Chapter 4 (rough)

Though dawn hadn’t yet broken, the sky had begun to glow with the pre-light of the coming dawn. Warm pinks and reds had not yet appeared leaving the horizon a hue of cold, flat white.

It came as no surprise to Olivier, then, that Leliel was absorbed with the view out the window of her penthouse dwelling when he appeared. He removed his shoes as he arrived, willing them into non-existence to respect the sensibilities of the Angel of Night and Shadow.

He saw it as it preferred to be seen, in silhouette. Its bald head shining with the fading moonlight and its black silk pajamas scintillating with the colorless rays of the pre-dawn.

Though he would have preferred to move quickly, experience and long years had shown him that taking a moment to simply be in the presence of the waif of dichotomies was valuable.

He moved silently across the checkered tile floor of the apartment to the window and stood next to it. It tilted its head, touching it to his shoulder. The delicate bone structure of its face bordered on gaunt. No matter how the light moved, there was always some facet of its face left unseen. Together they stood in silence as the day brightened and the shadows stretched thinner and thinner until they melted under the piercing blue sky.

“I surrender,” it said quietly. The shape of the words the scent of dusk against the background of midnight. They rose from its lips, out the window, and into the sky. If you had eyes to see, you would notice that in the clouds that now stretched above Paris an ethereal figure in flowing white received the message. It gave the faintest of smiles as it pulled the edge of the heliosphere westward across the world.

Great, broad blinds slid across the window leaving the room striped with light and shadow. Leliel floated to a canvas across from the window and waited.

Olivier made his way dutifully to a point just under six feet from the canvas. With the angle of the sun, this cast a shadow exactly his height and dimensions onto the wall.

Leliel willed a pot of ink and a brush into its hands and began to trace across the canvas. “Speak,” it whispered in its usual manner. Its voice carried but never came across as loud. One always strained just enough to hear the sound that they were always listening, never hearing.

Olivier remained motionless as he spoke. “I’m on a case. Too much nuance and not enough players. For an event that clearly involved two parties, I can’t find evidence of the second.”

It continued to apply ink to the canvas, tilting its head less to pretense at listening as to see the way the light changed from moment to moment. “You don’t need two colors to create contrast. Shades of one can do all the work, if one is attuned.” It flourished the point with a spray of black across the top of painting. The soot-black ink coated the slight luster of the cobalt black used before.

Olivier considered the image spreading out before him. Leliel’s work, like its words, took consideration. The distinction between subtle and outright vague sometimes came down to an act of charity. It didn’t believe in grey. To Leliel every shade of black was black and every shade of white was white. This didn’t give it a one-track mind or staid outlook. If anything, no entity was more concerned with exactly how black a black was.

It moved the canvas from the wall and the two found themselves in a gallery/warehouse in the Netherlands. Rows and rows of similar works lined the walls and partitions throughout. At first glance, they could be mistaken as daguerreotypes or copies of the same single work. The longer one looked the more colors emerged from the canvas. Highlights, lowlights, depth, and tone all shone through.

Leliel hung the newest silhouette and regarded it noncommittally. “You are sad,” it said at length. “The contours of your soul here,” she pointed to a pitch-black spot along the image of his arm, “and here,” indicating his torso, “bear the weight.”

Olivier started into the depths of the image and cleared his mind as best as he could. His finger itched. He adjusted the silver band on his left middle finger and scowled. Now was not the time. “Excuse me, Leliel. Are you expecting Harahel to come through today?”

It nodded as it stared at another image in the line of Olivier’s silhouettes. “She will be along in the evening. The moment after the night reaches to the sun. We have an issue to complete.”

They were back in the apartment then, the canvases on the wall covered in roughly penciled comic panels. “We have work. You have work. Return, then. Bring chocolates.”

Olivier found himself on the street next to a bakery. The sign read ‘French bakery and chocolatier’. He knew better than to try and return to Leliel’s penthouse, it had removed him from its white list.

With no further leads he sat at a table outside the bakery. A young woman came out of t a side door and approached him. Your order, monsieur?” Her accent was Norman with a clear history of Basque trailing in the distance. Olivier acknowledge her as he spread his journal and a few pens out on the table. It was best to give the appearance that he was doing something other than staring into nothing as he though. The affectations, mocked by some of his brethren in the Host kept him grounded, or at least he tried to remember that was the point. He shook his head, less an affectation than a genuine push to feel something other than dread.

He acknowledge the young woman at length. “A café, hot water at the side, and a pain chocolat,” he said in southern French accent, a hint of older Latin to imply his age and breeding.

The young woman blinked in surprise. “For a countryman to order such an American-ized café. So peculiar.”

