Vacant Throne — 034.003

<– Back | Index | Next –>


Breath of Air

Soul Searching


Alyssa bolted up the stairs of the guild building toward the individual rooms. She practically threw some poor man into the wall as she sprinted upward without so much as a word of apology. Ignoring the indignant shout behind her, she continued to the third floor.

Like many taverns in large cities, the guild had an attached inn. Smaller towns didn’t have anything of the sort. One was expected to either sleep in their own cart or to ask for shelter with one of the local residents. Teneville had a larger inn because it was something of a tourist destination. Taverns that did have inns generally weren’t the nicest places around. Not a lot of people actually traveled, so there wasn’t much need for such places. Spare rooms were, much like Alyssa’s place at Tzheitza’s potion shop, oftentimes repurposed storage or even occasionally personal living spaces. Alyssa didn’t think that dedicated hotel-style inns actually existed.

But if they did, the guild taverns got closest. With their members traveling often as part of quests or jobs, the guild provided lodging in basically every major city. Even some smaller townships that were on well-traveled routes would have a single-room guild outpost. Technically, they weren’t supposed to be open to the general public. But when there were spare rooms around and wealthy merchants—and clients, oftentimes—who didn’t want to stay in old rundown rat-infested buildings, the local guild leaders might decide to rent out some rooms for some extra cash.

Irulon wasn’t a merchant or a client, but who was actually going to turn away royalty?

That she was rich didn’t hurt her chances of renting a few rooms too.

Martin, the local governor—or acting governor, for lack of a better word—had offered her and Brakkt a room in his manor. Irulon had politely declined, stating that she should be near the rest of her party. Brakkt would rather sleep out in a barn with the draken than play politics. Or so Alyssa believed, anyway. He hadn’t actually said that in as many words.

Irulon had been given one of only four rooms on the third floor. One with a good view of the surrounding cityscape. It was one of the nicer rooms. Probably one that they charged high prices for when wealthy merchants wanted to stay. And she had it all to herself. In comparison, Alyssa was with her mother, Fela, and Lumen down on the second floor. Oz, Catal, and Trik were all bunking together as well.

Despite that, Alyssa barged in without even knocking.

Irulon sat on the edge of the bed, hands pressed to her forehead. Her hair was disheveled, looking like she had just woken from a night of constant tossing and turning. The single blanket on the bed supported that theory. Her clothes weren’t neat and tidy either. It looked like she had just thrown on a short black dress without even trying to straighten it out.

At Irulon’s side, Kasita sat on the bed, worried expression on her face as she looked up to Alyssa. Her hand on Irulon’s shoulder tightened slightly before relaxing.

“I came as quick as I could,” Alyssa said, looking between Irulon and Kasita. The latter had sent her a Message saying that Irulon had woken only minutes ago. Alyssa had been eating breakfast down in the guild’s main room. It had been a clipped Message. Just a quick statement saying that Irulon was up. “What happened?”

Irulon didn’t look up. She kept a hand over her eyes like she was trying to blot out the light from the windows. “As you prophesied, I received revelation.”

“Don’t phrase it like that but continue anyway.”

No answer came. Not immediately. Alyssa fully moved into the room, closing the door behind her. She had more than enough time to shoot Kasita a concerned glance and to receive a shrug in return.

“Irulon?” Alyssa said after another few minutes of silence.

“I think I… might be in trouble.”

“Trouble?” Alyssa’s stomach sank as cold ice slid down her back. “Are you… Will you not be able to help Izsha?”

“Izsha?” Irulon said with a low, sardonic chuckle. “I believe I know exactly what is wrong and how to fix it. It won’t be easy. It will require some preparation. But I can set forth a plan to resolve that issue by the end of the month. Probably.”

The ice melted. Just a little. Whatever was bothering Irulon was still around, but Izsha would be fine. Hopefully. A month was a long time to be effectively comatose, but not insurmountable. They could get the body to eat. Maybe even move it around a bit to keep muscles from completely atrophying. It would be some effort, but that was effort Alyssa was perfectly willing to put in. And Brakkt wasn’t going to just leave Izsha either. He would help.

They might not be able to leave Illuna for that time. Maybe even a while after. But that wasn’t too big of a worry. It wasn’t Lyria, but she could use a break from the constant attacks and chaos of humanity’s largest city anyway.

As long as the demons and Astral Authority stayed away, that was.

“If you can help Izsha, then…” Alyssa’s eyes narrowed. “What did that— What did Tenebrael tell you? You can probably just ignore it. Whatever she said or did was probably something just to annoy me.”

“It wasn’t anything she said or did. It was what I did.”

Alyssa’s eyes widened before narrowing once again. Slowly, she sat down next to Irulon on the opposite side from Kasita. “In that case, I’m sure she’ll forgive whatever it was.” Or rather, Tenebrael really didn’t care much for mortals in the first place. Unless Irulon had attacked Tenebrael and managed to do some damage, Alyssa doubted there was anything she could have done that would have upset the stupid angel.

“Hey,” Irulon said, looking up. Her eyes were their natural violet. “You can pull my soul out of my body, right?”

“Uh…”

“Or the dragon’s soul? Either one,” Irulon said, looking back down to her lap, “but you would probably rather have the dragon around than me.”

Alyssa blinked. A moment after, her face twisted into a scowl. Her hand raked across Irulon’s face. Not a hard slap, but it made a clapping noise. Hopefully it was enough to snap her back to her senses. “First of all, no. Second of all, no! Lastly, what did that stupid bitch tell you that brought this on?”

Irulon didn’t respond. She dropped her head back into her hands and just shuddered. “Tenebrael didn’t speak to me, so you can quit with that kind of talk,” she said after a long moment. “I’ve learned things. Things that, in retrospect, make taking on the dragon’s soul far less appealing. I’m pretty sure I’m destroying myself. Completely. And the dragon as well. It isn’t just death, but a death of death. It’s… I’m struggling to find the words for it. The information I’ve received wasn’t like a lecture at the Observatorium, it was more like flashes of images and insight.”

“So now you want to be separated?”

“No.”

“No? But you—”

“Not really. I enjoy my companion’s… companionship. To be honest, I can hardly remember what I was like before. I was always intelligent and driven,” Irulon said, straightening her back ever so slightly. “But the dragon has propelled me to new heights. My memory is perfect. I can think so much faster. Looking around, I can observe even minute details of the environment. My hand is far more steady when constructing spell cards. Even riding here on the back of Musca, I passively absorbed its movement and automatically compensated to write steadily.” Her straightened back slumped once again. “I don’t even know what I would be like if that were stripped from me. I don’t want it taken away.

“What I want and what I need are two separate things.”

Alyssa opened her mouth, but no words came out. She didn’t have a clue what to say to that. It must have been what her mother had been feeling just yesterday when she tried to comfort her over Izsha’s… situation. At the time, her mother had pulled her into a hug. That had made her feel better. Irulon really wasn’t the hugging sort, but…

She put an arm around the other girl anyway.

Irulon stiffened. Her entire body went rigid. Kasita shifted her hand to Irulon’s arm, letting Alyssa pull Irulon just a little closer.

“What are you doing?”

“Um…” Alyssa had expected the stiffness. But she had also expected that stiffness to melt away. Irulon wasn’t the type to cry. Not even over something existential. But there should have been something comforting about the situation.

Instead, Irulon was shooting her a violet-eyed glare.

“I just… Uh…”

Kasita leaned forward, looking directly at Irulon. “What does the dragon think about all this?”

Taking the opportunity for what it was, Alyssa quickly disentangled herself from the stubborn princess. Given all of Irulon’s bragging about her mental alacrity with the dragon’s enhancements, it was unlikely that Kasita would have distracted Irulon enough to make her forget. But at least Irulon didn’t say anything as she turned to face the mimic.

“To clarify,” Kasita said. “I meant about your current… partnership? The way things are right now. How does the dragon feel about that? Because I think I would be going insane if I had to sit around in your head all day.”

“Ah. The dragon is absolutely enamored with the situation as it stands.”

“Really?” Kasita said, disbelief obvious in her tone.

“Dragons hibernate for long periods of time and don’t really get to experience the world the way we do. Riding around with me has offered more entertainment than could be experienced in centuries within a draconic body.”

“So you both want to stay the way you are?”

“Want, yes. Need? As I just said—”

“Then fix it.”

Irulon blinked at being interrupted. “What? Fix what?”

“You’re smart. You’ve got the dragon helping you. You’ve even got Tenebrael offering information. So quit moping around and just figure out a way to stick together without ruining your souls or whatever—I’m not going to pretend to understand that stuff, especially not to the one person in the world who probably does understand it. But just… magic up a ritual and fix yourselves.”

“Just fix it?”

“Yeah.”

Irulon stared. Her eyes flicked to their black and white state for a beat of a heart before changing back to violet. “Wow. Just fix it. Why didn’t I think of that. Thanks, that makes everything better.”

Pressing her lips together with a small harrumph, Kasita pulled her hand off Irulon’s arm. “No need to get like that. I know you’re upset, but—”

“Sorry,” Irulon mumbled, rubbing at her forehead. “I feel like I haven’t gotten enough sleep. And there is so much to do. I can’t sleep.”

“I might have a solution,” Alyssa said. “Not a real solution that will let you stay together,” she quickly added before Irulon could get her hopes up. “But, while I was on Earth rescuing Chris and the others, Tenebrael created fake bodies. I was just thinking about it the other day. If you can’t just fix it, then you at least don’t have to decide between killing yourself or killing the dragon. You can keep your body and we can make a new one for the dragon.

“And for the record…” Alyssa narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. “I would prefer you no matter how useful the dragon is. Sorry dragon,” she said just a little louder, like she was calling out to some far off person listening in. “But I know Irulon. Irulon is my friend. I haven’t even spoken to you. I’m sure you’re very nice and personable, but I have to prioritize my friends over complete strangers.” Under other circumstances, she might not even believe that the dragon was real and was instead just some insane construct of Irulon’s mind.

