Tag Archives: Zoe

010.020

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Eva, hands clasped behind her back, patrolled along the edge of the ritual circle. More specifically, she paced back and forth in front of the demon hunter and the nun. While the nun had her back pressed against the tree, staring up at the eye through the portals with a slack jaw, the hunter was face-down in the dirt with her mouth slightly to one side. Just enough to endlessly spew nonsensical threats at everyone who walked by.

Thankfully, Zoe had stopped by and stilled the air around her head, keeping the sound from escaping. A small part of Eva hoped that the stilled air would mean stale air and eventually toxic air when the oxygen ran out. However, Zoe was far too experienced and too careful to make a mistake like that.

Killing her might be for the best. It wouldn’t be difficult. She could use her wings—which, for the moment, had receded back into the blood coating her body—her feet, her hands, her fire, or her blood. And among all those, there were plenty of subsets. Her hands, for example, could crush her windpipe, tear out her throat, tear out her heart, twist her head around backwards, crush her head, tear open her mouth and jaw, break every bone in her body, and so on and so forth.

Eva had a sinking suspicion that Zoe would be none too pleased with her should she murder a helpless captive. Even if that helpless captive was the worst person Eva had ever met outside of Sawyer.

By Juliana’s testimony, neither of them had interfered with the ritual at all. The hunter had been lying face down pretty much since the moment she showed up. The nun hadn’t taken her eyes off the sky once the portals opened. Something Eva had been telling the others to avoid doing.

“Stop that,” Eva said, clicking her fingers in front of Irene’s face. Some people had to be reminded more often than others.

Irene blinked twice before shaking her head. “Sorry,” she said as she glanced between Eva and Saija. “I was just… what was I doing?”

“Staring. Get on your feet. It’s too easy to look up while lying down on your back. And that goes for the rest of you as well,” Eva said to pretty much everyone who wasn’t Zoe, Genoa, or a demon.

Fluttering her eyes shut, Irene heaved out a great sigh. “Is it fine to lie down if I’m not looking at anything? I don’t think I could get up if I tried. My arms and legs feel like someone has strapped hundred pound weights on them.”

“Maybe just a little nap?” Shalise said with a yawn, rolling over onto her side. Apparently nobody cared in the slightest that they were lying on dirt. It wasn’t even nice and grassy since Eva and Juliana had cleared out most of the vegetation before starting on the circle. In fact, it was still a little muddy from the snow Eva had melted not too long before.

But at least she wasn’t staring at the sky anymore.

“Saija, keep an eye on them. If any of them start staring at the eye, clap your hands in front of their faces.”

“Me?” Saija said, looking up. Her forehead had been touching her knees as she sat on the ground with her arms around her legs. Though better off than the humans, even the demons were looking drained.

“Do you see someone else with your name around? I thought not,” Eva said before Saija could actually start looking. “Actually…”

Turning around to face the makeshift prison, Eva walked over to where Juliana had made a chair for herself. She was the only one of the younger humans who wasn’t dying of lethargy. Though the dirt coating her pant legs, hands, and forehead meant that even she hadn’t been able to escape being forced to kneel to the avatars.

“Did you figure anything out yet?” Juliana asked. Her foot thumped against the ground in a nervous tremor. Something that Eva wouldn’t have normally associated with Juliana.

But Eva chose to ignore it, shaking her head instead and gesturing off towards the ritual circle. “Ten minutes, Catherine said. We’re nearing the hour mark and she’s still pacing around. Has Zagan said anything?”

Juliana sent her hair flipping about as she shook her head back and forth. “Not a word. Although I do feel inordinately amused with the whole situation even though I’m pretty sure I don’t feel amused.”

“Well I hope all this buys you some excitement. But I have a favor to ask. Could you–” Eva cut herself off as a thought occurred to her. “I was going to ask if you could blot out the sky. Temporarily of course. Just something to get everyone to stop staring. But there might be a more important thing to spend your time on.

“I would have thought that this ritual would have drawn some attention. Nobody has shown up, not yet at least—which actually has me somewhat worried about what is going on outside the Infinite Courtyard. I would have expected Devon to notice and run over here. Though he might be too cowardly. Redford, Anderson, and all the mage-knights running around town aren’t here for some reason.”

Juliana’s foot ceased its tapping. Straightening her back, she looked right in Eva’s eyes. “You think something has happened in town? My dad…”

“I don’t think anything. It was merely a side comment. I’m more worried that someone will show up and try to stop us from finishing this whole mess.” Especially Devon. “I don’t suppose you can make this place impossible to find? For those who aren’t already here, of course.”

“That would cut off help if we need it.”

“I would assume that you could undo whatever you do.”

Falling silent, Juliana brought a thumb to her mouth and started nibbling on her nail. “I mean, I could try.”

“Just don’t accidentally make us unable to find it. Or remove it from existence. Or alter the ritual circle. Or perhaps any of thousands of possible bad things.”

“You’re sure doing wonders to fill me with confidence.”

“That’s my job,” Eva said with a grin. She didn’t really feel much like smiling, but acting as if nothing was wrong was probably best for morale. Especially if things really were going sour outside the Infinite Courtyard.

Now that Juliana had brought it up, there almost had to be something going on outside. Surely people would have noticed the ritual going on. All the lightning bolts and the massive black dome. It should have been nearly impossible not to see it even with the strange way space interacted with the courtyard. The portals and the massive eye overhead were probably even more obvious, but with the violet streaks having stretched over the entire city and even beyond for a ways, they might not associate that with the Infinite Courtyard and the ritual circle within.

Unless, like the nun, everyone had started staring at it and had been unable to stop. Who knew what that might do to them. The nun had yet to go insane or start mutating into a blob of tentacles and enigmas, though she also had yet to break eye contact. Eva, and pretty much everyone else around, had looked at the eye at least once or twice. Some for longer than others. So far, nobody was exhibiting odd mannerisms.

After staring at it non-stop for several hours, who knew what might change. Maybe nothing. Maybe they would all become zombies. That was why Eva had been going around stopping people from looking.

All that was something other people would deal with or she would deal with later. For now, she turned towards the approaching Catherine and Zoe. Their inspection of the circle had apparently finished. Finally.

“Just think about it. It might not be a priority at all. Maybe no one noticed,” Eva said to Juliana. The weird way the Infinite Courtyard functioned made that a perfectly valid possibility. How did a lightning bolt strike any specific spot while all the space had been compressed into the size of a larger room?

Shaking her head, she left Juliana to her thoughts and blinked towards Catherine, closing the distance. She wound up not far from the still smoking remains of the Avatar of Void. Particles of smoke drifted off into the air and disappeared from sight. Yet it never shrank in size. If Void was still inhabiting it, Eva might not be so surprised. Without any Power generating the body, she had half expected it to disperse and leave at least something of Arachne behind.

Finding herself gritting her teeth, Eva turned away. She turned just in time to catch Zoe relaxing slightly from a tense posture. Not once had Eva seen Zoe sheathe her dagger. Frankly, Eva didn’t blame her. Walking around near what had once been Vektul would have unnerved her as well.

Catherine, on the other hand, didn’t look nearly so tense. Her posture remained its usual drawn back and proper. But the way she walked… Her timid steps actually had Eva double-checking that she really was Catherine. Especially as she approached Eva. She grew more and more subdued. Her shoulders remained up, but every step was smaller than the last.

She stopped cold a fair distance away from Eva. Zoe continued for another few steps before realizing that Catherine hadn’t moved and stopped.

Eva blinked across the short distance away from the avatar. “Any ideas?” she asked, getting right to the point. “Was it my fault?”

“Possibly.”

“Only possibly?” That was better than definitely being the cause of the apocalypse. “I had assumed that I wouldn’t be allowed to do anything that would break the ritual,” Eva said with a thumb over her shoulder towards the avatar.

“That is the thing. You shouldn’t have been able to break it. Your spikes of blood shouldn’t have interacted with any other part of the ritual.”

“Then what–”

“But this ritual is so huge—it covers so much physical space that I can’t say for certain that something isn’t being affected by your blood. There may be some mirrored symmetry that was broken or your blood is acting as a siphon for some branch of magic that I’m overlooking. Given Void’s words before everything went wrong—I believe he said ‘perfect’—I’m going to assume that you did it.”

“Unless,” Zoe said, “this is all part of the plan.”

“Which we didn’t see any evidence for.” Catherine narrowed her eyes as she glanced towards Zoe. It only lasted a moment before she turned back to Eva. As she turned, her eyes dipped down to the ground. For whatever reason, she avoided looking right at the avatar. “By all evidence, this ritual has fallen into a stasis.”

“So how do we resume?”

Zoe turned back to face Vektul. “The simplest thing to try would be removing your blood and having Genoa smooth over the platform. Get everyone back into their positions and then channel your magic into the center point.”

“But…”

Eva had to whip her head around to stare at Catherine. They were acting like twins, complimenting each other’s points.

“That may not be for the best. If we resume this second portion of the ritual, Void may not–”

Catherine took a ginger step to one side, spreading her feet for stability as Zoe toppled to the ground. Eva, without the slightest thought, touched the tips of her wings to the ground to protect against the sudden earthquake.

“I think we’ve run out of time,” Eva said as she reached out a hand to help Zoe back to her feet.

The second Eva’s hand met with Zoe’s, a flash illuminated her face. Like someone had just taken a picture behind Eva’s shoulder. A moment later, a boom of thunder echoed across the smooth ritual circle. Eva whirled around towards where she had heard it come from.

Only to not spot anything amiss.

The others were all shaken—earthquakes tended to have that effect on people—and even the nun was looking around. But no enigmas. No mass of flesh growing nearby. No alien trees sprouting.

“Where did that lightning hit? Did anyone see?”

“Somewhere over the trees,” Catherine said, eyes locked on the horizon. “Can’t say how close it was. I only saw the flash.”

“Great.” If something hadn’t been going on outside before, there definitely was something now. Luckily, an earthquake had accompanied it. Like the nun, anyone stuck staring at the sky might have been shaken out of their trance. They should all be able to defend themselves from whatever might have happened.

“I’ll get rid of the blood,” Eva said. “Catherine, get everyone back to their spots. Zoe, grab Genoa and have her smooth over the area.”

Biting her lip, Zoe said, “We’re resuming it just like that? There might be better methods.”

