Tag Archives: Calvin

006.001

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Returning to school just wasn’t quite the same. It didn’t feel right. So much had happened and so much was going to happen that sitting in class and practicing thaumaturgy just felt unimportant. Like being concerned over a mosquito bite while bleeding out from a missing arm.

Eva leaned back in her chair and shut her eyes. She was supposed to be practicing heat manipulation.

None of Isaac Calvin’s directions actually made it to her conscious thoughts. The unending swirl and churn of her worries and imagination all mixed up into one gigantic nightmare. Naturally, such a nightmare occluded most everything unrelated.

Someone or something was trying to pull Void out of whatever plane of existence in which He resided.

Without knowing much about Void or how Powers operated, existed, or worked, most of Eva’s worries stemmed directly from her imagination.

In her imagination, Void was like a planet. Or perhaps an entire solar system. Maybe even a galaxy. A galaxy filled with tens of billions of demons.

It probably wasn’t a very good comparison. Planes of existence were so abstract in every way that a galaxy seemed too normal, too relatable. They were the realms of Powers, inhabited and created by them at the same time.

Despite having been to Hell itself, Eva couldn’t confess any knowledge about how it worked. There were islands and water. And that was it. Travel within Hell was done through the waters, so that must be some connecting factor that linked the place together.

When Eva stepped back from the islands and water to consider just how the layout of the place worked, her mind went blank. A sudden moment of absolutely zero thought going on within her brain. She would always snap back to reality with a surge of fear-fueled adrenaline.

Eva didn’t consider herself frightened of much, but nothing scared her beyond anything else. The idea of an absence of herself, her very being, sent shivers up her spine. It stretched the limits of comprehension and filled Eva’s very soul with an innate sense of wrongness. Void illimitable and so thorough that should her conscious thought vanish, so too might reality itself.

The longer she thought about such things at once, the greater the horror upon snapping back to conscious thought.

Shaking her head, Eva found herself with a layer of uncanny sweat formed on her skin. Again, she was falling prey to her own wandering mind.

That instant blank of her mind when she considered Void was so close to nothing that she couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the reason for Void being named as such.

With regard to all that, thinking of Void as a galaxy solved so many problems.

A galaxy was relatable. Imaginable. Though she had never objectively seen a galaxy with her own eyes–Eva barely glanced up at stars in the night sky–she had seen a number of pictures and drawings. Most of those came from her time in regular public schooling prior to enrolling at Brakket Academy.

Considering the immense size of galaxies and the empty space between might boggle the mind. However, boggle was a far cry from the existential blank of her deeper thoughts regarding Void. She would much prefer a little boggling.

Regardless of how Void would end up manifesting within the mortal plane, Eva held no doubts that it would be anything short of apocalyptic.

Even assuming that Void could enter the mortal plane in a benign manner, the demons that would undoubtedly come along with Him would likely be hostile towards most of humanity.

Those that wouldn’t be hostile to all humans, herself, Ylva, Arachne, and any others, wouldn’t do humanity many favors. Any war between demons fought on Earth would likely destroy it.

And Eva hadn’t the slightest clue as to how she could stop either a war or Void entering the mortal plane. Zagan seemed at a loss. He was back to teaching his combat class, flippant as always.

Far from what she had expected of the Devil. She had expected him to run off and find out who or what was doing the actual Void-to-mortal-plane thing. Then again, maybe he wanted it to happen. Just because Eva couldn’t see any benefits to having Void and all the demons roaming around Earth did not mean that Zagan felt the same.

“Eva.”

Eva snapped her eyes open. Isaac Calvin stood at the front of the room, looking at her. Not a hostile look, nor a look of reprimand for having her eyes closed, nor even an apologetic look. Just a look.

At his side stood the ever-sultry Catherine. Unlike the good professor, Eva could feel the daggers that the succubus glared with.

Why? Who knew? Eva didn’t. Neither did she care. She hadn’t done a single thing to the succubus to warrant such a glare. Not that she could remember, at least. Eva narrowed her eyes at Catherine ever so slightly.

Taking her attention from the succubus, Eva glanced back to Isaac Calvin. “Yes? Professor?”

“Dean Turner wishes to see you in her office.” He gestured to his side, “Catherine will accompany you.”

Eva’s first reaction was to ask what the dean wanted to talk about. She quickly discarded that notion.

Anything Martina Turner had to say would likely not be something everyone in her class should hear.

Looking at the clock behind the professor’s shoulders, Eva decided to pack up her bag. There were only ten minutes left in class. Even if the dean only spoke for a few seconds, coming back to class would be a waste of time.

It wasn’t like she was participating in class anyway.

After shoveling her books into her bag, Eva stood and walked past the two empty chairs at her table.

Neither Shalise nor Juliana had been in class since November. Shalise, being still in Hell, would find it troublesome to show up. Juliana was still at her mother’s side in whatever hospital they had ended up at.

Eva wasn’t certain if the latter was going to or even wanted to return to Brakket.

On her way out, she did give a light wave to Jordan, Shelby, and Irene. Shelby returned the wave and Jordan gave a light smile. Irene, on the other hand, pressed her lips together before giving a curt nod.

Since returning to school, Eva hadn’t had much opportunity to speak with any of them. Most every moment of free time was spent back at the prison with Devon and Ylva. Lunches had been silent and awkward for the most part. No real room for discussion there.

Which wasn’t a good thing. Jordan and Shelby had been the ones to inform everyone about Zagan’s nefarious actions towards Shalise and Juliana. They had known to go talk to Ylva and had known who Zagan was.

That warranted, at the very least, asking how they knew such things.

As she walked behind Catherine, Eva made a note to corner Jordan sometime and ask him a few questions.

Politely, of course. They were friends, not enemies or anything.

Martina Turner’s office was just a quick jaunt down the hallway. During their walk, Catherine never once spoke a word. She didn’t turn around. She barely even sauntered.

If Eva had to guess, the succubus was depressed. And angry. More angry than depressed, in fact. As they walked, Eva’s mind drifted back to that glare. She still hadn’t puzzled out what it had meant, but perhaps Catherine was just angry enough at Eva to withhold her seductive wiles.

More of a punishment for the succubus than for Eva, if she was honest with herself. As expected of a member of the succubi race, Catherine had an almost objectively perfect body. Eva just found herself objectively uninterested.

Catherine paused at her desk. She leaned over–unseductively–and hit a button on her phone.

Half a moment later, Martina’s voice crackled through the speaker. “Yes?”

“Eva’s here.”

“Don’t just stand out there, bring her in!” There was a loud crash on the other end of the line just before the little red light blinked off.

Eva caught a ghost of a smile cross Catherine’s face as she moved over towards the door.

Martina sat behind her desk. Her elbows were resting on her desk while her fingers were steepled beneath her nose. On either side behind her were the two black-coated security personnel.

Lucy smiled and waved. She snapped back to attention after earning a glare from her compatriot. He–Eva couldn’t remember his name–rolled his eyes and faced forward.

Eva might feel comforted at the idea that Lucy found her presence enjoyable. Unfortunately, she had little doubt that the demon was at least partially unstable. She would kill Eva with that same smile on her face at the first request from Martina Turner.

Long ago, there was a time where Eva frequently found herself scared of Arachne. Probably owing to the circumstances surrounding their initial meeting. Even nowadays, Eva occasionally grew nervous in Arachne’s presence. Especially since returning from Hell.

How could Martina Turner, a perfectly normal human, stand having two demons standing at her back? One constantly made low gurgling noises while the other eyed everything in the room as if deciding in which order he would destroy everything.

Then there was Catherine. While less likely to outright murder everyone simply on account of her being a succubus, Eva knew that the secretary did not like her master.

But then, Martina might not be mentally stable either. Not entirely, at least. She did keep constant company with Zagan. If even half of Devon’s complaints about the devil were true, it was almost a miracle that Martina hadn’t already been killed.

Eva stood around as Catherine came into the room, closing the door behind her. For a good minute, no one said anything. Martina merely eyed her from behind her hands, the morail stared off at some ceiling tile, and Lucy bounced on her heels. Catherine pulled out a smartphone and started tapping away.

Remembering the dean’s earlier power plays with Ylva, Eva sighed. She could definitely understand why Catherine disliked the woman. Perhaps it would be possible to poach Catherine off of Martina. Eva would have to look up some information about familiar bonds, though it might all be a moot idea anyway. If Catherine didn’t like her better, there was no reason to alter the status quo.

Besides, she already had Arachne to worry about.

“Unless you’ve summoned me here to deliver reparations for Zagan’s actions towards Shalise and Juliana, I’m leaving.”

After another few seconds of silence, Eva turned on her heel and reached for the door.

“Eva,” Martina said. “You’ve heard why Zagan did what he did.”

Ignoring the woman, Eva tried the door.

Locked, of course.

