Prologue Ė The Whiting
An uncustomary quiet fell over the council as its last member entered the tabernacle. The One strode confidently toward the rest, who occupied their seats as though they'd convened some time ago. His steps echoed up colonnades of fluted granite columns that rose the height of thirty men and ended at the open sky. The depths of morning stretched above. Over ornate inlaid designs of marble his boot heels clapped, his dark mantle trailing him as if he were a bridegroom come to enter his final covenant. A mocking smile played on his lips, seen in snatches of shadow and sun as he strode between the pillars toward the council table.
Upon each pillar lay inscribed patterns of stars— bodies deep in the night firmament, many too deep to be seen from this world. They read like a book, a journal, an accounting of feats, travels . . . works. The One sneered, and muttered, "Arrogant, immortal biographers." With a narrowing of his gaze, he caused portions of the pillars to erode, the stone sloughing like sand in a time- glass and marring the designs with patches of emptiness. His smile widened, darkened. Then he continued on, returning his attention to the deliberation he knew awaited him.
Into the central chamber strode the last council member, still wearing his smile. He paused, gathering the measured looks of his eight brethren already seated at the great semicircular table. Above them, the sky shone a peerless blue, the winds absent from the day, everything a testimony to the creation they had sought to bring forth yet again. When he'd greeted each one of them with scrutinizing eyes, he folded his arms across his chest, making no move to claim his seat amongst them. Nor was there invitation to do so.
The moment stretched like one eternal breath.
Dossolum, the Voice of the Council, stood, his face drawn with both regret and resolve. "Maldaea, you were chosen among us, charged to ensure in the founding of this world the balance of hope and trial, growth and despair. Given into your stewardship was the power to refine the work of the council and create harmony." Dossolum stopped to regard the others. "You have corrupted the
special sanctity of your office. And in your labors, the balance of Ars and Arsa, body and spirit, is lost."
"Am I too effective at the task you gave me?" Maldaea asked with casual sarcasm. "Or is the rest of the council too soft in its beneficence?"
The Voice of the Council looked up from beneath a stern brow, preparing his words carefully. "You glory in torment, Maldaea. You draw upon the Will to fashion and purpose life diseased from its inception. Your creations do not refine the races of this world. The intention of all that is given life at your hand is subjugation, imposition, dominion."
"The very qualities instilled in the breasts of your nobler . . . imperfect races." Maldaea sauntered several steps closer, threatening with his insolent informality.
"Imperfection is not always immoral or iniquitous," Dossolum countered.
Maldaea nodded appreciatively. "Then why the creation of this Bourne to banish and imprison all my work? I've not known a world where such a thing was necessary." The One took a square stance and leveled knowing eyes at Dossolum. "Or permissible."
"We are the Framers, Maldaea. We decide what is permissible." The Voice of the Council let his words ring in the vault of the open sky, echoing their dual meaning. "So we are convened to render a decision concerning your part in the foundation of this world and your seat among us."
A terrible, dark loathing drew Maldaea's features taut. "And what would you do, Dossolum?!" He turned savage eyes on the rest. "What would any of you do?! I am not one of your creations to be trifled with! Just as some stars burn brighter than others, so does the power to command the Will come to some of us in greater measure. Is that not the very reason that I alone was given the responsibility of setting avarice upon the land, forming prick and briar to smite the heels of men, siring life with a lust for war so that men might learn the value of peace?"
"Your talents are certain," Dossolum replied evenly. "It is your intention that makes you foolish . . . and dangerous. The wisdom and strength of the council is in its several members."
The Voice of the Council looked around the great table at those assembled. He nodded as he began again to speak. "In the formation of other worlds, each of us here has labored in the same office you occupy in this world. But never did the work of ruin become our delight. Even you, Maldaea, have performed this dark labor before, and not allowed it to become your joy nor to overrun the balance you're meant to create." Dossolum paused, then softly asked, "What has changed in you?"
