“Is it alright to let them go like that?” Alyssa said, lowering her binoculars as she lost sight of the guild knights. They were headed south, back the way they had come. Not because they were retreating back to the city, but because they wanted to give the little town an extensive berth as they made their way around it. Regardless of whether or not they truly had believed Alyssa, it was a fact that the angel had them spooked.
Which had probably been the angel’s intent all along. To scare away any threats to the village. As little as it was, it seemed like an awful lot of interaction with mortals for what Alyssa knew of angels. While Tenebrael wanted to interfere with mortals more than she was, it didn’t seem like she could. Iosefael hadn’t seemed to want to interact with anyone at all, aside from putting Alyssa back on Earth and killing her in the process. In fact, she had actively tried to get Alyssa to not go out and encounter anyone or anything else in this world.
This red-dressed angel clearly had different ideas.
“Their mission is important as well,” Irulon said. “And, above all else, they are mercenaries. Asking them to assist me out of the kindness of their hearts would be futile. I could offer to pay them, but it is highly frowned upon to accept requests that do not go through the guild’s headquarters. And if accepting my quest did anything to jeopardize their existing quest, there would be significant penalties enforced by the guild.”
“Indeed. Although, without you or I there, destroying the fairy commune may prove difficult for them. Dragonsfire potions or not. Still, I know my brother offered a significant amount merely to scout out the location.”
“Are they going to be alright going up against fairies? They won’t have any troubles being mind controlled, will they?”
“They were planning on leaving without us before we injected ourselves into their quest. This effectively has changed nothing at all except to give them company for a portion of their journey.”
“Unwanted company,” Alyssa mumbled, thinking back to Lumen.
“Hm. Possibly. One of the other reasons I did not attempt to bribe them. I doubt they would have done anything to me, but your pet mimic… Let’s just say that I’m surprised Kasita is still around. A spell like Annihilation would have destroyed her regardless of her illusory ability.”
“Ufu~ She would have needed to find me first. I was keeping a cautious eye on her the whole time. Her and the larger human. I didn’t like the idea of an unknown enchantment hitting me.”
“Lumen undoubtedly possesses several cards capable of detecting hidden monsters and objects. They are looking for a fairy commune, after all,” Irulon said without breaking stride at having the mimic literally pop out of nowhere.
Entirely unsurprised at Kasita’s sudden appearance as well, Alyssa just shook her head. “Poor Oz. He’d be depressed if he knew how little he is considered a threat.”
“He’s a threat. Just not to me.”
“I will refrain from contributing my opinion. Rather, I have a question that I did not wish to bring up in front of the others.” Irulon leaned back against the rock exterior of their cavernous shelter, illuminated by the sun high in the sky.
They had spent most of the day alternating between sleeping and discussing their plans. True to her mental promise, Alyssa had stayed awake for a full shift of watch, sitting just outside the cave with her eyes searching for any sign of movement on the horizon. It… had not been the most exciting thing she had done. More than once, she had reached for her phone with the thought of games or videos on her mind, but she had resisted the temptation. The others had trusted her to keep them safe, so she couldn’t betray that by getting distracted.
Kasita had helped keep her on task. The mimic had spent the entire time with her, mostly resting against the wall in silence. Once or twice, however, she had asked to see the images of the angel again. Alyssa had simply handed over her phone entirely, both thanks to renewed confidence in Tenebrael’s upgrades and because she trusted Kasita to be respectful. And just to get it out of her hands, letting her watch the horizon without distraction.
Irulon, on the other hand, had not taken a watch. Neither had she slept, which Alyssa had conflicted feelings about. She liked not having to go through the experience of waking the princess up again, but she worried that a lack of sleep might cause problems down the line. Yet the princess showed no sign of wishing to sleep at the moment.
Her eyes, violet right now, locked on to Alyssa.
Shifting slightly, feeling the sudden intensity, Alyssa waited for whatever Irulon was going to ask.
“You consider Tenebrael an angel, do you not?”
Alyssa opened her mouth without thinking. “Ye—” Partway through a very small word, she hesitated. Should she mention that? Too late now. Irulon nodded as if she had expected the answer.
“The physical similarities between the creature captured on your trinket and depictions of Tenebrael are difficult to ignore. Added to that, depictions of Tenebrael come from dying pilgrims whose words may or may not accurately reflect reality and should be taken with scrutiny.”
“That’s…” Alyssa sighed.
“You’ve seen her. She’s the one who brought you to this world. She’s the one who offered you a wish. A genie, you called Her?”
“She’s an angel.” There wasn’t much point in hiding it, was there? Irulon clearly put together enough of the puzzle to see the picture, even if it still had a few pieces missing. “She called herself as such, though the mythology of angels exists back on my world.”
