Alyssa stood in front of the temple ruins. It… was a lot bigger than a table. And that was the understatement of the century. She could have stepped over the remains of the destroyed table. This thing would take five minutes to walk from one end to the other. The height before it collapsed hadn’t been anything to scoff at either. While it wasn’t a palace or one of the towers around Lyria, it would probably be the next highest building if put up on a chart of the tallest structures in this world.
And somehow, Alyssa was supposed to fix it. Or Tenebrael had to fix it and she had to let the stupid angel work through her.
At least she didn’t have the entire village following after her, watching as she worried over whether or not the temple could be repaired. She didn’t know what Lazhar had said, but he had gotten the villagers to back off a bit. He hadn’t backed off, however. In fact, Lazhar stood next to her, wearing his festival costume. A smooth black suit with off-center buttons, silver shoulder plates, and a white angular hat.
Seeing him walk up to her while dressed in such a strange fashion had not been amusing.
Even less amusing was the way he just stood by, as if waiting for her to speak. Knowing what she knew about the festival and how every word the pilgrims spoke was written down, Alyssa had a feeling that she would be subjected to the same treatment. In fact, he had probably spent the night writing down every word he could remember her having spoken from their first visit until she had created that light yesterday morning.
So she hadn’t spoken a word since he walked up. At the same time, the silence was almost unbearably uncomfortable. What did he want? Why was he here? Why was he wearing that festival outfit? If he wanted something, he should have said it already.
Maybe time had dulled her memory. It had only been two months or so since she had last been to Teneville. While interacting with the villagers the first time around, she had definitely gotten a sycophantic feel from the majority of the people. Especially from Lazhar. It had actually scared her a bit until she realized that they weren’t going to murder her for disbelief, even if they did engage in ritual suicide on the regular.
Now, seeing the way he was acting around her, she couldn’t help but wonder why she had ever thought it would be a good idea to come back with glowing eyes. Granted, she couldn’t have possibly known that the temple had been destroyed only a week earlier. They probably wouldn’t have acted like this if not for that—she would have kept her eyes safely hidden behind her sunglasses.
Alyssa was absolutely not enjoying the current situation. If she had a bit less morality, she might have tried to take advantage of it. These people would undoubtedly give up their money and belongings if she asked. That was another reason she was being careful about not speaking as much as possible. Who knew what offhand comment she might make that would have them emptying their pockets… or worse, set them off to start a holy crusade for Tenebrael.
If she were still alone, Alyssa had a feeling that she would be in a far less desirable position. It might be hard to imagine given how little she desired her current position, but at least Kasita, Irulon, Fela, and her mother were not kissing the ground she walked on. Irulon, Alyssa could tell, was acting slightly strange, but was trying to reel it in at the same time. Alyssa could appreciate that. Her mother disapproved of just about everything, which would have been annoying in other situations, but here, Alyssa welcomed it. Fela and Kasita hadn’t changed much at all. Fela already thought that she was scary and making a big bright light that cowed an entire village hadn’t changed that at all. Kasita, more than anyone, knew Alyssa’s real feelings about Tenebrael and everything else.
Which was why Alyssa shot a glance to Kasita, silently pleading with the mimic to say something that might get Lazhar to talk. It didn’t really matter what they talked about. Just as long as it would let out some of the pressure.
The mimic grinned the exact kind of grin that made Alyssa reevaluate her decision to have Kasita speak for her. But it was too late.
“So, Lazhar was it? Think my sister can rebuild this temple?”
“If that is Tenebrael’s will.”
“But what about Alyssa’s will? She could just walk away. Are you saying that the temple will pop up even without Alyssa channeling Tenebrael’s power? Or maybe you’re saying that nobody could do anything if Tenebrael doesn’t want her temple fixed up. I don’t know about that. I watched the Pharaoh rewind the time of an entire house, resetting everything to how it was a few hours before. I bet he could do the same to this temple here.”
“The Pharaoh is a mediator between Tenebrael’s will and the people. It is his duty to find a balance between the two. If he were to arrive and repair the temple, that too would be Tenebrael’s will.”
Alyssa raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t heard that part of the Pharaoh’s job description before. Was that what Egyptian pharaohs were supposed to do as well? She had always thought that a pharaoh was just a fancy title for a king or an emperor. A ruler.
A similar thought had to be running through Kasita’s head. She pouted, placing her hands on her hips in apparent frustration at failing to catch Lazhar in some kind of verbal trap.
“Do you speak with Tenebrael often?”
Lazhar shifted at Kasita’s last question. Unlike before, he didn’t respond right away.
