“I’m sorry,” Alyssa said, hammering a nail into the wall for a shelf. Doing so wasn’t the easiest while injured. She used her shoulder to prop up the actual shelf while she used her burned hand to hold the hammer, having taken off most of the bandages. Every strike sent minor jolts of pain through her hand, but she stuck to it anyway. She owed it to Tzheitza to help out and not just sit around moaning about how injured she was. Oddly enough, it didn’t hurt as much as she thought it would. Maybe thanks to the potions Tzheitza had given her. Yet another thing to be thankful for.
The shelf itself looked surprisingly like a modern shelf, though with a bit thicker wood and a bit rougher as well. It hadn’t been sanded to a perfectly smooth level. The same couldn’t be said for the fastener she was hammering. It didn’t look anything like a modern nail. It had a wide flat head and almost a blocky spike, looking more like a scaled-down door stopper. Pausing once the shelf was secure, she stepped away with a mild sigh. “This is all my fault.”
Tzheitza, kneeling next to a broken jar of orange powder, ceased her salvage efforts to look up. “Oh? I didn’t know it was ye who knocked over all my reactants.”
“You know what I meant.” Alyssa tugged on the newly installed shelf. Even with a fair amount of force, the wood slab didn’t budge. Pushing down on it with a decent weight didn’t make it buckle, break, or fall from its new mount. “You gave me shelter, food, and help and all I’ve done is cause problems. If not for me, your supplies wouldn’t be in a mess all over the floor.”
The low hum Tzheitza made as she tried to scoop up as much of the powder into a fresh jar as she could did not reassure Alyssa. Though Octavia had broken or tipped over several shelves, a decent number of the containers hadn’t actually broken. The glass was a lot hardier than Alyssa gave it credit for. Even still, the room was a mess and plenty of reagents had wound up worthless thanks to spilling or breaking. A scorch mark marred the floor where Tzheitza had to use a lower ranked spell to obliterate a more dangerous spilling before it could potentially react with anything else in the room.
All in all, she had probably lost a great deal of money in the damaged or destroyed merchandise.
Since Irulon had left, dragging Octavia behind her, Alyssa and Tzheitza had been focused on cleaning up. Oz had started to help, but conveniently remembered something he had to take care of. His excuses hadn’t been very convincing and, judging by Tzheitza’s colorful language, hadn’t worked on anyone. Even if he wasn’t going to help out, he could have at least stuck around as a guard. Night wasn’t far off now and Alyssa would be lying if she said that she wasn’t at least a little nervous. Kasita said that the Taker was pretty heavily injured. But even if he didn’t come in person, Waters Street had more members than just him. It probably wouldn’t be out of the question for them to send a whole gang over to toss Molotov Cocktails at the potion shop.
“Say,” Alyssa said as a thought popped into her head. “Octavia escaped because Irulon suppressed magic, right? Are the magics you had protecting this place still active? Do we need to run around and cast new spells?” She honestly didn’t know if Tzheitza was actually capable of protecting her building on her own. None of the magic Alyssa had seen her use had been higher than Rank Three. Spells capable of protecting a building were probably higher ranked than that.
“Suppression not destruction,” Tzheitza said, pointing up to a corner of the room. “Lights came back on. Defenses did too.”
“Oh. Right.” The little light in the corner glowed just as much as it had before. At least, Alyssa didn’t notice any difference in the light levels. It wasn’t originally from the storage room—Octavia had destroyed all of those—but Tzheitza had a number of extras on hand in addition to all the ones in the other rooms.
They continued tidying up in silence. Alyssa started putting up another shelf, something she was quite at home doing after working in home improvement for a few years, even if the nails were far blockier than the ones she was used to, while Tzheitza moved on to mop up some brownish gunk that spilled from a broken carboy. It wasn’t a very comfortable sort of silence. Despite Tzheitza insinuating that Octavia was at fault, Alyssa couldn’t quite believe her. More, she couldn’t quite believe that Tzheitza didn’t blame her. That combined with knowing that Octavia was probably still going to die in spite of her efforts, the Taker was still after her, and that stupid angel still had not returned her phone didn’t exactly put Alyssa in the best of moods.
Worse, she didn’t know how to fix any of her current problems. Or rather, most of her problems. Getting an audience with Tenebrael wouldn’t be hard per se. Just distasteful. As the angel had said, if Alyssa ever wanted to talk, all she had to do was shoot someone.
Without knowing where the Taker was, she couldn’t exactly launch another assault. He probably wasn’t at the Waterhole’s tunnels anymore. Even if he was, her first attack hadn’t gone all that well. She would need more planning or more allies. Probably both. Just shooting him probably wouldn’t work either. Not unless he decided that projectile defenses weren’t worth the trouble. Not likely considering just the partially spoken phrase had saved his life.
Octavia… Alyssa had done all she could. Aside from petitioning Irulon to petition her father. She did have that commendation from the Black Prince, but honestly didn’t know what it meant or what value it held. Maybe she could buy Octavia’s freedom with it, maybe not. But even if she could, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to take responsibility for the girl. Alyssa couldn’t, in good faith, disagree with Irulon’s assessment on her sister’s idiocy.
As for Tzheitza… Alyssa had Svotty’s bag of money. Would that be enough to repay the damages here? If anything that went into that blue healing potion had been damaged, probably not. While it was a fair amount, money wouldn’t solve everything. In Alyssa’s opinion, anything that valuable should be kept in some kind of secure storage rather than the room that they shoved a known enemy into. But that might not be the case. Worse: Tzheitza had outstanding orders. If she couldn’t fulfill them because of damaged inventory, the customers might seek out another potion maker. Her customers might decide to stick with their new supplier even after Tzheitza replenished her stock. If so, Tzheitza would lose out on a whole lot more in the long term.
“Do you…” Alyssa hesitated. Would Tzheitza even accept money? She might get insulted that Alyssa offered in the first place. It was one of those things that she suspected because of the little things she had noticed about Tzheitza, but didn’t know for certain because she hadn’t taken the time to actually get to know the potioneer. Unfortunately, there was enough work as it was. Tzheitza didn’t seem in a good enough mood to talk at the moment.
“Do you know where Bacco went?” Alyssa asked instead of her original question. Before Tzheitza answered, she cringed, already regretting asking. Why bring up Bacco? She should have asked about Tzheitza herself. Do you have any kids? Love interests? What do you do for fun? What kind of music— No, wait, that last one wouldn’t work well. Not unless Tzheitza frequently attended concerts or whatever they had. Surely there were some music and theater groups around? But Alyssa couldn’t see the former-mercenary-turned-potioneer taking weekends off to go sit with people like Irulon or the Black Prince in concert halls.
Actually, Irulon and the Black Prince attending operas didn’t seem too far-fetched if she only considered their status as royalty. The rich-types were supposed to be the ones going to theaters in medieval times, right? But Alyssa couldn’t see either of them spending their free time at concerts knowing what she knew about them. Irulon wouldn’t stand to have her research interrupted while Brakkt seemed more of the action-oriented type. Though, admittedly, she knew very little about any of Irulon’s siblings.
“The one who tried to sell ye?” Tzheitza finally said, answering Alyssa’s question about Bacco.
“Yeah. I was just… curious, I guess.”
“Said he ain’t going to stick around here. Wanted to get out of the city before anyone came after him. I didn’t bother asking where to.”
“Ah. I see.” Alyssa fell silent as she finished hammering in the last nail for the last shelf. There was still broken glass all over the floor, but Tzheitza had finished gathering up most of the salvageable reagents. “So what’s the total damage? Anything irreplaceable?”
Tzheitza tipped her head back and forth, cracking her neck as she stood. “The bunyip fur is the biggest loss. After being shaved from a bunyip, it must be kept clean. Unfortunately, it fell into the mandragora extract. Which was also lost, but isn’t particularly rare.” She nodded toward the scorch mark. “Kejo hair shavings are extremely rare, but also not used for much of anything. At least, nothing I make. Dirt may have gotten into most of what I cleaned up, but it shouldn’t be a big deal. Harpy feathers are washed before use, the ground humor can be separated from anything they’re mixed with after a little work.”
Alyssa glanced around at all the jars on the shelves that hadn’t fallen as well as the few that Tzheitza had left on the floor after her salvaging. Bunyip fur? Mandragora extract? Kejo hair? Harpy feathers? “Do all potion reagents come from monsters?”
“Most. Not all.” Tzheitza opened a drawer in a smaller bureau. The drawer had several planks of wood separating the space into little compartments. Each one held a different powder, some of varying colors, but most a metallic silver. “Salt,” she said, pointing to a reddish bit of ground crystals before moving on to the next compartment of powder, “limestone, sapphire, calcium, silver, silicon, aluminium, cadmium, mithril, iridium, gold, and so on and so on. All mined from the earth rather than taken from monsters. Though these serve more as stabilizin’ agents. The monsters are where the magic comes from. If you want long, luscious hair, you mix up some kejo hair into a potion. If you want hair that is guaranteed to attract attention, you also use kejo hair, just in a different way. Monsters have natural magic that potions can take effects from.”
“Huh. Interesting. So can harpy feathers be used to make you fly?”
“Ye don’t want to do that. Use a spell. Potion effects wear down at unpredictable rates. If yer up high—” Alyssa jumped at Tzheitza clapping her hands together. “Splat. Harpy feathers are used primarily for featherlight and featherfall potions.”
“Oh. What do they do?”
“Lessen weight and fall slow. If I’d had my potions when I fell from Brechen, ye wouldn’t see a scrape on me.”
“Ah…” There were spells that did those same things. Alyssa almost told her that, but she had to know. It seemed like an awful lot of effort to get the effects that low rank spells could provide with just some scribblings—it took hunting for monster parts, plus whatever other metals or whatnot went into them, and the whole creation process as well—but she immediately realized her mistake. Potions could be used by anyone. A Rank Zero arcanist could save themselves from a fall with a featherfall potion but not a spell. Of course, most potions would be expensive. So there was that limiting factor.
“What does… or what is a buny—” Alyssa’s mouth screeched to a halt.
A thought popped into her head. Money would just be a bandage. A temporary patch in the hopes that she would be able to fully recover her business.
But Alyssa had something! Something she had completely forgotten about. With all the craziness that had gone on, it wasn’t surprising that she had forgotten. There were probably a hundred other things that slipped her mind. But she could hardly believe that, in the relatively relaxed days between the attack and meeting Cid in the alley, she had indeed forgotten.
“A bunyip,” Tzheitza said. “Not a bunny. It’s a sort of snake monster except—”
“Wait. Come with me. I have uh… uh… surprise. Or present. Or just something that might make up for how much trouble I’ve caused you.”
Taking care not to trip over any of the debris or potion reagents still on the floor, Alyssa stepped around Tzheitza and left the room. She took a sharp left and went right into the second storage room. Her room. Tzheitza followed along slowly, but stopped in the doorway and leaned against it. Alyssa didn’t mind. Her pack, while it had shrunk some since initially setting off because of a few minor damaged or consumed items, pulling out most of the clothes, and just having unpacked a handful of things—bullets mostly, it was still a gigantic pack filled with plenty of junk. Hopefully useful junk. Otherwise she would have carted it all around for nothing.
She dug through, pulling out wrinkled dresses, the jewelry box, a first aid kit, her camping pots and pans, a blanket, and an extra box of pistol ammo that she had somehow missed taking out earlier. There. Somehow having migrated to the very bottom of her pack, a dozen black feathers sat in perfectly pristine condition. Not a single one had broken despite all the stuff piled on top. Even the frills were completely intact. Then again, they were Tenebrael’s feathers. She wasn’t sure why she was surprised.
Still, just in case, Alyssa took care pulling them out of her pack.
Back when she had first acquired them from Tenebrael, she hadn’t taken the time to really look them over. She had shown them to Bacco, confirmed that he could see them, then shoved them into her pack. And had promptly forgot about them.
