Tag Archives: Lepus

010.003

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Zoe sat at her computer, scrolling over her image viewer. Catherine had gone over the entire ritual circle with her cellphone. Upon asking, she had emailed all the pictures to Zoe. She now had fairly high-resolution pictures displayed on the screen. A few were large overviews from higher up showing the entire circle from various angles. Others were much smaller segments to enhance the detail and make them easier to see.

Rituals… she knew about them. Could even perform a few herself. A few weeks of her fifth year class were dedicated to nothing but rituals. Despite all that, rituals had never been the subject of a significant research project for her. Zoe would classify herself as adept. Not an amateur by any means, but neither an expert.

To make matters worse, this ritual circle hadn’t been designed by human minds. It hadn’t even been designed by demon minds. A legitimate Power had designed the entire thing if Vektul was to be believed. Even Catherine had admitted that she couldn’t follow the entire thing and Catherine was well-versed in ritual circle theory far better than Zoe was.

With a sigh, Zoe finished highlighting one of the lines. Just a bright red mark to make it stand out. Sending the file back to Catherine for review—she wasn’t sure if the line was actually an error or not—Zoe spun her chair away from her computer and started rubbing her tired eyes.

“So,” a slightly muffled voice said, “what do you think?”

Zoe finished rubbing her eyes before turning to face Serena. The vampire had commandeered her office couch. Far more than just sitting on it, she spent just about every day sleeping on it, having partitioned off the entire corner with curtains. With the day already in full swing, the vampire was barely awake. She had her face covered by a pillow and her feet propped up on one armrest.

Vampires didn’t need a kitchen or even a shower unless they got dirty thanks to actual dirt and grime. Their bodies didn’t produce oils or sweat. So Zoe’s office had become her home, more or less. All while Zoe stayed next door to Ylva in the Rickenbacker.

She could understand Serena’s reluctance to live near Ylva. Still, she felt like most of Serena’s fears were entirely unfounded. The Nod Complex vampire was living in the same building and there hadn’t been any incidents between them so far. Of course, Ylva never leaving her room unless asked probably kept incidents down. It wouldn’t surprise Zoe to learn that neither knew the other existed.

Still, Ylva sometimes did come visit Zoe. If she found Serena around, who knew what she would do. Did vampires have souls? It wasn’t a question that she had ever really given much thought to. If not, Ylva might not do anything at all. Best not to risk it in any case.

Though, things had been different recently. More and more often, Zoe found herself knocking on the door only to be left outside as her knocks went unanswered. Nel and Ylva had been disappearing to parts unknown nearly every day.

“What do I think?” Zoe repeated, shaking her head. Her thoughts had wandered off from the original question. “I have no idea what to think. The whole thing is… insane. I can’t believe anyone is even considering summoning a Power.”

The former Sister Cross had her own research going. Apparently something like this had happened before. What she really was hoping was that Lynn would be able to figure out what had happened and present that as an alternative they could do instead. Of course, whatever solution she came up with would probably involve summoning some other Power if her luck continued on its current course.

“What about you?” Zoe said after a moment. “What do you think of all this?”

Serena pulled the pillow off her face with a slight groan. She sat up, face set in a grimace, looked at the clock on the wall, grimaced more, and flopped back down. “I don’t know. Whatever happens, happens, right? I’ll keep you two safe and leave everything else to everyone else.”

Irresponsible. But Zoe supposed that she couldn’t talk much. She had done little to help. In fact, with the event, her place in the televised interviews and commentating on the matches, and regular school teaching, she had almost forgotten about all the real problems going on. For a short time, things had felt… normal. How long had it been since that was the case.

And then Juliana got kidnapped and Eva dropped this bomb on her.

“Ah, what must it be like to be another professor,” Zoe said with a wistful tone of self-mockery. “Maybe at a different school. To never have to worry about anything more than how the students will perform on the next test.”

“It’s probably a whole lot more boring,” Serena said, dropping the pillow back on her face and muffling her voice part way through.

“You can have excitement without being in constant peril.” Zoe ticked off a few fingers with each choice. “Like a nice fireworks display or a vacation to an amusement park. Maybe a nice normal pie eating contest.”

“Fireworks? Dull. Amusement parks? Can’t go during the day,” Serena dismissed with a lazy wave of her hand. “Pie eating? Not exactly my cup of tea, if you know what I mean.”

“Blood pies.”

“Sounds disgusting.”

Raising an eyebrow, Zoe gave Serena a pointed look.

“When I think of pie, I imagine something breaded. Like chicken pot pie. Filling one with blood seems like it would get the bread soggy. Not to mention how disgusting bread tastes to my tongue.”

“Right. My point still stands.”

Serena didn’t respond. She slightly rolled over, keeping the pillow on her face but scrunching up her legs closer to her chest.

With a sigh, Zoe closed down the image viewing programs and locked her computer. She wasn’t quite sure how to explain it to Wayne. And she was going to do so this evening provided there weren’t any interruptions to her schedule. If only to avoid a repeat of what happened when she had been learning about demons. Wayne had not been all that enthused with her at the time. It was a small fight, but they fought so infrequently that it had been a little shocking.

But she still had a few hours to consider exactly what to do.

Leaving Serena behind, she moved into her classroom.

“Sorry for the slight delay,” she said to the gathered students. “I had a little personal matter to attend to. Today, we will be discussing, if you’ll turn to page 323, static magic fields. Areas where magic contamination has affected the very fabric of reality with no apparent fuel source.”

As the students opened their books and flipped through the pages, Zoe continued her lecture without pause. She had spent just a little too long highlighting the image and speaking with Serena.

“These can be benign, such as a slight instability in the gravitational field leading to a moon bounce-like effect. One has been documented to teleport anything that enters exactly twelve point three meters forward. Not extremely dangerous, but at the same time, not necessarily safe as two objects entering the field at roughly the same time will teleport inside each other.

“Others aren’t quite so simple to study. One that has been around since the beginning of recorded history is located in Death Valley, California. It is a constant raging inferno, reaching upwards of six hundred degrees Celsius. The area around the anomaly has been warded off to keep people stumbling across it, but it combined with the local environment is one of the primary reasons for the overwhelming heat around Death Valley.”

