War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 02

He leaned back in his throne, glaring down at them, his own thoughts running back over the ages since his failed rebellion against his own father. It was his brother’s fault, he told himself once more, thunder rolling outside the palace in echo of his inner rage. It had been Tomanāk who’d rallied the others after the devastating surprise of Phrobus’ initial attack. Tomanāk who’d personally struck Phrobus down, taken his original name from him and given him the one he bore now. “Truth Bender,” that was what his name meant, and in the depth of his defeat, he’d been unable to reject it when his brother fastened it upon him forever. Not even he now remembered what his name had once been, and he thought perhaps he hated Tomanāk most of all for that.

Yet much as he hated — and feared — Tomanāk, he hated the myriad worlds of mortals even more.

His attempt to seize Orr’s power as his own had very nearly succeeded, but in the moment in which Tomanāk ripped it back out of his grasp, that power had fractured, broken into more pieces than even a god could count. Worse, each of those pieces had taken on its own life, its own existence, and when that happened, the fates of all the gods had become captive to those insignificant, puny mites crawling about all of the worlds upon worlds which had spilled from the riven, shattered power he’d hungered to make his own. A new concept had come into existence in that moment — the concept of time. The concept of a future…and an end. And not even the gods themselves were immune to it, able to ignore the endless, steady trickle of years sliding one after another into the maw of eternity. Yet worse still, far worse, was the intolerable discovery that those ephemeral mortals held his fate in their hands.

In many ways, only the fragmenting of Orr’s power had preserved Phrobus’ own life, for there was no doubt what Tomanāk would have done with him if only he could. But all of them were entrapped in the uncertain fate Phrobus had unwittingly, unintentionally, created. Orr himself had been diminished, weakened, stripped of his ability to command the tides of fate and left as captive to those capricious mortals as Phrobus himself. The restoration of his power was beyond his own reach, and neither the remaining Gods of Light nor Phrobus could repair it for him. It must heal itself in the fullness of that mortal creation — time.

But how would it heal itself? It had taken Phrobus centuries to realize the question could even be asked, for no one had ever considered the possibility that Orr’s power could be shattered, and so no one had ever considered what might happen if it was. He knew how frustrated Tomanāk was that the cataclysmic collision of so many potential alternate futures had prevented him from slaying him for his treachery, yet Tomanāk had no choice. The death of a god, any god, would have released far too much additional power, poured far too much additional uncertainty into the shattered present and chaotic future of Orr’s realm. And so Tomanāk had been forced to let him live, let him leave the home from which he’d been cast for his crimes, let him carve out his own realm in the broken confusion of too many realities.

And as he’d paced the confines of that lesser realm, contemplating the far vaster one he’d held so tantalizingly within his fingers, it had come to him.

The entire universe — the original, un-shattered universe, his father’s great creation — had broken with Orr’s power. It was as if a glass had been dropped upon a stone floor, and the shattered bits and pieces had flown in every direction. It had been impossible for anyone, even a god, to predict where any of them might land, far less where all of them might end their bouncing journeys across the stone. Now they lay scattered, tumbled into confused windrows without rhyme or reason, separated from one another and yet longing on some deep, fundamental level to become whole once more. To become one once again. And as they lay, they could be gathered back up by the proper set of hands. They could be…reassembled, put back together, and the hands which put them back together would control what they became on the day that they were one once more.

If he could reclaim them, gather enough of them together in the pattern of his choosing, he could remake them not as a reflection and restoration of Orr’s power, but of his own.

Of course, that infernal busybody Semkirk had reasoned it out before him, and his accursed brothers and sisters — even that flighty fool Hirahim and that pathetic simpleton Sorbus — had set themselves to restoring the broken bits and pieces themselves. But there was a catch. Those bits and pieces had minds of their own. They were…malleable. They could be shaped, convinced, seduced, even taken, but only from within. In the end, they would choose their own fates on the basis of their own decisions, and those choices — and only those choices — would decide whose hands they came into in the fullness of time.

It was a race between him and his brothers and sisters, and so he’d taken to himself a wife and begotten children of his own to aid him in the struggle. Even with them, he was badly outnumbered, but not all of the Gods of Light were equally suited to the nature of the struggle between them. And the most ironic thing of all was that individual strength was of secondary importance, at best. They were forced to contend for each reality separately, individually, and the nature of the contest leveled the difference between their abilities. Any god could have destroyed any single fragment of that broken power, yet none of them knew how many fragments could be destroyed before the whole failed, and so none of them dared to destroy any of them. They must confront one another within the limits and constraints each individual mortal reality could endure, until that reality reached its tipping point and fell as the possession of the Light…or of the Dark.

And in the fullness of time, enough of those individual realities would fall to one side to give that side possession of them all. Which meant, that despite his failure all those ages ago, Phrobus might yet win all he’d sought.

But that could happen only if those mortals he loathed with all his being — loathed because they ultimately held his fate in their hands — gave him that victory. Fortunately, only a tiny fraction of them realized the prize for which the gods truly contended, and their puny lifespans made most of them shortsighted and easily duped. Many of them could scarcely wait to give themselves to him and to his children, and his hatred for them only made the taste of their souls still sweeter.

Yet not all of them were blind, not all were easily seduced. Their resistance to the Dark ran through their realities like ribs of steel, and some of them…oh, yes, some of them were far more dangerous than others.

“All of you know how much Tomanāk has poured into Orfressa,” he said now. “All of you know how many possible outcomes run through that single cable of universes.”