Seven Archangels: Annihilation, страница 12
And oh, the thrill when he had that breakthrough, the moment he realized, the first instant he reached inside a minor demon and felt those beads, pinched them apart and felt the string vibrant and hard beneath his spiritual hands— The thrill that had wracked his mind as he'd realized what he'd done, what it meant, how everything would change. He'd burst in on Beelzebub while he was issuing orders to one of their underlings, preened the Seraph's outer feathers until Beelzebub had turned on him, at which point Mephistopheles had flooded his heart with anticipation he couldn't contain any longer. Beelzebub had dismissed their minion, and then Mephistopheles had Guarded the office to disclose everything.
They'd planned for over an hour—was there any way they could use the technique on Lucifer himself? It was unfortunate, but there was no way. Not even if they could guarantee Asmodeus and Belior's cooperation could they be assured of keeping Lucifer still long enough to reach inside him and destroy all those delicious beads. They pondered soliciting help from Gabriel or Michael. They ran through fifty scenarios before they decided to bring the technique to Lucifer as an offering instead—but oh, the political capital that would be theirs! They'd spent another couple of hours in quiet celebration before they'd approached Lucifer together and presented the discovery.
And Lucifer had been pleased—no, he'd been ecstatic, and all of Hell walked around in relief for days while the master planned a way to unload his new weapon, lost in his own thoughts and at times even bouncing ideas off Mephistopheles as if they were bonded themselves, although of course they weren't and never would be. Asmodeus was forgotten in that week, and Beelzebub had consolidated a long roster of allies for them, especially including Camael once Mephistopheles had the flash of insight that isolated his unique contribution.
So maybe it was just the disbelief that God had allowed them to do it after all, only one which kept feeling like a weight on his wings, like something half-forgotten struggling to be recalled at all hours. Lucifer had given him a new assignment, which Mephistopheles knew if completed could make him indispensable to his lord, only he hadn't even started.
Moping, Beelzebub called it. No, he was just regrouping, nothing more. This life of the mind was hard to sustain. It needed nurturing in quiet, in isolation, if only because silence made it simpler to hear that small whisper inside. But sometimes, like now, Mephistopheles felt no inclination to listen to whispering voices.
A second presence entered the chamber, quickly identifiable as Camael.
"Why are you here?"
Camael huffed. "I should ask that of you. Or are you worried you insufficiently annihilated him?"
"I'm sure of my work," Mephistopheles said. "It's this room that's lacking. The first set of Guards is so shoddy that two first-graders and a hamster could snap it."
Mephistopheles jerked his head toward Camael, trying to contain a burst of surprise.
Cautiously he spoke. "And you?"
"I have my own orders."
Unseeable, Mephistopheles summoned his sword to his hands. Camael couldn't feel the weapon, wouldn't hear it. "I'm sure you do." He threaded a Guard of his own through the walls, allowing it to expand like oil soaking through linen. "Don't let me stop you."
Camael didn't move. "I need you out of here."
"Then you'll have to wait. What I'm doing may take days."
Mephistopheles filled the room with his senses, taking in every aspect of Camael other than sight, repeatedly probing. The twin had a slippery feel, but nothing so off as to confirm—
Mephistopheles made a show of testing the rings he'd just checked, and as he did so, Camael inspected the corners of the room, focused singularly, concentrating on the edges one spot at a time. Interesting. Mephistopheles felt his Guard finally meet itself so it covered the entire chamber, and then he said, "You know why we can't kill Remiel."
Camael said, "The wench deserves it."
Good. "She's too valuable to us as she is."
That drew Camael up short. Mephistopheles could feel that focused attention waver. No questions followed, so Mephistopheles crouched, checked the leg shackles with a deep clanking sound. "What could make you want her dead," he said, "that overrides her contribution to this venture?"
Camael's voice betrayed none of the tension Mephistopheles could drink out of the air. This was perfect, perfect. "There's just something wrong with her. Her very existence is an insult."
