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010.027

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Devon strode into the Brakket Academy main lobby area with two demons in tow. Once upon a time, doing something so brazen would have gotten him killed without a doubt. Who in their right mind would ever allow a demon summoner and demons into a school?

How times had changed.

His weren’t even the only demons he had spotted around the school. He had spotted a capra demon disguised as a student turning one of the many enigmas into minced meat just outside the entrance to the school. A few nearby human guards hadn’t even batted an eye as Devon passed by. Apparently, so long as he wasn’t a tentacled monster, he was perfectly welcome. Either that or Eva had told them that he would be coming.

The guards hadn’t batted an eye at the capra demon either, so they must have been at least somewhat attuned to the idea of demons running around. Though their faces might have looked a little green when they glanced towards the ground up remains of the enigma. Devon didn’t know what kind of weak stomached guards this school was hiring, but he had thought that they would be able to manage a little viscera.

They would never have survived at Devon’s old school.

Literally.

Tenebris Artes would have eaten them up and spat them out as nothing more than bones. The students—who, around Brakket, were all hiding indoors save for one or two that had worked up the courage to help fight enigmas—as well. In fact, Tenebris Artes had closed down after only a year of him attending.

Something that had absolutely nothing to do with Devon whatsoever.

Times changed. Society became more comfortable for the inhabitants with every passing year. More comfort meant less daily hardships to whip the kids into shape. They would go on to join proper society and hopefully get whipped into shape. But the ever increasing comfort would just mean that one day—maybe not this generation, maybe not even the next, but one day, the pampered children would be the real world.

Then who would be around to save the day?

Fate always had a trial or two up her sleeve. When would the trial become too much for the ignorant masses. There wouldn’t always be a curmudgeonous old demonologist around to save the day.

In fact, he wouldn’t have been around to save the day were it not for that blasted research subject of his. Maybe next time Fate would just leave him alone.

Ah well. Saving the world one last time wasn’t so bad. At least this time he hadn’t been attacked by anything other than enigmas. Those could be summarily dealt with by his demons with him hardly lifting a finger. The waxy ruax handled almost every one. He only had to blast one with infernal flames once, and that was only because the ruax had been distracted by a good six or seven of the beasts.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure exactly where to go. Glass windows separated a secretary’s desk and the main offices from the rest of the open lobby. The hallway went left and right with only room numbers listed in each direction. Straight ahead, the large glass windows opened up into that disaster waiting to happen of an expanded space ward.

No sign for the school’s infirmary.

“Come with me,” he said, more for the benefit of the carnivean than the ruax. One was under his direct control. The other only should be.

Leaving behind the lobby, he headed towards the offices. There had to be someone there and someone there had to know the way to the infirmary.

He walked right up to the vacant secretary’s desk and peered over at an all too tiny building map hanging up behind it. It took him five minutes of searching before he realized that he was standing right next to the infirmary. The room had two doors, one in the hallway just around the corner and one in the office itself.

Naturally, Devon headed to the nearer door.

He slid it open to find a gaggle of people running every which way. Adults ran around between the makeshift beds. In their arms, they carried trays filled with a haphazard arrangement of potions, surgical implements, common medicine products, and clean cloth bandages. Both adults and children filled the floorspace of nearly the entire room, lying on blankets and pads. Most of the beds’ occupants were injured in some manner or other. A band of bandages wrapped around one man’s eye and head, one woman was missing an arm, someone else looked like he had a bite taken out of his leg. A few people were working on that last one, performing some sort of surgery.

In other words, a typical medical facility during an emergency. Nothing notable to see.

He took one step into the room only to find his path blocked by a young girl with an eye patch and a red eye. A few scars tugged at her lips as she started speaking.

“Are you injured?”

Devon leaned slightly closer to the woman. Nurse Post, her name tag said with a little heart in place of the ‘o’. The blood smeared over it and much of her white outfit did not help play up the kind and welcoming school nurse that she had been trying to go for.

Red eyes were not a common human trait, though they did happen on occasion. Usually a faint red accompanied by albinism. Her hair wasn’t the normal white, but she must have dyed it. He couldn’t detect any sign of her being a demon.

Her eyes flicked to the two demons behind him. Neither of which she reacted to in the slightest before turning her gaze back to Devon.

“Sir?”

“No,” Devon said, leaning back. “I’m looking–”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave, sir. If you aren’t here to help and are not injured, you’ll only be in the way. If you’re looking for a patient, the office across the hall has a list of everyone who was brought in as of an hour ago,” she said, gesturing directly behind Devon.

Devon’s lip curled into a scowl. He stepped straight to the other side of the woman and continued walking, leaving her momentarily confused.

“Sir,” she said once she realized that he had got behind her. “You’re wasting valuable time that we could be using to save these people.”

“Yes, and I’m trying to save the entire world,” he grumbled, reaching the center of the room. It must have been magically expanded as well. He had walked far more than what it would have taken to go around to the opposite door.

More people were staring at him now. Lots of doctors or nurses that should be doing their job. He didn’t think he was all that special looking. His beard may be unkempt and his trench coat a little dusty, but his arm was safely hidden away in the sleeve.

Then again, most people in the room were not accompanied by two obviously inhuman demons. Maybe their stares were more directed towards the tentacle-headed thing and the animated wax statue that were following behind him.

“I didn’t ask you to follow me around,” he said in a low tone of voice. “Go about whatever it is you think is right.” Before she could protest further, he raised his voice to be heard above all the moaning and whining of the injured around him. “Which one of you is Genoa?”

Devon stared around the room, waiting and expecting someone to at least raise their hands if not come all the way up to him.

Nobody did.

“Sir–”

“Wait.”

The nurse tried to say something, but a second voice interrupted. Devon turned to find some woman walking up to him with frazzled hair, several bandaged wounds on every bit of bare skin, and an entirely missing arm. He stared at it for a moment before looking back to the woman’s face.

“You’re Genoa?”

“What? No… You can’t have– Never mind,” she said with a shake of her head. “It isn’t important right now, Devon.”

Ah, he thought. Apparently I know her.

“What is important is that Eva is out at the ritual circle–”

“Yeah, I know. It’s part of the plan to fix everything.”

“There’s a plan?” The woman let out a long sigh. She placed her one hand to her chest, though Devon couldn’t actually see the hand. Enough bandages covered it to make it look like a mummy’s mitten. “Oh thank goodness. But what do you need Genoa for?”

“Eva recommended her as a ritual construction specialist. Though,” Devon raised his voice slightly, “I’ll accept any able-bodied mage capable of large-scale earth manipulation.”

