Chapter 5 (second half)

It troubled Olivier that the clues to the Guardian’s identity were so sparse but the difficulty drove him to question further. The lack of evidence was a clue of sorts. Either something was attempting to cover up the evidence or the Guardian was trying to hide its identity. Two different problems with completely different modus operandi, but, perhaps, overlapping motives. 

The more time passed, the worse the outcome for Laura. But hasty actions lead to false paths. Finding Israfel was still an option but the trail of possibles was vanishingly quickly.

Olivier returned to Paris, not directly to Leliel’s abode, but to the Patisserie and Chocolatier in Calais. 

“I’m here to pick up whatever you’ve not sold that contain or are covered in chocolate.”
Joanna greeted him warmly, “So busy monsieur but so concerned with my wares.”

Olivier smiled. “I have a friend with a sweet tooth and a penchant for speaking in riddles. She put me on your doorway, so I assume she wanted both outcomes.”

She placed a coffee and hot water in front of Olivier. “For you. I’ve run out of milk, so you will have to deal with the acid in your own way.” She set about boxing up a few ‘insert dessert’. 

While she worked, Olivier poured the water and coffee together. It felt less troubling to maintain his affectation, with her than when he did similar in the presence of other members of the Third. Perhaps it was the newness of their acquaintance or perhaps it was more that she was playing into the mannerisms earnestly whereas the other angels simply didn’t invest in it.

She passed by and dropped a half-full carafe before him. “The last of the day, and I should not finish it myself, no?” She swept past and then returned with a black box neatly tied with red string. “Two more, maybe three. Is this too much?”

Olivier shook his head. “No, I’m sure it will get used.”

She smiled, tilting her head. “Are you taking these to…” she reddened in embarrassment. “Others of your kind?”

Olivier nodded over his steaming cup. “Yes. Two or three will share in these. Though they serve no nutritious purpose, trust me that they are savored and enjoyed as much, probably more, than any person over the age of twelve.”

She laughed. “You have perhaps not seen the old ones that come here. Couples in their twilight years enjoy the patisseries and chocolates more than any child, more than any good Christian person should.” This last part was spoken with a toss of her honeysuckle hair., a joke that cut at her customers and at Olivier but one that also carried a certain longing within.

Olivier placed his coffee down and patted the box she had put down. “In my years I have worked with many creatures. Angels of the Host and of the Hells and of the Third. But also beings from other worlds and places outside of your conception. But the work with humans is always the most rewarding. This is…” he considered the way to phrase it, “essentially about you. It is only fitting that you be the most robust part.”

Joanna finished gathering the remaining macarons from the display nearest the door and boxed them swiftly, but gently, into a lush purple crepe paper. “Does this work with humans matter, in the scheme of time you must have lived?”

The sadness was more profound this time, palpable. Olivier refilled his coffee as before: coffee to water to stir in precise portions and motions. “It is a struggle, a long struggle that has gone on longer than you might think and will probably continue beyond the dust of your greatest descendants’ bones. But that does not make today any less important. In the time before, when it was all being put in motion, there were talks among the unified Host about the purpose, the joy of each element of Creation and the response that it would someday receive.” Olivier leaned back and paused.

Joanna placed the newly wrapped box beside the first. “You are conflicted? By what?”

Olivier considered the two boxes already waiting. “Consider the joy you’ve put into making these and consider the joy you’ve put into every treat you’ve ever made. Multiply that by all of your ancestors who have ever made a treat. That is the feeling of even one of His angels in considering their Office and the duty to Creation that was the reason for their existence.” He paused again. “I have the ability to make you feel that, or at least a facsimile, to manipulate your emotions with sensations and nudges, but to show you even a fraction of the feeling of Heaven in the time before the Earth? If the feeling didn’t overwhelm you, or cripple you, it would attract less savory beings to your doorstep. My presence here may have already started a reaction of this sort.”

Joanna scooped finely detailed chocolate biscuits into a pair of bags and tied them with lavender string. “I do not fear the dangers of the hidden world.”

