“My head is going to explode.”
Kasita hadn’t made it in time. A terrible misfortune. Maybe she could have made sense of something. Alyssa sure wasn’t getting anywhere. She had a notebook out in front of her, but the page was blank. It was supposed to be notes of her lesson with Tenebrael. Tenebrael was teaching her… something. Alyssa just didn’t know how to write it down.
If she had her phone, maybe that would have helped. But Tenebrael had taken that upon their arrival.
They had appeared on Earth in a classroom. Middle school or high school, Alyssa wasn’t sure which. It had all the usual classroom items. Desks, both many for the students and one for the teacher, a projector, a whiteboard, a television hung in one corner, decorations on the walls related to numbers and mathematics, and a flag indicated that this classroom was indeed in America. There were no children or teachers to be seen. At least not inside the class. People were around. It was daytime, roughly noon. Bells rang periodically and the stampede of feet could be heard through the door. But nobody came into this room. Either this classroom was so unused that nobody had noticed her presence in the hour she had been frustrated by Tenebrael’s teaching or Tenebrael had done something to make everyone ignore the room.
It wasn’t the only thing the stupid angel had done to the room.
When Tenebrael had first picked up a black marker from the assortment of colored pens on the whiteboard’s tray, Alyssa had been ready with her own pen on her notepad. Her plan had been to copy everything. If she couldn’t parse it, then perhaps Irulon could make heads or tails of the information.
That plan had died before Tenebrael had lifted the marker’s tip from the board.
Alyssa chanced another glance at the board. Immediately, she felt dizzy. Nauseous. A swell of vertigo forced her to turn away. She didn’t know where to begin copying down what Tenebrael had drawn. Or maybe when to begin, because if that flat and perfectly normal board had only three dimensions, it might have been possible to parse.
“Now pay attention, this is the important bit,” Tenebrael said, lifting the marker. She swiped her arm from left to right.
The line she drew split off in six or fifteen different directions. Trying to count exactly how many made the number change every time she looked at it. One of those splits had already been there before she drew her line. Except it hadn’t. Alyssa was quite sure of that… mostly. She couldn’t actually remember a time when the mark on the board hadn’t existed, except it had to have not existed at some point in time because the board had been completely blank when she had first arrived.
Unless it hadn’t been blank…
Alyssa picked up her pen and flung it at Tenebrael.
It bounced harmlessly off the back of the angel’s head, though it did get her to turn around. “If you’re not going to take this seriously, I do have other things I could be doing.”
“Take it seriously?” Alyssa slammed her hands onto her desk. She had selected one of the ones right up at the front of the classroom so it wasn’t far to march right up next to Tenebrael. The board stayed right where it was, but the… she hesitated to call it text, but… whatever it was, it shifted and moved as if she were looking at it through a kaleidoscope. “How the hell am I supposed to take this seriously?”
Alyssa slapped her hand against the board as she reached it.
The board wasn’t where she expected it to be.
Her hand carried on into the space. Mid-stride and lacking the expected resistance of a wall, Alyssa lost her balance. She teetered and started falling into the board. It would have swallowed her had Tenebrael not put a hand on her shoulder. All of a sudden, she was back to standing right in front of the angel. Her hand was pressed flat against the smooth surface of the whiteboard.
“This…” Alyssa paused, sucking in a breath. It felt like it had been a while since she last breathed. “This is the kind of thing Lovecraft had nightmares about.”
“What? Math homework?”
Alyssa shuddered. “Is this really the simplest thing you could start with?”
“No? Then what—”
“To give you a taste,” Tenebrael said, picking up the eraser. “And maybe to warn you off a bit. As I said before, what we’re getting into requires mathematics beyond what Earth’s most brilliant geniuses could dream of.” She swiped off half the board in a single stroke despite its size as a regular eraser. A few quick flurries of her hand cleared out the remainder of marks.
