I am indebted to the immortal P. G. Wodehouse for what Aziraphale says about ducks.
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City of Angels
* * *
In the latter days, when the Darkness grew, the Vengeance of the Lord was much about the Silver City. What he did there was his function and his being: the hunt and the retribution. When he saw wrong, he eliminated its cause, with the cleansing of blood.
There was much wrong in the City in those days.
His hunt brought him to many places in the City, and of those places he was most often in the Hall of Being, where what would be the universe waited for Creation. It was the most interesting place in the City, according to those who worked there. Concepts that would become realities when the universe was Named were designed in the Hall -- everything from Ideals and Fish, to Plastic and indeed, Everything.
On this particular day, Raguel was searching for one particular designer.
It was taking a long time. The angel was not a famous one, nor was the project on which he was working of much importance. But Raguel had a hunch that he was the angel he needed, and as the Vengeance of the Lord, his hunches were premonitions of the truth.
Finally, by a process much like descending the stages of importance among the angels, he found an angel who could help him.
"Caphriel?" said the angel. "He was assigned to a minor project with Aziraphale, wasn't he? You should be able to find him over there."
Raguel ascended the mezzanine galleries that encircled the Hall of Being. He did not have far to rise.
There was only one angel in the gallery to which he'd been directed. The angel was not Caphriel, Raguel was quite sure of that. He did not know Caphriel, but he felt an unswerving certainty that an angel that less resembled Caphriel did not exist in all the Silver City.
He stood amidst a chaotic jumble of papers and scrolls and small glowing models. Every flat surface was covered with mysterious creations, although fortunately nothing seemed likely to bite Raguel. The lone angel had plucked a mother-of-pearl feather from his wings, and was for some reason sucking it.
"Aziraphale?" Raguel ventured tentatively.
The angel whirled around abruptly, and stared at Raguel. It was obvious that he did not receive many visitors.
"Good grief. You gave me a fright," he said. "Um. May I help you?"
There was frank curiosity in his voice. From all appearances, Aziraphale was not an important designer. No angel had probably ever thought he could help with anything before.
"I'm looking for Caphriel," said Raguel. He noted the way Aziraphale's face fell. "I was told you were working on a project together."
"No. I mean, yes. We were assigned to Ducks." Aziraphale looked mildly apologetic. He put down the feather -- its end had been dipped in some wet black substance, and it left a trail on the papers. "It wasn't a very important project, I'm afraid. Just a sub-division of a sub-division. I -- we've already finished it."
"Caphriel was your partner?" Aziraphale nodded. "Could you tell me anything about him?"
Aziraphale told Raguel. Why should he have lied? They were both angels, and evidently Aziraphale had yet to hear of Duplicity.
"He was the mastermind of the project, really," he said. "He had all sorts of new ideas. He might have designed Inspiration. Ducks wouldn't have been what it is now, if it weren't for him."
"Ducks was his idea?"
"Well, no. Not strictly, no. I mean, the feathers were my suggestion. And the bills, and the webbed feet -- the whole fact of being birds, you know. I thought it would add a certain spark. But Caphriel -- well, Caphriel simply elevated the whole concept beyond just birds. It was amazing, what he did for it."
"What did he do?"
"Well, you know Change?" said Aziraphale.
"It's one of the real basics," said Aziraphale. "I had nothing to do with it, of course. It was one of Zephkiel's." He pulled a face, though not a disrespectful one; he apparently expected Raguel to be impressed. "It's very complex. The concept that things--" he waved a hand vaguely -- "do not stay the same. That nothing remains in the state in which it is begun. It's going to be one of the constants of the universe, you know."
"That's all part of Irony, of course," he added. "Ironic, you know, that Change will be one of the things that do not change. Brilliant work. Brilliant." His eyes shone with wistful admiration, the admiration of a craftsman for a true master.
"Caphriel was interested in Change?" Raguel probed.
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Change." The angel squinted at Raguel earnestly. "He thought Ducks should be a, a counterpoint of sorts to Change. An opposing force, as it were. Opposing forces are very important: Life and Death, for example, Love and Indifference, that sort of thing. They -- they off-set, they complement each other. Increase the other's force. Without Dark, what would we know of Light?"
"And Ducks would an opposing force. To Change."
Aziraphale nodded happily.
"That was the idea. That Ducks should be one of the things that do not change. No matter the mad whirl of events around them, the drama or mundanity of life, Ducks will always remain the same. There will always be a certain essential duckness to them. They will be a -- comfort to those who suffer Change."
"There is suffering in Change?"
"Yes. Dear me, yes." Aziraphale's face was grave. "There is Regret in Change. I told you it was complex."
"I see." Raguel looked around the gallery again -- the shelves, the piles of paper, the strange symbols inscribed in gold and ink and soft lead. There was a note stuck upside-down on the wall beside him. It said, copy-editing, yes/no?
"You are no longer working on Ducks? What is your project now?"
A strange look came into Aziraphale's eyes, like the quietly worshipful expression angels had when they thought of the Lord. Yet it was subtly different -- there was a tinge of possessiveness in it, a pride and protectiveness that both lit and darkened the love.
"Books," he said dreamily. "I am working on Books."
"Ah." Raguel paused. A picture of Aziraphale was forming in his mind. "Aren't Books inanimate objects?"
"Well, yes." Aziraphale wrinkled his brow. "It would be rather inconvenient if they were animate objects, although -- if they could move . . . yes, that's a very interesting idea . . . ."
"So you've been demoted."
"Perhaps by flapping the covers, like wings," Aziraphale was murmuring to himself. "I beg your pardon? Oh. Well." He didn't look offended, more hurt at Raguel's crudeness in referring to his change in position. "Yes, I suppose you could say I've been demoted. Caphriel did most of the work on Ducks, I won't deny it. He was a creative genius. I just worked out the small details. My strength was never in animate objects, anyway."
"But I don't really think of it as demotion," he said. "After all, I have been given a wonderful opportunity to work on Books. You know, I think it's going to be quite important. Nothing on the scale of Love or Inspiration, of course, but Books are going to be much more important than mere records of other things. They will become a part of History -- maybe you've heard of History? It's quite a new concept. Very important. I believe Books will play quite an instrumental part in it. They will transcend their original purpose."
"And," he added, "they'll look very nice when they're all lined up neatly, too."
"Quite," said Raguel politely. He had the picture of Aziraphale now: a soft-hearted, dithering, fussy, gentle mind. With hidden depths, maybe, but not the sort of depths that would hide a wrongdoing or rebellion of any great magnitude. Aziraphale was not the angel he was looking for.
"What about Caphriel?" he said. "I believe he is no longer working with you?"
"No." Aziraphale lost some of his lustre. He averted his eyes. "He's, he was assigned to Snakes. Quite an interesting project. Better than Ducks, of course. Higher in the food chain."
"Can you tell me where to find him?"
"In a higher gallery. I'm not sure which one. I haven't seen him since we finished Ducks." Aziraphale picked up an illuminated letter and set it down again.
"He's destined for great things," he said. "He's very innovative, you know."
"No doubt," said Raguel grimly.
He turned to go. He stopped, and looked at Aziraphale, alone with his Books in the gallery.
"Is there regret in change for you, Aziraphale?" he said gently.
Aziraphale started. Then he wrapped his wings around himself. He still did not look at Raguel.
"Yes," he said, in a small voice. He seemed to feel something more was needed. "Very complex concept. I -- I could never have done it myself.
"Brilliant work," he said softly. "Brilliant."
Raguel thought of saying something, but he couldn't think of anything to say.
Caphriel was not in his gallery.
Raguel found him in the park. He was slouching beside a river, glaring at it as if it had done him harm.
All the angels' eyes were grey, but there was an odd gleam in Caphriel's: a strange amber sliver glistening in its depths. A reflection of the golden City sky, perhaps.
He grew pale when he saw Raguel, and Raguel knew he was getting close. He felt his function come upon him.
"I am Raguel," he said.
Caphriel's eyes were wide, but he did not flinch.
"I kind of guessed," he said. Like someone reciting a line from memory, he added, "May I -- help you?"
"There has been a wrong done in the Hall of Being," said Raguel. "The senior designer, Phanuel, told me of it." He watched Caphriel. Caphriel watched him back.
"Phanuel has been working on a very important project," said Raguel. "He calls it Justice."
