Tag Archives: Kines

002.003

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“Come on, it’ll be fun.”

Eva shared a glance with Juliana. Both girls sighed.

Shalise quirked her head to one side as she shoved a spoonful of lasagna and bean pie into her mouth.

Eva couldn’t actually see the meal, but she could smell it. She was very glad she didn’t often get hungry for lunch.

“I’m going,” Jordan said.

“Me too,” Shelby piped up quickly.

Max shook his head. After finishing his food–someone had mentioned his bad habit over the last few months, Eva wasn’t sure who–he said, “I don’t think I’ve got a good enough grasp on magic to even start using it in fighting.”

“No, not for me,” Irene shook her head. “I plan to be an artificer. Not much fighting in my future, I hope.”

“You never know when knowing how to fight will save your life,” Shalise said sagely. “I’m going.”

With a long sigh, Eva said, “I’ll go. If it turns into Zoe Baxter fighting us for two hours, I’m quitting.”

“Same,” Juliana said.

“Good.” Shalise looked over to Irene and Max. “You two sure you don’t want to go?”

“I’ll be using the time to study and practice, I think.”

“If it turns out to be something amazing,” Irene said, “We can start going to it later.”

“If you’re sure.”

The bell rang and everyone stood up.

Everyone except Eva.

Juliana and Shalise both stopped and looked back.

“Go on without me. I don’t think I’m getting much out of alchemy lessons these days.”

“I didn’t mean to take your place,” Shalise said.

“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t getting much out of them towards the end of last semester either.” Eva gave her a smile. “I’d just feel bad if I left Juliana alone. With you here, I don’t have to feel bad at all.”

“What are you going to do?” Juliana asked.

“Head to the dorms, or maybe my place. Check up on things there.”

“You’re not hunting bulls with wings, are you?”

Eva almost laughed at that. “Run around in the cold for who knows how long? I don’t think so. Like I said last week, I don’t think it is such a big deal.”

“Good.” Shalise smiled. Her smile turned stern. “Don’t make skipping a habit.”

Eva didn’t respond with anything but a smile and a wave.

They took that as the cue to run and catch up with the others.

Eva stayed in her seat for a few minutes, watching as the rest of the students walked by.

More than a few students gave her odd looks. Even a full two months after she’d come back to school, she was still the freshmen freak show. A blind girl who never took off her gloves yet still managed to get around fine–for the most part.

Not that Eva cared. The opinions of her friends mattered to her, but only just. The opinions of random people whose circulatory systems she couldn’t be bothered to memorize? Not even worth thinking about.

As the lunchroom cleared, one of the circulatory systems walked with purpose towards Eva’s table. An adult, one she didn’t know. Or perhaps a very big student.

A nun, Eva decided as she looked closer. All of the nuns had something right in the center of their chests. Something no one else had. It wasn’t very big, maybe the size of a ping-pong ball.

Whatever it was, it had blood flowing through it.

“Shouldn’t you be heading to class?”

“Should be. Not going to,” Eva said. She crossed her arms and leaned against the edge of the table. “Shouldn’t you be hunting necromancers?”

Eva grit her teeth just thinking about it. It was her fault Sawyer got away. She’d been too distracted with his friend. Too unused to her new sight to pay attention to her surroundings.

The metal of the table leg creaked from where she’d had it gripped. Eva took a deep, calming breath before resuming her eyeless glare at the nun.

“The Sister’s business is none of yours.”

“I can say the same to you.” Eva shooed the nun away with her hands.

The nun didn’t move.

“Is there something else you needed?”

“I know what you are.”

“Yes,” Eva sighed. “You and most of your order, if their stares are anything to go by.”

Despite her words, Eva couldn’t help but feel the hairs on her neck rise. She couldn’t move towards the knife on her back without being obvious about it, but a vial of Arachne’s blood could be opened easily under the table.

“Why would you do that to yourself?”

The question caught her off guard. Eva expected her to fight, but she almost sounded concerned. Her glare–if it was a glare, a thing not always easy to tell without eyes–remained steady in either case.

“You’re going to have to be more specific.” Eva cast her awareness around the room, there weren’t any stragglers save for a handful of people in the adjoining kitchen. They were probably too far away. Just in case they weren’t, Eva added, “not too specific. I’d rather not have the whole school know.”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“I’ve done a lot of things to myself that I imagine nuns would take issue with.”

Her straight face turned downwards and a frown spread across it. “Your hands,” she said softly.

“Ah, that.” Eva brought one hand out from under the table and flexed the fingers. The other held onto an opened vial of blood.

The nun took a quarter-step back.

“Some terrible person decided I didn’t need hands anymore. Naturally, I disagreed. When a passing creature offered new hands with no strings attached, I accepted.” More or less anyway. Mostly less. Close enough for the nun in any case.

“There are always strings attached.”

“In this case, there weren’t. Though I imagine there might be some strings when I get around to replacing my eyes.”

“You’re planning on doing it again?”

“And my toes,” Eva said, pointing downwards. The nun wouldn’t be able to see it, not unless she was doing the thing Sister Cross already did. “I plan to use the stringless method for those, however.”

The nun gave Eva a sad look–as far as she could tell. “One day you will look back on your corruption and weep.”

Not likely, Eva thought with a small smile. She was rather looking forward to her blood being as powerful as Arachne’s for blood magic.

Another thought occurred to Eva. “Are you offering assistance? I’ve heard the Elysium’s healers aren’t too bad at their job.”

Eva wasn’t sure if she was supposed to know about healers. The nun’s reaction didn’t turn hostile, however.

The nun shifted nervously. She glanced side to side herself before answering in a whisper. “There are only six in existence at any one time. Petitioning one to heal you would,” she sighed, “be a waste of time.” The nun placed her hand on her chin. “Perhaps if you were to join us…”

“You’d accept someone like me?” If her earlier question had caught Eva off guard, recruiting her threw her for a complete loop.

“You would have to undergo cleansing. Very thorough cleansing. You might not survive.” The nun sighed. “No. You almost assuredly would perish. But that would be more desirable than your current path. If you did manage to survive, a healer would surely see to you.”

Eva almost responded–in the negative of course; even if surviving was assured, she wouldn’t take it–but something made her stop and jump ten feet into the air.

“I’ll not have you stealing one of my students in the middle of the school day,” a voice all but shouted behind Eva’s back. “Leave at once.”

The nun opened her mouth, about to say something. It snapped shut almost immediately. She turned on her heel and stalked straight out of the cafeteria.

Eva cast her sight around as she turned despite already having recognized the voice. She never remembered being startled this easily when she had eyes even though she couldn’t see behind her at any time. Keeping constant awareness with her new method of seeing needed work and practice.

“Miss Eva.”

“Zoe Baxter.”

“You’re the last person I would have thought they would recruit.” Eva could tell that her eyes narrowed the slightest amount. “You’re not thinking of joining them, are you?”

“I don’t know,” Eva said with a ponderous expression. She might as well have a little fun. “They offered to heal my eyes.”

“Eva,” Zoe’s teeth grit before she let out a sigh. “I know things have been hard. I don’t think you would be happy–”

“You don’t want me to remain blind when avenues of recovery are at hand, do you?”

Zoe’s eyes narrowed again. “You don’t intend to join.”

Eva let out a short laugh. She overdid that last line. “Of course not. Not even if she didn’t say I would assuredly die being ‘cleansed,’ whatever that means. I plan to acquire new eyes without a high chance of death.”

“Eva,” Zoe Baxter started in a warning tone. “You’re going to wind up kicked out of school.” Her voice dropped to a hushed whisper. “I’ll be kicked out as well if anyone finds the stack of books I’ve got.”

“Don’t look at me,” Eva said as she held her hands up, “I didn’t force you to take them.”

“I’m reading them because demons,” she hissed almost subvocally, “are deeply related to the well-being of a certain student.”

“Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying reading them. I know at least three of the ones I lent you had nothing to do with anything about me.”

“Academically as a theorist only,” she said standing up to her full height. “It isn’t often a pile of books of that type are available to me.”

You keep telling yourself that, Eva thought with not a small amount of amusement in her mental voice. Not that she enjoyed corrupting her teacher. Really. Eva was just pleased that she hadn’t alerted demon hunters or even kicked her out of school.

