teleported again.

Reappearing at the battlefield, she prepared to evacuate as much air as she could around the first nun she saw.

Blinking, Zoe saw not a single nun apart from the prone nun she had hit a few moments earlier.

The dust settled, flattening against the ground in an instant. A few of the peasants stood around, looking somewhat lost.

Standing where the thickest parts of the dust cloud had been was Genoa. Two nuns, or their remains, lay around her. Genoa glanced around, looking none the worse for wear.

“Tough bitches.”

Zoe didn’t feel up to much besides nodding.

“You’re injured.”

Zoe nodded a second time. She could feel the adrenaline draining out of her. It was making her somewhat tired, though every jolt of pain kept her from falling unconscious on her feet. “Where did they go?” Zoe finally asked.

“Just up and vanished. Teleported away leaving that icy air you leave behind. Cutting their losses, maybe?”

“That one,” Zoe said with a nod towards the one she had hopefully just concussed, “might not be dead. Restrain her in Ylva’s domain. Teleportation doesn’t work inside, so she won’t be able to escape. Unless we want to let her go?”

Genoa walked over and slung the nun over her shoulder, fireman’s carry. She didn’t look at all bothered by the weight of a human body.

“Let’s find Nel and…”

One of the peasants ran over, waving its arms wildly. It stopped a few feet from them, just in time for Genoa to not turn it into paste.

Outside the heat of battle, Zoe noticed a few things. His clothes were definitely made from some type of burlap. There were rope burns around both of his wrists. Most notably, he was missing his entire jaw, though he didn’t appear to be bleeding.

The peasant outstretched one arm, pointing down between the cell houses. A second peasant was in the distance, pointing perpendicular from the first peasant.

“They want us to follow?” Genoa asked.

The first peasant stomped his feet and took off at a run. Genoa was quick to follow despite the nun over her shoulder.

Zoe simply flicked her dagger and teleported. Running would hurt.

From the second peasant, she could easily see what he was pointing at.

“Eva,” Zoe said softly. She teleported again to her student’s side with Genoa running up not far behind.

Eva was lying face down, wrapped in one of the security specialists’ trench coats. A gash had been torn in one side and through it, Zoe could see the inside of her student. Nestled within appeared to be one of her bloodstones.

A bone white dagger lay to one side, half sheathed in blood.

Zoe started to reach for it. A collection of blood appearing in front of her face stopped her.

NƠ̸̻̫̝̝͘͞ TOUCH

CURSED

“Eva? You’re alive?”

OBVIOUS̷̘̘͍̟͇̩LY

“Damn,” a voice behind them called out. “Damn.”

Devon ran up beside them, almost shoving Zoe out of the way. Two things, demons likely, followed him.

Genoa dropped into a combat stance. Something of an odd sight with the nun still over her shoulders. She seemed to recognize Devon just in time.

“What are those?” she said with a gesture towards the demons.

“Don’t shake hands and headache,” he mumbled as he stopped above Eva. “You couldn’t do one thing right, girl?”

The blood in front of Devon swirled around into a frowning face.

Devon didn’t seem to notice. He hunched over the dagger, pointedly not touching it.

“Where’s Juliana?” Genoa asked. “Alternatively, Nel?”

J NOT S̷̢͝͠Ị̸͓̪̹̝̼͈͠NCE LUNCH

NEL KIDNAPPED

“Kidnapped?” Genoa said with a growl. “Who?”

Before Eva could write out a response, Devon jammed both fingers into the hole in her back.

She spasmed twice. The mass of blood above her had a similar spasm. It formed into a spiked ball before splaying out a few droplets. A few landed on Devon’s face, causing him to pull his fingers out.

STOP

FIGH̵̨͇͎͕̬̘͘͟͞TING CURSE

BLO̧͈̮̲̭͇̹͇O̶DSTONE CRACKED

WILL BREAK

NEED DAĢ̸͙͓̭͈̰̳̖͞GER

“Arachne has it,” Zoe said.

NEẸ̢̡͓̼̰͘͟͠ͅD͉̯̝̰̜̰̖̤̤͞

LOSING FIG̸͓̺̖̙̫̬̕͡H̢̫̫̩̮̗͉̩͝T͉̜͓͔̻̀

NEED HELP

“Damnit. I can’t fix this on my own.”

Zoe was already readying herself to teleport to Arachne when Devon turned to face her.

“Grab the dagger and bring Ylva with you.”

“Ylva?”

“This is a necromancer’s work. If anyone can fix it, she can.” He turned back to Eva, mumbling under his breath. “Going to cost me an arm and a leg.”

“Necromancer,” Zoe said softly.

She saw one word written in blood before the world fell into between.

S̺̭͈͓̥̝͈̖̹̬̱̕͢͝Ḁ̧̛̞̝̩̘͉̝͈̗̠̞͉̦̳̞̳̗̀̀͟W̡͓̼̯̹͉͉̜̱͎͚̥̥͖͘͜͟͢Y̴̸̧̞̫̝̫̘̰͎̰͜͠Ẹ̼̳̯̩̮̲̞̞̩̝̼̼̝͎͉́̀̀̕͡ͅR̶̴̺͈̣̣̦̯͚̪͘̕͡

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003.025

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Nel huddled in the corner of Devon’s cell house while the two argued out a plan.

A seizure ran through her body. Nel avoided collapsing thanks solely to her already being crouched down. She tried hard to keep her eyes off of all of the demons they had summoned. It wasn’t easy. Her eyes wanted to look.

It’d be worse if she connected to the source. As it was without being connected, she retained some control.

The female was the easiest to look at. Although whatever she was made from was inhuman, nothing about her triggered any sort of negative response. Nel tried to avoid her anyway. From the vague explanation of that demon’s power, it would be nearly impossible to avoid her eyes.

A hazy figure moving through Nel gave her a start. She cupped her hand over her mouth, not wanting to make another noise. The first time it had happened was understandable. To Nel at least, not so much to the others. Shouting out again would only garner more strange looks.

It wasn’t a ghost. It was too real to be a ghost. Her regular eyes couldn’t see a thing, but it was there all the same. The false-ghost moved up to stand next to the masked demon. A few stood around him and several more were scattered around the room.

As far as Nel could tell, neither Eva nor Devon noticed even when the ghosts moved through them.

A small seizure racked Nel’s body again. Just thinking about the first two had her subconsciously send her eyes to look at the third. That one was where all her problems started.

She could see–through her normal eyes no less–a fang filled maw, hard skin coated with black tar, leathery wings, a tail tipped with spikes, lizard-like legs, its beating heart, lungs, the insides of its stomach, and plenty more.

It wasn’t transparent. Nel could simply see the entire thing, inside and outside, at once. And any time an eye that wasn’t on her face saw it, something broke in her mind.

The demons were on her side–until Eva and Devon deemed her not worth the trouble–but that gave her no solace. She didn’t need them to be killing her. Her augur condition felt like it was actively trying to drive her insane.

“Alright,” Devon said.

Finally.

“Demons are covering us. We get the nun to Ylva’s domain. Once she is safe, we can move to rout the inquisition.”

That was a good plan. Amazing even. It would have been a better plan if she’d never have had to leave, but Nel valued her spine’s current location enough to not complain about that.

“The Lord of Slaves will put itself between us and the Elysium Order. His minions will be our escort.”

At his words, the masked demon reached out and tapped the nearest three ghosts on their shoulders. The wispy forms solidified into people from the point of contact.

One looked like the stereotypical knight in shining armor–if such stereotypical knights wore rusted iron that had been battered out of shape.