One of the Faultline guest students, sitting in the center of the room with her back straight and eyes glued on Zoe, raised her hand. She did not wait for Zoe to call on her. “The temperature in Death Valley fluctuates. Our school isn’t far, so we have first hand experience. In the winter, it can get quite chilly. Not as cold as it gets here, but still a little cold.”

“That would be because of magical efforts to artificially regulate the temperature. Also, to the best of my knowledge, the anomaly has been in something of a remission for the past century or so. Something researchers have been trying to replicate in other hazardous magic fields.”

Aside from that, someone who lived and spent most of their time around California probably had warped ideas of what chilly meant. Still, she appreciated the question. Older students who were ready to learn were always a treat.

“In any case, there is actually a static magic field anomaly near Brakket Academy. Provided we can get a few extra security personnel in, we will be taking a short field trip before vacation begins.”

A lot of security at that. Theoretically, there was only a single hunter who was only after people related to Eva. Zoe was one of those people. Being responsible for the students both local and from abroad, she could not take the risk that the hunter might decide any one of them would work. Zoe wanted to hire Genoa, so long as she was feeling up to it.

Maybe even Arachne as well.

— — —

Eva began her plan. Her genius idea to locate and defeat the hunter was underway. The simplest way to find her was to get captured. Nel could watch from afar and get following her again, maybe stop her far sight from slipping for a little while.

And for that purpose, Eva wandered around the city completely alone. Nobody liked the idea of using herself as bait, but Eva had her own tricks.

At the same time as she walked around, she sat attentive in Professor Lepus’ class. Or rather, she was pretending to be attentive. She was actually trying to avoid spewing projectile vomit all over her classmates. To be fair, the sensory feedback from her blood clone was nothing compared to the horrors of Sawyer eating macaroni and cheese without washing his hands after dissecting bodies. The odd feeling of being in two places at once still had her a little dizzy.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much going on. No hunters dive-bombing her. It had been two hours of her blood clone wandering around with no sign of any enemies. Srey was in her class and hadn’t yet sent her the message that anyone had been watching them. So they shouldn’t know that she was in two places at once. But a demon hunter might have methods of telling her clone apart from her real self.

Alternatively, the hunter was watching her clone and was trying to figure out just how the ambush was going to go down.

There wasn’t an ambush, but the hunter wouldn’t know that.

Unfortunately, if the hunter never showed herself, Eva’s plan would die before it could get off the ground.

“So,” Juliana said, leaning over to whisper into Eva’s ear, “how is it going?”

“Same as last class,” Eva said, voice slightly strained. Arachne was with her as well, but Arachne was actually doing as Eva had asked and hadn’t spoken a single word. The only thing she had done was to help her get to class. “It’s just wandering around as I ordered.”

Juliana opened her mouth to say something else, but a glare from Professor Lepus stopped her cold.

“Miss Rivas. You are new to this class. However, I’ve heard you are something of a prodigy. As such, I will not complain if you have managed to finish constructing your ward.”

With a wince, Juliana glanced down at her desk and the jar of live flies. They buzzed around within the jar, searching for an escape route. Professor Lepus gave them one. She reached down and unclasped the lid.

The three flies took to the air and flew off into the room.

“Your ward,” Professor Lepus said, watching the flies zoom through the room, “it doesn’t seem complete. It allowed me through, but also allowed the flies through.” She took her gaze off the flies and turned back to Juliana. “Or perhaps there was no ward around your jar at all.”

Pulling out her wand, Lepus tapped the jar. All three flies flew straight back inside. She capped the lid back on before they could escape a second time.

“Might I suggest working on your ward rather than speaking.” Turning to Eva, the professor smiled. “And how is yours coming along?”

“I wouldn’t be ready to test it just yet, Professor,” Eva said without a hint of shame.

“Then I suggest you work as well.”

Eva gave a shallow nod as the professor walked off to inspect another student’s ward. Closing her eyes in apparent concentration, she tried to tune out as much of the classroom as possible and focus only on the clone’s senses. So far, she hadn’t even tried to make a ward. She just didn’t have the mental fortitude at the moment.

“Kind of strict, isn’t she?”

“Just doing her job.”

“What if I was asking a real question. Like, I’m still a little fuzzy on how exactly to form the outer magic shell.”

“Are you actually asking? I thought your mother caught you up on the basics of warding? That’s like the very basic of the basics.”

“Well, she did. But her method of explaining is less teaching and more demonstration. Something that doesn’t help so much when you can’t visually see a ward.”

“Ah, well, you might have to ask Professor Lepus. I could explain, but I’ve got a bit too much of a headache at the moment. There–”

Eva cut herself off, staring through her clone’s eyes. A dark shadow moved overhead. Her simulacrum, ordered to look at anything suspicious as she wandered around, didn’t even get to look up. A brief spike of pain preceded all her secondary senses being cut off.

“Are you alright?” Juliana whispered again.

“Fine. I’m… not sure what happened though. I think my body was destroyed. Other body.”

“Obviously,” Juliana said with a roll of her eyes. “How was it destroyed?”

“Not sure. Saw a shadow then a split second later, nothing.”

“Is it the hunter?” Arachne said, leaning close so she could whisper without disturbing the class.

Eva, not wanting to draw Professor Lepus’ ire, merely nodded and proceeded to cast a small ward around her jar of flies. As she constructed the layers she would need, she thought. The hunter would be completely willing to instantly obliterate Eva should the opportunity present itself. At least, based on the what Eva knew of her so far. She might have wanted to torture her, but maybe had decided that Eva was just too dangerous of a target.

Assuming the hunter had even attacked her clone. Something about the situation felt off. The hunter had used the white beam from the sky before, so maybe she had found a shadow beam.

But…

Eva shook her head. Ten minutes until class ended. She would be able to call Nel. The augur was supposed to have been watching.

Just as soon as she considered Nel, her phone buzzed in her pocket.

