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This was such a bad idea. Such a bad idea. The worst part: She had known it was a bad idea well before trying anything. But what was she supposed to do? Go to the Astral Authority? There was a good chance they wouldn’t act with how… chaotic things had been in the past few thousand years. And if they did act… Tenebrael could disappear.

She didn’t want that.

They were friends. They had been friends and Iosefael wanted to believe that they still were.

Which was why this was up to her. She didn’t know if this world could be salvaged. Tene had diverged from the Plan. What would that do to the denizens? She didn’t know. Such a thing had never happened before. The Plan was the Plan. Regardless, something had to be done. What that something was, she could discuss with Tenebrael once she finally got her fellow angel to see reason.

A goal that was looking less and less likely as more time passed.

Iosefael stopped high above the city, taking a deep breath. Air was meaningless for angels, but the mental strain of constantly fighting necessitated a short break. A breather, as the humans said. Humans had lots of fun phrases like that. Angels didn’t. There weren’t a lot of angels, compared to mortals, and they were not even half as social. It had been a thousand years since she had last seen Tenebrael and that felt so recent to her. If a human went a thousand years without seeing one of their friends… well, they would be dead because humans don’t live that long.

Lower down, standing on the tip of one of the taller human structures around, Tenebrael looked none the worse for wear. She had been flying around just as much as Iosefael, though she really had only attacked every now and again. But Iosefael hadn’t been able to touch her. Tenebrael managed to defend everything, whether it be magical or her weapons, like a piece of cake. Part of it, Iosefael knew, was her extra wings. Tenebrael had been afforded more authority to carry out her duties. With more authority came more capacity and capability.

But that didn’t explain her utter disregard for how she was fighting. Even when Iosefael tossed out a mere Smite spell that would never seriously harm a Dominion of Tenebrael’s power, Tenebrael formed a fully fledged reflective shell with predictive calculations in an attempt to hit her again—even though a smite would barely sting even against a lowly Principality. She shouldn’t be able to do that. Even Cherubim would be hard pressed to reflect every attack. Seraphim maybe, but a Seraphim likely wouldn’t need to reflect many attacks. The battle simply wouldn’t continue that long.

“Can you hear it?”

Iosefael shook her head. Her fatigue must be getting to her. Standing so still, stuck in her thoughts for so long, Tenebrael could easily have tethered her down just as she had back in the tomb on Earth. But Tene hadn’t. So, despite her instincts telling her otherwise, Iosefael cocked her head to listen.

The air was still with little wind or movement. Seemingly no insects either—no locusts chirping or bugs buzzing—but Tenebrael probably wasn’t talking about such small things. Fire crackled somewhere beneath her. The fields and a few homes in the city were burning. Both came with shouts, cries, pained moans, metal striking metal, metal biting into flesh, breaking bones… It was a war. But Iosefael knew that. She had known before the fight started that the humans of this world were battling with remnants of the Age of Legends.

It wasn’t until she started listening deeper that she realized… there was something that she couldn’t hear that should be present in a situation like this.

“You’ve come at a poor time to do your… whatever it is you think you’re doing.”

“Tene…”

“The humans you love so much are dying. Their souls are crying out for release, screaming in pain while trapped in their battered and broken bodies. And they’re going to continue to wallow in their agony until you give up. But, take your time. It doesn’t matter to me if they have to experience their bodies rotting after decades of being buried in the ground.”

“Tene, where are their prayers?” This was a battle. Even if everyone was a staunch atheist, someone would still utter even a sarcastic prayer.

But there was nothing.

Just utter silence.

“Oh, there are plenty of prayers. Just not to anyone you’re listening for. Well, unless you count me,” Tenebrael said with a chuckle.

Iosefael gripped her sword and spear, curling her fingers around the hafts tighter than before. She opened her mouth, but Tenebrael spoke first.

“You’re fighting for nothing, you know that right? Literally nothing.”

“That’s—”

“Do you know the meaning of futility?”

That made her pause again. What kind of question was that? Of course she knew what futility meant.

