Tag Archives: Jordan

008.008

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Eva’s forehead throbbed.

Not horribly. She had suffered through worse headaches before. The ritual to share Sawyer’s senses for one and anytime enigmas were around for another. And this current headache was already subsiding to unnoticeable levels.

The only reason the headache was special at all was the cause.

A dozen demons were making their way from the outskirts of town towards Brakket Academy. Altogether, they weren’t so bad. It was just that they had all come into Eva’s range at the same time.

Each of them had their own feel. None Eva could really place as anything specific.

All the demons that Eva knew had their own distinct feel. Zagan was power. Ylva had a chill to her aura. Catherine felt a bit sultry. Lucy, Prax, Qrycx, and all the others were easy to separate as well. However, the only reason that Eva knew which feel went with who was because she knew all the demons.

As such, even if she could feel a certain slime from one or a feathery floating from another, Eva couldn’t tell who or even what they were. Maybe in describing them to Devon, he would be able to tell their species. Except they would be in town long before Eva had a chance to run off to Devon. It would be far easier to meet them in person.

But they were still a ways away. Eva didn’t know precisely how far her range extended. And a good portion of that also depended on the relative power of the demons she was sensing. Zagan could be felt in the city while she was all the way out at the prison.

That she felt one or two of the new demons a great deal before the others all made it into her range meant that some of them were stronger than others.

They were all together though. All traveling at the same speed. A bus perhaps. Maybe a shipping container if Anderson was feeling a bit inhumane.

“Are you alright?”

Eva blinked, glancing over towards Shalise. She had a spoonful of… whatever Brakket Academy was serving for lunch today. Some gravy-like slop that made Eva extraordinarily grateful that she didn’t need as much food as regular mortals.

Juliana, Irene, Jordan, and Shelby were all gathered around as well. All eating lunch together for the first time since forever. At least, it felt like forever. Between Shalise and Juliana being gone and school taking a major back-seat to other events, Eva could barely remember the last time that everyone had a bit of downtime for regular school activities.

The only real difference was the lack of Max. He had stopped sitting with them a long while ago. Since before Shalise and Juliana’s trip to Hell. Looking around the cafeteria, Eva couldn’t spot him at all. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen him since the year started.

Maybe he had decided that Brakket was just too exciting for his tastes.

Arachne had taken his seat at the table. Sitting directly across from Eva, she drew the eyes of everyone around even after a week. Of course, anyone who stared too long or got too close got a glare and maybe a growl, but she hadn’t actually done anything to anyone.

Hopefully, people would just learn to ignore her.

Still waiting for an answer, Shalise gave a slight cough as she raised an eyebrow. “Eva?”

“Oh. I’m fine. I was just a bit distracted by all the demons currently on their way to school. Trying to get a feel for them all.”

Everyone stilled, including people not sitting at her table. Eva hadn’t thought that she had spoken too loudly, but nearby forks clattered to their plates catching the attention of people at more distant tables. In short order, the entire room was nearly silent. The only sound was the faint wisp of whispers explaining Eva’s words to those farther away.

Soon enough, even the whispers stopped.

The entire room sat and stared at Eva.

Eva just rolled her eyes. There had been a definite tension among the student body over the last few days. Ever since Anderson’s introductory speech. To have him effectively confirm all the rumors that had been circulating beforehand, especially those about the fight with the demon hunters over the summer, had only served to keep people a little paranoid.

Really, if they were so worried, they should have just left the school.

“They’re on their way,” Eva said, ignoring everyone not sitting at her table. “Maybe fifteen minutes? Twenty? Unless they stop somewhere else for some reason. I sort of just assumed that they’d be housed in the dorm buildings and that they would be heading straight there.”

“What–what are we going to do?” Irene all but whispered. She had hunched over, leaning half past Juliana in an attempt to get a better view of Eva.

Eva had no idea why she was so concerned. Out of all of the people in the school, Irene knew more about shackles and how to at least stop demons from approaching.

Barring Eva, of course. And maybe Juliana. Eva hadn’t actually discussed how much she knew in terms of summoning circles and shackles. Enough to summon Zagan, at least.

But shackles had been one of the things that Irene was most interested in studying during the diablery class. Eva doubted that she would have let her studies slide over the summer. Not to mention all the lessons she had been given on demons in general.

In comparison, her sister was entirely blasé about the whole thing. Maybe she had spoken to Jordan more. Maybe she just didn’t view demons as being all that scary.

She was sitting immediately adjacent to Arachne. The only reaction Shelby had to Eva’s words had been to shrug and continue to eat.

“Maybe we should go say hello,” Eva said. “Missing out on Wayne’s class wouldn’t be so bad.”

Eva didn’t know why she had bothered signing up for it again in the first place. Potions barely did anything for her.

“Though,” Eva added, “I do want to be back before golemancy. That class has actually been enjoyable.”

Shelby frowned, putting her spoon down. “I like alchemy.”

“We don’t all have to go. But I think I will.”

“Me too,” Juliana said. “It would be better to get a view on who is going to be around early on so that I can come up with explanations for my family.”

“Alright.” Eva gave a pointed glance towards Irene. “Anyone else?”

The girl in question hung her head with a long sigh. “They’re not going to hurt us, right?”

“I doubt it. Arachne and I will be there. I’ve been told that I’m quite intimidating towards demons.” Eva paused, feeling out some of the more familiar demons around. “Besides,” she said with a smile, “Catherine will be there. That should make you happy, right?”

“Not really,” Irene said with another sigh.

“Well, I think Ylva might be there. Though I’m not sure if you’ve actually met her or not…”

Eva shook her head with a shrug. It didn’t really matter. None of the approaching demons were on Ylva’s level, let alone that of Zagan.

“I’ve already met them,” Jordan said. “And I don’t really want to anger Professor Lurcher by skipping his class.”

“Probably for the best.” Eva raised her voice ever so slightly—she didn’t want to be obvious in her machinations, but she wanted to get a message out to all the nosy students who were pretending not to listen in. “We shouldn’t crowd them. Making demons feel like they are zoo animals might disturb them.”

Another moment of silence descended on the cafeteria after a brief whisper session to transfer her message around the room. Eva watched with a barely concealed smile as half the room lost a good deal of blood from their faces. Many had probably been planning on following along. Whether they would have kept a distance or walked right up alongside her didn’t really matter. She would have been annoyed with their presence.

Eva didn’t really care whether or not the approaching demons would feel the same. Maybe they wanted to meet a bunch of mortals. If all of them were like Lucy and hadn’t ever been summoned before, they might find it exciting.

Though, some of the paling faces had Eva worrying. A few people almost looked sick—at least as far as she could tell through blood sight alone. Hopefully her words weren’t being too distorted as they made the rounds. The last thing she needed was to have the people farthest away thinking that she was going to kill anyone who followed her.