“Angels are considered… servants? Of a deity. Here, Tenebrael seems to have taken the place of that deity. But it’s all mythology back in my world. If anyone really has seen an angel, it would have been thousands of years before I was born. Everything left has been warped by time.” So she said, less because she believed the myths to be untrue and more because she really didn’t want to be accused of heresy. Framing everything as mythology was as good an excuse as any.
Irulon hummed, eyes flickering black and white for just a moment. “Why does she reveal herself to you? Talk with you? Approach you?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I know why she talks to me. It’s because I can see her. But neither of us know why I can see her. She was surprised by it at first, but I doubt she’s thought about it all that much as of late.” It was the same as with Alyssa’s magic usage. When she had first stopped the fight between Tenebrael and Iosefael, Tenebrael had been surprised and spent all of five minutes poking and prodding to figure out why Spectral Chains had worked on angels. And then… she hadn’t done anything similar since. Tenebrael seemed far more concerned with Alyssa interacting with people than with the oddities that enabled that interaction.
“Hm. You really… aren’t lying. Are you?”
Raising an eyebrow, Alyssa shook her head. “No?”
“It’s just hard to believe. Hearing someone speak so candidly about Tenebrael is strange. I have an infinite amount of questions, yet I’m not sure I want to ask any. It feels… blasphemous.”
A chill ran down Alyssa’s spine. “I definitely do not intend to be blasphemous. I just… It’s—”
Irulon waved a hand across her chest. “I must show reverence. Yet if She chose to bring herself down to your level, you can hardly be blamed. Though I would recommend not advertising your conversations with too many who you don’t trust to share a similar mindset.” She shoved herself off the wall, pacing back and forth for a moment while looking at the ground. “Far more concerning is the idea that Tenebrael is a member of a species. Angels,” she said as if tasting the word. “Tenebrael has always just been Tenebrael. Nothing more, nothing less. Applying a species to her makes her sound like a common monster. Which would be blasphemous. I highly recommend against mentioning such a thing to anyone.”
“If it makes you feel better, from what I understand, Tenebrael is definitely the main overseer of this world. I don’t know if she was of my world, but it wouldn’t be wrong to consider her a deity here. The two non-Tenebrael angels I have seen are of a far lower rank than she is. I think the indicator is in their wings. Tenebrael has four. Iosefael and this red-dressed angel only have two.” Alyssa did not really want to mention that there were six-winged angels that Tenebrael had aspired to be at one point. Making her out to be the top angel felt less blasphemous. While Irulon had said that she shouldn’t worry about that, Alyssa still did.
Maybe some day, Irulon would learn the truth. For now, letting her believe that Tenebrael was the same deity that she always had been wasn’t going to hurt anything. It wasn’t like she could actually interact with Tenebrael regardless.
Irulon closed her eyes. Over the course of a full minute, she looked to Alyssa, opened her mouth, closed her mouth, and looked away at least five times. Eventually, she shook her head from side to side. “If Tenebrael presents Herself to me, I will consider it a sign that I may ask the questions I have on my mind. Until then, I will remain silent… except. One thing.” Her fingers, gloved in dragon hide, lightly brushed over her face. “Are the depictions of Her… accurate?”
Worried about her tattoos? It had to be. “The markings were instantly recognizable,” Alyssa said. “It was one of the first things I noticed about you. Not one hundred percent perfect, but considering that the only descriptions of Tenebrael came from people who were literally seconds away from dying, I’m surprised at how good they are.”
“Good. I don’t suppose, if She will allow it, that you capture Her on your trinket as you have done with this angel?”
“I’ll ask, I guess.” And if she saw Tenebrael casting any spells, Alyssa would definitely be snapping a picture as fast as she possibly could. Irulon had drawn out the entire pattern of the red-dressed angel’s spell and was in the process of trying to break it down into something she could understand. Alyssa couldn’t make heads of tails of any of it, but she also hadn’t been studying magic for most of her life. Angelic magic was almost certainly going to be the thing that got her back home and might also be the only thing that worked against angels. The more of it she could hand off to Irulon, the more likely her goals could be accomplished.
Learning the intricacies of magic herself might be a possibility. One that would require a significant investment of time. Back when she had heard about Lyria and the Observatorium, she had hoped to find a way home within a week. How foolish she had been back then. It was getting to the point where learning how to craft spells herself might actually be necessary. Especially with Irulon’s close call just the other night. She didn’t want anything to happen to the princess simply because Alyssa considered her a friend, but it warranted consideration with how dangerous this world could be. If something ended up happening to Irulon, Alyssa would be left… not alone. Kasita and Tzheitza, even Oz were still around. But magically, Alyssa would have nothing. No help. No knowledge.
