Alyssa was not an alcoholic. She really only drank on rare occasions. Her birthday. New Years. When she went to fancy sit-down restaurants. Things like that. There were a few reasons for that. Price was the big one. Alcohol was expensive. She couldn’t understand how people could throw away a significant percentage of their income on drinking a few beers a day, let alone on more pricey drinks. The taste wasn’t anything to write home about and she didn’t actually enjoy being any level of drunk either. The few times she had woken up with a hangover only served to hammer home that drinking was to be a social-only thing, not a casual thing.
She wasn’t about to disparage other people for enjoying that things they enjoyed, even if she secretly thought that they were foolish for doing so. However, tonight, she was grateful that Tenebrael had seen fit to stock the closet with several bottles of beer. It was cheap stuff, mostly, but Alyssa wasn’t going to complain. Especially not after tasting the vile mixture they called alcohol on Nod. That stuff could get her swearing off drinking permanently. Maybe modern tastes had ruined her palate, but she couldn’t see how anyone drank that stuff.
Yet they seemed to like it. Especially those people at the festival in Teneville. Even when it had been free, Alyssa had passed a mug up more often than not.
Ugh, thinking about beer was distracting. Or maybe it was the beer that was distracting her. Was there a difference? She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. She hadn’t had nearly enough to be actually drunk. It was just that thinking about beer was less complicated than thinking about other things. More important things.
“So what do we do now?” Alyssa said, looking over the coffee table. Irulon, Izsha, and Musca were still pushed off to the side. They were now joined by the frozen form of the bearded man, who had been unceremoniously dumped on top of the pile. It was getting a little ridiculous.
She was once again wearing her fluffy bathrobe, which had been cleaned with a wave of Tenebrael’s hand. Tenebrael hadn’t noticed Kasita. Or, if she had, she hadn’t said anything about it. Alyssa was just glad that the mimic was still there. She had been a little worried that the mimic would slip away. But her trust had not been misplaced.
Take that Oz and Tzheitza.
As for the angel herself, she sat across from Alyssa with her wings obstructing the television—not that Alyssa believed that the news would be playing anything about the incident at this time of night. There hadn’t been a chair there before… there still wasn’t one there now. No matter how she figured it, Tenebrael was not sitting on a chair.
She sat on a throne.
A black marble throne made to look like it had been ripped from a Gothic cathedral. Maybe even her cathedral from Teneville. The back was narrow enough that it could fit between her wings, resting her back without getting in the way. Two tall spires jutted up on either side of her head. If Alyssa blurred her eyes a bit, it almost looked like the angel had horns. She sat with her legs crossed, leaning against one of the two open-mouthed lions that had been carved into armrests.
Upon first seeing it, Alyssa could only roll her eyes. The angel could float in the air without even beating her wings. Did she really need a throne?
“So what now… Tenebrael?” It wasn’t like the angel to be distracted. Was something wrong? Alyssa started, hand instinctively going for a gun at her hip that wasn’t there.
But Tenebrael just glanced over and shrugged. “Apologies. I was going over everything we did, making sure that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I think we should be fine.”
“Ah. Well, that’s good. So now? Back to Nod?”
“Soon. I don’t want for any of you to be here much longer than you already have been. But I will allow you some time to recuperate.”
“Enough time to get a night’s sleep?” As much as Alyssa didn’t think that she would be able to sleep well, a soft bed would go a long way to help.
Sadly, Tenebrael shook her head. “Not longer than an hour. Besides, your companions will be out of stasis soon. I want them back in my world before then.”
“Can I at least take some food with me?”
“As much as you can carry,” Tenebrael said with a smile.
“Damn,” Alyssa mumbled, wishing that she had her big backpack with her. Unfortunately, that was back at the cave outside the Society’s compound. “What about this robe, can I keep it too?” Maybe she could tie it into a makeshift bindle and increase her food carrying capacity.
“It has your name on it, doesn’t it?”
“Thanks!” Alyssa said. And she honestly meant it, though she did start frowning after thinking for an extra second. “I don’t suppose you could do something that would make it permanently clean, could you? Because I just know that it is going to get caked in dirt, sweat, and probably blood ten minutes after getting back.”
“Are you calling my beautiful world filthy?”
Tenebrael’s lips turned to a pout. “You are a needy one.”
“I’ve missed modern amenities,” Alyssa said, entirely unashamed. Having just one garment that wouldn’t wind up ruined would be a godsend… An angelsend?
“I suppose there is no harm in it.”
That had Alyssa grinning, though it was something of a sour grin. Once again, she was on a roller coaster. A few hours ago, she had been hating Tenebrael. Now, she was back to actually liking her. Am I being bought with gifts? Though, maybe she should be happy that Tenebrael had taken a risk on Alyssa’s behalf in saving the homeless man. She could easily have said that the plan wouldn’t have worked, that Alyssa didn’t know enough about theoretical metaphysics, and insisted on killing him. But she hadn’t done so. She had listened to Alyssa’s plan, patiently shot down the parts that wouldn’t work, and tried it when Alyssa presented a solution.
