It was night. At nighttime, people tended to go to bed. That was something Alyssa should have remembered. Luckily, Tess existed. If it wasn’t for the young servant girl, Alyssa would have needed to wake up Irulon on her own. Short of upending half a bottle of wine on her face, likely ruining her bed at the same time, Alyssa hadn’t an idea how she might have gone about that.
Actually convincing Tess to wake up Irulon was another matter entirely. The girl hadn’t wanted to admit them to the floor at all, let alone disturb Sleeping Beauty. Only mentioning a possible threat to the Pharaoh got her moving.
Using the surprising strength in her little frame, Tess picked up her mistress and carried her like the princess she was. From her previous visit to Irulon’s floor, she knew that the room they were headed to contained a rather large bath. Even with the large splash that followed Tess closing the door behind her, Alyssa didn’t hear Irulon sputtering or waking up.
She must have been sleeping light on their trip through the desert.
Shaking her head in silent exasperation, Alyssa turned back to the other two people in the room. They were staring at each other. One with a confused glare. One with pure curiosity. They hadn’t said a word to each other yet, but Alyssa could already see the questions forming on her mother’s lips.
“Kasita, this is Mom,” Alyssa said before either could do anything. “Mom. Kasita.” She waved at the mimic. “She’s—”
Opening her mouth, Alyssa almost casually swatted down Kasita’s words. But something made her stop. Rather than argue against the statement, Alyssa simply nodded.
“I mean, not literally, of course.” Great, Alyssa thought. Now she’s glaring at me. Alyssa had never been good under her mother’s stares, so she quickly shifted focus to the wide-eyed mimic. “You don’t remember, but you offered to stay behind. To possibly trap yourself on Earth forever. Maybe without even being able to interact with people depending on how Tenebrael’s spell worked. All just to get a message to Dad. I…”
Something was wrong with Alyssa. She had never been a physically intimate kind of person. But today, in the span of less than an hour, she had hugged both her mother and now Kasita. She hardly remembered crossing the short distance to the mimic, but her arms were wrapped around her almost-twin nonetheless.
Of course, she didn’t stay hugging Kasita for nearly as long as she had her mother. And she didn’t cry into her shoulder either. Alyssa just pulled back with a smile. “Thanks. Even if you don’t remember, thanks.”
It was Kasita’s turn to look confused. Her face flickered a bit. That thing she did sometimes when her emotions rapidly changed. This time, her face switched between a furrowed brow and pursed lips to a definite frown. “What… are you talking about?”
“You were with me. But Tenebrael found out. She said she erased your memories. I’ll tell you everything later, but just… thanks.” Taking a breath, she looked back to her mother. “So yeah. This Kasita. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Probably would have died a few times over.”
“But… But why does she look like you? And sister? I think I would have noticed having a second daughter.”
“Kasita’s a mimic.” Said mimic might have been enjoying teasing her mother, but Alyssa had to stop the charade at some point. “She can take the form of anything she wants.”
As Alyssa spoke, Kasita demonstrated. She grew an inch. Her hair shifted from straight and in a ponytail to wavy around her shoulders. And… that was about it. There were a few other subtle details. A slightly more aged face. Rounder orbits of the eyes. But, really, Alyssa was definitely her mother’s daughter. Kasita, basing her image off Alyssa, looked much the same. After a moment, Alyssa had two mothers staring at each other. One smiled a very unmotherly grin.
The other took a step back.
Alyssa lightly flicked the side of Kasita’s head. “Stop it.”
Kasita deflated. Figuratively and literally. In an instant, Alyssa had a pouting sister staring at her.
“Magic, Mom. Whatever else she is, Kasita is a perfect example of magic. I’d show you more, but…” Alyssa paused, glancing to the mimic. “What spell cards do you have in you right now?”
“A few Message spells. A few Desecrate Spells. I made Irulon draw out another Annihilator in return for subjecting myself to her experiments over the last hour before she went to sleep.”
Message might work, but it wasn’t a very flashy spell. Annihilator was flashy, but… well, it was Annihilator. Too flashy. “Nothing a little less… grandiose? Maybe a simple Fireball or Spectral Chains?”
