Tag Archives: Catherine

010.030

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Catherine sat back on the couch in the women’s ward. With her cellphone in hand, she started jotting down notes. Important observations about the previous twenty-four hours that she felt vital enough to jot down. She had nearly perfect memory. The notes were just in case she did manage to forget something. As unlikely as that was.

What she really needed to do was to print them out and send them to her domain. The cellphone was an amazing tool that the humans had come up with, but it was no replacement for heavy tomes and thick manuscripts. If she did wind up perishing, she doubted that she would be able to recover her notes. Even if she were foolish enough to upload her works to the mystical ‘cloud’ that their computers operated from—foolish as who knew who might read her notes—that would only last for a few decades at most.

By the time she got resummoned, the company would have either gone out of business or deleted her data under the assumption that she was no longer using the service. Not to mention all the moving parts involved in keeping the data intact. Who knew when a power failure would wind up with all the backups erased.

No. Phones were poor replacements to tomes. Yet they were excellent tome creation utilities. Write a tome within a decade or so, print it all out, and enchant it with some longevity. It shaved off all the tedium of writing by hand. Not to mention the handy organizational aspects of technology. If she wanted one paragraph in front of another, it was a simple cut and paste. Physical manuscripts had to have several pages rewritten entirely or absurd annotations detailing where to find a relevant paragraph.

Unfortunately for Catherine, she didn’t get too many notes out before her phone rang.

Juliana.

Catherine stared at the name, trying to remember if the girl had ever called her before. She couldn’t come up with a single time. In fact, she couldn’t actually remember entering the girl’s number into her phone. Nearly perfect memory was only nearly perfect, after all.

With a sigh and a feeling that she would regret it later on, Catherine answered the phone.

“Help me!”

Yep. It’s later on and I am definitely regretting answering. For a moment, she considered hanging up. But, with another sigh, she said, “Maybe explain what you need help with?”

“There is this giant obelisk in the middle of the city. Zagan thinks it’s dangerous… or maybe he doesn’t; he won’t tell me straight, he’s just being annoying. It’s something to do with Hell probably though and I can’t get a hold of Eva or any other demon besides maybe Ylva, I haven’t tried her. My mother doesn’t know much about demon things. So please tell me that this isn’t something terrible that’s also going to destroy the world!”

Catherine blinked, staring at the phone as she held it a few inches away from her ear. Despite the distance, she heard every word that the girl said in her diatribe of near nonsense. Once certain that she was finished, Catherine brought the phone a little closer. “It’s always one thing after another with you people isn’t it? The moment I sit down to relax, the world is in danger again.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t do anything though. I just found it. If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.”

She considered just ignoring the problem. Most problems went away if they were ignored long enough. Unfortunately, if the world really was in danger again, she needed it mostly intact. The Power summoning ritual wouldn’t function from Hell. She had to do it on Earth. Or some other plane of existence, but Catherine had never been to one. Expending additional time researching safe locations within other Powers’ domains was an extra task that was completely unnecessary while the world was safe.

So, heaving a great sigh that she ensured was audible over the phone, Catherine said, “First, calm down. I don’t know what Zagan said but Irene is cute when she is flustered. You’re not.” She ignored the indignant huff on the other end of the line. “Then calm down more and tell me, in clear and concise words, exactly what is happening.”

“I’m at the spot where Eva killed the demonic enigma. An obelisk is jutting out of the remnant.”

Catherine waited. Juliana didn’t continue. “That’s it? That hardly seems like an emergency. Let alone an emergency worth contacting me about.”

“You weren’t my first choice, but Eva wasn’t answering her phone.”

“She isn’t on Earth. In any case, some obelisk–”

“Wait!” Again, Catherine had to pull the phone away from her ear. “What happened to Eva?”

“She disappeared.”

There was another brief moment of silence before Juliana’s voice crackled over the speaker. “What? Just like that? What happened? Did she die or what?”

“Well, she never reappeared. I don’t know if she died or not, but she hasn’t come back. I would know unless something happened to her demonic side—which is most of her these days.”

