“Why are we not leaving?”

Alyssa could barely understand what was happening. One moment, she had been standing around completely ready to leave. Now, she was on Izsha’s back as they charged toward the gouge with Irulon and Musca only a few steps ahead. Flashes of bright light illuminated the sky like lightning bolts. Did they come from the angels? Or the humans fighting the monsters?

She supposed they would find out soon enough. Izsha was tearing through the streets, moving as fast as its powerful legs could carry them.

“Of course we aren’t leaving. Ready your trinket. Capture as much as possible.”

“You want me to record the angels fighting?”

“I always admire how fast you catch on to things. Yes! I want you to record everything. This is an event featuring two beings beyond all save one. I wish I could witness it for myself, but I cannot. You must preserve this once in a lifetime experience within your trinket so that I can view it later.”

Once in a lifetime except for the other week when Tenebrael had been fighting Iosefael. But still… “Is it really a good idea to get closer? Iosefael wound up destroying half a city block in Lyria after Tenebrael slapped her around.”

“They cannot harm humans. We will be fine.”

The angels were the ones claiming that they couldn’t harm humans… but Alyssa wasn’t sure that she wanted to put her life in the trust of that statement. Especially when that clearly wasn’t completely true. Tenebrael had worried that the Astral Authority would destroy her and this planet. That seemed harmful toward most things living on it. It was more likely that the angels simply had differing definitions on just what constituted harm. Like what Iosefael had been saying about ensuring the soul’s safety while disregarding care for the body.

There was little to no difference in Alyssa’s mind.

The only reason Alyssa hadn’t jumped off Izsha’s back and run away, aside from the fact that she worried about breaking her neck falling from such a height, was because Irulon was somewhat correct. The angels would be fighting. That meant spells. Or miracles, or whatever terminology they wanted to use. The more examples of that, the more likely Irulon might be able to figure something out. Would they ever be able to use angelic magic? Maybe not. But perhaps some diluted form of it could be workable. After all, Irulon had said that the spell Adrael used was overly complex for what it had accomplished.

Unfortunately, angels who probably couldn’t harm humans weren’t all they were heading toward. “What about the Society of the Burning Shadow? And the monsters!” Irulon might be safe enough, even if that hellhound had argued with her twice so far. But that was just because they would recognize her. Alyssa had been invisible the whole time. Only the elves had seen her. They were still hiding in the church. Unless they had telepathy, they wouldn’t have been able to tell the other monsters anything.

“Don’t worry about them,” Irulon called back, trusting Musca to carry her safely as she focused on pulling several cards from her spell tome. “I’ll keep them away from you. Just focus on the angels.”

It sounded like a simple task, but Alyssa wasn’t sure how easy it would be. When Iosefael and Tenebrael had fought, half the time they were nothing more than flashes of light streaking through the sky. The only reason Alyssa had managed to catch up to them to defuse the situation had been because they decided to sit around talking. If these two just fought, or even if they decided not to stick around in the immediate area, keeping them on screen would be impossible.

In fact… Alyssa frowned, pulling out her phone. The flowing text had stopped. Her screen was completely blank. Tapping the button did nothing. Holding it down, however, played the startup noise. The phone went through the whole startup sequence before dumping her at the password entry screen. At least it worked.

For a moment, she considered trying to call Tenebrael again. If it forced her phone to reset again, it probably wasn’t a good idea. She would try again should Adrael disappear.

Speaking of the angel, Izsha rounded the corner of a building. The hellhound came into view just in time to see her toss a human off the edge of the gouge. Hooded as all the others were, Alyssa couldn’t see his face. His arms flailed about in a panic as he flew through the air.

But he didn’t fall.

Adrael hovered above the gouge with her white wings spread to their fullest. She clasped her hands together then immediately spread them wide, leaving a trail of lines and characters in the wake of her fingers. The man crashed into them. Despite the lines being nothing more than light clinging to nothing similar to a sparkler being swept through the air, they wrapped around him, forming a wing-like structure that slowed his descent into the pit. He still fell in. But he would survive the ten story drop to the bottom.

Whether he could get back out was another question entirely.

Alyssa barely managed to snap a picture of it before the spell was out of view. It wasn’t even a good picture, probably, but it was something. She quickly switched to video mode before she could miss anything else.

Anything like Iosefael’s sword and spear appearing in her hands. With a shout like a crack of lighting, “Adrael!” Iosefael dashed forward in a burst of golden light.

She had shouted before attacking Tenebrael as well. Both times, that shout gave her opponents plenty of time to react. Was it some honor issue? If she wanted to attack someone, she should just do it without alerting them to her presence. Foolish.

