Category Archives: Book 007

007.029

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Juliana stopped outside the front door of a smaller home on the outskirts of the city.

The very outskirts. It was difficult to get farther away without technically being outside the city limits.

Houses out here were few and far between. Brakket City wasn’t much of a city to begin with, but out here, it was basically farmland. Abandoned farmland. Real rural area.

With the abysmally low price of houses and her family’s own wealth, it hadn’t been much of an issue to purchase one. Juliana’s father had insisted on buying a house as far away as possible. An idea that Juliana heavily endorsed. It gave her a convenient excuse to live in the dormitory building.

She was not walking across the city and back out every single day. Besides, it was probably more dangerous to do so. She would be open and vulnerable while walking.

It wasn’t a great house. One of the windows had been broken. The siding was in disarray even now. Ivy, vines, and all manner of foliage had taken over one side of the house, growing up the walls and even onto the roof. The lawn had been overgrown. Juliana had fixed that up herself with some carefully applied earth magic to churn the dirt, burying most of the weeds and grass.

Tiptoeing up to the front door, Juliana paused.

Her excursion out into the city was supposed to have been for only a few hours. Just enough to unpack in the dorm. Instead, she had spent the full day plus a good portion of the night out and around Brakket. And even a short amount of time out at Eva’s prison. A place where she was supposedly banned from going.

Well, it wasn’t much that she was ‘supposedly’ banned. She was banned.

Her father would definitely know how late she had been out. Hopefully he didn’t know about her little side trip.

Taking hold of the doorknob, Juliana twisted the handle as quietly as possible.

On the off-chance that everyone was asleep, she could claim to have returned an hour or two earlier.

That plan quickly fell by the wayside. Her father, her brother, and her mother were all sitting out in the living room.

She had expected at least one of them to be—the light was on, after all—but she had been hoping that they would have fallen asleep.

“Um, hello.”

Her father got to his feet. “Juliana Laura Rivas. Where have you been?” He took three steps forward before Juliana’s mother cleared her throat.

“Carlos, you promised to remain calm.”

Juliana watched as her father clenched his hands into fists, took a deep breath, let it out, and released his grip. He took a few steps back and sat back down.

“Now then,” Genoa said with a cold smile, “why don’t you tell us all about whatever happened tonight.”

Closing the door behind her, Juliana stepped into the room. She didn’t take a seat.

The faces of all three people were riddled with concern, worry, and maybe a hint of disappointment. Carlos had his lips pressed together as he often did while angry. Meanwhile, Erich sat in a small recliner. Unlike Juliana’s parents, his eyes were glued to the front window. He didn’t look at Juliana more than a brief glance as he fidgeted to one side.

“First,” Juliana said, “I’d just like to say that I was perfectly safe the entire time.”

“That–”

Genoa cleared her throat again before Carlos could speak. He turned to her with slightly narrowed eyes—though his coke bottle glasses magnified it enough that the glare was almost comical rather than menacing.

“That’s reassuring,” he eventually finished, voice flat.

“I was at Zoe’s apartment. With Zoe.” And Ylva, she didn’t bother adding. Mentioning that wouldn’t grant her any favors with her family. “Everything happened at Brakket Academy.”

“And just what was it that happened?”

“Well,” Juliana rubbed the back of her head, “a few demon hunters tried to murder just about everyone. They only halfway succeeded.”

Before anyone could ask what that meant, Juliana powered on. “Eva is fine. So is Catherine. The dean is… unconscious still. Last I heard anyway. They did get the entire security team.”

Lucy was still alive and in the mortal realm, but she wasn’t in a state to act as a security guard.

Juliana didn’t bother to mention Zagan. If her father found out that he was gone, he might send her off to another school. Zagan would be back. Of that, Juliana held no doubts. She did not particularly wish for him to return only to find her not at Brakket Academy.

“A few buildings got damaged, but no students or professors were harmed.”

“I suppose that is better than I had feared,” Genoa allowed with a tilt of her head. “And these demon hunters?”

“Got away?”

“You don’t sound very sure.”

“Well, Eva thinks that one of them is dead. The other got away for sure. But that isn’t the important thing.” Juliana held out an arm. All of the metal she had collected from the battlefield started to coalesce in the palm of her hand. It formed into a sphere.

A sphere of shiny silver metal.

With Eva’s help, she had confirmed that it retained its demon injuring property even after being melded and reshaped.

There hadn’t been enough lying around to completely cover her. And yet, she had shed most of the metal she had been wearing. The new metal was heavy.

Heavy enough that even the small sphere she was forming needed both hands to hold it steadily in front of her. Distributing it around her body—her shoulders, hips, and back especially—helped to lighten the apparent load while wandering around. However, after finding a safe place to store the metal, she would only carry a small amount with her. The rest would be the lighter copper, brass, and iron that made up her normal suit.

Until then, she would carry it with her everywhere.

That Eva trusted her enough to keep all of the metal even despite her track record of failure spoke wonders of the other girl’s opinion of Juliana. It was metal that could possibly kill Eva if she came into contact with it for too long. Juliana would not allow herself to let down Eva by mishandling it.

“I was wondering if you knew what this was. It hurts demons and looks silvery, but Ara–” Juliana let out a slight cough, clearing an imaginary blockage in her throat.

Unlike Zagan, she would have to bring up Arachne at some point in time. The spider wanted to meet with her mother after all. However, that could wait for a time. Maybe when Erich and her father weren’t around.

“Eva told me that normal silver doesn’t hurt her in the slightest.”

Tilting her head to one side, Genoa took her hands off her lap. Gripping the handles of her wheelchair, she rolled herself forward.

“It’s heavy,” Juliana said as her mother held out a hand.

“Please. I may have a hole in my chest and can barely walk, but I’ve been keeping up with my weights.”

So she said, and yet she held out her other hand to help hold the sphere.

With a sigh, Juliana leaned forward, keeping a careful grip on the metal until she was absolutely certain that her mother truly had control. Only then did she release it and step away.

“Incidentally, Juliana…” Genoa trailed off as she turned the orb over in her hands. Activating her own ferrokinesis, she molded it away into a sort of glove. “Incidentally, you shouldn’t be picking up strange bits of metal after a battle. Or strange bits of anything. You never know when something is cursed. This seems alright, so I will let it slide this one time.”

“As long as it isn’t toxic or anything,” Erich muttered from his seat across the room.

Genoa started to turn to him, opening her mouth as if to speak, but she paused.

The metal glove on her hand turned from a shiny silver to a dark black. So dark that the area around it almost felt darker in comparison.

“That’s odd. I was only trying to stretch it out a bit.” She turned the now black glove over, holding it up to the light.

Which did nothing to alleviate the darkness.

“This… seems familiar somehow, but I can’t quite place it.”

Juliana just stared with wide eyes. It looked familiar to her too. Eva’s dagger was made of a very similar material.

Some demon metal, Eva had called it.

But why did demon hunters have demon metal?

— — —

“Welcome to Brakket Academy. I am Alexander Anderson, the dean of this fair school.”

The new dean turned, waving a hand over the area. “As you can see, we’re undergoing a bit of a renovation.”

That’s an understatement, Catherine thought as she glanced back over her shoulder.

Construction crews were milling about. They were a fair distance away. The bus that had dropped off the new students did so with plenty of walking time to spare. Given that the driver came from a different city—Brakket City was far too small to have a landing strip for any sized aircraft—the mortal had probably taken one look at the sky and had decided to get out before anything happened.

The construction crews had taken a great deal of convincing. Getting them to stick around and actually do their jobs had been Catherine’s job, so she knew very well just how skittish mortals were about anything odd or unnatural. Money had won out in the end, as it usually did.

Eventually, they had gotten to work.

Some workers replaced the bricks of the plaza with fresh, unbroken bricks. Others were patching up the Gillet. No load bearing walls had been hit, most of the damage was to the windows and the immediate area around the windows.

It was supposed to have been completed before the new students arrived at the academy. Having to convince them to work in the first place combined with a sudden bout of torrential rain had delayed the repairs just long enough.

Catherine turned back to face the thirteen students. All the new students who were entering the academy this year. She didn’t particularly care about the academy, its wellbeing, or how many students it had, but she did find it surprising that so many mortals were willing to send their kin here. With all the bad publicity, including the fight and murders last week, Catherine had assumed that the school would be shut down.

Weren’t mortals supposed to care about each other? Catherine chuckled to herself.

A slight cough from Anderson froze her chuckle in her throat. He glared as she looked up to him. Shadows around the ground flickered ever so slightly in an unnatural manner.

Catherine shuddered as she burrowed her nose in her phone.

Anderson was almost as scary as Zagan on occasion. He knew how to use his shadow manipulation to alter his features just enough to make himself intimidating. The lines on his face would become more pronounced while his gaunt cheekbones appeared to recede even further. Of course, given that he had a haunter as a bound familiar, maybe it wasn’t so much that Anderson was scary.

It was getting to the point where Catherine was wishing that Martina would just wake up. Unfortunately, that seemed less and less likely with every passing day. Her body was still alive. Mostly unharmed, even. But after diagnosing exactly what she had done, the doctors keeping an eye on her believed that too much lightning had run through her brain. It had disrupted her neural blah-blah—Catherine hadn’t paid all that much attention.

The only reason she had been sticking around Brakket Academy was because Martina’s contract was still in force and holding her here, even if her mind was broken. If she didn’t wake up soon, Catherine might consider using her favor with Eva up on getting the girl to permanently solve her problem.

On a brighter note, a comatose Martina gave her freedom. She could do anything she wanted to without the lingering threat of punishment or banishment hanging over her head. Zagan wasn’t even around to keep her in line.

Most of her days had been spent with the diabolist. They were almost ready to run a new version of their ritual. Unfortunately, there weren’t all that many demons left around Brakket. Something that Zagan being gone actually hurt.

“You’re arriving at Brakket Academy at an interesting time,” Anderson said. “By a show of hands, how many of you have family members who are mages?”

Only two of the thirteen raised their hands.

“In that case, I’ll explain a few things. Our school isn’t in a good state. We’re in danger of shutting down before your school tenure ends. This year, we aim to change that. You are first year students, but you can still help.

“Thaumaturgy is not easy to learn. It is a long process. You have six years at this school and yet you will still be considered an amateur until you have completed several years of extracurricular study. Brakket will give you your foundations. It is up to you to build the house—so to speak.

“However, this year we are introducing a new program.” He waved a hand to his side.

Towards Catherine.

Blinking, Catherine looked up from her phone with narrowed eyes.

“Catherine is the secretary of the school. She has been for two years. She is also a demon.”

The two who had raised their hands didn’t react all that much. A slight widening of the eyes was all their reactions amounted to. They had probably been chosen because they wouldn’t have much reaction.

The others weren’t quite the same. Despite not being mages, even mundane mortals had heard of demons. They obviously hadn’t heard the best of opinions—probably for the best. More than one backed away, looking at her with wide eyes and smelling of fear.

Catherine rolled her eyes. Whatever game he was playing at was going to come back to bite him later on. Publicly announcing demons was just asking to get more demon hunters stopping by.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Catherine won’t hurt you. She does represent a certain shortcut. Thaumaturgy takes years to learn. Binding a demon to you, depending on the type and individual, can offer a wide variety of magic. You could leave a demon unbound, making it into a regular familiar or a mere contracted demon. We will be inviting guests who are interested in all three aspects.

“There is nothing to fear. You’ll go through a long lecture and learning portion. Taking on a bound demon will not be mandatory if, after going through the class, you decide that you don’t want to participate. Either way, you’ll still be expected to learn and practice proper thaumaturgy.”

One of the students asked a question.

Catherine didn’t bother paying attention. She cared little for the mortals or their somewhat justified fears about demons.

More concerning was Anderson’s claim of using bound demons. Particularly in relation to her. He had used her as an example.

Some demons liked to be physically bound within a mortal. It was typically the best way to avoid hunters as there would be little evidence of any demons. With no presence in the mortal realm, there wasn’t even any evidence to find.

But being bound was addictive. Or so Catherine had heard. Prax had appeared fine, but he had only been inside a mortal for a short time. Normal bound familiars tended to serve their masters for the duration of the mortal’s lifetime.

If Anderson forced her into a situation where she had to become a bound familiar, Catherine would tear out her own heart. She liked the current era of mortals. The distractions they had created to pass the time in their short lives worked just as well for demons. However, she wasn’t so enamored with it that she would be willing to give up her eternal freedom.

Sticking around for her work with the diabolist was far a more enticing argument. However, she wouldn’t be able to work on any of it if she were stuck in the head of some mortal brat.

Clapping his hands together, Anderson tore Catherine out of her own little world.

“Now,” he said to the gathered children. He let the silence hang for a moment, looking over them.

Catherine didn’t know what he was looking for. None of the children looked all that impressive. There were no ‘Evas’ in this year’s batch of students. Not even anyone remotely interesting.

But Anderson had a wide grin on his face. Not a malicious grin, but more of the kind mortals got when their moods were just so good that they couldn’t contain it.

“As I said, if you do choose to participate in the program, there will be ways you can help. Namely, a certain contest. It happens every year, but Brakket Academy hasn’t participated in the past decade because of low student population—normally only those in their fifth and sixth years of schooling participate—and…” He trailed off to give a pathetic shrug. “We are a little behind in our curriculum.

“With the support of our new allies,” he said with a gesture towards Catherine, “I think that population and ability will matter far less. People will see what Brakket Academy has to offer. The real trick will be convincing them of the truth that we’re all still human and still in control.

“But enough of that. I’m sure you’re all very eager to see where you’ll be staying. Follow me please.”

He turned and led the group back towards the Rickenbacker.

Catherine didn’t follow. She watched as the little mortals eyed her, giving her a wide berth as they walked around.

It was a strange sensation. Thirteen-year-olds were typically just entering puberty. Humans at such an age were often trying to get closer to her. Not farther away. The idea that merely being outed as a demon could ruin mortals’ impulses towards her was somewhat insulting.

Or depressing.

She really needed to finish the ritual with the diabolist.

As soon as the gaggle of children had disappeared into the doorway of the Rickenbacker to finish their orientation, Catherine turned on her sharp heels and stalked off into the town.

She had been planning on putting this off for a time. With what she had just heard from Anderson, Catherine had no intentions of being tied down. She needed to act now.

The clicking of her heels only stopped once she reached a deserted alleyway.

A minute buildup of magic had her pulled straight into the gate room of the women’s ward.

Eva was sitting in her common room with Arachne. Just sitting, not talking. Perhaps she had been talking and stopped once she noticed Catherine’s arrival. Doubtful, but possible.

Arachne sat upright in her most human form with her back to the couch. Eva rested her head on the spider-demon’s lap, keeping her eyes half-lidded as Arachne stroked her fingers through Eva’s hair.

Both of them had faint smiles on their faces.

Catherine rolled her eyes.

Neither of them bothered to acknowledge her.

“Eva,” Catherine said after a light clearing of her throat, “I need to use my last favor.”

“Are you sure?” The girl didn’t even look up. Her eyes stayed half closed as she nuzzled further into Arachne’s lap.

Not a very comfortable looking lap. Arachne was as far from comfortable as a demon could get without being covered in spines and thorns.

“I’m sure.”

“It could be the last favor that I owe you for a long time yet.”

“Maybe,” Catherine said with a toothy smile. “Maybe not.”

Finally, Eva opened her eyes. She tilted her head up, moving just enough off Arachne’s lap to get the other demon scowling at Catherine.

