A very long time ago, when the world was still a place where one could get lost, entangled in the manifold everything of whose destruction none had yet dreamed–indeed, when there were yet no men to dream of such things–a shadow wandered peacefully across the earth. Some say this shadow was Nature, some say Magic, but I tell you it was the Night, progenitor of both. In the quiet of his passing, flora grew, birds fluttered, insects chirped. There was life and death, of a dreamlike sort, but the only dreamer to perceive it was Night himself. He wondered: What if there were others to share the dream? All the Night had ever known was solitude, but perhaps he wanted more.
His dream changed. In those hazy shadows, he envisioned great trees, twisting and contorting boughs to form houses arranged in whimsical spirals, a dreamlike village for his would-be dreamers. And then they emerged as well, fully formed, with histories and origins and thoughts. When the Night walked among them, they would dream together, living, however briefly, a greater existence in their communal unconscious. When he left, and the haze of his presence faded, they would rest and prepare for his return.
One dream, as the Night approached the village from the east, he was met by a fox emerging from its burrow.
“Greetings, Great Darkness,” it said.
“Greetings, lively one,” the Night replied. “What business have you with me?”
“I awoke as you dreamed me, Great Darkness,” the fox said. “I have seen what you have created, and I wish to help you?” The Night paused and pondered this.
“How would you help me? What is it you would see improved?”
“Great Darkness,” the fox began, “these humans you have created are soft and ephemeral. When you arrive, they breathe and animate and partake of borrowed life, but when you depart, they collapse to mere image. They shift and waver, and I fear a strong wind may wipe them away. If you so permit, I would protect them, give them a place where they might bring to your dream things you have never considered.”
The Night thought on the fox’s proposal. It was a step into the unknown, and even he could not say what might become of it. But it might yet better the dream, and after all, what had the Night to fear of the unknown?
“Very well, lively one,” he acquiesced. “You may help me.”
Excited, the fox scampered ahead, eager to fulfill his promise. When the Night arrived at the village, he found the fox to have been as good as its word. The creature had given of its liveliness, inspired the humans with physicality and space, and, sure enough, their dreams were rich with silty experience. It was good, the Night decided, and he resolved to make the fox a guardian of his creation.
The very next dream, at the edge of the forest where the humans dwelled, a flutter of wings greeted the Night’s arrival. He gazed into the boughs to see a lark, perched at the edge of a nest of twigs and dead grass.
“Greetings, Father Sky,” the lark sang.
“Greetings,” the Night replied, curiosity aroused. Though he had seen the larks of the forest flitting and nesting upon the forest floor in dreams past, he had never seen one venture up into the trees. “Tell me,” he said, “doesn’t your kind nest upon the earth? Why have you abandoned your place?” The lark furled its wings and cocked its head.
“Did you not know, Father Sky? My kind did indeed nest below, but beasts and terrors roam these wilds. My brothers and sisters became their food, but I survived. I used these trees and twigs to change my place.”
“Very well, resourceful one,” the Night admitted, moving to pass onto the village.
“Wait, Father Sky!” the lark exclaimed. “I yet have a worry to bring before you.” The Night stopped to listen, and so the lark continued: “The humans are awake now in this world, and when you depart, they fear the beasts just as my kind does. They cower in the houses you gave them, but they know not how to change their place. Would you permit me to teach them what I have learned of tools and resources, lest their terror spoil their dreams?”
The Night took a moment to think, though he had already warmed to the lark’s proposal.
“I think I may permit this,” he acquiesced. “I do not desire that the humans should be imprisoned by fear. Go, then, resourceful one. Let us see what their autonomy might bring to the dream.” Without another word, the lark fluttered off to the village to share its wisdom, and the Night continued on his way.
As dreams passed, the Night watched the lark’s efforts bear fruit. At first, it was simply as the creature promised: The humans grew beyond their fear. They began to venture outside their shelter, made formidable by crude weapons constructed by the lark’s guidance. But they didn’t stop there. Soon, they began to change their houses, their idyllic village sculpted of the Night’s dream. They chopped down the trees, built dwellings–rougher, of their substance rather than the Night’s–close to the ground, allaying any fear of falling.
The Night found it bittersweet that his gift should be discarded this way, but the humans’ autonomy yet had purpose. They had become something separate from the Night, and their dreams, accordingly, had become something novel, exciting, beyond any horizon the Night had, within himself, perceived. Ultimately, he decided, the lark had earned its place as a guardian of his creation.
Many dreams passed from that point, but finally, in one of them, the Night found himself on the bank of the river to the west of the humans’ village. As he lingered there, he saw one of them–an old man, one of those the Night had created in the very beginning–approach the water’s edge. The man paused there, searching the ripples for a moment until, wordlessly, he stepped in. At first it seemed the current would pull him under, but then he grabbed hold of something beneath the surface and steadied himself. From his vantage on the shore, the Night watched the man drift, slowly but purposefully, into the mist shrouding the other bank. Then he saw it: Beneath the river’s glass, a shadow returned from the mists and, with the same lilting purpose of the man’s departure, approached the Night in utter silence. The shadow surfaced, and a turtle’s shell breached the water.
“Hello, Moonlight,” the turtle intoned, soft, into the air.
“Hello, traveler,” the Night replied, cold concern plain in his otherwise polite salutation. “What is it you have done with my creation?”
“I have given a gift, Moonlight. I have given the humans time.”
“Interloper,” the Night breathed, and ire washed over the land. Chill wind swept through the grass, silencing the owls and cicadas, and dark clouds roiled past the moon above, but beneath the river’s surface, the turtle remained calm and still.
“Do you think yourself beyond cycles, Moonlight?” the turtle asked, curious, without a hint of malice. “I would not have expected it, for I see your brilliance waver between fullness and shadow. You wish the humans to dream as you do, but you would deny them the wheel by which you yourself experience? You would deny them experience itself?” The dark silence around the riverbank persisted, but the cold winds stilled. The moon shone down, casting the turtle in an eerie pallor. At last, the Night whispered:
“What have you done with this one?”
“I have given him an end,” the turtle said. “Does not every journey require one?”
“You have destroyed my creation, then.”
“No, Moonlight,” the turtle replied, calm as ever. “You have created life. Life begets life, and of such fecundity, death is an unavoidable consequence. It is a gift I bring gladly, but by my will or another’s, welcome or no, it will be brought.”
The Night did not respond, and the moon’s pale gaze slowly passed on. He turned and left, and though no more was spoken between them, both understood their accord.
Thus, by three gifts given under the veil of Night, humanity was born.
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