Tag Archives: Yuria

002.021

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You saved my life. I’ll spare yours.

This one time.

Do not test my goodwill.

Eva frowned as Arachne read the three lines again. There was no signature, but it didn’t take a lot of guesses to figure out the sender. Eva could only recall saving one life in her recent memory.

Maybe. Zagan agreed to not kill her. As long as he was planning on following through with that, Eva didn’t actually need to interfere.

How Sister Cross got the note onto her pillow without either waking Eva or alerting Arachne was somewhat worrying.

A pulse of magic had Eva’s hand lit with thaumaturgical fire. She plucked the note from Arachne’s claws and crushed it in her fiery hand. The note evaporated into ash. She frowned again as she felt her fire die down.

Her master’s flames were green. Unless something changed in the last few months, her flame was a reddish-orange. Eva wasn’t certain there was anything more than a cosmetic difference. Still, perhaps it was time to ask for another lesson.

Perhaps not. Green fire would draw all kinds of attention. She had enough to go around with the gloves and blindfold as it was.

Eva set her unblemished claw down and looked over her sleeping roommates.

Juliana sprawled out over her bed with one arm hanging off. Her mouth was wide open and, while Eva couldn’t actually see it, there was little doubt a small pool of drool had gathered on the pillow.

Shalise was the exact opposite. She had curled up in a ball and stayed there ever since they returned the previous night. Every so often a shiver would run down her spine. A nightmare perhaps. Her heart rate was slightly elevated.

Neither Juliana nor Eva had mentioned their nocturnal activities, though word of the riot spread through the dorms like wildfire before some professors ushered everyone to their rooms.

As far as Eva knew, Shalise was not aware of her relationship with Sister Cross. They were friends in a sort of weird, generation-boundary-crossing way.

Still, Shalise clearly cared for the nun. She worried over her and hadn’t fallen asleep for a good portion of the night.

Eva flopped back down on her pillow. It was too early to think. Even discounting the late night she’d had. Arachne curled up alongside Eva, though she was at full alertness. Eva wouldn’t have a problem sleeping through the rest of the morning with that vigil over her.

I hope you appreciate what I did, Eva thought at Shalise as she shut her eyes.

Not that she ever intended to tell.

— — —

Lynn Cross fidgeted in the lobby of the Rickenbacker. She wore no coif, no scapular, no rosary, not even a robe. Simple jeans and a tee-shirt did not fit her.

To say it felt awkward would be an understatement.

Headquarters almost relieved her of command over Charon Chapter. She lost Nel, several members of Charon Chapter, and had the public turned against the Elysium Order. The public relations nightmare had been the biggest complaint, followed by the missing augur.

Nel’s disappearance weighed heavily on Lynn’s mind. They didn’t even have a body to perform the final prayers and ministrations upon. Headquarters declared her dead, though they planned to follow the procedure for all rogue augurs. Her blood would be watched nearly twenty-four hours a day for a full year.

Lynn did not hold out much hope.

As a last chance gesture, Lynn was being sent off to some town in Central Africa. Some upstart lich needed its phylactery destroyed and sent on to meet its maker. If the mission was a failure, or even a success with significant losses, Lynn would be relieved of her command.

They weren’t even going to give her augur support.

If she did fail, Lynn wasn’t sure what would happen. She did know that there was a semblance of regret regarding her own vial of blood stored in the Elysium Order’s vaults.

The mission had to be a success.

Lynn sighed as she leaned back in the lobby chair. Everything had become such a mess. She still wasn’t sure who to blame it on. The necromancers, probably. They were always a good target for blame. Eva somewhat.

Herself, as well.

Finding out about the darker aspects of Eva woke a streak of paranoia and mistrust. Overwhelming worry for Shal followed close behind. She was blinded. She ignored the teachings, lectures, and rules of the Elysium Order by focusing so much on Shal.

Plenty of people could have died due to some rogue poltergeist while Lynn stuck around trying to deal with a situation that no one in the Elysium Order was qualified to handle.

Worst of all was that Lynn still was not sure if she had overreacted, or if she hadn’t reacted enough. Eva still wandered the halls of school. She still slept in the same room as her daughter.

Yet she worried about calling in proper demon hunters. They were known to apply scorched earth policies to anything they deemed corrupted by Void.

Shalise walked into the room while Lynn thought. She walked just behind a chattering Eva and their blond friend. Shal looked… lost. She had a smile on, but it didn’t reach her eyes. They were empty and stared at nothing in particular as she walked behind her friends.

“Shal,” Lynn said as she stood up.

All three of the girls stopped in their tracks. The two who weren’t Shal looked on with a hint of confusion. Her daughter didn’t.

A smile crossed Shal’s face. It quickly twisted to a frown before returning to a soft smile. “S-Sister Cross,” she started.

Lynn held up her hand and shook her head. “I’m not wearing my habit right now. Just Lynn.”

“Sister Cross,” Eva said with some slight apprehension. One of her hands moved around behind her back, but she made no further move. Her head moved up and down as if she were examining Lynn’s body. She gave a slight nod and smiled. “You should ditch the habit more often.”

Narrowing her eyes, Lynn shot a glare at Eva. The little cretin couldn’t even see. “Shal,” she said as she turned back to her daughter, “could you spare a few minutes to speak with me. Alone,” she added with a glance back towards Eva.

“That’s fine, I think.” She looked over to her friends and said, “you go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”

Eva nodded and turned to leave the lobby without another word. Her blond friend trailed after her.

Lynn had half a mind to stop the girl. She had more than a few choice words for her. A lightning bolt to the brain, perhaps. Shaking her head, Lynn focused on Shal. Her daughter was what mattered at the moment.

Leading her off into one of the small study rooms, Lynn used her wand to set up a few privacy wards. Her air magic would arrest all vibrations in the air, thereby stopping sound from escaping.