Catherine didn’t bother getting intimidated. There was a time where she might have worried. Not any longer. She knew Eva well enough. So long as Arachne’s detention in Hell hadn’t altered her too much, she knew that Arachne would heel to Eva.

“What do you mean?”

“Your next treatment. You’ll need more demons, no?” Catherine forced a yawn, glancing at her fingernails before rubbing them off on her shirt. It was an action she had seen a number of times while consuming human media. A sign of derision and contempt.

Where the gesture came from, or what its origins were, Catherine had no idea. For all she knew, it wasn’t even a real gesture. She had never actually seen a person do so outside of mortal entertainment media.

But Eva apparently got it anyway. The girl narrowed her eyes, raising one eyebrow as she did so.

“I don’t know that I can offer my services for free. Another few favors might give me a little more motivation to join in.”

Eva rolled her eyes. Pressing her head back into Arachne’s lap, she twisted around so that she was looking upwards instead of outwards. “Well, your favors have been innocuous enough. I’m sure I won’t mind.”

“I’m glad you see it that way,” Catherine said with a low chuckle. “I need you to kill Martina.”

>>Author’s Note 007<<

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007.028

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Just before the bull slammed into him, it stepped on a bit of rubble. The rubble moved, causing its hoof to slip.

Clement’s fist, and the ring on his finger, went straight over the devil’s head.

Using the enchantments on his boots, Clement hopped back before the bulk of the bull could crash into him. He shook off the brief sensation of nausea—a sensation that had been getting worse as the fight went on—and took a moment to catch his breath. The devil being far enough away and still picking himself up off the ground gave Clement a brief moment to think.

Taking the hit and letting himself get bashed into by the devil might give him a chance to backhand the creature, but just the same, he might simply be crushed before having a chance to fight back.

If he got crushed without managing to tag the devil with the ring, the devil would be free to find Gertrude.

And Clement somehow doubted that he would be able to hit the devil.

Zagan had to know.

The first time that the devil had lost his footing and slipped right under Clement’s fist, he might have chalked it up to coincidence. The second time was a little strange, but perhaps this devil was just extraordinarily uncoordinated.

Ten times? The monster was toying with him.

Panting and sweating, Clement wasn’t sure how much more he had in him. Only about twenty minutes had passed. That didn’t sound like much, but considering most fights were determined in the first two minutes, twenty might as well have been forever.

Worse, his equipment was broken and shattered. Several of Gertrude’s enchantments had failed along with the armor, including ones that enhanced his endurance. The suit of armor no longer supported itself. All of its weight was up to Clement’s natural muscles to carry around. Taking that into account, it might be good that several chunks were missing.

His boots were still intact. Without the speed granted to him by his boots, he might as well have just chopped off his own head. They were pretty much the only things keeping him alive at this point.

It was only a small consolation to know that the devil before him wasn’t having a good day either.

Zagan had been taking pains to avoid the sword entirely as well as the ring. Not that long ago, he had been accepting of small cuts and even a handful of larger gouges if it meant being able to toss Clement around like a rag doll.

Clement hadn’t been able to land a hit in a good five minutes. In fact, the last time that he had been able to hit Zagan, he had sliced off one of the bull’s horns. Obviously, he had been aiming for Zagan’s head. The devil had dodged, just not as well as he should have.

Though, given that he had sent Clement crashing through a second floor window on one of the dormitory buildings at the same time, it had probably been worth it for the devil. Especially considering that that hit had been the final nail in the coffin for Clement’s breastplate.

Out of all the pieces of armor to lose, that was the one with the most enchantments. It offered him the most protection, the endurance boost, minor strength enhancements—his shoulders and upper arm guards gave him more strength. Or, it had offered all of that.

Glancing at the crumpled horn lying on the ground, Clement couldn’t help but wonder if the devil was frightened. His blade had skimmed right across the bull’s head. A few hairs had even scattered to the winds. Just a slight shift in angle would have taken the beast’s brain.

Both hands on his sword, Clement stood firm. The devil was circling him once again. He was looking for any opportunity to charge in. Any weakness in Clement’s defense.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Clement needed him close in order to fight back. Perhaps he would ask Gertrude to craft him an enchanted crossbow once everything was over. Or some magical sword that could release a long-range blade when some trigger was pulled. Just something to grant him a way to attack from at least a moderate distance.

Clement dropped his sword to one side. Putting his guard down had worked to draw in the bull before. This time, however, Clement fully intended to enjoy the mild reprieve from holding up his heavy sword constantly. With his armor damaged, his muscles were starting to feel the strain.

The bull moved again, though not as Clement had expected. It had only taken to the air thrice since their fight began. Great wings flapped, propelling it high up.

For a moment, Clement entertained the idea that it had finally broken off their engagement. While good for an extended reprieve, he still hadn’t seen any sign from Gertrude that she had accomplished her mission. He had to delay at least a few moments longer.

So Clement stood his ground, watching and waiting as the beast circled around overhead.

And, with his left hand, he started pulling off the ring. Punching or backhanding Zagan was obviously not working.

The bull’s wings folded flat against its back as it turned into a nosedive. Beneath the glowing gold eyes, smoke billowed out of its nostrils. Flames burned deep within its gullet. Some escaped from the sides of its mouth.

Clement didn’t move. He had been hoping that Zagan would charge again. This worked just as well. He held the ring in his hand, waiting.

Just a moment more, he thought, watching the bull fly towards him. Just a moment more…

With his thumb pressed against his middle finger, Clement flicked the ring up into the air.

At the same time, he activated the enchantments on his boots.

In a flash, he was at the window of one of the dormitories. A student on the other side of the glass let out a short shriek before running out of the room.

Clement couldn’t bring himself to care. He turned back to the plaza with weary eyes.

Zagan was back in his human form, coughing and sputtering with a hand clasped to his throat. Black bands shot out of the ground, wrapping around his wrists as a portal opened up beneath him.

Two golden eyes met Clement’s, burning with promised pain and death.

And then he was gone, dragged beneath the surface of Earth, back to Hell where the demon belonged.

Clement collapsed to his knees. He dug the tip of his sword into the ground, using it as a crutch to keep from falling flat on his face.

And he sat. He reached up to his forehead, wiping off a streak of blood that had dripped down into his eyes earlier.

It was over. For him at least.

He was in no shape to find Gertrude and help her. The largest threat had been dealt with. Gertrude could handle whatever was left.

Using his sword to push himself back to his feet, Clement headed back to their safe house. Not the apartment, but a regular house on the outskirts of town. A long walk, doubly so given Clement’s speed. To make it even more troublesome, he took back alleys.

The back alleys were where he and Gertrude had set up their traps for Zagan. They went unused for the fight, but they might still be useful. If anyone was following him, he hoped that would slow them down long enough for him to slip away.

He really didn’t want to use the enchantments on his boots anymore. Every time he used them, stopping was like running into a brick wall. It was worse without the enchantments of the rest of his armor.

But eventually he made it. Daylight was starting to peek over the horizon, but he made it. He took one last look around for any enemies; his visor, cracked and shattered as it was, wasn’t up to the usual task of highlighting any demons around. Still, he didn’t see anything suspicious.

With a weary sigh, Clement hopped the back fence, walked up to the door, and entered the house.

His breath hitched. His heart skipped a beat.

An icy cold gripped him, filling him with dread.

Gertrude was already home. Lying face down on the floor, she had her shirt off.

Three holes ran up her spine, starting at her lower back and ending towards the middle. All three had been frozen over, preventing her from bleeding out. But they were deep.

Zomorrodnegar, Clement’s sword, fell from his limp fingers to the ground with a soft clatter. Tearing the remnants of his helmet off his head and tossing it into a corner of the room, Clement charged forward before falling to his knees at Gertrude’s side. He reached out his hands…

and drew back immediately. Moving her could agitate her injuries. Even touching her might leave her worse off than before.

She was breathing. Her chest pressed against the hardwood floor with each shallow breath. Ice crystals came out of her mouth, only stopping as she breathed in.

The iced over holes in her back were the most obvious injury, but they were far from the only ones. Shifting his position slightly, Clement’s eyes were drawn to her arm. Or lack of arm. As with her back, ice covered nothing more than a stump just below her elbow.

Though, that wasn’t to say that her arm was completely missing. It was underneath her, fingers sticking out near her shoulder.

Her head had a similarly treated injury. A simple slit up the top of her scalp, visible through her red hair only thanks to the ice.

“Forget bleeding to death,” Clement hissed. “You’re going to freeze to death.”

Gertrude didn’t respond. Looking obviously unconscious, Clement hadn’t expected her to, but it was disheartening all the same.

Climbing to his feet, Clement ran to the bedroom. They had a supply of potions stashed away. Gertrude normally handled potion administration—Clement wasn’t a mage and, as such, he couldn’t brew potions. As such, he wasn’t the most knowledgeable.

They had labels. He would be fine.

Clement shook his head.

Gertrude would be fine.

— — —

“The walls have stopped bleeding.”

Eva hummed, not really paying attention. She was too busy enjoying the embrace with Arachne.

Being a spider-demon made entirely of hard chitin, she wasn’t all that comfortable to hug. Arachne was smooth, not covered in spikes or anything, but it was like hugging a marble statue.

Not that she had ever hugged a marble statue, but it was how she imagined it to be.

“It happened before,” Eva said without opening her eyes. “Blood came out of the walls while Juliana was around. I didn’t see it myself, but I don’t believe she would lie about that. And then again when you… died. I don’t remember it exactly, but I guess there was a lot more blood around me than there should have been.”

“That isn’t caused by your blood magic?”

“I don’t know what it would be. I haven’t performed any rituals that might make walls bleed around me. It has to be a demon thing.

“A portion of my domain got attached to the dormitory. Ylva thinks that it is because I had humans inside the domain while I was out here. Whatever is attacking Void latched onto both me and Shalise, creating a connection through our dorm. I don’t know if I believe that, but after she showed me how to disconnect domains from reality, it went away.” Eva shrugged. “It might have something to do with that.”

“Part of your domain manifests as blood through the walls?” Arachne tipped her voice at the end, skeptical.

“It’s just a theory,” Eva said quietly. “Devon and I haven’t been on the best of terms since you died, so I haven’t had much of a chance to ask him about it all.” Not to mention how busy she was.

“Enough of me. How?” Eva pulled away from Arachne. Not much, just enough to look her in the eyes. She kept her hands firmly around Arachne’s wrists, just to make sure that she was real and wouldn’t disappear. “How are you here? I saw your beacon crushed with my own eyes.”

Arachne smiled. Moving one arm out of Eva’s grip, she ran her claws gently through Eva’s hair.

Despite knowing just how sharp the tips of her fingers were, Arachne didn’t cut her in the slightest as her fingers ran over Eva’s scalp. It felt light and tingly. Almost as if something was crawling through her hair—not in a creepy sort of way, but rather a relaxing and calming feeling.

Perhaps more like a massage.

“I accepted a bargain. The proverbial deal with a devil.”

And just like that, a dark storm cloud moved over Eva’s good mood. “What do you mean by bargain? What do you have to do?”

“Not only did Void put me back together far sooner than I would have been able to, but he gave me transport out of Hell. I suppose… you might say that I must return the favor.”

“You must… I’ll assume you don’t mean anything related to healing Void,” Eva said, receiving a light nod of confirmation. “Which means you have to transport Void out of Hell?”

Arachne rolled her neck, nodding with not quite as wide of a smile on her face. “Essentially.”

“That’s… We’ve been trying to prevent that from…” Eva trailed off as she thought.

No one was actually trying to prevent anything. Both Martina Turner and Devon had summoned demons the first time they needed to. And that was despite Devon being the one to theorize about summoning demons and destabilizing Hell. Ylva had shut down her domain. That might have been one of the worst offenders, according to Devon.

And yet, that was all anyone had done.

No one was actually doing anything. The apocalypse was still approaching, just slower than before.

And now Arachne was supposed to help it along?

“Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. Void is bored.”

“Bored? Bored! He wants to start the apocalypse!”

“I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. Actually, if I understood everything he explained to me, this should be less destructive to the mortal realm.”

“Oh? And how do you figure that?”

“Zagan said that Void and all of Hell was going to be dragged into and merged with the mortal realm. We are only summoning the entity.”

“No Hell along with him?”

Arachne shook her head. “And if Void wanted to destroy the mortal realm, he could just unleash all of the demons on Earth as he did with me. We wouldn’t need much prompting to run wild.”

“That is not reassuring.” Eva fell silent with a sigh. “Besides, what about the entity that was attacking Void? It wanted Void in the mortal realm, isn’t this just playing into its hands? Things don’t usually attack unless they think they can win.”

“Void thinks he can win.”

Eva put her hands on her hips, glaring at Arachne.

What am I supposed to say to this?

If it was going to happen anyway, maybe it was for the best. Especially if Void was going to be coming over on his own terms, rather than be dragged over into a trap or whatever it was that the second Power had in mind. Not knowing much of anything about the other Power, Eva definitely wanted Void to win this entire engagement.

Especially given her own jump-started leap into demonhood.

Eva shook her head with a long sigh. “I just–”

A chill ran up Eva’s spine. She could feel the tension in Arachne’s arms as well.

Something was missing. Some warm, ever-present sensation of power.

She took a deep breath. “Zagan,” she said.

Arachne nodded her head. “I feel it too.”

“He died?”

“I don’t… think so.”

Eva kept a tight hold of Arachne’s arm. She wasn’t going to lose her again. “What happened then?”

“It feels more like he was banished. A subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless. Namely, he’ll merely go back to his domain and won’t be stuck in the Void. Though, I doubt Zagan would spend more than half a day putting himself back together if he had been killed.”

Which meant that Martina would just be summoning him back the moment that she was back on her feet.

Keeping Arachne’s arm in hand, Eva dragged her over towards the window.

Martina’s office window overlooked the plaza where Zagan had been fighting. Considering the damage done to both dormitory buildings and the ground, it was a good thing that the fight hadn’t gone anywhere else. The Gillet had several person-sized holes on it, especially towards the bottom. Not the structurally sound building that it had once been.

Eva doubted that she would be willing to stay overnight inside.

In comparison, the Rickenbacker was mostly undamaged. It had a few holes around it, but it looked superficial. A great number of hoof prints dotted the sides. Perhaps Zagan had run along the walls?

But there was no sign of the great winged bull anywhere. The knight who had been fighting against him was hobbling off in the distance, heading towards the city.

Arachne tried to hop over the edge of the window and chase after him. Eva stopped her with a vice-like grip on her shoulder.

“Zagan may have been toying with him, but that guy still beat him.”

“He is injured. Badly. Look at him move.”

“Arachne,” Eva said, grabbing both of the demon’s arms and yanking her around. Staring at her eye to eye, Eva waited for a moment, letting the tension drain out of Arachne. “I’m not losing you. Not again.”

Arachne stared for a minute more before dropping her shoulders. “He’ll come back,” she said.

“We can deal with him later. You, me, Ylva, Devon’s demons, Zagan—if Martina brings him back—and everyone else. We, as one, will fight him. The other hunter is injured at the very least, possibly dead.”

Taking her eyes off Arachne and looking back out over the plaza, Eva couldn’t spot the hunter anywhere. The plaza was too far from the school building for her blood sight to function. The city was even further.

More than that, people were starting to emerge from the dormitory buildings. Mostly the Gillet.

“Come on,” Eva said. “Let’s go look around before people trample over everything.”

