The pilgrims huddled in the common room in the inn, taking turns stoking the fire while they awaited their next orders. They should have been triumphant, happy, for they had finished their contest. But the weather trivialized their victories.
They had gone through hardships to get here, and now they were here and things were lousy. It wasn't the way it was meant to be. And none felt this more keenly than Azzie, who was being cheated of his story, though he couldn't figure out how it was happening.
That evening, as Azzie sat near the fire and tried to think what to do next, there was a rap at the inn door.
The landlord called out, "We are full up, please go elsewhere!"
"You have someone within I would talk with," a pleasing female voice called out.
"Ylith!" Azzie called out. "Is that you?" He gestured peremptorily to the landlord, who threw back the door with bad grace. A few bucketsful of rain blew in, and with them came a beautiful black-haired woman whose features were balanced between the angelic and the demonic, making her look very appealing indeed. She wore a simple yellow dress covered with appliqued violets, and over it a sky blue cloak with a silver lining, a saucy red wimple about her head.
"Azzie!" she cried, crossing the room. "Are you all right?"
"Of course," Azzie said. "Your concern touches me.
Have you perhaps changed your mind about a spot of dalliance?"
"Same old Azzie!" Ylith said with a chuckle. "I came here because I believe in fairness in all matters, especially those concerning Good and Bad. I think someone is doing you a disservice." Ylith then told how she had been captured by Hermes Trismegistus, who had given her to a mortal named Westfall. She told how she had been shut up in Pandora's box, and how with Zeus' help she had escaped.
"I know you think of Hermes as a friend," Ylith said, "but it seems he is plotting against you. The rest of the Olympians may be in on it, too."
"There's nothing much they can do from Afterglow," Azzie said.
"But the old gods are no longer in Afterglow. They've escaped! And I'm afraid I'm responsible, albeit unwittingly."
"It could be those guys who are screwing everything up," Azzie said. "I had thought it was all Michael's doing — you know how he opposes even my smallest triumph — but what's going on is beyond him.
Someone has stirred up the Mongols, Ylith!"
"I don't understand why the Olympians are opposing you," Ylith said. "What difference does it make to them if you put on your immorality play?"
"The gods have a vested interest in morality," Azzie said. "But for others, not themselves. This interference of theirs is something else, I think. It wouldn't surprise me if this were the old gods' bid to return to power."
The weather was simply no longer to be tolerated. Azzie roused himself and looked into it. The most cursory inspection showed him that the storms didn't seem to be coming from any single source. They sprang up "in the north," where the weather mostly comes from. But what did that mean, the north? How far north? North of what? And what was there in the north that created the weather? Azzie decided he had better find out, and do something about it if possible.
He explained to Aretino what he was going to do, and then went to the window and opened it. The blustery wind came in with a huff.
"This could be dangerous," Aretino said.
"Probably is," Azzie said, and, spreading his wings, he took to the air.
He left Venice and flew north, in search of the place where the weather came from. He traveled the length of Germany, and saw much bad weather, but it was all blowing in from even farther north. Azzie crossed the North Sea, touched on Sweden and found it was not the storm breeder, but merely a place storms passed over on their way to somewhere else. He veered into the eye of the wind and it took him toward Finland, where the Lapps had a great reputation as weather wizards. Wherever he went in that flat, snowy, pine-clad country, he always discovered that the weather didn't come "from here," it blew in
"from over there," some place farther north.
At last he reached a region at the top of the world where the winds came funneling out at him with a speed and regularity that was impressive. The wind swept across the frozen tundra in a steady unending stream, and so strong was it that it resembled the waves of the sea more than rivers of the air.
Azzie pushed on, still moving to the north, though the whole world seemed to be narrowing and coming to a point here. He came at last to the very northernmost point of north and found a tall, narrow mountain of ice. On the top of that mountain was a tower, so old that it might have been put there before anything else existed and the only place was here.
The tower was topped by a platform, and on it stood a gigantic naked man with tangled hair and an expression most uncanny. He was working a large leather bellows. As he drove it up and down, the wind blew from its mouth. It was the origin of all the wind in the world.
The wind emerged from the bellows in a steady stream, and blew into and through the tubes of a peculiar- looking machine.
A strange creature sat in front of what looked like an organ keyboard, and his hands, with their many flexible fingers that almost appeared to be tentacles, played on the keys and shaped and formed the winds that passed through, them. It was an allegorical machine, such as religions produce when they are trying to explain how things work. It directed the shaped and conditioned winds produced by the bellows pumper to the window, where they began their journey south to all points of the globe, and especially to Venice.
But why Venice? Azzie focused his X-ray vision, which all demons have but few use because it's difficult to work, like trying to do long division in your head. But now that he looked, Azzie could see that Ley lines had been drawn on the land beneath the ice, and these lines guided the winds and augmented their ferocity.
Azzie looked around, but he saw no one but the man working the bellows and the other one, the operator of the wind machine. He said to them both, "My dear sirs, you are screwing things up in the portion of Earth where I reside, and I cannot permit it. I intend to do something about it unless you cease and desist upon the instant."
He had spoken up bravely, and he had no idea if he could prevail against these two strange creatures.
But it was in his nature to advance boldly, and his nature did not desert him now.
The two creatures introduced themselves. They were incarnations of the god Baal. The one working the bellows was Baal-Hadad, the other was Baal-Quarnain, Canaanite deities who had been living quietly for some thousands of years, since the last of their worshipers had died. Zeus had enlisted them both into his service, saying there were none better for bringing up the sort of weather he was interested in, once the initial bag of breezes had been exhausted. Zeus himself was a weather god, but he was too busy nowadays for the tedious work of making weather.
The old Canaanite deities, despite their glossy black wavy hair, hooked noses, prominent eyes, and bold features, despite their swarthy skin and huge hands and feet, were timid deities. When Azzie told them he was angry, and ready to call down a lot of trouble on their heads, both were willing to desist.
"We can stop the wind," said Baal-Hadad, "but the rain isn't up to us. We have nothing to do with it. All we send out of here is pure wind."
"Do you know who's sending the rain?" Azzie asked.
They both shrugged.
"Then it'll wait," Azzie said. "I have to get back. It's about time for the ceremony."