Tag Archives: Anderson

010.029

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Catherine snapped a quick picture of the ritual circle Devon had devised to close the portals. It could be handy in the future given her other plans. For the moment, it had served its purpose. Magic now spent, the faint glow dimmed and was extinguished, plunging the entrance to Brakket Academy in the dark of the night.

As it should be. Her phone’s clock and the light of the sky now matched without the portals flooding daylight everywhere. She scanned the dark, starry sky—cleared of any clouds by the final blast of magic—for any hint of a leftover scar. Not a sign of the portals remained. No shimmering streaks. No slight distortions in the sky. It should be fairly easy to spot anything as the portals glowed. Against the backdrop of night, they would stand out. Later on, she could set up a camera to record the moon transit just in case. With its distinctive pattern, any distortions should be easy to spot.

For the moment, everything seemed to be winding down.

For Catherine.

Who could say how many monstrosities made their way to earth before the portal closed. Someone would need to deal with them. They would probably need to scour a fairly large area around Brakket as well. If any escaped… well, it wouldn’t be another apocalypse, but tons of people could get hurt.

Tons of people who Catherine didn’t care about in the slightest. A clear job for someone else.

As she heard the academy doors opening behind her, Catherine gave the approaching woman an appraising look.

Yes, she thought. Perhaps someone like Lynn. Or the whole of the Elysium Order. The Elysium Order specialized in things that didn’t die properly and Lynn had been working on that captured enigma for quite some time. Ylva as well, though she had been conspicuously absent for quite some time. Last Catherine had heard, Ylva had gone to visit the Elysium Order’s headquarters. Perhaps she had finally been done in by them.

Wrapped in Lynn’s arms while putting up a marginal effort to escape was the more useless of Eva’s mortal friends. Really, Catherine couldn’t fathom why Eva had her as a friend. Pity, perhaps. Though, seeing the brunette reminded Catherine that she hadn’t checked in on Irene since the end of the ritual.

She just about started heading off to find Irene when she realized that the former nun was trying to talk to her.

“What was that?”

“Is it over?” She sounded tired. Exhausted. Looked it too, with her dark hair hanging disheveled off her head. Catherine wasn’t sure what for. It wasn’t like she had done anything at the ritual site or elsewhere.

“Somewhat. Cleanup is needed. Killing enigmas and such. I expect you have it well in hand, given your research.”

“I… I haven’t actually finished a spell to kill enigmas. I’m close, but Eva took away my test subject.”

“Ah, yes. She did show up with that thing.” Catherine sighed for a moment and checked her phone. “Pity about your research. I’m sure you can find another enigma lying about,” she said with a casual wave of her hand. There were enough pieces of enigma scattered around the courtyard. Surely Lynn could scrape some up and resume her tests.

Before Catherine could walk away, the younger version of Lynn escaped from the elder’s iron grip. She stepped right up to Catherine without looking like she had been pulverized and broken in the slightest. “Do you know where Eva and Juliana are?”

“Not a clue for either. Eva isn’t on Earth. Or she’s extremely far away. For all I know, she was in those fireballs that launched towards the eye.”

The girl gasped as she looked up. Obviously there was nothing to see. Catherine tried to step away again—she really wanted to get some notes down while everything was fresh in her mind or go bother Irene—but the girl glared at her with a look befitting Eva.

“You don’t even sound concerned!”

“Should I be?” Catherine said, shifting her eyes slightly towards Lynn—who just gave her a shrug in return. Given a few of the former nun’s comments about Eva, Catherine wouldn’t be surprised to find her throwing a party upon finding out that Eva died. For herself, Eva would have been a valuable subject to repeat the treatment ritual with. Given recent plans, Catherine was slightly less concerned with that than she otherwise would be.

“As for Juliana…” She shrugged. “I don’t know why she wouldn’t be on Earth, but I am not her minder.” Catherine doubted that she would have died given who she was hosting, but that was a separate matter entirely.

Catherine tried to step away once more, yet found herself nearly walking into Lynn.

“You said that Eva appeared with my engima? Is it still around?”

“I suppose somebody should clean up the ritual circle,” Catherine said after a long sigh. And, now that she was actually thinking about it, ensuring its destruction sooner rather than later would be a good idea. Not only would it prevent others from inadvertently pulling things to this plane that were never meant to be on it, but it would keep more people from stumbling across what she intended to make her magnum opus.

Yet neither were earth mages. Leading them there would ultimately be a waste of time. For her, at least. Besides, the girl knew the way.

“Hold on for a few minutes. I’m going to get Genoa to take you out there. She can destroy the ritual circle while you collect your enigma. Also the other nun there. A certain Cole, I believe Eva said.”

“Sister Cole?”

Catherine didn’t bother humoring her, instead pulling out her phone. “Oh,” she said as she typed out a message, “tell Srey that he is free to leave once the circle is destroyed. If Saija is still out there… you can probably leave her out there. I’m sure she’ll heal someday.”

And that should be the last thing she had to take care of. At least for now. Time to go write down a few notes. With maybe a stop to check on Irene on the way.

— — —

Zoe slumped back in the couch in her office. The nurses had tried to shove her into one of the infirmary beds the moment Devon left, but they needed those beds for others. Maybe that was a bit too selfless. She was missing an arm, after all.

She stared down at her arm, half expecting it to be there yet knowing it wasn’t. It gave her a strange sensation. Like she was constantly off-balance. When she had been walking towards Devon, she felt almost certain that she was tilted to one side even though everything looked straight.

Of course, how much of that was her injury and how much of it was the cocktail of potions keeping her sensation of pain numbed, she couldn’t say. Frankly, she was surprised that she was conscious and lucid at all. Then again, maybe she wasn’t conscious or lucid and everything was a pain induced hallucination.

She shuddered at the thought that she might be hallucinating and decided that no, the bed was real. Her body was real. Her eyes were really seeing and her arm was really sitting under a stasis ward not far from the bed. Just in case it could be reattached.

It should be able to be reattached. Even mundane medicine was capable of fixing a severed limb so long as it happened within six or so hours after being severed. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses were far too busy dealing with all the other injuries sustained to look much at her own arm. Eva’s cap was adequate enough while there were more serious things to attend to.

After ensuring that she wasn’t going to bleed out, they had dumped a few potions down her throat and went on their way.

She sighed as she stared out a window. The sky was back to normal, but she could still see security guards patrolling about. Not so long ago, she had watched them fight off an enigma as large as a bear, though it lacked the tentacles dangling off its back. Maybe it actually had been a bear.

At the ritual circle, everything had seemed so calm. Relatively, anyway. The ‘brain’ had lashed out its tentacles and Eva had fought back, but aside from that, nothing had really happened until the hunter attacked well after the ritual had ended. Well, lots of things happened, but not fights or attacks. Shalise’s incident excepted.

Spotting Shalise around the infirmary had been such a relief as well.

But outside the ritual circle, all those lightning bolts, meteors, and earthquakes hadn’t been for show. All of it had meant chaos in the city.

Luckily, it was holiday vacation. Plenty of students left to visit their families. Some did not, however. With how many people were inside the infirmary, Zoe couldn’t help but fret over what had happened. Had an enigma made it into one of the dormitory buildings? Were they having a party out on the streets or in a club?

Zoe couldn’t help but jolt as the door opened. Her hand—her only hand—tightened around her wand. Only for a moment. Her fingers relaxed as Wayne entered the room.

“How are things?” she asked before he could speak, ignoring the way his eyes darted to her arm. Talking about her arm wasn’t something she cared to do at the moment. It would either be reattached someday or she would learn to work with a prosthetic.

But Wayne didn’t respond. He crossed the office, stopping at the table to her side with… not a scowl on his face. A gentle frown. He stared down at the severed arm. His hand reached out.

Not to grab it. Zoe didn’t know why he would want to touch it. Just looking at it sent a wave of nausea through her stomach. There was something disturbing about looking at a part of herself that wasn’t a part of her.

No. His fingers never touched the stasis ward over the severed arm. He picked up her once elegant dagger, frowning deeper as part of the handle fell to the table. Glancing over, he managed to ask about a hundred questions without opening his mouth.

Zoe just sighed again. “I don’t think I can repair it this time.”

It had been damaged not too long ago. But only the handle. This time, the blade itself had been shorn in two. And not a clean cut either. The hunter’s sword connected with the edge of the blade and cut right through it to the base of the wooden handle, which had split in two. She could look over to her severed arm and see where the hunter’s blade had bit into her hand.

If she were a little less lucky, she could have wound up not with a severed arm, but with it mangled and torn to shreds. Something that would have been significantly more difficult to repair than a clean cut.

The dagger would never function as a dagger or a focus again. Not unless it were completely reforged. And if she reforged it, would it even be the same dagger? No. It would be no different from going and purchasing a new one.

“I think I’ll frame it. Put it in a thin glass case and hang it on the wall.”

“It was all we salvaged from Lansing. From your home.”

“Which is why I’ll frame it.”

“I thought this ritual was supposed to be safe,” Wayne said, dark eyes moving to stare at Zoe’s arm before looking up to her eyes.

“It was safe.” Mostly. Minus the Shalise part. She didn’t feel the need to mention that at the moment. Sometime when she was feeling better, she was certain that they would go over every detail together. “This happened afterwards. That demon hunter attacked.”

“Where is she?” Despite the calm of his voice, she could see a fire in his eyes. A different kind of fire compared to that of the Elysium Order. More of a hatred than anything magical.

“Last I saw, at the ritual site. The hunter killed Eva–”

“At least that’s one problem solved,” he grumbled, though immediately looked ashamed of himself. Mildly. More for Zoe’s sake than actually caring about Eva.

“She came back roughly fifteen minutes later,” Zoe said, to which Wayne just made a disgruntled grunt. “In the interim, I held off the hunter as best I could. She had said that she wanted to kill everyone at Brakket. I couldn’t let her walk away.” Zoe let a sorry chuckle escape from her lips as she nodded towards her arm. “My best wasn’t good enough.

“Based on the sky,” Zoe said, turning towards the window without looking at Wayne’s face, “I assume that Eva won her second fight with the hunter. She and Catherine likely fixed everything.”

“I’ll believe it when nothing happens over the next year.”

Rolling her eyes at Wayne’s grumbling, Zoe looked back to him. “How are things outside? I didn’t get much of a chance to go and look for myself.”

“Lots of injuries. One of those flaming meteors struck the Gillet,” he said, confirming Zoe’s fears. “It burrowed down to the second floor before stopping. Things crawled out not long after. Anderson made an announcement shortly before that everyone should remain indoors. Had he gathered everyone in the gym, several injuries could have been avoided.”

“Perhaps, but he couldn’t have known.”

“The people… and demons, I suppose, that he has guarding the buildings have been doing an adequate job aside from that incident.”

“That covers the students. What about the rest of the town?”

“Genoa’s mercenaries are proving that the money she spent on them did not go to waste. Or so I understand. Haven’t left Brakket’s campus myself.” He paused for just a second, glancing towards the door the instant it opened.

An ashen-faced Anderson entered the room, flaps of his undone suit billowing behind him in his haste. His eyes flicked between Zoe and Wayne for just a moment before he crossed the room. “Good,” he said as he dragged one of the chairs in front of Zoe’s desk over to the couch she was lying on. “I’ve been looking for someone who can explain to me exactly what happened. The nurse told me I might find you here.”

“Some nurses should mind their own business,” Wayne grumbled just barely loud enough for Zoe to catch it as he moved to lean on the wall next to the couch.

Anderson’s eyes flicked to the severed arm on the table for just a moment before he looked back to Zoe. He showed no disgust or revulsion at its presence. “I need to know everything.”

All so he can come up with a proper excuse for the public, Zoe thought with a slight frown. Then again, so long as he was up to it, she wouldn’t have to go in front of a camera and mention all the injures. Had there been deaths? Wayne hadn’t said. Maybe he didn’t know. Regardless, Anderson’s task was not a job that Zoe envied.

So she decided to start from the beginning, just in case he actually believed Martina’s lie about the sky being an agricultural project.

— — —

Things are winding down, it seems.

Juliana jolted at the foreign thought intruding on her stream of consciousness. That jolt just about turned the street inside out. She quickly released all holds she had on Zagan’s magic. “Don’t scare me like that,” she snapped.

But she couldn’t deny Zagan’s words. Ever since those lasers appeared in the sky, there hadn’t been any earthquakes, bolts of lightning, or any teardrop meteors. That didn’t get rid of all the enigmas already on earth. Those were slowly being cleaned up. At least none of the enigmas falling from the sky had been the demonic enigmas that left behind bits of Hell when they died.

Which raises an interesting point. Go, seek out one of the locations. See if it has vanished back to normalcy.

“The closest one is on the other side of the city.”

Is that whining coming out of your mouth?

“No,” Juliana said as fast as she could. “Merely an observation.” As she spoke, she turned and started walking. There were probably more enigmas up ahead. At the same time, there were probably more enigmas in the direction of the remnant of Hell. Which direction she chose to go hardly mattered.

“So, you’re talking again,” Juliana said as she slipped into a narrow alley off the main street. Of course two enigmas were trying to eat each other—Juliana had a feeling that they would be cleaning enigma out of the streets for months in the future—but neither posed her the slightest bit of a threat. With a single tug on Zagan’s power, their insides were their outsides. “I hope that doesn’t mean anything bad,” she said as she exited the alley.

Your usage of my power leaves much to be desired.

Despite the casual tone, Juliana couldn’t help but feel her mouth run dry.

Once you find something that works, you repeat it. Again and again and again. No variation. It is, suffice to say, less than amusing.

Juliana started biting her lip. The moment Zagan spoke, she spotted another enigma wandering down the street. She froze, staring at it.

What are you stopping for? We don’t have all night.

The undercurrent of laughter was plain in his tone.

She took hold of a tendril of his magic. Gnawing on her lip, she tried to think up another way to kill one of the monsters. It shouldn’t be that hard. Life, she had discovered, was fairly fragile when one had Zagan’s power. Since she got it, she had considered plenty of possible ways of killing enigmas or even the hunter.

At the moment, the only thing on her mind was turning the enigma inside out.

Which it promptly did.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered out. “I’ll do it differently next–”

Zagan burst into a raucous laughter before she could finish her pleas. She pinched her eyes shut, hoping that Zagan tearing himself out of her body wouldn’t hurt half as much as it sounded like it would.

Just get a move on already. Before I really do decide to go myself.

Juliana didn’t need telling twice. She sprinted down the streets, ignoring the enigmas she came across, until she reached the spot where Eva had killed the demonic enigma. There, she stopped and froze, staring with a gaping mouth.

After Eva had killed the demonic enigma, Anderson had set guards around the spot. Both Eva and her mother had described it as a dark spot. A taint upon the land. Her mother had added that it was just a little too dark, unable to be lit by any source of light. Anderson’s guards put up an enchanted glass dome to keep things from escaping easily while allowing them to see any possible interlopers. Demonic shackles surrounded the entire thing as an added layer of security.

But the glass dome had shattered. An obsidian pillar reached out, stretching high into the sky. Its smooth, glossy walls towered over the surrounding buildings. The pizza shop’s facade was the highest thing around and it didn’t even reach the halfway point of the obelisk.

“Please,” Juliana said in a slight whisper. “Please tell me this is just a harmless monument from Hell and nothing dangerous in the slightest.”

This is just a harmless monument from Hell. Nothing dangerous in the slightest.

“I think I hate you.”

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009.023

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“Lucy?” Eva called out as she crept into the dormitory room assigned to the demon in question. Unlike the student demons—who were all housed in the Rickenbacker—Lucy’s assigned room was over in the Gillet. Eva honestly didn’t think that she had ever been inside. It was eerie. She was so used to everything being where it was in the Rickenbacker that walking inside its identical twin sent shivers down her spine.

