Prologue: Birdbrains, Godhood & Poor Life Choices

Apra

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Since the beginning of time, space, and everything, in the vast gulf between galaxies, a clutch of hundreds of titanic eggs sat immobile. Each varied slightly from all the rest, giving the impression that many huge birds had come together to each lay just one, in very close proximity to all the others, before then inexplicably abandoning them all.

When the day eventually came for those eggs to hatch, what emerged was not a single, immense bird from each, but instead several million smaller beings, who were only somewhat birdlike in appearance. By the time the last family of creatures had emerged from their egg, there were almost three billion of them in total.

The colours of their plumage varied greatly, though those from the same eggs generally bore a much closer resemblance to one another than to the ones from different eggs. Still, with so many of them around, feather patterns alone were not enough for them to recall who was who, as their faces were all rather blank and featureless.

Luckily, one bright spark hit upon the idea of adorning themselves with small pieces of their broken eggshells. As they could each carve whatever patterns they liked into the eggshells with their talons, wearing them would enhance their uniqueness. And as their faces were the blandest parts of their bodies, it made the most sense to wear them over those, rather than any other area. As such, masks quickly became a popular fashion statement.

For the first few centuries of their existence, the beings mostly just hung around chatting with one another and playing with magic, as that was a thing they could do.

Despite being intensely curious about all the sparkly lights off in the distance, very few of them left to go exploring at that stage, as they were concerned about getting bored and/or lonely without being able to keep in touch with each other. This was a problem because early attempts at magical communication (which mostly involved big, glowing icons) had resulted in the discovery that even light had a top speed, and that that speed wasn’t going to be nearly fast enough if they planned to explore the entire universe.

But eventually the ongoing research into magicomms paid off, with the discovery of FTLC (faster than light communications). Less than a month after that, it had been agreed that they would finally leave the mostly-empty patch of space they called home and go off to explore the rest of reality.

At this point, the beings decided to split up into separate flocks, each of which would head for a different cluster of sparkles (i.e. a different galaxy). The flocks were generally based on familial ties, though the occasional being would opt to be adopted into a flock other than the one relating to the egg from which they had hatched.

For a long, long time, the beings simply flew through empty void. Though they could communicate faster than light, no one had yet figured out how to move their bodies faster than it. It should theoretically be possible, they agreed, but the magic they could use simply wasn’t powerful enough to manage such feats.

After some amount of billions of years, one by one, flocks began reaching their destinations, and those still in transit observed with awe and envy as sensory records of stars, planets, moons, nebulae and other space-related phenomena were broadcast back to them.

It pleased the beings immensely to know that all that they laid their metaphorical eyes upon belonged to them… even if they didn’t actually bother doing anything with the overwhelming majority of their property. Really, aside from designing ever-fancier masks to wear, they didn’t actually have a whole lot of interest in material wealth, being more interested in exploring and sating their curiosity.

Of course, whether they made use of it or not, that didn’t change the fact that not everyone in the galaxy agreed that the beings should be considered the undisputed owners of everything. The flocks all discovered life eventually. Every galaxy had some, to a greater or lesser degree, and in a large number of cases, this was sapient life. Or, in most of the instances where life had progressed beyond algae but had not yet developed intelligence, it was very, very large life. The sort of life which could snatch a two-metre-tall being out of the air and swallow it whole, without even needing to chew.

The beings didn’t get old and die, or require food and water to sustain themselves, or even need to sleep, as the other lifeforms they met generally did… but they also could not reproduce, which seemed to be a universal trait that every other living thing that they had encountered shared, no matter their galaxy of origin. As such, they felt the loss of each fallen sibling much more keenly than the short-lived races could possibly comprehend (in their opinions).

Despite this, other life was just too interesting to ignore, and so despite frequent agreements that they must always remain as cautious as possible, they continued to explore and interact with the natives of the worlds they found. And not only that, but they didn’t even bother to take the approach of safety in numbers.

With FTLC, they only needed one being per planet in order for their whole species to observe the place, and in the end, their curiosity always seemed to win out over common sense. In rare cases, small groups of close comrades would travel together, but for the most part they journeyed alone.

So instead of bringing enough backup to actually be safe wherever they went, the beings simply told everyone that they were invincible, and hoped that none of the other lifeforms ever thought to check the veracity of their dubious claims. If any of the beings had held particularly high opinions of the brain power of other species, they would have been severely disappointed by how frequently this tactic worked flawlessly.

Many races had stories and legends of mighty creators who had built the universe, and so the beings’ basic strategy was simply for one of them to show up and claim to be such a deity. They would use their magic to impress the locals, often by summoning rain to save a failing harvest, or making flashy light shows to intimidate them, and this was generally regarded as proof of their divinity, since few races’ could do more with magic than toss balls of fire or shoot lightning from their hands. Neither of which were feats that the "gods" could actually replicate, though of course they kept that detail to themselves.

