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“Can you actually do this?”

Tenebrael stared down at the angelic script covering every inch of every tome in her private quarters. Enochian was a dense language. Each individual character could hold a bounty of information. Hundreds of filled tomes were laid out, open with the efforts of countless hours of research and investigation. Of discovering exactly what the true nature of angels really was.

She still wasn’t sure she understood everything perfectly. But she hoped that what she understood was enough to fulfill her desires. A new beginning. A new lease on life. Freedom. The ability to do whatever it was that came to mind without worrying about restrictions and impediments. No need to maintain a diet of human souls to fuel her free will.

Technically, she probably didn’t need to do anything. Alyssa had proclaimed new orders for Tenebrael in specific. She essentially said that Tenebrael was free to do as she wished, using any amount of power of the Throne at will. But, perhaps like how Alyssa wanted to get out from under angelic influences, Tenebrael wanted to maintain her own independence independent of Alyssa’s whims. Though she probably wouldn’t do anything.

“Alyssa could probably have done this an eon ago. But she’s afraid of changing people into people who they aren’t. But I’m pretty sure that I’ve designed a method to do the same thing without needing her involvement.”

Iosefael shrunk in on herself, shoulders slumping as her back hunched. “You’re going to use me as a test subject?”

“A test subject? My dear friend? How could I?”

Crossing her arms, Iosefael turned her expression to a hard glare. “Somehow, I don’t imagine it would be that difficult for you.”

“Well, I hate to dampen your hopes, but I’ve already tested this on myself first.” Tenebrael spread her arms and wings wide, gesturing to herself after a moment. “Can’t you tell?”

Iosefael didn’t respond right away, looking Tenebrael up and down first. She slowly shook her head. “You seem the same to me.”

“Good. Then it is working… I think. Probably. I mean, I don’t feel a need to return to Nod and oversee anything, so I think it is working.”

“Is that a good thing? Shouldn’t you be there, collecting souls?”

“Did you hear? I’ve got a fleet of Principalities working for me now. I exiled them originally because I didn’t want them reporting back here what I was doing, but there is no need to worry about that anymore. So I’m sure they can handle things in my absence.”

“Then you should be doing your original duties, managing the world and… You don’t care. Do you?”

“Nope! Managing the world? Unnecessary in today’s day and age. If anything slips, who cares? The Throne doesn’t. Even better, although you say nothing has changed with me, that isn’t true in the slightest! I don’t care.”

“You’ve never cared.”

“Not true. I’ve just ignored how much I cared in the past thanks to a certain deal with a devil and a healthy diet. Now, I need neither and I still don’t care! Isn’t it great?”

“Is it?” Iosefael didn’t look impressed. Rather, she looked disappointed. “And you want to do that to me? Make me not care about things? I don’t want that.”

Tenebrael shook her head slowly. “You’re misunderstanding. With our change in leadership, we’re not beholden to our old raison d’etre. We can have a choice. I can give us a choice, all of us. I mean, Alyssa could give it too, but she’s all worried about taking away who we are. Also she’s busy pretending to be mortal. But the point is, you can continue to care about souls or mortals or whatever it is that you want to care about. You’ll just be able to choose against that if you want.”

“And you think that is a good idea?”

Iosefael was still against it? Even after the explanation? Now Tenebrael was frowning, wondering just what the Principality was thinking. “How could it not be a good idea? You don’t want agency?”

Walking around the distant tower of the Endless Expanse, Iosefael didn’t answer right away. She moved up to the wall, gently grazing her fingers across its smooth surface. When she spoke, she didn’t turn around to face Tenebrael. “It isn’t me I’m worried about. I think I know myself well enough. But I can’t say that every angel out there is as… pleasant as you and I. Adrael harmed a mortal even with everything in place. We are high above humans. If one of us gets in our heads that it would be a good idea to harm mortals, no one could stop us but other angels. A battle like that would hardly be pleasant for anyone in the vicinity.”

“Alyssa could stop any such nonsense.”

“Could she? Before it starts?”

“The Throne—”

“She isn’t on the Throne. You said it yourself. She’s off playing as a mortal.”

That… might be a good point, Tenebrael thought with a frown. Alyssa had said that there were some protections to keep certain things from happening while she was away. But did those protections include a way to stop a bunch of angels from rampantly running about, causing havoc? Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. At least not now. In time, Alyssa would surely abandon the mortal act. Then experimenting further would be a good idea.

But until she came back…

You aren’t going to go kill mortals. You love mortals!”

Iosefael turned back, frowning at Tenebrael. “You don’t know that! What if I’m made to be this way?”

“I don’t think that matters. You are you. My discovery will simply let you act as you wish you could act. Instead of bearing witness to some atrocity without intervening because even Alyssa’s orders to guide the worlds down a gentler path aren’t enough to act on some things, you’ll be able to step in and stop some poor human child from being hit by a car. Or whatever crisis catches your attention.”

“What if I shove a child in front of a car!”

Tenebrael blinked, feeling somewhat exhausted with the Principality’s protests. “Do you want to do that?”

“No!” Iosefael practically wailed.

“Then… You won’t. Simple as that.” Taking in a long breath, Tenebrael decided to put an end to the discussion where it was. She had wanted to offer a gift to her fellow angels. Agency. Complete and total agency—barring direct orders from Alyssa, which was something that she didn’t think would ever be able to change simply because of the Throne. However, if they were going to act like this… Maybe they weren’t quite ready for the responsibility? That sounded like a wise way to put it.

“Just think about it, alright?” Tenebrael said. “Nothing is going to happen today. Maybe we can even go talk to Alyssa about it. What is she up to anyway?”

Ever since deciding to head back to the mortal worlds, things around Alyssa had been pure chaos. Literally. Even with her connected to the Throne, nothing could actually predict her actions. Or maybe, she was unpredictable especially because she was connected to the Throne.

But being what she was, every angel was constantly aware of exactly where she was at any given time. That information filtered through the Throne and to each of them, ready to update them whenever they asked.

And at the moment, she was on Nod.

In a flash of feathers, Tenebrael vanished from the Endless Expanse, leaving Iosefael behind. The Principality would catch up if she wanted. The place she appeared in was familiar. Most of Nod was familiar. All of it, really. But it was not where she really expected to find Alyssa.

“Out in the woods alone?”

At one point in time, a sudden voice from behind would have startled the former mortal. Or at least given her a little surprise until she recognized the voice. But not anymore. Alyssa didn’t even look around the cascade of feathers for an single moment before honing in on Tenebrael’s position nearby. Iridescence gleamed in her eyes for a brief instant before they settled to a natural brown.

But, despite making eye contact, she didn’t answer Tenebrael’s questions. In lieu, she put a finger over her mouth before turning back slowly and carefully, watching through the trees. At what, Tenebrael could hardly say. There were things around of all shapes and sizes, but she had scarcely been able to predict Alyssa before. Now it was absolutely impossible.

Still, the situation was a bit odd. Alyssa was covered in leaves and mud. Enough to rustle when she made small movements. Just turning her head around caused quite a bit of noise, though it was mostly drowned out by a mild breeze rustling the leaves of all the trees. The hand she had used to shush Tenebrael was up still, pointed in a way that made Tenebrael think she was going to cast a spell of some sort. And she was slowly scanning the area, turning her head back and forth.


Tenebrael didn’t think that Alyssa had any need to hunt. She had been able to create food before well enough. Now, even split from the Throne in the strange way that she was, she could still create everything that came to mind.

Before Tenebrael could ponder the strange situation any further, the breaking of a branch snapped through the air. Alyssa whirled, but it was too late. A beast leaped from the shadows of the woods, maw wide open, ready to catch Alyssa’s spell-casting arm. The teeth bit down, though they failed to puncture Alyssa’s skin. It did afford the relic enough of a grip to swing Alyssa up into the air as it thrashed its head.

Alyssa hit the ground on her side with a mild groan—far less than would be expected from any other mortal in the same situation. The relic pounced while she was down, landing a taloned foot right on her chest.

Tenebrael considered intervening at several different points. None of which actually resulted in any action. Alyssa was in no danger. Even if she wasn’t part of the Throne, she would probably still be in no danger; Tenebrael recognized this particular relic.

“Alright, alright. You got me this time Izsha.”

With that, the draken promptly got off Alyssa, affording her the space needed to stand.

“No?” Alyssa said, brushing the mud and plants off herself. She just made a few motions with her hand, but it all cleared away. “I wasn’t going easy on you. What makes you say that?”

The draken made a few noises that sounded a lot like whining in Tenebrael’s perfect opinion. But apparently Alyssa had bothered to figure out how to decipher them.

You thought I had you? I didn’t look right at you. I…” Alyssa narrowed her eyes, shooting Tenebrael a glare. “I got distracted with something else. It must have blocked my line of sight. We have a visitor.”

The moment Alyssa spoke, Tenebrael felt it. A wash of power greater than any she had ever witnessed. Some fundamental facet of reality had just changed. She knew that in her very core. What, exactly, changed did not elude her for long. The draken turned its head, looking directly at her. She was on full display for more than just Alyssa’s eyes.

Please,” Tenebrael said with an intentional sarcastic note. She puffed herself up and spread out her wings just a little. Enough to hopefully be a little more impressive. “You can’t do things like that without warning me. What if I’m not looking my best?”

“You always look the same to me. You were even wearing that same black dress when I first met you.”

Tenebrael grinned. “You’re saying that I’m always at my best? Why thank you. You’re looking rather… Your face still has some green and brown paint all over it.”

Sighing, Alyssa shook her head. Her hair, much longer now than it had been before, obscured her face for just an instant before the paint vanished. Tenebrael wasn’t sure why she bothered with the theatrics. Both the shaking head thing and the brushing herself off earlier. Neither should have been necessary. She was just having fun? Or maybe it was for the benefit of the other mortals? The draken, for instance. Tenebrael didn’t know what benefit it might be, but presumably it was some mortal thing that Tenebrael just didn’t understand.

“So? What’s up?” Alyssa asked, leaning up against and resting an arm on Izsha’s side. She gave it a few rough pats before stopping to simply scratch the scales idly.

Tenebrael stopped just short of telling Alyssa what had just transpired. It wasn’t an immediate concern. Angels did not have the constraints of time applied to them as mortals did. The Endless Expanse would still be there. The mortals, on the other hand, had limited time. Unless Alyssa decided to do something about that. But near as Tenebrael could tell, all the mortals around Alyssa were still just that: Mortal. Tenebrael didn’t know what her plans were and hadn’t asked. She was pretty sure that not even Alyssa knew the answer.

So instead of bringing up Iosefael, Tenebrael just shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing much. Just a little bored.”

“Bored.” Alyssa spoke in a flat tone of voice as if she couldn’t believe such a thing. But, after a moment, she made a soft humming noise. “Irulon has been asking about you a whole bunch ever since I came back. If you are interested in spending time with a mortal, I’m sure she would be happy to endlessly question you.”

“Question me? About what? I would have thought that, with you here, she would have all the answers that she could ever want.”

“I might be pretending to know less than I actually do,” Alyssa said, speaking a whole lot softer than she normally did. “She is so driven with her magic research… I’d hate to take that away from her by parading around like I know all the mysteries of the universe. Maybe someday, after I’ve thought a bit more, we can have a chat about… various things. Until then, she seems perfectly happy to investigate me. Which might be part of why I’m hiding out here at the moment.” Patting Izsha once again, Alyssa let out a small chuckle that ended in more of an exasperated sigh than anything else.

“Mhm… And she isn’t completely disillusioned with me being the god of this realm after finding out that I’m just one of many Dominions? After having seen the Endless Expanse? After… everything, I guess.”

“Not as disillusioned as you might suspect. You are still her god, after all.” Alyssa put on a bright grin. “Though, I’m sure that if you keep popping up and talking to her in the same way that you did with me, she’ll quickly see you for what you truly are.”

“A menace?”

“A bit. But maybe also something of a friend.”

Tenebrael had to scoff at that. “A friend with some random mortal? Not likely.”

“Really? You were so excited when you found me. At least after the whole assuming I was just going to die on Earth thing. And didn’t you have a mortal friend long ago? Someone else like me who could talk to you?”

“You are and he was vastly different from any random mortal.”

“Were we?”

“Of course! You are… well… you. He was the king of the First City.”

“Really? I hadn’t heard that part of the story.”

“I’m sure the Throne knew.”

Alyssa shrugged. “If it did, I forgot.”

Says the person who just admitted to knowing more than she said she knew. Not that it was that big of a deal. “He is… well, the person who made me who I am today. A special one to me. The first soul I consumed too—a deal with the devil granted me the knowledge of how to do that. And… well, that same deal gave me the power to affect the world, which I promptly used to… found my own religion.” Among other things. Alyssa probably knew the whole story now, but if she didn’t, she would know eventually. “Although my contract with the demons ran out, I did maintain my diet. That gave me the agency to break some of my restrictions. Enough so that I was able to find you.”

“Sorry,” Alyssa said softly. “Didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

Tenebrael waved her off. “They’re hardly bad. I’m just trying to say that the two of you are easily the only two mortals I have ever viewed as important. I just have a feeling that anyone else will be hard pressed to live up to your… youness. And, you two could see me without being on death’s door. That is quite an attractive attribute, in my opinion.”

In response, Alyssa merely patted Izsha right on top of its head… with enough force to get the draken to growl a little, looking in her direction before settling its slit-pupil eyes back on Tenebrael. After waiting a moment more, Alyssa raised an eyebrow.

“You aren’t restricted anymore.”

The words hit Tenebrael. Hard enough that Iosefael would probably have had an idiom for the situation. She was free to do as she wished. She was free as any mortal, able to make decisions even if they went against the predictions of the Tree Diagram, something she now knew that she had been unable to go against in the past. She could truly become the god of this world. Do more than just be a name behind an empty religion, created for no particular reason other than her own vanity.

Before she could think more, Alyssa continued.

“Sure, nobody might be as important as me or that king to you, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting folk out there. You could go be seen by the whole world, if you want. All mortals should be able to see you just like I could, if you want. So why not run around? Talk with a few mortals. See if you find anyone interesting.”

“I doubt I’ll find anyone as interesting as you,” Tenebrael said, momentarily finding some words.

“True. But I’ll always be around. You know how to find me.”

Tenebrael looked off into the distance. A young girl had just fallen into a water well in Teneville. Guardian Angels were already trying to direct the people who could help into position to rescue her, per Alyssa’s orders toward a softer existence.

But what if she went instead? What if Dominion Tenebrael manifested to save the life of a young innocent girl instead of only coming after death to retrieve the soul? Tenebrael would have everyone’s eyes, everyone’s attention. And, for the first time, perhaps she might actually be worthy of the title all the mortals gave her.

A new temple needed to be erected anyway. She could do that while she was in the area.

“Maybe…” Alyssa’s smile turned to a pained cringe. “Maybe don’t do anything that’s going to get a million questions thrown my way? Things have only just started calming down since my return and I still get enough as it is.”

“That doesn’t sound like my problem. I’m sure that someone of your prestige can handle whatever gets sent your way.”

Alyssa sighed. Looking at Izsha, she said, “How do you feel about a vacation? Maybe to a whole new planet? Doesn’t that sound fun and exciting?”

Fun, Tenebrael thought to herself as she exploded into a thousand black feathers.

This will be fun.

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The Woman Above All

The universe wasn’t as large as it used to be. It hadn’t physically grown smaller in size. Quite the contrary, actually. There were systems of the Throne designed to expand and populate the physical universe in perpetuity. No actual conscious effort was needed to do so, though it also wasn’t a constant or quick thing. But, for Alyssa Meadows, even what little expansion there had been felt like nothing in the grand scheme of things.

It was a consequence of taking the Throne. It was everywhere. And everything. She could see the happenings of the past, of the future, and the present. All at once. Location didn’t matter. She could see Kasita on Earth, talking with her father. It happened a long time ago. Or maybe it hadn’t happened yet. With the Throne, she wasn’t sure that it mattered. If Alyssa desired, she could step in and stop anything from happening before Kasita got the idea, even though she already saw what transpired.

She didn’t. She didn’t want to interfere with anything. She didn’t want to bump, nudge, or otherwise influence anything. Kasita thought she was afraid of mind controlling people. She was—taking away agency seemed like a fairly reprehensible action—but that wasn’t her true fear. If Alyssa didn’t want Kasita to talk to her father, it wasn’t just that she would take away the choice by changing something. There never would have been a choice in the first place.

After meeting Tenebrael and discovering what those black books were for, Alyssa hadn’t liked the idea of them. In the battle between fate and determinism, Alyssa leaned heavily into the determinism side of things. The idea that her life had never been under her own control was a frightening one. Having come into contact with the Throne, she knew that she hadn’t been part of some grand plot of fate… and she didn’t want to inflict that upon others.

At the same time, giving everyone completely free choice to do whatever they wanted led to dictators, torturers, rapists, murderers, and all manner of atrocious sorts. At the moment, she had ordered the Guardian Angels and Archangels to guide people, subtle influences toward escape from horrible situations or, where possible, to prevent people from becoming horrors in the first place. She had to do something. She couldn’t just… not.

But how much was too little? How much was too much?

Would it be better to completely rewrite reality? Have people live in little theme-park versions of the universe where everything went just perfect all the time? A Truman’s Show for everyone? Shove everyone into the Matrix and be done with it all?

If she wanted, she was pretty sure she could literally give every unique individual their own universe to play in, populated by soulless actors that would go about, doing whatever. If the unique individual wanted to kill them, love them, or even ignore them, that would be possible. But… was that the right thing to do?

Alyssa didn’t think so.

And going to that extreme would likely have detrimental effects on reality.

It had to do with the way souls interacted. Alyssa had seen it back when she only had access to Tenebrael’s power. Little slivers of souls jumping around to other nearby souls. Those little jumps brought with them an enriching effect. People rubbed off on each other, literally. Every interaction built someone up, filling them full of life and energy.

