Tag Archives: Clement

008.024

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Eva dropped out of the sky, seething with her fists clenched tight as she grit her teeth together. Her final blink had carried her over the makeshift wall of the Brakket dormitory plaza.

The first thing she noticed were the arachnid legs scattered about. Arachne’s dismembered legs. Perhaps the source of the disturbing feeling.

Or so Eva thought until she spotted the rest of the demon, the hunter, and the doll.

The hunter’s curved sword was buried in Arachne’s stomach.

Blood boiled the moment Eva saw Arachne’s state. Time stood perfectly still as Eva’s brain screeched to a halt.

Arachne’s eyes were wide. As wide as they could be with the way her facial carapace worked. Her body was half twisted, as if she had tried to avoid the blade only to miss it by just a few inches.

Her carapace was cracked. Black liquid oozed from the wound. It dripped along the length of the sword, staining the edge black. When it hit the emerald encrusted hand guard, the blood flowed over the gemstones until it reached the very lowest point.

From where it dropped down onto the ground, creating tiny splashes as it pooled on the glassed-over surface.

The pool expanded slowly. Blood seeped from the ground, filling the area around the fighters’ feet. It spread outwards, the circle growing to cover more of the plaza with blood. More than could possibly have seeped from Arachne’s wounds. Even with her severed legs, her body simply couldn’t hold so much blood.

Arachne had her mouth open in apparent shock.

But only for a moment.

As Eva watched, Arachne’s mouth curled into a vicious grin.

Time snapped back into place, reality resettling as Eva let out a short breath.

Arachne was still alive. For the moment, at least. No portal had opened to ferry her back to Hell.

Hands snapping forward, Arachne clamped down on the hilt of the sword, locking it in place and preventing the hunter from pulling it out.

He only tried for a moment longer before releasing the sword.

The doll forced him into a retreat. With his sword stuck in Arachne, there was nothing aside from his armor to protect him from the doll’s blade. He was obviously not willing to take the chance his armor could handle the blow.

He slid backwards, just barely ducking his head under the doll’s sword. His head came back up.

And he caught sight of Eva.

She couldn’t see his eyes. The visor of his helmet was nothing more than a thin slit. Even were she closer, she would have trouble seeing what lay behind it. Yet him noticing Eva was plain to see.

He stilled ever so slightly, angling his helmet further towards her.

Eva broke into a run. She could have blinked across the battlefield, but she was still forming a plan in her mind. Without his sword, the hunter would be far less deadly. Though, given how prepared he and his partner were, Eva couldn’t discount the possibility of traps or secondary weapons.

She was half hoping that he would pull out something else before she got to him. Preferably with enough time for her to react.

One thing was certain, this hunter was not leaving alive.

The other hunter had escaped, barring the suicide theory. It didn’t bother Eva that much. She had been able to confirm that the hunter was crippled. More importantly, they had gotten a hold of the idol. So long as it wasn’t a trap, Eva likely had Juliana to thank for that acquisition. She had been the one to knock over the hunter’s chair, putting her farther away from the idol and making sure she couldn’t teleport away with it.

Without the idol, creating a large ritual circle would be significantly easier.

But seeing what this hunter had done to Arachne… for that alone, he would pay.

Eva did note the blood around the hunter was freezing. White frost started close to him. It spread out in an almost perfect circle up to a few feet away from him.

At first, she considered the notion that the other hunter had come back. While a possibility, there was a far more likely explanation.

His armor had been enchanted to freeze liquids that came too close. The other hunter had never been actively protecting him. She had merely been watching from a distance, perhaps looking for another opportunity to crack the sky.

It hadn’t frozen Arachne’s blood as it dripped down his sword, but perhaps there hadn’t been time. In her momentary shock, the moment had felt like it had taken forever when, in reality, the entire interaction between the hunter, Arachne, and the doll had passed by in an instant.

Eva moved close enough for her feet to touch the black liquid. It didn’t splash or even ripple where her feet came down. Rather, it moved to the sides, allowing her to reach the dry ground beneath.

Despite not having touched her dagger into the liquid, it moved.

Which gave Eva an idea.

She called on the blood, willing a small orb to move up to her hand just as if she were manipulating regular blood.

The black liquid answered her call.

Eva let out a small chuckle as she ran, calling up more and more to surround her in a nearly opaque whirlwind of blood. Of course, with the hunter still able to freeze it, it wouldn’t do that much good. Perhaps she could bury him, but that could give him time to think of a way out.

She would much rather just tear out his throat and be done with it.

The blood twisting around Eva drew in close. It ran along her skin and her carapace. With a thought, she formed it into sharp claws extending from her hands. As soon as the blood was in place, she solidified it into razor-sharp crystal claws.

If the hunter was going to freeze it anyway, she would act first. Better yet, if her theory was correct and the hunter was only freezing liquids, she would still have enough control over her solidified crystals to explode them should any shards make it through his armor.

Eva called up the blood around her feet. It was nice that it wanted to give her a decent grip on the regular ground instead of the likely slick surface caused by the blood. However, that wasn’t what Eva wanted at the moment.

The last—and first—time she had tried this had been during her first trip to Hell. She had stood on liquid blood, using it as a step-ladder to get over a wall. The blood had only been able to act as a platform because of her will holding it together.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t been thinking much at the time. The reaction had been mostly fear driven.

The sounds the Keeper made as he moved, the pain, and being blind had all made the situation somewhat hectic at the time.

Just before she reached the hunter, Eva pushed off the ground. A jump with Arachne’s legs could carry her straight over the hunter with no problems.

The hunter pulled a dagger from his armor, slicing it through the air right in Eva’s path.

Still in the air, Eva kicked. The blood on her feet acted as a solid platform for a mere instant. The strength behind her kick ricocheted her at a right angle. With the hunter turning to slash at her old position, it put Eva right behind him.

Eva wasted no time. There was a small seam near his waist. Larger gaps in his armor just under his armpits and the backs of his knees.

She swiped at the easy to reach spot first. With his arms raised to attack Eva, it was almost like he was offering himself to her.

The crystallized claws extending out from her regular hands barely skimmed the surface of one of his pauldrons. Before Eva even realized what had happened, the hunter had vanished.

Without the expected impact and the unfamiliar weight on her hands, Eva stumbled forwards. Her foot hit against the ground.

In trying to dig her foot into the ground to catch her stumble, her foot slid out from under her. Eva did the splits as she fell to the ground.

She grit her teeth, letting out a slight hiss of pain.

Ice crystals coated her feet. The blood had stayed liquid long enough for her to pull off her aerial trick, but it had frozen soon after. Combined with the already frozen ground, her footing was in a precarious spot.

Eva rolled along the ice, avoiding a dagger in her back thanks only to a moment of forewarning from her blood sense.

He didn’t stick around for long. Somehow, someway, he noticed the doll sprinting up behind him. Her blade sailed clean through the air as the hunter moved to escape.

“Thanks,” Eva said as she climbed back to her feet. She made sure to brush off the lingering ice before planting her feet down again.

A quick glance behind her showed Arachne still around. She wasn’t moving much, just lying on the ground while holding tight to the hunter’s sword. That she hadn’t been drawn into a portal to Hell filled Eva with relief. If she had survived this long after being skewered, Arachne would live.

So long as she kept the hunter from finishing the job.

The doll twitched her head ever so slightly in Eva’s direction. “This… human is a troublesome opponent. He doesn’t move like a human.”

“Fighting is taking its toll on him,” Eva said, swinging her head back around to face the hunter full-on.

He was just standing there, panting for breath. He gripped his dagger tight in his hand.

For all the similarities between wards and enchantments, Eva couldn’t actually tell if it was magical or not. His sword gave off a feeling of revulsion that made Eva want to avoid it. But his dagger looked utterly normal to her eyes.

The bones in his body were slightly misaligned. Especially down in his legs. Were he to take off his boots, he would probably need a cast for several weeks. There were a couple of spots that looked as if they had broken clean through. He was held up thanks only to the rigid armor he wore.

Of course, Eva fully intended to help him avoid such a dismal fate.

“I don’t think he was meant to be in such a prolonged battle. So long as we keep him from escaping, he will wear down until he makes a mistake.”

“I would prefer if this ended sooner. I do have other business I must attend.”

Like standing around, frozen in indecision?

Eva almost spoke her thoughts, but the doll had moved before she could open her mouth.