“We could sit around asking what ifs all day. What if it’s the wrong move, what if there is a better way, what if the ritual can’t be resumed. But that thing is watching us,” Eva said, pointing a finger upwards without glancing up herself. Zoe started to look before catching herself while Catherine still had her eyes locked on Eva. “The real question–” she had to pause for a moment as the ground gave a light tremble. “The real question, did all this start up coincidentally or because it saw us talking about restarting the ritual?”

Eva glanced back and forth between the two, wondering if either would say anything. Another bolt of lightning crashed down. This time it was in the direction Eva was already facing. She could only see the highest point, way up by the portals. The rest of it came down behind the treetops far off in the distance.

“It would have been dangerous no matter how or what we tried,” Catherine said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Zoe shook her head. “Restarting interrupted rituals is always dangerous. Something like this… I can’t even imagine the possible consequences. If there is some pocket of magic that hasn’t dissipated, the whole thing could explode the moment we activate it again.”

“And if we don’t, the opened portal will overwhelm us with monsters. Then who is going to save the world? It might be a bad idea, but doing nothing or waiting is almost assuredly a worse one. I agree with Eva.” Catherine spread her wings and took off, banking slightly to curve around the avatar as she flew towards the gathered humans and demons.

“Juliana might be able to help protect against something like that,” Eva mumbled. She hadn’t been talking to Zoe, but the professor narrowed her eyes.

“And what is Juliana going to do?”

Suppressing a wince, Eva casually crossed her arms and feigned a moment of deep thought. “No idea,” she said, stepping around Zoe. “Just get everything ready. But look on the bright side. If the ritual does explode, then I guess we won’t have to worry about Life being corrupted.”

“That’s another thing we haven’t discussed… Eva!” she called out.

But Eva was already marching towards the Life avatar. “No time for discussion,” Eva called out over her shoulder. “If one of those lightning bolts hits around here or the earthquakes break apart the ritual circle, we could be in serious trouble. The avatar isn’t shooting them out of the sky anymore.”

Much like Arachne, Eva couldn’t imagine that there was any part of Vektul left within. Though the hulking mass of flesh definitely had veins, arteries, and blood pumping through them. It didn’t look like any kind of creature that Eva had ever seen. She couldn’t even find a brain within.

Considering the idea that the entire thing was supposedly a segment of a brain, that might make sense. It still didn’t look like any brain Eva had ever seen. Even knowing that it was only a part, it was utterly alien. The avatar had been using a metaphor, so perhaps expecting it to make any sense was asking too much of the mass of flesh.

The real question was in the tentacles. How much brain was in them? Would it matter if she sheared them all off? They presented a clear danger to herself and everyone involved in the ritual. Especially those closer to the Life side of the circle. It would probably just grow more, of course. A few chopped off now could mean a great deal less hassle later. Especially the few long ones that had been reaching out towards Eva. The few that had caused most of the problems in the first place.

Well, Void wanted to lobotomize the thing. Chopping off a few tendrils couldn’t hurt more.

With that thought in mind, Eva set to work, slicing away at the meat of anything that wasn’t a part of the main mass. Soon enough, she wound up with a fair pile of tentacles. Eyes covered some. Others were tipped in razor-sharp maws. All of them were in desperate need of immediate disposal.

Without the flames from the avatar, she wasn’t entirely certain how to go about that. Her own fire wouldn’t be sufficient. There was almost no doubt about that. Just shoving them off to the side probably wouldn’t be healthy once the ritual started up again. Right now they were inert. The blood wasn’t even pumping through the main body, let alone the tentacles. Yet Eva wouldn’t bet a penny that they would stay that way.

Eva shaped her blood into wings once again, bringing the sharp points of blood together. Slowly pulling them apart, she stretched a long thin strand of liquid blood out. The strand expanded and grew as she started wrapping up one of the tentacles. Like a spider cocooning prey. No matter how much blood she coated it with, the blood coating Eva never lessened. In fact, she wasn’t entirely certain that it was coating her anymore. Looking at herself through her blood sight, she couldn’t detect the thin layer of skin beneath the blood except around her hands and legs.

Under other circumstances, she might have found herself concerned about that fact. She liked having skin. Arachne’s carapace was nearly impervious and protected powerful muscles, but her skin was more comfortable. Sitting in a chair or even lying on a bed just wasn’t quite the same anymore with Arachne’s legs.

And yet, she found herself oddly calm about the suit of blood. Maybe it was just whatever had been making her head fuzzy during the ritual. Maybe she just didn’t think properly anymore.

Either way, she had finished her task. Ten tentacles taped to the tip. More blood was weaved out from the ends of her wings and crushed the tentacles into a sphere of blood. Holding the sphere by two points of her wings high above the ritual circle, Eva clapped her hands.

She winced away from the flash of light. Entirely unnecessarily, as it turned out. She had expected an explosion of blood and viscera. None came. Peeking open her eyes, dust scattered to the winds. There wasn’t anything else left.

“That worked out better than expected,” Eva mused to herself.

“Did you have to use those things coming off your back?”

Eva turned with a half shrug to face Zoe and Genoa. “Probably not. But they give me range and I didn’t really want to get close to the tentacles.”

“Are we going to talk about them? Or why you look like you do?”

“So other people can see me,” Eva said with a note of false surprise in her voice. “I was beginning to wonder. Nobody else said anything.”

“You’re probably intimidating them.”

“Even Genoa?” Eva said, glancing in the mage-knight’s direction.

“I figured it was some demon thing,” Genoa said as she approached just behind Zoe. “Strange things happen and you learn to start ignoring them. If you weren’t bothered by it, I wasn’t going to be.”

Zoe just sighed. “Everyone’s ready. Are we sure about this?”

“Not at all,” Eva said as she pointed towards Vektul. “Those holes need to be smoothed over, Genoa. Once that’s done…”

It would be time to start up the ritual again.

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010.005

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Eva blinked forward, moving rooftop to rooftop. It only took a handful of blinks before she found herself in front of the creature. The creature could fly, so she had expected to be rapidly blinking over and over again just to keep up. However, it wasn’t that good at it. It bobbed and dipped, barely able to keep from crashing into the ground. The tentacles lining its back behind its wings moved as if they had a mind of their own, even going so far as to gnaw on the ends of the wings.

It truly was a bizarre sight. One that had Eva standing and watching for a few seconds rather than trying to catch it.

Of course, once it realized that Eva had gotten ahead of it, it panicked again. Rather than simply turn and glide away somewhere else, it actually tried to climb over its own wings in a scramble to escape. Doing so didn’t turn out so well. The moment it tried to twist and grab at its own wings, it lost against gravity. It crashed down, hit the end of the roof, rolled over the side and crashed down again in the middle of the street.

Eva almost felt bad watching it try to pick itself out of the tangled heap of limbs and tentacles. Not bad enough to stop Arachne from following it off the edge of the roof with her thread stretched between her hands. Despite landing almost on top of the creature, it managed to scuttle out from underneath her legs without getting tied up.

Six legs and a series of tentacles carried it along the ground faster than it had been flying. Arachne snarled as Eva teleported down to street level, just in front of the creature.

It nearly barreled right over her, being entirely focused on Arachne. Only a quick wall of flames between them caught the creature’s attention in time for it to skid to a halt. Eva spread the flame around in a wide semicircle, helping contain the creature while leaving Arachne free to march in closer.

Unfortunately, the creature realized that as well. Spreading its wings once again, it managed to get just enough height to get over Eva’s head.

Blinking after it, Eva considered just jumping on its back. The only thing stopping her were those tentacles filled with teeth. She still had distinct memories of having her foot bitten clean off after accidentally getting it caught in an enigma’s mouth. And that had been fairly easy to reattach as well, being a nice clean cut. The tentacles weren’t large enough to fit her entire foot in their mouths. They would take a dozen little bites out of her should she get close.

Which, really, she should have realized earlier. Her carapace was the same as Arachne’s. If Arachne moved in close, she could wind up half-eaten. And if the teeth could tear through carapace, they could probably get through thread. Even if it was Arachne’s demonic thread.

A bolt of lightning skimmed the fur on the tips of the creature’s ears, startling it enough to send it crashing back to the ground. A secondary gust of wind blew it along the ground until it hit the side of a small bakery. Zoe jumped off the roof she had been following along atop, gliding to the ground rather than falling with full force.

Eva held out a hand, stalling Arachne from approaching. Zoe had the winds whirling around, continually spinning the creature around and keeping it from getting back on its feet. There was no need for Arachne to put herself in danger so long as Zoe kept her magic up.

“You said to catch it,” Zoe said as she walked closer with her dagger out and swiping through the air, continually sending turbulent winds around the terrified creature. “But did you have a plan as to how? Or where to keep it?”

“The prison, I assume. Lynn, Catherine, and Devon can take a look at whatever it is. They can come up with some containment wards or shackles as well. They’re much more qualified than me.”

“Maybe so, but how are you getting it to them?”

Eva didn’t have much of a plan for that either. Given that she hadn’t even thought they would be chasing and capturing an unknown creature today, she felt she really should be excused for not having a proper plan.

“You missed your lightning bolt,” Eva said, rather than properly answer. Deflecting was a perfectly valid response.

Zoe didn’t respond right away. Instead she frowned and stared, looking at the creature as it pressed up against the wall. It tried to puff out all its fur to look as big as possible while simultaneously trying to shrink itself down as small as possible to avoid the tornado of winds rushing around it. After staring for a moment longer, she kept her dagger pointed at the creature while turning to look at Eva out of the corner of her eyes.

“It’s scared. I feel bad doing this even though it isn’t hurting it in the slightest.”

Earlier, while chasing it, Eva had a similar thought. The creature was far more pitiful than standard enigmas. If it even was an enigma. For all she knew, it was just some strange demon. Perhaps not one hundred percent of demons had black blood. Zagan didn’t have red eyes even though every other demon Eva had seen had them. And this thing did feel like a demon, though as weak as an imp. If that.

She would have to ask. Catherine might know more demonic species. Devon as well.

“So,” Eva said, “any ideas on transporting it?”

“Calm it down. If it stops fleeing, I’ll be free to use my magic for more than just containment.”

“You can’t just solidify air around it?”

“I could try, but if this is an enigma… these things have been known to break out of fairly hefty shackles in the past. Even if it isn’t, demons aren’t weak. My solidified air is more of a warning barrier than anything meant to contain something.”

Eva, curling her lips into a frown, stared at the creature. Calm it down? Even if it weren’t an enigma, it still acted like a feral cat. A cat with wings. And tentacles filled with teeth. In fact, was there even a need to calm it down?

Stepping forward to just before the tornado, Eva knelt down. She carved a series of runes into the ground with the tip of her finger.

