And Eternity Piers Anthony (Version 0 12/12/2001)

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And Eternity -- Piers Anthony
(Version 1.0 -- 12/12/2001)


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

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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 modi -- fication 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 diapha -- nously. 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 surpris -- ing 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 collec -- tor 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

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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 com -- mitted 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 defini -- tions, 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 belter 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;

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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 key -- board, 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.

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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, bewil -- dered, 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 leam things you could not otherwise have learned, so that

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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


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 observa -- tion 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.

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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 appear -- ances. "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 leam."

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


"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.

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