Once done, she turned back to face her daughter. Offering her a small smile was all it took.

Two arms wrapped around her waist as Shalise pulled her into a hug. Pressed against her chest, Shal mumbled something that sounded like, “I’m glad you’re okay. I heard about the riot–”

Lynn ran her fingers through her daughter’s wavy hair. “I’m glad you are okay.”

Shalise looked up, confusion written on her face. “Why wouldn’t I be? The riots weren’t anywhere near the dorm.”

“I know,” Lynn said. “I just needed to check on you with my own eyes. I had a… scary night.”

That was an understatement. The idea that she needed rescuing from Eva had her gritting her teeth once again. Lynn shut her eyes as she took a deep, calming breath.

Lynn patted Shal on her back and gave her a light smile. “I thought about going back for you right after the riot, making sure you were alright and letting you know that I was alright, but I worried that might put you in more danger. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

An almost imperceptible nod came from her daughter before she looked up with her wide, brown eyes. “Eva and Juliana weren’t in our dorm for most of last night.”

A simple statement. One full of implications.

Her mind raced in wonder at how exactly to respond. One thing was certain, Lynn was not about tell her that Eva saved her life.

Eventually, Lynn decided.

“Eva has her hands in some very dangerous things. Things that are going to get her killed one day.” Lynn knelt down to get more on the eye level with her short daughter. “I want you to promise me that you will never get involved in all her mess. I want you to promise me that if things look even remotely dangerous, that you will get away and that you will come find me.”

“Alright,” Shalise nodded. “I can do that.”

“As for this school,” Lynn smiled, “there are other schools, though they will be significantly less free to attend. I’m sure I can arrange something if you want to transfer.”

Shalise shook her head. “Professor Baxter is a good teacher. She’s been privately tutoring me for a while now. I don’t know how other schools would be, but she says lightning is an end of third year spell. With her help I might be able to manage it by the end of next year, if not sooner.”

Lynn blinked at that. She hadn’t managed a proper┬áthaumaturgical lightning bolt until half way through her fifth year. Pride welled up at her daughter. Shal would end up a far better thaumaturge than Lynn ever was.

Still, that didn’t release the school or its inhabitants from her worries. “If anything happens like the incident on Halloween, I will be pulling you out of this school.”

A shiver ran through her daughter. “That’s fair,” Shalise said with a nod. “I can’t say I enjoyed Halloween. Maybe this next year will be better.”

“I hope so too.” Lynn stood back up and rested her hand on her daughter’s head. “I have a mission in Central Africa for the Elysium Order. I’ll be leaving in just a few days. When I arrive, I’ll send some way for you to keep in contact with me. I want reports on everything that is going on in and out of school at least once a month.”

“Reports?” Shalise frowned. “How about friendly letters that sometimes mention bigger news?”

“I just want to know that you are safe, Shal.”

“I’ll be fine,” Shalise said. “I should go. Today is a review day before finals tomorrow.”

Lynn opened her mouth to protest. She had more she wanted to say. More she wanted to know.

In the end, Lynn simply smiled, patted Shal on her back, and said, “good luck.”

— — —

Finals started on April sixth. An event Irene did not feel ready for in the slightest.

Normal schools had classes that stretched into June. Not so with Brakket. Nonmagical schooling would take over for the remainder of April and the first week of May. After which there would be roughly a month of vacation before the summer seminars started up.

Several other students had entered the examination room. Juliana included. None of them commented on their score and none of them mentioned what the actual exam consisted of.

Some students went in with frowns and returned with smiles. Some did the opposite.

For a brief moment, Irene felt a vindictive smile cross her lips. Drew was one of those who came out with a frown. Petty, but Irene didn’t care. It was a brief island of happiness before she returned to her worries.

Juliana was the only one who looked bored going in and bored coming out.

If that girl got anything less than a perfect on any part of the test, Irene would eat her wand. She tried not to be jealous. She really did. Watching the metal she wore constantly flow over her skin before forming up in intricate patterns made Irene want to scream.

Why couldn’t her parents have given her a head start. They were mages. Surely they could have taught something. Neither Irene nor her sister had their wands before arriving at Brakket. Jordan had his wand. Unfortunately, he focused on things Brakket would never teach. He said he could simply learn thaumaturgy from Brakket Academy and his time was better spent elsewhere.

Irene wished he hadn’t. If only for the sole reason of being able to teach Irene proper thaumaturgy.

A call of her name snapped Irene out of her thoughts. She immediately chastised herself for letting her thoughts wander. The time waiting could have been better used thinking of earth magic thought patterns.

With shaky hands, Irene opened the door to the Earth exam room.

Sitting on a stool over a patch of empty earth was Yuria. A clipboard was in one hand and a pen spun between her fingers in the other.

She was a water mage, but that didn’t affect her observational skills and she could still manipulate earth. Professor Calvin delivered exams to the fire and air mages. Not that Irene minded. In truth, she was happy to have the perpetually cheerful teacher deliver her exam.

“Irene,” she said with a bright and friendly smile, “come in. Come in.”

She took a deep breath and stepped into the room. Her fear dampened through willpower alone as she crossed the room to the small earthen circle.

“Now don’t be nervous,” Yuria said. “You do excellent in class and I have high expectations for your exam now.”

Hearing the word ‘expectations’ did not help at all. Irene meekly nodded.

“If you would be so kind, Irene, I’d like you to try making a hole, a depression in the ground. You’ll get extra points if you make it square. More than three feet deep is not necessary.”

Irene nodded again. She withdrew her wand and pointed it at the ground.

She concentrated. The dirt was loose from prior examinees. That would make it easier to work with. Earth didn’t like to be moved. It liked to sit and be steady. With the proper thought patterns, she could incentivize the earth to move.

