Gods and Priests

It was a cold spring morning when the god appeared before Rasul. One moment, Rasul was tending to his family's crops, plucking the weeds that choked the ground. The next, a man in strange attire stood a few feet away, looking around. Rasul fell to the ground in shock at the man's sudden appearance. He had not walked up on Rasul; the crops were small, leafy sprouts and could not cover an approach.

"Huh, so this is it," said the god.

He was not like what Rasul would have expected from a god. His voice was somewhat nasal, with a slight lisp. He seemed young as well, a boy in his late teens at the oldest, with unkempt, shaggy, light brown hair. The slight bulge of his belly stretched the front of the black, short-sleeved tunic, on which was an image of some sort surrounded by runes Rasul could not decipher. He wore rough looking blue trousers and shoes crafted of some black fabric on top of white soles held together with a white string.

But he was most definitely a god. Rasul could feel his majesty so strongly that it hurt to even look upon him. Rasul prostrated himself before him

"Oh, awesome," the god said. "My first worshiper! Ok, let's see what I'm supposed to do now..."

Rasul remained splayed on the ground, forehead touching the soil, arms straight forward, knees bent beneath himself. He knew the god spoke the truth. Rasul would be his first worshiper. Never before had he devoted himself to any deity; none in his family or small village had. But that was before a god had manifest before him.

Several minutes passed and the god neither spoke nor took any other action. Though it pained him, several times Rasul peeked up to insure he was still there. The god stood inactive over him.

Finally, Rasul said, "I live to serve you, almighty! Speak your command and I shall carry it out!"

"Yeah, yeah," the god said, "just give me a minute. I don't want to mess this up."

Even if he wanted, Rasul knew he could not speak a word again until permitted by the god. He continued to kowtow, even though his knees hurt and his arms began to ache.

"Ah, ok!" the god said. "So you're Rasul and that building over there is your home. You have a wife, two sons, and a daughter. You're in your thirties, you're a respected farmer in the village, and your word carries weight!"

"It is so, almighty!" Rasul answered. "Though I am but a humble man and know not that I am worthy."

"Nah, you'll be fine. You're a good first worshiper. I got lucky, I know some people get drunks or insane people and that just makes it so much harder."

"Your words inspire me, almighty. Tell me your will!"

"Ok, so you're a little impatient," the god said with a laugh. "Well, I guess you can't be perfect. Anyway, I'm not sure I like the word almighty. I mean, yeah, it's pretty awesome to be almighty, but it's pretty generic, right?"

"What epithet shall I use for you then, great one?" Rasul asked. His back was beginning to stiffen from the awkward position he was holding. His feet tingled from poor circulation. It felt as if someone was sitting on his shoulders, pinning him down.

"I think something badass, like Thunderer will be good. But that's kinda unoriginal too. Ooh, I know!" The god snapped his fingers. "Rasul, you shall know me as Peter, the Thunderbringer!"

"Yes, Thunderbringer!" Rasul cried out. "Oh great Thunderbringer, I am your humble servant! Tell me your will and it shall be done!"

"Well, obviously, the first thing is to let other people know who I am. Tell your family and neighbors about me! Get them to worship me too. Once you get enough of them, we can move on to the next part."

"Yes, Thunderbringer," Rasul answered. His heart thudded in his chest. "I shall carry out your will."

"Good," the Thunderbringer answered. "Alright, I'm going for now. See you when you get ten followers."

There was a sudden peal of thunder even though the sky was clear of any clouds. A wave of pressure washed over him and the heavy weight was lifted from him. He remained prostrated for several seconds, then dared to look up.

The god was gone. The only thing that remained was a pair of footprints in the soil. Rasul leapt to his feet, tore off his shirt, and laid it over the prints to protect them. Then he turned and sprinted to his home. He was to be the first prophet of the Thunderbringer.

Rasul gathered his family and told them of his meeting with the Thunderbringer. Though his children believed him wholeheartedly, his wife was more skeptical. "How do you know he was a god?" she asked.

"I could feel it," he told her. "It is difficult to explain. How do you know you are looking at the sun and not a candle? Tell me how you know the difference between a sparrow and an eagle. I could simply tell by looking at him that he was a god. To look upon him was to glare into the eye of creation. He was a god, of that I am certain."

"Perhaps you have been working too hard," she told him. "You are seeing things. There was no god out there. It simply could not be so!"

"It is true!" he said with a pound of his fist upon their table. "I will show you proof!"

He led them out into the field where he had met the Thunderbringer, then uncovered the footprints. His wife looked at them sideways. "What are those?"