Olivier gave her a gentle smile, pushing the image of summer rains and long strolls through a valley. “I have spent some years abroad. It is a taste, acquitted. Perhaps an affectation to blend in with my American friends so long that I no longer pretend I don’t prefer it.”

She giggled, nodding. She headed through the front doors to fetch his order but he stopped her.

“Oh, a touch of cream, for the acid.”

She came back to the table and placed a hand against his forehead. “Such a thing for someone so young, has your time abroad stripped you of your health?”

Olivier opened his moleskin and flipped through a few pages idly, letting her see the deftness of his penmanship and the small drawings he made across a few pages. “my health is of little concern.”

She smiled again, “to be so old when you are so young. We are so cursed to live the lives of our parents and our own together.”

He nodded, conceding the folk wisdom. “To live as a youth these many years, to feel and breathe as I once did as a boy.”

“You must speak more Proust to me when I return or are you to be left alone.?”

Olivier considered the position. A person to speak to was always an interesting peak into the point of it all, but the issues of Laura weighed heavy. “Please do, I feel it best to share my concerns.”

She smiled, easily this time. Her delicate cupids’ bow releasing her concern like a shot from the blue. “Oui, Monsieur. I shall return.”

She returned to the bakery and Olivier picked up the implements he had been spreading around and tucked them away, save for the journal. He would allow her to poke at it, if needed. The notes themselves were never of any consequence, observation of rooms and faces, never details for he had no need to remember. H couldn’t not remember.

It was still dawn here, Calais, the seaside village that Leliel had set him on was at best an hour west of Paris and very much enjoying the warmth that came with being in such a proximity to the ocean, if only for a few hours before the cold mists permeated the land. It was quiet, more gray than blue in the sky, expressing a coming rainstorm. Cows could be heard in the distance. Apple orchards lent a floor to the scent profile, undercutting everything else. This was brandy country.

It was no surprise to him when the young woman returned, her blonde braid now loosened and swept back under a neatly tied cloth. She came bearing apple tarts, a warm mug of what could only be a cellar borne brandy, and his coffee and chocolate drizzled bread.

She poured his coffee from a silver carafe and then mixed in the water, stirring gently up and through to infuse the water and the espresso together gently. The milk was then swirled in, a practiced stream that spiraled and warmed before turning the rich dark beverage an even, crisp brown.

She poured herself a straight espresso and inhaled the rising steam. Olivier noted her hands, much more worn and scalded than her years would suggest. This was not, as he first considered, the shop of her family that she worked at as a dutiful daughter would, but the place she tended after a passing, a duty she would hold to for her life. Her hands had worked dough that was too tough, her fingers kissed by the steam and boiler of the espresso machine too often.

She watched the boats sailing into the pier and the ones leaving. Those that came in bore the smells of fresh fish and depleted coffee, the day’s work nearly done for fishermen who had been on the waters for hours. These going out were swarmed by tourists looking to spend a day at an exclusive beach or simply drop anchor in the outer bay and take in the clean air and warming sun.

Olivier sipped his coffee and enjoyed the notes. It was sufficient and clean, nothing exotic, only the work of locals preserving traditions and making products as they had for centuries.

He addressed the young French maiden, leaving no room in his voice for mistakes or misunderstandings. “You need not fear me, child.” He grabbed the brandy mug and drank deeply.

She turned to him, her smile shaken but not broken. “How?”

Olivier finished off the mug and returned to his coffee. “Nothing against the monastic order that trained your grandfather’s grandfather, but there are more creatures on this world than simply those stunned by alchemy and potions. He pushed the briefest image of the Elysian fields into his voice. “Some of us did not fall so much as leave in protest.” There was a lie of omission there, but he need not elaborate at this time.

He took a bite of the bread and then pulled off a piece to offer her.

She took it, chewing slowly as she regarded the fringes of his countenance. It was clear from the movement of her eyes that she could see beyond the material world. Her sight was not particularly deep or focused, but it didn’t need to be to see that Olivier was more than he let on. Much more.

“I take it,” he said around a fresh sip, “that the order itself no longer has a chapter house, only the still practicing granddaughter who was told that the family’s traditions went beyond offering tasty treats?”

She poured herself another shot, blushing that she had not savored the first as she should. Olivier nodded, “Yes, another, please.”

She lit a cigarette and let the smoke drift and curl around her head before speaking. “He was Gregor Milleaux. The last of the house of Montreouse. He had left, broke his vows, married and spread his line into five children and fifteen grandchildren. I was the only girl and also the only one born with the gift, something that shook grandfather as much ass it seemed to please him. I am Joanna Milleaux-Pages, the Bearer of the Eye and the Constabulary of the Silver Known.”

Olivier nodded, taking in the pieces he knew and adding them to the ones he had only guessed at. “You are not touched by Corabella Iantha, then.”

