Tag Archives: Twillie

003.007

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Martina Tuner fought to keep a smile off her face as she looked out over the student body. A fight she came close to losing several times and she hadn’t started speaking yet.

Things couldn’t have gone better if she had planned them out herself.

The possibility of failure tempered her near overwhelming glee to more manageable levels.

Barely.

Her speech needed to be perfect. She could delay for a few days to write out a proper speech for the situation. Unfortunately, that would give ample opportunity for rumors to spread and grow to the point of hyperbole.

The event happening in the evening helped curb the spread of information. Parents were sure to receive letters or phone calls, especially with the assembly, but they would be contacted with information Martina gave herself during the assembly.

“It has come to my attention,” Martina said, “that a large portion of the student body was present at an incident that occurred during Professor Kines’ combative training extracurricular. This incident raised nearly the same amount of concern from the student body in a single day as a horde of zombies did last Halloween. Many messages that reached my desk were, quite frankly, overblown hearsay from people not directly present. Nevertheless, after meeting with the staff, we decided to illuminate the entire student body as to what occurred and what that means for you.”

Martina paused and glanced over the students. They sat patiently, waiting for more words. Some carried hushed conversations with their neighbors; likely discussing the very topic Martina was getting to.

Others seemed entirely unconcerned with the goings on. The assembly hadn’t started long before the first bell rang, but some students looked ready to fall asleep in their seats.

So long as they kept that attitude when confronted with more supernatural elements, they wouldn’t need Zagan sicced on them.

“First and foremost: Brakket Magical Academy is and has always been open to anyone who wishes to learn. We do not discriminate against species, beings, races, creeds, colors, or magical affinities.

“We do not currently have any elves, goblins, and so on enrolled, but this is due more to them having their own magical education catered to the methods they use to perform their specific brands of magic.

“We do, however, have a number of students who are not fully human. They have chosen Brakket–and therefore, human methods of casting–for reasons that vary between the students.”

That got a few gasps from the students. Many started looking around as if knowing that would suddenly let them know who Martina spoke of. More than a few glances went in Eva’s direction.

The little nascent demon sat in a small bubble of her own; only her two roommates and two of her other friends sat near her. The other two of her friends seemed to be giving her a little space, though they were still closer than any other student.

“Don’t bother looking around,” Martina said after a moment. “If they don’t tell you, you likely will never know. Most of them have little to no secondary characteristics of other species. Those that do can hide them well enough that it won’t matter.

“At least one individual does have distinguishing characteristics, although this individual’s case is something of a special one. They were not born as they are now, merely altered into being at least part creature. The nuns we were… host to in recent memory failed in their only job and such an event came around. Any information beyond that is, I’m afraid, personal to the individual.”

Another pause. It was only tangentially the truth, but it was the truth that would best serve in the future. Besides, Martina wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to sling mud at the Elysium Order.

Eva didn’t look happy about it. She sat at a distance, but her grinding teeth were easily visible to her enhanced senses.

Tough for her. It would be better in the long run for her as well, even if that was only an untended side effect.

“This individual’s aforementioned distinguishing characteristics were unfortunately revealed in a public setting just last night. They were the indirect cause of all the concern that reached my desk. Rest assured that this individual is the same person who has attended Brakket Academy for the entire past year. Because you learned a new fact about them does not change who you’ve known for over a year now.

“Relevant staff have known since the incident occurred last November. Nothing has changed due to the events of the previous night.”

Martina stopped and waited. The students started speaking to one another louder than they had before. It took a scant few moments for them to return to their former, quiet state.

“I will once again reiterate that Brakket does not discriminate against any nonhuman heritage, acquired from guardians or otherwise. I, and the rest of the staff, expect all of our students to follow that policy.

“Any questions and concerns by students or their guardians regarding Brakket’s anti-discrimination policies should be forwarded to my secretary’s desk.”

Turning her voice to a more light-hearted tone, Martina said, “It is your first week back at Brakket–your first week period, for some of you. I’d just like to say, welcome. I hope you all had an energizing summer to prepare for this year’s schooling.

“There was going to be an announcement assembly sometime next week, however I think we can all appreciate condensing long, boring speeches down while I’ve got you here. I’ll skip over all the boring part so we can get on with our lives.”

Martina waited for the students’ forced chuckles to die down.

“The biggest announcement is the addition of Rex Zagan to the teaching staff. Many of you had his combative magic class yesterday while the rest of you will have him today. I encourage everyone to pay attention. He has had more experience fighting than any singular person I can think of.”

Light and scattered applause started amongst the students and staff as Zagan stood to give a suave bow. Probably from the students who hadn’t had his class yet.

“Aside from that, there are a number of policy changes regarding security practices at Brakket Academy. This is due, of course, to the frankly disgusting events that occurred last year.

“First and foremost, there is a curfew in effect. All students fourth year and below must be in their dorms by sundown.”

That caused an uproar. Students started arguing and shouting. For the life of her, Martina couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t like many of the city’s buildings stayed open long after dark–especially in the winter when students avoided going outside at all–and there wasn’t much else to do in Brakket city.

Students complaining for the sake of complaining or some perceived restraint on their ‘freedoms’ was the likely cause.

Martina held up her hands in an attempt to quiet the rowdy students. “You do not need to be in your assigned room, merely within the building. There are plenty of recreational and academic activities to pursue without leaving. If you have suggestions or complaints, please drop off a note with Catherine, my secretary. If you wish to speak in person, make an appointment with her. We’re willing to meet halfway on this, but for now the curfew stands.”

“Moving on,” Martina said before any additional interruptions could delay her speech. “Our school’s illustrious benefactor has seen fit to give me the ability to hire a number of full-time security personnel. While I hope nothing the likes of the previous year occurs again, I felt it prudent to go above and beyond for the safety of our students. I am still going through applications, but we should have a preliminary set of guards for the school by early October.

“Provided we have a sufficient security force, the aforementioned curfew will be relaxed for select locations on special events, such as Halloween.

“There are a handful of other, minor notices that I’ll spare you the details of. A notice will be posted on all information bulletin boards around Brakket campus by the end of the week containing a full list.

“With that said, welcome back to Brakket Magical Academy.”

The bell rang just as Martina stepped away from the podium. Perfect, she thought. It was a close one, but everything seemed to have gone well. Especially with the important part of her speech. She wasn’t worried much about the curfew issue; the students would forget or simply not care soon enough.

Her eyes caught the glowering gaze of Zoe Baxter as she turned from the stage. Unlike the other professors who all hurried off to their classes before the students could get there, Zoe got to her feet and marched straight up to Martina.

For a moment, Martina braced herself for a punch.

The punch never came.

“Could I speak with you for a moment? Privately.” Zoe’s jaw stayed clamped shut as she spoke and her lips pursed together even as the words somehow came out of the stern teacher’s mouth. It was a wonder Martina understood the woman at all.

Yet, understand she did. Martina sighed and said, “don’t you have a class to teach right now?”

“It is my seniors,” Zoe said. “They know how I run the class already and there are instructions on the board just in case I needed to speak with you, which I do.”

“Very well. My office then?”

Zoe reached out and gripped Martina’s arm. Before the dean could react, she flicked the dagger that somehow got into her hand.

