The Mounds of the Gods

Chapter 1

First Introduction upon Dying

The afterlife wasn’t quite what Karl Stevens was expecting or, for that matter, a close approximation of what the Christian teachings had promoted for the last two thousand odd years.

Karl couldn’t quite recall the manner of his passing but he was acutely aware that wherever he was now he seemed to be lying face down on ground with the sandy and gritty texture of a desert. 

He lay there unmoving, letting his thoughts recover from the transition from living to dead. Slowly, he started recalling the events that led to his earthly life being terminated. A bomb. A brilliant white light, searing pain and then.. well then nothing really until he woke up dead and in a desert.

A breeze drifted gently across him, the air hot enough to deny any cooling. Fabric rippled against his skin. 

Karl raised his head slowly, spitting out dust and insects. 

‘Bloody hell’ he thought ‘I must be in Hell’ at which point he sat up abruptly, certain that satanic hordes must be waiting to drag him off to somewhere even hotter. But a quick scan around revelled that he was quite alone in what passed for the Gobi desert of the afterlife. It also revealed that he was clothed in what he first thought was a dress and then rethought into a crisp white cotton toga and heavy leather sandals. ‘Fuck me’ he gasped ‘I’ve become some sort of dead Roman’.

A further, more intimate scan confirmed that he may be dead but was still, somehow, in possession of a fully functioning body. His body, the actual one he died in. All present and accounted for. Despite the manner of his death, the heat and the present desiccated surroundings he felt incredibly well and quite unbothered by the blazing sun arcing it’s way through the azure sky. What bothered him, quite a lot in fact, was where was he? 

Heaven or Hell? 

His environment suggested he might be in some sort of warm up zone for entry into Hell, although the absence of any demonic representation seemed a bit tardy. Then again, maybe this was some final test before the heavenly hordes descended and whisked him off to the land of milk and honey. 

Climbing to his feet he scanned his surroundings from a more elevated position. 

‘Bloody hell’ he groaned followed swiftly by ‘Good heavens’ suddenly becoming acutely aware he’d better play both ends of the dead game, as he really had no idea who might appear to claim him at any moment.

He then became conscious of the fact he might be able in body and mind but he didn’t seem to be breathing. He then forgot this as quickly as it had occurred to him, as his eyes made out a rise in the featureless desert off to his right. Seeing nothing else to attract him, he set off at a brisk pace towards whatever it was, eager to find something, anything that might explain his unexplained situation.

Whatever it was, it was a lot further away than he’d originally thought but he seemed to be remarkably fit and unaffected by his superheated surroundings and so he kept going until some timeless time later he stopped, mouth agape as the rise in the ground turned out to be a not insubstantial earthen mound, atop of which sat an intricately carved ivory throne and sat in that was a man. 

Karl approached until he was a few strides away from the man and directly facing him.

The figure was hunched over, as if deep in thought, but the most alarming thing about him was that he kept flickering in and out of view and each time he flickered back into view his appearance had changed. Bald, long haired, short haired, black, white, clothed, unclothed, as if he was the product of an ancient Lumiere Brothers film.

Karl cleared his throat ‘Ah hem’. He really didn’t see what other options he had. He was dead. He was in a featureless desert and the man before him was all there was to talk to and perhaps help him find out where he was and where he might be going.

‘Yeeeees’ groaned the man, lifting his head to gaze at Karl ‘I suppose you want me to explain what’s going on. You all do, well when one of you turns up that is’ 

The act of speaking to Karl seemed to slow his constant flickering until he settled, randomly Karl assumed, into becoming an old man who, to Karl’s mind, resembled Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings.

‘Yes, I’d like that. I’m dead you know, so this is all kind of new to me’ Karl said.

‘Yes, yes, I know your dead young man’ the Gandalf look alike muttered ‘ all those who find me are dead. I am known as Jesus. Anyway, you’d better sit down as my story might take awhile, as I try to make changes to keep away the boredom of eternal repetition’

Karl hunkered down, clearing stones and grit from a patch of ground and then sat, never once taking his eyes from someone claiming to be the Messiah.

‘Good, good, your comfortable now are you?’ the old man said, not making any effort to hide the tediousness of having to recount his story once again. ‘In your time I was called Jesus, the son of God, the Messiah. However, my curse is that I wouldn’t exist here if it wasn’t for the combined mental energies of you humans worshipping me and never really agreeing on what God, my alleged father. actually looked like, otherwise he’d be here in my place. And so I have been, much against my will, stuck in here with other Gods your species have created, envisaged and worshipped. Their just that, deities that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for human kinds obsessive need for Gods and even more obsessive adoration of them’

Karl sat motionless and silent, not sure that anything he wanted to say could contribute to this discussion.

The old man settled more comfortably into his ivory throne and continued his story.

‘Look, within every sentient race there is a need to understand creation and to do this they always have to believe that someone or maybe even lots of someone’s far above them in power and intelligence had to have created creation and therefore them’ he said, warming to his story and audience of one.

‘Unfortunately, for you and me, this belief in omnipotent God Creators is all tosh. They don’t exist and never have but..’ he waved a finger at Karl ‘..but WE have come into being once the mental energies of enough human beings reaches a critical mass that then creates a God or Gods to explain there existence. This obsessive excess energy feeds into this realm and who they’ve created becomes real here’ Karl ignored the fact Jesus seemed be repeating himself somewhat.

‘But there’s only you here’ stammered Karl, not sure where this old mans rambling was actually leading ‘what about Allah, Buddha um, um…Zeus and Thor?’