“What are we going to do about it?”

I am going to sit here and enjoy my respite from her ritual circles. Do you realize how busy I’ve been with all that nonsense ever since she showed me the circle?”

“We’re just going to leave her? Where is she? What if she needs help?”

“She got back from Hell once in less than an hour. That’s faster than Zagan managed.”

Once again, Catherine held the phone away from her ear as the increasingly irritating young girl kept sputtering nonsense about needing to rescue Eva. As if such a thing was necessary. Had someone even summoned her after she had died? Catherine didn’t know a single demon who could manage to return so quickly. Possibly Zagan or other members of the seventy-two. Yet he hadn’t after he had died at the hands of the other hunter. That made Catherine lean towards the idea that he could not.

No. In Catherine’s mind, if Eva wasn’t on Earth, it was because she didn’t want to be on Earth.

And if she didn’t want to be on Earth, Catherine wasn’t going to risk her ire by trying to drag her here. Catherine didn’t know what Eva was capable of while angry, but she had a fairly good idea from her fights with the hunter. Even after her most recent treatment, she doubted that her paltry tricks would have much of an effect on Eva.

“Juliana,” Catherine said, stopping the flood of words from the phone. “I told you before that you are not cute when you’re flustered. If you have nothing to say that doesn’t involve Eva, I have other things to be doing.”

“Wait! What about the obelisk?”

“I was hoping that you would forget about it,” Catherine murmured. She swung her legs off the couch, standing in the same smooth motion. Might as well get whatever was going on over with.

“How could I forget? I’m standing right in front of it!”

“Yes, yes. Just tell me where you are.”

Catherine stared up at the obelisk with a frown on her face. “It’s definitely something from Hell,” she said, walking around it. Each of its four sides were only a few feet wide. It hardly would have been worth noting were it not for the height. “Perhaps a construct from some demon’s domain.”

“How do we get rid of it?” Genoa asked with crossed arms. She stood just to the side of her daughter, half protective, half trying to look like she wasn’t looking protective.

It would have made Catherine laugh under other circumstances. For now, she just felt a little depressed. A chunk of some domain was sitting on Earth. Similar to how a demon could connect a portion of the world to their domain, except without the permission of a mortal and, most likely, without a demon being involved at all.

Having her domain connected to the world would be a great boon. She would be able to organize all of her notes without the possibility of a transference circle losing them somewhere in Hell. Unfortunately, she doubted many people would be willing to give her permission. Maybe tricking someone into it would work, but not around here. Ylva disconnected her domain from the mortal plane willingly because of the theory that it would accelerate Life’s plans. Even though the plan had been foiled by all appearances, she didn’t want to risk coming under attack because of a linked domain.

Besides that, Brakket Academy had way too many demon hunters running around. Even if they were all dead for the moment, it probably wouldn’t stay that way for long. More idiots would rush in and fill their spots. It was high time she sought out greener pastures, to use a human phrase.

“Catherine?”

Catherine shook her head. “Sorry. Just have had a lot on my mind since everything ended.”

“Everything has not ended,” Genoa said, tapping an impatient foot. “This obelisk gives me a bad feeling. After it’s gone, maybe I’ll consider things done. Until then…” She trailed off, glancing up at the four-sided pyramid capping the pillar. It wasn’t really visible, as she was standing near the base and the sides leaned in, but stared anyway, perhaps just wanting to look up.

“I doubt this is anything to be overly concerned about.” There weren’t any markings around it like it might be some magical construct. Nothing really decorative either. Just an obsidian pillar, gleaming slightly in the moonlight. “However, other demonic enigmas died, leaving behind remnants of Hell. If they also have obelisks, I’ll be mildly concerned.”

The mother and the daughter glanced between each other for just a moment before Genoa looked back to Catherine. “I’ll be right back.” With that said, she blinked away, leaving behind Juliana.

Precisely the situation Catherine didn’t want.

