Alyssa… wasn’t quite certain what was going on.
She could remember her last thoughts well enough. She had just walked into her room. It had been torn up and looked nothing like she remembered. What was it Tenebrael had said? In some alternate timeline, Alyssa wound up stabbed forty-odd times and bled out in her own room? That might explain the room’s state. Blood had to have gotten absolutely everywhere.
The shock of it had sent her reeling. How must her parents have felt? Walking in with all that blood and two separate corpses, one belonging to their daughter. Alyssa hadn’t even considered that aspect of it before. Maybe it was that she found it difficult to reconcile the idea of herself being dead with obviously not being dead. Somehow, she had just pictured her parents standing in front of a tombstone bearing her name. Sad, definitely, but not traumatizing.
Her last thoughts had been empathetic of her parents’ thoughts. Feelings of fear, revulsion, and horror had overwhelmed her.
But at the moment, all those feelings were muted. This place, it was identical to when Tenebrael had been drawing out her soul. She remembered it clearly. And she remembered the dangerous apathy that came with it. Still, even though she was confused, Alyssa couldn’t help but be thankful for the reprieve from her emotions. And her other ailments. She didn’t have a stomach so she couldn’t have that gnawing sensation. Her mind was gone and with it, her headache.
Fortunately, she seemed to have a better grasp of herself this time. Alyssa didn’t know how she wound up like this. Tenebrael hadn’t been around to help draw out her soul. But, perhaps thanks to her previous experience in such an environment? Maybe it was her drastically stronger emotions before entering this state compared to last time. Whatever it was, at least she knew what she needed to do. And she felt she had the drive to accomplish it.
The big question was the how?
Last time, Tenebrael had called to her. The voice had given her some semblance of awareness. Now, there was nothing. She could see nothing, hear nothing, and feel nothing. There wasn’t even a light breeze against her skin to give her a mild idea of where she might be heading. She didn’t have skin at all. Despite her heightened awareness and determination, she couldn’t actually tell if she was moving straight, moving in circles, or moving at all.
Alyssa stopped trying. A sudden fear entered her mind, one of a far more existential nature than her earlier fears about what her parents must have thought upon finding her.
What if I am moving further from my body?
Tenebrael had said that this was dangerous, that people had died in the past. She hadn’t gone into specifics, but Alyssa could easily see how someone might drift off in the wrong direction for eternity, leaving their body behind until it died and an angel collected their soul.
But did physical distance actually matter? The Throne wasn’t anywhere around, yet Tenebrael eventually wanted Alyssa to try connecting to it. That stupid angel hadn’t explained well enough. Or at all, for that matter. However, if she assumed that physical distance was just an illusion in this place, maybe she was thinking about moving all wrong. At risk of using as bad as analogies as Tenebrael’s video game one, it could be that Alyssa needed to think about the situation more like she was a radio signal and her body was a receiver. Or vice-versa.
How did that help? It meant that she would need to tune into her body rather than walk toward it. The only real advice Tenebrael had given her related to feelings and emotions. She should hold on to what she was feeling and not let it go. Even if most of what she had been feeling before falling unconscious had been muted, that she still felt something at all was a drastic improvement over last time. In addition, she could definitely feel her irritation growing.
Somehow, this was all Tenebrael’s fault. If she woke up to find Tenebrael standing over her, using this as an impromptu lesson, Alyssa was going to punch that stupid angel right in the nose.
The moment she imagined her fist hitting Tenebrael, Alyssa felt something. Not an emotion, though there was a small bit of catharsis. It was something external. Like a needle pricking her arm. Before she could even begin at guessing what that feeling really was, it faded away.
So Alyssa imagined punching Tenebrael again.
Again, she felt that prick in her arm. This time, prepared for it, she grabbed hold and held onto it. If she had to describe to someone else how she grabbed onto an imaginary feeling that might not actually be there, she wouldn’t have been able to do it. Instinct, she supposed.
The feeling went to recede again. This time, with her metaphorical hand around it, it pulled her with it. A brief sensation of falling came to a sudden stop as Alyssa hit her back against something.
Promptly leaning to one side, Alyssa dumped the contents of her stomach all over the wooden hallway floor.
I’m back, she thought, wiping at her lips with the back of her hand. Despite all the discomfort, the wobbly feeling she felt in her arms, and the hefty drain that came with throwing up, Alyssa had to smile at herself. She had done something and she had done it all on her own. She wasn’t connected to Tenebrael—that feeling of glory filling her was completely absent—but she had gotten back into her own body.
And it was her body. Sitting on the floor in the hallway of her home, she patted herself down. Just to make sure. Her muscles, her face, her hair.