It had been quite some time since she had used runes for anything. In fact, the last real time she had used them had been the rage script she had created to rile up people against the Elysium Order. There had been a few little things since then. She had kept up with the privacy packets up until her incapacitation at Sawyer’s hands. She had taught Shalise a little, but those lessons had fallen by the wayside not long after they started. Partially, again, because of Sawyer’s attack and then Shalise’s detention in Hell.

But that disuse didn’t mean that she had forgotten everything.

A quick sloth rune, a few pargons, some directional targeting, and a blood-based exclusionary clause and Eva had a decent sleeping runic array. She pricked a single droplet of blood and let it fall onto the exclusionary clause, motioned for Arachne to do the same, and stood to move towards Zoe. “Going to need a drop of your blood unless you want to take a quick nap.”

She frowned for a moment. Still, she held out her arm—the one she wasn’t using to wave around a focus. Not having her dagger on her person at the moment thanks to Anderson, the guests from other schools, and all the cameras that had been around Brakket Academy since the start of the event, Eva wiped her fingers off onto her shirt before pricking Zoe’s upper arm. Carefully holding the droplet of blood on the tip of her claw, she carried it over to the runic array. Only then did she let it fall from her fingertip.

Everything all set up, Eva flooded the array with magic. Then she waited, watching.

Back when she and Devon had raided the museum for the lich’s phylactery, the place where she had found the bloodstone encrusted dagger, she had made a similar rune system to put any guards to sleep. However, the guards at the museum had likely already been half asleep. If nothing else, they hadn’t been highly alert and full of adrenaline.

The creature was filled to the brim with adrenaline. Or whatever passed for adrenaline in its species. Its four pale white eyes twitched back and forth, rapidly searching out anything it might be able to use to escape. Fur sticking out, it continually moved back and forth in a space of about four feet. Every few movements, it swiped its paw towards the wind. The wind swiped back every time, turning to a transparent whip that kept the creature at bay.

After watching for a full minute, Eva started wondering if she might need to add a few extra pargon runes to up the power of the sleep spell. Just as the thought crossed her mind, the creature’s lids drooped. It was only for a moment. Its eyes snapped wide open as it shook its head, sending its long mane of hair whipping around in the wind.

But it was a start.

So Eva sat and continued to watch.

It managed to hold on for another minute before its head dipped. Jolting awake, the creature snapped its head around. The next slow blink of its otherwise wide eyes came only half a minute after. From there, its eyes started closing every few seconds, increasing in frequency with every blink. As its movements slowed, Zoe slowed down the wind and only swatted at the creature when it tried to escape its containment. Something that it wasn’t trying to do half as often.

All at once, its eyes fluttered shut and stayed there. Perched on its hind legs with its forepaws supporting most of its weight, it managed to stay sitting up for all of ten seconds before collapsing to the ground in a sleeping pile of fur and tentacles. Unfortunately, though the creature as a whole had fallen asleep, the tentacles didn’t care. They whipped around and snapped at everything. Which included both bricks and small bites out of the creature itself. Eva hadn’t actually attacked it. Neither had Arachne or Zoe—aside from some mostly harmless wind. Yet it was bleeding almost worse than it had been when they first came across it.

“We may need to amputate its tentacles,” Eva said. “If only to keep it intact enough to transport to the prison.”

Eva could do it without too much trouble had she a few vials of blood on hand. Really, she should just carry some vials around with her. It wasn’t like anyone would recognize demon blood for what it was aside from the vampire. If asked, she could claim that they were potions of some sort.

Just as easily, she could sever the creature’s tentacles with her bare hands—Arachne as well—should they get close. Unfortunately, getting close would put them in range of those teeth. She could try to burn them off. Or explode them off. However, her fire magic wasn’t that precise. She would probably do more damage to the creature than the tentacles were.

“I don’t suppose your razor wind is good at amputations?”

“So long as your runes will keep it asleep,” Zoe said. Receiving a mostly confident nod from Eva, she raised her dagger and made several sharp cutting motions. With each movement, the head of a tentacle fell to the sidewalk. Each swipe sent a precise blade of wind at the creature. No blade touched anywhere except her targets.

Eva might have given a slight whistle at her ability. It would have been one thing had they been unmoving targets, but they were squirming around like the arms of a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tubeman.

The severed ends were small and almost spherical with their teeth at one end. And they didn’t stop biting. The mouths opened wide and then closed with sharp clicks despite their ability to move around having been stolen away from them. Still, barring a sudden ability to levitate around, Eva felt safe enough to approach.

Squatting down, Eva reached out and picked up one of the still snapping tentacle ends. She turned it over in her fingers. It continued opening and closing at the same rate, apparently unable to tell that it was mere inches away from something real to eat. With a shake of her head, she set it back down and moved on to the main body.

Eva poked at the side of its face. Just a quick test to ensure that it actually was sleeping. She assumed so, as all its tentacles being chopped off couldn’t have been a pleasant experience. Throughout the whole ordeal, none of its four eyes so much as twitched. And, leaning just a slight bit closer, Eva could have sworn that she heard snoring coming from the back of its throat.

Satisfied that it wasn’t going to be jumping up and attacking anytime soon, Eva stood and turned to the others.

“Arachne, wrap it up tight. It should be able to breathe but little else. Stay clear of the little mouths,” she said, pausing to reach down and pick one up. It had been eating into the cement sidewalk, chewing it up and spitting it out the severed end. As it did so, it started turning more gray than its natural black. Squeezing it in her fingers, Eva found it much tougher than the one she had picked up just a moment ago. “They’ll probably just eat through your webbing. We’ll need to find a way to contain them. Preferably without them eating whatever they’re held in.”

Zoe aimed her wand once again. The tentacle heads all rose from the ground, hovering in the air around Eva. They only stayed by her for a moment before they moved off to the side, still up in the air. “I’ll handle these if you figure out how to transport it.”

“I don’t have a truck handy.”

Nobody had recovered Devon’s vehicle from when they had gone to attack Sawyer. Devon did have a new one that he got from somewhere, but she highly doubted that he would let her borrow it anytime soon. He might bring it over to pick up the creature himself, but that could be hours from now. If he even bothered. Better to simply bring it to him. To that end, she turned to look at Arachne.

“Feeling up to carrying this thing all the way to the prison?”

Arachne’s eyes had never left the sleeping form of the creature. She still took a moment to respond. “So long as it stays asleep. Though I suppose I can tear its wings off if it starts to wake up. That should make catching it again much easier.”

“Sounds good. Let’s get moving.” Eva stepped away from the body, letting Arachne move in to pick it up. “I don’t know if you can teleport with those,” she said with a pointed finger towards the little mouths that were now levitating in front of Zoe, “but we should be able to find some way to contain them at the prison.”

“I’ll call up Wayne. He should have a vehicle for me.”

As Arachne hefted up the creature, Eva knelt down to the sidewalk where she had etched in her runes. Dragging her finger around the entire array, she used her burgeoning earth magic skills to free the small chunk of cement. Carrying it along with her should keep the creature asleep for the journey. “Great. We’ll head off first. Stay safe.”

With that, Eva started running just behind Arachne. The entire time they ran, Eva just thought. She didn’t speak with Arachne. She barely paid attention to where her feet were stepping.

Enigmas had fallen from the sky. And demons, or things that felt slightly like demons. Until Eva could confirm that a real demon had crossed over as Arachne had, she would be reserving judgment.

But the thing in Arachne’s arms was not a demon. It looked like one. Felt almost like one. But it wasn’t one. Eva had theories about what it might be. Or had been. It had been an enigma. Just like all the others. Dog-like with tentacles, too many limbs, sharp teeth, and violet blood. But something had happened to it that had made it more human-like. Or demon-like. Both.

Sawyer’s enigmas had eaten a few of the vampires she had recruited while attacking his ritual circle. There hadn’t been much time to investigate given the situation, but Eva had definitely noticed something. The enigmas that feasted on vampires had changed. They turned more like a vampire than whatever enigmas were.

The same thing had to have happened to this enigma. It had consumed demons. Perhaps a succubus? Stripping away the tentacles and fur, it might be quite attractive to people who weren’t Eva, though in an androgynous sort of way. The tentacles were a holdover from it being an enigma. For the fur… maybe it had consumed a hellhound? Maybe even a cerberus. The wings could have come from a succubus or just about anything else—a great number of demons had wings.

That brought up the question of what had happened to the demons it had consumed. Did they die for real? Did Void pull them deeper into Hell to let them heal like normal? Most of all, could the creature talk? It had a humanoid face. It might have to be taught to talk. Was its brain developed enough to facilitate proper communication?

She suspected that those would be questions for Devon and Catherine.

Speak of the devil…

They made it to the prison without running into any further issues, enigma related or otherwise. It wasn’t quite record time. Arachne hadn’t shifted into her largest form, just carrying the creature in her arms and moving with her two humanoid legs. And they had been moving slowly. Even with the runic array, they didn’t want to accidentally wake the creature.

Catherine stood atop the prison walls, having apparently sensed Eva’s approach. “Stay here,” Eva said to Arachne. Setting down the rune array so that it would still cover the enigma, Eva took a few drops of the creature’s blood—using the palm of her hand to contain them—and blinked atop the wall.

“I’ll be right back,” she said to Catherine. “We’ll need some containment wards though. Maybe shackles. Not sure.”

Catherine didn’t respond. She kept her eyes glued on the body in Arachne’s arms.

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010.002

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

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

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

“Alright, you might as well come out.”

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

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

“You knew we were here?”

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

Zoe glanced down to Serena, frown on her face.

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

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

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

“But… why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eva… I–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eva shrugged and looked around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’ll probably figure it out.”

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

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

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

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

So she interrupted anyway.

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

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

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

“Barely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos, Eva wouldn’t be talking to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing Brakket Academy, something was bound to happen.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.027

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

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

One, perhaps the more troublesome one, was dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anyone watching us?”

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

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

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

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

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

Arachne was healing, just slowly.

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

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

There was just one problem with that line of thinking.

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

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

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

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

Again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And heavy lifting was what they needed at the moment.

Last was Juliana.

Eva gave her a smile.

She only half returned it.

“Ready to begin?”

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

“Mostly sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vektul just tilted his head to one side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eva shrugged.

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

All without looking a day over twenty.

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

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

— — —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoe rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

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

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

“So he just brought you over?”

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

“I hope you didn’t threaten him.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Then–”

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

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

“Besides, its only temporary.”

