Tag Archives: Srey

010.028

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The sky burst into flames.

Catherine couldn’t help herself. Despite the mild danger of being stuck in an almost hypnotic trance should she stare at the massive eye overhead, she looked up.

Burning meteors raced towards the eye from the edges of the shimmering portals. One impacted one of the molten teardrops. Rather than be forced down towards Earth, it continued straight towards the eye, neither stopped or slowed. Everywhere one of the meteors hit, the eye caved inwards. Like a giant bed sheet with bowling balls dropping on top of it.

Plumes of flames burst forth from the impacts.

Less than a minute after Eva disappeared and it already looked as if the world truly was ending.

Though, Catherine didn’t find herself all that concerned. This had been the plan. Probably. Had it occurred when she wasn’t expecting something to happen, Catherine might have worried a little. But Eva said that something would happen and something had happened.

So she turned on her heel. Srey stood there, still staring at the spot where Eva and the avatar had vanished. Unlike Eva, Catherine had a feeling that she knew what had shaken the other demon so.

It was all she could do to pretend nothing had changed.

During Eva’s initial ritual to corrupt the Avatar of Life with the Avatar of Void, she had gone been between the two avatars. And that had not left her unscathed.

Unscathed was probably the wrong word to use. It implied that something bad had happened to Eva. By all appearances, Eva hadn’t been distressed in the slightest. No. She had changed. In a few short minutes, she had gone from feeling like a miniature Zagan to eclipsing him so completely and thoroughly that Catherine had thought she had witnessed the birth of a new Power. For a moment. Further thought revealed the truth.

Obviously Eva hadn’t become a new power. She had only absorbed a sliver of a sliver of a Power. Just because Catherine had trouble distinguishing the feeling between Eva and the Avatar of Void before it had vanished did not mean that Eva had become such a thing.

Of course not.

How silly.

And yet, Catherine couldn’t help but wish that she had been the one to propose that plan. If she had just been the one to suggest that she stand between them while Eva performed a standard treatment from outside the circle… Catherine shivered just thinking about it.

The ritual circle was well and truly ruined. The hunter hadn’t cared about destroying it in the slightest. Neither had Eva or anyone else for that matter. It would be completely unusable should anyone try. Worse than merely fail, it would probably explode. Violently at that. Catherine did not want to be on this continent when that happened.

But it was unlikely that anyone would be able to gather up six humans and six demons and try to start it anytime soon. Zoe had mentioned wanting to destroy it and all records of how to construct it once they had finished.

Not a bad plan. It would certainly keep those humans who liked to meddle in things they shouldn’t from setting off another apocalypse.

Catherine had a feeling that she wouldn’t be deleting her copy from her phone. It was far too valuable. Perhaps not this century, perhaps not even the next, but one day, Catherine would redo this ritual. Not the whole thing. She had no desire to summon up Life. Just the Avatar of Void.

Of course, the ritual would need to undergo some changes. When the avatar had first formed fully, it had gone around to sniff at each and every participant in the ritual. Never before had Catherine felt such a sensation of impending doom.

Yet nothing had happened.

Unless she made some changes, she had a feeling that such would not be the case in any future rituals of the same type. What she needed was an inert avatar, much like it had become after the ritual had been interrupted. Perhaps after running one or two such rituals of that type, she would feel hearty enough to try with an avatar that was not inert.

Catherine shuddered again. Maybe after one or two hundred inert avatar treatment rituals.

Yes. That was a good plan. The century or two she planned to wait just to ensure that everyone save for Eva and the other demons were dead might actually be mandatory given how many modifications she would need to make. Everything in the ritual circle to do with Life could be safely stripped out. Then she needed either a way to turn the avatar inert without it being a fluke or a modification to summon only inert essence.

Much much to do. But she had time. All the time in the world, in fact.

For the moment, she had another ritual circle to go inspect.

Catherine just about teleported herself when she hesitated. “Srey,” she said, glancing to the stunned demon, “remain here. Ensure no one attempts to interfere with this ritual circle unless they mean to demolish it.” When he didn’t immediately respond, she drew on her magic forcing him to look at her. Such a simple thing would have been impossible on another demon not so long ago. What would she be capable of in a few centuries?

“Yes,” he said immediately. “Sorry. I just… with that thing staring at me.” He tremor ran through his whole body before he shook his head. “And was that demon really the same demon we’ve been helping for the past several months?”

“Don’t get any smart ideas,” Catherine said with a curl of her lips. “The day is not yet over, be vigilant. If there are any surprises, come find help.” She glanced over towards the edge of the circle. “And keep an eye on that nun. If she’s still alive. I don’t know if Eva wants her alive for some reason, so I recommend not killing her without due cause.”

“Of course.”

Catherine couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle as she teleported back to the main Brakket Academy building.

Now to find Devon.

— — —

Go take a rest, Eva had said. Take a rest indeed.

How was she supposed to rest when the town was under siege? Every one of those meteors—accompanied by the occasional lightning bolt—spawned another dozen of the enigmas. None of them had hit the ritual circle, so no one there really knew.

Though Genoa had to admit, she had been in far less restful battles. In fact, this might as well be a vacation for her. Juliana was doing a good portion of the work.

Watching her daughter walk down one of the streets of Brakket City while enigmas of varying size, shape, and material—not all of them were fleshy, they had passed one almost entirely made of stone not long ago—turned inside out around her was somewhat disconcerting. Juliana didn’t even have to move a hand. She just looked at them. Boom, inside out enigma.

Disturbing hardly seemed a big enough word. Genoa couldn’t even begin to categorize the feelings running through her as she watched Juliana turn around with a mournful smile.

“So that’s how it is,” Juliana said, a note of finality in her voice. Like she was absolutely certain that she was about to be disowned or something equally ridiculous. She turned away from the most recently inverted enigma with a shudder, looking rather sick.

Genoa couldn’t really blame her. She had never been able to handle such things. It was a wonder she hadn’t fainted outright.

“I can see why you said that you would be fine on your own,” Genoa said as she wrinkled her nose at the last in a long line of twisted monsters. Juliana had insisted that they would do more work saving the town if they split up. Obviously she had been correct. Nothing had sneaked up on Juliana. The one thing that tried ended up just as inverted as everything else. “Can’t you just do that to the entire city at once?”

“Probably. Zagan’s power is finicky though. I don’t want to accidentally kill everyone by messing up.”

“That’s a possibility?”

“Well, yes. Kind of. Zagan listed off a few limitations when he first was showing me how to use his power. One of which was that I cannot directly kill someone. However, turning these enigmas inside out doesn’t directly kill them. They die because they’re inside out.” She paused and scowled at herself. “Or maybe it is directly killing them, but it works on them anyway since enigmas don’t die like normal things. I’ve never actually tried it on a non-enigma.”

“Good. Don’t.”

“Of course not. But that’s a perfect example of how it could be finicky.”

“But if–” Genoa cut herself off as a few rhythmic beeps came from her pocket. Her cellphone. And the default ring tone as well, meaning it wasn’t Zoe, Eva, or anyone else she had programmed in. “Hello?”

“Is this Genoa?” came the rough yet familiar voice.

“Devon?”

“Why does everyone know who I am?”

“We’ve met. I lived at the prison for a few months just a year ago. How could–” Genoa shook her head. “Never mind. Did you need something?”

“You come… highly recommended in the ritual construction industry,” he said, somehow managing to sound extraordinarily sarcastic without changing his gruff tone in the slightest. “I need you back at the Brakket Academy building.”

“I can’t–”

For the second time in half as many minutes, Genoa cut herself off. This time, it wasn’t because of some minor distraction in her pocket. Nor was it because a horde of enigmas had descended on her and Juliana—her daughter took care of everything that came near without any intervention needed on Genoa’s part—but it was because of the sky.

All the clocks said that it should be night-time. Given how early night came in the winter, it should really be pitch black out. Yet there was this ever-present light around everything. Not strong enough to cast any hard shadows around, yet bright enough that no one needed to worry about seeing. Eerie, but not too unusual given that eye overhead, the light it put off, and how bright the edges of the portal were.

If she had thought it was bright before, it was nothing compared to now. The edges of the portal hurt to look at. They turned a brilliant golden-yellow, though the interior remained much the same. Like a perfect solar eclipse. Though that only lasted for a few moments.

Great meteors, completely unlike those that had been falling as teardrops, streaked across the sky, crashing into the eyeball hard enough that Genoa could actually hear it as distant thunder.

“What is that?” she snapped simultaneously to her daughter and to the man over the phone. One had been keeping secrets from her for a long while and might have a clue. The other called just in time to be too convenient.

“Eva’s signal, I presume,” Devon said with a slight grunt, answering before Genoa’s daughter could even open her mouth. His tone hadn’t changed in the slightest. Or, if it had, it sounded bored. “Which means I need you here now. I don’t know if this is a temporary window of opportunity or not.”

Genoa glanced down at her daughter. They were in the very center of the city. Not the farthest possible distance, but Brakket had been built on one edge of the city. A fifteen minute walk, at least. She could blink with her daughter, but that would still take more time than blinking without her.

Her eyes drifted over one of the inverted carcasses and she found herself putting on the same mournful smile that her daughter had on just a few minutes ago.

“I’ll be there in two minutes.”

“Good enough,” Devon said just before the line went dead.

Looking back to her daughter, Genoa put on a confident smile that she didn’t quite feel. “That was a signal from Eva,” she said, pointing a finger overhead.

“I don’t know anything about that. Giant fireballs in the sky were never–”

“No time to talk. I’m heading back to the academy. Can I trust you to stay safe out here?”

“Of course. I told you, I’ll be fine on my own.”

Genoa closed her eyes for just a moment. Juliana was so young and already trying to be independent. Independent with all that demonic magic, at that. When Erich had cut ties with the family, it had been… expected, frankly. The second he graduated, he disappeared. Even before then, he had been distant. Largely Genoa’s fault.

But this wasn’t the same. Juliana wasn’t cutting ties. Independence and abandonment were two entirely separate things.

Genoa would still watch over her. At least until she graduated.

If only to ensure she did not use the demon’s power in the wrong manner.

“Good,” Genoa said, blinking away in an instant before Juliana could respond.

Two minutes, as it turned out, had been an overstatement in the extreme. Genoa finished blinking into the academy’s lobby a mere thirty seconds after she left.

— — —

Devon stared at the ground. The lightshow growing more and more intense over his head did nothing to distract him.

His design had gone from an inconceivable null in his mind before realizing what had happened to plans in his head to a full sketch in less than six hours. In all his life, he couldn’t recall having made a ritual circle in such a short amount of time. From design to construction, his rituals normally took several weeks at minimum while he went over all possible variables.

To say he was mildly nervous about this current construct would be putting it lightly. Not that he would allow a hint of his feelings to show on his face. Even having it looked over by Catherine in the few minutes it took for the earth mage to arrive did little to assuage his concerns.

He merely watched the earth mage work with a critical eye, pointing out every inconsistency no matter how small. From the depth of one line in comparison to another, the shape of a circle that wasn’t quite circular, an ellipse that was too circular, Devon corrected everything. Everything had to be perfect. Every last little thing, every single tiny microscopic little thing had to go according to his plan.

The earth mage grew more and more impatient with every passing correction. For the life of him, Devon couldn’t figure out why. Did she want the Earth to implode thanks to a crooked line?

Devon gave a sad shake of his head as the woman stepped away from the stone platform.

“Adequate,” he said.

“Adequate,” Genoa repeated in a flat tone of voice. “You rush me over here, making me leave my daughter in the middle of a city infested with those enigma things, and you spend ten minutes micromanaging my casting for adequacy.”

“Yes.” Was that truly hard to understand?

Before the woman could shout at him, which she had obviously been about to do, Catherine cleared her throat. “It’s finished. What now?”

“You remain here,” Devon said. “The ritual is simple enough to activate with an influx of magic. I assume you are capable. I’ll send your phone a message when it is time to activate it.” He paused, turning back to the earth mage. “Despite your performance, we have two more to complete.”

“Two more? Two more with you sitting around pointing out minor scratches in the stone?” She gave a most unladylike groan. “Even Eva’s massive ritual circle didn’t have this many minute details that needed correction.”

“Yes,” he said with a deeper than normal scowl, turning towards Catherine at the mention of Eva’s ritual. “And we can see how well that turned out.” He paused for a moment to point a finger at the raging inferno above the planet. “Can’t we?”

Nobody answered, giving Devon cause to smirk. Foolish Eva. And foolish Catherine. In fact, near everyone was a complete and utter fool, but especially those who had been involved in that ritual project.

“Stay here,” Devon repeated to Catherine. He leaned down and dropped a tiny portion of green flames right in the very center of the ritual. A marker for later. “And you,” he said to Genoa, “come with me. I assume you can blink.”

He knew she could. He had seen her appear in the lobby. So, without waiting for her to confirm her abilities, he stepped away. Slowly at first, to ensure that she knew where he was headed. Once they got going in a straight line, he started stepping as easily as walking. She managed to keep up, surprisingly enough.

The second point for the ritual was roughly half the distance between Brakket City and the prison. The center of the distortion overhead should be in the middle between this unconstructed circle and the one in front of Brakket Academy. Flaring a small bit of green flame in his hand, he followed the top of the flame as it leaned one way or the other until his movements brought him to a point where the tip was straight upwards.

“Here,” he said. “The ritual needs to be rotated exactly sixty degrees.” With a wave of his hand, the green flame lashed out in a thin line. “The central layline should align with this flame.”

With that, he stepped back. The woman scowled for a moment, but eventually got to work.

As it turned out, she was faster than last time. She made about as many errors, but fixed them with less complaining. Leaving the same marker of fire in the center of the ritual circle, Devon started blinking off towards the third spot.

While Genoa got to work, he double-checked his calculations. It was one of the things he actually enjoyed about modern technology. The whole reason he had even purchased a cellphone after watching Eva and her friends use them. They were amazing calculation aids for rituals. Catherine had taken it to an art form with how she drew out the rituals on the phones themselves. Devon still stuck with paper for the most part. His fingers weren’t quite so dexterous as the succubus’.

Catherine’s hands made it look much easier than it actually was when he had tried it.

But for now, he merely checked the trigonometry he had already mentally calculated. Perfect. Of course it was. The angles should all be correct. Some of the positioning was guesswork. He didn’t have an exact location for the boundaries of the tear, but he had included a little leeway in his ritual design.

