Tag Archives: Emily

009.011

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Eva didn’t sit around to chat with Randal. A more in-depth questioning on what abilities his bound demon gave him could wait until after they had won this thing.

She had a bad feeling. Nothing with any real reason behind it, just a chill up her spine.

Blinking to the base of the pyramid, Eva hesitated for a second. The stairwell was still a smooth earthen slide. Rather than wait and see if Emily would reverse the staircase, she jumped.

The bottom segment of the pyramid was the largest. She couldn’t jump it all in a single bound. She could, however, dig her hands and feet into the wall. After making a sufficient platform for leverage, she jumped the rest of the way up.

And landed right between Anise and Emily again.

Compared to how she had seen them a mere minute ago, roughly calm but worried about Randal and the Faultline student, they both looked at Eva with some trepidation.

Eva opened her mouth to speak.

Anise beat her to it. She clasped the sides of her head with a loud groan. “I should have attacked you. Or your friend. Now there’s two of you and I still haven’t seen anyone from my school. Ah, I wish Chris were here. She wouldn’t have hesitated to attack you.”

Unless she attacked me right at the start and I knocked her out then, Eva didn’t bother saying. Instead she said, “We’re not going to attack you or anything. You two come up with us and who knows, maybe your schoolmates will show up and you can attack us. Or we activate some trap before winning and get knocked out, leaving you two to take over.”

“I am perfectly content with that plan,” Emily said after a moment of silence. “I mean, I don’t want to speak bad about my school… but I’m probably the only one left. They… we aren’t…”

Eva glared. She wasn’t angry. But she was on a time limit.

“That’s great. We can all have a heart to heart and be friends later. I left Rachael up there with the dryad and I’ve got a bad feeling. Let’s go.”

She took a step, preparing to jump up the stairs to the top, but paused and turned.

“Though if you could turn the stairs back to normal, I’m sure Randal would appreciate it.”

Randal was still within her blood sight range. He was struggling. A lot. He was trying to brace himself against where the stairs would be and the decorative slope between the stairwell and the main pyramid walls. Every now and again, he slid down.

Eva didn’t wait to see if Emily would comply. She half expected Rachael to be watching from the top, yet there was no silhouette against the moonlight sky. They might try attacking Randal, but he could probably handle it if they did. Especially if his magic canceling orbs worked on Elysium Order magic.

She hopped and hopped and hopped until the topmost plateau came in range of her blood sight.

A swear escaped her lips that would undoubtedly be censored over the airwaves.

Eva hopped to the top of the pyramid. Before her feet even touched the ground, she blinked and reappeared next to the vine-wrapped pillar.

A swipe of her fingers had several vines snapping, freeing Rachael. She slumped forwards. Only the tension of the vines had been holding her upright. Her hand pressed up against two bleeding holes in her shoulder.

“He was just waiting for you to leave,” she said, voice soft and lethargic.

Eva didn’t need to ask who ‘he’ was. The vampire had taken more blood than Eva would be comfortable with. Rachael should be fine. Potions could have her fixed up without trouble. Her neck was only lightly bleeding, so her life shouldn’t be in danger as long as she didn’t make the wound worse. Which made sense. The vampire wouldn’t want to kill anyone just as much as Eva didn’t want to.

Probably.

Rachael’s wand was missing as well. Stolen or perhaps flung off the pyramid along with the Faultline wand. Eva had spares from the other members of Faultline. Unfortunately, they were worthless unless Rachael was actually up to the task of wielding one.

“I knew I should have thrown that dryad off the pyramid.”

Rachael let out a few low chuckles. “There are slots for the marbles,” she said, pointing towards the center of the pyramid. “It opened up into an elevator. They went inside. You might be able to catch them before they win this.”

“I hope so,” Eva said as she looked to where Rachael had pointed.

Sure enough, there was a shallow indentation right in the center that looked like it would be the perfect size for the marbles they had received to determine their teams.

But they must have gone pretty deep into the temple. Eva could see the dryad having slipped by her blood sense, but the vampire stuck out like a sore thumb. She hadn’t sensed either of them on her ascent back up the pyramid.

Eva’s first instinct was to run to the elevator, drop her marble in, and give immediate chase.

But then it would be her versus the dryad and the vampire. Alone. Exactly the situation she had been trying to avoid by dragging along the trainee nun this whole time.

Eva blinked to the edge of the stairs.

At least Randal and the others weren’t fighting. And they were hurrying up the stairs. But, only being halfway to the third landing, they were going far slower than Eva needed. Despite having started all the way at the base, Randal had passed by the two girls.

Cupping her hands to her mouth, Eva shouted down at them. “Move it people!”

Both Anise and Emily looked up at her with identical expressions on their faces.

They stared up at her with open mouths, panting as they used her shout as an excuse to stop moving.

It isn’t that far, Eva thought with a groan. Sure, the temple was probably twice the size of the absurdly large ritual circle. But they only had to go half the length of it. Uphill. Rather, upstairs. Which was probably worse if she thought about it for a moment.

But they didn’t have to be so slow about it.

That simply wouldn’t do.

Eva blinked straight down to Anise. Ignoring her yelp, Eva gave her a light shove. Just enough to knock her off-balance. Once off-balance, Eva scooped her up into her arms and started jumping back up the pyramid. Her hops up were shorter than they could be while on her own, but still much faster than Anise climbing unassisted.

“Don’t drop–”

At the top, Eva ignored Anise’s complaints and unceremoniously dropped her on the ground. She ran back to the stairs…

And considered leaving Emily behind once again. Randal was hightailing it up the pyramid and would be at the top soon enough. Even if they left her behind, Emily could still come down the elevator. Probably. Assuming it wasn’t limited in its uses.

If the first to use it was the only one who could, then Eva had already lost. She had to believe that the game wasn’t over yet.

The simple fact of the matter was that Emily didn’t offer all that much to the team. Randal was from her school and therefore a trusted ally. Not to mention his demon bond that gave him more power than the average thaumaturgical mage. Anise had an Elysium Order eye implanted in her chest. Her magic was the ultimate anti-undead. Almost to the point where Eva was concerned she might kill the vampire on accident.

It wasn’t super concerning. If the vampire died, Eva wouldn’t lose much sleep over it. And if somebody killed the vampire who wasn’t her, then all the better.

Emily was just a regular thaumaturge. Not even an experienced one. She was about the same age as Eva, even if she seemed to have a decent handle on both earth magic and fire magic.

However, she wasn’t from the Nod Complex. For the moment, that was good enough for Eva.

Eva blinked again.

“Wait! Don’t–”

Eva knocked her to the side just as she had with Anise, scooped her up, and started hopping up once again.

Randal made it up to the top before Eva did. Not by much. If she hadn’t hesitated in retrieving Emily, she might have made it back first. Or at least at the same time.

“No ride for me?” Randal asked with a mild chuckle. He started to move towards Rachael.

Eva pinched the hem of his shirt without setting down the somewhat squirmy Emily. She dragged him over to the center where Anise was already waiting. As with Anise, Eva dropped Emily on the ground and ignored her groan.

Fishing her marble out of her pocket—which was thankfully still intact despite the holes in her clothes—Eva dropped it into the indentation.

Which promptly opened up and swallowed the marble.

Eva waited. She was expecting the entire platform to move. Or at least the part between the pillars. There was a faint seam where she though the floor might drop out from the rest.

But it wasn’t moving.

“Rachael?” she said, turning. “How long did it take?”

“Only a second or two, but they both put their marbles in.”

Eva looked around her group. “Well? You heard her, what are you waiting for? I hope none of you lost them.”

Anise and Emily both pulled theirs out without complaint and dropped them into the hole. Randal pulled his out and held it in his hand.

He didn’t bend down and put it in the hole. His eyes narrowed as he watched the other two drop their marbles.

“Why are we taking these two with us?”

“Randal,” Eva said, keeping her voice cool. “Put your marble in the hole. If the elevator ride is long enough, maybe I’ll tell you. Nod Complex students are already down there. We don’t have time to sit around up here fighting.”

He hesitated for another moment before tilting his head. “Alright,” he said with a half-sigh.

The second he placed his marble down, the entire platform jolted. Another second and they were moving downwards.

“Good luck,” Rachael shouted just before their heads dipped below the surface of the temple.

Reaching into her pocket, Eva pulled out one of the wands and tossed it at Rachael. “Just in case,” she called out as two stone doors closed over her head.

Randal had his eyes on Eva as soon as the last vestiges of light were pinched by the doors. They snapped shut with a thunderous crash. Beyond that, Eva couldn’t hear much of anything. The elevator was near silent. Maybe a slight grinding of stone against stone if she really strained her ears, but that could just as easily be her imagination.

Not that she needed to hear anything. Randal’s stare was loud enough on its own to make up for the lack of noise around.

She couldn’t actually see his eyes. No new lights lit up inside the slowly lowering chamber.

Well, none save for two bright white lights flaring up where Anise’s eyes should be. They didn’t provide nearly enough illumination to brighten up the entire elevator however.

So Eva decided to help out. She ignited both of her claws, brightening her flames until she could see not only her companions but the moving walls as well. The platform was fairly spacious. Eva couldn’t stretch out her arms without hitting someone else, but she wasn’t up in their faces either. Even still, she took a step closer to the center.

Being able to see the walls moving up while in the elevator unnerved her for some reason.

Interestingly, she couldn’t see any cameras around. The drones had been circling around outside the temple, but none had followed them into the elevator shaft.

“So spill. Why are we not taking their wands. Or kicking them off the top of the pyramid?”

“First,” Eva pointed towards Anise, “she doesn’t need a wand for her most dangerous magic.”

Anise took a step back as Randal turned to glare at her. Though she still had at least two steps to go before hitting the wall, Eva couldn’t help but wince. What if her curly hair snagged on the rough stone walls as they rushed past?

“Second, we’re going down into this temple with who knows what waiting for us. At the very least, there is a dryad and a vampire.”

“You don’t think we can take them?”

“I think I could take them with my eyes closed. While the vampire isn’t necessarily the most powerful representative of his species and the dryad might be a little underwhelming, I still would rather not find out they’ve been hiding all their tricks right at the last moment.”

“I suppose I can understand that,” Randal said, eying the other two girls. “What’s the third reason?”

“What makes you think there is a third reason?”

He turned back, looking at her as if he were offended she had thought so little of him.

Eva sighed.

“Alright. I really don’t want the Nod Complex to win. Like, at all. We have a better chance at stopping them with four of us.”

Turning her attention to Emily, she smiled a nice, closed mouth smile. “I don’t know what your deal with Faultline was, but all three of their people lost their wands. Thanks to yours truly. They can’t win anymore. I expect equal help in keeping the Nod Complex from winning.”

Before Emily could agree or disagree, Eva turned to Anise. “And you’re part of the Elysium Order. Say what you want about demons, but you hunt undead. Think of what an embarrassment it would be if a vampire were to win.”

A jolt almost threw all of them to the ground as the elevator slammed into the ground. It hadn’t slowed down in the slightest before stopping cold. Eva actually had to extinguish her hands in a hurry lest she accidentally burn Randal by bumping into him. When no further jolts came, she moved a step away and reignited her hands.

One of the four walls wasn’t a wall anymore. A doorway had opened up in place of the wall leading out into a long corridor. A camera was mounted on a track along one of the walls, staring right at them.

Eva almost glowered at it. Instead, she grinned and gave it a little wave. Despite their disadvantage in getting down the elevator second, she might as well be a little confident.

