Axiom 10: Do what makes you happy.
“What?” I didn’t understand what the woman sitting on the other side of the desk meant.
“The price,” she repeated patiently, looking at me. “You asked what it would take to bring your friends back, to put a stop to the Apocalypse, to restore everything back to normal. You said that you would be willing to do anything.
“And that, it seems, is exactly the price for you.”
I felt like my stomach was dropping away from me, like I was in the front seat of a roller coaster that had just plunged over the first big drop on the ride. “I don’t understand.”
“It is a rather ancient and barbaric system, to be sure.” The woman stood up from behind her desk, walking over to the curtain covered window. She twitched the curtain aside, glancing outside, but then let it fall back into place. “You see, when God himself first created the world, he did understand that there would be… disagreements, shall we say… about how it was managed in his stead. And so he decided to create a system to allow different parties to dispute over the best choice.”
“And that system is how I could stop the Apocalypse? Fix things?”
She looked over at me, nodded. “Indeed. But the price to use it is high.”
“What’s the price?”
Again, she hesitated for a moment. “For angels, immortal beings, all that matters is the honor and esteem that they earn over the millennia, over the millions of years,” she said to me. “When they raise a question, dare to lift a challenge against another, they must put all of that honor on the line. If they fail in their challenge, they are demoted.” She frowned. “Sometimes, such as in the case of Lucifer, quite steeply.”
I considered the implications of this. So, if someone lost a challenge, they could be demoted from archangel down to having to run Hell? Sounded pretty serious.
“But I’m not an angel,” I pointed out. “I don’t really have honor.” I frowned as I heard my own words. “I mean, not in the same way that they do, I guess.”
“This is true,” the woman nodded. “But that only makes it more challenging for you. While angels may wager their honor, mortal beings have only one thing of any value that they might choose to place on the line.”
Another roller coaster drop in my stomach. “My life,” I said.
“That is correct.”
I felt my stomach give a twist, threatening to give up its contents. I forced it down with an effort. “So, how does this work, then?” I asked. “I mean, what, I have to fight against Metatron in combat or something in order to prove him wrong? Because I gotta tell you, I don’t think that I’ll do too well. Even if I got to use Eremiel’s flaming sword.”
The woman smiled a little at me, although the warmth didn’t make it all the way up to her eyes. “It is not a trial of combat, no,” she said.
“So what? Do I get to pick the choice of battlefield? Chess? Checkers? Mario Kart?” I added hopefully.
“It is not as complex as that. There is no skill that can help you with this challenge. It is a challenge of the truth, and both sides of the truth must be weighed against each other by a tribunal.” The woman frowned at my look of confusion. “Perhaps think of it a bit like a trial in a court of law, except that you must put up your soul as a stake to submit your claim.”
“Right,” I said, wondering if I needed a lawyer, then, to argue for me. “So if I lose, then what? I end up dead, probably down in Hell?”
The woman’s smile grew even sadder. “Unfortunately, no. You see, that is not a true wager, as the soul still exists if you were to lose. Rather, your soul would be destroyed. There would be no Heaven or Hell. Merely… an ending.” She shuddered, as if this idea was abhorrent even to her.
Great. So if I lost, oblivion. Still, feeling all of the exhaustion in my limbs, maybe that wouldn’t be quite as bad as she made it sound. “Great. Okay, let’s do this. I’m ready. What do I need to do?”
The woman paused, returning back behind her desk and placing her fingers down on top of that book that held my name embossed on the cover. “And you are truly sure that you wish to do this, Jack Travers? You, who have never done anything particularly heroic or special in your life?”
“Hey, thanks a lot for that,” I replied, a little hurt. “And I came here, didn’t I? Fought my way through Hell and Heaven?”
“Out of mostly fear, and a somewhat selfish desire to save your friends,” she countered. “Not out of any great conviction to rescue humanity itself.”
“Well, so what?” I didn’t know exactly where I was going with this, but my mouth forged ahead, running out in front of my brain. “Why does the reason for my doing something matter? What matters is that I’m doing it! For all those people down on Earth who got killed or raised or whatever during this Apocalypse thing, do they really care whether it was done because of something in a book, or because some angel decided that he could make a power grab? No! It happened, and now they have to deal with all the consequences and fallout.”
I half expected the woman to whip out a giant sword and smite me down for daring to shout back at her, but she just sat there,her lips revealing a fraction of a smile for just an instant before it vanished. “But you do believe that this is wrong.”
“Yes.” How could it be right? And hadn’t Eremiel said that there was supposed to be an announcement? I brought this up.
She gazed steadily back at me. “Perhaps the announcement was only for those who believed. You are not a believer, are you, Jack?”
“Well, now I am,” I snorted. “After dealing with angels and devils and such. Although I’m not sure you really want to hear my beliefs out loud.”
She just kept looking at me. “But it still remains that there may very well have been an announcement, and you missed it. Alice is your only other witness, and she’s not exactly a paragon of saintly action either, is she?”
“Hah, that’s putting it kind of mildly,” I said before I could help myself. I paused after that, however, considering. “But she’s still a good person. And even if she wasn’t, even if I’m not, we still deserve to know what happens.”
“When a fox eats a sparrow, it is not his job to explain why the sparrow must die.”
“What, is that some sort of stupid metaphor?” I was up on my feet, now, although I didn’t remember standing up. “Because it’s not a good one, if so! Humans and angels aren’t birds and foxes! We’re better!”
I sank back down to my seat. “At least, I thought that we were supposed to be,” I finished, suddenly exhausted and out of energy. I couldn’t argue any longer.
The woman kept looking at me, perhaps waiting for me to say something more. But I didn’t have anything else, and just looked back at her.
“Well, I suppose that’s a decent argument,” the woman finally said. She stood up, crossed the room to the window, and threw the curtains back in a single swift gesture.
As the curtains slid away, light came streaming into the room, so bright that I had to hold up my hand to shield my eyes.
And when I lowered it, the shabby little office around me had vanished.