The Mirror of Night
In the beginning, there was the Creator, who walked alone beneath the stars across the empty face of the world.
He looked around himself and saw that the world was barren and came to realize that he was alone, and he was overcome with loneliness.
So he plunged his hands beneath the earth and took up great heaping handfuls of soil, scattering them far and wide and infusing them with his will. The soil fell where it would and began to grow, sprouting up with the life the Creator had enkindled within it, growing into trees of all shapes and sizes. As they grew, the trees sang their long, slow songs to the creator, their branches and roots echoing with the joy of life, and he decided that it was good, for he was less alone.
And seeing that the trees were good, the Creator decided that they required companions, and so he took the leaves of the trees and wove them into figures great and small, and one by one he breathed life into them: the deer bounded off beneath the branches of the trees, the bear loped after it, and the sparrow alighted in the branches above. They added their voices to the song of the world, and the Creator decided that it was good, for he was less alone.
And seeing that the animals and the trees were good, the Creator decided that they ought to have someone to watch over them, to hear their songs when he could not. He took from the forests of the world their fallen branches and the stones that nestled in their roots, and at the center of the world he built a great fire, burning brightly and lighting the world as it had never been lit before. From the sky he plucked stars, gathering them in until his palm was well-nigh full, and then he cast them into the fire, breathing upon the embers to stir it into a greater life.
From the stars he had brought to the earth there rose a great many forms, slim and graceful, fragile but eternal, shining brightly as diamonds: these were elvenkind, the First Children.But something happened then that the Creator had not intended, for he had breathed life into all the fire, and not just the stars he had intended to forge into new life there.
From the stones the Creator had placed round the fire, warmed by its heat and by the spark of life that had been breathed upon them, there rose many figures, built squat and powerful with the native strength of the earth in their limbs: these were dwarvenkind, the Second Children.
From the sticks that the Creator had used to kindle his fire, small and thin and closely bundled together, there rose small clusters of figures, small and lithe but burning with the light of life: these were the little folk, the Third Children.
From the embers of the fire itself there rose a multitude of figures, strong and quick and clever, brightest burning with the light of life but too soon burnt out: these were mankind, the Last Children.
And as they stood, naked and shivering as newborns in the shadow of the Creator, he laughed to see the multitudes he had created. Then he stretched out his hand and set the elves amongst cities that floated through the sky, so that they should be close to the stars from whence they had come; and for the dwarves he raised up the mountains to live in, so that they should be held in the heart of the earth from whence they had come; and when he raised up his hand to the little folk they scattered, fleeing to roam the earth in small groups, and so he gave them the open sky, that they should live freely; and to the men he gave forests and field, for they were the Last Children and there was little else to give them. Finally, he lifted the fire into the sky, that they should have light and warmth, and he set it spinning slowly about the earth, that they should have respite. And the Creator heard the swell of their voices added to the song of the world, and he decided that it was good, for he was less alone.
So the Children of the earth grew and prospered, in the sky and beneath it, in the earth and above it. They loved each other and wed, and their cities swelled; they argued and forged implements of war, and their cities thinned. Some heard the voice of the Creator on the winds as he wandered the world, speaking more things into being and out of being as he pleased, and attempted to speak the words as he had, and though it was difficult for them to speak his power (as they were only a bit of the Breath and not the Voice itself), still they managed feats that brought amazement and joy to their own eyes.
They were brought together by the power they had mastered, by the shared delight of laughter by the evening fireside, by sky-wine and river-ale, by the blueness of the sky and the scent of good tilled earth and the children they had together.
And so it was that the Creator walked beneath the sun and the stars across the face of the world, and he saw the light and laughter and love that he had created, and he realized that in spite of the Children he had made he was forever apart from them, without equal, alone. And his heart grew heavy and bitter with his loneliness and began to rot within him.
As his heart rotted, he grew weary and hateful of the things he had made, until at last he decided that it would be better if all were unmade, and though he could have spoken whatever raised his ire from existence, he took a grim delight in destroying his handiwork instead.The Creator then stretched out his hand and swept the sky-cities from the air, to the horror of the First Children who lived amidst them; only a few survived as the great sky-cities with their crystal spires crashed to the earth, their inhabitants crying out the Creator’s name in terror and confusion in their last moments.