Eva started building up magic for a teleportation to the prison as she turned to Martina.

“That doesn’t excuse his casual disregard for my friends.”

“And,” she continued, in a tone that suggested she was ignoring Eva’s statement, “Miss Rivas even thanked Zagan for his actions.”

Eva raised an eyebrow.

“You didn’t know that, but it’s true. I was present alongside Catherine and Governor Anderson. Even if you distrust Catherine and myself, Governor Anderson doesn’t particularly like Zagan or myself. Ask him to confirm it.”

“I will,” Eva said.

Governor Anderson had been wandering around since Eva’s return. He never once spoke to her, mostly choosing to spend his time moving from place to place with a sweeping coat. Eva would have assumed him to be a part of Martina’s demon security had Jordan not greeted him between classes one time.

“If there is nothing else you wanted?”

“Actually,” Martina said as she leaned back in her chair, “I have a certain initiative that I would like to start. Among students. Another club, if you will. Potentially a full-blown elective course for the fifth and sixth year students.”

“You’re really dancing around the subject.”

Martina pulled back her lips into a not-so-kind smile. “I would like to enlist Devon Foster and get his assistance and expertise in instructing a select group of students.”

Eva blinked. Her mind crawled through processing exactly what Martina had implied. Devon’s name wasn’t one she expected to hear. As a teacher no less.

That thought sent Eva into a short fit of giggles. She doubled over, hands clutching at her sides.

“Something the matter?”

“Just,” Eva took in a deep breath of air, “just picturing him in a room with a bunch of students.”

“And what is wrong with that?”

“You’ve clearly never met him.” Eva sighed. It had been a long time since she really laughed. The feeling was somewhat euphoric. “Devon in a room with twenty kids? Recipe for disaster. He hates kids. Including me, I’m pretty sure. And what would he be qualified to teach, summoning demons?” Eva let out a short chuckle.

“Exactly.”

Eva’s laughter died off. Martina wasn’t laughing. “You’re serious.”

“Entirely.”

Eva stared.

Martina Turner’s face betrayed no deception.

Finally, Eva shook her head. “I misspoke earlier. He doesn’t hate kids. He thinks they’re annoying and should leave him alone to his research. What he does hate, however, are demons. He loathes the entire population of Hell.”

“He’s a man so steeped in diablery, yet hates demons?”

Demonologist. And he loathes them. Aside from Arachne, every demon he has ever summoned, to my knowledge, has been subjected to domination.” Catherine and the morail both flinched. Lucy was too busy off in la-la land to notice. “Not to mention,” Eva said, “he would never work in such close proximity to Zagan.

“And that isn’t even getting into the fact that you want a bunch of kids to summon demons. Are you insane? A couple loose will make Sawyer look like a peaceful hippy.”

“You heard Zagan,” Martina said. “Demons may be flooding to Earth in the future. It is important now more than ever to broaden people’s horizons. To interact with demons, to know demons, and, if necessary, to fight demons. Widespread knowledge of shackles alone could save millions.”

“Starting with a few kids is the way to go then?”

“Children are the future,” Martina said, smiling as she leaned back and clasped her hands across her stomach. “What better place to start could there possibly be?”

Eva shook her head with a laugh of disbelief. “Doesn’t matter either way. I can ask him, but I guarantee that he will vehemently decline.”

“In that case, you step up and help teach your fellow students.”

“What? I know hardly anything about–”

“You don’t need to. Catherine will be the primary instructor.”

The succubus grit her teeth together loud enough for Eva to hear.

Ah, Eva thought, she isn’t angry at me, she’s just angry.

“Being a demon, Catherine is quite knowledgeable about the subject. You need to provide a human element. Perspective from a human point of view. Things that a demon wouldn’t think to consider.”

“You want me to babysit Catherine while she teaches–”

The bell signaling the end of class interrupted Eva. She let the annoying chime complete its tones before speaking again.

“Kids are stupid. You know that right? One of these idiots is going to get themselves killed. Others too.”

“The initial test group will all be properly screened for any troublesome individuals. Aside from that, you are a child. You had to have started dipping your fingers in diablery quite some time ago. While I haven’t seen any of her work personally, Zagan informed me that Juliana’s summoning circle was passable and the relative strength of the demons we have attributed to her summoning was not low.”

“And look where that has gotten us!” Eva waved one chitinous hand through the air for emphasis. “I’m barely human anymore. I don’t particularly mind, but others? I can’t speak for them. And Juliana? It was Zagan’s fault in the first place! Her mother might be bedridden for life because of demons.”

“That’s a pessimistic outlook.”

“Now you want to bring other kids into this? How long before one of them gets trapped in Hell, sharing their body with a demon?”

Eva pressed her fingers to her forehead and slowly shook her head. “You know what? I don’t even care. Because of Shalise and Juliana’s recent experiences, I’m getting worked up over a bunch of people I probably haven’t even interacted with.

“So I’ll tell you what. I’ll do it.”

“Excellent. Catherine, start–”

“Not so fast, Martina Turner. You have something I want.”

The dean narrowed her eyes. “What would that be, Eva Spencer?”

Clenching her jaw, Eva folded her arms. “Zagan.”

Catherine whipped her head over and spoke for the first time since entering the room. Her face twisted into a look of disgust. “You want Zagan?”

Eva dismissed the succubus with a wave of her hand. “Not in whatever manner is floating through your mind. Order Zagan to get Shalise out of Hell. Order Zagan to fix Juliana’s mother. Do that and I’ll teach your stupid class.”

A silence settled over the office, broken only by a light gurgling from Lucy’s corner of the room.

The silence gave way to a deep chuckle from behind Eva.

Eva narrowed her eyes. She did not turn around. A circulatory system matching Zagan’s had appeared behind her immediately before the chuckle.

“So demanding, my little embryonic one. What has you all fired up?”

“Can you do it or not?” she demanded. He hadn’t even been here to hear, but Eva had no doubts that he had heard.

“Oh I can. With hardly any effort on my part as well.” A hand clapped down on Eva’s shoulder. “Can is a far cry from will.”

Eva steeled herself. She wasn’t about to let Devon’s rhetoric dictate a fear of Zagan. Like most demons in Eva’s experience, Zagan liked politeness. He hadn’t hurt her, directly at least.

Except that one time when they first met. He had pulled her arms off. But he fixed them right away, so did it still count?

“You see, you must ask yourself one question. Does what I offer meet the worth of what I am asking?” He let out a snort, filling the air with the rancid odor of sulfur. “I don’t know that a little teaching position is worth all that much. You know what I mean, yeah?”

“And what, Zagan, would be worth it?”

“That, little one,” he said in a mocking tone of voice, “is something you will have to find out for yourself. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to think it over while you keep dear Catherine out of trouble.”

Catherine let out a sharp scoff, but otherwise remained silent.

Eva ceased speaking as well. Her own teeth were grinding about as hard as Catherine’s had been. Zagan implying that she would accept irked her, but also gave some hope that he might actually help.

The real question was just what Zagan might consider valuable enough to help her friends.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen. I’ll sit in on the stupid class, but don’t come crying to me when the school is set aflame.”

“Excellent,” Zagan said as he clapped her on the back. “I knew we could count on you.”

Eva clenched her fists as Zagan moved up towards Martina’s desk. After a single calming breath, she relaxed. Much better than Catherine was doing, Eva noted out of the corner of her eye. The lesser succubus was actually shaking in rage.

“Zagan,” Eva said, “are you doing anything to stop Hell from being brought into the world?”

He paused his movements, glancing back over his shoulder, he said, “no. Not a thing.”

“You want it to happen.”

“I think,” he said slowly, “that it would be a bad thing–”

“Then why–”

A vice grip clamped down on Eva’s jaw. Zagan’s fingers clenched to the point where Eva could feel the strain in her bones.

“Don’t interrupt me, Eva. I do not appreciate it.”

He held on for another moment until Eva managed a slight nod of her head. When he pulled away, his fingers stuck to the thin layer of perspiration on her skin. It took a conscious force of effort to avoid rubbing her face. There would definitely be a mark there in the morning.

Unless, Eva considered, I can make the marks go away with blood magic. Redness and bruises were both caused by blood beneath the skin. It should be possible to clear it out.

But not at the moment. Eva remained silent as she waited for Zagan to continue speaking.

“It would be a bad thing. Void being in the mortal realm would open Him up to attacks. Make Him vulnerable. Potentially to the point of destruction. The why,” he said, narrowing his golden eyes, “is simply because it is something that has never happened before.

“If it comes down to a battle for survival, I will fight. And I will win. Because that is simply what I do. Anything else will be interesting to watch.”

Eva waited for a moment extra, just to ensure that he had finished speaking. “Because you’re bored?”

“A very good reason to do things,” Zagan snapped. “Finding ways to pass the time without boring myself to death is a much better reason to do something than most mortals have for committing atrocities.”