As for how far they had gone down, Eva couldn’t say. Rachael’s circulatory system had gone out of range a short while ago. They had traveled for a time since then. For all Eva knew, they could be halfway up the pyramid, level with the ground around it, or even deep underground.

Just beneath the camera was a small tray. Three violet marbles and one yellow were ready for collection.

Eva picked up one of the violet ones, the one furthest from the elevator which should be hers, as did the other girls. Randal picked up his yellow marble.

Based on how they were keys to get down into the pyramid, they were probably used elsewhere inside as well. Maybe keys for doors. Maybe winning the whole thing. Whatever the case, Eva wasn’t about to throw it away.

“Alright. Time is running out.”

With one final glance towards her companions, Eva took off running.

She did not handicap her speed to keep as a group. So long as there was nothing but a single hallway, there was no need. No one would get lost and the vampire should be up ahead.

Though, she was the group’s light source at the moment. The others might be able to get their own light going, but so long as she had her hands aflame, she might as well help out. Eva trailed a finger along the wall opposite from the camera—which was racing along with her—and left fire sticking to the wall in a long line.

So long as she had her spell right, it should burn for several minutes with a decent brightness. Even ten-year-old light bulbs would be better, but the small trail of flames was better still than nothing at all. As long as it stayed lit. It wasn’t something she had done before, but she was fairly confident in her ability.

She was moving fast through the corridor. Her flames only left a thin trail of fire behind her that failed to light up the entire hallway. Ahead of her was dark enough that she nearly crashed into a wall. The hallway looped around, turning straight back the way she had come with a slight incline up a ramp.

Eva only hesitated in continuing for a brief moment before charging forwards. She continued her trail of fire, though she absently noted that the camera decided not to follow her onwards. It went backwards at the turn, perhaps giving the others some screen time.

The inclined passageway wasn’t half as long as the one from the elevator to the turn.

It opened up without a door into a wide and well-lit room. Wide might have been an understatement. As far as Eva could tell, the entire pyramid was hollow. There was a single column in the very center of a gigantic space where the elevator must have been. Cameras lined it up and down, some able to move around on large robotic arms. More cameras hung off the sloped walls of the pyramid, though she couldn’t see any real light sources.

Or do the walls count as a ceiling?

Eva shook her head.

It didn’t matter.

What did matter was the absolute forest that had grown inside. It couldn’t be a natural forest. The flowers and vines and even a few trees had broken away the stone flooring to grow. Maybe Redford had done it, but Eva’s money was on the dryad.

There was a slight decline leading down into the forest bowl that had Eva wondering just how badly space had been twisted inside the temple. It was probably meant to give a view of the area before one actually had to tread down there.

The opposite end of the room looked like a large golden shrine. Two pillars of gold covered in ornate carvings of blocky-looking people surrounded a mural of a sun. She actually had to move a little to see it properly as the large elevator column was in the dead center.

And the vampire stood in front of the mural, pacing back and forth.

Eva tried not to sigh in relief. People who paced back and forth with a scowl on their face generally weren’t about to win a contest. She still had time to get to him.

Better yet, he hadn’t looked back yet. He wasn’t aware of her presence. If his sense of smell was even mildly good, it probably wouldn’t stay that way for long, but Eva held the advantage for the moment.

Perhaps the dryad hadn’t grown the forest. Redford might have planted it all to slow people down and obstruct the pyramid floor. Or the dryad had done it to slow down anyone who might be following the Nod Complex. If they needed to reach the opposite end of the room, either case made perfect sense.

But where was the dryad? Shouldn’t she be up with the vampire? Had he decided that he didn’t need her help and attacked his own teammate?

Before Eva could move even a single step more, her theory was crushed.

Along with the poor dryad.

A massive serpent flew out of the denser section of the forest close to the golden shrine. The shine on its silver scales actually forced Eva to momentarily raise a hand to protect her eyes. Wings made of pure gold carried it through the air.

And a screaming dryad was caught between two blunt antler-like horns coming off its head.

It reared up high in the air before flinging the dryad off.

A gaggle of trees caught her, though still with enough force to make Eva wince. She wasn’t quite sure what it took to kill a dryad—termites maybe—but that had to have been painful no matter what.

At the noise, the vampire gave a callous glance over his shoulder, paying attention for a mere instant before returning his focus to the golden mural.

Eva took a step forwards.

The moment she did, the serpent snapped its head to look at her.

Her eyes locked with the serpent’s massive eyes. She couldn’t tell exactly how large they were, but given the size of the dryad against its horns, each one might as well be as big as Eva was. One was a deep purple with a golden pupil. The other, a dark green with a black pupil. It almost looked as if there was a hexagon inside the green eye. Just lines connecting the edges of the iris.

The gaze lasted only a few short seconds, but Eva found herself gasping for breath at the end of it. She shivered. A chill ran up her spine. She felt a strange sensation as if she and everything about her had been on display like the pages of an open book.

But the silver-scaled serpent did not charge at her. It flicked its long tail straight towards the vampire.

Despite his back being turned, he managed to jump out of the way. It did force him back down into the forest and away from the mural.

Trees came to life as the serpent chased after him. Thick branches reared back and struck the serpent.

Doing little damage as far as Eva could tell. The opposite end of the pyramid was too far for her blood sight, so it might be getting a few bruises beneath those glittering scales. Eva wouldn’t be too surprised if it was entirely unharmed.

By the time Eva was ready to try moving again, all three of her companions showed up in the opening. All three stood and stared with their mouths wide open.

Eva hoped that she hadn’t been quite so slack-jawed. There were cameras watching.

“Know what it is?”

Anise jolted at the sudden address. She quickly shook her head. “I’ve never seen something like that before.”

“Well, it doesn’t look undead. Probably shouldn’t be surprised,” Eva said as she glanced towards the other two.

Neither gave her anything more than a shake of their heads identical to Anise’s.

“Right, well, I have a feeling that those plants are going to be attacking us as soon as we head down there. I don’t know about you, but if those trees are meant to fight that thing,” she said, pointing a long finger, “I don’t really want them attacking me.”

“We could burn our way across,” Randal said.

Anise crossed her arms with a slight huff. “Unless you have really fast acting fire, we’ll just have burning trees attacking us.”

Eva opened her mouth, held up a finger, cocked her head to one side, and snapped her mouth shut. She nodded slightly in agreement before perking up as an idea struck.

“How about this. We set Basila down and have her clear us a path, barreling over all the trees in our path,” Eva said with a wide grin.

“Basila?”

Eva extinguished the flames around one hand and held it up, showing off the stone-like snake coiled around her wrist.

All three of them stared at her with blank looks.

With both the vampire and the dryad either fighting or fleeing from the giant serpent, who—Eva assumed—would go after whoever was closest to the golden shrine, she felt like she had a few moments to breathe. And, so long as she had a moment, she might as well put on a little show for the cameras.

Genoa, assuming she was watching, might get a little amusement out of it anyway.

“Basila!” Eva said, voice slightly raised. She scratched the little snake beneath the chin to wake it up. “These foolish mortals are mocking your brilliance.”

Its tiny little jaw opened up into the cutest little yawn before its steely eyes turned to stare at her.

Eva quickly pulled the little basilisk off her wrist, setting it on the ground. As she did so, she tore a potion flask from her hip, uncapped it, and upended it over the snake.

She had already ‘fed’ it some blood earlier. Blood she could control. If worse came to worse, she could help direct it to where she needed to go.

As soon as the potion touched its black scales, it started growing.

Eva didn’t bother waiting for it to reach full size.

“Go, my pretty,” Eva said, nudging it along with the blood. “Go and trample this forest. Find the vampire and contain him.”

With one last look towards Eva, it slithered off into the forest, still growing larger and larger.

Now the others were looking at Basila with impressed looks on their faces. Or… maybe that was fear. Anise’s lower lip was trembling and her hands were shaking.

“Th-that’s a basilisk.”

“Yep! Let’s go. Use Basila as a shield. Fight off the vampire if you can. Distract him. Whatever. The dryad is a secondary priority. I’m heading for the shrine.”

Eva blinked away.

Basila, rapidly approaching hallway size, charged through the forest without a care in the world. Vines never got a grasp on her, seeds bounced off her scales without her even noticing, and the trees were shattered at the trunk as she rammed into them. A few of the trees whacked into her with a disturbing amount of force before she could destroy them, but they had nothing like nun lightning. Her natural regeneration—or unnatural, given the ritual Eva had performed on her—helped to counteract the damage a great deal.

Eva didn’t actually need to hide behind Basila. So she didn’t. She just kept blinking straight across, leaving the others behind.

She did ensure Basila stayed well within her range, however, just in case the snake decided to coil up around one of her teammates. It did take a nudge every now and again to keep her moving in the right direction.

By the time Eva crossed enough distance to see the vampire, he had obviously noticed her as well. He angled his sprint away from the giant serpent to put them on a collision course.

Eva curled her fingers, conjuring explosive balls of flame between each one.

She tossed them out well ahead of when the vampire would have made it to her, conjuring up a second set the moment they were out of her fingers.

The vampire shifted course to avoid the series of explosions. He ran straight past Eva.

As he did so, he took the serpent with him.

Eva paused for just a moment, inspecting it with her sense of blood.

Though it was roughly a snake, it had a drastically different circulatory system when compared with Basila.

Basila was a golem. Originally, she hadn’t had a circulatory system. After the ritual, she got a single tube of blood running from nose to tail. There were no real veins or capillaries.

The serpent had all that and more. She could see organs. A heart, stomach, lungs, tongue, eyes, and anything else one might expect to see in a living creature. That didn’t really tell Eva much aside from the fact that whatever it was, it was real.

And, so long as it was focused on the vampire, Eva had an opportunity to inspect the mural.

Two more blinks through the fake forest had her at a small set of stairs leading up to the shrine.

They were as gold as the pillars and wall.

Eva jumped straight to the top, frowning slightly as her feet dug large gouges into the floor. They were sharp and gold was soft, but this whole thing couldn’t be real gold.

Not that it mattered, though if it were a prize for victory, that would slightly sweeten the deal.

At the very front of the mural was a small pedestal stretching up to her waist with the top shaped into a shallow cup. The perfect size for a marble.

Of course, dropping her marble in the slot did nothing. If it was that simple, the vampire would have won already. The marble didn’t even stay in the slot, it rolled out despite the depression where the marble should have stayed.

From afar, she had only been able to see the sun. Which was truly massive. Up close, Eva had to crane her neck just to see the top of it. Down closer to the pedestal yet still high above it were two circular moldings protruding from the wall.

Eva shuddered as she looked at them.

One was a set of concentric rings. The other had less rings, but also had lines in the shape of a hexagon.

The serpent’s eyes.

Eva turned back to the forest with grit teeth. Were they supposed to kill the serpent and take its eyes? Put them somewhere around the platform. That seemed a bit violent for live television.

Besides, there wasn’t anywhere to put them even if she did have them. Maybe if the protrusions were deep carvings instead.

Turning back to the arena, Eva quickly surveyed the area. If the trees were gone, everything would be much easier. She could clearly see the trail that Basila was carving through the forest. Even more devastating than a hallway-sized snake plowing through everything were black orbs eating and consuming all the plant life around the area.

Which, if they were made up of magic, made sense.

Eva couldn’t see the dryad anywhere around. Given how well she blended in with the trees—both visually and through her nearly impossible to see blood—Eva doubted she would be able to spot her without her being obvious about it.

The vampire still had the serpent after him. He dashed between the trees, using them as cover and platforms to spring from.

Which had Eva narrowing her eyes.

She was up at the gold shrine. Why hadn’t it switched to her?

Had he stolen something from up here? Had he provoked it?

