Breath of Air
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?”
“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? 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?”
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.