“Although, you probably shouldn’t talk about things like that with me.” When Zoe Baxter raised her eyebrows, Eva continued, “Sister Cross stopped by on Christmas. She mentioned that I was still under surveillance.”

“I thought you improved your anti-scrying runes?”

“I thought so too. As far as I can tell, they’re not doing anything unless Sister Cross is lying.”

“I doubt it,” Zoe said as she crossed her arms. “Not with Shalise being so close to you.”

Eva stretched back. She still hadn’t told either Juliana or Shalise about Sister Cross’ daughter. Zoe Baxter was her sole confidant in that matter. She apparently knew Shalise was more than a regular orphan, she just didn’t know who the parent was.

“What are you doing anyway, sluffing classes?”

“What about you? Don’t you have a class right now.”

“I have an open period, you don’t. I know you have class with Way–Mr. Lurcher.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t call that a class so much as a waste of three hours.”

“Miss Eva, alchemy is a fundamental–”

“I would love to do alchemy, but I think I’ll learn more back at my place working on my own brewing than sitting to the side and not touching anything.”

“Mr. Lurcher is still not letting you participate?”

“Nope. I don’t mind though. On weekends I have Arachne read me the alchemy lab book and I go over the things in class. I was considering skipping class and heading straight to my place.”

Zoe Baxter’s mouth tipped into a frown at the mention of Arachne. “You still associate with that creature?”

“Please. She lived in the dorms for six months and never hurt anyone. Saved students, in fact.” Saved Shalise, at least. At Eva’s command.

That counted.

“You’ve mentioned as much before. She killed a nun and damaged school property.”

“We keep having the same argument, over and over again,” Eva sighed. “There were circumstances that night. If she hadn’t acted the way she had, I’d be dead.” Or worse. “Besides, the nuns were trying to kill her back.”

Zoe leaned over slightly, pointing a finger. “She’s a dangerous creature, Eva. The books agree with me on that.”

Eva raised her hands, wiggling the fingers lightly. “I’m a dangerous creature.”

“That isn’t the same and you know it,” she hissed.

A lot closer than you might realize, Eva thought.

“At least tell me you’ve gotten rid of the other one.”

“Same answer as last time.”

Zoe’s teeth ground together. She took a seat next to Eva at the table. “Eva, your pet tarantula is one thing. If it got out of hand, it could do a lot of damage, but it is ultimately containable. For the most part.

“Your other ‘pet’ isn’t the same. If she got out of hand–”

“She won’t,” Eva said firmly. She double checked the area. No one was around to overhear. “Ylva doesn’t want to go around killing everything. She won’t even leave the cell house without asking me.”

“Why not?”

“She views the prison as part of my ‘domain’ and will not encroach on it without my permission. It’s a d–creature thing.”

“But she can leave if she wants to.” Zoe didn’t leave room for question.

“That’s why Arachne is there.”

“Can Arachne stop her? Contain or defeat her?”

Eva didn’t answer. She didn’t have one. Arachne would say yes without hesitating, but Eva couldn’t be so sure.

“At the very least, Eva, you need safeguards. I’ve been reading about shackles. You know how to do them, right?” At Eva’s nod, Zoe said, “can you place shackles around the entire building? Or even the entire prison, if that is possible.”

That would be massive. Eva hadn’t measured out the exact dimensions of the prison, but it was larger than the entire campus of Brakket by at least four times–discounting warped space in the courtyard.

“That might be doable,” Eva said, more as a placating gesture than any promise of carrying out the task. Ylva had been quite pleasant in her few meetings with the hel despite Zoe Baxter’s harsh comments about her first meeting. Erecting shackles would likely do away with any goodwill between Eva and Ylva.

“Have you still not heard from Mr. Foster?”

Eva shook her head. “He’ll be back before February ends.”

“I’d rather speak with him sooner.”

“I have no way of contacting him,” Eva lied. Though it wasn’t much of a lie. Summoning Ivonis to track down Devon was possible, but gathering up another fifty animals to sacrifice would be annoying at best. “You’ll just have to wait.”

“You’re sure he’ll be back by then?”

“Unless he’s gone off and gotten himself killed.” If he had, Eva was in trouble.

Juliana might be able to start up one or two of the rituals for Eva, provided Eva told her about the rituals in the first place. If anything went wrong or changes needed to be made as the treatment progressed, neither Juliana, Eva, or Arachne would be able to make alterations.

Zoe Baxter let out a long sigh. She propped her elbows up on the table behind her and shut her eyes. After a moment of rest, she seemed to realize that she wasn’t acting entirely professional. In a quick motion, she stood up, brushed down her suit, and tweaked her red butterfly tie.

At least, Eva assumed it was the butterfly tie. She sometimes wore a white that turned black at the tips, or an orange one with a coat of arms featuring a dragon on it. The red one was by far the most prevalent of the three.

Once finished, Zoe Baxter turned and faced Eva. “Miss Eva. I cannot condone skipping class. Today, you are already late. Arriving now would only disrupt whatever lesson Mr. Lurcher is currently teaching.” She cleared her throat. Completely unnecessarily. She had been talking just fine. “You’ll be serving detention with me this Saturday.”

Eva sighed. She was pretty sure she was the only student to ever get detention at Brakket. At least, apart from the one time she scrubbed lab room floors and counters with Juliana.

“Yes, professor.”

A spike of ice left a trail of cold air as it flew past Eva’s chest.

It didn’t even come close to hitting her before she hopped to one side. After hopping, it missed by a mile.

Another spike launched away from his wand.

Eva raised an order magic shield. Professor Kines taught how to cast a simple shield designed to block projectiles. She wasn’t very confident in it. It didn’t hold a candle to her blood shield.

It didn’t matter. The ice spike tapped against it and fell to the ground. It might have fallen before touching the shield. Some things were difficult to tell with her current vision.

Three fireballs returned against her attacker. One missed, the other two struck a shoulder and his stomach.

He had a fire resistant jacket on. Even if Eva could cast decent fireballs, he wouldn’t have burst into flames. Everyone had magic retardant armor. Expensive, but left over from the old mage-knight club.

Despite her weak fireballs, he staggered backward for several steps until he put a foot out of the ring.

Tony Burnside hadn’t even tried to raise his own shield.

Eva sighed as she dropped her wand hand to her side. “I saw you fight against Zoe Baxter during her seminar. I know you can do better.”

The third year student brushed off his jacket without even glancing at Eva. “I don’t think this is what I signed up for,” he said quietly.

“Oh? And what did you sign up for?”

“I signed up to learn to fight better.”

Eva grit her teeth. Juliana and Shalise paired off as had Jordan and Shelby. They were going to switch out after a short while, but until then Eva wound up with the wimpiest third year student she could imagine.

A fireball shot from her hand at Tony. He wasn’t in the ring. Eva didn’t care.

He grunted and stumbled as it hit him in the side.

“You want to learn? Fine. First lesson, fights don’t end because you don’t want to fight.”

Another two fireballs launched towards the student. The first one managed to strike him in the chest. He actually put up a shield for the second.

“Second lesson, just because your opponent looks frail or helpless, doesn’t mean she is.”

He launched an ice spike after another fireball hit his shield.

Eva didn’t bother dodging. It was a good two inches from her shoulder.

“Third lesson, you learn nothing by standing around and half-assing it.”

In truth, Eva had small apprehensions about fighting. In a real fight, she would increase the amount of blood in the air. Here, she didn’t want to make it too thick and give herself away. It would be easy for a shard of ice to slip through to her without her noticing.

But in class, that didn’t matter. She wore armored clothes the same as everyone else.

In order to see, Eva relied on watching his wand hand and watching when he cast spells. If she lost track of a projectile, she’d put up a shield.

At least, that was her plan. She hadn’t needed to do anything of the sort against Tony Burnside. None of his attacks intended to hurt her. Even the few times she’d intentionally tried to test her shield, he just stopped his attacks.

So Eva tossed fireball after fireball at him. Even a few came from her off-hand. Her new finger ring foci adorned the index finger of her glove as a distraction. Students might have a hard time learning the nuances of alternate foci, but which hand she used didn’t matter to Eva’s unique casting.

Her fireballs splashed against his shield. They were too weak to get through. That didn’t deter her.