“Moving into the dorms?”

“I– How did you know?”

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

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

“Prisons just don’t seem your style.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds like cheating to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

<– Back | Index | Next –>

>>Author’s Note 008<<


008.018

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“Well, that’s definitely the doll that I saw in Hell.”

Eva stepped away from the window, looking at the others. Irene and her succubus were standing towards the back of the stairwell. One was trying to look as small as possible while the other continually preened as soon as she thought someone was looking in her direction. Unfortunately for Saija, the doll standing out in the courtyard below was of far more interest to everyone.

Juliana and Genoa were both forward a bit more, both looking out the window. Even after her brief run around her house, Genoa wasn’t looking significantly worse off than she had during their earlier discussion. Still strained, but maybe even better. She didn’t look quite so out of breath as Eva would have expected. Getting out of the house and getting some fresh air might have done her a world of good.

Zoe rounded out their group for the moment. She wasn’t paying so much attention to the doll outside. Her focus was on her cellphone. She was coordinating with other members of Brakket staff to find any possible missing students. Saija’s warning about the recently deceased demon and how he had likely broken some part of their contract.

Given that she was looking much calmer than she had when Saija first mentioned the possibility, Eva was guessing that the headcount was going well.

Srey had gone to find out where Vektul was on Eva’s request. The demon was somewhat essential to Eva and somewhat absentminded. There needed to be some measures in place to ensure he didn’t go do something stupid.

Like run off and try to speak with the doll. For all Eva knew, the doll would strongly object to interacting. Srey had worried that any even extraordinarily minor breach in their contracts would set the doll off. Something that was only a breach because of some innocuous wording that nobody would have complained about under normal circumstances.

Eva didn’t have a contract. So she was feeling fairly safe around the doll at the moment. Neither did Arachne, but Arachne hadn’t been summoned in the usual manner. Eva wasn’t so sure how they might react if brought near each other.

Though, at the moment, Eva wasn’t sure that the doll was even alive anymore.

For the fifteen minutes Eva had been back at Brakket, and longer according to Irene, the doll hadn’t moved. No breathing, no fidgeting of the arms. The doll hadn’t even blinked, as far as she could tell.

Nobody had gone near it. Anderson had made an announcement over the Brakket speaker system warning against going outside. Genoa and Juliana, being unable to teleport long distances on their own, had to have Zoe bring them inside to avoid going too near the doll.

They might have been able to sneak in through one of the back doors, but it was best not to take any risks with someone who could apparently fall out of the sky to skewer people.

“Nobody missing,” Zoe said as she slipped her phone back into her pocket. “However, Cindy Lovechild’s roommate has been unable to wake her. Wayne took her to the school nurse.”

Saija stepped forward, making sure everybody noticed her before speaking. “If Timothy had enraptured someone in his delirium, they should recover soonish now that he’s gone.”

“How soon?”

“A day or two,” Saija said with a shrug.

“I suppose that is good. I’ll let them know,” Zoe said, pulling her phone back out. “However,” she said with a nod towards the window, “what do we do about her?”

“If she doesn’t ever move, I suppose we could put her up on a pedestal. A free new statue for the school.”

“Eva…”

“Or we could try to talk to her. She was open to speaking the last time I encountered her.”

“Alright. What do we say then? ‘Please leave?'”

“Or find out what she is sticking around for. Maybe another demon has broken its contract in the area.”

“If that is the case, perhaps we should offer our assistance.” She sighed, rubbing her forehead. “I told Anderson that his grand idea was idiotic. One of his perfectly innocent demons has already gone off the wall. When will the rest?”

“Hey,” Saija said. “I’ve got no such plans. I’m rather enjoying myself as I am. I don’t need a sword through my gut either.”

Eva turned back to the window, biting her lip. Being his school, Anderson should be the one out there speaking with the doll. He had a demon bound to him. He should know what it was.

But he was nowhere to be seen or heard of, save for the announcement he had made.

The only real reason why he might not be out there was because he broke his portion of the contract somehow. Perhaps he was worried about being dragged down to the abattoir.

Why isn’t the doll going after him then?

Maybe it was waiting for more orders from Void or the Keeper. Wherever it got its orders from.

She could speculate all she wanted. It wasn’t going to change matters until someone went down there to speak with her.

“We shouldn’t all go down at once. It might startle her,” Eva mumbled to herself.

Not quiet enough, apparently.

“You’re not going alone,” Arachne said almost instantly. “In fact, you’re not going at all. Someone else can deal with this. You don’t need to be involved in all the things that go on around this place. You’re already involved in enough.”

Eva shook her head. “You might think that, but there are enough complications around Brakket as is. It is in our best interest, and everyone else’s, to ensure that another one doesn’t crop up from this. I’d prefer if everything went as smooth as possible in the future.”

Like the ritual, she mentally added. With everyone around, she wasn’t about to speak aloud. Arachne should understand without being explicitly told.

She still wasn’t sure what to do about the ritual. They had cleared that area of the wilderness beyond the prison, but so long as the demon hunters had that replica of the nun’s ability to crack the sky, using that field was somewhat untenable. Perhaps if they had someone running an actual distraction for them. They could still be caught off-guard by a beam of light from the sky.

That wasn’t to say that the wilderness they had started on was the only possible location. The Infinite Courtyard was another possibility. It was still open to the sky, but at least it had Brakket Academy surrounding it. They could set up some sort of defenses around it.

A blood shield might work. It would have to be enormous. Larger than any Eva had ever made. She was fairly certain that she could power it through bloodstones. Provided her minion in Florida had done his job in finding suitable targets for more bloodstones, it could potentially be run indefinitely.

The only real problem with that was that she wasn’t sure how well a shield might hold up to an attack of that magnitude. Her blood shields were strong. Stronger than anything she could produce through thaumaturgy. But strong enough to withstand what was essentially a massive laser from the sky?

Eva wasn’t so sure.

The other option she had considered was somewhere indoors. Someone had set up a thaumaturgical ward that expanded what would have been a few hundred square feet into a few square miles for the Infinite Courtyard. Surely something similar could be done to a room. She wouldn’t even need a single square mile of space. So the ward could be drastically scaled down.

It would be much safer than going outside. Depending on who Eva had to get to set up the ward, the whole thing could be kept much quieter as well. No big fanfare or large crowds to find out what might be going on if people stumbled across the ritual circle. It could all be done in the privacy of one of the side rooms in the women’s ward.

She would cast the spell herself, but she had only been in her warding class for two months. Not even quite that. They hadn’t even discussed spacial expansion. What they had discussed was complex enough that Eva doubted anything useful would be covered for some time.

The teacher, Professor Chelsea Lepus, seemed the easygoing sort so long as her class wasn’t being interrupted. Eva might have to ask her.

But that would be neither here nor now.

They had a doll to deal with first.

“I’ll go,” Zoe said before Eva could open her mouth. “As a member of Brakket staff and someone who wants to ensure that the students are kept safe—safe as can be at Brakket anyway—it falls to me.”

“I’ll follow along at a distance, ready to blink in if anything goes wrong.”

“Eva…”

Eva held up a hand. “It will be great if you can shoo the doll away. Unfortunately, this is a demon thing. You’re not much of a demon.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“I’ll be there as well,” Genoa said, stepping forward.

“Mom, no. They can handle it.”

The older woman sighed, glaring down her daughter. Juliana drew herself up, unwavering under Genoa’s gaze.

“You’re staying right here,” Juliana said, voice firm.

Closing her eyes, Genoa shook her head. “You’re not supposed to be taking care of your old mom for several years. At least.”

“Then focus on recovering. You can go back to being mom after that.”

“Very well. But if something does happen–”

“If something does happen, you can cast long-range support from up here. I’ll be up here to protect you from anything that might come near.”

“If that doll comes up here, I’m running away. I’m not going anywhere near that doll,” Saija said, hands on her hips and chest puffed out with a certain amount of pride that didn’t really fit her words.

Half-hiding behind the succubus’ wings, Irene glanced down towards the ground. “Me too.”

“That’s fine,” Eva said. She hadn’t been counting on either one of them for any kind of support.

“If you do get into a fight, try not to die quite as fast as Timothy did. I mean, it was cool, but a drawn out fight would be better I think.”

Eva gave the succubus a light glare. Just a simple glare of annoyance.

That didn’t stop Saija from jumping backwards, trading places with Irene to hide behind her back.

Cowering behind a human? Eva had to stop herself from speaking aloud. It was amusing, but she just rolled her eyes in the end. Especially because saying something might just bring up the topic in everyone else’s minds. They had surely noticed how the demons acted when in Eva’s presence. It was annoying enough to deal with as it was.

“Right,” Eva said. “I’ll keep that in mind. If there is nothing else of note, let’s get moving.”

Arachne moved in front of Eva, leading the way down the stairwell. Zoe, though she was supposed to be the one speaking with the doll, was trailing behind. Her cellphone was out, typing away almost like Catherine with a deep scowl on her face.

Eva found the reason for her typing as soon as they hit the ground floor.

Wayne teleported in. He appeared entirely unannounced and just about got one of Arachne’s limbs through his throat for his troubles.

To his credit, he didn’t flinch. Though that might have just been him not noticing until Arachne had already started to draw back. Or maybe his mind was accelerated to the point where he had processed the shock of everything already.

Were Eva in his place and she saw Arachne’s leg coming straight for her, she would have moved out of the way. Just in case Arachne didn’t stop in time.

“I told you not to come,” Zoe said. “We don’t want to startle the doll into rash action. We already have more than enough people with Eva and Arachne.”

Wayne just gave a light grunt before narrowing his eyes in Eva’s direction. “We could argue. I’d win. Let’s just get this over with. I have tomorrow’s classes to prepare for.”

“Wayne–”

He turned and marched out of the the lobby ahead of everyone else, leaving no opportunity for argument.

Zoe just looked on, somewhat stunned as Wayne threw open the lobby doors and beelined towards the doll. She recovered fast enough and chased after him. Eva had to step to the side in order to avoid being trampled.

Following along behind the two of them, Eva just hoped that he wasn’t about to do something rash. Poorly thought out actions didn’t seem like the kind of thing that Wayne would do often. In fact, he was quite level-headed. But who knew what Zoe had sent him in her texts. She might have said something that would set him off.

Now that she was on ground level and fairly close to the doll, Eva could clearly see the woman. Only with her own eyes. As before, Eva couldn’t sense the slightest sensation of blood from the woman. Her silver hair framed her face. The entrance and exit of Prax’s domain had been lit, but not nearly as well as proper daylight. As such, Eva wasn’t entirely sure if she had noticed the doll’s eyes.

