It was nice while it lasted.
A year or two of nothing but the mandatory contact with Hell -and Heaven in Aziraphale's case-, meeting quota, occasionally handing in a report for the sheer bureaucratic purpose. You could stop the Apocalypse and all that, but bureaucracy was not a thing to mess with.
Earth had continued turning, life had continued existing. Good things had happened, some very bad things had happened, and Crowley had filed one or two complaints about them as he refused to take credit for them. Some things went too far.
To his surprise Hell had agreed. Even evil has its standards.
He and Aziraphale had just started pondering what to do now, when their respective sides had ordered them back into active service.
Because of humans, they had said.
Neither Crowley nor Aziraphale had believed that.
But they had worried that Heaven and Hell had finally thought of a suitable punishment for averting the Apocalypse and what came after it. Couldn't expect those bastards to keep their feet still. Especially about what came after it.
That was, of course, if neither side had caught on to what happened.
Neither had believed that either.
And then, both of them had thought about things, and had ultimately come to the conclusion that something pretty big must be looming ahead, and that Heaven and Hell had gotten nervous.
Neither wanted to believe that.
They had talked about things at length, gotten drunk and talked about it more.
So it was back to square one now.
Well, not square one, as square one would have been Eden. Or maybe an abandoned graveyard.
Whatever square number they were on now, it felt a little wobbly under their feet.
Crowley was reclining in the bath, the radio noodling out some opera. He was so at peace with things that he didn't register when the singer suddenly addressed him directly at first.
Crowley did a double take, splashing water everywhere, blessing in several tongues as he hit his leg against the faucet. "Yes?" when it fully sank in that Hell was contacting him like this for the first time in ever since , he quickly corrected himself to "Yes, lord?" Better play things safe for now.
THE DARK COUNCIL HAS MET AND HAS COME TO A DECISION, CROWLEY.
"Ha-... Have they?"
DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE FORGOTTEN? AFTER WHAT YOU DID? AFTER WHAT YOU TRIED? REJOICE AT THE FACT THAT THE BATH YOU ARE IN IS BUT A BATH.
Crowley paled and blessed silently as he sank into the water. So they had caught on.
A TASK AWAITS YOU, CROWLEY.
"A... task?" Well, a task meant he wasn't facing instant annihilation. Annihilation in small, painful doses, maybe.
Yeah, that sounded more likely.
INDEED. IT IS A CHANCE TO PROVE YOURSELF WORTHY OF A CONTINUED EXISTENCE. USE IT IF YOU KNOW WHAT IS GOOD FOR YOU. HERE ARE YOUR INSTRUCTIONS.
Crowley groaned. Still with the pouring knowledge into his brain. Couldn't they just send him a textmessage? They did catch on to how to do that by now, didn’t they?
He pondered the new knowledge.
"I... think something went wrong? You only gave me a time, but nothing..."
YOU BETTER BE NOT BE LATE.
Crowley sighed softly and submerged himself.
He came back up again. "Understood, lord."
DO NOT SPEAK TO THE ANGEL OF THIS, OR THE DARK COUNCIL MIGHT RECONSIDER THEIR DECISION. AND YOU DO NOT WANT THEM TO DO THAT, DO YOU?
Crowley turned off the radio before the singer had come back fully.
Shit, shit, shit! It had been so nice. He submerged himself again, brooding and pondering. 'Do not speak to the angel' they had said.
If they felt like making it this extra clear, Crowley thought gloomily, there's not much of a choice.
He came back up, dark hair clinging to his face.
Then again, they had only forbid he'd talk about this assignment with Aziraphale.
They did not forbid him from just talking to the angel.
The plan had been good.
It would have been better had it accounted for Aziraphale being in a sour mood when Crowley arrived.
"You have quite the nerve, my dear," the angel began as he stopped Crowley at the door to his shop. He glowered a little. "Leaving me standing like that."
Crowley cocked his head. "Pardon?"
Aziraphale tried to glower more intensely, pursing his lips into a pout. "Oh, you know what I'm talking about."
Crowley cocked his head further, now tilting his entire upper body. "I swear to Go- Sa-..." he hazarded a glance at the surrounding passersby, "I swear on the Bentley I don't."
Aziraphale crossed his arms and gave him a scrutinizing glare. "This won't do, Crowley."
"What?" Crowley frowned softly. "Look, can I at least come in for a moment to learn what I supposedly did?"
Aziraphale pondered this, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Oh, alright," he finally said and stepped aside.
Good, good. At least it wasn't a grudge Aziraphale was holding. Crowley ventured that the angel had reserved all energy an angel could pour into holding a serious grudge for unruly customers and people who tagged authors in mean-spirited reviews.
Aziraphale did not bid him to sit down. "Listen, Crowley, I'd like to make this quick, as I have important business to attend."
With a heavy sigh the angel shook his head, wringing his hands. "It's nothing of note, but I'd rather get it over with." He sighed again. "Oh, I'm sorry to be in such a mood over this and you. This has my feathers ruffled, I can tell you."
"Apology accepted. And I still don't know what I supposedly did."
"You pretty much ran off when I saw you at the market earlier. I thought it would have been nice to talk a little, we haven't spoken since we were ordered back into service, but you just ducked into the crowd when I called for you."
Then he considered everything, took off his sunglasses, and blinked again, this time with the intended effect. "What?"
"Don't 'What' me, my dear boy. I know you well enough to pick you out of any crowd. A change of wardrobe won't change that."
"Change of..." Crowley shook his head. "Aziraphale... What on Earth are you talking about? I haven't left my apartment for the past few days."
Imagine, if you will, a seemingly endless hall of rows and rows and rows of towering filing cabinets. A soft bluish glow fills the place, the cabinets so high their upper drawers vanish into the shadows.
Imagine further, one of the drawers up in the shadows being opened in utmost silence and something being removed.
If you think this spells Trouble, you are correct.
To say Crowley was worried was an understatement. The whole affair with his task was bad enough on its own. And Aziraphale' frazzlement wasn't helping.
Sure, he had an inkling that the angel might have been like that because he received a similar order from his side. Probably. Crowley would not have been surprised.
Not that he had come around asking Aziraphale about it. The angel had shooed him out of the shop (apologizing profusely) shortly after the revelation that Crowley had stayed at home these past few days.
The prospect of a message from Above throwing Aziraphale off so much he mistook a random stranger for Crowley...
It did not make Crowley look forward to his own appointment. Not that he had been looking forward to it before.
That was, of course, if Aziraphale had indeed received a similar summon. As dutiful as the angel was at bottom line, even now, Crowley knew Aziraphale would have hinted that something was amiss. Just as Crowley had planned to do.
And as Aziraphale hadn't done anything in the regard, Crowley opted for option B:
Aziraphale was doing something deeply embarrassing.*
*(Like a couple of years ago when the angel had gotten all worked up about the Mayan Calendar thing and hadn't told Crowley until after the actual Armageddon't what he had been up to.)
Crowley liked to hold on to that thought. It was amusing to imagine the angel's blabbering when he'd finally spill the beans about whatever wild-goose chase he'd been on.
It was certainly a much nicer thought than imagining what the task that awaited him now could be.
Crowley checked his watch as he sauntered back into his apartment. Whatever Hell had in store for him, they had exactly two more minutes to tell him where he's ought to go.
He frowned, and looked around. Something felt odd.
There was an odd demonic presence... present.
They weren't going for an ambush, were they?
In his own apartment.
Oh, who was he kidding? They would.
But would they wait till the given time?
No, no they wouldn't.
Crowley didn't relax however. Not with that presence around. It felt far too familiar, too, but he couldn't pin it down.
Concentrate, Crowley told himself. Had anything changed? He closed the door and edged forward.
Plants? Green and terrified.
Crowley stopped dead in front of the main door.
He pushed the door open with his foot nevertheless.
And jumped back with an hysteric yelp when a bucket did drop, spilling water all over the floor.
It was a good thing Crowley didn't actually have a heartbeat, otherwise it might have stopped now.
"And where exactly should I get bloody Holy Water from?" a voice called from the office, followed by a nasty cackle. "You should of seen yer face."
"Do come in, Crowley. We gots places to be."
Oh, this was just perfect, wasn't it?
Crowley got back up from having stumbled back and falling on his behind, dusted off his clothes and peeked into the office.
Hastur had made himself comfortable at the desk, feet up on it, hands folded in his lap.
Odd, he looked much more human.
"Do get your feet off my desk, will you?" Crowley mustered all bravado he could in this situation, and entered the office, taking a wide step over the puddle.
Hastur smiled a humorless smile, rose...
And a blink later Crowley found himself sprawled across his desk, the senior demon's hand on his throat, sharp nails digging into his skin.
"Jus' so we're clear," Hastur growled, "We're still far from done an’ over with. Not after wot you did."
Demons, unlike angels, could pour near infinite energy into holding grudges. It came with the job.
Hastur leaned forward, his free hand against Crowley's legs to keep him from kicking, his mouth inches from Crowley's ear.
"An' I know what you did after that. Had some time to think o’ a thing or two," he whispered.
Well, that answered things at least. Crowley groaned, clawing haplessly at the other demon's wrist. Bless it, he should have been more paranoid and careful.
He expected the worst.
He certainly didn't expected Hastur to let go of his throat and legs, and stand back up.
"Unfortunately the Master made it blessed clear he wants t’see you in one piece an’ preferably alive."
Crowley stared up at Hastur. Well, hadn’t he just been expecting the worst? Who’d have thought it’d be this bad?
But then again, there was something entirely displeased in Hastur's face, disappointed even.
And it wasn't a 'I won't be allowed to finally make you pay' disappointment.
Crowley wasn't certain if that was a good thing.
"Bloody snake," Hastur murmured, and frowned. "Well, come then," he added with an air of finality, snapped his fingers, and with the sound off paper ripping the two demons were gone.
The demonic presence let out an exhausted sigh.
It wasn't that what Aziraphale was up to would have been embarrassing. But he had been asked to keep this secret from Crowley. A 'just in case' thing rather than anything malicious.
He felt, at bottom line, more guilty about doing a little miracle to have his old computer run the program and everything needed for what he was going to do. He vowed to buy a proper computer once this was done and over with.
If he didn't forget.
And if it became necessary.
Which he doubted.
"Hello, Adam," he greeted as the video call connected.
"Glad you could call," Adam greeted back and smiled.
Aziraphale sighed. He was really having a video call with The Antichrist. Whatever was the world coming to?
"You... are looking well," said Aziraphale politely, not knowing what else to do. How do you start a casual chat with the Antichrist anyway?
"Thanks, so do you," Adam responded, dragging the angel from his thoughts. "I'll make this quick. Do you already know why you have been called back to London? Have they figured what you've done?"
Aziraphale shook his head. "Not yet. And thankfully no. Anything new on your end?"
Likewise, Adam shook his head. "Nothing aside from that thing I told you about."
That... was concerning.
Adam had contacted Aziraphale three days ago, and after about two hours worth of smalltalk, apologies and catching up, he had revealed to the angel that he had felt an odd ripple in reality that he couldn't pin down. And had asked him not to tell Crowley.
Aziraphale, since, had been getting his wings in a twist trying to make sense of it. He had hoped that Heaven would fill him in (as much as he dreaded their call), but no message had come. So far at least.
"Anything from Crowley?" asked Adam in a distinct 'last straw' tone. He had wanted to avoid getting Hell involved, just in case this wasn't originating from there already.
"It wouldn't appear so. Oh, he had been here earlier, but you know him. Had there be any trouble he'd have hinted at it. Assuming Hell would have forbidden him to say anything."
Adam nodded thoughtfully. "They would. You'll keep an eye open?"
"Of course." Aziraphale leaned back in his chair and glowered darkly.
"Mhn? Oh, nothing. It's just...." he told Adam about Crowley's odd behavior at the market. "He said it wasn't him, though. But I’ve known him for so long now." He frowned. "This isn't like him. Even with what we're going through now... Oh, I hope he is alright."
Crowley could not have been further from alright if he and alright had been on opposite ends of the universe. Alright, maybe if he had been in pieces and pain, but those were really the only two factors. And Crowley had the sinking feeling they might sooner or later be added to the equation.
Hastur dragged him along the corridors of Hell, and slowly but steadily Crowley got disoriented.
That was one of the main issues with Hell. When they redecorated, they did it thoroughly. Other people rearranged furniture, Hell rearranged the entire everything.
"Where are we going?" Crowley finally blurted out. Hastur stopped briefly and looked back at him.
Huh, so Crowley's first impression had been right. Hastur did definitely look fully human.*
*(Except for the eyes, but Crowley was about as far from being in any position to criticize that as he was from alright .)
Crowley was getting curious about it. The senior demon had only ever put effort and energy into a fully human-appearing form when he was out working on his Lust quota.
But never down here.
"Whatcha staring at?" Hastur snarled, and glared down at Crowley in a way that said 'I'll hurt you if you answer, and I'll hurt you if you don't, so spit it out'.
"Your form..." said Crowley.
Hastur rolled his eyes and sneered, and yanked Crowley's arm to drag him deeper into the bowels of Hell. He didn't answer.
"Look what the cat dragged in."
Hastur froze as another demon stepped into the hallway. It took Crowley a moment to recognize who it was. Valefar, a Duke of Hell, and maybe the only denizen of Downstairs Hastur hated more than he hated Crowley.
Valefar looked past Hastur, and grinned at Crowley, showing a lion-fang-lined grin. "Ah, of course it's you. Who else would Hastur have to run and fetch."
Hastur growled, his hand twitching.
Valefar took a step forward, and patted Hastur's cheek. "And this time you managed without losing anyone. Good boy," he cackled.
And Crowley braced himself for Hastur lashing out at the other Duke. But it didn't happen.
"Out of my way, Valefar," Hastur snarled. "I have a delivery to make."
"Oh, so I heard," said Valefar, "That's why I'm here indeed. I'll be taking the Serpent to our Master. And you, boy, hurry along."
Hastur glared. And spat at the other Duke. "As if I'd fall for that."
Something ancient flashed behind Valefar's eyes.
It was a good thing that Crowley had braced himself already, so rolling back to his feet when Hastur pushed him to the side was child's play. When he looked back at the older demons they were already engaged in a full-blown fight.
Which was a mistake on Valefar's part.
They were both fast, vicious and dirty cheats, but Valefar wasn't a demon to ever go to Earth unless summoned.
Hastur meanwhile has the advantage of having engaged in tavern brawls on Earth since taverns existed.
Valefar was down and out in less than a minute, a nasty gash on his face.
Hastur pocketed a straight razor with a practiced motion, and kneeled down next to his groaning opponent. "Good luck next time. You'll need it." He kicked Valefar in the ribs for good measure and stalked over to Crowley.
"Bloody time-wasting bastard," he murmured, and looked Crowley up and down. "And what are you waiting for? Come." A grin spread on Hastur's face. "Ah, before I forget it: Belphegor's awake."
Aziraphale was pacing back and forth in the shop, trying to make sense of what Adam had told him so far, and of what he had experienced himself.
There was a sudden surge in energy that Adam said felt like his own.
There was Crowley's odd and evasive behavior.
There was of course the general situation on Earth.
There was the sheer fact they'd been ordered back into service.
There was Gabriel standing a few feet away, looking smug as ever.
Aziraphale let out a yelp and fell backwards over a chair, muttering curses under his breath as he bumped his head against a shelf.
"Language, Aziraphale," said the Archangel, all too pleased with himself, and Aziraphale scrambled to his feet. He huffed and dusted off his clothes.
"Oh, with all due respect, but you could have knocked or otherwise announced yourself," he said.
"You seemed too sunken in thoughts to notice," said Gabriel. "I assume you have a moment now? Certainly you do."
Aziraphale didn't even get to look bewildered before they were gone in a flash of light.
Hell was hardly what humans commonly imagined. At least on the whole. There were bits that fit common beliefs much more closely, like fiery pits and medieval torture chambers.
But that was less due to it being Hell, but due to these areas being the inner sanctu-... office of Satan himself. The inner offices of all the seven Archdemons that made up the Dark Council reflected which one of the Deadly Sins they oversaw:
You had your lavish decorated dens of Lust with Asmodeus, the overwhelming hoards of material goods with Mammon, or soaked odds and ends that seemed stolen together from the other Archdemons with Leviathan.*
*(Some demons familiar with human culture tended to make jokes about Leviathan trying to be 'Part of their World'. They all mysteriously drowned on dry ground.)
And then there was what someone had dubbed the 'Phantasmagoetia'**
** (Demons generally lacked imagination, until it came to physically painful puns)
The dwelling of the Archdemon of Sloth, Belphegor, was an unsteady, ever-changing nightmarish (by Hell's standards by all means) amalgamation of... things. The best description of it for humans was probably that it had all the whimsical wrongness of an abandoned fun house, and then some.
Bosch and Bruegel would have called it weird.
It was a bit of a Lost & Found for demons that didn't really fit anywhere else. Those that were too meek, too ineffective, too... odd in their ways, yet held too much potential for... something.
But at the same time Belphegor was considered one of the most dangerous demons in the nine circles. She was quick-witted, had an entirely undemonic creativity and grasp on human technology -in fact, she was in charge of Hell's inventions-, was entirely unpredictable, and always seemed to know a little more than she should.
Only issue was that as Archdemon of Sloth she was quite a bit of a cloudcuckoolander with a tendency to sleep for extensive periods of time.
But when she was awake...
There were demons that caught themselves genuinely praying the moment news spread that Belphegor was up and about.
Crowley had all reasons to consider himself screwed.
Then again, Belphegor had taken a liking to him.
Scratch that, he was probably especially screwed since Belphegor had taken a liking to him.
"They... redecorated..." said Crowley as Hastur dragged him down the narrow, sloping passage into Sloth's abode.
Hastur simply harrumphed, and pushed Crowley down the corridor, "Get movin'."
Crowley looked around, immediately regretting the decision. He was a belphegorian demon himself, but he had never gotten used to the Phantasmagoetia.
The general look and feel of the area wasn't the only thing that was not-wrong-but-not-exactly-right-even-by-Hell's-standards, as were the demons dwelling here. And they were watching him with growing interest.
"News spread fast in this corner o' Hell." Hastur grinned and ducked under a low archway, stepping into a large empty chamber.
One of those hanging wicker chairs stood on the far end of the chamber, some sort of light filtering through an opening in the ceiling. Crowley had to give Belphegor credit for the illusion of a sky above.
It was silent, only dust floating in the beams of light, until Hastur took a step forward, dragging Crowley with him, their steps echoing loudly in the empty room, startling some... pigeons -Crowley knew better than to take a closer look at them- into taking flight.
Hastur straightened his posture as they reached the middle of the room, and the wicker chair began to turn. Crowley felt it before it happened. The air around them seemed to waver and distort, and with the sound of piano wire snapping the whole room changed.
Gone was the bleakness of Hell, replaced by... Crowley sighed heavily. They were standing in a twisted version of Eden, Tree and all.
The chair stopped turning, and its inhabitant looked lazily at the two lower demons.
Crowley would have given everything to take a nosedive into a tub full of Holy Water now .
At the same time, Aziraphale was sitting down in front of Gabriel's desk. This going to be a heart-to-heart.
"First things first, Aziraphale," said Gabriel sitting down and folding his hands, "We know what you did."
"Oh?" Well, that was bad.
Gabriel smiled and pushed a letter across the table. "The penultimate correspondence we held with Hell. Go ahead, read it."
Well, that was worse.
Aziraphale took the writing gingerly, fumbled for his glasses and began reading.
And was taken aback for a moment. The letter was a mess of crossed out lines, doodles and what looked like tea stains.
It read thus:
To Ye Celest- [crossed out]
Dear Hea- [likewise crossed out]
To the Heavenly [crossed out with wiggly lines]
I am writing this letter ... I could type this up, couldn't I? I mean, you folks Up There have computers, right? Fax? If not, let me know. It'd be funny. Anyway... I'm writing this letter to inform you of what your field angelnt...
Aziraphale pinched the bridge of his nose at that, but continued reading.
... Aziraphale (was that his name? I think that was his name) ((Is it he? Does said angel take a male form and everything right now?)) and our field agent Crowley (I'd think you'll definitely have that names in your files, but if not for some reason, check for Crawly, Serpent of Eden, or Ke~...
Aziraphale squinted, trying to read the rest. The handwriting here had dissolved... Virtually, into lazy scribbling, and, literally, where tea had drenched through the paper, taking the ink with it. He scanned the letter for the next readable bit.
...~at one, yes. Anyway, I heard that what happened after they twart [crossed out] thward [likewise] stopped Armageddon and I wondered how you have not had them face consequences for...
Aziraphale paled. The rest of the paragraph detailed what he and Crowley had done down to a T.
...I thought I'd let you know. I mean, I told Satan already, and oh boy he's pissed... okay... Archdemon of Wrath and all, but I mean really [underlined and circled] pissed. But I think it's kinda funny and I love their creativity here, so I think each side should deal with their respective agent accordingly.
I have an idea on the how, should you like to hear it.
Belphegor, Archdemon of Sloth, The Disputer, Hell's Ambassador to France (Did I give Crowley credit for inventing french? I need to check that.)
"We do know by now that this account is truthful," said Gabriel, as Aziraphale pocketed his glasses with shaking hands. "Is there anything you would like to tell us?"
Aziraphale pressed his lips together.
"But before you answer," said Gabriel and gave him a satisfied and too kind smile, "Remember that Heaven receiving that letter and arranging for things must be part of the..., ah, what was the term you used again... Ineffable Plan, don't you agree?"
In that moment Aziraphale became dreadfully aware that no language known to Heaven, Hell or humans had a swear appropriate for how he felt.
"You..." Aziraphale began, not entirely certain where this was heading.
"I believe I don't have to remind you," Gabriel continued and got up, moving towards the window, "that technically speaking your punishment for thwarting the Apocalypse is still open."
The response was a gulp. Because, yes, technically... but then again... but also.
"So, you and that demon will be given supervisors from here on," Gabriel interrupted Aziraphale's train of thought by dropping an entire herd of cows onto the track.
"Supervisors, Aziraphale. Heaven and Hell have agreed that, all things considered, you are most suited as field agents. And that it won't do if you foil the Apocalypse again when the time comes. Thus..."
Aziraphale hung his head. "I understand."
"Ehm... This supervisor..."
"Who are they?"
"A," Gabriel rubbed his chin as if looking for the right word, "recent arrival. But very eager to play a part in this. You see, it's all working out surprisingly well."
Aziraphale sighed... and invented a suitable swear under his breath.
"Crowley," Belphegor slurred, eyeing him with amusement, "It's been a while, hasn't it? When was the last time we saw each other?"
"Emm, thirteenth century, I think, before you went and took a nap," said Crowley, and suddenly made a face as if he had a major epiphany.
"Yes, I remember. I think we kind of missed each other in the nineteenth century. But I know what you did since then."
Belphegor sat up, stretched, and looked at Hastur expectantly.
Hastur cleared his throat. "'S Belphegor wot told Hell whatcha got up to. Woke up, took a gander at things an' went 'Yeah, them two swapped bodies an' shite, 'ow didn't y'notice?'." Hastur made a dismissive gesture. "As if it weren't no big deal."
"It wasn't," said Belphegor and rose from her seat, wandering over to the two lower demons and going tiptoes to look Hastur in the eyes. "And it's really weird how you people couldn't tell." She bounced on her toes a little and looked at Crowley. "I'd have just cut his head off and dealt with what came out. Quickest way t'go 'bout things." She smiled, kaleidoscope-like eyes shining. "So, ten points to Phantasmagoetia for fantastic flabbergasting flapdoodlery."
Crowley looked bewildered and worried. Hastur looked as if he could do with a drink or three.
"You know, Crowley," said Belphegor, picking an apple from the Tree (it was blue), "I think the whole 'punishment fitting the crime' is nonsense. That ironic stuff is something She can do very well without some jealous, wrathful full-of-themselves Archangels throwing hissy-fits and some pseudo-diplomacy." Belphegor took a great bite out of the discoloured fruit and gazed into the distance.
Crowley shifted his weight from foot to foot.
And after another five minutes dared to clear his throat. Belphegor looked at him as if she had forgotten he was there. Which she probably had.
"Ah, 'bout the whole punishment thing," said Hastur as helpfully as he was capable of.
"Oh, yes," said Belphegor, plugging the apple back onto the Tree. "Now, we -the Council that is, after Asmodeus returned from America and Leviathan could be arsed to come to the surface- talked about things. And we found something much better than irony."
Belphegor smiled brilliantly, and Crowley stiffened.
"The Council wants you to retrieve a file from The Archives," she said.
Crowley's posture slumped in surprise and he blinked at the Archdemon. "What... I mean... What, Mistress?"
Next to him, Hastur shared his bafflement.
Belphegor shrugged and handed Crowley a slip of parchment.
It was empty.
Crowley looked at Hastur, who still seemed as clueless, and then back at Belphegor.
For a moment he wondered if the Archdemon didn't mix him up with another demon all of a sudden. As Archdemon of Sloth Belphegor was quite prone to being a little scatterbrained.
Then again, it were the archives. And those were everything one could expect in Hell. And worse, since people down here had taken some cues from humans. Still, he couldn't see how that was suitable punishment. He wondered what the catch was.
Crowley looked down at the parchment again, just as fiery lines began to appear.
"That's the file we want you to retrieve," said Belphegor.
The lines had completed themselves and it took Crowley a moment to recognize the message.
Immediately he dropped the parchment as if it were a holy relic. Turned out the catch was a bit of a pitfall with sticky spikes at the bottom.
"Mistress," Crowley blubbered, "I..."
Belphegor smiled from ear to ear. "What's wrong, Crowley? Is a small, simple trip to The Archives asking too much?"
Crowley let out a heavy sigh and picked up the note again. "No, Mistress." He looked gloomily at the writing. It was a file-code, alright. Just not one of Hell's.
Hastur leaned over as inconspicuously as his build allowed, and grinned satisfied.
"Good luck, pal. Really doubt ye'll be allowed Upstairs for that now. Or in any case. Have a happy demise."
"We expect this done immediately," interrupted Belphegor. "So you two best hurry along."
Hastur's smile faltered, while Crowley's head shot up.
"What?" they croaked in unison.
"Why am I... This is about Crowley and what he did with Ligur," Hastur seethed. "And stoppin' Armageddon and all!..." He drew a sharp breath as he remembered who he was talking to. "Mistress," he added quickly.