But, having been on this world for months now, she knew better.

Though, now that she had said it aloud, creating a body for the dragon might be problematic. They were the size of mountains… on the small side. Brakkt might be happy to see a giant dragon with scales and wings, but for everyone else, that was a nightmare scenario. Especially if it got hungry.

Maybe just creating a human body would be for the best. If it liked being in Irulon, it would probably like a human body better than that of a dragon anyway. And might even be used to it already. In fact, making a clone of Irulon might be for the best. It would probably be easier to synchronize those souls together in that case.

But that wasn’t something that would happen this instant. “I think I would need to practice creating a body. I don’t think the bodies Tenebrael made were meant to last for any length of time. I remember her being… sloppy about creating them. We wouldn’t want to shove a soul inside one only to find out that the heart isn’t even hooked up properly.”

“That would be bad.” Irulon sighed, slumping back against the wall. It was a bit far from the edge of her bed, leaving her in a rather uncomfortable-looking position with her shoulders against the wall but her back against the bed. Even still, she didn’t try to get up or readjust. “I appreciate the options, but I’m still not sure what to do or what is best to do. I’m not used to this uncertainty.”

“Take your time and think about it,” Alyssa said. “You’ve been like this for a year or two, right? It’s not like today is the cutoff date where you have to be separated or else.”

“No,” Irulon said, nodding. Or trying to nod. Her slumped posture didn’t allow much in the way of head shakes. “You’re right. This isn’t like me. I need to take a moment and calm down. Panicking isn’t going to do anyone any good.”

It took a bit of effort, but Irulon shoved off the wall, straightened her back, and reached for one of the tomes sitting on the table next to her bed. Cracking it open revealed line after line of text written in a tiny print that Alyssa would probably need a magnifying glass to properly read. Assuming she could read it at all. The letters were of the Latin alphabet, like every bit of text in this world. Unlike everything else, the specific arrangement of the letters was not in English. Some words didn’t even have vowels. It was a code of some type. Some cypher to keep whatever she had been writing a secret.

Irulon’s eyes flicked black and white as she turned roughly halfway through the book. The text stopped abruptly, leaving the bottom half of the page blank. Picking up a wooden pen with a brass tip and dipping it into the half-empty inkwell on the same end table, she started scrawling out more of those tiny yet neat lines of text. She wrote and wrote, hitting three lines, then five.

By ten, Alyssa started to wonder if she hadn’t been forgotten about.

Glancing up, she found Kasita also looking around. Alyssa met her eyes and offered a small shrug.

Neither said anything, not wanting to interrupt Irulon.

After twenty minutes of non-stop writing, during which Alyssa and Kasita had moved over to a table in the room to quietly talk about the details of the supplies Volta wanted delivered to the monster sanctuaries, Irulon went to dip her pen into the inkwell again only to find the tip scraping against the dry bottom of the glass.

“Ah…” she mumbled. Setting the pen down, she leaned back, stretching her back. Her eyes quickly found Alyssa and Kasita. “You’re still here?”

“You didn’t notice?” Alyssa cocked an eyebrow. Irulon was always observant. “I didn’t want to just disappear on you. Not with you… distraught?”

Irulon started a scoff, but hesitated. After a moment, she nodded as if conceding the point. “I got distracted,” she said as she twisted her back one way then the other. A series of snaps ran up her spine with both movements. “Existential crisis aside, the information I now possess is fascinating. Revolutionary, even. I’m trying to parse it into words. But…” Her eyes shifted toward the empty inkwell. “It seems I need to go shopping.”

“I’ll go with you,” Alyssa said, standing.

“Unnecessary. I’m not… Writing down my thoughts has given me some time to process what I had been feeling. And you were right. A few more days, weeks, or even months isn’t going to destroy me. I have time to find a solution. A solution that both I and my companion can be happy with, at that. Perhaps even…” she trailed off, glancing to Kasita. “Well, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself just yet.”

“Still, I need to go shopping as well. Both for myself and… Volta. The leader of that oasis of monsters. I’ve gotten a list and some funds with which to buy the items on the list.” Besides that, despite Irulon’s assurance, Alyssa didn’t really feel like leaving the stubborn princess alone at the moment. That first question she had asked, wondering if Alyssa could effectively kill her… It wasn’t the time to leave her alone.

Irulon stared. Her eyes were violet at the moment, but just as piercing as they could be while black and white. Maybe she didn’t know for certain, but Irulon probably suspected some of Alyssa’s true reasons for going with her. Food wouldn’t stay good over the month that Irulon had suggested that it would take to help Izsha. While she or Brakkt could probably take the other draken—or just horses, really—out for a few days to the sanctuaries, Alyssa wasn’t really planning on it. She didn’t want to leave Izsha alone either.

There were a few nonperishables that were on the list. Blankets, wool coats, and even a small supply of lumber for the oasis sanctuary—apparently they needed some wood to help support their carved tunnels and homes. But that was relatively minor in comparison to food.

Whatever Irulon knew or thought she knew, she didn’t speak of. Instead, she closed her eyes, nodded slowly, and smiled a grimace of a smile. “Alright. But give me a few moments. I am hardly in a state befitting of royalty.”

“Okay. I’ll be just outside,” Alyssa said as she moved to the door. Kasita followed her out, standing just to her side. “Shout if you need anything.”

“I am not an invalid.”

“That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help.” Alyssa put on a bright smile as she gently closed the door. As soon as the door clicked shut, the smile on her face slipped right off.

Kasita opened her mouth.

Without knowing what Kasita was going to say, Alyssa put a finger to the mimic’s lips, shaking her head. ‘Later,’ she mouthed. In a soft whisper, she said, “Would you go let Brakkt know that Irulon is up? And about the likely month it might be. And… Well, I’ll leave everything else to your discretion.”

“Don’t need help shopping?”

It was a joke. Probably. Kasita would only be able to carry a blanket or two. Much more than that would be too heavy for her body to take. So Alyssa shook her head. “I’ll take Fela. If we can coax her out of her room. I think she might be a little traumatized thanks to those children last time. Otherwise… maybe my mom will come.”

“If you’re sure…” At Alyssa’s nod, Kasita shrugged and started off toward the stairs. “I’ll see if I can’t meet up with you after.”

“Sounds good to me.”

As soon as Kasita disappeared from view, Alyssa let out a long sigh as she stared at the closed door to Irulon’s room. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the souls in the room.

The normally constant battle between Irulon and the dragon had come to a halt. They were still snatching pieces of each other, but the war had turned cold… subdued.

Alyssa had no idea what it meant.

But all she could do right now was to smile and hope that Tenebrael’s dream information was going to be enough to help both of them as well as Izsha.

Because if worse came to worst, it wouldn’t be a far-fetched thought to call down Iosefael to separate their souls. Even if it meant killing the poor dragon.


<– Back | Index | Next –>


Vacant Throne — 034.002

<– Back | Index | Next –>


Breath of Air

Court Arcanist


“I have heard what happened to the draken in your care and what you and your party are trying to do for it. I sincerely hope it goes well.”

“Yeah,” Alyssa said. “Me too.”

Now knowing roughly what kind of company she was in, Alyssa had taken a seat at the table. Before, she had been a bit wary that some high arcanist of the local government wanted to talk to her. She wasn’t sure that she should be entirely comfortable in the presence of these monsters—she had only met and talked with them for a few minutes back at the oasis and that had not been the most peaceful of introductions—however, at least she knew exactly what she was dealing with.

A doppelganger. A creature from a similar vein of Kasita’s kind. Its body wasn’t illusory like Kasita’s, but it did construct paper-thin illusions out of its own flesh and blood. Its forms were a bit more substantial than Kasita’s, allowing it to actually lift heavier weights and occupy a space for real, however, its construct was just as inconsequential as Kasita’s. If someone stabbed the man, the little girl wouldn’t be harmed at all. Though it would probably break the illusion that kept her from being perceived.

The other one was a strange sort of monster. Apparently something that should not be north of the Fortress of Pandora, according to both Brakkt and Oz who had told Alyssa a little about the monsters they had encountered in that oasis on the way to Illuna. It had been a human at one point in time. Or half of it had been. The woman had picked up a monster known simply as a cursed sword. A living, sentient sword that formed a parasitic relationship with its host. At the start, the host might not even realize that the sword was anything other than a sword, but the more the sword got used, the more the sword gradually took over.

If the human ever died, the sword would simply go inert until some other unsuspecting person spotted it and picked it up. It was particularly dangerous to the uninformed. The cursed sword looked an awful lot like an enchanted sword, something anyone would love to pick up if only because of how much they could be sold for. But as soon as they did, they would feel a compulsion to use it rather than to sell it, starting the process over again.

Alyssa wasn’t entirely sure how that worked with souls. Closing her eyes and concentrating, she could only see one soul in the sword’s position. Perhaps the woman had died completely and had already had her soul reaped by either Tenebrael or Iosefael. Or perhaps it was something more along the lines of the final stages of Irulon and the dragon’s situation.

Either way, the sword was now simply sitting to the side, staring down at her hands with the occasional giggling. Creepy. Her very existence was disturbing, but she really made it all the worse with how she giggled and stared. But as long as the sword wasn’t going to hop bodies anytime soon, it probably didn’t matter all that much. The damage was already done for the person it had taken over.

Volta didn’t seem like the kind of person that would allow harm to come to her companions even if Alyssa wanted to do something.

If the woman died and the people looked like they would try to pick up the sword, Alyssa would try to stop them, of course. But that wasn’t likely to happen. Hopefully.

Though it did raise the question of whether or not the cursed sword could take over the body of something else. Tenebrael had made those empty meat puppets for replacing Jason, Chris, and Alyssa’s mother. She had put souls into them to fool angels, but Alyssa had to wonder whether or not the sword could make use of an empty one. With Tenebrael’s power at her fingertips, Alyssa might even be able to create empty puppets if it came down to it.

