"Greetings Mr. Develin."
The portal to The Academy had opened up but inside was the last person I had hoped to run into. Alaine Merrin was the head of the school, an epic User of the highest order. He had wild black hair and a bushy black beard that ran over his crimson robes. Each finger wore a ring that crackled with an energy that swirled about his knuckles, even when he wasn't channeling. Alaine had ran the school for the last 80 years or so and was regarded as one of the best Users not just in Santa Diego, but most of the America's.
The Academy had been established about 120 years ago as a place of education for Night Walker, Light Walker, Norm, and Fell alike. It was the only place in town where you weren't treated differently due to your race, but your power ranking. Sure a lot of students still carried grudges and prejudices, but one of the first things you learned was to not mess with someone stronger than you in power. Alaine had been in one of the first classes and had shown enormous potential. As a Fell (elf) his long life and skill had set him above other Users, something he had used to place himself in charge of the school. He is a regarded master in Evocation, Creationism, and Elementalism. It is also suspected that he knows a few bits of Divination and Dark Magic to boot. Most Users push their abilities mastering one school, let alone three. He was not the kind of guy you wanted to piss off, and from the looks of those robes, I had just woken him up.
"Heya Alaine. I never meant to trouble you or the school, it was just important that I see Bella."
Alaine looked over me, his grey eyes piercing through my simple wards and appraising me. He had never liked the fact that I knew the secret to gaining entrance to the Academy, but he liked it even worse that I knew the tricks to getting out too. It was like I said, once you enrolled and began to learn of the craft, their is no quitting. Tapping into the weave will drive an unprepared mind mad and it takes years of practice before you can even recognize the right symbol, let alone work the magic to activate it. My ...unique nature made some of those trappings less of a problem, and Bella taught me the rest.
The entire time Alaine never took his eyes off me. Each movement of his pupils seemed to bore onto my flesh, almost a if he was trying to burn the skin off of my bones. Unfortunately for him this wasn't the first time I have been stared down by a User, or stared down by Alaine even. I calmly reached into my pocket and fished out another shitty smoke from the pack I had swiped and lit up. We both knew the score, Alaine didn't have to like me, but he couldn't change the rules of the school, if you could work the gate you could come and go as you wish. Working the gate is the right of passage for these Users, the fact that I didn't stick around to study anything else didn't mean shit, no matter how much posturing he did. Still, Alaine could make it very difficult for me and it didn't pay to piss off someone as connected as him. It was probably in my best interest right now to play ball with him, besides I didn't have time to be fucking around.
I met his eyes for a few seconds and I swore I could see sparks fly from his, but I tried to stay as calm as I could. Finally I broke the silence that hung in the air, thick, between us.
"Master Merrin, I apologize for any inconvenience. I am on urgent official business for The Church. There has been a serious violation of the Treaty as a Planar Demon has breached St. Augustine's walls. I need to see Bella about setting up some extra protection."
Alaine's eyes actually widened at the mention of the demon and he finally pulled back from the portal to allow me entry.
"She has moved from the Green Tower Develin. She has moved into the Red. Fourth floor."
I nodded my thanks and headed off to the Red Tower.He watched me for a few moments before he turned his back in a flutter of cloak and set off for the central spire, muttering to himself.
I set out at a brisk pace towards the Red Tower. This is where most of the Evocers lived and studies. Evocation was concerned with the destructive and combat elements of spell casting. The most popular brand of magic for most, and the best to have in a fight. The kicker was, it had been a long time since I had seen Bella, and I wasn't so sure that she would even want to see me again. I had to admit though, to have already bcome a recognized master of one school was almost unheard of, to already be a fourth level initiate in Red was even more impressive.
As I approached the tower door I channeled again to run a small current of energy through the sigil. As the portal opened wide I stepped in and up the spiral staircase. It had been almost 4 years since I had talked to Bella, and to be honest, I was nervous. Let's face it, I fight fucking monsters for a living here so that's saying something. I stood in front of her doorway for several minutes before I knocked. Other students eyed me as I stood in the hall, but I paid them no heed. Then she opened the door.
"Alex fucking Develin. Now this IS a surprise."
Belladonna Dellacroix was about as exotic woman as you can meet in my line of work. The daughter of a nymph and a vampire, she was half Fell and half Night Walker, a dual nature that had been a common ground in our youth. Her father had been my Father's Lesser and was given me the task of teaching me to control my abilities, well the Night Walker side at least. I never got the full story from Bella, but her mother had died too so that had been another factor to bring us together. As special children growing up, we had a close bond, a bond that had grown intimate by the time we had reached our teens.
Bella was a natural User and had been sent to The Academy at 13, the youngest User to be trained since Alaine himself. At 13 I was neither skilled enough to follow, nor old enough for my Father's vow to be fulfilled. So at night we would sneak out and meet each other. My Sight showing me the symbols, her magic opening the doors. Eventually she taught me to do it alone and we made it a regular habit, sneaking out of the Academy to meet in the night.
Our childhood friendship had grown into something more over the years. I was young and angry, at my Father and at the world and I took a lot of my anger out on those around me. For her part, Bella had tried to help me. Aging is a tough matter for people like us. Vamps age fairly normally until they hit puberty, then their hungers kick in and it starts to slow. My natures similar but it kicks in later. As I grew older, Bella stayed younger.
