Gods die when we are forgotten. We perish when our idea escapes all the lips and minds of both biota and god. We do not require followers or worship of our power and rules—just the basic inkling of the ideas that gave us life, to which we are bound. Sometimes, when the hat still rested on Kafele’s head, I remembered a face or two missing from the Astral Plane. The memory gave me purpose and energy, so I perused the assortment of my remaining bored and surrendered fellows. I questioned them all to the point of our mutual exhaustion—I needed to find those lost faces in the moment. I would think that maybe they could come back if I just remembered them—if I could find another to discuss the faces within that brief stretch of time before I forgot again.
But no—we are an endangered species. I often wonder if the world could forget to survive. Never, I tell myself. Never.
Melody’s hoof touched ground beneath billowing grass. She stretched her neck out to devour a leaf from a fibrous, strong tree beside her. Her dull teeth crunched the brittle green. Above, her siblings swirled in a flurry of violence. She called to them.
“So who am I staying with?” she said.
“Me!” said both Instinct and Harmony.
“Ugh,” Melody said, “I’m going to prance around the globe. Call me when you‘re done, losers.”
Were they not so busy with fighting, Instinct and Harmony may have realized that Melody was kind of a little brat. Perhaps they would have rethought their positions if they had listened.
Lightyears away, Babarenfeld put an ear to his offsprings’ squabble. He heard them change their bodies with each new battle strategy that came to mind. Instinct took on the broad wings of her bats for flight; she hollowed her body of unnecessary weight. Harmony turned his blood into potent venom. What appeared false on his person—his serpent’s tail—became an appropriate appendage, now bladed and dripping green.
Both of them wore masks by the end. Instinct’s remained fastened to half of her face. It warped with age and her body, but she never removed it despite abandoning any shame scared creatures had put on her. Harmony saw his reflection above an ocean during one battle. His eyes had sunken deep into their sockets. A forked tongue writhed in his mouth and scales sat on his no longer porcelain skin.
“I’m horrible,” he said, swiping at his sisters thin flesh. “Disgusting!”
Instinct darted her way beyond Harmony’s attack. She said, “You blame me, I’m sure.”
Harmony wept in the salt air. He dove deep into the dark waters below, searching for something with which to cover his harsh visage. He tried shells, seaweed, and fish first. At the bottom of the deepest trench, he found a skull surrounded only by particles of life. They cleared the way for a sight such as he. The skull belonged to a land beast—it had withstood the pressure of the great depths for millennia. It bore curved horns and a beaked nose, with the emptiest eyes one could fathom. Harmony wondered, for only a second, what ancient beast’s head fell into the trench—what decapitating force had removed it. But even he could not stand being in the trench for long. He was physically able to, but a lurking fright surrounded him in the drowned light; noticing it would imply weakness, so he convinced himself that his only desire was to leave because of the fight with his sister. He grabbed the skull, and tore upward like an eel through the waters.
Above, Instinct waited—a bat stuck to her neck. She pet the creature and rubbed her unmasked face against its fur. Babarenfeld heard this, too. He was halfway there.
Harmony shattered the water’s surface. Sea life caught up in his wake followed. Prehistoric crabs, sharks, sea urchins—all unsure of their role in the impending fight—spun from their homes and through the air. By the time they returned to their rightful atmosphere, Instinct and Harmony were clashing again with unspeakable force.
Harmony chose savagery as his next tactic. With the new mask, he hid all hints of his name from the world. He scoffed at balance, crushing any lifeform into extinction as long as it meant wounding Instinct in even the most insignificant of ways. If he could have given her a hangnail by wiping snails off the planet, he would have. Instinct, of course, had to match Harmony’s newfound ferocity. On the ground, in the air, under the sea they fought. Melody’s name became empty when spoken—a fleeting reason to be embroiled in war.
Destruction and unchecked chaos ravaged the world. Some days they didn’t even fight—they just rained calamity down on what they saw the other take an interest in at one point in time. Instinct kept her bats close. Harmony kept a new brethren—serpents—closer.
Time continued with no victor. Babarenfeld could only hear his children now. Every other planet in the universe was silent in comparison.
One million years before Babarenfeld’s return, Harmony and Instinct had forgotten him. They had forgotten themselves and Melody. Only the tiniest, most clever creatures and plants remained.
They fought in the final forest among the last trees on the earth. Instinct ripped two of them from the ground and launched both towards Harmony. He caught one, but the other struck him in the face, just below the protection of his now scarred mask. Her enemy—only her enemy—blinded, Instinct dug her nails into Harmony’s chest. His blood trickled down her arms; it melted some of her flash, as usual. She kicked up leaves and dirt with her sprained wings as she lifted him into the sky, then hurled him back to and through the earth. He sunk at a rapid pace into the ground; he could see again—the dimming light of the gray sky. He spread his hands and tail out to stop his tunneling plummet. Rocks and dried root pieces pelted his body. Acid from his wounds filled the limited air. He felt the spectre of deja vu beside him.
“We’ve done this before, Instinct!” he said. “You’re waiting for me at the top this hole.”
A pause and a leaf fell after his voice.
“No I’m not!” came Instincts’s response.
“You are! And I was about to tunnel to the right or left to surprise you—at which point you would have—”
“Taken your tail to my stomach, but then swung you against the tree trunks.”
