“I bring you here out of the goodness of my heart. I saved your life. I even saved the lives of those other humans at your request. And how do you repay me? You go blow a hole in my beautiful moon!”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. She had been wondering when Tenebrael would show up. Frankly, she was a little surprised that it had taken so long. The meeting with seemingly the entire royal population of the palace was still ongoing. She sat at a large, round table. Polished stone. Maybe marble? Her spot was adjacent to Irulon with Kasita on the other side. Fela sat one chair away. Brakkt, Decorous, Trik, and the Pharaoh were also in attendance.
But that wasn’t all. Alyssa had finally met the First Prince. A somewhat unassuming man, relative to his siblings, named Ryab. Like all the other members of the royal family, he had violet eyes. Darker in color, yet somehow almost luminous. Ryab’s eyes were definitely more intense than Brakkt or Irulon’s.
To the Pharaoh’s immediate right hand side, a bald man named Setesh sat with a deep scowl on his face. Between that baldness, his thick goatee, and the fact that he was the Royal Vizier, Alyssa had to wonder just what he was plotting. Her opinion of him was not helped by the fact that he kept turning that scowl toward her, looking at her like she had ruined everything.
Later, she would have to warn Irulon to keep an eye on him. Had she known that the royal family kept such a sinister adviser, she would have said something long ago. He clearly was up to no good.
Aside from him, an additional city guard captain had joined them. Apparently Kalne, the former acting captain, had been promoted to a proper captain. Her promotion had not fixed her nervousness as far as Alyssa could see, but her occasional jitters might have been because of her proximity to Fela. She was the closest human to the hellhound in the room.
Alyssa did have to give her credit for being willing to sit there. As soon as they had entered the room, Decorous had practically sprinted to the seat furthest from Fela. Maybe it was his usual seat during these kinds of conferences, but he sure had rushed away as fast as he could. Aside from sitting next to Fela, Kalne seemed far more willing to go along with the Pharaoh’s idea of having Fela find plagued individuals.
The current topic of discussion.
And it was carrying on despite Tenebrael now lounging on the tabletop. She was lying on her side, propped up on one elbow while she used her other hand to idly stir the wine glass in front of Alyssa. No one could see her except Alyssa and maybe Kasita if the mimic was paying attention. Alyssa crossed her arms, staring at the angel with a frown. She hadn’t stopped time.
But did it really matter? Everyone in the room was aware of invisible angels. A few of the people were aware that one of those invisible angels was Tenebrael.
So Alyssa shrugged and asked, “Is the Taker dead?” Her voice had been low and quiet, but it still managed to interrupt Setesh, who promptly glared.
“As I said,” Irulon answered. “I can confirm that he was hit by Annihilator. Anything beyond that is only speculation. Even I can’t fully calculate your power output or where it would have… Oh. Oh!” Her eyes widened to the size of saucers, apparently noticing where Alyssa was looking. Maybe she noticed the swirling of the wine or maybe some other subtle clue tipped her off. Whatever it was, she lurched to her feet, knocking her chair over in the process. Uncaring of the noise it made, she dropped to her knees. “Thank you,” was all she said and it was little more than a mumble.
Tenebrael just chuckled. “I can confirm that a demon had to go scrape the remains of his soul off the surface of the moon.”
Alyssa let out a short sigh, smiling. “Good,” she said. A little louder, she addressed the room. “I have it from a reliable authority in these matters that the Taker did die. In addition, he is probably the first person to have died on the moon. So lucky him. That’s one less thing to worry about.”
One less really didn’t diminish the list by as much as she would have liked. Octavia was still a problem. Alyssa didn’t like the idea of keeping her alive, even if she were to be kept in a constant state of stasis. But it really wasn’t her decision. There was the moderately worrisome matter of wondering how many people in this room were infected, but that didn’t seem like a good question to just blurt out in front of them. Not when the answers could lead to panic and rash action.
