Read an Excerpt
one thin slice of forever
BELOVED OF GOD
BELOVED OF GOD
"The gods exist beyond the reach of time. When wedraw Their Eyes, They brush us with Their Power."
-angvasse, lady khlaylock, 463rd champion of khryl
And in this My Dream, Beloved, you know Me.
Through your eyes I watch your blunt and broken handsscrabble upon the marble stair: spiders maimed and bleeding on frosted glass.The blood in your beard and hair carries a hint of the peat from the incendiarybrew spewed from the ragged gape of your late friend Tyrkilld's throat when youtook his head. As you creep up through the mouth of encircling stairwell, outupon the final spiral span that leads upward to the Purificapex of the EternalVaunt of the Knights of Khryl, I wish again-as I always have and alwayswill-that I might make you look to the side here. You don't, you never have andnever will. Still, in My dream, you cast wide your gaze over the limitlessslaughter that is the work of Our Hand, and find it to be good.
The icy lash of sleet on your bare back. The reek ofburning hair twisting up from the fires in Hell. Sawing of broken ribs in andout of your punctured lung. The blaze of the mines, the smoke and haze from theburning city, the storm of battle among the estates. Screams in the distance.Thousands in agony and terror. Tens of thousands to follow. Then millions.Perhaps billions, but We will never know; they will scream long after We havevanished into eternal nothing. After you take Us there, My demon of blessedgrace.
My angel of the damned.
I dream this dream though I do not sleep. I have dreamedthis dream though I have no past, and will dream this dream though I have nofuture. This I dream forever.
I dream that you truly knew the bargain you offered. Idream you were willing, even happy, to pay the price of My Love. That youjoyously offered up all you do as well as all done to you. As a gift. A weddingpresent.
All this is to be savored. It is well that We will shareeternity.
When the stone stair gives way to the vast cap ofplatinum, when you find the summit of the Eternal Vaunt to be icebound underhalf a span of freeze, when another man would be defeated by unclimbable ice,by a punctured lung, a broken hand, and a compound fracture of the leg . . .you reach down for your last dagger-the one you had used to secure thetourniquet above your knee-and with your one half-working arm you chiphandholds to pull yourself up.
And so, here at the end of days, you are as you havealways been. Willing to die. Not willing to quit.
And this is the death for which you were chosen, Beloved.From this place you cannot flee, and there is no life for you beyond OurConsummation; not even I can save you now, should I somehow decide your lifeoutweighs My death.
No, Beloved. Never. I have waited a thousand years forthis-and each second of these My thousand years outlasts the age of theuniverse. Here it ends. Here you give your life to take Mine. Our own privatesuicide pact.
My infinite millennium forever ends with Our lovers' leap.
I feel the lick of flame along your nerves, and I feelthe shreds of discipline that no longer entirely lock this pain outside yourconsciousness. I feel the numb burn of frostbite settling into the toes on yourgood leg, and the fingers of your broken hand. I feel the seductive chill ofthe ice you climb, how it cools the fire in your nerves, and I feel youroverpowering lust to let go, to lie flat and sleep, to fall forever . . .
But you won't. You never do. You never have, and thus younever will.
And now you struggle to the platinum altar and try torise, to go out on your feet. The effort gathers darkness in your eyes and yousag back down, helpless. Hopeless.
Defeated at last.
With your final exertion of will, you reach up to thehilt of the Accursèd Blade and ignite its power within the altar. With thetouch of your hand, the Accursèd Blade becomes again the Sword of Man, and nowthe first spastic twitch of your tattered arm will slash the Sword free fromits platinum grave, to bring the Eternal Vaunt itself crashing into ruin thatdestroys My Body as well as your own-to make of yourself and Me an ending thatcannot be unmade.
It is for this I have created you, Beloved. To set mefree.
It is for this I Called you here to Me with dreams of BlackKnives and murder. It is for this I created the Smoke Hunt and unleashed itshunger upon the innocent.
It is for this I brought you down from the cross.