Despite the white lightning that occasionally fired off in the vampire’s direction and missed, none of her teammates had hit, or even attacked, the serpent. Though maybe someone had while her back had been turned, but she doubted it.

Flying through the air, the vampire reached out. His hand dug into one of the thick branches as if he had Eva’s claws. Doing so stopped him short of a bolt of lightning, but allowed the serpent to close distance.

Something he had apparently planned on.

The tree swung its branch backwards, flinging the vampire on a collision course with the serpent. Both of his hands spread out, intent on gripping onto the serpent.

Or maybe clawing into it.

Not willing to let itself be attacked, the serpent spun around. Its tail whipped into him, sending him flying across the room straight towards the golden shrine.

And, consequently, straight towards Eva.

He twisted in the middle of the air, angling to properly attack her.

Eva ignited every part of her body that wasn’t covered in clothes. Flames dripped from her hands like globs of burning tar, spreading across the platform. They wouldn’t last long, but she only needed them to last long enough to ward off the vampire.

His eyes went wide as Eva’s smile widened.

Even if he could hop around without getting hurt, he couldn’t fly. Physics still carried him straight to her waiting arms.

Her burning arms.

Eva’s fist connected with his stomach. Flames from her arm launched forwards when her arm found itself unable to continue, coating the vampire’s shirt in the sticky flames.

He jumped away before Eva could follow up. His shirt flew off his body as he grasped one of the pillars, keeping high and out of Eva’s immediate range.

“Will you desist,” he snapped at her, not really asking a question.

Eva didn’t bother answering. The vampire was already leaping towards her.

More, the serpent was on a collision course with the mural. The mural she just happened to be standing in front of.

Eva jumped, letting the vampire take the blow. She landed just between its horns, grabbing onto one as she extinguished her flames.

Amazingly enough, she didn’t go flying into the wall when the serpent hit it.

In fact, the serpent didn’t hit it at all.

The vampire caught the serpent, one hand on each of the person-sized fangs. Normally, such a thing would have had Eva staring. Even for a vampire, that was an impressive display of strength. The serpent was at least twice the size of a hallway-sized Basila. Probably bigger.

But Eva’s eyes were glued to the mural.

Before, it had been a solid sheet of gold. Slight lines formed the pattern of the sun, but they were engravings rather than any other sort of material.

As the vampire held the serpent, the mural lit up. The lines that had previously been mere indentations in the gold began radiating light. The two eye shaped constructs lit up purple and green, identical to the serpent’s eyes.

Everything clicked.

The vampire threw his arms to the side, sending the flying serpent off towards one of the walls. Eva had to grab on tight as it lifted high in the chamber to avoid crashing.

Twisting her neck to see behind her, Eva found the mural back to its default state. No lights and no colors.

Eva looked down. Spotting Basila near instantly, she blinked.

“Anise,” Eva said, dodging the nun’s glowing battle-axe, “I need you to get to the vampire and just hound him. Make him absolutely unable to do anything.”

“Wha–”

“No time to argue. Basila will help keep the plants off your back. Just find him and lock him down.” Eva used the blood within Basila to send her off in the direction of the vampire. He was fast. Far too fast for her to expect Basila to get a hit in, let alone coil around him.

But that was what Anise was for.

“Follow Basila, she’ll lead you to the vampire.”

Anise hesitated for another moment, opening her mouth.

A single glare from Eva had her moving after the basilisk.

“Randal,” Eva said, turning to face him. “Get to the big golden shrine and get your marble ready. You can’t put it in until the shrine is active.”

At least, that was what Eva was assuming. It seemed logical, but she hadn’t really been in a position to try while the shrine had been active.

“Sounds easy. You just taking a nap while we’re doing all the hard work?”

Eva looked up to the serpent as it drifted about overhead, looking for something to attack.

“I’ve got a snake to wrangle.”

“Fair enough. I suppose I’ll leave you to it.”

Eva turned, about to blink away as Randal ran off. Emily gripped her hand, stopping her cold.

“What about me?”

“Help Randal, I suppose,” Eva said after a moment of silence. Really, she wasn’t quite sure what Emily was going to do that Randal couldn’t, but at least it gave her something to do.

She nodded, offering a smile before running off.

Left alone, Eva gave herself a moment to concentrate. Blinking onto a moving target, especially one higher up, was near impossible. Not without losing a leg or worse. However, she could blink to a point in front of it and hope she could grab onto its horns.

Horns? Eva thought with a frown. Snakes didn’t have horns. Not even basilisks. Neither did they have wings. Maybe it was actually a Chinese dragon, though why it was in the middle of a pyramid was anyone’s guess.

Not that it mattered at the moment.

Eva blinked.

Staring at a creature with a mouth twice her size coming straight at her as she fell had Eva wondering if it was such a good idea after all.

She landed hard on its forehead, bouncing slightly and letting out a groan even as she tried to get a grip on its antler-like horns. Even with Arachne’s claws, there wasn’t much more than a light scrape on whatever they were made out of.

“Great job Eva,” she mumbled to herself, face down on the platinum scales with her arms wrapped around one horn. “Now what?”

Now she had to wrangle it.

Easier said than done.

Using the horn for support, Eva slowly made it to her feet.

White flashes of lightning and fire lit up a section of the forest. Anise must have been doing her job properly. She was slightly out of range of Eva’s blood sight—as was Basila—but Eva couldn’t see the vampire anywhere. Emily and Randal had both made it up to the shrine and were doing nothing more than standing around.

The perfect time.

Eva gripped the horn. With all of her body weight behind it, she yanked it to the side.

The dragon’s gaze crossed the shrine, but only long enough to cause a faint glow. Something that had probably happened numerous times and yet had been too subtle to notice.

Eva’s grip nearly came loose as the dragon shook its head. She grit her teeth and wrapped her legs around the horn for extra grip until it stopped bucking.

When it did, it faced away from the shrine.

Which wasn’t bad.

If it kept going straight, she could loop it around the elevator pillar. If she could even its flight out afterwards, that would give it a much straighter path and, more importantly, a longer path than the simple turn of its head. Its gaze would be on the shrine for longer.

Eva carefully leaned back and forth, never putting too much force in her attempts to steer the dragon for fear of it suddenly bucking again. She kept it going straight until it had passed the pillar.

Only then did she shove against its right horn.

Almost immediately, she let go of the right horn and barreled into the left, leveling it out.

The shrine lit up in a brilliant gold. In front of it, Randal started to reach his arm towards the pedestal.

“Randal!” Eva shouted.

A moment too late.

Vines snapped out of the dryad’s wrist and wrapped around Randal’s arm. She yanked his arm back even as she ran forwards with her own green marble in hand.

He spun, stumbling twice before gathering his wits about him and casting one of his orbs at the vines.

Eva tried to slam her body against the dragon’s horn again to break contact.

But it was too late.

A hand slammed a violet marble down into the slot, just before the dryad could reach the pedestal.

The golden mural exploded into a rainbow of colors, forcing Eva to shield her eyes.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.010

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“And there goes group indigo.”

“A shame,” Zoe said with a shake of her head. “They looked like they were doing so well.”

“When the tail swiped the… elf into the tree, I think the other two lost their nerves.”

“Indeed. Dragonkin are not to be taken lightly. Their scales can take a beating that even the finest suit of armor would have trouble holding up against. The students got a little overconfident when they managed to push it back. But if they would have stuck to their attacks rather than turning to flee, they might have forced it into a retreat. Especially the water mage, he should have used water rather than ice. Dragonkin don’t like their scales getting wet.”

“Right,” Hank said with a quick nod of his head.

Zoe doubted he really understood. At least, in general. Her previous statement had been simple enough. But the idea that it would be better to fight many of the things out in the forest rather than run probably didn’t mesh with his general worldview. Or that of most mundane people for that matter.

If they saw something scary, their first instinct would be to run. Even if they were running from something that was obviously faster than them.

Hank did manage to act like he knew what he was talking about. The narrations he gave were mostly play-by-plays, repeating what he was seeing on screen. It gave him the illusion that he was talking about something important, even though everyone could see what he was saying on their own screens.

He let Zoe handle explaining most magical aspects of the fights, of course, and asked intelligent questions when something was particularly odd to him.

“Still, getting slammed into the tree like that had to have hurt.”

“Probably,” Zoe admitted. “But the medical team is already on site and none of the three students were hurt too badly. They’ll be able to patch up any injuries in the blink of an eye.”

“That’s true. I think I’ve seen high school wrestling matches with worse injuries,” he said with a chuckle.

Zoe wasn’t sure if she believed that, but maybe he was trying to play down the violence for the viewers.

Even though more violence would probably mean more viewers. Humans were… attracted to that sort of thing for some reason.

“For those of you who are just joining us or otherwise missed out,” Hank said, sitting up straight as the cameras switched to them now that there was a lull in the action, “you can catch the replays and highlights on the website listed at the bottom of your screens. A quick recap of where each school stands.

“With the indigo group’s summary defeat, five students have been removed from the event. Isomer Holy Academy is down to a single student, currently in group violet. As is Mount Hope, their single student also in group violet. The Nod Complex is down to two students. Brakket and Faultline Academies are the only ones still at full steam.

“Now, two groups have reached the center of the event. Violet is closing in quick, delayed a short while by their encounter with…”

He stumbled, trailing off with a glance towards Zoe.

“Let’s just call her Lucy.”

“With Lucy. Don’t touch that channel. We’ll be back with more excitement from the magical world after a brief message from our sponsors.”

— — —

“Ugh. Blech.”

“Yes, we get it,” Emily said, looking over at the nun with a shake of her head. “You had tentacles in your mouth. You’ve been whining about it for the last five minutes. It’s gross. Can you just stop making those noises?”

“You don’t even know,” Anise snapped. “You only had a few tentacles around your waist. I was completely wrapped up.” She tugged at her shirt, still slimy from being wrapped up in Lucy’s tentacles. “That thing was probably venomous.”

“Poisonous,” Eva said, glancing back over her shoulder with a wide grin. “Venomous is when they bite you. Poisonous is when you bite them. And you were definitely doing the biting.”

Anise groaned.

“But don’t worry. Though she can be toxic, it is an optional sort of thing. With her orders not to actually hurt people, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“Why me? Neither of you got wrapped up so much.”

“I got my wand knocked out of my hand and all she’s got are fire spells,” Emily said with a finger pointing towards Eva. “Obviously you are the most dangerous of the three of us.”

Eva twisted her face into a scowl. Anise did just the opposite, brightening up for the first time since having her mouth stuffed full of tentacles.

She was just about ready to turn around and remind the two of them that, even with Lucy barely fighting back, they would both have been carried out of the arena if it wasn’t for her. However, she felt her breath catch in her throat as she walked up a short ridge.

There was no forest ahead of her. No trees and hardly any brush. There was grass, but it had been clipped short. The clearing was far larger than the area Eva had coopted for her ritual. At least twice as large. Possibly more.

Of course, a clearing wasn’t all that shocking. The Infinite Courtyard had a number of clearings dotted around. None as maintained as this, but they probably weren’t used for events very often.

No, it was what occupied the majority of the clearing that had Eva’s jaw dropping.

“You all see the giant pyramid in the middle of the forest, right? It isn’t some illusion.”

“It’s the Pyramid of the Sun,” Emily said, voice soft. “The plateaus on the sides… the stairs running up the middle. Ancient mages would conduct rituals at the very top. But why is it here?”

“I doubt it is the original,” Anise said with a scoff.

Could have fooled me, Eva thought. The brickwork looked haggard and rough, weathered by time and… well, weather. Green vines grew up alongside the stairway, though the stairs themselves were clear of any plant life.

