Tag Archives: Lucy

009.023

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“Lucy?” Eva called out as she crept into the dormitory room assigned to the demon in question. Unlike the student demons—who were all housed in the Rickenbacker—Lucy’s assigned room was over in the Gillet. Eva honestly didn’t think that she had ever been inside. It was eerie. She was so used to everything being where it was in the Rickenbacker that walking inside its identical twin sent shivers down her spine.

Everything was mirrored. Instead of turning left at the top of the stairs, she had to turn right. The dorm rooms were on the wrong side of the hallway. The doors even opened to the wrong side.

Eva really just wanted to pop in, say sorry, then pop out.

But Lucy was hiding. Or rather, she had pressed herself flat and was hiding between the drawers underneath one of the beds.

“Lucy, I can see you. And sense you, for that matter.” Eva started tapping her foot.

By the third tap, Lucy had started squirming out from under the bed. She didn’t push out a drawer to do so. Tentacles emerged through the thin slits between the wood of the frame and the actual drawer. It was somewhat disturbing to watch at first, when not much of Lucy was actually through. Even knowing how her body looked through her blood sight, Eva didn’t know how she maneuvered around all four sides of the rectangular drawer without either tangling herself up or getting part of her caught on the other side. Somehow, she made it. A moment after piling herself up on the floor, she spread out to a proper humanoid form.

“Here to tear me apart again?”

“I’m not going to tear you apart. And it’s your own fault for not letting go.”

“You could have just pelted me with fireballs.”

“I tried fireballs.”

“I was supposed to let go after thirty direct hits from students’ attacks. You only made it to twenty-two.”

“Did chopping off each tentacle not count as a direct attack? Because I probably chopped off more than that.”

Lucy shrank in on herself—literally—before shaking her head. “I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting to get torn apart.”

Eva sighed as she placed a hand on Lucy’s shoulder. Something Lucy initially flinched away from until she realized that Eva wasn’t going to hurt her. “Look, I’m sorry about all that. I might have gotten a little hot-headed. How about this, would you like to go to a feast? You missed the big after-event dinner last time. I bet you could even sit up at the professors’ table with all the other important people! It will be fun! New experiences!”

“I do like new experiences. And fun. As long as it isn’t the hurting kind of experience.”

“Great!” Eva slapped Lucy on the back. “I’ll see you there.”

Time to go visit Anderson and ensure he knew to leave out an extra seat.

— — —

As Eva sat in the middle of the event closing feast, she couldn’t help but wonder if Anderson’s smile could get any wider. The results hadn’t even been announced yet. Brakket was obviously going to win. They wound up with seven crystals. It would have been eight, but one crystal had been taken out of the boundaries of Brakket’s camp right at the last second.

No crystals outside the border of the camps counted for any team in the end, so Brakket was in first place. Second place would be going to Isomer with five crystals. Nod Complex and Faultline had two each, and Mount Hope was left with one. And that was thanks only to Irene being unable to carry that one. All other crystals has been ‘in transit’ and therefore uncounted.

So with Brakket in the clear lead, it wasn’t hard to understand just what Anderson was so happy about. Still, in Eva’s opinion, he could at least have had the decorum to look a little subdued before the results were officially announced. At this point, she would find it hilarious if Redford and his judges had some other criteria for who would be winning first place.

“He’s still there,” Juliana whispered, setting down a fork.

She leaned in so close that Eva actually scooted away. Even still, her voice didn’t quite carry to Eva’s ears despite them sitting right next to each other. Luckily, what little did reach Eva’s ears, combined with her burgeoning lip-reading skills, was enough that she could understand.

In response, Eva didn’t offer anything but a slight hum. Juliana couldn’t lip read. More, she didn’t want to say anything just in case one of the many air mages around was using magic to carry what little air Juliana disturbed to their ears. She doubted anyone was doing so, but she couldn’t be sure.

“I can feel him. And his magic.” Juliana said, apparently not picking up on the reason for Eva’s lack of response. Though Eva couldn’t really blame her. This feast the day after the event and her kidnapping was the first opportunity for them to be together without her parents in the immediate area.

Of course, her parents were still at the feast—Zoe had invited them up to the front of the stage. They weren’t sitting with Juliana though, and apparently that was good enough for her.

“He hasn’t said a single word since teaching me how to use his magic.” She ran her fingers through her hair, tugging slightly as she went. “What if he is upset? Am I not entertaining enough? What–”

“You’re getting a little loud,” Eva said, her own voice still a whisper but not nearly so quiet as Juliana had first been. “Besides, you worry too much. Obviously he hasn’t…” Pausing, Eva considered her words.

Shalise looked in their direction, obviously having noticed that they were speaking. She raised a curious eyebrow to which Eva just smiled. Eva had told her what had happened in the privacy of their dormitory room, so she wouldn’t have a problem bringing her into the conversation—she was the expert of the three of them on having a demon inside her, after all. However, that would just increase the volume of their words. Better to just table it for the moment.

“He hasn’t tried to escape, so nothing to worry about.”

“Easy for you to say,” Juliana said in a much more normal tone of voice, slouching her shoulders as she shoved around her food, mixing the mashed potatoes with the mashed lychee.

Before Eva could say anything else, a certain vampire plopped down in the vacant seat directly opposite Eva. Saija, to his side, narrowed her eyes as she looked over to him.

But the vampire didn’t even notice. His smug face had eyes for nobody but Eva.

“Who are you again?”

His smile slipped into a lip-curling scowl. “Your humor is lacking.”

“Oh, except it wasn’t a joke. I honestly can’t remember your name. Do you know it?” Eva asked, glancing towards Juliana. At the shake of her head, Eva turned towards her opposite side where Shalise also shook her head. Turning back to the vampire, Eva frowned. “There you have it. Nobody knows who you are.”

It took a great deal of effort to suppress her smile as the vampire ground his teeth together. “I’m–”

“Before that,” Eva said, holding up a hand, “Juliana, do you mind if I try something?”

“Ah… that depends. There are a lot of things you might want to try that I do not particularly want to be involved in. Or that my mother would like me involved in, for that matter.”

“Oh don’t worry,” Eva said with a wide grin, “nothing scary. Just a thought experiment. Let’s say that somebody can jump but we really don’t want them to…” She trailed off and waited.

It took a moment. Not a long moment. Soon enough, Juliana had a similar grin on her face. “I think I can do that,” she said. And then she started mumbling, more to herself than to Eva. “Though we should change it to communicate. That way writing it down or sign language wouldn’t work. I should probably make sure there aren’t any dead man’s switches, though I might have to think that one over for a bit on exactly how to word it.”

“Take your time, I doubt it needs to be done tonight.”

The vampire’s impatience at being ignored peaked. He put a fist down on the table hard enough to clatter the plates and cutlery. A few people glanced over, but no more than what was usual for Eva kept looking for very long. “What are you two talking about?” he said.

“Like I said,” Eva said, turning back to the vampire with an even wider grin. It was almost as big as Anderson’s. “Just a thought experiment. Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time keeping up. I wouldn’t expect a rot-addled brain to comprehend.”

His dead eyes narrowed to thin slits.

“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but try anything against me and you’ll regret it.”

Eva snapped her face back to a serious expression. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Especially not while entertaining the thought that Juliana could use Zagan to get rid of her vampire problem. “Right. I wouldn’t dare so long as you’re holding any secrets over me.”

“And don’t you forget it.”

“So, what did you come over here for?”

The vampire—who still had yet to introduce himself properly—straightened his back as he stared over at Eva. “The third event will be beginning after the New Year’s holidays. The two of us will be able to participate once again. I was thinking we might have another little wager.”

“About my blood again?”

“What else?” he said with a smug shrug.

Eva frowned. Even if Juliana could correct his ability to open his mouth about things she didn’t want said—without him knowing at that—it would still be best to keep him believing that he could say something. If only to prevent him from trying to and potentially finding a way around whatever Juliana was going to do.

Really, it would be so much simpler if the Elysium Order did their job. Though Eva supposed she was partially to blame for that. And then they might also catch wind of Serena, which she didn’t want to happen. Not all vampires are terrible. Just all of them that weren’t named Serena.

Supposedly Wayne’s sister was also a vampire, or so Serena had said, but Eva had never met her. For all she knew, Serena was an absolute anomaly and Wayne’s sister would be insufferable as well. Then again, thinking about it for a few minutes, Serena was fairly insufferable in her own way. It was just that Eva had gotten used to it.

“Why don’t we raise the stakes?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“If Nod Complex comes out on top of Brakket, I’ll supply you with a weekly vial of my blood for a year. Fifty-two vials, in other words.”

“I see no issue with that.”

“If Brakket wins…” Eva tapped her chin in thought. “An equal amount of your blood.”

She had no real concrete plans, but she was a blood mage! If she couldn’t find anything worth doing with it, she probably needed to rethink her choices in magic specialization. The vampire hadn’t done anything really worth killing him over, but she was sure there would be several other annoyances she could come up with.

If worse came to worst and Juliana couldn’t get rid of their problem, she could always try out the sense-sharing spell. Despite her poor experience in using it on Sawyer, two days of spying on him could easily reveal whatever backup plans he had.

“My blood? Why would you want my blood? You don’t drink blood, do you?”

Shalise made a face, looking almost like she was going to be sick.

Eva ignored it. “I don’t drink blood,” she said with a shrug. “However, I’m not averse to making money. I’m sure vampire blood can be used in all sorts of potions and magical reagents.”

“Selling my blood?” He scoffed, shaking his head. With a prideful flourish, he stood from the table. “It won’t matter. If you think I haven’t learned your tricks. And this time, you won’t be allied with the…” His lips curled again as he trailed off, shooting a glance at the Isomer table. “Elysium Order,” he eventually finished, sounding more like he was swearing than actually talking. “But I can agree to your bet. Fifty-two vials. Plus no less than ten direct feedings.”

Did he have to be so creepy about it? It was hard enough to keep her smile from faltering. Shalise had her eyes closed and her nose scrunched up. Even Juliana had shoved her meal away from her as she stared at the vampire.

On the other hand, Saija’s glower at having the vampire sitting next to her reached its peak. “Great. Now that you’re done, do you mind?” She wafted her hand in front of her nose. “Ugh. Dead people. Reeks like raw fish. Or worse. You shouldn’t be allowed around everybody’s meals. It’s not like you can eat it anyway.”

“No one asked you, demon,” he snarled.

“Your breath isn’t doing you any favors either,” she said, turning her head with her nose wrinkled. “Even if you’re dead, you could still have a mint every now and again, right?”

Eva cleared her throat before more snide remarks could be thrown. Not that she really minded, but the nuns had started to stare. “You should probably head back to your school’s table. I’d rather have as little known fraternization as possible between us.”

He gave a slight snort but turned and walked off towards the Nod Complex’s seating.

“Creep,” Juliana mumbled under her breath, to which Shalise gave a few vigorous nods.

“Yeah. I wish Devon would get on with my next treatment already. Apparently my most recent treatment made me unpalatable towards one other vampire. Maybe another would work on this guy.”

Juliana’s back stiffened. “Other vampire? The one from our room?”

“Yeah. She’s been around somewhere. I saw her just after the hunters attacked. Not since though, I wonder where she’s been,” Eva mumbled to herself. “But don’t worry, she’s back to her normal self. No lunging at you and trying to eat you. Too much, anyway.”

“You sure know how to make people feel better,” Juliana said with a sigh.

“I do try,” Eva said with a smile. She was going to say more, but Anderson chose that moment to get up on center stage.

As with the previous event, he introduced Wallace Redford. Redford stood from his seat—he wasn’t next to the quetzalcoatl this time. In fact, Eva couldn’t see the quetzalcoatl anywhere around. Maybe her presence had been a one-off thing. Redford announced the results exactly as Eva had expected. Brakket first, Isomer second, Faultline and Nod Complex tied for third, and Mount Hope fifth.

Throughout it all, Eva barely paid attention. The results were a mere formality at this point. Though she did give Irene a thumbs up when Brakket was announced as first. Had it not been for her, Brakket and Mount Hope would have tied for second underneath Isomer.

And, frankly, Irene deserved a little praise. Getting carried around by Saija all night didn’t look like the funnest thing that could have happened.

Irene didn’t look all that happy at the minor praise. Though she smiled, she quickly ducked her head and stared down at her plate, avoiding eye-contact with everyone else for a few minutes until she thought nobody was looking.

To be fair, nobody was looking. Eva only observed her through her blood sight. However, her thoughts were interrupted before she could consider Irene more.

“The next event will be held the second week of January. As with the other events, you will be unaware of what is required to succeed until immediately before the event. Enjoy your holidays, though do not neglect your training. It just might mean the difference between success and defeat.”

“Thank you Wallace,” Anderson said, stepping back into his spot as Redford headed back towards his seat. “Now, before we all disperse for the evening, I do have a few… announcements to make. I do not wish to imply that Brakket Academy may be unsafe; however, there was an incident recently that I feel it is necessary to make everyone aware of.”

At Eva’s side, Juliana shifted, she moved her hands down to her lap and mimicked Irene in avoiding people’s gaze.

“There was an attempt at kidnapping a Brakket Academy student over the weekend. Mage-knight Genoa Rivas, Eva Spencer, and the demon Arachne managed to recover the student unharmed shortly after the incident; however, the kidnapper managed to escape. Until the situation can be resolved and the perpetrator captured, students are not to wander Brakket City unaccompanied. Anywhere beyond the dormitory buildings is considered off-limits for the time being. If you need to shop for clothing, supplies, or anything else, please ask one of the professors you see up on stage,” he said with a wave of his hand back to the assembled teachers and headmasters.

Lucy, Eva noted, waved right back with a bright smile on her face. Eva wasn’t certain if she was supposed to have been included in that grouping, but maybe someone would ask her. That might be amusing to watch.

“Finally, if you see a woman with bright red hair down to her shoulders and an eye patch over her right eye, please keep your distance and contact help immediately. She may be wearing metallic armor.” He lifted his wand into the air and drew out a series of flaming numbers. They hung in the air just above his head. “I highly encourage everyone to add this number to their speed-dials. There will always be someone manning the phone ready to dispatch assistance.”

He clapped his hands together. The numbers kept hovering over his head, but his morose expression shifted back to a bright smile. “However, we expect to have the situation well in hand. Be aware, be safe, but try not to worry too much. There are a few more lighthearted announcements to make before I let you all go.