Eva considered blinking straight over the windowsill. Not wanting to release Arachne, she decided to move on her own two feet.

But Arachne didn’t budge.

“There are people out there.”

Eva rolled her eyes. Arachne had been ready to run off after the hunter, but now she was getting cold feet?

“I think we’re long past the point of hiding from mortals,” Eva said. “I doubt that anyone at the dorms missed that fight.”

Tugging again, Eva got the shy demon moving.

As expected, people quickly took notice of their approach. Or rather, they took note of Arachne’s approach. Eva followed their eyes for a moment. None gave more than a glance in her direction.

Perhaps it was because of shock at witnessing the fight, but nobody really reacted much except to back away. A few people ran back into their dormitory buildings. A few others took one look at the state of the Gillet and decided to take their chances outside.

As the spectacle that was Arachne became less of a frightening sight—helped by the fact that she was walking calmly and not flying into a murderous rage—the people still outside began to turn their attention towards Eva. In some, she could see recognition light up. Others, especially the older students, just looked more confused.

She caught sight of a number of the students that she had taught with Catherine. One particular boy with grayish-white hair started to head in her direction before Eva waved him off.

Eva really didn’t consider herself friends with or even peers of any of those students. Whatever questions he had for her weren’t anything that Eva was interested in answering. Martina Turner would come out with some fabricated explanation for all the events of the night. Whatever she said probably wouldn’t answer any questions, but it was better than nothing.

“Just ignore everybody,” Eva said.

There were far more interesting things than the people anyway.

Reaching down, Eva picked up a flat piece of metal. It might have been a part of the hunter’s chest plate. Maybe an arm or leg piece.

Eva only held onto it for a second before dropping it.

The carapace on her hands had melted. She stared, watching as bits of chitin flaked off her hand as it cooled.

Arachne repeated the action, holding it for less time before she dropped it.

“Enchanted,” she said as she stared at her own hand. “Something against demons.”

“Troublesome. It still works while broken?”

“Maybe it isn’t enchanted. Something in the metal itself,” Arachne said, shrugging. “I’m not an expert in magic. Not even a novice.”

She paused, glancing around before leaning in a little closer. “Which is why Void said he would send someone else to help with that thing we were just discussing.”

Eva nodded slightly, but didn’t respond. Too many people around.

Instead, she carefully stepped over the bit of metal, watching out for any other shards of metal lying on the ground. Maybe Juliana would be interested in it. If Willie ever surfaced again, she might find it extremely useful.

Blinking, Eva pulled out her cellphone and shot off a quick text message to Zoe. She had no idea if they were even alright. She assumed that they were fine. Ylva should be with them. While not nearly so scary as Zagan, Ylva could hold her own.

But she needed someone over here, someone with authority. All the bits of metal were potentially dangerous to Eva and every other demon around. She didn’t want random students getting a hold of pieces of them.

Message sent, Eva glanced up from her cellphone.

And froze.

Lying right in the center of the plaza was an oddly shaped object.

A horn.

Walking up to it alongside Arachne, Eva bent down and picked it up.

Heavy, but not overly so. About the same as a bowling ball. It was curved just a little bit too much, giving it a crumpled look. The tips of it were dark black, though it grew almost white at the end that had been cut. Red blood lined a good portion of it as well.

The hunter’s blood.

“Perhaps Nel can use this,” Eva said, keeping hold of it.

A pair of circulatory systems appeared behind Eva, closer to the Rickenbacker dormitory building.

With a smile on her face, Eva turned to greet the new arrivals.

“Good news,” she said as she leaned just a little closer to her companion. “Arachne is back!”

Zoe pressed her lips together. Her eyes drifted over Arachne, narrowing just a hair. It took a moment, but she eventually smiled. A small smile. It didn’t quite reach her narrowed eyes, but it was still a smile.

Juliana, not so much.

The last time that Juliana had seen Arachne would have been just after watching her mother get skewered. Eva could understand her presence not bringing up the best of memories.

But even watching Juliana’s slight scowl couldn’t dampen Eva’s current mood. Zagan might have lost, but who cared? He was Zagan. She had Arachne back and that was all that mattered at the moment.

Except… Arachne took a small step forward. Not enough to pull away from Eva, but enough to say that she was acting on her own.

“I had a lot of time to think,” she started, speaking slowly. Her words lingered in the air for a few moments before she continued. “I apologize. For any harm I caused your mother.”

Eva smiled, a new sort of respect for Arachne welled up in her. When she had first proposed to Arachne that the spider-demon should apologize to Genoa, she had thought that she would be dragging Arachne in by the legs. That she apologized to Juliana on her own filled Eva with pride.

Juliana stared. Her scowl disappeared, but she didn’t smile.

An awkward silence between the group stretched on. Eva found herself shifting slightly, wondering if Arachne’s apology wasn’t being quite as well received by Juliana as Eva had found it. It had sounded sincere to her ears.

Eventually, Juliana sighed. “I don’t know why you’re apologizing to me.” A bitter tone carried her voice at a volume a fair bit lower than she normally spoke at. “None of it would have happened if it wasn’t for me.”

“That isn’t true,” Eva said. She kept her voice firm as she stared at Juliana. “Zagan was the one who dumped you into Hell. Maybe it would have happened had you done nothing, maybe not. But you did nothing wrong.”

“I could have turned and walked away from Willie before you even arrived! Willie sweet talked me into sticking around after he knew that people were coming after me! I shouldn’t have bought into it. There were a million things I could have–”

With a hand on her shoulder, Zoe cut Juliana off.

“We have a crowd,” Zoe said, voice quiet and with a soft smile for Juliana’s sake. “Perhaps this is a conversation best left for later.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.027

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It is time.

Arachne growled as awareness returned to her. Her face ached. It was as if it were on fire. Given that she had used her head as a shield for Eva, the pain wasn’t too unexpected.

Lifting an arm, Arachne ran her needle-like claws down the smooth chitin that made up her face. Her fingers nimbly moved between her eyes, not scratching a single one.

A simple action, but it brought back memories. After being cast down to Hell, her body had been corrupted by the jealousy and envy of false gods. Her mind hadn’t been touched. Left unmolested, Arachne had found herself in a whole new body. One with all sorts of nuances that she hadn’t been used to.

The simple action of rubbing her forehead could have wound up with her gouging out an eye. Her natural regeneration made accidentally puncturing an eye much less of an issue than it otherwise would have been, but it still hurt. The first time, she hadn’t even known that she would regenerate like she did. With eight eyes, her vision was somewhat different from humans. It was like being suddenly colorblind even though she could still see.

Needless to say, she had panicked a little. Well, a lot. She had already been panicking over the fact that she was a monster, imprisoned within a desolate island in the middle of a pitch black ocean, and was hearing voices inside her head. The color blindness and pain had just been the icing on the cake.

Not to mention the fact that rubbing her forehead didn’t really do much for her. Her carapace wasn’t like human skin. She got very little feeling out of touching anything. What feeling she did get was more of a sensation of pressure. She couldn’t feel. Petting a cat did nothing for her.

Most of that was in the past. She had centuries to come to terms with herself, centuries to grow used to her new state of being. That wasn’t to say that Arachne didn’t find herself wishing things were different. Being able to hug Eva as a more than a mechanical gesture and to feel her hair through her fingers were sore points with Arachne.

At the same time, she wished that her carapace was harder. Stronger. Had it been better, she might not have died when struck by that lightning bolt.

As it was, she had merely been restored. Her face felt the same as it always did. In one piece, which was nice. Arachne had come out half formed before. Just recently, the carnivean had been missing her eyes and head tentacles.

Clenching her fists, Arachne slammed them into each other. Is it ‘just recently’ still?

There was no way of telling the passage of time within Hell. At least, not within her domain. Other demons might have ways, she wouldn’t know. Arachne refused to slave herself to her peers just to learn a few secrets of being a demon. Well, for the most part. Her current agreement with Void notwithstanding.

But the last events that she could remember in the mortal realm had to have happened somewhat recently. She didn’t feel like a half-century had passed. Void had promised her return in a relatively short amount of time, but that could mean a week or a decade.

If too much time had passed, she would be considering their agreement null and void, consequences be damned.

Swinging her legs—all eight of them—out of the nest of webs that made up her bed, Arachne stalked through the halls of her cavernous domain. She had wasted enough time lying around.

Most of her domain had been designed with her in mind. No one else would be able to climb around the holes in the walls. Any guests or intruders would be relegated to the front entryway. Unless they could fly. Or were as good at climbing craggy walls as Arachne was. Even if that were the case, the tunnels between rooms twisted and wound around like a giant maze. It was entirely possible to leave a room from three separate tunnels only to loop around and reenter the room without passing through any others.

Though it was something of a moot point. Never once had someone invaded her domain. Arachne had never had a visitor stop by. Not unless she counted Eva after her kidnapping. Even if she did count that, Arachne had carried Eva around during her visit.

Arachne charged into the gate room.

And found herself scowling.

The gate room was inert. No glowing patterns in the walls or floors. No feeling of a pathway to the mortal realm.

“You bring me back,” she shouted to the walls, “and my beacon is destroyed? It’s time? Time for what? Me to sit around doing nothing?”

Arachne swung out an arm, cutting five large gouges into a stone pillar.

Seething, Arachne turned from the gate room, ready to rush to Eva’s domain. She likely wouldn’t be around at the moment, but perhaps she still made regular visits. Even if she didn’t, Arachne could leave a message before returning to her domain to await a summoning.

Eva couldn’t summon Arachne herself, not without violating the tenets of Hell. Devon would. All she needed to do was get a message to him.

But, in turning from the room, a shimmer in the air caught her eye. A faint purple haze back in the far corner of the gate room.

The haze grew solid, forming a thick line in the air.

Arachne’s fingers twitched as she watched it spread apart. She spread her legs, steadying her stance and readying for combat.

The first thing that came to her mind was the creatures that Eva called enigmas. Monstrous little beings—by Eva’s description—that had been attacking Hell. The second thing was the purple streaks in the sky that had appeared just before the ill-fated venture to the nuns’ church. Purple streaks that were supposedly related to the enigmas.

Between the violet lines, a deep darkness formed. Staring into it brought back the same uncomfortable sensations as when she had been dead. A hole into pure nothingness, so empty that putting words to it couldn’t be done.

Arachne took a step back, waiting for some creature to emerge forth and attack.

Not even I will violate my laws. However, a few back doors have been left open by my attacker.

Arachne didn’t budge. Her instincts were shouting at her to flee. Her thoughts screamed at her to run from this anomaly before she wound up dead once again, further delaying her reunion with Eva.

It was obviously a portal of some sort. Reminiscent of the portals Void used to drag deceased demons back home. It wasn’t dragging Arachne into it and nothing was coming from it.

It just sat there, inviting someone to wander inside.

Arachne took a step forward.

If this was a trick, there would be hell to pay. Mortal, demon, or even Power, she would tear them to shreds.

Another step had her right in front of the portal. She was too large to fit through in her largest form. With a thought, she started shrinking. The bulbous abdomen sticking out of her melted into her torso. Her legs pulled up, recessing into her body one by one until only two legs were left.

Reaching an arm out, Arachne let the tips of her fingers scrape against the surface of the hole in space. She half expected something—magical force or a creature—to grasp her fingers and drag her into it, but nothing happened.

Nothing but a sensation of not being able to feel her fingers. As if they suddenly ceased to exist.

Pulling her hand out, Arachne found her fingers to be whole and intact. Wiggling them, she made sure that she could feel them again.

Everything seemed fine. She clawed through the stone walls of her domain, checking to ensure that the strength and toughness of her fingers hadn’t been ruined by exposure to the portal.

Stone crumbled into chunks and dust while her fingers came away with just as much sheen as they had started with.

Moving back just a bit, Arachne took a deep breath and charged at the portal.

There was a brief sensation of nothingness, as if she were back in the depths of Void again, before she could feel the wind rushing past her body.

Violet filled her vision. That only lasted a few seconds.

She was falling.

Soon enough, the all encompassing violet distanced itself from her, becoming nothing more than purple streaks in a starry sky.

The tendrils making up her hair whipped around in the roaring air. Her flailing arms failed to find any purchase.

Twisting her body, Arachne oriented herself towards the Earth.

And it was the Earth. There could be no doubt about that. Not only could Arachne not see an end to the ground, but she could see a few distinctly familiar sights.

Brakket Academy, the city that shares its name, the forest and the lake.

She was back.

And Eva…

Eva had to be somewhere. The dormitory or the school itself. Perhaps at the prison.

If not, someone would know where she was. The professors or Devon, if he was still skulking about the prison.

But first, she had to survive this fall. While she might be able to hit the ground and walk away without much issue, Arachne wasn’t willing to take any chances. She had never fallen from such a height that she had time to think about how she wanted to land before, that alone had her a little nervous.

Though, if Void wanted her to fulfill her end of their agreement, dropping her off in the middle of the sky only to have her fall to her death didn’t seem like a good way to go about sending her to the mortal realm. Of course, that assumed that a Power who had never been to Earth wasn’t completely out of touch with quite literally everything.

Best to take matters into her own claws.

Twisting in the air again, Arachne shrank. Her body collapsed in on itself until she was little more than legs sticking out from a hand-sized body.

Regular spiders survived falls from great heights all the time. And, while it was true that Arachne’s spider form was a great deal larger than most spiders, she could help slow her fall by rapidly spinning thread between her legs.

A task that was easier said than done.

With the wind, her threads whipped around and went everywhere. Just ringing it around her legs was a chore. Once she got it going, the air resistance built up. Had she not been a demon with exceptionally strong webbing, the threads would have snapped long before she had it woven.

Woven implied a certain finesse that was lacking in her final result. The threads wrapped around her legs were patchwork quilts, full of holes and stitches.

Arachne couldn’t bring herself to care at the moment. Not only was weaving while falling a challenge, she had to rush.

The ground was rapidly approaching.

Flexing her legs allowed her to glide—almost. Enough that she could control her direction.

Spotting and feeling a certain winged bull down below, Arachne angled herself towards the roof of the dormitory building.

Arachne landed without the slightest hint of grace. She struck the building at speed. Failing to remain upright, Arachne tumbled. End over end, she skidded across the roof. She had come in at far too shallow of an angle. The gravel on the rooftop scattered, some exploding outwards while some dug into her carapace—a feat that was only possible thanks to the speed that she hit the roof at.

Burrowing her legs into the building itself, Arachne managed to come to a stop.

For a full minute, Arachne didn’t move. Her entire body ached. Granted, her body wasn’t that large at the moment. Still, she was fairly certain that one of her legs had twisted the wrong way while the carapace on another had shattered.

But she was back.

Unfurling to her full height, Arachne charged towards the edge of the building.

Zagan, in his full demon form, fought against a man. A mere human, presumably. He certainly didn’t fight like a demon. Too much dodging, too much maneuvering.

And, of course, the sword.

Just looking at the emerald sword gave Arachne a bad feeling. It could be likened to the sensation she got from being near Zagan. That disgusting sensation of far too much power.

Both of them together had Arachne shuddering.

Something was obviously going on, but Eva wasn’t down there. She had to be nearby. If Eva had managed to keep herself uninvolved in whatever was happening, Arachne would eat her own legs.

Charging off towards a thin plume of smoke at the school building, Arachne leaped from the roof, crossing almost the entire distance in a single bound.

She promptly froze as she came to the wall of the school. A certain window looked as if a bomb had gone off inside. A bomb filled with ice.