Anise had to be right. Eva didn’t know what the Pyramid of the Sun was, but if it was a real building actually used by ancient mages, it was probably some protected structure like the pyramids in Egypt. For cultural heritage if nothing else. Redford had probably built this version specifically for the event.

Narrowing her eyes at movement on the staircase, Eva’s lips curled into a frown.

“We’re not the first ones here.”

Two figures were sprinting up the staircase as fast as their legs could carry them. Though the moon lit up the area, it wasn’t enough to tell who they were. Their hats were a decent giveaway for which school, however.

“Faultline,” Emily hissed—almost snarled.

Eva had to take her eyes off the temple to glance at her face.

Her teeth ground together, bared in full. Her eyes burned… she wasn’t a demon or a nun, but they were almost glowing as they caught the moonlight.

Glancing over at Anise, Eva nodded her head towards Emily with raised eyebrows. All she got was a shrug from the other girl.

“There are others scaling the pyramid,” Anise said as her eyes went back to the temple.

Eva spun around.

The trainee-nun was right. Another two were running up the stairs. Their silhouettes lacked the pointed caps that the Faultline crew had. She honestly couldn’t identify them. One might be a girl. It could be Rachael. It could be the other pair that had Mount Hope students. Or it could be the other group of three with one member missing for some reason.

It could even be two separate groups that got rid of their partners and had met up.

“Let’s go help them,” Emily said, already starting towards the temple.

“You don’t even know who they are.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she said, breaking into a run. “They’re not Faultline.”

Again, Eva glanced at Anise. Again she got a shrug in return.

“I guess we better go after her.”

“We are enemies, you know.”

Eva smiled. Not a wide grin, just a polite one. “After all we’ve been through together? How can you say something so cruel. I even rescued you from that evil tentacle monster.”

“That tentacle monster was only there because of you,” Anise said with a scowl. “She said your name, she walked up to you, you two talked. If you had been in a different group, I would never have…” she trailed off, bringing a hand up to her mouth before shaking her head.

“Not necessarily. That could have been her assigned area. Then you would have been antagonizing her without me there to keep her from doing anything worse.”

“That’s… not just…” She shook her head. “Emily is already at the base of the pyramid.”

Eva spun around and moved a single step forwards before hesitating. “I’m trusting you to watch our backs,” she said. “Especially for any vampires. Keep your guard up.”

With that, she blinked forwards three times, crossing the distance to Emily in almost an instant.

And just about got a fireball to her face for her troubles.

Emily spun around the moment Eva appeared, lashing out with flames from the tip of her wand.

Eva slid to the side. She didn’t retaliate. The blast of fire—a good twice as hot as the flames Eva had used on Lucy, at least—blew past the side of her head. Stepping backwards, Eva held up her hands.

Emily followed through on a second attack in a single motion of her wand before finally realizing who she was attacking.

She paused with her wand raised in the air, tip glowing.

“Truce still?”

“I wasn’t the one who almost broke it.”

Her wand arm dropped to her side as she grasped her chest. The tip of her wand was still bright red.

“You okay?”

“Fine. Just startled.” She paused, glancing over Eva’s shoulder. “Anise back there?”

“She’s a bit slower than I am. I told her to watch our backs.” Eva pointed her out to Emily just to prove that she hadn’t broken the truce already.

And really, she wasn’t that slow. Unable to blink, yes. But her sprint carried her at a brisk pace. She was actually almost to them.

But Eva turned and took the steep steps three at a time, leaping up more than stepping as she left Emily behind.

She had a feeling that there would be a fight at the top. Two Faultline boys and two other people, probably not even from the same school. If she had been wrong and one of them was the vampire, she needed to be there and ensure he lost.

Anise and Emily would both have to catch up. Neither had Arachne’s legs.

She passed the first plateau. It really wasn’t that large. More of a landing than a plateau. From the staircase leading down to the staircase continuing up, there was only a few feet of level space. So she continued on without breaking stride.

Neither of her companions were doing quite as well. By the time Eva made it to the second plateau, they had only gone halfway up the first. Their speed dropped drastically. Climbing stairs was never easy and these ones were steep to the point of insanity. Just standing on the edge had Eva feeling like she was about to go tumbling off.

Whoever built the place hadn’t even put guard rails in.

Eva hopped up to the third plateau in three jumps. From there, she was close enough to see everyone at the top through her blood sight. The two Faultline boys were in a fight with Rachael and… the dryad. She was pretty sure. If she hadn’t gotten a look at the dryad back when everyone had been assigned their teams, she would probably be a whole lot more confused.

She took the fourth set of stairs, being only half the height of the rest, in a single bound.

And landed right in the path of a lightning bolt.

Eva shuddered as the electricity ran through her body and out her feet. Steam rose from her shoulders in faint wisps. Her knees hit the stone top of the temple before she could stop herself.

A quick blink had her back on her feet in an instant.

That was probably the first time she had been hit with real lightning. She had been on the receiving end of Elysium Order lightning once or twice, but, although it looked like lightning, Eva didn’t think it really counted. Of course, even air mages didn’t put out a real lightning bolt’s worth of power in their strikes.

The bolt she had been hit with was probably somewhere around the output of a taser. A lower powered one at that. Getting hit with the bolt hadn’t given her a very good view of it. However, she was relatively certain that Zoe’s regular lightning bolt was a few magnitudes higher by default. That was just the impression she got from being in the area while Zoe casted.

Of course, the Faultline student who had cast the bolt could probably increase his output as well.

Four pillars stood around the top of the pyramid, one in each corner. Rachael and the Dryad had taken cover behind the ones opposite from the stairway. The two Faultline students were behind the closer pillars. Eva’s blink after being hit had carried her right next to Rachael, partially using the pillar as cover.

Both sides were flinging magic at each other as fast as they could, essentially at random. Mostly air attacks from one of the Faultline students and mostly fire—of the explosive variety—from the other. Both occasionally switched it up, but not enough for Eva to think they were anything but an air mage and a fire mage.

On her side of the fight, Rachael had a fairly constant wave of flames surrounding the air mage’s pillar. The only reason he hadn’t burned up was because the fire mage kept dampening the flames between his attacks.

The dryad was… doing something. Plants had sprouted straight out of the stone around her pillar and vines wrapped around it. A couple of the flower pods spat seeds around, but Eva wasn’t sure how effective she was actually being.

Having her brief moment to look at the fight, Eva realized that she really shouldn’t have landed between the two Faultline students. Her momentary pause had caused her to get hit. Either she should have attacked immediately upon landing or retreated behind the wall of flames. The air mage couldn’t even see her through the wall of flames.

Eva let out a low growl, igniting her hands as she blinked straight back to the other side.

Her foot stuck one of the Faultline boys in the side, knocking him out from behind cover and knocking the wind out of him at the same time. He wasn’t the one who had struck her, but he seemed the more dangerous of the two. Much like Eva, he was a fire mage. And, much like Eva, he had decided that explosives were the way to go.

Chunks of the pillar providing cover for the dryad were lying around the top of the temple. Enough so that Eva was worried it might collapse. The vines were probably the only reason it hadn’t.

They didn’t seem to like the flames much though.

Really, Eva should just let the dryad get taken out. She was part of the Nod Complex and ultimately allied with the vampire. However, she was currently allied with Rachael. Turning her into an enemy would make it three versus two at the moment. While Eva felt like she could take all three of them at once, she couldn’t be certain.

Best to take out Faultline first and then deal with the dryad on her own. Her seeds didn’t look dangerous, so she shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe the dryad would be more of a threat if they were fighting in the forest.

By the time the Faultline students would be incapacitated, Anise and Emily should have made it up the stairs as well. They could help out against the dryad.

So long as they were still allies.

A flower sprouted in front of Eva, just in time to intercept a lightning bolt from the Faultline air mage. Lavender petals exploded everywhere, creating almost a smokescreen between the two pillars.

Eva hesitated in delivering another kick to the flame mage’s chest. Accidentally killing him would probably actually be bad. Really bad. Especially with cameras watching.

Instead, she plucked up his wand and flung it as hard as she could. It disappeared from her sight off the edge of the pyramid. He might have a second, but the way his eyes widened and his arm trailed after it, Eva doubted it.

She might actually feel a little bad about it if she found out it was a family heirloom or something, but for the moment, Eva had other thoughts on her mind.

Namely, her temporary allies.

If her two companions made it to the top and saw Rachael, they might actually side with the dryad. A two versus three scenario in their favor. A preemptive attack to prevent Eva and Rachael from ganging up on them.

Eva still believed that she could take the three of them, but the Elysium Order magic would be far more dangerous than anything a thaumaturge could throw out. Hopefully she would tone down her lightning bolts below the level that hit Arachne, but Eva really had no idea how all that worked.

Of course, if another group showed up, everything would become much more complicated.

The cloud of petals slowly drifted down to the ground. The air mage tried flinging a few spells towards Eva. She had no cover over on his side of the temple, but she really didn’t need any.

She dodged the first lightning bolt, having seen where he was aiming while the petals were still up with her blood sight.

A second and third bolt followed much faster than Eva would have expected. The second hit her in the shoulder. She didn’t get a chance to dodge the third. Lightning caused too many jitters and the mage was casting too fast.

It struck her square in her stomach.

Taken down to a knee, Eva just smiled at the air mage.

She had no need to take another bolt.

The fight was over.

While he had been distracted with Eva, the flowers, and his fallen companion, Rachael had gone around the edge of the temple to come up behind him.

The tip of her glowing wand was pressed to his throat.

“Drop your wand,” she said.

He glared. Mostly at Eva. She could see the fight in his eyes and the tense muscles in his arms.

Gritting her teeth while keeping her smile as genuine as possible, Eva got to her feet.

“I hit you three times,” he hissed, throwing his wand to the floor.

Eva looked down, running a finger through one of the holes in her shirt. It was true, she had a hole in the chest, shoulder, and stomach of her shirt. Black scorch marks surrounded each hole. However, the first had barely hurt her, only bringing her to a pause because she hadn’t been expecting it. The second and third… well, Elysium Order lightning was still much worse despite the extra power he had put behind them.

A few more might have been enough to drop her for a time—or a good shot to her head—but he hadn’t managed that thanks to the flower from the dryad and Rachael’s flank.

“Yeah,” Eva said with a shrug, choosing to downplay exactly how harmful his bolts were. She stepped up to him, picking his wand up off the floor. “Kind of tickled,” she said, almost about to chuck the wand off the roof with the other.

After a moment, she thought better of it and simply slid it into her pocket.

Vines sprouted from the ground around his feet. He didn’t resist as they wrapped up around his legs and arms, binding him. Only when he was down on the ground and completely immobile did Rachael take her wand off him.

Eva had been about to ask her if she had seen Randal around when the dryad walked up. It almost startled Eva. She was just so hard to keep track of with blood sight.

The dryad stopped a good two arm spans away, staring with obvious caution, but also with a small smile.

Eva wasn’t sure how to react. Should she throw the dryad off the pyramid now, before Anise and Emily arrived? Wait?

Her plants shouldn’t be dangerous to Eva. At least not the ones she had seen. Even the vines shouldn’t pose any more of a problem than Lucy’s tentacles had. They might trip her up, but blinking would solve that problem easy enough. Or just igniting her legs. The vines wrapped around the pillar hadn’t taken the heat well.

“Thanks,” the dryad said, breaking Eva out of her devious plots on how to deal with the situation. “I thought that pillar was going to collapse on me. And then the fire–” She cut herself off with a shudder. “I don’t take fire well.”

