Read the beginning of Caine's Law, the fourth instalment in New York Times bestselling author Matthew Stover's action fantasy series like no other.
BELOVED OF GOD
“The gods exist beyond the reach of time. When we draw 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 hands scrabble 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 incendiary brew spewed from the ragged gape of your late friend Tyrkilld’s throat when you took his head. As you creep up through the mouth of encircling stairwell, out upon the final spiral span that leads upward to the Purificapex of the Eternal Vaunt of the Knights of Khryl, I wish again—as I always have and always will—that I might make you look to the side here. You don’t, you never have and never will. Still, in My dream, you cast wide your gaze over the limitless slaughter that is the work of Our Hand, and find it to be good.
The icy lash of sleet on your bare back. The reek of burning hair twisting up from the fires in Hell. Sawing of broken ribs in and out of your punctured lung. The blaze of the mines, the smoke and haze from the burning 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 have vanished into eternal nothing. After you take Us there, My demon of blessed grace.
My angel of the damned.
I dream this dream though I do not sleep. I have dreamed this dream though I have no past, and will dream this dream though I have no future. This I dream forever.
I dream that you truly knew the bargain you offered. I dream you were willing, even happy, to pay the price of My Love. That you joyously offered up all you do as well as all done to you. As a gift. A wedding present.
All this is to be savored. It is well that We will share eternity.
When the stone stair gives way to the vast cap of platinum, when you find the summit of the Eternal Vaunt to be icebound under half 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 the tourniquet above your knee—and with your one half-working arm you chip handholds to pull yourself up.
And so, here at the end of days, you are as you have always 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 Our Consummation; not even I can save you now, should I somehow decide your life outweighs My death.
No, Beloved. Never. I have waited a thousand years for this—and each second of these My thousand years outlasts the age of the universe. Here it ends. Here you give your life to take Mine. Our own private suicide pact.
My infinite millennium forever ends with Our lovers’ leap.
I feel the lick of flame along your nerves, and I feel the shreds of discipline that no longer entirely lock this pain outside your consciousness. I feel the numb burn of frostbite settling into the toes on your good leg, and the fingers of your broken hand. I feel the seductive chill of the ice you climb, how it cools the fire in your nerves, and I feel your overpowering lust to let go, to lie flat and sleep, to fall forever …
But you won’t. You never do. You never have, and thus you never will.
And now you struggle to the platinum altar and try to rise, to go out on your feet. The effort gathers darkness in your eyes and you sag back down, helpless. Hopeless.
Defeated at last.
With your final exertion of will, you reach up to the hilt of the Accursèd Blade and ignite its power within the altar. With the touch of your hand, the Accursèd Blade becomes again the Sword of Man, and now the first spastic twitch of your tattered arm will slash the Sword free from its platinum grave, to bring the Eternal Vaunt itself crashing into ruin that destroys My Body as well as your own—to make of yourself and Me an ending that cannot be unmade.
It is for this I have created you, Beloved. To set me free.
It is for this I Called you here to Me with dreams of Black Knives and murder. It is for this I created the Smoke Hunt and unleashed its hunger upon the innocent.
It is for this I brought you down from the cross.
With your hand on the Sword, the moment stretches ever closer to the infinite, an agonizing extension of eternity. Have you always waited so long to do what you were born for? Has it ever been thus … or …?
Is this—against all possibility, against the weight of Reality itself—somehow new?
And here then, now, for the first time forever, you cough your throat clear of the blood from your punctured lung. Scarlet sprays across your useless legs. You gasp against the ripping within your chest, and now, impossibly—
“I know … what You are … fucker.” Your voice is rusted barbwire, yanked up your throat one word at a time. “Who You 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’s something 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 Caine Show … 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 cannot happen. This has never happened and it never will.
“It’s not … the people who died here. The Pratts. T’Passe. Kierendal. Not the people I murdered. Khlaylock. Tyrklld. It’s not 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 you even delude yourself that you have choice at all?
“It’s just …” You shake your head, and now tears roll free from your shuttered eyes. “It’s everything. It’s the fucking world. It’s that slave woman in County Faltane … the one who died in the fire …”
I set My Will upon you: Draw the Sword. Give your life to Unbind the prison that is My Body. Now and forever, My Will be done.
And beyond reason, instead of the clench of hand and arm to 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: Hear my 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 the storm winds and thunder, your voice is scarcely a whisper, but I hear, and I understand, and I believe …
“You want me to draw this Sword and send you back to whateverthefuck Outside nonplace you came from? Okay. I can kill you. Happy to. But I’m a professional, fucker. I get paid for this shit.”
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.”