Bohr didn’t have to push me in. Instead, we walked, leaving the narrow room to enter an even narrower corridor. I could feel the contract magic pushing at the corners of my mind, keeping me behind her, even if I wanted to clip her wings as they swayed distractingly in front of me.
Down the hall, across a breakroom that held one of those new styled scrying screens, linked up the global network, where a sphinx was lazily going through a trivia night with a few humans, and then across another room lined with enough lead glass to keep even the most determined rad-spirit in check. Then she left me in another small room (it reminded me of the flask, which I was already starting to regret) and turned off the light.
The second she left, I tried the door. Locked.
When I turned around, something was falling from the ceiling. Drip after glowing drip. It gleamed in the darkness, casting shadows from a desk in the corner. I walked over to it, and, to my horror, I heard a heavenly chorus. I stared at it, incredulous. There was no way.
But, as the form drained into place, it was true. It took on a very particular outline.
“How the hell did they get a heavenly warrior?” I asked.
The angel looked up, many many eyes set in its features, and schooled itself into a more feminine form. I couldn’t judge either, I changed at the drop of a hat if I wanted to. She shuffled her papers.
“Murray, Murray,” she tsked, shaking her head. “I was hoping you’d remain on the run for a tad longer.”
“Do I know you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. I worried about it quite a bit, but I couldn’t do anything but listen while the contract was still buzzing about my thoughts. Stupid thing. I’d find a way out. I always did.
“You’ve been flagged to go here for being a potential troublemaker,” The angel said. “But we both know you’re not stupid enough to break the rules, don’t we Murray?”
Her words were sharp, bladed, and I had to be careful not to slip too far into her metaphor or else they’d cut me open. Djinn might not bleed easily, but the blades of an angel were more than capable of it.
And I didn’t want to see how good my health coverage was. Not yet at least.
“Right,” I said. Hoping I hadn’t hesitated too long. I was already starting to hate business. “So… What are the rules, anyway?”
“No fighting,” she said. “Unless we tell you to fight, in which case, you’ll break the rules by not fighting.”
I squinted at her to see if she was pulling my leg. When she maintained the look with blades and too many eyes, I shrugged and fell back into my seat. “Is that it?”
“That’s the most important rule,” The angel said. She also leaned back, brushing her hair with her proper number of hands with their proper number of fingers and sighed. “The other rules are, well. You can’t leave the arcology without permission, obviously. You get paid every other Friday, and you’ll report to the nurse for a physical immediately, followed by a visit to the oracle.”
“Will you be taking me there?”
She laughed. “Of course not. Do I look like your mother? I’m a disciplinary officer, not your nurse maid. Don’t get lost, don’t step on any toes, and treat this like your first test.”
“There will be many tests.” The angel confirmed.
I frowned, but harder.
She shooed me off, and I stood up and sauntered away. Angels. They were never there when you needed them, and always so sanctimonious.
My feet led me down the hallway, in front of the rad glass, and I stared out at the world outside. Another big city; they all looked the same after one or two. The skies hummed, full of winged things; smaller angels, the occasional daemon, flittering harpies, and even some regular birds, though they knew their place, hiding from all of the former. I could’ve even been among them.
The contract warred in my head, keeping me in one piece instead of easily dissipated through the cracks in the wall. The lead hummed ominously regardless. It was probably spelled to hell and back, just to keep me out of it. I clicked a nail against it regardless, but at the sound of footsteps I whirled about and walked down the hall, pretending that I hadn’t spent the better part of five minutes staring at a sheet of glass.
Down the hall, past the sphinx (“who was the general in charge of Abraham Lincoln’s draconic armies,” obviously George Washington, who had been in charge for the last five hundred years, who was anyone kidding with that question?) and past a secretary whose long rabbit ears twitched on her head as she pointed me down another hall.
A mobius strip of stairs later (with normal humans walking this way and that, though I smelled a mage among their number) and a spiral staircase that reeked of prophesy (the worst smell) I found myself across from a massive red cross, carved into the wall like a rune. I poked at it. It still smelled like blood. A bit flaked off under my finger tip.
“Someone out there?” a voice called. I waved at the door, and it opened. The nurse poked his head out. Horns curled across his head, and his skin was the dark grey of a daemon. His uniform was firmly fitted, and the aroma of brimstone made me think of the realm I’d once came from, back before.
Surprisingly, he also smelled of cloves. I knew the clove smell, but it’d belonged to someone far different. “…Mark?” I called out.
“Wow, Murray!” Mark said. “I haven’t seen you since we broke up.”
Well. At least that got that question out of the way. “Really, you’d think a cubus could forget about that for a bit.”
“It was only a hundred years ago,” Mark shrugged helplessly. “And how can anyone forget that time they dated a childish prankster cloud.”
“You said that was endearing,” I said, pouting. “I’m here for a physical, if you want to stop roasting me.”
“Oh, Murray, I’ve been wanting to roast you for at least three decades,” Mark said, shaking his head. “But come in, we need to measure your cognitonic resonance so we can get it on the books just how many layers of corporate contracts we need to coat you in.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s science speak for your power,” Mark turned away, taking those smouldering burning coals away from my body, and I sighed, sliding in after him. “Everything’s going all scientific. You know how it is.”
