You awake. You are sparking with the power of a prayer dug from so deep in the soul that a lifetime’s corruptions couldn’t get close enough to taint it. You realise you are alive. A realm beyond the veil calls out to you, and you burn up the rest of that prayer just to find its source.
Suns and nebulae flit by like fireflies (you later learn what fireflies really are, and you can never decide if they’re more or less impressive), and you rocket down through the sky of a new world. Your first compulsion is to pull a human child from the salted waves.
The sharks are disappointed. The child’s parents are elated. The latter thank you, and they put a name to what you are: a god.
Though mortal lives are short, you will remember them, years later. For now, you learn to feel their minds and read how they feel, and how they express that in their language. They take you to your temple - a word you like: a building devoted to the worship of You . The crowd gathered there tells you your arrival was expected, and you think perhaps you’re early, perhaps that’s why they’re not quite ready for you yet, but that’s no issue.
You help these people to build your home here. You make your first connection - a noble beast, you think, one with spirit - and welcome him to your new home. You’ll both have a lot to learn from each other, and you’re excited to get started. When he looks at you, it’s with an admiration not even your most devoted followers can match. (Although sometimes he looks at you and pulls faces instead. You realise you adore him.)
Very suddenly, this home is torn from you.
You are Khazar, noble ruler of men. You are their king, their watcher, their providence. You reign with a fair hand. You are their first thought and their final judgement. You are fighting a losing battle.
The icy god of the North wants you gone and forgotten. It is fine, as a god, to be gone - all gods go, once in a while, to find themselves or to spread their influence or to rest for a few lifetimes. To be forgotten is the real end, the one you can’t come back from, and this prospect snaps at your heels and makes you sharpen up your miracle skills for the first time in a long time. You can feel him eating at your influence, but you are old and experienced, and you have tricks up your sleeve.
As you take stock of your resources, you spread your mind out like a net across the world of Eden. For the longest time, there is nothing. Just distant cries for help, prayers unanswered, the icy touch of Lethys creeping into your realm like a plague, and little fragments of the larger puzzle that you piece together as far-away civilisations come under an iron rule. Whispers of a Nemesis.
You’ve heard of him, but thankfully not from him - yet. He is gathering gods under his thumb and crushing all who oppose him. To face him directly is deific suicide. Everywhere, lights are extinguishing like swatted fireflies, and you can feel his light growing.
Beneath this thick layer of buzzing activity, you pick up the light of a new god, far away, small and innocent and still flickering in the embers of their first pure prayer. You feel their panic. You hear the name Nemesis again like it’s whispered on the breeze, and you act fast.
You are Lethys, and you were doing so well.
Khazar’s dratted vortex was really the beginning of the end. At first, you were so sure this new god wasn’t worth your disdain. That creature - so small! The temple - so undecided! The worshippers… You barely saw any, at first, and that was reassuring. Nemesis would praise you for extinguishing this one so early, and with a second deicide in line, he was bound to spare you. You’d have your own land. Nemesis would have respect. This would be easy.
The new god was uprooted too soon, premature from the veil, you could tell. That meant it was weak - didn’t it?
You had forgotten a god’s strength comes from conviction.
You are Nemesis, fiery as the sun, hailed by tribes across a world that will one day be yours alone. Your pulse is that of a thousand hearts, the beat of the dancers that praise you every day. Yours is cold and righteous anger, yours is the full and complete conviction a god should have, must have.
You are patient. You have been collecting creeds for what feels like millenia. You don’t keep track of time. It is beneath you to think on the level of mortals and their petty concepts. You have waited this long, and you will wait longer.
You snared Lethys once, and you keep him under your heel where he belongs, until one day you’ll crush him and wipe him away like an insect. Right now he is failing you, and to be failed by another (be they mortal or god, or the conscience that keeps you on your path) is the one thing you have no patience for. You feel his influence waning from all the way across the world; it disgusts you, and you deign to put your foot down.