Rather than follow after only to find that the hunter had moved before she got there, Eva waited. There was almost no chance that he would attempt to engage with the doll using only the dagger. Either he would reveal some other trick from up his sleeve or he would be forced to move.

If he didn’t… well, no need for Eva to get involved in that case.

The second before the doll reached the hunter, he vanished. As Eva expected.

He was dashing back towards the web wall in a straight beeline.

Straight to his sword and Arachne.

Eva blinked towards him with a snarl. Three rapid blinks to disguise her intentions. One to his left, one to his right, and finally one right in his path. Eva kicked off some of the slowly freezing blood to dodge a downward slash of his knife. On her way, she raked the jagged tips of her claws across his armor.

It wasn’t the weak points. Her claws scraped across his chest and arms, shedding thousands of tiny shards into the air. A few even got caught in his armor.

She blinked just a short distance away before he could properly retaliate, clapping her hands together even before she had fully rematerialized. Eva made sure to target only the crystalline shards. Normally, when she clapped her hands, she obliterated any blood that wasn’t near her body. That usually covered any attacks she had thrown. A few special cases, such as when she amputated her legs, required more precise targeting.

In this case, such indiscretion could be bad. She had considered just detonating the entire battlefield. But who knew how much debris would fly around. Not to mention the problem of Arachne. The spider-demon was lying right in the middle of the deepest puddle. Theoretically, she could try only exploding the pooled blood around him.

Theoretically, she could accidentally explode it all.

Not to mention the fact that he froze the blood around him. That would give him enough of a buffer that his armor could probably take any residual impact from the still-liquid blood.

Loud snaps accompanied the clap of her hands. Pockmarks dotted his breastplate and arm guards. A few of the holes even started bleeding, especially those around his arms. Not much red liquid dripped out of the holes. But Eva could still see it. It dripped down his arms, pooling inside his armor.

More important were the holes. Openings for a second, deeper attack.

The hunter had to break off his charge for the sword. Eva’s interception bought time for the doll to close the distance. Again, the hunter chose to retreat rather than meet her blade. He moved quick enough that Eva couldn’t follow. Somewhere to the side.

Eva heard a soft groan just behind her. She started to turn.

Only to feel the cold edge of a blade against her throat.

“Stop her,” the hunter hissed with wet words. Though her back was to him, she could clearly see blood splatter against the inside of his helmet. “And you get to live,” he added after taking in a labor-filled lungful of air.

Her first thought was to simply blink away. She could. She had just before been blinking around him, so he didn’t have any sort of mobile anti-teleportation wards about him.

In front of Eva, the doll was approaching. Not with the speed that she normally used, but walking. The heels of her leather boots made slight ripples in the sea of black blood as she moved. Her sword was held downwards in a single hand with her arm stretched at a slight angle to keep the tip from touching the ground or the liquid.

Her eyes stared forwards with a certain coldness that Eva might have otherwise ascribed to only Ylva. Only, they lacked the dead milky grey of Ylva’s eyes, being a vibrant silver instead.

For some reason, staring into those eyes, Eva got the distinct impression that the doll wouldn’t hesitate to run her through to reach the hunter. It would probably resolve her indecision as well.

More to the point of the hunter’s request, Eva doubted she would be able to stop the doll. At least, not without fighting. Fighting the doll didn’t seem like it was the smartest idea.

So Eva just stood still. She spent a moment, listening to the heavy breathing of the hunter behind her. Each breath came in strained and sounded as if he were gargling blood with every exhale.

It was a wonder he was even standing.

“Tell her to stand down,” he hissed into Eva’s ear as he dug his blade deeper into her throat. It was still not quite cutting. He held it at just the right angle to where most of the pressure came from the flat of the blade rather than the edge.

Even if he did twist his arm, Eva doubted it would be that troublesome to deal with. Small cuts could be healed in an instant. Even deeper gouges could be repaired or at least contained with assistance from her dagger.

In contrast to his already fast heartbeats increasing in speed, Eva was the epitome of calm.

She had a plan.

She just needed a few more seconds.

It would be nice if the doll would hurry up.

To be fair to the doll, her languid approach might possibly be an attempt to give Eva the time to escape. Eva wasn’t sure if the doll would or even could think along those lines, but the only other option was that she was moving for intimidation purposes.

Smelling the rancid stink of sweat pouring out of the hunter’s armor, Eva doubted that he needed anything more to intimidate him.

Tapping her leg, Eva gave the slightest jerk of her head towards the hunter. Just moving her neck a fraction of a hair in the hopes that the doll might hurry up.

While she could escape, as she had already considered, doing so would just continue the chicken chase around the arena.

The doll apparently got the message or got tired of waiting. She kicked off the ground, sending a wave of black blood high into the air as she rocketed forwards.

Eva felt the hunter tense through his armor. She wasn’t sure if he tensed to run or to slice her throat.

Shedding the larger portion of her crystalline claws to avoid jabbing herself in the face, Eva snapped her regular claws up to the hunter’s arm. She clamped down, holding his arm, and the rest of him, in place.

The dagger he had half stuck into her neck didn’t even factor into her concerns.

She was too busy watching the doll.

Three more steps, Eva thought. Two.

Once the doll raised her sword to strike, Eva released the hunter and blinked away.

A clang of metal on metal echoed across the battlefield.

Eva wasted no time, she turned and blinked straight back behind the hunter.

The hunter had both arms in the air. One still held his dagger, dripping with Eva’s blood. The other crossed his dagger, using both his armor and the blade to catch the doll’s sword. Despite stopping the doll’s blade, his own dagger had been half buried into his arm.

Bending her wrists, Eva moved the remainder of the crystallized blood into place. A single spike on the end of each arm. She pulled back and jammed both straight into the hunter’s armpits and pulled away, leaving the spikes in place.

He let out a cry. Knees buckling and arms weakening, it wouldn’t be long before the doll beheaded him.

Eva didn’t give her the opportunity.

Blinking away, Eva clapped her hands as she moved. She didn’t even turn to face the hunter when her hands touched.

A spray of warm liquid hit her back.

She waited for just a moment as more blood rained down, joining with the black demon blood.

Eva let out a long sigh before finally turning around.

The doll stood to one side, covered in red with her sword angled downwards at her side. Eva half expected her to be caught in the blast. If she had, oops. But obviously the explosion hadn’t harmed a hair on her head. Aside from the red, she looked as pristine as she had when Eva first saw her.

As for the hunter…

His legs were still there.

Some of his torso as well. Everything from ribcage and up was simply gone. His armor had split apart like a soda can that had been left in the freezer. One of his arms was lying a good distance away, sticking out of the black blood. Scanning the area, Eva couldn’t see the other.

Or a head, for that matter.

Despite the lack of head, Eva felt quite confident in proclaiming him deceased. The jury was still deliberating over Sawyer, but this man had not been a necromancer.

In fact, now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure that she had seen him cast a single spell.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Eva just about sat down for a rest. She did take a quick moment to patch up the hole in her neck before she remembered something.

“Arachne,” she hissed to herself as she whirled around.

The spider-demon was still lying on the ground. Still grasping the sword. Still on Earth.

Still alive.

Eva blinked over.

Arachne was staring up at the sky with her teeth set in a grimace. The moment Eva stepped over her, that grimace turned to a smile.

“Don’t worry,” Eva said before the spider-demon could try to speak. “I’ll take you to the nurse right away.”

That smile immediately slipped back into a grimace.

Just as Eva was reaching out to pull the sword from Arachne’s stomach, she felt another blade against her neck.

“We have yet to resolve our dispute.”

Eva closed her eyes as she drew in a deep breath. She was really getting sick of having blades at her throat.

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008.023

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Arachne hissed through her teeth. Another of her legs was lying on the ground. Attacking with them had definitely been the right choice. Arms, and the hands attached to them, were just too valuable. Especially while she was weaving webs.

It hurt to lose them. When Eva had amputated her legs, she had taken several anesthetics to numb herself to the pain. Arachne hadn’t. And frankly, it hadn’t hurt much at all. The following weeks she had spent regrowing her legs had been more annoying than any kind of suffering.

But the hunter’s sword was odd. It cleaved cleanly through her limbs as if they weren’t even there. The human phrase would be ‘like a hot knife through a stick of butter.’ Worse than that, it reminded Arachne of being hit with lightning from the Elysium Order’s nuns. Not so much the time her face had been exploded—she hadn’t felt much from that incident—but she had been hit with it enough otherwise to remember its feeling.

