In the long days and dreams before all the stars, save one, had blinked their last, a story was told in the lights of the firmament. All the moving worlds, the great and elaborate dance of the celestial bodies, all of these were only pieces – words and phrases – of the timeless tale. The lights in the starry sky painted the story of a man. The world, all the endless corners of earth, all the curves and turns and hidden corners of the vast surface of the globe, all the myriad beasts from the depths of the lowest ocean trench to the peak of the tallest mountain, was his. It was all for him; this is his story.
All was black. A single brilliant star burned luminously in the abyss. If there had been anything else in existence, the star would have appeared to shake violently in comparison, but there was nothing and with no comparatively motionless object the star appeared as it always had: radiant and still. But after the motion, the star was no longer alone. Beneath the bright star-rays hung the world: pale and blue and green. Without mark or blemish the world was as a marble, pristine and smooth as glass. Still seas seamlessly became endlessly ordered forests which faded into boundless plains; smooth and flat was all the surface of the earth, untroubled and unspoiled.
In contrast to the stillness of the earth, the second convulsions of the star were abundantly clear. After the retching, heaving labor of the star had finished, tranquility returned to the sky and on the cool, level surface of the world there sat a child. Light and soft, he sat in contrast to his dim and dark surroundings. An innocent smile dressed his lips and his pure laughter, which was free of the stains of suffering and malice – neither of which had taken form at this early juncture – rang clearly across the landscape, shaking the world with his joy.
Over the earth and under the trees he moved, ever growing in size and strength. Journeying across the land made him lithe and powerful; his physical prowess enabled him to explore his world. Through the forests he climbed, over the plains he ran, and beneath the waves he swam. The kind and curious boy explored the world of his birth, the world that was visible beneath the light of the singular star. It was a world all his own; a world he loved.
The slow pulse of time beats on and on and soon the boy was a child no more. As a man, tall as oak and strong as stone, he ran through the places that had once given him boundless joy.
“The vast expanse of prairie is known to me, the heights of the trees are barely above my head and the depths of the sea hide nothing any longer,” he said. Raising his eyes from the world about him, he gazed up at the one vibrant point in the black sky and spoke, “Have I seen all that there is to see?”
In the sheer black sky the convulsions of the star were tumultuous. And then there were two. Across the gulf of the sky, mirroring the radiance of the first, glowed another star. Starlight fell down in torrents, soaking the world and revealing places and beasts that had been veiled by the darkness.
A renewed vigor ran through the man. Adrenaline coursed through his veins like the flows of a cascading mountain river. With strength and zeal never before seen in the light of the world, he ran forth to find all of the secrets and mysteries that had been exposed for him.
He traveled on wings of the wind, meeting each new challenge head on; taming and manipulating his world that he might master it for himself. Each new discovery gave him confidence in his strength and ability.
Running through the forest, he dodged limbs and branches and snaking, hanging vines. Quickly and nimbly he moved through the trees, his footfalls light and soft, leaving the ground on which he trod untroubled by his presence. The hot, close air of the wood surrounded him. The change in the landscape was drastic. Suddenly the trees vanished as he broke their line and emerged from their ranks.
Rolling before him, the hills sloped the terrain as the earth shone beneath the light of the star. Cold winds swirled around him, tugging him towards, and pushing him from, the sight of the hills. A glittering vein of blue wound smoothly into the distance and he thought that, just maybe, he could see where the river poured into the sea.
Awestruck as he was, he did not notice the cliff soon enough. Momentum was carrying him steadily towards a terrible fall as he realized why he could see so far: he was running atop a high precipice, a sheer face that plunged down towards the river and hills beneath him. Though he forced his legs to stop, the continued motion of his shoulders carried him forward and he fell, end over end, tumbling towards the cliff.
As he felt the ground fall away beneath him, he shot out his arms. His body went taught and he felt his momentum carry through his toes before his chest and face smashed into the rock face. Heart pounding like furious thunder, he looked up to where his fingers held the ledge, at the very point where the earth met the sky.
