There was a flaw in Alyssa’s plan. No one was following her. In fact, nobody could follow her. She spent all that time looking over her shoulder. Obviously nobody was going to follow her when she was invisible. If they were even going to follow her in the first place. Nobody had known that she was going to be at the Gobbtop tavern tonight. Tenebrael had dropped her and Jason off only a short distance away.
The only people who might have tried to follow her would have been people already in the tavern when she left. And she would probably have noticed them while sitting outside the bar with Tineye active.
Luckily, there was nobody around to notice her foolish actions. No Irulon to stare with a knowing eye. No giggles from a mimic. Tenebrael wasn’t even around, having to go collect souls before returning to Earth to pilot around Alyssa’s murderer a bit more. Just herself and the stars.
That did raise a question. Tenebrael’s obligations on earth would effectively come to an end the moment the murderer hung himself. From what Alyssa understood, the angel hadn’t really spent much time on Earth prior to their meeting. And she had only gone there in the first place because she grew tired of Nod. So with her Earthly puppeteering out of the way, would she be spending more time on Nod? Would she be spending more time around Alyssa?
A few weeks ago, Alyssa might have been annoyed at the prospect. Angels were nothing but trouble. Now, however, things might be different. Angels were still nothing but trouble. However, having Tenebrael hanging around her far more frequently would be a great deterrent to anyone like Adrael. And their miracle lessons might be more frequent as well. That alone was something to look forward to.
Of course, Tenebrael would probably make herself as annoying as possible. Kasita would freak out about having the angel around. Irulon would too, though in a different way. And if the situation ever presented itself for Alyssa to hold up her phone so that Irulon could converse with Tenebrael… the Pharaoh might lose another princess, this time to a heart attack.
Alyssa picked up the pace, wanting to get back soonish. Unless she ran off again, Kasita would probably be annoying Tzheitza right about now. Alyssa would be lying if she said that she wasn’t looking forward to seeing whatever the mimic looked like again. She also needed to get to sleep soon. The Black Prince was due to show up sometime after sunrise. Alyssa didn’t want to be shambling about like a sleep-deprived zombie in front of him.
Five steps into her increased pace, Alyssa felt a chill run up her spine. Maybe it was paranoia, maybe it was a sixth sense that she had developed. Whatever it was, she turned and glanced over her shoulder.
Darkness there, and nothing more. Though the darkness didn’t matter much to her enhanced vision.
That wasn’t unusual. It was night time. Most people tended to avoid going out at night. Most people wasn’t all people, but it still wouldn’t be strange to walk down a street void of other pedestrians after dark.
Still, there was something… wrong. A warmth filled her chest, not unlike the feeling she got after tearing apart Adrael’s nets or the sensation that flooded her while connected to Tenebrael. Had she trodden on some angelic trap or crossed a bounded field? There was nothing around, but…
Alyssa drew her pistol as she hurried along. If there was some angelic presence out there, it probably wouldn’t do much. It was still a bit of a comfort to her.
Sprinting, she ran all the way to Tzheitza’s shop. Not once did she encounter another person out on the streets. It wasn’t unusual for most people to stay off the streets at night, but all people? Seeing the slightly reduced number of carboys in the windows of Tzheitza’s shop was a relief. Alyssa rushed inside, slammed the door shut, and locked it… for all that would help against an angel. Given the late hour, Tzheitza was probably asleep. At this point, Alyssa didn’t care. She just wanted to see another person to confirm that she hadn’t crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
Throwing open the backroom door, Alyssa breathed a content sigh and dismissed her invisibility.
Fela was curled up by the fire. Two Felas, in fact, but one was probably Kasita. Tzheitza was still awake and sitting at a chair in front of her workbench. She stared at one of Tenebrael’s feathers through the lenses of a jewelcrafter’s glasses.
“You see, if you use the feather’s shaft in your corruptions, it diminishes the effect. It’s just a hollow piece of trash. The vane is where the true magic lies.”