That feeling of it crawling through her, eating away at even her demonic regeneration.

But still, better to lose a leg than lose an arm.

Though, that didn’t mean that the legs were infinitely disposable.

There were only the six on her back plus her two primary legs in her human form. Well, there had been six plus two. At the moment, there were only the two left.

The hunter was getting desperate. With the way the doll moved and hounded him, he had been largely ineffective in doing anything.

Except for when he sliced off her legs.

Really, that was more Arachne’s fault than anything. She didn’t have to put herself in danger. He would hack his way through the makeshift walls penning him in and escape. Arachne could just let him go instead of intercepting him.

But Eva was out there.

Seeing Eva stand up and walk into the dormitory had been a relief. Feeling her leave towards the city had been a shock. Arachne wanted nothing more than to chase after her. Her Eva could be walking into more danger.

Let’s be honest with myself, Arachne thought as she watched the hunter duck under the doll’s sword only to find himself punted across the plaza by the golem’s fist. Eva is definitely heading into danger.

That was just how Eva worked.

Arachne narrowed her eyes as the hunter crashed into Brakket Academy’s brand new fountain, mostly destroying it. The doll jumped high into the air, dropping down with her blade pointed straight at the ground.

The hunter managed to roll out of the way, dodging the attack just as he had the last four times the doll tried to get the drop on him.

It was enough to make Arachne wonder if the doll couldn’t learn properly. If he could dodge it three times, a fourth was probably not going to help. A fifth certainly not. She might eventually get lucky, but Arachne might be dead of old age by then. And Arachne didn’t even age.

The hunter continued his roll for a short distance before snapping up to his feet and charging the webbing separating him from the rest of the city.

And that was another reason Arachne couldn’t leave to help Eva. He was getting desperate to escape. Perhaps he had noticed Eva leaving as well and wanted to stop her from doing whatever she set out to accomplish.

That was something Arachne could never allow.

Glancing down at her severed leg, Arachne picked it up.

Not to mention, he is really pissing me off.

The tip of her leg was still sharp. This one had been severed at the first joint, leaving it looking more like the top of a spear than anything else.

Pulling back her arm, Arachne threw the leg at the hunter. She didn’t expect it to do much damage. His armor could stop the doll’s sword from slicing all the way through.

But the hunter did stop hacking at the webbing long enough to slice at the flying limb.

He backed away from the webbing almost immediately. The doll was still digging her sword out of the fountain, but Genoa’s golem was moving into position.

With two quick steps, he made it to the doorway of the Rickenbacker dormitory building.

Genoa’s golem crumbled to a mound of lifeless earth.

At first, Arachne thought that Genoa was fleeing, running away like a coward before the hunter could reach her.

A wall rose from the ground in front of the Rickenbacker. A smooth sheet of stone stretched high up, rising even higher than the roof of the building.

Arachne grit her teeth. The stupid woman should have just done that in the first place instead of creating the small pillars that Arachne used to web in the plaza. It would have been far more effective.

The reason why quickly became clear.

The golem was down. A fact that did not escape the notice of the hunter. Getting obviously desperate, he charged straight back towards the section of the web he had just been hacking away at. A section Arachne hadn’t had a chance to repair.

Golem down. The doll was still busy for another few seconds.

Too long. He could be gone by the time the doll got into the fray again.

Arachne grit her teeth and charged. Spare legs or not, he would not be making it to Eva.

— — —

Eva landed right on the edge of the roof, almost falling backwards onto the minefield of wards.

A barrier from a set of shackles that she had landed on saved her. It caught her, acting like a wall to lean against. Juliana wasn’t stopped by the barrier. She went straight through. It was a bit disorienting to have the weight on her shoulders not be stopped by the wall that Eva hit, but the situation quickly resolved itself as Eva shoved off the barrier.

At the same time, she slung Juliana around, dropping her onto the rooftop. Eva hadn’t intended to drop her, but the sensation of being off-balance combined with Juliana’s weight had her moving not quite how she wanted.

“Shackles,” Eva said.

Though her words were unneeded. Eva was kept from interacting with the shackles and the rest of the roof by the barrier. Juliana wasn’t. The moment she hit the ground, her flailing hands disturbed the chalk enough to break the shackles.

And a good thing too.

Eva needed the mobility.

She gripped Juliana’s hand and pulled, dragging both of them out of the way of an icy boulder crashing down right where the shackle had been.

After making sure that Juliana was actually on her feet this time, Eva ignited her hands and started tossing fireballs. It didn’t matter that the hunter intercepted every single one with a flurry of snow. So long as she was busy defending herself, she couldn’t conjure up giant balls of ice.

Eva let out a sharp hiss of pain as something tore into her side. Just because the hunter couldn’t conjure boulders didn’t mean that she couldn’t slip in an icicle.

She realized in an instant what had happened. Eva hadn’t see it coming. When her fireballs hit the hunter’s snowballs, they exploded in a burst of steam, snow, and flames. The icicles came straight through, leaving her with very little time to react.

Worse, Eva couldn’t take cues from the hunter’s body language. Now that Eva was closer, she could clearly see that the hunter wasn’t moving in the slightest.

She had something around her neck, encrusted with gemstones. Some kind of focus, probably. But she barely moved her neck. Her arms hadn’t moved. Her legs were just as still, bent in her chair at a slight angle. It would have been an awkward position to sit in. Eva doubted that she could feel it.

The holes in her back were still there. Someone had tried to stitch her skin up, but they hadn’t fixed up the actual punctures in her spine.

Really, it was amazing that she could cast at all. Eva didn’t need a focus. Her entire body, being mostly demonic, acted as a focus. But even though the woman clearly had a demon’s eye, Eva doubted that would allow her to cast spells with no focus.

Devon had a tentacle for an arm and still used his rings on his other hand.

If Zoe were here, Eva might consider asking her how foci worked with severe nerve damage and how magic flowed through the body. But she wasn’t. Eva didn’t know where she was. Maybe Wayne had teleported her back to her house only for them to get caught up in whoever was attacking Ylva.

Also, probably not a good idea to have idle conversations while fighting.

The fact of the matter was that the hunter was casting spells and she was doing it without moving. The hows and whys just didn’t matter.

Of course, being close enough to see into her body through her blood gave Eva hope. The hunter was undoubtedly paralyzed from the neck down. At least.

To the hunter’s side was a small table. Atop it sat the corrupted idol, the one Nel believed to be the cause of the sky cracking effect.

Eva jumped to the side, avoiding an array of icicles while launching a few more fireballs of her own. None of her fireballs were the big explosive kinds. The hunter would likely see them coming from miles away. Even in her debilitated state. Eva didn’t want explosions being somehow rebounded on her.

Juliana was finally getting her bearings. Only a few seconds had passed since they landed on the roof, so Eva couldn’t blame her too much for being a little stunned. Especially with the dropping and dragging. The icicles pinging off her armor probably didn’t help much either.

But once she finally got to work, she didn’t waste much time in becoming effective.

The rooftop gravel around the hunter exploded. Her chair tipped straight backwards as rock flew up into the sky.

Eva didn’t waste the opportunity. They might not get another one.

She charged forward. There were no wards on this roof to get in her way. Juliana had handily taken care of all the shackles with her explosion. Nothing was in her way.

Not even a wall of ice sprouting from the ground would stop her.

Eva vaulted it, hopping over to the other side with only her hands grazing across the top.

She landed on the other side and purposefully fell to her knees. Between her knees, she pinned the hunter down.

Just in the off-chance that the hunter was feigning her paralysis.

Eva drew back her fist and brought it down, bashing out a few of the hunter’s teeth. She had to keep the hunter as disoriented as possible to avoid becoming an icicle pincushion.

For just a moment, she paused. Eva almost said something incredibly silly. ‘That was for Martina,‘ or something similar. But it was too embarrassing. In the end, Eva just shook her head and punched the hunter a second time.

As she drew her hand back again, Eva opened her fist. She clawed her hand, preparing to tear the hunter’s throat out.

But paused again.

Though a few of her teeth were missing, the hunter was smiling.

Eva felt a chill run down her spine. She had missed something. Some trap. Some weapon.

Juliana!

Had she still had hairs on her neck, they would be standing on end. Eva blinked away from the hunter. The ice wall was still just behind her. It had grown for a few moments more after Eva had vaulted it, but it wasn’t much of an obstacle when she could blink straight up.