Setesh stood, placing his bony hands flat against the table. “What are you talking about? And… Princess Irulon, what are you doing?”
“It’s fine,” Alyssa said quietly, leaning toward Irulon. “She said you don’t have to do that.”
“I said nothing of the sort.” Tenebrael’s voice was as snooty as she could possibly make it. “In fact, all the rest of these mortals should be on their knees too. It’s such a shame. People get a little used to you and then they show you no respect.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes again. They probably would be on their knees if they knew who was using the table as a grand piano. They didn’t know. And nobody was asking either, except Setesh. As it was, they were too busy being shocked by Irulon’s sudden dive to the ground. Which she was slowly recovering from. She had righted her chair, but hadn’t taken a seat yet. Her eyes were flicking back and forth between normal violet and the black and white rings while staring at the wine glass.
Tenebrael popped her finger out; her grey skin was completely untouched by the red color of the wine. It wasn’t even wet. “You ready to go?”
“I phrased it like a question, but you don’t have too much choice. We can delay a few hours, but you’ll miss your lessons.”
Alyssa sat up a little straighter. She definitely did not want to do that. Looking around, she first had to frown. One seat was completely empty. Angels were not omniscient, but Kasita having disappeared right in front of her surely hadn’t gone unnoticed. Alyssa had a feeling that, if she activated Unseen Sight and checked her pockets, she would find Kasita stowing away.
Maybe Tenebrael would let it slide. Some willful ignorance that would let Kasita take a journey back to Earth. Or maybe she really hadn’t noticed. The angel certainly hadn’t given any indication of her being aware of Kasita’s current location.
Drawing attention to it now would just ruin everything. Alyssa remained silent.
From the last two words Alyssa had said, Irulon had probably figured out absolutely everything. It was hard to describe someone’s face as being envious. Envy wasn’t an expression so much as it was a deeply internal and sometimes subconscious emotion. But right now, looking at Irulon, Alyssa had a feeling that she would give anything to trade places.
It was… deeply uncomfortable.
Pressing her lips together, Alyssa looked back to Tenebrael. The angel just shook her head sadly. Alyssa had expected as much. Something must have shown on her face because Irulon let out a long sigh.
“Sorry,” Alyssa said quietly.
Irulon just nodded, calm yet morose.
Everyone else looked more confused than anything else. That was fine. If Irulon wanted to explain, she could. “Sorry,” Alyssa said again, this time to everyone. “Something has come up and I must attend to some business. If there was anything else important regarding this meeting, I’ll be back by morning, probably. Oh!” Alyssa pulled out her phone and handed it to Irulon. Tenebrael took it away every time she went to Earth, so she might as well leave it with someone who might make some use of it.
Setesh’s fairer skin was turning red with rage. Alyssa wasn’t quite sure what he was so upset about. It was true that this might be disrespectful to the Pharaoh, but he didn’t seem to care. The Pharaoh just stroked his beard, twiddling with the pointed tip.
Unfortunately for the evil vizier, it was too late. Tenebrael had her finger pointing and a magic circle growing out from the tip of it. Before he or anyone else could say anything, they disappeared.
Or rather, Alyssa disappeared.
A part of her wished she could see what was going on in that room at this moment. Teleportation spells did exist, such as Recall. Although it was an anomaly, her ability to cast spells without speaking them was known by most people in that room, the Pharaoh included. So it probably wasn’t too spectacular. It would definitely be a different story if she were in some briefing room on Earth with generals ignorant of magic, but that wasn’t here or there.
Earth popped into being around her. The familiar sounds, sights, and smells came back with it. Her first time back to Earth, she had needed a minute to stop and absorb it all. Now, she was getting a little used to teleporting between worlds. Maybe too used to it. Of course, this was likely to be the last time. Maybe she should indulge in the beeps, engine noises, and undercurrent of a higher population as much as possible.