After all, the dirt would be even more sturdy when compressed.

Slowly, the dirt patch pressed inwards and to the sides. Once underway, more dirt followed far more easily. Like a landslide. The hole became deeper and larger. The corners formed with a flick of her wand. It wasn’t a perfect square. Irene thought it was pretty close.

“Marvelous, simply wonderful,” Yuria said with a huge smile. “Thirty-seven seconds and using compression.” She looked at Irene over the rims of her glasses. “Some students,” she said with a small hint of disapproval, “dig the dirt out of the hole as if they’re using a shovel.”

Irene just nodded once again, ignoring the praise. She could be happy after her exams finished.

“But this was excellent.” She scratched down some notes on her clipboard. “Next, reverse what you just did.”

With a deep breath, Irene started working. Decompressing the dirt would be more difficult. It was stable and sturdy, especially at the bottom where most of the dirt had compressed.

Still, with some concentration and the proper thoughts, Irene enticed the earth back to a mostly flat surface.

Yuria moved off her stool and stepped down on the center of the dirt pile. Irene noticed she had swapped her usual high heels for some hiking boots. Hiking boots that were covered in dirt.

“Excellent,” Yuria said. “Only sank about half an inch. You did a fabulous job solidifying the dirt. I’m very proud of you.”

“Thanks,” Irene said.

“Now,” Yuria said as she retook her seat, “a pillar. I’d like it to be hard, no crumbling away at a touch. It should also rise up no higher than three feet.”

With yet another nod, Irene set to work.

After several more tasks, including breaking down earth into pure earth essence, the testing concluded. Irene left the room with a smile on her face. While she didn’t know her exact score, she felt good about it. All of the tasks were completed swiftly and were met with high praise from Yuria.

Sure, Juliana might have scored higher than her in every aspect, including the bonus points for ferrokinesis which Irene hadn’t been able to work at all, but that girl was no better than a cheater. Her mother might as well have home schooled her for all the grades, or at least gotten her to skip straight to third year.

At least the scores were not graded on a curve.

— — —

Zoe Baxter had a certain amount of pride in her first year students. All three of them passed every exam. Eva may have skimmed by in her pyrokinesis practical, but she still got a passing grade.

More important than their grades were their actions. Zoe still could not approve of their instigated riot. She desperately hoped that they might confide in her any future plans of that level.

Eva intervening to save the life of her friend’s mother despite the very unsubtle hostility between the two just made Zoe all the more confident that she had chosen correctly when she invited the girl to Brakket Academy.

That Eva’s actions somewhat vindicated both of them in Wayne’s eyes hadn’t hurt her mood.

Zoe frowned as she thought back to that night. She had let Rex–no. She had let Zagan into her home. Had met up with him at Tom’s bar once or twice. All-the-while he had been a wolf in a sheep disguise.

To think he had the nerve to waltz up to her the next day and casually ask how she was doing. And Martina Turner planned to put him in a classroom? With children?

Zoe was at a loss for what to do. She couldn’t fight someone like that. Resigning in protest had crossed her mind. The idea vanished as soon as she realized that it would change nothing. Zagan would still be in a classroom, but she wouldn’t be around.

In the end, sticking with the school while making her displeasure known to Martina was all she could do.

In less than a week, Zoe would have to go out searching for candidates once again. Whispers of one potential had reached her ears. That was one more than all the years before Eva’s year. She’d need to find at least a second for a roommate, if the first potential turned out well enough.

Not a prospect Zoe was looking forward to, not just because of the idea of placing additional children under Zagan’s influence. However, the year under Eva’s would be involved in raising Brakket’s accreditation. If successful, maybe they would be able to hire a proper instructor in his place. It might be good to go the extra mile and find a full three students.

She wasn’t sure she’d find students as talented as Juliana or with the unique talents of Eva. Even Shalise had thrown herself into her studies. The brown-haired girl had been working double time on exercising her magical abilities.

Because of the pride she felt in her students, Zoe had a very conflicted feeling in her chest as she looked over the door to room three-thirteen.

With another sigh, Zoe shook her head. “What is this?”

“Homework,” Shalise said with a smile.

The brunette had been upset shortly after the incident with the riot. She bounced back the day before finals started and had been smiling ever since. A sighting of Sister Cross on campus was the likely culprit.

Zoe was originally worried, but Shalise did not seem to be faking or repressing anything. She was simply her happy self.

So, Zoe tried to keep a smile on her face as she spoke to the girl. “I don’t remember any of my colleagues mentioning anything about carving runes into the wood of the dormitory doors.”

Eva sat up from her bed. A small snake wrapped itself between her fingers and turned to stare straight at Zoe.

She could almost feel the beady eyes trying to turn her to stone. It gave Zoe a small start until she realized what it was. One of Genoa’s little toys.

“Maybe if Brakket wasn’t such a backwards school,” Eva said, “they’d actually have a proper rune class. Juliana thinks I should start up my own seminar over the summer and charge students for teaching them runes. I said it was too much work.”

“You’re already teaching Shal,” Juliana said. “What difference does it make if you add two or fifty students. Charge each student twenty dollars per lesson and hold class once a week. I’ll take twenty percent for the idea. Another twenty percent if I go locate willing pupils for you.”

“I think I’ve been tricked with our privacy packets. You seem to collect a good chunk of money for doing nothing but delivering the packets to our buyers.”

“Those were the terms we agreed on when we started. I don’t think I’m up for renegotiating.”

“This,” Zoe cut in, “is all well and good, but can we return to talking about the door? Specifically the carvings in it.”

Shalise stepped up and ran a finger over the markings. “These should let out a high-pitched noise for a few seconds if the door is broken. There are similar runes on the windows.”

