One morning, long ago, he awoke to the certain, unassailable realization that he was immortal. This, after countless millennia: eras of bliss and light, epochs of cruelty, savagery, long years of simple existence marked by the petty joys and tragedies common to every sentient being.
The truth struck him much as his very own thunderbolts had struck down the legions of his vanquished foes: he could never die nor cease to be. Never.
From that moment on, his existence became a tortuous burden, a hell more profound than any of the unnumbered gruesome and brutal deaths to which he had borne witness. Each experience was laced with horror. Horror at the truth: In the face of eternity, nothing registers.
Fast! Feast! It simply did not matter. In the epiphany of revelation, he became mad. And he understood immediately that madness was to be his one and only companion. For all eternity.
There came yet another morning when he awoke to find himself seated on a stone chair looking out from an aerie. He sat above a green vale shrouded in the mist of a roaring falls. Sunlight glinted off the damp, cool stones in the riverbed. Refracted light, the full spectrum of colors, danced like phantoms among the water droplets.
In the days before his revelation, such a scene would have becalmed his heart. Even in the many lifetimes of hardship and despair. But now, such sentiments were forever erased. Even their memory was indistinct and fading.
His son, the golden boy with the lyre, stood on the edge of the stone platform, waiting. How long? A minute? A century? Irrelevant.
"What is it, boy?" he asked. His voice was stern out of unconscious habit.
"Thy brethren await, father." The boy's voice was weary. Could it be that the boy, too, had been damned by eternity? Who could know? Though a thousand-million years might pass, who could know? There had been ten million boys before.
He stirred in response to the boy's statement, lifted his chin from his hand. Very well, then. For the billionth time...
On a whim (oh, rare gift!), he paused for a moment. "Look there," he said to the boy. He pointed down into the vale. "Do you see that birch tree that grows on the far side of the ravine? That birch is the descendant of a seed that was carried down the river, the sole refugee of a fire that consumed a great forest a thousand years ago. The forest had arisen from the deposited silt carried on a flood ten thousand years before. The flood was caused by the retreat of a great ice that had held the world in its grip for a million years.
"Do you know that every moment, every single instant, from the time when the first ice crystals began their southward encroachment to this very morning, when I behold my golden son, fingers poised on the strings of his lyre, I have endured my Great Burden?"
The boy cast his gaze downward, shifted his feet.
"Don't you understand?" he said. "No dish is so savory, nor pleasure so ecstatic, nor horror so appalling that it can avoid the entropy of the mundane. Not though a million years pass!"
The boy frowned, sullenly.
Useless, of course. But law is law. "Very well," he sighed. "Are they assembled, then?"
The boy nodded, brightening.
Slowly, he stood. Far away galaxies altered their rotations to account for the displacement.
He stepped down onto the platform and followed the boy to a long stone stair that descended to a terrace, partially obscured in the mist.
As they went down, the sounds of the river seemed to amplify and resonate. More so with each step. He could see the others, his brethren, huddled on the stone terrace below. They were chanting: their voices joined to the song of the river. They peered up at him, expectantly. Come! Bestow thy wisdom upon us! they seemed to enjoin. Just as the billion gods before them had done. Just as the billion gods after them would do.
As he stepped onto the terrace, they dropped to their knees before him. Their reverent supplication was the one absurdity that could still evoke a trace of indignation in his being. But that, too, would fade, was fading.
Their voices rose again, echoing the eons past and those yet to come.
"Hail, Zeus, King of the Gods!"
Ah rats! I was sure that was going to be a joke, I was all geared up for a punchline.
But in seriousness, apparently Zeus never became a Buddhist.
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