Vacant Throne

by

TowerCurator

022.001 There and Back Again - A Deserted Conversation

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“Undo. Cancel. Release. Be free…” Alyssa ticked her tongue in annoyance as she stared at Izsha’s unmoving form. Fractal Lock just wouldn’t come off. It wasn’t like she didn’t know what she was doing. She had canceled spells before. For instance, she had dismissed the Spectral Axe just a few minutes ago. But Fractal Lock was holding tight.

Alyssa looked to the side, frowning. Without Irulon around to explain magic, she could only speculate. Fractal Lock had to be a spell that directly affected the world. Similar to how Irulon had explained Loophole and why it worked on the magic-resisting gaunts. Since it locked a target off so completely that even an angelic weapon wouldn’t harm them, the spell would probably instantly cancel itself when used on the caster if it was a spell that had to be maintained. Irulon had used it on her self back in the palace, so that was obviously false. Which meant that it attached to the world without any lingering control on the caster’s part.

In other words, Alyssa had no control over when the Fractal Lock would end. Not without complications, anyway. A Desecrate Spells had worked before and it would probably work again. Suppress Magic might also work. However, Izsha was less than twenty steps away from Irulon and Musca. They would be caught in the spell as well. It was true that Fractal Magic didn’t lock a person in space, meaning that she could move Izsha far enough away that neither spell should hit Irulon if she really tried, but that didn’t seem likely with a broken leg.

Izsha wasn’t even injured. Alyssa wanted someone to talk to. Even if the draken couldn’t respond, at least it would be a comfort to have around. Someone to watch her back should those shadow assassins decide that they didn’t like her after all.

Sighing, Alyssa pulled a rock out of her pocket. A faint red haze surrounded the entire thing, indicating something unnatural about it. “And what about you? How long are you going to stay like this?”

The rock, naturally, did not respond. It was a rock. Until Kasita decided otherwise, she would stay a rock.

“I hope you’re alright,” Alyssa said softly, rubbing the stone with her thumb for a moment before wondering if that was somewhat weird. She wouldn’t just go up and start rubbing Kasita’s face. But this was a rock. It was a smooth stone. The kind one might find in a riverbed, not in a desert. “I also hope you’re really Kasita.” That would end up being a bit awkward if this rock were something else.

Like a rock.

But it had to be. Otherwise, where could Kasita have possibly gone?

Still, she sighed. Again. Having already gone through and taken a picture of every one of Irulon’s spells, she wasn’t sure what more she could do. The spell book might as well have been written in another language. Well, it was… technically the angelic text was another language. But Irulon offered no notes like Aziz’s book did. His book had detailed descriptions of the few spells he had written down. Irulon’s was only spells. No English at all.

Some of them, Alyssa could recognize as being a type of magic. Fractal magic, for example, tended to have an overabundance of complexity and triangles. So even though she didn’t know what a spell was, she knew that it most likely belonged to the Fractal branch of magic.

Trying to randomly use them would probably cause more harm than good. Accidentally using some reality splitting spell on Irulon in an attempt to heal her would be all too easy. If she became desperate, another Fractal Mirror might work. By its very nature, it would test out every possibility and every combination of spells. It might even get the angel’s staff to start healing if that was a thing that it could do.

Unfortunately, having gone through the book, she had found only two remaining Fractal Mirror spells. Either Irulon didn’t keep many of that spell or she hadn’t replenished her supply of them since the Observatorium. Given how useful the spell had been against Adrael, Alyssa was loath to waste them for fear that the angel might return. If time started getting low and she hadn’t found an alternative solution, she would use them. For now… Alyssa waited.

She had a secondary plan. She was just waiting for it to show up.

Alyssa glanced around the desolate village. It hadn’t ever been populated. In fact, most of the buildings probably weren’t living quarters, but rather storage sheds. The building she had inadvertently destroyed while attacking Adrael contained far more metal cuirasses than she had seen people. It just served to hammer home the fact that this was not a village, but a military staging outpost.

Other buildings probably had swords and shields and other weaponry. Maybe some had medical supplies. Finding another healing potion among the military supplies would be a miracle, but Alyssa wasn’t going to count on that. Not only could she not walk with any speed, but Annihilator had probably wound up destroying anything useful. With her luck, she was just glad that she hadn’t killed Irulon or Kasita with that initial cast.

