The God In the Bottle

In my defense, I hated my job, but it’s not that I didn’t like the perks. I made my own hours, didn’t punch a clock, and didn’t have to answer to a boss. Yes, most of my clients were scary people, but there was no one I had to be scared of—which couldn’t be said for the guy sitting across from me.

Though Jerry Franck was pushing fifty, he had arms and shoulders like a piece of wrecking equipment. Nevertheless, there were sweat marks on his shirt, and he hadn’t taken a sip from the glass our waitress had set in front of him.

To my left, Aldous Finn was the model of a pencil-thin accountant, but that was only to those who didn’t know him. To me, he looked like a hatchet. Finn was the numbers man for the local syndicate, and Franck was just the owner of a nearby hardware store. There I was, the fulcrum between them, and I already knew which way it would tilt. In the silence, I bit into a slice of the house supreme.

“We don’t mean disrespect,” said Mr. Franck. “The other tenants and I would simply like to talk about our payment schedule.”

Finn’s question had been, “Are you fuckin’ unionizing on me?” I considered Franck’s response.

“Technically true,” I said. “He wants to be respectful, and payments are on his mind.”

“But?” said Finn.

“He didn’t answer the question.”

“We ain’t unionizing,” Franck said. “We had a meeting, that’s all. We’re not arguing about the protection, but we feel we ought to negotiate. In good faith.”

I nodded while chewing. “Also true.” But my scalp itched. “Except for that last part.”

“Really. Have you been talking to someone, Mr. Franck?”

He stiffened. “I’d rather not say.”

I took another bite, thinking, Don’t dig yourself deeper. Pleading the Fifth rarely worked with the Mob.

“Another family,” said Finn, “or the cops?”

Jerry froze. His eyes twitched my way. I shook my head and reminded myself that this moron had dug his own grave.

“Make it two questions,” I said.

“Another syndicate?” said Finn.

Jerry didn’t blink.

“The cops?”

Only an Inquisitor could have noticed the tiny flinch.

“Bingo,” I said, and reached for my beer.

“I see,” said Finn. “Mr. Franck, why don’t you tell your associates that I’ll bring this matter up with my employers, and to expect a resolution real soon.”

Franck shook, and I wondered if he’d brought a gun. I knew damn well that Finn’s partners at the next table were armed. That’s why I always held these Q&A sessions in crowded restaurants. I put down my drink, looked away from Mr. Franck, and waited for the moment to pass.

“You can go now,” said Finn. Once Mr. Franck had left the booth, Finn set an envelope next to my plate. “Y’know, Sid, I wish you’d come over full time. Be easier than this freelance shit.”

“Pass. But thanks for the pizza.”

“De nada.”

I took another bite instead of watching Finn leave. My teeth were still buried in the crust when the restaurant’s lights turned red. Looking back at the room, everyone had frozen, and the door to the street glowed green.


Not for the first time, I wished I could hold my breath and pretend to be human. Gangsters I could handle, but I fucking hated gods.

Between one moment and the next, a god stood in front of my table. He’d squeezed himself into the form of a man wearing a gray business suit.

“I am Wealth. Don’t pretend not to worship me. Your presence is commanded by the Highest.”

Always knowing when people were lying made life among humans a headache, but being around gods was even worse. Everything they said was true by definition. Even when they tried to lie, their words carried such force that the world would break to accommodate them. When a god as powerful as Wealth called, it was more than a half-breed like me could resist.

“Whatever you say, Chief,” I told him.

He pointed at the door, and I stepped outside to a world cloaked in haze. The only light was a glow across the street, where a demon dressed as a chauffeur stood next to a limo so wide that the alley had stretched to make room. When I slid into the back seat, the inside was utterly dark. Or rather, it felt like my eyes had been turned off.

“This is he.” The voice came from everywhere, including my bones. If spoken by a human, the words would have been a question. Gods didn’t ask questions.

“Yes, Lord,” said a woman whose words buzzed the air. “Sidney Mépris. The portents are clear.”

The darkness faded, revealing the limo’s interior to be the size of a small boardroom. On my right, Wealth radiated disdain. Across from him, a fox-haired goddess lounged in a loose, silver pantsuit.