He looked around at all the bandaged people lying in beds or bleeding out or whatever injured people were wont to do with a slowly deepening scowl on his face. What was with these people? Not a single one looked like they could hold a wand let alone cast a few spells. What kind of mages got injured fighting these enigmas, let alone allowed the injures to send them to the medimagi. At least the woman in front of him was on her feet, if not clenching her wand between her teeth to fight back.

Though that kid in the corner looked to be just about the right age for experimentation. If he was dying, nobody would miss–

“Devon!” the woman hissed at him, bringing his attention back to the woman. “You are despicable.”

“I get that on occasion,” Devon grunted. “Where can I find an earth mage?”

“Genoa is out trying to clear away enigmas. She should have her cellphone with her. Hand me your phone and I’ll–” She cut herself off as she realized that she was holding out the stump of her arm. With a half-muttered curse, she swapped to her other hand only to realize her bandage predicament.

“Why don’t you tell me the number and I’ll make the call instead,” he said, pulling out his phone.

— — —

Eva lowered her arms as she stared up at the sky. Not at the eyeball, which was still looking down at the Earth and still crying those magmatic meteors that were probably filled with enigmas. She stared at the design for a new treatment circle. One for the demonic enigma and the chunk of brain.

It wasn’t that large. Certainly not as big as the circle that had been used to summon the two avatars. Perhaps as big as a large room. Even that size was only by necessity. The brain avatar was much too large for anything smaller.

The ritual was based on Devon’s work—and she definitely wondered how he would react to finding out that Void used his research—it should be just enough to get what she needed done. At least, that was what Void had said while the designs were being burned into her mind. Satisfied that everything in the design above her head had been copied into the real world correctly, Eva moved on to the next step.

Forming a long tube of blood, she jammed one end into the brain and one into the formerly furry arm of the enigma. This time, she did not stand in between the two subjects of the ritual. A second tube of crystallized blood led out from the other side of the brain, ready to drain into a large vase once the ritual got under way.

The succubus had been watching patiently and staring at the ritual circle that Eva had constructed. Only when she switched to the tubing did Catherine walk up to her.

“You’re doing it again?”

“Not quite,” Eva said as she turned back to Catherine. “Apparently, we overdid it earlier. Shoving the entirety of Void’s Avatar into this thing was not only unnecessary, but overly harmful to the Powers’ ecosystem of… power.”

“So diluting it then?”

“That’s a good way to put it.” Eva glared down at the demonic enigma. “We put some of that in and take some of the avatar out.” And some of Arachne as well. After taking a few steps back, Eva motioned for Catherine to do the same.

Srey had hardly moved from his initial position near the avatar until Eva physically dragged him away. Eva wasn’t sure what was up with him. Had he actually struck up some sort of friendship with Vektul and was in shock over what happened?

She supposed it didn’t really matter. So long as he didn’t screw with anything important, he could sit around in his vacuous state for all Eva cared.

“Alright. This shouldn’t take long,” Eva said as she pressed her magic into the hovering ritual circle of blood.

The effect started immediately. A faint glow emanated from the lines. The demonic enigma remained unconscious, but started writhing as blood started flowing through the tube. Or whatever filled enigmas’ veins. It didn’t work well with Eva’s blood magic and Devon had mentioned something about it only being superficially similar.

Clasping her hands behind her back, Eva started stalking around the circle. The avatar was as inert as it had been since she had finished the initial ritual. She needed to keep an eye on it. With her at least marginally reversing the process of corrupting it, it might become a little more active. But that wouldn’t be for at least a short amount of time.

No, Eva barely glanced at the large mass of the avatar as she walked past. She stopped in front of the little jar that she had set up to collect the excess essence that the ritual was now removing. The previous ritual hadn’t had the disposal tank despite all of Eva’s treatments requiring it. She was somewhat surprised that the avatar hadn’t exploded after realizing that she had forgotten that little detail. Devon had always warned her to not let him forget about it or she might explode.

Then again, that was Devon. He had probably just been grumping about it for the sake of having something to grumble about.

Everything looked like it was working properly. Black particles of dust and smoke trickled out of the tube and into the crystalline pot. The smoke, looking just like the smoke that made up Void’s avatar, didn’t settle into the bottom of the pot, choosing to swirl around in dark clouds.

Which had Eva wondering if she shouldn’t have put a proper top on it. Nothing was spilling out yet, so she wouldn’t do anything that might potentially interfere with the ritual until something actually went wrong.

“Now,” Eva said, “while this finishes, we need to prepare to send this hunk of flesh back to its master.”

“Another ritual?”

“Actually no.”

“No?” Catherine blinked, genuinely surprised. “You’re not going to toss it up there,” she said, pointing towards the portals overhead.

“My arms are a little stretchy at the moment.” As demonstration, she enlarged her hand until the fingers could wrap around her entire waist. “However, I think those portals are a bit higher than I could reach.”

“I’m sure we could work out some magical propulsion to launch it up there.”

“As amusing as a brain rocket ship would be, there’s already a plan in place. Something that should seal the deal and ensure that Life cannot recover. At least not anytime soon.”

“And is sealing the deal also going to seal the portals overhead?”

“Nope! Devon has actually been working on that. Though he’s supposed to be waiting for me to get rid of this avatar. If I finish, you might need to go tell him that he can start should he not clue in. I directed him to the infirmary.”

“Devon? I didn’t bring the ritual up with him after he dismissed it. You told him more? I thought he wanted no part of any of this,” she paused, frowning towards Eva for a moment. “Or perhaps I figured that he would tie you down in the solitary confinement building if he heard you were actually working on the ritual.”

“I’m sure he would have. Had he known.” Eva shot her a quick grin before double-checking on the status of the ritual. As she ensured that the swirling clouds of black smoke within the pot were not spilling out, she continued speaking. “Devon saw what was going on and developed a solution. All within the last few hours.” Or so Void had said before releasing Eva so that she could use her beacon to get back to Earth.

It took Catherine a few moments to respond. Her eyebrows knitted into a scowl as she thought. “Without knowing anything about what was going on?”

“Nothing more than what you told him and what he observed from the prison.”

Which only sent Catherine’s scowl deeper into fury. Eva had to wonder whether Catherine could have done the same. Probably. In the same amount of time? Maybe. Judging by her furrowed brow, she was rapidly trying to put together her own solution to sealing the portals overhead.

Eva left the jar for a moment, moving back around to the opposite side. The demonic enigma was actually shriveling up. Its skin looked more like that of a raisin than a proper living being. Not even old people on their deathbeds looked quite so bad.

