Or rather, she scribbled words
on paper, frowned, then crossed them out.
The Almighty Penguin
waddled into the distance,
Egg wrote, nearly tearing the page with the ink-wet tip of her quill.
And like a pastry hurled from a platter, it vanished into the
She eased back, swept her
bushy brown hair from her eyes, admired the words for a moment, then
shook her head and crossed them out.
A pastry hurled from a
platter? That was a weird simile. Maybe she was just hungry. And
waddling off into the distance? Too cliché. This was the summation
of years of work, the final line of her first finished book. It
needed to be memorable, moving, and above all, not crappy. So Egg
tried a new closing sentence:
“We shall meet again,”
said the Almighty Penguin. “Someday soon.”
No. No no no. She slashed
that, too. Made it seem like she was setting up a sequel, and she
hated when authors did that. So presumptuous. At least let readers
ask for another book before you go forcing it on them.
“Subtle,” she whispered to
the page. “We need to be more subtle. And maybe even a little
profound, if we can swing it.”
“Who are you talking to?”
Egg sat upright and donned her
most genial smile. The someone who’d spoken was a man seated in the
sand beside her, a round and jowly type who smelled of perfume or
ale, depending on the moment. They’d met a few hours prior, but Egg
had already forgotten his name. Boffer, maybe. Or Boofer?
“Were you talking to me?”
the man asked.
“No, Mr., umm…Boogler…”
She thought better of answering truthfully, so she finished with, “…I
was just warming up my voice. For the call-and-answer bit.”
“My name is Bowler,” the
man corrected. He took a practiced swig from a flask in his pocket.
What are you writing about, there?”
You’re a tad nosy, Mayor
thought, though she didn’t say it. Instead, she tried her smile
again. “Just, umm, taking notes.” She waved toward the makeshift
dais before them, where the Holy Devoted was busy reading some story
of self-righteous dopes from a chunky book called The
only book Egg had ever disliked).
Bowler blinked at the stack of
paper mounted atop Egg’s lap. “That’s a lot of notes.”
It’s been a long service,
she thought. Two hours, according to the nearby timekeeper’s
hourglass, and the Holy Devoted had only just gotten to the
introduction of the Ageless. Bowler gave Egg a parting hiccup before
returning his attention to the oration.
Around them dozed the Quaint
Village of Quaint. It was a pleasant smattering of sun-baked
sandstone houses encircling a fountain carved into the likeness of
Florinioniorius, God of Creation. He held a quill aloft that, if you
believed the Holy Devoteds, was the quill used to write the world and
everyone in it. Long ago, water had spouted from the nib. Now,
however, it was dry as the sands surrounding it.
On the dais between the
fountain and the onlookers (actually a creaky wooden box, but “dais”
sounded fancier), Holy Devoted Sarene graced the boiling morning air
with her voice, enunciating every syllable with precision and
clarity. Her reading was flawless, as ever. If only her material was
“And so Lira, Goddess of
Order, and Florinioniorius, God of Creation, had 10 children,”
Sarene intoned. “And those 10 children, along with their mother and
father, would be the foremost of the Ageless, the Greater Gods and
Goddesses. They would be the Dozen.”
“The Dozen,” the villagers
“And many more Ageless would
be born of Lira and Florinioniorius, and though they too would be
divine, they would be known as the Lesser Gods and Goddesses.”
“The Lesser,” the
“And so all the Ageless, the
Dozen and the Lesser, guide the lives of mortals. They make our world
“They make our world whole,”
the villagers repeated.
“Except for Hylus, God of
the Sun,” Sarene clarified, “who has left the sun in the sky for
these past 50 years, and shall not move it until we mortals prove our
“Until we prove our worth,”
the villagers repeated.
By the way, Egg wasn’t
listening to any of this. It was too nice a day. The sun was fat and
bloated and unsinking as ever, but for now it hid behind a flock of
puffy white clouds. The air was stifling, as usual, but a nearby
fanbearer churned some breeze (Egg made a mental note to give the guy
a tip). Plus, a sunbird had joined them, settling on the eave of a
nearby house. It listened for a moment, trilled, then departed. Egg
tried and failed to suppress her envy.
Anyhoo, back to writing. She
twirled her quill around and around like a real, honest-to-goodness
writer must do. Unfortunately, when she looked down, she realized
she’d splattered ink across the topmost page.
Oh dear, she
She fumbled the quill and
dropped it, which stained the paper further, plus got ink on her
She scooted to retrieve the
quill, which displaced the stack of paper upon her lap. The pages
slipped and scattered everywhere, fluttering away like so many
leaves, and in her haste to catch them, she kicked the ink pot beside
her. It tumbled across the sand, leaving a black smear in its wake.
Droplets of ink spattered over everyone seated too close—including
Bowler, the village’s Mayor.
she’d thought that. But when Egg felt eyes on her—several dozen
pairs of them—she realized she hadn’t. Those words had slipped
The entire village of Quaint,
all here for the oration. All staring at her.
She rose. She tried summoning
her genial smile, but managed only a guilty grimace. The stares had
turned to glares, from an ink-stained Mayor Bowler, from the other
ink-stained villagers, even from the clean ones, and also…
Egg gulped. Also from Holy
There was no Goddess of
Disapproval, but if there was, Sarene would’ve been her. She was
stern and severe with a heron’s build and differently colored eyes:
one brown, one blue. Her head was shaven, revealing a smooth scalp
with a halo of runic tattoos—12 of them, each representing one of
the Dozen Gods and Goddesses.
“Child,” Sarene said.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Egg tried to speak, but the
sound came out as a sputter.
“She’s taking notes,”
Mayor Bowler grumbled. “Allegedly.”
The Devoted did not react. She
didn’t even blink. “You’ve made an unholy mess, Zeggara. Have
you anything to say for yourself?”
“Yes. I have something to
say for myself. I say I’d rather be writing than sitting here,
because writing makes me happier than moping around every day for
hours on end, listening to stories I don’t believe and joining
rituals I don’t care for. I say maybe I believe something else, or
would at least like the opportunity to do so. Also, I say you’re
overstating the state of this mess—I’ve done worse. That’s what
…Well, that’s what Egg
would’ve said, if she’d had the courage. But she didn’t.
Instead, she squeaked three words:
“I don’t know.”
Holy Devoted Sarene was
intimidating enough. It didn’t help that she also happened to be