Tony Burnside launched token ice spikes any time she let up. For the most part, she ignored them. Most weren’t even properly aimed at her.

“Stop trying to miss me and hit me,” Eva roared.

One almost hit her chest. She only noticed too late. Rather than fail to put up a shield, she batted it away with the back of her hand. They were blunted and weren’t traveling fast enough to do any serious damage. Her claws could take the beating.

“Eva,” a voice called out.

She’d just barely caught one of his icicles that went wide and was about to throw it back at him. Eva paused and turned to the voice.

Franklin Kines ran up to the two students. “What are you doing? You’ve got him out of the ring. You’re out of the ring.”

“He won’t fight me,” Eva said, pointing her wand at Tony.

He pulled up a shield the moment she did.

“You’re out of the ring. You’re not supposed to fight out of the ring.”

“He won’t fight me in the ring.” She held up the ice spike. “These just go flying past me. I haven’t had to use a shield or even dodge.” She crushed the spike in her hand, the two pieces falling to the ground amidst a shower of crushed ice.

“Eva,” Kines said softly, “surely you can understand him not wanting to hurt a younger student.”

“No.” Eva pulled off her helmet and threw it to the side. She tapped her padded vest. “We have these to keep us from getting hurt.”

“Maybe we should shuffle groups,” Franklin Kines said. He clapped his hands to get the attention of everyone who wasn’t already staring at the scene–which was almost no one. “Everyone find a new partner, one who uses a different element, if possible.”

He turned on one of the groups. “Shalise,” he said, “would you please be Eva’s partner?

“This exercise is for getting used to shield spells,” he said a little louder, Eva was pretty sure it was directed to her, “not for fighting.”

Juliana gave Eva a light smile as she walked straight to Tony Burnside.

Eva nodded and picked up her helmet on her way to Shalise.

“You’re not going to fireball me into a corner, are you?”

Eva quirked an eyebrow at Shalise. She’d be able to see it through the clear visor. “Are you going to fight me like I’m a little blind girl who needs to be coddled?”

“No.”

Eva exaggerated out a sigh as she walked into the ring. The floor of the small dueling arena was made of earth, mostly for earth mages. The carved in rings helped a lot with Eva’s sight. She wouldn’t be able to tell painted on rings. “Then I suppose I won’t fireball you into a corner.”

That elicited a smile and a soft giggle from the girl. “It was a little scary, watching you,” she said quietly.

“He wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” Eva dismissed. “Even if his shield failed–a feat against my weak fireballs–we’ve got all this armor.”

“It was more of your face.”

“My face?”

“You looked very angry.”

Did she? Eva didn’t know. She could see her own blood as well as she could see others, but she never paid attention to it. “Maybe if he’d just man up and fight me properly, I wouldn’t have got so mad.”

“I don’t know how much of a fight I’m going to put up.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t get mad at you.”

Shalise flicked her wand.

Eva readied a shield.

Nothing pinged against it. She couldn’t see anything with the flecks of blood around the arena.

“Um…”

Shalise slumped over. “That was my best attack. A puff of air. I don’t think air magic is very suited for combat.”

“Zoe Baxter uses lightning. Have you tried?”

Once again, Shalise flicked her wand.

Unlike before, there was a small crackle in the air. A very small crackle. Without eyes, Eva couldn’t tell if anything left Shalise’s wand. If it even came from Shalise’s wand.

It might have been another student standing near Shalise that Eva heard.

“A spark,” Shalise said, apparently seeing the confusion on Eva’s face. “Irene and Max might have had the right idea. Maybe I’ll try back next year after I practice magic more.”

“What about the shield Professor Kines taught us?”

Shalise casted a spell. Something appeared in front of her, Eva could tell by how some of her blood hit a barrier.

Eva tried casting a small fireball at it. Her shield shattered on impact, though the fireball didn’t make it through. At least that was something.

It didn’t seem that Shalise considered that a victory. “That is that,” she said dejectedly.

“We’re here to practice, right? So let’s practice.” Eva readied her wand again, not that she needed it. “Bring up your shield and when you do, imagine the biggest, strongest wall you can.” She was just repeating Franklin Kines’ words from the start of the lesson. Her blood shields didn’t need any sort of thought behind them.

Shalise did so. Eva tossed another small fireball at her.

The shield shattered again.

They spent ten minutes practicing against Shalise’s shield. One of the fireballs actually splashed against the shield instead of shattering it. Shalise got so excited she lost concentration and the next fireball hit her square in the chest.

It was just a small impact; Eva couldn’t amp up the power much at all. Still they continued.

A loud crash drew the entire room’s attention.

Tony Burnside was lying on his back. His wand rolled a few feet away. He struggled against something.

Eva sent some flecks of blood over to find he was almost entirely encased in earth. The only part that wasn’t was his head.

Juliana stood over him. She had a sword pointed at his neck.

“Juliana Rivas, what are you doing?” Franklin Kines ran over to their ring.

“I want this man removed from class,” she said firmly. “If he isn’t going to take it seriously, it is only going to hurt anyone who has the misfortune of partnering against him.”

“This is not a sparring session,” Professor Kines said. “You’re supposed to practice shields.”

“I can’t practice shields if he won’t even try to hit me.”

Professor Kines whisked his wand out and pointed it at the prone Tony. The earth crumbled off of him.

Tony batted the sword out of his face and stood up. He tore off his helmet and armor. Without a glance at anyone, he marched straight out of the classroom.

“Alright,” Professor Kines shouted. “Class dismissed. Everyone out.” Juliana turned and Kines added, “except for you, Juliana.”

Eva walked over to Juliana’s side, leaving Shalise looking very uncertain in her ring. Jordan and Shelby walked over to her a moment later.

“I don’t believe I asked for your presence, Eva. Return to your dorms.”

“I had the ‘misfortune of partnering against him.’ I’ll say my input to defend my friend.”

Juliana smiled, still facing away from Professor Kines.

“You both will be kicked out of this class if anything like tonight happens again.”

“Us?” Juliana spun to face the professor. “He is the one who wasn’t following your directions.”

“Should he return to class, he will be given one more chance as well.” Franklin Kines pointed a finger at each of the girls. “You two will come to me if you have a problem with another student. You will not take matters into your own hands or you’re gone.

“Am I understood?”

“Sure,” Juliana said. Her sword squirmed back up underneath her clothes. She turned on her heel. A smile spread across her face as she walked away.

Eva shrugged at Kines as she followed after.

“That was fun,” Juliana said. “I could get used to knocking over upperclassmen.”

Shelby snorted. “Yeah, but you’ll probably make enemies that way.”

“You didn’t have to go fight him,” Eva said as they walked through the Infinite Courtyard back to the dorms. She felt guilty about almost getting her friend kicked out of class.

“No. I did. My mother would never have stood for someone slacking off if she taught a class like this.”

“She’s a retired mage-knight, right?” Jordan asked. “Maybe she would teach a class like this. Not that I think Professor Kines is a bad teacher, I just wonder what kind of background he has to be qualified to teach a class like this.”

“Well, she’s in Russia right now.” At Jordan’s questioning glance, Juliana added, “don’t ask. After that, I don’t know. Teaching doesn’t seem her style. It isn’t adventurous enough.”

Last semester wasn’t adventurous enough with all the necromancers and nuns? Eva sighed and followed the others back to the dorms.

Genoa Rivas was a scary woman.

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001.020

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Wayne Lurcher had never been one for passive action. The very phrase was an oxymoron he couldn’t stand.

And yet here he sat, in a meeting room, listening to Rebbecca Halsey panic. The dean had called an emergency meeting to try to figure out what went on last night and what the damage was. If the senile woman had any clue, she would realize that no answers would be found in a meeting with the faculty.

Especially because the only one who might have any answers at all was absent.

He cast a sullen glance at the empty seat next to him. Zoe had gone off to a meeting of her own. He only hoped she knew what she was getting into.

Wayne didn’t trust Eva Spencer. He had a bad feeling in his gut when they met with the girl’s father. The feeling got worse when she ran away in the alley. Every time he had seen the girl outside of class and half the time when she was in class, his gut said there was something wrong.

The girl was trouble.