Everything was mirrored. Instead of turning left at the top of the stairs, she had to turn right. The dorm rooms were on the wrong side of the hallway. The doors even opened to the wrong side.

Eva really just wanted to pop in, say sorry, then pop out.

But Lucy was hiding. Or rather, she had pressed herself flat and was hiding between the drawers underneath one of the beds.

“Lucy, I can see you. And sense you, for that matter.” Eva started tapping her foot.

By the third tap, Lucy had started squirming out from under the bed. She didn’t push out a drawer to do so. Tentacles emerged through the thin slits between the wood of the frame and the actual drawer. It was somewhat disturbing to watch at first, when not much of Lucy was actually through. Even knowing how her body looked through her blood sight, Eva didn’t know how she maneuvered around all four sides of the rectangular drawer without either tangling herself up or getting part of her caught on the other side. Somehow, she made it. A moment after piling herself up on the floor, she spread out to a proper humanoid form.

“Here to tear me apart again?”

“I’m not going to tear you apart. And it’s your own fault for not letting go.”

“You could have just pelted me with fireballs.”

“I tried fireballs.”

“I was supposed to let go after thirty direct hits from students’ attacks. You only made it to twenty-two.”

“Did chopping off each tentacle not count as a direct attack? Because I probably chopped off more than that.”

Lucy shrank in on herself—literally—before shaking her head. “I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting to get torn apart.”

Eva sighed as she placed a hand on Lucy’s shoulder. Something Lucy initially flinched away from until she realized that Eva wasn’t going to hurt her. “Look, I’m sorry about all that. I might have gotten a little hot-headed. How about this, would you like to go to a feast? You missed the big after-event dinner last time. I bet you could even sit up at the professors’ table with all the other important people! It will be fun! New experiences!”

“I do like new experiences. And fun. As long as it isn’t the hurting kind of experience.”

“Great!” Eva slapped Lucy on the back. “I’ll see you there.”

Time to go visit Anderson and ensure he knew to leave out an extra seat.

— — —

As Eva sat in the middle of the event closing feast, she couldn’t help but wonder if Anderson’s smile could get any wider. The results hadn’t even been announced yet. Brakket was obviously going to win. They wound up with seven crystals. It would have been eight, but one crystal had been taken out of the boundaries of Brakket’s camp right at the last second.

No crystals outside the border of the camps counted for any team in the end, so Brakket was in first place. Second place would be going to Isomer with five crystals. Nod Complex and Faultline had two each, and Mount Hope was left with one. And that was thanks only to Irene being unable to carry that one. All other crystals has been ‘in transit’ and therefore uncounted.

So with Brakket in the clear lead, it wasn’t hard to understand just what Anderson was so happy about. Still, in Eva’s opinion, he could at least have had the decorum to look a little subdued before the results were officially announced. At this point, she would find it hilarious if Redford and his judges had some other criteria for who would be winning first place.

“He’s still there,” Juliana whispered, setting down a fork.

She leaned in so close that Eva actually scooted away. Even still, her voice didn’t quite carry to Eva’s ears despite them sitting right next to each other. Luckily, what little did reach Eva’s ears, combined with her burgeoning lip-reading skills, was enough that she could understand.

In response, Eva didn’t offer anything but a slight hum. Juliana couldn’t lip read. More, she didn’t want to say anything just in case one of the many air mages around was using magic to carry what little air Juliana disturbed to their ears. She doubted anyone was doing so, but she couldn’t be sure.

“I can feel him. And his magic.” Juliana said, apparently not picking up on the reason for Eva’s lack of response. Though Eva couldn’t really blame her. This feast the day after the event and her kidnapping was the first opportunity for them to be together without her parents in the immediate area.

Of course, her parents were still at the feast—Zoe had invited them up to the front of the stage. They weren’t sitting with Juliana though, and apparently that was good enough for her.

“He hasn’t said a single word since teaching me how to use his magic.” She ran her fingers through her hair, tugging slightly as she went. “What if he is upset? Am I not entertaining enough? What–”

“You’re getting a little loud,” Eva said, her own voice still a whisper but not nearly so quiet as Juliana had first been. “Besides, you worry too much. Obviously he hasn’t…” Pausing, Eva considered her words.

Shalise looked in their direction, obviously having noticed that they were speaking. She raised a curious eyebrow to which Eva just smiled. Eva had told her what had happened in the privacy of their dormitory room, so she wouldn’t have a problem bringing her into the conversation—she was the expert of the three of them on having a demon inside her, after all. However, that would just increase the volume of their words. Better to just table it for the moment.

“He hasn’t tried to escape, so nothing to worry about.”

“Easy for you to say,” Juliana said in a much more normal tone of voice, slouching her shoulders as she shoved around her food, mixing the mashed potatoes with the mashed lychee.

Before Eva could say anything else, a certain vampire plopped down in the vacant seat directly opposite Eva. Saija, to his side, narrowed her eyes as she looked over to him.

But the vampire didn’t even notice. His smug face had eyes for nobody but Eva.

“Who are you again?”

His smile slipped into a lip-curling scowl. “Your humor is lacking.”

“Oh, except it wasn’t a joke. I honestly can’t remember your name. Do you know it?” Eva asked, glancing towards Juliana. At the shake of her head, Eva turned towards her opposite side where Shalise also shook her head. Turning back to the vampire, Eva frowned. “There you have it. Nobody knows who you are.”

It took a great deal of effort to suppress her smile as the vampire ground his teeth together. “I’m–”

“Before that,” Eva said, holding up a hand, “Juliana, do you mind if I try something?”

“Ah… that depends. There are a lot of things you might want to try that I do not particularly want to be involved in. Or that my mother would like me involved in, for that matter.”

“Oh don’t worry,” Eva said with a wide grin, “nothing scary. Just a thought experiment. Let’s say that somebody can jump but we really don’t want them to…” She trailed off and waited.

It took a moment. Not a long moment. Soon enough, Juliana had a similar grin on her face. “I think I can do that,” she said. And then she started mumbling, more to herself than to Eva. “Though we should change it to communicate. That way writing it down or sign language wouldn’t work. I should probably make sure there aren’t any dead man’s switches, though I might have to think that one over for a bit on exactly how to word it.”

“Take your time, I doubt it needs to be done tonight.”

The vampire’s impatience at being ignored peaked. He put a fist down on the table hard enough to clatter the plates and cutlery. A few people glanced over, but no more than what was usual for Eva kept looking for very long. “What are you two talking about?” he said.

“Like I said,” Eva said, turning back to the vampire with an even wider grin. It was almost as big as Anderson’s. “Just a thought experiment. Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time keeping up. I wouldn’t expect a rot-addled brain to comprehend.”

His dead eyes narrowed to thin slits.

“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but try anything against me and you’ll regret it.”

Eva snapped her face back to a serious expression. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Especially not while entertaining the thought that Juliana could use Zagan to get rid of her vampire problem. “Right. I wouldn’t dare so long as you’re holding any secrets over me.”

“And don’t you forget it.”

“So, what did you come over here for?”

The vampire—who still had yet to introduce himself properly—straightened his back as he stared over at Eva. “The third event will be beginning after the New Year’s holidays. The two of us will be able to participate once again. I was thinking we might have another little wager.”

“About my blood again?”

“What else?” he said with a smug shrug.

Eva frowned. Even if Juliana could correct his ability to open his mouth about things she didn’t want said—without him knowing at that—it would still be best to keep him believing that he could say something. If only to prevent him from trying to and potentially finding a way around whatever Juliana was going to do.

Really, it would be so much simpler if the Elysium Order did their job. Though Eva supposed she was partially to blame for that. And then they might also catch wind of Serena, which she didn’t want to happen. Not all vampires are terrible. Just all of them that weren’t named Serena.

Supposedly Wayne’s sister was also a vampire, or so Serena had said, but Eva had never met her. For all she knew, Serena was an absolute anomaly and Wayne’s sister would be insufferable as well. Then again, thinking about it for a few minutes, Serena was fairly insufferable in her own way. It was just that Eva had gotten used to it.

“Why don’t we raise the stakes?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“If Nod Complex comes out on top of Brakket, I’ll supply you with a weekly vial of my blood for a year. Fifty-two vials, in other words.”

“I see no issue with that.”

“If Brakket wins…” Eva tapped her chin in thought. “An equal amount of your blood.”

She had no real concrete plans, but she was a blood mage! If she couldn’t find anything worth doing with it, she probably needed to rethink her choices in magic specialization. The vampire hadn’t done anything really worth killing him over, but she was sure there would be several other annoyances she could come up with.

If worse came to worst and Juliana couldn’t get rid of their problem, she could always try out the sense-sharing spell. Despite her poor experience in using it on Sawyer, two days of spying on him could easily reveal whatever backup plans he had.

“My blood? Why would you want my blood? You don’t drink blood, do you?”

Shalise made a face, looking almost like she was going to be sick.

Eva ignored it. “I don’t drink blood,” she said with a shrug. “However, I’m not averse to making money. I’m sure vampire blood can be used in all sorts of potions and magical reagents.”

“Selling my blood?” He scoffed, shaking his head. With a prideful flourish, he stood from the table. “It won’t matter. If you think I haven’t learned your tricks. And this time, you won’t be allied with the…” His lips curled again as he trailed off, shooting a glance at the Isomer table. “Elysium Order,” he eventually finished, sounding more like he was swearing than actually talking. “But I can agree to your bet. Fifty-two vials. Plus no less than ten direct feedings.”

Did he have to be so creepy about it? It was hard enough to keep her smile from faltering. Shalise had her eyes closed and her nose scrunched up. Even Juliana had shoved her meal away from her as she stared at the vampire.

On the other hand, Saija’s glower at having the vampire sitting next to her reached its peak. “Great. Now that you’re done, do you mind?” She wafted her hand in front of her nose. “Ugh. Dead people. Reeks like raw fish. Or worse. You shouldn’t be allowed around everybody’s meals. It’s not like you can eat it anyway.”

“No one asked you, demon,” he snarled.

“Your breath isn’t doing you any favors either,” she said, turning her head with her nose wrinkled. “Even if you’re dead, you could still have a mint every now and again, right?”

Eva cleared her throat before more snide remarks could be thrown. Not that she really minded, but the nuns had started to stare. “You should probably head back to your school’s table. I’d rather have as little known fraternization as possible between us.”

He gave a slight snort but turned and walked off towards the Nod Complex’s seating.

“Creep,” Juliana mumbled under her breath, to which Shalise gave a few vigorous nods.

“Yeah. I wish Devon would get on with my next treatment already. Apparently my most recent treatment made me unpalatable towards one other vampire. Maybe another would work on this guy.”

Juliana’s back stiffened. “Other vampire? The one from our room?”

“Yeah. She’s been around somewhere. I saw her just after the hunters attacked. Not since though, I wonder where she’s been,” Eva mumbled to herself. “But don’t worry, she’s back to her normal self. No lunging at you and trying to eat you. Too much, anyway.”

“You sure know how to make people feel better,” Juliana said with a sigh.

“I do try,” Eva said with a smile. She was going to say more, but Anderson chose that moment to get up on center stage.

As with the previous event, he introduced Wallace Redford. Redford stood from his seat—he wasn’t next to the quetzalcoatl this time. In fact, Eva couldn’t see the quetzalcoatl anywhere around. Maybe her presence had been a one-off thing. Redford announced the results exactly as Eva had expected. Brakket first, Isomer second, Faultline and Nod Complex tied for third, and Mount Hope fifth.

Throughout it all, Eva barely paid attention. The results were a mere formality at this point. Though she did give Irene a thumbs up when Brakket was announced as first. Had it not been for her, Brakket and Mount Hope would have tied for second underneath Isomer.

And, frankly, Irene deserved a little praise. Getting carried around by Saija all night didn’t look like the funnest thing that could have happened.

Irene didn’t look all that happy at the minor praise. Though she smiled, she quickly ducked her head and stared down at her plate, avoiding eye-contact with everyone else for a few minutes until she thought nobody was looking.

To be fair, nobody was looking. Eva only observed her through her blood sight. However, her thoughts were interrupted before she could consider Irene more.

“The next event will be held the second week of January. As with the other events, you will be unaware of what is required to succeed until immediately before the event. Enjoy your holidays, though do not neglect your training. It just might mean the difference between success and defeat.”

“Thank you Wallace,” Anderson said, stepping back into his spot as Redford headed back towards his seat. “Now, before we all disperse for the evening, I do have a few… announcements to make. I do not wish to imply that Brakket Academy may be unsafe; however, there was an incident recently that I feel it is necessary to make everyone aware of.”

At Eva’s side, Juliana shifted, she moved her hands down to her lap and mimicked Irene in avoiding people’s gaze.

“There was an attempt at kidnapping a Brakket Academy student over the weekend. Mage-knight Genoa Rivas, Eva Spencer, and the demon Arachne managed to recover the student unharmed shortly after the incident; however, the kidnapper managed to escape. Until the situation can be resolved and the perpetrator captured, students are not to wander Brakket City unaccompanied. Anywhere beyond the dormitory buildings is considered off-limits for the time being. If you need to shop for clothing, supplies, or anything else, please ask one of the professors you see up on stage,” he said with a wave of his hand back to the assembled teachers and headmasters.

Lucy, Eva noted, waved right back with a bright smile on her face. Eva wasn’t certain if she was supposed to have been included in that grouping, but maybe someone would ask her. That might be amusing to watch.

“Finally, if you see a woman with bright red hair down to her shoulders and an eye patch over her right eye, please keep your distance and contact help immediately. She may be wearing metallic armor.” He lifted his wand into the air and drew out a series of flaming numbers. They hung in the air just above his head. “I highly encourage everyone to add this number to their speed-dials. There will always be someone manning the phone ready to dispatch assistance.”

He clapped his hands together. The numbers kept hovering over his head, but his morose expression shifted back to a bright smile. “However, we expect to have the situation well in hand. Be aware, be safe, but try not to worry too much. There are a few more lighthearted announcements to make before I let you all go.

“We’ll be hosting a special event on the twenty-eighth. Optional to attend, but if you wish to intermingle with your fellow schools outside a school or contest setting, this will be the event for you. There will be a number of games and prizes–”

Eva’s attention waned. Her interest in holiday events for the various schools rated somewhere between being stuck in Sawyer’s head for a weekend and being strapped to Sawyer’s operating table. If everyone else wanted to have some fun party, that was perfectly fine with her. She had other things to think about.

Catherine for one. The succubus was going to stop by Brakket later on to inspect the ritual circle. Eva still had yet to describe its purpose to Catherine—she wanted to see if the purpose was evident in the design. If Catherine said that the circle was designed to split apart the Earth and send both halves cascading into the Sun, then she might be speaking with Vektul about some miscommunication regarding the ritual.

If she did divine just what the ritual was for, Eva was really hoping she wouldn’t have too many concerns over it.

Of course, that was assuming it got finished anytime soon. With Juliana’s parents both going into a completely overprotective mode, she might not be able to help out much. Eva had considered asking her to use Zagan’s power to instantly complete it, but considering a second time, she really didn’t want any magic-induced errors to appear. The circle was almost finished. With her non-Juliana help, it wouldn’t take forever. Then they could go over the entire thing by hand, double checking it all.

Might still be a good idea to recruit someone else as well. And then she still needed the actual people to help power the circle. A combination of demons and humans. Juliana probably wouldn’t work anymore with her having been bound to Zagan. She could check in with Vektul, but better to be safe than sorry.

But that was still a little further off than even the completion of the circle.

The other big issue was the hunter. Despite Anderson’s claims of having the situation well in hand. Frankly, she just didn’t believe that he would do much of anything. He might believe it, but not Eva. In her opinion, Genoa was far more likely to do something.