Catherine started walking around the obelisk again, moving to the opposite side from where Juliana had been standing. Had been. The moment Catherine started to move, so did Juliana. Juliana moved ever so slightly faster as well.

The girl caught up and opened her mouth.

“If this is about Eva,” Catherine said before Juliana could say anything, “I don’t want to hear it. Demons aren’t allowed to help other demons reach the mortal realm, remember? Anything I say may constitute help and then I’ll end up at the mercies of the dolls.” She tilted her head up with a slight shake. “No thank you.”

That was a complete lie. Mostly. Catherine was almost certain that whatever she said, it wouldn’t matter. She could tell everyone exactly how to summon demons and no dolls would come after her. So long as she didn’t directly participate in the summoning or circle construction, she should be safe. Not only did she want to avoid testing that theory, but it served as an adequate excuse for avoiding a discussion that she had no interest in participating in.

Sure enough, Juliana’s mouth shut with a light clack of her teeth.

Catherine kept the smirk off her face as she pretended to observe the obelisk. It was somewhat of an odd structure to have leaked through. Mostly because it hadn’t been there before. If anything was going to appear over the remnants, she would have expected it to appear shortly after the remnants formed.

More than that, the base of the obelisk almost perfectly occupied the ovular section of Hell on the ground. Any random construction in a domain would likely have appeared incomplete. A section of a wall. Maybe even a floating chunk of a building that was connected to the rest of the structure beyond the borders of the remnant.

In fact, the more Catherine stared at it, the more she decided that it couldn’t just be some random section of a domain. A sinking feeling built up in her chest. Something was definitely off about the obelisk. No markings. No inscriptions. From the base, the tip was just a little too hard to see with how it leaned inwards.

Spreading her wings behind her, Catherine took off without a glance at Juliana.

She circled around. No part of her crossed the threshold of the remnant. She had ensured that on the ground and it remained true for up in the air. Crossing over into another demon’s domain was dangerous enough under normal circumstances. Especially unknown demons. Not only had this been created from an enigma, but the entire thing shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Catherine had no intention of being sucked into nonexistence should the remnant suddenly cease to exist. Which, frankly, wasn’t that far-fetched of an outcome. Normal domains had their links to Earth broken when the demon died. Since it had been created from a demonic enigma and that demonic enigma had, by all evidence, perished, Catherine didn’t believe for a moment that the area was as stable as it looked.

With Life’s corruption and subsequent sealing of its portals, she couldn’t say what was keeping the remnant around. Unless, of course, it was some odd interaction because of the enigmas’ inability to perish. Which might be what had caused the remnant in the first place.

Ensuring Lynn finished her research into killing enigmas might be a higher priority than it had been not so long ago.

Like the rest of the obelisk, the top wasn’t inscribed or detailed in any way. Facets that faced the moon gleamed a brilliant white while their opposites were as dark as the night. She didn’t touch them, but figured that they would feel smoother than a pane of glass. The very tip stood a good ten feet above the base of the pyramid, which, itself, was on top of the rest of the obelisk. It was more of a spire than an actual capstone.

But, Catherine breathed out a sigh of relief. There wasn’t any kind of activity at the top. No laser beams, no buildup of magic about to destroy the world. It was as inert as the rest of the structure. Probably just some demon’s poor idea of aesthetic architecture.

Feeling much calmer, Catherine dipped down and landed on the ground just a short distance from Juliana and the girl’s mother, who had apparently returned during the flight.

“Well?”

“I only checked one other. The one just outside the city, not far from our home. There is something there, but not like this. It might have been an obelisk–”

The relief vanished from Catherine faster than it had come, leaving her with a vacant empty feeling. “Another obelisk? Same type, same size? Give me more details.”

“Identical, as far as I could tell, but destroyed. I didn’t exactly sit around and measure it, I doubt I could tell the two apart. However,” Genoa paused, holding her hand up above her head. “From about here on up, it was rubble. Bright red lava leaked down the side, spreading out across the ground.”