Which meant something bad. Nel would know that she was in the middle of class. Even had Eva not told her, she almost undoubtedly would have spied in on the real Eva after seeing the clone fall. So something must have happened that needed an immediate call.

“Eva,” Professor Lepus said, sweeping back to Eva’s table. “Was that a phone I heard?”

“Ah, just a slight personal emergency. I can take the call in the hallway–”

Both paused and glanced upwards to the overhead speakers as they crackled to life.

“Dean Anderson has issued a warning code four.” The voice of the new secretary came over the announcement system loud and clear. “All professors are to keep their students in their classrooms and remain there until the all clear is sounded. At no point is any student to leave the main building. Security groups one to three are to get geared and report to the guard room for further orders.”

Eva merely frowned as the speakers clicked off. However, at her side, Juliana actually jumped. The blood drained from her face as she snapped an accusatory gaze over to Eva.

“I didn’t do anything,” Eva said, holding her hands up to shoulder level.

“Last time I heard that kind of message was the day Shalise and I got trapped in Hell,” she hissed, leaning towards Eva.

“Like I said, wasn’t me.”

Professor Lepus sighed, breaking her gaze off Eva and Juliana. “Constant interruptions. How am I supposed to teach with all this nonsense going on? Well,” she said, raising her voice for the whole class. “As long as we have been told to stay here, we may as well finish our lesson. Has anyone managed to properly construct their insect ward?”

After sending a few nervous glances around, a handful of students raised their hands. Eva didn’t. She waited for Professor Lepus to move off to one of the students before pulling out her cellphone. Nel had called and apparently left a voice message. Eva quickly put the phone to her ear.

“Eva,” Nel’s recorded voice shouted in her ear. “I didn’t see any hunter. But those things are falling around the city. I counted only eight, but there could be more. I hope you’re alright. Ylva has already gone out to deal with the two near the dormitory. Maybe more? Not sure, gotta go meet up with her.”

The message cut off right after with her phone asking if she wanted to save or delete the message. Eva ignored either option and simply hung up on her voice mail and slipped the phone back into her pocket. As she did so, she stood and moved towards the windows with Arachne following just a step behind. If things had fallen to the city, the window seemed a good place to spy from.

And sure enough, Eva found herself staring. The violet streaks in the sky were pulsing. Rather than the faint purple, several were bright purple, standing out against the semi-gray winter sky. She couldn’t see anything falling from them, but that didn’t necessarily mean that nothing was.

“Is this my fault?”

Eva glanced over to where Juliana had moved up to her side. “No? Why would– Oh, right.” Zagan. Eva had almost forgot. “Doubt it. If summoning one demon could trigger whatever happened, it probably wasn’t far off from happening naturally. Or whenever someone else summoned a demon. Don’t worry about it.”

The real question was what had fallen. Eva could feel something. Maybe something that was a demon. But not eight of them. Only one or two. Then, perhaps, were they enigmas? Really, Juliana opening a portal to Hell—especially for Zagan and successfully summoning him at that—could probably have started off everything. Though why there had been a few days between then and now was anyone’s guess.

Pulling out her cellphone again, Eva sent off a message to Zoe telling her to look at the sky. Though if Ylva was out handling everything, she wasn’t too concerned. Still, best to be ready for anything.

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009.004

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Eva stalked through the halls of Brakket Academy, trying to ignore the vampire following after her.

He was just far enough away for it to be conceivable that he had his own business in this particular direction. That could be possible. In some twisted alternate reality, it might even be true. However, in her world, it wasn’t something Eva was willing to believe.

Some might call her paranoid. Those people would probably be people she had never really spoken with. People who didn’t know her very well.

The fact of the matter was that if someone looked like they were following her, she was inclined to believe it.

Luckily, a vampire’s motivations weren’t hard to guess at. He would be wanting her blood. Eva had been extremely hesitant in giving Serena blood and she liked Serena. The chance this guy would get some was near zero. She hadn’t had a single conversation with the guy yet and she was already hating him.

“We could just kill him.”

Eva whipped her head to glare at Arachne, half wondering how the spider-demon knew what she was thinking about. Her anger must have been written on her face.

“You can’t say things like that. Especially in public.”

She glanced around. As usual, she was being given a fair bit of space to walk through the hallways. Arachne hadn’t spoken loudly, so probably nobody had heard. Except maybe the vampire. She actually wasn’t sure how good his hearing was.

Serena had said that he was of the August strain. Which, to Eva’s great joy, meant that he did not possess Serena’s mind magic. There was no need to avoid eye contact every time she glanced in his direction.

Augusts were the typical vampires. The ones everybody thought of when vampires came up in conversations. They weren’t bestial. They couldn’t trick people into thinking things were different from reality. They didn’t have the insane insight that some strain called Mekhet possessed. Augusts were nothing more than long-lived parasites on humanity.

Of course, they didn’t view themselves as such. Something snapped in their brains when turned. Whatever their station in life had been, once risen as a vampire, Augusts invariably believed that they were the greatest things to walk the Earth.

Hence the name ‘August.’

It made Eva wonder if the other strains had something obviously wrong with them. Did something snap in Serena’s brain when she turned? Something that made her somewhat obsessed with Zoe and Wayne?

Eva hadn’t asked.

But she figured she should admonish Arachne just in case someone had heard her.

“Besides, even if he is an entitled prick, that really isn’t enough to warrant such an extreme reaction. He is still a student anyway. Not an enemy.”

Yet.

Eva couldn’t be sure how far his mania would drive him. It was entirely possible that he might get violent if Eva denied him her blood. Everything would be much easier on her if her other stalkers would get a clue and start fighting the vampire for her.

The two girls with eyes implanted in their chests were far from subtle. While it was conceivable that the vampire was merely walking in the same direction that Eva was going, the nuns were stopping at corners, peeking around, sneaking up to junctions or classrooms, and watching.

They weren’t even watching the vampire.

In fact, Eva was relatively certain that they actually bumped into the vampire, excused themselves, and both went their separate ways without noticing. Eva could not fathom how that was possible. To the best of her knowledge, the two hadn’t connected to their Source since arriving. Something that, according to Nel, would have informed them immediately if they were looking at a vampire.