A person-sized lump of ice was blocking part of the window, but more had shattered outwards, scattering across the lawn. Smoke billowed from the hole.

Much of the smoke was coming off the faintly smoldering remains of a desk. Or the pieces of a desk, at least. Much of the room looked as if a small bomb had gone off inside. In particular, the wall around the doorway wasn’t much of a wall anymore. The ceiling light in the room had snapped at one end and was dangling in the middle of the room by its power cord. Sparks jumped from the cable every time it swung against the metal brace that had once held the light.

More alarming than the state of the room were the walls themselves. Beads of black blood sweat from the walls. Each droplet dripped down, joining with other droplets to pool along the edges of the room. The pools were drawn into thin streams leading towards the middle of the room.

Eva stood amidst a whirlwind of blood. She had her void metal dagger clenched in one hand as she glared with burning eyes at a woman on the opposite side of the room—just to the side of the window.

The woman had a small patch of ice around her feet. Any liquid blood that dared to venture too close wound up frozen solid.

Arachne had no idea who the woman was. She had never seen the woman before. Or, if she had, she couldn’t remember. The woman wasn’t Genoa and she wasn’t the professor at the very least.

It was clear that she was an enemy of Eva.

Her Eva was in danger.

What more motivation did Arachne need?

Leaping over the half destroyed wall that might have been a window at one point, Arachne sprouted extra legs from her back.

Swinging three legs and a hand, Arachne raked her razor sharp limbs through the air.

The woman ducked and rolled, freezing the blood around the floor and walls as she moved.

“Another one? How many of you must I kill before you stay dead!”

Neither Arachne nor Eva responded. Arachne was far too focused on watching the woman’s every move.

Whether she had heard Arachne or had picked up on some tell from Eva, her dodge wasn’t unexpected. Eva would have killed someone weaker without issue. Her blood magic was strong enough to defeat most foes.

Therefore, this person was somewhat exceptional.

But still a mortal.

A mortal that wasn’t dressed like the nuns. Unless she had decided to attack out of uniform, that meant that Arachne wouldn’t need to worry about their horrible lightning.

Arachne didn’t pause for a moment. Pushing off the wall with her legs, she lunged forward.

Her hand caught the woman right in the stomach.

Arachne snatched her hand back in shock and pain. The tips of her fingers had crumpled, her carapace cracked.

The woman had a tee-shirt on. Nothing fancy. Simple cotton. And yet, Arachne’s fingers slammed into it as if they had struck a brick wall—something harder than a brick wall. Her claws could tear apart solid stone if she was trying. The only evidence that she had even touched the woman were a few dark pinpricks on the shirt.

Grinning, the woman stepped forwards as Arachne stared at her fingers. She grabbed hold of Arachne’s hand, ducked under a set of swiping legs, and used one of those legs as a brace for Arachne’s arm. Giving only a slight push, the woman managed to shatter the chitin on both Arachne’s arm and the leg it had been braced against.

“Arachne!”

Eyes blazing brighter than before, Eva charged forwards. One hand brandished the dagger while her other lit up in flames.

The woman raised her guard, conjuring a set of icicles as she moved away from Arachne.

As Arachne went for the icicles, slashing them out of the air, Eva blinked behind the woman. Dagger already raised, she brought it down, aiming for the woman’s neck.

Just as she did when Arachne attacked, the woman had something of a sixth sense about the direction Eva was striking from. She moved to the side, ducking just enough to fit her head between two of Arachne’s limbs. A swipe of her legs knocked Arachne’s legs out from under her.

Arachne had to use her extra legs to grapple onto the wall, preventing her fall.

While Arachne was busy catching her balance, Eva’s dagger did not slip by without resistance. The tip of it scraped against the woman’s arm as she dodged, just enough to draw a thin red line from her hand halfway to her elbow.

Eva immediately blinked back to the other side of the room. She let out a short, satisfied hum as she clapped her hands together.

A bright flash filled Arachne’s vision.

Arachne jumped back, not wanting to be anywhere near someone who could break her arm with her bare hands while blind.

Her loss of vision lasted only a moment. She hadn’t even landed on the ground near Eva before things returned to normal.

Normal for her, at least. The woman wasn’t quite so lucky.

Red blood dripped through her fingers as she clutched at a ragged stump. Her hand and part of her arm was lying on the floor at her feet. Face set in a grimace, she glared out with one red eye and one green eye.

You’ll pay,” she said as ice started to form over the stump, cutting off the flow of blood.

Under other circumstances, Arachne might have indulged in a little meaningless banter. She had done so with the carnivean during their first encounter.

But now… this woman is standing in the way of my reunion with Eva.

Grinding her teeth together, Arachne stole a glance to her side.

Eva appeared healthy for the most part. There was a darker mark around her neck, roughly in the shape of a hand. A few cuts and scrapes dotted her skin and the carapace of one of her hands was damaged. All in all, things could be worse.

With a light twitch of her head, Arachne was back to focusing on their current enemy.

She readied herself by spinning a few quick threads. Thin yet long ones.

Arachne charged forwards once again as Eva blinked around the room. In near perfect sync, they attacked.

As expected, the woman dodged Arachne’s limbs.

The thread trailing off her fingers and legs weren’t quite so easy to dodge. Swinging her arms quick enough, she managed to loop a section around the woman’s body. With a flick of her wrist, Arachne pulled the threads tight, tying off her movements as Eva came in with the dagger.

A ring of ice formed around her neck just in time to block Eva’s dagger.

Not having any of that, Arachne used one leg to lift up the woman’s shirt and another three to plunge into her spinal column.

Eva took matters into her own hands. She went above the woman’s neckline, digging and dragging the dagger through her red hair. Eva didn’t try to cut the bone of the skull, but she didn’t need to.

Blinking away, Eva stared for just a moment.

Arachne pulled her legs from the woman’s back, letting her slump down to the ground.

The moment she hit the ground, the woman vanished. Nothing but the faint scent of sulfur remained.

A clapping sound echoed through the room just as she vanished.

Looking up to Eva, Arachne tilted her head. “Did you get her?”

“I don’t know. If she comes back anytime soon, I’ll get her right away.”

“Good,” Arachne said. Shifting awkwardly, she flexed the spare legs from her back. “I doubt that she’ll be back soon. If she can ever walk again.”

Standing there, Arachne didn’t know what to say. Looking at Eva fresh out of a battle—sweating and panting with her hair thrown in disarray—Arachne found herself at a loss. Before dying at the hands of the nuns, they hadn’t been on the best of terms. Mostly due to the Genoa incident.

What to do? What to say? Such a treasure in front of her and yet…

The decision was taken out of Arachne’s claws.

Eva blinked over to her, wrapping both arms around Arachne’s body.

“I missed you.”

Arachne stretched one arm and several legs around Eva, forming a protective net as she returned the hug.

“I missed you too.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.026

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Eva snapped into being on the gate she had made within her new dormitory room. She wasn’t even that wobbly from the teleport. Still, she took a moment to steady herself before moving around.

In that moment, she glanced around. Both with her eyes and her less mundane senses.

She immediately froze.

The very first thing that she noticed was Zagan. She couldn’t see him, but she could feel him. His overwhelming presence occluded everything else. Whatever had happened, he wasn’t trying to hide in the slightest.

It was terrifying and awe inspiring at the same time. Her heart hammered in her chest, screaming at her to run despite her mind claiming that Zagan was an ally.

Eva held her ground. It was all she could do to stand still. Digging her feet into the ground, Eva focused on calming down. Deep breaths helped, but only marginally.

No other presence, not even that of Ylva’s, could be felt through Zagan’s blanket of power. Prax and Catherine had both left the prison before Eva and she couldn’t sense either of them.

Hopefully that was just Zagan overpowering them and not something worse.

Prax and Catherine should at least be nearby. Ylva would be off with Zoe and Juliana. Given that the dorm room was empty of everyone else, Eva was assuming that they were out at the apartment building. Maybe even helping Zoe pack, unaware of the event out here until Ylva arrived. Though, Juliana might be wherever her parents were staying. Even bedridden or wheelchair bound, Eva had a hard time believing that Genoa would miss what was happening at the moment.

In fact, she would be surprised if regular mortals couldn’t feel Zagan.

Eva couldn’t see anything out the window. It looked out the back of the building, away from Zagan’s presence and the main Brakket Academy building, so that wasn’t all that surprising.

What she did notice were the purple lines in the sky. Since they had first appeared, they had been somewhat dim. Faint and barely visible in the daylight while simply there after nightfall. Now they were bright and almost glowing.

Whether that was because of Zagan or because Martina had summoned so many demons was a question better left to Devon.

Of course, he hadn’t come with her.

Eva had left after everyone else because she had taken the time to warn Devon.

Even discounting the issue that he couldn’t teleport alongside her without winding up as ground meat, Devon wanted nothing to do with demon hunters. He was perfectly content to watch Brakket City burn so long as he was left alone. He had even tried to stop Eva from coming.

Something Eva would hear nothing of.

She had friends here. Friends that might need help.

Zagan could hold his own. Whatever he was doing, Eva was sure that he would come out successful. Juliana and Zoe should both be away from the school and with Ylva. Eva considered running after them, hunkering down while Zagan solved all the problems.

But Catherine was still around. Despite all of her complaining about Martina and her words earlier in the evening about lacking loyalty to others, Catherine had still come here with the intention of keeping Martina safe.

And Eva was still somewhat fond of the succubus.

So Eva would help.

Rather than run from her room, Eva opened her window and dropped straight to the ground. Three stories was a long fall, but Arachne’s legs helped to absorb much of the impact. She ran around the side of the building.

And froze.

The walkway between the dormitory buildings was a torn up mess. Potholes everywhere, bricks lying about, and part of the Gillet’s front had been caved in.

An armored man stood against a winged bull. His armor was battered everywhere and even broken in several spots. He held out a sword. One that might have been beautiful with its emerald-encrusted hilt almost glowing in the evening darkness and graceful curve of the blade. But as Eva stared, she felt wary. Revulsion even. Whatever that sword was, she did not want it anywhere near her.

Zagan was looking worse for the wear. His leathery hide was covered in shallow cuts. A few were deeper, one on his muscular shoulder actually showed bone. The wound cleaned itself of blood every few seconds, making the depth clear to see.

Though, for all the wounds on Zagan, the knight might be in a worse state. Not only had he taken his fair share of the beating and had his own wounds of equal severity, but his armor was doing something to his body. Every time he moved, there was a flash. It was almost as if he was teleporting, but he obviously wasn’t. His armor carried him at speeds that human bodies weren’t meant to accelerate to and stop from so quickly.

Eva could see it in his blood.

One moment and everything was normal. The next had his blood and organs pressed up against the back of his body, only for them to lurch forwards when he stopped.

How he was still alive was anyone’s guess. Magic, probably. But it was affecting him. The visible pauses after each flash step as his body put itself back into place were evidence of that. His pausing lasted mere instants, but those instants were long enough for Zagan to capitalize on.

Zagan charged in an odd direction at the same instant that the knight flash stepped. The odd direction became far less odd as the knight appeared right in front of Zagan.

Scraping one of his horns along the ground, Zagan flicked his head upwards, catching the knight right between the legs. The knight went flying, flailing his arms and legs wildly in the air.

Zagan gave chase with a flap of his wings. His flaming hooves hit the knight in the back, crashing both of them down into the bricks.

The ground shattered after a brief moment of silence, leaving concentric circles of cracked brick and earth around the two monsters.

Eva turned away. It was hard. Zagan’s fighting was definitely worthy of watching. But he didn’t need her help. As she had thought, Zagan could handle himself.

What might need her help was at the main school building. A window near the front office area had broken, roughly in the area of Martina’s office. Dust and smoke billowed out.

If Martina was in, that would be where Catherine would have gone. There was no guarantee. Martina could have fled. Or worse, she might have been killed.

Eva didn’t have a better plan at the moment. She took off at a run, leaving the dormitory buildings and the battle behind.

The main school building wasn’t far. At a run and with a few interspersed blinks, Eva reached the broken window almost instantly.

Four circulatory systems were inside the room. Two lying on the ground and two standing upright.

The two upright were Prax and Catherine. Even if Eva hadn’t already memorized their individual blood vessel fingerprint, Prax’s bulk was unmatched by any other and Catherine had wings and a tail at the moment.

The woman who had accosted Eva in the apartment building was one of the circulatory systems on the ground. Martina was the other.

Eva’s ‘eyes’ were immediately drawn to the woman’s heart. It was beating erratically. A beat followed by a too-long pause. Three rapid beats. Another pause. To make matters more complicated, Eva couldn’t be sure that she was even breathing. Though, given the dust in the air, that might not be a bad thing.

Catherine was standing over her, fidgeting a little as if she didn’t know what to do.

Neither did Eva, but there was someone who did know.

“Martina needs to be taken to the nurse,” Eva said as she climbed over the broken glass of the window. The glass on the ground and sill wasn’t strong enough to cut her carapace. She just had to be careful where the rest of her body was. “She’s having a heart attack.”

She wasn’t really, not so long as Eva understood what a heart attack actually was, but time was of the essence and longer explanations would eat that time up.

“Catherine,” Eva said when the succubus made no motion to carry away the dean.

“I know.” There was a short sigh. Catherine’s arms slipped under Martina’s back and legs before hefting her up. “She had better appreciate me,” she said as she dashed from the room.

The nurse’s office was just down the hallway. So long as she was in at the moment, she would hopefully be able to do something. Given the late hour, Eva doubted that she would be in. Still, Catherine was the secretary. She probably knew where the nurse lived and could just head straight there.

Eva couldn’t say that she liked Martina, but she didn’t hate her enough to want her to die. In fact, she really didn’t hate her at all. Martina could be annoying on occasion, but Eva found herself more indifferent than anything.

And if she did die, there would be a lot of contracted demons running around without a contractor. At the moment, Zagan was a bit too tied up to rein them in. If he even cared enough to do so. Prax might be the only one that he focused on because of Prax’s slights toward him.

Eva would hopefully be able to convince Lucy to play nice with people, but the hellhound, morail, and Daru?

Well, Daru was likely dead.

And then there was Catherine. She wasn’t a contracted demon, but rather a familiar. Still, if Martina died, Catherine’s bonds would be broken.

“What about this one?” Prax said in a menacing growl, breaking Eva out of her thoughts.

Eva turned to the other woman—presumably a demon hunter—and found herself frowning.

Her heart rate was normal. Her blood flowed properly. There was a slight burn on one hand, but it didn’t extend deep enough below her skin to damage any real blood vessels.

And two of her fingers were tapping against the ground. Steady, rhythmic taps.

“Kill her,” Eva said, uncorking her vial of Zagan’s blood. “Quickly.”

Prax didn’t hesitate. He lifted his foot, preparing to crush the hunter’s head.

The hunter was faster. She rolled into his still planted foot.

Normally, Eva wouldn’t have expected much. Prax had bulk. Weight. Mass. The hunter, almost smaller than Eva, couldn’t be expected to move such a thing.

But she did. Whether because Prax was already unbalanced from having his other foot raised or some luck on the hunter’s part, Prax fell. His head smashed into the remains of Martina’s desk, sending splinters and papers flying around.

The hunter made it to her feet before Prax’s head hit the ground. A faint glow emanated from one of her rings. The air in front of her fingers filled with a faint white mist.

A globule of Zagan’s blood fell from the air where it had been zooming towards the hunter. It hit the floor as a ball of ice, shattering into pieces.

Beyond that, she didn’t pay any attention to Eva.

