Tag Archives: Prax

007.026

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Eva snapped into being on the gate she had made within her new dormitory room. She wasn’t even that wobbly from the teleport. Still, she took a moment to steady herself before moving around.

In that moment, she glanced around. Both with her eyes and her less mundane senses.

She immediately froze.

The very first thing that she noticed was Zagan. She couldn’t see him, but she could feel him. His overwhelming presence occluded everything else. Whatever had happened, he wasn’t trying to hide in the slightest.

It was terrifying and awe inspiring at the same time. Her heart hammered in her chest, screaming at her to run despite her mind claiming that Zagan was an ally.

Eva held her ground. It was all she could do to stand still. Digging her feet into the ground, Eva focused on calming down. Deep breaths helped, but only marginally.

No other presence, not even that of Ylva’s, could be felt through Zagan’s blanket of power. Prax and Catherine had both left the prison before Eva and she couldn’t sense either of them.

Hopefully that was just Zagan overpowering them and not something worse.

Prax and Catherine should at least be nearby. Ylva would be off with Zoe and Juliana. Given that the dorm room was empty of everyone else, Eva was assuming that they were out at the apartment building. Maybe even helping Zoe pack, unaware of the event out here until Ylva arrived. Though, Juliana might be wherever her parents were staying. Even bedridden or wheelchair bound, Eva had a hard time believing that Genoa would miss what was happening at the moment.

In fact, she would be surprised if regular mortals couldn’t feel Zagan.

Eva couldn’t see anything out the window. It looked out the back of the building, away from Zagan’s presence and the main Brakket Academy building, so that wasn’t all that surprising.

What she did notice were the purple lines in the sky. Since they had first appeared, they had been somewhat dim. Faint and barely visible in the daylight while simply there after nightfall. Now they were bright and almost glowing.

Whether that was because of Zagan or because Martina had summoned so many demons was a question better left to Devon.

Of course, he hadn’t come with her.

Eva had left after everyone else because she had taken the time to warn Devon.

Even discounting the issue that he couldn’t teleport alongside her without winding up as ground meat, Devon wanted nothing to do with demon hunters. He was perfectly content to watch Brakket City burn so long as he was left alone. He had even tried to stop Eva from coming.

Something Eva would hear nothing of.

She had friends here. Friends that might need help.

Zagan could hold his own. Whatever he was doing, Eva was sure that he would come out successful. Juliana and Zoe should both be away from the school and with Ylva. Eva considered running after them, hunkering down while Zagan solved all the problems.

But Catherine was still around. Despite all of her complaining about Martina and her words earlier in the evening about lacking loyalty to others, Catherine had still come here with the intention of keeping Martina safe.

And Eva was still somewhat fond of the succubus.

So Eva would help.

Rather than run from her room, Eva opened her window and dropped straight to the ground. Three stories was a long fall, but Arachne’s legs helped to absorb much of the impact. She ran around the side of the building.

And froze.

The walkway between the dormitory buildings was a torn up mess. Potholes everywhere, bricks lying about, and part of the Gillet’s front had been caved in.

An armored man stood against a winged bull. His armor was battered everywhere and even broken in several spots. He held out a sword. One that might have been beautiful with its emerald-encrusted hilt almost glowing in the evening darkness and graceful curve of the blade. But as Eva stared, she felt wary. Revulsion even. Whatever that sword was, she did not want it anywhere near her.

Zagan was looking worse for the wear. His leathery hide was covered in shallow cuts. A few were deeper, one on his muscular shoulder actually showed bone. The wound cleaned itself of blood every few seconds, making the depth clear to see.

Though, for all the wounds on Zagan, the knight might be in a worse state. Not only had he taken his fair share of the beating and had his own wounds of equal severity, but his armor was doing something to his body. Every time he moved, there was a flash. It was almost as if he was teleporting, but he obviously wasn’t. His armor carried him at speeds that human bodies weren’t meant to accelerate to and stop from so quickly.

Eva could see it in his blood.

One moment and everything was normal. The next had his blood and organs pressed up against the back of his body, only for them to lurch forwards when he stopped.

How he was still alive was anyone’s guess. Magic, probably. But it was affecting him. The visible pauses after each flash step as his body put itself back into place were evidence of that. His pausing lasted mere instants, but those instants were long enough for Zagan to capitalize on.

Zagan charged in an odd direction at the same instant that the knight flash stepped. The odd direction became far less odd as the knight appeared right in front of Zagan.

Scraping one of his horns along the ground, Zagan flicked his head upwards, catching the knight right between the legs. The knight went flying, flailing his arms and legs wildly in the air.

Zagan gave chase with a flap of his wings. His flaming hooves hit the knight in the back, crashing both of them down into the bricks.

The ground shattered after a brief moment of silence, leaving concentric circles of cracked brick and earth around the two monsters.