The god in the middle inhabited his seat like a throne. Every inch of him gleamed as if sculpted from onyx. Rings shone like starlight on both of his hands. Without hesitation, I knelt and bowed my head.


“I Am,” said the god. “You are the misbegotten spawn of a lesser deity, but as with all things you have a purpose. Your moment of use has arrived.”

Yay, me. The weight of Lordship’s presence was so strong that it was all I could do not to prostrate myself.

“My sister will instruct you in the task you are to perform,” he said. “Once you discharge your duty, the meaning of your life will be fulfilled. After, you may live the remainder of your days howsoever you please. I care not.”

I waited, unmoving, my knees like cement. I didn’t think I’d be able to move without a direct command. It finally came from the goddess on my left.

“This is where you say, ‘Yes, Lordship. Thank you, Lordship.’”

“Yes, Lordship. Thank you, Lordship.”

I lifted my eyes. Lordship and Wealth were gone. Only the other remained.

“Have a seat,” she said. “You’ll want a drink.”

“Hell, yes,” I said, slumping into the seat. “Jack and Coke, hold the Coke.”

She grinned. A glass appeared in my hand as if it had always been there.

“My brother isn’t a people person. I’ll try to be less portentous.”

I sipped the whiskey. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Call me Insight. You’re Scorn’s boy. I know her, though I wouldn’t call us friends.”

“Few would.”

“Agreed.” She kept smiling. “This job is nothing you can’t handle, but it is important. An Epoch is ending and another is set to begin. When this happens, certain rites must be performed to ensure a smooth transition. This time there’s a problem. One god is refusing to take part in the ritual.”

“Why doesn’t Lordship command him?”

“Would that he could. No, our prodigal has sealed himself into a personal retreat that no other god may enter. A human might, but a human couldn’t convey Lordship’s orders. One of our blood, however…”

I laughed. “Jesus. You want me to break into a god’s hideout and serve a summons.”

Insight darkened. I’d learned to swear by imaginary deities mainly to piss off my mom. In this instance, I might have pushed my luck. The goddess went on.

“The signs indicate that of all our offspring, you have the best chance of overcoming the temptations our brother will place in your path. Once you reach him, you’ll deliver Lordship’s command that he attend the ceremony.” She handed me a seal of red wax. “This contains the power of Lordship’s Word. When you deliver his message, break the seal and our brother will obey.”

I turned it over in my hand. The seal bore an emblem that my mind refused to register. In its place, another question rose up.

“Temptations? Who are you sending me after?”

Insight smirked.

“Your uncle Revelry. I’m sure you’ll have loads of fun.”

Revelry’s tower stood in the heart of the city. It stood in every city, the nexus of the worldwide party scene. I would have dropped in myself more often if not for the chance that Mom might be around. Most clubbers followed Scorn on various social media, whether or not they knew it. Under the circumstances, though, I presumed even she was barred entry.

The beat shook the sidewalk a block away, but that’s not what had my teeth on edge. The thought of delivering the Word of a god, no matter the issue, made me want to vomit. I’d given up a lot for the sake of independence—working freelance for criminals and living off the social grid to stay off my family’s radar. But to Lordship, my freedom had never existed. I felt His will in every step I took.

The line for the club stretched around the block, so I made for the hotel lobby on the other side of the building. Inside, the thump of the music next door was canceled by state-of-the-art soundproofing and ambient jazz. Glass elevators and transparent balconies sparkled overhead like a cavern of diamond. When entering Revelry’s mecca, one couldn’t help but stare.

I wore a suit and tie that screamed “official business” and kept my face in the practiced, blank expression of someone who wasn’t thrilled to be there. I strolled toward the first-floor bar and through the door to the kitchen as if I had every right. A lone dishwasher gave me a sidelong glance, but didn’t say a word as I beelined to the staff elevator. Once inside, I hit every button starting from the top until I found one that didn’t need a pass card.

After going up an interminable number of floors, the lift opened onto an empty business center, large and extremely well-furnished, the kind used by media moguls traveling abroad. I circled the floor, looking for a way upstairs. Since Insight had liked my chances, I had faith that a solution would present itself.