“If someone were to try to stop it,” Eva said, “would you stop them?”

“You? You mean?” He laughed. Both of the demons behind Martina hedged away from his rumbling bass tones. Martina herself managed to remain steady, though she did glance over at him with narrowed eyes. “Not even I know what is causing it nor how to stop it. Some massive ritual, I presume. Granted, I’m not actively looking. If someone were to try to stop it?” He shrugged. “It wouldn’t be any fun if I intervened too much. In the meantime, Catherine, fetch me a bucket of popcorn!”

The succubus jumped at being addressed. The surprise on her face quickly turned to a scowl. She opened her mouth for just a moment before snapping it shut. She turned and walked out of the room, apparently having decided that Zagan was serious.

Eva turned back to the rest of the room. She decided that she didn’t have much to say to them either. Martina Turner would pull her out of class at some point, presumably, for more details about the nonsense with diablery class.

With a quick thought, her built up magic discharged and swept Eva from the room.

A high-pitched scream filled Eva’s ears. No matter how much she tried to ignore it, it pierced her like a needle to the brain. Burning heat tore her flesh from her bones as she flew through a tunnel of viscera.

The agony induced by her method of teleportation was half as intense as it used to be. This time in the previous year, all flesh was seared off in the heat. Even her bones had turned black and charred.

Now, however, most of her bones were already black. A shiny sheen covered them in a manner similar to her carapace, rather than the charcoal-esque burning and cracking of her bones even a year ago. Even some of her muscles managed to weather the storm–especially those near Arachne’s limbs which were unaffected by the process entirely.

The heat didn’t touch her eyes either. Something Eva was extremely grateful for. She had had enough eye horror in the last few years to last a lifetime.

When her women’s ward gate spat her out, she still stumbled, gasping for breath. It wasn’t as bad, but the pain was still there. She had thought she might build up a tolerance for it, but every time she teleported, it felt exactly the same.

She needed more treatments.

Grasping at the water bottle she had started keeping inside the gate room, Eva uncapped it and took a long drink, moistening her sore throat. She tossed the empty plastic into a small trash bin without a second glance as she made her way into the common room.

Without pomp or circumstance, Eva flopped over on her couch. She needed to get to Devon and tell him about the dean’s plan. At this point, she wasn’t sure whether he would burst out laughing or start swearing up a storm at Martina’s idiocy. Probably some combination of the two.

Arachne could be told as well. But that could probably wait.

No, it could definitely wait.

Using as few muscles as possible, Eva stretched a hand under the couch and pulled out her current research project.

The Arte of Bloode Magicks

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002.008

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Eva slumped over her desk. Basila lay curled up on top. Eva lightly prodded the sleeping sculpture, poking the side of its scaly head.

It didn’t seem to like that. Every now and again, it would snap at her finger. Some kind of mental conditioning kept it from biting hard or with its fangs. It ended up suckling around Eva’s spindly finger.

That only made Eva prod it more.

Her master didn’t have any useful advice about her eyes. He only said, “don’t take the first deal you hear,” and stalked off to his section of her prison.

Devon took his own advice very seriously, if his continued lack of an arm was any indication. He didn’t even ask Arachne. Maybe he was worried about what she’d ask for. It was more likely that he just didn’t want her odd claws.

Eva had to admit that they had their uses. The strength and overall finesse was nothing to be scoffed at. Still, trying to maintain a normal life with them wound up more frustrating than anything. Maybe if she’d revealed them as soon as she’d gotten them, the rest of the school would ignore it. They already did that with her eyes.

She sighed, twirling her finger around the little snake.

Eva pulled out her dagger. Her new, shiny black–even in her vision–dagger. With a quick swipe, she slid it down her arm. Just enough blood emerged to renew all the flecks before she healed it.

Normally, she’d have retreated to the bathroom to protect her roommate’s sensitive sensibilities. Neither Juliana nor Shalise were in at the moment and Eva didn’t feel like getting up.

She toyed with the dagger. Whipping it up and balancing it on a single finger. It had the same, impossibly heavy yet weightless feel that the skull had. Much lighter feeling than the gold. Her hands might be superhumanly strong, but that stopped at her elbows.

Devon actually seemed interested about the new dagger. Despite his protests to her watching, he watched closely as Ylva gripped the handle and the sheath. Eva couldn’t see the gold. The black of the void metal bled into her vision from Ylva’s hands. Almost like ink being poured over an invisible dagger.

The dagger had only been in her hand for an instant before Devon snatched it out. He started weighing, measuring, and writing down all kinds of notes. Eva shouted at him when he started trying to scrape the metal. Trying ended up being the key word. He couldn’t make a single mark on the smooth surface.

Her master seemed especially interested in Eva’s ability to perceive the metal without using blood. The skull was the same way. Ylva offered the knowledge for free. Eva was at least partially demonic and Ylva made both items for her. The void metal considered Eva its owner.

Eva didn’t feel that explained much, but Devon nodded along.

Just as she started to sheathe the dagger, a circulatory system appeared behind her. Its arm already raised to attack.

Eva dived out of her chair. Her desk flew across the room.

She didn’t bother to uncork one of her vials of Arachne’s blood. One broke as she landed. She quickly whipped the loose blood up into a shield just in time to get hit by another attack.

“Where is she?” the voice yelled. The person didn’t wait for an answer. Two more blasts hit Eva’s shield before she even had the next vial uncorked.

A ball of blood shot towards the woman. It splattered against something just inches from her body.

A shield. Eva cursed. “Where’s who?”

She poured another vial into her shield.

Another few attacks struck.

“Don’t play coy with me, Eva. I know you sent a demon to attack her.”

Two vials left, attack or defend? Attack, obviously. She couldn’t count on any reinforcements. Even with the strengthened detection wards on the dorms, it might be too late.

Her shield drained at an alarming rate. The woman wouldn’t let up. Attack after attack.

Eva punctured her wrist with her dagger. She poured her own blood into the shield while she worked on her big attack. With a swift motion, she sheathed the dagger on her back.

The two vials of Arachne’s blood twisted and pulled into a wire frame ball.

They’re going to make us change rooms again, Eva thought as she plunged her claw into the ball.

A massive construct of her hand materialized in the room. The claw launched at the woman. The needle-like fingers made of blood squeezed her.

Not her. The woman’s shield.

Eva felt it crack.

Almost there.

The pinky of her blood construct passed through a hole in the shield. Eva watched as it pierced her leg.

It wasn’t enough. The construct dissipated.

Not willing to give the woman the time to rebuild her shield or to attack, Eva stood up. Her own shield wouldn’t last long with just her weak blood powering it.

She still had her claws.

Eva dashed across the room.

She tried to.

The moment she started her run, Eva realized her mistake.

No toes supported her as she tipped forwards.

The hard dorm floor lifted up to meet her. She hit the ground and skidded forward.

Eva rushed to heal the minor scrapes she got on her cheek as she tried to regain her footing.

A crack in the air sounded just as pain jolted through her right shoulder. Eva’s arm spasmed and she hit the ground again.

Eva screamed. The scorching in her shoulder increased despite the attack ending. It spread through her chest.

The woman–Sister Cross gripped her hair and lifted her head. She slammed Eva’s face down against the ground.

“Eva. Where is she?”

Eva tried to claw at her. She stomped a booted foot down on Eva’s upper arm. Something cracked.

Eva screamed again.

“I will not ask again.”

“I didn’t touch Shalise,” Eva cried out. “I don’t know where she is.”

“What?” Sister Cross ground her heel into Eva’s arm. “What happened to Shalise.”

She roared.

“I don’t–”

A second circulatory system appeared standing just across the room.

A pregnant moment passed as the newcomer took in the scene. Without warning, an announcement, or even a movement, he launched an attack.

Heat raced over Eva’s back. She could feel it through her clothes, through the pain of her shoulder. The heat created a sound. A roar not unlike the engines of the jet that took her to Brakket.

Sister Cross tried to take a step away.

Eva’s good arm shot out around her already injured leg. The needles of her claw sank into the nun’s flesh.

The nun’s shield didn’t impede Eva. She was too close. It did stop whatever Wayne Lurcher launched at the nun.

He didn’t like that. The stream of heat intensified over Eva’s head.

Sister Cross kicked Eva in the stomach. Her hand reflexively released its hold over the nun’s leg.

Eva skidded across the room.

Eva’s back–her shoulder hit something. She wasn’t sure what. Almost all of her flecks were concentrated around the nun.

Wayne Lurcher didn’t let up. He activated his own shield as the nun threw lightning in his direction.

Eva could tell it fractured. The sound of breaking glass echoed through the room. His shield wasn’t even a quarter as strong as the shields the nuns used.

Still, it didn’t shatter.

It did take its toll.

Eva could see his entire body strain to repair his shield without letting up his attack.

He didn’t hold on long enough.

