According to the Priests and Priestesses in their multitudes of temples, based on how people count these things, the Gods created the world in a year.
I, Adera, a singular Goddess, created Home in two weeks.
And none of them have been happy about it from its very beginning.
Describing Home to someone who’s never been there is a rough challenge. No single summary can do it proper justice. Certainly it has the basics of a standard independent city-state, a trade district, a port on the western side of the city, places for people of various social and economic classes to live in, walls to defend it (although the necessity of those walls has always baffled me), but it only describes its appearance, not its soul, its heart. The museums of almost every size and shape, serving as secular houses of worship for any and every method of art and expression that could possibly be thought of. Parks where the trees and flowers would bloom in a perfect splendor, theaters housing the works of playwrights and actors and dancers and singers, a city housed full of such beautiful creativity and production that people travelled from across the world just to get a glimpse.
And the magik. Oh, the MAGIK. Give humanity nothing else, but even the most stubborn of the deities would have to admit that their skill of taking the world around them and changing it through sheer will was impressive. But here, in Home, in MY city of Home, it went so much further. People learned and studied magik, consuming knowledge like it was bread and water offered to a man dying of hunger and thirst, and used it for everything. Of course, for every success there were twelve dozen mistakes, mishaps, and casualties, but occasionally, if everything went right and Luck itself was on their side, once or twice they would create something even I, a goddess, could not help but marvel at and envy that I had not thought to do it first.
It was paradise for me. Full of painters and sculptors and writers and singers and so many people with the desire to make something new, it filled me with happiness as the Goddess of the Arts and Creativity. It was a place where I could make anything and everything I had ever wanted, where my works would constantly be appreciated, where I ruled not only as their Goddess, but as their Queen.
It was also my prison, my burden, and while I love Home for everything it gives, I hate it for everything it took away from me. The freedom to see the rest of the world, to travel, to go back amongst the Gods to my “rightful” home in the Celestial Domain. Even though I never regretted taking my leave from the rest of those foolish deities, there were a few moments where I found myself missing it.
But while I lived in my jail cell, at least I could decorate it as I wished. For starters, I ensured that there would be no temples in Home. No houses of worship, no palaces of divine providence, nothing. I was not entirely unreasonable though, as all one had to do was simply step out of the city gates and they could find temples and churches for all fourteen of my most holy and idiotic brethren who believe that the world is theirs to play with as they see fit.
When I had initially made that decree, each of them personally appeared outside of the city gates, having the common sense to not just barge into my own private chambers. Syalia herself, my sister and the only one of the Gods that I can tolerate, had tried to persuade me otherwise. I was in a bit of a foul mood of being interrupted in the middle of making an opera I had been trying to write for three decades, and said the only way they’d get in my city is if they’d cut off their right arms for the privilege.
I honestly never thought that Syalia would actually go through with it. After agreeing to letting her temples exist inside Home publicly, and chewing her out for doing such a stupid thing privately, I made it a permanent ban.
Hell, all SHE would have had to do was ask nicely. For her, I would have been more than happy to bend the rules.
It had been ten years since that horrid incident, and thankfully no one else had tried to interfere with Home again, afraid that I might actually follow through on the threats I had made if any of the Gods entered or in any way bothered the city-state. Leaving them stuck outside, and myself stuck inside, lest they all capture me and take my Home for themselves.
And everything that’s I had hidden away within it, for most likely the worse of everything in existence.
But still, there were times I was tempted. Tempted to just throw it all away and surrender myself to my family, possibly even apologize personally to Calus, my father and ruler of the Gods themselves, to plead for his forgiveness and offer up Home on a decorative silver platter.
As long as it meant I would never have to hear Senator Heric’s droning filibusters ever again.
He had rooted himself in my living room, taking advantage of how I would occasionally have my doors open to help offer solutions to the peoples’ problems, listen to them as they worshipped me and begged for my assistance. Sometimes, they would come to me looking for inspiration, a way to cure their writer’s block or critique the recent selection of poems they had written, which could often be quite fun. Once in a while, they wouldn’t even ask for anything; they would simply arrive and give some work of art they had made “in my honor”, as they said. I treasured all of these, no matter how misshapen and garish they may have been.