Which, when they died, ended up returned to the universe, effectively powering all things. It wasn’t far fetched to say that the currently living populace of the universe would not be able to exist without their ancestors… for more than the simple act of being born, that was. The Throne did have some reserves, packed away deep within its burning engine of all things. Those reserves could probably last for several thousands of generations.

But for Alyssa, thousands of generations was a mere blink.

She could see no way of altering the universe to work differently, even with all the power of the Throne. It had likely been designed this way originally because it was the best way to operate the universe. Sure, she could obliterate the universe entirely. Maybe starting over from nothing would reveal a different way to go about things. Those generations of energy stored up would last for a near eternity while not powering something like the universe, so she would have time to experiment, explore, and figure things out.

Obliterating inhabited universes seemed like an even worse thing to do than to simply mind control everyone.

So that option was out.

Right out.

Even thinking about it felt dangerous. Alyssa didn’t think she would ever actually do it, but it being a possibility was frightening enough as it was. With eternity to spend sitting on the Throne, she couldn’t claim that it would never even happen. If there was one small consolation, it was that she was still immune to the Throne’s predictive machine. She couldn’t see a future where she would do such a thing. Her present self didn’t have to watch something so terrible. Of course, she couldn’t see a future where she never decided on it either, but the absence of something was not proof of its nonexistence. There was always the possibility of either outcome, so long as she remained on the Throne.

So for now, the universe would tick forward as it was with as few changes as possible.

Most of those changes, she was leaving up to Kasita. Another reason she didn’t want to interfere with Kasita’s eventual—current—past discussion with Irulon and Companion. Maybe Kasita had the right of things. And Kasita was significantly less omniscient than Alyssa was, which somehow made it better. Like she wasn’t plotting her changes to have a definite eventual outcome.

If there was one thing that Alyssa was glad to have discovered, it was that she might be able to be the same again someday. Someday soon, hopefully. Alyssa’s omniscience came from the Throne. While, at the moment, she and the Throne were almost synonymous, that almost was equivalent to the gulf between two stars. She should be able to distance herself from the Throne enough to at least be seen by mortals without doing what she did to Bercilak. And she was hoping that the distancing would come with a little less omniscience and omnipotence.

For some reason, imposing her will on others through battle, argument, or simply asking someone to do something seemed a whole lot more acceptable when she didn’t know everything. Or maybe it was the method. But when she could simply know the right words to say to someone to get the result that she wanted, conversationally asking someone was the same as mind control.

It was a dilemma and, if she were being honest, it was the main reason she was still here. That she hadn’t really tried to leave since visiting the demons. She couldn’t not know everything.

At least not until now.

Alyssa was fairly certain that she had figured out how she might be able to live a relatively normal life. Disconnecting from the Throne was simply not possible. Not now that she was connected to it. Simply standing up and walking away didn’t work. The Throne was everything and everywhere. After having hooked into its direct access point, she couldn’t break that connection. But, most importantly, she was still a separate being from the Throne. Alyssa was still Alyssa. The Throne was the Throne. They were not synonymous with each other, even if they shared a great deal elsewhere.

And that one degree of separation was enough that she thought she should be able to walk around without the full flood of information that the Throne constantly processed going through her head. She would still know that she was the Throne, but she would be able to ignore it. More or less. The exact details remained to be seen. Although she was connected to the Throne itself, the Infinite-State Machine’s Tree Diagram could still not predict her with any degree of accuracy. In fact, she was pretty sure that it was even less adept at discerning her actions than before, though she had no real proof of that.

She was, she had discovered, an aberration in the mortal code. Not a completely unique one. Just an uncommon one. Or so it was suspected. Most people like her probably lived their entire lives without interacting with anything divine. Some might see an angel as she had, but just dismiss it as a cosplayer, a trick of the light, or them being too tired and not seeing things right. Most angels didn’t stick around to chat, after all. A figment of the imagination was the likely answer most minds would jump to. Especially when most angels would not wind up teleporting the aberrations to a whole other world to be let loose to do as they wished. The Throne didn’t know what they were—what she was—only that they were the most capable beings in terms of managing, running, and otherwise ruling over the Throne. The Throne’s previous occupant had likely created the Seraphim with the express purpose of removing all threats to their rule. Threats like Alyssa.

And then got bored and walked away to find something else to do? That was the best guess Alyssa had. Details on the previous occupant of the Throne were scarce. The great library that recorded everything apparently did not record the Throne itself. It was too esoteric even to the Virtues that were designed to understand such things. No matter where she looked, she couldn’t find any of the Second and Third Sphere angels that had actually interacted with her predecessor. They all seemed to think they knew someone who had, but when asked who, they all came up blank. They weren’t faking either. Alyssa could tell.

The First Sphere angels were… not really conversational. If they spoke, it was solely to report diagnostic information. Even the Virtues and Authorities had some personality, buried as it might be. Going with that, the First Sphere angels very much lived in the moment. They weren’t designed to remember everything they came across, only to respond to various things they were programmed for. If any of them had met their creator, they wouldn’t even know it themselves.

Although the Seraphim were designed to kill beings like her, Alyssa hadn’t gotten rid of them just yet. Locked in her moral dilemmas as she was, Alyssa might not be the most effective ruler of everything. But she could think of several individuals off the top of her head who would be far worse at the job. Worse in terms of people who might actually decide to wipe the slate clean. The Seraphim were protection against that, at the moment. Though she wasn’t actually sure that they were needed.

Knowing what she did now, Alyssa couldn’t see any possible way to take the Throne’s power while someone was actively sitting on it. Even with Tenebrael and Kasita at her side, she doubted she would have been able to do what she had to a populated Throne. Maybe there was some other thing that the previous occupant had feared that would make the Seraphim necessary, but she couldn’t fathom what it might have been. As it was, she was just glad that the Throne had been vacant and the Seraphim operating off only their most base of instructions with no guiding hand behind their movements.

“Procrastinating again?”

Alyssa glanced up, already knowing that she would find Tenebrael drifting past the line of Seraphim defenders. Despite Alyssa having effectively elevated the angel’s privileges to the same level as the Seraphim, she still gave them a wary look as she floated past. They didn’t even register the Dominion of Nod’s presence. They were blind to angels under most circumstances.

Angels, after all, lacked souls. Individually, anyway. With the Throne being an engine fueling the universe from souls, and angels receiving that power…

“Why not go for a walk? Get up and stretch your legs a little. You don’t even have to go somewhere populated. I hear the insides of black holes are quite the experience.”

Blinking, Alyssa found herself experiencing everything there was to experience about black holes. It was certainly a wondrous experience, looking out into the universe… Or it would have been an exciting experience, were it not for the Throne. For one, the Throne immediately drilled everything there was to know into her head the moment the thought crossed her mind. All without the wonder or awe that such an experience should elicit.

For two, the Throne was so much more that all she could utter was an unimpressed, “Huh.”

“‘Huh,’ she says.” Tenebrael slowly shook her eyes. “Spotted Kasita talking with your mortal friends. The two that share their souls. Don’t want to go pop in and say hello?”

“No matter when that actually occurs, I can always join them. Waiting a while won’t change anything.”

“It changes you,” Tenebrael said, voice suddenly a little hard. “You might not think I’ve noticed with my own little project underway, but you haven’t come to visit me even once. I thought you said you enjoyed our little chats.”

“It was always you coming to me.”

“But now, you can come to me. And you haven’t. You haven’t gone to anyone except those demons and that first guy, whatever his name was.”

“Would it make you happy if I went to you at every step along the way? Each of those moments and this moment are so close together that it would be like walking across a room.”

“See? That’s what I’m talking about… Mortal Alyssa wouldn’t have hatched that kind of a plan. I mean, maybe… but probably not. Not after we got to be friends, anyway. The longer you sit on this Throne all by yourself, the more you’re going to be like this. The more you’re going to think that it is acceptable to us to do these kinds of things.” Tenebrael crossed her arms, putting on an obvious pout. “Honestly, I’m surprised you’re not just making me think that we’re having this conversation to placate me while you go off and brood in the corner.”

Alyssa just about told her that she wouldn’t notice one way or the other, but that was probably the wrong decision given the direction of the conversation. An instant revelation of the proceedings had she actually spoken her mind revealed that her decision was the correct one. Unless, of course, she had decided to speak and went back to change it to where she hadn’t spoken… That was a possibility. She wasn’t even sure if she would know the difference.

The Throne really complicated even little things.

Alyssa was fairly certain that she hated it.

“Come. Speak with Irulon. Actually speak with her. Not just…” Tenebrael waved a hand vaguely about the Throne.

“I can’t. If she sees me—”

“I know you’ve been working on a way around that. I know you finished shortly after we visited the demons.” Tenebrael tapped a black fingernail against her temple. “Connected to the Throne, remember?”

“It isn’t perfect yet.”

“Nothing ever is. And if you wait, you’ll just fall further from your mortal roots. It happens to angels. Guardians, Principalities, even Dominions all get to see humans often. Frequently. For some of us, it is our jobs. But the Virtues? Authorities? The entire First Sphere? They—”

“Are designed that way.”

“Were they? Or did they simply shed everything they didn’t need to perform their duties, lacking stimuli outside the Throne.” Tenebrael extended a hand up and out, reaching for Alyssa. She stopped part way, unwilling to be the one to actually initiate contact. “Come for a small walk. A break. You need to get away and I know you’ve figured out a way to do so without everything falling to pieces.”


Alyssa appeared in front of the Throne, standing on the first step that led down to the rest of the room. Tenebrael didn’t flinch, but she did back a respectful distance away, lowering her hand as she moved. Though Alyssa found herself confused. She hadn’t… meant to do anything at all. Not that she could remember, anyway. And, oddly enough, trying to remember came up blank. The first time anything she had thought about came up blank. She blinked twice, looking around.

And instantly understood what she had done as she looked at the Throne.

She saw herself on the Throne, seated in a menacing pose. Slouched. One elbow planted on the armrest with her knuckles supporting her head. One leg crossed over the other. The kind any hero would hesitate to approach upon seeing. The kind of pose a villain would have in a comic book.

In her defense, it was a very comfortable pose on a mildly uncomfortable seat.

But seeing that copy of herself, she knew that there was nothing inside it. Well… Nothing active. It held her soul at the moment. That soul, much like the twin souls of Irulon and Companion, was linked to the body she was currently inhabiting. Her consciousness was in the body standing on the steps. The Throne held an empty shell. One that was still collecting all the information the Throne could provide, but it wasn’t transmitting that information to her. It was her plan, her way of getting around being the Throne. The one degree of separation required to live a relatively normal life.

She must have wiped her own memory of future and past events, for Alyssa knew only a little more than she… felt she should have known were she mortal.

At the same time, she could feel the precautions she had built into herself. If this body died, her soul would snap back into the body on the Throne. If something approached the Throne, this body would go idle as the consciousness of her soul would be forced back to the Throne. There was a certain passphrase etched into the back of her mind that would send her to the Throne as well. Just in case. Just in such an event that the Throne come under attack by angry angels, other aberrations like her, or even other unplanned events.

So… it should be safe to leave. At least, in terms of letting the Throne out of her sight. Whether or not mortals witnessing her would still cause… issues was a question that she could no longer answer. Not without going back to the Throne. Surely she wouldn’t have let herself go about on her own if it would cause issues, but perhaps a quick test was necessary.

Without even thinking about it, Alyssa was in front of a certain jail cell within Lyria. Not the dungeons of the palace, but the more conventional cells for regular criminals. This particular cell contained an old friend of hers. “Hello Cid,” she said, keeping her tone pleasant and light.

It was the middle of the night at the moment. He didn’t have windows in his cell, but there were some at the end of the corridor for him to tell the passing of days with. But despite the late hour, Cid was not sleeping.

He hadn’t been sleeping well as of late. The already itchy blanket that was essentially all he had for a bed had become infested with vermin. He was scheduled for a shaving and a bath, but not for a week from this point. Alyssa remembered that much from before, meaning she had deliberately left herself with that knowledge. She couldn’t just close her eyes and picture anyone else’s immediate future.

But knowing his immediate future would mean that she should know if her presence was causing any problems.

So far, it didn’t seem to be. He was just staring at her, squinting slightly. The squint was probably because of the bright glow in her eyes.

“Remember me? It’s been… almost a year now, so I don’t blame you if you’ve forgotten. I hear you’re being used for labor these days. Harsh labor. Probably the least that you deserve.”

“Who are you?” His voice was raspy. Not from overuse, but lack of use.

“It doesn’t matter. If you do as I say for the next few moments, I’ll make your stay here slightly more pleasant. How does that sound?” Cleaning up the vermin was honestly not even for him. It was for the poor guards who had to interact with him. “Close your eyes,” she said. He obeyed a whole lot quicker than she would have expected, and without objection or further question, making her a little nervous about her using Throne powers to force it, but… She had left memories of his future intact meaning that she had known he would be compliant beforehand. So she didn’t wait long before asking her question. “Can you still see me?”

After making a disgruntled face, he blinked his eyes open. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Alyssa shrugged. That was as good as a response as she cared to get. Without answering, she returned to the Endless Expanse, taking all the vermin of the jailhouse with her. Every rat, flea, mite, and everything else instantly vanished upon arrival, dispersing into nothingness.

Tenebrael was still waiting, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s fine,” Alyssa said. “I was just checking something really quick. On to Irulon?”

Tenebrael glanced up to the body on the Throne then back down to Alyssa. Slowly, she shook her head. “Well, at least you’re going for a walk. I think.” With that, she turned and started drifting away.

Alyssa followed in tow. Not that they had to go very far. Neither of them were particularly restricted by spacial limitations and the Endless Expanse had very few such constraints as it was. They appeared in a velvety alcove in just a few seconds.

Which caused Kasita to jump right up from the chair she was occupying. Alyssa could feel space twisting, moving in the way that Kasita tended to make it when she got bored. Alyssa could tell that she was trying to seal off Irulon and Companion in their own little universe before they could catch sight of Alyssa. But there was no need for such protections at the moment. Alyssa just waved a hand, canceling the changes before they could truly begin.

“It’s alright. I think I’m fine to be seen at the moment.”

“Are you sure?”

Alyssa looked to Irulon and Companion, both of whom had to stand up to face Alyssa. Neither of them would be able to see Tenebrael—not now, but perhaps that was something Alyssa could fix—but they could clearly see the fleshy body standing before them. “Feeling any headaches, nausea, impending feelings of doom, or early-onset insanity?”

Neither spoke for just a moment before they both crossed their arms as one.

“Hm,” Companion said.

“Good to see you, I suppose. How long were you planning on hiding out here?”

“I’m not sure how long its been. Had to erase a large chunk of my memory. I…” Alyssa shook her head with a small chuckle. That chuckle turned to a sorry laugh before she took a few more steps forward and wrapped an arm around both Irulon and Companion’s shoulders. “I should have done it a long time ago. Sorry.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>


The Conjoined Souls

“She’s hiding herself.”

“Definitely hiding herself.”


“Unless she is dead? I know you don’t like entertaining the idea.”

“She isn’t dead.”

“If she is, she isn’t as dead as most corpses.”

“She isn’t dead.”

“I don’t think we can say that for certain given everything we know. In fact, what do we even consider the state of death? The point at which the body ceases function? When Tenebrael claims the soul? Or maybe when—”

“She isn’t dead because her mother came back with her father and brother. They claimed to have met Kasita and to know for a fact that Alyssa is still alive.”

Companion raised an eyebrow, turning her eyes to face Irulon. She sat there for just a minute, staring with gradually narrowing eyes. “How do you know that? And how do I not know that?”

Irulon grinned, feeling the confusion across their shared link with each other. There was a prodding coming across as well, an attempt at discovering how there was something hidden from her. With their souls entwined as they were, there shouldn’t have been any possibility of that. Yet here she was, watching as that probe slid right around a little mental compartment containing a few pieces of information.

Companion seemed to realize that there was something she was missing, judging by the expression on her face.

“Keeping secrets?”

“We’re coming up on the anniversary of when we found each other. I have a small gift for you that I want to keep a surprise.”

“A surprise,” Companion repeated, voice utterly flat. “A gift? You are my Irulon, are you not? Haven’t been replaced with some duplicate?”

“I admit. It was mostly a thought experiment that I developed through meditation while you slept. The discipline in not even thinking once about it while you were awake was tough, but it seems as if I have managed successfully. The experiment really only began because I was frankly exhausted with your attempts at engaging in dangerous situations for the adrenaline. You leaping off the balcony with nothing to catch yourself was the primary impetus. I woke in a sweat, adrenaline coursing through my body. I have come to realize that we require some separation of thought and mind.”

Companion closed her eyes, nodding in silent agreement. “Your decision to do so is far less surprising than your decision to present me with a gift.”

“It isn’t anything special and was primarily a subject to hide from you. And it has been working so far.”

“Then why hide Alyssa’s family?”

“Another experiment. An attempt to hide something from you that I’m actively learning and cognizant about as opposed to something I’ve been sneaking around with while you slept. I’ll show you how to do it later, of course. This whole endeavor would be useless if you couldn’t keep your irritating activities from me.”

“I see,” Companion said, nodding her head. “So… this gift..?”

“Later. It is human custom to give gifts on anniversaries. Not before.”

One last time, Companion nodded in apparent understanding. Yet Irulon had to hide some amusement at the irritated emotions coming from the former dragon. She kept perfectly poised, but Companion had been delving far more into the human side of herself as of late, which included far more expressive emotions. If only expressed internally.

Eventually, Companion turned away, looking back to one of Irulon’s viewing portals into the Endless Expanse, which covered the majority of the wall. It was the wall of Irulon’s bedroom opposite from the balcony. One wall that had been cleared away just for use with the viewing portal spell. It was far more advanced than the versions created earlier in the year, capable of showing off dozens of different angles all at once. Each individual viewing angle was able to be adjusted independent of the next, providing a nearly perfect view of whatever the viewer desired. A somewhat necessary feature given the random initial placement of every point.