Sister Cross fired three bolts of lightning at the same time. One obliterated his shield. The second and third hit both of his legs.

The blood in his legs reacted oddly. It warped. All the veins and arteries twisted in on themselves before snapping back to normal.

Eva hadn’t been paying attention when she had been hit to know if that happened to her.

Whatever it was, it didn’t help him. Wayne cried out as he fell to his knees.

None of that stopped the heat in the room. Wayne continued his attack.

Sister Cross hit an object out of his hand.

The heat faded.

For a second.

Something popped out of Wayne’s sleeve and the heat resumed. Hotter than before.

Eva liked heat, but this… she could be standing on the sun for all she knew.

Sister Cross’ heart rate picked up. Eva could almost hear the fractures forming in her shield. The roar of whatever made the heat overpowered any actual sounds.

She tried to knock Wayne Lurcher’s new focus out of his hand. Her lightning pinged against his newly formed shield. Unlike Sister Cross’ shield, his did not survive the strike. The sound of glass shattering echoed though the room.

“Stop!”

Eva noticed a third circulatory system rush into the fray. She dashed straight at Sister Cross.

The nun turned to face her. Her heart skipped three beats.

Wayne Lurcher managed to shut off his attack just as Shalise tackled Sister Cross.

“What are you doing girl?” Wayne Lurcher shouted.

“Stop fighting!”

Even without being able to see, Eva could tell there were tears streaming down Shalise’s face.

“W-Whatever it is, it is a mistake.”

“Shal.”

Wayne gripped his wand–if that was what he held–his jaw clenched. He seemed like he wanted to continue fighting. When he raised his wand, Eva thought he was about to attack.

The door slammed shut with a motion of his wand.

His teeth grit together hard enough that it was a wonder his teeth weren’t cracking. “What is going on.” He didn’t ask. He ordered. His jaw didn’t move in the slightest.

“She attacked me,” Eva said. Pain flared up in her shoulder as she tried to point. She bit down the burn and glared at the nun. “Without warning or provocation. I was sitting at my desk. My back was turned.”

Wayne’s head turned towards Eva’s bed.

Eva didn’t have her full range of vision–her flecks were still centered around Sister Cross–but she could imagine there wasn’t much left but splinters. A brief thought wondered if Basila had been destroyed. Eva didn’t know how hardy those sculptures were.

“You monstrosity,” Sister Cross’ hand rose in Eva’s direction.

Despite his lower legs both being injured, Wayne vanished with a blast of cold air. He reappeared between the nun and Eva. His wand trained on her. “Do not move. More instructors are coming. You cannot fight them all. Cease or the dean will have your head.”

A twitch ran through Sister Cross’ face. Her arm dropped to her side. Her teeth clenched almost as hard as Wayne Lurcher’s teeth. “My augur. What did you do with her?”

Eva blinked. Eva blinked again. “What.”

“You kidnapped her.”

“I did not.”

“Maybe not personally. You sent a demon. There were traces of demonic corruption covering the building.”

Eva could see Wayne’s eyes tilt in her direction, just slightly. His head and body still faced the nun.

This was not a conversation she wanted to have with him around. Or Shalise. Or other instructors.

“I did nothing of the sort.” Sister Cross opened her mouth. Eva wasn’t done. “Maybe if your stupid order wasn’t so damn insane, you could have just asked. You could have said, ‘hey, did you steal my augur?’ and I would say, ‘no!’ and you could get on with your investigation instead of wasting all this time.”

Sister Cross opened her mouth again.

Eva cut her off. “Now look at you. You’re injured. I’m injured. Professor Lurcher is injured. You’ve made enemies. And–worst of all–Shalise, your precious–” Eva cut herself off before she said daughter. She couldn’t tell Shalise’s facial expression well, but her head was buried in Sister Cross’ chest. “Your precious Shalise was nearly incinerated. And it is all. Your. Fault.”

Silence reigned as her rant came to an end.

Eva slumped back against whatever she was leaning on. She hissed as her shoulder hit it. Pain lanced through her back enough for Eva to tilt herself onto her good shoulder.

Wayne Lurcher kept his head forward as he asked, “why would Eva kidnap an augur?”

“She’s a diabolist.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

That ruffled Sister Cross’ feathers. She narrowed her eyes at the alchemy professor. “We’ve had her under surveillance since November. The augur was the one watching.”

“A kidnapping is not a spur of the moment thing. If Eva kidnapped her, why did your augur not see her planning and executing this?”

“That’s–”

The door swung open. Dean Turner headed a group of teachers. Franklin Kines followed just behind her with Isaac Calvin and Alari Carr at his heels.

Eva did not miss the dean’s eyes running over her hands. She used her left hand to pull her right hand between her legs in a small attempt of hiding them.

The dean’s eyes left her quickly enough and rounded on Sister Cross.

“So, not only did you attack one of my students, unprovoked, without warning, in their school-assigned dormitory, and with no evidence that they were in any way at fault, you also had them under illegal surveillance?”

Alari Carr immediately rushed to Eva’s side.

Eva pinched her claws between her legs and tried to shrug the history professor off. She hoped she moved quick enough to avoid her hands being seen.

Alari seemed too preoccupied inspecting the wound on Eva’s back to care.

“That’s a lot of charges against you.”

“She is a diabolist. A demon attacked.”

“False accusations as well.” Martina Turner tsked her tongue. “Miss Eva had a trying experience last November. We are well aware of the extreme circumstances the necromancers put her through and that she had dark magics forced upon her. And you seek to vilify her? I know your order has issues with those,” the dean lifted her hands in the most exaggerated air quotes Eva had ever seen, “‘tainted’ by dark magics, but this is extreme. She’s a thirteen year old–”

“Fourteen,” Eva said. Her birthday was the seventh, not that she’d mentioned it to anyone.

“She’s a fourteen year old girl. How can you live with yourself.”

Sister Cross grit her teeth. Harder. “If it wasn’t her, then the situation is worse than expected. My augur is missing and a rogue demon is running loose in town.”

Alari Carr gasped at that. The gasp barely made a noise but she was nearby and fussing over Eva.

Much to Eva’s chagrin.

“I must organize my nuns.” With that, Sister Cross popped out of the room. A cold wave of air was left behind in her wake.

Shalise stumbled forwards, no longer having the nun to support her.

With a few deft steps forward, Martina Turner caught the girl and held her close. “Are you alright?”

Shalise nodded. She was obviously–even to Eva–still crying. Her arms twitched forwards, almost like she wanted to hug the dean. Shalise managed to restrain herself.

“Alari, please see that Eva receives treatment with Nurse Naranga. Isaac, please move ahead of her and ensure the hallways are clear of students. We don’t need a spectacle for Miss Eva.”

They both nodded. Isaac moved out of the room. Alari flicked her wand in Eva’s direction. Eva slowly levitated on a cushion of solid air.

It didn’t feel very steady.

“Franklin, would you see to it that Wayne–”

“I can take care of myself,” Professor Lurcher grunted.

Martina Turner looked at him for a split second before nodding. “Suit yourself. Franklin, keep watch outside the room. No one is to enter. If Miss Rivas returns, direct her to my office.” She took a glance around the room, notably pausing on the remnants of Eva’s attack. “We’ll get someone to discretely clean soon.”

Eva’s floating cushion slowly pulled her out of the room. Very slowly. And a bit shakily. Alari Carr’s heart rate had been high when she entered room three-thirteen. It was skyrocketing now. Eva frowned. She had great doubts in the abilities of the professor.

The professor probably had the same doubts.

“Miss Ward,” the dean said softly, looking down at the girl that she had grasped by the shoulders, “would you like to retire to the infirmary? If not, there is a very comfortable couch in my office you may rest on.”

“I’d rather be alone,” she said with a sniffle.

“Ah, I understand that.” The dean lightly patted her on the back. “However, I feel it is best if you are not left alone at the moment. We don’t want anything rash to happen.”

Eva made it out of the room before the rest of the conversation went on.

After it took ten minutes just to reach the end of the hallway, Eva had half a mind to ask to just walk. Her legs were fine. Floating let her keep her hands pinned between her legs, so she elected not to object.

If the professor dropped her, then she’d complain. Loudly. Possibly with some blood.

Professor Calvin did a good job keeping the hallways clear. Or there simply were no students on the way to the infirmary on a Saturday afternoon. Taking the back staircase rather than the main one couldn’t have hurt matters.

Thanks to the back staircase, they didn’t have to pass through the main entryway on their way to the nurse’s office.

A woman sitting behind the desk popped up as Eva floated into the office. She directed Alari to set Eva down on one of the beds in a side room. As soon as Eva hit the bed, the nurse shooed Alari out of the room.

The history teacher didn’t protest in the slightest. Her heart rate slowed slightly once she ended the spell. She’d probably run off and rest for a while.

