“Am I dead?”
Whatever Alyssa had been expecting, it wasn’t that. Having asked Tenebrael to hide Irulon and the draken to keep the shocks to a minimum, Alyssa tried to present herself as normally as possible. She hadn’t run to the bathroom to equip the armor despite wanting the added protection. She hadn’t left out three empty beer bottles for him to see. She had even asked Tenebrael to step out of the room for a few minutes, just in case he could see her, and had been mildly surprised when the angel complied without complaint.
So for his first words after blearily looking around the room to be questioning whether or not he had died, Alyssa had no words. Her expectations included yelling or maybe a fear that he had been kidnapped. Or maybe picked up by police. Or an ambulance that had been worried over his health.
What should she even say? Obviously, he wasn’t dead. But, at the same time, he kind of was. At least as far as people on Earth were concerned. By now, the police had probably figured out who he was if he had any kind of identification on him. An old military ID card or something similar. They might have to wait for dental comparisons, fingerprints, or a relative or old coworker to confirm, but they likely had an idea.
Alyssa felt a sudden pang of guilt, wondering how her own family was faring a month after her apparent demise. Her mother would have come home and found her body. Stabbed, if Tenebrael had prepared a body to match with how she was supposed to have died. She… hadn’t really thought about it. Initially, she had thought she wound up on Earth and wouldn’t have too much trouble at least getting a message to her parents to tell them that she was alright. Then, as time went on, she wound up increasingly distracted by all the nonsense in the other world, leaving relatively little time to actually think about her parents and her brother.
Right now, staring at a man who thought he was dead, she couldn’t get the image of her mother cradling her lifeless corpse out of her head. It was an image eerily similar to that of the elder thief clutching his deceased son.
What about this man? Did he have any family? Would they be missing him? Given his homeless status, he probably hadn’t had anyone close. No one who would give him a spare room in their house, or could give him one. That didn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t care for him.
He stiffened his back, black trash bag crinkling as he moved. “Naw,” he said, cracking his neck back and forth. “Hurts too much.”
“You aren’t dead.” Alyssa should have started with that immediately after he first spoke. The question had just come as a shock. “Though your life as you knew it is effectively over.” Maybe one day, once Alyssa figured out a way to stay on Earth without constantly being harassed by angels, he could come back with her. No sense getting his hopes up immediately over something that was probably a decent way off into the future. Especially when she hadn’t even explained about the other world yet. “I’m not entirely sure how to tell you—”
“You’re one of those government types they talk about in whispers,” he said, leaning forward.
Alyssa just blinked. What is he talking about? Her speechlessness before was nothing compared to now.
“You come, find someone with nothing left, and… turn me into an assassin? A spy? Or is this a suicide mission?” He chuckled, low and slow. “I knew you people wouldn’t leave me alone. Well? Go on. What’s the mission?”
“What are you— No. There’s no mission. I’m not whatever you think I am.”
“Of course you’re not. And of course there is no mission either.” He leaned a little further forward, winking with emphatic exaggeration. “The bathrobe is a nice touch. I’d never expect it. But I guess the movies have done the black suits and sunglasses too much to use in reality, eh?”
“Just… stop,” Alyssa said, pressing a hand to her forehead. Oh Tenebrael. That stupid angel was laughing at her right now. She could hear the melodic giggling coming from the hallway. And… was her pocket laughing too? “Look. You aren’t dead, but the world thinks you are—”
“Of course they do.”
“Stop winking! Ugh.”
Maybe it would be easier just to throw him to the wolves and let him fend for himself. Depending on how big a conspiracy theorist he was, and he was obviously a fairly large one, he would probably assume that moving to the other world was some technological advancement kept secret from the general population. Showing him the draken would just make him think that they were some secret government bioengineering project. If he was really hard set in this narrative he built for himself, Alyssa didn’t know what she could say that would convince him. Even plenty of magic might be explained away as technology by someone sufficiently set in their ways.
The angel took a moment, probably to compose herself from all her laughing, but eventually floated into the room. “You called?”
“First of all,” Alyssa said to the man—whose name she had intended to ask but hadn’t gotten around to thanks to his nonsense. “Do you see anything over there? In the hallway opening.”
He looked, thankfully silent. With narrowed eyes, he stood up and walked over. Alyssa watched him with a sinking feeling. A feeling that was confirmed when he stepped right through Tenebrael.
Alyssa sighed, followed closely by an almost simultaneous sigh from Tenebrael.
“I told you,” the angel said in a slightly dejected tone.