But, barring some disaster befalling Illuna or the oasis, that was entirely theoretical. And hopefully would stay that way. Alyssa really didn’t want to go about creating meat puppets if at all possible.

“If there is anything I can do for the draken, please, let me know.”

“Thanks, but I don’t know that there is much you can do. We’re currently waiting on a bit of information before pressing forward with our plan to get Izsha back on its feet.”

“I don’t have much experience with draken. Do you know what is wrong?”

“That’s what we are hoping to find out,” Alyssa lied. No sense getting complicated with talks of souls and angels. “For now, Izsha is stable and not getting any worse. It’s just that Izsha isn’t getting better either.”

The man posing as the arcanist frowned, putting a hand to his chin as he rubbed the small stubble that was growing around his chin. Volta’s actual body hardly moved at all. Oz, Brakkt, and even Kasita hadn’t mentioned anything about that, but it seemed that the fake-body took over most motions and actions, leaving the doppelganger’s true body in a somewhat inert state, only able to walk around behind the fake while it was up.

“We’ll handle it, don’t worry,” Alyssa said with a small smile. “Izsha has been a good friend to me. Brakkt cares for all the draken a great deal as well. We’re not going to leave anyone out to hang.”

“Still, I wish there were something I could do.”

“It’s fine. Don’t you have your own problems you need help with? You surely wouldn’t have brought me here and revealed your identity if all you needed to do was to pass me a shopping list. And with your position, shopping for yourself probably isn’t that big of a problem anyway.”

“Bigger than you might think. I can’t exactly hire a courier to deliver food and supplies to the oasis. Even dropping them off in the middle of the desert would be far too suspicious. People might not think I am a monster right away, but they might suspect that I am supplying brigands and highwaymen who litter the areas.”

That would probably be bad. Alyssa could see how Volta might come under fire for that. And it wasn’t like someone could deliver supplies directly to the oasis. Not without finding a trusted merchant who could handle it without selling the secret later on. That probably wasn’t an impossible task, but a risky one nonetheless. Volta wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the likely prestigious and influential position of court arcanist too. As she mentioned, she had used the position to divert attention away from the oasis in the past.

“So it is just a shopping list?” Alyssa said after a moment. “When I met you in the oasis, I figured you were being literal about supplies. Finding you here made me thing you were trying to bring me in on some secret sabotage or desperate quest to rescue a captured member of your community. But now we’ve gone back to supplies, so that’s nice I guess.”

“Well… If you want to do a bit more to help…”

Alyssa pressed her lips together, staring for a moment before sighing. “I can’t promise anything more than delivering supplies on our return journey. Not while Izsha is down with a sickness. But, I suppose I can listen and discuss with my companions any possible solutions.”

“Don’t worry. It’s nothing serious like rescuing comrades. Illuna doesn’t have many—if any—slaves and everyone living at the oasis follows strict rules to avoid detection. No one has been captured since I arrived.” Volta’s body double, who Alyssa still didn’t know the name of, shook his head. “No. Rather, in addition to simple food and maybe clothing supplies, I would like to ask that you visit another location and take some supplies there as well. It is not directly on the route back to Lyria, but the detour isn’t so great as to add weeks to the journey. They are not as close to a city as we are nor are they in the middle of a desert, so they can grow some crops and maintain livestock to a limited degree. However, they have had a bit of a famine this year. Over half their crops died with no yield. Some kind of pestilence, I gather.”

“I can’t deliver extra food to you and you have some of the other monsters take it down to this other location?”

“We aren’t really equipped to travel. No horses or carriages. If we ever have to flee, we’ll be fleeing on foot. As such, carrying even small amounts of food isn’t possible as we tend to eat what we can carry.”

“I see. We should have the carrying power, especially if Izsha makes a full recovery. How soon do they need food? Are they starving right now? And how far is it? It might be possible to have Brakkt run down with Dasca, Musca, and Ensou if it is needed right away.”

“They should have enough storage to last even a few months. There may even be another solution down the line. It’s just that this information came to my attention and I would prefer to help them out sooner rather than leave things to chance.”

“Understandable,” Alyssa said with a nod of her head, thinking.

It didn’t sound that bad. She wouldn’t say anything one way or another until she had conferred with Brakkt and Irulon, but a small detour wasn’t that big a deal. And if it let them skirt the edges of the Plains of the Dead, Alyssa was all for it. The biggest problem was going to be the guild. Would they take exception to several communities of monsters? Oz was already unhappy enough about being asked to keep the oasis a secret. Lumen and Catal weren’t far behind him. It was really only thanks to Brakkt and Irulon that they hadn’t told everyone at the local guild tavern about the little community of monsters.

Alyssa and everyone else carrying supplies might be able to split away without too much issue, but her mother would probably go with them. Alyssa really didn’t like the idea of being separated for too long. She could probably take care of herself and Oz wouldn’t let her come to harm willingly. But, especially in an area known for having criminals attacking caravans, Alyssa would feel much safer with them all together.

“I’ll have to discuss it with the others, but I don’t see too much issue. Not so long as it isn’t that far out of the way.”

“Until you agree, I’ll be keeping the exact location a secret. Not that I don’t trust you—I’ve been keeping an eye on you and your group, none of you have mentioned the Oasis thus far—it’s just that the less people that know, the less people there are that can leak the secret to people we would rather not have know about our presence. We’re peaceful groups, just trying to keep a low profile and live our lives. But we will defend ourselves if necessary.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to lie down and die. But… It’s a shame that you have to live like that. Since coming to this… uh… land, I’ve been quite disappointed in the treatment of monsters by humans. I think there is a lot to gain on both ends by cooperating.”

“I can’t say that the treatment is completely undeserved,” Volta said with a sorry shake of the double’s head. “Monsters have definitely been the aggressors in more than one conflict.”

There had been a war with the elves several years before Alyssa had even appeared on Nod. Apparently that one had been started by elves. She couldn’t remember who she had heard that from, but it was likely either Oz or Tzheitza. Either way, it did raise the question of why the humans simply didn’t wipe out the elves. Or all the monsters south of Pandora, for that matter. Alyssa wouldn’t condone such actions, but she doubted most of the people of this world had her same opinions on matters. Was it just the current royal family and their passing friendliness with monsters that kept them from taking more drastic action?

Some things would be difficult to wipe out. Gaunts, for one. Dragons were another that Alyssa knew about. There were surely other things that would be extremely difficult to kill. But elves? From what Alyssa had gathered, most elves lived within the mountains on the southern coast. Perhaps that was the reason why. Inhospitable terrain that would be difficult to march an army through. Plus the elves penchant for engineering. If only one or two could construct secret passages right in the middle of Lyria, their entire society could fill those mountains with traps, escape routes, and even ways to get behind an approaching enemy.

Thinking about it like that, the elves would probably be an incredibly resilient force.

And who knew exactly what lived south of Pandora. The fortress apparently came under assault on a regular basis, but it managed to hold off against whatever was down there. Gaunts and cursed swords were probably the least of the most dangerous things in the area.

Once again, Alyssa thought to see it for herself. Once Tenebrael fully booted the Astral Authority from Nod, she would have to try to make a portal down there. The Pharaoh wanted one anyway. Though Alyssa did question the wisdom behind putting a portal right next to the largest human city. If hostile monsters ever did smash through the Fortress of Pandora, they could completely cripple the government by slipping through the portal. Probably multiple governments with leaders of other cities spending much of their time around Lyria.

Then again, having the time-manipulating Pharaoh able to act instantly should something happen rather than weeks or potentially months—if a Message didn’t reach him—might make up for any potential security issues.

Ah well. That was something for other people to worry about. Alyssa would only worry about when, inevitably, something bad came through the portal and started attacking the city and she wound up caught in the middle of it all.

Maybe opening temporary portals would be for the best.

“You’ve been silent for a while.”

Alyssa looked up to find Volta’s fake body staring down at here, lips pressed into a gentle smile. “Just thinking troublesome thoughts,” she mumbled. “Nothing to worry over.”

“I see. I see. You’re staying with the local guild, are you not?”

“That is correct.”

Nodding, Volta looked toward the window. “I’ll have someone along with a list of supplies for both locations. Come see me before you leave and I’ll let you know how to get to the second. As thanks, I do have a collection of potions here. Perhaps some might help with your draken friend?”

“Its body is healthy. We’re just waiting on a bit of information for a spell that will fix Izsha’s mind. I’m doubtful that any potion will help.”

“Unfortunate. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

“It’s fine. Offering is more than enough.” Alyssa stood, stretching a little. “I’ll be back after talking with my companions. If there was nothing else..?”

“Actually, one thing.” Volta turned back to face Alyssa, though neither of her bodies stood to match. “Raugis was asking for the… ‘handsome warrior’ who escorted her here.”

“Oz?”

“I don’t believe she mentioned his name.”

“Probably Oz,” Alyssa said, wondering just what Raugis might want to meet with him about. Surely his lame stories didn’t actually woo her. “I’ll let him know. If she didn’t mean him, he can figure it out himself,” she said to herself, turning to leave. “Thanks for—”

“Ah.” For the first time since entering the room, the cursed sword spoke. She held up a finger, staring right at Alyssa. Her eyes, gleaming out from under her hood, were like daggers as she stared.

Alyssa froze, shifting where she stood. The sword was just staring. Nothing else. Her finger was unmoving in the air like she wanted to mention something, but had simply shut down.

“Red? Something to say?”

“Ah. The sword,” she said. “Eheheh, I want to see it.”

Volta sighed, slumping slightly.

It could have been anything. And yet, Alyssa only took a moment to realize what she was talking about. “Brakkt’s sword?”

“Feel free to ignore that.”

“But I want to cut—”

“Ignore it, please,” Volta said, waving a tired hand toward the door.

“Right…”

Although her mask and cloak covered up almost the entirety of the sword’s body and face, there was still an obvious dejection in her suddenly slumped posture. Alyssa tried to ignore the monster as she made her way to the door.