Now, Alyssa did not find Tenebrael worthy of any sort of respect or worship. However, these feathers possessed an unearthly beauty. And it wasn’t just because they had managed to survive her pack without being damaged. The black bristles gleamed in the light as she moved them. Almost like a mirror would, except without the actual reflections.
And looks weren’t all they had going for them. They were soft. So soft. The bristles sprung back into place the moment her fingers came away, but there was almost no resistance in pressing against them. Alyssa actually brushed one against her cheek just to feel it better than she could with her injured hand and broken arm. At this moment, she felt like she had another item to add to her list: Pluck Tenebrael clean and make a pillow and bed out of her feathers.
It would be the best sleep she ever had. Alyssa had no doubt about that.
Alyssa shook her head, lamenting the fact that these amazing feathers were stuck to such a terrible being. Unfortunately for her plans of the most comfortable bed ever, Tenebrael probably wouldn’t part with so many. Especially not for free. And Alyssa really wasn’t interested in carrying out any tasks that the angel might have for her. They were bound to be distasteful. So she sighed a little, forcing herself to put the feathers down.
She withdrew them one at a time, carefully setting them in a row on the bed. Exactly thirteen. Coincidence? It had to be. Alyssa didn’t believe in superstition like that. Not even after meeting literal angels. Besides, three had been the number she had noticed repeating in this world.
When she looked up, she couldn’t help but frown. Tzheitza didn’t look impressed in the slightest. “Ye givin’ me feathers? I have samples from most every monster and several mundane creatures. Ravens, owls, hawks…”
“These aren’t raven feathers. Or any feathers that you’ve ever seen. These are angel feathers.” From Kasita, Alyssa knew that angels weren’t a known concept. They simply didn’t have angels. Probably because Tenebrael was more of a deity than anything else on this world. “You know those invisible monsters I spoke with the other night? These are feathers from one of them. I don’t have any proof, but I assume that they are the most powerful beings on the planet. Oz once told me that the entire army that had gone to fight the trolls would have lost most of their number in a battle against a dragon and victory would not have been assured even then. The monster these feathers came from is so far above that level that she wouldn’t even notice a dragon trying to attack them.”
Tzheitza raised an eyebrow. Just one, on her good eye. Obvious disbelief riddled her features. But she didn’t verbally disagree. Having seen them—or at least, having seen the destruction they had caused, she had to believe that beings called angels actually existed. Her disbelief was probably regarding their power. As Tzheitza stared at the feathers, she started frowning. She stayed in the doorway for an extra moment before shoving off and approaching the bed. Without touching any of the feathers, she leaned down and started looking over them.
“I know most every monster type. Never heard of angels.”
“Ah. Well… yeah. They’re rare. I think the two you… didn’t see are the only two in the world.” And Iosefael might not even be around anymore if Tenebrael sent her back to Earth. And actually, Tenebrael might not be around either. Every time she showed up, she complained about having so much work to do because of those people who broke into Alyssa’s home. Though, she presumably popped back here every time someone died. “I don’t know why, but I can see them. Which generally just makes trouble for me when they get bored.” Though if she couldn’t see them, she would probably have died back on Earth. So she at least had to be thankful for that no matter how much she disliked angels in general.
“Ye only got these thirteen?”
“I might be able to get more. But that’s a pretty big might. I haven’t even seen either of them since that night. Don’t count on it anytime soon.”
“Can’t do much with so few of an unknown material. Lots of tests to run to figure out what they can do and what they ain’t capable of.”
“That’s slightly disappointing,” Alyssa said with a mild sigh.
Tzheitza reached out to one of the feathers. Which made Alyssa tense with a sudden thought she hadn’t had before. What if someone else touching Tenebrael’s feathers does something bad, like steals their soul?
But nothing happened. Tzheitza picked up the feather by the tip with a very light touch and turned it over. She angled it around in the light, staring at it with her one good eye. After a moment, she brought it up to her face and gave it a little sniff. Then she stuck out her tongue.
