First Appeared in Realms of Fantasy, February 2000 (c) Richard Parks
How Konti Scrounged the World
It is said, and it is so, that the First Gods were very busy in that time of the first Creation. All were bearing worlds from their loins, creating them fully grown from nothing, or rolling them up from the Sacred Dung of the Heavens or whatever vile substances the priests could later imagine–and they could imagine things surpassingly vile indeed, truth be told.
None of this mattered to Konti. He was brown and very small, the weakest deity in the heavens. Hardly a god at all, to tell the truth twice in the same tale. He had his place among them and, if no one had questioned that, it was only because to be in the heavens at all probably meant you must have had a place there, somewhere. Then again, perhaps it just meant that the First Gods were too busy creating to watch the gate. Either way, Konti watched the stronger gods doing all the things he could not do, and he was not happy. Konti was a clear-minded sort, god or no; he already knew his limitations. Now he wanted to discover his potential. So he thought about this, for that was all he could do about it, as he watched the mighty sky god Pondadin work at creation, shaping clouds with wind and lightning.
“I want my own world,” Konti said.
“Then you must make it. That is the Law of Heaven,” Pondadin said to him, for despite his bluster he was a kindly god, and as close to a friend as Konti had.
“‘The Law of Heaven’? Who made such a thing that even the gods must bow to it?”
Pondadin frowned, and thunder rumbled. “I don’t know,” he said. “I only know that it is.” His tone clearly said that he’d exhausted both knowledge and interest in the subject. “So. What power will you use to create a world?”
“I have none that I know of,” Konti said, looking melancholy. “All I have is this sack that I found.” He held it up for Pondadin to see, and it was a pitiful‑looking thing of shadow and wish, and probably not so much lost as discarded as useless by some better-equipped deity.
“For a god that is a problem indeed.” Pondadin rested in his labors for a moment, scratching a spot on his curling beard with a fork of lightning. “I’d help you, but it will be all I can do to finish the work I have already begun. Still. . .” Pondadin scratched another acre of beard, pondering. “My own world is full of clouds and sky, and to my mind no proper world is without them. I will not miss a bit of either. Do you want them?”
Konti lost a bit of his melancholy at Pondadin’s kind offer. “It’s a start. Thank you.” He held up his sack and Pondadin pushed the cloud and a bit of blue sky inside with a gust of wind. To Konti’s relief they all fit in his sack very well indeed, even the gust of wind that was more afterthought than gift. He bid Pondadin a good creation and strode off with the sack of cloud, sky, and wind on his back.
Konti walked for some time, then stopped to rest on a bare patch of heaven. Those were getting rarer, as more and more of the firmament was given over to various new Creations. He looked at a few of them, from his vantage point on the firmament, and soon thought of another reason for wanting his own world: he couldn’t imagine living in any of the others at all. He tried. He admired Pondadin’s majestic skyworld of billowing clouds and brooding storms, but it was wet a good bit of the time and there just wasn’t a good place to sit down anywhere. Another world was all bare mountains and plains of dark earth. Nice for sitting, and dry, but certainly nothing to look at. Konti considered all the fledgling worlds he could see and found serious fault with every single one.
“Why should all the worlds be so limited?”
There was no answer, of course. There was no one to ask, so far as Konti knew. There were rumors of a being called the Transcendent One whose plane of existence was beyond even that of the gods, but none in the Heavens actually claimed to have seen such a one. Perhaps that was the one who made the Laws of Heaven. Perhaps it didn’t matter. Konti had to deal with the Heavens as they were, and how they got that way was of lesser concern than his current predicament.
“Limited or not, at this rate the created worlds will fill up the firmament soon and there won’t be room for another world. Even a small one. I can’t dally here.”
Konti looked around, and considered for a while. “I know from Pondadin’s skyworld that a creation with no place to sit and rest simply won’t do. What’s needed is earth, and since I can’t make it . . .”