The second Genoa finished the ritual to his standards, Devon turned away. “Stay here. We will be coordinating with Catherine to start all three circles at the same time.” He stepped away, only to return one step later. “You do know how to initiate a ritual circle, do you not?”

“Of course I do,” the increasingly irritable woman snapped at him. She started to say something else, but Devon didn’t really care how much she was annoyed with his attitude, so he stepped away again.

The moment he returned to the second ritual circle, he whipped out his phone and sent off a few short messages. One to each of his helpers. A mere note asking for confirmation of their readiness. In less than ten seconds, he had received a response from each. So he sent out one more message.

Giving them only two seconds to read it, he knelt down and activated his ritual with a burst of magic.

Three beams of violet light crashed into each other in the middle of the air. Two of which came from far enough away that he couldn’t see their sources. Where they met, a three-sided pyramid formed. One made of pure magic. It twisted in the air, aiming a single point downwards, touching each of the three beams with just the tip, and three points outwards.

From each of the three points, a much thicker beam fired off, crashing into the sky. Or rather, the edge of the portal.

The first rotation carried all three beams in a full circle. It took nearly ten minutes.

The second rotation only took a little over nine minutes and forty seconds.

The third rotation went shorter than that.

The pyramid spun around. Each pass went faster and faster. As it completed passes, the portal overhead shrank. It was barely noticeable after the first few, but by the time ten rotations had been completed, it was impossible to not notice.

Trails of smoke accumulated in the air where the portal made contact with the regular sky. It was… probably harmless. Devon wouldn’t want to breathe it, but he didn’t see why anyone else would be worried.

Devon watched as the pyramid spun faster and faster. Until he couldn’t even tell the difference between the three separate beams. They left such a trail of light behind that it looked like a single cone. Eventually, that cone narrowed down to a thin beam of light.

A pulse of magic formed into a ring that exploded across the sky. Clouds, both natural and the smoke left behind from the tear, rippled as it sliced through them.

But that only lasted a moment.

The pyramid between the three ritual circles underwent a rapid unplanned deconstruction, filling the air with motes of violet colored magic. All of which dissipated into nothingness. Plants bent as an invisible shockwave crashed over them. Devon threw himself to the ground as the air cracked over the top of his body.

He remained still for a minute, ensuring that there wouldn’t be any follow-up blasts. None came. With everything settled down, he got back to his feet and looked around. The sky was whole and unbroken once again, clear of any violet shimmering or massive eyeballs. Though it wasn’t exactly clear. A dark cloud of smoke hung overhead.

Devon gave a faint nod of approval to no one in particular. A job well done if he said so himself. He turned away, stepping rapidly back towards the prison. He had some wards of his own to set up. Defenses—for that ritual wouldn’t have eliminated the enigmas still present on Earth—and possibly something to purify the local air.

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010.002

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“Are you insane?” “That seems pretty ambitious.”

Everyone in the clearing jumped to high alert. Everyone except for Eva. She had seen their followers through her sense of blood. Letting them know what she was up to was something of a risk, but she needed humans for the ritual. People would be finding out sooner or later. Might as well start with those she knew best.

Putting a hand on Arachne’s shoulder to calm her down—she was the only one Eva was really worried about starting anything as neither Vektul nor Srey were fighters and Catherine looked ready to run more than actually fight—Eva walked slightly closer to the ring of trees at the edge of the ritual circle.

“Alright, you might as well come out.”

Eva waited. The two in the woods were hesitating, whispering to each other. But eventually, one dragged the other out.

Serena walked out of the woods hand in hand with Zoe. The vampire looked about as nervous as she always did, which was to say not nervous in the slightest. Zoe, on the other hand, had her lips pressed into a thin line. Perhaps the thinnest Eva had ever seen.

“You knew we were here?”

“Of course I did. You could have just come out. Or asked.”

Zoe glanced down to Serena, frown on her face.

The vampire shrugged. “Hey, don’t look at me. I just said that there was a large ritual circle out here with Eva’s scent all over it. You’re the one who decided to follow them,” she said, nodding towards Eva and Catherine.

With a shake of her head, Zoe looked back towards Eva. “Please tell me you were joking just now.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t,” Eva said with a sad shake of her head.

“But… why?”

“Someone has to try to avert the apocalypse.” Eva pointed a finger upwards as she spoke. She let it hang in the air for a moment before meeting Zoe’s eyes. “No one else is doing anything.”

Zoe clenched her teeth together, pressing her lips into a thin line once again. “I am researching.” She brushed her fingers through her hair. “I know, I don’t have much to show for it. Not yet. But soon. Someday. Eventually. And Sister Cross is working as well. I know that for a fact.”

“She has made about as much progress as you.”

“Well it’s not like there is much existing research to go off. Powers are about as well researched as fairy tales.” She paused, pacing around in a small circle. “Actually, fairy tales are probably the more researched topic.”

Eva did note the dirt around her feet being torn up. One of the shallower lines ran right through her pacing. She took special note to fix it up later. For now, she didn’t say anything and let Zoe pace.

“But summoning a power?” Zoe shook her head. Once again, she ran her hand through her hair. None of it hung down in her face. She still brushed it back anyway, tucking it behind her ear three times before finally settling down. “You can’t think that’s a good idea, can you?”

“Not really. In fact, that was why I brought Catherine here and why I didn’t say anything when you two started following us. I want a second opinion. I want to make sure nobody has better ideas. And I definitely want to ensure that this ritual does what it is advertised to do.” Eva paused and glanced towards Vektul. “Not that I think you’re intentionally distributing false information or anything. I just want to be sure.”

Vektul tilted his head off to one side. After a moment, he just shrugged.

“So I’ve brought you and Catherine here. I’m not good enough to look over a ritual of this scale. Though I have the design memorized, I barely understand what my treatment ritual is doing. Or the first version, anyway. The most recent version is way beyond me. And this,” Eva thumbed over her shoulder, “I haven’t even tried to decipher.”

Turning away for a moment, Eva blinked a short distance across the ritual circle. She picked up a large plastic tub from nearby the unfinished section of the circle and ran straight back to the surprised group. “This,” she said, dropping it at the feet of her waiting companions, “is the designs for the entire ritual circle. Each paper is marked out with a grid identification number. It’s shrunk down, but will still need a fairly sizable room if you want to lay it all out to look at.”

Catherine, who Eva stopped closest to, reached in and pulled out a single binder from the side of the tub that contained finished papers. A plastic divider separated the two halves; the finished side drastically outnumbered the incomplete portion. Catherine leafed through the binder, stopping every now and again at various pages. As she continued to look over it, a frown grew on her face.

After a moment, she carefully replaced the binder before pulling another out. As she looked through it, Serena hopped forward and leaned over the edge. She plucked out her own binder, glanced through it for less than three seconds, shook her head, and handed it off to Zoe as Zoe approached.

“Like I said, it’s shrunk down. You’ll probably not get much from any one paper. And the ones we’ve already finished with have not been sorted properly, so you won’t just be able to pull out the first three binders and have them be in any sort of order.”

“Eva… I–”

“Just think it over. Look at the ritual. Make sure that it isn’t doing anything unwanted. The real circle isn’t finished yet, so there is still some time left. But so far, nothing has really happened. Everyone has stopped trying to summon demons for the most part and there are no domains open on Earth, which probably helps a lot. However, should anything seem like it’s going to happen, we need to be ready.”

“Ready to summon a Power?” Serena said, mimicking Vektul with an overly exaggerated tilt of her head—something Vektul hadn’t stopped doing since Eva had mentioned him. “Seems a bit extreme.”

“Yeah, that’s what everyone says who I explain this to.”

“Who all have you explained it to?” Zoe said with narrowed eyes.

“Present company excluded, Juliana, Irene, and Saija. The two nuns from Isomer know about the ritual circle, but they’re not aware of exactly what it does. I’m planning on telling Shalise. Eventually. Just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Again, Zoe was running her hand through her hair. “I can understand Juliana and the others, even if I’m not too pleased with it. Why do the students from Isomer know?”

“Needed the manpower. The ritual is a huge project after all. And they owed me for a favor.”

“A favor? Wait,” Zoe held up a hand. “No, maybe I don’t want to know.”

“It’s nothing bad. Just me putting them into contact with Ylva.”

“That doesn’t sound like something most people would want.”

Eva shrugged and looked around.

When she had first come out, Zoe had been tense. Now, not so much. Nervous maybe. Not quite ready to run off to Wayne though. Which was something Eva wanted to avoid. Wayne clearly didn’t like her. Zoe did, at least enough to not complain too much about half the things she did. But Eva wouldn’t put it past Wayne to try to destroy the partially complete ritual circle simply to prevent its activation. Not necessarily out of spite, but simply because he wouldn’t believe in her good intentions. Or Vektul’s for that matter.

He would find out eventually. That was the risk in telling Zoe. Frankly, Zoe double checking everything might be worth having to fend off Wayne. Besides, if something big did happen and they lacked other plans, he might be a whole lot more amicable. She just needed to delay until then. Whenever that might be.

Serena, on the other hand, moved away from Zoe. She wandered a short distance away with her hands clasped behind her back, alternating between staring at the ground and the sky. Every so often, she would skip around to find herself in a new point.

Eva wasn’t worried about Serena all that much. The vampire expressed little alarm upon hearing what the ritual was for. She had been standing around Zoe in a manner that Eva would describe as protective—and Eva definitely wasn’t going to assume that she was higher in the loyalty hierarchy than Zoe and Wayne should anything come between them—but that was perfectly understandable when wandering out in the dark with several demons around. Doubly so given how close Arachne had been to jumping for their throats.

Arachne probably would have stopped as soon as she realized who they were, but there wasn’t a real guarantee of that.

Still, her presence did worry Eva slightly. She might not be worried about the ritual or its purpose, but the vampire might still tell Wayne. They were close despite their constant bickering and complaints about each other. Even if she didn’t tell him of her own volition, she would probably answer if he asked.

As for their resident succubus, Eva wasn’t worried in the slightest. Even if Catherine had protests, she was fairly powerless especially when placed next to herself and Arachne. Which wasn’t to say that Eva considered herself on par with Zagan like everyone seemed to say, merely that Catherine would yield if it came down to it. Probably. But that was assuming Catherine had a real complaint.

The way she was flipping through paper after paper, staring at them for a few seconds before moving on made her look more curious than anything. And, as Eva stood watching her, she pulled out a binder she had already replaced in the plastic tub, flapped her wings, and took to the skies. Eva watched her circle around twice before returning. Catherine flipped through the binder and removed one piece of paper, handing it to Eva a moment later.

“Segment F1-3A has an error. You drew a symbol of avarice where a shield of want should have been. They’re similar, but the symbol of avarice lacks these lines,” she said, tracing a finger across the paper. “As does your full-scale design.”

Eva lacked the wings to go up and compare for herself, but she would trust Catherine’s judgment. “I’ll make sure it gets corrected,” she said, slipping the paper into the section of the plastic tub that held portions not yet finished.

“I’d like to take pictures of the ritual circle from above, though I suppose it should wait until morning. My phone’s camera lacks good enough night vision. Even with flash.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Eva said, already feeling much better knowing that Catherine would be looking over it all. Who knew which tiny mistake would be the cause of the entire universe imploding. “Though, do keep it a secret from Devon. I imagine he would freak out.”

“Devon is… quite talented with rituals,” Catherine said as she crossed her arms under her chest. “His input could help.”

There was a hint of respect in her voice. Eva hadn’t really been around the prison much in recent months, but she hadn’t realized that they had done all that much together. Perhaps the occasional ritual circle related question. Apart from that, they lived on opposite ends of the complex. Catherine stayed inside the women’s ward for the most part and Devon had his hollowed out cell block.

“The real question is not whether he could help but if he will help. Working with him, you’ve certainly noticed how curmudgeonly he can act.”

Catherine glanced to the side, making a face. “You could say that I’ve noticed. His temper switches between grudging willingness to help and open hostility at the drop of a hat. Presumably whenever he remembers that I’m a demon.”

That sounds like Devon alright. “But maybe involve him as a hypothetical. That might work. Don’t tell him that the ritual circle is three-quarters done.”

“He’ll probably figure it out.”

“Yeah, so use your judgment. I’ll trust you.”

Catherine shifted; an uncomfortable shift of her weight from one leg to the other. After a moment, she just shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”

Turning to Zoe, Eva stared for just a moment. Unlike Catherine, who was already pulling out another binder to inspect and discard, Zoe had a single paper in her hand that she had been staring at since the start. Really, Eva didn’t know what she was staring at. Any one paper barely showed anything at all. She really needed the bigger picture to get a better idea of the circle. Unfortunately, unlike Catherine, Zoe lacked wings.

Of course, she probably wasn’t really staring at the paper. It was more of a ‘lost in thought’ kind of stare. Her eyes weren’t even moving over the paper. Eva didn’t want to interrupt her thoughts, but she did need to mention Wayne.

So she interrupted anyway.

“Wayne should probably be kept in the dark as well.”

“What?” Zoe blinked twice before shaking her head. “Why?”

“For almost the exact same reason as Devon, if you were listening.”

“Barely.”

“And I don’t think he has the same kind of ritual experience that Devon has, does he?”

Again, Zoe pursed her lips. After a moment, she shook her head. “No. But I will still be telling him. Something of this magnitude…” Zoe ran her fingers over the top of her head, dragging them across her scalp. “I’m not going to keep a secret like this from him.”

Eva sighed. She really didn’t have a plan for if Wayne decided to destroy the ritual circle. Perhaps surrounding the area with blood wards would work. Of course, if he tried to teleport right into the middle of the circle, he could find himself in trouble. Trouble that would likely alienate Eva from all of her friends and companions.

Even if he didn’t, random students wandering around might accidentally stumble across the ritual circle. Which was the main reason there weren’t any wards already set up. It hadn’t happened so far—or Eva hadn’t heard any rumors flying around school about some giant ritual at least, which she assumed would happen the moment someone happened across it.

So not really viable unless she was willing to potentially hurt or kill random students, professors, and mundane people who decided to snoop about because of the tournament. Not that she thought people would randomly stumble across it. Nobody really wandered the infinite courtyard. In fact, it would probably be the event organizers who found it rather than anyone else. So far, she had really been relying on its obscure location to keep it secret above all.

