Chapter 8 (pinch 1)

Olivier returned to his body. Despite the near instantaneous trip, the darkness of the post-sunset skyline was still jarring after crawling out of the void between souls. Across the street, he could see the first of Father O’Hugh’s followers gathering for the prayer vigil. They were later than he had hoped. The prayer circle was meant to add an additional buffer to contain any residual problems if his trip had gone badly. Although it was a lot like containing a flood with a bathtub, too little and often too late.

It would provide something of solace for the neighborhood and was quiet enough to be ignored by the Wilks themselves.

His business concluded; he was back to the warehouse in Seattle.

Ireul was in the central chamber moving drives from one rack to another. It was a human affectation far outside of what she needed. Even though the physical machines were necessary for storing, fetching, and compiling the vast amount of information she collected and disseminated through the Third, she could manipulate them at will. It was his own drive to develop human affectations that seemed to have rubbed off on her.

He smiled. It wasn’t always the big victories that merited celebration, the everyday victories of influencing another to act better also mattered.

Ireul left the server chamber and floated out to a summoned chair. Olivier remained standing despite the chair that rolled to his side.

“Why are you smiling? Cracked the case?” she said.

He opened his notebook and sketched an impression of the Wilks s seen from Laura’s perspective. “No. Just amused at you moving your drives around, interacting with more and more of this equipment every time I stop by.”

She scowled. “Maybe I am trying to get into your head. Knowledge is my domain, and your experiences have a certain novelty to them.”

“Tell yourself what you must. I’ve got a few new leads. The Guardian we’ve been looking for is Ahiel. See that it is passed to O’Hugh and Harahel.”

Ireul flicked her finger as if she was scrolling through a screen. “I’ve sent those updates. Any reason your time is too precious to do it yourself? You tend to enjoy the in-person exchanges.”

“I’ve got other things to deal with now. One, there was a second angel. The assaulting entity.”

Ireul scrunched up, folding her arms above her crossed legs and balling up in the chair. “I note you didn’t say ‘infernal’ as part of that description.”

Olivier kept sketching elements of the thought-scape into his journal. “It was clearly a divine being, but one with less than divine intent. I didn’t get an ID or a read on the Office. It is less important at the moment.”

“Burying the headline isn’t your typical response.” She sent the chair behind Olivier back to its place.

“There was a third figure in Laura’s psyche. It was protecting her from the effects of the battle. It seemed to be protecting her from more than just that. It may have been the source of her less-than-ordinary conception.” He didn’t give Ireul a chance to respond before continuing. “I saw its face. I don’t’ recognize it but I can. I need to see the faces.”

Ireul floated out of her chair and sent it away. “You came her to ask me about the Library of El? You know that’s not a good idea.”

Olivier put the journal away. “I can get to the antechamber. I can’t be certain I’ll get through the right door.”

“Do you need someone else to go? I can get you a few sympathetic candidates here in moments.” She floated near him, calling up a tablet with a list of names encoded on it.

He shook his head. “No. We need to keep this loop as small as possible. If the Host is trying to finish the job, or called for the action, I can’t have them realizing its not done.”

Ireul dismissed the tablet. “Then just call Raguel and be done with it. You can always trust that he doesn’t care enough to hand the information to anyone else.”

Olivier rummaged in his bag and produced the medallion he had taken from Larua’s bedroom. “If I don’t manage to come back, call him up and give him this. Tell him what we have so far. But for now, we can’t risk letting him interact with an unknown. For all we know, this third visage is on his hit list, or he’ll see her as a threat. If I were in his position, I might deal with all three just to keep the girl safe.”

Ireul took the medallion and shoved it in her pocket. “I’ll give you a couple of hours then. Three tops.” She tried to smile but couldn’t force it. She relinquished the attempt with a long sigh. “Blaeh. Fine. The last rumor that passed through my network pointed to the Library of El being somewhere in the Dasht-e Lut desert of Iran.”

Olivier nodded. “And the ancient city of Shahdad. Of course. It’s always popping up in the remains of some civilization or another. I’ll head that way. Three hours?”

Ireul was already drifting back to the server cores. “Three. Then I call Raguel to do something about this his way.”

Olivier stepped forward, leaving the dark, climate-controlled warehouse for the searing heat of the desert. Winds blew shards of fine sand all around him while the fine salt-laden sands baked at the hottest surface temperatures on the planet. For those that conceived of Hell as a place of heat and fire, this was the closest terrestrial facsimile.

Olivier didn’t blink or shield his face. He was too far from people to bother, and he was focused outward. The air smelled strongly of the remains of the sea that once covered this area tends of thousands of years ago. The salt and the heat both carried memories. Heat brought the sounds of battle to mind, the clash of heavenly hosts that peeled the skies and blighted the Elysian Plains. Salt was his tomb for so long, buried in the cliffs and caves of Ireland where he had slumbered for thousands of years.