Landing on the top, Eva was overjoyed to see Juliana standing right where she had been. Her first thought had been that something had happened to Juliana. That not being the case did not mean that everything was fine. She could hear a light crackling somewhere in the air.

Eva jumped from the top of the ice wall. As she moved, her vials of Arachne’s blood exploded, releasing their contents. The blood swirled around behind her. She landed on Juliana, tackling her to the ground. The blood formed into three overlapping shields around the two of them.

The outermost shield collapsed almost instantly. The second followed, lasting a few seconds longer than the first before succumbing to the heat.

Eva never got to find out how the third shield would have fared. A lurch in her stomach and a lack of building beneath her had Eva falling straight downwards.

She lay still for a moment. Powdered brick and sawdust clouded the area, making breathing unpleasant.

On a brighter note, while the heat was still around, it wasn’t scorching her. In fact, it was at the point where it was almost a pleasant heat.

For her.

Juliana was… not screaming. However, she wasn’t sounding as if she were enjoying a nice vacation on the beach either. Muffled moans and groans escaped from the vents in her helmet.

“Are you alright?”

At her words, Juliana just gave a loud groan. A louder groan.

“Right,” Eva said, taking her eyes off Juliana to look around. Just because she wasn’t dead now didn’t mean that the hunter had expended all of her traps.

While there was evidence of more shackles having been drawn on the walls and what was left of the ceiling of the building they had fallen into, it was all damaged beyond a working state. Probably meant to hinder or trap Eva if she chose to get to the roof from street level instead of hopping across the neighboring buildings. It certainly wasn’t meant to operate after destroying half the building.

It wasn’t hard to imagine what happened. The hunter had obviously been channeling magic into the false idol during their fight. She made another of those sky cracks.

And, unless she had been intending to commit suicide, she was likely still alive somewhere.

“Juliana, I’m leaving for just a moment,” Eva said, turning away.

She had to find out what happened to the hunter and whether or not they were still in immediate danger. Before moving, she did glance down at the obviously in-pain girl. Through her sense of blood, Eva could see no immediate problems. She wasn’t bleeding out or even hemorrhaging blood internally.

“Try not to die. Your mother would kill me.”

“Me too,” she said after drawing in a labored breath. “She threatened me with necromancy.”

Eva smiled for just a moment. It disappeared as she turned away again.

The building had survived the attack for the most part. Half of the roof had collapsed. A good portion of the debris was glassed over similar to the bricks in the Brakket dormitory plaza. The edge of the roof looked to be relatively stable. Mostly because of the brick wall beneath it. It hadn’t collapsed and it wasn’t swaying. Even if Eva’s weight disturbed it enough to cause the whole wall to come tumbling down, the building’s roof was only three stories high.

She would survive a fall.

Eva blinked up to the top and froze again.

She hadn’t been able to see the top of the intact portion of the roof from below. It was a solid sheet of glass. No evidence of the ice wall remained. No chair. Not even splinters of the table. Even the neighboring buildings had their roofs half glassed. A good portion of the wards on them had failed entirely. At least, Eva could detect nothing from them.

Because the roof was a smooth surface, it didn’t take long to find one thing that had survived the destruction.

A simple idol. A statue of a woman in tears, holding her hands up to her face. It was small enough for Eva to carry. About the size of an extra-large water bottle.

But there was no way she was going to touch it.

There was a zero percent chance that it was not a trap in some way or form. The hunter might have teleported away after being knocked down. She might have actually gone through with the suicidal route and vaporized herself in her own attack. But no matter what, she wouldn’t leave behind a weapon of such a magnitude. Even if she assumed that Eva had perished in the attack, there were still other enemies of the hunters around.

And yet, Eva couldn’t leave it where it was. The hunter was gone at the moment, but leaving it behind to rejoin the fight against the armored hunter would let somebody else collect it.

Eva grit her teeth. She had accomplished her objective. The hunter wouldn’t be bombarding them with the idol anymore.

Unless it was a fake. That was also a possibility.

But for the moment, she was going to both assume that it was real and that the hunter had retreated.

Glancing back down into the building to make sure that Juliana hadn’t been attacked while Eva had been distracted, Eva found her to be sitting upright. Which she took as a good sign.

“How are you?” Eva called down.

“Achy. I could use a massage.”

“Just be glad you didn’t get boiled alive in that armor.”

“Yeah, thanks for that.”

“I need you to come up here and encase something in a solid block of metal. Can you do that?”

“Probably.” Juliana slowly got to her feet. There were a few choked off grunts of pain as she moved. Most of them happened as she tried to straighten out her back. Once on her feet, she placed her hands on her hips and arched her back.

The pops were audible even from where Eva was standing.

“The stairs,” she said once she finished stretching and had a moment to look around, “I think they’re gone.”

Eva jumped off the edge of the roof, touching down next to Juliana. “Don’t worry. I can carry you.”

Juliana immediately took a step backwards. Holding up her hands in front of her, she said, “I don’t think–”

“No time to argue,” Eva said, grabbing one of Juliana’s outstretched arms. She used the arm to help heft Juliana up into a fireman’s carry. “Don’t worry. It’s a higher jump than last time, but not as far horizontally.”

“Eva, I don’t–”

“Too late.”

Eva jumped back up to the roof. This time, she didn’t land right on the edge where the brick wall turned into the roof. It wasn’t a very wide landing spot. With a squirming person on her back throwing off her center of balance, Eva wasn’t feeling too confident balancing on a thin beam.

Especially with how she had nearly fallen off the roof the first time, only saved by the shackles.

The glassed over part of the roof that was still intact had looked stable enough.

Eva’s carapace-covered feet touched down on the smooth surface. She immediately froze.

Cracks spread out from where she landed. A spiderweb of lines appeared in the glass, accompanied by high-pitched snaps.

Holding her breath, Eva waited. She didn’t think that falling through the roof would kill her. Or Juliana, for that matter—though she had been banged around a lot, she was well protected within her suit of armor—but it could cause more of the roof to collapse on top of them after they fell through.

The cracking stopped shortly after Eva landed. She let out her breath in a sigh of relief.

“Let’s be careful where we step,” Eva said as she gingerly set Juliana down.

Juliana didn’t move from where Eva set her. “This doesn’t look very safe.”

“Probably not. The sooner you encase that thing in metal, the sooner we can both…”

Eva trailed off. There was something. Something in the air. A feeling she had not felt for some time.

And a feeling she had only felt once before.

Confusion settled in as Eva tried to puzzle out just what was causing the disgusting sensation in her stomach.

“Eva?” Juliana said, voice full of concern. She glanced this way and that as if she was expecting an ambush. “Are you alright?”

Waving her hand, Eva closed her eyes. The feeling wasn’t around them. It was coming from the direction of the school. Not a danger to them. No ambush to be worried about.

At least, not one from the sensation she was feeling. There was still the possibility that the hunter was still around.

“I’m alright,” Eva said, snapping her eyes open. “But someone else isn’t.”

“What–”

Eva was gone. Blinking away as fast as she could.

The feeling was something she had felt before. Right before her first real encounter with the hunters.

When Daru was being tortured. Given that Daru hadn’t ever turned up again, he had probably died as well.

Someone, some demon was in a serious state of injury back towards the school.

Clenching her teeth together, Eva felt her rage burning.

Only one demon had been in direct danger. Only one demon had been fighting with the other hunter.

“Arachne,” she hissed. “I’m not letting you die again.”

— — —

Juliana watched as Eva disappeared, leaving her all alone on the roof. At least the hunter was gone. And the thing Eva pointed out…

Thinning the metal armor on her legs gave her plenty to work with. She set to covering the disturbing little idol with metal. After a few moments, she had a shiny smooth tube. It looked like something that would be launched out of the main guns of a battleship. Except much smaller.

With that done, she tried nudging it with her foot.

Nothing happened.

She picked up the encased idol. Just in time for a small portion of the roof to crack and fall into the rest of the building.

I really need to get down from here, Juliana thought as a few more cracks spread across the top.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.014

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Alright! Let’s move!” Eva shouted out over the somewhat smoldering field. Arachne was a short distance away, clearing out a few tumbleweeds. Vektul and Srey were both near each other and, as such, near Eva as well.

As soon as Arachne heard the shout, she dropped her tumbleweed to the ground and started running towards Eva without hesitation.

As she ran, Eva took the time to extinguish her lingering flames. While she wanted to burn down a good portion of the area, she didn’t want to start an uncontrollable forest fire. Or field fire, as the case was. Taking the time to do so wasn’t that big of a deal either. It didn’t take long and, more importantly, Eva doubted that they would be attacked. At least not immediately.

