“That is Tenebrael’s agent?”
Alyssa nodded, glancing at the real Iosefael over the top of her phone’s borders. The angel had her arms crossed, pouting.
“This is highly irregular. Mortals aren’t supposed to see us.”
“Yeah, well, it is too much of a pain to explain when I could just show you around instead.” Though it was a pain holding up her phone constantly as well. Irulon would eventually have to get used to not seeing the angel at all. For now, Alyssa had her phone in video mode. It didn’t play back audio, sadly, and she wasn’t actually recording either. It was almost a genius idea. At first, Alyssa thought Irulon could have a full conversation through the phone with Iosefael. But the phone didn’t want to record its own audio in an infinite loop, so it naturally didn’t play it back while taking videos. A little fact that had slipped her mind. As it was, she was just using it to show Iosefael to the princess.
“A picture speaks a thousand words,” Iosefael said. “And that is a thousand too many. Oh, this is all wrong.”
“She doesn’t look happy.”
“Of course I’m not happy! Nothing about this is… right.” The little crosses that she had in place of pupils turned to Alyssa. “You’re not supposed to be here and neither of you are supposed to see angelic beings. And she has two souls! What has Tene been doing? She’s supposed to stop accidents like that from happening.”
“It wasn’t an accident,” Irulon said. “I know what I am doing.”
Alyssa blinked in confusion, glancing over at the princess. Irulon wasn’t looking up from the phone, so she still couldn’t see Iosefael, but she had definitely answered. Was there a setting on the phone that accidentally got activated? Alyssa hadn’t heard any words from it, but then, she had been listening to the real thing which might have drowned out the small speakers of the phone.
She wasn’t the only one surprised. Iosefael, startled, made a squeak as she stared at Irulon. Her wide, bewildered eyes quickly narrowed to thin slits. “And now she can hear me too?”
“I’m using the movement of your lips and tongue to determine what words you are speaking. A task I would find significantly easier if Alyssa would hold her trinket with a steady hand.”
Irulon just waved a hand. “You are here on… Tenebrael’s request to protect us. Is that correct?”
Iosefael glowered, pressing her lips together. “I am here to contain the archangel Adrael, should she appear again. If you get into a fight with your fellow humans, fall off a cliff, or suffer from a heart attack, that is simply how things must go and I will not interfere.”
Nodding in apparent understanding, Irulon tapped the side of her head. “The other angel, the one not aligned with Tenebrael, wished to remove the dragon according to Alyssa. Are you planning on anything similar?”
“I am here to contain the archangel Adrael. Nothing else…” Iosefael shifted where she stood, or hovered, fidgeting in her golden armor. “But you shouldn’t leave it like that. Tenebrael said not to, but if you ask and show remorse for your actions that led to your souls merging, I might be convinced to do more than fight the archangel.”
“Excellent.” Irulon leaned against the wall of the church, humming to herself for a moment. “I do not believe we will take you up on your offer at this time.”
“If you continue as you are, neither of you will be you!” Iosefael said, sounding almost desperate. “It will be the death of your very being. Both of you! There won’t be two distinct souls, you’ll be an amalgam. An abomination.”
“This won’t happen immediately.”
“Well.” Iosefael shifted again, looking away from Irulon. “No. But it isn’t something you want to take a rain check for.”
Iosefael frowned, looking more confused than upset. “Did I use it wrong? I’m sorry. I’m not used to talking to humans and using all their fun sayings. What I mean is that you won’t want to delay forever.”
“Hm. But I can delay for some time. You’re asking me to make an important decision on extremely little information with little time to decide. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you exist, that Tenebrael speaks to Alyssa with regularity, and that She has taken a personal interest in seeing our safety from this other… archangel.” Irulon said the word slowly, tasting it. With the way she scowled, it didn’t seem like she enjoyed it all that much. “And taking into consideration the fact that I think far faster than your average human, that I have to think about it for any length of time should tell you how big of a shock it is.
“In fact, thinking about it here would not be the wisest.” Irulon turned away from the phone to look at the one holding it. “We are in hostile territory. Your little spell is distracting them for now, but it will not forever. With the angel not interfering, this is an optimal time to destroy key structures, such as this church, and egress. Perhaps kill off more of their important members on our way out.”