Just before shutting it behind her, she heard Volta speak in a semi-harsh tone. “I’ve told you before—”

Alyssa put it out of her mind. The servant that had brought her up to the room had been waiting in a chair at the end of the hallway. Upon seeing the door open and close, he quickly stood up and, with hardly more than five words, he quickly led Alyssa back outside. All in all, she was out less than twenty minutes after arriving. A relatively short meeting, but she was just glad that there hadn’t been any big bombs dropped. No threats against her or her companions, no people trying to arrest her for whatever she might have done, no demons sneaking into the city. Just a simple request for help.

It was nice to be not thrown from one crisis to another for once. Especially because the current crisis hadn’t technically been resolved just yet. It was just on hold until Irulon woke.

With that damper on her mildly good mood, Alyssa decided to head back and check on the sleeping princess.


<– Back | Index | Next –>


Vacant Throne — 034.001

<– Back | Index | Next –>


Breath of Air

Walkabouts


The city of Illuna was, thankfully, a city. It was large enough to give Izsha a private room in some unused stables outside the city. Brakkt and the other draken had not left Izsha’s side since arriving. Not even to sleep. Brakkt was sleeping on the same straw that the draken were and taking meals there as well. For three days, he had been out in the stables nonstop.

Alyssa had been the one bringing him his meals. They were fairly good meals, bought from the came sort of people that the local nobility purchased meals and food from. Unfortunately, even hurrying as fast as she could, she could feel the baked potatoes and roast losing their heat. She didn’t apologize for it. She had the first time, but now, she just handed the large wooden bowl-like plate over to Brakkt. He thanked her. Without even setting it near the large firepit in the stables to warm it back up, he started eating.

“Irulon finally fell asleep,” Alyssa said. It had been three days since portaling back to Illuna. Three days during which Irulon had been too excited to actually sleep. Like a child awaiting Christmas morning, except children could stay awake all night and the morning would still come. Irulon had to fall asleep. Considering how hard it was to wake her up, Alyssa could hardly believe that it had taken three full days of meditation to actually go down. Now she had to wonder and worry over whether or not Irulon would wake up in a reasonable amount of time.

“Good. I appreciate the update.”

“Any changes with Izsha?”

Brakkt shook his head as he chewed a bit of roasted beef. As soon as he finished, he looked down to Izsha. “None. Aside from breathing, I’m not sure if it has moved.”

Nodding, Alyssa closed her eyes. As she had done every time she came out here, she did a quick check on Izsha’s soul. The draken was still unconscious and hadn’t stirred even once. Similarly, the soul was still and mostly inert inside the body. Not totally. In fact, talking to Izsha tended to help spark those bits of soul-sharing that went on with normal healthy souls. “Don’t worry,” Alyssa said, resting an arm on Izsha’s scales. “With Irulon finally asleep, Tenebrael can help out. At least a little. We might even be able to have you all fixed up shortly after she wakes.”

Hopefully. With even Tenebrael unsure as to whether or not fixing Izsha was possible, Alyssa couldn’t say for certain that Irulon would come up with a solution. But certainty wasn’t really necessary. Irulon hadn’t been idle these last few days. Although most of her research material was back in Lyria, she did have a few tomes on soul research. The dragon inside her head apparently kept a library of just about everything it had seen as well. Her meditations had been as much spell research as they had been counting sheep.

As Alyssa spoke, Izsha’s soul reacted. Bits of it broke off to jump to Alyssa. The reverse was true as well, though Alyssa couldn’t see bits break off her own soul. Still, something resembling a soul jumped to the draken. The interactions were a good sign in Alyssa’s mind given how normal souls acted. More than that, more than just the metaphysical elements, Alyssa took the interactions as being a sign that Izsha was listening. Even if Izsha couldn’t respond, letting the draken know that things were being done and that they had a plan for the future hopefully gave hope. At the very least, it showed that people cared and hadn’t forgotten.

Unfortunately, Alyssa couldn’t do much else for Izsha. Not directly anyway. Not more than she already had. She was acting as the primary go-between for Irulon and Brakkt. With the former asleep, finally, Alyssa wasn’t quite sure what she should be doing. Kasita was sticking around with Irulon to ensure that someone was there when she woke up, but Alyssa should probably join her. She was the one who spoke with Tenebrael on the regular, after all. If Tenebrael was doing something strange, Alyssa might be able to answer a few questions. Or at least try to call down Tenebrael to make the angel answer some questions.

“Anything else you need?”

“I think I’m good for now. I’ll send up Musca with a note if I think of anything.”

The tiger-striped draken, not quite sleeping in one corner of the room, opened an eye and stared between Brakkt and Alyssa. For some reason, Alyssa felt like Brakkt was getting a much heavier glare than normal. Letting out a snort of hot air, the draken closed its eyes once again, settling into a large patch of straw.

“Alright. I’ll be back later this evening unless Irulon wakes. If she does, I’ll probably be helping her.”

He nodded as Alyssa took her leave.

Stepping outside the stables, Alyssa sighed as she looked up at the sky. Flames burned along the horizon. White and black flames licked the otherwise blue sky where a facsimile of Tenebrael’s tattoos hung high overhead. Both the flames and the emblem were fainter here than they had been at the pit. Yet they were still present. It was a strange thing. Something that shouldn’t work. Because, looking off in the distance toward Lyria—almost in the directly opposite direction from Owlcroft—Alyssa could still see the flames on the vanishing point between the planet and the sky. Yet, if she headed back to Lyria, she knew that they would continue fading away.

It was a strange phenomenon. And she wasn’t sure how far it would extend. Could Lyria still see faint flames? What about the emblem? It was even brighter, more obvious. Once night fell, the light show would be the only light in the sky aside from the pasty grey of the moon. That was how it had been the last few nights.

As Alyssa made her way back up the path to the city and through it toward the guild’s headquarters, she couldn’t help but notice that the aura of the city had completely changed. Prior to fleeing from the Astral Authority and venturing off toward Owlcroft, Illuna had been a fairly lively city. People walked around with their heads held high, laughing and generally having a good time as they went about their business. They had walked around as such anyway.

Walking through the city now, people kept their eyes down. More than a few could be seen praying on their knees, asking Tenebrael for… whatever. Forgiveness? Mercy? Judgment of their enemies? Alyssa honestly didn’t know. But they were afraid. It wasn’t just the sky being on fire. The Astral Authority that had appeared for Alyssa had spread throughout the city looking for her. While Brakkt and Irulon stayed behind specifically to warn off people who might try to attack or agitate the fake-angels, they hadn’t been able to warn everyone.

Around a dozen people, four soldiers and several others, lost their lives after managing to kill a Kindness. It hadn’t attacked back, but a passing Patience took off their heads with apparently little effort.

Just thinking about it made Alyssa sigh. If she had kept better control over herself, the Astral Authority wouldn’t have come chasing after her, those people wouldn’t have died, she could have gone to Owlcroft with Irulon and Brakkt, maybe Izsha wouldn’t have… died. Or maybe everything would have gone much worse. Brakkt, Irulon, Fela, and the other draken might all have been caught up in that Justice’s attack. It had been… overwhelming.

Maybe things couldn’t have turned out better. It was impossible to know. Not even Irulon or the Pharaoh’s magic could turn time back for a second attempt. As far as Alyssa knew, while Fractal Mirror could reveal possible futures, there was no spell to reveal alternate pasts. So she would never know.

Opening the door to the guild, she found it surprisingly empty. Martin, the local leader of Illuna, had hired out most of them to keep an eye on the city. Not because of those few guards who had died, but because of general uncertainty. He, like many others in the city, was afraid. The sky had people claiming that an apocalypse was upon them, even though Alyssa had tried to explain that it was actually a ploy by Tenebrael to get those fake-angels of the Astral Authority to deal with the demons.

Lisa was one of the few around. Oz, Catal, and Lumen were all helping keep an eye on matters around the city. Besides Alyssa’s mother, there was only one table of four present. A group that looked quite exhausted. All four were in full armor, maybe having just gotten off a shift watching the city. Alyssa caught a few glares from them as she walked through the room. She wasn’t sure if that was because of the Astral Authority showing up in her wake or because they had been present when she had chained everyone in the room. Either way, she ignored them. With her sunglasses broken, her glowing white eyes were on full display. She doubted that anyone was going to bother her.

And if they did, she had put several hours over the last few days toward drawing out a few dozen more Spectral Chains cards. She wasn’t going to run out unless she had to chain up a whole angry mob.

Which hopefully wasn’t going to be a concern at any point let alone the near future.

“How is it going?” Lisa asked as Alyssa sank into the seat beside her.

“With Izsha?” Alyssa picked a sliver of meat off her mother’s plate. “Still the same.”

Slowly, and somewhat awkwardly, Lisa put an arm around Alyssa’s shoulder and pulled her close. “I honestly don’t know what to say,” she said, gently rubbing the shoulder. “Your father was always better at these kinds of things than I was. I’m… a bit more standoffish. But I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that.”

That was an understatement. Alyssa’s father had always been the one around. He made birthday cakes, he went to school events, he had driven Alyssa when she went on her very first date. As embarrassing as that last event had been, he was always the more… there parent. Not that Alyssa thought her mother didn’t love her or anything. It was just her job. The military kept her away from a lot of family events. One weekend a month, she had to go to work. Plus the occasional deployments that had happened, resulting in her disappearing overseas or just to training forts away from home for months at a time.

Alyssa didn’t resent her for it. It was all thanks to that sacrifice that Alyssa, Clark, and their father got to live comfortably. And yet… it definitely made it much harder to relate. And that went both ways. Alyssa respected her mother, but sometimes she felt a little guilty that most of that respect was the same respect that she might have for a teacher rather than a parent. It was a complicated emotion. One not even completely accurate in that analogy because there was definite love there, and she wasn’t sure that she had ever really loved a teacher.

But still… she didn’t quite know how to act either. Ever since her mother had come to this world, they both had kept each other at arms length. Interaction was common, but always a bit stilted, like neither knew exactly what to say or do.

