Tag Archives: Agiel

002.015

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Marble makes nice flooring, Juliana decided. It wasn’t as warm feeling or looking as hard wood, but it looked nice. Especially when the floor was as well polished as the flooring in Ylva’s throne room.

Zoe looked distinctly uncomfortable as she knelt before the throne. It was an odd sight to see the stern and relatively powerful teacher kneel down. She probably took it as a blow to her pride. Kneeling in the presence of her students couldn’t help; one of whom knew Zoe from before school started while the other didn’t even bother kneeling.

A small part of Juliana wondered if kneeling was even necessary. The way Eva stood in the back with a small smile on her face and Arachne draped over her shoulder made it seem less important. Zoe likely knelt on reflex simply because Ylva had forced them to kneel when they disrespected her.

The experience seemed to rattle the professor.

Still, Zoe fell to her knees almost as soon as the door shut. Juliana followed suit. At least Juliana could use the liquid metal flowing over her knees as a sort of padding. Zoe had to rest her knees directly on the floor.

Zoe took in a sharp breath of air. It didn’t take long for Juliana to figure out why.

The skeleton atop the throne stood and strode forwards with confidence. Ylva’s posed look only increased as she stepped out of the ring of light that was ever-present over her throne. Her platinum hair glinted on her way down.

A single step behind Ylva was her attendant. Her presence only emphasized Ylva’s unnatural height. When alone and at a distance, it was difficult to tell how tall the demon was. The very human looking attendant–though Juliana wasn’t about to make assumptions about her species–stood just above half Ylva’s height.

The attendant wore a red and white dress, very similar to Ylva’s without the cut from her chest to her navel. A black, hooded robe covered the sides of the dress while leaving the front open. The hood was lowered just enough to shadow her eyes.

In her hands was a pillow. A large pillow that looked like it belonged on Ylva’s gigantic throne. The attendant carried the red velvet pillow with both hands, keeping the top flat.

“Rise,” Ylva’s voice lacked the overwhelming boom that dominated most of her speech the last time Juliana was in her presence. “This is a time for rewarding tasks, not subjugation.”

Juliana all but jumped to her feet as the demon and her attendant crossed the empty space between her platform and the edge of the building. Her mind raced over the possibilities of what reward they’d be given. It was hard to keep the eagerness out of her appearance; Zoe would surely disapprove.

Her nerves were also running high.

Ylva was supposedly a demon who served Death. Far scarier than the little intelligence she had summoned on her own. But Eva stood just to one side and Juliana doubted Eva would throw her in harm’s way. As such, it probably wasn’t some ‘eternal reward’ followed by mad cackling and a swift end.

Immunity from death would be interesting, if Ylva could grant such a thing. Their task was a minor one that was also completely unnecessary given that Eva already accomplished her task by the time Juliana actually saw her. Still, it was a possibility. Who knew how demons ascribed value to things.

Power of any kind was what Juliana was really hoping for. What power a demon of death could grant, she didn’t know. Something like Eva’s blood magic, hopefully.

“You performed a service to Us.” Ylva stopped just in front of the two. “Just as We do not allow slights against Ours and Ourself to go unpunished, We do not allow favors to Ours and Ourself to go unrewarded.”

Juliana blinked at the odd wording. She shook her head to focus on the happenings.

Ylva gestured towards her attendant. The robed girl stepped forwards, her flat-heeled, brown boots clomping against the marble as she did so. With practiced flourish, she held out the pillow towards Juliana and Zoe.

Sitting on top were two black rings. Each had a caricature of a skull embossed on the side facing Juliana. On the inside edge were their names. Their full names. Juliana Laura Rivas and Zoebell Baxter.

She never used her full name. It wasn’t that she disliked her middle name–her grandmother’s name–she simply didn’t use it. It was doubtful that Eva knew it. Zoe might, but she wouldn’t have told anyone.

And Zoebell. Juliana had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. She never knew there was more to the professor’s name than just Zoe Baxter.

Her mother would love to know. Fuel to tease Zoe with.

The ring felt heavy as Juliana picked up the one with her name. It was an odd sort of heavy. The ring took no effort to lift, but it felt like dropping it might break her toes.

Zoe shot Juliana a disapproving glare as she slipped the ring on her middle finger. Juliana didn’t care. She didn’t want to wait. In fact, it was dangerous to wait. Accidentally dropping the ring and having it roll off down the giant pit in the center of the room seemed like it might insult Ylva. Juliana didn’t want to risk any ‘slights’ against her.

The metal tightened around her finger, though not enough to cut off circulation. Juliana could feel a pulse in the metal every time her heart beat. An odd sort of feeling, but it went away after ten or so pulses. If she concentrated, she could feel it, but only just.

Despite her glare, Zoe plucked her ring off of the pillow.

Ylva’s attendant tucked the pillow in the crook of her arm and stepped backwards behind Ylva.

