“What did you think you were doing? Are you insane?”
The programmer sat across from Alyssa, looking around with a bleary expression. Three thick slices of French toast sat on the table in front of him, swimming in maple syrup. A dollop of whipped cream had been plopped on top, cradling a single strawberry. To its side, a glass of orange juice stood tall. Condensation on the side of the glass dripped down to a cork coaster protecting the wooden table.
Maybe it was a bit late for breakfast foods, but Alyssa, who had an identical plate in front of her, hadn’t had French toast in forever and Tenebrael’s assortment of meals had not included this particular delicacy. But the programmer didn’t seem to care. He just blinked his eyes as he looked around the little diner.
It was a strange scene. Nobody was eating, though there were a few partially touched meals. Everyone was up at the windows, watching police and ambulances. Most had their phones out, recording the situation. Some people were out giving statements, having apparently witnessed the murderer running away. Flashing red and blue lights washed over the room every second.
In a surreal twist, Alyssa was just sitting right in the middle of the diner with a bite of French toast skewered on her fork. She wasn’t paying attention to all the commotion. To her and the programmer, the rest of the world no longer mattered. Though he seemed to be having a bit of trouble comprehending anything.
She waved the chunk of toast at him, taking care not to splatter syrup everywhere. “Well, congratulations. You didn’t stop the murderer and now he has killed you.” With Chris, she had been taken by surprise and tried to soften the blow. Her approach this time was to be blunt. Less chance of misunderstanding that way… hopefully.
He reacted to that. Blinking his eyes again, he turned back to Alyssa. He only met her eyes for a moment before he averted his gaze, staring down at his plate. “K-Killed me?”
“Killed you.” Alyssa chomped down on the bite of food. She waved her now-empty fork at the window. “That right there? That’s your body being wheeled away. It’s headed to the morgue.” That might not have been a perfectly true statement. Alyssa didn’t know where they took bodies right after a murder. Maybe an autopsy laboratory. But for the two of them? Who cared.
Using his middle finger on the corner of his rectangular glasses, he bumped them up on his face as he looked over to the window. Standing, he staggered over to join the other gawkers. The body was zipped up in a black bag, so he wouldn’t be able to see anything, but that there was a body at all might come as a shock. Alyssa kept an eye on him, but didn’t join him. Instead, she focused on eating while watching him press his nose to the glass.
As the medical staff wheeled the body bag to the ambulance, a few feathers popped into the air. Blue feathers. An angel quickly followed. This one had long purple hair, with a slight pink tint to parts of it, and wore striped stockings. For a moment, Alyssa tensed. Tenebrael was standing just behind her. Would they be spotted?
But… no. The angel brushed her feathered wings over the body bag without even glancing at it. She disappeared almost before the whole soul had crystallized in her hands. Alyssa shot a glance back to Tenebrael, who just shrugged, before shrugging herself. Given Iosefael’s dedication to her job, she would have expected more angels to be a little more… well, dedicated. But the two she had seen on Earth so far seemed to carry about their duties with all the apathy of a postal worker.
The programmer didn’t react to the angel appearing. He hadn’t reacted to Tenebrael either, but she hadn’t popped out of nothing. That basically confirmed that he couldn’t see them. For a long few minutes, he didn’t even move. He just stared. Alyssa finished one full slice of toast before he finally twitched. A phone rang out with a high-pitched warble, coming from a waitress to his side. She immediately answered and started talking a mile a minute. From the half a conversation that Alyssa could hear, her mother had heard about the incident and was calling to make sure her daughter was alright.
It was around the time the daughter started talking about “some dude in a body bag” that it seemed to dawn on the programmer that he really was dead. He reached out a hand and started waving it in front of one of the customers who was recording. Not only did the person not respond to his movements, but his hand didn’t appear on the camera as it passed. That gave him a little start, but not quite as big of one as Alyssa had been expecting.
By the time Alyssa ate through her second slice of French toast, the programmer had turned back to her. Sort of. He still only looked at her briefly before looking down to the plate of food.
“Dead, huh?” He shook his head back and forth. Maybe his lack of a real reaction was just shock. “I had it all planned out. I thought about it over and over again. Played it over in my mind. How I would approach him. How I would stop him. I thought about everything that he could possibly do and what I would do in response. I had it all planned out,” he said again with a long sigh. Leaning back in the chair, he looked up at the ceiling. “Should have figured my plan would fail. They always do.”
“Uh… huh,” Alyssa hummed, quirking an eyebrow. This guy… might be insane. Just her luck.
“So who are you then, the Grim Reaper? D-Death?” He finally made eye contact. This time, it lasted a few moments before he turned away. “I always knew that if the Grim Reaper wasn’t all bones and scythes, it would be a cute girl. D-Do you have a scythe?”
“Uhhh… yes. But I’m not the Grim Reaper.”