Alyssa gave the smooth face an experimental tap of her finger and found it to be perfectly normal. The eraser had left the surface clean enough to be used as a mirror. No trace of the reality bending geometries remained. Had that really only been a simple marker on a whiteboard? Tenebrael hadn’t cast any spells, Alyssa had been watching intently, but it still seemed… impossible.
With a shudder at the memory, Alyssa turned to the angel. “So, I assume you’re actually going to start with something else?”
“Indeed. We are going to start with drawing out your soul to cast the simplest spell in existence. Light. Though I don’t know if we’ll actually get to the casting today. Depends on how things go.”
Nodding before Tenebrael’s words were fully processed made Alyssa jerk. “Draw out my soul? That sounds a bit dangerous.” Considering Spectral Axe latched onto the soul and tore it from a body, drawing out a soul seemed an awful lot like it would be deadly.
“No one said this would be easy, but you’re going to need something a little more than a simple piece of paper and a prayer to yours truly if you want to try your hand at true miracles.”
Maybe she was trying to procrastinate a smidgen, but Alyssa had to ask. “Yours truly? I haven’t heard anyone pray to you when casting a spell. And I bet that the Society of the Burning Shadow would rather kill themselves before they pray to you.”
Tenebrael didn’t answer. She swapped the eraser for the black marker and put the felt tip to the board. Alyssa turned away immediately. The last thing Tenebrael had drawn had been bad enough. Risking insanity by watching her draw wouldn’t help anyone.
But she did chance a look after a few moments of Tenebrael drawing. Just a quick glance. Enough to tell if she was going to get a headache. To her surprise, she didn’t. In fact, the marks on the board were perfectly normal. Well, mostly normal. There weren’t any dimensional shenanigans, but it wasn’t in English.
It was Enochian. A familiar symbol. As with literally every other bit of Enochian that Alyssa had seen, she didn’t know what it meant, but she had drawn it at least a hundred times in the past week. It was a very common component of spell cards.
Two stars, one smaller than the other and set inside it, shared a corner. But they were half hidden by a crescent moon. Three five-pronged W-esque symbols jutted out on long spines. Three symbols floated between spines. One looked like a stylized number three, one almost an infinity symbol, and the last… like a tree branch and fish mated and had their baby nursed by a lightning bolt.
“Enochian,” Tenebrael said. “The building blocks of creation. Essentially, if you can describe it perfectly, you can create it. Enochian does that, if you’re learned enough in how to use it. We angels… don’t. Not fully, anyway. It has been something I’ve been studying, but, to me, Enochian’s depths look roughly how I imagine my little mathematics tutorial looked to you.”
Alyssa shuddered, but nodded… hesitantly. “If this is so complicated that not even you can understand it, why does it look, uh, normal? I mean, I’d never seen the shape before coming to Nod, but there isn’t anything too complex about it. People on Earth might have accidentally drawn it over the course of human history. It certainly doesn’t warp the whiteboard into a twisted mockery of Euclidean space.”
“Excellent observation, Alyssa! I knew you could be a good student if you put your mind to it.”
“You don’t need to pat me on my head,” Alyssa said, swiping the angel’s hand away with a roll of her eyes.
“I told you before that a single character of Enochian contains enough information to fill a few textbooks’ worth of pages were it written in English. Well how am I supposed to fit even one book into that little character?” She shook her head, shrugging with her palms facing upward. “The fact is, I can’t. This is… Think of it like Simplified Chinese. There is significant detail loss in the character, but it is a version of Enochian that can be written by mortals like you.”
Alyssa did not miss the emphasis. “Written? But not read?”
“It still conveys a significant amount of information. The back-of-the-book blurb for this one is that this particular symbol beseeches me. It requests my intervention on behalf of the arcanist. That our wills be one, enacting my wrath upon any who dare stand against my subjects. They borrow from my Authority, using me as a link to the Throne to do… whatever the rest of their spell card requests. I have a sort of carte blanche to everyone on my world so that I don’t have to manage it much.”