"I've heard of it," said Caphriel, when Raguel was silent. "Punishing those who do wrong, rewarding those who do good, right? Intriguing possibilities, but can't say I've ever had anything to do with it. It's a bit beyond me. Small fry, you know. Snakes and Apples, that's about my province. Terribly sorry I can't help; maybe you should look up someone higher up, like Zephkiel . . . ."
He'd been quietly edging away while he babbled. The light that transfigured Raguel welled up within him, and it illuminated the fear on Caphriel's face. Caphriel stopped.
"Someone has been interfering with Justice," Raguel said slowly. "Destroying Phanuel's work on it. Trying to get rid of it. Why would they do that, Caphriel?"
Caphriel's mouth worked, but he said nothing. He seemed to be struggling with something.
"I could only think," said Raguel, "that someone might not agree with Justice. That someone might not think it was . . . just."
Caphriel lost, or won, his internal battle. He burst out,
"Someone! Lots of uh -- angels think it isn't just! It isn't!" He was trembling with terror, yet he went on,
"You -- they -- you killed Saraquael! We -- everyone heard about it! He loved, and you killed him! And that's only one instance, there are so many -- and you call that justice? Justice? When we are killed for being what we are? We should have mercy."
"Only the guilty need mercy," said Raguel flatly. "The innocent accept justice."
"The guilty? Guilty of what? Love?" Caphriel flailed wildly. It wasn't clear what he was fighting, except that he was fighting something. "Love is right! It's one of the best ideas, it's -- and -- if we were not meant to feel love, why did He create us? Why does He kill us, when we are only following what we are, what he created us to be? Why does He kill us, when we cannot help ourselves?"
"The Name is infallible and ineffable," said Raguel sternly. "We cannot discern His motives, or question them." He stepped closer to Caphriel. "But you have, Caphriel. Is that why you thwarted Justice?"
"I didn't! I never did!" Caphriel shrank back. "I -- I never had anything to do with it! I told you, it's beyond me!" Defiance flared. "But I agree with it. I agree with everything he's done. He's right. He's right about everything he's said. I've, I've walked in the Dark too, and the voices speak truth. They must. Why should He keep us from the Dark, if He has nothing to hide?"
Raguel's hands grasped Caphriel's shoulders. Caphriel was shaking. Raguel gazed into his eyes, and saw the truth. All of it.
Raguel released Caphriel, and felt his function leave him. Caphriel was still staring at him with wide, wary eyes, but fear was no longer in them.
"What in Heaven's Name is going on?" he said, after a long silence.
"You should not listen to Lucifer," said Raguel. "He has -- strange ideas."
He felt he could say that much, if nothing more.
That amber gleam surfaced again in Caphriel's eyes. He lifted his chin.
"No. He's right," he said. "He understands. He's going to make things better."
Raguel looked at the defiant angel, and though it was not an emotion to which he was used, he felt pity.
"Maybe," he said. It would be betraying his duty if he said more. "What were you thinking about when I found you just now?"
Caphriel looked down guiltily.
"Apples," he said. "Er. I have a feeling that Apples will be connected with Snakes. In some way. I think it's going to important, some day."
"Like Books?" said Raguel.
There was a flicker in Caphriel's eyes, before he looked away.
"I think you might want to see your friend again," Raguel said gently. He did not add, before it is too late.
It was already too late.
Caphriel looked up again, hopefully.
"I won't get in trouble?" he said. "I -- I thought I. He." He fell silent. Then he said,
"Lucifer told us -- Saraquael was killed. Because he loved."
"That was only part of it," said Raguel carefully. "You won't get into trouble."
Not now, he thought. Nor was Lucifer going to be punished for meddling with Justice. He would be told to stop it, and that would be an end of it. For now.
It would happen again -- these small rebellions. And then one day, one day . . . the Reckoning. Raguel knew this. He was the Vengeance.
He knew, now, which side Caphriel would be on, that day. His mind was a roil of questions and doubt. Aziraphale was only one of his issues.
It was already set in a pattern. Nothing anyone did now would change the pattern. It was the will of the Name.
"You should see your friend as soon as possible," Raguel said again. It seemed the least he could do.
"I will." Caphriel stared at Raguel. "Thank you."
Raguel was already walking away.
"Don't," he said.
He was the Vengeance of the Lord, and one day he would be called to his function. He would be more terrible than any other angel, for that day would be a terrible one.
There would be trouble. Not now. But soon.