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.

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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.”

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