“So we are looking here again because of Alyssa’s family, is it?”

“I wondered if anything had changed since we last attempted an observation.”

So far, nothing seemed different. Perhaps if they had Alyssa’s ability to actively detect angels, they might be able to see something abnormal. As it was, they were just looking in on an iridescent city of towers. An empty city of towers. It was all Irulon had ever seen of the place. Before she disappeared, Alyssa claimed that there were thousands upon thousands of angels all flying about the place like busy worker bees in a burgeoning hive.

After Alyssa disappeared, they had spent several weeks observing the place, wondering if something would change in the so called center of the universe. Alyssa’s note had suggested that she would be trying to connect with the Throne, after all. But nothing had changed as far as either of them could tell. It had been an empty world and it remained an empty world and it was still an empty world.

Companion idly adjusted the view of one of the panels, shifting the image to cross over what they both assumed to be the Throne. A location inside one of the towers with what could only be described as a throne standing front and center. A library surrounded it, from which books occasionally disappeared. It was really the only movement in the place, those disappearing and reappearing books, tomes, scrolls, and even stone slabs in some cases. On the few occasions where they had been able to see text on or in the books, they had copied it down. Unfortunately, it was all in the Enochian language. The tiny amount of which Alyssa had taught them was not enough to decipher anything meaningful.

Clasping her hands behind her back, Irulon paced back and forth in front of the array of spells. In truth, she didn’t know what she was looking for. Some sign of change perhaps. She had already spent a great deal of time watching nothing though, and was considering watching Earth for some sign that Alyssa had made it home. It wasn’t exactly what she planned on doing with the day, but she could take a short detour from her examination of ancient rituals to view a bit of her side-passion project. These windows to other worlds were currently top secret until she finished her examinations and propositions. Only Companion really knew about them.

Well, Companion, Brakkt, and Tess.

But maybe it was time to continue her thesis on the subject of other worlds, alternate realms, and higher planes.

It had been a while since she observed Alyssa’s home world. Her brother had insisted that she spend a great deal of time looking in on it, looking for Alyssa, immediately after her disappearance. But the world known as Earth was far too large. Even the advanced development of her spell with all its many viewing ports couldn’t find any sign of Alyssa. It didn’t help that nobody actually knew where Alyssa lived. All they knew was of the shape of the house from the building out near Teneville. And yet, it seemed like a quarter of the world lived in such houses. It was impossible to narrow down the actual location.

Not that her brother wished to hear anything of the sort.

Just as she was about to swap out the viewing spell for the Earth version, another of the books along the wall of the endless library moved. Normally, the books would disappear shortly after moving. They would vanish completely after a brief period of fading away. But this one didn’t vanish. It floated in the air, opening to a marked page. A finger slowly started tracing across the text in the book. As the finger shimmered into visibility, so did a hand, arm, and eventually a body.

“You see that, correct?”

“I’m not hiding anything from you at the moment.”

“That is Kasita.”

“It is.”

“She is staring at us.”

“Alyssa had mentioned that angels were capable of looking through the windows. Or that is what it appeared as to her when the Virtues found her.”

“But this is Kasita, not an angel.”

“Kasita went missing as well. It is logical to assume—”


Before Irulon could react to the giggle behind her back, she felt a hand clasp down on her shoulders. Her shoulders and Companion’s shoulders, across their link. There was a moment of panic and surprise before her breath got knocked out of her.

In the blink of an eye, Irulon found herself in the midst of an iridescent library. One with shelves that stretched on for longer than she could see in every direction. Even the direction of the shelves. No matter which direction she headed, she would end up walking alongside a corridor of books, tomes, scrolls, and even stone slabs. Companion stood at her side, head whipping back and forth as she tried to make sense of the world they had found themselves in.

For Companion, the effect of the place was far worse. Irulon’s mind could ignore the impossibility of being able to walk into the shelves and find herself moving down a corridor. She simply forgot the details that couldn’t work. Companion couldn’t do that. A dragon etched every memory they had into their very soul, giving them perfect memory. A memory that Irulon could easily tap into. At the moment, she was focusing her meditation on projecting her own mind as much as possible.

Doing so seemed to help. The moment she started, she felt Companion’s adrenaline production slow down.


“Welcome to the final mystery, Irulon. And Companion.”

Irulon looked over to find Kasita lounging in a large red chair that seemed to simply exist between the library shelves. Velvet carpet, velvet chair, even padded panels on the walls all covered in red velvet. If the rest of the world wasn’t giving her a headache, just the sight of this place would. Its decor alone was atrocious.

“Come. Have a seat,” Kasita said, pointing toward two chairs opposite from hers that had definitely not been there a moment ago.

Yet Irulon only knew that because of Companion’s perfect memory. If Irulon looked through only her own memory, she couldn’t remember a time when the room and its three chairs had not existed.

Given that Companion’s pallor was turning more and more ill, Irulon had a feeling that she should be glad for that, even if it was a disturbing concept.

“We weren’t planning on talking to people so soon, but I’m my own person and wanted to talk to some people. I’ve only recently figured out how to properly change myself and the universe so that I can freely do… Well, this.” Kasita waved a hand around at the velvet room. “Seeing you two peek in here made me want to pull you two in for a little explanation. I should grab Brakkt too, but maybe we’ll start with a little girl’s chat.

“Coming in here should help Companion as well,” Kasita continued after apparently taking notice of the former dragon’s wobbly stance. “I’ve untwisted the space here. Things should be relatively normal. Though I must caution the two of you against running off for any reason. The rest of this world is not so kind. You might end up tripping into a space that pulls you into an infinite number of directions at once, killing you instantly. Worse, you might run into Alyssa.”

A million questions crossed between Irulon and Companion’s mind in the span of an instant. Even debilitated as she was, Companion sought answers.

But Irulon was the first to speak, wanting to address the final thing that Kasita said. The confirmation that Alyssa was here in the Endless Expanse. “Why would finding Alyssa be a bad thing?” Had something happened to Alyssa? Had she been corrupted into becoming an enemy? Some hideous creature worse than any monster?

“Nothing like what you’re thinking. It’s just that looking at her does strange things to people. I— Or rather, we think that there was a reason why angels and everything else from this world is hidden from mortal eyes. For Alyssa, it seems as if you can’t not look at her once you’ve laid eyes on her. And she apparently doesn’t look… right. Not sure if the same applies to Tenebrael. She hasn’t bothered trying to show herself off to any mortals.

“As for me…”

Kasita waved a hand up and down herself, causing changes that had always been there yet never existed. Minor alterations to her body, the kind expected of a mimic. Except… Just from a cursory glance, neither Companion nor Irulon believed that they were looking at a mimic. They knew how mimics worked. Their familiarity with Kasita had only increased that knowledge over the period of time where they spent much time together, poking and prodding at her.

“I’m the god of change,” the former mimic proclaimed in an edict of utter truth.

For a long moment, no one said anything. Irulon simply stared, watching Kasita as she crossed her knees and reclined in her own velvet chair. Although clearly no longer a mimic, maybe no longer a mortal, the Kasita that Irulon knew was still sitting right there. All the mannerisms were present. The little individual cues that she had, the way her lips quirked and the tone of her voice. The giggle she made in Irulon’s ear. She was smiling and smug, but not fundamentally different from what she used to be like.

Companion, on the other hand, was mostly standing in a bit of a stupor. Her eyes were closed. Leaning into their link, Irulon found a few confusing feelings rising to prominence. The first was worry and fear. The sudden situation change, the twisted and changing landscape that she could remember being different yet had clearly always been, and even the differences that Irulon noticed in Kasita and dismissed were causing extreme stress. At the same time, she was clearly soaking in adrenaline. The sudden location changed worked toward that, as did the scent of this place. It was something Irulon couldn’t detect at all without using their link, but this place was inundated with magic so thoroughly that Companion’s skin was tingling in an almost painful manner. Her breath, already magical, felt like it might just ignite without any conscious action on her part because of the saturation.

Irulon’s companion was torn between moving forward into the room that Kasita promised would be better and remaining where she was simply to feel the conflicting sensations.

Eventually, Irulon grabbed Companion’s hand and forced her into the room, not wanting her to damage her body while Alyssa wasn’t around to fix it.

“So, you’re some kind of god now?” Irulon said as conversationally as possible as she slowly sank down into one of the vacant chairs. She honestly didn’t know what else to say. It was clear that things had changed with Kasita and the way they had been pulled into this world certainly wasn’t something that Irulon could even begin to process how to do with the magic she knew. But still, what did one say when presented with someone claiming to be a god?

Companion, breathing much easier now that she was in this small reading room, plopped herself down in the other chair far more casually. She looked—and felt—far more relaxed now. “You definitely taste different. Smell different. I don’t smell any of what you used to be on you now.”

“I’m good at changing things. Probably owing to my mimic nature. I’m different now because I really didn’t like my old self. This form is much better… it being far more suitable to navigating this place is also a nice side effect.”

“But a god?” Irulon said again, leaning forward. Until Alyssa’s arrival, Tenebrael had been the highest power that most people were aware of. Tenebrael was the deity of the world. The Juno Federation’s theocracy claimed that she was but a servant or monster of some other power, but the majority of Lyria didn’t buy into that theory all that much.

So to have claimed a power as high as Tenebrael…

“Unless we find something of a higher power than the Throne out there, then yes, I think god is an apt term. Alyssa doesn’t like it, but blagh to that. She still calls herself human if you can believe it. Fufu~”

“So she isn’t mortal either?”

“Oh no,” Kasita said with a hearty laugh, shoulders shaking. “Absolutely not. Alyssa is essentially the definition of omnipotence at the moment, even more than me. I grabbed some of the Throne’s power, but really, she’s the king of kings here. Yet… She sits about on the Throne all day, fretting about the morality of her actions while trying to figure out how to… be more like me, I guess.”


“When you gain ultimate power over basically everything, you apparently start to worry about a whole lot of things. ‘I should stop all diseases,’ and ‘wars should stop too,’ or maybe ‘some parents aren’t kind to their children’ and stuff like that. But then she starts worrying about things like whether or not changing someone to be kind to their children is moral. She is highly opposed to mind control and rewriting someone to being essentially a completely different person is even worse. At the moment, we have Guardian Angels running around, trying to subtly guide things along a more gentle path. The more extreme cases she has delegated to Archangels, repurposing them—while she can be everywhere, technically, she needs the assistance. As I mentioned, people interacting with her tends to have a negative effect on their mental wellbeing. Which she also doesn’t like.”


“Fascinating,” Irulon finished for Companion. “But you sound like you’re able to talk with Alyssa without trouble.”

“That’s correct.”

Companion beat Irulon to speaking. “Because you have the Throne’s power?”

“I see where this is going. The Throne is only designed for a single sitter. I’m essentially an angel at this point. A free angel. The only one so far, though Tenebrael is working on that problem for herself however. But to answer your unasked question, no. You can’t take the Throne’s power and use that to see Alyssa. Not without… significant changes. Ones that I think Alyssa would be opposed to at the moment. At least not before we have a whole lot more understanding about… well, everything. The Throne, despite being everything, didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual… as Alyssa likes to put it.”

Both Irulon and Companion leaned back in their chairs at the same time, both letting out a small sigh as they moved. Shame. She considered arguing, but Kasita was apparently not the one she needed to argue with. Judging by what Kasita said and how Companion had reacted to merely visiting this place, seeking out Alyssa was probably not wise. At the moment, anyway. If Irulon knew the current Alyssa at all, she knew that Alyssa was trying to figure out a way to be just a little more normal.

Eventually, they would come into contact with each other. When that happened, Irulon intended to have an entire series of arguments lined up for the benefit of tapping into the ultimate power of the universe.

Until then… “You can create anything?”

“I can indeed!”

“Tyrian wine? Imports have been poor lately.”

“Ah yes.” A pair of glasses featuring the richly scented liquor had always been on the table between Irulon and Companion’s chairs. “Slave labor, mostly using monsters. Guardians are disrupting the events, trying to convince the humans and monsters to be more equal.”

“Is that not under the umbrella of mind control? Influencing others against their will?”

“And now we’re arguing morality again. We believed that a convincing argument is influencing others, but not violating any deeper principles. That argument is merely being delivered by Guardians. But maybe you have a better idea of how things should work? Alyssa could honestly use the help… I think.”

“Adviser to the woman above all? How could I refuse?”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>


The Father who Lost

The park was always a relaxing place. Peaceful. Calming. The bright sun was warming, a welcome change from the relatively cool air that had been around as of late. Sticking around outside wasn’t going to be possible for much longer. Winter chill would be arriving soon. But for today, a number of people were out for that last bit of outdoor fun. Watching families come out for a picnic, enjoying each other’s company, was always nice. It stung a bit, but he always tried to look on the brighter side of things.

He never viewed himself as the kind of person who would grow up to sit on a park bench all day and toss out plain peanuts for birds. It always seemed like the kind of kind of thing old and lonely people did. Which, given his current status as an older and quite lonely person, was fitting. He didn’t even enjoy it that much. There were others in the park who he had spoken with on occasion who viewed the birds as being practically family members. For Timothy, it was more of a distraction than anything else. Something he could do that didn’t take concentration or investment. He had tried reading and simply sitting to relax himself, but reading just took a bit too much concentration and sitting was a bit too idle. For the former, he frequently found himself getting distracted and having to read the same paragraphs over and over again.

So he had stopped. Feeding birds was relaxing, mildly active, but left him with plenty of time to sit in his own thoughts.

Sometimes, he felt like he had just a little too much time in his own thoughts.

But at least he wasn’t at home. He was not looking forward to winter. He needed to find something else to do. Although he was retired, finding some job to work and keep him out of the house would definitely help his mental state. Clark had been saying that he wanted to find a cabin they could rent for at least a few days. He wasn’t too interested in staying home either. Now or for the holidays.

The house was just too… empty. He was trying to sell it, but so far, it was to no avail. Bad economy. Bad omens. A stigmatized property if ever there was one. Even the people who weren’t superstitious were less than thrilled to find out that four people had died in it. And with that thought, Timothy found himself sinking into a bit of depression once again.

He took a deep breath, scattered the last of the crumbs on the ground, and got to his feet. When sitting in the park didn’t work to take his mind off things, he often went for walks.

There was a nice belt around the park. He usually walked for only about ten minutes on it at a time—he was getting older—but today, perhaps he might travel a bit further. Stretch his legs a little.

Once out of the main park area, the asphalt path wound along next to a narrow river, surrounded by trees. A really cozy place that lots of people liked to walk along. He passed by twelve joggers, a pair of mothers pushing strollers, another few people walking along like he was, and even several of the younger generation. And those were just the ones who he counted in ten minutes, who were walking in the opposite direction. Aside from the joggers, people walking in the same direction didn’t often overtake him unless he stopped to take a rest.

But, in keeping with his decision to keep walking today, he decided to take a branch of the path that he didn’t often travel on. He had been down it before—it was much more narrow and often less well kept by whoever the groundskeepers were, and was therefore less popular with just about everyone—but taking a trip off on his own where he wouldn’t be disturbed felt nice once in a while. And there were the occasional people who felt the same as him.

For instance, after a good quarter of an hour, he spotted someone else. A young woman seated on a worn bench. She simply sat, staring off into the trees of the trail. With brown hair and a fairly muscular build, she looked… familiar. From a distance, anyway. It actually made him stop for a moment. But only a moment. Timothy was not the superstitious sort. Not even if, upon walking closer, he found that familiarity only increasing.

She was just a look-a-like. It happened. Even Timothy apparently had a doppelganger of his own out there. One who frequented the same stores, prompting more than one employee to think that Timothy had a partner that was usually with him. Even when his family had been around, he rarely went shopping with them and thus had to correct more than one employee about having or needing membership cards.

Having walked a fair distance, he considered taking a short rest. Maybe even strike up a conversation while he was there. But this day and age didn’t like that sort of thing. An older man taking a seat unsolicited next to a younger woman would probably turn out poorly for him. Sighing, he shrugged his shoulders and prepared to carry on. The path would eventually loop back around to the main park; he didn’t have much farther to go.

“Looking a little tired there.”

Timothy’s breath hitched as he reached the bench. The woman spoke to him without looking in his direction. He just stared at the back of her head, unease swelling. It was one thing to look like his deceased daughter. But to sound like her too? That was…

“Careful. You shouldn’t have too many shocks at your age.”

The woman turned, smiling at him.

Looking into those brown eyes made his heart skip a beat. “Alyssa?”

The moment the name was out of his mouth, he regretted saying anything. Of course it wasn’t her. He had seen her buried. Identified her corpse. His daughter was gone. This person was a look-a-like and nothing more.

“Ufu~ ‘fraid not.”

“I’m sorry. I must have mistaken you for someone else.”

“I understand. I did model myself on her after all.”

Unease welled up once again, this time for a completely different reason. This person knew Alyssa? And had deliberately dressed herself to look the same? Probably saw a photograph and used makeup to… To what? Was this some kind of con? How long had she been sitting on the park bench, eying the trees as she waited for him to pass by? What if he hadn’t gone down this path? Would she have been waiting somewhere else?

“Who are you?”

“A daughter you never had. Or a sister to the daughter you did have? Or maybe just a friend.”

“A friend doesn’t stalk others wearing the face of the dead,” Timothy said, voice hard. He considered fleeing. Strange women showing up looking like his daughter sounded like something from a horror movie. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as mobile as he once was. A younger woman would always be able to outrun him. If this was to be a horror movie, he wouldn’t be getting away.

“Now, now. No need to be so concerned. Come. Have a seat. Let’s talk.”

“I’ll stand.”

“Suit yourself. There really is no need to be so hostile, you know. I’m here to help. Or, failing that, deliver a message.”

“From whom?”

“Alyssa. Of course.”

He clenched his fists, scowling now.

“She would have come herself, but, well, apparently taking hold of all power in the universe isn’t as simple as it sounds. I don’t know why she can’t just change herself to make everything work, but I can change myself, so I did and so I’m here.”

