Tag Archives: Jordan

010.004

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“Dean Anderson here.”

Eva sat on the edge of a table, staring out the window. So far, nothing had fallen from the sky that she had been able to see. Neither had anything approached the building. In fact, the pulsing of the violet streaks had died down to their usual levels of activity. Or inactivity, as the case was.

Around her, most of the students had lost their nervousness. They were going about class as normal. Even Juliana had gone back to her seat after watching and not finding anything too alarming after several minutes. Or, as normal as class got when they weren’t allowed to leave a full half an hour after class normally ended. Eva hadn’t actually continued with the lesson, choosing instead to stare out the window for the entire time. Surprisingly enough, Professor Lepus hadn’t objected to her watching out the window. She did walk past with a few disapproving looks every now and again, but apparently the situation was odd enough that she was willing to overlook a few people not studying.

Only Arachne sat with her.

She hadn’t yet received a response from Zoe, though telling her that things were falling from the sky probably wasn’t much to go off of. Neither had she received another message from Nel. Of course, Nel was probably out with Ylva and not looking at her phone at the moment.

In fact, the first message about the outside world was likely to be Anderson’s message. So she turned slightly to better give her attention to the overhead speakers.

“The emergency situation has been resolved. Or, to be more accurate, it wasn’t that big of an emergency. Still, given the matters announced at the feast, we felt it prudent to take immediate action to ensure the safety of the school and its inhabitants. There will be a more detailed announcement later, but for now: Someone or something may have modified the weather experiment over Brakket Academy. We do not believe there to be any immediate danger but will continue to investigate. As always, any suspicious persons or creatures should be avoided and reported to Brakket Academy security. Thank you for listening, you are all free to go about your business. The rest of school has been canceled for the day.”

Silence followed the announcement for a good thirty seconds. Professor Lepus was the first to speak.

“Well. What a waste of time. Now the class that should have been in this timeslot is going to be behind schedule,” she said, more mumbling to herself than actually speaking to the class. “I’ll have to catch them up in a hurry.”

“So, we can leave right?” one of the Isomer guests said.

“Apparently,” Professor Lepus said with a sigh. “That is what the message said. Go on and clear out,” she said a little louder to the rest of the class. “I’ve got lessons to reorganize.”

As the students packed up their books and tablets and whatever else they had been occupying themselves with during their detention, two walked over to Eva.

Srey, shaking off his few admirers, moved up a few paces away from Eva. “What was that all about?”

“No idea. Going to go find out in a few minutes, however.”

“The announcement mentioned creatures,” Juliana said, clipping the rest of her sentence with a quick yawn. She went up and peered out the window again for a few moments before turning to face Eva. Brushing a hand back over her ear, she pushed some hair back and revealed a line running up the side of her face where it had been pressed into the desk, sleeping. “He didn’t mention any creatures the other night.”

“Enigmas maybe? Or demons.”

“I can feel something out there,” Arachne said, sliding around Eva to look out the window properly. “Can’t tell what. But then, most demons don’t feel overwhelmingly strong. So they’re either extremely weak or fairly far out. Possibly both.”

Eva hummed for a moment, considering. “Enigmas fit better with the term creatures, but it could be hellhounds or something similar.” As Eva spoke, she checked her phone again. Still no message from Nel. She sent out a simple one asking what they had found. “So we’ve been given the all clear by the school. No reason to stick around. Let’s go find out..” Eva trailed off as she noticed the face Juliana made.

“I don’t know that my mother would be too happy with me running around the city.”

“That’s a good point,” Eva said after a slight hum. “Does your mother know what happened?”

“I sent her a message about the announcement. She said she would be here soon.” Juliana pulled out her cellphone and typed out a few words. “There. Let her know it is over with.”

Eva nodded and turned back to the window. Both Brakket dormitory buildings stood tall outside along with the fountain and demon blood plaza. Nothing around wrecking them which usually seemed to be the case in such situations. In fact, she didn’t see a real need to run out aimlessly in the city anyway. She did want to go find where her clone had perished. Still, no pressing need for it.

“Why don’t we find Zoe then. See if she knows anything more. Your mother won’t object to you running around the school, would she?”

Juliana shrugged. “Don’t think so.”

“Sounds good,” Eva said. After slinging her bag up over her shoulder, she started out of the room with Juliana, Srey, and Arachne in tow. The hall was packed with students. More than normal, anyway. Packed wasn’t an easy state to achieve in Brakket Academy. Not even with all the other schools running around.

Maybe it just felt packed. Everyone was in their little groups. Some walking and talking, some just standing and talking. They were all talking. Eva didn’t even need to listen in to guess the topic. She hadn’t been the only one to notice the fluctuations in the violet streaks overhead.

A few pointed at her or otherwise glanced in her direction as she walked past. She had no idea why. Not beyond the obvious anyway. Even though he looked more or less human, most people knew Srey was a demon. Arachne stood out by appearance alone, as did Eva. After a few weeks around the new schools and several months with Brakket’s students, they shouldn’t stand out quite as much as they did. Perhaps some rumors had gone around about the last time a similar announcement had interrupted classes. Or maybe about the hunter she had fought and killed just before the other schools had arrived.

Eva ignored them and continued on her way.

Yet they didn’t even make it halfway to Zoe’s room before a group of students ran up to them. Saija headed said group, pulling Irene along at her side. Behind them, Jordan, Shelby, and Shalise all followed along.

“See. I told you she was here,” Saija said, slowing down with her hands on her hips. “I can always tell where Eva is.”

Eva held up a hand before anyone else could speak. “Something fell from the skies. I don’t know anything else. I also didn’t have anything to do with it. Whatever happened was entirely not my fault.”

Saija curled her lips slightly, showing off her sharp teeth. “And that just makes you sound guilty.”

Shrugging, Eva turned and continued walking towards Zoe’s classroom. “I’m stopping by Zoe’s office. I won’t object if you all want to come. But apparently the situation has resolved itself. According to the announcement. So there probably isn’t much need.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere on my own after–”

A low rumble in the ground cut Shalise off. The Earth shook, nearly sending the group to the ground. Only Saija, Arachne, and Eva—who grabbed a hold of Arachne’s arm—managed to avoid waving their arms around to retain their balance. No one said a word as they waited, widening their stances to brace themselves against any additional shocks.

Eva slowly let go of Arachne’s arm, standing on her own. “Huh,” she said when nothing else happened. “I wonder what that was about.” She half expected another announcement over the speakers. Even after waiting a few minutes, they stayed silent.

The hallway, however, did not. After the initial shocked silence wore off, everybody in the hallway exploded in conversation. Nobody really freaking out, but lots of questions. Especially from the foreign students, most asking if earthquakes were common around the area. The Faultline students, of which three were walking down the hall, barely seemed to notice the quake. She had thought their school was just a name, but maybe they lived right on top of an actual fault. She actually hadn’t looked up its location.

“I-I don’t like this,” Shalise said, wrapping her arms around herself as she glanced around. “There were earthquakes constantly, or nearly so, in Hell.” Her last word came out a little more than a whisper.

“There are earthquakes all the time on Earth,” Jordan said, voice soft but steady.

Shelby poked him in the side. “Not here there aren’t.”

“Well, no. Not here. At least not recently. There was a fairly sizable earthquake around Yellowstone in nineteen-fifty-nine.”

Shalise shook her head, moving slightly to lean against the brick wall. “And w-what are the odds that a natural earthquake just happens to happen after,” she paused, swallowing her saliva and licking her dried out lips as she glanced towards Eva. “After something fell from the sky. After that announcement.”

Frowning slightly, Shelby moved over to the wall and put an arm around Shalise’s shoulders and gave her a few comforting pats. Juliana moved closer as well, though she refrained from actually touching Shalise. Instead she just leaned against the wall with an uncomfortable look on her face. An almost sick look. Maybe she felt guilty over the Hell thing.

“Still, nothing has changed.” Eva paused as her group gave her flat looks. “I mean, nothing in terms of us not knowing exactly what is going on.”

Juliana leaned forward slightly, pulling out her cellphone and frowning at whatever she saw on the screen. She tapped out a short response before slipping it back into her pocket. “What are we going to do?”

Eva didn’t bother responding. A musical tune carried down the hall. The second Juliana heard it, she winced.

Genoa charged up the hallway with her cellphone in hand, obviously using it to track down Juliana. Eva had caught sight of her a few moments ago, which was really the only reason she hadn’t continued onwards to Zoe’s class. That and Zoe was with Genoa, both coming towards them.

“Juliana, you are going to be sticking with me.” Genoa paused for a moment, looking over the gathered students. Nodding towards the wall, she continued. “Shalise as well. The rest of you… well, I can’t order you around. However I suggest sticking with adults and finding safe places.” Genoa turned to address Eva. “I spotted two enigmas on my way here. There might be more.”

Eva glanced to Zoe, giving her a look. “I felt at least two demons out there as well. I can still feel them, though they’re extremely weak. Maybe imps?” she said with a glance to Arachne. She got a shrug in return. “And Nel said eight things fell when she texted me, though she didn’t elaborate much on what exactly they were. Ylva headed out to take care of some of them.”

“And with the announcement,” Zoe said, “I assume Brakket security took care of the remainder.”

“I didn’t realize that the security team had been replaced after the attack early in the summer.”

“He brought on two almost immediately after assuming Martina’s position, but hired another three after the armored hunter attacked. Though, unlike Martina’s security force, I do not believe any of them are demons. Most seem to be former mage-knights. Except for Lucy, that is.”

“Two security guards worked for the school and didn’t help fight that hunter?” Eva shook her head, deciding that it didn’t really matter how many security guards Brakket had if they weren’t going to help out in the big events. Supposedly they did something today with the things that fell from the sky, but for all Eva knew, that had actually been Ylva.

“Anyway,” Eva said, “let’s get out there and find out exactly what is going on. Nel and Ylva should have some information. It’s a bit worrying that Nel hasn’t messaged me back, but–” she cut herself off as her phone buzzed in her pocket. “Never mind,” she mumbled as she pulled up her messages.

Okay! Finished. We disabled four enigmas. Three of which were drawn into portals to Hell when they ‘perished,’ and left something behind. I don’t understand what that means, but Ylva seemed a little upset at it.

“Huh.”

“What is it?”

Rather than answer, Eva just handed her phone over to Zoe. Genoa leaned over to peer over her shoulder, both reading the message. It wasn’t a long message, but Zoe kept staring at it for a lot longer than Genoa. Eva actually had to clear her throat to startle Zoe into looking up.

“Right,” she said, handing it back to Eva. “And this doesn’t have anything to do with you?”

“For the twentieth time, no. I was just sitting in class and maybe trying to bait out the demon hunter at the same time. She didn’t bite. Something that fell from the sky targeted my fake body out in the city and landed on it.”

It had to have targeted her. Maybe if more than eight things had fallen she would have believed that random chance could have wound up with one landing on her. But eight? Brakket wasn’t a big city, but it was still a city. And if Genoa had seen a few on her way over from her house—completely out of the way from where Eva’s clone had been wandering around—then it wasn’t like they had all fallen on top of her.

“So I’m going to head out there and look around a bit.”

“Alone?”

“Arachne will be with me. I’m not opposed to others joining as well.”

Juliana glanced up to her mother and nodded her head towards Eva. Genoa pretended to ignore her, but did put on a slightly more thoughtful expression.

“Anyway, come with me or not, I would like to get moving before the blood dries too much.” Eva waited just a moment before she started walking. Arachne followed after her immediately. Zoe said a few words to Genoa before coming along as well. Despite Juliana’s glare, Genoa stayed where she was, as did the rest of her friends. Not even Saija moved to follow.

Eva didn’t mind so much. Fewer people meant traveling faster. As soon as she made it out one of the side doors, she picked up the pace, moving to a light jog. Just light enough to not completely outpace Zoe. Which had the unfortunate side-effect of inviting conversation.

“Enigmas falling from the sky?” Zoe asked between breaths. “Eva, this doesn’t have anything to do with your ritual circle, does it?”

“I don’t see how it could. The circle is still incomplete.”

Though that did remind Eva that she should text Catherine. Maybe more enigmas had fallen over towards the prison area that Nel had missed. The streaks through the sky did extend over the prison as well, after all. Come to think of it, someone should probably be checking the fields between and all around Brakket as well. It would be just Brakket Academy’s luck for an enigma to wander into town while everyone was unprepared.

“Anyway,” Eva said, “I assume this is just a natural progression of the apocalypse. Obviously nothing apocalyptic has happened just yet. Assuming it stops for the time being, that is. Zagan never did give us a time frame. Maybe little things will happen for the next three centuries before anything truly bad happens.” She slowed just a little to look at Zoe out of the corner of her eye. “But I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Zoe started to respond, but Eva reached the end of Brakket Academy’s main campus, turned down the first street they came across and immediately slipped into an alley between two shops. Having been running right alongside Eva, Zoe just about missed the abrupt turn down the alley. Really, Eva didn’t need to take the alley. She had been walking on the open roads not far from Brakket. However, a few quick jaunts down a couple of alleys would save her a little backtracking.

