Into the Desert
“Is Tess going to be alright?”
Irulon stretched her arms high above her, snapped her neck back and forth, twisted her spine from one side to the other, bent over until the tips of her fingers touched her toes, and finally popped back up to her full height with a pleasant smile on her face. She stepped over Tess’ body, hopped off the stone slab where they had been lying, and grabbed for an elegant robe that she had asked for. She slipped into it before looking down at herself, though didn’t actually tie the front closed. If one were to look at her now without knowing what state she was in only a few minutes ago, they might assume that she had simply stepped out of a bath. There were no traces of her earlier injuries left behind.
The same could not be said for Tess. She lacked major injures and the servant girl was breathing, but the scars left behind on Irulon by the healing potion were now on Tess’ arms and chest. Off-color marks dotted her chest and a thin line ran from her wrist to shoulder on either arm. If Irulon had been wounded with other, more subtle injuries before transferring them to Tess, it was entirely possible that Tess now had them. She could be bleeding internally or suffering from a collapsed lung or festering an infection. Anything really.
But Irulon shrugged her shoulders. “I have been performing several experiments on Tess over the past year since she came into my service. Willingly, if you care to know. Her body should be hardier than standard humans such as me or…” Trailing off, she eyed Alyssa for a moment before shaking her head. “Well, just me.”
“I’m not a monster,” Alyssa said with a glare, though both her words and her expression were halfhearted. She was far too exhausted to complain. Tonight had been far too long and, with Oxart missing, was bound to get even longer. If she could possibly just slip in an hour long nap, she would.
“I didn’t say you were… this time. But you are from another world. Who is to say that your definition of human and mine are identical?” Irulon paused just long enough for Alyssa to sigh. “In any case, the ritual completed successfully. Good job drawing it out, by the way.”
“I’ve got no idea what I even did.” And that was the pure truth. Irulon had just directed her and Alyssa hadn’t argued.
“Regardless, I feel a need to praise you. And, since you are worried, I’m sure Tess will be fine so long as she gets rest and food.”
“Shouldn’t we move her to a more comfortable bed?” The cold slab of the laboratory table probably wasn’t the softest place to rest.
“She’ll be fine. More importantly, I need you to remove your clothes. I’ll draw out out a Suppress Magic spell for your pet mimic while you do so.”
“You’re soaked in my blood. There are plenty of nasty things you can do with someone’s blood. I already have to scour the room. I’ll not have you wander around with my blood covering your clothes. They need to be destroyed. With fire.”
“That’s…” Alyssa looked down at herself. Irulon was right, of course. At least about the soaked part. Her once yellow shirt was now a reddish brown. Her jeans as well. But… Her limited supply of modern clothing was drastically low. Between torn and ruined clothes, clothes that were just too dirty to wear without heavy cleaning, and now these blood-soaked clothes, she… might not have any left at all besides the Sunday dress. “Isn’t there a way to get your blood out without destroying my clothes?”
“They will be destroyed. Whether or not you are wearing them at the time is up to you.” Irulon looked her up and down before nodding her head. “You are taller than me, but I have a few articles of clothing that you might be interested in, if you feel it is necessary.”
“Absolutely! That isn’t even a question. I am not walking through a medieval city wearing nothing.” The public baths had been one thing, but everyone had been naked there. She hadn’t stuck out at all. Walking through the streets naked? Nope. Nope. Nope.
“Very well. Strip then. I’ll have Tess…” Irulon glanced back to the stone slab of a table and frowned. “I suppose I’ll have to find where clothes are stored. Tess manages every day. I’m sure it can’t be that difficult.”
Alyssa stared at Irulon as the princess hummed to herself in thought. Was she hearing this right? The princess didn’t know where she kept her own clothes? Alyssa’s opinion of the princess might have just dropped several points. Though… maybe it was to be expected. She was a princess.
“Well?” Irulon snapped. “What are you waiting for? And hand over your card making implements so I can get your mimic back to normal. We might need it.”