For Wayne, perhaps Zoe talking to him would be for the best. Explaining everything. Maybe he would even agree to be one of the humans. Between him, Zoe, Irene, Shalise, Shelby… she wasn’t sure if the nuns would work given their implanted eye, but if Vektul gave them the okay then she would have all six. Otherwise she would need to find two more. Which might not be such a big deal.

She tried to think of all the regular people that she knew who also didn’t have bound demons. Devon was out for the same reason why she didn’t want Catherine telling him about it. Genoa and Carlos almost certainly wouldn’t agree.

Or perhaps Genoa would. She knew about Life attempting to pull Hell into the mortal realm. So long as this seemed more reasonable than other options—of which there were none—she might even help out.

Carlos, Eva wouldn’t be talking to.

Beyond them, Eva really didn’t know any normal humans. She would probably have to ask a few people from the diablery class.

“Alright,” Eva said eventually. “I’m not going to stop you, though perhaps wait. Look into the ritual yourself for a time. Then, should he have questions, you’ll be able to better explain some things he might ask about.”

“I’m still trying to sort through all my questions,” Zoe mumbled.

“And that’s just fine. You figure them all out to better prepare yourself for Wayne.”

“Oh! I have a question,” Serene said, skipping back to the group. “Is this circle capable of pulling other Powers from wherever they live? Or just Void?”

“I… don’t know,” Eva said, glancing towards Vektul.

“The design is merely what I was told to use,” he said with a helpless shrug. “If it can be modified for other Powers, I don’t know how.”

“Probably best to destroy the circle and all records of it after we are done with it then. Who knows what kind of things lunatics would try if they got their hands on the plans.”

“That,” Zoe said, finally looking up from the paper, “is something I can agree with.”

Catherine shifted slightly to Eva’s side, looking about ready to say something. After a moment, she just shook her head before giving a slight nod of agreement. “Not to mention how vulnerable Powers could be if brought to the mortal realm. Summoning Void…” She trailed off with a glance to Vektul. “I would be against it if the ritual had come from anywhere else. But if a plan is in play, who am I to deny my patron Power?”

Which was good news. If all the demons felt as Catherine did, then recruiting six wouldn’t be a problem. Srey, Catherine, Sebastian, Neuro, Saija, and one of the other demons who hadn’t bound themselves to someone. Lucy, perhaps. Arachne and Vektul had their own private positions—though she was still a little fuzzy on why Arachne needed her own circle, something she would be privately asking Catherine to investigate. And Eva, as the ‘bridge’ between humans and demons and the mortal realm and Hell, was stuck in the middle.

She almost wondered if she should bring Ylva into the loop. So far, she hadn’t mostly because Ylva was something of an oddity among all the demons Eva knew. Ylva acted more like Zagan than a regular demon in terms of temperament and personality, though with fairly different apparent goals. Eva couldn’t be sure how she would react.

Probably best to leave her alone unless she, Catherine, or Zoe came up with a good reason to do otherwise.

“But,” Eva said, turning back to Serena, “why do you ask?”

Serena shrugged. Glancing up to the sky, she said, “No real reason. But Powers are supposed to be super mysterious and unknowable right? Might be fun to ask Void some questions when you do this ritual.”

“Questions?” Eva blinked, moving slightly to lean against a tree, she crossed her arms. “What kind of questions?”

“I donno. Maybe like what does Void do all day? Void must get bored sometimes, right? Do demons have daytime television that it talks to? Do days even have meaning for something like that? Do Powers talk with other powers? What about a love life?”

Eva held up a hand, stopping the vampire in her tracks. “Do Powers even care what we think about them?”

Serena grinned, showing off her fangs. “That’s a good question too. We’ll have to ask.”

Sighing and shaking her head, Eva turned away. “So, you two will help research the ritual? I’d like to have it done and ready to go by the start of the next event. Just in case something happens.”

Knowing Brakket Academy, something was bound to happen.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


010.001

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Catherine paced around the Brakket Academy lobby. She walked up to the potted plant in the corner, turned and walked to the window, and turned back to the potted plant. With every step, she grew more and more impatient. Had Eva told her to wait in the dormitory, she might have been able to relax.

But Anderson’s door was right there. He could pop out at any time. Theoretically, there was nothing to fear. Catherine was free from any contracts at the moment. She wouldn’t be beholden to stick around and listen to him. Neither had he actually done anything to her. Originally, he had said a few words that unnerved her. He had sounded almost like he wanted her to be bound to some snot-nosed human.

Of course, there wasn’t much need for him to bind her now that the event was well underway. So even had he originally wanted it, she shouldn’t have to worry about it now.

Shouldn’t, but did anyway. Catherine couldn’t help but feel like he was planning something. Martina had been a fool, but an honest one. Or at least, she had been honest with Catherine. Mostly. Anderson… Catherine wasn’t too sure about. Sometimes he seemed the fool. Other times, he had this look in his eyes that sent chills up her spine.

Biting the nail of her thumb, Catherine looked up through the little window leading towards the office area of the lobby. The secretary desk and all the offices were separated by a wall and a door, but the secretary desk connected to that wall with a large sliding window.

Despite it being a Sunday and the feast having only finished an hour ago, the old guy Anderson had replaced her with was in her old seat. He wasn’t playing games. In fact, it looked more like he was working. He kept taking a paper off a tall stack, scribbling on it, and dropping it off on another stack before repeating himself.

All between the uncomfortable stares he kept giving her.

The moment she had arrived, he had notified Anderson of her presence. However, neither had done anything since. And that made her more nervous than anything else. Unless Eva had warned him that they would be meeting in the lobby for the evening, he had to be wondering what she was doing.

Catherine pulled out her cellphone, checking for messages. Eva was supposed to have been here twenty minutes ago. If she was standing her up… Catherine would ensure that she regretted it.

Nothing. No Eva. No message. And, oddly enough, no Zagan.

Zagan was another curiosity. One Catherine was less worried about than she otherwise might have been. Zagan had endorsed her ritual circle, after all. If he was displeased with her or otherwise hostile towards her, he wouldn’t have been so cooperative.

She knew without a shadow of a doubt that she had sensed him. The sensation had been muted. Which wasn’t surprising. Zagan was powerful, but Catherine had been all the way out at the prison. That she had been able to sense him at all was somewhat surprising. Catherine couldn’t feel any of the other demons around Brakket while in the prison.

It had only lasted for a few minutes. Had he been banished again? Or maybe he disappeared on his own, going back to Hell or just farther away than Catherine could sense on Earth. She didn’t know why he would do either of those things. Then again, she didn’t know how Zagan might think. His goals weren’t often the goals of normal demons.

Most demons were content merely being out of Hell for a time. Some of the more aggressive or unstable ones often took exception to their summoners’ attempts to bind them to a contract, but the rest usually didn’t care so long as they were allowed some freedom.

“Did I keep you waiting long?”

Catherine jumped. She spun around and just about clawed off Eva’s smiling face. Instead, she just scowled at both Eva and her ever-present shadow. Arachne stood just behind Eva, arms crossed and attempting to look menacing. It might have been menacing a long time ago. Arachne was stronger than Catherine without a doubt. But, so long as she didn’t try to harm Eva, Catherine doubted anything would happen to her. She had a good enough grasp on both of their personalities at this point.

“Don’t scare me like that.”

“Scare you?” Eva said, blinking her eyes in confusion. “You didn’t sense me coming?”

“You feel something like Zagan in that you’re a bit too omnipresent. The closer you are, the harder it is to tell distance.” She shook her head. Eying the closed secretary window, Catherine dropped her volume to just above a whisper. “Speaking of Zagan, I assume you know something?”

“I might,” Eva said, also glancing to the window. She paused for a moment before shaking her head. “But let’s not talk here.”

“Alright. Lead the way. You had some ritual circle for me to look at?”

“Let’s hold off on talking about that as well.”

Catherine’s lip curled back. Eva had something planned. The way she looked around to ensure that they were alone… just what was her ritual about that it needed such secrecy? Catherine wouldn’t have worried about talking about her own ritual. It wasn’t like any of the idiots around Brakket—demon or human—would be able to replicate her work. Neither would they be able to stop her from carrying out more rituals.

But Eva started walking off, unaware of Catherine’s thoughts. And, strangely enough, she walked straight opposite of the main lobby doors. She headed towards the large windowed doors that led towards the Infinite Courtyard rather than towards the dormitory buildings.

“So,” Eva said as Catherine moved to follow from a few steps behind, “How have you been lately?”

“How have I been? What do you mean?”

“What, can’t I make some small talk? Seems like we always talk about serious things.”

“There’s probably a reason for that,” Catherine said after a moment of walking. They were moving over the paved path that led out towards the magizoology building. There weren’t too many trees around this close to the edge of the Infinite Courtyard, but Catherine still scanned the area for any threat. Something about wandering around outside with Eva and Arachne had her feeling nervous. “Where are you taking me?”

“I couldn’t find a suitable location for the ritual circle very close to the school building,” Eva said, turning around and walking backwards as she talked. As she turned, Arachne sped up just enough to walk about two steps in front of Eva, though Arachne kept facing the direction they were moving. “It’s about a fifteen minute walk away. Beyond that, I don’t really know how to describe where except by saying it’s out in the Infinite Courtyard.”

They were passing by the zoology building and its attached zoo. From her time working at Brakket, she knew that there was nothing else out in the Infinite Courtyard. Nothing of any real interest anyway. A small park area that, as far as Catherine knew, had never been used during her two years at the school. Apparently it had been a popular destination for students to pass time after its initial construction. Considering how overgrown the brush and weeds were around the worn benches, it had been abandoned soon after.

Except, as they continued on, they reached the small park. Or what had once been the small park.

Someone had plowed straight through the area with a bulldozer. Nothing remained of the thick brush or the rotted wood and rusted metal making up the benches. Instead, the whole area had been renovated. A large wooden deck stood alone, surrounded by electronics and well-trimmed grass. Cameras and monitors littered the area.

Inspecting the former park just a little closer, Catherine found the tell-tale sign of a ward set up over the whole set. A weather ward, most likely. Something to keep the electronics from exposure to the elements.

“I normally avoid this area, but nobody is out here this late.”

“This is for the event?”

“You haven’t been watching? Zoe and some news caster sit over on those benches,” Eva said, pointing to the wooden deck half-surrounded by cameras.

“I turned it on for a few minutes before remembering that I really don’t care about your high school squabbles.”

“But you play video games?”

Catherine just shrugged. It wasn’t remotely the same thing, but she didn’t expect Eva to understand even if she tried to explain. So she didn’t bother.

Reaching the end of the cleared out studio, Eva left the paved pathways. She hopped over a small fence that separated the area from the rest of the Infinite Courtyard’s forest. Catherine paused, watching as Arachne stepped over the fence without breaking her stride as if it wasn’t even there. So far, nothing had been all that odd. At least if she ignored the fact that they were out wandering the Infinite Courtyard.

But now, Catherine stared.

Eva took three more steps before pausing and turning back around. “What’s wrong?”

“Why are we going so far out? I don’t like this.” Even if Eva wasn’t going to do anything to Catherine—which Catherine honestly believed, even if the whole situation was odd—wandering around like they were didn’t sit right with her. Eva had been the one to warn her about the hunter after all. What better ambush place could there be than a dark and isolated forest?

The prison was nice. Really nice. The constant wards surrounding the place prevented people from simply teleporting in and wreaking havoc. By Eva’s own admission, they could be taken down from the outside; however, it wouldn’t be an instant thing. So long as she or Devon noticed, they could prepare defenses. Not that they had to deal with any attacks since Catherine started living out there.

Catherine had definitely grown accustomed to the peace of mind granted by the wards. And the peacefulness. She had only scarcely thought about the hunters while out there. It was a nice change of pace from the nuns, necromancers, and hunters that seemed to be a persistent feature at Brakket.

“We’re going so far out because I needed a large and isolated area.”

“You couldn’t have just used the courtyard of the prison? We could have moved or temporarily erased your treatment circle.”

Eva put her hands on her hips as she frowned. “You would have complained. Don’t try to deny it. Besides, I needed the space.”

“More space?” The treatment circle occupied the basketball court in the prison. Catherine understood that it wasn’t a fully sized court—not that she had ever watched human basketball—but it was still sufficient for a fairly large ritual.

“You’ll see. Come on. We’ll be meeting up with Srey and Vektul in a few minutes. Srey can tell when someone is watching us, so if you’re worried about that, meeting up with him will be better than standing around in the open.”

Catherine bit her lip. Glancing around, she hesitated for just a moment before grasping her shirt and pulling it off. She might have torn it in the past, but buying new shirts constantly was a tedious affair. Instead, she simply folded it up and draped it over her arms. As soon as it was off, she spread her wings wide. Just in case the hunter had set up teleportation wards. Wings should suffice for escaping, especially if the hunter had Eva and Arachne to worry about.

She considered flapping her wings and flying over the fence, but it really was more for decoration than actually barring someone from crossing, so she simply hopped it, placing her hands on the rail while swinging her legs around to one side.

While Catherine undressed and jumped over the fence, Eva just stood there, watching and staring with her red eyes. She couldn’t say exactly why—red eyes were perfectly normal among demons—but something about her look just had Catherine on edge. It was probably the general situation more than Eva.

“Alright,” Catherine said after a moment of just standing on the other side of the fence, “are you going to lead the way or just stand around all night?”

“No, nothing like that. Come on.” Eva turned her back to Catherine, took a few steps, and paused again. “Oh, and watch your step. There are tree roots and berry bushes… all kinds of things to trip over.”

“I have never tripped,” Catherine said, following as Eva started walking again.

“Never?”

“Not once.”

“Something to do with you being a succubus?”

Catherine hesitated for just a moment before nodding her head. Though she was behind Eva, the blood mage should be able to see it. But it wasn’t something she had really considered before. All succubi had a natural grace. Their steps were always sure, their movements smooth and sultry. It wasn’t even a conscious action. Neither had she trained herself for it; the day she entered existence, she moved exactly how she did to this very day.

Not that it was really a thing worth considering. Probably. So long as she was trying to change things about herself, would changing her gait do anything? Probably not. It would be hard to increase the confidence of her walk and turning her stance submissive or otherwise lacking in confidence simply did not appeal to her.

Even if she did try something, it would be later. After boasting to Eva, tripping now because she had decided to mess around would be far too embarrassing. She liked being the demon Eva looked up to for advice despite how Eva felt to her demonic senses. At least so long as she was useful, Eva wouldn’t have any reason to either kick her out of the prison or do something worse.