“It’s a start,” Eva said, “as I keep teaching Shalise runes, she might add more features. An alarm is functional, but something that attacks attackers back would be better.”

“But,” Zoe sighed, “why?”

Eva just looked at her like the answer was obvious. And it was, but Zoe still wanted to hear it from the girl’s mouth.

Shalise was, to Zoe’s surprise, the one to speak up first. “We were forced out of our room twice in this very year, though I missed the first incident. Both times were because of the room being assaulted. First Juliana, then Eva. Next time is my turn and I’m not nearly as confident as these two.”

“You said it yourself,” Juliana said, “something went wrong with whatever wards you have set up to alert you of danger. Maybe Shalise’s alarm will alert someone.”

“Not to mention,” Eva said, “Wayne Lurcher’s response time when Sis–” Eva cut herself off with a glance to Shalise. The brunette did make any outward change of emotion. “When I was attacked; his response time left much to be desired.”

Zoe sighed. She rubbed a finger on the center of her forehead. “I understand that. It’s just… these doors are solid wood. Heavy wood. They’re not cheap. And the glass too?”

“Yeah, they’re actually pretty good materials to use. I’ll be charging the runes with Arachne’s blood. They’ll last a lot longer before degrading than if we were to charge the runic array with magic directly.”

Arachne would be a capable defender, hopefully, in the incredibly unlikely event that dorm three-thirteen was indeed attacked again. Then again, she was a demon. Zoe wasn’t even sure that was something to get hung up about anymore. Arachne had proven herself to be, at the very least, not hostile towards the students and staff. Zoe doubted she would care half as much if Arachne were an elf or some other magical creature.

“Just,” Zoe said after a moments thought, “if this starts another riot, I’ll have all three of your hides.”

“Zoe Baxter,” Eva said, “was that a joke?”

“No.”

“I think that was a joke. It was, right?”

“Why my hide?” Juliana huffed. “I’ve got nothing to do with this.”

“You’re complicit by association,” Zoe said.

That got another huff of complaint, though Eva started laughing.

“I do want to know everything you add to this. I want to know when your defenses activate, why, and what they do. This cannot be a danger to innocents who may inadvertently wander into your room for whatever reason.”

“I’ve thought about that, and we will let you know.” Eva nodded. Her voice carried a more serious tone. “For a while, I considered setting up the full array of blood wards that I’ve got running at the prison. You know,” she smiled, “the ones that explode people who get too close.”

Zoe blinked and shook her head. “I’m glad you didn’t.”

“It would have been too much of a pain to key everyone in. Not to mention too revealing that I’ve got and use bloodstones if anyone makes the connection. I’m sure there is some suspicion going around due to the state of the room after I was attacked, but I’d like to keep it at suspicion level and not move to confirmation.”

“Understandable.” Zoe shook her head again. “Seeing as you’ve already damaged the door–”

“Improved,” Eva said.

“I will allow you to continue modifying.” Zoe looked over to Shalise and met the girl’s eyes. “So long as you write essays on why runes work, list out every rune you use and their uses, and stick to what I said earlier about the safety of your defenses.”

“Great. More homework.”

— — —

“School? What would I ever do at a school?”

“Learn something, I should hope,” her father said with a small smile.

“Daddy…” She stood up from their dinner table and ran to the other side. She gave her father a light peck on the cheek. “I’d much rather stay at home and play.”

He ruffled her blond hair. “Oh don’t you worry. There are a few months before you have to be at school. Even while you’re there, I’ll be around. We can have fun on weekends and after school.”

Des sighed. Her father seemed set on it. Once he got an idea in his head, he never let it go.

School had been a thing in their family once. It didn’t turn out well.

Des slunk back to her seat. She picked up her cheeseburger and took a chunk out of it.

“Now now, honey, no sulking.”

“I’m not, daddy. I’ll go.”

He smiled. “Good.” His own burger was already gone.

Her mind whirred as she tried to come up with excuses to get out of going. Nothing would work, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try.

“What if it is like before? I don’t want to be freaky Desi again.”

“That was a regular school,” he sighed, “and a mistake. Don’t worry. This is a school for mages.”

“And they won’t think I’m weird?”

Her father chuckled. “Honey, everyone is a little weird. But in this case, I think they will be happy to have you.”

“They better,” Des said. She started towards her burger but stopped as a thought occurred to her. “It is a mage school? Can I even do magic?”

“Well, no,” he said. If she couldn’t do magic, she didn’t have to go to mage school. He waited just long enough for Des to start feeling happy. “But,” he said just to dash her hopes, “I’ve been working on a little something these past few months. It will be ready to install in the morning.”

She crossed her arms and gave her father a glare. Des hated the word ‘install’ especially when it came out of her father’s mouth. It never preceded anything but pain.

“Ah-ah. I said no sulking.” He ticked his finger back and forth. “If you’re a good girl, maybe we’ll see if Hugo wants to go with you. Now finish your food and maybe we’ll have time for a story before bed.”

Des lunged for her burger. She chomped the last half of it down in two bites.

“Remember to chew,” her father chided with a smile.

Des did. She always remembered. She shook her head. Silly father, she thought as she swallowed. “Story time now!”

>>AN.002<<

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001.020

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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.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


001.014

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Classes at Brakket were far more interesting than any class at a non magical school. That was simply by virtue of most classes having magic flying around them. The teachers themselves weren’t all that different. Class might be better if Eva had been more new to the whole magic scene.

The school building itself was a boring affair. Eva felt sure it was built by regular people. None of the rooms even had the oddities that the dorm study rooms had.

The only exception to this was the courtyard. The building was a ring with a large three-story section to one end. The center held a massive forest that was given the wildly inaccurate title of the Infinite Courtyard.

