The Trade

By Michael Cleveland


Sitting on a bench in Central Park, another person sat and watched the clouds go by behind the skyline of New York City. Like most people, he'd always found it somewhat relaxing to spend a few moments marvelling at the monuments to financial prosperity that rose like outstretched hands towards the Heavens. And like so many other people, when he looked at the gap in the city's landscape, he couldn't find that small amount of comfort that had been there a few days before.

As Marc sat there watching the skies of New York, another person walked past the assembled onlookers and rescue teams to find his way to that same bench. Without looking up, Marc motioned him to take the seat beside him.

"Hello, Laurence. What can I do for you?"

The young man cocked his head for a moment before speaking, "Actually, I came to ask the same thing of you. I... all of us heard about what happened here. I know that you had a Tether in the building, and I..."

Marc turned to face the General of the Host with a half smile. "Wanted to know when the retaliatory responses would be taking place? So that you could send some of your people to join us? Was that what you were planning on saying?"

Turning his head to look at the skyline, "Something like that. I had heard from some of my sources that your intelligence agents were hot on the trails of those responsible. I had thought to send an operations team to act in a supporting role when your Malakites reach their targets, and -"

The smile on Marc's face vanished as he looked downward. "I've called them back."

Laurence rose up a little straighter in his seat. "You did what?"

"I've called them back. There's nothing they or I can do now. All the people who performed these attacks were human. I can't sanction an attack on them, regardless of the damage they've caused to my people and to the city as a whole."

Laurence's paused for a moment, "Then we shall track down the diabolicals responsible for this atrocity and make them..."

Marc shook his head. "That's what took so long. There weren't any demons involved in this. I'd thought that there might be one or two somewhere way down the line, but my people traced everything back thoroughly. If there are any celestials involved, they have every scrap of paperwork and every shred of evidence in place to back them up. I've checked a few of the noteworthies out personally, and I've found no evidence of the Horde's influence."

The Archangel of the Sword seemed to absorb this for a moment. "Soldiers must havebeen involved, then. This would be a perfect job for hellsworn..." He watched as Marc slowly shook his head, then spoke again with an edge of irritation in his voice, "Well, who did this then? Somebody had to be responsible for this - the coordination, the planning, the precision all speaks for itself. The Horde must have profitted from this somehow, Marc."

Marc rose up from his seat slowly and started pacing. "Oh, they did. But it doesn't look like any of them directly set it in motion. Even if..." Marc paused for a moment, then continued. "Even if we assume that Hell profitted, who do we blame? Malphas for the fact that the Middle Eastern cultures distrust the United States? Belial for the fact that the fires on the upper floors are probably caused the buildings to collapse? Saminga for the fact that thousands of people died? For that matter, we could blame Khalid for the perpetrators being Moslem, or Eli for not making better building materials!"

Laurence stood up and reached out for the Archangel of Trade. "Marc..."

Marc shook his hand off. "I'm fine... I'm... I wish that there was someone in Hell to lash out at. But there isn't. They did this all on their own, and I can't do anything about it. I can slowly leak my information to the authorities, and I can hinder their efforts to flee mortal judgment, but beyond that..." He paused to collect himself for a moment. "Beyond that, I can't do anything to them. What little we can do is being done already."

Laurence took a step back, and then looked at the Mercurian with a sypathetic eye. "I know you wish you could do more, Marc. And I know that holding yourself back in a case like this hurts. Is there anything that the Sword can do to help you and yours?"

Marc looked back towards the site of the disaster. "Do what we always do - worry about our problems later, and try to help them rebuild as best they can. It's the best way to get the Word of Trade flowing the way it used to, and I think it's also the only way we can salvage a victory for Heaven out of this. This place will never be a financial center again, but it can be a place where people come together in the face of adversity. Talk to David about it - I'm sure he'll have some thoughts about it."

Laurence nodded. "I'll do that. I'll see you in Council later, then. Take care of yourself."

As the sound of the Archangel of the Sword leaving the corporeal plane slowly faded, Marc heard footsteps behind him. He closed his eyes as he smelled the scent of perfume and felt a feminine hand on his shoulder. He slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out a small gold ring, which he then put onto his ring finger.

"Do me a favor, my dear. Don't ask. Maybe in a few days, or in a few weeks. But not now."

There was a moment of silence before the ring glowed for a moment and then disappeared. The hand on his shoulder squeezed reassuringly for a moment, and then both it and the scent of perfume faded away, leaving only the Archangel of Trade to watch the skyline of New York City. The Trade Center was gone, but his Word sung ever more clearly in his ears. Thousands of lives had been traded for something that had yet to be clearly defined, and he'd be damned if that investment didn't net returns that were worth it.


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