Was it because of all the organs she had stuffed inside without care or order? Or was it because it was an enigma and, while it wouldn’t die, it had far slower regeneration than demons did. How much blood had Arachne lost during Eva’s treatments? She must have regenerated at a rapid rate to keep from dying and being sucked into a Hell portal.

At the same time, she could still see blood traveling through the tube and into the avatar. Until it ran completely dry, Eva would try not to worry too much. Besides, the ritual was actually nearly finished. The demonic enigma still had a decent amount of blood left. It should be enough for another few minutes.

“Do you need me here?”

“I would prefer some help here. If something goes wrong, I’d like second opinions,” Eva said, turning towards Catherine. She paused as her line of sight passed by Srey who was facing Eva’s direction with his head bowed. Not really in respect. He kept rubbing his forehead like he had a headache. “I don’t think Srey would be up to helping much.”

She finished turning to Catherine and put on a wide grin. “You’ll just have to restrain your curiosity as to what Devon came up with. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll show you. Unless, of course, he thinks that this is all your mess since you were the one to show him the ritual.”

Catherine, straightening her back and looking down on Eva with half-lidded eyes, put on an evil smile. “I am not above throwing you under the bus, so to speak.”

“Do as you will,” Eva said, walking back to the jar. When the ritual finished, she wanted to watch and ensure that nothing went wrong on that front. “I don’t think Devon will get too upset with me. Not unless he decides that his experiment has transformed too much from his original plans.” As she said so, she glanced down at her hands. They weren’t so different from Arachne’s limbs. In fact, they were probably better. No outside demonic influence to mess with Devon’s plans. Just blood magic.

Demonic blood magic rather than bloodstone-based, but it functioned nearly the same as far as Eva could tell.

Magic draining from the circle pulled her attention back to the jar. The ritual was winding down. Only a little left. The avatar still hadn’t moved, so she didn’t even need to worry about that.

She watched the jar until the very last trickles of avatar essence dripped out from her blood tube. The moment the dripping finished and the ritual shut off, a Hell portal opened beneath the jar. The entire thing, essence and all, disappeared within.

A small sigh escaped her lips. Hopefully that was enough.

“What was that?”

“Oh nothing. More importantly, time to get rid of this thing.”

As she walked up to the avatar, she coated the demonic enigma with blood, ensuring that it couldn’t move in the slightest. She didn’t detonate the shriveled husk just yet. It might still have uses. If only for Lynn’s research. She just crystallized the blood around it.

“Alright,” Eva said, turning her hands into long blades twice the length of her arms. “So long as everything goes well, make sure that Devon starts his ritual.”

“What about you?”

Eva turned her head over her shoulder to grin at Catherine as she built up magic inside her for a teleport. “Well, I’ll stop by if I can.”

Without any further delay, she plunged her arms into the avatar.

“Was that supposed to do something?” Catherine asked after a moment of absolutely nothing happening.

“Just… hold on a second. This thing is gigantic. I’ve never teleported with something so big. Usually only another person-sized thing.” As she spoke, she felt her magic hit the threshold. Without any chance to resolve the moment of awkwardness, Eva and the avatar vanished into the infernal teleportation.

Just as usual, the tunnel of flesh and screams surrounded Eva, squeezing her and the avatar ever closer to the prison gate.

But this time, Eva did something a little different.

She let go. She pulled her hands back to her sides, separating her from the avatar. With a slight kick of her foot, she sent the egg-shaped blob of meat off into the walls of flesh. It tumbled, falling into pieces from the force of their speed until it finally vanished beneath and into the walls.

Unfortunately, Newton’s laws apparently worked within the semi-alternate dimension of the teleport tunnel. Eva spread the blood of her limbs out into wide parasols in an attempt to slow her steady glide in the opposite direction. It must have worked a little, but not enough. She barely got to watch the avatar be torn to shreds before she crashed into the opposite wall.

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008.001

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“How is she?”

Nurse Post blinked as she looked up from a clipboard in her hands. A number of graphs and charts covered the topmost paper.

Even if Eva had been standing at a proper angle to clearly see the papers, she doubted that she would understand most of it. A squiggly line here. A flat one there. Tons of words that were shorthand for something. One really had to be in the medical profession to understand any of it.

Which was why she had asked.

Rubbing her temple, Nurse Post shook her head with a sigh. “No change. Martina is still unconscious. We’re going to transfer her to a separate facility next week, one with better facilities to take care of her body and hopefully better facilities to wake her up.”

“I see,” Eva said, putting a thumb to her chin in thought.

A full month after the demon hunters attacked and Martina was still in a comatose state. Every day that passed was another day that Eva considered carrying out Catherine’s favor. And every day, it was slowly getting easier to stomach the idea. It was looking more and more like Martina was already dead. Her body just didn’t know it yet.

It was somewhat odd. Eva hadn’t blinked an eye when she had killed a group of criminals down in Florida. She hadn’t lost sleep over it or even thought about it much after the fact. They were far from the first people she had killed as well.

But Martina… she knew Martina. Eva couldn’t say that she liked her. At the same time, she didn’t really hate her. Worse, killing her while she was unconscious just felt wrong in general. She should at least get a fair fight for her chance to continue living.

Unless, as Eva suspected, she was already dead.

“Any reason you’re not moving her sooner? Or at some point last month?”

“Moving her has to be delicately handled. I and some other doctors who I have spoken with are concerned about shocks to her body. It’s taken a while to arrange smooth transportation.”

“You can’t have Zoe teleport her or something?”

“Don’t know what effects teleporting might have on her,” Nurse Post said with a shrug.

Eva nodded. That made perfect sense to her. She would be the first to admit that Zoe’s teleportation wasn’t suited to demons. Given the sulfur scent left behind on the rare occasions when Martina teleported, she likely used the same method that Eva did. Something that was not kind to regular mortals, even if her familiar contract with Catherine kept her safe from the worst effects.

“In your professional opinion, how would you rate her chances of recovering with the help of this other hospital?”

Nurse Post frowned. Uncrossing her legs, she pushed away from her desk and walked to the side room where Martina was sleeping. She crossed her arms as she leaned against the door frame and peeked in through the window, not opening the door.

Eva followed her up. Being aware that most people who didn’t interact with her on a daily basis found her presence to be at least somewhat off-putting, she kept a short distance. Though, she had noticed that Nurse Post had never shown any real aversion to Eva.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe there is much hope. Not after a full month. Had she woken up even for a few moments at any point, I would have said that there was a chance. As it is?” She shook her head.

“That’s… unfortunate. No potions or magical treatment that might help?”