Trees, plants, bushes, benches, grass, even large ponds and hills all fit in the courtyard. Bridges arced over streams, huge weeping willows hung over the dirt paths. Birds chirped and flittered about. Other animals occasionally stalked within sight of the pathways. Eva was almost sure she saw a cait si at one point.

As you went further into the courtyard, space expanded. Apparently the dead center was several miles away from any part of the building. There were paths set up to go along the edges before the space really expanded, and all the paths had signs stating the nearest part of the building.

Had she known about it during the summer, she might have explored it a bit. There was bound to be something interesting left behind by previous students.

Weekends were a possibility depending on homework situation. Unfortunately, she now had class during most of the week. A young mage named Yuria Something-or-other stood at the front of Eva’s current class. She was almost as young as Zoe Baxter, but missed the title of the youngest by just two years.

“This class will be on a rotation. Mages tend to have one element they can cast very well, almost effortlessly, two elements that they are adequate at, and one they might be lucky to cast a single spell from.

“So don’t be discouraged if you cannot cast whatever spell we’re attempting for the lesson. I myself am a class two water mage.” She moved her wand to her other hand and a globe of water hovered above her hand. “The schedule is set up so that Professor Calvin of your general magic class will take over for fire spells. He’s a class one fire mage so he’s more than qualified.”

Eva had no idea what her elemental affinity was. Juliana had been teaching her elementary earth magic, which she seemed alright at. She could move around dirt inside a small pot. Enough to dig a hole and drop a seed into at the very least.

If asked before Yuria’s lesson, she would have said chaos was her affinity. That was apparently not an option. Chaos and order were considered universal magic. No one was especially good or poor at either.

Professor Calvin’s general magic class taught spells not considered part of any of the six schools of magic along with some very simple order and chaos spells.

The first spell involved breaking an object into its base elements. Not periodic elements but the magical elements. They were each given a rock to turn into a crystal of pure earth magic.

“It takes concentration and time, but it is an essential spell for alchemy and is usually not found difficult by new students. Reducing an object is an excellent way to get a feel for magic and how it moves through you and into your wands and then to the stone itself.”

He went through the process, instructing them to visualize their rock turning into pure earth. “You’ll feel a tingle in your gut moving out to your arm. That is you channeling magic into your wand. You’ll then channel from your wand to the rock itself, all in one smooth action, while visualizing your end goal.”

Eva tried it without her wand until she started seeing results, then attempted it with her wand. It felt faster and smoother without her wand, though that could be just that she was used to no foci. Eva was considering not using the wand at all, it seemed an unnecessary liability and just an extra step for what she could do on her own.

It took the entire class period, but Eva managed to turn a regular stone into a shiny green crystal.

Juliana had a green crystal in front of her in less than half the time; a combination of experience and earth being her elemental affinity, according to her. She then moved to Shalise to walk her through the process, earning the approval of Professor Calvin as he assisted the rest of the twenty or so students.

Shalise didn’t seem to catch on near as quick. It was understandable. She only started doing real magic for the first time over the last week when Juliana taught her to dig holes in a pile of sand. Still, she wound up with several green crystals growing out of her rock.

Jordan sat behind Eva’s table along with Shelby and Max. He and Shelby got their crystals with time to spare, if only barely. Even with both their assistance, Max managed less transformation than Shalise.

Irene had been exiled to another table on account of there being only three chairs per. She managed to reduce her crystal almost as fast as Juliana and then proceeded to assist her partners with their own reduction.

The rest of the class had mixed results. Most managed at least a few green crystals, but some had nothing to show for an hour’s worth of efforts.

“I’m just saying, I don’t think it was as simple as you all make it out to be,” Max said as he spewed half chewed sandwich bits across the table.

Eva shot Shelby a pitying look as the poor girl wiped her face with a napkin once again. But the girl had been insistent on sitting next to Jordan. That Max had decided to sit across from him was simply bad luck. She made a mental note to never sit across from Max during mealtimes.

They had all met up after Professor Calvin’s class for lunch. The school gave them the choice between ham sandwiches and some kind of cheese soup Eva wasn’t about to touch. The smell drifting over from Shalise’s bowl almost made Eva gag.

“Shalise never touched a wand before last week and she managed way more than you,” Juliana said, “did you even try any magic during summer?”

“Hey,” he said, turning his spittle in Juliana’s direction. Luckily for her, she seemed to be out of range. “I managed to keep a leaf aloft on nothing but air. It isn’t my fault I was born to parents that barely heard of magic, let alone practiced it.”

“To be fair,” Jordan spoke up, “we were preoccupied over the summer with all the homework Mr. Lurcher gave in his alchemy seminars.” He turned towards Eva and said, “I’m surprised we didn’t see you there, with all your potions you had before school.”

“To be perfectly honest, none of the seminars seemed designed for people who hadn’t already had some schooling. I only went to Zoe Baxter’s seminar because she basically ordered us to.”

“He did the same to us, though I can’t disagree with that. Half of it was over my head and I thought I knew something about brewing.” Jordan slumped back in his seat. “And he made us do the homework while it was optional for everyone else.”

“Professor Baxter never gave homework,” Juliana said, “I’m not sure if I should be glad or disappointed. Summer was exceedingly dull. It might have occupied some time, at the very least.”

Eva shook her head. “I’m glad she didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to read near as many books if she had.”

“Not to mention your other activities,” Juliana said.

“Other activities?” Irene asked. She leaned forward to see around Max’s bulk.

“Eva would sneak out once or twice a week and spend the night somewhere else.”

“I didn’t sneak out. I’d always tell you or leave a note.”

“Oh,” Irene perked up, “a little rendezvous with a mysterious stranger? Who is the lucky guy?”

“Just Rach,” Eva said. “I’m sure you remember her.” She didn’t miss the frown that crossed Shalise’s face, nor the slight paling that Shelby went through. Arachne herself wiggled slightly beneath her shirt at the mention of her nickname.