Juliana watched her professor’s face turn to one of surprise as she held the ring. Zoe tossed the ring in the air, catching it a few times. “Fascinating,” she said. “What is–” Zoe cut herself off as her eyes turned back to Ylva. She quickly cleared her throat and said, “sorry.”

“It is void metal,” Ylva said. “A type of metal only denizens of the void can fabricate.” Her eyes flicked over Juliana’s shoulder for a brief second. “Some denizens of the Void.”

“Hey,” Arachne called out, “I could–”

“Arachne,” said Eva in a quiet voice. “Not now.”

“The rings offer a modicum of protection,” Ylva said, pointedly ignoring Eva and Arachne. “A great number of beings will recognize the emblem and leave the bearers alone where they otherwise would not.”

Juliana let out the barest hint of a sigh. It wasn’t quite what she was hoping for.

Ylva apparently noticed. “Does Our gift displease you?”

“No, no. I was trying to guess what it might be. I didn’t even think of protection.” Juliana bowed to the towering woman. “I extend my thanks.” That sounded suitable for Ylva.

Zoe actually followed Juliana’s lead. She bowed and thanked the demon as well. The thanks that she gave came out more as a mumble than any kind of sincere thanks.

Ylva didn’t seem to mind. Her head slightly inclined in a sort of nod. “Until I require your assistance once more.” She turned on her bare heel and started walking back to her throne.

“Come along, Juliana,” Zoe said in a whisper. She started walking back to the door, examining her ring without even watching her surroundings.

After taking a step or two to follow after her, Juliana stopped. She turned back to the demon. “Mrs. um, Ylva.”

Everyone froze. Zoe spun back around as she hissed something under her breath that Juliana did not catch. Ylva and her attendant both stopped and looked back. Only two among them looked more or less calm. Eva and Arachne, though the latter sported a maniacal grin.

Ylva did not question Juliana. She merely stared. Her cold eyes seemed to pierce Juliana’s very being.

Licking her suddenly dry lips, Juliana said, “I was wondering if I might ask a question or two.”

“Juliana,” Zoe hissed, “we should be going now. I don’t think we should,” Zoe paused for a second as she glanced at Ylva, “take up any more of her time. I am sure it is very valuable.”

“We do not mind.”

A deep, almost disappointed sigh came from Zoe.

Juliana ignored it. “Alone,” Juliana said. She quickly added, “if possible.”

The sigh from Zoe turned into a sharp breath of air. Before she could protest, Eva said, “Juliana is a friend of mine. I’d ask that you do not make any sort of arrangements similar to what you made with Nel, Ylva.”

Ylva didn’t mull over the request for even a second. She turned to Eva and immediately said, “We possessed no such intentions. However, We request an unrelated, minor favor to be served at a later date.”

“Oh?”

“A minor issue regarding Nel’s needs. We do not believe you will find it problematic.”

“So long as I can veto this favor if I deem it unreasonable or beyond minor, I accept.”

“We acquiesce.”

“Zoe Baxter and I will wait back at my place. Come find us when you’re done.”

Eva had to drag Zoe out of the room. To be fair, Zoe wasn’t fighting too hard. Juliana got the feeling she was still scared of Ylva. The two were whispering to each other just quiet enough that Juliana couldn’t make out a word they were saying.

A resounding clang of metal echoed through the massive chamber as the door shut.

The attendant got on her tippy-toes yet only reached Ylva’s shoulder. She was only a head taller than Juliana, yet Ylva towered over the both of them. It took a lot of her willpower to keep from looking too cowed.

Ylva bent over slightly as the attendant began whispering.

“Acceptable,” Ylva said as she rose to her full height. “Nel will lead you to a side room where we may converse at length. Unless you had a scant few questions that are possible to discuss in a very short length of time.”

“I don’t know how long it is going to take nor how long you’re willing to entertain me.”

“You find Us entertaining?”

Juliana hoped that wasn’t offense leaking into her voice. “I’m sorry. It is a figure of speech.”

After a tense moment, Ylva nodded. “We understand. We will be with you shortly.”

With that, the demon turned and began walking back towards her throne.

The attendant, Nel, took Juliana by the hand and led her off through one of the archways around the ring.

“Come on,” she said, “it’s just over here. We have snacks and drinks if you’re interested.”

The tone of her voice made Juliana think the attendant was slightly too excited. While her eyes were still shadowed by her cowl, she sported a large smile.

“We don’t get many visitors apart from Eva and she never spends all that much time here. Technically I’m free to leave and wander–”

She continued talking, but she also pushed open a set of doors. Juliana lost all track of Nel’s voice as she stared, open-mouthed, straight up.

Walls of books stretched so high into the sky that they faded off into the clouds. There were no ladders and no staircases, just endless walls of books. The room itself wasn’t that large, perhaps half the size of the school’s cafeteria.

The sheer height made Juliana dizzy. She had to force herself to look back down.

Dark wood made up most of the floor. A dark red rug had been laid out in the center. Three human sized chairs and one Ylva sized chair were arranged around a small coffee table.