Konti looked around again, saw nothing among the swirling chaos of new creation. “Who said that?”
“You did.” The voice came again, closer. It was a voice close to laughter, Konti thought, but not so pleasant as it should have been, for all that.
“No, I did not say such a thing. I would remember. Show yourself!”
“Well then, doubtless you were thinking it. I can never remember which.”
A figure appeared out of the Haze of Creation. He was tall and handsome, except when he was short and handsome and excepting further when he was tall and beautiful and short and beautiful and probably not a “he” at all.
“What are you? You keep changing.”
“I am Asakan. And thank you.”
Konti blinked. “Did I compliment you? I didn’t intend to. Nor to insult you, for that matter. I don’t know you.”
“I am Asakan. It’s true I do keep changing, and I took your observation as a compliment, of course. How dull to be the same thing all the time!”
“Very well, then. What do you want from me?”
“I want to help you. Why else should I give you such good advice?”
Konti put his sack over his shoulder. “I don’t know. There may be other reasons.” He started to walk away, but there was Asakan beside him.
“What haste, friend Konti?”
“I am not your friend; we just met. And I am in haste because Creation is proceeding without me.”
Asakan, looking more male than anything else at the moment, shook his head. “Run all you like. It won’t help. You need earth underfoot, since the Firmament cannot be part of any world. To get earth, you must get it from the goddess Susaka, for only she can make it. Why would she give her precious earth to a pitiful little godlet like you?”
“I don’t know, but there must be another way.” Konti didn’t know of one, but Asakan’s idea made him wince, as if he’d stepped in something unpleasant.
“Why ‘must’ there be?” Asakan asked. “And even if there is, what makes you think you can find it?” The god vanished, leaving Konti alone to ponder that question for some time.
Stealing a bit of Susaka’s earth would be easy enough, Konti decided. There were so many places to walk and hide in Susaka’s creation. It’s true her earth was dry and cracked, and the sky was nothing to remark upon, nor was there much in the way of shade or refreshment. Still, there was a stark beauty to it that Konti admired as he wandered past bare mountains and sandy valleys, trying to decide what to do.
“What if Asakan is right?” he asked himself, and he feared to learn the answer. Feeling more than a little ashamed of himself, Konti pulled the bag from over his shoulder and bent down to scoop up some of the precious earth.
Konti immediately crouched behind a rock, afraid and ashamed that Susaka had found him out. After a few moments and nothing else had happened, Konti peered out of his hiding place.
The same sound, as loud as Pondadin’s majestic thunder but without the same roll and crash at the end. His curiosity quite overwhelming his need, Konti dropped the bit of dry earth he’d taken, put his sack back over his shoulder, and went to find the source of the noise.
Susaka was creating a mountain. She stood with her feet planted widely apart, her strong arms lifted in a gesture that was at once command and enticement. The earth before her responded, breaking its crust with the booming sounds Konti had heard earlier. The mountain spired ever higher, till Konti had to tilt his head far back to see the top of it.
“Marvelous,” he said aloud, “but it looks like a great deal of work.”
Susaka lowered her arms and turned to look at him. It was the first time Konti had seen her face. He thought it rather pleasant, though why it was pleasing to him was something he could not have put into words. She was solidly built as befit the nature of her dominion, with broad strong hips and wide shoulders; her hair was like a spray of melted copper.
“Konti,” she said, looking him up and down, “I’ve seen you before. Why are you here?”
“I came looking for some dirt,” he said, since honesty was his first impulse usually.
“Then you’ve found it. Admire it quietly and be on your way. I’m busy.” Her voice had the same dry quality as her Creation.
That seemed to be the limit of her generosity, though Konti wondered if perhaps Susaka’s ill‑humor might have had more significance. “I am sorry to disturb you, but you seem tired. And something more than tired. Is something missing?”
Susaka had turned back to her birthing mountain, but Konti’s words made her look at him again. “Are you saying there is a flaw in my creation, little god?”
