Long before humans learned to measure time, the deity known as The Other wandered the unformed lands, exploring and learning all he could about this strange universe into which he’d been born. As he wandered, he came upon a copse of trees growing in a circle, and in that circle he saw some of his siblings, along with a contingent of cooing mortals.
These creatures interested him far less than the beasts of field and forest. Everything else had been created with a purpose, but he could see no purpose to these mortal beings. Though sculpted in the gods’ image, they seemed but frail shadows before their creators. It seemed to him that they’d been created simply for the amusement of his brethren, and this he found disturbing. And here these poor creatures threw themselves at the feet of his siblings, crying out in either exultation or agony. He wasn’t certain which. Without bothering to first send a mental flare that would have announced his presence, he stepped through the ring of trees and the veil creating the bubble between their world and the mortal realm.
Everyone froze, mortal and immortal alike turning to peer at the trespasser. “What is it you do here?” The Other asked, violet eyes alighting on each of his siblings in turn. He looked upon Lorynn the Quick. He was tall, fair-haired and whippet-thin, always seeming to be driven by a relentless inner energy. Now he looked even more exultant, as if he were in the throes of some great battle. The other then turned his eyes to regard Ogonn the Strong, who was as tall as the wiry Lorynn, but heavier of build. Lorynn’s every movement seemed ponderous, his strength so great he could crush mortals with a mere sweep of his arm.
His third and final sibling was Neyatt, known as the Stormcrow. She wore her courtly garb, foregoing her working gear of skeletal visage and sackcloth robes favor of a very pale green gown that contrasted perfectly her alabaster skin. Seeing her in this form could almost make him forget that she was a death goddess. Almost. But, perhaps, for that faint charnel scent that followed her, he mused. He repeated his question, confused by his siblings’ refusal to answer.
“They worship us, my brother,” said Ogonn the Strong, in his deliberate way. “They look upon the glory that is ourselves and bathe in our magnificence.”
The Other grunted. Some days he felt less magnificent than others. But this made him curious nonetheless. “And what is it you gain here?”
Lorynn laughed suddenly. Violently. “It feels good to be acknowledged. We created them. They owe us fealty and obeisance above and beyond all things.”
The Other shrugged. “Perhaps this is so,” he admitted. “But why do you ask them to grovel at your feet? That one is kissing your sandal, Neyatt. Who knows where it’s been?” He let his tone lighten, to make of it a jest. She met his violet gaze with her own jet black stare, saying nothing for a long moment that stretched into decades, then centuries. Eons. The mortals who clustered around may have lived and died and lived and died again before she answered him, had they not been in their gods’ presence.
“They like it,” she said, dreamily. “Look at them.”
The Other did so, gazing down at the mortals clustered around her feet like pale white shadows, naked and writhing. “Some might enjoy it, but not all of them.” He pointed to one that was off to one side, holding a limb as if injured. “That one is certainly not enjoying it.”
She made a waving gesture in the air, as if brushing away an irritant. “If you think you can do better, feel free. You may have this mortal,” she said. “I release her to you.”
The Other stared back at her, nonplussed. What was he to do with a mortal? They were dumb, and messy, and often mindlessly violent. Animals he understood. They fought for food, or to survive. Mortals fought for all kinds of silly reasons.
“Well,” she prompted, “go ahead. Take her. You may heal her as you wish. It is easy, even for one such as you.”
He ignored the jab. One such as me. It became a growl as it replayed in his head. They thought they were so much more than he was because they existed first. By a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a month, or a year… or maybe an eternity. They existed first. They recalled being born all at the same time, looking around and seeing one another. Before they had even known who they were, they had each other.
The Other was born a short distance away, a moment later, but it might have been a whole universe distant. He was not one of them. He was The Other.
He’d expected the mortal to be stupid, but it wasn’t. It was smarter even than the wolves he ran with, or the crows he flew with. It picked up language faster than anything he’d ever seen. Maybe, he thought, the other gods created mortals because they were lonely? Certainly he’d grown to despise his fellows’ company, preferring instead the company of mindless beasts.
He understood loneliness. Sometimes it visited him like a phantasm in the quiet of the moments before the Celestial Dawn—the moment the divine realm synchronized with the mortal realm and time began to run concurrently in both.
In essence, the year One.
While his siblings brought civilization to their mortals, The Other remained apart with his own. As he only started with one, he’d had to steal another. They had plenty. They’d never miss one. This was what he told himself and he was right. They did not care for their mortals, for all of their claims.
He taught his mortals all kinds of things like sailing, tracking, music, and how to speak the language of animals. Bits of the song of creation, that allowed his kind to shape the world to their liking. His clan would be different from the other mortals, he decided. For one, they would not know the burden of ‘worship.’ The Other merely required loyalty and service, not abject obeisance. His siblings believed they were serving order, but he saw the truth of it. They served their own vanity, their own egoes. And did their mortal charges a great disservice in so doing.