Alyssa blinked twice, staring at the little girl in front of Tzheitza. She was perhaps younger than Tess, sporting curly pink hair with bright red eyes. Her blue dress and white apron made her look like a servant of the palace, but the expression on her face didn’t fit the rest of her body. It was a haughty sneer. A kind of look that said she knew far better than anyone else. The tone of her voice was the same.
It took a moment, but the voice was unique enough that Alyssa remembered. She had met this little girl. The night they had gone out to meet Fela, on her way back from eating with Decorous. This girl had bumped into her. And now, she was standing right in the middle of Tzheitza’s potion shop. There was some girl, talking like an adult, right in the middle of the room. Fela and Kasita weren’t concerned with her in the slightest. Tzheitza might have let Fela stay, but she knew Fela wasn’t going to murder her, probably. This girl could be a monster.
Tzheitza looked to Alyssa, turning her head away from the feather in her hands. Though her gaze crossed right over the girl, her eye didn’t linger in the slightest. She just nodded a greeting before turning back to the feather, rubbing a finger along the soft bristles.
It hit Alyssa like a hammer.
They couldn’t see the little girl. Maybe Kasita could if she tried, but she had said that it was a strain just trying to detect Tenebrael’s presence.
The girl turned with a shark-like grin on her sharp face. “You’re back,” she said. Her tone carried so much more meaning than the two words she had spoken. Alyssa could feel the accusation and annoyance directed her way at the impudence of having made the angel wait. “Please tell this fool that she is going about her corruptions all wrong. I don’t think my Divine Inspiration is getting through to her.”
If there had been any doubt, that right there eliminated it. This girl was an angel. She hadn’t attacked anyone so far. That was… a good sign? Did Tenebrael know about her? Doubtful. Tenebrael would have mentioned something.
Her first instinct was to pull out her phone and give Tenebrael a quick call. Just a nice social call to ask how she had been in the past half hour, maybe ask if she wanted to come over for tea, and check to see if she knew that she had another angel running around her world. Calling Tenebrael had worked with Adrael standing in front of her, but Adrael had been distracted with Irulon and Irulon’s two souls. And all subsequent attempts at calling Tenebrael had wound up jammed. With this angel’s full attentions on Alyssa, she would probably stop any calls before they could begin.
The girl put her hands on her hips and harrumphed. “There is no point in pretending you can’t see me. I already confirmed that you can talk to me earlier. Remember? You gave me advice on how to be a little girl? That was me, in case you’ve forgotten. It must suck to be a mortal and forget things all the time.”
Alyssa flicked her eyes around the room. Tzheitza was thoroughly absorbed in the feather. Fela was asleep. Kasita wasn’t. The latter two looked identical at the moment, but it had to be Kasita that was staring at her with wide eyes. She must have noticed something. Maybe she had noticed well in advance of Alyssa arriving, maybe she hadn’t until she saw Alyssa standing frozen in the doorway.
If Alyssa dropped her phone, would Kasita know to call Tenebrael? It might be a chance she would have to take. Calling for Tenebrael right in front of this angel was bound to go poorly. She might even decide to attack. Alyssa only had two Fractal Locks. And those two might not even work. They were useful, but impossibly difficult to copy. She had scrapped so many attempts at drawing them.
Deciding it would be best if Tzheitza, Kasita, and Fela were not around while talking with an angel who might attack them without them even knowing what was going on, Alyssa walked further into the room. There was another table between the entrance and her room in the back. As she passed, she hovered her hand over the surface, called her phone to her hand, and let it drop. All without breaking stride. Angels were not omniscient. Maybe she would notice, maybe she wouldn’t. But Kasita, with her innate awareness of everything around her, would definitely notice it.
Hopefully she would get the hint.
Opening the door to her room, Alyssa beckoned the angel with a wave of her hand before entering.
The angel did not walk across the room. With a shrug of her wingless shoulders, she glided from Tzheitza’s workbench and into Alyssa’s room. Alyssa gave a pointed look to the mimicked hound before closing the door.
