The best part about being King of Hell was the parties.
Okay, that was a lie. Pretty much everything about being King of Hell was the best part, but at that moment, as far as Arthur was concerned, the parties were the best part. Not that he was taking part in this one. His office overlooked it, and he really wanted to go down and join the revelers, a swelling crowd of demons and Fallen and mortals with a couple gods mixed in. Give me another century, and this place will put Empyrean Provocation out of business.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have another century. Uriel sat on the other side of the desk, a pair of glasses on her nose. They served no purpose but appeal, and Arthur appreciated the effect they had combined with the tight ponytail and framed by her red wings and black dress. “That’s all the time we have?” Arthur asked, frowning.
Uriel nodded. Arthur clenched a fist, though he was careful not to direct his anger at her. She was Queen of Hell in all but name – something Arthur wanted to fix before the end of this age of the world – and even putting aside the fact that he loved her, Arthur didn’t like shooting the messenger. “The Mayans accurately predicted the year that the Last Nanoverse would come into being. Since it wasn’t found until five years later, we lost a good deal of time.”
“Wait, the Mayans had the prediction? You knew this was coming?”
Her wings bristled at his tone. “You forget I am an angel sometimes, I think. I’ve witnessed the rebirth of the world every time it happened. I’m as old as creation. Of course I knew.”
“Then why…” he took a deep breath, calming himself. Putting himself in her shoes. “Because we can’t directly interfere in it, right? One of those stupid rules we’re stuck with. So there was no point talking about it until we were actually involved.”
Uriel smiled as her own tension faded. “Down here, we have the loophole of being able to make deals. Michael and the forces of Heaven can literally do nothing that impacts the outcome of this.”
Arthur walked over to his seat and leaned back, pressing his fingertips together as he did. It was a comfortable leather swivel chair these days, although it had once been a throne of skull and bone. Unlike the last person to sit in it, Arthur wasn’t the self-flagellating sort. “So we need to be very careful with how we fulfill any contact made with Ryan.”
“Yes.” Her forehead furrowed, and she bit her lip. It was her thinking face, and it also drove Arthur wild. “You have a thought about our outstanding contract?”
Instead of directly answering, Arthur swiveled his chair so he was looking back out the window again. Even in profile, she could see the thoughts turning.
Between them on the desk sat her find – a pristine, untouched nanoverse, the first of the new era.
“Uriel,” he asked slowly. “Hypothetically speaking, what would happen to us if the Eschaton loses?”
“We’d have a massive influx of new souls, for starters. Every one of our followers, and every sinner of Michael’s faith. And then we’d become static. Other angels and faiths and gods handle other worlds – our dominion is only of Earth. If the world ends, we have no more say in what transpires in the universe.”
Arthur’s frown deepened, and he tapped his chin. “What about humans on other worlds?”
Now it was Uriel’s turn to take time to think. “We’d be able to make a claim for dominion. The Curators would be the final arbiters of that, but I see no reason for them to rule against us.”
“Bureaucrats and rules are our specialty.” Arthur snapped his fingers, and a copy of Ryan’s contract appeared in his fingers. They hadn’t actually signed a contract, not in the physical sense, but once they had shaken hands it had become reality. “’We are to deliver this new nanoverse,’” Arthur read, “’the first of the Next Age, to Isabel Smith. In return, Ryan Smith or – in the event of his death – Pallas Athena will owe us a favor of magnitude equivalent to the gift of immortality and divine power.’ There’s a lot of wiggle room there.”
Uriel frowned. Arthur had a feeling she wouldn’t like this plan. “My liege?” The bite in her tone made it clear he was right. She only called him that when she was pissed or playful, and it certainly wasn’t the latter.
“Well, it doesn’t say anything about where and when we are to deliver it, or whom is to deliver it.”
“I did notice that, yes.”
Arthur sighed. “Uriel, love, we got into this for the same reason. We both want what’s best for humanity, right?”
“Yes,” Uriel shook her head. “Arthur, the problem isn’t that your plan is likely underhanded and duplicitous. You promised. No more secrets, not between us. Spit it out.”
“Oh.” Arthur sat up straighter. “Sorry about that, old habits. You can travel pretty much anywhere in reality, even Tartarus, right?” Uriel nodded, leaning forward. “So you’re going to go there, find Moloch, and offer him a deal…”
He laid out the plan for Uriel.
Ryan, Crystal, that whole group? They might never forgive Arthur for this. As Uriel got up and vanished to carry out his orders, Arthur realized he didn’t care. He reached over to roll the unclaimed nanoverse back and forth on his desk.
Sorry about this, Ryan, he thought, but I’m going to end up on the winning side, no matter what.
He just had one more call to make before he could join the party. He grabbed the ‘phone’ and pressed a few runes.
“Michael, buddy, how’s it going? So I know you’re still a bit peeved about how things went down, but I have an opportunity I’d like to run by you…”