Frowning, Catherine pulled out her cellphone. One of the applications was a map. On that map, she had already pinned the location of each known remnant. One from Eva, three from Ylva, and another two from Brakket security guards, and the one from Genoa. Staring at their location, she couldn’t see any sort of pattern to their placements. The five didn’t form the points of a pentagram or a star, neither were they arranged in anything resembling a circle or a straight line. They were simply random dots on the map as far as she could tell.

Wondering when the obelisk had appeared, she started towards the pizza place—they would have noticed it popping up—only to find a sign out front stating that the building had closed. Permanently. Apparently its owner didn’t feel comfortable in a city filled with earthquakes and raining enigma.

Which sent another, far more worrying thought through Catherine’s mind.

The earthquakes had really only started up after Juliana summoned Zagan. Catherine doubted that Zagan really had anything to do with the quakes; his summoning had merely been the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the mortal saying went. Some of those earthquakes hadn’t been accompanied by falling enigmas.

Unless they had and nobody noticed. The affected area beneath the purple shimmers in the sky had extended well beyond Brakket City’s borders. If things had fallen out there and never wandered close to the city, they could still be out there. Or they could have died. That enigma they had captured had tentacles that were eating the creature itself. Who was to say that another enigma’s tentacles hadn’t taken a big bite out of their jugular vein.

And some of them could have easily perished in the fall itself. Some demons, and demonic enigmas by extension, had wings. Those that didn’t could easily not have the hardiness required to survive a fall from such a height. One could have hit the ground at a velocity most terminal, been sucked into a Hell portal, and left behind a remnant that an obelisk now occupied.

It was a silver lining that Genoa’s obelisk had been destroyed. Perhaps it had been some other plan of Life’s to bring more of Hell over. Perhaps something else entirely. With one destroyed, any sort of magical array wouldn’t function properly.

Still, they couldn’t leave it alone.

They needed to do a complete sweep of every inch of the affected area and probably several miles around as well. Unfortunately, they couldn’t even count on being able to spot obelisks cropping up as easy ways to spot the remnants. The obelisk had popped up sometime within the last twenty-four hours. Likely during the ritual after the guards were called away to deal with the situation closer to Brakket Academy. If the obelisks appeared based on time, another remnant could easily remain nothing but a dark blight on the land, easily missable during a quick flyover, only to turn to an obelisk later on when nobody was looking.

“Gather up your mage-knights,” Catherine said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

And a lot of work that would further delay her own research.

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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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010.028

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The sky burst into flames.

Catherine couldn’t help herself. Despite the mild danger of being stuck in an almost hypnotic trance should she stare at the massive eye overhead, she looked up.

Burning meteors raced towards the eye from the edges of the shimmering portals. One impacted one of the molten teardrops. Rather than be forced down towards Earth, it continued straight towards the eye, neither stopped or slowed. Everywhere one of the meteors hit, the eye caved inwards. Like a giant bed sheet with bowling balls dropping on top of it.

Plumes of flames burst forth from the impacts.

Less than a minute after Eva disappeared and it already looked as if the world truly was ending.

Though, Catherine didn’t find herself all that concerned. This had been the plan. Probably. Had it occurred when she wasn’t expecting something to happen, Catherine might have worried a little. But Eva said that something would happen and something had happened.

So she turned on her heel. Srey stood there, still staring at the spot where Eva and the avatar had vanished. Unlike Eva, Catherine had a feeling that she knew what had shaken the other demon so.

It was all she could do to pretend nothing had changed.

During Eva’s initial ritual to corrupt the Avatar of Life with the Avatar of Void, she had gone been between the two avatars. And that had not left her unscathed.

Unscathed was probably the wrong word to use. It implied that something bad had happened to Eva. By all appearances, Eva hadn’t been distressed in the slightest. No. She had changed. In a few short minutes, she had gone from feeling like a miniature Zagan to eclipsing him so completely and thoroughly that Catherine had thought she had witnessed the birth of a new Power. For a moment. Further thought revealed the truth.