Other times, like with the Senator, they would drone on for what seemed like an eternity about some minute legal issue that required extensive knowledge of three separate treaties, eight legal rulings passed down by the Grand Court, and fifty-nine by-laws of legislation. All of this, in order to explain why some trees had to be removed, or a building needed to be one floor higher, or that the taxes needed to be one-tenth of a percent higher for those who sold a specific type of fish. It was maddening.
The second he paused for a breath, I took my chance. “Senator, I GREATLY appreciate you informing me of all of this,” I said, stepping up out of my chair and escorting him towards the door. “Rest assured, I will do everything within my power to ensure that this issue is dealt with the utmost precision and care.” As I opened the door I spied my assistant Baldren and motioned him over. “Get the Senator out of here as fast as you can, and make sure he never bothers me again,” I whisper to him.
“Of course, My Lady Adera,” he whispered back, taking the Senator away and making some sort of idle small-talk with him. I made my way back to the living room and pour myself an extravagantly large glass of wine. The hassle of bureaucratic nonsense sometimes made me wonder how normal humans could handle it. I sunk back into the chair and took a long, relaxing drink.
When Baldren returned, I was in the process of pouring myself a second glass. “Baldren, how long until the elections? I need to desperately support whoever will be running against Senator Heric.”
“Not for another three years, My Lady Adera, unfortunately. Would you care for a different vintage, or is that one pleasing to you?”
“It is most pleasing. Pour yourself a glass.”
“I’m afraid I will have to pass for now. There is still one more supplicant awaiting you. A priestess of Syalia. She wished to discuss some personal matter with you in private.”
I can’t help but sigh. I had seats reserved for the latest play tonight, and did not want to miss it. “Bring her in. Hopefully it will be quick.” She stepped into the room wearing traditional Syalian garb, a long-sleeved grey, hooded robe and a blank white mask that entirely covered her face, excluding the eye holes. It was just so…plain, so ordinary, that only my sister could have inspired it. It was supposed to represent how all of Syalia’s worshipers worked for the greater good of the people and not for personal glory and other such symbolic nonsense.
I took a sip of my wine as I studied her. “You know, Sister, if you wanted to see me, you could just knock and forgo the disguise. I’ve always told you you were welcome in Home.” The woman tilted her head in confusion, then turned around to face Baldren, who simply shrugged.
When she took of her mask, it was impossible to mistake her for anything other than divine, the Goddess of Peace and Order. It always made me laugh how people would wonder why the two of us got along so well, basing their views only on surface claims. She had the young, matronly look to her face, with bright and hopeful eyes and long, thick blonde hair. I, meanwhile, had a much more mischievous grin on my face more often than not, and had turned my hair into a full rainbow of colors rather than settling for merely just two or three as I often had.
But that’s the thing about art: it requires order, a careful design, a plan. Merely splashing paint against a canvas without any semblance of planning would be nothing but ugly chaos. And I suppose that was part of why we had always gotten along so well. She probably understood me better than anyone else in the Pantheon, and I was always there to listen or provide help when she needed it.
“How did you know?” she calmly asked.
“Sister, you do realize I’m still a Goddess, correct? You might as well try hiding a scent from a hound than hide your divinity from me. Baldren,” I said, “a moment of privacy, if you would?”
“As you wish, My Lady,” he replied, shuffling his way out of the room and softly closing the door behind him. I offered to pour Syalia a glass of the wine, but she politely declined, simply raising up a hand to say no.
“Are you sure he will not inform anyone?” Syalia asked, a twinge of nervousness in her voice.
“Who would he tell?”
“Father Calus, for one.”
“That old fool won’t hear anything you don’t want him to hear, Sister.”
“Adera, if he finds out that I—”
“Oh, spare me.” I took another, longer sip of wine. “I’m not afraid of our father. I haven’t been for so long I don’t even remember.”
Syalia sighed. “I suppose you’re still reluctant to apologize to him?”
“For what? Being right about not getting involved with mankind’s wars? Being right about trusting Raie to make war on the Primarchs? Being right about not mating with mortals if we weren’t careful?”
“That last one certainly didn’t stop you,” my sister muttered. I was taken aback by the bitterness in her voice.