Olivier regarded the slight tremble in her hands as she said it, the shift in her illustrious cupid’s bow. “Don’t worry.” He pulled a parchment from his satchel, placed on it a flurry of well-practiced strokes and put it inside the display by the door. He pulled out a smaller, delicate filament and tied it to her wrist. “If you come to harm, this will summon me.” He pointed to the door. “That will mask your presence, as well as the residual energies I’ve left here.”

She placed the bags of cookies next to the boxes. “I thank you, monsieur. I see that the young woman in the rain gear is always nearby, also watching. But I think you do not know how safe I already am.”

Olivier sniffed the air and noticed, for the first time, the symbol on the box of pastries. “You supply treats to Isaac’s café?”

She smiled, blushing. “I do. He told me it was customary for my family. I had seen him many times in my youngest days, even before grandfather began to teach me. A wise man of silver hair and keen eyes.”

Olivier picked up the boxes and bags, cradling them in one arm. “Charge Isaac’s account then. And tell him Leliel sends her regards. I think it will delight the old man.”

Joanna gave a curt nod. “Until I see you again, then.”

Oliver stepped out the door and into Leliel’s abode as the last vestiges of light swept low and long across the city. Leliel floated as it had in the dawn, by the large, curved window at the north of the room. It faced west this time and titled its head, straining to hear a sound that was not a sound. As the darkness crossed over it, bathing it, for a moment in twilight, a note floated down, ivory on gold, glowing with a light that burned with the cold heat of frostbite. “Enjoy. Embrace.”

Leliel floated to a short white table situated on a soft black rug. It looked to Olivier with expectant eyes.

Harahel stepped into the room, arriving at the silhouette canvas opposite the window. Not so tall but not so short, wearing a long black coat over a black sweater and white slacks, she had a leisurely heir to the ay she slouched when not moving but she marched forward with a purpose that seemed harried, as if she was rushing to catch a train but knew it was already too late. “Best to get the treats on the table before it becomes irate.” Harahel fixed Leliel with a cold smile.

Leliel floated into place cross-legged under the table. It clapped its hands and beamed even as its sorrowful eyes bore into Olivier with anger. Olivier sat on a couch across from Leliel. Harahel sat on the couch next to Leliel.

He placed the boxes and bags on the table. “I see your point.” Then, to Leliel, “Appreciate the ritual.” He held each package in front of it.

Leliel pulled each ribbon with a silent gasp and giggled as the boxes and bags opened up, their subtle, sugary scents permeating the dark spaces and harsh lights of the room.

While Leliel tried one of each thing, clapping and smiling its contentment with each, Olivier turned his attention Harahel. “You saw the latest piece?”

Harahel took a biscuit form a bag and slapped at Leliel’s hand when it protested. “No. There are plenty and I want this one.” Then, to Olivier, “It seems you’ve been indulging more than usual, and walking in dangerous territory.”

He grimaced. “I’ve dealt with the issues of my own insecurity. I would prefer we focus on the danger.” He opened his satchel and produced parchment, gold wire, and a silver pen. “The room I passed through today was uncomfortable, aggressive. It is leaking out and I need it contained before it becomes a beacon we can’t keep off the radar.”

Harahel munched on a biscuit and continued to ward off the grasping hands of Leliel. “No, shoo, shoo! Eat your macarons.” She stroked Leliel’s bald pate and held its form close. “How is the girl not already spilling out of control? Ireul passed along information about the quake.”

“She was outside the room, on the fires escape. She made a basket of cloth out there.”

Harahel nodded, stroking Leliel’s head and considering. “Show me.”

Olivier leaned back and spoke a phrase, a string of blackened notes on a golden staff that wound inside and back out again as it closed the short distance to Harahel.

She let go of Leliel and rose up, propelled by the words. Her four black wings fluttered and furled. A laurel crown formed across her brow and scroll appeared before her. She hovered for a few more moments before slowly settling back to the sofa by the table. “Such a ward. No wonder she was not seen. She has recreated a link of Sandalphon’s binding.”

It was a name and an office that gave the assembled angels pause. Leliel stopped munching on her assorted sweets, crumbs falling from its chin. Harahel waited to explain more, and Olivier paced behind the sofa he had been sitting on. “You’ll have to fill me in on the implications. I get the what, but not the why.”