Obviously Eva hadn’t become a new power. She had only absorbed a sliver of a sliver of a Power. Just because Catherine had trouble distinguishing the feeling between Eva and the Avatar of Void before it had vanished did not mean that Eva had become such a thing.

Of course not.

How silly.

And yet, Catherine couldn’t help but wish that she had been the one to propose that plan. If she had just been the one to suggest that she stand between them while Eva performed a standard treatment from outside the circle… Catherine shivered just thinking about it.

The ritual circle was well and truly ruined. The hunter hadn’t cared about destroying it in the slightest. Neither had Eva or anyone else for that matter. It would be completely unusable should anyone try. Worse than merely fail, it would probably explode. Violently at that. Catherine did not want to be on this continent when that happened.

But it was unlikely that anyone would be able to gather up six humans and six demons and try to start it anytime soon. Zoe had mentioned wanting to destroy it and all records of how to construct it once they had finished.

Not a bad plan. It would certainly keep those humans who liked to meddle in things they shouldn’t from setting off another apocalypse.

Catherine had a feeling that she wouldn’t be deleting her copy from her phone. It was far too valuable. Perhaps not this century, perhaps not even the next, but one day, Catherine would redo this ritual. Not the whole thing. She had no desire to summon up Life. Just the Avatar of Void.

Of course, the ritual would need to undergo some changes. When the avatar had first formed fully, it had gone around to sniff at each and every participant in the ritual. Never before had Catherine felt such a sensation of impending doom.

Yet nothing had happened.

Unless she made some changes, she had a feeling that such would not be the case in any future rituals of the same type. What she needed was an inert avatar, much like it had become after the ritual had been interrupted. Perhaps after running one or two such rituals of that type, she would feel hearty enough to try with an avatar that was not inert.

Catherine shuddered again. Maybe after one or two hundred inert avatar treatment rituals.

Yes. That was a good plan. The century or two she planned to wait just to ensure that everyone save for Eva and the other demons were dead might actually be mandatory given how many modifications she would need to make. Everything in the ritual circle to do with Life could be safely stripped out. Then she needed either a way to turn the avatar inert without it being a fluke or a modification to summon only inert essence.

Much much to do. But she had time. All the time in the world, in fact.

For the moment, she had another ritual circle to go inspect.

Catherine just about teleported herself when she hesitated. “Srey,” she said, glancing to the stunned demon, “remain here. Ensure no one attempts to interfere with this ritual circle unless they mean to demolish it.” When he didn’t immediately respond, she drew on her magic forcing him to look at her. Such a simple thing would have been impossible on another demon not so long ago. What would she be capable of in a few centuries?

“Yes,” he said immediately. “Sorry. I just… with that thing staring at me.” He tremor ran through his whole body before he shook his head. “And was that demon really the same demon we’ve been helping for the past several months?”

“Don’t get any smart ideas,” Catherine said with a curl of her lips. “The day is not yet over, be vigilant. If there are any surprises, come find help.” She glanced over towards the edge of the circle. “And keep an eye on that nun. If she’s still alive. I don’t know if Eva wants her alive for some reason, so I recommend not killing her without due cause.”

“Of course.”

Catherine couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle as she teleported back to the main Brakket Academy building.

Now to find Devon.

— — —

Go take a rest, Eva had said. Take a rest indeed.

How was she supposed to rest when the town was under siege? Every one of those meteors—accompanied by the occasional lightning bolt—spawned another dozen of the enigmas. None of them had hit the ritual circle, so no one there really knew.

Though Genoa had to admit, she had been in far less restful battles. In fact, this might as well be a vacation for her. Juliana was doing a good portion of the work.

Watching her daughter walk down one of the streets of Brakket City while enigmas of varying size, shape, and material—not all of them were fleshy, they had passed one almost entirely made of stone not long ago—turned inside out around her was somewhat disconcerting. Juliana didn’t even have to move a hand. She just looked at them. Boom, inside out enigma.

Disturbing hardly seemed a big enough word. Genoa couldn’t even begin to categorize the feelings running through her as she watched Juliana turn around with a mournful smile.