Prax was trying to get standing once again, but the hunter slipped one of her feet in the crook of his ankle and pulled. She managed to move his entire body, causing his arms to slip out from underneath him.

She jumped onto his back, knees on either side of his ribcage. One hand gripped one of Prax’s horns. The other took hold of his chin. With a flick of her arms, an audible snap echoed through the office.

Just in time for her to freeze another two globs of blood that Eva had attempted to hit her with while her back was turned. Each shattered on either side of the portal that was swallowing up Prax’s body.

The hunter got to her feet, brushing her hands off as if Prax had been covered in dust.

Though, given the blood on her hands, Eva doubted that the action was all that effective. It was merely an intimidation tactic.

Eva would be lying if she said that she wasn’t a little intimidated at the moment.

She may have taken Prax mostly by surprise, but Eva was getting serious ‘Genoa’ vibes off this hunter. Eva doubted that she would be able to take on an injured Genoa, let alone one able to walk under her own power.

The best course of action might be to simply flee back to Zagan. He would surely be able to do something.

Unless the presence of the hunter distracted him enough for the knight to get a critical hit in.

And even if Eva fled, there was no guarantee that the hunter would follow. She might chase after Catherine.

Catherine was right. She wouldn’t die. She’d be back eventually.

But she wasn’t the only one there. Martina would be with her. And maybe the nurse.

Eva might have found it amusing that she was more worried for the nurse than Martina had the hunter not decided to charge straight at her.

Blinking past the hunter to the opposite side of the room, she ignited her hands. Blood was obviously not working on this person. Granted, she had only tried twice and neither of those attempts had been her giant blood-claw. That took time, unfortunately.

Time that I really don’t have, Eva thought as she tossed a small fireball at her opponent. She didn’t have time build it up more. She didn’t have the time to stand and watch the explosion.

The hunter twisted around the fireball as an icicle flew towards Eva.

Blinking again, Eva found herself just outside of the office, looking in through the broken window.

The fireball hit the ground, erupting with little more than a snap. Like a small firework going off.

For a moment, the two just stared.

Eva didn’t remain idle while staring. She built up a fireball in each hand, both larger than the earlier one. With slightly more distance between them, Eva actually had the time to do so.

“What are you? You’re not a demon.”

Eva opened her mouth to deny that claim. Except, perhaps she wasn’t a demon just yet. A few more treatments.

In the mean time…

“An abomination.”

The hunter blinked, confusion radiating from her eyes. The confusion gave way to about three other expressions, all competing for dominance. Anger, disgust, and maybe a little excitement. She then blinked again.

“Oh,” she said. “Ohhh, you’re the person that nun was talking about. I have to admit, I wasn’t paying much attention. She was kind of annoying. No. Really, really annoying. She kept going on and on about… well, you. I suppose.”

Waving her hand, the hunter opened her mouth to continue rambling. “Doesn’t really matter–”

As the hunter waved her hand, Eva caught a light glow on her rings.

Without hesitation, Eva blinked.

She snapped into being back inside the office, just to the side of the hunter.

Eva dropped both of her firebombs as a boulder made of ice crashed down into the window right where she had been standing.

Window blocked off, Eva blinked to a corner of the room and uncorked a vial of blood. Her own blood, all of Zagan’s blood was lying frozen on the floor. She formed up a blood shield around herself. All in the time it took for the two firebombs to fall to the floor.

Heat and flames filled the room. Strong enough that Eva could feel a small portion of it through her shield. Much of the already wrecked room turned to cinders. What wasn’t burnable was crushed under the pressure of the two bombs’ shock waves.

Eva’s shield was included in that second category. Demon blood would have been able to stand up to the explosions. Only using her own blood, the shield cracked and shattered after only a few moments of staying up.

Luckily, most of the power in the explosions had already been used up by the time the fractured shield collapsed. All that was left was the fire and the heat.

Neither really bothered Eva.

Except, there was more left behind. One thing stood out.

A pillar of ice, stretching from the ground to the ceiling.

Eva didn’t need her blood sight to tell that the hunter was still alive within.

Uncorking every vial of blood that she had left, Eva formed it all into a massive ball made up of thin rings. The rings all circled around each other, gathering to form a frame of blood wires. Spell set, she plunged both hands into the ball.

Two car-sized hands of blood, mirrors of Eva’s claws, appeared in the room in front of her. Eva pushed her hands farther into the rings of blood. The larger versions of her hands moved together, one of them scraping into a wall and tearing it apart as it continued forwards.

The palms of her blood-hands hit the ice pillar. Eva gripped it and squeezed.

Cracks formed in the ice, starting as small fractures before growing into larger and thicker crevasses.

The hunter was actually panicking now. Her accelerated heart rate and more frantic movements within the pillar were unusually satisfying.

At least, it was until her blood claws started to freeze. They were huge, several hundred times the size of the small globs of Zagan’s blood that the hunter had frozen earlier. But locked around the pillar of ice, slowly crushing it, ice started to form on the palms of the hands.

Eva redoubled her efforts, pressing her hands together as hard as she could, forcing more and more magic into the ball of blood to keep the hands under her control for as long as possible.

The top half of the pillar broke off, collapsing into one of the hands. Eva pulled her real hand out of the ball as if she had been stung. The blood forming the hand fell to the ground, forming a large pool of inert liquid.

Glancing down, Eva found small amounts of frost shining white against the normally black carapace of her hand.

Eva grit her teeth and focused on her remaining hand, crushing the top of the already damaged pillar where it was more brittle.

With the hand still freezing over, it was fighting against time.

And Eva didn’t feel like she was winning.

Pulling her hand away from the pillar, Eva lifted it up and over the broken top. Curling the hand into a fist, she slammed it back down.

The hand fell apart, shards of blood and ice scattered everywhere. Most of it went into the pillar of ice through a hole at the top from where the upper part had broken off.

The shards rained down on the inside, each as sharp as knives, cutting into the hunter.

Unfortunately, that was all they were. Tiny knives. Inflicting nothing more than superficial wounds on the woman inside her makeshift shield.

A moment of silence passed. Eva started building up more compressed flames. Dropping them into the top might be her best option.

Rather than tossing the fledgling fireballs, Eva found herself extinguishing them as she dove to the side.

The pillar exploded outwards. Not in shards, but heavy chunks each at least the size of a large brick.

On the ground and curled into a ball, Eva clasped her hands over her head. Just in time to feel a brick of ice hit the chitin on her arm. It sent a hairline fracture up the carapace, but nothing more.

Eva remained on the ground for a moment after the last brick had struck the wall. Just in case.

A moment too long.

The hunter jumped on top of her. Bleeding from hundreds of tiny cuts, the woman clasped a hand around Eva’s throat. Her other hand grasped towards Eva’s face.

Seeing where the woman was aiming all too clearly, Eva used both of her hands to keep her open hand away. Eva could do without a little air for a short time. She had lost her eyes once already and that was beyond enough for her.

Having been curled up, Eva’s legs were crunched up against her chest.

Between her body and the hunter.

Eva found herself grinning despite the vice-like grip on her neck. She kicked with both legs, sending the woman flying across the room with her letting out a short scream.

Flipping back to her feet, Eva rubbed her throat as the hunter got to her feet.

And she found her fingers running over her bare neck.

Thoughts of the hunter gone, Eva turned her attention to the floor around her. Searching, eyes roaming over everything.

“Looking for this?”

Eva’s eyes snapped to the hunter.

One hand was held up in front of her. From it, a thin black band dangled, swaying slightly in the air. A small black sphere hung off the band.

Arachne’s beacon.

“Give that back!”

“Hmm,” she hummed, tapping a finger to her chin. “You know? I don’t think I will.” She dropped the band, not taking her eyes off Eva as it bounced lightly against the floor. Moving the tip of her shoe over the beacon, the hunter grinned. Her voice took on a sing-song tune as she spoke. “I wonder what would happen if it were destroyed.”

“I said. Give. That. Back.”

“I–”

The hunter cut herself off. She blinked, taking her eyes off Eva and giving a glance around the room.

Eva took a step forward.

The hunter took her foot off the beacon. She had to in order for her to take a step backwards. She didn’t make it very far. When Eva had kicked her, she had slammed into a wall and hadn’t moved far from it. Far enough for a single step.

As Eva took another step forward, the hunter’s face twisted into a snarl.

She lifted up her foot and brought her heel down on the beacon.

As if in slow motion, Eva watched as the orb cracked and shattered to dust. A spiderweb of cracks started from her heel and spread out over the surface. The webs contained within exploded outwards, latching onto the hunter’s foot.

Eva saw red.

— — —

It is time.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.025

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“This is a surprise. After all that skulking about, you come out of the woodwork now?”

Clement stood unmoving. He could feel the sweat beading down his skin beneath his armor. The battle hadn’t even started yet.

Demons never really frightened him. They were arrogant beings, the kind of monsters who thought themselves so above humanity that nothing short of an army could beat them in combat. When faced against a medieval knight and a lithe girl, most tended to laugh. If given the chance to monologue, which most took, they would gloat about how quickly the battle would be over.

Usually Gertrude would be at his side. Ever the impatient sort, she tended to interrupt them. Whether that be using her water magic to ice over their eyeballs or simply activating a prepared trap, rarely did a demon finish his monologue.

Though, Gertrude wasn’t at his side this time.

Clement opened his mouth only to find his throat drier than a desert in a drought. Licking his lips, he gave a slight cough to clear his throat before speaking.

“You didn’t bring along the other demons?” Unless something had changed recently, there should still be two demons inside the school building. A morail and a hellhound. The rest were still out at the prison.

The devil drew himself up, broadening his shoulders as he straightened his back. “I could kill them with a stray thought. If you’re truly strong enough to challenge me, they wouldn’t last longer than a few seconds.”

Clement blinked. He had been expecting some arrogant oh, you think I need help to fight you? Instead, this devil’s words carried a tone of respect for Clement. They recognized his strength.

Which was not a good thing. He needed to deal with the devil before the devil took him seriously.

Something that had not looked likely from the start.

As Clement looked on the devil, he could find no trace of the man he had spied upon since he had arrived in Brakket. Gone was the flirt that propositioned everyone in town. Male or female. Clement had caught him sweet talking a horse at one point, though given Clement’s certainty that the devil knew he was being watched, that could have been a show specifically for the purpose of messing with him.

No, before Clement stood a devil.

He didn’t look like one, for sure. He looked like a professor. A rather well-off professor. His suit was well pressed without a spot of dust on it. His dark hair was well styled, not too short to look military, but not long enough to look childish. Magnetic and debonair, Clement almost found himself dismissing the idea that this man was anything but a man.

But then there were the devil’s eyes. Bright golden eyes that almost glowed in the surrounding darkness.

Truly a monster.

Regardless of the outcome, perhaps there would be songs sung about this battle. There certainly were plenty of witnesses.

Clement looked around. The two Brakket dormitory buildings stood on either side of him, one to his left and the other to the right. There was a brick campus between the two, not designed for vehicles.

Lights were on in several rooms. The lights made it easy to see the silhouettes of students that hadn’t gone home for the summer. A number of the rooms were dark but still held people—Clement could see as much through his visor’s enchantments.

Unfortunately, it was doubtful that any great bards would take up the task of his song. More likely, some kid would record the whole thing before posting it on the internet. People would argue about it, some claiming it was mere special effects while others would insist that the video was more evidence of magic.

Then it would be forgotten as the next big thing came around.

Shaking his head, Clement looked back towards his opponent. “If we fight like this,” he said with a nod up to the lit windows. “They’ll know who–what you are.”

The devil shrugged his shoulders. “You care. You hunt demons. Demons are your life, your very reason for existence. A big bad demon invading a town of innocent students, why, it might just be the most important fight of your life.” Lifting his arm, he gestured towards one of the buildings. “To them, today is Tuesday.”

Clement tapped a finger against the armor over his thigh as he thought. Gertrude had set up a few traps before leaving for her own mission. Unfortunately, they were all back in the city itself. None on the campus plaza.

Turning his back… was not an option. He was certain that he would be struck down the moment he tried. As cordial as their conversation had sounded, he had no illusions that it actually was.

Leading him back through town during the fight might prove impossible. Surely the devil would see through what he was doing. Or he would avoid going too far from the academy building.

Clement grit his teeth and clenched his fist. He would just have to do this the old-fashioned way.

“Ah, finally ready?” the devil asked.

Clement didn’t get a chance to respond.

The devil’s outfit burst into flames. They cleared away just as quickly as they had come, leaving him baring his muscles for all the students to see.

Great black wings sprouted from his back. Feathered, rather than the bat-like wings most demons possessed. From his waist down, he was covered in a leathery fur that ended in heavy hooves. Fire and smoke sprouted from where the hooves touched the ground. Horns curled off his head—one of them a crumpled horn—each looking more evil every time Clement’s eyes passed over them.

Reaching behind his back, Clement curled his fingers around the emerald-studded hilt of his sword. He drew it without flourish or elegance. Every movement he made was purely utilitarian.

The devil’s golden eyes went wide. For just a bare moment, his smile disappeared as his mouth twisted to the shape of a ring.

“A Persian sword. Not many would use such a thing these days, though I suppose that there is no weapon more fitting for fighting demons. Not the original Zomorrodnegār. If you’ll forgive me for acting out of turn…”

The devil snapped forward with a burst of flames at his back, crossing half the distance between them in the blink of an eye.

Clement raised his sword, both hands gripping the hilt to better defend against powerful attacks.

But the devil didn’t continue on. He stopped moving five feet away.

The flames didn’t stop with him. They curled around the devil’s body, continuing forwards and wrapping around Clement. There was a mild heat accompanying the flames. Nothing that would be dangerous.

He stood his ground. Something that was becoming increasingly difficult as the bricks under his boots became brittle and cracked away under the heat. But he couldn’t afford to move. This was a test of some sort. Through his visor’s enchantments, he could see that the devil hadn’t moved after launching the flames.

There was a sensation in Clement’s gut that if he moved, he would lose his head.

After a moment of the flames wrapping around him, they dispersed into mere embers.

The devil was hazy. Heat waves trailed up from the glowing red bricks, distorting everything around Clement. Even some parts of his armor had a faint red glow to them.

“Yes,” the devil said, “definitely not the original. The original would have eaten those flames.”

With a shrug of the devil’s shoulders, the plaza returned to normal. The heat haze vanished as the bricks lost their glow.

The bricks that had cracked beneath Clement’s feet stayed glowing and cracked. The tips of his armor retained their red-hot temperature as well.

Already bright gold, the devil’s eyes lit up with a maddened delirium as he burst into laughter. “Excellent,” he said. “Marvelous! What is your name?”

Clement hesitated. He was not a mage. Nor had he much training apart from what to expect from demons and any other entities that Gertrude thought he should know about. He had heard that names had power. Where he had heard it, he couldn’t say. Books, perhaps. Fiction.

Except it was so difficult to tell what was fiction and what was a mage writing about personal experiences under the guise of fiction.

Never before had a demon asked his name. He had never had cause to ask Gertrude about names.

Then again, he didn’t use his real name. ‘Clement’ was a moniker given to him by Gertrude.

“Come now,” the devil said as he tapped a foot against the brick plaza. “We don’t have all night. I’m sure I have to go hunt down your girlfriend before morning.”

“Clement,” he said through grit teeth. Readying his sword, he shifted forwards.

This devil couldn’t be allowed to chase after Gertrude.

“Clement huh? I’ll remember that. For at least a day. You may call me Zagan, Great King of Hell.”