Eva turned away. It was hard. Zagan’s fighting was definitely worthy of watching. But he didn’t need her help. As she had thought, Zagan could handle himself.

What might need her help was at the main school building. A window near the front office area had broken, roughly in the area of Martina’s office. Dust and smoke billowed out.

If Martina was in, that would be where Catherine would have gone. There was no guarantee. Martina could have fled. Or worse, she might have been killed.

Eva didn’t have a better plan at the moment. She took off at a run, leaving the dormitory buildings and the battle behind.

The main school building wasn’t far. At a run and with a few interspersed blinks, Eva reached the broken window almost instantly.

Four circulatory systems were inside the room. Two lying on the ground and two standing upright.

The two upright were Prax and Catherine. Even if Eva hadn’t already memorized their individual blood vessel fingerprint, Prax’s bulk was unmatched by any other and Catherine had wings and a tail at the moment.

The woman who had accosted Eva in the apartment building was one of the circulatory systems on the ground. Martina was the other.

Eva’s ‘eyes’ were immediately drawn to the woman’s heart. It was beating erratically. A beat followed by a too-long pause. Three rapid beats. Another pause. To make matters more complicated, Eva couldn’t be sure that she was even breathing. Though, given the dust in the air, that might not be a bad thing.

Catherine was standing over her, fidgeting a little as if she didn’t know what to do.

Neither did Eva, but there was someone who did know.

“Martina needs to be taken to the nurse,” Eva said as she climbed over the broken glass of the window. The glass on the ground and sill wasn’t strong enough to cut her carapace. She just had to be careful where the rest of her body was. “She’s having a heart attack.”

She wasn’t really, not so long as Eva understood what a heart attack actually was, but time was of the essence and longer explanations would eat that time up.

“Catherine,” Eva said when the succubus made no motion to carry away the dean.

“I know.” There was a short sigh. Catherine’s arms slipped under Martina’s back and legs before hefting her up. “She had better appreciate me,” she said as she dashed from the room.

The nurse’s office was just down the hallway. So long as she was in at the moment, she would hopefully be able to do something. Given the late hour, Eva doubted that she would be in. Still, Catherine was the secretary. She probably knew where the nurse lived and could just head straight there.

Eva couldn’t say that she liked Martina, but she didn’t hate her enough to want her to die. In fact, she really didn’t hate her at all. Martina could be annoying on occasion, but Eva found herself more indifferent than anything.

And if she did die, there would be a lot of contracted demons running around without a contractor. At the moment, Zagan was a bit too tied up to rein them in. If he even cared enough to do so. Prax might be the only one that he focused on because of Prax’s slights toward him.

Eva would hopefully be able to convince Lucy to play nice with people, but the hellhound, morail, and Daru?

Well, Daru was likely dead.

And then there was Catherine. She wasn’t a contracted demon, but rather a familiar. Still, if Martina died, Catherine’s bonds would be broken.

“What about this one?” Prax said in a menacing growl, breaking Eva out of her thoughts.

Eva turned to the other woman—presumably a demon hunter—and found herself frowning.

Her heart rate was normal. Her blood flowed properly. There was a slight burn on one hand, but it didn’t extend deep enough below her skin to damage any real blood vessels.

And two of her fingers were tapping against the ground. Steady, rhythmic taps.

“Kill her,” Eva said, uncorking her vial of Zagan’s blood. “Quickly.”

Prax didn’t hesitate. He lifted his foot, preparing to crush the hunter’s head.

The hunter was faster. She rolled into his still planted foot.

Normally, Eva wouldn’t have expected much. Prax had bulk. Weight. Mass. The hunter, almost smaller than Eva, couldn’t be expected to move such a thing.

But she did. Whether because Prax was already unbalanced from having his other foot raised or some luck on the hunter’s part, Prax fell. His head smashed into the remains of Martina’s desk, sending splinters and papers flying around.

The hunter made it to her feet before Prax’s head hit the ground. A faint glow emanated from one of her rings. The air in front of her fingers filled with a faint white mist.

A globule of Zagan’s blood fell from the air where it had been zooming towards the hunter. It hit the floor as a ball of ice, shattering into pieces.

Beyond that, she didn’t pay any attention to Eva.

Prax was trying to get standing once again, but the hunter slipped one of her feet in the crook of his ankle and pulled. She managed to move his entire body, causing his arms to slip out from underneath him.

She jumped onto his back, knees on either side of his ribcage. One hand gripped one of Prax’s horns. The other took hold of his chin. With a flick of her arms, an audible snap echoed through the office.

Just in time for her to freeze another two globs of blood that Eva had attempted to hit her with while her back was turned. Each shattered on either side of the portal that was swallowing up Prax’s body.

The hunter got to her feet, brushing her hands off as if Prax had been covered in dust.