Unlike Zoe, Arachne kept right at Eva’s side. She didn’t need prompting. Nor did Eva’s turn come as a surprise. Eva couldn’t say exactly why, but guessed that it related to Arachne’s fixation on Eva. Small tells in her body language showed Arachne where to go before Eva actually made the turn.

And yet she managed to keep her head turning around, scanning for potential threats on rooftops, streets, and shadowed building entryways. Really, every time she thought about it, Eva was all the more happy that Arachne was an ally and not an enemy.

“I still haven’t told Wayne,” Zoe said as they exited the final entryway. “I want his input before anything. Even if…” she trailed off with a glance at the sky as they slowed down.

Eva followed her gaze, glancing up as well. But there wasn’t much to look at. A gray, partially cloudy sky lined with purple veins. The streaks had returned to their previous stability, looking much the same as just a week prior. Something Eva took as a good sign. Hopefully it wouldn’t be raining enigmas and demons anytime soon.

“It looks like we’ve got a little while. I still want your and Catherine’s input as well. In the meantime,” Eva slowed to a stop just in front of a large splatter of blood in the center of the sidewalk. “I would like to find out what attacked me specifically.”

Black blood covered a small portion of the sidewalk and street, barely glistening in the overcast day. Some even splashed up on the brickwork of a nearby bookshop. Not a hint of a person was left behind. Which Eva expected. Her blood clone was just that, blood. It had no bones or organs. Not even real skin, just blood with some magical food coloring to look like her held together in her shape. As soon as it had been disturbed to the point where it couldn’t hold together, the spell had broken and the magic had dispersed.

Sending off a burst of flame from her fingertips, Eva immolated every trace of the blood. Leaving parts of herself lying around for others to mess with just didn’t sit right with her, even if none of it could actually be used for more blood magic.

“This was the same bit of magic you used to fight me that one time?”

“Yep. Just a simple blood clone with orders to wander around. I was trying to draw out the hunter so Nel could get a bead on her. Didn’t work out quite how I hoped.” Eva glanced around, including back down the alley to the side of the bookstore. “No sign of whatever landed on it. I half expected mangled remains of something or other. Or maybe footprints leading away.”

There were a few droplets of her blood that had either splashed a great deal away or dripped from something. Eva, incinerating each droplet as she followed the trail, was leaning towards the latter theory. Especially once she found a few streaks of blood leading up the side of the bookstore. There weren’t any real claw marks, it was more like someone had dragged their hand along the wall. Maybe something capable of flying or levitating around. If something was flying, it was probably a demon. She hadn’t yet encountered an enigma with wings.

That she felt an extraordinarily faint presence nearby only confirmed that idea.

“Up on the roof,” Eva said as she incinerated the trail. It was a good thing the building was made of bricks. A wooden bookstore probably wouldn’t have survived even her tiny flames half as well. As soon as she had finished, she blinked straight upwards, higher than the top of the roof. Once up high, she blinked to a standing position right on the ledge of the building. Arachne followed her up, though by sprouting a few extra legs and scaling the wall rather than teleporting.

Zoe made it up as well, teleporting herself directly to the top without the intervening hop. But Eva barely paid attention to the blast of cold air that accompanied her disappearing.

Her eyes were focused on the creature curled up at the far corner of the next roof over. Just barely out of the range of her blood sense. Its four arms and two legs were covered in fur, which it was licking and grooming as a cat might, but with a humanoid face. The rest of its body was a smooth skin, fur stopping abruptly just above the elbows and knees. Its back had wings, which explained the droplets of blood, but that wasn’t all. A series of tentacles curled around it protectively. Each capped with a tiny mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth.

Eva grit her own teeth, staring at a large gouge in the side of the creature. Violet blood dripped down its bare stomach, matting the dark fur.

“An enigma?” she hissed. But it felt like a demon.

The moment she spoke, two pointed ears on top of the creature’s head perked and angled towards her.

A beat passed before it sprung up, landing on all six legs. Twin tails stuck straight up in the air, black fur puffed out as wide as it could go as it bared its sharp teeth—both on its face and its tentacles—in Eva’s direction.

All at once, it turned and spread its wings.

“Catch it,” Eva shouted as it took off, already running after it.

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009.022

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“To be fair, if she hadn’t summoned a demon, Arachne and I wouldn’t have known where to look. In fact, we had been heading in the wrong direction prior to her summoning.”

Both Genoa and Carlos turned away from their daughter to glare at Eva. Behind them, sitting in the living room chair like it was the hot seat in an interrogation room, Juliana looked up and gave Eva a slight smile. A smile that did nothing to offset the intensity of her parents’ glares. Under other circumstances, Eva might have wilted under their combined stares.

Not today.

“It worked,” Eva said. “She got away and she is unharmed. Do you really need to berate her quite so much?”

Genoa’s face softened ever so slightly, though Carlos was exactly the opposite. He opened his mouth to say something. Genoa beat him to the punch.

“Eva, I appreciate what you did to help tonight. But Juliana is not your child. I’ll thank you to leave her raising to us.” She shared a brief glance with her husband, who still looked like he wanted to complain, before turning back to Juliana.

“Juliana is safe. You can berate her later if you really feel the need,” Eva said, keeping her voice firm and ignoring the sudden look of betrayal on Juliana’s face. “More importantly, a demon hunter is out there targeting my friends.”

And wasn’t that a scary thought. Eva was quite confident in her ability to fend off a majority of threats, perhaps even to the point of self-admitted overconfidence. Her friends? If that had been Shalise instead of Juliana, things could have gone very differently. Even if Juliana got kidnapped again, the hunter was sure to take more drastic precautions against demon summoning or other escapes.

Though depending on exactly what Juliana had done with Zagan, that might not be too much of a concern anymore. At least not for Juliana.

So far, she had just been sitting in silence, only speaking when spoken to or to clarify exactly how the events had gone. All the while, her parents talked at her and managed to argue with each other despite never quite addressing the other. However, she had yet to mention Zagan by name, only referring to the demon she had summoned as ‘the demon’ and overtly insinuating that it had gone back to Hell shortly before Genoa broke down the walls.

Eva couldn’t tell if her parents believed her or not, but she wasn’t going to be fooled so easily.

“You’re right,” Genoa said with one last glance towards Carlos. “We need to prepare. And inform the school. The hunter could decide to attack just about anyone under the assumption that you might be involved with them.”

Anderson was going to freak out. Eva could see it now. Doubly so if the media got wind of it. He really should have just taken out a bounty on the woman after her first attack, though news of a bounty around the school would have likely gotten out, ruining his media presence anyway.

In fact, if he took out a bounty now, he might even be seen as proactive depending on how much information about old incidents got out.

