Alyssa… wasn’t quite certain what was going on.
She could remember her last thoughts well enough. She had held out her hand for Tenebrael, accepting the angel’s offer of more power. Which sounded terrible when phrased like that. Like she was some kind of children’s super villain. But it was all for a good reason. Which was also a super villainy thing to say.
“Focus on what you’re feeling. Try to seek me out. It will help.” Tenebrael had said that. Alyssa distinctly remembered her melodious voice turning deadly serious.
But… what am I feeling?
The classroom was gone. Along with it went the desks, the posters, the whiteboard, and the rest of the school. The physical objects weren’t all that had gone. As far as Alyssa could tell, everything else had disappeared as well. Even that slight crick in her neck from sleeping on Tzheitza’s clean yet lumpy bedding wasn’t bothering her at the moment. Nothing bothered her. All her woes and thoughts just seemed so insignificant. Worries that kept her up at nights fleeted into the aether. The Taker? Meh. Octavia? Eh. Kasita? Irulon? Plagues? Why bother?
Alyssa drifted aimlessly. Or… maybe she didn’t. Her thoughts drifted. She had those for sure. But her body? Something told her that she should be alarmed that it appeared to be missing at the moment. “Body?” she called out without a mouth. “Where did you go?”
“Focus, Alyssa Meadows,” her body answered? “This is harder than I thought it would be. Because I’m a Dominion? Hmmm.”
The voice resounded everywhere and nowhere all at once. The last bit was quieter. Almost like her body was talking to herself. A silly thought, but it was true. Alyssa looked around for the source, but it was hard to look around without a head. Not to mention her lack of eyes. Still, she felt a slight pull to her… left? Directions were hard with no point of reference.
For a few minutes, Alyssa did nothing but stare in the direction of the pull. For as much as she could stare, anyway. It really wasn’t any of her business. If her body wanted to be all the way over… wherever she was, that was her body’s business. But wasn’t her body’s business also hers?
Even if it was, Alyssa just about let it slide. What did she need a body for anyway?
But there was an irritating scratch buried deep beneath all the apathy. Tenebrael had said to focus on her feelings and irritation was definitely a feeling. But what was she irritated about? Alyssa had to sit and ponder. It wasn’t her body. Even now, she couldn’t bring herself to care about her. It was her. The real her. Alyssa. How she was acting.
Alyssa hated sitting still. In a metaphorical way. She didn’t mind sitting. It was a lack of progress that she loathed. She needed to be doing something. To accomplish something. To set goals for herself and enact steps that would lead to those goals coming ever closer into her grasp. Here and now, listlessly drifting through a sea of vacant void, she was accomplishing nothing.
She started drifting toward her body. Her body did not matter in and of herself. She was just the impetus required to get her moving. The complete lack of anything else in her surroundings to focus on didn’t help. Her body was the only thing she thought she could reach in this place.
Whatever this place was.
It was hard to tell if she was actually moving. There were no landmarks. No frames of reference. She had no feelings or sensations. She couldn’t even tell if she was getting closer to her body. Maybe if she called out again. It had worked the first time.
“Body?” she said. “I’m coming for you.”
Alyssa waited, listening for a response. The first time, a response had come almost instantly. Now? Like everything else, time didn’t exist, but it still took time for her to hear anything.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been unnerved before,” her body said with no small tone of trepidation in her voice. “But I guess there is a first time for everything.”
The voice was closer. So close she could almost reach it.
If only she had hands.
Undeterred, Alyssa stretched herself. All she had to do was touch her body. Then she would have accomplished her goal. After that, maybe a break was in order. A long rest before she found something else to do. But until she touched her body, she couldn’t go back to her aimless drifting. So she stretched.
“Ah. Good. You’ve got it. Just a little…”
It was so close. Alyssa could almost touch it. Just a little…
“There! Reconfiguring soul matrices. Granting access to Throne Miracle Engine class Saint through proxy Dominion Tenebrael. Credentials authenticated and confirmed. Welcome to Sainthood, Alyssa Meadows.”
