And Eternity (Piers Anthony) – ukázka

Rozhodl jsem se, že v rámci svých recenzí méně známých knížek budu uvádět i ukázky, aby případný zájemce mohl sám posoudit jazyk a obsah knihy, jestli se mu budou líbit. Z hlediska autorského zákona by to mělo být v pořádku (podle paragrafu 31, odstavec 1), pokud však majitel práv s mým názorem nesouhlasí, uvítal bych, kdyby napřed kontaktoval kvůli odstranění ukázky mě a teprve v případě neúspěchu soud.

Následuje první kapitola knihy And Eternity, sedmého dílu série Incarnations of Immortality od Pierse Anthonyho. Knihu snadno pořídíte na Amazonu. Recenzi naleznete zde.


  1. ANTHONY, Piers: And Eternity. New York: Avon Books, 1990. 386 str. ISBN 0-380-75286-7.


Jolie was in France when she felt the pain. Someone close to her was dying!

She was conducting a routine observation, animating a servant girl in the house of the man she was studying. She had to extricate herself in a hurry—but not in such a way as to alienate her host.

Please, Marie—something pressing has come up. May I leave you for a time?

The girl was startled. “You will return?” she asked in French. She enjoyed their association, because she was dull and Jolie was bright. When Jolie animated her, she carried herself with greater flair and was more alert, and her employer liked that. There was nothing untoward in this, and the employer had no designs on Marie; he merely liked to think that his relatively egalitarian household was good for her.

When I can, Jolie reassured her, communicating mind to mind because she did not want the girl to seem to be muttering. I fear a friend is in trouble.

“Of course you must go to her!” Marie agreed.

She had spoken too loudly, and the employer looked up from his book. “What was that?” he inquired, also in French.

Jolie took over. “I beg your pardon, sir. My mind garbled, and I misspoke myself.”

He smiled indulgently. “It happens to the best of us, and to me also. But if someone needs you, you may have time off, of course.”

He was a good and generous man—which was why Jolie was observing him. “Thank you, sir. But the need is not pressing. I will finish here.”

He nodded, and returned to his book. He was a portly married man, and Marie was young and shapely and not bright, but he treated her with perfect courtesy, much as he would a visitor. That, too, counted in his favor.

Jolie returned control to the maid, and reverted to her home immediately. This was a drop of blood on the wrist of Gaea, the Incarnation of Nature. Gaea was at the moment making an observation of her own: the pattern of weather in the mid-Pacific ocean, which might require delicate modification to weaken an untimely storm. She felt the return, and lifted her wrist. “Back so soon, Jolie?”

“Gaea, I felt the dying of one I love. I must go to her!”

“Go!” Gaea agreed. She was another ideal employer and friend; she did not inquire into Jolie’s private business, either overtly or covertly, but allowed free rein. This was the type of generosity afforded by one with such enormous power that she could, if she chose, destroy the world. Any of the seven major Incarnations could—but their thrust was not to harm the world, but to preserve it.

Jolie oriented on the pain she felt. In a moment she was there.

“Oh, Orlene!” she exclaimed, horrified. For there, slumped at her treasured piano, was the lovely young woman Jolie had known for fifteen years. She was dying, and Jolie knew that it was already too late. Stunned, she could only hover, unable at first to grasp the enormity of this event. How could this have happened?

Then the body expired and the soul floated out diaphanously. It resembled a translucent film marked with a patina of shadow. The light color predominated, indicating a positive balance; this soul was destined for Heaven.

But the soul twisted as if still in pain, and a part of it clung to the dead body. Jolie understood that phenomenon: often it took time for a person to grasp the reality of death, and the soul hesitated to leave the comfort of the familiar body. More darkness was manifesting; there was a surprising amount of evil on this soul, though Jolie knew it was good.

“Orlene, let go!” she cried. “You will float directly to Heaven!”

The soul writhed, drawing itself clumsily down. “No, no,” it said blurrily. “I must not go!”

“Orlene, it is Jolie! Your dream-friend! I would not guide you falsely! You are good; you have nothing to fear from the Afterlife! Let go your body, and you will soon be in Heaven!” Though not as soon as one with less evil. How could the balance be so close?

“I must not!” Orlene replied, still clinging.

A skeletal figure appeared. It was Thanatos, the collector of the balanced souls of the dead. He saw Jolie and paused, surprised. “You know this client?”

“She is my friend, my cherished—almost my child,” Jolie said. “She has died, and I don’t know why.”

Thanatos glanced at the struggling soul. “She is bound for Heaven; I can see that without testing, though she could not afford very much more evil. Let me facilitate her passage.” He reached out with a bonefingered hand.

The soul cringed away. “No! No!”

“Orlene, it’s all right!” Jolie cried. “This is the Incarnation of Death, come to assist you on your way to Heaven. Your pain of the body is over!”

“No, I must not go! I must find my baby!”

Thanatos nodded. “Ah, the baby; I remember now. Her son died ten days ago; he was in balance, and I came for him and talked with the father. A terrible irony, but destined. Gaea’s error.”

Jolie was astonished. “Gaea? I know nothing of this!”

Thanatos made a gesture, and the soul froze in place. Time was still, except for the two of them. “This was the bride in a ghost marriage; the ghost could not impregnate her, so she had a living companion, a man of sensitivity. She conceived by him, the child to be the legal heir of the ghost.”

“That much I know,” Jolie said. “She married Gawain, the ghost of a dragon slayer who was killed by an allosaur, who needed an heir. Then she found Norton, who was just right for her. I had other business, so I did not check on her once I knew she was fulfilled and happy. Evidently I should have! How could she have lost her baby, and died, when it was going so well?”

“The ghost prevailed on Gaea to modify the genetic pattern of the baby to match that of the ghost, so that there would be true continuity. Gaea did it as a favor without researching, and so incorporated a negative aspect of the ghost’s heritage. The baby developed a recessive malady that killed it, no fault of either of the biological parents. That was the point at which her fate was sealed; she could not endure without her baby, and was destined for suicide as soon as she put her affairs in order. It is of course an unfortunate waste, but was fixed from the moment of Gaea’s error.”

“Her baby!” Jolie exclaimed. “That’s why she is resisting her passage to Heaven! Where did the baby go?”

“It was in balance, by definition, and could travel neither to Heaven nor to Hell. It remains in Purgatory.”

“And she wants to be with her son! If he’s not in Heaven, she doesn’t want to go there herself!”

“But there is no point—”

“Please, Thanatos, I’m her friend. Let me try to help her. Does she have to go to Heaven right away?”

The cloaked figure shrugged. “She does not. Her balance is actually fairly close, because she was born illegitimate, had an affair outside her marriage, and committed suicide. Those three sins would have been enough to send her to Hell were she not otherwise of virtually complete goodness. If she exerts her will, she may remain indefinitely in the mortal realm, as a ghost like you. I came only because it seemed she was having difficulty extricating herself from her body. I leave it in your hands.”

“Thank you, Thanatos. I will take care of her until she accepts her situation.” Then, as an afterthought: “How can so much sin attach to her soul for being of illegitimate birth, when she was not at fault for that? Or for having an affair, when the conditions of her marriage required it to enable her to have a baby for her ghost husband? Or for seeking to help her baby, even in the Afterlife?”

The skull seemed to grimace. “God made those definitions, not I. Were I to have authority, I would change them, and allow only evil motive to stain a soul. But it is not my place. I must operate within the set guidelines.”

Jolie sighed. She had known it; her question had been mostly rhetorical, borne of the pain of this unexpected death. “I agree. But I am no person to attempt to criticize the Incarnation of Good.”

Thanatos nodded, then turned and walked through the wall. As he did so, the scene reanimated. The struggles of the soul resumed.

Jolie put out a hand and caught the hand region of the soul. “Peace, Orlene, Thanatos is gone! You do not have to go anywhere you don’t want to!”

The struggles diminished. The soul began to assume a better semblance. “My baby—”

“Your baby is in Purgatory. I will take you there, if you wish. I am Jolie, your friend of dreams; do you recognize me now?”

Slowly the recognition came. “My friend of dreams? I begin to remember, but…”

Jolie knew how hard it was to get organized after death; she had been through the process herself and had seen it many times in others. Normally a newly separated soul drifted either Heavenward or Hellward on its own, its direction determined by the balance of good and evil burdening it, and remained unconscious until arrival. In Heaven it assumed the form of its lost body and seemed like a living person in a new setting, and angels came to guide it to its appropriate level. In Hell it also returned to seeming life, but had a harsher welcome. Thus, to the individual, it seemed as if there were little or no transition between the last breath of life and appearance in the designated realm of the Afterlife.

But some few were unable to travel directly to a realm, either because of an almost perfect balance of good and evil or because their business among mortals was unfinished. Thanatos came to assist the former, while the latter often wandered for some time as ghosts. This had been the case with Jolie—and now with Orlene.

“Yes, I am a ghost,” she said. “I could not approach you in your waking state for several reasons, but when you slept and dreamed, I was your friend. You perhaps thought me a mere creature of your imagination, but this was not the case. I was sent by a friend of your mother to watch over you, and that I did, until I saw you secure and happy. Now I regret I did not follow you further, for your life seems to have been destroyed during my brief absence.”

“Jolie, my friend of dreams,” the soul repeated. “Yes, now it returns. How glad I am to see you! Will you help me find my baby? I must have him with me!”

“I will help you,” Jolie agreed. “But we must talk, to give you time to acclimatize, to learn the ways of the ghostly existence, so that you may operate with competence and confidence. Let me guide you to a better setting.”

Orlene looked down at her body, to which she still clung. It remained slumped, one hand on the piano keyboard, looking gaunt and uncomfortable in death. “Are you sure I dare let go? I won’t be launched to Heaven?”

“I will hold your hand and keep you from Heaven,” Jolie said. “Trust me; I love you in a way you hardly know.”

Nervously, Orlene clutched her hand and let go of the body. She did not float away. But she was not reassured. “Oh, I wish I hadn’t killed myself! Yet if I hadn’t—”

“Come, I know a house where we can relax,” Jolie said, drawing her toward the wall.

Then the door opened, and there was Orlene’s lover, Norton. He stared at the body. “Oh, Orlene!” he breathed with horror, instantly knowing. “Oh, my love!”

“Oh, my love!” Orlene echoed, appalled. “Oh, why did I do this to you!” She floated toward him, arms outstretched.

“He cannot see you,” Jolie said, sharing the pain of the situation. “Few mortals know how to see the supernatural, and few spirits can manifest visibly or audibly to mortals. I can teach you—but it will take time. Let him go, Orlene: that aspect of your existence is over.”

“I know,” the soul said sadly. “I just can hardly accept it. I wish I had loved him as he loved me; then I would not have done this awful thing! But my baby—”

“Leave him; it is all you can do now. Come with me.”

Reluctantly, tearfully, Orlene acquiesced. They left Norton staring at the body, and Jolie guided her through the wall and away.

But as they moved, Jolie thought of her own death, the memory triggered by the recent scene. She had died early in the thirteenth century, in southern France, victim of a crusader who was trying to rape her. Her husband had tried to save her, but the agony of her wound was too great, and she had begged him to let her die. He had done so, then fled the crusaders, his life irrevocably altered by that experience. In retrospect she believed that she should have tried harder to live, so as not to leave her husband desolate, but at the time the physical pain had been overwhelming. She had been selfish, thinking more of her immediate pain than of his long-term pain.

She brought Orlene to the Treehouse in Purgatory, a place that was guaranteed private from all except its mistress. It was in the form of a phenomenal living tree whose trunk was hollow and whose branches twisted around to form upper chambers. Here the two of them assumed full human shape and substance. Had either been mortal, there would have been a severe complication, for Purgatory time was different for mortals. But Incarnations and ghosts were immune to that effect. Jolie bade her guest take one of the comfortable vine-woven chairs.

“But how can I be alive again?” Orlene asked, bewildered, feeling her solid flesh.

“You are not, and neither am I. This is Purgatory, where souls assume their living forms, just as they do in Heaven and in Hell. I brought you here because it will be easier for you to adjust in your normal semblance.”

“But this is a house!” Orlene exclaimed. “A strange house, with leaves sprouting from the walls and soil for the floor! How can this be the realm of spirits?”

Jolie realized that it was best to focus first on the basics. Soon enough they would get to the specifics of the woman’s situation, when she was ready for them.

“All the Incarnations have homes in Purgatory,” she explained. “They each have servants and staff to assist them in their formidable duties. But the Incarnation of Nature prefers to run her household alone, so that none may know her comings and goings, and indeed it can be quite difficult to visit. That is why I am certain of our privacy.”

“This—is the home of Nature?” Orlene asked, amazed.

“Yes. That is why it is alive. All living things, and most dead ones, are her business. She is perhaps the most powerful of the Incarnations, aside from Good and Evil.”

“But how can we be here?”

Jolie smiled. “I am a friend of the Incarnation. Indeed, I am her closest companion and confidante, for all that I am merely a ghost like you. That is why I was able to bring you here.”

“I thought you were just a dream figment—a companion I invented in my sleep! You never said anything about Incarnations!”

“Not that you may remember at the moment,” Jolie said. “It was not relevant. I am part of a complex skein, and am not free to discuss much of it, but this much you may accept: I came to you by design, not chance, and I have loved you as I would my own child.”

Now Orlene remembered something. “You said you were a friend of my mother! But my parents never said anything about the supernatural!”

They were about to get into the woman’s history. That was good, because the more time and thought that separated her from the concept of her recent death, the better. “You were adopted. I referred to your natural mother, who had to give you up when you were just a few weeks old.”

“A blind Gypsy,” Orlene agreed. “There was never any secrecy about my origin. My parents were always good to me, and I am thankful to have come to them. I had hoped to be as good for my own baby as they were for me.” Then, abruptly, she clouded up, remembering the tragedy.

“A Gypsy woman gave you to your family,” Jolie agreed. “But she was not your mother. She was a friend of your mother, before I was. Your mother conceived you out of wedlock, and your father was unexpectedly prevented from marrying her, and she had other business, so had to give you up. The Gypsy would have kept you, but fate denied her; it was her charge to give you to a suitable American family, and that she did. Your mother could have followed you, but elected not to interfere; by her own design, she let you go so that you could be a complete part of your new family. Except that—”

“She sent you!” Orlene exclaimed.

“Not exactly,” Jolie said. “It was another who did that. He told her nothing except that you were well and happy. I came to you in your dreams and helped you to learn things you could not otherwise have learned, so that some day you might better understand the situation of your mother. In the course of that I soon came to love you myself, and now I regard you as mine too.”

“But you are no older than I am!”

“My dear, physically I am not. But I died in the year 1208. I have been a ghost ever since.”

Orlene stared at her. “But that’s almost eight hundred years ago!”

“Almost,” Jolie agreed. “I was seventeen, divinely married, and learning sorcery in southern France. But there was a crusade against the Albigensians, because they were resisting taxation, and the first thing the Church went after was opposing sorcerers. I died, and my husband fled—but he prevailed on Thanatos to let him carry me with him in a drop of my blood on his wrist. I could not quite depart the mortal realm, you see, because of an abiding evil in my situation, so I remained. When my husband was confined in Hell, Gaea took my drop of blood, and I became her companion instead of his. I am omitting considerable detail, but that is the essence. I remain in appearance as I was when I died: younger than you.”

“So you are seventeen—and eight hundred years old!” Orlene exclaimed. “And you knew my genetic mother!”

“And know her still. I can introduce you to her, if you wish.”

Orlene considered. “No, I think I would rather not know. I would not see her as my mother, and it could be awkward, especially since I am a ghost.”

“Perhaps that is best. She knows that I have been in touch with you, but does not know your identity or that you have died, and I will not tell her if you prefer.”

“Do not tell her,” Orlene agreed. “I have sown enough pain already! But do tell me—if you are the companion of the Incarnation of Nature, how is it that you had occasion to interact with others, such as my mother or myself?”

“I am bound to Gaea by my drop of blood, the sole remaining vestige of my mortal body. But she is busy with many things which are hardly my concern, and gives me leave to go where I wish and do what I wish. I always return to her when she needs me, but most of the time I am on my own, and so I meet many folk, living and dead. At the moment I am engaged in a project to locate suitable candidates to become Incarnations, and this is a most challenging enterprise.”

“Incarnations! They are looking for replacements?”

“Not precisely. They merely want to have a pool of excellent candidates to draw from when the need arises. The candidates in the pool are not notified, they are merely observed, and then when the occasion should come, one of them may be tapped. It is better than allowing it to continue at random. I was observing a man in France, not far from my mortal residence, when I felt your dying. The observation is long-term and can wait, while your death was immediate, so I came right away.”

“I would not want to keep you from your job! Once I am reunited with my baby, I have little care for what happens to me. I would rather be in Hell with him than in Heaven without him.” She was evidently sincere.

“I will help you find him; my time is not pressed.” Jolie looked at the ghost. “But, if I may, let me get you into better shape.”


“You look exactly as you were when you died. This is not kind. It might be better to restore you to your aspect of health.”

“I can have no joy until I find my son, Gaw.”


Orlene smiled. “He was named after his legal ghost father, Gawain. Gaw for short, or Gaw-Two.”

“Gaw,” Jolie agreed, understanding. “Come, here is a mirror.” She stood, beckoning Orlene to a full-length mirror set in the living wall. It was formed of level water, tilted vertically; Gaea preferred natural things, with some leavening of magic.

The woman looked, and was appalled. “I look awful!”

“Your grief caused you to waste away. You might have died in due course even if you hadn’t taken poison. But as a ghost you may assume any appearance, and it would be pointless to remain gaunt.”

“But I have sinned by killing myself, and should pay the penalty.”

“By the existing standard, yes, you have sinned. But your appearance can neither aggravate nor atone for that. If you are to recover your baby, it may be best to assume an appearance that does not advertise your grief. We may have to query many folk.”

Orlene, gazing at herself, seemed inclined to agree.

Like most lovely women, she was conscious of appearances. “How can I—?”

“As you become experienced in your present condition, you will gain proficiency in form changing. But for now, why don’t you just lie down and rest or sleep, while I investigate the location of your baby? Think of the form you wish to assume, and your body will gradually approach it.”

“But I must search Gaw out myself!” Orlene protested.

“And so you shall! But there are queries I can make most readily by myself, such as with the Purgatory Computer, which is in a public region. Let me do this while you rest; I promise that you will be the first to know anything I learn.”

Orlene wavered. “Can the dead sleep?”

Jolie laughed. “The dead can do what they choose! I slept for centuries when my husband associated with Hell. I did not truly come awake until Gaea took me. I had much to catch up on then! Part of it I learned while being your friend, in your dreams, for you were a girl of the modern world.”

“My friend,” Orlene echoed. “Those dreams—I forgot them by day, but they were wonderful by night! We did so much together!”

“So much,” Jolie agreed. “It was almost like being alive again.”

“And now I am dead,” Orlene said sadly. “Already I regret my foolishness. I wish I had had your advice, before I…”

“I wish I had been watching!” Jolie said. “It is my fault as much as yours.”

Indeed, she felt the guilt! To allow this woman, of all those alive, to die so pointlessly—Jolie felt she had been criminally neglectful. She dreaded the revelation she would at some time have to make.

“I think I will lie down,” Orlene said. “So much has happened! I never expected the Afterlife to be like this. It will take time to adjust.”

Jolie led her to a guest chamber in the residence. There was a bed of roses, literally, fragrant and soft. “Rest, here, and I will return shortly,” she said. “Remember, you are absolutely safe here; no one, mortal or immortal, will intrude. Only Gaea and I can enter without challenge—or those we bring.”

Orlene lay in the bed. The bright petals rose up around her like the decoration on a fluffy quilt. She closed her eyes and in a moment was asleep.

Already she was looking better. The deep lines on her face were easing, and her gaunt body seemed to be filling out. She had been beautiful, very like her mother, and soon would be again.

Satisfied, Jolie faded out of the scene.


She went first to Gaea. This was easy to do; she merely relaxed, and her home drop of blood hauled her in elastically. In an instant she was there.

It was a biological laboratory. Gaea had assumed the form of a gallon of air, making her effectively invisible. Jolie didn’t have to bother; as a ghost she was naturally invisible, unless she made an effort to manifest optically or sonically. Only another ghost or an Incarnation could perceive her now.

“Business settled?” Gaea inquired, spying Jolie.

“Only begun, it seems,” Jolie replied. “My friend died because she lost her baby, and she wishes to find him. I told her I would help.”

“By all means. You mean to check the Computer?”

“Yes, by your leave.”

“Granted. As it happens, I have a spot of research myself. Perhaps you could check that at the same time.”

Gaea was always polite about her requests. The truth was that she had complete power over Jolie, who was now one of her staff members, but she never abused it. Quite the opposite! It was possible that she did have research to do—but as likely that this was merely a way of legitimizing Jolie’s mission. “Certainly. What do you need?”

“This is a genetic laboratory. The gene splicing is routine, but the project isn’t. They have, they think, perfected a variety of fruit fly that will consume residual oil pollution, and they are breeding it in sufficient number to colonize the Gulf coastline where the spill of ‚ninety-five still festers. My concern is that a random mutation could direct those flies elsewhere. Here is the key aspect of the pattern; have the Computer run a check for possible mutations within my specified tolerance.” She held out a ghostly pebble.

Jolie took the pebble, knowing that the pattern was imbued; the Purgatory Computer would know what to do with it. “I shall be back shortly, Gaea.”

“And perhaps, thereafter, we shall make a visit,” Gaea murmured. “If you feel inclined.”

“Always.” They never spoke directly of this particular matter; it was an understanding of long duration.


The Purgatory Computer had not been changed in twenty years. At this point, the equipment of the mortals was far more sophisticated. But the Purgatory Computer had magic and personality, and it did the job, so there was no push to replace it. Jolie had come to know it well, in the course of her errands for Gaea; they got along just fine.

A greeting, Bride of Satan, the screen printed as she entered its main chamber.

“And half a greeting to you, obsolescent machine,” she responded cheerily. “Got a pain in your nuts and bolts?”

Not until this moment, ghost girl.

“Watch yourself, or I’ll kick you in your data base.”

You can't. It would be anachronistic for a thirteenth-century peasant to know that term.

“I learn quickly, you overachieving word processor.”

Enough of this foolish banter, Evil Emissary. What is your will?

“Two items, you arrogant device. Run this sample through your files and see what it matches.” She fed the pebble into a little hopper.

The computer blinked. There is a 15% probability that this will mutate into a fuel-eating species within fifty years. The Green Mother will not like that.

“She certainly won’t! How much damage would occur if that happens?”

Depends on the fuel. By that time there may not be a lot of crude oil left, but if the fly goes for synthetic oil, there could be a major disruption. It can be extremely difficult to reverse such a course, once established.

“In other words, the mortals are playing roulette again?”

Agreed, Sorceress.

Jolie sighed. The mortal realm could be a real pain in the buttock on occasion. But that was Gaea’s problem; she might elect to force a prior problem that would wipe out the fly before it could mutate. The mortals would curse their misfortune, not understanding that they were being protected from worse.

“Second item: the present location of the infant Gawain Junior, otherwise known as Gaw-Two, who died ten mortal days ago.”



That infant was taken by Nox, the Incarnation of Night.

“Oh, my!” Jolie breathed. She had not anticipated that. Usually babies were left to the Purgatory Playpen, because it took some time for them to achieve independent function. In the Playpen they could mature slowly; elsewhere they did not. “What does Nox want with a baby?”

Nox did not vouchsafe that information to this machine.

Of course not! Nox allowed few to know her business. She knew all of the secrets of the world, and kept most of them. “Have you any conjecture?”

Conjecture: That baby is the grandchild of a person Satan loves, therefore of probable interest to Him. Nox may have secured the baby as a lever.

“But Nox needs no lever! She can have her will of Satan—or any male Incarnation—anytime she chooses. I know, for I love Satan.”

Admitted. It is an insecure conjecture. The motive of Nox is unfathomable to a mere machine.

“Or a mere ghost,” Jolie said. “How may Nox be approached?”

Through the realm of dreams—if it is feasible at all.

That was what she had feared. This simple quest had abruptly become a complicated one! Orlene was going to have real trouble recovering her baby—unless the Incarnation of Night chose to give him up.

She returned to Gaea, who was now back at the Treehouse. “Oops, I forgot to tell you about—”

“I saw her,” Gaea said. “Your new ghost? I did not pry.”

“My new ghost,” Jolie agreed. “She suicided over bereavement for her lost baby. I have known her for years, and want to help her, so I asked her to sleep and resume a more healthy form, knowing that she was completely protected here.”

“There is something you are not telling me,” Gaea said.

“Yes. If I may, I prefer to handle this myself, though it may be complicated.”

“Can it wait a few more hours?”

“Yes. It is better that she sleep until her recovery is complete. And—” Jolie hesitated.

“And there is more you need to ascertain before she wakes,” Gaea said.

“Yes. In fact, I think my husband…” She did not finish, as was their convention. Jolie’s husband was the current Incarnation of Evil, and all the other active Incarnations opposed him. Her marriage had been dissolved when she died, and he had later remarried, so she had no legal claim, but they chose to maintain an honorary designation. The truth was that there were private understandings—and Gaea was Satan’s current spouse. This was a technicality, and the marriage had never been formally consummated, but the two were indeed in love, and had been for the better part of twenty years.

Thus Jolie was free to go to Satan, but because she was not evil, she was unable to manifest in his presence or in Hell. Gaea, with the powers of an Incarnation, could go to him, but did not because it would seem to be a conflict of interests. Both loved him, and he loved both, but they were unable separately to fulfill their desires. This was the origin of the unspoken compromise.

“When it is done, ask him, and I will tune out,” Gaea said.

“Thank you. Orb,” Jolie said gratefully. She used Gaea’s private mortal name only when especially moved. What she could not say was that by her generosity and understanding, Gaea was also sparing herself pain, for Orlene was her natural daughter. She had been conceived before Orb became the Incarnation, and as an Incarnation she had deliberately neglected to keep track of her child, so that she would not be unduly influenced by purely personal considerations. She had not asked Jolie to do so, but Satan had, and that was what had brought Jolie to the child. Jolie had developed many other associations, as well as her program of observations of candidates for future Offices, so it was by no means obvious that it was Orb’s daughter who had died. If Gaea had any suspicion, as she might when seeing the sleeping woman so like herself in outline, she kept it to herself. Jolie would tell her when the time was right.

But if Gaea had reservations about knowing the identity of her daughter, Satan had none. Orlene was the child of the woman Satan loved, and therefore he had an interest. If advice or action was needed, Satan would not hesitate to provide it. That was an advantage to being unbound by ethical considerations.

“I have appointments four hours hence,” Gaea said.

“I will see that you return in time,” Jolie agreed.

Then Jolie moved to Gaea and into her, superimposing her ghostly essence on Gaea’s solid one and animating Gaea’s body. She could do this only with the permission of the living person and only with the active cooperation of an Incarnation. She had it. Gaea became a resident soul, and Jolie became alive in her stead.

She walked to the mirror. Her features shifted slightly, so that her semblance became her own instead of that of the host. Her clothing also changed, becoming that of her ancient mortal state: a long peasant skirt and rough blouse, unattractive in themselves, but becoming lovely because of the excellent proportions of her body. Jolie lived again, seventeen years old.

She drew on one of Gaea’s powers of travel: she reached up, grasped the invisible corner of a page of reality, and turned it. Suddenly she was in the following page, which was Hell itself. The body of the host was proof against it: there was nowhere in the cosmos where Gaea could not go if she chose.

She stood before a massive desk, and a somber male figure sat at that desk. “Hello, Ozymandias,” she said.

“Hello, Jolie,” the ancient king replied. “Go to the bower; He will be with you in a moment.”

She nodded. They knew her in Hell, and knew her business; no one here would bother her, and not just because they were aware of whose body she animated. She was Satan’s lover, under his protection; woe betide the demon who molested her! She was also the only good soul they were likely to see here, and as such she was a considerable curiosity.

Jolie had deeply regretted dying young, and had in a fashion died again when Parry (as she had known him in life) was seduced by the demoness Lilah, for Jolie had been rendered unconscious by the presence of evil. But now, protected by Gaea, she was able to enter this dread realm freely, and she saw that it really was not evil in the way she had imagined. Hell was a place of punishment for evil, which was a different matter. The end purpose of Satan’s work was the clarification and purification of imperfect souls, making them fit for Heaven, and in that fundamental sense it was not evil. Thus it was that her former husband, certainly a good man, was able to serve as the Incarnation of Evil, and she was able to love him still.

She walked to the bower. She could have conjured herself there, but she preferred to take her time and see the sights. There were no tortures in this region of Hell, perhaps by design; it was very like a giant hall, with curtains in the likeness of towering flames, and executive demons hurrying to and from the central command post. Ozymandias had been installed by Satan decades or centuries before—she had never inquired about the details—and had fashioned it to resemble an infernal palace. It was actually rather grand.

The bower was a modern apartment, replete with conveniences. Once the door closed, it was impossible for an occupant to distinguish this retreat from one in the mortal realm. Both Jolie and Orb preferred it this way. She entered and sat on the plush bed.

Why was it, she asked herself, that to a man a liaison was always sexual? She would have been glad to come and chat with him about old times and new, requiring nothing more than time in his presence and maybe a kiss or two. But she knew from experience and observation that this was not the way of a man. He would not be good for much dialogue until he had completed intimacy. Well, thanks in part to the power of the Incarnation and in part to experience and in part to the sheer abandon of love, she was able to accommodate him readily enough. Her imperatives might differ from his, but she did enjoy these visits.

He appeared. He seemed to be about twenty-five years old and more handsome than she had known him in life. This was because he had chosen that age when he assumed the Office; he had been only eighteen when she died. He had developed confidence and aplomb in the ensuing centuries, and garnered a great deal of experience. She hated to admit it, but the demoness Lilah had been good for him, fashioning him into a very fine figure of a man in both appearance and action.

“Ah, Jolie!” he said, and the manner of the utterance sent a thrill through her, as it always did. He sat beside her, and put his arm around her, and drew her in for a kiss, and her heart went out to him, as it always did.

The man has magic, Orb thought, sharing the feeling. Their pretense remained, outwardly, but the inner truth was that both of them loved this man, and both thrilled to his touch. They forgot their disinterest in the purely sexual aspect, and soon were taken by the joy of the experience, thrilling to his penetration and culmination with much the same verve he expressed. There was indeed joy in sex, when it was right.

“I have only one regret now,” he said as they lay cooling. “We can never have children.”

That reminded her. “I have something to ask you, Parry,” she said. As she spoke she felt Orb fading out, granting her the privacy she had requested. She could speak freely now, and her host would not overhear.

“Anything, my love,” he replied, kissing her hand.

“Orlene is dead, and I must help her. She—”

“Orlene?” he demanded, recognizing the name. Then Jolie was weeping. She had held it back, needing first to help the newly dead soul, then to run her errands, then to mask her emotion from her host. Parry held her close, but his body was shaking; he was affected much as she was.

Haltingly, she described the events leading up to Orlene’s suicide, and her determination to help the new ghost. It helped her grief to be able to express it to one she knew understood. For Parry loved Orlene too—because she was his stepdaughter. Jolie had not reported to Gaea, but had reported to Satan, and for ho evil purpose.

“So Gaw-Two was taken by Nox,” she concluded. “I must find out how to approach the Incarnation of Night.”

“I have had contact with Nox,” he said. “She alone could have taken me from the demoness at the height of my passion. I dare not approach her, lest she take me from you.” He spoke without the inflection of godhead, preferring to be Parry for this private tryst. “But I can give you some advice. Look for her in the region of chaos, where Clotho goes for new thread, but turn to the side before chaos is complete. If you get lost, call for help; there is one who will answer.”

“But suppose we can’t find Nox?”

“You will find her if she chooses to be found. If she chooses otherwise, you are helpless. But I suspect she will let you approach.”

“The Purgatory Computer conjectured that she means to use the baby as a lever against you.”

“Nox needs no lever against me! I am a major Incarnation, but I exist by the sufferance of Nox, as do we all. She predates us, and can foil our powers whenever she chooses.”

“But she has no power by day! She is only of the night!”

“She can influence us in devious ways. She has chosen not to, but there is night in all of us. She understands us far better than we understand her.”

This was not reassuring. “Can it be coincidence that she took this particular baby?”

“Hardly. She has a purpose—and perhaps she will tell you, if you go to her. She may have taken the baby for that reason: to bring you to her.”

“So maybe we’ll find her—but not be happy when we do,” Jolie concluded.

“That is my fear. But you will have to ask.”

“We will have to ask,” Jolie agreed.

“Have you told Orb?”


“That is best, for now,” he agreed. “If Nox’s purpose is not malign—and she has no need for malignancy—then it may be better to talk with her first.”

“I hope so. Oh, Parry, I never knew the baby, but I hurt for Orlene! I wish I had been watching when—”

“Only Fate could have known—and I think she was not watching, either.”

Lachesis, the middle Aspect of Fate, was also Orb’s mother, and Orlene’s grandmother. She did her job in the way she saw fit, but certainly she would not carelessly sacrifice her grandchild. If it had become necessary for her to do that, she would have consulted with other Incarnations, seeking some better way through. No, this seemed to be a thing only Nox was involved in.

“I must go,” she said. “Gaea has appointments, and I—”

“You want to follow up on this,” he finished. “Do so, and keep me posted. I hope this is not more than it seems.”

Jolie hoped so, too, but her fear was growing that it was only the beginning. She kissed him again, dressed, and turned the page back to the Tree.

She separated from Gaea, and Gaea woke. “Your affairs are in order?” the Incarnation inquired with a partial smile.

“Something complicated may be afoot,” Jolie said seriously. “May I take longer leave of you for a special mission?”

“As you wish. Is there anything I should know, in case your return is delayed?”

Jolie considered. She could not afford to say too much, but it was only right to let Gaea know where she would be. “I think we have to visit Nox.”

Gaea gazed at her. Then, without comment, she turned a page elsewhere, leaving Jolie alone with the sleeping ghost.

Jolie went to the bedroom. Orlene looked much improved; the restoration had proceeded nicely as she slept. It had, of course, been enhanced by the Tree; all the things of Nature were strongest here. Soon the woman would be ready for the journey—as ready as it was possible for anyone to be.

Jolie took a chair and allowed herself to fade out. She would wake when Orlene did. Then there would be more explaining, and a challenge of uncertain nature. Already the mystery of it disturbed her; nothing like this had happened since she had joined Gaea.

Could this be an aspect of the great contest between God and Satan for dominance of the mortal realm? She loved Parry, but knew that in his guise as Satan he fully intended to take power if he could do so. Yet even that did not seem to make sense, for Nox had never before participated in this eternal struggle. No, it seemed to be some incidental ploy, of interest only to the Incarnation of Night, and secret from all but herself. With luck, it would prove to be a harmless diversion, something Nox was doing merely for amusement. Who could comprehend what might amuse such a creature?

Jolie had little confidence in such luck. She slept without truly relaxing. Her ghostly state made sleep unnecessary, physically, but she certainly could use something of the sort emotionally!

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