The second wouldn’t have looked out of place in a civil war reenactment troupe. He carried an old-fashioned rifle and had a slightly curved sword attached to his side. His uniform was marred by several holes that were still bleeding.

The final ghost wore burlap clothing and a straw hat. His hand gripped a flaming torch that gave off no smoke and no light. Blood dripped from one of his temples.

Devon didn’t react to the sudden materialization of the ghosts. He simply looked them over before giving a reluctant nod.

Eva launched herself away from the ghosts. The two orbs of blood darted around wildly as if she were trying to decide which to attack. Only when none of them made any movement did she calm down.

“You need to stop springing things on me. Something is going to end up dead that we don’t want dead.”

Devon gave her an almost mocking smile. “In addition to not shaking its hand, don’t die around a Lord of Slaves. You’re less useful, but bodies can still serve.” His smile slipped into a frown. “Though, I suppose if you died, you might not care what happens to your body.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

The three slaves moved as one towards the exit to Devon’s cell house. Nel watched as they walked past, carefully keeping her eyes on them and them alone.

They appeared undead. How much good they would do against any members of the Elysium Order was somewhat suspect. The order’s primary abilities were tailored specifically to fight undead. But there was something odd about them. They might be more akin to golems or some other construct.

Connecting to the source would tell her, but she wasn’t that curious. Her eyes would undoubtedly be drawn to the other demons in the room. Not to mention that giving the source time and information to formulate a plan would help their enemy.

The knight exited first, moving with his shield up and his head low. The other two followed behind him. Nel started to follow, but stopped as she realized she was alone.

No one else moved. Not the demons, nor Devon and Eva.

Nel shifted her weight from foot to foot and back again. Why aren’t we going back yet? They were just standing there while the ghosts got further away.

Neither had glassy eyes or any other sign of mental manipulation. At least no sign that Nel was aware of.

“Shouldn’t we be moving?”

“The slaves are moving to engage and distract. Eva’s wards are still active. With their interference, they may just stay up.”

Nel frowned. There were thirty members of the inquisitorial team. What were three ghosts supposed to do?

“But shouldn’t we be running to Ylva’s domain while they’re distracting? They have augur support. They know we’re hiding here.”

“After they engage, more will appear to escort us. We don’t want to be caught outside if her wards fail. This building is far more defensible than open courtyards.”

“Why just three? He has a whole army of ghosts!”

“And they’ll be used later. The marksman–”

A high-pitched whine interrupted Devon. It was a somewhat familiar noise. Nel couldn’t quite place it.

It grew louder and louder as he, Eva, and the demons all looked around for the source of the noise. A blackish-red shield sprung up around the two of them.

Nel was too far away, being much closer to the door than they were.

A mounting horror grew in the pit of her stomach as Nel realized what the noise was.

“Oh no.”

Nel threw herself to the ground as far from the open door as she could reach in a single leap.

White light scarred several eyes that had stubbornly refused to shut. Her eardrums rattled in her skull as a piercing shriek tore through the air. The eyes that had remained open were crying tears of pain. And those were slowly blinking away the white spots.

Dragging herself to her feet–wobbling all the while–Nel patted herself down. Nothing was missing. Ylva’s robes weren’t even burnt. The cell house hadn’t collapsed either–they probably thought the prison was too sturdy to fall.

Their plan was probably to trap her inside this building, away from the one the augurs couldn’t pierce.

Not wasting her good fortune, Nel ran straight for Eva and Devon. The former let her shield down long enough for Nel to get inside.

“…said: what the hell was that?”

His voice sounded like a television’s white noise grinding on brillo pads. It took another minute and his hand gripping the front of her robes for Nel to realize that voice was directed at her.

“Th-they cracked the sky!”

“That means nothing to me,” he shouted. “What is it and how do we stop it.”

Nel pushed away from Devon. Being so close that the unkempt whiskers of his beard were touching her face was not something she wanted to experience anytime soon. He let her go without the expected fuss. As such, Nel bumped her head on the shield.

She winced, rubbing the spot as she answered him. “They fell to their knees before an idol, beseeching the Lord Himself to smite their foes. Us! They got authorization to crack the sky to get at us.” Nel started chewing on a thumbnail. Through her glove.

Devon let out a soft snort. “Got bad news for ya girl, your ‘Lord’ doesn’t give a damn about what happens around here.”

He rubbed his forehead before shaking his head. “No. This idol, it is a legendary artifact, isn’t it. Maybe a grimoire? Channel magic into it and get laser beams from the sky. Sounds familiar, but can’t quite remember. But, we blow it up and it stops. It has a range, what is it?”

Nel blinked. He wasn’t wrong, at least about the last part. “It’ll be nearby. Protected near the rest of the inquisitors… probably.”

“Don’t just stand there. Find out where.”

Nel was about to protest about the lack of frankincense on hand, but he immediately turned to Eva. He wouldn’t listen anyway. Nel closed her eyes.

Glimpses of the surrounding area flickered through her mind. Maintaining any one vision was impossible without frankincense, but quick flashes were within reach.

Starting where she last saw the inquisitors, Nel flickered her vision around. Four of the inquisitors, low rankers by the single bar of gold on their shoulder, held their hands outstretched towards the walls of the prison. Red-black particles of magic siphoned into their hands.

Ward breakers.

Nel made a note of their location, but moved on. The command tent was easy to locate–it was the only tent for miles. They had a map inside along with another augur. A red dot lay exactly where Nel herself was. A few other-colored dots surrounded her.

An altar had been set up behind the command tent. A statue of a man made from petrified wood rested on top of a velvet cloth. His arms were thrown to the sky as tears ran down his face. Four nuns prostrated themselves before it.

Nel stumbled as she ceased the rapid fire glimpses. She rested one hand against the shield wall, glad that it was both solid and not disintegrating her. The last time she overtaxed her glimpses, she had passed out for three days.

She had been heavily injured then. Hopefully her passing out was due more to that than abusing her augur abilities.

“That way,” Nel said, only moving her hand a small fraction. She didn’t want to tip-off any watching augurs that she was pointing out a direction. “Beyond the prison wall, there’s a tent a half-mile out. Behind it an altar has been set up. The idol is there.”

Devon rubbed his hands together as a small grin spread across his face. “Excellent.”

“You better hurry,” Eva said with a small stumble of her own. She had her eyes shut and her face in a grimace. “I can feel my wards unraveling. It isn’t pleasant.”

“There are ward breakers, four of them. I don’t want to point. It might tip-off the augurs. They’re south of the tent near the wall.”

“We’ll worry about them after we get rid of the bigger threat. The wards going down is not the end of the world. Them deciding to hammer the building over and over again with that sky-beam could be..”

The Lord of Slaves reached out and touched another handful of specters. As they materialized in the mortal realm, the large, fractal demon started moving towards the exit. Three slaves ran out ahead of it.

They simply stood outside. Waiting.

Nothing happened.

Nel caught a quick glimpse of their command tent. All the little dots on the map had moved around. “They see you moving the big demon. Probably waiting for it to come out before they crack the sky.”

“Good.”

The map updated in real-time, though Nel kept her glimpses spaced apart. Small dots representing the three slaves moved out in all directions. Another few dots joined the first three in spreading throughout the paths in the prison. All were heading towards the wall closest to the order’s camp.

One of the leaders moved out of the tent. Nel increased the frequency of her glimpses. He spoke to the prostrated nuns before placing his hand on the idol’s head.

“They’re going to crack the sky.”

“Where at?”

Nel opened her eyes to give Devon a glare. “I don’t know that.”

“Whatever. Keep watching.”

Nel shook her head and immediately regretted the action. It made her queasy. She pushed it down and alternated glimpses between the idol and the augur with the map.