They only just started watching.

“We don’t want to run into them on our way out,” Eva said, turning towards Srey. “Which direction are they in?”

“There are actually two separate ones. Both started looking at us around the same time. Not exactly. Maybe a minute or two difference.” He pointed a hand towards the direction of the prison. Perhaps slightly to one side. “There and over there,” he said as he swung the hand. It didn’t actually move all that far. Still in the direction of the prison, but on the other side.

“How far?”

“Not very. Not right on top of us, obviously, but maybe five minutes of walking out.”

“Both of them?”

He gave a curt nod of his head.

“Great.”

“Is it?” Vektul cocked his head to one side, almost pressing an ear to his shoulder. “Friends of yours?”

“No. Great as in: Great, they’re setting up to ambush us on our way back to the prison.”

“Oh.” His head snapped back to a straight position as his smile spread across his face. “Great!” he said sounding perfectly genuine about being happy.

Eva turned away from him, ignoring his antics for the moment. “You hear that?” she asked as Arachne ran up to her side.

“Ambush? Are we running into it? Maybe going around and flanking one of the groups?”

“If they can hear us as well as see us,” Eva said with a glance at a shrugging Srey, “they’ll know we’re coming. There are twelve demons back at Brakket. I’d rather not have us get picked off in small groups. Best to avoid them for now and try to fight as a larger group.”

“Might not be so easy,” Srey said. “I think it is safe to say that they can hear us. Both sources started moving as soon as you said to avoid them. Or maybe as soon as you said not to get picked off in small groups. Either way, they’re coming closer.”

“While still scrying on us?”

Most methods of scrying that Eva knew about required the scryer to sit in one spot. Away from her altar and incense, Nel could only get what were essentially still images. The methods she had used to test her anti-scrying packets also needed someone to sit around still pools of water. Moving the water would disturb it and break the scrying effect.

Srey’s nod at her question was somewhat disturbing, though not wholly unexpected. Eva didn’t know every method of scrying after all. They might not be scrying at all. All she knew was that they were being observed by someone who did not wish them well.

“Right. Arachne, we’re moving. Follow me. Srey, Vektul, stick close.”

Eva took off in a run. Away from the hunters and away from her prison as well.

She could teleport away with Arachne so long as they hadn’t set up any wards. It was doubtful that they had. Srey would have said something the moment that he noticed any observations. Without observations, they couldn’t have known to set up wards.

Still, while Eva could teleport, she wasn’t sure about Srey or Vektul. She couldn’t ask without giving information to the enemy so long as they were being observed. It was something that, in hindsight, she should have asked before.

Too late now.

Either they needed to escape without teleporting or they needed to get far enough away fast enough that they had a moment of privacy.

“Only one of the two are following us. The second is staying where it was. Still observing, but… wait, no. Whoever it is just stopped.”

“But the first observer is still following?”

“Matching pace. Not gaining any distance, but not losing it either.”

Eva didn’t stop running, but she did hum in thought for a few minutes.

“Shall we turn and fight?”

“No,” Eva said, glancing over at Arachne. “Not yet. We just need to distract them a little longer. The others should be almost finished by now. At least drawing them out here was a success.”

Vektul, still running, tilted his head to one side. He opened his mouth for just a moment before snapping it shut.

Eva’s glare ensured it stayed that way.

Whoever the demon hunters were, they probably knew that Eva had been lying just now. However, she didn’t need Vektul confirming it. If their pursuers got confused or worried about something happening back in town or back at the prison and left to check on it, all the better for them.

Unfortunately, even after running for another few minutes, Srey didn’t give any update about their observers.

They were still being chased.

To fight or to flee?

Eva slowed down, motioning for the others to follow her lead. She continued in the same direction. It was just at a walking pace.

“They’re keeping pace with us. No significant distance change as far as I can tell.”

“How far back?”

“Still about five minutes of walking at their current pace, were we to stop moving.”

“And direction?”

He raised an arm, pointing.

Eva bit her lip. The hunter was still between them and the prison.

What they were lacking at the moment was information. How were they being spied upon? Who? Someone she knew or some random hunter that showed up while tracking the new demons?

“Counter reconnaissance? Shall we go and see if we can’t catch a glimpse of them?”

“What happened to running… and, uh, distracting.”

Eva frowned at Srey, shaking her head. “If they are matching pace when they could easily catch up, they probably don’t want to fight.”

“You’re fooling yourself.”

Maybe so. Eva didn’t want to fight. She didn’t even want to spy on them. Getting too near to them would likely commit them to a fight. Worse, it would leave them open to that second observer circling around and flanking them.

There could even be more individuals or groups out there who weren’t actively spying but were in contact with the others.

At the same time, if they could spot their enemies, they could start planning around them…

“Actually. Wait,” Eva said as she pulled out her cellphone.

They might be able to see what she typed. If they did, it wouldn’t really matter. There wasn’t much they could do about it.

Unfortunately, she didn’t have Nel’s cellphone number. She wasn’t sure if Nel even had a cellphone.

Zoe. I need you to get to Nel as fast as possible. Have Nel scry on me. Then, have her search a short distance south until she sees any other groups of people.

With a tap of her thumb, Eva sent the text out to Zoe.

It would solve at least one problem. Namely, who their pursuer was. If Nel could continue watching them until they went back to wherever they had made their base, it would be possible to turn the tables. They could be more offensive.

Unfortunately, Zoe would be wondering what Eva and three demons were doing out in the middle of nowhere. She would have to explain that later on. Maybe the truth, maybe some excuse. That could be decided whenever she had to explain. Hopefully she would go on and ask Nel with haste and without complaint.

The return message came almost instantly with a light beep on Eva’s phone.

Please tell me that you aren’t out looking for demon hunters.

Well, that’s an easy enough request.

I am not out looking for demon hunters. Nel?

Setting up her altar. Also not happy about being woken up.

“Well tough for her,” Eva said aloud. She didn’t bother replying, though she kept her phone out and in her hands just in case Zoe sent a reply. “Any change in their distance, Srey?”

“No change in the last few minutes,” he said, glancing off in the direction of their watchers. “I don’t like this. What are they waiting for? We’re doing nothing interesting and they’re still watching us.”

Eva glanced over towards Arachne and Vektul. Arachne stood as a silent aegis over her, ready to protect Eva if need be. Her eyes were glued on the horizon of the rolling hilltops as if daring the hunters to crest the top. Hands curled at her sides, Arachne stood slightly hunched. Just enough to easily leap into motion at the first sign of trouble.

Vektul, on the other hand, stood far more lackadaisically. Like a bored student. Not a single muscle in his body was tense.

Though he was staring up at the sky with some intensity.

Following his gaze, Eva found herself frowning at the clear night sky. The sun had finally fallen below the horizon not long ago—just before they had started running—and the stars had come out in force. With no nearby lights of any kind and the moon a mere crescent, Eva could even see the milky arm of her galaxy against the stars.

But nothing more interesting than that.

“Something up there?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“It might not be a good idea to stand still,” he said without a hint of fear in his voice.

But something sent a chill up Eva’s spine. She glanced towards the sky again, staring at one particularly bright star directly overhead.

Something clicked. Eva didn’t argue with Vektul.

She immediately turned and blinked in the direction away from the observers. Arachne caught on quick, actually lifting Vektul off the ground and carrying him over her shoulder. Srey turned to mist and whisked off ahead of even Eva.

They cleared the area just in time for a white beam of magical light to crash down right where they had been standing. The cold of the night was chased away by the blistering heat of the beam.

“It’s that thing from the Elysium Order,” Eva hissed.

Not the most articulate response Eva could have come up with. Nobody else present had even been around for the inquisition’s attack on the prison. She had told Arachne in the time since, but Arachne hadn’t been nearby.

At the moment, she was too busy running away to explain more.

This was bad. The nuns hadn’t used the device—Nel had called it cracking the sky, if Eva remembered accurately—while Eva had been indoors. They didn’t have shelter out here. Nothing but fields, hills, and occasional trees. Nothing that would stop a magical weapon of that magnitude.

Eva’s cellphone started going crazy. A constant stream of beeps indicating messages gave way to an incoming call ring.

She slapped the phone to her ear without stopping running. “Zoe? Little busy here.”

