Chapter 1

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"Now, I don't suppose any of you learned how to effectively dispatch a demon in middle school," Mr. Akira chuckled, seeming eerily excited to teach his fidgeting students how to do just that. His eyes, bright with madness and just a little too wide, eagerly surveyed the teenagers in front of him; only one was ever brave enough to meet his fervent gaze.

A shaky "no, sir" fluttered across the classroom, Nagisa only able to will his voice into a trembling whisper. Mr. Akira hated when his questions, no matter how rhetorical, were answered with silence; he didn't hesitate to hit or humiliate students that displeased him, though would more often resort to giddily threatening them with disturbingly detailed torture methods. It was a miracle a man like him was allowed to be a teacher, but his battle experience -attested to by the grisly array of demon and human skulls proudly displayed in shelves along the wall- was enough to make him a valuable asset to the academy.

"Take a look at this beast over here." The man gestured towards a crude but adequately-detailed drawing of an imp (or was it a hobgoblin?) and slashed a red marker across its scraggly neck, owlish eyes, and then circled the base of its candle-stub horns. The muffled screeches hissing from the rattling cage in the corner, draped over with a thick blanket and encircled by a weak ring of benedictions and salt, made Nagisa shiver. There was going to be another "live demonstration", and Mr. Akira always seemed to make them as grotesquely detailed as possible.

"Anyone know why the horns are circled?" Mr. Akira's blazing eyes surveyed the room. Nagisa felt nerves churning his gut, almost certain those eyes would land on him. The teacher's face broke into an unsettling smile, pulling the wide scars on his cheeks into jagged half-moons.

"Akabane!" The class quickly turned to look at the boy sitting with his feet propped imperiously on the desk in front of him, eyes half-lidded and smirk lazy. He didn't stand -a sign of blatant disrespect that made Nagisa fear for him- and the corner of Mr. Akira's smile twitched. "Care to explain?"

"Sure, I guess." Karma's smirk grew into a malicious grin, golden eyes glimmering. He feigned a yawn and knitted his fingers together behind his head, leaning further backwards in his seat. "It isn't like any of these idiots would know."

Despite the fact that none of the glares were directed towards him, Nagisa still felt his skin prickle with discomfort as the full weight of the classroom's hatred was centered towards his stupidly arrogant best friend. Karma caught his gaze and shot a secretive wink, one which forced Nagisa to suppress a tired sigh. Genius though he may be, Karma didn't seem aware that constantly gathering every other student's ire may not be a good strategy when entering a field dependent on teamwork and trust.

But it was Karma, Nagisa mused, so perhaps he'd rise the ranks as the first independent demon hunter to survive longer than a month or two. (He pretended not to feel the familiar gnawing disappointment of knowing that Karma would inevitably leave dead weight like him behind.)

"The horns are the source of power for demons of the Daevalus family." For the first time in his life, Nagisa saw Mr. Akira's smile falter, the man's lips thinning as he ground his teeth together and drilled holes into Karma's head with an unblinking stare. Karma continued, impressively unfazed. "Cut off their horns, and everything that makes them dangerous goes with it." 

"All that's left is a weak, useless pile of living trash." Nagisa didn't miss how his eyes deliberately lingered on certain people, all who bristled at his condescending gaze. Terasaka, a surly boy from their middle school, very obviously mouthed an angry "fuck you", while most of the others simply glowered harder; their teacher, red in the face with his thick-fingered hands clenched into trembling fists, was the most furious of all.

Nagisa saw the way his fists sometimes unfurled to allow his fingers to twitch, and it made his stomach twist, go cold with shivering terror. That was the same telltale sign that he, during the twelve years he'd lived with his mother, had quickly learned to be very wary of.

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