“Well that… that… that just rains on my parade!”
Clement pulled the binoculars away from his face to glance towards his partner. Gertrude was leaning half over the edge of the roof with the visor from his armor pressed against her eyes. Her mouth was twisted into a pout.
With a gentle hand, Clement pulled her back. She wouldn’t die from the fall. They were on top of some sort of dancing club for the students to waste time in, it was only a few stories high. The idea that she would even be injured was laughable. Still, he didn’t want to jump down after her. Neither did he care to wait around with their guest until she climbed back up.
Once sure that she wasn’t a stiff breeze away from falling, Clement brought his binoculars back up.
It wasn’t the best view. The roof of the club was a bit lower than the floor of their apartment. He could still see most of the room. Better yet, he could see the demons through the walls. Just faint outlines, enough to track them. A similar enchantment was on his visor, though of slightly higher quality.
Though there wasn’t much to see anymore with the naked eye. Before he had put his binoculars down to deal with Gertrude, the demon that they had captured had already been in the process of being carried out of the room. The only thing he could still see was their original target, the hel. She stood, gazing around the room with eyes as dead as a soulless corpse.
At first glance, she was a beautiful woman. Long hair, regal features, smooth skin. She had everything needed for a classical sort of beauty. But that all disappeared the longer he looked. The iced over lips, skin too smooth, dark veins barely visible underneath her skin, and her lifeless eyes. All of it added together to give the hel an unnerving quality.
Clement jumped back, jerking away from his binoculars.
She had stepped towards the window. In doing so, she had put most of her body into the early morning sunlight.
Watching her skin vanish as if a bucket of paint thinner had been dumped over a sheet of freshly painted glass was the worst. Clement had seen skeletons before. They didn’t bother him. But this hel… there was intelligence behind those empty sockets that just shouldn’t be.
With a shake of his head, he pressed the binoculars back to his eyes. This time, he angled towards a movement at a street-level door. Faint outlines were near the door.
The girl, the one who had been first on the scene and had broken the seals on the door, walked out of a side entrance. Her bright red eyes glanced around, but didn’t spot anything suspicious. With a wave of her hand, she gestured to her companion.
Some person wearing a poor imitation of his armor followed her out. Between the two of them, they had a bundle of blankets.
It didn’t take many guesses to figure out what was squirming around inside. It took even less guesses when a few tentacles slipped out into the air.
Clement reached back. His armored hand curled around the hilt of his sword.
“Shall we intercept?”
Gertrude hummed. Then she hawed. She hummed some more while running her fingers through her red hair.
With a frown, Clement released his sword. If she was pretending to think about it, the answer was no. Gertrude often came to quick, near instant decisions. Her current actions were just for her own amusement.
“Nope,” she said after a few more indecisive scratches of her head. “We could end the tentacle monster easily enough. Possibly the girl as well. We just don’t know enough about her at the moment to say for certain. Somehow, she learned of the tentacle demon’s presence and ruined everything. How?”
Clement did not respond. He had no insights to offer. Gertrude was the magic specialist. He couldn’t create even a small spark if his life depended on it. Luckily, with the armor that she had made for him, his life never depended on his magical abilities.
Merely his swordsmanship.
“Besides,” Gertrude said with a nod towards the apartment window, “the hel is still watching. Fun as it might be, we’ll get her attention and possibly attract every other demon in the area. I don’t think the girl is any kind of big shot, but there is a reason we tried to trap the Hel instead of fighting.”
“We could–” Clement cut himself off with a frown. The hel was powerful, true. Not so powerful that a well placed swing of an enchanted sword couldn’t lop her head right off. With both him and Gertrude, he doubted that she would have much of a chance.
If other demons joined in, even if only as distractions to him and Gertrude, that slight chance grew immensely. It was why they had gone with the trap plan in the first place.
And that was assuming that the devil stayed content to merely watch.
There was a tingle going up Clement’s spine. Some small shiver as if he were being watched. Glancing around, he couldn’t see anything that might be the source.
The hel and everyone else at the apartment building were too far away. It couldn’t be them. There was a reason that he was using binoculars. Of course, someone there might have enhanced vision. Peeking through his binoculars again, he couldn’t find anyone looking in his direction.
Every time he thought of the devil, he felt the hairs on his neck rise up.
It was that devil. It had to be. The only question was whether or not the devil was actually causing the sensation. It was entirely possible that everything was all in his head.
Gertrude never felt anything. He had asked. She was certain that whatever magic she was doing was enough to keep them off the devil’s radar. It worked for the rest of the demons. No one really noticed them while wandering around. So far, he hadn’t seen any sign that the devil actually was watching them. As far as he knew, it was working.
Glancing around, Clement still couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched.