“We’ll be hosting a special event on the twenty-eighth. Optional to attend, but if you wish to intermingle with your fellow schools outside a school or contest setting, this will be the event for you. There will be a number of games and prizes–”

Eva’s attention waned. Her interest in holiday events for the various schools rated somewhere between being stuck in Sawyer’s head for a weekend and being strapped to Sawyer’s operating table. If everyone else wanted to have some fun party, that was perfectly fine with her. She had other things to think about.

Catherine for one. The succubus was going to stop by Brakket later on to inspect the ritual circle. Eva still had yet to describe its purpose to Catherine—she wanted to see if the purpose was evident in the design. If Catherine said that the circle was designed to split apart the Earth and send both halves cascading into the Sun, then she might be speaking with Vektul about some miscommunication regarding the ritual.

If she did divine just what the ritual was for, Eva was really hoping she wouldn’t have too many concerns over it.

Of course, that was assuming it got finished anytime soon. With Juliana’s parents both going into a completely overprotective mode, she might not be able to help out much. Eva had considered asking her to use Zagan’s power to instantly complete it, but considering a second time, she really didn’t want any magic-induced errors to appear. The circle was almost finished. With her non-Juliana help, it wouldn’t take forever. Then they could go over the entire thing by hand, double checking it all.

Might still be a good idea to recruit someone else as well. And then she still needed the actual people to help power the circle. A combination of demons and humans. Juliana probably wouldn’t work anymore with her having been bound to Zagan. She could check in with Vektul, but better to be safe than sorry.

But that was still a little further off than even the completion of the circle.

The other big issue was the hunter. Despite Anderson’s claims of having the situation well in hand. Frankly, she just didn’t believe that he would do much of anything. He might believe it, but not Eva. In her opinion, Genoa was far more likely to do something.

Which might have been what Anderson was counting on.

Still, the possibility of him actually doing something didn’t mean that Eva would sit idle. The hunter was after her, after all. And she had just the idea in mind. She would wander around on the streets and get herself captured.

Her thoughts broke as the dinnerware before her began clattering. It was a small thing. The clattering didn’t last more than a few seconds. The only reason it was audible at all was because the entire room fell into a brief silence. Eva scarcely felt it herself.

“An earthquake?” Anderson said from up on the stage, confusion marring his features. He waited a moment as if listening for anything else. But nothing came. “Huh. Well, probably nothing to worry about. Brakket Academy isn’t just brick and mortar. It’s magic. It won’t fall to something as mundane as an earthquake. As I was saying, celebrations!”

Again, Eva tuned him out as she glanced to her side. Shalise had her arms wrapped around her and trembled. “You alright,” Eva asked, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“There were enough earthquakes in Hell,” she whispered.

Ah, right. Eva rubbed her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Like Anderson said, it was probably nothing. Some slight ripple from a far-off quake. And even if it is less benign, we’re all here this time,” she said, gesturing to the whole table.

Still… Earthquakes were rare in Montana. Not unheard of, but not exactly common either. And Eva wasn’t the type to believe in coincidence. It was probably that hunter. Since her sky beam had been destroyed, she was probably trying something else. This time from below.

Eva definitely needed to deal with her.

>>Author’s Note 009<<

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007.020

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Eva saw them arrive on her floor just as another of Lucy’s tendrils snapped off.

Zoe had her dagger out in her hand already while Juliana was in nearly full combat armor. Her face was clear, but she otherwise had a metal helmet covering her head. It looked as if she would be able to fill in the hole at the first sign of trouble.

They weren’t running with half as much speed as Eva thought they should be. Of course, one doesn’t simply rush Ylva. The rest of them had no excuse.

“I need you to destroy as much of the inside of the room as possible,” Eva said, shifting her gaze between Zoe, Nel, and Juliana. “And fast.”

In the short time that she had been left waiting for the others to arrive, Eva had shed more blood in an attempt to damage the shackles and other circles around Lucy. Whatever had been done to the door had also been done to the floor, rendering her efforts worthless for the most part. The ceiling hadn’t been protected. She had managed to destroy a few markings up there. Whatever was pulling Lucy apart had slowed, but not stopped.

Most of the circles and shackles were on the floor.

Nel would be the best person to help out. If her magic-eating lightning could remove whatever protections were on the floor, everything would be easier for everyone else. She didn’t even need to damage the floor herself, just enable Eva’s fireballs and Zoe’s lightning.

She was hoping that Juliana and Zoe would be able to overpower whatever damage resistance enchantments there were.

Unfortunately for Eva, and more so for Lucy, both women balked as soon as they caught sight of the room.

Zoe reared back as she covered her mouth with the back of one hand, gazing into the room with wide eyes. She recovered quickly enough and started lashing out with both lightning and razor wind. She gave no complaint nor asked what had happened as she set into her work.

Juliana did not fare half as well. She stumbled backwards, one hand clasped around her mouth and the other across her stomach. After a few dry heaves, she managed to hold down her lunch–or whatever was the last meal that she ate. Still, she didn’t immediately move to help. She stood to the side and breathed in a few gasps of air.

Opening her mouth, Eva just about berated Juliana for her weak stomach while Lucy needed help. The thought only lasted an instant before Eva turned away. Not in disgust. This would be one of those things that Juliana would berate herself over later. One of the things that had caused her to dabble her fingers in diablery in the first place.

Besides, Nel was far more deserving of Eva’s disappointment. The moment the augur looked into the room, her eyes rolled back into her head as she collapsed against Ylva. Really, with how she had acted during Sawyer’s torture, Eva didn’t know why she had expected anything else.

Berating an unconscious woman wouldn’t do any good.

Instead, Eva focused her irritation on her fireballs. Already feeling lethargic and annoyed from a thumping in her head, she had abandoned using more of her own blood. Passing out wouldn’t help Lucy at all.

Exploding fireballs worked well enough in place of her blood. In fact, they probably worked better. Maybe if she had Zagan’s blood with her, but that was back at the women’s ward. A casual visit to Ylva and Zoe shouldn’t have needed the blood. It was stupid and foolish, something that Eva wanted to blame on her anemia-induced headache.

The explosions were somewhat problematic. Though she had managed to destroy the floor containing the shackle right at the doorway, it had taken a lot of power behind the fireball. Enough that trying the same thing near Lucy would probably do a whole lot more harm to the already severely injured demon.

Eva was toying with the power near Lucy. So far, she hadn’t managed to scratch the floor. Before long, it might be better just to explode Lucy and hope that she could survive.

“Eva,” Zoe said. Her own lightning was having less effect than Eva’s fireballs. “The spot you just hit, on the count of three, hit it again with everything you’ve got.”

“I can do fairly large explosions,” Eva said.

“Probably not larger than Wayne’s.”

Eva shrugged and started building up a fireball.

“One.”

The same spot that she had hit previously was a larger scorch mark just at the edge of the main shackles holding Lucy in place. Whatever was peeling her apart could stick around as long as it wanted if she could get Lucy out of there. Unfortunately, scorch marks weren’t enough to break the shackles. They had been carved into the linoleum, not just drawn on with some chalk.

“Two.”

Eva started compressing the gathered flames. This would definitely be a larger one. It was just what Zoe had asked for.

Hopefully she knew what she was doing.

There were shimmers in the air around Lucy. Enough of them to make it almost hard to see through. Zoe’s dagger was out and pointed straight at the disturbance in the air.

And she was taking a long time in getting to three.

All the while, Eva continued streaming fire into the small marble. She didn’t want to lose control of it while it was in her hand, but Zoe had asked for her best.

“Three!”

As soon as Zoe spoke, the semi-translucent bubble of air around Lucy went completely opaque.

Eva didn’t question the effect. She tossed the unstable marble of fire.

It landed just to the left of the already existing scorch mark. The moment it hit, the fragile shell of stable flames broke, unleashing everything inside.

Though she normally enjoyed a bit of heat, this was a bit much. Eva took a step back, shielding her face with an open palm as the wave of heat and noise rushed over her. Even half covering her eyes didn’t help block out the light.

For a moment, she stood in the doorway, not quite able to tell what was going on. She could still see through her blood sight. Juliana was behind her and Zoe had stepped around the edge of the doorway to avoid most of the heat. Whatever Zoe had done had worked. At least, in as far as Lucy was not a pile of ash after that.

But she couldn’t see the important thing. Was the floor broken?

Blinking away the spots in her eyes, Eva shook her head in an attempt to clear the fading ringing from her mind. As soon as her senses were back to a more normal sate, she took a look in the room.

Or what was left of it.

The floor around whatever shield or bubble or whatever Zoe had done was practically nonexistent. Only half of the couch was left behind, the rest was on fire. And that wasn’t all that was on fire. The curtains over the windows were smoking and the walls had embers glowing along parts. Over the kitchen counter in the back of the room, the windows had been blown out.

Given that the windows faced the street, hopefully no one had been walking around out there.

With her real eyes and a bit of closer look through her blood sight, Eva could see that Lucy had not survived unscathed. The skin covering her tendrils closest to the explosion had darkened and cracked. There was a bit of singing going on even on the opposite side of her body.

Whatever had been peeling her apart must have been damaged in the explosion. All of her tentacles were lying on the floor, writhing somewhat, but not being pulled from her main mass.

The important part was that she had survived. With her lack of a central heart or even a central brain, Eva doubted that Lucy would suddenly disappear into a portal to Hell. She would be able to heal as long as she didn’t bleed out.

It probably wouldn’t come to that, but Eva could ensure that it wouldn’t with her dagger.

“Careful,” Zoe said as Eva took a step into the room. She put a hand on Eva’s shoulder, stopping her from moving in any farther.

“I am.”

And she honestly was. This room had been set up to be extremely unfriendly towards demons. Half the markings inside were nothing that she had seen before. She almost wished that she had had the presence of mind to take a picture of it with her shiny new cell phone for Devon. He would have been able to tell her what it was all for.

But she hadn’t. She had been worried for Lucy and had immediately jumped to act on that.

Gingerly walking into the room, Eva approached the wiggling mass of tentacles. She had already broken the shackles that were right in front of the door. The shackles holding Lucy were broken as well. Much of the floor was broken between them and Eva couldn’t see anything on the walls or ceiling that might be dangerous.

At least, nothing between her and Lucy. Moving around the room, she could see some drawings around the kitchen windows and the bedroom doorway.

Eva stayed well away from there as she approached.

“Hey Lucy, I’m here.” Eva spoke in a soft tone of voice, keeping as calm as possible. “It’s Eva. You remember me, right?”

Lucy could be absolutely vicious when pressed. She had heard from Irene just what had happened to the enigmas that had infested her room. Startling Lucy could be a quick way to get herself killed.

The pile of tentacles didn’t respond. It just continued squirming around itself. Eva hadn’t really expected otherwise. In order to speak, Lucy not only had to form a mouth, tongue, throat, lungs, and everything else required, but she also had to use her tentacles to do so. With how injured she was, Eva wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t hear from the woman for a long while.

It was reassuring that she wasn’t lashing out in an attempt to strangle Eva.

“I’m going to press the flat of my dagger against your body,” Eva said as she knelt down next to Lucy. “It will help stop your bleeding. Don’t worry. You’re safe right now.”

Eva waited just a moment before reaching her dagger out, slow and steady. For all she knew, Lucy wasn’t in a state to understand a single word that she had said. The moment she touched her blade to the tentacles, she might find herself without an arm.

But, nothing happened. The flat of her blade pressed against one of the more profusely bleeding spots just as she had said it would. Lucy wiggled, but didn’t try to reach out.

If anything, she drew back in on herself.

Ignoring the reaction, Eva concentrated on the blood. She didn’t do anything with it for a moment but press her dagger against Lucy. As it pumped through her body, Eva gathered more of it under her control. When blood reached the points where her tentacles had been pulled off, Eva hardened the blood.

It wouldn’t be comfortable. Plates of hardened blood, even without any sharp edges, would be inconvenient when walking around. Or crawling, or whatever Lucy did when she wasn’t shaped like a human. But it would keep her blood inside of her. That was the important part.

The blood at the tip of her dagger hardened as she pulled away. It was done. Lucy was still a blob, but she wasn’t a bleeding blob.

Standing up, Eva let out a sigh of relief. She had been worried. Real worry. Not some superficial concern like she had felt for Lynn Cross after just about killing her with a teleport. The only reason she had cared for and healed Lynn was because of Shalise.

It was a bit strange. Not something that she really would have expected of herself under the best of circumstances. And after tromping through her domain, Eva had been all but certain that she would have reacted with revulsion upon seeing Lucy outside of her human form.

With a shake of her head, Eva looked back to the rest of the group. Zoe and Ylva were both looking around the apartment, though Ylva’s eyes were glued on a certain half-a-hexagon on part of the undamaged floor. Nel was slumped against the door frame. Clad in full armor, Juliana stood over her. Two elongated bars of metal stuck out from her hands as she posed herself half-crouched and ready for anything.

Eva was at a lost about what to do now. Tracking down those people who had been living in the room was a good start, but perhaps not this very minute. Certainly, Lucy couldn’t stay here. She needed a safe place to rest and recuperate.

The women’s ward would work. Her blood wards might have been taken down by the Elysium Order in less than a half-hour, but they would keep plenty of people from just wandering in.

And that was a definite concern.

No one seemed to live on this floor. Perhaps the owners of this apartment room had rented out the entire place. Maybe they had done something worse. But there were people on the floors above and below.

Her explosion hadn’t been one of those silent kinds. People had definitely heard. Some of those in the closer rooms might have even felt it. A few people were already on their way downstairs.

But Eva wasn’t sure that she could just wander off with her. Lucy was contracted to Martina Turner. It might be some sort of faux pas to just run off with her.

Whatever happened, something needed to be done now.

“Zoe,” Eva said, “people are coming to investigate the noise.”

After snapping one last picture with her phone of a partially intact ritual circle, Zoe glanced back towards the door. “How many?”

“Uh, all of them?”

“Great. You don’t see the original occupants of this room anywhere?”

Eva shook her head. “Not anywhere in my range. Didn’t see them on the way up either.” Though she hadn’t exactly been paying attention then, she was fairly confident that she would have noticed someone familiar.

“It is probably safest for them to remain in their rooms.” She started towards the door, but paused. “So long as this place doesn’t burn down. Can you extinguish–”

A chilled wind blew through the apartment room. Nothing Eva or Zoe had done. It took Eva a moment to notice Ylva looking around the room.