But couldn’t they look at the darkened windows and at least assume that some vampire was running around? Granted, they hadn’t been in the school before the windows were darkened. They might not have noticed the change as Eva had.

With a sigh, Eva considered continuing to ignore both, but she had business to take care of. Some of it was business out in the Infinite Courtyard. She didn’t want either the vampire or the aspiring nuns following her around out there.

Turning down the next corner, Eva walked into the first empty classroom. One of the rooms used for standard elemental magic. Fire magic, judging by the scorch marks around the room. Oddly enough, not a room Eva had been inside before. With all the many rooms around the main academy building and the low number of teachers, it wasn’t surprising that there were a few older classrooms around.

She stayed outside just long enough to usher Arachne inside. They closed the door just in time for the vampire to round the corner.

Such a simple maneuver would never be able to juke the vampire. Especially not when Eva’s blood smelled so different compared to the rest of the students.

But he didn’t enter the room. He did pause at the door. Only for as long as it took to glance over his shoulder at the two ‘sneaky’ nuns coming up the hallway. With ever so slightly narrowed eyes, he continued down the hallway. He didn’t so much as glance through the window on the door.

The nuns were quite the opposite. Both seemed to panic upon finding the hallway deserted save for the vampire and a few other students. Splitting up, one on each side of the hall, they went and peeked through each window.

Right up until one pair of eyes edged over the door window to Eva’s room.

The blue eyes disappeared almost instantly, but not before widening to the size of dinner plates.

Eva just sighed again, taking a seat on one of the tables in the room as the girl called her companion over.

From there, they entered into what looked like a fairly heated argument. Eva saw her own name cross their lips more than once. She wasn’t the best at reading lips through her blood sight, but her own name was familiar enough. The two nun trainees obviously knew who she was.

They took so long discussing what to do just outside the door that Eva was about to stand up and drag them into the room. Unless their plan was to sit around outside all day wondering just what her dastardly evil plans were, they probably had something to say.

Before she could, the two girls finally decided to enter the room.

And they entered… tactically.

The door flung open. One marched in, sweeping her gaze past Eva to check the corners of the room, especially the one behind the door. The second followed right on the heels of the first, though she kept her glowing eyes on Eva.

Arachne, Eva noted, shifted her posture upon seeing the flames burning out from the girls’ eyes. A bit more aggressive of a posture, readying herself to attack them.

Eva wasn’t too concerned. A little, yes. Especially if they could use lightning as powerful as the bolt that had taken out Arachne. However, she was prepared to blink at the slightest gesture from either of them.

If they did attack, she would blink behind them and rake her claws across their throats without hesitation.

But she didn’t think that they would attack. They were still children—possibly even younger than most of the other contenders, now that Eva got a decent look at them—and they hadn’t opened with an attack upon entering the room. Which would have been the smart thing to do if they wanted to take her out.

Worst of all, they allowed the door to shut behind them. As tactical as they had looked while entering, it struck Eva as odd to let the door shut. It cut off an avenue of escape if things went poorly. From Nel, Eva knew that only the higher ranking nuns were taught the ability to teleport. Maybe they had intended to trap Eva in, but they had already been blocking the door with their bodies.

It struck Eva more as a privacy measure than any sort of attack.

Hence her feeling that they wouldn’t attack.

“No one else here,” the girl with curly brown hair said, just barely above a whisper. She spoke more to the second girl into the room than Eva and was clearly deferring to her, waiting to see her response.

Without taking her eyes off Eva, the blond gave a shallow nod.

Eva crossed her legs, swinging them slightly as she sat on the table. Her wide grin was actually starting to strain her cheeks. She had never been a very big smiler. Especially not in recent months as she felt her teeth would unnecessarily unnerve those around her. So she kept her smile subdued around people she didn’t want to unease.

Yet they weren’t talking. Or attacking. Just watching her.

“Well you found me,” Eva said in a slow drawl, mostly so that she could move her mouth. “Congratulations. Was it worth it? Because the only thing you’ve managed to do so far is waste all of our time.”

Which was absolutely true. Professor Lepus’ office hours wouldn’t last forever. She needed to go ask about weather warding.

“Seriously, what was your plan? Did you come in here to fight me? Talk to me? Admonish me for being a demon?”

“We’ve been following you–”

“I never would have guessed,” Eva said, ensuring the sarcasm in her voice could not go unnoticed. “Half the school knows you two have been stalking me. It would be hard to be more obvious if you tried.”

Eva stared, no longer smiling. Her face was frozen in a deep glower. She probably wasn’t doing herself any favors in convincing them to stop following her. Just looking at them was irritating Eva enough to lash out.

“Even the vampire isn’t so obvious in his stalking,” Eva said with a theatrical sigh.

“Vampire?” curly hair said, glowing eyes widening as she glanced towards her partner.

“Trying to distract us. Ignore it.”

Eva actually rolled her eyes. These two gave Eva the distinct impression that they could bump into a grinning Serena and not notice anything odd about her. Not to mention the Nod Complex vampire who seemed to have a much better handle on hiding his presence than Serena.

“If you don’t have anything to say, I’ve got homework to do and need to speak with my warding professor. Not to mention the stupid tournament,” Eva said with only a mild groan.

She still had to meet with whoever else had been chosen from Brakket Academy. Getting into the first match was something of a priority. Ultimately, she didn’t care. However, being exempt from the second event might be worth it. She should have a decent amount of downtime between the first and third events with nothing to worry about.

And if she could bring about the end of the world before the third event, all the better.

“You aren’t acting how I expected.”

Eva blinked as her darkly humorous muses faded. She stared for just a moment before flashing a grin again. “There aren’t many babies around Brakket Academy. Sadly, I have to eat human food instead.”

“Half of what they served us last night was not food fit for people. And I’m not sure what everyone was eating for lunch.”

That actually had Eva letting out a genuine laugh. A short one, but a real one. “I never have any idea what the food is. I think the chef goes on the internet and looks up the most obscure dishes possible.”