“Lucky,” Eva said. “I mean, I don’t trip either. But I cheat. There is a fine mist of blood spread through the air that I can use to spot branches and roots well in advance, but it isn’t quite the same as being able to ignore everything because I’ll naturally avoid tripping.”

Catherine didn’t bother responding. Eva managed to drag her into small talk. Instead, she just walked in silence.

As Eva had estimated, it took roughly fifteen minutes before they came across anything but open woods. Srey and Vektul were leaning against a tree. The former with a book open in one hand, the latter just standing stock still. Catherine had met the two before. The very first day they arrived in Brakket, Catherine made sure to spend at least a few minutes interacting with every demon.

“Catherine,” Eva said as she gestured to the two demons. “Srey and Vektul. Not sure if you’ve met or not.”

“We’ve met.”

Neither had struck her as all that special. In fact, just the opposite. Both were weak demons. Vektul barely had a presence at all. She didn’t know what kind of demon he was, but he wasn’t anything special. Srey, on the other hand, was an oculus. Catherine had heard of them and yet had never actually met one. Assuming Srey was an average member of the species, Catherine was not impressed. She felt no fear towards either one of them. Even if both tried to attack her at the same time, neither would succeed in anything but accelerating their own demise.

Not that either looked like they were considering such a thing. Between Srey’s book and Vektul’s vacuous eyes, they weren’t worried about anything.

“Srey, everything alright?”

“Haven’t noticed anyone watching us. Of course, they could have been watching you up until you arrived.”

“Perhaps, but so long as the ritual circle is left secret, it doesn’t matter. Shall we continue?”

Srey shrugged as he snapped his book shut.

Together, they all walked on in silence. Not for quite as long this time. Maybe five minutes, ten at the most. When the forest faded away to a large clearing, Eva paused and turned to face Catherine. She spread her arms wide. “Well, what do you think?”

“Think? Of wha–”

Catherine blinked. At first, she had thought this was just a clearing. Looking around, she started to notice grooves carved into the earth. Long sweeping lines that dragged around the entire area. And the area wasn’t small. It stretched out probably four times the size of the small basketball court that Devon had turned into a ritual circle.

She took a few steps forward, naturally stepping over one of the carved grooves. Eva and Vektul were both still a few steps forward, so she probably wasn’t accidentally walking over a set of shackles. Of course, she couldn’t even tell what the circle was supposed to be. It was too large. Despite its size, Catherine could see several smaller circles. Or rather, two circles to the left and right of where they had entered the clearing.

It took her a moment to realize just what the smaller circles were for. Someone was obviously supposed to stand within. The circles weren’t even part of the larger circle. If she was reading the sigils around them properly, they would actually isolate magic from interacting while allowing magic to pass into the circle. In essence, they were batteries for whatever the main ritual was for.

Spreading her wings, Catherine took to the skies. She couldn’t see enough of the circle from below to tell what she was seeing. It took but a moment to find the center and hover, beating her wings just enough to keep her in one spot. Being so late at night, the lighting wasn’t the best. However, she wasn’t a demon for nothing. She could see enough from just the moonlight and her own naturally strong sense of vision.

Of course, she would never want to design a ritual circle in such poor lighting. Hopefully Eva hadn’t been doing so either.

From up above, she could see that it wasn’t quite finished yet. A chunk was missing from the far side of the field. Maybe an eighth of the total circle. Unless there was something absolutely vital in that section, what was left should be more than enough to tell exactly what it was for.

At least, it should have been enough to tell what the ritual did. Not only was it huge, but it was busy. Lots of ritual circles—including shackles and summoning circles—were more empty space than they were actual lines and diagrams. Not this one. There was some drawn pattern everywhere she looked, some curved line or sigil.

Some were obvious. One recycled unused magic. Another ensured that all magic involved in the ritual was contained to the circle itself. In the event that too much magic built up, a vent off to one side would consume the magic through excessive light generation. Towards the center, there was something that almost looked like it was meant to summon demons. Except it also looked like there should be someone standing in the middle. And not in the sense that someone might put a sacrifice on a summoning circle as the enticement for specific demons.

Turning her flight into a dive, Catherine rejoined Eva after a few more minutes of inspecting the circle.

“I’ll admit, I don’t know what this is for,” she said, moving closer. “Some parts make sense, but most of it is entirely alien to me. Perhaps if I studied it for more than a few moments.”

Eva’s smile turned to a muted frown.

Which seemed odd. Catherine would have expected Eva to be excited that she had come up with something that Catherine couldn’t figure out.

“Would it help if the final section were completed?”

“Doubtful. Enough is there that I should be able to understand. The problem is that I simply don’t recognize half of what is out there.”

“I see.” Eva’s voice carried an obvious note of disappointment. “Well, I can’t actually help with that. Would it help if I described what the ritual should do?”

“Possibly,” Catherine said with a nod of her head. It wouldn’t tell her exactly what each individual part did, but it might be possible to reverse engineer from there. “Though, I might have noticed an error. I wouldn’t know for sure, but one of the rings was more of a cube. I can show you where exactly in a moment.”

“I’d appreciate that.” Eva turned to face the majority of the ritual circle. “As for what it does, it is a circle that has come from Vektul’s head. Void gave him the designs,” she said, looking over her shoulder. “The intention is to summon Void. Only Void.”

Catherine bit her lip. A thousand thoughts ran through her mind. Had she not known the truth about the violet lines in the sky, she would have immediately protested. Even as it was, was that truly the best option?

Before she could respond, two separate voices echoed out from the shadows at the same time. All the gathered demons jumped to full alertness, ready to fight.

“You’re summoning WHAT?” “That seems pretty ambitious.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.006

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva seethed. It took a great deal of willpower to not blink behind him and take off his head. He was a student. She couldn’t just kill him. Not without inviting all kinds of trouble at least.

To the side, Srey edged closer to Juliana. He slipped just behind her, peeking out over her shoulder. It took Eva a moment to figure out what he was doing.

Really, she should have realized based on how all the demons reacted around her.

He was cowering behind a human. And he was leaving his back open to a vampire. At least he was protecting Juliana’s back. Sort of.

Of course, Juliana wasn’t looking so confident either. Eva couldn’t see her face as she had completely encased herself within her suit of armor. However, Eva got a decent map of Juliana’s face using her sense of blood. Using the little blood that hadn’t drained from her face, that was.

Despite the two frightened people—two friends who Eva really shouldn’t be scaring—the vampire stood still, his irritating smile never wavering. Without a working heart, Eva couldn’t even tell if he was mildly nervous. He probably wasn’t. Serena had said that there was something wrong inside his brain. She hadn’t said his brain specifically, but his strain all had the same problem.

Overconfidence and delusions of superiority.

Now, Eva thought, how best to take advantage of that?

Eva flicked her eyes back to Juliana and Srey. Taking a few deep breaths, Eva tried to calm herself down.

Being called a snack just irritated her. She was fairly certain that it would irritate anyone. It was just demeaning. Which fit with what she knew of his strain, she supposed.

Serena asking for her blood had been annoying in persistence, but not so much in how she asked. Not to mention the fact that Serena was more or less Eva’s friend. She wasn’t some random vampire who showed up out of nowhere feeling entitled to a taste of her blood.

Wanting it, maybe. But not entitled.

Eva shook her head, clenching her fists. She was getting herself worked up again.

Focusing, she kept her voice as calm as possible.

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pluck your fangs from your mouth.”

That actually had his smile faltering. Though the blood inside him was dead and stale, she could still see it. Specifically, she could see his tongue run along the backside of his fangs.

Good. Let him be a little nervous.

“You come out here, harass my friends, and think I’m going to willingly give up my blood as a dessert? Really, I should just kill you and damn the consequences. In fact, I bet there wouldn’t be any consequences. I’d get some good will with the Elysium kids at least.”

“Ah yes,” he said, slowly regaining his confidence with a shift of his weight to his opposite hip, “I suppose I have you to thank for them following me around.”

“They actually figured out who the vampire was?” Eva said with genuine surprise. It hadn’t been long since she had told them. A day or so plus a few hours. Not to mention, those two really didn’t seem like they had much training. Of course, they didn’t need training to light up their eyes and scan the room upon entering the cafeteria. Depending on how quickly they could glean information, they could have just flickered their connection on and off to reveal the vampire.

Eva narrowed her eyes into a venomous glare as another thought occurred to her. “If you led them out here, I really will kill you.”

The vampire’s grin widened. “I knew you were bluffing,” he said, emanating airs of pure confidence. As if he actually knew that Eva wasn’t going to kill him. Before Eva could object, he continued. “But fear not. Those bumbling children are as obvious as the midday sun. Slipping away was a simple matter.”

Arrogant though he was, Eva didn’t believe he was lying. Mostly because she couldn’t sense either of the nascent nuns. While they could be too far away and spying with binoculars, Eva doubted it.

Because the vampire was right. They were not subtle.

Despite the slight relief she felt at his words, Eva found herself growing irritated again.

Eva again considered setting up blood wards around the ritual site. Unfortunately, she was right in the middle of the school. Though unlikely given the size of the Infinite Courtyard, it was entirely possible for students to happen across the place. Her ward’s outer pain should keep them away before they start exploding. It would have to be far enough away that the ritual circle wouldn’t be visible.

Which would just increase the size of the already large area by a great deal, making it all the more likely that it would be stumbled across.

And with the pain effect of her ward, describing it wouldn’t be difficult. It was too signature to her blood magic. Zoe and Wayne both knew about it. If a student happened across, felt the pain, and went to tell the staff, Eva’s involvement would quickly become common knowledge. Then people would wonder what she was hiding out here.

Especially Zoe and Wayne.

She knew that they were probably going to find out at some point. Either she would tell them or they would find out on their own. But Eva was somewhat hoping that they wouldn’t find out until everything was past the point of no return.

If they found out earlier, Eva would have some explaining to do. She did not want to have to think up what to say to them.

But, for the moment at least, she could put that off.

“I recommend you leave,” Eva said.

“Leave?” the vampire said with a dark chuckle. “You drag me all the way out here and expect me to leave empty-handed? I don’t think so.”

Eva opened her mouth.

She didn’t get a chance to say anything. The vampire vanished.

Behind her, Arachne took a hit to her stomach. She went flying through the air until gravity remembered it existed. Crashing into the ground, she tumbled through an already completed section of the ritual circle.

Eva turned with a snarl.

Only to find the vampire missing once again. Cold fingers clamped down on her. One hand on her shoulder and the other on the side of her head.

Before the vampire behind her could wrench her head to the side and bite down, Eva burst into flames.

Her hair was already short and ruined from the hunters’ idol. A little singe around her neckline wouldn’t be that noticeable. The rest of her head could stay extinguished. That was really all she cared about. Her clothes were easily replaceable. Modesty? Worthless. Her skin… well, she was a demon. She should be able to hold up to a few minutes of sustained flames.

On the other hand, a vampire had several very well known weaknesses. Sunlight for one. Beheading and stakes to the heart as well. Garlic, Eva was less certain about and she doubted that flowing water would give a vampire pause unless they stopped to weigh the consequences of getting their clothes wet.

Fire was one of the weakness that she rated fairly high. Right up there with sunlight. Perhaps higher even, given her lack of ability in making the sun suddenly rise.

The vampire yelped, releasing her at once. Eva did not hesitate to slam her flaming elbow back and into his stomach. At the same time, she stomped on his foot. Her leg forced her foot through his, shattering bones and puncturing skin.

He jumped back, stumbling as he landed. Before he even regained his proper balance, he started patting out the flames on his chest.

Eva spun, blinking straight behind him. She barely kept the presence of mind to keep a closed fist as she punched him in the back of the head.

He went face first straight to the ground.

Eva planted a foot on his back even as the earth wrapped up around his limbs, holding him to the ground

She didn’t turn to thank Juliana. Any calm she had regained since being called a snack vanished the moment he attacked. Looking up at them, she wasn’t sure what her face would look like.

But she didn’t want to scare Juliana and Srey any further than they already were.

Instead, she focused all of her anger on the vampire beneath her foot. Her flaming foot that was digging into the squirming vampire’s backside. Murder was a definite temptation at the moment. As was torture. Maybe both, though in the reverse order. Torture then murder made much more sense than the reverse.

Sawyer’s torture session hadn’t gone over so well. Perhaps it would be best to skip over it. Maybe tying him to a tree for the sun to have would count as torture.

But he was still a student. The same arguments against killing him still applied. Although now she could legitimately claim self-defense, she would have to explain why she had been out in the Infinite Courtyard. Saying that she was out looking for event clues might work.

She would have to drag him away from the ritual circle first. Or kill him then drag his body away. Either way might leave trails leading back, revealing the circle when people undoubtedly investigated his death.

No. It would be best to either kill him later or find some way of controlling him. Even just something to keep him away from her would be enough.

Arachne was already crawling back on six legs—the two that had been severed closer to the base still hadn’t fully grown back—face twisted in a snarl. She might be a bit overeager.

Eva took a deep, calming breath as she extinguished her flames. To her great delight, her skin was only mildly raw from the heat. Something that should go away soon enough.

“Arachne,” Eva said.

That one hard word stopped the spider-demon cold. A slight shake of Eva’s head only further served to calm Arachne.

No longer squirming from the flames at his back, the vampire turned his head to the side. He took a moment to spit out a great deal of dirt. “Alright, we’ll call it a draw.”

Eva curled her lips into a sneer, not removing her foot from his back.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just tear your head off and be rid of you.”

“Today wouldn’t be the first day that I caught your sent out here. You travel here enough that I’m surprised mortals can’t smell that sweet scent.”

Eva shuddered. Sometimes Serena would look at her like she was a meal. But she would always rein in her hunger. Especially if Eva pointed it out.

This guy was on a whole other level of creepiness.

“I’m no fool. I had my doubts that I could fight a demon. Let’s just say that if I die, people might look around in my belongings. If they look around my belongings, they might find something that will lead them here. I take it that this place is supposed to be secret?”

Eva fought to keep a wince off her face. She was suddenly glad that she hadn’t given in and killed him.

“So let’s make a deal.”

“What,” Eva said through grit teeth, “did you have in mind?”

“The upcoming event. My school wins, you freely give up your blood. Not all of it. I’m not so crass as to kill my subjects. Having another blood doll on campus, especially one with such an interesting scent, shouldn’t be thrown to waste so easily,” he said. Despite his face still being pressed into the dirt, his tone carried the confidence of someone who had already won the event.