With the time she got from the warning, Adrael extended her arms. Alyssa focused the camera in. Tenebrael had done something to reflect Iosefael’s first attack, some spell. But… the angel didn’t form up a magical shield. Well, she did. But not in the same way that Tenebrael had done so. Where Tenebrael used a spell to deflect Iosefael’s initial attack, Adrael conjured up a shield made of a single rounded ruby.

Iosefael’s spear glanced off. She was still moving with enough speed that she crashed straight into the shield, but Adrael barely budged.

Adrael’s empty hand swung about around the shield. It didn’t connect with Iosefael, but the golden-winged angel left a smoky trail in the air as she careened to the ground. Another ruby formed just in front of Adrael’s hand. It was a sphere the size of her fist, held in the air by a slender golden staff that speared straight through the orb.

With narrowed eyes, Adrael lowered her arms. The staff, as tall as she was, appeared to rest against the floor… despite there being no floor where she floated in the air.

“Principality. You are interfering with an Archangel in the course of her duties. Desist and offer explanation for your actions.”

“I’m interfering? You—”

Alyssa dropped her phone as she rushed to grab on to Izsha. The draken abruptly stopped before lurching to one side. She didn’t see what the draken saw, but she felt the heat.

“Are the one interfering,” Iosefael said without pause. The princess might miss this bit if the phone wasn’t still recording, so it was important to remember. “You just saved that human! You interceded in a conflict between mortals! You can’t do that!”

At the same time, paying attention wasn’t the easiest when Izsha jerked her this way and that. Alyssa couldn’t blame Izsha. The draken was doing its best to keep her safe from the plethora of spells. Why were there even spells flying about in the first place? The princess said not to worry, but Alyssa was way beyond that point. Where were the monsters? “Irulon,” Alyssa shouted. The angels crashed into each other again, sending a boom of thunder over the little town. But, as only Alyssa could hear the angels, her words shouldn’t be drowned out. “I thought I didn’t have to worry about—”

Izsha, changing directions yet again to charge down between two buildings, ran straight into a net of glowing lines and angelic runes. The same as what had wrapped around the man who had been tossed into the gouge. The draken got tangled up instantly.

Alyssa did not.

She fell forward, passing straight through the glowing net to meet hot dirt. For a moment, Alyssa didn’t move. How had things wound up like this? Who could she blame? The monsters. Irulon. Tenebrael. Iosefael. Adrael. The Society of the Burning Shadow, of course. She supposed that she wasn’t entirely blameless, but she preferred pointing a finger at others at times like this. “I think,” Alyssa groaned, more to herself than to Izsha. “I found out what happened to Irulon and the other monsters.”

Standing, she found the draken thoroughly stuck. The net was less of a net and more of a spider web. A magical spider web that her currently least favorite angel had set up.

Alyssa glanced up as a red streak of light crashed into a golden-white one. Even with her phone back in hand, there wasn’t much point in recording them when they were like this. A more important question would be regarding the nets. Had she set it up while fighting? Or had it been beforehand? Alyssa had no proof, but she assumed that it was the angel sending Liadri the visions. Therefore: It was possible for a precognitive to set up something like this in advance.

There was also the possibility that Adrael had an accomplice. Until Alyssa saw decent evidence of that, she would guess against that idea.

A low whine from a certain dinosaur brought her attention back to the ground. “Don’t worry, Izsha. I’m going to get you out, then we’re going to find Irulon and get her out of whatever trouble she’s found herself in, then… free the other monsters? Fight an angel? Maybe scratch that last one and just run away. The angel is probably faste—” A second whine cut her off. “Right. Sorry. Just… delaying because I really have no idea how to get you out of this.”

The net wasn’t actually touching the walls. It wasn’t like Izsha had turned down a narrow city alley. The two buildings were far enough apart that a whole modern house would fit between them. So she wouldn’t be able to destroy parts of the buildings to get the net off Izsha. And Izsha wasn’t tangled up either. Parts of the light passed through Izsha while other parts looked stuck to her.

Alyssa had passed right through it, completely unhindered. Perhaps if she knew how to read the angelic runes, she could have decided whether it was designed for monsters or if it only worked on one being at a time… She supposed it wouldn’t matter. Reaching out and grabbing it wasn’t going to work if she couldn’t actually grab it.

Except… her fingers closed around the beam of light, filling her with a gentle warmth. Paradoxically, the warmth actually felt cool against the heat of the desert. A sudden clenching in her stomach had her worried that her hand would be stuck to it as Izsha was, but nothing hindered her from pulling away. “Alright,” Alyssa said with half a shrug. Irulon wasn’t nearby to explain magic to her so she didn’t care much about the how behind spell mechanics. Only that she could physically interact with it. “Let’s get this off you, shall we? Try not to thrash too much.”

