Vacant Throne

by

TowerCurator

027.001 Familiar Faces - Ticket to the Moon

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Alyssa pressed her back against the house’s wall, having ducked around the corner. Fela charged off, out of Alyssa’s bubble of invisibility. She should have cared more. Fela being seen by other people could be a disaster. A monster in the middle of the city, attacking a human. And if one of the royal family was seen with Fela… They would have found out eventually, but that would presumably have been under controlled circumstances. Here and now, there would be panic.

At the moment, Alyssa found it hard to care.

She had a dagger sticking out of the palm of her hand. One of the Taker’s daggers. She could feel ice spreading up her veins. It reached her wrist and didn’t feel like it was going to stop there.

Gripping the haft of the dagger, Alyssa grit her teeth and yanked. The blade came free with a disgusting squelch. Blood dripped freely from its tip. There weren’t any ice crystals to be seen. But her forearm still felt icy. Was it still progressing? She couldn’t tell. Her heart was hammering. She felt sick to her stomach. Wasn’t Projectile Reflection supposed to take care of things like that? A throwing dagger was definitely a projectile. Maybe it had worn off. She hadn’t felt anything. It had been some time since she first activated the spell back in Tzheitza’s shop.

But…

Clenching her teeth, she balled her hand into a fist. Her fingers still worked. That was a good sign. They felt sluggish. Like she was trying to move them through a bowl of honey. But they moved.

Taking a deep breath, Alyssa glanced around the corner. She had the Taker protocol in full effect and only spent a half second looking before ducking back behind cover. It had been enough. She had seen enough.

The Taker danced around Fela, striking out with his blade against the parts of her skin that lacked the thick fur. Several drips of red ran down Fela’s obsidian skin. None looked too deep or too crippling, but that was only a matter of time. On the other side, from Alyssa’s brief glance, it looked like Fela was having a lot of trouble getting her paws on him. Her hand swung out at a speed that would have taken off his head had she only managed to graze him. But it was too slow compared to his movements. Too telegraphed.

Brakkt and Irulon were nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t doing anything. The only reason Alyssa had seen them inside the small house with Octavia was because she had entered into their invisibility bubble. All she knew was that Irulon wasn’t near the Taker or Fela.

She didn’t know what they were planning, but she couldn’t leave Fela to fight the Taker on her own.

Alyssa dropped the staff. The ruby head landed on the ground with a thud. It was useless anyway. The Taker could use magic, but her encounters with him in the mirror universe and Tzheitza’s description of his fighting style meant that he was unlikely to use any. The staff was just too cumbersome to take into a fast paced fight.

Though Alyssa wouldn’t be getting close to him if she could help it.

Stepping away from the staff to make absolutely sure that it wasn’t interfering, Alyssa first cast Projectile Reflection. Maybe it wouldn’t help again, but she had to hope.

Leaning around the corner again, she looked just in time to watch the Taker dig his sword deep into Fela’s upper arm. It punctured straight through. Fela let out an earsplitting roar as she tried to grip the sword with her other hand, but she moved just a hair too slow. The Taker twisted his wrist and pulled the blade through Fela’s skin.

Blood splattered across the ground. Fela’s arm was still attached—the Taker hadn’t severed her bone. The muscle wasn’t so lucky.

He pivoted again, about to ram the sword straight through Fela’s back.

Three cards disappeared from Alyssa’s hand.

Spectral Chains yanked the Taker’s arms to his sides. Immolating Gloves lit his arms on fire, which quickly spread to the rest of him.

The last was a spell that Alyssa had tested before, but never in the way she was intending to use it. Draw Water could indeed pull moisture from the air. That might help the fire burn better, but Alyssa was hoping for another effect.

And so far, it seemed to be working. Water droplets streamed through the air. They hovered near her outstretched hand for just a moment before splashing on the ground. The spell was intended to deposit collected water into a container of some sort. Lacking that, it had nowhere to go other than the ground. Her earlier test had pulled a shot glass worth of water from her room. Unless the air here was extremely humid, she was getting a lot more water from somewhere else as droplet after droplet rushed toward her.

The flames made it difficult to tell exactly what effect Draw Water was having, but she suspected it wasn’t pretty.

The Taker didn’t get a chance to experience much more. Fela, even with an arm dangling limp, struck out. The force of her paw snapped the flaming head of the Taker back far beyond human tolerances.