At least that meeting might be productive, Wayne thought as Yuria stuttered out a report of her actions last night.

Wayne ticked off two more students’ names as Yuria finished her report. Five students dead was five too many. At least with her report finished, all the students were accounted for. There wouldn’t be any more ticks on his list.

Townspeople were another matter.

Halsey would be relieved of her post, he was sure, if not imprisoned. Zoe had warned her about the zombies in the house, the suspicious characters wandering town, and even the crypt full of skeletons a few miles out-of-town. The old woman had done nothing, probably at the insistence of the slimy secretary standing just behind her.

Of course, he wasn’t wholly innocent in the matter. He knew the dean had done nothing. Could the kids have been saved if he had taken more drastic measures? Maybe. Maybe not.

“And Zoe’s report?” Halsey glanced at the empty seat next to Wayne. She lurched to her feet, one hand darting over her mouth. “Oh no, where is Zoe? She didn’t…”

“Baxter is fine,” Wayne said as he took to his feet. That the old bat didn’t notice her missing until just now made hackles rise on the back of his neck. “She is dealing with a couple of students, one of whom was injured last night.”

“Oh.” Halsey sat down, patting her chest and taking deep breaths. “That’s good. She’s with children then, are they alright?”

Wayne shifted his feet to one side. He didn’t want to come off looking uncomfortable, but this topic unsettled him. “Baxter and I were patrolling the same areas last night, I will supply the report for both of us.”

He started with the regular stuff, the same things all the other teachers mentioned. The routes they took, number of deceased redeceased, and if they knew anyone. He reluctantly mentioned the two students Zoe had been forced to dispatch.

Then he got to the more worrisome topic. Zoe asked him to leave Spencer’s name out of it. He would, but only out of respect for Zoe.

“A third-party intervened last night. They engaged the necromancers behind the incident, though did not manage to eliminate them. I do have descriptions,” Wayne passed around papers describing the men. “Baxter got them from said third-party while I tended to the aforementioned injured student.

“They were my main concern, you will have to get additional details on the third-party from Baxter herself at a later date.” He glanced around the room, daring any to request more details. Secretary Orgell looked like he wanted to speak, but he stayed silent.

“The injured student was Shalise Ward, first year, Rickenbacker three-one-three. She had injures consistent with being bitten by human teeth as well as several other injures. Before you go marking her off,” he said as a few of the instructors moved their pens to the sheets in front of them, “she is alive and well.

“I inspected the wound myself and found no trace of rot or infection.”

“Preposterous,” Twillie jumped to his feet, “there is no cure for a zombie bite.”

“That is what I said. However, the third-party insisted they had a potion to halt the effects. The other members of Rickenbacker three-one-three confirmed that Ward was bitten by a zombie and administered a potion soon after. Ward herself was regrettably, though understandably, unconscious.”

Wayne glared at Twillie until the man retook his seat. “Baxter is watching over her at the moment, just in case this ‘cure’ doesn’t take.”

Wayne retook his seat. Everyone continued staring at him. He didn’t blame them, but he’d said his piece. Wayne glanced at Kines and nodded for him to start his report. The last one of the meeting, thankfully.

Eventually, Kines took the hint. He had had a rather tame evening, being one of the ones assigned to watch over the dorms.

The meeting wrapped up shortly after. Halsey wanted to reconvene in twelve hours to decide future actions. In the meantime they were to speak with each of their students, check in on them and make sure they were alright. The parents of students who were ‘directly affected’ by the night’s events would be getting personal visits from Halsey during that time.

Wayne ignored that order. He had few students and had visited them all already. The closest any got to danger was Jordan and Maximilian. They had a run in with a small horde of zombies as they ran back to the dorms in search of friends. Jordan managed to hide the two of them with chaos magic.

Jordan was a point of pride for Wayne. The young boy showed remarkable bravery and talent for a thirteen year old. Most importantly, he was not a troublemaker unlike a certain other instructor’s students.

Rather than visiting his students again, Wayne elected to return to town and continue sweeping it for any remaining creatures.

The familiar wrongness of between almost overwhelmed his gut in the brief instant it took to appear in town. Getting Zoe to agree to learn that spell had taken months of prodding. When she finally relented and learned from him, she spilled her lunch the first several times. She had told him that she never intended to use it again.

Unfortunately for the both of them, its sheer utility outweighed the sickening sensation it caused.

Wayne walked down the street. He kept an ear out for anything unusual. He patrolled around, suppressing any lingering idle thoughts. Distractions could get him killed.

He froze at a movie theater. There was something off about the building. It looked right, no blood or displaced posters. But it bothered him. It bothered his gut.

Wayne growled and marched towards the building, tome at the ready. There would be zombies inside, stragglers from the night before. He was sure of it.

His gut told him so.

— — —

Shouts pierced the wall of Rickenbacker three-fifteen.

Irene pulled her covers over her head and tried to avoid eavesdropping. Even with the privacy enchantments on the rooms, such a task was near impossible today.

“Zoe says you have been afraid to leave your room for three days.”

Zoe doesn’t know what she is talking about. The first day, I had an injured roommate I was looking after. The second day I went to the hospital with that injured roommate and stuck by them for most of the day. Today I decided to stick around the dorms since you were coming. I can see that was a mistake now.”

“Juliana Laura Rivas. Do not talk to me that way. Gather your things, we are leaving.”

They had been arguing for the better part of an hour. Pretty much from the moment Mrs. Rivas arrived. It had been silent at first, then their voices escalated. It triggered the safety systems in the enchantments to let distressed voices through–in case of an emergency in another room–and they hadn’t let up since.

Irene shut her eyes and desperately wished humans could shut their ears. Such a feature would certainly help with Shelby’s snoring.

She almost wished her mother had shown up to pull her out of the academy. Irene was the one who hadn’t left her room in three days. Sadly, her parents hadn’t come. Her parents originally wanted Shelby and herself to attend a different school. Since her father lost his job during government reorganization, the prospect was off the table.

Several other students were already home. The prospect of near free schooling was outweighed by unchecked hordes of zombies that the staff apparently knew about for months.

Irene doubted that claim.

While the zombies were scary, and she definitely did not wish to come across any, they weren’t her main concern at the moment.

Some Elysium Sisters arrived to investigate earlier in the morning. They were famous for being the most experienced organization in matters of undeath. They’d have whatever mess happened on Halloween cleaned up by the weekend.

Her issue was with the thing living in the neighboring room. Irene knew the ‘spider’ Eva had shown them wasn’t a real spider. She knew it. Every time she brought it up with Jordan, he would just hum and shrug with a smile.

He also knew it wasn’t normal.

He probably knew what it was.

If Jordan knew what it was, she definitely didn’t want to be near it.

Luckily for Irene, it had stayed out of sight for most of her time at Brakket. She’d only seen it once or twice during study sessions. Even then, it was mostly just the thing’s legs poking out of Eva’s shirt.

Until Halloween. It showed up, just glaring at them–at her–wearing human clothes. It took a few minutes, but Irene made the connection. Eva and Juliana’s reactions helped. Shalise, oddly enough, just looked confused.

Irene wished she could have seen Jordan’s reaction through his stupid shadow mask.

Shortly after, she made the excuse of being sick. Lucky too. Irene and Shelby arrived at the dorms before anything truly terrible happened.

It showing up at the same time as the zombies couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Still, Jordan acted nonchalant about the entire thing. He’d rushed to the dorms with Max and stayed with the twins over night. He was far more worried about the zombies. Even when Irene asked about the thing, he just shrugged and said it wasn’t his business as long as they stayed out of his affairs.

Max told his story of how the thing tore apart zombies with its bare hands.

That did nothing to make Irene feel better.

Irene peeked out of her covers at the empty room around her. It was only Shelby and herself in room three-fifteen and her other half wasn’t scared of leaving the room.

Shelby was afraid of the zombies, but decided the opportunity to hang off Jordan’s arm without Irene around was worth whatever fears she felt.

Irene sighed and put her back to the room. Hopefully things would make sense again when school started back up. She missed the routine and the learning.

Both were major stabilizers she needed right now.

— — —

The house Lynn Cross stood in front of looked much better than it had in the past.

The peeling paint had been replaced by a fresh coat of tan. Gone were the rickety stairs leading to the door. The door knocker looked new and the window didn’t have the large crack running down it.

