The world sat at the foot of Darsha, a cast off of the greater sculpture being created by her father, Rasius. Dozens of such objects, round and speckled with white and blue and brown, were strewn in his workshop, to be gathered up later by the servants and discarded as play things for the lesser gods.
Rasius was not a lesser god, nor was his daughter. They hovered somewhere in the middle status, neither Great nor Less. The working gods. That was, until Rasius finished his current project, a sparkling display of one perfect planet and millions of stars to complement it. After that, neither would ever have to again worry about title. The stars, smaller in appearance than the planet, squirmed in a small black bag on his workbench, popping against the fabric, anxious to be out. When the planet was finished he would add it to the bag and scatter its contents like seeds to the wind and they would fly out to fill the space he’d left between worlds.
“This one will be special,” he said to Darsha, who was standing by his side, still staring at the discarded planet at her feet. “In all the sky, it will be unique. The brightest, most beautiful planet of them all. The King shall watch it blossom there,” he pointed to an empty solid black spot in the heavens, “and he will grant me anything I wish.”
“Anything?” Darsha asked.
“Anything, my dear child.”
“I should like a planet of my own.”
Rasius gave a fatherly chuckle. “Then a planet of your own you shall have, to mold, to decorate, to bring to life. We shall even name it Darsha, after you.” He nudged her on her cheek with the side of his large hand, careful not to dirty the angelic face.
“I’d like that,” Darsha said.
Rasius turned back to his work, delicately molding the last bit of the substance on the world. He didn’t notice Darsha kneeling down to pick up one of the discarded worlds, one of the imperfect ones. Nor did he see her secretly slide it into a side pocket and skip away from his workshop. He thought of calling out to her when he caught sight of her small frame traipsing out the door, making her come back and give her father a hug and a kiss. But he let her go. Children can’t be held to one spot for any given amount of time.
Later, he would wish he had asked for that kiss.
Rasius delicately dropped the finished world into the velvet black bag, resealing it quickly so that none of the stars could escape. It was perfect. The perfect gift for the King of the Gods. When he unrolled it tonight at the diurnal celebration and it sprung into the sky to find its place, the eyes of all the other greater gods would be upon him and upon his family and they would know that he deserved to be among them. He deserved to be exalted. What the King would do then for him! More responsibilities, more worlds to make. Maybe, and Rasius crossed his fingers, universes. Galaxies. Everything would be open to him. No limits.
Wiping a ring of sweat from his forehead, Rasius lay the bag down on his worktable and breathed deeply. He let the excitement flow through and out of him, until he was calm again and only then opened his eyes. With a wish he was clothed in his best robe, his body refreshed, and he was ready to deliver his gift.
“I’m heading over to the diurnal now,” he called out to his wife, Shantia. “I want to get a place near the front of the line, so he gets the gift early. So many leave before the end, you know.”
His wife bid him good luck from the other room and walked up the staircase to see how Darsha was doing. Getting her dressed was always a chore. Getting her really dressed was nearly impossible.
“Darsha! Are you ready?” Shantia called as she ascended.
“Almost, mom,” Darsha answered. “Almost. Don’t come in yet!”
“We’ve got to leave soon.”
“I’m coming, mom. Just give me another minute.”
“Just concentrate when you wish dear, like we taught you. Focus on what you want to look like and hold that picture until you’ve gotten it.”
“I am, mom. I am. I’m almost there.”
“Okay. Just call if you need help.”
As Shantia turned and descended down the stairs, she heard the sound of the window opening and a rush of wind. She paused, listening. Then, slowly turned around again, climbing the stairs.
The door whisked open and Darsha popped quickly out. “Here, mom.”
Shantia bit her tongue to keep from laughing. Only the laurel around her head was complete. One or two threads, barely visible, constituted her evening robe. Otherwise, she was naked.
“Close your eyes a moment, dear,” she said and Darsha obeyed. Shantia closed hers, also, made her wish and opened them to find Darsha completely clothed. “Okay, you can open them. We’ll practice again tomorrow.”
Darsha smiled and the two headed off to the celebration.
Rasius stood eagerly in line, only the third from the very front. Inside his front pocket he clutched at the bag that held his gift. He could barely contain the urge to open it right now and toss it heavenward to lie in its place. The faces in front and behind of him in the line wore the same expression and each nestled with their own prize, their own key to greater things.
Letting the bag go, Rasius stepped to the sides of the line, searching the growing crowds of lesser gods for his wife and daughter. How proud he was going to make them! How happy they would be!
Finding nothing, Rasius fidgeted back into place. He was only one away now from the front. The god before him, Lencius, Rasius thought his name was, straightened and climbed the dozen steps to the King’s throne, nodding to the assembly of greater gods sitting in neat rows behind Him before he gave the King his full attention. He dragged with him a beautiful horse, the whitest Rasius had ever seen. From the peak of its forehead sprouted a golden horn, twirling to a fine point in the air.
A unicorn. Nothing much to that, the inventor thought. Others had done it. Lencius hadn’t tried very hard.
The King also seemed to recognize this and lazily laid his hand out for the reins. “Nicely done,” he muttered.
Lencius placed the reins in the King’s palm and stepped back. The unicorn instantly changed to another animal, a giant dog almost as tall as the King with hair as brown and pure as anything Rasius had ever seen. The King fell back in alarm, but Lencius raised his hand and said, “It will not hurt you, Lord. It is your pet.”