Clement didn’t acknowledge the devil. He charged forwards using his toes to activate the enchantments in his boots, and slashed down at the devil.

Zagan was, predictably, not in the path of his blade by the time it passed through the air.

Rather than follow through with a second slash or chase after him, Clement pulled back and brought one arm up to his eyeline.

Zagan’s open hand caught the gauntlet’s wrist. He started to twist Clement’s arm, eliciting a light groan from the armor as the metal protested the movement.

Bringing his sword around with his free hand was enough to send Zagan hopping backwards a few steps. Clement tried to hit him with the closed fist of his released hand, but struck nothing but air.

Before marching up to Brakket Academy, Clement had removed the fingers of his armor on his left hand. On one of those fingers, he wore the ring that Gertrude had given him.

So long as Zagan didn’t notice it, all he had to do was slip in a punch while the devil was distracted by the sword. At least, as long as Gertrude was right in her assumption that it would work. Clement had never known her to be wrong about much of anything.

Though, given how he was avoiding it, Clement hoped that his sword would work just as well.

They entered into a vicious cycle of back and forth attacks. As the devil circled around him, all Clement had to do to get him to back off was step forward and slash with the sword. He kept his slashes short and moved as fast as he could to prevent any long openings that might give Zagan another opportunity to grapple.

Not once since the earlier flames had the devil tried to use magic. He had named the sword, which likely meant that he knew its properties. Magic wouldn’t work well against the sword’s wielder. It was still disconcerting just how quickly he had figured that out.

Neither did he have any weapons, though no demon ever did. They always preferred to use their own natural talents and abilities over any kind of artificial enhancement. Which was good for Clement. It meant that Zagan had to get in close to actually attack.

Twisting around another attempted grapple, Clement reversed his grip on his sword and thrust it back and around his side.

Curved swords weren’t made for thrusting, but they still had a point.

And he felt that point dig into the devil’s flesh.

Clement put space between them with the enchantments in his boots. Turning, he found Zagan staring down at his arm.

A long streak of black liquid ran from his elbow down to his wrist. Every few seconds, the blood would vanish. It vanished completely and thoroughly, leaving no streaks or markings on the skin. Even the droplets that fell to the bricks disappeared.

No matter how many times the blood vanished, the wound always remained.

Zagan chuckled, throwing back his head. “Yes, Clement. This is perfect. When the pale horse comes for you, you must remind me to thank dear Martina. You can do that for me, yeah?”

Clement didn’t respond. All of his focus went towards dashing forwards and striking at Zagan a second time.

— — —

For perhaps the first time since she had taken over her office, Martina Turner had drawn back the curtains and pulled up the blinds. She never knew who might try to peek into her office from the outside or what might be going on inside when they tried. It was generally safer to simply keep them shut.

She didn’t mind. Her eyes were well accustomed to the dim lamps that she kept around the room. Her desk light lit up papers enough to work on. Natural lighting was overrated by leagues.

But tonight was different. Zagan was out fighting.

Or dancing.

It was hard to tell. He was taking great pains to avoid a sword, resulting in him twisting and jumping all over the place. Every time he got close, the sword fighter found a way to make him back off.

Irritating, Martina thought with a glower. She tipped back a glass of her favored liquor, shaking her head as the drink warmed her blood. “Stop toying with him and kill him already,” she hissed out to no one in particular.

No one was around. Her newest morail was standing guard outside the room along with the hellhound. Zagan wouldn’t hear her from where he was. Even if he did hear her, he wouldn’t listen. His own amusement trumped everything else in his contract.

She was already regretting sending Catherine and the cambion off with Eva. Zagan should have been able to deal with any issues that arose. When she had sent her demons away, she hadn’t accounted for Zagan’s eccentricities.

Though, with the text she had sent, she had expected them back by now.

Unless they were dealing with the other demon hunter.

If that was the case, well, good luck to them.

Zagan took to the skies as Martina watched on. With a flap of his wings, he pulled a back flip. Four hooves cracked the ground as he landed in his full demon form. A fearsome winged bull with smoke streaming from his nostrils. He pawed the ground twice before charging.

His crumpled horn struck the armored hunter in the stomach. From her angle, Martina couldn’t tell whether or not it had pierced the armor, but it did some damage. The hunter paused, stunned for a moment.

A moment long enough for Zagan to twist his head and toss the knight.

The sword clipped Zagan on the shoulder as the knight sailed through the air. He crashed down through the wall of the Gillet dormitory building.

Martina blinked, staring at the dormitory’s crumbled walls for just a moment. “Ah. I forgot.”

Catherine was gone.

Martina moved away from the window back to her desk. Removing the phone from its cradle, she hit a few buttons to connect her to the public announcement systems in the two dormitories and the main school building.

“Attention all students and staff within the Brakket Academy campus,” Martina said into the phone. “There is currently a combative situation involving at least one intruder on campus. All students are to remain where they are so long as it appears safe in your location. Keep away from windows and walls that look out over the general plaza between the dormitories.”

Anything else? “The situation is well in hand. Do not interfere with any fighting. If you see anyone that does not appear to be a student or staff, avoid them.”

Martina placed the phone back down and moved back to the window. Luckily, school was out for the summer. Most teachers were gone. Most students were gone. New first years hadn’t even arrived yet. The only ones sticking around were those with no place else to go.

Of course, given how watched the city was since the sky issue, it wouldn’t surprise her to find out that some reporters were recording this somehow. Unfortunately, there was nothing that she could do about that at this point.

Martina was about to take another drink when she heard a loud cracking noise.

She turned towards the door just in time to see it split in two. Both halves flew across the room and turned to splinters as they hit the wall.

Silhouetted against the hallway light was a lithe woman, head tilted down so that her red hair hung down and obscured most of her face. Her hands up to her elbows were coated in black liquid. Viscous droplets hit the ground, staining it with each splash.

Behind the woman, two void portals swallowed up the remains of what could only be her guard demons.

The woman looked up, locking one green eye and one red eye with Martina’s eyes.

Martina took a casual sip of her drink as she looked over the woman. She held no obvious focus. No wand, no book, no gemstones. She had no rings on. Not a mage?

But she had just killed two demons. Granted, she may have ambushed them, but it looked like she had torn them apart with her bare hands. And with that eye…

“A half-demon? Or did you graft the eye?”

“Hellfire?” the woman said back. “You know that’s made by mortals who thought it would be a cool name? No relation to demons at all.”

Frowning, Martina brought the glass to her lips once again. Of course she knew that. She had become addicted to the taste long before she summoned her first demon.

And the hunter hadn’t answered her question.

“Here to talk?” Martina asked. That would be the best case scenario. Anything to delay until Zagan got off his ass and finished up with the armored hunter. Or even until Catherine returned. “Or here to fight?”

“Here to kill.”

“I see.”

The hunter dashed across the room without further preamble.

Martina dove to the side, dropping her glass as she moved. She forced her magic into the summoning circle in the center of the room, hidden beneath a large rug. There was no enticement set. She was opening the portal, a calling to any demon who might answer.

Frankly, she didn’t care what kind of demon she got. Though she was hoping for something marginally stronger than an imp. It was doubtful that such a pathetic being would even give the hunter pause.

There were no shackles around the circle either. A good thing in this case. So long as the demon went after the hunter and not her. Normally Zagan would be present. He was the best deterrent to any subterfuge, better than any set of shackles created by man, in any case.

The hunter jumped away from Martina, landing in the center of the circle. She clenched her fist and slammed it down into the floor.

Audible cracks ran through the floor.

Martina felt her magic backfire before she saw it. A sudden twist of her magic in a way that was not meant to be.

She cut off channeling her magic into the circle.

Too late.

The damaged circle rumbled before exploding outwards, filling the air with dust and debris.

Martina flew back, hitting her hip against the edge of her desk. Groaning out, she breathed in a cloud of dust. She descended into sputtering hacks and coughs. Pulling up the edge of her shirt to cover her mouth, Martina tried to breathe in a lungful of filtered air as she looked around for her opponent.

The cloud of dust obscured everything more than a foot away. There were shadows around.

One moved.

Martina used her rings to fire off a sickly green bolt of lightning.

“Summoning more demons? Tisk, tisk.”

She whipped her head around and immediately shot off another bolt into the corner of the room.

“I appreciate a fight as much as the next hunter, but I’d say that we have our work cut out for us with what is already around.”

A different corner, where the sound had come from, exploded from another lightning bolt. More dust and debris filled the air, sending Martina into a fresh set of coughs.

Her eyes burned. The shadow was moving around faster and faster, making Martina dizzy as she tried to follow it around her room.

“You kill me,” she coughed through her shirt, “and Zagan will be off his leash. You don’t know the destruction he will cause. He’ll kill everyone around. Innocent students, teachers, children.”

“Ah, I’m sure Clement will be broken-hearted to hear that. Unfortunately for you, you mistake me for someone who cares.”

Martina didn’t launch another lightning bolt. That tactic was obviously not working. She had to try something else.

Building up her magic, Martina tried for a teleport.

Only to collapse to her knees as she felt like she had run head first into a brick wall.

“Zagan,” she shouted, “help me–”

A cold hand pressed around her mouth, cutting her off.

“Calling for help? Is that all you can do? That is why you will die. One less summoner around will make our job much easier.

Martina gripped the hand. The arm led somewhere behind her, but she couldn’t take the chance of missing again.

With the hand still around her mouth, Martina cast a sickly green lightning bolt straight at the arm.

Her body was wracked with pain, convulsing as the lightning tore through own flesh.

Still, she kept it going. More lightning, more and more. It was tearing through the hunter’s body just as much as it was hers.

Steam pouring off her body, Martina collapsed to the ground as her mind went blank.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.024

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva woke with a sheen of sweat coating her body. There was a twisting in her stomach, something she couldn’t quite explain. It wasn’t hunger. More like disgust or revulsion.

Something was wrong.

Throwing her blankets off, Eva took a look around her room in the women’s ward. Aside from the messy bed, everything was neatly organized. Her dresser held all of the various knickknacks that she had acquired over the past few years. None had been moved. Her room was just as she remembered leaving it the night before.

The windows were still barred and sealed. It was just barely getting dark out. Eva had decided to take a quick nap after having finished setting up her wards. With all the excitement, sleepless nights, and somewhat severe anemia in the recent days, she hadn’t wanted to fight demon hunters while in such a sorry state. She had intended to just take a short nap—she didn’t even sleep much these days anyway—but by the looks of things, she had somewhat overslept.

However, aside from the pale streaks of purple in the sky, nothing looked amiss outside of her room.

“So what is wrong?” she mumbled to herself as she threw on a shirt and a skirt.

Through the walls, Eva took note of her guests. Ylva, Catherine, and Prax were all out in the common room. None really appeared to be speaking to one another. Prax leaned against a far wall with his arms crossed in front of his chest. Ylva sat in a chair, reclining back with one arm on the armrest. She had her fingers curled underneath her chin, supporting her head as she stared off into the distance. Lying on the longer couch, Catherine fiddled with a cellphone.

Zoe and Juliana weren’t around at the moment. They must have gone back during Eva’s nap. Juliana’s father had given some strict instructions to Zoe regarding his daughter’s extracurricular activities. Something about a curfew.

She would have expected Zoe to return afterwards. Or send a message if she was in trouble.

A quick check of her cellphone showed no new messages.

As she was slowly becoming used to, Eva could sense all three of the demons in the other room. And more. The carnivean and the wax demon were somewhere around as well, though farther away. Along with all those demons was Zagan, though his presence was faint and in the vague direction of Brakket Academy.

But there was something else. Something disturbing.

Whatever it was, it had been the thing to wake her.

Pushing open the door to the common room, Eva looked around at the demons with her own eyes.

None of them turned to look at her.

“Do you feel it too?” she asked no one in particular.

“It’s Daru,” Catherine said in an exasperated tone of voice. She didn’t bother looking up from her cellphone.

Though, moving slightly closer and catching a glimpse over the succubus’ shoulder, Eva found herself surprised at the lack of a game on the screen. Rather, she was in some sort of drawing program, tracing out sigil-inscribed circles with her thumb.

Practicing? Or maybe continuing whatever she had been working on with Devon, Eva thought. Her own version of a treatment circle.

Eva shook her head. “Why does it feel like that? It’s… It’s… vile.”

“He’s in pain. Lots of pain,” Catherine said. “Active torture, I’d imagine. Enough to mess with his aura.”

“And we’re just sitting around?”

Catherine sighed as she set her phone on the couch cushion. She glanced over her shoulder and shook her head. “Martina might have asked me to help you out, but that doesn’t mean that I need to die for you. I rather like being around here. The mortal realm, that is.”

When Catherine failed to jump up and charge out to rescue Daru, Eva turned first to Ylva before moving on to Prax.

“It is a trap,” Prax said. “Your defenses give us the advantage over any who would attack us. Leaving their protections to rescue some morail would be foolish in the extreme.”

“So we’re just going to leave him to be tortured?”

As someone who had gone through torture herself, leaving someone else to such a fate did not sit right with her. Eva had recovered, true. Perhaps even becoming stronger than she had been before with the addition of Arachne’s limbs. But that didn’t mean that others would be the same.

“Eva,” Catherine said, sitting up on the couch. “What you fail to realize is that no one here cares about Daru. No one here cares about each other, except in how they will fare should we need to fight. So long as the others keep me from dying, they’re my best friends. The moment they become a liability to my continued existence…”

With a frown, Eva glanced towards Ylva, expecting at least the hel to deny having the same thoughts.

Ylva turned her head slightly, looking towards Prax. “The cambion’s assessment is correct. This is a trap. Wandering into it, blinded by revenge or some foolish heroism, would suit no one. The morail is not Our servant. His demise matters little.”

Eva closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

With how much she interacted with them on a daily basis, it was easy to forget that most of everyone who she knew was a demon. And not demons like Arachne.

Arachne cared. At least about her.

Maybe that was the problem. She had a skewed perspective because of Arachne. Eva was willing to grant that Arachne likely cared little for anyone else. The only reason why Arachne had helped anyone else was because of Eva asking her to.

“But I care,” Eva said, looking Catherine in the eye. “I care about Arachne. I want her back. She was–is my friend and my companion.” Eva’s hand drifted up to the beacon set around her neck.

“Along with that, I care about you. Ylva too,” Eva said, turning to face the hel. “And,” she started looking towards Prax before snapping her gaze back to Catherine. “Lucy too. If any of you were being tortured, I would jump in and try to save you.”

Silence greeted Eva’s proclamation.

No one moved. No one said a word.

At least, until Prax let out a loud snort.

That broke whatever spell held them still.

Catherine rolled her eyes and picked up her cellphone again while Ylva just looked up at Eva and stared.

“A foolish notion. Mortals lack the ability to permanently kill demons. Any sacrifice you make would be pointless in the end.”

“I might as well try,” Eva said, fiddling with Arachne’s beacon once again. “By that logic, there aren’t any downsides to trying. If none of us die when we’re killed…” Trailing off, Eva stared at Ylva. “Can I die? Permanently.”

The air chilled by a few degrees. Enough so that Eva’s breath condensed into faint puffs of fog as she breathed.

Eva took a step backwards as Ylva moved to her feet.

Though she wasn’t standing in any sunlight, her skin vanished. All that remained was the giant skeleton, stooping over slightly to fit under the relatively low ceiling of the women’s ward. Two tiny white pinpricks of light emanated from the depths of her empty eye sockets.