“In that case,” Shalise said, “I think I’ll stay here. I’ve had enough of demons to last a lifetime or two.”

“They are going to be around the school. You’re going to meet them anyway, most likely. You know that right?”

“Well… yeah, but…” Shalise trailed off into a short sigh. “I wouldn’t mind one year of school that was just nice and normal. No zombies. No trips to Hell. No camping out in the woods.”

Eva shrugged. “You picked the wrong school.”

“But I didn’t pick it. Professor Baxter came and found me.”

“Anyway,” Eva said with a wave of her hand in Shalise’s direction. She glanced between Irene and Juliana. “You guys ready to go?”

“I suppose.”

Juliana shoveled in one more spoonful of whatever was for lunch before she nodded her head.

“Great,” Eva said, standing. She nodded to the others. “We’ll see you guys later then.”

“Hello Ylva,” Eva said as she walked up to the demon. “And Catherine.”

Both were standing around the center of the plaza between the dormitory buildings. They weren’t really together, just near enough to speak if they wanted to.

Which created the perfect opening for Eva to slip in.

Catherine didn’t respond save for a shallow nod. She, as always, was absorbed in her cellphone. Peeking over her shoulder, Eva found a lack of a game on the screen. A series of nonsensical scribbles covered the screen. It took Eva a moment to puzzle out just what they were. Catherine zooming out was the clue that Eva needed.

It was section of a ritual circle. Likely a new version of what she had already done.

In contrast to Catherine’s lack of response, Ylva turned to face Eva fully.

“Greetings.”

“I know I technically visited you just the other day when Nel helped to find Shalise, but we didn’t really talk. How have you been? Keeping busy with anything interesting?”

Ylva’s cold eyes stared, forcing memories to surface in Eva.

She suddenly recalled just why she had been avoiding Ylva. Perhaps it was subconscious. Eva didn’t think that she had been thinking much of anything while in Ylva’s presence. At least not towards avoiding her.

But Ylva had killed her—or came close enough so as to be indistinguishable—not so long ago.

“We have been ruminating on the idea of Life being Our opponent. Though the motivations of a Power are difficult to pierce, We believe that We have come to a conclusion.”

“Oh?

“Our mother is a primary target. Hel, being a servant of Death first and foremost, is a direct opponent of Life. Aosoth would be another target as another demon touched by Death. Life is targeting Void because of Void’s alliance with Death. An attempt to weaken Death’s influence and power base.”

“But Death has other, non-demonic… uh, servants?” Eva wasn’t entirely sure what the proper terminology was and Ylva had used the word ‘servant’. She had always called them gods. “The Baron isn’t a demon. He was—or is—a human.”

“And the enigmas have made attempts at breaking into the mortal realm as well. Some through Hell—the issue with your dormitory room was not caused by you, therefore the enigmas caused it. Who is to say that the Baron is not a target?”

Eva fell silent, considering. Ylva was probably right. Life was attacking Death and going through both Earth and Hell to do so. When she had agreed to become a guinea pig for Devon’s demonic treatments, he had failed to mention all the politicking between Powers.

Granted, he probably didn’t know. If he had known, they wouldn’t have been so surprised when the enigmas had appeared in the first place.

As they talked, the demons continued to get closer. Eva had been about to ask Ylva another question.

The question died before she could voice it as she caught sight of the approaching vehicle.

Eva wasn’t sure what she had expected.

No. That wasn’t true.

She had expected a shipping container or a bus. Something large enough to carry a dozen demons comfortably. In that sense, she had guessed perfectly.

A bus rolled up to the edge of the plaza. One of the larger charter buses that would look more at home in Florida than around Brakket City despite the bold text on its side stating the name of the academy. Eva could see and sense a number of demons inside.

What she hadn’t expected was for the bus to look like something out of a junkyard. The sides were dented inwards as if someone had taken a shovel all up and down the length. The windows weren’t faring much better. Not a single one was unbroken. Most were missing entirely.

The top of the bus had been peeled back like the lid of a sardine can. Shards of metal, fiberglass, plastic, and whatever else went into the making of bus roofs all stuck out at odd angles. A portion was gone, but the rest looked as if it had been through a blender.

“I hope they have insurance.”

Eva glanced over to Irene and just shook her head.

“Probably best to sell it for scrap at this point.”

Despite the condition of the bus, none of the demons inside appeared alarmed in the slightest. Their heart rates were calm and their gazes around were cool and collected.

Most of them, anyway.

The poor driver—the only person on the bus with an elevated heart rate—was unable to open the door. Whatever mechanisms opened it had been damaged enough that there was only a slim crack. The first demon to the door just turned into a misty form and slipped through, reforming on the other side.

One demon objected to being forced through the small opening and took matters into his own hands. He tore the door from its hinges, tossing it out to the ground before stepping out of the bus as if nothing had happened.

Three demons elected not to take the door at all. One phased through a shattered window, gliding down to the ground. He solidified, brushing off some imagined dust from his shoulder as another used leathery wings to fly up and out of the bus. She landed with enough grace to make Eva think that she was a succubus of some type. Another demon hopped through the hole in the roof, following after the succubus and landing with a heavy thud against the ground.

At least she didn’t crack the bricks making up the ground when she landed. All the effort gone into restoring the dormitory and plaza area would have gone to waste.

As the rest of the demons filed out of the bus, Eva started to notice something.

Every single demon paused for a moment after getting out to stare at Eva. At first, she thought that they were merely looking in her direction. Idle curiosity at the group of humans and demons that had come to greet them.

She quickly decided that idle curiosity was not the reason for their stares.

They were staring at Eva and no one else. Not Ylva. Not even Arachne or Catherine.

Really, she should have expected as much given how Catherine, Qrycx, and Arachne acted around her. But it was still somewhat shocking to see.

And she didn’t quite know how to react to it. Should she go up and say hello? What would they say in response? Surely they wouldn’t try attacking her. If they did, Arachne would jump in without a doubt. Maybe Ylva and Catherine as well, though with how they left Daru out to hang while the demon hunters were around, Eva wasn’t too sure about them.

The last of the demons made it off the bus. They were quickly joined by Anderson, who gave a light pat on the shoulder of the bus driver before stepping through the doorway. He looked around, passing straight over the group of humans and demons as he searched the area. Whatever he was looking for, he didn’t find it. Which seemed to please him for some reason, if the smile he turned towards Eva was any indication.

Catherine stepped forwards first and Eva followed after. Arachne, Juliana, and Irene took a minute but followed along as well. Ylva stayed where she was, not moving forwards or away.

“Trouble on the way?” Catherine asked as soon as they were close enough.

“Demon hunters.” Anderson glanced back to the bus with a sorry sigh. Before Eva could ask who the demon hunters were, he responded as if he had known her question was coming. “A small group of four, not the same ones that attacked earlier in the summer.”