Hatred surged inside Maldaea. The arrogance and condescension were intolerable! "You are all fools! You convene to breathe life into a world as you have done for eons, but your own design has not grown or deepened. You've become complacent in your labors. Have you forgotten why we do this? These countless races, created on countless worlds, are not lifted up by the trials and hardships of their lives. They are not evolving to inhabit the divinity that you claim is their inheritance. They live and die and nothing more. Why is this tabernacle not filled with these children become your equals, to aid in the work? Perhaps something is amiss in your efforts."
"Enough!" Dossolum roared. The very sky shivered. "You desecrate these halls with your slander and lies! Do not twist the accusation back upon us. Your work is overgrown, it is grief for its own sake . . . nay, for your own glorification. That is the change in you."
Maldaea trembled with fury. "The time of the council is over! There must be one eminent among the rest. To lead. To ensure that souls are not lost to nothingness. Or else . . ." He looked up into the sky, forming his malediction. "Or else it were better that they never know life at all."
"There is no first among equals, Maldaea. The will of the council governs each of us."
"You hold no dominion over me!" Maldaea howled. He swept an indicting finger at the entire council. "And beware that you cross a line from which there is no return. Will you dare condemn me for doing only what each of us has done countless times before? Are you so elevated in your conceit that you ignore the jeopardy of taking open opposition against me? You are too far removed from the earth you are so fond of sowing."
"Maldaea"—Dossolum adopted a tone of finality—"once great and noble in the company of these, your friends, now condescension fills your breast and taints the renderings of your hands—"
"Silence!" Maldaea cried.
His call brought tremors to the Tabernacle of the Sky, the great pillars swaying against the blue, the floor quaking as if it might open and swallow them all. The air bristled and churned, the sound of Maldaea's command tearing at the fabric of reality and filling the tabernacle with an accompaniment like the rending of a thousand sails.
Yet Dossolum went on. "They are crimes of ambition, intolerable indulgences that have put at odds the work of this council and defiled the unique nature of your calling." Falling to a deep register and sure cadence, his voice calmed the surging stone, restored clarity to the visible world. "In consideration of all that has gone before, we have decided—"
"Enough!" Maldaea protested again. "You will not decide for me! The founding principle of the Charter is the right to choose! I defy you to place yourselves above the truths that guide the formation of life. Eternal truths that do not bend to the satisfaction of your own comfort or intention. You will either uphold these principles in every instance"— the words twisted his lips into a sneer—"or you will abandon them and give me place to impose order and claim what I have power to claim. Either these truths remain immutable, or, in denying them, you prove the validity of my work."
At his words, the earth shook again, the marble underfoot groaning, shifting, until fissures broke and spread across its glazen surface. His defiance, bright and fiery, ascended the fluted columns, jouncing over stone and rushing skyward where it blurred and discolored everything it touched. Chips of granite began to rain down, clattering on the floor. The smell of dust and a hint of charred rock rose all around.
Dossolum broke his formal tone, a fierce indignation infusing his words. "Quietus!" he roared. "Now and forever you will be known by this name! No place will you have among us! You are discharged utterly! You shall have always upon your tongue the taste of the death and hopelessness you take pleasure in visiting upon others."
As Dossolum spoke, chunks of granite spun and whipped back into the air, finding again their places upon the walls and pillars, fusing there to re- create an unblemished whole. The floor stretched and yawned, returning to its even, glistening plane. And wind rushed high against the heavens, as though claiming Quietus's bitter words and whipping them away forever.
"You will live evermore the simple law of consequence so manifestly absent from your rhetoric." Dossolum's words came with more rhythm and tone. "This is part of the Charter. You will answer for the choices that you willingly made."
Quietus trembled in his own malevolent anger. Without uttering a word, his hatred rippled outward from his quavering frame and sullied the visible world. Like a pall, the quiet stole the intonation of Dossolum's words and left the Tabernacle dim. It crept like a baneful prayer uttered from unhallowed lips, yet not a word did the One speak.
Then finally, in but a whisper, he answered. "If you persist in this action, I will set myself against you everlastingly. Long have I toiled, waxing strong in the knowledge and use of the Will as none of you ever has." Quietus raised his hands together in a cupping motion to signify the immensity of his gift . "With all that I am, I will also take those that sprang from my bowels and torment this world until each tabernacle is as this one is now." He gestured to the chamber without lifting his stern gaze. "Until every marriage of spirit and matter is corrupted, consigned to share the sepulchre you prepare for me."
