Before there was light, before there was dark and before there was much of anything else, really, there were the old gods. They had no names, and there were only seven of them in all: the three Sisters, the two Warriors, the Trickster and the Storyteller.
At one point in time the two warrior brothers got into an argument.
“I am the strongest!” shouted the elder brother as he shoved his brother off their piece of Nothing.
It occurred to the younger brother that if he were to fall off of Nothing, into Nothing, he would be falling for a very long time. Not quite knowing what he was doing, he closed his eyes and created the World so he would have something solid to land on.
He fell to the ground and rolled while he landed. “I’m the smartest!” he said, flinging some newly made dirt into his brother’s eyes.
The elder brother turned away and rubbed at his eyes, cursing. His tears became ponds and rivers that pooled into the sea.
“Dirty rotten cheater! Why I ought’a-“
"Will you two shut up?” said the middle of the three sisters as they flew down from the sky.
The brothers stopped arguing. While the older sister was unsettling, but harmless, and the younger sister was kindly and quiet, the middle one scared the blazes out of them. The sisters weren’t any relation to the brothers, but that didn’t stop them from bossing the brothers around as though they were.
The middle sister looked around the barren world the younger warrior had created and sighed. “Great,” she told them. “Now you’ve gone and done everything out of order. It’s supposed to be dark, then light, then the cosmos, then the planets."
The elder sister stared absently into space. “Pie will be wonderful,” she said wistfully. “I can’t wait until they come up with it.”
All the others exchanged a look and shook their heads pityingly. They all wondered about her.
“Okay,” said the middle sister, taking charge. “We’re going to have to get everyone here so we can sort this mess out.” She looked to the youngest sister. “Can you. . . ?”
Without a word, the youngest sister nodded and summoned the other nameless gods to the scene.
“Ow,” said the Storyteller when he hit the ground. He scowled and picked up a clump of dirt, letting it crumble and slip through his fingers. “Who put this here?”
The middle sister pointed at the younger brother. “Genius over there created a world.”
“A bit early for that, isn’t it?” said the Trickster. Though he hadn’t been expecting the ground to be there, he had managed to perform a little flip in the air and land casually on his feet.
“Gee, you think so, smart one? Let’s just get this mess sorted out as fast as we can.” She looked up into the vacant sky and brushed back her hair. “I guess I’ll get started on the cosmos.”
“Why you?” asked the Trickster. “Why not her?” He nodded towards the elder sister, who was dragging her foot in the dirt and making patterns. “She’s the one who knows how things are supposed to be.”
“Well yeah. But I’m the one who knows how things are supposed to be right now.”
“Can I help too?” said the younger brother.
“Oh-ho-ho no. You’ve done quite enough already. Go sit down quietly somewhere and stay out of our way.” To the youngest sister, she said “Hey, do you think you can. . . ?”
The youngest sister shrugged and closed her eyes. The dirt around them suddenly exploded with life. Plants started small, then shot up. Soon the group found themselves standing in the midst of a thick forest. The upheaval of the earth caused part of the nearby river to divert, creating a babbling brook.
“Nice work. All right everyone, listen up. I’m going to go sort out the stars and the rest of the universe. That’ll turn on the lights around here. I want you all to try not to cause any trouble while I’m gone. No-trouble-whatsoever-at-all-this-includes-you-specifically.” The last bit was directed at the Trickster, who was trying not to smile. He raised one hand and put the other over his heart.
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I promise.”
That got a laugh from the Storyteller and the brothers, and even the youngest sister raised her hand to hide her smile. The middle sister made a disgusted noise and vanished into thin air.
“So,” said the Storyteller eventually. “What’s next? Life?”
The younger sister glared at him and gestured to the trees surrounding them and the damp grass beneath their feet.
“Ah. I mean, more active life.”
Rolling her eyes, the youngest sister walked to the riverside and made a short gesture. A fish appeared in her hand. The others gathered around to admire her latest creation (except for the Elder Sister, who was resting against the trunk of a particularly shady tree and singing softly to herself. The others didn’t recognize the song, but every once in a while they could pick out a word or two. It seemed to be about her fondness for rolling rocks. They didn’t ask).
In his eagerness to handle the fish, the elder warrior accidentally knocked it out of her hands. It fell to the ground where it just lay there, not doing anything other than gasp painfully. They all watched it for a while, not quite sure what to do.
“Seems a bit of wimpy to me,” said the elder brother eventually.
It was exactly what they all had been thinking, but hadn’t wanted to say aloud in fear of hurting the youngest sister’s feelings.
“Oh, wait. I know!” He picked up the fish and gently exhaled into its face. Immediately the fish began to struggle and flail wildly until it wriggled free and leapt into the water.