It was not long before they learned they were not alone. The world was large, and there existed other gods, and other mortals, and some of these other gods had also discovered the joy of worship. They believed that the more worshippers they had, the greater their worth. Thus they began to compete for worshippers, and eventually turned to warring throwing mortal armies at one another, trying to end their feud via sheer attrition.
In the mortal realm, great armies rent the land, and vast, powerful sorceries cast down the mighty and exalted the weak and vulnerable. Dynasties were born, lived, and died. Empires rose, conquered, and fell. Many mortals went early to his sister’s realm, or one just like it forged by the hands of another death god.
But in the end it seemed he knew the ultimate outcome long before it came. One after another the other gods fell before his siblings. For one reason or another, they were always slightly stronger, or a little faster, or just a tad more desperate and ruthless at the right moment. Either way, one by one the other gods died, slain in the celestial realm by these conquering gods, or slain by default as their followers were converted or killed.
Maybe they were the first, as they claimed to be. Certainly they always seemed to have the upper hand. They seemed to draw an ace in every hand. But despite all of this they’d never come after him. It made him wonder, because he was certain that he too would fall in short order. He couldn’t hope to stand against the might of all three of them at the same time, even if he was born of the same divine spark. Where they were conductivity, he was resistance. Where they were heat, he was cold. Where they were order and unity, he was chaos and division.
It wasn’t something he chose. It was thrust upon him.
His siblings grew even more cocky with each passing century. It had been eons since they’d killed the last of the other gods. They shared their power amongst themselves and grew even stronger. But now they’d gained an appetite for a meal they’d rendered all but extinct. And unlike mortals, they couldn’t simply wave a hand and make another god appear.
They boasted of the creation of the ultimate mortal government, a wedding between the state, the church, and the gods. They would bring their wisdom to bear on mortal problems and create an earthly utopia. Or so they believed. But their wisdom was cold, icy comfort indeed. What kind of world did they have?
The Empire covered a continent, and, for a time, served as a center for learning and law through the known world. Roads were built, and coliseums. Great playhouses and immense libraries. Grand palaces for the favored. The Empire could honestly say that the hands of its gods were upon it.
But The Other saw the things his siblings never bothered to look for. He saw the underside. Not only the battlefields full of corpses, but the haunted eyes of those who could never forget the wars. The tormented and the mad. Widows and orphans. Refugees. The lost, the addicted, and, yes, even the lazy. People who couldn’t measure up to even the least of the Empire’s standards, who could not no matter how hard they tried.
Some of these were pressed into slavery. Others were used as cannon fodder in yet more wars. There was always someone else to fight, even if they claimed the other gods were dead.
The Other had his doubts. Then again, he always did.
As the empire grew, crushing everything in its path, so did the Other’s mortal clan. Taught the god’s tricks and sent among the faithful, they limited themselves to little rebellions to keep themselves primed and ready to go when the moment came.
And come it did.
A nudge here, a gentle push there, a bit of persuasion elsewhere. He hadn’t done much to sabotage their empire personally. He hadn’t even spent all that much time badmouthing it. For one, it wasn’t necessary. And while the three gods held a great deal of power, they could not force worship and in some places the worship of the dead gods remained.
Others chose to begin worshiping The Other, which made him cranky. He finally found himself a prophet just so he could pass on the message that he wasn’t to be worshiped. Talk about a scam. People don’t listen to gods directly. You could walk right up to a mortal, prove you’re a god, and they’ll question everything that comes out of your mouth from that moment on. Give them a nice prophet spouting vague missives from a mysterious “god” and they’re all on board.
Yes, it irritated him. Sometimes he found himself reassessing his initial question with regards to the mortals. Were they simply that bloody stupid? No other animal of his experience chose to piss where it drinks, but humans didn’t seem to have enough sense to avoid it without someone sending a prophet to explain things.
Oh, yeah. Don’t eat the shellfish when they look like that. Yeah. Like that. No, that’s fine. No, that’s fine too. No, that’s awful. You mean you can’t see the green spots? Oh, forget it. Just don’t eat shellfish, okay?
He imagined one of his siblings trying to have that conversation with one of their prophets. And, no, you couldn’t just go out and pick someone who’d explain it in plan words everyone could understand. If you did that, no one would believe it. Seriously, the less sense it makes, the more likely people are to buy into it en masse.
Were the mortals worth it? He asked himself that question on a regular basis. To put it in terms mortals might understand, it was like raising kids you know will never grow up enough to move out. Humans would probably always need gods, the poor things.