Eva wanted to groan. Everything would be so much easier if the dryad just up and attacked her. Instead she decided to give thanks? And offer up an obvious weakness to go with it?

It was enough to make Eva sigh.

“No problem,” Eva said with another sigh. Rather than do anything else, she turned her head to Rachael. “Randal?”

“Haven’t seen him.”

“He’s got a demon in him. I doubt he would get taken out. Wonder what is taking him so long?”

“We ran into an earth mage. Some crazy strong lady. Pretty sure she let us go in the end, though she looked like she was pretty tired. He might have run into something similar and didn’t get so lucky.”

“My group ran into Lucy,” Eva said. “Speaking of, they’re still climbing the stairs.” Though it was taking them a really long time. Mortals. “I should probably check on them.”

Rachael stepped forward and dropped the volume of her voice. “We’re going to have to take them out at some point.”

“Yours too,” Eva said without glancing over her shoulder.

Rachael shifted her weight, looking off and down to the side. “I think she’s afraid of my fire. She has been very compliant of everything I ask. Makes me feel like the bad guy here.”

I know how you feel, Eva thought with yet another sigh. Raising her voice from her whisper, she turned slightly to address both members of the green group. “Stay up here, I’m going to find my companions. Keep them contained,” she said with a nod towards the Faultline students. “Fight off anyone else. If you can figure out what we’re supposed to do here, great. Though wait for me if you can.”

Without really looking at the plant girl, Eva walked over to the stairs.

And frowned.

The first plateau was fairly far away. It also had flashes of light coming from at least four different sources.

Blinking up the staircase was difficult. Because of the angles, it was almost impossible to see where to blink. There could be uneven terrain or plants growing that would splice her up if she teleported into them.

She was under no such limitations in blinking downwards.

Eva landed between Anise and Emily and promptly ducked to dodge a glowing white battle axe.

“Seems a bit deadly for a friendly competition,” Eva said, grabbing hold of Anise’s hand before she could try to swing again.

Recognition lit up in her already glowing eyes. She shook her head, pulling her hand out of Eva’s loose grip. “Tell that to those monsters.”

Eva moved slightly closer to the waist-high wall of stone at the edge of the plateau that hadn’t been there her first time up. Emily’s handiwork no doubt. A bit of cover for any spells that might come their way. Peeking over the edge, she realized that the stairs weren’t even there. A steep slope had replaced them.

Though he had lost his cap, another of the Faultline boys was flinging shards of ice around. Water appeared out of nowhere, rushing over the earth towards his opponent. All the while, he was doing flips and jumps that a trained gymnast might find troublesome.

Eva couldn’t think of a single other mage she had encountered that moved so much. Genoa came close, but even she was more like a rolling boulder than a circus performer. The demon hunter that Eva had killed moved fast, but lacked showy flips.

Actually, Eva thought, the other hunter might be similar. Eva had only fought with her once before Arachne paralyzed her. And even then, not for very long. But she had been fairly animated.

So he wasn’t the only mage. But a kid?

Then again, it wasn’t hard to see why he was moving so much.

Randal was at the base of the pyramid with him. Large black orbs flew from his fingertips, wilting the grass beneath them as they moved. If they came near any ice or water, it vanished in an instant. Everything thrown at him simply got eaten by the orbs.

Eva wasn’t sure what would happen if one of the orbs actually hit someone, but it probably wouldn’t be a pretty sight for the three camera drones circling over the fight.

“They ran up, flinging spells at each other. I managed to slow them down with a few lightning bolts.”

“And I turned the stairs to a slide.”

“After that, they just decided to fight each other down there.”

“What is that magic he’s using?”

Eva glanced to Anise, half expecting her to respond with some insight gleaned from her hive mind.

Instead, she shrugged and gave Eva an apologetic look.

“Your third eye doesn’t tell you?”

Emily blinked, turning her head. Eva ignored the other girl for the moment.

“I don’t think I can find out without getting closer. I don’t really want to get closer.”

“Fair enough,” Eva said. “It’s demon magic. I can tell you that much. No clue what it’s doing.”

“It’s like a black hole,” Emily whispered with a shudder.

“Demon magic,” Anise said with narrowed eyes. “Friend of yours?”

“He goes to my school. Be back in a moment.”

Eva blinked down again, making sure to land where the black orbs were not. She conjured fire marbles and flung them out almost immediately. They were even lower power than the ones she had first used on Lucy, but they were also surprise attacks on an unsuspecting target’s back.

At least, she thought she had been launching a surprise attack. The student flattened himself against the grass, rolling over to one side.

The marbles flew over him. Several were eaten by one of Randal’s orbs while the rest exploded harmlessly off to the sides.

Eva blinked, putting herself facing the pyramid with the student between it and her. Just a movement to keep him on his toes.

She was about to launch another volley of orbs when a crack split the air. White lightning struck him square in the back.

Eva winced.

He collapsed to his knees, moaning in pain.

As much as she could empathize with him, she didn’t hesitate. Personal experience taught her that as painful and debilitating as it was—and deadly if they meant it enough—he could very easily get up and continue fighting if he collected his wits enough. Devon had gotten back to his feet after being hit and Devon was a wuss.

She blinked up to him and pocketed his wand.

After ensuring that Eva had the Faultline student’s wand, Randal pointed a finger towards the pyramid.

Eva blinked to him, gripped his arm, and yanked it skyward.

A black orb flew from his fingertip, hit one of the circling drones, and… passed through without hurting it.

Eva shook her head.

“They’re friends,” she said in a rush. She needed to stop him before he killed someone.

He just stared at her.

Conceding the point, she added, “For the moment. I know we should have talked about this beforehand, but what are you throwing around? You can’t kill people.”

“It destroys magic. Most magic anyway. Wouldn’t hurt a person.”

Eva opened her mouth, paused, snapped it shut, and opened it again. “How were you planning on winning against that guy if you couldn’t hurt him?” Or anyone else for that matter. “You’re lucky he didn’t realize that.”

“It isn’t the only thing I can do. Plus regular thaumaturgy. Besides, I figured you would save the day.”

Eva rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Rachael is already at the top. We should hurry and win this thing.”

“Lead the way.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.009

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The red light flickered out.

Garbed in white, the boy from Isomer unleashed his spell. Five minutes of doing nothing but pouring magic into his wand manifested itself as a field of ice. It spread around him, flash freezing everything in a small bubble of space. Plants and insects alike died in droves. Even tiny drops of water in the air crystallized and fell to the ground in an explosion of snow.

Standing next to his fellow red marble holder, the other boy should have been caught within the ice as well.

“Frostbite is no laughing matter in the short-term. Not particularly painful as it tends to numb the senses, but it would make moving difficult. With proper application of ointments and potions, all but the worst effects can be reversed before permanent damage is done.”

“He–He doesn’t seem affected by it at all!”

The vampire shook his head with a chuckle. A few flakes of snow fell from his hair as he moved.

“You know,” he said, locking cold eyes with his companion, “I was perfectly willing to honor our truce. But after that, I think a light snack is in order.” A feral grin spread across his face.

The Isomer student realized his mistake as soon as he saw the two sharp fangs dangling from the smiling mouth. He tried to conjure up a wall of ice between the two of them, but the vampire was behind him before the wall could grow more than a few inches.

Taking hold of his victim’s shoulder and head, the vampire made room for his head and dipped his fangs into flesh.

He didn’t drink for long. To the Isomer student’s credit, he managed to coalesce a few icicles and toss them towards the vampire, over his shoulder.

The vampire was fast enough to dodge. He did end up releasing the other student.

Clutching his neck, the Isomer student spun around. He conjured a large wave of water rather than ice, attempting to push back and wash away the vampire.

The vampire didn’t even get his feet wet. He jumped out to the side, planting both feet on a tree. The entire trunk cracked and snapped as the vampire kicked off. Splinters of wood fell to join the snow on the ground. As he flew overhead, the vampire grabbed hold of the stunned student’s collar. He gripped tight as his feet hit the ground and used his continuing momentum to fling the boy out of the ward.

Hank winced, making an audible note of empathetic pain as the kid slammed into a tree. It didn’t shatter like the other one, but this tree hadn’t been flash frozen either.

From somewhere inside his pocket, a faint red glow lit up the Isomer student’s white uniform. The same pocket that had held his marble, if Zoe remembered correctly.

The student wasn’t done, however. He staggered to his feet. After shaking his head, he charged forwards, ice flowing around him as he prepared another attack.

Crossing his arms, the vampire just smiled. A few drops of blood still stained his teeth red.

Ice and a body hit the invisible sphere of a ward a few paces away. Blood drained from the Isomer student’s face as he tried slamming a shoulder into it. Anger bled away to worry as his fists pounded into the ward. Icicles hit, glancing off without leaving a single mark in the air.

“Thanks for the meal,” the vampire said with a wave of his hand. He turned and ran into the forest.

And left the Isomer student disqualified.

“Wow,” Hank said softly. “Two students have already been taken out of the game.”

“In less than two minutes,” Zoe added with a smile.

“Isomer Academy and Mount Hope are both down one student each. But will we see a third?”

The screens changed from the medics rushing up to the Isomer student to Eva and the rest of the violet group.

“A tense standoff by the looks of things,” Hank continued.

Zoe wasn’t so sure. If Eva hadn’t attacked them by now, they would probably reaffirm their truce.

“Both groups of three have no pairs from the same school. Which means that as soon as one person attacks another, they leave their backs open to possibly getting attacked in return. I doubt…” Zoe trailed off as Eva held out her hands to the other girls. She started speaking as well.

It was a mere moment before both girls were shaking her hands.

“Ah, see. They’ll have to betray each other later.”

“Well, no third then,” Hank said, sounding almost disappointed. He perked up almost instantly as a voice came over the earpieces saying that they were going to display that previous battle again. “But, with how far apart the students are, that gives us time to go over those two fights. Let’s start with the most recent.”

The screen flicked backwards to a still image of the ice spell.

Except it wasn’t a still image. Zoe leaned closer, watching the snow form in the air in slow motion.

And extremely high resolution.

“It is a very beautiful spell,” Zoe said, deciding to voice her thoughts aloud. “Not something a student would likely be able to cast in an instant. He had probably been preparing it for some time.”

“I’m slack-jawed watching this footage again,” Hank said, only exaggerating slightly, “but it didn’t seem very effective.”

“Against a human, I imagine it would have instantly incapacitated them. Even if he hadn’t known that he was walking with a vampire, he should have realized that things aren’t always what they seem with the Nod Complex. And,” Zoe started, doing her best to hold in an exasperated sigh, “he really shouldn’t have stood around doing nothing after his first attack failed. The vampire taunted him for a good ten seconds during which he could have done plenty more.”

The footage on the screen sped up until the vampire’s fangs were half into the human’s shoulder.

“He was a vampire then?” Hank asked with a slight somber tone to his voice.

“It seems I was wrong earlier,” Zoe said slowly.

Given that, largely thanks to Wayne, most of the mundane world believed that vampires had been responsible for the incident in Lansing, they were likely to be a somewhat touchy subject. Though it had been more than a decade ago, an entire city had been wiped off the maps. Family and friends of those who had perished were probably watching the broadcast right now.

Zoe wasn’t sure if she should say something. Or what she should say, even. Some platitude about how all the vampires involved were dead? That wasn’t even true. She knew of at least two survivors, though one was a victim and the other hadn’t had anything to do with the incident itself.

Not to mention that such a statement wouldn’t make anyone feel better. Knowing what had happened from first-hand experience didn’t make her feel any better about it. Had it not been for Wayne, she would have died along with her parents.