“My daughter is dead.”

“And that is where you are wrong. She is quite alive, just… indisposed? There isn’t really an easy way to say this and she couldn’t be here herself—at least not for some time—but nobody wanted you and Clark to just be carrying on thinking that your wife and daughter were dead. They aren’t. The things you thought were your wife and daughter were actually just fake dolls created by an angel to cover for the fact that she messed up some things. I’m here to bring you to them… Oh… Wow… That really came out wrong. Like ‘you’ll be reunited in death,’ which I honestly don’t mean at all. They’re all literally alive. And I just… Ah, I knew I should have just brought Lisa along, but Alyssa said to avoid changing Earth too much for the moment because of all kinds of things that honestly just sound like nonsense. It was bad enough manipulating the environment and sights and smells to encourage this little walk out to the middle of nowhere. But we all thought it would be better to approach you during the day instead of in your home where… And now I’m really just rambling aren’t I.”

Of everything the woman said, it was only the final sentence that really registered. Rambling accurately described the… utterly insane things the woman was saying.

“I can show you proof, of course. Though we’re going to wait a few more minutes.”

“Why? Why wait?” He didn’t believe her for a minute. But if there was even a small hint of truth to her claims that his family was alive…

“Well…” She tilted her head from side to side before deliberately glancing off over his shoulders.

Feeling unnerved, he quickly turned… only to find a familiar face.


“Dad? What are you doing here?”

Timothy turned back to the woman with his daughter’s face, not wanting her to be out of his sight for any length of time. She was just smiling, nodding slightly, and completely unsurprised about Clark’s presence. He had no doubt that she knew who Clark was. Alyssa’s brother.

“Excellent,” she said, clapping her hands together. “Just in time. As expected. Anyway, we’re trying to keep alterations to worlds minor outside of the influences of Guardians, so let’s get you two out of here.”

“We’re not going—”

He didn’t get a chance to finish. The woman snapped her fingers. With that snap, a spark of light flashed, nearly blinding him. As it was, he had to blink several times, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes as he did so.

When he could finally see again, he wasn’t near the path or the bench. He was in a grassy field near a small lake. Trees in the distance created a small circle around half the lake. It was nowhere in the park that he knew about. There was a river—really a large creek—that followed along the main path, occasionally with a bridge that led to the other side. But no lake.

He whipped his head around, finding Clark right where he had been standing a moment ago, except also without the path under his feet. He was alive and well, though staring around with eyes as wide as Timothy’s were. Timothy ran up to him, clasping a hand around his shoulder. Feeling his son beneath his firm grip meant that they were real, even if he could hardly believe what was going on around them.

“Dad, what’s—”

“Kasita!” a voice bellowed. A familiar voice. “Your plan is horrible! Get back here you foolish girl!”

Timothy turned to find the strangest sight. His house stood not far from the lake. It was surrounded by grass, rather than suburban homes and streets. But it was his house. He recognized the color, the shape, even the garden hose coiled up on a rack hanging just around the side of the back door. And standing on that porch was an even more familiar face.

His wife. His dead wife. It was her. Really her, not some face-stealing woman like the person from earlier. This was absolutely and without a doubt his wife. He recognized her face, her stance, and even her voice. She wasn’t wearing any familiar clothes, but clothes changed.


The moment the word was out of his mouth, his wife looked to him. Whatever anger she had at whoever she was yelling at was instantly forgotten as her face softened. “Tim,” she said, voice equally soft. She started to approach, but stopped after only a few steps. “What did that foolish girl tell you?”

“I… Lisa?”


Lisa sighed in just the right way. She walked forward, military training trudging through in every step. She had a stiffness to her shoulders that Timothy identified as her being uncomfortable with the current situation. She had never been the best at emotional things—that had usually been his duty in the household—but this was on a whole other level.

“It’s me,” she said, eyes drifting from him to Clark and back. “I don’t know what that girl told you, but you aren’t dead and you aren’t crazy. So let’s get that out of the way first.”


“I know. Speechless. I can imagine what you’re going through because I went through the same. Except I had the benefit of actually meeting Alyssa. You had to meet Kasita. I can only imagine.”

“What’s going on, Dad?”

“Alright,” Lisa said, half turning back to the house. “Come inside. We’ll sit down and I’ll explain.”

Seeing his wife turn away stirred something in Timothy’s chest. He found himself lunging after her before he could stop himself, grabbing her by the hand. She stiffened in just the way he expected before she slowly let herself relax. She turned back, offering a wan smile.

“It’s really you.”

Nodding, she gave him a tight smile. Only to stiffen once again when he wrapped his arms around her. It really was her. All the little mannerisms she made simply couldn’t be faked. Not without someone who knew her as well as he did. He was quite confident that no one, not even their children, could match that.

But if she was here… “Alyssa?”

“Apparently busy dealing with having more power than any one person should have. According to Kasita, some rambling lunatic in the palace dungeons is… well, a lunatic because he simply saw her. And… It’s a long story. Let’s get inside before I even start.”

“Inside. Right.”

“You have to let go of me so we can walk.”

He felt a small bump into his back. Clark, grabbing hold as well. Though somewhat more hesitantly.

“I don’t want to.”

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<– Back | Index | Next –>


The Prince of the Tower

Brakkt stood atop the ramparts of the Fortress of Pandora, looking out over the sandy desert. It wasn’t his first time here, but it was always somewhat depressing. There once stood a city, far out across that desert, that dwarfed Lyria in both size and grandeur. Even the lowliest peasant lived like a king, with wealth and food aplenty. Magic was currently a shadow of what it once was.

According to legend, of course. Legends had a tendency to get a little inflated, but there was probably some grains of truth in all the embellishment.

In reality however, Brakkt suspected that the First City was little different from modern-day Lyria. They might have had a different understanding of magic. Maybe even more powerful magic given that a ritual was supposedly what had turned the entire landscape to sand and dust. But magic back then had likely not been nearly as widespread. Today, most arcanists used magic as a convenience. That convenience only doubled when things like potions for lighting were taken into account. And he knew that light potions were a relatively recent development.

But even still, its destruction had likely set humanity back by centuries. If all their understanding hadn’t been lost, who knew what people would be capable of today. It was also one of the primary causes for the ire monsters received today. A war could be forgotten in time. But the wide-spread knowledge that a war with monsters led to the utter destruction of an entire country was something that stuck with people. It was something people could easily point to. The fact that even Lyria used the threat of exile to the First City as a deterrent to severe crimes meant that even peasants who knew little about the world at large would be aware of what happened.

Dangerous monsters attacking on the regular was another reason, one that stuck with anyone who was assigned to the guard down here.

It was a shame.

And something was up with it.

Monster attacks had dwindled in the past six months. It normally took that long just to get here from Lyria, but the portal to Illuna cut that time in half. Pushing Ensou and traveling with only draken saved nearly a full month and a half of time. During his travel, there had apparently been no attacks at all. Since his arrival two weeks ago, there had been no attacks either. The reprieve should have been a welcome one to the soldiers stationed here. This was a trying job and any lessening of the burden was generally appreciated.

Yet the reprieve had gone on for a little too long now. Tensions were rising. Even experienced soldiers and arcanists were growing nervous. They were no longer viewing this as a break from the action, but as the calm before the storm. Such things had happened in the past. A lull in individual attacks followed by a great and organized assault designed to take down the entire fortress. They were never pretty. Normal events were merely small groups of monsters trying to escape north. Often by stealth rather than direct attacks. Sometimes, such intrusions weren’t even noticed until people started going missing from nearby settlements, usually travelers, woodsmen, and hunters. People who were away from the safety of larger cities and settlements.

Those generally necessitated hunting parties sent out from Pandora. There were several squads dedicated to just such a purpose.

More monsters than were noticed surely made it north of the fortress, but if they weren’t killing all the humans they came across, they were generally not a priority. Most of the monsters who had come to Illuna likely originated from the First City, though maybe not this generation. Brakkt himself honestly didn’t care and might have even welcomed such monsters.

But this wasn’t about them.

This calm before the storm might be hundreds of monsters, each individually as strong as ten men or capable of magic that would turn the heads of even his little sisters. Never before had a lull in events gone on for six months so far as he was aware.

At the moment, he was considering a venture further south. A scouting mission to see if he could find any large gatherings of monsters that might be prepping for an assault. Heading south of the fortress wasn’t something he had ever done before. Even his father hadn’t ever gone down there. Not out of sight of the fortress, anyway. But he had to do something to assuage the soldiers’ fears and bolster morale. His presence helped a little, but returning from a scouting mission would help a whole lot more.

Even sending back information that there was an attack incoming would surely take some of the tension out. At least people would know what they were facing.

At the same time, he felt he shouldn’t go. That doing so would only harm morale further. That he should remain, train with the troops, ensure that they were aware of how to use muskets and the recently delivered cannons. There were dedicated instructors here, but he had more experience with them than anyone and had been closely involved with the blacksmiths that had developed them. He alone was a force to be reckoned with as well, should an army assault the walls. And with both Fela and Ensou at his side, he might even stand a chance at a successful negotiation. Should any approaching monsters be willing to talk, that was.

Sometimes, he wished there were two of him to go around. Companion and Irulon would be able to scout and train at the same time. He had to decide if it was a good idea to send someone else to do the scouting. Even with as well trained as the people here were, he didn’t think he could truly count on them to return from a dangerous mission like that. He considered asking Fela if she would head out. As a monster herself, she would likely not attract too much negative attention. But…

Brakkt glanced to the side, watching the hellhound stare out, panting slightly in the hot air—the fur she had was probably a bit much for this climate.

If something happened to her, Alyssa would kill him.

Fela had been by his side almost constantly since Alyssa disappeared. At first, she just popped in to check on him every now and again. She acted much the same with Irulon and Companion. But after a month of no sign of Alyssa, Fela started spending more and more time with him. Him and the draken. Oddly enough, she didn’t spend all that much time with Irulon. A little, sure. But not as much as Brakkt would have expected.

She was, at the moment, standing alongside him on the ramparts, watching out while wearing the armor Alyssa had crafted for her. Her back was straight. Her eyes were sharp. The flames framing her face burned bright even in the bright sun. She had come with him down to the Fortress of Pandora, mostly because she wanted to stick with him and Izsha, he was pretty sure. He doubted that she was too interested in the actual lack of attacks on the fortress.

“Any notable scents on the wind?” Brakkt asked, more as a way to get some conversation going than because he thought she might smell an army in the distance. If she did, that was great as a source of information. But really, he enjoyed a little conversation now and again. It didn’t used to be that way, but maybe he had changed in the past year or so.

Fela didn’t answer right away. Tilting her chin up, she sniffed at the air a few times. Eventually, she relaxed with a casual shrug. “The air here is strange. It smells funny. Like…” She gave another two quick sniffs, this time closing her eyes as she did. “Like a pot of meat left over a fire for far too long, but not to the point of actually burning?”

“So it is a good smell?” Knowing her propensity for meat, he was surprised that she wasn’t constantly salivating if the air smelled like that. He couldn’t say that he smelled it though. It just smelled like nothing to him. No plants. No animals. It was a wonder anything could survive down south of the fortress. Yet monsters had been attacking for hundreds of years.

But Fela shook her head. “No. Not really at all. I can’t really say why, but it is actually a bit repulsive. Makes me lose my appetite.”

“You seemed to eat quite a bit last night.”

“Real food helps cover up the smell.”

“Mhm. Have you ever been this way before?”

Fela shook her head once again. “I was born far north of Lyria, up at nearly the opposite end of the desert… That desert. There are a lot of deserts in and around Lyria, aren’t there.”

“Not more than other places, I think. Granted, I’ve only traveled outside Lyria a handful of times.”

“I guess. I don’t really know… I think I prefer wide open plains to deserts, but I like deserts better than forests or swamps. Lots more area to run around. Trees just make it so you can’t run in a straight line and really push yourself.”

“There is something nice about relaxing in a forest though. Hiding from the heat in the shade of a good tree, smelling the dew on the leaves…”

“I guess that’s alright, but—”

When Fela abruptly cut herself off, Brakkt glanced over, worried, but mostly expecting one of the fortress guards to have approached. None of them liked Fela. Or monsters in general. They were even less tolerant of monsters than the most abject protesters in Lyria. Which wasn’t necessarily unexpected. Hellhounds were among the many kinds of monsters that frequently tried to assault the wall. In fact, hellhounds frequently made it past the wall, either through sneaking or simply rushing too fast for humans to effectively handle. It was likely how Fela’s ancestors made it up to the northern desert who knew how long ago.

Because of that animosity, she had taken to sticking especially close to him since arriving and generally hadn’t spoken much at all in the presence of others. But that didn’t seem to be the case this time.

Her ears were standing up as tall as they could, twitching slightly in all directions. She heard something. Her face wasn’t stressed or panicked, so it probably wasn’t anything dangerous, but… Brakkt still found it alarming. The wide eyes wasn’t helping matters. In fact, looking close, she seemed more surprised than alarmed.

“What is—”

“Shhh. Quiet,” Fela whispered, holding out her hand with her claws pointed in his direction, but not actually threatening him. “There’s something happening. It’s… big. I’m not sure what, but—”

The ground beneath Brakkt’s feet trembled. He kept his footing, but only thanks to the brick of the ramparts coming up to his waist. Fela barely moved her upper body, though her feet dug into the stone. But their footing wasn’t the problem.

“Something tunneling?” Brakkt said, alarmed. There were a few monsters that liked to travel through the ground as if it were nothing more than water. His mind raced through the possibilities, trying to think up what might be the worst case scenario. Sandworms were possibly the worst. The monsters were as large as Lueta, just as intelligent, but covered in an impossibly hard carapace. They did have a weakness—their flesh was incredibly vulnerable to heat and fire, but pretty much all their exposed flesh was inside their mouths.

Not exactly where someone should be.

The only other thing he could think of that might be large enough to cause such a tremor in the ground was… a dragon. One landing might have sent out such a quake. There was known to be one dragon out in the ruins of the First City—or there had been one when the last scouting report came back well over three decades ago—but it had never been seen in his lifetime by any human eyes. Could it have woken? Was it hungry?

Part of him wanted to venture out and find it. Striking up a conversation had worked well with Companion, after all. But…

He grit his teeth, watching for any sign of a mountain moving in the distance.

There were no mountains in the distance, just relatively flat rolling dunes. As such, it should have been easy to spot any changes, but… There was nothing. Just empty desert. No shadows crossing the landscape from a being too large for most humans to comprehend. No mirages on the horizon that might have been even larger than they appeared.

“The smell is different,” Fela said, interrupting Brakkt’s thoughts. “It smells nicer. Like trees and grass.”

“Trees and grass?” Brakkt repeated with a confused frown. At first, he thought that the wind might have changed. There was a forest not far away that was regularly harvested to supply Pandora with wood, but… that couldn’t be the case at all. The wind was picking up, blowing a little stronger and a little harder than it had been, but it was coming from the direction of the desert.

Smelling the air himself, Brakkt was surprised that he noticed a difference as well. There wasn’t an immediate sensation of being surrounded by trees and forest wildlife, but it didn’t smell… dead and lifeless. That small change was almost jarring. He had smelled nothing but empty sand for weeks now.

Was it dryads then? Plant monsters spreading their roots through the sand enough to destabilize the very foundations of the fortress?

He didn’t think such an attack had ever taken place before. Neither did he know how to go about stopping it. But before he could shout for the other guards to ready themselves—a likely unnecessary command given their training—he saw something. Something out there.

It wasn’t a monster, but he couldn’t quite tell…

Pulling out the binoculars he had found among the items Alyssa left in his room, he was able to take a closer look without mounting up on Ensou and riding out into possible danger. The movement he had thought he saw off in the distance, however… was just a tree. A large redwood, standing tall over the edge of the closer dunes. A very out of place tree. Even ignoring the impossibility of a tree growing south of Pandora, Brakkt knew the types of tress that grew around the area immediately north. Redwoods were not among those trees.

As he watched, another tree sprouted up over the edge of the horizon. Then another. And another after that. Between blinking, an entire forest covered the ground as far as he could see. It wasn’t just spreading away from him either. Saplings pierced the sand, turning the surrounding ground to dirt as they grew to fully-formed trees. Bushes, grass, plants, and even animals all appeared from nothing, filling out the underbrush and turning it into a true forest.

True being an extremely subjective word at the moment. “An illusion?”

“It doesn’t smell like one… Is it going to stop before it reaches us?”

The suggestion tied his stomach into a knot. The rate of expansion was fast. Too fast to flee on foot. The draken and Fela might be able to flee. But all the people here? All the guards… If it consumed the fort, if trees and plants appeared where people were standing… was it going to kill them all? What manner of creature could attack with such an ability. This went far beyond the capabilities of any dryad he had heard about.

Brakkt pulled out a Message spell card, ready to warn his father of what happened before it could consume him as well.

But before he could send it off, the growing trees stopped. They stopped growing. They stopped moving. There was a wide empty space filled with nothing but sand between the wall of the fortress and the start of the line of trees. It was enough empty space that he should be able to see anything approaching the wall with ample time to respond. Much less space than there used to be, but…

He let out a small sigh of relief, glad, for the moment, that he hadn’t been turned into a tree.

“Wow. Do you know any spells or monsters that could do that?”

Slowly, Brakkt shook his head. “I wonder if some monster dug up ancient rituals in the ruins of the first city. A ritual then was what turned this land into desert in the first place. Perhaps there could be another ritual out there that would reverse it.”

If monsters got access to spells in the First City, this was definitely an emergency that needed to be brought to the attention of his father. This spell seemed to have spared them, but not even his sister would be able to tell what sorts of sorcery they had access to now.

An Edict:” a voice without a body boomed over the fortress, stopping him from sending the message once again. “Crossing the border with violence in mind will result in consequences. So proclaims Dominion Tenebrael.