Though, given the blood on her hands, Eva doubted that the action was all that effective. It was merely an intimidation tactic.

Eva would be lying if she said that she wasn’t a little intimidated at the moment.

She may have taken Prax mostly by surprise, but Eva was getting serious ‘Genoa’ vibes off this hunter. Eva doubted that she would be able to take on an injured Genoa, let alone one able to walk under her own power.

The best course of action might be to simply flee back to Zagan. He would surely be able to do something.

Unless the presence of the hunter distracted him enough for the knight to get a critical hit in.

And even if Eva fled, there was no guarantee that the hunter would follow. She might chase after Catherine.

Catherine was right. She wouldn’t die. She’d be back eventually.

But she wasn’t the only one there. Martina would be with her. And maybe the nurse.

Eva might have found it amusing that she was more worried for the nurse than Martina had the hunter not decided to charge straight at her.

Blinking past the hunter to the opposite side of the room, she ignited her hands. Blood was obviously not working on this person. Granted, she had only tried twice and neither of those attempts had been her giant blood-claw. That took time, unfortunately.

Time that I really don’t have, Eva thought as she tossed a small fireball at her opponent. She didn’t have time build it up more. She didn’t have the time to stand and watch the explosion.

The hunter twisted around the fireball as an icicle flew towards Eva.

Blinking again, Eva found herself just outside of the office, looking in through the broken window.

The fireball hit the ground, erupting with little more than a snap. Like a small firework going off.

For a moment, the two just stared.

Eva didn’t remain idle while staring. She built up a fireball in each hand, both larger than the earlier one. With slightly more distance between them, Eva actually had the time to do so.

“What are you? You’re not a demon.”

Eva opened her mouth to deny that claim. Except, perhaps she wasn’t a demon just yet. A few more treatments.

In the mean time…

“An abomination.”

The hunter blinked, confusion radiating from her eyes. The confusion gave way to about three other expressions, all competing for dominance. Anger, disgust, and maybe a little excitement. She then blinked again.

“Oh,” she said. “Ohhh, you’re the person that nun was talking about. I have to admit, I wasn’t paying much attention. She was kind of annoying. No. Really, really annoying. She kept going on and on about… well, you. I suppose.”

Waving her hand, the hunter opened her mouth to continue rambling. “Doesn’t really matter–”

As the hunter waved her hand, Eva caught a light glow on her rings.

Without hesitation, Eva blinked.

She snapped into being back inside the office, just to the side of the hunter.

Eva dropped both of her firebombs as a boulder made of ice crashed down into the window right where she had been standing.

Window blocked off, Eva blinked to a corner of the room and uncorked a vial of blood. Her own blood, all of Zagan’s blood was lying frozen on the floor. She formed up a blood shield around herself. All in the time it took for the two firebombs to fall to the floor.

Heat and flames filled the room. Strong enough that Eva could feel a small portion of it through her shield. Much of the already wrecked room turned to cinders. What wasn’t burnable was crushed under the pressure of the two bombs’ shock waves.

Eva’s shield was included in that second category. Demon blood would have been able to stand up to the explosions. Only using her own blood, the shield cracked and shattered after only a few moments of staying up.

Luckily, most of the power in the explosions had already been used up by the time the fractured shield collapsed. All that was left was the fire and the heat.

Neither really bothered Eva.

Except, there was more left behind. One thing stood out.

A pillar of ice, stretching from the ground to the ceiling.

Eva didn’t need her blood sight to tell that the hunter was still alive within.

Uncorking every vial of blood that she had left, Eva formed it all into a massive ball made up of thin rings. The rings all circled around each other, gathering to form a frame of blood wires. Spell set, she plunged both hands into the ball.

Two car-sized hands of blood, mirrors of Eva’s claws, appeared in the room in front of her. Eva pushed her hands farther into the rings of blood. The larger versions of her hands moved together, one of them scraping into a wall and tearing it apart as it continued forwards.

The palms of her blood-hands hit the ice pillar. Eva gripped it and squeezed.

Cracks formed in the ice, starting as small fractures before growing into larger and thicker crevasses.

The hunter was actually panicking now. Her accelerated heart rate and more frantic movements within the pillar were unusually satisfying.

At least, it was until her blood claws started to freeze. They were huge, several hundred times the size of the small globs of Zagan’s blood that the hunter had frozen earlier. But locked around the pillar of ice, slowly crushing it, ice started to form on the palms of the hands.

Eva redoubled her efforts, pressing her hands together as hard as she could, forcing more and more magic into the ball of blood to keep the hands under her control for as long as possible.

The top half of the pillar broke off, collapsing into one of the hands. Eva pulled her real hand out of the ball as if she had been stung. The blood forming the hand fell to the ground, forming a large pool of inert liquid.

Glancing down, Eva found small amounts of frost shining white against the normally black carapace of her hand.