He strode forward, walking into the desert as much as away from his thoughts. All around him the ruins of the proud city of Shahdad mingled with the Kalouts, great sandcastles carved by the wind. The people of Shahdad took the already beautiful formations and carved deeper, forming abodes. Of course, the winds were intermittent then, blowing seasonally to bring change and allow for crops to be harvested in the rich soils of the now barren landscape.

The wind hadn’t picked up over time due to natural erosion. This was yet one more place that forces from On High used to demonstrate their might. Beyond the horizon, Olivier could see the teams of angels fanning the desert so that nothing could take root again, their Offices shining like waves of heat lapping at the sky.

The desert stretched for a hundred kilometers in any given direction, terminating the cliffs to the west and a river far to the east. It changed names as it wound north and south, but geology didn’t adhere to strict ideological or political borders. The Library of El would be beneath the sands, occupying a metaphysical space that could come and go, that shifted locations and appearance according to a divine command that Olivier was not privy to. This was the deep end of the order of Creation. The grand design and mysterious ways in which works were done.

A thread of cold dread wound through him as he trudged across the burning landscape. It was easy to feel less like an agent of the Creator and more like a pawn in a rigged game. But Olivier had already faced enough doubt for one case. Others could see themselves as mere cogs turning according to command and design. His was a different path, to influence other cogs and to facilitate the only true freedoms of the Design. And today that meant finding Satarel, the angel of secrets and elusive knowledge.

Though majestic, the many Kalouts, valleys, dry lakes, and plateaus that decorated the area began to feel similar. It would be easy to walk through the area for days and feel as if no progress had been made. The shifting of the sands was not as severe as some of the windblown dunes elsewhere in the region, especially to the far south where waves of sand could bury a structure in hours, but it did enough to shave away the lower landmarks. The sands shifted from brown to white and back as the salts integrated with the volcanic rocks that gave the soil its richness but also swept away any seed before it could sprout.

Even the keen observational powers and excellent memory of a being such as Olivier could get mired in this place if they relied only on sight. Instead, he counted each step and each directional turn, building a map of precise coordinates and even strides. The simplest way to cover the entire area would be to form a perimeter and then a grid and walk the area in ever smaller squares. Given the landscape and the size of the area, this approach would take months.

Sight and memory weren’t the only tools available to him. He had already taken stock o the smells and the sensation of the heat but there were distinctions that could be made in sound that reached beyond the immediate area. He strained to detect something beyond the whipping of the wind and the grating of sand displacing other sand.

Everything became louder as he strained, then quieter as he filtered out each persistent sound. Underlying the rest of the soundscape was a series of whistles. The movement of particles through the carved-out remnants of Shahdad generated a discordant symphony. He paced forward, honing the acoustics. The tones grew in depth, more voices joined the chorus, some sounds diminished or faded to nothing, and others shifted in pitch becoming clear, harmonic.

Olivier quickened his movement, floating over the sands and zipping a kilometer of distance in seconds. The sound grew louder and more coherent as he traveled west. The lower tones settled, thumping out a metered rhythm while the treble notes danced and played through the winds. As he moved north the sound became blunt and warped. He drifted south and the song became clear, robust. At length, he stopped at a point and turned to the sound. Here, in a clearing nestled among three great plateaus and two distinct spires, he could hear the whole refrain. It was a haunting dirge made of pan flutes and reeds and subtle bells.

He listened as it repeated through twice. Though intriguing, the song held no special meaning for him. It was not something he had heard before. He considered further, putting the notes onto a staff inside his notebook. The letters of the notes did not spell out a message. He considered the major and minor chords, the possibility that the meter and bars would direct him a set number of steps to a specific destination.

He considered the notes on the page. It wasn’t clear, but there did seem to be a pattern. He wrote out the next set of notes, duplicating the staff from one page to two pages. The notes did not spell anything out themselves but spread across the gutter of his notebook they left a distinct symbol in the gaps around the center. It was an Enochian rune for prayer. Unlike the spoken version, it did not carry the power and essence of the speaker but it conveyed information all the same.

Olivier noted that he was early for the morning (name of prayer) prayer, so he waited until the hour struck. He crouched close to the sand, assuming the prayer position of the land. He faced the appropriate direction and spread his fingers down into the sand. Even in the early part of the day, the sand was already hot nearly 60 Celsius. Facing Mecca, he began walking sixty paces. On the sixtieth footfall the world around him shifted and he was transported to a small, earthen-brick room.

The room was five meters by five meters with a low ceiling. Olivier could barely extend his elbow to his shoulder before touching the rough-hewn stone above. A brazier blazed with a smokeless fire at the south end. The north wall held two heavy doors seemingly crafted of two single pieces of marble. They were divided by a few inches of the same earthen brick that covered the rest of the space. These bricks were a hard brown, tinged with flecks of white and stripes of red. They were regular in shape but riddled with tool marks along the outer edge where they were removed from molds.

