Vacant Throne

by

TowerCurator

022.004 There and Back Again - Heart-to-Heart

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Now that she was clean, well fed, and calmed down, sitting around the apartment felt awkward.

The initial shock of being back on Earth had worn off. It helped that she couldn’t actually leave the apartment. The fridge held a seemingly endless supply of anything she could want to eat, mostly fast food. Burgers from just about every chain restaurant in both chicken and beef varieties, chicken nuggets, Chinese takeout, pizza, submarine sandwiches, hot dogs, fries, sushi, tacos and nachos, and even doughnuts and pretzels. At first, Alyssa had felt a bit put-off at the thought of eating a burger from the fridge, but the second she had cracked open the cardboard container, a steamy aroma filled the air. It might as well have been fresh from the grill. There were some magical shenanigans going on.

If companies could use stasis magic to keep food permanently fresh, the world would change over night. A fridge that worked the same way as each of these containers, for example. Just thinking about how magic could revolutionize modern society was mind boggling. Food alone would change. There were always articles about how much food went to waste, especially in America. She couldn’t actually look any up at the moment thanks to her phone having been taken away, but she knew the numbers were staggering. Milk would never spoil, bread would never grow mold. Removing the waste would increase the distribution. The ability to permanently preserve food alone would end world hunger overnight.

There would be all kinds of side effects stemming off from a fridge that applied stasis to its contents upon being shut as well. It presumably wouldn’t use electricity. If the entire world stopped powering one refrigerator per household, how much electricity would be saved? Milk didn’t need to be kept cold to preserve it with a stasis spell, though people would probably still want to drink cold milk. Glasses with a chill spell could replace that. The rabbit hole just went deeper from there.

Electricity couldn’t be replaced entirely. Not until magic caught up in the communications department. The internet and even just texting and calling were far far too convenient compared to Message. Electric lights were better as well when compared to the light potion or equivalent spell. For local transportation, cars were superior to anything she had seen in Lyria, but they could probably be improved with magic. Longer distance could be revolutionized completely. She hadn’t seen any Stargate-like thing that could be used for moving mass amounts of product on Lyria, but magic could teleport things. A few years of research on that subject would probably put airlines and sea shipping out of business.

It was amazing how much Alyssa could think of just off the top of her head. Positing the question of how magic would impact the modern world to a bunch of high schoolers for an essay would probably result in a million possibilities that she would never think of.

Of course, the only reason Alyssa had thought of what she had was because of how much sitting around she was doing. Which was where the awkwardness came from. It wasn’t Kasita, though being watched so intently as she shoved spicy noodles down her throat did make Alyssa a little shifty. She had offered some to Kasita, but the mimic’s illusory body didn’t eat the same way people did.

Still, while awkward, that wasn’t the worst. It was just that, since being thrown into the other world, Alyssa felt like she hadn’t stopped moving for a second. First it was exploring outside her house, then getting to Lyria, then all the nonsense between the Society of the Burning Shadow and the Waters Street gang, then her traipse through the desert. Chatting with Kasita was nice, but sitting around and twiddling her thumbs while doing so? Alyssa felt like she needed to be walking somewhere at least.

But she couldn’t. There was nowhere to walk. The apartment only had six rooms and two of those were more or less the same room with just a counter separating the kitchen from the dining area.

Eyes flicking over to the clock on the wall, Alyssa sighed. Six hours? Was that what Tenebrael had said? It had only been two and a half and she was already stir-crazy. And almost an hour of that had been in the bath.

Shoving the takeout box and chopsticks aside, Alyssa looked back to Kasita. The mimic, sitting on the couch to Alyssa’s side, looked happy enough. They had been talking about a great many things so far. From differences between Alyssa’s world and Kasita’s world, Alyssa’s family, Kasita’s mischief as a mimic, to some of the less-than-pleasant happenings at the Waterhole and Kasita’s time being captured by humans.

There was some hate there. Real, unbridled hatred. She tried to keep her tone light, but it always took a slightly sour note when talking about the people who had her in chains. It was subtle and Alyssa could tell that she was trying to hide it, but she wasn’t doing a perfect job. Even her eyes held no small amount of hostility to them, which Alyssa found surprising given Kasita’s control over her superficial appearance.

It was a wonder she still decided to go among humans. Even if she didn’t want to be a bee, elves were human enough that she probably would get used to living with them relatively quick.

“You mentioned a hellhound you were friends with at the Waterhole?” Alyssa said, changing the subject from the humans to Kasita’s fellow monsters. That seemed a more comfortable topic in general. It was far from Alyssa’s intention to rile or upset her friend. At the same time, she still wanted to know about Kasita’s past.

“Selpa, or Selaphia, but I preferred the shorter version. She had a fire to her. A tenacity that the humans just couldn’t break. And did they ever try. I admired that about her. She and I had a plan to kill all the humans in the Waterhole. All we needed was the key to her chains. Svotty kept the keys well hidden because of me, but he wasn’t perfect. One day, Svotty slipped. I saw it, memorized the shape, and ran straight to Selpa. Only to walk in on the Taker wiping Selpa’s blood from his blade.”

