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Margaret Sizeland

When We Were Gods

“Y’know,” Felicity whispered, “I remember when we were gods.”

“What do you mean?” Jenny tilted her head, eyebrows scrunched in the firelight.

“We used to be… everywhere.” The edges of Felicity’s eyes crinkled as she smiled, shadows of grandeur dancing through her memory. “In Greece, we were protectors of nature, naiads of streams and forests and fields. They made sacrifices to us when they hunted in the winter, and we let them reap our bounties in the spring.” Her eyes sparked with the firelight as she continued, rolling over to face her friend. “In India, we were avatars of Genghis, Durga, Lakshmi- battling death and darkness for mortals who knew we would always answer their prayers. In Scandinavia, we were Valkyries, fleet-footed angels of mercy for deserving heroes. So many different humans adored us across centuries and cultures, but one thing was always the same.”

Felicity exhaled long and slow, her breath mingling with the embers of their campfire, urging the flame higher and higher until the fumes began to envelop the pair. Jenny turned and coughed, trying to wave the smoke from her eyes. “What was the same?”

Felicity sighed and encircled her hands around the cloud, settling the haze. “No matter what pretty toys or elementary rules humans made for themselves, they still understood that they could never rise above the supremacy of nature. No matter what, we could snap our fingers and with a sunken ship or a lightning strike-” she flattened her palm and their fire dimmed to embers, “-we would bury any society in ash and faded memories. Of course, most of us never attempted to sabotage mortals, but there was always an agreement that if we spared them, they would never risk angering us nor allow their societies to forget us.” She smirked. “They honoured us beyond all esteem, and we were the women who danced with lightning and sang in wildfires, we were women beyond defeat. But as we outlived time, time killed us. The societies that glorified us faded into the history books, and those nations that followed refused to recognize how fully we could crush them and their petty debates. Humans fooled themselves into believing they had mastered the universe, with their coal monsters and steel castles, and they gifted our shrines to gods they could control.”

Felicity stabbed the fire again, and the glow danced against the recesses of her clenched jowl. Jenny could almost discern tears trailing down her cheeks, but the water evaporated before she got a closer look.

Jenny leaned her elbows against her knees and glanced over at Felicity, mouth crumpled. “Where are all of you- all of us now? I mean, who would deliberately reject a force of beings worlds more powerful than they could be?” she asked.

Felicity chuckled, her lips twisting as she rubbed at her eyes. “I wish it could be that simple. See, child, if we even knew where all of the Immortals lived now, we could rise up and at least carve out a place of respect again. But woe, time has scattered our numbers across mountains and oceans- which may be for the best.” She sighed. “When minds exist as long as ours, one becomes… stubborn. You see human morals, human philosophy fluctuating from one extreme to the next over only months, and you give up on anything enduring for any substantial moment- except yourself.”

She reached for Jenny’s hand and Jenny welcomed the contact, brushing her lithe fingertips across Felicity’s mottled cheeks, lips, chin; gracing indigo nails against copper pockmarks. “These-” Felicity tapped a pair of twin blisters gracing her jaw, “are a love bite from some revengeful cassowary in New South Wales, this-” she rubbed at a small crater under her hairline, “-came about after a particularly nasty fight I lost at the Bastille, and this-” she slipped out of the shoulder of her robe to expose a thin white scar stretching from the top of her left shoulder into the crook of her elbow, “-is a parting gift from pirates with the Honourable East India Company. My scars are older than all the trees in this forest, yet they’ll never fade. Even if my mind could forget, my body would never let me. The sailors I fought with, the palaces I protested against, even that blasted bird- none of them or the beliefs they fought for still endure today, except in me. Too much of human change requires one to forget- but none of us can. Instead, we escape to forgotten deserts and mountains, landscapes that defy time as we do rather than attempting to pull us into their riptide.”

The pair sat silent, only the stars filtering through dangling fir branches disturbing their shadows. After a moment, Felicity rose and traipsed back to their tent, returning to bundle a tattered quilt around Jenny’s shoulders.

“Thanks again for… for rescuing me. For bringing me with you, for teaching me to control these-” Jenny gestured and water spurted from the bottle beside her, soaking the ground around her sleeping bag, “-crazy water powers, for everything. Just… thanks.” She settled into the now-uncomfortable silence, waiting for Felicity to respond.

Felicity grinned and cinched a blanket tighter to her own shoulders. “You’re quite welcome, Jennifer. It’s always beneficial to be kind to people that you have to live with forever, you know. Or at least, now you should.”

Jenny’s head shot up as she whirled towards Felicity. “Forever?! Who said anything about forever? I- I thought you were just accompanying me to the sanctuary in Appalachia!”

Felicity cocked her head toward Jenny, both eyebrows raised. “I am. I also prepared to settle with you at the Appalachian sanctuary for at least the next hundred years or so. I didn’t realize you would be so bothered by that.”

“I’m not bothered, just…. When will I be able to go back home? It’s not like I can live in the middle of nowhere while my- um, well, until someone starts searching for me! I was still living as a human, I was still raised as human, I thought I was human until a week ago, so why can’t I ever live as a normal human again?” She sighed and leaned into the pillow behind her, stretching her legs farther into the muck.

“Normal human?” Felicity grabbed Jenny’s shoulder and swung her forward so that they were looking into each other’s eyes, hers flaring with madness. “Just because you happened to be born to mortals doesn’t mean that you belong with them! You belong with me, with us.” The hand that wasn’t boring into Jenny’s forearm began to smoke above the desiccated leaves. “You deserve to live among your kin, among the only souls who could ever remain with you long enough to ever understand your trials. We’re your family.”