Her momentary good humor died off as she stared at the nun before her. “So what’s the deal. Do we need to fight or something? Because I really have zero interest in your… is it a religion or just an organization masquerading as one?” Eva shook her head. It really didn’t matter. “Or are you just going to buzz around my back like particularly persistent flies?”

“Zero interest? You’ve attacked the Elysium Order multiple times.”

“I can think of… one time. And I gave back what I stole that time. Then you people attacked me one time. Any other interactions have been either incidental or you’ve got me mistaken with someone else.”

Possibly Ylva. Eva had been entirely unconscious and therefore uninvolved with the slaughter of a decently sized group of nuns during the rescue of Nel. Technically she had also caused the riot in the city against the Elysium Order as well. But she was perfectly willing to foist responsibility for that little incident off to Zagan. Especially because he wasn’t even here to defend himself.

Not that he would bother anyway.

“So,” Eva started, slipping off the table she had been sitting on.

She didn’t continue speaking, pausing to watch both girls take a step backwards. Curly-hair actually got an arc of lightning crossing between her fingertips. The sight of which had Arachne rumbling out a low growl from the back of her throat.

Eva raised her hands to her chest, palms out. A move she hoped was a universal placating gesture. She had not been lying; fighting them was possibly the highest item on her list of things she didn’t want to do at the moment. Especially because of the limited hive-mind thing. If she fought them, a million other nuns would probably start crawling out of the woodwork.

Luckily, they both seemed to recognize the gesture for what it was. Neither one of them fully dropped their guard. Eva would have called them absolute idiots if they had. However, the lightning crackling between Curly’s fingers faded away, dispersed harmlessly into the air.

“So I’m going to go. Follow me around if you feel you must, but you won’t find whatever you’re looking for. If you’re here to protect the students or whatever, they have nothing to fear from me. Though I can’t speak for the dozen other demons running around or the vampire one of the other schools brought with them—I wasn’t lying about that.”

The two glanced towards each other, frowns crossing their faces.

Eva used the distraction to slip around them. Where she edged around them, trying to avoid looking like she was going to attack them, Arachne followed with far less subtlety. Her footsteps were heavier than normal and she leered over the two much smaller girls as she moved. Eva couldn’t really blame her. The nuns had been the ones to blow her head off, after all.

Neither girl tried to stop them as they left the room. They didn’t try to follow either. By the time Eva and Arachne reached the end of the hallway, both girls were talking back and forth at a speed that would make an auctioneer envious.

“Pointless waste of time.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Eva said. “Hopefully they don’t follow me around anymore. With saying all but the name about the vampire, I’m counting on each to distract the other enough for both to leave me alone.”

“What about your vampire friend? Assuming they believe you, you just set them on a vampire hunt.”

“Well, Serena should be fine. She isn’t wandering around the halls and isn’t from one of the other schools, something I explicitly said. They should focus on the students before Serena. But I’ll warn her later just in case.”

Arachne shrugged with a noncommittal grunt. Her interest in Serena amounted solely to any harm she could do towards Eva, she had confessed earlier. So long as Serena kept her fangs in other people, Arachne wouldn’t blink an eye.

Eva had wisely—in her opinion—neglected to mention the teleportation incident.

Momentarily free of both the vampire and the Elysium Order trainees, Eva stopped her aimless wandering through the halls. She headed straight towards the warding room.

Professor Lepus was still inside, much to Eva’s relief. It had been getting close to the end of her office hours. From outside the room, Eva only had her blood sight to tell what she was doing.

Namely, sitting at her desk in the office attached to the classroom. Her hands whisked across what Eva assumed were sheets of paper. They moved fast enough to be a blur. The way her eyes twitched across the paper was almost dizzying.

And her heart. Someone in the middle of a marathon wouldn’t have a beat rate so fast. There was a student at the feast of the schools whose heart was beating faster than any human heart. Even that looked like it wasn’t moving compared to how fast the professor’s heart was currently beating.

Eva burst into the classroom and the attached office without so much as a single knock.

The second she opened the office door, everything seemed to warp. Professor Lepus’ heart dropped its speed to what Eva would consider normal for someone who had just been startled by a demon bursting into their room. She stared at Eva over the bridge of a pair of reading glasses. Her eyes started wide before narrowing to angry slits.

“Was there a reason for entering my office unannounced?”

“I just…” Eva stared, trying to figure out how her heart could possibly have been beating so fast without killing her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t exactly say that she had seen her blood. Anderson knowing about her blood magic was one thing. Wayne and Zoe another.

Really, she was lucky that demon blood was black or everyone would put two and two together. Or would they? Even if people saw her turn the blood to crystal, would they really make the connection? After all, where would all that blood have come from?

Obviously, she hadn’t been doing any blood magic. It had been a demon thing.

All the more important to keep it secret while she could. Especially because the nuns probably suspected at the very least. She didn’t need to give them another reason to chase her around.

“Are you alright?”

“Perfect,” Lepus said with a terse frown. “Did you have a reason for intruding in my office?”

“This is still open hours, right?”

Her frown lessened slightly as she nodded her head. “I prefer a knock next time.”

“I’ll try to remember.”

“See that you do.”

There was a slight pause while Eva stood around, still trying to figure out just what had happened. The professor said she was alright and who was Eva to disagree. Sticking her nose too far into more problems would just add to her workload.

Deciding not to pursue the matter further at the moment, Eva took one step into the room.

Only to find Professor Lepus glaring at her once again. “Your friend can wait outside,” she said, flicking her eyes towards Arachne. “It is bad enough that she follows you around all day. However, my open door policy is for students only.”

“With everything that’s been going on, she’s just been a little protective,” Eva said before turning to Arachne. “But I’ll be fine. Keep an eye out for the vampire or the nuns and politely scare them off if they wander by.”

“But–”

“Professor Lepus isn’t going to attack me.” As Arachne opened her mouth, Eva held up a hand. “I’m one room away. In the extraordinarily low chance that she does decide to attack me, I’ll just shout out for you.”

Arachne actually glared at Eva for a moment. Not long. And not a very harsh glare either. She turned a far more vicious look towards the professor before storming out of the room.

Eva just sighed as the door closer did its job closing the door. “Sorry about that,” she said, moving up to take the seat on the opposite side of the desk.

