War And Peace
Open Soul Massage
Izsha and Kasita. Gone.
The feral demons that had been chasing them were gone as well.
Between her heart stopping from shock and motion from the Justice startling her, it took Alyssa a few moments to comprehend just what happened.
Looking around, it was obvious. The remains of Owlcroft, skeletal as they were, had been torn up and partially buried. Formerly upright posts and columns of cobblestone were lying on their side. Chunks of earth ranging from the size of dust to beach balls pockmarked the land. The funnel of dirt created by the demon crashing into the earth and the small bubble where Alyssa had been with her Projectile Reflection were the only two completely untouched areas, though it was debatable whether or not the funnel counted as untouched.
Alyssa followed the trail of the blast. The clods of earth were clearly splattered against the ground in a specific pattern leading directly away from where the Justice’s sword had slammed into the earth on the opposite side of the pit. She started wandering, moving, searching. The blast couldn’t have vaporized them. She wasn’t even sure if Kasita could be vaporized. Regardless, she, despite the thickness of the air, hadn’t been blown away.
Then again, she had fallen flat against the ground. That might have saved her from being picked up and carried off by the wind of the blast. Kasita had no weight to her. She would have fluttered off like a kite. Izsha, on the other hand, was much denser, but would also have had a difficult time getting low to the ground, even if the earthquake had knocked it to the ground.
A hundred feet from where they had been, Izsha was frozen in the middle of the air. It was hard to tell whether or not there was any rotation in the dinosaur’s form with the slow rate of movement. If Izsha continued without rotating, its back would slam down into the ground, probably skidding as it did so.
Izsha was high in the air, Alyssa found as she got closer. Too high to reach by jumping. And, now closer, Alyssa couldn’t spot Kasita anywhere. Being a mimic, Alyssa probably should have expected that. Kasita probably instinctively switched forms to something small and protected. Alyssa had seen it happen more than once.
So she burned a spell card. Unseen Sight. Which would normally make a red haze over any hidden or invisible monsters. Shadow assassins appeared as a red blob and Kasita, when in a small form, usually appeared like a rock outlined with red smoke.
Alyssa couldn’t see anything nearby. Up, down, back where Izsha’s trajectory came from, or anywhere else…
A Message might work. But probably not while Accelero was active.
Before that, Alyssa had to figure out a way to get Izsha down safely. There weren’t any obvious wounds. But that blast had to have been moving at a high speed for her to have felt it with Accelero. Unless there was some odd divine interference that was making Accelero act abnormally. Or possibly Alyssa doing something that made Accelero strange, something like what happened with Annihilator. There were too many possibilities for strangeness with the Astral Authority, demons, infected, the staff, and Alyssa herself.
Though the staff was missing. The strings that had kept it attached to Izsha’s saddle were dangling, snapped. Alyssa didn’t know when it had gone missing. Maybe even when she had fallen from Izsha’s back. Whenever it was, the staff was gone now.
Which was bad. If the staff was still around, it might have helped to protect Izsha. And Izsha needed that protection.
Even with no obvious wounds, someone didn’t go flying through the air like Izsha was without getting hurt.
She started with some simple spells. Lighten Load. Then a Levitate in the hopes that the upward force would at least somewhat counteract the downward fall. Neither actually had an effect as far as Alyssa could see, but that was probably because of Accelero.
She would have to end the spell to try to get Izsha down and to contact Kasita.
Before she could try, another gust of wind, much lighter than any others, pushed her hair back over her head.
The Justice moved again. The demon managed to beat it down to an almost perfectly horizontal position. Its size was great enough to stretch clear over the opening of the pit. The back of its head was buried in part of the scar that Alyssa had created with some Annihilators—the molten earth was a dead giveaway, though she couldn’t remember which blast actually caused the crater on the far side of the pit.
But the Justice had apparently had enough. It still held the sword with one hand, still embedded in the ground. Its other hand still gripped the scales. But, in that strange way it had managed to grab the side of the portal as it emerged, it had one of its hands around the body of the demon.
The size difference was staggering. Its hand fully wrapped around the demon’s body. The scythe was poking out between two of its fingers. That and the tip of a black-leather boot sticking out the bottom was the only evidence of the demon.
And yet, the demon was fighting back. The demon hadn’t been crushed. Even at this distance, she could see the fist slowly being pried open.
As long as neither was focused on her…
Taking a breath, Alyssa moved to position herself far outside Izsha’s landing path. The thought to try to catch a Lightened Load draken had crossed her mind, but she couldn’t be sure that Lighten Load would lighten it to that extent. And if Alyssa wound up plastered against the ground, it wouldn’t help either of them. Besides that, with Projectile Reflection active, she might end up sending Izsha bounding right back where she had come from. The sudden vector switch would probably not be comfortable for any living being.