Konti hardly thought that last bit fair, since she was, if anything, a little shorter than he was. “I’m saying there’s something missing. Something your world does not give you. Water, for one.”
She looked puzzled, and when she spoke again there was a softness to her voice that had been missing before. “My throat is dry and my lips burn me, if that is what you mean. Will this ‘water’ ease that pain? What is it?”
“Something I found in Pondadin’s Creation. A wonderful place, though of course he has nothing like your mountains. Still I found the water that falls from his clouds quite refreshing when my own throat felt dry.”
She shook her head. “Perhaps you’re telling the truth, but I have no time to seek Pondadin out nor could I give him any reason to spare part of his creation.”
“I have the makings of Pondadin’s clouds with me,” Konti said, patting the sack over his shoulder. “And you certainly have something I would want in return.”
“My precious earth?”
“Only a little, as I have only a bit of Pondadin’s clouds and cannot give them all to you. If you honestly think the water is not what I have said, then I will ask nothing.”
Susaka admitted that this sounded fair enough. Konti very carefully opened his sack, taking care not to let the wind out at all, and set loose a bit of cloud. It boiled and grew overhead just as Konti had seen the clouds do for Pondadin, and in a few moments the cloud went black and then rain fell on Susaka’s dry Creation. Susaka caught the rain in her cupped hands and drank. She shivered as cold rivulets caressed her body and puddled at her feet. Even more marvelous than the rain itself was the effect it had on Susaka’s earth, forming soft mud that squished between her toes. Konti saw her smile at the feel of it. All too soon, though, the rain ended and the spent cloud boiled away into nothing.
“Well?” Konti asked.
“That was very pleasant,” Susaka admitted. “Different. I don’t think I would like it all the time, but for a bit… Well, enough. You may have some of my earth in exchange.”
Konti quickly took as much as he thought prudent and tucked it away in his sack between the wind and the rest of Pondadin’s clouds. He was careful, too, to include a bit of the mud created by the rain cloud. It felt malleable in his hands, full of possibilities. Susaka apparently felt so, too. When Konti left her she was taking the mud into her hands, and seeing what shapes she could make there, the mountain all but forgotten.
Asakan was waiting for him outside of Susaka’s Creation. He glanced at Konti’s filling sack. “You got it, didn’t you? You are more clever than I thought.”
Konti frowned. “You’re a god. Why are you following me instead of working on your own Creation?”
Asakan grinned. “Why do you think I am not?” he asked, and then vanished again without waiting for an answer.
Konti sighed. Asakan was a strange sort, but Konti didn’t have time for riddles. He took stock of the pieces he had collected, and considered. There was earth to sit on and clouds and rain for thirst, and that was very promising. Yet Konti remembered how hot and dry it had been in Susaka’s world, and how damp and cold in Pondadin’s. It was closer to balance now, but still he knew something was missing.
“Some shade from the sun or shelter from the wind would be a good thing, and I’m not sure a hole in the dirt would be enough. What else might serve?” Konti hoisted his sack again and set out amongst the growing Creations to try and find out.
Konti found what he was looking for in a Creation being formed by an obscure fertility god named Verdku. Such was Verdku’s power that he brought forth green growing things from the air itself, taking space in the firmament but not really of it. Konti watched, fascinated.
“That is a marvelous talent.”
Verdku frowned. His speech and thoughts were as slow as the roots that grew out of his trees, and just as single‑minded. “They grow,” he said, “and then they die.”
That part was true enough. Verdku brought forth a great tangle of trees and twisting vines with little more than his desire to create them. They hung, green and alive and splendid for several hours over Verdku’s Creation, then they slowly withered, shed leaves, and died. Verdku banished them with a thought and then created them all over again. And again. “They grow,” he repeated, “and then they die.”
Konti nodded in sympathy. “It must be a great pain to you, to lose all your work over and over again. Perhaps I have something that can help you.”
Verdku frowned again, his face as dark and furrowed as the bark of one of his great oaks. “Help. Me? How?”