They were bright silver. Almost glowing.

And currently staring off into nothing. They didn’t move to track Wayne and Zoe as the two approached. They just… stared.

Neither Wayne nor Zoe spoke. They stopped about ten feet away, more at a loss of what to do than anything else. Both seemed to expect the doll to speak first. A fact made evident as Wayne cleared his throat. Loudly.

The doll didn’t react. Not even a twitch of her gloved fingers.

“Can we help you?”

Wayne shot Zoe a questioning glance out of the corner of his eye.

Zoe answered with a shrug. ‘We had to say something,’ she mouthed back.

“Perhaps,” the doll said, drawing all attention back to it. “I am locked in indecision.”

Literally, it seems, Eva thought.

She had moved her mouth, but the doll was still as a statue even after acknowledging the two professors.

“Well, we can help you come to a decision,” Zoe said. “Though I must ask before anything else, do you intend harm—physical or otherwise—to any of the humans around the area?”

“Not at this time,” the doll responded in a whisper. Her head turned slightly. While her eyes were still unfocused, Eva got the distinct impression that she was staring straight at the prison.

Eva immediately made a mental note to warn Devon that an enforcer from Hell might have an interest in him. Of course, the prison was a fair distance away. For all Eva knew, the doll was staring at something else. Maybe one of the demon hunters around town was off in that direction and had done something to displease the doll.

Still, best to err on the side of caution.

“That’s good,” Zoe said after a moment of silence. She probably didn’t like the phrasing, but would take what she could get. “Why don’t we move somewhere to sit down and discuss this then?”

Somewhere away from the children, Eva mentally added.

But the doll didn’t move. A brief moment of silence passed before she spoke. “The target of my indecision is present. I was considering tracking down my target, but that option has been removed. Until I have come to a decision, none shall move. Leaving may allow an escape.”

Up until the doll spoke, Eva had been fairly calm. With both herself and Arachne present, she was suddenly somewhat concerned.

She had several vials of blood. Both her own and Arachne’s. She could form shields and she could attack with ease. But would she be able to in time? Juliana had spoken of the doll’s speed from her experience in Hell.

In preparation, Eva uncapped one of the vials behind her back and prepared a decently sized shield. It would be up and around her in the blink of an eye.

Zoe shared a brief look with Wayne before continuing her questioning.

“What is it you’re having trouble deciding?”

“A demonic beacon was taken from Hell to the mortal realm by a demon. Multiple times. A crime worthy of five centuries imprisonment.”

“That doesn’t sound like much of a problem from where I’m standing,” Wayne grumbled. “Less demons around, the better if you ask me.”

“Why don’t we not interrupt the… person,” Zoe said, clearly fumbling for words to call the doll. Facing the doll again, she said, “What is the problem anyway?”

“My information was incomplete,” she whispered. “The demon in question is not quite a demon.”

Both Zoe and Wayne turned slightly to glance in her direction while Arachne moved from ahead and to the side of Eva to directly between her and the doll. The latter let out a low growl as she bent her knees, ready to jump into action.

Eva grit her teeth, mind searching for possibilities. Unless there was another ‘not quite a demon’ running around, the doll was talking about her. But I haven’t done anything wrong. What is she talking about?

A beacon.

Her hand drifted up to brush at her throat. The only beacon she had been in contact with aside from her own—something that never left the mortal realm—had been Arachne’s. But that had been destroyed. Arachne had never used it. Void sent Arachne to Earth.

It had been around her neck nonstop before that.

Eva clenched her fists together.

Including when I sent Sawyer to Hell.

She had taken both Nel and Serena up to the mortal realm. And the beacon had gone with her both times.

“I destroyed it,” Eva said, stepping around Arachne. The blood was still floating behind her, just in case she needed to use it. For the moment, she would try to get out of this mess through words. “I realized my error and destroyed the beacon. It was never once used.”

Through her sense of blood, Eva could tell that Arachne was looking at her. Her carapace didn’t have blood flowing through it, but she was still obviously questioning Eva’s words.

Eva didn’t glance to the side in the slightest. Her focus was on the doll.

Who was now focused on her. Bright silver eyes stared straight at Eva.

“I didn’t help any demons to the mortal realm. The beacon was destroyed. So there shouldn’t be a problem regardless of my status of being only a partial demon.”

That should work. Hopefully. The logic was sound from Eva’s perspective. But would a demon—no, a doll feel the same?

“It is not my place to make such a decision. And something…” the doll’s whispering voice trailed off, staring at the sky for a moment. “Something is preventing my contact with the Keeper.”

Thank Life for that, Eva thought to herself. Had everything been working properly, Eva might have found herself on the receiving end of a sword falling from the sky. It would have come completely unnoticed, as it likely had for that Timothy demon.

“But you said that perhaps these humans might be able to assist in your decision,” Eva said, turning her stare on to Zoe.

“Right,” the professor said after clearing her throat. She shifted slightly, even less comfortable now than she had been when first approaching the doll. “Well, if no crime was committed, there shouldn’t be a punishment, right? There wasn’t even any intention in the actions.”

Still staring at the sky, the doll made no indication that she had even heard Zoe. “I need to reestablish contact.”

Eva followed her gaze up to the sky.

And noticed something.

A white crackling stood out against the blue sky, the clouds, and the violet streaks.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.028

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Just before the bull slammed into him, it stepped on a bit of rubble. The rubble moved, causing its hoof to slip.

Clement’s fist, and the ring on his finger, went straight over the devil’s head.

Using the enchantments on his boots, Clement hopped back before the bulk of the bull could crash into him. He shook off the brief sensation of nausea—a sensation that had been getting worse as the fight went on—and took a moment to catch his breath. The devil being far enough away and still picking himself up off the ground gave Clement a brief moment to think.

Taking the hit and letting himself get bashed into by the devil might give him a chance to backhand the creature, but just the same, he might simply be crushed before having a chance to fight back.

If he got crushed without managing to tag the devil with the ring, the devil would be free to find Gertrude.

And Clement somehow doubted that he would be able to hit the devil.

Zagan had to know.

The first time that the devil had lost his footing and slipped right under Clement’s fist, he might have chalked it up to coincidence. The second time was a little strange, but perhaps this devil was just extraordinarily uncoordinated.

Ten times? The monster was toying with him.

Panting and sweating, Clement wasn’t sure how much more he had in him. Only about twenty minutes had passed. That didn’t sound like much, but considering most fights were determined in the first two minutes, twenty might as well have been forever.

Worse, his equipment was broken and shattered. Several of Gertrude’s enchantments had failed along with the armor, including ones that enhanced his endurance. The suit of armor no longer supported itself. All of its weight was up to Clement’s natural muscles to carry around. Taking that into account, it might be good that several chunks were missing.

His boots were still intact. Without the speed granted to him by his boots, he might as well have just chopped off his own head. They were pretty much the only things keeping him alive at this point.

It was only a small consolation to know that the devil before him wasn’t having a good day either.

Zagan had been taking pains to avoid the sword entirely as well as the ring. Not that long ago, he had been accepting of small cuts and even a handful of larger gouges if it meant being able to toss Clement around like a rag doll.

Clement hadn’t been able to land a hit in a good five minutes. In fact, the last time that he had been able to hit Zagan, he had sliced off one of the bull’s horns. Obviously, he had been aiming for Zagan’s head. The devil had dodged, just not as well as he should have.

Though, given that he had sent Clement crashing through a second floor window on one of the dormitory buildings at the same time, it had probably been worth it for the devil. Especially considering that that hit had been the final nail in the coffin for Clement’s breastplate.

Out of all the pieces of armor to lose, that was the one with the most enchantments. It offered him the most protection, the endurance boost, minor strength enhancements—his shoulders and upper arm guards gave him more strength. Or, it had offered all of that.

Glancing at the crumpled horn lying on the ground, Clement couldn’t help but wonder if the devil was frightened. His blade had skimmed right across the bull’s head. A few hairs had even scattered to the winds. Just a slight shift in angle would have taken the beast’s brain.

Both hands on his sword, Clement stood firm. The devil was circling him once again. He was looking for any opportunity to charge in. Any weakness in Clement’s defense.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Clement needed him close in order to fight back. Perhaps he would ask Gertrude to craft him an enchanted crossbow once everything was over. Or some magical sword that could release a long-range blade when some trigger was pulled. Just something to grant him a way to attack from at least a moderate distance.

Clement dropped his sword to one side. Putting his guard down had worked to draw in the bull before. This time, however, Clement fully intended to enjoy the mild reprieve from holding up his heavy sword constantly. With his armor damaged, his muscles were starting to feel the strain.

The bull moved again, though not as Clement had expected. It had only taken to the air thrice since their fight began. Great wings flapped, propelling it high up.

For a moment, Clement entertained the idea that it had finally broken off their engagement. While good for an extended reprieve, he still hadn’t seen any sign from Gertrude that she had accomplished her mission. He had to delay at least a few moments longer.

So Clement stood his ground, watching and waiting as the beast circled around overhead.

And, with his left hand, he started pulling off the ring. Punching or backhanding Zagan was obviously not working.

The bull’s wings folded flat against its back as it turned into a nosedive. Beneath the glowing gold eyes, smoke billowed out of its nostrils. Flames burned deep within its gullet. Some escaped from the sides of its mouth.

Clement didn’t move. He had been hoping that Zagan would charge again. This worked just as well. He held the ring in his hand, waiting.

Just a moment more, he thought, watching the bull fly towards him. Just a moment more…

With his thumb pressed against his middle finger, Clement flicked the ring up into the air.

At the same time, he activated the enchantments on his boots.

In a flash, he was at the window of one of the dormitories. A student on the other side of the glass let out a short shriek before running out of the room.

Clement couldn’t bring himself to care. He turned back to the plaza with weary eyes.

Zagan was back in his human form, coughing and sputtering with a hand clasped to his throat. Black bands shot out of the ground, wrapping around his wrists as a portal opened up beneath him.

Two golden eyes met Clement’s, burning with promised pain and death.

And then he was gone, dragged beneath the surface of Earth, back to Hell where the demon belonged.

Clement collapsed to his knees. He dug the tip of his sword into the ground, using it as a crutch to keep from falling flat on his face.

And he sat. He reached up to his forehead, wiping off a streak of blood that had dripped down into his eyes earlier.

It was over. For him at least.