Kasita took that as encouragement. “If you don’t,” she said, “how do you know her will?”
That was a question Lazhar had been more prepared for. He started answering right away. “We don’t. Not with absolute certainty. It is my duty to identify the signs, hear the words of pilgrims, and use other methods of divining intentions. When the temple first fell, I admit, I despaired. I neglected my duty, failed to see what Tenebrael wished for me to do.
“With Alyssa’s arrival, it has become clear to me that I have been given a second chance. An opportunity to make right what I had neglected.”
Alyssa had to suppress a groan. A vindictive part of her mind wondered what Lazhar would say if she mentioned the complaints Tenebrael had about him during the festival’s closing ceremony. But… no need to be cruel.
He and the rest of the town weren’t actually doing anything that Alyssa hadn’t wanted. She had given them hope back. Of course they were going to try to approach and celebrate her. Alyssa’s dislike of the situation likely didn’t enter into their minds at all. By claiming to be a messenger from Tenebrael, she had effectively given up her rights as a human. Not in the sense that she had become a monster. It was more like the way celebrities back on Earth were often viewed as objects rather than people. The way they were treated by the press and social media…
The lack of interconnected people in this world had been inconvenient at times, but right now, Alyssa couldn’t be more pleased that they didn’t have any websites to plaster her face all over.
Refocusing on the rubble of the temple, Alyssa sighed. For this village, it was definitely going to get worse once she fixed the temple. Maybe fixing it now, without too many people around, would let her slip away before things got too hectic. She could jump on Izsha, head off to her house, and hide out there until everyone else was ready to leave.
It was mostly Brakkt who wanted to stay at this point. He and Fela had been going around, scaring villagers while searching for any more demonic activity.
Like she had done with the table, Alyssa tried to picture the temple fixing itself. She tried to imagine shards melding together into one seamless structure. But Alyssa never felt the surge of warmth building up inside her. The words didn’t come.
Something told her what was missing. Alyssa couldn’t explain how she knew. Nothing whispered into her mind. No obvious signs presented themselves to her. It was just… instinct.
“That stupid angel wants the town to watch.”
“What was that?”
Despite mumbling under her breath, Lazhar had heard from a few paces away. Hoping that he hadn’t heard her calling Tenebrael stupid, Alyssa spoke a little louder. “How soon can the town be gathered here?”
“Wait… wait,” Alyssa said, reconsidering. “It’s the middle of the day. People are out working, harvesting, and felling trees. Don’t disturb their work more than it already has been. Wait until this evening. After nightfall.” She waited just a moment before adding on one last thing. “And it isn’t a requirement to show up. If people are tired from a long day of work and just want to relax in their homes, make sure they know that I won’t be offended in the slightest.”
Take that you stupid angel. With any luck, a full day of hard work would tire out at least some of the village. They would still have a temple popping up overnight. That should stave off any demonic menace even if they didn’t witness the temple’s restoration in person.
Unfortunately, she had a feeling that most people would show up even with her request that they relax.
“And you can rest for the remainder of the day as well.”
“Oh I couldn’t do that.”
“Of course not,” Alyssa mumbled. Lazhar had unknowingly proved her point about people showing up. The rest of the town almost certainly had similar feelings. Even if there were heretics or atheists among them, they would probably still show up just to watch what had been the center of their village for so long return to its proper form.
“I’ll be back just as soon as I put the word out about the gathering tonight.” He said so, but he hesitated as if waiting for Alyssa to say something else. When she didn’t, he slowly shuffled off, giving Kasita a nod as he passed her.
Only when she couldn’t hear his heavy footsteps did Alyssa let out a long groan. “Ughhhh. I think I would rather fight three demonic Takers at once than deal with this.”
“Show me how to connect to Tenebrael and I’ll take your devoted followers off your hands for you.”
“I don’t know how I could show you. Tenebrael did it to me intentionally the first time. Since then, both times have been an accident. But I doubt you would enjoy a bunch of humans running around you. I got sick of it after ten minutes.”
“But ordering around humans hasn’t been a dream of yours.”
“That’s true,” Alyssa said with a sigh as she sat down. The bed-like benches that were around the festival flower hadn’t been damaged by the temple’s collapse, so they provided perfectly adequate sitting locations. They weren’t actually that comfortable considering they were essentially deathbeds, but they probably couldn’t have much cushion or padding while outdoors. She wasn’t sure if people were supposed to just sit on them whenever like they were park benches, but if someone complained, she would just take off her sunglasses and give them a glare.
