The fire was enormous. Flames tore up into the sky, as if trying to reach Heaven itself. It had started in the docks, but was now ripping through the city with a vengeance. News spread that it had reached the library, and with all that flammable parchment, there was nothing that could be done…
In amongst the chaos, two figures could be seen desperately racing towards the inferno, opposing monochromatic robes billowing around them as they ran, but they had very different missions in mind.
The Angel reached the doors first, weeping, and with a wave they exploded. His pace never slowed as he ran in, aura glowing blue with miracles as he tried to preserve his body against the flames. He headed straight for the most ancient texts, frantically gathering up as many as he could in his arms, coughing at the smoke. He held his haul close to him as he started to look for a way out, barely able to see through streaming eyes, all the while crying out, when suddenly an enormous, hairy hand appeared and grabbed him and the scrolls and pulled them seemingly into a wall of shelves. The hands, and their owner, reappeared many more times that night all over the library, scooping up scrolls and artefact. Nobody saw the figure through all the smoke and flames, as it clambered all over the shelves with a speed and agility possessed by no human, and as the building began to collapse it took as many scrolls as it could and vanished for the last time.
Crowley had been just behind his Angel, reaching out for him, calling out to him to stop, please, for the love of someone stop! When the doors exploded. He knew the fool would rush in to save the scrolls, with no thought for his own body’s mortality. He had tried, oh he had tried so hard to get there first, to stop him, to save him as he usually did, but the Angel had been closer. The force of the doors exploding sent the Demon flying backwards through the air, landing with a crash into a house further down the street. By the time he’d managed to get himself free of the rubble and back to the library, Aziraphale was somewhere inside. He could hear him calling out to God, to him, to anyone listening, begging for help to save the scrolls, praying for some sort of intervention. He could hear him coughing as the smoke filled his lungs, then, suddenly, all noises stopped. And there was nothing he could do, but collapse on the library steps and weep. Fat tears rolled down his face, as wails shuddered through his body. It wouldn’t do for a Demon to be seen like this, but he didn’t care.
Caesar had ordered the fire started in the Alexandrian docks, to destroy the Egyptian fleet that they were currently battling. Crowley knew this, because he had been dipping in and out of the Roman court for centuries. He was currently one of the Emperor’s most trusted advisors, and now his ‘advice’ had killed the only thing that he loved. Killed the only reason he hadn’t thrown himself into the nearest font oh so many centuries ago.
He felt hands grabbing him, picking him up to carry him away from the fire. He didn’t even bother to see who they belonged to. It didn’t matter any more, because his Angel, his world, was gone.
Aziraphale was on his hands and knees on a rough stone floor, coughing as if his life depended on it. The floor was cold, and there were no smoke or flames here, just piles and piles and piles of scrolls and literary artefacts, some still gently smoking from their burning home. When Aziraphale managed to breathe again, he sat back on his haunches and took in his surroundings. He seemed to be in the centre of a colossal library, but one unlike he’d ever seen. The shelves ran on for what looked like miles, and the space seemed all twisted and curled up on itself. There were books chained to their shelves, although he couldn’t understand why. Perhaps this library had a high theft rate? The glass dome over his head showed a starry sky, but not stars he had ever seen before. He wished Crowley was there to see them - he did so love the stars.
Crowley. Crowley hadn’t saved him, so who had? Who had that sort of strength to lift him clean off his feet, and transport him to this strange place?
He realised with a start that his wings were out, and he couldn’t seem to tuck them away as usual. This place felt… different. It felt nothing like anything he’d felt on Earth. He could feel Her here, but he could also feel …others. A chaotic, noisy, jumble of divinity, with not enough eyes and too many teeth. And was that… cutlery? He elected to stay very still until his saviour (captor?) presented themselves. He wished he had his sword.
His saviour was currently sat very still, atop a bookshelf, where Aziraphale couldn’t see him. He watched this new creature with interest. He’d been calmly settling down for the night with a banana, when his fur had all stood on end as the cry for help came through. He’d wasted no time in reaching through the L-space to rescue what he could, and this… winged person had been there. He’d heard of Angels, but was led to believe they were disinterested in the mortal world. Not the type to weep at burning words. He decided that this figure looked harmless enough, sat staring at the books and sky, and anyone that cared enough about written words to rush into a burning building was alright in his eyes. He swung down to land facing the apparent Angel, just out of his reach.
“Ook?” He demanded.
Aziraphale startled as the orangutan landed in front of him. He had seen one, of course, when they loaded the Ark. He knew how powerful they were. Yet this one was stepping carefully around the scrolls as it looked at him. And they were certainly strong enough to lift a person. By the ears if the mood took them. He tried to remain calm.