The spider-demon didn’t like the name. Eva didn’t like it much either, but she thought it up spur of the moment when she decided not to say Arachne’s full name in front of other people. Too late to change it now.

Irene leaned back. She hadn’t been near as afraid of the spider on their first encounter as her twin. Still, Eva didn’t think she was very fond of Arachne. “I don’t think I want to know,” she said.

The conversation died for a minute before turning back to magic, mostly how bad Max performed during their general magic class. A chime rang throughout the school and the group packed up.

Their final two classes of the day were held out in the inner courtyard, though not far enough from the building for them to have to walk several miles. The two classes offered the ecology portion of their schooling.

Their first stop looked more like a zoo than anything. A shorter man named Bradley Twillie taught the wildlife portion of ecology. Sadly, their first day consisted of listening to the man go over safety procedures in a small lecture room outside the zoo itself.

The students were never to enter a creature’s habitat without both his presence and his permission. They were never even to enter the zoo part without his guidance. If a student found themselves in a habitat, say by falling in, then they were not to antagonize whatever creature lived within. If that creature was hostile and looked about ready to attack, the student was allowed to defend themselves, but only using minimal force.

He seemed to go over that last bit very reluctantly. Bradley Twillie came across as a man who cared far more for the animals than the students.

They never even got to enter the zoo before the timid instructor dismissed them.

Franklin Kines, on the other hand, seemed very passionate about his subject. He also was ready to get the students into a hands on lesson. Unfortunately, his subject was the plant life portion of ecology.

The first lesson consisted of half safety instructions, though they were rushed through with the excuse that anything dangerous would get special attention during the lesson. The other half ended up being hands on in a greenhouse. Hands on dandelions.

If there were anything different or magical about these dandelions than the kind seen around every lawn in the spring and summer, Eva couldn’t tell.

“The dandelion is not magical in the slightest,” Professor Kines said after a few students grumbled about the plant. “However, in gardening it is very important. Because it is nonmagical, it doesn’t affect magical plants as they grow. It can be planted as a companion to an absurd number of more magical plants.”

Professor Kines whipped his wand at a dandelion. It sprung from the soil and turned over, showing a thick, lengthy root. “Its root brings up nutrients for shallower plants as well as adding minerals to the soil. It releases a gas that helps other plants to mature. On top of all that, it works very well to attract pollinators.”

His speech did nothing to make the actual tending to dandelions more interesting. Eva glared at the clock, as if that would make it go any faster. Eventually, the chime rung and class was dismissed.

“Hopefully we get into some more interesting plants,” Max said as they headed back to the dorms.

Eva couldn’t agree more.

The next day started them off with Zoe Baxter’s magical theory class. The stern woman sat on top of her lectern until class had filled in the seats.

She started off launching a lightning bolt at a wall with a wand. Eva noted with satisfaction that half the class jumped as the thunder crashed around them. The half that didn’t jump were the ones who attended the instructor’s seminars.

She then set her wand on her desk and repeated the motion. A few of the class flinched as if another lightning bolt would spring from her hand. Most didn’t.

“Who can tell me why I cannot cast a lightning bolt without a wand?” She looked straight at Eva, but called on a different student. “Mr. Dewey.”

“A lightning bolt can be cast without a wand. You just require an alternate focus to focus your magic.”

“Pedantic, Mr. Dewey, but wrong.

“Foci are improperly named. A more correct name would be ‘storage device’ or something along those lines. Foci do less focusing and more storing of a mage’s magic until the magic has reached a sufficient point to exert the mage’s will upon reality.”

She glanced around the class as if expecting a rebuttal. None came and her lips quirked into a small smile as she slipped off her lectern. “Humans, or at least human mages, can process magic at a truly alarming rate. More so than any magical creature I know of save about three. Perhaps Mr. Twillie could add to that, but I can’t.” At a slight shuffling of students, Zoe added, “rest assured that humans are magical creatures. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to do any magic at all.

“The problem with humans is that we have no ability to store that magic. Imagine for a moment that you need to count to ten to cast a spell. Seems easy, right?” She glanced around the silent class. “Now, imagine that every time you add one number, you have to subtract two, to a limit of zero. It becomes impossible to count in that situation. That is what human magic is like.

“A wand does not negate the subtraction aspect. Every time you count to one, that one gets pushed into your wand and you go back to zero. Rather than counting to ten, you count to one, ten times.” She whipped out her wand and threw another lightning bolt at the wall almost instantly. “Obviously, humans do this very rapidly.”

“Mr. Anderson,” Zoe said, nodding.

Eva looked behind her just in time to see Jordan lowering his hand.

“Many magical creatures do not need wands or other foci, they store magic on their own then?”

“Excellent question, Mr. Anderson. Let us take elves as an example. They are among the three magical creatures I mentioned earlier that process magic at very high speeds. Around human like, if not higher. However, their blood has the ability to store this magic and expel it as a focus would for humans. Essentially, their blood is their focus.

“Goblins, on the other hand, produce magic at a very slow rate. Their blood can not only store the magic, but because of a unique physiology, they can retain the magic as well. A newborn goblin won’t be able to cast the simplest of spells whereas a hundred year old goblin will have had a hundred years of storing up magic. Never underestimate an old goblin, they will likely lay waste to all around them with a snap of their fingers.

“Because of these traits, elves might find use in foci, or at least be able to use one. A goblin never would.”

Eva sat back and absorbed the rest of the lesson. She had a brief thought on whether this was how Zoe Baxter normally started her first year class or if she had specifically chosen this lesson for Eva. It seemed like a good first lesson; foci were integral for magic use and throwing lightning bolts was a good way to garner attention. It was the not infrequent glances Zoe gave Eva that irked her suspicions.