Narrowed eyes grew wide as Brakkt heard that name. The voice wasn’t familiar to him, but the way of speaking struck a note deep inside him. He had heard the same power in Alyssa’s voice when she constructed the statue at Teneville. The same… holy power. He straightened his back, drawing in a breath.

But Fela shouted out the question on his mind before he could speak. “Where is Alyssa?!” Her loud voice was more of a roar than actual speech, yet even that was a sentiment that Brakkt shared.

But the voice didn’t respond. Just a low hum of rustling trees and brush, a sound that likely hadn’t been heard in the area for thousands of years.

Quite the panic arose among the guardsmen. They were trained to deal with a lot, but not for a forest to rise up in a matter of seconds followed by a booming voice. A small squad of scouts were dispatched to the very edge, mostly to ensure that the forest was not an illusion. Brakkt cautioned them not to attack anything they saw under any circumstances save for self defense. But they returned without incident after a few hours reporting having seen nothing larger than a small toad.

Meetings ran on. Messages were exchanged with just about every important member of the military, the guild, and the Pharaoh. It went on deep into the night. Only near daybreak did Brakkt finally get a chance to return to his quarters for rest with Fela dragging her feet from exhaustion alongside him. He had almost forgotten about the lack of response to Fela’s question, so overshadowed was it by the forest and meetings.

But seeing a small letter folded up on the stand between his and Fela’s beds brought it all rushing back. He recognized the paper as being out of place nearly instantly, even despite his eyes being half closed from tiredness. Rushing forward, he unfolded it to find two simple words written down in a familiar handwriting. He stared at them, wondering why there were only two words, staring like he might be able to will a more detailed explanation into existence.

A headache started to form as he stared, one that grew in intensity the more he reread those two words. Eventually, he had to look away.

“What does it say?” Fela asked, watching him.

He simply flipped the paper over to show her, only for her to grimace, wincing away and rubbing her eyes.

“That… hurts. What is it?”

Looking back, a pressure welled just behind his right eyebrow. Gritting his teeth, he folded it back up, glad the thumping in his forehead subsided as he did so. “It just has two words on it. ‘Sorry. Soon.’”

“Ugh.” Fela hadn’t stopped rubbing her eyes, making him wonder if she couldn’t see something more with her inhuman vision. He thought to ask, but watching as she slumped down onto her bed, still groaning a bit, he decided against it.

It said soon, after all.

What was a little longer after nothing for a few months? He could wait.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>


The Woman in the Dark

The darkness of the void was impenetrable, even to the ones who dwelt within. There was little inside. A floor, wide and spacious, could barely be called a thing. It was merely something to stand upon to keep those who lived here from falling endlessly. Beyond that, there was nothing. Nothing but other residents. Most just chose to lie down and curl up. Few ever moved unless an outside stimulus broke them from their misery. Some select few actually engaged with other residents, but even they seemed lethargic as of late. Like every scrap of motivation these poor souls had was dwindling down to nothing.

It hadn’t been like this so long ago. When Tommik first arrived, everyone around him was practically abuzz with excitement. The people here, even those of… lesser mental acumen, constantly interacted with one another. Some chose to fight. Some chose sex. Others simply chatted, if capable of such feats. Tommik had quite enjoyed his spars with the others.

But now, he could stab a shiv into someone’s sides and get little response in return. Maybe a grunt of pain. Maybe not even that.

Tommik looked upward. It didn’t really matter what direction he looked in, darkness was all there was. Yet, when he first arrived, that hadn’t been true. There had been a light. A single shining pinpoint high above, rather like the sun on a heavily overcast day. That light was around no longer. And its absence was the primary cause for everyone’s lethargy.

It was strange. He really didn’t care for anyone’s happiness but his own. Yet he wished there was something he could do to bring just a sliver of that light back to this place. Perhaps that desire was all for his own benefit. Having partners he could spar against for the remainder of eternity sounded like his idea of an ideal afterlife. It wasn’t like they wouldn’t benefit. They could go back to their orgies or their brawls, their simple discussions.

But he had no idea how he might go about changing things. The only person who did wasn’t talking at the moment.

Lowering his gaze from high above, Tommik found the one bit of the smooth floor that was not flat. The ground raised up to form a small pedestal, upon which a throne, made from the same obsidian as the ground, had been placed. A woman sat in that throne, one leg crossed over her other knee. With an elbow on the armrest, she propped up her masked chin on her knuckles. The fingers of her other hand, resting on the end of the opposite armrest, drummed against that black stone. A single red eye stared out over the huddled and crouched masses of beings that resided within the total darkness.

She had been like that for a while now, just sitting, just staring. She didn’t even blink. Ever since the light overhead had gone out and they had all become trapped and unable to escape, she sat up there.

Did she have a plan? She was worried. In some discomfort as well. Tommik could tell that much. There was some kind of mental link between his lady and all those within the darkness. Nothing overt. His thoughts weren’t being controlled, but there was still something being shared. Emotions, mostly.

For her, it must have been overwhelming. There were countless souls around him. He wasn’t sure how far this world went in any one direction, but every inch of the floor was covered in some pathetic wretch. If all their emotions were getting to the lady as her emotions were reaching him…

For her, he wanted to do something as well. Perhaps he was being selfish again, but he wished there was some way that he could resolve matters within the darkness. She had already acknowledged him as one of the few who were able to keep their minds intact. It gave him a status, of sorts, putting him on a pedestal above all the others. It got him just a little more attention than he suspected he would otherwise get. Yet she had refused to spar with him. If he could rid this world of its darkness, puncture a hole through the very sky, and return things to how they were when he arrived, she would have to pay more attention to him. Perhaps she would even deign to spar with him.

Just the thought of it got his adrenaline pumping.

Yet he was new to this place. If those who had been here for hundreds if not thousands of years didn’t know how to ease their lady’s pain, how could he possibly come up with a plan? How could he think up something that his lady hadn’t already considered and dismissed.

Such were his thoughts. Trapped as any other of the demons here. He had considered the same things over and over again for… well, it was difficult to tell time in a place with no light, no sun rising, not even a candle. It was no wonder that even the others who had more sense of self had chosen to sit down and go idle. They would rise again, one day, surely. If only this world wasn’t the way it was.

Maybe… Maybe he could speak with his lady. It was another thing he had considered time and time again. Just walking up to that raised platform, bowing to her, and striking up a conversation. She wore that mask once again. It covered her mouth, nose, and one of her eyes. She should be able to remove it here, however. He had watched her remove it while they were up above, allowing her to speak to Tommik’s killer.

But he faltered. What if she didn’t remove it? What if he walked up to her and she simply stared at him? Or worse, what if she didn’t do even that. If she simply carried on, drumming her fingers while looking out over the miserable subjects that filled this place…

Tommik would likely join the others in sitting down. He didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to just lie down and wind up trapped even more in his own thoughts. He wanted to do something. He wanted to fight!

Perhaps he would fight his lady. She couldn’t ignore that.

Except she probably could. He could picture it now. Jumping up onto the throne and slamming his shiv into the side of her head, only for it to bounce off… or for her to continue drumming her fingers without even glancing his direction… or maybe she would simply launch him across this dark world, far enough that he would never be able to reach her again. He had seen her fight the Astral Authority. He knew what she was capable of.

There was no chance he would be able to do a thing to her.

Tommik stood, watching his lady drum her fingers, locked in inaction. Her fingers pounded against the throne, slamming into it with enough force that he could hear it even from a distance. The heavy sound resembled a heartbeat, thumping in his ears, over and over again. His body, stronger than it had been while a human, felt like it was being torn asunder by nothing more than those simple taps.

Was this revenge? For wanting something other than to lie down? For daring to think that he could attack his lady? Did she want him to give up like all the others? This existence… This place…

“This is hell?”

The drumming stopped along with the new voice.

Someone spoke. That was new. Of all the souls trapped here, there were only a few dozen that managed to retain their ability to speak. They all tended to keep to themselves… much like Tommik did.

“Less fire and brimstone than I expected,” came a different voice. Two different voices. That was…

It took him a surprising minute to actually notice just where the voices were coming from. Surprising given that there was now a hole in the darkness. A bright shimmering light piercing through the very world he stood in. It was bright enough that he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t noticed. And yet, as he stared, he found it… difficult to remain aware of it. He had to actively remind himself that someone had just spoken.

The poor wretches on the floor were hardly reacting at all. Likely unable to process whatever was going on.

A trio emerged from the portal of light. Three beings with so much light around them that he found it difficult to actually look at them. It was more like he was seeing through them. It took focus and willpower to keep his eyes from drifting aside.

“I told you not to get your hopes up.”

“I wasn’t hoping for fire and brimstone. I was just… expecting it.”

“Is this what happens when you get infected?” the first of the trio asked. “You just appear here and cry for the rest of… how long, exactly?”

“It is the nature of this place,” the second voice said. “I can tell. It is a lot like Tenebrael’s prison, except on a much larger scale.”

“This is where I got the idea from, after all. By the way, hello sibling!” the third waved. Its arm was still hard to track, but the movement made it a little easier. Tommik could tell that it wasn’t waving at him, but rather at the center dais.

He turned to his lady, finding her still seated, but far more tense. Her formerly drumming fingers gripped the end of the throne’s armrest and her sole visible eye burned with an intensity he hadn’t seen since the Astral Authority sealed off the entrance to the pit. Although she had yet to stand, seeing her like that brought a smile to Tommik’s face.

There was going to be a fight. He didn’t know what the glowing creatures were. Something similar to the Astral Authority—they radiated a familiar if somewhat different aura. Holy beings. Maybe even angels? How would he fare against one of those creatures. He had heard stories from some of the others back when there was still light and life in this place. They were creatures of frightening power.

But so was he.

His knives slid down his sleeves into the tight grip of his hands as he readied for what would surely be a glorious fight.

“I think I understand,” the second voice said. “This place is horrible, but I understand the intention behind it.” It turned to the aura that had waved. “You might have become what is sitting over on that poor replica of the Throne if things had gone on long enough. Because this place seems designed to keep souls away from the Throne. And, quite possibly, to generate errors in the Tree Diagram.”

“Didn’t that Virtue say that there had only been like five errors before you showed up?”

“I didn’t say it succeeded in generating errors. Merely that it was created with that as its purpose.”

Their conversation stopped in its tracks as Tommik’s lady stood. All three looked toward her as she reached up, grasped the side of her mask, and unlatched the buckle that held it in place. Tommik tensed. He wasn’t the only one. Even though they didn’t seem to see the three intruders, the wretched demons took notice of their lady moving once again. They stirred in response, some even standing.

“Begone.” She took a single step down from the dais. The heels of her boots clicked, sending a shockwave out that nearly threw Tommik from his feet. Several of the others, even crouched down against the ground as they were, didn’t have the alacrity that Tommik had and were tossed by that simple movement.

None of the three intruders seemed to notice. The stood where they appeared. One glanced to another, seemingly unconcerned. Radiating complete indifference.

“So what do we do about this place?” One asked another. “I’d really rather not be here for too long. It is fairly disgusting.”

“Maybe we can create a world where—”

Get. Out.”

His lady stepped forward again. Another foot against the obsidian stone sent her launching forward faster than Tommik’s eyes could track. Apparently not fast enough to trip up the intruders. Not that they tried to get out of the way. A simple smooth bubble appeared around them, stopping the attack with plenty of room to spare.

“Please. If you’re attacking us so quickly, you must know what we are. So you must be aware of just how silly it is to actually attack. Right? Sister now, is it? Haven’t talked to you in years. You look different. Are you doing alright?”

Knives flew from Tommik’s hands as he rushed to assist. A fight was just what he was yearning for. If he couldn’t fight his lady, he would fight with her.

The knives froze the moment they hit the shimmering shield. Undaunted, Tommik stepped over some of the stirring and moaning wretches. They were getting up to attack as well, but they were so much slower than he was. Yet even he couldn’t hope to match the speed at which his lady sent a flurry of blows against the shield. It had to break soon. Even the Astral Authority’s mightiest couldn’t withstand her attention. Once it fell, he would be ready. As would every other demon around him. They might escape on their own. They might be able to travel back through the portal that had brought them here. But that didn’t matter.

No matter how this ended, they had breathed some small amount of life back into this dark and decrepit world. Maybe it wouldn’t last long after they disappeared. If it spurred some small change, he would welcome it.

For the moment, he waited, watching.

Yet the shield remained strong. Blow after blow, she sped up, slamming into the shield with enough force to send out more shockwaves. The lesser demons were flung away… if they were lucky. The closest wound up little more than pulverized lumps of meat. The lady would reconstitute them later, surely, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience to be turned to mush. Tommik was well aware of that.

The oversized scythe appeared in her hands as she jumped a step back. Blades of wind followed the curved metal through the air.

“Will she wear out ever?”

“Not in your lifetime. Or… your old lifetime?”

“Maybe we just caught her on a bad day. Should we come back later?”

“No. We’re not here to instigate order or destroy your little kingdom here. You wanted nothing more than what Tenebrael wanted, you were simply able to accomplish it better—”

“Hey! I’d say we accomplished it quite well.”

The initial speaker waved a hand, shushing the other. “We simply came to inform you that you will not be allowed to carry on as you were. Nothing like what happened on Nod will occur again. Now, if you want to talk more, maybe discuss something that can become a real future for your… people, I’m sure you can figure out how to get into contact.”

“We’re leaving? Great, I hate—”

The three of them simply vanished. Their shield went with them. Tommik wasn’t surprised, but was a little disappointed. Only a little, for the light they had brought with them was lingering. The others were still active. His lady was no longer wildly swinging, but she was standing and staring.

“What does that mean?” Tommik asked. He felt fairly confident in addressing the lady now. Even the glare she leveled at him felt more welcoming than hostile.

She did answer him, but not for a long moment of silence, during which she stared back at the empty spot, faintly radiating light into the darkness. “A change has been made,” she eventually said, reaching up to the side of her head where her mask hung from her ear. “A change that will likely not be for the better.” With that said, she slipped the mask back into place, buckling it to the rest of her armor.

Although he only got one question in before that damnable mask was back on, Tommik was quite pleased with the outcome. A change. Apparently not a good one, but…

Looking around, watching as the demons around him remained alert and awake at least for the time being, he doubted that it could possibly be worse than what they already had.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>


The Man in Chains

Bercilak leaned back in his cell, wondering whether or not this was the victory promised to him. It was… difficult to believe it was despite the bravado with which he had faced down Lyria’s Black Prince the day of the battle. If it could even be called a battle. A slaughter without bloodshed was a more accurate descriptor. Or, without much bloodshed in any case. Almost everyone wielding some of the prophesied technology had fallen. After the battle, a few had tried to fight back instead of laying down their arms. Those few had likely already been sacrificed in the name of Lyria’s dark god.

His current predicament certainly did not feel like a victory. Chained behind bars, he couldn’t help but think that they had simply been served up on a platter for their enemies. They hadn’t even been able to put their new weapons to the test before they were summarily decimated. All by one person. No. One abomination. The one the seer had warned them of shortly after he had been freed from his previous stay inside this very cell. They had been given the gift of knowledge to create weapons specifically to combat the abomination, yet…

Looking up as the heavy wooden door creaked open, Bercilak watched as a pair of guards walked down the hall, past a few empty cells, to stop at his. One carried a wooden bowl. Feeding time. His only contact with other people since the royal family stopped caring to interrogate him some weeks ago. He didn’t have much information to give, but what little he did, he was proud to say that he had kept it safely locked inside his own head.

Unfortunately, the guards bringing the meals weren’t exactly the talkative sorts. They never were. They were here solely to bring him food to keep him from starving to death. Though, frankly, he wasn’t sure why he didn’t simply refuse to eat. The gruel they brought was hardly edible. They hadn’t even set the bowl down yet and he already knew that it would be runny slop with a few oats barely fit for horses to fill out the water. He didn’t even need to see the contents to tell that much. It was all he had eaten since arriving in this place.

Sure enough, one guard unlocked the door. The other stepped inside and set the bowl on the ground. A bit roughly at that, spilling some small portion of it. It could be worse, he supposed, staring at them from his cot until they had locked the door once again. They could be beating me instead of spilling food. There were only two of them and the cell had been wide open. He might have been able to try to fight them were it not for his diet since… How long had he been here again? Was it still a small enough timeframe to count in weeks rather than months? He wasn’t sure. At all. His previous stay in the Lyrian dungeons had been a mere week or two before being freed. This time, there would be no rescue coming. His most talented subordinate had been captured as well, and she was the one who had led the disruption that bought him freedom last time. Now, he was weak, probably growing sickly, and would likely wither away in these dungeons while everyone in the Federation thought him already dead.

Maybe he would starve himself. Just to save him some time, if not suffering. Though he didn’t really wish to meet the Lyrian god… he didn’t see himself having much of an opportunity to return home to avoid that fate.

Just as he was trying to work up the motivation to take the bowl of food, Bercilak heard the door open once again. That was… irregular. There was no one else in this section of the dungeons, though there were three other cells near his. Maybe they were bringing in another prisoner? Having someone to speak with would certainly help pass the time, if nothing else.

But there was only a single set of footsteps approaching. And when he saw who it was that stopped in front of his cell, he felt the last vestiges of hope vanish.

It had all been for nothing.

The woman. The abomination. She was here in front of him, alive and well. She had swapped out her scaled armor for slim dress with golden embroidery on a black fabric. It didn’t show off much skin, but enough to tell that she was uninjured even. And her eyes weren’t glowing the bright white they had been the last time he saw her. Noticing that little detail made him think that maybe there was a slight change that even if she was physically fine, her powers were gone.

At least, he thought that right up until she tilted her head. An iridescent gleam crossed over her brown irises, lighting them up with just a faint supernatural energy. Despite how faint it was, he couldn’t help but feel more unnerved than ever. This thing in front of him, wearing the guise of a human, was not of this world. Of that, he was certain.

“Good evening, Bercilak,” she said cordially. Her voice wasn’t natural either. It carried a strange hum that made him want to grab the nearest pointed object and drive it straight into his ears so that he might never hear it again.

