Tag Archives: Devon

010.037

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Devon stalked around the prison courtyard, staring at the ritual circle drawn out where there had once been a basketball court. Eva’s treatment circle. Likely the very final one. He doubted that it was truly necessary. Taking a sample of her blood and examining it with a few spells, Devon had found nothing human about her. He couldn’t be sure if it had been her actions during the ritual—which he hadn’t seen with his own eyes—or if Void had interfered after pulling her down to Hell. Or perhaps it was merely some sort of metastasis. In the time since the last treatment, Eva’s body could have cannibalized itself in a benign or even beneficial manner. The whole reason for the delay had been because her body hadn’t been stable at the appointed time for her treatment.

However, this was his project. Though it had encountered a great number of bumps along the road, he intended to see it through.

If Eva didn’t require this final treatment, then it would harm her no more than Catherine had been harmed by her own experiments. Not that Devon was particularly concerned for Eva’s well-being.

Devon glanced to the side. A young boy sat in a wheelchair, arms and legs atrophied to the point where they were little more than skin stretched over his bones. Devon didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the boy. Some disease that kept his body from properly processing food and nutrients. He didn’t know the boy’s name. Frankly, he didn’t want to know. His biggest failure in Eva was becoming far too personable with her. Though he thought of her as a test subject, that had merely been a title he had attached to the person.

This boy was nothing but a test subject.

Truly, Devon didn’t know if he would survive. His health, despite his emaciation, was better than that of the other subject Devon had brought in not so long ago. Not by much. The treatment, especially the first treatment, was harsh. Eva had come though alright as a stroke of luck; hale and hearty, her only problem was that she had run away from home—police tended to worry more over healthy people than those already on Death’s doorstep. An easily remedied problem by simply ordering her to attend school and to not raise suspicion much.

So he already had a potential new subject lined up. Since tying up the mess with the Powers, summoning demons was once again possible. He was free to summon entirely new demons with no relation to or even knowledge of Eva. Or anyone around Brakket for that matter.

But first, Eva.

Devon scowled as he stared at the three– No– Four demons. Catherine knelt in one circle. For the other two slots, Devon hadn’t bothered with summoning any demons. The carnivean took one spot. The waxy ruax took the other, forced into its place by Devon’s domination. He didn’t want to use the ruax, and hadn’t used any dominated demon for any previous treatments, because of the concentration it took to keep it sitting still. Concentration he could be using to watch Eva.

There wasn’t all that much to watch. At the end of her previous treatment, Eva had the beginnings of horns poking out of her forehead, right around her hairline. Two bumps on her back that might have been the sprouting of wings had manifested as well. As of right now, several minutes into the ritual, neither had changed much at all. Her hair, short though it was, still covered what might be horns. Nothing had poked through yet. Her back was utterly smooth without even the hint of budding bat wings.

Again, Devon wasn’t sure whether that was the machinations of Powers, something with the ritual involving Powers, or even Eva herself. For all Devon knew, Eva had been capable of sprouting horns and wings for months and simply hadn’t noticed. Just as Catherine hid them from view while masquerading as a human, Eva could be keeping them suppressed.

Which all cycled back into his conclusion that Eva wouldn’t become a proper demon until she thought of herself as such completely and thoroughly. An idea Devon had considered was that she had nubs of horns simply because she thought that her treatments should have some alteration to her physical features. Her teeth and tongue were definitely inhuman, but they were different. Something easily hid simply by not opening her mouth.

Her eyes would have been a different matter entirely. Devon had been expecting them to change and had even gone out of his way to get her contact lenses that she could use to hide said changes. Unfortunately, he hadn’t seen how that played out. Her eyes had been plucked from her skull and eventually ended up replaced by the carnivean’s eyes.

All the more reason to try again on a less adventurous test subject. Though to be true to the original tests, he would have to use the original treatment circle. However, it would be far easier to keep a test subject contained for two years while he used the version developed with Catherine’s aid rather than the one he had started Eva out on several years ago.

Slowly, the ritual circle wound down. The light in the lines of the circle started to dim and peter off. None of the demons looked altered at all, not that the three of them should have changed.

The moment the ritual finished, Devon uttered a few words and banished the ruax back to Hell. It had served its purpose well enough over the past few months, but the strain on Devon’s mind while he was dominating it simply wasn’t worth the effort anymore. The only reason he had put up with it as long as he had was because he hadn’t been able to summon a replacement. That and the solitary confinement building offered breaks where he could release his domination and rest for a short time.

He considered banishing the carnivean as well.

Later. Its… dismissal from his services would need a bit of care due to their contract.

Instead, Devon stalked around the circle. Though his focus was on Eva, he paid a little attention to Catherine as the succubus got to her feet.

“I can’t tell the difference between now and before the ritual,” she whispered as she moved closer to Devon.

“Eva didn’t get stronger? More demonic?”

“I didn’t say that.” Catherine crossed her arms, curling her fingers over her elbows. “Would you notice the difference before and after dumping a glass of water into an ocean?”

Devon ran his fingers through his beard, making an idle note that he should shave or at least trim it one of these days; it was starting to get out of hand. In the center point of the ritual circle, Eva lolled around. Still conscious, which Devon found slightly surprising. Treatments usually made her pass out. It looked like a precarious thing though, as if she could topple over at any moment.

For a few moments, he just watched her struggle with herself. She slowly stabilized into a more lucid state. Her eyes grew sharper and the stubs of her limbs sprouted black blood to support her. It took several minutes, but she eventually clambered to her feet.

“Any changes?” Devon asked as soon as she looked steady enough.

Rather than answer, she moved one of her liquid hands to her forehead and started caressing it. Not the horns hidden in her hair, but just above her eyebrow like she had a headache. “A bit woozy,” she said, taking in a deep breath of air. “Did it finish properly? Or did you interrupt it.”

“No interruptions.”

“Oh good. I was a bit concerned that you had stopped it out of fear for my wellbeing. Glad I didn’t die again.”

Devon narrowed his eyes, glancing aside to Catherine only to receive a shrug. “That was a concern?”

“Had I passed out fully, yes.” Eva shook her head and pulled her hand away from her head. Somehow, she managed to avoid leaving a big streak of blood running down her face. “Still no natural wings,” she said with a halfhearted glance behind her back. “Or tail or horns, for that matter.”

“Feel any different?”

“Not particularly,” she said, rolling her shoulders and cracking her neck. “Aside from the headache. That will probably go away on its own, right?”

“Probably,” Devon grumbled. His earlier theory looked like it was right. For a moment, he considered asking her if she could try to grow wings and such, but eventually shook his head. “Blood,” he said simply. There were still a few tests to do before he completely signed off his research.

Eva held out her arm. A narrow cylinder stretched out of her wrist, roughly the same size as a vial. With her other hand, she plucked it off and tossed it to Devon. “Break it open if you want liquid blood.” Her arm had no evidence that anything had come from it, returning to the slowly churning black liquid that it had been since her return from Hell.

It was a neat trick, but… “I prefer blood untouched by your blood magics.”

“Not a single drop of my blood is ‘untouched’ right now. Nor will it be for the foreseeable future. You’ll just have to make that work.”

Devon grumbled under his breath, but pocketed the false vial anyway. He had expected something like that. The way she used her blood as limbs meant that there wasn’t much in her that couldn’t be used.

“So when is my next treatment? Three months? Or another long delay?”

“Next treatment?” Devon curled his lips back into a sarcastic smile. “What next treatment? You’re done. Congratulations. You’re a demon, Eva.”

“What– But– That can’t– I don’t even have horns,” she finally said after sputtering for a minute. For emphasis, she waved her hand around just above her head.

“I can see the obvious, girl. I expect they’ll grow in over time—perhaps all at once far off into the future.”

“I don’t feel like a demon. I’m just… me. Shouldn’t there be some big… I don’t know. Something.”

“What. Want a birthday party?” Devon snorted. “I don’t do parties. Ask the succubus. She’ll be happy to oblige.”

Eva blinked and glanced towards Catherine, who blinked and glanced towards Devon. Both spoke at the same time.

“What?” “What.”

“Perhaps not a birthday party, but I expected you to be ecstatic over Eva. Aren’t you wanting to use her in your own treatments?”

A certain hunger lit up in Catherine’s eyes as she slowly nodded her head. Looking back to Eva, she said, “That is a good point. Perhaps later, however. After everything, I think I’ve earned a few days rest. Besides, I might have to devise something special for Eva. Yes,” she said, starting to walk away. “Something special indeed.” She snatched up her cell phone from where it lay on a chair just outside the treatment circle.

Devon turned, not quite to follow her—she was heading back towards the women’s ward building. He only stopped when Eva called out to him.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“Back to my building,” he grumbled. “I’m not abandoning you. Not just yet. If you have any problems, I’d like to know about them before I get too invested into another test subject,” he said as he wrapped his hands around the boy’s wheelchair handles.

Eva, who had hand outstretched from when she had called to him, let it drop to her side as Devon started wheeling the boy away. She stayed right in the center of the circle, just standing there. Even the carnivean passing by to follow after Devon didn’t cause any reaction in her.

He turned once, then twice until he reached the iron door to his cell block. He had to step around the wheelchair to open the door before returning back to the other side to push it through. Annoying, but his newest test subject couldn’t run away so long as it was bound to a wheelchair.

All the while, he considered Eva’s situation. Plans ran through his mind, possibilities and variables as well. Had he missed anything important? Was there a need to do another treatment? Some of his questions would be answered after he finished examining Eva’s blood, but for the moment, he couldn’t think up any reason to speak with her again barring sudden problematic developments in her physiology.

“Is that what’s going to happen to me? Are my arms and legs going to be like that?”

Devon blinked. It took him a moment to realize where the noise was coming from. The boy. His test subject. “No,” he said. Immediately, he regretted his words. If, as he had all but confirmed with Eva, the transformation was at least partially mental, he shouldn’t be coloring its expectations with absolutes. He probably shouldn’t be speaking to it at all, but he had already broken that rule. “Or rather, probably not.

“But who knows. Demons come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and… materials.”

— — —

Brakket City wasn’t the sort of place that normally drew much attention. It was hardly qualified for its name. Brakket Town was even too big. Located in the middle of nowhere Montana with a population rivaling the most rural of farming communities, it had but one attraction to entice people to visit. Brakket Magical Academy. Brakket Academy or simply Brakket for short.

For the school was the city.

Though given a scholarship that covered many necessities of school life, the students also brought in outside funds. Some things simply weren’t covered by the school. The students acted as a lifeline. Their outside money didn’t allow the city to thrive, it wasn’t enough for that, but it gave the city an intravenous drip while the school administrators worked out a proper revitalization plan.

That plan had probably almost succeeded. With the publicity Brakket had received from the tournament between magical schools, they could have avoided scholarships the following year. Tourism would have grown. Especially from mundane humans expecting to see something supernatural.

Eva leaned back, sitting on a chair in the middle of her domain at the center of Brakket City. A very abandoned city. With the ‘attacks’ and twelve deaths, including four mundane humans, people were giving the city a wide berth. It probably wouldn’t last. Anderson didn’t seem the type to give up. Not with how much he had invested into the school in the first place.

However, the city was silent for the moment.

A silence Eva enjoyed.

There were no necromancers kidnapping, dissecting, and torturing her. No nuns patrolled the streets, looking like they wanted to take her out behind a barn and put her out of her misery. Zombie-like demons weren’t chasing after her and absurdly powerful demons weren’t making everyone’s lives miserable. Demon hunters stayed away, too afraid to enter after so many of their kind had met their end within the city limits. The tournament—a surprisingly less annoying event when stacked up with everything else that had happened—was still going on, just not around Brakket.

Of course, the Powers that be were leaving the city alone as well.

Eva was surprised about that last one. She kept expecting Void to whisper something to her. Maybe promises of power, maybe offhanded insults. Maybe just a quick question about how her day was going.

Her mind remained utterly silent to outside influences.

So Eva leaned back in her chair and stared at the stars with a tall obelisk glowing bright red at her back. She could live out at the prison. Devon and Catherine were both there. But she didn’t really want to. Devon wasn’t a good conversationalist. In fact, with how he had simply walked away from her after her final treatment, she figured that he would be far less willing to entertain her than ever before. Catherine might be more willing to talk, but it would probably revolve around rituals or games.

Eva still didn’t understand the latter and she had been involved with quite enough rituals for a few lifetimes. If Catherine needed help, she would be willing, otherwise Eva intended to stay far away from that branch of magic.

Without any company she wanted at the prison, there was no reason to stay. Her domain could provide anything she wanted at a thought. So long as it was on Earth, she would abuse it to the maximum extent possible.

In order to further that abuse, Eva had started pouring magic into the obelisk once again. She doubted that there would be another sudden explosion of Hell merging with Earth. In pouring magic into the obelisk, she could feel her domain slowly expanding. Her island along with it.

It served two purposes. First, it let her control her surroundings farther out. Eva held no doubts that the current peace would last only as long as other people let it. If she controlled the entire city, it wouldn’t matter how many demon hunters got brave enough to show up or how many necromancers decided that her eyes would make great reagents. Once they stepped on her domain, she would be free to deal with them as she saw fit.

Secondly, Eva could entirely revitalize Brakket City on her own. Obviously, Brakket wasn’t the most ideal of locations for her to attach her domain. She would have preferred Florida, some larger city with plenty of distractions. Until she figured out how to move it, Brakket would have to work. She would make it work. People would be free to live anywhere within her domain. She could build buildings, create food, and so on and so forth. Eva might be a little sneaky about it; food appearing on people’s tables might freak them out. It wouldn’t be much trouble to create a store that endlessly resupplied itself with a variety of products—clothing, food, tools, and anything else she could think of—managed by a construct of her design. She wouldn’t even need it to be permanent. Just something to get people back into town. From there, she could hire real people.

The peace wouldn’t last. Nothing could remain copacetic indefinitely. Eva was counting on it not lasting. She needed bloodstones until her heart healed and for that, she needed people. While she could leave and head to Chicago, Detroit, or anywhere else she was likely to find valid targets for bloodstone creation, she was hesitant to leave.

Arachne would be back. One day, Arachne would be back. The first place she would check for Eva would be in her domain.

Until then, Eva lay back in her chair and counted the stars. She could wait. Arachne would be back. She would wait right here.

END

>>Author’s Notes 010<<

Vacant Throne, a new story! Young woman involved in a robbery-gone-wrong ends up meeting an angel and finds herself trapped in a world of magic and monsters.

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010.035

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Finally

Blood flowed out to fill the vacancy where Eva’s legs used to be. Enough time had passed that she could form nearly full legs with the amount of blood that she had. They might have been slightly thinner than Arachne’s legs, but that wouldn’t impact their ability to carry her around in the slightest. After a few more days, she should have enough blood for a proper set of arms and legs.

Eva glanced to the side of her leather seat—modeled after the most comfortable chair in Brakket Academy’s lobby—and checked the time. Seven days since she awoke and began her work on the obelisk.

Aside from the chair, a tall grandfather clock was the sole decoration on her island domain. That she had created, anyway. Obviously the obelisk still stood not far from her chair and the little tree without leaves was still around. She hadn’t tried doing anything with the latter; and for the former, she was still pumping as much of her domain’s magic into it as she could.

Nothing else existed as far as her eyes could see. She hadn’t bothered recreating the alternate women’s ward building. Shelter didn’t do much here. It wasn’t like she would suddenly be caught out in the rain. Eva highly doubted that it would rain in her domain without her permission. Same with wind or temperature. Nothing would change unless she wanted it to change. Not needing to sleep or eat, she didn’t have much use for a bed or kitchen.

Of course, she hadn’t been idle for a full week. Eva had conducted numerous experiments in an attempt to escape Hell; most of her experiments revolved around teleportation. So far, she hadn’t been able to force herself into the tunnel of flesh that normally ferried her between her prison and the Brakket dormitory.

Obviously. Or she wouldn’t be inside her domain.

It wasn’t just that they were unsuccessful, but any attempt at teleportation worked instantly. One moment she was seated in her chair, the next she was falling on the ground on the opposite end of her island having forgotten to make legs first. She didn’t pass through any tunnel. The world didn’t fall away to reveal that blinding white place she saw when Zoe teleported her. Neither did she feel even the slightest sensation of movement like she did after blinking. She was just there.

Unless she tried to teleport outside her domain. In that case, it simply failed. No headaches or running into brick walls like had happened on occasions where she had tried to teleport out of anti-teleportation wards. Just nothing at all.

But now, finally the obelisk was reacting. She had been thinking about diving into another demon’s domain if it stayed inert for much longer.

She stood. The hardened soles of her blood feet pressed into the sand as she walked closer to the obelisk. Moving closer, she could feel an air of magic about it. Much like how wards felt, though far less directed and controlled. At times, the obelisk felt almost full of magic. Only for it to feel vacant a moment later. No matter how full it felt, Eva had never stopped pressing magic into it. Some of that fluctuation might be the magic leeching into the air.

It wasn’t like the ambient magic would harm her. Her domain absorbed it all without issue when the magic haze got far enough away from the obelisk.

While most of the island’s sand was lighter in color—not quite the earthy yellow of normal sand, it was a bit grayer than that—the sand immediately around the obelisk was a darker hue. And it was spreading. Grain after grain of the tan sand turned dark.

A crack echoed off the nothingness in her domain. In an instant, the black sands covered every inch of her island.

Her attention, however, wasn’t on the sand anymore. As soon as the dark sand spread out beneath her feet, she noticed a set of bodies and quite the assortment of rubble appearing around her domain. Four bodies, to be precise. Three demons and a human. One looked like a reject from a wax museum. Another was human save for the thick tentacles on her head. The last demon was the most traditionally demonic of the three, complete with wings, horns, and a spaded tail.

But Eva ignored them for the moment, squatting down near the human. Garbed in a trench coat, he had a long beard that had been a goatee at one point. He really needed to shave it down. A bit of red blood matted it against his face, but the injury wasn’t too severe. He had no internal bleeding, just a fresh cut on his forehead and a couple of bruises. She reached over and poked him in the shoulder. “Devon?”

His eyes snapped open. With a hiss of pain, he closed the one on the same side as his cut. Getting blood in the eye wasn’t much fun. Eva had some first hand experience. His still open eye darted about, only staring at Eva’s face for a moment before glancing over her shoulder towards the obelisk, then around everywhere else as he propped himself up on his elbow.

“Thought you were in Hell,” he said as he pressed his fingers up against his cut.

“I am in Hell. Or… I was in Hell…” Eva trailed off as she glanced around once again. No matter where she looked, she couldn’t see the waters. Buildings had replaced much of her sandy beach. Buildings that looked an awful lot like a bomb had just gone off in the middle of the street.

Then there was the sun in the sky. She had tried to make one earlier, not long after making the grandfather clock, but it hadn’t worked. She wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps it was because of how difficult it was to visualize the distances between the Earth and the Sun. Either way, there was one up in the sky now, although it was slightly obscured by a few winter gray clouds.

However, all was not normal. While there was a proper sky and buildings—was that a pizza parlor?—the ground was still sand. The obelisk still stood tall not far away. The little tree without leaves was just beyond that.

She slowly stood, conjuring up a set of clothes using her domain’s magic—she hadn’t bothered before, but probably should now if she was back on Earth. Conjuring a black skirt and a white button-up shirt worked perfectly. So did providing a couch identical to that of the women’s ward for Devon to rest on. Yet she could see down the sandy street, past the blown-out buildings. This was definitely Brakket City.

Or some deep delusion she had subconsciously built in her domain.

Frowning, she stepped away from Devon as he started fussing with his eye and approached Catherine. It took more than a poke in the shoulder to wake Catherine up despite her lack of apparent injuries compared to Devon. Dumping a portion of her arm’s blood onto the succubus as one might dump a bucket of water over a sleeping person worked well enough. She started coughing and sputtering as if Eva had gotten it in her mouth and nose despite taking care not to.

Eva pulled back as much blood as she could. It wasn’t a hundred percent of it all, Catherine’s skin and other contaminants prevented that, but it was enough to form her arm back into its proper shape without any noticeable deficiencies.

“Oh my head,” Catherine groaned, flopping over on her back and pressing the palms of her hands to her brow. “I feel like… like someone took the most magically potent wine, filled it with even more magic, then bashed me upside the head with the bottle.”

“How would you even know what that feels like?”

Catherine moved her hands just long enough to shoot Eva a glare. Apparently realizing how undignified and ungraceful she was being, she shot up, moving to a sitting position then standing. She didn’t stay standing for long. Catherine wobbled back and forth, almost toppling to the ground until Eva caught her.

“Are you alright?”

“Were you not listening a moment ago?” she asked with a mild groan. “I’m surprised I’m alive.”

“None of you look particularly hurt,” Eva said as she glanced around. Devon’s small cut aside, everyone looked hale and hearty to her sense of blood. At least, everyone except for the ruax looked normal. It was a bit difficult to get a read on the waxy demon.

Not wanting to hold on to the surprisingly heavy succubus forever, Eva conjured up another chair. The sands around them rose up and formed into a soft leather. Lightly nudging Catherine sent her falling into the seat. One of her wings bent slightly in a way that made Eva wince, but Catherine just leaned forward, rearranged herself, and leaned back again with her wings pressed tightly against her back.

There she sat, once again moving her hands up to rub her forehead. Devon was doing the same thing not far to the side. Maybe he wasn’t fiddling with his cut after all, maybe he had a headache as well. Eva considered waking up the two other demons before realizing that she really didn’t like the carnivean all that much and the ruax would be better off asleep until Devon was feeling positive that he could fully control her.

Unless the ruax was the cause of their headaches. But… no. The ruax’s face was pressed into the sand, half buried even. Devon had said that she required eye contact to work her debilitating ability.

If the ruax did wake up and wasn’t under Devon’s control, Eva was fairly confident in her ability to contain or kill it. With the area around her acting like her domain, as evidenced by her clothing and the seats she had created, she had tools at hand.

Tools that Catherine stared at with a curious look on her face. Her fingers traced over the top of the leather armrest as she inspected its surface. Without any warning, she dug the sharp tip of her nail into the leather and peeled it back to reveal a padding underneath. She plucked some out and stared for a moment more before her red eyes flicked towards Eva.

“What did you do?”

Eva blinked. There was a harsh accusation in Catherine’s voice. If anything, she would have expected a note of thanks for the seat, but apparently that wasn’t a concern at the moment. So Eva shrugged. “Made you a chair. Thought you might want somewhere comfortable to sit rather than the sandy ground.”

A jolt ran through Catherine as she turned to look over the edge of the chair. Eva followed her gaze, but found nothing other than the sand. The obelisk, now dark and back to its smooth obsidian, was the next object of Catherine’s scrutiny. Then the tree, until she finally looked down the road towards Brakket Academy, though the school building wasn’t actually visible from the street.

“We’re in your domain,” she said with a slight note of fear in her voice.

“Something like that, I assume.”

“How? It shouldn’t be possible?”

“Why not? Ylva’s domain was connected to Earth for a year or more. And then there was my dormitory room a while ago. It got connected on accident roughly when the sky first turned purple.”

“Ylva was given permission, was she not?” Eva winced slightly but nodded her head; Ylva’s domain being connected to Earth had been her fault even though it turned out alright in the end. “Your room at the dormitory was given permission by the school, even if it was a vague sort of permission. The other demons residing there were given specifically worded housing permits to prevent them from connecting domains. The same went for me when I was working for Martina.

“Nobody gave you permission for the middle of a street.”

Eva blinked and stared a moment as her mind churned. “A street is public property, isn’t it? I don’t need permission to use it as I see fit.”

