Part of Apex of Creation
As it turned out, Kevin was not, in fact, gone that night. He swaggered in at the worst possible moment, reeking of stale frat house party, with the usual shitty hip-hop blasting from the earbuds hanging around his neck. The continued existence of Kevin’s earbuds had me wondering if a cure for cancer might come in the form of a hammer.
He looked at me and Emily sprawled on the bed, and dumped his bag onto the floor.
“Dude. I told you” he said. “Sock. Door.”
“Nice to see you too, Kevin.”
“Seriously, man.” Kevin replied. “This is the second time I’ve walked in on you in like, what, two days? I don’t mind if you two fuck but come on.”
Emily hid her face in embarrassment.
“We’re not-, oh come on, man, knock it off.”
“Fine, James, whatever.” Kevin winked at me, dug his pajama pants out from under his bed and disappeared into the bathroom to change.
The romantic mood having been thoroughly ruined, Emily and I climbed off the bed. “What an asshole. That was awkward. I’m sorry you had to hear that.”
“Um, yeah. Sorry.” Emily pushed her hair behind her ear. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
And then she was gone.
A few minutes later, Kevin emerged from the bathroom, and he was completely clueless as to why I was pissed at him. “Kevin. We need to talk.”
“About you putting socks on the door when you’re fucking?”
I shook my head. “No. Emily has been through a lot. I’m not trying to sleep with her.” Alright, technically I was, in the strictest sense of the word “sleep”, but Kevin didn’t need to know that. “And I’d appreciate it if you stopped insinuating that I was.”
Kevin gave a big goofy grin. “This is college, man. You gotta live it up! You don’t gotta lie and make up cover stories! We’re here to have fun.”
I briefly wondered how hard I could hit my head against the wall. I had probably lost Kevin at the word “appreciate”. It did have four syllables, after all. “Just leave Emily alone. Or at least be nice to her. I’m serious - she needs it.”
I unrolled a sheet of parchment, and laid it out on my desk. I set out the inkwell, sealing wax and stamps, and wooden scroll rod. Everything was ready.
I dipped the pen in the inkwell, and wrote out the spell. Contrary to popular mortal belief, this didn’t involve archaic runes or blood - just a few sentences in angelic script clearly and unambiguously describing the desired effect.
Alright, so angelic script often looked like runes to humans. Not my problem.
I’d come up with the wording some time ago, but there had been no point in actually following through with the enchantment. Until now.
I double-checked my work. Once the ink dried, I stood up, removed my suit jacket, and rolled up my sleeves.
I released my power.
My hands ignited in a divine blast of light and glory, which I immediately directed at the parchment on the desk. It absorbed the power easily, the ink glowing white-hot as the spell did its work. I let flow for several minutes, pushing as much energy into the scroll as it could hold.
In a flash, I rolled up the scroll around the rod and held it closed. I grabbed the sealing wax and stamps, and quickly applied the seals to the scroll.
The stamps themselves had small lettering carved in as part of the design. Once the wax cooled, I imbued each seal with a small amount of energy to activate their respective spells.
With a wave of my hand, I aged the scroll thousands of years. My work thus complete, I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes.
Time could be fiddly. I concentrated, and examined the possible futures for the next hour. Although the time span was relatively short, the sheer number of potential decisions branched exponentially, and there were millions of threads to follow. It took me years. Certain outcomes were more frequent than others, and after a few moments I opened my eyes with a jolt of nausea. The odds of success weren’t that great, but I could always try again.
I put my suit jacket back on, picked up the scroll, and left my office. It was time to plant the decoy.
The next week was comparatively normal. I went to classes, did homework, and spent inordinate amounts of time writing organic chemistry lab reports. Aside from the occasional flash of omniscience, nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Unfortunately, there were no more mentions of sleeping over, and Emily hadn’t been very talkative about the subject. I desperately wanted to ask, but I didn’t know how to approach the topic - or even if I should. I had already pushed Emily too far once, in the elevator after meeting her parents. I had used all the subtlety, grace, and tact of a rusty sledgehammer, and I didn’t want to stress Emily out again.
“How have you been holding up?” I asked Emily one day, as we studied in the great library of Heaven. “You’ve been kind of quiet, lately.”
“It’s been crappy.” she replied. “But I’ll manage.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Heh. You’ve already helped a lot.” Emily downed the remainder of her pumpkin spice latte and waited for it to refill itself. “I had a call from the prosecutor asking if I’d be willing to testify against my parents. I said yes, but that’s gonna be hard.”
“It’s all kind of starting to sink in, you know? And even though my dad’s finally been busted, he’s not out of my life. I’ll just be happy to have this whole thing behind me.”
