Prologue - Divine Intervention
Being a god wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
This was the conclusion Eridice reached as he stood outside the gate to his sister’s domain, irritably fixing the collar of his suit. To think that he still had to dress to a certain standard after ascending to divinity…it was blasphemous in itself. He would much rather be in a wife beater at the moment.
Before him stood a tall door made out of dark wood, wearing a brooding expression in the void. It was floating in the middle of an endless black expanse, as was he, though in his case it was because he was procrastinating.
Sighing, Eridice checked his surroundings. Thousands of other doors hovered ominously in the void above and below him, other portals to the domains of other gods. He had considered entering the wrong one by accident, then happening upon one of his many friends purely by chance, perhaps the party goddess Féju. Then he would inadvertently waste several hours wiling away his eternity with her, and subsequently fail to answer lord Xar’s summons.
But in the end he didn’t. The slip of paper clenched in his hand, woven out of some fancy golden fleece that was probably secondhand, explicitly stated that he had two hours to find his sister and answer the God King’s call.
Two hours! To give a divine being such short notice for such an important occasion; Eridice was offended. He was sure that, were he not part of the lower tier of gods in heaven, he would have been given more time to prepare. Such was the injustice of classism.
Sighing a second time, Eridice stuffed the divine notice into his pocket. He had idled about for long enough. While the deity didn’t plan to be early, he knew being late could very well be the death of him, too.
Lifting a hand, he let himself into Sybilla’s domain.
He was admitted into a thick, exotically colored world. Lifting his head, Eridice found himself atop a small hill that rose above the landscape all around him. The portal door fell shut behind his hand, quietly phasing out of existence.
It was an astral plane consisting entirely of gardens. Lush greenery extended for as far as his not so human eyes could see, and the air reeked of flowers. If all the gods’ astral planes were to be given a designated part of the body, Sybilla’s would be the green armpit that had been sprayed with perfume one too many times.
Eridice held his nose as he descended the grassy hill, praying his shoes wouldn’t get stained. It seemed that his sister’s tastes had changed; the last time he was here, she had been rather obsessed with roses mazes. The entire plane had been one giant garden maze that went on forever, the walls armed to the teeth with thorns. Needless to say, he ended that visit with more than a few open wounds.
This time, the whole astral plane had been converted into one big Japanese garden. Thin streams of water rushed through the plains, webbing across its hilly surface like cracked glass. Bridges leapt over the wider areas of the streams. The sky was a saturated orange, giving the entire plane a languid atmosphere.
You’ve really outdone yourself, sister, Eridice thought, as he crossed an arcing bridge that was flanked on either side by perfectly trimmed trees. He didn’t want to think about the astral energy that was needed to build something of this scale. Energy that was supposed to be used for doing their jobs first, and indulging hobbies second.
Well, not that I’m not guilty of that either. It was the source of their entire predicament. Still, it irked him to know that he couldn’t criticize Sybilla. He never missed a chance to be snide with others.
He walked deeper into the gardens, in search of his sister. They truly seemed to go on forever; knowing Sybilla’s excessive nature, he wouldn’t be surprised if they actually did.
Eventually he reached a small lake, which was bridged by a narrow wooden path that floated on the water’s surface all by itself. Insects chirped in hiding from the trees. The planks supported his weight without sinking, and he began making his way across the water, hoping he wouldn’t be soaked. His suit had cost him what little astral energy he had left.
Further out in the lake was a small stone structure that Eridice supposed looked vaguely Japanese; he couldn’t be sure. Those little men were still following shoguns the last time he bothered to check up on them.
As he passed by it, tendrils of blue smoke began snaking out of a small hole in the side. Eridice sighed as the smoke approached him, consolidating into a more concrete figure.
A massive fat cat emerged from the smoke, hovering in the air above the water. It had disturbingly humanlike eyes, and human teeth to boot.
“Evening, Eridice,” said the cat, keeping pace with him as it walked through the air. “On some important business, I presume.”
“Shut up, Shaui,” Eridice muttered, looking the other way. “I’m not in a joking mood.”
The humanlike cat blinked, pawing at its whiskers. “My, who says I’m here to jest? Everyone’s already heard about it, you know. About you two being summoned by the God King, that is. Most of the other deities have already made their conclusions about your fate.”
Eridice slowed for a step, glancing at Shaui. “And? What’s the general consensus?”
