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Ylva didn’t sleep.

At all.

Zoe wasn’t quite sure what she expected, but she had laid out a fairly fancy bed for the demon. She had a gigantic bed in her domain, after all. Unless that entire thing was solely for Nel.

It wasn’t until the first week had passed that Zoe got any kind of real sleep in. Her time was spent watching Ylva. Waiting for her to do something.

On the first night, Ylva had gone around and inspected seemingly every object in Zoe’s apartment. Some, she would pass by with barely a glance. Others would receive a good amount of attention.

The next night, Ylva watched the television. She didn’t watch any stations, just the television itself. As if she had heard that humans like to watch television but didn’t quite know what that meant.

Zoe tried to turn it on for her the night after that, but Ylva had lost interest.

She moved on to rummaging through the few research documents that Zoe had saved from the fire. The only surviving ring notebook was of particular interest to the demon.

Part of Zoe wanted Ylva to add her own notes to it. She didn’t even comment on them.

A combination of growing accustomed to Ylva’s nightly antics and sheer exhaustion had Zoe falling asleep without much trouble by the weekend.

All except for Halloween night, during which Ylva stood guard. It was as if she expected something to happen. Although she had slept soundly for the previous few weeks, Zoe got no sleep on Halloween.

The entire situation was all so surreal. Even though it had been two and a half months since the attack on her home, she still kept expecting to wake up back in her burning home in the arms of those two demons. Every day that passed was a fresh relief in that department.

And today is another day.

Zoe arched her back and held it in a long stretch. With a long, open-mouthed yawn, she slid out of bed and started unbuttoning her nightshirt.

“Good morning, Ylva,” she said to the little girl sitting on the end of her bed.

Ylva gave her a brief nod in return.

Undressed fully, Zoe tossed her pajamas in the dirty laundry and started towards the shower.

As soon as she touched the door handle, Zoe froze. The feeling of icy water ran down her back. She slowly glanced back to her bed where tiny Ylva sat in one of the dresses they had purchased for her.

“Is something wrong?”

Ylva had never just shown up in her room before. She always waited out on the couch.

“You were thrashing in your sleep. We observed to ensure you did not come to harm.”

“That’s… Thanks, I suppose.”

Zoe pressed her fingers to her forehead and stepped into the shower as she tried hard not to think about her casual undressing in front of Ylva.

Aside from the lingering thought about the demons attacking her home, Zoe didn’t feel very bad. Not like right after it happened. She even felt well rested. No aches or pains in her neck, back, or legs like she might find if she was tossing and turning.

Ylva might have done something, but Zoe didn’t think her abilities extended into dream management.

Zoe shut off the hot water and dried off. Moving to the mirror, she ran a comb through her hair–it would dry in her preferred style. A quick dusting of hairspray after breakfast would keep it in place for the day. She only applied the bare minimum of makeup. She could never understand her old roommates and their need to sit in front of the mirror for hours on end.

There were only twenty-four hours in a day and a third of that was spent sleeping. Spending an hour or two more on makeup was simply inconceivable.

Then again, she was the only one of her old dorm mates to still be unmarried.

“Ylva,” Zoe called out as she finished suiting up, “are you ready to head out?”

“We are prepared.”

Zoe walked out into her room to find Ylva standing beside the bed. It hadn’t been made before Zoe got in the shower, but now it was nicely smoothed out and tucked in.

One thing she couldn’t complain about was the demon’s propensity for cleanliness. Any time Zoe left something for later, she found it tidied up. Dishes, clothing, and the bed of course.

Placing her hand on Ylva’s shoulder, Zoe teleported the two of them straight to her office. Unlike Eva, Arachne, and even Zagan, Ylva was not bothered by the trip through between. Something to do with her natural affinity for cold.

At least, that would be Zoe’s best guess. She hadn’t devoted much time to researching that particular aspect of Ylva and she hadn’t asked.

The bell signaling the five-minute warning before class started for the day echoed through her office.

Today is another day, Zoe thought with a sigh as she opened up her classroom door.

— — —

Jordan’s eyes turned from his meal. He sat up straight and looked over Eva’s shoulder. His normally gray eyes lit up with burning interest. “An elf?” he all but squeaked.