Which might have been what Anderson was counting on.

Still, the possibility of him actually doing something didn’t mean that Eva would sit idle. The hunter was after her, after all. And she had just the idea in mind. She would wander around on the streets and get herself captured.

Her thoughts broke as the dinnerware before her began clattering. It was a small thing. The clattering didn’t last more than a few seconds. The only reason it was audible at all was because the entire room fell into a brief silence. Eva scarcely felt it herself.

“An earthquake?” Anderson said from up on the stage, confusion marring his features. He waited a moment as if listening for anything else. But nothing came. “Huh. Well, probably nothing to worry about. Brakket Academy isn’t just brick and mortar. It’s magic. It won’t fall to something as mundane as an earthquake. As I was saying, celebrations!”

Again, Eva tuned him out as she glanced to her side. Shalise had her arms wrapped around her and trembled. “You alright,” Eva asked, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“There were enough earthquakes in Hell,” she whispered.

Ah, right. Eva rubbed her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Like Anderson said, it was probably nothing. Some slight ripple from a far-off quake. And even if it is less benign, we’re all here this time,” she said, gesturing to the whole table.

Still… Earthquakes were rare in Montana. Not unheard of, but not exactly common either. And Eva wasn’t the type to believe in coincidence. It was probably that hunter. Since her sky beam had been destroyed, she was probably trying something else. This time from below.

Eva definitely needed to deal with her.

>>Author’s Note 009<<

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.012

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Eva flopped over on her bed.

“Ah, I’m tired,” she mumbled to nobody in particular.

Nobody else was around. Juliana and Shalise had gone over to Genoa’s house to watch the event. Irene, Jordan, and Shelby were all there as well, along with Saija, Srey, and Vektul. A gathering that might have had Eva worried for their safety from demon hunters had she not been so tired. Especially because she was relatively certain that Genoa had participated in the event as an antagonist to one of the groups.

Carlos was supposedly a decent fighter, if Genoa was to be believed. They had three demons, Jordan, and Juliana as well. If anything had come up, they could probably handle it all on their own.

All in all, the event could have gone much worse. Even aside from how it ended. She had honestly been worried that another sky-cracking laser beam would obliterate half of the contestants. Given the vampire’s presence, the Elysium Order might have attacked all on their own. That combined with Eva and Lucy’s presence, it had been an ideal time to attack for just about anyone.

Well, partially. There were a lot of high-profile mages running about Brakket Academy at the moment. Redford, for one. And the event had been televised. A demon hunter might not care, but the Elysium Order did have something of a reputation to uphold.

Her school hadn’t won, but neither had the vampire’s. As it was, he was probably going to corner her sometime and try to bet on something else. Perhaps his school winning the second event or something similar.

Eva didn’t really care. She couldn’t participate in it. That gave her all kinds of free time. With Juliana’s help, they might be able to finish up the ritual circle before she actually had to worry about it being discovered.

Maybe. It was still a daunting task. They weren’t going to do anything tonight, obviously. Maybe not the day after either, as there was supposed to be another feast celebrating the end of the first event and its victors.

Then, she didn’t know when the second event would take place. It might be the following weekend, it might be in the middle of December. Hopefully the latter.

Even once the ritual circle was finished, she would still need to actually find the people to help participate. The demon side of things should be easy enough. She already had half of them helping out either with the creation of the circle or the security of it. A few more could probably be convinced just by saying that they were summoning Void.

The humans weren’t going to be half as easy to find. Juliana would. She was already involved anyway. Shalise as well, probably. Maybe. Maybe leaving her out of it would be for the best. Her mother wouldn’t approve, to say the least.

Though, Genoa probably wouldn’t either. But it was a bit too late in Juliana’s case.

Maybe Irene would come. If she brought Shelby along with her, that would be good. Beyond that, Eva was somewhat at a loss. Vektul had said humans. Eva wasn’t sure that people with demons bound to them counted as human enough, so that ruled out a good number of people who Eva thought might otherwise not have a problem summoning a Power to Earth.

A tapping at the window of her dorm room interrupted Eva’s thoughts.

And yet, being flopped over face down on her bed was nice and comfortable. Did she really want to get up and open the window?

No, not really.

Three more taps rattled the glass before Eva finally lifted her head enough to see who dared to disturb her slumber.

Ah, but the blinds are in the way, Eva thought as she dropped her face back onto the bed.

She wasn’t that tired. Sure, she had used a lot of magic. Especially blinking and fireballs. But that wasn’t too taxing. Maybe she was tired from all the running and jumping around. There had been a lot of that as well.

Or maybe it was the interactions with other people. Other people were always exhausting. Especially ones she had never met before. And nuns.

Eva tilted her head up with a deep frown on her face as the tapping on the window grew louder. Something about that didn’t feel right. She had never had much trouble interacting with people. Other people often had trouble interacting with her unless she dragged them along at her pace, but not the other way around.

If it wasn’t that…

I’m not depressed, am I?

That would be silly. She had accomplished her objective in preventing the vampire from winning. There was nothing to be depressed about.

The tapping rattled the windows enough that it threatened to break the glass.

Eva finally rolled out of bed, stumbling to her feet as she moved over to the window.

“Alright already,” she mumbled.

Pulling up the blinds, she threw the latch and hefted the window up.

A massive spider skittered into the room, barely making it before Eva slammed the window shut again.

“The door works perfectly fine, you know.”

The spider didn’t respond. She couldn’t as she didn’t have a mouth. Not yet, anyway. Her body was expanding back into its humanoid form.

Instead of waiting and watching her, Eva just flopped back down on her bed and buried her face into her pillow.

“Someone’s in a bad mood.”

“Yeah, can’t wait to see that vampire’s face,” Eva mumbled.

Arachne stood still for a moment longer, standing over the side of the bed. When she finally decided to move, she just sat on the edge.

Eva let out a little squawk as Arachne fell backwards, laying her head and the stiff tendrils that passed for her hair on Eva’s back. They poked into her for a minute or two before Arachne finally made herself comfortable in resting against Eva.

All the while, Eva just lay there, not minding the sudden contact. Neither spoke, choosing instead to sit in a companionable silence.

“Thanks,” Eva said, absolutely ruining the mood yet still feeling a need to say so. She tried to move as little as possible so as to keep from disturbing the resting spider, though she did lift her head up enough that she wasn’t speaking into her pillow.

“For what? I didn’t do anything.”

“Knowing you were out there following me, ready to jump in at the first sign of anything truly dangerous was enough. I might have been a whole lot more paranoid had you not been there.”

“I wasn’t able to get into the pyramid itself without possibly being spotted on the cameras.”

“Yeah, I figured. But I also figured that not many others would be able to get inside without being seen. I was a lot more worried about demon hunters and the like, not any of the other contestants.”

Arachne didn’t say anything in response. She really didn’t need to.

Having her there was enough for Eva.

Eva dropped her head back into her pillow and shut her eyes.

— — —

“Remember, join in next time for more magical excitement at Brakket Academy.”

Zoe managed to maintain her smile until the little red recording light blinked off. As soon as it did, she couldn’t help herself. A suppressed yawn finally broke free, stretching her jaw as far as it would go for a few seconds.

“Ah, excuse me,” she said as the yawn died off. “Wasn’t expecting that to go quite so long.”

When the schedule had called for her to comment on several highlights after the event had finished, she had expected a half hour of discussion. There had been no final time listed, but three hours seemed a tad excessive. It had gotten to the point where she had been running out of unique things to say for every little display of magic.

Normally, she would have assumed there to be a time limit simply because the station had other programs they needed to get to. They had obviously cleared their schedule. In fact, Zoe wouldn’t be surprised if the station switched to a few analysts—probably unqualified and mundane analysts—who would discuss and replay the event all through the night. Perhaps even into the next week.

There would be backlash, excitement, fear, uproar, wonder, and all manner of people coming out of the woodworks to either praise or condemn everything magical. Mundane people who couldn’t stand the idea that magic existed had been protesting for years and nothing had really come of it. Of course, there had never been such open and obvious proof. Just whispers and conspiracy theories.

But worrying about such things was, quite frankly, not Zoe’s job. She knew that both Wallace and Anderson had public relations people at the ready. Anderson, possibly Wallace as well, had been planning something like this for a while.

The only thing Zoe was truly concerned about at the moment was protesters showing up around Brakket.

Or worse, rioters.

And demon hunters, though enough had died in the area recently to hopefully ward off any more from showing up. Vampire hunters not associated with the Elysium Order might appear, but they were so few and far between that Zoe couldn’t bring herself to be too concerned. Most people who didn’t like vampires joined up with the Elysium Order.

Zoe would be speaking with Anderson in the morning about hiring some new security guards around the place anyway.

“Don’t worry,” Hank said, standing up to stretch his back. “I was thinking we would only spend an hour talking about it. But the viewers just weren’t dropping off, so…” he trailed off with a shrug.

“Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the event.”

“I’m sure they did. Social media is already going nuts over it all. Sorry about your school though.”

“We may not have won, but I think we made a decent showing of it all.” Zoe stood, resisted the urge to mimic Hank’s stretching, and held out her hand. “Thanks for keeping me on track. I have a tendency to go off on tangents on occasion.”

“Not a problem. I look forward to co-commenting on the next event.” He reached out and took hold of Zoe’s hand. He paused for a moment. “I wonder if it might be possible to sit in on a class or two before the next event. With everything going on, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

“That… could be possible. I’ll have to speak with Anderson, but I don’t foresee much of an issue.” Especially if I frame it in such a way that it sounds like Brakket gets something out of it. “I’ll mention it to him in the morning.”

“Excellent.”

“I don’t know how much it will help. These students study for years before performing magic like this.”

“True. Better than nothing, I suppose.”

Zoe couldn’t really disagree with that. She just nodded her head instead. “I’ll send you a date and time as soon as I speak with Anderson. However, if you’ll excuse me for now, there are a few people I should meet with before the night officially ends.”

“Of course. I look forward to working with you in the future.”

Turning, Zoe stepped off the wooden platform and started walking towards the main school building. Four steps later, she had a better idea. Zoe reached into her pocket and took hold of her wand. A slight buildup of magic had her sent through the blinding white of Between, teleported across the city.

She immediately collapsed into Wayne’s couch.

And started groaning.

The television was on. Worse, she was on. Some station was playing a clip from earlier in the evening.

“Is that what I looked like?”

“What’s wrong? You look fine.”

Zoe narrowed her eyes at Wayne.

He just raised his eyebrows as he took a sip from a cup of coffee.

“The station wanted to do my makeup, something about certain colors standing out better on camera.”

Wayne set his coffee down on the table before leaning back in his armchair. He tilted his head back, facing the ceiling of his home as he closed his eyes. “They did a good job, not that I know anything about makeup,” he grumbled.

“I feel like I could dig my finger three inches into my face before I actually touched skin.” She sighed. The sigh trailed off into a self-depreciating laugh. “So how was it? Terrible?”

“Not as bad as I expected.”

“Knowing you, you expected the world to end halfway through. ‘Not as bad’ could still be a complete disaster.”

“The slow motion shots were nice.”

“They were,” Zoe said. “I wonder if we could get the original footage from them. It might come in handy for class.”

Wayne let out a loud scoff that had Zoe narrowing her eyes again.

“Everyone in the world is going to be jumping at the opportunity to get magic on camera. I’m sure you could find someone willing to set their slow motion cameras up while you cast spells at them for hours on end. They would probably pay you as well.”

“Maybe. But I think I would still like the footage from tonight. The original footage, not just what they’re going to show on repeat for the next several weeks.”

“Well, I doubt they’ll be deleting any of it. I’m sure the military is going to pay good money to get their hands on a copy. Probably several militaries.”

“That’s something other people can deal with,” Zoe said, reaffirming her decision to stay out of larger politicking matters. She was a magical theory professor. If there was a danger to her students, she would jump in to defend them without hesitation.

That the United States armed services might want copies of the footage was not an immediate danger to her students. Or, probably, a long-term danger. Though it wouldn’t surprise her if they came up with a magical branch of the military. Or perhaps just wrapped up certain mages into the Army or Navy or wherever they fit best.

More career paths were always a good thing. Fighting in the military wouldn’t be significantly different from most Guild work. It might even be safer. They would have a team, support, and presumably tactical training. Most mage-knights worked alone or in small groups.

Swinging her legs off the edge of the couch, Zoe started off towards the bathroom. “I’m using your shower.”

— — —

Why can’t Brakket just serve pizza. Everyone likes pizza.

Knowing Brakket Academy, their pizza wouldn’t be any more edible than anything else they served. They would put toppings on it that Eva had never heard of. Probably anchovies as well.

It was enough to make Eva shudder from the thought alone.

In front of her, she didn’t have any fish topped pizza. Close, but not quite.

Eva nudged the… squid with the tip of her finger.

The squid nudged back.

Eva carefully slid the bowl a few inches away from her. She didn’t even know where to begin eating the thing. She could presumably just pick it up and bite down. It wasn’t alive, missing its brain, though that didn’t stop it from squirming.

None of the rest of the dish looked all that edible either. The squid sat atop a mountain of vegetables and little red balls that were probably fish eggs. Of course, they could be Lucy eggs for all Eva knew.

Caviar was supposedly some high-class food. The rest probably was as well. Eva just couldn’t see herself enjoying any of it.

She reached for a bread roll. That seemed the safe choice by far. Her teeth glided straight through the soft dough without encountering anything unexpected.

Though she didn’t have too much of a problem with the food served by Brakket Academy normally, Juliana had also pushed her bowl towards the center of the table. Shalise hadn’t. She happily chewed on the end of a squid tentacle.

Looking across the room, Eva noticed Anise looking especially queasy as she stared at the squid. Her fellow nun had no concerns about the meal. She gnawed on the end of a tentacle as she alternated a glare between the vampire and Eva.

Eva put on a polite smile and gave a slight wave of her hand when their eyes met.

The nun held her scowl in place for just a moment before turning it on Anise. She didn’t say anything. She just stared.

Though her gnawing on the tentacle became a little more violent as she gnashed her teeth.

“Welcome back,” Anderson said, moving to the center of the stage where the professors were eating. “I’ll spare you all a large speech and move straight to the judging. Wallace, if you would be so kind?”

Redford whispered something into the ear of the woman he had been sitting with. The same woman who had been sitting with him at the previous feast. Just as before, her eyes were closed. She didn’t respond, simply smiling, though she did tap the side of her mouth with a finger.

He stood, wiping some sauce from the corners of his mouth with a small napkin. He moved around the table. Every other step, his cane clicked against the floor. Once at the front, he stopped and stared out over the assembled students.

“Fifth place,” he said without preamble or prelude, “goes to Faultline School for the Magically Adept. Though all three students made it to the pyramid, none reached the final chamber.”

Looking over to the mentioned school, Eva found every single student sitting with clenched fists and grit teeth. Even up on stage, their headmaster—or principal, or dean, or whatever he called himself—had his brow furrowed and lips pressed into a deep frown.

“Isomer Holy Academy comes in fourth place. Two members of Isomer failed to reach the pyramid. One made it inside, however, granting them a place over Faultline.”

Eva didn’t bother looking at them. The nun not named Anise now had her fist clenched hard enough to dig her nails into her skin.

And she was staring right at Eva.

Instead, Eva licked her lips. She hadn’t been aware that there would be rankings beyond winner and losers. So far, that hadn’t been a problem. But if the vampire placed second and she third, he would probably raise a fuss about her blood much sooner than otherwise.

Eva held her breath.

“Second and third place were difficult. In the end, third goes to the Nod Complex for the Supernatural. Only two members of their school made it to the pyramid. Though the two who did made it to the final chamber first, they squandered their advantage by preemptively attacking the quetzalcoatl and further failed to claim victory.”

