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Chapter 2

Azzie passed quickly into the Ptolemaic system with its crystal spheres and stars fixed in their orbits. It always cheered him to see the orderly recession of the stars and the fixed planes of existence. He hurried on until he reached the Visitors' Gate that lets into Heaven. This is the only entrance that visitors are supposed to use, and there are severe penalties for anyone, human or demon, trying to enter by any of the angels' gates.

The Visitors' Gate was a literal gate of bronze, a hundred feet high and set in marble. The approach to it was thick with fleecy little white clouds, and angelic voices in the air sang songs of hallelujah. In front of the gate were a table and chair made of mahogany, and seated at the table was a balding oldish man with a long white beard, dressed in a white satin sheet. He wore a name tag that read, ST. ZACHARIAS AT

YOUR SERVICE. HAVE A HOLY DAY. Azzie didn't know him. But usually it was one of the lesser saints who pulled this duty.

"What can I do for you?" Zacharias asked.

"I need to see Michael the Archangel."

"Did he leave your name on the visitors' list?"

"I doubt it. He didn't know I was coming."

"In that case, my dear sir, I'm very much afraid —"

"Look," Azzie said, "this is an urgent matter. Just send my name in to him. He'll thank you for it."

Grumbling, St. Zacharias went to a golden speaking tube that snaked down the side of the bronze door.

He said a few words into it and waited, humming to himself. Then someone spoke through the other end.

"You're sure? It's not really proper form… Yes… Of course, sir.

"You're to go in," Zacharias said. He opened a small wooden door set in the base of the big bronze door.

Azzie went inside, past the scattered buildings that were set out on the green lawn of Heaven. Soon he was at the office building in West Heaven, and Michael was standing on the steps waiting for him.

Michael ushered Azzie into his office. He poured him a glass of wine. Heaven has the finest wine, though for good whiskey you need to go to Hell. They chatted a while. Then Michael asked him what he wanted.

"I want to make a deal," Azzie said.

"A deal? What kind of a deal?"

"Did you know that Ananke has ordered me to stop my immorality play?"

Michael looked at him, then grinned. "She has, has she? Good old Ananke!"

"Do you think so?" Azzie said frigidly.

"Indeed I do," Michael said. "Although she's supposed to be above Good and Bad, and indifferent to both, yet I'm glad to see she knows which side her morality is buttered on."

"I want to make a deal," Azzie repeated.

"You want my help in opposing Ananke?"

"That's exactly it," Azzie said.

"You astound me. Why should I make a deal with you? Ananke is stopping you from putting on your immorality play. That's just the way I like it!"

"Is this the sound of personal pique I hear?" Azzie asked.

Michael smiled. "Oh, perhaps a little. I do get annoyed at your carryings-on. But my decision to stop your play is not based on personalities. It is an advantage to my side to stop this insidious play you want to mount. It's as simple as that."

"You may find it amusing," Azzie said, "but it's a more serious matter than you've given it credit for."

"Serious for whom?"

"For you, of course."

"How could that be? She's doing what we want."

"The fact that she is doing anything is the bad news," Azzie said.

Michael sat up straight. "How do you figure?"

"Since when has Ananke ever concerned herself with the daily operations of our struggle, yours and mine, between Dark and Light?"

"This is the first time I can ever remember her interfering directly," Michael admitted. "What are you getting at?"

"Do you accept Ananke as your ruler?" Azzie demanded.

"Of course not! She has nothing to do with the decisions of Good or Bad. Her part in the running of the cosmos is to set an example, not to make law."

"Yet here she is, making law," Azzie said. "Forbidding me to put on a play."

Michael smiled. "I can't get too serious about that!"

"You could if it were your play that was being stopped."

Michael's smile faded. "But it's not."

"Not this time. But if you accept the precedent that Ananke can set rules for Bad, how are you going to argue when she sets a rule for Good?"

Michael scowled. He stood up and paced rapidly up and down the room. At last he stopped and turned to Azzie.

"You're right. Her stopping your play, blessing though it is to us who are opposed to you, is nevertheless overstepping the rules that govern all of us. How dare she?"

Just then the doorbell chimed. Michael gestured impatiently and it swung open.

"Babriel! Good! I was just about to send for you!"

"I have brought you a message," Babriel said.

"It will have to wait," Michael said. "I have just learned that Ananke is poaching on our preserve, so to speak. I'll need to speak to Gabriel and some of the others immediately."

"Yes, sir. They want to speak to you, too."

"They do?"

"That's why they sent the message, sir."

"They did? But what do they want?"

"They didn't tell me, sir."

"Wait here," Michael said.

"You mean me?" Babriel asked.

"Both of you." He strode out of the room.

Soon Michael returned. He was subdued, and he didn't meet Azzie's eye.

"I'm afraid I'm not going to be allowed to interfere in this matter regarding Ananke."

"But what about the point I made? About the potential abrogation of your own power?"

"I'm afraid that is not the main concern," Michael said.

"Then what is?"

"The preservation of the cosmos," Michael said. "That's what's at stake, the Supreme Council tells me."

"Michael, there's a matter of freedom involved here," said Azzie. "The freedom of Good and Bad to act according to the dictates of their reason, held back only by natural law, not by the arbitrary rule of Ananke."

"I don't like it either," Michael said. "But there it is. Give up your play, Azzie. You're outgunned and overruled. I doubt if even your own Council of Evil would back you in this."

"We'll just see about it," Azzie said, and he made a striking exit.


Chapter 1 | A Farce To Be Reckoned With | Chapter 3







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