A bright light shot off from the idol’s hands, aiming straight into the sky. A high-pitched whine started once again, but far fainter this time. With a screech, four dots disappeared from the map.

“They just fired.”

“I know,” Devon said right as a large black dot sped out of their cell house.

Nel opened her eyes to find the fractal demon was, thankfully, gone. She caught it in a glimpse. Rather than the expected seizure, Nel felt the tiniest tingle of something being wrong. Despite the lack of pain, she chose to go back to the map rather than risk collapsing.

The large dot representing the fractal demon circled around once, picking up a few of the smaller, slave dots on the way.

Both the augur and the high inquisitor started moving with haste not present in their earlier actions. The inquisitor all but ran out to the idol once again. Nel noted that all four nuns had more than a little sweat building on their faces. Some had small patches showing through their habits.

Nel smiled in spite of herself, glad she’d never wear one of the stuffy outfits again. “They’re preparing to crack the sky again.”

“Damn,” Devon said through grit teeth. “I’d hoped it had a longer refractory period.”

“If you can get it close enough to their camp, they won’t risk–”

“Nope. Not going to make it.”

All four of the smaller dots dropped off the larger dot before it zoomed straight ahead. The dot vanished from the map a split-second after.

Nel staggered back against the shield wall as Devon fell on top of her. Eva’s claws gripped his shoulder as both girls helped him get steady on his feet.

“Are you alright, master?”

Devon brushed her off. “It’s still alive.”

“They removed the dot from the map.”

“There isn’t much left,” he said. He shook his head at himself as both the Lord of Slaves and the waxy demon moved up to the cell house exit. “I don’t want to experience that again. I almost lost control.”

“Please don’t,” Eva said. “I can’t dominate these demons. And the wards are slipping more and more. I’d bet they could actually enter the prison now and only experience discomfort.”

“I’m concentrating on getting rid of the idol before that happens.”

Nel cut in to their conversation. “They’re moving out to dispatch the four slaves you dropped. On foot, not cracking the sky.”

“Let them come. If they move past where the demon is rebuilding itself, all the better.”

“The muskets won’t have an effect on our shields, nor can they catch the nuns by surprise so long as they’re connected to the source.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Nel frowned. He was sending those men to their deaths. Though they were already dead. And they might not be real men.

Leaning back against the shield, Nel took one last glimpse of the map before starting a brief rest. It would be a minute or two before the nuns reached the slaves. Two dots representing slaves were moving along the walls, looking for the ward breaker nuns, most likely.

They’d only be a momentary distraction, unless Nel was grossly underestimating their abilities.

Constant glimpsing had her feeling more dizzy than she’d felt in a long time. She decided to carry spare frankincense pellets and find some sort of portable incense burner in the future.

Neither Devon nor Eva were moving much. A quick glimpse showed the slaves moving about, so he had to be managing that somehow.

Eva, on the other hand, looked to be both sick and deep in concentration. Her wards were blood based, using a combination of Arachne’s blood and her own. Nel wasn’t certain on the specifics, but the wards must be tied to her far deeper than any standard thaumaturgical ward scheme. She had never heard of standard wards causing discomfort when taken down.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out as a slow sigh, Nel started up her rapid glimpsing once again.

First the map. It was largely unchanged from her previous glimpse. The few ghosts near the wall had vanished and the nuns were nearing the four undead outside their camp.

Nel switched her view to the soon to be ensuing battle.

Two of the undead were knight types. One wielded a mace while the other carried a massive sword in both hands. The other two carried guns. One looked fairly new, perhaps as late as the second World War.

They crested a small hill overlooking a waiting group of inquisitorial nuns. Three of them had a single gold bar over their shoulders while the fourth had triple stripes. While that did not automatically mean that nun was more powerful than the others, it did mean she had a good deal of experience.

The slaves seemed close enough to vampire slaves that her experience was probably not going to waste.

Nel shook her head and focused.

The nuns wasted no time opening up with lightning. To Nel’s surprise, and the surprise of the nuns, the lightning did nothing. The armored knights continued their forward march without any reaction. Both soldiers did stop walking, but they didn’t appear any more injured than the knights. The only real difference was the smoke coming off their bodies.

Rather than continue forwards, both soldiers dropped to a knee and took aim. Nel wasn’t flickering her glimpse fast enough to spot any bullets, but she did catch the shields flaring up around the nuns. As expected, none of them looked concerned about the guns.

“Wards gone,” Eva said, interrupting Nel’s glimpsing.

Devon gave a small grunt. “Just another minute.”

Where there had been a steady stream of blood or magic or whatever the nuns were siphoning from the wards, there was now a dying trickle. Only one of the four was actually siphoning. Two stood around, watching for threats while the last one was missing completely.

Checking the command center, Nel found the missing nun. She was giving a report to one of the high inquisitors.

“We’re going to have incoming soon,” Nel squeaked out.

“Just a moment. Almost got it.”

Everyone inside the command center stumbled forwards. They recovered in short order and all save for the augur sprinted outside. The poor augur was in the midst of a seizure that looked far more intense than what Nel had suffered.

Again, Nel was glad she hadn’t connected to the source.

The fractal demon stood where the altar once was. Or what was left of it. Both legs and one wing were missing entirely, much of the rest of it was in scraps. And somewhere, Nel couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, it held a statue made of petrified wood between a set of teeth.

Nel watched with a small hint of sadness as the idol turned to dust.

“Unless they have other surprises, we should be clear. I’ve released the demon, so they should be distracted for a few minutes at least. Both of you get to Ylva’s domain.”

“And you?”

“I can’t enter, but between the abdoth and the ruax, and any other demons I summon, I should be fine.”

Eva gave Devon a dubious look, but nodded anyway. She gripped Nel’s hand tight enough that, under other circumstances, Nel might have been worried her bones would snap. Together, they started running towards the door. The shield turned back into a few balls of blood as they left.

Actually moving, Nel discovered, was troublesome. The first several steps were less steps and more stumbles. Eva actually wrapped one of Nel’s arms over her shoulders for support. Every step seemed to bring a pounding headache. Nel would have suspected the headache demon, but it wasn’t even facing them.

It was simply from overusing her ability.

A good number of slaves materialized around them and escorted them out.

It wasn’t far to cell house two, but the nuns weren’t going to stand by and watch as Nel made her escape. The inquisition’s augur had to be watching them, unless she had perished due to the fractal demon. Even if she had, a contingent would catch up to them with the poor rate at which they were moving.

Eight black-robed inquisitors teleported in just as the thought crossed Nel’s mind. They raised their arms and fired lightning with a speed only matched by Eva reforming the shield around the two of them.

Nel’s eyes widened as the black orb in front of Eva shrank noticeably. Their shield was hanging on by a thread by the time the slaves engaged with the nuns. That, at least, stopped the lightning. For the moment. For every body that turned to ash in white flames, another slave ran in to close range.

Without a single word, Eva dropped the shield and did not recover any orbs of blood. If Nel thought she was being rough before, that was nothing compared to now. She dragged Nel around the corner of Devon’s cell house.

The door to Ylva’s domain was in sight.

Nel’s laugh of stress and joy twisted into a cry of pain. Eva’s claw squeezed and dug into her shoulder.

The pressure vanished while the pain remained. Eva released her shoulder to fall straight forwards against the ground. She didn’t even try to bring her hands out to catch herself.

A bone jutted out of the girl’s back. It was sharpened into a serrated blade part way down before the rest disappeared into Eva.

Nel felt gravity take hold of her. Unable to balance herself properly, Nel raised her hands to cushion her impact.