Eva grit her teeth and focused on her remaining hand, crushing the top of the already damaged pillar where it was more brittle.

With the hand still freezing over, it was fighting against time.

And Eva didn’t feel like she was winning.

Pulling her hand away from the pillar, Eva lifted it up and over the broken top. Curling the hand into a fist, she slammed it back down.

The hand fell apart, shards of blood and ice scattered everywhere. Most of it went into the pillar of ice through a hole at the top from where the upper part had broken off.

The shards rained down on the inside, each as sharp as knives, cutting into the hunter.

Unfortunately, that was all they were. Tiny knives. Inflicting nothing more than superficial wounds on the woman inside her makeshift shield.

A moment of silence passed. Eva started building up more compressed flames. Dropping them into the top might be her best option.

Rather than tossing the fledgling fireballs, Eva found herself extinguishing them as she dove to the side.

The pillar exploded outwards. Not in shards, but heavy chunks each at least the size of a large brick.

On the ground and curled into a ball, Eva clasped her hands over her head. Just in time to feel a brick of ice hit the chitin on her arm. It sent a hairline fracture up the carapace, but nothing more.

Eva remained on the ground for a moment after the last brick had struck the wall. Just in case.

A moment too long.

The hunter jumped on top of her. Bleeding from hundreds of tiny cuts, the woman clasped a hand around Eva’s throat. Her other hand grasped towards Eva’s face.

Seeing where the woman was aiming all too clearly, Eva used both of her hands to keep her open hand away. Eva could do without a little air for a short time. She had lost her eyes once already and that was beyond enough for her.

Having been curled up, Eva’s legs were crunched up against her chest.

Between her body and the hunter.

Eva found herself grinning despite the vice-like grip on her neck. She kicked with both legs, sending the woman flying across the room with her letting out a short scream.

Flipping back to her feet, Eva rubbed her throat as the hunter got to her feet.

And she found her fingers running over her bare neck.

Thoughts of the hunter gone, Eva turned her attention to the floor around her. Searching, eyes roaming over everything.

“Looking for this?”

Eva’s eyes snapped to the hunter.

One hand was held up in front of her. From it, a thin black band dangled, swaying slightly in the air. A small black sphere hung off the band.

Arachne’s beacon.

“Give that back!”

“Hmm,” she hummed, tapping a finger to her chin. “You know? I don’t think I will.” She dropped the band, not taking her eyes off Eva as it bounced lightly against the floor. Moving the tip of her shoe over the beacon, the hunter grinned. Her voice took on a sing-song tune as she spoke. “I wonder what would happen if it were destroyed.”

“I said. Give. That. Back.”

“I–”

The hunter cut herself off. She blinked, taking her eyes off Eva and giving a glance around the room.

Eva took a step forward.

The hunter took her foot off the beacon. She had to in order for her to take a step backwards. She didn’t make it very far. When Eva had kicked her, she had slammed into a wall and hadn’t moved far from it. Far enough for a single step.

As Eva took another step forward, the hunter’s face twisted into a snarl.

She lifted up her foot and brought her heel down on the beacon.

As if in slow motion, Eva watched as the orb cracked and shattered to dust. A spiderweb of cracks started from her heel and spread out over the surface. The webs contained within exploded outwards, latching onto the hunter’s foot.

Eva saw red.

— — —

It is time.

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007.024

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Eva woke with a sheen of sweat coating her body. There was a twisting in her stomach, something she couldn’t quite explain. It wasn’t hunger. More like disgust or revulsion.

Something was wrong.

Throwing her blankets off, Eva took a look around her room in the women’s ward. Aside from the messy bed, everything was neatly organized. Her dresser held all of the various knickknacks that she had acquired over the past few years. None had been moved. Her room was just as she remembered leaving it the night before.

The windows were still barred and sealed. It was just barely getting dark out. Eva had decided to take a quick nap after having finished setting up her wards. With all the excitement, sleepless nights, and somewhat severe anemia in the recent days, she hadn’t wanted to fight demon hunters while in such a sorry state. She had intended to just take a short nap—she didn’t even sleep much these days anyway—but by the looks of things, she had somewhat overslept.

However, aside from the pale streaks of purple in the sky, nothing looked amiss outside of her room.

“So what is wrong?” she mumbled to herself as she threw on a shirt and a skirt.

Through the walls, Eva took note of her guests. Ylva, Catherine, and Prax were all out in the common room. None really appeared to be speaking to one another. Prax leaned against a far wall with his arms crossed in front of his chest. Ylva sat in a chair, reclining back with one arm on the armrest. She had her fingers curled underneath her chin, supporting her head as she stared off into the distance. Lying on the longer couch, Catherine fiddled with a cellphone.

Zoe and Juliana weren’t around at the moment. They must have gone back during Eva’s nap. Juliana’s father had given some strict instructions to Zoe regarding his daughter’s extracurricular activities. Something about a curfew.