Alyssa grimaced. The feathers were probably perfectly clean. Tenebrael might have a disgusting personality, but she was an angel. Still, just knowing that she brushed her wings all over dead bodies while eating souls made Alyssa’s toes curl. And ugh… I brushed one against my cheek, she thought, rubbing her face self-consciously. The only consolation was where Alyssa had gotten them. Tenebrael touched corpses with the tips of her wings while Alyssa had grabbed the angel at around shoulder height.
“They’re yours,” Alyssa said after a few more minutes of Tzheitza inspecting the feather. “I don’t know how much use you’ll get out of them, but maybe it would be fun to see if they can do anything.”
“I’ll have to think of an efficient test to use as little material as possible.” Tzheitza stood, scooping up all the remaining feathers on her way. “For now, ye should get some sleep.”
“But the supply room—”
“I got it. Ye don’t know where to put things away. And yer still injured. If the Taker shows, yer gonna be dead weight. Sleep while you can.”
“You’re injured too.”
“Naw. It’s been a week for me. Just got little scars left. A bit of self-medicating and I’ll be fully fixed before yer arm. Especially if you ain’t gettin’ rest. So sleep. There ain’t much left to clean up anyway.”
Alyssa sighed, but nodded. She didn’t say anything as Tzheitza left the room with her bundle of feathers, closing the door behind her. Even with that advice, she couldn’t just lie down and sleep. She was far too awake at the moment. Maybe she could write for a while. She had a few notes to add to her notebooks, though she wasn’t sure if she should try writing with a broken arm or with a burned hand… Maybe it was best just to do as Tzheitza said and get some sleep.
Or not, Alyssa thought as she noticed a water bottle twitch. It shimmered just as she expected it to. In a second, she had someone else sitting on the opposite end of her bed.
“Hello, Kasita. I was wondering where you disappeared to.”
“Ufu~ I thought I would distract that girl by popping up behind her. But your friends took her down before I could,” she said with a mild pout. “Tenebrael’s feathers?” When Alyssa inclined her head, she nodded. “Thought so. I could tell that they were there, but something was off about them. Like, if I had tried to turn into them, I might have died.”
She could tell that just by looking at them? How would they even kill her? Alyssa shook her head. Magic. It explained everything. “I’m glad you didn’t. I’m glad you’re alive. And alright. I really am sorry about what happened in the Taker’s dungeons.”
Alyssa leaned back against the wall, staring at Kasita. As was usual for when things weren’t going wrong, she looked like an overly beautiful woman. Except her hair was a bit darker. But she looked real, rather than clay. And her form wasn’t changing like the channels on a television. So she was probably back to normal. “What do you like to do, Kasita?”
The mimic tilted her head to one side with an odd expression flickering onto her face. “Do?”
“For fun. You know… like… Do you ever play chess or anything? Does chess exist here?” There had been playing cards on the Brechen Overlook, so they must have some games. But Kasita’s eyes weren’t lighting up with recognition.
“What brought this on?”
“I don’t know. Just wanted to get to know people better. I’ve been basically living with you and Tzheitza for a week and hardly know anything about either of you.”
“In fact, you probably know more about me than I know of you with how much you’ve followed me around without my knowing.”
“True enough. So you want to know things about me?” Kasita hummed to herself for a moment before nodding her head. “Why not? Never heard of chess. It might be a human thing. But for fun… hum. Ufu~ I once disguised as a farmer’s plow. He hooked me up to some mule and dragged me off to the middle of his field. He looked away for one moment and I was a blade of grass. The look on his face. He had to trudge all the way back to his shed to find his real plow.” She giggled again, but her laugh died off. “Not what you were talking about?”
Alyssa frowned… but shrugged. “Well, I can’t imagine doing that would be very repeatable. Wouldn’t people figure that a mimic is in the area after the first time?”
“Yeah, that’s accurate. Luckily, most farmers don’t have the ability to detect mimics. They would have to hire out some of the Knights Solaris or hope for a passing arcanist. Which aren’t exactly cheap enough for most farmers to hire. At least not over a mimic. Our weakness is well known.”