A pair of hands caught onto her and pulled her back upright.

“Thanks,” Nel mumbled as she looked back.

A skeletally thin man smiled back as he moved his hands firmly on her shoulder. “Oh,” he said with a small chuckle, “don’t mention it.”

Eva gave a small wheeze. “You…”

“Yes! Me! Happy to see me again?” He gave another short laugh that sent the hairs on Nel’s neck to standing at full attention. “I’ll say, your eyes fetched four times the price I would have thought. My buyer was very interested. Some unique property or another.”

“Those golems… I knew it…” Eva’s breath rasped as she tried to push herself up. She didn’t even manage an inch off the ground.

“My work, not my plan,” he spoke with a hint of disappointment, but never lost a fraction of his smile. “And you should be more careful. I know the capabilities of your healing. Let’s just say you can keep that dagger. Call it my gift to you, if you survive.

“I’d love to stay and chit-chat, or even invite you back to my place. Sadly, I’ve only time for one. Getting caught up in the order’s inquisition is not a priority.”

Despite the raging headache and the slight dizziness, Nel connected to the source. She wasn’t a good fighter. Information from the source overwhelmed her in combat. She could still fill this guy with enough lightning that he would–

“Ah-ah, none of that.”

Nel felt a prick at her neck and everything went dark.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


003.024

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“…a whole army outside the front doors!”

“At least a thousand of them.”

“I bet it has something to do with the girl with the eyes.”

“She isn’t even here!”

“Exactly.”

Zoe shot a silencing glare at the group of students in her class. It wouldn’t help at all, but she at least made the effort to keep her charges under control. Rumors were already spreading from the students who had caught a glimpse outside to the ones who hadn’t.

Like all rumors, they were slowly being blown out of proportion.

Zoe doubted that there were more than a hundred of the creatures, exactly zero of them were the size of the school building, and ‘that little girl from Professor Baxter’s class’ most certainly did not rush out and suplex one.

As amusing as that might be.

The rumor about Eva being involved was far harder to dismiss.

Zoe didn’t believe the girl to be responsible. She had taken steps to prevent the school from being involved in the nun riot at the end of the previous semester. No one had even been hurt there. Turning around and dropping an army of monsters on Brakket’s front porch just didn’t seem like her style.

Involved was another matter entirely.

The lack of her presence was somewhat damning enough on its own. Zoe might have suspected her of doing something even if she had been present. Eva had promised to inform Zoe of any major plans and Zoe was going to trust that she would until she proved otherwise. That was the only reason she was leaning towards Eva having nothing to do with the day’s events.

Zoe didn’t know what to make of Miss Coggins’ absence. To the best of her knowledge, she had never missed a single class. While Zoe had seen her around Eva’s little group, Irene was always more of an outlier–a hanger-on.

She didn’t know enough about Miss Coggins to make an accurate guess as to what would have caused her to miss class. That was a failure of her own. There would always be students she interacted with more often than others, but Irene was often quiet and rarely spoke up on her own.

Both girls missing at once had troublesome implications. The thought that more students than just Eva had ended up involved with anything that Eva touched was more than a little concerning.

Zoe took her eyes off her class for a moment as she scanned the rest of the room. It was far too crowded to pick out any individuals. The professors were relatively easy to pick out even among the older students. All save for Bradley and Franklin wore suits of some type.

Few of her colleagues were having the same success as Zoe at keeping their students quiet. The Brakket gymnasium was a veritable roar of panicked students and a handful of panicked teachers. Poor Yuria looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

One voice stood out over the rabble of the crowd.

“Six of my students are missing.”

With a frown, Zoe turned to the squeak of a voice. Her eyes narrowed as she caught sight of the culprit.

Alari. Of course.

She’d been too busy with keeping all of her own students together to pay attention to the other woman’s class. It came as no surprise that the rest of Rickenbacker three-thirteen disappeared to wherever Eva was. She put far too much faith in the other woman’s ability to keep the class together.

The older witch touched the tips of her fingernails together over and over again as she spoke to one of the security personnel. Her normal confidence in the face of everything was gone–dashed by Zoe’s own students.

She was only aware of four students missing. Irene and Zoe’s girls. Who were the other two missing?

Zoe glanced over to the other professor’s class. It didn’t take long to notice the lack of Miss Coggins’ other half and Mr. Anderson.

“I’m sorry,” the guard said. “Orders are to stay here. I’ll send out a notification to the others, but I haven’t heard from them since they went outside.”

His voice was far more subdued than Alari’s nervous voice. He was young, but projected a serious air around him. Between the roar of the students and his subtle voice, he may as well have been whispering. Only through carefully enhancing her sense of hearing did the volume become a non-issue for Zoe.

Zoe turned and walked up to Alari. “Watch my class. I’ll find them.”

The security guard turned towards Zoe. “Ma’am, I’m not suppose–”

She didn’t have the time to argue with an uninformed guard. Zoe twitched her dagger. The walls of the gym fell apart into the featureless white of between. All the people disappeared along with the rest of reality.

The hallway leading to the gym built up around Zoe. Immediately, she set off down the hall. She gave a cursory glance into each room, just in case there were other students that had been left behind.

Checking the entire school was not a viable option. It was doubtful that any of her girls were inside. They’d be out where all the action was.

Zoe was already regretting allowing Shalise and Juliana out of her sight. Juliana managed to be a skilled combatant at the very least. Zoe only barely scraped by in their duels during the summer seminars–that was entirely thanks to Zoe stacking the deck in her favor.

It was a fair tactic. Fights in real life were rarely even.

But dragging along Shalise… That was plain irresponsible. Even if she had the rune gloves to help her with attacks, she wasn’t ready for a fight. She didn’t have the mindset for it.

Neither of the Coggins sisters were ready for any kind of combat. While Mr. Anderson may have learned a few tricks from his family, Zoe very much doubted that he was combat ready either. None of them attended her seminar. The only location where Zoe had an opportunity to observe their fighting was in the mage-knight club. Needless to say, those performances left much to be desired.

Zoe ceased her forward march through the hallway. Something had caught her eye in that last classroom. She took two steps backwards and looked in. There were no students in the room.

There was a ritual circle right in the center of the room. One of the desks had been shoved aside to make room. It wasn’t overly large, but still needed a good amount of floorspace.

As Zoe stared at the circle, her frown deepened. It wasn’t a ritual circle. While she had never practiced anything she read in Eva’s books, she had memorized the insignias and sigils associated with infernal summoning circles.

What the circle on the floor before her was for, Zoe couldn’t say. There were several different types of summoning circles. Some for summoning specific demons, some for summoning a specific species, and some for summoning a wide variety of demons. She’d have to drag Eva or Devon over to look at it to know for sure. Possibly Ylva as well.

One thing was certain, it did not belong in a classroom.

She thought about sketching it for later study. That would have taken too long. A photo on her cellphone would have to do.

Just in case the real circle held secrets that her phone did not, Zoe stepped out of the room and locked the door. She scrawled a quick note and stuck it to the front before erecting a barrier of hardened air over the doorway. It would take an air mage all of two seconds to tear down, but she didn’t have the time to put up proper wards. The barrier would keep people from accidentally walking in for the time being.

Zoe turned and took one step down the hallway.

And hit the barrel chest of a man.

She hopped backwards, one hand rubbing her nose while the other readied her dagger.

Even after recognizing the man, she did not lower her weapon.

“Zagan,” she hissed.

“Zoe.” His golden eyes glinted for an instant. “A pleasure as always. You avoid me so much these days, have I offended you somehow?”

“You lied to me. I let you into my home.”