"Yes," Belphegor smiled amused. "And about you failing to stop him."
Crowley had never seen Hastur look so defeated.
"I..." Crowley ventured, clinging to a straw, "... assume, going by what you said, the whole diplomatic approach and such is off?"
Belphegor looked at him blankly, and then nodded to Hastur to answer.
"Ya," he grumbled. "An' after what you an' yer angel pulled, Up There an' Down Here've upped security measures'n shite. Setting foot into Heaven now kills a demon faster than..." Hastur choked back the comparison, and Crowley knew which he had been going for. Even if he hadn't guessed, the glare Hastur then gave him would have told him. "Just like gettin' down'ere now makes an angel fall even faster if they don't burn first."
"So, you're sending us Upstairs to... just die painfully?"
Belphegor shook her head at Crowley. "We want you to retrieve that file. It's very important."
Crowley drew a sharp breath. But, without moving to cross the distance between them, Belphegor came face to face with him, pressing something into his hand.
Crowley looked down. It was a bracelet. It looked a little like a smartwatch in the shape of an hourglass.
Belphegor flounced over to Hastur, giving him an identical bracelet, and what looked like a keycard.
"The card is for the disused express elevator," Belphegor explained. "The thingamabobs will give you one hour of protection from all the blessedness Up There and hide you from their surveillance." She whacked her finger at them. "One hour, once activated. Understood?"
Crowley looked at Hastur, who begrudgingly put the bracelet on.
"Yes..." he said, and Hastur just grunted in agreement.
"Splendid." Belphegor clapped her hands. "Now. Orias has prepared suitable clothes for you. Off you go."
Entirely elsewhere, yet not too far away, there was a meeting.
"So what do you think?" said the first figure, huddling into the corner of the abandoned room they were in.
"We're either extremely lucky," said the other, smaller figure, "or extremely screwed."
"By what standards?"
The second figure pondered. "The local ones, I'd say."
The first figure crossed their arms and nodded wistfully. "I can live with those."
White was not Crowley's colour. Especially not white and cream. He had to give Orias and his underlings credit though: They had manufactured a sleek, snazzy suit that might as well have been nicked from Heaven directly. Orias had even managed to make Hastur look good.
Even though Crowley wasn't certain what exactly to make of a celestial mobster outfit.
Hastur meanwhile swiped the card through a reader in the elevator, pocketed it as the doors closed and put on a pair of sunglasses.
"We look like complete wankers," he said, eyeing their reflection in the mirrored doors. Then he grinned. "Gonna blend in perfectly."
"We're... really going to do this?" Crowley dared to ask, adjusting his own glasses.
"Seems so, dunnit?" Hastur stared into space for a moment, before elbowing Crowley into the stomach.
"What was that for now?" Crowley coughed once he found his breath again.
That was good enough an answer. Crowley brought as much of a distance between himself and Hastur as currently possible, eyeing the senior demon more warily than ever before.
He had never seen Hastur as tense as now. Or better, not this kind of tense. Hastur was usually wound up to the point of snapping, but something seemed different. Crowley couldn't name it. It wasn't the usual annoyance, and it wasn't any form of worry about this kamikaze mission either.
Still Crowley couldn't name it. He just wished he could talk to Aziraphale right now.
"One hour," Hastur suddenly said, as the elevator slowed down. "Count of three," he reached for the bracelet. Crowley scrambled to do the same. "One. Two. Three."
With a menacingly cheerful chime the door opened, and even with his sunglasses Crowley had to squint a little at the bright light, taking in the scene.
Well, wasn't that just splendid? Heaven had redecorated, too.
"This might become an issue," said the older one, watching the cars go by.
The younger one shrugged, throwing an empty plastic cup over their shoulder into the shrubbery. "'S maybe what we need?" they asked almost hopefully. "You got a ride?"
The older one considered, and looked down at a torn newspaper page reporting on a recent measles outbreak. "And all that due to digital rubbish. You can be proud of yourself, kid," they added, and the younger one smiled a smile that reminded a little of dried battery acid.
Aziraphale was dithering, to say the least. Sure, getting a supervisor was better than total personal annihilation. In theory. But if Heaven had agreed to a suggestion like that from Hell ... there had to be a catch.
At least he had been given a moment to wander the new lush inner courtyard (Aziraphale had to admit, he liked the greenery and the fountain they put up there) to clear his mind before meeting that new supervisor.
Then again, Aziraphale suspected that this was meant to keep him on edge. They knew he'd come up with some unpleasant scenarios on what to expect. How bad could it be, he mused.
The most plausible scenario was that this was meant to drive a wedge between him and Crowley. If they'd constantly have someone watching their every move from now on...
Aziraphale shook his head. What should he do? Could he do?
"G'morning, dear," he greeted as Crowley walked by.
"G'morning, angel," Crowley greeted back.
Then they both froze.
Aziraphale spun on his heels and pulled Crowley into the shadow of one of the concrete columns lining the courtyard.
"Crowley, what are you doing sneaking around in Heaven?... How did you even get in here?" he hissed with growing despair. "You are a demon !"
"And the Patron Saint of Manchester, thank you very much."
Aziraphale gave him a long, cool look. "No really, what on Earth are you doing here? How? Heaven and Hell upped their security measures after they found out about our little exploit. Kills demons faster than Holy Water..."
"And gets angels to Fall or burn even faster, I heard, I heard." Crowley groaned softly, hazarded a glance around and revealed Belphegor's device. "This gives me about an hour up here. Aziraphale, please, they want me to get a file from your Archives. Just point me there and..."
Aziraphale bristled a little. "Crowley, I can't allow that, no matter what. Especially not with the new supervisor around."
"Guess Hell didn't go through with their end of that plan then." Aziraphale wrung his hands. "Listen, as I just said, Heaven knows what we did."
"So does Hell."
"I'm aware. Guess who told Heaven."
"Crowley, listen," Aziraphale pleaded, casting a nervous look around. Thankfully there were few other angels in the courtyard (most of them were on the galleries surrounding it). "Hell contacted Heaven not too long ago and..."
Crowley peeked over the rim of his glasses. "Angel. I have a bit more than half an hour left. Short version, please."
Aziraphale gave him the short version.
"Tsk," Crowley went, "Aren't we a little old for a nanny? Anyway, angel. Archives."
"I can't just point you to Heaven's Archives, Crowley."
"They want me to retrieve a file."
"'Steal' you mean."
"They can hardly go and just asked for it, now that they cut of all the diplomatic approaches, right?"
"I look away fer a second, and y'go rattin' us out?" came a snarl from the shadows, and Crowley made an odd sound as Hastur stepped up behind him.
"Wot, not gonna introduce us?" said Hastur, glaring at both of them (but mostly Aziraphale) over his glasses. "Haven't met officially, 'ave we?"
Aziraphale shuffled a little and nervously.
"Look, I wanna survive the next night. Got that, Principality?" said Hastur, crossing his arms. Aziraphale didn't miss the surprise on Crowley's face, but he couldn't sort it. He had an inkling, however, that Crowley was surprised at the senior demon being so... civil.
Then again, they were in Heaven, they were on a time limit and... Aziraphale made a distressed sound.
"What file do you need?" he said, after looking around again, hoping for the best.
Crowley fished a slip of paper from his pocket. "It's a pretty old one, innit?"
Aziraphale read the note. And nodded. "That's pre-edenic even."
"Hah, y'owe me one, Crowley." Hastur grinned.
"Look," said Aziraphale, handing the note back, "I'll pretend I didn't see you..."
"Pretend you gave directions to newly-fangled angels," Crowley grinned, flicking a forked tongue at Aziraphale.
"Oh stop that. For this one, you owe me quite a bit, dear. Up three floors, and than straight that way till you're there. Now hurry."
"You're an angel, angel."
Aziraphale wrinkled his nose as Hastur swept a mocking bow before he pulled Crowley along. Then he wrung his hands, hoping that he'd done the right thing.
It had to be, he concluded. A file that old... Hell was more than likely just trying to either get Crowley killed or at least very miserable. Can't have that, can we?
The only thing that worried him was Hastur's presence. Why would they...
"Aziraphale, innit?" someone called, and Aziraphale jumped in surprise. He turned, looking at the other angel.
"Yes. Can I help you?"
The other made a thoroughly unimpressed face. "Y've been told 'bout that whole supervisor thing? That'd be me."
"Oh." Aziraphale blinked. There was something odd about the other, Aziraphale just couldn't put his finger on it.
Maybe it was the chameleon perched on his shoulder.
Crowley was snaking his way through the present crowd, always ducking out of sight the moment he felt someone's eyes on him.* Hastur, meanwhile, was stalking ahead, looking like...
Angel of the Apocalypse was definitely not appropriate, but he was definitely in a bad mood.
*Which was quite a bit of work, as not all angels were wandering around in a human shape.
But still something about it struck Crowley as off. Hastur was a nasty, bitter and humorless piece of work, but there was a bitterness in his demeanor now that was... off. If Crowley hadn’t known Hastur wasn't capable of either, he'd have called it wistfulness and regret.
And demons had no use for regret to begin with. Crowley knew best.
At least making their way to the Archives gave him some time to study Hastur closer.
The older demon moved smoother, albeit he seemed to be limping a little. Seems he finally grew into his human form. He did look a bit smaller, a little scrawnier, the hair was a little darker, a bit longer and there was an attempt of slicking it back..
"I like what you did with your hair," Crowley tried to be conversational.
Hastur spun around, towering over him. "Shut yer bloody mouth you insufferable... Archangel!"
Hastur had ducked to the side. "Archangel at twelve o'clock!"
"...What?!" Crowley craned his neck and stared ahead baffled.
"My twelve o'clock!" Hastur hissed and pulled him behind one of the columns. "Hope they didn't spot us."
Crowley hazarded a glance around the column.
Oh joyous day. There were Michael and Uriel, absorbed in conversation, coming their way.
"Nice spot-check there," Crowley began, but Hastur put a hand over his mouth.
Crowley had to admit the way Hastur moved them into the blind spot of the approaching-then-passing Archangels was a work of art.
"Close one," he said, when Hastur finally withdrew his hand.
The response was a stoic nod.
"Now hurry up!"
"Easier said than done." Crowley frowned, following Hastur onto a narrow, empty gallery a floor up. "You're about 80% leg."
Hastur gave him a crooked grin that faltered when he checked Belphegor's device. "Bugger, we dun’ve much time left."
"Pray tell, you two, for what?"
Crowley and Hastur stopped dead in their tracks when Michael, accompanied by two other armed angels, stepped into their path, a satisfied smile on her lips. Behind the two demons, Uriel stepped up to block their way back with another pair of angels.
"Michael," Hastur began with a full-blown fuck-my-life grin, raising his hands (as did Crowley). "Always a pain t'see ya."
Michael reached up and took off his glasses.
"It's you. Ligur's... boyfriend."
Hastur rolled his eyes. "'S not a term we 'ave in Hell... Still jealous?" He flashed her a triumphant smirk.
Crowley quirked a suspicious brow at that.
"Be quiet." Michael scrunched up her nose in distaste, before looking at Crowley. "And you. Surprising seeing you two together, after..." Then she shook her head, some absurdly holy light dancing around her hand while the others readied their weapons. "It won't matter. You have broken into Heaven, the truce is off, and as Head of security, I..."
Hastur waved her off. "I know, I know." He let out a long, thoughtful sigh. "For the sake o' everything, do I get last words? There's something I need to know."
Michael cocked her head, but held a hand up for the others to wait. And frowned darkly. "Speak then."
"Would y'say that this' the most harebrained thing any demon's ever done?" said Hastur. "An' I mean compared to the Rebellion an'," he jabbed a thumb at Crowley, "stoppin' Armageddon?"
"That is one ridiculous question," said Michael. "But yes, even compared to that, it might very well be."
Hastur drew a resigned breath. "You might wanna reconsider that."
And he decked Michael square in the face.
Crowley didn't need to be told twice.
Dagon was distressed.
"But everyone isz accounted for?" Beelzebub asked, leafing through the files presented to her.
"Yes. Checked them again and again."
"No matter how you turn it?" Beelzebub leaned back and held a file up against the flickering light.
"Numbers are the one thing down here that don’t lie," said Dagon defeatedly, picking up a different file.
"Any chansze the Maszter'sz wayward szon brought back Duke Ligur now?"
Dagon shook her head. "He'd have reported fer duty already."
Beelzebub nodded thoughtfully, putting the file down. "Then we do have a szurplusz demon in Hell."
Adam had been a bit sad when Miss Anathema and Newt had ultimately left Jasmine Cottage. But life had to go on, hadn't it?
It also meant the news of a stranger coming to Tadfield had been all the more exciting.
"He has a really cool motorbike," said Pepper, dangling her legs from the low wall. "One of those vintage ones."
"And he really rented Jasmine Cottage?" Adam was eager to make sure.
People with vintage motorbikes didn't usually come to Tadfield.
"Ya," said Pepper, who only knew this before anyone else because it had been her mother to get the newcomer to the doctor's office after the horseshoe above the door fell off and hit him in the head.
Pepper had told the others as much.
Adam though about it. "We should go and make sure he's alright."
The others agreed.
Just Dog cocked his head rather curiously, as if listening to the odd hum in the air. Then again, so was Adam. Which, to him, was an even bigger reason to see what all this was about.
"...so, yes. It certainly is unconventional," Gabriel concluded, "but ask yourself, Aziraphale, in light of what you and that Crowley did, is it really as far off?"
Aziraphale sighed softly and looked from the Archangel to his new supervisor.
"No," he said. He still didn't know if this was better or worse than the originally intended punishment. "It's just, honestly, he..."
"Sorry to interrupt," came an urgent sounding voice form the door. Michael. "But there's a slight..." she let her gaze wander over the present angels. "...problem. Mind if I speak to you in private?"
Gabriel clapped his hands and rose. "Well, we were done here anyway. You two better hurry along. There's work to be done. Off to Earth you go."
He made a dismissive gesture, and Aziraphale and his new supervisor had no choice but to leave.
"Now, what is it?" Gabriel asked.
"Hell doesn't seem inclined to uphold their end of the deal," said Michael, matter-of-factly. "They sent two demons to break into Heaven."
Gabriel seemed surprised. "What do you mean?"
Michael looked back at the door. "It's Crowley and Hastur. We caught them sneaking around Heaven."
"Is that why you are rubbing your jaw like that?"
Michael stiffened and gave the other Archangel a brief glare. "Gabriel, this is serious. Hell has found a way to get into Heaven."
"Now, Michael, you are here, while those two are not. Which means whatever protected them wore off and they're gone for good, or..."
Michael's lips became a hair-thin line. "They escaped."
Gabriel cocked his head all innocently. "Then find out how they got here, get rid of it, and up the security."
Michael nodded. "Certainly."
"Be on your way then."
Michael turned, when Gabriel cleared his throat.
"Ah, just one more thing," he columboed her. "They did escaped to Hell, correct? You didn't leave them to roam around Heaven, did you?"
It was days like this when Michael could almost understand Aziraphale very, very well.
"Bless, that was close," Crowley gasped, trying to catch his breath again. At least Hastur wasn't faring any better.
They were slumped against one of the uncountable file drawers, finally certain Heaven's security had lost track of them.
The good news was they had found the Archives.
The bad news was everything else.
"What now?" Crowley asked. It wasn't as much a question as it was a necessity. When any given action goes against its planned course, people -including angels and demons- tend to get themselves stuck in some sort of mental holding pattern until someone asks What now? .
It's a safety measure to prevent effectiveness.
"Gimme that note." Hastur held out his hand without looking, and yanked the slip of paper from Crowley as it was held out.
"We've twenty minutes left." He looked at the drawer next to him, and clambered to his feet. "Doan' dawdle on me."
Crowley followed, scanning the rows and rows of file drawers.
"Ah, bless it," he ultimately muttered, tilting his head back.
"I think it's all the way up there," said Crowley, and pointed from the bottom drawer up to the ceiling. "I'll see if there's a ladder."
Hastur looked at him blankly and grabbed his arm as Crowley turned to go. "Normally I'd gladly let you go an' do that crap. But as we dun have the time... you can fly, you bastard."
"...Oh, yes, right." Crowley shook himself free and spread his wings. "B-R-B." And he took flight, albeit a bit clumsily.
"Be Are... really now?" Hastur grumbled, before checking his device again. They had wasted so much bloody time.
"It's gone." Crowley swooped down next to him.
"The file, it's not there. Every other file is, just not the one we're..."
Hastur looked as if he was about to bite Crowley's head off.
"Then get the others," he growled.
"Far ahead of you." Crowley smiled and held up two folders. "Did you think I'd look forward to facing the Dark Council empty handed? Those guys are pissed at me."
"Wonder why," said Hastur dryly, and grabbed a folder, stuffing it under his shirt. "Now for the fun part..."
Crowley sighed. "Getting back to Hell. Any plan? I mean, Michael's probably not taking too well to you punching her." He paused and cracked his neck a little awkwardly. "And credit where it's due, that was a work of art."
Hastur flashed him a pleased grin. "We can always take the ol' way out of Heaven."
"Million light years freestyle diving isn't really a beloved hobby of mine." Crowley squirmed a little.
"Eh, suit yourself."
"There they are!" a voice called and Hastur and Crowley whipped around.
"Ah, shit," said Crowley. Hastur just made a displeased sound and ducked between the shelves.
"Meetcha on the way back down," he called, leaving Crowley standing.
For the shortest moment Crowley was baffled. Not so much at Hastur leaving him to fend for himself, but at the prospect of the senior demon genuinely expecting him to get out of there. Not that he had a lot of time to dwell on that. There were angels approaching and it wasn't much of a question if they were rather smiting-happy.
Crowley looked around. There was a gallery a few levels up, and an archway leading out. Seemed the way out was up.
It should be noted that flying is not like riding a bicycle or wielding a flaming sword. Even if you have a bag-full of additional bones and muscles, it takes continued training to use wings well.
Now, under general circumstance, demons would be at an advantage. They are more into theatricals than Heaven**, and being able to spread an impressive set of wings is a windfall to that cause.
The issue was that in 6000 years on Earth Crowley had used his wings thrice.***
So he might have been a little out of practice.
Which, however, didn't matter, as the angels decided to follow him on foot.
"You guys really aren't the sharpest prongs on the pitchfork," he murmured as he realized as much, pulling himself over the railing and unto the gallery.
** Gabriel and Uriel not withstanding.
*** He refused to count the one time during his brief visit to America back in 1966, as that had gone quite a bit sideways.
The way ahead seemed clear. Good.
Crowley winched his wings back in and started running, bringing up a mental map of what he knew of Heaven's current layout.
Straight ahead, two left, straight, right, straight.
And with each corridor he passed through there were more angels on his heels.
Crowley might have wondered how Hastur was faring, had he A) not spotted the senior demon fighting with a bunch of angels down in the courtyard and B) his train of thoughts been interrupted by a baneful beeping.
Crowley stopped at the railing overlooking the courtyard, and stared at the device.
Five more minutes, and counting.
He had to get down to the courtyard, pronto.
Now, the stairs were over there. Nope, too far away, too many angels in the path.
Well, there was one way.
Jump the railing, land in the fountain (it was pretty deep Crowley had observed), clamber out, make a run for it.
Crowley did so.
Remembering just the fraction of a second too late what a fountain in Heaven would be filled with.
He paled, twisting mid-fall. Now, had the prospect of landing in a fountain full of holy water not overwritten every other thought, he might have thought of spreading his wings and landing next to it.
But as it were this thought wasn't able to push its way through to the front.
He pressed his eyes shut and tried to brace himself for the fatal and terminal bath he was heading for.
There was some beautiful, poetic justice in that, wasn't there?
Funny how that thought managed to elbow its way through.
What happened then, however, didn't really fit with plunging head-first into a body of Holy Water.
Crowley opened his eyes again, wincing when he found himself dangling upside-down just inches above the water's surface.
Then he looked back up along his body.
"I hate you so much," Hastur hissed down at him, holding onto Crowley's leg.
Hastur's wings were out, the left one a mangled, flapping mess that barely allowed for flying. He glared down at Crowley, before swinging him to the side, letting himself get pulled along by the momentum.
There's that saying about how Evil cannot comprehend Good. Luckily, Good had its problems with comprehending Good, too, right now, on account of Good being done by Evil.
It left the Heavenly Host dumbfounded long enough for Crowley and Hastur to shove, elbow and push their way back to the elevator back home.
Didn't mean Heaven wasn't on their heels.
"C'moncmoncmon!" Crowley muttered, pressing the button to close the doors like they do in such scenes in movies.
And just like in the movies the doors closed just as some projectile weapon headed their way.
Crowley wasn't certain what it was, but it kinda looked like a water balloon.
As the numbers on the display started going down, he sat back against the wall exhausted, and looked at Hastur.
"You..." he began, and Hastur grabbed him by his shirt, pulling him nose to nose.
"Not. One. Word," he snarled, before slumping back. His wings were still out, at least for a moment. Just long enough for Crowley to realize just how bad the left one's state was.
With a long, agonized groan Hastur winched them back in.
"Whatcha looking at?"
Crowley contemplated if he could be smarmy and point out the 'Not one word' order.
Sitting down and looking at what they'd gotten seemed the healthier choice.
"Jus' so we're clear," said Hastur, fiddling with the file, "I'm just not keen on facing the Dark Council on me own. Otherwise you'd be celestial gumbo now."
Crowley huffed. "Fair enough."
"An' there wasn't enough time t' hang around an' watch you get yer just dessert." Hastur fell silent, studying the files they had. Then he threw them back at Crowley with a howl of despair. "Ledgers," he snarled, twisting dirty fingers into his hair. "They nearly got us killed fer bloody outdated ledgers!"
Naturally, it was then that the lights overhead started flickering, heralding their descent into Hell's territory.
"I'm so sorry, my dears, but I think you just missed him," said Miss Magnolia (Miss Mag for short), the woman who had moved into Tadfield a few months ago.
She reminded Adam a bit of Madame Tracy. A pastel version of Madame Tracy that is.
"He's a writer, that one," said Miss Mag, as the Them gathered around her. "Being out here for inspiration, he says." She smiled the kind of smile one smiles when they know they've found a like-minded soul.
"What's he writing?" asked Adam. They might have missed the mysterious newcomer (who's name apparently was Harry Nicholas), but Miss Mag was always happy to have a little chat with them about the exciting odds and ends that managed to slip by the children.
"Oh, mysteries and somesuch. The whole spooky stuff, he says."
The Them listened with growing excitement to what Miss Mag told them about Mr Nicholas.
That he was charming and very clever, but a little on the confrontational side. Spent a lot of time asking questions. But he was a writer, wasn't he? They ought to ask questions.
Dog meanwhile was sniffing around the garden of Jasmine Cottage.
And let out a low whine.
"Don't dilly-dally," the minor demon that picked Crowley and Hastur up from the elevator said, and led them down another winding corridor.
Crowley had no doubt they were taking the long route to wherever they were being led on purpose. The dark, suspicious glance he earned from the demons they passed made his hair stand on end. Now even worse than before.
"You... are not leading us to the Phantasmagoetia," he ventured at some point.
The minor demon didn't respond. So Crowley did grasp the last straw and looked at Hastur.
"Y'ought to come down here more often," came the response, without Hastur even looking at him. He was staring straight ahead, hands burrowed in his pockets. And he looked as if he was feeling as unwell in his hide as Crowley. Maybe even worse.
Crowley quirked a brow. Then realization hit him.
"Oh... No ."
"Yes," said Hastur.
The minor demon led them down a narrow staircase and through a large double-door.
Into Hell's Council Hall.
Crowley had to give them credit. It now looked like a minimalistic post-modern take on ancient thea-... He did a small double-take.
Next to him, Hastur smirked.
"Ah, forgot you haven't actually been here yet," he said. "Council decided t' move things here," he jabbed a thumb at the window behind them. "Gives people a better view."
The minor demon left, and another door slid open.
No matter his actions and demeanor before, Crowley suddenly felt very, very small as the Dark Council entered.
It had been decades since the Council met publicly, and they hadn't even come together for Crowley's trial .
Yep, this was really not Crowley's day today.
"All rise in the presence of the Dark Council!" the usher called, and Crowley watched the Archdemons enter. He couldn't say what was worse. Asmodeus and Belphegor's indifference, Mammon's hateful glare (Ligur had been one of his best underlings to Crowley's knowledge), Leviathan's spitefulness or Beelzebub's glee.
"Hey, filling in for the Big Boss again?" said Crowley before he could stop himself.
"Silensze!" Beelzebub snarled, sitting down.
Crowley snapped his mouth shut.
"The Dark Counszil isz in session!" Beelzebub called and looked at the two lower demons. "You were taszked with retrieving a file from Heaven's Archives. The counszil congratulatesz you on not dying. Where'sz the file?"
Crowley and Hastur drew a sharp breath at the same time. For other demons this would have been the moment to rat each other out. But, for some reason, neither Hastur nor Crowley said anything.
Not that it mattered.
Asmodeus and Belphegor rose and moved to stand behind Hastur and Crowley, respectively. Crowley knew what was coming, and he hated that more than the knowledge pouring.
He managed a choking gasp as Belphegor put her hand on the side of his face, and then everything went a little fuzzy. Through the fog in his brain he heard himself and Hastur give a detailed account of what happened.
He really, really, really hated the puppeteering their respective Archdemons were capable of. A part of his brain reminded him that it was good that Belphegor had not been awake during the trial . He didn't want to imagine what would have happened if... He shuddered, partly because of that, partly because of Belphegor having withdrawn her hand and was now returning to her seat.
Beelzebub, meanwhile, was leafing through the files. "Thisz iszn't what we aszk for, but under the given circumsztanszes..."
There was a bit of murmuring between the Council, and Beelzebub finally looked back at the lower demons.
"Duke Hastur, you may conszider yourszelf reinstated in rank and reszourcesz."
Hastur nodded curtly, rubbing his neck.
Crowley however whipped around. "Wait. You had been demoted? Don't tell me I've been your superior this entire time."
Hastur cocked his head. And smiled like a snake.
"Ah," he said. "Knew there was something I forgot t'tell ya'bout."
"However," said Beelzebub after a dreadful pause that was just long enough to almost let Hastur relish in his victory as much as he'd have liked to. "There will be a new asszignment for you."
