The following is a short story I wrote a bit more than a year ago, based on a writing prompt from my creative writing class and using the rough setting of the world of my epic fantasy, To Look Skyward. It explores a place and time of that world that is a bit different than what one reading my novel-in-progress might recognize. It's one of the short stories I'm most proud of, and I'm excited to finally share it on here. 'Bout time I posted a blog, right?
A pouch of seeds fell through the sky, hitting the black dirt of the Below with the tiniest of sounds, akin to a single drop of rain or the hesitant intake of breath before one speaks. No one took notice of the pouch at first, and it lay forgotten on the ground, a treasure hidden by a simple ebony bag that seemed to meld with the dirt itself. Two farm workers walked by it on their way to their labor and did not see it. A hunting party jogged next to it, tracking a young Great Lion that had fled northward, wounded. The sharp eyes of one of the men noted it, but he dismissed it as of little importance. The Listener herself left footprints in the dirt near the pouch of seeds, but the voices she listened to did not inform her of the treasure that she passed by. In truth, those voices did not know of the pouch's reckless abandonment.
Three days passed, and a barefoot old man strode by on his way to deliver news of a young boy's death to his parents. He too would have passed the pouch without noting its significance if, by pure chance, he had not stepped directly on it. The sudden change of the feeling on his feet surprised him and he came to a stop, glancing down with curiosity. He moved his calloused foot and knelt down to pick up the pouch, quickly untying the drawstring that held it shut and pouring out the contents into his cupped hand. He stared at the seeds for a long time without comprehension, wondering where they had come from. He had lived a long time and had never seen anything quite like them before. They were small and fragile-looking, as if one gust of wind would take them away forever. He put them back into the pouch and drew the drawstring shut, determined to keep the things safe. He did not know why he had such an affection for them, but he felt they were important. He tied the pouch to his belt of frayed rope and continued on, jogging across the dirt and through the fog. His name was Messenger.
The next day he passed by the same spot, but whether by habit or through subconscious curiosity, he could not tell. To his amazement and surprise, his foot once again hit something soft, and another pouch lay beneath him. More seeds. The cracked rock of the western wall separating the Above and the Below reached up behind the spot where the pouch had lain, as if it was the scarred skin of some horrible, angry giant. He glanced up the cliff and his eyes hardened. He decided to stay put on this spot and see what would happen. He made a fire with what sparse vegetation could be found and slept out in the cold. It was at the height of the warmer months, and so the night was cold, but bearable. The feeling of the seeds strapped to his belt made him feel warmer inside, somehow. The fog of the Below swirled about, but Messenger felt at home in its curling and twisting current, and he soon fell asleep to the sounds of insects chirping about him.
He awoke the next day to a fogless morning, rare in the Below, and searched around the area, but found no pouch. He stoked his campfire and sat before it, warming himself while he waited for what he knew would come. At around mid-morning, Messenger glanced up and saw a tiny black speck falling down towards the ground. It fell in the same spot he had found the previous two pouches, and he snatched it up to find that it too held seeds. His eyes wandered to the wall of the cliff again, and this day, with the absence of fog, he could almost see to the very top of the Above. He took all three pouches and poured the contents into his hands. He knew what they were now.
These were the seeds of the gods.
Messenger planted the seeds in a small alcove made by a curl of the cliff wall, digging dozens of small holes in the dark earth and covering them over with a careful hand. He did not know what would become of them, but the importance he felt they had had not faltered. These were the seeds of the gods; the power of the Above in the hands of lowborn. This could change everything. For years, Messenger had been trying to change the minds and hearts of his people by showing them the evil of the "gods" they worshiped. Listener and her followers poisoned their minds with the lies of the almighty power of the gods and the obedience they demanded of their followers. It was all deception, created to give Listener power and status and to appease the voices in her head. Messenger knew it. He did not dispute the existence of the Above or its residents, for it merely required a fogless day or a demonstration of the Transformation to remind him of those things. He did not believe, however, in the omnipotence or the perfection of the gods that demanded so much of their servants, or even the inequality of gods and men. He knew in his heart of hearts that the gods were people just like the rest of them.
For they had made a mistake, whether the falling of the seeds had been accidental or purposeful. They had given him a precious treasure, for one reason or another, and he would not stop until he had figured out a way to use it to destroy every last one of them.
The people did not listen. They scraped and bowed to the gods in everything, positive that they were the lowest of the low and did not deserve to rise above their place. It was sickening. Messenger defied Listener as much as he dared, careful to be subtle and indirect as to not give the gods a reason to cause in him the Transformation. He had seen the horrible enslavement it caused and he had no desire to become a mindless servant of gods he would not recognize as holy.
After the collapse of Eastmine, which trapped dozens of husbands and fathers within the belly of the earth, Messenger rallied the people to himself to clear away the rubble and rescue their fallen brethren. At first, it worked. The people forgot their fear and their reservations and worked together for the good of their own kind. Until Listener came and demanded that they stop. The gods had willed it, she said. It was hopeless to try to save the miners, for the gods had decreed it be so, and who were they to question the gods? The rescue effort ended as quickly as it had begun and the men and women gathered at the entrance to Eastmine groveled in the dirt and rocks in supplication to the deities that had killed their families.
Messenger had been driven off with stones. He fled to the alcove in the cliff wall that had become his refuge and nursed his bruises and scrapes. The seeds he had planted had grown into saplings--long, slender things with minute dark brown bark and the beginnings of small branches poking out from the side of the stem. He had been inspecting them as they grew, and was utterly confused by the fact that they seemed to have no roots. They were constantly falling over as the stem grew high above the dirt, disturbing the proportions of the amount of plant inside and outside the soil. Messenger had no idea how they were even growing, but with each passing day, he grew more and more eager to discover just what the amazing plants were and how he could use them.
As the Below entered the last few weeks of summer, Messenger found his answer. The saplings suddenly began to float.
Messenger had to tie them up and stake them to the ground to keep them from flying off in the wind. It was the most incredible thing he had ever seen. Flying trees. That was what they were becoming. He watched day after day as they grew longer and thicker, blossoming into massive plants that made Messenger feel small and inconsequential. He was beginning to understand how he could use the trees to show his people how they could fight back. And if they wouldn't, he could use them himself and fight alone.
That day, he went into town and preached with abandon on the evils of the gods, too caught up in the passion of his words to realize the anger on the faces of those to whom he spoke. Listener arrived just in time to hear his last request: Join him in rebelling against the gods and freeing themselves. He was driven out of the village with stones once more and told by Listener that he was forever banished from the Center. He would live with the animals now, she sneered. Messenger ignored her and went back to his cultivation. This time, he not only nurtured plants, but also his growing hatred and resentment towards Listener and the gods. The next day, he tied several of his flying trees together and got atop the makeshift raft, riding it. He made his way to The Lake, with its rising steam and boiling surface. He rode the heat and headed to the Above.
There he saw the gods for the first time. He had been right. They were people, just like him. They looked weak and sickly, bundled in furs and rarely straying out of their homes. Listener and her lackeys sent up food and goods with men riding on ships made from the flying trees. He saw all of this as he scrambled about like a sneak thief among the rocks and buildings of the Above. It was icily cold, even though it was still summer, and snow littered the ground in a powdery mess. When Messenger returned to his makeshift raft of flying trees, he wanted to take a million rocks and break apart the raft until it was nothing more than splinters. It all made him so angry. They did nothing but sit up here in their shelters while controlling the lives of everyone below them. Who were they? Nothing. He was determined to kill them all. To make them pay for the life they had forced upon him. Outcast for trying to show his people the truth. Banished for trying to save their lives. Exiled for revealing to them the error of their ways.
He went back into the city of the Above, seething with the desire for revenge. He found a young man taking a walk out in the snow, his rosy cheeks chubby with pampering and his smile sickening to behold. Messenger followed as the young man went out onto a path that led away from the city. Messenger sneaked ahead and hid behind a large tree at the edge of the path. As the young man went by, Messenger stepped out, holding a large rock with both hands, hatred in his eyes. The young man cried out in fright and stepped back, his eyes widening. And then he seemed to get some ounce of backbone and stood his ground. Messenger smiled and advanced on him. This would be satisfying.
Messenger suddenly felt an invasion on his mind. The Transformation. How could he be so stupid? Of course, this would happen. These were the gods! He was going to die. This god was going to kill him. But no, he would not go this easily. With a great mental shove, he tried to push aside the Transformation as it occurred, and he was surprised when it succeeded. The invasion of his mind died in an instant and they were just two men on a snowy road.
The young god--no, the young man--took another step back, terror returning to his face once again. Messenger wanted to bash his head in with the rock, but in a moment of insight, he hesitated. Instead, he reached out with his own mind, trying to recreate the sensation he had just felt at repelling the Transformation. A world opened before him, and he could sense the young man with more than just his eyes and his ears.
And that was when Messenger realized that he was a god. He pushed into the young man's mind and Transformed him. It was easier than he had ever thought possible. Suddenly he was sensing the world not through his own body, but through the young man's. He felt the cold more keenly, his heart racing in his chest as he knew he was going to die. Those were the young man's thoughts. And Messenger knew that he could make the god do whatever he liked. Messenger sent the young man back towards the city of the Above. And then all the way to the cliff that separated gods from men.
Messenger threw the boy off.
Messenger returned and told his people what he had accomplished. He showed them the mangled body of the god he had recovered from the bottom of the Below. He showed them the boat of flying trees he had grown from the seeds the gods had so carelessly dropped. He told them of the power of Transformation and how they could resist it.
Listener came as he was telling the people to fight back, to give up their superstitions and come with him to the sky. She gave one look to Messenger and then glanced at the crowd. She spoke one word and the crowd descended on Messenger and killed him with a hundred stones. They tore up the raft of flying trees until it was nothing but splinters. Listener took the body of the god and brought it back to her home, showing it the uttermost reverence. The crowd was told to return to their own homes and forget the heresy of the evil man they had once known as Messenger. They did so.
But the seeds had been planted.