“I have gone on a brief walkabout of your world. It is quite the mess. But, I am pleased to inform you that it is not unsalvageable. How would you like to be brought up to a fully compliant status? It won’t be easy, but I think we can get you back to schedule in as little as one thousand three hundred years. Working with a competent Archangel, you’ll hardly have to lift a finger.” Kenziel’s tone had shifted to that of a used car salesman. Except, instead of slapping the roof of a car, she was slapping the roof of a world.
And she clearly had not done research on her potential customer base. The very last thing Tenebrael wanted was to have her world make any kind of sense. That was the whole reason Adrael had been trying to hide her presence rather than come out in the open and work with Tenebrael as was the norm, according to Tenebrael’s angelic notes.
“I think,” Tenebrael said slowly, “I’m going to put you in a tiny box where you’ll never feel the radiance of the Throne again.”
“What?” That wiped the smirking smile off Kenziel’s face. “You can’t do that.”
“Oh but I can. I already tested on poor Iose. She found the experience… disturbing, to say the least.”
Kenziel tried to back away, but Tenebrael still had her black fingernails digging into the angel’s shoulder. A pair of wings sprouted from the diminutive angel’s back. White ones, though a bit off-white. Maybe the color of egg shell or a pale nimbus.
With Kenziel’s two wings and Tenebrael’s four, Alyssa’s small room was getting a little cramped.
Worse, they looked like they were about to start slinging magic around.
In the flash of an eye, Alyssa had her cards in hand. Ethereal chains lashed out from the deck. Two sets. One wrapped around Kenziel, the other around Tenebrael. Tenebrael’s arm snapped to her side as the ghostly links bound her tight.
A glowing white eye, eyebrow raised above it, shot Alyssa a look. Tenebrael was otherwise the picture of calm. She just stood and stared.
“Wh-What? What is this?” In contrast, Kenziel was in a full panic. Her wings, pinned against her back just as her arms were, strained against the chain. And failed to break free.
“If you two fight here,” Alyssa said in the sternest voice she could manage, “you’re going to destroy this building.” Tenebrael opened her mouth, but stalled when Alyssa pointed a finger at the angel. “I’ve seen you and Iosefael fight. Don’t even try to deny it. Tzheitza has been beyond patient with me. But if you guys destroy her potion shop, that patience will surely end. I’m going to be the one in trouble.”
“Analysis,” Kenziel said, momentarily ceasing her struggling. Enochian text scrolled through the air in front of her. “Relic-class miracle. A shadow of the chains designed… to hold back the wolf that will devour a god? But how are they holding me?”
“Curious, isn’t it?”
The Enochian vanished as Kenziel glared at Tenebrael. “Dominion, do something! You can’t let a mortal do this to us!”
“To us? Is she doing something to me?” Tenebrael shifted ever so slightly. Just a subtle jostling of her wings. The chains binding her broke apart. Links snapped and pieces fell.
The spell vanished into motes of light before any part hit the ground, but that didn’t stop Kenziel from following their trajectory all the way down to the floor. After a moment, Kenziel tried the same thing. She shifted and jostled her wings. But her chains didn’t move. If anything, they just constricted tighter around the angel, pressing her wings right up against her back.
“I’d appreciate if you would quit doing that to me,” Tenebrael said with a pout in Alyssa’s direction. “You know it doesn’t work on me.”
“Thought I’d test it again, make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke.” Alyssa tried to inject some humor in her tone. At the same time, she was at least partially serious. Tenebrael was not her enemy. She understood that. That did not mean she liked someone of the angel’s power and whimsy having so much control over her life. If Tenebrael did have a change of heart or found herself compelled to follow some esoteric programming that negatively impacted Alyssa, there would be nothing that Alyssa could do about it.
Her current hope was that connecting to Tenebrael, or to the Throne itself—if such a thing was possible—would give her a hint toward some vulnerability in the angel. She wouldn’t use it unless it became necessary. Despite her conflicted and often changing opinions about Tenebrael, Alyssa would be more than happy to leave the angel to her own devices so long as said devices minimally affected anyone else.