I turned a corner and froze. My own name stared back at me, stenciled on a polished office door. Well, shit. I’d been made. With a snort, I shrugged out of my coat and undid my stupid tie. The placard read “Sidney Mépris, Independent Arbitration Services.” Revelry’s rep was all about pleasures of the flesh. I hadn’t expected that to include career placement.

And yet…

At my touch, the door swung open. Inside was a panoramic view of a neon-lit harbor. Hong Kong? Singapore? Wherever, it was nowhere in the time zone where I’d entered the building. There, the night had been fresh. Here, the horizon simmered with the dawn. On the desk, within reach of a chair I could sink in forever, was a crisp, black day planner. Its pages were empty, but the flyleaf held a client list of movie stars, restauranteurs, and celebrities of every stripe.

I understood the offer. No more dirty cash, no more strong-arming innocents. The word “Independent” almost glowed on the door. I couldn’t help rubbing my hand along the leather chair. As an opening shot, it was masterful.

But Lordship’s seal burned in my pocket. If I didn’t keep moving, the penalty would outweigh anything Revelry had to offer. I closed the planner and left. No matter what I wanted, there was no going against Lordship’s will.

It didn’t take me long to find the emergency stairs. I climbed five flights, passing music and moans behind every “private” door. At the highest landing, there was silence. There was also no handle or knob; this door only opened from the other side.

I fingered Lordship’s seal. If it carried his Word, did it also have a touch of his power? I pulled it out, held it against the door, and did my best to emulate a god’s manner of speech.

“I am Lordship’s messenger. I will not be denied. This door will open.”

It did, and I stepped through.

At once I was struck by the smell of the ocean and the sound of crashing waves. Before I could turn around, the door slammed shut and vanished. In its place stood a concrete wall under a corrugated metal roof. To either side were stacks of bottles in plastic crates. Thin light came from around a poorly framed door opposite where I’d entered. I sighed and pushed it open, expecting the worst.

The worst was a beach. Plastic chairs stood between me and the waves like an undisciplined army. By the height of the sun, I was somewhere in the Pacific. Where I wasn’t was Revelry’s tower. Lordship would fry me for good.

“Look like you need a painkiller.”

I turned to find a thatched-roof bar next to the shack I’d emerged from. A dark man with a cocktail shaker smiled like I was expected.

“Where are we?”

“Hid.” The man emptied the shaker into a cup and passed it to me. “No need to worry ‘bout whoever’s chasing you.”

“No one’s chasing me.”

“Sure about that? Few come here aren’t chased by something. The devil his own self couldn’t find you in this place.”

So this was offer number two. I smiled. I hadn’t been tricked out of Revelry’s temple. I was still in it. The seal throbbed in my hand.

Command him, a voice said. Make this insect show the way back.

“No thanks,” I told the voice, setting down my cup. “I need to move on. Point me the way?”

The barman shook his head. “Forgot it years back. Take the drink, friend.”

I really wanted to, but instead I walked to the surf. Which way to go? I closed my eyes and listened with my Inquisitor’s ears.

Coward, said the voice. Use the power you’ve been given. Show some spine, you little bastard.

The muscles in my jaw tightened. I’d assumed the voice was Lordship’s, but now it sounded like Scorn. That was better. I’d learned to ignore her at a very early age. Besides, I had something else to listen for. There, over the surf, at least a mile to the left, came the thump of a sound system. Gods were so single-minded.

Following the beach, a resort came into view. Despite it being midday, the music was that of a nightclub. A man in a blazer at the door held out his arm.

“Password,” he said.

“You’re shitting, right?”

“No sir. You don’t have a bracelet, so no admission without the password.”

Damn this insect. Force him out of our way.

The seal scorched my hand, but I couldn’t let it go. I was not using Lordship’s power on a human. If he was lucky it would only kill him. But what if the power to command wasn’t all the seal gave? I gripped it through the pain and focused on freezing time like Wealth had in the restaurant.

The world slowed. It didn’t stop altogether, but I didn’t need it to. I wanted the guard responsive, but not completely aware. I aimed all my senses at him. He wouldn’t be able to speak, so I’d have to rely on subliminals.

“Twenty questions. Is the password a phrase?”


“Is it a noun?”


“Intangible concept?”





Don’t know.

