Small Worlds 193

Three hours later, no answer had presented itself. Ryan stared at the final ‘hopeful lead’ he had run down, a copy of “Policies and Procedures for Handling Eschaton Requests (2290th edition)”. It appeared that, in the universe’s life span, Ryan had been far from the first Eschaton to bring a desperate plea to the Curators. They’d systemically closed every loophole – at least, every loophole that could be found in twelve hours. “Damnit,” Ryan said, tossing the book aside. “I’ve got nothing.”

“Same here,” Dianmu said, closing her copy with more care. “Nabu, have you found anything that might be of use?”

Nabu grimaced. “Nothing that would work with the Council. I’m sorry, Ryan.”

“I appreciate you trying,” Ryan said, with more sincerity than he expected to have in himself. Nabu spending this much time working alongside them, researching with them had gone a long way towards repairing some of Ryan’s bitterness towards the Curator. Some of it. “Mind leading the way?”

Nabu nodded and they gathered their possessions to head towards the Council. “Any thought of what you’re going to say?” Nabu asked as Ryan ducked under a flying filing cabinet.

“No idea,” Ryan admitted. “My head is full of rules and regulations and policies that make it very clear why they should not help me. I guess I’m just going to have to improvise. I could cite the Guidelines for Releasing Information about Fundamental Underlying Reality, two hundred and third edition, but…”

“But the rules for the Eschaton were overturned in the two hundred and seventh edition,” Dianmu said, shifting to the side to allow a Curator to rush past her. “Those made it clear that the guidelines are for entities and individuals not involved with an Eschaton should follow the Policies and Procedures for Handling Eschaton Requests.”

“Right, but I was thinking…those do state that it requires they follow the two thousand, two hundred, and eighty first edition, which does allow an Eschaton to receive a glimpse of Fundamental Underpinnings if Lucifer has interfered with the Eschaton in either way.” Ryan said. “I could try to argue that the rules do apply to Arthur, being King of Hell and all.”

“Worth a shot,” Nabu said. “Although it’s an old edition and the rules do specify Lucifer, it’s worth a try. None of the regulations currently cover someone else being on the Throne of Hell – even we never imagined the Great Deceiver abdicating for real.”

Dianmu shook her head. “Remember what we found in the Handbook for Handling Requests from Fiends, Devils, Daemons, and other Infernal Entities, six hundred and sixty seventh edition? A distinction between the King of Hell and Lucifer was drawn. “A request from Lucifer will follow all guidelines governing a request from the King of Hell.” It’s meant to allow him to send emissaries per the Regulations for Aiding and Abetting Afterlife Kings, Queens, Presidents, Ministers, Emperors, and Other Titled Underworld Deities, but the distinction still rules it out. It was an accident, but it does set precedent.”

Ryan had forgotten that, and cursed under his breath at the reminder. “Then…damnit, that wasn’t my best thought, that was my only thought.”

“I’m sorry,” Dianmu said with a mirthless laugh, “but did just occur to anyone else that our best hope was thwarted because of a poorly worded passage?”

Ryan chuckled. He sounded about as amused as Dianmu. “I’m still going to try it,” he said. “They clearly didn’t intend to draw that distinction when they wrote it.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Nabu said, snapping out of whatever reflection had distracted him. “It’s good you have a plan…we’re here.”

The Hall of Curation did not tower over the landscape of Officium Mundi. It did not loom imposingly. It squatted, a utilitarian concrete structure that hugged the linoleum ground with a sullen nature. It reminded Ryan of the many soulless office buildings he’d wasted his life in for the first eight years after college, toiling away in underpaid temp jobs under the watchful eye of Corporate, his boss, and Nabu.

The mere sight of the building was enough to get Ryan’s heart racing, the old anxieties rearing their ugly head for the first time in weeks. It wasn’t the same kind of anxiety that he had when facing down rampaging gods and monsters. This was a different type of anxiety, as dull and flat and lifeless as the building in front of him. It was the anxiety that these buildings would be his prison for the rest of his life, that he would go to buildings like this every day for the rest of his life before dying alone and being buried in a grave as unremarkable as the buildings worked. He’d used to have nightmares about it, waking up in a cold sweat from the sight of his gravestone reading “Ryan Smith. 1987-2043. He Existed. No More Can Be Said.”

The biggest thing Ryan had ever dared wish for was to matter. To someone, to anyone.

And you didn’t realize how good you had it, Ryan thought with a shake of his head. He’d told himself he didn’t have anyone, but his sister had been there. He’d had friends. He’d had a life. He realized too late it wasn’t about mattering. That’s what people think they want. He now realized that what he’d really wanted was to be important. That was a very different, and much harder to find, quality.

And hey, you got it. Ryan reminded himself.

Now he held the fate of the world in his hands. He’d been holding it for weeks. Gods he’d never heard of had tried to kill him. He’d fought two armies of monsters and soldiers of the United States government created specifically to kill him.

And he was still happier than he had ever been working in one of these damn buildings. He constantly faced death, he’d had his face shot off, he’d been through hell in the most literal sense possible, and he was happier than grinding his life away in one of these squat ugly offices had ever made him.

Standing a bit straighter, Ryan pushed through the double sliding doors, Nabu and Dianmu flanking him as they strode in to argue for a chance to save the world.


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