An elbow rested on Alyssa’s shoulder. “Just my little reaper,” Tenebrael said as she poked Alyssa in the cheek. Unless the programmer was unflappable to the point of ignoring an angel speaking, it could be safely said that he could not see Tenebrael. Not wanting to explain her talking to something that wasn’t really there from his perspective, Alyssa did her best to ignore the stupid angel.
“Oh.” He sounded so disappointed. “You have a scythe but you’re not the grim reaper?”
“Does that really matter? I’m here to talk about you,” Alyssa said, pointing her empty fork at him.
He winced and looked up at her again. This time, he narrowed his eyes after a moment. “You look familiar.”
“Familiar?” It was Alyssa’s turn to blink. A different her might have said it was a coincidence, but… “Was my face all over the news?”
Snapping his fingers, he pointed at her. “The news! You’re her. The glowing eyes threw me off, but I recognize you. The little girl… that… man… killed.” His voice grew quieter with every word. Breaking eye contact, he stared around the room. “What is going on? Why would you meet me after my death. Shouldn’t it be like my grandparents or something if it isn’t the Grim Reaper?”
“First of all, I’m not a little girl. I’m twenty five.”
“Secondly, as far as Earth is concerned, you are dead,” Alyssa said. “Technically, you aren’t dead. That might explain the lack of grandparents or whatever.”
“Or angels,” Tenebrael added. “I would like to report that our soul was taken without apparent notice by the angel in charge of this man’s soul.”
Yeah, I noticed, Alyssa thought.
“It might be best to think of it as if you were. You won’t be able to interact with anyone on Earth ever again. In fact, you might never see Earth ever again.”
Something Alyssa said made him perk up. She wasn’t quite sure what, but his back suddenly straightened and he smiled for the first time since… well, since Alyssa first saw him in the bar.
“I’m going to another world?” he asked with no small amount of eagerness in his voice.
“How… did you know?” She had just been thinking that he was excited about being alive. Apparently that was not the case.
“Oh, I bet it has all kinds of tropes.”
“Yes… but not everyone can use it, so don’t get too excited.”
“That’s fine. That’s fine. I’m the intellectual type,” he said, adjusting his glasses again. “Intellectuals are always casters. Is it a medieval society?”
“Sort of… how do you—”
“That might be inconvenient, but I can deal with it. What about monster girls?”
“Uhh… there are monsters. Some of them are female—”
“I knew it!” He pumped his fist. “This is just like one of my Japanese animes—I always wanted to say that. I mean, I say it all the time, but in a sort of ironic way. Now it is literal. When do we get to go? Now?”
“Uhhhh…” What the hell am I supposed to say to that? Maybe she was being unfair, but this guy was more insane than the conspiracy theorist. He was going to get himself killed inside of a day. “Just to warn you, this world isn’t a vacation. Many monsters are probably going to try to kill you on sight. Gangs regularly rob and enslave people. The main city gets attacked by warring nations regularly…” He was nodding his head, making humming noises as if everything she was saying fit into his view of this new world. “And if you die, an angel will show up and she’ll eat your soul.”
That got him to stop nodding along. “What does that mean?” he asked after a moment.
“No more second chances. You die again, you die for good.”
“But eating my soul? I mean, is she at least a cute angel?”
Alyssa sighed, shooting a glance to a preening Tenebrael.
“Go on,” the stupid angel said, completely full of herself. “You can tell him the truth.”
Fine. “She’s a right bitch,” Alyssa said, making Tenebrael put on a pout.
“Look. You’re going to get yourself killed with that attitude. You want my advice? Find a nice simple job and keep your head down.” In other words, don’t do what I did.
“Is there an adventurer’s guild?”
“…Yes. And I’m sure they’re looking for a scribe. Literacy rates in this world are poor.” He started nodding his head again. Alyssa had to wonder if he heard anything beyond the first word. “Look. What’s your name?”
“You don’t know it?”
“I might have been in the news, but you weren’t.” She paused a moment as she glanced over his shoulder. There were still lights flashing like crazy, but most of the restaurant’s staff had moved away from the window. The excitement must have started to die down. “Not until today, at least.”
“Right. Sorry. I’m Jason. Jason Stiles.”
“Jason. Please take my advice. Get a job as a scribe. A nice easy desk job. It might be similar to what you’re used to, but that familiarity will be crucial to start with. Don’t rush off looking for adventure. At least not until you’ve been in the world for some time and have had a chance to get acclimatized to the new environment. I won’t be able to pop out of nowhere to save you again if you get yourself into trouble like you did today.”
Taking a deep breath, he held it, and slowly let it back out. All of a sudden, he seemed to realize that he was staring. He quickly dropped his eyes down to the table between them. “Right. You’re right. I’ll probably just screw something up. I was getting too excited, but you’re right. I’m still me. Still same old Jason Stiles.”
“I’ll put you in touch with someone else from Earth. He’s been there for a little over a week now and probably knows how to explain things to someone just jumping in better than I can.” Having had a gradual introduction to the world, Alyssa’s perspective was a bit different. And that wasn’t including her association with Tenebrael and the other angels. Or her interactions with Irulon.