Hastur nodded again, albeit a little taken aback. And caught the slip of paper that appeared in midair. Belphegor looked at Crowley.
"As for you. Impressive work. You are free to return to the surface. But, from now on you'll be accompanied by a..." she cast an amused look at Hastur, "Uh... chaperone."
Both Crowley and Hastur stiffened.
"What?" they blurted out in unison, followed by an equally synchronized glower at the other.
"It's been decided before this meeting even took place," Asmodeus added, smiling at the duo with the kind and friendly expression of a TV preacher. "Duke Hastur, just let it be said you are not to harm your ward. Are there any complaints you would like to make?"
Plenty, Crowley thought bitterly, looking at Hastur, who, by the looks of it, not only shared his sentiments, but was inwardly blessing profusely.
"None," said Hastur then, standing stiff as a plank.
"You may leave then. Your asszignment awaitsz. Do not diszappoint usz."
Crowley couldn't get out of the Council Hall fast enough. Blessed Heaven, he should have expected this.
Especially after Aziraphale mentioned this supervisor thing.
This wasn't fair.
Oh, who was he kidding? This was Hell, he had stopped the Apocalypse AND killed a higher ranking demon, and all that Jazz. Under these circumstances whatever he had coming with this chaperone business could be counted as 'fair'.
He straightened his posture and looked back at Hastur, who was leaning against the wall, almost melting into the shadows.
"Guess we're, err, living together then...?" said Crowley, in his best damage-control tone.
Hastur looked up from the note he'd been studying, and quirked a brow. "Naw. Not a chance."
Crowley whistled through his teeth. "You defying orders? I'll be blessed."
Hastur grinned, "Careful what you wish for." He handed him the note.
It was an address.
Crowley was about to say something about Hastur knowing his apartment, when the address wormed its way into his brain.
He did a double-take.
"I'm not your chaperone, Crowley," said Hastur, with some undeniable amusement. "Am to keep an eye on that angel of yours."
"But..." Crowley began, and stopped, not knowing what else to put behind that 'but'.
"But what?" Of course Hastur had to ask. Thankfully he also answered his own question. "You heard the council. Am not to harm 'me ward'." He gave Crowley a look that mustered more bitter hate than Hell had to offer. "C'mon, I need something t'eat before we leave."
He stalked past Crowley with the same long strides as before.
Well, food sounded good.
Then he realized Hastur was heading for Hell's food court.
Slight squick warning (gross food) for this chapter.
The Coach & Horses pub is/was a real pub in SoHo, which, at the time of writing, was close to closing its doors permanently however. Unfortunately.
Miss Mag was by now 41 years old and emitted the aura of a little old lady sleuth. A circumstance she took great pride in and drew a lot of joy from. Mysteries, especially those of the supernatural kind, held a special place in her heart. That was why she had moved to Tadfield. What with all the odds and ends that happened and are happening here, she was certain she'd finally get into an adventure.
Alright, maybe she wasn't certain .
Miss Mag was never certain about these things.
One, because as much as she believed in these things, she knew, deep in her pastel-colored soul, that these kind of things didn't happen to ordinary people. It was frustrating.
Two, Miss Mag considered herself an excitement repellant. No matter where she went or which stories she followed everything interesting seemed to have gone out for lunch until she left.
She'd been to the middle of nowhere in Africa only for a small war to break out not too long after she left. She'd been to the Middle East only for some archaeological sensation to be discovered shortly after she boarded her plane back home (she even had trouble remembering what it was, but she heard the US ambassador got there, too, once she had left). Lisa, an old colleague, once told her that things had gotten weird just after Mag had left her telemarketer job.
Excitement avoided Miss Mag it would seem.
But Tadfield, she hoped, was too much of what they call a 'weirdness magnet' for that to happen.
She had already met Mr Nicholas. A middle-aged, clever, good-looking and reclusive writer coming to a town like Tadfield for inspiration had to be a good start.
And he was charming as all hell, Miss Mag found.*
* Naturally, metaphorically speaking. We know there's nothing charming about Hell. Except maybe for that thing Mammon recovered from Leviathan's lair recently. No one knows what it is, but it's absolutely charming.
Then there were, of course, the Them. She had been warned about the children, but she had found them most endearing. Especially Adam, who seemed eager to know as much about everything peculiar Miss Mag could tell stories about, and Pepper, who always had an open ear for Miss Mag's thoughts on the world in general.
And even if Miss Mag hadn't met any interesting person in Tadfield, there was the whole interesting area to explore. There were the woods, of course, and there was the old mansion nearby. Miss Mag had long since been planning to go there. She had heard it had been a convent about a decade back.
Something exciting had to happen soon. It just had to.
And this time it would have no way to avoid Miss Mag.
Hell's Food Court was everything one could expect, and less.
It was grimy, stinking, and cramped, but some of the chairs matched.
The sides of the large hall were lined with giant cauldrons and charcoal grills, all smoking, sizzling, bubbling and belching steam.
Hastur was currently digging into something that at least looked like fried rice with poached eggs and chunks of bacon. Crowley knew better though.
"Gone bloody native," Hastur snarled, mouth full. Crowley was sitting opposite to him, elbows rested on the table. "You gotta eat. Much as I'd like t'see you drop dead."
Crowley gave him a glower.
"We've been to Heaven," said Hastur, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "'S much as I've gotta give credit to Lord Belphegor, 'twas still gettin' at me core. An' I dun think yer faring better."
"Since when do you care?" Crowley snarled back, tugging on his clothes. Granted, Hastur had some sort of point. Crowley had already felt a significant change in his very core just when they changed back into their own clothes. But...
"I don't." Hastur let his spoon clang into the empty bowl and got up, wandering over to one of the cauldrons.
Crowley laid his head on the table with a heavy groan.
Then he rose, wiped something that looked like moldy silly putty off his cheek and laid back down.
They were dead meat, weren't they? He couldn't trust Hastur with Aziraphale (even less than he'd trust any other demon with the angel), and he didn't want to imagine what his own supervisor would be like.
"'Ow d'ye keep messing up simple stuff like this?" Hastur interrupted Crowley’s thoughts as he sat back down.
Crowley looked up blearily. "What?"
"Delivering the Antichrist, not stoppin' Armageddon, not gettin' caught when sneaking through Heaven. Shouldn't been hard, but you messed up each. How?" said Hastur, slurping away on what was clearly broth with eyeballs. "'S’not exactly mineralogy."
"Could almost pity whatever poor sod Upstairs's forcing to deal with you." Hastur paused, moving the spoon around his mouth like a lollipop. "Who d'ye think you'll get?"
"You keep askin' that."
Crowley bristled. "That's because you're not making any sense."
"'Ow's wonderin' what angel you'll gets stuck wi' not makin' sense?"
"That's not what..." Crowley decided to not harp on it. "Dunno," he said instead. "Who's in the biggest trouble with Heaven?"
Well, Hastur wasn't wrong.
"You know what I mean."
Hastur shrugged, popping an eyeball between his molars. "You really ought t'eat."
Crowley drummed his fingers on the table. "I'll eat back home."
"Meant to replenish yer essence then, whatever," said Hastur. "Not gonna get into trouble for you chipping that away an' peggin' out." He paused, emptying his bowl. "Oh, an' tell you what. If you some'ow ever end up human through shit like that, yer soul's mine once you bite the dust."
"You know that's impossible." Crowley glowered again.
Hastur shrugged. "Still called dibs."
Crowley, with the speed of a continental drift, lowered his glasses and looked at the senior demon. Three minutes later he had helped himself to some live mice from one of the stalls.
Crowley slurped up a tail and cocked his head at Hastur. "So?"
"We good to go then?" He burped briefly, running his sleeve over his mouth.
Leaning back inches, Crowley flicked out his tongue, tasting the air. "When was the last time you had a bath. And I mean bath bath."
"August 1928, why d'ye ask?"
Crowley frowned in defeat. "Whatever else, I..." he drew deep breath. "I'm not gonna let you anywhere near Aziraphale until you have reacqainted yourself with the basics of human hygiene."
"Yah?" Hastur quirked an a- and bemused brow at him. "So, yer apartment first?"
"I believe I should say 'Make yourself at home'," Aziraphale began, dithering his way through the shop and to the back room, "But I don't know how appropriate that'd be, given..."
The new supervisor waved him off. "Just gimme a drink," he said, slumping down on the sofa with an exhausted sigh. "Can't get a decent drink anywhere."
"Oh, I'm aware," murmured Aziraphale, picking a bottle of Brandy from the cabinet. "Brandy?"
Aziraphale filled two glasses and put them down on the table between them as he sat down.
The other angel downed his drink immediately, wiping his mouth. "I needed that."
"So," Aziraphale tried making polite conversation, "What was your rank again?"
The other rolled his eyes. "Dominion. Natural supervisor, innit?" he said, flashing Aziraphale a tired smile.
"Dominion, yes. Well, ah, I understand you asked for this assignment?"
The other blew a raspberry (as did his chameleon). "Asked fer somethin' more excitin' than paper pushing," he said. "Not for... playing nanny for... Ah, forget it."
"I doubt that that is an option in this situation."
"I know." The other kicked off his shoes and reclined on the sofa. "So, we wait now?"
"Do we have a choice?" Aziraphale sighed, downing his drink. Then he got up and went for the phone.
"Yer callin' the little snake?"
"He has a right to know what..."
The other angel got up and took the receiver from Aziraphale. "No. He ain't. But I's got a right to have him be surprised."
Aziraphale wrinkled his nose. Then again... "Oh, alright."
"Good. Now let's finish that bottle."
Overseeing Hell as Satan's second-in-command was akin to trying to herd cats.
Beelzebub couldn't remember who said that once (or what she did with them upon it if anything), but it was an accurate description.
Right now she'd have preferred herding actual cats, however.
Dagon shook her head.
Beelzebub looked more done than usual, and leaned against the wall with a frown.
"It might be time t' get the rest of the Council involved," said Dagon.
"Do we have to?" Beelzebub groaned.
"It looks urgent. You should." said Belphegor, standing there as if she had been there the entire time.
Beelzebub and Dagon flinched back.
"Lilith's titsz! What did I szay 'bout poppin' up on me like that?"
"Don't do it?"
Beelzebub glowered at the other Archdemon, but ultimately just rolled her eyes.
"Get us involved in what?" Belphegor bounced on her feet, maybe a little too excitedly.
Beelzebub quirked a brow. "Funny you don't know for onsze," she said.
"So it's not about the surplus demon?"
Patience was a virtue. So it was out of the question in Hell. And Belphegor was one of those demons that provided excellent training possibilities to never indulge in patience. Beelzebub, however, decided to skip out on training for now.
"I don't want to know how you know that," she said, "But doesz anyone elsze know?"
"Yes," said Belphegor.
Belphegor pointed at Dagon.
Beelzebub frowned. "I swear to... I mean aszide from the obviousz."
Belphegor shook her head and picked up a beetle that had crawled from the wilted flowercrown she was wearing. "Oh, lunch!"
"The surplus demon, whoever it is, ‘cause I know they exist but not who it is, certainly knows," said Belphegor, chewing. "But I know what you mean. Answer's no. Not that I'd know. Well," she pondered and pointed upwards meaningfully. "She prolly knows, but that's it."
"Yesz, yesz, that'sz an obvious one." Beelzebub sighed deeply, arms akimbo, and turned to Dagon. "Asszemble the Council. Szee that Leviathan isz there and hasn't submerged themself again. I'll speak to the Maszter."
Dagon nodded and headed down the corridor in one direction. Beelzebub went the other.
Belphegor looked around, found herself out of directions, and simply vanished.
"At least your human form got rid of a lot of the Eww ," Crowley murmured, fishing for the shampoo.
He was currently kneeling next to his tub, making sure Hastur actually did get clean. Much to their mutual dismay and annoyance.
"Shurrup," Hastur growled, without much enthusiasm.
"Can't believe I'm actually washing you like a dog."
"Can't believe yer not shuttin' up."
Crowley rolled his eyes and leaned onto the tub. "I'll be civil. We have to be on the same page here."
Hastur simply submerged himself in response.
"I know you can still hear me," said Crowley. "Look, we both agree Hell and Heaven do this shit to punish all of us. You'll probably go and make Aziraphale miserable, and I already hate you extra for that." He sighed. "I don't know if I'll be off better or worse with whatever Heaven will force on me, but..."
Hastur reached out of the water and put a hand over Crowley's mouth before coming back up. "You talk too much," he said, pulling his hand back and coughing a little. "An’ I can do the whole washin' thing meself."
"Maybe. But will you?"
Now Hastur shifted and leaned onto the side of the tub, giving Crowley a tired grin. "Fine, fine."
A bit of scrubbing later, Hastur sat back in the bath again. "Crowley?"
Crowley looked up from 'The Book Of Heroic Failures' he was reading. "Yes?"
Hastur gazed at him for a moment. And Crowley had to admit to himself, he had never seen the senior demon so focused. And tired.
"Forget it," said Hastur, and dove to get the soap out of his hair. He lifted his hand out of the water and snapped his fingers, before coming back up. "Good enough fer you?"
Putting the book down, Crowley got up and checked the pile of clothes in the corner. He had planned to chuck them out.
Possibly after setting them on fire first.
Though that would have meant touching them.
But now they looked fine. Still far too many layers for Crowley's taste, but Hell could get cold. Especially these days.
He gingerly picked up the shirt and had a look at it. It still looked worn and mangled, but otherwise acceptable. "Yeah, that'll do."
"Then gimme a towel, Fledg-..." Hastur made an undignified noise and bit his lips. "Jus' gimme a towel."
Crowley stood stiff. "What did you just say?"
"Gimme a towel, for Hell's sake," Hastur barked, getting up and out of the bath. Once he was remotely dried off and dressed, he glared at Crowley.
"Now, does this earn yer approval?" he said sarcastically.
Crowley harrumphed. "It'll do." He gave a half-hearted but approving nod. "You wait here, I'll ring up Aziraphale."
"Could jus' go there, y'know," Hastur called after him.
"No bloody way," Crowley called from the corridor. "I know he knows, but I doubt he knows about you." He slipped into his office and picked up the phone.
The first time no one picked up. Crowley checked his watch. It was a ridiculous enough hour in the evening for Aziraphale to have the shop open.
He waited a minute and tried again. And again Aziraphale didn't pick up.
Crowley let out an annoyed groan and sat down on the desk. Was the angel still stuck in Heaven?
Let's hope not.
He tried again.
At least he tried to try again. But then Hastur was standing in the doorway, tapping his wrist.
"We'll walk," he said. "I hate your car."
Crowley wrinkled his nose dramatically. "Only 'cause you almost got set on fire the last time you were driving with me."
"Oh, this is truly a work of art," said the woman in red, sipping her coffee. She called herself Ruby these days. She was sitting in a little cafe across a fast food restaurant which had just opened for a Super-Special-Internet-Sensation-Only-Available-For-A-Limited-Time menu item. The brawl that ensued was majestic.
"And all that over something with the nutritional value of a soggy piece of cardboard."
The man she was meeting with huffed, amused. "Oh, now you insult me," he said. "As if I'd allow for it to get up to that level."
They shared a chuckle.
"Now," said the man. He was still going by Sable. "I assume you've heard?"
"About our old friend?" asked Ruby. "Sure."
"What do you make of that?"
Ruby shrugged, watching as someone across the street shattered the front door by throwing someone else through it. "Oh, that certainly hurt. And I dunno. Weird to think there'd be five of us."
"Weird to think there'd be two Ends of the World." Sable leaned back, tapping a pencil against his lips in thought.
"What's the matter?"
"I can't say. There is just something off about... the world. For lack of a better phrase," Sable looked at Ruby. "And I don't mean about what happened or didn't happen. Care to accompany me to England?"
Ruby rolled her shoulders and looked across the street.
"Sure," she said. "America is too easy anyway."
Then the first police cars arrived.
They did take the car.
"Still prefer 'orses," Hastur murmured as they got out.
"I don't." Crowley slinkied his way next to him at the bookshop's door.
"No surprise there. Yer utter shite wi' animals."
Crowley harrumphed, "Excuse you? I'm great with animals. The Almighty made the entirety of Australia for what I came up with." He checked the sign (as expected it said Closed ), but the fact that the lights were on was a relief.
The door was, naturally, locked, but Crowley simply let himself in.
"Aziraphale?" he called.
"Yes?" Aziraphale called down from the back, ultimately coming to the front of the shop with a stack of books. "Oh."
He put the books down on the counter and looked at the two demons.
"I tried calling you," said Crowley.
"Oh, I was quite busy," said Aziraphale, hands behind his back. Crowley craned his neck a little, wondering mildly if the angel was currently crossing his fingers.
"Were you?" he inquired.
"Yes," said Aziraphale, looking mortally offended. "I have recently acquired a stack of the most..."
Crowley raised his hand. That was all he needed to know to be certain the angel was truthful.
"Alright," he said, and gestured at Hastur, who was checking some of the titles by the window. "Well, you've met Hastur by now." Aziraphale took off and pocketed his glasses.
"Yes. I was about to ask why he's accompanying you. Oh." Understanding made itself comfortable in the angel's face. "I presume he..."
"Yeah, he's to... keep an eye on you." Crowley frowned, jabbing a thumb at Hastur. "I'll be getting one of yours, right?"
"Well, yes." Aziraphale wrung his hands in slight distress. "I... guess."
Crowley looked at him over the rim of his glasses. "You guess? You knew 'bout this chaperone business before I did. How can you not know whom I'll be getting?"
"It's..." Aziraphale smacked his lips in thought, "complicated, I'd say."
Aziraphale sighed. "I mean. Yes, yes. You will be getting an angel as supervisor. It has just gotten a little..." another heavy sigh followed. "Oh, I guess it will be easiest if we stop stalling, and you see this for yourself. Wait here, please, I'll get him."
Crowley and Hastur watched the angel leave, both feeling quite a bit at out of their wits. Which was, frankly, their status quo sentiment for the last several hours.
Aziraphale returned, and with him the appointed heavenly supervisor.
Who looked from Crowley to Hastur and back, drew a deep breath and....
"Just how bloody holy was that water?"
The silence they stood in was getting more awkward by the second. At some point Aziraphale stealthily gestured to Crowley inquiring whether or not he should make tea.
Crowley, not as stealthily on account that he was hiding behind Hastur now, gestured back to wait.
Well, that was Ligur.
No mistake there.
He was an angel.
No mistake there either.
Which proves that, occasionally, God introduces dice into the ineffable game of poker.
"Well," Hastur finally broke the silence after another round of staring. "One o'us will have t'say 'You've changed' first or we'll be here all day."
"Guess so," Ligur said soberly. "You... gots a bit smaller."
"Oh, bugger off," Hastur groaned, but his mouth twitched into a grin. "They... How..." he gestured at the chameleon.
"Y'know Her sense o' humor," said Ligur, pointing up meaningfully.
"Yah, never liked that."
Crowley rocked on his heels, still shuffling behind Hastur.
Ligur leaned to the side. "I knows yer there, y'know."
Crowley peeked around the taller demon. "Excuse you, I'm having an existential crisis here."
Ligur smiled, pleased. "Good."
"Aziraphale, could we talk for a moment?" said Crowley, curling his fingers into Hastur's waistcoat as if holding on for dear life. "Alone?"
Aziraphale looked at Hastur and Ligur (especially Ligur), and nodded as the newly-fangled angel stepped aside.
Crowley still made sure to keep the biggest possible distance to the former demon as he followed Aziraphale into the back of the shop.
"I'd like a supervisor who won't kill me in my sleep," Crowley hissed in a stage whisper.
"You don't sleep," said Aziraphale. "And I'm certain he won't." Crowley wasn't convinced.
"Aziraphale, do you... do you know who that is?"
"Yes. You've told me. And so did he."
Crowley made a distressed noise.
"Aziraphale," he wailed, going syllable by syllable. "This is bad. This is really bad. Hastur was bad enough news. But Ligur? We're screwed. Me more than you. He's... he's an angel. He could, he could... he could bless my coffee."
"No, he couldn't," said Aziraphale. "Coffee is your lot’s, remember?"
"Aziraphale," Crowley wailed a little more desperately. The angel, however, just smiled calmly.
"Crowley, I have talked to him for most of the time he's been here. Trust me, he is as unhappy with this as you."
"Yeah," came a voice from the archway separating this part of the shop from the front. It was Ligur. "Can't kill you. Ain't even allowed to make you mis'rable," he grunted, glaring daggers.
Crowley regained some posture.
"This is punishment for all four of us, Crowley," said Aziraphale. "And I think Ligur here has it the worst."
"How?" Crowley cried out, sounding positively offended.
Ligur let out a small snarl. Hastur picked up the explaining duty.
"Just learned that if we mess this up, we're goners," he said.
"What?" Crowley shook himself.
"Hell didn't tell you?" asked Aziraphale. Then he frowned. "Of course they didn't. It's Hell."
"Any bit o' revenge-y stuff that goes b'yond mild inconveniences," said Ligur, "And we're in for..." he drew a deep breath.
"It would be worse," Aziraphale stated dryly. Crowley just nodded.
This was so typically Hell.
"So, no killing, no destruction of property, no intentional getting the other into trouble," Aziraphale continued. "In fact, Heaven gave us a full list."
"Three guesses what Hell did," Crowley snarled softly. "First two don't count."
"I shall, of course, give you the list," said Aziraphale.
"We," Ligur interrupted, gesturing at himself and Hastur, "also got a few things to talk 'bout... Alone... What's the next pub?"
"Err, there's the Coach & Horses," said Aziraphale.
"Oh, I knows that one." Hastur beamed. "We'll be seein' you. Dun try to run."
He practically dragged Ligur out of the shop.
Crowley looked after them. "Isn't the Coach & Horses a nudist vegan thing pub?"
"I believe Hastur's fully aware."
Outside, Hastur drew a deep breath of night air and laid his head back as he and Ligur walked down the street.
"You gonna start?" he said after a bit.
"Seems to be gnawing on y'more. You start."
Hastur frowned softly.
"I... I thought I'd never...," he began, but fell silent and slowed down.
"What's wrong?" asked Ligur.
Hastur stopped. A moment later Beelzebub stepped into his path.
"Duke Hasztur" she said, and Hastur gave an acknowledging nod and slight bow. "I muszt..." Then she spotted Ligur, and took a step back in surprise. "But... Duke Ligur?"
"I wish," said Ligur with a wistful sneer. "'S 'Dominion' now."
"You..." Beelzebub looked him up and down while the passersby flowed around them. "You're with the opposition? But... how?"
Ligur shrugged. "God knows."
"An' as usual She ain't tellin'," Hastur finished.
Beelzebub let out an exhausted groan.
"Right, not me business anymore," said Ligur and stepped past the Archdemon. He briefly looked back, "I'll get our drinks."
Once he had slipped into the pub, Beelzebub turned back to Hastur.
"You left your poszt," she said. "But I can szee why. You are excuszed."
Hastur nodded stoically.
"Why're you here?" he said, burying his hands in his pockets.
"There'sz a problem," said Beelzebub. "And we want you to look into it."
Beelzebub told Hastur about the surplus demon.
"Keep your eyesz open," she finished. Then she looked over to the pub. "And not..."
"...a word. Figures."
"Report back asz scheduled." With a buzzing sound Beelzebub was gone.
Hastur sighed, cracked his neck, and ducked into the pub.
"What was that all 'bout?" said Ligur as Hastur sat down in the booth with him.
"Can't tell you. Yer an angel," Hastur answered, taking the glass Ligur had gotten for him. "Cheers."
"Fair 'nough. Cheers."
"Hell's got a surplus demon I oughta look out for," Hastur said casually, and Ligur nearly choked on his drink.
"...what?" Ligur spluttered.
"Extra demon back ho-... Downstairs. No one knows wot's goin' on."
"Weren't you supposed to not tell me?"
"An' pass up on the chance t' get such a reaction out of'n angel?" Hastur smirked, black eyes flashing with amusement. "Naw."
Hell (Under Construction) - 4004 BC
The not-anymore-angel spluttered, clawing at the rocks, trying to pull themself out of the pool of... was that sulphur? In any case it hurt. Not as much as the fall from Heaven, not as much as a bit of their essence being burned away.
C'mon, they thought desperately. Their legs felt numb and they had trouble moving them at all.
They gave a cry of despair, when something... someone grabbed them, hauling them out of the pool.
They coughed, rolling onto their back.
They cried out as pain shot through their mangled and seared wings, and they rolled back onto their side.
"That won't do," a voice said. They looked up. Next to them knelt another not-anymore-angel. The other looked as mangled as they felt.
"You're quite late," said the other. "We thought they were through with kicking everyone out."
They chuckled bitterly. "I didn't mean to... I asked questions. The Almighty didn't like that."
The other nodded, and frowned.
"Where are we?" they asked.
"Lucifer's calling it 'Hell'," said the other.
They nodded. Somehow that sounded right. Then the other lifted them over their shoulder.
"If you want to stay alive, you ought to get away from here," said the other. "Others are out hunting for food."
"But... wait, they're eating other... whatever we are now?"
"Those that don't get back up fast enough, yes."
"Um... why are you helping me?"
The other shrugged their free shoulder. "Beats me. I know I shouldn't."
They let themself get carried by the other.
"What's your name?" they asked.
The other grunted. "We don't have names anymore. Just one of the things the Almighty took away."
They winced. "What..." they ventured, "has been your name?"
The other gave a guttural growl. "Don't make me throw you back into the boiling sulphur. Just call me Hastur, if you have to. Could as well ask you what your name's been."
"I'd actually tell you," they said.
"Fine. Humor me, Fledgling."
This is how it went.
Purgatory - 7 th Sunday after the failed Armageddon
Purgatory was, these days, akin to a multistory shopping center* just before closing time on its upper levels and an abandoned, overgrown one on the lower. It's always dusk here, always hazy and cold. On the upper levels shadows flit back and forth in the corner of one's eyes, the hallways echo sounds with no visible source.
Human souls try to earn** their way into Heaven here.
*Not exactly what Americans would call a 'mall'. For starters, the food's better in Purgatory.
**By working in Purgatory's retail. Which, given the only customers are angels, makes retail on Earth feel like Heaven.***
***Humans' idea of Heaven.
On the lower levels pipes have burst, the tiles are cracked and vegetation has slithered in. The lights are flickering and the moldy wallpaper is hanging off the walls in stripes.