With your hand on the Sword, the moment stretches evercloser to the infinite, an agonizing extension of eternity. Have you alwayswaited so long to do what you were born for? Has it ever been thus . . . or . .. ?
Is this-against all possibility, against the weight ofReality itself-somehow new?
And here then, now, for the first time forever, you coughyour throat clear of the blood from your punctured lung. Scarlet sprays acrossyour useless legs. You gasp against the ripping within your chest, and now,impossibly-
"I know . . . what You are . . . fucker." Yourvoice is rusted barbwire, yanked up your throat one word at a time. "WhoYou are. You . . . hear me . . . fucker? You understand? I know."
You know Me-? O Beloved, is this yet merely My Dream . .. ?
It must be. You don't say this. You don't say anything.You never have, and thus you never will.
"Dunno . . . if You understand. Dunno if You can . .. even hear me . . . uh. Fucking listen . . . anyway. I know You're not just .. . the Smoke God. I know how Panchasell Mithondionne Bound You to this place,and I know why. I know You chose me for Your Unbinding . . . and there'ssomething I gotta say."
Had I breath, it would be held for this . . .
"You hear . . .? Y'understand? No, fucker. No.Terms . . . terms of my bargain . . . a universe of pain . . . our own CaineShow . . . uh. Nothing in there says I have to . . . kill you. Not like this.Not at all."
This is not possible. This does not happen. This cannothappen. This has never happened and it never will.
"It's not . . . the people who died here. ThePratts. T'Passe. Kierendal. Not the people I murdered. Khlaylock. Tyrklld. It'snot even that I . . . shot Angvasse in the face . . . blew her fucking head off. . . when all she was trying to do was help . . ."
How should I care why you choose to defy Me? How can youeven delude yourself that you have choice at all?
"It's just . . ." You shake your head, and nowtears roll free from your shuttered eyes. "It's everything. It's thefucking world. It's that slave woman in County Faltane . . . the one who diedin the fire . . ."
I set My Will upon you: Draw the Sword. Give your life toUnbind the prison that is My Body. Now and forever, My Will be done.
And beyond reason, instead of the clench of hand and armto Draw the Sword, I feel your lips pull back from your blood-salted teeth."I felt that . . ." you murmur. "So You're listening after all.Well, all right, then."
Impossibly now strength returns to your shattered limbs,and you use the Sword to pull yourself upright, and climb to your feet,balancing on your unbroken leg. "Pirichanthe: by Name I conjure Thee: Hearmy word. Pirichanthe: twice by Name I conjure Thee: Understand my word.Pirichanthe: by Name thrice I conjure Thee: Believe my word."
Panting, coughing, hacking up gouts of blood into thestorm winds and thunder, your voice is scarcely a whisper, but I hear, and Iunderstand, and I believe . . .
"You want me to draw this Sword and send you back towhateverthefuck Outside nonplace you came from? Okay. I can kill you. Happy to.But I'm a professional, fucker. I get paid for this shit."
Paid . . .
Your hand upon the Sword to Bind Us in the permanent now,you lift your blood-smeared wolfen grin to the burning sky.
"I want to make a deal."
FEAR BY DEFINITION
FEAR BY DEFINITION
"What the life you've chosen to lead will cost you,I can't begin to imagine."
-deliann, the mithondionne, 2nd ankhanan emperor and 3rdpatriarch of the elkothan church Blade of Tyshalle
Simon Faller adjusted his tie for the hundredth time. Allhis collars were too big for him now; his appearance had become a compromisebetween leaving his collar half-open like a drunk and cinching it tight like aTemp in secondhand clothes. His image in the palmpad's default mirror grimacedback at him. Swipes of exhaustion black as dried blood underlined his eyes. Hishair-where he still had hair-straggled behind his ears. His lips had gone greyas his suit. When the door beside him slid open, he flinched and almost droppedthe palmpad.
The aide was barely a third his age. "Professional? The Director will see you now."