Looking around to find out exactly where on Earth she had arrived, Alyssa felt her stomach drop.
“No. W-Why are we here?”
They were standing on a street. A regular suburban street with chip-sealed asphalt, grassy lawns, some sizable trees, and rows of houses. It was a scene common across most of America. So common that this very scene could be found in every state, probably. She had never actually been to every state. Or even most of them, for that matter. This one, however, she was intimately familiar with.
Turning around, her heart sank.
It had been a long time since she had left Teneville. A long time since she had seen her house. But even when leaving Teneville, it hadn’t really felt like her house. After all, she hadn’t grown up next to a lake and a forest. It had been a building that looked like her home in the middle of nowhere. She had grown up in a little town.
This little town.
Alyssa took a step toward it without even meaning to. Realizing what she had done, she turned to Tenebrael, trying to keep calm. “Please tell me this is your idea of a joke. Or… trying to comfort me?”
Tenebrael smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. It was the kind of smile that would be offered to a widow at a funeral. It was a smile that made Alyssa’s heart skip a beat.
“I wish I could, Alyssa Meadows. Believe me, I wish I could. But we are here for a reason.”
Alyssa pinched her eyes shut, breathing in. Her chest shook as the air escaped her lungs. “What… What happens?”
“Wouldn’t you rather try connecting with me first? I’ve prepared a few miracles for you to try granting this time.”
“Just tell me!” she shouted. Taking a breath, she opened her eyes and stared right into Tenebrael’s luminescent whites. “Please.”
“The man you killed, had things gone according to the original plan, went on the run after killing you. Already feeling mildly guilty about killing Chris Altrac, killing Jason Stiles pushed him over the edge. Guilt set in and started crushing him. He is starved, having not eaten anything since last week, and is quite delusional. In his ill mental state, he decided to commit suicide. Via rope. Or fishing line, if you want to be specific. He wanted to do it over his son’s grave, but, having been on the run for a month and a half, he hasn’t the slightest idea where it is.
“Tonight, he comes here. If he can’t find the grave, killing himself where his son died is the next best thing. Or so he would have thought, had you not killed him.”
Alyssa clenched her fists. If she hadn’t already killed him, hearing that might have been enough to set her off. But… “Who dies? Who are we here to rescue? My… My neighbor? Mister Kelsey?” Disgusting even herself, her voice carried a note of hope to it.
Tenebrael shook her head back and forth. “Your mother comes home. In his delusion, he sees you in her place and flies into a rage.”
“N-No.” Alyssa staggered back. Her breathing didn’t feel right. It was too fast, but felt too slow. “He can’t k-kill Mom. She was in the a-army. She wouldn’t lose to—”
Stepping closer, Tenebrael wrapped Alyssa in a warm hug, using both her wings and her arms. “It’s alright. It’s alright. Look,” she said, pulling a hand back so that Alyssa could see. Two crystals were suspended in the air above her hand. Two souls. “One to fill that body I’ve been puppeting around and one to save your mother.”
A sudden anger filled Alyssa, burning in her chest. Her eyes blazed as she shoved Tenebrael away. “You were going to make me kill her! If I hadn’t grabbed that first soul, you would have made me kill Chris and Jason and my own mother!”
“But you did. And you don’t have to.” The souls whizzed off through the air, vanishing into the fluff of Tenebrael’s feathers. “Don’t focus on the things that might have been. Focus on the things that will be. Your mother will be saved.”
“And what about Dad? Clark? Uncle Earl? And…” Her voice pitched, making her stop. “L-Losing me had to have been devastating. I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about it because I haven’t been able to do anything about it, but… What happens to them? Me and my mom? So close together. D-Dad…”
Tenebrael didn’t answer. She just stood there, staring with that stupid funeral smile on her face.
“What happens to them!” Alyssa shouted, clutching at her chest. Her heart ached. A churning in her stomach threatened to expel the meal she had eaten with the Pharaoh all over the street.
