Azzie departed with a feeling of regret. He knew that he should not allow himself to get sentimental over land he would occupy for only a short time, and which he lived on only in order to serve a special purpose. Still, all that work on the mansion and fields… He had never put that much of himself into a place before, watching it change in accord with his wishes. It was beginning to feel kind of … homey.
And the journey to Limbo was not without its dangers. There was always difficulty passing from one realm to another. The laws of a realm, like those of Earth itself, are not to be understood completely. How less completely, then, were understood the strange laws which governed the movement between realms.
Luckily, nothing went wrong this time. He made the necessary preparations and spoke the Greek words, the Hebrew exclamation. The fire flared and he suddenly occupied a spot on a long plain, bleak black mountains on either side. The sky was white and hot and there were occasional green swirls in it, as of djinns flying fast in formation.
Just to get around in Limbo was a considerable chore, since its extent was limitless. Luckily, some of its more important places existed reasonably close together and they exerted something of a pull which drew visitors to them. And there was the Roc service, of which Azzie was able to avail himself. The huge birds had been extinct on Earth for a long time, because of difficulties in making a living after the Pleistocene. But with their broad backs, they were admirably suited for taxi service in this place.
Supply looked like a huge series of warehouses set in the middle of the plain. Supply had wanted plenty of room. Here, Supply’s space was sufficient to store all of the living rooms on Earth, with plenty of room left for kitchens and stables. In actual fact, they had never tried to fill all their warehouses. The number of things they would need was limited only by human imagination, which at one time or another sought all things. The number of things that could be of use in the invisible powers’ continual attempt either to enlighten or subvert humanity was never-ending and called upon everything under the suns. You could never tell when some demon would need a Thracian spear from A.D. 55 or something equally esoteric. Supply simulated most of what was asked for, and Supply possessed some of the most imaginative scene designers ever known.
Supply was built on a bank of the Styx, that stupendous river that runs through Earth and all the heavens and hells, and upon whose dusky surface the ancient boatman, Charon, plied his way between the centuries and the worlds. The supernatural powers he sometimes served considered Earth the greatest game ever conceived and had no wish to be disconnected from any aspect of it, no matter how far in the future or the past.
Azzie dismounted from the Roc. He walked rapidly, occasionally gliding when walking grew onerous, and made his way down the long streets, both sides of which were flanked with warehouses. All of the warehouses had the sign, UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL STAY OUT. Armed Salis, the neutral spirits of Limbo, stood guard. They were armed with energy dissipators. These weapons, which resembled spears with gun sights and triggers, let forth rays of pattern-disrupting particles (though some said waves) which would disrupt the personality pattern of even the greatest of the demons, “whipping his brains to tapioca” in the phrase popular that year. Azzie gave them a wide berth. Limbo had become a dangerous place of late, and this was due more to the guards than the guarded.
At length he came to a warehouse which had an unguarded door. Over it was the sign, INQUIRIES MAY BE MADE HERE. It was a surprisingly blunt statement for so vague and conceptual a place, but Azzie lost no time going to it.
Inside he found about twenty demons of all sorts and degrees waiting their turn to lodge complaints with a bored young demon clerk who wore a plaid golfing cap in defiance of temporal clothing regulations (demons can go into the past or future, but they are not supposed to bring back souvenirs).
Azzie flashed his black credit card and pushed his way to the head of the line. “This is top priority,” he told the clerk. “I’ve got full clearance from the High Demon Council.”
“Is that a fact?” the young demon asked, unimpressed.
Azzie showed his black credit card.
“Is what he says true?” the clerk asked the card.
“BELIEVE IT!” the card flashed back.
“All right,” the demon said. “What can we do for you, Mister Big Shot?”
Azzie resented the young demon’s attitude but decided now was not the time to make an issue of it.
“The first thing I need,” Azzie said, “is two castles. I know that’s a lot to ask, but I really need them.”
“Two castles, huh?” The young demon eyed him unsympathetically. “I suppose your whole plan will fail if you don’t have them.”
“That’s exactly right.”
“Then resign yourself to failure, buddy, because we have only one castle, and even that isn’t a proper castle; it’s mostly an outline with a real wall and barbicon, but all the rest is mental construct held together by old magic spells.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Azzie said. “I thought Supply had an unlimited number of castles.”
“That was true quite some time ago. But recently the premise has been changed. The possibilities have been narrowed. It means a lot more trouble for everyone, but it keeps things interesting. That, at least, is the theory of the Supply-side deviltry.”
“I never heard of it,” Azzie said. “Do you know what you’re talking about?”
“If I did,” the clerk said, “would I be in this menial job, telling guys like you they can only have one castle?”
“All right,” Azzie said, “I’ll take the castle you’ve got.”
The clerk scribbled something on a sheet of parchment. “You’ll have to take it as is. We haven’t got time to patch it up any further.”
“What’s the matter with it?”
“I told you about the magic spells that hold the place together. There’re not enough of them, so parts of the castle disappear every now and then.”
“Which parts?” Azzie asked.
“That depends on the weather,” the clerk said. “Since the castle is bound together by dry-weather spells, long periods of rain play hell with its provisional existence.”
“Isn’t there a plan of some sort showing which parts vanish when?”
“Of course there’s a plan,” the clerk said. “But it needs updating. You’d be crazy to trust it.”
“I want it anyway,” Azzie said. He had a lot of respect for scratchings on parchment.
“Where do you want me to put this castle?” the clerk asked.
“Just a minute, this won’t work. I really do need two castles. I have two different beings. One of them has to get from his castle to the castle of the woman he loves, or thinks he loves. I really need two castles.”
“How about one castle and one very large house?”
“No, it’s entirely out of the spirit of the game.”
“Make do with one,” the clerk suggested. “You can shuttle them around. It’s easy enough to change the appearance of a castle. Especially when rooms keep on disappearing.”
“I suppose I’ll have to,” Azzie said. “Or I could use my ch?teau for one of them. How soon can you send it?”
“Hey, for you I’ll get on it right away,” the clerk demon said, in a voice that implied Azzie wouldn’t see that castle before Hell froze over. Azzie caught the tone and tapped the black credit card. It flashed: “DO WHAT HE SAYS! NO HORSING AROUND!”
“All right,” said the clerk. “I was only kidding. Where do you want this castle delivered?”
“Do you know a region of Earth called Transylvania?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll find it,” the clerk said.
“Uh, wouldn’t know where I could turn up a good head, would you? Human? Male?”
The clerk just laughed.
And so it was that Azzie left Supply and returned to Earth, where nearly a week had passed. He went to the Ch?teau des Artes and was irritated to discover that Frike was nowhere to be found. He went outside and mounted his horse. He was going to ride into Augsburg and seek him out.
Storming into the office of Estel Castelbracht, he asked directly whether he had seen the man. There seemed no need for great subtlety.
“Indeed I did,” Castelbracht said. “He was hurrying down the street, and he went into the house of Dr. Albertus over yon. I heard him muttering something about a head – “
“Thank you,” Azzie said, passing him money, as was his wont on dealing with anyone in an official capacity, when he could afford it.