Chapter 7

Olivier stood on the roof of the Wilks’ townhome and looked across Georgetown. The long shadows of an early spring sunset could slice like daggers into the remains of a day. He looked to the fading light, to the angel Shamshel who was the terrestrial harbinger at the leading edge of the sun, pursued at all times by the shadows of night even as it pursued them. Shamshel was one of the least human of the Third, always in Full Office and always moving. Leliel, on the other hand, came across as shockingly human and inhuman, the revolving sweetness and brutal reality of its demeanor a testament to the power of the night to provide succor and enhance danger. 

Olivier allowed himself another moment to contemplate the gears he could see all around him. For many humans Creation was a spectacular show of the love of a God without peer. To others it was the majesty of a cosmic event that unfurled in precise ways, doing what it could because no other alternatives could have existed. For Olivier, he could not speak for the rest of the Host or the Third, it was a wonderful combination of the two, the fingerprints of the Creator touching every gear as it spun in its inevitable path, guided and assisted by a dedicated agent holding to their duty.

He took a deep breath. 

It was time he took the next step in his own path. Redemption may not be the most obvious of Offices in terms of function and duty, but to Olivier it was more important than anything. It was the central gear that made everything else necessary. What was Creation without choices and what were choices without an intermediate step, a place where do and do not could pass each other without malice but operate with autonomy and understanding.

He shook his head. Even to himself it came across as pretentious postering, but it was hard to be profound without being a little silly.

He had delayed long enough. He descended to Laura’s landing silently. She paid him no mind as he settled into the space behind her and began building the ritual. 

First, he would need to construct a circle, a specific ring of runes and archaic symbols meant to keep his essence from leaking out. The heavy metaphysics of being a divinely crafted, fundamental force were enough to melt some beings from head to toe. The very molecules that held together reality balked at fully grasping some elements of the divine. Though not conscious, they acted according to rules and seeing those rules violated caused them to react, and to react poorly.

Olivier could perform such a ritual by a combination of natural inclination and time-honed knowledge. Any of the angels could transfer their Office and move their essence with but a thought. But those transfers were meant to be permanent. To make them temporary took a good deal more planning and knowledge and that was why Olivier was building a circle first.

Typically, this process would be done by carving or drawing the necessary symbols onto the ground or walls. Tampering with Sandalphon’s binding seemed a poor choice, so Olivier worked around it. To not take advantage of the latent energies that teemed through the binding, would also be a mistake. Olivier formed the first symbol into the binding near the center of the fire escape. This would anchor him to it and anchor the spell itself. While this did have a slight chance of pulling him through to the void beyond, it also gave him a powerful thread to follow back if he became lost.

He put the other symbols, as well as the sacred geometry of the circle itself, onto a set of parchments he had brought along. Each parchment was connect to the other via a string of natural fiber woven together with a precious metal. This coherently held each element in the matrix he was creating but provided him a stop-gap in how the circle could be destroyed. 

It is a common misconception in media that a magic circle becomes powerless once it is interrupted even a little. The energies don’t quite work like that. While some did lead to a type of explosive decompression, rushing out the thinnest side at the first tear, most others lingered and held, scarring and imprinting until forced out. His circle could withstand multiple failures and still be technically viable as long as the original anchor held. Depending, of course, on if he was lucid enough —powerful enough—to mitigate the missing pieces. It was like leaping from one platform to another on a river while trying to stay dry. It was easier with a bunch of connected logs in the form of a boat, or a raft, but it was still possible to flume a mighty river if you wanted it badly enough. Keeping his essence from being shattered and dissipated was a powerful motivator, as was seeing the mission through.

The symbols were borrowed from numerous traditions and religious structures. Each a component of a truth adhered to throughout the centuries, each a fragment guessing at a whole. Creation was not a single, brute force object but a myriad plethora of a mosaic of interwoven strands resting together and bolstering each other in a tensegrity chain of belief, force, and purpose. To use the energies of Creation in such a way was not unlike building a new hub on the great web of the cosmos. Vibrations spread through the gossamer alerting the attentive.

And the predatory. 

This is where the humans had latched onto a core component of what magic was, or at least how it functioned. The Internet was also a series of interconnected elements. Each operated on its own but gained strength from others. Some elements radically changed the functionality, some merely bolstered. Others were redundancies, backups and fail-safes. Still others created misdirects, bouncing useful information from one node to the next in a daisy-chain of causality that was nearly impossible to decipher. 