“Not the word futility,” she said as soon as Iosefael opened her mouth. “The feeling of being utterly helpless, of having a goal yet knowing that no matter what you do, you’ll never be able to reach it.” Her eyes, glowing their radiant white, locked on to Iosefael.

For just an instant, something broke inside Iosefael. An aching deep within her very being. Staring down at Tenebrael, she couldn’t quite understand why she felt that way. Her fellow angel was going against everything. Iosefael could not understand why. The Plan had been laid out in clear lines. Everything needed to go as preordained. But Tenebrael had this haunting sadness lining her features that Iosefael just couldn’t ignore. It almost, almost, made Iosefael lower her weapons.

Tenebrael sighed and the moment was lost. “No,” she said. “Of course you haven’t. You’ve never had a personal desire in your entire existence, have you?”

“I want you to stop! I want the Tene I used to know to come back.”

Wings spreading wide, Tenebrael left the top of the tower in a blinding flash. Iosefael couldn’t react before something slammed into her back, right between her wings.

She fell like a meteor, slamming into a city street. Cracks spread out in the dirt. Buildings rattled and shook from the shock wave. Iosefael blinked twice, staring up at the stars and the ring in the sky, not quite understanding what had happened. Two bright lights moved into her field of vision. Gigantic stars.

No. Her vision sharpened. They weren’t stars. Tenebrael stood above her, looking down.

“I’ve sullied your beautiful feathers. I’m sorry. But I’m going to get a little serious now. This has gone on long enough and I’m just so busy at the moment. All these souls need collecting and I’ve still got to go back to Earth and puppet around that disgusting corpse.”

Iosefael moved, recalculating her position in this world. She thrust out her spear to where Tenebrael’s back should have been only to skewer naught but air. Wings carrying her back into the sky without even a glance around to find the missing angel, she continually turned to keep from being surprised. But Tenebrael had vanished completely. She wasn’t down, she wasn’t up.

Had she fled? Gone back to Earth?

That didn’t fit with what she had said.

A golden glow enveloped her sword and the glove wrapped around her arm as Iosefael began simulating potential futures in an attempt to locate the other angel. As with so many spells on this world, her attempt fizzled out and failed before she could even catch a glimpse. Even trying to project her own future in an attempt to discover when she would next be attacked failed just the same.

Lost and confused, Iosefael couldn’t understand. Was it Tenebrael? This world? Both? Or something else entirely. She tried scanning for holy presences. She showed up right where she should be, so it worked at the very least. But only for her. Nothing else. No Angels, no Archangels, no other Principalities, and, of course, no Dominions. What had happened to them all? As a Dominion, Tenebrael should have had several Third Sphere angels working under her.

Disappeared? They couldn’t be. Such a shock would have shook the First Sphere into action, even in their current state. Had she simply never used her authority to recruit any in the first place?

Iosefael turned to the battle outside the city. It looked like it was ending, but without projections of the future, she couldn’t know for certain. Even with it ending, people had died. People whose souls, as Tenebrael had said, were crying out in agony. Without any Principalities in the world, their collection would be up to Tenebrael alone.

Such a daunting task. Managing an entire world on her own? How had she managed all this time? It wasn’t as populated as Earth, true, but people still died almost constantly around the planet. And that was just soul collection. There were so many other duties under a Dominion’s wings…

The closest soul was almost directly beneath her. She couldn’t help it. Iosefael started drifting lower to the ground. It was her duty as a Principality to guide and help souls to escape their mortal confines. To take them where they needed to go, wherever that may be.

He was an older man, dead from several puncture wounds. Knives perhaps. Too small to be swords, no arrows were sticking out, and this world had no guns. Well, she supposed that last one wasn’t quite true. But it obviously hadn’t been a gun. He was slumped over, face down, in front of a locked wooden door. A grimy key lay in the dirt not far away.

Letting go of her spear, which disappeared the moment it lost contact with her fingers, Iosefael stretched her hand out to the body.

“So predictable.”

Iosefael’s head snapped to the side. She barely caught a glimpse of Tenebrael before she found herself thrown backward, tossed through the brick wall into the home. It didn’t stop there. Three more walls crumbled to dust as she passed through them. There was a brief reprieve as she passed through a street before she crashed through another home.