Shrugging off her satchel, Alyssa hesitated. “Aren’t you going to get the clothes first?”
Irulon snatched the offered satchel. “No.”
Resigned, Alyssa nodded her head. She had, somehow, expected that. As Irulon pulled out ink, paper, a pen, and a loose bullet, Alyssa pulled off her shirt and undid her pants. It wasn’t as awkward as she had expected, surprisingly enough. Which might have had something to do with Tess lying entirely nude on the slab and Irulon having been the same up until she put on the robe. Even that still wasn’t done up fully. Irulon apparently didn’t care at all. They were all girls here and Irulon didn’t seem interested in the slightest. She was too busy writing designs on a card while staring at the bullet sitting on the slab. Her eyes had gone all black and white again.
“What is that?” Alyssa asked as she undid her pants. She did remember to remove everything first. The cards and the rock that was Kasita at the moment. “The eye thing.”
Blinking, eyes returning to normal in the process, Irulon looked over to Alyssa. All without stopping her drawing. “I performed a ritual on myself when I was younger. I share my mind with a deceased dragon, offering it a chance to observe the world again in return for its mental alacrity. It grants me heightened observational skills, nearly perfect memory, and the ability to make connections between ideas at an extremely rapid pace.”
“Ah. A dragon. That explains it,” Alyssa said, taking the idea that Irulon had put a dragon into her head in stride. Maybe she was finally getting used to this world that such a thing barely warranted a shrug.
“Oh, just your soul. Way back when you had me use that soul vision spell, you had a giant dragon floating behind you. At the time, I thought you were literally a dragon. But instead, you just have a dragon shoved in your head.” Weird, but far more understandable. Though it did raise the question of why Tenebrael hadn’t swooped down to eat the dragon’s soul. She definitely ate monster souls. Alyssa had seen her eat the soul of that troll. So why not dragons?
It wasn’t a question she could pose to Irulon without answering a lot more questions, so Alyssa just kept her mouth shut. At least, she kept silent until she noticed Irulon’s expression. The princess had stopped writing and was now staring with wide eyes. If Alyssa hadn’t known better, she would have said that Irulon looked frightened.
“Are you alright?”
“That shouldn’t have happened. Did you see anything else?”
Alyssa frowned as she thought back. “Other people had animals as their souls. For the most part, anyway. But you? I mean, there might have been something, but I was a little preoccupied with the dragon. It filled up the entire room, after all. Hard to look away. If there was something else, I didn’t notice. Why?”
Irulon nodded slowly, face turning to a scowl. “Viewing the state of souls is a common way of checking for monsters,” she said, returning to her drawings. “Everyone sees something different, so there isn’t some guide book you can look up for telling humans apart, but experienced arcanists can discern the two. If other people see a dragon when they look at me, or anything that appears inhuman, they could get suspicious. It is why I thought you were inhuman when we first met. Even if that suspicion is ultimately unfounded, it could be annoying, as I’m sure you are aware.”
“Yeah,” Alyssa said with a scoff. “I get that.”
“I’ll ask my brother to examine my soul later. He knows what I did with the dragon and won’t be surprised if anything strange pops up.”
Alyssa shivered slightly, wrapping her arms around herself without commenting. She had already told this Irulon about her brothers possibly being dead. Like the fake Irulons, she didn’t believe it. Hopefully, should something bad have happened, Irulon wouldn’t take it too poorly. But there was nothing Alyssa could do about it now. So, shivering again, she said, “About those clothes…”
“I suppose I had better.” Irulon glanced back, eyebrow raised. “Interesting garment you have there. It has blood on it as well. What is it for?”
Glancing down, Alyssa groaned. “It’s a bra. Lifts, supports, separates.” And some blood had soaked through the shirt. Alyssa slipped out of it without any protesting. It… was getting to be somewhat disgusting with all the sweat and lack of real washing. She had a few others still. They wouldn’t last forever.