That was somewhat disappointing. Eva hadn’t seen any evidence that the two hunters were still around. If the female had even survived, that was. If she hadn’t, then perhaps the armored knight would run off.

Which, every passing day, was looking all the more likely.

Of course, Eva wasn’t letting her guard down. She had shown up to ruin Sawyer’s day completely unannounced and entirely successfully. The demon hunter might be planning the same.

“I take it you fended them off without issue?”

“They are dead. Though, I expect that they won’t be the last group to come after us in the coming months. How they found out about the bus schedule is a much more interesting question.”

“Obviously they knew about Brakket Academy. They may have just been watching for our buses to move out and collect someone.”

“Possibly,” Anderson allowed with a nod of his head. He placed his hands on the shoulders of one of the demons. “Srey believes that they had been watching them for weeks now at their apartment.”

The demon narrowed his eyes at the touch, but otherwise didn’t protest the contact.

“Now then,” Anderson said, addressing the gathered demons. “This is Catherine. She will be in charge of finding you suitable rooms. If you require any accommodations outside what is offered by default, simply ask her and she will get you what you need. I’ll be back to meet with you all later this evening.”

With that said, Anderson walked off towards the direction of the main school building.

“I have so many better things to do with my time,” Catherine mumbled to herself. “Why did I agree to this?”

Eva shifted, somewhat uncomfortable with the stares that she was receiving. Now that Anderson was gone and everyone else was closer, it was plain to see just how much they were staring at her and not at anyone else.

Catherine, in an act that unintentionally saved her from further scrutiny, led off the majority of the group towards the Rickenbacker dormitory building.

One stayed behind.

A shorter demon with eyes just a bit too large for his head. He walked right up to Eva despite Arachne posturing for defense.

As he approached, Eva watched him and felt him out with her sense for demons.

All she got was a blank spot. She could sense him, feel a demon in front of her, but there wasn’t anything to that feel. No sultriness or slime. No feeling of power. Just a demon.

“I am here to help,” he said, voice toneless and face lacking any emotion.

Before Eva could say a word, he turned and followed the rest of the group towards the Rickenbacker.

“Well, that happened,” Irene said, sounding much more confident than she had during lunch. “I thought we might talk with them a bit more. They didn’t even glance at me. If that is how they act around school, I’ll be fine with it.”

Juliana stepped up beside Eva. “What did he mean by that?”

“Not sure,” Eva said. Glancing over Juliana’s shoulder, she met Arachne’s eyes for just a moment before focusing back on her friend. “I’ll have to ask when I see him next.”

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008.007

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“Welcome. To some of you, this will be a welcome back. To others, an initial greeting.

“This year, we will be making history with our students and among other schools around the country. We will be blah blah blah.”

Eva filled in her own words in place of the new dean’s speech. She already knew what was happening. For the most part, at least. Really, she didn’t know why she had bothered attending. Beginning of the year speeches were never interesting, this one least of all because of her foreknowledge.

And yet, Juliana and Shalise had dragged her into the auditorium for the assembly.

There was one thing that might get her to listen. If he started explaining how he was planning on summoning demons while Devon couldn’t, she would start paying attention. That seemed far too specific for a speech like this.

No new demons had popped up around the academy since Martina Turner’s demise. If he had success in summoning any, he had sent them back while Eva was off at the prison or otherwise gone. More likely than him having any success was that he was either hoping to get lucky or hadn’t even tried yet. Eva was leaning more towards the second option of him simply not having tried in a while.

While there weren’t any new demons, there also weren’t as many professors sitting up alongside the dean. Zoe and Wayne were there of course. Bradley Twillie, the magizoologist was there as well. But Yuria and Alari Carr were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they had resigned. Whether because of fear or because they didn’t want to support Anderson’s plan, Eva couldn’t say without asking.

At least, Eva assumed that Anderson had told the staff what was going on. It was possible that he hadn’t, but hopefully he had planned for more resignations when he revealed it all.

To her sides, Juliana and Shalise were paying a great deal more attention than she was despite Eva having explained this year’s ‘contest’ and new demons to them. Dean Anderson hadn’t actually mentioned demons yet. He had barely touched on the contest, choosing to start with a far more generic greeting.

More of Eva’s friends sat slightly farther away. Irene was next to her sister, chewing on her thumb as she glanced between the dean, Jordan, and Shelby. For her part, Shelby appeared at ease. Far less worried than Irene at the very least.

Eva’s eyes met with Irene’s for just a moment. For a bit of reassurance to the obviously distressed girl, she gave a closed-lip smile—something she had taken to doing since the treatment.

No one had mentioned her teeth. Or her mouth, for that matter. Eva was still not sure if they were being polite, too scared to say anything, or honestly hadn’t noticed.

Irene shook her head before looking back to the front of the room.

Next to her, Jordan was sleeping. Leaning back in his chair, he had his eyes closed as he took in deep breaths.

Eva wasn’t the only one looking around. They were sitting as far back as possible which gave her a decent view of everyone. And everyone had a decent view of her. If she had to guess, hardly anyone was actually paying attention to the dean.

It probably had something to do with Arachne and how she leaned against the wall with her arms crossed just behind Eva. She was only in her humanoid form, so it wasn’t like she was a gigantic spider hogging all the attention.

No one was particularly fearful. A few, obviously. That was to be expected given Arachne’s look and the look Arachne gave people who stared too long. The simple fact of the matter was that all the squeamish people had been filtered out. They were all off attending different schools.

Which made it somewhat amusing that this contest was starting up. They would be meeting with schools—hosting events even—where former Brakket Academy students who had fled or who been pulled out of school would be forced to confront their fears.

Another portion of the student body was staring at the figure next to Arachne. Specifically the figure. Eva doubted that anyone even realized that she was a demon. And that was in spite of the horns, wings, and tail. Catherine’s physical appearance hadn’t changed. It didn’t really need to in order to draw the eyes of pubescent humans.

Eva wasn’t sure what she was doing at the school. Showing off, perhaps. Anderson had to know that Martina was dead and Catherine unbound by her familiar bond.

Now that Eva thought about it, Lucy’s contract had likely terminated with Martina’s death as well. Something should probably be done about her. While Eva doubted that she would go on a rampage, it couldn’t hurt to be safe. But such a thing could probably wait. Lucy wasn’t the malicious type. She was just curious about the world outside her domain.

The real question was whether or not Anderson realized that anything was different about Catherine. She didn’t look different.

She felt different.

Before her ritual the other night, Catherine had had a presence to Eva’s senses. Nothing big. Eva could pick her out from the other demons so long as Zagan wasn’t too close. Now she was different. Bigger. Zagan would still overpower her entirely. Even Ylva was far greater than Catherine.

But Catherine was crisp and clear. A sort of sultry presence filling the auditorium.

While there hadn’t been any physical alterations like Eva had gained, Catherine had certainly not come out of her ritual unchanged. Even discounting her new emanating presence.