His body collapsed, still chained.

But it didn’t stay still. His head twitched. Twisting and writhing in his neck pulled his head back to its proper orientation.

Alyssa could see it through the flames as he opened his eyes. Embers burned behind the fire. The definite sign of demonic infection.

Brakkt stepped out of nothingness before the Taker could do anything. His blade came down, faint glow cutting at the Taker’s neck before the metal actually touched it. His sword didn’t manage to cut all the way through. The bone of the Taker’s spine didn’t even have to try to stop Brakkt’s sword.

But the Taker wasn’t moving again.

Before he could start, Alyssa walked forward. A scythe appeared in her hand as she moved. Hefting it high overhead, she slammed it down into the Taker’s chest. The chains shattered as the scythe passed through them, but that hardly mattered. She had her scythe embedded in him.

Removing his soul wasn’t as easy as the other infected she had killed. Against a normal person, the scythe passed through without the slightest resistance. The other monster had taken two hefty tugs.

The Taker’s soul fought back. She pulled back once only to find herself dragged forward. She almost lost her balance from the unexpected pull. If removing the soul from the infected in the other house had been like trying to pull pitch from a jar, the Taker’s was like trying to pull a steel ball from a crimped pipe. It moved, but only within its container.

And he was starting to move again. His fingers twitched and twisted, clawing at the dirt underneath him. He didn’t even have a neck and his body was still moving.

Alyssa planted her feet. She spread them just enough to keep herself steady no matter what before wiggling them back and forth to dig her boots into the ground. Steady, she heaved.

Only to fall backward as his entire body lifted from the ground. Her scythe went flying from her fingers, thankfully disappearing the moment she stopped touching it before it could hit anyone she cared about. She sat there, on the ground, with an odd sensation of horror and fascination. The body had lurched upward because of her tug against it, but it was now clearly moving on its own.

It stood fully, wavering back and forth. From Alyssa’s low perspective, the Taker didn’t even have a head. The spine was bent back far enough that his head was hanging down his back. The skin on his hands was dry and withered, but not scorched. The flames had gone out, apparently having done next to nothing.

The hands of the body reached up and grasped the head by the hair. Although contorted, the body slowly started righting the head.

Brakkt didn’t let the Taker finish. He lashed out with his sword, catching the Taker in the shoulder. Again, he failed to penetrate bone. Severing the muscle was enough to make that arm limp. A quick pivot to the opposite side and Brakkt slashed again.

The Taker dodged. His entire body twisted unnaturally. The orange glow of Brakkt’s sword passed through nothing but air. A follow-up swing was just as unlucky.

Holding his head with one hand, the Taker kicked. A blade jutted out from his boot just before striking Brakkt in the armpit.

Brakkt didn’t make a sound despite the splatter of blood landing on Alyssa.

The warm droplets shocked Alyssa into motion. Her deck had gone flying along with the scythe. They were just out of reach, lying in the dirt. She really needed to get a lanyard. That was the whole reason most of the arcanists she had seen kept their tomes chained to their hips.

Alyssa lunged toward the cards, twisting as she kicked off the ground. She just needed to grab them and put another Spectral Chains around the Taker. Then they would have all the time in the world to figure out how to kill him.

Her lunge didn’t carry her quite far enough. She stretched out, only to yelp as something dug into her thigh.

The Taker’s boot heel blade dug into her thigh. It didn’t pierce the dragon hide, but the force of the impact still broke her skin. She could feel warm liquid dribbling down her inner thigh. He managed to duck under a swing from Brakkt while using his boot to drag her back, away from the deck of cards. Brakkt slashing at his leg forced him to move away from Alyssa, but he hopped around her, kicking the deck of cards off to the side.

That same kick turned around without stopping.

Alyssa flinched back from the blade aimed at her face.

Brakkt caught it on his shin, leaving Alyssa to sigh in relief. He was a flurry. Blood still dripped from his arm, but he didn’t seem hindered in the slightest. He pressed relentlessly onward, pushing the Taker back away from Alyssa.

A shadow coming over Alyssa made her jump until she realized just who was casting that shadow.

“A gift from Irulon,” Kasita said, holding out a single spell card.

Alyssa didn’t hesitate to snatch it, expecting another Spectral Chains. It wasn’t. Alyssa gasped, eyes widening as she recognized the pattern.