Irulon’s eyes flicked downward. For a moment, it looked like she had something to say about Alyssa’s other undergarments. But instead, her eyes flicked to Alyssa’s hands. “You have dried blood on your fingers. There is a basin over there where you can wash,” she said, waving a hand off toward one wall. “And your footwear—”
“You are not burning my boots. They’re all I have.”
“They have blood on them.”
“On them. They were specifically designed to be easy to clean. I’ll wash them off in the basin as well.”
“Hm. Fine. I’ll decide after.”
Heading over to the indicated basin, Alyssa took extra care in scrubbing the boots in an attempt to rid Irulon of any reason to burn them. As she cleaned, she thought. There were still a few hours left until Irulon’s time limit was done with, but she couldn’t see the princess dying due to any internal bleeding or other complication from her injuries. If anything, Tess would be the one to die. But Irulon didn’t seem to be too worried. Hopefully that was because Tess wouldn’t be dying and not simply because Irulon didn’t care.
Her next biggest concern was Oxart and the fairy. Oxart was, in all likelihood, getting further and further away from the palace while Alyssa stayed in one spot. Ugh. If she had just used a Spectral Chains on her before running off to Irulon… the fairy might have done something drastic. If only she had listened to Tzheitza and Oz about fairies. Then again, they also complained about Kasita at every opportunity. Alyssa was almost certain that Tzheitza was wrong about mimics. Or, at least the one mimic. Of course, she could have listened to Oz and his friends. Oz hadn’t tried to murder Kasita, but he and his friends hadn’t hesitated upon seeing the fairy. That right there should have told her more than enough.
Unless something changed and her susceptibility to the fairy’s compulsions increased, all Alyssa had to do was get close to Oxart, use Spectral Chains, then… kill the fairy. Did she need to be the one to do it? Not necessarily. Brakkt, if he was alive, could withstand the mental effects of a fairy. Presumably, others were able as well—the guild surely wouldn’t send Oz and company out to a fairy commune without some way to protect themselves; their worry about Alyssa’s fairy could be simply that they hadn’t had time to prepare. But she couldn’t be certain that anyone else would do it. Again, if he was still alive, Brakkt hadn’t even come down to help out his sister. Would he run off to save some lowly captain of the guard? Alyssa honestly wasn’t sure. But Oz was already heading in that direction. To the very same commune that the fairy was likely headed toward. The real trick would be convincing him that she should be allowed to go on his quest.
It probably would have been easier had she not walked in with a fairy sitting in her satchel. He had wanted her to come with him prior to that. Parading around a fairy was just a dubious display of poor judgment, made all the worse because Oxart had succumbed to exactly what he had been worried about. Alyssa might have earned a little respect for coming out of her fight with Lumen without injury despite having literal laser beams fired in her direction, but that was a pretty big might.
And then there was still the problem of Irulon’s countdown timer. She couldn’t just leave the princess. But if she waited for another quarter of the day, who knew what might happen to Oxart. Maybe… “Hey Irulon. Do you ever want to get out of the city? Maybe go on a little vacation to the northern desert and rescue a certain guard captain while maybe destroying a Society of the Burning Shadow cell that seems to be recruiting from a fairy commune.” Shaking the water from her hands, Alyssa turned back to face the princess.
Only for her breath to catch in her throat.
The princess wasn’t alone. Darth Vader had walked in. He was wearing ten tons of armor! How had she not heard him clanking along the stone floor? She couldn’t see his eyes behind his helmet, but he was definitely staring at her. Feeling her face flush, Alyssa slipped around and tried to hide behind the basin of water. Which made Irulon look over and scoff.
“What are you doing, Alyssa?”
“What am I doing? What is he doing here?”
Irulon looked back to her brother, craning her neck back to look the imposing figure in the face. Or the helmet, as the case was. “Ah. She thought you were dead. I told her you weren’t, but apparently your appearance is a shock to her anyway.”