“Not that I know of. Everything that I thought might work has either been tried or been dismissed as potentially causing a worsening in her situation. The specialists we’re taking her to might know more—I’ll freely say that this is a bit out of my area of expertise. I’m a school nurse, not a brain surgeon. Most of what I’ve tried has been based off the consultation of other professionals.”

Eva sighed and backed away from the room, but paused as she peeked in the window of the room next to it.

There was a bed in the room, but no one in it. That wasn’t to say that the room was unoccupied. A pile of tentacles sat in one corner of the room, slowly twisting and turning the tendrils in the air.

“How is Lucy doing these days?”

Nurse Post moved over to stand just at Eva’s side.

“Again,” she said, “Lucy is a bit outside of what I studied in school. She seems energetic.” The nurse paused as she glanced into the room. “Well, not right now. When she does that seaweed drifting in water act, I think that is her sleeping.”

“And is that a raw steak I see in there?” Eva said, pointing towards a plate on the bedside table. A small plate held a chunk of blood-red meat.

“She hasn’t eaten anything that I’ve put in there for her. I first tried cooked meat, vegetables, fruits, and the like. She still hasn’t eaten as far as I can tell. Despite not eating, she is slowly growing in size.”

“Not as fast as I had expected,” Eva said softly. Arachne could heal an entire limb in a week or two. She had figured that Lucy would be back up and running in a similar amount of time.

When she thought about it more, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Lucy had lost a good portion of her entire body mass. And, if she went by the Arachne metric, Lucy had lost several hundred more limbs than Arachne ever lost at once. Each limb was much thinner than Arachne’s arm, but much longer.

Not to mention, she had lost them to a magical circle constructed by demon hunters. If anyone had a way to stunt demonic healing, it would be hunters. If the room hadn’t been mostly destroyed, she could have asked Devon about the circles. Unfortunately, the time for that had long been lost.

“I wouldn’t worry about feeding her. I don’t have much hunger these days. My eating is almost purely driven by memories and the taste. Arachne hasn’t ever eaten much in my presence either.”

“Doesn’t make much sense. I don’t know how demons can function without fuel. To say nothing of how you can heal on your own.”

“Magic,” Eva said with a shrug.

With a weak chuckle, Nurse Post went back to her desk and retook her seat. “I should have known.”

“So no forming into a person at all? Or even enough to talk?”

“Not that I’ve seen. I do admit that I haven’t spent all that much time inside Lucy’s room.” Nurse Post shifted, crossing one leg over the other. “There is something a little unnerving about Lucy. I try to remain professional, but…”

Eva waved a hand as the nurse trailed off, suppressing a shudder at the same time. “Oh, don’t worry. I feel the same.”

Not so much about Lucy herself. Tentacles could be creepy, but Eva felt relatively used to them. A good number of demons had tentacles. After seeing her domain, Eva had second thoughts about the whole ordeal. Lucy’s domain was disturbing. There was simply no other word for it. Every time she thought about it, she got slight shivers.

“Anyway,” Eva said, “I’ve got to run. I’ll check in again. Maybe just before Martina leaves.”

“I’m sure she would appreciate that.”

With a parting wave, Eva stepped out of the room.

Right into Arachne’s waiting arms.

“No blood on your hands?”

Eva shook her head. “Not this time.”

“The succubus will be irritated.”

“Let her be. Even if Martina can’t recover, I won’t be doing anything here. Not under the Nurse’s nose. It will be at least a week.”

Arachne curled her fingers in the air as they walked down the hallways of Brakket Academy. “Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll keep her away from you if she grows violent.”

Eva reached over and took hold of one of Arachne’s hands. She leaned just a little closer. “Thanks,” she said softly.

As the summer went on, Brakket Academy was slowly coming back to life. A surprising number of students were actually returning. Mostly in the top two years of school—they were probably thinking that they could tough out one more year. However, there had been a marginal decline in student population among the earlier years. Apparently the new first years numbered less than fifteen. Not a particularly good number.

Eva was hoping that the older students were right about nothing too dangerous going on this year.

Maybe next year would be better so long as this year went well. It would be a good thing if nothing happened.

Apart from Arachne’s mission. Eva still hadn’t talked with her about that little issue.

She really didn’t want to. Things were peaceful at the moment and Eva didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

“It’s nice,” she said as a student passed by them in the hallway. He gave them their room, but otherwise didn’t so much as blink at Arachne. Eva might have expected that of someone from the diablery class, but she didn’t recognize this particular student.

“It’s nice,” she repeated. “Here we are, walking side by side in broad daylight. No one even cares.”

“And after all the pains I went through to hide around here the first year and a half,” Arachne grumbled. She left her mouth in a half-open grimace.

“Oh don’t be like that. If we would have walked around like this my first year, everyone would have freaked out.”

“Then why now?”

“Well, first, general people probably don’t know what you are. We have a zoo out there,” Eva said as she gave a vague gesture off towards the Infinite Courtyard. “It’s full of strange creatures. But that alone wouldn’t be enough to prevent panic.

“The fact is that enough crazy things have gone on around Brakket that you walking around just isn’t that strange anymore. Especially when you’re walking around without being too menacing. And you’re walking with me. Most people are at least vaguely aware of me because… well…” Eva waved a hand around. “Given that you look like me and people haven’t known me to be dangerous, they assume that you aren’t either. Despite what you look like.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“Depends. Is being scary to most mortals a compliment?”

Arachne tilted her chin up, preening. “I suppose it is.”

“You have to admit, this is much better than hiding under my shirt in your spider form.”

“There is more room out here,” she allowed slowly, stretching out an arm as she arched her back. “There are a few advantages to being more discrete.”

Eva pushed open the doors leading out of Brakket Academy, stepping out into the warm summer sunshine. The air was still for the most part, but every once in a while, a light breeze came by and ruined the warm temperature.

There wasn’t a trace of the battle left behind. Every brick glowed underneath the cloudless sky as if they had been individually waxed. What once had been an empty plaza between the dormitory buildings now held a large fountain. Benches encircled the fountain along with several beds of flowers. It was almost more like a grassless park than a plaza now.

To go along with the new park, both dormitory buildings had received a fresh paint job. Eva had attended Brakket Academy for two full years and she had no idea whether or not there were school colors. If there were, she hadn’t a clue what they were. However, the dormitory buildings were decked out almost like bees. They had a dark gray base with golden highlights around windows and doors.

The main school building hadn’t been painted over. Most of it was red brick, but it had been pressure washed. The windows had all been cleaned. It might be scheduled for a paint job, but Eva hadn’t bothered asking anyone.

One thing was certain, whatever the new dean had planned for this year, he wanted to make an impression.

