Alyssa’s breath caught in her throat. She clenched her fists around Tenebrael’s shoulders, hoping she wasn’t getting in the way of the wings. The ground disappeared from under her feet and Alyssa pinched her eyes shut. Wind dragged at her hair, pulling it back. Her shirt, a regular cotton tee, whipped about in the sudden gust.
It was all Alyssa could do to hold on for dear life. The logical part of her mind said that Tenebrael couldn’t hurt her. Even if she could, she probably wouldn’t. But the more primal fear in her mind welled up, screaming out that humans were not meant to be so high.
Peeking an eye open just made Alyssa want to punch the angel. Not while they were flying, of course. But when they landed? “You flew past the potion shop you stupid angel!” The wind tore her words away, but Tenebrael still heard them loud and clear.
“Sorry,” Tenebrael said, voice unaffected by the wind in the slightest, “bit distracted!”
Hearing her admit that just about made Alyssa vomit. “Don’t be distracted while carrying me!”
“Mhmm? Mhmm! We’re on the wrong side of the palace! What could you possibly be distracted with?”
“Oh, nothing you need to worry your little mortal head over.” As she spoke, Tenebrael banked sharply, turning to sweep wide around the palace.
Alyssa sucked in a breath and promptly slammed her eyes shut. She could feel their sharp descent. That was beyond enough. She didn’t need to see it too. If she did throw up all over Tenebrael, it would serve the stupid angel right. Of course, it probably wouldn’t do anything besides slide off and leave Tenebrael looking as pristine as ever.
The wind, thankfully, died down. Her hair still felt like it was pushed sideways, but if it was, it wasn’t the wind holding it up. It was hard to tell if they were moving or not, though. Her arms, tight with tension around Tenebrael, still managed to tremble. That small sensation made her feel like she was still moving. Like getting off a roller coaster and still feeling the vibrations up her legs.
“You can let go now.”
Blinking her eyes open, Alyssa found herself in front of Tzheitza’s shop. On ground level. Tenebrael still held her aloft, but that was mostly because of how Alyssa had a hold of her. Slowly, carefully, Alyssa put her feet to the ground, making sure it was really there before actually putting her weight on the ground.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“Honestly? It was probably faster this way.”
“Yeah, but… at least warn me next time,” Alyssa said, leaning against the door frame. She took a moment to catch her breath. There was a reason she had never tried any flying magic on herself. Flying off uncontrollably into the sun was just one of many possible problems she could have. Tenebrael’s quick tour certainly hadn’t helped to encourage her. The fact that she had seen literally zero other people flying about gave her some reassurance that people just weren’t meant to fly like that.
Even though her heart still raced, Alyssa turned away to peer into the shop. The backroom door was open and light was coming out. Tzheitza must have returned. The place wasn’t on fire. Even the jars weren’t disturbed. It looked like Tzheitza missed out on any danger imparted by an angel in the city.
Lucky her, Alyssa thought with a mild glare at the angel… who was phasing through the door. Alyssa followed after her. The staff needed checking. And Tzheitza too, even if it looked like nothing had gone wrong.
Both Alyssa and Tenebrael went right into the back room. Tzheitza was in the same spot she tended to be in as of late. Once again, she was dressed up in the protective clothing and playing with bottles of red liquid that Alyssa definitely wanted far away from her. Tzheitza didn’t even look up from the black droplet falling into the larger flask.
“Is that… mine?”
Tenebrael stopped just behind Tzheitza. Her eyes were locked on the potion vials as well, staring even more intently than Tzheitza was.
“Yeah,” Alyssa said slowly before trying to shift the word into the start of a question for Tzheitza. “Did anything strange happen since you got back?”
Tzheitza did not respond right away. She put a cap on the flask of red and started gently swirling it around. The liquid inside darkened, first turning a deeper red before becoming so dark that it might as well have been tar. Alyssa wouldn’t say that it sucked in light. Not like that potion she had pulled out upon seeing the gaunt. It did get pretty close.
Apparently finding something wrong with it, Tzheitza scowled and placed it up on the shelf with all the other flasks. She penned a few words in a small notebook on the workbench. Only when she finished did she finally turn to face Alyssa.