“Some heretic told her so.”
“Hum…” The Black Prince’s voice rumbled through his helmet. “The Fourth was meeting me in my chambers and perished during the attack. It is likely that he was mistaken for me.”
“The Fourth is dead?”
“And the Fifth. The Third is injured, but not badly enough to put his life in jeopardy.”
“Hm.” Irulon put a hand to her chin as she looked down and away from Brakkt.
Alyssa opened her mouth, only to stop. She didn’t know what to say. Back home, she only had one brother and he was still alive. Both her parents were still alive. Even her grandparents were still alive. Sure, she hadn’t seen them in a month thanks to a stupid angel, but she knew that they were alive. The reverse wasn’t true, but hopefully they wouldn’t be too shocked when she returned. It wasn’t like she hadn’t known people who had died. But no one… close.
She didn’t know what to say.
And she couldn’t say much of anything while hiding behind this basin. Alyssa glanced around, looking for anything that might help with that particular situation. There! On one of the tables. Clothes that looked like they once belonged to one of the corpses that littered Irulon’s laboratory. It was a shirt that might be found on a random person down Waters Street. Fairly rough and a bit torn at the edges. Definitely nothing that a princess would be caught dead wearing. It wasn’t currently on one of the corpses, which was a bonus, and the shirt wasn’t bloody or otherwise stained with bodily fluids. Hopefully there wouldn’t be fleas. To get to it, Alyssa had to leave her hiding spot. But only for a few moments. It was something like a cross between a tunic and a bath robe. Alyssa slipped into it and held it closed. Looking down at herself, she found it just long enough to reach her hips. Not long enough at all. Ugh. Was burning her clothes really necessary? Surely they could be washed as well.
Alyssa did admit that she needed a more local wardrobe. It had been on her list for a while now. But to be forced into getting new clothes like this… Ugh.
Holding the tunic closed, pulling it down as far as it would go to try to cover up, Alyssa approached the two others. And Tess, but Tess was still unconscious and, therefore, did not count. Irulon still had a hand on her chin. Was she… “Are you alright?” Alyssa considered putting a hand on Irulon’s shoulder, but refrained, unsure that Irulon would appreciate the gesture.
“Alright? I’m fine. I was just trying to decide…” She trailed off, looking up to her older brother. “Does this make me the Fifth? Or am I still the Seventh?”
“Th—That’s what you’re worried over?”
Irulon looked over to Alyssa and nodded her head. “You’re right. It doesn’t matter. I have no interest in the throne. So long as I’m not asked to move up to one of the higher floors, I don’t care in the slightest.”
“You don’t… but they’re your brothers.”
“Half-brothers. I’ve heard that the Fourth was nice, but I just told you that I have far better memory than most humans and I cannot recall ever holding a conversation with him. As for the Fifth,” Irulon scoffed and looked over to Brakkt. “How many times has he tried to kill you?”
Brakkt didn’t answer save for a low grunt from inside his armor. With his helmet in the way, it was impossible to tell even his expression. His body language didn’t give anything away. He had hardly moved since Alyssa first laid her eyes on him. The only motion he made was a slight move of his arm toward the sword at his hip. It wasn’t glowing currently, but it was definitely the same sword he had wielded the night of the troll attack.
“The only reason he never tried to kill me is because he wasn’t worried about any siblings numbered higher than him. We weren’t a threat to his possible ascension to the throne. Of course, now we all have to worry about Octavia,” Irulon spat with a glare to the broken rack that had held the self-proclaimed assassin. “I can only hope that the Taker kills her.”
The Black Prince reached up and put both gauntlets on either side of his helmet. He lifted it off with ease, moving to hold it under his arm. “Something I should know?”