The encryption of magic came first in the forms of sympathetic power, objects and names inexorably linked. Codes and passwords were not a thing to know, they were a thing to become. But magic made many things possible, especially temporarily. To this end, Olivier encrypted his magical matrix all the while forming a skeleton key that would let him, if only for the briefest of seconds, become Laura and share her world. 

There, he would find his answers.

Olivier completed the circle and moved into he second phase of the ritual. Getting back was about keeping the right energies in and the wrong energies out. Getting to a destination was about breeching the same protocols that someone else had put in place, whether by design or happenstance.

Olivier looked at the girl and calmed his racing mind. The art of infiltrating a person’s consciousness benefited from a careful approach. A maze built intentionally could harbor many traps, dead ends, and misdirects. But it also followed a set of patterns, a meta game. The adherence to rules created weaknesses and predictability. A maze formed over time, of natural processes, offered different challenges. The dangers would be less severe and the pathways fewer in complexity but there was no meta game, no mind to read, no actions to predict.

Laura’s psyche was under duress, perhaps buried, perhaps shattered. The machinations of the attacker and the protection of the Guardian all added to the turmoil. What little Olivier had learned about all three gave him more doubts than insights. The trip into Laura’s psyche would be a fusion of both natural and unnatural defenses and the terrain was likely to veer and careen where the personalities overlapped and bled through.

He sat in his circle, ceased his breathing and awakened his Office bit by bit. He was not here to confront the energies and entities within the girl outright, as that would result quickly in her death and dissipation. He needed to be strong like an arrow in flight, looking for a target, withstanding the wind, and twisted around an axis of applied forces.

His feet burned with a cold, dark fire. His mind lit up with a golden halo. At his side a sword throbbed and shimmered, threatening to materialize. He pushed the thoughts of fighting and victory to the side. He focused only on the trip before him. He was not a warrior, not today, but a thief working its way into the very heart of a home, scouting for security and valuables. The sword steadied, fading to a dim outline, present but unobtrusive.

He concentrated, the outline of his wings traced into the twinkling evening light and began to fill out. AS he formed the Office he pushed, moving the spectacle of the transformation outside of himself and toward Laura. His clothes faded but remained. His body quaked and floated but remained planted. His true self took flight bearing down onto the small, stricken girl.

A white flash buffeted his being as he pushed further in. Leaning into the threads around him he felt the slight shift of his being coming loose. He could see the anchor, his body, Laura, and the gateways between that connected all with the Love of the Creator. It loomed larger, a single thread that became a cable that became a beanstalk, a space elevator connecting the planet to the space beyond.

Olivier drifted at first. This served two purposes. First, it kept the aura around Laura’s psyche from detecting aberrations as he tried to pass himself as her. The second purpose was simply to acclimate to the surroundings. A psyche is an individual construction. Beyond complex, they can take any shape and form, twitching from one impulse to the next, resetting by arbitrary rules. Traversing a foreign psyche was made all the harder by one’s own expectations and patterns. And, in this case, the buffets of uncertainty and influence of other presences attempting to overwrite and wrest control of the space.

The outer layers of a psyche held together in great crystalline sheets. They weren’t permeable so much as filled with holes and jagged recesses that allowed information in, filtering and sifting as bias and dissonance removed what couldn’t’ be handled and funneled the desires and preconceptions ever forward. These crystalline layers shone brightly in colorful hues of blue and purple and white. The most perceptive of people, the emotionally sensitive and empathic types, could see this outer layer as a multi-hued spectrum of colorful auras. They saw but one of the aspects, which sometimes, but only barely, managed to convey information that would be misconstrued and misinterpreted into a shadow of reality.

Olivier sped up as he approached the crystalline barriers. This would be the first test of his skeleton key.

The shape of his being was only partially perceptible to him. If he focused to much on how he was, who he was, it could create semi-permanent changes. Nothing beyond repair but shifts and contortions that would make his reentry into his own being challenging, if not impossible.

The structures around him shifted, and he passed through one and into the next. The passage brought with it shocks of sensation. Smells, thoughts, memories, aspirations. The outer most layers of the psyche were places of uncertainty. The testbed of ideas and assumptions. Passing through the keyholes was less difficult then it would be further in, but the journey was turbulent, jumbled.

Olivier opened himself up to accepting suggestions of the stimuli. The more he understood about her wants, her desires, her fears, and her struggles, the more likely he was to make adjustment further in and to understand what was happening to her.