When the chimes rang for the end of class, Eva half expected to be told to stay after. Zoe did no such thing. She dismissed the class and went to clearing the whiteboard of diagrams on how foci worked.

That didn’t stop Eva from half sneaking out of the class.

Alari Carr welcomed the students into her history class with a chipper attitude. Rather than start with a lesson, Professor Carr had the students go around and introduce themselves.

There was always that one teacher, Eva thought. Most of the rest of the class seemed to share her opinion if the groans were anything to go by. Still, the class went ahead and did their introductions with a single fact about themselves.

Juliana Rivas introduced herself with mentioning that her mother used to be a mage-knight. That got a few awes from the class. Shalise Ward offered up that she was the eldest of six siblings.

Eva stood up as her turn came around. “My name is Eva,” she said, “and I am fairly well versed in the art of runes.” She ignored the handful of snickers and retook her seat.

The rounds came to Jordan’s group. He introduced himself as Jordan Anderson, son of Alex and Lydia, two high-ranking people in the magical government. Why he went to such a disreputable school as Brakket went unsaid.

Maximilian Weston was the youngest of three brothers, neither of whom were magically adept. Shelby Coggins used the fact that she was twins with Irene, much to the latter’s displeasure. Apparently she wanted to use that. Instead Irene said that she could play the piano.

Introductions continued around the room until they ended at Timothy Dewey who was descended from John Dewey. He neglected to mention who that was or why it was significant. Eva supposed if he was important, she could probably find him in the library.

The chime rang and Eva couldn’t be happier. Hopefully the next history class had less touchy-feely crap.

They sat down together for lunch, a choice between pizza with some kind of pitch black sauce and chicken nuggets. Eva chose the pizza. The sauce was a bit salty, but not bad.

Everyone else picked the chicken nuggets.

“I didn’t know you knew runes,” Irene said.

Juliana replied before Eva could finish chewing her pizza. “What do you think is in those black envelopes stuck to your ceiling?”

“I never thought about it. Some sort of enchanted trinket, I assumed.”

“Black envelopes?” Jordan asked with a quirked eyebrow.

“Just a little girl’s secret,” Shelby said with a wink.

Lunch ended and they headed off to their final class.

Alchemy was the only class that the freshmen had in the three-story wing of the building, though it was on the first floor. The alchemy lab was completely modernized. Fume cupboards lined the walls. Counters in the center had full sinks as well as small pipes poking up out of the edges.

Wayne Lurcher sat at the front desk, reading a book until the students filed in.

With four seats around each counter, Irene took a seat next to Eva rather than the group she had been sitting with in the other classes.

The chime rang signaling the start of class. Professor Lurcher snapped his book shut with a crack.

“Some of you may have heard the term alchemy used alongside things like gold, transmutation, eternal life, and potions. And potions may be associated with cauldrons and crones. Sadly, few of these things constitute proper alchemy these days.

“Transmutation,” he flicked his wand at a stone resting on his desk which turned shiny and silver, “is done with a wand in modern thaumaturgy. Gold is illegal to create or transmute, and not actually that hard. Eternal life still eludes us, but solutions for that issue are commonly thought to come from other areas these days. Potion brewing is about the only element left of traditional alchemy, and that has modernized far from the bubbling cauldron archetype.”

He walked up and down the aisles as he spoke. This was the longest single period Eva had ever heard Wayne Lurcher speak for. All of her other interactions with him had been barely five words that always seemed to be given grudgingly.

A small bit of her wondered if he just liked alchemy enough to talk about it, or if it was just his role as an instructor he was getting into.

“Like many of your classes this week, we will be discussing safety in the lab. Fume cupboards, precise measuring tools, goggles, and gloves have all increased the safety of even the more dangerous experiments we will be attempting. That does not make them safe.”

Class ended just as he finished assigning homework. The only teacher to do so on the first day. The homework consisted of writing an essay on the safety procedure during a hypothetical emergency such as a potion burning through a fume cupboard and being released into the main room.

Eva was at a bit of a loss. Neither she nor her master ever had any of the safety equipment and yet never had any major problems. Their equipment was far more outdated than the advanced lab materials the classroom had. Eva supposed he might have been required to go over all the safety rules by some school board.

Or maybe they would just work on far more dangerous potions than she and her master ever had. If that was the case, Eva very much looked forward to the class.

The group headed back to the dorms. They all gathered together in the astronomer’s study room to work out their first bit of homework.

It wasn’t actually that difficult of an assignment. Wayne Lurcher said the essay should be as long as it needed to be and left everything up to their own devices. Most of it simply consisted of restating the safety procedures they went over in class.

Still, it was a time-consuming endeavor. They almost missed the hours for the dorm’s dinner. They completed their meal in a jovial mood and parted ways. First with Jordan and Max, then with Irene and Shelby.

When Eva got to her door, she found a hunched over master sitting on a bench outside her room. He looked up at the group’s arrival.

Juliana immediately tensed and brought her wand out.

Eva waved her off. “Don’t worry. I know him.”

The blond lowered her wand but did not put it away, nor did she relax.

“This is my mentor, Randolph Carter.” She gestured towards man wrapped up in a brown trench coat. “Mentor, this is Shalise and Juliana.”

Shalise gave a hesitant nod. Juliana remained still with her wand out.

“Charmed,” he said in a voice that was anything but.

“It has been a week, have you found something already?”

“Not exactly. Next Friday evening we might be able to check some of your issues out. Meet me at,” his eyes flicked over Juliana and Shalise, “the place.”

He turned and stalked off. He got to the window at the end of the hallway and stepped out to the ground below.

“He seems friendly,” Juliana said as they entered their room.

“Oh yeah, real softhearted that one.”

