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Alyssa woke, feeling slightly nauseous. She kept her eyes closed because of the sensation. It was that unpleasant lead arms and swimming headache that came with a severe lack of sleep. Which was entirely her fault. She had returned late, first of all. Then there was the debacle with Kenziel—who had returned with two crystals in hand; Tenebrael hadn’t eaten them in front of her, but Alyssa didn’t doubt that she would later on. She had gone on and told Tzheitza about the angel’s recommendation for the feathers as well.

Her alarm was buzzing over and over again. Although she wanted nothing more than to silence it, roll over, and sleep longer, Brakkt was supposed to be around sometime this morning. He was coming for Fela and Alyssa wanted to ask about the draken as well… and she now had a location where Octavia was spending her nights. Alyssa had learned from last time. She wasn’t about to rush in like she had back then. She would take her time, consult with people far more experienced than her.

Like Brakkt. Octavia was his sister. With his armor, sword, and experience, he might be able to handle everything entirely on his own. That would be ideal. Alyssa had wound up dragged into far too many incidents. And going to capture a princess, even if she was a disgraced one, would probably not be a very bright thing to do without royal oversight and permission.

But something had to be done. Alyssa hadn’t even seen the girl and she had thrown a dagger. It was probably a grudge, an attack of opportunity. Her hovel was right near the exit to the city, so she could have been simply watching out the window and seen Alyssa pass by with Tzheitza. Pure coincidence. But Alyssa couldn’t risk having the girl following her around the city, throwing daggers whenever it suited her.

Alyssa tried to sit up. Her arms were just too heavy. Lead arms was an understatement. It felt like… like…

Like a hellhound lying half on her.

Alyssa snapped her eyes open with a scowl already on her face. Fela wasn’t completely on top of her. She was kneeling at the side of the bed, but her upper body was draped over the middle of the bed. Right across Alyssa’s midsection, pinning her arms to her side.

And that buzzing of her phone… it was making her headache worse. She couldn’t even reach it to turn off that incessant noise.

“Get off me you stupid mutt,” Alyssa grumbled, trying to shove Fela aside. Maybe it was the angle she was lying at, but Alyssa was having trouble getting leverage. The hellhound felt a lot heavier than she looked. It wasn’t like the hound was fat, but wasn’t muscle supposed to be heavier than fat anyway?

Ugh.

She didn’t budge.

“Ufu~”

Though her arms were pinned to her side, Alyssa could easily turn her head. Kasita stood, leaning against the wall. She had shed her fur and donned her guise as Alyssa’s sister once again. And she had a wide grin on her face.

“Stop smiling and get her off me.”

“I’m not sure what you think I can do to move her if you can’t.”

“At least turn off my alarm. It’s going to drive me insane. Please.”

Thankfully, the mimic complied. As Kasita shoved off the wall and walked over to where the phone sat on a shelf, Alyssa took a breath and tried to twist her entire body. Fela stayed right where she was. Throwing her off was impossible. But Alyssa did manage to slip out from underneath, moving toward the wall where the bulk of her body was not.

The ringing alarm stopped as Alyssa sat up. There were no windows in her room, but she could see daylight peeking between the wooden panels of the door. From a quick message to Brakkt the night before, she knew she would have only about thirty minutes from the time her alarm went off to when he would be arriving. She wanted to eat and at least look presentable before he arrived. For that, she would probably wear the black dress that Irulon had gifted her. It was her only local attire and it was quite clean given its lack of use compared to some of her other outfits.

She really needed to find the time to wash her clothes. Unfortunately, there were no washing machines in Lyria. And, while magic could help, she did not have a single spell called Wash Clothes or anything similar. That meant washing by hand. A time consuming task.

And she just didn’t have that kind of time.

Just like she didn’t have time to deal with Fela.

Alyssa didn’t even bother asking Kasita what they were doing inside her room. Her head hurt too much to think at the moment. She swung her legs right over the top of Fela and dragged herself out of bed. Halfway through donning the dark dress, Alyssa just about gave up and put on regular clothing. It really wasn’t the easiest thing to get into. Especially those stupid sleeve things. She was just going to equip her holsters anyway. They weren’t aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.