What you find through the portal are two other insects: an old annoyance (golden and warm, like the sun, trailing light in his wake, you hate him) and a new spark (so far kind, so far gentle, and so far beneath your disdain).
You opt for a show of force, and trickle fireballs through the vortex, watching them spiral faster until they’re spat out at Khazar’s land to scorch his mortal followers from the face of the world. Their screams can be heard all the way from the other side, and your followers keep their heads down, pretend they don’t hear. You pretend not to know about the boat some of them are building, and slip through the vortex. You’ll be back to destroy that hope later.
I will not let them threaten my destiny. Lethys is listening. Lethys knows what you will become. Lethys is afraid of you, and so eager to win your favour that he forgets there is no favour to be won. He will be erased like the rest, once he outlives his usefulness.
When you spot him hanging back, fearfully hovering over his villages as though afraid you might turn on them next, you show him precisely how he’ll be disposed of. You cage Khazar’s temple in your wrath and watch his golden-warm light snuff out like a candle. It brings you something like exhilaration.
You are Nemesis, enemy of every god, and you will be alone.
You are a new god of Eden, and you have discovered what anger feels like.
You watched your mentor’s light flickering on a hillside, and you knew he was watching you in those final moments, staring right at you until the very moment his light went out forever. Eye contact, for gods, is more like something you feel.
When you met Nemesis for the first time, you were afraid. You loved your people, and your Creature, and you loved what you were - ruling over a land made you feel powerful, but in the face of Nemesis, your helplessness made you despair. There was nothing to be done, no one to turn on, none to blame; but Nemesis has given you that freedom now, and you feel the anger rising up in you like a tide.
There is nothing you can do, yet. That is a word you hang onto, filing it away as a reminder. You cannot destroy Nemesis, yet. But you will.
When the icy god takes your Creature, you realise in that instant that you can destroy Lethys. He knew it before you did, and this time he was too quick for you - he escaped through a portal, and while you were floundering, it snapped shut behind him. Your consciences pull you in two directions at once, and for a little while you linger over Khazar’s village, trying to make sense of the mess you’re in now.
What use is godliness, you think, if this is what it wreaks? What use are you, if you could not protect your ally or your Creature? What use is this power, if not to protect what you love?
You look down at the statue of Khazar’s Creature his villagers erected, and feel a pang of mourning. Something moves beneath its stone feet and you look closer, at his people. They don’t spare you a glance. Their heads are down, but - you realise suddenly - not in sadness. They scurry back and forth, carrying wood, tools, the injured. They are rebuilding. When you open your senses, you realise you can feel Khazar’s essence here still. Not him, not all of him, but there’s a spark in these people and it is golden-warm and benevolent.
In that moment, you think humans don’t really believe in gods. They believe in what their god represents. Khazar is dead, but not forgotten. You are alone, but not doomed. It’s bad, but not worst yet, and that means you still have time.
Your ethereal fingertips trace lightly and experimentally in the air - up, down, across, up, down. The crackle of energy plays in your hand for a moment before you extinguish it. Not here. These are still Khazar’s people.
You fly home, giving out orders to each of your villages as you go: rebuild, stockpile, and then follow. Lightning crackles to your fingers again, and you turn to the north.
You are a young woman with a son and a daughter. You are devoted to your god as much as your family, for he (she? neither?) is just and fair. Your grandfather told you stories: he’d been lifted from the waves by an unearthly force, and only when his feet hit the sandy beach did he truly register the danger he’d been in. This god had saved him; this god was his reason for living.
You passed down this story to your children one night, when you were all sitting before the hearth. Your husband smiled and said nothing. He loved the way you told stories.
Your husband was struck down by lightning last night. You saw him die - burned to cinders, horrible, unnatural - but when your first instinct was to turn your eyes to the heavens and pray, you swear you saw two lights over the land. One a soft red, familiar and warm; the other gold and fiery.
In the chaos, you doubt anyone else saw. But you saw. So you gathered up your children and fled towards the temple, covering their ears against the screams behind you.
