Chapter 40:

Chapter 40: True Natures Revealed (Eve)

The Heir of the Dragon

“…And this is flute root. When added to a potion and heated at the proper temperature, it produces a soothing, melodic quality when you drink it!” Professor Lunark’s smiling face peeked out from under the brim of her pointed hat, her blue eyes sparkling with excitement. The woman was shorter than the students, but with the energy she was talking she still held their attention.

Or she would have, if any of the girls present gave a damn about potions.

“This is the most boring thing in the world,” Sati growled, punching a tree in frustration. “Why does today have to be MY day of all days, huh?!”

Eve couldn’t find herself disagreeing with her demonic companion. She was bored out of her skull. It didn’t help that there was something far more important to occupy her thoughts than how much she loathed hiking and physical exertion.

“My apologies, Sati,” Eve murmured, her eyes sweeping the rainbow-leafed forest suspiciously, “but if it makes you feel better, the master may end up being correct in the end.”

Normally, Eve would have blown off a trip like this. But her master had warned her about Estval.

“There’s someone plotting to steal the dragon eggs,” he had told her. “And this would be the perfect time. With Blake not on campus, without the full protection of the faculty and other students, anyone could step in and snatch them. It’s up to you to keep both him and his eggs safe.”

Eve hadn’t wanted to risk casting her illusions with so many teachers around, in case one of them discovered her. So she went through the first leg of the hike like normal, following Professor Lunark along with Sabine, Mindy, and Jasmine.

The problem was the presence of the fifth member of their group, Reed Rivers.

The Stars Cohort only had 29 students instead of the usual 30. So when the groups were divided, one of them was a member short. There were other Star Crest Scholars attending the field trip, for security purposes, but Reed had volunteered to join Eve’s little group herself.

And now Eve was finding it difficult to break away under the watchful gaze of perpetually-smiling older student. Eve knew that this couldn’t be a coincidence. Reed was planning something. She wasn’t to be trusted. And not only that, Reed more likely than not suspected Eve, as well. That was probably why she’d joined their group.

To keep an eye on her.

As much as Eve knew that Reed Rivers was involved in whatever would be happening today, she also knew that for as smart as the girl may have been, she wasn’t the one masterminding this operation. If Reed was working alone, she would be able to use her magic to snatch those eggs without a second thought. But she didn’t.

Which means there’s something else at play here, Eve reasoned. Some factor that caused her to stay her hand until now.

The idea that Reed could actually be innocent? Not even worth considering. Not with the suspicious way she had been looking at her the whole hike, those eyes gleaming in her direction whenever Eve thought could slip away.

This would be much easier if she wasn’t a sensory mage, Eve reckoned. It had been hours since the hike had begun, and Eve had been spending most of that time looking for the perfect opportunity to cast an illusion on the other members of her group, and slip away to find Blake.

Luckily, illusionists could use a bit of sensory magic themselves. At the very least, finding someone whose mana signature she was familiar with would be an easy feat.

“Professor!” Reed called, skipping over to Professor Lunark. “I wanted to ask…”

Eve didn’t listen to the rest. Reed was occupied, and that was the important part. “Time to go, now,” she hissed at Sati, casting an illusion over the five women ahead of her. Now, wherever they went, they would see Eve there, walking alongside them. The copy would be silent and antisocial, but it shouldn’t raise any concerns.

Eve turned, and fled from the group. She darted around trees and hopped over logs, focusing her mana on Blake’s mana signature. Unfortunately, he was a great distance away; it would likely be another hour just to get to him. I didn’t expect to be this grateful for Physical Training, Eve ruefully laughed to herself, her heart pounding in her chest as she soared over the forest floor.

I just hope that I’ll be able to get there in time…

“Careful!” Sati’s voice barked in Eve’s ear at the same second Eve saw the distortion. She pulled to a stop, her heart racing as her eyes widened in shock. No way. It couldn’t be. How the hell could she have noticed!?

A hole tore itself in the space in front of her just as Eve stepped into a wide clearing. Reed Rivers walked out of the portal, a wide smile on her face.

“Hello there,” Reed said, turning to Eve and giving her a wave. Eve’s blood ran cold. Right now, she should be invisible to Reed’s eyes. She should even be fooling the girl’s sensory magic. And yet, Reed was staring right at her as she spoke.

“Out for a walk? Didn’t you hear the safety guidelines? Our group has to stay together, the forest is a dangerous place. You could get lost!” Reed warned. Her face was all smiles, but her voice carried a tinge of menace.