“Hence my use of the word ‘careful’. But let’s not talk about me.” I focus back on her and can’t help but see that her left arm sleeve just dangled at her side, empty. “You’re still not going to get a new arm?”
“Adera, sacrifices don’t mean anything if they can just be given away like they’re nothing. If I were to use my power to grow a new arm, or find a replacement, than what I did—”
“What you did was not realize I was purposefully making an exaggerated claim! Calus and the rest of them wouldn’t have the guts to actually mutilate themselves for one city, so why would you—”
“Because it would have been perfect,” Syalia snarled. I put my glass down, focused entirely on her. “You get to be the rebel, the artist who never submits to anyone. And you scared our family to pieces, every god and demi-god left you alone after that day, right? And, well, how could I not be the sad little sacrifice, doing all in my power to help my followers?” She smiled, and there was something in her eyes I did not immediately recognize. It was…enjoyment. She liked the shocked and stunned expression on my face. “I have a part to play, Adera. We all do. No matter how much I might not like it, it is who I am.” She stopped and took a long sigh. “I think I’ll take that glass, please,” she finally said, gently taking my wine and sipping it carefully.
“Don’t. Please. We should not dwell on the past. I came for your help, and I will be to the point,” she said. “I want you to use The Void.”
There were so few times I had ever been stunned into silence, unable to form a coherent thought. This was one of them. “Are you…you are. You ARE serious about this.” I could not believe it was Syalia, of all my relatives, to come asking about this. “Absolutely not!”
The Void is, as best as I can describe it, something that literally should not be. I have attempted to write down its physical description, paint it, sketch it on a piece of paper, but it all proves entirely fruitless. All I can talk about is its malevolence, the emotions of hatred, anger, and jealousy that radiate from it like heat from a fire.
As far as I can tell, The Void dates all the way back to the original creation of the world, when all of the Gods and Goddesses argued over what it should be like. One singular God could have probably done it in a week, less if they wanted to hurry. But for us, it was different. Ni’Kolo thought the tiger should be dominant, Uncle Barsoloq tried to make the whole planet a vast ocean, everyone had vastly different ideas. And from all these conflicts, arguments, disgust at the compromises they had set, The Void was born, hidden away deep underneath the ground of what I would eventually make Home. It was part of the reason why I made Home in the first place, if only to ensure that no one else would try to tamper with it and accidentally destroy the world by annoying it.
Once my family had become aware of what I had found, they did their best to take it an Home away from me. I had to threaten to literally tear the world and possibly all of us apart with The Void to force them to stop, but it left us all in a perpetual stalemate, leaving me trapped in Home, lest they free The Void from the multitudes of protective boundaries I had secured it with in an attempt to control it for themselves.
“Syalia,” I continued, “I am not going to do ANYTHING that would let that…thing…have a moment of freedom!”
“No. No, I’m sorry, but whatever you think I can do with it, you’re unfortunately mistaken.”
“But you told all of the Gods—”
“Sister, do you not remember who you are talking to? I make up paintings and sculptures and stories all of the time! What makes you think I would not also make up the truth?”
“But…but you have it sealed away, kept imprisoned, just in case…”
“There’s a difference between keeping a sword locked in a case, and a rabid dog kept fenced in a yard. The Void is the latter. I could no more control it than a new-born babe can control the sun.”
“We can work together, then! The two of us!” Syalia’s eyes were full of some manic hope, so bright I felt bad for her. “It should be easy, the two of us working together, we can do this, Adera. We HAVE to do this, to save the world!”
Syalia looked at me, her face hard with determination and severity. “Adera, you have absolutely no idea what it’s like out in the real world,” she explained. “All you have to worry about is this city and the surrounding countryside. Miniscule in comparison to the rest of all creation. A world that I have been doing my best to bring up out of the mud our family consistently throws humanity down into!”
“Sister, please, it can not be that bad. Sure, a few of our fellow deities are rather dumb, but—”
“Valix and Ferrono have been fighting over who should be Laloni’s lover worse than before, and the nations they serve as patrons of are feeling the effects; priests denouncing one another in the streets, entire armies being raised, there are already skirmishes in some contested freelands!”
I remembered hearing something along those lines before from an ambassador, but the specifics eluded me. “Val and Ferry have been going at it since the dawn of time, you just need to relax.”