“Strange?” she asked. “How strange? Strange like comin’ home and finding a haberin hound sleeping at my fire pit?”
“H-Hound?” Alyssa whipped her head over to the fireplace. How did I miss that! A ball of black fur sat curled up between the two chairs that she and Tzheitza often sat in. Two empty taco wrappers, the last of Alyssa’s modern food, were scrunched up next to her. The food didn’t matter to her so much. Not with Tenebrael hovering just to the side. The angel was staring at the flasks on the shelf, but that didn’t concern Alyssa either. “Why is Fela here?”
Tzheitza just raised her scarred eyebrow.
Alyssa flushed, feeling silly for even asking. Of course Fela had followed her scent. Just like she had done to find the cave. And she got into the room and into the food. What a menace. “You’re right,” Alyssa said, shaking her head. “But hold that thought. I need to check on something really quick.”
Crossing the room in only a few large steps, Alyssa opened her already ajar door. She didn’t need to go in any further. The staff was right where she had left it, leaning against the wall behind the bed.
So Adrael hadn’t come for it. And she hadn’t come to attack Alyssa. Unless she was out attacking Irulon at the moment, what had she even come for? Why leave the feather?
Alyssa sighed as she turned back to the room. She wanted to ask Tenebrael, but couldn’t do so easily while Tzheitza was watching. Or… Maybe she could.
The angel had her back turned to Alyssa, still focusing on the flasks on the shelf. She wasn’t touching them, but she did have a hand out toward one. Glowing Enochian script floated around her hand. It looked familiar. The same sort of thing that she had done when Alyssa had first used Spectral Chains to stop her and Iosefael’s fighting.
Alyssa didn’t even ask. She walked up and buried her hands in Tenebrael’s wings. For a moment, she almost forgot what she had been doing and just indulged in the sensations. The feathers were so soft. Like rubbing the belly fur on a particularly poofy cat. Or a bird, she supposed. But she didn’t forget completely. With a firm tug, several of the feathers came loose.
Tenebrael made a particularly undignified squeak, whipping around with an unhappy glare already on her face.
“What was that for?”
Not bothering to respond, she held out the feathers, maybe another dozen of them, to Tzheitza.
She didn’t take them right away, staring between them and Tenebrael. Or rather, she stared through Tenebrael. Her eyes didn’t manage to focus on anything. “It’s here, isn’t it?” she said, barely above a whisper. “Yer monster.”
“Yeah. She is. And she has graciously consented to giving you another sampling of her feathers.”
Tzheitza eyed the empty spot again, curling her lip. “Tell it thanks, I guess.”
“She can hear you.”
“How many of them are yeh gonna bring around anyhow?” Tzheitza grumbled, removing her gloves before taking the feathers. She treated them far more carefully than Alyssa had. Her touch was tender, like the feathers were made from the most fragile glass. One by one, she laid them out on her workbench, inspecting each for a moment before moving on to the next. As she worked, she talked. “At least this one is all nosee and the mimic can disappear. If some hubbard comes and spots that hound, I am gonna be the one meeting with the captain. And it won’t be as nice as yer meeting.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” Turning to Tenebrael, Alyssa put a hand to her hip. “Can’t you do something?”
“I told yeh back in the field—” Tzheitza started.
“Not you. Her,” Alyssa said, pointing to what Tzheitza would see as empty space.
Tenebrael blinked twice. She didn’t answer right away, looking astonished. After another set of blinks, she pointed back to Alyssa. “You stole my feathers.”
“It’s for a good cause, or so I’m told.”
“You didn’t even keep them for yourself. You gave them to some random mortal.”
Is it just me or does she sound hurt about that. “Tzheitza isn’t random. She’s working on a cure for demon plague.”
“Demon plague? What…” Her eyes widened as she looked back to the flasks. “Oh. That demon plague. He isn’t going to be happy about this.”
