Field of Glass
Teneville was a peaceful town. They didn’t have guards. If they had a militia, it probably wasn’t trained or capable of defending from much of anything. The way their peninsula had formed, such things really weren’t necessary. They had no real threats around them. The one route from the rest of the land to their town required going through a fairly narrow mountain pass. Large forces wouldn’t be able to traverse it easily. And they had Lyria watching from above.
They were defenseless. And if an attacking force came from sea or air—or some way more esoteric, such as magical methods of traveling—the rest of the world might not find out for weeks or months.
So it was something of a relief to find out that the town had not been attacked.
The original plan had been to head around the town, stop by Alyssa’s house out in the middle of nowhere, and leave the draken and Fela there so as to avoid alarming the villagers. That plan went out the window the moment they saw Tenebrael’s temple.
It was even worse up close.
The entire structure had collapsed in on itself. Like a toddler had stomped on it as if it were a sandcastle. Only one wall still stood, that being where the front door led out to the poisonous flower and ceremonial area. Even that was half crumbled. It was a field of obsidian glass shards, each as large as a person. Looking over the rest of the lot from her elevated position on Izsha, Alyssa felt numb.
For a lot of people of this world, they would probably feel something similar. A numbness. A worry. A panic, even. The temple of their god had fallen. Given its material and how different it was on an aesthetic level to everything else around this world, it probably hadn’t even been constructed by human hands. It was more than just a building to everyone. It was a symbol.
Lazhar had said it. The whole purpose of the festival was to give people hope. To remind them that there was something else out there, something worth fighting for. Whether or not Tenebrael deserved it, she was revered for the service she—probably unintentionally—provided. Alyssa, for as much as she had mixed feelings about the angel, couldn’t even disparage the people for their treatment of her. Some people just needed a little hope in their lives, regardless of where it came from.
With the temple gone, what would happen to the people? Would their hope crumble as well? Teneville’s isolation had likely dampened the spread of information. Depending on how recently the temple had fallen, nobody outside the peninsula might be aware of it. But word would get out eventually. Maybe it would spread wide. Maybe it would only be muted whisperings in the corners of taverns. But once the festival came back around, that would all change.
Everyone would know.
It wasn’t even hope that Alyssa was truly worried about. By Tenebrael’s own admission, her existence was a major contributing factor toward the prevention of the plague. Demons could very well begin running amok once word spread. The Juno Federation and the Society of the Burning Shadow might view the temple’s destruction as a sign of weakness. A sign of Tenebrael abandoning the rest of the world. It could very well become a trigger that would spark a true war.
And yet, Alyssa’s numbness didn’t come from the thought of war or even demons. What did the temple falling mean? For Tenebrael. For the world?
Now, perhaps more than ever, she needed to find someone dying so that she could speak to an angel. Any angel.
Tenebrael was in trouble. There was almost no doubt about that. Even if Irulon dropped dead in front of her, Alyssa doubted that Tenebrael would be the one to show up. But at this point, Alyssa would take anyone. Iosefael, Kenziel… even Adrael if it meant getting answers.
Maybe she should have taken off that demon’s mask to hear what it had to say. It wasn’t like she had needed to listen.
Looking around at the rest of her party, Alyssa couldn’t help but wonder what they might be thinking. Irulon’s eyes were black and white, signifying an active connection with her dragon. They danced here and there, examining everything while Musca carried her around the lot. Her lips were set in a constant grimace. One hand gripped her tome so tightly that it was shaking.
Fela didn’t seem like she understood the significance of the temple’s collapse. The hellhound was off Dasca’s back, walking between the shards of the temple while sniffing around. But her movements weren’t tense or worried. They were almost playful.
The same could not be said for Kasita. She looked about the same as Irulon, except with Alyssa’s face. “I don’t like this place,” she whispered from Alyssa’s back, voice tense and lacking her usual humor. “It’s like the staff or the feathers.”
“We’ll move into the town proper as soon as Brakkt returns. Just bear with it for now. If it helps, hide in my backpack or something.”
“I think I’ll do that,” Kasita said immediately before the mild pressure on Alyssa’s back vanished.