Irresponsible, was Alyssa’s first thought. Letting people have unrestricted access to do whatever magic they wanted was just asking for trouble. It was too strong. Too powerful. Some of it was fine. Lower ranked spells might even be necessary to life on the planet since the people hadn’t discovered how to create fire without magical assistance. But higher spells? Fractal magic? Time magic? Like letting everyone in the world have access to a big red nuke launching button, it just wasn’t something that should be done.
But irresponsible might as well be Tenebrael’s middle name. She really didn’t care about the people on her world. The only reason she cared about Alyssa was because of that strange ability she had to break rules. If Alyssa hadn’t seen Tenebrael the night of her supposed murder, she might have ended up invisible, inconsequential, Miss Cellophane to the angel.
As she thought about it a bit more, she couldn’t help but chuckle. “So you’re saying that… Every time someone casts a spell, they’re basically praying to you to come save them?”
“More or less.”
“I wonder how the Society of the Burning Shadow would feel about that one,” she said with a laugh. Though her laugh died down as she considered what Tenebrael said just a little further. “Can’t you just revoke their spell casting privileges?”
Tenebrael shifted, looking a little less pleased with the question than Alyssa would have expected. “Technically… nobody is supposed to be able to cast magic, as I’m sure you’re aware. Magic should have ended along with the Age of Legends. That anyone can cast it is a result of the agreement with my brother.”
“The devil,” Alyssa said, voice flat.
“I wouldn’t call him that, but he has many names. We worked together to create the current system and changing it is not really all that easy. Or possible. Not without his help and no thank you to that.”
“You know? For warning me off interacting with demons, you sure didn’t follow your own advice.”
“Call it… speaking from experience.”
“Uh huh.” Despite her dismissal, Alyssa didn’t have any desire to meet a demon. Perhaps that warning feeling in the back of her mind was from growing up in a predominately Christian country. She wasn’t that religious. Or… she hadn’t been before meeting Tenebrael. After meeting her, it was a bit difficult to consider the angel worthy of worship or exaltation. Still, the aversion to the idea of demons probably came from cultural osmosis.
“Before we finish for the day, as I said, I want to try drawing out your soul in an attempt to have you access the Throne through me.”
“I’d rather take my time with something like that, if that’s alright with you,” Alyssa said with only a hint of nervousness. Tenebrael probably knew what she was doing. And, without Alyssa, Tenebrael wouldn’t be able to kill the people that needed to die on Earth. So she wouldn’t do anything that might risk that at least until the last guy had died.
Alyssa hadn’t given them too much thought. She was somewhat hoping that Chris might be able to better acclimatize them to the new world, at least a little. Dumping them on him might not be entirely fair, though she was hoping that their shared experience of being on Earth might give them some commonalities that they could use to become acquaintances. From her brief conversation with him, Chris hadn’t really seen her as a proper Earthling—though that phrase made her sound like they were aliens—but as someone who… well… had left him in a strange place and abandoned him.
She needed to check in with him when she got back. Just to make sure that he had found something he could do.
For that matter, she hadn’t even asked Tenebrael about either of the other victims of her would-be murderer. What skills did they have? Were they also homeless, down on their luck? What if one was a child? Even if it was a fake body with the soul of a Society member shoved inside, shooting it would be… difficult.
Opening her mouth to ask about the upcoming… targets, Alyssa looked to Tenebrael and met the angel’s eyes. But she hesitated. There was something there. A shadow of a frown on the angel’s face.
“Do you trust me?” Tenebrael asked, hands on the hips of her black dress.
“I…” Alyssa blinked. “What?”
The shadow vanished, replaced by what had cast it: a mournful pout. “Your hesitation does not do you credit, Alyssa Meadows.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say to that.”
“A ‘yes’ would be the ideal answer, I think.”