It was the first time she had been inside her warding professor’s office. Unlike her classroom, which was fairly spartan, the office was well decorated. She had several classical looking paintings hung up around the room. The most prominent of which was of a fairly empty landscape with a bunch of melting pocket watches.

Eva only got to glance around for a second before Professor Lepus started speaking.

“Vampires,” she said with a disbelieving huff. “I remember when this institution had some integrity. Dean Halsey’s mismanagement threw much of it in the trash. Turner’s questionable associates didn’t help. Don’t even get me started on Anderson.”

Eva kept her mouth firmly closed. She was not interested in any kind of rant on the school’s staff.

Seeing that she wasn’t about to continue her discussion, Professor Lepus sighed. “Anyway, did you need something?”

“Warding help, actually.”

“That is my specialty.”

“I’ve been working on a bit of an extracurricular project. An experiment, though really only to test myself. I need to create a large ward to keep out rain and snow.”

Turning to a large grandfather clock to the side of her desk, Professor Lepus nodded her head. “Alright. Four minutes. I will teach you the necessary thought patterns. After that, actually constructing the ward will be up to you.”

Four minutes? That was almost no time at all. She had anticipated spending the better part of the evening with the professor. Then again, she was only going to teach the thought patterns, not supervise the creation of a test ward.

But that should be decent enough. All the practice she had been giving herself in her free time would help.

“Why don’t you tell me how far you’ve gotten on your own.”

“Alright,” Eva said, settling into her seat. She would leave any mention of the ritual out. If asked what the ward was for, it would be to keep the weather out of the cracked roof in a house. She didn’t always live at the dorms after all. Most teachers knew that. One more wouldn’t change anything.

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008.011

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“You were noticed?”

Clement started to shake his head, but paused after considering the question. “I wasn’t noticed, but one of the demons was aware that he was being watched.”

“As long as the augur didn’t spot you. The enchantments provided by the naughty nun,” she said with some amount of disdain in her voice, “won’t work if they know where to look.”

“I know,” Clement said for what had to be the tenth time. Just because he couldn’t use magic himself didn’t mean he couldn’t understand simple concepts.

Especially concepts related to enchanting.

The enchantments on his visor—his new visor—were quite the upgrade. Previously, he would be able to track demons. Walls hadn’t been much of an obstacle, but they did lessen clarity. More than that required specialized equipment that Gertrude had enchanted.

Now he could see specific individuals so long as they radiated enough demonic taint. He could tell which direction they were facing, whether they were standing or sitting, and several other minor details.

That wasn’t even getting into the auditory enchantments. Being able to hear a fly land on the wall was somewhat disorienting. Especially when Gertrude’s voice sounded perfectly normal at the same time.

It was handy for spying. Clement had to admit that.

Gertrude frowned, but she didn’t move.

She couldn’t move. Even with all the wonders of magic and potions, there was only so much that could be done about damage to the spinal cord. And Gertrude had a bit more than simple damage. She had three separate wounds that had each punctured straight through different points of her spine.

Clenching his fist, Clement grit his teeth together. She could still work her magic. Gertrude had been churning out a full suit of armor for him, complete with enchantments. His original suit had taken years to make, but this one would be completed within a handful of weeks. A few months total, but nothing that compared to his old suit.

That was about all she could do. With all of her time dedicated to enchanting, there wasn’t much in the way of distractions. No putting down a gauntlet to run off chasing down some demon or other.

She did have another project. Something that might assist her in moving about. Whether or not she would be able to fight was still unknown. At the very least, she would be able to get out and do reconnaissance with Clement.

“Stop that.”

Clement started. He closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath before relaxing himself.

“I can hear your teeth grinding together. You’ll ruin them, you know?”

Making a noncommittal grunt, Clement moved closer to Gertrude and brushed some of her hair out of her eyes. “Can I get you anything?”

“Not right now. But this is troublesome. We got rid of one of the primary summoners and half of the demons around. Now there are a dozen more? What does it take to put down this infestation?”

“Should we really be here?”

Gertrude’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. They were one of the few things that she still had full control over. As such, she went to every effort to make full use of her glares.

“You’re not suggesting we run, are you?”

“There are other demon hunters in the area now. Leave it to them. You said that healers of the Elysium Order might be able to mend your back. Let us seek them out.”

“And leave this to those amateurs? They run in and get themselves killed. We can’t leave this to them.”

Clement frowned. They hadn’t run in and yet Gertrude was lying in a bed, immobile. She had been caught off guard by a blood magic wielding demon and another demon who appeared entirely out of nowhere. Clement had only succeeded in his mission because of Gertrude’s ring. That was gone now. If another demon of that caliber appeared, they would be dead without a doubt.

Something is being planned and it does not bode well for humanity. Whatever it is.”

Gertrude wanted to shake her head in frustration. He could tell just from the way her lips curled downwards ever so slightly.

“Did you learn anything?”

Clement grit his teeth again for just a moment before remembering Gertrude’s warning. “Nothing significant. The humans were schoolchildren, discussing being trapped in Hell for a time. After that…”

“After that what?”

Frown deepening, Clement shook his head. “They discussed school. Attending it. The demons—or the female at least—seemed excited. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought they were ordinary children. Only a few comments stood out as things children wouldn’t discuss. Other than being stuck in Hell, that is.

“Of course, I missed portions of their conversation. If I watched for too long, the male demon would sense my observations and comment on it, halting the discussion.”

“Troublesome. Not insurmountable though. And you didn’t hear anything from the main group of demons?”

“I stopped by, but the dormitories are too full of people. All the sound blurs together into one unintelligible mess.”

Clement had been hoping to hear anything. After the girl and the demon who had injured Gertrude teleported in, he had tried for a while. Too long, if he was being honest with himself. Unfortunately, the enchantments just weren’t up to the task of filtering out things he didn’t need to hear.

“As we expected. I may be able to adjust the enchantment. It wouldn’t be ready soon, however.”

“Shouldn’t you at least be working on your own project. Doing something for yourself and getting mobile again?”