Gertrude paid no mind to his unease. She spun around with a bright smile on her face before resting against the raised lip of the building’s roof. “Anyway, all is not lost. We’ll just have to modify our plan for the other one. It wouldn’t be good to face them all at once. Besides, with him around, we can try trapping the hel again.”
Clement turned to face their guest. He couldn’t see anything. Morail were annoying like that. There was no doubt that the demon was trapped within the shackles on the roof. They had been hastily constructed, but they were no less effective. Even better, they were suppressing his demonic aura. None of the other demons should be able to sense him.
Of course, that hadn’t helped with the girl. As Gertrude had said, she had found out somehow. She hadn’t been concerned going into the apartment complex. Clement could guess that there was some range limitation on whatever ability she had. If not, then this morail would already be known to them.
Since they weren’t under attack, no one knew.
“They’ll be wary if we try the same trick again, Gertrude.”
“Ha! They’ll be wary no matter what we do. Still, just need to draw them out to where we’ll have the advantage. Otherwise…” Gertrude trailed off, rubbing a finger over the ring on her hand. “Well, we might just have to straight up fight them. No tricks or traps. But that’s for later.”
“And where will we try again? Not the original location?”
Gertrude’s smile grew ever so slightly. “Pack him up,” she said with a nod towards the apparently empty set of shackles. “Tight. Compact. I doubt he’ll need limbs. Then meet me at that little gas station on the edge of town, right near the highway.”
With that said, she pushed back with the tips of her toes, falling over the edge of the roof backwards.
Clement didn’t bother with checking over the edge. She would be fine.
Instead, he gripped his sword, hefting if off its mount and readying it in front of him.
And he paused. Gertrude wanted his limbs off, but the rest of the demon should probably be intact. Somewhat of a difficult prospect while his target was invisible.
She had taken his visor as well.
With a frown, he brought the binoculars up to his eyes. It was dizzying to look at something so close, but he could see a thick outline around the demon through the lenses.
It would be hard to aim. One of his hands had to keep the binoculars pressed to his face.
Oh well, he thought as he started his advance, it might be a bit messier than otherwise.
— — —
Eva and Juliana set Lucy down on a bed in one of the Brakket Academy infirmary rooms. They hadn’t known what else to do with her. At least not before talking with Martina Turner.
Nurse Post stood to the side, watching with a frown on her face. “You know,” she said, “I remember a time when it would be seen as odd to walk into the infirmary with a bundle of tentacles. I don’t even know where to begin with treatment.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, you probably won’t have to treat her. She’ll heal on her own over time.”
Nurse Post made a face. It was a bit hard to see behind her surgical mask and gauze covering one eye. The blood behind the coverings didn’t lie. Her lips were twisted into a grimace and her nose had wrinkled.
Eva wasn’t sure why she felt the need to don a surgical mask. Maybe she thought that she would be operating on Lucy.
Upon seeing her when first entering the nurse’s office, Eva actually had to do a double-take. Both Nurse Post and the woman who had likely kidnapped Lucy had eye patches. It was such an unusual trait that Eva’s eye had been drawn to it first while her mind jumped to conclusions.
Stupid conclusions. Nurse Post had much darker hair. The woman’s was red. Their facial structure was different. Nurse Post lacked that somewhat disturbing smile as well.
“She?” the nurse asked, face still wrinkled in a mixture of confusion and discomfort.
“Oh. Right.” Eva rested a hand on the bed near Lucy. “Meet Lucy. The security guard,” she added when Nurse Post failed to show any recognition. “This is what she looks like when not doing her poor impression of a human.”
Narrowing her eye ever so slightly, Nurse Post said, “that should surprise me. Somehow, it doesn’t.” She sighed as she shook her head. “She and the other specialist went missing. Shall I prepare to receive another wad of tentacles?”
“Oh no. Daru looks like a human for real. Lucy is something of a special case.” Eva paused for just a moment before continuing in a more somber tone of voice. “Also, we haven’t found him yet. I don’t even know if he is still… around.”
Something of a depressing silence fell over the group, only to be broken by Lucy knocking a tissue box off a table next to the bed.
Eva turned to find Lucy squirming a whole lot more than she had been just a moment ago.
Figuring that there was no harm in asking, Eva said, “I don’t suppose you know where Daru is?”
The thrashing tentacles stilled. Eva took that for a negative, but that was mostly a guess.
As Eva watched, Lucy started trying something. Her few remaining tentacles were winding around each other. Lips, or something vaguely resembling them, started to form as the tentacles tightened together. Unfortunately, as she tried to form a throat and some lungs, the lips started to come unwound.
Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t form enough of a face to speak while still having lungs to draw in air needed to create the sound of words.
So much of her body was missing that she couldn’t even put together half of a head to speak. It was amazing that she was still alive at all. Decentralized nervous and circulatory systems were awe inducing.