He was in no shape to find Gertrude and help her. The largest threat had been dealt with. Gertrude could handle whatever was left.

Using his sword to push himself back to his feet, Clement headed back to their safe house. Not the apartment, but a regular house on the outskirts of town. A long walk, doubly so given Clement’s speed. To make it even more troublesome, he took back alleys.

The back alleys were where he and Gertrude had set up their traps for Zagan. They went unused for the fight, but they might still be useful. If anyone was following him, he hoped that would slow them down long enough for him to slip away.

He really didn’t want to use the enchantments on his boots anymore. Every time he used them, stopping was like running into a brick wall. It was worse without the enchantments of the rest of his armor.

But eventually he made it. Daylight was starting to peek over the horizon, but he made it. He took one last look around for any enemies; his visor, cracked and shattered as it was, wasn’t up to the usual task of highlighting any demons around. Still, he didn’t see anything suspicious.

With a weary sigh, Clement hopped the back fence, walked up to the door, and entered the house.

His breath hitched. His heart skipped a beat.

An icy cold gripped him, filling him with dread.

Gertrude was already home. Lying face down on the floor, she had her shirt off.

Three holes ran up her spine, starting at her lower back and ending towards the middle. All three had been frozen over, preventing her from bleeding out. But they were deep.

Zomorrodnegar, Clement’s sword, fell from his limp fingers to the ground with a soft clatter. Tearing the remnants of his helmet off his head and tossing it into a corner of the room, Clement charged forward before falling to his knees at Gertrude’s side. He reached out his hands…

and drew back immediately. Moving her could agitate her injuries. Even touching her might leave her worse off than before.

She was breathing. Her chest pressed against the hardwood floor with each shallow breath. Ice crystals came out of her mouth, only stopping as she breathed in.

The iced over holes in her back were the most obvious injury, but they were far from the only ones. Shifting his position slightly, Clement’s eyes were drawn to her arm. Or lack of arm. As with her back, ice covered nothing more than a stump just below her elbow.

Though, that wasn’t to say that her arm was completely missing. It was underneath her, fingers sticking out near her shoulder.

Her head had a similarly treated injury. A simple slit up the top of her scalp, visible through her red hair only thanks to the ice.

“Forget bleeding to death,” Clement hissed. “You’re going to freeze to death.”

Gertrude didn’t respond. Looking obviously unconscious, Clement hadn’t expected her to, but it was disheartening all the same.

Climbing to his feet, Clement ran to the bedroom. They had a supply of potions stashed away. Gertrude normally handled potion administration—Clement wasn’t a mage and, as such, he couldn’t brew potions. As such, he wasn’t the most knowledgeable.

They had labels. He would be fine.

Clement shook his head.

Gertrude would be fine.

— — —

“The walls have stopped bleeding.”

Eva hummed, not really paying attention. She was too busy enjoying the embrace with Arachne.

Being a spider-demon made entirely of hard chitin, she wasn’t all that comfortable to hug. Arachne was smooth, not covered in spikes or anything, but it was like hugging a marble statue.

Not that she had ever hugged a marble statue, but it was how she imagined it to be.

“It happened before,” Eva said without opening her eyes. “Blood came out of the walls while Juliana was around. I didn’t see it myself, but I don’t believe she would lie about that. And then again when you… died. I don’t remember it exactly, but I guess there was a lot more blood around me than there should have been.”

“That isn’t caused by your blood magic?”

“I don’t know what it would be. I haven’t performed any rituals that might make walls bleed around me. It has to be a demon thing.

“A portion of my domain got attached to the dormitory. Ylva thinks that it is because I had humans inside the domain while I was out here. Whatever is attacking Void latched onto both me and Shalise, creating a connection through our dorm. I don’t know if I believe that, but after she showed me how to disconnect domains from reality, it went away.” Eva shrugged. “It might have something to do with that.”

“Part of your domain manifests as blood through the walls?” Arachne tipped her voice at the end, skeptical.

“It’s just a theory,” Eva said quietly. “Devon and I haven’t been on the best of terms since you died, so I haven’t had much of a chance to ask him about it all.” Not to mention how busy she was.

“Enough of me. How?” Eva pulled away from Arachne. Not much, just enough to look her in the eyes. She kept her hands firmly around Arachne’s wrists, just to make sure that she was real and wouldn’t disappear. “How are you here? I saw your beacon crushed with my own eyes.”

Arachne smiled. Moving one arm out of Eva’s grip, she ran her claws gently through Eva’s hair.

Despite knowing just how sharp the tips of her fingers were, Arachne didn’t cut her in the slightest as her fingers ran over Eva’s scalp. It felt light and tingly. Almost as if something was crawling through her hair—not in a creepy sort of way, but rather a relaxing and calming feeling.

Perhaps more like a massage.

“I accepted a bargain. The proverbial deal with a devil.”

And just like that, a dark storm cloud moved over Eva’s good mood. “What do you mean by bargain? What do you have to do?”

“Not only did Void put me back together far sooner than I would have been able to, but he gave me transport out of Hell. I suppose… you might say that I must return the favor.”

“You must… I’ll assume you don’t mean anything related to healing Void,” Eva said, receiving a light nod of confirmation. “Which means you have to transport Void out of Hell?”

Arachne rolled her neck, nodding with not quite as wide of a smile on her face. “Essentially.”

“That’s… We’ve been trying to prevent that from…” Eva trailed off as she thought.

No one was actually trying to prevent anything. Both Martina Turner and Devon had summoned demons the first time they needed to. And that was despite Devon being the one to theorize about summoning demons and destabilizing Hell. Ylva had shut down her domain. That might have been one of the worst offenders, according to Devon.

And yet, that was all anyone had done.

No one was actually doing anything. The apocalypse was still approaching, just slower than before.

And now Arachne was supposed to help it along?

“Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. Void is bored.”

“Bored? Bored! He wants to start the apocalypse!”

“I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. Actually, if I understood everything he explained to me, this should be less destructive to the mortal realm.”

“Oh? And how do you figure that?”

“Zagan said that Void and all of Hell was going to be dragged into and merged with the mortal realm. We are only summoning the entity.”

“No Hell along with him?”

Arachne shook her head. “And if Void wanted to destroy the mortal realm, he could just unleash all of the demons on Earth as he did with me. We wouldn’t need much prompting to run wild.”

“That is not reassuring.” Eva fell silent with a sigh. “Besides, what about the entity that was attacking Void? It wanted Void in the mortal realm, isn’t this just playing into its hands? Things don’t usually attack unless they think they can win.”

“Void thinks he can win.”

Eva put her hands on her hips, glaring at Arachne.

What am I supposed to say to this?

If it was going to happen anyway, maybe it was for the best. Especially if Void was going to be coming over on his own terms, rather than be dragged over into a trap or whatever it was that the second Power had in mind. Not knowing much of anything about the other Power, Eva definitely wanted Void to win this entire engagement.

Especially given her own jump-started leap into demonhood.

Eva shook her head with a long sigh. “I just–”

A chill ran up Eva’s spine. She could feel the tension in Arachne’s arms as well.

Something was missing. Some warm, ever-present sensation of power.

She took a deep breath. “Zagan,” she said.

Arachne nodded her head. “I feel it too.”

“He died?”

“I don’t… think so.”

Eva kept a tight hold of Arachne’s arm. She wasn’t going to lose her again. “What happened then?”

“It feels more like he was banished. A subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless. Namely, he’ll merely go back to his domain and won’t be stuck in the Void. Though, I doubt Zagan would spend more than half a day putting himself back together if he had been killed.”

Which meant that Martina would just be summoning him back the moment that she was back on her feet.

Keeping Arachne’s arm in hand, Eva dragged her over towards the window.

Martina’s office window overlooked the plaza where Zagan had been fighting. Considering the damage done to both dormitory buildings and the ground, it was a good thing that the fight hadn’t gone anywhere else. The Gillet had several person-sized holes on it, especially towards the bottom. Not the structurally sound building that it had once been.

Eva doubted that she would be willing to stay overnight inside.

In comparison, the Rickenbacker was mostly undamaged. It had a few holes around it, but it looked superficial. A great number of hoof prints dotted the sides. Perhaps Zagan had run along the walls?

But there was no sign of the great winged bull anywhere. The knight who had been fighting against him was hobbling off in the distance, heading towards the city.

Arachne tried to hop over the edge of the window and chase after him. Eva stopped her with a vice-like grip on her shoulder.

“Zagan may have been toying with him, but that guy still beat him.”

“He is injured. Badly. Look at him move.”

“Arachne,” Eva said, grabbing both of the demon’s arms and yanking her around. Staring at her eye to eye, Eva waited for a moment, letting the tension drain out of Arachne. “I’m not losing you. Not again.”

Arachne stared for a minute more before dropping her shoulders. “He’ll come back,” she said.

“We can deal with him later. You, me, Ylva, Devon’s demons, Zagan—if Martina brings him back—and everyone else. We, as one, will fight him. The other hunter is injured at the very least, possibly dead.”

Taking her eyes off Arachne and looking back out over the plaza, Eva couldn’t spot the hunter anywhere. The plaza was too far from the school building for her blood sight to function. The city was even further.

More than that, people were starting to emerge from the dormitory buildings. Mostly the Gillet.

“Come on,” Eva said. “Let’s go look around before people trample over everything.”

Eva considered blinking straight over the windowsill. Not wanting to release Arachne, she decided to move on her own two feet.

But Arachne didn’t budge.

“There are people out there.”

Eva rolled her eyes. Arachne had been ready to run off after the hunter, but now she was getting cold feet?

“I think we’re long past the point of hiding from mortals,” Eva said. “I doubt that anyone at the dorms missed that fight.”

Tugging again, Eva got the shy demon moving.

As expected, people quickly took notice of their approach. Or rather, they took note of Arachne’s approach. Eva followed their eyes for a moment. None gave more than a glance in her direction.

Perhaps it was because of shock at witnessing the fight, but nobody really reacted much except to back away. A few people ran back into their dormitory buildings. A few others took one look at the state of the Gillet and decided to take their chances outside.

As the spectacle that was Arachne became less of a frightening sight—helped by the fact that she was walking calmly and not flying into a murderous rage—the people still outside began to turn their attention towards Eva. In some, she could see recognition light up. Others, especially the older students, just looked more confused.

She caught sight of a number of the students that she had taught with Catherine. One particular boy with grayish-white hair started to head in her direction before Eva waved him off.