“Aim up,” Kasita said, pointing skyward.

Alyssa barely had a chance to gape before she heard Irulon’s voice not far away.

“Strange Attractor: Aviation! Chaotic Warp!”

Both Brakkt and the Taker vanished from their position not far from Alyssa. Brakkt reappeared near the house he had originally been in, but he was lying on his back, still swinging his sword as if he were in a normal position.

The Taker…

“Alyssa! Above!”

Whipping her head, Alyssa hardly had time to comprehend what she was seeing. A little black dot against the uniform grey of the daytime moon. A little black dot that was rapidly growing in size.

The Taker was falling. He would land directly on her.

She jumped into action, raising the card Kasita had given her above her head.

And she fired.

Alyssa had to wince away from the brilliant beam of Annihilator. It wasn’t as bright as angelic halos, but that just didn’t matter beyond a certain point. The heat enveloped her. That feeling of having too much of a sunburn on her nose and face. Again, her dragon armor didn’t do anything to protect her. Or maybe the heat just seeped in through the crack above her chest and the holes in the arms and legs.

But, as before, the heat died off after far too long.

Opening her eyes, Alyssa found herself lying flat on her back in a somewhat spreadeagle position. The Taker hadn’t landed on her. That was nice. She wasn’t sure if she had aimed properly, but she couldn’t see any black dots in the sky. She could, however, see the moon. It wasn’t as uniformly grey as it had been before. Though small, relative to the rest of the moon, there was a definite crater right in the very center.

Groaning, Alyssa sat up. The moon had to be her imagination. More importantly, where was the Taker? She looked left, right, back and forward.

Looking around, Alyssa saw no sign of the Taker. If he hadn’t died, hopefully he had at least been blasted off to the moon. That should keep him away from her for a while. But… even with those enhancements from becoming demonic, could he have survived an Annihilator beam? Alyssa doubted it. A real demon had probably popped up and stolen his soul by now.

Alyssa took some amusement at the idea of surprise that might be on a demon’s face if they had to pop up on the moon.

Her hand hurt. Her leg hurt. Now that the immediate danger seemed to be past, she was starting to feel it. Her injuries weren’t bad. Not when compared to some of the things she had suffered on this stupid world. But she needed to stop getting injured like this. True, Tenebrael would be popping up sometime within the next twelve to twenty hours. And Alyssa would probably be able to get herself healed whenever that was. But it wasn’t a certainty.

She needed to stop relying on Tenebrael.

As for the people she actually cared about, Brakkt was on his feet again. He had peeled off his shoulder armor. Irulon was next to him, tending to him. Alyssa couldn’t tell how bad the wound was from the distance. Irulon didn’t look worried… though maybe that wasn’t saying much.

Fela had backed off after being injured. She was leaning against a building on the opposite side of the street, panting heavily while just staring at Alyssa. It was a bit uncomfortable, but not particularly unexpected. She was surprised that there wasn’t a huge crowd around her, all gawking. Then again, the six people who had been on the street when she had arrived had run off before she even looked around the corner of the building. Scared by the fighting. Or because of Fela’s presence.

That beam wouldn’t have gone unnoticed, though. The area would be swarming with guards in short order. Brakkt and Irulon could do what they wanted, but Alyssa had no desire to meet with Decorous again. Not even if the Pharaoh showed up to save her from his questioning.

Getting to her feet, Alyssa winced as she put pressure on her leg. The blade hadn’t penetrated, so she shouldn’t be poisoned or anything too worrisome. But she could tell already that she would have a monster of a bruise on top of the broken skin. Actually seeing the wound was impossible so long as she kept her pants on. The wound didn’t seem nearly bad enough to disrobe in the middle of the street.

“Ufu~” Kasita giggled as Alyssa started walking toward Fela. “Have you ever considered carving your name into the moon? That would be some everlasting proof of your existence.”

Alyssa just shook her head. Reaching Fela’s wall, she dropped herself heavily against it, taking all her weight off her injured leg in the process. She reached to her side only to stop. “Could you grab my spell cards?” Alyssa said, looking at Kasita. They had been kicked in the opposite direction from her and she really didn’t feel like hobbling all the way over to grab them.

Them and…

Her eyes widened. “Irulon!” she called out, pointing to her initial hiding spot. “The staff!”