Alyssa grabbed hold of one of the smaller fibers as a test. Theoretically, the net shouldn’t be able to harm Izsha without Adrael breaking her angelic rules. But she probably hadn’t counted on someone who broke the rules coming along to ruin her plans. Still, given how it was sticking to the scales, the spell probably wouldn’t do anything too terrible. More worrying were the parts that passed through Izsha. One went right through the draken’s neck. If she carelessly tugged at it, Izsha might wind up nearly headless.

One thing at a time.

Alyssa pulled.

The warmth in her hands exploded into a heat running up her arms. She almost let go, but a flickering in the corner of her eye made her continue tugging at it. The furthest edges were pulling away from their former spots. It was working. The spell’s edges were fraying, shrinking, receding down toward her hands. It wasn’t actually moving away from Izsha. The bit of net that Alyssa had grabbed was still pressed right up against the draken’s arm.

As the outer edges shrank toward Alyssa, Izsha did wind up freed. First loose was the tail, then the legs. One beam of light that pierced her backside vanished without leaving a mark, which only served to increase Alyssa’s enthusiasm.

Though the warmth was quickly turning to a heat. It spread well beyond her arms, flooding into her chest. Not burning, but still hot. Alyssa felt flushed, like she was coming down with a fever.

But she continued. Izsha was almost free. Only the beams of light around its face remained, and they were quickly being drawn in.

When the last of the light vanished, so too did everything that Alyssa had been holding on to. She fell back without that resistance and landed on her backside. Izsha actually stumbled back as well. Not quite to the ground as Alyssa had, but the draken had clearly been pulling back.

Compared to her first fall off Izsha, she barely felt it. Still, she rubbed her hips as she got back to her feet.

“You alright?”

Izsha did not respond verbally. Which was expected, unless that net spell had somehow reformed the draken’s mouth and vocal cords. Instead of talking, Izsha walked a little closer and gave Alyssa a little nudge with its muzzle. Alyssa considered it a testament to how much she now trusted the draken that she didn’t flinch away despite those sharp teeth being shoved in her face once again.

Alyssa jumped back, letting out a slight shriek at feeling something damp and slightly sticky slapping against her cheek. She just about pulled out her pistol before realizing just what had touched her.

The stupid lizard stood in front of her, looking at her with its tongue hanging out between two of its sharp teeth.

Instead of going for her pistol, Alyssa pressed a hand to her chest, trying to still her hammering heart. It took a deep breath and a hefty glare, but she eventually smiled.

“I’m glad. Let’s find Irulon,” Alyssa said as she slipped her foot into the stirrup. “I hope she managed to find a way out on her own. I don’t really want to try destroying another one of those nets.” Her hands still felt like she was holding them over a campfire. The rest of her wasn’t much better. “That goes for you too, Izsha. Try not to jump into another one.”

The draken whined again. An acknowledgment? An apology? Alyssa didn’t speak raptor. It was entirely possible that Izsha hadn’t been able to see what she had been trapped in at all, given the spell’s angelic origins.

“I’ll try to keep a look out for you.”

Which reminds me, where have those angels gotten to? Alyssa threw a quick glance around as Izsha started moving—much slower this time than when they first had been charging toward the gouge—but didn’t see any winged creatures leaving streaks of light through the sky. Had they moved farther away? Or dropped to the ground to monologue about their motivations? Pulling her phone out to test, Alyssa tried Tenebrael’s number once again.

And, once again, her phone freaked out. A hundred languages fell from the top of her screen toward the bottom. She didn’t even try to fix it, immediately slipping it into her pocket in the hopes that it would go back to normal like it did last time.

When the gouge came back into view, Alyssa pulled out her pistol. The only three hooded men she could see were too far away to hit with anything but the luckiest of shots, but she still wanted to be prepared. One of the shadow assassins wound up caught in another of those nets. It hung from the roof, struggling enough to prove that it was alive, but not enough to escape.

Izsha didn’t get close enough to them to attack. They only moved close enough to get around the next building.

Another of those magic nets was strung up between buildings. A few flies had been caught in its web… though Alyssa vowed to never call Irulon a fly to her face. Something told her it wouldn’t turn out well. Musca too, for that matter.

Alyssa almost shouted out a greeting.

Seeing two hooded figures on the opposite side of the netting stopped her cold. Without hesitating, she raised her pistol and pulled the trigger three times.

The man standing just to the side of Musca dropped his spell cards, clutching at his neck. Blood leaked from between his fingers as he collapsed to the ground.

Alyssa didn’t watch him more than the time it took to confirm that at least one bullet had hit. She whipped her pistol toward the other man…

But didn’t fire. The first man had been standing far enough to the side to give her a clear shot. This one… Musca might be able to take a bullet to its hide, but Alyssa didn’t know for certain. It was too risky.