Alyssa felt a bit of embarrassment creep into her cheeks, remembering her earlier state of undress. He was rather handsome, if she had to give an opinion. Most people she had seen in this world had fairly disgusting hair. If their hair had any length to it, it would be greasy at the very best. The worst of the worst dreadlocks on the opposite end of the scale. His was short on the sides and slightly longer on top. Somewhat sweaty and matted down, but he had just been wearing a helmet. A cleanly shaved goatee wrapped around his mouth. Like Irulon, he had violet eyes.
And Irulon, apparently not noticing that Alyssa had started scowling at the rags she was wearing, shrugged. “Octavia seems to have thrown her lot in with Waters Street. And the gang has apparently thrown their lot in with the Society of the Burning Shadow.” Irulon thumbed a finger over her shoulder. “She found a bunch of heretics in the basement of the Waterhole along with another fairy.”
“I assumed as much from the presence of shadow assassins. This fairy situation is getting out of hand. I hired the guild to take a look, but I don’t believe they have left yet.”
Alyssa shook her head, mentally slapping her cheeks. “They haven’t,” she said. Both of the royals turned to face her, making her flush again. Focusing on Irulon, she continued. “Oz was the one who accepted the job. He and a few of his friends were meeting tonight, planning on leaving in the morning. Oz kept trying to get me to go with him for more firepower, but I kept declining, not wanting to go kill a bunch of innocent fairies.”
Both of them scoffed.
“Yeah,” Alyssa said, rubbing the back of her head. “I thinking I might have been at least partially wrong about that. In my defense, no one mentioned that they were cannibals who kidnap people with their mind powers.”
“Most fortuitous,” Irulon said. “Let us return your pet back to normal then go find this guild party.”
“You’re going with them?”
“This was a direct attack on my person. I may be hiding it, but I am livid. They almost killed me. If not for you…” Her voice trailed off. “Thank you. By the way. I really cannot overstate my appreciation. I said this already, but I knew you would be useful. I always like being right.”
“If you really want to show your appreciation, maybe consider paying Tzheitza back for the potion. I’d rather not have her overly upset with me about stealing that from her.”
“I’ll see what I can do. In any case,” she said, turning back to Brakkt. “My impression of this Oz is relatively low. I will not suffer another attack such as this one, so I will be leaving the palace for a short expedition.”
“Be careful. I cannot go with you. Not without leaving the First undefended. Considering that all of our prisoners have escaped, to do so would be most unwise.”
“I wouldn’t have expected that of you. However, I want your draken.”
As soon as the word left Irulon’s mouth, Brakkt’s impassive facade cracked. Just a little. He sucked in a slight breath, grimacing.
“Oh don’t be such a baby. I won’t harm them. I promise! What was the name of the cute little one? Musca? That one and Izsha.”
“I already said that I won’t hurt them.” Irulon pouted. An expression that didn’t fit on her face in the slightest. “Can’t you do this one little thing for your favorite little princess?”
Brakkt drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If even one scale is scratched…”
“Excellent,” Irulon said, face snapping back to normal so fast that Alyssa had to wonder if the rock on the table was still Kasita or not. “I knew you were my favorite brother. Never fear, I will return them safe and sound.” Spinning on her heel, she faced fully toward Alyssa. “Now, about—Oh, I see you’ve already found clothing. Good. Now I—”
“Absolutely not. You promised me real clothing. And if we really are going to head out in the desert to potentially fight, I’m going to want something more armored.” Alyssa eyed Brakkt before quickly turning away. “Maybe not that armored.” Who knew how much his gear weighed. She was strong, but she would probably be dead in ten minutes trying to carry all that around. Especially through a desert.
“Fine. Fine. Mimic first. Gear next. Mercenaries after.”
Alyssa’s Notes: Lots of things to write down this time. Fairies are a new addition in the Bestiary. And spells, whoooo boy. We’ve got All Shall Burn in Fire magic. Fractal Vision and Reality Sliver in Fractal magic. Down in Arcane magic, we’ve got Disintegration Ray. And there is the Rank Three spell, Subjugation. Did I miss any? Probably.