The stage fell away to reveal white nothingness accompanied by a cooling of the air. It only lasted an instant before Martina’s office built itself up around the two.

Martina smacked the theory professor’s hand away from her arm. “I’ll thank you to never teleport me again. I am perfectly capable of moving under my own power.”

“What were you thinking?” Zoe asked as Martina made her way around her desk.

The dean unbuttoned the last few buttons of her shirt and draped it over the back of her chair before taking a seat.

Zoe continued, seemingly oblivious to Martina’s movements. “You essentially told everyone that Eva is a demon.”

Martina rested her elbows on her desk and steepled her fingers together. “I believe I used the words ‘individual’ and ‘creature’ but I–”

“Don’t give me that,” Zoe spat. “Not a single student doesn’t know who you were referring to. Even if none of the students can recognize a demon, someone will figure it out. Eva already mentioned concerns about that exact issue to me. I downplayed my own fear for her sake.

“But someone will figure it out and then it will spread to everyone else and then what? Even if all the demons that I have met are not mass murdering psychopaths, that doesn’t mean everyone else will feel the same. Especially not parents. The word ‘demon’ carries some of the worst connotations for a magical creature in the entire English language. There is no possible–”

Martina held up a hand. She had other work to get done and letting the enraged professor continue wasn’t making any paperwork go away. Besides, she was doing the poor woman a favor. Zoe was turning a tad blue in the face from the lack of air she was getting through her diatribe.

“Professor Baxter–Zoe. I do not know what delusions you are operating under, but I am in no way advocating the ostracization of one of our students. Especially not young Miss Eva.”

“Oh no,” Zoe huffed, “you’re not advocating anything. You merely set up Eva so that all the students will be curious. They’ll dig until they find the answer. Then she’ll be ostracized on her own with no help from you.

“You could have simply said that she is a human that had limbs replaced as an experiment.”

“And lie to the rest of our students? I’m ashamed you’d think me so low.”

“It’s closer to the truth than the drivel you spouted.”

Martina quirked an eyebrow and found herself fighting another grin off of her face. Does she really not know?

“What’s done is done, Zoe. Rest assured I have no intention of seeing Miss Eva flee or be driven from our academy. Quite the opposite, in fact. I would very much like to see her stay at Brakket through her full schooling.”

Zoe’s lips pursed further into a thin line. “Why?”

“Miss Eva’s presence here sets a precedent. Even more so should her ‘heritage’ be discovered. All part of turning Brakket from its miserable state. Isn’t that a goal of yours?”

“Not if it involves ruining the lives of my students.”

“A transitional period. They will come to accept her for what she is and all will be the better for it. As we mentioned in our staff meeting: continue treating her like you have so far. The students will follow our lead.”

Zoe opened her mouth to say something, but appeared to change her mind. It snapped shut with an audible click of her teeth. She glared.

Martina didn’t mind so much, but she did have paperwork to get through. Fabricating histories and identities for several guards she intended to hire wouldn’t do itself, after all.

Dismissing Zoe with a wave of her hand, Martina pulled the first stack of papers in front of her.

Before she could put her pen to the paper, Zoe said, “why is Zagan a demon?”

“He is what he is,” Martina said without looking up. “Much like Eva is what she is, regardless of whether you accept her for that.”

“What I should have asked was, why is our combat instructor a demon?”

Martina glanced up with a smile. “Progress.”

Zoe’s frown turned into a scowl.

“And safety from big threats I suppose,” Martina said as she turned back to the papers. “The amount of humans who could actually match him in a fight can be counted on one hand. Of course, he can’t stay forever–far too volatile for that–hence hiring some new guards to deter threats.”

“I presume lone, rogue imps don’t count as big threats? I haven’t heard of any progress about that little incident.”

It was Martina’s turn to scowl. “Zagan has reported that no more demons have been summoned within the city since then. He has been fairly lackadaisical in actually investigating. Should anything threaten the academy itself, he will step in as per his contract.”

“It harmed a student of this academy.”

“Barely,” Martina half whispered as she signed off a form. The injured girl had been fixed up in only a few days under the care of Nurse Naranga.

She felt a sudden tinge of annoyance as she realized she had marked her signature in the wrong spot. “Do you not need to be getting to your class? It is the first class of the year. I would hate to have to fire one of the best theorists because she couldn’t teach properly.”

There was a small click of teeth again before a cold blast of air threatened to send a stack of papers to the floor. Martina held down the papers until the wind subsided.

Zoe was further into diablery than any other professor–Zagan aside for obvious reasons–but her temperament was far from a proper diabolist. Due to her connection with Eva, she’d dig further than any other professor as well into matters she should leave well enough alone. She’d need to come around or she would be replaced.

But, that could wait a while, Martina thought as she ran her fingers through her hair.

The new hires needed to come first.

— — —

Bradley Twillie paced in front of the zoo’s lecture room. He went on and on about mimics, seemingly ignoring the rest of the class.

Not a single person paid attention to him. If he cared, he didn’t show it. His lecture style hadn’t changed in the slightest since the previous year.

He didn’t glance overmuch in the direction of Eva, unlike everyone else.

Eva kept her head pointed at the front of the classroom. That didn’t stop her from being able to see everyone around her. Anytime she tilted her head in one direction or another, the students all faced forwards and did their best to make it look like they hadn’t been staring.

It was like November and December all over again, before the novelty of a blind girl able to move around without trouble had worn off. Rather than stare at Eva’s blindfold, their eyes were glued on her claws. Eva could only hope that the interest would wear off soon.

This time, the students weren’t looking on in curiosity. They had fear in their hearts–they beat faster whenever someone thought Eva might be glancing in their direction. The moment her head turned back towards the front of the classroom, the students’ gazes returned to her claws.

Claws that occasionally tapped against the desk in front of her. Each clack of her finger caused slight flinching in everyone around. Moving the claws through the air to grab a notebook out of her book bag caused anyone in the direction of motion to scoot even further away than they already sat.

At the very least, those reactions were amusing.

It was a strange feeling. Eva couldn’t help but feel naked. As her two roommates could attest to, she had no problem going without clothing. But without her gloves? Just being able to stretch her fingers to their fullest extent in front of others made her want to hide them beneath the desk.

Hiding was not an option.

If news that the blind girl had claws wasn’t already known to everyone, it would be by the day’s end. Hiding would only make people more afraid; they would end up with rampant speculation about what was under her gloves.

Hopefully they would find her claws to be less terrifying than whatever rumors would have gone around instead.

Eva jumped in her seat as Shalise poked her in the side. Her morose thoughts vanished as Bradley Twillie cleared his throat.

“I understand you have a lot to think about, Eva, but I would appreciate it if you would pay attention while in my class.”

“Sorry, Professor,” Eva said. She hung her head ever so slightly.

The professor pursed his lips before he said, “I asked: How would you identify a mimic from whatever object it is mimicking?”

A mimic would have blood flowing through it, Eva thought. That would be the first sign to her. Eva doubted that was the answer he was looking for. Bradley Twillie probably gave the answer at some point during his lecture.

Unfortunately, Eva had no idea what that answer was.