Eva really didn’t consider herself friends with or even peers of any of those students. Whatever questions he had for her weren’t anything that Eva was interested in answering. Martina Turner would come out with some fabricated explanation for all the events of the night. Whatever she said probably wouldn’t answer any questions, but it was better than nothing.

“Just ignore everybody,” Eva said.

There were far more interesting things than the people anyway.

Reaching down, Eva picked up a flat piece of metal. It might have been a part of the hunter’s chest plate. Maybe an arm or leg piece.

Eva only held onto it for a second before dropping it.

The carapace on her hands had melted. She stared, watching as bits of chitin flaked off her hand as it cooled.

Arachne repeated the action, holding it for less time before she dropped it.

“Enchanted,” she said as she stared at her own hand. “Something against demons.”

“Troublesome. It still works while broken?”

“Maybe it isn’t enchanted. Something in the metal itself,” Arachne said, shrugging. “I’m not an expert in magic. Not even a novice.”

She paused, glancing around before leaning in a little closer. “Which is why Void said he would send someone else to help with that thing we were just discussing.”

Eva nodded slightly, but didn’t respond. Too many people around.

Instead, she carefully stepped over the bit of metal, watching out for any other shards of metal lying on the ground. Maybe Juliana would be interested in it. If Willie ever surfaced again, she might find it extremely useful.

Blinking, Eva pulled out her cellphone and shot off a quick text message to Zoe. She had no idea if they were even alright. She assumed that they were fine. Ylva should be with them. While not nearly so scary as Zagan, Ylva could hold her own.

But she needed someone over here, someone with authority. All the bits of metal were potentially dangerous to Eva and every other demon around. She didn’t want random students getting a hold of pieces of them.

Message sent, Eva glanced up from her cellphone.

And froze.

Lying right in the center of the plaza was an oddly shaped object.

A horn.

Walking up to it alongside Arachne, Eva bent down and picked it up.

Heavy, but not overly so. About the same as a bowling ball. It was curved just a little bit too much, giving it a crumpled look. The tips of it were dark black, though it grew almost white at the end that had been cut. Red blood lined a good portion of it as well.

The hunter’s blood.

“Perhaps Nel can use this,” Eva said, keeping hold of it.

A pair of circulatory systems appeared behind Eva, closer to the Rickenbacker dormitory building.

With a smile on her face, Eva turned to greet the new arrivals.

“Good news,” she said as she leaned just a little closer to her companion. “Arachne is back!”

Zoe pressed her lips together. Her eyes drifted over Arachne, narrowing just a hair. It took a moment, but she eventually smiled. A small smile. It didn’t quite reach her narrowed eyes, but it was still a smile.

Juliana, not so much.

The last time that Juliana had seen Arachne would have been just after watching her mother get skewered. Eva could understand her presence not bringing up the best of memories.

But even watching Juliana’s slight scowl couldn’t dampen Eva’s current mood. Zagan might have lost, but who cared? He was Zagan. She had Arachne back and that was all that mattered at the moment.

Except… Arachne took a small step forward. Not enough to pull away from Eva, but enough to say that she was acting on her own.

“I had a lot of time to think,” she started, speaking slowly. Her words lingered in the air for a few moments before she continued. “I apologize. For any harm I caused your mother.”

Eva smiled, a new sort of respect for Arachne welled up in her. When she had first proposed to Arachne that the spider-demon should apologize to Genoa, she had thought that she would be dragging Arachne in by the legs. That she apologized to Juliana on her own filled Eva with pride.

Juliana stared. Her scowl disappeared, but she didn’t smile.

An awkward silence between the group stretched on. Eva found herself shifting slightly, wondering if Arachne’s apology wasn’t being quite as well received by Juliana as Eva had found it. It had sounded sincere to her ears.

Eventually, Juliana sighed. “I don’t know why you’re apologizing to me.” A bitter tone carried her voice at a volume a fair bit lower than she normally spoke at. “None of it would have happened if it wasn’t for me.”

“That isn’t true,” Eva said. She kept her voice firm as she stared at Juliana. “Zagan was the one who dumped you into Hell. Maybe it would have happened had you done nothing, maybe not. But you did nothing wrong.”

“I could have turned and walked away from Willie before you even arrived! Willie sweet talked me into sticking around after he knew that people were coming after me! I shouldn’t have bought into it. There were a million things I could have–”

With a hand on her shoulder, Zoe cut Juliana off.

“We have a crowd,” Zoe said, voice quiet and with a soft smile for Juliana’s sake. “Perhaps this is a conversation best left for later.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.023

<– Back | Index | Next –>

At least nothing is on fire, Eva thought with a welling of relief deep inside.

In fact, better than nothing being on fire, nothing looked damaged at all. Everything in the women’s ward was just where she had left it. Outside, well, the prison was a fairly large place. Eva was mostly certain that everything was normal. Her blood wards gave her a view of the place in a manner reminiscent of her using clouds of blood to see and through that, she couldn’t see anything amiss.

Neither could she sense the presence of Daru anywhere. Nor any sign of him physically being here through her sense of blood. If this were a trap, she would have expected some trail of breadcrumbs to point her in the right direction.

Then again, it was barely past dawn. Dew coated the grass and the sun was too weak to give off much heat. The note had said to come at nightfall.

Which meant that she might have a few hours to set up traps before they showed up.

First thing was to prepare her secondary blood wards around the prison. They were wards that Eva had set up after the Elysium Order had attacked. The nuns had sat outside of her wards, taking them down while being a safe distance away. Eva’s secondary wards would lie dormant in a ring around the edges of her main ward, surrounding the prison. If someone walked up and tried to take down the main wards, the secondary wards would activate and hopefully ruin someone’s day.

It probably wouldn’t work against anyone who knew what they were doing. Someone would probably notice.

Hiding her wards better was one of the things that Eva was hoping to learn in next year’s schooling.

But, delaying attackers for a few extra minutes might make all the difference in the world.

Turning back into the women’s ward, Eva ran straight into Zoe. The professor immediately clasped her hands on Eva’s shoulders, freezing her movement.

“What were you thinking?”

“Devon needs to be warned,” Eva said. That was the second thing she needed to do. It would have been the first, but she didn’t want to run from the women’s ward all the way out to Devon’s building only to have to run back to the women’s ward.

“There could have been traps. Shackles in your gate room or even something as simple as a bomb.”

Eva opened her mouth to retort, but found she had no real response. The women’s ward, and the prison by extension, had always been safe. Well, almost always. Barring that one incident with the Elysium Order inquisitors. An incident that her secondary blood wards should mitigate in the future.

But she hadn’t even considered that someone could have taken down her wards in the two or so hours since she was last here, set up traps, and waited.

And if those traps had been intended for Zagan…

Eva shuddered. There likely wouldn’t have been anything left of her.

“Alright. I concede the point. But it is safe right now. My wards are still up and Devon is still around. Or, the carnivean is at least. I assume that he is with her.

“Actually, if you run and warn Devon, I’ll get a few traps of my own set up. We’ve got until, at the latest, nightfall. Best to use our time wisely.”

“What kind of traps?”

“Well, first, don’t walk outside the prison walls for any reason. Obviously, you can teleport back to Brakket if you need to, but the immediate area around the prison might cause bodily explosions.”

“That’s…” Zoe trailed off, rubbing her forehead. She pulled out her cellphone and started typing away. “I’m warning Wayne,” she said.

“What’s your number anyway?” Eva asked as she pulled out her own cellphone. “And Wayne’s. Do you have Catherine’s number as well?”

Catherine was supposed to have met her at the dormitories along with Prax. That was obviously not going to happen now. She needed to get word to them.

But she also needed to do the wards and other traps.

“You got a cellphone?”

“Sort of. I barely know how to work it.” Eva shoved the phone into Zoe’s hands. “Put in everyone’s phone numbers while you walk over to Devon’s building. Tell him that we might be hosting some demon hunter guests.”

Eva didn’t wait for any further protests, questions, or comments from Zoe. She all but ran back into her room.

The hovering orb of blood that both powered her wards and held the blood from everyone keyed in had grown quite large since she had first created it. Just about everyone that Eva knew had wound up keyed in at some point. Though they needed to donate only a small vial’s worth of blood, it all added up. A mixture of black and red, demon and human blood all swirled together.

Seeing the ward only reassured Eva that nothing untoward had happened either while she was hunting down Sawyer or during the few hours that she was gone rescuing Lucy. When people not keyed into the ward tried to walk around inside the area of effect, the orb would shrink. Not nearly so much as one of her shields, but enough to be noticeable.

And when she had finally gotten around to repairing the ward after the attack from the Elysium Order, there had been nothing left of the orb save for the blood used for keying people in.

Unfortunately, her secondary set of wards couldn’t be activated from her room. They were essentially small yet overlapping bubbles set up around the walls of the prison.

Turning to her window, one inside her room that hadn’t been obstructed by Serena, Eva blinked straight out to the nearest wall. It didn’t take long for her to open up the small box that held the blood ward.

While the main ward had started out around the size of a basketball and had grown to match a small beach ball, the secondary wards were much smaller. About the size of a tennis ball. They had much less area to cover, but there were a lot more of them.

The container was just a simple plastic storage box. While it would have been nice to have Ylva make some solid void metal cubes with intricate locking mechanisms, Ylva had already offered Eva so many favors for free. Even though the favors suited Ylva’s designs just as much as Eva’s, asking for more seemed to be in poor taste. And, while she had money, even just a mundane lockbox was out of price range for the number that she needed.

So plastic boxes it was. Eva had added a few runes to lock them down, but that was more to keep the elements out than people. If someone managed to get this close to them, they would either be exploding from the main wards or find the runes to be less of a deterrent than a plastic tarp.

Opening the box, Eva activated the ward. It wouldn’t actually cause death just yet, but it was ready to be fully turned on.

Unfortunately, that was only one of… a lot. Eva blinked straight to the next box after sealing the first and repeated the process.

She blinked to the next.

And the next.

And the next.

She only made it about halfway around before Devon stormed out. Zoe and the carnivean trailed just behind him, with Zoe wincing and rubbing her forehead. The reason for her headache quickly became apparent.

Just behind the carnivean was a certain familiar demon with waxy skin. The same one that he had summoned immediately before the Elysium Order had attacked.

Eva didn’t bother to stand and greet them. She finished activating the ward that she had been working on before turning to regard the newly summoned demon.

Through her sense of demons, she had felt it pop into existence–or the mortal realm–somewhere around a third of the way through the wards. However, as before, she couldn’t see any blood within the wax construct. Until she had looked at it with her eyes, all she had known was that a new demon had been summoned.