Eva had been about to turn to the vampire with a smug grin when she caught a hint of movement.

Just a slight movement in both her sense of blood and her actual vision.

The yellow-haired woman opened her eyes. Not wide, just a slight sliver.

Enough for Eva to notice one being green and the other being violet with a golden pupil.

Eva blinked and the eyes were shut again. The woman looked perfectly average as she smiled her calm smile.

“Brakket Magical Academy had all three members of their school make it to the top of the pyramid, although only two made it inside. They then figured out what to do and made a plan using members of the other schools to enable themselves a victory… Only to have it snatched out of their grasp by our first place school.

“Only one member of Mount Hope Academy made it to the pyramid, but that was enough to place their marble on the activated pedestal. Congratulations.”

He clapped his hands together a few times, prompting most of the staff to begin clapping as well. The Faultline headmaster notably kept his hands at his sides. As soon as the students joined in, Redford tapped the ground with his cane, sending out a silencing click as it hit the wood.

It must be enchanted, Eva thought. The noise was simply too loud to be natural. It had silenced the students during the first feast as well.

“The second event will take place in two weeks’ time. Mount Hope has received a few hints on what might be required for victory. For everyone else, you may be wondering why you were ranked at all. The answer: You will be required to make a selection. Mount Hope will select first. Faultline last.” Redford paused for a moment, looking out over the students. “That is all,” he said, turning to go back to his seat.

Anderson moved to the center to take his place, clapping his hands together to bring attention over to him.

“Exciting, exciting!” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I hope you all are looking forward to the next event. Enjoy the rest of your feast and the rest of your nights!”

As he slipped back behind the table and retook his seat, Eva stared down at the squid bowl.

“Nope,” she said standing. “I’m done.”

Juliana popped up at the same time. “Me too.”

“Don’t worry,” Eva said, putting a hand on Shalise’s shoulder. “We’re just going back to the dorm room.”

Shalise, having started to shovel down as much food as she could, started to slow down. She swallowed up her current bite before looking at Eva with narrowed eyes. “You’re not disappearing again?”

Eva glanced towards Juliana and shook her head. “Not tonight. Take your time, we won’t be going anywhere.”

“If you’re sure,” she said slowly, looking back to her meal with a smile.

With a small chuckle, Eva waved goodbye to Irene, Shelby, Saija, and Jordan as she passed. She did pause as she came up to Randal.

The half-elf sat with poor posture. Something everyone did, but it was notable on the normally appearance obsessed elf. His fork pushed around a few eggs in his bowl without real direction or meaning. Not out of disgust, but out of depression.

Probably.

She knew that a few of the other students had been giving him a hard time about being too slow or… whatever.

So she patted him on the back. “Cheer up. We’ll get them next time,” she said with a false optimism in her voice.

With the rankings given by Redford, Eva was feeling much better than she had the night before. The vampire couldn’t dispute any claim of who won between them. Neither did she actually care about ‘next time’ or anything after that. She was still hoping that the world would ‘end’ before the third event.

He just gave her a sad smile before going back to toying with his food.

Eva and Juliana almost made it back to the Rickenbacker before Eva noticed someone running up behind them.

She turned, ready to blink or toss a fireball depending on the situation. Despite her paranoia, she smiled.

“Emily, did you need something?”

The girl flinched, stopping several paces away. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “You guys deserved to win.”

Eva just shrugged her shoulders. She almost told her that they were better than the Nod Complex, but decided to remain silent instead. Mostly because that should be obvious from their elevator trip where Eva had all but told everyone that she didn’t care what happened so long as the vampire lost.

“The next event involves construction. Magic assisted building.”

“That… sounds really dull. I’m glad I can’t participate in it.” Though she supposed she could tell the rest of her team. It wouldn’t hurt any. And if they kept it quiet from the vampire and beat him again, all the better. “Does the rest of your school know that you told me?”

“I– No, they don’t,” she said with a sigh.

“Then better run along before people get suspicious. Thanks for telling me though, we’ll try not to beat you guys too bad,” Eva said with a grin.

As she ran off again, Juliana turned to Eva. “What was that all about?”

“Don’t know. Maybe I made a friend.” Eva watched her go, thinking back to the event.

She had used both flames and earth with roughly equal proficiency. Something that could be handy in construction. Of course, since she was barred from participating in the second school event, maybe Eva could offer her another opportunity to show off her skills.

“Think she wants to help bring a Power into reality to do battle with another Power and potentially end the world?”

Juliana shook her head with a sigh. “You should work on your sales pitch.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.003

<– Back | Index | Next –>

No one could say that Brakket Academy wasn’t welcoming towards its guests. Anderson had pulled out all the stops to make them feel as comfortable as possible even with all the demons wandering around. Though with his order for the demons to remain hidden, the only obvious demonic beings were Arachne and Eva.

After having her inhuman hands revealed in public, Eva had gotten her fair share of stares. Getting a few more was nothing special. And the meal was doing a decent job of distracting everyone.

A feast had been laid out for everyone. In typical Brakket Academy fashion, Eva couldn’t tell what most of it was. The mashed potatoes and roast were obvious. That is where the food she was familiar with ended.

An orange soup that smelled of lilacs seemed to be favored by one of the schools, though nobody Eva was sitting with had touched it. Perhaps it was a local delicacy of some sort. There was a thick, almost honey-like drink for everyone to partake of. Though it wasn’t sweet like honey. Rather, it had a taste not unlike that of lightly salted butter.

Eva had taken a single sip and decided that between the thickness and taste, that one sip had been more than enough for the rest of her life. Which, assuming all went well, would be practically forever. Luckily the feast had water available as well. Something Eva was much happier with.

Still, the students from another school were guzzling it down by the glass, making Eva wonder if it hadn’t been laid out specifically for them. Each school seemed to have some odd food that they favored over the others.

The thought had Eva’s mind running off on a tangent. She had never actually met the cooks at the school. With all the weird stuff they served for lunches, Eva wondered if they were even human.

But, that was just a tangent. She shook her head and went back to inspecting the new arrivals.

They were staring at her. She would stare right back.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t stare at one of them for even half as long as they stared at her. Luckily, she didn’t have to. As soon as her eyes met with someone else’s, they would always look away first. Usually in the first second and with a slight jump of shock.

Once or twice, when faced with a student who didn’t look away fast enough, she would even smile at them.

While amusing herself with making everyone uncomfortable, there wasn’t all that much to look at. Not everyone was human, but none particularly stood out to Eva as they ate. Well, except for the woman apparently made of wood and leaves over at one of the tables. So far, that woman hadn’t even looked to Eva. Aside from that, small talk was made, often with points or gestures in her direction. In fact, few people actually seemed to be eating, focusing more on the talking.

Not really surprising.

Well, almost nobody stood out. There were a few she was suspicious about. A group of twenty students from one of the schools in particular.

There were only supposed to be ten contenders, but apparently the other schools had been welcome to bring friends or family. Or maybe just spectators that had wanted to come.

Eva didn’t really care. She hadn’t paid any attention when the schools were being announced. Her interest in the event amounted to how much she could avoid participating while still participating enough.

Not paying attention was coming back to bite her at the moment. Two members of that school had something unusual about them. Each had an eye-like object implanted right around their sternum.

Leaning over past Shelby, she tapped Jordan on the shoulder. “Which school was that group from?” she asked with a nod of her head in the direction. He should know, he was the dean’s son after all.

“Isomer Holy Academy. A school for thaumaturgy from where the Elysium Order gets most of their recruits.”

Eva slowly nodded as she glanced back to the two girls a table and a half away.

The two immediately locked eyes with her, not flinching away in the slightest.

“They’re nuns in training,” Eva murmured with a groan. She really did not want to deal with some half-baked nuns out for revenge because of her various humiliations of the Elysium Order.

Nobody had even died last time save for Arachne, and she returned the stupid obelisk. They should just get over themselves already. Eva wasn’t even holding that big of a grudge for them killing Arachne—it was mostly her own fault for assaulting them, even if she hadn’t had much of a choice at the time.

But maybe they didn’t even know about that. Would the higher-ups in the order have told two lowly recruits? They were probably the freshest of all the nuns, given that they were still in school.

Maybe they just hated her because she wasn’t human.

The rest of the students looked hostile, but not quite to the level of the relentless glare that those two nascent nuns were giving Eva. Most glanced away as soon as Eva looked at them.

Oddly enough, the two adults with that school—the headmaster and some other authoritative chaperon—were looking more uncomfortable than angry. Both sat up with the rest of the visitors, professors, and the dean, quietly talking to each other as they ate. Neither had eyes implanted in their chests. They were, to the best of Eva’s ability to detect, two perfectly normal humans.

The Elysium Order must employ regular humans as professors and staff.

“I’m surprised they bothered to come at all,” Eva said, glancing back to Jordan.

“The Elysium Order isn’t currently operating in North America, but they didn’t shut down the school. It is, after all, just a regular school for mages. As for actually showing up,” he paused with a shrug. “Maybe they wanted to keep an eye on you. Or us.”

“As long as that’s all they’re doing.”

Eva shrugged her shoulders, breaking eye contact with the nearly-nuns. Technically, she looked away first. It wasn’t that big of a deal to her though.

Besides, she was in much too good of a mood to have it ruined by a few sticks in the mud.

She had been practicing her warding. Right over her own plate of half-finished half-pushed-around food was a small bubble. A ward she had been toying with. It let her hands pass through and it let food out—when she deigned to take a bite—yet the few droplets of water that she flicked over the ward hit it, stopped, and ran down the side to pool on the tablecloth.

Eva grinned for a moment before clamping down on her expressions. While she had flashed a brief smile at a few of the students just to make them uncomfortable, she really wasn’t interested in being known as the girl who sat around playing with her food and smiling at it.

Not only that, but this ward still had problems. She had a feeling that snow would pass through without trouble. The potatoes had a good amount of moisture in them and they went through without trouble. Of course, it couldn’t be completely impermeable to water. Humans were basically bags of the liquid.

Which was probably why so many of her failures were completely impassable, now that she thought about it.

Though pleased with her current success, the situation as a whole was frustrating enough that Eva was actually thinking about seeking help. Weather wards weren’t exactly uncommon, so it wasn’t like she was trying to invent a whole new branch of magic. She wanted someone to straight up teach her how to make one or just do it for her. Probably the former as the latter would require bringing someone else out to what was obviously a ritual site.

Luckily, it just so happened that Eva had a teacher who was supposed to teach her these kinds of things. While weather warding wasn’t on the schedule for another few months yet, she might be able to ask about it in an extracurricular fashion.

Glancing up to the table, Eva watched Professor Lepus for a moment. She, as always, had her hair tied up in a ribbon that pointed straight up, resembling the ears of a rabbit. Unlike most of her coworkers, she wasn’t talking to anyone. Her fork ran through her food, pushing it around much as Eva did when killing time waiting for others to finish.

Lepus never really struck Eva as very unsociable. She spoke well in class and never so much as stuttered. But those were all prepared lessons. Maybe she suffered when forced to interact in more improvisational situations.

Eva considered playing a brief prank on her. Just a little thing to get her attention and maybe signal that she wanted to talk later. All the professors had office hours extending beyond the regular school day, so she could just walk in without any sort of appointment. But still, she was growing increasingly bored of this feast.

Just as she was about to attempt a long-range ward around the professor’s food, blocking all access to the plate, Eva caught a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye.

All thoughts of her warding professor were lost as Eva scanned the room. She used both her eyes and her sense of blood to pick out anything unusual. Perhaps a suspicious insect buzzing around or someone not where they were supposed to be.

Especially towards another school’s table where the flicker looked like it had been heading towards.

After staring for a moment and finding herself unable to locate any real threat, she glanced back to Jordan.

“Nod Complex for the Supernatural,” he said, preempting her question. “The only school in America that openly accepts non-human students. Aside from Brakket I suppose.”

As soon as he said that, Eva turned back to the table and started paying attention more to their insides than their outsides. Now that she was actually looking, she quickly found a few problems. One of the boys had a tumor growing in the rough shape of a third lung.

Actually, on closer staring, Eva decided that it was a third lung.

A few of them were obviously plain and ordinary humans. The others, she wasn’t so sure about. One girl’s heart was beating faster than a frightened rabbit’s. While she could be simply scared of knowing that demons and nuns were about, Eva found it far more likely that she wasn’t human. Three more were elves, only really noticeable because of their ears.

One boy, slightly older looking than the rest of them, actually waved when Eva turned her attention to him.

She couldn’t understand how she could have missed him before. Perhaps she had just been distracted with the nuns.

His heart wasn’t beating and his blood wasn’t pumping. While not as deathly pale as Serena, he was still a vampire.

Slowly and without making a single expression on her face, Eva turned her head to look back at the Isomer table.

The two nuns were still staring straight at her. If they had noticed the vampire, they were being extremely subtle about it.

And they didn’t have a single subtle bone in their bodies based on how they were staring at Eva.

Just as slowly as she had looked away from the vampire, Eva turned to face nothing in particular. She stayed staring at nothing for a few moments before finally speaking in a hushed tone of voice.

This was supposed to be a serious yet somewhat friendly competition. Yet with those nun trainees, Eva had a feeling that there would be a good amount of blood spilled by the end of it. Either theirs or the vampire’s.

Not Eva’s blood. Well, not unless she was using her blood magic for some reason. But she intended to be the one spilling blood if it came down to it.

“Hypothetically, can vampires even learn thaumaturgy?”

Her friends were silent for a few moments before Shelby shrugged. “I don’t see why not,” she said. “By all accounts and Professor Bradley’s personal testimony, they’re magical beings. Thaumaturgy isn’t exactly human exclusive. Elves have been known to learn it on a fairly frequent basis.”

Eva blinked at the information before remembering where it came from. Shelby was taking Bradley Twillie’s magizoology elective.

“That makes sense. Though, they do have their own magics, don’t they? Things that normal humans wouldn’t be able to learn.”

“Yes, I believe so. Exactly what they can do varies by strain. Why do you ask?”

“Oh. No reason. Just a thought that popped into my head.”

She might have to ask Serena about vampire specific magic later on and whether or not there was a way to tell what strain the vampire was. She found herself wondering just how old the vampire was and for how long he had been a vampire. And, perhaps more importantly, just how he was to compete.

Serena had needed a full winter regalia including an umbrella and heavily mirrored skiing goggles just to watch her treatment early on in the summer. Unless all the events were at night—which wouldn’t surprise Eva—the vampire might stick out like a sore thumb if he tried the same.

But the vampire was several leagues above normal humans. Probably on par with some average demons, based on observations she had seen of Serena fighting. He would be a threat to everyone even if he couldn’t do any thaumaturgy.

It seemed like the Nod Complex was stacking their deck just as much as Brakket was. She didn’t know what the other non-humans brought to the table, but they probably had their own advantages.

Actually, Isomer was cheating as well. The two with the eye implants could probably do the white magic of the Elysium Order. And then there was the connection thing that gave them a sort of hive-mind while connected—or something, she might need to ask Nel again.

No wonder Brakket had never been able to compete before.

It made Eva curious enough to start scrutinizing the other schools a bit more in-depth. They were probably cheating as well. Maybe they had brought literal dragons shoved into human skin as their contenders.

Before she could, Anderson got to his feet. The quiet murmurs died off almost completely as he cleared his throat at the head of the center table.

“Looks like most everyone is done eating,” he said as he cast a slow gaze around the room. “If you are still eating, don’t worry. There are no further events planned for tonight so you may consume and mingle until there is nothing left.

“However, there are a few announcements to be made and they should be made before we disperse for the evening. First, living accommodations. Isomer and Faultline academies will be housed in the Gillet dormitory building. For reference, when facing the dorms with your back to the main school building, that is the building on the right. You’ll be on the second floor. Your rooms should have your names posted on the doors.”