Alyssa jerked back, knocking over the desk. She would have fallen right on top of it, probably injuring herself in the process, had Tenebrael not still had a firm grasp of her hand. She followed her arm, noting as the darker skin met with Tenebrael’s grey. She continued up the arm until she reached Tenebrael’s luminous white eyes.
Her heart burst into flames.
She tore her hand out of Tenebrael’s grasp, clutching it to her chest like the angel had been a hot stove. The classroom had returned. The vapid drift had ended. Her body—her real body, not whatever she had been chasing after in the… had it been a dream?—it felt like it was on fire. Sometimes, when Tenebrael touched her, she felt similar. A sensation she could only describe as glory radiated off angels. But right now, that feeling was coming from inside.
“Glowing eyes. Did not expect that.” Tenebrael leaned in a little closer, staring unerringly with such intensity that Alyssa wanted to run and hide. “You mentioned glowing eyes before, did you not? I believe I forgot to follow up on that.”
“What… what the hell was that?” Alyssa breathed. “What is… this?” Her voice was labored, like she wasn’t getting enough air to speak full sentences at once.
“Yes. You do seem to be having an odd reaction. I’m not sure if it is because I am a Dominion or if you… are just being you. How do you feel?”
“How do I feel?” If she had more air, she might have shouted, but she couldn’t. Her words came in breathy gasps. “It’s… rather rapturous,” she settled on. How else to describe it? “I hate it.”
She took a few moments to simply breathe. Tenebrael stared all the while, but Alyssa slowly stood fully, dropping her shirked posture. When she finally felt like she could talk without gasping every third word, she shot the angel a death glare. “You said that people didn’t even know it was happening to them? I call bullshit on that.”
“Normally, this sort of thing is done by Guardians. They’re a lot more… How to put it?” She tapped a black fingernail to the black paint on her lips. “They’re more human than most angels. That feeling you’re experiencing is probably because I’m a Dominion. I imagine it is far less of a shock to connect through something that shares similarities.”
Alyssa let out a shuddering sigh. “Is it going to stop?”
“Is it painful?” Tenebrael shot back, looking far more worried than she had been. “I will terminate the connection immediately.”
“No. It’s not painful. Just… very uncomfortable.”
A visible calm took over Tenebrael. Very real worry bled out of the angel. Seeing her with actual panic in her eyes was a strange experience. Had Alyssa not known about angels’ aversion to harming mortals, she might have thought something terribly wrong had happened.
“Good. Good. Excellent. See. I told you it would work.”
“Yeah right,” Alyssa said with a minor scoff. She still wasn’t entirely sure what it was. And, from the sound of it, she wasn’t entirely sure that Tenebrael knew either. Considering the angel had just asked for unconditional trust, it seemed like she should have a better grasp of the process, if not actual experience in the matter.
That… floaty place. It had to have been her soul being drawn out. Some limbo-like state where she wasn’t fully attached to her body. The sensation of the place was fading like a dream might, but she remembered enough to know that it had been a deeply unsettling place. And she hadn’t even realized until she got out. Not a very comfortable thought. She almost asked Tenebrael to confirm her likely self-evident suspicion when a more interesting thought popped into her head.
“So, can I cast miracles now? Just raise my hand and—”
Tenebrael grabbed Alyssa’s arm and lowered it back down to her side. “Why don’t we hold off on that for now. Let your body get acclimatized to our connection.”
That sounds sensible, Alyssa thought. As much as she wanted magic circles appearing at her fingertips, she still wasn’t feeling normal. Her breathing had steadied out, but that heat in her chest was as intense as ever. Was it ever going to die down?
Thinking about it reminded Alyssa of something else Tenebrael had said. She stepped away, moving toward the teacher’s desk. It had a small mirror hanging on the wall. Just a little thing that the teacher might use to adjust their hair or makeup in the middle of the day. Alyssa leaned down and stared at herself. Or rather, she stared at her eyes. Tenebrael was right. They were glowing. Bright white with darker lines right around where the edges of her irises should have been, just like Tenebrael’s eyes.