He pulled himself up and cold sweat ran down his back. His lungs began to recover from the spasms of panic as he stood once again on the level ground. He walked and then ran back towards the forest; he was still shaking as the wry smile formed on his lips.
The joy of discovery and adventure was on him, but also the thrill of conquest. Through agility and cunning he mastered beasts that were greater than he, and by ingenuity and resourcefulness he gained command of land, sea, and air. With sharp knives and steely traps he kept rule of the land, his arrows patrolled the skies, and his spears and nets plumbed the deep.
When experience and accomplishment diminished his satisfaction with the wonders of the world, he turned back to the sky, who had given to him once before. A vicious rattle shook the star as new light was given. Again and again the man explored his world, always seeking out the corners of the earth most recently revealed and, again and again, a sense of accomplishment and complacency dimmed his joy. Over and over he asked, and over and over the star gave. Always more light exposing the secrets of the darkness.
Across the surface of the globe he ran, exploring new places and discovering the beasts that had lurked in the shadows. As the star trembled to change the sky, so too did the man tremble in fear at some of the wonders that he saw: chasms deeper than the ocean and beasts stranger and more terrifying than anything that he might dream.
Once the man asked for the star for light and the gift was greater than ever before. After a tremendous effort from the first star, a new body was born. Huge and luminous, this new white star hung larger than all the others – and it was different. Unlike the other stars, this new star was not bright and shimmering but rather pale and steady. Its size and consistency dominated the heavens. Thus was the moon born.
At first, after the appearance of the moon, the man ran excitedly to discover all the new things that had been brought to light by this development. But this new light was different than those that came before, and this difference was reflected in all that it uncovered. Mountainous beasts of unspeakable power and terror met the man on his voyages and, though he had felt fear before, he had not felt it like this, nor nearly as frequently. It seemed to him that nowhere was now safe from the things that moved in the world.
“The sky has grown bright,” he declared. “I now see many things that I had not seen before – they are many and give me no rest. I will build for myself a shelter, such as the forest canopy; a shelter that blots out the sky, so that I may rest, untroubled by the light and all that it reveals.”
And so the man created his shelter, using the resources of the world about him to fashion tools and supplies, and when it was done he stood inside and said, “Now I may explore the strange places of the world, and come face to face with the monsters that roam it, knowing full well that I have a place of peace, because within these walls there is a darkness as untroubled as the first sky.”
Just as the man had predicted, he went out into the world and tackled all its challenges head on, knowing that whatever dangers he met in his travels, there was a safe place to which he might return.
Over a hill he ran and at its summit he was greeted by a sight he had never before seen. Lean and strong, muscles rippling under the sheen of their brown hair as it glowed under the moonlight, the family of horses ran. He had come to the top of the hill only a step before they did and he stood, eyes wide with fear, as they barreled towards him. No escape was available to him, so he braced himself for the trampling that he thought awaited him, yet it never came. Soon the wideness of his eyes reflected not fear but joy, as he stood amidst the horses as they ran past with him with silken elegance and grace. Remarkable control and poise they had as they moved past him on all sides, as if he were nothing more than a stone and they the flowing waters of a great river.
To move like that… he thought. His eyes tightened with focus and in one quick movement his arms shot out like flame and grasped the mane and neck of one of the beasts. Exerting all his strength, his arms became hard as stone and he feared a terrible fall, but he was just strong enough and soon he sat upon the horse’s back. Initially the animal was discomforted with this arrangement, but soon it calmed – as though it knew that the rider meant it no harm – and accepted its burden.
After a spell, the man saw a great wood in the distance, one that he had not previously explored, and he desired to see it. He screamed and pointed, but the horse continued running as it would. In his frustration, the man used his steely grip to force the horse to look towards the wood and, to his surprise, the horse began to run towards it. Swiftly he reached his goal and, as he looked from the hills to the forest to the horse, the wry smile again adorned his face.