Eva let out a small sigh. That was good news. She really didn’t want Isomer or its nuns to be in her building if at all possible. Maybe it would be a good idea to just sleep over at the prison for the foreseeable future.

“The Rickenbacker—which is opposite of the Gillet—will be housing the students from Mount Hope and the Nod Complex. You can find your rooms on the third floor.”

Which had Eva groaning.

While her blood might be a bit ‘sugary’ for Serena’s tastes, that didn’t mean that she was an unattractive blood bag to other vampires. And then there was everyone else in the dorms. Since Eva only knew that he was a vampire because of her ability to sense blood, she highly doubted that anyone else knew.

If he lived with the other students at the Nod Complex, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. He probably had an agreement with one of the other students or a professor to give him a food supply. Honestly, she should probably be more worried about Serena deciding to snack on students than him.

Especially given that she had already drank at least one student’s blood on Eva’s recommendation.

“But,” Anderson said, “living accommodations are not the most exciting of events. Luckily, we have far more interesting things planned than where you all will be sleeping. I’d like to invite up someone many of you probably already know.” He took a step back, gesturing to his side. “Director of the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights, Wallace Redford.”

Eva blinked. She really was not being half as attentive as she should be. She hadn’t even noticed the older man up among the professors. Not having seen him since the start of the school year, she had almost forgotten that he even existed.

He was seated just as all the professors were, facing the students. Next to him, a woman with golden-yellow hair sat to his side with her eyes closed. Though she appeared to be asleep judging by her face alone, she was sitting upright in her seat. Eva could tell through her sense of blood that her body was as active as any other conscious person.

But there was something off. Eva couldn’t quite place what it was. Everyone had their individual characteristics in their circulatory systems. To liken them to fingerprints would not be an exaggeration. If anything, it would be an understatement.

So everybody was different. But she was differenter. Perhaps not human? But human enough that Eva couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong.

But, if she was up there with Redford and the professors, she was probably not a dangerous person. At least, not towards the students or staff.

So Eva ignored it as Redford began moving.

A loud click echoed throughout the gymnasium as his cane tapped into the ground, silencing the hushed murmurs that had started up upon his name being announced. A scowl on Redford’s face slowly deepened as he got up and moved to the front of the stage alongside Anderson.

He looked out over the assembled students, looking from table to table. After scanning the entire room, he took a deep breath.

“Honorable combat,” he said, “is a fantasy. A byword for stupidity, should you believe in such a thing. In the real world, entering combat with a bow and a hope for a good fight will get you killed before you can even right yourself.”

Again he paused to glance around, though his eyes never seemed to settle on any one person.

“You may have heard that phrase before. ‘In the real world’ things are different. I’m here to tell you that they aren’t. Or, to be more accurate, you live in the real world. People, especially those up here on stage with me, have a stake in the victor. Brakket Academy wishes to elevate its reputation. The others would find losing to them to be an embarrassment.”

Anderson, standing just to the side and slightly behind Wallace, didn’t flinch in the slightest. He had an almost genuine-looking showman’s smile on his face.

“I was asked to tailor events in such as way that they might be fair to all five schools. A fascinating problem. One I considered for a great deal of time. I knew without a doubt that all five schools would attempt to gain unfair advantages. To cheat, in simpler terms. Some more obviously than others,” he said with a glance towards a still smiling Anderson.

But Anderson’s face was far from the most interesting expression.

The headmasters and chaperons of the other schools, formerly listening politely with either happy or neutral expressions, all took an immediate downturn as Wallace spoke. The headmaster of Isomer actually started turning red in the face in spite of the fact that his cheating was far more obvious to Eva’s eyes than any other school.

Well, save for the vampire with the Nod Complex.

“And then, it came to my attention that it was custom for the schoolmasters to act as moderators and judges.” Casting his gaze to his feet, he shook his head. “This will not do.”

Much as Anderson had done when he introduced Wallace, Wallace waved his own hand to the side. Except his hand held a cane. One that pointed at a small gathering of people who had been sitting with him, though slightly away from the woman. None looked particularly pleased to be singled out.

More than one wasn’t even paying attention, choosing instead to stare at Eva.

“I have invited a special group of judges. Five people who have absolutely no stake in any of the participating schools. Five people whose identities I have kept secret for the past few months to avoid any bribing or threatening.” He turned, putting his back towards the students to face the professors, headmasters, deans, and other adults. “Speaking with them outside of an official capacity in public is grounds for forfeiture.”

None of the adults really reacted. Not like they had when he mentioned that they were cheating. They had probably been informed of this beforehand—and likely agreed to it in the first place—and he was just making the statement public.

“They are mundanes,” he said, spinning back around to face the student body. “Incapable of magic. I expect them all to be treated with just as much respect and–”

“This is an outrage!” The Isomer headmaster jumped to his feet, face red and bulging as if it were about to burst. “You cannot bring mundanes into a magical school–”

“In my school, Headmaster Drosselmeyer, I decide who is welcome and who is not.” Anderson said, turning to face the outspoken headmaster. His smile was still on his face. However, something was slightly off about it. The way the corners of his lips rose made it look all the more predatory. “You already agreed to allow Wallace to choose the judges. So, unless you wish to forfeit…”

Drosselmeyer puckered his lips as he glanced to the other school heads. None seemed ready to jump to his support. With one last glare towards Anderson, he retook his seat.

“Good,” Anderson said. “We are all… sapient beings. I would have hated to announce that one of our illustrious schools withdrew on the grounds of classism. Our viewers might have found that distasteful.”

“Viewers?” Drosselmeyer asked in a far more subdued tone of voice.

“Of course! I forgot to mention that detail. If you don’t mind, Wallace.”

The leader of the Guild glared at him as if to ask why he couldn’t have waited just five more minutes. “Go right ahead,” he said through loosely clenched teeth.

“As you’re well aware,” Anderson said as he moved up to address the students. He kept his body slightly angled to keep the schoolmasters in view. “Brakket Academy has been under observation by the mundane news media, mostly because of our beautiful sky.”

Eva took a moment to roll her eyes.

“A few pillars of light in the past month renewed their interest. Rather than keeping them at arm’s length while such an event was going on, I decided to invite them in to observe. We’ve kept ourselves mysterious and hidden from mundanes despite them knowing about us for years. For too long. As such, I am pleased to announce that for the first time ever, the Interscholastic Competency Competition will be aired live over mundane news networks.”

Silence reigned over the gymnasium.

For about ten seconds.

Students and adults alike both burst into chatter. It grew loud enough that Eva could barely hear herself think. She couldn’t even pick out a single conversation to listen in. At least, not outside her table.

Shelby was poking Jordan in the side, asking if he knew about that bombshell. Juliana shrugged her shoulders while Shalise just sighed, saying something about her mother that Eva couldn’t quite catch with all the noise.

Eva wasn’t entirely sure what to think about it. She would have to take even more care not to be seen using blood magic. Not that she was planning on it during the actual events. However, if there were cameras around at other times, all it would take would be one nosy journalist sneaking through the Infinite Courtyard at the wrong time.

Three loud clicks echoed over the noise. They were loud enough to be almost deafening. Wallace must have some sort of enchantment on his cane.

“You’re all distracted, so I’ll skip over much of my speech. The first event will be next Saturday. Each school is to select three of its ten competitors.”

There was a bit of murmuring among the students at that proclamation. It died off with a glance from Wallace to the loudest group of students—those from the Faultline school, if Eva wasn’t mistaken.

“These three will not be allowed to participate in the second event, so choose wisely. Perhaps you’ll wish to select your top three students, or maybe save some of your best for the following event. The choice is yours. Further information will be given on the day of the event.”

He gave one last look around the room before turning and retaking his seat.

“Exciting, exciting,” Anderson said, his smile once again fit for a salesman. “Now, feel free to continue mingling or to disperse to your dormitories. The evening is yours to do with as you wish.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.001

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Everyone must be on their best behavior,” Saija said in a mocking tone of voice. It wasn’t hard to guess who she was mocking.

Anderson had been running around the entire school, snapping at anything out of place. Which, in his eyes, was just about everything and everyone. Especially anyone who had their uniforms crooked, ate messily, slacked off during class, or breathed too loudly. He had landscapers come in and tidy up every visible plant around Brakket.

Eva had been concerned that they might stumble across her fledgling ritual circle until she realized that visible just meant visible from the main building and the pathways in the Infinite Courtyard. They wouldn’t be going half as deep as her circle.

Construction crews had been working at all hours of the day and half the night just to repair the damage to the plaza fountain and the relatively minor damage to the dormitory buildings.

Eva’s blood-based floor replacement was still around. She got the feeling that it was one of the few things he was actually pleased with.

“Apparently, he changed his mind. We are not to display any inhuman characteristics unless told otherwise.” With an overly exaggerated sigh, Saija flopped over on the table, spreading her arms out against the surface. It wouldn’t be surprising if she went off and joined the drama club.

When she first sat down with them, Eva hadn’t recognized her. Without her wings, tail, and bright red eyes, Saija was just an exceptionally pretty human. She still felt like Saija. Eva got over her confusion relatively quickly once she realized that.

Not to mention the fact that she sat down with them and immediately started complaining. Humans, outside her group of friends, did not simply sit down for a casual chat at her table. If they approached at all, they would be timid and constantly shooting glances at Arachne.

Even with demons walking the halls on a regular basis, apparently Arachne was still intimidating enough to ward people away.

Looking around the hall, Eva found that every demon besides herself and Arachne were entirely human looking. Most had been human or human enough anyway, but many of the smaller characteristics had vanished. Horns and tails mostly. She could still feel them, so she knew where to look.

Of course, three demons weren’t anywhere to be seen. Technically four, if she included the deceased Timothy.

It was strange. She knew they were still around. She even knew who they had bound themselves to—three of the older members of the diablery class.

But she couldn’t feel them. Not even the slightest hint. And unless the human was actively channeling one of their demon’s powers, there wasn’t a single tell that she could pick up on from the outside. No changing eye color or sharpened teeth.

Which, really, she shouldn’t be surprised about. Though Shalise and Prax had somehow messed up their bond, Shalise had looked perfectly normal unless using Prax’s muscles.

The whole situation had made Eva somewhat self-conscious. Her first thought upon looking around and realizing that everyone was looking human was to wonder if she shouldn’t be wearing gloves and her blindfold again. Unlike all the demons around her, she couldn’t just magic away her demonic appearance. Neither could Arachne. If the two of them wanted to hide, they had to physically do so.

Her second thought was to screw that. The blindfold was annoying and the gloves uncomfortable. Her contacts had been obliterated along with her disguise when she had paid a visit to Martina, so they were out of the question as well.

The demons were likely to come out sooner or later. Why bother hiding what they were for a day or two.

And poor Saija was obviously thinking the same thing. Unfortunately for her, she had a contract requiring her to obey Anderson. The only way out of it was to get one of the human students to partner up with her, either as a bound familiar or a simpler contract.

In the week and a half since the demon hunters attacked, Saija had been sitting with them at lunch every single day. Always next to Irene. She followed her around and sat next to her in every single class.

The hinting could not be more obvious. Why Saija hadn’t just asked Irene to take up her contract was beyond Eva. Maybe the human had to initiate the request to make it valid. Or maybe she had asked and Irene declined.

But it wasn’t really any of Eva’s business. The succubus could go ahead and–

Her thoughts were cut off as the three tone pre-announcement chime played over the speakers.

“Evaleen Spencer, please report to the dean’s office immediately. Evaleen Spencer to the dean’s office.”

It took a great deal of effort not to grit her teeth. The new secretary had apparently not gotten the memo about her name.

Her anger dissipated with a short sigh. Something she never would have been able to do two years prior. She really didn’t know why she was getting so worked up. What did it matter what she was called. It had been forever since she last saw her father. With any luck, she wouldn’t see him again for the rest of his life.

“Ooh,” Juliana cooed. “Did you get in trouble again?”

“Doubt it,” Eva said as she stood. “Probably just wants me to make changes to the plaza. Maybe he decided he wants a pattern in it after all.”

Arachne stood along with Eva. As Eva expected of her.

Taking a moment, Eva checked her friend’s stomach. It still had a hole in it from the blade of the hunter. Every so often, Eva needed to readjust the hardened blood. The hole was healing and she didn’t want the blood to be in the way.

But it was so slow.

She could normally heal whole limbs in a week or so. A thin slit like the one in her stomach should have mended itself by the morning after.

All the more reason she had been lucky not to have her heart tube punctured.

“I guess I’ll see what he wants,” Eva said. “See you guys in class.”

With a wave of her hand, she stalked off through the cafeteria with Arachne at her heels.

Arachne being around was something of a great comfort. Eva didn’t like Dean Anderson half as much as she liked Martina and she really hadn’t liked Martina all that much. Being alone with him set her on edge for some reason. Probably just Catherine’s paranoia rubbing off on her.

Whenever Catherine had business around Brakket Academy, she always found an excuse to be escorted everywhere. Usually with Eva being the escort. Though she never said it directly, she was obviously trying to avoid being alone with Anderson. At least, that’s what Eva got from her fairly lame excuses. Often involving Eva sticking around her for some odd reason that didn’t make sense once the situation was over.

Such as asking Eva to walk with her so that they could discuss their upcoming ritual, only to not speak a word of it the entire time.

Thinking on the ritual brought up a flash of irritation. Though it was in the middle of November, the typical month for her treatment, Devon hadn’t said a word about her treatment until Eva asked him when they would be doing it. His response had been to shrug and say that they were delaying it. Possibly by as much as three months.

Ever since Arachne died and they had to use the new version of the ritual, there had been drastic changes to Eva after every one. The nubs on her forehead, the sharp teeth, her elongated tongue, and her blood to name a few. He was concerned that her body wouldn’t hold up to such rapid changes and, despite the danger in waiting, wanted to give her body more time to acclimatize to everything.

And that was in spite of Eva’s protests. She felt fine. Nothing hurt. Even a day after the treatment, she had felt fine. What acclimatizing did her body need to do?

But he was the expert. If he thought his precious test subject needed her rest, she really didn’t have much room to argue.

Eva pushed open the doors to the office area adjacent to the front lobby. The secretary—a distinguished older man with circular spectacles—glanced in her direction. As soon as his eyes met hers, he flinched back.

Something that just had Eva rolling her eyes. If Anderson was going to get a new secretary, he could at least get one that wasn’t uncomfortable around demons. The man should know better.

Though, maybe the secretary wasn’t all that bad. He looked mildly ashamed of himself as he cleared his throat. “The dean is in his office,” he said without a hint of a tremor in his voice. “You can go right in.”

“Thanks,” Eva said as she did just as he suggested.

“Ah, Eva.” Anderson turned around as the door to his office opened up. He had been standing next to the window, staring out into the afternoon light.

Martina’s office had been a dark environment. The window curtains were always closed and the overhead lights kept off. Her only source of lighting came from a desk lamp and a few standing lamps around the corners of the room. Her desk had usually had piles of paperwork mounted on top that never seemed to get any smaller.

The current office was almost completely opposite. Natural light poured in through the open window, joining up with the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling.

His desk was clear of all but a single pen and a sheet of paper. He might have cleared it just because he had called up Eva, but it could also be a sign that his secretary was actually doing his job. A stark contrast from the game-obsessed Catherine.

One more obvious difference caught Eva’s eye.

Anderson’s desk was just in front of the window, angled so that his back would be facing outside. He would face the door in a far more welcoming manner than Martina.

When she had been the dean, her desk had been tucked away in the corner. She still faced the door, but also faced her perpetually closed window. It felt far more paranoid than the welcoming of the current room.

“Please, come in,” he said with a gesture of his hand. “Have a seat.”