"These are the footprints of the god!" he said proudly. "It proves he stood here in this field and spoke to me."

She bent over at the waist, her long black hair spilling forward so that it almost brushed the soil. Hands on her hips, she examined the footprints with pursed lips. After a moment of contemplation, she straightened herself and turned to Rasul. "They could be anything. They are certainly no feet I know of."

Rasul huffed and covered the footprints back up with his shirt. His wife snatched it off the ground. "And you'll get this filthy! I will have to wash this, you know!"

"Put that back!" he said, swiftly reclaiming the shirt from her. She did not stop him as he covered the prints again. "This is a sacred place! It cannot be disturbed by the elements until I can find a way to lift it from the soil undisturbed!"

She shook her head and went back to their house. He turned to his sons and said, "Go gather the neighbors. They must know of this as well."

"Yes father," his eldest son said. The two ran off. Rasul returned to the house, where his wife was busy doing the chores.

"Why aren't you tending to the fields?" she asked him. "How will we live if our fields are not tended to?"

"I must answer to a higher calling," he told her. She shook her head and turned away from him.

Several hours later, for the neighbors' houses were quite a distance away, the majority of the village had come to Rasul's farm. Rasul stood upon a crate and told them of the Thunderbringer and how he had visited the field earlier in the day.

Much like his wife, his neighbors were skeptical. He showed them the footprints and a few began to believe, but most remained unconvinced. "For all we know, you put these here yourself," said one man.

"We cannot go by a simple pair of footprints," said another. "If this god is real, he should appear before us now to let us know!"

The rest of the villagers murmured in consent. "Why would he come to Rasul anyway?" a woman whispered to another, though her voice was loud enough for Rasul to hear it clearly. "He is nothing special."

Soon after, the group dispersed. Only three lingered, two men and a woman. "So what does the god want from us?" asked one man.

"Your worship," Rasul explained to them.

"What sort of worship?" the other man asked.

"And why should we?" the woman added.

Rasul had no answers for them. Two left, with only the first man remaining. His name was Moriel and he and Rasul had known each other for many years. "I believe you," he said. "You are not a man to make something up. If you saw this god, it must be so. I will become a follower as well."

"But you are not enough," Rasul said with a sigh. "The Thunderbringer told me he needed ten
followers first. Aside from you, I have no one. Even my wife is not convinced."

Moriel nodded thoughtfully and said, "If the Thunderbringer performs a miracle, perhaps it would be of worth."

"Yes!" Rasul declared. "I shall pray for a miracle." He got on his knees and began praying to the Thunderbringer. He conjured an image of the god in his mind and tried to recall the feeling he had experienced when he looked upon him. "Great Thunderbringer, the other villagers will not believe in your divinity! Please grant me a miracle to prove it to them!"

However, nothing happened. Rasul remained on his knees for some time, praying, but there was no response from the Thunderbringer. Eventually, Moriel departed and Rasul hung his head in failure. He even began to doubt himself.

"Whoa, don't do that," the Thunderbringer's voice came.

Rasul leapt to his feet and gaped as the Thunderbringer suddenly stood before him, just as he had earlier in the day. Just as suddenly as he had appeared, Rasul fell to the ground and made obeisance. "Great Thunderbringer! You honor me with your presence once again!"

"Well, yeah, you were starting to lose faith," the god said. "That'd be bad. If I lose my last worshiper, it's game over. And well, right now, you're the only one."

"But I convinced Moriel," Rasul said. "He agreed to worship you as well."

The Thunderbringer looked up into the air at nothing, then said, "No, he's just wavering. He hasn't started to believe in me yet."

"Maybe if you appear before all of them," Rasul suggested. "Then they will believe too."

"If only it was that easy," the Thunderbringer said with a sigh. "No, I don't have the power to appear in front of other people yet. I need to get to ten worshipers first. Then I can make a broad manifestation. But until then, I can only appear entirely to you and do a few minor miracles. Those are the rules."

"Then what shall we do, Thunderbringer?" Rasul asked. "I wish to serve you, but without proof, none shall follow. I shall tell my children of you and when they come of age, perhaps they shall worship too. But that will be many years off."

The Thunderbringer shrugged. "Well, I could wait for a few years, no problem. But I don't want to do that." He seemed to stare off into the blank air again, eyes moving back and forth as if he were reading something. Then he said, "Aha, here's what you can do. I can't create lightning when the weather is good yet, but if there's a storm I can do it as long as I have enough belief power. Next time it looks like it's going to storm, get all the people together. Then make a sacrifice to me and I'll perform a miracle for you."