“So that’s how it is,” Juliana said, a note of finality in her voice. Like she was absolutely certain that she was about to be disowned or something equally ridiculous. She turned away from the most recently inverted enigma with a shudder, looking rather sick.

Genoa couldn’t really blame her. She had never been able to handle such things. It was a wonder she hadn’t fainted outright.

“I can see why you said that you would be fine on your own,” Genoa said as she wrinkled her nose at the last in a long line of twisted monsters. Juliana had insisted that they would do more work saving the town if they split up. Obviously she had been correct. Nothing had sneaked up on Juliana. The one thing that tried ended up just as inverted as everything else. “Can’t you just do that to the entire city at once?”

“Probably. Zagan’s power is finicky though. I don’t want to accidentally kill everyone by messing up.”

“That’s a possibility?”

“Well, yes. Kind of. Zagan listed off a few limitations when he first was showing me how to use his power. One of which was that I cannot directly kill someone. However, turning these enigmas inside out doesn’t directly kill them. They die because they’re inside out.” She paused and scowled at herself. “Or maybe it is directly killing them, but it works on them anyway since enigmas don’t die like normal things. I’ve never actually tried it on a non-enigma.”

“Good. Don’t.”

“Of course not. But that’s a perfect example of how it could be finicky.”

“But if–” Genoa cut herself off as a few rhythmic beeps came from her pocket. Her cellphone. And the default ring tone as well, meaning it wasn’t Zoe, Eva, or anyone else she had programmed in. “Hello?”

“Is this Genoa?” came the rough yet familiar voice.

“Devon?”

“Why does everyone know who I am?”

“We’ve met. I lived at the prison for a few months just a year ago. How could–” Genoa shook her head. “Never mind. Did you need something?”

“You come… highly recommended in the ritual construction industry,” he said, somehow managing to sound extraordinarily sarcastic without changing his gruff tone in the slightest. “I need you back at the Brakket Academy building.”

“I can’t–”

For the second time in half as many minutes, Genoa cut herself off. This time, it wasn’t because of some minor distraction in her pocket. Nor was it because a horde of enigmas had descended on her and Juliana—her daughter took care of everything that came near without any intervention needed on Genoa’s part—but it was because of the sky.

All the clocks said that it should be night-time. Given how early night came in the winter, it should really be pitch black out. Yet there was this ever-present light around everything. Not strong enough to cast any hard shadows around, yet bright enough that no one needed to worry about seeing. Eerie, but not too unusual given that eye overhead, the light it put off, and how bright the edges of the portal were.

If she had thought it was bright before, it was nothing compared to now. The edges of the portal hurt to look at. They turned a brilliant golden-yellow, though the interior remained much the same. Like a perfect solar eclipse. Though that only lasted for a few moments.

Great meteors, completely unlike those that had been falling as teardrops, streaked across the sky, crashing into the eyeball hard enough that Genoa could actually hear it as distant thunder.

“What is that?” she snapped simultaneously to her daughter and to the man over the phone. One had been keeping secrets from her for a long while and might have a clue. The other called just in time to be too convenient.

“Eva’s signal, I presume,” Devon said with a slight grunt, answering before Genoa’s daughter could even open her mouth. His tone hadn’t changed in the slightest. Or, if it had, it sounded bored. “Which means I need you here now. I don’t know if this is a temporary window of opportunity or not.”

Genoa glanced down at her daughter. They were in the very center of the city. Not the farthest possible distance, but Brakket had been built on one edge of the city. A fifteen minute walk, at least. She could blink with her daughter, but that would still take more time than blinking without her.

Her eyes drifted over one of the inverted carcasses and she found herself putting on the same mournful smile that her daughter had on just a few minutes ago.

“I’ll be there in two minutes.”

“Good enough,” Devon said just before the line went dead.

Looking back to her daughter, Genoa put on a confident smile that she didn’t quite feel. “That was a signal from Eva,” she said, pointing a finger overhead.