“I heard there was a fight,” the nurse said. “Let’s see what the damage is, shall we?” She reached out towards Eva.

Eva pulled back, hands still pinched between her legs. “I’d rather not, if it is all the same.”

“It most certainly isn’t ‘all the same.’ I can see from here that your arm is bent in a way arms most certainly shouldn’t bend.”

Eva winced. She thought she was doing a good job at suppressing the pain. The reminder cracked open her mental wall. “That might be true. There are circumstances. I can’t–Can I talk to Zoe Baxter before we do anything?”

Where was the woman. Eva hadn’t thought about it, but she could teleport the same way Wayne Lurcher could. Why hadn’t she shown up instead of him?

The nurse stared at Eva for a long moment. She pulled out her cellphone and tapped away at it for a short moment before holding it up to her ear.

I really need to get one of those, Eva thought with a sigh. My master as well.

“No answer,” Nurse Naranga said. She slipped her phone back into her pocket.

“What? What would cause that?”

The nurse shrugged. “She’s busy. Or otherwise indisposed. I don’t keep up to the minute tabs on her.”

Too busy to answer the warning wards on the dorms?

“Now, we need to reset that bone and get a bone mending tonic in you.” She reached towards Eva once again.

“I don’t think that is a good idea,” Eva said as she pulled away again.

The nurse put her hands on her hips. “Oh, and I suppose you have more healing certifications than I do?”

“No, but I have a… preexisting condition.”

That seemed to give her pause. For a moment. “That may be, but I need to take a look, at the very least. You can tell me about your condition while I examine you.”

Eva sighed as the nurse moved in. She pulled out her good hand.

A small squeak came from the nurse as she actually stumbled back. She quickly recovered her composure and marched forward. “Forgive me,” she said. “I just got startled for a moment.”

“Sure.”

She pulled Eva’s hand over and looked it over. She knocked against it and pulled all the fingers. “This is extraordinary. It is part of you.” The nurse’s fingers traced up the exoskeleton to the little curls that helped anchor it to her arm.

“Yep. If you took an x-ray, you wouldn’t find any bone in my hands. If you could see inside at all.” Eva tapped about halfway up her forearm. “My normal arm bones funnel out about here to connect to the exoskeleton. They grew holes to allow meat through. Or so I’ve been told, I haven’t actually seen it myself.”

“This happened in November?”

Eva nodded.

“I see.” She softened her voice as she let Eva’s arm drop. “Zoe told me some of the story, she wondered if anything could be done about your eyes. Even after I discussed it with the other medical officers, we couldn’t think of anything. We can regrow bones and some organs. Not eyes. If you still had them, we might be able to reattach them–if they weren’t rotten by now.”

“That’s fine,” Eva said. She never even met the nurse before. It was nice that they thought about that, but ultimately, Eva had her own plans. Partially. She still hadn’t even looked for a donor demon.

The nurse wrapped her knuckles on Eva’s forearm. “This, Zoe neglected to mention.”

“In any case,” Eva said, “I don’t know what will happen if I take anything that tries to regrow bones. I’d rather not have my hands destroy themselves trying to grow bones where they shouldn’t.”

“Understandable.”

It was surprising to Eva just how understanding the nurse was being. Maybe she should just wander around school without gloves on.

“We still need to fix that fracture on your arm. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way.” She smiled. “A cast.”

That didn’t sound good. Yet Eva didn’t protest as the nurse pulled out padding and the cast wrapping. She sat still while the nurse set to work.

The cast had been the easy part. Eva’s right arm hung in a sling all wrapped up in a cast colored bright green. Her shoulder was where things became complicated.

Nurse Naranga actually let out a short shriek when she saw Eva’s shoulder.

“What happened here?”

For once, Eva was glad she couldn’t see. If her wound was anything like the wound her master received, it was a bubbling mess of puss and fused cloth from her shirt. Whatever happened to her shoulder must have been bad.

“A nun’s lightning.”

Oddly enough, it didn’t hurt. There was a throb and when the nurse touched it, a sharp sting ran up and down Eva’s back. Other than that, her arm hurt more.

She had been given painkillers, so that could be part of it.

The nurse set to massaging in some potion or another. That had Eva hissing through her teeth.

Plucking bits of her shirt out of her back increased the intensity of the sting. She had to cut into Eva for a few scraps of cloth.

“You heal these cuts unnaturally quick.”

“A side effect,” Eva hissed, “of everything.” Blood magic, mostly. She shouldn’t have healed them at all, but it was almost unconscious. Stopping now would just raise more questions.

Nurse Naranga just hummed.

The blackish color of Eva’s blood never got brought up. She didn’t know how to explain it, so the lack of questions suited Eva. The nurse was certainly forming her own theories and opinions. Hopefully they were far from the truth.

As soon as the nurse finished plucking debris out of her back, she went back to massaging in a potion.

“It is just a local regrowth potion,” she said after Eva asked. “It isn’t working as well as I hoped.”

“That is also a side effect of everything, I think.”

“You’ve had a lot of everythings, have you?”

Eva shrugged. She immediately wished she hadn’t. Pain flared out in a star like pattern from her shoulder-blade. She gritted out, “a few.” It didn’t make sense. Hopefully it would dissuade further questions.

“Well,” she said as she pulled her hands off of Eva’s back, “I think I’ve done all I can.”

“I can go then?”

The nurse let out a laugh that sounded like the twittering of birds. “Most certainly not. You’ll be here for close observation until I am satisfied. You’ve had a terrible shock and I just pumped you full of potions that may have unintended side effects with your,” she made a short humming noise, “unique physiology.”

Eva slumped back against the soft pillows of the infirmary bed.

“I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but it is dangerous to move around while you’re injured.”

She was right. That wasn’t what Eva wanted to hear. There were things that needed doing, not the least of which included checking on Arachne and making sure she hadn’t done anything foolish.

Not that Eva thought Arachne would do something like attack the nuns. Still, if it wasn’t her then, as Sister Cross put it, there was a demon running around town.

“If you need anything or have any odd pains,” Nurse Naranga said as she handed a small button on a cord to Eva, “press the buzzer. I’ll be just over in my office.”

Eva nodded and waited. She’d already waited over an hour in the company of the nurse, another hour wouldn’t hurt. Besides, she was exhausted. A short nap wouldn’t hurt anything.

It was the middle of the night before Eva awoke. She groggily tried to slip out of her bed before she realized where she was. A short curse tumbled out of her lips.

Immediately, Eva channeled magic into herself. She concentrated on her end goal. Despite her haste, she channeled slowly, taking her time. Screwing up and becoming trapped in Hell again wasn’t something she was all too eager to repeat.

She spent five minutes building up her charge. With a light popping in her ears, the world around her vanished.

Screaming agony replaced the nurse’s office.

Not Eva’s agony or screams. She didn’t know whose they were.

Screams echoed into her mind. Even if her arm wasn’t in a cast, plugging her ears would do nothing. A deep masculine voice this time, Eva noted. It was always different.

Eva fell, tumbled through a tunnel dripping with viscera. She could see, but only in grayscale. Like her island.

The heat scorched her flesh. It burned far worse than the side effects of Professor Lurcher’s attack.

Eva breathed in gasps. The dank musk of burning flesh surrounded her. She tried to slow her breathing and could not.

Flesh curled back from her feet. It moved up her body, slowly stripping her of all her muscles and tendons as they turned to ash. Heat scorched her bones to a charred black.

Only her claws were unaffected.

It all ceased before Eva could think more.

Eva once again went blind.

Blind save for the blood infused wards of her prison. She stepped out of the gateway circle she set up to receive her and collapsed against a wall.

Neither Arachne nor Ylva had been forthcoming on what exactly went on during an infernal walk.

Eva peeled apart her dry lips. They cracked as she took a deep breath of the fresh air.

The gateway room was another of the converted cells in the women’s ward. It was just a few steps out to the main common room.

Arachne popped to her feet the moment Eva walked in. She darted over to Eva and helped her to the couch. “I’ll get you a glass of water,” she said.

Eva didn’t respond. Her throat was too dry.

It was all in her head. Eva knew it. She knew it was all in her head.

That didn’t help. Even though she’d recover in a minute or two, infernal walks were not pleasant.

Water almost splashed in her face as Arachne handed her the glass with overwhelming zeal.

Eva brought the cool liquid to her parched lips. It swished around in her mouth before she drained the glass. “Thanks.”

“What happened? Your arm,” she trailed off as her fingers ran over the stiff cast.

“Nothing, just got it caught under Sister Cross’ boot.”

Arachne’s fingers immediately clenched.

“Anyway, you didn’t do anything since I left, did you?”

“No,” Arachne growled.

Eva nodded. “I didn’t think so.” With a sigh, Eva said, “Sister Cross had one of her people kidnapped by a demon.”

“How does that end up with your arm under her boot?”

“Naturally, her first suspect was me. She attacked straight away.”

