If this was a movie, Ryan thought, This would be the part where the Council erupts into shouting, bellowing in outrage at interruption. Instead, Jegudiel reached across the podium and took the form delicately between her fingers, holding it like she would a dead rat left on her pillow by a well-intentioned cat. “This is highly irregular, Curator Nabu,” she said. “You’re operating well outside your normal range.”
From the tone of voice, she had just accused him of the worst sin imaginable.
“I am aware,” Nabu said, his voice hoarse. “Yet irregular times call for irregular actions.” From his tone, he’d just admitted to killing and eating his own child – and feeling no guilt about it.
“Very well,” Jegudiel said. “We will hold a brief recess while your form is considered-”
“-so you can rewrite the rules to cover up whatever loophole is happening?” Ryan resisted the urge to spit on the floor.
Jegudiel stood up and lowered her hood. Her gaze was merciless as she fixed it on Ryan. “Another outburst, Ryan Smith, and I will annihilate you where you stand,” she hissed.
Called it, Ryan thought with no small satisfaction. “No you won’t,” Ryan said, feeling a smug grin spread across his lips.”
“And how can you be so sure?”
“Besides the obvious one, that you need me to end the world? Because you haven’t filled out the proper forms.”
Jegudiel’s eyes narrowed. “I assure you, that paperwork could be filled out with alacrity.”
“Jegudiel,” Nabu said, his voice soft. “Stop this. You revealed your last resort to the man. Don’t blame him for objecting to you doing it a second time.”
The archangel’s gaze transferred to Nabu, and if anything became less welcoming than it had been for Ryan. “Nabu,” she said. “You know what this means. What this would do to you. You’d be finite. You’ll never again walk the halls of Officium Mundi. You-”
“-will be marked as Renegade in the records, and every case I’ve worked for the last hundred million years will be under suspicion. If any irregularity is found there, I’ll be considered guilty of going Renegade without filing proper paperwork and be unmade. Yes, I know.”
Jegudiel’s hand began to curl into a claw, her nails drawing furrows into the lacquered wood. “You would do all this for humanity? What makes them worth your station?”
“It’s not about humanity. It’s not about Ryan. Not directly.” Nabu sighed. “Although in a way it is. Jegudiel, we’ve spent countless eons overseeing the destruction of worlds, ensuring Eschatons do not shirk their duty or stray from their path. Countless eons where we sat by and did nothing. A trillion times a trillion lives lost, Jegudiel.”
“To ensure infinite more have a chance to exist,” Jegudiel said, her voice thick.
“Guarding the future cannot be done at the expense of the present.” Nabu said, his voice firm. “If we wish to protect those that may come, there have to be better ways. We can teach them sustainability, restraint. Extinction should not be our first resort!”
“Doing so forestalls Entropy. You are wrong, Nabu.”
“Perhaps I am. But I am also resolute.”
“You will be destroyed for this,” Jegudiel said. “Going Renegade does not allow you to act against us.”
Nabu shrugged. “Perhaps. There will be a hearing. It will take at least a century to gather evidence. Another two or three to review my previous cases. We are as old as the universe, Jegudiel. I’ve lived long enough. If I am to be destroyed, I will do so with pride for my last centuries having meant something other than countless lives lost.”
Jegudiel stared at Nabu, her eyes narrow. Every muscle in her body was coiled like a spring, and for a moment Ryan thought she would forsake protocol and annihilate them where they stood. A cold sweat began to break out over Ryan’s skin, and he reached into his pocket to squeeze his nanoverse for a surge of power. Our only hope is managing what Moloch did to Uriel. I don’t know if I have the power for that, but…
The moment passed. The tension drained from Jegudiel’s face, and she slumped back into her chair. “Once done, this cannot be undone,” she said, her throat hoarse. “Are you certain you want to do this to us, Nabu? To me?”
The pain in Nabu’s face was unmistakable, and for the first time in his life Ryan felt real sympathy for the man. “Yes. Yes, I am certain. I’m sorry.”
“So am I,” Jegudiel said, her voice hollow. “And Nabu?”
He looked up at her, hopeful.
“Damn you for making me do this.” Jegudiel threw out her hand towards Nabu.
Immediately he began to scream in agony. Ryan reached out to grab onto equations, heart pounding. Have to hit her hard and fast. Can’t let up, not even for an instant. Beside him, Dianmu sprang into action as well, gathering the elements to herself to strike.
“No!” Nabu shouted through the cloud of pain. “This is…what must…happen!”
Ryan froze. “Dianmu, thoughts?” he said, his voice quiet.
“He’s being stripped down to something else,” Dianmu said, her voice also pitched low. “I suppose it makes sense that it’s a painful process.”
Ryan gave her a quick, short nod. He’s willing to do this for us, knowing what it would entail.
The power was ripped out of Nabu, a brilliant light torn from his back. For just an instant, as it emerged, it looked like wings.
Then that light surged away from Nabu and curled itself into a sphere in Jegudiel’s palm. She held the brilliantly bright sphere for a moment, then tossed it at Nabu’s feet. “Your severance package, Renegade Nabu.”
Nabu took the sphere in his hands and held it close to his chest. “Dianmu. Ryan. We should go. We have a great deal to discuss.”
With one final look back at the Council Chamber, Nabu lead them from Cypher Nullity.