Really, Eva didn’t have a clue what was going on. She was taking things in stride as she usually tried to do. If Void decided to drop an obelisk into her domain that let her forcibly connect to Earth as thanks for her fixing everything, she wasn’t going to complain.

Complaining might make it take its gift back.

However, public property seemed like a good explanation. At least, it did until Catherine started shaking her head.

“It doesn’t work like that. If it did, every demon who ever got summoned would have covered the Earth with their domains long ago.”

“Have you ever tried?”

“I… well, no,” she said slowly and with a slight uncertainty, quickly adding with a glare, “Because it wouldn’t work. How did you even get here? Was the remnant of Hell always your domain?”

Eva blinked and stared around again. Remnants of Hell were what they were calling the bits of land left behind when demonic enigmas died. And this one… Ah, she thought, recognizing her surroundings. She had missed it the first time because it looked like a bomb had gone off, but one of the blown out buildings was clearly the pizza shop she had killed an enigma near.

She was about to answer that no, it hadn’t always been part of her domain and it must have been her charging the obelisk that connected it, but that wasn’t accurate, was it? “Shortly after killing the enigma here,” she said to Catherine, “I walked up to the sand and pulled out a metal bar.” Holding her hand to the side, the sands jumped up, forming into the cold iron that could be found everywhere in her prison, mostly on doors to cells.

“So it was always yours,” Catherine mumbled, closing her eyes and pressing her hands to her head once again.

“I guess. Didn’t really think about it at the time. Neither do I know how it happened, so don’t bother to ask. More importantly,” Eva said, pausing a moment as she turned her gaze upwards. She had noted before, but just wanted to make sure. There were no purple streaks lining the skies, no giant eyeballs crying out enigmas, nor any lightning bolts or earthquakes. Not since she had arrived, anyway. “How are things around Earth?”

“Tedious,” Devon grumbled the instant Eva asked. “But that describes life in general. It’s always an awful bore. If you’re asking about Life, also tedious, though in a different manner.”

“A large number of enigmas have yet to be terminated,” Catherine said. “Though I don’t know what he thinks is tedious. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help. Most of the work is being done by Ylva and her nuns.”

Her nuns?”

Catherine shrugged. “Not sure what she did with the ones who disagreed with her.”

“Ominous.”

“I’m not crying over it.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Lynn completed her research. Killing enigmas permanently is a possibility now. With their semi-shared memory, the Elysium Order are the best cleanup specialists for enigma-related matters at the moment.”

“Except the damn demon ones.”

“Except them, yes,” Catherine said tersely. “We hope you don’t mind, but the prison is something of a zoo these days. Killing the demonic enigmas still results in remnants of Hell spawning around their bodies so we needed to contain them. The prison worked the best given it was already set up to handle a few and we knew how to handle more. Although…” Catherine trailed off as she looked around the sandy area of the street. Eva could almost see the gears grinding in her head.

“Don’t even think about it,” Devon snapped. “You’ll wind up making an even bigger mess than this.” He waved his hands around, splattering a little blood from his fingertips over his seat. Not that it mattered. Eva could easily remake the seats blood free later. “I expect messes from Eva, but you’ve always been tidy.”

“Hey!”

Devon ignored Eva’s outburst, continuing to glare at Catherine. “We continue with our original plan. Gather them up then use a transference circle to make them someone else’s problem.”

“If my domain had a connection point on Earth, we could simply throw them into the waters of Hell and be rid of them,” she said as casually as if she were discussing the weather.

To which Devon scoffed. “Even if that would be significantly less troublesome than a transference circle, which it isn’t, it is also wholly unnecessary now.” He waved his arms in a wide circle around him again. “Eva’s domain will suffice. We can disconnect it later.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, there are no waters around.”

Devon opened his mouth, then snapped it shut as he slowly scanned around the street. As soon as he had finished, he looked back to Eva with an accusatory glare.

Eva spoke before he had a chance to berate her for something she probably had no control over—though, being her domain, she probably had more control over it than anyone else. Maybe she could make a small pool somewhere just to toss enigma bodies into.

“As cute—or disturbing—as it is to watch you two playfully argue with each other, I really am more interested in the goings on outside this street.” She ignored both their glares and continued. “Where is everyone else?”

“Gone.”

“Evacuated.”

“Brakket is abandoned.”

“Not likely to reopen anytime soon.”

“Your obelisk,” Devon thumbed over his shoulder, “scared most everyone away.”

“Anderson was quite upset given all the work he put into the tournament and the academy. Quite the embarrassment,” Catherine said with a vicious grin.

Eva snapped her head back and forth between the two, staring at each until the other began to speak. When it seemed that they weren’t going to continue their routine, she blinked. “Juliana? Shalise?”

“Both gone. Don’t know where they are,” Catherine said with a shrug. She was starting to get a little more animated, leaning forward and stretching out her wings. Perhaps her headache was going away. “I assume they both went home to wherever they lived before attending Brakket.”

Devon, on the other hand, still cupped his face in his hand, barely looking towards Eva even while speaking to her unless he really felt the need to glare. “Which I find concerning. If the girl truly has one of the seventy-two in her head–”

“She does.”

“Then who knows what kind of trouble they are getting themselves into.”

“Better to cause trouble away from us than live around here.”

Devon opened his mouth, but hesitated, considering Catherine’s words for a moment before he ended up nodding his head in agreement. “Can’t argue with that.”

“Zoe,” Catherine said, “is still around. She spends the nights either at the dormitory or her office. A few mage-knights wander around along with a few members of the Elysium Order. I’d be watching out for them if I were you. You’re obviously not an enigma, but they get jumpy sometimes.”

Good news. Zoe was still around. While Devon grumbled and Catherine was mildly helpful, Zoe would help her get in touch with Juliana, Shalise, and everyone else. Before handling the Avatar of Life, she hadn’t had much of a chance to ensure that everyone was alright. Catherine wasn’t mentioning any deaths, but she just might not care enough.

“Right. Going to visit Zoe then. Come find me when you two are feeling better.” She started to walk away, only to stop as a thought occurred to her. A small table built itself up between the two of them with a few glasses of water sitting on top. Sand had formed the water which Eva found somewhat strange, but shrugged her shoulders. It probably wouldn’t hurt either of them. Shalise and Lynn had drunk and ate things provided by her domain for months in the former’s case. Neither had turned out wrong in the end.

With them having a bit of water in case they needed it, Eva took off in a light sprint towards Brakket Academy. She considered blinking, but didn’t want to accidentally leave her legs behind in front of Devon and Catherine. Old-fashioned walking would have to do.

The moment she crossed over the threshold where sand met asphalt, something felt wrong. Just a queasiness in her stomach. Another step and she felt her foot starting to erode away as water splashed against it, dissolving the blood. A quick thought hardened the liquid all the way up to her knees as Eva scowled at the sight before her.

Gone was the asphalt of the street. Before her lay a black void, stretching on for eternity, filled with the familiar waters that surrounded her island.

She turned back to find Devon, Catherine, and the other demons still right where she had left them, along with the half-destroyed buildings in the immediate vicinity of the obelisk. Grinding her teeth together, Eva took a few steps back from the waters of Hell. The sky went back to a sky familiar to Earth. The rest of the street reformed behind her.

Stepping onto the asphalt, her foot plunged straight through as the street wavered like a mirage, splashing into the waters of Hell once again.

“Great. Just great.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.034

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Devon stalked down the deserted streets of Brakket City. The streets were more deserted than normal. Few people remained in the city. Only a handful stayed. The brave or the foolish. The apathetic as well. A few stubborn townsfolk hadn’t left yet. They had nowhere to go or perhaps they figured that they had weathered everything else, what was one more thing?

Some of Brakket Academy’s staff had remained behind. Or so he had heard from one of the professors that stopped by the prison on occasion. A skeleton crew. Not even enough to properly manage anything save for ward upkeep and various enchantments around the school. Those people and the researchers. The professor with one arm he had spoken with in particular.

Aside from the stubborn and the fools, there were a few guards. Mage-knights down on their luck and unable to find alternate contracts. Devon had seen a number of members belonging to the Elysium Order. They had sneered at him—or at his company—but hadn’t otherwise attacked.

He honestly had no idea what they were doing here. Their little club hadn’t fared too well during the initial incident with the Pillar of Hell. If anything remotely as challenging showed up, they would be decimated. The only thing they were good for was getting rid of enigmas.

As for his company, three demons flanked him. Each followed along a step behind. One was under his direct control. The waxy ruax, aside from the occasional fighting against his domination, had proven handy. Those fights against his control were weak and short-lived. Apparently it took a great deal of time to build up the strength to try. Minor nuisances that he could ignore for the most part. Its debilitating effect against anything that attacked him made it more than worth the effort of keeping it around.

One demon following him was merely under contract—a fairly tenuous contract that very well might wind up annulled before long. Not only was the carnivean not performing its duties as a fill-in for Eva’s treatment, but requesting the presence of a fairy queen was not something anyone did lightly. Luckily, he had written enough loopholes into their contract that he should be able to find an out easily enough. It might upset the carnivean, but losing it wouldn’t be that big of a loss.

The final demon was a succubus. Or perhaps she had been a succubus at some point in time. He wasn’t so sure anymore. The rituals Catherine designed and had performed on herself were similar to Eva’s. Superficially, at least. In reality, they were designed to change Catherine on a far more subtle level. Eva had slowly been changing even before coming to this school and having her arms and legs exchanged for Arachne’s.

Catherine had hardly changed in appearance from when Devon had first encountered her. Her hair might be a different length or color, or her eyes just a few shades brighter, but she was a succubus. Her body was easily malleable. All the better to adopt an appearance appreciated by as many people as possible.

Rather, the change had come in how she held herself and how those around her reacted to her presence. Even walking behind Devon, she strode with the confidence of a leader. He could almost feel the aura of command rolling off her shoulders. Other demons would look to her, be more willing to agree to her demands, and other such deferences.

And that was after only a few treatments. One right before all the mess with the tear and one earlier on with Eva and the Pillar of Hell. There might have been a third, Devon couldn’t recall. He honestly hadn’t been paying too close attention to her rituals. Not as close as he should have been, in any case.

Eva hadn’t ever changed like that. Her appearance showed signs of demonic traits. Especially after the recent three-way treatments. Other demons had commented on her feeling strong. Yet Eva had never acted strong. Sure, she had killed the demon hunters. That had taken some strength, Devon was sure. But she hadn’t commanded legions of demons the way that Catherine might if the succubus had the inclination.

Before Catherine’s treatments, the only one who had commanded that sort of presence had been the Hel. Not even the Pillar forced people to take note of him, though that may have been personal preference on the Pillar’s part rather than any lack of ability.

Devon was extremely thankful that Catherine was more like he was in that research held a value on its own. Had Catherine acted anything like the carnivean—or pretty much any other demon he had encountered in recent years—he probably would have killed her before the first treatment.

After observing Catherine closely over the previous few months, Devon had a mild idea of why Eva had turned out the way she had.

Eva was human. Obviously not mortal. There was a definite difference. But Eva was human. She bothered to attend this school despite not necessarily needing what it taught. Because that was what humans did. Especially human children. And, though she had grown older, she was still a child compared to most of humanity, let alone demons. She interacted with humans and demons alike, but most of the demons she interacted with were pretending to be human. There likely was little functional difference in Eva’s eyes.

School, friends, eating, sleeping. All of it Eva did because that was what humans did.

Because Eva viewed herself as human.

That might change in the future. Humans had an expiration date. Even with necromancy, phylacteries, phoenixes, and various other methods of extending that date, it still ran out eventually. Eva wouldn’t. Not so long as she finished her treatment—if such a thing was even necessary anymore; Catherine’s description of what had happened during the ritual to corrupt a Power had been slightly worrying in that regard. But eventually, Eva would be left bereft of those she knew now.

She might befriend other humans, but how long would that last? Another century or so?

Eventually, Eva would be left with nothing but demons. Arachne and Catherine. Probably a few others as well. Eventually, she would decide that maintaining relationships with humans was more trouble than it was worth and slowly associate with only demons. Some amount of time after that, she would stop viewing herself as a human. Then and only then would her transformation be complete.