Eva tried to take another step back.

Ylva was too quick.

Her hand reached out, digging her bony fingers into Eva’s shoulder.

Ice flowed through Eva’s body.

Not just ice. Whatever it was, it was colder than ice. Turning her sense of blood in on herself, Eva could see her very veins freezing beneath her skin. It spread, starting at Ylva’s hand and spreading.

Down her arm.

Down her chest.

Up her neck.

Eva managed only a short scream before her throat froze over.

She was only barely conscious of Catherine staring at her with wide eyes. The succubus made no movements to intervene.

Neither did Prax. He hadn’t even shifted from his position against the far wall.

Those white pinpricks where Ylva’s eyes should be captured her, forcibly holding her gaze and what little attention she could muster.

Tendrils of ice reached up Eva’s neck.

The moment they touched her brain, everything went dark.

— — —

“No one is coming.”

What little there was of the demon had just been swallowed by Void. Bits and pieces of him had been left behind. Void only took the largest chunk of the demon that was still connected to either the brain or the heart, if either were still intact.

Gertrude snapped her tome shut.

“No one is coming,” she said again with a glance around the empty wilderness. “All that work. All for nothing.”

Clement followed her gaze.

They had set up just to the side of the main freeway that passed by Brakket City. Several demon traps had been set up. Slick icy patches created by Gertrude made up the proper rings and symbols for shackles. Some out in the fields around them to capture any that might come by. Even a few on the roads themselves.

Some demons liked to drive for whatever reason. Clement had never talked with one, but he imagined that they didn’t often drive if they ever wound up summoned again. The look on their faces when they drove over a set of icy shackles was one that made him extraordinarily grateful to Gertrude for enchanting his visor with magnification settings.

A demon’s car would find itself relatively unimpeded by the ice. The demon wasn’t so lucky. Even the strongest of demons would find themselves hard pressed to survive both impacting against the wall of shackles at above eighty miles an hour and the crumpling of their car around them when their body got in the way.

A perfect trap if ever there was one.

Except when demons didn’t show up.

“All this sneaking around and trapping,” Gertrude said. She put her fingers into her red hair, giving a light tug. Not hard enough to actually pull the hair out, just enough to try to relieve stress. “I can’t take it anymore. I want to fight. That girl ruined everything,” she said with a loud groan.

Clement placed his hand on his sword. “Are we taking the fight to them?”

“The city has less demons,” she said, not even paying attention to Clement. “Ahh, but it has the devil.”

“Will your enchantments work on him?”

“I suppose that depends entirely on how playful he’s feeling. I wouldn’t rely on anything but your sword. That should work on the Devil himself.”

Clement glanced down towards his boots, opening his mouth to ask.

Gertrude preempted his question. “No amount of speed will matter if he gets serious.”

“Then we must kill him before he gets serious.”

“A trickier task than simple words make it sound.”

“I can handle it.”

Bright white teeth appeared between Gertrude’s lips as their corners curled up high on her cheeks. “If you handle him,” she said with a hum, rubbing her chin. “That might work. You won’t get any support from me.”

Clement blinked. Possibly the most powerful foe they had ever faced and she wouldn’t be there? He suppressed the chill on his neck and gave Gertrude a nod. “If that is what you need of me. Shall we set up traps?”

“The first one might work for a few seconds. I wouldn’t expect anything to work twice.”

Tightening his fingers around his sword’s hilt, Clement took a deep breath. “A few seconds might be all I need.”

“Alright then,” she said, turning and stalking away from the mess of the demon. After taking one step, Gertrude paused. “There is one more thing.”

She tossed a small object towards Clement. With the enchantments on his visor and the rest of his armor, he hand no trouble spotting and catching it in the dim light.

A ring.

An old-fashioned signet ring. It was a dark metal, heavier than he expected though he had no trouble lifting it. Whether that was because of his armor’s enchantments or something Gertrude had done to the ring, he couldn’t say.

The signet part of the ring had heavy embossing. There were two main parts of the signet. The first, the outer circle, was full of dots and lines. Some lines were straight while others squiggled. None of the patterns made any sense to him.

The inner circle had a symbol that looked almost like an old-fashioned keyhole. There were a few excess lines around the keyhole along with the astrological symbols for Mars and Saturn.

“This is your ring,” he said, looking back to Gertrude. “Why give it to me? You aren’t planning on doing something foolish again, are you?”

“Me?” she said with a faux gasp, grasping at her chest as if she had just been struck. “Never!”

Gertrude took a deep breath, her countenance taking on a slightly more serious appearance.

“It’s called the Seal of Solomon,” she said. “Said to be able to seal any demon, including the seventy-two devils. Just press it into their skin and bam! One-way ticket to Hell.”

“Why me?”

“You offered to fight him,” Gertrude said with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t know if it will work. You know me,” she paused to crack her knuckles, “I prefer to drag these bastards back to Hell in pieces.

With that said, she turned back to the van and started walking, leaving Clement staring at the ring.

And wondering just how he was supposed to wear it with his gauntlets in the way.

Perhaps a small chain around his neck would work.

Shaking his head, Clement glanced back towards where their demon guest had been sent back to Hell.

Leaving the mess behind could present a potential hazard to any innocents who came across it. Though morail blood wasn’t caustic or toxic, it was still demon blood. He would hate to have to hunt down anyone who came into contact with the substance. Likely some random person followed by either mundane police or Brakket Academy personnel.

If it was the latter, he wouldn’t feel too guilty about it.

But Gertrude had already slipped through the window of their van. Roars of the engine filled the air as she revved up the vehicle. Three sharp blasts of the horn signaled her impatience.

With a sigh, Clement followed her footsteps and left the mess of the demon behind. With any luck, the remains would be picked off by carrion feeders. A lot harder to hunt down, but significantly less important than hunting down sentient beings.

He pulled open the rear doors of the van and climbed inside, setting the weight of his armor down on one of the reinforced seats.

Gertrude slammed on the gas pedal, lurching the van forwards, before he even had a chance to shut the door.

As usual.

— — —

An empty void. Nothing existed anywhere. There were no landmarks, no scents, no lights. Nothing at all. Nothing but cold.

Eva couldn’t feel her fingers. She couldn’t feel her toes.

And yet, it was somehow familiar. Except for the cold.

The hallway that she had been trapped in after being stabbed by Sawyer. Or rather, the void that she had fallen into just before waking.

Eva had taken the entire thing to be a near death experience brought on by the cursed dagger. Some delusion that her mind had wrought as a way of coping with her imminent demise.

That she was experiencing it again did not fill her with happy feelings. The implications elicited almost the exact opposite; feelings of dread.

Ylva had killed her. Or, at least came close enough to throw her back into a comatose state. A state that, last time, Eva had required outside assistance to wake up from.

Though, last time, the emptiness had immediately preceded waking up. Perhaps she wouldn’t need to muck about with the hallway this time.

Of course, she had retained the ability to feel things last time. Eva distinctly recalled using her claws to cut herself as a test. No matter how much she tried to move, she couldn’t feel even the slightest movement of her own body.

And she was trying.

With nothing else to do, Eva continuously tried to flex her fingers. Back and forth, back and forth.

Slowly yet surely, the lack of any feeling gave way to a sort of tingling numbness. The sort of feeling that happened when a limb fell asleep. It was painful, but not overly so. Nothing quite compared to having her eyes pulled out. Or even the curse from the blade.

As the numbness worked its way up her arms, Eva started trying the same with her legs. Anything to get more feeling in her body.

After a moment or two of working over her fingers, Eva had a thought.

If Ylva had frozen her body, what was the best way to get rid of that ice?

The answer was obviously fire.

Eva ignited her arms and legs.

Warmth poured into her. She didn’t go further than her carapace–the flames would end up going too far and taking her from frozen to extra crispy. A few warming spells around her chest and stomach helped, though not to the same degree.

Still, Eva was quickly regaining her range of motion.

And her hearing.

A buzzing at her ears that slowly grew louder. Shouts, perhaps?

Cries to put it out.

What are they talking about? The fire?

Eva couldn’t put it out. Not before she was thawed.

Casting a heating spell right in the middle of her face seemed like a good idea. If she could hear, maybe she could thaw out her eyes.

Seemed was the key word.

As the heat melted away whatever ice had frozen her eyes shut, Eva’s eyes burned. It was not the tingling numbness in her limbs. It was shards of ice digging into her eyelids and the flesh of her eyes.

It was not melting fast enough.

Eva strained through it with clenched teeth. She pulled her eyelids open with as much might as she could gather.

Which wasn’t all that much. For as strong as her hands and legs might be–and even the parts of her that were human–eyelids were not very powerful muscles.

Thin strips of light widened until Eva could see again despite that lack of strength.

Eva found herself staring at the ceiling of the women’s ward common room.

Ylva and Catherine stood over her. Ylva looked as elegant as ever.

Catherine had changed into singed tatters of clothes for some odd reason.

And the couch was on fire.

Eva closed her eyes again and just sat on the cold hard floor. She still felt iced over just about everywhere. Lifting her arm, she cast a few more warming spells all over her body.

Whether or not there was actually ice, she couldn’t tell. At the very least, she didn’t feel like she was lying in a puddle.

After spending a few minutes warming herself, Eva opened her eyes again.

Catherine had skulked off to the side, but Ylva still stood over her.

Eva opened her mouth only to find her jaw stiff. As if she had been clenching her teeth for far too long. Opening and closing her mouth a few times to stretch out her weary muscles, Eva tried to speak again.

“You killed me.”

“Only for a moment.”

Eva blinked, not having expected Ylva to outright admit it. She tried to push herself up. A combination of pain in her back and stiffness in her shoulders and hips kept her from succeeding. Even moving her arms was a chore.

After a moment of failure, Eva let herself flop back down to the floor, lying flat on her back. Her lack of ability to sit up did not detract from the glare she leveled at Ylva.

“You killed me!”

Ylva stared. Her cold eyes looked down at Eva without a shred of regret, remorse, or even sympathy.

It was enough to send a chill up Eva’s still frozen spine.

This woman–this demon was someone who Eva had come to trust. She had slept within the demon’s domain, walked with her on the streets, talked with and sought advice from her on occasion.

Now Ylva looked down with alien eyes devoid of emotion as if she couldn’t understand why Eva might find it alarming that she had just been killed.

“Why?”

“To ascertain the answer to your question.”

Eva would have shaken her head had she the strength to do so. Instead, she settled with merely closing her eyes. This is my fault somehow, isn’t it. Rather than ask a question that Eva was fairly certain she knew the answer to, she just opened her eyes and said, “can we maybe talk about killing me before actually doing so next time? No, wait. Let’s just not kill me next time.”

“There was no danger,” Ylva said with a slight tilt of her head. “We have long suspected that your soul is too corrupt to be gathered by psychopomps and ferried to the Land of Death.”

“That…” Eva actually did shake her head this time. Forcing herself into a sitting position despite the creaking protests of her body, she leaned against the small table.

The couch was still on fire, as were her hands and legs. There wasn’t much left of her skirt either. Eva took a brief moment to channel her magic into the flames, controlling, dampening, and finally extinguishing them.

“What if you were wrong?” Eva turned to Ylva with a glare. “What if I had actually died?”

“There was no danger. Our initial purpose in placing Ourself near you was to investigate the status of your soul. We succeeded in Our task and were not wrong.” Ylva paused for a moment with a blink of her eyes. “Had your soul been uncorrupted, repelling a reaper is a simple matter for a short time. Time enough to restore your body and soul for one such as Ourself.”

Eva stared with her mouth half-open as she processed what Ylva had said. It took another minute for her to figure out anything to say. “There are so many things wrong with what you just said that I don’t even know where to start.”

“We were not wrong,” Ylva repeated.

Eva clamped a hand around her face to keep her from shouting out at Ylva. Offending the servant of Death who could kill with a touch and had done just that was not a good idea. Eva was self-aware enough to realize that.

The disgusting feeling was gone, Eva noted with a certain disconnect. Either Daru was dead or he was done being tortured. Eva was leaning towards the former. She couldn’t feel anything of him. While that had been true for most of the day, Eva doubted that he would have been kept alive for very long.

At least he was out of that pain and suffering.

Despite her speech earlier, Eva couldn’t say how much she cared.

The fact of the matter was that she barely knew Daru. He wasn’t a Catherine or Lucy and was certainly not an Arachne. He wasn’t all dead like Eva’s mortal friends would have been in the same situation. So maybe all the demons had been right.

Though Ylva hadn’t needed to kill her to get the point across. Probably. Maybe being killed had put things into perspective. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and not one she would be eager to try again. Especially not for someone she didn’t know.

A minute of calmly breathing and thinking had Eva feeling much better. Both in terms of the icy stiffness that permeated her body and in terms of dealing with Ylva.

She would be extraordinarily careful in her wording of simple questions in the future. Especially ones relating to dying.

But the question still remained.

“So I’m not going to see Death soon,” Eva started, trying to figure out exactly how she wanted to word her question. “But… neither am I floating in some void with–” With Arachne, she couldn’t help but think. She shook her head, banishing the thought from her mind. “No portal opened around me, right? Or did you stop that as well.”

“Void’s hold over your soul is unstable. He attempted to draw you in, but failed.”

“So… So what happ– Without killing me again, what happens if my head gets chopped off right now?”

“Your soul will stagnate, unable to inhabit your mortal form. Separate from your body, any with a passing knowledge in the subject will be able to collect it. We recommend not dying outside of Our presence or outside of Hell if you wish to continue with your existence as it is.”

Eva shuddered. Was that what the hallway had been? Her disembodied soul trapped until her body had been repaired enough to inhabit it again? Unable to die and yet unable to be claimed by Void. Would she be stuck permanently?

“I hate to interrupt,” Catherine said. “I just got a text from Martina. Apparently one of the demon hunters is marching up to Brakket Academy.” She let out a long and obviously fake sigh. “Prax and I are to return at once, I guess.”

“Is there a need?” Eva stood up, taking a moment to make sure she wasn’t too wobbly. “Zagan should be able to handle anything, right?”

That was the whole purpose behind him sticking with Martina Turner after all.

“I hope so. Fighting is not my thing.”

“Shall we–” Eva started, glancing towards Ylva. She actually flinched back when she met Ylva’s eyes.

“Nel, Zoe, and Juliana are all within the city. We will take steps to protect them.”

“Right.” Eva slapped her cheeks. Ylva isn’t bad, she reminded herself, she just doesn’t think like regular people. “Okay. Let’s go.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.023

<– Back | Index | Next –>

At least nothing is on fire, Eva thought with a welling of relief deep inside.

In fact, better than nothing being on fire, nothing looked damaged at all. Everything in the women’s ward was just where she had left it. Outside, well, the prison was a fairly large place. Eva was mostly certain that everything was normal. Her blood wards gave her a view of the place in a manner reminiscent of her using clouds of blood to see and through that, she couldn’t see anything amiss.

Neither could she sense the presence of Daru anywhere. Nor any sign of him physically being here through her sense of blood. If this were a trap, she would have expected some trail of breadcrumbs to point her in the right direction.

Then again, it was barely past dawn. Dew coated the grass and the sun was too weak to give off much heat. The note had said to come at nightfall.

Which meant that she might have a few hours to set up traps before they showed up.

First thing was to prepare her secondary blood wards around the prison. They were wards that Eva had set up after the Elysium Order had attacked. The nuns had sat outside of her wards, taking them down while being a safe distance away. Eva’s secondary wards would lie dormant in a ring around the edges of her main ward, surrounding the prison. If someone walked up and tried to take down the main wards, the secondary wards would activate and hopefully ruin someone’s day.