“No time. If these demons are planning on something, we need your armor ready to handle whatever that may be.”

“But–”

“Don’t argue. I’m not able to fight at the moment. It is going to be all up to you. Other hunters are unreliable. They can’t even kill a single demon despite sacrificing their lives trying. Pathetic.

Clement stood still in their home—one of the many abandoned buildings around Brakket City—and watched Gertrude for a moment.

With his sword still intact, he held no doubts about his ability to handle most of the demons out there. There were a few that might give him pause, but quelling a number of them might be enough to disrupt their plans. Finishing his armor would only increase his chances of success. Especially his chances of success while still living through it in the end.

If he died, was captured, or otherwise became unavailable while Gertrude was bedridden… she might be able to teleport someplace where she could get help, but he doubted that she would trust anyone to do anything. It was a very real possibility that she might choose to starve in this bed.

He didn’t argue against her words, but he didn’t have to like them either.

“Bring me your new boots,” she said after a moment. “I’ll get to working on reweaving the enchantments.”

Clement stood still for just a moment before moving to comply. She was right in the end. He needed to be ready for whatever may happen. To protect her, if nothing else.

— — —

The week couldn’t end soon enough for Eva.

Going to regular school with nothing exciting on the side to distract her was something of a nightmare. She had thought that it would be nice. A vacation from demon hunters, necromancers, nuns, and whatever else had plagued her school career. Unfortunately, that lack of excitement just revealed the true monotony of Brakket Academy—the dull feeling that most normal students experienced over the course of their school years.

Even a dozen demons running around the school and posing as students didn’t create quite the drama that Eva might have expected.

Professor Chelsea Lepus spent a moment loudly clearing her throat. “Now class, I know you’re still excited about our new friends,” she said with only a hint of distaste leaking through in her tone, “but we do have material that needs to be covered in a timely manner.”

One of the demons had been assigned to Eva’s class. The demon called Srey. One of the few who didn’t actually seem to want to be on Earth. He kept to himself in the back of the classroom, shooting glares at… well, mostly everyone, but especially those who approached him.

Not that his glares actually stopped anyone.

Glancing over her shoulder, Eva found a number of people all seated at his table. Mostly girls, but he had a few guys seated nearby as well.

And they were continuously giggling about something or other.

Apparently his appearance was cute. Eva just didn’t see it. As a human, he didn’t look much different from most other teens around the school. He had moderately long hair draped over one eye—though he wasn’t hiding anything behind the hair—and was lean almost to the point of being too skinny.

Of course, nobody knew what he really looked like. Not even Eva. She hadn’t asked and he hadn’t appeared anywhere outside his human form to the best of her knowledge. To her sense of demons, he was somewhat wispy and insubstantial. Not in the same vacuous manner of Vektul, but just lacking a firm presence.

But knowing that he was disguising himself didn’t stop half of Eva’s warding class from gathering around him.

There were two types of human students around the school. Some were fearful. It was easy to tell who fit into that category as they often ran around with their heads down, trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Why they still attended Brakket was anyone’s guess. Maybe they had no other choices either because of family and monetary issues or perhaps their family just didn’t see demons as a big deal.

Or they were first generation mages and had nowhere else to go.

The second category were the ones who were desperately overeager to interact with the demons. People who tried to crowd around the demons during meals, classes, or even between classes in the hallways. They would badger the demons with questions and comments in a manner that Eva would have expressly discouraged in the diablery class.

There were very few people in between the two groups. Her friends, including Irene and Shelby, were somewhat subdued about the whole thing. Most of the students who had participated in the diablery class were as well—which was nice to see. Just about everyone else fit in one category or another.

Amusingly enough, most of the demons seemed to prefer the company of the fearful group of students. Something that didn’t surprise Eva all that much. She wouldn’t want to be pestered with incessant questions about Hell or what she really looked like. A few demons reveled in the attention. The succubus that Juliana had met with chief among them. But the majority either kept to themselves or drifted towards the quieter half of the student body.

Unfortunately, her current class fit into the latter category.

Really, she wished that they would stop.

Chelsea Lepus was the warding professor for Brakket Academy, one of the electives that Eva had decided would be good to take. It had a vague relation to shackles that gave her a familiar enough grounding while still being something new. So far, it actually had very little to do with her blood wards. Those were constructed and acted entirely differently from thaumaturgical wards.

A good teacher, but she was strict.

Every time she stopped to address any disruptions, time just seemed to drag on.

Eva watched the clock, wondering if it had always been so slow. Each tick seemed to take longer than the previous.

“As I’m sure you’ve learned in your theory classes,” she said as the giggling died down. “Circles are an excellent basis for magical effects. They contain the magic put into them, allowing it to be used to power whatever you’re trying to do.

“In rituals, we draw a circle and define a height in the pattern itself. This contains the magical effect to a limited area. Were you to leave this part out, the magic would disperse upwards and downwards, still within the circle though too thin to work with in most cases.”

Professor Lepus drew a somewhat lopsided circle on the board and filled it with what Eva was almost certain were nonsensical scribbles until there was very little of the whiteboard visible.

“However, we are not learning how to create ritual circles. Thaumaturgy is all about phasing out such tiresome and cumbersome work used in the ways of old magics, replacing physical drawings with mental thought patterns. However, with only thought patterns things become both simpler and more complex.

“Some of you may be able to look at this and memorize all the intricate details contained within so thoroughly that you can form a perfect picture of the circle within your mind’s eye. And that will work for spell casting. But memory is prone to error. Sometimes a catastrophic error. Dangerous to cast and if I catch anyone doing so, you’ll be out of this class instantly.”

Pacing at the front of the classroom with her hands clasped behind her back, Professor Lepus stared out over the class as if daring them to go ahead and try.

After a few moments of staring, she took the eraser and wiped out a sizable portion of the circle.

“I just erased the spatial limiting portion of the circle. There is still a lot left, but it is far easier to memorize now, wouldn’t you say?”

“Won’t the magic just leak out the tops and bottoms now?” someone from the back of the class called out.