"A sacrifice, Thunderbringer?"

"Yeah. Something that has meaning for you. The more important it is to you, the better. I get power from sacrifices made in my name."

"It shall be done, Thunderbringer!" Rasul vowed. When he looked up again, the god was gone.

The weather remained clear for two whole weeks, but Rasul did not despair. He kept the plan mostly to himself, sharing it only with Moriel. Even his family he kept the truth from, not wanting it to spread. Moriel agreed to help him and when the day finally came, the two hurried to the village center. Rasul brought his family along, though his wife complained of the dreadful weather the entire time.

Rain drizzled from the sky, coating everything in a moist sheen. In the village center, Rasul once again stood upon a crate and began to pronounce the greatness of the Thunderbringer. "The Thunderbringer is mighty! He demands your obedience and worship! To ignore him invites great folly!"

Most people ignored him, hurrying from place to place to avoid the oncoming storm. The air smelled of water, clean and fresh. Everyone knew a storm would come. It was just a matter of how soon.

Rasul sent Moriel to travel from home to home, gathering people. Rasul's wife continually glanced up at the sky as he preached. "Why do we wait here?" she asked him. "We are just going to get soaked! We'll all catch fever and then no work will be done. We should go back!"

"We can't," he said, "not until I deliver the Thunderbringer's miracle."

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"You shall see," is all he told her.

Soon enough a small crowd began to gather. A few stood back under canopies to avoid getting wet, but there was not enough room for everyone. However, enough braved it to see Rasul make a fool of himself. The story of Rasul meeting the Thunderbringer had spread and most began to see him as a madman.

"People of the village, I have told you before of the Thunderbringer but you failed to believe me!" he proclaimed. "Today I have come, despite the oncoming storm, to prove the Thunderbringer's power to you. You deny it, but he is almighty! He demands the worship of all villagers and if you do not give it, you shall be struck down with his lightning!"

Some people looked up at the sky in worry, for the clouds had grown much darker and the rain had begun to fall harder. However, there was no sign of lightning or thunder, so most people chuckled to themselves.

Unperturbed, Rasul continued his sermon until he saw Moriel return. It was precipitous timing, as the rains began falling in great sheets. People squealed and began to fleet, but Rasul shouted out over the roar of the downpour, "Do not leave, for you are about to witness the Thunderbringer's power!"

Most people ignored him until Rasul's wife let out a shout of shock. Moriel had grabbed her by the arms and roughly dragged her before Rasul. "Behold!" Rasul shouted out, holding a dagger high in the air. "My own wife! Yet so great is my devotion to the Thunderbringer that I offer her up as tribute to him!"

With that, Rasul plunged the dagger into his wife's heart. She merely gasped and her eyes went wide. Moriel let go of her and she fell to the ground. The gathered crowd stood staring in shock.

Rasul raised his eyes to the heavens and said, "Take my wife as a sacrifice, great Thunderbringer! Show your power to the unbelievers so that they may know of your greatness and offer their worship to you!"

Several seconds passed with Rasul holding his arms into the air. The rain continued to pour in torrents, mixing with the blood to form huge soupy red puddles. The crowd finally began to recover from its shock. They murmured to one another at first, then began raising their voices, then someone shouted out, "He's a murderer!"

Those words turned the crowd into a mob and they began to surge forward. Just as they were about to reach Rasul, a bolt of lightning flashed from the sky and struck the body of Rasul's wife.

The men who had been nearest him were thrown backward. Even those who were not near were momentarily blinded by the flash and deafened by the peal of thunder. When their vision cleared, Rasul remained standing as he had. The body of his wife had vanished.

One by one, the villagers fell to their knees and called out their praises to the Thunderbringer.

"Why did you kill your wife?" the Thunderbringer asked. He did not sound upset, merely curious.

"You said I must sacrifice that which was dear to me," Rasul explained from his position of obeisance on the ground. "So I did."

The Thunderbringer smiled and nodded. "Yeah, that gave me a ton of power. Then basically everyone who saw it started worshiping me! Though a few have given it up since then. They've convinced themselves it was just a coincidence and that it wasn't a god who did it."

"They shall be convinced soon, great Thunderbringer," Rasul said. "Do not worry about that!"

"Yeah, I'm not," the Thunderbring answered. "Apparently getting the first village all converted is the easy part. For the time being I just need to sit back and wait."

"It is as you say."

"But one thing, even though I got a lot of power from you sacrificing your wife, that's not really the kind of god I want to be," the Thunderbringer said, tapping his chin idly. "And apparently it causes other problems too. People won't want to join up if you think you might kill their family and if nonbelievers think you'll sacrifice them, people will fight harder if you have to conquer them."

"Did I displease you, Thunderbringer?" Rasul asked, lowering his head to the ground so that he did not look upon the displeased face of his god.

"Oh, no, you did fine," the god replied. "But just don't do it again. And tell everyone else not to sacrifice their wives or any other people. I don't want it to cause any problems further down the line."

"Your will be done, Thunderbringer," Rasul answered. When he looked up, the god was once again gone.

At once, Rasul went out to spread the Thunderbringer's words. "The Thunderbringer demanded a sacrifice of us to prove our faith," he told the people. "Thus I, as the only faithful man, had to sacrifice what was most dear to me. But now that he has been appeased, we must no longer sacrifice people to him! Those are his words from on high!"

Many people were relieved at the news. Others whispered that Rasul had merely wanted an excuse to murder his wife. But they were countered, "But the lightning struck her body and then it vanished!"

Some were still not convinced. "Did you see it happen? I wasn't there. Who is to say it happened as it has been told?"

So even though many had begun to worship the Thunderbringer, many others did not. They watched with suspicion as his followers raised a temple in his honor. Many of the fields languished as they undertook this duty. But Rasul assured them all would be well.

"The Thunderbringer shall provide for us!" he proclaimed.

Indeed, for the entirety of the summer, when the sun normally scorched the land dry, the temperature was moderate and the rains were many. When the autumn came, the harvests were plentiful. No man, woman, or child went hungry that year and there was even much left over. This was stored away for times of hardship, though Rasul promised the Thunderbringer would not allow them to face hardship again.

Rasul himself abandoned his farm, pouring all of his energy into the temple. His children kept it in good repair, tending to the artifacts. Rasul had carefully dug the soil containing the Thunderbringer's footprints and placed it into a box, with the footprints preserved on the top. It now formed the centerpiece of the temple.

Additionally, a tree near the village had been struck by lightning, splintering it into a million pieces. The villagers had gathered up as much of the remains as they could and it was now stored in the temple. From some of the larger pieces, a village carpenter had constructed an altar.

Through it all, Rasul remained humble and simple. He desired nothing more than for the people to worship the Thunderbringer piously. For the most part, the people did. They came to the temple and made sacrifices of what they could.

Many times, people came to Rasul with problems and he prayed to the Thunderbringer for answers. One day, he knelt in front the Thunderbringer's footprints and prayed for the Thunderbring to guide him.

"What is it this time?" the Thunderbringer answered.

Rasul went down to his knees as always. "A woman found a beautiful stone in the ground. Her husband made a necklace with it. However, the necklace recently went missing. Then someone noticed that another woman was wearing it. She claimed to have found it, but we believe she stole it, as a scrap of cloth matching a tear in her dress was found on a loose nail in the owner's home."

The Thunderbringer sighed, though it felt to Rasul as if he had jolted him. "Stealing is strictly forbidden. Plus she lied about it. She should be punished for her actions."

"What shall the punishment be, great Thunderbringer?" Rasul asked.

The Thunderbringer tapped his chin in thought. "Hmm, well, I could order that her hand be chopped off. You know, medieval like. But then that'd probably keep her from working as well and we still need all the workers we can get. The village doesn't have a jail either, so you can't put her in prison for any time...

"Ah, I've got a good idea. The next time there's a storm, tie her up in the village center with no shelter. She'll have to stay out there until the storm ends. That sounds like a good punishment for thieves, right?"

"Your wisdom is infinite," Rasul proclaimed. The Thunderbringer was then gone, as was custom. Once Rasul received an answer, the Thunderbringer did not linger.

Immediately he went out and issued the proclamation of judgment to the thief. She wailed about her innocence, but none in the village believed her. Some feared she would flee, so everyone kept a close eye on her until the day the next storm came.

As the clouds gathered in the sky, the villagers took the woman out to the center of town and bound her to a post. She no longer professed her innocence, but faced her fate with stony solemnity. Rasul went before her and loudly declared, "This woman has stolen from another. Such actions are forbidden by the Thunderbringer! If you cannot provide for yourself, you have no right to take from another. Such is the wisdom of the Thunderbringer, yet this woman apparently lacked it! Today, a great storm is gathering. In punishment for her actions, she shall be exposed to the storm until it ends, so that she might come to gain some of the Thunderbringer's wisdom for her own!"

