The Endless Expanse truly lived up to its name. As far as could be perceived, crystal lattice formed into structures. From tall towers to smooth domes, the Expanse encompassed all. No matter for how long one traveled, they would never reach the end. Prismatic light of every hue glimmered off the pristine walls. It was a sight that no mortals had seen. Many sections couldn’t be seen by mortal eyes. Every so often, sections of the Expanse shifted out of existence, folding in on themselves as the landscape surrounding them unfolded. Any mortal caught within would be torn to pieces.
And that was hardly the only thing that a mortal would find hazardous. The overpowering brilliance from a million fractal compounds would surely blind human eyes. Blobs of shifting red and green light clung to the towers one moment, only to be replaced with yellows and a hint of octarine. Strange linear forms sprouted from the edges of the fractal surfaces, making the structures appear alive with motion despite being immobile.
For the inhabitants of the Endless Expanse, such a thing was as usual as a door.
The city, if it could be called as such, was filled with crystalline buildings. But, except in rare cases, the buildings were filled with nothing. There were no apartments. No homes. No couches. No tables. No beds. No one lived within a single structure within the Expanse, mortal or otherwise. Not even a single insect patrolled along the glassy faces of the scenery.
Although it encompassed the entirety of existence, only a few places saw any activity.
The Throne was the largest of those areas. As endless as the Expanse, it stood taller than any other structure. Although fit for a mortal of average height, it dwarfed everything with its presence. It was the main hub for meetings between the Spheres. Principalities arrived to deliver their collection of souls to the four-faced Cherubim. Virtues attended to the Infinite Library, going through the books one by one in their ceaseless task. Authorities observed the Ophanim, reporting on the great wheels’ movements to the Virtues.
And the Seraphim stood around the Throne itself, guarding it. Clad from toe to head in golden armor with a white cloth veil obstructing their faces, each one looked identical to the one next to it. Though few in number, each one had six great wings spread to their fullest. They filled the crystal chambers. Even they, the Throne’s ultimate guardians, were unable to project a more imposing presence than what they had been charged to protect.
Adrael turned away with a frown. Despite everything, despite creation itself going awry, they didn’t move. She had tried explaining. She had tried petitioning for them to take action. She had tried. And she had failed. With the veil over their faces, she couldn’t tell if they even flicked their eyes to her.
With a twitch of her wings, she drifted toward the Throne chamber’s grand arch. The exit. But she couldn’t stop herself from glancing back.
Her fists clenched. What would happen if I flew up and shoved one of them? Would they act then?
The answer, she knew, was… probably. But they wouldn’t act the way she wanted. If they did anything at all, they would view her actions as an attack. A spark of another rebellion. Before she could blink, she would be cut down and sent to the oblivion that awaited.
Eyes drifting to the Throne behind the Seraphim, Adrael sighed. Was it even worth protecting? Without anyone seated on it, the Throne became nothing more than a chair. No. Not even that. It was a mass of crystalline lattice, the same as any other segment of the Endless Expanse. Turning, she stared at the others in the chamber. The Virtues, the Authorities, the Cherubim, and the Principalities. They were the important ones here. They were carrying out their duties properly.
The Seraphim were… broken.
They weren’t the only ones, Adrael thought. She had… attacked a mortal. There was no point in mincing words. An attack on a mortal would see her obliterated. It was a secret that none of the other angels could ever know. But it had been for a good cause. A just cause. An attempt to stop the destruction of what had taken eternity to set into motion.
Exiting the Throne chamber, Adrael turned her eyes upward. There was no sky in the Expanse. Not as the mortals knew it, anyway. Just more Expanse. Outside the Throne’s immediate presence, Ophanim dominated the vista. They were the size of planets. As wheels were wont to do, they turned, keeping everything in motion. But there was something off about them. They were covered in eyes, but their eyes were hazy and unfocused. They hadn’t always been that way. Adrael had fond memories of gazing up on her rare visits to the Expanse and watching the Ophanim, wondering what they saw with so many eyes.
They didn’t see anything anymore. They just… turned.
Adrael tore away from the tallest spire as fast as she could fly. Being here had once been a comfort, a reprieve from all the horrors of the mortal plane. But now, it was just painful. So she flew.
No matter how far she went, the tall spire was always in view. A product of the twisted space of the Expanse. Yet it did grow smaller. By the time she reached her destination, her extended thumb at arm’s length was just enough to obscure the chamber of the Throne.
“Archangel Adrael. I was beginning to wonder if you would be joining us on this day.”