It's Hell with a better paint job.
Demons occasionally go scavenging for Heaven's old and thrown out equipment here.
Down where the shadows are the darkest, a figure, wiry and inhuman, staggered through the puddles, leaving dark smears where it leaned against the wall for support, dragging itself further and further away from the passage to Hell.
What happens when one dies here?
What happens when a demon dies here?
The figure stopped. It didn't want to be the one to find out.
Maybe if it had been thinking straight it would have just died. Would not have latched onto that tiny thought that danced around its brain.
But it was scared, and hurt, and... angry. A form of anger it had felt only once before in its life. A long, long time ago.
And something in it... changed.
A ruffle of feathers, and a scream of pain and agony that faded into broken coughs and sobs.
Was this wise?
Spending this much energy on...
Hastur looked at his arm.
He didn't expect the broken bones to mend or the deep gashes to close. But now, for the first time in weeks it felt as if they could.
Human forms are supposed to be so feeble and fragile... so...
This was absolutely God's sense of humor.
He had never liked that.
But if this is how this bloody game is played, he could play too.
He leaned back against the wall, folded his hands...
London - Now
"We could and we should," said Crowley, stalking back and forth in the back room.
"We can't and we shan't," insisted Aziraphale.
"Look, I'm not even asking for Alpha Centauri, angel. I just... I just..."
Crowley didn't even know what it was he was 'justing'. He was still going through a minor existential crisis. He waved Heaven's list around.
"This is... ridiculous," he finally said.
"You have already said that five minutes ago," said Aziraphale, who was getting quite worried for the state of both Crowley and his floorboards.
"The list hasn't changed in the past five minutes, has it?" Crowley stopped, held up the corpus delicti and gazed at it meaningfully. "Nope, not a single letter different," he finally said.
"Crowley, you are not thinking clearly."
"How... how can you still be so calm?" he asked, and then his face fell. Finally, a single little thought had made it through the very unpleasant scenarios his brain had come up with. Sometimes, having imagination was a right bugger.
His face softened and he crouched down in front of Aziraphale, looking up at the angel's face.
"You... you've given up?" he whispered worriedly.
Aziraphale blinked at him.
And smiled kindly, laying a gentle hand on the side of Crowley's neck. "No, dear." He took a deep breath and sat back. "It's just...."
Crowley cocked his head.
"Oh, I really don't know how to tell you this, that's the issue." Aziraphale, abashed, looked away.
And Crowley rose. "Tell me what? What... Aziraphale, we’ve known each other for 6000 years and we stopped the... an Apocalypse together. What in... Hieronymus Bosch's name is it that you can't tell me?"
Aziraphale drew a deep breath.
Then he let it go, got up, and retrieved a bottle of wine and two glasses from the cabinet.
"I believe we might need alcohol for this," he said, pouring each of them a glass.
"You. Are not helping," said Crowley, pointedly, draping himself over the sofa dramatically.
"Crowley, really." That one had hurt. "I just don't know how to put this."
"I worked with Ligur before and I trust him," said Aziraphale, matter-of-what-the-factly.
Crowley sat up, and stared blankly at the angel.
"Uh-huh," he said.
Aziraphale knew that tone. It was the Crowley.exe has stopped working tone.
"I got to know him as a most peculiar, but becoming, refined gentleman back in 1888," Aziraphale thus soldiered on. "You were taking your outrageous nap, as I remember, and it occurred that Hell had made a grave mistake concerning a deal of theirs. As you were unavailable, obviously, Hell then had to send Ligur out to see about setting the record straight. Now, Heaven had gotten the faintest idea of this mishap and thus tasked me with looking into it, and, if possible, save the mortal soul in question. We naturally crossed paths and called a truce, which seemed the wisest thing to do. Especially since it had turned out we were after Jack the Ripper. Now, I don't want to go into detail, but it began in September of 1888, about a week after the horrifying death of Annie Chapman..."
Aziraphale went into a detailed account of what had happened, Crowley staring at him blankly the entire time.
"...and that was that then," Aziraphale concluded.
Crowley, who had nodded along, rolled his shoulders.
"Did you just call Ligur a 'becoming, refined gentleman'?" he asked.
"Yer jus' jealous, you bloody wanker," came a voice from the archway, and Ligur trudged in, followed closely by Hastur. "Can we go then?" he asked, while Hastur slumped down on the sofa next to Crowley.
"Certainly can," said Crowley, finding himself in a position that allowed for no direction to move in order to edge away from Hastur and Ligur, unless he hurled himself backwards over the sofa. "But want?"
"Which part of 'Can't kill you' didn't you get?"
Crowley frowned back, and looked at Aziraphale.
"Well, I guess it won't do if we spend the rest of eternity just sitting here," said Aziraphale.
"’M s’pposed to report back to Gabriel once I’ve settled in," said Ligur. "You know'im."
Aziraphale groaned in sympathy, and Crowley got up.
"Fine, fine," he grumbled, stalking as stiffly as he could towards the door.
"We're off to a great start..." murmured Aziraphale as the bell above the door signaled their exit. Then he turned to Hastur. "Now, I believe we have to..."
Hastur waved him off, draping himself over the sofa dramatically.
"I knows what yer going t'say. Contrary to Crowley's conviction, I can be civil an' behave. Jus' give me somethin' to do wi' me hands an' we should get along."
Aziraphale looked down at him.
"If you are talking about letting you harm or destroy..."
"On the contrary, Principality," Hastur tutted. "Was thinkin' about tinkering."
"Tinkering?" That was surprising, to say the least.
"Torture's out of the question, I thought."
Miss Mag was brooding in her little kitchen.
It was small and cozy and picturesque even, and if one would not have known, one could have easily mistaken the wooden box on the table for having been part of the kitchen since the kitchen had been built.
Miss Mag didn't know what to make of it.
She had come back home from taking a walk, and had just been fishing the key from her pocket when a delivery van had rolled to a stop at the gate. She had not been expecting anything and there had been no return address. But she could rule out a prank and the very old looking package had been addressed to her proper and correct.
Inside it had been an antique wooden box without any decoration except for the very, very sturdy metal parts, and an iron key.
Miss Mag wasn't certain who'd send her something like that.
But finally excitement had not managed to avoid her.
"Now, what secrets do you hold?" she murmured, turning the box in her hands carefully. Something shifted inside, something that filled the entire box by the sound of it.
With a deep breath and a massive amount of anticipation Mag slid the key into the hole, turned it... And still made a surprised noise when the box clicked open.
In it was a small book, and on top of that a neatly folded letter which read,
'To Magnolia Bolton, whom now liveth in the home by the willowtree whych hath fallen over. From thy friend ye do notte knowe, Agnes Nutter, Witch'
Purgatory - the Tuesday after the last time we flashbacked there
When Hastur woke, the world had gone sideways. Literally speaking, on account of him laying on his side, with no idea where he was.
He was dizzy, in pain and feeling sick, and vaguely aware of having been patched up.
He faintly remembered collapsing in Purgatory, but this place now...
"...for everything else... Maybe with stuff from... y'know..." a voice nearby said. Through the fog in his head Hastur recognized it...
If Legion was here... As expandable... disposable... as the junior demon was, if he was here, it didn't bode well for Hastur.
"Yes. But at least he'll be alive," a different, oddly distorted voice said. No, not oddly distorted. It was a voice not coming from a human (well, human-shaped) throat. A demon that had not taken a human guise.
Hastur cracked an eye open, finding one covered with gauze or what passed as gauze here, and tried to make out his surroundings with the other.
Oh, joyous day, he was in a place of blurry, blotchy shapes and sparkling lights. He groaned.
"Oh, he's awake," said the voice, and another blotch of color stepped into Hastur's line of sight. "Hastur, wasn't it?"
Hastur groaned again, trying to focus.
"I took the liberty of getting into your head," said the voice, and the being it belonged to traced a tender clawed hand over Hastur's face. "We both have quite a few skeletons to pick with the rest of Hell.."
"What?" Hastur rasped weakly.
"Oh the things you people get up to when I'm asleep. Trying to bring about the Apocalypse without me, now that was just rude."
Hastur opened his mouth again, when his brain put some things into order.
He let out a frightened whine.
"It's... you," he managed. "No..."
London - Still Now, just a bit later than before
"We'll have to call a truce," said Crowley, steering the Bentley through the nightly traffic.
"Fine. Called," said Ligur, resting his head against the window. The chameleon had curled up on his shoulder and seemed to be sleeping.
"That was... a little too easy."
Ligur groaned deeply.
"How about you shut up before I change me mind?" he snarled, but without much enthusiasm behind it.
"How..." Crowley tried, gesturing vaguely at the glove compartment, "how about some music to pass the time?"
"Fine with me," said Ligur with a dramatic shrug, picking up some CDs. "What's a Velvet Underground?"
Crowley made a nonplussed face.
"Modern," he mumbled.
Crowley nearly crashed the Bentley into the next lamppost.
He managed to stop before that happened, luckily, and stared at Ligur in disbelief.
"Wot?" said that one after a moment. "Dunno what it was I said, but it threw you for a loop. Nice." He grinned satisfied.
With a low mutter, Crowley started the engine again, slotting a CD into the player at random. It resulted in Boccherini's Seven Seas Of Rhye.
Ligur quirked a brow. "Queen?"
"You know them?"
"Am not completely behind times."
"Just wonderin' 'cause the disc said..."
"It's been in the car for more than about a fortnight," said Crowley meaningfully. "It happens." He drummed his fingers on the wheel. "Okay, smalltalk question: Who got him back in the day, anyway? Been bothering me ever since. Never got around to checking up on it."
"Mercury?" Ligur pondered. "Not us."
"Oh... Wait." Crowley peered at the former demon for a moment. Ligur, begrudgingly, gestured to get a pedestrian out of their way. "Hell Us or Heaven Us?"
Ligur gazed darkly at him.
That was as good an answer as Crowley could hope for.
"Look," he then said, "We are forced to live together, we're not allowed to discorporate each other and all that. So we might as well try to be on the same page."
"We already called a truce."
"I mean it."
"So did I..." Ligur suddenly sat up. "Hey! Slow down."
"Just slow down." It wasn't a command. There was too much confusion in the former demon's voice.
Crowley, baffled, slowed down (almost to what the speed limit was), as a vintage motorcycle roared past them.
The driver looked back at them for a moment, likely in reflex, and quickly looked away, revving up his engine and vanishing into the traffic.
Crowley, meanwhile, stopped the Bentley, staring ahead.
Then he called Aziraphale.
"Hey, it's me. No... No, that's not it. You're still at the shop? Yes? Good. No... no, it's not important. Ciao."
He hung up and looked at Ligur.
Neither said anything, but judging by their looks both would have sworn that the guy who just rode past them... had been Aziraphale.
"Lord Beelzebub, a word or two," Mammon called, stepping into the other Archdemon's office uninvited.
Beelzebub furrowed her brow angrily, and rose. "Have you ever heard of knocking? Or appointmentsz?"
She had never held the Archdemon of Greed in any form of high regard. Leviathan was an honest thief at least. When they stole from other departments, it was fair and square. Figuratively speaking.
Mammon just claimed that he had a right to things. He could almost be mistaken for human when it came to that.
It was so outrageously irritating.
But Mammon was a demon who held on to the old ways, the days before paperwork. That was one factor about him that was tolerable.
"We have never needed them in the bad old days, have we?" said Mammon, closing the door behind him. "I do not wish to engage in that conversation again, Beelzebub, and I wager neither do you." Without waiting for a further reaction, Mammon made himself comfortable in one of the chairs.**** "I want to talk about Belphegor and her little pets."
"I figured asz much." Beelzebub looked to Dagon, who in turn gave Mammon a look that said 'Not going to leave. Tough luck'.
****As far as the chair in Hell allowed for comfortable.
Mammon wrinkled his nose, adjusted his eyepatch, and looked back at Beelzebub.
"They owe me. Big time, Beelzebub. And the Master agrees with me."
"The Maszter also agreesz that it'sz worth the entertainment. At leaszt," Beelzebub snarled. "We’ll continue their punishment where we left off when they disszappoint usz. Again."
“And I am looking forward to it.”
"You're not here to talk about that, Mammon," said Beelzebub. "Szo szpit it out."
"I wish to speak to the Master directly. And your baffling bureaucracy forces me to go through you first. Far less literally than I would like to."
"The feeling'sz mutual, Mammon." Beelzebub wandered around her desk, coming to a stop behind the other Archdemon. "And why do you wish to bother the Maszter?"
"I have... information that might be of interest to him, and by extension, all of Hell."
"Try me, Mammon. What information could be szo important that you'd annoy the Maszter with your preszensze?"
"Oh, how about the information that Heaven has a surplus angel?"
Beelzebub looked at Dagon, eyes wide in surprise.
“Now that, isz intereszting,” she said, stepping in front of Mammon and crossing her arms. “And you know that from where?”
“Most reliable resources,” Mammon smiled. “But do not think I will give you any advantages. The only one to hear the full account is our Master.”
Beelzebub gazed at him with eyes both scrutinizing and dark.
“I shall szpeak to him,” she murmured annoyed. “Now leave.”
Mammon rose and swept a mocking bow.
After the door closed behind him, Dagon stepped over to it, and ripped it open.
Just to make sure Mammon wasn’t listening in.
“Interesting, innit?” she said, replacing the door with a snap.
“Yesz. Wonder where he got that from.”
“I could look into it.”
Beelzebub shook her head. “That hasz to wait. The other thing’sz more important.”
Dagon sighed in defeat as Beelzebub slumped down behind her desk with a groan of the same quality.
“Of coursze the basztard’sz aszking about the Maszter now!” Beelzebub seethed.
Mammon seemed to have this unho-... dam... ridiculous ability to know exactly when Beelzbub was in a tight spot.
And the one she was in right now was probably the tightest one she could get into:
She had lost the Morningstar.
Hell (In Development) - 4004 BC
The Fallen angel spluttered, clawing at the rocks, trying to pull themself out of the pool of boiling sulphur. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt. Not as much as the Fall from Heaven, not as much as a bit of their essence being burned away.
Please, they thought desperately. Their legs felt numb and they had trouble moving them at all.
They gave a cry of despair, when something... someone grabbed them, hauling them out of the pool.
They coughed, rolling onto their back.
They cried out as pain shot through their mangled and seared wings, and they rolled back onto their side.
"That won't do," a voice said. They looked up. Next to them knelt another of the Fallen. The other looked as mangled as they felt.
"You're quite late," said the other. "We thought they were through with kicking everyone out."
They chuckled bitterly. "I didn't mean to... I asked questions. Protested even. The Almighty didn't like that."
The other nodded, and frowned.
"Where are we?" they asked.
"Lucifer calls it 'Hell'," said the other.
They nodded. Somehow that sounded right. Then the other picked them up into their arms.
"If you want to stay alive, you ought to get away from here," said the other. "Others are out hunting for food."
"Oh. They... are eating other... whatever we might be now?"
"Those that don't get back up fast enough, yes. And then some."
"Um... why are you helping me?"
The other shrugged. "Beats me. I know I shouldn't."
They let themself get carried by the other.
"What's your name?" they asked.
The other grunted. "We don't have names anymore. Just another thing the Almighty took away."
They winced. "What..." they ventured, "has been your name?"
The other gave a guttural growl. "Don't make me throw you back into the boiling sulphur. Just call me Hastur, if you have to. Could as well ask you what your name's been."
"I'd actually tell you," they said.
"Fine. Humor me, Fledgling."
This is not how it went.
Lyrics from 'Them Fallen' by 'The Rumjacks'
Hell, Second Circle - Now
"Oh, isn't it intriguing?"
Asmodeus, Archdemon of Lust, laid back on the fainting couch, eyeing Mammon with growing boredom.
"Really, Mammon, darling, you come to me about one of my pets? Especially one you vowed to kill most brutally? Oh, don't tell me you've proposed the same nonsense demand to Belphegor about Crowley."
"Why would I undertake such a futile endeavor, Asmodeus?" asked Mammon, helping himself to a drink from the other Archdemon's cabinet. "You know her better than any of us," he downed the liquid. "It would be quite like her to hand him over on a whim."
Asmodeus dragged his cane through his hands, not gracing Mammon with a single look. "Debatable. He's one of her favorite playthings, and she's quite like yours truly about those."
Mammon snorted in amusement.
"I believe my opinion of that is well known to you," he said, pouring himself another glass and wandering around the room, tracing a hand over the furniture. "What do you reckon? How long will they last? Longer than a week? What will your pet do about the poor sod Heaven entrusted with overseeing Belphegor's little snake? I would bet they will not last more than a week, would you not agree?"
With a sleazy smirk Asmodeus sat up.
"How much?" he asked.
"I shall gladly take you up on that bet, Mammon. I know what Duke Hastur is capable of."
"He is a fool, Asmodeus. A wreck of a demon who appears to have landed on his head when he Fell."
Asmodeus cocked his head, the innocent curiosity Belphegor usually displayed dancing on his features.
"Oh, I must have missed a bit of your speech, Mammon. I wasn't aware we were talking about you all of a sudden."
Mammon smiled back at him, unfazed.
"I am merely stating some known facts, Asmodeus. But if you wish, we can make that the prize of this little game. If your pet lasts longer than a week, I shall let him off the hook and henceforth refrain from saying anything about him that might cause you distress. If he gets himself discorporated -again- I shall be free to do as I please."
"You bet that much on a losing horse?"
"Do we have a deal?"
"So," Crowley began, reclining on the park bench, observing the morning crowd in the park. "How's the first night with a supervisor who wants both of us dead been working out for you?"
Aziraphale watched the ducks for a moment, tilting his head in thought ever so slightly. "Not at all unpleasant, I'd say. We saw to which room he could potentially occupy, and then he settled down and read The Count of Monte Christo."
Crowley made a slightly amused face.
"The unabridged version, I should add," said Aziraphale.
Crowley's expression moved a letter further to bemused.
With a frustrated groan Crowley leaned away.
"Oh, c'mon. This is not the time to try and bullshit me, angel," he scowled. "Hastur can't tell French from his arse."
"I am simply telling you what has happened," Aziraphale insisted in his patented 'I don't mean to be dissenting, but you are clearly wrong' tone. "How did you fare?" he then added in a friendlier manner.
"Could have been worse," he said. "Ligur almost went to bless all the water taps in the building after he found out that I kept his coat."
Aziraphale stared at him, baffled and a little alarmed.
"It's not as if I kept it as a trophy or anything. I just didn't know what to..."
"You killed him with Holy Water and then kept his coat all this time? Crowley, really."
"C'mon. He's got it back now, hasn't he?"
"Um," a third voice interrupted. "Master Crowley?"
Aziraphale and Crowley looked at the speaker.
"Manny!" Crowley greeted the junior demon maybe a little too cheerfully. "Long time, no see. That's a surprise. What brings you here?" He turned to Aziraphale. "Oh, I don't think you've actually met yet. Manny, Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate. Aziraphale, Manny. Well, Legion, but you catch the drift."
"Err, charmed, I'm sure," said Aziraphale.
"Now, what brings you here?" Crowley asked the junior demon again, and Legion fished a letter from his satchel.
"Orders for you and Duke Hastur, Sir."
Crowley snatched the envelope, holding it as if it personally offended him, and looked the junior demon up and down.
"Hell is rolling out all the work that piled up in this little interim, isn't it?" he frowned, broke the wax seal and began reading.
"Umm, Sir?" Legion dared. "I'm not entirely certain if you should read this..." he gestured at Aziraphale.
Crowley waved them off.
"Naw," he said. "What with Hastur being his supervisor it doesn't really matter."
Legion nodded, and Crowley looked at him briefly.
"That'd be all?" he asked, then looked back down at the letter.
"Yes," said Legion.
"Then be on your merry way," Crowley mumbled. "Oh, this is just great," he murmured once the junior demon had left, letting out an exhausted groan.
"Bad news?" asked Aziraphale. "By Hell's standards, I mean."
"Caught you the first time, angel," mumbled Crowley, while turning the parchment ever so slightly. "It's a find and retrieve assignment. Ah, I hate those." He looked back at Aziraphale, squirming a little. "It's this whole drag'em to Hell business. 'Oh looky here, the bugger sold his soul, now their time's up, go get'em.' I hate that."
Aziraphale pondered this.
"I'm aware. I could interfere again," he began. "Depending on the human, as always of course, and..."
"Naw, never mind, angel." Crowley waved him off politely, folded the letter and pocketed it. "Know what? Hastur can do this one alone."
"Hell won't like that."
"It's Hell, not liking something on at least base level is mandatory." Crowley rubbed his temples. "Let's head back then, shall we?"
Aziraphale nodded and got up, just as Crowley let out a howl of despair.
"Rock science!" he wailed, throwing his hands up. "For crying out loud, Hastur!"
Aziraphale did not ask.
Miss Mag screwed open a bleary eye, trying her best to focus on the antique alarm clock on the nightstand.
It read one and thirty something. About five hours of sleep, now wasn't that something?
Miss Mag rolled onto her back with a wince, stretching the best she could. Good Lord, what a night. She sat up slowly and looked at the box behind the alarm clock, and then at the small book and letter on her bed.
So it wasn't a dream.
Her laptop on the pillow beside her had long since gone into sleep mode, and Miss Mag figured it might do with a quick reboot the same way she could do with a large cup of coffee.
She peeled herself out of bed, picked up the book and headed for the kitchen.
The night had gone by traversing the internet for information on this ominous 'Agnes Nutter', finding far less than Mag had hoped for.
At least she had found three things:
- Agnes was real.
- Agnes was a witch and a prophetess.
- Agnes had written a book of prophecies.
Around four in the morning Mag had given up on finding out more about Agnes, and had concentrated on finding out things about the book.
At around half past seven she had located the number of an antique books shop in London specializing on prophecies, and had made a call.
With mixed success, as the call had cut off just as Mag was about to ask the kindly man answering about Agnes. Trying to call again via mobile hadn't worked either, and Mag had figured there must have been something wrong with the line on London's ends, and had gone to sleep, intending to try again later.
Said 'later' was now.
Well, almost. First get something to eat, then maybe a bit of fresh air... and then try calling around three or six, that should be enough time to fix the lines.
Miss Mag settled down in the kitchen with book and coffee, and began reading again. She was very certain the book in her hands was not the one Agnes was known for. Not going by what Miss Mag had been able to find on the net.
The only thing that worried her a little (and for a moment had her wonder if this was some joke after all) was that some of the prophecies mentioned her by name.
Like the one she was reading at random now.
'I tell ye thif, Magnolia, when he who is shalle meet him who is notte, beware the Angel with the Deville's face, for he weareth it not by choice but by sorrow.'
Not that that made a lot of sense, but it was outrageously intriguing to see Magnolia being addressed like this. She read the next one.
'Putte ye down thy cup, Magnolia, so that ye notte spill thy koffie.'
"What?" Miss Mag muttered, staring at the text. Absent-mindedly she sipped her coffeed, just as the handle broke, the, thankfully, lukewarm beverage spilling over her bathrobe.
Miss Mag cursed quietly, then stared wide-eyed at the book again.
Now, wasn't that something?
Miss Mag decided to forego coffee and cleaning, and prayed that 'calling' was an option. There was information to be gathered.
Not too far away, in the woods, a man strolled around near the Them's little hide-out. The children were at school, and he seemed to have all the time in the world.
This is Mr Nicholas.
Let's take a look at him, shall we?
He's an average man with dark hair and a face that people called handsome. People also had trouble with remembering details about him.
He was sitting on a fallen tree nearby, a small, worn notebook in his lap, twirling a pen.
He stared into the distance, listening to the animals moving around him.
Had he been paying attention he might have noticed that a lot of nocturnal animals where out and about quite early today.
Purgatory - Four months after the failed Armageddon
There was a spot in Purgatory that had been theirs.
A small corner far away enough from Hell to not get bothered, but close enough for no one to notice they were gone.
They had found it by pure chance centuries ago*, and though it had changed appearance as everything, it still remained theirs.
* After Hastur had taken a wrong step and crashed through the rotten floorboards.
One could see the stars from here.
There was no 'theirs' without Ligur.
Still Hastur had come here now, a bit against Belphegor's advice.
His wounds were still not fully healed, and perhap some never would. But he needed this now. Now that everything was coming back, now that he had the chance to think.
He needed this moment of silence. Needed their spot.
He sat by the opening and watched the night sky.
He had half expected for the stars to have lost their shine. They hadn't. Why would they?
It was just a demon who had been annihilated. These things happened. The only unusual thing was that that way of extinction was brought forth by another demon, and not a human or an angel.
So why bother?
Hastur knew he shouldn't. He knew he should only be angry over the loss of a valuable tool, something that had given him an advantage.
Instead he felt sick. Nauseous and delirious. Suffocating.
And angry, yes.
But it was a different kind of anger. It was a kind of despair, of fury that he had never felt before, not even after the Fall.
A different kind of anger, a different kind of hatred than one he had felt against... a lot of people. Some he'd never thought he'd hate. Some he never before dared to hate.
But what he felt now...
He wanted to scream.
He had screamed when it had happened.
And then... He blanked a little on the details. When Crowley had raised that plant mister something had short-circuited in Hastur's brain and the next few moments were but a blur.
Had he screamed? He couldn't tell. He vaguely remembered chasing Crowley down the telephone line. The ansaphone, the angel's message.
Those telemarketers. He remembered those. Pretty tasty. They had it coming, too.
He remembered using the radio in that office to contact Hell. Tell them what had happened.
Then it went blurry again. He had gone after Crowley, finding the little runt stuck in traffic.
At the M25.
Hastur grinned a tired grin.
Crowley had given this big speech about his hijinks with that road back in the day, acting as if no other demon would know what 'Odegra' means. And then he complained when it bit him in the arse.
But even then Crowley couldn't just accept defeat and come along silently.
No, he had started to drive into the fire.
Hastur had tried to grab at the wheel, and Crowley... Crowley had bit him. Fangs and venom and all.
Hastur didn't know if he did catch fire, he had been rendered too dizzy for that too quickly.
But he had gotten back to Hell.
And then there was the trial.
Hastur should have listened to his gut and just beaten the little snake into a pulp.
Instead, when things had not worked as expected, he had fretted over whether or not that plant mister had held Holy Water.
For a few hours.
Then Hell had turned its attention to him.