“Sorry,” she said with a shrug. “If I tried to Spectral Chains someone, they would probably just drag me around. Fireballs might be nice to have. I’ll draw a few of them up next time.”
Alyssa nodded, turning her attention to look around Irulon’s room. The spell tome was sitting on the bedside table, but Alyssa didn’t want to steal yet more spells from it. She was mostly sure that Irulon had been a little irritated about her using up every lethal spell at once against that old woman in the outpost. Using up more without asking, and for only a demonstration at that, would probably not endear her to Irulon.
“Where is Fela?” That was something she could show her mother. Alyssa felt a bit bad about using her friends like zoo animals, but Kasita had changed her form all on her own and Fela would probably like the attention.
“Irulon gave her a whole room across the hall.”
“Really? A whole room?” It sounded nice, but Alyssa had to frown a little. Fela wasn’t going to be neglected, was she? Kasita surely would have argued. It was a little surprising that Kasita had been in Irulon’s room at all, but not so surprising given what she had said. Irulon had only recently fallen asleep. Before that, they had been experimenting and drawing spell cards.
“Mom, want to meet a…” hellhound. That could prove to be a problem. Alyssa hadn’t been to church since she turned eighteen. Her mother disapproved, but didn’t comment much aside from an occasional ‘want to go to church today?’ And that could be the problem. But it was just a name. Fela was soft and fluffy and nice. Showing that to her mother should lessen the blow of hearing the name. After that, Alyssa could explain about actual demons that sent up plagues to try to corrupt humans.
“Another friend of mine?” Alyssa finished, hesitation in her voice after the long pause for her thoughts.
Her mother didn’t get a chance to answer.
The door to the bathroom thundered open. Irulon marched out, fists balled and teeth clenched. Her hair was dripping wet, though it did look like some attempt at drying it had been made. In contrast, Tess walked out just behind her with her hands clasped in front of her and her one visible eye closed. The servant was the calm to Irulon’s storm.
“What exactly couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” Irulon said with a scowl. Her eyes were in their black and white form, perhaps as a way to stave off exhaustion. But it was still clear when she flicked her eyes over to the unfamiliar person in the room. It only took a second for her posture to change to something a little less aggressive. The tone in her voice became slightly more polite as well. “Alyssa’s mother? I presume. The familial resemblance is… obvious,” she said with a flick of her eyes toward Kasita.
“Mom, this is Princess Irulon. She’s the…” Alyssa trailed off, looking back to Irulon. “Did we ever figure out if you’re the Fifth Princess now? Or are you still the Seventh?”
“Fifth, but such things do not concern me,” she said dismissively. “But I wouldn’t touch the throne even if I were first in line. Ruling is far too tedious.” Shaking her head, Irulon looked back between Alyssa and her mother. “As interesting as it is to meet another Earthling, I still do not see why you saw fit to wake me tonight. It could have waited.”
Ignoring her mother’s confusion, Alyssa quickly relayed what she had overheard. Decorous’ dissatisfaction with the Pharaoh’s decisions, him saying that something needed to be done, and his unknown partner’s reluctant support and insistence that the Pharaoh and his family wouldn’t be ruling forever. Throughout the brief repetition, Irulon took a seat in the reclined chair next to her bookshelf. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes. The only indication that she hadn’t fallen asleep again were her periodic nods.
Eventually, Alyssa finished. Irulon remained where she was, eyes still closed. For a moment, Alyssa feared that she really had gone back to sleep, but her fears were dashed when Irulon sighed.
“Is that it?”
“Um…” Alyssa blinked. “Yes?”
Irulon sighed again. “I appreciate your diligence, but—” A yawn cut off her words. She didn’t bother trying to stifle it. “But it isn’t anything to worry about. They’re always like this. Nobles can hardly run their little cities yet they think they’re qualified to be in charge of everything.” With a sad shake of her head, she looked up to Alyssa. “I’ll let my father know. Tomorrow. But I doubt anything will come of this. It certainly wasn’t anything to wake up over.”
“Sorry, I just… last time we heard about a potential coup, the palace wound up filled with monsters and you almost died.”
“You don’t need to remind me,” Irulon said in a testy tone. But her irritation dissipated with a third sigh in as many minutes. “Tess, I’m going back to sleep. Take them to a room and get them whatever they ask for, if they want to stay.”
Tess, who had been standing nearly perfectly still behind her mistress, put on a mildly annoyed expression as she glanced to Alyssa. “Of course,” she said, sweet tone betraying none of her annoyance. “If you will follow me—”
“Wait. Since you’re already awake, do you mind if I ask you about Oxart? Listening to Decorous just made me wish that she was back in charge of the city guard instead of him.”
“Did I not tell you?” As Alyssa shook her head, Irulon frowned. “Hm. Not like me to have something slip my mind. Regardless, I did manage to get through the obstruction of the nobles and view the alleged documents implicating her in treason. They’re good, but they are forgeries. Actually proving that is a puzzle I’m still working out. Still, I will ensure that they don’t try anything untoward with Oxart.”
“I doubt it was him. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with this. But I could easily imagine some of the nobles planting the papers for him to find, knowing that he would jump at the opportunity to throw his fellow guard under the wagon’s wheels in oder to gain more control himself.”
Alyssa didn’t quite know what to make of that. Decorous was an asshole, just not as big a one as she had thought? “Is Oxart alright? I mean, she’s been locked up in a dungeon for weeks now, hasn’t she? Would it be possible to see her?”
“She’s about as well as can be expected. As for seeing her? Hm. I suppose I should meet with her myself, find some way to properly clear her name. Perhaps I can make time in my schedule tomorrow. If you aren’t too busy.” Irulon’s black and white eyes turned to Alyssa’s mother for a moment before returning to Alyssa.
Alyssa glanced up to her mother, who, she realized, was probably completely lost and confused about nearly everything that they had been talking about. And yet, despite not knowing anything, she simply nodded her head like she was giving permission for her daughter to go on a skiing trip.
“Glad that’s settled,” Irulon said. “Now get out of my room. And don’t wake me up again unless the palace is burning down. Even then, wait until the flames are at least a quarter of the way up.”
“Right. Of course. Sorry for disturbing your beauty sleep for something as insignificant as a coup against your family.”
“Hm.” Irulon stood up, though she wasn’t perfectly steady. She stumbled over to her bed and promptly flopped onto it without another word. Tess rushed over and quickly started tucking her in, getting her well under a few blankets.
When she finished, Tess turned back to Alyssa with a barbed smile. “If you are finally ready to follow me…”
“Alright,” Alyssa said, glancing to her mother—who just shrugged. Turning, she looked for Kasita only to frown. There was no obvious other person in the room. “You don’t have to hide, Kasita.”
There was a brief moment where nothing happened before Kasita popped into being right in front of them. Alyssa’s mother jumped back a step, but Alyssa just put on a wan smile.
“I thought I’d give you and your mother a little privacy.”
“It isn’t really privacy if you’re hiding on us, you know?”
Kasita shifted, face flickering to worried ridges on her forehead. “Sorry. I’ll just stay—”
“You’ll come with us. I’m going to tell Mom everything and you’ve been there for almost every step. Besides, if you’re serious about this, sister, you’ve got to get to know our mom.”
“Is this supposed to be some kind of payback?” Kasita asked with narrow eyes. “Because I am a mimic. The most flexible and adaptable species in existence. I’ll even have your mother thinking we really are sisters.”
“A bit late for that.”
Alyssa looked up to her mother. She seemed to be taking everything well enough, especially if she could make a joke like that. Linking arms with Kasita, Alyssa grinned.
Though she didn’t stay grinning for long. From the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of Tess. The servant girl had a glower that would make small children cry at the sight of it.
Alyssa cleared her throat. “Sorry,” she said with a fading smile.
“Are you finally ready to follow me? Some of us have other duties to attend to.”
“Sorry Tess. We’re right behind you.”
“Hmph!” Clasping her hands behind her back, Tess angrily stalked toward the door. She seemed a bit more upset than usual. It was somewhat understandable. Irulon had emerged from the bathroom quite irritated. Tess had probably wound up getting quite the earful before either had come out.