After making sure that she wasn’t going to be hit by any other large pieces of debris—of which there were many still in the air, thankfully mostly around the sword—Alyssa ended Accelero.
The sound hit her first. A rumbling thunderous explosion echoed from everywhere all at once. Rushing wind that had been almost perfectly still a moment ago just about lifted her off her feet.
Izsha practically disappeared with how fast the draken flew off.
Managing to keep her balance long enough to get used to the wind, Alyssa started sprinting to Izsha, watching as the draken slowly fell toward the ground while still moving at a high speed. It was slowing. Lighten Load was probably to thank for that. Less weight meant that the wind could push Izsha around a lot more. Unfortunately, much of that wind was pushing in the wrong direction.
If it was speeding Izsha up more than otherwise…
Izsha finally hit the ground just before the river. It didn’t stay on the ground, but rather just bumped against it before bouncing back up. Izsha came down a second time in the river itself. Water geysered into the air, but the draken still didn’t stop, skipping off the water like a stone. It did significantly slow the draken down, however. Izsha crashed into the bank of the river. High enough that there wasn’t a chance for drowning, but on the opposite side from Alyssa.
Dirt, rocks, and other debris slammed into the area around Izsha. Even right into its side.
Alyssa cast a Lighten Load on herself and jumped. With the wind at her back, she cleared the river in a single bound. She actually went too far, clearing Izsha with ease. Canceling Lighten Load early made her drop like a rock for ten feet, but she was ready for it and doing so saved her from fifty feet of running back.
As soon as she reached Izsha, Alyssa stopped short. She had expected Izsha to get back to its feet, shake itself off, and be generally alright. Draken were strong. Their scales were better than Brakkt’s armor. A little tumble through the air was nothing to them.
Izsha hadn’t moved.
Scales were pelted with dirt, bent and broken in some places. Missing in others. Blood, thick and red, dribbled down from those holes and merged with mud and dirt caking Izsha’s body. Both legs and Izsha’s tail were bending at angles that they clearly weren’t supposed to bend at. The saddle was gone. Lost somewhere, probably at that first bounce.
It didn’t look good. Was Izsha even breathing? Alyssa couldn’t tell. The draken was lying on its side, utterly unmoving. Including at the mouth and chest.
But Tenebrael had fixed worse.
Alyssa, taking a breath, held out her hands, resting them on Izsha’s side. At one point in time, she had been vehemently against asking Tenebrael for boons or favors. Relying on the angel had seemed like the absolute worst idea. But now… Now… With Izsha lying in a crumpled mess, Alyssa couldn’t help but hope that the true demon had been wrong about Tenebrael toying with her.
“Tenebrael! I beseech you to save my companion.”
A white feather drifted through the air in front of Alyssa’s face.
She stood instantly. Izsha was big enough that she could keep one hand on Izsha while half-turning to her side. Her pistol was in her hand in an instant. She didn’t even consciously draw it, but it was out and aimed at Iosefael’s head.
Those cross-shaped pupils looked mournful, sympathetic, and yet cold at the same time. The angel was here to carry out her duty. Nothing more.
“Don’t touch Izsha.”
“Alyssa…” The angel had the gall to give her a wan smile.
“Don’t you dare.”
“It will only cause the poor relic more pain at this point.”
“Its body isn’t that badly hurt. Izsha can’t be dead yet. Tenebrael has healed worse.”
“You’re wrong about that. And not even Tenebrael can fix death.”
“Then I will fix it!” Alyssa roared.
Iosefael pressed her lips together. In a flutter of feathers, she moved forward, dodging the gun, and wrapped her arms around Alyssa. “I know how you feel. I mean. I don’t know how you feel, but I have watched a lot of humans over the years. Given my job, a lot of those watchings were around times of death. So I have a pretty good idea of things. And you have a pretty good idea of things too. You have enough insight to know that leaving a soul in a body is… unpleasant.”
“It’s only been a few moments,” Alyssa said. “We just have to straighten Izsha’s spine. Maybe put some air in those lungs and get things moving again.”
“If only it were that simple. The body and the soul are inexorably linked. Until death. Upon death, the body and soul fall out of synchronization. They stop resonating. Even if you put the physical body back together, that synchronization is still broken. I cannot fix it. Tenebrael can’t fix it. You can’t fix it. You’ve seen what happens when a soul is placed into a body that it has no synchronization with. I know you have.”