“H-hello?” He ventured in his most calming voice “My name is Aziraphale. I am a Principality, and Guardian of the Eastern Gate. I don’t normally talk to great apes, but by the feel of it I am rather beyond what I consider ‘normal’ now. Did you save all these?” He asked tentatively, lifting his hand slowly to gesture at the scrolls, to avoid startling the beast.
The orangutan nodded. So, it could understand him then.
“In that case you have my sincere and most heart-felt gratitude for getting me, and them, out of that horrific fire. I don’t suppose you could tell me where, exactly, we are?” He asked without much hope.
The orangutan swung away on his knuckles, scrabbled up a bookcase, and returned with a large book which he handed to Aziraphale. He watched the Angel closely to make sure he didn’t damage his book.
Aziraphale took the book carefully. The huge ape hovering over him seemed to relax immensely when he saw he was handling the book with skilful reverence. A kindred spirit, perhaps. The book was ‘Thee Younge Person’s Guide To The Disc’ and has some very lovely illustrations on the cover of Elephants and Turtles. He opened it up and gasped.
“Oh my.” Was all he managed. Well that explained a lot.
A few days later, Crowley returned to the ash and rubble that had been the most wonderful and extensive library in the world. He needed to see for himself what had happened. He needed to find something, somewhere, that he could take as a memory of his Angel. Something for him to latch onto in his grief. He relaxed his mind, and followed the ethereal trace in the air. He felt the magnitude of miracle it had taken to explode those doors, felt the trace of the only being he cared about, running into that inferno. He felt it stop where he knew the most ancient texts had been, barely even scrolls. Oh that soft idiot. Stupid, foolish, selfless, wonderful Angel. He felt the trail blunder about blindly, as the Angel had tried to find a way out. Crowley’s throat was tight, and he was glad of his little eye protectors today.
Then he felt the trail turn abruptly to one side, and twist… He could sense it stretching out before him, but not in this reality.
Oh well, he’d nothing left to lose here. So he took a deep breath, and followed it.
The Librarian was the first to sense the Demon’s arrival. He smelled him as soon as he stepped out of the L-space, and so, fur bristling, nostrils flared, he pounded over to the where the smell came from, and stood to his full height in front of the… creature. It was a snake, there was no doubt about that, but currently it looked like a man, in black robes similar to the Angel’s, and matching black wings. It immediately spread its wings out wide and hissed at him. Glaring at him with golden serpentine eyes.
“Aziraphale! Angel where are you?!” Crowley called, not taking his eyes off the menacing ape in front of him.
“If you’ve hurt him, there will be ME to pay.” He hissed at the orangutan, with as much occult in his voice as he could muster.
The Librarian dealt with occult and much worse on a daily basis, so he was not phased by the strange snake-man’s attempt at intimidation. Snake or man, he still had a head, so therefore he could twist it off.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale called joyfully, rushing over at the sound of his voice. He stepped carefully between the two posturing figures, and put his hands out in a calming peace gesture.
“Crowley, this is the Librarian. He runs this place. He saved me, and hundreds of scrolls from the Library. We have been cataloguing them. He’s perfectly harmless, as long as you don’t call him a monkey.”
“He’s an Orangutan. They’re apes, not monkeys.” Said Crowley flatly. He lowered his wings and put his teeth away, but he still didn’t take his eyes off the Librarian. He slouched as offensively as he could, well he had a reputation to sustain after all.
Aziraphale turned to the Librarian.
“This is Crowley, the one I told you about.” He said tentatively, glancing at the fallen Angel. “He’s also pretty harmless, as long as you don’t call him nice.”
“Ook.” Said the Librarian pointedly, as his fur settled down. He dropped back onto his fists, but used his feet to peel and eat a banana without taking his eyes off the Snake Demon. He threw the peel expertly into the bin without breaking eye contact. He, too, had a reputation to maintain.
“Thank you!” Said Crowley unexpectedly. “Someone who actually understands what a Demon is supposed to be.” Crowley could never admit that the Angel was probably more right than he knew.
Aziraphale was surprised “You can understand him?”
“Yes, of course, Im a Demon, we’re good with tongues. Can’t you?”
Aziraphale tried not to think about tongues. “Sort of. Enough to get by. I’ve been telling him all about our world, and what we do while we worked. He seems to understand. I say, what is that book doing?” He pointed to a shelf behind Crowley.
One of the chained up books had caught on to what was now in the room, and was straining at its chain to get to the Demon.
“Ook” was the Librarian’s simple reply. Aziraphale looked at Crowley with an expectant expression.
