Let me begin by saying that, in my experience, being a god is not the glamorous job people would make it out to be. Being a head of a pantheon is even less so, if only because it's a lot like trying to take care of a group of small children—you tell them what needs to be done, and some of them will listen to you. Some of them won't. Some of them get a nice cookie or other treat for doing what they were told.
And some of them get sent into the corner.
As I gazed into the volcano, disaffected by the searing heat both rising from the mouth and channeled through the earth and rock forming the ground I stood upon, I had to say that calling this a "corner" was possibly one of my greatest understatements. Far below, barely visible in the mass of glowing magma, I could barely see the shape of the brutalized firebird. The sight wasn't necessary, though; I already knew well what it looked like, the image stamped into my brain. The phoenix's wings had been shredded, the feather either torn out of their places, broken in half, or set crooked. Long gashes, deep enough to expose the internal organs and allow them to spill, had been carved into its belly.
It was not enough. Not enough to kill it at any rate.
But it was enough to suit our purposes. With the injuries it had sustained, the phoenix—the animal form of the fire god, Bharat—was weakened. It had taken shelter in the volcano to speed its healing, as we knew it would, and so it would remain.
I couldn't see across the great distance of the mouth of the volcano, but I could feel the presences of the other gods. Jin, the god of metal; Sylph, the goddess of the wood; Jyoti, my little goddess of light; and Rajnish, my brother god of darkness.
And myself. Nereus, the god of water. Beloved of the goddess of destruction.
At the moment, I would have cheerfully given up all that love for a fire god that wasn't completely insane. But I had to work with what I had. Hopefully a few millennia sealed in the volcano would teach the other god that when mortals tell them" no," they really do mean "no." Idly, I kicked a small pebble over the edge and watched it fall, tracking it as well as I could until I could feel the energy of my fellow gods building.
I closed mye eys and cleared my thoughts. The entire world had been saturated with magic, and so it was easy to draw together the strands of water magic and begin pulling them together, like braiding fibers into rope. The others had their own ropes ready, and one by one, we began to fling the energy to one another, winding it around and circling the mouth of the volcano, closing the top to form a sort of lid. Once that was complete, we ground the energy into the cone itself, fortifying it and burying our magic deep in the ground, until we could close it at the other end, far beneath us. A perfect cage for the fire god.
Who was none too happy about what we were doing. Oh, he understood what we were up to as soon as we began—he could feel us up here as well as we could feel him—but as I said, I did a good job tearing him apart. He was stuck in the magma whether he wanted to move or not, at least until he had recovered the use of his arms. Then, of course, he started trying to throw magic out of the wall, or below, to burrow down and get away. We just didn't let him.
Or I should say, Jyoti didn't let him. Little girl or not, no one is going to stay focused if an eagle the size of a small hill flies down and begins ripping at their eyes. It meant that Jyoti couldn't personally direct her magic in the meantime, but she was my little sister. I could manipulate her energy as easily as my own. The same went for Rajnish, and we caught the strands and wove them together, focusing on leaving a hole for her while we continued to create the cage.
And we succeeded, of course. This isn't where the story begins. But this is the set-up; Bharat was sealed into his volcano. His wife had gone to ground, quite literally, and I could only imagine the kind of work ahead of her that would be required to renew the world.
That was the problem. For the love of a mortal who had died centuries ago, Bharat had begun a war between we gods, and the world had paid the price. We had used the people as toy soldiers in our battles and treated them with the same care that a young child uses, breaking them recklessly against one another. We had spilled our magic carelessly into the world and it had overrun the world, saturating the land with so much energy that it radiated back out, and the trees and animals grew in strange ways, some developing sentience; some new limbs and bodies; some becoming such monsters that it would be kinder to put them out of their misery. And the humans still suffered, sharing the same mutations. Most of them died as a long period of illness, their bodies giving out and falling apart; some of them escaped into nature and lost their humanity, becoming as animalistic as the original inhabitants.
We gods had failed as protective deities, and I had failed as a leader. We would retreat into our separate domains and do our best to slowly draw out the energy poisoning the world. My only comfort was that there would be no chance we could fail as miserably as we had then.
In hindsight, I really needed to learn when to shut my mouth.