The Creator stretched out his hand once again and leveled the mountains, reducing them to rubble and so many of the Second Children within them to dust in the twinkling of an eye.
And then the Creator set out to destroy the rest of the Children, for with the gifts they had been given they were scattered across the face of the world, and were not so easy to eradicate.
And so those of the Children who survived met in desperate council in a hidden place, to discuss how they might contend with the wrath of the Creator. Some said they should do nothing, for surely the Creator, in his wisdom, would not destroy them if they were not deserving of destruction. Others protested that they were no more or less deserving than the multitudes that had died already, cursing the Creator and denouncing his insanity. The floor of the council, which was already aflame with chaos, would have devolved into violence but for a voice which spoke clear above the cacophony. “My friends,” it said, in a voice like finest silk, and all turned to see Renard, one of the Last Children, standing atop the highest stair in the council chamber. “My friends,” he continued, “I know not your minds, but for mine – the world is wide and the women are warm and I have no wish to die. It seems that the Creator has descended to madness, and against him no sane hand can be raised. I therefore propose that we fight his madness with madness of our own.”
Voices rose up, dismissing him, but one voice, slow and thoughtful, rose above the others. “It is madness to fight fire with fire,” it said, “and yet I think it might be done. We know a bit of the Creator’s tongue, and while we could not unmake him, enough of us survive that we might – perhaps – bind him for a time.” This was Jannes of the Last Children: ebon-skinned, among the greatest workers of the Art, and, unlike Renard, a man entirely sound and stable of heart and mind.
Up rose Telchar of the Second Children, barrel-chested worker of metals under the mountains. “If it be madness you seek,” he said in a voice like the hollows of the earth, “then madness I give you. Well is it known that no blade may pierce the skin of the Creator, for madmen have tried and been unmade for their foolishness. And yet I say to you, as I yet live: I shall forge a blade that may pierce the hide of he who gave us life.” And he sat again; his piece being said, he said no more.
Then spoke Alatar, finest warrior of the Firstborn, who was tall and fair and golden-haired but a fearsome sight in battle: “An’ you forge such a weapon, master dwarf, mine will be the hand that wields it. I could ask it of no other.”
And his wife Irime, the huntress, laid her hand upon his arm and said in a low voice that reached only his ears (and those of Renard, for not for nothing was he called The Fox): “An’ I will go hence with you, husband, for where you go, I go.” But she said it softly and with a heavy heart, for she knew that to stand against the Creator was a task from which none would return.
And spoke Ronove, the Iron Maiden, of whom there was much speculation whether she was of the Second Children or the Last, for she was squat, graceful and powerful, with thews like sturdy branches: “An’ it be madness to strike at the Creator with a clenched fist, yet this I shall do,” she said grimly, “for my brothers and my sisters lie burned to ash in the wake of his wroth, and I count it nothing less than his deserts.”
And last spoke Shoshanna, of the Third Children, who was for all her small stature a creature of grace and power, around whom her people rallied in their final hour. “If it is in madness we place our hope,” she said, her voice clarion in the great hall, “then madness shall have all our hope. Forge your blade, master dwarf, and in the time remaining to us we shall consecrate it with all the hope that is in us.”
So it was that Telchar of the Second Children set to work creating the weapon that would be wielded against that which had breathed life into the world; he melted down all the weapons, all the armor, and all the anvils of his forge, upon which a thousand swords had been made, save one; and upon that one he began to hammer out the blade he had forged from the best of all that he had owned.
And as Telchar worked for long days at his task, there came to the council a man with a voice like the mountains, from whose lips smoke and fire poured as he spoke. This was Karsus, first of the dragons.
“My people,” he said, fierce-eyed and haughty, “have no love for yours. We are two trees, growing forever apart. Yet this hour will see the end of us all. We have heard that you will stand against the All-father; we will lend our strength to yours, and so weather this storm or fall.”
They showed him to the forge at the foot of the mountains where Telchar was weaving his instrument of ending, and Karsus stooped outside the forge and stretched, growing scaled and winged, with a visage so fearsome that all who saw him felt the cold of the long and empty night in their hearts; and Karsus blew upon the flames of the forge with the bellows that lay within him, and so the blade that would end the All-father was forged in dragonsfire.
