Tag Archives: Naranga

003.012

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Eva spun on her heel and caught the rock out of the air.

It was small and not pointed. That was a relief at least. Her fellow students weren’t trying to kill her. It crumbled under the might of her claws. Too easy, far too easy. Probably had been designed to shatter on impact to create dust and a large mark on her back.

Unbelievable.

“A-are you alright?”

“Fine,” Eva ground out while giving a long, hard glare at the group of three students that stood where the rock had come from. She knew which of the three had done it. It did take more concentration to use, but her blood sight didn’t suddenly stop working just because she got eyes.

Not that anyone else knew that. They didn’t know how she got around without eyes in the first place.

Being able to glare again was fun, Eva had to admit. Especially because her new eyes tended to cause others to wilt and run away. She very much enjoyed seeing those three students break into a full sprint down the hall, only to crash into someone coming around a corner.

“That was mean,” Shalise shouted after them.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” Eva let out a soft sigh as she turned back towards their next class. “I liked it better when they were avoiding and ignoring me.”

“You skip alchemy so you probably missed the rumors,” Juliana said.

“What, people think I had something to do with his injuries?”

“It is a well-known fact that you two hate each other.”

Eva gave Juliana a look. Even she shied away from it. New eyes are fun. Eva shook her head and glanced back at Juliana. “We don’t hate each other. I skipped class because he doesn’t let me work. He doesn’t let me work because he’s worried about chemicals soaking into my non-lab safe gloves. That’s a valid reason on both our parts. He isn’t my best friend or anything, but I don’t want him dead.”

“You don’t have to preach to me,” Juliana said with her arms up. “I’m just saying what they’re saying.”

“Yeah, well, they’re wrong.” Eva clenched her fists. The one she crushed the rock with grated at the joints. “I need to wash my hands before class.”

“Do you want us to go with you?” Shalise asked.

“I’ll be fine on my own.”

Juliana put on an almost evil grin. It was somewhat odd and didn’t fit on her. Then again, it had been almost a year since Eva last saw her face. She’d had to approximate everyone’s expressions using their blood vessels. Getting used to sight would be a chore.

“It isn’t you that we’re worried about,” Juliana said. “It is everyone else.”

“No guarantees there. Maybe if I knock some sense into people, I can go back to being avoided before Arachne gets word and does something everyone would regret.”

“I-is that–should we be worried?”

“Oh no. You guys have nothing to worry about.”

“Should we be worried for other people, I think Shalise means.”

“Probably not.” Eva shook her head as she changed direction towards the nearest restroom. “I’ll catch up to you guys in class.”

Eva kept her sense of blood fully in the front of her mind as she walked off. She’d never felt the need to be aware of every single person around her while in school. As such, she’d nearly fallen flat on her face when a gust of wind tripped her up.

Watching everyone’s hands was an exercise in tedium, but she wasn’t willing to risk a fireball to the face.

Luckily, most students moved out of her way as she walked past. Openly wearing nothing over her hands and even a skirt to show off her legs had people staring for sure. A giddy feeling welled up inside Eva when two older girls standing outside the restroom noticed her approaching. She didn’t think she’d ever get tired of the way they ran when their eyes met her own.

Sadistic? Maybe a little.

It was almost a shame that Arachne couldn’t see their faces. She would surely get a laugh out of it. Even if she could see through Eva’s shirt, she wasn’t around today.

She had elected, offered even, to help Devon track down the source of those demons. No one was interested in a repeat of that night.

Especially not Juliana.

The official announcement was that a fire had injured both Zoe and Wayne Lurcher. No word of demons or even an attacker was mentioned, though there was a statement that an investigation into possible arson would be underway.

Carlos, on the other hand, knew the truth. While he didn’t seem to have any issue with Eva or Arachne, he definitely objected to demons attacking and causing mayhem. He would be talking to Genoa. Keeping everything secret from her wouldn’t end well when she inevitably found out.

And Eva didn’t doubt that she would find out. She had a miserable track record for keeping secrets since starting at Brakket.

Most of that stemmed from her choosing to not be the loner that she had been in middle school.

That and Arachne forcing her contract. It would be so much easier to keep secrets without a demon clinging to her body. Not that she wanted to change that too much. Arachne was a good companion.

Eva shook the water off her hands. She flexed them several times, just to ensure nothing was grinding in between her carapace. Nothing felt odd in her joints.

She turned towards the door and was almost tackled in…

A hug?

It took effort not to give into her instincts and crush the girl in her hands. Eva managed to shove her away without too much force.

“You didn’t have eyes last time.”

Eva glanced down at the girl. Even without needing to sense her blood vessels, she was unmistakable.

The blended girl.

“Are you just lacking common sense or are you trying to get yourself killed.”

Blended burst out laughing.

A pure, childlike laugh.

Eva had to take a step back. “What is wrong with you?”

Her laugh stopped in its tracks. A shadow crossed her face as she looked towards the floor. “My body doesn’t heal properly.” She fiddled with one of the stitches that ran across her face. “Any cut I get has to be held shut.”

Most of her looked a lot worse than cuts. Maybe full dismemberments. Eva shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. First you remove my gloves in front of half the school. Now you get far too close to me.”

“Oh.” She tilted her head to one side as a wide smile spread across her face. “You’re fascinating. Look at you.” Blended reached forwards and gripped Eva’s hand. She ran her fingers up along the point where the carapace stopped and the skin started. “You’ve obviously had amputations. But no stitches holding it together. And they’re not even human limbs.”

Eva tore her claw out of the girl’s hands.

She didn’t even notice. Blended’s hands immediately darted towards Eva’s skirt and lifted it up. “Fascinating. Your limbs merge with your skin and work. There isn’t any endoskeleton if I guess right. How do they work?”

What a menace, Eva thought with a sigh. She gave the girl a fairly hard shove–

Or tried to.

The hand she tried to shove Blended with stopped just inches from the girl. Caught. Another set of fingers gripped her wrist. The blood within them barely moved beneath the skin.

Almost like Ylva.

No.

Not quite. More like someone sleeping.

“Hugo,” Blended admonished the owner of the hand. “Be nice.”