Eva set down her fork and turned to follow his gaze. She wasn’t very interested in eating the breakfast burrito anyway. It wasn’t even breakfast.

Sure enough, an elf wandered into the lunchroom alongside a glasses-wearing-man. Both wore silver patches on the sides of their shirts identifying them as members of Martina Turner’s new security force. Eva had seen the glasses guy around on a few occasions over the past few days, but it was her first time seeing the rumored elf. She even had a chance to meet the two ‘specialists’ that were creeping around the halls.

He had his long platinum hair–that couldn’t hold a candle to Ylva’s own–drawn back into a ponytail. Eva couldn’t be sure from across the room, but his lips and eyebrows seemed to be drawn on. They were too smooth and held no depth.

Eva gave a small shudder. The more she looked, the more alien the elf appeared. His eyes were too wide and his nose too small. His lanky arms stretched just too long.

It was silly, she knew. Arachne had eight eyes and had plated carapace covering her instead of skin. Ylva was a giant. Neither had ever disturbed her like the elf.

“Wow,” came the soft voice of Shalise.

Eva turned to find Shelby, Juliana, and Shalise all in open-mouthed stares. They obviously did not agree with her assessment. Several students in Eva’s peripheral vision had also noticed the elf.

She met the eyes of a sighing Irene and for the barest of moments, they had an understanding. The moment was lost as she averted her eyes.

Giving a sigh of her own, Eva looked back to her other friends. “You’re gawking,” she said to nobody in particular.

“And I don’t even care,” said Shelby without breaking her stare.

Jordan had the decency to cough and look away. “I’ve never seen an elf before.”

Eva frowned. “You didn’t act half as starstruck when I told you my little secret.”

“Well, we had already seen Arachne and your hands before you said anything. The shock was dampened.”

Eva rolled her eyes. “Is an elf really all that shocking? I mean, it isn’t like humans are barred from entering their little communities.”

“True. But seeing one outside their hives? Definitely surprising. Leaving is some sort of stigma unless they were ordered to for the purpose of strengthening the hive.”

Eva glanced back over at the elf. He and the other security guard chatted quietly amongst themselves while gathering a plateful of burritos. The conversation seemed very one-sided with the elf doing most of the talking. By the time the two took their seats at a table, Eva hadn’t counted the glasses guard moving his lips more than twice.

At least they’re not hovering around the room giving me the evil eye, Eva thought as she turned back to Jordan. “And that one isn’t ordered to protect the village?”

Jordan gave Eva a flat stare. “He’s working as a security guard for a human school,” he said in a voice just as flat.

“Point taken.”

“But I suppose they aren’t all that interesting. They’ve got a basic human organ system with slightly denser bone and muscle groups, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Their inherent magical properties are interesting, but ultimately not too unique.”

“You can take a breath of air every now and again,” Eva said with a smile. “Where did you learn all this?”

“Oh,” his own smile slipped for a moment before it returned in full force. “My parents have amassed a collection of books that might rival the combined libraries of Brakket, Miskatonic, Dunholm, and Vincent. It might be impossible to read them all in my lifetime, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.”

Eva nodded. That was a respectable endeavor. She had her own pile of books she was working through.

The necromancy books she had acquired were far less interesting than she was hoping for. Eva had no real desire to kill people and bind their souls into ghosts. Zombies were even less appealing. That Ylva would likely object to most everything in those books didn’t endear her to them any further.

All in all, it was largely a waste of time. She planned on finishing the introduction to soul binding–the process of affixing spirits to items in order to create all kinds of nasty effects–and then switch back to her studies into blood magic. The rest of the books could rot in her library until she found a better use.

There were certain rituals she wanted to get into. Eva knew a few, the cleansing that she used on Shalise first and foremost. Another could be used to bolster a group’s general toughness and strength. The set up time and amount of blood required were not exactly feasible for that one. The ritual had been designed for large armies with sacrificial slaves for a boost in a coming battle. Her wards were technically considered a ritual, but it didn’t exactly act like it.

What she was really interested in was something that Sawyer had mentioned. As much as she tried not to remember, the surprise he expressed when Eva failed to simply reattach her detached toes had not escaped her. An ability to pull herself back together if she ever found herself in such a situation again would be invaluable.