Like the benches, the festival flower had escaped the temple’s destruction unscathed. It didn’t look like much at the moment. The flower was currently under a glass dome, protected from the elements. And also rain? Did people water it? Or was it all magic? The lavender petals had yet to bloom. Though, now that she thought about it, why were the petals lavender in color? Tenebrael had a theme of black or grey with bits of white. Shouldn’t the flower be the same? If Alyssa were Tenebrael, she would have made the flower black.
How old was the festival? That was a good question. It was possible that Tenebrael hadn’t always been going through a goth phase.
Alyssa had a thought to destroy the flower. The ritual sacrifice it represented was fairly abhorrent to her moral center. However, she wasn’t sure that she could. Not now that she knew just how important faith in Tenebrael was. It was a disgusting practice, but a handful of already suicidal people dying was a far better alternative to entire cities being overrun with demons.
Still, the temptation was there.
Lying back and ignoring it was the best option. The less she thought about it, the less she would feel the urge to flick some spell toward it. Instead, she decided to try to make the best of her vacation by taking a little relaxing rest beneath the bright blue sky.
Kasita settled in near her, sitting upright around Alyssa’s knees. Her hands were on the opposite side of the stone bed, supporting her as she leaned back to stare upward.
“I wonder what people think of the moon,” she said softly.
Alyssa turned her gaze to the almost ever present moon, staring at the pockmark marring its otherwise smooth surface. Relative to the rest of the moon, it was just a tiny dimple. On Earth, no one but astronomers would likely have noticed. At least right away. But Earth’s moon was covered in craters from meteors, so a dimple wouldn’t stand out as much. “Most of Lyria knows that it was a fight with infected, thanks to the Pharaoh. I don’t think his proclamation reached very far outside the city. Maybe messengers carried the news to other large cities, but… I suppose you could go ask someone from around here.”
“I was thinking monsters rather than people. Humans tend to be fairly adaptable. I wouldn’t be surprised if, after the initial shock wore off, most humans simply shrug and go about their day. But to the inari of the southern forests, I know they use the moon in much of their foretelling of the future. I wonder how they have taken having the moon so scarred. I hope they aren’t panicked too badly.”
Using the moon in predictions… Alyssa could easily see how a scar might be seen as a sign of impending doom. “What are inari? I don’t think I’ve heard of them.”
“Mostly humanoid. Their most defining traits are their tails, which they can have up to nine of, and their pointed ears that look similar to those on a fox. Or Fela. They are a peaceful sort. I’ve heard they even have trade with some human villages, though they typically travel in disguise, hiding any inhuman features beneath heavy cloaks.”
“Hmm…” Alyssa stretched, arching her back. “You know, I thought I might open a pizza parlor if I wound up stuck in this world. I still don’t think that would be a bad idea, but I think I would enjoy traveling. Meeting people and monsters. Maybe trying to bring humans and monsters closer together.”
“Well, it certainly can be done. Look at Fela and the draken.”
Kasita nodded. “But there are a lot of monsters out there who, even if they are generally peaceful, would prefer that things stay as they are.”
“I bet. And there are some races that would make me nervous if they began interacting with certain others.” Like fairies. “But I can see some amazing benefits of races joining together. Like, I told you what Jason and Guillem are planning, right? If an industrial revolution happens here the same way it happened back on Earth, people are going to be connected to a degree never before seen. At home, the industrial revolution happened without elves because we don’t have monsters, but here… if humans develop trains while every other race is left behind and even hated… I don’t think things will turn out well.”
A silence hung over the two for a moment. Alyssa thought it was because of the gravity of her statement, but Kasita quickly proved that wrong.
“I don’t know what you mean by industrial revolution or trains.”
“Right. Next time we watch something on my phone, remind me to pull up some documentaries.”
“Why not now?”
Alyssa opened her mouth to shoot down the suggestion, but hesitated. They weren’t doing anything aside from waiting for nightfall. Even if Lazhar came back, it wouldn’t change anything. So, with a shrug, Alyssa pulled out her phone. Luckily, there were plenty of documentaries on the internet. It didn’t take long to find a recent one dealing with trains and how they connected continents to permanently change the way humans lived. Some BBC production.
It was pretty good. Although it wasn’t a comedy, which were Kasita’s favorite things to watch, she didn’t complain or argue even after Alyssa went on to the second episode. It was, however, a bit long. Several hour-long episodes. Before they finished the third, the sun dipped behind the rings in the sky. The moon became far more prominent and…
Lazhar came back. A good portion of the town came with him, though, like during the festival, they didn’t ascend the steps that led to the flower dais.
Alyssa ignored them. The episode was nearly finished. Besides that, it looked like people were still gathering. So she didn’t feel too bad about waiting.
