War And Peace
Where It Belongs
Alyssa paced back and forth, hands nervously rubbing against each other as she watched Irulon take notes in a large book. Brakkt stood to one side, fully armored up as he, Fela, Ensou, Musca, and Dasca all kept watch for any hostile threats that might approach. They were still deep in the demon’s territory. None were around as far as Alyssa could see, but she had seen several likely feral infected making their way toward the pit as if called there. Any further out might pass through their little camp on the way.
And they probably wouldn’t be too friendly.
With Izsha’s body lying on the forest floor, they weren’t all that mobile if something did happen.
Alyssa clenched her fists as she stared at the body. It was still alive. Carrying it with a Levitation spell for nearly ten hours hadn’t changed that. Given the lack of change, it would probably remain alive until it starved to death as Iosefael had said, which might very well be a few weeks out. Even that might be avoided by shoving food down its throat. Muscle would atrophy, but they could theoretically keep the body alive as long as necessary to work on it.
Izsha’s body was effectively a coma patient. In the modern world, comatose patients could be kept alive through feeding tubes and intravenous liquids. It might not be as easy here in Nod with the lack of proper medical equipment and knowledge, but something could be worked out.
Whether or not anything could be done regarding Izsha’s soul was the real concern.
Alyssa had tried calling Tenebrael. The angel hadn’t answered. Alyssa really hadn’t expected her to do so. Not while they were only a quick walk from the pit, the Astral Authority, and the demons. She had shown up in Lyria while they were a lot closer, but there hadn’t been the gigantic Justice there.
She really hoped that she wasn’t going to be ignored until the next time Tenebrael needed something. Alyssa hadn’t gotten that vibe from their conversation in Lyria, but there was still doubt eating away at the back of her mind. If they got to Illuna and Tenebrael was still ignoring her, she might have to try some angelic magic to get Tenebrael down here. Alyssa thought she was getting the hang of using it more and more, so she might be able to do something where she hadn’t been able to before.
Then again, she hadn’t been able to fix Izsha.
But maybe relying on Tenebrael for that had been the wrong way to go about things. As Iosefael said, Tenebrael wasn’t able to fix death. It stood to reason that Alyssa wouldn’t be able to do so either. At least not while using Tenebrael’s magic and expecting her to do most of the work.
Alyssa stopped her pacing, pausing near Irulon.
She might actually be the best bet. At the very least, Irulon wasn’t tied down by the programming of the angels. Nor did she have their fatalistic outlook on souls and death.
So when Irulon put her pen down in the crack of the book, Alyssa looked to her with a modicum of hope.
“There might be something we can do,” Irulon said after a long moment of silence.
It was the first time anyone had spoken since Alyssa had explained what happened. And it was good news. Though Irulon’s tone of voice wasn’t exactly the most reassuring thing. Her face was set in stone, a grim glower as she stared at Izsha’s body with her draconic eyes.
“You said you have Izsha’s soul, right?”
“Yeah. It’s definitely inside me,” Alyssa said as she closed her eyes. “I can’t see myself still, but I can see Izsha.”
“You’re sure it is Izsha and not yourself? How do you tell the difference?”
“I was never able to see myself. I think… It’s kind of like how I can’t see my own eyes. I’m using my own soul to see so I can’t see it? If that analogy works. I haven’t been able to talk to Izsha though, not like you seem to be able to do with the dragon.”
“That doesn’t surprise me too much given what you said. I believe I ran across that synchronization issue you mentioned during my own ritual with the dragon. I didn’t call it that. I referred to it as our resonance. Part of the process in salvaging the dragon’s soul was aligning its resonance with my own. If you didn’t do that, communication would be impossible. In fact… I’m a little worried about the degradation of the soul that occurs if left in a corpse. You aren’t a corpse, but it is probably the broken resonance—the broken synchronization that actually causes the problem the angels mentioned.”
Ice flowed through Alyssa’s veins. “It’s been… almost half a day!”