“That’s probably not going to be the answer you get.” Tenebrael certainly wasn’t going to kill her or harm her. Not now. Maybe not ever. But Alyssa just couldn’t shake the feeling that, if it served Tenebrael’s purposes of destroying the books and their system, she would find herself left to rot in the deepest pit imaginable. If not killed outright. Tenebrael had said that she wanted to find out how Adrael had harmed Irulon. Alyssa wasn’t sure she wanted to know what the status of that project was.
Tenebrael didn’t look happy with Alyssa’s response. Like she had expected Alyssa to answer in the affirmative without question. “This might be a bit difficult to ask of you, in that case, but please comply. Hold out your arm.”
“Is that it? With all that talk of trust, you had me nervous.” Though she tried to play it off as a joke, Alyssa’s arm remained firmly at her side. Obviously, Tenebrael wasn’t just going to have her hold out her hand. She was going to do something. Probably to Alyssa.
“I’m going to draw out your soul,” Tenebrael said again, confirming Alyssa’s suspicions. “Then, if that is successful, I’m going to try connecting with your soul.”
Alyssa stepped away, crossing her arms as she moved to lean on the desk she had been using. The action didn’t seem to please Tenebrael much. Alyssa found it hard to care. “I think I’d like to know more before we commit to anything.”
“Explaining fully would take time and knowledge that we don’t have. But… Most miracles that you might have heard of were cast by angels in lieu of a human doing the work. Sometimes, that just isn’t possible. The book would require that the human cast the spell on their own. Which is obviously impossible on a world like Earth where magic hasn’t been delineated to the degree that it has on my world.
“So in those cases where a human might need to, say, heal someone, the human needed the ability to cast the spell on their own without an angel doing it for them. These humans would be connected to a Guardian. They did that by having their soul drawn out and attached to their angel. They were few and far between. Very rare. Several people died unexpectedly, requiring the Throne to alter the plan a bit.”
“You are not reassuring me in the slightest.”
“I am telling you the truth, as you asked for it,” Tenebrael said with a shrug. “I am not telling lies, even by omission. However, if anyone can do it, it would be you, Alyssa Meadows. None of those people could see angels naturally. If they saw an angel at all, it would have been because the angel had been directed to create an illusion that the mortals could see. Many mortals didn’t even realize what had been done.”
“And this will let me cast spells like you do?”
“Not precisely, no. For as much as angels know of Enochian, we are but ants in comparison to the Throne. We connect to the Throne and lean on it heavily while casting spells in much the same way that a mortal will connect to an angel. One day, if this all succeeds, I’d like to try connecting you directly to the Throne. But no mortal has ever done that before. Which is why we’re starting with this. Something mortals have done in the past, even if it has been relatively rare.”
Alyssa fell silent in thought. Her first instinct was to deny the opportunity. In the whole history of humans on Earth, she was to embark on something only a few had ever done. Probably less than ten by the sound of things. And several people had apparently died in the attempt. That felt far too risky. At the same time, she had a niggling sensation that, if she didn’t agree, she might never be able to return home again. Maybe Irulon could find a way. Alyssa wouldn’t even give her bad odds of finding a spell to get to Earth.
The real problem was Tenebrael. As long as that angel was standing vigil over the barrier between worlds, to use a metaphorical term, Irulon would likely be blocked completely. Even if Irulon’s spell worked, Tenebrael would pop up to take everyone back to Nod instantly.
And if she didn’t, then they ran the risk of attracting other angelic attention. Although she had survived it, her encounter with Adrael had been unpleasant to say the least. And Adrael was only an Archangel. If Seraphim did show up, she wasn’t sure that human magic would help at all. Not to mention the fact that no one else would be able to help her. No one else could see angels. Just Alyssa.
While she relied on others for day-to-day matters, Alyssa would always have to rely on herself and only herself when it came to angels.
With that in mind, how could she possibly shoot this opportunity down?
Hesitantly, Alyssa held out her hand. She took a deep breath and locked eyes with Tenebrael. “Do it.”