“And we should find Kasita. How long was she supposed to take? We’ve been talking here for ten minutes and she hasn’t shown up. I’m getting nervous.”
Irulon shrugged. “The mimic is fine, I’m certain. After all, she is a mimic. Even if someone walks into the room, all she has to do is disguise herself.”
“And if they have a way to detect mimics? Oxart and one of the palace guards detected her while she was appearing as you. These guys will be on alert, looking for whoever just blew up half their base.”
“Given that you carved out a trough of land, they may very well think that their assailant was at the opposite end rather than within their midst.”
“I’m sure we’ll find her. For the time being, do you still have spare Empty Mirror cards?”
“As expected,” Irulon said with a nod. “That should be enough to begin. Oh. One question, if you’ll hold up your trinket.”
Alyssa, who had dropped her arm to keep from getting too tired with it extended for tens of minutes on end, had to wake her phone up before she could properly aim it at Iosefael. Once the angel was back on the screen, Irulon pointed at the church building.
“That archangel placed several spells around this location with the intention of trapping, killing, or otherwise harming us. I don’t suppose removing those falls under the purview of your directives?”
“Kill and harm you? She can’t do that. She’s an angel.”
“Your definition of harm and ours must not agree. If she crafts a spell that prevents us from leaving a room that is slowly filling with water, would that not be harming us? We would drown. For that is what she has done here, except using the people in place of water.”
“I’m… I’m sure she wouldn’t have done something like that. Angels are under strict restrictions. We cannot harm humans.”
“Can you allow humans to come to harm through inaction?”
Irulon’s mouth snapped shut, clearly not having expected that. “I see,” she said after a moment. “So setting a trap doesn’t count so long as you are not the one to actually do the harm.”
“Hm. In that case, why don’t you go ahead and remove any spells around this location. Just to be on the safe side. Wouldn’t want one of your fellow angels to violate any rules or laws now, would we?”
“If an archangel cast spells intending to interact with mortals, there was certainly a reason for doing so.”
“Of course there was. There is a reason to do everything. But if those reasons run counter to Tenebrael’s wishes, are you not obligated to handle them?” Irulon shook her head. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to go against Her orders.”
Iosefael floated slightly to one side, looking worried all of a sudden. “T-Tene said that I just have to contain Adrael until she can do something. Not—”
“Should you not also contain her effects on the world? It should be simple for you, right? Just a quick dash around the village here and then Tenebrael won’t be upset with you. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“If you’re wrong, you can always put it back later. But taking the initiative is a great way to show Tenebrael that you are serious in carrying out her request.”
“I am serious—”
“Apparently not. You are standing here, arguing with me when you could be out there containing Adrael. Tenebrael might not mention it because of her grace and kindness, but I would be so disappointed in you.”
Iosefael bit her lip, chewing on the corner.
The whole time they were talking, Alyssa remained silent. It was easy to see where this was going and she didn’t want to do anything that might distract either Iosefael, for fear that she might realize just what Irulon was doing, or the princess, worried that disrupting the cadence would break the effect she hoped to achieve. Her role in this was only to hold the phone up and pretend to be invisible otherwise.
Though it did raise a few questions. Although she had only met and spoken to her one and a half times, Iosefael was surprisingly naive. Maybe she wouldn’t go for it, but from the way Iosefael looked deep in thought, she was definitely considering the prospect.
Irulon wasn’t saying anything either. Not since saying that she would be disappointed. It was a little strange, her doing what she was doing. If Iosefael did disappear to go remove whatever spells Adrael had set, Alyssa definitely had a question or two for the princess.
Iosefael raised her left hand, covered in a golden weave of metal, and held it just in front of her face with her fingertips aiming toward her. “Detecting miracles in the local area.”
Alyssa quickly started her phone recording the angel. Proclamations like that were usually followed by magic. Irulon was watching, but having a copy to review later could still be handy.
The gold covering Iosefael’s hand lit up, glowing a faint white. Her glove completely covered her hand, but two bands of metal ran all the way up to her elbow in a winding pattern. The glow spread down both bands. Once it reached the end, an equally faint pulse of white light expanded from her hand in a sphere, quickly moving to encompass everything around them.
Alyssa only saw it for a second before it was gone, so hopefully her phone had recorded enough of it. It wasn’t a uniform sphere, having many lines and angelic runes hovering about its edges. What she didn’t see, however, she felt. It tingled underneath her skin. It was like little bugs crawling over her, making her want to itch and scratch at them.
Luckily, it passed by before she actually had to scratch. The tingle went away, replaced with a heavy weight deep in the pit of her belly. Just shifting her weight from one foot to the other made that disturbing sensation disperse as well.
Throughout it all, Irulon made not a single move of discomfort. She didn’t make to scratch or to move about. Her eyes were black and white, analyzing every pixel of the phone’s display. Could she feel it? Probably not. It was one of those things that only interacted with Alyssa. Just like the angels themselves.
“There are twelve active miracles in this valley,” Iosefael said, eyes staring at her fingers.
Hovering just above her hand was a holographic display that wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero movie. Given what Alyssa knew about angels, it was probably magic, not actual holograms. The effect was the same either way. And, either way, Alyssa couldn’t read the words or symbols. All of it was written in angelic runes.
The cross-shaped pupils scanning the hologram flicked away, looking to Alyssa. “Seven of which are centered on your phone.”
“It is a gift from Tenebrael. Please don’t undo them,” Alyssa said, speaking for the first time since Irulon had started this line of conversation. “It’s compensation for bringing me to her world against my will.”
“I don’t know if I could. The authorization required to grant those miracles is far higher than what I can access. It should require higher authorization than Tenebrael has… but…” Iosefael drew in a deep breath and let it back out through her nose. “The other spells are…” She started frowning as she looked back to her hologram. “That can’t be right.”
Alyssa almost asked what the angel was talking about, but hesitated. Irulon had been handling the conversation so far. Speaking now might ruin that. Yet Irulon wasn’t saying a word. Glancing in her direction, the princess moved a hand up to tap at her lips before pointing toward the phone.
Iosefael’s hand and the hologram were blocking the view of her lips. It had been like that since Iosefael had started casting her spells. Alyssa took a step to the side, sliding along the wall of the church building, stopping once Iosefael’s mouth was on screen once again. As Irulon followed, Alyssa decided to fill the princess in on what she had said in the most innocuous way possible. “What’s wrong with the other spells. What isn’t right?”
“There is a Struck Rock miracle active within this church. An archangel does not have the authority to perform such an act. Tenebrael could, but I doubt she has…”
“Is it dangerous?” Irulon asked, rejoining the conversation.
“No. It provides water. A relatively rare miracle.” Iosefael lifted her head from her hologram to look at Alyssa. “You might be familiar with Moses striking a rock while lost in the desert?”
“Uh. I’ve heard of the guy.” The only things she really knew about Moses were the plagues and having a stick that turned to a snake. It took a moment to remember even that much. Everything she knew about the guy came from an old animated movie. Had there been a rock and water? Well, parting the red sea, but that probably wasn’t the case here.
Iosefael didn’t seem impressed. Disappointed, maybe. “Hmph. There is also an… Oh dear. A blessed incense burner. But the blessing is corrupt. Exposure to the smoke disrupts the soul’s connection to the body.”
“Smoke? Would damaging the connection make the exposed docile and highly suggestible?”
Iosefael looked over to Irulon, staring as if in thought before slowly nodding her head. “I suppose that would be an effect. Without the soul, the body would enter a state of torpor. This doesn’t remove the connection entirely, so the effects wouldn’t be that extreme. Your guess is accurate, I suppose. How did you know?”
“Because it isn’t a guess.” Irulon turned to Alyssa. “That’s how they’re controlling the fairies. Still, disrupting the connection to the soul seems pretty harmful.”
Clasping her hand into a fist destroyed the holograms. Iosefael’s glowing hand and glove faded back to their regular golden color. “You’re right. I can’t believe that she created something like this. Or even that she could. But it can’t remain. I’ll… I’ll remove active miracles in the area.”
“Not the ones on my phone, please.”
“That makes it more complicated,” Iosefael said with a sigh. “I can’t just do a wide-area removal. I’d have to remove each individually.”
“Given that it is Tenebrael’s gift…” Irulon started, gesturing toward the phone in Alyssa’s hand. “I would never dare to speak for Her, but I cannot imagine She would be pleased if you destroyed something She created.”
“I… know. I’ll go around to each and remove them one-by-one.”
“Can you do it without leaving us unprotected from Adrael?”
“I am actively scanning for angelic presences. If she appears, I will be here instantly.”
“Good. Then don’t delay!”
Iosefael took a breath, nodded twice, fully extended her wings, and disappeared upward into the sky. Alyssa stared for a moment, wondering if the flight was really necessary. Maybe flying was fine, but so high? The village wasn’t that large. Only a handful of buildings plus the church. And half of them had been destroyed, thanks to her.
“She seems… simplistic.”
“Yeah. I thought she was going to agree earlier, but good thing their smoke was some angelic nonsense.”
“I think she was going to anyway and merely used its existence as an excuse, but I can’t be positive without further interaction. Either way, this works to our advantage. Once she finishes, we should have full access to this town. Shame we couldn’t have done this before alerting the entire base to our presence.”
“I’m… surprised you used Tenebrael’s name as a manipulation tool.”
Irulon leaned up against the church wall, staring up into the sky. She didn’t speak for several seconds. When she did, it was in a softer tone of voice than anything Alyssa had heard from her before. “Hm. It was not a decision I made lightly. The theologists preach pragmatism. We had a need. I acted to solve it as rapidly as possible. If all is as Tenebrael’s book says, I will be forgiven for my irreverence. Though you may be in a position to say more than the words of half-dead individuals of dubious quality.”
Tenebrael’s book must have been the writings Lazhar had mentioned back in Teneville, the book where he recorded every word spoken by the suicidal pilgrims. As for whether or not she knew Tenebrael better… Alyssa had to snort at that. “I don’t believe that Tenebrael cares one way or another what mortals do. If anything, she would be amused that you managed to manipulate Iosefael into doing what you wanted. Next time she’s around I could ask. Or you could talk to her through my phone.”
“An ancient saying: You should never meet your heroes. My brother, for instance, is highly idolized by many among the military and even in the guild. He is seen as a strong individual capable of turning the tide of a battle all on his own. And he is. Yet I think many would be disappointed if they actually got to know him. His sympathies toward monsters would shatter expectations all on their own. Bringing the draken to the city already tarnished his reputation.”
“And you think meeting Tenebrael would be worse?”
“Faith requires uncertainty,” Irulon said, deliberately avoiding the question. “At first, there were a few clues around you that had that uncertainty diminishing. What you said to my sister, for instance.”
Alyssa blinked, snapping her head over to meet the princess’ violet eyes. “You heard that?”
“Mhm. Those clues, I could ignore or reason away as delusion easily enough. There have been people who have claimed to speak with Tenebrael before. All proved false in the end. But now all this? The portrait you showed me? It is getting more and more difficult to ignore.
“Perhaps that is why I used Tenebrael’s name. I wanted to remove just a little more uncertainty. I still, right now, wish to tell you that you are lying. Or that this being who claims to be Tenebrael is merely a monster taking Her name for its own purposes. If that is the case, it must be destroyed. Yet attacking my god? If it truly is Tenebrael, not even my life would be enough for forgiveness. So I think I want a little uncertainty removed, maybe all of it. But maybe none of it at the same time. I’m just… unsure of what I want exactly.”
“Well, I don’t know what to say. Everything I’ve said is true as far as I know it to be. Everything else, you’ll have to decide on your own.”
A fluttering of white-gold feathers filled the area behind the church. It had only been a minute, maybe two, but Iosefael popped into existence right in front of Alyssa. “Aside from those on your phone, all miracles have been nullified in this area.”
Alyssa had to translate for her—she hadn’t had time to turn her phone back on before the angel spoke. As soon as she had finished, Irulon pushed herself away from the wall and fingered a spell from her tome. “Excellent. Let us find our wayward mimic and finish this job. I want to get back to the palace and think some things over.”