Lynn gave the knocker a good three knocks and stepped back. Excited shouts brought a small smile to her face. A middle-aged woman opened the door a moment later.

Gabrielle Mendoza looked over her guest with surprise worn clearly on her face. “Sister Cross? We weren’t expecting you for a few weeks.”

“I apologize,” Lynn said with a slight bow, “I won’t be able to make our previous appointment. I was in town today and thought I might drop by. If it is inconvenient, I can go, of course.”

“No, no,” Gabriella waved her hand quickly and opened the door wide. “Please come in. The children would have my head if I turned you away.”

Lynn gave her a polite chuckle as she walked into the front hall. It wasn’t much of a hall, just a small room that was barely kept separate from the rest of the building by a low wall.

Three little heads peeked over that low wall. When they saw who walked in, excited cries of ‘Sister Cross’ squeaked out of them and they dashed around the small wall. One tried to climb over the barrier.

“Slow down there Tim,” Lynn said. She plucked him off the barrier with her gloved hands and dropped him on his feet, saving him a near head first fall. “I’m not going anywhere yet.”

“Did you bring us gifts?” Cody asked.

Lynn put on a fake pout. She knelt down and tapped his nose. “You haven’t seen me in a year and I don’t even get a hello?”

Cody had the good manners to look embarrassed and then he wrapped Lynn in a friendly hug. Tim and Lisa joined without a moment of hesitation. She returned the hug.

After disentangling herself from the three, they took a seat in the nearby sitting room. Lynn asked each of them how they were doing, if they needed anything, and other such general questions.

They talked quite excitedly about school and friends. Lynn entertained them for the hour. She liked children, especially these kids, but time was dragging on. She had a real reason to visit the group home aside from a social call with the three runts.

She waited for a lull in Lisa’s rapid fire speech about a painting she drew for school. When the lull came, Lynn tapped her forehead. “Silly me,” she said, “I forgot. I did bring you kids gifts.”

Lisa immediately forgot about her painting and joined the other two in trying not to look so eager. Well, joined Tim in trying not to look so eager. Cody made his excitement clear.

Lynn reached into the small bag she brought and withdrew three small boxes, each neatly wrapped with some simple but nice wrapping paper. “I know it is a tad late for Halloween and very early for Christmas, but if you promise to be good, you can have these.”

The three quickly agreed and Lynn handed them out. “Run along and play now,” she said with a smile. They thanked her and ran off into one of the children’s rooms to inspect their new bounties.

Gabriella chuckled lightly. “Thank you,” she said.

“It isn’t anything much.”

“It means a lot to them.”

Lynn just nodded. She packed up her bag and headed towards the door. There was one more thing she needed to do before leaving, but she didn’t want to raise the point. It might add unnecessary attention to both of the subjects.

Luckily, Gabriella spoke up first. “Before you go, would you mind visiting Shalise?”

With her carefully practiced ‘mild-surprise’ face on, Lynn said, “I thought she was up in Montana, schooling. Is it vacation time already.”

“There was…” Gabriella looked down, rubbing her hands together. “An accident. She won’t tell me the details, but about a week ago she shows up covered head to foot in bandages. She barely speaks and barely eats.”

Lynn frowned at that. She’d heard Shalise was injured. Bandaged head to toe seemed different from the report. Not eating definitely wasn’t in the report.

“I know you’re busy,” Gabriella said quickly, apparently taking Lynn’s failure to respond as hesitance. “It would mean a lot. To all of us.”

Lynn forced her frown into a small smile. “Of course, Gaby. She’s up in her room?”

The caretaker nodded.

Lynn took the stairs to the second floor. She stopped just outside the first door and knocked lightly.

No one responded.

“Shal? It’s Lynn.”

Nothing.

Undeterred, Lynn opened the door a small crack and peeked inside.

Shalise sat on her bed, propped up by a multitude of pillows. Stuffed animals covered every available inch of her bed, and much of the floor where several had been knocked off. The normally chipper girl would always pick them up and replace them on her bed. But they just lay there, abandoned.

The poor girl’s arm was up in a sling, bandages visible on the hand sticking out of it, or perhaps that was a cast; Lynn wasn’t sure. Her face had a deep red gash stretching from her nose to her ear. A bandage might have been there at one point, a bit of medical tape clung to her cheek. Her other hand rested in her lap, also wrapped in a bandage. If the lump under her blanket was anything to go by, she had a cast on as well.

Lynn felt a twisting in her heart as she looked at her girl. Her face was as blank as a corpse.

Shalise’s large brown eyes just stared dully out the window, half turned from the doorway. They were unfocused and didn’t seem to track to any movement outside. She didn’t spare a single glance towards the woman standing in the doorway.

Lynn had only a vague idea of what happened at that school. When the request for assistance came in from the school’s dean earlier in the week, they had sent a few cursory investigators. Preliminary reports were about rogue necromancers unleashing zombies on the town.

She’d hoped to get a few inside details from Shalise, but nothing warned her that it had been this bad.

Lynn stepped into the room and shut the door quietly. She discreetly pulled her wand from the holder on her back and put some simple privacy protections on the room. Anyone who even accidentally overheard anything would suddenly feel a need to be in the opposite end of the house.

With the protections in place, Lynn replaced her wand–Shalise being none the wiser–and moved to the empty chair beside Shalise’s bed. She placed a hand on the girl’s knee, confirming that she was wearing a cast. She slid her hand up to the girl’s thigh only to draw back at the girl’s shriek.

Stuffed animals went flying as she scrambled back against the pile of pillows. Shalise stared, wide-eyed and far more focused. It took a moment before recognition set in and Shalise slumped back against the pillows.

“Hey kiddo,” Lynn said. She offered a sad smile.

“Sister Cross. I thought I was going to die.”

Lynn wasn’t sure if she was talking about just now or back on Halloween. Possibly both. “I’ve told you, call me Lynn.” The stubborn girl just shook her head. “If you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

They sat in silence for a minute. Lynn replacing her hand on the girl’s thigh seemed to set her off. She burst into tears and leaned into Lynn’s shoulder.

At least she didn’t pull away, Lynn thought as she patted the girl on her back.

Shalise started talking about her time at school. Learning magic, her roommate’s creepy pet spider, the teachers and how one of them named Yuria something–the poor girl let out a sudden sniffle as she said her last name–was her favorite, and on and on about her friends and roommates.

Then she got to Halloween, or the preparations for it. How Shalise agreed to go to a party despite her roommate’s apprehensions.

That was something Lynn wanted to follow-up on. Did they know something was going to happen?

She chose her costume and helped a friend choose one. She went over the party and her roommate dancing the most awkward dance she’d ever seen with some stranger.

Her voice was excited and animated, if a bit tear filled. The fun she had brought a small smile to Lynn’s lips.

Then she went silent.

“Shal?”

“I don’t really know what happened after that. I was on the ground and in pain.”

She went silent again. Lynn gave her a light squeeze.

“I was attacked by a zombie. Then its head just exploded in front of me. All over me. That’s where I got most of my injuries.”

Lynn frowned at that. The reports didn’t mention she was attacked by a zombie. How she was even sitting in front of her had to be a miracle.

Shalise lifted up the arm in her sling. “Doctors say I might not be able to use my hand again, too much of the wiring… eaten. I’m lucky it doesn’t need to be amputated. When a magic doctor says you’re out of luck, you know you’re really out of luck.” She sighed. “My leg broke when I fell to the ground and the zombie landed on top of me. My other hand isn’t healing properly, though that injury saved my life so I suppose it is forgivable.”

Lynn quirked her eyebrow at that. “An injury saved your life?”

A brief grimace of panic crossed Shalise’s face before she settled back into her melancholic look. “I was supposed to tell all the doctors and teachers and anyone else who asked that a potion stopped me from becoming a zombie.”

“It was something else, then?”

Shalise brought her eyes to meet Lynn’s for the first time since she entered the room. She searched back and forth, looking for something.

Lynn couldn’t hide her disappointment when the girl dropped her eyes back to her lap, apparently not finding it.

“My friend said I’d get the person who saved me into a lot of trouble if I ever told what actually cured me. I think I owe her enough to stay silent.”