Catherine stood against the back of the room, chin high as she drank in the attention the students were giving her. She kept a haughty air about her, never quite glancing at any one student in particular.

Her attitude wasn’t anything new. Ever since the completion of her ritual, Catherine had been absolutely insufferable.

Being unable to sense her own presence, Eva couldn’t say how she stacked up to Catherine. Arachne insisted that Eva was far higher than Catherine in terms of power, but Eva wasn’t sure how far she could trust her friend not to exaggerate. Catherine hadn’t shown off any greatly enhanced abilities, so Eva wasn’t sure what she was acting superior over.

Initially, Eva had been somewhat put off by Catherine’s new haughty attitude. After thinking about it more, perhaps even a slight change was worthy of celebration after an eternity of stagnation. Because of that thought, Eva had decided not to complain too loudly. Catherine could have her moment of happiness.

For a while at least. Insufferable Catherine could only last so long before Eva took the word literally. If she kept it up… well, supposedly Eva was kneel-worthy now. Getting Catherine to kneel might be enough to knock the smug superiority out of her.

As for Eva herself, she didn’t really know if she had any new special abilities, but walls had bled around her multiple times in the past. Trying to consciously make that happen was her current project and an ability that still eluded her.

Arachne saying that she had been stuck in her largest form for a hundred years before figuring out how to shrink into a humanoid form hadn’t helped Eva’s mood.

“They are demons.”

Eva’s attention snapped to the dean, breaking her out of her thoughts. Whereas before only the few rows in the back had been facing in Arachne and Catherine’s direction, the entire auditorium swiveled around to gawk at Anderson’s words.

It wasn’t hard to guess what he had been saying immediately before, but Eva still wished she had heard what he had said. Probably just pointing out their guests to anyone who hadn’t noticed. The ones who had already been seated and forward facing when Eva, Catherine, and Arachne had come in towards the end of the seating.

“You need not fear,” Dean Anderson said, voice extra loud through the microphone to talk over the crowd’s growing noise. “Demon is a poor word filled with all sorts of negative connotations. They are beings from another plane of existence, true, but not necessarily evil and certainly not about to steal souls.”

Eva rolled her eyes. Most of the faces still turned in her direction paled at his words, turning all sorts of sickly colors.

More than a few gazes went from Arachne and Catherine straight to Eva.

Great job reassuring them, she thought, glancing off to one side to avoid all the eyes.

“In addition to the interscholastic contest of ability, we will be taking this year to assist in integrating a number of demons into human society around Brakket. Some as students. Others merely as residents. A few have expressed interest in more… contractual bonds with students who have the permission of their parents.” He added the last line after a brief glance towards Zoe.

The theory professor gave a firm nod of her head.

Eva frowned, staring at Anderson as he went on to quell more fears of the student body. Or attempting to, at least. He even took a few questions from the front row.

She didn’t need her fears quelled. She just needed to think for a few moments.

Maybe he didn’t need to summon demons at all. His words sounded like he already had a warehouse full of them that he’d be distributing around the city later on. Which, now that she was considering it, might make a great deal of sense.

It would be foolish in the extreme to just summon up a host of demons and expect them all to play nice. If he summoned them in advance, it would have given him time to watch them. Any that seemed unstable or overly hostile towards humans could have been sent back before even bringing them to Brakket. Assuming he didn’t want to kill the entire student body. But as long as he was careful in picking demons and had warehouses full of Lucys and Catherines, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.

Were they all under contract to not harm anyone?

But Eva wouldn’t like to see an assortment of Arachnes running around. One Arachne was fine. Eva trusted her not to act out against people. However, that likely depended on Eva. If Eva were gone or were to say that she didn’t care, Arachne might not be so kind to those around. She would probably still ignore humans for the most part, but ones that particularly got on her nerves might find themselves in the infirmary.

If they were lucky.

Zagans would be even worse. Hopefully Anderson wasn’t so foolish as to summon more pillars of Hell.

Some demons that Eva had summoned in the past weren’t ones she would like to see around regular people. Some she wouldn’t want to be around herself. The haunter, for instance. Just about anything that Devon summoned as well. If Anderson was planning on having a dozen of those waxy demons running around the place, Eva might just skip school for the rest of the year.

“Lynn wouldn’t be happy about this,” Shalise said in a near whisper.

Eva glanced to her side but didn’t say anything. Shalise was right, most likely. Eva could ask after school if she really felt like having a conversation with the former nun.

To the best of Eva’s knowledge, Lynn hadn’t actually gone to visit Shalise even once after her little rescue from the forest. A simple letter to say that she was alright was the extent of their communication. She had spent the rest of the time around the prison.

Much to Eva’s chagrin.

Lynn had decided to be useful by continuing her research into enigmas and Life itself—as strange as that sounded. Though cordial at the moment, neither liked or got along with the other. Eva tried to avoid her as much as possible and, judging by the fact that Eva had barely seen Lynn since chopping off her arm, Lynn was doing the same.

“Just wait until my family hears about it. I’m going to be grounded for sure. Or have dad escort me everywhere. He already threatened to do so, you know.”

This time, Eva raised an eyebrow as Juliana groaned. “They already know, don’t they? That was the whole point in having a meeting with Anderson and your mom.”

“He didn’t mention a word about ‘integrating’ demons into society. There are going to be demons everywhere. It’s going to be impossible to hide it from them.”

“Maybe he means only one or two,” Shalise said, voice lacking any sort of conviction.

“There are twelve.”

As one, everyone turned their heads to glance at Jordan. Even Irene and Shelby turned to look.

“Though seven are looking to find a suitable master for a familiar bond. Eagerly looking.”

“You’ve met them then?” Eva asked. “Any that seem… troublesome?”

“I can’t say for sure. None have been homicidal in my presence. Most were content if given tasks by my father. Busy work, things to pass the time. Of course, they might be deceiving me for all I know. Father has a contract with each of them at the moment to dictate their behavior while around the academy, so we shouldn’t have to worry too much.”

“At least until one manages to get out of its contract.”

Arachne had managed to get out of her contract with Devon and create one with Eva thanks to a wording error on Devon’s part. If Devon, the master of demonology, could make an error like that, who was to say that Anderson couldn’t?

Of course, Devon had likely been lax in his vigilance. Arachne was a demon who he had frequently summoned in the past for more than just Eva’s treatment. She was the only demon that Eva had known him to have summoned, allowed out of the shackles, and not dominated. At least until the carnivean. Had he used another demon that night, he would have probably been more careful about the wording of the contract.

Jordan didn’t respond to Eva’s suspicion. He just shrugged his shoulders before looking back to his father up on the stage.

“None of them are named Willie,” Juliana said after a few moments, “right?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Good. Then I’m fine with it.”

Anderson continued his speech, never quite giving out enough information to interest Eva while still allaying fears of the rest of the students. It took a while, but he eventually moved off the subject of demons. The rest of his speech consisted of simple announcements and notifications that would be standard for any school. Changes in staff and important dates.

