Others, 48

The Problem with Knowledge Is that Sometimes It’s Power, and Sometimes It’s Just Responsibility

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Well, this sucked.

Ariel had examined the evidence, looked through all the spell circles and all the glyphs and every nook, cranny and other small thing in the tunnels under Three Hills, and she’d come to the conclusion that, without putting too technical a point on the issue, it sucked.

“And that, dear reader, is putting it mildly,” Ariel said, drawing a circle on the floor. It was made mostly from triangles and light. Summoning circles had gone out of fashion sometime around the last major dust-up at Har Megiddo, but angels had never been the most with the times. Some of them were still gloating that they’d been right about cell phones not sticking around as a thing.

Ariel was pretty sure a planet getting devoured gave its technology a pass for not having cultural staying power.

Anyway, fortunately the angels she was trying to contact weren’t quite that bad, and fortunately there were only two of them.

Unfortunately, she was contacting them because the world was in peril. Again.

“Don’t be afraid,” her first guest said, appearing in the cavern in a glow of soft white. He was human shaped but covered in eyes of every type ever seen by humans. “Oh! Hey, Ariel.”

Ariel sighed. “Cecil, nobody likes the eyes. Can’t you just dress human like the rest of us?”

Cecil pouted. “Did you literally summon me here just to make fun of my outfit? That’s not very magnanimous of you and besides, humans are into the eyes.”

“That was four religions ago and even then, they weren’t into them, they were afraid.”

“Pff. That’s on them, they were told not to be. Look, is this important? I was busy doing cool angel shit.” Cecil did shrug and all his eyes melted away, making him look like a pale human boy in a toga with the number six tattooed on his cheek in an extinct numerological system called Arabic.

“Yes, it’s important. There’s an existential threat to the planet.”

“Again?” Cecil sighed, looked around, then flopped onto the ground. “These guys have those every ten minutes, Ari. You can’t call me every time they try to reveal themselves into oblivion, they have the right to do that under the auspices of free will.”

“Free will doesn’t have auspices,” said a young boy’s voice, before Ariel could call Cecil a bitch. Remiel was sitting on a rock, leg pulled up to his chest, looking like a Kyainese boy with vitiligo. Even with nobody else around, it was safer for them all to keep disguises on. “That’s the point of it. What’s going on, Ariel?”

Ariel pointed at the floor and a spell map wove its way out from under her so Cecil and Remiel could see it. “Someone is trying to collapse the barrier between this world and ours.”

“Oh,” said Cecil, rolling over, his toga riding up as he looked at the map. “And specifically the bad neighbourhoods in ours.”

None of the neighbourhoods in their plane was safe for mortals. “You’ve known this for almost a month,” Remiel said, looking down at the map. “Why are you calling us for help now?”

“Because their spell taps into this region’s ley lines,” Ariel said, crossing her arms.

Both her companions were silent for a second as they all looked down at the representation of the ley lines. Cecil hauled himself to his feet. “Well, who the fuck told them how to use those?”

“That would be unusual behaviour for a demon,” Remiel said, his humanity fading for a second so that he looked very faintly like so much clockwork. He came back, though. “They don’t usually want humans to be more powerful. But it’s certainly possible.”

“They are very into destroying shit, and this is going to destroy a lot of shit,” Cecil pointed out. “Plus they did try to start a war not long ago, so…”

“This apparatus was put in place before all that, though,” said Ariel. It wasn’t that the things happening in the depths of outer space didn’t matter, but Ariel didn’t think they mattered to this exact problem. The new demon who’d appeared near the planet during Kozna’s attempted coup had immediately fucked off to mess with the other angels and demons on the loose on this plane rather than coming to Nova, which was good because Nova didn’t need another other planar force of nature trying to tear it apart. It had enough of those already.

“Time being such a real thing,” Cecil muttered. “Okay so the game is figure out who the fuck spilled state secrets and why? Was it you?”

“No,” said Ariel. “Was it you?”

“No. Remi?”

“No,” said Remiel.

“Well.” Cecil pouted. “I guess we all suck at this game.”

“If it’s a demon there’s only one viable suspect,” Remiel said, sitting back down. “And it was banished months ago.”

“Yeah, but…not really, right?” Cecil asked. “We’ve thought it was gone before and it tends to be not gone.”

“Agreed, but it wouldn’t have been able to perform any of this in such a weakened state.” Ariel said that, but at the same time, one surviving centipede talking to one person could have been enough. But there was no trace of the demon in Three Hills since its banishment. She’d checked several times. “The only people who we can say with certainty know about ley lines and how to use them are elves.”

“And even then, not these ley lines, they don’t live here.” Cecil put his hands behind his head and sighed. “But you’re still going to tell me to go spy on them.”

“If you’d be so merciful, yes.” Remiel nodded.

“Okay, okay, I’m going.” Cecil’s physical body was already gone, leaving just afterimages of eyes all over the cave. “Don’t start any crusades without me.”

The two of them looked at each other for a second. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“I don’t trust him, Remiel.” Cecil was weird, which wasn’t a crime, they were all fucking weird. But Ariel wasn’t convinced he was on their side. Sides were such a nebulous concept when the entities that defined them barely existed most of the time anyway. Ariel didn’t care if Cecil wanted to play demon, but she did care if he was going to be a danger to the human race, not to mention all the other races that lived here.

“I’m aware. But I don’t think he’s responsible for this. It’s too straightforward for Cecil. And I know his values don’t entirely align with ours, but he’s been here just as long as we have and he’s done everything he can to preserve lives on this world. You don’t have to like him to trust him, Ariel.”

Ariel sighed, looking up. “Yeah. Damn, you’re good at this. Someone should put you in charge of diplomacy or something.”

Remiel smiled as he stood up. “I’m going to pop next door and make sure there isn’t anyone else who’s come to visit that we don’t know about. Just in case.”

“Yeah. I’ll stay here and make sure there’s still a planet for you to come back to in a few days.”

“That would be appreciated,” Remiel said. “Thank you for doing all this.”

And with a sound like what thunder looked like, Remiel disappeared too.

Ariel didn’t need to breathe, but she’d been disguised as a human so long that, like a lot of other things, it was third nature to her, so she sighed. “The reason why this sucks, reader, isn’t because I think Cecil did it. Remiel is right, I can trust him.”

Ariel had been protecting this world for as long as humans had lived on it. They were really, really good at trying to kill themselves, and they were even better at invoking the ire of other people who wanted to kill them more.

She sat down and erased the summoning circle so she could get to work on dismantling this portal. Given how it was powered, that wouldn’t be easy without dismantling a lot of the world’s power structures, which would be too dangerous, mostly because it would latch onto her power. So it was half of one, six dozen of the other whether she’d get it done before it tried to open.

And most likely, no matter what help they had, a human had done this. “It sucks, because knowledge doesn’t go away once it’s there. Even if I don’t end up needing help here, which I will, if one of them can do this, others will see what they did and figure it out themselves. With all mortals this is true, but with humans it’s a certainty. And the thing is , anything that happens once…”

Ariel held out an arm, letting her power, her being, infuse into the foundations of the city, finding the sources of corruption so she could close them down. She’d tried this on Earth, too, before it had been destroyed.

“Will always happen again.”

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