OF GODS AND MEN
Malthus, Godking of the realm of Malthanon, sat high on his throne looking down at the hooded stranger who knelt before him.
The opulent throne room shone brightly as artificial sunlight, made by Malthus to blaze eternally, flooded the hall. Mountains of gold and silver, strewn about the entire room, reflected its radiance. Pristine alabaster walls were set aglow by the amplified light of God; so that for any mortal man, looking into Malthus’s throne room was akin to staring at the face of the sun. It forced the few who did enter the Godking’s chamber to do so with eyes closed and heads bowed. As it should have been, for they were mortal men; but Malthus had ceased being a mortal man long ago. In this city, he was king. On this earth, he was God; and he would have his reverence.
“I am told you have a mighty gift for me,” Malthus said in jest. “Tell me, what does one such as you have to offer God?”
“You have done well in your time here Malthus,” the stranger’s words rang throughout the room, even as his head was bowed. “You led your people to this fertile land when you were without a home. You defended them from invaders, and you built them a magnificent city.”
It pleased Malthus to hear his accomplishments recounted to him. It reminded him of days long past when he would walk the streets of the city himself. The praise and worship of his subjects greeted him wherever he went. He remembered their prayers and songs, their feasts and celebrations; all in honor of him. He remembered it felt good, once upon a time, to be among them. To be loved by them.
But the feeling faded with each visit. Over time, Malthus grew tired of the incessant needs of his people. Their prayers became so small – so dull; like gnats buzzing in his ear, beating the air with the quiet hum of their begging. So one thousand years ago, the Godking left the sorrows and joys of men behind; locking himself away in his throne room and giving himself over to the power of God and the vastness that came with it.
“But it is clear your days of achievement are long behind you,” the hooded stranger continued as he raised his head to look into the face of God. “Lifetimes have come and gone since you involved yourself in the affairs of your people. Famine spreads, your city crumbles, and to your flock you have become a relic of a bygone age. Naught more than a myth: a ghost. So I have come to revive the Godking of Malthanon.”
For the first time in a millennium, Malthus felt something…anger. He rose from his throne and stumbled. He looked down at his legs and saw that they had withered and shriveled. He briefly wondered how this could have happened. When was the last time he had walked? When was the last time he had even stood up? Could it have been a thousand years? He banished these thoughts from his mind. What need had he for a body? He was God, and he would make that known again - beginning with this impudent stranger.
“You presume much mortal, to blaspheme in the face of the divine. You no longer amuse me, and whatever else you have to say is of no consequence. For such insolence, you must die,” the Godking proclaimed.
Malthus began summoning the power inside him; the power of God. He could feel it as it grew; like a flooding river, submerging all around it. The power engulfed him, and it was glorious. This was all he needed. This was rapture. He closed his eyes for a moment to revel in it. He was God, and now he would show it. He opened his eyes in readiness, determined to release his wrath.
The stranger had vanished. Malthus was confounded, his eyes rooted to the spot where the hooded man stood just an instant before. But the Godking quickly recovered his wits and began scanning the room. He focused a small sliver of his power, and suddenly he could see through the pillars, past the doors and beyond the very room itself to the ends of the earth. Yet no matter where he looked, the stranger was nowhere to be found.
Then Malthus felt a sharp pain underneath his ribs. He let out a quiet breath as his eyes bulged in disbelief. He began to fall, but strong hands caught him and gently eased him to the ground. He put his own hand to the place he had been stabbed and felt a hot liquid flow from the wound. It was his blood. He had forgotten he had blood. But now, he wished desperately to keep it.
The Godking looked up…to meet the black, endless eyes of the hooded stranger.
“You have given yourself over to the power inside you and abandoned the role you were meant to play. Now your people live their lives apart; with no need of, or even belief in, the divine. This cannot be. Both men and gods have their part to play in the days to come. And those roles must be played with conviction. Thus, a new Godking of Malthanon must be cast. And for you Malthus…I grant you oblivion.”
“Pain…” Malthus tried to say more, but he could not. In an older life, when he was a mortal soldier fighting for his people’s freedom, he had been stabbed. He tried to remember what that felt like. Surely, it could not have felt like this. This was agony, and it spread over what was left of his frail body.
“Yes, you will feel pain,” the stranger replied. “But the power that has sustained you all these years will keep you alive. You will suffer, each day, until such time as another mortal comes to claim your godhood. When that day comes, you will finally know peace.”
Malthus wanted to beg, to plead with this man to end tall now, but he could not find the breath to speak. Instead, he just looked at his killer, hoping his remorseful and desperate plea could be read in his eyes.
“You all have your parts to play,” the stranger repeated coldly. “Die well, Malthus.”
Malthus blinked, and the stranger was gone. He was alone, lying prostrate on the ground, with his hand clutched to his side.
Malthus’s eyes rolled from one side of the throne room to the other in his agony. He took in his mountains of gold and silver: his weapons and armor: his tokens of worship from the people of his city. In this room lay all the possessions of the Godking. Yet now, as so much blood spilled out of him, he had nothing. All he held onto was the knowledge that someone, someday, could grant him salvation. But how? When? Was there anything he could do to summon his savior?
A wave of pain wracked Malthus’s body. It would be the first of many more to come over his years of suffering. There was nothing the Godking could do to save himself. He could only lay there, dying.
God, was dying.