She made a mental note to keep Kasita and Fela away from this guy, however.
“What about you?”
“Aren’t you going to be on this world too? Won’t I see you?”
“I’ll be around… It’s just, I’ve wound up causing too many big waves. Just last night, I wound up having daggers thrown at my head. Just after that, I found myself having to run for my life from a monster right out of your worst nightmares. If I associate with you too much, you might wind up facing danger daily. Before you say something stupid, no, it isn’t fun.”
“Isn’t that all the more reason to stick together? You’re from Earth too, right? Someone showed up when you died, offering this chance to visit a new world.”
“Something like that,” Alyssa said after swallowing another quarter slice of French toast.
“So you don’t have many people to relate to there, right?”
“I’ve been on Nod for… how long has it been since I… since I died? A full two months? If you get a handle on the world after a few weeks and think you can handle facing death on a daily basis, we’ll see about meeting up more often. For now…” Alyssa pulled out a phone that Tenebrael had prepared for her and slid it across the table. Like Chris’ phone, it wasn’t anything special. A brick of a flip phone. “This has my phone number in it, listed as Alyssa, and the number of the other… I don’t like saying Earthling because it sounds like we’re aliens, but his name is Chris.”
He looked down at it, staring like a princess might stare at a stain on her dress. It took a few moments before he even reached out a hand to pick it up. When he did, he used only the tips of two fingers to turn it around. “I’ve got my own phone, but I thought you said this was a medieval society. Do they have cell towers?”
“No. It’s magic. Your phone won’t work.”
“Can’t I just pull the SIM card—”
“If you break it trying to get it to work, getting another one will be extremely difficult. It is the only bit of modern technology you’ll have and there are only two other phones in the whole world that it can call.”
Alyssa shrugged, staring down to her empty plate. Maybe she could grab a bottle of syrup before they went back. Which… would have to be soon. Jason still had yet to touch his food, but he understandably had other things on his mind. She was about to point out that he probably wouldn’t be having French toast ever again, but he spoke first.
“So, if you’re a regular Earthling, why are your eyes glowing?”
Blinking twice, Alyssa stumbled for a moment. “Magic,” she settled on. Not because she was trying to hide Tenebrael’s existence from him as she might do to someone from Nod—he likely wouldn’t accuse her of heresy or blasphemy—but simply because everything was bound to be overwhelming before trying to explain absolutely everything.
He didn’t seem to like that answer. “But how? And why? Does it give you enhanced vision or something?”
“The whys and hows of magic are not my specialty. If you want to try to unravel the mysteries of the world, be my guest. I just use it to survive. Speaking of…” Alyssa reached into her satchel and pulled out a Light spell card. “Take this. Say Light. Try to picture a little orb of light floating about.”
“Light,” he mumbled, clearly not intending to cast the spell. He flipped the card over in his hands. “A spell? You’re giving me a spell!” Disappointment about the phone forgotten, he stared at the design. “What does it all mean? These symbols… are they part of a written language? Do I have to learn a new language on this world? I’ve tried learning Japanese, but I only know about three hundred Kanji. Not nearly enough to be fluent.”
“Nobody seems to know what the symbols mean. They’re used in spell creation and are stamped onto some other items, such as money.” As she spoke, she pulled out a few bars of coins. She had been intending to hand them over sooner or later anyway. “People speak and write in English, for some reason.”
“I thought so too, but wasn’t going to question the convenience.”
“So I just hold the card? Like this?” He gripped it tight, wrinkling the card between his thumb and the curve of his forefinger. He didn’t need to hold it to the point where it warped, but Alyssa had cast spells caked with dirt and grime before, so it would probably be fine. At her nod, he grinned. “Light!”
The card disappeared, warping into a ball of light. But it was… weak. Maybe it was all the light in the room from the sun and the fluorescent tubes, but Alyssa could hardly see it. The first time she cast a spell, it had flared bright and brilliant. But it was more than Chris had managed. Despite being just a poor example of magic, Jason seemed pleased. He grinned wide as it whipped about back and forth to match the motion from his finger.
She would have to come up with some tests to find out what rank he could cast at. Based on the weakness of the simplest spell, she was pretty sure he wouldn’t get higher than Rank Three. Still, she would try testing everything.
Tenebrael fluttered forward, waving a hand through the spell. The little orb of light vanished in the wake of her hand. “Sorry to ruin your fun. If it went on for much longer, other angels might notice. In fact, we should probably leave, just to be on the safe side.”
Unaware of the angel’s presence at his side, Jason’s smile dropped. “Doesn’t last long, does it?”
“It normally lasts longer. That’s just a sign that it is time.”
“Time? Time for what?”
“Prepare yourself, Jason Stiles, for this world is not long for you.”
Tenebrael put her hands to her hips. “Would you stop that? You can’t just… Oh, never mind. Prepare your… Whatever. World transit using prepared statements!” Her pointed fingernail lit up with a dark light as the triangular mystic circle appeared above their table. She didn’t say another word before the Earth vanished out from under Alyssa’s feet.