“I-it’s Nel! There’s an armored man following you. I think he is reading out your location over a phone.”

“Right. Thanks.” Nothing unexpected there. She had assumed that whoever was observing her was in contact with others. It was good to know that it was the armored man again. She wasn’t entirely sure how that helped at this exact moment, but so long as they got out of there, it could come in handy.

“There was another observer,” Eva said into the phone. “One that hasn’t been following us. If you look between us and the prison, there should be a large patch of scorched earth. Keep following it back towards the prison and you might see that observer, if they haven’t moved that is.”

In the mean time, Eva had to get her group out of here.

Preferably without revealing too many abilities, but with that sky cracking thing, Eva wasn’t about to discount anything.

“Vektul,” she said as they ran, holding the phone a short way away from her ear. Still close enough to hear if Nel had anything important to say. “Your portals. Can other people pass through them?”

She hadn’t wanted to ask while her pursuers could hear. With that Elysium Order beam, she didn’t have much of a choice.

“I suppose so,” he said, voice vibrating slightly with each of Arachne’s footsteps. “As long as I kept it open for others.”

Eva turned directions without responding. The others would follow her lead. Probably. If they kept running in a straight line, the hunters would be able to target them by just casting the sky cracking spell some distance ahead of them.

“Excellent. Open–”

“Eva,” Nel’s voice half-shouted over the phone.

Eva moved it closer to her ear before responding. “I’m here. What is it?”

“There’s some woman in a wheelchair. She’s sitting in front of… it’s like some sort of mockery of the Elysium Order’s idol. Twisted and evil. You must destroy it!”

“That’s nice Nel,” Eva said. “Tell me, does this woman have an eye patch? How about a few holes in her back?”

“Eye patch, yes. But she’s wearing clothes. Would the holes be in her clothes as well? I don’t see any.”

“Thanks Nel.” Eva disconnected the call. If something really important came up, she was sure that someone would call back soon.

New mission: Survive. That was always a priority, really. However, Eva really did not want to allow her enemies to possess a sky cracking idol.

“Vektul, can you portal us back to the field?”

“That might be too far away.”

“As close as you can then.”

Just as had happened back at the prison, a dark portal opened in the air in front of them. It started small before widening to a proper size.

Eva didn’t break her stride. She charged right into the portal and out the other side. Whether through clever portal placement by Vektul or simple luck, the ground was at the perfect height and incline to keep her from stumbling.

Less lucky was the addition of a new humanoid in range of her blood sense. Her demonic companions emerged from the portal behind her one by one. None of them concerned her.

Ahead and to the side, Eva found herself close enough to see one of their pursuers.

Not the woman.

A man clad in shiny metal armor stood at the crest of a hill only a quick blink away. The same man who had defeated Zagan at the start of summer.

Notably, his armor was not the same. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that large portions were missing. His arms and boots were clad in metal. One of his legs as well. His other leg and chest just had some kind of padded undergarment.

There was no surprise or shock in his posture. His heart rate remained steady as he drew his sword. A long, curved sword.

The same one that had torn up Zagan.

The vials of demon blood beneath Eva’s cloak exploded, releasing the liquid into the air. Two orbs formed into rings, flying off towards the hunter. Another two orbs formed up into a shield around Eva.

Her shield solidified just in time. The knight dashed forwards in the blink of an eye. His sword came down on the shield.

The blade bit into the membrane, piercing a portion of it, but stopping before it could cleave through Eva.

Both rings she had sent out passed the knight during his charge. She recalled them, but by the time they reached the knight’s back, he had already dashed away.

“Arachne!” Eva shouted, seeing his target a moment before he reached the demon.

She jumped backwards just a hair too late. One of her back legs fell to the ground even as her body flew backwards.

Eva’s shield, or what remained of it, collapsed into solidified daggers of blood as she blinked straight to the hunter. If they were hovering orbs, they wouldn’t blink with her. Daggers would.

And with much of his armor missing, he had plenty of soft spots for Eva to jam the daggers into.

Eva aimed for a particularly soft spot right around his armpit.

His body wasn’t there by the time her dagger reached her target. Somehow, he had managed to get behind her with his blade already swinging towards her neck.

Eva blinked again, not really aiming anywhere in particular. Just so long as she wound up far enough away from that sword.

Srey moved in to Eva’s vacancy, letting the sword pass harmlessly through his ethereal vapor form. The moment it was safe, he solidified.

When he did so, he wasn’t in the form that Eva had become accustomed to.

He looked humanoid, but his body looked like molten vapor. Dark plumes of smoke erupted from a white-hot mist that made up the solid portions of his body. He reached forwards, hands passing through the helmet of the hunter. He retracted his hands almost immediately in apparent pain.

But not before Eva heard a cough.

The hunter stumbled slightly as he coughed a second time.

Eva wasted no time. She didn’t know how long they might have even a slight advantage.

She blinked forward again, arm already posed to bring a dagger down into his shoulder.

He moved a gauntlet up, catching the solidified blood with the back of his hand. Shards split off. Some larger chunks dug into the metal. Other smaller bits sprayed around the area.

Eva clapped her hands together anyway, blinking away as she did so to avoid his raised sword.

His gauntlet protected him from the explosion. Partially. Most of the metal scattered around the area in tiny shards—shards that burned her skin anywhere they touched. She obviously hadn’t blinked far enough away.

But he was still in a worse state. Save for a few fingers, he no longer had a gauntlet on his off-hand. Unfortunately, save for a slight blemish, his actual arm was otherwise untouched.

He was still coughing. More frequently than before.

Before Eva could blink back in and offer him the other dagger, he disappeared.

Eva’s head whipped around as she searched for where he dashed off to this time.

Except, neither her eyes nor her sense of blood could find him anywhere nearby.

Eva pulled out her cellphone, speed dialing Nel before it even hit her ear.

The augur picked up the second the ring sounded.

“Talk to–”

“The eye patch woman is going to crack the sky again!”

“Vektul,” Eva shouted. “Portal to anywhere that isn’t here! Everyone else, get through it.”

It took only seconds for the demon to comply. Eva dashed into the portal alongside the others, chased by the white beam of light crashing down on their position.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.011

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“You were noticed?”

Clement started to shake his head, but paused after considering the question. “I wasn’t noticed, but one of the demons was aware that he was being watched.”

“As long as the augur didn’t spot you. The enchantments provided by the naughty nun,” she said with some amount of disdain in her voice, “won’t work if they know where to look.”

“I know,” Clement said for what had to be the tenth time. Just because he couldn’t use magic himself didn’t mean he couldn’t understand simple concepts.

Especially concepts related to enchanting.

The enchantments on his visor—his new visor—were quite the upgrade. Previously, he would be able to track demons. Walls hadn’t been much of an obstacle, but they did lessen clarity. More than that required specialized equipment that Gertrude had enchanted.

Now he could see specific individuals so long as they radiated enough demonic taint. He could tell which direction they were facing, whether they were standing or sitting, and several other minor details.

That wasn’t even getting into the auditory enchantments. Being able to hear a fly land on the wall was somewhat disorienting. Especially when Gertrude’s voice sounded perfectly normal at the same time.

It was handy for spying. Clement had to admit that.

Gertrude frowned, but she didn’t move.

She couldn’t move. Even with all the wonders of magic and potions, there was only so much that could be done about damage to the spinal cord. And Gertrude had a bit more than simple damage. She had three separate wounds that had each punctured straight through different points of her spine.

Clenching his fist, Clement grit his teeth together. She could still work her magic. Gertrude had been churning out a full suit of armor for him, complete with enchantments. His original suit had taken years to make, but this one would be completed within a handful of weeks. A few months total, but nothing that compared to his old suit.

That was about all she could do. With all of her time dedicated to enchanting, there wasn’t much in the way of distractions. No putting down a gauntlet to run off chasing down some demon or other.

She did have another project. Something that might assist her in moving about. Whether or not she would be able to fight was still unknown. At the very least, she would be able to get out and do reconnaissance with Clement.

“Stop that.”

Clement started. He closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath before relaxing himself.

“I can hear your teeth grinding together. You’ll ruin them, you know?”

Making a noncommittal grunt, Clement moved closer to Gertrude and brushed some of her hair out of her eyes. “Can I get you anything?”

“Not right now. But this is troublesome. We got rid of one of the primary summoners and half of the demons around. Now there are a dozen more? What does it take to put down this infestation?”

“Should we really be here?”