He tilted his head to one side before shaking his head. “I can’t recall a single lie I’ve told anyone. Unless you’re talking about lies of omission. Those hardly count. You’ve done so plenty of times, yeah?”

Zoe frowned. Omitting knowledge of Eva was the primary cause of her and Wayne’s little argument last semester. Still, that was different. Zagan was a legitimate monster. “You licked that nun’s face.”

“She tasted good.”

“That’s disgusting.”

Zagan just shrugged.

Zoe shifted her weight to her other foot as Zagan stared. When he didn’t make any move to give a proper response, Zoe said, “is that summoning circle your doing?”

“Summoning circle?” Zagan said with a blink.

Zoe blinked as well. Surprise was not what she expected.

He slipped around Zoe and opened the door, completely ignoring the barrier of wind in the process. After a moment, he shut the door with a chuckle.

“You had me worried for a moment there. I’ll forgive your ignorance this one time.” At the blank look Zoe gave him, Zagan continued. “That is a transference circle. It sends things to Hell. Not strong enough to bring things here from Hell.”

At least the school won’t be overrun from within, Zoe thought with a sigh. “Why is it here?”

“As I said, it is used to send things to Hell.” Zagan’s voice turned a few notches more menacing. His eyes flashed bright gold. Zoe actually took a few steps backwards. “Presumably, someone wanted something sent to Hell. In a very literal manner. Don’t make me repeat myself.” All the hostility vanished in an instant. “Don’t feel bad, I don’t tolerate my students’ inattention either.”

Zoe licked the edges of her lips with a suddenly dry tongue. She cleared her throat twice before she could form words. “Right.” It took one more clearing of her throat before Zoe felt up to forming a full sentence. “Shouldn’t you be outside fighting?”

“Please. Nothing out there is strong enough to be interesting.”

“So you skulk about in the hallways.”

He put on a goofy, disarming grin. “A demon of my caliber never skulks.”

That had Zoe on edge more than anything. One moment, he looked ready to murder her for making him repeat himself, the next and he looked nothing more than a particularly handsome man. After a borderline insult, no less.

“No, my contract only dictates that I keep this place safe. So long as I patrol the hallways and keep everything out, I am fulfilling my assignment.”

Zoe shook her head and focused. She couldn’t allow herself to be distracted by the antics of a mad demon. “Have you seen Eva in the past hour or two?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Juliana? Or Irene? Shalise maybe?”

“You’re expecting me to remember the names of several mortals that are inconsequential, at best.”

Zoe frowned. He wasn’t about to offer up anything else. “Fine,” she said as she turned on her heel. She kept her enhanced senses trained on him as she walked away. Not a single footstep reached her ears. She glanced back before she turned the corner.

There was nobody in the hallway.

With a shudder, Zoe continued to the main entrance.

The defending force was not performing well. The elf was lying on the ground, unmoving. Over him stood the older security guard. One of his arms swung limply as he tossed around an impressive amount of water and ice.

Tiny Ylva was in the thick of things, surrounded by black ash. All of the creatures seemed to be actively avoiding her.

As Zoe was watching, one creature flew out of the air, crashing into Ylva. For a moment, the beetle-like monster sat on top of where Ylva had been standing. Zoe almost ran out to get the thing off of her.

Her worries were unfounded.

Black veins spread across the beetle’s carapace. Smoke poured from the veins for a minute before the entire beetle exploded into more of the black ash. Ylva stood in the center of the settling remains.

Zoe would have liked to say she was unscathed, but her skin had several dark blotches on it. Bruises?

Following the arc the beetle took, Zoe found a mass of tentacles attached to an innocently smiling woman. One of the security specialists. Like Ylva, she was being given a wide berth. It mattered a lot less to the tentacle demon, however. Her appendages stretched out and grasped anything in their reach.

A massive wall of stone had been built around the entrance to the Rickenbacker. Genoa’s work most likely. She must have been looking for her daughter as well.

There was no Eva, nor any sign of the other missing students. Zoe opened the door and walked outside anyway, heading towards Ylva. The hel would likely be concerned about Juliana and might even know where she was.

For a moment, Zoe entertained the idea of teleporting straight to Ylva. As another creature turned to dust in her grasp, Zoe discarded the thought. Surprising the demon and winding up added to the pile of ash was not a current goal.

There weren’t many creatures between her and Ylva, but enough that she wasn’t willing to risk attempting to run through.

Zoe enhanced her vision to the point where she could pick out the individual strands of the stitchings holding the creatures together. She doubted a lightning bolt would do much good. Most of the creatures fighting the security guards had enough icicles buried in them to fill a large freezer.

Their stitches were a far more obvious weak point.

Taking it slow and steady, Zoe sent out precise blades of compressed wind. Each one neatly bisected the stitching. The insides of the creatures at the point where demon contacted human were… odd.

There were tubes filled with blood, heavy metal clamps at the joints, and more than a few wires. The clamps were drastically more difficult to cut, but it didn’t seem to matter much. Without the wires and tubes, the limbs ceased moving.

Zoe focused most of her blades on their legs. Stopping their movement was more important that actually killing the things. They could be put down at leisure later.

With only three creatures disabled, Zoe had a clear shot at Ylva.

Zoe cut her dagger through the air in front of her. The wind moved, curling around and under her–lessening her weight. Zoe took off at a full sprint.

With the wind twisted as it was, Zoe had a strong gale against her back. Her feet barely skimmed against the ground as she moved forwards. An inexperienced observer might have thought she was flying. She thought the same the first time the technique was demonstrated to her.

Ash and dust kicked up around Zoe as she sprinted through the remains of Ylva’s enemies. A twist of her wrist and the gale ceased. She manipulated the wind into curling away from her, especially her eyes and mouth. Zoe didn’t like the idea of breathing in the remains of corpses.

Cold bit through Zoe’s relatively thin suit. It wasn’t that cold of a day, but the air around Ylva’s little ash field sent Zoe into light shivers.

“You should stay inside. It is unsafe.”

“Unless you’ve seen the mastermind behind all this, at your side is probably the safest place.”

“We have seen nothing but minions.” Ylva paused as another landed right next to her.

The creature lashed out at Zoe, but she was far enough away that it didn’t matter. Charcoal colored veins raced across the creature’s skin.

Zoe shivered again. The air temperature dropped several degrees as the creature turned to dust.

“This army will soon be obliterated. It cannot be stopped. A waste of resources. We fail to comprehend the motivations behind this attack.”

“Eva, Juliana, Shalise, and a few other students are missing.”

“A distraction?”

“I saw Juliana and Shalise just after the attack began. I think they ran off to find Eva, who apparently skipped class today with another student.”

Ylva made a small noise of acknowledgment. Even in her tiny form, surrounded on all sides by combat, Ylva managed to project an aura of superiority. She kept her head high as her gaze swept over the remaining demons.

Just her looking at them sent the creatures backing away.

“This travesty will not go unanswered. The Keeper will be interested in the creator of these abominations.”

“Keeper?”

“A direct entity of Void. He punishes those who break His rules.”

“Creating these creatures is against the rules?” Zoe frowned as a thought occurred. “What about Eva’s hands?”

“Given willingly. It is doubtful that so many demons would contract to mutilate themselves in creation of these abominations. Many likely perished. We would not offer Ourself for such a fate.”

“Not many would,” Zoe said as she glanced around. Aside from simple limbs, many of the creatures had more important parts of demons attached to the human parts. Heads and torsos, for the most part. Those demons had died without question.

“We believe false contract–”

The giant wall around the Rickenbacker exploded outwards. Huge chunks of earth pasted a good number of the creatures.

