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.

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