“That doesn’t mean that you’re harmless. You shot Bercilak’s minion. It knocked you away, but you could probably use a smaller gun with some proper footwork.”
Kasita leaned forward, thrusting her face right next to Alyssa. “Really? Do you have one?”
Alyssa didn’t have anywhere to flee to with her back pressed flat against the wall. Using her burned hand, she gently pushed Kasita back to the other side of the bed. “I don’t have one with me. Both my pistols are identical so that they could use the same ammo. I do have a revolver, but I think it has more recoil than the pistols.”
“But there are smaller ones? How do… how do I get one?”
“Uh… I could get one if you have a way of teleporting, traveling extremely quickly, or… basically just those two things. On foot, it would take a full month to get one and get back.” Though getting a new shotgun might make the trip worth it. Alyssa was kind of hoping that a blacksmith could repair her damaged one. It didn’t need to be perfect so long as the parts that were supposed to come out came out and the parts that weren’t didn’t.
A month was not what Kasita wanted to hear. She slumped backward with a frown on her face. “Oh.”
“But you aren’t just dangerous because of that!” Alyssa said quickly, trying to cheer up the suddenly depressed mimic. “You can use magic, right? You used that contract spell. Surely you can use more dangerous magics too. That’s just paper, not a heavy gun.”
“Humans guard their secrets of magic jealously. Any arcanist that matters protects their spells against unwanted hands—which monsters always are. If I tried to touch that princess’ magic book, it would probably explode in my face.”
“Hmm… Maybe we can help each other out. I lost all my spells. I didn’t have many that were valuable, so it isn’t a big loss. But I would like to replace them anyway.” I just need to be absolutely sure what spells do before I use them. And if they do anything abnormal when I cast them. “But I can’t draw out spells with my injuries. You can lift a pen, right?” Pens were practically weightless. Kasita’s nod only encouraged Alyssa. “But you can’t get into the Observatorium. I can. So…”
“I get to keep some cards if I help draw some?”
Alyssa grinned and nodded her head. “Exactly. We help each other out.”
“You would trust me with deadly spells?”
“We’ve been living together for a week. Inside a potion lab. If you haven’t stashed away some poison, I’d be surprised. And you haven’t used it on me so far. You’ve helped me out a lot as well, saving my life from Bercilak and taking my place while following Cid especially. And maybe we can talk while drawing them. Get to know each other better.”
“To be honest, I assumed the potion lady would have protections against tampering with her stores. But… Ufu~ Real spells?” She smiled at herself. “I like this plan. How soon can we start?”
Alyssa opened her mouth, tomorrow on her lips. But she hesitated. While she could go to the Observatorium, taking books home was not among the short list of things she could do there. With a broken arm and a burned hand, she wouldn’t be able to copy spells herself. Maybe she could convince Irulon to scribble a few spells down for her. Except that was just using her. Something Irulon had already vehemently objected to. “I need my phone.”
“My phone. It’s a tool I can use to… help with copying spells. But I gave it to Tenebrael.” Alyssa ground her teeth together. That stupid angel. She had to be deliberately avoiding Alyssa. It was the only explanation. Even the Message spell hadn’t worked. Or rather, the spell seemed to have worked, but Tenebrael never showed up. “I need a dead body. A fresh one. Like someone that’s dying as I’m staring at them.”
“There’s plenty of humans wandering around the city. I’m sure you could find one that won’t be missed.”
Shooting the mimic a glare just made Kasita shrug. “I’m not shooting some random person. I need a… hospital? Does this city have a hospital? Or maybe public executions.” Distasteful, but it would work. The people would die anyway whether or not she contacted Tenebrael because of them.
“Nope. Even if they take someone behind the building and slice their throat every hour on the hour, I don’t want to go anywhere near Waters Street’s territory. Not until I’m far better prepared.” And maybe not even then if I can help it. “I’ll ask Tzheitza in the morning. Being a medicine supplier, she’ll know where people are dying.”