The fires weren’t anything large. Small smoldering cloths or wood. Whatever was flammable that hadn’t been put out by the force of the blast. Though none of it was major, there was the possibility that it all could flare up and ignite something.

Not that it mattered. All the flames died instantly under Ylva’s gaze.

“Thanks,” Zoe said as she stepped out of the room to intercept the other tenants.

She went out, holding her hands up as she approached the nearest person. Not as if she were being held up by a gun—or a wand, as was more likely at Brakket—but in a calming manner, trying to assure everyone that everything was just fine. Perhaps not fine, but rather under control.

Whatever the case, Zoe could handle it.

Eva had more important things to focus on.

Namely, sitting down and taking a nap.

Now that the immediate danger and excitement was over with, Eva could feel herself becoming less steady on her feet. Between Sawyer, Serena, and now Lucy, Eva could barely extend her fingers. She simply couldn’t maintain the pressure needed to keep her palms open. Normally it wasn’t something she had to even think about doing.

Potions, being almost exclusively designed for humans, had been doing less and less for Eva over the past few years. Even still, taking a blood replenishing potion might not be a bad idea. She would have to take a good ten or so before it affected her even a fraction of what a human would need, but every little bit would help.

Of course, that was something of a personal matter. More pressing was the fact that there was an enemy about.

Someone had tried to kill Lucy. Not just kill, but torture her along the way.

Eva blinked as she sat down on the floor. Juliana had mentioned that both Lucy and Daru were missing. If Lucy was here, where was Daru?

Tuning her senses for the morail demon, Eva found nothing. He wasn’t in the building. Or if he was, he was hidden behind whatever suppression field had hidden Lucy. But she also couldn’t see him with her sense of blood, so he probably wasn’t around.

Taken away by the people who put Lucy into this situation? Fled? He may already be dead, back floating in the Void along with Arachne. If he wasn’t, maybe he had something left behind that Nel could use to track him down.

Glancing over, Eva found the augur slowly coming around. Thanks entirely to Juliana’s diligent efforts in waking her.

Likely a waste of time. She would take one look around the room and pass out again.

Or maybe not, Eva thought as she looked around the room herself. A good amount of Lucy’s torn tentacles had been vaporized by her explosion. The ones that hadn’t were gathered in the corners of the room. A far less gruesome sight than having them scattered everywhere.

Looking up, Eva noticed Ylva’s gaze. She had returned to the hexagonal marking on the floor.

“Thoughts?” Eva asked. She had no idea what the marking was. Her question was broad enough that it could also include thoughts on the former occupants. She had warned Ylva, or mentioned them at least, but obviously nothing had been done.

Ylva’s cold eyes turned up to Eva for just a moment. “Hunters,” she said as she looked back to the hexagon.

Eva brushed some of the lingering soot and debris away from the mark. The hexagon had a simple symbol contained within. Not any sort of magical sigils or runes, but a simple skull with feathered wings stretching out from behind it. “What is it?”

“A sign. A sign We have not borne witness to in centuries.”

“What does it do?”

“Do? Nothing.” Ylva’s head shook ever so slightly. “Not how it is now. Upon someone being released from their mortal restraints, it calls out an agent of Death. Nothing so high as a god of Death, but a mere servant such as Ourself. Used in ages long past to ensure that a loved one passed on properly, it has fallen out of use in recent centuries.”

“That’s…” Eva glanced back towards the entrance of the room. There had been shackles set up. Complicated ones. She had never seen anything quite like them, nor could she guess about their specific purpose. Nothing good, that was for certain. “You’re the nearest agent of death, aren’t you. This was a trap for you?”

“We came to the same conclusion.”

Eva looked back to Lucy. A thought crossed her mind and she almost reached out to pat the now still demon. She didn’t know whether or not Lucy would appreciate the contact. It might still be a bad idea to unnecessarily touch her.

“Would it have worked with Lucy? Demons don’t die like mortals do.”

“We are… unsure. We would not feel a demon’s passing under normal circumstances. Such a symbol would force the call no matter what died. The hunters believed that it would work that way, at least.”

Obviously, Eva couldn’t help but think. “So, you didn’t notice anything about them while we were gone?”

“Our observations were limited. They came and went at several points, never acting overly suspicious.”

“Well, they got Lucy in here somehow.”

“The woman carried in a larger case yesterday evening. We believed it to be mere luggage. Never once did we feel the presence of a nearby demon.”

“Neither did I, on my way here. I only found her because I can see through walls.”

“It is fortunate that you did.”

“So,” Eva said after a lull in the conversation, “how do we find them?”

If they knew about Ylva, they probably knew about Nel as well. She would look around for any part of them that might be used to track them. If they did know about Nel, Eva doubted that they would have left anything behind.

But they couldn’t be allowed to get away with this. She had learned her lesson from Sawyer. She was no good at long and drawn out torture sessions. A quick kill would get the same end result.

“We will be wary. Do not seek them. Anywhere they might live could be as trapped as this building. Charging into battle with a foe as prepared as this would end poorly.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.019

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The young elf and the older man were both dead. Eva had never really talked to either of those security guards. Her interactions were strictly limited to Lucy and Daru, the two demonic members of Brakket’s security team.

Who were both missing, according to Juliana.

Eva closed her eyes and concentrated on feeling out for any demons around.

She quickly found Zagan. His power was just so overwhelming and radiant that missing him would have been impossible. From his power, Eva got a vague sense of direction. She couldn’t tell exactly how far he was, but it was in the direction of the main school building.

Ylva was somewhere in the opposite direction, inside the city. If Zagan were the sun, Ylva could be compared to the moon. A large body that was difficult to miss as long as it was around, but not quite so overwhelmingly radiant.

In comparison to them, Catherine would be more like a star. At least, so long as Eva wished to continue her celestial bodies analogy. It was there, but not all that prominent. So much so that it was almost a strain just to sense her.

The analogy broke down with the fact that there weren’t a million other demons to help cloud out Catherine’s existence. In fact, there were only three. None of which felt anything like Lucy. They could be Daru as Eva hadn’t interacted with him since her most recent treatment and didn’t know what he felt like to her senses.

All three of them and Catherine, were somewhere in the direction of the school building.

“Has Martina Turner been summoning demons?” Eva asked as she snapped open her eyes.

Martina hadn’t been part of the whole meeting where they agreed not to summon things anymore, so it was possible that she had gone ahead and done so. Wayne or Zoe should have mentioned something. Maybe they forgot with the whole cathedral thing. Or, more likely, Martina Turner just didn’t care about other people.

While waiting for Juliana to respond, Eva gave a quick glance towards their resident vampire.

Serena was still sitting on the floor with her back against Eva’s desk. Her gaze was fairly blank, but none of her muscles were tensed in the slightest. So long as she stayed like that and regained her sensibilities, Eva would be perfectly happy.

If Serena did go berserk again and couldn’t be neutralized without harming her, Eva would probably choose Juliana over Serena. Eva had grown fond of the vampire over their little vacation, but not that fond.

Juliana stood off to the side with her armor clamped firmly around her neck, though most of the rest of her head was uncovered. Eva did take the time to note that her hair was shorter by almost half compared to how it was when she had visited the other month ago. Her long blond hair now stopped somewhere just below her shoulders.

Shoulders that were currently lifting up and dropping in a mild shrug. “How should I know?”

“Well, you knew that the security guards were dead. With how I’ve been gone for the past week, I thought you might be a little more informed than I.”

“I literally got into town just an hour ago. The only reason I knew about that in the first place was because of notices posted around the town stating that an investigation was ongoing.” With an armored hand, she gestured back towards her bed where a suitcase lay open. “I haven’t even unpacked all the way.”

Eva glanced down at her watch. Her family was driving in at five in the morning? Unless one of them had recently come down with an acute case of vampirism, Eva couldn’t quite understand why they would travel overnight. Better yet, why not send Juliana on the Brakket school airliner.

More importantly, for the moment at least, daylight was fast approaching.

And Serena was still sitting on the floor.

“Help me hang up some of these blankets,” Eva said as she tore the covers off her bed.

“Hang up?”

“Sunlight and vampires don’t exactly agree with one another,” Eva said with a nod towards Serena.

Juliana’s eyes widened for just a moment before she moved up next to Eva. “Oh.” Her voice dropped to a whisper that Eva was certain could be heard with whatever enhanced hearing a vampire might possess. “What’s up with that anyway? A vampire?”

“Serena is a friend of Zoe and Wayne,” Eva said as she had Juliana hold up a corner of the blanket over one of the windows. “She was helping me kill Sawyer.”

Eyes wide, Juliana opened her mouth to say something. It snapped shut before she reconsidered. “Sounds like I missed out.”

Eva grinned. Juliana almost sounded disappointed, but she had a smile on. At least someone was happy about that.

Putting her mind to the task at hand, Eva decided how she wanted to hang the blankets. She didn’t have any duct tape with her, which is what they had used to hang up blankets all throughout their trip, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem. Pulling out her dagger again, she cut a thin slit along her upper arm. The blood flowed outwards, hardening into sharp nails.

It might be somewhat dangerous to leave her own crystallized blood around Serena. The vampire might try to eat it. Of course, she would wind up taking down the blankets and possibly exposing herself to the sunlight when that came around, so hopefully she could resist.

Without turning her head, Eva watched the vampire through her blood sight. She hadn’t so much as moved when Eva cut open her skin. There had to be a smell. Probably a good one at that, given how often Serena mentioned scent around Eva.

But her muscles were dead. Indistinguishable from an actual corpse.

Shaking her head, Eva used her blood magic to drive the nails into the wall near Juliana’s hands.

The act of shaking her head sent Eva wobbling slightly. She quickly caught herself, but the light-headed sensation stuck around.

She really needed another vacation. A real one this time.

But this was Brakket. No rest for anyone, wicked or not.

Really, she didn’t need Juliana’s help to hang the blankets. She could have held up the blankets at the same time as she used her magic to attach them. Having Juliana help her gave them an excuse to interact. It also kept Juliana from standing around awkwardly while Eva worked.

Though, with her suitcase only partially unpacked, she could have finished with that.

Oh well.

“You said that your family was staying in a house?” That might be a good reason why she hadn’t taken the Brakket Academy flight. It didn’t account for the hour at which they were traveling, but maybe with multiple people able to drive, they had just taken shifts.

Juliana gave a clipped nod as she held up the other corner of the blanket. “They wanted me to stay with them as well. I refused. My brother and father have only got more overbearing since Zagan showed up wondering why I wasn’t going to school anymore. I need a little space.”

“Doesn’t your mother need like… physical therapy or something?”

“She’ll be in bed, chairs, or her wheelchair for almost the entirety of the school year. Exercising is going to be very important. The doctors gave a list of things for her to do and how often to do them. They weren’t all that happy with her decision to come here. But… well, you know how headstrong she can be.”

“I doubt that someone who can throw down with Arachne would be stopped by a few doctors,” Eva said with a firm nod of her head. That nod gave way to a sorry sigh.

“Where is Arachne anyway?” Juliana asked as they moved over to the second window.

Eva did not miss the careful pace and neutral tone that she used. She looked off to the side, pointedly avoiding a glance in Eva’s direction.

During her visit earlier in the year, Eva had ensured that Juliana and Arachne would not cross paths. It just seemed to be a poor idea for the two of them to meet, given that Arachne was technically responsible for Genoa’s current condition.

Now, at least she wouldn’t have to worry about that.

“Arachne died. Her head exploded when nun lightning hit it.”

Juliana’s head snapped over to look at Eva with wide eyes. For a moment, she just stared. After that moment, she walked over to Eva and wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a loose hug.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’d say that I am fine. I’m not sure if that would be the truth or not. But it really doesn’t matter,” Eva added with a shake of her head. “I can’t just stop living because Arachne isn’t around. Besides, she’ll be back eventually.”

There was a short exhale from Juliana before she spoke. “How long?”

“No idea. Another month. Maybe a year. Ten? Fifty? I don’t know how a demon’s death truly works. The carnivean was back in a few months. So was the succubus that had her head crushed by Prax. The last time I asked Arachne about it, she told me that her previous death had been at least a few decades.”

“That’s… a long time.”

Eva half chuckled. “Yeah. You could say that.” Ducking out from Juliana’s hug, she tore the covers off Shalise’s bed. “Let’s get this other window covered before the sun comes up.”

While Juliana lifted up the blanket, Eva formed another four blood spikes.

They weren’t very large, but her headache was worsening. Between the transference circle, two feedings for Serena, and these spikes, it was starting to add up. Though it was now nearly five days ago, the blood she had packaged up for the vampires was probably adding to her anemia as well.

She doubled down on her thought to take a few days for a real vacation. A little rest and recuperation.

“What’s with us being in dorm three-one-seven? I thought they had split us up when I came back, but then I saw all your things lying around.”

“Ah, you missed all the excitement. Long story short, room three-thirteen got connected to my domain. The school gave us the room. However, with Shalise in another plane of existence and you officially dropping out of school—something I’m glad to see you got reversed—I was the sole owner of the room.

“That alone shouldn’t have been enough to allow me to link my domain. Not to mention the fact that I don’t know how to do that. Ylva thinks that it was the enigmas trying to push through into Earth that ended up making the connection. She showed me how to close it, but Martina felt that I should reside in a different room that had her name listed as an owner as well.”

“Sounds complicated.”

Eva gave a slight snort. “Yeah. Annoying as well.”

“Speaking about Shalise, how is she?”

“Presumably, she’s alright.”

“Presumably?”

“She’s not in Hell. Prax is out of her head.”

“Well,” Juliana said as the second nail pinned both upper corners of the blanket to the wall, “that’s good. I’m not seeing the presumably yet.”

“Lynn Cross kidnapped her and I have no idea where they are. They were camping out in some woods on the other side of the world, but they could have easily moved since then. I’ll ask Nel to check the next time I’m around. Which will probably be as soon as we’re done with this.”

As she spoke, Eva sent the last two nails into the bottom two corners. It probably didn’t need the bottom pinned to the wall, but she didn’t want to risk the ventilation kicking up the blanket and letting the sun in while Serena was unawares.

Speaking of, Eva thought as she turned from the windows.

Moving up to Serena, Eva knelt down at her side. The vampire’s stillness was unnatural at the best of times. At the moment, it was actually starting to creep Eva out.

“Hey,” Eva said as she placed a hand on Serena’s shoulder.

The vampire flinched back. It was slight, but enough for Eva to pull her hand back.