Her disappearing gave Alyssa a clear view of her mother. Like Fela, Lisa didn’t look like she understood the significance. She had been around this world for a month now, but Alyssa knew that she had gone out of her way to avoid Tenebrael’s religion and similar things. It helped that the priests were really not that pushy at all. There wasn’t much need for proselytizing when everyone already believed in the religion and Tenebrael didn’t seem to have any mandates regarding constant church going or other displays of worship.
Alyssa looked away, spotting movement. It wasn’t true movement, but rather the approach of three souls. They were out of sight, coming up the stairs that led to Tenebrael’s temple. After a moment of watching, Brakkt came into view flanked by two familiar faces.
Yzhemal and Lazhar. They looked… different.
Alyssa knew that the village had been alright, even from afar. Being able to see souls was handy for telling where people were. She hadn’t counted every single person, but there had been enough that nothing too disastrous had happened to the people.
But Lazhar looked positively haggard. When Alyssa had left Teneville, he had been a portly man with a smile on his face and a scraggly grey beard. Now he looked thinner. His dark eyes had sunken in. His cheekbones protruded a lot more and most of his beer belly had vanished.
Yzhemal had always been leaner than his brother, but that had been taken to an extreme. Both looked like they had been through a famine despite the plants and the landscape looking about the same as when Alyssa had left. If their crops were growing well, it had to be something more like depression or stress.
Both stopped suddenly as they caught sight of the draken. Brakkt had gone on foot to fetch them so as to avoid startling the entire village, but he must have told them as they didn’t look too shocked. Just frightened, which was completely understandable. To spare them having to come closer, Alyssa hopped off Izsha’s back and approached. Irulon did the same.
Alyssa didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know if they would even remember her. They had been a large impact on her life, but she had probably not been all that memorable in turn. She had shown up during a time when a hundred other random people had shown up. All she had done to distinguish herself was to work for Yzhemal for a few days and then feed them hamburgers. With her sunglasses in place, she wasn’t sure that they would recognize her even had it not been a few months since then.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to say anything. Irulon took charge.
“I assume my brother already told you who we are,” she said, hands clasped behind her back. “So no sense wasting time with introductions. What happened? How long ago? Any other relevant details?”
For a moment, neither spoke. They looked to each other, then both turned and stared between Brakkt and Alyssa before returning to Irulon.
It was Lazhar who spoke first in a trembling voice. Where he once had a boisterous tone, there was now a hollow note. “One week. It was… one week ago. I… I…”
“We were tending the fields late-afternoon,” Yzhemal said, speaking far more clearly. “Well, I was tending to some fields. I believe Lazhar was napping beneath the haystack.”
Lazhar just sighed.
“The first sign that something had gone wrong was a loud rumble. The ground shook beneath our feet. We weren’t sure what it was at first. It wasn’t until young Gren pointed out the plume of smoke rising that I started rushing back to the village. Thought it was a fire at first. But no. It was the temple falling. Each block of stone sent up a column of dust as it hit the ground.”
“We… didn’t know what to do. There was no way to stop it,” Lazhar’s shoulders slumped. He extended his hands out, grasping at nothing before pulling them back to his chest. “The temple just fell apart before our eyes.”
“A week. Hm.” Irulon turned, looking back to the fallen structure. Her eyes were black and white, but neither of the brothers had said anything about that. Perhaps Brakkt had warned them about that as well. But Irulon didn’t stay looking at the temple for long. She turned again, this time pausing on Alyssa. “Seven days exactly? Or something more like ten days?”
Yzhemal put a hand to his scraggly beard and started tugging it slightly. “Well, let’s see. The day it happened, didn’t sleep that night. Then we neglected the fields for at least three days. It took a day to pull Lazhar out of the distillery… then…” He nodded slowly. “Nine or ten sounds about right. Why?”
“Have you noticed any villagers isolating themselves?”
“Since that day, all of Teneville has been feeling down.”
Lazhar sighed, shoulders slumping even more, if that was possible.
“I would say that there are a few that I haven’t seen in several days. Would that not be normal for a situation like this? Tenebrael’s temple is… gone.”
“Perhaps. But there might be something more sinister afoot,” Irulon said. Breaking eye contact with Alyssa, she turned back out to the shards of obsidian. “Fela! Do you smell anything?”