Whatever was happening with the interscholastic contest was still to be decided.

The only thing that immediately stood out to Eva was the date the demons were arriving.

Two weeks from now. Halfway through September.

— — —

Catherine grit her teeth together. The moment Anderson’s speech had ended, swarms of mortals encircled her, blocking off any and all avenues of escape as they invaded her personal space. Their mouths opened, spilling forth inane questions and comments.

None were showing her the proper fear and respect that she deserved.

Even Arachne had taken on a more respectful tone while speaking to her. Somewhat. Probably.

It was really hard to say. They didn’t speak all that much. Before or since.

Glancing to her side, she found Arachne gritting her teeth almost as much as Catherine was. Maybe more.

The children were mostly avoiding the armored spider. That was to be expected. Even before the ritual, few demons could hope to attract as much attention as a succubus. Even one as lowly as Catherine had been. It was only natural that she be the center of attention.

But whatever Arachne’s opinions towards Catherine were, they barely mattered. The ritual had worked. Catherine could feel it deep within her chest. A swelling of something more than she had been before.

The thing that did matter was Arachne’s slowly clenching and unclenching fists. She was about to tear somebody apart. While Catherine really didn’t care what happened to most of the mortal children, she really didn’t want to get into a fight. She had ritual circles to improve and maybe a game or two to play.

Now that this first ritual was complete, she felt like she deserved a little bit of unwinding downtime.

Letting out just a hair of that swell within her chest had the entire auditorium falling silent. The children looked at her with lovestruck eyes, mouths still gaping open yet silent.

“Do me a favor,” Catherine said, injecting just a hair of magic into her voice. “Go to your classrooms and leave me alone.”

A few vacant nods followed before the children started scrambling off to follow her orders.

Catherine started chuckling. She couldn’t help it. The spell would wear off after a few minutes, but she had just charmed an entire auditorium full of mortals like it was nothing.

The adults at the far end of the room were still around. Catherine had specifically excluded them from her spell. Some were staring at her with mild disapproval. Others were the opposite; perhaps because she hadn’t killed anyone.

Really, it was absurdly easy to exceed expectations when expectations couldn’t possibly be any lower.

Zoe had her lips pressed thin. Despite her obvious disapproval, she gave Catherine a brief nod of her head.

Catherine rolled her eyes. She didn’t need the professor’s approval.

There were a few others in the auditorium. A couple of the students who had participated in the diablery class the previous year. They would have spent enough time around Catherine to understand what she had done and were able to resist it. Catherine had no doubts that she could ensnare them should she wish. All it would take was a little more power.

Eva and her group of friends hadn’t moved either. Catherine had not expected her spell to work on Eva and wasn’t sure that more power would be the answer. Though Catherine had become stronger, Eva felt stronger still. Even if the girl didn’t act like it.

More worrying was that Devon said that there were still treatments to undergo. At least one though possibly as many as three. His original schedule had been thrown off with the death of Arachne. He hadn’t locked down the exact functions or limitations of the new one just yet.

And if Eva decided to perform more rituals of the type that Catherine was doing…

Catherine shuddered. She didn’t want to think of what might result. There had to be a limit to the power one could gain. But where was that limit? For all Catherine knew, it was far enough out that it wouldn’t really matter that there was a limit because nothing but a Power would be able to stand up to Eva.

Of course, if Catherine continued with her rituals, maybe that would be her instead.

Whatever the future held, Catherine was still just a little giddy at the moment. She walked up to Eva and glanced around.

Jordan, Irene, and Eva had all come out of that unaffected. Irene had her arm clamped around her sister’s shoulder, keeping her from wandering off to class. Eva’s blond friend was rubbing her forehead while Eva had an arm on the other’s shoulder, similar to Irene.

Catherine didn’t much care for any of them. She looked right towards Eva and grinned. “Did you see that? The whole room fell under my sway in an instant.”

“You couldn’t do something like that before?”

“Maybe to a small group of people. This was a whole auditorium. At least a hundred people, right?”

Eva glanced over to her friends before she shrugged. “No idea. Do that many people even attend Brakket?”

“They do. Trust me. I used to be the secretary here.”

“You never even did your job. You just played games the whole time.”

“She did enough of her job to cause trouble now that she is gone.”

Catherine scowled as she turned to Anderson. He had left the stage and was walking straight towards her. Or as straight as he could walk with all the auditorium seats in the way.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come back?”

“Quite certain,” Catherine said. “Replacing me cannot be that difficult. A monkey could do the job.”

“Even monkeys get nervous when hearing about demons around. Truly an unfortunate name for your species. Imagine if you were named ‘hoogoozlaps’ instead of demons. No one would fear you or take you seriously in the least.”

Catherine, and the children still around, stared. Anderson wasn’t one to make a joke. At least, Catherine hadn’t known him to. Perhaps he had always been so ticked off with Martina that his humor had fled.

That was something that Catherine could understand.

But if this was his sense of humor, perhaps he should have left it alone.

“I think I will stick with demon,” she said after a moment of awkward silence.

“Very well. Anyway, thank you for coming. I know you don’t have to follow my directions at the moment.”

Catherine narrowed her eyes. She didn’t much like his phrasing. At the moment sounded like he intended to get her under his thumb. “I don’t appreciate being made into a zoo animal for your students. I came solely because you offered a computer.”

“Don’t worry. You served your purpose well enough. Dismissing the students as you did helped immensely as well. It calmed a great deal of my professors, though I did hear a comment demeaning mind control. But I can see that this does not interest you,” he said as Catherine just glared. “If you’ll follow me, I can get the computer I promised you.”

Finally, Catherine smiled. She took a single step before a thought crossed her mind.

“Eva,” Catherine said, “if you and Arachne would accompany me. Perhaps along with your mortal friends.”

The semi-demon in question blinked before slowly nodding her head. “I don’t have a problem with that. Zoe is my first class and I’m sure that she would understand. Why?”

“Computers have many small components. I’m strong enough to carry just about anything, but carrying so much can be tedious. A few extra hands would be appreciated.”

So Catherine said. In truth, she did not want to be alone with Anderson after that comment of his. It might be completely innocuous, but Catherine was unwilling to take chances.

Anderson didn’t look upset in the slightest, lending credence to the idea that it had been an innocent comment.

Their entourage had made it through the school and into the offices area unmolested. With the classes starting, the hallways were empty.

There was a cardboard box on top of Catherine’s old secretary desk. From a brief glance inside, she found it to be full of her the secretary computer. That suited her just fine. Everything was already customized for her.

Though her excuse for having Eva come along with her now sounded somewhat weak, but Catherine really didn’t care what they thought so long as she was left free.

“The other reason I asked you here was to ask a favor,” Anderson said. “I wanted to ask if you might meet with the demons I have coming in. Address a few questions and concerns.”

