There was a meteor in the sky: a god was being born.
You could see it from New York to the Artic to Cairo, burning green and bright and dangerous. But few people did. The scientists staring into their telescopes didn’t, nor did the satellites or the computers designed to see that sort of thing. Only a few children saw it, because they didn’t know that it was impossible to see.
The meteor struck a mountain, its light snuffing out, leaving only a long green trail across the sky.
And it did not go unnoticed.
Gods had been following the meteor. Athrian, the God of Hunts, chased after it on his chariot pulled by stags made of stars. The Goddess of Births had carefully plotted its course. The Goddess of Destiny said nothing, for she could not, but she paced nervously in her garden, frightened by her visions of the meteor.
The new parents followed it too.
They were not the only ones.
The woman had been tracking the comet for a long time, and knew where it would fall. She’d waited there for hours. To fill the time, she’d sharpened her knife. She did not need to; the knife’s edge was fine, almost not there, and it cut the way a mother kissed – quietly and kindly. It was not the kind of knife that cut you twice.
Then, once her knife was as sharp as it could be, she made sure she had everything she needed. She kept these Needed Things in the inside pockets of her coat. Her coat was black on the outside but a velvet the colour of blood or canyon sand on the inside. It had many pockets. In the pockets were many things, from spindly silver ones to old ones made of wood and leather and stone. They would have frightened you, if you’d known what they did.
When the comet fell, she was ready.
The woman made her way carefully toward the place where the meteor had landed. It was hard. She was not meant to be in this world, and this world wanted her out. But she was powerful – more powerful than any human had the right to be, some said – and she strained against it. She pushed aside the leaves of a tree that had been extinct on earth for more than two thousand years, and saw the meteor. It smouldered in a crater. Small green fires littered the area, and the hole the meteor had made was smoking. Lying in the centre of it, was a baby.
Her fingers tightened on the knife.
The child struggled gently on the ground. It was pink and clean and so tiny. It didn’t look like it had fallen from the sky.
The woman knew what she had to do. It felt as if the knife did too – it was made of the darkest obsidian, which seemed now to get heavier in her hand, almost wanting the child.
She didn’t have much time. She worked fast, taking out objects and laying them beside the child, hoping the powers she worked for were right.
It’s no easy thing, to kill a god.
But soon she was ready. She aimed the tip of the knife at the baby’s heart, and raised it above her head.
The voice was a thousand clocks ticking to a halt.
The woman in velvet had been around gods before, but not like this.
She could feel him behind her. Even small gods gave off a sort of the energy, but this one’s seemed to rattle her deep in her bones. It meant he was powerful, and dangerous, and that if you felt it, you were probably going to die.
She plunged the knife down.
Two things happened at the same time. The tip of the blade pierced the baby’s skin, and a great blue light hurled the woman against the ground. She rolled, but she held onto the knife. When she finally stopped, she glanced up, and she saw the god.
He was man-shaped, but he was bigger than any man. He wore armour made of lightning and hoarfrost and black steel, and he held a sword that might have been made of ice, or of memories, or of nothing at all. But blue energy rippled along it, and the woman saw her own reflection in it. It was not often that the woman in velvet looked afraid.
“Put down the knife.”
She saw no lips move, but the words were loud in her mind. She didn’t obey. Instead, shaking, she wiped blood from her lip and brandished the blade. She knew who her adversary was. She knew what he was the god of. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or petrified.
Alone on the mountainside, they fought.
By the time the other gods reached the mountain, it was too late.
Athrian made it first. His stags cantered to the edge of the clearing and dug their hooves into the ground, too afraid to carry on. They had good reason. Up above, on the mountaintop, there’d been flashes of blue light. They frightened the God of Hunts too. Then they stopped, and this frightened him more.
He wasn’t alone for long.
Pinpricks of light punctured the darkness as more gods arrived. First a white one, as the God of AA appeared. Then a yellow one; the God of Bravery. Then red, and orange, and grey, as all the rest arrived.
It was Mella, the God of Wisdom. In her human form, she was a beautiful woman, with a waterfall of hair and bright gold eyes. This made her no less intimidating.
Athrian followed her gaze. She was watching the summit. Another blue flash cracked the sky.
“It’s Azrael, isn’t it?”
Mella didn’t answer, and that as all the answer Athrian needed.
Another god, in the form of a bear in armour, said, in a voice like an earthquake, “We should go up there.”
“We can’t,” said Mella, not looking away from the place where the flash had been. “Not until it’s over.”
“He’s fighting someone,” said Athrian.
The bear frowned. “Azrael doesn’t fight.”
“Are you blind? Look at the blue flashes.”
On cue, another came. Athrian saw it reflected in Mella’s eyes.
“Who?” said a god standing in the darkness – Victory, perhaps.
Mella seemed to look even more intently at the mountaintop. “I don’t know.”
The woman ran. The knife broke.
Finally, the energy – created by the woman – that had kept the gods from reaching the mountaintop was shattered. They hurried toward it, not knowing (not wanting to know) what they would find.
They found the god in the icy armour kneeling at the centre of the crater, his sword lying beside him. There was a bundle in his arms. As they got closer, they saw that he looked tired – so tired. He leaned to the side, and barely seemed able to hold his own weight up. Few of them had even seen him at all, let alone at a time of crisis. And for gods like him, there were few such times.
Mella rushed to him. The others didn’t. He was their lord, and they respected and feared him in equal measures.
She knelt as well, and took the child in her arms. Their child.
“Is he alright?”
“I don’t know.”
Mella looked at him – but not for long; this was her first child, after all. “That’s impossible.”
“He may be. For now.”
Mella moved as if to speak more, but then she saw the knife wound.
“Obsidian,” she said, tracing her fingers around the dark mark. “Who did this?” Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but it seemed as if there was anger in the God of Wisdom’s eyes.
The bear snarled.
“No mortal’s that powerful.”
“I am no liar.”
“He needs help,” Mella said, standing up with her baby, “He needs healing now, or he won’t survive.”
Whispers amongst the gods. Deicide was a rare thing. Over the eons many people had set out to kill gods, but few succeeded. The last time it had happened had been a dark time for the immortals, one they didn’t like to remember.
A dark one indeed.
“What would a mortal gain from killing your child?” said Athrian.
The god who’d fought the woman, the weary father, the god named Azrael, met Athrian’s gaze. “There are things.”
“We have to punish whoever did this.”
There were cries of agreement.
“Not yet. There are more important matters.”
“Like finding out who this assassin…”
“Who his would-be assassin is.”
“You’re all being foolish,” said Mella, walking with her child through the crowd of gods, passing eagle-headed women, water spirits, giant serpents and walking trees, “We have to get nectar now. Punishment can wait. My child will die!”
“He won’t, Mella.”
“You’ve been wrong before,” she snapped.
Azrael said nothing, but he pointed at the sky. In all the commotion, the gods had forgotten about the aurora. The green trails in the sky were runes, letters in a language that had been old when the humanity was young. It was the language of the gods, and it was not easily understood.
“What is it?
Azrael stared at the sky. “It’s his Destiny.”
A god with hair in braids of fire took in a sharp breath.
“What does it say?”
Azrael took a deep breath. After what could have been a minute or a thousand, he said, “He will face the Rakshasha, and the Rakshasha will kill him.”