Arachne’s hands clenched and unclenched repeatedly as she stood up from her seat next to Eva. She paced around while growling. She came to a sudden stop. “I swear I’ll kill her.”

“As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I’m slightly concerned about a demon running around. Ylva didn’t go anywhere after I left, did she?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Arachne,” Eva said while crossing her arms. Or arm. She put her good arm in her sling. “You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on her.”

“Yeah. I didn’t see her leave.”

Eva sighed. “Let’s go see if she’s in her room then.”

“Am I carrying you?”

“If you don’t mind.”

“I never mind.”

“Then get on with it,” Eva said.

Arachne swooped down and picked up Eva in the usual princess carry. She took extra care not to pinch or even touch Eva’s cast. Unlike earlier in the day, Arachne half sprinted to cell house two.

She all but kicked in the door.

As usual, Eva couldn’t see any of Ylva when she first entered the room. Arachne didn’t say anything which probably meant that the hel was in her usual spot on her throne.

Eva called out to the emptiness in her vision. “A brief question and I will cease bothering you, Ylva.” No response came. Eva assumed that was agreeing to answer. “Were you in the city of Brakket today?”

There was a long pause. Eva wondered if she was talking to an empty room.

“No.”

Ylva’s voice echoed through the spacious hall. And that was it. No elaboration or questions in return.

“Thank you for your time,” Eva said.

Arachne carried her out without being asked. “I don’t know why you keep her around,” she said as soon as the door close.

“She doesn’t hurt anything. It seems like it would be a lot of trouble to evict her as well. Is my master still around?”

“He went to his little penthouse. As far as I know he hasn’t left.” The spider-woman started walking in his direction.

“As far as you know?” Eva shook her head. “You’re not very good at the ‘watch the compound’ order, are you?”

“It is a big place,” Arachne shrugged. Eva’s cast tapped against her chest with the motion. “Maybe you should set up that thing you had at the retirement home. You know? The thing that showed you if people were in the building.”

“Ah,” Eva slumped slightly in Arachne’s arms, “Devon set that up. I’m not sure how charitable he is feeling these days. He seemed upset earlier.”

“Really? Looked like normal Devon to me.”

Not to Eva. He’d always been grumpy, but a jovial kind of grumpy. At least around her.

Now she almost dreaded seeing him. Arachne climbed the stairs to his penthouse slowly, almost with dread.

That did nothing to ease Eva’s anxieties.

Still, Eva knocked on his heavy door with her good hand.

There was a shuffling noise behind the door. Several lines of curses followed before Eva watched as her master’s circulatory system stumbled over to the door.

She couldn’t even guess what he was doing on the other side.

A brief pause as he peered through the peephole preceded the door swinging open.

“What?” His grunt was in full effect. It almost came out as a rasp.

“You didn’t set any demons loose in town, did you? Or get followed by any from wherever you were?”

He stared at Eva. Just stared. “What?”

“It seems there is a demon running rampant around Brakket.” Eva quickly added, “before you ask, I had nothing to do with it. It showed up on its own.”

Her master sighed as his nose scrunched up.

“What is it with this damn school?”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


001.014

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Classes at Brakket were far more interesting than any class at a non magical school. That was simply by virtue of most classes having magic flying around them. The teachers themselves weren’t all that different. Class might be better if Eva had been more new to the whole magic scene.

The school building itself was a boring affair. Eva felt sure it was built by regular people. None of the rooms even had the oddities that the dorm study rooms had.

The only exception to this was the courtyard. The building was a ring with a large three-story section to one end. The center held a massive forest that was given the wildly inaccurate title of the Infinite Courtyard.

Trees, plants, bushes, benches, grass, even large ponds and hills all fit in the courtyard. Bridges arced over streams, huge weeping willows hung over the dirt paths. Birds chirped and flittered about. Other animals occasionally stalked within sight of the pathways. Eva was almost sure she saw a cait si at one point.

As you went further into the courtyard, space expanded. Apparently the dead center was several miles away from any part of the building. There were paths set up to go along the edges before the space really expanded, and all the paths had signs stating the nearest part of the building.

Had she known about it during the summer, she might have explored it a bit. There was bound to be something interesting left behind by previous students.

Weekends were a possibility depending on homework situation. Unfortunately, she now had class during most of the week. A young mage named Yuria Something-or-other stood at the front of Eva’s current class. She was almost as young as Zoe Baxter, but missed the title of the youngest by just two years.

“This class will be on a rotation. Mages tend to have one element they can cast very well, almost effortlessly, two elements that they are adequate at, and one they might be lucky to cast a single spell from.

“So don’t be discouraged if you cannot cast whatever spell we’re attempting for the lesson. I myself am a class two water mage.” She moved her wand to her other hand and a globe of water hovered above her hand. “The schedule is set up so that Professor Calvin of your general magic class will take over for fire spells. He’s a class one fire mage so he’s more than qualified.”

Eva had no idea what her elemental affinity was. Juliana had been teaching her elementary earth magic, which she seemed alright at. She could move around dirt inside a small pot. Enough to dig a hole and drop a seed into at the very least.

If asked before Yuria’s lesson, she would have said chaos was her affinity. That was apparently not an option. Chaos and order were considered universal magic. No one was especially good or poor at either.

Professor Calvin’s general magic class taught spells not considered part of any of the six schools of magic along with some very simple order and chaos spells.

The first spell involved breaking an object into its base elements. Not periodic elements but the magical elements. They were each given a rock to turn into a crystal of pure earth magic.

“It takes concentration and time, but it is an essential spell for alchemy and is usually not found difficult by new students. Reducing an object is an excellent way to get a feel for magic and how it moves through you and into your wands and then to the stone itself.”

He went through the process, instructing them to visualize their rock turning into pure earth. “You’ll feel a tingle in your gut moving out to your arm. That is you channeling magic into your wand. You’ll then channel from your wand to the rock itself, all in one smooth action, while visualizing your end goal.”

Eva tried it without her wand until she started seeing results, then attempted it with her wand. It felt faster and smoother without her wand, though that could be just that she was used to no foci. Eva was considering not using the wand at all, it seemed an unnecessary liability and just an extra step for what she could do on her own.

It took the entire class period, but Eva managed to turn a regular stone into a shiny green crystal.

Juliana had a green crystal in front of her in less than half the time; a combination of experience and earth being her elemental affinity, according to her. She then moved to Shalise to walk her through the process, earning the approval of Professor Calvin as he assisted the rest of the twenty or so students.

Shalise didn’t seem to catch on near as quick. It was understandable. She only started doing real magic for the first time over the last week when Juliana taught her to dig holes in a pile of sand. Still, she wound up with several green crystals growing out of her rock.

Jordan sat behind Eva’s table along with Shelby and Max. He and Shelby got their crystals with time to spare, if only barely. Even with both their assistance, Max managed less transformation than Shalise.

Irene had been exiled to another table on account of there being only three chairs per. She managed to reduce her crystal almost as fast as Juliana and then proceeded to assist her partners with their own reduction.

The rest of the class had mixed results. Most managed at least a few green crystals, but some had nothing to show for an hour’s worth of efforts.

“I’m just saying, I don’t think it was as simple as you all make it out to be,” Max said as he spewed half chewed sandwich bits across the table.

Eva shot Shelby a pitying look as the poor girl wiped her face with a napkin once again. But the girl had been insistent on sitting next to Jordan. That Max had decided to sit across from him was simply bad luck. She made a mental note to never sit across from Max during mealtimes.

They had all met up after Professor Calvin’s class for lunch. The school gave them the choice between ham sandwiches and some kind of cheese soup Eva wasn’t about to touch. The smell drifting over from Shalise’s bowl almost made Eva gag.

“Shalise never touched a wand before last week and she managed way more than you,” Juliana said, “did you even try any magic during summer?”

“Hey,” he said, turning his spittle in Juliana’s direction. Luckily for her, she seemed to be out of range. “I managed to keep a leaf aloft on nothing but air. It isn’t my fault I was born to parents that barely heard of magic, let alone practiced it.”

“To be fair,” Jordan spoke up, “we were preoccupied over the summer with all the homework Mr. Lurcher gave in his alchemy seminars.” He turned towards Eva and said, “I’m surprised we didn’t see you there, with all your potions you had before school.”

“To be perfectly honest, none of the seminars seemed designed for people who hadn’t already had some schooling. I only went to Zoe Baxter’s seminar because she basically ordered us to.”

“He did the same to us, though I can’t disagree with that. Half of it was over my head and I thought I knew something about brewing.” Jordan slumped back in his seat. “And he made us do the homework while it was optional for everyone else.”

“Professor Baxter never gave homework,” Juliana said, “I’m not sure if I should be glad or disappointed. Summer was exceedingly dull. It might have occupied some time, at the very least.”

Eva shook her head. “I’m glad she didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to read near as many books if she had.”