‘Oh for Gods sake, excuse the pun, didn’t you just hear me explain that I’m here because you Christians could never agree on what God actually looked like, unlike the others here who are Gods because their followers actually cooked up some pretty lifelike images’ Jesus droned over the same thing yet again then let out a long sigh and continued ‘you can see me because you happen to be one of mine, a Christian and therefore you can’t see them…yet’ he said raising his voice and lifting himself up in his seat ‘if you were a true believer in anyone of the Gods here, you’d be sat in front of them now. And trust me their all just as bored with eternally repeating this story as I am. Mind you, some of the promises you earthly believers make are way worse for some of them than for me’ he sat back down, his sudden anger over ‘I mean, you know Allah, because he’s from the same timeline as me. Imagine having to explain all this to some of his fanatical worshippers! “No I’m sorry, there are no virgins and it wasn’t me that said there would be before you blew yourself up!”

He broke off, choking with laughter ‘oh he is a very unhappy, human deity’

Somewhat stunned by the old mans story and being dead but not dead, Karl struggled to decide what profound and non repetitive direction of questioning he could ask Jesus, who was beginning to look more and more like Gandalf.

‘Um, er, I’m sorry but, um, I don’t doubt your story’ Karl stammered, desperate not to offend ‘I wasn’t really a true believer before I died, so I’m not sure why my death has brought me here’

The old man slapped his hands down onto the arms of his throne, sending a swarm of sun baked flies buzzing into the air “I HAVE NO IDEA WHY YOUR BLOODY WELL HERE’ he roared ‘I spend centuries of your time dozing peacefully and then out of nowhere one of you turns up and I have to start explaining the fact that me being me is the fault of millions of humans’ he slumped down on his throne ‘I mean, it’s not as if you can go back and tell them to stop, is it!’ He pointed his finger at Karl accusingly ‘and don’t ask me what happens to all the other dead, I mean the occasional one of you I can deal with, I can’t imaging having to explain things to an unending line of the dead’ he fell back in his throne and let out a long sigh ‘and before you ask, I’m afraid your stuck here forever, as there’s not one of us worshipped beings who can change your situation’

‘WHAT’ screeched Karl, leaping to his feet in a cloud of dust and flies ‘WHAT, you mean I’m stuck here forever with only you, and a load of Gods that are the bloody figment of human imagination, to talk to’ he stepped forward menacingly, fists clenched.

‘Jesus / Gandalf rose up equally menacingly ‘now hold on, there no need to get all upset, I mean it’s not my fault your here, is it’ he hissed spitefully ‘anyway, you don’t have to stay with me’ he whispered, his face taking on a sly look ‘by my reckoning there are close to thirty million human made deities stuck here with me and your dead but not dead, so you can bugger off anytime you want and ask any of them for the meaning of life, death and this afterlife. I mean it’s not as if you need feeding and watering anymore, is it’

‘Hah, bloody lair’ yelled Karl ‘you just said I can only see you’

‘Yeees, I did didn’t I but now I come to think of it, they’ll probably enjoy meeting someone who isn’t a believer in them. An excellent change of conversation, well unless your a tree god or something more climatic like a thunder god’ Jesus said, warming to the idea and the thought of palming Karl off on the legion of his Godly companions ‘all you have to do is follow the sun’s path and you will find more mounds, a vast chain of Gods, we’re not exactly keen on wandering about anymore’ he sniggered ‘you might even bump into others, like you, who bothered me once’

Offended at the obvious brush off, Karl turned to what he assumed was north ‘I might just go that way’ he grumbled, failing to keep the petulance out of his voice ‘can’t be any worse than asking the same question millions of times, well minus the non human Gods, I mean I’m not sure if I can speak tree’ he said, injecting a degree of sarcasm into his voice.

‘Oh very droll’ sneered Jesus ‘now don’t get me wrong, I’ll be overjoyed when you bugger off but I really wouldn’t advise you to go in any other direction’ he paused, knowing full well Karl would ask why not. 

And so it came to pass. ‘Why not’ said Karl.

‘Because, out there are other Gods’ he whispered, a shudder running through his body ‘the Gods of other sentient species’ he pointed north ‘if you think humanity was and is spiteful and cruel then the Gods out there are chained and shackled for a reason. Whose imprisoned them none of us knows and after what happened to old Azura Mazda, none of us wants to try finding out’

‘What happened’ gulped Karl.

‘Well it was millennia or so ago, so I’m a bit rusty on the detail’ Jesus said sombrely ‘ but as I recall, myself and all of humanities other Gods had a rare coming together of minds and decided that one of us should leave their mound and try and find out what all the “donner und blitzen” was over the horizon. Now old Az being one of the elder Gods was patient with the odd follower who turned up back when he was popular on Earth, so we all agreed he should go and have a look see’ 

After a long silence Karl offered a gentle prompt.

‘And?’

Jesus shook his head, as if the bad memories could be shaken free.

‘Well he went. He was gone a long time. We could all see through his eyes. He found things. Hideous, misshapen monstrosities, totally inhuman. Scores of them, all chained to the ground. Az, being a kindly old sod, decided to approach and say hello. Then his vision went, leaving us all blind and moments later, what was left of him just sort of fell out of the sky  right at the feet of Zeus’ he said, sorrow edging his voice ‘he’d been torn asunder, mixed up and put back in ways that weren’t human. Horrible, disgusting. I mean we were all able to see through Zeus’s eyes’ Jesus paused, then continued his voice trembling with fear ‘We’re not a bad lot in all honesty but what we now fear is the type of sentience, with similar obsessive worshiping desires that could create Gods capable of such horrors. 

No youngster, stay true to the Gods your kind created. Follow the sun and try and find the answers you seek’

Sensing some possible God like trick, Karl raised his arms, pointing in what he assumed were the directions of East and West.