“A time or two now I’ve come across problems with various Creations, and in all cases the thing needed is a thing missing, something found in another Creation altogether. I happen to have a few pieces of various Creations with me and with your consent I’ll try them.
Verdku nodded, and Konti opened his pack. “Let’s see. I’ve still a bit of cloud and sky from Pondadin. Let me try a little of that.” Konti released a piece of cloud into Verdku’s creation. In no time at all he had small storm raining on Verdku’s trees, and for a moment Konti thought he had the answer: browning leaves turned to green again and withering blossoms opened anew. That lasted longer than before, but still not for so long as one might wish. Soon all was dead and brown once more.
Konti considered. “That was good, but not enough. Perhaps the water goes away too quickly.” Konti brought another cloud forth, but this time he was careful to fix some of Susaka’s earth to the various roots to hold the water in, and this time the green remained for a good long time. Verdku was impressed.
“Might. I?” he asked.
“Certainly,” Konti said. “But I’ve not so much than I can spare more than a little. In return I would like a few of your marvelous growing things.”
“They grow,” Verdku said. He looked at the remaining bits of green, so much in contrast with the rest of his Creation, then he looked at Konti. “They live. Done.”
Konti took a few grasses and flowers and one small tree, careful to fix these into Susaka’s earth kissed with a little water from Pondadin’s clouds. There wasn’t so much left of either as there had been, but it would have to do. Konti put the bag over his shoulder again and left Verdku admiring the green spots in his Creation.
Again, outside on the firmament, Asakan was waiting.
“You’re quite clever,” he said, “for such an insignificant godling.”
Konti shrugged. “Since I cannot be great among the gods it remains that I must be content with what I am,” Konti said. “Now please go away. I have a world to create.”
Asakan nodded quite affably. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” True to his word, he vanished.
A strange sort, Konti thought again, but that was all the thought he could spare for the subject. There was no time to ponder. There was no time for hardly anything. Konti quickly found the last unclaimed patch of the firmament, a spot only a few times wider than Konti was tall. There he emptied his sack and began to assemble his pieces of borrowed creation like a puzzle box. From his experiences in the other Creations he had a pretty decent idea of how the pieces needed to relate, but there was still room for choices and changes. He started with water one time but that made the earth wash away, and not all the green things floated as well as he thought. He started over with Susaka’s earth for a base and that worked much better. Earth below, sky above.
It was a start, and that’s all Konti needed. In almost no time at all he was done, and as the last piece of Heaven’s firmament became his, so did all of creation come to a halt. The gods stepped outside into whatever places they could find and admired their handiwork.
“Majestic,” said Pondadin.
“Massive,” said Susaka.
“Green. For a while,” said Verdku.
Of all the gods, they were the only ones even slightly pleased. The rest just stared at their Creations with a sort of resigned disappointment, for what they had created was no more or less than they had to create, as dictated by their natures. And yet…
Lealys, a goddess of love and procreation was left with a Creation of nothing but sighs and longing. Golgondan, a god of competition and strife, got pretty much the same result as Lealys, even if he approached the whole concept from another direction entirely.
“What good is love,” Lealys said, if there is no one to love?”
“What use is strife,” grumbled Golgondan, “if there is nothing to oppose?”
Various other deities chimed in their disappointment until the din of whining in Heaven threatened fair to overwhelm even Pondadin’s majestic rolling thunder. Asakan strolled through the crowd of complaining, bickering gods. He was whistling. One by one the other gods stopped their complaining long enough to look at Asakan and wonder what he had to be so happy about. After all, he had no Creation at all. Golgondan said as much.
“I have no need of one,” said Asakan. “I’ll just live on Konti’s. It’s better than any of yours.”
This was of course followed by even more noise. Nonsense! Absurd! How could that flea of a godling make anything to compare with our grand creations? Asakan just smiled.
“Come and see,” he said.