“For fuck’s sake. Does it have four legs?”


“First half of the alphabet?”




Holy shit. I thought I’d have to go through the whole dictionary. The seal cooled, and time resumed.

“Aardvark,” I said.

“Enjoy the party, sir.”

The room within the resort was dark, and the windows showed a skyline at night. The music that had seemed so near now echoed from many floors below. I was back in Revelry’s tower.

A woman with chocolate skin in a dress like an elegant candy wrapper emerged from the shadows. “Hello, Sidney. I’m Zebeth. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

She turned on the lights, revealing an empty lounge.

“Sid, please,” I said. “Sidney is what my family calls me.” No need to look for the next roadblock. I assumed it was Zebeth herself.

“I am family,” she said. “I’m Revelry’s daughter, so I guess that makes us cousins. I hear you’re an Inquisitor. That must be taxing.”

“It pays the bills.” I thought about easing into one of the chairs, but decided against it. “You knew I was coming.”

“Dad knew somebody would. We didn’t know it was you until you crossed the lobby.”

“And then the half-assed attempts to stop me.”

She looked hurt. “Not stop you. We can’t overcome Lordship’s will, but we did want to show you alternatives to delivering it.”

She wasn’t lying. Neither, as far as I could tell, was she leaving anything out.

“So what’s the deal?” I asked. “Why doesn’t your dad just attend this stupid ceremony?”

Her eyes widened. “They didn’t tell you?”

“Gods don’t tell shit. All they do is give orders.”

Zebeth pursed her lips. I could see her weighing how much she could reveal.

“My father doesn’t want to take part in the rite because it will him cost his life.”


“It’s not my place to say more.” Truth, as she understood it. “But I’ll tell you this. You have more choices than you know. My father can’t counter Lordship’s command, but Lordship can’t touch you in this place. As long as you’re here, we can give you a decent life.”

“I’d be a captive.”

“You’d choose to stay.” She put her hand on my arm. “Your gift is to know truth. Mine is to see desire.”

“Like that office downstairs? That was good. I liked the beach too, but it would’ve got boring.”

She shrugged. “Consider that our showroom floor. But now that I’ve met you, I can see what you really want. What you need, more than anything.”

At that I pulled away. Something in how she spoke made me feel hollow.

“Let me show you.” Her plea was honest, and not in the brutal way of gods. Before I knew what was happening, she pulled me to an elevator. The doors closed, and Zebeth inscribed a glyph on the control pad with a fingernail. The car rose in silence, and for longer than it should have. It finally opened on a hallway lit by daylight.

“What’s this?”

She said nothing. The carpet was green and the walls were beige. Doors lined one side, spaced like hotel rooms. Zebeth chose the second, put a finger to her lips, and gently pushed it open.

The room was full of children. A television in the corner played cartoons, but only a few of the kids were watching. The rest played in groups of three or four, building towers of blocks, having dinner with stuffed animals, or bringing fantasies to life with crayons and markers. At first, I couldn’t make sense of what was being offered. It’s probably thanks to the company I kept that my mind went someplace very dark.

“I hope you can explain this right fucking now.”

“I’m sorry?” said Zebeth.

“Do you want me to pick one?”

“No! We don’t—” She stopped, took a breath, and pointed at a boy playing with a train. “That’s the richest investment banker in the city. He wanted to be an engineer, but his father forced him into the family business. That girl over there is an oncologist. She faces death every day. The one playing beside her is her mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Here it doesn’t matter. They can be innocent and free.”

My anger disappeared into a hole with no bottom.

“You think I want this?”

“Your mother is the goddess of Scorn. I don’t presume to know what that’s like, but I look at you and see a man who never had a childhood or the chance to mourn its loss. I see someone who yearns to be free from other’s expectations. I see that desire in the core of your being. That’s my gift. Am I wrong?”

She wasn’t. I watched the children for several long minutes.

“How much does it cost to magic yourself back to childhood?” I asked.

“For you, nothing. In return for not delivering Lordship’s message, you may stay here as long as you want, at any age you want. You can live your whole childhood, a new childhood, over and over. You’d never have to go back to the world of liars and criminals. You’d never want for food or shelter. Or love. You’d finally have the love the child inside you deserved.”

Damn you, Zebeth. Lordship’s seal was weightless in my hand. I could drop it there and leave it behind. But I had to know. Gods giveth and they taketh. All the things I’d seen in this place were dreams I knew I’d never have. Yes, I could spend my life in hiding, but a prison was a prison, no matter how good the room service. As hard as it was to look away, I turned my back on Zebeth’s heaven and asked the Inquisitor’s question.

“Would it be real?”

Her shoulders sagged.


Inside, I felt something crack. Lordship’s power surged through the dam and I let it fill me, no matter that I’d be my uncle’s executioner. For all her offers, Zebeth couldn’t save him.

“I have a summons for the god of Revelry,” I said. “Take me to him now or get the fuck out of my way.”

Zebeth dropped her eyes. “Father will receive you.”

A spotlight shone in an empty club. A man who looked like a Jamaican Santa sat at one of the tables. His eyes had the twinkle of someone who’d chosen to savor his last few moments.

“Welcome, son,” he said. “Have a seat if you like.”

Zebeth remained standing. I joined my uncle at his table and pulled the seal from my pocket. The god sighed.

“Let me guess. As a scion of the Holy Blood, you’ll issue Lordship’s decree that I submit to the Rite of the Dragon. I’ll have no choice but to obey.”

“More or less. I didn’t even know what all this was about until Zebeth mentioned you dying.”

“Yes,” said Revelry. “I’m surprised our Lord didn’t gloat when he sent you. Shall I explain what the ceremony is? After all, you’re a seeker of truth.”

I wasn’t in a hurry. “Please do.”

“Well, there’s this dragon. Or not. It’s sort of a metaphor for the void at the end of all things. At the close of each Epoch, be it fifty years or ten thousand, the dragon stirs in his sleep. If he wakes, he’ll devour the universe and shit out a new one. Humans call it a Big Bang.” Revelry chuckled. “The only way to calm the dragon and let the universe continue is by sacrificing a god.”

“Seriously,” said Sid.

“Indeed. At the dawn of human history, Peace was thrown to the dragon. The French and American Revolutions occurred after Contentment was fed to the beast. Patience got the chop and the Industrial Revolution began. There have been so many over the ages, ideas and concepts we no longer have names for. And now, Lordship has his finger on me. Zebeth, be a dear and bring the Chateau Lafite.”

“It sounds like these Epochs have been accelerating,” I said.

“Doesn’t it, though? Almost as if Lordship’s been poking the beast in its den so he can get rid of those of us he doesn’t like.”

“So Lordship’s not just delaying the end of the world. He’s shaping it by deciding which gods die.”

“Pruning, he calls it,” said Revelry. “Butchery, says I. He has all the power in creation and an infantile lust for more. He’s spent eons ridding the world of any concept that might distract from the worship of His might. Eventually he’ll be the last, the Alpha and Omega, and only then will he let the dragon wake. Whatever that final Epoch looks like, I imagine its destruction will be a mercy. Ah, the wine.”

Zebeth reappeared with a very old bottle and three stone goblets. The Chateau Lafite was so dark it was nearly black, and the wine’s bouquet filled the room like a warm summer night. Revelry and I clinked our cups together.

“There’s part of my soul in this,” said Revelry. “In every bottle of wine, every stick of bubblegum, every lover’s embrace. After I’m gone, no one will enjoy anything in quite the same way. Oh, it’ll be slow to fade, but I think you’ll soon know the difference. I pity the world your children will inherit.”

“I’m sorry it has to be this way,” I said.

“Go on then.” Revelry drained his glass. “Do as our Lord instructed.”

I held the seal in both hands, but paused.

“He didn’t.”

“What?” said Revelry.

“Lordship. He didn’t give the order. He said I would do my duty, but he didn’t give the instructions. That was Insight.”

Revelry looked puzzled. “Bookish fellow? Balding? Tweed jacket?”

“No. It was a woman. Silver suit, red hair.”

Revelry lit up like Rudolph’s red nose and exploded in a full-on belly laugh. Zebeth’s jaw went slack. I shrank into my chair, feeling like the butt of some joke.

“That slippery devil,” said Revelry. “You’ve been lied to, Inquisitor. Lied to by a god.