“Lord!” you called into the sky, cowering in the empty pen that housed the Divine Beast. “Please, have mercy!” You didn’t know you were expecting a response until one came.
This, your god told you, was a crisis. You were to take your children to the vortex. You were to put your faith in your god. You were not to panic. Your god would follow.
Now, you are a High Priestess of the Second Temple. Your daughter will be a Priestess when you can no longer serve. Your son is a carpenter. You are safe in this new world from the horrors you left behind, and though you’ll grow old, you won’t forget your husband. You know what might have been, had you stayed. Every day you give thanks.
Sometimes there is another golden light in the sky, but this one is warm like your god, and different to the malevolent glimmer that murdered your husband. You instruct the village to ignore it. This one has never spoken to you, and you doubt it ever will. Your god tells you that what happened before will not happen again.
Your “pure prayer” was weak, by other gods’ standards, because your first worshipper was not human. You heard her howl of anguish from beyond the veil, and when you arrived…
She and her children were dead, save one. A man stood over her, panting, with his spear bloodied and his hands shaking and his body bitten all over. He raised his weapon and loomed over the last wolf pup, even as it cried for a mother that was bleeding into the snow. You acted on instinct, and in a flash broke his tattooed body against the ice.
You practiced with plants and stones until you were certain you could be careful. Then you gently scooped up the wolf pup and carried it away, not stopping until you found other men like the one who hunted the wolves.
The village you found was not full of murderers. For a moment you hovered over them, watching them as they pointed into the sky and their children whispered.
They had been expecting you, apparently. They said the icy waste where you first touched down was a sacred place, that power had been sleeping under the ice for a long time, and now that you were here it awoke to receive you-
Yes, you said dismissively, cutting them off mid-praise. But you must save him. And you laid out the pup on the ground before the monks and waited anxiously for them to get to work. They knew medicine and nature, and they talked little and worked hard, and put themselves into everything they did. They were good people. You decided this after they nursed that wolf to health, of course. When you overheard some of them muttering about a lost hunter, you did not tell them about the body lying in the snow to the north.
The freezing wastes became your home. It was somewhere you came back to often, when you had gone out exploring and touching the hearts and minds of new worshippers. Sometimes, you’d see a glimmer in the sky. It was too bright, and it made you uneasy. You did not follow.
When you learned what old age did to mortals, to your wolf, you left your home behind for a while. You took a sabbatical, you went exploring, hunting for somewhere to be angry and bitter in peace. You found a new land, and you claimed it mortal by mortal until every being on it was yours. (Except for one man who refused to believe, an annoyance you couldn’t squash so you cursed him instead with eternal life. He was a wonderful outlet, until he became so used to your abuse he discovered how to speak to you - like a shaman - and used this knowledge to shout insults. He is one of many regrets.)
There were wolves there, too, of course. You felt a pang somewhere in yourself, and a Tibetan monk boldly told you it must be your heart. A god has no need for a heart, you scoffed. How dare you speak such insolence? He was cowed, but his apology felt shallow. The people of this land were too daring. You returned home.
It was when you touched back down on your snowy realm that you found out what the golden light in the sky had been. He stayed out of your affairs, and for the most part, you stayed out of his, but when your resources dwindled in a hard season, you would stray closer to his realm. Once, he met you with a greeting, catching you red-handed taking from his forests. You could think of no reason to answer, but you were relieved when he did not follow you or press you for a response. And this fragile equilibrium was how things remained...
Until Nemesis found you, a small, weak god from a small, primitive prayer, your ambition left behind with the other island you conquered, and he must have been elated at how easy his task would be.
Nemesis razed your homeland to the ground. Fighting did nothing, begging did nothing - only, at the last moment, did you find your escape from the fate he’d assigned you. A cornered animal finds a way.
Please, you insisted, please let me serve you, Nemesis! I will claim worshippers for you - I will make other gods bow to you! Only spare me!
He didn’t hesitate. It was almost as though he had been waiting for this all along, like it was all part of his plan (lately, you suspect it was). His destruction ceased, and as your temple held on by a thread, Nemesis declared you his disciple.
