Prologue

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Everything is true, especially the lies. That's the trick.

Every tale ever told, every whisper, every song, every single string of words ever uttered by mortal mouths or carved in rocks or scrawled on paper. It's the ultimate human trait, this endless urge to speak and name and label. To attach sounds to things and meaning to sounds. To make language.

Sometimes, when a sound refers to nothing, something comes in to take its place. Pulled up from the black void behind the world, shaped into form and given story.

This is the thing we call the Wyrd, and it's the place where gods are born. Well. Gods and monsters, and sometimes the line between the two is thin.

Humans might not believe in the old gods much anymore—they don't venerate our deeds or perform our bloody rituals—but that doesn't mean that we're forgotten. Not with our tales recorded in bestsellers and played out on film and collected in the bits and bytes of libraries that span the globe. That sort of repetition ensures our survival more readily than any sacrifice or prayer, and with less effort on our part, too.

It's good to be retired, even for a god.

Not that we're all living the life of worship-free leisure. More humans and more things mean more gods and more monsters; and for every gnarled, thousand-year-old sky father, twenty bright young memes spring up in his place: the Liberal Media, the Wisdom of Crowds, the Random Number Gods.

The Start-Up CEO.

Some of us don't fully retire, don't pack our things and drool out our dotages in some eternal old folks' home. We go consulting instead. Pick new roles, part-time gigs, a little extra belief to trickle in over the top of our stagnating day jobs. The New World is crawling with us, and not just the United States.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, set not long ago on an isle far, far away. A wild place of danger and mystery; of deadly beasts and rugged men; of old clichés and biting irony.

This island called Australia.

A little over two hundred years ago—and much to the consternation of the locals—white men from Europe arrived and didn't leave. They turned the land into a prison, the place to send the chaff they didn't want back home—the poor and the Irish, the whores and the thieves—crammed onto stinking boats and abandoned in a hell of endless, burning deserts.

I heard someone once say that a country founded in the gutter has nowhere to go but up. And Australia did, more or less, dragging itself kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. When it went, we came with it.

Because mortals weren't the only ones to make the long voyage across the sea into the present. The old gods have always been here, of course. Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent, drives cross-country in a battered Land Rover. Waa and Bunjil make trouble down in Melbourne. And the kurdaitcha and illapurinja roam the sands, nursing old wounds beneath the blistering sun. A thousand gods from a thousand peoples, all fighting for space in the crowded cities and rural ghost towns of this new century. When they fight, they fight us, the exiled gods of Europe, come to languish in a new prison, one fitted out with shining beaches and reasonable Internet.

In Sydney, a fallen angel makes deals with politicians, promising good front-page press in exchange for souls. In Perth, the wife of a bound titan runs open-cut mines that dig deep beneath red earth, searching for a way to free her imprisoned in-laws. And, somewhere in between, an old trickster hides from death by crafting little altars in aluminum and glass.

That's the country. Pinch and zoom, and end up in a city.

Its name is Pandemonium, but the locals call it Panda. It's inland, temperate, surrounded by mountains and bush, its population three hundred thousand or so. Back in the 1800s, it was founded on dreams of gold. By the 1950s, it'd settled on mining coal instead. Nowadays, it oversees a global web of technology. Cell phones, computers, video games. That sort of thing.

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