If this was the first time her eyes had glowed, Alyssa would have suspected that she was stealing Tenebrael’s look because of whatever connection they shared at the moment. Her soul was attached to Tenebrael, somehow, and there was definitely feedback from Tenebrael to her. The feeling in her chest confirmed that and it made sense from an outside perspective if she was supposed to be channeling magic—or whatever—from Tenebrael.
But it wasn’t the first time. Her eyes had glowed bright white just as they were now back when she had torn apart Adrael’s spells. Tenebrael hadn’t been involved. If every angel had the same glowing eyes, she could still have dismissed it as simply being filled with angelic magic. But that wasn’t the case at all. Iosefael’s eyes were green with little cross-shaped pupils and didn’t glow all that much. Adrael had nearly uniform red eyes without pupils to speak of.
The glow itself didn’t bother her too much. Perhaps it should have, but she saw it as having absorbed a significant amount of magic. There was a phrase: The eyes are the windows to the soul. And if the soul was at all involved with magic, which everything so far had pointed toward, then this was just some excess magic leaking from her eyes. As long as it wasn’t harmful, Alyssa didn’t care. And if it was harmful, Tenebrael would have done something already.
The real problem was the look of the glow.
Turning from the mirror, Alyssa faced Tenebrael. “Why do my eyes look like yours do? They were glowing like this a week ago after I absorbed Adrael’s spells.”
“It is strange, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” Alyssa grumbled with a sigh. “Why bother asking you. All I get in response is an ‘I don’t know’ every time.”
“I didn’t say that I didn’t know, just that it is strange.”
Tenebrael swept closer, leaning a bit inside Alyssa’s personal space. “Do me a favor and close your eyes.”
“Uh… right.” Alyssa gave Tenebrael a bit of a wary stare, but she complied.
“Now, what do you see?”
“My eyes are closed.”
“I didn’t ask if your eyes were opened or closed, I asked what you see.”
Still with her eyes closed, Alyssa raised an eyebrow. What kind of an answer did the stupid angel expect? There must be something that she was missing. What was she supposed to see? Darkness. Her eyes were closed. There were lights on in the room and the sun was coming in through the window, so it wasn’t complete darkness but that slightly red of the inside of her eyelids. Still, it wasn’t anything strange.
“Am I looking for anything in particular? Because I don’t… see…”
There was something about having her eyes closed. A familiar floaty sensation, not unlike how she had felt while having her soul drawn out. It was different. She felt far more normal. Her sensations were all there and she didn’t have that overwhelmingly calm apathy bogging her down. But there was more than just nothing, this time.
Alyssa turned her head, following a… form as it moved about. Putting words to the form was difficult. It wasn’t like she was seeing at all. It wasn’t a blob or another shape, it didn’t have colors. But there was something there. And another one. Lots of them. They danced about, staying mostly to themselves. But every once in a while, the forms would touch each other. Parts of the forms would be left behind as they interacted, sharing bits and pieces with each other. The bits would become part of whatever larger form they had attached to.
A larger form stood off from the others. Its interactions were slightly different. Instead of merely interacting with those closest, many pieces would launch themselves away from the main form to the many smaller ones. Little pieces of them would dart back, but not to the same degree. Still, it never seemed to shrink despite giving away far more than it was taking.
“Children in the neighboring classrooms,” Tenebrael said. “And the teacher.”
Alyssa’s eyes snapped open. Just like that, the forms were gone. The math class came back, flooding her senses with the normality of regular reality. She didn’t say a word as she looked into Tenebrael’s glowing eyes.
“Angels and the magics we use are extremely intertwined with souls, as you might expect. By absorbing Adrael’s miracles and by being connected to me, you’ve become infused with angelic magic.”
“Ah.” Apparently Alyssa had been wrong. It wasn’t excess magic leaking from her eyes as she had expected but rather angelic magic itself.
“I wonder if you were only able to manipulate the souls of those Society members you crystallized because you were infused with angelic glory at the time. It is a difficult thing to test without going and killing several people, and I know you’ve got an aversion to such things. I’ll try to be around when you go on another murderous rampage. We can test both with and without your eyes glowing.”