Harahel’s scroll appeared again as she strained to find more information in the depths of her knowledge. “In the first days of Creation, there were holes and tears, the results of growing pains, or perhaps birthing pains. Thes eholes spewed untold horrors into the cosmos. To stem the tide, Sandalphon, the pillar, created bonds of its own being and spackled the inside of the cosmos shut. Eventually the wounds healed, the bindings faded, and the knowledge of them all but disappeared.”

Olivier leaned forward, placing his elbows on the sofa for leverage. “I’m assuming this binding only resembles Sandalphon’s? It isn’t an actual binding?”

Harahel shook her head as her scroll faded away. “No. From what you’ve shared it is an actual binding.”

Olivier resumed his pacing. “That leaves us with three possibilities. One, this is a binding supplied by Sandalphon who knows of the girl and her Guardian. Two, the Guardian is one of the few around at the time of the first days who knew how to deploy a binding. Three, the bindings did not fade away, they simply pushed to the other side of the tears and are appearing again as the wounds reopen.”

Harahel took the box of macarons and started dusting the crumbs off the otherwise beautifully arranged box. “I think it is a combination of the last two. While it is possible Sandalphon is directly involved, it operates by different rules, the materials of the binding are physical representations of an energy and that energy had to come from Sandalphon. If this is a tear, then the material moved to that location from the quasi-space outside of the cosmos and was knit with a knowledge that had to have come from those that helped apply the original bindings.”

Olivier nodded. “I follow. That narrows down my list of Guardians, but it also leads me to believe this situation is more volatile and time sensitive than I already feared.”

Leliel floated in front of him, its hands held together in front of its chest. Olivier stopped, waiting for the impish angel to make her point. It thrust its hands forward and opened them slowly to reveal a layered chocolate, essentially a miniature cake confectionery.

Olivier dutifully took the offered chocolate. Despite its excellent presentation and many fine layers, it tasted only of chocolate. No aftertaste or sudden undercurrents. He considered the wisdom of the gesture and the chocolate itself. “Just because something is multifaceted doesn’t make it complicated. Sometimes all those intricate bits count for nothing.” He sighed. “I shouldn’t have to spell that out to myself but its so easy to overthink things. There’s so much at stake.”

Harahel laughed, a gently, papery wisp of a laugh. It was almost more a polite cough but good natured enough.

While they were commiserating over the simplicity of blunt wisdom, Leliel set about marking and carving on the parchments Olivier had laid out before. It did not use the pen, rather tracing its fingers over the page and letting touches of its Office permeate the sanctified paper. The gold wire was melted at a touch, embossing the pages, and bringing a symphony of powers into perfect concert.

Olivier chewed his chocolate slowly, admiring the work as it happened and feeling, for a moment, a lightness, the weight of leadership and the oppression of dread he bore dissipated. He bowed slightly to the peculiar, bald angel and then turned his attention to Harahel. “Before I get too lost, what did you see in the silhouette from this morning?”

Harahel gathered herself, shaking away the beatific smile and lazy, glacial eyes she adopted while watching Leliel play. “The image from earlier showed a discordance. You were right to suspect that the parties involved were not typical. Besides your own fragments, there were those of the Guardian, smeared and indecipherable but obvious in their own way.” She summoned her scroll again. “Beyond that, there was a third party. A solemn calm. Someone with a duty that somehow encompassed the task.”

Olivier gathered the wards Leliel had prepared and tucked them away. “So, it was a member of the Host. Someone misguided or someone on a mission. One of our parties must be rogue, or the deed would simply have been completed.”

Harahel pressed into the sofa. “No sulfur to speak of. Nothing that can’t be connected to you. Whatever the dispute, this is a one-sided affair.”

Olivier moved to the window and looked out into the Parisian skyline. “I’m down to three leads. Israfel, the binding, and a list of Guardians short but still in the thousands. I’ll return to the Wilks’ home and place the wards and pursue what I can on the bindings until Israfel surfaces.” He turned to the room. “If I need to come back, am I going to be able to?”

Leliel fumed, shaking its fists and frowning. “Bring chocolate.” Its anger faded around a mischievous smile.

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