Flashes of darkness and piercing bursts of light buffeted him. Great stretches of nothing occupied the spaces where hopes and wants should reside. It was not a complete void, but it was far more sparse than a child should be, this was the outer psyche of the terminal, those who had turned inward and no longer gave thought to a tomorrow.

Beyond the outer psyche came the threshold of self, the layers defined not who one considers being but who one presents to being. The holes were getting snugger as the filters ramped up. Looming above the rest of the minute sensations were two dominant presences: Elizabeth and James.

The parents acted as great wellsprings of information, of tastes, preferences, and restrictions. Here, Olivier noted the first dichotomy.

Elizabeth was powerful, a presence a magnitude larger than James. She bore with her the rules and restrictions, the ways a life should be lived and the tenants of old money and high society that breed children of quiet respect toward elders and traditions. Even for a child of barely seven, the rigid thinking of sit and be quiet, do as one is told, don’t express and emote were all setting in.

This was not the entirety of influence coming from Elizabeth. The art, the beauty, the quest for a zenith of expression and truth also flowed out. The dissonance of these views rubbing against each other did not completely filter out the contrary but the intersection of the barriers created strain, slicing some ideas to pieces as they tried to pass through, leaving incoherent, disconnected shards to drift further in.

Then there was James. A lesser figure, but still a prominent source of filtering and influence. James was warm, contrite, willing to please. In places this fed into Elizabeth’s instruction to sit and be quiet and to do as one is told. In other places it chipped away at the little bit of expression and beauty. James also offered positive contributions. The rigid mathematical thinking, the seeing beauty in things that are functional and correct. The joy of pleasing others through diligence and giving one’s time and effort to a group whole. These barriers pushed and threaded through the ones set by Elizabeth. Sometimes creating friction and other times finding their way through gaps and crevices, interweaving and coloring the impressions that worked through the vanishingly small gaps.

Olivier maneuvered carefully, looking for the largest hole to pass through without shearing and without contributing to a fraught, tense system. He found the place that was widest and most inviting, the innocent portal of love and understanding that a child held. This was open to all things coming down from the parents, and though the areas around it were mulched and knotted, the gap was still receptive.

It also bore a scar. Something tinged with flame and fury had come through. Chips along the edge were held in place by a gossamer field of unknown providence.

He passed through to the inner psyche, the areas of private thoughts, solidified concepts, and embedded ideals. Beyond this point would be the intimate of intimates and the secrets held from the self. Normally, this landscape would be all but completely filled in, a bedrock with sprouting ideas that would become more complex over time, building on the roots and thickening into ethos, pathos, and unshakeable moral constraints.

The area was not flat. It was buckling vertically, pushing in from the inner psyche and mashing against the filters of the outer. The private parts of her consciousness were overflowing and the weight of the secrets she bore were pushing out everything else. Typically, trauma had this effect but in specific areas. This created pinch points of neurosis and aberrant behavior. But this was a totality, a surge across all of her being.

Getting through the final barrier to the core of Laura’s psyche undetected was now nearly impossible. Olivier could punch through the barrier and blast open the dam, or he could find some space not yet fully blocked off. Breaking through carried enormous risks. It was unlikely, given the pressure, that he would be able to seal any tear before it cascaded. And even if he did, he would have to find a way back out.

The one thing he couldn’t do was nothing.

He sped up, bobbing with the buckling waves like a frigate about to capsize in a storm. There had to be an entrance. Some small area where the inner self was leaking out, was putting some kind of effect into the world. The girl was mostly catatonic, dispassionately sitting on her makeshift balcony. There she cajoled passersby, beseeching them for lewd acts and money.

Olivier contemplated the avenues this could provide while shifting his metaphysical weight to stay between the bulging waves. Laura demanded money for her supposed acts, which could represent a desire for profit, to show mother that she was capable of handling and earning. It could be a desire to please people, echoing her father’s contrite ways. It could also be the signs of precocious puberty, or early Tourette’s.

He winced, considering his options. He had asked about the couple’s spirituality and religious adherence because of the obvious possession signs but had failed to ask about any history of mental illness or genetic conditions. A fine fake psychologist he was proving to be.

He didn’t have time to parse all of the percentages. Sexual desires were hire functions but the drive to reproduce was hardwired. Laura had been born to a woman past menopause. Surely there was something going on there. He proceeded to the basal instincts.

The damage in the area was extensive, bulges of pressure pushed into the filter. It was not completely blocked but it was far from open.

Olivier made his way through, carefully. All around him the channel thrummed with sounds and creaked with fury. Beyond the filter were a great number of valved hatches. Some were physiological in nature, others cultural, and still more handed down from parents. But the last few were self-created.