Alyssa narrowed her eyes. “Gee. Thanks.”
Tenebrael gave a mocking bow. Or maybe it was genuine. It was hard to tell.
“But,” Alyssa said, “that doesn’t answer the question of why they’re glowing like your eyes instead of Adrael or Iosefael or any other angel.”
“Tell me, do you ever hear a phrase or… maybe a song. You listen and you like it. But then, later on, you hear a different version? Maybe the different version is actually the original version, but you still like the one you first heard?”
“I… I guess.”
“I know I was the first angel you ever saw, but even with those others, it is touching that you would model yourself after me.”
Alyssa crossed her arms. If her eyes weren’t already narrowed, she would have shot Tenebrael a glare. “You’re saying that they’re white and glowing because I saw you first? If I had seen Iosefael, they would have been green?”
“Possibly,” she said with a smile. Her tone did turn a little more serious as she shrugged. “I’m also far more… involved with souls than many angels. My eyes weren’t always like this. Once upon a time, they were almost solidly black. They became like this shortly after I started consuming souls. I wouldn’t have expected yours to glow with quite the intensity of mine given your lack of experience in dealing with souls, but you also seem to break a lot of rules when magic is concerned. Still working on figuring that one out,” she added as an aside.
“Any preliminary theories?”
“You must have an inherent connection to the Endless Expanse. Whether through an accident at birth or a fault in the plan, I’m unsure. It is the only thing that makes sense to me, though. And, it is the main reason why I think drawing out your soul to connect with the Throne will work.”
“Is that more or less dangerous than what we just did?”
“In terms of your soul? Roughly the same, I think. The real problem is just connecting. The Throne encompasses all. I can feel it now as if I were seated on its crystalline surface. But the problem, for you, is that you might have trouble connecting. I was here and calling to you. The Throne will be silent.”
Alyssa shuddered a little. She had been lost, floating in nothingness during her connection to Tenebrael. What would have happened had she not heard Tenebrael’s voice calling out to her? Would she have just been lost forever? Surely not. If it had gone on too long, Tenebrael would have shoved her soul back into her body… probably.
“Don’t worry. We know that this is possible,” Tenebrael said, gesturing between herself and Alyssa. “We’ll let you get used to this, then we’ll sever the connection and spend some time practicing drawing out your soul. I’ll keep helping you until you get a little more confident. After that, we’ll see how well you deal with silence. If you get that down with regularity, we’ll move on to the Throne.”
“So you’ll be severing it soon?” Alyssa asked, unable to keep a slight hope from her voice. It really was uncomfortable.
But Tenebrael just chuckled. “Not yet. We’ll leave you like this until we’re done here. Speaking of…” She made a show of glancing up to the clock despite almost certainly not needing mortal timekeeping implements. “It is almost time.”
“It’s still day out.”
“If only the evils of man stayed only in the dark, the world would be a softer place.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes at the tabloid tag line, but decided not to comment. “Who is the victim? Not another conspiracy theorist?”
“Well, I didn’t take the time to get to know him. He wasn’t in the military, if that is what you are asking. He is a man who has been working as a programmer for the same company for several years. His position in the company has no prospects, but he feels some loyalty to his boss and doesn’t seek new employment. Part of that is because of his sloth and reluctance to engage with new people.”
“Not a secret serial killer or something, is he?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Good. Good. Maybe I’ll actually get a chance to speak with him before we head off to Nod.”
“Dropping you into the world with no knowledge worked well enough. I don’t know why you see a need to mess with what isn’t broken.”
Alyssa shrugged. If Tenebrael couldn’t understand why someone might want the courtesy of a quick word or two before being thrown into a whole new place, no amount of explaining would help. “Where are we headed to?”
“A small bar on the outskirts of the city,” she said, walking closer. Her wings spread wide around Alyssa before pulling her into a tight embrace. The last of the classroom’s light vanished behind her feathers and Alyssa felt that familiar sensation of being transported to a new location.