Unless her luck was actually really good. After all, she was holding onto a staff that had harmed an angel. Indirectly, true, but still. It had practically fallen into her lap… or into Irulon’s back. Maybe her luck was better than she thought. Irulon’s luck, on the other hand. How does one get their back punctured twice in less than a week? Not just punctured, but badly enough that they were going to die without immediate medical attention.

Could modern medicine even save something like what Irulon had been through? If she had been stabbed by the gaunt in the middle of an operating theater, would the doctors have been able to save her? Possibly. The holes hadn’t been that large. What about the staff? Medicine could do some amazing things, but fix up an inch-wide circular hole in her chest?

Just thinking about it made her shudder.

Anytime now… Alyssa thought. She was mostly just killing time, letting her thoughts wander. Maybe the hellhound would be willing to search through the buildings for potions. She had certainly been willing to go find any other people. That could have been chalked up to the hellhound just wanting to hurt humans except for the fact that she had agreed well before Alyssa named the favor. Was that typical hellhound behavior?

If only Kasita would wake up, she could ask.

“I see your name does suit you well. Though I am disappointed in how many souls went uncollected. I had to go collect them myself. What was Iosefael doing, I wonder?”

Alyssa spun around—or tried to. Forgetting for a moment that her leg was broken, Alyssa tried putting weight on her foot. She didn’t get very far before letting out a cry of pain. Shoving a knuckle into her mouth, she bit down just hard enough to take her mind off the pain. “Do you have to appear behind me every time?” Alyssa said, carefully hopping around the pole. It was tough to do without jostling her leg. “I didn’t even see one of your stupid feathers this time.”

With how many were in the air, that was probably because her mind had been wandering rather than none of them passing through her field of vision.

“What took you so long?” she said with a heavy glower at the monochrome angel. “You hung up on me like a half hour ago.”

Tenebrael, hovering in the air ten feet away, dropped her arms to her sides and let off an exaggerated sigh. “I was puppeting around that man you weren’t supposed to have killed in a delicate operation that really couldn’t be disturbed. If you must know. Then tomorrow…” The angel trailed off, actually shuddering. It was such a slight tremble in her shoulders that it couldn’t have been on purpose… probably. “Never mind. I found Iosefael. The poor girl is inconsolable. And what have you done to yourself?”

“If you hadn’t hung up on me, I might have gotten around to telling you.”

“I’m here now,” she said, swooping in close. Tenebrael’s warm hands clamped onto the sides of Alyssa’s head as she leaned in. Her eyes were wide and unblinking. Alyssa tried to squirm away, but she might as well have gotten her head stuck in a vice. “Have you eaten anything strange, lately?”

“What?”

“You’ve been contaminated with angelic glory. No wonder Iosefael was a gibbering mess. If I didn’t know better, I would have walked past you at the Endless Expanse thinking you were one of my lesser kin—though I haven’t been back there in a few eternities.”

“A-Are you… My eyes?” It was the only thing Tenebrael could be talking about. And would explain her proximity and that eerie unblinking gaze. “They started glowing after I touched one of Adrael’s spells.”

“The eyes are the window to the soul and your soul is positively radiant. Though it is diminishing at a fairly rapid pace. Shame I didn’t arrive earlier.”

Something in Tenebrael’s voice put Alyssa on edge. She scowled as she said, “If you try to eat me, I’ll give you indigestion.”

Tenebrael chuckled and started to say something else, but Alyssa shoved her away. There were more important things to worry about at the moment than some harmless glowing eyes. The angel flew back the moment the staff touched her skin, nearly making Alyssa lose her balance.

“What is this?” she said in a low tone, apparently noticing the staff for the first time. “It isn’t part of my world, I can tell that much.”

Alyssa bit her lip, taking a moment to steady herself after being so close to the stupid angel. She wanted to blurt out that she had injured another angel. Just to see the look on Tenebrael’s face. But… she couldn’t discount the possibility that she would have to fight against Tenebrael to achieve her ultimate goal of returning home and staying there without angels trying to kill her constantly. Tenebrael would eventually find out. Surely. Alyssa was surprised that Tenebrael hadn’t recognized an angelic weapon.