“But she said…” Call me Insight. Call me Insight. “Holy shit. Who was she?”

Revelry shook his head. “Oh, she’s Cunning, that one.”

It took me a moment to realize he’d answered my question.

“What exactly did Cunning tell you?” asked Zebeth.

“She said I was to deliver Lordship’s command that Revelry attend the ceremony.”

Attend,” said Zebeth. “Nothing more?”

The hairs prickled on my skin. “No. Like I said, I didn’t even know what the ceremony involved until you told me.”

“What does it mean?” Zebeth asked her father.

“It means we say no more,” said Revelry. “Messenger, I have a request and I grant you the freedom to choose. I ask that once you’ve discharged your duty, you attend the Rite of the Dragon as my guest. If you agree, you will be there as a free agent. You may watch, listen, and act as your conscience dictates. What do you say?”

Insight… No, Cunning had lied to me. There had to be a reason. Could the act of deception itself be a message? Whatever the cause, I felt there was something hanging in the air, waiting for me to grab it.

“I’ll come.”

“Then please, do your duty. Exactly as you were instructed.”

I gave Lordship’s command and broke the seal.

The Rite of the Dragon was held in a chamber deep below the Hagia Sophia. The atmosphere of ancient dread was so thick that I had to stifle a laugh. The room was less like a place of worship than a Victorian operating theater. Or closer still—an inverted Aztec pyramid with a bottomless pit in place of the altar where priests would cut out their victims’ beating hearts. I wondered if Lordship missed those glory days.

The room appeared empty until Zebeth and I followed Revelry down the steps. As we descended, dozens of gods flickered into being, each in their niche of power. How many more had there been before Lordship started chucking them into the dragon’s mouth? My mother sat scowling in the third row. I looked away as soon as I saw her. On the lowest tier sat the real Insight, hunched over the pages of some dusty tome.

Lordship, Wealth, and Cunning were the last to appear, standing between Revelry and the pit. Cunning looked curious, Wealth merely bored. Lordship’s face gleamed. I stepped forward, knelt, and offered Him the halves of his seal.

“You were not required to attend,” Lordship said. “Your function was complete once you discharged your obligation.”

“I like to see things through.”

“Very well.” He motioned for me to rise. “In a few moments, you will be responsible for the death of a god. Few mortals have ever been so honored.”

I bowed, then backed up next to Zebeth. Under my breath I said, “We’re not getting out of here, are we?”

Ever so faintly, she shook her head.

“The end of an epoch is upon us!” Lordship declared. “Let all bear witness.”

He drew out a knife, one like the flint shards that cavemen once used. Insight stood and read from his book in a high-pitched voice.

“Oh Holy, Most Holy, hear these words, the words of the Book, the Book of All Time. Hear of the passing of Ages and Kings, and the Dragon, devourer of all.”

“WE HEAR,” the gods intoned.

“So it passes this day, this last of all days, that the whirl of creation closes its arc and the heavens shine upon the Way.”


The pit turned blacker than black and I staggered, pressed down by a force even older than gravity. Zebeth grabbed my arm to keep me from falling. Insight continued.

“The Way opens to darkness. The Way opens to the abyss. The Way opens to the dragon’s maw.”


“Bring forth the sacred goblet,” said Lordship. Wealth produced a golden cup, the kind that a sports team would keep behind glass. As soon as I saw it, my throat went dry.

“Your pardon, my Lord,” said Revelry. “Permit me a final request.”

Lordship’s mouth visibly twitched. “Speak.”

Revelry gestured to his daughter, who produced an unopened Chateau Lafite.

“This is my finest bottle,” Revelry said. “I present it for the ceremonial offering. I would be obliged if my peers would drink it in remembrance.”

Lordship shrugged, then nodded. Zebeth bowed and handed the bottle to Cunning. The goddess was about to pull out the cork when a crazed inspiration struck me in the head.

“Wait! He’s lying!”

The eyes of all the gods fixed on me like a mountain.

“You lie,” said Lordship. “Gods do not.”

“He said it was his finest bottle, not his finest wine. We emptied that already. I don’t know what’s in there now, but it isn’t what you think.” My heart beat against my ribs. I’d seen enough con-jobs to know I had to be careful.

