This is the new and improved prologue. Buy the book here.
PROLOGUE – COUNCIL OF THE GODS
Fate, the master of the heavens, watched his round glass watch as it ticked eleven, and with its final, fateful chime, the last age of the mortal world began. He already stood in center of the throne room of the heavenly palace, and now he tucked the watch into his royal robes and took up his seat at the head of the chamber.
At the start of every century, Fate, the oldest of the gods of Minecerva, hosted a centennial convention: a time for the high gods to convene and discuss the mortal land of Minecerva, to discuss its passings and its comings, and now he sat in state for the final convention of all; the time which was coming, which had come, and which was now, at the beginning of the end of the twelve hour rotation.
From the vast corners of Minecerva his brothers and sisters came flying, and the first to arrive was Terror, on his wings of panic, that were spread wide in darkness behind him.
After him was sister Resolve, in her straight-laced dress, walking with dignified, regal, controlled steps to her seat in the circle.
Peace, the eldest of the sisters, erupted into the chamber with a triumph of color, her gown fluttering freely. She was unrestrained, creative, and joyful; and she was wise and calm.
Knowledge sparkled and she was pure beauty. As she entered the room, all eyes turned to her in wonder, fear, and scorn, for they condemned her as far too pretentious even as they envied her calm self-assurance.
Famine tripped in, hand-in-hand with Plenty, both carefree and careless, both bored with the world and bored with centennial conventions.
The triplets Despair, Destruction, and Death stumbled about, singing a rousing war cry with their arms firmly round each other’s shoulders. The other gods gave them a wide berth, their presence unpleasant, but they three did not care to notice and threw themselves upon a bench, their feet stretched forward, their heads thrown back, to drink during the proceedings with disinterest.
No one noticed Solitude, pale and forgettable, creep into her corner, trembling with eagerness to hear tidings of the end of the world.
Charity and Passion, even now at the end of time, carried on an age-old argument as they entered, their different beauties, the first subtle and the second overwhelming, clashing as they passed witty banter between them, debating the true nature of love.
Hope smiled softly as she crept through a side door; she looked over all and shook her head at brother Fate. He smiled back, and made room for his favorite sister on the throne beside him.
Joy had arrived already and had laughed and danced and whirled until everyone else was seated, then she dropped breathless and laughing into her own ornate throne.
Power, last to arrive, dominated the room and all within as he took each shaking step, until he sat, not in a chair, but on a high ledge above Fate. From here, he who had, for centuries, scorned the world of the divinities and lived among mortals could make eye-contact with every god except his oldest brother Fate, and he smiled. Let them notice him, he thought. Let them roll their eyes at his vain seat of power here. He had a foothold in the mortal realm itself, and soon, he would control everything; soon, he would rise above Fate himself.
When all were seated, Fate lifted his mighty gavel and called the session to order.
“To this day,” he announced gravely, “we, the high gods, have conducted affairs on our own; we have not involved any low gods or mortals, nor have the higher beings interfered with us.” There were nods and murmurs of assent that swelled through the chamber like a mighty river, deep churning and little trickles drawing together into a great roar.
“But we are nearing the end of our time – the end of our reign. The Golden King approaches, and to prepare for his coming, he has at last sent a messenger to me. We must heed the words, for we know that when the clock has turned to the completion of time, it is His rule we will obey, once and for all.”
With a rumble of voices that would have opened a chasm in an ocean bed, groans and whispers behind cupped hands, boastings and braggings, music and cheering and laughter, filled the hall at the mention of the Golden King, each god reacting in his own way. Some glad, some angry, and some numbingly ambivalent.
Hope held her hands over her ears and smiled to herself, speaking nothing but rejoicing in her heart, doing what she did best. Power also made no sound, but settled himself firmer on the ledge, and sneered. He had waited patiently, plotting a long time for this hour, and anger brewed in his heart.
Fate let them have their reactions until, finally, he pounded his gavel once. “You will each decide how to act when the twelfth hour arrives,” he continued. “Until then, we have a little more time, and those who have not had free reign in the lives of all men, will have it now.”
“What does that mean?” cried Knowledge. “We have had free reign over Minecerva for eleven hundred years – what do you mean we will have it now?”
Death shook with anger. “Not all. There are those of us that have never descended to the very heart of the mortal realm.”
“We were supposed to be able to go there,” put in Despair with a loud complaint. “But a stupid natural-god prevents it!”
Terror and Destruction laughed loudly at that, and many gods joined in, tickled at the thought that any natural god would be powerful enough to prevent a high god access to anywhere they might want to go.
“You would do better not to laugh,” said Death quietly. “For there is one who possesses strength beyond his natural measure.”
Famine, too, came forward. “I thought it was only I he refused to allow access,” she said, “and I said nothing for the shame of it, but now I know he has defied so many of us! We must overthrow him! Unite against him!”