“I’ll go send a message to Zoe,” Eva said. “A detailed one explaining everything Juliana told us.”

Genoa gave Eva a curt nod. “I’ll send one to Wallace and Anderson. Though I can’t say I have much hope that Anderson will be willing to do much.”

Pulling out her cellphone, Eva slipped out of the room before Carlos could go back to explaining how Juliana was to be escorted to and from school every single day, how she wasn’t ever allowed out of his sight, and how happy he was that she was alright. Really, she didn’t need to be there for that.

She had gotten the information she needed.

The hunter had been after her. And had been walking around on two feet, though Juliana thought that her armor was helping her move rather than any real healing having been done to her back. Which was good for Eva. But potentially also bad. If her armor could do the things that the dead hunter’s armor had done, she could prove to be quite the troublesome foe. Especially because this time, it wasn’t very likely that the doll would show up to distract the hunter while she murdered them from behind.

“So what happened?” Jordan asked as Eva slipped back into the theater room. He, Shelby, and Shalise were all standing around the doorway talking as she entered. Despite the television still being on and showing Irene being hoisted up on Saija’s shoulders before she went flying off into the sky, none were watching.

“Juliana got herself kidnapped by the partner of the hunter who attacked a month ago. She freed herself mostly, with myself and Genoa helping out. Watch out for hunters sneaking up behind you in the dead of night as they’ll likely go after anyone who is friends with me. And that’s it, I think.”

“Concise,” Jordan said as he looked at the other two.

“B-But, wait. Coming after us, you mean?”

Eva gave Shalise a sorry smile. “Yeah. Though don’t worry too much. I don’t have a definite plan just yet, but I’m not going to let this woman run amok while threatening everyone.” She would have cracked her knuckles, but her knuckles didn’t work like that anymore. “I’m going to tear out her throat. In the meantime, just stick with others and don’t wander around the city without an escort.”

Juliana’s father was right about that much, at least.

“Oh. W-well…” Shalise was stuttering again. Eva hadn’t really heard her stutter much since before she got trapped in Hell. Though, Eva had to admit that she hadn’t spent all that much time around Shalise since then. And, in Hell, she had had Prax with her.

“Don’t worry. I don’t intend to leave this person to run around for any length of time.”

— — —

Wind blew past Irene’s face, throwing her shoulder-length hair back behind her head. Trees whizzed past down below and wisps of clouds drifted overhead.

All the while, Irene could only think of how much she hated flying. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad under other circumstances. Airplanes didn’t bother her. But there was something about cutting through the air with no windshield, walls, or floor to keep her from falling to her death that just rubbed her the wrong way.

“I’m going to drop you!”

Irene, one hand in a white-knuckled grip around Saija’s horn as she rode on the demon’s shoulders, took a moment to process exactly what Saija had said. She focused entirely on using her wand to tear down an earthen shell around the Mount Hope crystals while Saija flew them through the air, weaving and dodging the fireballs, icicles, and whatever else the enemy mages were tossing up at them. Or, to be more accurate, Irene’s focus was on holding tight to Saija while occasionally considering the possibility that she really should be thinking about sometimes attacking the earthen shell.

Just because she was an earth mage didn’t mean she was afraid of heights. The two were entirely unrelated.

But Saija’s words eventually registered in her mind.

“Wait, drop me?” she shouted, grabbing on to both horns and almost dropping her wand in the process. “Saija! Don’t you dare!”

“It’ll be fine! You can do more if you’re not trying to shake yourself off my shoulders. I’ll keep distracting them and I’ll even be free to pick some of them up and drop them farther away.”

“Then just set me down somewhere.”

“And give them time to target me?” Saija scoffed with a shake of her head, just about throwing Irene off her shoulders in the process. “Get ready!”

“Wai–”

Saija banked upwards, carrying them high into the sky. She didn’t flap her wings or otherwise try to keep her momentum going. Once gravity caught up to her, she turned and embraced the dive. Irene didn’t. She gripped Saija even harder, wrapping her legs around her neck. Only pure fear of biting off her own tongue kept Irene from screaming.

Five feet from the ground, Saija pulled up at a sharp turn, spreading her wings. As she did so, she shrugged her shoulders and slipped out from under Irene. Her head twisted just enough for Irene to lose her grip.

Irene bounced on the ground butt first, barely feeling like she had dropped much farther than if she had fallen off her bed. Not that she fell off her bed often enough to really know. Above her, Saija continued her flight, aiming straight at one of the Mount Hope students.

Unfortunately, while she had survived the drop, Saija hadn’t dropped Irene off in an isolated patch of the enemy’s camp.

She was right in the middle of all the defenders.

A half-sphere of earth covered each of the four crystals that Mount Hope had acquired. Someone far more experienced in earth magic than Irene had formed the dirt into solid shells as tough as granite. Likely that same earth mage had erected walls around the four spheres, partitioning off their camp from the rest of the Infinite Courtyard.

The walls weren’t continuous. A single wall stood in front of each of the four spheres that protected the crystals. All four together were more like barricades than anything else. At the very center of each wall, the coat of arms for Mount Hope stood out in gleaming blue. Apparently their water mage had been a bit bored and fashioned the coat of arms from ice four times over.

Each sphere reached up roughly to Irene’s shoulder, only slightly lower than the walls protecting them. Which made the spheres perfect cover.

Ignoring the student Saija had charged towards and carried off into the sky, she focused on the three that were still standing around the makeshift walls and barricades. One fired off fireballs towards the sky, apparently not caring if he hit his companion. She felt safe in ignoring him and leaving him for Saija.

The other two both started launching projectiles at Irene. One fire and the other ice.

Irene scrambled around the half-spheres, putting their own crystals’ defense between them while barely peeking around the side to watch what was happening.

Shards of ice swirled around the mage’s wand, forming a silver chain-like whip that dangled from the end. Pointed spines grew from each link in the chain, making her whip look far more vicious than anything Irene wanted to see in what was supposed to be a friendly competition. The mage held tight to her wand, waiting and watching while her fire inclined partner slowly circled around the dome.

Much like the water mage, the fire mage started spreading around flames. His, however, weren’t orbs of fire like what she might have expected. He traced out burning embers into the dirt. They formed into patterns, but Irene didn’t know what they were. Some kind of runes. Traps, most likely. Something to explode in her face if she stepped on them.

But the ground was her domain.

Sort of. She wouldn’t claim to be an expert or anything, but that didn’t really matter at the moment. All that did matter was the runes.

Her first thought was to simply disrupt them. Mixing around the earth should render whatever he had done inert. However, that was just a stalling tactic. The mage was still coming closer and his partner was still watching and waiting for her to emerge.