“Extraordinary, isn’t it?” Nel also stared up at the sky. Her hood had fallen off of her head to reveal short black hair. “There are tons of places like this here. Some rooms are more plain, but then you come across things like this and it is just like, ‘wow.'”

Juliana approached the nearest section of the bookshelves. Her hand ran over the spines of the books. Not a single one had a readable title. She walked around the entire room to find none of the ones she could reach had English titles.

Turning back to the center of the room, Juliana found Nel seated in one of the chairs. Once again, her hood was pulled down to cast most of her face into shadow.

“Tea?” Nel asked with a tilt of her head. She was already pouring a glass from a very ornate, silver teapot that Juliana must have missed when she first walked in. A small plate of cookies sat out as well.

“Sure.” Juliana walked over and took the seat nearest to the attendant. “You weren’t here back in November.”

“Nope. I have only been here two… three… has it been a month already? What day is it?”

“Last weekend of March. Saturday the twenty-sixth.”

“Almost a month then. It’s hard to tell without any clocks or sun. I sleep when I’m tired which I think is different from my usual sleep schedule. Whatever that means. I can’t say I had any kind of regular sleep schedule since before November. It is much nicer this way, I’d say.”

Juliana took a sip of her tea as the girl continued to talk. It had a slight tangy taste to it, not one she could place. Not surprising; Juliana didn’t consider herself any kind of tea sommelier.

The girl herself twittered on about her living conditions at such a rapid pace, Juliana could barely understand half of it.

“So,” Juliana said as Nel’s ramblings died down, “am I to ask you questions?”

“No. I mean, not unless you want to. Like I said, I’m new to all this stuff. I’m sure Lady Ylva will answer any questions about herself far better than I could.”

“Ah,” Juliana said as she took another sip, “I’d have expected someone who constantly lives here to know about the owner.”

“I inadvertently bound myself to her service for an indefinite period of time. It isn’t bad,” she said quickly. “I have yet to catch her trying to murder me.”

“Speaking from experience?”

“You could say that I’m well versed in knowing when the person I currently serve is trying to get rid of me.”

Juliana didn’t know what to make of that. She took another sip of her tea instead of commenting.

Without a conversation going, Juliana sank into the surprisingly comfortable armchair. She leaned back and stared at the sky. It wasn’t blue, but white. It looked a lot like a wide version of the column of light over Ylva’s throne.

“Um, you’re Eva’s friend, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“I don’t–I mean, she doesn’t seem to like me very much.”

Juliana took a long drink of her tea while she waited for the attendant to continue.

It took a lot longer than Juliana expected. The girl fidgeted and sighed several times before she finally continued.

“I’d have asked your professor since she seems closer to my age, but I don’t think she likes me much either. She definitely doesn’t like Lady Ylva.”

“So I noticed.”

“Lady Ylva is very kind to me, far kinder than I expected in any case, but she isn’t much for talking. It’s been a long time since I’ve had regular conversation, you know?”

Juliana didn’t, but she nodded along anyway.

“Even before I got here, I was practically isolated from everyone. I was just wondering if maybe you would stop by once in a while.”

“I don’t have a way of getting here on my own. I can’t teleport or anything.”

“Oh,” Nel’s shoulders slumped down and her face hid further beneath her hood, “I understand if you don’t want to.”

After a long, mostly mental sigh at the depressed girl, Juliana said, “maybe I could ask Eva or Zoe to bring me here once in a while. It would be less ask and more convince in Zoe’s case, I think.”

“Oh,” Nel repeated though with a very different tone in her voice. She stuck out a gloved hand. “I’m Nel, though I hope you don’t tell anyone. There are people trying to kill me.”

“Juliana,” she said as she shook the attendant’s hand. “I won’t tell anyone other than Eva and Zoe. I assume they already know?”

Nel nodded and opened her mouth to say something.

The door to the library boomed open before she could speak.

Ylva stood in the doorway, wearing her deep-cut, white dress. She stared at the two, calmly observing them. All her flesh vanished the moment she stepped into the light of the room. She slouched down in the large chair and rested her skull on her bony knuckles.

“You have questions.”

Juliana swallowed to try to wet her dry throat. With the barest hint of a nod in the affirmative, Juliana began her questions.

Floaty feelings tickled the back of Juliana’s neck as Agiel wolfed down an apple. Either she had gained some resistance to the feeling or the little demon was getting tired of eating apples. Either way didn’t matter much to Juliana.

It would be the last time she summoned him.

“So,” Juliana said after she waited for the last splatters of apple pulp to stop flying around, “I had a long talk with a… a friend of mine. I’d just like to confirm a few things.”

The little demon waved a tiny, clawed hand from one side to the other.

“If you did make a contract with me, would you destroy my mind and puppet my body?”

A faint, almost hesitant tickle of joy tingled at the base of Juliana’s skull.

As expected. Juliana merely gave a light nod. Ylva mentioned that this particular demon could not lie when asked one of its three questions. The hel did not give the answer to the question Juliana asked, but Ylva even giving the question was basically an answer in her mind.