She skidded to a stop inside the home. People were screaming. Humans. They couldn’t see her, but she hadn’t phased through the walls as she might otherwise have been able to. Being knocked around kept her from processing the intangibility required for each wall.

“I leave you alone for one moment and what do you do? You revert to your duties. Did you forget about me? Did you think that I had forgotten about you?” Tenebrael shook her head, stepping across the room while ignoring the humans as they fled from the one-room home. “Why did you do that? Why did you not continue searching for me?” She reached out, black fingernails glinting from a light no human would have been able to see.

Iosefael’s eyes widened. The spell forming in a mystic circle around Tenebrael’s hand was about to blast her hard enough to send her through every building in the city ten times over. Calculating a new location wouldn’t finish before the spell. Wincing, she scrunched her eyes shut as she prepared for the impact.

The impact never came.

“Oh my,” Tenebrael said, genuine surprise in her voice. It was enough to make Iosefael open her eyes again.

Tenebrael stood right where she had been, right in the center of the room. However, her hands were at her sides. Not by choice. Transparent chains were wrapped around her chest, pinning both her arms and wings down. She was just staring downward at herself, completely perplexed.

Not knowing what was going on but also not willing to question her luck, Iosefael jumped to her feet and readied her sword. She took one step forward only to trip. Her arms snapped to her sides as her face slammed into the floor. Flipping onto her back, she managed to look at herself. The same translucent chains were tangled around her.

“You two idiots are going to destroy the whole city!”

That voice sounded familiar. “Alyssa Meadows?” Rolling over again, she managed to locate the human in question. Alyssa Meadows stood in the gap left behind from when Iosefael blew through the house. She wasn’t alone either. Two other people were with her. Well, for varying definitions of people. One of them wasn’t a human. It was another Age of Legends relic.

Neither the relic nor the non-Alyssa human were looking directly at her. They could see the chains, but their eyes, like all mortal eyes, glazed over Iosefael’s form.

“Whasat? Shadow assassins?”

“No, it’s…” Alyssa trailed off with a sigh. “It’s a long story. A story that’s destroying the city.” Turning away from the injured human, Alyssa narrowed her eyes, glancing between Iosefael and Tenebrael. “I’m lucky you idiots were down on the ground. I wouldn’t have been able to catch you if you were high in the sky. Of course, you probably wouldn’t have been destroying anything at that altitude so I wouldn’t have cared, but that’s beside the point.”

Tenebrael flexed her wings, shattering the chains in the process. “How did you do that?” she said, completely ignoring Iosefael.

Alyssa lost her glare. As Tenebrael looked at her, she actually took a step back. “I don’t know. Honest. I didn’t even know if it would work, but it was all I could try,” she said, words coming out faster and faster. Tenebrael moved just a half step closer. Alyssa took another full step back. “And I had to try something because your fight is definitely going to harm humans. You two are worse than the stupid trolls! Aren’t you not supposed to do that?”

Seeing her friend escape so easily, Iosefael struggled, pressing against the bindings. They held tight. Maybe even getting tighter. She twisted in the chains for another minute before realizing how foolish she was being. Why bother fighting the magic when she could simply relocate somewhere where the chains weren’t! She set herself a new spatial manifestation point just above her current position in the relative universe and moved to it.

Except the view didn’t change at all. She was still on the floor, wrapped up in ghostly chains. “What? Why?” Pressing her wings against the chains as Tenebrael had done still didn’t budge them. She couldn’t summon her sword or her spear and the chains just kept sticking around her! “It’s not fair.”

“Hush, Iose. Whining is unbecoming.” After that short beratement, Tenebrael vanished and reappeared right in front of Alyssa. The human let out a short shriek and tried to jump back, but Tenebrael wrapped her fingers around her hand. The same hand that held Iosefael’s chains. “Don’t let go of the spell or I might have to fight her again. You wouldn’t want that, would you? Just let me look at this for a moment. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt my little reaper.”