Lynn sighed at her reluctance. She couldn’t remember the last time Shalise kept something from her. That it was an injury that cured her spoke of black magic. She thought for a moment about asking Shalise to see the wound, but decided to let it be.

From the sound of it, Shalise knew this person, this ‘her,’ outside of whatever incident this was. Probably not a necromancer that grew a conscience. Someone who was at the club? A friend then.

Something to look into later.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Shalise just shook her head.

“You sounded like you were having fun, learning magic and being with your new friends.”

“I…” She leaned back and turned her gaze out the window. “I think I need time, for now.”

“I understand. Don’t take too long to decide, you’ll fall behind in class.”

When Shalise didn’t respond, Lynn stood up and ruffled the girl’s brown hair. “I have to go. In fact, I’m going to Brakket.”

Shalise’s eyes snapped over to Lynn. “You? Why?”

“Didn’t I ever tell you? The Elysium Sisters are necromancer hunters.”

Shalise’s eyes spread wide open. Lynn was quite sure she didn’t know that the order of nuns was even magical.

“They hurt a good friend of mine so I’ll be going personally to oversee the operations.” She fluffed up Shalise’s hair once again. “I have to make it safe if that good friend decides to go back to school.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


001.014

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Classes at Brakket were far more interesting than any class at a non magical school. That was simply by virtue of most classes having magic flying around them. The teachers themselves weren’t all that different. Class might be better if Eva had been more new to the whole magic scene.

The school building itself was a boring affair. Eva felt sure it was built by regular people. None of the rooms even had the oddities that the dorm study rooms had.

The only exception to this was the courtyard. The building was a ring with a large three-story section to one end. The center held a massive forest that was given the wildly inaccurate title of the Infinite Courtyard.

Trees, plants, bushes, benches, grass, even large ponds and hills all fit in the courtyard. Bridges arced over streams, huge weeping willows hung over the dirt paths. Birds chirped and flittered about. Other animals occasionally stalked within sight of the pathways. Eva was almost sure she saw a cait si at one point.

As you went further into the courtyard, space expanded. Apparently the dead center was several miles away from any part of the building. There were paths set up to go along the edges before the space really expanded, and all the paths had signs stating the nearest part of the building.

Had she known about it during the summer, she might have explored it a bit. There was bound to be something interesting left behind by previous students.

Weekends were a possibility depending on homework situation. Unfortunately, she now had class during most of the week. A young mage named Yuria Something-or-other stood at the front of Eva’s current class. She was almost as young as Zoe Baxter, but missed the title of the youngest by just two years.

“This class will be on a rotation. Mages tend to have one element they can cast very well, almost effortlessly, two elements that they are adequate at, and one they might be lucky to cast a single spell from.

“So don’t be discouraged if you cannot cast whatever spell we’re attempting for the lesson. I myself am a class two water mage.” She moved her wand to her other hand and a globe of water hovered above her hand. “The schedule is set up so that Professor Calvin of your general magic class will take over for fire spells. He’s a class one fire mage so he’s more than qualified.”

Eva had no idea what her elemental affinity was. Juliana had been teaching her elementary earth magic, which she seemed alright at. She could move around dirt inside a small pot. Enough to dig a hole and drop a seed into at the very least.

If asked before Yuria’s lesson, she would have said chaos was her affinity. That was apparently not an option. Chaos and order were considered universal magic. No one was especially good or poor at either.

Professor Calvin’s general magic class taught spells not considered part of any of the six schools of magic along with some very simple order and chaos spells.

The first spell involved breaking an object into its base elements. Not periodic elements but the magical elements. They were each given a rock to turn into a crystal of pure earth magic.

“It takes concentration and time, but it is an essential spell for alchemy and is usually not found difficult by new students. Reducing an object is an excellent way to get a feel for magic and how it moves through you and into your wands and then to the stone itself.”

He went through the process, instructing them to visualize their rock turning into pure earth. “You’ll feel a tingle in your gut moving out to your arm. That is you channeling magic into your wand. You’ll then channel from your wand to the rock itself, all in one smooth action, while visualizing your end goal.”

Eva tried it without her wand until she started seeing results, then attempted it with her wand. It felt faster and smoother without her wand, though that could be just that she was used to no foci. Eva was considering not using the wand at all, it seemed an unnecessary liability and just an extra step for what she could do on her own.

It took the entire class period, but Eva managed to turn a regular stone into a shiny green crystal.

Juliana had a green crystal in front of her in less than half the time; a combination of experience and earth being her elemental affinity, according to her. She then moved to Shalise to walk her through the process, earning the approval of Professor Calvin as he assisted the rest of the twenty or so students.

Shalise didn’t seem to catch on near as quick. It was understandable. She only started doing real magic for the first time over the last week when Juliana taught her to dig holes in a pile of sand. Still, she wound up with several green crystals growing out of her rock.

Jordan sat behind Eva’s table along with Shelby and Max. He and Shelby got their crystals with time to spare, if only barely. Even with both their assistance, Max managed less transformation than Shalise.

Irene had been exiled to another table on account of there being only three chairs per. She managed to reduce her crystal almost as fast as Juliana and then proceeded to assist her partners with their own reduction.

The rest of the class had mixed results. Most managed at least a few green crystals, but some had nothing to show for an hour’s worth of efforts.

“I’m just saying, I don’t think it was as simple as you all make it out to be,” Max said as he spewed half chewed sandwich bits across the table.

Eva shot Shelby a pitying look as the poor girl wiped her face with a napkin once again. But the girl had been insistent on sitting next to Jordan. That Max had decided to sit across from him was simply bad luck. She made a mental note to never sit across from Max during mealtimes.

They had all met up after Professor Calvin’s class for lunch. The school gave them the choice between ham sandwiches and some kind of cheese soup Eva wasn’t about to touch. The smell drifting over from Shalise’s bowl almost made Eva gag.

“Shalise never touched a wand before last week and she managed way more than you,” Juliana said, “did you even try any magic during summer?”

“Hey,” he said, turning his spittle in Juliana’s direction. Luckily for her, she seemed to be out of range. “I managed to keep a leaf aloft on nothing but air. It isn’t my fault I was born to parents that barely heard of magic, let alone practiced it.”

“To be fair,” Jordan spoke up, “we were preoccupied over the summer with all the homework Mr. Lurcher gave in his alchemy seminars.” He turned towards Eva and said, “I’m surprised we didn’t see you there, with all your potions you had before school.”

“To be perfectly honest, none of the seminars seemed designed for people who hadn’t already had some schooling. I only went to Zoe Baxter’s seminar because she basically ordered us to.”

“He did the same to us, though I can’t disagree with that. Half of it was over my head and I thought I knew something about brewing.” Jordan slumped back in his seat. “And he made us do the homework while it was optional for everyone else.”

“Professor Baxter never gave homework,” Juliana said, “I’m not sure if I should be glad or disappointed. Summer was exceedingly dull. It might have occupied some time, at the very least.”

Eva shook her head. “I’m glad she didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to read near as many books if she had.”

“Not to mention your other activities,” Juliana said.

“Other activities?” Irene asked. She leaned forward to see around Max’s bulk.

“Eva would sneak out once or twice a week and spend the night somewhere else.”

“I didn’t sneak out. I’d always tell you or leave a note.”

“Oh,” Irene perked up, “a little rendezvous with a mysterious stranger? Who is the lucky guy?”

“Just Rach,” Eva said. “I’m sure you remember her.” She didn’t miss the frown that crossed Shalise’s face, nor the slight paling that Shelby went through. Arachne herself wiggled slightly beneath her shirt at the mention of her nickname.

The spider-demon didn’t like the name. Eva didn’t like it much either, but she thought it up spur of the moment when she decided not to say Arachne’s full name in front of other people. Too late to change it now.

Irene leaned back. She hadn’t been near as afraid of the spider on their first encounter as her twin. Still, Eva didn’t think she was very fond of Arachne. “I don’t think I want to know,” she said.

The conversation died for a minute before turning back to magic, mostly how bad Max performed during their general magic class. A chime rang throughout the school and the group packed up.

Their final two classes of the day were held out in the inner courtyard, though not far enough from the building for them to have to walk several miles. The two classes offered the ecology portion of their schooling.

