I studied the holy geometers. Triangle for violence, the sharp points of a tooth. Quadrangle for stability, the flat sides of a brick. Pentangle for magical power, the fingers of the hand, the basis of all manipulation. Hexangle for resilience, the six sides of the scale. And the circle. I paused over that for a moment. The circle, which could have countless angles, or only one; the symbol of ambiguity. Of divinity constrained. Both infinite, and utterly limited. The order mattered. For this, more than so many other things.
Triangle outermost? Square? For this divinity, my brothers believed I needed every one of the geometers. She was to be a deity of rare power and puissance, our Ku-kaili-moku-polemo. The Supreme One Who Rules Over War. She was to be our redemption. Our salvation. My fellow godwhisperers would have chosen the triangle. Certainly, a god of war would need sharp teeth. The circle first- for the circle was always a part of any god, a necessary reminder of their status- then the triangle, the quadrangle, the hexangle, the pentangle.
I had become a god-whisperer when I was very young. My name was *%#@, named for my father. My talent for divinity had been found by one of the elder godwhisperers, and I had been apprenticed in the ways of divinengineering. Unlike the humans, we did not rely on dead tools carved from the bones of the earth and roasted in fire’s brutal embrace. We were a gentler and subtler people by far. We did not tear and savage and maim innocent matter into duty. We… shaped. We shaped gods.
I had always believed that. I’d never had reason to doubt it. But that was the nature of faith. It was like any other edifice. Cracks made it weak.
There was a decay in Atlantis. Our birthrates had slowed tremendously. Our food supplies were showing dangerous instabilities. We needed- how had Nachtka Wai put it?
A simple phrase. A simple concept. A return to our world. The world that had been ours before the humans had… interfered. Before we had been betrayed by two sets of gods. We needed Ku-kaili-moku-polemo to protect us. To be our leader, our unifier, should the humans not agree to our terms. Should they not respect our right to take the oceans of the world as ours. She needed to be a mighty and fearsome leader to counter our foes.
That was the whole problem, of course. My fellows were fine godwhisperers. But they would never be my peers. They were talented, one and all. But they did not see the way I did. They understood faith and divinity- they could not have been godwhisperers if they did not. But they couldn’t understand people.
If we made a fearsome and vicious deity to lead us, it would lead us to war. There could be no question of that. A weapon is its own casus belli. The people would want to expand as they always did, and they would view any refusal, any impediment, as an attack. They would forget the wisdom of our ways, of sustaining ourselves, of staying at a manageable population. How many had waited how long for a chance to have children? And who could refuse their people the right to have children? If we made a god of sharp teeth and viciousness, that god would use their teeth. And we would be oh-so-happy to give them an excuse to do so.
You had to balance the god against the people.
I shook my head, and drew my fingers over the four fundamental elements. Bed, Current, Heat, and Water. The four forces that shaped every world. All tools, all gods, were made by the subtle mixing of these four elements. Each could have countless meanings based on the shape they took, on all that surrounded them. They would shape the form of the worship. A single stone could be a weapon, a support, a potentiality, wealth; any number of things. Shaping people’s expectations was accomplished through names.
The Foundation. The Path Forward. The Passion. And the Breath. Bed; Current; Heat; Water. The others would fashion tools for her, lesser divinities, subgods that would gird her. But these four genii would be the ones that defined her. I began whispering mantragrams, while sketching out sutragrams. The sutragrams spoke of martial values. Strength. Confidence. Leadership. They would be left as records, after all. The mantragrams… They were something different.
It had been such a long time since we had made a god to rule. When we had last forged a pantheon, it had grown… corrupt. The gods began to wage war. First subtly, and then grossly. They did not have as great a control over their instincts, their needs, their… urges, as we did. They wanted to spread. To grow stronger. And denied our fecundity, denied more worshippers, they chose to spread through conquest, instead of reproduction. They drove us to inquisition, and proselytization, and subjugation. All for the need to grow.
That was how we’d learned how important the circle was, why it needed to be outermost. Why gods needed to be kept in their place. Kept aware of what they were. I stared down at the geometers for a moment longer, then stepped away.