A small chill ran up her spine. Both of them managed to sneak up on her. And they managed the same feat the other night. Who are these people?

As useless as she had been so far, Eva made a note to have Nel watch the two.

“Yes, Des,” Hugo said as he released Eva’s hand. He moved to stand next to Blended and went perfectly still. His eyes unfocused as they gazed off at some point behind Eva.

“But your eyes,” Blended said as she released Eva’s skirt. Her fingers darted towards her own eyes. They pressed and squeezed until a sickening pop echoed through the otherwise vacant restroom. Several stitches held it in her head by the optic nerve alone.

The boy standing at her side did not react in the slightest.

“How do you even see?”

“With my eyes. But your eyes, they’re definitely not human. You didn’t even have them the other day. Yet no sign of surgery?” She popped her own brown eye back into her skull. It swiveled independently from her blue one before settling into place. “Eyes don’t work like that.”

I don’t think eyes work like yours. Mine make a lot more sense.

“The dean said you were partially nonhuman. I don’t believe that. I think you are a human who has replaced your limbs somehow.”

“I don’t care what you think. In fact, I would be very pleased if we never met again.”

The smile on her face vanished in an instant. Water gathered in her eyes, but she managed to hold it in. “W-we’re alike though. We have unique physiology and everyone hates us.”

As her smile vanished, Eva smile grew. She let out a scoff. “Even if that were true–which it isn’t in my case–I am perfectly accustomed to being alone. As for ‘unique physiology,’ well, that’s hardly a thing to bond over. Because of your actions, you’ve potentially damaged my standing here. Damaged to the point where people might die if they realize the truth behind what the dean implied.”

Eva shoved past Blended and her little henchman–who, now that Eva thought about it, should probably not be in the women’s restroom.

“You mean, about those being demon lim–”

Hugo jumped in the way of her claws. One hand embedded itself into his chest. Eva barely took the time to note that he wasn’t even bleeding before her other hand gripped Blended by her throat.

“I think you mean to say ‘West African shapeshifting spider’ limbs.”

Blended struggled against her grip. She wouldn’t be able to break it. Eva wished she had Arachne’s upper arm as well as her lower arm if only because she wanted to lift the girl up by the throat.

Hugo struggled to get off of her fingers.

Eva threw him off, sending him back against the sinks. She wiped the surprisingly small amount of blood onto the hilt of her dagger.

As soon as she had control over it, the blood flew through the air to form two disks that pressed into his eyes. Eva released her control.

Blinded by his own blood, Hugo flailed around as he attempted to wipe the blood away.

Eva dragged Blended to the restroom entrance and pressed one foot against the door. The room was empty save for the three of them. She did not want anyone walking in on them.

“Now,” Eva dropped her voice until even she could barely hear it, “we are going to have a little talk. I don’t know where you got the idea that any part of me is demonic and I don’t care–” for now at least. “If I find out that you mentioned the ‘d’ word to anyone, I promise to hunt you down. If rumors start going around the school, I will assume you are responsible. Do we understand each other?”

Blended did not respond. She continued to struggle against Eva’s claw.

Eva released her with a light shove.

She stumbled backwards, gasping for air.

Eva turned her attention back to Hugo just in time to see him rushing at her despite the blood still in his eyes. She kicked out with her foot and struck him square in the chest.

Rather than fly back like a good little ragdoll, he gripped her leg and held on.

Eva hopped forwards–there was no one on the other side of the door anyway–and used her stronger legs to force Hugo backwards.

He stumbled over and fell to his back with Eva’s leg pinning him against the ground.

“I believe I asked you a question.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice rasped.

Eva didn’t think she squeezed hard at all, definitely not hard enough to cut off air. Then again, she might have some medical issues related to the unable to heal thing.

Blended coughed a few times before she said, “I’m sorry. I won’t mention it again. I just wanted a friend.”

“Well, you sure screwed that up.”

She hung her head. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go.”

“‘How it was supposed to go?'” Eva narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean by that?”

“You are like me. We’re not like everyone else.”

“We are not alike. Even if we were, that alone isn’t a good reason to be friends. Next time you want to make friends with someone, don’t antagonize them.”

Eva turned towards the door, but turned her head over her shoulder. “Remember my promise. One word to anyone.”

Blended nodded behind Eva’s back as she started to help Hugo up. He’d probably have a few broken ribs.

Eva wasn’t too concerned about him running to a nurse. He still was barely bleeding. Something was odd about him.

Odd about both of them.

She could only hope that the small marble of his blood that she reclaimed from his eyes was enough for Nel to work with.

— — —

Zoe Baxter leaned back into the soft padding of her infirmary bed. Too many potions had her feeling loopy, but her head had started to clear in the last few hours. Hopefully she hadn’t done too many embarrassing things.

She hated this.

Not just the potions and the infirmary. She felt groggy. Her mind wasn’t completely sharp.

A few key notes stuck out to her. Things she picked up despite the potions.

Wayne was off in some elven hospital. Her home destroyed along with all her research.

I hope those fireproof safes were worth the money.

Even if they worked perfectly, not everything would be saved. Definitely nothing she had been actively working on.

Zoe pinched her eyes shut as she tried to remember all her current projects. The ring stood out first and foremost. She hadn’t worked on it much after the end of last year, but plenty of notes hadn’t been filed away yet.

The notes about Des’ healing condition would be long gone. Not a big issue. She hadn’t been making any progress in that department. The biggest issue there would be the destruction of books.

Any material relating to demonology had been dropped into between. Far too volatile to risk anyone accidentally happening upon. At least she wouldn’t have to tell Eva that her books had been burnt.

Anything else would hopefully be in the safe.

The ring was the only thing that wasn’t between. Zoe hadn’t given it a moment of thought until just now. She had a sudden urge to find Eva and have her collect it. If someone else found it…

Zoe shook her head. Nothing to do about it at the moment. She’d have Lisa find Eva as soon as she could.

The ring was supposed to protect her. Supposed to dissuade enemies from attacking her. Provided Ylva was telling the truth, of course.

She should have been wearing it. Everything might have been different.

Again, Zoe shook her head. Worrying about the past was not constructive.