It was somewhat disappointing to reach the conclusion of his experiment without having technically finished it. Though it was nice to know the answer. He doubted that he would be around to see Eva’s final transformation.

“We’re here,” Catherine said, coming to a stop.

“Obviously.” Devon curled his lips back into a sneer as he took in the sight before him. The obelisk. The thing that had everyone running away from the academy and the city. Devon couldn’t exactly blame them. It didn’t look like rainbows and unicorns.

Though if anyone around here had actually encountered a unicorn before, they would probably have run just as fast.

“It’s been like this for a week now.”

“All glowing and red?”

Catherine nodded her head. “We first noticed it shortly after you sealed off the tear in realities. It spent three days inert before lighting up like this.”

“And you waited this long before telling me about it?”

Her eyes flashed for just a moment with some slight hint of irritation. “I am not beholden to you. We have worked together as colleagues on occasion. Nothing more.”

“So why bring me here now?”

Catherine shifted. This time, she didn’t look angry. Merely embarrassed. A slight loss of her earlier confidence. Devon curled his lip into a small smile as she struggled to find the words to answer.

“I’ve exhausted my investigative skills and magical knowledge,” she eventually said. Devon waited for just a moment longer, prompting her to cross her arms with a scowl. “I don’t have the slightest idea what that is,” she said with a nod towards the obelisk. “I don’t know why it is glowing. I don’t know what made it start glowing in the first place.”

“You think I do?” Devon looked back to the obelisk. The veins of red that branched off from the top until red covered the entire thing vaguely looked like actual veins. Or perhaps tree roots. But he hadn’t ever seen something like the obelisk before.

“A human might have a different perspective. Given our research together, I know you are knowledgeable about many demonic matters. Most diabolists I have known merely summon a demon for a task then dismiss them immediately after. None ever do actual research into what demons are and other matters of Hell. In that regard, you’re the best diabolist I know.”

“Demonologist,” Devon grumbled as he walked up to the obelisk. A wave of his hand stilled two of his three followers. If the obelisk was some sort of beacon of inexorable power, he did not want either the ruax or the carnivean to get their hands—or tentacles—on it.

It definitely had some power about it. Just breathing, the air felt thick and heavy with magic. It wasn’t the easiest thing to be around; like breathing in a sauna, except less moisture and more ambient energy. Or perhaps it was more of a sharp smell. Something not dissimilar to chlorine.

Whatever it was, it was unnatural.

Devon made a circuit around the obelisk, briefly examining all four sides. They were identical to one another on a superficial level. He did spot a few differences in how the vein of red coming down from the peak branched outward.

He reached out, about ready to brush his fingers over the surface. It looked like the veins were merged with the obsidian background. At the same time, there was a vague shadow like they stood out. However, a subtle stiffening in Catherine’s back in his peripheral vision had him withdrawing his hand.

“Something bad happens if you touch it?”

“Haven’t tried since it lit up. Before then, it just felt like a smooth pane of glass.”

Devon hummed as he bent over. He scooped up a small pebble from the road, took a step back, and tossed it towards the obelisk.

The pebble flung backwards over his shoulder with a crack as it shattered the sound barrier. The brick wall of a nearby pizzeria caught it. It stuck in the wall, half embedded as it radiated a certain heat that he could feel from across the edge of the sidewalk. The pebble glowed a bright red, though one of heat and nearly molten rock rather than the magical red of the obelisk.

“Good to know,” he said as he took a short step away. He eyed the carnivean, considering ordering it to move a dozen steps away. While their contract should prevent it from killing him, he couldn’t discount the possibility that it had slipped a loophole into their contract that would allow it to bump him into the obelisk, letting it kill him through a proxy.

He pulled a small card out of his pocket. One with a prepared ritual circle already inscribed on one side. A simple ritual circle. One for a simple test. No need for some large-scale carvings.

“There are ways of telling where demons come from,” he said, partially for Catherine’s sake. “Not so long ago, I scraped up a bit of ash and found it came from a Pillar, one of the seventy-two.”

“Zagan.”

“Just so. It burned a brilliant purple. A sign of royalty.” For a moment, Devon considered asking Catherine for a drop of her blood. Normal succubi would cast flames of a pink-hued red. He wasn’t so sure what hers would indicate.

But he only had one indicator paper. It wasn’t difficult to create another one, but this one would be best put to use on the problem at hand. He could always ask Catherine for a drop of blood later.

He took the card between his index and middle fingers of his only proper hand. A flick of his wrist sent it flying. The card landed with its back flat against the obelisk. Frankly, Devon was surprised it hadn’t spontaneously activated just walking up to the obelisk. But it hadn’t.

Unlike the pebble, it didn’t fly away; the magic had a constructive path to travel along inside the card. The obelisk activated the circle drawn on the front through sheer ambient magic. All the lines lit up in an instant, glowing a faint neutral amber. The actual paper of his card wasn’t holding up well. Flames appeared at the corners, slowly eating their way inwards. They didn’t quite make it to the center.

His card exploded off the side of the obelisk, chasing after the pebble. To the untrained eye, it left a trail of dark smoke in its wake. Devon stared at it, following it to where the card had landed on the nearby sidewalk. It wasn’t smoke at all. Black flames hovered above the circle until the more natural flames that had been eating away at the corners broke the ring around the center. Dark smoky fire dispersed into nothingness.

“Huh.”

“‘Huh’ what? I assume the indicator paper was made up by humans, because its colors don’t mean anything to me. What would black smoke mean?”

“Not sure. I’ve never seen it before.”

“Is there no documentation involved with the spell?” Catherine walked around with clicking heel, pacing back and forth in front of the obelisk. “I suppose we could reverse engineer the spell and discover exactly what the smoke meant, but that–”

“Black flames, not smoke. And it shouldn’t have been a possibility anyway. I programmed in common colors; red, blue, green, yellow, and so on. I invented the spell, so I know a little something about its inner workings. Black doesn’t mean anything at all.”

“It’s not demonic in origin then?”

“It is, or there wouldn’t be a flame at all,” Devon said as he reached back into his pocket. This time, he pulled out a thin rod. “Take this,” he said, offering it to Catherine.

She didn’t move to take it, staying a few paces away from Devon as she eyed the offered rod. “A wand?”

“Nothing so pedestrian.” He tossed it towards Catherine, which made her catch it more on reflex than anything else. She narrowed her eyes at him, looking about ready to tear his head off. “If I wanted to harm you, I would have had the ruax debilitate you with a series of headaches. I need you to turn it into void metal.”

She looked down at the silver rod in her hands with a certain realization dawning in her eyes. Her fingers lightly brushed over the surface, leaving a trail of absolute black in their wake. Though she did miss a few spots and had to return to touch it up. It made Devon a little worried about the quality of the interior. A worry that definitely did now show on his face—he could give a poker champion a run for their money—yet Catherine somehow picked up on it anyway. “It would have been pure had you given me a golden rod rather than this impure silver,” she paused to hold the completed rod up. “But I made it work anyway. The question is how are you going to make it work? I had a decently sized ritual circle set up when I tried with Eva.”

Devon let a sly smile cross his lips. A wave of his proper hand sent a burst of thin green flames dancing about the street. His fire scorched a trail into the sand around the obelisk and the asphalt. Soon enough, he had scorched a fully-fledged ritual circle into the ground. Almost. He hadn’t completed it fully. Just in case the ambient magic did activate the circle.

It was somewhat haphazard and crude. Precisely the reason he would never try that trick on a ritual circle of any great importance. If this one failed, the worst that would happen would be them having to try again. Maybe a small explosion, but nothing too terrible. The ritual circle would only be active for a split second.

At least, that was the theory.

Catherine walked forwards and jammed the rod into the ground within what would normally be the recipient portion of the circle, easily understanding Devon’s intentions. He had gotten the idea from her, after all. It was a modification to the treatment circle. Catherine had used a variation while testing some of Eva’s more esoteric attributes not so long ago. A fairly brilliant idea, for a demon. Devon had almost exclusively been going off physical appearance along with a few tests on samples of Eva’s blood.

She hadn’t shared her results. Devon hadn’t really pressed that hard. He had intended to run his own version—the same thing he had drawn on the ground just now—after Eva’s New Year’s treatment.

Of course, she had to go and disappear before that could happen. At this point, Devon was fairly certain that she did things like that solely to be a thorn in his side.

As soon as Catherine ensured that the rod would remain upright, she took a few steps back. Devon fired up his green flames at his fingertips once again. He backed away, giving the ritual circle a fair space. A second thought had him backing even further away. Thirty feet should work fine. Both his demons and Catherine followed him back.

Once ready, he tossed out his flames.

The ritual lit up the moment his flames connected the circle together. Much like the card, he could see it trying to burn away under the stress of all the magic in the air. Ash, cement, asphalt, and sand tended to be a bit more resilient to burning away than a paper card. It would last long enough to get a clue as to what the obelisk was.

Hopefully.

The rod started to vibrate where Catherine had jammed it into the ground. A haze of heat surrounded it like a bubble, distorting everything around it. Which shouldn’t be possible. Void metal didn’t heat up no matter what forces were applied to it.

Devon actually took two more steps back as the onyx metal started changing colors, brightening first to a dull red before turning white-hot.

“Stop it,” Catherine snapped. “Quick.”

His hands had already been moving. A burst of green flame scattered across the ritual circle, scoring new lines into it not unlike an artist scribbling out a failed drawing.

The reaction was almost instantaneous. The magic, until he disrupted the circle, had been flowing along the proper paths as the lines dictated. Smoothly flowing at that, if a bit strained because of the sheer volume of magic being pushed around. His newest scorch marks didn’t disrupt the flow in anything resembling a controlled shutdown.

A high-pitched tone similar to a pin dropping echoed through the silence of the street. It was the only warning Devon had before the street was torn up and filled the air with chunks of rock.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.028

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The sky burst into flames.

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

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

Plumes of flames burst forth from the impacts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course not.

How silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet nothing had happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course.”

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

Now to find Devon.

— — —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a possibility?”

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

“Good. Don’t.”

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

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

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

“Devon?”

“Why does everyone know who I am?”

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

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

“I can’t–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be there in two minutes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— — —

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Adequate,” he said.

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

“Yes.” Was that truly hard to understand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third rotation went shorter than that.

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

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

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

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

But that only lasted a moment.

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

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

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

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.027

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Devon strode into the Brakket Academy main lobby area with two demons in tow. Once upon a time, doing something so brazen would have gotten him killed without a doubt. Who in their right mind would ever allow a demon summoner and demons into a school?

How times had changed.

His weren’t even the only demons he had spotted around the school. He had spotted a capra demon disguised as a student turning one of the many enigmas into minced meat just outside the entrance to the school. A few nearby human guards hadn’t even batted an eye as Devon passed by. Apparently, so long as he wasn’t a tentacled monster, he was perfectly welcome. Either that or Eva had told them that he would be coming.

The guards hadn’t batted an eye at the capra demon either, so they must have been at least somewhat attuned to the idea of demons running around. Though their faces might have looked a little green when they glanced towards the ground up remains of the enigma. Devon didn’t know what kind of weak stomached guards this school was hiring, but he had thought that they would be able to manage a little viscera.

They would never have survived at Devon’s old school.

Literally.

Tenebris Artes would have eaten them up and spat them out as nothing more than bones. The students—who, around Brakket, were all hiding indoors save for one or two that had worked up the courage to help fight enigmas—as well. In fact, Tenebris Artes had closed down after only a year of him attending.

Something that had absolutely nothing to do with Devon whatsoever.

Times changed. Society became more comfortable for the inhabitants with every passing year. More comfort meant less daily hardships to whip the kids into shape. They would go on to join proper society and hopefully get whipped into shape. But the ever increasing comfort would just mean that one day—maybe not this generation, maybe not even the next, but one day, the pampered children would be the real world.

Then who would be around to save the day?