Not that Eva had any intentions of allowing that to happen.

The ringing bell signaling the end of lunch broke Eva out of her thoughts.

Everyone started moving. Those who still had food left on their plates quickly ate. Eva didn’t. She tossed the remains of the burrito into a nearby trash bin. Max would have been appalled, but he had not sat with their group for a week or two.

Eva felt somewhat responsible for that. She didn’t think he had been too freaked out by her little reveal, not as much as Irene was, but maybe it just needed time to sink in. One day, Max worked on a history report with one of the other students in class. She slowly saw less and less of him until he stopped sitting with them completely.

Arachne already threatened to tear out his spine if he ever said a word. By all appearances so far, he hadn’t.

Conversely, Irene was much happier. She smiled a whole lot more–though never in Eva’s direction. The girl hadn’t missed a beat in claiming Max’s seat next to her sister. She barely acknowledged Eva’s presence, but at least she hadn’t run off.

As Eva’s thoughts drifted to the girl, so did her eyes. For the second time in an hour, Irene met her gaze. If that alone wasn’t enough cause her eyebrows to creep up her forehead, Irene cleared her throat.

“Um, can I talk to you for a second?”

“Sure,” Eva said with what was hopefully a kind smile.

Irene held her gaze for another second or two before she glanced off to some point over Eva’s shoulder. As if looking at her directly would be painful. After a moment of standing there, she gripped Eva by the upper arm and pulled her off to a corner of the room.

Eva gave Juliana a shrug as she allowed herself to be dragged off.

“What did you need?”

“Nothing, really. I just wanted to make sure you knew. The girl over there, the one with all the stitches. She’s been staring at you.”

Rather than turn her head, Eva looked through her sense of blood. The blended girl had her eyes directly on the side of Eva’s head. Her companion seemed wholly engrossed with his meal, apparently unconcerned with the bell having rung.

“That isn’t entirely unexpected,” Eva said with a nod. “I was fairly cruel to her after she… well,” Eva lifted her hand in the air.

Irene flinched back.

Eva immediately dropped her arm behind her back. “Sorry.”

“No. No. I’m fine. I just,” she slowly tuned her gaze to Eva’s other side. “It isn’t just today. She’s been staring–glaring even–for weeks. Every time I look around, her, her mismatched eyes are just there.”

She ran a hand through her hair, leaving short, brown strands out of place on the side of her head.

“Irene,” Eva said, forcibly restraining herself from reaching forwards. “Are you alright?”

“I just… You, and her, and Jordan, and regular school, and Professor Lurcher being gone, and Professor Baxter’s injuries, and–”

“Irene. Let’s go sh–swimming.” Eva almost said shopping. She managed to stop herself just in time. It was her first instinct to say, but shopping was not on the list of things she was very interested in. “Or the hot springs.”

“What?” She actually looked up straight into Eva’s eyes. Her eyes darted from left to right, looking into each of Eva’s eyes. By the fifth pass, she seemed to realize what she was looking at. Irene took a step backwards and averted her eyes again.

“You’re stressed out.” A whole lot more than Eva originally thought. “When was the last time you did anything that wasn’t schoolwork or worry about the people around you?”

“I don’t–”

“Come on.” Eva put on her kindest smile. “Just you and me. I’m not going to hurt you. We can just swim or relax in the pool. We don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to.”

“Right now?”

“If we go now, you can’t think about it. You don’t have time to worry and get stressed out about it.”

“We have class.”

“Professor Carr won’t mind if you explain that stress was getting to you. Neither will Zoe. And it isn’t even lying.”

“I don’t know…”

“I do.” Eva held out her hand.

This time, Eva did not withdraw when Irene took a step backwards. Eva did ensure the sharp tips of her fingers were all folded inwards. All the while, Irene’s eyes stayed glued to the claw.

They stayed frozen as the lunchroom cleared around them. Irene’s heart rate picked up as time wore on. Just as she started to reach her hand out, the bell rang.

They were late to class.

Rather than give Irene the opportunity to second guess herself, Eva reached out and grabbed the partially extended hand.