Zoe stretched out her arm.

She was quite certain that her elbow had been pulverized by the tentacle monster. Her arm flopped loosely for a good while before she managed to escape.

Whatever Lisa did to it worked wonders.

Her arm came down on the buzzer for the nurse. Sure, she could have used her other arm. Doing so wouldn’t have let her test out her injuries.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad. There was a strong tingle right in the crook of her elbow when she tried to flex it. Zoe wasn’t sure if painkillers were dampening a more intense feeling or not. If Lisa didn’t want her to be moving it, she should have put a cast on it.

Trying to move her leg didn’t end in such success. Pain wracked up her thigh before she decided not to hop out of bed just yet.

“You’re still injured. Don’t try getting up.”

“I don’t think I will,” Zoe said as she glanced towards the door.

Lisa Naranga stood there, staring with a half-sad smile on her face. “Glad to see you’re finally awake.”

“Glad to be awake.” Zoe returned the smile, trying hard not to wince as her leg resettled in the bed. “How long do I need to stay here?”

“Your knee is still in about thirteen pieces. Fixing it has been a nightmare. Both Laura and Eirin have been running through several options. I doubt you’ll want to leave before it gets fixed.”

“I seem to remember my arm bending in the wrong direction as well.”

“It looked worse than it was. Local bone regrowth injection had it mending well.”

Zoe stretched out both arms and stretched them back and forth. “Seems alright. A light tingle every time I move it though.”

“Aftereffects. They should wear off. If they haven’t by next week–well, if you’ve been released by next week–come see us.”

“I hope I’m released soon. So much work to get done.”

Lisa moved to the side of the bed and started looking over Zoe’s arm. “Any aches, pains, or general discomfort anywhere aside from your leg?”

Zoe rolled her neck back and forth with a slight cracking noise. “Lower neck pains. A small amount of strain on the actual bone, but that’s from being hunched over grading papers.”

“Dorsal lacerations likely aggravating the problem. They shouldn’t be a problem after another day or two. How long have you had the strain?”

“A few years maybe.”

“Grade papers in a different position. Invest in a new chair if that is the issue. You shouldn’t be having back pain at your age. At least not from grading papers.”

Zoe did not miss the momentary drop of her eyes. Lisa’s sad smile twisted into a lecherous smile before their eyes made contact.

And once again, her smile turned sad. “The official statement is that a fire ran through your house. Wayne burned himself to get you out.” She shook her head. “If he didn’t have that fire extinguished in three seconds flat, I’ll eat my syringes.”

“Seems unpleasant.”

“Zoe. What actually happened?”

Taking a deep breath of air, Zoe shook her head. “I don’t know much after I escaped. Just enough to catch that Wayne and Eva both survived.”

“Eva? The claw girl who has lots of ‘everythings’?”

“She has claws,” Zoe said slowly. She wasn’t quite sure what Lisa meant by ‘everythings.’

“What’s she got to do with this?”

Zoe chuckled. “She might just be the most qualified person to deal with creatures like these.” Aside from Zagan. Zoe wasn’t about to even mention his name. “Please don’t ask what the creatures are.”

“Fine, but I have my guesses.”

Zoe didn’t doubt that. The nurse probably wouldn’t need more than one guess; after treating Eva during the spring, she had to have researched anything that might be able to cause hands like that.

“What do you mean by escaped? And survived what?”

“I don’t know,” Zoe lied. “As for escaping, well, I am still wondering if I actually escaped.”

“You’re here, Zoe. You are safe.”

“That is what you said last time.”

The nurse frowned, but remained silent.

“I escaped at least twenty times,” Zoe said with a sigh. “I would teleport out. Get help. But something would be wrong. The colors of someone’s hair or pillow cases being inside out. The moment I noticed, the pain would start.” Zoe touched one of the healed cuts on her cheek. “It started small. A cut here or there. Then larger cuts. Broken bones.

“I don’t know how I escaped. What I did different. That scares me, Lisa. I’m still looking for something wrong.”

Lisa bent forwards and wrapped her arms around Zoe. It was somewhat awkward. Zoe didn’t want to lean forwards for fear of disturbing her knee.

Still, it was appreciated. Needed, even.

“We’ll find you a therapist. A good one.”

Zoe just nodded into her shoulder. She doubted a therapist would be able to do anything. How could anyone talk away an illusion indistinguishable from reality?

Disappointing her friend, assuming she was real, wouldn’t leave a good taste in her mouth.

But, once you encounter something like that, how can you ever trust anything?

Zoe shook the morbid thought from her mind. “If it isn’t too much trouble, could you send for Eva? I need to speak with her.”

Lisa pulled back with a glance at the wall clock. “It’ll be dark out. She should be somewhere around unless she is violating curfew.”

“I wouldn’t put that past her.”

“I’ll find her so long as she’s in the building,” Lisa said with a frown.

“Thank you.”

Zoe leaned back against her pillows. At least the clock didn’t have thirteen numbers this time.

None of her previous ‘escapes’ had lasted more than a few minutes before she noticed something out of place. That alone had to be good evidence that she actually escaped.

Assuming time wasn’t dilated in any way during the illusions.

The hands on the clock slowly ticked around for almost an hour before Eva walked into the room.

“You’re looking better.”

“Eva, yo–”

Zoe’s words choked in her throat as she stared at the girl. That girl stared back.

She could stare back.

With red, slit-pupil eyes.

That was wrong.

Very wrong.

Zoe braced herself.

Pain would be right after noticing something wrong.

And then another illusion would start.

She’d think she escaped.

Zoe was so engrossed in staring at those eyes, she almost missed Eva’s diagnosis.

“Bruises are gone. No internal or external bleeding. There is non-insignificant asymmetry in your legs. Are they alright?”

No pain. No booting out of the illusion.

Zoe clenched her jaw shut. She didn’t know what to think anymore.

It happened so quickly, Zoe couldn’t stop herself. It took all her effort to ignore the pain in her leg as she leaned over the edge of her bed.

What had to be hundreds of dollars worth of potions wound up on the floor.

“Zoe!” Eva darted forwards around the non-vomit side of the bed. Sharp claws pressed against her back.