“Hah!” he said. “The will to live. Survival instinct. It’s much more interesting now.”
Just then, a blazing sphere appeared in the sky and began radiating light and warmth none of them had ever felt before.
“Oh nice work!” said the Trickster happily.
“I could do better,” said the younger brother. He was still feeling a bit hurt. “Come on, let’s just make some more fish.”
And so it went for the next great while that the Younger sister would create a fish while the Elder Warrior gave them will to live. Though neither of them knew it, the Trickster took some of the fish and breathed into them cunning.
It was quite a shock for the Storyteller when one day he came upon a fish that insisted upon wriggling its way onto land. Taking pity on the poor, addled thing, he gently picked it up and placed it back in the river. Almost immediately, the fish once again flopped its way onto land. Once more he placed it into the water, only to have it crawl out a second later. When the youngest sister and the elder warrior saw him just about to walk into the river for the third time (this time determined to hold the fish underwater until it got the right idea), they stopped him and asked him to explain.
“Its this fish. The poor thing’s an idiot.”
The others soon gathered to watch the odd fish make its way through the mud. The Trickster recognized the spark of cunning in the fish and felt a secret pride for the little fellow.
You go, little guy! he thought.
Eventually the elder sister seemed to join the present and wandered over to see what they were all looking at. When she saw the Storyteller about to, once again, put the fish into the water, she slapped his hand away.
"Don’t you dare! Nobody touch this fish, you got it?”
It was the first time she'd ever yelled at them. They all agreed and began studiously ignoring the flopping fish. They went back to work.
Time wasn’t yet fluid on the world. The middle sister was still sorting out the cosmos, and so every once in a while things got, as the younger warrior put it, ‘skippy’. That was why when what felt only to be a week had passed, the woods were filled with strange creatures, only some of which had any resemblance to the fish. Some had strange, thick hair that covered their entire bodies, others had the strange elongated scales that allowed them to flutter through the air.
“They're animals,” the elder sister told the Trickster when he asked. “Don’t bother them. Some will get bigger, some will stay small, and some will die off completely. Now leave me alone, there's a marathon of a show I like on right now.”
The Trickster waved a hand in front of the empty air in front of her face, but she took no notice. He shrugged and went back to work.
“I’m sick of fish,” said the younger brother. Since the middle sister had forbidden him from doing anything he considered to be interesting, the other’s had him sorting, counting and otherwise compiling every single detail every fish that had ever been created. He hated it.
The youngest sister nodded. Truth be told, she was getting pretty tired of them too.
When she saw the first furred animal, she was smitten. From then on she created new beasts that none of the others could have though up on their own. These ones she allowed trickster to breathe in a little cunning, just to make them more interesting.
One day the younger brother came across his brother and the youngest sister giggling over some new animal. It was shaped vaguely like the gods themselves, only much stouter, much uglier, and covered with thick hair. There were about a dozen of them milling about. Most were playing in the trees, but a few were on the ground where the sister and warrior were kneeling. The sister had a small creature in her arms that she was cuddling, and the warrior had one hanging companionably around his neck.
“What are those?” asked the younger brother.
“Tricksters,” said the older.
“Look at them!”
The younger brother did and laughed. The parts of their faces that weren’t horribly disfigured did have a resemblance to the Trickster. When the Trickster found them later, he gave all the monkeys an extra dose of cunning just to spite the other gods.
“See?” he said once when the monkeys began using rocks as tools, “Now my little mes are smarter than yours.”
One day after he and the others had gotten into a particularly nasty argument over what the basic intelligence level of bees should be, the Trickster ran off into the forest and sat on a fallen log. He began throwing rocks at random to make himself feel a little better, when he heard a small voice behind him.
“What is wrong with you?”
He turned to see a small rat sitting primly on its hind legs.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I said, what is wrong with you?” said the rat. It had a strange accent and its words sounded much more formal than the way the gods talked.
“Oh, we were just fighting. Nothing serious. How are you talking? Most rats don’t.”
“I am of the opinion that most rats do not try hard enough.”
Something clicked. “You're one of my clever fish! You changed and became a rat, didn’t you?”
The little rat gave a half bow. “As it were,” he said.
“But wait, why are you still alive? Most of the other fish have died-“
“But not your clever ones. I am afraid we are a bit livelier than the others. I suppose it comes with the speech.”
It occurred to the Trickster that he had accidentally created gods. Little animal gods, but gods nevertheless.
The others won’t like this one bit, he thought.
“Hey, I know this may sound weird, but- ah. The others. . . They may not be too happy about seeing little talking animals. Do you think you could. . .?”
“Ah, yes. I see. Fear not, sir! Discretion is of the utmost importance in the mammalian way of life. Now, I had just wanted to thank you on behalf of all the other -ahem- ‘clever fish’. I suppose I shall be on my way then-“
“Wait, there are more?”