A weak god like you needed a Creature, he said. Without a Creature, a weak god is crippled. He asked you what beast you would have, and you didn’t need to hesitate. Perhaps he would have been disgusted at your choice if he knew the reason. But he doesn’t know, and if you have your way, he never will.
You became strong and clever under Nemesis’ rule. You learned to hunger for power (but never quite as much as he) and you learned not to get attached to places or things or humans (they would all belong to Nemesis sooner or later). In order to dodge the worst of Nemesis’ wrath, you learned to lie and to spin tales, to bend yourself in half just to please him, and to keep your own secrets close. You learned to see other gods as pawns in his master plan, and to hold on hope that you might find a loophole in Nemesis’ ideals. Perhaps if you worked hard enough, you told yourself, he might eventually choose to let you live.
In the end, it wasn’t Nemesis, but another, new god that burned your world to cinders. Nemesis said a god without a creature was crippled. Now you see a god without a creature is just angry. You can think of several places you went wrong.
Cornered, you fall back on your last resort. You drop your shields, you call off your wolf, and you begin to bargain.
You are Lethys of the howling blizzard, and you are terrified.
You are a young god with lightning at your fingertips. You are burning with a righteous retribution Eden has not seen in aeons, and your wrath is sharpened to a point. You are driven by conviction.
Lethys fights you off admirably, for a while. When a victory draws close, his lighting clashes with yours and your Creatures do battle, and towns are crushed beneath the conflict as the sky rains light and trembles with thunder. You’re learning to take a special thrill in your war, but the same cannot be said for Lethys. Understandable. He is on the losing side.
You drive him back, and you help the mortals pick up the pieces in your wake. For a while you hear mutters that Lethys was good to them, and you undo his hard work carefully, picking out the threads of his influence by being better to these people than he ever was. In time, they forget him, and you think Lethys’ symbol glitters a little less each time you do battle.
When Lethys’ pillars fall, you’re elated to get your Creature back, and for a while you retreat to your temple to feed him and soothe him. Your worshippers sometimes stop by the temple and leave gifts. Flowers, coins, and lucky talismans decorate his cave, and you commission a man who is clever with his hands to mix inks for your Creature’s back.
When you both emerge, you take your Creature straight to Lethys. You let your enemy see the two-pronged tattoo between the beast’s shoulders as it beats his wolf into the ground, so that there can be no doubt as to what moment set you on this path. Eventually, Lethys bows like you always suspected he would.
“Your power is mighty and I have little strength. Spare me, and I will give you everything.”
Your hand crackles into a fist, and you focus on the feel of the charge thrumming through you. You’ll kill him. He is pathetic, a ghost of the god that let Khazar die. His bargaining makes you sick. You’ll kill him.
“Here. I give you the Creed from Khazar’s Creature.”
You feel your Creature ripped away again, teleported, and the alarm stokes your anger - but Lethys doesn’t entrap him this time. The rainbow shimmer of the stolen Creed sinks into your Creature, and he looks at you with curious eyes. Behind him, Lethys’ wolf gives a nervous, high-pitched whine and cowers closer to his master.
“Allow me to survive-” your hand snaps with lightning, fuelled by your emotions, and Lethys falters for a second before desperately continuing.
You’re not listening, the shake in his voice is throwing you off, you want him dead. He tears open a vortex (or perhaps it was there all the time, hidden by his temple’s energy like the last) and you glance at it for only a moment before you draw closer to Lethys, shining down on him with the crackle of retribution in your hand.
“But I beg - please leave me with my last village!” He sounds weak, resigned. He knows he’s about to die, his silver tongue isn’t helping him against a god who hates him so personally, you’re not like Nemesis and what you feel isn’t cold disdain. You raise your hand and take aim directly at his temple, and Lethys cringes back and speaks a little faster and his pitch raises: “Without it I will be banished to the void--”
You don’t care, you don’t care, you’ll wipe him out like his master wiped out Khazar-!
You think of Khazar. You falter.