His humans were pretty smart. They followed his prophet’s instructions to the letter. The Empire lies in shambles and people are going to be looking to pick up the pieces without their old gods. Their failure to protect the people would not go unnoticed.
The Other’s people were, of course, prepared. They’d helped to set the dominoes up and then triggered their fall. While whatever splinters of the old empire remained struggled to survive, much of The Other’s people would be heading north, into what had been the province of Ruall, where they would establish a center for magic and learning that would teach The Other’s perspective rather than that of the Three.
Centuries pass and new nations arise. The continent was now made up of ten different kingdoms, five in the north and five in the south. They’re about to have a big argument with regards to the institution of slavery, one of the only human institutions that survived the fall of the Empire.
As he’d never actually experienced trouble personally, he certainly wasn’t anticipating it when he returned to the Celestial realm. Until the outer wall of his personal keep imploded and admitted his brother, Ogonn. So that’s what he looks like when he’s really mad.
Ogonn was very angry because he’d finally figured out that it had been The Other who’d toppled their Empire. With a little mortal help. “How dare you!” Ogonn roared, snatching chunks of brick from the walls and crumbling them in his fists. “You are nothing! An insignificant gnat! You do not deserve any of our power, much less a whole fourth of it!”
He stopped, as if realizing he’d said too much. And he had. In that moment he’d told The Other everything he needed to know, answering questions he’d had since he’d asked the first question. Then, before he could react, the huge god snatched him up in one gigantic hand and began to slowly squeeze.
The Other’s mind began to skip around as he tried to think of an escape route. His brother’s hand had become a prison, and he felt them moving, as if his brother was carrying him somewhere, though he couldn’t see anything through the cage of Ogonn’s closed fist.
Arriving at the other end, the god dumped his rebellious sibling onto the hard ground without ceremony. Arranged in a half circle around them were the three gods who refused to allow him his godhood, who treated him like some second-class being despite knowing that he was indeed meant to be one of them.
When Neyett spoke it was in an attempt to shame him again, telling him he usurped power that rightfully belonged to them, that he’d been a mere mistake, a glitch in the weave. They meant to do away with him and absorb his power, as they had with the other gods they’d conquered.
He laughed a long time as they stared down at him, unspeaking. His amusement puzzled them and they wore their mental millstones down to gravel trying to figure it out. Ages passed yet again as the world turned below them.
The Other threw back his head and laughed some more as he realized that he’d never heard one of them laugh in genuine amusement. Anything resembling a laugh that came from any of his siblings would have been the result of careful calculation. They did not understand his outburst.
He mocked them without speaking, then, using one of his tricks, replaced himself with an image that continued chattering away as he’d been doing, saying nothing of consequence but filling the world with noise. When they realized what he’d done, they could do little more than throw curses after him.
Now that he’d shaken up the very foundation of everything, it was time to challenge the most basic assumptions in the Broken Empire. For the first time in his long life he was a god on a mission. He’d either guide his clan to help build a new kind of world or… or nothing, really. He was a god. And now he knew that his siblings were afraid to attack him, maybe believing that their power was also wrapped up in his.
Maybe they’d killed other sibling gods before and learned something about the way it worked, he thought. Maybe it weakened the other gods and made them more vulnerable. Maybe even vulnerable to mortal attack.
The thought intrigued him and he pondered it for a year or two while wandering the northern kingdoms as a madman. He kept half of his mind on where he was going, the other half making all kinds of mental connections. It said a lot that though his siblings’ so-called “Book of Truth” called for the killing of madmen, the only people who threatened him were people just as lost. Those who considered themselves ‘decent folk,’ would never think to kill a man simply because he was mad.
It wasn’t as though they could kill him. Oh, they could try, which would be a lot more fun for them than for him. But death was beyond him, he thought. Unless maybe one of his siblings chose to eat him, and then he feared that death wasn’t the end, that a part of him might remain floating around in his brother’s sick and twisted mind.
Now there was a notion to drive a man mad indeed, he thought, as, passing a temple, he paused to listen to a hymn. Once it was over he began to wander off, but a voice reached out and caught him. A voice slandering him in the sweetest tones.
I never did! I wouldn’t! That is not my crime! he objected silently. But he listened as the song continued, claiming that he had sent succubae to tempt men into working against the gods and the Empire. He stiffened in outrage at the line, thinking I would never treat a succubus so badly.
And then he heard it. His name. Not his real name, of course. He had no real name. But a name that would work for him, that stood for him, that his siblings had chosen to refer to him, if they deigned to refer to him at all. Outcast.
His name was Outcast and he was a rebel god in a broken empire. And for some reason, all of that felt as if it was meant to be. And maybe it was.