Pointing her wand out from around the dome—just the very tip—she aimed right at the small patch of earth that held his most recently drawn rune.

His eyes were glued on the dome she had taken refuge behind, not his feet. His footsteps paused as her wand poked around the side.

But when no attacks came and she withdrew her wand, he continued moving.

And stepped right on top of his own rune.

Irene raised her arm, shielding her eyes and face from the sudden light and heat. It only lasted for an instant. That instant had probably been long enough to get a mild sunburn from. When she finally felt safe enough to open her eyes again, the fire mage had been knocked clear back against one of the earthen walls. Maybe ten feet or so.

Though charcoal covered his entire front side, his chest still heaved up and down. That combined with some coughing and moaning meant he was still alive. Probably just fine.

Probably.

So it was nice to know that accidentally stumbling over his traps wouldn’t be fatal. She still disrupted the land around the rest anyway.

The water mage, still with her ice whip, ran to his side. She knelt down to check on him.

But Saija didn’t give her the chance to even touch him. Swooping out of nowhere, Saija hooked her arms underneath the mage’s armpits and carried the now screaming girl off into the night.

Not knowing if the fire mage was in any shape to stand up, Irene pointed her wand at him. The dirt around him turned to a murky soup, sucking him in. As soon as he was a few inches into it, she went ahead and hardened it as much as she could. It wasn’t quite the stone-like granite that made up the spheres around the crystals, but it was good enough for a few moments. She felt relatively safe considering she also moved the mage’s wand away from his hand.

With a sigh, she turned to the spheres. Now that she wasn’t flying around at dangerous speeds and heights, she had a moment to actually examine the crystals’ granite shields. Conjuring stone or turning regular dirt to stone was an advanced technique. Way up there at the end of sixth year kind of advanced.

However, breaking it back down into dirt wasn’t. Destroying things was always easier than creating.

Irene cracked the shell. She didn’t turn the entire thing to dirt, that would have taken far too much effort, she just created hairline fractures in the rock and then pried away the dome like it was a hardboiled egg. And found nothing.

Nothing at all. The hollow shell didn’t have any crystals within. Just an empty patch of earth.

Turning, she cracked open each of the other domes. As with the first, she found nothing inside any of them. Just in case they had decided to be a little tricky, she dug down beneath the spheres for a good ten feet.

And wound up with nothing to show for her efforts.

Neither could she find anything underground between and in the very center of the spheres.

Saija dropped down at her side, startling her half to death. “No crystal thingies?”

“They have to be here somewhere,” Irene said, pointing a finger up to the sky.

Overhead, a massive magical billboard displayed a list of all the schools and how many crystals each had in their possession. Only two were listed under the ‘in transit’ section. Mount Hope supposedly had four still.

“The crystals have to be within the boundaries of their camp or they don’t count. So they’re somewhere around, just hidden.”

Saija frowned as she craned her neck to see the billboard. “We’re running out of time. Need to find them fast.”

Only six minutes left on the clock. Even with Saija flying them back, it would be tight.

“But don’t worry,” Saija said, puffing out her chest in undeserved pride and spreading her wings out. “I’ll handle this.” Turning from Irene, she sauntered over to the soot-covered fire mage.

Irene followed a few steps back, frown on her face as she wondered just what Saija was going to do. She had a pretty good idea, but…

“Hey there hot stuff,” Saija said, obviously suppressing a slight giggle as she leaned over the trapped mage with one hand on her hip. Her other hand tugged slightly at her neckline. “My friend and I were just wondering if you might be willing to help us with a little problem. If you could tell us where you hid the crystals, I would consider it a personal favor,” Saija breathed more than spoke.

The mage, whose eyes had already been slightly glassy—a concussion, maybe?—fell entirely into Saija’s sweet words. Trapped as his arms and legs were, he could do nothing but nod his head. “The domes are decoys.” His words came slow and slightly slurred. “They’re in the center of each wall. Behind the school’s logo.”

“Aww,” Saija cooed, reaching forward to brush his cheek. The moment her long fingernails grazed over his skin, his head slumped forward and his eyes fluttered shut. Smiling, Saija turned to smile at Irene. “Well, what a nice young boy.”

Irene rolled her eyes. Since the mage had collapsed against one of the walls, she got to work right away.

Only to find her magic not working quite as well. Shattering the domes had been easy enough. The icy coat of arms… It was exactly what Juliana had said to do except disguised as an emblem. But it wasn’t as complete as what Juliana had done to the miniature castle. The icy emblem only covered the outsides of the wall. Knocking down a portion of the surroundings exposed a few inches of pure rock.

Splitting that revealed a hollow cavity and a glowing green crystal.

“Earth,” Irene said with a click of her tongue. “Too heavy. Just leave it.”

“I could carry it.”

“Yeah, but I can’t. Not if I want to carry the others. And you’re going to be carrying me.”

Running over to the next wall segment, Irene didn’t even need to break the wall to get at the split in the middle. Water ran off the emblem, pooling on the ground below. As expected, opening the wall revealed a fire crystal. Coating it in a thick layer of dirt provided enough insulation to handle it with her bare hands for a few seconds at a time, but she still handed it off to Saija while running to the next.

The last two were air crystals. Neither required any special preparation to hold on to. In fact, they were the best of all the crystals to carry. They wouldn’t freeze or burn whatever they touched and they didn’t weigh as much as a bowling ball.

Taking off her jacket, Irene wrapped all three of them up for easier carrying. A single large bundle was much simpler than three separate items. And it would help keep the air crystals from flying off like a feather.

“Alright,” Irene said, “four minutes. Think you can make it back?”

Saija grinned. A vicious Eva-like grin filled with sharp teeth. “Just who do you think you’re talking to?” She scooped Irene up into her arms and took off in one smooth motion.

Irene managed to suppress her yelp of surprise. Being ready to be picked up helped quite a bit. “No shoulder ride?” she said after they were well underway.

“That was attack position. This is comfort flying. For both of us. Do you know how annoying it was having you jerk my head around?”

“That’s… well, sorry. I suppose I can’t argue against the comfort though.” Riding on her shoulders had carried a constant feeling of being one slip away from falling off. So long as Saija held tight, that was almost gone. Still no windshield. Her hair was whipping around all over the place and she couldn’t even fix it without dropping the crystals. Some even got into her mouth.

Really, she was lucky it was winter. There weren’t any bugs out to get splattered across her face.

“Looks like a fight at our base.”

“Just circle around overhead inside camp boundaries. We’ll keep our three safe. The others on the ground should be able to keep the three there safe for the last few minutes. Then we win!”