Their first stop looked more like a zoo than anything. A shorter man named Bradley Twillie taught the wildlife portion of ecology. Sadly, their first day consisted of listening to the man go over safety procedures in a small lecture room outside the zoo itself.

The students were never to enter a creature’s habitat without both his presence and his permission. They were never even to enter the zoo part without his guidance. If a student found themselves in a habitat, say by falling in, then they were not to antagonize whatever creature lived within. If that creature was hostile and looked about ready to attack, the student was allowed to defend themselves, but only using minimal force.

He seemed to go over that last bit very reluctantly. Bradley Twillie came across as a man who cared far more for the animals than the students.

They never even got to enter the zoo before the timid instructor dismissed them.

Franklin Kines, on the other hand, seemed very passionate about his subject. He also was ready to get the students into a hands on lesson. Unfortunately, his subject was the plant life portion of ecology.

The first lesson consisted of half safety instructions, though they were rushed through with the excuse that anything dangerous would get special attention during the lesson. The other half ended up being hands on in a greenhouse. Hands on dandelions.

If there were anything different or magical about these dandelions than the kind seen around every lawn in the spring and summer, Eva couldn’t tell.

“The dandelion is not magical in the slightest,” Professor Kines said after a few students grumbled about the plant. “However, in gardening it is very important. Because it is nonmagical, it doesn’t affect magical plants as they grow. It can be planted as a companion to an absurd number of more magical plants.”

Professor Kines whipped his wand at a dandelion. It sprung from the soil and turned over, showing a thick, lengthy root. “Its root brings up nutrients for shallower plants as well as adding minerals to the soil. It releases a gas that helps other plants to mature. On top of all that, it works very well to attract pollinators.”

His speech did nothing to make the actual tending to dandelions more interesting. Eva glared at the clock, as if that would make it go any faster. Eventually, the chime rung and class was dismissed.

“Hopefully we get into some more interesting plants,” Max said as they headed back to the dorms.

Eva couldn’t agree more.

The next day started them off with Zoe Baxter’s magical theory class. The stern woman sat on top of her lectern until class had filled in the seats.

She started off launching a lightning bolt at a wall with a wand. Eva noted with satisfaction that half the class jumped as the thunder crashed around them. The half that didn’t jump were the ones who attended the instructor’s seminars.

She then set her wand on her desk and repeated the motion. A few of the class flinched as if another lightning bolt would spring from her hand. Most didn’t.

“Who can tell me why I cannot cast a lightning bolt without a wand?” She looked straight at Eva, but called on a different student. “Mr. Dewey.”

“A lightning bolt can be cast without a wand. You just require an alternate focus to focus your magic.”

“Pedantic, Mr. Dewey, but wrong.

“Foci are improperly named. A more correct name would be ‘storage device’ or something along those lines. Foci do less focusing and more storing of a mage’s magic until the magic has reached a sufficient point to exert the mage’s will upon reality.”

She glanced around the class as if expecting a rebuttal. None came and her lips quirked into a small smile as she slipped off her lectern. “Humans, or at least human mages, can process magic at a truly alarming rate. More so than any magical creature I know of save about three. Perhaps Mr. Twillie could add to that, but I can’t.” At a slight shuffling of students, Zoe added, “rest assured that humans are magical creatures. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to do any magic at all.

“The problem with humans is that we have no ability to store that magic. Imagine for a moment that you need to count to ten to cast a spell. Seems easy, right?” She glanced around the silent class. “Now, imagine that every time you add one number, you have to subtract two, to a limit of zero. It becomes impossible to count in that situation. That is what human magic is like.

“A wand does not negate the subtraction aspect. Every time you count to one, that one gets pushed into your wand and you go back to zero. Rather than counting to ten, you count to one, ten times.” She whipped out her wand and threw another lightning bolt at the wall almost instantly. “Obviously, humans do this very rapidly.”

“Mr. Anderson,” Zoe said, nodding.

Eva looked behind her just in time to see Jordan lowering his hand.

“Many magical creatures do not need wands or other foci, they store magic on their own then?”

“Excellent question, Mr. Anderson. Let us take elves as an example. They are among the three magical creatures I mentioned earlier that process magic at very high speeds. Around human like, if not higher. However, their blood has the ability to store this magic and expel it as a focus would for humans. Essentially, their blood is their focus.

“Goblins, on the other hand, produce magic at a very slow rate. Their blood can not only store the magic, but because of a unique physiology, they can retain the magic as well. A newborn goblin won’t be able to cast the simplest of spells whereas a hundred year old goblin will have had a hundred years of storing up magic. Never underestimate an old goblin, they will likely lay waste to all around them with a snap of their fingers.

“Because of these traits, elves might find use in foci, or at least be able to use one. A goblin never would.”

Eva sat back and absorbed the rest of the lesson. She had a brief thought on whether this was how Zoe Baxter normally started her first year class or if she had specifically chosen this lesson for Eva. It seemed like a good first lesson; foci were integral for magic use and throwing lightning bolts was a good way to garner attention. It was the not infrequent glances Zoe gave Eva that irked her suspicions.

When the chimes rang for the end of class, Eva half expected to be told to stay after. Zoe did no such thing. She dismissed the class and went to clearing the whiteboard of diagrams on how foci worked.

That didn’t stop Eva from half sneaking out of the class.

Alari Carr welcomed the students into her history class with a chipper attitude. Rather than start with a lesson, Professor Carr had the students go around and introduce themselves.

There was always that one teacher, Eva thought. Most of the rest of the class seemed to share her opinion if the groans were anything to go by. Still, the class went ahead and did their introductions with a single fact about themselves.

Juliana Rivas introduced herself with mentioning that her mother used to be a mage-knight. That got a few awes from the class. Shalise Ward offered up that she was the eldest of six siblings.

Eva stood up as her turn came around. “My name is Eva,” she said, “and I am fairly well versed in the art of runes.” She ignored the handful of snickers and retook her seat.

The rounds came to Jordan’s group. He introduced himself as Jordan Anderson, son of Alex and Lydia, two high-ranking people in the magical government. Why he went to such a disreputable school as Brakket went unsaid.

Maximilian Weston was the youngest of three brothers, neither of whom were magically adept. Shelby Coggins used the fact that she was twins with Irene, much to the latter’s displeasure. Apparently she wanted to use that. Instead Irene said that she could play the piano.

Introductions continued around the room until they ended at Timothy Dewey who was descended from John Dewey. He neglected to mention who that was or why it was significant. Eva supposed if he was important, she could probably find him in the library.

The chime rang and Eva couldn’t be happier. Hopefully the next history class had less touchy-feely crap.

They sat down together for lunch, a choice between pizza with some kind of pitch black sauce and chicken nuggets. Eva chose the pizza. The sauce was a bit salty, but not bad.

Everyone else picked the chicken nuggets.

“I didn’t know you knew runes,” Irene said.

Juliana replied before Eva could finish chewing her pizza. “What do you think is in those black envelopes stuck to your ceiling?”

“I never thought about it. Some sort of enchanted trinket, I assumed.”

“Black envelopes?” Jordan asked with a quirked eyebrow.

“Just a little girl’s secret,” Shelby said with a wink.

Lunch ended and they headed off to their final class.

Alchemy was the only class that the freshmen had in the three-story wing of the building, though it was on the first floor. The alchemy lab was completely modernized. Fume cupboards lined the walls. Counters in the center had full sinks as well as small pipes poking up out of the edges.

Wayne Lurcher sat at the front desk, reading a book until the students filed in.

With four seats around each counter, Irene took a seat next to Eva rather than the group she had been sitting with in the other classes.

The chime rang signaling the start of class. Professor Lurcher snapped his book shut with a crack.

“Some of you may have heard the term alchemy used alongside things like gold, transmutation, eternal life, and potions. And potions may be associated with cauldrons and crones. Sadly, few of these things constitute proper alchemy these days.

“Transmutation,” he flicked his wand at a stone resting on his desk which turned shiny and silver, “is done with a wand in modern thaumaturgy. Gold is illegal to create or transmute, and not actually that hard. Eternal life still eludes us, but solutions for that issue are commonly thought to come from other areas these days. Potion brewing is about the only element left of traditional alchemy, and that has modernized far from the bubbling cauldron archetype.”