“I’m sure it is better than being in a rotting corpse, but we shouldn’t leave Izsha there for too long. You can extract the soul, correct?”
“I think so. I mean, yes. I’m sure I can. Though it might attract the Astral Authority.” The mystic circles that had allowed manipulation of Izsha’s soul had long since dissipated. But Alyssa was fairly sure that she could reactivate them without too much trouble. Maybe even with a much shorter request.
She wondered if it said something that the one truly sincere… prayer—as much as she hated to use that word—had ended up failing. Though, perhaps she couldn’t say that it failed completely. It had allowed her to keep the soul out of Iosefael’s hands at least. But if it was hurting Izsha…
“Tenebrael,” Alyssa said, closing her eyes. “I need help. Again. The same thing as last time. A way to extract souls from their containers and manipulate them.”
Even with her eyes closed, she could see the mystic circles drawing themselves out in front of her. As expected, they popped up without much effort or work on her part. In fact, she could probably have just asked for a repeat of the previous miracle without any additional pomp and circumstance. As if knowing Alyssa’s intentions, the circles were right up next to her body. Stretching her arms out, Alyssa was able to reach inside herself.
As far as she could tell from a simple glance, Izsha’s soul wasn’t actually fighting with her soul. In Irulon, the dual souls were constantly warring with each other, grabbing pieces from the other and absorbing them only to have the same done in turn moments later. In comparison, Izsha’s soul was fairly inert. There was some motion. Every once in a while, it would do the normal interaction with something that Alyssa couldn’t see. Presumably her own soul. Even rarer, it would do it to someone else, sending off or receiving a small piece of someone else’s soul.
Having heard what Irulon just said, that lack of fighting was probably because they weren’t synchronized or resonating with each other. Izsha’s soul, at this moment, was just hitching a ride around. And hopefully not undergoing pain in the process. Or maybe pain was the wrong word—Alyssa still wasn’t perfectly clear on what happened to souls that went uncollected in their deceased bodies. She wasn’t sure that she could really understand what happened to them without learning a whole lot more about souls in general. Maybe Irulon might be able to figure it out, but the knowledge was far too specialized at this point.
This time, Alyssa didn’t get a surge of warmth from brushing her fingers against Izsha’s soul. Rather, drawing it outside her body had the opposite effect. A chill set in. A cold winter breeze knocked snow off the branches of an overhead tree right down the back of her shirt. The icy snow slowly melted to a cold water that soaked into her shirt, spreading over her entire backside. It was a… distinctly unpleasant sensation.
And it must have shown on her face.
“Is something wrong?”
“No. I don’t think so. Izsha’s soul is right here. It was just a bit discomforting to pull out.”
“You didn’t accidentally pull your own soul out, did you?”
Alyssa blinked and promptly shuddered a shudder completely unrelated to the cold sensation. “I hadn’t even considered that to be a possibility until just now. But I’m pretty sure I would have died if I had done so, so I don’t think so. Izsha’s soul is entirely here as well. No part of it looks like it’s left inside me. At least as far as I can tell.”
“You would know better than anyone, I suppose.” Irulon, eyes still black and white, stared at where Alyssa held out her hands.
But, Alyssa could tell, Irulon wasn’t actually tracking the soul. With it out of her body, she could see it without needing to close her eyes and start concentrating. It was just there, gently flowing around like a scaled candle flame. If that made any kind of sense.
“Can you see it?”
“No,” Irulon said, slight disappointment apparent in the tone of her clipped response. “That ability would have been exceedingly handy in my own ritual. The vast majority of the problem was figuring out how to extract the dragon’s soul and transfer it to my body without killing either of us.”
“If there is one thing angels are good at, it’s interacting with souls.”
“Do you want the soul back in Izsha’s body now?”
“Hold it for a moment,” she said, picking up her pen once again.
Irulon started sketching. She started with a wide circle, filling in geometric lines and shapes, even smaller circles connected to the inside edge of the larger one. But after a minute of drawing, she paused, shook her head, and flipped to the next page in her notebook. This time, she started with a circle again, but the patterns of lines differed on the interior. Some segments even extended outside the circle.