“Not to mention your other activities,” Juliana said.

“Other activities?” Irene asked. She leaned forward to see around Max’s bulk.

“Eva would sneak out once or twice a week and spend the night somewhere else.”

“I didn’t sneak out. I’d always tell you or leave a note.”

“Oh,” Irene perked up, “a little rendezvous with a mysterious stranger? Who is the lucky guy?”

“Just Rach,” Eva said. “I’m sure you remember her.” She didn’t miss the frown that crossed Shalise’s face, nor the slight paling that Shelby went through. Arachne herself wiggled slightly beneath her shirt at the mention of her nickname.

The spider-demon didn’t like the name. Eva didn’t like it much either, but she thought it up spur of the moment when she decided not to say Arachne’s full name in front of other people. Too late to change it now.

Irene leaned back. She hadn’t been near as afraid of the spider on their first encounter as her twin. Still, Eva didn’t think she was very fond of Arachne. “I don’t think I want to know,” she said.

The conversation died for a minute before turning back to magic, mostly how bad Max performed during their general magic class. A chime rang throughout the school and the group packed up.

Their final two classes of the day were held out in the inner courtyard, though not far enough from the building for them to have to walk several miles. The two classes offered the ecology portion of their schooling.

Their first stop looked more like a zoo than anything. A shorter man named Bradley Twillie taught the wildlife portion of ecology. Sadly, their first day consisted of listening to the man go over safety procedures in a small lecture room outside the zoo itself.

The students were never to enter a creature’s habitat without both his presence and his permission. They were never even to enter the zoo part without his guidance. If a student found themselves in a habitat, say by falling in, then they were not to antagonize whatever creature lived within. If that creature was hostile and looked about ready to attack, the student was allowed to defend themselves, but only using minimal force.

He seemed to go over that last bit very reluctantly. Bradley Twillie came across as a man who cared far more for the animals than the students.

They never even got to enter the zoo before the timid instructor dismissed them.

Franklin Kines, on the other hand, seemed very passionate about his subject. He also was ready to get the students into a hands on lesson. Unfortunately, his subject was the plant life portion of ecology.

The first lesson consisted of half safety instructions, though they were rushed through with the excuse that anything dangerous would get special attention during the lesson. The other half ended up being hands on in a greenhouse. Hands on dandelions.

If there were anything different or magical about these dandelions than the kind seen around every lawn in the spring and summer, Eva couldn’t tell.

“The dandelion is not magical in the slightest,” Professor Kines said after a few students grumbled about the plant. “However, in gardening it is very important. Because it is nonmagical, it doesn’t affect magical plants as they grow. It can be planted as a companion to an absurd number of more magical plants.”

Professor Kines whipped his wand at a dandelion. It sprung from the soil and turned over, showing a thick, lengthy root. “Its root brings up nutrients for shallower plants as well as adding minerals to the soil. It releases a gas that helps other plants to mature. On top of all that, it works very well to attract pollinators.”

His speech did nothing to make the actual tending to dandelions more interesting. Eva glared at the clock, as if that would make it go any faster. Eventually, the chime rung and class was dismissed.

“Hopefully we get into some more interesting plants,” Max said as they headed back to the dorms.

Eva couldn’t agree more.

The next day started them off with Zoe Baxter’s magical theory class. The stern woman sat on top of her lectern until class had filled in the seats.

She started off launching a lightning bolt at a wall with a wand. Eva noted with satisfaction that half the class jumped as the thunder crashed around them. The half that didn’t jump were the ones who attended the instructor’s seminars.

She then set her wand on her desk and repeated the motion. A few of the class flinched as if another lightning bolt would spring from her hand. Most didn’t.

“Who can tell me why I cannot cast a lightning bolt without a wand?” She looked straight at Eva, but called on a different student. “Mr. Dewey.”

“A lightning bolt can be cast without a wand. You just require an alternate focus to focus your magic.”

“Pedantic, Mr. Dewey, but wrong.

“Foci are improperly named. A more correct name would be ‘storage device’ or something along those lines. Foci do less focusing and more storing of a mage’s magic until the magic has reached a sufficient point to exert the mage’s will upon reality.”

She glanced around the class as if expecting a rebuttal. None came and her lips quirked into a small smile as she slipped off her lectern. “Humans, or at least human mages, can process magic at a truly alarming rate. More so than any magical creature I know of save about three. Perhaps Mr. Twillie could add to that, but I can’t.” At a slight shuffling of students, Zoe added, “rest assured that humans are magical creatures. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to do any magic at all.

“The problem with humans is that we have no ability to store that magic. Imagine for a moment that you need to count to ten to cast a spell. Seems easy, right?” She glanced around the silent class. “Now, imagine that every time you add one number, you have to subtract two, to a limit of zero. It becomes impossible to count in that situation. That is what human magic is like.

“A wand does not negate the subtraction aspect. Every time you count to one, that one gets pushed into your wand and you go back to zero. Rather than counting to ten, you count to one, ten times.” She whipped out her wand and threw another lightning bolt at the wall almost instantly. “Obviously, humans do this very rapidly.”

“Mr. Anderson,” Zoe said, nodding.

Eva looked behind her just in time to see Jordan lowering his hand.

“Many magical creatures do not need wands or other foci, they store magic on their own then?”

“Excellent question, Mr. Anderson. Let us take elves as an example. They are among the three magical creatures I mentioned earlier that process magic at very high speeds. Around human like, if not higher. However, their blood has the ability to store this magic and expel it as a focus would for humans. Essentially, their blood is their focus.

“Goblins, on the other hand, produce magic at a very slow rate. Their blood can not only store the magic, but because of a unique physiology, they can retain the magic as well. A newborn goblin won’t be able to cast the simplest of spells whereas a hundred year old goblin will have had a hundred years of storing up magic. Never underestimate an old goblin, they will likely lay waste to all around them with a snap of their fingers.

“Because of these traits, elves might find use in foci, or at least be able to use one. A goblin never would.”

Eva sat back and absorbed the rest of the lesson. She had a brief thought on whether this was how Zoe Baxter normally started her first year class or if she had specifically chosen this lesson for Eva. It seemed like a good first lesson; foci were integral for magic use and throwing lightning bolts was a good way to garner attention. It was the not infrequent glances Zoe gave Eva that irked her suspicions.

When the chimes rang for the end of class, Eva half expected to be told to stay after. Zoe did no such thing. She dismissed the class and went to clearing the whiteboard of diagrams on how foci worked.

That didn’t stop Eva from half sneaking out of the class.

Alari Carr welcomed the students into her history class with a chipper attitude. Rather than start with a lesson, Professor Carr had the students go around and introduce themselves.

There was always that one teacher, Eva thought. Most of the rest of the class seemed to share her opinion if the groans were anything to go by. Still, the class went ahead and did their introductions with a single fact about themselves.

Juliana Rivas introduced herself with mentioning that her mother used to be a mage-knight. That got a few awes from the class. Shalise Ward offered up that she was the eldest of six siblings.

Eva stood up as her turn came around. “My name is Eva,” she said, “and I am fairly well versed in the art of runes.” She ignored the handful of snickers and retook her seat.

The rounds came to Jordan’s group. He introduced himself as Jordan Anderson, son of Alex and Lydia, two high-ranking people in the magical government. Why he went to such a disreputable school as Brakket went unsaid.

Maximilian Weston was the youngest of three brothers, neither of whom were magically adept. Shelby Coggins used the fact that she was twins with Irene, much to the latter’s displeasure. Apparently she wanted to use that. Instead Irene said that she could play the piano.

Introductions continued around the room until they ended at Timothy Dewey who was descended from John Dewey. He neglected to mention who that was or why it was significant. Eva supposed if he was important, she could probably find him in the library.

The chime rang and Eva couldn’t be happier. Hopefully the next history class had less touchy-feely crap.

They sat down together for lunch, a choice between pizza with some kind of pitch black sauce and chicken nuggets. Eva chose the pizza. The sauce was a bit salty, but not bad.

Everyone else picked the chicken nuggets.

“I didn’t know you knew runes,” Irene said.

Juliana replied before Eva could finish chewing her pizza. “What do you think is in those black envelopes stuck to your ceiling?”

“I never thought about it. Some sort of enchanted trinket, I assumed.”

“Black envelopes?” Jordan asked with a quirked eyebrow.

“Just a little girl’s secret,” Shelby said with a wink.

Lunch ended and they headed off to their final class.

Alchemy was the only class that the freshmen had in the three-story wing of the building, though it was on the first floor. The alchemy lab was completely modernized. Fume cupboards lined the walls. Counters in the center had full sinks as well as small pipes poking up out of the edges.

Wayne Lurcher sat at the front desk, reading a book until the students filed in.

With four seats around each counter, Irene took a seat next to Eva rather than the group she had been sitting with in the other classes.