Eva had heard rumors about some sort of contest or tournament, but she hadn’t paid much attention. They were merely rumors. And that was assuming that Eva even wanted to participate in it.

Probably not. She had enough on her plate with Arachne’s mission.

Letting go of Arachne’s hand, Eva skipped forwards a few steps. “Juliana!” she said as she waved an arm through the air.

A certain blond-haired woman was wheeling a wheelchair down the sidewalk towards Brakket Academy.

“And Genoa,” Eva added with a nod towards the woman actually sitting in the wheelchair.

She was looking well. Eva couldn’t see her legs with her eyes as Genoa had her lower half hidden by a quilted blanket, but they had definitely atrophied at least a small amount. Her arms might not be quite the tree trunks that Eva remembered and her cheeks might be a hair towards the gaunt side, but given that she had been sitting or bedridden for months, that was to be expected. Her eyes still held tight to the vibrant life that Eva had seen in them during some of her spars with Arachne.

Those eyes passed over Eva to stare at the spider-demon.

“Juliana told me what you said.”

Arachne stepped forward, moving up to Eva’s side. “I’d like to apologize.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Genoa said, rubbing her chest just beneath her breast. “You did what you thought might get you out of there. I just have one thing to ask. When I get back on my feet, we’re going to fight again. No one else for distractions. No holds barred.”

“To the death?”

One corner of Genoa’s lips curled upwards. “I don’t intend to lose.”

“Mom!” Juliana smacked the back of Genoa’s head. Lightly, but hard enough to wipe the smile off the older woman’s face. “Just accept her apology and move on. Dad would kill you if you got hurt again.”

“Oh please,” Genoa said with a chuckle. “This little hole in my chest is hardly the worst I’ve had. That giant scar across my stomach and chest? I was almost chopped clean in half once. As long as Arachne’s limbs aren’t cursed, I’ll recover.”

“Unless you die!”

“Such little faith you have in your mother,” Genoa said, shaking her head and sparing no exaggeration in doing so. “I’ll be fine. You just watch.”

“I’ll be too busy covering my eyes…” Juliana trailed off as she put her palm to her forehead.

Eva just looked between the two of them, partially in disbelief. Neither one appeared to be taking Genoa’s desire to fight seriously. Glancing towards Arachne, Eva found the spider-demon to be just as confused as she was.

Head tilted to one side, Arachne had her mouth turned downwards in a confused frown. Much of her expression was difficult to tell precisely—a good portion of her face was made up of hard chitin with only the area around her mouth having plates that could slide over each other to form expressions. Eva knew her well enough to feel her confusion.

Catching Arachne’s eye, Eva gave a twitch of her head. Just a hair of a shake.

But enough to get the message across.

Whatever ended up happening, Arachne wasn’t allowed to kill Genoa without exceptionally good reason.

“I’m sure it will be entertaining, no matter what,” Eva eventually said, keeping her tone of voice flat. There was no need to agitate matters by arguing against their little duel.

So long as it went similar to their earlier spars—no real winners—Eva couldn’t care less.

Juliana snapped her eyes up, meeting Eva’s. Her eyes took on a thoughtful look for just a moment before nodding her head.

“It would be entertaining. A spectacular spectacle. We could sell tickets.” She paused just long enough to glare at Arachne and her mother, though Genoa couldn’t see while sitting in the wheelchair. “As long as you two don’t try to kill each other.” She punctuated each word with a tap of her finger on Genoa’s head.

With a great sigh, Juliana slumped her shoulders. “Anyway,” she said, drawing out the word as far as it would go. Looking back to Eva, she said, “What are you two doing out here? Out for a walk? That’s what we’re doing. A little breath of fresh air away from the men of the house.”

“Just came back from the infirmary. Visiting the long-term residents.”

“Ah. Any changes?”

Eva shook her head. “None. Martina is…” Trailing off, Eva leaned to one side, looking past Juliana and her mother.

A man was walking up the road towards Brakket Academy—straight towards Eva and the others. Eva had noticed him through her blood sight, but hadn’t thought much of it until she actually caught a glimpse of him over the top of Juliana’s head.

Walking with a slight limp, the man used a cane. It tapped into the ground with every other step. His hair came to a tight widow’s peak, from there it swept back over his head. Not like it was combed back, but more like he had just run his fingers through his hair a few times after hopping out of the shower.

His face was somewhat flat and wide, giving him a boxy appearance. Lips pressed into a thin, wide line, he didn’t react in the slightest as Eva met his eyes.

Something that had Eva instantly on guard.

Pulling out her dagger, Eva uncorked two vials of Arachne’s blood—and isn’t it nice to have Arachne’s blood again—and readied herself for fighting.

Both Arachne and Juliana noticed Eva’s actions. The former tensing her muscles, preparing to spring into combat the very moment that Eva moved. For Juliana, silvery metal flowed up around her neck and down her arms. One arm kept going, stretching out into a short sword.

Genoa didn’t miss the tension either. She reached under her blanket and withdrew a thin golden wand. It wasn’t the focus that Eva had seen her use in the past—that had been rings—but she wasn’t wearing more than a wedding ring at the moment.

Despite two orbs of blood hovering around in front of Eva, the man didn’t slow his off-beat stride.

Which only made Eva more nervous. People who acted strong typically were.

Unless they were suicidal. Eva hadn’t met too many in that second category.

Turning her wheelchair around on her own, Genoa actually set her wand down.

“Wally?” she said as the man approached.

“Genoa. Good to see you out and around.” He looked over her shoulder, looking over Eva and Arachne. “I’m not so sure about the company you keep.”

“They’re–”

“I know who they are. Their appearances were described to me when Mr. Anderson called. I have to say, his proposal to enter children into a contest meant for class three mages on the verge of graduating is intriguing yet equally disturbing. I was unaware that you were a part of it.”

“I’m not.” Genoa glanced up and over her shoulder. “I’m just here to keep an eye on my daughter. She finds herself in an uncanny amount of trouble around here.”

Flicking his eyes from Genoa to Arachne, he gave a slow nod of his head. “Indeed.”

Eva still hadn’t put away her blood or her dagger. Just because Genoa seemed to be friendly with him didn’t mean that he wasn’t looking for an opportunity to attack. In fact, it was all the more likely. Genoa had to know some dangerous people.

Genoa seemed to sense the tension at least. She took in a sharp breath before speaking. “Oh, this is Wallace Redford, current director of the Royal Guild of Mage-Knights.” She turned back to face the guild leader. “You said that Governor Anderson called you in?”