“Well,” Alyssa said, hoping to distract herself from the fact that the man was now inspecting the wall paint. “Can you give him a cell phone with my number in it? Drop him off in Lyria. He can—” The guy was staring at her now. Shifting slightly to address him directly, Alyssa continued. “You can call me when you get a clue.”
Tenebrael responded first with a slight sigh. “I suppose I could. But it isn’t going to be as full of features as yours.”
“So long as it can call my phone, that’s fine.”
As Tenebrael reached back into her feathers—did she come prepared to hand out cell phones?—Alyssa grabbed her satchel from the couch and started picking through it. She pulled out a few bars of money. Not much, but it would be enough to get a room in a cheap place and a dozen meals or so. Anything else and he would have to find a job. Or beg, but Alyssa wasn’t sure how well that would work in Lyria. Crossing the distance, she dropped the bar-shaped coins into his hands. “Money,” she said before quickly explaining that the gold ones were worth the most and the bronze ones were worth the least.
“Never seen money like this before. And I’ve been to all the shitholes of the world.”
“I bet,” Alyssa mumbled.
“What language are the little letters?”
Unable to answer, Alyssa glanced to the side.
“Enochian,” Tenebrael said as she dropped a phone into Alyssa’s hands. Not a smart phone. A small brick with one of those green and black displays. It looked more like a calculator than a phone. Except the calculators that she had used in high school geometry looked more advanced than this. Oh well. This must be what Tenebrael meant by a lack of features. It didn’t even have a camera on it.
He did not look impressed when she handed it over. “Budget cuts hit your department too?”
Alyssa didn’t respond, sadly shaking her head instead. “This is going to be a bit of a wakeup call for you, I think. You can consider it a chance at a new life. Or you could wind up in the streets again. It’s up to you. I saved your life, but I don’t have to babysit you. What you do is up to you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Word of advice: Avoid dark alleys. And here, take this.” She had meant to offer him one of the packaged hamburgers as comfort food while processing his situation. But things hadn’t gone as she had planned. So she just dropped the hamburger in his hands, still in its box. “It is probably the last one you’ll ever get.”
That made him tense, just a bit. “Last one?”
What was it that Tenebrael had said? “Prepare thine self, for this world is not long for thee.”
She immediately felt a nudge in her side.
“Excuse me? That’s my line.” Tenebrael had the biggest pout on her face. A fake pout, one clearly forced. Turning away, her eyes started glowing even brighter than before. Her fingernails mimicked her eyes as she thrust a hand upward. Four circles spiraled out, forming a triangle with lines of text flowing between three of the circles. The fourth rested in the center. “Chris Altrac. I claim thee… blah blah, you can’t even hear me. Target: Chris Altrac. Stochastic evasion routes calculated. Evasion impossible. Immediate space-world tether severed—”
As soon as she spoke that line, Tenebrael vanished. The man vanished with her. Aside from a slight rush of air from around Alyssa to fill their void, there was no evidence of either having stood before her only moments ago. It probably wouldn’t stay that way for long. Tenebrael would be back for her in minutes. Tops. Possibly within seconds.
“I better get things ready,” Alyssa said as she headed back to the bathroom, more for the benefit of the mimic in her pocket than for herself. “I’m sure she’s going to want to take me back immediately.”
Kasita didn’t respond, but Alyssa didn’t really expect her to. She was a rock.
Though she had been laughing earlier. With a lighthearted scowl, Alyssa tossed the robe to the floor and started getting back into the dragon armor. As soft and fluffy as the robe had been, she honestly felt much better with the thin but tough scales providing a barrier between herself and the rest of the world. Glancing in the mirror, she adjusted the suit. Maybe it didn’t look quite as bad as she thought it had back in the palace. It was still just a bit tight and had just a slight gap in the chest, but she projected a fairly imposing presence.
Her pistols were missing. The one under her arm and the one at her hip. She had never carried a gun in her everyday life on Earth. Except, obviously, the few times she had been dragged down to the range. But everyday carry? Never. And yet, despite all the dark scales covering her, she felt somewhat vulnerable without them. Especially because she didn’t even have spell cards for backup.
Tenebrael had better give them all back, Alyssa thought with a scowl. And that staff. Adrael’s staff. Alyssa wasn’t sure what to think about it. It was a weapon crafted by angels. Possibly one capable of harming other angels, given Adrael had pulled it out when Iosefael attacked. Angels couldn’t—or weren’t supposed to harm mortals, so there would be no need to have weapons to fight them. That just made Alyssa want it even more. An angelic weapon.