"What makes you say that?"
"If there weren't something wrong with her," Camael said, "she and I would be together right now."
There was no way to alert Beelzebub or Lucifer without simultaneously alerting the twin, so Mephistopheles would have to act alone.
He raised his sword and bound Remiel with his will.
Her shriek reached no further than the Guards. Mephistopheles concentrated to keep her pinned, thrashing against his patient hold until she would expend her strength.
A strobe of light from Remiel blinded Mephistopheles, but he was used to not being able to see here. He hurled her toward the wall and then wrestled her arms into the chains emptied the last time by an annihilation. They gripped her, laughing, as Mephistopheles forced her back.
"Satan will have your head if you destroy me!" Remiel screamed. "I'm too valuable to your operation, remember?"
Mephistopheles huffed. "We'll find another way to lure angels to their deaths."
She stopped struggling.
Bad misjudgment there—time to redirect. "Tell me, are they going to hold a funeral for Gabriel?"
Her voice sounded stunned. "I'm wondering that myself."
Mephistopheles reached inside for her heartstrings…and missed.
Remiel's glow didn't return, keeping them entombed in sightlessness, but he could see her with his heart, feel as that slipperiness intensified, almost detect what she was telling herself: I feel nothing. Rushed, he made another grab, and this time he had her heartstrings in hand just long enough to realize he wouldn’t be able to grip them long enough to unlace any part of her: in denying so much she was in the process of denying herself. Hadn't Lucifer said Camael was going mad after the annihilation?
He tried to unhook the first part of her, but in fear she lashed out, and her heart slipped away.
"I'll destroy you," he said.
She had tears on her cheeks—he could smell them—but more than that, he could hear them in the way she said, "You should. I deserve it. There must be something wrong with me."
"Don't expect me to pity you." He tried for the third time, and finally he had a solid grasp on the insubstantial. She wasn't fighting. If anything, she was struggling to stay sane, giving his spiritual fingers a full purchase on her interior building blocks. He had her. Now—
These were the pieces touched by God Himself when they all came forth new and soft, made as individuals even though he didn't respect the things he'd made, made all at one time in a gush of wonderment—
And he, Mephistopheles, the only one who'd figured out how—
Just pull. Get it started. It will be easier once it's started.
I'm responsible for this. The only one here.
Her heartstrings slipped away once again, him feeling at once her own denial, the skewed unreality of the moment, her own questions as to who she was and where she could go from here, and he knew he couldn't lay a hand on her again.
He'd call Lucifer. Let him do it again; let his hands be the ones for the second time.
Illuminating the room, Remiel looked about as if stunned by her surroundings. She pulled her wrist out of the chain and stepped forward.
Mephistopheles retreated: it was too late even to call for a backup. She pulled free her other hand. He couldn't grab her will because her will wasn't in command right now. Crazed like this, nothing could hold her, no Guard keep her in or out.
He said to her, "Do you know how I recognized you? Because even Camael isn't that twisted inside."
Looking at him over her shoulder, she bit her lip. Then as though they didn't exist, she stepped through his Guards and vanished.
Mephistopheles dropped against the wall, one of the ankle rings jutting into his back. He didn't shift. He maintained the Guard and sat for ten minutes.
Lucifer ought to know about this, but then again, Mephistopheles could fully predict the kind of response he'd get, the subsequent loss of status, the sneers, the interesting nicknames unforgotten for an eternity or until someone else fell from favor.
What was Remiel looking for, anyhow? Such a dangerous mission couldn't be for no reason, surely. Knowing she might be killed if captured, yet heading in alone and disguised as her brother (something Camael had never been able to stand doing—something she'd never done before) bespoke a desperation Mephistopheles didn't understand.
The options were, either she was crazy before she'd started and wanted to visit this room as a shrine, or else they thought something had been left behind, or they wanted reassurance that Gabriel was really destroyed and not just trapped.