She would have expected Zoe to return afterwards. Or send a message if she was in trouble.

A quick check of her cellphone showed no new messages.

As she was slowly becoming used to, Eva could sense all three of the demons in the other room. And more. The carnivean and the wax demon were somewhere around as well, though farther away. Along with all those demons was Zagan, though his presence was faint and in the vague direction of Brakket Academy.

But there was something else. Something disturbing.

Whatever it was, it had been the thing to wake her.

Pushing open the door to the common room, Eva looked around at the demons with her own eyes.

None of them turned to look at her.

“Do you feel it too?” she asked no one in particular.

“It’s Daru,” Catherine said in an exasperated tone of voice. She didn’t bother looking up from her cellphone.

Though, moving slightly closer and catching a glimpse over the succubus’ shoulder, Eva found herself surprised at the lack of a game on the screen. Rather, she was in some sort of drawing program, tracing out sigil-inscribed circles with her thumb.

Practicing? Or maybe continuing whatever she had been working on with Devon, Eva thought. Her own version of a treatment circle.

Eva shook her head. “Why does it feel like that? It’s… It’s… vile.”

“He’s in pain. Lots of pain,” Catherine said. “Active torture, I’d imagine. Enough to mess with his aura.”

“And we’re just sitting around?”

Catherine sighed as she set her phone on the couch cushion. She glanced over her shoulder and shook her head. “Martina might have asked me to help you out, but that doesn’t mean that I need to die for you. I rather like being around here. The mortal realm, that is.”

When Catherine failed to jump up and charge out to rescue Daru, Eva turned first to Ylva before moving on to Prax.

“It is a trap,” Prax said. “Your defenses give us the advantage over any who would attack us. Leaving their protections to rescue some morail would be foolish in the extreme.”

“So we’re just going to leave him to be tortured?”

As someone who had gone through torture herself, leaving someone else to such a fate did not sit right with her. Eva had recovered, true. Perhaps even becoming stronger than she had been before with the addition of Arachne’s limbs. But that didn’t mean that others would be the same.

“Eva,” Catherine said, sitting up on the couch. “What you fail to realize is that no one here cares about Daru. No one here cares about each other, except in how they will fare should we need to fight. So long as the others keep me from dying, they’re my best friends. The moment they become a liability to my continued existence…”

With a frown, Eva glanced towards Ylva, expecting at least the hel to deny having the same thoughts.

Ylva turned her head slightly, looking towards Prax. “The cambion’s assessment is correct. This is a trap. Wandering into it, blinded by revenge or some foolish heroism, would suit no one. The morail is not Our servant. His demise matters little.”

Eva closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

With how much she interacted with them on a daily basis, it was easy to forget that most of everyone who she knew was a demon. And not demons like Arachne.

Arachne cared. At least about her.

Maybe that was the problem. She had a skewed perspective because of Arachne. Eva was willing to grant that Arachne likely cared little for anyone else. The only reason why Arachne had helped anyone else was because of Eva asking her to.

“But I care,” Eva said, looking Catherine in the eye. “I care about Arachne. I want her back. She was–is my friend and my companion.” Eva’s hand drifted up to the beacon set around her neck.

“Along with that, I care about you. Ylva too,” Eva said, turning to face the hel. “And,” she started looking towards Prax before snapping her gaze back to Catherine. “Lucy too. If any of you were being tortured, I would jump in and try to save you.”

Silence greeted Eva’s proclamation.

No one moved. No one said a word.

At least, until Prax let out a loud snort.

That broke whatever spell held them still.

Catherine rolled her eyes and picked up her cellphone again while Ylva just looked up at Eva and stared.

“A foolish notion. Mortals lack the ability to permanently kill demons. Any sacrifice you make would be pointless in the end.”

“I might as well try,” Eva said, fiddling with Arachne’s beacon once again. “By that logic, there aren’t any downsides to trying. If none of us die when we’re killed…” Trailing off, Eva stared at Ylva. “Can I die? Permanently.”

The air chilled by a few degrees. Enough so that Eva’s breath condensed into faint puffs of fog as she breathed.

Eva took a step backwards as Ylva moved to her feet.

Though she wasn’t standing in any sunlight, her skin vanished. All that remained was the giant skeleton, stooping over slightly to fit under the relatively low ceiling of the women’s ward. Two tiny white pinpricks of light emanated from the depths of her empty eye sockets.

Eva tried to take another step back.

Ylva was too quick.

Her hand reached out, digging her bony fingers into Eva’s shoulder.

Ice flowed through Eva’s body.

Not just ice. Whatever it was, it was colder than ice. Turning her sense of blood in on herself, Eva could see her very veins freezing beneath her skin. It spread, starting at Ylva’s hand and spreading.

Down her arm.