“Kasita?” Alyssa just about choked on her words. Her voice was raspy and her throat burned. She needed a drink. The kitchen should have something. She got to her feet, but it took effort. The wobbly feeling in her arms was not confined there. Her legs felt like she had been running on a treadmill for a good hour. Not the soreness part, but that odd sensation where she felt like she was still moving even when she clearly wasn’t. “Kasita?” she said again, a bit louder. The mimic had been right next to her. Where had she gone?
Looking down the hall, Alyssa scowled.
“The relic has been returned to Nod. Its memories of the last two hours have been removed.”
Alyssa drew back a fist and tried to throw it, only for her unsteady body to betray her. She stumbled forward and flopped into Tenebrael’s waiting arms. “I hate you,” she mumbled. “Did you do that to me?”
“I did not. But you performed very well. You didn’t connect with me, but you made it back into your body.”
“Then why did it happen? And why didn’t you help put me back in properly? Or give me better advice, at least.”
“For the first question, it would be easy to shrug and say that it was just you being you. But that actually isn’t the case. Have you ever heard of someone in a deeply stressful situation suddenly gaining the ability to overcome their situation despite all odds? Maybe a father able to lift a school bus when their child is trapped underneath. Or a child trapped in the wilderness managing to do just the right things to survive long enough to be rescued. Sometimes, a mortal manages to perform such feats on their own. Sometimes, they steal divine power from nearby angels. It is hard to tell which, though the latter usually leaves evidence in the books,” Tenebrael said. As she mentioned books, she reached back and pulled one out. One with a golden bookmark. “When that happens, the angel that notices is required to return to the Throne and report to the Virtues and Authorities to ensure that nothing went wrong. Sometimes, some rewrites have to take place.”
Tenebrael fell silent, opening the book to the bookmarked page with one hand. Alyssa was still leaning against her, obstructing the other. “Of course, most mortals don’t realize what they’ve done. That part of this is all you. And you didn’t actually end up casting any miracles. Which I confess some disappointment about, but it means less work for me.”
Alyssa sighed. She had a thousand complaints, but she felt exhausted. The rubbery feeling in her arms and legs was lessening, at least. Being able to stand on her own would be nice. She still wanted to punch Tenebrael, even if she hadn’t actually done anything. Or because she hadn’t done anything. “And not helping me?”
“I didn’t want to worry you last time, so I didn’t mention it. While your soul is drawn out, I won’t be able to help. Calling out to you would be about all I could do, and you seemed to have the situation under control. The only other interaction I can do with your soul drawn out is to fully remove your soul. Your body would die and there would be nothing left to do but consume you. Or deliver you to the Throne, but I wouldn’t be so cruel.”
Scowling, Alyssa pushed herself away from Tenebrael. “Worry aside, I think I would have rather known that.”
“I would have tried talking you through it if you looked to be struggling, but by the time I arrived, you were already well on your way to restoring proper order to things. I saw no need to intervene.”
“Except to take Kasita back.”
“That took but seconds,” Tenebrael said with a shrug.
“Why remove her memories? You know I’m just going to tell her everything that happens anyway.”
“And I am counting on that. It is your prerogative to do so. However, I am restricted in what I can and cannot do.”
She used that defense for a lot of things. Any time she did or didn’t do something, it was ‘oh, I have to do it like this because I literally cannot help it.’ Even when it worked to Alyssa’s benefit, such as when Tenebrael had to fix the damage Adrael had done to Irulon and Musca, it was still a begrudging sort of benefit. How different would things be—how different would Tenebrael act—if she could do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted?
Unfortunately, it was a purely hypothetical thought. Alyssa hadn’t the slightest clue how she might break that element of Tenebrael’s… programming, for lack of a better word. Even if she could do it, she wasn’t sure that she would. Tenebrael had the potential to go around healing everyone, reshaping the world into a genuine utopia. But she could also usher in an apocalypse all on her own. The latter might even be more likely, what with her having introduced the demon plague to the world.
“Speaking of things that must or must not be done, I managed to slip in and steal this from Iosefael without her noticing.” She lightly raised and lowered the black book as she spoke. “I need to return it soon, so I’ll ask this only once: Do you really want to know what happens to your father?”
Alyssa sucked in a breath. But she didn’t answer. Do I want to know? There was no chance that Tenebrael was going to let her change things. Kasita was gone. Even though Alyssa didn’t want to leave her friends here alone, that option was now closed off to her anyway.
“Just tell me, he doesn’t… try to kill himself, does he?” Alyssa didn’t think her father would do such a thing. But… losing both her and her mother in such a short amount of time… that had to change someone. “And Clark too. He… I mean… they’ll be alright, right? Mostly?”
Tenebrael flipped a page of the book using only her thumb. She hummed a moment as she nodded her head. “Good news. No suicides in your immediate family. Congratulations.”
Relief flooded through Alyssa, almost making her legs turn to jelly again. That was what she had been most worried about above anything else.
