The dark-haired woman stands up and walks away from Till, past the rows of empty tables and benches, toward the huge windows with their gloomy colors. A lump forms in his throat. He doesn’t know why.
Halfway between the fireplace and the windows, where neither the light coming through the dull stained glass nor that of the burning logs quite reaches, she stops and stands, listening, it seems, to the faint song of the wind.
“What have you been taught of the making of the cosmos, of the All-That-Is?”
Till was afraid that she might ask him questions like this, about things he’s supposed to have learned at Guidance. Fortunately, this is an easy one, and he can give an answer even without Stellia whispering it to him.
“The Shaper made everything, just by thinking about it. His thoughts were so powerful that everything He thought became real.”
The woman turns around. Till could swear he sees the furtive glint in her eyes again in the semi-darkness. Perhaps it is just a reflection of the firelight.
“And out of what did the Shaper fashion the cosmos?”
That too, is an easy question. Till is almost beginning to enjoy this test. “Out of light. And darkness.”
“Where did those come from?”
To that, Till can find no answer that he was ever given, by the Parson or by Stellia. “I don’t know,” he mutters.
“It is a hard question,” the woman admits. “The answer is harder to understand yet. The Shaper can do what no other can do: create out of nothingness and, one day, return to it all that is and ever was. That is His great mystery, which none of His creatures will ever understand, for only He who is himself without beginning and without end can grasp such knowledge, and such power.”
Till tries to imagine making something out of nothing. It’s just impossible. “What does that mean?”
“Long ago,” she tells him, “there was no time. There was no space, no light, no darkness. There was only the Shaper. And in that timeless, spaceless, lightless void, He dreamed. His dream lasted an eternity and a half, for He was imagining all things living and unliving that would ever exist, and everything that would befall them, at all times and in all places. When at last He held in His almighty thought the sights and sounds and fates of all things that would ever be, He opened His eyes, and in that moment, the nothingness ended, and was divided into darkness and light, of which all things are made.”
She spreads her arms, palms turned upward, and Till almost imagines that the light and the darkness in the room flow each to one side of her as she speaks.
“And so the cosmos began, and the future was born that keeps unfurling without cease, bringing with it ever more of the things the Shaper conceived in His mind. The worlds of shapes and matter came into being, and the Unseen Realm that stretches about them. But before even all of these, in that first instant of Creation when the nothingness was sundered into light and darkness, the Shaper made the souls out of these two purest of all forces. These souls alone of all things in the cosmos He endowed with thought, and made them eternal, all-enduring. Never again after that moment have any been created anew, and never will be, nor will any of them ever be destroyed until the end of time itself.”
When the Parson talks about the Shaper during Guidance, he can hardly keep himself from thinking about other things, or from falling asleep. But when he listens to this woman, it is as though nothing else in the world exists but her voice.
“The Shaper made souls out of both light and darkness?”
“Indeed He did,” the woman says. “Though their fate was to be very different. The souls of men, which are numbered among those born of light, were to inhabit the world of shapes, returning to the Unseen Realm only between their mortal lives, which were to be fleeting and of short duration. Their memory would never extend beyond a single lifetime, for the Shaper wished them to be the lifeblood flowing through the veins of the world, ever the same yet also ever new, ever remade. Yet others He fashioned from darkness, and these He fated to travel eternally through the Unseen Realms. They are the Dark Ones, who with their cold, unyielding minds remember all things that have passed since the beginning of time. Rarely do they walk in mortal form. But where they do, they bring ruin, destruction, and suffering.”
“They sound terrible,” Till says. “Why would the Shaper make such beings?”
“Look around you,” the woman says. “Have you not noticed how all things you deem good and pleasant in the world are counterweighed by others that are not? Beauty is marred by flaws, bliss by grief, pleasure by pain, compassion by cruelty, fulfillment by loss. The list is endless, from the greatest forces in the cosmos down to the smallest thing of which it is made. And it must be so.”
“But why?” Till asks. “Why can’t everything just be beautiful and good?”
“Because where there is creation, there must be destruction. You may think one of these desirable and the other not, but that is because you do not understand the workings of the cosmos as does He who made it. Only where all things constantly strain against all others can there be life. One day, when darkness overcomes light or the other way around, the struggle He set in motion will end, and the cosmos will come at last to a standstill and be extinguished, and the Shaper will dream once more, and begin the cycle anew. But until then, all things in it will ever strive one against the other. And so it is also with the souls that are born of light, and those the Shaper created from darkness.”
Till can’t decide what troubles him more; to hear that the Dark Ones are real, after all, or that Stellia could have been wrong about something. What bothers him most, however, is that he still doesn’t know why he is here, why this strange woman, the Guardian, wanted him. Surely it can’t just have been to give him lessons about the Shaper and the All-That-Is?
He decides to be bold.
“Why did Lord Osdath bring me here?”
The woman walks slowly toward him, until she stands only a few paces from the table. She fixes him with those weary eyes of hers, except they don’t seem weary at all now, they are hard and alive and gleam like polished stone.
“Because I have something to give you,” she says.
NEXT: A Gift