And again, she hesitated mid-stroke, flipped the page, and started over again.
For twenty minutes, she continued sketching out spells. For twenty minutes, she flipped pages after dismissing pattern after pattern. Her eyes remained black and white the entire time. The little white lines were rotating around as fast as Alyssa had ever seen them. Half the notebook went by before Irulon finally seemed satisfied with a pattern.
Then she pulled out a second notebook. Holding both in front of her, she started tracing the pattern that she had ended up with onto the proper spell card paper.
And then she went back to the first notebook and started a new page. Words, now. Or rather, Enochian. Line after line of various Enochian characters covered the page. As with the patterns, she discarded large swaths of the characters. She would dip her pen in the vial of ink attached to her hip and drag it across entire lines. But she seemed to make progress. Some characters were left out of her deletions. Some would get a small dot in one corner rather than the line through the center.
After another twenty minutes, she had managed to pull out a few dozen characters from several pages of the notebook. Then, she went back to the spell notebook and started filling them in, creating a recognizable spell card. One far more complex, both in pattern geometry and the Enochian characters, than anything Alyssa had ever seen. Before this, Accelero had been the most painstaking to draw out, and she had been tracing it off the picture she had taken of the actual card. Just that had taken her as many attempts as all of the Spectral Chains cards she had created ever.
Irulon free-handed everything.
“Is that how spell creation works? Did I just watch you create a spell?”
“In reverse order, yes and no. This is a variant on what I used to get the dragon’s soul resonating properly. Heavily modified, of course. Normal spell creation would be a far more involved and complex process. I’ve already done something like this before and…” Irulon raised her pen to tap at her temple. Her eyes flickered between their normal violet and the black and white of the dragon. “My peers would say that I cheat, if they knew. The original took me nearly three weeks of work and experimentation. My companion allows me to skip a lot of trial and error.”
“There aren’t going to be errors… are there?”
“I admit, I would have preferred a longer testing period. Unfortunately, we lack both time and test subjects. I don’t believe this will fully work, but it should act as a temporary measure while I do some proper research. Place the soul in the proper body, please.”
Alyssa hesitated. She had confidence in Irulon. At least, as much confidence as was possible to have with her admitting that she wanted more time. At the very least, she didn’t think that Irulon would deliberately try to sabotage anything. She wouldn’t try to hurt Izsha.
Still, she hesitated. Iosefael had been right. Alyssa really didn’t know what she was messing with. And if her meddling did something irreparable to Izsha…
She wished Tenebrael were here. Unlike Iosefael, Tenebrael would likely try to help, although she might have mental blocks preventing her from doing too much. At the very least, she would be able to identify any problems with Izsha after Irulon’s spell did whatever it was supposed to do…
“What does the spell do?”
“A soul is a surprisingly malleable thing. I’ve learned how to make small modifications to it. That’s what I did to my companion. It is also one of the principles under which my Toymaker spells work, though that is significantly less precise and quite destructive to the soul. Still, they all served as valuable test subjects for this task today.”
That probably explained why no angels—or demons, for that matter—showed up to take the goblin souls back at the desert outpost. The souls were destroyed beyond the point of being salvageable. That… was probably not a good thing no matter what ended up happening. Later, she might try to convince Irulon to not use more of those Toymaker spells.
“As for exactly what it does, it should fluctuate the resonance of the soul until it matches that of the body. I think. As I said, it will require further tuning, but it should be better for the soul than leaving it in your body. And lessens the risk to you in the process. A concern I have given what you said about me and my companion.”
The companion that she didn’t want to separate from. Though, Alyssa wasn’t sure that she could blame Irulon. Not when the dragon let her craft a complex spell in only a few hours. But… “I don’t mind the risk. Not as long as it helps Izsha. And I’d rather risk myself than accidentally hurt Izsha. Maybe we should wait and just make sure that your spell is the best it can be.”