The people nodded in consent. The Thunderbringer's prophet had delivered the will of the god and it seemed wise indeed.

The storm came and raged without an end in sight. Torrents of water came down so thick it seemed a man might drown just by walking outside. More than one person came before Rasul and said, "Should we not free her now? She will surely die of exposure if left out any longer."

But Rasul replied, "The Thunderbringer told us to leave her until the storm ends. He is the one who brings the rain, so he shall disperse it when he feels she has atoned."

Finally, when the clouds parted after three days, the townspeople went out into the town square and freed her. Her skin was pale with a blue tinge, hair hanging in loose strings, jaw slack and eyes glassy. A few thought she had died, but there was a faint breath and pulse despite her being cool to the touch.

Her family carried her home and placed her under several blankets next to the fire. For several days she lay there unmoving, only breathing very softly. They trickled water into her mouth, but it just dribbled out. It seemed she would not survive.

Many people began to grumble about the poor treatment she had received, but Rasul would have none of it. "It was as the Thunderbringer commanded!" he declared. "Let him strike me down now if it is a lie!"

When nothing happened, the people continued to grumble, but only when Rasul was not around. Though the girl, whose name was Eirny, had stolen something, she had been popular with many of the villagers, especially those who were not terribly devout.

Then one day her eyes suddenly sprang open and she sat up. All the color had returned to her and her breathing and heartbeat had returned to normal. She tried to speak to someone, but her throat was too dry.

Her family declared it a miracle. "The Thunderbringer spared her!" they proclaimed.

But once she had drank a glass of water, she said, "No, it was not the Thunderbringer's doing. Rather, the Lady of the Light healed me and brought me back from the brink of death!"

"Who is the Lady of the Light?" she was asked.

She smiled and her eyes focused on something that was not there as she spoke. "The Lady of the Light is the god we should truly be offering our obedience to! She is not a harsh god like the Thunderbringer. Instead she is caring, giving, and warm. She is the sun and the moon and the stars. She is the fire that warms our hearths and the torches that brighten the darkness. While I was laying catatonic, she came to me in a vision. I was so cold I just wanted to give up, but she told me that everything would be alright, then placed her hands on my forehead and suddenly I was better!"

When Rasul heard this story, he was enraged. "That foolish girl! She dares to blaspheme so? Because the Thunderbringer was the one who punished her, she is simply spreading lies to disparage him."

But the people said, "Many people knew her condition. She was at death's door and her recover. It was certainly a miracle."

"A miracle brought on by the Thunderbringer!" he insisted. But many were not convinced, because the Thunderbringer had never saved anyone from death.

People began to flock to Eirny and ask her to intercede on their behalf with the Lady of the Light. Though she was still weak from her ordeal and could barely rise from bed, she listened to each person and touched them lightly on the forehead. In all cases, the sickness passed, usually within a few hours, but sometimes within a few days.

The story of her miraculous recovery and subsequent miracles began to spread far and wide. Even people from other villages began to flock to see her. Soon enough, there was talk of building a temple in dedication of the Lady of the Light.

Rasul was against it, of course, but few people listened to him. "The lightning striking his wife's body was just a coincidence," the whispers began. "There is no Thunderbringer, it is all in Rasul's head. The Lady of the Light is a real god who protects and helps us. We should worship her."

Despairing, Rasul knelt before the altar in the Thunderbringer's temple and prayed to his god. "Please, great Thunderbringer, speak to me! The Lady of the Light is stealing your followers. I speak against the heathens, but people refuse to listen!"

"Oh, well, that wasn't supposed to happen," the Thunderbringer said. Rasul looked up and was surprised. His god appeared as always, but this time there was a woman standing at his side. She dressed similarly, but was shorter than him, round of body, with wavy blonde hair and a pretty face with a wide smile.

She giggled and it was high-pitched and girlish. "Oops, I guess I'm better than you," she said, laughter in her words. Rasul suddenly he felt a familiar sensation. He knew she was a god too, but of a different caliber than his lord. For he did not feel the tingling power across his skin that the Thunderbringer evoked. Rather, it reminded him of his youth, when he was a boy plowing the fields and the spring sun caressed his skin.

"Shut up Beth," the Thunderbringer said, though there was laughter in his voice as well. "You probably just got lucky with a conversion or something. But why are you still healing people in the village?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "Well, what was I supposed to do? You asked me to heal her and it converted her to me. Suddenly I had another prophet I could use, so why not her?" She stuck her tongue out at the Thunderbringer.