This is it. Zoe braced herself for the pain and tried to think of another way to escape.

No pain came. Again. Just a soothing and somewhat odd feeling backrub.

Lisa burst into the room an instant later.

“I’m fine,” Zoe blurted out despite the foul taste in her mouth. She didn’t want Lisa jumping to conclusions. “I just–Eva, your eyes…”

“Oh. Arachne got them for me. The original owner wasn’t needing them anymore. I didn’t mean–I’m sorry. You were probably tortured… I didn’t even think–”

Zoe cut her off with a shake of her head.

She had a feeling she had seen those eyes before. Recently. She was suddenly glad she had been trapped in an endless stream of illusions rather than extended torture underneath the watchful gaze of those eyes. Being afraid of one of her students due to trauma would never do.

Maybe seeing a therapist for that would be wise.

“You stole that demon’s eyes?”

“Demon?” Rather than fear or running away, Lisa had a smug grin on her face. “I knew it.” That grin vanished as she grabbed a few towels from a cupboard.

“Thanks,” Eva said with a roll of her eyes. She could do that now. “At this rate, I might as well just issue a public statement to the whole school tomorrow. Or flee into hiding. Devon wants to do that anyway. This place is ‘too damn hot’ for him.”

Zoe put one of her hands on Eva’s claw. “Don’t. I’ll vouch for you in front of everyone.”

“You’ll lose your job.”

“Perhaps. But sticking by their students is a teacher’s duty. Besides, you kept me from bleeding out.” Zoe couldn’t help but add, “as long as everything is real.”

Eva just blinked. It would take a while to get used to those eyes. “If you’re still worried about the jezebeth, don’t be. I mean, if you think this is imaginary then nothing I say will help, but I guarantee that it is dead.”

Zoe wasn’t sure that helped. It should have. It was meant to. Maybe it would if the weeks wore on.

“That isn’t to say their illusions are anything to be scoffed at. I stabbed myself in the heart because–”

“You what!”

Her outburst was echoed by Lisa.

Eva had the gall to just wave her hand. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”

“You are most certainly not fine, young lady.” Lisa pointed at one of the other beds in the room. “Bed. Now.”

“What? No. I’m fine!”

“Last year, I warned you what would happen if you disobeyed me in my own infirmary. Do you remember?”

Any further protests died in Eva’s throat as she gave a timid nod.

“Bed. Now. If you aren’t in it by the time I get back,” Lisa let the threat hang in the air for a moment. She all but ran out of the room with the towels.

Eva didn’t hesitate. She scrambled into an adjacent bed.

“Before she comes back,” Zoe said, “there is a ring. You know which one I’m talking about. It was somewhere in my house.”

“Devon and Arachne have been snooping around all day. I highly doubt he would have missed a ring of that nature. Getting it back from him might be another story.”

“So long as it doesn’t fall into regular people’s hands.”

“Ylva was quite displeased. Not at you,” Eva quickly said.

And a good thing too, Zoe didn’t want another demon angry at her.

“She wanted both those demons to mount their heads on pikes. Apparently they broke rules by attacking you.”

“I didn’t have the ring on.”

“I gathered that and told her as much. I don’t think she cared, but you’d have to ask her.”

I don’t want to know that bad.

Lisa returned to the room. She dropped three potion vials into Zoe’s lap.

“Drink,” was her only command before she turned to Eva.

The final vial sent a wave of fog over her mind. Zoe passed out to the tune of a nurse shouting at her patient.

>>Extra Chapter 006<<

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002.008

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Eva slumped over her desk. Basila lay curled up on top. Eva lightly prodded the sleeping sculpture, poking the side of its scaly head.

It didn’t seem to like that. Every now and again, it would snap at her finger. Some kind of mental conditioning kept it from biting hard or with its fangs. It ended up suckling around Eva’s spindly finger.

That only made Eva prod it more.

Her master didn’t have any useful advice about her eyes. He only said, “don’t take the first deal you hear,” and stalked off to his section of her prison.

Devon took his own advice very seriously, if his continued lack of an arm was any indication. He didn’t even ask Arachne. Maybe he was worried about what she’d ask for. It was more likely that he just didn’t want her odd claws.

Eva had to admit that they had their uses. The strength and overall finesse was nothing to be scoffed at. Still, trying to maintain a normal life with them wound up more frustrating than anything. Maybe if she’d revealed them as soon as she’d gotten them, the rest of the school would ignore it. They already did that with her eyes.

She sighed, twirling her finger around the little snake.

Eva pulled out her dagger. Her new, shiny black–even in her vision–dagger. With a quick swipe, she slid it down her arm. Just enough blood emerged to renew all the flecks before she healed it.

Normally, she’d have retreated to the bathroom to protect her roommate’s sensitive sensibilities. Neither Juliana nor Shalise were in at the moment and Eva didn’t feel like getting up.

She toyed with the dagger. Whipping it up and balancing it on a single finger. It had the same, impossibly heavy yet weightless feel that the skull had. Much lighter feeling than the gold. Her hands might be superhumanly strong, but that stopped at her elbows.

Devon actually seemed interested about the new dagger. Despite his protests to her watching, he watched closely as Ylva gripped the handle and the sheath. Eva couldn’t see the gold. The black of the void metal bled into her vision from Ylva’s hands. Almost like ink being poured over an invisible dagger.

The dagger had only been in her hand for an instant before Devon snatched it out. He started weighing, measuring, and writing down all kinds of notes. Eva shouted at him when he started trying to scrape the metal. Trying ended up being the key word. He couldn’t make a single mark on the smooth surface.

Her master seemed especially interested in Eva’s ability to perceive the metal without using blood. The skull was the same way. Ylva offered the knowledge for free. Eva was at least partially demonic and Ylva made both items for her. The void metal considered Eva its owner.

Eva didn’t feel that explained much, but Devon nodded along.

Just as she started to sheathe the dagger, a circulatory system appeared behind her. Its arm already raised to attack.

Eva dived out of her chair. Her desk flew across the room.

She didn’t bother to uncork one of her vials of Arachne’s blood. One broke as she landed. She quickly whipped the loose blood up into a shield just in time to get hit by another attack.