His eyes were locked solely on Eva, never once glancing over her shoulder to where she knew Arachne would be glowering at him. But she had no real reason to refuse, so she took the center of three chairs. Arachne stood behind her, not taking either of the empty seats. As she sat down, a thought occurred to her regarding just why Anderson might wish to speak with her.

“I’m not wearing gloves or a blindfold,” she said firmly, brokering no room for an argument.

Apparently, she had guessed wrong. Anderson frowned as his face changed from false pleasantry to confusion.

“I’m sorry?” he said after a moment of pondering.

“You told all the other demons to disguise themselves as humans,” Eva said, figuring she may as well continue with her line of thought. “I refuse.”

“Ah.” Anderson closed his eyes and gave a tiny shake of his head. “No, no, that isn’t why you’re here at all. The demons are as they are for one simple reason; I merely wished for our guests to not be too shocked upon their arrival.

“One or…” he trailed off, finally glancing towards Arachne for the first time since they entered the room, “or two abnormalities is far more palatable than a dozen.”

Well, that was good news. For a moment, she thought he was going to ask her to skip class and stay hidden for a few days. Something that Eva would have been opposed to in principle, but would have gone along with anyway to work more on the ritual site.

As it turned out, having an open-sky field was more troublesome for rituals than she had expected. It had rained the day after they started tracing out ritual lines, ruining much of their efforts. Mostly Juliana’s efforts as she was the one who could dig out deep troughs in the ground. Luckily, rain soaked into the ground, vanishing after doing only a little damage.

She would probably be a whole lot more irritated if it had been cold enough to snow.

As such, they had decided not to waste their time trying to dig more until Eva had the time to set up some protections against the weather.

Blood wards were neat things. They didn’t require much effort to set up. Just a little globule of blood being told to keep an area safe would have a sort of invisible mist spread through an area, killing anything not keyed into the ward. It needed a bit of blood as fuel, but not much.

Unfortunately, a blood ward did nothing to protect against falling rain or falling anything for that matter. It certainly hadn’t protected against the falling boulder that Genoa had dropped on the women’s ward during her first meeting with the former mage-knight.

She could put up a blood shield. She had done so during the aforementioned incident with Genoa. Such a shield was not cheap. With the area it needed to cover, she would be going through as much blood as currently made up the ground of the new plaza every week.

Probably. Rough estimates were hard when she had never done such a large shield for any real length of time.

Not really a tenable option unless she was willing to sacrifice huge numbers of people. Which she was, so long as they were the wrong sort of people. But even with her contact in Florida—whatever his name had been—Eva doubted that she would have enough people for more than few days of powering a shield of that magnitude.

Luckily, she had a third option. Thaumaturgy. Setting up such a large ward would be complicated, but not impossible. To make matters better, weather wards were among the simpler types and didn’t take much magic unless it was raining or snowing. Even then, the magic required was mostly negligible. Stopping by once a day to ensure that it was topped off should be plenty.

Eva was planning on trying to conjure up a ward as soon as school ended for the day. She hadn’t ever done a weather ward as part of class, but how hard could it be?

Anderson clearing his throat snapped Eva out of her thoughts. He stared at her, clearly expecting a response to a question that Eva had not been paying attention to.

“Sorry,” Eva said, shaking her head. “What did you say?”

“I said that I called you here to ask about this,” he said with a frown as he tapped the sheet of paper on his desk.

Eva leaned forward to read it as he continued speaking.

“You didn’t sign up for the interscholastic–”

Cutting him off with a wave of her hand, Eva slid the sign-up sheet away from her. There were several names written down. More than she had honestly expected. A number of perfectly normal humans—mostly those in the top two years of school—along with all three of the former diablery students who had taken on demons.

Saija had put her name down for whatever reason, just above Irene’s name. Both names were in the same handwriting and Eva was betting that the handwriting hadn’t come from Irene’s hand. Shalise, Shelby, and Jordan were all missing from the list while Juliana’s name had been crossed out.

Eva distinctly remembered hearing Juliana complain for a few days about how her parents didn’t want her participating.

A few other demons aside from Saija were listed as well. Some on their own, but a few on the same line as human names in parentheses. Bound demons and their contractors, most likely.

“I’m really not interested,” Eva said, keeping her voice polite yet firm.

“After the show you put on last week, and several other events that Martina made me aware of before her untimely passing, I’m afraid I really must insist.”

“Show?” Eva said through grit teeth. “You mean when I skewered a man with crystallized demon blood and blew it up to the point where nothing but his legs remained?”

Anderson winced ever so slightly.

“I didn’t realize this contest would be so vicious and that killing the other schools’ competitors was the goal.”

“It certainly isn’t the goal. It isn’t even an option.”

He sighed, sliding into his chair. “Eva, I know you’re smarter than that. You’re a powerful mage as clearly evidenced by your various altercations with enemies of Brakket Academy. Participating would go a great deal towards ensuring Brakket’s victory.”

“I thought this tournament was to show off our school, what we learn, and how it stacks up to the other schools around America.”

“That’s all true,” Anderson said, dipping his head in an agreeable nod.

“Then I should be the last one to participate. Nothing I do has come from this school. I’m a few months into my third year of instruction. In thaumaturgy, I think I’m right where I should be. Juliana is far ahead of me in that respect. You should be speaking with her instead of me.”

“As soon as we are done here, I will be calling her and her parents in to discuss just that.”

“Outside thaumaturgy,” Eva continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “I have a handful of demonic traits. Which I could ignore and participate with. It might even be representative of Brakket Academy. Especially if you make demons a more permanent fixture.”

“That is the plan.”

“Demons are one thing, but I consider myself primarily a blood mage. I can’t imagine that would be a subject coming to Brakket anytime soon.”

“No, certainly not. In fact, that is another topic I wished to discuss.” He clasped his hands together and looked over the top of his fingers with his elbows on his desk. “I must ask that you do not use blood magic while the other schools are in the area.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

And that was the honest truth. Being a diabolist did not automatically make one a murderer. The same wasn’t true about blood magic. While her demonic secrets had pretty much all come out over the course of her school days, she was quite pleased that her blood magic was still a secret to most people.

Even her fairly public use of blood magic when she had killed the hunter wasn’t obviously blood magic. Most humans saw black liquid and didn’t make the connection with blood. Given the size of the pool, who would ever think it was blood? Even if they suspected, she could claim that it was a demonic trait that allowed her to control it.

Which, for all Eva knew, was the truth. She hadn’t dipped her dagger into the blood. It had heeded her commands without any bloodstones touching it. Though it was a useless point to consider. Not a single person had commented about it while Eva could hear.

Though a number of people had started avoiding her. More than normal, anyway. Probably because she had publicly killed a man. Though it was a clear case of self defense.

“Good,” Anderson said with a smile as he put his hands down into his lap. “Now, about signing up…”

Eva let out a long groan as her mind searched for some other excuse to skip out on the stupid contest. Anderson was giving her a feeling that he would keep pressing no matter what she said.

“You haven’t even told anyone what the contest is going to entail. I have so many things to be doing and zero time to study for written exams or whatever this is going to be.”

“No one is going to be told until after the other schools arrive. There will be a large feast on Sunday night where most of the details will be announced. I will say that it is nothing so boorish as exams.”

“It isn’t going to be something like fighting dragons or finding your way through a trap-filled maze, is it?” Both of which sounded far better than exams, but still not things that Eva wanted to do.

Anderson just gave a slight shake of his head before sliding the paper over towards her. He dropped the pen right on top of it.

Eva sighed, glancing towards Arachne and getting nothing but a shrug in return. She could keep fighting against Anderson, but missing golemancy would be annoying. Sitting here staring at his unpleasant smile, Eva very much doubted that he cared how many classes she had to miss.

Whatever, she thought as she picked up the pen. It’s not like this is a binding contract.

Fae could make a binding contract, but this obviously was not one. There were no contract details. Just a simple note at the top saying what the sign up sheet was for. And there were more than ten names. Unless Brakket Academy had some home-school advantage and could field a lot more students than the other schools, some of these people wouldn’t be chosen to participate.

Demons could also form a contract, but their contracts weren’t written ones. If a demon wrote down the terms of their contract, it was more to get a full look at what was being agreed upon before actually committing.

“Happy now?” Eva said, dropping her pen. “If this contest is tedious, I’ll skip it. Find a way to force me to and I’ll deliberately sabotage our school.”

“Don’t worry,” Anderson said, smiling as he took the paper back, “I’m sure you’ll find it both entertaining and enjoyable.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.026

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“This is a disaster.”

Eva took her eyes off Arachne for the first time since the hunter died and the doll ran off. She had plugged every injury that was bleeding, either stopping the blood completely or bridging the gap between veins with solidified blood. Of course, apart from patching them up a little bit, Eva couldn’t do all that much to fix Arachne’s internal organs.

Then again, Eva wasn’t sure how much they mattered. Her brain and heart tube were still intact. So the important parts were alright. But her stomach had a gaping hole in it. Eva had never seen Arachne eat, so it probably wasn’t a huge deal, but having whole organs had to be better than damaged ones.

However, the demon seemed to be alright at the moment. Not in danger of dying at least.

More importantly, a certain someone was walking towards them.

Governor—or Dean Anderson walked across the lake of blood. Though, Eva just about started laughing as she watched him.

He, like most of Brakket Academy’s staff, wore a suit. In order to keep the suit clean, he was walking while hiking up his trousers. More than that, he was tiptoeing across, trying to keep his shoes up and out of the liquid as much as possible. With his hands on his legs and his tiptoeing, the way he walked was almost more of a waddle than anything.

Stopping at the damaged fountain not far from Eva, he lifted one foot up on the ledge before releasing the leg of his trousers. He took hold of a small bit of rubble with his now freed hand, turning it over.

One side was obviously brick. The same material that made up most of the courtyard. As he turned it over, it glinted in the sun. The opposite side was a smooth and shiny glass surface.

The basin of the fountain had been destroyed by the doll. However, now that Eva was actually looking at it, the actual fountain itself was still intact. Functional, even. It spewed liquid out the top.

Black liquid.

Eva couldn’t be sure if she had turned the water to blood or if the damaged basin had let in enough blood to stain the water. Either way, she actually somewhat liked the effect.

And if it stayed like that—if Anderson didn’t clean it out, it could be a handy supply of blood in case the school was attacked again. It wouldn’t last. Open air preservation of blood was difficult. Her vials kept it nice and fresh for a good amount of time, but the fountain would be unusable after a few days. So not a real solution.

Fun to think about though.

After a moment of examining the rock, he set it down carefully so as to not splash the pool of blood. Hiking up his pants again, he started waddling towards Eva and Arachne.

“This,” he said as he got closer, “is a disaster.”

“I heard you the first time.”

Eva narrowed her eyes, waiting for Anderson to start laying blame at her feet for the mess the courtyard was in.

It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t Arachne’s fault either. If anything, they had saved the school from far worse damage. Not to mention all the demons that the hunters would likely have torn through.

While the demons were demons without a doubt, they weren’t… too scary. From watching them since they arrived, Eva got the distinct impression that all of them were relatively young. They grew excited about things that Eva couldn’t even imagine demons like Catherine or Arachne blinking an eye at. And they socialized. Perhaps not the way a human would, but they still seemed almost eager to be around people.

Well, except for Srey. Eva had a feeling that his particular abilities made him far more paranoid than the rest of the demons.

They, as a group, had dispatched hunters before arriving. Eva couldn’t guess how dangerous those hunters had been.

Eva glanced over, staring at the remains of the hunter she had just killed. Given how much trouble he had given Arachne, Genoa, the doll, and herself, she was willing to assume that he was a step above the hunters that the demons had fought before their arrival.

Of course, had they not cowered away from the doll, the fight might have ended with far less difficulty.

Or they might have all died.

Hard to tell. However, should anyone ask, Eva was going to claim that she had saved all of them.

“We need to clean this up,” he said, interrupting Eva’s thoughts. “With your specialty lying in…” he trailed off, glancing at the blood on the floor, “all of this, might I ask for more of your help getting rid of it?”

She blinked, not quite expecting that. She had been expecting something like, ‘how could you have let this happen? Why did you destroy half the plaza? Your blood is everywhere!’ To which she would have mentioned something about not seeing Anderson anywhere around, helping out.

“The representatives from other schools are arriving next weekend. I need this place presentable.” Dropping his pant legs, he reached out and touched the web wall. After a sigh, he turned to face the giant earthen wall that had risen up around the Rickenbacker. “What am I going to do,” he mumbled.

Eva bit her lip. Now she was actually feeling a little sorry for the man. Not guilty, just sorry. He wasn’t blaming her and had even asked for her help.

“I could get rid of the blood,” she said slowly. With her control over it, that shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, how was the big question. She didn’t have anywhere to store this much blood. Leaving it out would render it useless soon enough. She supposed that she could clap her hands and be rid of most of it instantly, taking care not to kill herself, Arachne, or Anderson.

“But the ground beneath is quite a mess as well,” she continued part of her thoughts aloud. Blowing it up would only make that worse. “Especially where the sky crack hit. Maybe…”

Eva started to smile as a thought occurred to her.

The surface of the blood was perfectly still. Smooth and glass-like. It covered almost the entire courtyard between the dormitories. With a thought, she spread some of the blood out, evening the distance with the fountain as the main center point.

Starting at her feet, Eva hardened the blood. It crystallized, becoming as solid as the claws she had used against the hunter. The crystal portion crawled across the ground, growing larger and larger until the entirety of the blood had solidified into a smooth surface.

Eva grinned. It resembled obsidian. Black glass. She doubted there was anything like it in the world. Even if a solid chunk of obsidian existed at this size, this was made of demon blood. Which, in her opinion, was much better.

“Looks nice, right?” she said, turning towards Anderson. “I can’t do anything about the stone pillars. Genoa could probably…”

Anderson was looking around the landscape with a look a horror on his face. Though that horror was slowly receding to a more thoughtful expression as he crossed an arm over his chest and brought the other up to his chin.

Eva barely paid attention to him beyond that cursory glance. Apart from herself, Arachne, Anderson, and a certain hunter’s legs, the courtyard was empty. Nobody had emerged from either dormitory. Something that would be difficult for most people inside the Rickenbacker given the giant earthen shield blocking the entire front.

With the fight over, she had expected Genoa to have emerged at least.

But there weren’t any windows in the earthen shield. No way for Genoa to know that the fighting had ended. Something that Eva felt was a huge oversight.

What if things had gone poorly?

What if the hunter had circled around to enter the building through another entrance? Or if he had gone towards the Gillet?

Blocking herself off completely was simply irresponsible. More importantly, it wasn’t something Eva believed Genoa would do.

With a worry building in her mind, Eva started to walk away.

“Wait,” Anderson said, finally letting his pants down and getting off the tips of his toes. There were small indents where he had been standing. Things Eva could fix later, along with the spots where Arachne and the remains of the hunter were. “Where are you going?”

“Genoa isn’t here,” Eva said, not stopping. “She might be in trouble.”

“I’m coming with you,” Arachne said, trying to get on her feet.

This time, Eva did stop. She turned with a shake of her head. “You focus on getting better.”

Turns out that she needn’t have stopped. Arachne wobbled on her feet, trying to maintain balance. A futile effort. She overcorrected and fell flat on her face with a growl.

“Mr. Anderson, ensure Arachne comes to no more harm and I’ll help you do whatever you want with this,” Eva said, waving her hand around the plaza.

Without waiting for a response, she turned and ran towards the Rickenbacker.

Not directly towards it, of course. She couldn’t phase through the stone wall. Neither was her earth magic up to taking it down. But there should be doors around the sides. The webbed net posed no obstacle to her blinking past it.