“That sounds good,” Saija said, flapping her wings a few times before her flight shifted to a far more languid drifting than the high-speed rush it had been before. “We should do this again sometime. When there isn’t all this fighting going on.”

Irene hesitated for a moment before allowing her head to nod up and down. She wasn’t afraid of heights. Just the falling part. Like this, with Saija’s arms wrapped around her, flying wasn’t so bad at all.

Finally feeling her heart rate drop down to more normal levels, she just watched and waited for the clock to run down while hiding from the cold air in the warmth of Saija’s body.

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009.003

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No one could say that Brakket Academy wasn’t welcoming towards its guests. Anderson had pulled out all the stops to make them feel as comfortable as possible even with all the demons wandering around. Though with his order for the demons to remain hidden, the only obvious demonic beings were Arachne and Eva.

After having her inhuman hands revealed in public, Eva had gotten her fair share of stares. Getting a few more was nothing special. And the meal was doing a decent job of distracting everyone.

A feast had been laid out for everyone. In typical Brakket Academy fashion, Eva couldn’t tell what most of it was. The mashed potatoes and roast were obvious. That is where the food she was familiar with ended.

An orange soup that smelled of lilacs seemed to be favored by one of the schools, though nobody Eva was sitting with had touched it. Perhaps it was a local delicacy of some sort. There was a thick, almost honey-like drink for everyone to partake of. Though it wasn’t sweet like honey. Rather, it had a taste not unlike that of lightly salted butter.

Eva had taken a single sip and decided that between the thickness and taste, that one sip had been more than enough for the rest of her life. Which, assuming all went well, would be practically forever. Luckily the feast had water available as well. Something Eva was much happier with.

Still, the students from another school were guzzling it down by the glass, making Eva wonder if it hadn’t been laid out specifically for them. Each school seemed to have some odd food that they favored over the others.

The thought had Eva’s mind running off on a tangent. She had never actually met the cooks at the school. With all the weird stuff they served for lunches, Eva wondered if they were even human.

But, that was just a tangent. She shook her head and went back to inspecting the new arrivals.

They were staring at her. She would stare right back.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t stare at one of them for even half as long as they stared at her. Luckily, she didn’t have to. As soon as her eyes met with someone else’s, they would always look away first. Usually in the first second and with a slight jump of shock.

Once or twice, when faced with a student who didn’t look away fast enough, she would even smile at them.

While amusing herself with making everyone uncomfortable, there wasn’t all that much to look at. Not everyone was human, but none particularly stood out to Eva as they ate. Well, except for the woman apparently made of wood and leaves over at one of the tables. So far, that woman hadn’t even looked to Eva. Aside from that, small talk was made, often with points or gestures in her direction. In fact, few people actually seemed to be eating, focusing more on the talking.

Not really surprising.

Well, almost nobody stood out. There were a few she was suspicious about. A group of twenty students from one of the schools in particular.

There were only supposed to be ten contenders, but apparently the other schools had been welcome to bring friends or family. Or maybe just spectators that had wanted to come.

Eva didn’t really care. She hadn’t paid any attention when the schools were being announced. Her interest in the event amounted to how much she could avoid participating while still participating enough.

Not paying attention was coming back to bite her at the moment. Two members of that school had something unusual about them. Each had an eye-like object implanted right around their sternum.

Leaning over past Shelby, she tapped Jordan on the shoulder. “Which school was that group from?” she asked with a nod of her head in the direction. He should know, he was the dean’s son after all.

“Isomer Holy Academy. A school for thaumaturgy from where the Elysium Order gets most of their recruits.”

Eva slowly nodded as she glanced back to the two girls a table and a half away.

The two immediately locked eyes with her, not flinching away in the slightest.

“They’re nuns in training,” Eva murmured with a groan. She really did not want to deal with some half-baked nuns out for revenge because of her various humiliations of the Elysium Order.

Nobody had even died last time save for Arachne, and she returned the stupid obelisk. They should just get over themselves already. Eva wasn’t even holding that big of a grudge for them killing Arachne—it was mostly her own fault for assaulting them, even if she hadn’t had much of a choice at the time.

But maybe they didn’t even know about that. Would the higher-ups in the order have told two lowly recruits? They were probably the freshest of all the nuns, given that they were still in school.

Maybe they just hated her because she wasn’t human.

The rest of the students looked hostile, but not quite to the level of the relentless glare that those two nascent nuns were giving Eva. Most glanced away as soon as Eva looked at them.

Oddly enough, the two adults with that school—the headmaster and some other authoritative chaperon—were looking more uncomfortable than angry. Both sat up with the rest of the visitors, professors, and the dean, quietly talking to each other as they ate. Neither had eyes implanted in their chests. They were, to the best of Eva’s ability to detect, two perfectly normal humans.

The Elysium Order must employ regular humans as professors and staff.

“I’m surprised they bothered to come at all,” Eva said, glancing back to Jordan.

“The Elysium Order isn’t currently operating in North America, but they didn’t shut down the school. It is, after all, just a regular school for mages. As for actually showing up,” he paused with a shrug. “Maybe they wanted to keep an eye on you. Or us.”

“As long as that’s all they’re doing.”

Eva shrugged her shoulders, breaking eye contact with the nearly-nuns. Technically, she looked away first. It wasn’t that big of a deal to her though.

Besides, she was in much too good of a mood to have it ruined by a few sticks in the mud.

She had been practicing her warding. Right over her own plate of half-finished half-pushed-around food was a small bubble. A ward she had been toying with. It let her hands pass through and it let food out—when she deigned to take a bite—yet the few droplets of water that she flicked over the ward hit it, stopped, and ran down the side to pool on the tablecloth.

Eva grinned for a moment before clamping down on her expressions. While she had flashed a brief smile at a few of the students just to make them uncomfortable, she really wasn’t interested in being known as the girl who sat around playing with her food and smiling at it.

Not only that, but this ward still had problems. She had a feeling that snow would pass through without trouble. The potatoes had a good amount of moisture in them and they went through without trouble. Of course, it couldn’t be completely impermeable to water. Humans were basically bags of the liquid.

Which was probably why so many of her failures were completely impassable, now that she thought about it.

Though pleased with her current success, the situation as a whole was frustrating enough that Eva was actually thinking about seeking help. Weather wards weren’t exactly uncommon, so it wasn’t like she was trying to invent a whole new branch of magic. She wanted someone to straight up teach her how to make one or just do it for her. Probably the former as the latter would require bringing someone else out to what was obviously a ritual site.

Luckily, it just so happened that Eva had a teacher who was supposed to teach her these kinds of things. While weather warding wasn’t on the schedule for another few months yet, she might be able to ask about it in an extracurricular fashion.