As the Creator walked to and fro across the earth, rending the world and its people to ashes in his passing, Jannes and the others of the Wise gathered together in council, pooling the sum total of their knowledge in their desperation, and they began to speak the words of the ritual that would bind the Creator to a mortal form. But the ritual was more costly than they had gambled, the words of power too potent for mortal forms, and as they gathered the energies of all creation to themselves their mortal forms began to burn away, leaving more ashes in their wake. Some, though, were possessed of a strong will, for they counted among their number the greatest speakers of the word the world possessed, and through the strength of their intent they held to life after their mortal shells had been scattered by the winds of the binding ritual, becoming nothing but the essence of their intentions – protection and life for all. They anchored the spell as, one by one, their comrades burned away, until only Jannes remained in the eye of the arcane storm.
While the chambers of the Wise echoed with the sounds of their strivings, the healer Shoshanna came to the forge of Telchar, bearing a tray laden with three bowls, of silver, copper and iron. In the bowl of silver she had gathered the tears of all she could, their sorrow and mourning condensed. In the bowl of copper she had gathered the blood of those determined to fight, their righteous anger and oaths of vengeance given form. And in the bowl of iron she had gathered quicksilver, given to her by Renard, who would not say from where he had attained it but only smiled; and the quicksilver, distilled lunacy itself, was consecrated by the lunacy of all those willing to make war upon their Creator, no matter his sins.
After Telchar struck the final hammer-blows, he plunged the weapon into a trough wherein Shoshanna had emptied the bowl of silver, baptizing it in the grief of the world. As the blade cooled, Shoshanna dipped her fingers in the bowl of copper and traced with delicate fingers runes of vengeance and justice upon the weapon. And at last she poured the bowl of iron along the length of the blade, the thirsty iron drinking in the quicksilver and with it the madness of all their hopes.
Together, Telchar and Shoshanna presented the sword to Alatar in the chambers where council had been held, and he of the Firstborn held it high and named it Durindane, the Unmaker, for its iron blade was black as empty night and shone with the jagged sigils of their intent. And the people cheered and wept, their faces grim and their hearts heavy.
As Alatar proclaimed the weapon’s sobriquet, Jannes appeared in the council chamber and spoke, his voice harsh with grief and fatigue and his body covered with ash. “It is done,” he said. “He who gave us life is bound to the world now, for a time. Let us be swift, for the cost has been great, and the bindings will not hold him.” And it was perceived by some, though they doubted the veracity of their eyes, that the forms of his comrades the Wise danced lucent behind him.
And so they were gathered without delay:
Grim Alatar, paragon of the warrior’s art, clad in gleaming silver mail with a star on his brow and Durindane held naked in his hand;
Heavy-hearted Irime, his consort and a great huntress, cloaked against the soot-choked winds and carrying a bow of ash and arrows tipped with cold-forged iron;
Stone-faced Ronove, who bore only a simple tunic tied with a belt of rope, for her body was her weapon;
Bone-weary Jannes, still covered in the remains of his comrades of the Wise, bearing a heavy cloak and a walking-staff and carrying with him a tome of all the knowledge he possessed;
Clarion-voiced Shoshanna, who appeared having shed her clothes of mourning for bright cloths and scarves, for she would not go to the end with a heavy heart;
And laughing Renard, with his flashing smile and quick knives, was the last to join the company; for, he explained slyly, he would leave no heavy hearts behind him.
They went forth from the hidden places, the Company of Unmaking, to find the Creator standing in a great glade in the forest below, awaiting them. The spells and enchantments of the Wise had not been woven in vain; the All-father was contained, his power imprisoned in mortal form, but he was still the Creator, and he was still mighty beyond reckoning.
When he saw their approach, these six champions of a dying world, he laughed, his voice wild with lunacy and hatred, the sound of it felling trees for leagues around.
“With this madness you intend to end me?” he crowed, his gales of laughter booming to the heavens, his newly-mortal frame stretching as high as a tower. “This jest will profit you nothing! Can a bear be felled by a pebble? Can an oak be undone by an acorn?”
For all their thirst for vengeance and will to survive, the Company stood cowed by his words and the majesty of his presence, when spoke Irime softly: “The mightiest oak may be felled by the swelling of an acorn’s new life beneath its roots. We are hope…and we are here.”
Enraged, the Creator stretched out his hand to strike them dead. But his sorcery was as imprisoned as his body, and Shoshanna drew from within herself and shielded the Company, weaving words of protection into wards of light.
Then Alatar stepped forward, meaning to strike at the Creator’s legs and so fell him for the killing blow, but Ronove laid her hand upon his arm to stop him. She drew in upon herself, focusing the whole of her being, then hefted Alatar bodily in both hands and hurled him skywards, a shining missile to strike at the Creator.
But Renard snatched at the warrior as he flew past, grabbing hold of his heel and being hauled skyward in his wake, for he could not countenance a story without himself at the center.
Weighed down by the man clinging to him, Alatar fell short of Ronove’s mark, and he and his black-bladed sword smote the Creator in the belly rather than the heart. The All-father roared with surprise and pain, bringing to bear a spell to burn the offending creation to nothingness, but Jannes spoke powerful words of his own, diluting the Creator’s imprisoned sorcery to naught.
And yet Renard and Alatar might have hung there forever, for their scrabbling feet could find no purchase upon the Creator’s belly, and the Sword of Unmaking began to slip from the wound it had caused. Irime saw this and, nocking an arrow to her bow, sank the shaft into the Creator’s belly, just above Alatar’s head. While the iron-tipped shaft of oak might have passed cleanly through a mortal man, it did no lasting harm to the Creator, jutting instead from his tough hide. Alatar saw and grabbed hold of the shaft, supporting himself, and as his wife loosed shaft after shaft, he began to climb. Laughing with a wild abandon, Renard drew his knives and began scaling the All-father’s belly himself, nimbly surpassing the Firstborn warrior’s ascent. Below, screaming her fury, Ronove assaulted the Creator’s feet and heels without effect, slamming her fists and feet into the unyielding flesh of the Maker’s mortal prison.
Furious, the Creator slapped at the most persistent of the offending figures scaling him, titanic hands slamming against his own flesh, battering himself in an attempt to crush Renard’s body against his own. The Fox danced laughing across the Creator’s chest, dangling from his knives and shouting ill-advised taunts at the titan attempting to obliterate him, while grim Alatar scaled the ladder of his wife’s arrows on a path for the All-father’s rotten heart.
But Irime’s quiver ran empty, and she stood looking on helplessly with her comrades as Alatar perched on one of the Creator’s ribs, lost in the deep consideration for which he was famed, as Renard swung cackling out onto one of the Creator’s shoulders.
Then, gathering himself, Alatar leapt, plunging Durindane deep into the All-father’s chest, where beat his rotten heart. The enchanted blade cut well and deeply into the Maker’s flesh – but not deeply enough. The point of the great sword could not reach the titanic heart of darkness that beat below the surface.
Overcome with the shock of unaccustomed agony, the Creator smashed an open palm against the pain in his chest, shattering Alatar’s mortal frame…and driving the point of the Unmaker into his heart.
As Alatar’s ruined body fell away from him, the Creator toppled slowly backwards, and as he struck the earth the spells that Jannes and the Wise had laid upon him finally came unraveled, and the loneliness etched in his face was, at the last, replaced by gratitude.
Unbound and slain, the essence of the Creator shattered, but even in death it acted according to its old forms. His salt blood became the seas, and his brains set in the sky as clouds. His two eyes were set in the sky and became the moons, watching over the world as he always had. His teeth, imbued with his final breath, came tumbling to the earth with life unfurling inside them, and so it was that giants entered the world. And his rotten heart, still pierced by Durindane and heavy with its own darkness, sank to the core of the world.
And as his essence dissipated, the spark of him rolled across the six in the glade and leapt through Durindane to the hand that had forged it, and the Seven breathed in the spark of the Creator and were changed. Alatar’s crumpled body was knit where Irime knelt weeping over it and he rose, fresh life juddering into him as he and the others of the Seven became something Other, their bodies twisting and growing, burning with an inner fire. In the fastness of his empty forge, Telchor howled and clutched as his head and heart as he became more than one of the Second Children, crying out in sympathy with the others as they sloughed off their own mortality.
And so the Creator lies dead, a new world beginning to sprout anew beneath the ashes of the world he called to life then laid to waste. The Seven watch over the world through the ages, leading us by example from the distant past, urging us onward to live as they did.
But mark you: the rotten heart of the Creator, though pierced with a killing blow, beats slowly still at the heart of the earth. As the All-father did, it creates in its own image.And it waits.
—The Book of Amon Canticles 1-34, 41, 57