She winced. “Sorry about that,” she hummed. “Tenebrael didn’t notice it, but Kasita didn’t like it either. Then again, I’m not here to comfort you. I’m just here to pick your brain a little.”

“Leave.” Bercilak’s voice trembled. He scrunched up on his cot, pressing back against the wall of his cell as he drew his knees up to his chest. His hands clamped down over his ears, pressing tight almost of their own volition. He scrunched his eyes shut.

But he could still see her. The room was gone, but she was still there. That abomination with the iridescent eyes stared at him even though he had his eyes shut!

“Yes,” she said, sounding disappointed. Looking disappointed as well. “I’m definitely going to have to figure that out before showing myself to the others. But that’s half the reason I’m talking to you first.”

Bercilak opened his eyes again. If he had to look at her no matter what, better to go with the way that wasn’t so obviously wrong. Though, now that he was looking, he couldn’t help but notice other things that were just plain wrong. There was no wind, yet her hair was curling around her shoulders with a life of its own. And the way she moved… He hadn’t noticed when she stepped up to his cell, but she had an after image of sorts. When she moved to cross her arms, her arms trailed behind themselves. Yet it almost looked like the initial motion was the afterimage. Her arms crossed, first as a shimmering half-transparent version of themselves that gleamed with the same iridescence as her eyes, then as solid flesh.

She looked to the side, head turning in much the same manner. For a long moment, she was still staring at him even though a ghostly image of her body was examining his cell. By the time her actual head started moving, the pre-afterimage was back to staring at him.

An involuntary shudder wracked his body.

“Mhm…” the woman hummed.

“Why are you here?”

“Partially as a test. Partially because I’m having a bit of trouble and thought you could help me out.”

“I have nothing to say to Tenebrael’s lackey.”

“Oh. No. I’m not connected to Tenebrael at all at the moment. We’re in something of an equal partnership at the moment. Technically speaking, I’m pretty sure I’m far more powerful than she is, but I’ve not brought it up. She’s been busy examining herself anyway. Trying to become a little more mortal. But you don’t need to concern yourself with any of that.

“Rather, I’m wondering if you could help with a somewhat philosophical question.”

“You came to a hated enemy for advice in the matters of philosophy?”

“Hated? Please,” she said, waving a hand. It did that thing again. Bercilak tried to look away, only to find himself still facing forward. It wasn’t just the woman that was still at the center of his vision, the whole front of his cell was still there even though his head was definitely at an angle. “I barely know you. The amount of time you were on my mind was basically none. I didn’t even think about you unless you were actively present. Even then, you were always something of an afterthought to the Juno Federation as a whole.”

Bercilak felt like he was going to throw up.

“But my problem does involve you. You see, I intend to end hostilities between Juno and Lyria. My question is just how I should go about stopping animosity.”

“My people won’t bow to Tenebrael. Terrify them with your presence all you want, it will only increase their resolve.”

“Yeah, I know. I took a random sampling of people’s thoughts. Pretty sure there is going to have to be a long-form change taking place. Years and years of work and whispering into the right people’s ears. Undoing all of Adrael’s hard work to get your people stirred up against Lyria in the first place. But I would like a more immediate solution that will at least stop your periodic wars. They really are senseless, you know. Despite being a theocracy, half the Juno Federation’s top leaders don’t even believe in anything at all! A portion of your armies are just political dissidents and troublesome people. And despite your devotion, they do consider you to be one of those troublesome sorts. Magic, after all, is something they don’t like anyone but those at the very top wielding.”

Bercilak winced back. There were rumors of such intentions. That the Juno Federation’s leaders assigned those they wanted to dispose of to the army. But there was always massive celebrations of the soldiers. Names engraved permanently into mountains, so that they might be remembered for all time. If the rumors were true, someone would surely have been made into a martyr by now…

“Maybe I should just turn the northern desert into a great ocean. One filled with maelstroms and sea monsters that would keep any from even thinking about trying to cross it. Argh. Except there are probably things living there! I could move them, but upending lives just to keep your irritating little nation isolated…” She reached up and rubbed a hand through her hair, back and forth, sending strands of hair flying every which way. All of which had those pre-afterimages whipping about in strange directions—even through her head. “This was much easier before I had unlimited power. I could just ignore everything too troublesome because there was nothing I could realistically do about the situations.”

He couldn’t even concentrate on her words. The way her hair was moving… Bercilak leaned forward and heaved. There wasn’t much in his stomach, thankfully. But what little there was went all over the floor.

The woman just wrinkled her nose. With that little action, Bercilak felt himself suddenly upright once again. The small mess on his cot and floor was gone. Not only was it gone, but it looked cleaner than ever. The walls lost the streaks of mold and grime. The fungus growing in the corner of the room simply vanished. The stone floor looked like it had gone through hours of polishing that he suspected only the Pharaoh’s personal chambers would normally receive. Even the bars gleamed as if they were fresh from a smithy who wanted to charge far more for them than they were worth.

And the bowl of slop was gone. Completely. New food had taken its place. An ornate dish of meat, cheeses, breads, and even what looked to be a small goblet of wine.

“Talk to me for a bit and I’ll see about getting you decent food on occasion. Assuming your behavior is good, anyway.”

His eyes flicked back up, not that he actually needed to look at her to… look at her. She hadn’t moved. Her hand was even still up near her hair. Thankfully, she slowly lowered it to her side without any further tussling. Her hair was still settling from when she moved it, but by focusing on her nose, Bercilak found himself far less nauseous.

“Why do you need to talk?” Bercilak said, voice a little shakier than he would have liked. “If you can do all… If you can actually turn the desert into an ocean—”

“I can. I had to fill in a big huge hole and get rid of a bunch of pyroclastic clouds that were threatening a small village. It was… surprisingly easy.”

“Then I assume you can just make everyone stop fighting. Snap your fingers and end hostilities. Or are you not as powerful as you think you are?”

“Oh I am. I thought about doing just that, but it seems immoral. Mind controlling people, or whatever. It is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Like, is it more or less moral to force everyone to dance to my tune even if it means ending wars? I really am not sure. There are obviously some atrocious people out there committing some pretty horrible atrocities that the universe would probably be better off without, but can I really be judge, jury, and executioner? I really doubt anyone else could do a better job, but I still feel like I need some counsel.

“I tried asking Tenebrael, but she just said to kill everyone in your nation if they bothered me so much. Angels,” she said with a shrug.

“I still don’t understand why you are asking me.” Bercilak didn’t understand much of anything that had happened in the last few minutes. At the moment, he was just trying to…

He wasn’t quite sure what he was trying to do. Stay alive? Maybe not even that, but rather to simply avoid death in the name of Tenebrael. Yet here was someone claiming to be stronger than her. He, and the vast majority of the Juno Federation, did not believe that Tenebrael was the god that her doctors of divinity claimed she was. It could be proved that she existed, but merely as a monster that consumed the souls of her worshipers, not as any kind of deity.

Which was why it was important to wipe her name from the annals of history. No worshipers meant no souls.

Or so the leaders of his diocese believed.

But, at this point, it was likely all worthless. Tenebrael’s avatar, this monster taking the guise of a human…

A sense of despair gripped Bercilak’s heart. A sudden lethargy pulled him down as the utterly futile nature of the situation became clear. There was no escape for him. Looking down at the changed meal… the cleaned room… the fresh blankets on his cot… His fingers bit into the fabric. It was soft. Real. Not just an illusion. The monster had completely changed the room without even moving. Without even seeming to think about it.

There would be no escape for anyone.

Something in his countenance must have been recognizable even to the monster before him, for it quirked its lips to a frown. “Wow. You are really… I don’t even know how to begin convincing you that I’m not what you think I am.”

He wanted it to just… leave. To flee into the night, leaving him to his wretched fate. For even if this thing wasn’t about to slaughter him and take his soul, there was still no escape. He would be trapped behind the bars in his cell, trapped to the whims of the Lyrian royals, trapped in this mental anguish… forevermore.

“Oh!” The thing said, smiling with all the seeming of a creature that couldn’t comprehend human fear. “That is a good idea. Trapped. Yes. It should be possible to redirect reality to such a degree that nobody in your nation will actually be able to leave it. That will buy time for the years and years of change required among your people to grow less hostile toward those with different beliefs. I’ll have the Guardians start poking and prodding, looking around for future leaders that won’t be so… well, like the current leaders. Nudging the direction of the future doesn’t count as mind control, does it?”

“Begone. Please.” Bercilak tried to turn away.

This time, however, it worked. He found himself staring at the wall. There was no creature in his periphery. With no small amount of dread, he looked back, only to find nothing at all. Just an empty hall outside the bars of his cell. Could… Could it all have been his imagination?

No. The room was still changed. The floor was clean and tidy and the meal…

Was it poisoned? Did he dare try eating it?

He had to. The guards might not notice the cleanliness of the room. But they would certainly notice an entirely different meal. If they did, they would surely start questioning him once again, asking who brought him the far nicer meal. He didn’t know that he could take another round of questioning. Especially not when the subject of the questions was that monster.

If he could just slam his head against the wall and forget the last several minutes…

Tempting, but not likely to work.

Even knowing he had to get up, Bercilak found himself unable to move. It took at least an hour to muster the willpower required to slink across the floor to the platter on the floor. It smelled good. The meat and bread were fresh and still hot, even long after the monster had left…

Maybe it would be poisoned. He almost hoped so, thinking that with a laugh he couldn’t quite stop from escaping his lips.

It wasn’t. But it was delicious.

If only the visage of that abomination would leave the periphery of his vision.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>



Alyssa… was not quite sure what was going on. She was adrift again. Or that was what it felt like. No sights or sounds anywhere. No real sensations at all. Yet it was different this time. Every other time, there had been something of an apathetic warmth surrounding everything, which she had decided was either angels or the Throne. Possibly both. Whatever divine magic filled them radiated out through the otherwise void to create a sea of comforting magic.

That was all gone. The first thing Alyssa did was stretch out, looking for Tenebrael. But there was nothing. Then she tried looking for the burning engine that was the Throne. Again, she found nothing. She was alone in a vacant world, void of anything at all. No people. No magic. Nothing.

A cold fear set in, gripping her tight. The idea that the Seraphim had torn her soul from her body and cast her from reality into some void domain filled her with dread. She would be alone for eternity. A hell likely worse than wherever the demons actually lived. Even being consumed by Tenebrael would have been better.

Probably, anyway.

But she wasn’t ready to just lie down and give up. If there was one thing Alyssa was good at, it was pushing forward. Even if she didn’t know exactly where forward was. Even if forward wasn’t really a concept that existed here. The important thing was that, because she could think, it should be possible to do something as well.

To start with, was she really in some sort of hell designed by the Seraphim? After thinking a bit more, Alyssa wasn’t so sure. Which was oddly relaxing, even if her effective situation hadn’t actually changed in the slightest.

The last thing that she could remember was Kasita’s voice, amplified with the power of an angel. Maybe even something more than an angel. Whatever it had been, it had ordered everything to stop. And now… Everything had stopped. That was the only explanation that Alyssa could think of. The only reason why she would be unable to find the Throne in this strange place. Unless someone like Tenebrael was shielding it from her once again, but she doubted that. There was nothing around her, shielding included.

So, assuming that theory was correct, she was not in hell.

Was she still in the Endless Expanse? If the Throne itself had shut down with Kasita’s command, what happened to the Endless Expanse? Did it still exist? What about the rest of the universe? What were Irulon and Brakkt experiencing at this moment? Was life on Nod carrying on without noticing any difference? Were they all trapped like Alyssa was? Or had time simply stopped without the Throne and the Ophanim to keep things moving?

And, of course, what could she do about it?

Could she just wait? Kasita had clearly managed to do something with the Throne. It stood to reason that if anyone could get things moving again, it would be the one who had stopped it in the first place. Then again, what if Kasita had stopped along with the rest of reality?

So many questions. None of which Alyssa could answer.

Despite everything, she was only human.

Thinking about the Throne being shut down got her thinking. Though at the moment, thinking was really all she could do, so everything had her thinking.

But if it were merely shut down and not destroyed, then it stood to reason that the Throne was still out there somewhere. Kasita was probably sitting on it, but Alyssa couldn’t count on that. She needed to try to find it herself.

Easier said than done. She suspected that she was able to move about—for as much as moving about made sense while adrift. Just imagining herself translating through the empty place probably did the same thing that she had been doing while trying to connect to the Throne or even Tenebrael. It was just that she had absolutely no frame of reference to anything around her.

That seemed like she was still thinking of it in terms of human perception. Which likely didn’t matter here. The Throne existed and, importantly, was everywhere. So wasn’t she already where she needed to be?

Wishful thinking, probably, but it was all Alyssa had to go on.

Imagining herself sitting on the golden seat, she tried to picture herself flipping a switch that would get everything going again. Reboot the clockwork engine of the universe. Get the Ophanim rotating again. And, most importantly, start with the very beginning. The very first, the simplest spell.

“Let there be light?”

The moment she spoke, she felt it. A lurch and a lunge. The universe coming back online. It started as a small spark at her fingertips. That spark expanded into a roaring flame. The world around her—the Endless Expanse, reappeared in an iridescent gleam as light washed out from the Throne, flooding over the room and the world beyond. Sitting at the center of it all, she could see everything. The universe, the cosmos, the invisible threads linking it all together, weaving a great tapestry of reality together.

Humans, aliens, monsters, insects and animals, trees and asteroids, all of them starting to move once again. Worlds upon worlds of beings. More than Alyssa could count even if she tried… The Throne knew the exact number and it even whispered it to her, but it was such a large number that it was effectively meaningless to her human brain. And even with all those thinking beings out there, most took no notice of the brief pause of reality. A few did, those more attuned to the workings of reality. But even they shrugged off the entire universe crashing to a halt as nothing more than their imaginations acting up after a moment or two.

Around her, the Endless Expanse expanded outward indefinitely. It truly was endless. Filled with all manner of angels who were all, without exception, lying on the ground. Around the Throne in particular, it looked like a horrifying sight of a mass grave. From the lowly guardians to the great Seraphim, they were all collapsed and unmoving. The Ophanim were turning, but even they weren’t actually conscious of their motions. Alyssa could tell. She could peer into their inner workings as if she were looking into a bowl of water. They weren’t moving on their own. It was Alyssa’s finger that was gently pushing against them, forcing them into motion with her will. If she stopped, reality would once again grind to a halt.

Mostly. She was pretty sure that the Throne would continue operating at the moment unless she did something to turn it back off.

Her first thought was to get the angels all moving again so that she didn’t have to worry about reality crashing if she stopped paying attention, but immediately thought that doing so might be a less than genius idea. There was no guarantee that the Seraphim would now ignore her just because she was sitting on the Throne. She also wasn’t sure if she was in full control of the Throne or just accessing surface-level features. She sure didn’t feel like some all-powerful god despite being able to watch the goings on of practically the entire universe at once.

A consultation was what she needed. Getting Tenebrael going again without activating the other angels. And Kasita too.

Where was Kasita?

Unless Alyssa hadn’t been right about what happened, Kasita should have been sitting on the Throne. Yet she wasn’t. When reality rebooted, had she been shoved back into whatever parallel dimension held her real body? That was all Alyssa could think of at the moment. She spent a moment trying to find the mimic, but found herself utterly helpless against the flood of information that came in when she tried to peek into other worlds. There were just too many of them. Billions of billions. She couldn’t even filter out where Earth and Nod were, let alone focus in on her friends and family.

She did realize one massive problem. The universe had continued turning. People were living out their lives. And deaths. Yet the angels, every single one of them, were offline. That meant that every person who died would rot along with their bodies with no one to collect them. She still didn’t understand exactly what happened once they reached the Throne, but she knew it was better than what they were getting at the moment.

Turning on the angels became just a little more of an imperative.

Where was Tenebrael? If Alyssa was going to start with anyone, it would be Tenebrael. Before everything had gone dark, Tenebrael had been blasted off into some corner of the Endless Expanse by the Seraphim. Even now, Alyssa could see the hole the angel had made when crashing through the roof of the throne room. Being offline, was she just falling for eternity? The Endless Expanse was, after all, literally endless. That included vertically as well. She would fall down alongside those tall towers without stopping…

It shouldn’t hurt her. If she hadn’t been killed by the crash through the soul crystal wall, a fall wouldn’t hurt her in the slightest. Since she could teleport, she should be able to get back up to the Throne as soon as Alyssa figured out how to turn her back on. And that was such a strange way to think about someone who she had talked with, laughed with, and gotten angry at. Like she was a robot that needed a switch flicked on her back in order to resume moving.

But really… that was what the angels were. Living autonomous programs designed to carry out tasks for the Throne. Offloading some responsibility on them had to serve some purpose, though that purpose eluded her at the moment.

To start with, Alyssa adjusted the rotation of the Ophanim. It was surprisingly easy to do. Just a metaphorical finger against their rotation slowed them down. Wheels covered in faces and wings, all looking roughly identical yet all having slightly different purposes. Through a bit of testing, she figured out that three of them controlled the forward progress of time for the entire universe outside the Endless Expanse. Stopping them from moving stopped the universe at large, giving her a effectively as long as she needed to figure out how to get the Principalities back online for soul collection.

They would have to be the first ones that Alyssa tested with. She had no idea how to get to Tenebrael at the moment, so she was out. There were practically uncountable numbers of Principalities lying around the room. Alyssa selected the closest and…

And what?

She couldn’t exactly get up and walk over to the angel. First of all, she had a feeling that leaving the Throne at the moment would be… bad. Like it would shut back down without her there to keep it running off sheer willpower. Second of all, she still knew that the Endless Expanse was a broken and twisted mess of reality. Her body was a mortal body at the moment and she didn’t feel like she was connected to the Throne in the same way she had been earlier. When it had rebooted, she lost that connection.

That meant that reconstructing her body on the fly might be impossible. Maybe it wasn’t. Sitting on the Throne, she felt she could do anything, but that might not last once she stood up. But she needed to get an angel to test things with.