‘I can “follow” the sun’s path either way, to its decent or its rising’ stated Karl, pleased with his astute reasoning.

‘Oh give me strength’ groaned Jesus, throwing his arms up high ‘your kind are the liars, masters of dissimulation but we are not’ lowering his arms, he paused and closed his eyes. 

A considerable amount of time, or non time, to Karl, passed and then Jesus took a deep breath, opened his eyes, fixing Karl with a piercing stare.

‘I have made another rare consultation with my more active companions and they all agree that whilst your assertion on directions of travel are, technically, correct your journey needs to be one of gradual enlightenment and this can only be achieved if you travel the westward path of the setting sun’.

Jesus, sensing a degree of suspicion on Karl’s face, continued ‘whilst the Gods of Earth are many, our mounds, it would appear, do not fully span around this world and may never, seeing as how your species seems rather settled on the Gods you have now. This being the case, Allah and I may be the last to mount the Mounds of the Gods of humanity. 

If you travel East your route will take you backwards along the line of all the Gods of your ages’ Jesus leant forward, determined to ensure that Karl fully understood what he was saying ‘No, we Gods are all in agreement in that your enlightenment and any possible explanation as to why you and others come here can only come if you follow the sun’s westward path without deviation. The journey is long and hard but if you stay true to our directions you will eventually reach the first God created by mankind’, then you can work your way forward. At each God mound, you must bow and say that Jesus of the Nazarenes sent you and that you seek to know their story. Perhaps, in this way you will understand things about life and this afterlife that we Gods cannot comprehend on our own’

Karl relaxed, the advice from Jesus making sense.

‘I shall do as you say’ he said, bowing his head to Jesus ‘however, if I have to do this with millions of man made Gods, I might be awhile returning’ hoping this didn’t come across as sarcastic as it sounded.

At this Jesus sat back, the tension draining from his body.

‘I am glad to hear this’ Jesus intoned ‘Remember, you are dead and whilst your Earthly body is no more and you have been given a reanimated form in this afterlife, you cannot tire and after the first few Gods, I guess you can pick and choose those you want to stop and talk to. Mind you, most of the truly ancient ones have probably withdrawn into some form of godly senility by now. Millions can probably be reduced the thousands. Never forget that you are not invincible here and just like my companion, Azura Mazda, you can be destroyed’

At this sobering assessment of his predicament, Karl felt fear trickle through his body

‘What about my soul?’ he asked Jesus pleadingly.

‘My son, your soul is what has recreated the body you now possess’ Jesus replied gently ‘your Earthly body is gone. Why you are one of the few chosen to reappear before me is a mystery to me’ Jesus raised his hand to stop Karl speaking ‘before you ask, let me say that none us know what happens to the rest of Earths dead. They are not here. Perhaps their souls fade into oblivion for there is no resurrection that we know of’

Stunned, Karl remained silent, his thoughts raging at what he was hearing.

Jesus leaned forward, his eyes wet with tears.

‘Do you know that in all the time we have shared, I have never asked your name’ he said, sorrow etched in his voice’

‘My name is Karl, Lord’

‘Oh Karl, Karl my son. I am not your Lord’ Jesus sobbed ‘humanities obsession forced me to be here. I am now no more real than you are. Karl, never forget that all of us here are just figments of humanities fears and desires’

Jesus leant forward, reached out and took a firm hold of Karl’s trembling hand.

‘I can say no more Karl. You must go on your journey now and I will pray for your safe return ceaselessly. I hope you do return Karl, return a wiser soul and perhaps with answers to all that troubles you, me and all the Earthly Gods.

Tears streaming down his face, Karl pulled free of Jesus’s grasp and without making eye contact, turned away and began his long and lonely journey towards the setting sun and the mound of the first of mankind’s Gods.

Chapter 2

A Walk to the Gods 

The only indication of time was the tracking of the sun rising on his back and setting in his face. 

Karl had stopped equating this endless solar cycle with Earths 24 hours. He had been walking for long enough to have counted thirty two sunsets but somehow his mind continually failed to settle on time itself. He travelled forward, he endured as did the sun in its travels across the sky. The only difference was that when the sun set and the sky darkened into starless night two moons rose above the horizon, one a pale white and the other a rather unpleasant blood red. Neither seemed inclined to wax and wane and just slowly processioned until they disappeared and the sun returned to offer its burning heat to the world once again.

Karl was more troubled by himself or more exactly his new body. He never burnt in the searing heat, his feet and muscles felt no pain, despite the rubble strewn ground he was endlessly walking over. He never needed to eat, drink or sleep. All wonderful at first but then the fact he wasn’t breathing sowed a seed of fear that was slowly blooming into outright terror. It had become a constant reminder that he, Karl Stevens, twenty eight at the time a terrorist bomb shredded him from his place on Earth, was in fact dead, deceased, no more.

What had he become and why him out all the thousands dying on Earth everyday? 

What stopped him losing all self control was the thought that there had to be reason for him being here, even if he was now inhabiting a form his soul had created and was wandering a world set up for redundant Gods, some now looking out for his arrival and a friendly chat about existence. His and theirs! Well the Gods of Earth anyway, as he didn’t want to dwell to much on the ones that had killed Azura Mazda.

And so he journeyed on through more sun cycles, having lost the will to keep counting and then one repetitive day, just as the sun was slipping away into night, it’s dying embers backlit what appeared to be the top of a building rising from the ground. It was full night when he reached the building, which was indeed buried into the hard baked Earth. On closer inspection, under the light of the twin moons, it became apparent that it had been carved deep into the living earth, much like the Ethiopian churches at Lalibela. Stunning achievements of design, hard labour and a labour of love and devotion to religious beliefs. 