Fate always had a trial or two up her sleeve. When would the trial become too much for the ignorant masses. There wouldn’t always be a curmudgeonous old demonologist around to save the day.

In fact, he wouldn’t have been around to save the day were it not for that blasted research subject of his. Maybe next time Fate would just leave him alone.

Ah well. Saving the world one last time wasn’t so bad. At least this time he hadn’t been attacked by anything other than enigmas. Those could be summarily dealt with by his demons with him hardly lifting a finger. The waxy ruax handled almost every one. He only had to blast one with infernal flames once, and that was only because the ruax had been distracted by a good six or seven of the beasts.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure exactly where to go. Glass windows separated a secretary’s desk and the main offices from the rest of the open lobby. The hallway went left and right with only room numbers listed in each direction. Straight ahead, the large glass windows opened up into that disaster waiting to happen of an expanded space ward.

No sign for the school’s infirmary.

“Come with me,” he said, more for the benefit of the carnivean than the ruax. One was under his direct control. The other only should be.

Leaving behind the lobby, he headed towards the offices. There had to be someone there and someone there had to know the way to the infirmary.

He walked right up to the vacant secretary’s desk and peered over at an all too tiny building map hanging up behind it. It took him five minutes of searching before he realized that he was standing right next to the infirmary. The room had two doors, one in the hallway just around the corner and one in the office itself.

Naturally, Devon headed to the nearer door.

He slid it open to find a gaggle of people running every which way. Adults ran around between the makeshift beds. In their arms, they carried trays filled with a haphazard arrangement of potions, surgical implements, common medicine products, and clean cloth bandages. Both adults and children filled the floorspace of nearly the entire room, lying on blankets and pads. Most of the beds’ occupants were injured in some manner or other. A band of bandages wrapped around one man’s eye and head, one woman was missing an arm, someone else looked like he had a bite taken out of his leg. A few people were working on that last one, performing some sort of surgery.

In other words, a typical medical facility during an emergency. Nothing notable to see.

He took one step into the room only to find his path blocked by a young girl with an eye patch and a red eye. A few scars tugged at her lips as she started speaking.

“Are you injured?”

Devon leaned slightly closer to the woman. Nurse Post, her name tag said with a little heart in place of the ‘o’. The blood smeared over it and much of her white outfit did not help play up the kind and welcoming school nurse that she had been trying to go for.

Red eyes were not a common human trait, though they did happen on occasion. Usually a faint red accompanied by albinism. Her hair wasn’t the normal white, but she must have dyed it. He couldn’t detect any sign of her being a demon.

Her eyes flicked to the two demons behind him. Neither of which she reacted to in the slightest before turning her gaze back to Devon.

“Sir?”

“No,” Devon said, leaning back. “I’m looking–”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave, sir. If you aren’t here to help and are not injured, you’ll only be in the way. If you’re looking for a patient, the office across the hall has a list of everyone who was brought in as of an hour ago,” she said, gesturing directly behind Devon.

Devon’s lip curled into a scowl. He stepped straight to the other side of the woman and continued walking, leaving her momentarily confused.

“Sir,” she said once she realized that he had got behind her. “You’re wasting valuable time that we could be using to save these people.”

“Yes, and I’m trying to save the entire world,” he grumbled, reaching the center of the room. It must have been magically expanded as well. He had walked far more than what it would have taken to go around to the opposite door.

More people were staring at him now. Lots of doctors or nurses that should be doing their job. He didn’t think he was all that special looking. His beard may be unkempt and his trench coat a little dusty, but his arm was safely hidden away in the sleeve.

Then again, most people in the room were not accompanied by two obviously inhuman demons. Maybe their stares were more directed towards the tentacle-headed thing and the animated wax statue that were following behind him.

“I didn’t ask you to follow me around,” he said in a low tone of voice. “Go about whatever it is you think is right.” Before she could protest further, he raised his voice to be heard above all the moaning and whining of the injured around him. “Which one of you is Genoa?”

Devon stared around the room, waiting and expecting someone to at least raise their hands if not come all the way up to him.

Nobody did.

“Sir–”

“Wait.”

The nurse tried to say something, but a second voice interrupted. Devon turned to find some woman walking up to him with frazzled hair, several bandaged wounds on every bit of bare skin, and an entirely missing arm. He stared at it for a moment before looking back to the woman’s face.

“You’re Genoa?”

“What? No… You can’t have– Never mind,” she said with a shake of her head. “It isn’t important right now, Devon.”

Ah, he thought. Apparently I know her.

“What is important is that Eva is out at the ritual circle–”

“Yeah, I know. It’s part of the plan to fix everything.”

“There’s a plan?” The woman let out a long sigh. She placed her one hand to her chest, though Devon couldn’t actually see the hand. Enough bandages covered it to make it look like a mummy’s mitten. “Oh thank goodness. But what do you need Genoa for?”

“Eva recommended her as a ritual construction specialist. Though,” Devon raised his voice slightly, “I’ll accept any able-bodied mage capable of large-scale earth manipulation.”

He looked around at all the bandaged people lying in beds or bleeding out or whatever injured people were wont to do with a slowly deepening scowl on his face. What was with these people? Not a single one looked like they could hold a wand let alone cast a few spells. What kind of mages got injured fighting these enigmas, let alone allowed the injures to send them to the medimagi. At least the woman in front of him was on her feet, if not clenching her wand between her teeth to fight back.

Though that kid in the corner looked to be just about the right age for experimentation. If he was dying, nobody would miss–

“Devon!” the woman hissed at him, bringing his attention back to the woman. “You are despicable.”

“I get that on occasion,” Devon grunted. “Where can I find an earth mage?”

“Genoa is out trying to clear away enigmas. She should have her cellphone with her. Hand me your phone and I’ll–” She cut herself off as she realized that she was holding out the stump of her arm. With a half-muttered curse, she swapped to her other hand only to realize her bandage predicament.

“Why don’t you tell me the number and I’ll make the call instead,” he said, pulling out his phone.

— — —

Eva lowered her arms as she stared up at the sky. Not at the eyeball, which was still looking down at the Earth and still crying those magmatic meteors that were probably filled with enigmas. She stared at the design for a new treatment circle. One for the demonic enigma and the chunk of brain.

It wasn’t that large. Certainly not as big as the circle that had been used to summon the two avatars. Perhaps as big as a large room. Even that size was only by necessity. The brain avatar was much too large for anything smaller.

The ritual was based on Devon’s work—and she definitely wondered how he would react to finding out that Void used his research—it should be just enough to get what she needed done. At least, that was what Void had said while the designs were being burned into her mind. Satisfied that everything in the design above her head had been copied into the real world correctly, Eva moved on to the next step.

Forming a long tube of blood, she jammed one end into the brain and one into the formerly furry arm of the enigma. This time, she did not stand in between the two subjects of the ritual. A second tube of crystallized blood led out from the other side of the brain, ready to drain into a large vase once the ritual got under way.

The succubus had been watching patiently and staring at the ritual circle that Eva had constructed. Only when she switched to the tubing did Catherine walk up to her.

“You’re doing it again?”

“Not quite,” Eva said as she turned back to Catherine. “Apparently, we overdid it earlier. Shoving the entirety of Void’s Avatar into this thing was not only unnecessary, but overly harmful to the Powers’ ecosystem of… power.”

“So diluting it then?”

“That’s a good way to put it.” Eva glared down at the demonic enigma. “We put some of that in and take some of the avatar out.” And some of Arachne as well. After taking a few steps back, Eva motioned for Catherine to do the same.

Srey had hardly moved from his initial position near the avatar until Eva physically dragged him away. Eva wasn’t sure what was up with him. Had he actually struck up some sort of friendship with Vektul and was in shock over what happened?

She supposed it didn’t really matter. So long as he didn’t screw with anything important, he could sit around in his vacuous state for all Eva cared.

“Alright. This shouldn’t take long,” Eva said as she pressed her magic into the hovering ritual circle of blood.

The effect started immediately. A faint glow emanated from the lines. The demonic enigma remained unconscious, but started writhing as blood started flowing through the tube. Or whatever filled enigmas’ veins. It didn’t work well with Eva’s blood magic and Devon had mentioned something about it only being superficially similar.

Clasping her hands behind her back, Eva started stalking around the circle. The avatar was as inert as it had been since she had finished the initial ritual. She needed to keep an eye on it. With her at least marginally reversing the process of corrupting it, it might become a little more active. But that wouldn’t be for at least a short amount of time.

No, Eva barely glanced at the large mass of the avatar as she walked past. She stopped in front of the little jar that she had set up to collect the excess essence that the ritual was now removing. The previous ritual hadn’t had the disposal tank despite all of Eva’s treatments requiring it. She was somewhat surprised that the avatar hadn’t exploded after realizing that she had forgotten that little detail. Devon had always warned her to not let him forget about it or she might explode.

Then again, that was Devon. He had probably just been grumping about it for the sake of having something to grumble about.

Everything looked like it was working properly. Black particles of dust and smoke trickled out of the tube and into the crystalline pot. The smoke, looking just like the smoke that made up Void’s avatar, didn’t settle into the bottom of the pot, choosing to swirl around in dark clouds.

Which had Eva wondering if she shouldn’t have put a proper top on it. Nothing was spilling out yet, so she wouldn’t do anything that might potentially interfere with the ritual until something actually went wrong.

“Now,” Eva said, “while this finishes, we need to prepare to send this hunk of flesh back to its master.”

“Another ritual?”

“Actually no.”

“No?” Catherine blinked, genuinely surprised. “You’re not going to toss it up there,” she said, pointing towards the portals overhead.

“My arms are a little stretchy at the moment.” As demonstration, she enlarged her hand until the fingers could wrap around her entire waist. “However, I think those portals are a bit higher than I could reach.”

“I’m sure we could work out some magical propulsion to launch it up there.”

“As amusing as a brain rocket ship would be, there’s already a plan in place. Something that should seal the deal and ensure that Life cannot recover. At least not anytime soon.”

“And is sealing the deal also going to seal the portals overhead?”

“Nope! Devon has actually been working on that. Though he’s supposed to be waiting for me to get rid of this avatar. If I finish, you might need to go tell him that he can start should he not clue in. I directed him to the infirmary.”

“Devon? I didn’t bring the ritual up with him after he dismissed it. You told him more? I thought he wanted no part of any of this,” she paused, frowning towards Eva for a moment. “Or perhaps I figured that he would tie you down in the solitary confinement building if he heard you were actually working on the ritual.”

“I’m sure he would have. Had he known.” Eva shot her a quick grin before double-checking on the status of the ritual. As she ensured that the swirling clouds of black smoke within the pot were not spilling out, she continued speaking. “Devon saw what was going on and developed a solution. All within the last few hours.” Or so Void had said before releasing Eva so that she could use her beacon to get back to Earth.

It took Catherine a few moments to respond. Her eyebrows knitted into a scowl as she thought. “Without knowing anything about what was going on?”

“Nothing more than what you told him and what he observed from the prison.”

Which only sent Catherine’s scowl deeper into fury. Eva had to wonder whether Catherine could have done the same. Probably. In the same amount of time? Maybe. Judging by her furrowed brow, she was rapidly trying to put together her own solution to sealing the portals overhead.

Eva left the jar for a moment, moving back around to the opposite side. The demonic enigma was actually shriveling up. Its skin looked more like that of a raisin than a proper living being. Not even old people on their deathbeds looked quite so bad.

Was it because of all the organs she had stuffed inside without care or order? Or was it because it was an enigma and, while it wouldn’t die, it had far slower regeneration than demons did. How much blood had Arachne lost during Eva’s treatments? She must have regenerated at a rapid rate to keep from dying and being sucked into a Hell portal.

At the same time, she could still see blood traveling through the tube and into the avatar. Until it ran completely dry, Eva would try not to worry too much. Besides, the ritual was actually nearly finished. The demonic enigma still had a decent amount of blood left. It should be enough for another few minutes.

“Do you need me here?”