“Trickery.” Lordship spoke like a man with shit on his shoe. “Even from the god of drunkenness and perversion I expected better.”

“May I see that?” I asked. Cunning handed it over with the slightest of smirks. She must have known something was up. After all, she’d created this opportunity.

“This farce has gone on long enough.” Lordship held his knife against Revelry’s throat. “The wine is a mere formality. All that is needed is that a god should die.”

True enough, I thought. I had lied, of course: the bottle in my hand wasn’t the same as before, but it was a bottle of wine nonetheless. There’s part of my soul in this, Revelry had said. And thanks to having carried Lordship’s seal, I knew what it meant to hold the power of a god in my hand.

I gripped the bottle by the neck, took two steps forward, and swung it at the back of Lordship’s skull. The bottle smashed, dousing both of us in Bordeaux. Lordship wavered and toppled into the abyss. He didn’t even scream.

Then the pit was just a pit, empty, six feet deep.

“What…” said Wealth. “What…”

“Shut up,” said Cunning. She loomed above me like a cobra to a mongoose. Or was it the other way around?

“Kill him,” said Wealth. “Burn him. Flay him.”

“Not in that order,” said Cunning with a smile.

“Kill him!” came more shouts, while others called for worse. I shrank lower and lower as gods screamed for my blood, all except Revelry and Cunning. The latter turned to address the others.

“Be silent.”

She didn’t raise her voice, but they obeyed. Cunning picked up the knife that Lordship dropped. At first, I assumed she meant to use it on me, but she slipped it into her pocket.

“We cannot punish this mortal for obeying our Lord’s command,” she said. “We all heard it. ‘You will be responsible for the death of a god.’ Those were my brother’s exact words.”

“Semantics,” spat Wealth.

Cunning shook her head. “Our brother spoke carelessly and paid the price. The deed is done.”

“But the assassin must die!” came a screech from the gallery. Fucking hell, it was my mother.

“One day,” said Cunning, “but he must not be punished. Wealth, did our Lord not decree that once the son of Scorn had discharged his duty, he would be free to live his life as he pleased?”

Just as the thought began to cross my mind that I was about to get away with deicide, I watched Wealth’s mouth twist like a constipated octopus to give any answer but the truth.

“Yes,” he said at last. “He did.”

“There you have it,” said Cunning. “Scorn’s son was an instrument of destiny as prophesied by the Highest among us. No punishment will be laid upon him. The dragon has been appeased and the ceremony concluded.” She swept the assembled deities with her gaze. “Begone.”

The gods disappeared, slowly at first and then in a drove. Zebeth threw her arms around her father, who answered with a mighty laugh. Cunning relaxed with a self-satisfied grin. On the verge of shaking apart, and not knowing what else to do, I approached her.

“It looks like you’re the boss now, my Lady.”

Cunning held up her hand. “Ah-ah. Thanks to you, we live in a world without Lordship. I can hardly inherit a power that no longer exists.” She leaned to whisper in my ear. “But don’t tell the other gods, eh? They aren’t very clever. It’s an occupational hazard of always being right.”

“Jesus,” I said, then caught myself. “Sorry. Shouldn’t say that here.”

“No one’s to stop you,” Cunning said. “You’ve finally won what you always wanted. You’re completely and utterly free.”

I was, wasn’t I? If no god could ever control me again, perhaps I could start by making my own choices—better than the ones that had led my life so far.

“So what now?” I asked. “I suppose you aim to be the last god standing?”

“Next to last.” Cunning nodded toward Revelry, who was describing to Zebeth the banquet he would throw to celebrate not being dead. “I wouldn’t want to live in a world without your uncle. No, when the last age dawns and Revelry is the only god left? That’ll be one hell of a party.”

Jared Millet was a public librarian for over twenty years before quitting his job to travel the world and write full time. His dark fantasy trilogy, The Battle for Majadan, was published in 2021-22. His short fiction has appeared in Apex, On Spec, Translunar Travelers Lounge, Leading Edge, and Kaleidotrope. Jared’s travel writing, including tales of ten months spent circumnavigating South America, can be found at Updates about new and upcoming stories can be found at

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