“Where is she?” the voice yelled. The person didn’t wait for an answer. Two more blasts hit Eva’s shield before she even had the next vial uncorked.

A ball of blood shot towards the woman. It splattered against something just inches from her body.

A shield. Eva cursed. “Where’s who?”

She poured another vial into her shield.

Another few attacks struck.

“Don’t play coy with me, Eva. I know you sent a demon to attack her.”

Two vials left, attack or defend? Attack, obviously. She couldn’t count on any reinforcements. Even with the strengthened detection wards on the dorms, it might be too late.

Her shield drained at an alarming rate. The woman wouldn’t let up. Attack after attack.

Eva punctured her wrist with her dagger. She poured her own blood into the shield while she worked on her big attack. With a swift motion, she sheathed the dagger on her back.

The two vials of Arachne’s blood twisted and pulled into a wire frame ball.

They’re going to make us change rooms again, Eva thought as she plunged her claw into the ball.

A massive construct of her hand materialized in the room. The claw launched at the woman. The needle-like fingers made of blood squeezed her.

Not her. The woman’s shield.

Eva felt it crack.

Almost there.

The pinky of her blood construct passed through a hole in the shield. Eva watched as it pierced her leg.

It wasn’t enough. The construct dissipated.

Not willing to give the woman the time to rebuild her shield or to attack, Eva stood up. Her own shield wouldn’t last long with just her weak blood powering it.

She still had her claws.

Eva dashed across the room.

She tried to.

The moment she started her run, Eva realized her mistake.

No toes supported her as she tipped forwards.

The hard dorm floor lifted up to meet her. She hit the ground and skidded forward.

Eva rushed to heal the minor scrapes she got on her cheek as she tried to regain her footing.

A crack in the air sounded just as pain jolted through her right shoulder. Eva’s arm spasmed and she hit the ground again.

Eva screamed. The scorching in her shoulder increased despite the attack ending. It spread through her chest.

The woman–Sister Cross gripped her hair and lifted her head. She slammed Eva’s face down against the ground.

“Eva. Where is she?”

Eva tried to claw at her. She stomped a booted foot down on Eva’s upper arm. Something cracked.

Eva screamed again.

“I will not ask again.”

“I didn’t touch Shalise,” Eva cried out. “I don’t know where she is.”

“What?” Sister Cross ground her heel into Eva’s arm. “What happened to Shalise.”

She roared.

“I don’t–”

A second circulatory system appeared standing just across the room.

A pregnant moment passed as the newcomer took in the scene. Without warning, an announcement, or even a movement, he launched an attack.

Heat raced over Eva’s back. She could feel it through her clothes, through the pain of her shoulder. The heat created a sound. A roar not unlike the engines of the jet that took her to Brakket.

Sister Cross tried to take a step away.

Eva’s good arm shot out around her already injured leg. The needles of her claw sank into the nun’s flesh.

The nun’s shield didn’t impede Eva. She was too close. It did stop whatever Wayne Lurcher launched at the nun.

He didn’t like that. The stream of heat intensified over Eva’s head.

Sister Cross kicked Eva in the stomach. Her hand reflexively released its hold over the nun’s leg.

Eva skidded across the room.

Eva’s back–her shoulder hit something. She wasn’t sure what. Almost all of her flecks were concentrated around the nun.

Wayne Lurcher didn’t let up. He activated his own shield as the nun threw lightning in his direction.

Eva could tell it fractured. The sound of breaking glass echoed through the room. His shield wasn’t even a quarter as strong as the shields the nuns used.

Still, it didn’t shatter.

It did take its toll.

Eva could see his entire body strain to repair his shield without letting up his attack.

He didn’t hold on long enough.

Sister Cross fired three bolts of lightning at the same time. One obliterated his shield. The second and third hit both of his legs.

The blood in his legs reacted oddly. It warped. All the veins and arteries twisted in on themselves before snapping back to normal.

Eva hadn’t been paying attention when she had been hit to know if that happened to her.

Whatever it was, it didn’t help him. Wayne cried out as he fell to his knees.

None of that stopped the heat in the room. Wayne continued his attack.

Sister Cross hit an object out of his hand.

The heat faded.

For a second.

Something popped out of Wayne’s sleeve and the heat resumed. Hotter than before.

Eva liked heat, but this… she could be standing on the sun for all she knew.

Sister Cross’ heart rate picked up. Eva could almost hear the fractures forming in her shield. The roar of whatever made the heat overpowered any actual sounds.

She tried to knock Wayne Lurcher’s new focus out of his hand. Her lightning pinged against his newly formed shield. Unlike Sister Cross’ shield, his did not survive the strike. The sound of glass shattering echoed though the room.

“Stop!”

Eva noticed a third circulatory system rush into the fray. She dashed straight at Sister Cross.

The nun turned to face her. Her heart skipped three beats.

Wayne Lurcher managed to shut off his attack just as Shalise tackled Sister Cross.

“What are you doing girl?” Wayne Lurcher shouted.

“Stop fighting!”

Even without being able to see, Eva could tell there were tears streaming down Shalise’s face.

“W-Whatever it is, it is a mistake.”

“Shal.”

Wayne gripped his wand–if that was what he held–his jaw clenched. He seemed like he wanted to continue fighting. When he raised his wand, Eva thought he was about to attack.

The door slammed shut with a motion of his wand.

His teeth grit together hard enough that it was a wonder his teeth weren’t cracking. “What is going on.” He didn’t ask. He ordered. His jaw didn’t move in the slightest.

“She attacked me,” Eva said. Pain flared up in her shoulder as she tried to point. She bit down the burn and glared at the nun. “Without warning or provocation. I was sitting at my desk. My back was turned.”

Wayne’s head turned towards Eva’s bed.

Eva didn’t have her full range of vision–her flecks were still centered around Sister Cross–but she could imagine there wasn’t much left but splinters. A brief thought wondered if Basila had been destroyed. Eva didn’t know how hardy those sculptures were.

“You monstrosity,” Sister Cross’ hand rose in Eva’s direction.