Whether or not it was the same one that he had summoned before, Eva couldn’t say. The demon was female in form, made of black wax with green flames for hair and glowing red eyes. It looked like the same one, but Eva didn’t know much about that species of demon. For all she knew, they all looked exactly the same.

It didn’t help that she only vaguely remembered the demon. Being skewered by Sawyer’s cursed blade had overshadowed pretty much every other event that day.

Eva turned her gaze away from the waxy demon’s glowing eyes. The intense pain coursing through her mind was something that she definitely did recall.

Nowhere in sight was the Lord of Slaves or the non-euclidean demon.

Something that didn’t fill Eva with confidence. These demon hunters thought that they could take on Zagan. A laughable prospect, but not something to take lightly anyway.

Arachne had been able to kill the carnivean without much trouble. The wax demon had a formidable ability, but it didn’t look like it could take much punishment.

Eva would be feeling much safer if Devon had gone all out.

It was a good thing that Zoe had shown up. Going around activating all the wards wasn’t a difficult task, but it was time consuming. If he was prepared earlier, all the better.

“Thought you said you weren’t followed, girl,” Devon called out as he neared, somehow managing to grumble under his breath and shout out over the short distance at the same time.

“Still don’t think I was,” Eva said. “They were here the very day I got back from Florida.” She gave a light nod towards the wax demon. “I thought that we weren’t supposed to be summoning things.”

“Either I’ll be alive and worry about the consequences later or I’ll be dead and not care much,” he said with a shrug.

Martina feels much the same way, Eva didn’t bother saying. It wouldn’t surprise her in the least if Devon didn’t even remember who Martina was.

Eva glanced back to the wax demon. It was obviously dominated. The way it moved was stiff and unnatural. In comparison, the carnivean had her hands deep in the pockets of a sweatshirt and was glancing off to one side with an impotent scowl on her face.

“You’re going to summon any other demons?”

“She,” he thumbed over his shoulder, “said nightfall. I’d rather not sit around with dominated demons for the whole day.”

“Nightfall is when they’re expecting to fight Zagan,” Zoe said, still rubbing her forehead. “They could show up at any time between.”

Devon’s already dark countenance took a turn for the worse. “He is coming here?”

“I don’t think he knows,” Eva said. Given how often he appeared out of nowhere knowing things, she quickly amended herself. “At least, I haven’t told him. And I don’t think that Zoe showed him the letter either.”

The letter that was a torn, crumpled mess back in the women’s ward.

Zoe, meeting Eva’s eyes, shook her head. “Unless Ylva or Juliana went to tell him.”

“That is a possibility. But if they didn’t, should we tell him? This was his trap after all. If he gets here early enough, he might be able to do something about it.”

Zoe glanced around the old sandstone buildings, looking over the wall of the prison and off into the distance towards the center of the complex. “Unless we’re already inside of a larger trap.”

Eva started, jumping slightly. Not so much at Zoe’s suspicion, though the idea that the trap had already been set was a worrying one, but at the loud scoff from Devon.

“If you’re thinking that there are some shackles around the prison, don’t. The strongest shackles will become worthless graffiti at the first mistake. Shackles large enough to ring in the prison would have many points of failure.”

“Not to mention the time setting up something so large would have taken,” Eva added. “Surely Devon, myself, the carnivean, or someone else would have noticed a few demon hunters running around outside.” Though she had been gone for a few days. Still, Devon wouldn’t have dropped the vigil quite so hard. “And no one has been inside the prison. My wards prove as much.”

Devon scoffed again, putting on a light sneer as he spoke. “Are these the same infallible wards that kept the nuns out?”

“They worked just fine until the nuns took them down. I would have noticed had someone taken them down again.” Glancing back to the plastic crate, Eva shook her head. “Speaking of, I need to get back to work.”

“Do we tell Zagan or not?”

“No,” Devon snapped. “He’s been here enough.”

“And he didn’t do a single thing against you,” Eva said. “I’d say tell him. But up to you I guess.”

Eva blinked away, straight to the next blood ward. She had no desire to get into yet another argument with Devon about Zagan. Especially not when half the prison was still unprotected from the secondary array.

After a few minutes of discussion between Zoe and Devon, Zoe teleported away. Probably to go find Zagan, though Ylva and Juliana were other possibilities.

Eva paid them no mind, watching Devon skulk back to his cell block as she rounded a corner. By the time she had finished traversing the perimeter of the prison, the sun had climbed the sky. Noon.

Still no sign of any demon hunters.

— — —

Martina Turner propped her elbows up on her desk and clasped her hands together just beneath her nose as she stared at the wall of her office.

She was not having a good day.

What else is new.

Most days weren’t good, these days. Tolerable was about the best that she could hope for. Days where nothing happened, where Governor Anderson held his tongue on any reports that he may have, where investigative journalists weren’t harping at her door about the sky—or worse, mundane journalists taking the sudden notoriety of Brakket City as an opportunity to question magic.

Those last ones were the worst. People should mind their own business. Especially the mundanes. It was getting to the point where she was thinking about sending Zagan to answer questions instead of Catherine.

Of course, it hadn’t helped that she had personally had to chase away some of the journalists over the past week.

Catherine, her familiar, had gone missing for several days. As Martina had later found out, the succubus had been off gallivanting with the self-proclaimed diabolist. And not gallivanting in the manner normally associated with succubi. Rather, she had been researching some ritual circle nonsense.

Martina did not consider herself a slave driver in any sense of the phrase. Both her familiar and her contracted demons were free to go about whatever it was that they got up to in their spare time, so long as they did as she asked when she asked. Having Catherine just up and disappear for most of a week had Martina pulling hair from her head in large clumps.

Not literally, but the stress was there.

Just when she had reeled in the wayward succubus, the current situation sprung up.

Two of her security team murdered. Two demons missing.

Worse, the murders had not been behind closed doors. Not when both bodies had been lying out in the courtyard between the dormitory buildings in the early morning hours, ready for any students still around to wake up and spot them. It was a great deal more difficult to cover up public killings.

Two demon hunter related killings.

The only bright spot in the whole mess was that the hunters were not applying scorched earth tactics. They hadn’t announced themselves in any manner, the school wasn’t in flames, and the citizens were largely unaware of the possible danger posed by the hunters. Typically, if a community was suspected of willingly or knowingly harboring demons, all involved would be killed. Though exact amounts of survivors often depended on the temperaments of the specific hunters.

Martina wasn’t sure what these particular hunters believed in, but she believed that a large portion of their passiveness—if kidnapping Lucy and Daru could count as passive—was because of Zagan. And the hel, to a lesser extent.

“Even the most insane demon hunters would be hesitant to engage in combat with them,” Martina said as a sort of conclusion to her speech. “So I’m sure that you can understand my disinclination towards sending Zagan away. Especially out of town, even if the old penitentiary isn’t all that far. Him being away could spell doom for the city as a whole.”

“To be perfectly honest,” Zoe said after a moment’s pause, “I don’t know the correct course of action. Given that Zagan was named in the letter, I felt it prudent to let him know.”

Martina did not miss the narrowed eyes and the clenched teeth on Zoe as she looked over Martina’s shoulder.

“As there is no evidence thus far of any traps at the prison, whatever these hunters had intended might be something that can be set up quickly. Something to be aware of regardless of whether or not they follow through with their original plan. Even that is in question given both Lucy’s survival and Ylva having avoided whatever trap had been intended for her.”

Pausing for a moment, Martina leaned back in her chair. She half expected Zagan to cut in with his own observations. Or, more likely, for him to run off without her explicit consent.

He did neither, seemingly content to remain standing just behind Martina.

“Perhaps there was never a trap,” Martina eventually said. “The letter could have simply been a means to draw Zagan away from town, giving these hunters free rein to wreak whatever havoc they wished.”

After a brief noncommittal hum from Zoe, she said, “I suppose that is possible. Either way, it is better to be safe than sorry. I will be returning to the prison to render whatever assistance I can.”

Martina nodded and waved the professor away. She had half a mind to insist on her staying around Brakket. Though they didn’t often agree on things—especially things related to demons—Martina had to admit that Zoe was a talented mage. However, what she could do that Zagan couldn’t was essentially nothing.

“Before you go,” Martina said as a thought hit her, “where is the hel?”

“The last I saw of her, she was still at the apartment building.” She paused after she spoke, turning her gaze to one side. Nodding to herself, Zoe glanced back towards Martina. “I’ll be finding her before heading back to the prison.”

“Very well.” Martina couldn’t do much about that, as much as she wanted to. Ylva wasn’t a demon under her control. “Stay safe.”

Zoe blinked, regarding Martina with an odd look in her eye before she finally nodded. “You as well,” she said as she stood.

Martina just rolled her eyes as Zoe walked out of the room. She couldn’t be quite sure what that last look had been, but it was almost as if Zoe had expected her to wish her death.

Obviously, Martina didn’t want Zoe to die. Finding a replacement theory professor would be a nightmare. Especially if she was more or less alright with demons. Something of this scale would be near impossible to cover up. Half of her staff would probably be resigning before next year started.

As such, if Zoe and her little group could clean up these demon hunters quietly and away from Brakket, all the better for Martina.

As soon as the door had firmly shut behind the professor, Martina kicked back in her chair, propping her feet up on top of her desk. She pulled a bottle of Hellfire from her desk drawer and didn’t even bother to pour it into a glass before drinking down half the bottle.

She slammed the bottle down on the desk. Breathing out a breath that felt like it was on fire, she glanced over her shoulder.

“What do you think?”

Zagan walked around her desk, seating himself in the chair that had just held Zoe.

“When you offered me excitement, I was focused on a single topic. That of the odd happenings in Hell. Never did I expect you to actually deliver on your promise.”

“I’m talking about the demon hunters.”

“I agree with your assessment. They were trying to get me out of the way. A distraction while they cleaned up the rest of the demons in town, most likely. Powerful though I am, I am limited to a single location at a time.

“Whatever their plan is to dispatch me does catch my interest. I look forward to their attempts.”

“Can you not simply deal with them now? Nip this problem in the bud before it gets worse?”

Zagan turned his eyes up, glaring at Martina. “You promised me excitement. Sending them on to Death before they are ready for me would be the opposite of excitement.”

Martina didn’t so much as feel the slightest discomfort under his gaze. She had spent enough time around him for any danger he might have posed to have worn off. His words were another story. She buried her head into her hands, rubbing her eyes.

“I was afraid that you would say that.”

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