“You don’t just risk yourself, but Izsha as well. Regardless, I don’t believe that there is a good solution here. No matter what, there are going to be risks. My method eliminates risk for you, which is a drastic step up over keeping Izsha’s soul in your body on a semi-permanent basis.”
“And if you’re still hesitant, consider this: If something happens to you, who else around could possibly put souls back in their proper places?”
“Ah, but I can’t fight off Iosefael if she comes back for Izsha’s soul. Or yours, for that matter.”
Alyssa nodded slowly at that. Irulon had a point there. Of everyone present, only Kasita could detect angels. Even then, it was a fairly vague detection. And one that only worked if she was paying absolute attention.
Taking a breath, she looked down at the soul in her arms. It had gently wafted one way then the other during Irulon’s endeavors, but now, it was sitting still, maybe even perked up. If Alyssa hadn’t known better, she would have thought that it was paying attention.
Actually, she didn’t know better. Her assumption might very well be correct.
“Alright,” she said, stepping up to Izsha’s body. “Alright. I’ll put it back. It’s probably how things should go anyway. Izsha belongs in its own body.”
Leaning down, Alyssa stretched out her arms. Watching with her eyes open was a strange thing. The soul, her hands, and even arms up to her elbows just sank into the body. If she wasn’t so worried about Izsha, she might have tried waving a hand around a bit, even going so far as to play in it like the body was a pool of water. It had a similar texture and feel, surprisingly.
But, as it was, Alyssa closed her eyes and watched as the soul spread out to fill most of the chest before spreading up to the head. With it in place, she withdrew her arms.
As she did, even more of that warmth left her body. She didn’t know why Izsha’s soul was so warm. Those others that she had handled, the ones she had turned into their crystallized forms, hadn’t felt so warm. Perhaps it was something to do with her being a monster. Or maybe, because she was connected to Tenebrael now, she could feel something that she hadn’t before. That, thinking about it for a moment more, was most likely the reason. She could see souls in bodies, so she could feel them too.
Irulon watched her intently as she stepped away. “Peculiar,” she said. How do your hands pass through the flesh like that?”
Alyssa looked down at her own hands, still coated with the stretched out, glove-like mystic circles. All she could do was shake her head. “I don’t have any idea.”
“It was a rhetorical question,” Irulon said, pulling a small dagger out of a pouch at her hip. With the notebook open on Izsha’s side, she dragged the dagger down one edge, neatly slicing the piece of papyrus from the rest of the notebook. The sheet was much larger than standard spell cards. Maybe as large as a three-by-three grid of them.
After slipping the dagger back where it came from, she held the giant spell card out in front of her like it was any other card. “Resonation,” she intoned, voice low.
The card vanished in a puff of smoke.
Immediately, Izsha’s form started twitching.
Alyssa took a step forward again, but Irulon held out a hand, blocking her way forward. The princess stared down at Izsha with unblinking draconic eyes. Her face was entirely impassive, showing no emotion, no sign of whether or not the spell was working or killing the draken.
Though given that Izsha had already died once…
Shaking her head, Alyssa closed her eyes and watched the soul itself.
In a normal person, even normal draken, the soul normally just sat about, drifting slightly within the confines of the body. The giving and taking of parts notwithstanding. It didn’t fill every corner of the body. They weren’t person-shaped. But they did occupy the majority of the body’s chest and all of the head area. In line with Tenebrael’s terrible analogy of how the body was a game console and the soul the game itself, perhaps the brain was the wireless receptor. Or the controller? Or maybe she should stop thinking about that terrible analogy altogether.
Izsha’s soul was not drifting naturally. It twitched and shuddered, jerking and thrashing.
It kept going.
No one said anything. Brakkt remained on watch. Irulon didn’t blink once. Alyssa alternated between watching the body twitch and watching the soul thrash.
Roughly an hour after Irulon started the spell, the spasming died down. Izsha’s body stilled, though it kept breathing.
Alyssa bit her lip.
And a few golden-white feathers started drifting through the air around her.