“Two more questions.” Juliana leaned back against the wall of the small bedroom and shut her eyes. All her drive to ask more questions went down the drain with that one question. Power was worthless if she wasn’t around to use it.

“How about this,” she said without opening her eyes, “is it possible to grant me power while leaving me intact?”

Again came the light floating feeling.

“Would you grant me power without destroying my mind or body?”

Needles pierced the back of her neck as the demon shook its head.

“So I expected.” Juliana opened her eyes. She blinked a few times at the sight before her.

Agiel stood near the edge of the shackles, one hand offered out before the creature.

Was it seriously asking what she thought he was asking.

“Nope.” Juliana ticked a finger back and forth. “Should have offered weeks ago and I would have been none the wiser.”

Agiel merely shrugged and withdrew his hand.

Before he could vanish in the summoning circle, Juliana tossed him the last apple from her bag. He deftly caught the giant apple, sinking his claws into it. Confusion spread across his face as he crooked his head at Juliana. At least, it seemed like confusion; hard to tell when he has no face.

“For the road,” she said, “or whatever passes for a road beneath that circle.”

He gave another shrug before tipping straight backwards and falling through the floor, apple and all.

Juliana did not move until the last ripples in the floor ceased. With a long sigh, she moved into the circle and started erasing. Everything had to go. Almost everything–the shackles on the outside could stay so long as Juliana took care not to smudge or otherwise bump any part of it.

Disturbing the shackles would be incredibly easy. Too easy. Juliana erased it as well. New shackles would not be a problem to redraw.

Talking with Ylva had turned into something of a wakeup call. If he had offered, Juliana would have jumped to accept Agiel’s contract. A knot had grown in Juliana’s stomach all through their discussion.

It didn’t, however, deter her in the slightest.

Eva could wipe out entire hordes of skeletons in seconds. Eva had Arachne–powerful in her own right–hanging off of every word she spoke. Eva walked around without eyes like it didn’t even matter.

Comparing herself to Eva so much couldn’t be healthy. Not comparing herself to Eva was near impossible. They were roommates after all. Every time she disappeared to the prison or took off her gloves was a reminder of all the abnormalities surrounding the girl.

That wasn’t to say that Juliana wanted more stares and glares. She had enough as it was–most of which occurred in Professor Kines’ extracurricular combat class. And most of those happened every time she dueled an older student.

She wasn’t stupid; Juliana knew she was considered something special to her peers.

In a few years time, that wouldn’t matter. The students would catch up to her level while Juliana floundered about. Not for the first time did Juliana wish she had accepted her mother’s advice to skip a few grades.

Halfheartedly wished.

She didn’t skip grades for almost exactly the reason she received glares in Professor Kines’ class. A younger student in a higher age bracket would just be ostracized at best, relentlessly bullied at worst.

At least now she had her roommates and Jordan’s crew as friends. Juliana was blatantly more powerful than any of them, yet she managed to avoid alienation.

With the floor scrubbed clean enough to eat off of, Juliana wiped the sweat from her brow and leaned back against the wall. She took a long drink from a cool water bottle and let herself rest.

Not for too long. She had work to do.

Flipping open the tome she had borrowed from Eva, Juliana found the page for Agiel and crossed out the word ‘benign.’ She took out her pen and wrote ‘will answer questions truthfully, but will destroy mind if contracted with’ in its place.

That finished, she flipped through the pages. There were a handful of others labeled as benign. Just because they were labeled benign didn’t mean Juliana would accept that label blindly. She liked to think she learned from her mistakes.

Gently rubbing the black ring on her finger with her thumb, Juliana browsed the few entries she had marked out earlier. One, Arioch, looked interesting, but Juliana didn’t have anyone she needed ‘vengeance visited upon’ at the moment. The fertility demon, Ishtar, definitely held no use for Juliana anytime in the near future.

She thumbed through until she found one that looked useful. Her hand froze before she could turn the next page. With a slight licking of her lips, Juliana stopped and read through the page.

“This might do,” she said as a smile worked its way onto her lips.

Juliana set down the open book and pulled out her chalk. She started the arduous task of copying down the circle. Carefully, of course. Summoning something wrong and having it escape would never be forgiven.

If she even survived such an event.

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002.013

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The end of class chime stopped Bradley Twillie’s lecture on eloko. They were a species of dwarf that prefer forests over the underground mountains of their cousins. A small group apparently lived not far from Brakket.

Curses that they put on unaware explorers and hikers were of particular interest to Eva. The one that caused traveler’s senses to swap seemed particularly interesting. Professor Twillie wasn’t entirely clear, but it sounded like the curse made someone smell sounds, see touches, hear light, and so on.

He also did not mention if they were thaumaturgical in nature or if the eloko used some other magic system. Zoe Baxter might know. Eva made a mental note to ask later.

Eva quickly snapped her notebook shut and tossed it into her bag. Shalise was already out the door along with Irene and Shelby. The wavy-haired brunette had been distant, though not exactly unfriendly since the incident with Sister Cross just over a week before.