She nodded. “This name. Grandfather spoke it with hatred. One of two names he would not have spoken in part or in whole in his house.”

“And the other was that of the Fuhrer.”

She sipped her coffee. “You know well for one who is not truly French.”

Olivier sat back and raised his cup to the coastline. “I am neither truly French or truly many other things. I might be Irish, truth told. But I don’t know that it means I am the Irish you are familiar with.”

She took his left hand in hers. “You speak in riddles and the corners of statements. Grandfather spoke of this too, less with hatred, less with fear, more with hope. He spoke of the ones who watched, who helped without judgement. Are you of them?”

Olivier turned a fresh page in his notebook and whispered a word onto the page, a single golden note on a blackened staff that smoldered along the apex. It took to the page, flaring out with an intensity of light and a puff of soot. He turned the page to Joanna. “What you speak of are the Grigori. I have worked with many of them in these past millennia on earth, but I am not of them.”

She held his hand tighter, digging a barbed ring into the side of his pinky.

He smiled, the same smile her grandfather favored her with when teaching her spells and tricks. The same provide he had when he told her of this very ritual. “I have no need to lie, Joanna. But as your grandfather should have told you, some doors can be opened only once. I give you this moment to choose if this is one you would not rather leave sealed.”

She pulled her hand away from his and regarded the melted tip of her poison ring. Her frown pulled the cupid’s bow taught. She released it after a count of seven into a bright smile, the same one she favored grandfather with whenever he crumbled under her pleading and showed her yet one more esoteric art. “There are no doors better left closed when the light can be seen around their edge.”

Olivier considered the words. “A sentiment I have heard many times, but alas, one I don’t always share. But I will speak.” He closed the notebook and placed it in his satchel. “I represent the third of the host of angels. They who did not so much rebel or defend but chose to abstain. In the days when the Adversary made his play for the throne, some chose not to fight. Their reasons were as numerous as the host itself, but they overlapped on one key point. If there was nobody to hold the center, to keep the Earth —newly formed and virgin—from suffering the shelling of a war between the Host and the Most High, what good would the war be? What would there be to rule over?”

“Sacre…” she whispered, trying to pull it together and defiling to see the scope, or even to imagine it.

“Over the years the membership of all three hosts has drifted. Some fall, some join us, some face a form of ultimate death, succumbing to an oblivion beyond anything written in a holy tome.”

Joanna frowned again, deeper than before, creasing the edges of her mouth hard enough to pull her brows into a single, fair line atop her face. “You say there were changes, falls and deaths and joining of the cause. But what of those that returned to the heavens?”

Olivier’s frown dwarfed hers in intent and echoing with the sum of his age. “That’s not really the way it works. Not really. Or. Maybe the best way to put it is that nobody has yet tried. Nobody has ever reversed their position to seek the heavens again.”

Joanna stood and gathered everything back onto a tray. “Why tell me this?”

“Because you asked. Because it is important to know. It is a secret only because it isn’t discussed. There is nothing I told you that endangers the plans of any side. That said, it is dangerous to know. There are forces aligned or misaligned that see it as their duty to keep these things hidden.”

Joanna stood proud, a regal set to her jaw and a wisp of her grandfather’s voice in her ear. “Let them come, I will see them exposed and shorn in the light.”

Olivier stood and donned his satchel. “I’m certain you are up for the task, and it keeps you from wandering to find them. This village needs you, as it has always needed your kind.”

She paused on her way back into the bakery. “But what of you? You say much but also tell me nothing of yourself.”

He shook his head. “You are to open the doors when the light can be seen around their edge. This door has not yet sprouted light. It may never do so.” He walked away, turning his attention away from the beach and back to the mainland.

He was about to depart when he felt the first few drops of rain on his brow and turned to find the beaming face of Matariel peering at him from beneath a yellow hat.

“Do you have a message for me?” He shifted the bag and closed the outer flap but did nothing for the rain falling on himself.

Matariel stomped around on the too-hard street in her yellow wellies. “Nothing to report, guv. But you looked like you needed to chat a bit, let it out a little?” Her strained cockney accent made everything she said seem insincere, or at least, ironic. Coupled with presenting in her early 20s with a trip-hop physique, she came across larger than life and a tad cartoonish.

Olivier turned his back on the mainland and walked back past the bakery, intent on the beach. Around them the rain began to fall faster and faster, the drops warm for the time of year. “Did Ireul send you?”

Matariel kept pace despite her shorter stature. “Only thing I got from her was a check up on the quake you had. Not even a rattle in a glass anywhere but Georgetown. I’m out her on usual business, you caught me in my busy season.”