Down her chest.

Up her neck.

Eva managed only a short scream before her throat froze over.

She was only barely conscious of Catherine staring at her with wide eyes. The succubus made no movements to intervene.

Neither did Prax. He hadn’t even shifted from his position against the far wall.

Those white pinpricks where Ylva’s eyes should be captured her, forcibly holding her gaze and what little attention she could muster.

Tendrils of ice reached up Eva’s neck.

The moment they touched her brain, everything went dark.

— — —

“No one is coming.”

What little there was of the demon had just been swallowed by Void. Bits and pieces of him had been left behind. Void only took the largest chunk of the demon that was still connected to either the brain or the heart, if either were still intact.

Gertrude snapped her tome shut.

“No one is coming,” she said again with a glance around the empty wilderness. “All that work. All for nothing.”

Clement followed her gaze.

They had set up just to the side of the main freeway that passed by Brakket City. Several demon traps had been set up. Slick icy patches created by Gertrude made up the proper rings and symbols for shackles. Some out in the fields around them to capture any that might come by. Even a few on the roads themselves.

Some demons liked to drive for whatever reason. Clement had never talked with one, but he imagined that they didn’t often drive if they ever wound up summoned again. The look on their faces when they drove over a set of icy shackles was one that made him extraordinarily grateful to Gertrude for enchanting his visor with magnification settings.

A demon’s car would find itself relatively unimpeded by the ice. The demon wasn’t so lucky. Even the strongest of demons would find themselves hard pressed to survive both impacting against the wall of shackles at above eighty miles an hour and the crumpling of their car around them when their body got in the way.

A perfect trap if ever there was one.

Except when demons didn’t show up.

“All this sneaking around and trapping,” Gertrude said. She put her fingers into her red hair, giving a light tug. Not hard enough to actually pull the hair out, just enough to try to relieve stress. “I can’t take it anymore. I want to fight. That girl ruined everything,” she said with a loud groan.

Clement placed his hand on his sword. “Are we taking the fight to them?”

“The city has less demons,” she said, not even paying attention to Clement. “Ahh, but it has the devil.”

“Will your enchantments work on him?”

“I suppose that depends entirely on how playful he’s feeling. I wouldn’t rely on anything but your sword. That should work on the Devil himself.”

Clement glanced down towards his boots, opening his mouth to ask.

Gertrude preempted his question. “No amount of speed will matter if he gets serious.”

“Then we must kill him before he gets serious.”

“A trickier task than simple words make it sound.”

“I can handle it.”

Bright white teeth appeared between Gertrude’s lips as their corners curled up high on her cheeks. “If you handle him,” she said with a hum, rubbing her chin. “That might work. You won’t get any support from me.”

Clement blinked. Possibly the most powerful foe they had ever faced and she wouldn’t be there? He suppressed the chill on his neck and gave Gertrude a nod. “If that is what you need of me. Shall we set up traps?”

“The first one might work for a few seconds. I wouldn’t expect anything to work twice.”

Tightening his fingers around his sword’s hilt, Clement took a deep breath. “A few seconds might be all I need.”

“Alright then,” she said, turning and stalking away from the mess of the demon. After taking one step, Gertrude paused. “There is one more thing.”

She tossed a small object towards Clement. With the enchantments on his visor and the rest of his armor, he hand no trouble spotting and catching it in the dim light.

A ring.

An old-fashioned signet ring. It was a dark metal, heavier than he expected though he had no trouble lifting it. Whether that was because of his armor’s enchantments or something Gertrude had done to the ring, he couldn’t say.

The signet part of the ring had heavy embossing. There were two main parts of the signet. The first, the outer circle, was full of dots and lines. Some lines were straight while others squiggled. None of the patterns made any sense to him.

The inner circle had a symbol that looked almost like an old-fashioned keyhole. There were a few excess lines around the keyhole along with the astrological symbols for Mars and Saturn.

“This is your ring,” he said, looking back to Gertrude. “Why give it to me? You aren’t planning on doing something foolish again, are you?”

“Me?” she said with a faux gasp, grasping at her chest as if she had just been struck. “Never!”

Gertrude took a deep breath, her countenance taking on a slightly more serious appearance.

“It’s called the Seal of Solomon,” she said. “Said to be able to seal any demon, including the seventy-two devils. Just press it into their skin and bam! One-way ticket to Hell.”

“Why me?”

“You offered to fight him,” Gertrude said with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t know if it will work. You know me,” she paused to crack her knuckles, “I prefer to drag these bastards back to Hell in pieces.

With that said, she turned back to the van and started walking, leaving Clement staring at the ring.

And wondering just how he was supposed to wear it with his gauntlets in the way.

Perhaps a small chain around his neck would work.

Shaking his head, Clement glanced back towards where their demon guest had been sent back to Hell.