Zoe’s eyes went wide as one boulder careened in their direction. Fueled purely by adrenaline, she created a miniature tornado in an instant to deflect it away.

She winced as the adrenaline settled down. Might have hurt something with that, Zoe thought as her dagger arm slumped to her side.

Genoa and a blood-covered Arachne stood at the entrance to the Rickenbacker. Neither looked happy. Understandable in Genoa’s case, but Zoe would have expected Arachne to be happier about dripping with blood.

It didn’t take them long to notice the ash filled clearing. Without regard to collateral damage, the two started moving.

Zoe couldn’t even see Genoa moving her dagger or glancing around herself as creatures were skewered by spikes erupting from the ground, crushed between slabs of earth, or otherwise decimated.

Arachne was much the same, though creatures actually had to come near her. She only had one leg sprouted from her back and even that one was looking battered and broken. Still, it lashed out and skewered anything that approached either of them.

Working together, they made quick work as they waded through the army.

“Where’s my daughter?” “Where’s my Eva?”

The two glanced at each other before returning their glares to Zoe.

“Eva skipped class along with another student. I’ve not seen them since. Juliana and Shalise disappeared shortly after the attack started. Presumably to find and assist Eva.”

“Juliana wasn’t with Eva?” Oddly enough, Genoa’s glare was aimed at Arachne.

“I only said she was with someone. I didn’t ask for their name.”

Genoa turned and punched Arachne in the face. A crack spread through her carapace from her mouth to her nose.

The spider-demon clenched her fists. For a moment, Zoe thought she was going to return the favor, but her fingers unclenched. She merely smiled. A smile with far too many sharp teeth. Black blood leaked over her white teeth from the part of her mouth that was cracked.

Arachne held a dagger in one of her hands. A light-eating dagger adorned with gems–with bloodstones. She noticed Zoe’s gaze and held the dagger up. “Eva wouldn’t have left this behind. It is… concerning.”

Zoe opened her mouth to respond, but Genoa stepped forwards and cut her off.

“Take me to Nel. Now.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ylva give the faintest of nods.

Zoe reached out, taking Genoa’s hand in her own. With a twitch of her dagger, the two were gone.

The walls of the women’s ward appeared around the two women. Genoa took one look around before she glared at Zoe.

“Why here?” she said through grit teeth.

“I can’t teleport into Ylva’s domain. Let’s hurry.”

Before Genoa could argue or complain, Zoe moved out the front doors. She stopped just at the edge of the inner women’s ward wall as a sound reached her enhanced ears. Carefully, she motioned for Genoa to glance around the corner.

Two groups fought in the pathways between cell blocks. One side was a random assortment of peasants from various eras. Every now and again, Zoe caught the glimpse of more knightly members of that faction. They wore armor and wielded swords as opposed to the peasants’ pitchforks and torches.

The other consisted of black-cloaked mages wielding the white magic of the Elysium Order.

Genoa narrowed her eyes. “Which side is the enemy?”

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003.023

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Eva took a moment to relax. On Ylva’s throne. It wasn’t easy.

The throne was carved out of the same black marble the rest of the throne platform was made from. It had no cushions, no curvature, and it was far too large. Eva couldn’t sit with her back against the throne’s back without her calves hitting the relatively sharp edge of the seat.

The hel was a skeleton while sitting on the throne. Maybe her nerves didn’t function in that form. Maybe they didn’t function anyway; she was barely better than a corpse while she had skin on.

All in all, it wasn’t relaxing at all. How Ylva managed was beyond her.

A whimper at her side had Eva rubbing her temples once again.

Nel’s self-loathing didn’t help Eva’s relaxation. Not in the slightest.

“I don’t know why you’re worried,” Eva said with a sigh. “Even if they tear down my blood wards and trash the prison, it isn’t like they can get in here. Devon just walks into the real cell house when he tries to open the door. I can’t imagine the nuns will be able to enter.”

“It’s not that–though I wouldn’t put it past them to find a way in; our magic can do fairly strange things under the right circumstances–it’s that they noticed me in the first place. I’m a rogue augur. They aren’t going to let me go.”

“And you’re sure they noticed?”

“I used my own blood to seek out the vial set away in the vaults. Another augur was doing the reverse. With a priest and two prioresses hovering over her shoulder. I could tell they lost track of me, but,” Nel slumped in on herself, burying her head in her hands, “there’s no doubt they saw me.”

Eva nodded. She jumped to her feet. Her blood-covered bloodstone lazily orbited her as she paced. Getting comfortable on the throne was simply impossible.

“How soon could they mobilize against you?”

“Depends. If they send an inquisitorial chapter after me, it could be within the hour. All of them are capable of long-range teleportation. They might decide on a chapter of nuns which would take significantly longer. Maybe even pull Charon Chapter for the job.”

Eva froze. “They could be here in minutes and you’re not watching them?”

“They’ve gone dark! They’re not going to be drawing up battle plans with me hovering over their shoulders.”

“And Sister Cross?”

“Also missing. She did that from time to time, so it might not be related.”

Eva scoffed. “Fat chance of that. They probably pulled her in to find out everything she knew.”

Which included Arachne and herself. Eva pinched the bridge of her nose hard enough to draw blood from her claws. She healed it with a stray thought. Hopefully Zagan would act as an adequate deterrent until the mess at Brakket gets cleaned up.

Nel gave a terse nod, but didn’t comment.

“Keep an eye on the prison’s perimeter. I need to speak with Devon. If anything comes within ten miles of this place, I want to know about it immediately.”

“You want me to leave if they show up?” Nel’s eyes went wide as her head twisted to make eye contact with Eva. She flinched away almost immediately.

Eva neither smiled nor laughed at her discomfort. She kept her voice as deadly serious as her fourteen-year-old self could. “Immediately.”

“B-but–”

“If I get hit by a lightning bolt from a teleporting nun that is after you, and you fail to warn me, I swear I will personally tear out your spine. Understand?”

Nel nodded. A shallow, pitiful nod, but a nod nonetheless.

“Good.” Eva smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

“Y-yeah.”

“Get to watching. I’ll be back shortly.” Eva turned and left Nel behind without another word.

She walked straight across the pit without even a glance down the vast chasm.

Outside Ylva’s domain was… normal. The sun was out, though not incredibly bright. Cold wind tossed Eva’s long hair up and around her. Clouds hung over the land in the direction of Brakket. Ylva’s doing no doubt.

Although there were pockmarks everywhere from whatever battle Arachne and Genoa had had, nothing in her prison was on fire. Yet.

That was always a positive.

Eva stepped. While it had yet to snow, the late November air was not the warmest thing Eva had felt and she did not want to spend longer than necessary outside. There was a wind that constantly blew through some of the buildings around her prison.

She still hadn’t gotten around to heating the entire prison with a rune system. So much to do, so many distractions.

It took four short steps to reach the front of Devon’s cell house.

A few more steps had her at the top of the stairs, right in front of Devon’s revamped penthouse. She opened the door and walked right in.

Devon was leaning back on the hind legs of his chair with a notebook and pen in his hands. His feet were resting atop a desk he had procured for himself.

The moment Eva opened the door, he started to tip backwards. Eva grinned in anticipation of the crash.

An empty chair clattered to the floor.

A cold blade pressed itself against her throat.

“Eva?”

“I might actually have to start knocking,” Eva said. She closed her chitinous fingers around the blade and gently pushed it away.

“As if,” Devon said with a scoff. “Shouldn’t you be in school.”

“Something came…” Eva trailed off as she noticed what was holding Devon’s knife. It curled around the handle three times, denting the handle at one part. “Is that–”

“One of the carnivean’s tentacles. One of the larger, more powerful ones. Yes.”