“What else could it be? The two of you are completely and utterly doomed.”
Eridice sneered and kept walking. He should have known better than to hope. The God King was not known for being merciful, nor was Eridice’s crime one that could be so easily forgiven.
He had known that all along, and yet he still wanted to hope. How disgusting. He was disgusted by himself.
“Then Sybilla and I can only hope Xar is in a good mood,” he muttered.
Shaui guffawed, a hyena-like shriek that grated against his ears. Leaping down onto the platform in front of Eridice, he transformed into an oversized hyena, perhaps duly. “Still, many of us truly cannot fathom you, Eridice. To be summoned before the divine council, and for counts of what? Laziness!”
“It’s not laziness,” Eridice snapped, losing his cool. “Do you think I was sitting on my behind all these centuries? I’ve been doing things on my own end.”
“Not doing your job as a deity equates to laziness in my book,” Shaui scoffed, padding beside Eridice. His yellow eyes, still human despite his hyena form, bored into the other god. “We all have our duties, Eridice. You and Sybilla are fools if you thought you would get away with this.”
“Go away, Shaui,” Eridice snarled, batting at the snide little animal.
Shaui dodged the halfhearted swipe and leapt off the platform, morphing into a huge fish before splashing into the water.
“We’re all rooting for you, Eridice,” the big fish said, swimming slowly away. “You might not be the best of us, but no one likes to see someone go down like you might.”
It took a solid thirty minutes for Eridice to find his sister.
She was standing in a relatively empty part of the grass plains, garden sculpting. Tight little streams less than an a few inches across wove through the earth, making the ground squelch as Eridice approached.
As he watched, Sybilla raised a hand, twirling it. A small tree erupted from the ground in front of her, seeming to grow from a sapling to a full adult in a matter of moments. She considered its placement for a second, then shook her head, sending it back into the ground.
“Sybilla,” said Eridice, stopping a few yards behind his sister.
“Eridice,” said Sybilla, her tone distant. The goddess’s midnight black hair swayed as she remained facing away. “Do you think this tree looks better there, or…here?”
She motioned again, and the same tree sprang up a second time, though this time a few yards to the right.
“Sister, we don’t have time for this,” Eridice sighed, reaching into his pocket. “We’ve been summoned.”
“You know, I don’t like how it overshadows the bridge like that…indeed, it can be better,” Sybilla murmured. The tree went back down.
“The God King wants to see us.”
“Perhaps on the other side of the river…”
“Are you listening to me at all?” Eridice exclaimed, taking out the golden paper and shaking it in his fist. “Lord Xar has called us before the divine council! And I highly doubt it’s for something positive!”
Sybilla sighed, turning to face him at last. Her sharp, shrewd face cut into him. “I am aware, brother. I’ve heard the news from the other astral planes. But I don’t believe the rumors to be accurate. We aren’t being banished.”
Eridice scoffed. “How would you know?”
His sister gestured at the endless expanse of gardens all around them. “If we were being banished, our astral energy would have been confiscated. Yet I am still controlling this domain just fine. You see? It’s going to be alright.”
Before Eridice could open his mouth to say that his astral energy had been taken away earlier, the sun went out.
The tranquil light in the sky was extinguished, to be replaced by a dead glow. All of the trees and grass suddenly wilted all at once, so quickly and so simultaneously that it was like sweeping away dust. The rivers ran dry, the water disappearing into nowhere. The perfume scent in the air turned into the stench of death.
A moment later the siblings stood in an utter wasteland, watching a small storm of dried up petals float weakly by.
“Well,” said Eridice, speaking through the relative darkness. “What do you know.”
Lord Xar was not pleased.
Well, he was rarely pleased. Not lately, anyway. Disorder was on the rise across the universe, and it was directly linked to an increase in negligence amongst the lesser gods. And now this extreme case, these arrogant sibling deities who thought they could get away with doing squat with their astral energy; it was all getting out of hand.
The God King was sitting in a vast, dark chamber, the meeting place of the divine council. A jury of sorts extended to either side of him, where the other gods in the council were gathered under the cover of relative darkness. He himself sat at the head of the ring, in a big throne that was honesty kind of uncomfortable. Or maybe he was just getting old.
