A Time for Renaissance
The air snapped, hissing. I looked up. Nine broad streaks of flame streamed like tears across the sky, slightly arching as they followed this world Thaeron’s spin, trailing billowing smoke behind. They lit my city Kasora as though night had not yet fallen. Their light turned even the High Temple of the History of the Profusion orange and red, the edges of its jade garrets black in shadow. The fire-trails grew rapidly, distending toward the earth; at the tip of each burned a glowing something. The smell of sulfur spread. Hot wind struck me. I tasted ash and charred rock.
I suspected meteors. I hurried to see where they might hit. The walls enclosing Kasora atop its cliffs offer a legendary view. That’s why I was there. However skeletal, however withered, however thin of lip, I like to wander beyond the Temple grounds at night. The valley three hundred meters below smells magnificent in summer, a glistening gash in ice and stone full of hyacinth and orchid, rice and soybean. And the River Kasora falling from four thousand meters above quite defies description. It roils away there a kilometer to the east at the head of the valley, its water turning to mist far more beautifully than my people’s faith evaporates.
But you do not want a sermon. Forgive me, we Historians do have vices, sacred scholars though we be. My opponents would say I have far worse traits than verbosity. But I do stray.
I took up the oculars I carried on a necklace hooked around my neck. Soon enough, they showed me what shot down to us from the stars. And that the spheres that fell were no meteors. Nor were they ships, and they certainly were not men.
They might have been gods, come again to earth. Descending, they tore the star-scattered sky, struck by atmosphere like torches in the dark. When they hit the mountains they split the cliffs. They cracked the grayish mountains overhead with a roar that shook Kasora’s buildings. Rejoice, you rocks, for the world needs gods.
And what could I do to welcome them, for all my eighty years? What can Salaan of Kasora, the High Historian over all the world, do but chronicle this incarnation? Gods intimidate. They frighten; that is what gods do. As they fell from their impact one could see they had exploded the cliffs with their bare and simple bodies.
Fool that I am, when they hit the valley floor below I thought they were quite dead.
But they were winged things, unfolding from their craters like flowers from the earth. Their skin still burned, they glowed like embers. They stood at the bottom of the scars, some thousands of meters long, that they had burrowed in the cliffs. One of them held out a hand.
They looked small enough hundreds of meters below. From on high, even gods look mortal, though they shone brilliantly and finely, like delicate insects. I counted nine of them. The one extending a hand held out a small cylinder.
The night got darker, its blackness more thick around them. Darkness moved. It slid like oil, like a cloud. It spread from the sparks of their forms like ash poured out upon the earth. First it hung around their ankles, swirling and tentative as dust might be. Then it climbed to their knees and waists. The tips of their wings cut through it. Finally it engulfed the gods entirely, and were they not still burning would have hidden them altogether. As it was, the flames of the gods burned brighter from the contrast.
People cried out. I was not alone, of course. My fellow Historians lined the western wall like chattering statues. They would see what made the sound, and every city has stairs leading to its ramparts, just as every city has its waking souls. Like myself, my colleagues sleep worse than most. Too many of our flocks cannot even name the Paths of Ascension – sacrifice, nobility, wisdom, and trust – by which humans may follow divinity away from this sphere of finite affairs.
Well, now it seemed they might not need to, though gods should not come back. When they do humanity cannot fare well. Gods return when faith has lapsed. Gods return for an accounting, and an apocalypse is most unsettling.
Even the blackened shroud in which they came denied created order. The instant and complete profusion of that blackness seemed both lifeless and fiercely organic. Its black mist bloomed and crystallized. It unfolded and it oozed. I still shiver. Several Historians, stoic scholars all, trained in fact to deny the very emotions that fetter higher reason, gasped and recoiled at the sight of it.
Then the beings rose. Please understand, they did not fly, though their wings still spread. They simply ascended from the earth. There seemed no energy involved. They did not employ our trickery of natural laws. The rules did not apply to them at all. Gravity was something they decided.