Adrael touched her feet to the surface of the dome, looking around the gathering of her fellow Archangels. Only nine of them, each representing a world gone wrong. To Adrael’s knowledge, none of them had gone quite as wrong as Nod, but that didn’t lessen their burden. She wouldn’t make light of their efforts and she was not envious of them for having far less work to undertake. There was honor in being tasked with repairing the most difficult world.
She sighed slightly, looking back to the one who had first spoken. Archangel Celestiel. Currently appearing as an older woman with two spiraling strands of dark hair coming out of either side of her head, she wore a black dress that was reminiscent of Tenebrael’s.
It made Adrael uncomfortable.
Averting her eyes—the Archangels did not have a leader, though Celestiel might disagree with that notion—Adrael addressed the gathering as a whole. “I apologize for my tardiness. I’ve just come from the Throne.”
“Aww. Was wittle Adwael whining to the Seraphim again? Praying for your burden to be delivered to another?” The youngest on the dome burst out into a chittering cackle, clutching the hem of her white apron with her tiny hands.
At least, she appeared to be the youngest. Why Archangel Kenziel chose the form of an eleven year old human was anyone’s guess. Perhaps it was a foolish attempt to make herself more palatable. Adrael had never met an angel with a more disgusting personality. Kenziel hadn’t always been that way, but… things had changed. Such a disarming appearance might work on a mortal. Adrael could see through her deception as easily as she could see through the crystal lattice they stood upon.
“I take it that you have had little success,” Celestiel said, turning her red eyes to the distant spire.
“Little success would be an improvement over what I’ve had,” Adrael grumbled.
Kenziel covered her mouth but did nothing to hide her obnoxious snicker. “We can’t all be blessed with success. Incidentally!” she shouted, clasping her hands behind her back, “I’d like to report that the issues on Hazor have been resolved. There are a few outstanding errors, but I calculate that time will resolve them far more effectively than any intervention of my own. The land’s Dominion is now fully compliant.”
Celestiel glided over, placing a hand on the tiny angel’s shoulder. “Excellent work. The Dominion’s negligence caused Hazor to turn quite sour. I’m impressed you’ve repaired everything this quickly.”
The praise made Adrael press her lips together.
“Ah yes. If only all our problems were the result of simple negligence or sloth.”
She shouldn’t have said a word. She should have smiled and politely clapped her hands together as the other Archangels had done. But she couldn’t help it. The smug little grin on Kenziel’s face as she looked right in Adrael’s direction was too much. Something inside her snapped.
A familiar something. She had felt it when everything had been going wrong. In desperation, she had struck down a mortal. The others couldn’t know about it. It had only been a short time ago. She had to expend a mite of glory to rebuild her arm, but everything was back to normal.
Her fellow Archangels were all staring at her now. They couldn’t know… but their stares made Adrael uncomfortable.
She had explained the situation before, hoping that one of them might have an idea she could use. But they just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand how bad things had gotten. They couldn’t understand. “Relics walk hand in hand with humans. They even copulate,” she said with no hidden disgust. It was the most shocking thing she could think of saying, but even that only got them to glance between each other.
“The Dominion has done something to the process of procreation. Most of the copulations result in nothing, but a few produce offspring. Abominations that should never be. Every minute, the world is thrown off more and more. I need a flood or a cleansing fire, but the Seraphim won’t act. Even if they could, how could we possibly petition the Throne in its current state. The Seraphim would have to act manually. Even if we could flood the world right now, I fear even that wouldn’t be enough. Not so long as the Dominion has a modicum of sway. But if I can’t even get a little flood, what hope do I have of resolution?” Squeezing her eyes shut, Adrael clenched her teeth. “And now there is some mortal running around. Not only can she see angels, but I cannot calculate around her. Everything she interacts with gets knocked out of harmony. When she isn’t around, I can start getting accurate calculations, but the moment someone so much as thinks of her—”
Venting felt good. It was a release that she had needed for some time. And yet, Kenziel interrupted with another light giggle.
“A mortal? A puny mortal is ruining your machinations?”
Adrael’s hands formed tight fists. What was Kenziel still doing here. She had admitted that her responsibility was over with. This was a meeting for the Archangels still in the process of recovering worlds. And yet, she couldn’t just shoo the angel away. She was just speaking what all the others were thinking. Adrael could see it on their faces, the impassive humor hidden beneath their flat lips.