The chime rang signaling the start of class. Professor Lurcher snapped his book shut with a crack.

“Some of you may have heard the term alchemy used alongside things like gold, transmutation, eternal life, and potions. And potions may be associated with cauldrons and crones. Sadly, few of these things constitute proper alchemy these days.

“Transmutation,” he flicked his wand at a stone resting on his desk which turned shiny and silver, “is done with a wand in modern thaumaturgy. Gold is illegal to create or transmute, and not actually that hard. Eternal life still eludes us, but solutions for that issue are commonly thought to come from other areas these days. Potion brewing is about the only element left of traditional alchemy, and that has modernized far from the bubbling cauldron archetype.”

He walked up and down the aisles as he spoke. This was the longest single period Eva had ever heard Wayne Lurcher speak for. All of her other interactions with him had been barely five words that always seemed to be given grudgingly.

A small bit of her wondered if he just liked alchemy enough to talk about it, or if it was just his role as an instructor he was getting into.

“Like many of your classes this week, we will be discussing safety in the lab. Fume cupboards, precise measuring tools, goggles, and gloves have all increased the safety of even the more dangerous experiments we will be attempting. That does not make them safe.”

Class ended just as he finished assigning homework. The only teacher to do so on the first day. The homework consisted of writing an essay on the safety procedure during a hypothetical emergency such as a potion burning through a fume cupboard and being released into the main room.

Eva was at a bit of a loss. Neither she nor her master ever had any of the safety equipment and yet never had any major problems. Their equipment was far more outdated than the advanced lab materials the classroom had. Eva supposed he might have been required to go over all the safety rules by some school board.

Or maybe they would just work on far more dangerous potions than she and her master ever had. If that was the case, Eva very much looked forward to the class.

The group headed back to the dorms. They all gathered together in the astronomer’s study room to work out their first bit of homework.

It wasn’t actually that difficult of an assignment. Wayne Lurcher said the essay should be as long as it needed to be and left everything up to their own devices. Most of it simply consisted of restating the safety procedures they went over in class.

Still, it was a time-consuming endeavor. They almost missed the hours for the dorm’s dinner. They completed their meal in a jovial mood and parted ways. First with Jordan and Max, then with Irene and Shelby.

When Eva got to her door, she found a hunched over master sitting on a bench outside her room. He looked up at the group’s arrival.

Juliana immediately tensed and brought her wand out.

Eva waved her off. “Don’t worry. I know him.”

The blond lowered her wand but did not put it away, nor did she relax.

“This is my mentor, Randolph Carter.” She gestured towards man wrapped up in a brown trench coat. “Mentor, this is Shalise and Juliana.”

Shalise gave a hesitant nod. Juliana remained still with her wand out.

“Charmed,” he said in a voice that was anything but.

“It has been a week, have you found something already?”

“Not exactly. Next Friday evening we might be able to check some of your issues out. Meet me at,” his eyes flicked over Juliana and Shalise, “the place.”

He turned and stalked off. He got to the window at the end of the hallway and stepped out to the ground below.

“He seems friendly,” Juliana said as they entered their room.

“Oh yeah, real softhearted that one.”

Shalise dropped her bag on her desk. She turned back to Eva, leaning against her chair. “That was about the necromancers then?”

“I’d assume so. Guess I won’t know until Friday.”

Shalise frowned, but nodded. “I hope it is good news.” She gathered up some clothes from the drawers beneath her bed. “Unless either of you have objections, I’ll shower first.”

Neither girl said anything.

Shalise slipped into the shower.

Juliana stared at Eva. She waited, just staring.

Eva shuffled to her desk and pulled out a paper, trying her best to ignore the blond’s gaze. She had been working on a new version of the privacy runes. The new sheets should cover the entire main room so she wouldn’t have to do four copies for every customer the next time the runes wore out. Their business had gone a bit too well; Eva doubted she would have time for all of them with school going on.

The moment the shower water started, Juliana whispered in Eva’s ear. She had moved right next to Eva without her noticing. “Take me with you,” she said.

“What?”

“I want to fight these necromancing scumbags too. You’ve seen me against Professor Baxter. You know I can fight.”

“You lose against Zoe Baxter. Every time.”

“I do better than you do.”

“I wouldn’t lose at all if–” Eva cut herself off, biting her lip.

A silence hung in the hair between them. Only the sound of flowing shower water filled the air.

Eventually Juliana sighed.

“I know you have secrets,” she said. “There’s no way you get taken on bounty hunting jobs with just runes and not knowing any spells aside from blink. You have so many secrets I wonder if anything you’ve said is the truth. But I don’t care about that right now.”

She stopped and cocked her head to the side, listening to make sure the shower was still running. She returned her attentions to Eva and spoke in an even quieter whisper, “I don’t care if you’re a necromancer yourself so long as it wasn’t you who killed that family.”

“I’m not a necromancer,” Eva hissed.

“Good. Then I don’t have to worry about that, at least. I still want in.”

“I can’t just show up with someone else.”

“He said Friday. It is Tuesday. You’ve got a few days to ask–no–tell him someone else is coming along.”

Eva was going to retort when the shower water cut off.

Juliana noticed as well. She stood up, moving her face away from Eva’s. “I’ll shower next,” she said. And turned to gather her own clothes.

Eva was left staring after her even as Shalise exited the bathroom. She only stopped once Juliana disappeared behind the closed door.

Shalise seemed to notice something wrong. She walked up to Eva and said, “don’t fight. We are roommates. I don’t want to have you two hate each other.”

“It wasn’t a fight,” Eva said. She wasn’t so sure. Was that a fight?

“Good.” Shalise said. She patted Eva’s shoulder only to freeze solid.

It took Eva a moment to realize why. Then it hit her. The poor girl had just patted one of Arachne’s legs through her shirt.

“It really just hangs off of you then?”

“She and yes, most of the time. She was with me all day today and all day yesterday. And you’ve seen me after showering with her still latched on me.” Eva felt a bad for that. She hadn’t changed her habit of wandering around and sleeping without clothes. Shalise started screaming when she saw Arachne latched onto Eva’s chest one morning. The poor girl thought Arachne was attacking Eva. It took a while to calm her down.

“If you’d like,” Eva said, “I could bring her out, nice and slowly, and you could touch her directly. Maybe it would help?”

Shalise took a quick step backwards, shaking her head in the negative even as Arachne tapped out no repeatedly on Eva’s shoulder.

“I think not,” Shalise said. At least she hadn’t stuttered her first word. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that in the future. Not now.”

Arachne tapped no again as Shalise said that. Eva doubted the spider-demon would do anything if Eva asked her not to. She might not like it, but for Eva’s roommates at the very least, Arachne might have to compromise on something.

Shalise slipped back to her bed and pulled out the general magic textbook. She flipped through it until Juliana left the shower.

Eva hopped in. The room was already hot and steamy, borderline sauna. Eva didn’t mind. If anything, it could stand to be a little hotter. Cold, moist air was the worst.

Eva twisted the shower head, aligning her new runes. She wasn’t sure if the other girls used the regular water or her runes. She’d told them, but they never mentioned anything other than a ‘too hot for my tastes’ from Shalise.

After kneeling down to the floor, Arachne hopped off Eva. She stood up in human form, ready for one of their shower chats.

“I say let her,” Arachne said before Eva could even ask her question. “If she dies, whatever. It is a good test of loyalty. Of course, if she turns traitor then I will rip her into so many pieces not even Humpty Dumpty could put her back together again.”

Eva frowned at the demon. Not so much at her threating to tear Juliana up, Eva was used to the spider-demon’s empty viciousness, but the other bit. “I’m not sure that is how the nursery rhyme goes.”

The spider-woman shrugged. “Besides, I’m sick of sneaking around. If I could at least walk around the room… and now we have that Shalise character. Juliana is one thing. Are you sure I can’t eat Shalise?”

“No eating any students. Or hurting any in general. Even if they do ‘turn traitor’ whatever loose definition you have for that.” Eva sighed. The demon wouldn’t do anything, she was mostly sure. It didn’t hurt to reiterate. “If things do happen, we’ll just leave. You, me, and master. If we can’t find him, we’ll summon Ivonis again after we settle down somewhere.”

“That’s disappointing,” she said. Eva didn’t think her pout looked very serious.

“If we are actually taking Juliana, we’ve got to find master and let him know. He won’t like it.”

“Leave it to me. I will impress upon him the need for her to join us.”

“No bullying master.”

“Wouldn’t touch a hair on his head,” Arachne said.

“You’re excited about this.”

“It is one step on my plan to not be in spider form constantly.” Arachne was already shifting back into said spider form.

Eva sighed, standing up into the stream of hot water. Her shower had gone on long enough. She shut off the water. As Arachne climbed back up her chest, Eva mumbled, “I’m sure not excited about it.”

>>Extra Chapter 001<<

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