The outer doors were simple enough to traverse. These opened and closed as random impulse caused a person to reconsider their drives, their instincts, and the influence they allowed the outside world to hold. The inner doors would require a deeper understanding of Laura’s views. And he knew only what others had told him. The external views were rarely useful for such a purpose.

An older couple, a separate floor for the child, that old money New England repression. The most Laura likely knew about her own views of physical love would be linked to the core emotion. She knew she loved her parents, and she knew that they loved her, even if the expression of that love would someday be called into question.

Not everything true is profound or complicated, sometimes it’s the simplicity that marks a truth. The inner doors opened. Olivier arrived at the very core of Laura’s being.

The core of a person was a fascinating construct. Many were idealizations visions of their life, inextricably linked with what they did and who they associated with. A mechanic might see himself in an endless garage, a warehouse of parts and oil and revving engines. A writer would sit in a library with a typewriter and the visions of characters performing in a thought space before them. A child might have a play room or a garden, a place they perceived as safe and fun. The introverted were alone, festooned with things that made them feel safe and loved. For others it was an endless gallery of faces and moments hung on the walls, snapshots and reels of their connections.

Olivier’s expectations for Larua’s core were grim. The reality was far worse. Lara sat as she did in the external world, dangling her legs off a fire escape mired in the center of a blasted landscape. She was disconnected from herself. The spherical walls loomed and pressed in, bathed in frantic fire light and smoking shadows. The fire escape connected to a fading portal, wisps of a world beyond that she didn’t seem to notice.

Two angels in full Office fought endlessly around her. They clashed with sword and blade. They danced, they flew, they attacked and defended. Swirling combinations of flaming swords tinged with golden light and the heat of the divine. They fought with relentless strength. Their shouts and clashes reverberated in the confining space and Laura winced with each blow. The room rumbled and shook as they spun past each other and paused and resumed.

They each bore wounds. One was leaking essence from a thousand small cuts and a great gash about the abdomen. The initial blow that began the conflict, no doubt. The other was missing most of its head. A grim, determined jaw and sneering lips missing everything above.

The bled, as much as such being do, their essence leaking into the surrounding area blanketing it with primordial energies. Without direction, without a will, a duty these energies acted as all such energies do, they sought purpose and shape. They fought to BE.

They were losing that fight. No matter the victor of the actual battle, it was clear the damage was substantial. The moment that either Office shattered, the energies would implode and take Laura with them. The bindings of Sandalphon would contain the energy from damaging the rest of Creation.

The angel with the grievous wound was the Guardian. Ahiel. This close and with his badge in sight it was instantly obvious. Ahiel, Brother of God, one of the Guardians tied to Kafsiel, she who governed the life and death of kings. Ultimately, she was also a bearer of the standard of Gabriel. Larua’s birth, though strange and rare, could have been chalked up to the randomness of human biologics but this confirmed it was part of some greater intent.

The other warrior was not so identifiable, the lack of a face made the truth of the eyes impossible. Its badge was obscured by some power that he could not perceive beyond. What he was certain of was that the were no infernal energies here. This was a divine being locked in a death battle with a divine Guardian.

His presence was noticed. He was, after all, Laura. But a Laura outside of the center, outside of the contested space the Guardian defended. The unknown angel struck quickly, abandoning all pretense of defense against Ahiel to deliver a death strike. Olivier could not defend himself, not without overloading the space and sparking the overdue implosion of writhing energies.

Then he saw her.

A face, so subtle it didn’t register even to his keen observations. It was a lovely, motherly face. The face of something beyond divine. Something that Olivier had felt but never seen. It was a visage of gossamer and half remembered dream. The warmth and afterglow felt when waking up from a pleasant memory or the spark of reconnecting with an old acquaintance. It was this voice that had spoken to him on the fire escape. The identity scrambled with the leaking essence and spilled onto a page of discordant tone.

It shone brighter, for the briefest of moments. Not fully formed, but a fraction more present. The force of this shift blasted Olivier out of the way of the assailant’s strike. It blew him through the inner psyche and out of Laura’s being entirely.

He caught himself, slamming and lurching at the end of his anchor like a climber short roped to a cliff. He floated there, catching his mental breath before following the thread back to his own essence.

He had seen a face. A face he did not know. But impressions were not something that could be easily dismissed or erased. Whatever, whoever, that face was, Olivier knew where to get answers. He would need to seek out Satarel and the Library of El.

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