The letter never mentioned annihilation.
Maybe they weren't convinced.
But what evidence could she be seeking? There wouldn't be blast marks on the stones, and no trace signature remained of Gabriel's energies. Therefore, spiritual residue.
That was an interesting prospect, that they might be trying to collect bits of Gabriel, maybe not for reassembly, but for a memorial, or—no, they'd never be able to clone an angel, would they?
Without wanting to, for the hundred-and-eighth time, Mephistopheles relived the scene. Their Guard, unbreeched. The way the Cherub had screamed for God. Camael's energy drilling into Gabriel. The Cherub unable to move, unable even to cry out by the end as they disconnected one piece from the next from the next from the next. That flash of raw light as Lucifer finished.
Mephistopheles sat on the floor and closed his eyes.
I made that possible.
Remiel insane. Angels not singing. Raphael crippled.
I did that.
A great victory. Everyone said so. A crowd of revelers chanted so. Even the minions of Heaven seemed to think so. Victory.
Mephistopheles' eyes flew open.
He gripped his Guard and drew it down on itself, rendering it ever smaller until it hit the chain anchors for the arm braces and he had to give those permission to permeate; then further down, slowly, until he had to give permission to pass himself through, and still smaller until the Guard was the size of a grapefruit and fit on his palm, and finally so small there rested on his palm only a tiny bead.
It rolled a little, trembling from the contact. Mephistopheles probed the contents of his Guard the way he'd probed Remiel.
It felt like Gabriel, only it wasn't Gabriel any more than the letter 'b' spelled Gabriel or a picture of Gabriel would have been Gabriel. It was only a part of a part of one of the beads that made up a soul riding the heartstrings.
The question remained: what would Remiel have done if she'd found this? There certainly wasn't enough to make an angel. Three could fit on the head of a pin. Most likely he hadn't found it in the post-annihilation sweep because it was so small. Yet Remiel had anticipated its presence and come searching.
She had sounded pained regarding the funeral. Maybe they required something of Gabriel to dispose of properly. But surely symbolic laying to rest wasn't worth risking Remiel's life and sanity. The only way to make her potential sacrifice worthwhile was if they believed they could resurrect Gabriel.
Admittedly you never knew what God was going to do after you won a hand. A notorious sore loser, God would change the rules of the game midstream if things hadn't gone the way he liked. Lucifer and he had acknowledged that basic unfairness during the planning stages. Still, making God change the rules meant they'd won inasmuch as they'd done something so unexpected that he couldn't have won by ordinary means.
Keeping a hand cradled beneath the bead, Mephistopheles sent a summons to Lucifer, who appeared momentarily.
"I trust you've been working on your assignment."
"You needed to see this." Mephistopheles handed over the bead wrapped in his Guard.
Lucifer flashed out of the chamber into his office minus Mephistopheles. A moment later, Lucifer pulled him inside.
Stark anger. "Explain this."
"It's spiritual residue from—"
"Explain how you think it survived."
Mephistopheles stood ramrod straight before his blistering attention. "It survived because at the last when you disconnected his heartstrings, you blew apart what remained, and this bit must have gotten trapped in a corner." Mephistopheles tried to calm his own heart. "You can see from its size it's almost nothing, and without a Guard around it, I doubt you could handle it. If you'd like me to further study it—"
Lucifer crushed down on the Guard with two fingers, smashing apart the bead and causing a pain to shoot through Mephistopheles' head. He felt the bead go, felt whatever had been inside the Guard absorbed into Lucifer's hungry spirit.
"You will track down any more of these."
"Sir, I can say with complete confidence—"
"You were completely confident before that we'd found and annihilated all of him, everything except the memories. Your confidence means nothing to me. I want assurance that nothing more survived."
Mephistopheles bowed his head, an obeisance Lucifer would feel even in the dark. "I apologize. I should have taken it on myself earlier to squeeze the room, but at the time our search seemed thorough enough."