Confidence grew in the man, knowing that he could tame the beasts of this new world and that he would be able to flee to the safety of his shelter if he must. So too grew his pride. To demonstrate his mastery of the world, the man constructed images and monuments of his self-described greatness. In some he stood above a cliff, in others he rode a horse: images and figures that depicted his triumph over the perils of the world. Many times he asked the sky for new light, and so it was given, but the new stars were as the old – small and flickering, and the man considered the challenges that they unearthed to be unworthy of him.
After building another monument to his domination of the world, the man looked up towards the sky. Countless stars flanked the white glow of the moon. The man addressed the heavens.
“Sky above,” he said, “many times have you answered my call for greater light, and once it was nearly too much. But I have prevailed over all that can be seen. I have become great beneath your lights, and so the challenges that you offer me now are not enough. I must have more; I must have a worthy challenge. Give me a light so great that it extinguishes all others.”
Slowly the first star began to shake and before long all the lights of the sky were shuddering together. Suddenly the shivering and shaking mass of the sky came to a halt and faded from sight. The sun hung in the sky, more massive and brilliant than anything that had come before it. The light was so bright and vibrant that the world was revealed to the man as it had never been before, and even in his shelter he could not hide from the light that now flowed over all things.
Fearfully the man looked about his world, but the change was immense and this world seemed entirely foreign to him. Everything was different now, holes and mountains that he had never seen before stood before his eyes; everything that had once been veiled by darkness was now brought forth under the sun. Light dominated all that he could see and it brought him to his knees, cowering and covering his eyes.
“Forgive me!” he whimpered to where the stars had been, “I have asked too much! This light is too great. Please, please take it away!”
The man sat and stared up at the sky and waited. For a moment, nothing could be seen to happen, but then the sun began to move, to slide slowly down towards the horizon. It dimmed as it sank, rolling through a catalogue of yellows, oranges and reds before it smashed into the horizon and sank beneath the world. In a few moments, the sky that the man had never known to be night returned. All was as it had been.
Beneath the stars and moon, the man collapsed from fatigue of fear and rested as he had not done in a long time. But not long after he woke, as he slowly wandered about the countryside, enjoying all the small bits of the world that he had forgotten in his quest for greater things, the stars of the sky began to fade. For, even though the sky had forced the it to submerge under the earth, what had been given could not be contained forever, and the sun rose again, bringing with it a light greater than any other.
Over and again the cycle repeated, the sky straining itself to hold the sun in check, but eventually being broken by the powerful light that the sky itself had wrought for the man. But the man could not hide forever, and when he saw that things would never be as they once had, he began to accept the existence of the sun. He would wander out, slowly and close to the shelter at first, and explore the strange and dangerous things that only the sun could show. As time wore on and days began to pass, the man’s confidence grew as it had once before, and he became enamored with this new and challenging world, and his ability to conquer it.
Beneath the sun he moved as a shadow passed over him. The very sun was blotted out. Turning his eyes skyward, his vision was filled by a strange and wondrous sight: radiant feathers of maroon and sable filled the sky. The eagle consumed his view. The wonder in his eyes slowly tightened into a grimace.
“Who are you to keep me from the sun?” he questioned the mighty bird, “The world is mine and I alone have mastery of the light!” He reached behind his back and pulled forth his bow, fitted an arrow to the string and let it fly at the winged beast. But his bow was too small, and the bird flew high above its reach. Fuming, he ran towards the forest.
With much labor, he leveled an enormous yew and from it fashioned a bow that stood as tall as he did, and arrows that were as strong as the tree’s trunk yet as light as its leaves. With amazing speed he ran to the horses and, from the strongest among them, he pulled forth a single hair from its tail. Carefully he strung the thick string onto the bow. New weapon in hand, he returned to the land where he had seen the eagle, and there again it flew overhead – draping night across the earth as it flew. Positioned carefully atop a high peak, the man took aim at his mark. “You cannot take the sun from me,” he said quietly to himself, “great beast that you are, you will bow to my will. I have the mastery.” And so he let the arrows fly, one after another. With speed and power like lightning they flew and buried themselves deep within the unsuspecting breast of the great bird. Adrenaline and bloodlust filled the man’s heart as he watched the eagle die. A twisted and devious grin spread across his pursed lips.
