The Fivefold God appeared the morning after the attack, as Ana was surveying what was left of her home. The fire had feasted on the thatch roof then sputtered out on the stone and clay walls. Her meager possessions were smashed, now just chunks of wood and fragments of pottery, all coated with a layer of ash. The attackers had taken her winter stores and the two goats. The chickens had escaped in the tumult, and all but one had returned shortly after she did, only slightly the worse for wear and eager for their morning handful of grain.

Ana ignored the hungry birds and their increasingly frantic pecks. She felt distant and numb, as if everything she was had also been buried under a layer of ash. She tried to hold fast to that numbness because she knew that when she was able to feel again, it would be only grief and helplessness, and then she might lie down in the ruin of her home and never get up.

When the Fivefold God ambled out of the woods, they were wearing their second face. Its gender was ambiguous, with delicate features and curling shoulder-length hair. This was the face they wore when they graced the fall equinox festival, where residents of the valley who were particularly bold—or desperate—might offer a prayer in person. Ana had never been among them. Life was complicated enough, she had always thought, without bringing Gods into it, and so she limited her prayers to the common-sense politesse practiced by everybody whose homes bordered the woods.

Or she had until the previous night, when she had fled into the Fivefold God’s woods with shouts at her back and a desperate plea for deliverance on her lips. And now the God was here, too little and too late. For what did it matter that her body had been spared when the last three decades of her life lay in ruin.

Not trusting herself to speak, Ana instead gave a low bow. The God looked at Ana like they had heard everything she was thinking. But instead of being angry, or offended, they smiled warmly, as if they and Ana shared a secret.

“It is a terrible thing that they did to you,” the Fivefold God said. Their features rippled like a pool embracing a pebble, and then they wore their third face, the warrior face. It was of a woman in middle age, with blunt features and hair tightly braided against her skull and the scars of many battles etched across her face and neck. “They didn’t come from far, only the next valley over. I can help you avenge what they did to you. We’ll make them wish they never set foot here.”

The God’s words were like a dry wind that blew through Ana, sweeping aside the numbness and ash and trailing fury in its wake. The anger grew and grew within her until all she could feel was an overwhelming hatred. Ana had never been a fighter, but with a God at her back surely she could visit on those terrible people the same harm that they had done to her. She could burn their homes and take back her animals and food. And she could regain as well something that just a few minutes ago had felt even less retrievable—the feeling that the events of her life were within her control.

This, Ana thought with blazing clarity, was why one worshiped a God. The Fivefold God’s smile grew sharper, almost predatory. They held out their hand. Ana started to reach out her own before her lifelong wariness of the divine—and the Fivefold God’s unnerving expression—made her hesitate.

Before last night she would have said that those in the next valley were more like her than not. They had their own community, their own customs, their own God. But their sons and daughters married the sons and daughters of Ana’s valley and each valley sent traders to the other with goods to sell. They had never threatened each other before.

Ana was not naive about what desperation might drive people to do. The autumn’s poor harvest might explain taking her animals and raiding her stores, but to set the house on fire when she was already gone spoke of darker motivations. Of the sort of viciousness and vindictiveness she was being tempted with now.

“These people who attacked me,” she said slowly, thinking it through. “Did their God make them an offer?”

The Fivefold God’s smile disappeared as they put on their fourth face, that of an old man with shrewd eyes. A sign that they wanted to appear wise, perhaps, or a nod to her own insight. “They did,” the God said. “Which is why I offer you the blessing of a God in turn.”

They watched expectantly as Ana weighed the offer she wanted so badly to accept.

“I have no interest in vengeance,” Ana said eventually. If this was not quite true, what was true was that she had no desire to be the pawn of a god. “I thank you for the offer,” she continued, “but I decline it.”

Abruptly the God wore the face of a sulky stripling boy, their first face. They were still taller than Ana, yet their body had the proportions of a child of nine or so. Ana very carefully did not try to reconcile these two observations.

That’s four of them, she thought to herself with giddy fear. Only one left. Nobody alive knew what form the Fivefold God took as their fifth and final face. That face, if revealed to you, was the last thing you ever saw.

“Vengeance will be taken anyway,” the God said petulantly. “You weren’t the only one attacked last night. Or the only one who sought refuge in my woods. Do you think none of them will accept my offer?”

Ana thought of the other houses strung out in a line along the edge of the trees. Few of them held a lone inhabitant like hers. There were children that might have been killed last night, other loved ones lost who would fuel a vengeance far hotter and lengthier than her own. A vengeance that the other valley—and their God—would surely answer in kind. On and on, until there was nothing left to fight over.

“Maybe not,” Ana said firmly. “But it won’t be me.”

The God’s face flickered. Ana caught the barest glimpse of a terrifyingly new face—the prominent bridge of a nose, a hint of cheekbones, and a furious expression. She closed her eyes and waited to be struck down.

“Very well,” the God said. “A foolish choice, but one that is yours to make.”

Ana opened her eyes warily. The Fivefold God was wearing not the fifth face she feared but instead their second face again, its pretty features coolly amused. Ana nearly sagged with relief. Then, because while she might not want the God’s help she also wasn’t an idiot, she bowed even lower than before.

“I give thanks to you for letting me shelter in your woods,” she said. “And for all the times you have allowed me in to gather wood and herbs.”

The Fivefold God smiled fully now. The effect was rather breathtaking, and Ana suddenly understood how effective the God’s second face might be, in the right circumstance. They watched her long enough that Ana wondered if she was expected to dig something out of the wreckage to offer them. But a moment later the God turned and walked away.

Only when the God had disappeared between the trees did Ana fully relax. Her anger was gone, leaving her feeling hollowed out. But while the grief was there as expected, the helplessness she had feared was not. She had not been without options, and she had chosen her way forward.

She gave the woods of the Fivefold God a final, wary look, then began digging in the wreckage for something to feed the chickens.

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Rachel Meresman is a speculative fiction writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She lives with her fiancé in a house full of electronics named after characters from the Chronicles of Prydain (Hen Wen is the wifi router, Taran is the roomba). Her work has been published in Fusion Fragment. You can find her online at

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