“Unless you already suspect a mimic to be around, it is unlikely you would be able to notice before you touched the object,” she said with a shrug. “The tedium of checking every single object you touch throughout your life for a mimic would lead to madness.

“Seelie fae are generally easy-going. It would be far more prudent to simply offer to channel some magic for the mimic to feed off of for a minute or two than worry over finding one.”

The professor scratched at his head under his hat before shaking his head in a somewhat disappointed manner. “That’s just asking for trouble,” he said with a shake of his head. “If you give a mouse a cookie,” he grumbled half under his breath.

A ring signaling the end of the class put a stop to Bradley Twillie’s mumblings.

“All of you should be able to answer the question by Thursday’s class,” he said as the students packed up. “We’ll have live specimens in class for you to observe.”

Eva packed her things lethargically compared to her classmates. Everyone else had alchemy next. Eva intended to use her free period to enjoy not being stared at constantly.

“Well,” Juliana said on their way out, “that certainly was something.”

“Oh?”

“Tension was a bit thick. I thought a lynch mob was going to form by the end of class.”

“L-lynch mob?” Shalise squeaked.

“I can’t imagine that would end well for anyone,” Eva said softly with a pat to Arachne. Not that there was any danger of being overheard. A large bubble had formed around their group. Shelby and Jordan were the two closest but they were still hanging back with a very nervous Irene and a slightly less nervous Max.

“In any case,” Eva said, “I don’t think they were going to form a lynch mob. I get the feeling they were more afraid or creeped out than angry or hostile.”

“Watch your back. Just in case.”

“They’ll have a whole class period to discuss and calm down without me around at least.”

“What are you going to be doing?”

“Finding a room and having Arachne read me books.” There was a small squirm beneath Eva’s shirt when the spider-demon heard her name.

“In school? What if someone walks in? The claws are hard enough to explain.”

“We managed all last semester. There are plenty of empty rooms and students are all in class. We’ll be fine.”

“I hope so.”

“What about them?” Shalise asked with a not-so-subtle nod of her head towards Jordan’s group.

“Zoe advised me to tell them the truth–minus the ‘d’ word–given they already know about ‘Rach’ and are sure to make the connection, if they haven’t already.” Eva turned to face Juliana. “I was actually hoping your father could come up with some cover story for Arachne. She could be a magical creature instead of what she is.”

“Maybe,” Juliana hummed. “So long as he doesn’t find either of you to be objectionable.”

“We will be on our best behavior. Won’t we, Arachne.”

The spider-demon gave an almost hesitant tap against Eva’s right shoulder.

“Right. That’s what I thought. So,” Eva said with her first smile of the day, “he knows how to get to the prison?”

“Maybe Arachne should give him a ride.”

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002.002

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Her hug was only stiffly returned. She pulled away from the target of her embrace and glanced over her friend.

Shalise took one look at Eva and her stomach sank.

“Y-your eyes… that isn’t from when you saved me, is it?”

Eva just tilted her head to the side in a confused look. She leaned slightly against Juliana’s desk. “No. Why would you think that? I was sitting around on the floor holding you for several minutes afterwards.”

That must have been a stupid question, Shalise thought even as she felt her face run hot. “I-I thought it might be some kind of sacrifice. Your eyes for my life or something.” Shalise hung her head.

“Nothing of the sort. I lost my eyes in a mostly unrelated accident a week or so later.” At that, Eva’s thus-far polite smile flashed into a gritting of her teeth for just an instant. It turned back into a smile before Shalise could blink. “The only sacrifice for that was your own. Speaking of, how are your hands?”

Shalise stuck out her hands and flexed her fingers. A deep scar ran lengthwise through one of her hands. “They’re all working. Sister Cross sent a special healer Sister to take a look. Doctors told me that I’d never use my right hand again but after she did her magic, I could move my fingers again.”

“That’s good. I was worried, especially about the zombie bite.” Eva moved a gloved hand to the thin leather strap over her eyes and pulled it up. “I can see for the most part thanks to magic, but I don’t have eyes currently.”

“I… don’t– That’s–” Shalise’s mouth stumbled over what to say. Her brain couldn’t even decide, it was stumbling just as much. The eye socket she held open was gross to look at, but would it be rude to turn away? Shalise didn’t know.

“You’re scaring the poor girl on her first day back,” Juliana said from her place on her bed.

Eva let out a chuckle as she slid the band back down.

Shalise finally settled on a one word response. “Currently?”

“It is a work in progress.”

And Eva said no more. Shalise simply nodded.

“One more thing, something you can’t tell anyone. Only us three, Zoe Baxter, and Sister Cross know.”

Shalise nodded again, though she wondered at the tone Eva used when she said Sister Cross.

Sister Cross had been unusually pushy as of late. When Shalise wanted to go into the dorms without her, Shalise thought she might take her straight back home. Eventually she relented, but only after a good five minutes of Shalise’s best glare.

Eva started pushing up the sleeves of her dark gray school uniform. She had tattoos? No, it wasn’t markings on her skin. Something in her skin curled and twisted away from her elbow. It turned into a solid, shiny black about two inches away and continued all the way down to the edge of her gloves.

“How much do you remember about Halloween?”

“Too much.”

Juliana lightly chuckled, though there didn’t seem to be much mirth in it.

“Good,” Eva said. “You might remember Arachne then?”

“That was,” Shalise paused a moment in thought. Truthfully, she didn’t remember much. Most of it was told to her by Juliana over the next few days. Some things stuck out in her mind; the phantom dancer for one. “That was the person you danced with who killed the zombies? She helped heal me, or cure me, right?”

Juliana’s nod to one side confirmed Shalise’s half-guesses.

“I lost my hands a few weeks after Halloween and Arachne offered her own as replacements.”

“That was… nice of her. I guess.” Was it? It seemed an odd thing to do. Not something Shalise would be interested in offering. Then again, she didn’t know much about magic. “Is she okay just like, chopping her hands off?”

“She’s fine. She’s a demon.”

There was a brief moment of silence while Shalise’s brain caught up to everything. Her eyes grew wide. “D-D-Demon?” Shalise drew back, horrified.

Then she paused. And thought. Eventually she said, “is that bad? I-I mean church says they are bad, but I don’t know… Goblins are always bad in stories, but Professor Baxter talks about them like regular people.”

Shalise gave a glance to a shrugging Juliana. It seemed that she’d get no answers from that corner.

“Depends on who you ask,” Eva said. “A demonologist I know would say, ‘of course they are ya damn dimwit, why do you think we call the damn things demons.’ Everyone else would just say yes.”

Eva held up her hands–or rather, claws–before Shalise could say anything. “I would say it depends on the demon. Arachne has always been very nice to me, even if I am mad at her right now for,” she waved a hand to one side, “reasons.”

“And she gave you her hands? Just like that?”

“Don’t feel sorry for her, she’s already regrown them.”

Shalise shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “So,” she said, “are there tentacles or something under those gloves?”

“Worse.”

“W-worse?” Shalise tried to keep her voice from peaking as she glanced at Juliana. The girl was grinning off to the side.

Maybe she should have switched rooms like Sister Cross said.

No. Eva saved her life. She owed her at least the benefit of the doubt.