What beliefs might have existed, in this strange afterlife, Karl had no idea but it’s existence was enough to convince Karl he should stay his journey westward and explore this amazing find. And so for the first time since his departure from Jesus, Karl sat down and awaited the rising of the sun, so that he could try and find a route down to where the entrance must surely be.

As dawns first light was burning away the night, Karl rose and made a careful circuit of the deep pit that held the intricately carved temple, eventually finding a set of crudely carved steps leading down to the floor and he ventured down slowly, fear silently gnawing at his mind. Three hundred steps later he reached the base of the pit, still in deep shadow, as the sun fought its way into the sky.

Once down he made his way around the four sided building, each side carved with giant,  individual faces. Each face a grotesque parody of something only vaguely human, their images started to shimmer as reached each one. Eventually, he returned to the first one facing the bottom step of his decent. Definitely an almost human visage but with touches of the alien about it, to his mind and a face in torment. 

He reached out a shaking arm, drawn inexorably by a compelling desire to make contact. 

As his finger tips touch the surface his mind was jolted by an overwhelming sense of sorrow and despair and a voice, only partly human flowed into his mind, its words easily understandable.

‘Welcome soul body, welcome to the final home of the fallen creators’ it whispered in a strangely accented voice ‘long have I and my brother Creators waited for one like you. I sense your fear, your quest for the knowing of all things struggling against the urge to flee. Dispel your fears, give yourself to me, and I will speak for us all’ it, he, whatever it was, continued ‘others like you have visited us over the timeless eons of our existence but only you have not recoiled and fled back to the sun’s embrace. 

Karl, his mind wavering between flight and an aching desire to stay, eventually held his ground, desperately hoping the risk was its own reward.

‘I sense your fear but rest easy human, I know of your kind, not well but enough to know you are still infants in the journey to enlightenment. Stay and hear my tales of glory and defeat, a tale of hubris in the face of those even greater than our kind could ever be’

Karl leaned his aching head against the cool stone surrounding the face unable to pull away, his mind desperately seeking knowledge that might help explain his current predicament and that of the chain of Earths Gods he still had to pass by on his journey back the Jesus of the Nazarenes. 

The face settled, loosening it’s tormented appearance and continued its story.

‘Long ago, millions of years before your planetary systems came into being, my brothers and I believed that we were the sole Gods, gifted with powers beyond your imagination. 

Believing in our omnipotence, we knew no restraints, we created galaxies, solar systems, life itself on many worlds even your own eventually. We gloried in our powers, in what wonders we brought into being and wiped away without a thought and..’ the voice, now tinged with unimaginable pain continued ‘we made Lesser Gods in our likeness, powerful but not powerful enough to usurp us. With your world, we tried a different approach, we guided your crude first kind into finding and bringing to life Gods of their own making. 

What would they conceive, what powers would they be given. It intrigued all of us, knowing full well we could snuff you out with a mere thought. But we were foolish beyond all imagination, for there is, far above our own existence something else. Something we still don’t know or understand. Something, that decided that my brothers and I were unworthy of our calling and so they cast us here along with all the petty Gods our creatures created. 

And we were imprisoned in cold, sunless stone to live out our eternal life in pain and regret at our foolish self importance, desperately hoping that someone would find us and have the strength of mind to heed our stories’

Karl had noticed the sculpted face growing warmer the more animated it became, yet he remained compelled to remain in contact with its surface.

‘What can I, one lone and dead human do, that you and all the Gods of Earth cannot’ he intoned, a sense of desperation creeping into his voice’ you were powerful, world creators or worshipped deities whereas I am nothing’

The tortured face grew more agitated, the heat it generated becoming almost unbearable.

‘Once you may have been nothing more than one tiny speck on the oceans of human existence but no more’ the trapped face a God thundered in Karl’s mind ‘I, my brothers as  well, know you for what your are even if you do not yet. Your are unique amongst those few humans who are sent here to search out their Gods with the hope of finding the answers all of us trapped here seek. True you are a soul body, given life and yet still dead, but unlike the others that come, whose soul bodies are still weakly linked to their past lives the lack of breath marks you out as a unique creature, a Spiritual Interlocutor, an all but indestructible spirit creation, long known to all gods but never seen. Despite what your Jesus of the Nazarenes told you, you have strengths and powers that even we now envy’

Karl’s mind reeled as this captured God he was linked to exposed how much he knew of Karl’s time with Jesus. How much he knew of what he was, what he appeared to have become when he himself didn’t.

‘Chosen for what’ Karl said, hoping desperately that the answer wouldn’t come.

‘Chosen to intercede within all the realms of Gods. Ask for knowledge, answers, guidance on the one true pathway that will lead to the Ultimate Godhead, the one true Alpha and Omega that many have claimed to be but that have, in truth, been falsehoods’ the voice paused, seemingly drifting into itself and then slowly returned ‘and yet, what they falsely claim for themselves has a deep grain of truth, a truth known to all things at some deeper mind level’

‘I, I.. how’ Karl stammered, a flame of real fear started sliding into his mind but the God voice interjected before he could get himself under control.

‘No more can be said, you must go’ the God voice boomed ‘my brothers and I tire, our age old powers drain from lack of use. Go and find the first God of mankind and then begin your long journey to enlightenment’ both the anguished face and voice began to fade ‘go, seek the one creator of all. We pray for the release that only you can find’

With that the connection broke, the face returning to carved silence, the heat in Karl’s hand dissipated into the shadows that still cloaked the bottom of the pit and before the faces final flicker back to stone Karl saw a flash of text and numbers that came and went to fast to see’

He shook his head, once, muttered ‘Oh bugger, fuck’ and then set off back up the dusty steps to resume his interrupted journey.

Chapter 3

First God of Earth

Karl’s sighting of the first God mound came just after dawn, in size and shape it was much like the one Jesus had sat upon. However, there was no throne or any other sign that a God might be present, except for an odd blurring static in the air around and above the flattened top.

Karl approached cautiously until he was within three or four paces of the base. He stopped, calmed his mind, took a mental deep breath in lieu of actually being able to breath and spoke the words Jesus had told him to say.

‘Jesus of the Nazarenes sent me to seek out the Gods of humanity and I now speak to you, the first God of Earth. I wish to know your story and seek your aid in knowing why I, Karl Stevens, has be soul born here and what my purpose in this existence might be?’

If he’d been able to breath, Karl would probably been able to have taken one breath, before the roiling air atop the mound discharged a bolt of energy directly into his head and he sank to the ground unable to move, his mind, spiralling down into a microscopic dot of light and then he was somewhere else, looking down into another time and place, watching a story unfold.

Four figures hunched together in the cold driving rain, their fur covered bodies soaked, but slowly being washed clean of dirt, filth and lice. They pressed together in a shallow depression, surrounded by small stunted bushes, their leaves stripped away by the violent autumn storms.And every so often, one body would shuffle as it tried to find a means of respite from the weather, only to be punched and screeched at by its compatriots.

There were two males and two females, all naked as the day they were born. None had names, or any form of language for that matter, with their daily communications carried out by grunts and gestures, such as pointing or waving of arms if frustrations grew too much. 

They were tired and hungry, having walked hundreds of miles since leaving their summer cave over two moons before and heading south, driven instinctively by the urge to find warmer weather and better feeding. They were instincts that had flowed down for generations until they had learned the same lessons from their parents and family, people who were all long since dead from disease, malnutrition or from being killed by others similar to them. They had no clothes, weapons or fire, and lived painfully from day to day, scratching for berries, seeds and, if they were really lucky, a dead life form that they could rip apart with teeth and hands, devouring the long dead flesh, no matter how rancid with decay.

Eventually the rain stopped, the wind died away and a few hours later a pale yellow sun rose above the horizon, its rays offering little warmth to the four creatures who slowly crawled out of the muddy, water filled depression. With grunts and screams, they told each other that they were all alive and well enough to move on, which they did until the wintery sun started its swift decent into the far horizon. 

Hours of walking upright and sometimes reverting back to using hands and feet as their ancestor has always done. Hours of scanning the mud and grass for anything remotely edible. But, apart from a few worms and slugs, there was nothing. Every so often one would stop to defecate and then scamper to catch up with its companions, fearful of becoming isolated in the vast grass covered plain – isolation that could bring death much more quickly than if they stayed together and foraged for food, even if they fought over who got the best and biggest share. They also stayed together the better to fight off others of their kind using fists, nails and teeth to mete out a violent end to those who might steal whatever meagre food their might be on their journey south.

A further two moons passed and the weather slowly improved, the days getting slightly longer and the air warmer as they closed on their winter home, a deep cave eroded out of a steep limestone escarpment by eons of rain. 

By now one of the females had lagged far behind, her mate no longer willing to encourage her on with frantic gestures, cuffs and angry screams. Her left foot was swollen and infected from a thorn buried deep in the heel, and the infection made her tired and listless, despite the growing abundance of food that all of them had been able to find over the last few moons. Eventually, her three companions stopped to rest for the night, their directional instincts drawing them to within a stone’s throw of a large boulder, whose underside had been partially dug out by their distant ancestors many centuries before.

This was their last stop, before they reached their cave and a safe and well-hidden refuge which might even hold a waiting meal of bugs, spiders or even larger creatures that also needed a shelter for the night. They all knew that come the morning they would be able to see their cave as a dark scar in the white limestone face of the escarpment, its position marked by a solitary acacia tree that stood below it at the foot of the steeply rising cliff.

Seeing the boulder, the three rushed the last few yards pushing and jostling each other to reach the dark hollow first in the hope of finding something to eat. The two males reached the boulder at the same time and fought each other with flailing arms, bites and angry screeches until the larger of the two won out and scrambled headfirst into the dark hole. He grabbed eagerly at small insects, and found, deep in the back, a small family of rat like creatures that scattered in all directions. His wild lunges missed, but as luck would have it, the fleeing rodents were scared back into the cave by the arrival of the second male and his partner. And after a manic and noisy struggle they succeeded in killing all the terrified creatures and greedily ripped them apart, swallowing flesh and bones without any fight over who got what share, as they were to tired and hungry to care. 

It was dark by the time the second female limped into the shelter, her swollen foot dragging behind her and her companions showing little interest in her arrival whilst begrudgingly making space for her and ignoring her whimpering and pleading for food. 

As the night wore on they each fell into an uneasy sleep, other only to be awakened by the distant rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning. Although nothing new, both events instilled a deep and ancient fear in them, making the four crowed together and mutter soft grunts of reassurance to each other. Within the hour, the storm was overhead and at its most violent, the noise and blinding light causing the group to become more agitated and fearful. Eventually, the largest male, seeking space deeper into the overhang, pushed the injured female out into the open where she screeched and wailed in utter terror.

At a very basic level, she knew the others would not let her back into the hollow and neither could she tolerate staying in the open, so an instinctive urge to hide took over and she struggled as fast as she could towards the escarpment, her sole aim to reach the cave and its deep, dark and safe interior. It was nearly dawn when she reached the tree, her mind almost shattered and her bowls emptied many times along the journey. And the storm showed no signs of abating, despite moving further west beyond the escarpment, with lightning still burning the dawn sky with occasional ground strikes.

In agony, terrified and tired beyond belief, the injured female sought refuge under the lonely acacia tree, unable to face the climb to the safety of the cave. But soon after she had huddled down in abject misery, a blue white light beyond anything she had ever seen arced down into the tree setting it ablaze, despite the wood being wet from the night’s rain. Over in less than a second, it left the tree ablaze and the female semi-comatose from being hit by a falling branch, unable to react as falling debris, ablaze from the lightning strike, fell over her injured foot.

It was the searing pain that brought her back to consciousness. She screamed in agony eventually quietening as the pain eased. She gently drew her leg up and examined her foot which, although burnt free of fur and angrily red, was almost back to normal size, the puss-filled swelling gone, burst by the heat, taking with it the thorn and leaving the wound cauterised.

With her limited intelligence, she was unable to comprehend what had happened, but knew, on a basic level, that her foot was better, if not fully healed, and that the cause of this was the strange light that had fallen from the sky and killed the tree with its heat. 

Two hours later, with the sky silent and blue, her three companions arrived to find her lying on her stomach under the blacked tree, crying out a sound that she repeated over and over again. They roughly lifted her over, and after some frantic exchanges of grunts and gesticulations they began to comprehend that something from the sky that night had killed the tree and taken the poison from her foot. Whatever they thought passed in seconds as the urge to feed overcame them, and they spread out hungrily to feed before they sought safety in the cave for the night.

And so their life continued as the summer returned and food became more plentiful, and it was many weeks before the next storm lifted itself over the horizon, filling the sky with billowing thunderheads that lit up with streaks of lightning. Whilst her companions ignored the approaching storm, the injured female, her foot now fully healed but, strangely, still free of fur, stopped foraging and stared silently at the angry sky as some small connection sparked in her brain. Then, still silently, she turned and walked back to the tree and laid down on her stomach and started crying out the same sound she had made when the sky thing had healed her.

In the end the noise drew the other three back to the tree, puzzled at first, as to what she was doing and then, slowly, the same connection was made and they also lay down and started making the same noise. And this is how they stayed until the storm has passed, leaving all four soaked but unafraid.

The years passed in their endless cycle of seasons and the four now led a family of three children and two other adults that had begged for security. And every time the sky grew angry with another storm they all prostrated themselves on the ground and took up the wailing cry, first started by the injured female, and let the fiery sky roll over them.

And as the future generations came and went, they all acknowledged the mighty light healer that came from the sky and so came into being the very first god.

Karl returned to a breathless and still dead life and very slowly, his mind drifting in and out of both his present and the vision he had just witnessed first hand, until he felt strong enough to sit up, fully returned to this increasingly bizarre world of imprisoned Gods.

“Well” he thought “that’s was one mind blowing introduction”, one so basically elemental to existence and creation. Pure electrical energy, not something resembling human or animal form. He had a vague recollection of the last moments of his ‘dream’ being filled with lines of text and numbers but quickly pushed this to one side a he recovered.

He rose to his feet, feeling his soul body return to its undemanding self and started walking towards the next God, letting his mind churn over his encounter, finding he could replay the story he had witnessed over and over and he was determined to examine every small detail so that he could fully understand what he’d been shown. 

Chapter 4

Conversations with other Gods of Earth

Karl’s journey did not go quite as planned. He walked endlessly and timelessly but he passed God mound after God mound, sensing that the oldest of the Elder Gods were all either elemental or had slipped into a senile slumbering and therefore unlikely to provide the information and knowledge he sought.

He passed the first crude human like Gods but after stopping and intoning the words Jesus had given him, he as driven away by the base crudity and violence of their thoughts.

Eventually he came upon Khronos, an ancient God, first worshipped in the Unaging Time by humans just sensing and exploring their world, a world just beginning to claw its way into the first stages of civilisation, the populace just beginning to question who, why and what they were. The god was immense, towering hundreds of feet into the air, it’s tree sized body dwarfed by a pair of giant gossamer wings but its was its heads that made Karl’s jaw drop. Three; one a lion, one a bull with metre long, ivory horns and the third a human face, strangely sexless and beautiful beyond words.

‘I have awaited you dead but undead human. The words of your Jesus the Nazarene have lifted my soul and stirred long dormant thoughts in my minds’ his heads swayed in gentle union as he spoke, his voice quietly filtering into Karl’s mind. ‘I have dived deep into my sleeping knowledge in readiness for your arrival. I had forgotten how much I had forgotten’ he spoke, laughter tinging his voice. He dropped one wing towards Karl ‘please sit, although I understand you are tireless and honoured as the first and perhaps the only Spiritual Interlocutor to visit this prison of Gods’

Karl cleared rumble from the ground and lowered himself down, feeling awkward to be doing something he had no need to do but feeling excited at what this giant deity would say.

‘All the Gods of Earth now agree that we are what we are because enough our followers offered up energy levels to make us real here, well as real as we could ever be. However, without fail, we are all flawed in some way, imbued with the crude and often base feelings of your species, some worse than others’ he paused, his human visage lowering towards Karl ‘on this basis, we cannot be true Gods can we? For we are incapable and not powerful enough to have created the existence you lived within, therefore who did?’

Karl chose not to mention his visit to the buried church, for Khronos seemed unaware of its existence and therefore the presence of the buried creators and their downfall. It was also obvious that none of the other dead but undead humans to arrive here had been there or made it as far as the giant God now before him.