So it was nice to hear that her mother felt the same.

“We’re just a little awkward together,” Alyssa said with a small smile. Sitting in her mother’s arms as she was, she honestly didn’t think she needed much in the way of conversation. “You don’t need to say anything. This is enough.”

A silence of the comfortable variety fell between them. Alyssa didn’t feel a need to speak as she snacked on her mother’s meal. It was still hot. She must have only gotten it a few minutes before Alyssa walked in. Which did raise one question. “How come you aren’t with Oz and crew?”

“Catal is negotiating a contract for the journey back,” Lisa said, pointing to one of the closed doors at the far end of the room. “I don’t think it’s going to go well, but we’ll have to see. Oz and Lumen are on shift for the night watch tonight. They’re trying to get a bit of a nap in before having to wake up for that.”

“I see.”

“Which does remind me… Someone was looking for you earlier.”

“Someone?” Alyssa repeated with a frown. The only people who should be looking for her were people who had traveled here with them. Fela, Trik, Kasita, Oz’s crew, or the royal siblings. None of whom should have been as unfamiliar as to deserve a someone.

“Didn’t catch their name,” Lisa said, confirming Alyssa’s worries.

“And you didn’t know who they were?”

“Never seen them before in my life. Some younger man with blond hair, accompanied by a few children.”

“Fancy clothes and maybe a fleur de lis somewhere on his outfit?”

“You do know him,” Lisa said with a slight accusation in her tone. “You know more about history than I do so I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that both the infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate during medieval times were… staggeringly high.”

Mom. I’m not… That’s…”

“There are also diseases to consider. The lack of contraceptive measures as well.”

Mom!” Alyssa pulled away, slipping out from under her mother’s arm. “First of all, I know. Second… no.”

“I just want to make sure that you’re staying as safe as you can be.”

Under other circumstances, Alyssa might have thought that her mother was joking. As religious as her household had been, sex had never really been a joking topic. In fact, the only other times she could remember such things being mentioned were during sex-ed as part of school and after her first period. So having it brought up now, Alyssa could only shake her head in confusion as to how her mother thought a mildly good-looking person would lead to anything of a sexual relationship. At least so soon. They had only been in the city for a few days, including before heading out to Owlcroft.

Alyssa was not the kind of person to hop into one-night stands.

“I don’t even know his name.”

“But you do know him.”

“He’s the court arcanist for Illuna. Not sure what rank he is, but probably at least a five. If he is looking for me, it’s probably something magic related. Nothing more.”

“Mhmm…”

Alyssa stood with a sigh. “I should probably go find him.”

“Weren’t you watching over Princess Irulon?”

“Kasita can handle that. Irulon only just fell asleep less than an hour ago. With her having been unable to fall asleep for half a week now, I doubt she’ll be up soon. And I don’t want to wake her early and interrupt anything… and waking her is almost impossible anyway,” Alyssa said, thinking back to all the times she had needed to wake the Sleeping Beauty up. A slight grimace crossed her face. “No. It’s best if she remains asleep until she wakes up naturally, at which point Kasita will likely send a Message.”

“Stay safe.”

“Yeah. You too… The arcanist, he didn’t say where he was going to be, did he?”

“He mentioned heading back to Illuna’s manor.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

Alyssa could not get out of there fast enough. Perhaps when she returned, her mother would come back to her senses. For the time being…

The manor wasn’t a long walk from the guild. Illuna was a large city, but probably only about a quarter or maybe a third of Lyria’s size. Actually getting into the manor was a bit more difficult. It had a pair of guards stationed outside the gate. The quacks of the geese and ducks landed like a trumpet on the ear as she tried to explain that the arcanist wanted to talk to her, but neither of the guards were listening. They had probably gone deaf from all the stupid birds in the yard.

She was just about to give up and leave until the arcanist came to find her himself when another person rushed outside, crossed the lawn, and ran right up to one of the gate guards. The person, dressed as a servant, whispered into the guards ear with occasional pointing toward the upper floors of the manor. Following his finger, Alyssa spotted the blond arcanist waving down at her.

After that, she got inside without any complaint. The servant brought her right up a set of stairs to the room Alyssa spotted from the outside. He stopped at the door, knocked twice, waited for a confirmation from inside, and opened it for Alyssa. All without hardly speaking to her. From his occasional shifty glances, she got the feeling that he was a little nervous in her presence.

Yet another reason to find a way to replace her glasses. She should have asked Tenebrael, but she really hadn’t been thinking about such a small thing at the time.

The room was almost disturbingly reminiscent of Decorous’ office back in Lyria. It was overly gaudy with tapestries bearing the Illuna crest adorning the walls. A fanciful table occupied a good chunk of the room, though there was enough space that it didn’t feel cramped even with a few chairs around the table. Only two of those chairs were occupied. One by the blond arcanist with a little girl sitting on his lap. The other by that heavily cloaked figure that Alyssa had first seen him with when those children came up to bug Fela. As with then, the cloth bindings left no skin visible, though there were some odd lumps, mostly around the right side of the body.

Disfigured, perhaps? Trying to hide it? Alyssa didn’t know exactly what a leper colony consisted of back on Earth, but, if there were similar things here, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that otherwise normal people would want to hide any abnormalities. Though the heavy cloth on its own was something of an abnormality.

The door closed behind her as Alyssa entered the room, leaving the servant on the opposite side.

“I heard you wanted to speak with me,” Alyssa said, remaining standing at the opposite end of the table.

“Indeed, I am pleased you came to me as well. I don’t particularly like to go outside. Small dark places suit me much better than wide open streets or fields.”

Alyssa glanced around the room once again. It really wasn’t that dark at all. Several jars of that glowing potion were set about, providing proper illumination. They weren’t quite as bright as Tzheitza’s brews, whether that was because they were older and nearing replacement or because the local potioneer was less skilled wasn’t a question that Alyssa could answer. Still, she just shrugged it off.

“If this is about the sky, I don’t know when or if it will turn back to normal.”

“Dealing with the demons, is it?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder to the window he had been waving out from before. With the little girl on his lap, he couldn’t turn all that much. The little girl, for her part, just sat and stared at the table. It was a bit creepy, to be honest. Alyssa wasn’t sure which was worse, the man with the kid on his lap or the girl that hardly moved. “Despite the increased presence of guards along the city walls looking for incidents to respond to, there hasn’t been a single infected spotted. No plague incidents within the city either, though three days isn’t really much time to identify and eliminate such things.”

Fela might have been able to do that, but she had been spending almost all of her time with Kasita, Brakkt, or spending the nights with Alyssa. Perhaps she would ask if Trik and Fela would be willing to run around, just in case. Though Alyssa really wasn’t expecting much in the way of plague infections. Not with the emblem of Tenebrael hanging in the sky. The plague struck when faith was low. People were fearful at the moment, but their faith was probably higher than ever.

“But that isn’t what this is about at all,” the arcanist said with a grin. “Rather, is your offer for supplies still on the table?”

“Supplies?” Alyssa blinked. “What supplies?”

“Oh come now. I thought you saw everything.”

Alyssa blinked again. This time, she concentrated for a moment, focusing on the souls in the room.

There were only two souls apart from herself. The cloaked figure and the person… the monster sitting across from her.

She felt like slapping herself. How had she missed that. “Volta?” she said.

The little girl in his lap remained still, but the man smiled.

“So this is what you meant when you said you kept humans from discovering that oasis. And how you knew all about the situation with Illuna and the demons. You’re…” Alyssa let out a small chuckle in spite of herself. “How do people not notice that you’ve got the little girl attached to you at all times?”

“Oh? You can see my true self? Normal people ignore the real me completely.”

“Oh.” It was one of those things. “I didn’t get a good look at you in the cave before you melted your clone into your body, but I really should have noticed. I feel silly now. And that one…” Alyssa looked to the cloaked person. It had to be a monster too. Maybe one of the animal-eared monsters from the oasis, but… with the strange bulges on half its body… “The sword monster?”

“Eheheh…”

Definitely no mistaking that slightly muffled giggle.

“Does anyone know? Martin or anyone else from Illuna?”

“Martin does not,” the blond fake said with a shake of his head. “I believe I have fully infiltrated this city with none the wiser. And I would prefer that it stay that way.”

Alyssa’s smile slipped ever so slightly. “As long as you aren’t causing harm to the people here.”

“No harm. Just a bit of trouble every now and again. Our oasis has been nearly discovered on several occasions. So far, I’ve managed to distract the people here enough.”

“Then there is no problem.”

“Good. Then let us talk a little business about how you can help me out. And maybe I can find something you need help with in return.”


<– Back | Index | Next –>


Vacant Throne — 033.013

<– Back | Index | Next –>


War And Peace

Help From Above


Iosefael hovered in the air high above the group of mortals. She stared down with piercing eyes, just as unblinking as Irulon’s. Both of them were focused on Izsha’s body. Or rather, both were focused on Izsha. Irulon couldn’t see souls and Alyssa doubted that Iosefael cared much about bodies.

She had not returned empty-handed. One of Iosefael’s hands was wrapped up in that golden glove that stretched halfway up her arm. Her other hand held a familiar staff. Adrael’s golden staff matched Iosefael’s armor well, but it clearly had not come away unscathed from being knocked away from Izsha. The ruby head of the staff had a long crack running through it. Gold around the opposite end of the staff had deep gouges lining the gold. Almost like a clawed hand had been trying to grasp it. Looking closer, the gold of Iosefael’s armor also had been scuffed up and… Was that blood drying on one of her boots?

Maybe being knocked away hadn’t harmed it at all.

The angel slowly drifted lower to the ground. Alyssa kept an eye on her, making sure that she wasn’t about to try to take Izsha’s soul. But, if anything, she almost appeared afraid of Izsha. Her movement carried her away from the draken until she settled to a stop near the ground just behind Alyssa.

“What did you do?” she hissed after a moment, still without blinking or looking away from the body.

