Death: Harry wondered why he'd feared it. For of all men, the Necroscope had known it wasn't like that. Because he had been there before. Incorporeal, bodiless as any dead thing whose flesh has finally failed, he was now free of all that. Except that in his case it seemed a mundane death wasn't part of the scenario.
He had always known that death wasn't the end: that whatever a man pursues in life, he will keep pursuing in his afterlife continuation. Harry Keogh had been the master of the Möbius Continuum; so it was hardly a surprise to find himself there now, in Möbius time, hurtling back among the blue, green, and red threads of Starside into their remote past. A surprise ... no, but strange anyway, for in the end he had not conjured a door. He had not contrived an escape.
Which could only mean that he'd been... rescued?
But by Whom? And if indeed Someone or Ones had seen fit to save his incorporeal mind, what possible purpose could He or They have with his burned, vampiric body? For as Harry shot back into Starside's past, he saw his separate, smoking corpse tumbling alongside, winding back on its scarlet thread to his point of entry into Starside, and then plunging on beyond it. And he went with it, but incorporeal, apart, speeding blindly into times he'd never physically known.
As for his ruined shell's destination - and his own, for that matter - and the question of Who was their guide...
Harry had never in his life been one hundred per cent sure, positive sure, about God or a god. But back there in Starside he'd sensed the arrival, the presence of a Power, and had known that Shaitan sensed it, too. Moreover, he had known the source of that Power, and also that Möbius and Pythagoras before him had been right.
Now... Harry and his exanimate shell were mere impulses in the Mind he had called the 'Möbius Continuum' , integers in the infinite matrix of the Great Unknowable Equation. And he wasn't afraid when at long last that Mind itself spoke to him:
Things have uses, Harry, always. What use to create, if your efforts are only to be wasted? Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail. But there are always uses for the best, and for the worst, of our works.
Harry couldn't tell if an answer had been invited, and in any case he didn't really have one. But he did have a question, however brief. 'God?'
He sensed a vast shrug. A creator, an adviser, an angel? God is... let's say He's a few steps higher up the ladder. His mind, as you know, is vast! We carry His thoughts, expedite His wishes. As best we can.
'I've had my doubts,' Harry admitted.
So do we, sometimes. So did Shaitan, when he was one of us... Except he would have tried to convince everyone that he was right, throughout all the Universes of Light! He would have forced their belief- in him!
Harry believed he understood. And understanding should have been enough. But because he was or had been human - and because he saw that his course was veering, angling away from his tumbling corpse - even now he was curious. So that he asked, 'What now?'
Your feet are on the first few rungs. You've made your point, chosen your course and stuck to it. You are a success story. We don't believe in waste; certainly we wouldn't waste someone as valuable as you! Like Shaitan, you won't remember, but you will know!' Except where he knew only a great darkness, you shall know light. In all of your worlds.
'All of my... ?'
Wherever you manifest. For His worlds are infinite as His thoughts.
'And... that?' Harry indicated his blackened shell where it grew small, tumbling towards some undefined purpose.
Causes have effects, and effects causes. Nothing may come to pass which has not passed before. The world of Sunside and Starside was a failure where evil won. So maybe a second chance is in order. Also it will occupy Shaitan, who has balanced himself against light in a great many worlds. Here... he begins again, on the bottom rung. For as you well know, Harry Keogh, what will be has been. Time is relative.
Harry's turn to shrug. With no vampire in him, he was innocent again. The very heart of innocence. 'It's all very hard to understand,' he said, 'but I suppose I'll learn as I go-'
Oh, you will! the other promised. And: Are you ready?
Harry's corpse had cartwheeled out of sight into the multi-hued haze of past time. Pure thought, he had no body, no head to nod; but his deadspeak nodded for him. And as his incorporeal mind fragmented in a glorious bomb-burst - a hundred golden splinters, breaking up and speeding into as many worlds - his thoughts and even his deadspeak were at an end.
Except each and every one of those brilliant shards, they were him... and they would know.
Starting into awareness, Shaitan cried out.
He cried out as he felt consciousness cloaking an intelligence previously bereft, will without knowledge inhabiting a mind wiped clean. He discovered himself kneeling at the edge of stagnant water and saw his image mirrored in scummy depths. And when he saw that he was naked, he was ashamed; but when he saw that he was beautiful, he was proud. For shame and pride are of the spirit, not of intelligence.
Standing upright, Shaitan saw that he could walk. And in the twilight of a dim, misty dawn he moved by the edge of the dark, rank waters, which were a swamp. And he saw how dismal and lonely was this place where he had fallen, or into which he had been cast! So that he knew himself for a sinner, and the place as his punishment.
Such knowledge defined his nature: that he instinctively understood such concepts as sin and punishment. And he thought his crime must be that he was beautiful, which was his pride working; which was in fact his crime! For Shaitan saw Beauty as Might, and Might as Right, and Right as he willed it to be.
Which was a will he would impose.
So thinking, he moved away from the rank waters and went to impose his will upon this strange world. But in the moment he turned away so the mud bubbled up behind him, and he paused to look back where black bubbles came bursting to the surface.
And with the parting of the weeds, Shaitan saw a figure floating up into view. In its body it was bloated and burned, but its face was whole. He knew it for an omen, but of what? He had will: he could wait and discover what would be, or move on, according to his will. Also, he suspected that this thing in the swamp harboured evil; why else would such an unclean thing be here, in a world which was new? For a moment he stood still, as at a crossroads... then turned back, and knelt again beside the swamp. For he had willed it that he would know this evil.
He gazed upon a face he had never known, which he would not recall to memory for numberless years, and sensed nothing of moment except that he tempted fate, which he was proud and glad to do. And as the beasts of this dawn world came to the water to drink, and as the mists were drawn up from the swamp, so the Fallen One gazed upon his own future where the weeds anchored it in scum and slime.
In a while the scorched, bloated limbs of the corpse split open and small black mushrooms clustered there, growing out of the rotting flesh and opening their gilled caps. They released red spores into the twilight before the dawn, which of his own free will Shaitan breathed: his last act of any innocence.
The wheel had turned full circle and the cycle was closed.
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