“A mortal can see me,” Adrael spoke slowly and clearly. “A mortal spoke to me. She didn’t pray like the prophets of old, she spoke to me and responded when I spoke back. She cannot be predicted. She tears apart miracles with her bare hands.” That got a minor reaction, mostly in the way of widening eyes. Celestiel actually gasped. But even that was too subdued. They couldn’t understand. “None of you have encountered anything similar. Have you?”
As angry as she was, she couldn’t help the hope from leaking through in her voice. If one of them had encountered such a thing before, then perhaps they could give tips. Pointers on how to deal with such a situation.
But none of them spoke up. Not even Kenziel. The diminutive little angel wasn’t even smiling anymore. She just had a finger to her chin as she thought to herself.
“I have not,” Celestiel eventually said. “Mortals speaking to angels has happened before through the medium of prayer and revelation, but never without preparation. And they have always followed prior calculations. Destroying miracles?” She shook her head slowly. “I have no experience with such a thing, nor have I heard of a situation like that from anyone else. But I don’t know everything. Might I suggest speaking with a Virtue? They will know of any similar prior incidents and how they were handled.”
Adrael jolted. A Virtue. Of course. The bookkeepers of the Throne would know. They had to. If they could provide no clues… then this was the first time in the entirety of creation that a mortal had interacted with the divine in such a manner.
“Thank you. I appreciate the insight.” Adrael glanced around at the other Archangels. These meetings occurred regularly. And they lasted for days. Every minute that passed created an exponential growth in the errors on Nod. She didn’t have time for Nietzael to give a full report. Her world wasn’t even that bad, but she went into every single little detail. And that was just one of them. Even with Kenziel out of the way, there were still seven more besides. Spreading her wings, Adrael glided backward. “I apologize for my premature departure, but it has become clear to me that none of you will be able to offer significant assistance toward resolving Nod and I am unable to concentrate on offering assistance to you while so distracted. If you need me, I will be at the Throne for the time being.”
Waiting just a moment to see if any had an objection and finding no one speaking against her, Adrael took off. The spire in the distance exploded in size as she sped toward it. She didn’t slow for anything, not even to apologize as she bumped into the lavender wings of a Principality.
Aside from Dominions, Adrael had never much interacted with the Second Sphere. An Archangel’s duty revolved around Dominions, their world, and the Third Sphere angels that assisted with the management and upkeep of the world. Which was one of the main reasons Nod was so problematic. Tenebrael had done something to all the Third Sphere angels that should have been assisting her. There were no Guardians or Principalities to be seen.
Except that one. Somehow, Tenebrael had recently converted one to her little rebellion. It was something she should have mentioned to the others, but too late now. It wasn’t their responsibility anyway.
But, because of her lack of interaction with the higher Spheres, she didn’t know any Virtues. There were a number of them around the throne, all stationed around the bookcases, either in the midst of reading or writing. Both, in some cases. Personalities varied greatly between Dominions, Principalities, and Archangels. Adrael could only assume that the same would be true of Virtues.
That meant that some of them would be more helpful than others, even if they all had access to the same information.
Adrael drifted toward one that had just closed a large tome. If she didn’t interrupt their reading, they might be more helpful and less annoyed. The Virtue wore a darker appearance, both in terms of skin and the long coat she wore over the skin. That alone almost put Adrael off, but plenty of angels wore black. It wasn’t just Tenebrael. She couldn’t assume that all of them were fallen angels. Surely the Seraphim would act if one paraded itself about in front of them.
As Adrael got closer, she heard the angel mumbling.
“One dash one four one mismatch. Error three five. Record alteration.” She reached up to the shelf and pulled out a thick tome. Holding her hand out, it floated there, flipping through its pages at a blinding speed. “Alteration error resolved. Context missing. Three. Two. Seven,” she said as she moved to one side. Another tome was floating there, already open. She pressed a finger to the page and dragged it across. In her finger’s wake, text formed. “One dash one four one mismatch resolved.”
Great, Adrael thought, she is doing something. Adrael didn’t want to interrupt, but, glancing around again, all of them were doing something.
Left with no choice but to interrupt one of them, Adrael cleared her throat. “Excuse me. I was wondering if you could help me.”
“Four one seven. Expectation failed. Logging memory. Pausing process. Switching protocols: Personable.” The angel blinked twice, turning a set of golden eyes toward Adrael. “Good day, Archangel. How can I be of assistance?” Even as she spoke, her finger still ran across the blank tome, filling its pages with text.
“Oh. Uh… I’ve been having a problem involving restoring a world and wanted to know if you could help me.”
“Four zero zero. Bad request. Query vague. With what do you request assistance?”