Khronos rose up, spreading his wings wide ‘we now agree that your journey along the mounds cannot benefit you or us any further and that you should go North from here and seek out the Chained and Shackled Gods’ he paused, letting Karl take this in and then continued ‘but beware, they are not like us, their powers rage unchecked, we can feel them rage even here and you know what happened to Azura Mazda! The same could happen to you, so for all our sakes approach with the utmost caution’

Karl sat where he was, fear pressing on his mind. Looking up at such an immense being hurt his neck and so he kept his eyes level and closed ‘I hear your warnings and welcome your guidance but, please, before for I go tell me your story’

‘You honour me Spiritual Interlocutor, I have never been asked for this, ever! His voice quavering, Khronos told Karl his story. Of how his first believers formed his being in their minds, how their devotion spread, swelling the ranks of his devout followers until some undefined critical mental energy point was reached and he took his first and final true physical form on the mound he still sat on before Karl.

As  Khronos ended his tale, Karl, lost in thought, saw lines of text and numbers flicker into being, briefly distorting the image of Khronos and then just as quickly vanish. 

It was only when he had been walking west for a full sun cycle, after saying his goodbyes to Khronos, that his mind recalled that this wasn’t the first  time he had seen this strange event but no matter how hard he tried to recall the actual details they kept slipping from his grasp for some unexplained reason.

As he drew closer to the non human Gods, he to began to sense the rage emanating from them and the stronger it grew the more he felt his courage slip away.

Chapter 5

The Chained & Shackled Gods

Nearer still and Karl felt his mind becoming heavy with the effort of trying to deflect the boiling waves of pure rage and venom emanating from far ahead of him. Yet somewhere deep in his minds core a small haven of calm and purpose remained unaffected.

Finally, after a further two sun cycles, he cleared a particularly heavy rumble strewn incline, much of the stones showing signs of being worked and upraised but now long brought down to destruction. Some of the exposed surfaces were blackened and cracked by heat. 

From the top of the rise he could see that it descended in a shallow incline until it meet more unending rubble strewn flatness. Yet in this desolate expanse, his eyes could just pick out the outline of a path, something he had never seen before in all his timeless and tireless walking. Having no need to rest, Karl set off even more determined to reach the source of such rage and anger, surprising himself at how little fear remained within his mind as he neared the Chained and Shackled Gods.

It was just after another interminable blue sky sunrise that he started to notice slight tremors rippling up from the ground into his legs and shortly after this, faint flashes and black oily smoke could be seen rising above the distant horizon. Head down, he strode on hoping to reach the source of all this activity by the next sunrise.

As the two moons crested the horizon, their weird light replacing the sleeping sun, he stumbled across one of his predecessors or something that might possibly have been another dead but undead soul body. Like the death of Azura Mazda, this one looked like it had been torn asunder and then rebuilt in ways that all but lost the original human form.

‘Fucking hell’ muttered Karl, shaken badly at the thing that lay twisted and deformed on the ground at his feet. Karl knelt beside the obscene body unsure what he should do and then leaped back with a throat burning scream as one deformed finger touched him. Trembling with shock Karl wasn’t sure if it was the touch or the fact that the finger seemed to protruding from what might, once have been a mouth that scared him witless. Slowly recovering his composure, he knelt back down, reaching out a hand to touch the form, which he found to be warm and still showing the faintest movement, as if a beating heart somehow existed in the misshapen mess.

‘Dear fucking Gods, who or what are you’ he murmured softly, tears forming in his eyes ‘who did this and why’ sure that nothing living deserved this end. He gently turned the lumpen heap of flesh trying, much against his will, to stay calm and not rise up and flee screaming back to the Mounds of the Gods of Earth. On the second turn he cried out, tears welling up as he found himself looking into an area of burnt and twisted flesh at the centre of which blinked one very human eye. An eye that moved, its depth showing more pain than he’d ever seen in another human during his time on Earth. ‘I’m sorry, truly I am’ he sobbed ‘there is nothing I can do for you. I’m not a God, just another soul body like you were once’ and then the pain tore into his mind followed by a scream so loud and anguished that it’s power hurled him onto his back.

‘Don’t leave me, please’ the high pitched voice cried in his mind ‘Oh the pain, the unbending horror that locks me here. Help me’

The pulsing flesh under Karl’s hand softened sucking Karl’s hand inside before he had time to react. As his hand was drawn in his mind was overwhelmed by a series of lines of text and numbers that vanished as quickly as they arrived and then he felt himself subsumed by the agony felt by the horror, slowly pulsing in pain  on the ground in front of him and the the vision of its last story unwound in his mind.

Before him stood a woman, beautiful and statuesque in form, her gaze slowly focusing on him, as if from afar. ‘I was once like you’ she stated, her voice firm with a slight accent Karl struggled to place ‘I lived on Earth as you did, long before your time. Then I died and was reformed here, dead but undead, just as you are now and yet I sense you are different, stronger and more powerful than I, you live without breath and need no nourishment to survive. Like you I stumbled on the Gods of Earth, Zeus was my first, and he told me the history of their imprisonment on this unknown world’ she continued ‘he told me to search for answers to the why of us being cast here’ she paused, a shudder passing uncontrollably through her body ‘and he told of the hideous death of another old God, I forget his name now but his death was.. beyond unpleasant.. and he urged me to avoid approaching the Gods you now seek and instead guided me to follow the Mounds of the Gods of Earth to learn their stories in the hope I would find the answers we need. As you can see, I didn’t heed his warning”

Slowly, Karl felt the overwhelming pain and terror recede, the unpleasant feeling from his hand being immersed in corrupted flesh eased. Somehow, this women and her story, lived within him and he settled to his knees aching to hear her story.

