The guards led the heretic toward Xerous’ temple in chains, his beard unkempt from days of travel, his face ruddy with the dust of the roads.
He didn’t look for solace in the white masks of the guards or the painted-blue faces of the faithful. He simply stared ahead, his old eyes fixed on the domes and spires of the temple, gleaming in the moonlight.
The great hall was twice the height of the grand library that had dominated the last twenty years of the heretic’s life, built with exotic stone, inlaid with gold and silver.
A crystal lens the size of a dinner table was installed in the middle of the ceiling, sending a concentrated beam of moonlight down onto the solid gold seal of Xerous.
The heretic found it all very impressive.
“I bring you Thallad Ovaraad,” the temple captain called, “senior researcher at The Academy of Sciences and Research in Doman Julah, charged with dissemination of heretical ideas, your greatness!”
“Come closer, Thallad Ovaraad!” Boomed a voice from across the temple, where, shrouded in darkness, a throne sat atop a large staircase.
Thallad shuffled across great hall’s polished stone floor, stopping at the moonlight’s edge.
“So you are the one who decries my works,” the voice boomed again, “you who would speak ill of my benevolence and power.”
“No sir,” Thallad croaked, his voice dry from travel, “I do not wish to disparage your works. You’ve been very kind and, yes, quite powerful. It is just… I do not believe you to be a god.”
“Heresy!” hissed the temple guard, grips tightening on their spears. “Liar! Fool!”
The voice’s booming laughter rang off the hall walls like the beat of a large drum.
Something moved in the dark, atop the stairs. Something huge. Thallad could barely see it through the moonlight, but the urge to back away was almost irresistible.
The temple guard kneeled in hushed silence as the enormous figure stepped into the beam of light.
Xerous. Their god.
He stood nearly twice Thallad’s height, broad chested, dressed in a tunic of spun gold and strange purple cloth. A bright smile split his trimmed silver beard, his eyes such a vibrant blue they actually glowed.
He raised his muscular arms high, “you deny this as godhood, tiny Thallad?”
Thallad shrugged, “you are large, sir, yes, but the Brown Bears to the North stand taller and the Ironwood trees to the West taller still. If height was the prerequisite for godhood, we should both be giving reverence to them.”
The god scoffed, “you trifle in particulars.”
“But particulars are the thing of it, sir, it is how we define the world, how we learn of it.”
“Then learn well, researcher! Before this city saw a single cornerstone planted, before your ancestors set foot in these lands, I was. And long after you all are gone, I shall remain!”
“You’re very long lived, yes, but even the common Dogmouth tree counts its age in centuries. To make no mention of the creatures we have found within the ocean who do not seem to age at all. Are these not gods as well?”
“Is the difference not plain? While your people huddled in thatched huts, I stole secrets from the cosmos and gifted them each to you. I taught you how to work iron into steel, how to move water throughout your cities, how to make pure the food you eat!”
“True, true,” Thallad nodded, scratching his beard with a shackled hand, “but consider my dog, Veruda.”
Xerous paused, brow knotting.
“I give her food and water,” the old heretic continued, “and even shelter. Many of these things she may only grasp a small part of, for my intellect is beyond hers. It must also be said, sir, that I too have existed long before her, raising and burying three such dogs in my lifetime, and I may very well bury her as well. But there is no spark of divinity in that, no magic.”
“Magic?!” The god boomed, “if that is what you require, so be it!”
The air hummed with power. Arcs of electricity ran up Xerous’ legs, across his chest, shooting from his fingers into the gold seal at his feet.
“What think you, now?!” Xerous thundered.
“Eels!” Thallad shouted over the crackling arcs, “there are eels that do the same with a series of organs in their bellies! Your voltage is impressive, sir, but not strictly impossible!”
Xerous gritted his teeth, the lightning flickering away. “Another demonstration!” He shouted.
Xerous was blur, rushing past Thallad, kicking up a breeze that battered his tunic. By the time the heretic had looked back over his shoulder, the god was again in the beam of moonlight before him.
“Speed beyond that of any mortal man!” Xerous beamed.
“Yes,” Thallad said, “but the spotted cats of the Lower Continent can run just as fast, and there are falcons who move faster still.”
“BAH!” The god shouted, “enough of these coincidences! Prove to me now that I am no god!”
Thallad shrugged again. “Godliness is your claim, sir, yours to prove. And so far, I must say, I’ve found the evidence rather lacking.”
A deep silence filled the dark hall. Even Xerous’ thunderous breathing grew quiet. The guards exchanged silent looks, their spears low at their sides.
For an instant, a brief instant, Xerous… frowned.
“You wish me to prove my godhood, then?” Xerous asked.
A bright flash put spots in the eyes of the temple guards, the shattering crack of lightning splitting the air deafening them.
When they could see again, they saw their god Xerous, arcs of electricity racing from his eyes, standing before a pile of ash and metal slag.
“Let that be your proof,” Xerous said, turning back to his throne.
The guards were already moving, busily sweeping away the last of the heretic, trying desperately to avoid eye contact with each other.
“Eels,” a guard whispered to himself, the words still echoing in his mind.