“You replaced your arm with a tentacle?”

Devon raised an eyebrow. “You replaced both hands and both legs with Arachne’s crap and you took the carnivean’s eyes. I don’t want to hear any judgment from you.”

“Yeah, but you’re kind of weird about the whole demon thing. I expected you to find the most human-like arm possible.”

“Too expensive. Not prices I’m willing to pay.” He gave a small shrug. “Besides, I can always chop it off if something better comes along.”

“Fair enough.”

As Devon tried to sheathe the knife, it slipped from his tentacle and clattered to the floor. “Still adapting to it,” he mumbled as he bent to pick it up with his other hand.

“Takes a while, doesn’t it?”

“Arachne’s limbs are analogous to human hands. This is completely different. I can’t even describe what goes through my mind when I try to use it.” He idly scratched at his goatee with his tentacle. “And trust me, I’ve tried.”

Eva glanced down and flexed her own hand. She couldn’t say that she ever thought much about it. There were extra joints, but none of it felt foreign. Then again, it had been a whole year. She had ample opportunity to get used to it.

“So? What are you ditching school for?”

Before Eva could get a word in, Devon held up his hand. With a frown on his face, he said, “wait. Wrong question. What did you screw up this time?”

“Nothing!” Eva mirrored his frown and crossed her arms. “Why would you even think such a thing? I haven’t screwed anything up.”

Devon gave her a cold-eyed glare.

“I’m pretty sure, anyway. I was skipping class, but that’s not a good reason for an army of demon-golems to attack me.”

“What.”

Eva leaned up against her master’s desk as she told an increasingly agitated Devon the events of the past hour.

“And you just gave this Irene girl to a demon?”

“I didn’t give anything. I ordered Lucy to take her to a nurse. Carefully. No contracts, no barters.”

“That’s not a whole lot better.”

“Well I wasn’t in much of a position to do it. I came here for reinforcements only to find the reinforcements had already been sent.”

“And now we’re defenseless against this nun strike force,” he mumbled to himself. “Alright. We’re leaving.”

“What? We can’t leave. All my books and supplies are here. Nel too, I guess. Surely you don’t want to leave all your research.”

Devon slid open the bottom drawer of his desk and wrapped his tentacle around a backpack. “You’ll learn to pack light after a couple of these kind of things. Besides,” he hefted the bag up, “I last copied these notebooks just a week ago after your treatment. I can recover if I lose them.”

“That doesn’t help me! Let’s at least move my books into Ylva’s domain. They should be safe there.”

“You said they’d be here soon. I don’t want to be caught in the middle. Actually,” he rolled his head to one side with a crack before continuing, “we could just give them the girl, right?”

Eva frowned. “The thought did cross my mind,” she admitted. “The biggest problem is that she belongs to Ylva. She would vehemently disagree with that decision. I’m not too interested in turning her into an enemy, are you?”

A light grunt was all that answered her.

“I didn’t think so. That’s another reason we shouldn’t leave. Fleeing and leaving Nel to deal with whatever is after her won’t… turn out well with Ylva I’d say.” Despite her initial hostility at the woman who had been her monitor for Sister Cross, Eva didn’t actually hate her. At least not anymore.

That said, Nel wasn’t a friend and Eva wasn’t about to die or even get seriously injured for her. She did, however, make a decent excuse not to leave Eva’s books.

“I’ve been thinking,” Devon said after a minute, “with Ylva being gone, this would be an excellent opportunity to disrupt its domain’s connection to reality. Without its domain for support, it shouldn’t be too troublesome to banish it.”

“What?” Eva ceased her leaning on the desk. “Why would we do that? Ylva’s been helping us–protecting our friends and the like. That’s just… betrayal.”

“It has been doing what it wants and nothing more. It isn’t beholden to us or to human morality. We can’t hope to understand the motivations of something like that.” He paused to scratch at his neck before looking back to Eva. “And I don’t like it hovering over us during your treatments. I’m telling you, girl, that thing is bad news.”

“You’re paranoid.” Eva sighed.

Her master had far more experience. A year or so ago, she would have deferred to his advice reflexively. Now, Eva wasn’t so sure. Watching him interact with all the demons around was unsettling. He never referred to demons as anything other than ‘it’ and that never sat right with Eva.

After her final treatment, would she become nothing more than an ‘it’ to be loathed and treated with distrust?

Eva shook her head. She couldn’t perform the treatment herself. There might be needed changes to the circle or timing of the treatment that she simply lacked the knowledge to alter. There wasn’t much to do about his problem aside from convincing him otherwise.

For that, Eva wanted Ylva to stay. Unlike the admittedly psychopathic Arachne, Ylva was calm and collected. She treated Nel with benevolence. Zoe and Juliana as well. If Devon could see that, maybe he’d change his tune.

“But this isn’t the time,” Eva said. “Instead of wasting time talking, we should be moving and preparing.”

Devon sighed and dropped his pack back into his desk. With a twitch of his fingers, the drawer slammed shut.

Eva took a few steps away. She could feel whatever wards he enacted around it.

“So what’s the plan? I can’t enter Ylva’s domain, so barricading ourselves in there isn’t an option.”

“If you open it, it leads to the cell house. What if I open it?”

“Might work.” His thumb slid down his beard as he thought. After a moment, he shook his head. “If we aren’t banishing it, I’d rather not try. Ylva forbade me from entering, violating that could be unpleasant.”

“We could toss you into solitary. If found, you could claim you were our prisoner.”

Her master pursed his lips and gave her a look.

“No?”

“We’re not fleeing or hiding. Despite having backups, I’ll not destroy my research and it will not fall into anyone else’s hands. We’re fighting.”

Devon wandered over to a filing cabinet. He pulled open the drawer for enticements with his tentacle.

Eva watched with interest, wondering what he might pull out. Her master so rarely summoned demons that it was like a special occasion.

He first snatched up a set of handcuffs. They were old and rusted, maybe something that he found around the prison and decided would be useful. Whatever the case, their presence caused one of Eva’s eyebrows to raise. She had no idea what demon associated itself with handcuffs.

A bag filled with what appeared to be oily black tar had Eva’s other eyebrow up. Devon rubbed his fingers over the bag, squeezing the tar. He apparently found whatever he was looking for; with a nod, Devon dropped the bag into a pocket and went back to looking through the enticement drawer.

Eva frowned as her master looked over the third item. “We are summoning demons, right?”

“What do you think we’re doing, girl?” Devon slipped whatever the black cone was into his pocket and turned to face Eva. “Having a tea party?”

“I have no idea,” Eva said honestly. “I don’t recognize any of those as enticements.”

Devon flicked her forehead with his tentacle. Eva rubbed the spot, glad his appendage wasn’t covered in some kind of slime.

“Just goes to show that you don’t know anything.”

Eva grumbled to herself as they made their way out of his penthouse.

He had his own summoning circle set up on the ground floor of his cell house. The shackles around it were some of the strongest Eva had ever seen. She kept well away from them. Every treatment left her feeling less inclined to test the boundaries.

Devon started with the cone–a candle, Eva discovered as he lit it with green fire. He set it down in the center of the circle. As soon as he stepped outside the shackles, the summoning circle activated. The rotation of the symbols picked up speed as the entirety of the candle went up in flames.

In the blink of an eye, the wax expanded outwards. It grew to roughly Eva’s size. A sphere formed at the peak of the cone. Two columns stretched downwards from the base of the cone and two more cylinders stretched out near the top. As its growth slowed, it started shaping itself. The sphere formed into a face, the cylinders into arms and legs.

A waxy, dress wearing girl with green flames for hair stood in the center of the circle.