For that, Alyssa could be happy with the angel. Now we just have to do it two more times. Ugh.
As for the man… Alyssa glanced over to the pile of frozen bodies. “What about him?”
“What about him? He can’t stay here. He must go to Nod. It is far too late to be having second thoughts about that. Unless you intend to kill him, in which case I can eat his soul and dispose of the body.”
“No. No. Definitely not. It’s just,” Alyssa paused, thinking. “If you put us back where you got us from, he’s going to wake up and probably panic. Maybe even fight against me, thinking I kidnapped him. Or something like that. Considering that we left a hostile stronghold in the middle of an expansive desert, that probably isn’t the best place for a fight.” Or rather, Irulon would kill him immediately if he tried anything. She could picture that scenario clearly enough in her head.
“There is a reason I dropped you off in Teneville. You’ve seen my world. It isn’t a safe place. I wanted to keep you alive while I decided what to do about you. Teneville was the best place for that, assuming you didn’t stay in your little home. Then you left Teneville and got caught up in all kinds of nonsense. So much for my efforts,” she added with a grin, cocking her head to one side.
Alyssa opened her mouth, about to ask for just that. Being dropped off in Teneville, or close enough to it that it wouldn’t matter much, would drastically outweigh any benefits of returning to the desert. Except for a one thing. Irulon had wanted to destroy the compound to prevent more of the Juno Federation from moving in. Hard to do that from Teneville. But… Did they really need to destroy it? If they got back to Lyria, it should be a simple matter to order some guards and mages to destroy it. Even if some political red tape bound her hands, Irulon could hire out people from the guild. Surely they had mages capable of destroying a small and very empty village.
Then again, they hadn’t spared anyone for Oz’s mission. He was supposed to be paid a bonus if he and his group managed to destroy the fairy commune. But instead of the guild supplying anyone, he had gone to Tzheitza. Alyssa had no doubt that the potion crafter could whip up something analogous to modern C4 or napalm, which would surely do the job—and she very well might have done just that judging by Oz’s comments about the potions he was carrying—but the guild hadn’t supplied anyone else even after she had rebuffed his request for her to join them. The whole reason he and his group had met at the potion shop before leaving had likely been for one last attempt at recruiting her. Or, if not recruit her, then to pick up the potions they wanted to use, but Oz had obviously wanted her to come with them.
So maybe they didn’t have anyone who could just stand outside the village and blast it with magic. Still, they should be able to get a small group of soldiers to raze the place, even if they had to do a bit more manual labor than magic should allow.
And if she couldn’t get a handful of men out to destroy the buildings of an empty village, what good was being a princess?
Of course, Teneville was two weeks away from Lyria. The desert was only a few days away. So maybe it would be best to return to the desert in the name of expedience.
How much would the draken reduce the travel time between Teneville and Lyria? Alyssa wanted to say that the desert was closer, but was it really? They could have crossed a huge amount of land with the help of horses and draken. It was hard to tell exactly how much while riding.
Either way would probably be a few days. From the desert was just a known amount of days.
Alyssa blinked, slapped her cheeks, and shook her head. “I’m so dumb.”
“If you insist, I won’t argue.”
Not bothering to respond to that, Alyssa moved on with what she had been going to say. “Can’t you drop us off in Lyria?” There were dangers there, true. The Taker in particular, but also the occasional attacks from the Society of the Burning Shadow. With so many of their members dead and their orb of mist destroyed, hopefully those would be on pause for at least a few weeks.
“I can put you in Lyria. I can put him in Lyria. The others must return to where I took them from.”
“I…” The white in her eyes cut off as she blinked. “I don’t know. But they must.”
Alyssa stood up. “This is that thing again,” she said, rounding the coffee table to get to the angel. She put a hand to Tenebrael’s shoulder. “You can do it if you try. Right? Just take us all to Lyria as if you were taking only me. Then don’t move them anywhere else. Simple.”
“If only it were. I’m running the calculations as we speak. I won’t say that there are no possibilities that will lead us all to Lyria, but I can’t see them. A black void has swallowed up the vectors and the equations.”
“Then teach me these calculations. I’ll do it for you.”
Tenebrael raised an eyebrow. “Teach you?”
“I… I took a math class in college,” Alyssa said, turning aside ever so slightly.
“You took Math in Modern Society. And passed, barely.” Tenebrael shook her head, sending her black hair flying for a moment until it settled perfectly around her shoulders. “I might be able to teach you a few simple things, but crossing between worlds—or even moving to a new location on the same world—requires mathematics that your society doesn’t have a word for yet, let alone a theory of.”