Today he had chosen his crow form. Maybe that was why the throne was so uncomfortable; it hadn’t exactly been built for a feathered biped, and a building sized one at that. He had changed his lower half to resemble a man’s, yet it didn’t help much. But he bore with it. He didn’t expect this hearing to last very long.
Many of the council members had, after all, walked in here with their decisions already made.
Thirty seven tardy notices. Eighty two counts of partial negligence. One hundred and twenty five counts of total negligence. Did these lesser deities think he had gone senile? It wasn’t as if he, the God King, had failed to notice. He had simply been waiting, hoping that the siblings would get their act together. And if they didn’t, that their crime would be bad enough so that they could be made into an example.
A little sprite with flowing green hair flew up from the void, alighting upon the end of the God King’s armrest.
“My lord, Eridice and Sybilla have arrived,” she announced, bowing.
“Five minutes late,” Xar muttered, his bird claws clicking against the stone. “Bring them in.”
“As you wish.”
The great doors at the end of the divine chamber boomed open. The divine siblings strode quietly inside, both dressed to impress. But Xar was not impressed.
There was a rustling as the council took their seats in the shadowy jury. Xar leaned back into the throne himself, not caring if it cramped his wings.
The siblings stopped at the center of the chamber, where all of the council could look down on them. A single light shined down from above, spotlighting the two offenders.
Let’s get this over with, Xar sighed, rising to his feet.
“Well, young ones,” he said, his voice flowing out through his beak, “I imagine you know why you have been summoned.”
The siblings bowed their heads, and the younger brother spoke.
“We would not be so remiss as to presume, my lord.”
Don’t play that game, Eridice. I know you aren’t that humble, Xar thought, irked. Lifting a claw, he summoned a sheet of golden paper.
“Lesser deity Eridice,” he said, reading aloud. “The god of passionate thought and expressed desire. Fifty two counts of total negligence.”
He saw the brother cringe and snorted. He continued reading.
“Lesser deity Sybilla,” he droned. “Goddess of foresight, hindsight, and aesthetic. Seventy three counts of total negligence.”
Dismissing the paper, he fell back into his throne, propping his beak up with one feathered hand.
“Now then,” he said, keeping his tone neutral, “What shall we do with you two?”
“If I may, my lord,” said Eridice, sounding nervous, “There is an explanation for all of this-“
“What sort of explanation?” Xar thundered, his voice booming. The pillars of the great chamber rumbled in place. The council members shifted nervously. “There is no excuse for abandoning your duty! Particularly you, Sybilla. The goddess of foresight, failing to prevent some of the worst travesties of the past century! Do you realize how much astral energy it took to mop up both world wars?”
Silence rang in the chamber. Eridice bit his lip, then nudged his sister. “Sybilla, are you awake?”
“Of course I’m awake,” the woman snapped. “I have nothing to say to the dimwit who destroyed the gardens I spent a solid century building.”
A stunned silence swallowed the council. The God King narrowed his eyes, summoning another golden paper.
“The council has reached its decision,” he said, in a voice made of ice. “Your punishment is as follows.”
Eridice began sweating literal bullets, solid salt crystals pinging to the floor around his feet. “My lord, if we could just-“
“Banishment!” Xar bellowed, slamming his fist into the side of the throne. “The two of you shall be exiled from the astral plains until you have made amends. One day of atonement for every year of negligence!”
The God King raised his wing, summoning his terrible powers. The circular floor beneath the siblings’ feet abruptly disappeared, to be replaced by a swirling, ravenous vortex of light.
Eridice screamed as he was nearly sucked in to the typhoon, grabbing the edge of what remained of the chamber and hanging on for dear life. His sister clung to the back of his pant leg, stretching it out terribly, but he was beyond caring.
“My lord, please!” Sybilla called out, her hair whiplashing in the violent winds. The council watched from the darkness, counting their blessings.
The God King sneered. “Don’t ‘please,’ me,” he said darkly. “Who knows, maybe you’ll land in Japan. You like their gardens, don’t you?”
He summoned two rolls of golden paper and tossed them into the void. They clunked against Eridice’s head, disorienting him and causing him to lose his grip. The siblings screamed as they were ripped from the astral plains in an instant, stripping them of their divine power. The ravenous vortex closed, taking both the the siblings and the golden papers with it.
Meanwhile, on the relatively quiet world of Earth, two children living thousands of miles apart simultaneously fainted.