"You realize... if we are caught here, together, we will be killed."
Joah looked at Simpson, the speaker. His smile was crooked -- almost cruel. They all knew he was with the Game, and Habbalite to boot. She knew he was saying it to remind them of that fact. To add that little distrust to the meeting. Making his little move.
"I realize," she said. "But my theory needs the right people working on it to prove or disprove it."
"Your theory?" This was Ricardo, the Mercurian of Lightning. He was half-glaring across the table at the Technology Djinn who was sitting, surly. "That's what I was wondering about. Why do you have this group collected together, given we should at the least be trying to kill each other."
"Because I need you all, Ricardo." Joah bit her lip slightly. She was nervous. She couldn't let that affect what she said. She couldn't let any emotion affect her, unless she wanted to join Simpson. "I need your insights, your wisdom, and your intellects." She began walking around the table. "Simpson, the Demon of Theological Debate. Ricardo, the Angel of Thought Experiments. Cobb, the Demon of Hypothesis. And one other, if he comes...."
"He is here," the voice intoned at the door. The three Malakim Joah had brought as peacekeepers and guards slipped out of the way to allow the robed man to enter. His presence was enough to fill the room. The only Celestial present as powerful as Joah herself. "Though he is not certain why you would call this meeting, Joah." His eyes flickered disdainfully at Simpson and Cobb.
"It's so good to see you again, Wiliel," Simpson said lightly, filing his nails with an emory board. "Still unscrewing the inscrutable? Spending your time measuring the backsides of angels and comparing them to pin-widths?"
"I have my projects," the Seraph said coldly. "And they are all far more significant than your prattle."
"Mm. Did you cancel your subscription to my journal then? I notice you haven't tried to send letters under pen names any more. I always wondered if that was dissonant for you--"
"Enough," Joah snapped. "Wiliel, have a seat." She sat at the table herself.
"This is... intriguing," Ricardo said. "The Demons of Theological Debate and Hypothesis. The Angels of Philosophy," he nodded to Joah herself, "Theology," he nodded to Wiliel, "and Thought Experiments. It is... an odd combination to bring together."
"And hardly the sorts to co-habitate," Simpson murmured. "Who would believe our motley assemblage as a pack of Outcasts and Renegades."
"I'm no Renegade," Cobb snapped. "And I've got *things* to do."
"I'm certain my comrade in Destiny has some reason to have called us together," Wiliel said. "So the sooner she tells the rest of us...."
"Thank you." She cleared her throat. "Destiny and Fate have existed since the beginning of time, yes?"
There was a long pause.
Cobb snorted. "I gave up an afternoon for *this?*"
"Let us stipulate that," Wiliel said. "Though Fate did not seem to be truly active in the world before the Fall."
"Correct. The Fall." Joah leaned forward. "The Rebellion. Which did not *truly* begin until what event?"
"The War," Wiliel said sharply. "This exercise in the Socratic method is tedious, Power."
"Come now," Simpson said lightly. "Try to get some aesthetic pleasure from it, you old curmudgeon. And I would place it more specifically to Lucifer's attack on the Metatron. Before the Metatron's death, Lucifer might have been challenging the authority of God, but he really hadn't passed out of the misdemeanor stage, mmm?"
"You call challenging the authority and dictates of the Lord our God--"
"Please, Wiliel. My conclusion had been similar to Simpson's. Not out of any lack of offense, but because... before the Metatron was slain, the Fate of the Fallen could have been avoided. By attacking and killing the Metatron, Lucifer both denied us the Voice of God, and also opened the route to Hell."
"Perhaps," Wiliel said. "And perhaps not. It is grounds for philosophical debate--"
"You mean theological debate," Simpson cut in. "You *can* say the words, you know." He smirked a bit.
"If we stipulate what you've described," Ricardo said, "what conclusions are you drawing?"
"No conclusions," Joah said, glancing at Cobb. "But I have a hypothesis."
The Djinn perked up for the first time. "What sort?"
"Well, if the mechanics of Fate existed from the death of the Metatron on... why did it take tens of thousands of years for Kronos, the Prince of Fate, to assume his position in Hell?"
Simpson arched an eyebrow. "A Seraph Fell and was Word-bound. It has hap--"
Wiliel snorted. "Please. I doubt anyone in this room, besides the Malakim, don't at least suspect Kronos is *not* a Balseraph. Yes? Truthfully?"
No one spoke. It wasn't wise to lie before a powerful Seraph.
"It is said that Kronos was found, newly Fallen, outside the Gates of Hell. He still had a connection to the Symphony, which no demon has done before." Ricardo sat back. "It's not really my field, of course. I'm just describing the legends we've heard. After some centuries of study, Lucifer released Kronos as the Prince of Fate, and he rose in Lucifer's ranks quickly."
"Correct. Of course, we only have Lucifer's word on this, and he *is* a Balseraph."
"I would never spread heresy," Simpson said, cheerfully, "but I *will* add that some believe Kronos isn't a Balseraph at all -- of any kind. Instead... he's sort of a twin to Yves... an aspect, or avatar of God, but Fallen. Proof that Lucifer is right and your lot is wrong. Or so they say."
"Blasphemy," Wiliel spat.