Even with the slight start, Eva pressed on. “Are you alright?”

“Fine.”

Eva frowned at the clipped answer. Obviously, she wasn’t fine. In fact, most times someone said that they were fine, it meant that they didn’t want to talk about whatever was bothering them. She had just about done the same to Juliana when asked about Arachne.

Still, Eva could respect not wanting to talk about certain things. Her sudden loss of control was probably something personal. A vampire thing that she just wanted to not think about.

That didn’t mean that she had to leave her entirely alone. “Can I get you anything?” Eva hesitated for just a moment before continuing. “I could probably spare some more blood if you needed.”

She didn’t really want to. Eva very much enjoyed her blood inside her own body and no one else’s. Unless, of course, she was about to explode said other person. She had no plans to do so to Serena at the moment.

Though, with her stomach already half full of Eva’s blood, she could put the vampire down if she went berserk again. Eva hoped that it wouldn’t come to that, but the possibility was there if it was needed.

If shedding another half-pint of blood could help prevent a rampage through the dorms and needing to obliterate the blood within the vampire’s body, Eva would gladly hand some over.

But Serena just shook her head. “No. I think I’ll sleep today away.” She looked up to Eva, the first real motion since she had propped herself up against the desk. With a sorry smile, she said, “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to accompany you.”

“That’s fine.” Eva put on a hopefully comforting smile as she stood up. “You’re free to stay here for the day. Use my bed, the one you’re leaning against, if you want.”

“Thanks. I think I will.”

So she said, but Serena glanced back to the floor, resuming her unmoving pose.

With a mental shrug, Eva turned to face Juliana. She didn’t have a chance to speak for Juliana opened her mouth.

“I’m coming with you,” Juliana said, trying as hard as she could to not look at Serena. “I can unpack later,” she said with a glance towards the open suitcase. “I want to know what’s going on as well. And I’m sure mom will want to find out sooner rather than later. Were it not for Zagan, I’m sure my father would have turned the car around the moment he saw the investigation notices.”

Eva nodded towards the door. “No sense wasting time then.”

Juliana didn’t need further urging. She pulled a light sweater out of her suitcase and slipped it on as she walked out of the room.

With one last look at Serena, Eva followed her out.

Hopefully nothing bad would come of leaving her alone in the dormitories.

Together, Juliana and Eva walked in silence. Given both the early hour and the fact that it was summer, not many other students were out and around the academy. They found no one on the stairs and, once they arrived outside, found no one wandering around the campus.

The silence lasted up until the two reached the sidewalks outside the dormitory.

“Vampire–” “So you–”

Both girls’ mouths snapped shut as they turned to each other.

After a moment of silence, Eva smiled and shook her head.

“You first.”

“Just to make sure that I heard you correctly, that vampire is friends with our professors?”

“Yeah. I don’t exactly know how that came about, but they’re familiar enough that Serena gave Zoe a hug and Zoe returned the hug.”

“Huh,” Juliana said with a frown. “Not really what I would have expected.”

“Like I said, she’s normally a lot nicer than you saw. Teleporting had some adverse effects, I guess.”

“I meant Zoe. Friends with a vampire? Not really something I’d picture given all of mother’s stories about vampires.”

Eva shrugged. Her only real experience with other vampires were those in Idaho. They had been half threatened into playing nice, so their behavior probably wasn’t all that typical. And, even before they had been threatened, they had been under the impression that Eva and Nel were some kind of servants owned by Serena.

“But you were saying that Zagan kept you from going to a different school? That seems nice of him.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from Eva’s side. After a quick stumble, all of Juliana’s blood fled from her body to concentrate around her face and ears. Her ripe tomato impression was going exceedingly well, but it was somewhat worrying.

“Are you alright?” Eva couldn’t help but to ask.

“Fine,” she said with a forced cough. “Just swallowed a bug down the wrong pipe.”

Eva frowned. Bugs had blood. Granted, they weren’t something that Eva normally paid attention to. With it pointed out, she tried looking and couldn’t see anything that might have gotten caught in her throat.

“If you’re sure…”

“Yeah. Zagan,” she paused to cough again. “When he helped out in Willie’s domain, we had a sort of agreement about me leaving the school. Or not leaving it.”

“An agreement with Zagan?”

That didn’t sound good. He hadn’t really done anything to do permanent harm to Eva. Though, after their conversation before her treatment, she now believed that to solely be because of her unique position as a ‘non-template’ demon. Juliana didn’t have any such insurance.

“It isn’t anything big,” Juliana said, face as red as before. “But it is a bit personal.”

Eva waited, but Juliana fell silent and did not continue. Whatever it was, she wasn’t going to elaborate if she didn’t have to.

Taking a deep breath, Eva said, “I just–”

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“That only makes me worry more. Zagan is a powerful demon who essentially wants for nothing. If he wants something from you, it’s all the scarier.”

“I know what he wants.”

Again, Eva waited to see if Juliana would explain.

She didn’t.

“So,” Juliana said after a few moments of awkward silence, “Sawyer’s dead?”

Though she had to frown at the obvious topic change, Eva nodded her head. “As far as I can tell. He was a necromancer, so I’ve been expecting all kinds of ways he could have cheated death. Nothing has popped up so far. Though, he only died last night. Maybe it will take a little longer.

“He also died in Hell. Are there reapers in Hell? Anyone to go around and collect his soul?” Eva mused, mostly to herself. Maybe he was floating around, plan foiled and trapped within her domain because he was on a whole other plane of existence from where he had probably planned on dying. “Then there was the fact that he died telling me that I should have killed him when I had the chance.”

“That’s not ominous.”

“Definitely not,” Eva said as she turned down a street a ways away from the Brakket Academy campus.

Living in a small city was actually kind of nice. Everything was in walking distance of everything else. Technically, most everything in Florida was within walking distance if she blinked around constantly. As long as she didn’t care about maintaining a low profile, getting seen wasn’t even an issue.

The apartment building that Ylva, Nel, and Zoe lived in was closer than most buildings to the academy. A few other teachers lived in it as well, the ones that didn’t own an actual house around Brakket.

As Eva stared up at it, she wondered just where Wayne lived. She had never had a reason to visit him at his home, but was fairly certain that he didn’t live in the apartment building. He probably had a home somewhere, but with the ability to freely teleport, he could live on the other side of the country if he really wanted to.

Whatever the case was with Wayne, Eva didn’t really care. It was just a momentary thought. She had no reason to visit him and didn’t want a reason to do so.

Taking the stairs up to the third floor, Eva found herself frowning.

The room up above that had previously held that overexcited woman was not empty. Neither the woman nor her companion were inside. Something else definitely was.

Something familiar.

Being nothing but densely packed tendrils, Lucy had something of an odd circulatory system no matter how she looked on the outside. Because of that, she was extraordinarily distinctive. Eva could pick her out of a crowd made up of demons and humans far easier than anyone else.

And there above Eva was Lucy.

Trying to reach out and detect her with her sense of demons failed entirely.

Some kind of ward?

That was the only explanation that Eva could come up with. Lucy was still alive. If only just. Her tentacles were moving ever so slightly. Perhaps she was drugged.

With how much blood was splattered around the room, it could be that she was just about dead.

Shaking her head, Eva started sprinting up the stairs, past the third floor.

She paused just long enough to turn to Juliana. “Room three-oh-four. Ylva should be inside with Nel and Zoe.” Eva could see all three of them through her sense of blood. “Let Ylva know that Lucy is upstairs in the room of that woman I warned her about. She’s injured.”

Without waiting to see if Juliana would do as she had asked, Eva continued her sprint upstairs.

Eva had already lost Arachne. She wasn’t such good friends with Lucy, but she didn’t want to lose her as well.

Reaching the door, Eva didn’t hesitate in jamming her dagger into her arm. Smearing a ring of blood around the deadbolt and handle, she stepped back. Even her blood should be strong enough to take out a wooden door.

Eva clapped her hands.

Her blood vanished with a flash of light.

Blinking away the spots in her eyes, she found the door to be entirely unharmed. Not even a scratch.

Undaunted, Eva lifted one leg into the air.

The door might be impervious to magical harm. Maybe mundane as well. The wall right around the handle had streaks of unpainted plaster filling in some gap. It clearly had been repaired recently. It likely wouldn’t have the same protections.

With all of her might, Eva kicked out her leg into the wall.

Shards of drywall, wood splinters, and dust filled the air as her foot went clean through the wall. Suppressing a cough, Eva jerked her foot back as fast as she could. Just in case something was on the other side.

Waving her hand to clear the dust from the air, Eva peeked through the hole.

Lucy was lying in the center of the room, unformed, within a set of glowing shackles. Tentacles had been removed from her main mass. Bits of Lucy were spread around, some in piles while others were scattered around the room. Furniture had been shoved aside to make room for all of the drawings on the floor.

“Hold on Lucy. I’m here,” Eva said as she reached through the hole she had made.

Fumbling around, she eventually managed to flick open the locks on the door. There was a chain set in place, but whatever enchantments had been placed on the door itself did not apply to it. At least, not all of it. With a grasp and a pull, the chain came off the wall.

She had expected the chain itself to break, but it was the latch attached to the wall that actually came apart.

Door unlocked, Eva swung it open.

Being able to see the room in full view did not make the sight any better. In fact, it was worse. Most of Lucy was not part of her anymore. As she stood at the threshold of the door, one of Lucy’s tendrils lifted in the air.

Lucy was obviously trying to fight it, but her fight wasn’t going so well. She either lacked the strength or whatever was lifting the tentacle was just too strong.

The tendril went taut. For just a moment, it held steady.

With a light popping noise, the tendril snapped off Lucy’s main body. It went flying, smacking against a wall where it slid down to the floor. Black blood splattered everywhere both around Lucy and against the wall.

This had to stop soon. Lucy couldn’t take much more of it.

Eva just about took a step into the room.

A faint glow at her feet held her up short.

There were more shackles carved into the entryway linoleum.

More than shackles.

Despite her associations, Eva was not a diabolist. She didn’t consider herself one and doubted that she knew enough to be considered anything other than an amateur. Still, she had something of an education from Devon. Whatever was on the floor, it would definitely do more than just trap demons. She couldn’t tell exactly what it would do, but it would be painful.

Gritting her teeth, Eva froze and watched as another of Lucy’s tentacles started lifting up into the air.

Juliana better get here soon.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.006

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Juliana Laura Rivas flipped through the news.

It had been months and there was still no sign that anything was amiss around Brakket City.

The purple streaks in the sky had attracted a good amount of attention for the first month. Brakket was fairly isolated from much of the mundane world, but not so much that the sky would go unnoticed. Even had satellites not been able to pick up the anomaly, people in neighboring cities could look out the window and see the sky. It was simply too huge of an effect to contain.

Conspiracy theorists had come out of the woodwork to appear on talk shows. No one could agree on any one cause. Mundane experts were baffled. Some tried to claim that the purple streaks in the sky were caused by light refracting in certain ways in the area. One guy with extremely messy hair appeared numerous times to claim that aliens were behind everything.

Once it had been found out that Brakket Academy was supposedly one of those ‘magical’ academies, people started to get nervous.

Everyone had been expecting a repeat of the Lansing incident. Some catastrophe of city-leveling proportions. Cameras were trained on the city—from a safe distance—day in and day out.

Somehow, one news station had managed to get Dean Turner to do an interview.

“The state of the sky is the result of a failed experiment. The intended effect was to shade the entire sky for a set distance, filtering certain wavelengths. Uses proposed for the intended effect was to use it in certain parts of the world to control light level to crops, helping to feed millions. It could remove harmful radiation. A more controlled version could be used to color the sky for a celebration, taken down the next day.

“Obviously, things went wrong. The streaks of purple are not harmful. We do not currently know if the sky will return to normal on its own, but we are researching ways to remove the effect.”

Roughly the same announcement that Zoe had said was given to the people of Brakket City.

The interviewer had asked a number of other questions. Most dealing with Brakket Academy itself and the use of magic. Dean Turner had dodged some of the questions while others had been answered.

If Juliana didn’t know better, she might have believed the dean.

But she didn’t need to believe it. She just needed Erich and her dad to believe it.

That interview had started up the debate on whether or not magic actually existed or if everything was a cover up for government conspiracies. Even a decade and a half after Lansing, some people still doubted the actual mages conjuring matter from nothing on live television.

After a month of nothing notable happening around Brakket, the media started to get bored. Less and less of the city was shown. News anchors briefly mentioned that nothing had changed before talking about a plane crash on the other side of the world with a gleam in their eye.

“Now they don’t even show Brakket at all. Obviously nothing bad has happened.”

“We’ve had this discussion before, Juli. You’re not going back.”

Juliana flicked the television off with a huff.

“Mom said I could.”

“Your mother–” Juliana’s father cut himself off with a sigh. He pulled off his glasses with one hand and pressed his thumb and middle finger to his eyes. Bringing his fingers together, he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Your mother is a reckless woman. I love her for it, but she often thinks that others can be as reckless as she is.”

“You aren’t as strong as Genoa. You cannot survive what she can survive.”

Juliana’s head whipped to her other side to stare at her brother. “You think I don’t know that? If I was as strong as she is, mom wouldn’t be in the hospital.”

“Juliana–”

“And stop agreeing with each other,” Juliana said, looking between the two men. “It’s weird. You’re supposed to be fighting or arguing. Ignoring each other at the very least.”

Resetting his glasses on his nose, her father looked down at her. “Your brother and I have had our… disagreements in the past. Especially regarding your mother. That doesn’t stop the both of us from caring about you. We want you to be safe.”

Juliana rubbed the black band around her finger. Her thumb idled around the skull pattern engraved into the heavy-yet-light metal. The body heat coming off her finger should have kept it at least lukewarm, yet it felt icy to the touch of her thumb.

The only things–demons, at least–that it hadn’t protected her against were the imps in the prison and Zagan himself. Technically Willie, though she had attacked him first, making that one more of her fault than anything.

“I’ll be safe enough,” she said as she stood.

Erich stood the moment she did.

“Will you calm down?” Juliana half-shouted. “I’m just going to my room. I don’t need you babysitting me everywhere I go. Don’t you have a career to get back to?”

“The bank has given me extended leave for a family emergency.”

“Yeah? Well, emergency over. Go back to work,” Juliana said as she stormed out of the room.

In her first year of school, Juliana had been somewhat sad that the school wanted students there for most of the summer. It had taken her away from her parents and thrust her into a world of unfamiliar people.