Leaving the mess behind could present a potential hazard to any innocents who came across it. Though morail blood wasn’t caustic or toxic, it was still demon blood. He would hate to have to hunt down anyone who came into contact with the substance. Likely some random person followed by either mundane police or Brakket Academy personnel.

If it was the latter, he wouldn’t feel too guilty about it.

But Gertrude had already slipped through the window of their van. Roars of the engine filled the air as she revved up the vehicle. Three sharp blasts of the horn signaled her impatience.

With a sigh, Clement followed her footsteps and left the mess of the demon behind. With any luck, the remains would be picked off by carrion feeders. A lot harder to hunt down, but significantly less important than hunting down sentient beings.

He pulled open the rear doors of the van and climbed inside, setting the weight of his armor down on one of the reinforced seats.

Gertrude slammed on the gas pedal, lurching the van forwards, before he even had a chance to shut the door.

As usual.

— — —

An empty void. Nothing existed anywhere. There were no landmarks, no scents, no lights. Nothing at all. Nothing but cold.

Eva couldn’t feel her fingers. She couldn’t feel her toes.

And yet, it was somehow familiar. Except for the cold.

The hallway that she had been trapped in after being stabbed by Sawyer. Or rather, the void that she had fallen into just before waking.

Eva had taken the entire thing to be a near death experience brought on by the cursed dagger. Some delusion that her mind had wrought as a way of coping with her imminent demise.

That she was experiencing it again did not fill her with happy feelings. The implications elicited almost the exact opposite; feelings of dread.

Ylva had killed her. Or, at least came close enough to throw her back into a comatose state. A state that, last time, Eva had required outside assistance to wake up from.

Though, last time, the emptiness had immediately preceded waking up. Perhaps she wouldn’t need to muck about with the hallway this time.

Of course, she had retained the ability to feel things last time. Eva distinctly recalled using her claws to cut herself as a test. No matter how much she tried to move, she couldn’t feel even the slightest movement of her own body.

And she was trying.

With nothing else to do, Eva continuously tried to flex her fingers. Back and forth, back and forth.

Slowly yet surely, the lack of any feeling gave way to a sort of tingling numbness. The sort of feeling that happened when a limb fell asleep. It was painful, but not overly so. Nothing quite compared to having her eyes pulled out. Or even the curse from the blade.

As the numbness worked its way up her arms, Eva started trying the same with her legs. Anything to get more feeling in her body.

After a moment or two of working over her fingers, Eva had a thought.

If Ylva had frozen her body, what was the best way to get rid of that ice?

The answer was obviously fire.

Eva ignited her arms and legs.

Warmth poured into her. She didn’t go further than her carapace–the flames would end up going too far and taking her from frozen to extra crispy. A few warming spells around her chest and stomach helped, though not to the same degree.

Still, Eva was quickly regaining her range of motion.

And her hearing.

A buzzing at her ears that slowly grew louder. Shouts, perhaps?

Cries to put it out.

What are they talking about? The fire?

Eva couldn’t put it out. Not before she was thawed.

Casting a heating spell right in the middle of her face seemed like a good idea. If she could hear, maybe she could thaw out her eyes.

Seemed was the key word.

As the heat melted away whatever ice had frozen her eyes shut, Eva’s eyes burned. It was not the tingling numbness in her limbs. It was shards of ice digging into her eyelids and the flesh of her eyes.

It was not melting fast enough.

Eva strained through it with clenched teeth. She pulled her eyelids open with as much might as she could gather.

Which wasn’t all that much. For as strong as her hands and legs might be–and even the parts of her that were human–eyelids were not very powerful muscles.

Thin strips of light widened until Eva could see again despite that lack of strength.

Eva found herself staring at the ceiling of the women’s ward common room.

Ylva and Catherine stood over her. Ylva looked as elegant as ever.

Catherine had changed into singed tatters of clothes for some odd reason.

And the couch was on fire.

Eva closed her eyes again and just sat on the cold hard floor. She still felt iced over just about everywhere. Lifting her arm, she cast a few more warming spells all over her body.

Whether or not there was actually ice, she couldn’t tell. At the very least, she didn’t feel like she was lying in a puddle.

After spending a few minutes warming herself, Eva opened her eyes again.

Catherine had skulked off to the side, but Ylva still stood over her.

Eva opened her mouth only to find her jaw stiff. As if she had been clenching her teeth for far too long. Opening and closing her mouth a few times to stretch out her weary muscles, Eva tried to speak again.

“You killed me.”

“Only for a moment.”

Eva blinked, not having expected Ylva to outright admit it. She tried to push herself up. A combination of pain in her back and stiffness in her shoulders and hips kept her from succeeding. Even moving her arms was a chore.

After a moment of failure, Eva let herself flop back down to the floor, lying flat on her back. Her lack of ability to sit up did not detract from the glare she leveled at Ylva.