“Is something wrong?”

Sighing, Alyssa shook her head. “Just didn’t get much sleep.”

“Ah. Not something I have much experience with.”

“Lucky you.” Calm down, Alyssa told herself. Closing her eyes, she thought back to when Tess had adjusted the sleeves to get them nice and snug. Everything clicked. With a twist of her finger, the sleeves stayed right on her upper arm. “Maybe I can convince Tenebrael to let me get some medicine next time we go to Earth.” If Tzheitza could replicate aspirin or ibuprofen, that alone might revolutionize the menders’ jobs.

“Ah, yes. Earth. I’m not leaving your side, I thought you should know. Not until I get a chance to go back.”

“Sorry about that. Couldn’t really tell Tenebrael to wait. I wish you had been there, though. Tenebrael drew… lines. Just thinking about it is making my head hurt worse. I’d have loved to see what you made of it.”

“Won’t she be doing it again next time?”

“I… actually don’t know what the plan is.”

“You didn’t talk about it last night?”

“We were a bit preoccupied with Kenziel. All I know is that she should be around some time later tonight for the last person. I don’t know if there will be lessons before or after yet. I assume so, but…” Alyssa shrugged, shaking her head. It probably would have been good to ask, but she just hadn’t been thinking about it. Especially not once she got on the topic of Octavia.

Alyssa continued readying, making a small meal of eggs and some bread that was just a little too old. Tzheitza was up already, not working on Tenebrael’s feathers for once. She was concocting some regular potions for some customers. They would need to be delivered later today, apparently. Which shouldn’t be a problem. Talking with Brakkt shouldn’t take all day. Tzheitza knew that he was visiting too, though she hadn’t bothered to dress up at all.

Maybe Alyssa shouldn’t have bothered either.

By the time Alyssa sat down at the stool behind the front counter, it was about five minutes beyond when Brakkt was supposed to have arrived. But she wasn’t worried in the slightest.

This world lacked precise timekeeping measures. Irulon apparently counted seconds constantly to keep track of time, which was utterly insane. Slightly less insane people tended to rely on candles or sundials. The candles would burn down at a relatively constant rate. Markings on the sides of the candle would tell roughly what time it was. There were potion ingredients that could be added to the wick that would change the color or even cause a tiny explosion for alarms.

Sundials worked exactly the same as they had on Earth, as far as Alyssa could tell. She wasn’t exactly an expert on solar timekeeping, but she couldn’t really see how they could be altered significantly.

As far as Alyssa knew, there were no spells that could just pop up with a time. So magic was surprisingly unhelpful as far as keeping track of whens. Then again, Time magic did exist. Loophole was an example of a Time spell. Maybe there was a spell within that school of magic that would work, but most people didn’t use because Time magic was complex and highly ranked.

Kasita took a seat next to Alyssa. There weren’t two chairs, but that didn’t matter to a mimic. Which made Alyssa a little curious about just how horrifying of a Halloween costume Kasita could create. She could probably mimic a skeleton and walk around. People would even be able to reach up behind her ribcage or into her skull. If she were really fancy, she could probably take off her skull and reenact some Shakespeare. Throwing it around probably wasn’t possible. Kasita couldn’t split into two separate parts.

“So how was your brief stay at the palace?” Alyssa said. “I wanted to talk last night, but all that angel nonsense really ruined everything.”

“I tried to keep to Irulon’s floor for the most part. She doesn’t allow guards or servants who aren’t Tess to wander around, which meant I was free to walk around myself. But it was kind of boring otherwise. Because she doesn’t allow servants, the floor was a mess. Broken statues, her laboratory, her bedroom. None of it has been cleared out since the attack. Tess is surprisingly strong for her size, but still only one person and cannot lift the larger statue chunks on her own. So Irulon spent a lot of time cleaning up. Lots of magicking heavy things to where Tess could lift them. Obviously, I couldn’t help much at all.

“The most interesting thing was her meeting with her father. I hid myself beneath her armor in the hopes that the dragon hide would protect me from magic that could reveal me. It had the unfortunate side effect of cutting off my vision, but I could still hear.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that Irulon got herself… in trouble.” Alyssa had been about to say ‘grounded’ but wasn’t sure if they had groundings here. Lots of terminology was the same between here and Earth, but groundings just seemed a little too modern.