Frankly, it pissed Eva off. Everything about him seemed designed to tick her off.

She had seen other students talking with the vampire. He didn’t have quite the social following that Saija had, but he definitely had admirers in the student bodies of all the schools. Aside from herself and those she had told, the nuns, and maybe the professors, Eva didn’t even think anyone knew he was a vampire. He didn’t even have that exotic allure going for him. She couldn’t see why anyone would want to exist near him.

“And if you lose?”

“I don’t tell anyone about whatever it is you’re doing here. I won’t tell them when I win, of course. It is just a handy bit of insurance.”

“Blackmail.”

“If you want to look at it like that.”

Even if she won, there was nothing stopping him from making another ‘deal’ before the next event. Or finding some other excuse to use the ritual site against her.

He needed to die. But not until after she found whatever message he left for other people.

Maybe she could get the nuns to do the actual killing. Though they would need to be kept on a leash until after Eva found his message. With the first event only a few days away, there might not be time to properly stalk him. Which meant her interest in winning just went up another few notches.

What a pain.

“Fine,” Eva said. “Fine. I’ll play your little game.”

“Oh good. I knew you would see reason.”

Eva grit her teeth as she further dug her heel into the vampire’s back, grinding it back and forth.

“I don’t suppose you would be willing to let me up,” he said, voice slightly strained.

“Hmm. Not sure about that. Our agreement was that you winning the first event means I have to give up some blood. So long as I follow that, you wouldn’t tell anyone about this place. Never in our agreement did I say that I wouldn’t handicap you by breaking every bone in your body. Just trying to decide which I want to start with.” She added a little more pressure to the small of his back. “I’m thinking right around here.”

He let out a strained whine before a weak little chuckle escaped his lips. “You demons and your literal contracts. But we didn’t make a contract. We made a deal. Deals can be altered. I should think that excessive bodily harm would be grounds for changing the deal.”

Eva had honestly expected that. Which was the only reason she hadn’t actually broken his back.

She finally stepped off him, giving him a decent kick to the side in the process.

“Get out of here,” Eva said. “And don’t come back. If I find you around this place again, I’ll kill you regardless of your messages to other people.”

He flashed another wide smile as he pushed himself back to a proper standing position. “Don’t worry. I have what I need from here.” As he spoke, he brushed his hands down the front of his clothes. He glanced to his chest with a look of abject horror. “My suit!”

The vampire—who, Eva realized, she still didn’t know the name of—started frantically brushing at his suit, trying to remove as much dirt as possible. Under other circumstances, Eva might have taken amusement and joy in his suffering. Now, she just stared, eyes cold and unfeeling.

Leave.

He snapped his eyes up, eyes narrowed for a moment before he let out a small snort. “See you around, I guess.”

Eva didn’t respond. She watched and waited as he sauntered off. Only when he finally left the range of her ability to sense blood did she let out a sigh.

“Sorry,” she said, turning around with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. Apart from speaking, she kept her lips firmly shut. No need to flash a view of her sharp teeth. “I didn’t mean to frighten you two.”

The faint outline of a man solidified from a partially gaseous form just behind a fully-armored Juliana. She hadn’t even removed the metal around her face. Even though the vampire was gone, Srey stayed just behind the human, barely peeking out over her shoulder.

Taking her eyes off them, Eva surveyed the dark ritual site. The area hadn’t been damaged too much by Arachne’s unexpected flight. At least, not that she could tell at the moment. The darkness made it difficult to tell the real extent of the damage. However, most of it had happened in a section that wasn’t yet started, let alone finished as Arachne had plowed through some of the completed areas when she had been kicked away.

She could have tossed a few light spells around, but Juliana wasn’t in a proper state to fix anything. Eva had been using a shovel to help out and could do it herself. However, she wasn’t in a good mood at the moment either. And Juliana would still need to harden the earth to keep it from deforming.

It would be better to work on it during the daylight hours.

Shaking her head, she took a moment to examine Arachne. She was standing—glowering really—and hadn’t been hobbling while returning from her brief trip across the field. However, she was still injured from the hunter. Even lacking the strength of bestial strain vampires or the magics of the Blacksky, the August was still a vampire and not someone to be taken lightly.

But Eva’s worries were misplaced. Arachne’s carapace wasn’t even cracked. Her insides were still functioning properly as far as Eva could tell. Aside from her preexisting wound, Arachne was in perfect health.

“So,” Juliana said, making Eva turn around to face her properly, “you’re going to have to win this event now? Are you actually going to agree to his demands?”

“Not necessarily. He didn’t specify anything about me having to win, only if his school wins do I have to do anything. There are still the other schools. His arrogance in assuming he wouldn’t lose gave me the better odds.”

“You’re not worried about him ‘altering the deal’ after he loses?”

“I imagine he will. The trick is killing him before it matters.”

Juliana hesitated for a moment before shuddering. “Well good riddance. I don’t think I like vampires very much.”

“Serena isn’t so bad,” Eva said with a grin. She quickly snapped her lips shut as she realized how wide her smile went. “You just haven’t given her a chance.”

“I think I’ll pass.”

“Your loss. But speaking of…” Eva trailed off, turning to Srey with a small frown on her face. Something really bothered her about the way he was hiding behind Juliana. “I’m going to need your help with a little task.”

Srey flinched upon being addressed. He did move slightly to one side, coming out from Juliana’s shadow.

“Following him right?” Srey said. “Finding out where he hid this message?”

“Not quite. Or rather, I have someone else I can assign to that task.” Nel should be able to watch the vampire well enough. Unlike hunters and Sawyer, it was doubtful that he would have a way to avoid Nel’s sight. “No. I need you to spend as much time as possible here. If you feel the slightest hostility, find and tell me immediately.”

Srey started off with a frown, but the frown slowly grew to a smile. “You mean you want me to keep away from all the people around? I can sit here and read a book in peace?”

“Exactly.”

Eva had one last thing to accomplish before the event began in full. A minor thing. Possibly even an optional thing. For that thing, she was currently sitting in her golemancy classroom, waiting for Professor Brier Price to finish her lesson. Which, assuming the clock was right, should be happening in less than ten seconds.

Sure enough, the bell rang right on schedule.

Brier Price jumped slightly, glancing up at the clock as if she hadn’t been expecting it. She was the only one. Nearly the entire rest of the class was already out the door when she started calling after them.

“Oh! Ah, students, no homework today. Enjoy watching the event.”

A few scattered farewells followed from those students who hadn’t yet left the classroom. The professor just watched them go with a smile on her face.

Meanwhile, Eva sat and waited, watching her lined face and grayed, slightly curled hair as she waved goodbye to every student. Eventually they were the last two in the classroom. Something that had Professor Price jumping again when she noticed.

“Eva? You’re still here.”

“Sorry if I’m disturbing you. I had a few questions I was hoping you might be able to help me with.”

The professor shook her head. “Oh no. Don’t worry about it. I’m something of a faithless woman,” she said with a slightly strained chuckle. “Your appearance doesn’t bother me one bit.”

Eva blinked in confusion before allowing herself a close-lipped smile. She had meant that she was sorry about taking up her time. However, Eva didn’t bother correcting the professor. No sense embarrassing her. Eva instead held out her wrist, using her other hand to slide the coiled form of Basila onto the top of the desk.

The stone snake wouldn’t move on its own accord.

“This is Basila,” Eva said. “It used to be a perfectly functional golem with a basilisk personality. Built by Genoa and Carlos Rivas, if you know of them.”

“Of course I know them. Everybody who deals with golems knows of their golem menagerie.” She leaned down and nudged the inert stone, sending Basila rolling onto her belly. “Though this one doesn’t seem functional.”

“It used to be, as I said. However, it was damaged, modified, repaired, and exposed to a handful of potions. Not necessarily in that order.”

“I see.” She pulled out her wand, pointed it at Basila, paused and glanced up to Eva for the first time since she noticed Eva was still in the classroom. And even now, she didn’t quite meet Eva’s eyes, choosing to stare more at her ear than anything else. “Do you mind if I perform a few diagnostic spells?”

Eva pulled her hands away from the table as she shook her head. “Not at all.”

The lines on Professor Price’s cheeks stretched as she smiled. Soon enough, colored ribbons filled the air around them. None of which Eva knew the meaning of despite having taken the class for a few months now. Brier Price was just the opposite. She hummed and hawed as each appeared with a swish of her wand. After a few minutes of scanning each, a single wave of her wand wiped away all but one red ribbon and one black ribbon.

“Alright. Found the primary problems. Neither of which should be too difficult to solve.”

That had Eva perking up. She was inordinately pleased that Basila wasn’t permanently broken. After the Elysium Order’s cathedral, she hadn’t been quite the same. And then a few weeks ago, she had ceased responding to anything entirely.

“The first problem,” she said, dragging the red ribbon over, “is that the magical reserves keeping the golem operational are nearly depleted. It has entered a low power state to preserve the imprinting. Now, I own a small nereid produced by the Rivas, so I know a little something about their quality. This should never have happened. There is enough magic crammed into these things to keep them operational for a century at least.” She ended with a pointed look at Eva. A look that she only maintained for a second or two before averting her eyes.

Eva, shrinking slightly in her seat, looked up to her. “Would a growth potion have caused that?”

“More mass to move around means more energy consumed,” she said with a slight hum. “I assume so.”

“But you said it is easy to fix.”

“I can show you how to refill it in a moment. Though that potion might explain the second issue—as I assume you shrank it back down. Perhaps while damaged?” She dragged over the black ribbon using the tip of her wand. “You repaired it admirably, but you missed one part. Or rather, you didn’t align the substitutiary locomotion array before beginning your repairs.”

Nothing she just said sounded familiar to Eva. Shrugging, Eva said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Substitutiary locomotion? Mystic power that’s far beyond the wildest notion?” Receiving no recognition from Eva, Professor Price made a slight noise in the back of her throat. “Right. We haven’t covered it in your class yet. But you couldn’t have repaired without knowing…” she trailed off, last sentence little more than a whisper.

“One of the modifications I made causes it to self-repair.”

“Ah. That’s an advanced bit of magic,” the professor said with a slight hum. For a moment, Eva thought she might have made a mistake. The ritual that caused it to repair was a blood-based one. But, after staring at the basilisk golem for a few moments, Professor Price shook her head. “Then before it self-repairs, straighten it out as much as possible. Better yet, don’t damage it again.”

No promises, Eva couldn’t help but think. But at least it was fixable. And without going to Genoa about it at that.

With Basila repaired, Eva still needed to make a quick trip down to the alchemy labs for a few potions. But there were no rules against bringing in equipment to the event. So long as Basila counted as equipment, she felt prepared for whatever the task would be.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.005

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“I volunteer.”

Everyone in the room turned to look at Eva.

Nobody knew what the event would be. Wallace Redford had been keeping extremely tight lipped about the matter. Eva knew that more than one demon had tried following him around. Probably several humans as well. Then there were the other schools which probably had their own spies. If they had found anything, they weren’t sharing.

They were supposed to be discussing possibilities. Personally, Eva was just hoping for straight up combat. Maybe a secondary objective of a flag or something. Nothing strenuous and, more importantly, nothing weird. She had enough weird things on her plate as it was.

But Eva wasn’t interested in discussing. So long as they didn’t know, it really didn’t matter. More, she was supposed to be meeting with Juliana out in the Infinite Courtyard.

Her ward was holding steady. Mostly. It required near constant maintenance. To the point where she was thinking about talking with Professor Lepus again about the possibility of using a runic array to store magic that could be slowly fed into the ward.

But it kept water out, both the frozen and liquid varieties, while allowing Eva and anyone else to pass through into the center. In that aspect, it was an amazing success.

She had no idea how Professor Lepus managed to find the time to maintain all of the spacial expansion wards that were set up everywhere around Brakket Academy. Actually refueling the ward wasn’t hard. It wasn’t even taxing. But did take a bit of time.

And that was including her ability to cheat a little. Normal humans didn’t store magic in their bodies, requiring a focus. Eva did store magic. She didn’t have a way to quantify the difference. If she really cared to find out, she would have to ask Zoe. The fact of the matter was that she could dump more magic into the ward at once.

Of course, Professor Lepus was a professional while Eva an amateur. The weather ward was a rough, barely stable piece of work. The space expansion wards were so subtle that Eva barely noticed them at all. The professor probably had all kinds of tricks.

But it didn’t need to last forever or anything. Just long enough.

Unfortunately, the events were going to make her keep it up longer.

Hence her volunteering for the first event. Best to get it out of the way as soon as possible.

The nine other competitors had gathered together to decide on who was to participate in the first event. A fairly diverse bunch. Anderson had selected people from all walks of the school environment.

Sitting next to Eva, Irene and Saija looked to her. One just looked bewildered and in over her head. The other perked up, nudging the former in the side as she whispered in Irene’s ear with excited motions of her hands.

Irene clearly hadn’t signed herself up. Anderson still picked her. Given her familiarity with Jordan, they probably knew each other.

Unfortunately, as much as Eva spent time with her, she had no idea how advanced Irene was in thaumaturgical terms. She was the youngest in the room if Eva didn’t count herself. Eva had gone through all the same classes with the exception of enchanting—Eva had taken golemancy instead.

But would Irene be able to keep up with everyone?

She supposed she would have to wait and see.

Eva brought fiery explosions, physical strength, and the ability to blink to the table. A fairly well-rounded deck of cards. In fact, she thought, musing over the possible events Redford might have come up with, instead of combat, maybe a race would be interesting.

It was doubtful that many people could blink, though Eva had to admit that she didn’t know the other schools’ curriculums.

Across from them, the light-haired Randal just frowned. Eva wasn’t sure which demon was inside him—she couldn’t detect even the slightest demonic sensation from him—but he had been acting like the leader of their little group.

“You don’t even know what we’re supposed to do.”

“Neither do you. As such, it hardly matters who participates in which events.”

“On the contrary,” he said, crossing his legs. “You don’t know what the event is. I might.”

“Might?”

He shrugged.

Eva rolled her eyes.

Glancing around the room, everyone else had expressions ranging from disbelief to straight up confused. Henry… something-or-other—a student a few years older than Eva—was actually glaring daggers at Randal as he sat back in his chair with his arms crossed. Eva had to wonder if his stare had something to do with him being one of only three humans in the room.

Pure human, anyway. Randal and two others had bound familiars. The three others in the room were demons. Then Eva, whatever she counted as.