There was no need for games. Eve let out a sigh, and dropped her illusion, revealing herself to the older girl, who already knew she was there.

“I wouldn’t expect a first year student to be able to cast illusions of that caliber,” Reed smiled. “You definitely have my interest. Even aaaaalll the way back during the game of Dragon Hunting I was surprised by how seamlessly you conducted yourself!”

She had known from that far back. Eve felt her anger starting to boil over, but forced herself to keep her mask intact. She refused to give Reed the satisfaction of knowing she’d gotten to her. But Eve just couldn’t believe it. Her master was the greatest illusionist in the world, how had someone like that managed to see through her deceit?

“You knew… from then?” Eve snarled. She didn’t want to crack, she didn’t! But her performance was supposed to be perfect! What a humiliation, for someone like her to be uncovered by an ordinary schoolgirl…! How infuriating!

“Of course, I am a Sensory Mage after all,” Reed said, shrugging her shoulders. She narrowed her eyes, a suspicious look crossing her face. “But I was curious. What was someone of your skill doing at the Rem Magic Academy? And for that matter, what were you doing sniffing around Blake Harker? So I let you have your fun, to see if I needed to be concerned.”

So basically she knows everything. While I was trying to learn more about her… she was doing the exact same thing. Eve grit her teeth, feeling her mask of calm slip away in her anger. And I fell for it completely.

“That’s quite a look,” Reed said. Her smile took on a threatening look, and she shifted her body into a defensive posture, raising her hand. “It seems like I was right on the money. I’m not sure what your goal is, but I can’t let you run around causing trouble.” Her smile turned sweet and she snapped her fingers. “Let’s head back and continue our field trip like schoolmates, shall we?”

But Eve was ready for that. How many times had she seen Reed use this move before? She jumped to the side, avoiding the portal appearing beneath her feet.

“Hah, so much for that cool air of calm you pride yourself with!” Sati’s cackles buzzed in Eve’s ear like a pesky insect. “I haven’t tasted such delicious anger out of you in years!”

“Shut up, Satiiii!” Eve wanted to scream, but with the depth Reed could see through her illusions it seemed too risky. At the very least, she gave no indication she could see the demon spirit, or hear her voice.

“You’re not going to be able to get away from her, you know that,” Sati criticized. Eve already knew what the crimson demon would suggest, and she couldn’t help but agree. Sati’s next words confirmed her suspicions. “You’re going to have to fight her for real. Take some of that anger and put it to good use, that’s the Evangeline I love!”

“I know!” Eve barked, resolving herself with a heavy heart. “I didn’t want to do this, Rivers, but you leave me no choice! I’m not going to let you stop me from getting to Blake!” She raised her hand, her mana flaring. The air around them heated up. “Magma Pillar!”

Reed had all of a second to blink before the ground beneath her feet erupted, a massive tower of fire ripping up from below and engulfing her completely, howling towards the sky and setting the trees around ablaze.

Eve panted and wiped the sweat off of her brow. She had seen the fires consume the other girl, she hadn’t had a chance to portal away. It’s done… I… killed her…

Eve felt sick to her stomach. Reed was the enemy. She was a threat to Blake, to the eggs, and to who knows what else should she get her way. Eve didn’t want to kill her, but she didn’t have a choice.

I actually… killed someone… Eve averted her eyes. She couldn’t bear the sight of her own magic right now.

“My, that was quite something.” Eve’s eyes snapped open and her heart skipped a beat. She whipped her head around in shock, her blood going cold. No…!

Reed stepped out from the pillar of fire with a laid-back smile on her face, not a single hair on her head singed.

“That was ‘Real Illusion’ Magic, not ‘Image Illusion’ Magic,” Reed mused thoughtfully. “Unlike with normal illusions that can never cause harm, if I had believed even for an instant that your flames were real, I would have been reduced to cinders.” Her smile faded from her face. “Illusion Magic is difficult enough to master, but Real Illusion Magic requires talent and decades of study to get to such a level. So either you’re significantly older than you would appear… or you have quite an extraordinary teacher.”

A wry grin spread across Eve’s face, even as she began to panic. Reed had seen through her illusions so flawlessly?! “You should know better than to ask a lady her age!” She shouted, conjuring a sea of fireballs to rain down on the other girl.

Reed sighed and shook her head, walking forward as the ground around her exploded in flames. “I just told you, that won’t work. No illusion can hurt someone if they know it isn’t real.”