The bodies on Earth. Jason, Chris, and her own mother. Or their body doubles, anyway. Without fail, all three had started screaming and panicking. They had been in obvious pain in their brief moments as other people.
“You have to let go eventually,” Iosefael said, sagely.
But… would that have held true even if they had been put into their own bodies? At the time, she had thought that the pain and despair had come either from experiencing death itself or from waking up in a body not their own. Either one sounded like deeply traumatizing experiences, but…
“Death is a part of life.”
“Why does death have to be a part of life?”
Iosefael was lying. Or ignorant. Or something. There was proof on this very world that her statement wasn’t true. And that proof was Irulon and the dragon. They shared a body. Irulon spoke with the dragon. They both existed in one body. Sure, their souls kept tearing each other apart, but they both were still clearly and obviously alive. At least for the moment. Perhaps it was only temporary. Perhaps one would subsume the other.
What would happen then? Could the dragon subsume Irulon? Would, at that point, Irulon’s body become that of the dragon’s? The last time Alyssa had looked, the two souls looked roughly even in their endless fight. Over a month, that hadn’t changed much. At least not in a way that she could notice. Perhaps a proper angel would be able to tell the difference.
While she could see the problem with one body sharing two souls, a single body having one soul shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Desynchronization? What did that even mean? When a human heart fell out of rhythm, a defibrillator shocked it back into rhythm. So all she needed was a divine defibrillator. If she managed to synchronize the body and the soul, whatever that meant…
“Fix the body.”
“Alyssa, you’re only—”
“That wasn’t a request,” Alyssa said, eyes blazing as she locked eyes with Iosefael. “Fix the body. I know you can do it. You’ll probably do it much better than I can. Do it and I won’t kill you.”
“You can’t. I’m a divine—”
“Do you really want to take that gamble? I do a lot of strange things. I don’t know why I do them, but neither do you. Nor does Tenebrael. So who is to say that a bullet from my gun won’t hurt a divine being?”
“Just do it. And if this doesn’t work… I won’t stand in the way of you removing Izsha’s soul.”
Iosefael let out a long sigh. “If it will make you feel better…”
Alyssa watched Iosefael’s wings carefully as the angel moved to stand over Izsha’s body. Every time an angel had shown up to relieve corpses of their souls, they had used their wings to extract those souls. If Iosefael’s wings even twitched in Izsha’s direction… Well, her finger was on the trigger for a reason.
But the angel didn’t do anything of the sort. Iosefael simply extended a hand, much the same as Alyssa had just done before being interrupted, and hummed to herself. There were no words or mystic circles popping up, but Tenebrael never used any either. As Alyssa watched, Izsha’s body mended together. The twisted tail and legs snapped back into position. The sound made Alyssa shudder, but she didn’t close her eyes. Blood vanished from the scales and the scales bent back to be in line with all the others. Both Izsha’s back and neck apparently required some straightening as well. After that, Alyssa didn’t see any further changes, but Iosefael kept her hand on Izsha’s side for another minute.
Izsha started breathing again. There was a clear rise and fall in its chest. It gave Alyssa a momentary hope, but closing her eyes and concentrating revealed a completely inert soul.
When Iosefael did take a step back, she looked to Alyssa with another wan smile. “See. Everything is back to normal, but the body and soul are still not in synchronization.”
“Then it’s my turn to try something,” Alyssa said as she moved back to where she had been standing before Iosefael appeared. “Just go find some other souls to collect or whatever,” she added with a wave of her hand to the rest of the battlefield.
“The Astral Authority do not possess souls.” Iosefael’s voice carried a haughty note that Alyssa couldn’t remember hearing from her as she continued. “And the demons aren’t my job.”
Shaking her head, Alyssa shrugged. “Then just don’t do… anything. Actually, if you could go find Kasita and just let me know that she is still alive, I would appreciate it. I can’t imagine her illusory body took any damage, but I don’t know where she is and it is worrying me.”
“Ten minutes,” Iosefael said after a short pause. “I’ll go look around, but I will be back in ten minutes. If whatever you’re doing hasn’t worked by then… Trust me when I say that it is better for the relic to do things the proper way.”
Iosefael spread her wings far and wide, keeping them away from Izsha. In a moment, she was gone. She didn’t vanish, she merely took flight.
As long as she wasn’t going to try anything, Alyssa didn’t really care. She focused on Izsha. “Tenebrael. I need help. Real actual help this time. Not just a quick door to save a few days of travel. Not a weapon. I’m not even asking for a sign to revitalize faith in your followers. I’m asking for help. Iosefael thinks you can’t do it. Maybe you can’t. Maybe it’s one of those things. A restriction that you can’t even think about doing let alone actually enacting. But you know what? That doesn’t matter.