“It wasn’t me this time. Irulon did it.”

Irulon turned her head, eyes flicking to Alyssa for just a moment before a look of understanding crossed her features. As she looked back to Izsha, she spoke. “An attempt at restoring soul-body resonance, Miss Angel. How does it look? I think it’s going quite well, but I suppose you would be an expert in these matters.”

“How does it look? How does it look?” Iosefael covered her mouth with her golden-gloved hand, rubbing at her cheeks before throwing the hand up in the air. “How… How did you do this?”

Alyssa looked back to Irulon, staring for a moment. But the princess made no sign that she was going to answer. She just stared at the now still but still breathing form of Izsha with her hands clasped behind her back.

It took an embarrassingly long moment to realize that Irulon wasn’t simply ignoring the angel. Irulon couldn’t see or hear anything the angel did.

“Just answer the question, Iosefael. How does it look? How is Izsha? Is it… right? Is the soul back to normal?”

“Normal? There’s nothing normal about any of this!” Iosefael tried to take a step closer, but Alyssa clapped a hand on her shoulder, stopping her. The angel finally took her eyes off Izsha to frown at Alyssa. “I’m not… I don’t even think I could take the soul right now. It’s not perfectly synchronized, but it is synchronized enough that, if I didn’t already know what happened, I would have thought that the relic was just having a bad day.”

“That’s… good. Right?”

“I don’t know! This has never happened before. Ever.” Her cross-shaped pupils flicked over to Irulon. “Well, except for that abomination. But that isn’t really that similar at all. Two souls occupying—”

“We’re aware of that problem. Focus on Izsha now, please.”

Iosefael fell silent, staring for a long moment. Again, she tried to get closer. This time, Alyssa allowed her to move forward a few steps, but she kept right up against her, ready to stop her if she tried to take the soul away. “The synchronization is off,” she said eventually. “Like a… Oh! You humans say that your hearts skipped a beat? It’s like that. Every other beat is in time, but the off beats are staggered erroneously.”

“Alright. How do we fix it?”

“I assume destroying the relic again is out of the question?”

“Obviously.”

Iosefael let out a short harrumph. “Then I don’t know. I don’t have any experience with this. Maybe it will fix itself. Maybe it will fall further out of sync until I can take the soul back like normal.”

“Some help you are,” Alyssa grumbled, rolling her eyes. Though, to be perfectly honest, she didn’t know what she had expected of Iosefael. It was apparently one thing to help by discussing the Astral Authority and miracles. It was another entirely when souls were concerned.

Irulon turned away from Izsha, looking to Alyssa. “What did she say?”

“The synchronization is off. It might fix itself. It might break itself again. Iosefael doesn’t know, nor does she have any suggestions.”

“Does she have a timeframe for either option?”

Not needing to translate from Irulon to Iosefael, Alyssa simply looked toward the angel.

Iosefael just shrugged.

“No. She’s worthless.”

“Hey!”

“Well, I might be able to fix it,” Irulon said, looking back to Izsha. “But let’s wait and observe a bit before we do anything.”

Alyssa pressed her lips together, but nodded her head. Irulon was the expert, after all. Apparently even more so than Iosefael. “Can Izsha be moved? We’re still deep within enemy territory. Even if the demons and the Astral Authority are busy with each other, I’d rather not have a stray being get flung from the battle and find us out here.”

“Levitation shouldn’t hurt anything. Just don’t drop Izsha. That probably wouldn’t do the poor draken any favors.”

“Right.” Alyssa looked over to Iosefael and the staff in her hands. “And what about you? Are you going to follow us around like some kind of banshee?”

“There are other people dying. I had to collect a few before coming back here. I have to go collect others shortly. But I’ll probably be back. Something is still off about this soul. And if it does deteriorate, I would hate to not notice because of the strangeness of its situation, leaving it rotting inside the body.”

“If it comes to that, I’ll handle it.”

“Like you handled it last time?” Iosefael snapped. “Would you even notice if something went wrong?”

Alyssa opened her mouth to argue, but hesitated. She honestly wouldn’t notice if something went wrong. That was the whole reason she had asked Iosefael to look at Izsha just a moment ago despite knowing that the angel wanted to take the soul. Looking back to Izsha, Alyssa closed her eyes and just watched for a moment. Iosefael said that the synchronization was off. But, no matter how long she stared, she couldn’t figure out how the angel discovered that. Unless Iosefael was using some other sensory ability that Alyssa either couldn’t access or didn’t know she had, it might just be something innate to angels. Or it came from centuries of practice.

Either way, even if she figured out exactly what to look for regarding the synchronization, there could still be a plethora of things she might miss simply because she was not an angel nor experienced with souls.

When she opened her eyes again, Iosefael was gone. The only evidence of her presence were a few feathers drifting through the air. The staff was nowhere to be seen either. She must have taken it with her.

“She’s gone,” Alyssa said for the benefit of Irulon. “And had nothing useful to offer aside from what I already mentioned.”

“That could be helpful enough for our needs. But you were right earlier. We should leave as soon as possible. I’ll speak with my brother and let him know of the changed situation. Do you need additional Levitation spells?”

“No. I have enough for now.”

“Very well. Keep an eye on Izsha for a few moments,” Irulon said as she started walking off to where Brakkt, Fela, and the draken had set up watch.

Alyssa sighed as she looked down to Izsha. She should have felt some relief. Although the synchronization was skipping a beat, Izsha’s body and soul were in tune enough that Iosefael wasn’t going to try to ferry her off to the Throne. That was a victory all on its own. But Alyssa still had that gnawing feeling in the back of her mind where she worried over just what she was doing. Of whether this was destroying Izsha on a far deeper level than simple death. Then again, even with all she knew now, she still didn’t really know what happened to souls that the angels collected. The non-Tenebrael angels, anyway.

A hand dropped down on her shoulder. Looking back, Alyssa found Kasita offering a comforting smile. For a long moment, neither spoke. Kasita hadn’t said much of anything during the few hours it took to reach Irulon and Brakkt. She alternated between concerned looks, comforting smiles, and having her teeth grit as she stared at nothing at all.

“It’s my fault,” Kasita finally said, voice a mere whisper.

“What? No, if anything—”

“I should have stuck with Izsha instead of being blown away. Maybe I could have cast a spell. Projectile Reflection would have stopped all those flying chunks of earth and rock. Or maybe if I had been able to get those infected off our tail, we could have met up with you. Or if I had been stronger, I could have stopped you from falling in the first place.”

“Kasita… All those apply just as much to me as they do to you.”

“But I can’t control what you do. Only what I do.”

“That’s… true. In a technical sense. But we all could have done things differently that would have affected each other.” Alyssa just shook her head. “It will be fine,” she said, not quite believing her own words. “Izsha is… injured. Nothing more at this point. We’ve got to look on the bright side of things. We got in, accomplished what we came to do, and got out. It was for Tenebrael, but with the demons occupied with the Astral Authority, it should help everyone around the area too. Illuna hopefully won’t have to worry about infected wandering up to their town, killing people and livestock. Maybe the Astral Authority will even beat back that sense of foreboding. Or perhaps Tenebrael’s emblem will hang in the sky for a long time, keeping that feeling from coming back.”

“Oh I doubt that will be the case.”

Alyssa jumped, jerking slightly as she turned to find a certain monochrome angel standing near Izsha’s tail.

Gritting her teeth, she glared at the angel. “Do you have to always appear behind me?”

“I think you said something like that before.”

“And yet you’re still appearing behind me.”

Tenebrael shrugged, turning her gaze to Izsha’s body. “Sorry about your friend.”

“Is there anything you can do? Or anything you can tell me that Iosefael didn’t?”

“Well, no to the first question. The body is already healed. I can’t do anything about the soul unless the body dies, and you wouldn’t like what I would do if that were the case. As for Iosefael, I don’t know what she said, but the body and soul are not quite—”

“In sync, I know. The soul is skipping a beat, or something. Irulon thinks she can fix it, but…”

“Hmm. That girl is truly worthy of emulating my appearance,” Tenebrael said with a small smile.

“Can she actually do it?”

“If she got this far, I don’t see why not.”

“Any insight you can offer? Any tips to point her in the right direction?”

Tenebrael rubbed a finger across her chin as she turned to where Irulon and Brakkt were talking. With his armor on, Alyssa couldn’t see his expression. He had been… silent when Alyssa told him what had happened. Only after she finished had he offered a small nod, thanking her for trying her best. After that, his helmet had turned to Irulon and hadn’t left until she said that she was going to look into it.

Now, Irulon gesticulated, waving her hand over and over again. Not in any particular direction, merely moving it as she spoke, perhaps waving her own way on to the next segment of the topic. She wasn’t smiling, but she was much more animated than earlier, maybe trying to be encouraging for her brother.

“Perhaps,” Tenebrael said slowly. “Perhaps there is something I can do. Nothing big, mind you. Don’t expect this to solve all your problems. She already knows a great deal about souls. Perhaps even more than any mortal that has ever existed. But it isn’t everything. I might be able to give her a little flash of Divine Inspiration. Just a little insight into the inner workings of a soul. That might help her out. It might do nothing. I’m really not sure.”

“You can do that?”

“Just who do you think I am?” Tenebrael said, affronted.

“I mean, you’re not going to get into more trouble if you start giving hints to mortals? Or your programming isn’t going to kick in and force you to say something wrong, if you say anything at all?”

“I have a feeling that there aren’t many more people that I could get into trouble with. The Astral Authority is already here.”

“Archangels won’t care?”

Tenebrael shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not too worried about them. Without being assigned to this world, they won’t care that much. Look at Kenziel. She showed up wanting to fix the place but switched her story to wanting to help me at the first sign of resistance.”

“What happens if a few dozen of them show up instead of one lone angel?”

“Then they will understand just what difference in power a Dominion can exert over that of an Archangel.”