Eva grimaced at the sight. Absently, she noted Juliana glancing off to the side while trying to not look like she was disturbed. Nurse Post placed a hand over her masked mouth after gasping.
“Alright stop,” Eva said, placing her hands over Lucy. “You’re not helping. If you could write, that might work better.”
The tentacles ceased their formations of various organs, instead just flopping out onto the bed. Eva, once again, took that as a no.
“Just focus on getting better.” Turning back to Nurse Post, Eva said, “you should know that she was taken by demon hunters. They might not be so excited that she got away.”
“So you bring her to a school?”
Eva shrugged. “Summer time. School is out. Most students aren’t even back for the summer seminars yet. If they come back at all. Besides, I can feel Zagan nearby. I doubt that they’ll come here. Still, something to be aware of.”
“And if they do come back?”
“Hide. Let them take Lucy. She won’t die even if they kill her. You will.”
There was a bit of squirming from Lucy at Eva’s suggestion, but Eva paid it no mind. A thought entered her mind about whether or not her statement was true.
“I think, anyway,” Eva said. “The red eyes throw me off, are you a demon or are you not?”
Eva couldn’t sense anything from her. That didn’t necessarily mean anything. Zagan was nearby. Probably just down the hall in Martina Turner’s office. With him so close, Eva could barely feel Lucy and they were just about touching. Inexperienced in her ability to detect demons, it was entirely possible that one she hadn’t known about would slip through.
“I’m not a demon.”
“Then leave her to the hunters.”
If she caught wind of the hunters coming after Lucy again, Eva would jump in without hesitation. Asking the same of a school nurse was not really something that she could do. She was counting on the fact that Zagan was fairly intimidating when he wanted to be.
“Now,” Eva said, “I don’t supposed you know if Martina Turner is around?”
“Last I heard, she was in her office.”
With Zagan, Eva thought with a nod of her head. “Right.” She glanced back towards Juliana. “Coming along?”
As they headed out into the hallway, Juliana let out a long sigh.
“Figures,” she said, “I’m back and in less than half a day, big things are going on.”
“I imagine your little vacation wasn’t quite so eventful,” Eva said with a chuckle.
“Not really. Aside from Zagan showing up, about the only interesting thing was watching this town on the news.”
“About the sky?”
Juliana glanced around the empty hallway. “I know it isn’t some agricultural thing,” she said in a low voice. “What is it?”
Eva shrugged. Juliana had been there when Zagan had explained about the situation with Hell. Of course, her mother had a hole in her chest at the time, but Eva was fairly certain that she had heard enough to get the gist of it. As such, she didn’t feel a need to explain all that.
“Don’t know for sure. The idea that Wayne, Zoe, Devon, and Ylva came up with is that it is some form of attack on Void. It and the enigmas–” Eva cut herself off as a thought occurred to her. “The creatures that your dad came to inspect are the enigmas. I can’t remember if they had their name when you were here last. The idea is that they’re designed to weaken the barriers between the mortal realm and Void. Whether the sky is the cause or a side effect is still up for debate.”
“I try not to worry about it.”
“That seems…. irresponsible.”
“It’s sort of like knowing that a meteor is careening towards the Earth. What am I really supposed to do about it? Devon and Zagan don’t seem particularly worried. Devon is a coward as well. If he isn’t running around like a chicken without a head, I don’t know why I would.
“I prefer to focus my energies on things that I can actually affect. Sawyer, for instance. These demon hunters for another.”
Juliana made a small humming noise. Not really one of agreement or derision, just of acknowledgment.
Inside the main office area, Eva paused with a frown on her face.
Catherine’s desk was empty.
She could sense her somewhere. That probably meant that the demon hunters didn’t have her. But she wasn’t nearby. At least, she wasn’t inside Martina Turner’s office. Zagan was. Now that Eva was closer, she could sense someone else inside as well. A demon that Eva found familiar, but couldn’t quite place. It was probably her imagination. She hadn’t run into very many demons since her latest treatment anyway.
With no one around to wave her into the dean’s office, Eva pushed open the door without hesitation.
“–can’t allow them to–”
Martina’s voice cut off as soon as the door opened. She turned away from Governor Anderson to glare at the interruption. As soon as she saw who it was, her face twisted. As if she couldn’t decide whether to soften her features or to glare harder.
For his part, Anderson merely turned to regard Eva with a raised eyebrow.
Zagan was leaning against the wall just to the side of the door. His golden eyes were already staring at Eva as she entered, obviously expecting her. He hadn’t needed to turn his head.
One of his hands was fiddling with the cufflinks on his other wrist. His hands dropped to his sides as he spotted who was behind Eva. His lips split to reveal teeth that a dentist would be hard pressed to find a flaw in.
But Eva paid him no mind. Zagan was a known demon. A devil and a scary one at that, but one that Eva could at least somewhat predict.