“I don’t know.”
Alyssa locked her jaw, grinding her teeth together. “Then pull out your stupid little book and find out!”
“Iosefael’s book… no, Earth’s book is in Iosefael’s hands.”
“Then go get it!”
“These souls tonight are going to be collected by Iosefael. She knows that you haven’t died, but she doesn’t know that your mother won’t have died or that the soul she takes from my puppet won’t be the original soul. I don’t want to tip her off that we’re even here tonight. It’s why I’m not just handing over the souls to the angels, why we’re going through with this whole charade to keep our presence in these events hidden. I’ve memorized everything involving our job here. Everything that happens after?” She shook her head.
“You didn’t think I’d want to know?”
“As you said, you can’t do anything about it. Isn’t believing that everything turns out well better than knowing that everything might not?”
Alyss stared at Tenebrael’s face, searching for something. She wasn’t sure exactly what that something was, but she knew that she wasn’t finding it. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she turned her back on Tenebrael. “Just leave me alone.”
“On the positive side, there aren’t any witnesses. It won’t be like last time. We can just lay the bodies out how they would be when they are found and deal with them like that. No precise timings or—”
“Did you not hear me? Get out of my sight!”
For a moment, all Alyssa could hear was the sound of her own ragged breathing. It took more courage than she would have liked to admit to look over her shoulder.
Tenebrael was gone. Not even a single feather wafted through the air. Just an empty street, the light chirps of unseen birds, and a car driving past the end of the road.
Alyssa turned back to her house. She wanted to take a step toward it, but her feet just wouldn’t budge no matter how hard she tried. Her mind was a mess. Half formed thoughts popped up only to be buried under other. Alyssa would see her mother again. She could tell her all kinds of strange stories about Nod. A part of her was looking forward to it. A little bubble of excitement.
But her father… he would have had both women in his life ripped out of it. He had always been a gentle man. The kind of person who enjoyed the outdoors, playing music on his guitar, and spending time with his family. After today, half his family would be gone.
And Clark. What must he be thinking? He had always been the strong type. The kind of person Alyssa had looked up to. A perfect older brother? Absolutely not. But he was Alyssa’s brother. He was off at college. Living in a dorm. Surely he had come back home for… a funeral. Now he would have to come back for another one?
“Are you okay?”
Alyssa jerked, nearly falling flat on her face. Only her quick reflexes saved her. Whirling around, she glared. “I didn’t think you made it.”
Kasita shrugged. “I did hear your conversation with Tenebrael.” She tilted her head to one side. “Your half of it. Is everything… I mean, it isn’t alright, obviously, but…”
“No. It’s not alright at all.” The house looked so peaceful. With the front window having been repaired, no one would ever guess that several murders had taken place inside. And would take place later.
“Not going to go in? Look around? It’s been a while since you’ve been here, right?”
“I… I’m scared. What if I go in and my room is exactly how I left it? What if it isn’t? What if it’s empty, everything packed up?” Alyssa shuddered. “I hadn’t thought about it until now, but… I don’t know which would be worse.”
“Want me to take a little peek for you?”
Alyssa shook her head. “I’m going to have to see it later. Better get it over with now.”
“You’re going through with it? After that argument?”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Alyssa said, walking forward at a snail’s pace. “If I refuse to do anything, Tenebrael might do something worse. She might…” She swallowed, not even wanting to think about what that angel might do if pressed.
Somehow, with Kasita next to her, Alyssa felt better about getting closer. Her snail pace didn’t speed up, but she did manage to continue. The mimic gave her just that little bit of courage she needed to put one foot in front of the other.
It took five minutes, but they eventually made it from the middle of the street up to the front door. Kasita didn’t say anything more on the way, letting Alyssa unwind her mind in silence. Alyssa knelt down just before the steps. The flowerbed had a few decorative rocks sitting in the dirt. Alyssa dug a fingernail into a nearly invisible seam on one of them, flipping open the top. The key was right where it always was.