Over time, they grew accustomed to the idea of being deities, and ceased thinking of themselves as ordinary living things. They began referring to the other lifeforms as “mortals”, and grew less and less concerned about them. Many of the gods decided to have some fun by playing around with the lives of their hosts, rather than simply helping them out (or scaring them) in order to avoid being attacked during their time on the world in question.

One common form of entertainment was to set up multiple, competing religions on a planet, rather than just one, and then encourage the followers of each to pick fights with the others. It didn’t matter if hundreds or even thousands of mortals died, because those races could always just breed more to replenish their stocks.

Not that the gods were bitter about that or anything. No way. They totally didn’t care that their own species was forced to choose between either living in boredom until the end of time by remaining in space where they would be safe, or slowly being killed off over the eons as they attempted to explore interesting places. That was absolutely fine with them. It was also obviously just a coincidence that so many of the gods had taken to identifying as a particular gender, just like the mortals were. Yup, no jealousy here, definitely none at all...

Apra of Sengik Flock was just one deity amongst the millions spread throughout the galaxy his family had chosen. He was no one exceptional amongst his kin, but on the latest world he had chosen to inhabit, as with all of those (which held sapient life) he’d stayed on before, he was regarded as the one true god, creator of all that had existed, that did exist, and that would ever exist. Thousands upon thousands of mortals knelt in prayer before the walls of his golden palace every day to praise his name and beg for his blessings.

It was a good feeling to be loved. That said, actually living in the palace and keeping up appearances had gotten old after his first couple decades here, and that had been several millennia ago. These days he only bothered to visit for the most important of the festivals they liked to throw in his honour. Instead, he mostly just spent his days wandering the deserts which made up the majority of the planet's land surface. Unlike the rainforests at the poles, which were thickly populated by his worshippers, the deserts were almost uninhabited, aside from the occasional gigantic worm which would burst out from the sand beneath his feet and attempt to gobble him up. Trying to dive out of the way in time was a frightening and exhilarating experience.

Like so many of his kin, Apra had long ago accepted that his curiosity would get him killed someday, and that didn’t bother him nearly as much as he felt it probably should have. He knew how bad it felt to lose a sibling, so he knew he should be more careful, if only to keep his family from having to grieve for him… but he couldn’t help it. Not only was he too curious about each world he visited to keep from exploring, he was even curious about how and when he would die.

All in all, he occasionally reflected, he and his fellow gods were a bit of a joke. True, they had technically subjugated millions upon millions of worlds, spread across hundreds of galaxies, and he as an individual had lived longer than any species he knew of, and indeed longer than most planets he could name… yet even so, an inability to reproduce, coupled with a very questionable sense of self-preservation, did not exactly make for a very promising species.

And then, one day, his life changed drastically when he stumbled across a strange portal in a desert, amidst some long-forgotten ruins. Portals had always excited the gods, ever since a member of Bagayeshali Flock had been the first to discover one, had stepped through, and had found herself instantaneously transported to another planet, several star systems away.

Portals were proof that faster than light travel truly was possible, even if the (self-proclaimed) gods weren’t powerful enough to achieve it by themselves. Of course, some portals proved disappointing, as they simply led to other places on the same world, but many brought travellers to different planets, or, in some rare cases, even to other dimensions entirely distinct from their own reality. Portals were genuinely wondrous things.

Of course, they didn’t all lead to nice places. In fact, from a certain perspective, it could even be said that the extreme rarity of portals was a fortunate thing for the gods, as it wasn’t at all uncommon for the first deity to investigate a newly uncovered one to meet a grisly end.

Not that Apra was bothered by a minor detail like that. Like all his kind, he had always loved observing the magicomm records of portal crossings, and also like all of them, he had never dared to hope in his wildest fantasies that he might ever discover one himself.

With a few simple gestures, he crafted an intangible, invisible spell construct to scan and broadcast the sensory information of its general area, along with a location tag, so that anyone who witnessed the record would be able to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of this portal in the event that he didn’t make it back.

He gave a brief explanation of the situation on his world and how he had come across the nearby rift in spacetime, as was customary for such unveiling records. He struggled slightly as he fought to retain his composure, not wanting to sound too giddy with excitement, lest the other flocks think his family were a bunch of backwater hicks who’d get all worked up over a simple little thing like a new portal discovery.

Attempting to hide one’s elation at major finds was also customary, despite the fact that every god could read the body language of any other like an open book, and so no one was fooled for an instant. They had some rather pointless customs.

And then, with his brief monologue taken care of, Apra turned and strode boldly into the swirling, opaque portal, with as much dignity as he could muster. That much might very well have been “not a lot”, but at least he managed to refrain from giggling and breaking into a dead sprint, so he’d done better than some deities managed.

A Note on Etymology
The Bagayeshali Flock: “Bagayeshali” is derived from the Hindi word भाग्यशाली, which is Romanised as bhaagayshaali (or bhaagayeshaali), and translates to lucky/fortunate.
 
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