Her eyes were drawn over Martina’s shoulder.
The other demon that she had felt was standing there, staring at her.
Eva immediately realized her mistake.
She had seen this demon before.
“Prax?” Juliana said from behind Eva. “What are you doing here?”
The cambion huffed, crossing his beefy arms in front of his bare chest while glancing off to the side.
“What indeed,” Eva murmured with an aside glance towards Zagan.
The devil shrugged his shoulders. “I heard he got loose from his fleshy prison and wanted into the mortal realm. For a time, I considered torture and execution. Now I’ve decided to have him serve out his insult to me by taking over so many of my duties. Marvelous idea, yeah?”
“I only saw him just a few hours ago. He asked to get out of Hell then.”
Just how quickly had Prax been summoned up by Martina? She could understand if Zoe had let slip that Prax was out, but wanting to get out of Hell was another matter entirely. Eva could understand him being able to hear conversations while he wasn’t immediately present. Zoe could do the same through enhancing her hearing beyond human limits.
Even her enhancements didn’t reach Hell.
“Have you been spying on me?” Eva asked.
“Of course I have.”
Eva blinked, not expecting the blunt response.
“I told you before, I have a vested interest in you. A few simple enchantments on your person and…” he trailed off with another shrug and a nod towards Prax.
For just a moment, Eva had half a mind to protest. To demand the removal of whatever enchantments he had applied to her.
Those protests died off when she caught sight of his eyes.
He wasn’t glaring or anything, but Eva couldn’t help the shiver running up her spine.
Ignoring her discomfort, Zagan turned back to his original object of interest. “Juliana,” he said as he reached out a hand to ruffle her hair. “Welcome back.”
She just sat there and allowed him to mess up her blond hair. “Thanks.”
Her voice came out as a whisper as Zagan withdrew his hand.
Eva yearned to ask. Juliana’s earlier request to not talk about Zagan held her tongue. For now.
With a slight shake of her head, Eva turned to face Martina Turner.
“I rescued Lucy.”
“So I’ve heard,” she said, eyes flicking towards Zagan. “No sign of Daru?”
“None. Ylva is convinced that it was a trap for her. I’m inclined to agree.” Eva raised an eyebrow in Zagan’s direction. “Perhaps Daru is intended to be a trap for someone else?”
“A trap for me?” Zagan said with a chuckle. “I’d like to see that. Perhaps I’ll walk into it just to see what happens.”
“Well, I can’t imagine people fighting you in a fair fight. Even if you went as easy on them as you went on Sister Cross.”
“Dammit.” Martina slammed a fist on her desk. “I thought you were keeping these hunters off my back,” she said in a half shout.
“I told you that it wouldn’t last forever,” Anderson said, keeping his voice carefully controlled.
Picking up a large glass off the desk, she downed the dark brown contents in a single swig. A long and harsh sigh escaped her lips as she set the glass back on the desk. “Should have been longer than a handful of months. I expected a year at least. We’re not ready for hunters.”
Eva cleared her throat. Just a light cough before speaking. “You summoned Prax, right? I feel a few others too.”
“Replacements,” Martina said through grit teeth. “With Brakket’s security force decimated, I had to get more in a hurry.”
“There are three of them including Prax?”
“A second morail and a hellhound under his command.”
Eva nodded. The hellhound wouldn’t be sentient, but it made sense that she could sense it. Still, Martina had Catherine, Lucy, Daru, this new morail, a hellhound, and Zagan all contracted to her. The most she had seen Devon summon was three, and that had just been half a year ago or so. Before that, his highest was two at once.
She could only imagine what Devon would say about Martina. Her imagination filled in several uses of the words idiot, menace, and suicidal.
But, it wasn’t her problem. If Martina wanted to surround herself with demons, that was her choice.
Eva just hoped that she had a bag of popcorn nearby when Zagan decided that he didn’t want to take orders anymore.
“Anyway, I think Ylva is wanting to hunt down these hunters. I’m going to help her. Any resources that you could spare would be appreciated, I’m sure.”
Martina went silent for a moment. Her finger ran around the edge of her now empty glass. “Take Prax and Catherine. Zagan will stay at my side. Cereth and the hellhound will remain patrolling around Brakket Academy.”
Eva expected Zagan to stay with Martina. Unless she was far more altruistic than Eva knew her to be, Martina wouldn’t want her strongest asset away from her. Though he could probably kill the hunters in one shot, it would leave her far too vulnerable. The other morail, Cereth, would likely be a backup. Or, he would be sent in to die first while Zagan watched and laughed.
Maybe it was a good thing that Zagan wouldn’t be at her side.
Standing up, Martina placed the palms of her hands against the top of her desk, leaning over. “Get these bastards out of my town.”