She did not want some hooligan or guard to grab it while she was distracted. It was an angelic staff. Far too rare and possibly powerful to leave in the hands of random mortals. Even if all it could do was block magic, that would stop her from casting chains on people who desperately needed to be chained.

As Irulon nodded and went to grab it, and as Kasita went to grab the spell cards, Alyssa considered an option she hadn’t thought about during the fight. Maybe she should have tried smacking the Taker with the staff. If he was a demon, an angelic weapon should have been his direct counter. Right?

Kasita handed Alyssa the full deck of cards, holding onto them by the little metal ring that bound them together. She had eight or so cards in her other hand. Ones that had torn off from the ring.

So many of them were ruined. So much time down the drain. The paper used for spell cards was fairly sturdy, but it couldn’t stand up to being kicked around like that. She really needed to get one of those fancy tomes and a chain for them. Until then, she would have to go through all the cards and find out exactly what needed to be replaced.

For now, “Thank you, Kasita. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Both for this and for getting Annihilator to me.”

“Ufu~ Maybe you could inscribe my name on the moon as thanks.”

“Ehh… Empty Vessel,” Alyssa said. She sighed in relief that at least one of the wide-area invisibility spells had survived. The shifting glass shards appeared around her just in time to hide them from the first few men appearing around the corner. Not guards, but regular people.

The guards came soon after.

Alyssa didn’t even care to pay attention. She looked to Fela. “Thanks for jumping in.”

Fela bared her teeth in a grin, though it was a bit strained.

“How is your arm?”

Rather than respond verbally, Fela moved her paw out of the way, revealing the grisly wound. Alyssa’s stomach tightened with that empathetic gnawing that came from looking at another’s injuries. It looked an awful lot like what had happened to Alyssa when the Taker had hit her shoulder with his sword. “We’ll get you back to Tzheitza,” Alyssa said, trying to avoid showing the grimace she felt in her chest. “She’ll help you. Especially if she knows that you helped kill the Taker.”

Looking around, Alyssa’s tired expression shifted to a deep scowl. Irulon was in the middle of… not yelling at a guard, but not happily talking with him either. She kept gesturing into the room. Hopefully Octavia was still in there. She had been missing her arms and legs, but after seeing the Taker carry around his own head, even if it had still been attached to his body via the spine, she wouldn’t be surprised to learn of any outcome involving the girl. Brakkt, bandages wrapped around his shoulder, was reattaching the plates of armor that he had removed. More and more people were gathering around, both guards and regular townsfolk. The guards were starting to cordon off the area.

“We should probably all go visit Tzheitza,” Alyssa said. She had just had her first real interaction with plague victims. And she had open wounds. Nobody knew exactly how the plague spread, it might not be any normal transmission method at all, but rather something to do with how their souls turned colors. Either way, her anti-plague potion would probably not be a bad thing to get a dose of sooner rather than later. “Kasita, I hate to ask this of you, but—”

“It’s fine. You want me to tell Irulon where we’re going, right? She could probably figure everything out without anyone mentioning it to her.”

“True, but better safe than sorry. Just be careful. The guards might be looking for mimics, but they would probably ignore you if Irulon and Brakkt say to. I’m not so sure the same would be true if they caught a glimpse of Fela before she is officially associated with the royal family. I’ll help her back, but we need to get out of here before the guards fully block us in.” Alyssa pushed off the wall, wincing as her leg carried some of her weight. Maybe she would need Fela’s help in return. “Oh,” she said after taking a few unsteady steps. “Might be best if you don’t look like you or me. Try to avoid leading Decorous back to me, if at all possible. I don’t like him.”

Kasita shifted, her twin appearance vanished. A form very similar to the original form Kasita had taken at the whorehouse took its place. Absurdly large breasts. Low cut tunicy-corset thing. Her hair being identical in color if not shape to Alyssa’s hair was the only real difference. She looked down at herself, running her hands over her body. “How’s this?”

“Should work.” Though Alyssa was surprised that breasts like that didn’t give her away immediately. No real person had boobs bigger than their head. It was almost too attention grabbing. But maybe that was part of the plan.

Nodding her head, Kasita vanished. She probably turned into one of the rocks. It would be a little strange to have someone appear out of nowhere.

Trusting that Kasita knew what she was doing, Alyssa rested her hand on Fela’s uninjured arm. “Come on. Let’s slip through before the guards close us off.”

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