Harmony began to climb back to the surface. Said he, “Have we finally run out of ways to do this?”
Instinct helped her enemy out of the hole, then rested her finger on her lips, pondering the question. Harmony did the same. A bat latched itself to Instinct’s ear.
“Devora,” said Instinct, slurping a drop of life from her finger. “It’s a word of the bats, meaning—”
“Devour,” said Harmony. “Of course.”
The two found tacit agreement in each other’s words. Both bared their fangs and clashed. With the added element of consuming their enemy, the battle felt new—reinvigorated by the taste of other blood in their mouths.
Babarenfeld became reserved and uncomfortable. He was almost there—only a quarter of an age away. Yet he had to hear his children—memories of their relation lost and the addiction of barbarity—snap and chomp at one another’s arteries. His voice was only thunder in their clouds, but he shouted anyway for them to stop.
The ultimate victor, you wonder. Vlerd and I are proof of who clutched that eroded and
wet title to their red chest—of who devoured their enemy.
Babarenfeld arrived to find Instinct sitting cross-legged in the final forest. Before her lay Harmony’s mask in a pool of bubbling green. He plucked her from the earth and held her up to his face—she didn’t resist. She sat despondent in his hand.
“Child,” he said. “You killed all the brontosaur.”
“My enemy and I,” she said. “Yes.”
“You ate one of your siblings.”
“My enemy. Yes.”
Babarenfeld took a walk around the world, looking for Melody. He pored over every crevice and trench—every desolate and crushed landscape. He found nothing but the most frightened faces of endangered biota and the corpses of noble brontosaurs. Instinct nibbled on his hand the whole way.
“What are you now?” he asked her. He had returned to consume his children, but what sat in his hand looked foreign to him. Neither Harmony nor Instinct—just a warrior.
“Vespertil,” said his daughter. She ceased her biting—drool fell from her mouth. “It is a word of the bats.”
Babarenfeld put her down on our moon, where a light blue dust cloud had settled. Vespertil shoved some of the gritty specs into her mouth. She pawed at them from afar when Babarenfeld snapped her away after he noticed. The brontosaur stuck his free hand into the cloud, and the slightest bit of his lost innocence sunk into his skin. He stumbled backward into the earth, cracking it like an egg.
“The brontosaurs and both of your siblings,” he said, closing his eyes. Vespertil shrugged.
It must have happened without thought. Melody may have been made dust by one of their hands or both—maybe she did it herself. The dead noble brontosaurs littered his vision. He threw Vespertil into the sun—she survived, but didn’t much care. He grabbed meteors, comets and asteroids. Planets brimming with life across the galaxy were shattered by his flailing tail—he collected their remains and slammed them together, forming all of it into a rough sphere. He called the bastardized planet Catalyst. It roared with the lives of a thousand celestial bodies. Its surface cooled, then heated—instability was its norm for its brief solitary existence. Evolution flooded the environment. Surviving biota from every sacrificed body needed to adapt or fall into extinction within days.
Babarenfeld put one hand on Catalyst and the other on our planet, then brought the former to the latter at blinding speed. The force of the collision merged the two worlds into what we have today—separate lands connected to the core by brittle lines of earth and water. Foreign biota intermingled and set evolution down a new, unknown path.
Drained by his raging and active participation in the universe, Babarenfeld curled up and sat in space for a while. Vespertil—singed and flaking—found her way back to him. She was drawn to him not as a daughter—but as a predator. She floated to his face and tried to eat his nose—the act tickled Babarenfeld.
“Devora,” said Vespertil.
“I suppose I should crush you to dust like you did Melody,” Babarenfeld yawned. “Wipe clean my folly as best I can.”
But he couldn’t end his firstborn—imperfect as she was. Imperfect as all three were, I would add. So he opened the floor to the world’s ideas for gods. Many of them were just chickens and eggs at first—prepackaged delights for Vespertil’s hunger. But as the ages stumbled forward, ideas grew in complexity and specificity. Gods were born and they desired only territory—Vespertil’s voracious need to devour their flesh forced them to either match her desires or stay the hell out of it by hanging around Babarenfeld or leaving the galaxy. Proud as we are—most chose to stay and fight.
I was born from Akil’s ancestors huddled on the edge of a cliff with a sabretooth lizard bearing down on them all. My first memory is dancing on the edge of a sharpened stick, burning scaled flesh to the point of its retreat. I warmed the early apes for the night, then they left to spread their new notion. I sat cross-legged in the pit of fragile tinder, contemplating existence. Vespertil visited me there in the night; swarms of bats heralded her arrival. She wiped her mouth and picked at her fangs. Eternal holes in her wings made thorned collars for beams of moonlight. High on the eating of Mirth, god of sociopathic tendencies and irony, she was jovial with her words.
“Hello there, new one,” she said. “Or should I say new old one?”
“Hello,” I said. “What do I do now? Attack you, god?”
“No, no.” She wrapped me in her raw wings. “Call me Vespertil. You drew me here, my flame. I have missed you.”
I crawled from under her wistful red hug. I said, “I remember, ‘Instinct.’ And I left you for a reason.”
--Nicholas Perilli, insightfulape.com