Iosefael clamped her mouth shut as Tenebrael began her work. She started out with a few analysis spells. Things not commonly used in the modern age. Back when miracles were slightly more commonplace, analysis spells were needed. Performing miracles was a bit tricky without knowing exactly what was wrong with someone. Nowadays, they might be used to give a doctor some divine inspiration, saving a patient’s life by discovering what was wrong with them. Even those were fairly rare. No scheduled divine inspirations had been noted in Iosefael’s book in well over one hundred years. They just weren’t needed in the modern age.

“Are you alright?” the older human asked. She looked… nervous, if Iosefael had to put a word to it. That wasn’t even taking her fairly extensive injuries into account. How was she standing without groaning in pain? Her eyes were darting around the room. Every time they flicked one way, they paused on Iosefael before moving somewhere else. She held a little round glass jar tightly between her fingers. It had some sort of spell trapped inside, but it was so mutated that Iosefael couldn’t tell what it was without proper analysis.

The sight of it did make Iosefael sigh. Only select few humans throughout Earth’s history had direct access to magic. The number could be counted on one hand, to use a human phrase. There were more who thought they had magic, but whose magic had been nearby angels doing everything. The fact that this human had corrupted spells in little jars was just a testimony to how wrong this world was. Alyssa, who Iosefael was absolutely certain had never used magic before, was yet another example.

Her view of the far side of the room vanished. The relic stepped up, obscuring everything further away. It looked like a human right now, but that wasn’t its true form. More curiously, it was staring right at Iosefael.

No. It couldn’t be. Human or not, it wasn’t seeing her.

The relic stretched out a hand, passing it right through Iosefael’s chest.

That was a close one. With how much her magic had been failing, she wasn’t sure that she would even be intangible. But she was, so there was nothing to worry about. Well, except for the chains. If she was intangible, why wasn’t she passing through them? It just wasn’t fair. She had obviously gotten the short end of the stick.

“There is something here,” the relic said, pulling back its hand. “But I can’t tell what.”

“Ain’t asking your opinion, mimic.”

“Please, let’s not start fighting again,” Alyssa said. “Are you almost done yet? What are you doing? Let go of my hand!”

Surprising Iosefael, Tenebrael complied. “This spell,” she said slowly, glancing to Iosefael, “is nothing like the one I used on you in the tomb. It shouldn’t even be able to touch the lowliest of angels, let alone a Principality.”

“Then why am I stuck?” Iosefael said, once again renewing her struggles to escape.

“It’s unbecoming to whine,” Tenebrael said again.

“I’m not whining!”

“Your inability to escape is likely my doing. Divine magic is… corrupted here. And I wasn’t just knocking you around, you know. Every time I touched you, I sapped just a little hope from your body. After all, I wasn’t going to beat you with pure kinetic—”

“Te—” Alyssa hesitated, glancing to the other human in the room. “Look, can you just leave? And take her with you. I’m tired. I’m upset. This has been an exceedingly long day for me and I’m not even one of the poor people out fighting monsters who have to come back to their destroyed homes because of you idiots. And I don’t need you two destroying the city before I can even take a quick nap!”

“That is something I can agree with, I suppose.” Tenebrael raised a hand, not even commenting on the fact that the human had insulted her several times since showing up as she aimed at Iosefael. A mystic circle formed at her fingertips. This time, it wasn’t one that could blast her to the moon. It was designed for teleportation. Chained up, unable to perform magic, Iosefael could do nothing but squeeze her eyes shut as the world around her lurched.

When she opened her eyes again, she found herself in a room as dark as the abyss. Her chains were gone, but there was nowhere to go. Iosefael couldn’t even tell that there were walls until she bumped a hand into them. They didn’t have doors or windows. Without a reference to her surroundings, relocating herself might end up with her in a wall. It wouldn’t actually hurt her, but it could destabilize whatever building she was in, bringing it down upon any nearby humans. Although somewhat hopeless, she did have one option left.

To leave Tenebrael’s world. To leave and return to the Throne. Or just to Earth. Either would work.

Clasping her hands together as if in prayer, Iosefael bowed her head and closed her eyes. “Commissioned by the Concord of Angels, this Principality Iosefael requests guidance in returning to her home. Confirming existence of the Throne. Throne confirmed. Beginning individual Throne transference across… Divine…” she trailed off. There was no route to travel along. She could see the Throne, bright as ten thousand suns, but there was no path.