Shaking her head, Alyssa stared at Kenziel. Gone was the haughty demeanor. She looked like the scared pre-teen that she pretended to be. Worried eyes looked from Alyssa to Tenebrael then back again. “What about her?”
“Oh I was quite serious about depositing her in a tiny lockbox. I watched Iosefael try to escape for the better part of a day and I’m confident that I can contain her. An Archangel’s duties are solitary, for the most part. And if she is here, she clearly doesn’t have anywhere more important to be. Not like Principalities, who interact with many others and souls. No one will miss her for some time, I’d imagine.”
“Wait. Wait. I’m not even supposed to be here. I just wanted to know what Adrael was whining about. I didn’t think she was serious about the Dominion being…”
“Being so polite… and, uh, understanding of others.”
Alyssa raised an eyebrow. “You can’t seriously think that is going to work.”
“Look. I don’t care about this world. It isn’t my assignment. I just saw an opportunity to show up Addy. All of her whining over the past few hundred years. It is enough to drive an angel insane. But I can see when I’m not wanted. I’m not a fool. Let me go and you’ll never hear from me again.”
“I understand. Whining is quite unbecoming. Your offer is tempting, but let me hit you with a counter offer: No.”
A mystic circle exploded out from Tenebrael’s outstretched hands. Although, it was more triangular in shape. A lot like the teleportation design that Tenebrael used when taking Alyssa to and from Earth, but not quite the same. Given that this circle was apparently designed to take its target and place them into a tiny box cut off from the rest of the universe, Alyssa wasn’t sure that she would have taken a picture of it even if she had her phone up and ready. She could already picture herself showing it to Irulon only to later perish in a place that couldn’t support human life.
Kenziel’s eyes widened as she stared at it. Her eyes whipped back and forth like she was reading a book. Every line seemed to make her more nervous than the last, further reinforcing Alyssa’s desire to never show the circle to Irulon. Before she reached the halfway point, just as Tenebrael started to speak again, Kenziel blurted out a “Stop!”
To Alyssa’s surprise, Tenebrael did. The black-inside-white lines of the magic circle still hung in the air, but she closed her mouth and waited. For a moment, Alyssa worried that Kenziel had done something. Mind control or whatever the equivalent was for angels. Given the lack of internals beneath Adrael’s skin when her arm had been chopped off, Alyssa wasn’t actually sure that angels had physical brains.
But if Kenziel had done something, she would have probably calmed down. She didn’t breathe heavily or sweat at all, but the fear on her face was plain to see. It was a bit odd to see. Tenebrael was always so composed, even when things weren’t going her way. Maybe because she knew she would get her way in the end or maybe because her programming wouldn’t allow her the emotions required to fling a javelin at some mortals. The most panicked Alyssa had seen her had been the night Alyssa wound up in Nod. And that had hardly been panic. Disbelief, sure. But not panic.
Alyssa would have laughed, but she honestly felt a little bad. Maybe it was the childlike face. Kenziel had shown up in what Alyssa suspected was good faith. Never did it cross the little angel’s mind that a meeting with the world’s Dominion would have turned out so poorly. And if Tenebrael was serious about locking Kenziel up for eternity… feeling a little bad would be a drastic understatement.
“Well? Archangel? Did you ask me to stop for a reason? If not—”
“What do you want?”
“To let you go?”
“In general. Maybe I can help.”
“I don’t think you can. It goes against your nature.”
“Careful,” Alyssa said, breaking into their conversation. “Monologuing is how half of all cartoon villains wind up losing.” As bad as she felt for Kenziel, Alyssa really did not want to wake up to the world being destroyed.
“Are you calling me a villain?”
“You certainly dress the part.”