Although, she did have to admit that carrying it around wasn’t that practical. It was large and unwieldy. Awkwardly shaped as well. Angels could make them appear and disappear at will. That would be a nice trick to learn. Perhaps that would be the first thing Tenebrael would teach her. She didn’t know what those lessons would entail, but the thought was making her giddy.
To avoid the philosophical nonsense that came from too much staring in the mirror, Alyssa grabbed the robe and headed straight for the kitchen. She threw open the fridge and stared.
What to take… what to take?
Everything. Alyssa started with her satchel. She managed to cram in three boxes of Chinese, two submarine sandwiches, and two colas. Unable to fit anything more, she laid out the robe on the counter and started piling things on top. Everything, from beer to chicken nuggets. She piled up one thing after another. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich? She definitely wanted a few of those. Barbecue ribs? How had she missed those earlier? A whole pizza fit underneath everything else easily enough.
Alyssa jerked, dropping a bottle of mustard to the floor. The bottle was, luckily, plastic; it didn’t break and splatter everywhere. Without even looking at the angel at her back, she continued plundering the fridge. “I don’t suppose you’ll unfreeze Izsha and let me fill her saddle bags with food?”
“Yeah. I figured. You will let me take all this… right?”
“If you can carry it all.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Alyssa winced. She… might have to put a few things back. The bathrobe was long, running from shoulder to ankle, but she wasn’t sure that she would be able to fold the fabric over the mound of containers with it that high. Sighing, she started placing a few of the less appetizing foods back into the fridge. Poutine? What had she been thinking?
As she worked, she looked up to the angel. Tenebrael was looking too perfect, as usual. “How did he take being dropped into a whole new world?”
“I can’t be sure. There were an awful lot of vulgar words coming from his mouth. Take that as you will.”
“How about your book? Has it updated to include him in future events? Or is he another blank spot like me?”
“That was the first thing I checked,” she said, reaching behind her to pull the book from her feathery wings. Opening it to the page with the bookmark, she flipped forward a few pages. “Nothing in here yet, but it may still be calculating future possibilities. I’ll keep an eye on it.”
“It’s a long shot, but I don’t suppose you could provide me with an English copy of those books?” Being able to tell the future would go a long way toward avoiding troublesome situations. The Taker put a trap around the next corner? Too bad for him. Alyssa could simply go a different route.
“These were crafted by Virtues. I lack the requisite knowledge to create them.”
“But you would if you could?”
“I don’t think an English version would work either. A single character of Enochian conveys enough information to fill a few hundred books. To decompress my notebook into such an inefficient language as English… the book would have to be as big as a galaxy. Approximately.”
“Wow.” It felt like a lame response, but what else could she say? A single page would be impossible to use, let alone a whole book. She couldn’t properly visualize it even. It was just too big. Even if it were stored digitally… that would still be fairly large. Probably. Alyssa didn’t know much about data storage other than that she had several books on her phone, but they were probably not galaxy sized books in their natural state.
To avoid trying to wrap her head around something she couldn’t imagine imagining, Alyssa set to work wrapping up the food in the bathrobe. She had seen videos on the internet about turning clothing into carrying devices. Unfortunately, they had been the type of videos that she watched once, thought they were neat, and promptly forgot about. It took both hands gripping every corner and sleeve of the robe, but she managed to lift the food off the counter without spilling it everywhere.
“I think so,” Alyssa said. She had the food, her armor, the satchel hanging from her shoulder, a wocket in her pocket, and… that was it. Tenebrael had taken everything else before they had arrived. “Yeah. Ready when you are.”
“Targets: Alyssa Meadows, Irulon, Izsha, Musca. Evasion calculations unnecessary; willing and immobilized targets. Immediate space-world tether severed. Confirming existence of multiple universes. Nod confirmed. Beginning narrow area Nod transference across Divine vector three-five-nine.” As she spoke, the triangular magical circle expanded from her outstretched hand. Still lacking her phone, Alyssa couldn’t do much other than try to memorize it. Unfortunately, this magic circle moved. The text, the angelic script that could hold more information than a book of English text, flowed between the circles. It didn’t seem like it was repeating either. Unless she took a video of the magic circle, she couldn’t think of a good way to recreate the effect. Simply drawing everything onto a piece of paper wouldn’t work.
Maybe that would be one of Tenebrael’s lessons. A way to cast magic using glowing lines drawn into the air like the angels used.