Now that they had arrived, however, Alyssa found herself distracted. She could hardly pay attention to whatever was going on in the documentary. It wasn’t that they were being too noisy. If anything, noise would help. They were being too quiet. A hundred people all gathered together always talked. There was always a low background rumble of indistinguishable chatter wherever a crowd existed. But here, there was nothing. Despite not having touched the volume, it made the sound from her phone deafening.
Alyssa wound up stopping the episode early anyway.
As she stood, she looked over the assembled villagers. There were… a lot of them. Alyssa had never really had a bad bout of stage fright. True, she had never been a part of a school play or performance, but she had given speeches in front of class. Those hadn’t ever bothered her. But here and now, she could feel that tug of nervousness deep within her stomach.
Should I say something? Alyssa wasn’t sure. Giving impromptu speeches wasn’t her thing. Instead of watching the documentary, it might have been a good idea to think about what to say. But… too late now. She didn’t have anything to say.
Presumably, Tenebrael would force her to utter some prayer, just as had happened both other times Alyssa had called upon the angel’s power. If Tenebrael really cared that her followers get some kind of message, she could say it herself through Alyssa.
Without a word, Alyssa turned away from the assembly. She looked out over the moonlight-crested rubble.
Alyssa took one breath. Then another. Holding out her arms, she felt it. Just a tingle at first.
“O Tenebrael. Your people have come to you, crying out for a sign to lift their fallen spirits.” The words came to her without Alyssa thinking about them in the slightest. All she did was open her mouth. It wasn’t quite like someone had taken over her body. Not like the time when the fairy had been controlling her before she had managed to break free. If she wanted, she could clamp her mouth shut.
But she didn’t. She let the words flow.
As Alyssa spoke, her hands started glowing. The light looked white in the darkness of the night, but it was more of an outline around the actual black light.
“Your enemies sought to dishearten your people. They destroyed what was yours.” The light formed into rings. Large magic circles that hovered high over the destroyed temple. If the mystic circle that had repaired the table was complex, this was on a whole other level. There was so much motion. And it wasn’t even a flat circle. The lines weaved in and out, up and down. They wrapped around in a sphere. And it kept growing as Alyssa kept speaking.
“They thought you would become cowed if they took down an insignificant structure. Let your enemies cast their eyes on this! A monument to your very being. Let your enemies bear witness, tremble and fall to their knees in despair, knowing that you are the Dominion of this world.”
The shards of obsidian-like stone flowed like water, merging together into a great basin. A tendril of the liquid stretched out, twice as thick around as Alyssa was tall. More bubbled up. A large bulbous shape a short distance away. The tendril and bulb further formed and it quickly became apparent that this was no temple.
Alyssa stared at Tenebrael’s face as the obsidian statue solidified from the mass. It didn’t stop with just her head. Her black dress with the heart-shaped cutout in the chest rose high up into the sky. Her thigh boots followed, leaving her standing in high heels.
The height was hard to tell from the base of her feet. Alyssa guessed from the short time when her head had been at ground level that she could have stood on her shoulders at Tenebrael’s chin and still had extra room before the top of her head. One arm was outstretched, not like the Statue of Liberty, it was around Tenebrael’s eye-level rather than jutting straight up into the air. The hand was clawed with the fingers pointing upward.
Even with the full statue towering over the village, the mystic circle had not disappeared. It kept turning and moving as a faint color filled in the statue. It wasn’t true to life. Not quite. But the parts that were supposed to be skin shifted from obsidian to marble. The eyes began to glow a bright white. The tattoos around the eyes remained obsidian black. Four wings blossomed from the statue’s back, spread wide like they were shielding the town from something terrible.
The mystic circle started to shrink. It didn’t disappear. Not completely. Instead, it moved up statue-Tenebrael’s arm. Tenebrael’s outstretched hand gripped the outer edges of the ring. The interior still twisted and moved, but the outer edge locked into place.
The warmth that had flooded into Alyssa finally faded. Even though the mystic circle was still up there, the spell ended. The miracle was complete.
Alyssa stared, just as dumbstruck as the rest of the town. That… was not what she had intended at all.
“Ufu~ That’s going to instill some faith.”
“Yeah,” Alyssa mumbled, not taking her eyes off the massive statue. “I think I’m going to grab Izsha and run away.”
“Don’t want to face your adoring crowd?”
Alyssa shuddered, afraid to turn around. Everyone would be staring up at the statue. They wouldn’t look at her. Still, she didn’t turn.
She just shook her head and walked away, heading toward the graveyard that used to sit behind the temple.