“Alright, Randal,” Eva said with a sigh. “What do you know?”

With a grin fit for a demon, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small silver cube.

Eva blinked, about to ask why he was showing her a metal die of dubious quality—Juliana could have made something far more ornate—when Irene’s sudden breath interrupted her thoughts.

“That’s a gorgon scale.”

Eva looked back, wondering how bulky gorgons were if they had cubes for scales, only to find Randal rotating it between his fingers. It was much flatter looking from the side. Not quite a cube.

“Indeed,” he said. “Now, I know there are all manners of creatures wandering the halls of Brakket Academy, especially with the Nod Complex representatives, but I haven’t seen any giant snake monsters so hideous that a mere glance at them will turn you to stone, have any of you?”

“No,” Eva said slowly, getting a few echoing statements from the others.

“So where did you find it?” Rachael Davis—another student a few years older than Eva—asked.

“I was following Redford into the Infinite Courtyard. Trying to snoop around on what he was doing, you know? He disappeared, but right next to where he vanished, this was lying on top of a small mound of dirt.”

“Suspicious,” Rachael said, “but that hardly confirms anything. They wouldn’t put us in an arena with a creature so horrible that no one can even look at it. Didn’t they say that this was being filmed? If the cameras accidentally catch a glimpse, the whole world will be turned to stone. Because you know everyone is going to be watching.”

Randal actually seemed to deflate a little. “Maybe there’s some special shielding on the cameras? A filter to block the magic.”

“Is that actually how gorgons work?” Irene asked, almost more to herself than anyone else. Despite her quiet tone of voice, everyone turned to look at her. She started for a moment before clearing her throat. “I mean, the turning to stone. Like… demons aren’t quite what I imagined when I first heard of them,” she said with a glance towards Saija and Eva. “So maybe gorgons are different.”

Henry twisted in his seat, pulling out a notebook. “Professor Twille has taught about gorgons during his Greek lessons,” he said, flipping through a few pages. He stopped, putting his finger to the page before speaking. “Non-sapient beings with snakes for hair, scales made of platinum, horrifying visage that turns people to stone. But they live exclusively on the islands between Greece and Turkey, nobody has even seen one in centuries as far as he knew. They were thought to be extinct. Obviously that’s wrong.”

Eva crossed her arms with a frown. “Scales made of platinum? Defeated by a mirror? That doesn’t seem right.”

“Oh?” Henry said, voice dropping a few notches as he turned to glare at Eva. “And have you taken sixth year magizoology?”

“Well, no–”

“I thought not.”

“But doesn’t that seem too easy? They would have been hunted to extinction. Especially given their limited living area.” Eva paused in thought before turning to the door. “Arachne,” she called.

The spider-demon—who Eva had asked to watch out for anyone from the other schools, namely the nuns and the vampire—burst into the room in an instant, ready to fight. She calmed down after only a few moments upon seeing that there was nothing to attack. Though she didn’t completely drop her guard, she did walk up to Eva’s chair.

“Are you alright?”

“Fine. But we were just having a discussion about gorgons. I don’t suppose you know anything about them?”

Arachne frowned, opening her mouth.

Henry cut her off, actually standing as he glared at her. “And what would a demon know of the species of Earth?”

Arachne reacted much as Eva would expect her to act while being demeaned or insulted. Ignoring the noises coming from the back of her throat, Eva just smiled.

She had no idea what Henry’s problem was. Maybe he didn’t like that only three people in the room were normal humans. Maybe a younger sibling had been the one Timothy attacked before the doll showed up. Frankly, she didn’t care.

Eva just smiled and said, “Are you deaf? Or just a complete idiot.”

“Wha–”

“Arachne. The Arachne. The weaver from the time when the Greek pantheon walked the Earth. I’d say she knows a little bit about the creatures of the era.”

Without waiting for Henry to cobble together a response, Eva turned back to Arachne and waited.

Glare vanishing in an instant, Arachne took a deep breath as if buying time to gather her thoughts. “The gorgons were protectors,” she said slowly, her words coming uncharacteristically uncertain. “Terrible, yes, but terrible to their enemies. They often took up residence in villages and smaller townships, defending the town from roaming bandits, raiders, and the like.

“We carved their box-like faces and wide grins into all kinds of architecture, coins, pottery, and even tapestries and other weavings. Partially as warnings to any who would do us harm, partially as worship. So long as they were respected, the gorgons were said to be far better protectors than those so-called gods.”

“So,” Eva said after an extended moment of silence in the room, “we’re fighting protectors, not monsters.”

“Fighting?” Arachne asked with a far more dangerous edge in her voice. “How are you fighting gorgons?”

“I suppose that is what we are discussing today,” Eva said. “I still volunteer myself. I can see perfectly fine without my eyes, so gazing upon anything that turned me to stone will–”

“Eva.”

Eva blinked. Arachne interrupting her was not a common occurrence.

How are you fighting gorgons? King Polydectes ordered their destruction, both using his army and with enough gold on bounties to turn a slave into a prince. The last gorgon was killed before I was born.”

Another bout of silence followed her statement.

Until it was broken by Henry bursting into laughter. He got to his feet, mumbling something about how this whole meeting had been a waste of his time as he stormed out of the room.

“Huh,” Rachael said with a lazy shrug, “I guess he’s opting out of this event.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Eva said. She wasn’t even lying.

Though he was annoying with his disdain for demons, Henry had arrived prepared. As much as she wanted to get out of the meeting, she wanted to find out if they would be expected to fight something actually dangerous before she found herself face-to-face with something too strong for her to tackle.

“What other creatures are there with metallic scales?” she asked. After receiving no answer for a few moments, she looked around the room. “Please tell me somebody else took magizoology.”

The demons couldn’t be counted on. None of them were from Earth, save for Arachne. Her expertise was limited to Greece and even then, Arachne had not been a mage. Gorgons were one thing. As she had said, they were protectors with their visages carved into everything. Quite prevalent. Other creatures, not so much.

But there were still six humans in the class. Five if she didn’t count Irene, given that Irene probably didn’t know much more than she did about magizoology.

Yet nobody jumped up to respond in the affirmative.

“Well, we still have some time,” Eva said. “I suppose we’ve got our homework cut out for us. Though keep your questions quiet and your research in private. I know for a fact that several members of the opposing schools have been following some of us.”

Eva blinked, wondering just when she had become so invested in the tournament. Wasn’t she supposed to not care, or even actively sabotage her own team if the events were too annoying?

Yet, it was kind of fun.

More importantly, Eva didn’t like losing.

— — —

Juliana twisted to her left.

A series of cracks ran up her spine.

She twisted to her right.

More cracks echoed the first set.

And yet, she still felt as if she needed to stretch for another hour. Or maybe just hang from her arms and let her spine decompress.

Juliana had drawn out ritual circles before. Well, summoning circles. Summoning circles were a type of ritual circles.

And this ritual circle was designed to summon something.

The terminology was fairly moot.

The point was that she had performed similar tasks before, carving out channels in raw earth to achieve a magical effect. However, nothing she had done had been larger than a small room. Also, she hadn’t needed to harden the surrounding land.

To be fair, ‘harden’ was a fairly generous word for what she was doing. Her mother could have waved a hand and turned the whole landscape into sandstone. Or close enough to not be particularly worth noting. Juliana was barely managing a soft clay-like texture that hardened over time. Enough to keep casual footsteps from deforming the lines she dug for the actual ritual.

That was another major problem. Where ‘harden’ was too generous, ‘line’ was far too weak. The circles she had drawn to summon Willie and the other demons had lines about as thick as the width of her finger. Channels or maybe troughs fit what she was carving out now much better than lines. Her shoe couldn’t fit in lengthwise, but it had a little space on either side of her foot when she angled it in-line with the carving.

Juliana didn’t know why it needed to be so thick. The whole circle could be shrunk down if the lines were smaller.

At least the work was fairly simple. A bit repetitive. Definitely in need of double and triple checks to verify that everything was in its proper place. But not that taxing of a job. Juliana and Eva had taken Vektul’s designs, applied them to a grid, sketched each section of the grid out on a piece of paper, and were slowly making their way through each segment. They had a whole tub filled with papers.

Correction, Juliana thought with a tinge of annoyance. I am working my way through.

Eva was supposed to have popped into the meeting with the other participants, told them she would be entering into the first event, and run right out to join in the misery that was massive ritual circle creation.

An hour later and Juliana had still seen no sign of Eva.

She wasn’t sure if she should be worried of angry.

Probably both.

Worse, it was dark and had been for most of the hour. Juliana could make little lights through the use of order and fire magics, but they were dim and flickered. Eva’s light spells were much more advanced. Because of the poor lighting, Juliana had a feeling that she would be redoing a good chunk of her current segment.

With a resigned sigh, Juliana decided to stop what she was doing. Instead of fumbling around in the poor light, she turned to her only companion.

“Any problems?”

“I would have mentioned if there were,” Srey replied, not even looking up from his book.

He had no lights around him. Demon eyes must be amazing.

It made Juliana wonder just how Eva saw the world. She had said that her eyes only made things mildly crisper. No night vision or heat vision. But was that actually the case?

Maybe she was trying to hide what her eyes actually did. She was trying to hide her teeth.

Juliana had not missed how infrequently Eva flashed a grin these days.

If Eva was trying to hide things, who was Juliana to argue. She was just curious. Though, if she could do something awkward like see through clothing, Juliana could completely understand why she might keep it secret.

“What are you reading?”

Srey flicked his eyes to her. Contrary to the hostile glare she had expected to get for interrupting his reading, he just stared. He set his book down in his lap after a moment, keeping a finger between the pages.

“A tale about a city, the inhabitants, and how it was all built and destroyed by one man who thought he might be a being equivalent to a Power.”

“Fiction?” Juliana said, surprised at the choice.

His voice turned a few degrees colder when he next spoke. “Is that a problem?”

“Not at all. I just wasn’t expecting that. Maybe magical theory book, spell casting, or a book on rituals.”

“Just because I am a demon and you a mage does not mean that we can only read related books. We are allowed our pleasures, after all.”

Juliana was about to ask what else the demon enjoyed doing when his head snapped to the side. He stared off into the darkened woods with narrowed eyes.

“Trouble?” Juliana asked as the metal coating her body started flowing, ready to encase her in a suit of armor.

“I don’t sense anything,” he said slowly. “I just thought I heard something.”

Oddly enough, that had Juliana relaxing. Someone was nearby and he wasn’t sensing any hostile intent. That probably meant Eva. Or maybe Vektul decided to help out.

Ha, she thought, like that would ever happen.

In Juliana’s personal opinion, all these demons really should be making the ritual circle themselves. At least helping a whole lot more than they were.

“About time you showed up,” Juliana said. She didn’t quite call it out in a shout, just in case it wasn’t Eva. But neither did she whisper it to herself.

“I didn’t realize I was expected,” a suave voice answered from directly behind where Juliana and Srey were looking.

Juliana didn’t hesitate for a moment. That was not Eva’s voice. Neither was it Vektul.

A blade sprouted from her wrist as she spun around, lashing out.

Her blade struck something solid, sending reverberations up her arm. The metal snapped. Juliana’s arm continued in it arch as the tip flung off, hitting the ground and continuing for a short distance.

Juliana ignored the destruction to the segment of earth. It wasn’t that bad and she would already have to redo most of it.

Instead, she flung out a small light from her ring foci, brightening the area enough to properly see her foe.

The first thing she noticed were the two sharp points on either side of a toothy grin. Her eyes flicked upwards, staring at two dark almost burgundy-red eyes. Dressed in a fanciful suit, the student from the Nod Complex casually waved at her.

“Vampire,” Juliana hissed.

She had only ever met one vampire, that being Serena. Despite Eva’s assurance that Serena was normally a happy-go-lucky girl who might have been starved for attention, Juliana really couldn’t see it that way. Her first experience with Serena had nearly ended in being eaten. That incident combined with her mother’s stories really did not endear her to the blood-dependent race.

Srey snapped his book shut as he stood, setting it down almost lovingly on the small segment of log he had been using as a chair.

The vampire glanced at him. Srey looked back. Both regarding each other, sizing each other up.

Neither made to attack.

Which made sense. Srey hadn’t detected any hostile intent. The vampire wasn’t here to attack them. Unless drinking their blood didn’t count as a hostile action and therefore wouldn’t trip Srey’s senses.

Still, she was glad to have the demon at her side.

“What do you want?”

The vampire took his eyes off Srey, looking towards Juliana with bared teeth—she couldn’t think of him as smiling anymore.

“I was just taking a little walk, looking for a hint of what the event might be. Imagine my surprise when I catch the sent of a snack I had been wanting to try. I followed the trail here.” He mimed glancing around, not taking his eyes off Juliana and Srey. “But no snack is here. Pity.”

I,” a voice behind Juliana thundered.

Juliana whirled around.

Twin eyes blazed in the darkness, bathing Eva’s face and short hair in a bright red light. Eight more eyes, far fainter than Eva’s, glowed just behind and over her shoulder.

Am not a snack.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.027

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva stood in the middle of a small clearing. Not the one a short distance from her prison. This clearing was out in the Infinite Courtyard in the center of Brakket Academy’s main building. This would hopefully prove to be a much safer alternative.

Or at least, more difficult to reach for the hunters.

One, perhaps the more troublesome one, was dead.

If Eva didn’t miss her mark, the other might return with something of a grudge. Assuming she didn’t starve to death because she couldn’t feed herself with her paralyzed body. As much as Eva wanted that to be the case, she wasn’t going to get her hopes up too much.

But with the death of one hunter and the idol destroyed at Nel’s hands, Eva was feeling safe enough to attempt clearing out an area for the ritual again. There might be other nasty surprises waiting, but it needed to be done sooner rather than later. It needed demons to work.

Between hunters running around and the doll—who Eva hadn’t seen since she ran off after the battle—the ritual needed to be done before they all wound up dead. If they ran out of demons, there would be nothing to do but wait for Life to bring Void over on its terms.

Something Eva had accepted would likely be far more destructive than doing it their way.

But those were all concerns that only might come to be a problem. At the moment, not having a ritual circle—or even a place to start the ritual—was a far greater problem.

Eva glanced over towards Srey. The demon was relaxing on a toppled log, using it as a chair as he thumbed through the pages of a book.