There was a door on the side of the building. A good distance away. Windows were much closer. Eva blinked straight into an occupied hallway. Eva ignored the students—possibly first years judging by their shorter heights, wide-open eyes, and screams as they ran back into their rooms—choosing to run straight for the stairwell she had last seen Genoa in.

She skidded to a stop on the second floor landing, just in front of the large window they had all been looking out from earlier.

The good news was that Genoa was still there. Unfortunately, she wasn’t standing.

Genoa had collapsed with her back against the window. Her head had dropped to her chest with her eyes closed. However, she was breathing. Her heart was beating. Without any obvious injuries, Eva had to assume that she had simply pushed herself too much. Between managing that golem and creating the wall that obscured the window, it wasn’t hard to guess how.

“Genoa?” Eva asked in a quiet voice from several paces away. She didn’t want to startle the former mage-knight. She was liable to get her head chopped off thanks to Genoa’s instincts and reflexes.

Sure enough, that single word was enough for Genoa to snap both her eyes open and her focus up. She held her hand out, keeping the tip of her dagger steady as her eyes focused on Eva.

“Eva,” she said, dropping her arm back to her side. “I see you’re alive.”

“I am. The hunter in the courtyard isn’t doing nearly as well. The other hunter ran away. Again.”

With Genoa’s focus down and the woman recognizing her, Eva finally felt safe to approach a few more steps.

“We should get you to a nurse. I don’t want to explain to Juliana why her mother died of exhaustion.”

As soon as Eva was close enough, Genoa’s hand shot out again. This time, lacking her focus. Her fist gripped the front of Eva’s shirt before she had a chance to react.

“Where is Juliana?”

Eva winced at the harsh tone of voice. “She’s fine. I left her on the roof where we fought the other hunter. Not a scratch on her.”

“Alone?”

Wincing again, Eva nodded her head.

“You didn’t think the hunter might return?” Genoa pushed Eva back, releasing her shirt. “Go find her. Ensure she’s safe.”

“But you’re–”

“I can handle myself. Get out of here.”

With the glare Genoa was giving Eva, she didn’t try arguing again. As before, she ran up the stairs. She skipped over her hallway this time. The clothes and equipment she had on already would work just fine.

Now that she was running, she realized Genoa was right. Leaving Juliana alone was stupid. How could she have done such a thing? Even if the crippled hunter didn’t come back, she knew that other hunters were in the area. Someone might come along to check out what had happened with that second sky cracking.

Juliana was human, but would a hunter stop to ask? Probably not.

Eva reached the roof and immediately started blinking through the air. Having just done this, it wasn’t difficult to follow her path back. Thanks to Juliana having already destroyed all the shackles, navigating through the remaining wards wasn’t an issue.

She stopped on the first roof. Saija was still lying on her stomach with a slowly melting shard of ice sticking out of her back.

Eva paused in her rush to find Juliana. On one hand, Juliana could be in trouble.

On the other… Saija was looking pitiful. Very pitiful. And she had saved Eva from the first set of shackles, if only because she had delivered Juliana.

So Eva nudged the fallen succubus with the tip of her foot. “How are you doing?”

“Oh, just fine,” the succubus drawled without turning her head to face Eva. “This roof was so comfortable I thought I would just lie here a little longer.”

“In that case,” Eva said, starting to walk away.

“Wait! You can’t just leave me here! What if those hunters come back?”

“One is dead. The other hasn’t come back?”

Eva sighed. That was good news. If nobody had been around, Juliana should still be safe.

No longer in quite the rush, Eva knelt. Pressing one hand on Saija’s back, she gripped the icicle and yanked it out of her in a single twist of her hand.

Saija shouted out, clawing at the roof. “That hurts!”

“Oh quit being such a baby.”

Eva stood, inspecting the wound. She could block off the blood vessels and keep her from bleeding out, but it didn’t actually seem to be bleeding that much. Maybe the ice had helped close off the punctured veins or maybe that was just natural demonic healing at work.

Either way, Eva shrugged her shoulders.

“It missed your spine. You shouldn’t be paralyzed or anything.”

“I hurt when I try to move.”

“Well, just sit tight here then. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve found Juliana.”

The succubus started to protest, but Eva ignored it as she walked away. Following her path across the rooftops, Eva reached the partially destroyed, partially glassed building.

The roof was empty. No Juliana. No metal-encased idol.

But that wasn’t surprising. Nothing to worry about. Juliana wouldn’t have wanted to stick around on an unstable roof. She would have gone down inside, maybe even down to street level.

“Juliana!” Eva called out as she leaned over the edge of the roof.

No Juliana down on the street. No answer either. She must be inside.

Eva dropped down into the main building, landing roughly where she and Juliana had landed after the crack in the sky. Landing elsewhere could be dangerous. In fact, moving through the building could be dangerous. The kind of dangerous that wound up with her stuck in shackles.

And if Juliana was in trouble, it might be some time before someone came along to free her. A potentially deadly situation should the shackles drain her as the other shackles tried to do to her.

“Juliana,” Eva called out again.

This time, she actually heard something in response. Nothing clear. A mumbled noise coming from somewhere below.

The staircase leading up to the roof had fallen with the blast. The way down from whatever floor Eva was on looked more or less intact.

Unfortunately, she spotted several demon shackles just waiting for some poor demon to try to walk up it without glancing above them. They were much easier to notice while facing the stairwell from the wrong direction. However, they spoke of just how on guard she would have to be while walking through the building. Or any of the buildings around.

If she had her cellphone on her, she might have called up Irene to see if she could get a human walking her through the area. At the very least, Irene should be able to scuff up the shackles enough to break them.

Not a choice at the moment, sadly.

Eva overpowered a fireball, throwing it right at the shackle before it exploded. When it did go off, it took most of the ceiling with it.

Surprising, given the difficulty in destroying the shackles within the apartment building. Perhaps they hadn’t had time to make them difficult to remove. Though they had managed to set up all the other wards that littered the rooftops.

“Oh well,” Eva mumbled to herself. “No complaints here.”

She carefully descended the staircase, checking every nook and cranny for more shackles. Even underneath the handrail and the vertical slat on each stair. Rubble from the ceiling of the stairs or the roof itself littered the landing, nearly causing her to miss another set of shackles.

This time, she tried a far less explosive fireball. Just enough to chip into the concrete platform and disrupt the shackles.

She made it all the way down to the first floor.

And promptly froze.

“Am I glad to see you,” Juliana said.

Eva wasn’t sure what to say in response.

A half-sphere of water sat in front of her. Somewhat like an above-ground swimming pool. Except there were no walls. The water was entirely held in by magic.

Wards.

Juliana stood inside it, feet about an arm’s length away from the ground, standing on a pillar of metal. Her pillar let her stick out from her chest up, but she had clearly fallen in at least once. She was soaked from head to toe.

Obviously, given her toes were underwater.

The pillar was probably made of her armor; she was only wearing her regular clothes at the moment. The only metal on her was her ring foci and Ylva’s black band.

The metal-encased idol was lying on the floor right next to the metal pillar.

Eva reached out, about to touch the bubble of water.

“Don’t!”

Juliana’s shout had her pull her hand back, clutching it to her chest.

“What if you got stuck in here? How would we get out then?”

“I’m just confused as to how you managed to fall into this trap?”

In slow motion because of the water, Juliana placed a hand on her hip. “It wasn’t full of water when I walked in. I didn’t see a thing until I ran into an invisible wall. Then it started to fill with water.” She paused, lifting a hand out of the water. Her hand hit something about a foot over her head, roughly twice as high as the water level. “I’m glad somebody showed up before it finished filling. I was about to try summoning a demon.”

She pointed down at her feet. As she lifted one foot out of the way, Eva found a mostly formed summoning circle had been etched into the top of the pillar.

“Of course,” Juliana continued in a quieter mumble, “probably would have gotten an enigma which would have just killed me. Better than drowning though. Even if I got a demon, no room for shackles here.”

“Don’t worry about either. I’m going to get you out of there.”

An easy statement to make. Much harder to follow through with. Now she was wishing she had a phone to call up Professor Lepus. The warding professor should be able to tear it down in the time it took to snap her fingers.

“How fast has it been filling?”

“Fast enough that I’d rather get out now than later.”

“You didn’t think to call someone once you got trapped?”

Juliana pulled a cellphone out of her pocket. One long dead from the water.

“Was the first thing I thought of once I realized I was trapped. Unfortunately, the water was rushing in much faster then. Enough to knock me down.” She dropped the phone with a shrug. It sank down alongside the idol and her pillar. “I honestly thought I would drown before I even had a chance to form the summoning circle,” she said.

Faster before, but now the water was slowing? The ward is running out of magic. Or maybe not the ward but whatever is filling it with magic, Eva thought, slowly circling around the bubble.

She kept a careful eye out for any shackles as she moved.

Packing both the invisible wall and the water conjuring into the same ward wasn’t impossible. Difficult maybe. Especially for someone who had only been in the class as long as Eva. But probably difficult for others as well.

With the staggering amount of wards and shackles around the place, Eva couldn’t imagine that they would have gone with the more complicated and more time-consuming route of wrapping both effects up into a single spell. They would have built everything within the last hour or so, or people might have noticed. Two people did all that. Maybe a few more if they had recruited the hunters who were attacking Nel and Ylva.

They had to have made mistakes in their castings. Eva doubted that the water conjuration was supposed to have given time to escape.

“Maybe it will run out of magic soon,” Eva said, mostly to herself.

Apparently Juliana heard. “I’d rather not take that chance.”

“Right.”

Eva considered going back up the stairs and finding a decently sized bit of rebar and having Juliana smack it against the top of the shell for a while. But if the shell and the water were separate as Eva suspected, the shell could last for a very long time before running out of magic enough to release Juliana.

She would have to try deconstructing the ward.

It was simple in theory. Being able to tear down their own thaumaturgical wards was one of the first things taught. Otherwise the teacher would have to go around and dispel everybody’s practice wards every single time they went into class.

Professor Lepus had warned them never to tear down other people’s wards. It was possible to build traps into the things that activated upon attempts to break them. From simple things such as alarms to full on explosions.

But in the hunters’ haste to erect these defenses, would they have put more time and effort into trapping them?

Eva reached out again, keeping her hand hovering just above the bubble. She channeled her magic through her fingers as if she were conjuring a fireball. Instead of flames, she forced the magic into the shell.

All while focusing on the level of the water.

The water did not significantly rise from her added magic.

“Excellent.” She could toy around for a moment without accidentally drowning Juliana.

Forcing her magic into the bubble again, Eva waited just a moment before yanking it back. Much like removing excess hair with a strip of hot wax paper. Or so went the example Professor Lepus had used; Eva had never had a bikini wax in her life. They sounded painful.

Also, since about a half an hour ago, entirely unnecessary given her lack of hair.

Eva held her breath, waiting and watching.

No explosions. She was taking that as a good sign.

Trying again and a third time, Eva smiled.

A leak had formed in the shell.

“I see the water going out,” Juliana said slowly, “but it’s up to my shoulders now.” Her voice had just a tinge of panic in it. “And still rising. I can make my pedestal bigger, but not by much.”

Eva grit her teeth. Is it trapped then? Or worse, is it intended to cause slow and painful drowning? These hunters were terrible, if so. Still terrible anyway, but worse. Absolutely sadistic.

“Just hold on a minute,” Eva said, pouring more and more magic into the shell.

She tore it all away, peeling it back. More cracks were forming. More water escaping.

“My chin, Eva.”

As she had said she could do, Juliana’s pillar stretched, growing slightly narrower at the top. The water level moved from her chin back to her shoulders as her head bumped into the top of the ward.

“Working as fast as I can,” Eva said, continuing to rip apart the shell.

“Eva…”

“When this thing shatters, try not to get washed into another ward.”

“Gee, okay. That’s first on my priority list at the moment!”

The water had risen back to her chin despite the additional cracks in the shell.

“If you get washed into another one, I’ll have to do this all over again. And maybe it will be fire instead of water.”

Juliana grimaced without speaking. She had to tilt her head back to try to keep her mouth above the water line.

As she continued ripping apart the ward, Eva considered something. It might not have been designed to speed up because she was ripping apart the barrier. The fact of the matter was that the shell was in the shape of a sphere. Beyond the half-way point, for every inch the water level rose, less water would need to exist to fill the next inch.

That didn’t really help much, but at least she knew that she wasn’t fueling some trap.

Feeding in enough of her magic to detonate several of her most explosive fireballs, Eva tore it away in a single jerk of her hands.

It started around the middle. Water exploded outwards in a ring. The rest of the water held its shape for just a moment. All at once, that sphere failed. The ring traveled upwards and downwards, letting the water collapse in on itself as it rushed to fill the rest of the first floor.

It was enough water to almost knock Eva off her feet.

Juliana, being in the water, did exactly as Eva had asked her not to and started to head towards where she knew another ward was waiting.

Eva snapped a hand out, grabbing Juliana’s arm. Her other hand wrapped around Juliana’s waist.

As soon as her arms were around Juliana, Eva stopped fighting the water and let it sweep her backwards. The stairs were already clear of traps. She could fall towards them all she wanted.

Juliana coughed a few times, sputtering out a bit of water.

She didn’t speak.

Neither of them did. They just sat, soaked to the bone. Eva had her arms wrapped around Juliana while the other girl coughed every once in a while.

As the water settled—save for a weak fountain floating in the middle of the air where the bubble had been—Eva gently shoved Juliana off.

“Let’s not do that again, shall we?”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.012

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Vague directions, as it turned out, were not the best ways to find people. Especially not people who were spying on Eva and probably knew that she was on her way to find them. Given the time it had taken to gather everyone up, their spy would have had plenty of time to move.

Srey ended up bringing everyone to a stop in an alley some distance from the school.

“This is the spot.”

Eva glanced around, looking for any sign that someone had been around. Her sense of blood wasn’t picking anything up. Neither people nor droplets left behind from cuts or other injuries.

“Here,” Arachne said. She had crouched down, running her long fingers against the ground.

Her fingers were just a few inches away from touching a small metallic emblem. Its silver sheen stuck out against the darker colored ground. There was nothing obviously anti-demon about the simple eye-shaped symbol on the front. But best to err on the side of caution. Especially given the fact that it was metal.

Eva didn’t need to tell Arachne not to touch it. Though she was too close for comfort. With how much the apartment room had been trapped for Ylva, there could be traps lying around for anyone approaching. But Eva couldn’t see any on the walls or ground, so there probably wasn’t much cause for worry. At least on that front.

Touching it was an entirely different matter.

Juliana came up alongside Eva and Arachne, squatting down at their sides. Most of her armor was under her clothes. Still, Eva slid over just a small bit, making a little more room.

Her armor was the perfect example of why she didn’t want to touch the emblem. It was still made up of the metal that had broken off the demon hunter’s armor. No matter what shape it was in, the metal still hurt. While possible it was some lingering enchantment, it was far more likely that the effect came from the metal itself. Something specifically designed to hurt demons. Zoe had a sample that she was investigating, but nothing much had come of it so far.

The small bit Juliana had claimed turned black had a certain resemblance to void metal that was not lost on Eva.

But that had been silver in coloration before changing. This emblem was bright glittery gold.

“We should destroy it,” Eva said before anyone else could offer their input.

“Without investigating it? What if it is important?”

Eva glanced over to Vektul and shook her head. “You usually don’t leave important things lying around. Not to mention, it has an eye on it. We already know that they are spying on us. Perhaps there is information that they cannot glean through whatever methods they are using. Giving this to someone to look at might just reveal more than we want. Touching it might put some curse on us so that even if we destroyed it later, they could still spy.”

“What if it could be reversed? We could spy on them then.”

A possibility. Eva couldn’t dispute that. However, they already had Nel. Her ability penetrated almost any wards. In fact, the only things that could block it would be whatever Sawyer had done to Del and whatever Lynn Cross did—something that was exclusive to the higher-ups in the Elysium Order. Both methods involved the Elysium Order’s eyes.

