Downfall of the Gods

Downfall of the Gods

Illustration By Vincent Chong

Dust jacket illustration by Vincent Chong.

If you visit the Temple and ask nicely for forgiveness, you might get it—assuming you aren’t Lord Archias and you haven’t killed the Goddess’s favorite musician, Lysippus. But even goddesses are expected to follow certain rules, and as much as she wants to punish Lord Archias it seems her troublesome, all-powerful father forbids it. So the Goddess will just have to get around that by forgiving Lord Archias if he can manage some simple—or, rather, seemingly impossible—tasks. A Goddess has to do what a goddess has to do.

And in World Fantasy Award winner K.J. Parker’s sharply inventive new novella Downfall of the Gods that means everything from soothing supernatural egos to accompanying the argumentative Lord Archias on an epic quest to save his soul…and get her own way. As the Goddess and her mortal charge make their way across the world to the Land of the Dead, a host of divine surprises await them. Could what they find at the end be the downfall of the gods themselves? Only time will tell. This is a story Parker fans won’t want to miss.

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

From Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):

"Parker (The Last Witness) slyly and creatively uses a well-rounded knowledge of religious and mythological texts to flesh out characters and scenes. Though it clocks in at just more than 100 pages, this novella packs the punch of a full-length work."

From Library Journal (Starred Review):

"Parker…channels his alter ego Tom Holt to bring a full measure of snark to this novella. The Goddess's interactions with her family are laugh-out-loud funny as is the increasingly hapless Lord Archias, who soon prays the Goddess will just leave him alone."


Downfall of the Gods (excerpt)

“It’s no good,” I said. “She won’t hear you.”

He didn’t look round. “Be quiet,” he said.

I rather like the acoustics in the Temple. You can hear the slightest sound, clear as a bell, but no annoying echo. I watched him take a moment to compose his mind and return it to sublime thoughts after my boorish interruption. He bowed his head, and his lips started to move. He was mumbling his way through the Greater Confession.

“You have to mean it,” I said.

This time he turned round and scowled at me. “What would you know about anything?” he snapped. “Stupid bloody woman.”

I pointed out that the Goddess was a woman too. “Get out,” he said.

I put his foul temper and terrible manners down to a guilty conscience. There’s something about the Temple. Kings, princes, great lords temporal and spiritual seem to feel it more than most—a sort of horribly insistent sense of perspective; the bigger you are, the more it gets to you. I’ve seen them shed actual tears of remorse, clench their hands in prayer till the fingers go red and the knuckles go white. Curious; it’s an imposing building but the actual statue is pretty insipid work, with a definite smirk on her face. Also, the head’s slightly too big for the body.

“I forgive you for snapping at me,” I said.

“Piss off.”

I shrugged. “You wanted me to come here.”

He scowled at me. “Wait outside.”

“Are you going to be much longer? I’m hungry.”


I bobbed a curtsey to the statue and retreated up the nave, leaving him with his head bowed, muttering the formulae. He was sincerely unhappy about something, and honestly believed the Goddess was going to make it all right. Touching, in a way. Men genuinely at prayer look just like little boys.

I waited for him in the chancel, occupying my mind by looking at the mosaics on the ceiling. Silly, really; I’d been in the Temple more times than I could remember, and never properly seen them before. Very fine work, I had to admit, though what they had to do with religion escaped me entirely. A middle-aged woman in an expensive dress walked past me, stopped; she noticed the little gold charms dangling from my necklace, the pendant earring in one ear only; conventional badges of the profession, intended to be seen. She gave me that look. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said.

“I am,” I replied pleasantly. “Dreadfully.”

I don’t think she believed me. She swept past, knelt down on a nice soft hassock and started mumbling her imaginary sins. I forgave her.

When you’ve admired the mosaics and the frescoes and the richly-bejewelled rood screen, there’s not an awful lot to do in the Temple. I suppose I should’ve brought a book, only clients don’t like it. What do you want a book for, they ask, were you expecting to be bored? I listened to a few prayers, but there was nothing to get excited about. I’m sorry to say, I get bored easily.