“Me too. You’re more fun to be around when you’re happy.”
I smiled. Emily looked at the floor. Something was definitely wrong.
Detective Darren Sanders
I walked into the station. dropped my briefcase and jacket in my office, and immediately loaded up on coffee. I was going to need all the caffeine I could get. I’d been both anticipating and dreading today, ever since I had penciled “Investigate James Exosia - bank/hotel” on my desk calendar.
Most of my investigations were fairly straightforward. The simplest cases usually started and ended with a license plate query to the DMV. Most of my “complicated” cases merely involved getting a suspect’s parents to spill the beans on their felonious little shits.
This case, though, was the other way around. I already had a name. What I didn’t have - strictly speaking - was a crime. The security tapes had been sent off for digital forensics, to see if there was anything important that had been overwritten. But data recovery was expensive and time consuming, and until that came back, I was shooting in the dark.
I filled out a warrant request for James Exosia’s school records, and dropped it in the outgoing mail for a judge to approve. I got one of the techy officers to search the criminal database, but that turned up nothing. Then I filled out an authorization for a more detailed background check, and dropped that in the outgoing mail next to the warrant.
With the office basics covered, the next step was to investigate the target, personally. Until the warrant and background check came back, the only thing I had to go on was his address from his witness statement at the bank. Assuming James hadn’t lied about it, at least. He probably had.
According to the statement, he lived in one of the dorm towers on campus. It was even the same tower that Emily Butler lived in. I didn’t know what James looked like, but I did have a photo of Emily to work with. I also wanted to chat with Emily anyways, and there was a decent chance that I could get to James through her as well.
I picked up my jacket and car keys and headed to campus. After a short drive, I found the dorm tower and had a seat in the ground floor common area between the elevators and the front doors. If Emily Butler came or went, I would be able to see her.
This was the part of detective work that nobody liked. Staking out a person of interest was no fun. It required someone to give their full attention to something that might not change for hours. Fortunately, it was a weekday, and the odds of Emily going to or coming from a class were high.
I settled in for the wait.
Sometimes, I just didn’t know what to make of James. On one hand, it was obvious that he liked me (even if he was too shy to admit it outright), and was sympathetic to my situation. It was sweet, and he was kinda cute.
On the other hand… well, I couldn’t get Kevin’s voice out of my head: I don’t mind if you two fuck but come on!
How could I have been so stupid? It had been a mistake to fall asleep in James’s bed. I’d gotten lost in the crazy chaos of my parents’ arrest at the time, but now, with a clearer head, it was so freaking obvious.
James had been trying to get in my pants.
And yet, here I was, still hanging out with James. Who I wasn’t even sure if I could trust any more. Was I doomed to spend my entire life, cradle to grave, as a sex target?
At least Heaven had good coffee. I downed the rest of my latte (again) and tried to focus on school work.
“Penny for your thoughts.” James prompted out of nowhere.
Better to pretend nothing was wrong. “I hope you have a lot of pennies” I quickly ad-libbed.
“Chemistry.” I lied. “Trying to figure out the rate constant for the last problem.” That was at least partly true.
“Yeah, I’m having trouble with that one too.” James replied, then he sighed and closed his notes. “At least we’re in a library. Want to find a chemistry book?”
I sighed too. “May as well.”
We loaded up our backpacks, and set off to explore the library’s seemingly endless towers of books.
Emily and I wandered aimlessly throughout the Library, from tower to tower, level to level. The library covered every topic imaginable, in extensive detail, filling towers of books as far as we could see. It seemed to be organized by some combination of topic, time period, and author name. But despite being able to understand everything regardless of language, we were unable to figure out the scheme even after several minutes of hypothesizing.
We weren’t sure where the chemistry section was, but the library was fun to explore all on its own. We pulled random books and scrolls out to skim through, purely out of idle curiosity.
Suddenly, while brushing my hand along a row of scrolls, I felt a flash of power.
Emily turned around. “What is it?”
“One of these scrolls… hang on..” I replied, searching among the scrolls for the one that I’d felt. “Got it.”
I took out the scroll. Visually, it was an ordinary thing, if very old. Spiritually, it was radiating power - an unbelievably immense amount of power. But that power was securely locked up and completely inaccessible.
“Ok, it’s another scroll.” Emily said with a frown. “What’s so special about that one?”
I remembered that she couldn’t feel it the way I could. “It’s full of power.” I explained. “But locked away.” I replied. “Like a nuclear-powered light bulb encased in several hundred tons of steel.”
Emily seemed intrigued. “So what is it?”
I turned the scroll over to find the open end, but there were seven wax seals holding it shut. I had a flash of Insight. “I think this is what Lucifer wanted me to get for him.”
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko