Faced with prosecution and imminent demise, I did what thousands of other foolish old men have done. I stood up to bargain. “You have a problem” I stammered, as loudly as I could.
The divine being paused, though it did not look up. I suppose it did not need to.
“You do not belong here,” I went on. “You are not of this world. You’re not meant to take this form.” The flaming god took three steps up instead of two. The limp seemed suddenly less serious. Sweat surged across my skin.
“How else could a human have injured you? How else could a mortal have cut your leg?” I swear the stairwell swelled around it, a simple distortion of space or time.
“Yes, you killed them all, you killed each and every guard, but you only fought two hundred, and you caught them by surprise. What if they had ridden Profusionist machines? Could you have dodged that sword stroke then? It’s not human technology, you know. It’s divine, blessed by those like you.”
The being paused again, halfway up the stair. Static stood my hair on end. Wind blew erratic through the tower. The pages of the histories on the tower’s spiraling shelves hummed noisily to life.
“You want to claim this world, but you did not kill everyone. You only killed the ones who immediately opposed you. The ones who stayed awake. The ones with shrouds around them, keeping the machines away. The machines, is that it? The black cloud, this dust, they are loyalty machines? I have read of such devices.”
The stones of the floor shook with its step. It had nearly reached the top. My robes lay hot against me.
“You would have our service. You have mine already. I have already inhaled them, yes? I stirred some dust, but there’s no dust in here. They’re in the rock, aren’t they, your loyalty machines, in the jade!”
The tips of its horns appeared above the floor. With another of its lurching paces, they distended, filled with roiling liquid fire. I fell back against the wall.
“But you will be opposed. You took this city by surprise, but the Historians of Kasora will not pass away unnoticed. We’re politically important. They’ll raise whole armies against you, millions your machines won’t reach. There are many other lands, an entirely separate continent.”
Its head appeared above the floor, gaunt, but larger than a man’s entire chest. Even swept back, its wings filled the stairwell with their flame. With another step its scythe arms extended, the rear blade nearly touched the tower ceiling. Its entire torso soon reared above the floor, flooding the cell with heat.
“Let me go. Send me. I know someone –.”
The god stepped into the chamber. Hunching, it approached. Its breath shook the tower stone. Strange text scrolled across its flesh, black glyphs I did not understand. It held the Profusionist relic out toward me. The cylinder was a little shorter than my arm, and only half again as wide, tiny against the bulk of the god. The loyalty machines rose toward it, seeping from the jade.
“I know the man who leads them. Let me undermine the Faith. I have influence over him. I’ll infect him with your machines. I’ll –.”
The god roared. It spoke but its voices made no coherent word. Ten thousand tongues of sound sent clean cracks throughout the jade. My bowls and bladder voided.
“I’ll infect him. I’ll take them to him. I’ll make him loyal, the whole world will follow. Let me take a relic, let me help you.”
The god loomed over me. Its gaze touched every cell I had. I curled against the wall.
“Please let, please permit, only I don’t know –.”
With its scalding left hand the god reached out and turned me toward it, my back flat against the wall. I cried out as it reached through my robe to flesh, leaving a mark I’ll always bear.
But I cried out louder when the god reached out its other black and flaming hand and thrust the relic clear into my chest.
My scream collapsed as all the world turned black.
I woke on a sentient Profusionist ship, following the Kasora River north. In another day I’ll reach the ocean, in three more Thaeron’s northern continent – and in three after that, my former pupil Jerem Cozak, now Thaeron‘s noble Faith. I woke to my new destiny, cradling the cold weight burning between my shattered ribs. I doubted its reality, until I spread the tattered remnants of my robe. Charred flesh lies beneath, black as the mechanical dust that it sustains. Divinity’s touch is never gentle.
I hold their Profusionist relic inside me, a dense and sentient cylinder the size of my forearm. The loyalty machines use it to cooperate. It is a center of their intelligence. It’s how the gods woke them from the earth. But I should be dead. Perhaps I’m dying, my organs poisoned or destroyed. It’s constant pain. I defy all nature to breathe with it inside me. I will be ill, I know, until I finally collapse. But I carry the grace of the gods themselves.
So I remain awake while the loyalty machines do their work inside me. They’ve made it clear I’ll go quite mad during my transformation, but what comes without sacrifice? My sanity does not matter, only my allegiance. Thus I write to you, stranger, as I speed across an ocean between two continents, cradled within my sapient ship, to leave some accounting of my choices and desires. I’ll seal this in a flask and throw it overboard, as though I lived in Profusionist times.
Gods willing, that might prove true.
But are they gods? Burning, are they demons? I can tell you this: they compel. They design, they orchestrate, they signify. They redo what’s been undone, restore our center, straighten out our line. Gods return. Gods manifest themselves in their creation. Gods involve themselves in our affairs. It’s demons that leave us to live like beasts. Demons vanish in the stars. Demons leave us to our own devices. Would demons or gods so emphasize our loyalty?
Facing one, I’ve found the answer does not matter. Divinity, like evil, dwells beyond our comprehension. Mystery grounds all our suppositions, requires more obedience than understanding. We must leave judgment for one another, and wonder and horror for our gods.
But I shall not digress again. The transformation progresses swiftly. I have much work to do. In one week I reach the city of the Faith. My opponents, if they live, would say I have proposed to corrupt my pupil once again simply to postpone my death by a few brief months.
I would say I’ve simply missed him. Besides, I have new revelations to impart. It’s time we resumed our former intimacy. It’s time the gods renewed their acquaintance with the world. It is time, in short, for a renaissance.