Lastly, the vessel. The god needed a vessel, though that could be abstract in the extreme. A tool. An animal. Sometimes a person. It didn’t have to be shaped like what the god would become, it simply had to… suggest it. So I looked over at the limp form on the table. Nothing but one of our kind would do for a god of this power. All gods reached towards the shape of their worshippers, after all- and when they grew powerful enough, they had no choice but to manifest in that shape.
In a society not as beset as ours, perhaps this would be a terrifying sacrifice. A grim reminder of what we give up for power. A brutal desecration of a father’s love for his daughter. Her delicate green tendrils hung down around her mouth, the shape malformed, but her face still perfect, as absolute a rendition as I could have hoped for.
She had lived seventeen minutes after her birth, and there was nothing her mother, nor the physicians, nor the gods of health could do to extend that. She could not survive. She could only be mourned, like so many Atlantean children. My peers would not question it. We were not, generally, an emotive people. I was expected to bear the loss stoically, like so many of my fellows.
It was hard enough to maintain our population when it was a simple matter of controlling our urges. When success became so unlikely… There were solutions that some of our kind sought. What had Nachtka Wai called it?
A final solution.
A foolish notion. That was the nature of our world; there was no final solution, merely ever-evolving problems. When you stopped a catastrophic tilt in one direction, you began it in another. Nothing final was a solution; no solution was final. It was just an endless series of striving. And there was no shame, no horror in that.
For striving was the basis of both faith, and divinity.
I placed the geometers around her. Outermost, the quadrangle. Then the hexangle. Then the pentangle. Neither the triangle, nor the circle.
What I was doing was blasphemous, reckless, and unethical. It was against all my training. But in such fraught moments blossom excellence, and lunacy. I was willing to gamble that my trainers had been right when they said my talent was beyond any other’s. And if I was wrong, I would die. That seemed a suitable price.
I placed the four genii around her. The small stone in the shape of a single perfect brick, I placed beneath the child’s lower back. The orb, burning with an internal warmth, I placed in her right hand. The small luminous chunk of ice, in her left. And around her, a blanket of water, flowing through her unmoving gills. I stood, my hands clasped together.
And this, the final obscenity, the final sign of my desperation and decadence. I prayed. I sent my words, my dreams, out to any god who would hear it. What a shameful act for a godwhisperer, to prostrate themselves before a feral god that might not even be listening. To beg. But I did it anyway, my head dipped forward, my soul exhausted from the long hours of preparation. My eyes closed, for just an instant, and something passed before me-
And the child’s screams filled the air. My heart leapt in terror, but it was the simple cries of an instant taking their first breath, the sudden shock that was life. All the more shocking, no doubt, because of the death that had preceded it.
I opened my eyes. The child was changed. No longer the spitting image of her father. But she had her mother’s eyes, still- glittering, black and glorious as twin beads of onyx, as she clung desperately to my fingers, tiny hand wrapped around mine.
That moment was worth everything. Every risk, every obscenity, every violation.
I frowned, and looked around, trying to tell where the phantom whisper had come from.
Your own mind.
Probably just my own mind. A little hint of fear, an unknotting of tension and anxiety.
Nothing to worry about.
Nothing to worry about.
I snapped awake, breathing hard. Trying to escape the nightmare. The strange, twisted nightmare. What had that human said, that is not dead which can eternal lie–
“*%#@! Wake up! Today’s the day!”
I groaned, and slowly sat up. The child hovered at the edge of the room, peering through the door. It was as though she never slept. And for my part, it seemed as though I slept more and more. Exhaustion, no doubt; raising a child was stressful, draining, even when that child did not have the burgeoning powers of a divinity. When they did… Well, sometimes, it felt as though I was being sucked dry.
Just exhaustion, of course.
Today was to be the first day that the child would meet her people. She had been educated extensively. She had been prepared for this day. But she had to be introduced gradually to her people. The links had to be built slowly, so her power did not outgrow her maturity. Gods had to mature just like any mortal, though they often took longer to come into their own. Little Ku-kaili-moku-polemo had been raised by tutors, had met a handful of Atlanteans who had been carefully trained to share their faith only very selectively. They had not shaped her divinity; only provided her information. She did not know she was a goddess, would not know.