Eventually he finished his confession. He got up slowly, joints cramped from all that kneeling, made his obeisances and hobbled up the nave. “You’ve been wasting your time,” I told him. “And mine, which you’ve paid for, but that’s your business. She won’t hear you.”

I’d made him genuinely angry. “You don’t know anything,” he said. “You’re just stupid.”

Oh dear. “Tell you what,” I said, and I took my purse from my sleeve and opened it. “Here’s your five gulden back, and here’s five more for luck. So nice to have met you. Goodbye.”

I held the coins out; he made no effort to take them. “What’s got into you today?” he said.

“Me? Nothing. I was just being helpful. I don’t like to see someone wasting his breath.”

People were staring at us. I’m used to being stared at, naturally, but it made him uncomfortable. “Stop being stupid and put it away,” he said. “Come on. We’ll be late for the Archdeacon.”

“I don’t want any lunch,” I said. “And I don’t want to meet the Archdeacon, he’s a nasty old man and his breath smells. Do you want your money or not?”

He grabbed me by the arm and marched me toward the East door. “What’s the matter with you?” he said. “Have you gone mad or something?”

I dug my heels in and stopped. He yanked on my arm. He thought he was stronger than me, and could drag me along by main force. I stayed where I was. He stared at me. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he said.

“I’m going to stay here,” I told him. “You go on without me.”

“You’ll do as you’re told.”

I shook my head, just a little. I really didn’t want a quarrel. He tried to drag me again; this time he really put his back into it. All his life, he’d been used to being strong, proud of his muscles; the wealth and the power he’d been born with, but his strength was genuinely his own, and nobody had given it to him. I stayed where I was. He let go and took a step back.

Bother, I thought; cat’s out of the bag. “I’m sorry,” I said.

He opened his mouth to speak, but I didn’t want to hear it. For as long as it was safe to do so—the downstroke of one heartbeat—I let him see me. Then I shut it off like a tap.

He looked so comical. They always do. Quite often at that point they fall at my feet and grovel, which I don’t care for at all. To his credit, he did nothing of the kind; just stared at me. I guess he’d suddenly realised just how much trouble he was in, and that nothing he could do was going to fix it, and the only person who could save him had just refused to do so. No grovelling; just acceptance and despair. I’ll say this for him, he had a sort of dignity. Very much a mortal quality, and one I admire and envy.

“She won’t hear you,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

I took a moment to look at it from his point of view.

He’s done a really awful thing, a murder, which he sincerely regrets. The consequences of his act don’t bear thinking about. He goes to the Temple—fitting it in on his way to a lunch engagement, yes, and taking his prostitute du jour with him, but he does go, he makes the effort; and when he’s on his knees, as truly abased and humble as he’s capable of being, his prayer for forgiveness is unquestionably sincere. He prays. He uses the proper form of words. He means it (I did him an injustice earlier). He is truly sorry. That, surely, ought to be enough. It ought to do the trick.

Then the Goddess, the Lady of the Moon herself, the Queen of Laughter, grants him an epiphany. Saints pray all their lives for one and rarely if ever are they favoured, but he gets a whole half second, the maximum safe dose. The Goddess stands before him in her true form and says, I’m sorry. She says; it’s within my power to save you, because to the gods all things are possible, but I choose not to.

He could quite reasonably say several things at this point. It’s not fair. You can’t do that. It’s against the rules. I’ve repented, I meant it, you’ve got to forgive me, I’m entitled. He could quote scripture at me. He could remind me of the provisions of the Great Covenant. He could threaten me with lawyers. Or he could plead, beg, grovel.

He does none of the above.

Instead, he stares at me, as I stand there with my back to my own statue; he realises what’s just happened, he understands. I should have forgiven him, but I’ve chosen not to. It’s against the rules. It’s unfair. Tough. I can do it, because I’m bigger than he is, and so much stronger. He understands strength, having always had it. He knows that when you’re the strongest you can do whatever you like, and screw the rules.

He has his own rules, you see. And he abides by them.

Vincent Chong
K. J. Parker
112 pages
United States
Subterranean Press
Out of Print