Anna sat with an angel and she was not afraid. It wasn’t the angel she was used to chatting with, which might have inspired a degree of concern, but against the backdrop of a warm and lovely day, and while surrounded a veritable horde of friends and allies, Anna found that she was able to relax and unwind as she sipped the drink the angel had brought.
“For a world which experienced an extinction level event, things are rather busy today it seems,” Jacqueline, the Guardian Angel, said. She gestured to the various people racing hither and thither in the space outside Anna’s office.
“We’re creatures of habit,” Anna said. “Yesterday changed the world, quite literally, and we are all trying to catch up with what that means.”
“But you must have had somethings in place already,” Jacqueline said. “It was your plan after all wasn’t it?”
“The broad strokes followed the scheme we setup,” Jen said. “The exact details though played out in a million different ways.”
“Not to mention the new relationships we have with all of the worlds which watched the final conflict,” Zoe said, as she threaded her fingers through Anna’s hand. Their wedding rings gleamed together as Zoe rested her other hand over Anna’s as well. “It turns out that apocalypses can reset a lot of expectations and cast one’s values into a whole new light.”
“Most of our work now is about managing those new relationships and helping them grow,” Anna said, offering Zoe a contented smile. “The Earth has a new beginning to work from, and new friends and allies. We’re sure to make mistakes, but we have a lot of history to draw on to help us avoid repeating at least some of the worst ones.”
“Charlene will be so pleased to hear you are doing well,” Jacqueline said.
“She really can’t come back?” JB asked.
“No, but she did want me to give you this,” Jacqueline said, and handed Anna an ornate scroll, sealed with a perfect circle of a clear crystalline substance.
“She’d mentioned before she left that you might show up afterwards,” Anna said. “I gather there’s some question about judging the work she did?”
“That’s my official reason for visiting this world, yes,” Jacqueline said, taping a sip of her drink. “I’m supposed to decide if your world is still in need of isolation and oversight.”
“But there’s more on your mind than that?” Jen asked. With the magic that suffused the world, her clockwork arms were more mobile and responsive than ever but she had leaned into the aesthetic even further so that small puffs of steam escaped and tiny lights flashed as she reoriented her fingers to sip from the glass in front of her.
The wine was good – heavenly if one were feeling in the mood for wordplay – but it was the aura peace Jacqueline radiated which felt like the real gift she’d brought.
“I suppose I just had to see for myself the wonders Charlene was talking about,” Jacqueline said.
“There’s plenty of them to see now,” Zoe said. “Everything is so new and fresh that there’s a lot of material world and the realms beyond it that are effectively unexplored terrain.”
“That is a pleasant perk of the renewal you managed to bring about, but the wonder Charlene spoke of is the change in the people of this world.”
“That was what we counted on,” Jen said. “We knew early on what the fate of the Earth was supposed to be.”
“We could have changed it too,” Zoe said. “Which was something we knew the High One wouldn’t be able to accept since to him fate was just another word for how he wished things to be, and he was too used to everything proceeding just as he desired as long as he could see the underpinning of how power was arranged within a world.”
“With that in mind, we were left with selling him and his allies on the notion that someone was going to claim victory over us and the only question was whether they wanted it to be them or someone else,” Jen said. “Once we had them convinced of that, we were able to play around with where we wanted the attacks to come, trying to make the High One’s forces focus on the areas that offered the most potential to resist the divine wrath he was going to throw at us.”
“We still lost some people, but they went down fighting,” Zoe said.
“And some were able to come back,” Anna said.
“Yes, the ones who chose to,” Jacqueline said.
“Do you know where the others are?” JB asked. “The people who didn’t make it back with the rest of us?”
“Yes. I do,” Jacqueline said, with a conciliatory smile.
“By spreading the fighting out as much as possible, we made sure as many people saw the kind of things that would let them believe in miracles and believe in us,” Jen said. “That’s what let us turn things around in the end.”
“It’s quite impressive. A whole world full of miracles, and its still standing. It’s unprecedented,” Jacqueline said. “How did you teach so many people at once I wonder?”
“We didn’t,” Anna said. “All it took was one of us to make the right miracle happen and everything else followed from there.”
“And what miracle was that?” Jacqueline asked.
“When the divine fire burned us, we were, for a brief moment, one with the force of creation. We didn’t have to perform a miracle at that point. All we needed to do was remind one another that we were already miracles,” Anna said. “Every day, with every breath we take, we are so unlikely, so impossible to replicate, such a collection of wonders that there’s no other term that can describe us better.”
“The High One tried to drown us in destruction, but in destroying what was, all he accomplished was to make room for what may someday be,” Jen said.
“And since this is our world, we’re the ones who get to chose what that someday is going to look like,” Zoe said.
“You in this room?” Jacqueline asked.
“No,” Anna said. “Even if we could, none of us would want that.”
“It’s impractical too,” Zoe said. “The material world alone is far to vast for any one group to control.”