Had any mortal done that, Rasul would have called for their immediate punishment. But the Thunderbringer just laughed again. "Yeah, ok, but now she's stealing all my worshipers! If she keeps it up, I'll lose all of them. Well, except Rasul here, but what happens when he dies?"

At hearing mention of his death, Rasul's blood ran cold. He said nothing, however. Before the fates of the gods, what was the life of one mortal?

"Well, what do you suggest we do?" the Lady of the Light asked.

"We can always tell them you're my wife," the Thunderbringer suggested, eliciting a laugh from the Lady. "What? I don't think we can really explain that you're my girlfriend and have the same effect. We could say consort, but that sounds kinda..."

"Sexist?" the Lady offered.


The Lady sighed and said, "Fine, I'll be your wife in this, but I swear if you take me out to dinner tonight and propose, I'm out of here."

The Thunderbringer laughed nervously. "Of course not, Beth. I'm too young to think of marriage anyway."

She laughed again and lightly punched him in the arm. "I'm just messing with you anyway. I'll go talk to Eirny and tell her the deal."

With that, she disappeared, leaving Rasul alone with the Thunderbringer. "Great Thunderbringer, please enlighten me!" Rasul said.

"Ok, the Lady of the Light is my wife. She acted on my behalf to save Eirny, for while I am the god of thunder and storms, the Lady of the Light is the goddess of life and death. She can use her powers to heal the sick."

"Of course, great Thunderbringer," Rasul said, kowtowing before the god. "I shall tell everyone this fact! It shall be known throughout the village!"

That evening, Rasul went among the villagers and related the story to them. "The Lady of the Light is a god, that is true. But she is the wife to the Thunderbringer! She acted only at his command to save Eirny from her fate. His mercy knows no limits!"

The people murmured at this proclamation. "He is just saying that to get his way," they said. "He wants to make his god seem more important, taking the credit for the Lady of the Light's blessings."

Then Eirny emerged from her sick room, supporting herself on the shoulders of some of her flock. "No, the Thundertouched speaks the truth," she said, her voice carrying over the crowd. "The Thunderbringer is the husband of the Lady of the Light. He made a request that I be spared death and she granted it. It is only at the grace of the Thunderbringer that I have lived, for without him, the Lady of the Light would never have come to me. You must not doubt this."

When he saw that the people were happy with this explanation and shouted praises to the Thunderbringer for his mercy, Rasul bit his tongue at Eirny's words. Later that evening, he was in his church, thinking he was alone.

"How dare she claim that the Lady 'granted the Thunderbringer's request'! She knows that the Thunderbringer ordered her survival!" he railed. His face was red and he huffed heavily.

"She is merely jealous," a voice came. He turned to see his eldest son, Meron, standing there. "Remember, she is a thief who stole a shiny bauble simply because she was enchanted by it. Now she has been blessed by a miracle from the Thunderbringer, she sees an even shinier bauble to steal... The devotion and respect you have earned for being his prophet."

Rasul nodded his head at his son's words. "What you say is wise," he said. "What do you suggest we do?"

His son shrugged. "For now, we do nothing. Continue to tell the people of the Thunderbringer and the truth of the matter. Those who are wise will know the truth."

So that is what Rasul did. He preached about the mercy and justice of the Thunderbringer, who would deliver the punishments that the wicked deserved, but also spare those who had repented in their hearts and grant them good health and life. He spoke of the wife of the Thunderbringer, the Lady of the Light, who held dominion over life and death and obeyed the Thunderbringer's wishes.

"The Thunderbringer can cause rain and lightning," people said. "But the Lady controls life itself!"

"Nonsense," Rasul told them. "Yes, the Lady can heal the sick... But the sick heal themselves all the time! Meanwhile, the Thunderbringer provides rain. Tell me, would your crops grow if there was no rain? If you had no crops, would you be able to eat? Would the Lady of the Light sate your hunger? She merely works on behalf of the Thunderbringer! Without the Thunderbringer, you would be nothing!"

While his words convinced some who had strayed, most remained devoted to the Lady of the Light. His congregation remained small in comparison to the temple of the Lady of the Light. Rasul despaired at his inability to convince them.

"What shall I do?" Rasul asked his son, Meron.

Meron said, "The people have forgotten the Thunderbringer's power. You must request another miracle!"

"But a miracle will not impress them," he said. "They know the Thunderbringer can cause lightning to fall from the sky. They believe that less worthy than the sick being healed by the Lady of the Light."

"Then they must be shown that your words were true," Meron suggested. "Ask the Thunderbringer to withhold the rain from any who do not put him primary above other gods."