“And then there’s Barsoloq! He’s taken Celesba’s daughter as his newest wife, although how and why she went along with it none of us can figure out. Celesba’s forcing her followers to stop tending the crops and sending them to the islands of Barsoloq’s worshipers, so he’s responding with hurricanes and typhoons against HER cities! And neither of them is willing to even try and listen to me, or let me mediate some sort of compromise between them!” Her voice was starting to grow more and more manic with each
“There is…there is always stormy weather around this time of year, Sya. Besides, if Father thought that—”
“Our Father views it all like some sort of farce! A comedy of errors for his own private amusement! I begged, pleaded with him to do something, until I was literally on my knees and crying, but he just laughed when I asked him to stop them! He refuses to use any of his power to intervene! Innocent people are dying, and he thinks it’s nothing short of hilarious!”
“People die all the time, Syalia. You need to get some distance on this issue.” I could not help but feel horrible for my sister. The two of us, more so than our family, always had more of a connection with the humans who worshipped us. While the rest of the Gods viewed their legions of devout followers as something akin to a status symbol, I could not help but admire and enjoy their attempts at making artwork, no matter how hideous and poorly it was done. Syalia also had a soft spot in her heart for her followers, but she viewed each individual human as something special and cared deeply for their various plights and issues. “I know things seem hard, but just give it time and you can get them to see your side and understand—”
“THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND! THEY WON’T EVEN LISTEN TO ME!” she yelled, getting up and kicking her chair to the ground, crumbling it into loose tinder. “They treat me like some petty nuisance! I’m a GODDESS, an all-powerful being of Order and Peace, and I can’t make them stop fighting! I’m USELESS!” She fell to her knees, hunched over and crying. “They won’t listen to me, even though I know how to make everything better. So, I need your help. Please, Adera. We can control The Void together. Just one time, that’s all.”
Baldren opened the door quietly, accompanied by a few guards. I wave them off silently, not wanting to have them see my sister in this state. Once they left, I crouched down and gave my sister a comforting hug. “Sister. Syalia. Just think about what you are suggesting. We can’t control The Void. Not if we had all the time in the world. I love you, but you make it sound as if you want the whole world to end.”
“Maybe that’s what needs to happen.”
I let go of Syalia and stare at her, unable to believe that what I had just heard came from her mouth. “Maybe…maybe everything needs to be wiped clean. Start entirely over. The two of us can make things better.” She looked up at me with eyes brimming with the hope of a fever dream and the smile of a serial killer. “Yes…yes! We just have to start over! No more wars, no more fighting, no more suffering, no more Gods angry at you for saying what needs to be said. We can do this! The Void…it can let us remake the whole world! I can make everything right, and you can make everything beautiful! It would be a paradise! The two of us, dear sisters, creating a world that would be the envy of everyone and everything!”
She began to laugh, as if she had discovered the solution to a math problem that had bothered her for years, maniacally and with wanton glee. I could only stare at her, my sister, the one Goddess I loved, as I realized she had lost her mind. Stuck all alone in the Celestial Domain with the rest of the Gods, trying to make them all work together and stop fighting, would have been if I were trapped in a blank room with no paints, inks, or anything at all to create with. I would go mad in a day. How long ago had she lost her mind? Yesterday? Last week?
When she cut off her arm?
“Syalia, this is crazy. Listen to yourself! Destroying the world with The Void…it will bring no peace, no beauty. The Void is not something you and I can control, it is something that can only be let loose, out in the world until it destroys everything, including us.”
“We can figure out a way!”
“Sister, you are not—”
“WE CAN! We can. Why…why won’t you believe me? Why won’t you just tell me how you control The Void?”
“Because I CAN’T CONTROL IT!”
Syalia slowly got up and grabbed the bottle of wine with her hand, holding it like some sort of club. “Adera. Please. I only want to help everyone. Tell me how you control The Void.”
I could not help but laugh. It was almost as if she were trying to threaten me. “Or what? You hit me until I comply? Sister, this is going to get you nowhere, the whole—”
And here is where I made my biggest mistake. If a human were to try something like this, they would have been too slow, too weak, too harmless for me to even bother trying to dodge. If I did, it would only be to prevent the loss of a perfectly fine vintage.