Eva always wondered how demons like that worked. Most demons ate or otherwise consumed their enticement. Did she have a body in her domain? Was she just a consciousness or perhaps a pile of disembodied limbs?

Devon whipped out his human hand the moment she finished forming. Her eyes snapped open, glowing a bright red as they did so.

The moment Eva made eye contact, a freight train ran into Eva’s brain. She clutched her forehead and fell to her knees. Her claws were poking through her skin and she didn’t care.

It hurt.

A lot.

A small part of her mind screamed at her to stop. If she pressed further, her fingers would pierce her skull. Eva couldn’t think. It didn’t matter if the pain–

The pain ceased. Completely and totally.

Slowly, Eva unclenched her eyes.

Devon stood, barely, with his arm pointing towards the demon. His feet were spread apart and he was wobbling. He took a few gasping breaths–that Eva mimicked–before steadying himself.

“What was that?” Eva said as she pulled herself to her feet. She intended to shout, but her voice came out as more of a whisper. Her wards didn’t extend into Devon’s cell house. The wax-woman wouldn’t have succumbed to them after a few seconds. Had she passed out, she would have been entirely at its mercy.

That was a problem she hadn’t thought of. They’d all need to be added to the wards before they could wander freely around the facility. Not an appealing prospect in the slightest–if Devon lost control for whatever reason, they’d have plenty of time to react. If she concentrated hard enough, she might be able to manipulate the wards around the demons. Then, if they did break free, pain like that would disrupt her concentration and the wards would collapse on top of them.

Eva had never done something like that before, but it was something to try before adding their blood to the wards.

“A ruax. It can induce headaches in people who meet its eyes.”

“That was a headache?” That word seemed far too benign for what she had felt. “I thought my head was going to explode.”

“Yeah. Should be fun to set on our enemies.” Devon went up and broke the shackles. The demon moved out of the circle to stand at his side.

Eva gave an experimental glance in her direction. The flames making up her hair were the only indication that she wasn’t a wax statue. Her eyes lost their glow and she stood stock-still. Eva couldn’t see any blood moving within her. Had she been missing her eyes, the demon would be completely invisible.

“You dominated her?”

“Ruax are chronic backstabbers and love poorly worded contracts,” he said with a flat glare. “Their favorite method is to wait until their summoner is in combat and then start up a headache. Just a little one, you’d barely notice. At the most crucial point in combat, it ramps the headache up to the debilitating effects you just felt.”

Eva frowned. It sounded reasonable. She certainly did not wish to feel that headache again. Watching the ruax stand unmoving at Devon’s side still sent chills down her spine.

Devon wasted no time in repairing the shackles and moving on. He unceremoniously tossed the handcuffs onto the summoning circle and started the process again.

“Any surprises I should know this time?”

“An abdoth. Lord of Slaves. Nothing like the ruax, but don’t shake its hand.”

“What happens if you shake its hand?”

At the glance her master gave her, Eva immediately regretted asking.

“Its called the Lord of Slaves. I’m sure you’re not that stupid.”

Like Ylva’s summoning, the Lord of Slaves grasped his enticement before walking out of the summoning circle. No pomp and circumstance. He wore an iron mask that seemed to be attached to the back of his head beneath a wild mane of gray hair. His hands were bound within a set of wooden shackles.

Apart from the shackles and the mask, the abdoth wasn’t wearing much else. Eva could easily see his ribcage. His arms were little more than bones with skin stretched tightly across. Given that the mask had no mouth hole, he probably hadn’t eaten in an eternity.

Then again, Arachne never ate and Eva skipped half of her meals. That had to be his natural form.

He didn’t look particularly strong, but Devon dominated him all the same.

Devon moved just close enough to the summoning circle to open the bag of tar inside the shackles. The tar jumped out of its bag and latched onto Devon’s hand.

Eva started forward. If something happened to him, she’d have to deal with two demons. Two demons that likely wouldn’t be too happy at their recent domination.

Her master didn’t seem particularly concerned. He just pulled back his hand. The tar tried to hold on, but the shackles peeled it off as he withdrew.

The thing thrashed around on the ground, trying to escape. It ceased moving once Devon started up the summoning process.

More tar bubbled up out of the circle, forming up into a deep pool of the muck.

Eva tore her eyes away from the summoning circle. She could hear a faint beating of wings.

No matter where she looked, she couldn’t discern the source.

It was everywhere.

Or all in her mind.

She shook her head just as a smell reached her nose. And that was all it was. A smell.

It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t unpleasant.

Eva glanced back towards the summoning circle.

What are those things?

Eva took five steps back. She forced herself not to flee from the room entirely.

Every time she thought she pinned down exactly what she was seeing inside the summoning circle, the thought escaped and it changed. It twisted in on itself, outside becoming inside before becoming the outside again.

Looking at it hurt. Not the same headache as the ruax.

It hurt because it couldn’t be. Eva could see parts of it that she was certain were covered up by other parts. She wasn’t seeing through it, simply following the contours of the body led to points hidden behind itself.

Eva turned away. Her master let out a soft chuckle.

“W-what is it?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Eva frowned. She considered protesting. With a shake of her head, she decided her master was right. She didn’t want to know.

Devon raised his arm to start dominating the… the thing.

It slammed into the shackles. A flickering wall of transparent green sprouted at the primary shackle line.

The wall of green shattered.

Eva gasped as the thing bounded into a second shackle wall. Both vials of Arachne’s blood shattered as she got the blood ready for her claw attack.

Just as she started to plunge her hands into the wireframe ball of blood, the creature ceased moving. It turned towards Devon and just waited.

Eva held her hands right at the edge of the ball, waiting.

Devon broke the shackles and stepped right next to the thing. With his bare hand, he scooped some of the stuff black tar that dripped from it into the bag and sealed it shut with a twitch of his rings.

Eva wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. The thing broke through shackles. She couldn’t let it out of her sight. “Is it safe?”

“Safe enough. I’ll be sending it back in half an hour. The other two can stay.”

“Half an hour? The nuns might not be here for hours or days. Maybe even weeks.”

Devon looked over with a frown on his face.

“Don’t frown at me,” Eva said with crossed arms. “I clearly stated so as I was explain–”

“They’re here!”

Eva turned to find Nel standing in the doorway. She almost thrust her claw into the wire ball of blood on pure reflex.

It turns out, she needed to do nothing at all. Nel collapsed on the floor, clutching her forehead. Eva caught a glimpse of a glowing-white eye on her neck pinch itself shut and squirm beneath her robes.

“Oh. Right.” Devon had a deep frown on his face. All the demons, save for the waxy ruax, had moved towards Nel. “I told them that anyone in robes was an enemy. Should be fixed now.”

Eva shook her head as she walked over to the former nun.

“Wh-wha–”

“Don’t worry. They’re here to help protect you.” Hopefully.

Nel glanced up, but winced away. The glow in her eyes died out and she tried again. “That’s not any better.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Forget all that,” Devon said as he walked up. He at least had the good sense to leave the demons behind. “They’re here?”

“Thirty members of the inquisition alongside two high-inquisitors. There might be more coming. I left to tell Eva because I didn’t want my spine taken out.”

Devon glanced down. Eva gave him a shrug.

“Where at, girl?”

“South side of the prison, on the other side of the wall next to the big building. They’re trying to break the wards.”

“How long can your wards hold up?”

Eva gave another shrug. “Never had anyone attack them before.”

“Let’s assume about thirty seconds then.”

Giving a short harrumph, Eva crossed her arms. She didn’t disagree, however. That was something she should have talked about with Genoa.

“So,” Eva said, “what’s the plan?”

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