The floor was also rough-hewn stone covered in cured animal furs and large fibrous fronds that ran along the bottom corners. These gave an aromatic, almost spicy scent to the chamber. Olivier took in the details as they presented themselves, not showy and ostentatious but possessing a sense of craft and care. The chamber had changed very little in the centuries since he had last stood here. A few more skins, a new crop of fronds, and a few more streaks of red baked into the walls.

He faced the doors to the north. “I am Olivier, self-proclaimed angel of Redemption and acting leader of the Third Host. I seek Satarel and knowledge both esoteric and secret. I hold no enmity or loyalty to the powers Above or Below, grant me passage.”

His words emerged, a great staff of black with golden letters curled on top. The swept to the doors, scurried around the ceiling and danced in the fire’s light. The grew in intensity as they moved, darkening, embossing themselves onto every surface until the whole room shook with the reverberation of sound and bathed in the dark glow of golden light.

The last time he’d been here was before making his pledge, before taking over as the leader of the Third. Before he had found purpose. The door that opened for him was not the Library of El but to the shadow library of Sartarel. He learned many things from that encounter, not the least of which was a view of himself that he had not dispelled. The diving line between the two libraries was not the knowledge one could obtain, but more the texture with which it was served. Esoteric and forbidden knowledge are, as Harahel once explained, the difference between the elation of pleasure and the pit of regret. You were never so certain which one you had until the other gave it context and texture.

Olivier knew, or at least told himself, that the Third was always part of the Plan. The Grand Design of Creation. But unlike the champions of the other sides, it was appointed no leader and given no name, no sanctity of form. It was to operate differently, so its conception and presentation were also different.

Standing in front of a binary set of doors gave him pause in that belief. There were a few other elements of Creation that also favored the binary and that stewed inside him. He took further solace that trinities and triumvirates were more represented. Heaven and Hell both offered a three in their leadership and domains. Atoms were forged of three particles. Observable reality functioned along a straightforward conception of height, depth, and width.

But doubt was never far away from Oliviers mind.

His words faded, taking their light, and that of the brazier, with them. He did not allow himself to count or to remember time in this moment. Angels had a perfect sense of space and time, where they were and when it was. They used these concepts to travel, to interact, to be. They were woven in like threads of a finely tailored robe. But they could be suppressed with some effort.

Waiting for an answer from the doors was agony enough without a perfect metronome clicking out the fractions of fractions of a second between the question and the response.

Finally, the sound of a door shifting. A great stone slab building up friction and heat as it moved against other unyielding blocks. If there was a light beyond the door, he did not see as he found that he had closed his eyes and could not bring himself to will them open. He allowed time to return. He let go of the earth and gravity, floating up and letting the change in pressure suck him forward.

“You won’t get answers if you’re too afraid to look at them,” said Satarel, crouching next to him. “Certainly not going to beat your self-imposed deadline that way. Must you make everything harder on yourself?”

Her voice was bright, chipper even, but old and wreathed in the dust of wisdom. There was a tedium to her words that tore at the edges and left the impact dulled, almost ephemeral. These were the words of the keeper of esoteric secrets, a loud whisper that dared you to hear and forbade you to repeat what was said.

Olivier opened his eyes and stood up. His joy at arriving the in the Libry or El was displaced by how heavy his body felt.

“No Offices here, other than mine. Too close to the edge of things to have the balance tampered with.” She was shorter than him but only by a head, her face concealed by the hood of a heavy brown robe. She carried a gnarled oak staff in her left hand. A hand wrinkled with age and scarred by a burn. Her right hand was smooth, youthful, and flaxen in color. She held it out to him expectantly.

He took her hand, cradling it between his own. “Do you know why I am here, what I seek?”

She laughed, a strained, violin of a sound enchanting and weighty. “I do not tell the future or the past, I know secrets. The reason you are here is no secret, so I know it not. But the answer to your questions, that I will know for I know only what others do not.”

She led him along a dark passageway threading over echoing stone through countless shelves of old tomes. Their path was lit from above by candles and hanging braziers. The light was diffused, enough to see the shelves and floor but hardly enough to read by.

Not that they stopped at any shelves. They walked past row after row. Even with a memory as excellent as his, the lack of spatial and time awareness began to take its toll. The scenery shifted from one same column to another, from one shelf of red bound books to a second to a nth. He was becoming tired, not for the first time but certainly from the least amount of effort across the shortest time. As he flagged, catching his foot and stumbling forward, Satarel laughed her violin tones and pulled him harder and faster along.

At length they arrived at a magnificent door. Wooden, inscrolled with gold and silver. Even without his powers Olivier knew this door, or at least, the wood it was formed from. This was a fragment of the tree of Eden.

He looked closer. It was not a fragment, but a root. The door and its frame were alive, growing and breathing in the dim light.

Satarel let go of his hand and gestured him forward. “You shouldn’t be surprised; it is knowledge you seek. Knowledge to decide between various fates. A third path out of the binary. What is this door,? What is this tree, if not a seed of the answers to all such things?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *