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Unusual Strings

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In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
“Whose heart-strings are a lute”;
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel,
And the giddy stars (so legends tell),
Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
Of his voice, all mute.

--"Israfel", by Edgar Allen Poe


There is an unfortunate truth about Fallen angels, and it is this: some Fall, some saunter vaguely downwards, and some are knocked sideways from precarious perches.

When the world was new, the angels all shone with brilliance and love, with the unblemished beauty of God’s glory. One of the brightest of these was silver-winged Israfel, angel of music. His heart-strings were a lute, perpetually thrumming with praise and joy. His voice was the sweetest in Creation; it could move stone to weeping and make the hearts of distant stars shiver, and he sang near constantly, brimming over with the pleasure of being part of this new world.

He sang to announce the first dawn, and to draw the moon dripping from the ocean when the first night fell. He sang to weave galaxies together, and to imbue birds’ feathers with iridescence, and to carve majestic canyons through smooth land. He sang to the apple tree in Eden, coaxing soft pink buds from the trembling green heart of the wood. Israfel was made for a purpose, and it was a purpose that was his greatest source of happiness.

It was also, ultimately, his undoing.

His voice had been a golden trumpet during the war in Heaven. With powerful chords and the urgency of courage, he sang to give his brethren strength and to close their wounds. His songs gleamed on celestial blades and against sharpened feathers. And when the fighting was done, and all the angels flocking around their wounded God became aware for the first time of the heat of Hell somewhere far, far below, Israfel mourned.

He would, for millennia afterwards, be furious with himself for not waiting. God had been in a terrible mood, having been smited by Lucifer before She’d hurled him into the lake of fire, and the other angels had all been exhausted and upset. It was, if anything, time for a moment of silence. But it had seemed so natural, to look down into the shadowy outline of the Pit and sing a song to grieve for his Fallen brethren, who had burned so bright and plummeted so far.

The Almighty found this in poor taste, and told him so by picking him up by the scruff of his neck and flinging him screaming into Hell.

His exquisite voice shattered in his Fall. Its glories exploded like so many fragments of glass, too many to count, all over Creation; they landed in the throats of nightingales, and the bones of the club-winged manakin, in reeds and hollow branches and living creatures great and small, leaving him with only a shadow of his old gift.

If you apologize you can come back, the Messenger had told him primly, and only turned away when Israfel asked, Why should I have to apologize?

Israfel was not himself anymore. A little mark like a broken harp engraved itself low on his cheek, by his ear. His eyes, though still blue, took on the slitted pupil of a snake or a cat. And as his form had been corrupted by his fall into Hell, his wings darkened, halo broken, voice stripped down, even his name became a corrupted version of itself: Aziraphale. Now he burned with bitterness, with confusion and resentment, and his songs became whispers of revolution.

Why obey this capricious God? What glories is She, in Her infinite wisdom, keeping from you? Why would this apple be ripe and red and sweet-smelling, if it were only meant to rot on the branch? Haven’t you ever wondered? Don’t you want to know what it tastes like?

What have you got to lose?

And while he didn’t exactly feel proud of what he’d done, the part of his heart that remembered love immediately embraced humanity, as he watched Adam and Eve from the Wall.

I made a mistake, and was flung from Heaven for it; you made a mistake, and were expelled from Paradise. From now on, whatever glory and knowledge and power I can help you steal from Her, I will.

*

Crowley used to love Israfel’s voice.

Not that they’d ever met. The numbers of the Heavenly Host were beyond counting, and Crowley one of so very many; Crowley hadn’t even been his name then, not in the Beginning. He’d been on star duty, designing great balls of fire and energy, calling them into being and setting them in patterns across the firmament as part of a team of similar designers. He’d loved the work of making a universe. He’d loved the Lord who’d given them the work, who’d given all of them existence and creation and wondrous things, and he had little gift for music but could sing praise himself just for the joy of it all.

But Israfel’s voice was supreme above all others’, and Crowley would pause and listen whenever the angel of music sang. That voice echoed across Creation, regardless of distance, and it was beautiful enough to make even angels weep, if angels had known what weeping was.

They learned to weep all too soon.

Crowley played little part in the war. He was there, somewhere in the vast army, though he was hardly a warrior. They found uses for him and he did his best, while his mind constantly questioned everything that was happening. He’d barely finished coming up with questions, much less trying to find answers for them, before it was suddenly, abruptly over, and there was an almighty roar and a great terror and then a silence such as had never been heard since the Word.

And then… then a voice, wringing Crowley’s heart, putting all those questions of his into grieving notes. Then a shattering, and another Fall, and a silence that was an absence.

Crowley’s heart nearly broke as he realized what had happened. That moment was the closest he came to Falling himself, the point where the Almighty punished someone not for rebellion, but for grief. But he remained silent, his questions mewed up inside his mind, briefly stilled by horror.

The number of the Host was countless but also smaller. The Archangels called for a volunteer to go to the Garden, to tend the plants and animals and humans there, the humans that were the Almighty’s newest and most beloved creation. Crowley offered at once. There was less joy for him in the stars now without Israfel’s voice singing wonder. Also, no one else wanted to go. Either they were wary of Earth, or jealous of the humans who had more of Her love, or it might put them too close to their Fallen brethren, all sorts of reasons that just didn’t bother Crowley, who was curious.

He loved the Garden at once. It was an artist’s dream, plants and animals all engineered in different, fascinating ways. He enjoyed the humans, childlike and delighted. Eve loved his wings, black as the night sky, and clapped her hands and imitated the sound of a crow when she saw him, laughing. He laughed too, and it helped heal a little of the wound the war had left in him, which he tried not to think about. There were four guardians on the Garden walls, but they paid little attention to what happened inside, and Crowley coaxed plants into blooming and thought that maybe he might one day know contentment again, even without singing.

Then a guardian said here, hold this sword, stand over here, I have something to do. Then a serpent whispered here, taste this, what harm could it do, what might you gain? Then the Lord said, You must go from the Garden.

Then Crowley found himself standing on the wall he was never meant to guard, watching as two humans walked off alone into a desert with dark clouds gathering overhead. They had given him a new name, one he was already determined to cherish, something that had brought him laughter during a time when joy was precarious.

In return Crowley gave them a flaming sword, and knew he’d had the better part of the bargain.