Enochian could be exactly why Tenebrael didn’t seem too worried about the prospect of teaching Alyssa her style of magic. If she couldn’t comprehend all the rapidly moving text, she probably wouldn’t be embarking on a solo trip to Earth. The smaller spells that some of the angels had used didn’t move. They were as static as the spell cards. If Alyssa could cast those without a card, it would still be worth it.
The apartment around Alyssa vanished into nothingness. The conditioned air went with it. Alyssa sucked in a breath as a bit of panic took root in her chest, worried that she wouldn’t be able to breathe at all. But fresh air filled her lungs. It was the crisp air of a wilderness without human population or pollution.
“Local destination: Three. One. One. One. Eight. Seven. Two. Nine. Five. Six.”
The cool air rushed away in a heavy gale. A stifling heat moved in to fill the void. Alyssa had to squint away from the bright light of the sun as it started beating down on her.
“Transit complete without incident. Welcome back, Alyssa Meadows, to my world.”
“Ugh. I don’t suppose you could go adjust the desert’s thermostat.” It took a few blinks of her eyes for them to adjust to the sudden light. When she could finally see, she found herself standing almost exactly where she had left. Musca and Irulon were right where they had been impaled. Izsha was a bit to the side, near the toppled building. Time had clearly passed. It had been night during their attack. A flick of her eyes toward the sun had them watering, but the blinding light told her that it was late morning.
And her sunglasses were back at the cave with her backpack. Ugh.
“Your equipment,” Tenebrael said, which had Alyssa whipping her head back to the angel. “Your phone, pistols, spells, and a small gift.”
Everything was lying on a black cloth covered table between the angel and Alyssa. Her phone was propped up like it was on display at a shop. The pistols were both pointing away from Alyssa—and looked like they had been oiled and polished recently, all the dirt and grime was nowhere to be seen. In comparison, the deck of cards looked like it had been tossed on the table as an afterthought. Several of the spells were bent and it looked like they had been dragged through the dirt. Irulon’s tome was cleaner, sitting right next to the stolen deck, but it clearly retained some of its dirt from Alyssa dropping it.
The gift was covered by another cloth, one with white embroidery lining its edges. As soon as she was looking at it, Tenebrael reached forward and pulled the cloth straight up.
It sat there, just as polished as the pistols, propped up so that she could see it properly. The barrel was whole once again. There wasn’t even a small scratch where the sword blade had nearly lopped off the end. She would have reached out to pick it up and fully inspect how fixed it was, but her hands were still full of a food-filled robe.
As happy as she was to see her shotgun in one piece and what looked like a few boxes of shells to the side, she couldn’t help but frown.
There was one thing missing from the table.
“Where’s the staff?”
The angel frowned. She opened her mouth, but hesitated in actually speaking. After letting out a small sigh, she held out a hand horizontally over the table. The golden spiral sprouted from either end of her hand, growing long and sharp at one end while stunted with a ruby orb at the other.
“I thought about not returning it,” she said slowly. “It is a holy artifact, after all, not meant for mortal hands. And, if it is in your possession, Adrael may try to retrieve it. I might not be around to stop her and Iosefael needs to return to Earth for a time to continue her duties there. Not that she did much good this time, but she did distract Adrael for a few minutes. Are you sure you want it?”
Alyssa pressed her lips together. Adrael coming back was a scary prospect. Maybe she would just sneak in while Alyssa was sleeping and take it back, but maybe not. The angel had already demonstrated a capacity for harming mortals. Putting herself in harm’s way simply to keep the staff might not be worth it.
At the same time, that staff was a major link to angels. A weapon used by angels against angels. If she let it slip through her fingers, she might never again come across one.
With that in mind, Alyssa nodded her head.
“Very well. I don’t know what you hope to do with it, but I won’t keep it from you. It isn’t even mine. And if Adrael didn’t want mortals to get their grimy hands on it, she shouldn’t have thrown it at one.” Using both hands, Tenebrael slowly lowered the staff down onto the table. With its length, it stretched behind all the other items, reaching from end to end as if it had always been intended to be displayed there.
Tenebrael took a step away. Or a float away? Either way, she stretched her wings wide. “I’d love to stay and chat some more, but I do need to find Iosefael. I need to track down Adrael if possible. I need to find a suitable soul for our excursion in seven days. Plus all my other duties. Busy busy. I’ll see you soon.”
Alyssa didn’t say a word. She didn’t trust herself not to ask Tenebrael to keep the staff. It really was dangerous to keep it. But the time to decide passed before she could think on it any further. Tenebrael’s black wings scattered through the air, obscuring sight of the angel just long enough for her to disappear.