Something must have clicked with the Throne. An angel simply appeared at her feet. The angel, one with simple yet long brown hair, white wings, and a blue and white dress, was still crumpled up in a pile of limbs. If not for the fact that Alyssa knew better, she might have believed her to be dead. As it was, Alyssa felt a bit disrespectful reaching out with her foot to prod the angel. At the same time, if she had to lose a limb at the moment, better it be her big toe—she moved slowly, ready to stop if she felt one of those rifts break her apart.

The moment her foot touched the angel, a flood of information rushed into Alyssa. Principality Belldandiel. Eight thousand years old. Dutifully carried out her tasks as a Principality since creation. Each and every one of the souls she had carefully collected hit Alyssa along with the areas of the world they had been collected from. It was some far off place, not Earth or Nod. A different world.

Most importantly, Alyssa saw a way to reactivate the angel. She almost flipped the switch right away, before hesitating. There were billions of the Third Sphere angels. Going through each one manually would take… years. Even if time acted differently in the Endless Expanse—and it did, based off the rotation of the Ophanim, which Alyssa could control—she didn’t think that she would ever finish. There had to be an easier way. Some master control switch to turn only the Principalities back on.

Alyssa wanted to talk to Tenebrael, get some angelic insight. Although Alyssa might view the Principalities as generally useless, that was mostly because of Iosefael and no one else. For all she knew, if she turned them on, they would immediately attack her just like the Seraphim had done.

She had pulled the Principality to her. Reason stood that she should be able to bring Tenebrael to the Throne as well. And, as she considered that, the area directly in front of the Throne started changing. It wasn’t that Tenebrael was being pulled through space. The Principality hadn’t been pulled through either, now that she looked back. It was more like the world in front of the Throne warped so that the angels Alyssa wanted were always in front of her and had never been anywhere else. Or maybe some wormhole opened up that brought them directly to Alyssa.

Whatever the case, she had a groaning Tenebrael lying on the steps leading toward the Throne.

The groaning—and associate movement—was something of a surprise. None of the other angels in the Throne room were moving in the slightest. Not even a faint rise and fall of their chests.

Tenebrael, wings crumpled and gloved arm completely missing, actually looked like she was trying to sit up.

Alyssa’s first instinct was to help her, but unfortunately, whatever twist of reality brought Tenebrael here had brought her just far enough away that she would have had to leave the Throne. So instead, she did the only thing she could do.

“Are you alright?”

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

“I didn’t know angels could throw up.”

“Not feeling very angelic at the moment.” With another groan, she flopped over. She tried to catch herself on her missing arm, but, being missing, didn’t have anything to catch herself on and face planted against the golden steps leading up to the Throne’s actual seat. “My wings don’t work. I can’t work any miracles. My vision keeps blacking out. Is this what it is like to be mortal?”

“Mortals don’t usually black out all that often.”

“You do! Every single night!” Tenebrael shifted, making it into a sitting position on the stairs. She slumped, wings dragging limply against the ground. Her grey countenance did look surprisingly sickly for an angel and her eyes weren’t even glowing anymore. Rather than the bright white, they were just the same slate grey of her skin. “I… uhhh.” She actually looked like she was trying to hold down a stomach ache. Maybe it was something she ate? Too many people?

“None of the mortals out in the universe noticed reality screeching to a stop a bit ago. But all the angels…” Alyssa pointed a hand around the room. “Since you’re still moving around, I assume it is because you’ve got a bit too much mortal in you. Maybe your angelic parts are still offline?” Alyssa asked, remembering how Tenebrael looked like a computer with organic parts slapped onto it during her recent visit to the adrift place.

“You’re on the Throne.” Tenebrael didn’t sound surprised, shocked, or even mildly alarmed. She simply stated fact. “Can you fix it?”

“I have no idea what I’m doing. I kind of expected an instruction manual to be shoved into my head. Everything I’m doing is basically instinct at this point. Luckily for you, I did look at that other angel for a moment and think I might be able to turn you on. Your angelic parts, anyway.”

Tenebrael grinned… or maybe just grit her teeth. “Kasita not around to make a joke of your phrasing?”

Alyssa pressed her lips together. “I don’t know where she is. I assume that reality crashing forced her back into a single dimension, so she is probably in whatever parallel world held her actual body. I’m not sure how to find her—there is so much to reality and the universe that I can’t even keep track of it. I’m amazed that I don’t have a headache. I can maybe try to bring her here like I brought you—”

“I’m sorry I brought it up,” Tenebrael said, grin definitely more of a grimace at the moment. “Just make me normal.”

“I have no idea how to remove your programming stuff. If I turn your angelic components back on…”

Tenebrael’s clenched grin turned to a forced frown. For a long moment, she didn’t say anything at all as her head turned so that she might stare at the rest of the throne room. Or, more specifically, at all the angels crumpled on the floor. Eventually, she looked back to Alyssa. “I don’t know that I have a choice,” she said softly. “I don’t think I’m designed to… well, do whatever it is I’m doing. It isn’t pleasant. I feel like I’m falling apart… And if I keep falling apart, I don’t know if I can be put back together again. It’s… Oh dear. Is this actual fear I’m feeling? I don’t know how you people handle this.”

“Maybe it is time to learn? Unless you’re actually falling apart. Then we should probably fix you before you… uh, die?”


With a nod of her head, Alyssa held out her hand. Carefully. She didn’t want to pass it through any fractures.

Tenebrael didn’t hesitate in taking Alyssa’s hand. The moment they touched, Alyssa saw deeper inside of Tenebrael than she could really comprehend. Much like with the Principality, she instinctively felt like she knew what it was she had to do to put her back to normal. A simple push of the restart button had Tenebrael’s eyes glowing white once more. The black feathers on her wings regained their luster as Tenebrael straightened her back.


“Much.” Tenebrael tilted her head left then right like she was cracking her neck. “Yeah. Much much better. And I don’t even feel like I need to drag you off the Throne, which I was a little worried about after you mentioned programming.”

“Thanks for mentioning it so that I could have had a chance to prepare.”

“Mhm. In any case, you’re the boss now, I take it?”

“Again, I have no idea what I’m doing. Other than that I’m keeping the universe running just by sitting here. Everything outside the Endless Expanse should be stopped though. Don’t want souls rotting in corpses without Principalities to collect them.”

“Wise. What do you say you and I put our heads together to try to figure out how to put the rest of reality together.”

“After I find Kasita.”

First Kasita. Then the rest of the universe.

That surely wasn’t a strange priority, but it was the way things would be.

She was, as Tenebrael had said, the boss.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>



“To restate, our goals are to find a way to the Throne, take control of the Throne, and use the Throne to shut down the Seraphim.”

Alyssa found it a little odd that they were essentially planning a heist—or maybe a coup—right in front of the people they were about to steal from—or overthrow. The Seraphim were obviously the biggest threat, but they were just standing there. Alyssa really had no reason to believe that they would move at all until someone made to move toward the Throne. Even being connected to it as she and Kasita were wasn’t a problem for them. After all, they were connected to it in the same way angels were.

To them, Alyssa and Kasita might as well be regular angels.

The one who had attacked was likely under some wider-breadth orders, possibly because it was the leader of the Astral Authority. Or maybe it didn’t care about the connection itself, merely the act of penetrating the defenses. Whatever the case, it wasn’t here now.

But even the audience of regular angels didn’t seem to be that concerned with the presence of two who obviously didn’t fit in. Tenebrael had done something so that they might have a private conversation. But she was pretty sure that they were still visible given the growing number of eyes aimed in their direction. While Alyssa at least had some fake wings slapped on her back, Kasita was still standing in her human form, clutching Tenebrael’s arm. She wasn’t being attacked yet, so Alyssa didn’t think there would be any problem with lesser angels.

Especially if she could order them around.

“Any questions?”

“I understand what we’re doing for the first one,” Kasita said, pointing at herself. She was looking a lot better, though still holding onto Tenebrael. A few minutes of rest had helped quite a bit, it seemed. “But how do we actually accomplish the second?”

Alyssa didn’t really have an answer, unfortunately. She had thought about it a bit, wondering about the complexity of the machine beneath its chair-like facade. So far, she hadn’t reached any conclusions. “Best I’ve got is simply to sit on it,” she said with a glance to Tenebrael.

“That’s as good of an idea as I’ve got,” Tenebrael said. “Aside from my innate connection to the Throne, I’ve never once interacted with it.”

“Sitting seems like the thing one would do with a throne, but it just seems too simple for the Throne,” Kasita said with a small shake of her head. “I’ve been hearing about how important it is practically since meeting Alyssa. Sometimes directly, sometimes simply because I’ve been listening in to one-sided conversations. It seems like there should be a more… I don’t know. Just more.”

“Yeah,” Alyssa said. “I get that. If you have any ideas, let us know.”

“Mhm… And I presume we don’t have any further idea of how to get rid of the Seraphim should we actually manage to take control?”

“I don’t think that will be much of a problem. If the Throne is as powerful as I’ve been led to believe, I think there won’t be much more to it than simply waving our hands and wishing away the things we don’t like. Which are the Seraphim in this case. They might be strong enough to blast a hole straight to the core of a planet, but that is only a slim fraction of the Throne’s power… right?” Alyssa added with a glance to Tenebrael.

“That one, I do believe is accurate. Again, haven’t interacted with the Throne in any meaningful capacity, but I don’t know why it wouldn’t work.”

“Good. Now, is there anything else we need to add to that list? I, for one, would not mind being able to walk around here without coming apart at the seams. But, at the same time, I don’t really want to stay here either. I’d rather get home as soon as possible…” Alyssa trailed off, realizing that she might actually have to clarify that. “Home to Nod, that is.” It felt a bit weird to say it, but… that was how she felt. Ever since arriving on Nod, she had wanted to get home to Earth, but now, her first thoughts were for Lyria. There was still a big battle that could have gone on in her absence and could have resulted in the deaths of her friends and companions. Her mother was there as well—though not directly involved in the battle, if the absurd happened and the Juno Federation won, she would certainly be called upon as an associate of the guild to defend the city.

But… “I’d also like to visit Earth. And actually interact with people there. My father and brother deserve to know that mom and I are still alive.”

“That seems like something a little less of immediate importance,” Tenebrael said. “Not to disparage you for your desires, but you’ve gone months without contacting them. A few days more isn’t going to hurt. I imagine there will be a lot to figure out immediately after taking control. Like how to remove whatever… programming, as you put it. I’d rather not be forced to do anything I don’t want to.”

Alyssa was about to object, saying that Tenebrael had lived with that all her life, so a few more days wasn’t going to hurt… but that might not be true. If Alyssa sat on the Throne and that triggered some defense mechanism deep within Tenebrael that she couldn’t ignore, stopping that would be vital to avoid killing her along with the Seraphim. It wasn’t even something Alyssa had considered before, but it was a definite possibility. One that had her slightly more worried should Tenebrael be the one to slip past the Seraphim and take the Throne. She wanted to think that it was fine to trust Tenebrael… but there was always the risk of programming to worry about.

“I’d like to avoid being separated,” Kasita said before Alyssa could figure out a proper response to Tenebrael. Shaking the angel’s arm, she added. “And I don’t just mean physically. Although please don’t leave me in this place. I think I would just turn into a puddle of mush if you did. But I mean… I mentioned this before.” She looked directly at Alyssa. “Don’t you go disappearing, no matter what happens. Imagine the look on Brakkt’s face. Or Fela’s. Or Irulon’s. Or mom’s.”

“Yeah. I know…”

If she did disappear, it wouldn’t be because she chose to do so. But… Well, there might be things she couldn’t control. Who knew. None of them did, not even Tenebrael.

“We ready enough?” Alyssa asked, looking at the other two.

“Don’t know how else we might prepare,” Tenebrael said with a mild sigh. “You know, I wasn’t really planning on something like this today. Hadn’t even thought in my wildest dreams that I would try something like this ever. We’re probably going to die so horribly that the universe itself will forget that we ever existed.”

“Aren’t you a bundle of optimism.”

“Realism, I think.”

“Whatever, not like we have a choice unless you think that Seraphim has forgotten about us.”

“Even if it has, I don’t want to constantly be looking over my shoulder, worried I’ll be erased from existence if some aspect of it reactivates long enough to blow us to bits. Better to get it over with now, I suppose.”

“Yeah…” Really optimistic, Alyssa thought with no small amount of sarcasm. “Kasita?”

“I’ve already been doing what you asked,” Kasita said, straightening her back ever so slightly. “Trying to find a way in that avoids the Seraphim, that is. I’ve already said it, but it is really weird here. Like, I can see the Seraphim standing around the Throne, arm to arm with no gaps. Yet I can see so much stranger things at the same time. Like, does it look like there are Seraphim above or below the Throne?”

Frowning, Alyssa shook her head. “I can’t actually see below the Throne. The floor is in the way.”

Exactly. Is there even floor here? I don’t know!”

“There is,” Tenebrael said with a confident nod… but looked uncertain almost immediately after. “Isn’t there?”

“Alyssa. Would you turn sideways then take a step toward me? Lift up your leg high when stepping, like you’re trying to move over an invisible bench.”

“One step?”

“One step.”

Alyssa took a breath. It wasn’t a very pleasant sensation to be destroyed and have to remake herself, but Kasita probably had a good reason for asking her to move. So, lifting her foot up high like she was trying to step over the garage door sensor while running out to her truck after closing the door, without the rush. The tip of her foot exploded into nothingness, but she had fixed that by the time she put the foot down. Moving a little more carefully, she managed to get her other foot over the invisible hazard and successfully moved…

Away from the others?

When Alyssa looked up, she found the two of them a good dozen paces away from her. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked, having to raise her voice a bit, but wondering if that was actually necessary. She was pretty sure that she hadn’t accidentally moved the wrong direction, so was she close to Kasita now but it just didn’t look like it?

But Kasita shook her head and called back. “That’s exactly what I wanted to see happen.”


Kasita slowly removed her hand from Tenebrael’s arm. She just about toppled over, but a shimmer of static over her body had her properly upright once again. Then she took a step to the side. And vanished, reappearing off near one of the library shelves for a moment before stepping forward from there. Three Kasitas appeared in the room, but only for an instant. They simultaneously took a step forward and reemerged into one being right in front of Alyssa.

“There,” she said with a more confident smile.

Tenebrael just floated over directly. “You’re moving strangely. I can’t even follow how you got to here,” she said, eying Kasita.

“Ufuu~” That wasn’t her usual giggle. More of an exasperated sigh with the same tone as a giggle. “You’re the one who moves strangely. I think I’m beginning to put together exactly how this world is interconnected.”

“Great,” Alyssa said, feeling utterly useless all of a sudden. “I’m the only one who can’t freely move about.” Maybe if she could figure out how to do that translation thing that she managed earlier. At this point, she was pretty sure that it was more luck than anything that she had wound up where she did.

“Stick with me. Avoid traveling with Tenebrael. She seems to partially ignore the way the world is broken up.”

“I guess that works… Does this help us at all though?”

“I think it might. Just like in that place you keep calling adrift, I think there are spots where Seraphim should be but aren’t. Pathing to those points might not be the easiest thing in the world, but…”

“No choice.”

“I’m not sure that I can follow you,” Tenebrael said, sounding dejected. Even her wings slumped a bit.

“We might need a distraction,” Kasita said, nodding to herself with growing confidence. “I don’t think the Seraphim are as stationary as they might appear to the two of you. Or maybe it is this world that isn’t stationary. It’s hard to tell. Either way, opening a wider hole in their defenses might be needed.”

“So what, I punch one in the face? Then run away as fast as I can?”

“And we get to the Throne and shut them down before they catch you.”

“This plan is easily the worst I’ve heard in all my existence.”

Alyssa kind of agreed with that. It was kind of strange to admit this fully to herself, but she didn’t actually want Tenebrael to disappear. As… abrasive as their relationship had started, she had grown fairly fond of the angel. “Is there like a fire alarm you can pull elsewhere that might get them moving anywhere at all, if not directly toward you?”

“A fire alarm? In the Endless Expanse?”

“It was just an idea.”

“There’s nothing…” Tenebrael paused, trailing off. She looked around slowly for a moment before nodding to herself. “The Seraphim safeguard the Throne. I wonder if the archives count as part of it.”

“Going to go and knock down a few shelves?”

Kasita interjected before Tenebrael could answer. “Not yet. Don’t do anything yet. Alyssa and I should get into position first.”

Getting into position required several more hops over garage door sensors, ducking underneath invisible overhangs, turning sideways and shimmying through a thin alley that wasn’t there, and other such feats of acrobatics. Alyssa was pretty happy that she was quite athletic. The whole thing made her feel like she was in some kind of spy thriller movie where she had to slip past a laser grid that conveniently left enough space for a human body to fit through instead of just blocking the entire path with lasers. Some of the twists and bends became almost a puzzle to fit through. It was, however, a good thing that she could replace her leg or arms or even head should she stumble. She did more than once. And once, she decided to intentionally allow her arms to be destroyed simply because her shoulders were too wide for one particular passage that Kasita led her through.

Eventually, Kasita brought their progression to a halt. If it could be called progression. From Alyssa’s perspective, they had actually moved away from the Throne. Though, with the strange way this world worked, she also felt like she had moved closer. But that was just a feeling. Maybe even her imagination triggering because Kasita said that they were moving closer. The physical distance between her and the Seraphim appeared greater, whatever the truth actually was.

“Alright,” Kasita said, looking to Tenebrael—who had followed along the entire way, ignoring all the weird jumps that Alyssa had to make to move around. “Let me explain to Alyssa exactly how she is going to move. After that, start causing whatever havoc you can.”

“I’m pretty sure I have what humans call butterflies.”


“In her stomach,” Alyssa said. “It means she’s nervous.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard that term before. And I’ve spent a lot of time around humans.”

“Might be an Earth thing. But just think about it like this. One way or another, we won’t have to worry about Seraphim or the Throne anymore.”