Crossing her arms, Alyssa looked down at the short angel. She… really looked like she belonged in the palace working alongside Tess. Remembering that this was someone as dangerous as Adrael might not be the easiest thing. The way her red eyes gleamed would certainly help.
“Well?” Alyssa said after a moment of silence had passed.
“Well? Well what?”
“I assume you didn’t come here to give Tzheitza cooking tips. What do you want?”
“Why would I say something I don’t mean? I genuinely want you to tell that mortal that she is going about corrupting miracles all wrong. She’s not going to get the result she wants as long as she’s crushing the stem along with the vane. That might work for harpy feathers, but harpies aren’t the most magical relics around.”
Alyssa blinked twice. That was not what she had expected. Could this be another angel that wasn’t insane? That would be a relief. Even if she were just like Iosefael, Alyssa would prefer an almost complete passivity to Adrael’s outright hostility. “It was your feather. Wasn’t it?” Seeing the angel almost preen at the question, Alyssa just shook her head. “Why don’t we start at the start. Who are you?”
“Archangel Kenziel,” she said with more pride than Alyssa thought possible. “And you are… human?”
Alyssa’s heart skipped a beat at hearing Kenziel’s title. Whatever calm she had felt at potentially coming across a friendly angel vanished in three syllables. She didn’t even have the presence of mind to groan at another suspicion of inhuman nature being directed her way.
The staff was still leaning up against the wall in the corner of the room. Maybe she could grab that and start swinging it around? But not with the Archangel in the way. Alyssa’s hand drifted to her satchel. A Spectral Chains should contain the angel long enough to get Tenebrael here. Even if the phone was being jammed, Tenebrael would be showing up soon to take Alyssa back to Earth for their last rescue attempt. She had wanted to sleep before then, but if she had to stay awake to keep Spectral Chains active, she could do it.
“I’ve heard your name is Alyssa? Little Addy was whining about you, you know. And the world. And… well, she whines about everything.” Kenziel laughed just how Alyssa imagined a snake would laugh if they could. Actually, on Nod, there probably was a humanoid snake monster that laughed just like this angel. “Pathetic, really. Unbecoming of an Archangel.”
That got Alyssa to click her tongue in annoyance. Whining was unbecoming? “What about attacking people? Setting nations on some crusade to destroy Tenebrael’s presence on this world?”
“Yes. Not very intelligent either, is she?” Kenziel said with an aloof attitude. She turned away from Alyssa to inspect the rest of the room and quickly focused on one of the last remaining sealed meals that Alyssa had. Tenebrael had not provided a fridge full of food this time, much to Alyssa’s annoyance. “Just what is her plan? Even assuming she accomplishes the impossible task of destroying all the people in this land, it wouldn’t eliminate Tenebrael’s influence or name. Cults would spring up. All the people she used to cleanse this land would be aware of Tenebrael’s name. Some might even worship her in secret.”
Kenziel’s hand stretched out, making to touch the flatbread wrap. Alyssa swooped in and snatched it away before the angel reached it, setting it on one of the many shelves in the room.
“Then she would need to find another willing group to wipe out the first group,” Kenziel continued with only a small glare in Alyssa’s direction. As she spoke, she continued looking around the room for a new object of interest. “Then another yet again to decimate them. And none of that would do anything to diminish Tenebrael’s power. An angel does not gain strength from having worshipers.”
“If she knows all that,” Alyssa said, grabbing her shotgun from out of the angel’s hands, “then what was she hoping for?”
“Deliverance. I assume. She goes and prays to the Seraphim every day for a flood or a fire or whatever. Something to take the problem out of her hands.” She put on the nastiest grin Alyssa had ever seen on a child. “See, total whiner.”
Kenziel looked like a child. But she sounded like a middle schooler.
“S-She prays to the Seraphim? About this world?”