“Raise your hand before speaking Ana, but yes. Were you to attempt to power the circle as is, the magic would disperse. However, outside the physical space and with the power of thought, we can contain the magic elsewise. Can anyone think of how?”

The class fell silent for a moment. Even the people in the very back of the room were paying attention.

Eva had a feeling that she knew the answer, it was really quite obvious. But she didn’t want to get it wrong. With her distinctive appearance, she often felt that other people noticed her more often than they noticed others. And she really didn’t want to give demons a bad name by failing what was probably an extremely simple question.

At Eva’s side, Irene raised a hand into the air, saving Eva from having to answer. When called upon, she cleared her throat before speaking. “Think of a sphere.”

“Very good, Irene. In the physical world, drawing a sphere isn’t the easiest thing,” she said with a chuckle. Pointing a finger at the blank spot on the board, she continued. “But a simple object like a sphere can take the place of a portion of the circle. In this class, we’ll learn how to take more away from the ritual circle until all that remains is an easily memorizable spell. Casting it won’t be as quick and easy as your lightnings and fireballs, but it will be much faster than drawing it all out. Not to mention the lack of back problems from being hunched over the floor for hours on end.”

Looking around the classroom, Professor Lepus gave a firm nod of her head. “That will be class for the day. There will be no extracurricular work, though try to think up ways to simplify ritual circles with the power of thought.”

As soon as she finished speaking, the chime rang, signaling the end of class. Perfectly timed as always. No matter the disruptions, her lessons so far all had ended just as the bell was ringing.

Almost as if she planned for the disruptions.

Standing up, Eva arched her back, listening to the light pops going up her spine. Sitting in one spot for too long really put a crick in her back.

But at least she felt like she was learning something. Without all the excitement and danger going on, she actually had time to pay attention to the lessons. They were finally going more in-depth on the order and chaos side of thaumaturgy.

“I can’t believe you guys visited some demons without me.”

“I thought you would be showing up,” Irene said with a sigh. “Juliana said you might be coming.”

“Yeah, she didn’t tell me about it until after. Though not wanting them to be focused on me was a decent reason, it would have been nice to at least have been told.”

“Well, it was a strange experience. I had to keep reminding myself that we were meeting with demons and not some random student. Catherine is much more… obvious once you know what to look for.”

“They would definitely blend in a whole lot better if nobody knew that they were demons beforehand,” Eva said, glancing over her shoulder towards the demon in their class.

Srey was staring right at her. All the students around him were packing their bags or otherwise getting ready to go on to their next class. He just sat and stared.

Until Eva met his eyes.

With a slight jerk of his head towards the doorway, he stood up, slipped between the students crowding him, and made his way to the hallway.

Eva sighed. “I think he wants to talk with me now too.”

Irene, having watched the whole thing, just shook her head. “What gave you that idea?”

“Just the words of a little birdie passing by. Come on, let’s go see what he wants.”

“Me too?” Irene asked, taking a step back. After a moment, her shoulders slumped. “Fine. Save your breath. I would have just gotten talked into it in the end anyway. Or dragged along somewhat unwillingly.”

“That was one time. Every other time has been entirely your choice.”

“And that one time just so happened to be the time monsters almost killed us. At least nothing too bad happens when I go willingly.”

“You’re acting far too melodramatic,” Eva said as they got out into the hallway.

Looking around, she couldn’t find Srey anywhere. She could still feel him around, but his body was gone.

Which meant he had to be invisible.

Walking towards the insubstantial sense Srey emitted, Eva reached out with a single finger. “Poke.”

She had been anticipating her finger touching something invisible, but it passed freely through the air. As her lips curled into a frown, the air drew together, solidifying into the shape of Srey.

Not invisibility then. Or not solely invisibility. Either intangibility or some gaseous form.

It didn’t really matter right now. Maybe not ever, even. It was still nice to know.

And it gave just a little more reason for the insubstantial feeling she got from him.

“Sorry to disturb you,” he said, averting his eyes to one side while giving a slight bow.

Eva waited for him to explain what he was sorry about or what he was disturbing her for, whichever one he thought to call her out for. But Srey stayed frozen in his half-bow, head angled towards the ground.

Glancing towards Irene, Eva rolled her eyes. These demons were getting annoying. She was extraordinarily grateful that Arachne, Catherine, and Ylva hadn’t changed their mannerisms around her. It would be absolutely miserable if she couldn’t hold a conversation with any of them.

“Alright. What do you want?”

“I thought you might be interested to know that you are being watched.”

“That doesn’t sound particularly new.”

“They hate you. A lot. And me as well.”

Eva shook her head. “Nope. Still doesn’t sound too new.”

Though if Des was the one watching her, things could get troublesome. She was already known to not be too careful in involving innocents in her plots. Unless Eva was grossly underestimating her, she shouldn’t be that difficult of an opponent unless she had brought the haugbui with her.

Which she probably had, if it was her. However, Nel had been keeping track of the dark spot in her vision that followed Des around. Last Eva checked in, she hadn’t been moving anywhere close to Brakket. If she had been, Eva imagined that Nel would be running straight to Eva to let her know. Or borrow Zoe’s cellphone and just send off a simple text. Either would work.

The only other people who might hate Eva—at least the only others she could think of off the top of her head—would be demon hunters. They were a far more likely choice given the amount of demons openly walking around. If it was the hunters that had attacked Martina Turner, all the better. Eva hadn’t pretended to like the woman, but getting a little revenge on her and Lucy’s behalf might be fun.

“I don’t suppose you know who or where these people are?”

“They were watching us long enough that I just might. A vague direction to check out, at the very least.”

Eva took a deep breath. “Let me contact Arachne and perhaps Vektul. Irene–”

“I’m not going.”

“Wasn’t going to ask you to,” Eva said with a smile. “Just let Zoe know when you see her in class. We’re on a pure reconnaissance mission. The first sight of anything amiss, we’ll retreat. So tell her not to worry.”

“She’s going to cancel class to come and find you.”

“Maybe.” Eva paused, considering a thought. “Maybe I’ll go find Juliana. If she’s sneaking around meeting with demons, maybe she’s bored enough to go searching for demon hunters.”

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