“Smells like burnt chicken,” Alyssa said, waving her hand back and forth in front of her face. It didn’t help. The air was so saturated with the smell that a little fanning didn’t do a thing. She supposed it could have been worse. It was still rank.
Brakkt didn’t comment on the smell as he stared down into the ten foot deep hole from the lip of the crater. He had his enchanted sword drawn, but the tip was down and to the side. He clearly wasn’t poised to use it.
Alyssa had her pistol out and a deck of cards pressed between her offhand and the grip, but, like him, she had relaxed some since they saw what was inside the crater.
It was dead, that much was clear. Its eyes no longer bubbled and popped. They sat inert. The whole ones stared off into the void. The rest were… like deflated balloons. The feathers, which had been an almost luminescent white before, were charred black. Which, above all else, might have been the biggest shame of it all.
Tzheitza might have been able to use those feathers.
Turning away, Alyssa looked down into the valley. From the hill where the crater was, she could easily see Teneville. And the giant statue of Tenebrael. It was just how Alyssa remembered it being. Tenebrael, wearing her black dress with her hand outstretched. The hand held a swirling and ever-changing mystic circle. That had to have been what had shot down the Kindness. A weapon of some sort. Alyssa wondered whether it was automated or if Tenebrael had to manually fire on whatever target garnered her ire. She kind of hoped that it was the latter. There was less chance of getting accidentally caught in the crossfire if it decided it didn’t like Iosefael or some other angel that happened to be nearby.
Her eyes flicked downward. The rolling green hills had a few dots trudging across them. People from Teneville. If Brakkt could see the Kindness and had seen Tenebrael’s weapon, it stood to reason that the townsfolk would have seen as well. If a statue of her deity had ‘pointed’ in a direction, she would probably want to investigate too.
And from just how far had that beam been visible? Teneville was located on a small peninsula and the beam had gone over the water, but there were islands in that direction. And, if she remembered right from that shoddy map Aziz had let her take a picture of, the Fortress of Pandora was in roughly the same direction. What would they think about it? And the monsters as well?
“We’re going to have visitors soon,” Alyssa said, nodding toward the dots in the distance. From her few trips between her house and Teneville, she knew it was about a half-day worth of walking. The sun was just about to dip behind the rings in the sky, so if the townsfolk continued, they would be walking through the night.
Teneville wasn’t in that dangerous an area. The only real threat they had around them were the harpies, and those monsters made their home in the opposite direction at the mountain pass. There weren’t ant hives to stumble across, elves hidden underground lying in wait, or hostile nations setting up fortresses. So Alyssa wasn’t too worried for their safety.
The real question was what to tell them.
“Are there policies or protocols for dealing with new monsters?” She remembered Catal and Oz talking about something similar back in the desert, but they were the guild and Brakkt was royalty. Things could be different. Besides that… “I honestly didn’t expect you or anyone else to be able to see them. But since you can, I suppose we should probably treat them more like normal monsters than actual divine beings.”
Brakkt didn’t respond right away. He slid down the incline leading to the dead Kindness, raised his sword, and slashed through the bulk of the creature. Every eyeball that his sword touched popped and deflated, leaving loose scraps of eye-flesh behind. There was still no blood or insides to the creature even after its death.
“Hm,” he grunted. “I should like a live one to test my sword on. But, that I can actually interact with it is an interesting sign. I wonder…”
This time, he pulled a knife from his belt. This knife had a shiny silver blade, but was otherwise fairly average in appearance. It didn’t glow with magical enchantments like his main sword. In fact, it might have been the same knife he had used to slice up fish with Alyssa. And that was probably the point of pulling it out. Kneeling, he tried attacking the Kindness once again. The eyeballs popped, achieving the same result.
“Hm,” he said again, looking over the blade of the knife. From Alyssa’s position, she couldn’t see any residue on the blade. It gleamed just as much as when he had first drawn it. “I suppose treating it like a normal monster will work for now. But I would like to know what kind of defenses they have while alive.”
“Yeah. Me too. Iosefael taught me a few… prayers—” ugh “—that are supposed to help. But I think they rely on Tenebrael’s magic. I guess you could try and see what happens. Worst case, nothing at all.”
“I’ll make time for a few practice sessions. I’m sure Irulon will be interested as well. In the meantime, I may move ahead with my plan to move the draken out of the palace. The other portal building isn’t ready yet, but I’m sure they’ll have no complaints about living out in this forest. Will you?” he asked with a glance up to where Ensou was watching near Alyssa.
