To Reign In HellSteven Brust
To Reign In Hell
ACE FANTASY BOOKS
SteelDragon Press edition published 1984
Ace edition/May 1985
Copyright ©1984 by Steven K. Zoltan Brust.
Map copyright © 1984 by Kathy Marschall
Cover art by Steve Hickman
Foreword By Roger Zelazny
This book was written for my wife, Keen, whom I love and cherish.
"Wheresoever she was, there was Eden."
My thanks to my first readers and critics, Martin Schafer and John Robey, and to Pat Wrede, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, and the rest of our writers' group for much helpful criticism.
Special thanks to Emma Bull and Will Shetterly for angelic patience and persistence in tweaking the final drafts.
Also, thanks to Joel Halpern for technical assistance, to my agent, Valerie Smith, for her encouragement, and to editor Terri Windling and proof-reeders Nate Bucklin and Jon Singer for very fine jobs.
Last, thanks to Pamela Dean for corrections on the Elizabethan English.
By Roger Zelazny
It was almost by accident that I read the MS of Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell. Actually, it was because of a courtesy on the part of the author, the story of which is not terribly material here. But that's why I said "almost." I can't really consider a character trait an accident.
I read the beginning to see what he was doing. I don't know him personally. I know little about him, save what I can tell from his writing. When I realized where he was going with this story, my first reaction was, "He isn't going to be able to pull this one off." Not without getting trite, or cute, or moralistic - or falling into any number of the many pitfalls I foresaw with regard to this material. I was wrong. He not only avoided them all, he told a fantastically engaging story with consummate grace and genuine artistry. I had not seen anything really new done with this subject since Anatole France's Revolt of the Angels, with the possible exception of Taylor Caldwell's Dialogues with the Devil. And frankly, Brust's book is a more ambitious and successful work than Dialogues.
My immediate reaction was to provide one of those brief dust jacket comments containing a few loaded adjectives and to hope that this would help call some attention to the book and sell a few extra copies. "A hell of a good book" or "A damned fine story" sprang to mind, because I am what I am - and they're both true, despite the flippancy. But on reflection I knew that that would not be enough, because I am not always so fortunate as to encounter a writer as good as Steven Brust this early in his career. This is because there is so much science fiction and fantasy being published these days - and some of it very good - that it would be a full-time job just trying to keep up with the best as it appears. I have to be selective in my reading and I miss a lot. But this time I was lucky, and I owe it to this kind of talent to remark upon it when I see it.
(I should add, here, that I have also read his other two books - Jhereg and Yendi - and that they are a part of the reason I am hitting these typewriter keys.)
A dust jacket blurb only gives an opinion without reasons, and I need a little more room because I feel obliged to tell you why I like Steven Brust's stories: Most good writers have one or two strong points for which they are known, and upon which they rely to carry a tale to its successful conclusion. Excellent plotting, say, can carry a story even if the writing itself is undistinguished. One can live with this. Good plotting is a virtue. Fine writing is a pleasure. A graceful prose stylist is a treat to read - even if the author is shaky when it comes to plotting or characterization. And then there are the specialists in people, who can entertain and delight with their development of character, their revelations - even if they are not strong plotters or powerful descriptive writers. And there are masters and mistresses of dialogue who can make you feel as if you are witnessing an engaging play, and you can almost forget the setting and the story while trying to anticipate what one of the characters will say next. And so on and so on.
Yes, I feel that Steven Brust has this whole catalog of virtues - solid plotting, good prose, insightful characterizations and fine dialogue.
Going further, he has those little tricks of ironic wordplay which appeal. - "'Milord,' called Beelzebub, 'get thee behind me.'" It tickles.
And there is his use of the fabulous. Pure science fiction is, ultimately, cut-and-dried, explaining everything in the end.
Pure fantasy generally does not explain enough. A writer who respects the rational yet pays homage to the dark areas where all is not known also has my respect, as herein lies a higher level of verisimilitude, mirroring life, which really is that way. It is that mixture of light and darkness which fascinates me, personally. It is a special kind of mimesis, cutting across the categories - and here, too, Mr. Brust wields a finely honed blade.
A rare, resourceful writer, who has distinguished himself in my mind this early in his career, Steven Brust: I feel he is worth noting now, for what he will achieve eventually, as well as for what he has already done.
- Roger Zelazny
Angels and mortals
Fight for the right To have a little pleasure
And enjoy an easy flight.
Angels and mortals
Sometimes get their way
I was set up everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, was I brought forth.
Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an over-written sentence.
The Regent of the South looked upon this white-on-black-over-green perfection and he saw that it was revolting. His eyes, a green that was positively startling, narrowed, and his nostrils flared.