“Her father wanted to lock her up. He outright said that she should be imprisoned in their dungeons.”

Alyssa raised an eyebrow, throwing a questioning glance at the mimic. “You failed to mention that in your Message.”

“Apparently Observatorium administrators came to him with complaints about being threatened. The palace guardsman who I used Loophole on had complaints as well, telling plenty of people that Princess Irulon wasn’t really Irulon. The way she just ran off after the attack was suspicious as well. Her father had concerns about the multiple bodies in her laboratory that bore her appearance.”

“She didn’t get locked up, did she?” That seemed like something Kasita definitely should have mentioned, but Alyssa could see her skipping over it with a smile on her face.

Kasita shook her head. “Talked her way out of it. Brakkt helped to back her up.”

“But she still wound up confined to her room.”

“There are some ongoing investigations. The Pharaoh didn’t want her running off again.”

That made Alyssa a little uneasy. Investigations were potentially bad. Especially if they looked in her direction. Poor Oxart had gotten locked up as well. Maybe she would ask Brakkt if anything had been done regarding her yet.

Speaking of Brakkt… Tzheitza’s windows had been repaired just the other day. Through those windows, she saw Darth Vader hopping off the back of a dinosaur—not Izsha or Musca. It was the draken Alyssa had first seen him on, the one with bronze scales on its underside and blue-grey scales elsewhere. Although she had just considered him to be Darth Vader once again, he was not in his armor. It was a simple white… bedsheet. A belt kept it tight around his waist. A bit of golden trim around the neck was the only color on it, and for all Alyssa knew, it was real gold.

Since he wasn’t in his armor, he didn’t have his helmet on, giving Alyssa a clear view of him saying something to his mount. What exactly he said was less clear. Alyssa was not a lip reader like Irulon. But he didn’t tie up the draken like one would for a horse, neither did he hide it around the side of the shop.

There probably wouldn’t be any customers for the duration of his visit.

After saying what he had to say, he walked up to the door and pushed it open, entering with a subtle smile on his face. He looked right at Alyssa, but chose to glance about the shop for a moment or two before making his way over.

“Alyssa, Kasita.” He nodded his head twice, once at each of them. “Good morning.”

Which brought Alyssa up short. Instead of responding in kind, she looked from Kasita to Brakkt. “You two know each other?” Kasita had been around pretty much every time that Alyssa had interacted with Brakkt, but, to the best of her memory, they had never once said a word to each other.

“Like I said, Irulon’s room got boring. And, once she started getting things cleaned up, she started wanting to poke at me again. I entertained myself elsewhere.”

“I see…” Alyssa wasn’t sure she wanted to ask for elaboration on just how Kasita had entertained herself. Instead, she shook her head and focused on Brakkt. “Fela, that’s the hellhound, is sleeping in the back right now. But I had a few things to talk to you about before you rush off to the palace.”

“Yes, you mentioned the draken.” He leaned to the side, looking through the small crack in the backroom door. “But, the hellhound is secure? I’ve brought some restraints—”

“That won’t be necessary. She’s not tied up, but she’s not going to hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.” I hope. “She slept on top of me last night and I still have my head,” Alyssa said with a shrug.

“Truly?”

Kasita bobbed her head in the affirmative. “She really doesn’t want to fight people if she can help it. She lost her home and her family and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t know how well you know monsters, but hellhounds are social creatures. She followed Alyssa, even into a human city, because she is lonely. Alyssa and Irulon might be the only two people she really knows. Well, myself and the draken as well, though I’m not sure how well she really thinks of the draken as people.”

“Speaking of the draken,” Alyssa said. “How often do they get out?”

“Out?”

“When Irulon and I first rode off with Musca and Izsha, they seemed beyond excited to be able to run around in the open. It got me thinking that they weren’t allowed out of the palace all that much.”

“That would be accurate. I try to keep them out of sight of the general populace as much as possible.”

Alyssa glanced over his shoulder to the draken outside. It had just flopped over onto its side, bathing in the morning sun. She decided not to comment on that.