“Sorry about that,” Alyssa said as Ensou huffed out a response that was probably positive. “I could try destroying it and remaking it somewhere else.”
“I’d rather not take the chance that you can’t recreate it at the moment. Riding back to the palace wouldn’t be a problem under other circumstances, but I should inform my father of these developments as soon as possible. He will likely want to send his people to investigate. Having the portal open will expedite that.”
“Musca,” he called out, turning away from the fake angel’s corpse. The draken in question got a little closer to the edge of the crater, moving to stand next to Ensou. “Take Dasca, return to the palace, and bring all the draken through to here. Lead them to the forest. If it suits you, find a place to live for a time. Or just lie about doing whatever you want. But do not disturb the humans.”
Draken didn’t often make all that much noise. There were the occasional trills of excitement or warning. Alyssa had heard, rarely, sharp squawks that were likely intended to call attention to something or other. And that was really about it. This time was no different. Brakkt stared at Musca, locking eyes for a moment before turning away, apparently satisfied that it had gotten the message.
Musca trotted off to the lake where some of the less interested draken were enjoying a swim. Musca had probably only come in the hopes that there would be violence to be found. The only other two around were Izsha and Ensou.
“Let’s head back to the palace and gather up my sister and father before anything else happens.”
“We’re ignoring the villagers?”
Brakkt didn’t respond right away. He climbed up the slope of the crater until he reached Alyssa. Glancing down into the valley, he spotted the tiny dots and nodded. “I’ll be back before they arrive.”
Alyssa felt a bit bad about leaving the villagers to hike all this way only for them to eventually be turned away, but she didn’t really want to go tell them off herself. There was a chance that more of these Astral Authority fake angels would appear. While they would probably be interested in the portal, statue, and other instances of Tenebrael’s magic, Alyssa couldn’t help but find herself worrying over her mother and the other Earthlings. She hadn’t really thought about it before, but they had been brought here by Tenebrael using her magic.
After a brief stop at the lake—Brakkt wanted a few of the draken to guard the corpse of the angel from any scavengers—they headed back through the portal to Lyria.
The palace was not on fire. Alyssa took that as a good sign.
Before Brakkt went to the upper levels of the palace to find the people he needed to inform, Alyssa got permission to take Izsha out under the cover of an invisibility spell. Last time, he had given her quite the lecture. She did not want to sit on her knees again as he paced back and forth, calmly explaining how irresponsible it had been to drag Izsha around the city and then just leave it alone near the markets during a time of unrest. Alyssa hadn’t even realized that she had been near the markets, but that really hadn’t been much of an excuse.
This time, there wasn’t quite as much hurry either. The Earthlings were probably just fine. If some fake angels had descended and started causing problems, Alyssa would have expected more panic among the city’s residents. Instead, as Alyssa and Izsha made their way toward the guild’s building, she found the people on the street casually making their way to wherever they needed to go. It was just a normal night as far as any of them were concerned.
If everyone knew how nice it felt to cross the city on the back of a draken, they would probably be a lot more welcome. A horse couldn’t even compare. It was like the difference between a tricycle and a top of the line motorcycle. Of course, if everyone had a draken to ride around on like they were motorcycles, the city would starve in a day. Then the humans would probably wind up eaten as the draken looked for more food sources. And then they might eat each other? Brakkt’s draken seemed like a tight-knit group, but several thousand starving draken would probably be far less picky.
The draken weren’t motorcycles and it was a good thing they weren’t treated as such. Still, she was happy that Izsha let her ride around with it.
The guild, thankfully, had stables. They were for horses, of course, but the building was large and hidden from the sight of the public. That gave Izsha a perfect hideout while Alyssa headed inside.
Although the general air of excited adventurers gathering was still present, there were far fewer people present than Alyssa was used to. The guild building provided not only a place of work and job acquisition, but it acted as a tavern and an inn for most members. So, even in the dead of night, the place would be bustling where other inns closed up shop.
It actually took her a second pass to spot Oz. He was at the usual table, but he was decked out in his full gear. The same stuff he had worn while escorting her around the city and on their trip to rescue Oxart. Lumen sat next to him, tall mug of ale in hand. Her eyes narrowed immediately upon spotting Alyssa, followed by huffing and turning to the side.