"Perhaps so," Joah said. "But... as I said, I have a Hypothesis. What if Lucifer didn't find Kronos outside the Gates of Hell at all? What if he found him on Earth?"
"Earth?" Cobb was intent now.
"Yes. And further, what if Kronos had not been newly Fallen. What if he were a Remnant. One Lucifer recognized? One who was not a Remnant of any sort of Angel or Demon Lucifer could recognize?"
Joah's words hung in the room.
"Are you... suggesting... that Lucifer found the Remnant of the Metatron?" Wiliel whispered.
Ricardo blinked. "It... wait. Let me assemble this. Lucifer soul-kills the Metatron, and at that moment achieves his own Fate. He ends up in Hell as a result, and Fate is loosened upon the World. The Metatron's remnant begins walking the Earth for thousands of years. Lucifer is one of the few who might recognize the Vessel of the Metatron, and when he does... he gives him new Celestial Forces?"
"And when a Prince -- even Lucifer -- gives an Angel's Remnant Demonic Forces, a Demon is the result," Cobb said excitedly. "So hypothetically, if Lucifer gave Forces to the Metatron, the resulting Celestial would be Infernal, not Angelic--"
"This is ridiculous," Wiliel snapped. "The Metatron was no simple Angel. You cannot tell me the Voice of God himself could be suborned so simply -- any more than a Malakite who is given Infernal Celestial Forces becomes a Demon. A conflicted Malakite, yes--"
"But there were no Malakim before the Fall," Simpson countered. "And the Metatron wasn't a Malakite anyhow. Besides, the legend says that Lucifer had Kronos for centuries before releasing him. What if he wasn't studying him? What if he had given him Infernal Forces -- maybe even from *himself,* and then spent the rest of that time breaking him. Forcing him into the role Lucifer wanted -- the counter to Yves he needed?"
Wiliel opened his mouth to counter, but paused. "Joah -- have you mentioned this to Yves?"
The Elohite nodded slightly. "I did."
"And he said?"
"Nothing. He looked at me for a long moment, and then he walked away."
"Neither confirmed nor denied!" Simpson seemed wickedly delighted. "The debate rages -- wait. Why am I here?"
Joah turned to regard Simpson.
"I mean it -- why am I here? If Hell can make a case that Kronos is the *Metatron,* the psychological -- and theological -- blow to Heaven would be monumental. You have to know that. So why?"
Joah smiled coldly. "You are here because I need evidence, and you will provide it."
"Ah. You're insane."
"Not at all. Yours is the Word of Theological Debate. Yes, it's in the interests of Hell for Kronos to be proven the Metatron -- so you'll want to gather as much evidence as possible to make that point. To win this debate, you must convince even Heavenly authorities -- like Wiliel and myself -- that it is true. To our faces. And Wiliel--"
"Is a Seraph. Oh, well done, Joah. Well manipulated. And what do *you* get out of it?"
"Information, and perhaps some underlying knowledge of the philosophical underpinnings of the War."
Wiliel frowned slightly, but did not comment. Joah glanced at Cobb. "And you?"
"It's elegant -- there's nothing in the hypothesis that's contridicted by known evidence...." Cobb looked agitated. "Of course it needs to be tested. More information gathered. Yes... yessssss...."
"Which explains Cobb's presence," Ricardo said, perhaps sardonically. "The ultimate Hypothesis -- he'll have to explore it now, even if it gets him killed. All for your--"
"Enough. Clearly, the die has been cast." Wiliel sounded cold. "Shall we agreed to meet again in six months, presenting what evidence we can, and proceed from there?"
"Conspiring with the enemy, Wiliel?" Simpson chuckled again, though he was preoccupied. "Very well. Come, Cobb -- let us return."
Cobb didn't seem to notice, any more than he noticed when Simpson led him out.
"If you're done with me, Joah," Ricardo said after they left, "I should return as--"
"What didn't you tell the Hellspawn," Wiliel snapped. "What *lie* did you spread, Power?"
Joah looked to Wiliel. Ricardo had frozen, mid-rising. "No lie, Most Holy. A half-truth, I'll agree. They asked what we would get out of confirming Kronos is the Metatron remade. I told them what they would accept -- an Elohite's dispassionate promotion of her own Word."
"And the half-truth you *didn't* tell them," Ricardo asked.
"It is known that... it is easier to Redeem those demons made from the Remnants of Angels, even as the Angels made from the Remnants of Demons are somewhat more prone to Falling, yes?"
Wiliel stared at Joah. "You... mean to Redeem Kronos. The Prince of Fate himself."
"I do. If he truly is the Remnant of the Metatron, then no matter what Lucifer has done, he can be purified -- brought back into the fold. But it will be difficult. Thousands of Angels would have to court Soul-death to move Kronos into a position where we might minister to him. It is prudent to know beforehand whether my theory has a reasonable chance of being correct before committing to such a task."
"And you need the demons to get you the information you need," Wiliel whispered.
"Which explains why I am here," Ricardo said softly. "Because you need to model the possible results of these scenarios. You need to know before you act."
"Impossible," Wiliel said. "This *must* be, at its core, an act of faith."
"Perhaps." Joah said. "But we must know all we can, regardless."
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