Despite his lower legs both being injured, Wayne vanished with a blast of cold air. He reappeared between the nun and Eva. His wand trained on her. “Do not move. More instructors are coming. You cannot fight them all. Cease or the dean will have your head.”

A twitch ran through Sister Cross’ face. Her arm dropped to her side. Her teeth clenched almost as hard as Wayne Lurcher’s teeth. “My augur. What did you do with her?”

Eva blinked. Eva blinked again. “What.”

“You kidnapped her.”

“I did not.”

“Maybe not personally. You sent a demon. There were traces of demonic corruption covering the building.”

Eva could see Wayne’s eyes tilt in her direction, just slightly. His head and body still faced the nun.

This was not a conversation she wanted to have with him around. Or Shalise. Or other instructors.

“I did nothing of the sort.” Sister Cross opened her mouth. Eva wasn’t done. “Maybe if your stupid order wasn’t so damn insane, you could have just asked. You could have said, ‘hey, did you steal my augur?’ and I would say, ‘no!’ and you could get on with your investigation instead of wasting all this time.”

Sister Cross opened her mouth again.

Eva cut her off. “Now look at you. You’re injured. I’m injured. Professor Lurcher is injured. You’ve made enemies. And–worst of all–Shalise, your precious–” Eva cut herself off before she said daughter. She couldn’t tell Shalise’s facial expression well, but her head was buried in Sister Cross’ chest. “Your precious Shalise was nearly incinerated. And it is all. Your. Fault.”

Silence reigned as her rant came to an end.

Eva slumped back against whatever she was leaning on. She hissed as her shoulder hit it. Pain lanced through her back enough for Eva to tilt herself onto her good shoulder.

Wayne Lurcher kept his head forward as he asked, “why would Eva kidnap an augur?”

“She’s a diabolist.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

That ruffled Sister Cross’ feathers. She narrowed her eyes at the alchemy professor. “We’ve had her under surveillance since November. The augur was the one watching.”

“A kidnapping is not a spur of the moment thing. If Eva kidnapped her, why did your augur not see her planning and executing this?”

“That’s–”

The door swung open. Dean Turner headed a group of teachers. Franklin Kines followed just behind her with Isaac Calvin and Alari Carr at his heels.

Eva did not miss the dean’s eyes running over her hands. She used her left hand to pull her right hand between her legs in a small attempt of hiding them.

The dean’s eyes left her quickly enough and rounded on Sister Cross.

“So, not only did you attack one of my students, unprovoked, without warning, in their school-assigned dormitory, and with no evidence that they were in any way at fault, you also had them under illegal surveillance?”

Alari Carr immediately rushed to Eva’s side.

Eva pinched her claws between her legs and tried to shrug the history professor off. She hoped she moved quick enough to avoid her hands being seen.

Alari seemed too preoccupied inspecting the wound on Eva’s back to care.

“That’s a lot of charges against you.”

“She is a diabolist. A demon attacked.”

“False accusations as well.” Martina Turner tsked her tongue. “Miss Eva had a trying experience last November. We are well aware of the extreme circumstances the necromancers put her through and that she had dark magics forced upon her. And you seek to vilify her? I know your order has issues with those,” the dean lifted her hands in the most exaggerated air quotes Eva had ever seen, “‘tainted’ by dark magics, but this is extreme. She’s a thirteen year old–”

“Fourteen,” Eva said. Her birthday was the seventh, not that she’d mentioned it to anyone.

“She’s a fourteen year old girl. How can you live with yourself.”

Sister Cross grit her teeth. Harder. “If it wasn’t her, then the situation is worse than expected. My augur is missing and a rogue demon is running loose in town.”

Alari Carr gasped at that. The gasp barely made a noise but she was nearby and fussing over Eva.

Much to Eva’s chagrin.

“I must organize my nuns.” With that, Sister Cross popped out of the room. A cold wave of air was left behind in her wake.

Shalise stumbled forwards, no longer having the nun to support her.

With a few deft steps forward, Martina Turner caught the girl and held her close. “Are you alright?”

Shalise nodded. She was obviously–even to Eva–still crying. Her arms twitched forwards, almost like she wanted to hug the dean. Shalise managed to restrain herself.

“Alari, please see that Eva receives treatment with Nurse Naranga. Isaac, please move ahead of her and ensure the hallways are clear of students. We don’t need a spectacle for Miss Eva.”

They both nodded. Isaac moved out of the room. Alari flicked her wand in Eva’s direction. Eva slowly levitated on a cushion of solid air.

It didn’t feel very steady.

“Franklin, would you see to it that Wayne–”

“I can take care of myself,” Professor Lurcher grunted.

Martina Turner looked at him for a split second before nodding. “Suit yourself. Franklin, keep watch outside the room. No one is to enter. If Miss Rivas returns, direct her to my office.” She took a glance around the room, notably pausing on the remnants of Eva’s attack. “We’ll get someone to discretely clean soon.”

Eva’s floating cushion slowly pulled her out of the room. Very slowly. And a bit shakily. Alari Carr’s heart rate had been high when she entered room three-thirteen. It was skyrocketing now. Eva frowned. She had great doubts in the abilities of the professor.

The professor probably had the same doubts.

“Miss Ward,” the dean said softly, looking down at the girl that she had grasped by the shoulders, “would you like to retire to the infirmary? If not, there is a very comfortable couch in my office you may rest on.”

“I’d rather be alone,” she said with a sniffle.

“Ah, I understand that.” The dean lightly patted her on the back. “However, I feel it is best if you are not left alone at the moment. We don’t want anything rash to happen.”

Eva made it out of the room before the rest of the conversation went on.

After it took ten minutes just to reach the end of the hallway, Eva had half a mind to ask to just walk. Her legs were fine. Floating let her keep her hands pinned between her legs, so she elected not to object.

If the professor dropped her, then she’d complain. Loudly. Possibly with some blood.

Professor Calvin did a good job keeping the hallways clear. Or there simply were no students on the way to the infirmary on a Saturday afternoon. Taking the back staircase rather than the main one couldn’t have hurt matters.

Thanks to the back staircase, they didn’t have to pass through the main entryway on their way to the nurse’s office.

