Evolving a Prologue, The Mask of God

The prologue to The Mask of God evolved over several years of writing the series. Each version taught me a little more about the characters and the world. I thought fans might enjoy reading the various versions to see how the story evolved into the final version below.

This version was the very first, written in 1989 when I first started working on this series (not knowing at the time that it was going to be a series). The focus was on the relationship between the brothers, which from the beginning I knew was going to be the driving force for the books. The working title of the book at that time was "The King's Brother," and it was sparked by a scene from the climactic battle near the end. So I had to write a whole book to get to that scene, and it began here, with one brother saving another on a cliff. Note that Traven's name originally was something much more complex, and was changed by editorial request.

This version was really interesting to me. I was struggling to find a way to portray the very important backstory involving the Hadí war. From it I learned a great deal about Sarah Linden and her rebels who overthrew the very nasty theocracy that had conquered Ariel and cut it off from the greater galaxy and the Earth Alliance beyond Ariel's sun, Falal. I also learned that the Hadí really, really weren't nice people. The original cover artist, Bill Warren, used some of this imagery to build the world portrayed on his cover, which I really liked, including the broken stone and artillery scars on the Citadel.

And finally we come to the current version, which was written after I decided to bring the gods of Ariel onstage, so to speak. In earlier drafts of the books they were referred to a lot, cursed a lot, and drove a great deal of the action, but were seldom actually seen or heard from directly. In the revisions I found it way more interesting to bring them onto the page as living characters with their own motivations that the reader gets to see and assess firsthand rather than through the eyes of a POV character. Mortal and immortal motivations are so at odds throughout the book that I just had to get inside the gods' heads! And thus we see from the beginning that Fate really isn't the unmitigated bitch that mortals think she is.

Herewith is the final version of the prologue to The Mask of God. This is where the story begins.


Fate could put the future off no longer.

Silent as smoke, she swept unseen through the desert dusk, trailing echoes of incipient peril. Towering rocks loomed above her, smoldering in every color of the sunset just sinking to ash in the west. She slid around them, sometimes through them, stirring a dusty chill. Finally she whispered into being atop a hilltop cloven long ago by some tantrum of nature. In the fading pearl dusk, orange robes gathered themselves from nothing, enfolding a thing only shaped like a woman.

“You’re late,” Seev said, a petulant hiss out of the dusk.

Long-fingered hands took shape at the ends of orange sleeves, plucking voluminous folds into order. “I did not have to come at all, brother.” Fate’s voice was no warmer than the wind.

Seev sculpted himself from the sand, a hulking, faceless thing in robes the color of fresh blood. “It’s time. You promised me.”

“Ah? Are you taking to yourself my prerogatives now, foretelling when and how mortals should die?”

Seev paused, a slight, fatal hesitation. Fate drew back her hood and smiled. The god of death shrank visibly under it.

“I thought not.” Fate’s chill ivory face matched her laugh. “You are greedy, brother. Have the grace to acknowledge it.”

“You promised me an Aravoni. When the youngest was born, even you said House Aravon was over-blessed with sons. You said one would come to me beforetime.”

“You have already claimed an Aravoni. Can you not be content with the father?”

“His death is long forgotten. It’s of no profit to me. You promised!”

Fate turned away. “I remember.”

“Then choose.” Seev lifted his head, his hood falling together over the empty air where his face should be. “Or is it that you cannot? House Aravon has ever been your favorite. For too long, say I.”

“Because they scorn your best traps and laugh in your face when you finally win.” Fate laughed as sand swirled up around her with an angry hiss. Her smile faded when the sand rained back in a spray like blood across the bluish-purple stone at her feet. Blue for House Aravon. Blood for a death she owed. Even the gods could not dodge such debts. Not on Ariel, anyway.

She sighed, rattling the spindly branches of the hayak bushes down the hill. Seev raised his head, sensing victory. “Shall I choose for you?”

“Ghoul.” Her contempt sent him shrinking to the far edge of the broken hill. “I know which one you would choose. No. He is mine. Of the other two—”

She spread long, pale fingers, erasing the dusk and the hillside. Three young men laughed at her out of the night. Behind her, Seev stirred. His eagerness to set a royal house mourning disgusted her; to spite him she tarried, studying these three upon whom hung so much. The smiling eldest with eyes the midnight blue of his house. The second, tawny as a trafe, wide-shouldered and solid. The youngest crowned in hair like molten silver tinged with gold. Eldest to youngest, there could be no doubt they were brothers, and brothers of that rarest kind in Sevakand: three who had no quarrel with each other.

Fate sighed again, so softly it—almost—went unnoticed by Seev. Regretfully she closed her fist. One of the faces shivered and vanished.

“You may have that one.”

A shiver of anticipation rippled Seev’s red robe. “Begone,” Fate told him coldly. He vanished with a fading, derisive snort.

“Forgive me,” Fate whispered to a man who would never hear her. Only the night saw her tears. 

  The Mask of God by S. A. Bolich

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