“Most importantly though, having a single group, or worse a single person, in charge of everything is exactly what we were fighting against,” Jen said. “We don’t need one great and important figure in charge. We need everyone to have a part in determining what kind of world this is. The only reason we survived was because people saw all of the different ways we could be and all the different kinds of people who were out there. Without the ability to connect with each other like that, we never could have come together to bring our world back.”
“With that many voices, you will find disharmony and strife though,” Jacqueline said. “How do plan to deal with that?”
“Disharmony and strife aren’t inherently bad,” Anna said. “If people have the tools to moderate their disagreements, and return to a basis of mutual respect, disagreements can lead to deeper understandings on both parts.”
“The mutual part of that is important,” Jen said. “After what we’ve been through, people are a bit more open and accepting than they were, but there will be a lot of challenges going forward.”
“And how will you deal with those who oppose this change entirely?” Jacqueline asked. “Not everyone can be happy that the old world has been washed away.”
“No, not everyone is,” Anna said. “There are plenty of people already who are trying to reorganize those around them into the social structures they are familiar with the most.”
“In the last twelve hours, we’ve got hundreds of reports of would be proto-tyrants popping up and trying to reassert their old authority, or claim new control over people,” Zoe said. “It’s what’s keeping the Club’s associates so busy.”
“You are going to depose them as well?” Jacqueline asked.
“For the moment we’re focusing on getting the people they’re trying to oppress the information and support they need,” Anna said.
“And if violence breaks out?” Jacqueline asked.
“We’ll look for whatever answers are available,” Anna said.
“That might include responding in kind to the violence,” Jen said. “People have the right to make whatever choices they want with their lives, but we’re not going to let one group prey upon another. Genocide is no one’s right.”
“It sounds like you have your answers thought out,” Jacqueline said.
“We don’t,” Anna said. “We have some guiding principles, but we can’t know the answer to all of the situations that we’re going to face.”
“What about the situations you’ve already faced?” Jacqueline asked. “What is to become of those you set as your foes in this struggle?”
“That’s a mixed story,” Anna said.
“The Pure One High Command and the Preserver Leadership who remained on their homeworld are both claiming victory with images of the Ashen Earth to back them up,” Jen said. “We’re leaving the doors open for any more refugees who want to flee from their grip but the flow will be slowed for a while until word gets out that we’re still here and still welcoming the.”
“The troops who we saved from the High One’s final culling of souls prior to his ultimate strike, have generally undergone crisis of conscience in varying degrees,” Zoe said. “Some have petitioned for asylum already, and others had returned home. The rest are taking advantage of our amnesty offer to remain here until they are sure which direction they want to go.”
“And the High One?” Jacqueline asked. “What have you done with the god who destroyed your world?”
“Sadly, we didn’t carve him up and pass him out to everyone,” Zoe said.
“That is a typical use for a defeated god,” Jacqueline said. “By consuming the flesh of the divine, a measure of their power can be attained.”
“This world has seen enough of the High One’s power,” Anna said. “No, we let those he wronged be his judge and jury.”
“The High One poured far more power into the Earth than we needed to recreate ourselves and the rest of the planet,” Jen said. “We have an incredible surplus of magic still, and it seems to be growing rather than shrinking so it wasn’t hard to share the extra with the souls of those he’d sacrificed.”
“Ah, so you allowed them to be his executioners,” Jacqueline said, a note of sad understanding in her voice.
“Not at all,” Anna said. “He’s not dead.”
“What happened to him?” Jacqueline asked. “Where is he?”
“Right here,” Anna said, pointing to a small snow globe on her desk.
“I don’t feel anything from him,” Jacqueline said with an awed look on her face. The angel scrutinized the globe with eyes which looked far past its physical form.
“He’s turned entirely inwards,” Anna said. “They took his need to dominate others, his endless hunger and desire to be supreme and wrapped it around him. Now when he looks at his cage, he sees it as someone trying to escape his control. When he pushes for his freedom, he feels like someone is denying him what he is due. At every moment he feels all of the oppression he would chose to inflict on others, every ounce his will bearing down on them, making them feel smaller and less worthy, and the more he struggles against it, the stronger his prison becomes.”
“But that means that there remains a path out for him does it not?” Jacqueline asked.
“Yeah,” Jen said. “All he needs to do to be free is to truly and completely give up the desire to rule over others. If he can find true humility, and a true willingness to let others be as they are, then the walls that hold him in won’t exist anymore.”
“And until then, he gets to enjoy a hell all of his own making,” Zoe said.
“So the question remains, how will you judge us?” Anna asked. “Charlene said you might become our new Guardian if you thought it was appropriate.”
“I do not,” Jacqueline said with a shake of her head. “You will have no Guardian because you no longer need a Guardian. Charlene was right. You have grown, and you have proven that you can stand on your own. You will stumble, and you will fall. There will be terrible dangers and tragedies to come, but so too will there be victories and new beginnings. You stand on the edge of a new era, one with far greater responsibilities than you have known, one which will demand far more of you than has ever been asked before, but I believe Charlene was right. It is time for you to take that step. You are ready and you are everything she hoped you would be.”