The Waterborn

By: J.Gregory Keyes


Out of a Deep and Ancient Place

The mountain split open with the clap of a thousand thunders, and through the rupture a cyclone of living steam screamed skyward. Blazing, many-colored lightnings rode with the wind and water, the groping fingers of an angry god.

Another god, cloaked in the flesh of an argent bird winging frantically away, was snapped like a twig by the first shock, his wings broken, the flesh seared and then stripped from bones that themselves were blown apart. The pain was awful, the fiercest agony that the god had ever known, and in eternity he had felt much pain.

Knitting a new body of air and black smoke, he redoubled his efforts to outpace the main storm, the unthinkable reservoir of power he had loosed. He rode with the blooming edge of the tempest, disintegrated and recomposed a hundred times in the wind's teeth. Jagged wounds of mountains, the pooled, dried blood of plateaus hurled beneath him with hideous speed, as incomprehensible and lethal as the gaze of a basilisk.

The god felt real fear for the first time in his existence. Who could have known his Brother held such power, such anger? Behind him he could see the air chewing itself to pieces, flashes like lightning but brighter by far than the sun.

Pretty, he thought. But it will be my death if he catches me, a real, endless death. Perhaps—just perhaps—I have made a mistake.

He tightened the thick strands of his heart and flew, faster than anything save the wind had ever flown, until, like a steed run to death, his might was gone and he fell.

The storm swept by above him, smote a mountaintop, and shattered it.

The god struck the earth and lay there as above him the sky became soot, the sun dimming to a pale ocher eye and then gone altogether.

Now he finds me and I die, the god thought. I may not be as clever as I thought.

But then the earth swallowed him, folded him up beneath, hid him, kept him safe. Above, in time, the steam calmed into rain and soaked the bone-dry hills and desiccated plains for some score or so years.

Much more time passed, and he awoke. His flesh had grown back. He flexed his wings, felt the warmth of golden blood in his veins, pulled himself from his protective womb.

The world had changed, he saw. Thick boles of trees towered about him, a thousand living mortal things, just as he had seen in his vision, so long ago. Unleashing the Brother, he had unleashed life as well as death. He took to the air and flew above it all, until the new world was a carpet of green below, the blasted mountains now healed by time. In the midst of it, the Brother was still there, but he lay quietly now, no longer angry. He wound across the land, a serpent shimmering blue beneath the sky. A River. He was, the bird thought, quite pretty.

But I am no longer pretty, he thought, for he had changed, as well. He was black, every feather, his beautiful argent plumage replaced by charcoal.

But he forgot that soon enough. The world was new and strange, and surely in such a place there was much mischief to be about.

And in a wink or two of his yellow eye, five more millennia passed.

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