He walked up and down the aisles as he spoke. This was the longest single period Eva had ever heard Wayne Lurcher speak for. All of her other interactions with him had been barely five words that always seemed to be given grudgingly.

A small bit of her wondered if he just liked alchemy enough to talk about it, or if it was just his role as an instructor he was getting into.

“Like many of your classes this week, we will be discussing safety in the lab. Fume cupboards, precise measuring tools, goggles, and gloves have all increased the safety of even the more dangerous experiments we will be attempting. That does not make them safe.”

Class ended just as he finished assigning homework. The only teacher to do so on the first day. The homework consisted of writing an essay on the safety procedure during a hypothetical emergency such as a potion burning through a fume cupboard and being released into the main room.

Eva was at a bit of a loss. Neither she nor her master ever had any of the safety equipment and yet never had any major problems. Their equipment was far more outdated than the advanced lab materials the classroom had. Eva supposed he might have been required to go over all the safety rules by some school board.

Or maybe they would just work on far more dangerous potions than she and her master ever had. If that was the case, Eva very much looked forward to the class.

The group headed back to the dorms. They all gathered together in the astronomer’s study room to work out their first bit of homework.

It wasn’t actually that difficult of an assignment. Wayne Lurcher said the essay should be as long as it needed to be and left everything up to their own devices. Most of it simply consisted of restating the safety procedures they went over in class.

Still, it was a time-consuming endeavor. They almost missed the hours for the dorm’s dinner. They completed their meal in a jovial mood and parted ways. First with Jordan and Max, then with Irene and Shelby.

When Eva got to her door, she found a hunched over master sitting on a bench outside her room. He looked up at the group’s arrival.

Juliana immediately tensed and brought her wand out.

Eva waved her off. “Don’t worry. I know him.”

The blond lowered her wand but did not put it away, nor did she relax.

“This is my mentor, Randolph Carter.” She gestured towards man wrapped up in a brown trench coat. “Mentor, this is Shalise and Juliana.”

Shalise gave a hesitant nod. Juliana remained still with her wand out.

“Charmed,” he said in a voice that was anything but.

“It has been a week, have you found something already?”

“Not exactly. Next Friday evening we might be able to check some of your issues out. Meet me at,” his eyes flicked over Juliana and Shalise, “the place.”

He turned and stalked off. He got to the window at the end of the hallway and stepped out to the ground below.

“He seems friendly,” Juliana said as they entered their room.

“Oh yeah, real softhearted that one.”

Shalise dropped her bag on her desk. She turned back to Eva, leaning against her chair. “That was about the necromancers then?”

“I’d assume so. Guess I won’t know until Friday.”

Shalise frowned, but nodded. “I hope it is good news.” She gathered up some clothes from the drawers beneath her bed. “Unless either of you have objections, I’ll shower first.”

Neither girl said anything.

Shalise slipped into the shower.

Juliana stared at Eva. She waited, just staring.

Eva shuffled to her desk and pulled out a paper, trying her best to ignore the blond’s gaze. She had been working on a new version of the privacy runes. The new sheets should cover the entire main room so she wouldn’t have to do four copies for every customer the next time the runes wore out. Their business had gone a bit too well; Eva doubted she would have time for all of them with school going on.

The moment the shower water started, Juliana whispered in Eva’s ear. She had moved right next to Eva without her noticing. “Take me with you,” she said.

“What?”

“I want to fight these necromancing scumbags too. You’ve seen me against Professor Baxter. You know I can fight.”

“You lose against Zoe Baxter. Every time.”

“I do better than you do.”

“I wouldn’t lose at all if–” Eva cut herself off, biting her lip.

A silence hung in the hair between them. Only the sound of flowing shower water filled the air.

Eventually Juliana sighed.

“I know you have secrets,” she said. “There’s no way you get taken on bounty hunting jobs with just runes and not knowing any spells aside from blink. You have so many secrets I wonder if anything you’ve said is the truth. But I don’t care about that right now.”

She stopped and cocked her head to the side, listening to make sure the shower was still running. She returned her attentions to Eva and spoke in an even quieter whisper, “I don’t care if you’re a necromancer yourself so long as it wasn’t you who killed that family.”

“I’m not a necromancer,” Eva hissed.

“Good. Then I don’t have to worry about that, at least. I still want in.”

“I can’t just show up with someone else.”

“He said Friday. It is Tuesday. You’ve got a few days to ask–no–tell him someone else is coming along.”

Eva was going to retort when the shower water cut off.

Juliana noticed as well. She stood up, moving her face away from Eva’s. “I’ll shower next,” she said. And turned to gather her own clothes.

Eva was left staring after her even as Shalise exited the bathroom. She only stopped once Juliana disappeared behind the closed door.

Shalise seemed to notice something wrong. She walked up to Eva and said, “don’t fight. We are roommates. I don’t want to have you two hate each other.”

“It wasn’t a fight,” Eva said. She wasn’t so sure. Was that a fight?

“Good.” Shalise said. She patted Eva’s shoulder only to freeze solid.

It took Eva a moment to realize why. Then it hit her. The poor girl had just patted one of Arachne’s legs through her shirt.

“It really just hangs off of you then?”

“She and yes, most of the time. She was with me all day today and all day yesterday. And you’ve seen me after showering with her still latched on me.” Eva felt a bad for that. She hadn’t changed her habit of wandering around and sleeping without clothes. Shalise started screaming when she saw Arachne latched onto Eva’s chest one morning. The poor girl thought Arachne was attacking Eva. It took a while to calm her down.

“If you’d like,” Eva said, “I could bring her out, nice and slowly, and you could touch her directly. Maybe it would help?”

Shalise took a quick step backwards, shaking her head in the negative even as Arachne tapped out no repeatedly on Eva’s shoulder.

“I think not,” Shalise said. At least she hadn’t stuttered her first word. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that in the future. Not now.”

Arachne tapped no again as Shalise said that. Eva doubted the spider-demon would do anything if Eva asked her not to. She might not like it, but for Eva’s roommates at the very least, Arachne might have to compromise on something.

Shalise slipped back to her bed and pulled out the general magic textbook. She flipped through it until Juliana left the shower.

Eva hopped in. The room was already hot and steamy, borderline sauna. Eva didn’t mind. If anything, it could stand to be a little hotter. Cold, moist air was the worst.

Eva twisted the shower head, aligning her new runes. She wasn’t sure if the other girls used the regular water or her runes. She’d told them, but they never mentioned anything other than a ‘too hot for my tastes’ from Shalise.

After kneeling down to the floor, Arachne hopped off Eva. She stood up in human form, ready for one of their shower chats.

“I say let her,” Arachne said before Eva could even ask her question. “If she dies, whatever. It is a good test of loyalty. Of course, if she turns traitor then I will rip her into so many pieces not even Humpty Dumpty could put her back together again.”

Eva frowned at the demon. Not so much at her threating to tear Juliana up, Eva was used to the spider-demon’s empty viciousness, but the other bit. “I’m not sure that is how the nursery rhyme goes.”

The spider-woman shrugged. “Besides, I’m sick of sneaking around. If I could at least walk around the room… and now we have that Shalise character. Juliana is one thing. Are you sure I can’t eat Shalise?”

“No eating any students. Or hurting any in general. Even if they do ‘turn traitor’ whatever loose definition you have for that.” Eva sighed. The demon wouldn’t do anything, she was mostly sure. It didn’t hurt to reiterate. “If things do happen, we’ll just leave. You, me, and master. If we can’t find him, we’ll summon Ivonis again after we settle down somewhere.”

“That’s disappointing,” she said. Eva didn’t think her pout looked very serious.

“If we are actually taking Juliana, we’ve got to find master and let him know. He won’t like it.”

“Leave it to me. I will impress upon him the need for her to join us.”

“No bullying master.”

“Wouldn’t touch a hair on his head,” Arachne said.

“You’re excited about this.”

“It is one step on my plan to not be in spider form constantly.” Arachne was already shifting back into said spider form.

Eva sighed, standing up into the stream of hot water. Her shower had gone on long enough. She shut off the water. As Arachne climbed back up her chest, Eva mumbled, “I’m sure not excited about it.”

>>Extra Chapter 001<<

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