Still bickering and complaining, the gods fell into line behind Asakan and he led them to the small patch of the firmament where Konti stood gazing at his creation and smiling a smile of pure content.
The gods fell silent.
Konti’s world was not majestic, or loud, or massive, or full of either strife or longing, but none of that seemed to matter just then. All the gods looked at Konti’s jewel of a creation. Susaka’s earth was divided by rivers and blue oceans, and clothed in Verdku’s green. Above all, Pondadin’s swirling clouds flowed by.
Susaka spoke first. “Even though my earth is mostly covered, I must admit the effect is rather lovely.”
“But it’s so small,” Golgondan said.
Konti shrugged. “I worked with what I had. I am satisfied.”
The other gods looked at each other, then away, then at nothing. The swollen Creations, the Firmament, or what was left of it, anything but Konti’s perfect Creation. Borrowed, yes, but no less perfect. None of them ‑‑ not one ‑‑ could say what Konti had just said, and know it for truth.
“But it’s so small,” Golgondan repeated, for it was his nature to find fault. “What could you do with it?”
“I shall live on it, of course,” Konti said. “As I am a small creature, it is quite large enough for me.”
Pondadin, silent until now, spoke up. “I want to live there, too.”
Konti nodded. “You’re quite welcome, friend Pondadin, though it will be cramped.”
“If Pondadin is coming, so am I,” Golgondan announced, and several more of the gods chimed in.
“Oh dear,” Konti said, “You cannot. There’s not enough roo‑‑”
“What friend Konti meant to say,” Asakan interrupted quickly, “is that you’re all welcome to come, and bring your Creations with you.”
“That’s not…” Konti never finished. One by one the other gods hurried away and returned bearing the entirety of their Creations with them and, though, Konti had not thought it possible, his own Creation grew to receive them. First earth, then green growing things, then clouds and water. Golgondan and Lealys were last, bringing desires and longing into what was now a very large Creation indeed. Konti and Asakan followed when all was done.
Konti looked around. “Where are the others?”
Asakan smiled. “All around us, friend Konti. Don’t you see them?”
Konti looked at the earth beneath his feet, and the sky above, and all the trees and grass and flowers, and had to admit that he did, everywhere he looked.
“It’s fine to have them near, but now I think that perhaps something is missing after all.”
“Longing has entered Creation, Konti. How can it be otherwise now?”
Konti looked around. “I don’t understand, Asakan. I forgive you for the trick you played on me, since this world is very grand, but now I just see the others reflected by their natures, all around me. Yet I am not changed, nor are you. Are we not gods?”
“I am here because I am always here.”
“I don’t understand,” Konti said.
“I know. As for you, if you are a god, tell me why you were able to create what none of the others, with their powerful yet limited natures, could? Perhaps you are something else, something with even more potential. Sort it out. You have time.”
“Perhaps, but where should I start?”
Asakan looked thoughtful. “Susaka found a very interesting property in that ‘mud’ substance you made for her. Her handiwork is down by that river. You might start there. Until then…” Asakan leaned forward and kissed Konti full on the mouth.
Konti blinked. “What was that?”
Asakan smiled. “A gift.”
Konti considered this. “What shall I do with it?”
“When the time comes, you’ll know.”
Konti watched Asakan walk away. He looked different, somehow. For a moment, it seemed, Konti could have sworn that Asakan looked like every god Konti had ever met in the heavens, all at the same time, all their aspects taken into one. It was a silly notion, and Konti had to smile.
Konti waited until Asakan disappeared and then he walked down to the river, and there he found something very interesting indeed. Susaka had shaped wet clay into a likeness very much like herself. Konti thought the likeness very beautiful and, remembering Asakan’s gift and moved by the longing now filling Creation, he leaned forward and kissed the image’s cold lips. Immediately his breath was taken into the clay and in a moment it changed. It moved. And it was not clay at all.
“Hello,” she said.
I’ll sort this out too, Konti thought, though he had the feeling it would take a very long time indeed.