Well, that and Ylva’s domain. The way domains interacted with the mortal realm while anchored was odd, occupying the same space at the same time. But the demon hunters probably didn’t have access to a domain.

Juliana had mentioned that they were being spied upon the other night, but Eva hadn’t had time to do much about it. Hopefully their method of spying could be blocked through use of her anti-scrying packets. It was a task she planned on working on in the evening. She could slap a packet on Srey and see if he noticed anything.

For now though, Eva just shook her head again. “Not worth it. Also don’t say anything secret while around here,” Eva said, glancing towards Srey. He gave a small nod of his head. “They might hear through it; they’re still watching us. And watch for ambushes.”

As soon as Eva mentioned the possibility of ambushes, Juliana dropped into a combat stance. The metal molded from mostly covering her to completely encasing her. Her head swiveled around as she looked for any sign of impending attack, making her neck look odd where the hard metal of her head and shoulders flowed into liquid metal.

Eva doubted the actions were really necessary. She could see humans through walls for a decent distance. If anyone was around the immediate area, she would have warned them. However, it was good that someone was vigilant. Arachne barely glanced around and Vektul just cocked his head to one side.

Just because she couldn’t see anyone around didn’t mean that they couldn’t attack her. Teleporting in was a possibility. So was some attack dropped on them from above. It was good that the Elysium Order took a ‘not my job’ stance on demons.

Eva did not really want to face that laser beam from the sky again.

But how to destroy the emblem? Her explosions might be good for wood and other, more fragile materials. A small bit of metal would probably just be knocked around rather than take any real damage. And she doubted that she would be able to form a flame hot enough to melt it much.

Since Sawyer’s death and the events immediately after, Eva had become far more wary about using her own blood for frivolous tasks. Especially if she thought she might be fighting soon, which was a possibility at the moment. She had almost passed out after rescuing Lucy from the demon hunter’s clutches.

Of course, she did have a few vials of Arachne’s blood. Again, the possibility of a fight in the near future was quite high. Best to save it for immediate threats.

Demons all used their bare hands to fight. So long as they were counting out touching the emblem, the demons were out as well.

Leaving just one person.

“Juliana,” Eva said, glancing in her friend’s direction.

The sudden sound gave the girl a small start, but she quickly got over it.

“Yes?”

“Can you pull this apart into small pieces?”

Even if it wasn’t violently split apart, it should be enough to destroy most magic on the metal.

Juliana crouched down and reached out towards the emblem. She paused, pulling back after a moment with a shake of her head.

“I’d have to touch it. I can’t– My mom could. We’d have to go–”

Eva put a hand on Juliana’s shoulder, suppressing the wince as her hand started melting. She only kept it there long enough for Juliana to stop talking. Removing her hand was almost as painful. Wisps of smoke came off Eva’s hand.

She ignored it for the moment. Clenching her fist shut solved the problem. Her own natural healing—something Eva had discovered in the recent weeks since her last treatment—would take care of it. It wouldn’t be quick as she wasn’t quite on Arachne’s level of regeneration, but a few boils were well within her ability to heal.

She doubted that she would be able to grow back a full limb.

“Try. You’re the best student in our class. You’ve been using magic since long before school started. You decided to specialize in ferrokinesis. If anyone can do it, you can. No fancy shapes. No delicate molding. Just break it apart.”

That shouldn’t be too hard, right? Eva actually had no idea. Her own earthen talents were far from the best. Definitely not nearly good enough to manipulate metal to the degree that Juliana could. She was casually learning air magic first.

If she had thought that learning pyrokinesis was a nightmare, air was another monster entirely.

While Eva was considering their respective specializations, Juliana had stretched her hand out again. The metal around her face had partially melted away, revealing a face scrunched up in concentration. Her eyes were open and narrowed in a tight glare as she chewed on the edge of her lip.

Eva almost offered a few more words of encouragement. She refrained, choosing to remain silent. As it was, she didn’t want to break that intense concentration.

Instead, Eva concentrated as well. Maybe if she could get the walls to start bleeding, she could use that blood. It was odd that she could use it at all given that it hadn’t ever run through the veins of a living being—to her knowledge at least—but Eva wasn’t about to complain. The greatest limitation to blood magic, aside from the cost of bloodstones, was actual blood. If she could get around it, all the better.

A metallic ting echoed through the alley.

“Ah,” Juliana said, accompanying the ting. A wide grin grew on her face. “I did it!”

Broken out of her thoughts, Eva smiled at her friend.

The emblem had a clean split straight down the center. All without Juliana even moving her hand closer than a few inches.

“Good job. Can you split it again? Maybe a few more times?”

“I… think so.” She paused with a shake of her head. “Yes. Yes I can.”

It took another minute, but Juliana split half of the half. Thirty seconds later had her splitting the other half. Every time she tried, she got faster. By the time five minutes had passed, she had turned the badge-sized emblem into a few chunks and some coarse dust.

“We shouldn’t just leave it here,” she said once nothing significant remained. “It’s enchantments should be broken right? Would it be a good idea to absorb it into my armor?”

“Can you keep it separate? Or, better yet, just float it in front of you? So long as its enchantments are gone, we can deliver it to Zoe for further examination.”

“Let me try.”

As she got to work, Eva got up and headed over towards Srey. “They still watching us?”

Srey, despite Eva asking her not to, gave a slight bow before speaking. “It stopped as soon as you said not to say anything secret. It hasn’t started up again. I can point out roughly where the watching was happening, if you want.”

It might be tempting to chase this person down, but so long as they couldn’t block their sight, it would be almost impossible. They would leave and potentially set up traps on their way out before Eva could make it to them. Maybe something a lot more dangerous than whatever this emblem had been.

Since Srey couldn’t find them while they weren’t looking, it gave them plenty of opportunity to hide or rest. They would only be found when they were ready to be found. Probably with a whole lot more traps as well.

In the end, Eva shook her head. “No. But when we get back to school, make sure you go around and let every other demon know that they could be under surveillance at any moment by demon hunters.”

“Me?” Whatever reverence Srey had for Eva was out the window in an instant. He backed up, looking disgusted. “Most of them should already know. We did kill a few groups already. I don’t see why I–”

“Before you all came here, there was another demon around Brakket. Don’t know if you know him, but he went by Zagan.”

Srey drew in a sharp breath, giving Eva a reason to smile.

So he does know him.

Vektul, standing nearby, didn’t react in the slightest. Not even with a tilt of his head. Eva wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret that.

“A pair of demon hunters came into town. One fought Zagan all by himself while the other went on and killed half the demons around Brakket before finally being driven off.” Possibly dead, Eva didn’t bother adding. Her tale was scarier without that bit of information. If by some stroke of luck she had survived, it would be better for him to be wary anyway.

“You might notice that Zagan is no longer around. No one has resummoned him since he was defeated. The human walked away. I can almost guarantee that you guys haven’t fought against that group of demon hunters.”

Eva was absolutely confident that Zagan had been messing around and his hubris led to his defeat more than anything, but the end result was the same.

“So please, do as I ask. Perhaps relay that bit of information about Zagan as well.”

In the meantime, Eva had her own allies that needed to be informed about the situation.

He didn’t argue again, but he didn’t look very happy at being ordered around. Or maybe it was because he had found out that Zagan used to be around. Or that Zagan was defeated. Whatever the case, Eva didn’t much care.

Turning over to Juliana, Eva found her wand out in her hand with an amalgamation of metal hanging off the tip. The wand was odd. Normally Juliana used her rings almost exclusively. Though, thinking about it for a moment longer, it made some sense. The school required her to use a wand. She learned spells with it. Though Eva had no use for a focus, she knew that wands were easier to use than just about anything else.

The metal was all back together, but it wasn’t quite floating.

At least she wasn’t touching it with her hands or anything.

“Let’s get that to Zoe. Hopefully she has a secure place to hold it.” Her little pocket dimension would probably work if nothing else.

Every week that passed gave Eva just a little more paranoia. Nothing would happen one week so it had to happen the next. But nothing happened the next week either.

Her anti-scrying packets had an effect immediately after she had created them. Srey hadn’t complained about anybody watching them for a few days. All of a sudden, it had started up again. Whether they had been taking a break or found a way around it, Eva couldn’t say. Either way, she hadn’t found a way to actually block whatever was watching them a second time. She had given up for the time being. Without knowing how she was being spied upon, it was extremely difficult to come up with passive countermeasures.

Even a few thaumaturgical wards set up by Zoe hadn’t solved the problem.

For the time being, they had to take more active measures against anything they didn’t want to be revealed by being overheard. Namely by not discussing anything. Even writing things down could be dangerous.

As for the emblem, Zoe hadn’t been able to discover any magic on the metal. Traces were there, but whatever magic there was had been broken when the metal had broken. It was, however, the same metal that burned Eva when she touched it despite the different color. That only led credence to Eva’s belief that the demon hunters from before were still around. At least the knight of the two.

Juliana had added the small bit to her armor after being doubly sure of Zoe’s results. It probably wouldn’t be useful against demon hunters, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stock up on just in case.

Though it might not be needed soon. None of the demons that Anderson had brought in were all that… objectionable. In fact, Eva got the impression that most of them were like Lucy in that they had never been summoned before. The way they reacted to things and people were just not quite right in comparison to most other demons that Eva had come across.

Apart from Srey, all of them were happy to be here.

“Did you sign up?”

Eva jumped out of her seat. Half of the cafeteria turned to glance at her as her knee hit the bottom of the table, causing plates and cutlery to jump along with her.

Shooting them a minor glare was enough to get everyone back to minding their own business. Or pretending to, at least. A few ears were still tilted in her direction.

She didn’t know why. Most of the time, she and her friends discussed matters of trivial importance. Nothing interesting. Especially so in the recent days with their watchers watching them.

“Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“I thought you could see behind you?”

Turning to Shalise, Eva shook her head. “Only if I’m paying attention.”

“Then pay attention more. But you haven’t answered my question. Have you signed up yet?”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” Eva said. “I really have no desire to be involved in some battle between schoolchildren.”

“You are a ‘schoolchildren.'”

“But I usually fight with people who are actually trying to kill me. Or at least people intending to cause me serious harm. I wouldn’t want to accidentally go overboard.”

Shalise huffed as she sat down. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do just a normal school activity without all the threat of imminent death or zombification?”

“Normal school activity?”

“Yeah. That’s what this is. I looked it up. Other schools do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Like football except for magical schools.”

“Football with demons.”

Crossing her arms, Shalise glared at Eva.

“That’s why they’re here.” Supposedly. “To help Brakket cheat at magical football.”

“But, they’re not going to do anything overt, are they? I mean, it’s still a secret.”

“Doubt it. I’m not planning on hiding myself.” Now that she actually had eyes, wearing a blindfold wasn’t comfortable or enticing. Gloves were too cramped and shoes were worse. “And some of them,” Eva said with a pointed glance towards Saija, “couldn’t hide among people if their existence depended on it. Even if she could, she wouldn’t shut up about it.”

The demon in question was seated among a gaggle of hangers-on. She was by far the most popular of demons. Even the people not pleased to be attending school with demons didn’t seem to object at her company.

And Catherine had already assured everyone that Saija was not using any sort of endearing powers from her succubus nature to gather her crowd.

Saija sat with the humans, talking and laughing. She didn’t just have people around her. She was popular. Any compliments paid towards her, especially towards her wings, would be met with obvious pride and a compliment in return.

Though a succubus, she shared a trait with Catherine. Neither acted as Eva would have expected succubi to act. While Catherine dressed provocatively, she held utter disdain for interpersonal connections. That included human contact as far as Eva could tell.

In contrast, Saija reveled in the people around her. The only time Eva had seen her without a smile had been at the very start of school, before she had met anyone. And yet, she had something of a fascination with clothing. So much so that she hadn’t worn the same thing twice.

Brakket Academy had a uniform. Though wearing it wasn’t enforced in the slightest, most students chose to wear it. Probably because of the nice material and self-cleaning aspects. Saija had done so on her first day.

Never since.

Where she got the clothes or who gave them to her, Eva couldn’t say. Though some articles of clothing may have been from her… Do those people count as her friends?

Even stranger, the bulkier the clothes, the better. Apparently. Coats, scarves, hats, and even earmuffs on one day. It was only the middle of October, just starting to get cold.

But not that cold.

All of her clothes had been modified with holes in the backs for her wings and tail. Two things that she had never put away.

Maybe she couldn’t.

Eva shook her head, glancing back to Shalise. “If it was supposed to be a secret, it won’t be for very long. Besides, weren’t half the demons going to be becoming bound familiars? I hope you didn’t sign up for that unless you want another demon in your head.”

Shalise backed up slightly, aghast and face drained of blood. “I don’t think– That’s not– Regular humans can participate too, right?”

“They can indeed, Miss Ward.”

Eva rolled her eyes before shifting to see over Shalise’s shoulder. “Mister Anderson,” she said in her least sarcastic tone of voice. “Welcome back. We… missed you.”

“Back?” he said as confusion twisted his face. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”

“We haven’t missed you either.”

Eva couldn’t say why she felt antagonistic towards Alexander Anderson. Something about him rubbed her the wrong way. He acted too professional. The way he spoke implied that he cared about the students around Brakket. And yet Eva doubted that was the case.

At least Martina hadn’t lied about it. At least not to Eva.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’ve still got a sense of humor. I hear rumors that you’ve been somewhat on edge lately.”

Maybe it is him who is spying on us. Eva quickly dismissed the thought. He was spying, or he had his demons spying, but he couldn’t be the only one. There were definitely demon hunters out there.

“I was just stopping by while looking for someone,” he said, glancing around the table.

“Jordan’s already gone ahead to class, if that’s who you’re looking for. He wanted to get a question or two in before his enchanting test starts.”

“Good for him. But I was actually looking for Juliana Rivas.”

Eva sat up straighter, narrowing her eyes slightly. A thousand possibilities for his reasons ran through her mind. Most involved her parents. Were they injured or in trouble? Or had they found out that Zagan wasn’t even on the mortal plane and were going to pull her out of school.

“Whatever you’re fearing, don’t,” Anderson said. He shook his head. “It isn’t anything bad. I assure you. I merely wished to discuss a few matters with her. Matters involving demons and the possibility of her becoming one of our dear friends’ host.”

“Oh,” Eva said with half a chuckle. Her sudden tension died almost immediately. “That. I doubt she’ll agree.”

“She had an interest in diablery before, did she not?”

“Yeah. It almost got her mother killed.”

“Ah, yes. The mess with Zagan. I was hoping we might look past that now.” He paused to look around again. “I thought I might ask, at the very least. Yet she isn’t here. Did she head to class early as well?”

“Actually, she is skipping school today. Sort of. I mean, she’s here. But she isn’t going to class. You’ll have to try tomorrow.”

“Skipping school? You’re admitting that to the dean?”

Eva shrugged. It wasn’t like the attendance records would have shown her here.

“She wanted to borrow Arachne. They should be out in the Infinite Courtyard.”

Eva would be out there as well, except she had a test today. She wasn’t sure why she bothered. School was there to prepare oneself for the future and she had no idea what she wanted to do after school ended.

Maybe she would be in Hell. Maybe she could join the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights. At the very least, that would keep her appraised of any bounties that might get put on her head.

For the moment, she figured she might as well learn. Especially golemancy. Poor Basila was still not quite her usual self.

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Author’s Note: The first chapter of a new story tentatively titled Analyst is over on my preview site. Meant to have it up a few weeks ago, but delayed because I’m not sure that I write military tactical type things very well. Much less happy with it than I am with Demi-God, but I also wanted to post something. Bigger notes at the bottom of the chapter over there.