“Every time she visits the Throne, or so I hear. I’m not always around to see her make a fool of herself,” Kenziel said. This time, she seemed to focus in on one of the potion reagents in the room. Liver of a green fairy, if Alyssa remembered correctly. Useful for alcohol poisonings and hangovers. “Little Addy gets talked about though. She’s always doing something that makes people wonder just what goes on in that glory of hers. Especially lately. She broke a bunch of Virtues and we’re still not sure what to do about it.”
Virtues. Tenebrael’s angelic notes had mentioned them. Information specialists tasked with chronicling all of existence. A bit of a tedious sounding job, in Alyssa’s opinion. If talking to a Seraphim was like talking to a wall, talking to a Virtue was like talking to a wall that could talk back. According to Tenebrael’s dossier, anyway.
But Alyssa wasn’t sure what breaking them was supposed to mean. Adrael attacking Tenebrael wouldn’t seem all that far-fetched. Given their difference in power, it made sense why Adrael hadn’t done so. That difference was likely why she had tried to skulk about in the shadows, puppeting people like they puppeted fairies. But attacking other angels?
Alyssa was about to ask, but Kenziel’s eyes had drifted to the corner of the room. Right onto the staff that leaned against the wall just behind Alyssa’s bed.
Before she even realized what was happening, Alyssa found herself interposed between the angel and the staff. She would have suspected teleportation, except she didn’t have any cards that were supposed to teleport the caster. Maybe one had teleportation as a side effect, like Fractal Mirror, but it was far more likely that she had just dashed over.
“Why are you here?” Alyssa asked, crossing her arms. “You know Tenebrael will be here soon. I doubt she’ll be pleased to find another Archangel mucking things up in her world.”
Archangels were effectively Tenebrael’s antithesis. For an angel who so desperately wanted to escape from her… fate, the class of angels whose jobs it was to return things to normal would be her worst enemies. Even if this one, so far, hadn’t actually done anything.
Or rather, she hadn’t done nothing. That was a thought that made Alyssa frown. Assuming she had been telling the truth about using Divine Inspiration to influence Tzheitza toward more effective potions, could she have been helping? Angels weren’t supposed to lie, but they weren’t supposed to harm people either.
Even after the extra prompting, Kenziel did not respond right away. She just stared with a slowly growing smile on her face. Alyssa might as well have been a transparent pane of glass for all she felt she was doing to block the angel’s sight of the staff.
“I was bored. I’ve finished my assignment—perfectly, I might add—and I doubt that I’ll get a new one with the Throne in the state it is in. So I decided to see what has little Addy all worked up. Thought I might meet with the Dominion after forming a proper plan. Which I have done.” She paused and her vaguely luminescent red eyes focused on Alyssa. “No wonder Addy was whining so much. You stole her staff! A little mortal has her staff? How did you manage that?”
“She threw it at some friends of mine. I got to it before she did. And it’s staying right here, so don’t even think about touching it.”
“Threw it? She let it out of her hands of her own will?” Again, Kenziel put a hand over her mouth as she hissed out something that resembled laughter. “Wait until the others get a load of this.”
“Skewered my friends, perhaps I should say.”
Her laughter died down as her face lost the wrinkles of laughter. “When you said attacked earlier…”
“I was being literal.”
Alyssa flicked her eyes upward as a slight movement drew her attention. A black feather. By the time she looked back down, a pale hand with black painted fingernails was resting on Kenziel’s shoulder. Kasita had pulled through.
“I find it rather interesting as well,” Tenebrael said. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas, Archangel?”
Kenziel didn’t turn back. Her face betrayed no surprise at Tenebrael’s presence. “If the Throne granted her authorization—”
“I think we can safely rule out that possibility.”
“She hasn’t traded in her halo for a set of horns. I saw her in the Expanse only a short time ago. After she was whining about your little pet human.” Kenziel turned, slipping out of Tenebrael’s grasp. “Hello, Dominion. I was hoping to speak with you.”