Heart hammering, she leaned in to Izsha. “The net extends to the tip of Musca’s tail! Go around!”

The stalled draken didn’t need any additional instructions, charging around the netting.

“Pro-Projectile Reflection!”

Alyssa ground her teeth at hearing those hated words, but she didn’t hesitate to toss her gun aside. It was worthless anyway. Her index finger found the metal ring that bound her spell deck together. She already had a spell in mind.

But it would be too slow.

Izsha put some extra space between them and the netting, ensuring that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the last net incident. That made the route take longer.

And the man already had another spell card in hand. His mouth opened, meeting Alyssa’s eyes as she rounded the net on Izsha. “Void Do—”

He stopped. His eyes widened beneath his hood, but his voice stopped in place.

Alyssa didn’t know whether he choked on a bit of spit or what, but she wasn’t about to waste the opportunity.

Spectral Axe.

The ghostly pole of the long scythe appeared in her hands. The blade hadn’t even finished forming before she jousted it through the man’s chest. He went limp as a thick smoke exploded from his back.

But Izsha didn’t stop. Two more steps forward. Wide mouth opened. Sharp teeth clamped down.

If he hadn’t been dead already, Izsha decapitating him definitely worked.

Adrenaline still flowing at full force, Alyssa looked away from Irulon to ensure that no one else was standing around, waiting to be killed. This section of the town seemed deserted, thankfully.

“Ex-Exquisite timing, Alyssa.” Irulon’s voice sounded shakier than normal. Good. The princess needed a little fear in her. The gaunt clearly hadn’t been enough. “Your delay was due to being stuck in a similar spell, I presume. By your presence here, I assume that you found a way out. As much as I loathe to request assistance with a problem that I could easily work my way out of, expediting my freedom might be for… the… best…”

Alyssa looked over to the princess. It was clear to see what had happened. Musca was in a nearly identical position when compared to how Izsha had been trapped in the net. Irulon was right where Alyssa would have passed through. Except, here, the princess had almost her full body stuck either in or on the net. She couldn’t even turn her head all that well. And she was definitely trying to do so. Black and white eyes wide as dinner-plates, she was trying her best to turn to face Alyssa fully.

“I don’t know that you would be able to get out on your own,” Alyssa said as she slid out of Izsha’s saddle. “These spells are almost certainly Adrael’s doing.” Which means… Instead of going forward with removing the spell as she had intended, Alyssa took a few steps back. Pulling out her phone and finding it back to normal, Alyssa quickly took a picture of the spell. It was an example of angelic magic. Maybe it was nothing, but maybe it would be the key Irulon needed to unravel angelic magic. Picture safely stored in her phone, she moved close again and grabbed hold of the netting.

It didn’t feel quite as warm as the other one. Maybe that was because she was already hot. Regardless of the possibly imaginary temperature, the spell did start fraying at the edges once she started pulling at it.

Her efforts stopped instantly as Irulon gasped.

Alyssa spun on her heel, half expecting another assailant. But no one was there. No one new, anyway. Grimacing, Alyssa turned away from Izsha’s impromptu meal. “What is it?” she said, trying to distract herself before she lost her lunch. “Was it hurting you? Sorry. It didn’t seem to hurt Izsha, so I just assumed—”

“N-No. It didn’t… hurt…” Irulon had sounded nervous before. Now?

“If it isn’t hurting, then don’t make startling noises,” Alyssa grumbled as she grabbed hold of the net once again. With a grunt, she wrenched it away as hard as she could. Her hands didn’t physically budge, but it seemed to do the trick. The edges of the net pulled inward thrice as fast as Izsha’s net.

Irulon dropped out of the air, landing with an oof on Musca. The dinosaur whipped around, not wasting any time to jump around Alyssa and… and whatever. Alyssa did not turn around to find out what those noises were. But it further knocked Irulon to the ground.

Throughout her fall, the princess didn’t blink once. Her eyes stayed locked on to Alyssa. Not even when Alyssa offered a helping hand did her eyes stray.

“Are you alright? What are you doing? There are still a dozen people who want to kill us roaming around. Get up!”

“Your… eyes. They’re glowing.”

“I don’t care—” Alyssa blinked. “They’re what?”

“Glowing. Bright. White. Familiar.”

“Familiar?” After a second confused blink, Alyssa’s hand dove into her pocket to retrieve her phone. She switched to the selfie camera in an instant.

And stared.

She was… mostly normal. Her hair and face were caked in enough dirt for a garden, but she was relatively certain that everything was as it should be. Everything that wasn’t her eyes. Those… she scowled at. That scowl turned to a deep glower the longer she stared.

“Why do my eyes look like Tenebrael’s?”


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