"Your council is wise, my son!" Rasul declared.

He sacrificed a lamb and prayed, "Great Thunderbringer, still people refuse to acknowledge you! I beseech you to teach these nonbelievers a lesson. Take away the rain from their fields! Let them see how hard their lives are without your blessings!"

The next day, Rasul stood before his congregation and said to them, "There are many who believe the Thunderbringer is false or is not worthy of worship! They are heathens who deserve our scorn. The Thunderbringer is going to teach them a lesson for their impiety. No rain will fall upon their fields. Their crops will wither and die. Faithful believers, you are not to provide these infidels with any of your own foods. Let them suffer until they see their errors!"

Sure enough, the rains ceased to fall on the fields of those who favored the Lady of the Light over the Thunderbringer. After a few days, they believed it simply to be coincidence. But as the days turned to weeks and their fields turned to dust, they began to worry. They went to Eirny and asked for her assistance, so she prayed to the Lady of the Light. But she could not bring the rain. Her followers began to go hungry.

One day, in the midst of the drought, a family who worshiped the Thunderbringer was brought before Rasul. "This man provided grain to his neighbors, even though they refuse to acknowledge the Thunderbringer!" he was told.

"Traitor!" Rasul declared. "You have betrayed your god! Why have you done this?"

"They are my neighbors and friends," the man said. "I have known them my entire life. How could I let them go hungry?"

"Did they offer prayers to the Thunderbringer first?" The man hung his head and admitted they had not. "Then you have forsaken the Thunderbringer and betrayed his generosity to you. I banish you from the graces of the Thunderbringer forever!"

From that day forth, no rain fell upon the man's fields and his family went hungry as well. No other followers of the Thunderbringer dared repeat his mistake. A month passed and the final food stores of those who did not follow the Thunderbringer began to run out.

Men and women went before Eirny and asked to be healed of their hunger. She touched them on the forehead and for a brief moment, their hunger was taken away. But inevitably, it returned greater than before.

As the famine spread among the followers of the Lady of the Light, the Thunderbringer appeared before Rasul. "What did you do?" he asked. "Why did you pray for me to refuse rain to the Lady of the Light's followers?"

"They must be taught a lesson," Rasul said. "You are primary among the gods! The Lady of the Light should not be worshiped ahead of you. By taking the rain away, you prove that they must be devout to you, lest they shall starve!"

The Thunderbringer ran a hand through his hair. "Oh man, Beth is pissed though. She noticed that all her followers here were starving and is blaming me for it. But this only happened because I just granted your prayer without really paying attention to what you were asking."

Rasul was dumbstruck. "Do you mean, my Thunderbringer, that you do not listen to what I say?"

"No no no!" the Thunderbringer quickly said. "Of course I do. It's just that, you know, you're the head of my religion, so I just kinda grant everything you ask for without really considering it. I get a lot of prayers. There's three hundred people that worship me in this village now. It's hard to pay attention to all of them." He sighed and muttered, "I don't know how anyone else manages getting any bigger."

"I beseech you, Thunderbringer," Rasul said. "Do not provide the nonbelievers with rain now!"

"But haven't they suffered long enough?" the Thunderbringer asked.

Rasul could not believe it! Here was his god, asking for his advice. Was this a test? Ah, yes, Rasul decided. The Thunderbringer was testing him.

"You are wise above all, Thunderbringer," Rasul said. "I know this. It is your wisdom that led me to this path, your wisdom brought to me by my son, Meron. I shall not waver from this. If the infidels receive rain now, they will believe it was not your divine work that did it. Those who do believe will consider you weak."

The Thunderbringer sighed and said, "The guide says to trust your high priest... Ok, you're right, Rasul. I won't give rain to anyone who doesn't believe in me! Even though Beth will be pissed."

Rasul smiled, for he knew he had passed the test! "Your words are wise as always, great Thunderbringer!" With that, the Thunderbringer was gone.

Several days passed, then a man was dragged before Rasul. He was bound in rope and bore several wounds where he had been beaten. "This man was stealing food from us," his congregation said. "He refuses to give prayer to the Thunderbringer."

Rasul stood over him and asked, "Why do you refuse to pray to the Thunderbringer? I know you, you are an honest man! You would never steal!"

The man spat at Rasul's feet. "Your Thunderbringer has made me a dishonest man! I have to steal to survive. He is no god of mercy. He is a devil!"