Irene let out a small ‘eep’ as Eva started dragging her away from their classroom.

“I-I don’t even have a swimsuit.”

Eva grinned. “Neither do I.”

— — —

Nel took a deep breath of the frankincense filled air. She much preferred the steamy air of Lady Ylva’s baths–even with the revelation that she had been spied upon since she got there–but she had a job to do.

It wasn’t even a difficult job. Quite the opposite, really. A mix between monotonous and relaxing. Nel had overworked herself to the point of passing out after the demons attacked.

Lady Ylva had been very clear afterwards that she was never to do something so foolish again. Her property was to be kept in good, working order. An unconscious augur was an unproductive augur.

Warm feelings fluttered around Nel’s stomach every time she realized that Lady Ylva actually cared. If in her own, slightly twisted way. Nel had a feeling that she would be worked as hard as or harder than Sister Cross had Eva been in charge of her.

So, Nel slowly and very relaxedly cycled through her fetters. She wasn’t even doing it every hour. Especially not while the children were at school. They were all together and Lady Ylva was right there with them.

A strand of platinum hair drifted over in front of Nel as her master crossed her mind.

Lady Ylva sat at her own table in the back of a classroom. Her head rested on an upraised fist as she slouched back in the chairs. An almost perfect recreation of the pose she had on her large throne; all except for the fact that her tiny legs didn’t quite reach the floor. They just kind of dangled in the air.

Nel wished she possessed the kind of impulsiveness required to just up and hug the little girl.

Zoe Baxter was in the same room as Ylva, teaching, so Nel skipped over that strand of hair.

Arachne and Genoa were out fighting. Again. Nel rolled her eyes. The first few days, she had been glued to watching them. Their fights were very flashy and interesting, but quickly dulled as Nel realized there wasn’t much actual danger. Neither had managed to kill each other. Nel suspected they both were holding cards in their sleeves just in case they ever had to actually fight one another.

Genoa’s daughter sat with Sister Cross’ daughter in a different class. History by the looks of the textbook.

An empty seat at Juliana’s side gave Nel pause. Her breath hitched as a long, black hair moved into position.

Nel let out a small sigh. She’d been worried for nothing. Eva looked extremely relaxed in a large pool of steaming water. Her eyes were shut and she had a faint smile on her face as she rested her head against a headrest set outside the pool.

Eva’s companion looked distinctly less relaxed. The girl, who Nel vaguely recalled seeing around Eva on occasion, had her knees to her chest and her arms wrapped around herself beneath the surface of the water. Only her head above her nose poked out. Her eyes darted between the ceiling, Eva, and the door to the room.

It was somewhat maddening. She was squandering the fairly impressive hot springs of their dorms. Not as impressive as Lady Ylva’s bath, of course.

Nel had half a mind to go and take her own bath right then and there. She restrained herself with no small amount of reluctance.

Her final fetter–a vial of blood that was heavily coagulated despite the preservative vial–drifted over in front of Nel. Eva wouldn’t be able to make use of such a decayed sample, but Nel didn’t use haemomancy.

The boy attached to the fetter was disturbing as always. He had a blank, vacant gaze that Nel normally attributed to victims of spectral possession. That Ylva had been in the same room and hadn’t obliterated the ghost was the only reason Nel second guessed herself about the boy’s condition.

That it probably wasn’t a ghost didn’t make it any less unnerving.

Nel blinked one set of eyes. He wasn’t in a classroom. Or the Brakket dorms. The floor had orange, interlocking hexagons with red hexagons in the center. Featureless white walls separated numbered doors. A hotel?

The little girl that never left the boy’s side was absent.

Nel detached her vision from the fetter and moved outside the hotel. The town didn’t appear to be Brakket. The roads were all different and it was missing the lake and Brakket Academy itself. It was not missing the mostly deserted feeling.

Back inside the hotel–and it was a hotel albeit a small one–Nel peeked into one of the rooms.

Her heart skipped three beats.

Three things sat in the room. One had sharp razors for arms. They hung in front of him like scythes. Another was a bird of some sort. At least, it had the wings and beak of one. Nel wasn’t sure it would be able to fly without a heavy dose of magic. The third looked like someone had literally stapled Arachne’s black chitin to its body.