That was about four months ago...
Hastur figured he hadn't the energy to scream anymore.
Not after screaming, wailing and crying his throat raw.
In pain, in agony, in fear.
He leaned his head against the wall, looking up at the starry sky.
He didn't think at all for a moment.
Then he caught himself humming a tune. A song he had heard up on Earth not too long ago. A good song.
The words came creeping back to him, soft on his tongue, coaxing him to let them out...
He let them...
'I know you exist, for years I have said so.
Me arms couldn't hold you, though me heart couldn't let go.
Are you somewhere out there tonight still singin' to me?'
Silly, sentimental little words. But so... soothing. So right right now... No, he... he shouldn't think like that. Humans did that. Angels, maybe. Not demons. It was a stupid thing to do.
Hastur sighed, pulled up his legs and rested his head on his knees.
People had always deemed him stupid. He wasn't stupid. He had trouble with new concepts, sure, and maybe his brain was going as straight as the bloody M25, but he wasn't stupid, no matter what people like Crowley thought.
Ligur had been the only one to see right through him. Saw what Hastur was often times doing. Played along, teased him right back, guided him along when needed.
They worked so well together, not just in that way.
But now Ligur was gone. Hastur knew the... actual Antichrist had undone a lot of things on Earth. Brought back a lot of people... But not Ligur. Maybe the boy didn't want to. Maybe he couldn't.
Whatever the truth was, people expected Hastur to just accept things.
He looked at his hands.
He had always been a fighter, underneath it all. Until people decided they knew better. Sure, they kept him around to torture souls after dragging them to Hell. But at bottom line they had declawed him, pulled his teeth...
He winced at the thought, the choice of words his mind threw at him making his stomach turn as he absent-mindedly ran his tongue along his teeth.
Belphegor's work was... not a miracle... Hastur knew miracles. He didn't know a word for what the Archdemon had done to... for him.
He had always been a fighter, always been at his best when he trusted his gut.
But he let others tell him what was good for him.
He looked back up at the sky again. How did another line in that song go again?
'I've no God an' no masters above me an' no further to fall.'
So be it.
London, Soho - Now
Crowley grabbed Aziraphale's arm as the angel was about to unlock the shop's door.
"What's the matter, dear?" asked Aziraphale, watching Crowley flick his tongue out.
"Oh for..." Crowley groaned. "Ligur's here," he said.
Aziraphale tutted, turning the key.
"I told you, you should have informed him about where you're going."
Crowley made an offended sounding noise, and followed Aziraphale into the shop.
"We'd have t' throw'n entire cow," Ligur's voice sounded from the back room. "An' hope it dun land in the sulphur pools..."
"But we could try it."
That was Hastur.
Crowley, brow quirked, looked at Aziraphale, quickly mouthed 'Don't. No. No. Just. Don't ask. No.' and bravely strutted into the back room.
"Hi," he said.
Sort of. Half the greeting got stuck in his throat when he saw the little arrangement on the old sofa.
Ligur cuddled into one corner, Hastur resting his head on the former demon's legs, his own legs dangling over the side, and the chameleon skittering around on his chest.
"Y'know yer supposed to tell me where yer goin'?" Ligur greeted back.
Crowley grunted dismissively.
"You apparently knew exactly where I'd be," he said.
"Not that many options, are there?"
Crowley shrugged, blatantly nestling himself onto the sofa between the backrest and Hastur's legs. The response in the form of an annoyed groan was drowned out by Aziraphale asking,
"The nice lady who called this morning, has she called again yet?"
Hastur lazily turned his head to the side.
"No," he said. "But y'got two calls asking for first edition Dickens, one for Austen, one wrong number, an' one guy been lookin' fer 'That book wi' the gay fish'. Think 'e means 'Homo Faber'."
Aziraphale pondered that, while Crowley smirked at Hastur. A smirk that faltered when Hastur gave him a 'Say anything 'bout ansaphones an' I'll rip yer spleen out through yer eyesockets' look.**
**As apathetic as Hastur could come across, conveying messages, especially threats, with only his eyes was a discipline he wholly excelled it. Though Crowley wondered why Hastur regularly admonished him not to take any wooden nickels, or to not sell him a dog.
"Usually you don't care whether or not someone calls again," said Crowley. "Heaven, usually you rejoice in someone not calling again."
"Oh, yes," said Aziraphale, hanging up his overcoat. "But there was something odd about her. About her call, to be accurate."
"Which was?" asked Crowley, as the chameleon used his arm to get onto the backrest.
"She said she wasn't looking for any book; something I greatly appreciated; but whether or not I would have any information about a specific author. Specific prophet, to be precise."
"She didn't say. Or, better, well, she most likely tried to, but before she could say anything, the line went dead."
Crowley craned his neck around, looking towards where Aziraphale had one of his antique phones.
"See why'm asking you to get a proper phone?" he said.
"They are proper phones."
Crowley let out a groan, as that response had come from everyone else in the room in unison.
Thankfully, one of the offending apparatuses rang before he could say anything.
Aziraphale picked up, and going by his words he was talking to the caller from earlier the day. Crowley listened with only half an ear, more interested in watching the chameleon tumble down from the backrest back onto Hastur's chest.
"What..." Aziraphale suddenly said in an alarmed tone that made Crowley snap his head around.
"Would you kindly repeat that?" Aziraphale continued, now with four sets of eyes staring at him. "What do you mean you received a book from Agnes Nutter?"
Elsewhere - Two months after the failed Apocalypse
THIS IS... UNPRECEDENTED, said Death.
"Tell me 'bout it," Ligur grunted, rubbing the side of his face. "Didn't know we get a thereafter, too."
He sat up, a little unsteadily, shaking his head as if to get water out of his ear.
BEINGS OF ANGEL STOCK DO NOT GET A THEREAFTER. OVER MEANS OVER. AND HOLY WATER IS ONE BIG OVER FOR A DEMON.
Ligur cocked his head. He knew he should be furious, but being very permanently dead put quite a damper on all of the righteous wrath he was feeling.*
*Had he been paying attention here, the things to come might have been a little less surprising. 'Righteous wrath' wasn't in a demon's job description after all.
"Am here, ain't I?" he said, and then a thought crossed his mind. "Shouldn't y'be elsewhere?"
THIS IS ELSEWHERE.
"Yer a wisearse, Azrael. Y'know how I mean."
THE APOCALYPSE, YES.
"I mean, sure, yer technically everywhere, but..."
IT WAS CALLED OFF.
THE BOY DECIDED AGAINST IT. Death explained what happened.
"... He what?" Ligur was shaking. The sense of anger, fury and betrayal... in over 6000 years he only ever felt like this once. "'Twas all for NOTHING?" he barked. "This... no! Ev'rything we did... an', an' hoped for... an' he..."
AND TWO MONTHS HAVE PASSED SINCE.
"That's not helping!" Ligur slumped. "That's not... wait." He stared up at Death. "Two months? But... I mean... I mean..." He took a deep breath, held it for a moment and exhaled. "...What? Shouldn't I have... I thought... What now?"
Death simply shrugged.
I BELIEVE IT IS UP TO YOU TO FIND OUT, he said.
"Terrific, really." Ligur frowned, looking around. Then he got up and dusted off his clothes. "It was 'Go to where it feels right,' right?"
"Well then," Ligur said, and marched off.
For a moment, Death was inclined to wish him good luck. Especially since, by all means, he was headed for Heaven.
London, Soho - Just when we left off
"That is..." said Aziraphale, hand flexing lightly around the receiver. "Peculiar. I... must ask, are you... yes. Oh that'd be helpful... yes... oh my... yes, yes."
Crowley looked at the little party on the couch, giving them a hapless shrug.
"You are where?" Aziraphale suddenly burst out, drawing everyone's attention again. "Ah! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shout. No. Yes... very surprised. Yes. It's... you see, about Agnes Nutter and... uh-huh. Oh, that's a splendid idea, my dear. Oh, yes, we'll be open tomorrow at..."
Now Crowley began waving frantically, pointing at himself and Hastur.
"Oh, could you kindly wait for a moment," Aziraphale told the caller and covered the receiver with his hand. "What is it?" he stagewhispered.
Crowley simply pulled the letter from his jacket, waving it meaningfully. "Not the time!" he stagewhispered back.
Hastur, eyebrow quirked, struggled a little to sit up and snatch the letter, and, as he failed, simply let his tongue do the job.
Crowley gave a grunt of protest, while Aziraphale turned back to the caller.
"I'm terribly sorry, my... ah, assistant... just informed me that tomorrow is not a good choice for a visit... yes? Uh-huh? Oh. Oh certainly. Oh, splendid. Yes. Yes, I shall be seeing you then. Toodleloo."
With a soft shake of his head he hung up. "Oh my, oh my..." he said, wringing his hands.
"What happened?" asked Crowley, followed by an 'Ouch' as Hastur smacked him with the letter.
"When did you plan on tellin' me?" the senior demon grunted.
"Soon enough," said Crowley bristly, turning back to Aziraphale as the angel sat down in his chair again. "So what was that about? I thought we'd be through with old Agnes."
Aziraphale flexed his hands in thought.
"It would seem she still had a few surprises waiting for...," He paused, mumbling for a moment. "Everyone, I'd suspect."
Hastur turned his head, looking tired of it all.
"So, them two o' you up to prevent the next Apocalypse?"
"I don't believe this is about another attempt at ending the world," said Aziraphale.
"What then?" Crowley chimed in, side-eyeing the chameleon clamber up his arm again and hop behind the sofa. He looked at Ligur. "Is it supposed to do that?"
The former demon shrugged. "Am still figuring out what 'xactly it even is, dun ask me."
That was as good an answer as Crowley could hope for. He turned back to Aziraphale. "I mean, it's Agnes Nutter, for Wilde's sake. If it's not another Apocalypse, what then?"
"Probably something worse," Hastur supplied, all helpfully, before looking at Aziraphale. "So, cards on the table. What did you talk about?"
"Got yer halo in a twist," Ligur added, and Aziraphale let out a long sigh.
"Alright," he began. "So, Miss Bolton, that's the lady who called, has recently moved to Tadfield."
All sounds in the room seemed to screech to a hold as everyone stared at Aziraphale.
"You're kidding," said Crowley, finding his voice again first.
"I am as surprised as you are, my dear."
"Oh, c'mon!" Crowley cried out, messing up his hair in despair. "Why that place again? What's so special about it?"
"Well, the Antichrist lives there."
"... Yeah, I know... but..." Crowley snapped his mouth shut, deflated.
"Anyway," Aziraphale started anew. "It would appear she had moved there a while ago, and by yesterday has come into the possession of a hitherto unknown book by Agnes Nutter. Which, apparently had been addressed to Miss Bolton explicitly."
Ligur reached over and tugged on Crowley's sleeve to get his attention.
"It's absolutely the proper Apocalypse," he said once he'd gotten it.
Crowley, out of habitual spite, shook his head.
"Don't think so."
"In any case," said Aziraphale pointedly. "Miss Bolton has agreed to come here on the weekend and bring the book with her."
"Well," Crowley sighed. "At least it'll be easier to get the book this time 'round."
"Ah, Michael, glad you could come."
There was a tone in Gabriel's voice that made it clear that he was aware of how awkward and pointless a greeting it was, but that he had said it to keep his mind from just flipping a table.
"Your summon sounded more urgent than usual," said Michael. "What did Aziraphale do now?"
"Nothing so far. It'd seem he's doing well."
"Which is a shame," Sandalphon added helpfully. "He could have gotten rid of the demon assigned as his supervisor."
Gabriel nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. It's a shame, really. But I'm positive he will come to his senses sooner or later."
"Yes?" asked Gabriel, looking a little baffled at that reaction.
"Nothing of relevance," said Michael, crossing her arms. "You didn't summon me here to discuss what Aziraphale might do to Hastur or vice versa. And if nothing happened yet, I don't know..."
"Have you had any success in locating the surplus angel?"
Michael glared daggers at Sandalphon for interrupting her.
"Don't you think I'd have come on my own if I had?"
Sandalphon harrumphed, and Michael looked back at Gabriel.
"And I assume you had no luck either?"
Gabriel shook his head.
"Not yet. Uriel is trying to get a hold of Raphael still."
"You think this has to do with Pestilence resurfacing?"
Again Gabriel shook his head.
"It might be, it might not be. You know Her ways are..."
"Yes, yes," said Michael, with a soft frown. "Gabriel, you didn't summon me into a meeting such as this for smalltalk."
"Certainly not. Well, without further ado..." Gabriel looked the other Archangel dead in the eyes. "I can count on your secrecy?"
Michael wrinkled her nose.
"Of course you can."
"We lost track of Lucifer."
Michael opened her mouth and stared at the other two angels.
She snapped her mouth shut.
"This, obviously does not bode well," said Sandalphon, leaning towards Michael as if he worried Michael might not hear him otherwise. "And as the Morningstar is your..."
Michael waved him off, rather irritated, fixing Gabriel with a glare.
"Is this some kind of joke?"
"I'd never joke about this. Especially not to you, Michael."
"Appreciated. But that's impossible."
"I know." Gabriel sighed heavily. "But I believe Hell has been working on means to get the upper hand over us."
"And you think they found a way to hide Lucifer's whereabouts?"
"Indeed," Sandalphon supplied helpfully. "And should they have managed that, their next step, undoubtedly, would be to find a way to let him roam Earth."
"I shall see about this."
"Good," said Gabriel, a worried look crossing his face for a moment. "You certainly understand we ought to keep this secret until we know what's going on?"
Michael looked at him sharply.
"You mean leave everyone else in the dark? Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael are down there alone."
"And Uriel is a capable fighter. Should you cross paths, get back to me about the further procedure. Otherwise I expect you to look into this without involving anyone else. I know you are more than capable of doing this alone."
She nodded stoically and left the office.
In the room, Sandalphon turned to Gabriel.
"With all due respect... I know the other rumor is more than likely false - shame on Raziel and the angels spreading them - but... can we still trust Michael?"
Gabriel blinked, looking shocked for the fraction of a second. Then he smiled a little too cheerfully.
"Of course we can. Michael's an angel."
Michael meanwhile scuddled down the staircase, pulling out her phone, dialing.
"...Ligur? It's me... We might have a problem."
"So, what do you make of it?" asked Mammon, turning a small medallion between his fingers. He was sitting at the edge of a pool, an eerie, unearthly light (by Hell's standards) coming from thousands of tiny, glowing... things illuminating the place.
This was Leviathan's domain.
An In-between like the Phantasmagoetia, just a little less twisted. Maybe. And just like Belphegor, Leviathan was rather hard to get a hold of. Usually they were moping around somewhere in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the water's surface.
"Not much," Leviathan responded in a grumble, two sets of brightly colored fish eyes fixed on Mammon.
"Well, you do keep finding these in your pools," said Mammon, pocketing the trinket.
"And you take them. Give it back."
"Will not do," Mammon said, humorless. "The Master wants to be informed about all unusual occurrences, and -and I believe you will agree- this is most unusual."
Leviathan nodded curtly.
Mammon flashed them a winning smile.
"So, you do not have an idea what these are?"
Mammon just shrugged, smiling a little too cheerful. He took too much delight in getting the Archdemon of Envy riled up not only by taking away the trinkets that recently began winding up in Leviathan's den, but mostly by hinting to know something Leviathan did not.
Leviathan let out a snarl, the clear and endlessly deep water starting to ripple ominously.
"Oh, no need to get all upset," said Mammon, pocketing the trinket. "I shall bring this where it needs to be brought."
Another snarl and Leviathan dove. Mammon laughed darkly and rose.
"You will inform me should you find more unusual things," he called, knowing the other Archdemon would hear him. "It is almost a shame you barely ever leave the pool."
With that, Mammon headed out of the cavern.
In the shadows, Leviathan rose out of the water, form slowly shifting. When all was said and done, Leviathan stretched their gaunt figure and rubbed their face, sole set of eyes they had now blinking.
Then they leaned over the water to look at their reflection.
Leviathan nodded grimly but satisfied at what they saw, turned and glared at the entrance.
"Wrong on all accounts, asshole."
Miss Mag stretched and let out a soft, satisfied sigh. With the call made, dirty clothes in the machine and the table cleaned she could finally go about her daily business.
Bills don't pay themselves, after all.**
**Unless you are Crowley, naturally. And then only if you actually let them come into existence.
She sat down to get some reading done, but found her eyes continuously flitted back to Agnes' book.
'When Two are Four and Four are Five, mark my words: The Deville doth not know Wonne of Seven is not Wonne of Six. And when the false Serpent follows the gleam of fool's gold the rightful one shall find my words in the King's house.'
"Well, that's more of a mathematical problem than anything, innit, Miss Nutter?" mumbled Miss Mag, shaking her head. She had figured that Agnes seemed to just string random words together, but Miss Mag was used to that, what with being a freelance proofreader.
And all things considered, Agnes' prophecies made a lot more sense than some of the material Miss Mag got paid for to read. Miss Mag cracked her knuckles and focused on her work again, occasionally looking up and out the windows.
The kitchen windows opened to a wonderful view over the small, lush garden and the street beyond the fence, and a stretch of meadow, the gigantic fallen-over willow and the small river that flowed by the cottage.
It was a calming, beautiful view, even though Miss Mag was still not entirely certain if there had been a stream when she first moved here.
A different Tadfield Airbase - the Saturday of an Armageddon-yet-to-happen
"Let them leave," said Adam, pointing at the duo.
"I beg your pardon," said Beelzebub, cocking his head.
"This is a bad world," said Adam. "It's not worth saving. And it's not worth fighting for either."
"Young man," said the Metatron, trying to follow the statement. "I can't follow. You just single-handedly destroyed the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, yet you seem out to start the End of the World after all."
"I wanted to talk to you first. Let them go. They tried their best. You want the end of the world, fine. But you'll let them go in peace."
"There is be no plasze to go," said Beelzebub.
"Yes there is," Adam insisted and looked back at the other angel and demon duo again. They looked ragged, exhausted and scared.
Beelzebub waved Metatron to talk in private for a moment.
When they turned back to Adam, they both nodded.
"Wherever you will szend them, we will pick them up after the war."
Then Adam waved his hand and something like a negative light engulfed the duo in question. He smiled at Beelzebub and Metatron.
"You won't," he said with pity in his voice, and turned back to the other supernatural duo. "Good luck, and thank you for everything you did."
The lower demon smiled at Adam, then at the angel at his side.
"Nice knowing you, my dear," he said and held out his hand.
"Here's to the next time," said the angel, taking it just as the unlight swallowed them.
"There's really a lot of animals out today," Brian observed, watching the third hedgehog the Them had seen on their way to their little hideout scamper into the undergrowth. Above, a whole murder of crows called from the branches and just minutes ago Pepper had spotted a fox. She insisted it had looked at Adam in reverence.
"My parents would go into hysterics if they knew about this," Wensley added.
"We've all gotten our shots," said Pepper. "So unless one of the frogs is gonna eat us we'll be fine." Then she seemed to remember something. "Oh, by the way..."
The rest of the Them stopped. When Pepper said something like that, it usually meant some interesting news.
"Mum said to stay away from Mr. Nicholas' friend."
"His friend?" Said Adam, crossing his arms. "Didn't know he had one."
Pepper shrugged. "Mum's not certain either. But some odd guy asked her about Mr Nicholas earlier, and she said they were really creepy. Mr. De Witte, or something."
Brian grimaced. "Urgh, you mean that zombie guy?"
"They don't look like a zombie," said Wensley. "Zombies would have exposed muscles and parts falling off. Mr. De Witte looks more like a victim of consumption."
"Naw," said Brian. "They don't look like they ate anything at all. What do you think, Adam?"
Adam snapped out of whatever he was thinking about.
"Sorry, I wasn't listening... It's..." he looked around, the faintest trace of worry crossing his face.
"Adam, you okay?" asked Pepper.
Dog shuffled closer to his master, whining at the odd humming in the air.
"Hey!" someone called, and the Them spun around as one.
Miss Mag came towards them, sending leaves flying as she made her way through the forest.
The kids waved.
"Hi, Miss Mag. Whatcha doing here?" said Adam as Miss Mag reached them.
"You like odd stuff, right?" said Miss Mag.
The Them looked at each other, then at Miss Mag, and nodded.
Miss Mag might not have been a witch like Miss Anathema, but nevertheless did she have something exciting about her. She had the oddest, spookiest stories to tell from around the world, and the Them were certain some of the knickknacks in Miss Mag's possession were definitely magical.
Miss Mag reached for her satchel and produced a really old book.
"Have any of you ever heard of a certain Agnes Nutter?"
"You know that's a bad idea, angel," sneered the smaller one, leaning back on the bed.
The other rolled his eyes.
"Phelan, please. They have a right to know," he said, putting away the most recent letter that had found its way to their little hideout.
The smaller one, Phelan, frowned darkly.
"And blow the sole chance we have? Really?"
"That's not how it will end. You've seen them. They... If they..."
Phelan got up and grabbed the other by the arms.
"This place is different. Maybe we won't die, but... How do you think they'll react to such news? You've heard..."
"Oh, for crying out loud," the other snapped. "Listen, Phelan. He has some beef with both of them, and I..."
Phelan let out a heavy sigh and let go of the other's arms.
"You're worried, I appreciate that. But still... Let's at least wait till we receive a follow up to that letter, alright?"
The other squirmed.
"I really don't know..."
"Keruvael," Phelan said solemnly. "For how long have we been friends? 6000 years. Have I ever done anything to make you think you can't trust me?"
Keruvael cocked his head in the most are-you-kidding-me manner possible.
"Do you want the list chronological?"
"Oh fine, fine. But... what makes you think this whole deal now would go on the list?"
"6000 years of experience," Keruvael said dryly.
"You are, without a doubt, the rudest angel in all the choirs," responded Phelan, equally as dry, with a smirk tugging on his lips.
Keruvael quirked a brow.
"You don't know that," he said, all scholarly and thoroughly innocent. "They have nine here."
Hastur was in a rotten mood.
"Can't believe he gone dun that," he said after Ligur and Crowley had left again. All just cause bloody wank-wings called and said 'Jump!'.
"Still being all buddy-buddies with..."
"You don't know that," Aziraphale said, sorting books into the shelves. "For all you know it might have been pure business. He is an angel now, after all."
Hastur was quiet for a moment before letting out a howl of despair.
"So what? If Gabriel would come callin' tellin' you to meet him, would you really..."
"No." Aziraphale gave a determined nod. "But this is Ligur and Michael we are speaking about. Not Gabriel and myself."
Hastur glared at him darkly.
That was the best he could say. Because what else was there?
That he feared losing Ligur again? He'd be blessed to tell that to an angel. To Crowley's angel at that.
That he worried Ligur had picked Michael over him? Possibly cause Ligur blamed him for the Holy Water thing? Or because Ligur likely sensed that Hastur couldn't pull himself together and say what was on his mind since they met again?
"You haven't told him yet?" Aziraphale interupted, sounding alarmed, and Hastur looked up at the angel with equal alarm and even more confusion.
"You mumbled a few things about Ligur and Michael."
Hastur narrowed his eyes for a moment, and then let out a high-pitch screeching wail.
With a mucky poof he turned into a full frog form and crawled under one of the pillows.
"Do you often say out loud what you are musing about?" asked Aziraphale, equal parts casual and unimpressed.
"Shurrup. None of yer business. Leave me alone."
Aziraphale kneeled down and lifted the pillow a little.
"It's a stress thing, am I correct?"
"It's none of yer business," Hastur growled, turning his back at Aziraphale. "You can call the flash bastard an' tell'im he can do the thing alone."
Aziraphale frowned and sat down on the couch, taking away the pillow with more vigor than necessary.
"Oh, that will not be possible. Crowley has already mused about asking you to see to this dreadful endeavor on your own."
Hastur made a growling noise and leapt into Aziraphale's lap, staring up at him.
"Has he now?" he popped back into his human form, straddling Aziraphale in the most unsexiest manner possible*. "Well, he can stick that notion somewhere I'll rip him a new one of if he's ought t' be like that."
*A statement that doesn't even take into account that the skin on his face and neck took a good deal longer to knit itself back into shape than the rest of him.
With a, albeit slightly amused, frown, Aziraphale crossed his arms upon finding there wasn't much of anywhere else to put them right now.
"As much as I'd appreciate both of you leaving that poor soul alone..." he began, but Hastur let out a guttural laugh.
"Y'know, I don't like jokes, but that was a good one, Principality. You know there's nothin' to save when someone's up to get dragged to Hell." Smoothly Hastur slipped off the angel's lap. "So, what were you sayin'?"
Aziraphale groaned lightly.
"Nevermind this, dear boy," he said, adjusting his jacket.
Hastur grinned and got up.
"Ah, won't hurt if I go an' scout the area." He headed for the door. "I'll be back for dinner. If Crowley comes callin', tell'im he can kiss me arse."
And he was gone.
Aziraphale let out a long sorrowful sigh. It didn't matter that Hastur was a demon. With a sense of despair and agony this strong, everyone would feel it. He wasn't fooling anyone in the shop.
"Tedious. That'd be the word, positively tedious."
The older one, who went by De Witte now, shoved a heap of empty plastic cups, pizza boxes and other assorted junk out of the way and off the bed, laying down.
"What? It's nice?" said the other (who went by Chalky again) with a pout, and gazed around the undeniable mess in the little hotel room.
De Witte blinked.
"Oh, not you," they said. "That town."
"6000 years and I never sensed anything like it."
"We haven't had an Almostcalypse in 6000 years either, though." Chalky stretched, throwing a bouncing ball at the opposite wall and catching it.
"Are you trying to crack the wall or are you just annoying the people in the other room?"
"Bit of heap A bit of heap B."
De Witte nodded.
"And what d'ye mean about the town? I mean... the Antichrist lives there... and his little friends... Ouch!"
Chalky yelped as the ball hit them square in the forehead.
"Careful there, kiddo." De Witte grinned. "And no, that wasn't it. There's something... something else."
"I can't put my finger on it... but I don't like it."
"Good thing we came here then, even if it was just to see the place," they said, still rubbing their head, before tilting it. "Hey, what's wrong? You haven't looked that worried since Jenner."
"I'm trying to remember when I had this feeling before... But..." De Witte shook their head. "I will probably remember soon enough. Care for a stroll?"
"You know I'm not the 'catch a breath of fresh air' type."