Closing her eyes again, she tried the same thing with Earth. She had gone back and forth between Earth and Nod several times since first arriving upon the latter—Tenebrael’s world. It had worked without problem. She even had a preferred Divine vector, zero-one-two.

But it wasn’t working. Again, there was no path. It was like this world—this room was cut off from all creation. There was no way in or out. But there had to be. Tenebrael put her in here.

She tried a few other things, occasionally interspersed with moping about, but nothing worked. She was well and truly stuck. Like a fly in amber. Or something. Her current mindset wasn’t the best to be coming up with human idioms at the moment.

All the while, the darkness seemed to be growing worse. It was so wrong. How could a place not connected to creation exist? Her magic didn’t work. She couldn’t see—she couldn’t experience anything. For a moment, she wondered if this was what absolute nullification was like. But it couldn’t be. She wouldn’t even have her thoughts in that case.

It seemed like forever before something happened—but not literally forever, maybe an hour. A tiny white dot opened up in the black void around her. It was a blessing in oblivion. A tiny ray of hope reaching out to her.

“Iose.” Tenebrael’s voice rang through loud and clear. “I’m sorry for putting you where you are. It must be incredibly depressing, especially to you. But you were really making a mess of things. I had to do something.”

“What happened, Tene? Why…” Why everything? There were so many questions she wanted to ask. She didn’t even know where to begin.

“It’s a long story,” Tenebrael’s voice said with a sorry chuckle. “Maybe I’ll tell you someday, if I decide I can trust you.”

“Trust?” Needles and knives stabbed at Iosefael’s very being. Why did Tenebrael think that she couldn’t be trusted? They had known each other for so long. They had been close for so long. Maybe that distance widened after Tenebrael got her second set of wings, but they were… but Tenebrael was still Iosefael’s closest friend. Her only one, really. Even now, even after fighting her, she only wanted what was best for her.

So why?

Why?

A knot formed in her stomach. Not literally. She didn’t have a stomach and most humans never wound up with their stomachs tied into knots. But she understood the expression well enough to know that it was what she was feeling at the moment.

“How long are you going to keep me here?”

“Not long! Be happy about that, at least. I can’t keep you here for long, even if I wanted to. You have your duties back on Earth. No one will miss a handful of souls, but you disappearing and every mortal you’re responsible for going uncollected? If you’re stuck here and I don’t do anything, I’ll have the Astral Authority bearing down on me by the end of the week.”

Confirming the fact that she was afraid of the Astral Authority was yet another thing that worried Iosefael. Fending off fallen angels made up the majority of the Authority’s duties. But no angel had fallen since… well, since before Iosefael or Tenebrael had existed. Not since the very beginning. So why would Tenebrael fear them?

Why?

“I’ll let you out right now if you promise to not run off and cause trouble again. We can sit down and have a nice civilized conversation about how you are going to return to Earth and not interfere with Nod’s operation again.”

“Tene…”

“Or you can stay here. I used to be a Principality, you know. I’m sure I could manage your duties on Earth well enough to keep the Astral Authority off my wings for at least a century.”

Iosefael sighed. That was true, though she knew without a doubt that Tenebrael would hate it every minute of the way. But she couldn’t stay here. It had probably only been for an hour at the most, but the darkness of this place unnerved her more than anything she had experienced.

Besides that, if she got out, she might just be able to learn what had happened to Tenebrael. To get her trust back! Iosefael smiled to herself. It might mean leaving Tenebrael to her messed up world for longer, but she had managed to keep it hidden from everyone up until now. A little longer wouldn’t hurt. And, as Alyssa Meadows had pointed out, it was already messed up. Leaving her here for a short time couldn’t possibly make it any worse.

She nodded, not even sure if Tenebrael could see her. “Alright. I promise. Please let me out?”

If this was what it took to gain Tenebrael’s trust, she could do it!

Because Tenebrael was her friend. Friends helped each other out when they were hurting, or whenever else they needed.

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