"I saw Zeus dead on his throne at Olympus. His eyes had been eaten out, his belly was torn up."
The stranger was like a pile of rags. He spoke with an accent not from this country. In fact, his words were not like anything that the other men had heard before, a stream of strange and foreign syllables, but somehow they could understand the sounds regardless.
A hand shot out. "A coin, please. Any make or size. Gold or lead it does not matter."
One of the men gave him a pouch of coins. They disappeared beneath the shadow of his hood, where they saw the suggestion of movement and heard metal clinking and crushing together.
"I am the light. Was the light," the stranger muttered. "My arrows were purity, purifying, and my words are now a plague."
"They were not a plague, good stranger. It was by your words that the rat-men died. We don't claim to understand it, but when you spoke they died. What plague is that?"
Some of the men were old enough to remember the coming of the rats that were like men, many decades ago. They had come in a small number, sweeping the whole world before them, but their numbers grew rapidly. For every rat that died, it seemed as though five more came up to take his place.
They did not always conquer, and they fought against each other as much as any of true man, but where they held land it was turned barren. They tore up the trees to eat the green and burn the brown, and they ate up the brush, and all the beasts of the field, whether mouse, vulture, cattle, or lion.
"My poetry does not kill them. It... reclaims them. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with me, and... the Word was myself. And it would be a lie to say that this Word was a darker side of myself, of which I was ashamed. There are no sides to us, only the wrath of our fancy and whims. We think, we act, we do, we are, and the whole world suffers. For are we not Olympians? Restraint was a dirty word in those days."
"We are still grateful to you. Sit and eat with us tonight, and then tomorrow you can go your way or remain with us. But if you will do that then you must live as a man. The gods condescend to sup with men from time to time but do not remain therewith. So you will not live as a god, if you live among us."
"No," the stranger agreed. "I am the last of the gods, and in that I have died. There are no gods left in this blighted land. A demon, maybe. But only myself. I cannot blame my Word for having done as it was spoken."
"And what did you speak for them?"
"I was angered that I would be forgotten, for this is what I was told by one that was wise, and would know such things. Not the Oracle, but one like unto her, and she is nameless and without shape. And she said to me that I would be discarded, that this would be the fate of all the house of Olympus. And so I cursed in my anger."
"What curse did you levy out?"
"That the sun would be carried out before all men and beheld without end. That all men would see it, and weep, because of the blindness and the brightness and the scorching heat of endless summer days. All these things I said and more, or else I said only one word, which was 'Destruction. Each son is surely greater than the last, if we measure things by the strength of their wrath. Whatever crimes my father committed, and Cronus and Uranus before him, I have surely exceeded these."
The stranger sighed. He grew silent for a little while save for the clinking and chewing of coins, and the men that were about let him be.
"They are called Uert-Heket. This is the Word that they are. So I must issue a new Word against them, my deadly poetry, words that are arrows to them."
"And what is your name?"
"The name by which I was born, it is dead to me, for I am dead to it. But I am Smintheus now, Rat-Killer, and I shall not rest until I have repented in full and taken back the Word which I have spoken."
"Then it will be well with us. As a god you were fit to be overthrown, and so you cast yourself off the heights in your folly. But as a man you will find your way again."
"Even so," the stranger agreed.
Word count: 801 words
Time: 10 minutes (research), 39 minutes (writing)
Prompt: Rat warlord-rangers and sprites in medieval South Africa. The world is beseiged by rodent-related cataclysms, zombie animals and pollution.
So some of this is off-screen, but it's still all stuff that exists, and this is in South Africa. Didn't know quite how to work the sprites into it, but they're definitely also there. Maybe they're even present here, just invisible to Apollo.
Now that I think of it I like the idea of a brief slice-of-life kind of episode where someone is tending to cattle or something and has to deal with and experience a few of these things. Maybe Apollo is one of the servants now here. Or is passing by.