"I don't keep you around to seem thorough, Mephistopheles." And with that, Lucifer pushed him back out into the cell.
Yeah, maybe he would just neglect to mention Remiel.
Mephistopheles reset his Guard on the room and repeated the squeeze, bringing the Guard tighter and closer until it collapsed on itself without entrapping anything inside. In order to make sure the room contained nothing further, though, Mephistopheles would need to devise a new kind of technique. They'd never had to filter out something so slippery and small.
Lucifer appeared at his side. Mephistopheles didn't react, just endured a moment's humiliation as his master set a Guard on the room and squeezed it again.
Embarrassment yielded momentarily to awe. A Guard's strength is directly proportional to one's willpower, and Mephistopheles had never encountered a Guard anywhere near this tight. It had to be three times stronger than the one he'd just used, and Lucifer beside him vibrated with the tension of the San Andreas Fault.
The next feeling was panic as Lucifer's Guard hit the edges of Mephistopheles and contained him within the squeeze. He moved toward the center, but he could feel Lucifer's amusement as the Guard tightened around him, forcing him closer on himself. Just when he wondered if he were supposed to beg for mercy, Lucifer allowed him to permeate the Guard, and it continued shrinking to a singularity.
"If I may," Mephistopheles said, "don't dissolve your Guard yet. Start expanding it slowly again." He threw a Guard on the room, attempting to make it as iron-tight as the one Lucifer had just done. Mephistopheles made a note to practice Guarding. Tight enough and maybe you could keep out the Almighty.
Lucifer said, "This is new."
"Between the two of them, we should be able to determine if anything remains."
Lucifer's Guard contacted Mephistopheles' and pushed outward while Mephistopheles concentrated to hold the shape of his own, the crushing pressure between the two always in his thoughts, and from what he could tell, perfectly even. Nothing blemished the seal of one against the other, but was it ever hard to maintain concentration against that kind of pressure—
Mephistopheles' Guard shattered, leaving him seeing arcing lights that couldn't be there. His head pounded. He tried to ask if this were a sufficient degree of certitude, but the words wouldn't form.
"Very well, then." The rustle of folding wings. "Now get back to my assignment." And he flashed away.
Mephistopheles dropped to the floor, unable to stop shaking.
Saraquael's summons came to Michael while he was securing three minor demons outside a church. Leaving them with a pair of Archangels, he reappeared at Uriel's bungalow.
Saraquael was handing Uriel a paper packet the size of a credit card. Michael looked over Uriel's shoulder at the mottled beige paper, blank but regardless imprinted with a message. Remiel's: I found this but can't check more.
Uriel uncreased the paper to find six beadlets.
Michael tried to swallow his disappointment. Uriel refolded the paper and flashed to Gabriel's room.
Saraquael said, "She doesn't sound good in that message. Rattled."
"You think they came close to capturing her?"
Saraquael flinched. "We ought to pull her out of there."
"No, I didn't see her." Saraquael dragged a hand through his hair. "She left it on my desk, and it felt to me like it had been done long-distance, maybe from the plane of Creation. I'm worried about her. About everyone assigned right now."
Michael rubbed his chin. "The enemy is getting bolder, too. Spiritual attacks are way up since this started."
"I've been deploying more angels but ordering they move in pairs," Saraquael said. "The idea being at least one could get word out if they're attacked, and I keep telling them all just to run for help, not to stick around long enough to be the 'second victim.' But it's possible for a pair to be overwhelmed."
Michael smiled. "Put the Cherubim on it."
"I'll give it a cool name, too, like Operation Lifeguard." Saraquael clapped Michael on the shoulder. "You'll figure something out, don't worry."
"You're more confident in my abilities than I am."
"It's not you I'm confident in."
"Oh, sure." Michael gave him a shove. "Drag God into it, why don't you?"
A moment after Saraquael departed, Michael felt surprise from Gabriel's room, and in he flashed.