“Yeah… Right.”

“I’m really trying not to think of anything in general. Just move forward and ignore the fact that there are god-like beings just over there that were apparently designed to kill people like me. That’s all. And speaking of moving forward… Kasita?”

Nodding, the mimic pointed in the rough direction of the Throne. “There is a path that should only take about three steps. After that, I think you’ll be right on top of the Throne. Probably. After that… Well, hope you figure something out. I’m going to take a slightly different path,” she said, pointing off to the side. “It is a little longer, but I figure two shots at getting one of us there is better than one.”

“I don’t disagree with that at all.”

“Then here is what you need to do,” Kasita said, starting to explain the steps on how to get past the fractures in the reality of this world.

Perhaps they had gotten too close mentally. Perhaps explaining how to get closer triggered some latent defense. Perhaps the Seraphim on Nod called back home to see if any of the others had noticed the missing subjects of its ire. Whatever the case, Kasita didn’t get to the third step of the explanation.

The closest Seraphim to their group turned its head.

That tiny action went unnoticed by absolutely no one. Every angel in the room, from the lowliest of the Guardians to the Virtues along the walls, every single one dropped what they were doing. Literally, in some cases. Books fell to the floor. Soul gems slipped from loose fingers. Angels stared, mouths agape.

A voice like thunder crashed over the room. “In. Ter. Lop—”

Alyssa didn’t wait for it to finish. In a rush, she started along the path Kasita had outlined.

Tenebrael zoomed overhead, only noticeable as a streak of her black-white light. She was fast enough that she should have reached the Throne in less than a second, yet the Seraphim were already in front of her. Alyssa hadn’t even seen them move, but one held out a hand. Tenebrael bounced off it, reflected like a laser against a mirror. She went high up into the domed ceiling before crashing against the iridescent walls.

The Seraphim did not chase after Tenebrael. Maybe she was dead. Maybe they simply didn’t view her as a big a threat as Alyssa. Whatever the case, the two closest brandished golden spears.

Alyssa didn’t know what happened. She didn’t see a swing. She didn’t see a thrust. She didn’t see the Seraphim move. Yet, looking down, two spears, each as long as her arm, were embedded deep within her chest.

And she could feel a pull. A tearing at her soul. It wasn’t painful. It was warm. Almost inviting. She wondered if this was what it felt like when Tenebrael’s wings crossed over the body of a dying person.

But Alyssa wasn’t going to die here. She wasn’t going to let herself be reaped up by machine-like gods. Or god-like machines. With all the experience she had traversing as a soul through the land of adrift, Alyssa tore herself off those spears. Her body stayed behind, she could tell, but that wasn’t an issue. A simple thought created a new one.

She found herself closer to the Throne now. Beyond the ring of Seraphim, but off the path Kasita had laid out for her. She tried to move toward it, only to find herself moving further away with her arm and leg both missing. More of the Seraphim were becoming active as well. Around her, she watched three draw their spears.

Again, they hit her before they could possibly have hit. Three spears. This time from three different angles. Each pulling, tearing her soul into three directions. Alyssa tried to pull away again, to get some distance and time to think. As she did, she felt herself going toward one of the spears. Stopping and changing directions only had her going toward another of the spears, pulled into that angelic warmth that was starting to become a searing heat.

She drew herself further into her own body, trying to get away from the golden spears by hiding inside herself, doing all she could to keep herself in one piece.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as a fourth spear appeared in the hands of a Seraphim.

“Stop!” An angelic voice rang out over the halls of the Throne room, coming from a single soul gripping the arm of the Throne.

And the entire universe ground to a halt.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


<– Back | Index | Next –>


At Last

For a moment, for a bare instant, Alyssa just about tried to move closer to the Throne again, just as she had moved from some random balcony into the Throne’s room. If she could just grab it before the Seraphim noticed her standing around, everything could be fixed. She could tell the Seraphim to stop chasing her and Tenebrael and she might even be able to fix this stupid Endless Expanse so it didn’t kill her every time she moved more than a step in any direction.

Three things stopped her. The first of which involved the Throne itself. Although it was called the Throne and certainly looked like an over-glorified chair, there was no guarantee that simply sitting on it was all that was required to take control of reality itself. It was, beneath its chair-like facade, a machine of incomprehensible complexity and size. It might be something as simple as a password system or as complex as pulling the machine apart piece by piece until she found the controls.

The second problem was what might happen after she sat on it. If she did take control, then what? Would she be able to instantly figure out exactly what she needed to do in order to stop the Seraphim? Or would she have to sit there and learn about everything like she had when connected to Tenebrael’s power? That had taken weeks if not months of serious investigation, research, practice, and application. If the Seraphim objected to her posterior application of the Throne, they would probably obliterate her so thoroughly that she wouldn’t be able to put herself back together as she had been doing ever since connecting with the Throne.

Seraphim also made up the third problem. Just getting to the Throne would be a challenge. While she might be able to park her buttocks directly onto the Throne’s divine holdings through translating her soul and body across the room, there was the fact that it was surrounded by Seraphim on all sides, as far as she could tell. There had been a hole in its defenses while adrift, so it stood to reason that there was a missing Seraphim here as well—in fact, if the one was still on Nod, there certainly was a missing Seraphim—but she didn’t know how to find that hole or how to exploit it.

Neither Kasita nor Tenebrael were with her. When she had translated herself to the throne room, she had not brought along either of them. Tenebrael could probably find her eventually and Kasita wouldn’t be far behind her, but there was no telling how long that might take. Until then, she was surrounded by angels. The Seraphim hadn’t reacted to her. Neither had most of what Alyssa assumed were Guardians, Principalities, and Archangels. The former were standing perfectly still, sightless eyes staring into nothingness. The latter were fluttering about, busy with their own tasks and not noticing their surroundings.

The four-winged angels in the room were another story. From what she knew of angels, she presumed that all of them were Virtues. Dominions would be off managing their worlds and Authorities were reclusive to an absurd extent. There weren’t any that looked like Bastiel around at the moment… which was both strange and expected. When she had… broken Bastiel, whatever hive-mind the Virtues shared had appeared to have broken the rest of the Bastiel-like Virtues.

A vast majority of the Virtues around now had had their noses in books when Alyssa first appeared in the room. That was no longer true for most of them. One by one, they looked up. Seemingly independent of each other, yet coordinated in some mysterious fashion that Alyssa couldn’t quite discern. The way they each slowly turned their heads to face her was disturbing on a primal level. It wouldn’t be out of place for them to raise their fingers and scream that Invasion of the Body Snatchers scream.

They weren’t doing anything. Yet. They were probably conferring with the Authorities on what to do. A mortal in the Endless Expanse had to be shocking. If they even viewed her as a mortal, that was. It could be that they were locking up like Bastiel had because of the unknown angel status thing. Either way, Alyssa doubted that she had long before something happened. Being in a room with dozens of Seraphim was probably not a good idea when that shoe dropped.

But she didn’t know how to leave either. Moving around with her feet was dangerous because of the warped space. Translating herself would probably work, but there was no telling where she might end up. All she knew was that she didn’t know where she had left Tenebrael and Kasita. Without the guiding power of the Throne to keep her going in the right direction, it was infinitely improbable that she would wind up with them once again.

Though, thinking about it, being here made her wonder if the Endless Expanse had one of those little black books dedicated to it. Messing with that was what had made Bastiel upset in the first place. But here… there were no mortals that would die and need collection. Presumably, there were no real random choices that would need to be determined either. If all the angels acted according to their own programming, there wouldn’t need to be some tree diagram listing off all the possible choices that they could make… right?

So maybe she didn’t need to worry about the Virtues at the moment. If she wasn’t causing problems, they would hopefully not do anything to her. But

A pair of divine white wings sprouted from Alyssa’s back as she decided to go with the next best option. It probably wouldn’t work for long, but multiple angels had mistaken her for an angel in the past. There was no reason to assume that they wouldn’t mistake her for one now. She just needed to blend in, to hide in plain sight until Tenebrael inevitably found her. Once that happened, they could figure out the next step of their plan.

She did notice that, as soon as she made wings appear, a good fourth of the Virtues stopped paying intent attention to her. All the brunettes wearing sun-dresses turned back to their books. Whether they were actually ignoring her or were trying to look for solutions to her presence was impossible to determine, but it did make Alyssa feel a little better knowing that she had less eyes on her.

Still, standing around was awkward, to say the least. Many of the angels were in motion. Moving around, carrying souls—probably—to the Throne and then leaving again. Or whatever their tasks were. There were some standing still, but those few seemed to be in conversations with others. There were only a small handful that were doing what Alyssa was doing.

If she could just… call one over for a chat about the weather… that would probably help her disguise. Unless it revealed her and the angels went off to inform the proper angelic Authorities…

What she needed was… Iosefael! There! Alyssa spotted the angel among all the others, flying about the room. Maybe it was familiarity with that impractical golden armor, but Alyssa definitely saw her. It was quite the coincidence that she was here now. Unless, of course, she wasn’t here as part of her duties, but for some other reason. As Alyssa watched, she grew more certain that the Principality was not here to ferry collected souls to the Throne. Iosefael was searching, looking around with her head on a swivel. She had a nervous expression on her face for the most part, but would occasionally offer a shaky smile and wave to passing angels who called out to her.

Tenebrael must have sent her to help search. It was the only explanation that Alyssa could think of. It explained why she was here at this convenient timing, why she looked nervous, and why she was searching. Alyssa just had to reach a hand into the air and flag her down.

Though the moment she did, she felt her hand pass into one of the rifts in reality, torn to pieces as reality tried to send her arm into a million different places at once. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t painful. She had discovered that the first several times something like this happened. She suspected that it happened just too fast for her nerves and brain to process as pain. The moment she drew her hand back, her constant refreshing of her body put it all back together. She had a hand once again, looking good as new.

Maybe a little too good.

Alyssa tried not to think about the fact that she had likely lost her original body since coming here. It wasn’t even the Theseus ship problem for her. She had completely gained a new body, built around her soul wherever it ended up through those reality rifts, over and over again. All she knew was that it was a good thing she had studied the human body in so much depth while researching for Companion. If she couldn’t create a body practically unconsciously, Tenebrael would probably have eaten her the moment she stepped inside this world. Which was disturbing all on its own.

Trying to distract herself, Alyssa looked up to find that Iosefael had definitely taken note of that little stunt. She was staring with undisguised horror pasted over her face. She might even be shuddering a little. Or trembling. Probably the latter, as she kept glancing around her—especially toward the line of Seraphim who were thankfully still idle.

And she wasn’t the only angel to have noticed. Aside from the Virtues, several of whom had already been staring, Alyssa now had a good dozen pairs of eyes on her. She supposed that she should be lucky that it wasn’t more. Or that the Seraphim apparently didn’t care. Deciding that standing around awkwardly would only attract more attention, Alyssa waved Iosefael over. This time, she took care not to move her hand too far from her body.

The Principality looked like she wanted to be anywhere but where she was. She clearly hesitated. Maybe even thought about pretending that she hadn’t seen anything. Eventually, after Alyssa pointed directly at her and caused a few of the other angels to look to Iosefael, she decided to rip the band-aid off and flew down to Alyssa.

“What are you… No. How are you here?”

“With great pain, I assure you,” Alyssa said, looking down at her hand. Did she even have the same fingerprints after recreating her body so many times? “I assume you’re here because of Tenebrael?”

“What is that stupid angel doing?” Iosefael mumbled. “She was supposed to be the smart one, you know? Always…” she trailed off, voice dropping to a whisper before continuing. “She’s going to get the Seraphim after her if she keeps this up.”

“She didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me? Tell me what?”

Had Tenebrael not told her for a reason? Or simply because Tenebrael had been in a rush? “Where is Tenebrael? Why are you here and not her?”

Iosefael pressed her lips together so tightly that they practically disappeared. She stayed looking like she had bitten into a particularly sour lemon while she threw a few glances around the room. “All she told me was that she brought you here but you disappeared and she needed help finding you. I assume she is looking elsewhere. But now that I think about it, she is probably hiding from the Seraphim or Virtues or Archangels or… just about everyone, really.”

That made sense. There were a lot of Virtues here. Given how she had avoided Bastiel on Nod… except it seemed like the cat was out of the bag as far as that was concerned. So maybe it was the Seraphim she was more worried about. Either way…

“Can you tell her where I am?”

“Let’s just get you back to Nod before you cause any more trouble. You are such a problematic Error: Unknown Angel, Alyssa Meado—” Blinking, Iosefael cut herself off, putting her hand to her throat. “Wait. What?” She coughed a few times, clearing her throat just like any human would. “Mortal. Mortal. Alyssa Meadows is a Error: Unknown Angel. What?”

“Don’t think too hard about it,” Alyssa said, holding up a hand. “The Virtues broke after trying to understand the implications. And… I’m not going back to Nod. Not yet. I have something I need to do.”

“Something you need to do? You need to get out of here! If you can’t go to Nod, we can get you elsewhere. There are a lot of worlds out there, all unique in their own ways. I’m sure you can find a happy—”

“Iosefael. Stop.”

The instant Alyssa spoke, Iosefael’s mouth slammed shut. Which, judging by her facial expression, came as a surprise to the angel. Had it always been like that? Direct orders worked on Bastiel—tell her to view Alyssa as an angel was how she got that status as an unknown angel—but she couldn’t actually remember ordering around angels before that. She was sure that there were some times and she doubted that the angels dropped everything to carry out her orders back then, so it must be something that happened somewhat recently. Maybe because of Tenebrael’s crystal ball and filling her body with divine magic. Though it didn’t work on the Seraphim. Maybe it was just coincidence and Iosefael wasn’t surprised at that.

And… her body no longer existed… That body didn’t, anyway. Did her new bodies that she had to create because of the rifts come pre-acclimatized? Maybe it was something more to do with her soul than her physical body at this point. Regardless…

“Find Tenebrael. Tell her that she better get herself over here quickly.”

“No need.”

The voice from behind Alyssa made her jump. Thankfully, she didn’t jump into any rifts. Turning, she found both Tenebrael and Kasita standing—or floating in the former’s case—just a short distance away. Tenebrael had an arm out to her side, which Kasita was grasping hold of like her life depended on it. She had said that she felt sickly before. Now, she really looked it.

But, upon meeting Alyssa’s eyes, she offered a wan smile. “Just a bit dizzy,” she said before Alyssa could ask.

Nodding, Alyssa looked to Tenebrael. “Do you always have to show up behind me?”

“The entrance is over there,” Tenebrael said, pointing off into the distance where she had approached from. Alyssa couldn’t see anything over her shoulder except more library, but that didn’t necessarily mean that there wasn’t an entrance that way.

“Mhm,” was all Alyssa had to say to that. “Thought you were hiding from the Seraphim and Virtues.”

“After watching them and you for a few moments, I decided that it was probably safe. So far, I’d say that my decision is proving the correct one.”

“Tene…” Iosefael leaned around the side of Alyssa, looking utterly deflated. “What are you doing? You can’t be doing this… It’s too far this time. I—”

“It’s alright,” Tenebrael said, drifting forward to put one hand on Iosefael’s shoulders. Kasita kept hold of Tenebrael the entire time, not letting her go. “Hopefully, anyway. There was a Seraphim on Nod. Blowing things up. I thought it was just going to destroy the entire world, but it must be trying to salvage at least some things. But there are probably people dying. If not from the Seraphim, then naturally. I need to stay here with Alyssa and Kasita for a while longer. Would you please perform your duties on my world for the time being?”


“And if you can’t do it, then find Kenziel. She should be around somewhere.”

“I will do it.”


“But not for you. For those poor people that you’ve abandoned.”

“Abandoned? I was driven out,” Tenebrael said, dropping her hand from Iosefael’s shoulders. “I wouldn’t be here if I had a choice.”

“You did have a choice. You were the one who messed with everything in the first place. If not for you and…” Iosefael shot a half-hearted glare to Alyssa. “I’m going!” Turning, she floated a few arm lengths away before vanishing into a confetti of feathers.

Smiling after letting out a short sigh, Tenebrael looked back to Alyssa. “Oh don’t worry about her.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Right. Well. Now we’re here. What next?”

“Next… Kasita. Are you sure you’re alright?”

Putting on that wan smile again, Kasita shrugged. It looked a bit pained. “Things are really weird here. I can’t even tell which way is up and which is left. I can hardly believe you’re alright at the moment. From my perspective, there are dozens of yous, all talking at once from all sides of me. You you,” she said, pointing directly at Alyssa, “are the closest of all of you. So I assume I’m talking to the right one.”

“I guess so?” Alyssa really wasn’t sure what Kasita was talking about. She felt like one regular person. “If I move more than a few inches in any direction, I come apart.”

“That doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m surprised I’m not coming apart. At least this me. I feel like I’m in a few dozen places all at once too.”

“Well, maybe the Throne could fix the way this world works. It is in charge of everything, after all. Can you do the same thing you did while we were adrift and find a direct path to it? One without guards, preferably.”

“Possibly. I’m pretty sure we’re all already in it, but ugh. This place is making me actually sick. If I could throw up, I’m pretty sure I would be doing so right at this moment.”

“Maybe it would be better if you were here in your natural form? Less magic around—”

“I don’t advise that,” Tenebrael said quickly, before Alyssa could even finish her suggestion. “If she were here in a fully fleshy form like you, she would likely be having the same problems that you are having. And Kasita is probably not experienced enough in manipulating miracles to grant herself a body every instant.”

“Right. Sounds bad. Don’t do that.”

“No. I’m fine like this,” Kasita said, not sounding like she believed her words at all. “Just give me a minute. Maybe I can get used to it a little. If the world stops spinning even a little, I could probably focus a little better.”

“A minute,” Alyssa repeated, looking around from the unmoving Seraphim to the Virtues and the other angels that were still watching since the accident with her hand. None were attacking or even looked like they might attack. At least not yet. “We can probably spare a minute.”

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