Now? Juliana wished that the magical world had decent truant officers. Someone to show up and tell her father and brother that she had to be at school. It didn’t even matter that the school seminars hadn’t started up yet.

Anything to get a little breathing room from her family.

Juliana hadn’t been lying earlier. She had fully intended to head upstairs and lock herself in her room for a few hours.

A sound in the kitchen put that plan on hold.

Her mother was at the hospital. Her father and brother were in the living room. No one else should be home.

And yet, there was a sound in the kitchen.

Heart beating faster, Juliana channeled magic through her ring foci. Metal plates coating most of her skin turned from solid to liquid. It flowed over her, providing armor to her hands and head. A long blade stretched out from either wrist until they broke off from the main armor to act more like regular swords.

Thoroughly ready, Juliana pressed open the swinging door to the kitchen.

And promptly froze.

The familiar smell of sulfur permeated the room. It was all coming from one man. Dressed in a dark suit, a barrel-chested man with short black hair was rummaging through the refrigerator.

“No Hellfire,” he said with a click of his tongue. With an overly exaggerated sigh, he turned to stare at Juliana with golden eyes.

“P-Professor Zagan,” Juliana squeaked.

This was bad. Or good? Probably bad.

What can I surprise him with? Zagan liked to be surprised. If she wanted to survive whatever he had come for, she needed to think of something so unexpected that Zagan wouldn’t see it coming.

Juliana bit her lip.

Her mind was completely blank.

A pair of footsteps behind signaled the arrival of both Erich and her father. They must have heard her squeak.

Both had foci in hands, aiming at the devil.

Juliana’s hands shot out, grabbing both of their arms and yanking them downwards. She let her helmet melt away back to her chest–it wouldn’t help against Zagan anyway.

“Don’t! That’s my professor.”

There was no chance any of them would survive if he attacked. Juliana had watched first hand what Zagan had done to Willie. And that had been inside of Willie’s domain as well.

Her father glared. “What is he doing here,” he spat.

Juliana grimaced. Of course her father would recognize Zagan. There was no chance that he hadn’t looked at a photograph or even seen in person the one who had dropped her into Hell.

“I’ve come to inquire about this,” Zagan said, holding up a folded piece of paper between two fingers. His golden eyes turned from Juliana to her father. “Withdrawing your daughter from Brakket Academy?”

“She’s not going back,” he said with finality. “Juli has already been accepted at–”

“I don’t care.” Zagan waved his hand. The air in the room froze for a split second, cutting off all sound. “I merely came to ascertain whether or not this was legitimate and then claim what we had promised each other.” With that, he turned to regard Juliana.

Juliana blinked. She blinked again. On the third blink, her cheeks burst into flames as she realized just what he was saying.

His contract stipulated that he could not ‘lay hands’ upon students. Likely only Brakket Academy students and not whatever school-castle her father had condemned her to.

She hadn’t even considered that while her father had been making arrangements. Between her mother’s recovery, destroying diablery books with Ylva, news about Brakket City, and dodging her brother’s overbearing protection, she had barely spared a thought for Zagan and their ‘promise.’

Her father started to speak. “What are you–”

“The withdrawal notice was a mistake!” Juliana was in a panic. Their agreement was private. Not to mention embarrassing. Something that she absolutely very definitely did not want her father and brother hearing about.

If her father asked, Zagan would blurt it out. He didn’t care in the slightest about her embarrassment.

“That was never supposed to be mailed,” Juliana continued. “I’ll be back at Brakket as soon as school starts.”

“Juli–”

“Say one word,” she interrupted her father, “and I will run away. I will disappear and you won’t see me again for a long time.”

“Tha–”

“One word and I’m gone! I’m serious about this, dad. No arguments.”

Her father’s mouth shut with a loud click.

Zagan turned between Juliana and her father, eying them. After a moment of silence, fire engulfed the piece of paper in his hand. Not even ashes remained to be scattered about.

“A mistake. I see. Disappointing in a manner, but not so much in others.”

Juliana sighed. Everything would be fine. For now.

“I’d love to stay and catch up on the last few months. I unfortunately have a previous appointment at noon today and cannot linger. Besides, you seem to have something to discuss in my absence.”

Before the words could properly register, Zagan vanished from the kitchen with a flare of flames.

Coughing twice at the sudden burst of the scent of sulfur, Juliana stumbled backwards. A firm hand settled on her shoulder.

Juliana turned.

Her father was angry. His lips were pressed into a line so thin that it was almost as if he had no lips at all. His face was flushed red with rage. Even the tips of his ears had turned colors.

“Juliana Laura Rivas,” he said in a calm voice that was a complete betrayal of how angry he appeared. “I would like an explanation.”

— — —

Bright blue sky hung overhead. The warm summer sun beat down on the prison, undisturbed by the violet streaks that were only faintly visible in the daylight. A light breeze from the north kept things from hitting a blistering temperature.

The most important thing was the lack of rain clouds in the sky. That would have delayed everything.

The revised version of Eva’s treatment ritual circle was gigantic. She hadn’t quite got the proper sense of scale from Devon’s tiny notebook.

As with most prisons, the abandoned facility that Eva had claimed as her home had an exercise yard. This particular one had a court for the inmates to play basketball.

The circle stretched beyond the width of the court, though it fit inside the length.

Devon had used his green flames to melt away the chain-link fences, getting them out of the way. Four days ago, he had come out and poured fresh cement, widening the platform on either end. As he worked on that, Eva had to take a trowel and fill in all of the cracks around the court that had formed over the years of disuse.

Everything needed to be nice and smooth.

After leaving the fresh cement to set for two days, he and Eva had come out and inscribed the ritual circle into the cement. He had vehemently refused to allow her to form the circle using blood.

Worried about magical contamination, he insisted on doing everything by hand.

Backbreaking work.

Eva hadn’t complained even once. The ritual was too important. If the only expert in the world said not to do it with magic, she would not use magic.

They had barely finished by nightfall on Friday.

This morning, they had both wandered around the circle several times to compare every little line to those inside Devon’s notebook. A few marks had to be corrected. No major mistakes that would require redrawing the entire circle.

Everything was ready.

And yet, despite everything being well, Devon looked like he was going to be sick.

Eva had a feeling that it didn’t have a thing to do with the ritual circle or their preparations.

It had slipped her mind when she had initially asked them to come, but Eva had remembered late the night before. She ran around Brakket Academy and drained a few vials of blood from each of the demons. Without that, they ran the risk of exploding for wandering around the wrong sections of the prison.

Zagan might have been able to survive. In fact, there was no ‘might’ about it. Eva held no doubts that her wards wouldn’t give him the slightest pause. The others wouldn’t be so fortunate.

Technically, she only needed about a half-vial from each demon. Three vials each was a bit much, but they didn’t need to know that. Anything she didn’t use in her ward would simply go towards a good cause. That of ending Sawyer’s existence.

Lucy hadn’t offered any resistance at all. Eva thought that she might be able to ask for more blood and the demon would give it up with a giggle. Or a gurgle. Lucy was… a bit strange.

Apart from a comment on how much blood she was taking, Zagan hadn’t protested either. That had come as a bit of a shock. Originally, Eva hadn’t intended to take more than she needed from him.

Whether his blood was better or worse than the other demons’ blood would take some testing. Testing that Eva wasn’t certain she wanted to attempt. If his blood was better, wasting it on testing would be a grievous misuse. Though she had taken extra, it wasn’t a whole lot. Saving it for a little party might be the best choice.

Catherine had protested the most. Something about having already given blood for Eva’s wards.

Eva had no idea what she was talking about. Catherine wound up donating an extra vial as protest tax.

Combined with the carnivean, that made three demons and a devil.

Three undominated demons and one devil that probably couldn’t be dominated all stood around the basketball court. Not to mention the vampire that had wandered over wanting to know what all the fuss was about.

Serena had bundled up in enough winter coats to make it so she couldn’t quite put her arms down. Her face had a scarf bundled around it and two sets of ski goggles placed on top of each other. And then she still had an umbrella aimed towards the sun.

Perhaps Devon wasn’t so worried about her. It wouldn’t be difficult to ruin her clothes with even a weak fireball and that would have her exposed to the sun.

But with the amount of demons around…

Really, it was surprising that Devon only looked sick. Eva had half expected him to run off screaming once Zagan showed up. Even with the almost too cold breeze, Devon had sweat dripping from his brow as he finished up a few last-minute preparations.

“Is this going to start anytime soon? I do have things that I would rather be doing.”

So Catherine said. The tone of her voice dripped with annoyance.

Eva had been watching her. All the demons, really, but Catherine was notable because of her occasional comments.

She had arrived with her cellphone in hand, tapping away as usual. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the ritual circle from the moment she first spotted it. Her cellphone was still in her hand, but her fingers didn’t move.

Catherine was old. Eva had no idea how old. Presumably, Catherine had been born. If not, as Zagan had said, she would have been created from a template. No matter what, Catherine wasn’t the sort of person that Eva could see celebrating her birthday. It was highly likely that Catherine had no idea how old she was.

But she was old. With age and experience came knowledge. Perhaps some knowledge about ritual circles. During the few times she had taken over Zoe’s class, Catherine had focused extensively on rituals.

Eva almost wanted to ask just what it was that had caught her interest so completely.

If it was anyone but Catherine, she might have asked. There wasn’t a doubt in Eva’s mind that Catherine would only give a scathing or annoyed comment in response. That was just who she was. She wouldn’t be Catherine if she gave a proper response.

Eva couldn’t ask the other demons either. Lucy had never once been summoned prior to Martina. It was doubtful that she had ever learned anything about rituals. She wouldn’t have any insight in the matter.

Rather, she just looked excited to see something outside of Brakket Academy. Her head spun around—almost literally—as she took in the sights of the prison. Eva could tell that she wanted nothing more than to go around and explore.

The only reason she hadn’t run off was because Zagan had ordered her to be still.

Eva had considered striking up a conversation with Zagan. There was almost no chance that he didn’t have thoughts on the ritual or, at the very least, something interesting to say. And they had just had a decent conversation a week ago.

Unfortunately, Zagan’s irritation with Lucy was palpable. After taking a single glance at the circle, he had leaned against the air with his eyes shut. The only times he had moved were to snap at Lucy for her moving or making too much noise.

If he was in a bad mood, Eva didn’t want to say anything to disturb him further.

Qrycx stood away from everyone else. She didn’t speak. She didn’t mingle. All she did was glare.

More than once, Eva had caught sight of that glare aimed in her direction. Even though the carnivean’s eyes had grown back, she still looked about ready to lunge forward and take Eva’s.

“Almost ready,” Devon said, wiping his sweat on his sleeve.

Catherine slipped her phone into her pocket as she shifted to a more ready position. “Finally.”

Devon glanced up from his notebook. His eyes met with Eva’s for a bare instant before turning back to his work.

In that instant, it was like a whole conversation had passed.

‘Why must you torture me so, girl?’

‘Catherine would have been here regardless of Zagan’s presence.’

‘Don’t even start me on that. I thought you were joking when you said you were going to ask him.’

‘Well, I got my sense of humor from you.’

‘I don’t have a sense of humor.’

‘Exactly.’

At least, that’s how Eva figured it would have happened. Lacking in the ability to project and receive thoughts, she really had no idea as to what he was thinking.

He was, however, undoubtedly pissed. Mostly at her for bringing along Zagan.

“Alright,” he barked out, “Eva, strip and get in the center circle. Whatever three demons are doing this, strip and get in the outer circles.”

“Lucy will be staying here,” Eva said as she pulled her shirt over her head. She still wasn’t sure why Zagan had asked her to bring along Lucy. At first, she had worried that he would try swapping places with her at the last minute.

That wasn’t looking so likely anymore.

Zagan, dressed in a sharp suit complete with a tie, undressed the very second that Devon had ordered it. He hadn’t moved a muscle. Still slouched against an invisible wall, one moment he had clothes on while the next they were neatly folded on the ground.

He had zero compunction about standing around completely naked in front of the group.

Standing a short distance away from the group of demons, Serena pulled down her scarf just long enough to give a loud wolf-whistle that Zagan returned with a smile and a wave.

Eva just shook her head as she stepped out of her skirt.

Catherine and Qrycx had to undress in a far more mundane fashion.

Really, Zagan was just a cheater. When a succubus lacked a magical method of ridding themselves of their clothes, something was just wrong with the world.

Though Catherine had arrived prepared. All she had on was a bathrobe, which she threw off without trouble. She probably would have arrived naked had she not needed a pocket to carry her cellphone in.

Catherine also received a whistle from a certain vampire.

Devon looked at her once with a scoff and a sneer before turning back to the circle.

“No chairs?” Eva asked as she stepped into the center. “Or tubes and needles to hook us up together?”

“We only added the chairs after ensuring that the old circle was stable. No chances here. If something goes wrong…” he pressed a tentacle to his forehead. “You’ll be kneeling. All of you,” he said to the demons as they made their way to their positions. “Sit with your backs to Eva.”

It was strange… No. It was unnerving to watch Zagan kneel down without protest. Eva had expected the Great King of Hell to ignore Devon and pull up an invisible chair. Or whatever else he felt like doing.

Apparently, he felt like following orders.

Catherine was the one who looked most disgusted by being told to sit on the ground. Still, after a glance at Zagan, she complied without a verbal complaint.

“As for the transfusion, it won’t be necessary. The ritual circle will take care of that.”

“Fair enough,” Eva said as she knelt down.

Since she had received Arachne’s limbs, Eva had often considered them to be useful. More often than not, in fact. Her legs were stronger and tougher than the old human ones she had previously possessed. Maybe that would have changed after becoming a demon, but there wasn’t a way to know for sure at this point in time.

Whatever happened in the future would happen. At the moment, Eva was just glad that she could kneel on the hardened carapace instead of her old fleshy skin.

“So, what next boss-man?”

If the glare that Devon had shot Eva earlier was along the lines of being pissed, the glare he sent at Serena was absolutely apoplectic.

Serena actually took a half step backwards.

“Next,” Devon ground out. He turned back to Eva and the three demons, glancing between each of them. “You all remain as still as possible. The demons might feel some tingling and discomfort. Eva… just try not to die.”

“That’s reassuring.”

Devon didn’t bother responding to that.

Which didn’t make Eva feel any better. How was she supposed to try not to die? Obviously, she didn’t want to die. It wasn’t like she could hold on to the edge of a cliff or dodge a bullet.

Eva shook her head. Worrying about it would just lead to stress and anxiety.

“You,” Devon shouted, pointing towards Lucy. His arm swing around to point at Serena. “And you. No matter what you hear or see, you are not to cross onto the ritual circle. In fact, take ten steps away and do not move.

That was even less reassuring. Just what were they going to hear and see?

Turning back to the demons, Devon took a deep breath. “Everyone ready?”

“Get on with it already!”

Eva had to agree with Catherine. The longer Devon delayed, the more nervous she got. This treatment was nothing like the sessions with Arachne. That had been a little unconsciousness and a little lethargy afterwards.

This sounded like it was going to be painful.

There was a sigh from Devon and Eva was proven very right.

Eva’s hands had been resting on her knees. When the ritual started, the hydraulic pressure in her hands failed. Lacking any resistance, the strong muscles in her hands clamped down.

The only reason she hadn’t crushed her knees was because they were made of demonic chitin. The strength of her knees was just enough to resist the strength of her hands.

Gritting her teeth, Eva watched with wide eyes.

As the lines of the ritual circle lit up around the demons, something started peeling off and pulling out of the back of their necks.

Smoke poured out of their necks to pool in one great cloud above Eva.

A pitch black cloud.

It took Eva’s panicked mind a moment to realize that it was blood.

While Zagan didn’t seem to notice at all, Catherine moved her hand back to idly scratch at her neck. She wasn’t hurried or panicking. It was as if whatever she felt was no more notable than a mosquito bite. The blood just flowed around her fingers, not sticking to them in the slightest.

Eva couldn’t see the carnivean’s reaction–she didn’t have the mental power to spare on looking through her blood sight.

The dark cloud of demon blood gathered overhead made its way closer and closer to Eva.

Thin spools–two miniature tornadoes–pulled downwards from the cloud. They reached Eva’s wrists and started burrowing.

Up until now, Eva had managed to keep the pain under wraps. Though she grit her teeth and couldn’t control the clenching of her hands, she hadn’t made a sound.

That ended the moment the blood entered her wrists.

Eva arched her back, opening her mouth wide to scream out at the sky. The blood tore through her body. It didn’t care that there was meat and, after leaving her arms, bone in the way.

Organs? Shove them aside. Can’t shove them? Go straight through them.

She could feel it coursing through her. Despite feeling like it was penetrating straight through her organs, she could also feel it wrapping around them, embracing them, infusing them.

From the tips of her toes to the deepest recesses of her brain, her body felt as if it were on fire and drowning at the same time. Flayed to shreds. Worse even than the effects of her method of teleporting.

Her screams died to rasps as her throat gave up.

The dark cloud overhead was steadily shrinking. The demons were no longer contributing to its growth.

The last droplets came down and disappeared into her wrists. Her pain hit a crescendo and everything stopped.

Eva slumped forward. She could barely process what was happening. The runic circle was still glowing with magical energy and she could still feel that energy swirling around inside of her.

Trying to sit as still as she could even with her ragged breathing, Eva waited. She waited and she hoped that the worst of it was over with.

Twelve eternities passed before the light of the ritual circle was finally snuffed out. It had been near noon when they had started, but when the light died, the sunlight had gone dark.

Only the pale moonlight lit up the ritual circle.

Like a puppet with her strings cut, Eva slumped forward. Her arms could muster no resistance to stop her head from smacking into the concrete.

Eva’s hazy mind caught sight of the blazing red eyes of Catherine’s demon form staring down at her.

Everything went dark.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.030

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was almost disturbing how intelligent they appeared.

“What’s taking so long?”

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

“Taking so long?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes had been opened to a larger world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a plan?”

No. “Maybe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Into the quicksand?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reached the edge of her quicksand and jumped.

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

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

Irene’s vision went black.

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

Shelby’s scream only compounded her despair tenfold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hurry!”

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

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

That was the last thing it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— — —

“Eva!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out. @ women’s ward.

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

Arachne dead?

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

Eva panicked, had to escape.

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

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

“Are you alright, Eva? Can you–”

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

Injuries?

Short and to the point.

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

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

Bits of Arachne’s head.

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

Zoe shuddered at the thought as she sent a reply.

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

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

“I can.”

The answer was cold. No real emotion in it.

“Are you injured? Do you need anything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re the blood mage.”

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

Wayne just shrugged.

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

“That works.”

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

Eva started, jumping a hair into the air.

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

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

Thankfully, the obelisk itself was undamaged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<– Back | Index | Next –>


006.025

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Zoe stopped before a well-worn wooden door with a familiar brass handle. She pushed the door open, fully expecting to be welcomed into the bar and parlor by Tom’s smiling face.

A bright light had her wincing away the second she stepped inside.

It took her mind a moment to catch on to the fact that something was wrong. The bar was never brightly lit. Lights were kept perpetually dim. Tom was not a mage, but she had often wondered if he didn’t have some sixth sense for incoming customers. The lights were low even when she had walked in during the off hours on occasion, when he was in the middle of cleaning–a task that Zoe would never consider attempting without decent lighting.

Blinking away the spots in her eyes, Zoe peered beyond into the rest of the room. Or tried to. With a frown on her face, she realized that the rest of the bar was pitch black. Even her enhanced eyes were having trouble seeing past the few spotlights that had been moved directly in front of the door.

Her enhanced ears, on the other hand, picked up the sound of heavy metal being lifted from a wooden surface.

Zoe slipped off her backpack full of ritual supplies in the same swift motion she used to draw her dagger.

“Keep your hands where I can see them!”

“Tom?” It sounded like his voice. For the most part. It lacked the ever friendly tones that it normally carried.

Zoe kept her hand firmly on her dagger, ready to erect a shield at any moment. “Tom? It’s me, Zoe Baxter. I’m not here to hurt you.”

There was definite hesitation in the darkness. She could almost feel the uncertainty.

“What did you order when you last came here?”

Zoe blinked, trying first to think when the last time was here. It had been at least a month. Two? A long time to remember something as insignificant as a drink.

“I didn’t,” Zoe eventually said. “I asked for a drink, you decided what.”

That was what she most often did, anyway. His question made her second guess herself, but she was fairly certain that she hadn’t actually ordered anything.

Her suspicion was confirmed a moment later as Tom sighed. Whatever he had landed on a table with a clunk. A half empty glass bottle scraped against the wood as the lights in the rest of the establishment slowly brightened to their normal levels.

After once again closing her eyes to help adjust to the light, Zoe surveyed the war zone–for a lack of a better word.

Tables had been flipped on end. Several propped up against the rear exit while the rest served as barricades and obstacles between the front door and the bar’s counter. Most of the chairs had been set up in the same manner.

Sitting behind the counter was a fairly disheveled Tom, currently in the middle of sampling his own wares.

“You gave me a right fright,” he said between drinks.

“I’m sorry about that,” Zoe said as she slowly stepped into the parlor, picking up her backpack before she moved. She kept a wary eye on the pistol lying on the counter. While not knowing much about mundane weaponry, the pistol made her somewhat nervous. “It wasn’t my intention. Has something happened?”

Despite being set up for war, Zoe couldn’t spot a single bullet hole around the room. She was fairly certain that she would notice anything made by that gun. It looked large enough to take out an elephant and still have enough punch to kill a horse on the opposite side.

“‘Has something happened,’ she says as she walks into my bar at such a strange hour. The lights in the sky weren’t enough for you, Zoe? Or did you miss them completely?”

“Well, yes. I had noticed that. But I hadn’t realized they warranted all of this.” She waved her hand around the tables, ending at the pistol laying on the counter.

“Apparently you missed out on the zombies and other monsters wandering the streets over the last few years.”

Can’t argue with that.

“New shop policy,” he said with a smile, “anything strange happens and I’m closed.” After taking another swig of his drink, he held out the bottle towards Zoe.

“No thank you,” she said, waving a hand in front of her. Realizing that hand still held her dagger, she quickly sheathed it.

“Suit yourself. So, what is going on out there?”

“Not a clue. Wayne is talking with some people to try to find out the answer to that. However, I’ve been wandering around and haven’t noticed anything immediately dangerous. No creatures running the streets, at least.”

“Well, that’s a small relief.” He started to take another drink, but paused with the bottle halfway to his mouth. After a moment of deliberating with himself, Tom capped the bottle and placed it somewhere behind the counter. “So, what brings you to my humble bar at such a late hour? I take it you didn’t come for just a social call.”

Zoe shook her head. “Nothing dangerous, but it might cause your business some problems. I need salt. Non-iodized sea salt. Everything you have, probably. I already cleaned out the local food mart–they didn’t have quite enough on their shelves. The woes of living in a small town, I suppose. Without a clerk present, I didn’t want to search around their back room.”

“Must be desperate times,” Tom said, lifting an eyebrow, “if you’re stealing from the local shops.”

“I left my name and number, along with a list of everything that I fully intend to pay for once someone contacts me.” Zoe let out a small sigh. She had had to teleport straight into the building. There had been a momentary concern over alarms before deciding that Shalise came first. “And I intend to reimburse you as well. But yes, something of an emergency with a student. One unrelated to the changes in the sky.”

Probably.

Eva had mentioned Hell’s changes and its likeness to the sky over Brakket City, but someone chasing after Shalise didn’t seem to line up with that particular problem.

“Welp, let’s take a look-see at what I’ve got in the back room.”

Tom pulled up the part of the bar that allowed access behind the counter. He gestured for her to follow as he slipped into the door labeled ‘Employees Only’.

The room itself wasn’t all that large. Larger than your average pantry–Zoe couldn’t touch the shelves on both sides at the same time–but not by much. It did, however, have a large trap door in the center of the floor. A wine cellar of some sort, Zoe assumed.

But they weren’t headed there.

Tom stopped at a section of the shelves labeled ‘Dry goods’ and bent over to pull out a large bag.

Zoe almost sighed in relief as she spotted the label. Twenty-five pounds of sea salt would work perfectly. She had eleven, single pound containers from the grocers.

“I think this is all I’ve got,” he said, hefting the bag over his shoulder. “Unless I start draining the table shakers.”

“That should be plenty. Thank you, Tom. You might have just saved a student.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever done that before. Strange day.”

“Indeed.”

“What do you want done with the salt?”

In response, Zoe pulled out her focus–her wand, not her dagger. No need to make Tom more nervous. With her wand, she dropped the sack straight to between.

Tom stumbled slightly at the sudden lack of weight on his shoulder. He looked around as if expecting it to be levitating above him. “Handy trick,” he said when he failed to find it.

“It is,” Zoe agreed. Especially for lugging around more than thirty pounds of salt and other reagents. She would have been making several trips without that little trick. “But I try to use it as little as possible. Items that I put away for long term storage have a tendency to become unrecoverable. Shouldn’t be a problem here as I intend to withdraw it in a minute or two. Speaking of, I should be leaving.”

“Don’t let me hold you up. I can handle myself.”

Zoe let a small smile touch her lips. “I’m sure that our illustrious dean will be releasing a statement sometime soon, but I’ll keep you appraised of the situation as I can. I don’t think you’ll need your barricade tonight, though.”

Tom gave a short shrug. “Can’t hurt.”

“Might scare off any customers that wander in.”

“Anyone who walks in this late, I don’t care if they return. Present company excluded. I run a classy bar, not a hostel.”

“Have you tried locking your doors?”

Giving the scoffing Tom a slight wave, Zoe used her wand to drop herself into the blinding white of between. The walls of his bar tumbled off into the light, only to be replaced by the women’s ward gate room.

She made her way from the ward to Ylva’s domain, stopping just outside to pull everything out of between that she had stored there. Most of it went into her backpack. Everything else, she simply levitated.

Wayne and Nel sat at the table that had been set up on Ylva’s throne platform. Both seemed deep in a fairly heated discussion. Most of the heat was coming from Wayne if the scowl on his face was anything to judge by.

After crossing the gap with only the slightest modicum of hesitation, Zoe dropped her supplies on the table. “This should be everything on the list,” she said. “Where’s Eva?”

“Off talking with her spider,” Wayne snapped. He let out a strained sigh through grit teeth as he ran a hand down his face.

Frowning at his entirely unwarranted hostility, Zoe narrowed her eyes. “Did something happen?”

“Not much… Oh, except for the Elysium chapel I need to figure out how to break into and out of without getting myself killed.”

Zoe blinked, going over what he said a second and third time in her mind. Just to make sure she had heard him correctly.

“The obelisk that you need is inside the Salem Cathedral,” Nel said, answering the question that Zoe had been about to ask.

“Alright,” Zoe said slowly. That explained Wayne’s mood.

“Spencer only wants a teleport nearby. She thinks she can do it alone.”

Again, Zoe had to go over what he said a second time. “She what?”

“That is roughly what my response was. Even with her pet’s help, maybe other demons, I doubt she has what it takes.”

“Alright. I’ll talk some sense into her. But,” Zoe bit her lip, wondering if she should say anything at all. With a side glance at Nel, she decided that it couldn’t possibly hurt. Nel had no love for the Elysium Order. “But can’t you do it the same way that you did it last time?”

Ignoring the expected stiffening and gasp from Nel, Zoe focused on Wayne.

He just looked confused more than anything. “Last time? Last time I…” His confusion vanished into a mounting look of horror. “You’re not seriously suggesting–”

“If it helps, why not?”

“I could think up a thousand reasons,” he grumbled. Pressing his hands into the table, Wayne stood. “I have a phone call to make.” Without a backwards glance, he walked out of Ylva’s domain, phone in hand.

Last time?”

With a smile on her face, Zoe turned to Nel. “Well, he wasn’t stealing an obelisk, but he got in and out. Otherwise, long story.”

— — —

Irene sat in the hallway with her back to the wall, staring at the door to Eva’s room and wondering just when Professor Lurcher was going to return.

Or if he would return.

Irene would like to think that the condition of Eva’s room was worth at least an urgent rating. Unfortunately, she had a sinking suspicion in the back of her mind that it barely made it on the ’emergency’ scale at all.

Especially not after Shelby had dragged her off to their room’s window. After seeing the real sky, Irene doubted that Eva’s room was even worth remembering. Compared with purple veins stuck in the sky, a little sand was nothing.

Nothing for the people who weren’t sitting outside, constantly reminded of it, anyway.