Unless she had and was playing dumb. Narrowing her eyes, Alyssa scanned the face of the monochrome angel. From a proper distance this time. It was hard to get perspective when the angel had her face almost touching Alyssa’s. And Tenebrael looked… normal. Mostly. Her smile was amused, but the more Alyssa looked, the more she thought Tenebrael wasn’t smiling quite as much as she tended to. Her eyes had a hint of strain in their corners.

There was another reason for not mentioning it. At least not right away. If she mentioned that she had lopped off Adrael’s arm, Tenebrael might just rush off. For the moment, Tenebrael being around worked to her advantage… probably. “Do you mind healing my leg?” Alyssa started off with, not even faking her grimace as she accidentally moved her leg in mentioning it. If the stupid angel had to get up in her face, she could at least have had the decency to heal her. “I can barely think with the pain.”

Glowing eyes made it difficult to tell exactly where Tenebrael was looking, but a slight tilt of her head downward helped. She stepped forward from where she had drawn back and made her way around Musca’s still form without so much as a glance toward the monster or the human rider. Reaching a hand out, she rested it on Alyssa’s shoulder.

The pain died off instantly. Although she could no longer feel the burning sensation in her leg, she could feel it shift around. It was a distinctly unpleasant sensation. Still, testing out a bit of weight on her leg felt perfectly normal. To be certain, she kicked forward and back. Her leg looked straight and didn’t flop about halfway through her shin.

“How’s that? Better?”

“Much.” After a moment of hesitation, Alyssa added a quick, “Thank you.”

“Mhm,” Tenebrael hummed, looking toward the large ruby orb attached to the staff. “Now, about this—”

“Wait.” No longer needing to lean on it for support, Alyssa drew the staff back, holding it away from the angel. “First, heal Irulon, if it isn’t too much trouble. And Musca.”

Tenebrael turned away, removing her hand from Alyssa’s shoulder in the process. She took a single step toward Musca before hesitating. “I don’t know that I can.”

“What do you mean? You just healed me with no problem.”

“Yes, but you aren’t mine… I’ve received no instructions to grant miracles to anyone on Nod. Miracles granted to mortals are not a common occurrence. I haven’t done any for three thousand years, aside from the occasional minor bout of Divine Inspiration. There are none scheduled for the remainder of eternity.”

Alyssa blinked, staring at the being. “What are you talking about? You’re the one who wants to break out of your plan or whatever. Just heal her and do it!”

“But I… I can’t.”

“Sure you can. I’ll even change my request. Instead of the notes on angels that you still haven’t sent me, heal Irulon.”

“But…”

Alyssa set Irulon’s tome down on the ground and stepped forward, taking hold of Tenebrael’s hand. “Here. I’ll help you. Just close your eyes and walk a closer. Pretend you’re healing me,” she said, dragging the reluctant angel along. It was more work than it sounded. Tenebrael took three distinct tugs before she took even a single step. “Come on. Isn’t this what you wanted? To disobey what the plan says?” Although… “Irulon and Musca aren’t supposed to die anyway. Look at your book. They clearly have life-threatening wounds, but they aren’t scheduled to die, are they?”

It was a gamble, but, after three more tugs and no further movement forward for Tenebrael, one she felt she had to take.

Reaching behind her with the hand Alyssa didn’t have a hold of, Tenebrael opened her book and started browsing through. She used a wing to flip pages in an amazing feat of avian dexterity. Despite forcing her to use her wings as extra hands, Alyssa didn’t let go, too worried that Tenebrael might disappear to avoid being pressured.

But this was her whole plan. If Tenebrael didn’t heal Irulon… she would just have to hope that the wound wasn’t lethal or that the Society of the Burning Shadow stocked up on healing potions.

“This can’t be right,” Tenebrael mumbled. She flipped forward three pages, back one, then forward another two. Even if Alyssa could read the incomprehensible text, Tenebrael didn’t stop on any one page long enough to read more than two or three of the characters.

Tenebrael took a few steps forward on her own, slipping out of Alyssa’s hand in the process. The angel didn’t actually touch Irulon or Musca. She just hovered about them, examining their injuries. Every so often, she would look back at her notebook.

It took three full revolutions around the two before Tenebrael stepped back to Alyssa’s side. “Dragons are the strongest creatures in my world. And her armor was lying in pieces beneath the relic,” she said, holding up to circular patches of dragon skin while waving casually toward Musca. Alyssa hadn’t seen her grab them, but she was beyond worrying over how angels actually did anything they did. “What caused their…” Her eyes flicked over to the staff in Alyssa’s hands, looking down toward the bottom half. All the blood had run off without leaving a mark on the gold, but Tenebrael clearly took note of something.