Her hand shook. It took three tries to get the key into the deadbolt.
“Your father,” Kasita said, breaking the silence. “If you want, I could hide here, stay behind and try to get a message to him. Let him know that you’re alright.”
Alyssa sucked in a breath. That would be perfect. And she almost said as much. Except for one little thing. “You would be trapped here. I don’t think Tenebrael is planning on having me come back here ever again. Until I… Unless I figure out a way to get here on my own, you would be stuck.”
“That doesn’t seem so bad. A whole world to explore. No one harboring any feelings against mimics. No one knowing what a mimic really is.”
“No one to talk to, to confide in. That’s assuming you can interact with anyone at all. Tenebrael might be gone, but I doubt anyone can perceive us at the moment. If you can be seen, with technology here, you would surely be found out eventually. People would try to catch you. Probably experiment on you.”
“Do you honestly think people here have a chance at catching me without magic?”
“Well… no.” It would take something special to capture Kasita. A sealed container might do it, but they would still have to actually get her into the container. But just being noticed was another problem. “If you start interacting with people, I’m sure the angels will notice. And I bet they have a way to track your origins back to Nod. All this will have been pointless if they end up finding out about it all.”
“There are already four angels running around back home. What’s a few more?”
“It could be the difference between a few angels trying to ‘fix’ Tenebrael and her world versus a full on apocalypse.” Alyssa shook her head. “But… maybe a message would work. One small little message that I could leave under Dad’s pillow…” Trying to think up just what such a message might say was not the easiest thing. It had to be believable, something to prove that she was alive, and… probably wouldn’t do all that much to relieve grief. If anything, a message popping up and reminding him of what he had lost would just make things worse.
“Maybe not,” Alyssa said as she finally pushed the door open.
Kasita allowed her silence as she walked inside. It was strange being back. Really back. It had been well over a month and yet, she felt like she had never left. Do people who move away and return home get the same feeling? A wood-floored hallway crossed past the entryway. To her left, the office and her parents’ bedroom. To her right, her room, her brother’s room, and the kitchen and dining room. She thought to head left, to maybe leave something under her father’s pillow, but her gaze was drawn down to the right.
Her door at the end of the hallway was closed. She had never kept it closed before. Only when she was sleeping. To have it closed now…
Uncanny. That was the only way to describe it. Her stomach hadn’t been feeling well since she realized where she was. The door being shut was just another thing that unsettled her.
But Alyssa walked toward it. Down the hallway, to the door, and… Her hand was on the handle, but she had to stop and take a breath. Nodding to herself, she turned her wrist and pushed it open.
Twelve years ago, Alyssa’s parents had built the house. Before that, it had just been an empty lot. She had been in high school at the time. Freshman year. She had fond memories of driving over from their old, smaller house across town every so often. Every time she came, something would be different. First, the weeds had been torn up. Then a giant pit had been dug in the ground for the basement. The basement got its cement walls and floor. Foundations for the rest of the house sprung up, plywood got laid out, the empty frame went up. Pipes, wires, insulation, sheetrock, walls, sidings. Alyssa herself had laid tile in the front entryway. Her father had been a bit stingy and hadn’t wanted to pay contractors for something so easy that the family could handle it. As a result, the tiles weren’t quite level, but it was home.
Opening the door to her room, Alyssa clasped her hand over her mouth, stumbling back.
The room was alien. It looked like it had halfway through construction. Her bed was gone. So was her dresser. The carpet had been torn up. The padding underneath as well. Rough plywood subfloor was all that was left. Two of the walls lacked paint up to her shoulders. It had been sanded down, ground all the way to the sheetrock.
Alyssa couldn’t breathe. The room spun around her. The edges of her vision darkened.
The last thing she heard was Kasita panicking. “Alyssa? Alyssa!”