Eva already had her gloves off before Shalise could say anything. Long fingers uncurled and spread out, flexing lightly. They were thin and had lots of joints. Her hands were at least twice the size of regular hands.

Shalise looked down at her own hands. Maybe not twice the size. Close though.

For the most part.

“I think,” Shalise said as she stared at them, “have I seen these hands somewhere?”

“Arachne is Rach, the pet spider Eva had.” Juliana sported a wide grin. “Remember that?”

Shalise looked down at the claws again. There was some similarity. Eva was nodding a confirmation when she looked up.

“Oh.”

“Anyway,” Eva said, “now that we have that out of the way, we should go about catching you up in school work. I actually expected you to show up sooner than the day before second semester started, but I guess this is what they call cramming.”

“Me too. I think Sister Cross really wanted me to not stay in your room. For a while, I thought she was going to stop me from coming altogether.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.”

“The good news is that Sister Cross has been forwarding me most of the classwork. The only things I wasn’t able to practice on my own were our ecology classes and alchemy.”

Eva’s face turned to a frown as she spoke.

“Eva’s been all but banned from alchemy,” Juliana said. “Professor Lurcher thinks her hands and eyes are a safety issue–” Eva shrugged, but did not object. “I’ll be happy to help with that.”

“We should still go over all the magic we’ve learned, just to make sure.”

“That would be good,” Shalise agreed, “I was having trouble with water manipulation. It takes so much effort to pull a single drop out of a glass.”

“Well,” Eva said as she placed her claws on her hips, “I can’t do any water magic, but I can watch you and give pointers with Juliana.”

Shalise gave Eva a wide grin. “That sounds great. Let me get unpacked first and we can go over some things.”

There hadn’t been much to bring; Shalise didn’t have loads of belongings at home and most of it fit into a single suitcase. Books and clothes made up the bulk. She spent the next ten minutes putting away her clothes, arranging her books and stationary at her desk, and trying not to stare at Eva’s claws.

It was a lot to take in. Shalise put on a smile for Eva. As much as she wished it wasn’t, her smile was forced.

Juliana didn’t seem to mind the claws; if she did mind, she was hiding it well. They had several weeks together since November so she probably got used to it.

Sister Cross apparently knew about it. Maybe talking with her would be a good idea.

As Shalise sorted her belongings, she noticed something. Her bottom drawer had something in it.

Shalise reached in and pulled out a small box. It had to weigh at least a few pounds.

Juliana had a grin on her face while Eva just had a nice smile.

Inside of the box, Shalise found a pen and a copper plate. Etched into the copper plate was a picture of her. Her wavy hair was much longer in the picture, but she had cut it down to her shoulders while she was gone. Still, it managed a good likeness.

The pen was thick and silver. Too thick for her liking, if she was truly honest. Still, it seemed like an expensive thing. It looked a lot like the one Eva used on occasion, except hers was black.

“Merry Christmas, even if it is a week late,” Eva said.

“I-I don’t know what to say. I didn’t get either of you anything.”

“Say thanks and don’t worry about it,” Juliana said, “we’re just glad you’re back and in one piece.”

“Thanks. But–”

“No buts.”

“Now,” Eva said, “on to your schooling.”

Shalise sighed. She’d find a way to pay them back.

Juliana set a glass of water on her desk just as Shalise pulled out her wand.

“So, what part are you having trouble with?” Eva pulled up her own chair to Shalise’s desk.

Shalise took a breath. “Okay,” she said. She concentrated, envisioning the water as a sphere. With a flick of her wand, she felt a burst of magic escape and mold the water into a sphere.

“I get it this far,” Shalise said. “Then–” She slowly drew her wand across the air, willing a single drop to escape the mass. It already had a spark of her will inside it, so it should be easy to manipulate.

That’s what the textbook said, in any case.

A small droplet laced out, just as Shalise intended. For a moment, it looked like it was working.

The sphere of water bubbled and collapsed. Water moving in the glass knocked it to the floor.

“I’ll grab a towel,” Eva said as she walked to the bathroom.

Shalise sighed. The sleeves of her shirt soaked up most of it. “Then that happens.”

Air was a much friendlier element. It wanted to dance and play. When she messed up, it didn’t soak her. Water seemed grumpy to Shalise. It fought her every time she tried to move it. Just getting the water into a sphere took hours and hours of practice.

If water was grumpy, she was glad she didn’t have to deal with earth.

“When I try manipulating water,” Juliana said as Eva returned with a towel, “it ends up the same way. Yuria said that water can’t be ordered around the same way as earth. Earth needs a firm hand and clear direction. Water flows. It needs an open mind.”

Shalise tried prodding the water out of her shirt with her wand. It didn’t seem to help much. She sighed and said, “what does that even mean?”

A slumping Juliana answered her, “like I said, it turns out the same way when I try.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it right now,” Eva said as she laid a comforting hand on Shalise’s shoulder.

A comforting claw.

Shalise flinched back before she could stop herself.

Eva pulled her claw back quickly.

“Sorry,” Shalise mumbled. A nasty feeling cropped up in her stomach.

“Don’t be,” Eva said with a small smile. “And don’t stress about water magic. We’re only being tested in our own element this year. Apparently we pick a second element next year to work on. If you can do this,” she started to gesture towards the glass with her claw, but pulled it behind her back, “I’m sure you’re ahead of the curve next year.”

Hiding her claws behind her back twisted the wrench further into Shalise’s stomach.

“How are you doing with air?”

Shalise smiled. “Better, I think.”

“Why don’t we take a look at that then.”

— — —

“As I am sure many of you are aware, I am the new dean, Martina Turner.”

Martina Turner scanned the audience. Her eyes paused briefly on Eva.

Not surprising, really. Despite her trying to cover it with her hair, Eva’s blindfold still made her stand out more than others.

“I am deeply honored to become the new dean of Brakket Magical Academy. I wish to say a word of respect towards my predecessor, Rebbecca Halsey, who has elected to retire after the events during Halloween and the following weeks. She has paved the way for me to take this position. I and the rest of the staff wish her a fond farewell and luck in her future endeavors.”

There was a pause as Martina Turner bowed her head slightly. The rest of the staff had mixed reactions. Some followed her lead, others exchanged glances with each other before also lowering their heads.

Eva noted that neither Wayne Lurcher nor Zoe Baxter bowed their heads.

“Brakket Academy was founded on the principle of readying the youth of tomorrow for the challenges that life has to offer. Sadly, it has failed in this with regard to the six students who lost their lives on Halloween night. I would like to take a moment of silence in remembrance for them.”

She bowed her head, deeper this time. None of the staff hesitated in their own bowing. Several students did as well. Eva heard at least one sob softly somewhere in the auditorium ahead of her.

“This is not acceptable,” Dean Turner broke the silence.

“We will be reinstating several programs that were removed from the school by its previous dean. Programs that will prepare students for all situations, not just cushy government jobs or work as an enchanter.”

“Professor Kines has offered to start extracurricular lessons in self-defense and offense. A mage-knight club, if you will.”

She gestured a hand back to the lightly waving botanist. If the blood in his cheeks was any indication, the scrawny man was embarrassed about the whole thing.