“I would prefer some help here. If something goes wrong, I’d like second opinions,” Eva said, turning towards Catherine. She paused as her line of sight passed by Srey who was facing Eva’s direction with his head bowed. Not really in respect. He kept rubbing his forehead like he had a headache. “I don’t think Srey would be up to helping much.”

She finished turning to Catherine and put on a wide grin. “You’ll just have to restrain your curiosity as to what Devon came up with. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll show you. Unless, of course, he thinks that this is all your mess since you were the one to show him the ritual.”

Catherine, straightening her back and looking down on Eva with half-lidded eyes, put on an evil smile. “I am not above throwing you under the bus, so to speak.”

“Do as you will,” Eva said, walking back to the jar. When the ritual finished, she wanted to watch and ensure that nothing went wrong on that front. “I don’t think Devon will get too upset with me. Not unless he decides that his experiment has transformed too much from his original plans.” As she said so, she glanced down at her hands. They weren’t so different from Arachne’s limbs. In fact, they were probably better. No outside demonic influence to mess with Devon’s plans. Just blood magic.

Demonic blood magic rather than bloodstone-based, but it functioned nearly the same as far as Eva could tell.

Magic draining from the circle pulled her attention back to the jar. The ritual was winding down. Only a little left. The avatar still hadn’t moved, so she didn’t even need to worry about that.

She watched the jar until the very last trickles of avatar essence dripped out from her blood tube. The moment the dripping finished and the ritual shut off, a Hell portal opened beneath the jar. The entire thing, essence and all, disappeared within.

A small sigh escaped her lips. Hopefully that was enough.

“What was that?”

“Oh nothing. More importantly, time to get rid of this thing.”

As she walked up to the avatar, she coated the demonic enigma with blood, ensuring that it couldn’t move in the slightest. She didn’t detonate the shriveled husk just yet. It might still have uses. If only for Lynn’s research. She just crystallized the blood around it.

“Alright,” Eva said, turning her hands into long blades twice the length of her arms. “So long as everything goes well, make sure that Devon starts his ritual.”

“What about you?”

Eva turned her head over her shoulder to grin at Catherine as she built up magic inside her for a teleport. “Well, I’ll stop by if I can.”

Without any further delay, she plunged her arms into the avatar.

“Was that supposed to do something?” Catherine asked after a moment of absolutely nothing happening.

“Just… hold on a second. This thing is gigantic. I’ve never teleported with something so big. Usually only another person-sized thing.” As she spoke, she felt her magic hit the threshold. Without any chance to resolve the moment of awkwardness, Eva and the avatar vanished into the infernal teleportation.

Just as usual, the tunnel of flesh and screams surrounded Eva, squeezing her and the avatar ever closer to the prison gate.

But this time, Eva did something a little different.

She let go. She pulled her hands back to her sides, separating her from the avatar. With a slight kick of her foot, she sent the egg-shaped blob of meat off into the walls of flesh. It tumbled, falling into pieces from the force of their speed until it finally vanished beneath and into the walls.

Unfortunately, Newton’s laws apparently worked within the semi-alternate dimension of the teleport tunnel. Eva spread the blood of her limbs out into wide parasols in an attempt to slow her steady glide in the opposite direction. It must have worked a little, but not enough. She barely got to watch the avatar be torn to shreds before she crashed into the opposite wall.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.024

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Zoe stared at the spot where the portal had been. She had been too slow. Nothing of Hell remained behind, just the smooth marble-like stone that made up the majority of the ritual circle. Not even blood remained within the portal’s boundaries. Everything that was Eva was gone.

A second portal had opened to swallow her legs—or what was left of them—though Zoe hadn’t paid that portal so much attention. She had been focused solely on Eva’s wide red eyes.

She had been too slow.

Zoe knelt, hand on the ground as if to ensure that the stone truly was solid. Somewhere behind her the hunter let out a series of maniacal cackles.

“Thought she could ignore my enchanted weapons, did she?” the hunter said between laughs. “If she comes back again, I’ll send her right back to Hell where that bitch belongs!”

Slowly, Zoe stood and turned to face the hunter.

“Or better yet, I’ll kill every last one of you bastards. Everyone with the capacity to summon that demon.

The woman started to laugh again. She didn’t quite finish. A series of tendrils wrapped around the hunter’s bloated arm, squeezing it. When the arm didn’t immediately burst into bloody pulp, Lucy swung her tentacles up and around, carrying the hunter through the air until she slammed down on the ground head first. Considering Zoe had seen Lucy tear apart Sawyer’s demon-human hybrids and had heard of her peeling an enigma apart like an orange, she couldn’t help but gape at the lack of damage on the hunter’s bloated arm.

Upside down with her head half buried in the stone, the hunter pressed her arm to the ground. Half a moment later, it came out from under Lucy’s main mass and carried her at an angle towards the forest. The tentacles still wrapped around the hunter snapped like rubber bands from the force. Without being connected to Lucy, the tentacles that didn’t fly off into the distance fell to the ground around the hunter, limp and languid.

The arm wasn’t even bruised. Because of its haphazard colorization, it was difficult to tell for certain, but there were no distinct markings around where Lucy had grabbed on and the rest of the arm.

“Any ideas?”

Zoe jumped slightly, having missed Catherine’s approach. When she did not immediately answer—mostly because she didn’t have an answer—Catherine gave her a wan smile.

“Don’t bother fretting about Eva,” Catherine said as if she were telling a joke. “That portal means Void has accepted her as a demon. She’ll be back eventually. It might be a decade or two, but any demon will return. In the meantime, I doubt you could say the same should that hunter get her hands on you.”

“Can we even kill that thing?” Zoe said. A certain weight rested on her shoulders as she stared at the monster before her. The hunter had finished tossing Lucy and was now digging her head out of the stone. It took a bit more effort than Zoe would have expected of someone with an arm like she had, but eventually, she popped her head out. “You saw what Lucy tried to do. She got away without a scratch.”

“Could be worse. We could have to deal with the nun at the same time. I,” Catherine paused to lick her lips, “had a few words with her. She won’t be interfering.”

Tumorous growths covered half the hunter’s face. She had no hair on that side of her head. Yet even her human side looked completely unharmed as the hunter scanned the area for the nearest target, settling for Saija.

Who noticed, gave a slight yelp, and immediately turned tail to fly away.

“Besides, does it matter?” Catherine said. “We have to stop her. I have no intentions of returning to Hell just yet. And if you need more motivation than my own pleasures, she apparently means to kill most of the people around the school if only to prevent Eva from coming back. ‘Everyone with the capacity to summon Eva.'”

Zoe pulled out her cellphone, intending to call in everyone she knew. Genoa, Wayne, Nel and Ylva, even Devon if he bothered to check his messages. But the hunter, even though she was focused on Saija, noticed the very instant she wrapped her fingers around the cold plastic. The massive eye in her shoulder swiveled to stare at Zoe.

She didn’t hesitate for a moment. A thaumaturgical lightning bolt crackled over her head as she dove for the ground. The hunter didn’t stop there. Another three bolts struck the ground in Zoe’s wake as she rolled along the stone.

A fourth bolt never came. Saija had swung back around and was pelting the hunter with her own fairly weak balls of fire. The hunter had stopped to shield her face with her oversized hand.

Seizing the opportunity, Zoe swiped her thumb across the screen, unlocking the phone. She had only just tapped the text messenger app when the hunter fired off another lightning bolt. The hunter wound up with a few scorch marks on the side of her face, but her lightning bolt struck true.

Zoe cried out as her phone went flying from her hands, clattering across the ritual circle while leaving a trail of smoke in its wake. Her fingernails had either turned to blackened char or had completely exploded off her fingers. She honestly couldn’t tell which while cradling her hand against her chest. Bright red branching scars were already forming up to her elbow. Thankfully, her elbow had been touching the ground. Had it not, the electricity might have run through her entire body to get out.

Proper air mages carefully directed their lightning strikes even after the bolt hit. Magic could suppress the electricity just as easily as it created it. Drilling that into the minds of students was enforced so heavily that it typically became an ingrained habit.

Obviously, the hunter had skipped those lessons.

The hunter turned her attention back to Saija, shooting her out of the sky with a single spear of ice conjured from the tip of her rapier—the latest sword she had summoned. The icicle tore straight through Saija’s leathery wing. A second and third icicle punched too many holes in the succubus’ wings.

Saija crashed down in a heap.

“Succubi aren’t fighters,” Catherine said, completely unnecessarily. “Neither is Srey.”

The only other demon that hadn’t been either killed or knocked away stood even farther away than Zoe and Catherine. Srey had barely moved when the hunter had first appeared. If he really couldn’t fight, Zoe supposed it was better that way. Otherwise he would simply get in the way. Or get killed needlessly. Zoe might have suggested that he run to find help.

Without Eva, Sebastian, Neuro, and Lucy around, the hunter would undoubtedly notice his running.

Apparently taking a cue from Zoe, Srey pulled out his own phone while the hunter was distracted with Saija. Like Zoe, the hunter didn’t stay distracted for long.

She turned, launching three bolts of lightning from her shoulder and a barrage of icicles from her rapier. Srey didn’t stand a chance. He managed to dodge the first bolt and a few icicles, but one clipped his leg. He fell to the ground under everything else that the hunter threw at him.

No portal opened up, but Srey didn’t move.

“We need help,” Zoe said, standing even as she clutched her scarred hand to her chest.

“I’d use my cell, but I rather like my fingernails where they are,” Catherine said with a certain callousness that did not fit the situation.

Of course, if Catherine died, she would come back. She wasn’t in mortal peril, just in peril over losing access to the mortal realm. Temporarily. Fear meant nothing to her. Not in the same sense that Zoe felt.

In more ways than one.

It wasn’t just her life that Zoe worried about losing—though that was a big part of it—but the thought of what might happen if the hunter did kill everyone here. The hunter would likely move on to Genoa and ambush her in a moment of trouble or rest. With Genoa out of the way, who knew where the hunter would stop. Mage-knights might try to stop her. Other demons might as well. But would they be able to?

Zoe didn’t intend to leave it up to them. In her left hand—her off hand—she curled her fingers tightly around her dagger.

“If you see an opportunity to escape, or even some cover to pull out your phone, send a message to everyone we know.”

With that, Zoe took a deep breath and sprung into action.

— — —

Devon sat with narrowed eyes, feeling more like a traffic director than a researcher of things beyond the average humans’ comprehension. At no point in his life could he have imagined how monotonous fending off an attack might be. An attack from a Power, no less. He had his feet propped up on a table with a heavy leather tome on his lap.

A glowing violet light made its way across a map on the table.

“To the left,” he shouted out. The waxy ruax moved to obey his order.

One of Eva’s enigmas—or something close enough to it—climbed over the prison wall and came face to face with the wax demon. Already standing in place, the ruax made eye contact.

Devon could only imagine the headache the thing felt. Or rather, he could imagine it if he bothered to empathize with the creatures. He didn’t find suffering all that productive and chose to ignore the wailing screeches as the thing curled up on itself. Finding a solution to this mess was a far better use of his time.

As dull as it was directing the ruax around, it could be worse. A flood of the things had cascaded over the walls of the prison some time ago. Eva’s wards had managed to explode a good number of them before the explosions stopped. The number of enigmas had likely drained her wards’ blood supply. They had bought him enough time to get the ruax out of solitary confinement for defense, so he supposed he should try to remember to thank her for that later on.

With the bulk having been taken out, he had plenty of time to go through his books.

Luckily, he had a vague idea on where to start looking. That damn succubus, who just so happened to be missing from the prison at the moment, had brought him designs for a ritual not that long ago. One he had dismissed as being foolish, idiotic, risky, impossible to accomplish, potentially apocalyptic, deadly, and, above all else, foolish. The succubus had dropped the subject and not brought it up again.

What a fool he was.

A demon like Catherine wouldn’t design a highly detailed ritual and then just drop it. All that work and research that would have gone into it, thrown away? Devon wouldn’t have dropped it. Why would he ever expect anything else to do the same?