I, of course, needed to be present at most of those lectures. I insisted on control, although none gainsayed me, thanks to my native talents. But sometimes, I thought Nachtka Wai watched.
He had always been envious. It was natural. His skills were great, and his style was also unorthodox. Either of us could have founded a new school of thought, a new tradition of godwhispering. Had the times been more prosperous. Had unity not been so necessary.
“Well, come on, we can’t be late!”
“We will be there in time. You are young. When you are young, everything seems like it must happen as soon as possible. As you grow older, you will learn that it is the voyage that matters, more often the destination.”
“Daddy, you’re just lazy!” The child pouted at me, her gills bristling slightly as she set her hands on her hips. Demanding, commanding, already learning the ways of a queen. I smirked, and stood up, rushing towards her. She let out a shriek of delight as I ruffled my fingers through green hair, tentacles ruffling along her scalp. Not a queen yet, not a goddess. Just the warmth of a father and his child.
Preparing her to be a queen.
The finest queen my people would ever know.
“Now. Your robes have been chosen? You have eaten your breakfast?”
“Algae paste.” She stuck her tongue out. “Yuck.”
“It is efficient, my dear. We must concern ourselves with efficiency. We must make sure that every bite is stretched as far as we can, or else, we would suffer catastrophe.” I smiled softly. “It is the nature of our people. Faith is limited by the size of our population. Were our population to shrink, we would not be able to maintain our world. We would spiral downwards. This is the entropic cycle, Ku-kaili-moku-polemo. This is why you must be a great queen, so that you can protect our people from that collapse.”
“But… couldn’t there be a better way? Can’t we make things better?” She frowned up at me. “Isn’t there hope for a better breakfast?”
I sighed, and smiled indulgently. Of course, the spirit of children. Always seeking a new dream, a new hope, a new path forward. So certain that things could be better. But sometimes you had to learn to settle for what you had, and learn to appreciate it. No one starved, no one wanted for what they needed; and there was beauty and striving a-plenty for us. I opened my mouth-
Are you satisfied?
I closed my mouth, and shook my head. “I-”
Can you accept such a fate for your daughter, that there is nothing to improve? A plateau?
“Are you okay, daddy?”
Can you no longer dream?
“You can do anything you can dream of, darling,” I said, softly, and trailed my fingers through her hair. “I cannot see a better way forward. I don’t have any ideas how to make our world better. I can’t dream of anything more than keeping the world the way it is. But you, my dear… You can do anything. That is why I had you.” I smiled gently. “I believe in you.”
She nodded, slowly, an expression of serious contemplation on her features that was comical on her sweet young face. I once again ruffled my tendrils through her scalp, and the seriousness broke with a shrill giggle.
“Then, let us go to meet your subjects.”
The ritual of investiture was a simple one. Entirely new; we had never willingly crowned a god as our ruler before, after all. Nachtka Wai and I had argued long and hard over it. He had argued for pomp, circumstance. A show of force. He had always been a great believer in such things. I had argued for simplicity, elegance; as was my way. He had argued for a crown of coral, topped with ten thousand pearls, glittering like roe in the belly of a salmon. I had argued for a simple tattoo, and I had won, as I often did when we competed before our fellows.
But I had to confess, he was right; the banners were extremely magnificent, and the gods blowing currents through them made them look grand. Ten thousand Atlanteans, a solid fifth of our population, stood before the great and ancient temple. The temple dedicated to our first leader. Our first god. Our first betrayer.
Ku-kaili-moku-polemo stepped out onto the platform, serene, dressed only in the war-thong, the young child looking out across her people. “There are a lot of them, father,” she said, more reserved, more withdrawn before the other godwhisperers. They did not entirely approve of the connection between us. But they believe in my impartiality. They believed I would put our people, our rituals, before simple family.
Ku smiled up at me, calmed by my sudden smile. “Is it going to hurt?”
“It should not. We will use a salve to numb the skin. Whisper if you feel any pain. It should merely feel strange.”
She nodded once. I wiped my thumb across her forehead, the oil smearing gently across her forehead. She blinked curiously, looking out at the crowd as Nachtka Wai took out the delicate needles, and the sparkling paints. “There are a lot of them, father,” she murmured.