"Well, since when am I?"
London, St James' Park - 6 months after the failed Apocalypse
"How is he faring?" asked Belphegor as they strolled through a nightly St James' Park.
"Not too well. He keeps pushing himself to exhaustion," said Legion, gazing up at the stars thoughtfully.
"Hastur is stubborn," Belphegor mused, burying her hands in the pockets of her too large vintage coat. "You know him. He has his goal, and he won't stop till he reaches it."
"It won't do if he gets himself to kick the bucket. You should put your foot down, Mistress."
Belphegor shrugged dramatically.
"Too much work. And he knows what he's getting himself into."
"Duke Valefar really went overboard on him."
Again Belphegor shrugged.
"I agree, but C'est la vie. Hell doesn't go easy on failures. And as Crowley tricked them into thinking he's immune to Holy Water..."
Legion pretty much screeched to a halt.
Belphegor laughed, startling a few nightly creatures.
"I'd have thought you'd have caught on. Crowley and that angel... whatshisface? No pun intended, I can't remember."
"That one. They merely shapeshifted into each other's guises. Crowley is as immune to Holy Water as you and I. No wait, that's a bad comparison."
"Yeah, I mean... you are immune, aren't you?"
"Oh, I just keep forgetting I shouldn't be. And you just lose one copy and take a bit of damage to the others."
"It still hurts like anything," Legion murmured, rubbing his arm. Then he grinned. "Hah! I was right."
"Yeah, I thought there was something about the angel that was off. Something about his eyes... 'Twas really weird."
"It must have taken them a lot of energy to mask their eyes."
Legion made an odd noise somewhere between a snort and a wince.
"Hastur will make snake kebab out of Crowley when he finds out."
"Oh, I'd wager he already knows."
"Huh?" Legion blinked, startled.
"Maybe not for certain, but he had enough time to think about things. Hastur's very clever if one lets him see to the facts."
Legion scratched his neck.
"I could ask him, he just woke up."
Purgatory - 6 months after the failed Apocalypse and immediately after what you just read
Hastur stirred, peeling an eye open with a low growl.
6000 years, and he had never once slept as much as he had in the past four months. Then again, he never had his body and soul chipped away to near nothingness until half a year ago.
He groaned and rolled over on the little bed that had been his for the past few months. Since Belphegor had found him and patched him back together.
"Slept well, Your Disgrace?" a voice called, and Hastur turned, glaring weakly at Legion.
"Told you t'stop callin' me that," he scowled. "They took everything from me, remember?"
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean much."
Hastur propped himself up on one elbow.
"I told you I don't like jokes. 'Specially not those wot got me for a punchline."
"'Twasn't a joke. I think Duke Valefar went too far with what he did to you. And," Legion sat down astride the room's sole chair, "I mean just annihilating you would have been one thing. Even with torture beforehand. But what happened..."
"Shut up!" Hastur howled, plunging back down onto the bed and pulling the blanket over his head.
It didn't matter how much he was set on revenge or somesuch. He didn't want to think of the time immediately after the failed trial. It was bad enough that it was haunting his dreams. On top of the question why he dreamed to begin with.
"Sorry," Legion said.
Hastur frowned and peeked out from under the blanket.
"For cryin' out loud, Legion, stop apologisin'. Yer a demon."
"There's no harm in saying 'Sorry'."
"That's wot I mean."
"Oh. I meant there's neither good nor bad coming of me saying 'Sorry'."
Hastur nodded curtly.
"Still. Yer too bloody nice for a demon."
"How d'ye mean?"
With a drawn-out and pained sigh Hastur sat up.
"Ev'ryone else would've taken the bloody chance to take some revenge for all them discorporations. But you just sit there, an' y'patch me back up an' shite. Bloody Heaven. Yer a demon. Show some resentment."
But Legion just shrugged.
"Naw. I mean, sure some stuff you did was really scary and painful, but all in all, with what people like Mammon and Valefar've been doing..."
"I keep track of my deaths. Comes with me being me."
Hastur quirked a brow.
"You keep track?"
"Yes. And I can tell you for certain that you discorporated me without the trace of a reason only 9 times."
Hastur quirked the other brow too.
"Really? Huh. Guess I am getting old." He wanted to say more when he doubled over, holding his stomach.
Legion hesitated only a moment (he was, after all, a demon and thus paranoid), but was at his side once it became apparent that this wasn't any sort of trick.
"Dunno." Hastur held his stomach, breathing heavily. "Hunger, I guess."
Legion fumbled what looked like a pocket watch from his jacket and flipped it open.
It contained darkness where the face should have been. Legion let out a wince.
"Sir, have you been doing more than Lord Belphegor or I know of?"
Hastur looked away.
"...maybe. I know Lord Belphegor won't like the sentiment, but I dun wanna waste time t'get back in shape."
Legion frowned darkly, snapping the watch shut.
"Congratulations. You did the polar opposite. Your essence's back down at 10%..."
London, St James' Park - Now
"Say it," Ligur scowled, not taking his eyes off the pond. Crowley was standing, technically, next to him, both of them waiting for Michael to show up.
"Say what?" Crowley asked, only half at a loss.
"The bloody 'Lovers' tiff' comment snakin' 'round yer tongue since we left the shop."
Crowley drew a sharp breath and looked everywhere but at Ligur.
"I don't know what you mean," he said with a bit too much determination.
Ligur scowled briefly.
For a moment they were silent.
"But I mean," said Crowley then. Ligur groaned. "It was quite odd seeing the two of you like that."
"Like, I don't know what exactly it was between you, and it's none of my business..."
"Exactly," Ligur hissed sharply, glaring. "And I'm not goin' to talk 'bout this with you of all people."
A guilty expression crossed Crowley's face, put down its towel on the nicest spot, and went elsewhere.
"Look, I..." he began, but Ligur just glared.
"Shut it. It's over. I didn't use me chance t'say anything, and Hastur never took it. You can't be that dull to not get..."
"I think he can be," someone interrupted.
Crowley already didn't hold the Archangel in any high regard, but the look she was giving Ligur had him move her a good number of places down on his inner list of tolerable people.
It was a mix of smugness, and confusion. Crowley chalked the latter down as being caused by the coat.
"I... see you got your coat back," said Michael. Ligur sneered briefly, while Crowley rolled his eyes.
"Mr Slick here," Ligur jabbed a thumb at Crowley, "kept it as a trophy."
"I did not."
"Vile," Michael commented. "Typically demonic."
If she had hoped to gain any points with Ligur for that comment, it definitely backfired. At least Ligur said nothing. The general temperature seemed to drop a little when he spoke then, though.
"Why did you call me, Michael?"
Michael wrinkled her nose.
Credit where it's due, thought Crowley. She took the hint.
"Urgent business," Michael said, then side-eyed Crowley. "Heaven Business."
Ligur simply buried his hands in his pockets.
"Y'wanted me t'play nanny for'im, you have to live with'im bein' around."
Michael rolled her eyes.
"You didn't enjoy this the slightest before..." She shook her head. "This is too important to involve a demon in it. Seems it was a mistake trying to talk to you directly. I'll be in touch."
She turned to leave, maybe a little slower than necessary.
But if she had hoped Ligur would call out to her, and tell Crowley to leave... She was wrong.
'Scouting' wasn't exactly what Hastur was doing. Rather he was going through all negative emotions in the dictionary, it'd feel like.*
* He was kinda stuck on fussily and wondered vaguely why they'd also named some noodles that.
Stalking through the afternoon crowds, ducking into alleyways and in general doing a lot of things but paying attention to anything around him. He could do with some drinking.
'Twas what humans do when they felt like this wasn't it?
Excessive drinking, excessive smoking, excessive... lotsa things.
Things that made for quick and easy temptations.
But Hastur loathed exactly this bit about it. Loathed how it reminded him how often he had asked about exactly that back in Heaven.
He had been amongst the angels observing some effects in plants and animals that officially weren't planned.
And he had asked about it. Voiced his concern.
Only to be told that he mustn't doubt the Great Plan and that all would be fine anyway.
And now look at those buggers.
Pouring a likewise excessive amount of energy into finding ways to get better effect, and making more money out of it.
And what had Heaven done to protect their precious humans?
Nothing, as usual.
In any case, he could really do with getting completely plastered. But work was work and if he was honest for a moment, it was a welcome distraction. He cast a baleful look up at the sky, teeth bared in anger, before burying his hands in his pockets and marching on.
At least the target didn't live too far away from Aziraphale's shop. The house turned out to be the kind Hastur thought of as brick-and-mortar bookmarks. So narrow that having two windows per floor made its facade look rather comical.
It was a building easy to miss, whether you were looking for it or not.
Hastur leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the street, and tried to sense anything.
Didn't feel like anyone was at home right now.
Just his luck, wasn't it?
Hastur frowned and let his attention shift from one passerby to the next, part out of boredom, part to get some tempting done, part in an attempt to get some information on the target.
"If you weren't Untouchable I would smite you down here and now," someone said.
Hastur cast a disgruntled glance over his shoulder.
"Uriel. What did you cock up that yer on Earth?"
The Archangel stepped next to him with a huff.
"It's none of your business, demon," said Uriel, gaze focused on the house. "You're out to drag a soul to Hell."
"What's it to you? The guy's to pay his dues." Hastur lolled his head. "C'mon. You didn't draw my attention jus' to state the obvious. What is it?"
Uriel cast him a dark, calculating glare.
"Have you been with Aziraphale the entire time?"
"Sure, stuck on his arse like a handprint."
Uriel gave him a long look, cold enough to freeze Hell over.
"Of course I haven't," Hastur scowled. "He's been to the park wi' Crowley earlier. Take a guess if Crowley lost any word 'bout where he's going."
"Crowley is utterly irrelevant."
"Lookit that. We gots something we agree on." His small smile quickly faded. "So, what's he done? And don't gimme any 'None of yer business. You approached me about this."
Uriel rolled her shoulders, and laid her hands behind her back.
"How much earlier has he been to the park? And can you vouch for that?"
"What harebrained question's that? Told you I've not been with him."
"Where is he now?"
"His shop. As always."
"Are you certain?"
"Unless he snuck out after I left, yes." Hastur was getting a little annoyed. "Gonna tell me now why you're asking?"
"If you must know, I spotted him at the British Museum this morning, and he fled as soon as he saw me."
"Splendid. He's gone so native he reacts the same way humans do when they see you."
With a soft frown that signaled a clearly rising urge to smite, Uriel dragged a hand across her face.
"I thought you didn't do jokes," she said through gritted teeth.
"I don't," said Hastur and pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lighting it. "So, you saw the Principality someplace he can't have been? 'Cause, I trust neither him nor Crowley, but this time, I'd say, he's truthful."
"I saw what I saw, demon."
"Not sayin' y'didn't." Hastur ignited a finger and lit the cigarette. He took a long, thoughtful drag, and spoke again. "But I tell you what. Someone else saw the Principality on a motorbike. Vintage one. Triumph or Matchless."
Uriel snorted unamused.
"Aziraphale? On a motorcycle? Who's saying that nonsense?"
"Ligur did. And here I thought you'd hold another angel's word in higher regard."
Heaven - Just a little after we first visited Purgatory
There had always been hidden, quiet corners in Heaven.
And after the botched attempt at ending the world there had been a high demand for secluded areas to which one could retreat and reflect.
So Heaven was in the midst of redecorating now, which resulted in some corridors being more liminal then ever.
It gave Michael the creeps if she were absolutely honest.
It was one thing to know God was omnipresently watching, and a whole different one to feel being watched by... some... thing...
The whole day Michael had felt eyes on her back* and couldn't shake off the sensation of being followed.
* Other than her own, of course.
And she'd swear she had seen something move just out of sight whenever she looked over her shoulder.
It was ridiculous.
"I'm very sorry, Michael," said Gabriel, wandering the new corridors alongside her. "But you know better than I that there's no surveillance in the new area."
"So you do not believe me?" Michael scowled.
Gabriel raised his hands in defense.
"I do believe you. But I must ask if you are certain that it's not just stress."
"We had this talk, Gabriel, it isn't."
"Yes. But if you would like to take a day off to clear your head I am certain the Almighty..."
Michael rolled her eyes, effectively shutting Gabriel up, and they walked in silence for a bit.
"Michael, I mean it," Gabriel tried anew, genuine concern in his voice. "It won't..."
Michael put a finger to her lips.
"Did you hear that?" she asked.
"Is this the set-up for a snarky remark?" Gabriel frowned, a little forlorn.
Michael shook her head.
"No... shhh... let's keep walking."
She nudged Gabriel along, all muscles tense.
Then there was the sound again.
A fine, rhythmic click-clicky-click of... Michael couldn't say what it was, but it ought to be rather small.
Gabriel looked a little flabbergasted at Michael.
He had heard it too.
They slowed their pace slightly.
The clicking followed.
The clicking didn't.
Not until it was maybe one or two steps behind the Archangels.
Flexing her hand, ready to fight.
But there was nothing...
In her direct line of sight, at least.
"Oh, odd," Gabriel commented, having spotted the little creature on the floor before them first.
Michael crouched down and stared at it, rather bewildered.
It was a small and very dully colored chameleon, gazing up at Michael almost expectantly.
The sight pulled on her heartstrings.
If she wouldn't have known that it was absolutely impossible, she'd have sworn....
"What..." Michael began, choking a little, but the tiny thing turned, skittering down the corridor and vanishing behind a corner.
"Very odd," said Gabriel, before looking Michael over. "Are you alright? You look positively haunted."
Michael shook her head.
"I don't know."
"Michael, I can only guess what you are thinking. But..." Gabriel sighed helplessly.
He wanted to say something soothing and reassuring, but couldn't think of anything. This very specific case was absolutely not his forte.
"Just don't remind me he's gone," said Michael, looking sharply at the other Archangel, lips pressed into a thin line. "I remember it all too well."
Gabriel nodded curtly and looked down the hallway again.
His eyes widened in surprise as he spotted the little creature skittering back and forth at the corner.
Michael shared the expression and sentiment.
And it almost immediately shifted to an alarmed stare as another - dreadfully familiar - figure staggered and stumbled after the little chameleon.
Michael spun to face Gabriel, eyes wide.
Gabriel had paled the same as she had before.
Then Michael turned back, sprinting forward.
"Gabriel! Get Raphael! Now!"
London - Now
It was a bit weird how different England seemed to smell after not having been there for roughly two years.
In part Warlock was happy to be back. He liked England.
But another part of him was outright pissed at the circumstances that had him return.
In the next room he heard his mother and her best friend chatter on and on about how 'It was the right thing to do'.
'It' in this case was the divorce from Warlock's dad.
That weird trip to the Middle East had really brought out the worst in his parents, and that they went to America instead of going back to England didn't help.
Warlock got up from the windowsill and closed the door, before putting on headphones and slumping down on his bed.
Warlock and his mom were staying at the aforementioned friend's house and the bed belonged to her own son.
Who had moved to Amsterdam or something a month before.
And Warlock's mother spent most of the day househunting. She still had connections and money, so that would not be an issue, but she had gotten it into her head to 'do things right this time', whatever that meant.
Warlock felt as if the time since that weird trip was a big waste of, well, time.
At least he had friends in England. Well, people his age he knew, at least.
But all in all, life had gotten really dull. And there wasn't much to do about it. It wasn't as if there was an adventure waiting around the corner or something...
Heaven - About a day after the last visit
As Ligur woke he felt worse than ever before. And he had a very good idea of 'feeling bad', not just when it came to doing that to others.
He had fought in Heaven, taken a million lightyear dive onto solid obsidian, and had his wings ripped off in the process, leaving nothing but stumps. He had been there for the invention of alcohol, and subsequently the invention of hangovers, had been executed and exorcised a couple of times, shot, drowned, crushed and electrocuted.
And, of course, been doused in Holy Water.
And that was the weird part.
Why and how the fuck was he alive?
He had to be alive to feel this bad.
But it made no sense. At least the feeling was improving the more he woke up.
He groaned, and blinked his eyes a few times to get the world into focus.
And twitched as he saw the little chameleon resting on his chest.
He absent-mindedly ran a hand over his head.
"Oh, yeah. That's a thing wot happened..." he murmured, vaguely remembering waking up before, feeling even worse and finding that 'his' chameleon somehow was its own entity...
Slowly he sat up, the little creature squeaking in protest as the movement woke it up and nearly had it tumble off the bed.
"Sorry," whispered Ligur, before taking stock of his situation:
He was in a soft bed in a small room somewhere, devoid of any decoration, except for a plain bedside table and a chair. There was a dim light that cycled through various colors.
He was clean, patched up in some places and - he quickly peeked under the cover - naked. He couldn't decide if he was more surprised by that or by his old robe hung over the chair, just as torn and charred as he remembered it.
But there wasn't a single clue as to where he was... or why he was there. Why he was at all. He rubbed his face - not feeling any scars or anything missing, which was more unsettling than a reason to be happy - and tried to get his thoughts in order.
He remembered Crowley's apartment, the pain...
And waking in some shade-covered garden with the chameleon. And something just before that that he couldn't remember no matter how hard he tried. And then things were extremely blurry... before he woke up here.
Was this the thereafter for demons?
Well, it'd fit with God's sense of humor. Ligur couldn't say he ever like that.
He wriggled into a more comfortable position and looked at the little creature in his lap.
"I'd ask ya what's goin' on, but I think you have as much an idea as I..." He frowned. "What are you even?"
He gently picked the little thing up and held it at eye-level.
It was 'his' chameleon, alright. His... he couldn't think of a suitable term. The chameleon had been him as much as any other part of his body. And now it wasn't.
Then again, Ligur felt an odd connection to it, the same kind as before.
He was really not in any state for existential questions other than 'Why was he here, wherever here was?'.
The little creature tilted its head... and smacked Ligur in the face with its tongue.
"Bloody choirs!" Ligur muttered, more surprised than angry. He looked at the chameleon blankly.
"Oh great. You're me conscience then or somethin'."
With another groan he laid back onto the pillow, gazing at the featureless ceiling, while the chameleon skittered around on his chest, before hopping off onto the floor.
Ligur watched it for a moment, before his mind began circling round the same questions again.
Where was he? Why and how was he here? And Where was here?
He turned his head again, realization hitting him like a cold sho- like a branch to the face:
There was no door.
No windows either.
Wherever he was, he was trapped.
Now, some people might have panicked upon such insight. Or despaired.
Ligur got angry.
Whoever trapped him here better had used really thick and fireproofed walls if they wanted to keep him. He sat back up, bared his teeth, flexed his fingers and...
Ligur blinked. The chameleon looked at him from atop the chair.
Ligur tried summoning Hellfire again.
His brows furrowed. This was... weird.
Granted, he had died -probably- but he could clearly feel energy pulsing inside him.
He tried again.
And again nothing came of it.
This shouldn't be happening. There was nothing to bar him from using his powers.
He turned slightly and gestured at the pillow.
It flopped over.
That had worked.
The chameleon looked at him accusingly.
"Oh, come now," said Ligur, looking back with the same sentiment. "Not gonna 'splode the bloody thing. It's one of the nicest not-living things I laid on since Falling, an' you know that."
The chameleon tilted its head the other way.
Ligur, meanwhile, let out a heavy and sorrowful sigh as another question surfaced like a bloated corpse.
Was Hastur alright?
He wasn't here. Had he gotten Crowley?
Was he on the battlefield right now?
Ligur winced. Something inside him had just answered that question with a distinct No, and he didn't know why.
Ligur held his head, trying to figure why he felt so certain about that. He didn't notice a part of a wall sliding open with nothing but a small Whuush.
"Oh! You are awake."
Ligur looked up.
"Michael?" He blinked, astonished. "What...?"
The Archangel held up a hand, signaling him to wait, before pulling out her phone and murmuring something to whomever she had called.
Ligur couldn't make out a word. Then Michael put the phone away and stepped over, her face stern.
"How are you?" she asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"Confused, bit nauseous an' oddly enough not dead." Ligur sighed heavily. "Where is here?"
"Heaven," Michael stated curtly.
Ligur leaned away.
"What am I doin' here then?"
Michael simply shrugged.
"I had hoped you could tell me. We found you yesterday, stumbling through the corridors."
"Of Heaven?" Ligur quirked a brow, casually catching the chameleon as it tried to hop back onto the bed.
"It's very odd indeed. Your... well, friend there," Michael nodded at the little creature, "led us to you. Raphael patched you back up. You looked horrible... but after what happened... Raphael did a good job." Michael looked away.
"I... guess." Ligur fell silent, trying not to remember the events. And failed. He barely managed to bite back a whimper as he traced a hand over the patches and bandages on his face and over his eye.
"You will probably be right as rain again in no time," said Michael. "I told you, Raphael did a good job."
"Raphael's a ... windfall." Enough smalltalk, Ligur had to get answers now.
About Armageddon, about Crowley... about Hastur...
"Michael, if I'm here... who won the war?"
Michael took a deep breath and stared off into the distance.
"No one," she finally said. "There... was no war."
"Crowley and... Aziraphale... they..." Michael sighed, and told Ligur, to her best knowledge, about what happened after his death.
Ligur sat up ever so slightly.
"Crowley... stopped Armageddon? And that trial got... nowhere?"
Any question he had about Hastur died on his tongue. He knew.
Ligur hung his head before slowly laying back down, curling in on himself.
"I... need t'go back," he finally said. Only to have Michael's face soften with... was it pity? It was a very weird look.
"To Hell?" Michael asked. Ligur just nodded. He wasn't in any state of mind to snark at that.
"You can't," said Michael, reaching out as if to take his hand, but pulling back the last moment.
"Why not?" Ligur raised a brow in annoyance.
"Well..." Michael began. "I don't know how to put this but..."
"Michael. I'm a demon. I fought, I Fell, remember?"
Michael just shook her head. The chameleon mimicked her.
"It's," Michael began. "Ligur, try summoning hellfire."
"Y'know, I knows y'been all for the war, but that it didn't happen's not a reason to..."
"Ligur." Michael said, all serious. "You know that's not what I meant." Her voice softened. "But thank you for your concerns."
"You'll laugh. I already tried. Didn't work." Ligur gave her a sad smile. "Guess that comes with..." A sudden stray thought struck him and his eyes widened, all color draining from them (and the chameleon) to a disbelieving and denying gray.
Hastily he lifted his hand, flexing it a little.
It wasn't Hellfire he had called forth.
"Huh," he said, voice dry and sober. "Guess that bloody Holy Water's some damn potent stuff..."
Tadfield - Now
"Whaddaya think?" Adam was brooding over his homework, while Dog was chewing on something vaguely bone-shaped that once upon a time might have made a squeaking sound.
Dog looked up expectantly upon Adam addressing him like that.
"About what Mr Aziraphale said," said Adam, doodling around. "Like, he knows Mr Crowley ever since and when he gets that worried..."
Dog barked curtly.
"Yeah," said Adam, putting the pen down and leaning back. "D'you think this' got anything to do with this odd... something in the air?"
Dog just tilted his head.
"It has to, hasn't it?" mused Adam, and moved onto his bed, Dog jumping to cuddle next to him. "We should call Miss Anathema an' tell her about her Great-great-great-great-great-granny's book."
Dog look up a little alarmed.
"I know," said Adam. One of the prophecies in Miss Mag's book has stated that he mustn't contact Miss Anathema. But Adam would be... something... if he'd withhold such information from her.
Heaven - Picking up shortly after when we left off
That was definitely the last thing Ligur had a expected.
Demons don't ascend. Granted, demons don't come back from a Holy Water shower either, yet here he was.
It was all far too much.
Michael had left shortly after that revelation, and Ligur had laid back down to rest, falling into an uneasy slumber.
Ligur stirred, swatting his hand at whatever was poking at his nose, and screwed the good eye open.
It took a moment of bewilderedness till he remembered what had happened and especially that he and the chameleon were sort of separate entities now.
"You seem pretty set on not lettin' me rest," he murmured, watching the little creature run in circles on the bed. By all means, it was excited, but not in a good way. Or maybe it was. It was an odd feeling.
Then Ligur sensed it too.
An odd feeling of friendship and...
The door slid open before he could think about it further.
"Ligur! Goodness gracious, sweetie, I only now got the news!"
Before Ligur could say anything, Raziel was over at the bed, holding him in a bearhug.
Ligur coughed curtly.
"Ra... Raziel," he managed, trying to sort his feelings, ultimately opting on relief.
He considered Michael a friend, all things considered (though he had the feeling Michael might see him... differently) but Raziel had been the sole person he'd ever consider his, what was that fancy human term again, BFF*.
*Hastur was something else entirely that humans don't have a term for, no matter how much they claim they do.
"You got the news after everyone else?" Ligur quipped, a part of him not wanting to let go of his oldest friend and mentor.
"Oh, boo," said Raziel. "So far only Michael, Raphael and Gabriel know. And of course the Boss. And I was busy elsewhere. But, oh sweetheart, I came here as soon as I heard the good tidings."
"Good tidings, yeah." Ligur murmured, looking away.
"Now lookie here, dearie," Raziel said softly, cupping Ligur's chin. "I hate seeing you this sad. What's wrong? This isn't about you having ascended."
"It's part that. I'm not cut out t' be an angel. Never been but..." He looked at Raziel for a little longer than necessary. And swallowed dryly. "But..."
"...nothing... ow!" Ligur pulled his hand back as the chameleon had bit it. "Bloody traitor!"
"I don't think it's happy with you not speaking your mind." Raziel chuckled, propping elbows on the bed and chin on his hands. "So?"
Ligur frowned, nursing his hand and shaking his head.
"It won't do... it's too late..."
Raziel sat up, nodding thoughtfully.
"Is this about Hasiel... Hastur I mean, I'm sorry."
Ligur looked up, and slowly away again. And nodded.
"Hell will have turned its attention to him... months ago..." he managed, catching himself shaking, and tried to breathe steadily. "Michael said she hasn't heard any rumors 'bout him..."
Raziel scoffed gently, rubbing Ligur's neck.
"Rumors are my forte, aren't they, darling?" Raziel smiled, watching the chameleon nudge Ligur's hand as if to apologize.
"Yes, but there's... can't... can't have rumors if..." Ligur took a deep shuddering breath.
"There's always rumors and gossip, Ligur." Raziel gave his shoulder a soft squeeze. "I might have one for you."
"Huh?" Ligur looked up.
