If you ask most human nowadays they will claim that books are one of the greatest invention of mankind and one of its most valuable goods. Certain names would pop up over and over again would you ask them which book is the most important one in history. None of these names would be the one of the book Anathema Device, eight years old, was currently reading under her bedcover, a torch in her hand.
Even if 'The Nice And Accurate Prophecies Of Agnes Nutter, Witch' was indeed the most important book in the world.
It was the only book in the world that contained exactly what it said on the tin. It had been handed down in the Device-family from generation to generation since the 17th century (It might have gotten lost in the great book-burning crazes of the last few decades, if it weren't for the pretty clear-worded prophecy 1533).
Anathema had just finished reading a prophecy concerning herself. She liked those. Even if she was sometimes upset that there were none of those covering more than the next eleven years. But at such age it might have been better that she wasn't questioning the exact Why.
Newton Pulsifer's father had been in the army. But as nearly every 12-year-olds' father in the neighbourhood had been in the army, this was nothing special. Newt was too young to remember the last years of World War Three, but his father would never tire talking about it. This can really get into a boy's head. Whether or not Mr Pulsifer actually believed that their side had been the Good Guys, his son did so with all of his heart. Newt was certain he'd join the army one day.
If he had known Anathema at that time he might have learned some surprising details about this.
Phelan woke in his bed, naked, laying on his front, with the blanket tugged up to his waist.
He groaned and tried to stretch, a jolt of pain bringing back the pictures from hours ago. With a whimper he peeked up at what was left of his wings.
Turns out, what was left of them wasn't very much at all. If you didn't know what they were supposed to be, you would even hesitate to call them wings. For starters, the left one was not supposed to bend that way at all.
His wings were black and blue all over, with cuts and torn skin everywhere. The few feathers that remained were shredded or covered with dried blood, and from a dull throbbing (not actual pain, though, not when what he saw was so utterly numbing) he guessed that not just the left but both wings were broken in places.
Someone seemed to have done their best trying to patch things up temporarily, wiping off the blood (there was too little of it compared to what should have been there considering the state of his wings), but just moving had opened a few wounds, and it was starting to slowly drip down bare skin again.
Phelan whimpered and bit down on the pillow, pressing his eyes shut. He knew all kinds of pain; physical and psychological, amongst others. And of all these, damage to one's wings hurt the most. His nail dug into the bedsheet beneath as a shiver running down his spine made the wings twitch again.
"You're awake?" someone in the doorway asked. "I was hoping you'd still be asleep. Those are some horrible wounds..."
Phelan didn't need to turn his head to know who was speaking. He knew the voice and the suppressed aura (you had to suppress what came naturally with beings of angelic stock if you wanted to survive on Earth) by heart.
"Keru...", he mumbled into the pillow.
The dark-haired man nodded, walking to the bed and settling next to Phelan on it, putting various supplies on the bedside table - a tub of water and a washcloth, bandages, ointment, some supplies that humans wouldn't understand but would be useful for their purposes. "How are you feeling?"
"You may take an inspired guess."
"...right. Stupid question," Keruvael muttered. He reached for the washcloth, wringing it out, and gently started cleaning the fresh blood from when some of the wounds burst open again. "What happened? Or should I ask who?"
"A Great Duke of Hell" Phelan winced, stirring under the touch. "You remember Ligur? Think you ran into him once in... when was it again?"
"Ancient Egypt, I think," the angel replied, wincing in sympathy when Phelan's wing tried to twitch away, gently holding on to the tip to hold it still. "What did he decide you'd done to earn this, though?"
Phelan made a sound made to replace a shrug. "Jealousy. Plain old jealousy. 'S gotten a lot worse since you met him."
"I can tell." The angel glanced at Phelan's left wing, shivering, before focussing on the wing he was tending to at the moment.
Phelan gulped. Very carefully. "We have a bigger problem than this"
"A bigger problem than having to work out how much of your wings we can save?" Keruvael asked, reaching for the ointment and bandages.
"Would the Apocalypse fall into that category?"