“Demons have concerns?” Catherine didn’t believe it. A nervous demon? Preposterous.

“This is something of a special batch. Selected specifically with the help of Zagan before his untimely disappearance.”

That had Catherine on edge. Anything Zagan came up with had to have some catch.

But maybe some of them would work well for her next ritual. Zagan had been the initiator for her ritual research. Perhaps he had thrown in a few demons that had special characteristics.

“What would I have to do?”

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006.030

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The tension in Irene’s muscles had to be reaching their peak. She felt like she had been exercising nonstop for the past two hours. Her body couldn’t possibly tense up any further.

Every impact against the shackles she had set up only caused her grip on her wand to tighten, proving that notion wrong. Every high-pitched whine had her arms shaking just a tiny bit more than they were before. Every cannon blast that followed the whine had her ears ringing and her vision blurring for a second or two afterwards.

Shelby, woken by one of the first cannon blast noises, had her own wand in her hand. Her free hand held Irene’s in a tight grip.

Jordan stood off to one side. His shadow curled around him on the ground and walls, ready to act at the first sign of trouble.

While the noises left Irene with a momentary headache, each seemed to do far worse to Jordan and Lucy. Jordan actually swayed in place for a few seconds. Lucy had given up any pretense of maintaining her human form. She was just a puddle of spaghetti on the ground between Irene and Eva’s room.

Early on, it hadn’t been so bad. The creatures in Eva’s room would make the occasional noise. They were loud enough that most of the Rickenbacker dormitory had woken up, but infrequent enough that the students felt they could wander past and gawk like Eva’s room was some sort of zoo.

That had ended rather quickly once the creatures started their attempts to escape.

Irene wanted to run with the other students. This wasn’t her mess. Lucy was here–though she didn’t look so reliable at the moment. Catherine had asked her to write out the shackles. She hadn’t spoken a word about sticking around and ensuring that nothing escaped.

The safety of everyone would probably be better assured if she just ran and found more of the security guards. Preferably ones that wouldn’t turn to spaghetti upon hearing the noises the creatures made.

But something kept Irene’s eyes glued to the shackles. Some otherworldly feeling that the moment she turned her back, the shackles would break and she would be caught, trampled, and possibly eaten.

Thus far, her shackles were holding admirably. They were a lot stronger than the ones she had set up to contain her first summon. Even the three beasts working together couldn’t break out. Irene might have taken a notion of pride in her work if she wasn’t so concerned about what might happen if they did fail.

One of those three beasts was actually on its side, face bloodied and raw from charging head on into the shackles repeatedly. The other two were more prodding at them than ramming themselves into them.

It was almost disturbing how intelligent they appeared.

“What’s taking so long?”

Irene jumped. Her sister’s voice came just as one of the creatures scraped a few tendrils around the barrier. For a moment, she had thought it shattered. It took her mind a second to process that she was hearing words for the first time in a long time.

“Taking so long?”

“Shouldn’t more security guards have shown up by now?” Shelby asked with a nervous glance at Lucy. “Or a professor? One of the others had to have told someone.”

“You saw the sky.” Irene bit back the tremble in her voice. She wanted to keep strong for her sister’s sake, if nothing else. A moot effort, in all likelihood. Shelby wasn’t so oblivious that she would miss how tense Irene was or the slight shakes in her arms.

Then again, Shelby wasn’t the epitome of steady at the moment either.

“Who knows what all is going on outside. They probably decided that Lucy could handle such a small thing on her own while they deal with other matters.”

“Well, I disagree. I can’t believe you knew about that,” she nodded towards the doorway. She might have been gesturing towards Lucy, but it was difficult to tell with just a nod.

Irene clamped her mouth shut. Shelby could make all the inferences she wanted, but Irene couldn’t offer up any response.

“We’ll be fine,” Jordan said, stepping up next to Shelby. “If anything happens, I can have the three of us at the stairwell in seconds. It won’t be hard to run.”

“Should we run?” Irene asked, grateful for the change in topic and not willing to let it slip away with just what he had said. “If these things escape, they could go on a rampage. Maybe some students haven’t got out of the dorms.”

She hated being contrary. Especially because the contrary position was to stay. But, as she had thought about earlier, she just couldn’t leave. It would be nice to be any other ignorant student, able to run off and bury their head under a pile of sand.

Her eyes had been opened to a larger world.

Could she run knowing that a single one of these creatures had held a being like Catherine for as long as it had, all while fighting off a number of older students?

Actually, Irene considered as she thought back, yes I can.

Even if they stayed, what could they do? The older students hadn’t done any good until they worked together to freeze the creature. She might have slowed it down by manipulating the tiles at its feet, but that had been with the assistance of Randal.

Irene had no idea what room or even which dormitory building Randal was housed in.

“Wait,” Irene said before either of the others could call her crazy. “We can’t fight them. But maybe we can trap them? More permanently than they are now, at least.”

The ice had been fairly permanent. Long lasting enough to get everyone away safely and Eva in to set up her shackles.

“You have a plan?”

No. “Maybe.”

None of them were water mages. Though none of them would be able to conjure up the water necessary anyway. Maybe they could have run the water in one of the dorm rooms.

A moot point without any of them being a water mage.

Irene’s mind immediately latched onto what she had done to the creature back in the diablery class. Turning the tiled floor into a sort of mud-like quicksand to hold them in place. It wouldn’t be easy. Tiles were just rock, but rock was far more difficult to manipulate than dirt and loose earth.

True, she had needed Randal’s help during class. This wasn’t class and the creatures were not already loose. She had the time to concentrate.

Her arm being properly set into her shoulder couldn’t hurt either.

She didn’t know how an air mage would help contribute, but Jordan could help. He was an earth mage.

Moving a few steps down the hall, Irene pointed her wand at the floor. “Step back, near me please. Jordan, help me out. I’m making quicksand.”

Once they complied, Irene set to pushing her magic into the floor. Lucy was left on the other side, still between the shackles and them, but Irene wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the demon. She didn’t exactly have a shovel to scrape her off the floor.

She’d probably be alright. She was a demon.

To protect them properly, the quicksand would need to stretch the entire width of the hallway as well as be a few feet long. She couldn’t risk them jumping over it. “Shelby, if you have any ideas on how to help, feel free to jump in.”

“Into the quicksand?”

Irene shot a glare at her sister. “You know what I meant.”

The quicksand wouldn’t be deep. Maybe an inch or two at most. That was the problem with working on a building. But, unlike regular quicksand, hers could be hardened as the monsters trampled over it. She should be able to stretch it up and trap them. At least for a short amount of time.

“Perhaps you could set up more shackles on this side,” Jordan said. He had his own wand out, pointing at the floor. “They’d get caught in the quicksand and then have a whole other set of shackles to break through. With all the trouble they’re having with the first one, it should buy plenty of time to find other solutions. Like grabbing a few teachers or security guards.”