“Then let’s start with the small things! If I can’t cross worlds, then so be it, but neither of us will know until we try.” Alyssa took the opening for what it was: A way to get her foot in the door. It took a great deal of willpower to keep from shouting out. Learning magic from Irulon was one thing. Doing so would probably be useful no matter what, but Alyssa had little confidence in Irulon’s capacity for teaching based of her one experience of learning to draw out spell cards and several comments she had made since then. Alyssa had no reason to believe that Tenebrael would be a better teacher, but Tenebrael had been the one to move her between worlds. That was something that Irulon could not do.
Apparently because the math was too complicated.
Still, this is what she had been wanting since she started her journey to Lyria. That should excuse being overeager.
She waited with bated breath. Tenebrael was staring right at her. Considering teaching? Alyssa could only hope.
“You are an extraordinary person,” Tenebrael eventually said. “And I mean that in a very literal sense. An ordinary person would not be able to have a conversation with me. But to learn to create angelic miracles? I suppose there is no harm in testing.”
“So you’ll do it?” Alyssa said, unable to keep the grin from spreading across her face.
“Indeed. We’ll begin in seven days’ time.”
“Seven days? But…”
Apparently, Alyssa’s elation turning sour warranted some amount of chuckling. “You didn’t think you would be hopping between worlds tonight, did you?”
“Well, no. But—”
“In seven days, I will require your services for a similar event to what we undertook tonight. I will endeavor to set aside an amount of time to see if you have any capacity for miracles.”
Alyssa couldn’t help but sigh. At least there was a hard date this time. Seven days. It suddenly seemed so far away.
“For today, our time here is quickly coming to an end. So make your decision. Teneville? Lyria? The desert? Or perhaps you wish to see a new corner of my world? The ruins of what the humans call the First City are a sight—”
“I’ll stick with Irulon,” Alyssa said. She really didn’t need to think about it at all. Leaving Irulon undefended in the desert while she was sipping a martini in whatever passed for an island resort in Tenebrael’s world would leave a bad taste in her mouth. Would Irulon even be conscious when the stasis wore off? She hadn’t woken up while being healed, but Tenebrael might have done something to keep her that way.
“And what about him?” Tenebrael asked, looking to the bearded man. “Teneville? Lyria?”
Alyssa followed the angel’s gaze, biting the inside of her cheek. What to do about him? She had saved his life, but, at the same time, she didn’t really want to take responsibility for him. It seemed somehow wrong to think it but… he was a homeless bum who slept next to trash bins. Unless Tenebrael was going to take a personal interest in stopping time whenever trouble struck, Alyssa really couldn’t afford to have someone hanging off her shoulders, weighing her down.
Dropping him off in Teneville might be for the best. He had been a soldier, which meant that he had to have some strength and work ethic. Surely the town could use an extra hand on the fields or shearing the sheep. Maybe putting his soldiering skills to work by defending livestock from harpies. Or maybe he would prefer to go that route from the start. A man with training and the drive might prefer to work for the guild or as a soldier in the Lyrian guard.
No matter what, Alyssa did not want him waking up in the desert with monsters all around him.
At least not without explaining a few things first. Without turning away from him, Alyssa asked Tenebrael, “Could we unfreeze him? Explain what has happened, maybe give him a chance to shave and some fresh clothing if he wants. We can also test to see if he can see you.”
“I do not think that he can.” Glancing to Alyssa, Tenebrael shifted which leg was crossed over which. “In the alley, he could not perceive us. Were his and your positions reversed, I believe that you would have been able to see me.”
“Mhm…” So I am truly unique? Alyssa thought with a mild frown. That was still a puzzle that was bothering her. Except… not unique. One of a pair. The man who had seen Tenebrael and had spoken with her was another. There had to be some similarity between them, but without knowing more, Alyssa couldn’t begin to guess what that similarity was.
Maybe, over the course of their lessons, Alyssa would ask Tenebrael. The way she had stared off into space when talking about him… The way her voice hadn’t been quite as steady as it normally was… It had happened a long time ago, but something told her that it was still a bit of a tender topic with the angel.
“Still, the other reasons to unfreeze him still apply. If you can get him some clothes and a razor… And bring me my pistol. Just in case.” In coming back to the apartment, the revolver had vanished. Alyssa hadn’t asked, but presumed that Tenebrael had taken it to be placed wherever it was supposed to be in the plan’s version of events.
“All the work we went through to save him and you’re going to shoot him?”
“No. Of course not,” Alyssa said. She was fairly certain that Tenebrael was making a joke. The angel was looking at her with a smile. She still felt the need to rebuff her. “It is just in case he does turn out violent. Unless you’re planning on freezing him again before he can do anything to me.”
“I can. So long as you remain within this room. However, once we return to Nod, my ability to intervene will be… limited. I like you, Alyssa, but don’t think that I will be coming to your rescue if you find yourself in trouble.”
“Figured that one out already,” Alyssa mumbled, though she did appreciate being healed. So long as she didn’t die, she could recover. Whether that be through Tenebrael or magic and potions, she would survive. “Just unfreeze him and let’s see how this goes.”