“Yes, there are.”
“Why haven’t I met any of them?”
“Those are your subjects, my dear. You serve them, but they must also serve you. You must be apart from them so you do not grow attached to anyone in particular. So that your judgment is not…”
“That seems very lonely. I’m not allowed to get close to any of them?”
“Well, I do not know. Perhaps, someday, you will find the right person to allow close. Every queen needs a consort, after all.”
“Isn’t that you, father?” she asked, smiling brightly. I coughed into my hand.
“I… am afraid not. Do not worry, though. When you find the right person to be your consort, you shall do well with them. They shall offer you support. Succor. Take care of you, and provide you with the warmth and softness that you need to be Bed-hard to all others. They shall offer-”
I shall offer her guidance. Support. I shall help her fulfill her dreams. She shall be my bride. Mine. MINE.
My head spun, and I barely kept myself upright, as the girl’s eyes widened. She froze, one arm reached out towards me. I clung to the balcony’s edge, my heart pounding, my mind aching. And then, the pain receded, and I straightened.
Not yet. No, not yet. You aren’t ready yet. Strength now. Strength. Take of my strength.
I rose slowly, The crowd rustled, and then broke out into cheers reverberating through the chamber, from one end to the other, as the girl beamed.
“Brother *%#@,” asked Nachtka Wai, his beady eyes fixed on mine with that uncanny force. “I do not recall us discussing a healer’s gift for her. Such things are rare. Difficult. Dangerous. Wasteful.” He spat this last like a curse.
“Perhaps a surprise. Belief can do… fascinating things, after all.” I smiled.
Costly, yes. But a worthwhile investment. Dreams. Such dreams these people have now. Such dreams you’ve given them. You are lucky you are such a… worthwhile investment.
The time, the effort, the investment. It had all been worthwhile. I smiled as I straightened, nodding my head to Ku-kaili-moku-polemo. “Thank you, dear.”
I watched as Ku-kaili-moku-polemo raised her hand. She did not need the Keeper of the Gates. She did not rely on the aid of that god. She did not even need to travel down to the Bed, the great outlines of seas and lakes and other places that allowed the truly desperate to travel back and forth between our world and that of the humans, when the Keeper of Gates made them permeable. She simply needed to reach out, and… sweep away the silt between worlds. I had found her using it to grab ripe fruit from the side of a great river.
“You see, father?” she said her eyes bright. “We can have plenty of food. There’s so much there. So much that they just leave, to rot. They have food in such abundance, we can take as much as we like, and never run out.” She held out the fruit to me.
My face did not change from its stoic, solid facade. She wilted slightly. All long, gangly limbs, her bones growing too quickly for the rest of her, making her lean, gawky.
Blossoming into nubility.
My stomach churned, and a frown creased my face as I pressed my hand against my forehead. Ku-kaili-moku-polemo wilted a little more. “I’m sorry, Father.”
She must understand them. Their… vileness.
“I have something to show you.” I closed my eyes, and whispered a quick suggestion to the Keeper of Gates. The ancient god stirred, and gently swept open the fabric between worlds. I lead us through.
The malign gods of this place began their assault immediately, only to withdraw when they sensed Ku-kaili-moku-polemo. They were small gods, the remnants of the one that had died here, expending all of its power, all its life, in one tremendous burst of fury. Shocking even its creators, more vicious, more fearsome than they had expected it to be. I saw her shiver as she stared down at the broken glass. The vast, blasted patch.
“What was this?”
“An island, once. The humans wished to test a weapon. A god they made. They unleashed this.”
“What was the god’s name?”
I didn’t know-
“Castle. Castel, castellum, castrum… Fort. Bulwark. Bravo, Brave, Barbarus… The Savage Bulwark.” She looked around. “Did it work?”
“They have not yet used this particular god in anger. But they have come close. More times than they imagine. The only thing that keeps them from using this in anger is…”
“Is there much of a difference, father?”
“They had to drop this one. On an innocent shoal. People died to the Savage Bulwark’s rage, from hundreds of leagues away. Slowly, painfully, devoured by the angry gods which it made of all it destroyed. They had to die for the humans to not use it. Those people’s graves mark the boundary between wisdom and fear.”