“Quite so.” Wallace took a step forward, looking Arachne up and down before shifting his focus to Eva. “He’s asked me to oversee his little experiment. I can’t say that I am enthused with the prospect. Turning children into monsters?” He turned to Genoa. “I’m surprised to find you supporting this. I’m further surprised to find no bounties filed against anyone involved in this mess.”

Eva cleared her throat before Genoa could speak. “I’m not a monster. And I don’t know what Anderson has planned, but he never touched me. I’ve barely said five words to the man.”

He blinked, drawing the lines of his face down as his mouth twisted into a frown. “I think… that I had better have a word with Mr. Anderson.”

“I think we should come with you,” Genoa said, voice hard. “If he is making children into monsters…” She trailed off with a glance towards her daughter.

“Wheelchair bound or not, I shall vehemently oppose.”

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007.021

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“Well that… that… that just rains on my parade!”

Clement pulled the binoculars away from his face to glance towards his partner. Gertrude was leaning half over the edge of the roof with the visor from his armor pressed against her eyes. Her mouth was twisted into a pout.

With a gentle hand, Clement pulled her back. She wouldn’t die from the fall. They were on top of some sort of dancing club for the students to waste time in, it was only a few stories high. The idea that she would even be injured was laughable. Still, he didn’t want to jump down after her. Neither did he care to wait around with their guest until she climbed back up.

Once sure that she wasn’t a stiff breeze away from falling, Clement brought his binoculars back up.

It wasn’t the best view. The roof of the club was a bit lower than the floor of their apartment. He could still see most of the room. Better yet, he could see the demons through the walls. Just faint outlines, enough to track them. A similar enchantment was on his visor, though of slightly higher quality.

Though there wasn’t much to see anymore with the naked eye. Before he had put his binoculars down to deal with Gertrude, the demon that they had captured had already been in the process of being carried out of the room. The only thing he could still see was their original target, the hel. She stood, gazing around the room with eyes as dead as a soulless corpse.

At first glance, she was a beautiful woman. Long hair, regal features, smooth skin. She had everything needed for a classical sort of beauty. But that all disappeared the longer he looked. The iced over lips, skin too smooth, dark veins barely visible underneath her skin, and her lifeless eyes. All of it added together to give the hel an unnerving quality.

Clement jumped back, jerking away from his binoculars.

She had stepped towards the window. In doing so, she had put most of her body into the early morning sunlight.

Watching her skin vanish as if a bucket of paint thinner had been dumped over a sheet of freshly painted glass was the worst. Clement had seen skeletons before. They didn’t bother him. But this hel… there was intelligence behind those empty sockets that just shouldn’t be.

With a shake of his head, he pressed the binoculars back to his eyes. This time, he angled towards a movement at a street-level door. Faint outlines were near the door.

The girl, the one who had been first on the scene and had broken the seals on the door, walked out of a side entrance. Her bright red eyes glanced around, but didn’t spot anything suspicious. With a wave of her hand, she gestured to her companion.

Some person wearing a poor imitation of his armor followed her out. Between the two of them, they had a bundle of blankets.

It didn’t take many guesses to figure out what was squirming around inside. It took even less guesses when a few tentacles slipped out into the air.

Clement reached back. His armored hand curled around the hilt of his sword.

“Shall we intercept?”

Gertrude hummed. Then she hawed. She hummed some more while running her fingers through her red hair.

With a frown, Clement released his sword. If she was pretending to think about it, the answer was no. Gertrude often came to quick, near instant decisions. Her current actions were just for her own amusement.

“Nope,” she said after a few more indecisive scratches of her head. “We could end the tentacle monster easily enough. Possibly the girl as well. We just don’t know enough about her at the moment to say for certain. Somehow, she learned of the tentacle demon’s presence and ruined everything. How?”

Clement did not respond. He had no insights to offer. Gertrude was the magic specialist. He couldn’t create even a small spark if his life depended on it. Luckily, with the armor that she had made for him, his life never depended on his magical abilities.

Merely his swordsmanship.

“Besides,” Gertrude said with a nod towards the apartment window, “the hel is still watching. Fun as it might be, we’ll get her attention and possibly attract every other demon in the area. I don’t think the girl is any kind of big shot, but there is a reason we tried to trap the Hel instead of fighting.”

“We could–” Clement cut himself off with a frown. The hel was powerful, true. Not so powerful that a well placed swing of an enchanted sword couldn’t lop her head right off. With both him and Gertrude, he doubted that she would have much of a chance.

If other demons joined in, even if only as distractions to him and Gertrude, that slight chance grew immensely. It was why they had gone with the trap plan in the first place.

And that was assuming that the devil stayed content to merely watch.

There was a tingle going up Clement’s spine. Some small shiver as if he were being watched. Glancing around, he couldn’t see anything that might be the source.

The hel and everyone else at the apartment building were too far away. It couldn’t be them. There was a reason that he was using binoculars. Of course, someone there might have enhanced vision. Peeking through his binoculars again, he couldn’t find anyone looking in his direction.

Every time he thought of the devil, he felt the hairs on his neck rise up.

It was that devil. It had to be. The only question was whether or not the devil was actually causing the sensation. It was entirely possible that everything was all in his head.

Gertrude never felt anything. He had asked. She was certain that whatever magic she was doing was enough to keep them off the devil’s radar. It worked for the rest of the demons. No one really noticed them while wandering around. So far, he hadn’t seen any sign that the devil actually was watching them. As far as he knew, it was working.

Glancing around, Clement still couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched.

Gertrude paid no mind to his unease. She spun around with a bright smile on her face before resting against the raised lip of the building’s roof. “Anyway, all is not lost. We’ll just have to modify our plan for the other one. It wouldn’t be good to face them all at once. Besides, with him around, we can try trapping the hel again.”

Clement turned to face their guest. He couldn’t see anything. Morail were annoying like that. There was no doubt that the demon was trapped within the shackles on the roof. They had been hastily constructed, but they were no less effective. Even better, they were suppressing his demonic aura. None of the other demons should be able to sense him.

Of course, that hadn’t helped with the girl. As Gertrude had said, she had found out somehow. She hadn’t been concerned going into the apartment complex. Clement could guess that there was some range limitation on whatever ability she had. If not, then this morail would already be known to them.

Since they weren’t under attack, no one knew.

“They’ll be wary if we try the same trick again, Gertrude.”

“Ha! They’ll be wary no matter what we do. Still, just need to draw them out to where we’ll have the advantage. Otherwise…” Gertrude trailed off, rubbing a finger over the ring on her hand. “Well, we might just have to straight up fight them. No tricks or traps. But that’s for later.”