With some morbid curiosity, Nel checked the next room. Four creatures, all similar to the first three. The next room only had two. Then six.

Nel stopped and focused back on the boy’s fetter.

He wasn’t in the hotel. The boy stood on the street between the two Brakket dorm buildings. A scowling, patchwork woman stood in front of him.

An army of monsters stood at his back.

Nel bolted, ignoring the fetters that fell out of the air. She ran out of her private clairvoratorium and around the massive hole in the throne room. Her hand froze as it touched the ornate handle leading out of Lady Ylva’s domain.

The Order was surely looking for her, at least cursory glances, if not active searches. They would not abide a rogue augur. Especially not one as ‘compromised’ as Nel.

Nel bit her lip and made her choice.

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Martina smiled as she looked over the assembled guards. Her office was somewhat crowded. It was never the largest room, even if it was the highest office at Brakket. Having herself, Zagan, two demons, three mage-knights, and an elf made it feel very small indeed.

The elf wasn’t her idea. He was some child elf that heard about Lurcher. Upon learning about the hiring of security, he applied. The school’s administrators approved. He was eager to make a name for himself defending human school children or some other foolish plan.

Martina didn’t anticipate many problems from him. He had yet to notice the three demons standing in the room.

Neither had two of the mage-knights for that matter. One had only just earned her pin. Fresh out of the guild. She only graduated from Brakket itself two years ago. Those two did not fill Martina with much confidence.

The oldest mage-knight had noticed Zagan at least. He kept shooting wary glances in the demon’s direction. It was highly likely that he had worked with or perhaps against demons in the past. Either that or he simply felt the power that Zagan was only barely containing.

Neither of the two demons were Martina’s first choice in that department. They were, however, agreeable in temperament and both had the ability to fully disguise themselves as a human.

One, a morail, was an expert in stealth. While not exceptionally strong on his own, he didn’t need to be in order to walk around slitting everyone’s throat. If he did not wish to be found, Martina would be relying on Zagan to bypass his abilities.

The other was normally an unshaped mess of toxic tentacles capable of crushing a car. The mass of limbs compressed itself into a brightly smiling female form and had used its natural camouflaging ability to appear human. A mildly sweaty human, but most of that would be covered by the thick cloaks both demons wore.

“Brakket Academy,” Martina said, “has had a troublesome last year. This year is shaping up to be no different. You all signed up to protect this school and the children attending. If any of you thought this would be a cushy job with easy money, you can get out right now.”

None of the security force moved. Good.

“I thought I would mention some goings on, in case you were unaware. One last chance to back out.

“Last year, necromancers set hordes of zombies loose to indiscriminately kill townspeople and students. They then proceeded to kidnap and experiment on one of our students. One necromancer was killed by the aforementioned kidnapped student. The Elysium Order showed up and scared the remainder off. They then made a right mess of things. They had some monster hunting down their order. They brought their battles into the school, injuring students and ultimately inciting a riot in the town.

“It gets worse. This year, we have evidence that a pair of demons, a carnivean and a jezebeth if that means anything to you, assaulted two of our instructors. While they were both killed, the original summoner is both at large and unknown.

“If that doesn’t sound like things you can handle, please leave and let us fill your slot with someone who can.”

Martina fell silent and waited. Once again, no one moved.

“Good. These two,” Martina said, gesturing towards the two black-cloaked demons, “are our specialists. If there is anything you feel you cannot handle, call one of them immediately. Especially in any matters you believe might be demonic in nature. They are listed in your cellphones as Daru and Lucy.”

The morail harrumphed. He had expressed displeasure towards his nickname. Daroth simply wasn’t suitable. While not exclusive to demons, the ending on his name was too common for Martina to be comfortable using it.

Giggles, or perhaps gurgles, erupted from the axopodia. They cut off quickly enough as Zagan casually turned to look at her.

Martina suppressed a frown. She… might need more lessons in being a human.

It couldn’t be helped. She had never been around people before in any capacity. If it wasn’t for Zagan, she might never have been summoned. Ever. Her eagerness to interact with humans was a major redeeming factor. It was curiosity in a new environment and not the ‘how many ways can I murder them’ kind of curiosity that most demons possessed.