Angrily, Rasul had the man brought to the altar and sacrificed to the Thunderbringer. There was no great blast of lightning like had taken Rasul's wife, so they burned the corpse in a great pyre. His flock was whipped into a great frenzy by the act. They began to chant for the Thunderbringer to strike down any who opposed them. Many fell to the floor and kowtowed before the altar. Some proclaimed they received visions from the Thunderbringer himself.

"You have done well, father," Meron said. "Look how devout these men and women are! They know the power of the Thunderbringer and abase themselves before his greatness!"

Rasul nodded in agreement. This was good! It was as it should be. "Let it be known far and wide," Rasul shouted, "that the enemies of the Thunderbringer shall perish on a pyre offered to him! All must know this!"

Word quickly spread of the sacrifice and Rasul's words. Very soon, an angry mob had gathered outside the church. The followers of the Thunderbringer barricaded the doors and Rasul walked to the second floor, where he threw open a window and looked down on the crowd. "Begone, nonbelievers, else you will be struck down by the Thunderbringer!"

From the mob emerged Eirny, supported by one of her acolytes. "Rasul, you murderer! You have killed a good man simply for not following your wicked god!"

"Wicked god?" Rasul asked with a laugh. "The Thunderbringer is our divine protector! He enlightened me in the field and bade me do his will. You lot have turned your backs on him and now you pay the price. For those who reject his will, death is too light a punishment!"

Someone in the mob shouted, "Give us food!" The rest of the mob began to scream their support.

"You should pray to the Thunderbringer for rain, not beg me for our scraps!" Rasul replied before slamming the window shut. He returned to the congregation below.

"The unbelievers gather outside our doors," he told them. "They mean to steal the food that you have toiled to grow. We must not let them."

The people murmured in fear. "But we do not have any weapons," they said.

"Worry not," Rasul said, "the Thunderbringer will protect us. Let us all pray for his power."

The people bowed their heads and began to pray, Rasul among them. Then he heard, at his side, "What are you doing?"

"I lead your faithful against the heretics who favor the Lady of the Light over you!" he told the Thunderbringer. "They have forsaken you and now they come to do violence to us!"

"You killed one of them. I told you no more human sacrifices!" the Thunderbringer said, stomping his foot like a petulant child.

Rasul turned and forced himself to look fully upon the god for perhaps the first time ever. "He stole from one of your followers, Thunderbringer. He cursed your name and defied your will. He was less than human!"

The Thunderbringer huffed and looked toward the barricaded door. It was rumbling under the pounding of the angry mob. "Well, now Beth's followers are about to break down the door and kill us all. And she's angry at me because I let you kill her followers so she's not stopping them. She said I deserve to lose."

"Then order her to do it," Rasul said. "She is your wife."

The Thunderbringer shook his head helplessly. "It doesn't work like that where I'm from. I can't just order her to do something and she will. Besides, she's more powerful than me now. In addition to those people outside, who out number you by the way, she has an entire other village who follow her."

Suddenly the acrid smell of smoke filled Rasul's nose. He turned to look for the source, when one of his followers shouted, "They are trying to burn down the church!"

A wave of panicked cries went through the congregation. Rasul turned back to the god. "You must do something, Thunderbringer," Rasul said. "Bring rain to extinguish the fire!"

"I can't," the Thunderbringer said softly. "I used up all my power keeping it from raining on their fields. You need to surrender yourself, Rasul."

"What?" Rasul gasped.

"Go out and turn yourself over to them," the Thunderbringer said. The door suddenly splintered as more smoke filled the church. "Allow them to subject you to justice as long as they do not hurt anyone else. I'll probably lose my high priest, but someone else will take over... Eventually, I'll be able to rebuild. This is just a small setback."

"They'll kill me," Rasul said, the color draining from his face. The door finally exploded inward, the barricade in ruins. The followers began to shout in terror.

"Do it now, Rasul!" the Thunderbringer ordered. "Or everyone will die!"

Rasul fell to his knees. "You have forsaken me," he muttered. "I have been forsaken."

The followers of the Lady of the Light poured into the church. Some flew straight for Rasul and grabbed him. Others began assaulting the other worshipers, who were too terrified to mount a proper defense.

The Lady of the Light appeared beside the Thunderbringer. "Looks like you lose, Peter," she said with a smile. "I told you that you should have listened to me and not that stupid guide."

The altar was toppled and smashed. The sacred soil spilled onto the floor. The footprints were gone.

"Oh well," the Thunderbringer said as the angry followers of the Lady of the Light grabbed Rasul. "I'll just start a new game and try again. This was just a learning experience. I'll do better next time."

Someone shoved a knife through Rasul's back.

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