Though he conquered many things, the man’s actions left him tired and in want of sleep. As he had once hid in his shelter, now he hid under cover of the night. Rest and peace he found in the dark, and also the sense of safety that gave him the courage to wage his wars on the world during the day. Trampling and maiming, the man sought out the things that had once brought him to his knees in fear and, with each discovery and with each battle, his knowledge and skill grew. Monuments he raised to his glory; placing himself above all things that move on the earth and demanding their obedience to his will. He felt shame at having once feared the day, and acted boldly to avenge his pride – pride that had been wounded by his moment of weakness. Little by little, he forced all the world under his sway and, once again, he wanted more.
The man turned his eyes skyward, “You have given me the sun, yes, but all that it has uncovered I have defeated! Give me more!” he bellowed. Thus the days grew longer and nights shorter. For less and less time were the old stars visible. Day after day the man ran about the earth, making his mark everywhere he went and praising the sun for the new challenges that it presented.
“Grow brighter and give me more!” he would cry to the sun, forgoing the formality of asking the sky. And so the sun began to grow in size, and as the nights disappeared, so too did the blue of the daytime sky. All was consumed in the raging fire of the sun as it ballooned in the heavens.
As the sun grew and grew, the man took on the new challenges that were exposed, and defeated them all. There came a time when few things could be brought to light anymore, they had all been seen already. Yet the sun continued to grow, and the man continued to sing his own praises over all over the world.
Finally the world held no more secrets from the man; he had conquered everything. But the man could not raise an ultimate monument to his excellence as he had planned. Burning and growing, the sun loomed over the world, erasing the heavens. Sweat poured off of the man’s face and the very material with which he was building fell to rubble and flames beneath the heat of the sun. The man himself was driven to his knees underneath its light and heat and will.
“I have conquered all that you have revealed to me, and now you reveal yourself!” he screamed at the sun. “I shall conquer you as well.” There was a madness in his eyes, a strange and terrible disconnect from the rest of his world as he bent to lift his spear, only to find that it had burned – fire was taking root in all the woods of the world. Straining and with sweat stinging his eyes, the man tried to stand and take up his stance against the sun – the only thing besides himself that he was aware of – but it beat him down with oppressing heat and dominance and he fell to his hands and knees.
The sun continued to grow. Ever larger and more domineering it was. Across the world, fires sprang up in the forests, and the seas and rivers began to boil. All was tinted red in the bloody light of the sun. Larger and larger it grew, and even as the man’s body was bent and broken beneath the heat, his mind – and his pride – still sought for victory. He still believed that he might conquer this final obstacle, this last challenge that stood before him. But the sun was too great, its flames too many, and the man could not stand against it – nothing could.
As the sun enveloped the world, the man looked up towards it – he would have demanded that the sun bow to him, in order to save itself. But as he looked, he beheld the reflection of the stars, shining bright against – or maybe it was through – the sun. Their glowing lights spelled out word after word, telling of the places that he had been and of the things that he had done, but also of things that he did not recall having seen in life: a sapling becoming a towering elm, a tigress nursing her children, a whale reaching the end of its long life and coming to a final, peaceful rest at the bottom of the sea, the beautiful counterpoint melodies of wind combing the long grasses of the plains and water trickling through mountain streams. All the events of the world, the great and the small, the intricate and the mundane, were spelled out in the lights of the stars. Though all these things and events had been made for him, by the stars that he had asked for, he had never noticed their beauty until then. Until the end. And so, in a flash of brilliant flame and regret, the man perished, and the world with him.
In the black sky, one star blazed and all the others went out.