“He says the books have noticed my occult nature, and want me to read them. But I shouldn’t, because it will go Very Badly. Horrifying monsters from some sort of dungeon dimension, stars crashing down, that sort of thing. I think they’re books of spells.” Said Crowley dismissively. He eyed the books curiously, idly imagining the praise he would receive for bringing just one of those back to Hell.
“You got all that, from one syllable?!” Aziraphale was trying not to be impressed and jealous at the same time.
“It’s a highly nuanced dialect.” Crowley shrugged.
“OOK.” Said the librarian firmly, having seen Crowley’s expression.
“Don’t worry.” Said the Demon, waving his hands “I won’t really. I don’t even know how to get home from here. Speaking of here, where are we exactly?” He deflected expertly.
“Oooh, I know this one!” Said Aziraphale, his face lighting up excitedly. “It’s called the Discworld, on account of it being flat, like a disc. It travels through space on the back of four elephants, which stand on the back of a large turtle. It appears there is rather a lot of powerful magic here, so common rules that we are used to, don’t always apply. Oh, and our wings are permanent here.” The Angel was beaming. Crowley felt he might lose himself in that expression.
“Ook?” The Librarian asked Crowley.
“Yep, pretty much always.” He responded, smirking slightly.
“Ook…” the great ape replied, waggling his enormous eyebrows suggestively at the Demon. Orangutans are far less complicated when it comes to matters of the heart and… other regions.
“Really…?” Crowley said theatrically. He turned to look at the Angel, and this time he was definitely smirking. Possibly leering. Either way he was clearly highly amused and intrigued by whatever the Librarian had just told him. Aziraphale felt himself blushing under their gaze, although he wasn’t quite sure why.
“Right, well, just how do we get back?” Aziraphale asked. He wanted Crowley to stop looking at him like he’d just heard something deliciously salacious, as it was making him feel all sorts of things that were totally unbecoming for a Principality. Particularly when it was regarding a Demon, and just how much his spine tingled when the Demon looked at him like that.
“Ook.” The Librarian waved one expansive arm towards the bookshelves. Aziraphale looked to the Demon, who was now looking at him more thoughtful, than amused.
“What? Oh he says we go back through the L-space.”
Aziraphale tuned out whilst the Librarian explained L-space to Crowley. He’d had a wonderful time here with the one being he’d met who shared his love of the written word, but he did need to get back. The food was plentiful, if lacking in finesse, and he was very glad he’d been rescued from the man who sold ‘sausages inna bun’. Aziraphale felt it was stretching the truth somewhat to call what was on his tray ‘sausages’, but this wasn’t his realm to judge so he could do nothing. He wanted to be back where he could make a difference. He wondered how he would explain his absence in his reports. If he got back fast enough, maybe they wouldn’t notice.
“Right Angel,” Crowley said, at length, “It’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Just follow me.” The Demon held out a hand.
Aziraphale looked at it with trepidation, but took it gingerly. Was he really about to trust a Demon?
The Librarian stuffed a few scrolls into Aziraphale’s other arm. “Ook.”
“He says you can come back for the rest later. They will be safe here, and you are always welcome.”
“I can come to translate, but only as long as you keep an eye on me.” Crowley laughed at this. Aziraphale felt oddly elated at the sound of the Demon laughing.
As they walked back through the shelves, the Librarian followed them until they were past the section with books straining on their chains, just to make sure Crowley didn’t suddenly feel light fingered, then he perched on the top of a bookcase and waved them off.
Crowley kept walking through the shelves, and then sort of twisted…
Then suddenly they were back in Alexandria, in the smaller, sister library that had escaped the blaze. Aziraphale looked at Crowley with surprise.
“How did you do that?!”
“Simple, Angel. All libraries in the universe are connected via L-space. It’s a closely guarded secret amongst librarians. If you know how, you can travel through them all. The Discworld Librarian keeps most of them in check - there’s not many that can take on an orangutan trying to twist your head off with his feet.”
“Well, thank you.” Aziraphale paused, his hand still held gently in Crowleys. He pulled it away suddenly.
“I suppose you’d better be getting back to your emperor then. Wouldn’t do to be seen dallying with me.” He said stiffly, his voice tight, and turned and walked away before either of them could say anything else. Crowley watched him go with a sad resignation.
“Ook…” came a soft voice from the bookshelf.
“I know, but he needs to work it out for himself, and I can’t rush him.” Replied Crowley sadly.
Centuries later, shortly after Aziraphale had set up his bookshop, priceless scrolls began to appear on the shelves at the back. Scrolls that he hadn’t seen in a very, very long time. Aziraphale was surprised at first, then overjoyed as he remembered. Well, it was close enough to a library, wasn’t it? He went out and bought a huge bunch of bananas, selected a few tomes that he thought would be appreciated, walked to the back wall and… twisted.