The girl stood atop the hill at the temple entrance, between columns larger than the oldest trees and beneath a colossal stone roof heavy enough to shatter the earth below it, were it to fall. Undaunted by the scale of the structure that had stood since long before any in the village below the hill could remember, the girl went inside. She carried nothing, a symbol of her neutrality. The gods who resided within the temple would be furious if they thought she had chosen a side amongst them.
The argument between them was the same today as it had been for the past weeks. One god had perceived a slight made against them by another, and the rest had fallen to differing sides. The gods held no domains, and their arguments and alliances reflected this. They existed as one, many parts of a whole, and as such, the seams of their relationships were prone to fracturing under the stress of maintaining unity. In the years since she first visited the temple, the girl had grown accustomed to this.
As she took her seat at the center of the warm stone floor, the gods greeted her from atop their warm stone thrones. They never asked how she was. If she was in good health, if the town was thriving. But the girl was accustomed to this, too. She wasn’t sure the gods knew that humans could ever be anything other than fine.
The argument, which had lulled in the night hours when the girl went home to sleep, began anew. A cacophony of thoughts filled the girl’s mind as she listened in. The gods did not argue with voices. Thoughts, emotions, beliefs—these things were all still communicated with words, but words that passed without sound from the mind of one into the minds of the rest. The girl could say she had grown accustomed to this, but, truth be told, it was why she had stayed as long as she did. The discord in her mind at the temple was somehow more bearable than the sounds of the town. A terrain to explore, rather than be trapped inside.
The argument went on for hours, as the gods deliberated, argued, recounted, and filled the time with words that echoed silently through the open air. Words would only ever escape the temple’s walls in the mind of the girl. She listened, pausing only in her listening to give soft words of neutrality or pose questions to set the gods spiraling down another course of discussion. Her responses were of the mind, too, for she found the temple distorted her voice to unrecognizability: it was the voice of a pretender among gods, a trespasser who dared tread upon a sanctum that had not been built for them.
When the girl knew the sun had set outside, she stood up, and the gods fell quiet. They knew the time had come to put their disagreements aside, for just one more night. “For your trouble,” they said silently, as they gifted her fruit, vegetables, unwrought grain: the sign of their only understanding of the humans who walked the earth.
That night, as the girl left the temple laden as always with the gifts of the gods, she passed by a woman on the outskirts of town. The girl didn’t recognize her, but she so rarely spent time among the townspeople that this was not a shock. The woman’s stare bore into her with such intense inquisition that the girl, though beginning to forget the ways of those she lived among, stopped.
“Can I help you?”
The woman looked her up and down. “Why do you spend your days in the temple?” she said. “Girls should be playing, learning things. Not spending their time alone.”
“I help the gods,” said the girl. “I help them solve their problems.”
“No one lives in the temple,” said the woman. “Of all the townspeople, I live the closest to it. I would’ve seen them come and go. No one does, save for you. No one lives there. Certainly not any gods.”
“Where else would gods live?” said the girl.
The woman scoffed. “So the gods live in the temple, then. But they have no problems,” she said. “They are gods, are they not?”
The girl didn’t understand why the woman didn’t believe her. “I help them,” she insisted. “They give me goods in return. See?” She rummaged through the produce in her arms, before handing some to the woman. One of three oranges, perfectly ripened, perfectly sized. The woman took it, examined it. She handed it back to the girl.
“Alright,” said the woman, “so you help the gods with their problems. Why? Who chose you? Surely among the townspeople there were better options. The librarian. The blacksmith. Who chose a child to mediate among the gods?”
The girl thought for a moment. She hadn’t received any summons from the gods themselves, nor had she been chosen by the townspeople. She had wandered to the temple one day as a child, and the door was open. She went inside, hoping to find a place to play or people to play with. Instead she found the gods. The gods who most in the town claimed ruled the earth but who she later learned felt no dominion over it. The gods who had always been and would always be. They talked, and she listened, feeling what they felt as they told her they were feeling it, taking in the words that weren’t her own. When she left the temple on that first day, mind filled with a thousand thoughts that weren’t her own, it felt how things were meant to be.
“I suppose,” she said, “I chose myself.”
“Then why do you keep going?” said the woman. “We have food in the town. There’s no need for you to bring any in yourself.”
The girl thought again. “It’s quiet,” she said. She held out the orange again.
“Quiet,” repeated the woman. She turned to look over the town, over the columns of smoke rising from countless chimneys, the lights that filled every window. The soft rumble of chatter that pervaded the atmosphere even into the late hours of the day. The girl could sense, for the first time, the woman noticing it too. “You needed quiet?”
The woman took the orange. She didn’t look at it. The girl saw the woman’s fingernails digging into it, juice dripping down the peel and soaking into the dirt below their feet.
“Perhaps,” said the girl, “you should find a temple, too.” The woman’s gaze still lingered towards the hill. Without thinking anymore on the exchange, the girl headed home. She ate the remaining two oranges and went to sleep, dreaming of nothing.