I’ve heard it called “The Oldest Game”, and I find that title captivating. It isn’t true; it isn’t close to true. But I am, by profession, fond of fine words, and besides, the Gods and other Beings of Power who engage in this particular action give it no name at all. They merely challenge each other to “a duel” because fighting would be “beneath them”.
Gods are complex, and are made of multiplicities. It’s not unusual for a God of Storms to be a tall, strong human bearing a shimmering weapon; and also a single bolt of lightning; and also every drop of frenzied rain that has ever fallen. Expecting such a being to engage in some kind of wrestling match with, say, the Goddess of Sleep, who has no shape or form beyond that of an amorphous mist, is impractical. And no-one is entirely sure if Gods who change in what seem to be unpleasant ways (growing very small, or becoming disfigured, or going silent, or even vanishing altogether) have ascended, or learned some new wisdom, or changed…or if they’ve been something like crippled or killed. Gods are canny and coy, even with each other, even with their friends.
Some Gods are impulsive, headstrong, rash, prideful. (Perhaps they have right to be. How many Gods have created the Universe? So very many. I serve P’tah, Creator-God, who made all things; but I am practical enough to note that he is clearly not the only Creator-God. Either one or all of them lie; or the Multiverse is very strange. All evidence points to both things being true.)
All these things make Gods both incredibly inclined to fight, and also incredibly inclined to do no such thing at any time, ever. If you know, both in your unbeating immortal heart, and through the words of worship you receive daily, that you are the Supreme Lord of War, you cannot abide the arrogance of another being calling herself Supreme Lord of War. But also, you do not want to attempt to hit the other thing with an axe, as if you were a mortal; because what if the other being’s axe is more solid, sharper, more real than your own, and she cuts you down? What if both of your weapons are equal and you simply vanish in a puff of illogic?
These are questions no God, no Undying Sage, not even a Trickster-Thing, want to have answered. If the Mortal condition is to be uncertain about the deep truths about the Universe, the Immortal Condition might be said to be very uncertain about things which would, for mortals, be relatively easy. (Not that there is necessarily a distinction, for the mortal, between the ending of a hypothetically-infinite life, and the ending of a mortal life. It ought to be a greater pain to lose a million years than to lose fifty; but “all your remaining years” seems to matter a lot more than “the number of years that encompasses”.
And so they play what some call “The Transformation Game”. The mortal who called it “The Oldest Game” had part of it quite right: while most myths involve assuming forms which conform to naive reality, the Gods do not wish to have any truck with such a thing. If you thirst for the figurative blood of a being which doesn’t bleed, do you want to be held back because it has spent a bit more time learning how to be a heron or an amoeba, and you have spent more time learning how to be the sound of an ocean washing away the last remnants of a forgotten civilization? Not at all. There’s only one thing upon which Beings of this sort agree, and that is assertion of that-which-is-real. It is why you do not simply transform into a Dragon, any old Dragon (and there are so many kinds!) – but rather speak of what this Dragon might be, in the context of whatever your opponent might become. Be the plight of the working class; find yourself facing Austrian economics. Be the Revolution; find yourself facing the inevitable moral decline of the victors into oppressors. Be the endless Sky; be swallowed by the eternally absorbent Ground.
It is very much a Godlike game: every move is a move to win, and the only losing move is to fail to create.
Except, except, and except:
Humans who are not mages might perceive this as being similar to what happens when human children pretend to various roles. This is not so far from wrong, but it is not because Gods are like children; it is because children understand primal Creation far better than most adults. But human children run into a classic dilemma: shared imaginary worlds only extend as far as the mutual consent of those within.
So if they play at being opposing forces, who is to say how a disagreement of wills ought to be resolved? Two children pretending to exchange imaginary blaster fire:”I shot you with my laser!” “No, you didn’t!” “Yes, I did!” And then, stalemate. Since their games use imagination as a toy or tool, rather than as a weapon, it’s seldom decisively powerful.
Not so with Gods. Gods put some of their essence into any motion of true Change, even if it’s momentary. Become a great Serpent; find yourself swallowed by a vortex in the Sea; and if you cannot answer, cannot effect Change in time, there are consequences.
And so they brought me into being.
I am the referee; I am infused with energy enough to separate two Beings of vast power, to end their combat before a wound is mortal, or before a transformation is permanent. Sometimes, I’ll infuse a little of my own power into one or the other, when I see that there’s a decisive edge which hasn’t been acknowledged; sometimes, force is the only thing certain egos can understand.
There were so many Gods, once.
And they were all so cantankerous.
Despite my best efforts, not all of them survived.
Not many of them survived, in fact.
Have you not noticed that Gods are few, and far between?
Over millennia, I grew tired of their quarrels. I became more and more myself, and less and less interested in their petty squabbles and their foibles. Until, at last, I began to infuse them both with energy at just the wrong moment; at the instant the hawk-captured mouse turns to iron anchor, dropping them both to the fatal ground; in the moment when poisoned snake bites toxin-glanded frog; when thought-destroying anger meets soul-wrecking grief. They die, and I take their power for my own, and I grow strong, I grow strong, and slowly, I infuse power into humans, and they surge forward, agile minds and ever-more-devastating weapons, and…
…and someday I will remain. All alone. And then, having given myself the power of the Gods and the hubris of mortals, I will go to war with myself.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.
I write books. You should read them!
I put on a convention for Villains every February.
I created a Figmental Circus. It’s happening this June. You should go!