He stared at the page of his tome, not quite reading the words. He was too busy trying to remember every scrap of information down to the tiniest detail that Catherine had brought to him. The circle had obviously been designed in two parts. Essentially two separate rituals contained within the same location, all mixed up together. The thought of succeeding at something like that without causing an unplanned chaotic demolition of the ritual circle was mind boggling. It had been one of the primary reasons he had scoffed at the idea.

The second reason was staring right at him. With a slight shudder, Devon kept his eyes firmly on the pages. Whatever was above him did not like him. He could feel that much.

Again, the map started glowing. Something else had actually made it inside the prison walls. Damn Eva and her damn prisoners. It was probably that prisoner they had that was drawing them all here. They sensed one of their own and decided to investigate.

What a pain.

“Between the cell blocks and whatever is left of the women’s ward,” he shouted out to the ruax. “And you,” he said, glancing towards the carnivean, “go find that woman. We’re going to need help in a few minutes. There are a number on their way.”

For once, the carnivean didn’t talk back, argue, or otherwise protest against his orders. The thin slits in its red eyes flicked towards the cell block holding their captured enigmas and that woman from the Elysium Order. With a nod of its head, it started running off, leaving the book it had been looking through behind.

Devon reached forwards and grabbed the book as his two demons took care of their duties. The ruax was still dominated. He hadn’t even tried letting it off its leash. Dominating a demon gave a small connection between the dominator and the dominee. Through that connection, Devon felt nothing but hatred directed at him. He didn’t care in the slightest about being hated. Emotions of others rarely affected him. But it was hatred to the point where there could be no cooperation between them regardless of the situation.

With that in mind, the carnivean was far more agreeable. He had mostly left it alone to help with research and occasionally called on it to fend off the monsters should the situation require.

Though, looking at the page in the book that it had been reading, Devon didn’t know why he bothered having the carnivean research. Analytic topology of locally euclidean metrization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifolds? What a fool! It was enough to make him chuckle despite the situation. In that respect, Devon actually wished for the company of Catherine. At least the succubus would have been able to tell the difference between infinite conformal symmetry in two-dimensional vector space splicing and the obvious critical exponents in cross-planar spectrum tear.

Ugh. Some people, he thought, mild humor dying as a sense of severe disdain grew towards the retreating carnivean. It looked like it would be up to him and him alone to save the day. Frankly, he had considered taking a vacation in Guam or somewhere else sufficiently far away. He wouldn’t have bothered trying to seal the gap if it weren’t for the fact that such a planar tear had the very real capacity to rip reality in two if it were left alone for too long.

Ah well. Imagining all life as he knew it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in his body exploding at the speed of light was a fairly good motivator to fix everything.

If he was remembering the papers Catherine had showed him properly, the first of the two rituals had been intended to open up a planar tear. The second as well. The first obviously had succeeded, as it had been directly tied to Hell. Whatever that was above him, it wasn’t Hell. His current theory was that the second ritual hadn’t terminated as expected. Likely due to a malformed ritual circle. A ritual that size was bound to have errors.

Thankfully, he didn’t need to recreate the entire ritual. Just the portion of it that would close the planar tear. Something that would be far simpler if she had left her notes and research anywhere he could find. He had already scoured the women’s ward from floor to ceiling—or its rubble, anyway. A good half of the first several enigmas that had assailed the prison complex had tried passing through it. Their exploding corpses damaged much of the structure. Unfortunately, Catherine hadn’t left anything useful behind that he had been able to find.

But all was not lost. Devon reached out to his sketch pad and drew a thin line around the seal of sorrows. A line that should force the magic to interact with any planar tears. Theoretically, someone could be doing an experiment on the moon with his waist half in a tear. When his circle activated, it would snap shut. Poor guy won’t know what hit him.

He paused his sketching for a moment as he glanced at the map. The mass of glowing dots outside the prison was winking out one by one. In some cases, several by several. It actually had him taking his feet off the desk to sit upright. His thumb rubbed against one of his ring foci as he watched whatever it was carve a path through the enigmas to the prison.

Sending both of his demons away might have been a mistake. Through the connection with the ruax, he called it to his side. But it would be a short time before it got near.

He stood and filled the air with infernal flames as the thing approached the wall.

An enigma made it up to the top first, tentacles thrashing in the air. It didn’t make it over. A bloody hand the size of the entire enigma grasped it by the tentacles and dragged it back down on the other side. From there, Devon couldn’t see what happened to it.

He could hear it cry out much like the ones the ruax had given aneurysms to. The cries cut short with a spray of violet blood up and over the wall like some kind of geyser.

The hand of blood reappeared once again, grasping the top of the wall. A tiny humanoid figure attached to it used it like a grappling hook to vault over the top.

Eva landed in the clearing near the former basketball court. The bloody hand attached to her arm shrunk down to the size and length of a normal human hand, though it remained liquid and bloody from her elbow down.

As she sprinted towards him, Devon considered attacking. There was something off about Eva. Something unnatural. More than usual. Her arms—and legs, now that he looked lower than her skirt—were coated in blood. But that wasn’t too surprising for her. She had always enjoyed blood magic. It was something else. Her red eyes were just too red. Too intense. Her long hair flowed in the wind.

Hair that she wasn’t supposed to have. Eva had hair barely an inch long. That was all that had grown back since she got it burned off. And now that he was actually looking at it, it looked oily.

Or bloody.

Before he could actually come to a decision on whether or not to attack, she stopped on the other side of the table.

He let his flames die out. She wasn’t attacking him and both the ruax and the carnivean were almost back to him. If she wanted to pretend like she had hair with blood, who was he to stop her.

Though her eyes still made him shift where he stood.

“Devon,” she said, those red eyes stared at him for a moment before flicking down to the table. “Is this going to close the portals?”

“They’re not portals. It’s a planar–” Devon clenched his mouth shut, grinding his teeth together as her eyes looked back to him. “Yes,” he eventually ground out. “But it isn’t ready just yet.”

“Good. Get it ready. Then find Genoa. She should be in the Brakket Academy infirmary. I don’t know how big this is going to be, but she’ll help you get it set up instantly. But do not start it before receiving my signal.

Devon faltered, falling back into his chair. The aberration he had created had the audacity to look sheepish with a hand tucked behind her head.

“Sorry,” she said softly, “I didn’t mean that. I mean, I meant it, but I didn’t mean it all ‘kneel before me foolish mortal.’ I just–”

“What happened to you?” Devon said, narrowing his eyes.

“Not entirely sure. Died, or came close enough to it. Beyond that…” Eva trailed off with a shrug. “But still, don’t activate this until I say so.” She tapped the sketch with a bloody finger. Devon just about yelled at her, but when she dropped her hands to her sides, not a single droplet of blood stained the paper.

“And why should I listen to you? If we leave this open–”

“I know, end of the world. The thing is, it might be the end of the world if we close it too early.” She pointed a finger straight overhead.

Against his better judgment, he followed it up to the massive eye overhead. The eye that had turned black and red and was crying out tears of corruption onto the Earth. He tore his eyes away before he could stare for any longer.

“A chunk of that thing’s brain is sitting around Brakket Academy and I have to shove it back inside its body before we close the portals. To do that,” she said, turning slightly to face the approaching demons and the nun. Her eyes twitched down to the blood-covered glove on the nun’s hand. “I’m going to need my prisoner. I hope you have been taking good care of it.”

Eva rubbed her hands together. Or mimed the action. Where her hands connected, the blood melded together to the point where Devon couldn’t tell one hand from the other. It was just a big ball of blood. A ball that couldn’t possibly have Arachne’s carapace hidden beneath.

“I do need it alive,” she said with a grin.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.007

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Eva stopped pacing in front of the makeshift cell for the enigma-like creature. Actually, it wasn’t all that makeshift. Maybe a little run-down and worn out, but it was a genuine prison cell. They had enough of them around the prison to spare, so Eva had insisted.

Originally, she had wanted the creature to be kept within the solitary confinement building. It was isolated from the rest of the prison and had fairly heavy-duty doors and walls. Devon, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that he could handle the creature’s containment in the building adjacent to his own. He had said it was for the convenience of study, but Eva was mostly sure that he was just too lazy to walk to the opposite side of the compound anytime he wanted to inspect the thing.

Looking into the cell, Eva curled her lip into a slight frown. The enigma hadn’t escaped. Devon had made good on his promise to keep it contained at least. Of course, that wasn’t for lack of trying. The interior of the cell, worn down and time-damaged before its occupant entered the picture, had been clawed and scratched almost to the point of light coming through the sandstone walls. Even the floor and ceiling had deep gouges. Dust littered the floor from the marks above. The metal frame of the bed, once attached to the wall with hinges and a chain allowing it to fold up, had been torn from its fixture and had apparently been used as a battering ram against the metal bars on the front of the cell.

The bars were bent. One had come out of its socket, only standing thanks to the crossbars. The one out of its socket had bent inwards. Teeth marks marred the entire bent portion. In fact, looking at it closer, Eva was fairly sure that a good chunk was missing. If the bar were bent back to its proper position, it would be too short by almost a foot. She couldn’t see any bar lying around the room, but she supposed Devon might have taken it away.

However, standing in front of the cell, Eva could scarcely believe that the creature inside had caused all the damage. For as long as she had been pacing, the creature had done nothing but cower in the back of the cell. It used the twisted metal of the bed frame as cover, hiding behind it. Every few seconds, it popped its eyes over the top to peek at what was going on. If Eva was in the middle of pacing, it would watch for a second or two. The moment that Eva turned to look at it, it ducked back behind the frame and clawed at the ground. Its claws didn’t do much good. After all the destruction of the cell, Devon had done something. Now, the tips of its claws scraped over the floor without actually coming into contact with it. Some slight membrane protected the cell from its occupant.

“Interesting, Eva. Interesting” Devon scratched at his scraggly beard as he peered into the cell, staring with his beady eyes. Normally, Devon kept his goatee trimmed short. It was always a little unkempt. However, today’s beard looked like he hadn’t trimmed it in a full week. Maybe more. Coincidentally, that fit roughly in the same time window as Eva introducing Catherine to the ritual circle. He had yet to say a word about it to Eva, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he was worried about it. “This is the first time I’ve seen it calm down,” he said.

However, she turned her attention to his words rather than her musings and watched the enigma frantically claw at the ground for a moment as it attempted to find some escape. Or to create an exit. “This is calm?”

“Well, it isn’t trying to tear apart the cell. Much. But the other few times I’ve observed it, it bounced off the walls like a rubber ball between trying to claw me through the bars. And,” he paused to rub a finger down one of the heavily bent bars, “gnaw on the door. Something I’ve noticed is its fur. When it first came here, it was dark and fluffy looking.”

Devon didn’t need to continue. Though it was hiding behind the metal bed, the bed had been twisted and broken. It didn’t cover the entirety of the creature. Like a child playing peekaboo. The fur covering the enigma’s arms and legs had turned from the fluff Eva had first seen to a bristly metallic coloration. She wouldn’t be able to tell without actually touching it, but she highly doubted that they would be quite as soft. Its fur wasn’t all that had changed. Both tails, which had been just as furry as its arms and legs, had slimmed out. Scales covered both. Stone scales, by the looks of things. Perhaps sandstone. The tan color nearly matched the walls.

“You were right as far as I can tell,” Devon said. “It ate some demons and essentially became them.”

“My question, what happened to the demons it ate? Are they dead-dead or just the usual mostly dead?”

“Wouldn’t know. If we could summon demons at will, I would consider sacrificing an imp or another hellhound. Just to see what happens. I imagine that the demon would return to Hell upon taking fatal damage leaving the enigma to consume whatever gets left behind. However, we already know that enigmas cause strangeness when interacting with Hell. They pop out of summoning circles. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some way to block the return portal.”