"It's, obviously, just rumors, but it'd seem there's been quite some ruckus just yesterday. No idea what happened, but for all I know something escaped from Hell and into Purgatory."
Ligur's eyes widened, softly shifting color to something that clearly spoke of hope blossoming.
"Oh," Raziel said, amused. "Now that's a nifty trick, dearie. Heard about it. It's just spectacular in person."
It was Friday now.
Aziraphale was pouring over a report Hastur had written up, while the demon in question was putting books onto the shelves.
"Now, 'm not much of'n office gossip," said Hastur, "but that was really the plot of the Pina Colada song."
"For all I know of it, yes," said Aziraphale, tapping his pen onto the paper. He had to give credit where credit's due, the Duke of Hell had possibly the most indecipherable handwriting in all of creation.
"You are rather talkative today," Aziraphale observed. Hastur harrumphed.
"We'll be spendin' the rest of near eternity together, might as well talk, right?"
Aziraphale, ultimately admitting defeat at the hands of the demon's handwriting, took off his glasses, pocketed them and shook his head.
"That was not what I meant. Crowley certainly mentioned you are the more talkative between you and Ligur, but you are outright chattering today."
Hastur cast him a dark glare.
"Right. Got it. Shuttin' up." He turned back to the shelf.
And Aziraphale sighed.
"Look, I'm an angel. I can sense distress even in demons and..."
"Would of thought with the little snake around you'd grow desensitized or whatever to that."
"That was entirely uncalled for."
It was a bit of a half-hearted defense, on account of Aziraphale having to admit that he, indeed, had begun to tune out Crowley's underlying aura of distress about four centuries ago. Hastur, however, had other concerns.
"Uncalled?" he sneered, putting the books down. "Oh so that is uncalled for. But the little runt takin' the piss outta me an' ev'ry other demon's not? Him goin' an'..." Hastur snapped his mouth shut. "Dunno why I'm even tryin'. You bloody angels dun understand this shit anyway."
He pushed past Aziraphale, snatched the file from the table and - with a disgusted snarl, a snap and the lingering smell of sulphur and rotten flesh - vanished.
Aziraphale knew he should be offended. Instead he opted for worry, as Hastur struck him as seriously holding something in that was just waiting to explode.
At least the smell would certainly keep customers away.
"I wish I could say I was surprised."
Sandalphon shook his head in dismay, arms crossed.
The gathering in Heaven was small. Gabriel, thus naturally Sandalphon, Raziel and Uriel. All because Uriel had spotted Aziraphale where she should not have been able to spot him twice since her exchange with Hastur.
"But I can't," Sandalphon continued. "He's most likely playing his own game again, and there is little chance we can trust the demon."
Raziel made a face.
"Ligur trusts him. And I trust Ligur."
"A newly risen angel who has tried about everything to fall again?" sneered Sandalphon in response.
"That is a topic for another time."
Everyone looked at Gabriel, who was standing with his back to the group, looking intently out of the window.
"Uriel, you are certain, and I mean absolutely certain, it was Aziraphale? Maybe you mistook a human for him?"
"I saw what I saw."
"Yes, you said that. But you also said you couldn't sense him."
"Neither of us could sense the demon Crowley posing as him either," Uriel retorted.
"Yes, but that was on stress and the demon Legion being around. The kid has an overwhelming and most peculiar aura."
Uriel cast Raziel an exhausted, and a little baffled glance.
"Why are you always like that?" she asked, before looking back at Gabriel. "Gabriel, with your permission..."
"Have you found Raphael yet?" Gabriel cut her off.
"Then please concentrate on that. I'd say we will need Raphael back here should push comes to shove as you worry."
"You do think Aziraphale is up to no good?"
Gabriel looked blankly at Sandalphon.
"I am certain there's a perfectly innocent explanation." He closed his eyes a little longer than necessary and drew a deep breath. "I shall see to this personally. Sandalphon, inform Michael she'll be keeping an eye on Heaven. Raziel... you keep an ear out. And Uriel..."
"Find Raphael, I heard you."
"Good." Gabriel smiled brightly. "Now then. Should anything come up, don't hesitate to inform me."
He made an almost playful shooing gesture, and turned back to the window.
And faltered as soon as he was alone.
"'Perfectly innocent explanation'," someone said behind him. Michael. "Wasn't that also what you said about Aziraphale's fraternization with the demon Crowley?"
Gabriel glared at her for a moment.
"How long have you been here?"
"Long enough," said Michael, stepping next to the other Archangel. "And I'm coming with you. Sandalphon can keep an eye on Heaven."
Gabriel shook his head.
"Michael, this is certainly not necessary and..."
"Aziraphale is still a traitor. And with Hastur's influence on top of Crowley's I'd say shoot first, ask questions later."
"Michael!" Gabriel stared at the other Archangel in disbelief.
"As if you hadn't thought of it too," Michael retorted. "We have enough trouble with this mysterious surplus angel."
"Any progress in that regard?"
Michael blinked, only marginally thrown off. She should really have expected the question.
"No. No miracles or anything."
"You have spoken with Ligur, I assume."
There was a tone in Gabriel's voice that sat absolutely not well with Michael. She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
"He is one of us now, is he not?"
Gabriel opened his mouth for a response, but snapped it closed so quickly that it managed to throw Michael off after all.
"Alright, you can come with me," said Gabriel, in a tone that made Michael worry. "But once we've seen to this I want you to concentrate on the new angel."
Michael just nodded stoically.
"Come then," she said, but Gabriel shook his head.
"Not now. In two hours. I remember Aziraphale's erratic opening hours, and don't wish to give him an excuse to shoo out customers."
Hastur was wandering through the park, keeping close to the trees. He should have headed to the heart of the city. Lots of alleys to retreat to. Or the harbor. He liked being around boats, as much as some demons poked fun at him for it for a while now. Well, they had to file the paperwork for a new body, not him. They had it coming.
Hastur rolled his shoulders and sat back against a tree, glaring heavenwards.
"Ah, there you are," someone called and Hastur looked around.
"Must have rattled you pretty bad that you follow me like that, Principality. What is it?"
The other swallowed nervously.
"Look," he said. "I know I really should not assist you with any vile deeds..."
"Never had trouble assisting Crowley, didya?"
A wince. "That... is different. And you know that. Anyway. This poor soul you are meant to drag to Hell."
Hastur quirked a brow.
"What about him?"
"You see, I am acquainted with this gentleman, in passing I must add, but yet on a good enough basis to be able to tell you when he will be at home today."
"Bloody choirs, got y'rattled good if yer offering help."
"I'm just seeing to the unpleasant matter concerning you and Crowley, that is all."
"Is that so?"
Hastur rose to full height, slinking over.
Which was greeted with the other stepping back.
"Now, don't tell me yer scared." Hastur laughed curtly. "And if that's to pet me ego, yer doing a horrible job, Principality."
"Do you want my help now or not?"
Hastur buried his hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels a little. It was kinda fun seeing Crowley's angel like that, as much as he - he begrudgingly had to admit - was warming up to his... he avoided the term ward.
Hastur snatched the piece of paper held out to him.
"Could've just told me the time," he said.
"In case you might forget it."
"Pff. 'M not that scatterbrained, dun care what Crowley tells you."
"About him. If you go to pick him up now, you should be at the address right on time. I shall hurry back now. Ta-ta."
Hastur watched him go, with a distinct amused bewilderment. Though he figured that Aziraphale was doing this for Crowley's sake, not his.
Well, Hastur mused, he could just do the job alone, reap in the laurels and get Crowley into troub-
Something deep inside him stirred and protested. And something else, located around the same area told him it'd be a horrible idea to not have Crowley with him.
Hastur had vowed to himself to listen to his gut.
He turned to march towards Mayfair.
"Alright, cards on the table," said Crowley, flopping down on the couch next to Ligur with a cup of tea. It had been an incredibly boring couple of days so far, and by now Crowley was almost inclined to just go and get the whole dragging-to-Hell thing done. He somehow wondered if Hastur was simply not doing it to get him to do the dirty work.
But that wasn't of importance now.
"How's being an angel again working out for you?"
Ligur quirked a brow at him.
"Took you longer t'ask than I'd expected."
Crowley harrumphed casually, leaning back.
"So... gonna answer?"
"Might as well humor you," said Ligur, leaning back as well.
The chameleon was off dozing amongst Crowley's houseplants, something that annoyed Crowley to no end and thus was a fountain of amusement and mild satisfaction to Ligur.
"I hate it," the former demon stated bluntly.
Crowley cocked his head.
"Odd to hear that from someone who was so keen on winning Armageddon and all."
"Not the same, an' you know that." Ligur grumbled. "An' you said cards on the table. Y'wanna know if you gots a chance of getting back upstairs, right?"
"No," he lied.
"Yer not even trying to sound convincing." Ligur smiled lopsided. "If you wanna dive head first into Holy Water to try an' to get back into the Choirs, be my guest."
"Well..." Crowley grimaced.
"We both know this is another of the Almighty's little jokes." Ligur shook his head. "It's not as if I was even welcomed Up There."
Ligur rolled his shoulders and stared grimly into the distance for a moment.
"Had Michael not put a word in for me, I'd not be here."
Crowley whipped his head around, spilled some tea in the process, and stared at Ligur.
"Michael? The Archangel Michael?"
"No, Michael Sheen, the actor... Of course the Archangel." He took a deep breath. "Gabriel and Sandalphon were certain 'twas some test and wanted to... well, you can guess. Sands more than Gabriel..."
"And Michael spoke up on your behalf?"
"Michael..." He sighed, and shook his head. "Crowley, Heaven's not for me. And it's not for you either."
Crowley simply wrinkled his nose. Ligur was having none of it.
"Dun gimme that face," he said, soberly. "Yer pissed you Fell for askin' question. Been lamenting 'bout it often enough. Never understood why yer so keen on getting back into Heaven."
With an accusing expression, Crowley put the cup down and stood up, looking hurt.
"I only ever ask questions, you got that right. I didn't even fight... It's..."
"Not fair? The entire kicking us... you out of Heaven thing wasn't fair." Ligur frowned, sipping his own tea." Yer not special, Crowley. 'Only ever asked questions'. You an' about three quarters of all demons in Hell."
"Did you never think 'bout how many of us... well, you Fell 'cause we... ah, bugger it, we only ever asked questions? An' you did fight. 'Cause you wanted answers, dun be like that."
Crowley quirked a brow.
"You sound like Hastur now. He said the same."
"'Cause we talked 'bout this, what did you think?" Ligur snorted, amused, but with a melancholic undertone. "Hastur fought and Fell because he wanted to understand things. Cause he saw that things could work differently. But he was only ever told to do it Her way or not at all. In the end we rebelled cause neither o' us would stand someone like that. Someone wouldn't even answer the most simple, most innocent questions, but demanded we jump whenever we're told t' jump. You've been there, y'know how it went."
Crowley nodded glumly.
"What do you mean 'Hastur Fell 'cause he wanted...'..."
He didn't get any further. The moment the first trace of amusement about this had crossed his features Ligur had sprung up, slammed Crowley against the wall, his hand on Crowley's throat.
"If this is goin' to make fun of Hastur I'll just conveniently forget 'm not s'posed to kill you, you ungrateful brat." Ligur barred his teeth, blunt nails sinking into skin.
"Ngk," said Crowley, struggling only a little, either too panicked to move, or having enough common sense to not aggravate the former demon further.
"I'm sick of you an' ev'ryone mocking him day in day out," snarled Ligur. "He was only ever doing his job an' trying to keep you out of trouble."
Ligur made an odd hissing noise.
"Y'really dun get it."
Crowley coughed as Ligur let go of him, and rubbed his throat.
"What do you mean?"
"He's gone putting his head on the choppin block for you time an' time again. Told him it'd do him no good. He didn't listen..." Ligur frowned. "Why'm I tellin' you this? You dun even care." He buried his hands in his pockets and turned on his heel. "I'll go for a walk. You stay where you are."
Crowley had only managed to get back onto his feet as the door closed behind Ligur.
With a long sigh he sat back down on the couch, only looking up as he heard the by now familiar clacking of Ligur's chameleon.
"You just missed your master," Crowley said as the little creature climbed up onto the table and dipped its snout into the lukewarm tea.
"At least you're having fun."
Crowley leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "Ligur tried to tell me Hastur cared for me. Pff, in what reality is he living in."
We have to go on a small, but extremely important tangent concerning the so-called multiverse here.
Most scholars, as well as intelligent beings, will agree that God would be an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent being. They are broadly correct. The detail they are missing is that God would also be sentient, thus being all-knowing would be dreadfully, if not to say god-awfully, boring.
Especially if there were jus one singular reality.
Thank God that there isn't.
There's thousands upon thousands of timelines, all different from each other to varying degrees. Let's look at Crowley for example:
Right now he is sitting on a white leather couch in a shiny loft apartment, pondering about what just happened. In another reality the apartment is much darker and sombre, just like its inhabitant, in others only the color of Crowley's shirt differs. In some he's not even the owner of the apartment anymore, due to some mishaps with certain not very demon-friendly liquids.*
*E.g. managing to spill the thermos on the carpet just after receiving it, leading to Crowley throwing balled-up paper towels at the puddle from a safe distance and then switching apartments.
In other realities it would not even be Crowley sitting here. It could be Aziraphale, it could be anyone, it could be no one. Maybe the apartment doesn't even exist.
Thousands upon thousands of realities, and God arranged to only know the immediate future of the one She's temporarily dwelling in.
And albeit Crowley, as well as probably many others, would have been surprised to learn this, the answer to his initial question would have surprised him even more.
And maybe it still will.
Crowley rubbed his eyes with a groan, just as the doorbell rang.
"That was either quick or he forgot his keys," he murmured at the chameleon, who gave him the look-equivalent of a shrug, hopped off the couch and skittered back to Crowley's plants.
Crowley meanwhile got up, and mentally went through a few things to say as he headed for the door.
To his surprise it wasn't Ligur waiting for him.
"Hastur. What brings you here? Ligur just left, you missed him."
It had not been information intended to hurt the older demon, but the way Hastur's brow furrowed, it had not failed to do just that.
"We got a job t'do, remember?" Hastur snarled. "Come."
"The dragging-to-Hell thing? Didn't you..."
"I said 'come'."
Crowley decided against bringing up Ligur - and how he was supposed to A) tell Ligur where he went, and B) stay at the apartment - again, and hastily put on his glasses. Maybe it was still the aftermath of what Ligur had said, but Crowley decided not to antagonize the older demon further, and instead just followed along.
"I don't much appreciate you ruining my couch."
Asmodeus paced back and forth in his office, trying to keep a definite distance between himself and Leviathan. He really wasn't too keen on fish.
"I am aware. But dire times. And you won't meet me in my lair."
Asmodeus just nodded stoically.
"Kindly use longer sentences, you're not sending a wire, paying by the letter."
Leviathan flexed their webbed fingers.
"As you wish."
"So," Asmodeus sat down behind his desk, propping his feet up on it. "Mammon. What's Mr Goldfinger done now?"
"Made a bet with you, but you know as much. Why doesn't it strike you as odd?"
"Oh, it does strike me as odd. I had hitherto assumed Mammon would know better." Asmodeus rubbed his chin.
"Then again," said Leviathan, "we are talking about Hastur here. He's a capable demon but..."
Asmodeus' brow furrowed.
"I will not permit any ill talk of my pet in my office, capiche?"
Leviathan let out a laugh reminescent of the mustache-twirling villains of movies from days gone by.
"Gotcha," they grinned, showing a too broad grin with too sharp teeth. "I was to compliment him." Leviathan rose, stalking over to the desk and sitting down on it. Asmodeus pointedly moved his paperwork away.
"Curious to see you care so much for the Duke, Asmodeus."
"He's one of the best horses in my stable." Asmodeus leaned back, steepling his fingers together. "So let that be my concern."
"I intend to."
"You don't sound as if you would bet against yours truly."
"You know me, Asmodeus." Leviathan spun on the desk, planting their feet on the armrests of the other Archdemon's chair and leaning forward till they were nose to nose with Asmodeus. "I don't do bets."
Asmodeus snarled briefly, pushing the other out of his face.
"You got as big a stick up your behind as Gabriel, I haven't forgotten." He caught the fist mid-punch. "So predictable."
Leviathan snarled and withdrew their hand.
"I don't like that name."
"And I don't like fish, yet here we are." Asmodeus leaned back. "So..." he drawled the word out. "Do you think Mammon has some ace up his sleeve?"
Leviathan nodded stoically.
"He's more full of himself than ever. And you know the rumors about the Master?"
Asmodeus quirked a mildly interested brow.
"They say he left Hell. Which is impossible."
Again Leviathan nodded dryly.
"What do you think?"
"It's Lucifer we are talking about. If anyone can find a loophole in Her work it's him." Asmodeus playfully pushed Leviathan's boot off the armsrest. "And you? You think Mammon's after the throne?"
"You know him, Asmodeus."
"We both do, Leviathan. But... let's assume Lou is genuinely gone from Hell. Even Mammon, no matter how blinded by greed, isn't harebrained enough to go up against the rest of... not just the council, but all of Hell... to try and claim the throne."
"Oh, he is enough of a stupid arse to try."
"He and what army, though? There's hardly a soul in Hell who'd help him with such endeavor."
Leviathan locked eyes with the other demon.
"Not willingly, no."
Asmodeus fell silent and furrowed his brows darkly.
"Leviathan. I think we should get Beelzebub involved..."
"Gonna be honest for a second here," said Crowley, rocking on his heels, eyes fixed on the narrow building. "I'd have missed that."
Hastur scrunched his nose up.
"Yer up here for 6000 years. You ought to've seen weirder."
"Weirder, yeah. But barely narrower."
Hastur looked the younger demon up and down. "You hung 'round the fancy parts of life too often, Crowley. Didn't do you well."
"What's that supposed to mean?" protested Crowley, following Hastur across the street.
"Yer too posh for yer own good," said Hastur, gesturing casually.
"I have a quota to fill, you know?"
Hastur stopped, giving Crowley a small, unimpressed glare.
"What did I say about jokes?" he growled. "Yer no proper demon, so dun gimme that."
Hastur inspected the door, while Crowley sidled up to him.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Hastur looked at him coldly.
"Y'know wot I mean." With a flick of his hand the door sprung open and he pushed into the small hallway. "Mr 'I only hung out with the wrong crowd'."
Crowley groaned and followed into the building, closing the door behind himself.
"Did I somehow miss it being 'nag-crowley-for-his-opinion-day' today? What is it with you people and bringing that up now?"
"Steady drippin' and stuff. Beats me."
Crowley frowned, unamused.
"Oh c'mon. I'm not that bad."
"That's the problem."
"...No, I meant I'm not constantly harping on it."
Hastur considered that. And shrugged.
"Y'harp on it enough to be annoying. But I guess you could be more of a pain in the arse."
Hastur craned his neck peeking up the steep narrow staircase leading up into the darkness of the upper floors.
"Got discorporated breaking me neck on one o' these," he murmured, swinging onto the stairs.
"You're going to look around down here first?" said Crowley, making sure the front door was locked as it should be.
"Naw. My source says the guy's not here, so we can very well wait somewhere more comf'table. Get movin'."
He climbed the stairs to the first landing, checking the rooms around.
"Living room. That should do," he said.
Crowley moved next to him peeking over his shoulder.
"The guy's taste is sin enough, I give Downstairs that much."
The interior design was a mess indeed.
Everything was that special kind of antique that was already out of date at the time it was state-of-the-art.
"Oh, Aziraphale would love this," Crowley said in a tone that added a whole new definition to 'abject horror'.
"That'd explain some things." Hastur beelined to the far too frilly couch and flopped down. Crowley, still leaning in the doorway and making a face as if he feared the myriads of tassels would strangle him, was about to say something when a gentle but irritating hiss cut through the silence.
Both demons turned, and almost in unison quirked a brow at a couple of small, pale-green air humidifiers standing throughout the room.
After a slightly dragged-out moment of silence, Crowley's shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Oh, for crying out loud," he mumbled, rubbing his temples.
"And now we wait," said Hastur, coughing briefly.
Minutes ticked by, until Crowley, with another sigh of defeat turned on his heel.
"I'll go and check the rest of the house."
Hastur simply harrumphed, leaning back on the couch. He drummed his fingers on the upholstery, coughing roughly from time to time.
"You don't sound too well," said Crowley, returning after another five minutes.
"Eh, only half as bad as you look."
"I'm trying to be civil here, and..."
"Civil my arse. You an' the bloody Principality are playing yer own games again, an' I gotta do the cleanin' up as always. I'm jus' sick of it."
"Talk about mood whiplash. Where did that aggression come from just now?"
"'Tis been there the whole time."
The frown deepened.
"Is this about the Armageddon thing? You know She fooled all of us with that stunt. But everything's fine."
"You call that fine?!" He gestured.
"What? That Earth still stands? Yeah?" Crowley bristled. He was feeling dizzy, and that didn't really help his temper. Although a tiny voice told him that the past two years might have been worse for Hastur than for him.
Not that he ever listened to that voice in moments like this.
"You should be grateful, Hastur."
"Grateful?" Hastur spat. "For what? All the shit y'put me through? Wi' them past two years being the worst of it all?"
"What, 'cause of the thing with Ligur?" Crowley began to snarl. "He's back now, isn't he? And don't act as if a you of all people would have been mour-"
Hastur jumped up.
"They didn't give me time to!" he barked back, seething. Crowley snapped his mouth shut and stared at him.
Hastur looked away. "Forget it."
"No. No. You tell me what that comment meant."
Hastur just glared, his whole frame shaking.
"It dun matter," he said, coughed and rubbed his throat.
"Yes it does."
"No! If you'll be on Aziraphale's toes for the next few centuries and we can at worst make each other mildly miserable, I want to know what happened."
And then Hastur let out an agonized screech.
"What do you think happened?" he cried out, face pure wrath and agony. "Hell couldn't punish you, so take a fucking guess who they turned their attention to."
Crowley had been take aback by the initial outburst, but now just wrinkled his nose.
"Don't gimme that, Hastur. Look at you. You're still here. Sure, your wing's a mess, but, man, Hell went soft on you."
Hastur stood up straight. Crowley braced for another outburst from the other demon. Some raving and ranting, maybe some screeching, all because he felt mistreated. But wasn't Crowley right? Hastur was alive. Not just that, but aside from his wing he looked better than ever.
But no outburst came.
Instead Hastur unfurled his wings without a sound (aside from one of the humidifiers being knocked over) and caught Crowley's eyes.
Crowley staggered back.
He had always enjoyed sleep, but with what he was seeing before him burned into his memory he might think twice about that and dreaming from now on.
"This' what I looked like two months after your lil stunt," said Hastur, flatly, his lips still knitting themselves together as he shifted back. "And only the bloody Almighty above knows how long it'd have continued hadn't I manage to make a run for it." Hastur slumped back down onto the couch, coughing heavily. "Y'really think Hell would've gone soft on me? 'Specially after all what happened?" He shook his head and searched his pockets for a cigarette. "Dunno how I even managed that. Gettin' away I mean. All I can remember was winding up in the darkest corner o' Purgatory."
Crowley shifted his weight.
For a demon he had a couple of major failings, that could however all be summed up as one thing:
He had a heart.
And as much as he...
He had been wondering why he felt so sorry, was even worried for Hastur. After all, he... And that was the issue. Hate was not the right word, now that he thought about it. Despise? No. Annoyance? Yes, but that wasn't right either.
He didn't know what it was exactly he felt for the senior demon.
But he knew he should say something. But what? Apologize? What for? Stopping the Apocalypse? Trying not to die brutally? All he had done was try to save his own hide. Very demonic. Hastur should appreciate that, he'd always noted how demons don't go around...
Ligur's words came back to Crowley and kicked him full-force in the arse.
He looked at Hastur again, and myriads of memories tumbled over him.
Quietly he sat down next to the older demon, took off his sunglasses, and just stared ahead. After a moment he rubbed his throat.
"Bloody dry air in here 'spite those blasted spray-things," said Hastur to fill the silence.
Crowley grinned weakly.
"No, that's not why..." Then his eyes widened. "Shit!" He grabbed Hastur's face and stared at the other demon in growing panic.
Hastur coughed again, swooning a little and rubbing his chest.
Trying hard to focus on the lower demon, Hastur ran his sleeve over his mouth, gazing down at the almost black stains it left. Crowley let out a wince.
"This..." He whimpered. "You're not playing a trick on me, right?"
Another wince. Hastur wasn't just bleeding from the mouth, but a fine, thin line of blood was running from his nose and eyes. Crowley pulled his hands back in reflex as something warm dripped on them.
There were small patches on Hastur's skin that began to look like peeling blisters, and Crowley jumped up with a yelp as he spotted one on his own hand.
It itched and stung like dozens of white-hot needles.
And a terrible thought crossed his mind.
Cautiously he moved closer to the knocked-over humidifier, and plucked a hair from his head, letting it fall into the puddle that had formed on the hardwood floor.
And watched in terror as the hair burst into a small, ill-smelling flame the moment it hit the water.
"It looks like a movie set. Like for those stupid cozy mystery shows."
Warlock felt obliged to complain. And it was his good right, wasn't it? His mom had dragged him from one apartment to the next that entire week.
No that wasn't correct. She had dragged him from one apartment to the next only earlier the week. Then it was from one house to the next, culminating in driving out into the middle of who-knows-where.
"Oh, don't be like that, darling," said his mother, making herself comfortable in the bus seat. "You might be surprised, but you were born here." She pointed towards what she thought was the right direction.
"Somewhere over, um, there should be the hospital. Very picturesque old mansion. I wonder what became of it."
"Prolly the site of a spooky mystery for the local old lady detective."
Mrs Dowling smiled.
"Or the local bunch of meddling kids."
Warlock grinned dryly.
"That'd be cool."
"See?" The bus rolled to a halt. "Come then. Let's find someone who knows their way around here."
"Yeah, 'cause that's gonna be so hard with... two streets and a tree."
"Warlock. Really now," Mrs Dowling tutted, and got off the bus.
"Ah, Miss?" she called to a passenger who had stepped from the bus with them.
The young woman turned.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
"Are you from here? We're looking for this address."
Mrs Dowling produced a crinkled newspaper clipping, making the young woman quirk a brow.
"Oh, yes, that's not too far from here."