Alyssa just shook her head. “Well he should have thought of that before he started all this nonsense. I care about helping humans.” Glancing behind Tenebrael to Fela, she quickly amended her statement. “I care about helping mortals. If your elder sibling is going to run around committing biological warfare, it’s obvious people are going to fight against it. Whatever happened to good old temptations? Shouldn’t he be offering apples, not diseases?”
“What do you think the plague is? It is one gigantic temptation. All the power a human could ever wish for if they just dismiss me and take him into their hearts. The only reason why this world isn’t overrun by demons is because of how prolific my name is.”
That got a scoff from Alyssa. “We didn’t have the plague back home. I don’t think anyway. I’m sure I would have noticed people turning into literal demons. So I’m betting that the fact this plague exists at all is somehow your fault.”
Tzheitza stopped her inspection of the feathers, looking over her shoulder with narrowed eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just baseless conjecture,” Alyssa said with a sigh. She didn’t want Tzheitza to stop working on her potions just because she thought Tenebrael was a demon. That would be extremely counterproductive. “Her brother… uh… step-brother is… the leader of the Underworld?” Alyssa sounded far more uncertain than she would have liked. And it wasn’t just because she was trying to hide Tenebrael’s name. She didn’t know how the Underworld worked. She didn’t even know how angels and demons worked. She hadn’t even seen the stupid plague aside from minor evidence that such a thing existed. Tenebrael had sent over that dossier on angels and Alyssa was still trying to filter out the useful information. Said information had not included anything on demons.
So she ended with a weak, “She’s trying to stop him from causing more harm.”
Something she said must have worked because Tzheitza’s eyes softened. She simply nodded her head and went back to the feathers. It was strange… or was it? Tzheitza had tried to stab Kasita several times when she first showed up. But now she apparently left an entirely vulnerable Fela to enjoy the crackling fire in her sleep. Maybe she was getting used to monsters a bit. That would be nice.
“Your conjecture might not be wholly baseless,” Tenebrael said, spoiling Alyssa’s good mood. “I may have gone to brother dearest in the earlier days when I was first attempting to break away from the book’s predictions.” She shifted back and forth, looking uncharacteristically nervous. “It might be partially thanks to him that monsters continue to exist when they all should have been wiped out in the First City’s downfall. He might have requested one tiny favor of me.”
“I thought you said never to make a deal with… A favor? Wait,” Alyssa said as she folded her arms over her chest. “Don’t tell me. I can guess. Her. Who is Her?” Alyssa glanced between both Tenebrael and Tzheitza. Tzheitza had been the one to initially mention a creature by the name of Her, but Tenebrael would probably know far better.
“A monster lord,” Tzheitza said.
At the same time, Tenebrael said something different. “A representative. In his words. It was the favor my brother wanted. Between you and me, I think he is representing himself.”
“You don’t know?” That seemed like something Alyssa would find out as soon as possible.
“I keep far away unless I absolutely cannot help it. And I’ve never been unable to help it.”
Alyssa put a hand to her brow and shook her head. How… irresponsible. But that was just Tenebrael’s natural state of being, she supposed. Being responsible would probably mean following the plan and the will of the books. If Tenebrael did that, Alyssa would surely have died already. “Could you go check on Irulon?” Alyssa eventually asked. “She hasn’t messaged me back after I warned her that Adrael might be around.”
“You know, I have people praying to me hourly who make less requests than you do.”
Answering prayers breeds dependency, Alyssa thought with a grimace. She didn’t get a chance to respond. Tenebrael exploded into feathers, hopefully off to check on Irulon. Spotting a few of the feathers near her, Alyssa plucked them out of the air and added them to Tzheitza’s small pile.
“She hopes they help,” Alyssa lied without remorse as Tzheitza started inspecting the new additions.
“These’ll tide me over for a while. Helpful these may be, I’d wish yeh’d stop bringing monsters into my shop.”
“Yeah…” Fela was going to be a problem for Tzheitza. Especially if Decorous decided to send guards over to search her potion laboratory for Alyssa. “I wonder if I could get her to the palace. Let Irulon keep her there for a while. And I bet if Fela were living in the palace, it wouldn’t be much trouble to get more… uh… fire tear potion things.”