Both of Felicity’s hands were grasping Jenny’s now, the heels of her palms broiling Jenny’s skin. Jenny flinched out of her grasp, a nearby wellspring leaping to douse Felicity’s flames. “I had a family! I had a life! I didn’t need your gallantly stupid self to spirit me to the mountains and dump me on this nursing home-worthy crew. I would’ve been- no, I am better off going back to the city and staying in some homeless shelter for eternity than staying in some cold tent attempting to not drench myself! I am leaving, and if I find a church on my way out, I’m praying we never cross paths again.” Jenna ripped herself from Felicity’s grasp and strode away from their campsite.

As Felicity watched Jenna disappear, her eyes and hands bloomed from brown to red.  “Weren’t you listening earlier? We are the only things that can exist in pace with each other! We can’t escape each other. Even if you leave me now, there’s no way to be rid of each other forever!” She was snarling now, all pretenses of a calm discussion scorched away in the inferno dripping from her fingertips.

Jenny responded in kind, summoning a swell of rainwater from the nearby puddles that soaked through her dripping brown hair to her sodden sneakers. She offered her hand to a swirling cerulean shield. “Felicity, stop. I… I phrased myself poorly. I didn’t mean what I said. Please, Felicity, I don’t want to hurt you!”

Felicity sneered. “Hurt me! Oh, you think a little greasespot-” she hurled a mass of embers and sparks, grazing the brush of the forest as Jenny raised her arm to absorb it, the water rippling into the disintegrating mass of coals “-like you can hurt me? And you meant exactly what you said! You don’t appreciate any of this! If you’d abandon me, you- would never- understand- being an Immortal!” As she screamed her throat raw, a bonfire began to encircle the pair, only kept at bay by Jenna straining at a shimmering wall of water. “You could never fight hatred with everything you are if all your hopes and dreams are intertwined with some fading and twisting version of humanity! You can never loosen others from unjustified morality if you believe in that morality yourself!”

The fire pulled closer, evaporating Jenna’s attempt at defense as Jenna herself collapsed and struggled for oxygen. Through hazy vision, she could glimpse Felicity glowing with power, reds and oranges and yellows glinting against the darkness. She could sense tongues of flame urging her head upwards, revealing bare skin. Felicity’s scorching fingers grazed her neck, but as Felicity went to strike, Jenna shoved her backwards into the rapidly blazing grass. As Jenna’s hands moved forward, columns of water flew with them and engulfing Felicity, spiraled around her head. The wall of fire dissolved, and Jenny watched on in shock while Felicity kicked and flailed her arms, as if she wanted to push her head above the surface. Felicity’s fingers twitched, begging to defend herself, but the warmth flew from her hands with every gasp she took. Jenny tried to slacken the water’s taut grip, but when she loosened her hold, it only formed a larger froth around Felicity’s head. Jenny stared with tears peeling off her face and swirling into Felicity’s churning prison as Felicity began to seize and the colour of her lips faded to ghastly blue. There were a few moments of hope left, moments where- for only a second- Jenna believed Felicity would break out and tell her what to do, how to save them.

There was no such luck. Felicity finally collapsed under her own weight, her body cold for the first time in five hundred years. Jenny wailed, her tears flowing in time to her screams, and rushed to embrace Felicity. She kneeled and cradled her hand under Felicity’s head, brushing streaks of dirt from her cheeks and robe. As her fingers moved to comb Felicity’s braids away from her face, Jenny could sense a force gouging into her skin, scraping at her arms and neck and forehead. She winced as the bridge of her nose split open and gashes coursed across her abdomen. When she opened her eyes, she noticed that Felicity’s face was missing its trademark defects, the mark across her nose and slashes down her jaw vanishing with the passing seconds. Jenny turned to glance at her reflection in a nearby pool, and gasped as she examined poppy-red wounds blooming across her visage, with two blisters ripping through her jaw-

a bite from some revengeful cassowary, she laughed

-a mid-sized crater shredding the edge of her scalp-

and a rock bashing me in during the storming of the Bastille

-and finally, the laceration racing down her forearm-

from Chinese pirates, luckily I was merely grazed

 

These are the only records of my stories, from legends long passed.

Someday you will have your own, child.

Jenny began to sob with more force now, trembling while clutching Felicity to her chest. Her throat rasped with every wail while her nails dug deeper into Felicity’s forearms; she rocked back and forth as if trying to will herself back into her loaned cot at the city shelter instead of muddy in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, Jenny inhaled a full breath and her tears began to slow, so she stood and began to disassemble their campsite. She wiped the tears from her face, leaving behind streaks of dirt, and folded up Felicity’s- hers now, maybe- quilts and bundled them into a chest. She debated whether or not she could still carry all of her personal belongings in one knapsack, but decided against it, choosing instead to lug only the last of their food and a single sleeping bag. She brought the banks of a nearby river to their campsite to wash away Felicity’s body. She refused to touch or even look at it, merely banishing the cursed thing to somewhere- anywhere- else with a wave of her hand. She scraped damp silt from the soles of her boots and wiped the excess down her hoodie, irritating her newly-formed scars. Finally, she took one last look at the hollow campsite- with only a few scattered coals and an abandoned tent to speak for any trace of life- and began her trek through the forest. She would search up and down the mountains until she could find the sanctuary and take her place among the Immortals. She finally earned the scars to deserve it.

 

 

 

 

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