That’s when my fellows, priests of the gods and the purveyors of the wisdom of a lost and holy age, turned and ran from divinity incarnate. “Stop!” I shouted. “Brace yourselves!
Fools! Where will you go? Can prayer save you? Steel yourselves for revelation!”
The men ran past me, the slick hot night swallowing the slap of their sandals on Kasora’s jade streets, the startled swish of crimson silk as robes snapped about their fleeing bodies, and the tang of fear in their sudden sweat. Through my soles the vibrations of their panic came.
When gods arrive, humanity departs. All humans but this one. I have always felt myself exempt. I looked over the wall, into the abyssal night, to see what came.
Darkness rose with them. The black cloud followed their ascent, still spreading, rolling from the cliffs like mist. Its black vapors continued to spread throughout the valley. Still the beings rose. Briefly I wondered if they might be avatars, manifestations of some Profusionist machine. Thaeron holds so much its inhabitants do not know, and I alone accuse myself of that fading virtue of curiosity. Thus, I stood still while Kasora fled.
The beings were but a hundred meters below. Their wings must have spread a tenth that distance, from tip to tip. Each would span most rooms. They brought hot wind with them. The iron buckles of my sandals burned. Something like a whisper touched my ear, murmuring. Torsos burned between the wings, and heads with horns shifting from black to red and orange, and swords the lengths of several men, trailing fire in their wake.
I withdrew. I walked quickly north along the top of the wall, trying not to draw attention. Fool! Gods will find you if they care to. Even prayer cannot invite or avoid divine attention. And I did not even know which way to run.
In my confusion I glanced back. They had paused atop the wall, four meters tall if one might say they stood at all. They burned, still. Perhaps they always do. How else would gods live, except in roaring finery, in hot wind and blackest ash?
There were horns, oh, yes, there were horns, curving down and forward like a bull’s between two spiked ears, about two meters from tip to tip and filled with flowing magma. And below their horns a face with the eyes of a man and the nose of a goat and the cheeks of a dried skull. Their necks continued the uncommon flesh of their faces, blending it into their chest and wings and shoulders. They showed no skin or muscle. They stood on the wall as beings of neither matter or energy, but of elemental strands winding through their bodies like braided wire, until the strands were their bodies, shifting, sliding wire bent in semblance of human form. The strands, twinned red and black, wrapped around each other, the red glowing with stinging heat and the black sucking surrounding light inside them.
I could not look away. Now I knew them gods. No mortal shape embodies such perfect power, such marriage of oppositions. They lacked all musculature, but their arms stretched out with impeccable grace and balance as they held out nine black cylinders, one in each of their right hands. The cylinders must have been cold because their claws, oh, their burning claws, sent steam from touching them into the night. Below and behind their outstretched arms, their stomachs tapered flat and strong, the dense intersection of abdominal structures more deep and intricate than any man’s.
They pretended at mortality. Their legs belied this more than any other feature, swelling out from a preternaturally narrow waist to broader hips before tapering to a smaller joint at the knees. All the while the strands, the winding cords of their lower legs growing tighter, denser, thinner and more numerous, more and more constricted until they tapered to an indiscernible tip, their attempted purchase on our soil.
They never touched the ground.
Eyes burning, stinging with the fire and dark and heat, skin slapped by airborne shards of scorched and broken rock, I began to turn away. From the corners of my eyes I saw them unfold their arms, I call them this because they bore no trace of the mechanical. They looked like living swords. Their right curved out and down and forward before sweeping in again, three meters long or four, tapering like a scimitar to some invisible tip just above the ground between the being’s feet, its cruel edge glinting in their divine light. Behind, the sword of their left arms mirrored this, their sharpest edge the opposite.
Well, gods have always killed efficiently.
They still held the cylinders within their hands, black objects perhaps of Profusionist metal. I recognized Profusionist glyphs glowing along each cylinder’s curving side, glowing orange with unnatural energy. The center god stepped forward and down, leaving a scarred depression in the metal wall. The others followed suit.
The black cloud seeped between Kasora’s stones, rising from the cracks.
I turned toward the Temple, and fled.