Clearing her throat, Martina continued her speech. “Several of the staff at Brakket have histories in combat and may be called upon in emergencies. The combat capable staff have been entered into your phones with an asterisk before their names.”

Martina gestured towards the oldest mage-knight. “Gregory Lavero will be your primary coordinator. He draws up all schedules and partnerships. If you have an issue or need to change anything, speak to him.

“Any questions?”

The youngest mage-knight, Eleanore Lorre, lifted one of her hands into the air.

Martina had to try hard to avoid rolling her eyes. They weren’t in school anymore. Well, they weren’t students anymore. “Yes?” she said with a nod in the girl’s direction.

“You said demons, right?” Her voice came out with a slight tremble. Nervousness at demons or perhaps nervousness at her first job. Both were understandable.

“That is correct,” Martina said.

Eleanore flinched back slightly.

Her voice may have come out terse and clipped, but the girl should have been paying attention. Martina did not mind a few nerves showing at the mention of demons. It was healthy even. Failing to pay attention was significantly less healthy.

“Is there any dossier on what we can expect, strategies, and the like?”

Martina softened her face. “That is a good question.” Much better than what she had been expecting. “Apart from our two specialists, Rex Zagan,” she gestured to her side, “is something of an expert in demonic matters. He will be giving a full report on everything we know so far and will be happy to answer any questions you might have.”

“I’ll bet he’s an expert,” Gregory mumbled.

It probably wasn’t meant for her ears, but Martina couldn’t let that go. “Are we going to have a problem, Gregory?”

“So long as things remain smooth and in control, I don’t care.”

“Good. We’ll have no issues. Other questions?”

The elf stepped forwards after a moment of silence. His voice hummed out from the back of his throat, giving him a much deeper voice than his appearance would suggest. “Are there problematic students we need to watch out for?”

Martina raised an eyebrow. She had expected the topic of demons to dominate any questions. “Zagan, being one of our professors, will be able to give you a rundown on most students. The staff has been more than adequate at maintaining order, but if you see a fight break out or anything similar, intervene. Don’t hurt the students, obviously, but stop the fight. You can report students for discipline to myself or any professor.”

The elf nodded and moved back in line with the mage-knights.

“Anything else?”

Martina looked pointedly at the spectacled man standing among the mage-knights. Of all of the new hires, she had a read on him the least. Fredrick Hatter spoke only when spoken to during the interview and in very short sentences at that. His name came with a myriad of recommendations, so Martina had no cause to actually turn him down.

He didn’t respond. Neither did any of the others.

“Very well. Zagan will further brief you on the situation in the staff meeting room.”

“Follow me,” Zagan said, sounding extremely bored, “we’ll get everything sorted out, yeah?”

Everyone filed out after him, including the two demons. They’d already been briefed on everything and more that wasn’t going to be revealed to the regular security force. Their purpose in Zagan’s meeting was simply for the appearance of solidarity among the new hires.

Martina started to turn back to her desk–and the endless supply of work it seemed to conjure up–but stopped when she noticed Gregory hadn’t moved to follow Zagan.

“I thought we weren’t going to have an issue,” she said.

“That doesn’t make my curiosity go away.”

Martina frowned. She’d already considered letting the guards know about the demons running around and had dismissed the idea. Gregory had already found out. She made a swift decision.

“There are currently six demons allied with Brakket Academy. Two of which are not directly under my contracts. My secretary, Catherine, is a lesser succubus and my familiar. Zagan. Just Zagan, no species. Both of the specialists, a morail and an axopodia.

“The two not under my direct command belong to a student, one who calls herself Eva. Ylva, a daughter of Hel, and Arachne. No species there either. Eva is fond of the professor who was attacked and moved Ylva in to protect her. Arachne stays on Eva’s person at all times.”

He hummed for a moment. “A bonded familiar?”

Martina felt her eyebrows raise. This mage-knight must have more of a history with demons than she initially suspected. “No,” Martina said, “she is her own entity. Zagan believes she is not even a familiar, merely contracted.”