Gertrude’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. They were one of the few things that she still had full control over. As such, she went to every effort to make full use of her glares.

“You’re not suggesting we run, are you?”

“There are other demon hunters in the area now. Leave it to them. You said that healers of the Elysium Order might be able to mend your back. Let us seek them out.”

“And leave this to those amateurs? They run in and get themselves killed. We can’t leave this to them.”

Clement frowned. They hadn’t run in and yet Gertrude was lying in a bed, immobile. She had been caught off guard by a blood magic wielding demon and another demon who appeared entirely out of nowhere. Clement had only succeeded in his mission because of Gertrude’s ring. That was gone now. If another demon of that caliber appeared, they would be dead without a doubt.

Something is being planned and it does not bode well for humanity. Whatever it is.”

Gertrude wanted to shake her head in frustration. He could tell just from the way her lips curled downwards ever so slightly.

“Did you learn anything?”

Clement grit his teeth again for just a moment before remembering Gertrude’s warning. “Nothing significant. The humans were schoolchildren, discussing being trapped in Hell for a time. After that…”

“After that what?”

Frown deepening, Clement shook his head. “They discussed school. Attending it. The demons—or the female at least—seemed excited. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought they were ordinary children. Only a few comments stood out as things children wouldn’t discuss. Other than being stuck in Hell, that is.

“Of course, I missed portions of their conversation. If I watched for too long, the male demon would sense my observations and comment on it, halting the discussion.”

“Troublesome. Not insurmountable though. And you didn’t hear anything from the main group of demons?”

“I stopped by, but the dormitories are too full of people. All the sound blurs together into one unintelligible mess.”

Clement had been hoping to hear anything. After the girl and the demon who had injured Gertrude teleported in, he had tried for a while. Too long, if he was being honest with himself. Unfortunately, the enchantments just weren’t up to the task of filtering out things he didn’t need to hear.

“As we expected. I may be able to adjust the enchantment. It wouldn’t be ready soon, however.”

“Shouldn’t you at least be working on your own project. Doing something for yourself and getting mobile again?”

“No time. If these demons are planning on something, we need your armor ready to handle whatever that may be.”

“But–”

“Don’t argue. I’m not able to fight at the moment. It is going to be all up to you. Other hunters are unreliable. They can’t even kill a single demon despite sacrificing their lives trying. Pathetic.

Clement stood still in their home—one of the many abandoned buildings around Brakket City—and watched Gertrude for a moment.

With his sword still intact, he held no doubts about his ability to handle most of the demons out there. There were a few that might give him pause, but quelling a number of them might be enough to disrupt their plans. Finishing his armor would only increase his chances of success. Especially his chances of success while still living through it in the end.

If he died, was captured, or otherwise became unavailable while Gertrude was bedridden… she might be able to teleport someplace where she could get help, but he doubted that she would trust anyone to do anything. It was a very real possibility that she might choose to starve in this bed.

He didn’t argue against her words, but he didn’t have to like them either.

“Bring me your new boots,” she said after a moment. “I’ll get to working on reweaving the enchantments.”

Clement stood still for just a moment before moving to comply. She was right in the end. He needed to be ready for whatever may happen. To protect her, if nothing else.

— — —

The week couldn’t end soon enough for Eva.

Going to regular school with nothing exciting on the side to distract her was something of a nightmare. She had thought that it would be nice. A vacation from demon hunters, necromancers, nuns, and whatever else had plagued her school career. Unfortunately, that lack of excitement just revealed the true monotony of Brakket Academy—the dull feeling that most normal students experienced over the course of their school years.

Even a dozen demons running around the school and posing as students didn’t create quite the drama that Eva might have expected.

Professor Chelsea Lepus spent a moment loudly clearing her throat. “Now class, I know you’re still excited about our new friends,” she said with only a hint of distaste leaking through in her tone, “but we do have material that needs to be covered in a timely manner.”

One of the demons had been assigned to Eva’s class. The demon called Srey. One of the few who didn’t actually seem to want to be on Earth. He kept to himself in the back of the classroom, shooting glares at… well, mostly everyone, but especially those who approached him.

Not that his glares actually stopped anyone.

Glancing over her shoulder, Eva found a number of people all seated at his table. Mostly girls, but he had a few guys seated nearby as well.

And they were continuously giggling about something or other.

Apparently his appearance was cute. Eva just didn’t see it. As a human, he didn’t look much different from most other teens around the school. He had moderately long hair draped over one eye—though he wasn’t hiding anything behind the hair—and was lean almost to the point of being too skinny.

Of course, nobody knew what he really looked like. Not even Eva. She hadn’t asked and he hadn’t appeared anywhere outside his human form to the best of her knowledge. To her sense of demons, he was somewhat wispy and insubstantial. Not in the same vacuous manner of Vektul, but just lacking a firm presence.

But knowing that he was disguising himself didn’t stop half of Eva’s warding class from gathering around him.

There were two types of human students around the school. Some were fearful. It was easy to tell who fit into that category as they often ran around with their heads down, trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Why they still attended Brakket was anyone’s guess. Maybe they had no other choices either because of family and monetary issues or perhaps their family just didn’t see demons as a big deal.

Or they were first generation mages and had nowhere else to go.

The second category were the ones who were desperately overeager to interact with the demons. People who tried to crowd around the demons during meals, classes, or even between classes in the hallways. They would badger the demons with questions and comments in a manner that Eva would have expressly discouraged in the diablery class.

There were very few people in between the two groups. Her friends, including Irene and Shelby, were somewhat subdued about the whole thing. Most of the students who had participated in the diablery class were as well—which was nice to see. Just about everyone else fit in one category or another.

Amusingly enough, most of the demons seemed to prefer the company of the fearful group of students. Something that didn’t surprise Eva all that much. She wouldn’t want to be pestered with incessant questions about Hell or what she really looked like. A few demons reveled in the attention. The succubus that Juliana had met with chief among them. But the majority either kept to themselves or drifted towards the quieter half of the student body.

Unfortunately, her current class fit into the latter category.

Really, she wished that they would stop.

Chelsea Lepus was the warding professor for Brakket Academy, one of the electives that Eva had decided would be good to take. It had a vague relation to shackles that gave her a familiar enough grounding while still being something new. So far, it actually had very little to do with her blood wards. Those were constructed and acted entirely differently from thaumaturgical wards.

A good teacher, but she was strict.

Every time she stopped to address any disruptions, time just seemed to drag on.

Eva watched the clock, wondering if it had always been so slow. Each tick seemed to take longer than the previous.

“As I’m sure you’ve learned in your theory classes,” she said as the giggling died down. “Circles are an excellent basis for magical effects. They contain the magic put into them, allowing it to be used to power whatever you’re trying to do.

“In rituals, we draw a circle and define a height in the pattern itself. This contains the magical effect to a limited area. Were you to leave this part out, the magic would disperse upwards and downwards, still within the circle though too thin to work with in most cases.”

Professor Lepus drew a somewhat lopsided circle on the board and filled it with what Eva was almost certain were nonsensical scribbles until there was very little of the whiteboard visible.

“However, we are not learning how to create ritual circles. Thaumaturgy is all about phasing out such tiresome and cumbersome work used in the ways of old magics, replacing physical drawings with mental thought patterns. However, with only thought patterns things become both simpler and more complex.

“Some of you may be able to look at this and memorize all the intricate details contained within so thoroughly that you can form a perfect picture of the circle within your mind’s eye. And that will work for spell casting. But memory is prone to error. Sometimes a catastrophic error. Dangerous to cast and if I catch anyone doing so, you’ll be out of this class instantly.”

Pacing at the front of the classroom with her hands clasped behind her back, Professor Lepus stared out over the class as if daring them to go ahead and try.

After a few moments of staring, she took the eraser and wiped out a sizable portion of the circle.

“I just erased the spatial limiting portion of the circle. There is still a lot left, but it is far easier to memorize now, wouldn’t you say?”

“Won’t the magic just leak out the tops and bottoms now?” someone from the back of the class called out.

“Raise your hand before speaking Ana, but yes. Were you to attempt to power the circle as is, the magic would disperse. However, outside the physical space and with the power of thought, we can contain the magic elsewise. Can anyone think of how?”

The class fell silent for a moment. Even the people in the very back of the room were paying attention.

Eva had a feeling that she knew the answer, it was really quite obvious. But she didn’t want to get it wrong. With her distinctive appearance, she often felt that other people noticed her more often than they noticed others. And she really didn’t want to give demons a bad name by failing what was probably an extremely simple question.

