Gosh, it's been ages since I've so much as looked at this story. Here goes.
I am indebted to the immortal P. G. Wodehouse for what Aziraphale says about ducks.
Watch as I elegantly do away with the need to mention how I was indebted, and which book the inspirational passage was from! I did this partly out of laziness, but mostly because I couldn't remember which book it was that I got the passage from. I still can't. I think it is one of the Blandings books: it is not one of Wodehouse's earlier stand-alones, because as I remember it the writing was the writing of a Wodehouse who had got into his swing and knew exactly what he was doing, which is not true of many of his earlier works. And it is not Jeeves & Wooster because Bertie could never be that coherent, bless his befuddled little heart.
Anyway. The passage involved a depressed character finding comfort in feeding ducks, and it proceeded to muse upon that peculiar quality of ducks, viz. their changelessness in a shifting world. There is, Wodehouse observed, something very dependable about ducks. You can always depend on them to be ducks, for one thing.
I read this passage standing on one leg in a bookshop, and it fizzled quietly in the back of my mind as I went home and had my dinner and did what you do when it is night and you have not much to do till bed-time, and then finally the fizzling got too noisy for me to ignore, so I sat down and wrote this. I just wanted Aziraphale to say the thing about the ducks. All the plot stuff came later, just so's I could justify writing about Aziraphale and Crowley creating ducks to be little feathered rocks in troubled times.
I am lame, but you have probably guessed this already.
* * *
City of Angels: Commentary
* * *
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.
Here I am using that tremendously sophisticated literary technique known as Blah Blah Exposition. This bit's supposed to familiarise people who hadn't read Murder Mysteries with the setting, and what was going on and everything, but now that I look at it again I don't think it does the job very well.
I mean, it's all very well if you've read Murder Mysteries: "All right," you'll say, "we're starting off with Raguel doing his vengeance-y thing in the City, and the Rebellion's coming soon to Heavens near you. On with the story!"
But if you hadn't read Murder Mysteries, you'd be at sea. You'd be all, "What? What is this Darkness of which you speak? Why is the Vengeance of the Lord a boy? Blood's a rotten cleaning agent!" Bit of a hash altogether, Self, old chap.
But the story still seems to work for people who haven't read Murder Mysteries anyway, so I seem to have got away with it. Phew.
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.
That's a remarkably uninteresting list of Things. If I were writing this again I'd probably come up with a better one. (Wombats would probably be involved.)
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.
La la la, let us emphasise how very insignificant Aziraphale and Caphriel are in the grand scheme of things, in order to explain why Raguel does not totally kick Caphriel's ass later for listening to dangerous dissident talk.
This is the impression I get from canon, anyway: Aziraphale and Crowley don't strike me as being awfully important in the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell. You get the feeling that being sent to Earth is sort of the Powers' That Be equivalent of an unimportant desk job -- you dump your less impressive agents there because it's where they'll do the least harm.
(This is an idea that gets reinforced in the sequel to this story, wherein the Iron Archangel boots the angels who have incurred more than their ordinary portion of his wrath to Earth.)
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 is cuuute! He is sucking the feather because he
"Aziraphale?" Raguel ventured tentatively.
The angel whirled around abruptly, and stared at Raguel. It was obvious that he did not receive many visitors.
You think Aziraphale needs to get out more, you should see the guy who does Computers.
"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.
He and Caphriel were pretty much working in happy isolation, in other words. They were friends. Having Caphriel around sort of brightened the place up -- it was nice, having someone to talk to. Now Caphriel's gone, Aziraphale's been pretty lonely.
"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."
Caphriel thinks outside the box. That's going to get him into serious trouble eventually, of course.
I started writing this part first, then thought, oi, it might be a good idea to sort of provide context for this, yeah, so I went back and wrote the beginning in a mad rush, impatient to get back to the ducks. (Ducks!) And then I came back here, finished the conversation, stuck on the ending, and posted it, hoping it didn't look too patched together. So if the story's always felt a bit disjointed to you, that's why.
"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."
See, here's some stuff you're gonna miss if you haven't read Murder Mysteries. Like, Zephkiel? Who is this guy? The knowledge isn't essential to understanding this story, but it does add a bit to the theme.
"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?"
Love and Hate aren't opposites, of course.
"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."
In the book, Crowley expends quite a lot of effort in understanding people and doing his job according to his knowledge. He's got initiative. I mean, granted, a lot of what he does isn't exactly evil, but it is effective. Aziraphale, on the other hand, just kind of does what he's been doing for the past millennia -- he's got this kind of idea of humanity already, and he just goes with it. I mean, spot of divine ecstasy? Bit old-fashioned, if you ask me. It's not that Aziraphale doesn't know better, though -- from his interactions with people, he clearly understands how they tick. Part of why he sticks to the book is 'cos he's terribly conventional (Telegraph reader, duh), but I think a big part of it is that he's just terribly lazy. He just wants to get on with his life and collect his books and watch his concerts and so on; he can't be bothered coming up with new ways of influencing people to be good.
So, yes. Living things? Not Aziraphale's strong point. They require such a lot of energy.
Oh, and: the books flying thing is a reference to Terry Pratchett's Sourcery, in which books do flap their covers like wings.
"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.
Nah, Aziraphale's too lazy.
If Aziraphale seems a bit fluffy to you, remember that this is baby!Aziraphale. It's a long way from here to the Aziraphale of the Arrangement, or even the Aziraphale of Eden, making polite small talk with the Enemy.
"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.
Ooh, foreshadowing! Really this is totally lame, but I couldn't resist. It would be a little less contrived in a visual format, perhaps. A comic'd do it better.
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?"
Caphriel already knows he loves/is in love with Aziraphale, depending on your interpretation of their relationship. Aziraphale is still stuck in "he did brighten up the place so" territory. Aziraphale's better at lying to himself than Caphriel, which makes things easier for him.
"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."
That amber gleam again! I'm giggling at myself. Maybe I should have made him hiss as well. "No. He'sssss right." Hee!
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."
As Below, So Above. Heaven operates a "don't ask, don't tell" policy too.
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.
Crowley's always struck me as a dude with more issues than Rolling Stone. He doesn't let them stop him from having a good time, but they're there, sitting patiently in the back of his mind, waiting for something big to bring them out to play. It comes of having a basically honest nature, I expect, though he'd be terribly insulted if you told him that.
This version of Crowley's fall doesn't jibe very well with the book's version -- Caphriel isn't sauntering vaguely downwards so much as staggering, here -- but I thought it was allowable because I never have put much credit in Crowley's claim that falling wasn't such a big deal. Because Crowley cares. Falling would only not be a big deal if, well, Hell wasn't a big deal -- which, I admit, might very well be true for Good Omens canon, in which Heaven and Hell are harder to tell apart than two things that are very much alike.
In the Murder Mysteries universe, however, Hell is very definitely a Bad Thing. So the Fall is a Bad Thing, and anything Crowley might tell himself in the future about not minding much is only half-true. He might like his job; he doesn't like being a demon. Crowley doesn't think of himself as one of the bad guys.
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.
And there you go! Note how I did not say very much about Raguel. This is because I'm not very interested in him. He's just the Yenta-Detective-Guy-Who-Moves-The-Plot-Along, poor chap. You know I only dragged Murder Mysteries in it because I like its idea of Heaven -- Raguel and the other angels in the story aren't very interesting characters in and of themselves, IMO. But your mileage may vary, of course.