Fiction. Some fantastical story about a steam-powered society, judging by the cover. Not a book on magic or any sort of useful topic. Much like Catherine, he was reading purely for the fun of it.

Demons and their distractions, Eva thought with a slight shake of her head. Maybe I should find a hobby.

“Anyone watching us?”

Srey glanced up from the page. “Nope. We’re good at the moment.”

Eva gave him a curt nod in return as he went back to his book. He didn’t look as if he had any intention of helping out. However, Eva didn’t much care. So long as he warned them of any approaching hunters, his value was perhaps greater than everyone else combined.

Lips tightening as her gaze connected with Arachne’s, Eva offered the spider-demon a small smile.

Arachne was still injured. Even two days after the battle, her chest still had a hole in it. Her legs as well, though she had managed to pull her severed legs back inside her body, making them far less obvious.

It was that sword. Something about it acted similar to nun lightning, though only towards demons. Not quite the same, as it lacked the magic eating property, but it did inhibit healing.

Arachne was healing, just slowly.

At the moment, Eva was torn between destroying the sword or keeping it around just in case she needed to fight some demons. A third option, one she had been considering more seriously ever since she realized just how slowly Arachne was healing, was handing it off to Zoe.

If Zoe could come up with a method of reversing the effects, that could prove invaluable. Any similar swords would be rendered useless as far as their magical effects went. They would still be sharp bits of metal and thus still dangerous, but not cripplingly so.

There was just one problem with that line of thinking.

She really didn’t want anyone else to touch the sword.

Eva trusted Zoe. Quite a lot, in fact. She had been given almost unquestioning support from the theory professor since they first met. That was more than she could say about most other humans.

However, the sword was a danger to Eva. A direct personal danger that couldn’t really be compared to anything else. Not to mention the danger it posed to Arachne, Catherine, Lucy, and… well, just about half of everybody Eva knew. So long as it was in Eva’s possession, hidden behind her blood wards at the prison, it wasn’t going to be used against them.

While Zoe would probably keep it safe, she didn’t exactly have a home to hide it in anymore.

Again.

Though, maybe now that her third residence in as many years had been blown up, she might actually consider Eva’s offer of housing her at the prison.

Of course, Eva wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of her prison blowing up a few months after Zoe moved in. She seemed to have extraordinarily bad luck with regards to homes. Unless the bad luck followed Ylva around. But Ylva hadn’t been living at her first home when it was burned down by Qrycx and the jezebeth. So it couldn’t be Ylva’s bad luck.

At the moment, Zoe was living with Wayne at his house. A place Eva still didn’t know the location of. She had never once been there. Wayne had never invited her. Or even mentioned his house. For all she knew, he teleported in from wherever Serena lived—a place a few states away based on hints dropped by the vampire.

Ylva had moved into the Brakket dormitory. Eva didn’t know if she had asked Anderson for permission or simply decided that it would be her new residence. Either way, she was now living two doors down from Eva’s dorm room. Along with Nel.

Neither had mentioned Alicia, but Eva had noticed a certain hardness in Nel’s eyes when asked about the former nun. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

Of course, neither were in the clearing at the moment. Eva was still keeping the ritual secret. And she was doing a remarkable job of it, if she said so herself. Given her failures in keeping several other things about herself secret—diablery and blood magic, namely—she was quite pleased with the low amount of people around her.

Vektul was here. He had the exact designs for the ritual circle in his head, making him not only indispensable but also more knowing of the secret than most everyone. That said, Eva doubted that he would be helping much either. He really didn’t seem to be the strongest demon around.

And heavy lifting was what they needed at the moment.

Last was Juliana.

Eva gave her a smile.

She only half returned it.

“Ready to begin?”

Juliana fidgeted, glancing around to the other demons. After eying both Vektul and Srey for a moment—something that had Srey shifting in his seat, though he didn’t look up from his book—she turned back to Eva. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”

“Mostly sure.”

The metal coating Juliana’s arms rippled before returning to its still state. “Only mostly? This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you should be mostly sure about.”

“Well, yes. I agree with that. However, we’re not actually performing the ritual today, as I said a thousand times, just clearing the area.”

Something that shouldn’t be too much work. The grass and brush were a tad overgrown, but it could definitely be worse. There could be trees and boulders littering the clearing. It was part of the reason she had chosen the location in the first place.

Finding the spot hadn’t been that easy. While the Infinite Courtyard was grossly misnamed, it still covered a fairly large space. Roughly ten square miles according to Zoe. Enough that the entirety of Brakket city could fit within and still have space left over. Eva had wandered around, picking the fifth spot she had come across that looked even mildly usable.

There might be better areas. In fact, there were almost definitely better areas. It was hard to imagine there weren’t any given the size. But they couldn’t be anywhere too close to the school, or near any paths leading to the handful of buildings that had been built out in the courtyard. Not to mention, Eva didn’t really want to spend ages just wandering aimlessly about.

“We should really talk to Zoe,” Juliana said. “I mean, bringing a Power to Earth? I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the Powers. But, that can’t be a good thing. They’re in their own planes of existence for a reason.”

Eva just sighed. Explaining things a hundred times got annoying by the second time. For some reason, she felt like she would be explaining things a hundred more times before the ritual was complete. They did have to bring other people in at some point, after all. More demons and more humans were needed.

“Like I said, Zagan’s theory is that Life is bringing Void and all of Hell over into the mortal plane. Probably destructively. This ritual should only grab the Power.”

“So says Vektul,” Juliana said. “This guy just shows up out of nowhere and you’re going to trust him?” She paused for just a moment, turning to the demon in question before adding, “No offense.”

Vektul just tilted his head to one side.

“But you’re supposed to be in the center of this circle. Arachne too. How do you know it isn’t going to do something terrible to you? You should at least have Zoe look over it. Catherine too. You said she was good with rituals, right?”

That was something that Eva actually had been considering. They would need to bring in more demons before the ritual actually started. Catherine was not only good at working on and developing rituals, but she was also a demon that Eva knew. Just because the doll hadn’t come back to kill off the rest of the demons did not mean that they were good, trustworthy, and not about to stab Eva in the back.

But Catherine had her own interests and designs. She was currently picking out demons for her upcoming ritual. While Eva had offered again, Catherine still hadn’t decided on what she wanted to do. And if she wanted one of the other demons around Brakket, she had to pick them while they were still around. Especially those who might become bound familiars.

They might not be around by the time she performed her next ritual.

“I might,” Eva said, voicing her thoughts aloud. “But not today. We need to clear out brush and grass from here to about halfway across the clearing,” she said with a gesture of her hand. It wasn’t a very useful gesture. Pointing at this distance wasn’t very precise.

“Preferably with as little burning as possible. I’d rather not have a column of smoke pointing out our location for everybody to find.”

“So I’m doing most of the work,” Juliana said with a sigh. “Great.”

“Well, I do recall saving your life. Wasn’t going to force you or anything, but consider it a nice way to pay me back.”

Juliana craned her neck, looking up to the sky. “How would smoke even look from outside?” she said after a moment. “I mean, would someone sitting on the dormitory roof see a great black plume that appeared to come from the whole courtyard or would it be a thin streak, barely visible?”

Eva shrugged.

Space manipulating wards were some of the most complex bits of magic that were possible, according to Professor Lepus. Wards that Brakket Academy made liberal use of in both the main building and the dormitories. Apparently that same professor not only created the wards when the school was first built several decades ago but still maintained all of the wards to this day.

All without looking a day over twenty.

Eva had considered asking her about it, but eventually just shrugged her shoulders and assumed ‘magic’ to be the answer.

“But don’t worry. I’ll help out as well.”

— — —

Zoe let out a long sigh. “For the last time, I didn’t even come close to dying.”

In contrast to her own morose exasperation, Zoe got a fanged grin in return. Hands on her hips, Serena spun around, walking a few steps away.

“Zoe, Zoe, Zoe. Wayne told me you know? You would have been a crispy corpse without him.”

“He exaggerates. I was fully prepared to escape.”

“But you didn’t. Wayne had to save you and you know it.”

Again, Zoe sighed. Arguing with the vampire was just not something that could be done. “Serena, what are you doing here? And how did you get here?”

Pausing, Zoe glanced out the window. Night had fallen a mere ten minutes ago. It still wasn’t completely dark. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the sun had dipped below the horizon ten minutes ago. About a minute later, Serena had waltzed into her office.

She should have been back in Michigan. A bit far to travel in the span of sixty seconds. At least, a bit far for Serena to travel.

“I can’t imagine Wayne would have brought you here,” Zoe finished, looking back to Serena.

“But he did!” She spun back around, boring her eyes into Zoe. “His sister can take care of herself. She doesn’t need me babysitting her at all hours of the day. And if you two are going to get nearly killed every few months, I should be here. Somebody has to protect you. And I don’t sleep—at nights—so I can hover creepily over your beds and ensure nothing disturbs you.”

Zoe rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

Ylva had essentially performed that task for the last several months.

Serena spun back around, walking through Zoe’s office. A stack of ungraded papers caught her attention. She skipped over and started thumbing through the top few, pausing every now and again to read some of the text.

“So he just brought you over?”

“Well, there was a bit more arguing. As I told him, I’m not some pet to be chained up. I do as he asks because of respect and friendship. Also because your company is far more enjoyable than that of my brethren kin.”

“I hope you didn’t threaten him.”

“Of course not. Friends don’t threaten each other. I merely suggested that I would be making my way here anyway. The long and laborious task of crossing several state lines would be dangerous to only myself. Well, myself and whatever I was traveling with. I might have mentioned that his car might not survive the journey.”

Deciding to ignore the fact that she had threatened him, Zoe sunk down into her office chair.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t anywhere for you to stay.” She waved her hand towards the couch in her office. A small case full of clothing had been shoved underneath while a few of her teaching suits hung off a rack overhead. “I’ve been sleeping there almost every night.”

Serena paused her rifling through the papers, looking up to Zoe with a frown on her face. “Wayne doesn’t let you stay with him?”

“I spent a few nights with him, and I’m sure I could say longer should I ask.”

“Then–”

“I am not a little girl anymore. I prefer to live on my own.”

Though, she had been living with Ylva, Alicia, and Nel since being kicked out of the apartment, and next to them before that. But they were more like roommates than anything else. It was somewhat like being back in school dorms.

“Besides, its only temporary.”

“Moving into the dorms?”

“I– How did you know?”

“Even in a housing market as poor as this city’s, buying a house isn’t a thing you can do lightly. Burning one house down, being kicked out of your apartment for vandalism, and blowing up another house? I doubt that any insurer will cover you. Which means somewhere free or exceptionally cheap.” Serena dropped one of the essays onto the center of the desk.

Eva, read the simple print at the top. No last name. One of the longer essays in the stack. Then again, it was on the topic of demons. Not something Zoe usually included in her curriculum. With all their new guests around the school, she had thought that assigning a research paper on the subject wouldn’t be the worst idea.

“Prisons just don’t seem your style.”

“You’re right, but your deduction is off. The apartment and second house were both owned by or, in the apartment’s case, paid for by the school. Both were something of bribes to keep me in my teaching position. Anderson is not as willing to pay for my housing as Martina was.

“I could buy a smaller home. I’ve saved up enough. Wouldn’t even need a loan. But you are right. I don’t really want to talk to insurers. More, I’d rather not have another house destroyed in another six months.” Zoe sighed. Again. “If, in six months, the dorms have become uninhabitable for some reason, I’ll probably just take Eva up on her offer to live at the prison.”

Serena hummed a few times before walking over to the window. She took a moment, just staring out at the black surface that now made up most of the ground between the dormitory buildings.

After Genoa had taken down her walls, Eva went around smoothing the place out. There were still no patterns in it. Just a smooth sheet of glass-like material that Zoe worried might become too slick once the winter weather started up in force. On her suggestion, Eva had added a slight slope and channels for water to run down, as the crystallized blood was otherwise nonporous. It wouldn’t help with anything that stayed frozen, but would get the water off the platform.

Assuming they could remove the ice, magically or through mundane salt, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Serena’s interest with the world outside the window gave Zoe a moment to tidy up her desk. Papers which had formerly been in a neat stack awaiting reading and grading had been strewn about into a disorganized mess. It was a good thing that she kept her desk neat. With only one other stack of papers, one that Serena had barely touched, it wasn’t hard to put everything back in its proper place.

Whoever said that vampires had an obsession with order and counting had never met a real one.

“Wayne said that new students will be arriving soon.”

“The top ten students of the top four North American schools. Here to show off what they have learned.”

“How many are going to be demons, vampires, dragonkin, necromancers, or half-fae?”

“I would say hopefully none. We have enough excitement as is. However, the Nod Complex has been invited. I know at least a dryad will be arriving with them.”

“Yet a bunch of humans are expected to compete with demons?”

“Mr. Anderson,” Zoe said through pursed lips, “hopes to show off alternate methods of utilizing magic. A protest, if you will, against what he feels is a society stagnating by restricting itself to thaumaturgy.”

“Sounds like cheating to me.”

Zoe kept her mouth shut. The same thought had occurred to her. But it didn’t really matter. He would be getting the school’s name mentioned alongside the names of actually reputable schools. For the next school year, they might not have to go around, scrounging for students. Some might actually apply willingly.

“Who is running the betting pool on some disaster happening while the other schools are here?”

Zoe blinked in confusion. “I’m… What?”

“Figures you wouldn’t know,” Serena said, turning back to the window. “But somebody has to be gambling over this. Maybe I’ll try to sniff them out.” After a brief moment, she shook her head. “Though I don’t know why. Probably terrible odds on something happening and I’m certainly not betting against.”

Leaving her chair and walking around her desk, Zoe approached the vampire at the window with a long sigh. The fourth in seemingly as many minutes.

“Yeah,” she said, resting her forehead against the cool glass. “I wouldn’t bet against it either.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>

>>Author’s Note 008<<


008.016

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Hold on a moment,” Eva said.

She didn’t get texts often. Usually only when there was an emergency. Either Zoe or Nel using Zoe’s phone would send her something. Even rarer were actual phone calls.

Right now, her phone was ringing. They had been right in the middle of their conversation about demon hunters, tactics, possible offensive avenues, and defensive security measures. Now somebody was interrupting it.

Rude. Probably. Unless it was an emergency. In that case, Eva might be able to forgive whoever it was.

Genoa nodded an assent. Making a show of noticing that her glass was empty, she got up and walked to the kitchen to refill her water. She was actually using her own two feet. Half of their conversation had been spent on her feet, though she made liberal use of the chairs and tables around the room to lean against.