“Because I am here.”
Wind at Alyssa’s back just about threw her over the top of Izsha’s body. The Justice had moved again. Alyssa didn’t know where to, but she didn’t look to find out. There were mystic circles appearing in the air. Alyssa’s fingernails were jet black. But the miracle wasn’t done yet. The mystic circles weren’t doing anything other than hovering about.
“You don’t have to do anything to Izsha directly. I’ll do all the work. I guess that all I’m really asking is for a little guidance. I need you to hold my hand while I do this.
“You told me once that you want to screw up that book? I don’t know when Izsha’s name got written in it, or how many revisions the book went under, but I have no doubt that it is there now. I imagine that you and Iosefael think that it is set in stone. Our experiment with Irulon showed that I can manipulate the book. I can force it to rewrite the future. But you know what? Why not rewrite the past as well.
“You want to screw up the book? Well, so do I,” Alyssa hissed, grinning a grim grin.
As she grinned, she closed her eyes.
Izsha’s soul was right in front of her. It was a familiar thing. Different species all had different styles of souls. As demons had a sticky-tar-like nature to them, Izsha had a scaled nature. It might have been all in Alyssa’s head—a projection of reality onto something in the metaphysical realm—but that was just what Alyssa saw. She had never before looked directly at Izsha’s soul, but she still knew what it looked like. Izsha was often around when Alyssa looked for souls.
It wasn’t interacting with anything. The same state as most corpses that Alyssa had seen were in. An obvious sign of death.
Although Izsha’s body was the only one in front of her, Alyssa saw other things with her eyes closed.
She had honestly not ever thought to try looking through her soul-sight while doing Tenebrael things, so she wasn’t sure if that was normal or not. But she had a feeling. Perhaps it was her imagination, perhaps it was Tenebrael.
Alyssa leaned forward with her eyes still closed, pressing both arms through two mystic circles that seemed placed in just the proper position for such a movement.
While searching for souls, Alyssa couldn’t look down at herself. She normally saw nothing of her own soul. If not for Tenebrael’s confirmation, she might have still worried that she was missing a soul for whatever reason. But… with her hands through the mystic circles, ethereal gloves hovered in the air above Izsha’s soul.
Experimentally, she reached down and brushed one hand over the scaled soul in front of her.
A sudden warmth filled Alyssa to her very core. It was the same warmth that Tenebrael or Iosefael or even Adrael’s staff produced. But it was so much more intense. A comforting warmth that was like the sun on a gentle day. Until this moment, she had thought that Tenebrael’s ensign had eliminated all of that despairing aura of the pit.
Alyssa could feel just how wrong that thought had been. With her hand on Izsha’s soul, every trace of despair fled before them. Confidence filled Alyssa to the very brim.
And Izsha’s soul reacted. A little bit of it broke off, moving toward Alyssa. It quickly faded out of view, but the interaction was reciprocated. Alyssa didn’t feel anything from herself, but a bit of soul that had to be hers moved back to Izsha, joining with it.
Emboldened by seeing a positive reaction, Alyssa pressed both hands into Izsha’s soul. She didn’t know exactly what to do, but she had seen plenty of souls, both living and those that had passed on before an angel collected them. She knew roughly what souls should be like in living bodies.
Doctors on Earth had a fairly rarely performed procedure where a patient undergoing cardiac arrest would have their heart physically massaged by a surgeon. Alyssa honestly didn’t know if what she was doing could be likened to that, but she started massaging the soul anyway.
She had just gotten started when another tremble in the ground broke her concentration.
Her eyes snapped open.
Both of her hands were deep inside Izsha’s body. There wasn’t any blood or even an incision. The mystic circles in the air made a barrier right at the surface of the scales. Beyond that, Alyssa’s hands just… disappeared.
Izsha’s eyes were open.
They hadn’t been open before. Not even after Iosefael’s healing. The sole slit-pupiled eye rolled in Izsha’s head until it focused on Alyssa. And it definitely focused. There was no real emotion behind it. None that Alyssa could detect, anyway. So much of Izsha’s body language came from the rest of its body that Alyssa wasn’t sure how to interpret whatever glance it was giving her.
Was Izsha in pain? If she had a human mouth, would she be screaming like that first body double that Tenebrael had produced? Were things getting better as Alyssa massaged the soul?
“Just… hold on, Izsha.” The eye moving was a good sign. It had to be. If Izsha were in pain, there would be noise, thrashing, or other chaos. But Izsha was in a peaceful state.
It was working.
“I’m not going to let you die here.”