“Temperaments of those two? I assume those contracted with you will not be a problem.”

“They won’t,” Martina said with as much finality as she could muster. So long as Zagan followed her orders, neither of the specialists would be a problem. “No problems from either of Eva’s demons are expected so long as they’re not antagonized. I’ve never met Arachne, but Zagan believes she will violently defend against perceived threats to Eva.”

“And the girl?”

“Happy to attend school. She’s had some problems recently due to her inhuman appearance, but most of that has died down in the past week.”

“So not a ticking time bomb in the middle of a school.”


“Good. You don’t want the others to know?”

Martina paused in thought for a moment. It wouldn’t be feasible to keep it hidden in the long run. Especially with questions that would undoubtedly be asked about Eva’s appearance. “Get to know them and use your own discretion. I’ll leave it up to you.”

“Alright. I can work with that.”

“You seem well versed in demons.”

Gregory shifted his weight to the opposite foot. “I had a gangrel that I summoned on occasion.”

Martina frowned, but otherwise did not say anything. Hellhounds were not something she felt much fondness for. She liked her demons to be smart enough to comprehend orders at the very least.

“He was a decent companion. For a demon. He was crushed in a trap meant for me a few years back.” His shoulders slumped ever so slightly. “I haven’t been able to summon him since.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Martina said as she tried to keep her expression neutral. A companionship with a hellhound? Unheard of. “If it makes you feel better, the demon is not dead. They have to reassemble themselves, for lack of a better word. A demon of Zagan’s power could accomplish that in a few days, but non-sentient demons could take thousands of years.”

Gregory drew the obvious conclusion. “And Toto was probably not very powerful.”

Martina pressed her lips together. She carefully got herself under control before even attempting to speak. “If there’s nothing else, you should attend Zagan’s briefing. He will be unhappy at having to repeat himself.”

“Of course,” he said. He left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Martina stood stock still for another minute before she finally moved around her desk and slid into her chair. With well-practiced movements, she retrieved the bottle of Hellfire and poured herself a tall glass.

Even through the burning pain, Martina struggled to contain her laughter.

— — —

It didn’t take long for the student body to notice the now omnipresent security force hanging around every hallway. There were whispers and rumors about each member of the team, as per anything new in Brakket Academy. The place had so little news that anything could become the flavor of the month for discussions.

The elf was easily the most discussed member of security among the female population. Eva hadn’t even seen the thing in person yet. She’d sensed its blood as it walked by a classroom, but nothing more.

Their presence did not actually change much. Brakket wasn’t a violent school. There were a lot more fights at Eva’s old middle school in a week than there had been all last year.

Unless Eva counted all the business with necromancers and nuns.

What did change was the amount of attacks against Eva between classes. While walking around with Ylva had temporarily stopped the harassment on the basis that Ylva was intimidating, the students quickly reverted to slinging mud balls in the halls.

The security force, on the other hand, had given detention to two separate groups that had been harassing Eva. After that, the rest got the hint. She still got glares or the occasional whispered comment under someone’s breath.

Nothing she couldn’t handle, but it was good that they had ceased. Arachne would probably have killed half of them in their sleep had they continued.

Well, she would have if she were around. Arachne spent most days at the prison, fighting Genoa.

Eva didn’t have much problem with that. Especially since Arachne, while she didn’t outright lose, didn’t seem to win. The training could only be good for her.

But Arachne’s absence did lead to an interesting predicament. One she was certain would have been resolved with much blood and disembowelment with Arachne around.

“So, spill the beans,” the sixth year student who hadn’t bothered to introduce himself said. “What are you? I know half-breeds and you’re nothing like them. What kind of a monster spawned you?”

Eva sighed, wondering how she managed to get maneuvered into a corner. Juliana and Shalise were nowhere to be seen, but it wouldn’t surprise Eva if some other students had pulled them away as they had done to her.

“I was born human. Through a series of experiments, I don’t think I qualify anymore. But,” Eva said before they could comment, “none of those experiments altered my hands, eyes, or legs.

“Thanks to a certain necromancer, I had fingers and toes cut off with a rusty, dull knife. It took hours. I was awake, conscious, and given no painkillers. The rusty blade hacked and sawed away until I could see bone, then it hacked and sawed more until it broke away.”