“And where will we try again? Not the original location?”

Gertrude’s smile grew ever so slightly. “Pack him up,” she said with a nod towards the apparently empty set of shackles. “Tight. Compact. I doubt he’ll need limbs. Then meet me at that little gas station on the edge of town, right near the highway.”

With that said, she pushed back with the tips of her toes, falling over the edge of the roof backwards.

Clement didn’t bother with checking over the edge. She would be fine.

Instead, he gripped his sword, hefting if off its mount and readying it in front of him.

And he paused. Gertrude wanted his limbs off, but the rest of the demon should probably be intact. Somewhat of a difficult prospect while his target was invisible.

She had taken his visor as well.

With a frown, he brought the binoculars up to his eyes. It was dizzying to look at something so close, but he could see a thick outline around the demon through the lenses.

It would be hard to aim. One of his hands had to keep the binoculars pressed to his face.

Oh well, he thought as he started his advance, it might be a bit messier than otherwise.

— — —

Eva and Juliana set Lucy down on a bed in one of the Brakket Academy infirmary rooms. They hadn’t known what else to do with her. At least not before talking with Martina Turner.

Nurse Post stood to the side, watching with a frown on her face. “You know,” she said, “I remember a time when it would be seen as odd to walk into the infirmary with a bundle of tentacles. I don’t even know where to begin with treatment.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, you probably won’t have to treat her. She’ll heal on her own over time.”

Nurse Post made a face. It was a bit hard to see behind her surgical mask and gauze covering one eye. The blood behind the coverings didn’t lie. Her lips were twisted into a grimace and her nose had wrinkled.

Eva wasn’t sure why she felt the need to don a surgical mask. Maybe she thought that she would be operating on Lucy.

Upon seeing her when first entering the nurse’s office, Eva actually had to do a double-take. Both Nurse Post and the woman who had likely kidnapped Lucy had eye patches. It was such an unusual trait that Eva’s eye had been drawn to it first while her mind jumped to conclusions.

Stupid conclusions. Nurse Post had much darker hair. The woman’s was red. Their facial structure was different. Nurse Post lacked that somewhat disturbing smile as well.

“She?” the nurse asked, face still wrinkled in a mixture of confusion and discomfort.

“Oh. Right.” Eva rested a hand on the bed near Lucy. “Meet Lucy. The security guard,” she added when Nurse Post failed to show any recognition. “This is what she looks like when not doing her poor impression of a human.”

Narrowing her eye ever so slightly, Nurse Post said, “that should surprise me. Somehow, it doesn’t.” She sighed as she shook her head. “She and the other specialist went missing. Shall I prepare to receive another wad of tentacles?”

“Oh no. Daru looks like a human for real. Lucy is something of a special case.” Eva paused for just a moment before continuing in a more somber tone of voice. “Also, we haven’t found him yet. I don’t even know if he is still… around.”

Something of a depressing silence fell over the group, only to be broken by Lucy knocking a tissue box off a table next to the bed.

Eva turned to find Lucy squirming a whole lot more than she had been just a moment ago.

Figuring that there was no harm in asking, Eva said, “I don’t suppose you know where Daru is?”

The thrashing tentacles stilled. Eva took that for a negative, but that was mostly a guess.

As Eva watched, Lucy started trying something. Her few remaining tentacles were winding around each other. Lips, or something vaguely resembling them, started to form as the tentacles tightened together. Unfortunately, as she tried to form a throat and some lungs, the lips started to come unwound.

Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t form enough of a face to speak while still having lungs to draw in air needed to create the sound of words.

So much of her body was missing that she couldn’t even put together half of a head to speak. It was amazing that she was still alive at all. Decentralized nervous and circulatory systems were awe inducing.

Eva grimaced at the sight. Absently, she noted Juliana glancing off to the side while trying to not look like she was disturbed. Nurse Post placed a hand over her masked mouth after gasping.

“Alright stop,” Eva said, placing her hands over Lucy. “You’re not helping. If you could write, that might work better.”

The tentacles ceased their formations of various organs, instead just flopping out onto the bed. Eva, once again, took that as a no.

“Just focus on getting better.” Turning back to Nurse Post, Eva said, “you should know that she was taken by demon hunters. They might not be so excited that she got away.”

“So you bring her to a school?”

Eva shrugged. “Summer time. School is out. Most students aren’t even back for the summer seminars yet. If they come back at all. Besides, I can feel Zagan nearby. I doubt that they’ll come here. Still, something to be aware of.”

“And if they do come back?”

“Hide. Let them take Lucy. She won’t die even if they kill her. You will.”

There was a bit of squirming from Lucy at Eva’s suggestion, but Eva paid it no mind. A thought entered her mind about whether or not her statement was true.

“I think, anyway,” Eva said. “The red eyes throw me off, are you a demon or are you not?”

Eva couldn’t sense anything from her. That didn’t necessarily mean anything. Zagan was nearby. Probably just down the hall in Martina Turner’s office. With him so close, Eva could barely feel Lucy and they were just about touching. Inexperienced in her ability to detect demons, it was entirely possible that one she hadn’t known about would slip through.

“I’m not a demon.”

“Then leave her to the hunters.”

If she caught wind of the hunters coming after Lucy again, Eva would jump in without hesitation. Asking the same of a school nurse was not really something that she could do. She was counting on the fact that Zagan was fairly intimidating when he wanted to be.

“Now,” Eva said, “I don’t supposed you know if Martina Turner is around?”

“Last I heard, she was in her office.”

With Zagan, Eva thought with a nod of her head. “Right.” She glanced back towards Juliana. “Coming along?”

“I–Yeah.”

As they headed out into the hallway, Juliana let out a long sigh.

“Figures,” she said, “I’m back and in less than half a day, big things are going on.”

“I imagine your little vacation wasn’t quite so eventful,” Eva said with a chuckle.

“Not really. Aside from Zagan showing up, about the only interesting thing was watching this town on the news.”

“About the sky?”

Juliana glanced around the empty hallway. “I know it isn’t some agricultural thing,” she said in a low voice. “What is it?”

Eva shrugged. Juliana had been there when Zagan had explained about the situation with Hell. Of course, her mother had a hole in her chest at the time, but Eva was fairly certain that she had heard enough to get the gist of it. As such, she didn’t feel a need to explain all that.

“Don’t know for sure. The idea that Wayne, Zoe, Devon, and Ylva came up with is that it is some form of attack on Void. It and the enigmas–” Eva cut herself off as a thought occurred to her. “The creatures that your dad came to inspect are the enigmas. I can’t remember if they had their name when you were here last. The idea is that they’re designed to weaken the barriers between the mortal realm and Void. Whether the sky is the cause or a side effect is still up for debate.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“I try not to worry about it.”