“Guards will attack yeh on sight.”
“I figured. But if I can get Irulon to escort me, maybe it won’t be so bad?”
Tzheitza paused her feather inspection to look over at Alyssa. “Yeh were ridin’ around the Black Prince’s draken, hmm? Bringing them here and scaring off all my customers.”
“Ah. Sorry. Is that why we haven’t had many customers as of late?”
“The Black Prince has a history with monsters. Get him to take yer pet to the palace. Less chance of bonzer bodinkum.”
For a while there, Alyssa thought Tzheitza was fine with speaking plain English. Now she just had to shake her head and ask, “Less chance of what?”
Tzheitza didn’t respond immediately. At least not with words. She did grunt, frowning at one of the feathers before setting it aside. Alyssa leaned in a little closer but couldn’t spot anything that might set it apart from the others. It was black and feathery. Just like the rest.
“There are rumors that the Princess isn’t who she says she is. Better to get the Black Prince to escort yer pet than risk accidental aeration.”
“That… would be Kasita’s fault. Partially. The other part is probably me. Though Irulon’s clones helped out.” Alyssa well knew that people like Decorous would probably be wary of Irulon for the time being. But Tzheitza had heard rumors too? “How did you hear that rumor? Does the entire city know? Or did you ask some contacts of yours in the city guard?”
“Guilden know. Wakamas ‘see. Prolly ev’ne with the way those jammerjaws.”
Is it me, or is she getting worse. Maybe she was just that into the feathers that she couldn’t spare the brain power for proper speech. She set a second one to the side. Again, Alyssa couldn’t spot a difference between it and the others. Maybe it was slightly longer? That could easily be a trick of the light.
Shaking her head, Alyssa left Tzheitza to her work. If she couldn’t understand her, there wasn’t much point in carrying on a conversation. She could always ask later, after Tzheitza had some time to calm down. Still, she was right. The gate guards had definitely not been all that friendly toward Irulon when she and Irulon approached them the other night. They hadn’t outright attacked, not even after Irulon threatened them, but they might decide to do so easily enough if they saw her walking around with a hellhound.
Dropping into what had become her seat by the fire pit, Alyssa frowned down at Fela. The hellhound was splayed out without a care in the world, absolutely unconcerned with being in the middle of a human city, in the middle of a human potion shop. She must have slipped by the guards on the wall during all the confusion. Had she found the Taker? Or Octavia? Or that other little girl…
For a moment, Alyssa considered taking off her boots and using Fela as a footrest. Despite being able to block blades, Fela’s fur was soft. But… she had work to do.
“Message. Brakkt. Hello, it’s Alyssa. I’m at Tzheitza’s potion shop and we have a bit of a furry problem. Nothing dangerous… to us, at least. But I was wondering if you might help escort a hellhound to the palace. I’m sure Irulon would care for her after that. I also wanted to ask you a few things about your draken, but I honestly don’t know how long Messages can be. For all I know, this is all being cut off. So I’d prefer to talk in person, if possible. If you aren’t too busy, that is.”
Alyssa stopped, not quite sure what else to say. She didn’t know Brakkt all that well. If Message hadn’t been cutting off her words, it probably would have stopped when she stopped. Even if she thought up another question to ask or something to tell him, she would have to use another spell card. She had drawn up a lot of Message cards as it was a very useful spell, so she could always send a second one.
A light pressure in the back of her mind told her that she had a response. Or maybe it was Irulon? Either way, relaxing slightly let it through.
~Understood,~ she heard Brakkt’s voice say in the back of her mind. ~Will it become a problem if I wait for the morning after tomorrow? I will confer with my sister during the day. She is asleep at the moment and I do not wish to make an attempt at waking her. After, I have some business to take care of and won’t be free until after the following day.~
“Message. Brakkt. I don’t think it will be a problem if you wait a day. And I completely understand about not wanting to wake Irulon.” The girl was a nightmare to rouse. And, if she was truly asleep, that might explain her lack of response to Alyssa’s earlier Message. As long as she was safe, it was fine, but it did make Alyssa wonder if there wasn’t some long range Alarm spell that might be able to wake someone like Irulon if there was an emergency.