“Would it be that bad to let them out a little more often? I would be happy to take Izsha out on runs around the city once in a while…” Alyssa trailed off as Brakkt sighed.

“It is something I have considered before,” he said, leaning against the counter. “There are a number of problems. Not just the reaction the people will have. The first problem is that… many of the draken residing in the palace are… more… temperamental than Izsha. I notice you didn’t volunteer to take Musca out.”

“Well…”

“She scares you, doesn’t she?”

“I wouldn’t say scares,” Alyssa said slowly. Brakkt raised an eyebrow, putting on a half smile. Which just made Alyssa sigh. “But there might be a bit of intimidation going on there.”

Nodding, Brakkt said, “the others are more akin to Musca than Izsha. The younger ones, at least.”

“But even she wasn’t that bad. She didn’t attack me when Irulon… wound up a bit incapacitated. And wouldn’t they be a whole lot less, shall we say rambunctious? If they got to run around and burn off some of their energy?”

“That… is a possibility.” He fell silent for a moment, looking to Kasita then back to Alyssa. “If you are truly willing to help them, I’ll give it some thought. And I’ll talk with some of the draken and try to get their opinions on the matter. Truthfully, I don’t have all the time I would like to care for them. Most of the palace guard fear them. Or hate them. And I’ve got my own duties. So if you are willing to assist, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Alyssa nodded. She might not have all the time in the world either, but compared to a prince? Most of her days were spent sitting around or delivering potions. And the latter’s time could be lessened if she delivered potions on Izsha. “I also had a thought that it might be good for them to be seen more often. People might not like it, but if people got used to them, they might not complain so much when the draken did need to come out. Maybe they could help hunters or assist with hauling building material, if they were up for that sort of thing. It would get them exercise and let people see them helping humans.”

“That might be a step too far. At least right away. I have a feeling there would be lines of petitioners outside the palace again. Not to mention, we would have to find hunters and architects who aren’t afraid of draken.”

“Which is why we do the first part first, to get people used to draken running around slightly more often than they do now. Ease the people into having monsters around as allies.”

“Like I said, I’ll think about it.”

Nodding again, Alyssa fell silent. That was really all she could ask. Although, she did want to ask if she could borrow Izsha again in the future. A trip back to her home around Teneville would only take a few days on Izsha’s back. She had promised Kasita a small pistol, though handing one over did make Alyssa a little nervous. But aside from that, there were useful things back home. Like her clothes. She had a whole closet full of things that she hadn’t been able to carry when first setting out.

But she could ask later. When she had a more concrete idea of when she should go. It couldn’t be soon because Tenebrael had one more person on her list. And then there was the whole business with…

“There was one more thing,” Alyssa said. Looking up to Brakkt, she wondered if she should have offered him a seat. There were chairs in the partitioned off cubicles where patients received their treatment. But too late now. “A bit more of an important topic, so I wanted to get the monster talk out of the way.”

“Well? You’re avoiding the point.”

“Octavia threw a knife at my head the other night. And, thanks to that, I have discovered where she has been spending her nights.”

Throughout their conversation so far, Brakkt had maintained a fairly jovial mood. Not a joyous laughter, but he came in smiling and looked to be in good humor. As soon as Alyssa mentioned his sister, his mood plummeted. His back stiffened and his lips pressed together into a thin line. “You didn’t think to mention that in your Message?”

“I didn’t know it was her until late last night. I had thought it was the Taker at the time.” It was Tzheitza who had thought it was Octavia.

“You didn’t hurt her?”

Alyssa shook her head. “Never even saw her. Then I figured that we should consult with you before doing anything more.”

Brakkt drew in a deep breath through his nose before letting it out with a small dip of his head. “Good. Don’t go after her.”

“I would prefer it if she would stop throwing daggers at me. One of these times, she might actually get lucky?”

“She has attacked you before?”

“Well… no. I mean, she attacked Tzheitza, who captured her. And I was in the room when she broke free and Irulon captured her. I think this was just an attack of opportunity. Still, I would like there to be no more opportunities.”

“I can agree with that. You said you found her? Octavia wouldn’t be one to stay in a compromised position for long. Tell me what you know.”

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