“I highly encourage everyone with even the slightest interest to attend. First and second year students may have a harder time due to their proficiency with magic, but I am certain they will gain valuable skills. Professor Baxter, who teaches a combat oriented seminar during the summers, offered to assist if his class gets too large.”

Martina repeated her gesture towards Zoe Baxter. The stern woman just gave a nod of her head and no increase in her pulse.

“Professor Price will be starting up a combative golemancy extracurricular class designed for fourth year students and above.”

A petite woman actually stood up and gave a light curtsy.

“Several other programs will be starting up next year. Until then I encourage prudence when dealing with any unknowns. Please inform an instructor if you feel anything is amiss. Your safety is paramount.

“Thank you for giving me this time to speak and this opportunity to turn things around for the betterment of Brakket Magical Academy.”

Martina Turner turned and left the stage without further comment.

“That was shorter than I expected.”

“Don’t jinx it, Juliana, one of the other teachers could still jump up and start talking.”

“No. It had to be short unless she wanted to cut into class time,” Eva said. “I mean, we only met ten minutes before class started. If she planned for a long speech, I’d hope she would have us assembled earlier.”

“Well, what now?”

“Let’s head to class early. I’d like to talk to the professor about my water magic.”

Eva shook her head but turned to follow Shalise anyway. Despite their encouragement to focus on her air magic, she was still attempting to diversify into both water and fire.

Her fire magic demonstration made Eva more than a little nervous about the integrity of their dorm room. Luckily it hadn’t been bad enough to activate the sprinkler system.

Eva stumbled forwards almost immediately as she followed Shalise, but caught herself on a seat. Someone left a chair out of place that she missed while scanning the floor. She brought her flecks of blood tighter together and hurried to catch up with Juliana and Shalise.

Shalise looked back at the noise. Concern bled into her face–literally from Eva’s perspective–when she realized what happened.

Eva just smiled and shook her head. “I didn’t see the chair.”

“Do you need someone to–” Shalise stopped and bit her lip.

“I’m fine. Just need to be more careful watching where I’m headed.”

Juliana knew how she moved around. Zoe Baxter eventually got in on that secret as well. Eva hadn’t told Shalise yet. She seemed disturbed enough by Eva’s hands. That could wait another week.

Part of the problem were her toes, but not by much unless she tried to run. New eyes were a much more pressing matter than new feet; especially because Arachne was ready and willing to offer her legs.

It wasn’t just stumbling into things now and again, or missing objects lying right in front of her.

Without eyes, Eva couldn’t step. Or wouldn’t step. There was too big of a risk of something going wrong, some chair left out of place.

Not looking where she stepped is how she nearly lost a leg the first time. Arthfael blasted his healing aura for an entire summer and even then, Eva had been lucky. The pane of glass she stepped into was thin enough to leave only a sliver of meat and bone behind.

The thought of stepping into something thicker sent chills up Eva’s spine. Especially if something vital was disrupted.

Juliana and Eva took their seats at the front of Yuria’s classroom. Shalise headed to the front of the class and demonstrated her water problems with their young instructor.

At least, that is what Eva assumed Shalise was doing. She didn’t want to accidentally disrupt any magic with her flecks of blood.

“She really came back then? And seemingly uninjured.”

Eva half jumped out of her seat. Being able to see in every direction didn’t help at all if she didn’t pay attention. It was still a quirk of her sight she was getting used to. Eva did a quick check of everything around her while Juliana spoke to Irene.

“One of the nuns healed her, it seems. I guess her hand was completely unusable before then.”

“I don’t know what I’d do in that situation. I don’t know that I could come back.”

“I would. Definitely. Brakket might be a boring town, but home wasn’t much better. At least during the school year there’s something to do here.”

Some of the students had the same idea and headed straight to class. Others mingled out in the hallway. Eva couldn’t put a name to any of the circulatory systems apart from Jordan, Max, and Shelby.

And one other person. The only reason Eva recognized her was because she’d been staring at her for the last ten minutes.

Martina Turner strode down the hallway. She entered the classroom’s open door with little flourish. After giving the classroom a once over, she took a seat at the very back of the room.

All conversation died as everyone, including Yuria and Shalise, took notice of the dean.

“Carry on as you were. I’m here to observe. I’d like to see how my staff operate their classrooms.” Her voice carried throughout the classroom just as easily as if she had a microphone and a stage to stand on. A real speech giving voice.

“Of course,” Yuria said hesitantly. If Eva had to judge by her heart rate, the poor professor was both intimidated by and not expecting the dean.

Martina Turner seemed to pick up on some cues as well. “You’re not in trouble. This is not an audit. I merely wish to know the ins and outs of my school.”

Conversation slowly resumed and Shalise asked another question. The professor quickly pulled out her own wand and began waving it around. Very nervously. If she hadn’t been a water mage by trade, Eva imagined that Yuria would be spilling the water just as much as Shalise.

Eva almost rejoined the conversation between her two friends. Her mouth snapped shut before a word could spill out. Something at the edge of her sight caught her attention.

A cow stood outside the windows to the Infinite Courtyard. At the very edge of her vision if she pushed it as far as she could.

Eva stood up and walked over to the windows, trying to glean an extra few feet.

Cow was wrong. It was a bull for sure. It stood still, almost staring at the classroom.

“Something wrong?”

Eva jumped a good three feet in the air. Her jump startled Shalise into jumping. A brief smile passed between them as they got control over themselves.

“Nothing wrong,” Eva quickly assured her. “Just an odd animal outside. Some sort of bull.”

Eva turned her attention back outside, but the animal had wandered off.

Shalise leaned forward and began peering out the window. Her heart rate picked up.

Excitement over seeing an animal? Or is she worried about something?

They hadn’t talked about Halloween apart from Shalise referring to it when she asked about Eva’s eyes. Shalise seemed mostly smiles since she got back. Eva wondered if she should talk about it with her or if that would just bring up memories she wanted to bury.

“There are wild animals in the Infinite Courtyard, right?”

“A lot of them,” Eva said, “but this one might have come from the zoo.”

Shalise tilted her head to one side as the two headed back to their table. “What makes you think that?”

Eva shrugged.

“It’s just that most wild cows don’t have wings.”

“There, see?”

Eva didn’t bother to comment.

“All five of our lamassu are in their habitat.”

Despite his confidence, Bradley Twillie’s heart rate had been hammering when Eva mentioned seeing a winged bull.

It worried him enough that he even took them out into the zoo enclosure to personally check. Normally, he kept the students far away and only begrudgingly allowed them in during certain lessons.

“I thought lamassu had human heads,” Jordan said from his place half leaning over the railing.

Bradley Twillie took on his lecture pose. One hand pointing out at the students and the other in his jacket pocket. “Myths and nonsense,” he said. “Lamassu are considered good luck and will protect their territory from anything they perceive as enemies, but are not part human nor overly intelligent.”

One of the bulls raised its head and snorted out a breath of air.

“I said overly. You’re still the smartest bovines around.”

The lamassu shook its head in a disturbingly human-like manner. It flopped back down, basking under a pair of heat lamps set up near one wall of their snow-covered pen.

“Could it have been a stray?” Eva asked.