Keruvael dropped everything in his hands, staring at the demon wide-eyed. "The Apocalypse?" he asked. "Now? Of course we knew something was going on, but..."
Finally Phelan turned his head to grin askew at the angel, red eyes with slit pupils, normally neatly concealed behind a pair of dark, purple-tinted glasses, flashing.
"That's what Ligur's been jealous of. Couldn't accept that they sent me to get the Antichrist to his human family."
The angel grimaced, picking up the things he dropped and unscrewing the cap of the ointment, gently applying it to Phelan's right wing. "So soon... I can't believe it..."
"It's a shame. Things were starting to look up."
The angel nodded mutely, starting to bandage the maimed wing. After he got about halfway, he spoke again. "Seems hard to believe. Eternal heaven. Or eternal hell, I suppose." The words were carefully measured - exactly the truth, phrased so they could be taken either way depending on who was listening.
Phelan wasn't one for such finesse when he was annoyed and in pain.
"Can't tell which'd be worse."
Keruvael was about to reply when he seemed to think better of it, biting his lip. Finishing off bandaging the wing, he fixed the end and moved to sit at Phelan's left, movements even more gentle, mindful of the terrible angle the wing was bent at. It took a while before he spoke again, voice carefully flat, eyes fixed on getting the blood off of the wing. "My people are all for it, of course. One last fight, us versus them, the Four Horsemen, seas of blood. And then Game Over, Insert Coin, I suppose."
"Lovely phrasing there, I taught you well." Phelan grinned up at him. "If you want to hear an honest opinion from a demon that's in enough trouble: It's a bloody stupid idea." He huffed. "It's a blessed shame there's nothing one can do."
"It is. I can't interfere with divine plans..." The angel sighed.
"Wouldn't really call this one a divine plan, Cherry."
Keruvael waved a hand. "Part of the overall divine plan, though. At least, that's what I should be thinking."
Phelan suddenly smirked. "This one in itself is quite a diabolical plan, wouldn't you agree?"
The angel glanced at him suspiciously. "What are you thinking, Phelan?"
"You're an angel. I'd say it's your bloody job to interfere with the rotten plans of Hell, innit?"
"You want me to thwart the Apocalypse?" he asked, sounding like he wasn't entirely sure Ligur hadn't hit him on the head as well.
"Well, not directly thwart that one. Just," Phelan pondered, "alter the odds a little."
Keruvael hesitated, tempted by the idea. "...I must be insane for asking, but how do you propose we do that?"
"My people will see about his upbringing. Making sure he gets the right satanic influences," Phelan explained, hissing briefly as the angel touched a particularly nasty piece of torn flesh.
"...and I'm supposed to thwart them while they do that?" Keruvael asked, moving away from that particular area to avoid hurting the demon more.
"Indirectly, I suggest. Make sure there are opposed satanic influences."
"And then what? What happens when the Antichrist never learns to use his powers properly?"
Phelan shrugged again.
"Hell would have to try again and we get at least another 11 years."
"It would at least buy us some time..." the angel murmured, hands stilling as he thought.
"Yes. Oh, you'll laugh. Guess just where the blessed thing might yet happen."
"Well? Where do you think?"
"America." Phelan told him about who the Antichrists human family was.
"They always did go in for that sort of thing in America..."
Phelan just nodded, looking as if he really could have done with rolling over and staring at the ceiling for a while now. Or a smoke. Or something to drink. Or smoking and drinking while staring at the ceiling.
Keruvael put the tub of water down, throwing the washcloth into it, and got up off the bed, fingers trailing along the mangled wing. "Do you want my help straightening it out?" he asked. "I'll warn you, it's going to hurt."
With another nod Phelan braced himself. "They'll take years to heal, better that they do that neatly. And Cherry?" He smiled sadly. "You know I am used to pain. Demon, remember?"
The angel grimaced and nodded. "Alright, then. I'll be right back." He got up off the bed, briefly leaving the room. There were sounds of movement, something that sounded like a chair being moved, and the sound of fabric dropping onto the floor. When Keruvael returned, he was carrying the curtain rod with him. He placed it against the wall next to the bed before gripping Phelan's wing tightly, holding it in both hands. After giving the demon a second to brace himself, he pulled at the wing, righting it.
Phelan's eyes widened for a moment, before he plunged his head down, biting into the pillow. When he came back up his gasping slowly faded into a string of enraged blessings in several languages scholars might not even know about, ending with "You owe me a curtain rod."
"If you'd rather end up with a mangled wing, feel free," Keruvael replied peevishly. He reached for the roll of bandages again, then picked up the curtain rod and held it against Phelan's wing, spreading it over his lap for ease of access. "It was the only thing I knew to find that would be long enough to use for a splint," he apologised. "I'll pay for another one. Now hold still."
"Yes, yes," Phelan murmured, shifting slightly under the blanket, "So... we have a deal about the child?"
"That we do," the angel said. "You keep up appearances to your superiors on its upbringing, I do my best to work against that."
Phelan chuckled. "No wonder we've come to our little Arrangement. Could only work with someone like you, you know? You're an angel to my liking."
He was, the angel reflected on that, really no shining example of heavenly virtues. Just as Phelan was not really what you'd expect of a demon. They both had their moments of outright good and evil respectively - he had gotten a commendation for Belgian chocolate, Phelan one for inventing French - but on the whole, they generally did as well as they could and called it a day. Thoughts like this always made him wonder how it could have been that they didn't come to their Arrangement earlier.
By humans' standards, The Arrangement was nothing special. It was the same kind of agreement agents of opposing factions stationed somewhere far, far from home tend to come to when they realise they have more in common with their opposite number than with their respective superiors somewhere entirely else. The kind of agreement that leads to no side really winning and none really losing, but both sides doing enough to shine in the eyes of their bosses, especially for doing such good work against a cunning and well-informed adversary. But he and Phelan were field agents of Heaven and Hell, so, as unnecessary as saying this might be, such an agreement between them was something very special. That's the reason it got its capitals.
The Arrangement was not even two hundred years old. Phelan had had a rather rough time in the centuries before and when he needed a shoulder to lean on Keruvael had been there.
"Think you can speed things up a little?" Phelan dragged the angel from his thoughts. "The general healing I mean. So I can winch them back in?"
"Ah - of course, sorry," he said, nodding. He reached for a few of the nondescript-to-humans items, wrapping them between the bandages with practiced movements, careful not to touch them more than he had to, before fastening the end of the bandages. "Should be alright now even if you winch them in," he said rather more cheerfully than he felt, smiling at the demon.
Phelan took a deep breath and carefully did winch his wings in, shuddering at the sensation. "You know how much I'd thank you if I weren't a demon," he said and sat up looking at the regular bruises along his body with a huff. "I should get dressed."
"I'll leave you to it," the angel said, grabbing the supplies he'd brought with him. "Do you want me to wait for you? We could do the Ritz tonight."
The demon smiled. "With greatest pleasure."
Even Evil has its standards. Hell was all for violence and showing domination over others. But small children were indeed off-limit. Some basic principle some self-announced Satanists just couldn't wrap their heads around. Which often led to beings like Hastur wrapping their heads around something else entirely. That was something he enjoyed. What he didn't enjoy so much was having to go to a small hospital somewhere south of Oxford a few days after the night on the graveyard and being handed a basket with a child the nun announced to be the surplus baby. Baby B. Of course she didn't think of it as Baby B. Nor did she actually announce it as such. To her this was Baby A as to her there had been only two babies, so there was no need for a 'Baby B'.
So there was no reason for Hastur to think of it as 'Baby B' either. He had other things to worry about. Like what to do with the child. You mustn't harm small children, but doing good should also be out of the question.
Let us imagine Hastur got the child adopted discretely. Let us imagine that this went unnoticed by Hell and that he didn't get into trouble.
It's nice to think that even a Duke of Hell can do something good every now and then, isn't it?