Alyssa frowned. It wasn’t that she was trying to talk Tenebrael out of giving Irulon knowledge that might help. Rather, it sounded excellent. Almost too good to be true. Or maybe it was too good to be true and that was where her hesitation was coming from.

A horde of Archangels still didn’t sound like that great a thing to show up. Considering how long Adrael had operated without even being known about and then how little Tenebrael had done after that point, Alyssa didn’t like the odds of her succeeding against several of them. Besides that, they still had the Astral Authority to worry about. They might be occupied with the demons now, but if Tenebrael started throwing around magic with her name on it, some of them would surely come to take her out.

“And your programming?”

“Will have to be worked around. Already I can feel the mental blocks trying to stop me. But I can see a way. Tell Irulon to pay attention to her dreams tonight.”

“Really?” Alyssa said, giving the angel a flat stare. “Dream inspiration? Isn’t that a bit cliche? Can’t you just tell me and I’ll tell her? Or better yet, just write it all down in a nice easy-to-read tome so that things don’t get lost and forgotten with sleep haze.”

“It’s the easiest way, I think. I can’t tell you. I just tried, but I can’t even imagine myself saying words when I do. Writing it down would be similar. But a dream is a small bit different. Many revelations come through in dreams, partially because elements will be forgotten or changed upon awaking.”

“I hate angels.”

“I’m sure.”

“What about the Astral Authority?”

Tenebrael smiled, looking far more relaxed as she placed a hand on Alyssa’s shoulder. “You did well. Just leave everything else to me.”

Alyssa let out a small sigh, glad she didn’t have to do anything more on that front. She had, over the last few weeks, had enough of those things chasing her down every time they spotted her. Though that did raise a question. “Is it safe to use our connection to manifest miracles? Is the Astral Authority sufficiently distracted?”

“I suppose that depends.”

“Would they come after me if I made just a little temporary portal to Illuna?”

“Possibly. If you got away from the portal fast enough, it might be safe enough. I imagine they are in a bit of disarray so soon after discovering the pit, so it might be that no one at all will show up.”

“That would be nice.”

“I would avoid relying on it too much in the coming weeks, however. Only during emergencies and only when you can escape their pursuit easily.”

“So nothing has changed then.”

“Perhaps on your end, but I am now free to begin removing the Astral Authority from my world on a more permanent basis. Something I’m off to do right now.” Taking her hand off Alyssa’s shoulder, she took two steps back, waving all the while.

“Wait. Can you make the portal?”

Tenebrael tilted her head to one side. “You’ve created a few just fine on your own.”

“Yeah, but I would prefer to be absolutely certain that nothing will go wrong. Not with Izsha like this.”

“Hmmm.”

Besides that, Alyssa thought to herself, maybe the Astral Authority will chase you around instead if they do take notice. Skipping out on that headache would make just about any compromise worth it.

“I would like to do something to thank you for accomplishing my mission, but I am not sure I can manifest such a miracle without proper authorization. Soon. Soon I should be able to ignore many instances of such irritation, but not yet. Is there anything else you would like to ask of me?”

Yes, Alyssa almost said. She was sure that she had other things to talk about. But with most of her mind concerned over Izsha and the rest drained from the adventure, she was drawing a blank. So, after a moment of silence, she simply shook her head. “I suppose all I’d like is for you to answer the phone once in a while.”

“Believe it or not, but that requires quite an expenditure of my power. Enough that the Astral Authority would likely come knocking on both our doors. After they are gone, I promise.”

“I see. In that case, I don’t think I have anything immediately pressing. Just get your information to Irulon, I suppose.”

“Can do. I’ll check in soon. I’d like to know what Irulon does with the information I’m lending her. I’ll prepare it and then begin my operation against the Astral Authority. And any other divine elements that feel like challenging me. Ta-ta for now.”

In a burst of black feathers, Tenebrael vanished. Sighing, Alyssa turned to look at Kasita. The mimic hadn’t said anything during the entire exchange. She usually didn’t when Tenebrael was around, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Still, it would be nice for someone, not just Kasita, to be able to turn one-on-one conversations into more of a group discussion. Irulon could do that to an extent. And if she had pulled out her phone, anyone could have seen Tenebrael though the camera, though not with audio.

“I have to make a portal,” Alyssa said after a moment of silence. “Could you let Irulon know that she should be expecting Tenebrael to show up in her dreams tonight?”

“Ufu~ What an honor. She’ll be thrilled.”


<– Back | Index | Next –>


Vacant Throne — 033.012

<– Back | Index | Next –>


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.”

“Hm.”

“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.”

“That’s…”

“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?”

“You?”

“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.”

“Hm.”

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.

Ten minutes.

Twenty minutes.

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.


<– Back | Index | Next –>


Vacant Throne — 033.011

<– Back | Index | Next –>


War And Peace

Last Ditch Attempt


“Does anything hurt? Does anything feel strange? Are you… alright?”

Izsha stood upright and it stood under its own power. There was a bit of a wobble, but considering that Izsha had just died, that might be expected.

However, Izsha didn’t respond. Not in any significant fashion. Alyssa didn’t expect the draken to turn around and start talking, but she did expect something. Anything. A nod. A shake of the head. A noise. But Izsha didn’t move. Alyssa had thought that standing upright was a sign of good things, but now…

Aside from Alyssa’s voice, there were plenty of other outside stimuli that Alyssa would have expected a reaction from. The Astral Authority was flying around en masse. Infected, both feral and of the weapon-wielding intelligent type that the Taker seemed to have become, were doing their best to take down any that strayed too close. The Patiences didn’t seem to have the intelligence—or perhaps patience—to sit back and let their longer-ranged allies handle things. As soon as one would pop out of a portal, it would immediately dive down toward the nearest infected. Which only seemed to work out for a quarter of them. They would immediately find themselves pounced upon and torn apart, often without even managing to spear their target. There were just too many infected.

More and more were pulling themselves up from the edges of the pit with every passing second.

Another portal opened near Alyssa. The golden edges of the Astral Authority’s preferred mode of transportation were bright enough that she could tell they were appearing even when out of her direct line of sight. Her hands were still inside Izsha, but she had found that she could pull one out long enough to draw a pistol without disrupting anything.

So she did.

Pistol in hand, Alyssa aimed over the top of Izsha toward the opening. Although nothing had come from it yet, the opening was roughly the size of a person. Larger would have meant a Diligence or even an Equanimity, but person-sized indicated a Patience or Kindness.

Sure enough, a silver spear emerged first. A porcelain mask attached to a silver filigree body stepped out. It took one look around before settling its blank visage on Alyssa.

“Tenebrael,” Alyssa said, finger already squeezing down on the trigger.

But she didn’t get a chance to finish.

An arrow slammed into the Patience’s face, splitting the mask clean in two. The silver around the protruding arrow began tarnishing, turning a foggy yellow-brown color. The spear fell to the ground, sliding down a small slope on the riverbank until it landed in the water with a light plop.

Alyssa pivoted as the portal closed, swinging her pistol around to aim at the attacker.

It was a demon. Or an infected. She honestly wasn’t sure if there was a difference between the two. It was a man, just a bit taller than the Taker, with burning embers for eyes. He had another arrow out, nocked, and the string drawn back to his shoulder.

There was a brief moment where Alyssa met his eyes. Her finger remained still tight around the trigger.

But he aimed upward, piercing the wings of a Diligence. As it spiraled into the river, he turned again, nocking another arrow as he found a new target.

Letting out a small sigh, Alyssa reholstered her pistol as she focused back on her current problem.

Izsha hadn’t reacted in the slightest to any of the goings on around them. Not even an errant twitch of its head. If a demon, feral or otherwise, started attacking, Alyssa had a sinking feeling that even then, Izsha wouldn’t do anything.

“One of those demons took a swipe at me,” a familiar voice complained over Alyssa’s shoulder. “How uncouth. Have they no manners? I can’t even believe what Tenebrael is… What are you doing?”

“Iosefael,” Alyssa said slowly as she looked back. Had it only been ten minutes? It felt longer. A lot longer. Iosefael should have been back a long time ago. And yet, at the same time, it felt like it was all too soon. Alyssa had thought that she had been making progress. Between the soul reacting and interacting, Izsha looking right at her, and the body standing upright, everything seemed like it should have worked. She had to be close. Just a bit more… massaging.

But…

What if all she was doing was hurting Izsha? It had to be possible. It just had to. If Irulon had swapped positions with Alyssa, she surely would have figured it out. But every moment that passed without Izsha recovering just gnawed at her once ironclad confidence. Even with all the help from Tenebrael and with Iosefael agreeing to wait before death’s coach could ferry the soul away, she had failed. Had it been doomed from the start?

“I… I don’t know what I’m doing,” Alyssa admitted, feeling the last vestiges of her determination crumble.

A warm hand rested on Alyssa’s shoulder, though it was quite cool in comparison to Izsha’s soul. It was probably supposed to comfort her, but it had the opposite effect. “I’m sorry. I tried to tell you…”

“Why? Why isn’t it working? What am I doing wrong? I thought I understood what Tenebrael wanted me to do, but…”

“Tenebrael wouldn’t know what to do. I doubt any angel could tell you.”

Alyssa’s eyes strayed away from Iosefael’s face, looking past the angel’s golden-white wings to where the Justice and the true demon were still battling each other. Even though she had been using Tenebrael’s magic for who knew how long, the Justice hadn’t tried attacking her. Its face was lined with cuts and scars from the true demon’s scythe. It didn’t bleed, but the marks were there. One corner of its angled jawline had been cut clean off, revealing nothing in the way of flesh or muscles. It was just more of whatever made up its pure white skin.

It had only been a few minutes since the demon had spoken to Alyssa. An ally of life, she had said. Would she know what was wrong? Could she give even a small hint toward what Alyssa was doing wrong? Even though she had gone to the demon when Tenebrael had been missing, Alyssa hadn’t made any kind of deal. It had been a mistake, introducing those embers to the world, but she had gone in already knowing that she wasn’t going to give up anything for information. Tenebrael just wasn’t important enough.