Despair was shaking with anger. “The city of Drian, the very capitol of Minecerva, stands like a silver beacon, untouchable. It’s a low, dirty trick, and it’s unfair.”
Plenty was incensed. “I have been allowed to go everywhere – I had no idea this was happening! Who is it who decides the actions of high gods? We will destroy him!”
Fate had allowed their discussion, but now he leaned forward to tell them the words of the Golden King’s Messenger. “He will not be destroyed till he has stood before us and given a reckoning of himself, for so says the Messenger.”
“What?” cried many of the gods, deeply disconcerted.
“Are we about to host a lesser being in our divine palace?” cried Resolve, voicing the fears of all.
Fate stood. “For the first time, we will convene with a lower power, for he has proven himself a force to be reckoned with, and has earned our ear. Rordan, natural god of the river, I call you to the presence of the high gods!”
There was a breathless silence, and then a colossal man entered the throne room of the gods and strode forward until he stood before Fate. Rordan, who would have stood as a giant before men, here seemed diminutive in stature, yet showed no embarrassment in this conclave of divine presences, though this was his first time ever away from the river. There gathered, in his shoulders a rippling as of waves, a cresting of sheer force. His hair flowed down his back almost to his knees, clear and green, blue, and silver, depending on how it caught the light, shimmering like a waterfall. In his hand he held a stick the width of a fifty-year-old tree, gnarled, knotted, and ringed, and twice as tall as himself.
Despair, who was all too familiar with this weapon’s reach and solidity, backed up and hid behind Charity.
While all eyes were on the river god, Power, angry and bitter at standing in the presence of a natural god, slipped from the chamber. He knew they were about to speak more of the Golden King, and he could not bear to hear their polite, adoring speech. But though he withdrew, did not leave the palace. His curiosity was strong and he listened still from the shadows of the outer hall, silent and fuming.
“You have been called here, Rordan,” said Fate, “because, as the self-appointed natural god of Drian, you have set yourself as its protector and defended it from misfortune for over a thousand years. You have done well and the Golden King thanks you.” Some of the gods scoffed, but the river giant bowed, his flowing hair cascading over his shoulders and brushing the floor. “But the completion of time nears, and even Drian must have its time of trial. You are not allowed to block out Death, Famine, and Despair from the mortals forever. Those gods have a right over the mortals as much as any other, and men and women must learn to deal with these gods as they have all the rest. You are to step aside and give the gods who have not ruled Minecerva free reign. This is the command of the messenger of the Golden King.”
The river god tensed and held his breath a moment, as if attempting to reign in an overflowing temper.
“He will never consent,” sneered Despair. “Let me at him to end his paltry life! I will dry up his bed!”
“Patience,” said Death, nodding, “you will have your chance.”
At last, Rordan nodded curtly. “I will do as the Golden King commands,” he rumbled.
Despair grinned from ear to ear and turned in triumph to share his joy of conquest with Famine and Death, but they both sat with their arms folded and their lips pursed. They took no pleasure in making a deal with a lower being.
Fate bowed in thanks, and the river bowed back. He turned to leave, and Despair, who was cavorting gleefully, stilled in place when he caught sight of the giant log, and waited to rejoice until the Giant had stooped through the doorway and his long hair had followed him out.
“At last!” he cried. “We will reap the hearts of men!”
“Their lives will crumble before us,” said Famine softly, “and the mortals will once again fear the high gods.”
Terror leered a grin of a god who loves chaos. “I have had my turn in Drian, but I think I will revisit it again! We will stir up those tired corporeals.”
Fate sighed heavily, his heart stirring sympathetically for the lives of the many innocents below, but he could only sit in his palace and abide the command of the Golden King.
Just before descending to the mortal realm, Rordan stopped still in the outer hall. Power, a thin, murky shadow, was lurking behind a pillar, watching him. The river god clenched his fists when he saw the leer of triumph on the other’s half-physical, half-ethereal face, a face distorted by greed and over-ambition.
With a flex of his strong arms, Rordan planted his gnarled staff upon the stones. “You vile beast, you have already ruled Drian!” he cried, and Power slithered out from his enclosure, trembling with triumphant rage over Fate’s decree, for he hated the river god from the very depths of his being.
“I will allow the others through,” said Rordan, “but you will never have free reign again. You will rot in your murk and grime until the twelfth hour, when the Golden King casts His light upon your buried crimes.” Power’s face twisted in a grimace and Rordan continued. “Fate may not know or care how you spend your time, but I do. If you attempt to enter Drian, you will know my wrath!” With that, he lifted his staff, and Power cringed and growled, but then abruptly turned and flew away.
Power descended to his corner of the world, desolate as it was, and plotted evil for Rordan and Drian. Meanwhile, Famine, Death, and Despair greedily leveled themselves against Drian, spreading their gifts in a massive overdose to make up for lost time. In the process of enjoying themselves, they forgot all about the coming of the Golden King.