Understandable though it was, it grated on her nerves. It wasn’t like Eva attacked Sister Cross. The nun attacked first.

Juliana fell in step with Eva as they walked out of the classroom. “Don’t worry about it,” the blond said.

Eva quirked an eyebrow at her friend.

“Shalise will come around. She’s just getting over the shock of walking in on a life or death fight between her roommate, her teacher, and her,” Juliana paused. She tapped her finger to her chin several times before shrugging. “And whatever Sister Cross is to her.”

“I know. I’m not holding it against her.” Eva flexed her fingers within her gloves. The lack of a cast over one arm felt so much more liberating. If only she could get rid of her gloves without a public outcry and condemnation.

“It would be like walking in on Devon and Arachne tearing each other apart.”

Eva gave a quick snort. “Probably not the same. I’d probably get popcorn and start cheering one of them on.”

“Which one?”

“Arachne, obviously. Devon is a lot of things but my bets go on almost anyone else in a fight.”

“You don’t think a,” Juliana glanced around at the other students on the path leading to the botany building. “You don’t think a person of his talents would have the means to defeat someone like Arachne?”

“He’s a researcher. He might have something up his sleeve. Based on every other time I’ve seen him in stressful situations, I wouldn’t count on it. He might be able to overpower the mind of something with less intelligence, but I doubt that would work on Arachne.”

Juliana made a long humming noise as they continued up the path.

Eva froze.

Right at the edge of Eva’s sight, it was there. Watching.

Beneath her shirt, Arachne gripped Eva’s back. Hard. Eva could see the small cuts where each of her legs clamped down.

Eva used some of the blood that dripped down to her dagger to send more flecks off in the direction of the bull. There were trees in the way. Lots of them. None of her friends would be able to see it.

A twisting in her stomach gripped her. The demon–the devil’s eyes were focusing on her even through the trees. She should walk. Go to class and pretend she hadn’t noticed.

Just as she was about to take a step forward, she changed her mind.

“You guys go on ahead,” Eva said. “I think I left something back at Bradley Twillie’s classroom.”

Arachne used three of her legs to repeatedly tap ‘no’ into Eva’s back.

Juliana stopped and glanced back, everyone else did shortly after. “I could come back with you, if you want,” she said.

“No thanks,” Eva waved her off while trying to keep the winces off her face. “It is just a pen. A nice pen, but just a pen. I’ll catch up in a few.”

“Sure,” she said with a slight slump in her shoulders.

Without another word, Eva spun on her heels and slowly walked back down the path. Her group of friends continued on their way with a moment of hesitation. Eva paid their quiet discussions no further mind and focused on dodging between other classmates she walked past.

The bull followed her as she walked. It kept its distance. Eva could see her own heart pick up the pace. For an instant, she thought of simply teleporting to the prison and finding Devon. Maybe checking on Nel as a pretense for hiding within Ylva’s domain for a few hours.

Arachne would not object. She ceased her poking, but had yet to relax her grip. Teleporting away would make her very happy.

That thought was banished from her mind. If it was following her, it likely wanted something. It didn’t seem overly hostile. If worst came to worst, she could always escape later.

Probably.

That kind of thinking is what got her captured by Sawyer.

Eva paused in her walking. There were no students around, just the bull.

After a deep breath, Eva walked off the path. She pulled out her dagger and bled out another few marbles of blood. It was too easy to get lost with no eyes. Arachne had no eyes beneath Eva’s shirt. Leaving a trail of blood would help return at the very least.

The bull turned and lumbered further into the woods.

Eva followed.

She had no idea why. It was stupid. A stupid idea that her master warned her about. He specifically ordered her not to even think about the royalty of Hell, let alone approach it.

Yet Eva walked.

She uncorked all the vials of Arachne’s blood she had hidden around her person all while leaving a thin trail of her own blood back to the path. The vigil she kept on the surroundings was constant. Eva would not be surprised by anything.

It wasn’t long before the bull stopped moving.

Eva stopped with it at the very edge of her vision.

The bull didn’t turn around. It didn’t look back at Eva. It continued staring straight ahead.

Nerves in Eva’s body lit up like a wildfire. Something was wrong. She took a step backwards. Half the bull disappeared as she moved back.

Grunting bellows shook the very air of the forest. It repeated again and again.

The moment Eva stopped moving backwards, it stopped its bellows.

That can’t be a good sign. Eva froze and slowly built up the magic necessary for an infernal walk to the prison. If she wasn’t allowed to move, she’d simply disappear.

Before she could get even half way through the process, a voice carried through the trees.

“What is all this racket?”

Eva paused. She could only see the hindquarters of the bull. Someone either walked up or teleported just in front of it. The slight rasp was familiar, but Eva couldn’t place it.

Just as she inched forwards, trying to bring the figure into view, the bull rumbled.