The being next to him took the shape of an animal that would someday be called a golden retriever. It shook its head and snorted, since barking was yet a few millennia away.
"My gorge rises to think on't," said the dog.
The Regent nodded without speaking.
The other continued, "I mind a time when thou didst delight to see decadence."
"I mind a time when there were things other than decadence to compare it to."
"Verily," the dog admitted. "But think'st thou this can last forever?"
The Regent shrugged. "No, I know it won't. The Wave is still recent; its effects linger. Soon enough, form will be form again, and jokes like this will be too difficult to be worth the bother. But it sickens me."
"Whose working is this then, milord?" the dog asked.
"It doesn't matter," said t
he Regent. "One of our arch-brethren, certainly. Maybe it was whoever put Marfiel into a six-day sleep so she missed the harvest. It's the same stupid sense of humor."
"Certes thou art aware of that thou hast earned: to relax thy vigilance and enjoy this time, as thy archbrethren do."
The Regent shook his head. "Perhaps," he said, "that is my own form of decadence."
The smaller one laughed and wagged his tail.
It had hard green scales, fiery red eyes, and a long forked tongue, and was several times what would become known as man-high someday. You may as well call it a dragon and have done with it. It was the Regent of the North.
It—he? He, then. He lived far in the north of Heaven, beneath mountains known for vulcanism. He had carved places out of the rock at the heart of the mountain, where he could feel warm and safe.
His former shape had been lost near the end of the Third Wave, and he had taken this one. It was very resistant to the effects of the flux. His breath could break any material down to its basic components, or turn a wave of cacoastrum into living illiaster.
None of the new angels entered the Northern Regency, and no one at all lived there, save the Regent. All feared him, for it was said that he was mad, that he had been wounded deeply, and it was unsafe to be near him.
Alone, unchanging, nursing his rage and his fear, the Regent of the North turned in his sleep. The Third Wave was over now, but when the next came, he would wake.
League upon league upon league of sea rose in temperature by exactly one and a half degrees, and she basked in it. The tip of her tail broke the water and waved snake-like (had there been snakes) for a bit and then a bit. The water was a blue that an artist would despair of capturing. Above, the air smelled of the sea.
Her sea! Here she was the master. As the last effects of the raw cacoastrum vanished, she found she could command this water by an effort of will, for it was hers.
The Second Wave had driven her to create and enter the sea, forsaking her form in order to live. She could have used the free illiaster from the Third Wave to recreate her old form, but she would not leave the protection the waters gave her. And she had come to love the flowing, breathing sensuality of the currents, caressing and soothing her.
The green coiled length of her body straightened, and she closed her eyes as she accepted the warmth into herself. She sent forth a laugh that reverberated through the waters, which picked it up and carried it, as fresh currents, to every shore.
The Regent of the West was at peace, for a while. Let us leave her there.
The Youth With Golden Locks looked to the west. He rested his left hand upon the golden hilt of the shaft of scarlet light that hung from his waist and reached down to his knees. He was dressed in a tunic of light brown that called attention to his remote blue eyes. He, the Regent of the East, was a proper half-a-head taller than the black-haired, dark woman who stood at his side and caressed his arm.
She scrutinized him for a moment, then shook her head.
'Too much," she remarked.
He shrugged, and darkened his complexion a shade or two.
"Better," she said. "But the hair is still overdoing it a bit, don't you think?"
"If you say so," said the youth, and eased the curls somewhat, darkened the tone. As the woman studied this version, impatience crossed the Regent's face.
"Forget it," he snapped. "It just isn't me."
She shrugged. "As you wish."
His hair grew lighter again, his form taller and thinner, and his skin took on an aspect of transparency. "We're not going to be able to do this much longer," he said. "The effects of the Wave have nearly worn off."
"It doesn't matter," she said, soothingly.
"I don't understand this concern everyone suddenly has with appearance, anyway."
"What else is there to be concerned with? I expect things will occur soon enough, but for now—"
"I suppose. But is there any reason for me to spend all this time working on a form that I never look at anyway?"
"Maybe not. But as a Regent, I should think—"
"That's another thing. There was a time when it actually meant something to be a Regent."
"When we first created this place," he gestured vaguely around them, "it meant that I was responsible for a quarter of the terrain of Heaven. And it was needed then. Our brethren from the Second and Third Waves needed guidance and leadership. But we're secure now. There hasn't been an influx in thousands of days. And if there is another, Yaweh will call us—"
"You certainly are in a foul mood today, aren't you?"
He stopped. "You're right," he said after a moment. "Sorry."