Zoe pressed her lips together into a tight line. Saying something would be crass. Politicians and spokesmen for magical societies could say more careful words at a later date.

Thankfully, or perhaps noticing that Zoe had gone silent, the image switched to the first fight.

“Ah, this was a particularly interesting fight in terms of air magi,” she started with a smile. Air magic was a safe topic and, best of all, she could talk about it for a few minutes at the very least.

“I’ll say,” Hank started. “The way the student from Faultline moved…”

Perhaps she could become an announcer at events like these when she retired. It was a lot like teaching. Going over uses of magic and the like. That and the slow motion lightning bolt was a beautiful sight to see. She could definitely get used to seeing magic performed in front of high quality cameras.

Of course, that assumed the world would still be around in the far future.

Zoe pushed that sour note from her mind.

“Using air magic, one can essentially wrap air around one’s body…”

— — —

Eva slowed her run, sniffing at the air. She held up a hand and waved it in a silent gesture for her companions to slow down. They did so, though Eva couldn’t tell if it was because of her hand motions or simply because she had stopped.

Frankly, she didn’t care so long as they weren’t charging ahead and weren’t attacking her.

A few more whiffs of air had Eva thoroughly confused. There was something familiar in the air. Something she couldn’t quite place. A slimy feeling. Or maybe more spindly.

“What’s wrong?”

Eva glanced back at Anise. “Do you smell anything?” she asked in a nearly silent whisper.

The nun-trainee wrinkled her nose with a frown, staring at Eva as if she were setting up some trap. She did eventually try smelling at the air.

“Nope,” she said with a shake of her head. “I smell pine and wood. Maybe a little rotting plant-life? Nothing too unusual for where we are.”

Eva frowned and looked towards Emily.

The other girl shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe it is some demon thing?”

“I don’t think so. My sense of smell isn’t much better than most humans.”

Eva paused, thinking to herself. She actually hadn’t ever tested such a thing. Really, Devon should have thought of it. Her statement still held true. She hadn’t noticed any significant changes in her sense of smell.

While it was possible that it had been a gradual thing that she wouldn’t have noticed over the years, the large leaps with her recent treatments had brought drastic changes. If her sense of smell had been enhanced or just altered, she likely would have noticed along with everything else.

“Just keep up your guard,” Eva said, moving forwards again at a far more cautious pace.

The two followed after her, Emily turning her head this way and that while Anise’s glowing eyes had started up again. Emily’s wand darted around everywhere she looked. So far, she hadn’t used a single spell. If they did end up fighting, Eva really hoped that she would use a spell before then just so she knew what kind of mage she would be fighting.

Anise didn’t have a wand out. With the eye in her chest, she really didn’t need one. Assuming she was like other nuns and relied on the Elysium Order’s magic, Eva had a good idea of what to expect. Though she was very well aware that they could use thaumaturgy if they felt like it.

Though the sensation was growing stronger, Eva glanced back over her shoulder as a thought occurred to her. “I don’t suppose either of you know of any creatures with platinum scales?”

Emily shook her head in a negative.

However, Anise froze for a split second. Her eyes lit up a few shades brighter, filling the surrounding forest with light before returning to their normal luminosity.

“I don’t know of any creatures with literal platinum for scales. None that are still around,” she added, effectively confirming Arachne’s experience with the gorgon. “There are a number of reptile breeds that have scales that might appear metallic. In fact, almost every magical reptile can be specifically bred for specific scales.”

Eva groaned. “That doesn’t narrow it down very much.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just something that is in here with us might have scales looking like platinum. A few friends of mine suggested gorgon–”

“But they’re extinct.”

“I know.”

If she actually had the scale, showing it to Anise might be enough for her hive mind to identify. Unfortunately, Randal had kept a hold of it. Assuming he had even brought it with him. If he had, she would need to run across him out in the forest.

Something that would be much easier if she could just sense the demon inside him.

Eva froze. She stopped suddenly enough that Emily bumped into her back. Not hard enough to knock either of them off balance. Enough for Emily’s heart rate to briefly spike as she jumped away from Eva with her wand raised.

“I’m so stupid,” Eva said, ignoring the wand at her back.

Both girls blinked, glancing at each other before focusing on Eva.

“It wasn’t a smell. Why would I think that? How does something even smell slimy?”

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a demon out here with us.”

Anise immediately turned to scan the surrounding area. Her fingers started to crackle with white lightning.

Emily didn’t take her wand off Eva. “Friend of yours?” she asked with narrowed eyes.

“Normally. Used to be?” Eva wasn’t quite sure. “At the moment, I doubt it.”

“We should move,” Anise said. Her voice was tinged with actual fear. It even trembled slightly. Emily’s heart rate had risen, but Anise was in a whole other league. “We don’t– I can’t– A real demon?”

Eva frowned. Do I not count? Sure her treatment wasn’t complete, but it was close enough.

Then again, Anise’s hive mind likely labeled her as an abomination rather than a demon.

“Yes a real demon,” Eva snapped. What was she so worried about anyway?

The answer came almost as soon as she wondered.

The Elysium Order had found themselves embarrassed by demons several times over the past two years. Not a single engagement had gone well for them. At least none Eva had been involved in. Lynn Cross and the Charon Chapter had been driven out of town with a few losses. Ylva had demolished their inquisitorial squad after they had abjectly failed in their mission to recover Nel. Eva had stolen an artifact right from under their nose and dumped it on their front porch after she had finished with it. Which was probably a fairly large embarrassment on its own.

The only damage they had really done to demons in return had been killing Arachne.

Perhaps Anise, being a mere student and trainee, didn’t have the power necessary to pull off a similar stunt.

“It won’t matter anyway. She already knows where we are. Following us won’t be difficult.”

Especially given other demons’ ability to sense Eva. Not that she was going to admit that to her companions.

“We can’t fight a demon. Are you insane?”

Eva glanced at Emily, pointing a finger at herself with an incredulous look on her face.

The Mount Hope student just shrugged and turned a pitying look on Anise.

While they sat around talking, the demon closed in on them. The slimy sensation grew stronger and stronger.

Right up until Eva’s sense of blood registered something other than the few animals and insects that were still around.

Thin tendrils, each no thicker than a pencil, swarmed across the forest floor. They managed to maneuver through the trees and brush without winding up tangled around anything despite being spread out enough to half-surround Eva and her group. The care they took in crawling through the brush kept even a single leaf from rustling.

If it weren’t for her ability to sense both demons and blood, it was entirely possible she wouldn’t have noticed until it was too late.

Though, as she had just said, she doubted there would be an escape.

Eva crossed her arms and sighed.

Tendrils snapped out of the brush, all of them leaping as one.

Emily managed to get off the ground, leaping from a pillar of earth that hadn’t been there a moment ago. She wasn’t quite fast enough. The tentacles caught her in the middle of her jump, wrapping around her waist and pinning her arms to her side.

Anise didn’t fare half as well. Lightning crackled at her fingertips, but she didn’t get a chance to actually fire it before becoming wrapped up like a mummy.

Eva didn’t bother to move. She could have blinked away. She could have fought back with explosive fire. But escaping would have wound up with her leaving Anise behind. Something she really didn’t want to do at the moment. Not until the vampire had been incapacitated.

Neither did she want to fight.

So instead, she simply stood still with her arms crossed. Even as a bundle of tendrils wrapped around and snaked up her leg, Eva didn’t move. The tendrils lifted her up, swinging her upside down. Eva kept her arms crossed.

And just glared at the main mass that was slowly approaching.

— — —

“T-tentacles?” Hank said with a nervous chuckle.

Zoe pressed her face to her palm, not willing to meet his eyes. “She’s actually pretty nice once you get to know her,” she said slowly.

“That’s… a she?”

“She’s employed by Brakket Academy as a security guard. Or was in the past. I believe her contract expired. I’m guessing that Wallace picked up her contract for this event.”

“Ah hah ha.” Again with the nervous laugh. “Well, precarious situation for our young ladies.”

— — —

“Eva!”

The cheer filled voice came from the main mass of tentacles, filled with far more gurgles than Eva remembered. Of course, she couldn’t see a humanoid body formed in the mass, so she was probably just forming up a mouth in the middle of it all.

“Lucy. I think you have some explaining to do.”

Before the tentacle demon could even start to respond, Eva’s head snapped to the side as she heard rapid chanting from the nun.

“Stop!” she cried out.

But Lucy was already one step ahead. A number of tentacles pressed into Anise’s open mouth and wrapped around her tongue.

The way Anise’s eyes bulged and she started choking almost had Eva feeling sorry for her. Almost.

She tried to keep her voice as firm as possible. “Don’t banish my friend. Please,” Eva added after a slight pause. “She’s not going to hurt us. Right Lucy?”

The main mass of tentacles quickly formed up into the familiar shape of a more humanoid Lucy, Brakket security uniform and all. Mostly. From the waist up. Below her waist, the mass of tentacles remained as it was. Eva wasn’t too surprised. A good portion of her body was still spread out across the forest floor.

“Oh no,” she said, shaking her head left and right far further than anyone with a proper skeleton could manage. “Wally said that no matter how much I get attacked, I can’t break anyone.”

Wally? Eva thought with a confused blink of her eyes. They’re on a first name—no, nickname basis?

In a hushed whisper, Lucy added, “He’s scary.”

“How long have you been healed for? I visit you every other week!”

“I… don’t know. A long time. Wally wanted me to pretend,” she said. “After seeing me, he asked if I could stay pretending to heal until he had a job for me.” Her face rippled like a drop of water in a smooth pond, goofy smile turned to a sad frown along with the ripple. “It was so boring. But the nurse was nice. She played with me sometimes.”

“That’s great and all,” Emily shouted from somewhere around, “but since she’s your friend, think you can get her to let us go?”

Eva, still hanging upside down, looked up to her feet. Emily was stuck in the middle of a web of tentacles. Her hands were empty, lacking the wand that had fallen to the forest floor.

“Good point. Lucy?”

The tentacles started to lower Eva down. They didn’t make it more than a few inches before Lucy paused.

“I forgot,” she said. “I’m supposed to take anyone I find out of the wards.”

“Yeah, I figured.”

Though it struck Eva as odd. Whoever Lucy found would almost assuredly be ejected from the match. She wasn’t really the kind of thing that even a group of sixth years could face. Eva had only personally seen Lucy fight on one occasion, back when the half-demon half-zombie golems had attacked the dormitory. Even then, she had only seen her fight for a few moments.

Though she had effectively torn apart her target at the time.

Of course, Irene had told her of two other times Eva had missed Lucy fighting. Once during the same incident, tearing apart and flinging the golems at Ylva. The other time had been more recent. Enigmas within Eva’s domain had escaped through her dormitory room. They made the unfortunate mistake of treading on Lucy.

From Irene’s description of them being peeled apart like an orange, Eva had no doubts about Lucy’s strength.

Even limited to not harming anyone, she would easily be able to capture anyone just as she had captured Eva and her companions. It was as simple as walking out of the arena from there. The only one who might stand a chance at facing her was Anise, and that was simply because of her ability to banish demons. Even her lightning probably wouldn’t do too much damage to such a disembodied creature. Maybe others if they could blink.

Unless Redford wanted her to thin the groups no matter who she came across, he had probably told her to retreat under certain circumstances. Maybe managing to run away.

Maybe…

Eva blinked out of Lucy’s grasp, righting herself using the blink. She appeared right in front of Lucy’s main body.

Her fist went straight into Lucy’s face, sinking in without much resistance. The tendrils making up Lucy’s head started to constrict around her fist as expected.