Its insides twisted and shrunk while other parts grew and pulled. The great wings shrunk and shifted positions to rest against its back. Slowly, it pulled itself up onto its hind legs, though the knees still faced the wrong direction.

The process was very similar to how Arachne looked when she pulled out legs or her abdomen.

After everything else, the long face of the bull pulled in on itself. It twisted and shrank until a human sized head was left. Eva could tell there was a place for its horns to protrude, though no blood reached far enough into them to tell how long they were.

“You’re going to draw attention,” that same feminine rasp spoke.

A deep, throaty chuckle erupted from the former bull. “Let them come. I will decimate all without distinction.” If silk were a voice, that man had it colored in deep bass. The sounds all but massaged Eva’s ears.

“That’s what I’m worried about. We want distinction.” There was a long sigh from the woman. “You nearly killed two children last week.”

“They survived. A scare will go a long way for your plans. I merely took that into consideration.”

“Do I need to remind you? Killing students or staff will break our contract.” A smug tone entered her voice. “You don’t want that.”

If that worried him, he didn’t show it. The devil waved a hand off to one side. “I’ll keep my raids limited to maiming and breaking then. They have to be believable, yeah?”

“Was there a point to calling me out here or were you wanting my heels ground into your back again.”

“As enjoyable as that is, I think I will pass. For now. When am I to slaughter next.”

“I’ll see about tipping off the nuns sometime soon. It will be after school hours, but only just. My familiar will deliver the message. Be ready.”

Despite her being out of Eva’s vision range, she could feel the woman vanish after speaking. The strong scent of brimstone wafted over the woods before a light gust of wind stole it away. She waited to see if the former bull would vanish as well.

He didn’t.

His head slowly turned to focus on Eva. There were trees in the way. She knew there were trees in the way–Eva was half crouched behind one. Yet his head stopped right on Eva without moving an inch too far.

A smile spread across his face.

“Come out, embryonic one. I know you are there.”

Eva assumed as much. As she slowly approached his position, Eva pulled the blood out two vials. Behind her back, it twisted and formed into the wire frame ball of her favorite attack. Three more marbles orbited around her with one forming the base for a shield.

Arachne finally loosed her grip on Eva. The muscles in her legs coiled, ready to strike through Eva’s shirt. The spider-demon wouldn’t be any use, by her own admission, but she still readied to attack.

Eva pressed one arm down on the demon, pinning her to Eva’s chest. Teleporting out was a far better option. One Arachne would benefit from if she stuck next to Eva.

She stopped with twenty feet to spare. No trees were in the way, or around in the small clearing where he stood.

They stared at each other. Or he stared at her. Eva’s vision didn’t change much with proximity.

He drew in a long breath of air through his nose. “Demon blood. I don’t recognize its owner. Some nobody, I presume.” His voice kept the smooth tones even as it pitched into a mock. “I sense the owner with you. It won’t matter.”

Arachne prickled beneath Eva’s shirt at his taunts.

Eva, on the other hand, wasn’t about to give any satisfaction by rising to his barbs if she could help it. “What do you want?”

“A great many things, few of which you can offer.”

“What do you want with me, right now, here?”

“Still a great many things. You can offer significantly more when you phrase it that way, however.”

Eva put on her best eyeless glare and didn’t respond.

“No appreciation for literal interpretations,” he sighed. “You should work on that if you ever want to make something of yourself.” At Eva’s continued glare, he sighed again and said, “my master would find it somewhat unpleasant if some of the students were to get involved in her plans. At least, her plans for the nuns.”

Arachne called Eva her master maybe three times since the most recent June. All three times it had been spoken as a term of endearment. Affectionately.

His use of the term dripped with vitriol and hate. Eva could taste the absolute detestation. Still, his smile remained spread across his face.

“That doesn’t explain what you want with me.”

A wide grin curved across his face. “I want to hurt you.”

That was enough for Eva. Two marbles of blood launched towards the devil. Her shield sprung to life around her. She spun around.

Both of her hands plunged into the wire frame ball of blood hovering in the air.

Two claws materialized around the devil. Both clamped down, puncturing his shoulders. With a twist and a pull, Eva disarmed him.

Before the blood claws ran out of energy, Eva punched both into his chest. He went flying.

A thick tree all but exploded as he crashed into and through it.

Eva didn’t wait around to see if he’d get up. She shut off her shield and started hobbling away, keeping Arachne pinned to her chest as she walked. All of her ambient blood went into searching out the forest floor. Tripping over a branch was not something she needed.

She ran as best as she could, following her trail of blood back towards the pathway.

Before she could teleport away, her face scraped against a tree. Eva’s shoulder hit it a second later and she went tumbling to the ground.

That tree wasn’t in her way before she ran into it. She tried to pick herself off the ground.

Long nails dug into Eva’s shoulders as hands clamped around her. They hoisted her into the air. One hand reached into Eva’s chest and gripped Arachne. With barely a look over his shoulder, the devil flung the little spider out of Eva’s vision range.

“I tore your arms off,” Eva spat at the devil.