“Indeed. Not all are rats, in fact, there seems to be at least one of every species of animal currently walking the planet.”
“Oh. . . good. Very good. Well, I’m proud of you. Go forth and, you know, do clever rat things.”
“At once, sir.” The little rat bobbed its head and then ran into the underbrush, leaving the Trickster fervently hoping that he wouldn’t get in trouble for this. Regular trouble he could handle, but he had the sneaking suspicion that creating small gods would be a totally different kind of trouble.
While Trickster had been talking to the rat-god, the elder sister had snapped into the present again. Smiling, she went into the little group of monkeys nearby and picked out the two cleverest ones there. Cooing and clucking, she led them into a den where her younger sister was sleeping, curled up among a pack of wolves.
She nudged them all aside and shook her sister awake. “Hey, I’ve got a job for you to do.”
The younger sister rubbed her eyes and listened.
When Trickster arrived home, he found that the middle sister had come back. The group was gathered in a circle, and there seemed to be a lot of shouting going on. Middle sister was yelling at the youngest (who looked close to tears), and the elder warrior was yelling right back at her. The elder sister was smiling benignly, and both the Storyteller and the younger warrior were doing their best to look invisible.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to go!” said the middle sister. “It’s supposed to happen on its own!”
“What’s going on?”
The middle sister scowled. “Look.” She pointed to two creatures sitting and holding hands by a tree.
“They look like-“
“US!” she shouted.
It was true. The creatures were like sort of like the monkeys, only if they had been done properly. The one who was obviously female had dark hair and dark skin, the other had light hair and light skin. They kept cooing at each other and picking bugs out of the others hair. Which they both then ate.
Aside from the bug eating, they look just like-
The Trickster stared at the warrior and the youngest sister. “Really you two? Really?”
The youngest sister blushed and brother nodded.
The Trickster went over to the former-monkeys and breathed more cleverness into them. Once they were smart enough to survive, but not blessed enough to live forever like the animal gods, he rejoined the group.
The elder sister was smiling sadly. “We’ll have to go now,” she said. “We can’t hang about now that the planet is done.”
The Storyteller watched the two humans. “I’ve got something for them.” He walked over and put a hand on each of their foreheads. For a brief moment the three were bathed in a soft white light. It faded and the two creature’s eyes seemed clearer. Brighter.
“What did you give them?” Asked the middle sister.
“A story. A memory. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a little bit of them that will make them happy. Whole.”
By now the younger of the two brothers was feeling horribly uncomfortable. Since they had come to the world he had given nothing of value. He had nothing of value to give.
“I don’t have anything for them,” he complained.
The middle sister snorted. The elder sister patted his shoulder.
“Yes you do, you’ve got the best gift. The worst gift. They’ll love you for it and they’ll hate you for it. They’ll fear you every moment of their lives and they’ll welcome you with open arms when-“
“Oh no! I’m death? I get to be death? I don’t want to be death, I want to be something good!”
“Too bad,” said middle sister, rather heartlessly in his opinion. “You started the whole thing, you get to end it.”
Elder sister gave him a hug. “I’m sorry hon’, but she’s right. You're the only one who can stick around while were gone. If you leave, then the whole place will fall apart.” She produced a handkerchief from the air and gave it to him. “Don’t worry, they’ll get interesting pretty soon. Wait until they start making tools. And war! It’s not pleasant, but it certainly isn’t boring.”
“Are you all quite finished?” asked the middle sister. “Because us being here will cause all sorts of temporal complications if we hang around too long.”
Trickster wondered briefly about the little animal gods of his, but decided not to mention them. What they don’t know can’t hurt me, he thought.
Once they had all said their goodbyes, the nameless gods left the world and returned to their not-location. They thoughtfully watched the world they had made from a distance.
“You know,” said the Trickster, “we can’t just vanish like that.”
“I know,” middle sister said curtly. “Maintenance. We’ll have to check in on them once in a while. Start a few churches, lay a few moral boundaries. Make sure nothing is breaking, or blowing up, or –“
In unison –except for the youngest sister who remained silent- the entire group of nameless gods said, "Oh shut up.”
And she did.
The younger brother, who was now the only deity in the world, watched the two creatures and sighed. He got up and wandered away – their constant saccharine-sweet cooing was going to make him sick soon. It didn’t help that they looked like his brother and his brother’s girlfriend.
He went into the forest and sat on a log, head in hands.
“Having a bit of trouble, are we?” asked a prim sounding voice from behind him.
“Who are- yeah. I am.”
"Don't worry," the rat said. "I'm sure things will pick up soon."
The little rat scrambled onto the log and sat beside him. They stayed like that for a while.