“Rrrgh!” Eve growled in frustration as Sati cackled. Without her illusions, Eve could never hope to fend off the more powerful Reed Rivers.

“As your senior, here’s a little tip,” Reed said, her smile returning to her face. “I’m sure your teacher must have informed you that whenever you cast an illusion, it disrupts your mana flow ever so slightly. A skilled enough Sensory Mage who knows they’re dealing with an illusionist will be able to sense those minute disruptions, and thus know not only when they are under the influence of an illusion, but where that illusion is. Understand?”

“Why thank you teacher,” Eve spat. “And may I have a tip for you? Don’t underestimate me!” With a roar, Eve pumped her mana to the fullest. “FIREBALL!”

For a second time, Eve conjured dozens of illusory fireballs to send Reed’s way. But this time she included a little something special.

“Oho! My, that is something,” Reed said, her eyes widening in surprise. She snapped her fingers, and a portal appeared in front of her just in time for a fireball to be sucked up into it. Eve gasped in surprise, so stunned by the move she missed her chance to step aside as another portal appeared beside her, the fireball emerging and hitting her in the shoulder.

“Aaargh!” Eve cried in pain, stumbling backwards and slapping out the flames burning through her shirt. “Impossible, how could you-?!”

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Reed said, narrowing her eyes as the fireballs passed around her. “Real Illusions are one thing, but Simultaneous Casting? Mixing in real fireballs with the illusions, and quite artfully done. I’m not sure how you learned such an advanced technique, but even that won’t be enough to deal with someone who can read your mana like me.”

“You… are an annoying bitch,” Eve spat, glaring venomously at Reed. She clutched her shoulder, the burning throb a painful reminder of how much she loathed the girl standing in front of her. “But I won’t… let you get away with this-!”

“You say that, but all that anger is useless without power,” Sati reminded her. “Let me out! I can take her down without breaking a sweat!”

“No, that won’t work,” Eve growled under her breath. It was rather fitting that words from Demon Queen of Wrath were so unable to calm Eve’s anger. But Sati was right in her estimation that Eve was running out of tricks.

Illusions to attack won’t help. I have to run… Eve bit her lip. This was a tricky move even at her best.

“You’ve displayed techniques with your illusions that would take a lifetime to master. I continue to wonder, what does a girl like you want with Blake?” Reed asked thoughtfully, her voice startlingly angry. “Depending on your answer… this may not end with just bringing you meekly back to the others.”

“I could say the same of you,” Eve murmured, already preparing her illusion. Having to concentrate while also being vigilant of these portals was an annoyance. To aid her she ended the other illusions, returning the burning forest to its pristine appearance.

“Oh? What do you mean by that?” Reed asked, her eyes shining dangerously at Eve.

“Seeing you so aggressively sniff around him yourself… makes me wonder… someone like you? Interested in Blake?” Eve shook her head and smirked. “I can’t bring myself to believe that that’s a coincidence.”

Reed shrugged her shoulders. “What can I say? There’s no point in talking about such things with you. Until I get what I want from Blake, I won’t let you anywhere near him!” There it was, the anger again, just as Eve had expected. And Reed’s words had just confirmed it, she was after Blake.

Great, you’ve confirmed your suspicions, that’s the easy part. Now how are you going to get away? She asked herself. Her answer seemed simple enough on the surface. But in practice? It was no simple feat.

Eve began to sway side to side. As she did, copies of herself appeared, stretching out from her and forming a circle around Reed. The blonde looked around, surprised.

“My. My, my, my. Now that is quite the trick,” Reed said, sweeping her eyes across the ring of Eves. “Making a duplicate of yourself would be taxing for most illusionists, making sure that you can match the breathing, blinking, the subtle twitches and shifts of the body, accounting for all those small details makes it difficult for someone to ever create more than one or two copies. But here I count nineteen… twenty… twenty-one distinct bodies! If you wanted to awe me, Evangeline Moonshadow, you’ve certainly succeeded. The mental strain it would take to maintain this must be immense. I can’t even tell which is real, because they all have the same distortion in your mana, being illusions of you.”

“I don’t know what it is you want from Blake, but you won’t get it,” Eve snarled in chorus with her duplicates. She turned on her heel, all of her duplicates sprinting in different directions from Reed.

“Well, I suppose I have to catch you now!” Reed’s cheery voice echoed through the trees behind her. “I do love a good game of Dragon Hunting!”

Eve winced, and sped up. She had to get to Blake as soon as possible!

Real Aire