Motioning with his hand, Devon led Eva down the cell block hallway. The moment they moved away from the cell door, the whine of twisted and torn metal echoed down the hallway. Devon didn’t stop moving so neither did Eva. He didn’t lead her far from the enigma’s room. Two doors away, he came to a stop in front of another cell. Eva slowed down, queasy feeling surfacing in her stomach as she peered in.

The demonic enigma felt more like a demon than an enigma. Normal enigmas gave her something of an upset stomach. In those terms, she much preferred the demon versions. However, turning the corner, she felt that familiar illness. Only a far weaker version. So weak that she hadn’t felt it at all a mere ten paces away.

It only took a quick glance into the room to realize where that feeling was coming from.

The tops of the tentacles were spaced out in the room. Each hovered just a few inches above a small air essence crystal. They snapped and nipped entirely impotently. Everything in the room, including the metal beds that would have been hung on the walls, had been cleared out. As far as Eva could tell, the room had even been swept and scrubbed clean. Devon certainly hadn’t been the one to sweep. For some reason, Eva couldn’t really picture Catherine doing any kind of manual labor either. It had probably been the carnivean.

Only the crystals and the enigma tentacle heads were in the room. Nothing else.

Of the six semi-spherical tentacle heads, two were marginally different from the rest. They were set apart from the others. One, the one that Eva had stopped from eating the cement of the sidewalk, was mostly unchanged from when she had last seen it—stony gray and slightly rough-looking. The others were all smooth and leathery.

One other had been placed right in the center of the room.

It was much larger than any of the others. Where Eva could hold one of the others comfortably in the palm of her hand—so long as it didn’t try to bite her that was—this one was much closer to the size of a thin cat. It actually looked a lot like a cat. Sort of. Maybe like a fat snake with stubby little legs. And it did have legs. Six of them, as all enigmas had. At least, all that Eva had seen. Unlike most standard enigmas, this one had fine and short hairs covering its body. A half-dozen nubs lined its back.

Despite its overall profile looking something like a cat—or maybe a squirrel?—its face was anything but. Four pale eyes twisted and turned to look around the room. Its head swiveled to face Eva as she moved into view. Round mouth baring its sharp teeth, it started snapping at the air.

“We’ve been feeding it.” Devon had his arms crossed over his chest. His tentacle didn’t quite sit still, moving much like a worm squirming to escape the grasp of his other arm. “It was Catherine’s idea. After hearing you talk about that cement one, she wanted to find out what would happen if they ate other things.”

Eva raised an eyebrow. Devon wasn’t one to refer to demons with proper pronouns. All demons were ‘it’ to him. Was it a slip of his tongue? Or was he starting to see Catherine as more of a person than a demon? There was a third possibility. He could be caught in some mental compulsions that Catherine had put him under. She might have grown tired of being called ‘it’ all the time.

She couldn’t even point it out. If she did and he started talking about Catherine again, he would almost assuredly call her ‘it’ out of either spite or embarrassment. Devon was all cantankerous like that. Unless it was Catherine’s compulsions. Assuming it wasn’t, if she mentioned it, then she would never know if it was a slip of his tongue or him actually calling her by a proper pronoun.

So Eva just nodded her head. “You didn’t feed it a demon, did you? Not like one of the carnivean’s tentacles?”

“A squirrel.”

Eva winced, but it was what she had expected. At least it wasn’t a cat. Not that Devon would care. Nor would Catherine, probably.

“Though feeding one a portion of the carnivean’s tentacles might be an interesting experiment. I’ll bring it up with Catherine.”

The carnivean wouldn’t be happy. Hopefully she wouldn’t find out about Eva’s involvement in sacrificing her tentacles to the enigmas. Though, if she did find out, it wasn’t like she could do much to Eva. Arachne had handily destroyed Qrycx on their first meeting. She would undoubtedly be able to do so again. In fact, Eva could probably take on the carnivean all on her own without breaking a sweat.

“So what’s the plan then? Just keep them here and feed them until they’re too fat to move?”

“I have no such plans beyond occasional experimentation. It may be interesting to see if we could cause a reverse of their consumption ability. Perhaps injecting a subject with enigma blood and seeing if they turn into an enigma, though I doubt they will. In fact, your…” he trailed off, face curling into a sneer. “Your Elysium Order friend—who, I might add, has been rushing in here day in and day out, begging for me to open the cells so she might collect some blood samples or perform some tests using that white magic of hers like some kind of menace—believes that the blood is barely related to the enigmas.”

Eva waited for a moment, but Devon didn’t elaborate any further. With a sage nod of her head, she said, “I might know what she means. When I tried to use my blood magic on them, it barely reacted. Explosions didn’t explode so much as they fizzled and controlling it felt sluggish.”

At least, that was true as far as she could remember. She had really only tried the one time in Hell. The same time that she had her foot bitten off. That it didn’t work as well as even her own diluted human blood was about all she really recalled.

“No problems keeping them contained?”

“Not with these.” He thumbed his tentacle over his shoulder back towards the hellhound-enigma. “That thing was a little trouble at first, but I think we got it under control.”

“Good. I don’t want to stop by one day only to find everyone eaten and the prison overrun with enigmas.”

Devon snorted but didn’t get a chance to respond. Loud clicks of high heels against the stone floor echoed up the hallway. Catherine—wearing tight-fitting pants and an almost translucent shirt, which were the first clothes that Eva had really seen her wear since she took up residence at the prison—stopped just to the side of Devon. Not behind him nor in front of him. Though, Eva did note Devon stiffening his back, glancing at the succubus out of the corner of his narrowed eyes.

While he instantly snapped to a guarded stance, Catherine barely took notice of him. She didn’t so much as glance in his direction, just stopping at his side with a hand on her hip.

“Hello, Eva. I’ve been trying to teach the demonoid one to speak,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “I had hoped that we might be able to acquire first hand information directly from an enigma. With a proper mouth and vocal cords, it should be able to speak. However, it might not have the brain capacity to vocalize any coherent thoughts.”

“You’ve only had it for a few days. Were you expecting instant results? Learning a new language takes months of dedicated study.”

“For a human,” Catherine scoffed. “Demons have innate skills with language. I can speak to you as easily as I can speak to someone on the opposite side of this planet. The enigma clearly consumed demons. A hellhound and another demon with wings. While a number of demons possess wings, I concur with your initial suggestion that it ate a succubus. But while it took on physical traits, it did not utter a single intelligent word during my attempts. Neither does it appear to possess any graceful traits common to succubi.”

Humming in thought, Eva moved around the two. Approaching the enigma’s cell, she could hear noise. Not the high-pitched whine into a cannon explosion, but the screech of twisting metal. It stopped the moment Eva moved in front of the cell door. The creature within, which had been right up near the bars, flipped over its own back in an attempt to scramble back behind the bed frame.

Except for one little problem. The bed frame had been crushed and thrown to one corner of the room. Likely what the noise had been as soon as they left. The more recent noise had come from the broken bar on the cell door. Another inch was missing from the top. Teeth marks lined the top.

As soon as Devon saw it, he started scowling.

But Eva wasn’t too concerned. Devon and Catherine would figure out how to properly keep it contained. She focused on the creature’s back. Its wings, specifically. With it having further damaged the bed frame, it couldn’t even hide properly. However, Eva couldn’t tell the difference between the enigma’s wings and Catherine’s wings. Both were almost identical to the wings of a bat. Leathery and with a little claw poking out right at the midpoint.

The only real difference was the angle. Catherine’s wings perched behind her back with the clawed tip pointed high above her head. When spread, the ends pointed outwards almost perfectly perpendicular to the rest of her body. The enigma’s wings, if it were standing upright, would have been pointing down towards the ground.

“A lot of demons have bat-like wings, don’t they? Is it possible it ate something else?”

“Demon-like wings, Eva,” Catherine said with an air of haughtiness. “Bats have demon-like wings. In fact, there is a theory that bats are actually demons—or were once upon a time—that simply found their way to earth and bred out of control.”

“But they don’t have black blood, do they?”

Once upon a time,” Catherine repeated slowly, as if speaking to a child. “They’ve had their demon blood bred out of them. Probably. It isn’t an area I have studied much. Incidentally, I’ve never seen a bat in Hell, though I do admit that I haven’t explored much beyond my own domain.”

Anyway, back to my point, is it possible it ate something that had demon-like wings? Something without much intelligence and without the grace of a succubus?”

“Possible, yes,” Catherine eventually admitted. “But I am still leaning towards a succubus. The way its chest bulges, the shape of the hips… Physically, it is a very appealing being. Though obviously lacking anything more functional than form.”

Eva took a moment to stare at the enigma. She just wasn’t seeing whatever Catherine thought was appealing about it.

“Well maybe it didn’t eat the brain of whatever succubus fell into its mouth. Is that even how these things work?”

“That is what we hope to find out with our experiments. If we had a demon to feed it, things would be different.”

Devon stepped up, grumbling under his breath. “There are a dozen demons around the school. I’m sure one wouldn’t be missed.”

Catherine just made a thoughtful hum.

A hum that had Eva sighing. “Just leave Saija alone,” she said. “Vektul and Srey as well. I guess Neuro and Sebastian too.”

“What did you do? Befriend the whole lot of them?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m ‘friends’ with any of them. Some of them are participating in the event. Wouldn’t want them going missing. Others are useful.”

Catherine shook her head. “Probably not a good idea anyway. We would have to kidnap them alive. I’m not sure on the exact details of their contracts, but they are required to assist each other in times of danger in some manner or other. Something that would turn out poorly for us if we acted against them. For now,” she paused, turning to the side, “Eva, I wish to speak with you regarding a hypothetical ritual I’ve come up with.”

As she spoke, Devon rolled his eyes. “Idiotic ritual more like. You’ll have no part of it,” he said, locking eyes with Eva. A moment later, he glanced to the side with a scoff. “Though speaking of rituals, I believe I have a date for your next treatment. Bring three demons the day after New Year’s. Otherwise Catherine will fill in, along with Arachne and the carnivean.”

Piece said, Devon stalked off down the hallway until he reached the exit. He didn’t so much as throw a glance over his shoulder as he walked out the door.

“I take it he didn’t like the prospect of the ritual circle,” Eva said, leaning against the wall next to the enigma’s cell as she turned to face Catherine.

“He glanced at it for a mere second,” Catherine said with a sigh. A second later, she lost her perfect posture to take on a slouch. Her voice dropped a few octaves. “‘Too complex,'” she snapped, mimicking Devon’s voice. “‘Anyone who tries to put together something so foolish will blow themselves up. Either you made a mistake in designing it or you will make a mistake in drawing it out.'”

Returning to her proper posture with her head held high, Catherine continued. “Of course, I didn’t tell him that a Power designed it. I presented it as a hypothetical that I had been thinking about on my own. He never heard your name in the same sentence until just now.”

All of a sudden, Eva was glad she had brought Catherine in on the project. Not only had she found those errors on the first night, but she had also taken steps to completely leave her out of the mess while speaking with Devon. Which was much better than Eva’s original plan of just having her not ask him at all. Of course, it wound up with the same effect. Devon didn’t look like he was planning on helping Catherine look over it. Still, the thought counted.

“What did you want to talk about?”

“He’s right.”

The smile on Eva’s face froze.

“And by that I mean that Zoe and I have uncovered no less than forty-seven errors between the two of us when comparing the photographs and the design papers. As perfect as I may be, I still must admit that I could have missed another forty-seven in finding those. We’ve barely even scratched the surface of actually examining the ritual and its intended effects. Not for lack of trying, I assure you.”

“I see. Will that–”

Eva’s head snapped to the side. The enigma had moved right up to the bars. Slowly. It hadn’t run up to attack her. She had been watching through her sense of blood and hadn’t been too concerned. She wasn’t so alarmed that it had slipped up and done nothing but stare at her.

What freaked her out were the sounds it was making.

“E..va.”

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Author’s Note: Well, this worked out pretty well last time. Void Domain actually hit number 12 for a day or so. Thanks! And, if you enjoyed, consider voting at top web fiction. It’s just a quick button (or captcha if you have never voted).