It was somewhat awkward, being seated on the couch while Genoa wandered about, but Eva ignored it for the most part. It was nice that she was on her feet in the first place. Her recovery was going well, it seemed. No brain damage as far as Eva could tell.

Though she hadn’t asked Genoa or Juliana if there actually was any. But having her heart punctured like that… even a few minutes of oxygen deprivation to the brain could cause permanent damage. It had been one of the main things Eva had tried to prevent by circulating her blood through the air.

Muscle atrophy was a whole other matter, unfortunately. After waking from her coma, she had been unable to move. Too much healing, too much risk of reopening a wound. By the time she had been able to get up for exercise, she needed a good deal of therapy.

Moreover, she was acting. A good act as she really was up on her feet.

But as Eva glanced down to her phone’s screen, Genoa let her facade slip ever so slightly.

Her smile lost its gusto. Still there, ready to reassure people that she was fine. But so long as she thought that nobody was looking, she didn’t put the effort into it. Her breathing changed to be just a bit more ragged, as if she weren’t getting quite enough oxygen though her lungs.

It wasn’t the first time she had let her act falter. Pretty much anytime she thought that her guests weren’t paying attention, she would sigh or pinch her eyes shut. Something to indicate an exhaustion that she kept hidden otherwise.

Eva hadn’t commented so far and she wasn’t about to start now.

Instead, she focused on her still ringing phone.

Irene’s name was lit up on the screen.

Which was somewhat odd. Eva couldn’t recall ever getting a call from Irene. Usually it was the other way around. Eva couldn’t think of a single reason why Irene would call. It wasn’t to hang out. Irene never initiated any kind of hang-out session.

If there was trouble at Brakket, Eva would have expected a call from Zoe first.

Unless Zoe was in trouble.

“Hello?”

“Eva? Oh good. You’re alright.”

That instantly set her on full alert. “Should I not be alright?” she asked with a glance towards Srey.

The other demon hadn’t participated even once in the conversation with Genoa. Not that Eva had really expected him to. She felt a bit bad that Srey was being used purely for his utility and not for something like his charming personality… but he didn’t have much charm under his glower.

Still, he got the message the glance conveyed and shook his head. He mouthed, ‘no one watching.’

That calmed Eva a little bit. If nobody was watching, they probably weren’t about to be ambushed. Probably. Maybe somebody was outside watching the house. They couldn’t see Srey, but they were waiting for somebody to emerge or to walk past the windows. Or maybe they had blocked Srey out of their watching somehow and could keep an eye on the rest without triggering his sense of observation.

Thinking those thoughts erased the little calm that Eva had.

And made her eye the windows with suspicion.

Her blood sense wasn’t detecting anything abnormal, but it didn’t have the range that Srey apparently had.

While Eva had been analyzing her surroundings, Irene had continued on, babbling somewhat incoherently about Saija.

What is it with that girl and succubi?

“Stop,” Eva said, latching onto a word. “Someone with a sword? Were they armored up like a medieval knight?”

“No. Saija said that they were an old lady.”

“Old? How old? Maybe an eye patch and red hair?”

Eva could almost hear Irene shaking her head.

“White hair. And Saija says no eye patch, just a leather coat.”

Some other demon hunter? Eva thought. She knew that there were some around. The demons had killed a few hunters before arriving. None since, but she could understand even a demon hunter’s hesitation in attacking a school full of children.

Frowning, Eva tried to think up anyone she knew that fit that description.

“I didn’t actually see any of it,” Irene said, ignoring Eva’s momentary lapse in thought. “I was turned away. When I did look, I still couldn’t see anything. Saija said that she was running pretty fast.”

“Right. A white-haired, leather coat wearing sword wielder who moves quickly,” Eva repeated for the sake of everyone present. “We’ll be on the lookout. You stay safe, alright. We’ll be back to the dorms…”

Eva trailed off as something clicked.

She had seen someone who fit that description.

Just once. And not for very long.

Someone who had gone unnoticed by her blood vision. Someone who had apparently broken a domain and caused the domain owner to flee into Prax’s domain.

“The doll,” Eva whispered to herself.

But it wouldn’t be coming after Eva. She hadn’t done anything. Maybe it was looking for Prax and was merely unaware that he had died.

Eva glanced over at Arachne and Srey. Void had sent the former here. Unless she had broken some other rule that Eva was unaware of. Srey… Eva couldn’t say much about. For being around each other so much these days, Eva didn’t really speak with him unless necessary.

Which might explain why he was so grumpy all the time. As far as she knew, nobody actually talked with him unless they were wondering if they were being watched.

“Well, I’ll let everyone know,” Eva said. “Thanks for the warning, Irene. Don’t worry about it though. I think I know who it was. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. You just enjoy your time with Saija.”

“Eva…”

If Irene was going to say anything else, Eva didn’t hear it. She hung up the phone and slipped it back into her pocket.

“Well, that’s interesting.”

Arachne, on her feet and pacing around the room, turned to Eva. “Should we be on guard or not?”

“Probably. Just to be safe.”

“You know who is after us?”

“The Keeper’s doll. I think. Could be wrong. Irene was somewhat unclear.” She didn’t panic as easily as Shalise used to, but when she did get worked up, she could be hard to understand.

Arachne froze in her pacing, staring at Eva. The carapace that made up her lips curled downwards into a frown as she let out a low growl.

Compared to her somewhat subdued reaction, Srey was on his feet and at the windows almost immediately. His eyes darted back and forth while his body lost most of its solidity. After a moment, there was nothing in front of the window but an outline of the gaseous demon.

A bit of an extreme reaction, in Eva’s opinion.

“Srey,” she said. “You and the other demons were all summoned properly, right?”

“As far as I know,” he said. His voice had the air of an echo about it.

Genoa came back around the counter, casually sipping at the water in her hand. “Eva doesn’t seem worried.”

“From what was explained to me, they’re sort of like prison wardens. Unless one of us has done something worthy of demon prison, nothing to worry about.” Eva glanced between Arachne and Srey. “Right?”

“If a doll is running around the mortal realm, who knows what minor offenses— little things that are normally overlooked—that doll might notice and decide to act on. Why would it be here? Did a human break a contract? They almost never come to the mortal realm for demons. They’ll wait for a demon to die or be banished.”

Reassuring himself a little bit, Srey managed to pull himself together. He returned to his human form, stepping away from the window partially.

“We just need to make sure we don’t do anything,” he said after a deep breath. “Play it cool. Don’t draw attention.”

“Are they really so dangerous?” Genoa asked. “I can personally attest to Arachne’s strength. Eva’s blood magic is fairly formidable. I don’t know about you,” she said with a nod towards Srey, “but you are a demon. You weren’t half as worried about actual demon hunters a moment ago.”

“I’ve seen one fight,” Juliana said from within a full suit of armor. “Only for a short time as we were escaping from the prison. So fast. And its sword cut straight through everything that it came into contact with. The way it moved was… monstrous.”

“That’s because they are monsters. Shells of humans, hollowed out and filled with unnatural machinery of the Keeper’s design. They’re his hobby. Emulating Void by creating his own beings. Worse, magic fails against them. A hundred could be watching us right now with the intention of killing us in five minutes and I wouldn’t be able to sense them in the slightest.”

Eva hummed. Her brief encounter with the doll fit with that. She hadn’t been able to sense it with blood. Though she had apparently tricked it into thinking that she could sense it.

Frowning, Eva looked around with narrowed eyes. Was it already watching them? Just standing out of sight somewhere?

“Monstrous or not, you said that we shouldn’t need to worry.”

“Not unless someone has violated the terms of their contract. Or something else idiotic.”

“Arachne,” Eva said, “you don’t have a contract.”

The spider-demon’s lip curled. “Shouldn’t be a problem. Contracts are not required. They’re merely there to protect both the demon and the summoner. If a demon escapes confinement and kills the summoner before a contract is made, they can freely rampage across the Earth if they want.”

“But you weren’t summoned properly either.”

Arachne snorted. Not a sound she made often. “Void himself sent me here. If the doll is here to drag me back because of that, I can only imagine how Void might dismantle it upon its return.”

“I see,” Eva said, turning towards the doorway that led to the rest of the house. “Then why is the doll sitting around spying on us?”

Everyone in the room, despite their reassurances that there was nothing to worry about mere seconds ago, spun to face the door. Genoa had a dagger out and in her hands in seconds, pointing towards the entryway. Srey was back to his gaseous form, backing away.

Arachne flexed all of her extra legs, moving around to block Eva’s view of the doorway as she stood protectively over Eva.

A moment of tense silence passed. Everyone wondering if they should flee or launch attacks against the walls just in case.

For Eva, she was just hoping that someone would come around the corner. Anyone, really. Saying something similar had worked back in Prax’s domain. If it had failed then, nobody would have been around to call her out. Now she had caused all this commotion in hopes that it would work again.

Given how hard Genoa’s heart was beating, Eva was regretting it. The woman had been acting tired. This was just unneeded stress.

Of course, if she wanted no stress, she shouldn’t have come back to Brakket.

“Sorry,” Eva said, breaking the tense silence.

Her voice was enough to make Juliana jump. She spun around with a sword pointing out towards Eva.

Arachne knocked it away with one of her legs. Eva immediately reached forward to grab her hand before she could do anything more.

“I wasn’t going to attack,” Arachne said, barely glancing over her shoulder towards Eva. Turning to face Juliana, she continued. “Do not point swords at Eva.”

Genoa had her own focus pointed at Arachne’s back, only lowering it as the tension bled off.

“Look,” Eva said before the woman could say anything. “Let’s just all just calm down for a moment. Take a deep breath and remember that we’re all allies.”

“Eva,” Genoa said, turning her attention back to the doorway. “Did you see something or not?”

“I… thought I did.”

With all the commotion she had caused, she couldn’t admit that she was just guessing that someone was there.

Genoa sighed, leaning against the counter.

Arachne prowled around the room, head swiveling around as she tried to keep an eye on everything at once. She made her way to the doorway, stopping just outside it. Before entering, she stayed outside, listening. After another moment, she started sniffing.

Seemingly satisfied that there was nothing around, she peeked her head around the corner. All of her legs were raised protectively around her head. She walked in, made her way around the front entrance and living room before coming back to the kitchen.

“No sign of anyone. Door still locked. Windows are unbroken. There are marks on the floors, but I assume that is from regular wear and use.”

“Thank you Arachne. I guess I was wrong.”

Srey whirled on Eva. “You guess? How could you assume someone was there? We just said that magic doesn’t work on them. Including my detection magic.”

“I’m relatively certain that I’ve met this doll before. Then, I was able to detect her. Not through sensing demons or even my ability to sense blood. It was just a feeling that I got. It was correct then.” Eva turned around to face the kitchen windows that looked out over the back yard of the home. “And I still feel something.”

If the doll was still watching and just from someplace else, she wanted it to know that she knew.

Even though she didn’t.

“A sort of instinct in your gut?” Genoa asked. She was leaning against the counter with her daughter at her side, using Juliana’s shoulder as a sort of crutch. She took in a deep breath, looking around the room. “I have the same feeling.”

Eva raised an eyebrow in Genoa’s direction. “Yeah, something like that,” she lied.

But if Genoa was feeling something off, perhaps there was some truth to the matter.

“Let’s search a bit more,” Eva said. “Arachne, with me. Genoa and Juliana, if you want to sit–”

Pushing herself off the table again—and away from Juliana—Genoa shook her head. “No. This is our home and my daughter. I’ll not sit idly while danger lurks.”

Eva let out a small sigh. She knew this would happen. Even if it wasn’t the demon hunters, she had still brought danger to Genoa’s doorstep.

“Alright,” Eva said with a light sigh. Not that she really had a choice in the matter. She wasn’t Genoa’s minder. “But don’t attack if this doll doesn’t look violent. Last time, the doll wasn’t hostile. It would be better if we didn’t have to fight.”

“I agree.” Juliana moved up to her mother. Not as a crutch, but ready if Genoa needed help. “The dolls… they didn’t help us escape the prison, but they didn’t get in the way either.”

Eva blinked then frowned as something clicked. They let Juliana and Shalise escape. Nothing was wrong with that… except Prax had been inside Shalise. Or had been in control of her. Eva was a little unclear on when exactly that had happened. Her concentration had been entirely on Genoa.

But if they had let Prax escape, would they really be here for him? Moreover, would the doll have been after him even back when Eva had first encountered it inside Prax’s domain?

She had said that cells needed to be refilled, and Prax was an escapee. But if the doll hadn’t been after Prax and Shalise, then the whole ordeal with the Elysium Order’s cathedral had been for nothing.

Well, not quite nothing, Eva thought after a moment. I’m sure Shalise appreciated my efforts.

So not a complete waste. In fact, that alone probably made it worth everything.

If this truly was a doll, she needed to find out why it was here. The simplest method was to find and ask it. If it was here to find Prax or something else that Eva really didn’t care about, its presence wasn’t a concern.

“Srey, if you stay here and just keep a cellphone handy. Any sort of watching you sense needs to be messaged to us immediately.”

“I don’t have–”

Juliana pulled out her own cellphone and handed it over. “Both my mom’s number and Eva’s are in the contacts list. You know how to use it right?”

Srey ran his thumb over the screen, pausing for a few moments as he examined the icons.

“This one,” Juliana said, pointing.

It took another minute of coaching, but he managed to send out a group text in the end.

“Right. So we split up. I’ll be with Arachne, you two check upstairs.”

“The house isn’t that big.”

“I’d rather it not slip by us. Arachne can skitter around in the crawl space as well.”

“You really think that this thing would be lurking down there?”

“If it is watching us and doesn’t want to be discovered, possibly.”

Eva glanced around. Not really to look for something, but just to make an idle action as she considered her words.

“I haven’t asked about him… but we’re not going to run into Carlos, are we?”

“When you called, I sent him away. He should be minding himself at the cafe where you and I first met.”

“Is that really safe? I mean, with all the demons and demon hunters, he is all alone and without a guard.”

“Carlos can take care of himself,” Genoa said with a soft smile. She stared off into space for a moment before shaking her head. “Juliana isn’t the only one who I’ve trained, though she has taken to the lessons with far more enthusiasm.”

“If you’re sure…” Eva trailed off, waiting for some disagreement from Genoa. When none came, she shook her head. “Alright. Let’s get moving.”

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