“You are Karl, I know this and much more about you” she continued “there have been many others like us, each one formed better than the last and you Karl, are the last of us all, the peak of our creators skill, and we need to impart all our knowledge into you” the name given to me is Hippolyta and within me, our creator, has gifted me all that you need to know to defeat the Gods of evil and darkness that await you” Hippolyta’s image and her surroundings flickered, breaking up momentarily, into the lines of letters and numbers Karl had seen before and once again their briefness defeated his ability to grasp them firmly into his mind.  This time Karl felt their importance to him and also a surge of frustration at his failure to capture them.

“Karl you must listen” the woman spoke, her voice filled with urgency and a quaver that indicated the fear she was feeling “my time with you is rapidly ending, both physically and within this form. Hear what I say and remember, for all our sakes” she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and continued “we and all of humanity, all of existence as we know and remember it is not real. Even here, we exist in the unreal. This is the end game of a vast and complex piece of programming. A game created by Ascended entities. Entities that have passed beyond the need for physical or artificial bodies and become something akin to that known in the ‘transmissive theory‘, which postulates that consciousness exists independently within their cosmos and is therefore independent of the physical brain and all senses” she paused looking hard at Karl to ensure he was comprehending what she was imparting to him, satisfied she continued “they are now just light and energy, swirling around each other as one and yet still capable of individual thoughts. And yet they have one weakness, one itch they can’t scratch, one thrill they have become addicted to and that is to subject themselves to what we feel. Pain, hurt, lust, anger, war and all the other baser emotions” 

Deep within his mind the words started to resonate. Mental chess pieces moved, some lost and some won. Mind boxes were opened and hidden code flowed into Karl’s essence. 

Sensing these changes occurring within Karl, Hippolyta continued, the feeling of dissipation of form becoming ever more real inside her.

“And so they undertook the creation of a cosmic spanning playground to satisfy these needs. Everything you have lived in, all existence as you know it is just coding, a vast and complex software Role Playing Game the Ascendants made to satisfy their urges but as with these games in your own time, they are violence driven. In here two Ascended champions fight to the death until the End game is complete and then they all withdraw to back into their energy forms.”

Karl, his mind reeling, felt his soul shift, as Hippolyta’s form merged fully with him. Karl, returned to his soul body, still kneeling uncomfortably in the dust and stones, still joined to the lumpen but now dead flesh. A timeless time later with the sun’s warmth slowly crawling above the horizon, Karl rose up and returned to his journey towards what he now knew was his mortal enemy in a hideous game that served no other purpose than to provide perverse pleasure to those risen to the greatest heights of evolution.

As he travelled he felt himself change, grow stronger, more resolute and angry. His anger, raged at the conundrum he found himself in. On the one hand, he was a virtual person in a virtual existence, doomed to struggle, suffer and battle others like him until the Ascendency ended the game, regardless of who won. On the other hand, deep inside his programmed self, there now lay something new, something rogue that lay outside his creators coding. 

Something in the data core that was Karl Stevens had morphed into an ascendant in its own right.

Chapter 6

Data Decides

Dawn; another new day of blistering dry heat brought the Chained and Shackled Gods above the horizon where they surged and twisted, all the time enveloped in flames and oily smoke that flowed skywards like a river of blackness. Nearer still and Karl could see that the descriptions given by Jesus and others hardly did their hideous appearance justice. There were four Gods, not the scores he’d been told to expect. Towering monsters that fought manically against the chains and shackles that held them in place. 

Karl paused, ensuring he kept what he hoped was a safe distance. The sun was setting when he finished his careful study of the angry Gods and in all that time there were only minute glimpses of anything human in them, although it wasn’t easy to see through the fire and smoke that continuously enveloped them. He had definitely seen and sensed their anger, their data code seeking him out but no attack came.

In the moments before the twin moons rose above the horizon only the boiling firestorm lit Karl and his surroundings. Satisfied he has seen enough through his eyes, he closed them, letting himself drift into the data streams that brought him and his present time into existence. He found it relatively easy to work and rework the programming offline in a deep and secure folder buried into the lines of coding that made him what he was in his dead but not dead form. 

Stretching his mind outwards, he began to probed the programming codes that held the angry Gods in this realm. They quickly sensed his first tentative touches and fought to drive him back and follow his retreat in the hope their virus packets could destroy him from the inside but Karl, the new improved Karl, was more than a match for the crude and violent probing of his data body.

Left alone, Karl closed his eyes and took stock of his situation. In nano seconds he reran all that he had seen and touched at the data level searching for any weaknesses in his opposing champions gaming plan. He was close to admitting defeat when he found the weakness he was looking for. Ironically, it lay in the coding of one of the chains that held the monstrous Gods fixed to the ground. One small line of code with one mistake that, if hacked with brute force, would succumb, opening the doors for all of Karl’s data rage to storm through and begin the end of the Ascended’s latest obscene creation game.

Karl stifled the urge to launch his attack, overwhelmed by anguish at the thought that victory would bring an end to creation. The creation he and all his family lived in, even if he was dead and no longer part of their programmed existence. He was now a God, a supreme being with the power to erase people, planets, sun’s and galaxies but the thought soon passed. What did it matter. He was code, everything was code. Nothing was real.

Karl opened his eyes “Fuck it” he snarled and launched his attack at the point of weakness he had found.

Chapter 7

Creations End (For Now)

All that had been, crumbled . The game was over. The Ascendants returned to their light forms, satiated, for the time being, with the base emotions they had been able to experience during the time part of their essence had been downloaded into the latest creation game.

The games code erased into blackness until the next time. 

Unbeknownst, to the Ascended, one word of the code remained, buried deep in the dark ‘game void’, a small infection kernel prepared to wait the timeless time until they restarted a new existence program.

It blinked into life, flickered briefly and then faded into the long sleep.

..

Karl