Bradley snorted in his usual nervous manner and rubbed his hand against the lumberjack hat he always wore. “Not unless we’ve been transported to Egypt without noticing. There are other schools and zoos, but I’m sure I would have been notified days before one could fly out here.

“How clearly did you see–” He looked off to one side. His eyes shifted back to Eva in a distinctly uncomfortable manner. The already lacking professorial demeanor he usually had vanished in a second. “I mean… It’s just that–”

Eva just sighed–he already said it once without even noticing. Another reason she needed new eyes, though how she got them might raise worse problems. “What were you going to say?”

“There are other winged creatures about that size you might have mistaken it for. Griffins, anzu, garuda, hippogriffs, roc, plenty more.” He brought a hand up to rub the back of his neck. “Well, maybe not roc. If you saw a roc everyone in town would have noticed too. They’re not exactly small.”

“That’s why we are asking you,” Shalise said. It had been her idea to ask the magizoologist about ‘Eva’s mysterious creature’ in the first place. “Surely you must have some idea.”

“You said winged bovine, I thought of lamassu.” After a sigh, he puffed up and tried to reassemble his professional attitude. “You kids get to Mr. Kines’ class or you’ll be late. I’ll check the pens of all our other winged creatures. If they are all where they’re supposed to be, well, I won’t worry too much.”

“You’re not going to search for the one Eva saw?” Shalise said, aghast.

“The Infinite Courtyard didn’t get that title for being small.”

“It isn’t actually infinite.”

“In the middle of winter? It might as well be. I’ll put out a notice to warn students. If you see it, just back away slowly, don’t threaten and don’t agitate it. Find an instructor.

“Now come on, back to class with you.”

Bradley Twillie all but dragged them by their ears out of the zoo–more or less literally in Jordan’s case–and slammed the door. The rest of their group had been waiting out in the lecture room.

“Well?” Shelby stood up from her desk along with Irene and Juliana. Max leaned back and grabbed his book bag off the floor before joining them.

“It wasn’t the lamassu,” Shalise said.

“They were fascinating creatures,” Jordan said with no small amount of enthusiasm. “And did you see the apep as we walked past? I think there was only one of them but half of its pen was a coiled up snake. And its pen was about the same size as the pen for five lamassu.”

He gave a content sigh with a wide smile on his face.

A brief moment of silence passed while everyone stared at him.

Jordan gave a brief clearing of his throat before Juliana spoke. “Anyway, about the creature?”

“Bradley Twillie didn’t seem to think it was much of an issue, so long as it wasn’t one of his pets missing. Just don’t agitate it and be sure to leave it alone.”

Max gave a long hum. “That seems irresponsible.”

“So?” Juliana asked. “What do we do?”

“It isn’t that big of a deal, is it?” Irene had her arms crossed as she leaned against one of the desks. “If our expert on magical animals isn’t worried about it, why should we?”

The bell chimed just as Irene finished speaking.

“Irene is right,” Eva said. She wasn’t sure that it was such a big deal in the first place. With a sigh, Eva added, “and Bradley Twillie was right as well, we’re late to class.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


001.020

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Wayne Lurcher had never been one for passive action. The very phrase was an oxymoron he couldn’t stand.

And yet here he sat, in a meeting room, listening to Rebbecca Halsey panic. The dean had called an emergency meeting to try to figure out what went on last night and what the damage was. If the senile woman had any clue, she would realize that no answers would be found in a meeting with the faculty.

Especially because the only one who might have any answers at all was absent.

He cast a sullen glance at the empty seat next to him. Zoe had gone off to a meeting of her own. He only hoped she knew what she was getting into.

Wayne didn’t trust Eva Spencer. He had a bad feeling in his gut when they met with the girl’s father. The feeling got worse when she ran away in the alley. Every time he had seen the girl outside of class and half the time when she was in class, his gut said there was something wrong.

The girl was trouble.

At least that meeting might be productive, Wayne thought as Yuria stuttered out a report of her actions last night.

Wayne ticked off two more students’ names as Yuria finished her report. Five students dead was five too many. At least with her report finished, all the students were accounted for. There wouldn’t be any more ticks on his list.

Townspeople were another matter.

Halsey would be relieved of her post, he was sure, if not imprisoned. Zoe had warned her about the zombies in the house, the suspicious characters wandering town, and even the crypt full of skeletons a few miles out-of-town. The old woman had done nothing, probably at the insistence of the slimy secretary standing just behind her.

Of course, he wasn’t wholly innocent in the matter. He knew the dean had done nothing. Could the kids have been saved if he had taken more drastic measures? Maybe. Maybe not.

“And Zoe’s report?” Halsey glanced at the empty seat next to Wayne. She lurched to her feet, one hand darting over her mouth. “Oh no, where is Zoe? She didn’t…”

“Baxter is fine,” Wayne said as he took to his feet. That the old bat didn’t notice her missing until just now made hackles rise on the back of his neck. “She is dealing with a couple of students, one of whom was injured last night.”

“Oh.” Halsey sat down, patting her chest and taking deep breaths. “That’s good. She’s with children then, are they alright?”

Wayne shifted his feet to one side. He didn’t want to come off looking uncomfortable, but this topic unsettled him. “Baxter and I were patrolling the same areas last night, I will supply the report for both of us.”

He started with the regular stuff, the same things all the other teachers mentioned. The routes they took, number of deceased redeceased, and if they knew anyone. He reluctantly mentioned the two students Zoe had been forced to dispatch.

Then he got to the more worrisome topic. Zoe asked him to leave Spencer’s name out of it. He would, but only out of respect for Zoe.

“A third-party intervened last night. They engaged the necromancers behind the incident, though did not manage to eliminate them. I do have descriptions,” Wayne passed around papers describing the men. “Baxter got them from said third-party while I tended to the aforementioned injured student.

“They were my main concern, you will have to get additional details on the third-party from Baxter herself at a later date.” He glanced around the room, daring any to request more details. Secretary Orgell looked like he wanted to speak, but he stayed silent.

“The injured student was Shalise Ward, first year, Rickenbacker three-one-three. She had injures consistent with being bitten by human teeth as well as several other injures. Before you go marking her off,” he said as a few of the instructors moved their pens to the sheets in front of them, “she is alive and well.

“I inspected the wound myself and found no trace of rot or infection.”

“Preposterous,” Twillie jumped to his feet, “there is no cure for a zombie bite.”

“That is what I said. However, the third-party insisted they had a potion to halt the effects. The other members of Rickenbacker three-one-three confirmed that Ward was bitten by a zombie and administered a potion soon after. Ward herself was regrettably, though understandably, unconscious.”

Wayne glared at Twillie until the man retook his seat. “Baxter is watching over her at the moment, just in case this ‘cure’ doesn’t take.”

Wayne retook his seat. Everyone continued staring at him. He didn’t blame them, but he’d said his piece. Wayne glanced at Kines and nodded for him to start his report. The last one of the meeting, thankfully.

Eventually, Kines took the hint. He had had a rather tame evening, being one of the ones assigned to watch over the dorms.

The meeting wrapped up shortly after. Halsey wanted to reconvene in twelve hours to decide future actions. In the meantime they were to speak with each of their students, check in on them and make sure they were alright. The parents of students who were ‘directly affected’ by the night’s events would be getting personal visits from Halsey during that time.