Eva’s hand burst into flames.

Lucy’s face split in two, avoiding the fire.

It probably wouldn’t hurt her. Lucy was constantly covered in a greasy sheen. A little flame might dry her out, but not cause any permanent damage. She was a demon, after all.

But the way she avoided the flames had Eva smiling. Almost confirming her theory.

Eva blinked a short distance away.

“Alright Lucy. Let’s fight.”

“F-Fight? But–”

“Or you can let my companions loose.”

The two halves of her head twisted to independently look at each of her captives.

Anise glared with her burning eyes only enhancing the menacing look. The effect was somewhat ruined as tentacles still filled her mouth. Not to mention that she looked about ready to throw up.

On the other hand, Emily actually looked interested. Her eyes were following Eva with rapt attention.

“I can’t,” Lucy said.

It was probably part of her contract. Eva would have to free them or they would have to escape on their own.

Perfectly acceptable conditions.

“Alright,” Eva said with a smile. A wide, teeth-filled smile. “Since you can’t hurt me, I’ll go easy on you.”

Eight marbles of explosive fire appeared between each of Eva’s fingers. None were high-explosives. She had only put a small bit of magic into each one, enough to make them unstable. Nothing compared to the room-destroying explosion she had used to free Lucy from the hunters’ trap.

She pulled her hands back, crossing her arms over her chest with each hand open and clawed around her shoulders.

So long as that drone was hovering around overhead, she might as well be theatrical.

She flung her arms out, throwing the marbles as she did so.

Before the first even touched Lucy, Eva blinked away.

Reappearing in front of the main branch of tendrils holding Emily up, Eva lifted her claws high and swiped downwards. The sharp tips of her carapace didn’t quite cut through the entire branch of tentacles. She only made it about halfway through.

It was enough. Emily dropped out of the main mass of tendrils.

Several explosive pops sounded behind Eva as she bent to flick the wand upwards. Emily caught it without issue.

She started casting as Eva dove to the side, avoiding another bunch of tendrils after her.

Looking up at Lucy’s main body again, she was actually smoking. A number of black scorch marks marred her skin—or the masses of tendrils that were pressed together to appear as skin.

Eva felt a little guilty. More about cutting off some of her tentacles than anything else. But her fingers weren’t Elysium Order lightning or cursed with whatever was on the demon hunter’s sword. She should be able to regenerate a few severed tentacles with relative ease.

Raising her arm, Eva skipped the explosions entirely. A stream of sticky fire flew from her fingertips.

The wave caught Lucy square in the chest.

Or it should have.

Lucy split again. The bulk of the fire passed straight through her, landing on the trees and brush beyond her body. A good amount still splashed around the edges of the hole, clinging to her body as Eva had intended.

Still, it was enough of a distraction to let Eva blink over to Anise.

Unlike Emily, Anise was wrapped up with so many tentacles that almost nothing of her could be seen from the neck down. Slicing through the thick bunch of tentacles would be not only impossible, but also cruel. One or a few, Eva could give herself a pass on. Not a full tree trunk’s worth.

“Can’t you blink or teleport?”

Anise, eyes wide and pleading for release, shook her head.

With a groan, Eva blinked out of the way of another group of tentacles.

Despite telling Lucy that she would be going easy on her, Eva really didn’t have all that much else she could do. Her fingers traced along the scales of the snake wrapped around her wrist. But she shook her head. Basila probably wouldn’t be too helpful at the moment. Not against Lucy.

Anything else she could use wasn’t something she wanted to reveal on camera. She did have her dagger with her, but it was hidden inside the lining of her jacket. Arachne had helped to create the hidden pouch. It wasn’t easy to get to, but her fingers should be able to sever the lining if there was a desperate emergency.

And, while she did have one other trump card, she really wasn’t willing to play it without being in absolute mortal peril for fear of being disqualified.

Emily, though freed from her entrapment, wasn’t much help. Her concentration was solely on avoiding being recaptured. She ran circles around the area, using her earth magic to create pillars to jump off or to boost her around. Never once did she try sending even a single blade of earth towards Lucy.

Comparing them side by side as earth mages, Eva would much rather have Juliana at her side. While Emily was proficient in spell casting, she didn’t have much in the way of a tactical mind. She couldn’t win without attacking. If she wasn’t going to attack, she might as well run away and remove the danger of being recaptured.

She wasn’t even that good of a distraction with how Lucy could split her concentration and tentacles between the two of them.

“Alright Lucy,” Eva mumbled to herself as she conjured another eight marbles of unstable flame between her fingers.

Unlike her first volley, these might actually do a bit of damage. Still not to room obliterating levels.

She held onto them as she sprinted around, using her blood sense to keep one step ahead in dodging tentacles. Every second that passed, another bit of magic poured into them.

Once ready, Eva flung them one-by-one at the tree truck of tentacles holding up Anise. Each rumbled the forest with the noise as they tore into the tentacles.

“Stop,” Lucy cried out just after Eva released the fifth bomb. The tentacles holding onto Anise withdrew, dropping the nun a few feet down to the ground.

Eva half expected her to jump to her feet and start flinging around white lighting. Instead, she got to her hands and knees, gagging and retching on the ground.

While Emily stopped by her, patting her back with a pitiful expression, Eva kept her eyes on Lucy.

A very quickly retreating Lucy. The tendrils, those still attached to her, had all pulled back to join with the main body.

Eva tried to tell herself that the sobbing she heard was just her imagination.

I’ll have to apologize after this, she thought with a sigh as she turned to her companions.

She flung three three remaining bombs between her fingers over her shoulder as she walked towards both them and the camera, not looking behind her as they exploded in the background.

“Are you alright?”

Emily gave a shallow nod of her head.

Anise spat against the ground another five times before pulling a wand from the pockets of her jacket. She touched it to the tip of her tongue and closed her mouth. A few seconds later and she was spitting out a mouthful of water.

She repeated the process half a dozen times before Eva had enough.

“We’ve wasted enough time,” she said, hooking her hands underneath the girl’s arm and lifting her to her feet. “Let’s go. And maybe next time we don’t try banishing the tentacle monster that already has you in its grasp and, therefore, has its tentacles near your mouth.”

Anise gave a few rapid nods of her head, still not talking and still filling her mouth with water.

At least she was on her feet and moving.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.008

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva reached into the large leathery bag. By a strange happenstance, she was the first to choose a marble. The first school to leave the ready area had gone to the far left, the second had gone to the far right. Third and fourth went to the left and right leaving Brakket right in the center.

Right in front of the marble bag.

The opening was right at waist height. Despite being able to easily see inside, Eva couldn’t actually see anything. Some darkness spell was keeping everything below the lip of the bag effectively invisible.

Feeling around inside the bag, Eva’s hand swept through hundreds of marbles. Her hand dove deep, burrowing inside the large bag. As it wasn’t on any sort of pedestal, just resting on the ground, Eva would actually have to bend over to reach the bottom. Something she wasn’t willing to do.

But it spoke of how many marbles there were.

Redford had said that there were seven starting locations with a maximum of three people per spot.

So what are all the other marbles for?

For all she knew, this was some kind of test before the test. Not picking one of the colors might disqualify her. Or something else horrible.

Or perhaps it was just an innocent bit of magic. The marbles might color themselves upon being drawn and only so many could be drawn of one color. Something so that the last person to pick would feel like they had just as many choices as the first, even though that was just an illusion.

With nothing else to do, she gripped one of the marbles and pulled it out.

Her hand came out of the darkness with a violet sphere.

She stepped away, allowing her two companions to choose their marbles.

Randal reached inside first. Much like Eva, he looked surprised as he moved his hand around. He didn’t take quite as long to pick, coming away with a yellow marble.

Rachael stepped up after him. She reached in and immediately pulled out a green marble with no surprise or digging around. By the looks of things, she had taken the very first marble her fingers touched.

“Alright,” Eva said as they moved away for the next schools to have their turns. “Guess I’ll see you guys in the center.”

Randal looked to her with a half-smirk. “Don’t get killed.”

“Please, after everything I’ve been through? I’m more worried about accidentally killing one of them.”

“Don’t get cocky either,” Rachael said with a sour expression. “Or kill anyone. It wouldn’t reflect well on us.”

“I’ll try not to,” Eva said, taking one step towards the violet light hovering just behind where the schools had been standing. She paused, looking back to her companions. “I warned you before,” she said in a hushed tone of voice, “but keep an eye on the Nod Complex’s vampire. I don’t know that he’ll be playing nice.”

“So long as fire puts him down nicely, I shouldn’t have a problem.”

“And I’ve a few tricks up my sleeve as well,” Randal said. “Good luck.”

With that, they split up. Eva slipped her own marble into a pocket on her skirt, watching the other schools pick their marbles as she waited.

Somehow, the Isomer students muscled their way past the Mount Hope girls despite being further away. Only one of the Elysium Order nun trainees were participating in this event. The two other boys picked out a blue and a red marble.

The curly-haired nun picked her marble, looked over it, and began scowling as soon as she glanced towards Eva’s colored light.

From their brief interaction, Eva had a vague idea bout the curly-haired nun’s personality. She deferred to the other trainee, acted somewhat nervous about Eva, and—if Eva wasn’t missing her mark—had been more believing about the fact that a vampire was roaming the halls.

Of course, just because this was the nun more believing of Eva’s claims did not make them friends.

She stalked over with a glare yet somehow managed to avoid eye contact.

Eva paid her little mind for the moment. When the event actually started, she would have to be wary. It wouldn’t be surprising if the nun tried to take her out the second the light disappeared.

Instead of talking or taunting, Eva continued to watch as the students split off to their respective colors.

It wasn’t until the Nod Complex students moved up to get their marbles that Eva found herself growing worried.

The violet light still only had herself and the Isomer girl. Though unlikely, it would be just her luck to wind up with both a nun and a vampire. She had already done that dance once with Serena and Nel and it hadn’t been a lot of fun back then. Those two were at least friendly. To Eva.

She actually let out a short sigh when she saw him pull out a red marble. At least she wouldn’t have to doubly watch her back. He would still be around the playing field, but she could maybe get away from the nun before then. Or maybe set the nun on the vampire.

“Is he that dangerous?”

Eva glanced to the nun with a raised eyebrow. “The vampire?”

“You weren’t half as agitated when you saw me walking over.”

“Between him and you, I’d much rather be partnered with you.”

Eva took her eyes off the nun, watching as the vampire meandered over to the other Isomer student. The two boys nodded at each other, not having anything resembling the hostility Eva might have expected from an undead and a ‘Holy’ Academy student. He was probably just a normal kid. The school wasn’t entirely made of Elysium Order recruits after all.

“He’s already attacked me in an attempt to get my blood,” Eva continued.

“And you fought him off?” the nun said with a scoff. A clearly disbelieving scoff.

Did she not think that demons would beat vampires?

Holding out her hand, Eva flicked her wrist. Flames lit up all the way to her elbow.

“Vampires can’t catch you if you’re on fire,” Eva said with a wide grin.

The nun harrumphed and looked away.

Just in time for the two of them to see a third student heading over to the violet light. One of the poor students from Mount Hope. After being shoved aside by Isomer, the rest of the schools took that as a go-ahead to select their marbles first. The Hope students just sat around awkwardly as everyone pushed past them.

The one coming towards Eva looked fairly young. She couldn’t be much older than Eva. Maybe a year at the most. She gave Eva’s hand a wide berth, eying her as she walked up to them. Despite that extra space and the slight look out of the corner of her eye, she smiled at both Eva and the nun.

“Emily,” she said with a happy nod of her head.