He didn’t appear angry. A calm smile with lightly raised eyebrows was his only expression.

“Off, on. Detached, attached.” His hot breath caressed her face. “It is all the same to me.”

Tension grew in one of her arms. She watched as her blood vessels stretched and pulled before they snapped. Blood erupted from her shoulder as the demon carelessly tossed her arm to one side.

“Detached.”

The pain ceased before Eva even had the mental acuity to cry out. Her arm was no longer on the ground. All the blood returned to its proper place as the vessels stitched back together.

“Attached.”

He pulled at her other arm. Like the first, it easily tore off under his strength. Unlike the first, he didn’t reattach it. He dropped Eva on the ground seemingly without another thought.

The demon pressed the bloodied end of her arm right against his nose and drew in a loud, deep breath. He tossed the arm at her.

It vanished on its way and reappeared, fully connected, where it belonged. The blood around his nose stayed where it was.

“Yes. That is the smell. It is thick in this school. Some of the students smell stronger than others. It smells,” he took another long breath of the air before releasing it with a small sigh, “corrupt.”

Eva repressed a sardonic laugh. “I don’t doubt it. Come back in a few years. I’m sure it will only get better.”

“I will.”

Eva bit her lip. She should have kept her mouth shut. No movement was made on Eva’s part as the devil indulged himself in the scent. Whatever he wanted, it didn’t seem to be to hurt her, despite his earlier words.

Tearing off her arms only caused a brief flash of pain before that vanished. Even with her sight confirming they were attached and properly so at that, it was hard to believe. Eva flexed and relaxed her claws. She tapped them against her legs just to feel the sensation of them moving.

“What are your goals?”

Eva blinked at him.

“Your desires? Your purpose?”

“I–”

“Is it knowledge you seek? Power? Pleasure? Or do you have greater designs than mere base impulses?” He leaned over and cast Eva into his shadow, if the sudden lack of warmth from the sun was any indication.

“While I would–”

“A tremor tore through the Void recently. Something changed.” He drew in a deep breath and let out a hot wave of brimstone tinged air. “Nothing changes in the Void. Yet something did. I can’t help but wonder if you are the cause or an effect.”

Eva sat on the cold ground. She waited for him to continue. He didn’t. He just glared at her. “Whate–”

“You could be entirely unrelated. Still, I was drawn here. I pulled myself through an aeons old beacon into this plane of existence to find out for sure, yeah?”

Crossing her arms, Eva gave the devil a pointed look. She opened her mouth but allowed no sound out.

The devil stared at her, quirking his head to one side.

With a long sigh, Eva started to speak. She didn’t get beyond the first syllable. I knew it, she thought as the devil spoke over her.

“I digress. None of that is why you are here today. There will be time to investigate you. I have contractual obligations to ensure there is time. Obligations I think you will relish assisting me with.

“Tell me,” he said as his grin widened to split his head in two, “how do you feel about the Elysium Sisters?”

— — —

Juliana crept through the old house. Every inch of it had to be inspected every time she visited. Ceilings, cupboards, closets, and every room required a thorough inspection.

She was not going to be caught unawares.

Luckily, this house was not very large. One master bedroom with an attached bathroom, two smaller bedrooms, and a living room attached to a dining room and kitchen. It only had one floor, but Juliana always peeked into the attic and the crawlspace.

With every other room checked and cleared, Juliana stopped outside the door to one of the bedrooms. She leaned her head against the door and shut her eyes. A silent prayer was sent off; to who that prayer went, Juliana couldn’t guess. Not with what she’d done.

She flicked her wand to activate her ferrokinesis spell. Metal that had become as much a part of her body as her clothes melted. Thicker portions on her arms flowed up and around her fingers. Larger clumps on her chest moved up and around her neck. Her long, blond hair pinched back into a ponytail as a smooth dome formed over her head.

Eye slits were the last to form, along with small holes for fresh air in front of her mouth.

Unnecessary for the most part. Juliana wasn’t willing to take the risk of walking in unarmored.

With a sigh, Juliana opened the door.

The old room’s paint peeled off the walls in long curls. A light fixture dangled out of the ceiling, the rotting wood had given way long ago and left nothing but the wires holding it in place. Juliana had stripped the carpet out and tossed it in the other bedroom when she first decided to use the place. The small window had a thin sheet of metal completely blocking all light.

The only illumination in the room was a series of jars set up in the corners filled to the brim with a brightly glowing liquid. The concoction was made in alchemy class using liquid fire and liquid order combined with a handful of other ingredients. It should last for another month before needing replacing.

On the bare plywood was a large circle. It took up almost the entire room. Only a foot and a half of empty space was left between the door and the circle. Seals were inscribed all along the edges while sigils were chalked down on the inside.

Juliana wasn’t sure what the difference was. None of it looked very different from the runes Eva drew. The book told her where to put them and she wasn’t about to ignore that. She checked the book over and over again to ensure not a single line was out of place.