With a slight groan, Irene slapped her forehead. She should have been doing that anyway. The entire hallway, lined with nonstop shackles. It would take these things days to escape had she done that instead of sitting around watching them.

But she kept her mouth clamped shut. After rubbing her forehead slightly, she went back to liquefying the tiles without so much as a nod.

In retrospect, she should have sent everyone away while drawing the initial shackles. It was somewhat surprising that she could. The contract specified spoken or written words, so sigils and circles must not have counted. Maybe she could use sign language to tell her friends what she had been up to.

Of course, that plan required learning sign language. Worse, it involved Shelby learning sign language. That was never going to happen.

Shelby gripped her arm. “Did you hear that?”

No, I was concentrating. Rather than listen further, Irene hastened her efforts with the floor. If it was nothing, then great, oh well. If it was something, then she didn’t want to pause to listen.

Manipulating the floor was going better than she had expected. Jordan was helping, but she could feel her own magic flowing much easier than it had when she had first failed at summoning the imp. Maybe because she had done this before? Or she was just getting noticeably better at magic in the two months since the previous incident.

“I’m serious,” Shelby said, tightening her grip. “Like glass cracking.”

The all too familiar sound of her shackles failing echoed through the hallway. Maybe it was because she had turned her back or because she had walked out of sight of the creatures. She couldn’t say for sure.

“They’re coming,” Irene whispered as the first creature rounded the corner of Eva’s room.

It had the unfortunate fate to tread on top of Lucy.

Her limp tentacles jumped like they had been electrocuted. As one, they lifted up and encircled the creature, mimicking the bulb of a tulip.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Shelby groaned.

Irene might have been as well, had she not noticed the second creature charging around the side of Lucy. It completely ignored the pig-like screams and pieces of violet-tinted flesh flying out of the mass of tentacles.

It reached the edge of her quicksand and jumped.

Gripping Shelby’s arm, Irene pulled her sister back. Her moat was nowhere near long enough to stop it.

Time seemed to slow down as its round face filled with sharp teeth flew towards them, its tentacles flailing around in the air.

Irene’s vision went black.

This is the end, she thought in a moment of tranquil despair. I’ve failed. And I’ve dragged Shelby down with me.

Shelby’s scream only compounded her despair tenfold.

Until, underneath Shelby’s scream, she heard a sound not unlike a hunk of meat being dropped on the floor.

The darkness passed over her and she could see again. Shelby at her side, eyes wide in horror. The walls and the floor.

And Jordan. He stood just in front of them. A wall of darkness stretching from one side of the hallway to the other.

The darkness collapsed after a moment with a gasp from Jordan, perspiration dripping from his face.

There was the creature, lying on its side in her moat of quicksand.

Suppressing the desire to let loose a hysterical laugh, Irene caught her wits in an instant. Gripping her wand, she hardened the tile as fast as she could. It was much easier than liquefying it in the first place.

Not all of the creature was stuck. At least half of the snake-like tendrils coming off its back were free. And they were not pleased.

The tiles cracked. Even with Irene repairing them as fast and as best as she was able to, it wouldn’t hold for long.

“Lucy!” Irene shouted. “Listen to the sound of my voice and come here. Crawl towards me please!”

Another crack in the tile. Irene tried to repair it as well, but a third crack.

Lucy spat out something from her bulb of tentacles. A violet-stained slab of meat.

“Hurry!”

The mass of tentacles stretched and inchwormed along the ground. Slowly. Too slowly.

A chunk of tile came off the creature. It clambered to its feet and glared at Irene.

That was the last thing it did.

Lucy’s tentacles came down on top of it. Unlike last time, there was no curtain of tentacles shielding them from the sight.

Thin strands of tentacles binded themselves together into thicker tendrils. They started with the creature’s own tentacles, to keep them from fighting back. Even after pulling a tentacle from its back–releasing a spray of blood as they did so–the tentacles tried to fight. Lucy was having none of it. She squeezed and crushed, pulled and rent until no single piece was larger than her thumb.

At a sudden gagging sound from Shelby, Irene slapped her hand over her sister’s eyes.

There was still one more creature, but it hadn’t shown up yet. Still incapacitated from ramming into the shackles over and over again, most likely. Irene needed to go and fix those before anything more came through.

But for now, she would stick by Shelby’s side and keep her comforted. At least until Lucy had finished with the creature.

As Lucy started on the creature’s legs, Irene held her sister tighter. She wished she had extra arms to cover Shelby’s ears. Yet, she never averted her own eyes.

For some reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to look away.

— — —

“Eva!”

Zoe caught the girl before she could collapse to the ground. As expected, she was shivering and seizing up, unable to put strength in her arms. Taking care not to bump her head, Zoe gently placed Eva against the floor of the women’s ward gate room.

With Eva on the floor, Zoe took a good look at her eyes behind her mask. While her pupils were still thin slits, her irises were no longer bright and burning, having returned to their usual red.

The blood coating Zoe’s arms and most of Eva had also stopped moving. It was still there, just inert.

Small mercies, Zoe thought. At least neither of them were in danger from… whatever Eva had been about to do.

“Wayne?” she called out before realizing her mistake.

Wayne wasn’t here. He wouldn’t be here and neither should she be here. In her panic to get them out of the cathedral, she had skipped past the meeting place entirely and went straight back to the women’s ward.

Cursing under her breath, Zoe pulled out her cellphone. Some of the black blood on her hands smeared over the screen. Zoe did not stop typing even for a second to wipe it away.

Out. @ women’s ward.

She sent the text away before anything else. If Wayne went back in thinking that she hadn’t escaped and something happened to him… Zoe doubted she would forgive herself.

Arachne dead?

She wasn’t entirely sure if dead was the right word to use.

Eva panicked, had to escape.

Setting the phone to the side, Zoe turned her attention back to the girl on the ground.

Even taking into account the effect that her teleportation had on Eva, she had been still for far too long.

“Are you alright, Eva? Can you–”

Zoe’s voice was cut off by her cellphone buzzing against the stone floor of the women’s ward.

Injuries?

Short and to the point.

Zoe considered the question for just a moment. She had a raking pain in her lower back from where Eva’s claws sunk into her skin. She didn’t think that the girl had intended to hurt her, but had simply done so as a reaction to Zoe unexpectedly tackling her.

Eva, on the other hand, was injured. Given that she was covered in Arachne’s blood and that her own blood looked almost exactly the same, it was a bit difficult to tell exactly where she was injured. The few shards of carapace sticking out of her chest were definite signs of injury, however.

Bits of Arachne’s head.

None looked too deep or too large, however. With how well she could heal minor cuts using blood magic, Zoe doubted that she was in any real danger.

Zoe shuddered at the thought as she sent a reply.

Minor wounds on both of us. Nothing life threatening. Bring a few potions anyway. Serena not keyed in, Eva in no shape to do so at the moment. Leave her behind.