Trying not to make her more upset, Alyssa kept right on her heels. Both Kasita and her mother followed closely as well.
It was a bit awkward. Made all the worse because Irulon had apparently not seen fit to adjust the staircases. Revenge for waking her unnecessarily? Probably. And poor Tess was being punished for it too. If they were heading down to the guest rooms that Alyssa had stayed in her other night at the palace, those were almost at the very bottom. Tess would have to climb all the way back up immediately after.
What a nightmare.
The lack of discussion turned out to be a good thing. Moving just halfway down, according to Tess, had sapped Alyssa of much of her liveliness. It wasn’t as bad as climbing the tower, but the meeting room seemed much closer to the top than Alyssa had thought it was. That and she had been a little hopped up on adrenaline thinking about a possible coup.
Alyssa glanced back to check on her mother. She wasn’t too worried; her mother was physically fit and quite healthy. Not that old either. But this was still quite a few steps to climb up and down in one day.
Her face was flushed a bit, glistening with a thin layer of sweat. She looked alright aside from that. She even managed a smile when she caught Alyssa looking.
It wasn’t a completely happy smile. Maybe that was the strain from the stairs, but Alyssa couldn’t shake that niggling feeling in the back of her mind that her mother was just putting on a smile for show while her internal feelings were the exact opposite. That was something Alyssa would have done had their positions been reversed. But unless her mother said something, smiling back was all Alyssa could do.
The rooms Tess led them to were indeed the same rooms that Alyssa had used the other night. In fact, she was relatively certain that Tess brought her to the exact same room. After saying that someone would be along with meals sooner or later, she ducked out. Before she left, Alyssa couldn’t help but note that, aside from Kasita, Tess looked the best out of all of them. She wasn’t sweating or out of breath in the slightest.
Looking back to the room, Alyssa had to frown. This time, the fireplace wasn’t lit. It wasn’t really necessary. Walking down from one of the highest floors had more than warmed Alyssa up. But it was about ambiance. Her disappointment quickly disappeared as she noticed the stack of cards sitting in a small holder on the side of the fire pit.
Flame spells. Lots of them.
Maybe it was better this way.
“This is a spell,” she said, holding up the card for her mother to see. “Every spell has a different symbol. The more powerful the spell, the more complex. This one is just four triangles and a circle. And a bunch of those words which are basically a prayer to Tenebrael, that angel I mentioned. This particular spell is… Flame.”
As soon as Alyssa said the word, she cast the spell. The paper burned to a crisp, leaving just a candle’s worth of fire hovering around the tip of her fingernail. But she didn’t bring it down to the fire pit. A wave of her hand extinguished the weak flame.
She was almost scared to look at her mother. When she did, she saw her lips drawn into a tight line. Definite disapproval. It was a little strange. Kasita was standing by, looking like a clone of Alyssa. Earlier, she had changed her form right in front of her mother. That hadn’t drawn a comment. Neither had Irulon’s eyes. Maybe she was just worried about insulting them. Or rather, more likely, she didn’t care too much. Alyssa’s mother didn’t believe in forcing her opinions on other people.
That didn’t fully extend to Alyssa herself. Having her daughter wave around fire with her bare hands was probably sending all kinds of thoughts of damnation through her mind.
Still… this was important. She pulled out another Flame card and held it out to her mother. “Magic has saved my life several times. I was disemboweled by a sword. Magic put me back together. And I need to know if you can use magic too. It could be vitally important.”
Well, technically, that had been in an alternate version of reality that hadn’t actually happened. It felt like it had happened and it could have happened, so it was close enough to the truth to count.
“We’re in a safe spot now, right?” her mother asked. At Alyssa’s hesitant nod, she pushed Alyssa’s arm down, not accepting the spell card. “Let’s start at the very beginning. I’m still trying to understand what is happening. I understand delaying to warn a princess of dissidents, but this is all too much.”
Right. I still haven’t explained anything. Slowly, Alyssa nodded her head. Wordlessly, she cast the Flame spell again, this time holding it down to the fire pit. There were a few logs of wood along with some scraps that worked as kindling. It didn’t take long to get the fire going.
“Better take a seat. I’ve been here for almost two full months. This could take some time.”