Oz at least waved with a smile when he noticed Alyssa’s approach.
“Bit late for potion deliveries, isn’t it?”
“Not here for that today,” Alyssa said, throwing one more glance around. Her mother and Jason could usually be found here at this table with Oz, Catal, and Lumen. But they weren’t anywhere around at the moment. Which did make her a little nervous considering what she was here for. Yet she couldn’t help but ask, “Did something happen?”
Oz’s face turned grim, but it wasn’t him who answered.
“They found another one of those embers,” Lumen said, sounding disgusted. “Despite having been warned, a guardsman tried picking it up. Whispers are going around about how the nobles ordered the guard to bring them one, prompting him to ignore the warnings. Or it could be those fools at the Observatorium quietly putting a price on delivery of one. Regardless, the survivor said that he picked it up and…”
“Normally, the infection takes some time to progress. That offers ample time for quarantine. According to the survivor, that was not the case here.”
Alyssa clicked her tongue. She had been right not to touch the one from back when. That didn’t necessarily make her happy. In fact, a repeat incident was the exact opposite of good news. She had been hoping that the ember had been a one-off thing for the demons to try to trap her with. Now there was a second one? One nowhere near her? Was it supposed to be a message to her? Or were the demons simply using a new tactic against the rest of humanity?
“Has anyone found one of those embers before the one I picked up?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Oz said after a moment of humming to himself. “But I suppose I wouldn’t really know. Demons are… uh… not exactly my thing.”
Lumen let out a loud scoff. “That’s an understatement.”
“Well excuse me for not wanting to fight something that can catch a full power swing of my sword without even blinking. Not all of us can stand back and fire spells behind the front lines. I merely believe in leaving such things to those professionally trained for such things.”
“But you still went to get fully geared up?” Alyssa said, looking his armor up and down.
“Well, with half the guild empty, any jobs that come in might go for a premium.” He adjusted the leather padding around his shoulders, looking dignified and respectable. “How about it? Care for another escort around the city?”
“With my luck, we’ll wind up running head first into a dozen demons before we get to our destination.”
“You’re right. Can’t argue that,” he said with a casual shrug.
Shaking her head, Alyssa looked around one more time, confirming that the people she was here for weren’t actually here. “Have you seen my mother or Jason recently? They didn’t get caught up in this demon mess, did they?”
“No. No. They were here when the news came in. But Jason had an appointment with… that elf. I think Lisa went with him as an escort. Not on official job, of course. She isn’t a proper Knight Solaris yet.”
Yet. Alyssa had warned off Chris successfully, but not her mother. However, that wasn’t the issue at the moment. “They just left after hearing that demons were attacking?!”
“I think attacking is a bit of an exaggeration. As far as I understand it, the situation is already resolved. They just asked the guild to provide some extra support around the bedehouse, just in case.”
“They found it in the bedehouse?” Alyssa felt a slight chill go down her spine as Oz nodded.
“Yep. So long as that stuff stays out there, we’ll be fine here.”
Alyssa scowled, but… he was probably right. On her way over, she hadn’t noticed any panic among the people in the streets. If even a single demon was running rampant, people would have been fleeing. It had to be an isolated incident.
“What about Fela? Is she alright?”
Lumen put on a sneer, which Alyssa ignored.
“Your hellhound? Not sure. Didn’t ask.”
Alyssa promptly pulled out a Message spell. Fela didn’t carry spells with her. She really didn’t wear much in the way of clothes, just some modesty wraps around her chest and groin. Even that wound up doffed the moment she was out of public. However, Trik was a minor arcanist. Capable enough for a simple Message spell. She sent out a quick question asking about Fela, and Trik himself, but she wasn’t going to expect a response immediately. Especially not if there was an ongoing situation.
“Right. I’m going to head out to the blacksmith then. How long ago did they leave?”
“Oh… not long?”
“About half an hour,” Lumen said, pointing a finger toward a notched candle.
“Did they take a horse? Probably on foot, huh?”
She shrugged. Oz didn’t look like he had an answer either. Instead, he raised a finger. “Before you leave, I did have one thing I wanted to ask you.”
“Oz…” Lumen started, warning in her tone.
But he just shrugged her off. “There’s a job coming up in the morning—”
“No,” Alyssa said, eliciting a sigh from Lumen.
“You didn’t even hear what it was.”