“That weapon was not crafted by mortal hands.”

Welp. She knew that it wouldn’t last forever, but she had been hoping for a little Irulon healing before Tenebrael darted off to find Adrael or Iosefael. “No,” she said, not bothering to try to hide it anymore. “This belonged to Adrael. I think she threw it at Irulon. It came in like a rocket from so far away that I couldn’t even see Adrael.”

Tenebrael remained silent for an uncomfortably long time. Her eyes remained locked on the staff, but she didn’t approach or try to touch it. Eventually, her gaze shifted to Alyssa. “An angel threw this? At a mortal?”

“Like a javelin. Unless she used magic to throw it. Either way, it pierced straight through Irulon and Musca. She tried to do the same with her shield against Izsha, but I used Fractal Lock to stop it from actually doing damage.”

“An angel threw a weapon with the intent to harm a mortal?”

“Did I stutter? That is what I said. She was trying to protect some old woman. Who I killed.”

“That’s…”

“Was I right? Irulon isn’t in your book, is she? Maybe you’re even supposed to perform a miracle to correct the damage done by the angel.”

Tenebrael looked down to her book, still held open with her thumb between the pages. It wasn’t at an angle where she would be able to read the pages. “How did you know?”

“A guess.” It was a logical conclusion to reach. Iosefael had been undoing everything that Adrael had done, not just because Tenebrael didn’t want her here, but because she was actively harming mortals with that soul separation smoke. So why not Irulon’s injuries? No matter what their plan was, if the angels weren’t supposed to interfere with mortals except in special miracle events, then Irulon should never have been injured in the first place. Unfortunately… if the book said to heal her and Tenebrael didn’t want to do that… “You are going to heal her, aren’t you?”

“The book doesn’t say to perform a miracle, just that she isn’t supposed to die soon.”

Closing her eyes, Alyssa took a deep breath. “Please. I don’t have any potions and we’re out in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t, I’m not sure what to do.”

The angel took a deep breath through her nose before smiling. “I… think I can manage in light of this new information.” With that said, she turned her back on Alyssa, walked right up to Irulon, and placed her hand on the princess’ shoulder. “Restarting halted processes to facilitate rejuvenation efforts.” Her fingernails glimmered for a moment as a relatively small magical circle revolved around her outstretched arm. Irulon jerked and slumped just a little farther, almost falling away from Tenebrael before the angel moved another hand to catch her. Even though she spoke words and created a magic circle to remove the stasis, Irulon’s wound started sealing without any additional comment or apparent magic from Tenebrael.

Something to mention to Irulon later, maybe. Seeing Irulon get healed was enough of a relief for now. She didn’t open her eyes and, as soon as Tenebrael removed her hand, Fractal Lock took hold again, freezing her in place. “Musca too, please.” Alyssa didn’t like that draken all that much, at least compared to Izsha, but… Irulon’s brother cared for them. More practically, getting back with only one draken would be irritating at best.

“Certainly,” Tenebrael said with a smile.

A smile that unnerved her. It reminded her of something Tenebrael had said not so long ago. Answering prayers breeds dependency.

Which just made Alyssa frown. Ugh. Back and forth. Back and forth. One moment, Alyssa hated the stupid angel. The next, she felt sorry for her. Tenebrael could have just healed them without the stupid smile and Alyssa would never have thought of that. It just put a sour note on what should have been a kind gesture. If she truly didn’t have to heal them according to the book. Tenebrael had said that angels didn’t lie, but… well… they didn’t hurt people either. As the hole in Musca’s neck started closing up, Alyssa focused on that particular topic. “How did Adrael hurt them? I thought angels weren’t supposed to do that.”

“We aren’t. Not even I harm mortals.”

Eating souls doesn’t count as harming us?

“I wonder if I am not as unique as I said I was originally. As a mere archangel, Adrael would be less beholden to her… programming, for lack of a better word, than I. Although she is still acting in accordance with her directives if she is trying to correct my world. Which… leads to me asking for a small bit of help.”

“Help. From me?”

“How would you like to return to Earth?”

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