When Azzie left the Palace of Justice his tail was between his legs and a suspicious wetness was in the corners of his brown eyes. He was trying to get used to the idea that his play, his great immorality play that was going to astonish the worlds, was never going to happen. The legend, the all-important legend of the golden candlesticks, was not to be allowed to play to its ending. He was under direct and unambiguous orders from Ananke Herself to stop his actors in midscene.
There had to be a way around her order. Moodily he went to a Power Booth outside the Palace of Justice and refilled his travel spell. At a nearby lunch area he found a stall that specialized in quick convenience foods for demons, where he bought a sack of deviled cats' heads in a nice clotted red sauce. It would give him something to snack on on his way back to Earth. Then he activated his spell and found himself hurtling through the transparent veils that spiritual space seems composed of.
Soon he was back over Venice, and the sight of the city from the air was a sad one. Rising waters had already engulfed some of the low-lying outer islands. The winds had fallen off, but floodwaters had risen to engulf the San Marco's Square to a depth of ten feet. The older and less secure buildings were already collapsing as the brackish tidal waters washed out the old mortar that held their bricks and stones together.
Azzie came down at Aretino's house and found the poet outside in his shirtsleeves, trying to shore up his house with sandbags. It was a task useless on the face of it, and Aretino put down his tools and sadly followed Azzie indoors.
They found a dry room on the second floor. Wasting no time, Azzie said, "Where are the pilgrims now?"
"They're still at the inn."
Now Azzie had to change the plans, collect all the golden candlesticks, and make sure they got back to Fatus' castle in Limbo. Then he needed to get the pilgrims out of Venice. He saw no reason, however, to tell Aretino all of that just now. He would find out when the others did that the ceremony had been scrubbed.
"We're going to have to get the pilgrims out of Venice," Azzie told Aretino. "Between the Mongols and the floods, this city looks doomed. I have it on good authority that there's going to be a change in the timeline in which this sequence of world history is taking place."
"A change? What do you mean?"
"The world spins a timeline, and from it different events spring forth. The way things are going now, Venice looks as if it will be destroyed. But this result is unacceptable to Ananke, so the Venice timeline will be split just before I started with the golden candlesticks. It will become the new main line. This line, the one we're in now, will be relegated to Limbo."
"And what will that mean?" Aretino asked.
"The Limbo version of Venice will run for no longer than a week, from the time I first asked you to write a play to the time, predicted for midnight tonight, when the Mongols arrive and the floods spill over the walls. It will have but a week of life, in one sense, but that week will replay itself, beginning again as soon as it has reached its end. The inhabitants of the Limbo version of Venice will have an eternity of weeks, each of which will end in doom and destruction."
"But if we get the pilgrims away from Venice?"
"If we get them out before midnight they will be able to continue their normal lives, exactly as if I had never happened. They "will be returned to the time just before they met me."
"Will they have any memory of what happened?"
Azzie shook his head. "Only you will remember, Pietro. I'm arranging that so you can write the play based on our contest."
"I see," Aretino said. "Well, it's all a little unexpected. I don't know how they'll like it."
"They don't have to like it," Azzie said. "They just have to do it. Or suffer the consequences if they don't."
"I'll make sure they understand that."
"Do so, most excellent Pietro. I'll meet you at the church."
"Where are you going?"
"I've got one more idea," Azzie said, "that just might save this whole thing."