June 1631. Rudolf wakes up dead.
It was nothing at all like he had imagined. There was no substance as such. Just a knowledge of being, and of others being there too.
Realisation flooded in. Awareness of so many things at long last, filling his mind as if it had previously been empty. Language was no barrier. There was but one language, just spoken differently. In this spiritual condition, he understood anything, whatever language it was being spoken in.
Nothing was actually being spoken. Nobody had a voice as he had previously understood that concept. The thoughts were simply there, the sounds just there too. No faces, no physical beings. Neither light nor dark. More like a shimmer just ahead of him, a light that he seemed to be constantly walking toward, but never arriving at.
Surrounded by the murmuring voices, male and female. All asking, as he was, where they had to go next. What were they supposed to do now? No separation of religion, nor colour, race, or creed.
Lost souls with no apparent purpose, but one common understanding.
It would be like this for eternity.
He sensed a thought, it was close to him. In life, he might well have looked around to see who it was. But here that would have served no purpose.
It was a quiet thought, with the voice of a mature woman.
“Find a host. We must find a host. Inside a living being we will live once more. Forever”.
She must have been like him, not just someone who had died, but one destined for greater evil.
Rudolf wondered how to do that. How would he move? And how would he re-enter the world of the conscious living? There were no instructions, no mentor or guide. Then he heard her again.
“Don’t try thinking about how, just imagine it is”.
He was looking through eyes that struggled to focus. Shapes moved around him, and he suddenly sensed warmth, as arms reached down to grasp him. He was held up to the face of a tired-looking woman, her hair plastered to her head with sweat. It appeared he was moving, as he had the sensation of wriggling. As she clasped him to her body, and stroked his face, he was immediately looking through other eyes, at a sticky, squirming, new-born baby. A man walked over, and leaned forward. His thick red beard felt soft as he kissed the cheek. The view changed again. From above, looking down on the now-smiling woman as she held the infant, wrapping it in a white shawl.
It didn’t take long for Rudolf to work it out. He had been transferred from the spirit world into a baby being born. Then into the baby’s mother by her touch, next the father by his kiss. And he knew everything about them. Their past, their thoughts, their hopes and dreams, as well as their misdeeds, and darkest secrets. He was joined by their dead relatives, and the spirits of those who had ever borne them a grudge.
But it was crowded in there, and he knew he must learn how to manage the situation. Filter out what was no longer needed, file away other thoughts for later use. They were speaking Dutch, and he understood that perfectly. So he was no longer in Germany, but that mattered not. It had begun, as the wizard had promised.
Immortality, through the life of anyone he chose to inhabit.
There were other lessons to learn. When they ate, he tasted nothing. When they had sex, he felt no sensation. It didn’t affect him if they were cold, thirsty, or tired. When they slept, he was still awake, and if they died he remained inside them waiting for them to be touched, so he could shift into the next one. If it was a child, he retained his adult senses, and when he was inside a woman, he still knew he was male.
Learning to use just enough of his new power was the hardest part. If he dominated their mind totally, others thought them insane. He worked out how to lurk in the background, let them go about their lives as he decided how long to stay around, looking for a more interesting opportunity. Rudolf no longer saw them as people, not even as humans. Just objects that were available for his enjoyment. Manipulating their thoughts, and their pathetic earthly lives, was not unlike playing with his toys when he was a child.
He could speak through them too. Not just in their voice, but in his own, or in any of those that he could find in their thoughts. That was most enjoyable.
Oh, he had found his destiny indeed.
He supposed it had never occurred to him that such an existence could have a major drawback, but he discovered it did.
He still existed in real time. Even after changing hosts more times than he cared to remember, only one hundred years had passed, though he was still thirty-one as far as he was aware. He realised that immortality could be rather dull. He had seen other wars, inhabited famous artists, and courtesans who were lovers of Kings. By moving into sea captains, he had travelled the globe, living moments as a slave in the West Indies, or staying a while with a wealthy spice merchant in Java.
Of course, he practiced nothing but evil. Suggesting marital infidelities, proposing murder and rape, fraud and deception. He ruined lives, countless lives.
Others, he made wealthy or successful. A young opera singer became the talk of Europe, a penniless artist had his work purchased by a nobleman, at Rudolf’s suggestion. Then he would bring them down. He was the fall that came after their pride. When this seemed tame, he would burn down a city, by changing some mild-mannered workman into a crazy arsonist. Bored one afternoon, he managed to get a respectable businessman to murder his entire family on a picnic, before hanging himself from the tree they had been sitting under. When they took away his body, Rudolf slipped into one of the mortuary attendants until someone more interesting turned up.
That was more like it.
His new existence continued along those lines as he learned to be patient. Time had no more meaning for him, after all. By the year 1898, he had been in Paris for more than fifty years. He had seen the revolution of the Paris Commune, and led many to untimely deaths during that. For a while, he was living the life of the most expensive prostitute in that city, learning the secrets of her wealthy clients, then casually ruining their lives. Sensing something inhabited her mind, she was slowly going insane. So one afternoon in a deserted market place, he chose a young girl as she walked toward him. He wanted to see what her ordinary life might be like.
That didn’t turn out so well.
Now he was trapped inside a doll, and had to try to work out how to free himself.