A six spoked wheel sat in the very center. Coming off of it at an angle were six lines ending in a half arrow. The center wheel moved. She drew it with chalk of the same type that Eva purchased on occasion, but it slowly spun and gave off a black light as it did so.

A short figure stood on top of the wheel. It didn’t reach higher than Juliana’s knees and she was one of the shortest people in class. The creature had pale purple skin that almost wafted off of it like smoke. Beneath the translucent skin was a skeleton highlighted by vibrant green dots.

Two horns curled off behind the creature from the base of its neck and two more curled off its back around the shoulder blades. All four were dotted with the same green lights.

Its face was smooth with no mouth, and no nose, and no hair. Two green lights around the area its eyes should be narrowed as Juliana shut the door behind her.

“Hi,” Juliana said softly. Her light voice echoed within her helmet. She quickly formed proper ear holes and widened the holes around her mouth. “You are still here.”

Its eyes narrowed further as a brief flash of pain hit the base of Juliana’s skull.

“Right,” Juliana said with a wince, “I know. I’m stating the obvious again.”

It continued its glare as it crossed its arms. One of its feet started tapping against the wooden floor.

Juliana sat down cross-legged just outside what the book called shackles. “I brought you something,” she said as she reached into her bag and pulled out an apple. She carefully set the apple on the far side of the shackles and withdrew her hand with haste.

The book said it was impossible to destroy the shackles on accident. Either the demon would smash through or the one who charged the circle had to intentionally break them. Juliana wasn’t going to take the chance by sliding or rolling the apple across.

Her haste in snatching back her hand seemed unnecessary as well. The small demon didn’t even move from the center of the circle until she was back with both hands in her lap.

With all the pride of an alpha lion, the demon strode forwards. It picked up the apple with both of its tiny hands and looked it over. Its mouthless head was only about a fourth of the size of the apple it gazed over.

No visible change came over the demon. A low scrape like nails on a chalkboard echoed through the room. It stopped with a crack. A head sized chunk of the apple vanished. The leftover apple tore at the vanished part. Small bits of juice and pulp flew around the room.

Five more of the same bites and the apple was gone, core and all.

The demon glanced up at Juliana.

A wave of pure pleasure hit the blond. It started at the base of her skull and spread through her body. If a brain could get a massage, it would probably feel something like that.

Juliana melted in where she sat. She collapsed against the wall and let the feeling tear through her core. It took several minutes before she even wanted to pull together the effort to tighten her muscles and sit herself up. She stared at the demon.

It just cocked one head to the side.

“Right. Apples huh?” Juliana said once she caught her breath. “I’ll remember that.”

Another burst of pleasure hit her. Not as much as the first time. Just enough to tickle the base of her skull.

“Okay,” Juliana tried to wipe the sweat off her palms. She had to peel back the metal before she could. “I’m going to ask a few questions now.”

Juliana winced, preparing for a flash of pain. The first day, right after it tried to escape from the shackles and presumably tear her apart, all of her questions had been answered with nothing but intense pain.

The next time she managed to make her way to the house, she brought it a notebook and pen. That was where she learned it could eat. If the agony was any indicator, it did not enjoy the notebook or the pen.

If the apple failed, she planned to ask Eva for help. She’d admit she stole the book and would hope nothing too bad would happen.

The apple was a success. Juliana shuddered again as a tickle of pleasure ran down her spine. A smile split across her face.

“Okay,” she said with a deep breath. “You’re Agiel, one of the seven intelligences. Right?”

A pleasure tickle answered her.

Juliana nodded. “That is what the book said.”

The book also said Agiel was benign. If the attempts at tearing down the shackles to get to her and all the pain from the notebook were any indicator, she did not want to meet anything that wasn’t considered benign.

Licking her lips, Juliana opened her mouth to speak. She stopped and paused. It would only answer two more questions and then either offer a contract or leave. The questions had to impress it if she wanted to use its power. The book had a long list of unimpressive questions and no impressive ones.

She already felt like she messed up by asking its name.

“Okay,” she said, “if I can’t secure a contract with you right now, can I summon you again and try more times?”

There was a brief hesitation before another tickle of pleasure hit her spine. This one was accompanied by a buzz of pain. Not a strong sensation, just a light pinch. Of course, it was pinching her brain. Still it was just a pinch.

“So an answer in the affirmative with a tinge of annoyance?” Juliana snapped her mouth shut the second she finished speaking. She thought several curses at herself.

Her spine tingled in pleasure despite her rapidly souring mood.

“I don’t suppose that was enough to earn a contract?”

The little demon’s head tilted to one side. Without warning, it tipped straight backwards. Instead of hitting the floorboards, it fell right through it. A ring of ripples spread outwards.

As the ripples stilled, the slowly rotating wheel ground to a halt. All light from the summoning circle faded as it went inert.

Juliana sighed as she stood up. At least she could try again. What questions would be interesting to a demon. Maybe Ylva could help clue her in when she met with her.

Next time Juliana would be prepared. She’d bring a whole list of questions.

And a whole bag of apples.

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