When she got back to Lyria, maybe she would start learning magic. Though she wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. The Observatorium apparently required a bit of a tuition to get in and attend lectures. She had access to the library. The books she had found so far were more of indexes of existing spells rather than actual spell creation instructions. She might ask Irulon, but given how the princess hadn’t been all that excited about teaching her how to draw out a spell card, she probably wouldn’t be a great teacher.
It was something to look into.
For now, they had other goals. When Irulon didn’t say anything more on the subject of Tenebrael, Alyssa switched their topic to the current problem. “How are we going to raze this village? I don’t suppose you have a nice simple spell that will… I don’t know, take their village into some other world and leave it there permanently?”
Irulon still didn’t respond. Her eyes were vacantly staring, not quite seeing what was in front of her. It took Alyssa waving a hand in front of her face to get her blinking. She jerked her head, eyes meeting Alyssa’s. “Lost in thought,” she said with a slight shake. “You were saying…”
Alyssa pressed her lips together, in part wondering if she should even ask again. Destroying a village didn’t really sit well with her. Then again, she couldn’t imagine people willingly living out in the middle of a desert. She hadn’t even seen a source of water for them during her survey. It probably wasn’t actually a village, but rather, a military installation. A military installation that was planning to set an entire hive of ants on a city, undoubtedly decimating both. There might be a few civilians here, but they needed to be stopped.
Besides, even if she said nothing, Irulon wouldn’t forget about her plan for revenge forever. “Raze the village,” Alyssa said, putting it simply. “How?”
“Right. A tricky question not knowing the full capabilities or just how far this angel will go to protect the Juno Federation. I have several ideas… Bring up your captured maps of their village layout?”
Alyssa hesitated, thinking for a second. “They’re pictures. I took pictures of their village. I’ll show you the pictures. If the pictures move, they’re called videos. Pictures and videos.” Despite her complaints, Alyssa pulled out her phone and switched to the first few images. “This is a Juno Federation outpost, right? I just want to be sure that we’re not about to kill a bunch of people who are just living out here.”
“These banners?” Irulon said, finger hovering just above the glass. “The crossed swords and aegis? It is the emblem of Juno authority. This is a sanctioned outpost. Military. Not civilian.” She hummed, looking at the images, flipping through them occasionally. After examining each image once, she hit one of the ones of the angel. For a moment, she hesitated. That hesitation turned to a scowl. “I have our priority targets.”
She flipped the phone back to one of the smaller buildings that Alyssa had identified as a home. “This is a storehouse. Food and other such supplies.”
“How can you tell?”
“A lack of windows indicates that it wasn’t intended for habitation. A discoloration of dirt around the entrance likely comes from excavation, digging deep to help keep the food cool and away from the desert heat.”
Discoloration? The image quality was terrible. Looking through the binoculars really did a number on what otherwise would have been a great view. But Irulon was far more observant than she was, so she would trust her on this.
Irulon changed the picture to another one. This one obviously not a home. “The stables are our second target. Removing their ability to flee and their food stores will effectively neutralize the outpost in the short term. Obviously, reinforcements can fix both, but we should be able to eliminate the rest over the course of a week, well before any help will arrive. A week of no food will also weaken and starve the occupants.”
“Starvation?” Kasita said. “That seems a lot slower than I was expecting raze to imply.”
“Oh no, mimic. That’s merely for demoralization. These people nearly killed me. While I do not fear Tenebrael’s embrace, I am not quite ready to meet her just yet.” Her eyes flicked to Alyssa. “Well, not for that purpose. If she wishes to appear before me and discuss the intricacies of magic or bring me to another world, I will greet her with a smile.” Turning back to Kasita, she grinned. “No. These people will be made to fear. They will regret existence itself. I have tasks for both of you, if you are willing to assist me.”
“In killing humans who use monsters to carry out their dirty work? I can’t agree fast enough.”
Alyssa frowned, giving Kasita a mild glare. The mimic had mentioned not liking humans before, so she wasn’t too surprised at taking the opportunity to enact some violence. She was surprised at the hypocrisy. Wasn’t this just Irulon’s dirty work?
“The difference,” Kasita said knowingly, smiling with one finger in the air as if to make a point, “is that I am willingly agreeing to this. Capturing a fairy and forcing it to force others to suicide on human swords is perhaps more reprehensible than what had been going on in the basement of the Waterhole. At least those women had their wills, beaten down and broken though they were.”
“Alyssa, you will help as well, won’t you?”
“I came all the way out here,” she said with a sigh.
“You came with the sole intention of rescuing Oxart. That has been done. I know you are… averse to killing.”
“Just promise me this: If there are children, they will be spared. And anyone who surrenders.”
“Acceptable. Once night falls, we will begin. Until then, I have a few spells to create and a plan to go over with the two of you.” She turned back to the cave they had been staying in, waving a beckoning hand. “And something I wish to test involving Kasita’s capabilities.”