* * *
* * *
"I lied no more than you did," he said, but it was to no-one.
He was alone. Black sand rustled beneath his feet, rolling dunes of it stretching away in every direction. The blackness that rose from the horizon was studded with stars, millions of tiny beacons in a limitless night sky.
He blinked, but no voices rode the air, and there was silence in his head. There was, for the first time in a very long time, nobody around but himself.
Except for the seven-foot-tall hooded skeleton, of course.
"Azrael?" he said.
I TOLD YOU WE WOULD SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN, said Death.
"You did? Oh." This necessitated some thinking. "We've seen each other before, d'you mean?"
"Ah." He did some more thinking. "In that case . . . would you happen to know what my name is?"
"It starts with a 'Z'," he said uncertainly. "I think."
AN 'A', I THINK YOU'LL FIND, Death suggested.
"Oh," said Aziraphale. "Of course. Thank you. How silly of me to have forgotten."
'SILLY' IS PERHAPS SOMETHING OF AN UNDERSTATEMENT IN THIS CASE, said Death, as dryly as only a skull could speak.
Aziraphale stared across the vast black desert. There were great dark shapes that might have been mountains in the distance, and silent flashes of white that looked like lightning. A path uncurled across the sands, leading towards the unknown.
He was beginning to remember a great many things. Very few of them were pleasant.
"I'm a demon," he said wonderingly. It occurred to him that this was the first time he had ever heard his own voice use the word to describe himself. He'd always thought admitting it would be a terrible thing, but now that he had, the word was nothing of the sort. It sounded a little lost, but true.
"I've been to Heaven, and I've been to Hell, and I've seen everything in between," said Aziraphale. "Where does a demon go after that?"
A VERY LONG WAY, said Death.
Aziraphale looked at the path.
"I see," he said.
He was beginning to feel -- not happy, because the memories were crowding thick upon him now -- but hopeful. The desert was empty and clean enough that Aziraphale felt safe, even from the sludge that stirred in his head, and the path seemed to run on forever. Maybe that would be long enough for the amount of thinking he was going to have to do.
"Where does it go?" he asked.
THERE ARE MORE THINGS BESIDES HEAVEN AND HELL, said Death, THAN ANY PHILOSOPHY COULD POSSIBLY COMPREHEND.
Aziraphale waited, but he didn't seem to feel like elaborating.
"Which means . . . ?" Aziraphale prompted.
EVEN I DO NOT KNOW, Death admitted. YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO FIND THAT OUT ON YOUR OWN.
"I see," said Aziraphale again. He began to smile. It was a normal sort of smile, with nothing superlative about it whatsoever.
"Do you know," he said, "I think I can do that."
GOOD LUCK, said Death.
"Thanks," said Aziraphale. "I expect I'll need it."
He started down the path.