“Eva,” Zoe said as she set her phone back down, “can you hear me?”

“I can.”

The answer was cold. No real emotion in it.

“Are you injured? Do you need anything.”

“Arachne,” she said in the same tone of voice.

“Is a demon,” Zoe said softly. She reached up and tried to remove her mask, wanting to look down and offer a reassuring smile to Eva. Only, she found it difficult to remove. Prying her fingers under the seam was almost impossible due to how closely it had been molded to fit her face.

Instead, she reached out and gave Eva’s shoulder a squeeze. “She’ll be fine. Right? Demons don’t die permanently.”

Eva shook her head side to side. Her long hair splayed out behind her own mask bunched up as it rubbed against the ground. “It will be years. At least. Maybe longer. I’ve never,” she choked over her words. “I’ve never seen her die. She hasn’t died for as long as I’ve known her.”

Before Zoe could offer any comforting words about how death was a natural part of life–though that might not be entirely applicable in this exact situation–Eva grit her teeth. She balled up a fist and sent up a scattering of dust as she rammed it into the floor.

“I’m not a stranger to death. I’ve seen people die. I’ve killed people. Ones who weren’t coming back. It’s just a shock. Seeing my friend’s head explode in front of me.” She shook her head again, further mussing up her hair. “Not something you prepare for.

“And now she’s gone. Floating in a void–in Void until she manages to put her head back together.” Eva shuddered. “I can’t–I don’t want to imagine what it is like. Will she even come back? Demons without purpose and drive lose their minds when they die, stuck in the abyss of their own heads.” Eva gave a dark chuckle. “At least, that’s what Arachne said once.”

Zoe pressed her lips together. She wasn’t enthusiastic about Arachne, but she had to say something.

“She has you,” she said, lightly flicking the forehead of Eva’s mask while idly wondering if the girl was ever going to get rid of them. “If she cares for you half as much as she says she does, she’ll pull through. You just need to be ready to receive her when she gets back.”

Eva was smiling. Zoe couldn’t see it through her mask, but the mask did have holes for her eyes. Her eyes crinkled the slightest bit. It wasn’t a bright, tooth filled smile. But maybe just enough to make her feel better.

At least, that is what Zoe thought until the crinkles around Eva’s eyes vanished.

“Void is being attacked. We’re ceasing all summoning. Even Ylva is cutting off ties between the mortal realm and Hell. Even if Arachne does pull herself back together in record time, she may be stranded on the other side.”

“I accepted a beacon from her,” Zoe said slowly. “Did she use it without renewing it with me?”

Zoe could hear Eva’s mouth opening, but it was a moment before she said anything. When she did speak, her voice had the smallest hints of hope. “I don’t think so. As far as I know, she has been in her room for months barring tonight and when Lynn Cross attacked.”

“See?” Zoe said with a small smile. “She’ll be back. And I highly doubt that she’ll bother with staying in Hell even if everyone told her not to come back.”

Eva opened her mouth, only to jump slightly as Wayne appeared in the gate room. He held his emergency sack of potions in one arm and a smaller vial of dark liquid.

Probably far too many potions. Zoe’s text had asked for a few potions. Not all of them.

For a moment, he just looked between the two. Eva, lying flat on her back and Zoe sitting over her.

Zoe did not miss his eyes darting to the wound on her back. She couldn’t actually read his expression as he still had his mask on as well, but what she could see of his eyes did not look pleasant.

She hadn’t actually seen her wound for herself, choosing instead to focus on Eva. Following his eyes, she found four thin lines of red along with her clothing torn around the area.

The actual part where Eva’s claws had first hit her back would have required a mirror or far too much twisting. As it was, just moving to look sent a sharp pain through her side.

Nothing near as bad as when she had been hit by lightning from the inquisitors, and even further from the agony she endured at the hands of the jezebeth and carnivean.

Shaking the pain off, Zoe met Wayne’s eyes. “Just a scratch,” she said, voice firm and leaving no room for argument.

Eva didn’t need to be shouted at by Wayne at the moment.

Without a word, he reached into the sack and withdrew two vials. He tossed both to Zoe. He dropped the dark vial right on Eva’s chest.

“Serena’s blood,” he said. “Add it to your wards. I’d rather have her here than back at home. If they do find a way to follow us, proximity to Ylva should discourage any ideas they might get. So long as she is around, that is.”

Eva held up the vial, her first real movement since arriving, and turned it over in front of her eyes. “Will it work? This blood is… dead. I think.”

“You’re the blood mage.”

“Yeah, but I’ve never met a vampire before. I mean, I can try. I’ve no real objections to her being here. Just, maybe start her outside the prison and walk her in slowly. Any tingling or pain and she should stop immediately. Do vampires even feel pain?”

Wayne just shrugged.

“Maybe have her walk with her arm out. If her arm explodes, don’t go in any further.”

“That works.”

Wayne took a moment to glance around the room. “You did get that thing we went for, right?”

Eva started, jumping a hair into the air.

Placing a hand on her chest, Zoe shook her head. “It’s alright. I got it before we left.”

Taking out her dagger and pointing at the ground, Zoe pulled the obelisk out of its storage. It appeared an inch above the ground. The loud thud that it made as it hit the cement floor was enough to send a few cracks through the ground.

Thankfully, the obelisk itself was undamaged.

“Hope this was worth it,” he said. “Time to lay low for the next ten years again.”

Eva pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Yeah,” she said. “I hope it works.”

For a moment, a silence fell over the three. Until a grunt from Wayne shattered the peace.

“Now quit moping around, Spencer. Get these damn masks off us and go get Ward out of Hell.”

Eva jumped at his voice. She shot him a glare, but nodded. Both of their masks melted off their faces after Eva fingered her dagger.

“I’ll add Serena’s blood to the wards before,” she trailed off as she glanced at the obelisk. Her eyes flicked up to meet with Zoe’s. “It’s heavy. Even for me. I might need help.”

“I can levitate it, at least partially.” Zoe didn’t hesitate in her response. She could almost imagine the thoughts going through Eva’s mind. Arachne could have lifted it without breaking a sweat. “Landing in your domain might be awkward, but we can manage.”

“Great,” Wayne said. His tone was almost sarcastic and he spoke with a frown, but he didn’t say anything more about her going to Hell again.

Maybe this time, I’ll have a chance to look around and inspect some things, Zoe thought. Her tutoring sessions with Shalise were just that, tutoring. All of Shalise’s classes compressed into the span of an hour or two every other week left no time to really get a thorough understanding of how Hell worked. I’ll need to grab a notebook.

“I’ll bring Serena in five minutes. Be finished by then.” Without waiting for an acknowledgment, Wayne vanished with a burst of cold air.

“Better get started,” Eva said with a sigh as she climbed to her feet. “I hope Nel finished with that salt.”

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