Glancing up to the table, Eva watched Professor Lepus for a moment. She, as always, had her hair tied up in a ribbon that pointed straight up, resembling the ears of a rabbit. Unlike most of her coworkers, she wasn’t talking to anyone. Her fork ran through her food, pushing it around much as Eva did when killing time waiting for others to finish.

Lepus never really struck Eva as very unsociable. She spoke well in class and never so much as stuttered. But those were all prepared lessons. Maybe she suffered when forced to interact in more improvisational situations.

Eva considered playing a brief prank on her. Just a little thing to get her attention and maybe signal that she wanted to talk later. All the professors had office hours extending beyond the regular school day, so she could just walk in without any sort of appointment. But still, she was growing increasingly bored of this feast.

Just as she was about to attempt a long-range ward around the professor’s food, blocking all access to the plate, Eva caught a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye.

All thoughts of her warding professor were lost as Eva scanned the room. She used both her eyes and her sense of blood to pick out anything unusual. Perhaps a suspicious insect buzzing around or someone not where they were supposed to be.

Especially towards another school’s table where the flicker looked like it had been heading towards.

After staring for a moment and finding herself unable to locate any real threat, she glanced back to Jordan.

“Nod Complex for the Supernatural,” he said, preempting her question. “The only school in America that openly accepts non-human students. Aside from Brakket I suppose.”

As soon as he said that, Eva turned back to the table and started paying attention more to their insides than their outsides. Now that she was actually looking, she quickly found a few problems. One of the boys had a tumor growing in the rough shape of a third lung.

Actually, on closer staring, Eva decided that it was a third lung.

A few of them were obviously plain and ordinary humans. The others, she wasn’t so sure about. One girl’s heart was beating faster than a frightened rabbit’s. While she could be simply scared of knowing that demons and nuns were about, Eva found it far more likely that she wasn’t human. Three more were elves, only really noticeable because of their ears.

One boy, slightly older looking than the rest of them, actually waved when Eva turned her attention to him.

She couldn’t understand how she could have missed him before. Perhaps she had just been distracted with the nuns.

His heart wasn’t beating and his blood wasn’t pumping. While not as deathly pale as Serena, he was still a vampire.

Slowly and without making a single expression on her face, Eva turned her head to look back at the Isomer table.

The two nuns were still staring straight at her. If they had noticed the vampire, they were being extremely subtle about it.

And they didn’t have a single subtle bone in their bodies based on how they were staring at Eva.

Just as slowly as she had looked away from the vampire, Eva turned to face nothing in particular. She stayed staring at nothing for a few moments before finally speaking in a hushed tone of voice.

This was supposed to be a serious yet somewhat friendly competition. Yet with those nun trainees, Eva had a feeling that there would be a good amount of blood spilled by the end of it. Either theirs or the vampire’s.

Not Eva’s blood. Well, not unless she was using her blood magic for some reason. But she intended to be the one spilling blood if it came down to it.

“Hypothetically, can vampires even learn thaumaturgy?”

Her friends were silent for a few moments before Shelby shrugged. “I don’t see why not,” she said. “By all accounts and Professor Bradley’s personal testimony, they’re magical beings. Thaumaturgy isn’t exactly human exclusive. Elves have been known to learn it on a fairly frequent basis.”

Eva blinked at the information before remembering where it came from. Shelby was taking Bradley Twillie’s magizoology elective.

“That makes sense. Though, they do have their own magics, don’t they? Things that normal humans wouldn’t be able to learn.”

“Yes, I believe so. Exactly what they can do varies by strain. Why do you ask?”

“Oh. No reason. Just a thought that popped into my head.”

She might have to ask Serena about vampire specific magic later on and whether or not there was a way to tell what strain the vampire was. She found herself wondering just how old the vampire was and for how long he had been a vampire. And, perhaps more importantly, just how he was to compete.

Serena had needed a full winter regalia including an umbrella and heavily mirrored skiing goggles just to watch her treatment early on in the summer. Unless all the events were at night—which wouldn’t surprise Eva—the vampire might stick out like a sore thumb if he tried the same.

But the vampire was several leagues above normal humans. Probably on par with some average demons, based on observations she had seen of Serena fighting. He would be a threat to everyone even if he couldn’t do any thaumaturgy.

It seemed like the Nod Complex was stacking their deck just as much as Brakket was. She didn’t know what the other non-humans brought to the table, but they probably had their own advantages.

Actually, Isomer was cheating as well. The two with the eye implants could probably do the white magic of the Elysium Order. And then there was the connection thing that gave them a sort of hive-mind while connected—or something, she might need to ask Nel again.

No wonder Brakket had never been able to compete before.

It made Eva curious enough to start scrutinizing the other schools a bit more in-depth. They were probably cheating as well. Maybe they had brought literal dragons shoved into human skin as their contenders.

Before she could, Anderson got to his feet. The quiet murmurs died off almost completely as he cleared his throat at the head of the center table.

“Looks like most everyone is done eating,” he said as he cast a slow gaze around the room. “If you are still eating, don’t worry. There are no further events planned for tonight so you may consume and mingle until there is nothing left.

“However, there are a few announcements to be made and they should be made before we disperse for the evening. First, living accommodations. Isomer and Faultline academies will be housed in the Gillet dormitory building. For reference, when facing the dorms with your back to the main school building, that is the building on the right. You’ll be on the second floor. Your rooms should have your names posted on the doors.”

Eva let out a small sigh. That was good news. She really didn’t want Isomer or its nuns to be in her building if at all possible. Maybe it would be a good idea to just sleep over at the prison for the foreseeable future.

“The Rickenbacker—which is opposite of the Gillet—will be housing the students from Mount Hope and the Nod Complex. You can find your rooms on the third floor.”

Which had Eva groaning.

While her blood might be a bit ‘sugary’ for Serena’s tastes, that didn’t mean that she was an unattractive blood bag to other vampires. And then there was everyone else in the dorms. Since Eva only knew that he was a vampire because of her ability to sense blood, she highly doubted that anyone else knew.

If he lived with the other students at the Nod Complex, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. He probably had an agreement with one of the other students or a professor to give him a food supply. Honestly, she should probably be more worried about Serena deciding to snack on students than him.

Especially given that she had already drank at least one student’s blood on Eva’s recommendation.

“But,” Anderson said, “living accommodations are not the most exciting of events. Luckily, we have far more interesting things planned than where you all will be sleeping. I’d like to invite up someone many of you probably already know.” He took a step back, gesturing to his side. “Director of the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights, Wallace Redford.”

Eva blinked. She really was not being half as attentive as she should be. She hadn’t even noticed the older man up among the professors. Not having seen him since the start of the school year, she had almost forgotten that he even existed.