A few moments passed without response. Since he had clearly gotten her first Message, she assumed that he got her second and simply didn’t wish to waste his own spell cards with what would probably be a one-word acknowledgment.
Boots still on, Alyssa started nudging Fela. In complete contrast to Irulon, the hound’s eyes snapped open almost instantly. Fire poured from the corners of her red eyes as they darted around. Even through the thick soles of her boots, she could feel Fela’s muscles tense up. This whole world was really putting Alyssa’s exercise routines to shame.
Fela calmed down after a moment of observing. She rolled over on her stomach in order to face Alyssa, crushing some taco wrappers, but didn’t bother to actually get up.
“So you decided to come here, huh?”
“I was still hungry.”
“And now what is your plan? The guards are on full alert, watching the walls. Slipping by is going to be tough.”
“Then—” she interrupted herself with a long yawn. “Then I’ll stay here,” she said, stretching out.
Alyssa crossed her arms. Despite being called a hound, she reminded Alyssa more of a cat than a dog. “Uh huh. Maybe for a day, but you’re going to cause too much trouble for Tzheitza if you stay here. How about the palace? I bet they have lots of good food there. And Irulon…” Might want you as a pet? “Would be happy to see you again.”
“Where are the draken you were riding?”
“At the palace.”
Fela hummed. Or purred? Growled? It was hard to tell. It was a pleased noise, so not an angry growl. “Maybe I will go there.”
“Irulon’s brother will probably come here to escort you so that the guards don’t attack. Stay here for a day or two, please. And don’t get yourself seen by any humans who aren’t me or Tzheitza.”
The flames at the corners of Fela’s eyes were small. Larger than a candle’s flame, but nothing like the foot-long trails of orange that they normally were. Was she about to fall asleep again?
Before she could, Alyssa asked, “Did you find whoever threw the knife?”
Her fire grew a bit, not quite to its usual length, but enough to be noticeable. “I smelled them and chased, but then the smell just disappeared. I was going to try to follow the other end of their smell, but you stopped me with your spell in my head. I decided to come here instead.”
Recall? Alyssa thought. It was the only real teleportation spell that she knew of. There could be others, or it could have been something else entirely. Disguise Scent? That could be a spell for all she knew. But the only things that she knew existed that would make a smell disappear were teleportation spells.
“Would you remember the smell if you smelled it again, even after a long while?”
“Of course,” she said, mildly affronted that Alyssa had doubted her abilities.
“I might ask you to help me with that.” Alyssa didn’t want to seek out trouble, but if assassins were seeking her out, it stood to reason that a proactive approach was for the best.
In other words, she was going to tear out their souls with Spectral Axe and feed them to a dark angel. And she wasn’t going to lose sleep over it.
“Speak of the devil,” she mumbled as black feathers started popping into existence around the room.
“Speak of the angel!” Tenebrael corrected. She was seated in her narrow-backed throne. Both Tenebrael and the throne had materialized between the two far more regular chairs next to the fireplace. “I found Irulon. She was sleeping. No sign of an angel and no word of her upcoming demise in the book, so you can relax for a while.”
“Good.” Brakkt had already mentioned that to her, but she was going to be thankful that Tenebrael would help her out with little things like that.
“So. You ready to go?”
“Go? To Earth?”
“It is a bit early for our little… event. But I did promise lessons. An angel cannot lie.”
Deciding not to comment on impossibilities that may or may not be possible in reality, Alyssa jumped to her feet. Fela’s candle-sized flames flared with the sudden movement. Alyssa didn’t care. The hellhound could, and probably would, sleep whenever she wanted.
Lessons! The only thing holding Alyssa back from instantly agreeing was the fact that Kasita still wasn’t here. She had wanted to go to Earth again. But… Alyssa didn’t know how long that would be. And Kasita did not have any Message cards to the best of Alyssa’s knowledge. “Give me… five minutes,” Alyssa said. She was going to send a quick Message to Kasita. And if the mimic didn’t appear before then… Well, she didn’t want to keep Tenebrael waiting.