“You killed me!”

Ylva stared. Her cold eyes looked down at Eva without a shred of regret, remorse, or even sympathy.

It was enough to send a chill up Eva’s still frozen spine.

This woman–this demon was someone who Eva had come to trust. She had slept within the demon’s domain, walked with her on the streets, talked with and sought advice from her on occasion.

Now Ylva looked down with alien eyes devoid of emotion as if she couldn’t understand why Eva might find it alarming that she had just been killed.

“Why?”

“To ascertain the answer to your question.”

Eva would have shaken her head had she the strength to do so. Instead, she settled with merely closing her eyes. This is my fault somehow, isn’t it. Rather than ask a question that Eva was fairly certain she knew the answer to, she just opened her eyes and said, “can we maybe talk about killing me before actually doing so next time? No, wait. Let’s just not kill me next time.”

“There was no danger,” Ylva said with a slight tilt of her head. “We have long suspected that your soul is too corrupt to be gathered by psychopomps and ferried to the Land of Death.”

“That…” Eva actually did shake her head this time. Forcing herself into a sitting position despite the creaking protests of her body, she leaned against the small table.

The couch was still on fire, as were her hands and legs. There wasn’t much left of her skirt either. Eva took a brief moment to channel her magic into the flames, controlling, dampening, and finally extinguishing them.

“What if you were wrong?” Eva turned to Ylva with a glare. “What if I had actually died?”

“There was no danger. Our initial purpose in placing Ourself near you was to investigate the status of your soul. We succeeded in Our task and were not wrong.” Ylva paused for a moment with a blink of her eyes. “Had your soul been uncorrupted, repelling a reaper is a simple matter for a short time. Time enough to restore your body and soul for one such as Ourself.”

Eva stared with her mouth half-open as she processed what Ylva had said. It took another minute for her to figure out anything to say. “There are so many things wrong with what you just said that I don’t even know where to start.”

“We were not wrong,” Ylva repeated.

Eva clamped a hand around her face to keep her from shouting out at Ylva. Offending the servant of Death who could kill with a touch and had done just that was not a good idea. Eva was self-aware enough to realize that.

The disgusting feeling was gone, Eva noted with a certain disconnect. Either Daru was dead or he was done being tortured. Eva was leaning towards the former. She couldn’t feel anything of him. While that had been true for most of the day, Eva doubted that he would have been kept alive for very long.

At least he was out of that pain and suffering.

Despite her speech earlier, Eva couldn’t say how much she cared.

The fact of the matter was that she barely knew Daru. He wasn’t a Catherine or Lucy and was certainly not an Arachne. He wasn’t all dead like Eva’s mortal friends would have been in the same situation. So maybe all the demons had been right.

Though Ylva hadn’t needed to kill her to get the point across. Probably. Maybe being killed had put things into perspective. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and not one she would be eager to try again. Especially not for someone she didn’t know.

A minute of calmly breathing and thinking had Eva feeling much better. Both in terms of the icy stiffness that permeated her body and in terms of dealing with Ylva.

She would be extraordinarily careful in her wording of simple questions in the future. Especially ones relating to dying.

But the question still remained.

“So I’m not going to see Death soon,” Eva started, trying to figure out exactly how she wanted to word her question. “But… neither am I floating in some void with–” With Arachne, she couldn’t help but think. She shook her head, banishing the thought from her mind. “No portal opened around me, right? Or did you stop that as well.”

“Void’s hold over your soul is unstable. He attempted to draw you in, but failed.”

“So… So what happ– Without killing me again, what happens if my head gets chopped off right now?”

“Your soul will stagnate, unable to inhabit your mortal form. Separate from your body, any with a passing knowledge in the subject will be able to collect it. We recommend not dying outside of Our presence or outside of Hell if you wish to continue with your existence as it is.”

Eva shuddered. Was that what the hallway had been? Her disembodied soul trapped until her body had been repaired enough to inhabit it again? Unable to die and yet unable to be claimed by Void. Would she be stuck permanently?

“I hate to interrupt,” Catherine said. “I just got a text from Martina. Apparently one of the demon hunters is marching up to Brakket Academy.” She let out a long and obviously fake sigh. “Prax and I are to return at once, I guess.”

“Is there a need?” Eva stood up, taking a moment to make sure she wasn’t too wobbly. “Zagan should be able to handle anything, right?”

That was the whole purpose behind him sticking with Martina Turner after all.

“I hope so. Fighting is not my thing.”

“Shall we–” Eva started, glancing towards Ylva. She actually flinched back when she met Ylva’s eyes.

“Nel, Zoe, and Juliana are all within the city. We will take steps to protect them.”

“Right.” Eva slapped her cheeks. Ylva isn’t bad, she reminded herself, she just doesn’t think like regular people. “Okay. Let’s go.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.021

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“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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