Eva extinguished her hand. “Eva.”

Both looked towards the nun. Emily, probably because she was being friendly. Not so much in Eva’s case. She put on her widest smile, fully channeling Sawyer as she looked at the nun with expectant eyes.

“Anise,” the nun said, barely managing not to sneer at either one of them.

Before any further introductions could be made, Redford got back to his feet. He leaned slightly on his cane as he made his way to the front of the stage.

“You’ve all been distributed,” he said, prompting Eva to glance at her schoolmates.

Rachael wound up with the Nod Complex’s dryad. With a face looking like it was made of pale wood, the dryad’s expression was near impossible to read. However, the two were speaking softly to one another. Nothing hostile, as far as Eva could tell.

Eva did take a moment to look over the dryad using her other senses. Though she wouldn’t be openly using blood magic, she could use her sense of blood without care for being found out.

The dryad, she found, did show up. But it was weird. She obviously had something flowing beneath her… bark. It counted as blood, yet it was slow and sticky feeling. It didn’t move around her body in any way that Eva could liken to anything else living that she had seen. She didn’t have blood vessels or organs, as far as Eva could tell. There were patterns, especially in her face where eyes, mouth, and nose all had distinct shapes.

Eva shook her head. Even if the dryad was strange, at least she could sense her presence with blood magic.

Randal, on the other hand, was entirely alone. The only student to have avoided being paired with anyone else. Two colors, violet included, had three people. Everyone else was in pairs.

He didn’t look all that upset about not having anyone with him. Rather, his grin could rival Eva’s.

“You will be directed to your starting positions momentarily,” Redford said. “As a reminder, straying too far from the light will result in disqualification until it disappears. I suggest you pay attention.”

He didn’t say anything more, choosing to return to his seat.

One of the robotic drones flew by, giving a view of the divided students.

Eva gave it a small wave. Maybe her old friends at the veterinarian’s clinic were watching. Though, she doubted they would recognize her. With her short hair, sharp teeth, red eyes, and literal claws, she had changed a great deal since she last saw them.

The light above her head flashed twice before slowly drifting off, heading deeper into the woods.

All three of the students followed after it in silence.

At least, they started in silence. While the nun looked like a conversation was the last thing on her mind—something Eva certainly didn’t have an issue with—Emily started fidgeting almost as soon as they were away from the rest of the groups. Her eyes constantly flicked between the backs of Eva and the nun, as both were walking a step or two ahead.

For a moment, Eva almost let her continue her fretting. If only for wondering how long it would last. The nun wouldn’t notice; her eyes were glued forward. As such, it was up to Eva to break the silence or wait for her to finally speak up.

Three steps later had Eva deciding to take pity. The girl’s heart rate was steady, but the twiddling of her fingers grew ever more intense as they continued walking. Much longer and she might have a panic attack.

“Was there something you needed?” Eva asked with a glance over her shoulder.

“Oh! I, um… There was just… It’s not that–”

“Spit it out already,” Anise snapped. She closed her eyes and shook her head, almost tripping over a fallen branch. “I’m sorry,” she said, opening her eyes again. “Just nervous.”

“Me too.”

Eva wasn’t. Not about them, anyway. The only person she was actually concerned about at the moment was the vampire. And possibly whatever creatures were out in the forest to cause problems. No one had been able to come up with a creature other than a gorgon that might have metallic scales. Someone had suggested a dragon.

The forest wasn’t on fire. Eva had dismissed that claim.

So Eva decided to come up with a list of as many scaled creatures as she could. One might have a sub-breed with metallic scales. Basilisks were at the top of the list of creatures she did not want to meet tonight, but she felt as if they might be too dangerous for a children’s school game.

Then there was the idea that the scale was not a scale at all, rather a piece of something else. She did not yet have an idea as to what.

“We’re not going to betray each other as soon as the event starts, are we?” Emily asked with a slight quiver in her voice.

Eva and the nun glanced at each other. Well, Eva glanced. The nun glared.

“I can agree to a truce,” Eva said, offering an olive branch before the nun could say a word.

“And why should I believe you won’t stab us in the back the moment we let our guards down?”

“Let’s just say that I have a vested interest in ensuring anyone wins with the exception of the Nod Complex.” Which was not even a lie. Eva did want to win, but she was perfectly capable of being pragmatic when needed. “The longer I can keep you alive,” she said with a vague gesture towards the nun, “the rougher time the vampire is going to have.”

“A-alive?” Emily had probably intended to shriek. She failed, instead somehow managing to whisper at the top of her lungs.

“A slip of the tongue. I’m used to harsher combat than whatever Redford has in store for us. Probably. I doubt they would send students into anything truly dangerous.”

“I don’t know about that. People have died in the past. Not a common thing, but it has happened. And Redford really doesn’t strike me as the most sane of event organizers,” Anise mused more to herself than anyone else. She didn’t miss the sharp breath from Emily, however, and quickly amended her statement. “But I’m sure we’ll be fine. They wouldn’t televise bloodsport.”

“Anyway,” Eva said as the violet light above them came to a stop.

They were—thankfully—nowhere near her ritual circle. Given how large the Infinite Courtyard was, even her gigantic ritual site was still just a dot on the map. But it had been a concern on her mind.

She held out a hand towards the others. A stone snake was wrapped around her wrist, but neither girl seemed to pay it much mind. “Truce?”

Emily took hold of her hand almost instantly, giving it a vigorous shake with a relief-filled smile.

After releasing her hand, Eva turned to fully offer it towards the nun.

Anise eyed the black claw. “Shaking hands with the devil,” she said in a low mumble.

“Religious theology has very little to do with real demons,” Eva said. “Trust me on that if nothing else.”

The nun harrumphed, still not reaching for Eva’s hand.

“Redford did say that we might be more successful if we work together. We should at least figure out what we are doing before mur–fighting each other.”

The nun did not miss Eva’s slip. Even so, she thrust out her hand with a sneer. Her grip tightened down as hard as her poor human muscles could go.

Eva didn’t feel a thing.

“I’ll be watching you.”

Two bright flashes above them pulled their attention up to the violet orb. And, consequently, the drone hovering just overhead.

Anise pulled her hand back with a groan. “I hope that camera isn’t recording. I’ll be excommunicated for sure.”

Eva smiled. “Come find me if you are. I know someone who might be willing to… employ ex-nuns.”

The not-yet-ex-nun shot Eva a glare before they all had to start moving. The violet light hovered forward at a languid pace.

Eva felt it immediately. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed before. Redford mentioned a ward to keep them from accidentally wandering out of the event grounds. But to be standing right next to it and entirely miss it was something of a shock to Eva.

It made her all the more thankful that the demon hunters had been either nearly incompetent in ward construction or in too much of a rush in setting them up to have done a decent job. She could have easily wandered into one just as Juliana had if Redford had been the one to set them up.

Shaking off her shock, Eva had to move quickly to follow after the light before it got too far away. Thankfully, it stopped just inside the ward. She didn’t have far to go.

“Cold feet?” Anise said with a sneer.

“Just surprised at the ward. It was… strong. Like I was being crushed for a moment by nothing more than the air.”

Emily frowned, looking back to where they had just come from. “I didn’t notice anything.”

“Same.”

Eva shrugged. “Probably tuned differently for humans and non-humans. I doubt they want whatever monsters they filled this place with to escape.”

“Monsters. Right. You mentioned vampires earlier,” Emily said.

“A vampire. Singular. He’s actually a student.”

Anise curled her lips back into a sneer. Though it wasn’t that steady. Her heart started beating faster. After a moment, she let out a sigh and dropped the tough act just long enough to mumble out a few words. “I wish Chris were here.”

Her voice was just quiet enough that Eva wouldn’t have been able to hear from a step to the side. As it was, she decided to shrug her shoulders without comment. Chris was probably the other nun. So long as Anise could use the white Elysium Order magic, Eva really didn’t care which nun she got. While initially she had considered running off, in retrospect, she was lucky to have been in the same group as one.

It gave her the excuse of a truce to not attack and left open the possibility that Elysium Order magic would prove just slightly too deadly to the vampire.

Emily opened her mouth to comment more.

Another flash from the light overhead stopped her cold.

Three pulses. The light died off, fading to a bright spark before disappearing entirely.

Eva put up her guard immediately, keeping her back to the wardline as she stared at her two ‘companions.’ She was ready to move, attack, or flee depending on the situation.

The nun moved as well. White light burned in her eyes as she locked her gaze with Eva.

However, at the moment, Eva was slightly more concerned with the other girl.

She seemed the Shalise-type of girl. At least, Eva found herself reminded of Shalise. Timid, perhaps not very strong magically, yet earnest and willing to work hard if necessary. Her concerns about monsters, working together, and Eva’s slip about keeping Anise alive were all perfectly valid. Things she could imagine Shalise worrying about.

At the same time, Eva couldn’t imagine Shalise’s heart rate remaining relatively steady. Even while walking through the forest and discussing relatively uncomfortable topics such as ambushing one another, Eva couldn’t recall any change in Emily’s heart rate that couldn’t be attributed to the normal physical exertion of walking through a forest.

The moment the light disappeared, her wand slipped into her hand from somewhere up her sleeve. Her face hardened as she looked through narrowed eyes at both Eva and the nun.

But she didn’t attack.

The hairs on the back of Eva’s neck stood on end.

But neither of them attacked.

After standing perfectly still for upwards of five minutes, Eva broke first. They were wasting time. Good time. The vampire had undoubtedly eliminated his partner and would already be heading towards the goal.

“Well,” she said, dropping her guard almost entirely. She would still be able to blink away if either of them moved towards her. “We’re wasting time.”

“We could glare at each other until the event passed us by,” Emily said slowly.

Eva grinned. Probably not the best thing she could do given her teeth, but she did so anyway. “Right. And I’d like someone who isn’t the Nod Complex to win this thing.” She held out both hands, one to each of her temporary companions. “Truce? For real this time?”

“You mentioned something like that before,” Emily said. “What’s your deal with them?”

“Just a little bet. Well, that and a vehement dislike of their vampire.”

Anise only hesitated for a moment before reaching out to grasp Eva’s hand. “If you aren’t lying, I can definitely agree with that.”

“No lie. After the Nod Complex is removed from the playing field, we can fight all we want.”

“Fine with me,” Anise said. She tried to pull back her hand, but Eva held on.

Eva glanced towards Emily. She lifted her hand up ever so slightly, further offering it to the girl.

“Your hands are creepy.”

“Sharp too. Not the kind of claws you want on an enemy.”

Emily narrowed her eyes at the threat. Eva couldn’t bring herself to care. She already had the anti-vampire person on her side. If Emily continued to waste time, she would just pick up the girl and chuck her back towards the ward line. Leaving counted as disqualification, or so Redford had mentioned. Making someone leave probably worked just as well.

But the girl swapped her wand to her other hand, leaving her left hand free to grab hold of Eva’s claw.

“Excellent,” Eva said.

As she spoke, a drone dropped down, swooping around them in a full circle before flying back up overhead.

Anise tore her hand out of Eva’s grip, barely managing to avoid mangling herself, and buried her face in her hands.

“I am so going to be excommunicated.”

Eva couldn’t help but to chuckle.

For a second.

Releasing Emily’s hand, she made the first steps towards the rest of the arena.

“We’ve some lost time to reclaim. I hope you can keep up.”

With that, Eva took off. She didn’t use her legs to their full potential. Losing sight of either of her companions could wind up with them being ambushed. Or ambushing her. But she fast ran enough to push them to keep up.

“I’m coming for you, vampire,” Eva muttered under her breath.

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