“I don’t know anything about that. Giant fireballs in the sky were never–”

“No time to talk. I’m heading back to the academy. Can I trust you to stay safe out here?”

“Of course. I told you, I’ll be fine on my own.”

Genoa closed her eyes for just a moment. Juliana was so young and already trying to be independent. Independent with all that demonic magic, at that. When Erich had cut ties with the family, it had been… expected, frankly. The second he graduated, he disappeared. Even before then, he had been distant. Largely Genoa’s fault.

But this wasn’t the same. Juliana wasn’t cutting ties. Independence and abandonment were two entirely separate things.

Genoa would still watch over her. At least until she graduated.

If only to ensure she did not use the demon’s power in the wrong manner.

“Good,” Genoa said, blinking away in an instant before Juliana could respond.

Two minutes, as it turned out, had been an overstatement in the extreme. Genoa finished blinking into the academy’s lobby a mere thirty seconds after she left.

— — —

Devon stared at the ground. The lightshow growing more and more intense over his head did nothing to distract him.

His design had gone from an inconceivable null in his mind before realizing what had happened to plans in his head to a full sketch in less than six hours. In all his life, he couldn’t recall having made a ritual circle in such a short amount of time. From design to construction, his rituals normally took several weeks at minimum while he went over all possible variables.

To say he was mildly nervous about this current construct would be putting it lightly. Not that he would allow a hint of his feelings to show on his face. Even having it looked over by Catherine in the few minutes it took for the earth mage to arrive did little to assuage his concerns.

He merely watched the earth mage work with a critical eye, pointing out every inconsistency no matter how small. From the depth of one line in comparison to another, the shape of a circle that wasn’t quite circular, an ellipse that was too circular, Devon corrected everything. Everything had to be perfect. Every last little thing, every single tiny microscopic little thing had to go according to his plan.

The earth mage grew more and more impatient with every passing correction. For the life of him, Devon couldn’t figure out why. Did she want the Earth to implode thanks to a crooked line?

Devon gave a sad shake of his head as the woman stepped away from the stone platform.

“Adequate,” he said.

“Adequate,” Genoa repeated in a flat tone of voice. “You rush me over here, making me leave my daughter in the middle of a city infested with those enigma things, and you spend ten minutes micromanaging my casting for adequacy.”

“Yes.” Was that truly hard to understand?

Before the woman could shout at him, which she had obviously been about to do, Catherine cleared her throat. “It’s finished. What now?”

“You remain here,” Devon said. “The ritual is simple enough to activate with an influx of magic. I assume you are capable. I’ll send your phone a message when it is time to activate it.” He paused, turning back to the earth mage. “Despite your performance, we have two more to complete.”

“Two more? Two more with you sitting around pointing out minor scratches in the stone?” She gave a most unladylike groan. “Even Eva’s massive ritual circle didn’t have this many minute details that needed correction.”

“Yes,” he said with a deeper than normal scowl, turning towards Catherine at the mention of Eva’s ritual. “And we can see how well that turned out.” He paused for a moment to point a finger at the raging inferno above the planet. “Can’t we?”

Nobody answered, giving Devon cause to smirk. Foolish Eva. And foolish Catherine. In fact, near everyone was a complete and utter fool, but especially those who had been involved in that ritual project.

“Stay here,” Devon repeated to Catherine. He leaned down and dropped a tiny portion of green flames right in the very center of the ritual. A marker for later. “And you,” he said to Genoa, “come with me. I assume you can blink.”

He knew she could. He had seen her appear in the lobby. So, without waiting for her to confirm her abilities, he stepped away. Slowly at first, to ensure that she knew where he was headed. Once they got going in a straight line, he started stepping as easily as walking. She managed to keep up, surprisingly enough.

The second point for the ritual was roughly half the distance between Brakket City and the prison. The center of the distortion overhead should be in the middle between this unconstructed circle and the one in front of Brakket Academy. Flaring a small bit of green flame in his hand, he followed the top of the flame as it leaned one way or the other until his movements brought him to a point where the tip was straight upwards.