Tenebrael looked hurt. An act, surely. “I would love to sit about monologuing until the Throne is occupied, but people are dying. People are always dying and I’ve got to go collect their souls.”
“Where are your Principalities? Addy mentioned one annoying her. Shouldn’t they be in charge of that?” Kenziel was talking as fast as possible. Probably just trying to stave off Tenebrael activating her teleportation circle just a little longer.
But Tenebrael played right into her questions by answering instead of sending her off and just being done with it. “Iosefael was just helping me out momentarily. I normally take care of everything myself. Principalities are an irritating bunch. They’re too particular about their duties.”
“I could help you!” Kenziel saw her opportunity and she shoved her foot in the door like the overeager salesman she was. “I always wanted to try my hand at Principality work. I thought, after my previous assignment, that maybe I would try getting my role shifted upward. That isn’t going to happen officially now, but I don’t see a reason why I can’t act the part. I can collect souls and deliver them to the Throne just as well as any Principality.”
“And that is where we would have a problem. I do not heed nor pay tribute to an empty chair.”
“C-Chair?” Kenziel looked like she had been slapped despite Tenebrael not having moved a muscle. “You… What are you talking about?”
“The souls I collect do not go to the Throne. They never go near the Expanse. The souls of my world stop at me. I doubt you could even imagine such a thing. And that is why we cannot work together. That is why I have no Principalities running around doing whatever it is they do between deaths. Unfortunately, the bodies are growing cold. You know what happens to souls when they are left in a rotting husk. Prolonging our conversation will only prolong their suffering.”
The mystic circle, which had stilled during their brief conversation, launched into motion. Again, Tenebrael opened her mouth.
Again, Kenziel interrupted.
“I’ll do it!”
And again, the circle slowly stilled.
“I-I’ll bring the souls to you!”
Alyssa blinked. Tenebrael did as well. The angel had to be thinking the same thing as Alyssa. Kenziel couldn’t be serious. Could she? Angels couldn’t lie. But they couldn’t attack people either. Tenebrael had to be considering that little tidbit as she stared.
“That’s interesting,” Tenebrael said, lowering her arm. The stalled teleportation circle flickered before fading away into nothingness.
“You’re believing her?”
“I believe she can bring souls somewhere other than the Throne. She is not a Principality. I told you before that the lower the station of the angel, the less restrictions they would have. As an angel, she could collect souls just as I do. But, as she isn’t supposed to, she might not have anything stopping her from getting rid of the souls before reaching the Throne.”
“Alright. Sure. But can she isn’t the question. Will she?”
“She said she would. And I am not heartless… I’ll give her one chance.” Tenebrael leaned in close to Kenziel, staring for a moment before smiling. “Two people died during the course of our discussion. Their bodies are already rotting. The souls are corroding. Bring them to me.”
Kenziel nodded her head up and down just about as fast as she could. It made Alyssa sigh. Tenebrael looked to Alyssa, making her sigh a second time. But she lowered her hand, dismissing the Spectral Chains as she moved. Kenziel’s wings practically exploded behind her. The angel must have been straining against the chains as hard as possible.
Alyssa flinched back, closing her eyes for just a moment. When she opened them, all that was left of the Archangel was a handful of floating feathers wafting to the floor. Alyssa plucked one out of the air before it hit anything else, figuring that she could hand it off to Tzheitza for a quick examination. It probably had the same properties as Tenebrael’s feathers, but it might be interesting to know for sure.
As she stared at the feather, she sighed again. “We’re going to regret this.”
“I’ve temporarily closed off my world as best I can. I did so before even appearing here. She won’t be able to flee back to the Expanse. Not easily, anyway. Given some time and effort, she should be able to break through. I’ll be able to hunt her down if she tries to betray us before she makes it, which will be annoying, but it won’t be an insurmountable issue. However, I don’t think she will.”
“You trust her that much?”
“She said she would. Angels can’t lie. We can bend and twist the truth, but she was fairly clear in her words. Not a lot of room for reinterpretation to ‘I’ll bring the souls to you’ now is there?”
