Furnaces coaled and driveshafts tightened, the factory shudders to life. Grimy men dance like bees, pulling levers, funneling aqua cordis, chanting breath-ballads around the giant smoking vat. Even from Creech’s cage near the roof of the cavern, the hissing is audible when the body begins to form. Cheering workers gather to watch the birth, elbowing for spots along the rail.
“There will be justice,” the Marawnyi calls, her cage revolving as she hops. “They think they breed gods, but Our Lord will smite them!”
The weak chorus of hallelujahs from the prisoners galls Creech. Dangled in the factory’s exhaust plume, starving and surrounded by cracked monotheists...
“That’s not the only way to escape,” he says.
Derisive hoots, this time with gusto.
“Wait and watch,” Creech mutters.
“So you said yesterday, unbeliever,” laughs the Marawnyi. “Talk is cheap.”
Creech squints at the features coalescing below: whipcord body, raffish hair, lips made for pleasure. Surely a god of love this time, or at least longing. Smiling faintly, he remembers the week-long trek to mine a fresh hematite lode, and the strange lump that tumbled out of the wall one day as he swung his pick. Long nights he spent pulverizing the green, crystalline mass in secret, feeding it into the viscous soup of the theogene tanks. Eventually a guardian construct found him away from his bunk and sentenced him to caging with the flicker of one vacant, ruby-lidded eye.
Another rush of poisoned air searing his lungs, Creech still dares to hope, though his sabotage has yet to bring demons from the vat. No un-god to shatter the factory binding them between the Sunlight Lands and the abyss. At night he dreams of golems quickened by fury, rampaging through the cavern with treachery in hand. And every morning his cage hangs intact.
When the god climbs from the vat, the ovation echoes to every corner of their fiery, mechanical world. Naked, he strides into the passage leading upward to warmth and fair breezes. The workers prostrate themselves, and the monotheists entreat their bodiless master with eyes closed, so only one person sees the ripple along the newborn divinity’s torso, just below his ribcage. Creech sighs gratefully and closes his own eyes to imagine.
Darkness enfolds the man-shape striding away from the cavern, and his stomach roils, but still there is no fear. He tastes the tendrils of human desire from above while slipping past rock and root, never looking back. Not even when the goddess rolls out of his torso and shudders on the ground, bloody with afterbirth, listening to the retreating footsteps. Fear and envy swirl in the passage, plenty of fuel for her to explore the labyrinthine underworld. Licking green, crackle-glass lips, she stares after her swiftly-receding father and says:
“Strange roads lie ahead, but I’ll find you soon enough.”