“Here,” he said. “The ritual needs to be rotated exactly sixty degrees.” With a wave of his hand, the green flame lashed out in a thin line. “The central layline should align with this flame.”

With that, he stepped back. The woman scowled for a moment, but eventually got to work.

As it turned out, she was faster than last time. She made about as many errors, but fixed them with less complaining. Leaving the same marker of fire in the center of the ritual circle, Devon started blinking off towards the third spot.

While Genoa got to work, he double-checked his calculations. It was one of the things he actually enjoyed about modern technology. The whole reason he had even purchased a cellphone after watching Eva and her friends use them. They were amazing calculation aids for rituals. Catherine had taken it to an art form with how she drew out the rituals on the phones themselves. Devon still stuck with paper for the most part. His fingers weren’t quite so dexterous as the succubus’.

Catherine’s hands made it look much easier than it actually was when he had tried it.

But for now, he merely checked the trigonometry he had already mentally calculated. Perfect. Of course it was. The angles should all be correct. Some of the positioning was guesswork. He didn’t have an exact location for the boundaries of the tear, but he had included a little leeway in his ritual design.

The second Genoa finished the ritual to his standards, Devon turned away. “Stay here. We will be coordinating with Catherine to start all three circles at the same time.” He stepped away, only to return one step later. “You do know how to initiate a ritual circle, do you not?”

“Of course I do,” the increasingly irritable woman snapped at him. She started to say something else, but Devon didn’t really care how much she was annoyed with his attitude, so he stepped away again.

The moment he returned to the second ritual circle, he whipped out his phone and sent off a few short messages. One to each of his helpers. A mere note asking for confirmation of their readiness. In less than ten seconds, he had received a response from each. So he sent out one more message.

Giving them only two seconds to read it, he knelt down and activated his ritual with a burst of magic.

Three beams of violet light crashed into each other in the middle of the air. Two of which came from far enough away that he couldn’t see their sources. Where they met, a three-sided pyramid formed. One made of pure magic. It twisted in the air, aiming a single point downwards, touching each of the three beams with just the tip, and three points outwards.

From each of the three points, a much thicker beam fired off, crashing into the sky. Or rather, the edge of the portal.

The first rotation carried all three beams in a full circle. It took nearly ten minutes.

The second rotation only took a little over nine minutes and forty seconds.

The third rotation went shorter than that.

The pyramid spun around. Each pass went faster and faster. As it completed passes, the portal overhead shrank. It was barely noticeable after the first few, but by the time ten rotations had been completed, it was impossible to not notice.

Trails of smoke accumulated in the air where the portal made contact with the regular sky. It was… probably harmless. Devon wouldn’t want to breathe it, but he didn’t see why anyone else would be worried.

Devon watched as the pyramid spun faster and faster. Until he couldn’t even tell the difference between the three separate beams. They left such a trail of light behind that it looked like a single cone. Eventually, that cone narrowed down to a thin beam of light.

A pulse of magic formed into a ring that exploded across the sky. Clouds, both natural and the smoke left behind from the tear, rippled as it sliced through them.

But that only lasted a moment.

The pyramid between the three ritual circles underwent a rapid unplanned deconstruction, filling the air with motes of violet colored magic. All of which dissipated into nothingness. Plants bent as an invisible shockwave crashed over them. Devon threw himself to the ground as the air cracked over the top of his body.

He remained still for a minute, ensuring that there wouldn’t be any follow-up blasts. None came. With everything settled down, he got back to his feet and looked around. The sky was whole and unbroken once again, clear of any violet shimmering or massive eyeballs. Though it wasn’t exactly clear. A dark cloud of smoke hung overhead.

Devon gave a faint nod of approval to no one in particular. A job well done if he said so himself. He turned away, stepping rapidly back towards the prison. He had some wards of his own to set up. Defenses—for that ritual wouldn’t have eliminated the enigmas still present on Earth—and possibly something to purify the local air.

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