“Is that all you wanted to know? Don’t want to know the names of your brother’s children when he has twins in fiveish years? Or who your father gets remarried to later down the road?”
“No. I… Dad gets remarried?”
“In roughly twenty years. There’s a lot of heartache as he is selling this place, but he and your brother start living together, which goes on for a few years. But after he starts living on his own again, he realizes just how lonely it is to be a widower. Enter: Lisa.”
“She has the same name as Mom?” Staring, Alyssa could hardly believe what Tenebrael had just said. But, as Tenebrael was so fond of reminding her, angels weren’t supposed to lie. So it had to be the truth.
“A coincidence, I’m sure,” Tenebrael said with an almost amused shrug.
“You know what? I don’t think I want to know.”
Tenebrael snapped the book shut, tilting her head. “Are you angry?”
“I… No. Of course not. I’m happy that he can move on with his life without us. It’s just…” Alyssa crossed her arms, not quite sure what she was feeling. Irritation, maybe. At herself? Her father? Surely not. He hadn’t even done anything yet. And even if he did get remarried, she couldn’t blame him for it. Maybe it was just that his future… companion had the same name as her mother.
“It’s just that you aren’t really gone,” Tenebrael said with an understanding tone in her voice. “And your mother won’t be either.”
Alyssa huffed. “I think I hate knowing the future.”
“You’re the one who asked.”
“Well, now you know how I feel about these stupid books.”
Whatever other disagreements they had, Alyssa could definitely concur with Tenebrael on that sentiment. Destroying those books would be best for everyone. “Is there no way we can take him with us? Leave behind an empty meat puppet like what you’ve done with my murderer?”
“Are you kidding? This has been a pain for a month. Your would-be murderer has hardly interacted with anyone. The same wouldn’t be true for your father. And you want me to do it for years? I don’t think so. Besides, without me rushing back to Earth every five seconds, I’ll be able to spend far more time with you on Nod. We’re clearly not going to have proper lessons today, but time will open up in the future for far more tests and experimentation.”
Alyssa tried to smile—the sooner she got a handle on things, the sooner she could go find her father and tell him what really happened—but she just wasn’t feeling it at the moment.
“Was there anything else you wanted?” Tenebrael said, holding the book aloft. “That kid who made fun of you in elementary school, maybe you care to know what happened to him?”
“No. No thank you. I just want to wash out my mouth and sit down for a moment.” Alyssa glanced back to the floor, but the mess she had made was gone. Tenebrael must have waved a hand and vanished it.
“I’ll reset the house before we return, so feel free to eat and drink to your heart’s content.”
There goes my other plan, Alyssa thought with sagging shoulders. If Tenebrael was going to remove everything she had done, she would remove any sticky notes under pillows. Assuming the spell or miracle or whatever was wide area, it would get rid of a note even if she didn’t know about it.
All Alyssa could do was nod her head.
Tenebrael vanished into an explosion of feathers without another word, leaving Alyssa alone in the alien hall of her own home. The door to her room had been shut, she noticed. She had almost been scared to look, but Tenebrael or Kasita must have done so to spare her from having to see inside. Already knowing that it had been torn apart, she doubted she would react so poorly if she opened it again, but Alyssa didn’t.
She turned away, moving the few steps to the kitchen entryway. It, the dining room, and the family room were all connected without walls. The counter provided some division between the kitchen and the dining room, but that was it. A large picture of Alyssa’s parents smiling and waving at the camera in front of the pyramids in Egypt occupied one wall of the family room. Alyssa found herself standing in front of it, staring.
They looked so happy. The trip to Egypt had only been a year ago. Alyssa’s mother had always been deeply into archeology, especially archeology relating to mummies, tombs, and temples in Egypt. With tensions in the area having dipped, they both felt that going then was their best chance. If tensions spiked again, they might have wound up too old to properly travel by the time it was safe enough.
Alyssa had been nervous about their trip. She hadn’t said anything, knowing how much her mother wanted to go. Her grandfather on her mother’s side had been from Egypt originally, so she felt a bit bad about complaining about it too. And, in the end, nothing had happened. They had had a great time. Tried a bunch of foods that they hadn’t had before, crouch-walked through the robber tunnels in the pyramids, bribed guards to let them take pictures of things that people were really not supposed to take pictures of, and even went on a little cruise down the Nile.
Turning to the kitchen, idly wondering what was going to become of the picture, Alyssa pulled out a cup and filled it up at the fridge water dispenser. Her thoughts whirled. Before, she had felt panicky and stressed. Now, she just felt melancholic.
Would her mother find Nod interesting? Although she had enjoyed Egypt, she had never really been the outdoorsy type that her father and brother were. Would she be happy to see Alyssa? The answer should be yes, but, at the same time, a little fear had wormed its way into Alyssa’s thoughts.
Would she resent Alyssa for taking her away from Earth, from her husband, and from her life?