At Eva’s side, Irene raised a hand into the air, saving Eva from having to answer. When called upon, she cleared her throat before speaking. “Think of a sphere.”

“Very good, Irene. In the physical world, drawing a sphere isn’t the easiest thing,” she said with a chuckle. Pointing a finger at the blank spot on the board, she continued. “But a simple object like a sphere can take the place of a portion of the circle. In this class, we’ll learn how to take more away from the ritual circle until all that remains is an easily memorizable spell. Casting it won’t be as quick and easy as your lightnings and fireballs, but it will be much faster than drawing it all out. Not to mention the lack of back problems from being hunched over the floor for hours on end.”

Looking around the classroom, Professor Lepus gave a firm nod of her head. “That will be class for the day. There will be no extracurricular work, though try to think up ways to simplify ritual circles with the power of thought.”

As soon as she finished speaking, the chime rang, signaling the end of class. Perfectly timed as always. No matter the disruptions, her lessons so far all had ended just as the bell was ringing.

Almost as if she planned for the disruptions.

Standing up, Eva arched her back, listening to the light pops going up her spine. Sitting in one spot for too long really put a crick in her back.

But at least she felt like she was learning something. Without all the excitement and danger going on, she actually had time to pay attention to the lessons. They were finally going more in-depth on the order and chaos side of thaumaturgy.

“I can’t believe you guys visited some demons without me.”

“I thought you would be showing up,” Irene said with a sigh. “Juliana said you might be coming.”

“Yeah, she didn’t tell me about it until after. Though not wanting them to be focused on me was a decent reason, it would have been nice to at least have been told.”

“Well, it was a strange experience. I had to keep reminding myself that we were meeting with demons and not some random student. Catherine is much more… obvious once you know what to look for.”

“They would definitely blend in a whole lot better if nobody knew that they were demons beforehand,” Eva said, glancing over her shoulder towards the demon in their class.

Srey was staring right at her. All the students around him were packing their bags or otherwise getting ready to go on to their next class. He just sat and stared.

Until Eva met his eyes.

With a slight jerk of his head towards the doorway, he stood up, slipped between the students crowding him, and made his way to the hallway.

Eva sighed. “I think he wants to talk with me now too.”

Irene, having watched the whole thing, just shook her head. “What gave you that idea?”

“Just the words of a little birdie passing by. Come on, let’s go see what he wants.”

“Me too?” Irene asked, taking a step back. After a moment, her shoulders slumped. “Fine. Save your breath. I would have just gotten talked into it in the end anyway. Or dragged along somewhat unwillingly.”

“That was one time. Every other time has been entirely your choice.”

“And that one time just so happened to be the time monsters almost killed us. At least nothing too bad happens when I go willingly.”

“You’re acting far too melodramatic,” Eva said as they got out into the hallway.

Looking around, she couldn’t find Srey anywhere. She could still feel him around, but his body was gone.

Which meant he had to be invisible.

Walking towards the insubstantial sense Srey emitted, Eva reached out with a single finger. “Poke.”

She had been anticipating her finger touching something invisible, but it passed freely through the air. As her lips curled into a frown, the air drew together, solidifying into the shape of Srey.

Not invisibility then. Or not solely invisibility. Either intangibility or some gaseous form.

It didn’t really matter right now. Maybe not ever, even. It was still nice to know.

And it gave just a little more reason for the insubstantial feeling she got from him.

“Sorry to disturb you,” he said, averting his eyes to one side while giving a slight bow.

Eva waited for him to explain what he was sorry about or what he was disturbing her for, whichever one he thought to call her out for. But Srey stayed frozen in his half-bow, head angled towards the ground.

Glancing towards Irene, Eva rolled her eyes. These demons were getting annoying. She was extraordinarily grateful that Arachne, Catherine, and Ylva hadn’t changed their mannerisms around her. It would be absolutely miserable if she couldn’t hold a conversation with any of them.

“Alright. What do you want?”

“I thought you might be interested to know that you are being watched.”

“That doesn’t sound particularly new.”

“They hate you. A lot. And me as well.”

Eva shook her head. “Nope. Still doesn’t sound too new.”

Though if Des was the one watching her, things could get troublesome. She was already known to not be too careful in involving innocents in her plots. Unless Eva was grossly underestimating her, she shouldn’t be that difficult of an opponent unless she had brought the haugbui with her.

Which she probably had, if it was her. However, Nel had been keeping track of the dark spot in her vision that followed Des around. Last Eva checked in, she hadn’t been moving anywhere close to Brakket. If she had been, Eva imagined that Nel would be running straight to Eva to let her know. Or borrow Zoe’s cellphone and just send off a simple text. Either would work.

The only other people who might hate Eva—at least the only others she could think of off the top of her head—would be demon hunters. They were a far more likely choice given the amount of demons openly walking around. If it was the hunters that had attacked Martina Turner, all the better. Eva hadn’t pretended to like the woman, but getting a little revenge on her and Lucy’s behalf might be fun.

“I don’t suppose you know who or where these people are?”

“They were watching us long enough that I just might. A vague direction to check out, at the very least.”

Eva took a deep breath. “Let me contact Arachne and perhaps Vektul. Irene–”

“I’m not going.”

“Wasn’t going to ask you to,” Eva said with a smile. “Just let Zoe know when you see her in class. We’re on a pure reconnaissance mission. The first sight of anything amiss, we’ll retreat. So tell her not to worry.”

“She’s going to cancel class to come and find you.”

“Maybe.” Eva paused, considering a thought. “Maybe I’ll go find Juliana. If she’s sneaking around meeting with demons, maybe she’s bored enough to go searching for demon hunters.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.028

<– Back | Index | Next –>

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zagan had to know.

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

Ten times? The monster was toying with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was over. For him at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

His breath hitched. His heart skipped a beat.

An icy cold gripped him, filling him with dread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had labels. He would be fine.

Clement shook his head.

Gertrude would be fine.

— — —

“The walls have stopped bleeding.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps more like a massage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, that was all anyone had done.

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

And now Arachne was supposed to help it along?

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

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

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

“Oh? And how do you figure that?”

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

“No Hell along with him?”

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

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

“Void thinks he can win.”

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

What am I supposed to say to this?

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

Especially given her own jump-started leap into demonhood.

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

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

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

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

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

“He died?”

“I don’t… think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Arachne didn’t budge.

“There are people out there.”

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

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

Tugging again, Eva got the shy demon moving.

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

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

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

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

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

“Just ignore everybody,” Eva said.

There were far more interesting things than the people anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

“Troublesome. It still works while broken?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Message sent, Eva glanced up from her cellphone.

And froze.

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

A horn.

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

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

The hunter’s blood.

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

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

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

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

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

Juliana, not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.026

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

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

She immediately froze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, he hadn’t come with her.

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

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

Something Eva would hear nothing of.

She had friends here. Friends that might need help.

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

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

And Eva was still somewhat fond of the succubus.

So Eva would help.

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

And froze.

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

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

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

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

Eva could see it in his blood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, Daru was likely dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a moment, the two just stared.

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

“What are you? You’re not a demon.”

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

In the mean time…

“An abomination.”

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

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

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

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

Without hesitation, Eva blinked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither really bothered Eva.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Eva didn’t feel like she was winning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A moment too long.

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

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

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

Between her body and the hunter.

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

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

And she found her fingers running over her bare neck.

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

“Looking for this?”

Eva’s eyes snapped to the hunter.

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

Arachne’s beacon.

“Give that back!”

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

“I said. Give. That. Back.”

“I–”

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

Eva took a step forward.

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

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

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

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

Eva saw red.

— — —

It is time.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.025

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something that had not looked likely from the start.

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

No, before Clement stood a devil.

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

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

Truly a monster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, finally ready?” the devil asked.

Clement didn’t get a chance to respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— — —

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

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

But tonight was different. Zagan was out fighting.

Or dancing.

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

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

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

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

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

Unless they were dealing with the other demon hunter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the hunter hadn’t answered her question.

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

“Here to kill.”

“I see.”

The hunter dashed across the room without further preamble.

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

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

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

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

Audible cracks ran through the floor.

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

She cut off channeling her magic into the circle.

Too late.

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

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

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

One moved.

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

“Summoning more demons? Tisk, tisk.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building up her magic, Martina tried for a teleport.

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

“Zagan,” she shouted, “help me–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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