A woman sitting behind the desk popped up as Eva floated into the office. She directed Alari to set Eva down on one of the beds in a side room. As soon as Eva hit the bed, the nurse shooed Alari out of the room.

The history teacher didn’t protest in the slightest. Her heart rate slowed slightly once she ended the spell. She’d probably run off and rest for a while.

“I heard there was a fight,” the nurse said. “Let’s see what the damage is, shall we?” She reached out towards Eva.

Eva pulled back, hands still pinched between her legs. “I’d rather not, if it is all the same.”

“It most certainly isn’t ‘all the same.’ I can see from here that your arm is bent in a way arms most certainly shouldn’t bend.”

Eva winced. She thought she was doing a good job at suppressing the pain. The reminder cracked open her mental wall. “That might be true. There are circumstances. I can’t–Can I talk to Zoe Baxter before we do anything?”

Where was the woman. Eva hadn’t thought about it, but she could teleport the same way Wayne Lurcher could. Why hadn’t she shown up instead of him?

The nurse stared at Eva for a long moment. She pulled out her cellphone and tapped away at it for a short moment before holding it up to her ear.

I really need to get one of those, Eva thought with a sigh. My master as well.

“No answer,” Nurse Naranga said. She slipped her phone back into her pocket.

“What? What would cause that?”

The nurse shrugged. “She’s busy. Or otherwise indisposed. I don’t keep up to the minute tabs on her.”

Too busy to answer the warning wards on the dorms?

“Now, we need to reset that bone and get a bone mending tonic in you.” She reached towards Eva once again.

“I don’t think that is a good idea,” Eva said as she pulled away again.

The nurse put her hands on her hips. “Oh, and I suppose you have more healing certifications than I do?”

“No, but I have a… preexisting condition.”

That seemed to give her pause. For a moment. “That may be, but I need to take a look, at the very least. You can tell me about your condition while I examine you.”

Eva sighed as the nurse moved in. She pulled out her good hand.

A small squeak came from the nurse as she actually stumbled back. She quickly recovered her composure and marched forward. “Forgive me,” she said. “I just got startled for a moment.”

“Sure.”

She pulled Eva’s hand over and looked it over. She knocked against it and pulled all the fingers. “This is extraordinary. It is part of you.” The nurse’s fingers traced up the exoskeleton to the little curls that helped anchor it to her arm.

“Yep. If you took an x-ray, you wouldn’t find any bone in my hands. If you could see inside at all.” Eva tapped about halfway up her forearm. “My normal arm bones funnel out about here to connect to the exoskeleton. They grew holes to allow meat through. Or so I’ve been told, I haven’t actually seen it myself.”

“This happened in November?”

Eva nodded.

“I see.” She softened her voice as she let Eva’s arm drop. “Zoe told me some of the story, she wondered if anything could be done about your eyes. Even after I discussed it with the other medical officers, we couldn’t think of anything. We can regrow bones and some organs. Not eyes. If you still had them, we might be able to reattach them–if they weren’t rotten by now.”

“That’s fine,” Eva said. She never even met the nurse before. It was nice that they thought about that, but ultimately, Eva had her own plans. Partially. She still hadn’t even looked for a donor demon.

The nurse wrapped her knuckles on Eva’s forearm. “This, Zoe neglected to mention.”

“In any case,” Eva said, “I don’t know what will happen if I take anything that tries to regrow bones. I’d rather not have my hands destroy themselves trying to grow bones where they shouldn’t.”

“Understandable.”

It was surprising to Eva just how understanding the nurse was being. Maybe she should just wander around school without gloves on.

“We still need to fix that fracture on your arm. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way.” She smiled. “A cast.”

That didn’t sound good. Yet Eva didn’t protest as the nurse pulled out padding and the cast wrapping. She sat still while the nurse set to work.

The cast had been the easy part. Eva’s right arm hung in a sling all wrapped up in a cast colored bright green. Her shoulder was where things became complicated.

Nurse Naranga actually let out a short shriek when she saw Eva’s shoulder.

“What happened here?”

For once, Eva was glad she couldn’t see. If her wound was anything like the wound her master received, it was a bubbling mess of puss and fused cloth from her shirt. Whatever happened to her shoulder must have been bad.

“A nun’s lightning.”

Oddly enough, it didn’t hurt. There was a throb and when the nurse touched it, a sharp sting ran up and down Eva’s back. Other than that, her arm hurt more.

She had been given painkillers, so that could be part of it.

The nurse set to massaging in some potion or another. That had Eva hissing through her teeth.

Plucking bits of her shirt out of her back increased the intensity of the sting. She had to cut into Eva for a few scraps of cloth.

“You heal these cuts unnaturally quick.”

“A side effect,” Eva hissed, “of everything.” Blood magic, mostly. She shouldn’t have healed them at all, but it was almost unconscious. Stopping now would just raise more questions.

Nurse Naranga just hummed.

The blackish color of Eva’s blood never got brought up. She didn’t know how to explain it, so the lack of questions suited Eva. The nurse was certainly forming her own theories and opinions. Hopefully they were far from the truth.

As soon as the nurse finished plucking debris out of her back, she went back to massaging in a potion.

“It is just a local regrowth potion,” she said after Eva asked. “It isn’t working as well as I hoped.”

“That is also a side effect of everything, I think.”

“You’ve had a lot of everythings, have you?”

Eva shrugged. She immediately wished she hadn’t. Pain flared out in a star like pattern from her shoulder-blade. She gritted out, “a few.” It didn’t make sense. Hopefully it would dissuade further questions.

“Well,” she said as she pulled her hands off of Eva’s back, “I think I’ve done all I can.”

“I can go then?”

The nurse let out a laugh that sounded like the twittering of birds. “Most certainly not. You’ll be here for close observation until I am satisfied. You’ve had a terrible shock and I just pumped you full of potions that may have unintended side effects with your,” she made a short humming noise, “unique physiology.”

Eva slumped back against the soft pillows of the infirmary bed.

“I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but it is dangerous to move around while you’re injured.”

She was right. That wasn’t what Eva wanted to hear. There were things that needed doing, not the least of which included checking on Arachne and making sure she hadn’t done anything foolish.