“I really don’t,” I said. “I don’t even know what we do here.”
“Bit of everything. That’s what happens when you successfully ally with heaven.”
“Mark,” I said. “You’re a demon.”
“Yeah, I know. Really, you would not believe how many of my coworkers were surprised by an cubus nurse,” he shrugged. “But it was better than trying to turn thirty years of war in the endtimes into a decent job.”
“Mark! You were a war hero!”
“Reallllly doesn’t pay the bills,” Mark said. “And I had a lot of those. Really, have you just been fucking around since-”
“Yes, since the war,” I said. “We’re mythics! We own this world.”
Mark gently reached through space and tapped the surface of the contract that bound me to the building. Shivers ran down my spine, and my teeth were sat on edge. “Seems like it owns you right now, Murray.”
I pouted, and he shook his head. “Come on, let’s swing by the chair.”
“The chair. That sounds needlessly ominous.” The incubus led me through, ducking through a curtain of prayer beads, and gestured at a leather abomination at the side. Wires hung from it like nooses, tied together with cold iron, bits of lead, and what I could only described as the smell of liquid pencils. He tapped it.
I paused, and he reached through space again for the contract, so I ducked into the seat before he could touch it again.
“Good, good, you’re starting to get it. Really Murray, this place isn’t so bad.”
“Yeah, you seemed to have joined voluntarily.”
“I’ve always been a bit of a rebel,” Mark shrugged. “Can you blame me for getting out of the army when I could? They cut most of our benefits and the rhetoric about dying for the cause just wasn’t cutting it when I got the bill for getting the lead out of my legs.”
“Then you became a nurse?” I asked.
He wound the wires around my arms, and then the needles slid in. They slid past my skin, past where my bones should be, and somewhere deeper still, where the depths of magic held, and then the cold iron reacted with bits of electricity. I grit my teeth (they didn’t exist) and rode the fire and rode the flame until a machine started beeping rapidly to the side.
“Ah,” Mark said. “I knew you were powerful, but you overloaded the sensors.”
“That is what being a djinn means,” I said, cross. “We should not be bound up like this. The world is our playground.”
“And that’s the arrogance again,” Mark said, sliding past. I ignored the smell of brimstone rising off of him and tried to ignore the cool prick of wires inside of my soul. He’d been feminine last time, regardless, and though I knew he was making his shoulders ever more squarer to mess with me, I couldn’t help but remember stupid nights spent painting mountain tops in fire and poetry written in constellations.
But that was the past, and he clearly wasn’t interested.
“That arrogance was supposed to be charming,” I whined.
“We all grow up,” Mark said, walking back to my side. He carefully undid the wires, and I only made a few awkward noises when my ex’s skin touched mine (not the least of which came because his skin was burning hot, and I was still mostly bound in a mortal shell) and then I slid out of the chair.
The holes in my skin healed up already when I ran my hands over them, so I sauntered over to his side and squinted at the results, which were… squiggly lines and burning smells. Wonderful.
“Yeah, and you grew a six pack,” I joked. “You never had that back then.”
“Working for things is an interesting experience, I’ll admit,” Mark said. “The gym is very nice here. Maybe you should use it.”
Was he mad? Why would I ever use a gym?! He must’ve read my expression, because an impish gleam darted across his burning coals.
“You’re in the past, Murray,” Mark said. “Live in the now.”
“My now is being trapped in an LLC and nobody seems to have a clue what to do with me,” I said, cross. “Am I really supposed to be alright with it?”
“Better than jail,” Mark said. “Isn’t that what happened to your other lover?”
I bit my tongue, and was surprised to find it hurt. I turned away from him. That- that djinn was locked in a closet somewhere. Where he’d hopefully never hurt anyone else ever again.
“Ah, so you do have some idea of consequences. Glad to see you grew those.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, a tad quieter. “And I guess this is slightly better than a closet somewhere.”
“You won’t be flasked here except in emergency cases,” Mark continued. “So I wouldn’t worry about that.”
Well, if Mark wasn’t lying to me (his style had always been one of direct torture, rather than some of the more subtle arts; one of the reasons why we’d ended up together had been the utter mess he’d made of the Aegean sea) that was a relief at least. I just…
“What do we even do here?”
“Like I said,” Mark said. “A little bit of everything.” He dug through his supplies, and a machine spat out a flurry of papers embedded with sigils and runes and little spelly bits I’d never bothered learning the proper names for. He flipped through them like they were of grave importance, then shoved them at me. “Here. Go take these to the oracles.”
“Which is…?” I said, gesturing. The papers crinkled in my hands. Mark sighed, and pointed at a map on the wall.
I leaned forward, tried to memorize it (I couldn’t just wish I had it memorized, after all) and then shrugged. “Close enough.”
Then I walked past him. Hopefully, I wasn’t going to run into another one of my exes around here. Hopefully.
Or if I did, maybe they wouldn’t spend the entire time roasting me. That’d be nice.