"Now that you're officially part of the family," said Verra, the Demon Goddess, seating herself, "there's something I'd like you to do for me."
"Oh?" I said.
She handed me the brown-eyed girl who had just crawled into her lap. I shifted awkwardly, pushing my cloak back, settling Devera on my hip, holding her with one arm.
Verra said, "I'd like you to babysit for a few years."
"Years?" I said.
"Will that be a problem?" said Verra, her eyebrows arching.
Devera laid her head on my shoulder and said, "Don't you like me, Uncle Vlad?"
"I like you plenty, tunderke," I said. Tunderke is something Easterners call children; it literally means "little elf," which she was. I returned my attention to Verra and sighed. "Just to be clear, how many years are we talking about?"
"Until she's born," said Verra, which meant she didn't know.
She waved her hand at me, and suddenly Devera and I were in the middle of forest. I wondered what Verra would think if I teleported us to Castle Black, where I had just been. Then I wondered if, considering all we'd discussed, we were still at that point in time.
"Well, Devera," I said, "what do you want to do today?"
"Can we change something?" said Devera. "Grandmama only ever let me observe."
"Change is possible," Verra said, "for gods."
"I see," I said. It struck me as dangerous, because if gods knew all that was and would be, the only time they could make mistakes would be when they changed things. Like when Verra had sent me to kill the king of Greenaere.
"The clearest example I can give you is Devera," Verra said. "She exists, and therefore must be born, but the moment of her conception and even the identity of her father remain undetermined, because of changes made in the life of her mother."
I took a look around to see how everyone else took that (various degrees of startlement and bafflement). Devera's kind of a sticky subject, because while she is as yet unborn, both Sethra and I have met her. I'm not sure if Morrolan knows her, although once I heard her refer to him as Uncle 'Rolan, which--or did she? Did I misremember? Had something changed?
Aliera, the mother in question, is apparently not supposed to meet or know of Devera until she is born. I recently told Aliera I'd met her daughter, just for kicks, and confused the hell out of her.
I licked my lips and wondered if my next question was going to be a problem. "What changes?"
"That she lives, for one," Verra answered, grinning. "Had she died, Devera's father might have been Kieron."
"Well, I can see why you wanted to avoid that," I said. Kieron is Aliera's ancestor. And soul-brother.
Verra laughed. "Gods are rarely so prudish about such things," she informed me. "To have the blood of a god run in your veins means that you are brother to all other gods."
"Oh, swell," I said.
Verra stood, suddenly. "Come with me," she said. "Bid your friends farewell; you may visit them later."
"Uh. Bye, guys," I said. And Verra transported us away to her throne room.
"I thought that it didn't exist," said Sethra, laying her hand on Iceflame's hilt.
Verra said, "There is a refutation to the so-called disproof. It merely requires acknowledgement of... souls traveling in directions perpendicular to our own."
Sethra looked as if she suddenly understood something. "Morganti, then, do not destroy souls."
Morrolan's brows were drawn together in confusion. I wasn't much better off. I wondered if we'd heard the same thing Sethra had. When Verra speaks, not everyone hears the same thing.
Aliera said, "Mother. Please explain."
Verra said, "Perhaps Sethra should, if she understands so much."
Sethra sighed. "Well. You are all aware that time does not pass in the Paths of the Dead as it does here?"
"Of course," Morrolan agreed. He and I had met a guy there who wasn't actually dead yet.
"From this knowledge, it has been theorized that the sequence in which one is reincarnated into all of one's lives is not necessarily chronological," Sethra said.
"Once more, for the dumb Easterner?" I requested. Maybe I should have been able to follow that, but my head was overstuffed.
"It is possible," said Sethra, "that some of the lives you have yet to live will occur in what we perceive as the past--"
"Though not particularly likely," said Verra, "in this instance. Considering."
The gods are immortal, so they say.
"Or," Sethra continued, "that some of the lives you have already lived occurred in what we perceive as the future."
"This is more or less accepted as truth among those who study such things," Aliera informed me. "Or at least a very probable theory."
"A corollary to this theory," said Sethra, "is that all lives are non-chronological reincarnations of a single soul."
"The world soul," Aliera said with the satisfaction of understanding.
And I was accessing the entire history of that soul. After all, it was my soul, too.
The Aliera laid her hand on Pathfinder's hilt, as Sethra had done with her own Great Weapon. "But if a person who has been killed by a Morganti cannot be reincarnated--" She stopped, chewing her lip.
"That is the common disproof," Sethra agreed. "But if Verra says otherwise..." She shrugged.
I had once been sent to assassinate Verra with a Morganti knife. I'd been told it would prevent her from manifesting in our world, but that that wasn't exactly death. This fit in somehow; I just wasn't sure how.
But there was something else bothering me. "Does that imply that everything is inevitable? That the future, already lived, is as unchanging as the past?"
"Yes," said Verra.
Morrolan offered me his hand. I started to take it, then groaned as memories I shouldn't have had fell into place. I jerked my hand back and pushed up on my own. "Don't," I said. "It doesn't end well."
Morrolan frowned at me. "What doesn't?"
The future memories--premonitions--whatever they were--that his proffered hand had triggered persisted, even though I had refused it. "This doesn't make us equal," I said.
"Well, I wouldn't presume--"
"Morrolan," I said. I stood, one hand on the arm of my chair. "Trust me on this one. It just doesn't work out."
Verra said, mildly enough, "Perhaps it had some other purpose. You should know more of what you do before you try to change things."
I couldn't help it. I laughed. I probably sounded insane. "I know everything. Everything that was and will be from every conceivable point of view..." I shuddered. It was too much. "How do I know all these things?"
"You are experiencing the world soul," said Verra.
Aliera said, "What's that?"
It was a glowing ball of amorphia, about eight feet in diameter, poised to take out one of Morrolan's bookshelves if it expanded much further. I was just starting to get worried when it coalesced into Verra.
"Hello, Mother," said Aliera.
"Hello, dear," Verra replied.
Morrolan recovered fairly swiftly. "Would you like some wine?" he said to Verra.
"Please," she said, holding out her multi-jointed hand to accept a glass from him, a red Khaav'n.
"What brings you here?" asked Sethra.
"My dear Vlad does," Verra answered.
I bowed to her without rising from my chair. "What does my goddess ask of me?" I hoped it wasn't anything too strenuous. I'd had a rough week.
She took a mouthful of wine, then spat it back into the glass. Morrolan started, but didn't say anything.
Verra said, "You think you understand everything now."
I shrugged. I thought I was clever, sure, but not omniscient. "I guess I understand why you and Spellbreaker never got along," I said.
Verra's lips thinned. "That is why I am here," she said. "I find it abhorrent that you should possess Godslayer without understanding what is at stake." She held out the wine glass to me. "Drink."
Aliera said, "Mother--"
Verra said, "Bide, daughter mine. Just because he is your soul-kin does not give you the right to interfere." She did not take her eyes off of me.
I was scared, but Verra was a goddess, and even with Godslayer by my side, I didn't feel I could refuse her. I wanted to, but I couldn't. I felt a certain sense of inevitability as I accepted the wine glass and brought it to my lips.
I swallowed. Nothing happened. "What--"
Then I keeled over, fire in my gut, in my veins, in my head. I felt like I was going to die, or explode, or expand to encompass everything in existence. My mind was full of things I didn't understand, too much information to process.
When the seizure that had taken me released me, gasping on the floor, Verra said, "Do you understand what I have given you?"
"I think so," I said. I shook. "Is this--godhead?"