Alyssa winced, feeling like she had just shoved her foot into her mouth. That was not how she wanted this conversation to go. Then again, what had she expected? The hellhound had obviously not been there when she freed the monsters. In a place like the Waterhole, nothing good could have come of someone missing.

Kasita continued on, not commenting on or not caring about Alyssa’s flinch, staring slightly off to one side with a hardness to her eyes that Alyssa recognized. “I don’t know if they found out about our plan or if they simply decided that she was too much of a liability—Selpa was popular for being so exotic and unusual, but frequently injured many of her… customers. Either way, she died. I still think that Svotty must have shown me that key on purpose, knowing what I would find.”

“I’m sorry,” Alyssa said after a moment, not sure what else to say.

“Mhm. Ufu~ I was a bit upset with you at having stolen my revenge away, but that didn’t last for long. As a mimic, I knew that I wasn’t going to get anything satisfying out of it. Poison just doesn’t seem like it would be enough for the likes of him, which was my next plan. So I’m glad I saw the corpse. It looked like he died in pain.” Her eyes softened as they turned to Alyssa. “I suppose I should thank you, not just for allowing me some vicarious revenge, but… I had been worried that Rizk was going to end up the same way. I had avoided getting too close to her and I never suggested that we should kill the humans together, too worried that the Taker would find out. The only comfort I did offer her was turning into a member of her species after particularly rough days. And I still regret doing so little for her.”

Alyssa almost opened her big mouth again, telling Kasita that her actions with Rizk might have ended up saving the lizard’s life. The thing that stopped her was a fear that such a comment could be taken as definite blame that it had been Kasita’s fault that the hellhound had died. “I’m sure she appreciated what you did do,” she said instead, focusing on what Kasita did do. “Turning into a fellow salamander kept Rizk from strangling me, calming her down enough for that. That’s proof that she appreciated you.”

“I hope she’s recovered.”

“I’m sure she has. Just taking off her chains turned her from staring blankly ahead to… well, you saw her before she disappeared.”

“A flame salamander lives a long time. As long as she made it away from humans without too many incidents, I think she’ll recover.”

“Good,” Alyssa said, glad that there was some kind of happy ending to that conversation. “I met a hellhound,” she said after a lengthy lull. “It wasn’t quite what I had expected.”

“I know. That you met a hellhound, that is.”

“You know? Oh. Right. You were awake.”

Kasita shifted slightly, leaning over the coffee table to peek into the folded paper box. “Yeah,” she said. “What were you expecting?”

“I’m not sure, but it sure wasn’t for that hellhound to be so… helpful. And friendly? I mean, I thought she was going to hug me for a minute there.”

“She was imprinting, I think.”

“Uh. I hope that word means something different to you than it does to me.” At this point, Alyssa had nothing against the hellhound personally. She hadn’t tried to attack, which was a nice bonus. More than that, she had seemed reasonable, if highly suspicious, while talking with Irulon. But just because she had nothing against the hound didn’t mean that Alyssa wanted a human cross giant dog following her around calling her mother. She could already hear Tzheitza and Oz complaining, not to mention the looks she would get from people in the city.

As much as she didn’t want to consider it, Lyria needed a threat. A real one. Not those little skirmishes that they fought on occasion with the Juno Federation. They needed an existential yet defeatable threat that put both the humans and the monsters into a state of uncertainty. The threat needed to be great enough that the humans would have to ask for help from the elves and other monsters with the monsters willing to agree. Some singular threat so great that they had to unify and get over their stupid hate for one another. Alyssa was perfectly cognizant that not every monster would join or could be reasoned with, but there were enough that could that it was ridiculous that they kept whining about things like mimics and draken.

A war was about all she could think of that would cause that. The Juno Federation mind controlling monsters seemed like it would possibly work, but it would only increase enmity for monsters in practice. The only other big worries she had heard about were regarding demons and their plague. That seemed like it would kill a whole lot of people, however.

She shuddered at the mere thought that she had considered using a tragedy to further her agenda. Even if it would be good for the world in the long run, exposing innocent monsters and humans to a plague just to get them to unite was a horrid thought. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Literally, in this case.

“Alyssa?”

Blinking, Alyssa glanced up to Kasita. “Sorry? Got a bit distracted in my thoughts. You were saying?”

“Hellhounds like shows of strength. I imagine that she’s become a bit infatuated with both you and Irulon, and the draken too,” Kasita added. “Killing all those humans while she was stuck watching would have left an impression. And then destroying the building too.”

“The build—I was fighting Adrael.”

“I know that, but she wouldn’t.”

“Right,” Alyssa said, nodding. Of course the hellhound couldn’t have known. “So what is she going to do now? Follow us around?” Irulon, or her clone at least, had mentioned wanting to domesticate the gaunt to be a monster companion to her like the draken were to Brakkt. A hellhound seemed like a much better companion than a gaunt. And, if the hound wanted to follow Irulon around, that was one less thing for Alyssa to deal with.

Yes. That was a good plan. Let the princess deal with monsters in the city. Alyssa had her hands full with Kasita and Kasita wasn’t much trouble at all.

“I think it depends,” Kasita said. “She might follow you around, or she might decide that you being humans is just too much for her. With us missing from the town, however, she might leave on her own. I feel a little bad about it, poor girl didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

Alyssa didn’t feel broken up about it in the slightest. The hellhound would probably be happier returning home or finding a new place to live that didn’t involve humans hating her presence every minute of the day. “I guess we’ll find out when we get back.”

As much as she had missed home, Alyssa was looking forward to returning to Lyria. Or maybe she was just missing freedom. She could hardly call it a vacation to Earth while stuck inside a tiny apartment. Glancing over at the wall clock to see how much time she had left in this admittedly well furnished prison, Alyssa started. More time had passed than she had thought. With good old fashioned electric lighting, she hadn’t even noticed the darkening of the sky outside the window.

Tenebrael had said six hours. Time was just about up. Unless she had been extremely precise in her estimate, she could show up any moment now. Alyssa expected to glance to the side to find feathers already filling the room. Instead, she stopped on Kasita.

And had a thought.

“I’m not sure that Tenebrael knows you’re here.” The angel was not omniscient. She could easily have missed Kasita being a rock. “Maybe it would be best if you turn back into a rock. Tenebrael probably won’t care, but I’d rather not take the chance that she gets upset and wipes your memory or something equally distasteful.”

“That… would be unpleasant, yes. Shall I just go back to being a rock then?”

“Probably for the best to keep as much unchanged as possible. I’m not sure how soon she’ll be here.”

“I understand. Just don’t leave me behind. Or… maybe—”

“Kasita. I wouldn’t have a problem with you roaming Earth, but I think angels would take an exception if they noticed you. And if there is some way to track you back to your world, they’ll probably find out about Tenebrael. The whole reason she brought me here is to keep the angels from finding out and destroying that world.” Alyssa leaned forward, grabbing Kasita’s hands. “I’m coming back to Earth one day. Under my own power and with some way to keep angels off my back. I promise that I’ll bring you with me if you want to come at that time, but please don’t do anything that will get Nod blown up with me on it… or at all, for that matter.”

“No. That wouldn’t be good, would it,” Kasita said, looking around with a sigh. “Seems a shame to come to a whole new world that no one has ever visited before and not see more than one room.”

“Can’t argue with that. I’m a bit upset too.”

“Shall I turn now?”

“Probably for the best. I’m just going to try to clean that dragon hide armor as much as I can before Tenebrael arrives. Nothing exciting.”

Kasita didn’t say another word, turning into a rock on the coffee table. Alyssa immediately picked it up and slid it into the pocket of her bathrobe before heading to the bathroom. The outfit was right where she had left it. She started out by picking it up with only two fingers, keeping it at arm’s length. She was clean and it wasn’t. But this had to be done. Getting it looking sleek and black again would be nice, but cleaning the inside was far more important.

To start with, Alyssa turned on the tub’s faucet again. There weren’t any washing machines inside the apartment, but even if there were, she wouldn’t toss it in. First of all, there probably wasn’t enough time. Secondly, while supposedly invulnerable to everything but angelic weapons, soap and detergent might ruin the lining. So she was only going to give it a rinsing. A thorough rinse, but a rinse nonetheless.

Really, she should have done this a long time ago, giving it a chance to dry out. Still, watching the tub basin turn brown with mud and dirt was satisfying in a way that Alyssa couldn’t quite put to words. Grabbing a wash cloth, she started doing a bit of a deep scrubbing. The exterior didn’t need anything other than water and a quick swipe of the cloth. Everything just ran off like it had been treated with water proofing chemicals. On the inside, she gave extra attention to the armpits and other ‘heavy sweat’ areas.

By the time Alyssa was satisfied, a whole hour had passed. With still no sign of Tenebrael, Alyssa was starting to get a little nervous. What if something had happened? What if some Seraphim showed up and killed Tenebrael. Angels were not omniscient, meaning that it was entirely possible she could be forgotten inside this tiny apartment for… ever, basically. The fridge had an endless supply of food, so she wouldn’t starve. Kasita was pleasant company. But this was still a tiny room.

Irulon and the draken would be free eventually. Maybe they could figure out a way outside. They would still run into the problem of angels. No matter what, staying here in the long term was just not a good idea.

Just as she started to get worried about spending potentially the rest of her life in a tiny room with two hungry dinosaurs, Alyssa saw it.

A black feather.

Alyssa turned to the bathroom door to find Tenebrael standing on the other side, holding out a snubnosed revolver by the barrel.

“I hope you’re ready to go. I meant to be back a bit earlier, but had to dance around a little Guardian.”

Turning her gaze from the revolver to Tenebrael’s glowing eyes without touching the gun, Alyssa put her hands to her hips. “I’m not shooting anyone. I’m not killing this man.”

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