But if a God or Goddess, even if it is the Goddess of Peace and Order, decides to do so, that would be something else entirely.
I was knocked out before I hit the floor.
As I regained consciousness, I could feel my head throbbing in pain like an off-tempo orchestra of drums. I was not entirely a stranger to feeling physically hurt, but it had literally been centuries bordering on millennia since the last time it had happened to me.
My sister was no longer in the room. Judging from the way that the doors were lying off their hinges, it looked as if she had kicked them open. I had no idea how long I had been out, but I had to stop her before she did something stupid. I ran out of the room, stumbling as I still tried to adjust myself to the headache I had. “Baldren!” I yelled. “Baldren! Where are you?”
I did not hear a reply. Baldren was my head servant, and one of the few people who actually knew how to find where The Void was sealed away. Syalia probably went after him first. I check the guards that lay unconscious, not dead, thankfully, in the hall. Although my sister was clearly insane, at least she retained some small level of self-control.
The secret passage in the basement had clearly been discovered, as evidenced by the door being wide open, displaying a large, long spiral staircase into the earth below. I decided it would be best to save time and just jump all the way down. It was not as if the fall could hurt me.
When I landed, I stumbled for a bit. The blow Syalia landed on me must have taken a bit more out of me than I expected. I was not even sure what I should have expected in the first place, given my overall unfamiliarity towards violence and head trauma.
The final door, guarding the massive cave where I had restrained The Void, was busted open, with its chains torn apart and thrown aside like trash. I can see Syalia gazing at the indescribable abomination further ahead, with Baldren sprawled out to the side, not moving.
I moved as quickly and cautiously as I could, making sure that Syalia did not notice me. I move over to Baldren and check his pulse. He was still alive, thankfully, but knocked out. I moved him from the room as gently as I can, then re-entered it to confront my sister.
“Syalia!” I yelled, trying to get her attention. “Just think about what you are doing! This won’t bring about peace, it won’t end fighting, it will just create destruction and chaos! That is all it is and does! You need help, actual mental help, not this! Just give me a chance!”
“I’ve already given them chances. I’ve given everyone chances,” she said back, still focused on The Void, staring at it in subdued awe.
“You have absolutely no idea what you are messing with!” I tried to explain.
“Oh, and you do?” She turned around to face me. “All you do is lay in your house, making pretty little paintings and sculptures. I’ve seen the ugliness that exists in the world, and I’m trying to remove it. Why aren’t you trying to do the same?” She turned her back to me and started to step closer to The Void, about to cross over the barrier.
As part of one of the multitudes of safeguards I had set up against The Void, a process that took entire days of non-stop spellwork, the first barrier was a standard line, which would serve as a standard alarm to alert me that someone had found The Void. It also, as a defense mechanism for preventing the trespasser from being a threat, allowed for The Void to have greater mobility and access to the rest of the room, albeit in a still limited fashion.
As soon as Syalia crossed that first line, The Void lashed out. It grabbed her with some sort of tentacle-like appendage and dragged her closer to it. She screamed and struggled as it pulled her closer towards it, but I was barely able to grab on to her arm just before she disappeared into The Void.
“Let me go,” Syalia screamed at me. “Let me go! I can handle this. Please, Adera, I can do this, let me go!”
As I tried to hold her down long enough to subdue her, The Void seemed to be almost drawn towards our fight. Another tentacle-like mess shot out from it, aimed straight at both of us.
Syalia saw it coming before I did. She gave me a small kick, sending me out of the way before it reached us, before it reached her.
As least, that is what I think happened.
It is what I really, truly hope happened.
It grabbed her and dragged her in, closer and closer towards it. Syalia struggled the whole time, screaming and kicking and doing everything she can to break free. The Void had almost taken her whole before I grabbed her only arm and pulled, pulled as hard as I could, trying to save her from the maelstrom of unspeakable otherness.
My action seemed to do something, at least. The Void seemed to spit her back out, landing me on my rear end and her flying several feet further. I wanted to see if she was alright, but I had to focus on preventing The Void from loosening the rest of the safeguards. A task that required my full attention.