Irene had had the sick sensation of butterflies in her stomach ever since Catherine left, something that should have provided some peace of mind. If Catherine didn’t think that it was that big of a deal, it probably wasn’t. But she had said to draw out the highest tier of shackles that Irene knew. That did not provide any comforting feelings.

Shelby had gone to bed. Right next door to Eva’s room no less! She hadn’t been worried about it. She just assumed that both things would be solved by the professors and security staff by morning. Shelby hadn’t been aware of the implications behind the markings that Irene had drawn.

And Irene, quite literally, could not tell her. Not without violating her contract. All of Shelby’s inquiries had been responded to with simple ‘nothings’ and ‘Catherine asked me to.’

Jordan could have. Irene didn’t pretend for a moment that he was unaware as to what she was drawing. But he had run off to find his father before the sky had changed. He had probably forgotten too, in light of the veins in the sky.

Irene sighed as she bit her lip. I suppose I should be grateful, she thought. Taking into consideration what had happened with the hot springs, watching an empty room was a vacation. Perhaps she had the easiest job of the people who must be awake this night.

So long as morning comes without anything coming through the room.

Irene jumped a good foot in the air as a wet slopping noise echoed down the hall. Heart beating a million beats a second, she gripped her wand and got off of her chair. Just what the wand was meant to do against anything, she wasn’t entirely certain. But it was a small comfort as she ran to the edge of the shackles and peered into the room.

Nothing. Not a single thing. The sand still held her own footprints, and those of both Professor Lurcher and Catherine, but was otherwise smooth and undisturbed. She couldn’t see into the corners of the room without stepping onto or over the shackles, but Irene felt fairly confident that the room was empty.

Unless it isn’t.

A shiver ran up Irene’s spine as she recalled the first sentence in their diablery textbooks: ‘Never make assumptions when demons are involved.’

Scenarios ran through her mind. What if there was something in there.

She couldn’t see it, so it had to be using a spell of some sort. Either it was invisible or capable of altering her perception.

Irene took a step back from the shackles. It could even be right in front of her, hoping she would step over the line.

But it couldn’t be invisible. It would still leave footprints.

Unless it could float over the sand.

The only other possibility was that it had burrowed beneath the sand. Mundane logic said that the sands would be disturbed at least somewhat. But mundane logic generally went out the window when dealing with magic. Any half-baked earth mage would be able to smooth over sands enough to avoid notice from the distance she was standing.

Well, that’s not the only other possibility, Irene thought as she pressed a finger to her temple. My imagination could be playing tricks on

“What are you doing?”

Irene screamed. She would never admit to it, but a high-pitched shriek sprung from her mouth as she felt a hand come down on her shoulder.

Her mind took an extra minute to process Jordan’s voice.

Clutching her chest, Irene tried to calm down. Her efforts weren’t helped any by Jordan’s snickering.

“It isn’t funny,” Irene said, giving him a punch in the shoulder.

Jordan rubbed his shoulder, but didn’t stop his snickering. If anything, it only made him laugh harder. “You were concentrating so hard,” he said between chuckles.

“I heard something like a barrel of spaghetti being dumped on the ground. It scared me, alright? You don’t have to make fun of me for it.”

His laughter died down with a single, “ah.”

“What? Did you find something out?”

He shook his head. “Dad is meeting with Dean Turner and Professor Zagan. They wouldn’t let me in. I ran into someone who I thought might help watch Eva’s room, but…” Jordan trailed off with a glance over his shoulder. “See for yourself.”

Following his gaze, Irene spotted… something. Something had spilled? With a rag on top of it. Maybe. It was at the far end of the hallway, just at the top of the staircase.

“What is it?”

“Well, it used to be a security guard. Now however, well, your barrel of spaghetti example might not be so inaccurate.”

“Oh, it’s Lucy.”

Irene started towards the demon, moving around Jordan. Seeing Lucy was actually something of a relief. The day she had come into class, they got a brief introduction to contracts. Lucy’s contract was essentially to act as security for Brakket Academy and to protect the students at all costs.

If there was something inside of Eva’s room, having Lucy around would be a great reassurance.

Or not, Irene thought as she got closer.

Lucy was well and thoroughly disassociated with herself. She had flattened herself out on the floor, her spindly tentacles making no effort to maintain her human form. Or do much of anything at all. Only her security uniform kept her in any kind of recognizable shape.

In other words, she was something that would be incredibly difficult to explain if anyone emerged from their rooms.

Irene glanced up and down the hallway, but apart from Jordan, there was no one around. And that was in spite of her earlier scream. The rooms had some protection against noise, but the scream should have gone through.

Then again, it was the dead of night. Most people were probably in deep sleep.

Irene stooped down to be a little closer to the mass of tentacles. “Lucy? Can you hear me?”

Something that might have been a response in tentacle-people language emerged from the mass. An effort was made, but whatever it was, Irene found it entirely unintelligible.

“You’re going to have to form a mouth if you want to talk to me. And everything else you use for speech.”

Irene immediately regretted saying anything at all.

Watching as the pile of wet spaghetti noodles twisted around to form a set of disembodied lips was one of the more disturbing things that Irene had witnessed in her recent memory. Possibly ever.

“This place feels gross.”

“I don’t feel anything,” Irene said. Though, now that it was mentioned, Catherine had been complaining about something similar before she had left.

But she wasn’t, Irene glanced down at the mass, like this.

“Do you think you can pull yourself together?”

Rather than give any verbal response, Lucy’s tentacles trembled. She was trying, that much was clear. Slowly, ever so slowly, her body started to gain some definition.

“Huh.”

Irene jumped again. She shouldn’t have, she knew that Jordan was right at her side. He was just so quiet and easy to forget about.

At least he was a distraction from Lucy. When she had demonstrated her true form in class, she had only done an arm. Even that had been quickly and easily decentralized into the strands of tentacles and put back together. As Lucy was now, it looked almost painful.

Irene was thankful that her uniform was covering up most of her body.

“You don’t seem very surprised. I expected more shock.”

Putting on a frown, the only thing that Irene could think of in response was that the contract was incredibly inconvenient. Jordan knew about demons anyway. There should be an exception for people like him, if nothing else.

“Neither do you,” Irene said with a shake of her head.

“Oh, I was plenty surprised when she fell face first into the ground and exploded into ribbons.”

“I’m sure.”

To avoid any continuation of the topic, Irene reached down and helped the mostly solid Lucy to her feet. She made sure to only touch Lucy on her clothes; the demon was covered in some slimy mucus.

She wobbled a fair amount, but managed to keep from falling on her face again. There was a bit of wet gurgling noises coming from–Irene wanted to say from Lucy’s throat, but that wasn’t entirely accurate. It was just coming from Lucy in general.

“Why is this place so gross?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Irene said. “I don’t feel anything.” Except a constant butterflies-in-stomach feeling, she thought. She was fairly certain that the feeling wasn’t related. Glancing over at Jordan, Irene asked, “do you feel anything?”

He shrugged. “Not particularly. Maybe a little unsettling sensation, but that could have just been from watching Lucy put herself together.”

“Something is here. But not? It’s,” Lucy paused, scrunching up her face in concentration.

Given her lack of bone structure or human muscles, the look sent chills up Irene’s spine. She was clearly mimicking what she had seen other people do in similar situations, but wasn’t quite succeeding. There was just something uncanny about it. If asked, Irene wouldn’t be able to point out any one thing in particular that was wrong with it. It just looked off.

“I don’t know the words,” Lucy eventually said, sagging in defeat.

On instinct, Irene reached forward to help steady the demon. When Lucy sagged, she sagged.

A stray thought couldn’t help but slip in. She’d be great at limbo.

“Maybe if you saw the room?” Jordan asked with a shrug. “Couldn’t hurt, could it?”

Irene wasn’t so sure about that. They might have to go get a mop if Lucy fell again, or worse, passed out. Just to sweep her down the staircase.

But Lucy had already taken one wobbly step forward. That was followed by a second and a third, each more steady than the last. Irene wanted to say that her eyes were unfocused as she moved, but that wasn’t all that different from the other times she had seen the security guard around school.

Considering for a moment that her eyes were strands of tentacles too… Irene shook her head before she could think about it too hard. Demon physiology was not covered in their course work and probably for good reason.

Moving up next to her, Irene stopped Lucy from stepping over the barrier of the shackles. If there was an invisible creature trapped inside, she didn’t really want Lucy to be trapped inside as well. Even if nothing attacked her, Irene would have to break the shackles to let her out, potentially letting out whatever had gotten trapped.

Irene gasped as she looked into the room from Lucy’s side.

There were definitely new footprints in the sand. She had spent long enough staring at it that she was sure of it.

Something was in there. Judging by the footprints, it had moved around to the blind spot to the side of the door.

A sharp noise from Lucy sent Irene’s heart into overdrive.

“Mushy mortals should stand away,” she said as her hands unfurled into their natural form. “Something in here is–”

Her comment was cut off by a high-pitched whine.

That whine terminated in thunder resonating between Irene’s ears.

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006.001

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Returning to school just wasn’t quite the same. It didn’t feel right. So much had happened and so much was going to happen that sitting in class and practicing thaumaturgy just felt unimportant. Like being concerned over a mosquito bite while bleeding out from a missing arm.

Eva leaned back in her chair and shut her eyes. She was supposed to be practicing heat manipulation.

None of Isaac Calvin’s directions actually made it to her conscious thoughts. The unending swirl and churn of her worries and imagination all mixed up into one gigantic nightmare. Naturally, such a nightmare occluded most everything unrelated.

Someone or something was trying to pull Void out of whatever plane of existence in which He resided.

Without knowing much about Void or how Powers operated, existed, or worked, most of Eva’s worries stemmed directly from her imagination.

In her imagination, Void was like a planet. Or perhaps an entire solar system. Maybe even a galaxy. A galaxy filled with tens of billions of demons.

It probably wasn’t a very good comparison. Planes of existence were so abstract in every way that a galaxy seemed too normal, too relatable. They were the realms of Powers, inhabited and created by them at the same time.

Despite having been to Hell itself, Eva couldn’t confess any knowledge about how it worked. There were islands and water. And that was it. Travel within Hell was done through the waters, so that must be some connecting factor that linked the place together.

When Eva stepped back from the islands and water to consider just how the layout of the place worked, her mind went blank. A sudden moment of absolutely zero thought going on within her brain. She would always snap back to reality with a surge of fear-fueled adrenaline.

Eva didn’t consider herself frightened of much, but nothing scared her beyond anything else. The idea of an absence of herself, her very being, sent shivers up her spine. It stretched the limits of comprehension and filled Eva’s very soul with an innate sense of wrongness. Void illimitable and so thorough that should her conscious thought vanish, so too might reality itself.

The longer she thought about such things at once, the greater the horror upon snapping back to conscious thought.

Shaking her head, Eva found herself with a layer of uncanny sweat formed on her skin. Again, she was falling prey to her own wandering mind.

That instant blank of her mind when she considered Void was so close to nothing that she couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the reason for Void being named as such.

With regard to all that, thinking of Void as a galaxy solved so many problems.

A galaxy was relatable. Imaginable. Though she had never objectively seen a galaxy with her own eyes–Eva barely glanced up at stars in the night sky–she had seen a number of pictures and drawings. Most of those came from her time in regular public schooling prior to enrolling at Brakket Academy.

Considering the immense size of galaxies and the empty space between might boggle the mind. However, boggle was a far cry from the existential blank of her deeper thoughts regarding Void. She would much prefer a little boggling.

Regardless of how Void would end up manifesting within the mortal plane, Eva held no doubts that it would be anything short of apocalyptic.

Even assuming that Void could enter the mortal plane in a benign manner, the demons that would undoubtedly come along with Him would likely be hostile towards most of humanity.

Those that wouldn’t be hostile to all humans, herself, Ylva, Arachne, and any others, wouldn’t do humanity many favors. Any war between demons fought on Earth would likely destroy it.

And Eva hadn’t the slightest clue as to how she could stop either a war or Void entering the mortal plane. Zagan seemed at a loss. He was back to teaching his combat class, flippant as always.

Far from what she had expected of the Devil. She had expected him to run off and find out who or what was doing the actual Void-to-mortal-plane thing. Then again, maybe he wanted it to happen. Just because Eva couldn’t see any benefits to having Void and all the demons roaming around Earth did not mean that Zagan felt the same.

“Eva.”

Eva snapped her eyes open. Isaac Calvin stood at the front of the room, looking at her. Not a hostile look, nor a look of reprimand for having her eyes closed, nor even an apologetic look. Just a look.

At his side stood the ever-sultry Catherine. Unlike the good professor, Eva could feel the daggers that the succubus glared with.

Why? Who knew? Eva didn’t. Neither did she care. She hadn’t done a single thing to the succubus to warrant such a glare. Not that she could remember, at least. Eva narrowed her eyes at Catherine ever so slightly.

Taking her attention from the succubus, Eva glanced back to Isaac Calvin. “Yes? Professor?”

“Dean Turner wishes to see you in her office.” He gestured to his side, “Catherine will accompany you.”

Eva’s first reaction was to ask what the dean wanted to talk about. She quickly discarded that notion.

Anything Martina Turner had to say would likely not be something everyone in her class should hear.

Looking at the clock behind the professor’s shoulders, Eva decided to pack up her bag. There were only ten minutes left in class. Even if the dean only spoke for a few seconds, coming back to class would be a waste of time.

It wasn’t like she was participating in class anyway.

After shoveling her books into her bag, Eva stood and walked past the two empty chairs at her table.

Neither Shalise nor Juliana had been in class since November. Shalise, being still in Hell, would find it troublesome to show up. Juliana was still at her mother’s side in whatever hospital they had ended up at.

Eva wasn’t certain if the latter was going to or even wanted to return to Brakket.

On her way out, she did give a light wave to Jordan, Shelby, and Irene. Shelby returned the wave and Jordan gave a light smile. Irene, on the other hand, pressed her lips together before giving a curt nod.

Since returning to school, Eva hadn’t had much opportunity to speak with any of them. Most every moment of free time was spent back at the prison with Devon and Ylva. Lunches had been silent and awkward for the most part. No real room for discussion there.

Which wasn’t a good thing. Jordan and Shelby had been the ones to inform everyone about Zagan’s nefarious actions towards Shalise and Juliana. They had known to go talk to Ylva and had known who Zagan was.

That warranted, at the very least, asking how they knew such things.

As she walked behind Catherine, Eva made a note to corner Jordan sometime and ask him a few questions.