It probably wouldn’t work against anyone who knew what they were doing. Someone would probably notice.

Hiding her wards better was one of the things that Eva was hoping to learn in next year’s schooling.

But, delaying attackers for a few extra minutes might make all the difference in the world.

Turning back into the women’s ward, Eva ran straight into Zoe. The professor immediately clasped her hands on Eva’s shoulders, freezing her movement.

“What were you thinking?”

“Devon needs to be warned,” Eva said. That was the second thing she needed to do. It would have been the first, but she didn’t want to run from the women’s ward all the way out to Devon’s building only to have to run back to the women’s ward.

“There could have been traps. Shackles in your gate room or even something as simple as a bomb.”

Eva opened her mouth to retort, but found she had no real response. The women’s ward, and the prison by extension, had always been safe. Well, almost always. Barring that one incident with the Elysium Order inquisitors. An incident that her secondary blood wards should mitigate in the future.

But she hadn’t even considered that someone could have taken down her wards in the two or so hours since she was last here, set up traps, and waited.

And if those traps had been intended for Zagan…

Eva shuddered. There likely wouldn’t have been anything left of her.

“Alright. I concede the point. But it is safe right now. My wards are still up and Devon is still around. Or, the carnivean is at least. I assume that he is with her.

“Actually, if you run and warn Devon, I’ll get a few traps of my own set up. We’ve got until, at the latest, nightfall. Best to use our time wisely.”

“What kind of traps?”

“Well, first, don’t walk outside the prison walls for any reason. Obviously, you can teleport back to Brakket if you need to, but the immediate area around the prison might cause bodily explosions.”

“That’s…” Zoe trailed off, rubbing her forehead. She pulled out her cellphone and started typing away. “I’m warning Wayne,” she said.

“What’s your number anyway?” Eva asked as she pulled out her own cellphone. “And Wayne’s. Do you have Catherine’s number as well?”

Catherine was supposed to have met her at the dormitories along with Prax. That was obviously not going to happen now. She needed to get word to them.

But she also needed to do the wards and other traps.

“You got a cellphone?”

“Sort of. I barely know how to work it.” Eva shoved the phone into Zoe’s hands. “Put in everyone’s phone numbers while you walk over to Devon’s building. Tell him that we might be hosting some demon hunter guests.”

Eva didn’t wait for any further protests, questions, or comments from Zoe. She all but ran back into her room.

The hovering orb of blood that both powered her wards and held the blood from everyone keyed in had grown quite large since she had first created it. Just about everyone that Eva knew had wound up keyed in at some point. Though they needed to donate only a small vial’s worth of blood, it all added up. A mixture of black and red, demon and human blood all swirled together.

Seeing the ward only reassured Eva that nothing untoward had happened either while she was hunting down Sawyer or during the few hours that she was gone rescuing Lucy. When people not keyed into the ward tried to walk around inside the area of effect, the orb would shrink. Not nearly so much as one of her shields, but enough to be noticeable.

And when she had finally gotten around to repairing the ward after the attack from the Elysium Order, there had been nothing left of the orb save for the blood used for keying people in.

Unfortunately, her secondary set of wards couldn’t be activated from her room. They were essentially small yet overlapping bubbles set up around the walls of the prison.

Turning to her window, one inside her room that hadn’t been obstructed by Serena, Eva blinked straight out to the nearest wall. It didn’t take long for her to open up the small box that held the blood ward.

While the main ward had started out around the size of a basketball and had grown to match a small beach ball, the secondary wards were much smaller. About the size of a tennis ball. They had much less area to cover, but there were a lot more of them.

The container was just a simple plastic storage box. While it would have been nice to have Ylva make some solid void metal cubes with intricate locking mechanisms, Ylva had already offered Eva so many favors for free. Even though the favors suited Ylva’s designs just as much as Eva’s, asking for more seemed to be in poor taste. And, while she had money, even just a mundane lockbox was out of price range for the number that she needed.

So plastic boxes it was. Eva had added a few runes to lock them down, but that was more to keep the elements out than people. If someone managed to get this close to them, they would either be exploding from the main wards or find the runes to be less of a deterrent than a plastic tarp.

Opening the box, Eva activated the ward. It wouldn’t actually cause death just yet, but it was ready to be fully turned on.

Unfortunately, that was only one of… a lot. Eva blinked straight to the next box after sealing the first and repeated the process.

She blinked to the next.

And the next.

And the next.

She only made it about halfway around before Devon stormed out. Zoe and the carnivean trailed just behind him, with Zoe wincing and rubbing her forehead. The reason for her headache quickly became apparent.

Just behind the carnivean was a certain familiar demon with waxy skin. The same one that he had summoned immediately before the Elysium Order had attacked.

Eva didn’t bother to stand and greet them. She finished activating the ward that she had been working on before turning to regard the newly summoned demon.

Through her sense of demons, she had felt it pop into existence–or the mortal realm–somewhere around a third of the way through the wards. However, as before, she couldn’t see any blood within the wax construct. Until she had looked at it with her eyes, all she had known was that a new demon had been summoned.

Whether or not it was the same one that he had summoned before, Eva couldn’t say. The demon was female in form, made of black wax with green flames for hair and glowing red eyes. It looked like the same one, but Eva didn’t know much about that species of demon. For all she knew, they all looked exactly the same.

It didn’t help that she only vaguely remembered the demon. Being skewered by Sawyer’s cursed blade had overshadowed pretty much every other event that day.

Eva turned her gaze away from the waxy demon’s glowing eyes. The intense pain coursing through her mind was something that she definitely did recall.

Nowhere in sight was the Lord of Slaves or the non-euclidean demon.

Something that didn’t fill Eva with confidence. These demon hunters thought that they could take on Zagan. A laughable prospect, but not something to take lightly anyway.

Arachne had been able to kill the carnivean without much trouble. The wax demon had a formidable ability, but it didn’t look like it could take much punishment.

Eva would be feeling much safer if Devon had gone all out.

It was a good thing that Zoe had shown up. Going around activating all the wards wasn’t a difficult task, but it was time consuming. If he was prepared earlier, all the better.

“Thought you said you weren’t followed, girl,” Devon called out as he neared, somehow managing to grumble under his breath and shout out over the short distance at the same time.

“Still don’t think I was,” Eva said. “They were here the very day I got back from Florida.” She gave a light nod towards the wax demon. “I thought that we weren’t supposed to be summoning things.”

“Either I’ll be alive and worry about the consequences later or I’ll be dead and not care much,” he said with a shrug.

Martina feels much the same way, Eva didn’t bother saying. It wouldn’t surprise her in the least if Devon didn’t even remember who Martina was.

Eva glanced back to the wax demon. It was obviously dominated. The way it moved was stiff and unnatural. In comparison, the carnivean had her hands deep in the pockets of a sweatshirt and was glancing off to one side with an impotent scowl on her face.

“You’re going to summon any other demons?”

“She,” he thumbed over his shoulder, “said nightfall. I’d rather not sit around with dominated demons for the whole day.”

“Nightfall is when they’re expecting to fight Zagan,” Zoe said, still rubbing her forehead. “They could show up at any time between.”

Devon’s already dark countenance took a turn for the worse. “He is coming here?”

“I don’t think he knows,” Eva said. Given how often he appeared out of nowhere knowing things, she quickly amended herself. “At least, I haven’t told him. And I don’t think that Zoe showed him the letter either.”

The letter that was a torn, crumpled mess back in the women’s ward.

Zoe, meeting Eva’s eyes, shook her head. “Unless Ylva or Juliana went to tell him.”

“That is a possibility. But if they didn’t, should we tell him? This was his trap after all. If he gets here early enough, he might be able to do something about it.”

Zoe glanced around the old sandstone buildings, looking over the wall of the prison and off into the distance towards the center of the complex. “Unless we’re already inside of a larger trap.”

Eva started, jumping slightly. Not so much at Zoe’s suspicion, though the idea that the trap had already been set was a worrying one, but at the loud scoff from Devon.

“If you’re thinking that there are some shackles around the prison, don’t. The strongest shackles will become worthless graffiti at the first mistake. Shackles large enough to ring in the prison would have many points of failure.”

“Not to mention the time setting up something so large would have taken,” Eva added. “Surely Devon, myself, the carnivean, or someone else would have noticed a few demon hunters running around outside.” Though she had been gone for a few days. Still, Devon wouldn’t have dropped the vigil quite so hard. “And no one has been inside the prison. My wards prove as much.”

Devon scoffed again, putting on a light sneer as he spoke. “Are these the same infallible wards that kept the nuns out?”

“They worked just fine until the nuns took them down. I would have noticed had someone taken them down again.” Glancing back to the plastic crate, Eva shook her head. “Speaking of, I need to get back to work.”

“Do we tell Zagan or not?”

“No,” Devon snapped. “He’s been here enough.”

“And he didn’t do a single thing against you,” Eva said. “I’d say tell him. But up to you I guess.”

Eva blinked away, straight to the next blood ward. She had no desire to get into yet another argument with Devon about Zagan. Especially not when half the prison was still unprotected from the secondary array.

After a few minutes of discussion between Zoe and Devon, Zoe teleported away. Probably to go find Zagan, though Ylva and Juliana were other possibilities.

Eva paid them no mind, watching Devon skulk back to his cell block as she rounded a corner. By the time she had finished traversing the perimeter of the prison, the sun had climbed the sky. Noon.

Still no sign of any demon hunters.

— — —

Martina Turner propped her elbows up on her desk and clasped her hands together just beneath her nose as she stared at the wall of her office.

She was not having a good day.

What else is new.

Most days weren’t good, these days. Tolerable was about the best that she could hope for. Days where nothing happened, where Governor Anderson held his tongue on any reports that he may have, where investigative journalists weren’t harping at her door about the sky—or worse, mundane journalists taking the sudden notoriety of Brakket City as an opportunity to question magic.

Those last ones were the worst. People should mind their own business. Especially the mundanes. It was getting to the point where she was thinking about sending Zagan to answer questions instead of Catherine.

Of course, it hadn’t helped that she had personally had to chase away some of the journalists over the past week.

Catherine, her familiar, had gone missing for several days. As Martina had later found out, the succubus had been off gallivanting with the self-proclaimed diabolist. And not gallivanting in the manner normally associated with succubi. Rather, she had been researching some ritual circle nonsense.

Martina did not consider herself a slave driver in any sense of the phrase. Both her familiar and her contracted demons were free to go about whatever it was that they got up to in their spare time, so long as they did as she asked when she asked. Having Catherine just up and disappear for most of a week had Martina pulling hair from her head in large clumps.

Not literally, but the stress was there.

Just when she had reeled in the wayward succubus, the current situation sprung up.

Two of her security team murdered. Two demons missing.

Worse, the murders had not been behind closed doors. Not when both bodies had been lying out in the courtyard between the dormitory buildings in the early morning hours, ready for any students still around to wake up and spot them. It was a great deal more difficult to cover up public killings.

Two demon hunter related killings.

The only bright spot in the whole mess was that the hunters were not applying scorched earth tactics. They hadn’t announced themselves in any manner, the school wasn’t in flames, and the citizens were largely unaware of the possible danger posed by the hunters. Typically, if a community was suspected of willingly or knowingly harboring demons, all involved would be killed. Though exact amounts of survivors often depended on the temperaments of the specific hunters.

Martina wasn’t sure what these particular hunters believed in, but she believed that a large portion of their passiveness—if kidnapping Lucy and Daru could count as passive—was because of Zagan. And the hel, to a lesser extent.

“Even the most insane demon hunters would be hesitant to engage in combat with them,” Martina said as a sort of conclusion to her speech. “So I’m sure that you can understand my disinclination towards sending Zagan away. Especially out of town, even if the old penitentiary isn’t all that far. Him being away could spell doom for the city as a whole.”

“To be perfectly honest,” Zoe said after a moment’s pause, “I don’t know the correct course of action. Given that Zagan was named in the letter, I felt it prudent to let him know.”

Martina did not miss the narrowed eyes and the clenched teeth on Zoe as she looked over Martina’s shoulder.

“As there is no evidence thus far of any traps at the prison, whatever these hunters had intended might be something that can be set up quickly. Something to be aware of regardless of whether or not they follow through with their original plan. Even that is in question given both Lucy’s survival and Ylva having avoided whatever trap had been intended for her.”

Pausing for a moment, Martina leaned back in her chair. She half expected Zagan to cut in with his own observations. Or, more likely, for him to run off without her explicit consent.

He did neither, seemingly content to remain standing just behind Martina.

“Perhaps there was never a trap,” Martina eventually said. “The letter could have simply been a means to draw Zagan away from town, giving these hunters free rein to wreak whatever havoc they wished.”

After a brief noncommittal hum from Zoe, she said, “I suppose that is possible. Either way, it is better to be safe than sorry. I will be returning to the prison to render whatever assistance I can.”

Martina nodded and waved the professor away. She had half a mind to insist on her staying around Brakket. Though they didn’t often agree on things—especially things related to demons—Martina had to admit that Zoe was a talented mage. However, what she could do that Zagan couldn’t was essentially nothing.

“Before you go,” Martina said as a thought hit her, “where is the hel?”

“The last I saw of her, she was still at the apartment building.” She paused after she spoke, turning her gaze to one side. Nodding to herself, Zoe glanced back towards Martina. “I’ll be finding her before heading back to the prison.”

“Very well.” Martina couldn’t do much about that, as much as she wanted to. Ylva wasn’t a demon under her control. “Stay safe.”

Zoe blinked, regarding Martina with an odd look in her eye before she finally nodded. “You as well,” she said as she stood.

Martina just rolled her eyes as Zoe walked out of the room. She couldn’t be quite sure what that last look had been, but it was almost as if Zoe had expected her to wish her death.

Obviously, Martina didn’t want Zoe to die. Finding a replacement theory professor would be a nightmare. Especially if she was more or less alright with demons. Something of this scale would be near impossible to cover up. Half of her staff would probably be resigning before next year started.

As such, if Zoe and her little group could clean up these demon hunters quietly and away from Brakket, all the better for Martina.

As soon as the door had firmly shut behind the professor, Martina kicked back in her chair, propping her feet up on top of her desk. She pulled a bottle of Hellfire from her desk drawer and didn’t even bother to pour it into a glass before drinking down half the bottle.

She slammed the bottle down on the desk. Breathing out a breath that felt like it was on fire, she glanced over her shoulder.

“What do you think?”

Zagan walked around her desk, seating himself in the chair that had just held Zoe.

“When you offered me excitement, I was focused on a single topic. That of the odd happenings in Hell. Never did I expect you to actually deliver on your promise.”

“I’m talking about the demon hunters.”

“I agree with your assessment. They were trying to get me out of the way. A distraction while they cleaned up the rest of the demons in town, most likely. Powerful though I am, I am limited to a single location at a time.

“Whatever their plan is to dispatch me does catch my interest. I look forward to their attempts.”

“Can you not simply deal with them now? Nip this problem in the bud before it gets worse?”

Zagan turned his eyes up, glaring at Martina. “You promised me excitement. Sending them on to Death before they are ready for me would be the opposite of excitement.”

Martina didn’t so much as feel the slightest discomfort under his gaze. She had spent enough time around him for any danger he might have posed to have worn off. His words were another story. She buried her head into her hands, rubbing her eyes.

“I was afraid that you would say that.”

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