Olivier picked up the pace, less to outrun her but more to lean into his thoughts. If he wasn’t going to sit in quiet contemplation he would set a record for pacing speed, if not for circuit. The sky shifted from mottled grey to a deep grey and finally arrived at a shining silver as the light from the horizon bounced through the wall of rain and cut the clouds entirely out of view. It was coming down now, a monsoon torrent of light, warm drops.

Matariel’s stomping motion was a proper prance and splatter through the rain-soaked street now, giving her an even more elfish appearance. “What’s got you down then, guv?”

Olivier looked to the sky and back to the street. “What are we doing out here, Matariel? We spend thousands of years trying to keep the planet together, to teach the humans compassion and joy, to bring them up from the dirt and dare to dream of heaven and what do they do? They horde, they bicker, they abandon and pick up tradition and ritual whenever it suits them. Thousands of years and while the planet may be physically intact it feels like its soul has been dead for at least a century.”

Matariel danced around him, stomping and spraying in increasing deep pools. Her yellow coat came untied and flapped in a breeze as she twirled and danced in her black midi shirtdress. She stomped both feet into a brimming puddle directly in his path, causing him to stop, pivot, or move away.

He stopped. “What is it now?”

She punched him in the chest and looked up into his crestfallen face. “Pffft. Ha ah ah hee hee. You idiot. I would expect this kind of talk out of Remiel or Daniel, but you? Coming from you, you sound like a complete twat.”

He flashed a crown of gold and boots of black flame as he stepped past her cut through an alley, still intent on the beach. “What they have in common with me is a sense of the big picture. Too many of you are content to pursue your duty, fulfill your Office and think nothing much of tomorrow.” He increased his pace, no longer bothering to divert from any of the debris or obstacles in his way. “It’s all felt futile lately. Too many cracks, not enough people to fill the holes. We fix one problem and there are a dozen more already in the queue. I promised to give the planet a chance to weather this war and I don’t see it.”

She laughed again, splashing and prancing alongside him as his dark footfalls melted divots in the street. “Heavy is the head, eh guv? Winning isn’t about winning every single duel, every blow, every shot. It is about surviving longer than the fighting can endure. You win by outliving those who do harm, not by outkilling them.” She took off her hat and let the rain wash through her short raven hair. “Or the rest of us maybe get along with Offices that are more verb and less esoteric conceptual bullshit.”

Olivier continued barreling forward through the streets of Calais and to the beaches, which had shuttered in the torrent, leaving tourists fleeing for their resorts or hiding in buses.

Matariel stopped stomping and floated along to keep pace. “Oh boohoo. You didn’t win an unwinnable war of attrition. You have to live and fight another day and another beyond that. You were built for war, what did you expect?”

Olivier pushed through a fence, leaving it shattered in his wake. “I expected progress. I expected gains and footholds and to feel like the campaign had momentum.”

The rain around them stopped. Matariel shook the last remnants of water off her coat. The sun pierced the clouds above them and the tourists came out of their cover, eyeing the sky with a mixture of hope and trepidation. “What you expected was to get both sides to come to the table and have a dialog? To set aside their differences and agree to start again? To be civil this time?”

Olivier descended down a short hill onto the beach proper. “Of course not. Or… I don’t want to say I did.” He stopped moving forward. “I’m being something of a tool, aren’t I?”

Matariel bent sideways at the waist, threw her arms out to the side and arched her head to look at his face. “What? No. You don’t sound like the soggiest sad sack ever at all.”

He sat down in the sand. “I wanted things to be different so hard I lost sight of how things are. It is something of a habit I have.”

She plopped next to him and rested her head on his shoulder. “If you weren’t moody, I don’t think you would be you.”

“Redemption,” he said, calming himself with the thought. “It isn’t an easy Office to hold to.”

She grasped his arm and snuggled in closer. “Maybe next time stick with your given Office and don’t go and make one up?”

He laughed. “How many times have I had this break down?”

She counted on her fingers and then shrugged. “Too many. Maybe once a century. Sometimes more.”

He laughed again. “Ebbs and flows. For every drought there is a storm, after every flood the water recedes. Nothing stays one way so long it doesn’t eventually go another way.” He hugged the willow-framed girl. “It’s the same reason you rescue spiders, isn’t it? To give them that second chance and third chance and so on.”

Matariel pushed herself from his embrace and got to her feet. “That’s one way to look at it, but mostly I just don’t like to see em drown. I’m the Angel of Rain, not the Angel of Impromptu Insect Drownings.”

Olivier pushed himself to his feet. “Let’s hope nobody needs to take up that particular Office. Well, time’s burning and I can’t afford to let myself be distracted. Thanks for the pep talk.”

Matariel skipped a few paces down the beach and then stomped and galumphed back to him. “We’re all counting on you, guv. Don’t go losing before someone can beat you.” She skipped across the beach singing to herself as tourists fled back to their shelters as the rain began fall.

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