Shalise dropped her bag on her desk. She turned back to Eva, leaning against her chair. “That was about the necromancers then?”

“I’d assume so. Guess I won’t know until Friday.”

Shalise frowned, but nodded. “I hope it is good news.” She gathered up some clothes from the drawers beneath her bed. “Unless either of you have objections, I’ll shower first.”

Neither girl said anything.

Shalise slipped into the shower.

Juliana stared at Eva. She waited, just staring.

Eva shuffled to her desk and pulled out a paper, trying her best to ignore the blond’s gaze. She had been working on a new version of the privacy runes. The new sheets should cover the entire main room so she wouldn’t have to do four copies for every customer the next time the runes wore out. Their business had gone a bit too well; Eva doubted she would have time for all of them with school going on.

The moment the shower water started, Juliana whispered in Eva’s ear. She had moved right next to Eva without her noticing. “Take me with you,” she said.

“What?”

“I want to fight these necromancing scumbags too. You’ve seen me against Professor Baxter. You know I can fight.”

“You lose against Zoe Baxter. Every time.”

“I do better than you do.”

“I wouldn’t lose at all if–” Eva cut herself off, biting her lip.

A silence hung in the hair between them. Only the sound of flowing shower water filled the air.

Eventually Juliana sighed.

“I know you have secrets,” she said. “There’s no way you get taken on bounty hunting jobs with just runes and not knowing any spells aside from blink. You have so many secrets I wonder if anything you’ve said is the truth. But I don’t care about that right now.”

She stopped and cocked her head to the side, listening to make sure the shower was still running. She returned her attentions to Eva and spoke in an even quieter whisper, “I don’t care if you’re a necromancer yourself so long as it wasn’t you who killed that family.”

“I’m not a necromancer,” Eva hissed.

“Good. Then I don’t have to worry about that, at least. I still want in.”

“I can’t just show up with someone else.”

“He said Friday. It is Tuesday. You’ve got a few days to ask–no–tell him someone else is coming along.”

Eva was going to retort when the shower water cut off.

Juliana noticed as well. She stood up, moving her face away from Eva’s. “I’ll shower next,” she said. And turned to gather her own clothes.

Eva was left staring after her even as Shalise exited the bathroom. She only stopped once Juliana disappeared behind the closed door.

Shalise seemed to notice something wrong. She walked up to Eva and said, “don’t fight. We are roommates. I don’t want to have you two hate each other.”

“It wasn’t a fight,” Eva said. She wasn’t so sure. Was that a fight?

“Good.” Shalise said. She patted Eva’s shoulder only to freeze solid.

It took Eva a moment to realize why. Then it hit her. The poor girl had just patted one of Arachne’s legs through her shirt.

“It really just hangs off of you then?”

“She and yes, most of the time. She was with me all day today and all day yesterday. And you’ve seen me after showering with her still latched on me.” Eva felt a bad for that. She hadn’t changed her habit of wandering around and sleeping without clothes. Shalise started screaming when she saw Arachne latched onto Eva’s chest one morning. The poor girl thought Arachne was attacking Eva. It took a while to calm her down.

“If you’d like,” Eva said, “I could bring her out, nice and slowly, and you could touch her directly. Maybe it would help?”

Shalise took a quick step backwards, shaking her head in the negative even as Arachne tapped out no repeatedly on Eva’s shoulder.

“I think not,” Shalise said. At least she hadn’t stuttered her first word. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that in the future. Not now.”

Arachne tapped no again as Shalise said that. Eva doubted the spider-demon would do anything if Eva asked her not to. She might not like it, but for Eva’s roommates at the very least, Arachne might have to compromise on something.

Shalise slipped back to her bed and pulled out the general magic textbook. She flipped through it until Juliana left the shower.

Eva hopped in. The room was already hot and steamy, borderline sauna. Eva didn’t mind. If anything, it could stand to be a little hotter. Cold, moist air was the worst.

Eva twisted the shower head, aligning her new runes. She wasn’t sure if the other girls used the regular water or her runes. She’d told them, but they never mentioned anything other than a ‘too hot for my tastes’ from Shalise.

After kneeling down to the floor, Arachne hopped off Eva. She stood up in human form, ready for one of their shower chats.

“I say let her,” Arachne said before Eva could even ask her question. “If she dies, whatever. It is a good test of loyalty. Of course, if she turns traitor then I will rip her into so many pieces not even Humpty Dumpty could put her back together again.”

Eva frowned at the demon. Not so much at her threating to tear Juliana up, Eva was used to the spider-demon’s empty viciousness, but the other bit. “I’m not sure that is how the nursery rhyme goes.”

The spider-woman shrugged. “Besides, I’m sick of sneaking around. If I could at least walk around the room… and now we have that Shalise character. Juliana is one thing. Are you sure I can’t eat Shalise?”

“No eating any students. Or hurting any in general. Even if they do ‘turn traitor’ whatever loose definition you have for that.” Eva sighed. The demon wouldn’t do anything, she was mostly sure. It didn’t hurt to reiterate. “If things do happen, we’ll just leave. You, me, and master. If we can’t find him, we’ll summon Ivonis again after we settle down somewhere.”

“That’s disappointing,” she said. Eva didn’t think her pout looked very serious.

“If we are actually taking Juliana, we’ve got to find master and let him know. He won’t like it.”

“Leave it to me. I will impress upon him the need for her to join us.”

“No bullying master.”

“Wouldn’t touch a hair on his head,” Arachne said.

“You’re excited about this.”

“It is one step on my plan to not be in spider form constantly.” Arachne was already shifting back into said spider form.

Eva sighed, standing up into the stream of hot water. Her shower had gone on long enough. She shut off the water. As Arachne climbed back up her chest, Eva mumbled, “I’m sure not excited about it.”

>>Extra Chapter 001<<

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