Faller tucked the palmpad securely into one armpit andfollowed the aide through three layers of outer office. The new Director'spersonal office was unimpressive, as was the new Director, a small nervous manwith a permanent frown who was directing that frown toward his deskscreen. Hemade a shooing motion with one hand without looking up. The aide discreetlyevaporated.
"Professional Faller. Don't bother to sit."
Faller forbore to mention that the Director occupied theonly chair. "Yes, Administrator. Thank you for seeing me on such shortnotice, sir."
"And don't bother toadying." The Directorturned that frown toward Faller. "You were born Professional, I takeit."
"I, ahh, I mean, yes. Yes, sir."
"My family have been Artisans for more than ahundred years," the Director said severely. "I was the first elevatedto Professional. I am the sole member of my family, ever, to rise as high asAdministration. Ordinarily I enjoy obsequy as much as the next Administrator,but this is not an ordinary day."
"Yes, sir. That's why I asked to see you."Faller licked his lips and extended the palmpad like a serving tray."This-I mean, have you seen this? What I'm supposed to show him?"
"Please, Administrator, you must understand-thiswill not persuade him. Or intimidate him. It's exactly the opposite ofhow-"
"Only a moment ago I was onscreen with the Board ofGovernors making precisely that argument. The Board isn't interested inargument. They aren't interested in our opinions. They're interested in ourobedience, and they will have it."
"Administrator-" Faller almost dropped thepalmpad for the second time in five minutes. He set it on the Director's deskand backed away. "I'm not sure I can do this."
"And I'm sure you will."
"But-please, sir. I thought you knew him. I can'tthreaten his family-do you know what happens to people who threaten hisfamily?"
"You won't threaten his family. Neither will I. Ourtask is to convey information. Specific information, conveyed as specificallydirected."
"That's a-" Faller thought he was about tolaugh; what came from his mouth was instead more of a despairing bleat."Do you think he'll care about fine distinctions?"
"Of course I'm frightened," Faller said."Have you not seen footage of the fire at Marc Vilo's estate? Have younever cubed For Love of Pallas Ril?"
The Director lifted a hand as though to massage aheadache. The hand trembled, just a bit, and instead he wiped away pale sweatthat had beaded above his eyebrows. For a long moment he sat, eyes closed,resting his head against his sweaty hand, then abruptly huffed a sigh and rose."Professional Faller, the analysis I am about to share with you isspeculation, nothing more. Despite it being nothing more than speculation,should you repeat this conversation in any context whatsoever, I will not onlydeny it, I will see you downcasted for corporate slander. Do you understandme?"
"I, ah-yes, sir. I mean, I understand,Administrator."
The new Director rounded his desk and perched himselfinformally on one corner. "I was a porter and part-time nurse's aide whenArturo Kollberg came to be Director of St. Luke's Ecumenical in Chicago. Ifound ways of bringing myself to his attention, and made myself useful in anyand every manner he might so much as mention. He found me sufficiently usefulthat when he was hired by the Studio, he brought me with him, and sponsored myupcaste to Professional to serve as his private secretary, which I did for morethan a decade. After Chairman Kollberg's breakdown, I served in the samecapacity under the new Chairman, Administrator Hari Michaelson. Because theBoard of Governors considered Chairman Michaelson to be unreliable andpotentially treasonous, they requested I provide periodic updates on theChairman's activities. My compliance with their orders led me to find myselfthis close-" The Director shoved his hand so close to Faller's face thathe could smell the man's sweat on its palm.
"This close to Hari Michaelson's face-close enoughto count his nose hairs-while he advised me to remind the Board that the onlything he'd ever been good at was killing people with his bare hands."
Faller took a step back. He'd been that close to HariMichaelson a couple of times himself. "What did you do?"
"I did my duty," the Director said though histeeth. "As I always have. As will you."
Faller noted for the first time that the new Director'seyes were underlined almost as darkly as his own, and that his chiton and chlamysboth showed damp below his armpits.
The Director pushed himself to his feet again, and movedtoward the window. "We're ready for him," he said. "As ready asanyone can be."