“I am far too busy to go gallivanting around. There’s too much on my plate. And that isn’t even accounting for the fact that I do not want to be an adventurer in the slightest.”
“Your mother is going.”
Alyssa blinked. Then she blinked again. “She what.”
Apparently, the issue of her mother’s interest in the guild was a little more immediate than Alyssa had thought.
“It shouldn’t be anything too dangerous,” Oz said, continuing as if he hadn’t noticed Alyssa’s sudden change in mood. “A nobleman has hired us to escort his daughter out of the city and to their home of Illuna. They have been getting some threats—” He paused, leaning in just a little closer to Alyssa, dropping his voice to a whisper at the same time. “—I’ve heard that this particular noble actually likes having the hellhound around. Don’t know if that’s related though,” he added a little louder as he leaned back. “But he is worried that any normal coach and guards would be ambushed en route. There shouldn’t be any threat of monsters or… angels. Hopefully no brigands either. I’m expecting a rather lax job this time.”
“Plan for the worst,” Lumen said before Alyssa could say something similar.
“Of course! That’s why I want Alyssa to come. Having someone who can blast apart a mountain with us will surely increase the chances that nothing will go wrong.”
“That might be overkill,” Alyssa said, running a hand down her face. Lisa was an adult. She could make her own decisions. But… there was still time to talk her out of going. To do that, Alyssa had to go find her mother. “If there are any other developments with this demon situation, Message me. Otherwise, I’ll probably be back to talk later.”
“Glad you’re considering it,” Oz called out as Alyssa started walking away. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him take an elbow to the stomach courtesy of Lumen, but Alyssa didn’t bother to stop to see if he was alright.
Outside the guild, Alyssa pulled out her phone. Her mother didn’t have one. Tenebrael had disappeared before handing one over. But that wasn’t the case with Jason. Knowing that they were together, Alyssa sent him a quick text asking where they were.
Just receiving a text in response made her sigh in relief. They were fine and almost to the city wall.
Hopping onto Izsha and consuming another of her limited invisibility spells, Alyssa directed the draken down the same streets that she had first taken with Jason to get to Guillem’s smithy. They could have made it there in only a few minutes, but Alyssa decided to take it slowly. Lisa and Jason were still walking down the streets. Alyssa would rather be with them than wait for them.
Especially while demons might be afoot.
The sun had finally set during the few minutes that Alyssa had spent inside the guild. People were still on the streets, but markets, merchants, and other sellers of goods were closing up shops. Even though it had only been a quarter of an hour, the crowds had thinned considerably. Which was a good thing. On the way to the guild, Alyssa hadn’t been able to take main streets. Side streets and alleys provided plenty of space for Izsha.
Superhero movies and comics always had people bounding from rooftop to rooftop to avoid the people on the streets, even if the person or thing doing the bounding was a two-ton lizard dog. Maybe modern construction techniques could handle two tons slamming into a suburban roof, but Alyssa highly doubted that any building around her now would survive Izsha hopping between them.
Izsha made a game of dodging citizens. The bubble of invisibility came so close to other people more times than Alyssa could count. But Izsha always moved away before someone would have actually walked inside. It jumped to the left, sprinted to the right, and hopped clear over a cart carrying wolf pelts and apples. Luckily, or perhaps intelligently, Izsha only jumped over the goods part of the cart and not the two people driving the horses.
While Izsha had her fun, Alyssa spent the time scanning the people they passed, looking for her mother and Jason. Although they both wore clothing from this world—even after having collected several suitcases worth of modern attire from the house, Lisa actually preferred a well made tunic—Alyssa figured that they wouldn’t be too hard to spot. Chris was fairly good at blending in with the local populace. Jason couldn’t fit in if his life depended on it.
And yet, there was no sign of them. All the way down to the southern gate closest to Guillem’s smithy, they were nowhere to be found. Hopping the wall, Alyssa didn’t see them on the path down to the little building near the river.
Had she passed them? Or had they made it down to the blacksmith before Alyssa even reached the gate.
If only she had a way to differentiate between souls while looking around for people. Angels could probably do it, so it stood to reason that the same would be true for her. She just hadn’t figured out how to do so yet. Aside from Irulon, anyway, but she wouldn’t advocate for her mother to take in a second soul just so that Alyssa could keep better track of her.
She was about to send another text when she spotted movement in the corner of her vision. Golden-white feathers floating around the gate.