Once I was fully sure of our safety, I turned around and lashed out at my sister. “You…idiot! You absolute IDIOT! I just can not understand WHY you ever thought this was a good idea! Do you have any sense of scope, any IDEA of what might have happened?” She did not get up to face me. “Oh, please, spare us all your sad, tragic martyr routine. I can understand why you thought you had to do this, but there has to be some part of you that realizes it was stupid. Now, get up!” I tried to lift her up, but she slumped back down to the ground. “Syalia, this isn’t funny. Let’s get out of here before anything else happens.” I tried again, and again she fell.
She doesn’t respond.
Please get up?”
The next month is something of a blur to me, so I have to rely on Baldren’s testimony for the following.
Baldren eventuall woke up, several hours later. The first thing he saw was me, kneeling over my sister’s lifeless body. I would not respond to anything he said. When he touched me, I apparently became hysterical and threw him against the wall, tears rushing down my face.
Eventually I had to get into contact with the rest of my family, and forcefully dragged them all down to where The Void and Syalia’s body were. I do not know what shocked them more: my emotional state, seeing Syalia dead, KNOWING that Syalia was dead, or that The Void was this chaotic and beyond control. They had to explain to the Priests and Priestesses, a conversation and questioning that I actively took no part in. I had locked myself away, doing anything and everything to seclude myself from the rest of the world. No more open doors to speak with me, no more supplicants, just myself, alone in a room, attempting to create something, anything, whatever I could to take my mind away, with a singular focus I had never experienced or had demonstrated before.
The first clear, absolute memory I have after Syalia’s death was waking up in that room, surrounded by destroyed paintings, broken sculptures, and tattered poems.
It was also the time when Baldren finally had the courage to attempt to disturb me. “My Lady…you…er, how should I say this, you have a guest.”
“Tell them to go to Hell,” I mumbled, wanting to continue being alone amongst the rubble of my works.
“I don’t…believe that it would be wise,” Baldren said.
“If it is Senator Heric, then it would be MORE than wise, it would be necessary for his own personal safety. Tell him to go jump in a fire and burn to death, I’m not in the mood.”
“I don’t believe that’s any way to treat your father, dear,” Calus replied.
I shot up, shocked that he’s here. Baldren immediately ducked down into a quick bow, awed as all mortals are by his presence, regardless of personal feelings, and scurries away. “You,” I snarled. “You…what are you doing here?”
“Visiting my daughter, who is desperately in need of help.”
“I don’t need ANYTHING from you. I’ve never needed anything from you.”
“You have locked yourself away more than ever. I can respect pride, but this is nothing short of self-destructive behavior,” he stated.
“Oh, so you care now? You actually care about someone other than yourself? Syalia told me all about what you said to her. She acted like it was some shattering revelation, but it only confirmed what I already knew about you. So leave. NOW.”
“It is, in fact, about Syalia herself that I wanted to talk with you.”
“No. No. No, you don’t get to say her name in my presence. I don’t care if you’re my father, a God, or anything else, YOU DON’T SAY HER NAME!” I shrieked.
He paused, waiting for me to calm down a bit. “You were not the only one who loved her,” he finally said.
I laughed harshly and dryly at that. “What makes you think you know anything about love?”
“Because I feel remorse. Because I realize that I was wrong. Because I came here, in some small hope that we might be able to simply TALK, and that you could realize and learn what has been happening in the world. We have all been shocked by Syalia’s…passing. Some more than others. And many of us, myself included, realize what we must have been to drive her so far.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Leave. Now.”
Calus paused, measuring what he was about to say. “Do you think your sister would approve of this sort of behavior? I came here to apologize, daughter. Not to hurt you further.”
I stopped when I heard him say that. He could not have been serious. This was CALUS, the King of the Gods, and he wanted to apologize? I thought he did not even know the definition of the word. “You…what?”
“I concede in my errors, and ask your forgiveness. On my power, I swear that neither I nor the rest of your family wishes to lay a claim to your…experiment, your Home. We only want to try and make amends.” He held out his hand. “What better way to honor your sister’s memory than to do so?”
I stare at his hand and let out a small chuckle. “You’re still an ass,” I told him.
“And you are still an annoying, insubordinate brat,” he replied.
I pushed away his hand, and we left together.