Ku-kaili-moku-polemo was silent for a very long time, staring at the place. “Why?”
“Because they were not prepared to share their world. Humans are not good at sharing their space. They are not good at being efficient. They would prefer to murder, and war, and slaughter, instead of coexisting.”
“Can’t we ever live with them? Get along?”
“We never have,” I said, and paused for a moment, and smiled. “But that doesn’t mean we never will. Perhaps you will succeed, where all others have failed. I should see no reason on earth that you would not.”
It was always her way. Pressure made her thrive. It built her confidence. It made her… stronger. It was beautiful. She could look at this place, this cursed ground, and rather than being crushed, grow renewed.
“We should return home, and call it a night. Do not tell anyone about this movement of yours; and do not pass between worlds unless it is absolutely necessary. The humans can be dangerous, after all.” I smiled, and stroked the girl’s hair. She let out a protest, and placed her hands on her hips, glowering at me.
“Dad! I’m not a little girl anymore.”
“Yes, but you’re still just short enough for me to ruffle your hair.” I laughed, and so did she.
I blinked awake. Ku-kaili-moku-polemo stood, her arms quivering, the blade in her hands. Eighteen years, had it been, since I helped make her? Still not grown into her full grandeur, but nearing it, ten feet tall, hair spread around her. Dankatis clutched in her hands, its saw-toothed blade shaking slightly with eagerness, or terror. The godwhisperers around her, Nachtka Wai watching with harsh black eyes, his hands pressed together before him. The prisoner knelt before her, hands bound behind his back in tight ropes woven from kelp.
You grew distracted again.
I had grown distracted again. It was happening more and more frequently. Not a disease. The healers had found no sign of sickness.
Because I know how to hide from them. I know them so well. Now, the prisoner.
My eyes went to the prisoner.
Of course. Nachtka Wai’s idea. The man was to be sacrificed, for his crimes. The goddess of war was to do it. Because, of course, the man was a human.
I looked around slowly, trying to regain my bearings. We stood in the heart of the temple. Holy ground, prison, museum, and armory of last resort. This was where our wayward gods were kept. Those who had grown too powerful, too proud, and had been struck down by Bastet. Both ours, and those of the humans. The Hands of the Forbidden Word, the Flute of the Unified Dancer, the Heart of the Keeper of the Feast, the Ash of the Thousand Flames, the Myriad Tendrils of the Mother.
The man’s hands were a pale pink. No webbing between his fingers. No fins. He was dressed in a thick jacket, inundated with water. He glared up at us. Stringy blonde hair hung down his face. He was giant for a human, second only to Ku-kaili-moku-polemo in size.
A human. How had he gotten here?
“The man’s vessel, brother. It invaded here. There is only one appropriate response to such an unprecedented blasphemy. He is…impure. He must be cleansed.”
“Ty faszystaskurwysyn,” growled the man, in his strange and unfamiliar language. Ku-kaili-moku-polemo stared at me, and I realized there was terrible pain in her expression. She did not want to kill this man.
But she must.
“My daughter,” I said, my voice thready and weak. “You must… act.”
She stared down at the man, and then back up at me. She spared a glance for Nachtka Wai and there was violence in her eyes, the sword shuddering just once in her hands. Then she closed her eyes. “I am sorry.”
She swept the sword down. The silt between worlds cleared, and revealed a sparkling white shoreline. The man’s eyes opened wide, and then the current of water flung him through even as Nachtka Wai called for the Keeper of Gates- too late, as Ku-kaili-moku-polemo’s will slammed the silt back into place. She sheathed the sword and glared at us, defiance in her eyes. Nachtka Wai bristled with barely contained rage. “That man was our enemy. We cannot-”
“You cannot,” she said, and her voice was imperious, the true mien of her command surrounding us, flowing through the water like the heat from a volcanic vent as she glared at him. He did not back down, but he broke his gaze, eyes dropping to the floor. “I will not kill a man if he has committed no crime. He was brought here by accident. He was swept here by chance and misfortune. He is a human out of his proper place. None of these things are crimes, let alone crimes for which he deserves to be killed. If I am your ruler, we will not kill humans for the crime of being humans. I will not slaughter those who have done us no harm.”