Wayne ignored that order. He had few students and had visited them all already. The closest any got to danger was Jordan and Maximilian. They had a run in with a small horde of zombies as they ran back to the dorms in search of friends. Jordan managed to hide the two of them with chaos magic.

Jordan was a point of pride for Wayne. The young boy showed remarkable bravery and talent for a thirteen year old. Most importantly, he was not a troublemaker unlike a certain other instructor’s students.

Rather than visiting his students again, Wayne elected to return to town and continue sweeping it for any remaining creatures.

The familiar wrongness of between almost overwhelmed his gut in the brief instant it took to appear in town. Getting Zoe to agree to learn that spell had taken months of prodding. When she finally relented and learned from him, she spilled her lunch the first several times. She had told him that she never intended to use it again.

Unfortunately for the both of them, its sheer utility outweighed the sickening sensation it caused.

Wayne walked down the street. He kept an ear out for anything unusual. He patrolled around, suppressing any lingering idle thoughts. Distractions could get him killed.

He froze at a movie theater. There was something off about the building. It looked right, no blood or displaced posters. But it bothered him. It bothered his gut.

Wayne growled and marched towards the building, tome at the ready. There would be zombies inside, stragglers from the night before. He was sure of it.

His gut told him so.

— — —

Shouts pierced the wall of Rickenbacker three-fifteen.

Irene pulled her covers over her head and tried to avoid eavesdropping. Even with the privacy enchantments on the rooms, such a task was near impossible today.

“Zoe says you have been afraid to leave your room for three days.”

Zoe doesn’t know what she is talking about. The first day, I had an injured roommate I was looking after. The second day I went to the hospital with that injured roommate and stuck by them for most of the day. Today I decided to stick around the dorms since you were coming. I can see that was a mistake now.”

“Juliana Laura Rivas. Do not talk to me that way. Gather your things, we are leaving.”

They had been arguing for the better part of an hour. Pretty much from the moment Mrs. Rivas arrived. It had been silent at first, then their voices escalated. It triggered the safety systems in the enchantments to let distressed voices through–in case of an emergency in another room–and they hadn’t let up since.

Irene shut her eyes and desperately wished humans could shut their ears. Such a feature would certainly help with Shelby’s snoring.

She almost wished her mother had shown up to pull her out of the academy. Irene was the one who hadn’t left her room in three days. Sadly, her parents hadn’t come. Her parents originally wanted Shelby and herself to attend a different school. Since her father lost his job during government reorganization, the prospect was off the table.

Several other students were already home. The prospect of near free schooling was outweighed by unchecked hordes of zombies that the staff apparently knew about for months.

Irene doubted that claim.

While the zombies were scary, and she definitely did not wish to come across any, they weren’t her main concern at the moment.

Some Elysium Sisters arrived to investigate earlier in the morning. They were famous for being the most experienced organization in matters of undeath. They’d have whatever mess happened on Halloween cleaned up by the weekend.

Her issue was with the thing living in the neighboring room. Irene knew the ‘spider’ Eva had shown them wasn’t a real spider. She knew it. Every time she brought it up with Jordan, he would just hum and shrug with a smile.

He also knew it wasn’t normal.

He probably knew what it was.

If Jordan knew what it was, she definitely didn’t want to be near it.

Luckily for Irene, it had stayed out of sight for most of her time at Brakket. She’d only seen it once or twice during study sessions. Even then, it was mostly just the thing’s legs poking out of Eva’s shirt.

Until Halloween. It showed up, just glaring at them–at her–wearing human clothes. It took a few minutes, but Irene made the connection. Eva and Juliana’s reactions helped. Shalise, oddly enough, just looked confused.

Irene wished she could have seen Jordan’s reaction through his stupid shadow mask.

Shortly after, she made the excuse of being sick. Lucky too. Irene and Shelby arrived at the dorms before anything truly terrible happened.

It showing up at the same time as the zombies couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Still, Jordan acted nonchalant about the entire thing. He’d rushed to the dorms with Max and stayed with the twins over night. He was far more worried about the zombies. Even when Irene asked about the thing, he just shrugged and said it wasn’t his business as long as they stayed out of his affairs.

Max told his story of how the thing tore apart zombies with its bare hands.

That did nothing to make Irene feel better.

Irene peeked out of her covers at the empty room around her. It was only Shelby and herself in room three-fifteen and her other half wasn’t scared of leaving the room.

Shelby was afraid of the zombies, but decided the opportunity to hang off Jordan’s arm without Irene around was worth whatever fears she felt.

Irene sighed and put her back to the room. Hopefully things would make sense again when school started back up. She missed the routine and the learning.

Both were major stabilizers she needed right now.

— — —

The house Lynn Cross stood in front of looked much better than it had in the past.

The peeling paint had been replaced by a fresh coat of tan. Gone were the rickety stairs leading to the door. The door knocker looked new and the window didn’t have the large crack running down it.

Lynn gave the knocker a good three knocks and stepped back. Excited shouts brought a small smile to her face. A middle-aged woman opened the door a moment later.

Gabrielle Mendoza looked over her guest with surprise worn clearly on her face. “Sister Cross? We weren’t expecting you for a few weeks.”

“I apologize,” Lynn said with a slight bow, “I won’t be able to make our previous appointment. I was in town today and thought I might drop by. If it is inconvenient, I can go, of course.”

“No, no,” Gabriella waved her hand quickly and opened the door wide. “Please come in. The children would have my head if I turned you away.”

Lynn gave her a polite chuckle as she walked into the front hall. It wasn’t much of a hall, just a small room that was barely kept separate from the rest of the building by a low wall.

Three little heads peeked over that low wall. When they saw who walked in, excited cries of ‘Sister Cross’ squeaked out of them and they dashed around the small wall. One tried to climb over the barrier.

“Slow down there Tim,” Lynn said. She plucked him off the barrier with her gloved hands and dropped him on his feet, saving him a near head first fall. “I’m not going anywhere yet.”

“Did you bring us gifts?” Cody asked.

Lynn put on a fake pout. She knelt down and tapped his nose. “You haven’t seen me in a year and I don’t even get a hello?”

Cody had the good manners to look embarrassed and then he wrapped Lynn in a friendly hug. Tim and Lisa joined without a moment of hesitation. She returned the hug.

After disentangling herself from the three, they took a seat in the nearby sitting room. Lynn asked each of them how they were doing, if they needed anything, and other such general questions.

They talked quite excitedly about school and friends. Lynn entertained them for the hour. She liked children, especially these kids, but time was dragging on. She had a real reason to visit the group home aside from a social call with the three runts.

She waited for a lull in Lisa’s rapid fire speech about a painting she drew for school. When the lull came, Lynn tapped her forehead. “Silly me,” she said, “I forgot. I did bring you kids gifts.”

Lisa immediately forgot about her painting and joined the other two in trying not to look so eager. Well, joined Tim in trying not to look so eager. Cody made his excitement clear.

Lynn reached into the small bag she brought and withdrew three small boxes, each neatly wrapped with some simple but nice wrapping paper. “I know it is a tad late for Halloween and very early for Christmas, but if you promise to be good, you can have these.”