Looking at her now was just like it had been those years ago. She still looked so young, barely 17 or 18, though I knew her true age to be much closer to mine. She had long black hair, decorated with gems and trinkets of power woven in. She wore a dark green dress that set off her eyes and was cut low to reveal her decolletage. Bella's father had been turned in the French Creole area of the Americas and her mother had been a wild nymph, giving her a a curious Asian Southern blend. Diminutive, but powerful.
"Hey Bella, long time."
Probably the lamest greeting I could have said. We hadn't exactly parted on great terms. On one of our nightly rendezvous, I lingered to long and got caught out at True Dawn. I had turned and hurt a lot of people. I felt guilty about what I had done and I took a lot of that anger out on Bella, unfairly. For several years we hadn't talked, as I descended into darkness and regret, our friendship strained.
It wasn't until after I met Juliet that I managed to try to patch things up. Jules had brought me back to life, so to speak, and Bella had managed to get into some trouble with a couple if Users. When she came to me looking for help, I took care of it. She had tried to help me through things after Juliet died, even going so far as to try to track the User who had caused it and escaped, but she had little luck. After Juliet's death I was inconsolable, and then the death of Father Malkin 2 years later, I withdrew more. I pushed her away. I didn't want any more people I cared about getting hurt because of me.
Bella smiled, that seductive smile that could cloud men's minds if they weren't ready for it. You could smell the cloying incense and pheromones she put out, all part of her nymph heritage. It usually happened when she was excited or angry and I wasn't sure which one she was right now. Bella was a dangerous woman when crossed, a User, a vampire and a Fell.
"What brings Alex Develin to my doorstep this night? When last we spoke I believe he said that he was to dangerous to be around anymore. Though from what I have read about your latest work I may be right. Taking on Were's now?"
She had ended that with a titling kind of laughter and I knew, she was angry. I reached in again to pull at my Ethereal energies to block off of her scent. I needed to be clear headed and not lose control here.
"Look Bella, I know we ended things.. or at least I ended things badly for us before. You've been there for me at the two worst times of my life. But I got no choice in the matter any more. I need help. I need your help. I don't know who to trust anymore, and if I can't trust you then I am more fucked than I thought I was. I need you to help me Bella. Please."
I could sense her pulling back her pheromones as she looked me over, her green eyes cutting into me much like Master Merrin's had. I stood there, my gaze not wavering as she appraised me. Finally, she opened the door fully and gestured me in. Her room was much different than the last time I had been here, though I shouldn't be surprised. She had been on the top floor of the Green Tower, a Master of Elementalism. Now she was a fourth grade initiate, our of the community rooms and dorms below and into her own room now, small as it was. Each time you started a new school, you started at the bottom. Most people who have mastered one school quickly get out of the community rooms or initiates and into dorms, the fact that she had her own already was something.
I looked around her room. A great bookshelf adorned one wall next to her wardrobe and bed. The other half of the room was a workstation, her spells and ingredients neatly filed into cubbys and racks. There were electric bulbs in the room, but the only light came from the well worn fireplace across from her bed. Bella pulled up a chair from her desk and motioned for me to have a seat on a small couch that had been shoved into the opposite corner of her workstation.
"Okay Alex, I have to admit you have piqued my interest. How much trouble are you in if you have turned to me? You broke my heart not once but twice and while I know you loved Jules in a way that you never loved me, it didn't make it any easier when you pushed me away. What have you gotten yourself into?"
She leaned back in the chair, her lithe form stretched like a cat ready to pounce, still so beautiful and still so deadly. I regretted hurting her, I really did, but I tried to stay on topic. I proceeded to tell her about everything. From Kade telling me to avoid Vickers to my Father's visit to my house. About the demon inside St. Augustine's and about Serapha. That I needed someone at my back that I could trust, and someone skilled in magic to let me know what I was up against.
"Look Bell, I need someone to help me. If what Sera says is true, and I believe her, I am in some serious shit. Your the best User in Santa Diego, and your my friend, or at least you use to be. Use your powers to help me find the truth, and if what she said is real, no one is safe, not even you."
Bella had said nothing to me throughout the entire rundown, she just looked at me like she hadn't seen me in a long time. When I was done, she stood up and headed to her wardrobe.
"All right Alex. I'll help you. I once came to you looking for help and you were there. Even if half of what you say is true, there is a greater power here at work that even I would need to know more about. The sheer amount of power to crack the wards at St. Augustine's shouldn't even be possible. I will go with you. Besides, I know what tonight meant for you and your being here.. well you must be in deep."
She began changing, oblivious to my being there. Bella never did have much modesty about her body. I turned my head away as she changed. Damn this woman was perceptive, I had forgotten how smart she was, recognizing the date. Still this had gone easier than I had thought it would. Bell helping out meant not only did I have a User on my side, but one skilled in Elementalism and Evocation, defense and offense. She could set up some serious wards once we found a place to hole up and figure out what was going on.
When Bella finished, she gathered up some equipment from her station. She was dressed in a tight white shirt, cut off at the sleeves and tight black breeches tucked into leather boots. She had two long strands of hair that framed her face as the rest was pulled under a black shawl. Around her neck she wore a choker with a large red ruby inset, and she wore several rings on her fingers. After clasping on a belt with several pouches, she grabbed a black cloak with dark red trim from a hook, and slid a small gun into her holster. The last thing she grabbed was a short metal staff that she tucked behind her back.
"A gun Bella? Not something you type normally use."
She arched her eyebrows and gave another little laugh, this time without the trace of anger.
"I believe you once said a tool for every occasion Alex."
I grinned as we headed down the staircase and towards the portal. At least something had gone right today. Of course, I'd be regretting that optimism a few minutes from now.
End of Line.