Beneath such concentrated disdain, stone wept, tapestries moaned, books on the council table sighed with the resignation of the hopeless. The spirit evident in all things— the Forda that lived in all matter— protested the Quiet, cried out for respite. Even the sky withdrew, light and color fleeing, replaced by the endless stretches of space. Only indifferent starlight lit the Tabernacle, creating of the council vague forms like forgotten statues.
Somewhere in the shadows, Quietus smiled.
Dossolum stretched forth his own hands, but rather than cupping them up toward himself, he flattened them and turned them earthward. Staring through the shadowy light, he spoke his pronouncement upon Quietus: "You shall be Whited."
The darkness rippled, shadows and edges blurring as if seen through bent glass. A feeling of surprise passed quickly to a disregard that tore at the very existence of Ars and Arsa. An instant later, a deafening wail erupted from Quietus's throat. Waves of dark and bright coursed and careened off every surface. Like a living, maddened beast, the primal roar spared nothing, ripping indiscriminately at everything and everyone. In an instant, matter and energy were repurposed and sent racing at impossible speeds to wreak destruction and lay flat the variety of life given place in the land.
One by one, the other council members stood, each forming with their hands a personal sign to sustain Dossolum's action, and adding to him their strength in the Will. Their actions silenced Quietus's great cry before it could desolate the young world.
"This shall be the mark that shames you, announcing the pretense of working outwardly in the interest of others but hiding up your own wanton designs deep in your bosom." Dossolum's voice resounded. "From this moment, no more will Ars and Arsa be yours to spontaneously render; only with personal cost shall the power be known to you."
Amidst the tumult, Quietus began to slowly drain of color. His clothes bleached white, robbed of their vividness. Soon after, his hair streaked alabaster from scalp to tips. And as the wind howled, Quietus writhed, struggling to maintain control of his physical form. With a last show of strength, he pushed back the whiting, restoring color to his hair, greyness to his mantle. His lips curled back off his teeth, his eyes shut tight in concentration.
The Quiet surged again, fighting their collective strength, as Maldaea sought to impose his own will, to steal all hope and possibility from this young world. Abruptly, the One's efforts collapsed. The sound of words, many of them rising in musical phrases, rose above the din of wind and shearing stone, and pallor came again to Maldaea's— Quietus's—skin. Vapor shot from his pores, soon caught in the maelstrom and whipped away. He shuddered, howling imprecations at his brethren, reviling them all. Until finally there remained nothing of color in him save his eyes. He collapsed hard to his knees.
Dossolum spoke again, his voice like the rushing of water. "The vile creations wrought by your hand will be herded like beasts and driven into the deeps of the Bourne west and north: Bar'dyn, Fe'Rhal, Velle, all those given to you in their allegiance and lineage."
Quietus, his voice and body wracked, shot hoarse recriminations at Dossolum. "And what of your own creations? If you abandon this world, what care you for them?"
Dossolum's face showed a hint of sorrow as he looked skyward. "Some of these will go into the far reaches with your Quietgiven races."
"I see," Quietus managed, dark humor in his voice. "Handiwork whose promise you do not esteem, put away with those I brought forth. You are contemptible!" He again swept an outstretched arm in a violent arc to indicate the entire council. "What if any of these refuse to be compelled by you?"
Dossolum lowered his gaze to Quietus's own. "Then they will be destroyed. We will raise a veil to seal the rest inside the Bourne. And give those who remain in the eastlands at least the semblance of peace and hope."
"And what of me?" Quietus stood, his skin burning with the effort.
"You shall be bound and placed within the veil alongside the foulness you've created, there to spend time without end."
As he listened to the pronouncement, his terrible countenance shone with darkening hatred toward the council, the worse for the lingering color in his eyes— like a vestige of the Noble One he had once been.
"I am eternal, just as you are eternal. You can brand me, tear from me the glory of future worlds to frame. But you cannot take the authority or dominion that is mine." He showed an awful smile. "Be warned."
Straining against the whiting, he managed a final word before his irises and pupils turned forever white, a word, a name, both his sentence and ultimately his triumph: "Quietus."