Izsha, on the other hand…

“They couldn’t help you either,” Iosefael said quickly, not even needing to follow Alyssa’s gaze. “That one would tell you that she could help, but would end up corrupting and perverting your friend into one of her minions. The relic might continue existing in a way that you could interact with, but nobody would be happy with the situation except for that one. And that’s the best case scenario.”

Alyssa grit her teeth. She didn’t want to believe that. But at the same time, she knew that Iosefael was telling the truth. Even had she not known that angels were not supposed to lie, there was evidence for her claim. Seeing the Taker again, watching how he showed up in defense of the true demon and then went on to call her his lady… Izsha would wind up the same.

A slave to the demons, used in a war against the Astral Authority like all the rest.

If it was even possible in the first place. As far as Alyssa knew, there were no cases of monsters becoming infected. That didn’t necessarily mean that they couldn’t contract the plague. If the true demon was going to make an exception for anyone, it would be for Izsha at Alyssa’s behest, if only because she wanted to get her hooks into another human.

But Alyssa couldn’t do that to Izsha.

There had to be another way.

She needed more information. Irulon. Even Tenebrael would likely try to help if Alyssa asked her while she was around. Even if she just had a little more practice or time, Alyssa could probably figure it out herself. She thought that she was so close with the way Izsha’s body was up, but…

But there was no more time. Iosefael was here to take Izsha’s soul now. Even though Izsha counted as a relic in their eyes, the angels weren’t going to just let the soul go.

Clenching her teeth together, Alyssa sunk both hands back into the mystic circles.

“Alyssa, it’s too—”

“I said I would let you remove Izsha’s soul. I wasn’t lying about that. But I’m going to remove the soul myself.”

Iosefael fell silent. She didn’t float forward or make any other movement to stop Alyssa.

Alyssa took that as a go ahead.

A scythe would remove it instantly. But, given that it was a weapon developed by humans, Alyssa wasn’t sure if it would hurt Izsha or not. It was probably designed around the same principles as their wings, but Alyssa couldn’t be sure. Regardless, gently pulling it out with her hands seemed far more caring than swiping a blade through Izsha’s body.

Like with the scythe on non-infected, the soul came out without any force required. It didn’t even take a light tug. The moment it passed beyond Izsha’s scales, the body wobbled. But it didn’t fall over. There wasn’t any part of the soul left inside. Alyssa even closed her eyes and checked. All of Izsha was a wispy mist in Alyssa’s arms.

“Since I healed the body,” Iosefael said when Alyssa looked to her, “it is in a strange state of being. It is technically alive, but there is no will behind anything it does. The body will stay here until it starves to death. But, without a soul, it won’t actually be dying? What a complicated situation you’ve created here. But I think I can probably kill it. First, the soul.” Iosefael held out a hand, looking morose. “No offense intended, but I’ve seen those abominations that you’ve made of souls. It would be best for someone more experienced to compress it for transportation to the Throne.”

Looking from Iosefael down to the mist in her arms, Alyssa stared.

The Throne. Some place off in the aether. Supposedly, all souls ended up there. Or most of them. Those Tenebrael consumed didn’t. Neither did those that were corrupted. Infected by demons or… whatever Irulon’s Toymaker spell did to them. No angel or demon had shown up for those.

Alyssa had never been all that religious. She had grown up with her mother, of course. Their household had been somewhat religious, but she herself hadn’t. Now, she might even be less religious than ever. Angels existed, sure. So did demons and souls. But anything beyond that? It was all up for grabs. The concept of Heaven chief among them. The Throne didn’t sound like any Heaven that she had heard of. And angels weren’t like they were in anything she had read before. They were more like computer programs, given tasks to follow that they couldn’t deviate from. And if they did deviate from them, it was more likely to be a bug than anything else.

Could she really just hand over Izsha to such an unknown fate? The soul wasn’t in the body anymore. From what she knew, it shouldn’t be in pain anymore from being inside a decaying corpse. But Iosefael wasn’t likely to see it that way. Iosefael, as a Principality, had a duty to collect the souls of the deceased. She wouldn’t just let a soul remain free floating.

There had to be something.

And there was.

The idea popped into her head.

Something must have shown on her face.

Iosefael’s eyes widened as she looked at Alyssa. Her wings spread wide. “Wait! Don’t—”

Too late. Alyssa ignored the angel, pulling her arms to her chest. The mist-like soul flooded into her body.

Irulon had once talked about the ritual that had saved the dragon that now resided in her body. It hadn’t been a quick thing. From inception to execution, the ritual had taken well over six months to complete. Most of which had been research and development, not even actual magic. The ritual had been completely specific to both Irulon and the dragon, the time of year and their respective ages, the health of both, and even the weather around where the ritual had been conducted. Should Irulon want to perform the same ritual again on a different target, almost everything of the original ritual would have to be tossed in the trash.

It had been a long and involved project. The only reason it had worked in the first place was thanks to the dragon’s longevity even while dying of some illness. Had Brakkt wanted her to save any other creature, it probably wouldn’t have worked simply because of the time investment.

Perhaps now, with the dragon helping her to think and calculate things much faster, Irulon could have used a similar ritual on some other being in a fraction of the time. Hopefully. But even that was probably a stretch.

Regardless, Irulon hadn’t gone ahead with the ritual until she had been absolutely positive that it was going to work.

Alyssa had no idea what she was doing.

The moment Izsha’s soul was inside her body, she felt it. The warmth that she had experienced while handling Izsha’s soul using the miracle spread across her entire body, filling up every last nook and cranny. Even after filling her body to the brim, it didn’t stop there. With nowhere else to spread to, the temperature started going up. Alyssa started to feel like she was back on the plains of the dead.

She stumbled back, feeling the sweat bead over every inch of her skin.

“Okay. Don’t panic,” Iosefael said, mouth moving at a hundred miles an hour. “We can still fix this!”

“I’m not panicking,” Alyssa bit out.

“You’re not? Okay. That’s good. I’m not either.” She fidgeted, jumping from one side of Alyssa to the other, looking her up and down. “Okay. Okay. So, this is fixable. I’m sure it is. I just need a minute to think.”

“Go away,” Alyssa said, slowly standing upright. Her fingers felt like she was holding them right next to a campfire, but… it wasn’t too bad. At least they weren’t in the metaphorical campfire. “Go find some other souls to ferry off. Izsha is staying with me.”

“Alyssa. We talked about this with your friend… You can’t… It’s just not… Your body—”

“It’s a temporary measure,” she said, voice getting a little steadier. The heat was dying down now. Slowly, but definitely. “Just until I can talk to Irulon. And maybe Tenebrael.”

“But—”

“I know you want the soul. I know you can’t help me. It’s your programming as a Principality, I don’t blame you for it. But just go.” Alyssa took in a deep breath. “I’ll deal with this myself.”

“You don’t even know what this is.”

“I’ll be fine. And if I’m not, then at least I’ll have tried.” Alyssa closed her eyes and concentrated. She still had to find Kasita. And then they had to escape before the Astral Authority finished off the demons. Or vice versa. Tenebrael seemed to think that their fight would continue for some time. Long enough for her to do whatever she needed to do.

Alyssa didn’t want to take the chance that she was wrong.

So she scanned, looking among the myriad of souls, searching for just one that wasn’t tainted by the demonic corruption.

“Your other relic is over this way.”

Blinking her eyes open, Alyssa found Iosefael still standing in front of her. Except, instead of looking panicked, she now simply looked resigned as she pointed a finger away from the pit. Turning in the direction Iosefael was pointing, Alyssa closed her eyes again and finally noticed what had to be Kasita.

She must have been flung even further away than Izsha.

“Thank you,” Alyssa said after eying Iosefael. The angel didn’t look like she was about to try something, so she just shook her head.

Which ended up with her staring at the flopped-over body of Izsha. It was still alive. Still breathing. But…

Another Lighten Load and a Levitate had it moving along with Alyssa as she trudged up the riverbank’s slope. Iosefael followed along, gently flapping her wings every so often to keep her feet off the ground. Alyssa wasn’t sure why Iosefael was following her…

Actually, she knew why. She knew exactly why. She just didn’t care. Her head hurt. Her legs hurt. Her side hurt. The Astral Authority and the demons were still in the area, still posing a danger, even if they were preoccupied with each other.

“Adrael’s staff is missing,” Alyssa said. The thought came to her suddenly, and she decided to use it to maybe get rid of Iosefael. At least for a time. Surely she wouldn’t keep following her around forever. There were bound to be other deaths across the world sooner rather than later. “I have no idea where it might be, but it was attached to Izsha when that Justice’s sword hit the ground.”

Another sudden worry sparked in Alyssa’s mind. She quickly tossed a glance over her shoulder at the largest member of the Astral Authority that she had seen so far.

Ropes were tied all up and down its arm. The other ends of the ropes were in the hands of dozens of infected. A real Gulliver situation. Unless it got loose, it seemed like that sword would stay unused for the time being.

“Adrael’s staff?” At first, Iosefael seemed confused. Then she made a squeaking noise, one that forced Alyssa to turn back to find growing horror on her face. “Oh no. We can’t let that fall into the hands of the demons.”

Without another word, she disappeared, taking to the skies.

Which suited Alyssa just fine. She trudged forward, putting one foot in front of the other like it was all she could focus on.

Kasita was up ahead. Alyssa could see her now—she was in her human form. A shout got her attention.

“Alyssa! I’m so… Izsha?” Her eyes widened as she looked over the floating form of the draken. “Is… Is it?”

“I’ll explain later,” Alyssa said, not stopping even as Kasita ran up to her. “Let’s just get away from here for now.”


<– Back | Index | Next –>


Vacant Throne — 033.010

<– Back | Index | Next –>


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.

There!

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?”

“What?”

“Why does death have to be a part of life?”

“Alyssa…”

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?”

“But…”

“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.

Mystic circles.

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.”


<– Back | Index | Next –>