"Hard to be far from here to begin with," said Warlock, looking around, bored.
"Charming kid you got there."
Mrs Dowling shrugged.
"I've just gone through a..."
"Divorce. I noticed."
"Is it that obvious?... Ah, yeah, the line on my finger..." Mrs Dowling frowned, and hastily waved her hand. "Doesn't matter. Now, where was that house?"
"Down that way, two streets, then to the left, another two, and the right. There should be a sign outside."
"Naturally. Thank you. Good day." Mrs Dowling turned. "Come, Warlock."
The young woman looked after them till they turned the first corner.
"What an odd aura that boy had..."
Anathema shook her head, looking rather frustrated at the ground.
"Whatever have you dragged me into now, Agnes?"
Crowley did not remember much of the last few minutes.
He had vague recollections of stumbling down the stairs, Hastur's arm draped over his shoulder, the older demon barely conscious.
Hastur was dying in the worst way Crowley could imagine.
Ligur's demise had been quick, and Crowley did feel guilt, even if he'd hardly admit it.
But Hastur was dying slowly, being eaten up, melting from the inside out.
It had been a trap.
They were both doomed...
Crowley had stumbled through the streets towards the bookshop, maybe only his panicked imagination keeping them alive and from being seen.
He couldn't tell.
He could neither tell if the shop had been open, if Aziraphale had shooed customers out or...
But now Crowley kneeled on the floor, Hastur bleeding slowly from growing wounds...
And Gabriel, Michael and Ligur staring at them in terror.
Through the fog in his mind he recalled vaguely expecting Ligur here, but the two Archangels caused an icy lump to drop into his stomach.
"Lord above preserve us," Gabriel muttered. Had Crowley been in a better state of mind he might have been baffled by how shocked and concerned Gabriel of all beings in creation looked.
"What happened? Oh no, no, no, what happened?"
That was Aziraphale.
"A trap." Crowley coughed, spitting blood onto the floor. He winced again as something brushed his cheek.
Hastur hadn't winched his wings back in, and now they were twitching like he was in his death throes.
"Did you drag him through town like that?"
Crowley only winced, his head swimming.
"Michael, go see that this didn't cause a ruckus," said Gabriel, while Aziraphale helped Crowley and Hastur onto the sofa.
"He's gonna die, he's gonna die, he's gonna die," Crowley wailed, holding his head.
And suddenly Ligur was in his face, eyes white with fear and rage, fingers digging into Crowley's cheeks.
"What did you do to him?" Ligur said, voice far too calm for Crowley's liking.
"A trap," Crowley sobbed, all pretence of being cool waiting quietly in the kitchenette. "It was a trap. I didn't... I didn't know... Holy... Holy Water... I..."
Ligur paled, staggered backwards and slumped onto the floor.
"...no..." he stared blankly at Hastur, who had completely lost consciousness by now. "...no..."
"And when were you planning on telling me 'bout this, you sanctimonious sheep-biter?" A voice thundered from behind and everyone turned. From the front of the shop came a ginger woman in an off-white pantsuit, whacking her finger accusingly at Gabriel. "Medical emergency, and you don't say a word?" She stopped and bristled. "Oh, why am I even surprised?"
Michael stumbled into the shop the next moment.
"...Guess who I found," she said lamely, while Raphael looked past Gabriel. Her face softened as she spotted Aziraphale.
"Aziraphale, sweetheart, oh, I'm so glad to see you," she said sincerely, stepped over and took his hands, looking him up and down. "Oh, you are looking well, dear. Are you getting enough to eat? Corporations can be so dreadfully complicated to maintain, and..." she turned a glare back to Gabriel, "certain people not getting that into their blockheads aren't helping."
Aziraphale relaxed a little, though the discomfort in his face shifted a little towards embarrassment. "I'm fine, Raphael, thank you. But..." he nodded at Hastur and Crowley.
Raphael nodded back, her face becoming stern and determined again.
"What happened?" she began. "Those look like Holy Water burns..."
She was already rolling up her sleeves, her jacket flung to the side before Crowley could answer.
"Humi... humidi..." he managed, his throat sore. "Hiss hiss water," he went instead.
"Humidifier?" asked Raphael. "An' Holy Water?"
Raphael took at scrutinizing look at him and Hastur and miracled up a small bottle.
"Ligur, hold his head steady," she ordered, nodding at Hastur. "Aziraphale, I need you to prepare two beds. And some tea. Chamomile."
"Y-yes," Aziraphale stammered, wringing his hands and stumbling to put the kettle on. Ligur meanwhile moved to the side of the sofa, holding Hastur's head with a gentleness that surprised Crowley (as far as he realized it at least).
"He's still breathing, good." Raphael pulled the cork from the bottle, the other angels recoiling briefly.
"For crying out loud, Raphael," said Michael, pressing a hand over her nose and mouth. "What is that?"
"An emergency. I'll explain later." Raphael held the bottle under Hastur's nose, only pulling it back as his breathing steadied.
"You," Gabriel began protesting, more baffled than actually angry, "cannot seriously intend on helping them. Raphael, they are demons. A Duke of Hell who's to blame for a unsettling long list of miseries. And that," he gestured at Crowley. "He's... he's the one who messed up the Apocalypse. He's a traitor. To Hell, but nevertheless a traitor. He's brought pain and suffering over mankind. He's the one who lost the Antichrist. He's the one who tempted Eve. He's the Serpent!"
"And I'm the Doctor." Raphael threw Gabriel an unimpressed glare and turned back to Crowley, "Now look here, laddie."
"Ngk," said Crowley as the red-headed Archangel held the bottle under his nose.
"Try to breathe in as deep as you can," said Raphael, and Crowley obliged, both of them stolidly ignoring a perplexed and pouting Gabriel.
Crowley would have sworn - demon or not - that he could feel the vapours crawling through his lungs stopping whatever destruction had been under way.
"...That helped," he said. Raphael looked at Gabriel.
"Lookit that, he said Thank You." She looked back at Crowley, corking the bottle. "Now tell me what happened."
"Do you need the tea to drink or inh-..." Aziraphale called.
"Both," Raphael called back. "Take Gabe and Michael and see about them beds."
Both other Archangels opened their mouths to protest, but a sharp glare and jutted chin from Raphael shut up Michael, and Michael's hand on Gabriel's shoulder did the same for exactly that one.
"We shall talk about this back home," said Gabriel as Michael pulled him along.
"Now then..." said Raphael, looking at Crowley expectantly. "Wot 'appened?"
Crowley took a moment to collect himself, rubbing his chest.
"They had a job 'bout draggin' some bloke t' Hell," Ligur said, eyes fixed on Hastur still.
"Yeah, that. Hastur got some intel and things and we went there and... It was a trap. Guess the guy was all paranoid and..." he fell silent as he caught Ligur's glare.
"Why yer so far better off than him?" asked Ligur, voice like ice.
"I had a look 'round the house. I didn't... he sat with those things much longer..."
"The beds would be ready then."
Crowley had never been so thankful for Aziraphale's horrible timing before.
Scratching his arm Crowley got up, moving to help carry the older demon to the bedroom upstairs.
"Don't you dare touch him." Ligur snarled, teeth bared and eyes gleaming in an angry reddish black.
Crowley was wise enough to take a step back and let the others handle this.
Then again, he had his hands full with the pang of guilt that had just come back to its spot at the pool with a cocktail and an unabridged copy of Les Mis.
He slunk after the group heading up the stairs, hands buried as deep in his pockets as his legwear allowed, head hung low.
"Now, every not-demon: Out." Raphael ordered once Hastur was on the bed, and earned a few confused looks for it. And one disbelieving one from Ligur.
Her face softened.
"I'm sorry, dear, but yer'n angel now. In this state yer aura might kill'im."
The sound Ligur made drove several arrows through Crowley's heart. And Gabriel's too, but only Aziraphale noticed that.
And was intrigued.
"We... will be downstairs then," Aziraphale thus said, nudging the other angels out. "If you need anything..."
"Hot water," said Raphael, putting her bag down on a chair.
"Certainly," said Aziraphale, and closed the door.
Inside the room Raphael shook her head and looked at Crowley.
And then threw him a pair of purple rubber gloves.
"You'll need'em. Help me with his clothes, laddie."
"Them two of you can be lucky you're wearing pretty well-covering clothes. Anything flimsy..."
Crowley, in the best tradition of stupid instinctual decisions, sniffed his sleeve, immediately howling in pain and holding his nose.
"Exactly," said Raphael, fiddling with Hastur's coat. "Undress an' help me with his wings." That said, she looked at the miserable state of the demon's left wing. "Know what happened there?"
"Hell," said Crowley, squirming out of his clothes while trying to make as little contact with them as possible.
"Hey, will he... y'know..." Crowley began, tossing his clothes to the side and scratching the reddish patches on his neck.
Raphael gave him a deeply hurt and insulted look.
"Gonna tell you something. You certainly won't be fine if you dun stop scratching yerself."
Crowley frowned softly, but fought off the urge to scratch himself bloody.
"Close the curtains before y'get out of yer panties."
"What?" Crowley didn't know his voice could get that high in this form, not unintentionally at least.
"Y'wanna lose yer groin and whatever effort y'made to some Holy Water soaked shorts? Be my guest, but dun come complaining." Raphael smiled cockily.
"You're as horrible as I remember you," muttered Crowley, pulling the curtains close and dropping his last set of garments before stalking around the bed.
"And yet people wonder where you got it from." Raphael's smile softened, and Crowley smiled back sincerely.
"I missed you," he said, carefully easing the wing through the split seams in Hastur's clothes.
"I missed you too. You've come a long way from a fledgling angel who couldn't get their shell off their foot."
"And naturally you go and embarrass me. Bring out the polaroids, why don't you?" Crowley rolled his eyes. Not that he really meant it.
"Will he be okay?" he asked again, his voice much more of a whisper now.
"He's breathing, but..."
With a heavy sigh Raphael leaned back. "I'm more worried about his wing. That mist's eating into it pretty nastily."
Crowley's eyes widened behind his glasses.
Raphael nodded, carefully pushing aside a bushel of twisted, dull feathers.
The patch below was a dreadful sight and will thus be left undescribed.
"Can't you do something?" asked Crowley the moment he felt less nauseous. "I mean... you are you."
Raphael smiled dryly.
"Has he been acting oddly lately?" she asked.
"By whose standards?"
"His essence is very low," Raphael stated matter-of-factly. "He can be happy he survived whatever Hell put him through."
"... Is that why Ligur's aura could kill him?"
"Did y'ever wonder why the Boss made me with an aura like mine? So dreadfully unangelic as Sandalphon loves to put it? This' why."
"I..." Crowley began, yet unable to admit that he was worried for the other demon.
Hastur had, after all, tried to kill him twice - in over 6000 years, but still -, discorporated him dozens of times, and had been present at his punishments in Hell about as often.
With what Ligur had said a lot of things appeared in a new light.
Looking back there had always been something to the discorporations Hastur had managed that made them less severe than what Crowley might have suffered at the hands of mortals or even angels otherwise, and where Hastur didn't succeed often enough served as a needed kick to Crowley's behind, didn't it?
And hadn't Hastur always been injured when he came by to see Crowley suffer?
Crowley winced, and traced a hand over the older demon's good wing.
"What does that mean for him?"
Raphael folded her hands.
"I could amputate the wing..."
"He'll kill you," said Crowley, without a hint of sarcasm. "Or never forgive you. Dunno which's worse."
In response Raphael just nodded curtly, got up and left the room.
Crowley sat up curiously. As rattled as he was, he had enough self-awareness left to know he couldn't waltz around the shop naked.
So he waited.
"Alright. Next o' kin greenlit it, we're going in."
Crowley nearly tumbled off the bed in surprise as Raphael stormed back in, smacking a water bottle onto the table and snapping gloves into place.
"See about getting'im comf'table, laddie." Raphael pulled an array of jars and vials, a mortar and a nastily large syringe from her bag. Crowley winced.
"An' make sure he can buck without twisting anything. This gonna hurt."
Crowley watched in fascinated horror as the Archangel mixed together some rusty red liquid, gazing at it inside the syringe against the light.
"What yer waiting for?" Raphael looked disappointed.
Once more Crowley winced, and rather hurriedly moved Hastur around on the bed.
"I need you to keep him from winching in his wings, Crowley."
"See that bottle?" Raphael pointed a scalpel blade at the table. "Holy Water, freshly blessed, heavily diluted. Much more than what soaked into yer clothes an' his wing. An' I need to wash that shite out."
Crowley felt the blood drain from his face.
"You... you're not going to inject him with... Raph, that's gonna... that..."
"It might. First time I do something like this on a demon..."
Raphael cut open several spots on the wing, discoloured blood and something else seeping out.
For a moment Crowley and Raphael had to turn away coughing. Then the Archangel took a brief, determined breath... and plunged the needle into a gently pulsing swelling just under one of the joints.
Outside the room Aziraphale was glad Michael had helped with a little miracle to not let any sound get out of the building.
Even Gabriel whimpered in sympathy.
"That was... loud..." said Michael, if only to say something to sooth her nerves.
"I had hoped ne'er to hear that kinda scream again," murmured Ligur, staringly shakily at the ceiling, while Michael held his hand.
Gabriel shifted, and Aziraphale would have sworn the Archangel had mouthed 'So had I.'
The silence that followed came so suddenly that its presence in Aziraphale's shop might have surprised itself.
"He... will be alright. I'm certain of it," said Aziraphale, worrying his cuffs.
"And if not, it will simply be one demon less to worry about."
Everyone turned and stared at Gabriel. Michael with a bemused brow quirked, Ligur with wrath in his eyes and Aziraphale with confusion.
He had been on the receiving end of Gabriel's pep talks about Heaven, Hell and 'Doing Good' often enough to know the Archangel's tone when he rejoiced in any potential setback and defeat Hell suffered.
And this was not it.
Gabriel's voice rung hollow and mechanic, a bit like a broken record.
Aziraphale took a deep breath, rose and stepped over, placing his hands on Gabriel's arm.
"You... should perhaps... go for a walk," said Aziraphale, fixing Gabriel with a stare usually reserved for Crowley whenever the demon had some trouble understanding that his latest diabolical scheme was a most ridiculous hassle and bound to bite him in the buttocks before he'd even gone through with it.
"...A walk. Yes. Brilliant idea," he murmured.
"Gabriel," Michael began, "I think Aziraphale... oh."
Michael looked a little taken aback that Gabriel -who was already halfway out the shop but was now waiting for what was coming- had agreed to the suggestion so easily.
"That's a new one," said Michael. Next to her, Ligur frowned, pulling his hand from her caress.
"Dun be like that. Y'agree with him, right?"
Michael drew a long, sharp breath.
"Raphael is good, but judging by that sound this is beyond even her abilities."
Ligur didn't even look at Michael as he rose after that, stalking towards the door.
Only to be stopped by Aziraphale.
"I don't think it would be wise for you to leave," he said, calmly, before looking at the two Archangels. "You two however... I reckon you have said and done what you came here for, haven't you?" His tone was maybe a little too sweet.
Another, much more ordinary moment of silence followed, broken only by the sounds from the street rushing in again as the little miracle lifted.
"We have," said Gabriel, in the same too sweet tone. "Come, Michael. I am certain we can leave everything to the capable hands of Raphael and our field agents." He grabbed Michael by the upper arm and pulled her upright. Judging by Michael's displeased and surprised glare, Gabriel was gripping a little harder than necessary, and certainly harder than Michael might have deemed him capable of.
"Farewell," said Gabriel before Michael could get a word in, and with the ring of a bell they were gone.
Aziraphale sighed, exhausted, his shoulders slumping.
"I'm terribly sorry," he said, leading Ligur back to the couch. "I'm certain Raphael is doing what she can. And you know how stubborn she can be."
"Don't try, Aziraphale," Ligur began, sitting down and worrying his cuffs like Aziraphale had done before. "Michael's right, ain't she? There's hardly hope." He rested his head in his hands. "'Tis nothing but another rotten joke, an' you know it."
Aziraphale's hand hovered over the other's back, before he gently lowered it, rubbing soothingly.
"We should try and wait. It won't do if you leave now to go for a walk with uncertainty."
Ligur looked up.
"Man, it really shows you fucked Wilde."
"Ah! I am trying to help here."
Ligur smiled a wry smile.
"You are. It's just..."
Aziraphale gently took his hand.
"I understand. Believe me, I understand."
Ligur looked at him. And nodded.
"Now we wait?"
"Now we wait."
"Ah, you must be Miss Device then," Miss Mag greeted Anathema at the gate.
"Yes. You're Miss Bolton?"
"Oh, please call me Miss Mag. I'm terribly sorry you got called here. I understood that book..."
Anathema waved her off.
"Believe me. If Agnes explicitly wrote not to bother me she did that for the sole purpose to ensure I get bothered."
"Ohh? Huh. Cheeky that. Ah, won't you come in then?"
"Gladly," said Anathema as they walked up the path. "I hadn't expected to come back to Tadfield so soon. Or... ever, for that matter."
"Ah, Adam told me you moved away from here only a while ago." Miss Mag ducked into the kitchen. "Tea?"
"Yes, thank you. And yes."
"Jasmine Cottage, correct? How peculiar."
Anathema quirked a brow.
"Oh, nothing special, dearie. I’ve just recently become acquainted with the most intriguing fellow that moved into there just a couple of days ago. Mr Nicholas."
"He's an author, you know. Came here for inspiration."
The kettle whistled and Miss Mag moved to get everything ready. Anathema had long since sat down at the kitchen table.
"Is that so?" she asked.
"Yes. And, I know it's not all fair to say so, but he's quite a source of frustration for the children."
Miss Mag put the tray down, pouring each of them a cup. In lack of a proper tea set this had her end up with a pale pink one with roses, while Anathema found herself with a mug that proclaimed 'The road to Hell is badly signposted'.
"Oh, he's very elusive, that one. The children try and try to meet him but he seems to be always where they aren't, and it'd seem they usually are where he just left."
Anathema nodded curtly. It wouldn't do to tell a complete stranger - no matter that Agnes had dragged the poor woman into whatever this was going to be - about the odd undercurrent that seeped through Tadfield.
It seemed... familiar. But Anathema couldn't tell if in a good or bad way.
It did have her hair stand on end though.
"Now," said Miss Mag, putting her cup down and taking the book from the tray. "Enough of that, that's not what you are here for."
She smiled and handed Anathema the book.
With a sigh Anathema put her own mug down, took first the book, then a deep breath.
And opened the book at random.
Well met, Anathema
Anathema frowned, but read on
Fear ye not the King in the house of words, nor his adornment. For it is formidable, but it is not for you, not in pleasance nor in danger
With a drawn-out sigh Anathema closed the book.
"Cryptic, isn't it?" said Miss Mag.
"Agnes has always been like that," sighed Anathema.
Anathema shook her head, and leafed through the book again.
"I can't believe it," she murmured.
"That Agnes pulled a complete stranger into this. I mean, it is absolutely her style, but... Doesn't bear thinking about the reason..."
Anathema shuddered a little and read on the page she was on.
"...beware the Angel with the Deville's face, for he..." Her brows furrowed. "Huh."
"Is something amiss? Besides Agnes pulling me into this."
"I'm not... sure..." Determined Anathema shut the book again. "Just... does anyone else know that you received the book?"
"Aside the children, you mean? Admittedly, yes." A hint of guilt swept over Miss Mag's face. "I mean, I didn't know you existed, so I contacted an expert in London. In fact, I'll be visiting him about the book just tomorrow."
Anathema frowned once more. If there was something that wasn't a good idea with Agnes then it was getting more strangers involved.
She rubbed her temples.
"You don't look so well," said Miss Mag.
"I'm fine, don't worry." Anathema told Miss Mag what she thought.
"Do you reckon I should call the meeting off? You know better what the right course is here." said Miss Mag, looking a little disappointed.
"Yes. I doubt there is any 'expert' who could tell you any-" Anathema paused. "Who is this expert anyway?"
"Oh," Miss Mag smiled, "judging by the phone call we had he's a bit an odd one, but charming. A.Z. Fell's his name."
Anathema's face went the kind of blank that has one know she was inwardly cursing someone.
Quite probably Agnes.
"Oh. Yes," said Anathema. "That... maybe you should see this expert after all. And maybe I should accompany you to London."
"And now?" asked Crowley, watching Raphael put away her tools.
Hastur was out cold on the bed, his chest rising and falling in shuddering, but otherwise steady breaths.
"We wait," said Raphael, and sat back down, absentmindedly miracling some of the worst stains off the bed and her clothes.
"He's so cold..."
Crowley had been holding the other demon still during the entire ordeal, and was now tracing his hand down Hastur's arm.
"Should he be that cold? I mean, he's sorta amphibian, but should he be that cold?"
Raphael smiled in sympathy.
"He should be fine. This took a lot out of him."
"Can imagine." Crowley nodded mournfully, and ultimately rose, helping himself to one of Aziraphale's old nightshirts.
To Crowley's knowledge the angel had only bought them back in the day because what respectable gentleman would not own proper sleeping attire? Oddly enough they smelled faintly of demon, something Crowley had no explanation for.
"Y'seem really worried, Crowley."
"... I... no... I'd..." Crowley's shoulders slumped. "Yes. Don't you dare tell anyone."
Raphael smiled cockily.
"It's just," Crowley began anew. "These past few... hours I... A lot has changed. I think... I think he's not as much of an arse as I always thou- OW!"
Either it was a subconscious reflex, or Hastur was awake already, in any case, he had smacked Crowley in the face with his good wing.
Raphael leaned to the side, prodding the older demon's nose.
It took a moment, but Hastur stirred.
"Fuck me sideways, it's Raphael," he slurred, staring at the Archangel blearily. "How long's it been? A century or somethin'?"
"Sounds about right. You are still as stubborn and hard to knock down as I remember you. Did you find a new ferryman?"
Hastur stirred a little more and scratched his neck.
"Yeah, over'n Birmingham. Odd story, that one..."
With a groan he sank back onto the pillows.
"You know each other?" said Crowley.
"Obviously..." Hastur grumbled. "What? Y'think yer the only one wot ever came 'cross angels on the job?"
"Fuck it's cold..." Hastur shivered, trying to move deeper under the blanket. Raphael gave Crowley a curt nod.
"The blanket, yes," confirmed Crowley, and stalked over to get one from the wardrobe.
"Where'm I?" Hastur squirmed a bit as Crowley placed the thick feather duvet over him.
"The book shop," Crowley said. And Hastur snarled darkly.
"Wot's that about?" Raphael cocked her head at the sound.
Hastur squinted at her, obviously having trouble focussing.
"Suit yerself." With a shrug Raphael rose, and produced what looked like a pocket watch from her jacket. "Crowley?"
"Yes?" Crowley questioned.
"Here. Make sure neither Ligur or Aziraphale or any other angel get in here until this turns blue."
She handed Crowley the trinket, and, after a look at the darkness inside, the demon nodded.
"Should be within the next 24 hours," Raphael added. And turned to Hastur. "And you stay in bed, Mister."
Hastur smiled at her drunkenly.
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
Meanwhile Crowley was prodding at the clothes strewn across the room.
"Do you think they're dry enough?" he called.
"Put'em on an' find out," Hastur called back, voice slurring again as he drifted off to sleep.
Crowley frowned and simply started to pick up the various items, dropping them as various trinkets and a note tumbled from Hastur's pockets.
"For Satan's sake, Crowley..." the older demon complained drowsily.
"As if I meant to do that," Crowley murmured, picking up the loose change, the straight razor and the note. He had just put everything to the side, when his eyes fell on the latter.
He quirked a brow.
"What did Aziraphale want from you?" He would recognize the handwriting anywhere.
Hastur growled, pushing himself onto his elbows.
"Guess who gots us in this mess," he snarled.
"Don't 'What' me, Fledgling. 'Twas yer fucking Principality what urged me to get the whole Dragging-to-Hell business done. Came up to me in the park, being all 'I know I should not do this, but it's for Crowley's sake'. All dithering and shite."
Crowley's brow furrowed, and so did Raphael's.
Hastur, however, simply slumped back down into bed, falling asleep fairly quickly.
"S'cuse me for a moment," Crowley murmured and stalked out of the room.
Both Aziraphale and Ligur looked up as Crowley ducked into the back room.
"Is this yours?" Crowley asked, not bothering to clarify who of the two he meant. That question was answered when he held the note out to Aziraphale.
"It is my handwriting, certainly," confirmed Aziraphale, but he looked at Crowley with confusion written all over his face. "But I can't recall writing it. What is it?"
"That's what got us into this mess," Crowley said, brows furrowing again.
"Hastur says you told him to go to that house at that time."
"Hastur's awake?" Ligur interrupted, sounding hopeful.
"He's asleep again. Aziraphale, what's going on here?"
Before Aziraphale could answer Ligur rose, face blank.
"I'd like t'know that, too," he said, his voice a dangerously low growl. "The shit that nearly killed Hastur was diluted Holy Water... humans can't make that. Angels can."
Aziraphale's eyes widened in shock.
"And you think I would...?"
"I know you wouldn't," said Crowley. But didn't make it any further.
"He wouldn't harm you," Ligur snarled, looking at the two. Crowley, by the looks of it, feared the worst. But Ligur just pushed past them.
Aziraphale whimpered as the shop door was slammed shut. Ligur had gone, in a mood that was outright abysmal. By all means, this was the worst.
"Crowley," Aziraphale began. "I don't..."
Crowley raised his hand, then snapped his fingers to get back into his own clothes.
"I trust you, angel. But Ligur... I can't believe I'm saying this, but... I'll talk with him. Don't go to Hastur, you might kill him."
Before Aziraphale could ask, Crowley was out the door, too. He stared down at the note.
Whatever was going on, it wasn't anything good.
But frightening, that it was.
"Gabriel! Michael!" Raziel greeted, as far as a 'greeting' was possible in the rattled state Raziel was in. "Thank the Almighty you're back."
"What's wrong?" Michael asked.
"You better come and see. We have a problem. A big, big problem."
This was where Heaven's artifacts were kept with the highest imaginable security.
Artefacts like Gabriel's Horn, or Michael's Spear.
And right now those two very Archangels, accompanied by Raziel, stood in front of the open door to the vault.
"That... is not good," Gabriel murmured, wringing his hands.
"That's very much not good," said Michael.
As said, this was where Heaven artifacts were kept... normally...