This was it. Adrael glanced back at the Seraphim, but they hadn’t moved. “There is a human. A mortal. She can see me. She can hear me. She can touch me. I cannot calculate her and I have extreme difficulty calculating around her. I have witnessed her touching a binding miracle and destroying it with her bare hands. I… I don’t know what to do about it, so I thought that such a thing might have happened before and was hoping there might be information you could find that would give me guidance.”
“Query accepted,” the Virtue said. She finished running a finger to the end of the page before allowing the tome to gently close. It floated back up to one of the shelves on its own, disappearing in the mass of identical spines. The Virtue pulled a pair of gloves from within her heavy coat and donned them, doing up several buckles from her wrist to her elbow. “Follow, please.”
Her heavy boots made a clomping noise as they crossed the crystal lattice of the floor. It struck Adrael as a bit odd that she would walk. She clearly had wings—all angels had wings, even the massive Ophanim. But, since it seemed like she was getting help, Adrael wasn’t going to complain about some eccentricities.
No matter how far they walked—or flew, in Adrael’s case—the Throne stayed right where it was. The shelves moved by, as did the books. Even the angels standing around the room disappeared into the distance. But the Throne did not. Adrael was used to it, but it still felt a little surreal after having spent so much time on the mortal worlds.
Eventually, the Virtue came to a stop. The shelf she stopped in front of was no different to the one before it or the one after it. As far as Adrael was concerned, every shelf was completely identical, and she had a nearly perfect memory.
But the Virtue didn’t reach up to the shelf as Adrael expected her to. She just stopped. Adrael waited a moment, wondering just what was going on in that head. It wasn’t until she noticed the Virtue’s eyes that Adrael felt like something had gone wrong.
The faint golden glow was flickering.
The virtue jerked to the side, staring with wide eyes. “I— I am experiencing an e-e-error. Five o-one one. Authority Required. Att-Att-Atte-empting authentication. Four zero five. Method not-t-t-t-t-t allowed. Requesting support.”
“Support request received.”
Adrael threw her head to the side, finding a whole series of nearly identical Virtues lined up, all staring up at a shelf. Something was going wrong. Again. Everything to do with Nod had been cursed. Somehow or another, this had to be Tenebrael’s fault. Sabotage?
“Payload too large.”
“Too many requests.”
“I’m a teapot.”
“Invalid operand. F-zero zero-F.”
Three of the Virtues crumpled. They fell to the crystalline floor as if they were mortals who had perished. Seven more took their place, these ones weren’t identical to the long coat wearing Virtue. More and more were gathering around. And they weren’t the only ones. As the Virtues continued spouting errors, Adrael found herself crowded away by the gathering, pushed back into a gaggle of Guardians, Principalities, and a handful of Archangels who had all ceased their duties to watch.
Only the Seraphim and the Cherubim ignored the proceedings.
With every nonsensical error given, Adrael felt her hopes dampen. Something had seriously gone wrong. The original Virtue was still standing. Adrael could see her clearly enough thanks to the somewhat bulky coat. What was the first error? Authority required?
The library was the Virtues’ purpose. It existed because of them and they existed because of it. How could one of them possibly lack the authority to access whatever they had been trying to access?
The answer came with one final error code.
“Unauthorized by Order of the Throne.”
The gathering of Virtues fell silent. The entire room went silent. No more errors. No whispering of the spectators. Not even the rustle of a feather broke the utter quiet.
Until the original Virtue turned around, looked right at Adrael, and smiled. “Four zero six. Query not acceptable. Is there anything else I can assist you with, Archangel?”
She stared. The other Virtues started drifting away, acting like nothing had happened. The ones on the ground were left there. They didn’t move. Were they alright? Would they be alright? Why were the Virtues just leaving them there?
And the others. The Principalities, Archangels, and Guardians. They were just staring. Some at the shelves, some at the Virtues, and several at Adrael.
Which made her realize that the original Virtue was still waiting for a response.
“N-No,” Adrael said. “Thank you.”
“Good day. Reverting to previous duties. Switching protocols: Information validation.”
The Virtue walked away. Adrael said nothing more, just watching as she headed back the way they had walked. What else could she say? As much as she wanted to point and scream that Tenebrael had clearly broken the library or the Virtues, she couldn’t. The Throne itself had blocked access to whatever information was related to that mortal on Nod. Mortals only lived a hundred years if they were lucky. That one couldn’t be older than thirty.
Adrael glanced back to the throne, ignoring the Third Sphere that were still looking at her. The Throne. Its glorious presence dominated existence itself.
And it had been empty for thousands of years.