Alyssa felt a cold drop of sweat run down her back. Until Irulon shouted, she hadn’t quite realized why a few extra days mattered. But that shout sealed it. Irulon was talking about demons. More importantly, ten days ago would have been the day Alyssa had met with the demon.
The hellhound bounded over, not even caring that Yzhemal stumbled back at the sight of her or that Lazhar looked like he had just left a sauna.
“There is something here, but it is faint. Old. Nothing has been near here in a few days.”
Irulon nodded as if she had expected that response. “What about the rest of the village?” When Fela shrugged, Irulon pointed down the steps Yzhemal and Lazhar had just ascended. “It isn’t that large. Running through would only take a few minutes.”
Fela looked like she wanted to protest, but a glare from Irulon made her snap her mouth shut. “I’ll be back in a minute then.”
As Fela bounded off, forcing Lazhar and Yzhemal to scramble out of the way, Alyssa spoke. “Kasita, are there any pentagrams in these ruins? Or… embers?”
Kasita formed up next to Alyssa, appearing out of thin air. She was already in the middle of shaking her head as she formed. “I don’t see anything, but there is a lot of area that I can’t see at all. Everything underneath rubble is just as invisible to me as it is to you.”
“Wh-What’s going on?” Lazhar stammered, eyes wide as he stared at Kasita. Behind him, his brother was staring down the steps, probably watching after Fela.
“Demons,” Irulon said, bluntly. “It was very probably demons that destroyed the temple. The same day that Alyssa found that ember. It can’t be a coincidence… Hm.”
“Alyssa?” Yzhemal looked away from the rest of the village and stared right. He definitely remembered.
But he was looking at the wrong person.
“Not her,” Alyssa stepped in front of Kasita as she pointed to herself. “Me. Hello again. I don’t suppose you’ve seen anyone with hot coals burning in their eyes?”
“Sorry. I didn’t want to meet like this again. We were going to leave the draken and Fela at… a camp, but we saw the temple collapsed and feared that something bad had happened. Something badder,” she added with a glance toward the rubble. “Uh… how are the tomatoes coming along?”
“Smooth,” Kasita whispered.
Deciding not to give Kasita the satisfaction of a response, Alyssa ventured a little closer to the brothers. But she didn’t get to say anything before Fela came barreling back up the steps.
“There is one here!” Her large furry claw pointed off toward one of the small homes that made up the majority of the village. “It’s a fairly weak one, I think. Not a very strong smell. But it is there.”
“Keep an eye on it,” Brakkt said. A short whistle from him called over one of the draken. The one carrying his armor. “No sense not being fully prepared even if it is weak. Irulon, Tess, if you would assist me.”
“You should have brought your own servants,” Irulon grumbled. Despite her protests, she headed over and helped him unload and equip the armor.
While they worked, Alyssa waved her mother over. Alyssa had mentioned demons and the plague in the past, but Lisa hadn’t ever actually seen one, let alone fought against one. With any luck, that wouldn’t change today. Still, she should be prepared. Taking her aside, along with the brothers—both of whom looked bewildered by the sudden activity—Alyssa started explaining a few things. Given that it was Tenebrael’s primary presence on the world, Teneville probably hadn’t ever experienced plague outbreaks the way Lyria had in recent weeks. In fact, this was probably the very first infected south of the mountains.
It made Alyssa wonder just how smaller villages avoided infection. Larger cities, like those the nobles came from, probably had their own plague containment teams. Smaller towns like those between Lyria and Teneville didn’t even have a few guards let alone ways of dealing with demons. Was faith in Tenebrael just that high among the smaller hamlets and villages?
Very possibly, actually.
But Owlcroft had been a smaller village. That was the town that had been so overrun that it had turned into the pit. Perhaps, after this was all done, she would ask if there were any roaming plague containment teams financed by Lyria. And if there weren’t, perhaps some should be made. Just a small group that would circle around the entire continent, visiting villages and maybe even preaching Tenebrael’s praises in an attempt to lessen the likelihood of another Owlcroft.
For the moment, she was focused on her mother and the brothers. Specifically, on keeping them safe. “You all should stay here until we’re done.”
“We? Who is we?”
Suppressing a grimace, Alyssa glanced away from her mother to where Brakkt was half into his armor. “Me, Brakkt, Irulon, and Fela.”
“Why are you involved in this at all?”
Because it is my fault, Alyssa did not say. It could have been a coincidence that the temple fell the same day she had gone to the bedehouse. She doubted it. “Because I’m a Rank Six arcanist. A pistol or regular sword won’t hurt these things at all. But I can. I watched one hold up its own mostly-decapitated head and still have the upper hand in a fight against all of us. If it wasn’t for me, Irulon, and Kasita, it probably would have won.”
“I doubt this will be as strong as the Taker,” Irulon called over from where she was adjusting Brakkt’s pauldrons. “But if it is, we can pull the same trick as last time.”
“That’s… hopefully not going to happen. If this is a weak demon, a Spectral Axe should do the trick. I’d rather avoid carving a new hole in the moon if we can help it.” Tenebrael hadn’t been too happy about that. “It’ll be fine, mom. Just stay here. I can handle myself. And it isn’t like I’ll be alone.”
“You’re not going to destroy anything, are you?” Lazhar asked with trepidation lacing his voice. “I don’t know if the village can take it right now.”
“Better to incinerate the entire valley than allow another pit to form,” Irulon said, blunt as usual. Or maybe even more blunt. And somewhat aggressive as well. The temple being in the state it was might be hurting her more than it seemed.
“We’ll try to keep things as contained as possible,” Alyssa said softly. “But…” She moved over to where Fela was staring unblinkingly at the house she had pointed out. “Is it just the one?”
“I think so, but there might be more than one inside the house. Hard to tell. I kept my distance to avoid startling them just like Trik always tells me.”
“Good,” Alyssa said as she closed her eyes. Taking a breath, she looked. Not with her eyes, but with that odd sense of souls that came with being connected to Tenebrael. Forms popped up everywhere. Most houses had at least one soul within them. She spotted a few out in the fields, but far less than she had expected. Homing in on the house that Fela was watching, she saw it.
A form that wasn’t quite like the rest. It was hard to believe that she had missed it earlier, but she supposed that the temple’s collapse had proved distracting enough to hide it from her sight. If a normal soul was like a flame, this soul was like slime. They didn’t truly have any shape or form to her sight, but she could just feel the difference.
It had to be the demon.
Sweeping her gaze around the village, including toward Lazhar and Yzhemal, Alyssa found nothing more.
“I only see one. Can’t tell how it sizes up to the Taker though.”
“As long as we aren’t ambushed,” Irulon said, “we should be fine.”
“Overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer,” Brakkt chastised as he settled his helmet on his head. “In this particular case, it might be a rather quick killer if we are not careful. Do not forget how Octavia and the Taker moved and fought. I could have been overwhelmed in an instant had I let my guard drop. And neither you nor Alyssa have your armor.”
“Yes,” Irulon said with a clear scowl directed at herself. “This was supposed to be a relaxing journey. Now I feel foolish for having berated your attachment to your armor.”
“What is done is done. Are you prepared?”
Irulon gripped her tome in her hand and nodded slowly.
“Let’s get this over with,” Alyssa said, pulling out her own deck of cards.
“Draken,” Brakkt said, raising his voice. “Please remain here. Everyone rushing down there will agitate the villagers. Only Ensou will accompany us. And… if something happens to us, don’t make trouble for the town.”
Alyssa didn’t speak draken. She wasn’t even sure that they could speak to each other. Still, the noises they made at his statement were anything but happy. Although they growled and grumbled, only Brakkt’s blue-grey scaled draken approached the group. Which was something of a relief, even ignoring the problem of agitated villagers. Alyssa wasn’t sure if it was possible to have too many soldiers on a battlefield, but a dozen of the large monsters would definitely crowd the chefs out of a kitchen.
If that analogy made sense at all.
Pausing, turning to her mother, Alyssa waited for the inevitable argument or complaint about her going off to danger.
Instead, Lisa set her jaw. “Come back. You aren’t allowed to drag me into this place only to leave me alone.”
There was a slight hesitation before Alyssa walked up to her mother, put her arms around her shoulders, and nodded. Not wanting to jinx it by saying that everything would be alright, she simply said, “Of course.”