He was seated just as all the professors were, facing the students. Next to him, a woman with golden-yellow hair sat to his side with her eyes closed. Though she appeared to be asleep judging by her face alone, she was sitting upright in her seat. Eva could tell through her sense of blood that her body was as active as any other conscious person.

But there was something off. Eva couldn’t quite place what it was. Everyone had their individual characteristics in their circulatory systems. To liken them to fingerprints would not be an exaggeration. If anything, it would be an understatement.

So everybody was different. But she was differenter. Perhaps not human? But human enough that Eva couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong.

But, if she was up there with Redford and the professors, she was probably not a dangerous person. At least, not towards the students or staff.

So Eva ignored it as Redford began moving.

A loud click echoed throughout the gymnasium as his cane tapped into the ground, silencing the hushed murmurs that had started up upon his name being announced. A scowl on Redford’s face slowly deepened as he got up and moved to the front of the stage alongside Anderson.

He looked out over the assembled students, looking from table to table. After scanning the entire room, he took a deep breath.

“Honorable combat,” he said, “is a fantasy. A byword for stupidity, should you believe in such a thing. In the real world, entering combat with a bow and a hope for a good fight will get you killed before you can even right yourself.”

Again he paused to glance around, though his eyes never seemed to settle on any one person.

“You may have heard that phrase before. ‘In the real world’ things are different. I’m here to tell you that they aren’t. Or, to be more accurate, you live in the real world. People, especially those up here on stage with me, have a stake in the victor. Brakket Academy wishes to elevate its reputation. The others would find losing to them to be an embarrassment.”

Anderson, standing just to the side and slightly behind Wallace, didn’t flinch in the slightest. He had an almost genuine-looking showman’s smile on his face.

“I was asked to tailor events in such as way that they might be fair to all five schools. A fascinating problem. One I considered for a great deal of time. I knew without a doubt that all five schools would attempt to gain unfair advantages. To cheat, in simpler terms. Some more obviously than others,” he said with a glance towards a still smiling Anderson.

But Anderson’s face was far from the most interesting expression.

The headmasters and chaperons of the other schools, formerly listening politely with either happy or neutral expressions, all took an immediate downturn as Wallace spoke. The headmaster of Isomer actually started turning red in the face in spite of the fact that his cheating was far more obvious to Eva’s eyes than any other school.

Well, save for the vampire with the Nod Complex.

“And then, it came to my attention that it was custom for the schoolmasters to act as moderators and judges.” Casting his gaze to his feet, he shook his head. “This will not do.”

Much as Anderson had done when he introduced Wallace, Wallace waved his own hand to the side. Except his hand held a cane. One that pointed at a small gathering of people who had been sitting with him, though slightly away from the woman. None looked particularly pleased to be singled out.

More than one wasn’t even paying attention, choosing instead to stare at Eva.

“I have invited a special group of judges. Five people who have absolutely no stake in any of the participating schools. Five people whose identities I have kept secret for the past few months to avoid any bribing or threatening.” He turned, putting his back towards the students to face the professors, headmasters, deans, and other adults. “Speaking with them outside of an official capacity in public is grounds for forfeiture.”

None of the adults really reacted. Not like they had when he mentioned that they were cheating. They had probably been informed of this beforehand—and likely agreed to it in the first place—and he was just making the statement public.

“They are mundanes,” he said, spinning back around to face the student body. “Incapable of magic. I expect them all to be treated with just as much respect and–”

“This is an outrage!” The Isomer headmaster jumped to his feet, face red and bulging as if it were about to burst. “You cannot bring mundanes into a magical school–”

“In my school, Headmaster Drosselmeyer, I decide who is welcome and who is not.” Anderson said, turning to face the outspoken headmaster. His smile was still on his face. However, something was slightly off about it. The way the corners of his lips rose made it look all the more predatory. “You already agreed to allow Wallace to choose the judges. So, unless you wish to forfeit…”

Drosselmeyer puckered his lips as he glanced to the other school heads. None seemed ready to jump to his support. With one last glare towards Anderson, he retook his seat.

“Good,” Anderson said. “We are all… sapient beings. I would have hated to announce that one of our illustrious schools withdrew on the grounds of classism. Our viewers might have found that distasteful.”

“Viewers?” Drosselmeyer asked in a far more subdued tone of voice.

“Of course! I forgot to mention that detail. If you don’t mind, Wallace.”

The leader of the Guild glared at him as if to ask why he couldn’t have waited just five more minutes. “Go right ahead,” he said through loosely clenched teeth.

“As you’re well aware,” Anderson said as he moved up to address the students. He kept his body slightly angled to keep the schoolmasters in view. “Brakket Academy has been under observation by the mundane news media, mostly because of our beautiful sky.”

Eva took a moment to roll her eyes.

“A few pillars of light in the past month renewed their interest. Rather than keeping them at arm’s length while such an event was going on, I decided to invite them in to observe. We’ve kept ourselves mysterious and hidden from mundanes despite them knowing about us for years. For too long. As such, I am pleased to announce that for the first time ever, the Interscholastic Competency Competition will be aired live over mundane news networks.”

Silence reigned over the gymnasium.

For about ten seconds.

Students and adults alike both burst into chatter. It grew loud enough that Eva could barely hear herself think. She couldn’t even pick out a single conversation to listen in. At least, not outside her table.

Shelby was poking Jordan in the side, asking if he knew about that bombshell. Juliana shrugged her shoulders while Shalise just sighed, saying something about her mother that Eva couldn’t quite catch with all the noise.

Eva wasn’t entirely sure what to think about it. She would have to take even more care not to be seen using blood magic. Not that she was planning on it during the actual events. However, if there were cameras around at other times, all it would take would be one nosy journalist sneaking through the Infinite Courtyard at the wrong time.

Three loud clicks echoed over the noise. They were loud enough to be almost deafening. Wallace must have some sort of enchantment on his cane.

“You’re all distracted, so I’ll skip over much of my speech. The first event will be next Saturday. Each school is to select three of its ten competitors.”

There was a bit of murmuring among the students at that proclamation. It died off with a glance from Wallace to the loudest group of students—those from the Faultline school, if Eva wasn’t mistaken.

“These three will not be allowed to participate in the second event, so choose wisely. Perhaps you’ll wish to select your top three students, or maybe save some of your best for the following event. The choice is yours. Further information will be given on the day of the event.”

He gave one last look around the room before turning and retaking his seat.

“Exciting, exciting,” Anderson said, his smile once again fit for a salesman. “Now, feel free to continue mingling or to disperse to your dormitories. The evening is yours to do with as you wish.”

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