@ 2003-02-25 14:37:00
All that time in college, learning ancient languages
ancient language), studying ancient cultures and what do I do with
Yes, it’s another Good Omens fic.
Author’s notes: Are mainly at the end.
Disclaimer: Not my characters. No copyright infringement intended.
Aziraphale re-read the memo in some annoyance. He’d been the one stationed on earth since the beginning, he’d been the one given the job of setting things right, he’d been the one chasing that infuriating demon around for the last four and a half millennia. The number of dubious visions and mystical experiences he’d had to provide a corrective to in just the last few centuries had been phenomenal. So how come, when there was a pay off he wasn’t the one to get it? Gabriel had to be pulling strings, he thought. Two of these special jobs? It just wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t he have gone to see that nice young girl? He sighed. Who was he to question Ineffability? Fine. “Get things tidied up”. He could do that.
The cult of Moloch (Reformed) was undergoing a resurgence. There was still a good deal of sacrificing babies, but the new liturgy now also required getting squiffy on the best imported Greek wine. Coupled with that numerous female false gods seemed to be rewriting their family trees to become the beloved daughters of the Lord. Clearly there’d been a leak. Aziraphale looked disconsolately at the badly drawn pornographic images which seemed to be a necessity for people crossing the desert these days and shook his head over the badly spelled pornographic captions. That little so-and-so was definitely around here somewhere. Most likely in the nice big city just over the sand dunes. It was the most developed city in the entire area, with extensive trade caravans to bring in things like Greek wine. It’d be just like him to set himself up in luxury.
Entering the city, Aziraphale looked round in some distaste. Large numbers of people were getting publicly squiffy, he was forced to overhear people boasting about pulling a fast one and sacrificing their daughters as if girls were somehow worth less, he thought and on top of it all he was getting a headache from the incredible smell most of these people were emitting. He loved humans, really he did, but close up and in large numbers they made him feel rather claustrophobic. He carefully stepped over a sleeping beggar, (1) and asked a harried slave-girl (2) for directions to the temple of Moloch.
It was a large building. Véry large. It proclaimed to the world “My designers had more money than taste, and what taste they had was bad”. Aziraphale metaphorically held his nose and went in. What little taste the designers had had obviously had stopped at the outside. He goggled at the gold and precious materials, at the interesting artwork, at the enormous golden statues.
“Oh my,” he said.
He scanned the crowd of worshippers. Human, human, human, human, human, ah-ha! He began working his way through the crowd towards the young man who had stopped leading the service, and was trying to make his way to the back door. The crowd wasn’t much of an obstacle for either of them, but the young man was much closer to the door than Aziraphale was. He decided that discretion was not the better part of valour on this occasion, and unfurled his wings. Light flooded every corner of the temple, and an indescribable sweetness overcame the heavy scent of incense (which had not up to this point quite disguised the scent of burnt meat). None of the worshippers seemed to notice.
“Holy, holy, holy”, Aziraphale said, loudly.
The young man clapped his hands over his ears.
“Lord of Hosts”, Aziraphale continued.
The young man squeezed his eyes shut.
“Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory,” Aziraphale sang at the top of his lungs.
“All right, all right. What?” the young man said through gritted teeth.
Aziraphale decided to display the quality of mercy, in a relatively unstrained manner.
“This has got to stop”, he said reasonably.
“Freedom of religion, mate”, the young man said. “Free will. The inalienable right to screw up and so on. They don’t have to listen to me.”
Aziraphale looked at him with pity. He liked to see the best in everyone, but it was remarkably hard in this case. Once you’ve seen someone in the ranks of the opposing army it tends to colour your interactions with them during the Cold War. And if you’ve been sent to clean up after said person’s little mess, it can be very difficult to behave in an objective manner. If you’re human at least. Aziraphale wasn’t, and therefore was a lot more forgiving but yet possessed of a longer memory.
“Listen, Crawly ,”
“All right. Crowley. I want you to get out of the area. All this nonsense is going to have to stop. I mean, really sacrificing babies? In this day and age? We’re not exactly in the Stone Age any more.”
The young man sighed.
“All right, it’s a fair cop. I was thinking of heading north anyway, encouraging those energetic people in Germany.”
“They drink beer”, Aziraphale said.
The young man shuddered.
“The cold would block some of the smell at least,” he said.
Aziraphale felt a wave of sympathy wash over him. He rather wished sometimes that he knew what hate felt like, but as that wasn’t an option he’d quite happily go with sympathetic love.
“You know,” he said, “some of those northern tribes have invented soap.”
“Do they use it?” the young man asked.
Aziraphale thought for a moment. He was fairly sure that a white lie didn’t count.
Yellow, slit-pupilled eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
“Maybe I could invent skiing.”
“Well, that’s all settled,” Aziraphale said cheerfully. “When do you leave?”
The young man drew a breath, then stopped. For several minutes. Eventually he let the breath out and began to smile.
“Is there a rush? Because, you know, I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed a little, well, ruffled, about the wings.”
Aziraphale shook out his wings, then thought better of it and resumed human form. It was really more polite when Crawly Crowley was in that form, after all. He assumed a stern glare and gave his enemy a steely look.
“You’ve been tempting, I’ve thwarted you. Time’s up, out. Fáir’s fair.”
The young man grinned.
“I don’t play fair. You know, I’ve been hearing rumours. Of important visitors, and important messages.”
His laughter rippled around the temple, and several worshippers prostrated themselves.
“Supposing I find this human and pass on my own message?”
