“Clutch your spear in a firm grip. Do not shrink when god turns upon you.”
Those were the rules of the god hunt. Rog whispered them as he crept between boulders under a slate-colored sky. He fell to his belly and wriggled through a patch of ferns, inundated by earthy scents.
Somewhere close, god roared. The sound was like thunder; like mountains shattering upon mountains. As ancient and heavy as fear itself.
Rog clutched his spear and ignored the sound. “God will not find me a coward,” he whispered. “He will not. He will not.”
Nearby, his packmates crept over the ridged world. They crouched low or scrambled on all fours, clutching their cudgels and stone-tipped spears. Why did they hunt? They could not kill god, of course. No hunter ever had. Yet they hunted. To prove their bravery. To create worthy Stories.
Another roar, closer, rumbled in Rog’s chest, and he peered around a boulder. Directly ahead, god stood above the corpse of a smaller beast, using the claws of his short forearms to rip chunks from its flesh.
God’s body was long, enormous yet sleek, and covered in wrinkled skin mottled black and orange. His tail was like a tree trunk. His steps were like earthquakes. Blood, meat, and viscera dripped from teeth that jutted like broken spears from his jaws. Even from here, his rotten stench blurred Rog’s vision.
This was god.
A short cliff of piled boulders stood on the Beast’s left flank, and Rog knew if he could only reach it, he could leap down upon god, break his spear on the stony skull. Then god would shake him free, stomp his bones with sharp cracks, and grind him to red mist. A brave death. A memory of pride for Rog’s lifemate and his young. Survivors from their pack would tell of him around countless winter fires.
He crept forward, but immediately knew he had failed. God reared up, sniffed the air, then swung his head from side to side and lumbered closer.
No time. Rog charged, rising from all fours into a beastlike sprint, screaming as he raised his spear. A bellow drowned out his scream as the monster raged toward him, knocking aside boulders and shredding earth.
Their collision brought dust. Chalky red sand choked Rog’s senses and numbed his world, blinding him as he lay on his back. Debris stung his face. Warm liquid trickled into his eyes.
Sluggishly, the dust settled.
He first glimpsed an iris: huge, furious, blinking lividly at him, only handbreadths away. Hot breath puffed over him. He rolled back and rose, amazed that his bones still obeyed. Then he understood god’s fate.
The monster had collapsed a mound of boulders, trapping himself beneath them. Rock pinned him down; he seemed uninjured, but only his head poked free. With time, he could probably escape.
With time. What time?
Rog screamed. From rage, from confusion, or from victory, he did not know. This was wrong. He found his spear close by, then rushed back, raising it to skewer the enormous eye . . . but faltered. The eye blinked dumbly at him. It was blue, savage and beautiful.
Rog had beaten god. Gods could not be beaten. So . . . this was not god, then.
Rog backed away. He should kill and bathe in the stories and the blood, but he could not. He could not destroy this beauty.
He turned and found his pack watching him. One big female, Ool, stomped forward.
“Why do you not kill god?”
Rog shook his head. “He is not god. Cannot be.”
Ool studied him a moment, then nodded. “No. He is not. You are!”
Her spear burned like living fire as she thrust it through his gut, then kicked him savagely to the ground. Blackness smothered his vision. Rog’s last sight was of her as she stood above him and screamed, “Now I am god! I—am—god!”
But as she screamed, she looked over her shoulder. And her hand that clutched the spear trembled.
The god hunt had begun.