“What is it then? A horse or a dog?” The King asked.
Lencius smiled deeply and turned to the crowd. He answered loud enough for all to hear. “It is whatever pet you wish. The animal responds to your wishes and becomes that which you ask for.”
The crowd clapped for him and the King nodded. “A fine gift, Lencius. A fine gift. I shall remember it.”
Rasius winced. A “fine gift” usually meant that some privilege would be granted to the giver. He knew that Lencius had his eyes on the heavens as well.
Rasius looked at the page, then began climbing the steps. Halfway up, he turned and scanned the sea of faces again. With a jump of his heart, he saw Darsha and Shantia wiggle their way through to the front, so they could see. Darsha waved up at him. Rasius paused. Darsha looked more excited than even he felt. She was practically jumping up and down at her mother’s side, so eagerly watching her father. What a dear gift she is, he thought.
Rasius finished the last few steps and stood before the King. He bowed and reached into his pocket, extracting the velvet bag. The King’s eyebrow went up. He had heard that Rasius had been working on something special for a long time.
“A gift for you, my Lord, so that all may know your glory.”
Rasius stepped away from the King and began whirling the bag around in large circles at his side, holding tightly to its strings. With each completed circle, the bag became larger and larger, swelling out as if ready to burst. The King watched with a large smile on his face, looking first at the bag and then at the heavens. He suspected what the gift was and was delighted.
The crowd, too, began to realize what Rasius was doing, what he was about to do, and they followed the King’s pattern as well, watching the bag, then watching the sky. The bag, then the sky. When the velvet had stretched to what seemed the point that it would either break or pull Rasius into the sky with it, he let go. Collectively, everyone held their breath.
The bag flew into the air, still growing as it ascended, but faster than before, in giant multiples. When it was far above the temple, the strings on the bag loosened and Rasius’ planet and stars burst outward. The lesser gods gasped as the creation hurled still further into space.
Thousands of eyes darted about the star-filled night trying to find the place where the gift would rest. There were holes, yes, in the heavens, but Rasius’ planet and stars were not flying toward any. Some of the gods began to look concerned. Rasius noticed the faces when he finally looked down on the crowd again. He began to hear the whispers as well.
“Where is it going?”
“There’s not a space for it I can see.”
“It’s heading right for that small planet. That shiny one.”
That shiny one? Rasius followed the stares, followed the trajectory he had set, to the place where just this morning he had checked. There had been a hole there. There was room. He had planned it as such. . . . But now there wasn’t. A planet was there, by itself. An odd looking thing, almost deformed, but still lovingly created. Rasius’s eyes traveled down and met Darsha’s. Such a look of pride did she have that he nearly forgot where he was and what was about to happen. His daughter glowed. He smiled at her and then looked back up in time to see the collision and to shield himself from its blinding light. The two planets splintered into millions of pieces, scattering out into the heavens and slamming into everything in their wake. Gasps of horror escaped hundreds of lips as other planets were assailed by the wreckage. Some held, some broke from their position and tumbled helplessly into space. The one grace in the accident were the stars Rasius had made. Following the planet, there had been enough of them that some took to the fabric of the heavens and hung there.
In moments, the entire calamity was over. The hall was completely silent.
Rasius took a long time before he finally looked at the King. The King took even longer before he acknowledged the look. The heavens above him were a littered mess now and would take years before they were put to rights again. It would be remembered that it was in his reign that such a disastrous occurrence had happened. Would Rasius’ name be recalled? Certainly. But it would always be said that He had let the rogue do it. The King’s hands clutched tighter at the reins of the giant dog. Sensing the tension the animal sniffed at the air and then set its dark eyes lower, on Rasius.
“Your maj-“ Rasius stepped forward, toward the dais, to apologize but stopped when the beast growled. Sharp white teeth glistened. The sound roused the King, who coolly regarded the lesser god before him. Feeling the strain on the leash at the same time, a thought suddenly came to him. Fleeting and incomplete, it was only a seed of a desire, but it was enough. The dog leaped forward, pulling loose of its hold, and as it came upon Rasius it transformed into a towering, twisted mass of flesh and teeth and dirty, black hair. Claws as long as Rasius’ arm raked outward from the beast, ripping him open from his chest to his groin. Blood swelled and began pouring onto the white granite floor. Entrails and bone snapped and mixed and joined the grotesque soup. Still the beast continued its engorgement, cracking its jaws on his legs and skull, unaware of the chaos around it, the fleeing of all gods, lesser and greater. . . Except the King, who felt powerful. And Darsha and Shantia, who felt powerless. They watched until there was nothing left of the inventor.
Striding toward the carnage, fearless, the King reached to the ground beside the creature and grabbed the leash again. Instantly it became the unicorn. “A fine gift,” he mused aloud, “a fine gift,” and walked out of the rotunda, animal in tow. He never looked back.
When he was out of sight, Darsha broke from her mother’s side and nervously approached the remains of her father. Amidst all the gore, she found a single, white bone. What part, she didn’t know, but it was clean and round and fit nicely, secretly into her pocket. “Then a planet of your own you shall have,” she said, remembering her father’s words, “ . . . to mold, to decorate, to bring to life. We shall even name it . . . Darsha, after you.”
Darsha closed her eyes and concentrated and her robe became as black as the emptiest regions of space. Like the King, she did not look back as she strode away, nor did she look at her mother. There was work to do.