"It's all right. Is there something I can do?"
She said it with no special emphasis, but he suddenly felt the grass beneath his bare feet grow thicker and longer.
"Yes," he said. "I think so."
The healer was tall, full-bodied, and pale of complexion. She wore a gold cloak over white garments. A silver chain around her waist held a six-pointed star. She faced the sword-bearer, who was large, well-muscled, and brown haired. He, also, wore a cloak of gold.
"Yaweh," he said, "wants to put it in his throne room, in a case, next to his sceptre."
"Fitting," she said. "I suppose it is cumbersome—and you don't need it now."
"Not for a while, at any rate. And I'm near to the Palace, so I can easily fetch it when I need it."
The healer studied the massive sword which the other carried over his right shoulder. Then she looked away.
"I hope," she said, "that you don't need it for a long time."
He nodded without speaking.
He stood in the center of Heaven and looked about it, having chosen to have four eyes today. He noticed that with less than two looking in any one direction, he couldn't see as well as he ought. He resolved to set someone to discover the reason for this.
Outside of Heaven, cacoastrum still did its mindless, eternal dance of destruction. One day, he knew, he and his brethren would face it again, for that was the way of the universe. When that happened, he would again feel the sorrow of losing his brothers, perhaps one of those who had been with him from the beginning. He would know the joy of seeing new ones created from illiaster, and the pleasure of watching them become aware of themselves and the others around them, but nothing could heal the pain of loss.
Again, as he had so many times before, he wondered if there couldn't be a way to end the conflict forever.
He sighed, and, with his four eyes, looked about the ways of Heaven. He saw that it was good. But not quite good enough.
"There's plenty of pain here—but It don't kill. There's plenty of suffering here, but it don't last. You see, happiness ain't a thing in itself—it's only a contrast with something that ain't pleasant."
—Mark Twain, Extract from "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven"
"There seems to be a lot of work left to do on it," said the Regent of the South. "All you have is the barest outline."
"I know," said Yaweh, "but what do you think of it so far?"
The Regent licked his lips. "I... to be honest, I'm afraid of it—afraid to hope for it. It seems like a dream. Of course, it's what we've always wanted, but—I don't know, Yaweh. Can it be done?"
"I think so. The one who'd be best at it is working on the details; he thinks so."
The Regent raised a brow over a bright green eye. "Lucifer?"
Yaweh smiled. "Who else? He and Lilith are—" He stopped, as a look of pain crossed the Regent's face. "What is it, old friend?"
The other shook his head, then smiled, ruefully. "Lilith."
"I'm sorry I—"
"Don't, Yaweh. If everyone had to apologize for all the hearts Lilith's broken, we could hardly speak to each other."
Yaweh studied him closely. "Does she know how much hurt she causes?"
"She didn't do any hurting. I did it to myself. It was stupid, really. I wan
ted her to move into the Hold with me. She wasn't sure, and I tried to push her, without thinking, and—" He punctuated the sentence with a shrug.
Yaweh studied him somberly for a moment, then sighed. "I wish there was something I could do for you."
The Regent shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I'll get over it. Maybe it'll teach me something. But enough. What do you want me to do?"
Yaweh cleared his throat. "In order to accomplish this, we need the cooperation of every angel in Heaven. But when I mentioned the plan to one of the angels who dwells here, he had a strange reaction. Rather than being excited by the idea, he was frightened by it."
The Regent's eyes widened. "Why?"
"There will be some danger associated with it. I don't know how much yet, but certainly some. He understood that, and was more frightened by the plan than happy with the idea of the safety that would follow." He shrugged. "It's natural, now that I think of it. Most angels remember little or nothing of their first Wave—the one that created them. Our hatred of the flux comes later."
"I don't believe that any angel could fail to see what we gain with this, Yaweh. We may have to explain it to them, but certainly not more than that."
Yaweh sighed. "I hope you're right."
"I am," said the other. "It may take a little time, that's all."
"I hope you're right," he repeated. "In any case, Lucifer will be coming this evening, and we'll go over the general plans then, and discuss things in more detail. There is an archangel named Uriel who can help you—"
"Help me what, Yaweh? You still haven't told me."
"Let me save it for tonight."
The Regent looked at him closely. "Whatever it is, you don't like it, do you?" Yaweh shook his head. The Regent changed the subject. "I'll want to go back to the Hold soon. It's quite a walk."
"All right. But can you wait until tomorrow? It's been a long time since you've slept under my roof. We'll be having some pin-dancing. I would be pleased," he added.
"All right, old friend," said the other. "I'll stay the night. Have you brandy?"