Politely, of course. They were friends, not enemies or anything.

Martina Turner’s office was just a quick jaunt down the hallway. During their walk, Catherine never once spoke a word. She didn’t turn around. She barely even sauntered.

If Eva had to guess, the succubus was depressed. And angry. More angry than depressed, in fact. As they walked, Eva’s mind drifted back to that glare. She still hadn’t puzzled out what it had meant, but perhaps Catherine was just angry enough at Eva to withhold her seductive wiles.

More of a punishment for the succubus than for Eva, if she was honest with herself. As expected of a member of the succubi race, Catherine had an almost objectively perfect body. Eva just found herself objectively uninterested.

Catherine paused at her desk. She leaned over–unseductively–and hit a button on her phone.

Half a moment later, Martina’s voice crackled through the speaker. “Yes?”

“Eva’s here.”

“Don’t just stand out there, bring her in!” There was a loud crash on the other end of the line just before the little red light blinked off.

Eva caught a ghost of a smile cross Catherine’s face as she moved over towards the door.

Martina sat behind her desk. Her elbows were resting on her desk while her fingers were steepled beneath her nose. On either side behind her were the two black-coated security personnel.

Lucy smiled and waved. She snapped back to attention after earning a glare from her compatriot. He–Eva couldn’t remember his name–rolled his eyes and faced forward.

Eva might feel comforted at the idea that Lucy found her presence enjoyable. Unfortunately, she had little doubt that the demon was at least partially unstable. She would kill Eva with that same smile on her face at the first request from Martina Turner.

Long ago, there was a time where Eva frequently found herself scared of Arachne. Probably owing to the circumstances surrounding their initial meeting. Even nowadays, Eva occasionally grew nervous in Arachne’s presence. Especially since returning from Hell.

How could Martina Turner, a perfectly normal human, stand having two demons standing at her back? One constantly made low gurgling noises while the other eyed everything in the room as if deciding in which order he would destroy everything.

Then there was Catherine. While less likely to outright murder everyone simply on account of her being a succubus, Eva knew that the secretary did not like her master.

But then, Martina might not be mentally stable either. Not entirely, at least. She did keep constant company with Zagan. If even half of Devon’s complaints about the devil were true, it was almost a miracle that Martina hadn’t already been killed.

Eva stood around as Catherine came into the room, closing the door behind her. For a good minute, no one said anything. Martina merely eyed her from behind her hands, the morail stared off at some ceiling tile, and Lucy bounced on her heels. Catherine pulled out a smartphone and started tapping away.

Remembering the dean’s earlier power plays with Ylva, Eva sighed. She could definitely understand why Catherine disliked the woman. Perhaps it would be possible to poach Catherine off of Martina. Eva would have to look up some information about familiar bonds, though it might all be a moot idea anyway. If Catherine didn’t like her better, there was no reason to alter the status quo.

Besides, she already had Arachne to worry about.

“Unless you’ve summoned me here to deliver reparations for Zagan’s actions towards Shalise and Juliana, I’m leaving.”

After another few seconds of silence, Eva turned on her heel and reached for the door.

“Eva,” Martina said. “You’ve heard why Zagan did what he did.”

Ignoring the woman, Eva tried the door.

Locked, of course.

Eva started building up magic for a teleportation to the prison as she turned to Martina.

“That doesn’t excuse his casual disregard for my friends.”

“And,” she continued, in a tone that suggested she was ignoring Eva’s statement, “Miss Rivas even thanked Zagan for his actions.”

Eva raised an eyebrow.

“You didn’t know that, but it’s true. I was present alongside Catherine and Governor Anderson. Even if you distrust Catherine and myself, Governor Anderson doesn’t particularly like Zagan or myself. Ask him to confirm it.”

“I will,” Eva said.

Governor Anderson had been wandering around since Eva’s return. He never once spoke to her, mostly choosing to spend his time moving from place to place with a sweeping coat. Eva would have assumed him to be a part of Martina’s demon security had Jordan not greeted him between classes one time.

“If there is nothing else you wanted?”

“Actually,” Martina said as she leaned back in her chair, “I have a certain initiative that I would like to start. Among students. Another club, if you will. Potentially a full-blown elective course for the fifth and sixth year students.”

“You’re really dancing around the subject.”

Martina pulled back her lips into a not-so-kind smile. “I would like to enlist Devon Foster and get his assistance and expertise in instructing a select group of students.”

Eva blinked. Her mind crawled through processing exactly what Martina had implied. Devon’s name wasn’t one she expected to hear. As a teacher no less.

That thought sent Eva into a short fit of giggles. She doubled over, hands clutching at her sides.

“Something the matter?”

“Just,” Eva took in a deep breath of air, “just picturing him in a room with a bunch of students.”

“And what is wrong with that?”

“You’ve clearly never met him.” Eva sighed. It had been a long time since she really laughed. The feeling was somewhat euphoric. “Devon in a room with twenty kids? Recipe for disaster. He hates kids. Including me, I’m pretty sure. And what would he be qualified to teach, summoning demons?” Eva let out a short chuckle.

“Exactly.”

Eva’s laughter died off. Martina wasn’t laughing. “You’re serious.”

“Entirely.”

Eva stared.

Martina Turner’s face betrayed no deception.

Finally, Eva shook her head. “I misspoke earlier. He doesn’t hate kids. He thinks they’re annoying and should leave him alone to his research. What he does hate, however, are demons. He loathes the entire population of Hell.”

“He’s a man so steeped in diablery, yet hates demons?”

Demonologist. And he loathes them. Aside from Arachne, every demon he has ever summoned, to my knowledge, has been subjected to domination.” Catherine and the morail both flinched. Lucy was too busy off in la-la land to notice. “Not to mention,” Eva said, “he would never work in such close proximity to Zagan.

“And that isn’t even getting into the fact that you want a bunch of kids to summon demons. Are you insane? A couple loose will make Sawyer look like a peaceful hippy.”

“You heard Zagan,” Martina said. “Demons may be flooding to Earth in the future. It is important now more than ever to broaden people’s horizons. To interact with demons, to know demons, and, if necessary, to fight demons. Widespread knowledge of shackles alone could save millions.”

“Starting with a few kids is the way to go then?”

“Children are the future,” Martina said, smiling as she leaned back and clasped her hands across her stomach. “What better place to start could there possibly be?”

Eva shook her head with a laugh of disbelief. “Doesn’t matter either way. I can ask him, but I guarantee that he will vehemently decline.”

“In that case, you step up and help teach your fellow students.”

“What? I know hardly anything about–”

“You don’t need to. Catherine will be the primary instructor.”

The succubus grit her teeth together loud enough for Eva to hear.

Ah, Eva thought, she isn’t angry at me, she’s just angry.

“Being a demon, Catherine is quite knowledgeable about the subject. You need to provide a human element. Perspective from a human point of view. Things that a demon wouldn’t think to consider.”

“You want me to babysit Catherine while she teaches–”

The bell signaling the end of class interrupted Eva. She let the annoying chime complete its tones before speaking again.

“Kids are stupid. You know that right? One of these idiots is going to get themselves killed. Others too.”

“The initial test group will all be properly screened for any troublesome individuals. Aside from that, you are a child. You had to have started dipping your fingers in diablery quite some time ago. While I haven’t seen any of her work personally, Zagan informed me that Juliana’s summoning circle was passable and the relative strength of the demons we have attributed to her summoning was not low.”

“And look where that has gotten us!” Eva waved one chitinous hand through the air for emphasis. “I’m barely human anymore. I don’t particularly mind, but others? I can’t speak for them. And Juliana? It was Zagan’s fault in the first place! Her mother might be bedridden for life because of demons.”

“That’s a pessimistic outlook.”

“Now you want to bring other kids into this? How long before one of them gets trapped in Hell, sharing their body with a demon?”

Eva pressed her fingers to her forehead and slowly shook her head. “You know what? I don’t even care. Because of Shalise and Juliana’s recent experiences, I’m getting worked up over a bunch of people I probably haven’t even interacted with.

“So I’ll tell you what. I’ll do it.”

“Excellent. Catherine, start–”

“Not so fast, Martina Turner. You have something I want.”

The dean narrowed her eyes. “What would that be, Eva Spencer?”

Clenching her jaw, Eva folded her arms. “Zagan.”

Catherine whipped her head over and spoke for the first time since entering the room. Her face twisted into a look of disgust. “You want Zagan?”

Eva dismissed the succubus with a wave of her hand. “Not in whatever manner is floating through your mind. Order Zagan to get Shalise out of Hell. Order Zagan to fix Juliana’s mother. Do that and I’ll teach your stupid class.”

A silence settled over the office, broken only by a light gurgling from Lucy’s corner of the room.

The silence gave way to a deep chuckle from behind Eva.

Eva narrowed her eyes. She did not turn around. A circulatory system matching Zagan’s had appeared behind her immediately before the chuckle.

“So demanding, my little embryonic one. What has you all fired up?”

“Can you do it or not?” she demanded. He hadn’t even been here to hear, but Eva had no doubts that he had heard.

“Oh I can. With hardly any effort on my part as well.” A hand clapped down on Eva’s shoulder. “Can is a far cry from will.”

Eva steeled herself. She wasn’t about to let Devon’s rhetoric dictate a fear of Zagan. Like most demons in Eva’s experience, Zagan liked politeness. He hadn’t hurt her, directly at least.

Except that one time when they first met. He had pulled her arms off. But he fixed them right away, so did it still count?

“You see, you must ask yourself one question. Does what I offer meet the worth of what I am asking?” He let out a snort, filling the air with the rancid odor of sulfur. “I don’t know that a little teaching position is worth all that much. You know what I mean, yeah?”

“And what, Zagan, would be worth it?”

“That, little one,” he said in a mocking tone of voice, “is something you will have to find out for yourself. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to think it over while you keep dear Catherine out of trouble.”

Catherine let out a sharp scoff, but otherwise remained silent.

Eva ceased speaking as well. Her own teeth were grinding about as hard as Catherine’s had been. Zagan implying that she would accept irked her, but also gave some hope that he might actually help.

The real question was just what Zagan might consider valuable enough to help her friends.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen. I’ll sit in on the stupid class, but don’t come crying to me when the school is set aflame.”

“Excellent,” Zagan said as he clapped her on the back. “I knew we could count on you.”

Eva clenched her fists as Zagan moved up towards Martina’s desk. After a single calming breath, she relaxed. Much better than Catherine was doing, Eva noted out of the corner of her eye. The lesser succubus was actually shaking in rage.

“Zagan,” Eva said, “are you doing anything to stop Hell from being brought into the world?”

He paused his movements, glancing back over his shoulder, he said, “no. Not a thing.”

“You want it to happen.”

“I think,” he said slowly, “that it would be a bad thing–”

“Then why–”

A vice grip clamped down on Eva’s jaw. Zagan’s fingers clenched to the point where Eva could feel the strain in her bones.

“Don’t interrupt me, Eva. I do not appreciate it.”

He held on for another moment until Eva managed a slight nod of her head. When he pulled away, his fingers stuck to the thin layer of perspiration on her skin. It took a conscious force of effort to avoid rubbing her face. There would definitely be a mark there in the morning.

Unless, Eva considered, I can make the marks go away with blood magic. Redness and bruises were both caused by blood beneath the skin. It should be possible to clear it out.

But not at the moment. Eva remained silent as she waited for Zagan to continue speaking.

“It would be a bad thing. Void being in the mortal realm would open Him up to attacks. Make Him vulnerable. Potentially to the point of destruction. The why,” he said, narrowing his golden eyes, “is simply because it is something that has never happened before.

“If it comes down to a battle for survival, I will fight. And I will win. Because that is simply what I do. Anything else will be interesting to watch.”

Eva waited for a moment extra, just to ensure that he had finished speaking. “Because you’re bored?”

“A very good reason to do things,” Zagan snapped. “Finding ways to pass the time without boring myself to death is a much better reason to do something than most mortals have for committing atrocities.”

“If someone were to try to stop it,” Eva said, “would you stop them?”

“You? You mean?” He laughed. Both of the demons behind Martina hedged away from his rumbling bass tones. Martina herself managed to remain steady, though she did glance over at him with narrowed eyes. “Not even I know what is causing it nor how to stop it. Some massive ritual, I presume. Granted, I’m not actively looking. If someone were to try to stop it?” He shrugged. “It wouldn’t be any fun if I intervened too much. In the meantime, Catherine, fetch me a bucket of popcorn!”

The succubus jumped at being addressed. The surprise on her face quickly turned to a scowl. She opened her mouth for just a moment before snapping it shut. She turned and walked out of the room, apparently having decided that Zagan was serious.

Eva turned back to the rest of the room. She decided that she didn’t have much to say to them either. Martina Turner would pull her out of class at some point, presumably, for more details about the nonsense with diablery class.

With a quick thought, her built up magic discharged and swept Eva from the room.

A high-pitched scream filled Eva’s ears. No matter how much she tried to ignore it, it pierced her like a needle to the brain. Burning heat tore her flesh from her bones as she flew through a tunnel of viscera.

The agony induced by her method of teleportation was half as intense as it used to be. This time in the previous year, all flesh was seared off in the heat. Even her bones had turned black and charred.

Now, however, most of her bones were already black. A shiny sheen covered them in a manner similar to her carapace, rather than the charcoal-esque burning and cracking of her bones even a year ago. Even some of her muscles managed to weather the storm–especially those near Arachne’s limbs which were unaffected by the process entirely.

The heat didn’t touch her eyes either. Something Eva was extremely grateful for. She had had enough eye horror in the last few years to last a lifetime.

When her women’s ward gate spat her out, she still stumbled, gasping for breath. It wasn’t as bad, but the pain was still there. She had thought she might build up a tolerance for it, but every time she teleported, it felt exactly the same.

She needed more treatments.

Grasping at the water bottle she had started keeping inside the gate room, Eva uncapped it and took a long drink, moistening her sore throat. She tossed the empty plastic into a small trash bin without a second glance as she made her way into the common room.

Without pomp or circumstance, Eva flopped over on her couch. She needed to get to Devon and tell him about the dean’s plan. At this point, she wasn’t sure whether he would burst out laughing or start swearing up a storm at Martina’s idiocy. Probably some combination of the two.

Arachne could be told as well. But that could probably wait.

No, it could definitely wait.

Using as few muscles as possible, Eva stretched a hand under the couch and pulled out her current research project.

The Arte of Bloode Magicks

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