The three quickly agreed and Lynn handed them out. “Run along and play now,” she said with a smile. They thanked her and ran off into one of the children’s rooms to inspect their new bounties.

Gabriella chuckled lightly. “Thank you,” she said.

“It isn’t anything much.”

“It means a lot to them.”

Lynn just nodded. She packed up her bag and headed towards the door. There was one more thing she needed to do before leaving, but she didn’t want to raise the point. It might add unnecessary attention to both of the subjects.

Luckily, Gabriella spoke up first. “Before you go, would you mind visiting Shalise?”

With her carefully practiced ‘mild-surprise’ face on, Lynn said, “I thought she was up in Montana, schooling. Is it vacation time already.”

“There was…” Gabriella looked down, rubbing her hands together. “An accident. She won’t tell me the details, but about a week ago she shows up covered head to foot in bandages. She barely speaks and barely eats.”

Lynn frowned at that. She’d heard Shalise was injured. Bandaged head to toe seemed different from the report. Not eating definitely wasn’t in the report.

“I know you’re busy,” Gabriella said quickly, apparently taking Lynn’s failure to respond as hesitance. “It would mean a lot. To all of us.”

Lynn forced her frown into a small smile. “Of course, Gaby. She’s up in her room?”

The caretaker nodded.

Lynn took the stairs to the second floor. She stopped just outside the first door and knocked lightly.

No one responded.

“Shal? It’s Lynn.”

Nothing.

Undeterred, Lynn opened the door a small crack and peeked inside.

Shalise sat on her bed, propped up by a multitude of pillows. Stuffed animals covered every available inch of her bed, and much of the floor where several had been knocked off. The normally chipper girl would always pick them up and replace them on her bed. But they just lay there, abandoned.

The poor girl’s arm was up in a sling, bandages visible on the hand sticking out of it, or perhaps that was a cast; Lynn wasn’t sure. Her face had a deep red gash stretching from her nose to her ear. A bandage might have been there at one point, a bit of medical tape clung to her cheek. Her other hand rested in her lap, also wrapped in a bandage. If the lump under her blanket was anything to go by, she had a cast on as well.

Lynn felt a twisting in her heart as she looked at her girl. Her face was as blank as a corpse.

Shalise’s large brown eyes just stared dully out the window, half turned from the doorway. They were unfocused and didn’t seem to track to any movement outside. She didn’t spare a single glance towards the woman standing in the doorway.

Lynn had only a vague idea of what happened at that school. When the request for assistance came in from the school’s dean earlier in the week, they had sent a few cursory investigators. Preliminary reports were about rogue necromancers unleashing zombies on the town.

She’d hoped to get a few inside details from Shalise, but nothing warned her that it had been this bad.

Lynn stepped into the room and shut the door quietly. She discreetly pulled her wand from the holder on her back and put some simple privacy protections on the room. Anyone who even accidentally overheard anything would suddenly feel a need to be in the opposite end of the house.

With the protections in place, Lynn replaced her wand–Shalise being none the wiser–and moved to the empty chair beside Shalise’s bed. She placed a hand on the girl’s knee, confirming that she was wearing a cast. She slid her hand up to the girl’s thigh only to draw back at the girl’s shriek.

Stuffed animals went flying as she scrambled back against the pile of pillows. Shalise stared, wide-eyed and far more focused. It took a moment before recognition set in and Shalise slumped back against the pillows.

“Hey kiddo,” Lynn said. She offered a sad smile.

“Sister Cross. I thought I was going to die.”

Lynn wasn’t sure if she was talking about just now or back on Halloween. Possibly both. “I’ve told you, call me Lynn.” The stubborn girl just shook her head. “If you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

They sat in silence for a minute. Lynn replacing her hand on the girl’s thigh seemed to set her off. She burst into tears and leaned into Lynn’s shoulder.

At least she didn’t pull away, Lynn thought as she patted the girl on her back.

Shalise started talking about her time at school. Learning magic, her roommate’s creepy pet spider, the teachers and how one of them named Yuria something–the poor girl let out a sudden sniffle as she said her last name–was her favorite, and on and on about her friends and roommates.

Then she got to Halloween, or the preparations for it. How Shalise agreed to go to a party despite her roommate’s apprehensions.

That was something Lynn wanted to follow-up on. Did they know something was going to happen?

She chose her costume and helped a friend choose one. She went over the party and her roommate dancing the most awkward dance she’d ever seen with some stranger.

Her voice was excited and animated, if a bit tear filled. The fun she had brought a small smile to Lynn’s lips.

Then she went silent.

“Shal?”

“I don’t really know what happened after that. I was on the ground and in pain.”

She went silent again. Lynn gave her a light squeeze.

“I was attacked by a zombie. Then its head just exploded in front of me. All over me. That’s where I got most of my injuries.”

Lynn frowned at that. The reports didn’t mention she was attacked by a zombie. How she was even sitting in front of her had to be a miracle.

Shalise lifted up the arm in her sling. “Doctors say I might not be able to use my hand again, too much of the wiring… eaten. I’m lucky it doesn’t need to be amputated. When a magic doctor says you’re out of luck, you know you’re really out of luck.” She sighed. “My leg broke when I fell to the ground and the zombie landed on top of me. My other hand isn’t healing properly, though that injury saved my life so I suppose it is forgivable.”

Lynn quirked her eyebrow at that. “An injury saved your life?”

A brief grimace of panic crossed Shalise’s face before she settled back into her melancholic look. “I was supposed to tell all the doctors and teachers and anyone else who asked that a potion stopped me from becoming a zombie.”

“It was something else, then?”

Shalise brought her eyes to meet Lynn’s for the first time since she entered the room. She searched back and forth, looking for something.

Lynn couldn’t hide her disappointment when the girl dropped her eyes back to her lap, apparently not finding it.

“My friend said I’d get the person who saved me into a lot of trouble if I ever told what actually cured me. I think I owe her enough to stay silent.”

Lynn sighed at her reluctance. She couldn’t remember the last time Shalise kept something from her. That it was an injury that cured her spoke of black magic. She thought for a moment about asking Shalise to see the wound, but decided to let it be.

From the sound of it, Shalise knew this person, this ‘her,’ outside of whatever incident this was. Probably not a necromancer that grew a conscience. Someone who was at the club? A friend then.

Something to look into later.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Shalise just shook her head.

“You sounded like you were having fun, learning magic and being with your new friends.”

“I…” She leaned back and turned her gaze out the window. “I think I need time, for now.”

“I understand. Don’t take too long to decide, you’ll fall behind in class.”

When Shalise didn’t respond, Lynn stood up and ruffled the girl’s brown hair. “I have to go. In fact, I’m going to Brakket.”

Shalise’s eyes snapped over to Lynn. “You? Why?”

“Didn’t I ever tell you? The Elysium Sisters are necromancer hunters.”

Shalise’s eyes spread wide open. Lynn was quite sure she didn’t know that the order of nuns was even magical.

“They hurt a good friend of mine so I’ll be going personally to oversee the operations.” She fluffed up Shalise’s hair once again. “I have to make it safe if that good friend decides to go back to school.”

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