Not that Eva thought Arachne would do something like attack the nuns. Still, if it wasn’t her then, as Sister Cross put it, there was a demon running around town.

“If you need anything or have any odd pains,” Nurse Naranga said as she handed a small button on a cord to Eva, “press the buzzer. I’ll be just over in my office.”

Eva nodded and waited. She’d already waited over an hour in the company of the nurse, another hour wouldn’t hurt. Besides, she was exhausted. A short nap wouldn’t hurt anything.

It was the middle of the night before Eva awoke. She groggily tried to slip out of her bed before she realized where she was. A short curse tumbled out of her lips.

Immediately, Eva channeled magic into herself. She concentrated on her end goal. Despite her haste, she channeled slowly, taking her time. Screwing up and becoming trapped in Hell again wasn’t something she was all too eager to repeat.

She spent five minutes building up her charge. With a light popping in her ears, the world around her vanished.

Screaming agony replaced the nurse’s office.

Not Eva’s agony or screams. She didn’t know whose they were.

Screams echoed into her mind. Even if her arm wasn’t in a cast, plugging her ears would do nothing. A deep masculine voice this time, Eva noted. It was always different.

Eva fell, tumbled through a tunnel dripping with viscera. She could see, but only in grayscale. Like her island.

The heat scorched her flesh. It burned far worse than the side effects of Professor Lurcher’s attack.

Eva breathed in gasps. The dank musk of burning flesh surrounded her. She tried to slow her breathing and could not.

Flesh curled back from her feet. It moved up her body, slowly stripping her of all her muscles and tendons as they turned to ash. Heat scorched her bones to a charred black.

Only her claws were unaffected.

It all ceased before Eva could think more.

Eva once again went blind.

Blind save for the blood infused wards of her prison. She stepped out of the gateway circle she set up to receive her and collapsed against a wall.

Neither Arachne nor Ylva had been forthcoming on what exactly went on during an infernal walk.

Eva peeled apart her dry lips. They cracked as she took a deep breath of the fresh air.

The gateway room was another of the converted cells in the women’s ward. It was just a few steps out to the main common room.

Arachne popped to her feet the moment Eva walked in. She darted over to Eva and helped her to the couch. “I’ll get you a glass of water,” she said.

Eva didn’t respond. Her throat was too dry.

It was all in her head. Eva knew it. She knew it was all in her head.

That didn’t help. Even though she’d recover in a minute or two, infernal walks were not pleasant.

Water almost splashed in her face as Arachne handed her the glass with overwhelming zeal.

Eva brought the cool liquid to her parched lips. It swished around in her mouth before she drained the glass. “Thanks.”

“What happened? Your arm,” she trailed off as her fingers ran over the stiff cast.

“Nothing, just got it caught under Sister Cross’ boot.”

Arachne’s fingers immediately clenched.

“Anyway, you didn’t do anything since I left, did you?”

“No,” Arachne growled.

Eva nodded. “I didn’t think so.” With a sigh, Eva said, “Sister Cross had one of her people kidnapped by a demon.”

“How does that end up with your arm under her boot?”

“Naturally, her first suspect was me. She attacked straight away.”

Arachne’s hands clenched and unclenched repeatedly as she stood up from her seat next to Eva. She paced around while growling. She came to a sudden stop. “I swear I’ll kill her.”

“As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I’m slightly concerned about a demon running around. Ylva didn’t go anywhere after I left, did she?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Arachne,” Eva said while crossing her arms. Or arm. She put her good arm in her sling. “You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on her.”

“Yeah. I didn’t see her leave.”

Eva sighed. “Let’s go see if she’s in her room then.”

“Am I carrying you?”

“If you don’t mind.”

“I never mind.”

“Then get on with it,” Eva said.

Arachne swooped down and picked up Eva in the usual princess carry. She took extra care not to pinch or even touch Eva’s cast. Unlike earlier in the day, Arachne half sprinted to cell house two.

She all but kicked in the door.

As usual, Eva couldn’t see any of Ylva when she first entered the room. Arachne didn’t say anything which probably meant that the hel was in her usual spot on her throne.

Eva called out to the emptiness in her vision. “A brief question and I will cease bothering you, Ylva.” No response came. Eva assumed that was agreeing to answer. “Were you in the city of Brakket today?”

There was a long pause. Eva wondered if she was talking to an empty room.

“No.”

Ylva’s voice echoed through the spacious hall. And that was it. No elaboration or questions in return.

“Thank you for your time,” Eva said.

Arachne carried her out without being asked. “I don’t know why you keep her around,” she said as soon as the door close.

“She doesn’t hurt anything. It seems like it would be a lot of trouble to evict her as well. Is my master still around?”

“He went to his little penthouse. As far as I know he hasn’t left.” The spider-woman started walking in his direction.

“As far as you know?” Eva shook her head. “You’re not very good at the ‘watch the compound’ order, are you?”

“It is a big place,” Arachne shrugged. Eva’s cast tapped against her chest with the motion. “Maybe you should set up that thing you had at the retirement home. You know? The thing that showed you if people were in the building.”

“Ah,” Eva slumped slightly in Arachne’s arms, “Devon set that up. I’m not sure how charitable he is feeling these days. He seemed upset earlier.”

“Really? Looked like normal Devon to me.”

Not to Eva. He’d always been grumpy, but a jovial kind of grumpy. At least around her.

Now she almost dreaded seeing him. Arachne climbed the stairs to his penthouse slowly, almost with dread.

That did nothing to ease Eva’s anxieties.

Still, Eva knocked on his heavy door with her good hand.

There was a shuffling noise behind the door. Several lines of curses followed before Eva watched as her master’s circulatory system stumbled over to the door.

She couldn’t even guess what he was doing on the other side.

A brief pause as he peered through the peephole preceded the door swinging open.

“What?” His grunt was in full effect. It almost came out as a rasp.

“You didn’t set any demons loose in town, did you? Or get followed by any from wherever you were?”

He stared at Eva. Just stared. “What?”

“It seems there is a demon running rampant around Brakket.” Eva quickly added, “before you ask, I had nothing to do with it. It showed up on its own.”

Her master sighed as his nose scrunched up.

“What is it with this damn school?”

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