Not for the first time, Aziraphale found himself wishing for his sword. Something in his expression must have communicated itself, because the young man stopped laughing. He started edging forward, eyes fixed on Aziraphale’s face. He looked nervous, yet somehow hopeful. Aziraphale let him get a bit closer before speaking.
“Are you getting ready to attack me? Because, if you remember, that didn’t go so well the last time.”
The young man stopped in a way that looked awfully like a snake’s last moment of stillness before striking, and then relaxed.
“I’d settle for a truce,” he said.
“A truce?” Aziraphale echoed.
“Just until after the message. I’d quite fancy a chat.”
“A . . . chat.”
“That’s right. We’ve been chasing each other round for longer than civilisation’s existed, and what do we really know about each other? I mean, nice action with the flaming sword during the War, but you were hardly the only enemy.”
“Excuse me, but I’m not the enemy.”
“Whatever. But you’re the only person who knows what it’s like here. I’d like to talk to you, have a real chat. Every time I try to talk to you, you’re all “Bégoné, foul Tempter!” We’ve never had what I’d call a real conversation. Come on, just a little armistice. We can play football if you like.”
Aziraphale regarded him in wonder.
“Are you trying to tempt me? Really, it’s no wonder you people lost. Just go to Germany, all right?”
The young man looked rather sad, but he nodded. Aziraphale watched as he turned to slink away. He could remember Heaven perfectly, could remember the War perfectly, and could remember the enormous feeling of helpless love that had overcome him the moment he set foot on Earth. When you really thought about it, very few people knew what Earth was like. He’d been here since the beginning. So had Crawly Crowley. He had a feeling that his reports about the glory of nature reflecting the glory of the Almighty were going into some filing cabinet where no one would ever read them. A memory of Crowley standing frozen, open-mouthed in wonder as the sun rose flashed before his eyes. He thought about it. No, it definitely was his own memory.
The young man turned.
“A quick chat. And you’ll stay well out of the way, and you’ll go as far north as there’s Europe, all right?”
The young man nodded. He looked hopeful again.
“I’ll bring the wine, ok? I’m not trying to tempt you, I just happen to have some good stuff.”
Aziraphale wondered if that was the Pit he could feel under his feet.
The Archangel Gabriel shook out his wings, and cast a critical eye over the feathers. He picked out a few that were looking a little bedraggled and finally condescended to look at the Principality of the earth. The fellow was looking a little lined around the eyes, he thought. Probably a result of dealing with mortals all the time. Praise Ineffability that Gabriel only dealt with select and special humans.
“I believe the enemy has been swept away from this land?” Gabriel said in a bored tone.
Aziraphale smiled in a subservient way that he didn’t entirely think he liked, and yet couldn’t quite seem to help.
“Oh yes. I think he’s quit these lands entirely. Or will shortly at any rate.”
Gabriel smiled, his expression full of love and entirely devoid of either sympathy or understanding.
“Excellent. I’ll make sure to mention you in my report.”
Aziraphale bowed, deeply self-conscious about the state of his feathers and got himself out of the Archangel’s presence.
It was a dark and stormy night. If more than one traveller had been abroad, they might have seen the figures sitting on the mountain top, passing the jar of wine back and forth. Given the various beliefs of the area it was almost certain that the identity of the figures would have been misinterpreted as the wrong sort of spirits of fire. Currently they were laughing helplessly at a very bad and rather dirty joke that Aziraphale had remembered from his days in Persepolis. Crowley was trying to top it out of a sense of propriety, but was really too drunk to do more than hiccup.
At the base of the mountain, the Archangel Gabriel took a deep breath, not because he needed to but because he felt it would be more impressive to appear with a swelled chest. The only pilgrim in the area had been hiding in the cave from the storm for some time. Gabriel had waited until he felt the man was sufficiently cowed, and then let himself be seen. The human screeched in terror and fell to his knees in readiness.
Gabriel spread his wings in satisfaction. Perfect. He’d hardly have a better moment to start the message.
“In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate: Read!” he said in his beautiful voice.
And a new era of the world began.
(1) Who was later somewhat alarmed to discover that his leg had grown back during his nap.
(2) When she got home, she discovered her owner had freed her, and she married her sweetheart and lived very happily thereafter.
Author’s Notes That Some Readers Might Find Useful:
Gabriel: One of the archangels, who makes special announcements to both Mary and Mohammed.
The nice young girl: Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The city: Mecca
Moloch: A Phoenican deity that some interpreters think had babies sacrificed to him. Probably not, but the earliest converts to Islam talked about their pagan past as featuring child sacrifice.
The female deities who rewrite their family trees: The Daughters of God of pre-Islam Arabia, who are mentioned as false deities in the Quran (53:19-23)
Aziraphale’s song: Isaiah 6, mixed with Revelations 4.
Soap: an actual Iron Age Northern European invention
Beer: an idea that many cultures came up with
The Energetic People in Germany: the Saxons.
Truces and football: A World War I phenomenon.
Crowley’s comment, and thought he’d put it into effect.
Aziraphale’s reports on nature: For example Psalm 104, which he also wrote in an Egyptian version.
Persepolis: the ritual capital of the Persian empire. Persian religion had two main figures, a good spirit and a demonic spirit.
Spirits of Fire: both the angels (7:12) and the jinn (55:15) were created from fire, according to the Quran.
The mountain where all the characters end up: Jabal-an-Nur, where Mohammed receives the revelation of the Quran.
The pilgrim: Mohammed.
“Read”: how Gabriel starts dictating the Quran (96:1-5).