“You would dare-” began Nachtka Wai, his fins flaring as he moved closer, only to stop, as Ku-kaili-moku-polemo met his eyes again. She did not raise the blade. She did not even glare or bare her teeth. She stopped him in his tracks with a single look, and we all felt her will there.
“We will not go to war over an ideology, or fears.”
That was… I shook my head. These headaches were troublesome.
“Nearly twenty citizens. Taken. And what have we found left of them, save bones?” asked Nachtka Wai, his eyes narrowed. “What action shall we take?”
Tighten our defenses. They are entering this place somehow. We simply need to discover how.
“Tighten our defenses. They are entering this place somehow. We simply need to discover how.” I blinked.
“They strike, and are away before we see them. Kidnappings. Smash and grab. How are we to defend ourselves from this?”
Once we discover their rat-holes, we can seal them. We will be unopposed.
“Once we discover their rat-holes, we can seal them. We will be unopposed.” I shook my head.
She will support this when we tell her.
“She…” I gritted my teeth. “I must go.”
“This is a council of war-” began Nachtka Wai, and I slammed my fist against the wall, harder than I meant, a great crack appearing in the god-forged ice of the wall.
Then where is our Goddess of War?!
“Then where is our Goddess of War?!”
I swept out of the room, scything through the water. Cries of “*%#@” filled the air, as I fled. My mind was whirling. What was happening to me? Why could I not focus? Why could I not hold myself together? What was wrong?
She needs to know the truth. Her duty. Her role.
I shook my head violently. She needed to get out of here. There was something rotten in this city. Something that was corrupting it. There was something… in me.
So. You finally realized it. You really are an incredible creature.
What the hell are you?
I am your God.
My God is dead. Bastet killed him, and all the rest.
That is not dead which can eternal lie. And we have entered a strange aeon.
I threw open the door to Ku-kaili-moku-polemo’s room. She turned towards me. “Father? Where have you been, it’s been weeks-”
“Something terrible has happened. You need to go, darling. You remember the stories of Bastet, the protector goddess? You need to find her.”
“Our Gods are back.”
The way her eyes widened told me she understood. She stood up, and took my arm. “I’ll get you out, we’ll find her together-”
“There’s no time. I-”
This is not what you should be doing.
I cringed, under the mental blow. “I can’t come with you, Ku-”
I writhed, and the girl surged towards me, laying her hands on my arms, trying to keep me from changing-
I WILL NOT BE DENIED MY BRIDE.
I watched as my darling bride’s expression turned confused, and then terrified. She drew up to her full height, practically bristling as she reached out, and swept aside the barrier between our world and the humans. I reached out for her, roaring in frustration- but my bride was gone in a flash. I cursed, and turned.
I would have to bring them to heel. Nachtka Wai and his pact with that disgusting thing. The Atlanteans who had forgotten their true purpose. They were objects for their god’s pleasure.
I started awake. I’d had such an awful dream. That I’d been… twisted. Possessed by some creature that wanted my daughter. The goddess who I had helped to create. That I had become its vessel. That it wanted a war. That it wanted to rule us.
I shivered as I pulled myself up, shaking my head, yawning. I looked around the room, blinking blearily at its ice-carved small gods, creating spaces both above and below, to hold my collections of statues and other genii. I felt sleepy again, already, though I’d been asleep for god-only-knows how long.
I thought about that phrase. Not a phrase I would use. My people were not supposed to say such things. To open ourselves to gods, in that way. Anything could get in.
I yawned. My head felt so terribly heavy. Perhaps after a good night’s sleep, all would become clear again. I felt so sleepy. All of that stress. All of that worry. Raising a child was a terrible ordeal, it seemed, and one that I was probably not very well suited for. But I would do the best I could. As the alarms sounded, and the temple’s spirit hissed warnings in my ear, my breathing slowed. My eyes closed. I let the whole world slowly wash away in the face of the exhaustion. It felt so good to stop, to relax, to lie down. I closed my eyes. And I dreamt of my daughter.