“And if she does decide to betray us? Like Adrael decided to attack humans?”
“Believe it or not, I’m almost hoping that she will. It might provide more insight into just how Adrael was able to ignore what should be hard wired into her being. Is it something to do with being an Archangel? Or is Adrael somehow special?”
Alyssa shrugged. She didn’t have an answer and Tenebrael didn’t expect one. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough. It shouldn’t take her long, should it? Although, you didn’t give her your book or tell her where those deaths occurred…”
“She’s an angel. We know these things. The book just helps us avoid surprise.”
“Uh huh. And, supposing she does return. She didn’t say anything to the effect of working with you on a permanent basis. What is stopping her from running back to the Throne the moment you’re not looking?”
“I might still lock her up. Perhaps not permanently. Once we’ve finished with our business on Earth, I can devote much more time to Nod and monitoring what goes on here. We can let her run around then, watching her.”
“She came to offer Tzheitza tips on potion making, apparently.”
“Really?” Tenebrael looked to Alyssa with genuine surprise. “Potions are a corruption of miracles, magic given physical form. I would have thought an Archangel would be vehemently against such things.”
Again, Alyssa could only shrug. If Kenziel could lie, maybe she was trying to trigger an explosion. Melted cauldron bottoms, or something. Maybe Tenebrael’s feathers needed the stem to keep their stability. But if she couldn’t lie… Well, Alyssa would offer the advice to Tzheitza with a warning to take care. Finding out whether the concoctions became more effective or not would be a good way to test Kenziel’s ability to lie.
Or she could just ask Tenebrael.
“Kenziel said that all the magic in your feathers is in the vane and that the stems of your feathers are trash. The potions would be better if the stem were thrown out entirely.”
Tenebrael gasped, staring with longing over her shoulder. “She called my beautiful feathers… trash?”
“Focus, please,” Alyssa said without a single hint of emotion in her voice.
“Though I disagree with the terminology, it sounds correct. How she knows how to make potions out of my feathers is a question I’m not sure I can answer. It doesn’t seem like something an angel would have much experience in. I don’t have any experience in creating potions.”
“Huh. Maybe natural intuition?”
“I’m not sure that angels have intuition.”
Alyssa… didn’t have anything to say about that. Just another oddity of angels being angels, she supposed. But if Kenziel and Tenebrael were right about the feathers, she should definitely tell Tzheitza. Probably soon, before Tzheitza started mashing them up.
How long was Kenziel supposed to be gone for? Alyssa started tapping her foot on the ground. She did throw a glance over her shoulder. The staff was still there. Kenziel hadn’t managed some trickery to get a hold of it. Brakkt was supposed to be dropping by in the morning. Perhaps he knew someone who might make a back-holster for the staff. It seemed like an important thing to get done soon if angels were going to be running around.
Tenebrael looked to be in thought. Her brow was furrowed and her eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular. Maybe she was monitoring Kenziel? Iosefael had mentioned that it was possible to keep track of other angels, so it seemed likely. Alyssa just about asked, but had a better idea as soon as she opened her mouth.
As long as Tenebrael was around, why not get some insight?
“I don’t suppose you know who threw a dagger at me yesterday?”
“Someone threw a dagger at you? You really can’t stay out of trouble, can you?”
“Not as much as I would like, no.”
Tenebrael reached back to her wings and withdrew her little black book. She opened it to the ribbon bookmark and started reading for a moment. “The book doesn’t care about you, so it is a bit difficult to tell. But you were in the field with that relic?”
“Fela? The hellhound?”
“That’s the one.”
“Yeah. Me, her, Tzheitza, a gaunt, and several city guardsmen.”
“You know an Octavia?”
“I knew it.” Well, she had suspected the Taker, so Tzheitza was actually the correct one. But Tenebrael probably didn’t know that. “I don’t suppose your little book shows whatever hole she’s hiding in?”