“That seems…. irresponsible.”

“It’s sort of like knowing that a meteor is careening towards the Earth. What am I really supposed to do about it? Devon and Zagan don’t seem particularly worried. Devon is a coward as well. If he isn’t running around like a chicken without a head, I don’t know why I would.

“I prefer to focus my energies on things that I can actually affect. Sawyer, for instance. These demon hunters for another.”

Juliana made a small humming noise. Not really one of agreement or derision, just of acknowledgment.

Inside the main office area, Eva paused with a frown on her face.

Catherine’s desk was empty.

She could sense her somewhere. That probably meant that the demon hunters didn’t have her. But she wasn’t nearby. At least, she wasn’t inside Martina Turner’s office. Zagan was. Now that Eva was closer, she could sense someone else inside as well. A demon that Eva found familiar, but couldn’t quite place. It was probably her imagination. She hadn’t run into very many demons since her latest treatment anyway.

With no one around to wave her into the dean’s office, Eva pushed open the door without hesitation.

“–can’t allow them to–”

Martina’s voice cut off as soon as the door opened. She turned away from Governor Anderson to glare at the interruption. As soon as she saw who it was, her face twisted. As if she couldn’t decide whether to soften her features or to glare harder.

For his part, Anderson merely turned to regard Eva with a raised eyebrow.

Zagan was leaning against the wall just to the side of the door. His golden eyes were already staring at Eva as she entered, obviously expecting her. He hadn’t needed to turn his head.

One of his hands was fiddling with the cufflinks on his other wrist. His hands dropped to his sides as he spotted who was behind Eva. His lips split to reveal teeth that a dentist would be hard pressed to find a flaw in.

But Eva paid him no mind. Zagan was a known demon. A devil and a scary one at that, but one that Eva could at least somewhat predict.

Her eyes were drawn over Martina’s shoulder.

The other demon that she had felt was standing there, staring at her.

Eva immediately realized her mistake.

She had seen this demon before.

“Prax?” Juliana said from behind Eva. “What are you doing here?”

The cambion huffed, crossing his beefy arms in front of his bare chest while glancing off to the side.

“What indeed,” Eva murmured with an aside glance towards Zagan.

The devil shrugged his shoulders. “I heard he got loose from his fleshy prison and wanted into the mortal realm. For a time, I considered torture and execution. Now I’ve decided to have him serve out his insult to me by taking over so many of my duties. Marvelous idea, yeah?”

“I only saw him just a few hours ago. He asked to get out of Hell then.”

Just how quickly had Prax been summoned up by Martina? She could understand if Zoe had let slip that Prax was out, but wanting to get out of Hell was another matter entirely. Eva could understand him being able to hear conversations while he wasn’t immediately present. Zoe could do the same through enhancing her hearing beyond human limits.

Even her enhancements didn’t reach Hell.

“Have you been spying on me?” Eva asked.

“Of course I have.”

Eva blinked, not expecting the blunt response.

“I told you before, I have a vested interest in you. A few simple enchantments on your person and…” he trailed off with another shrug and a nod towards Prax.

For just a moment, Eva had half a mind to protest. To demand the removal of whatever enchantments he had applied to her.

Those protests died off when she caught sight of his eyes.

He wasn’t glaring or anything, but Eva couldn’t help the shiver running up her spine.

Ignoring her discomfort, Zagan turned back to his original object of interest. “Juliana,” he said as he reached out a hand to ruffle her hair. “Welcome back.”

She just sat there and allowed him to mess up her blond hair. “Thanks.”

Her voice came out as a whisper as Zagan withdrew his hand.

Eva yearned to ask. Juliana’s earlier request to not talk about Zagan held her tongue. For now.

With a slight shake of her head, Eva turned to face Martina Turner.

“I rescued Lucy.”

“So I’ve heard,” she said, eyes flicking towards Zagan. “No sign of Daru?”

“None. Ylva is convinced that it was a trap for her. I’m inclined to agree.” Eva raised an eyebrow in Zagan’s direction. “Perhaps Daru is intended to be a trap for someone else?”

“A trap for me?” Zagan said with a chuckle. “I’d like to see that. Perhaps I’ll walk into it just to see what happens.”

“Well, I can’t imagine people fighting you in a fair fight. Even if you went as easy on them as you went on Sister Cross.”

“Dammit.” Martina slammed a fist on her desk. “I thought you were keeping these hunters off my back,” she said in a half shout.

“I told you that it wouldn’t last forever,” Anderson said, keeping his voice carefully controlled.

Picking up a large glass off the desk, she downed the dark brown contents in a single swig. A long and harsh sigh escaped her lips as she set the glass back on the desk. “Should have been longer than a handful of months. I expected a year at least. We’re not ready for hunters.”

Eva cleared her throat. Just a light cough before speaking. “You summoned Prax, right? I feel a few others too.”

“Replacements,” Martina said through grit teeth. “With Brakket’s security force decimated, I had to get more in a hurry.”

“There are three of them including Prax?”

“A second morail and a hellhound under his command.”

Eva nodded. The hellhound wouldn’t be sentient, but it made sense that she could sense it. Still, Martina had Catherine, Lucy, Daru, this new morail, a hellhound, and Zagan all contracted to her. The most she had seen Devon summon was three, and that had just been half a year ago or so. Before that, his highest was two at once.

She could only imagine what Devon would say about Martina. Her imagination filled in several uses of the words idiot, menace, and suicidal.

But, it wasn’t her problem. If Martina wanted to surround herself with demons, that was her choice.

Eva just hoped that she had a bag of popcorn nearby when Zagan decided that he didn’t want to take orders anymore.

“Anyway, I think Ylva is wanting to hunt down these hunters. I’m going to help her. Any resources that you could spare would be appreciated, I’m sure.”

Martina went silent for a moment. Her finger ran around the edge of her now empty glass. “Take Prax and Catherine. Zagan will stay at my side. Cereth and the hellhound will remain patrolling around Brakket Academy.”

Eva expected Zagan to stay with Martina. Unless she was far more altruistic than Eva knew her to be, Martina wouldn’t want her strongest asset away from her. Though he could probably kill the hunters in one shot, it would leave her far too vulnerable. The other morail, Cereth, would likely be a backup. Or, he would be sent in to die first while Zagan watched and laughed.

Maybe it was a good thing that Zagan wouldn’t be at her side.

Standing up, Martina placed the palms of her hands against the top of her desk, leaning over. “Get these bastards out of my town.”

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