Not true, but close enough. Their imaginations would be much worse than reality. Eva proceeded to describe the removal of her eyes mostly without exaggeration. Not a memory she liked revisiting, but the steadily sickening pallor of her harassers made it all worthwhile.

If they decided that the necromancers were the cause of the experiments, all the better.

“A short time later, I had my hands removed and replaced by what you see now. Legs as well. Found the eyes later, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth just because they’re red. Do you know how hard it is to see without eyes?”

Eva couldn’t help but smile at her little joke. It wasn’t a big smile, but apparently it rankled the sixth year’s nerves.

“Freak,” he spat. He looked back towards his cronies and jerked his head away. Soon enough, they had vanished around a corner.

Eva sighed again. So much for the ‘I suffered through having limbs violently removed’ plan. She squared her shoulders and continued towards her next class.

Botany with Professor Kines. Outside in the Infinite Courtyard’s greenhouse. Through the cold.

At least it hasn’t snowed yet, Eva thought as she cast a quick warming spell on herself.

She’d initially been reluctant to switch over to a thaumaturgy spell over the heating runes she’d used the previous year. But Eva couldn’t deny its effectiveness. It kept her warm and didn’t even take an hour of drawing out symbols. If all of her rune effects could be replaced, she could easily see why they were no longer used.

There were wards for anti-scrying, wards for putting people to sleep, and enchanted objects that could project lightning among other things. Whether or not there were spells that could replace the emotion manipulating rune systems she’d developed at the end of last year, Eva wasn’t sure.

Zoe might know, but Eva had been somewhat reluctant to bring that incident up with the professor. Partially because Zoe had been disappointed with her about the riot, but also because Eva didn’t want to find out that her hours and hours of effort could have been replaced by a simple wave of her hand.

Outside, Eva caught sight of Jordan, Irene, and Shelby. Or the backs of their heads at least.

Sprinting, lightly, to catch up, Eva pulled alongside Jordan.

He gave Eva a nod, Shelby put on a smile. Irene gave a wary look, but didn’t pull away to put space between them.

Good! Progress, Eva thought with only a small amount of sarcasm.

Glancing around the rest of the students moving towards the greenhouse, Eva found herself disappointed at the lack of either of her friends.

“Have you guys seen Shalise or Juliana?”

“Not since lunch,” Jordan said. “Lose them?”

“Something like that.”

It was somewhat worrying. She had been pulled away and harassed. Eva felt quite confident in her mental ability to ignore or otherwise shrug off the attacks of mere hu–

Eva shook her head. That thought had come out of nowhere.

–of her fellow schoolmates.

But if those schoolmates were harassing her friends…

“Anything the matter?”

“I don’t think so,” Eva said. She stopped moving and glanced back towards the school. “I’m going to go look for them.”

“They might already be at class,” Shelby said. “Might as well check there first.”

Eva cracked her neck from one side to the other.

She had a point.

“Alright,” Eva said as she resumed walking.

“So, any plans for Halloween?”

“We’ve been kind of avoiding the subject. I imagine Shalise will be wanting to stay inside for the most part. Personally, I’ll be spending some time with Arachne.”

“That’s understandable,” Jordan said with a glance over towards Irene. “I think we’ll be mostly staying inside as well. The party wasn’t that great last year anyway. Aside from all the zombies, that is. Maybe we could meet up like we did at Christmas.”

“They haven’t been staying at the dorms,” Irene blurted out. She had the decency to look embarrassed as she glanced off to one side.

“We could stop by, I doubt it would be much of a problem.” Though Genoa might insist on coming as well.

“Cool,” Jordan said. “I’ll see if Max will swing by as well. He might have made other plans with his other friends. I’m not sure.”

They walked into the greenhouse a moment later. Eva was relieved to find both her friends in their usual spots. Shalise noticed and waved, returning Eva’s own wave.

Max was not in his usual spot. Eva might not have even noticed had Jordan not mentioned him just before they got in.

He wasn’t at lunch with them earlier either.

Odd, but none of her concern.

Eva was just glad she didn’t have to go beating up older students to find her friends.

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