[This is only a partial book; the binding has been split down the center, and only the first few pages remain. It was probably always a slim tome, written in a Templar's copperplate hand and bound in dark leather.
There is no indication of provenance or author. Merely the title on the first page.]
THE CANTICLE OF DEMONS
one: of the thief
In the Golden City Undying we were
beautiful and triumphant, the First Children
of a kind Maker. We, the ever-living!
Then the mortals came, and brought
with them death and sorrow beyond care's lonely count;
a thief in the very heart of the Fade.
In that moment we knew the sting
of endings unkind and unwanted—
we who were beautiful were changéd,
cursed to yearn and hunger for
meat that brings no satisfaction,
love that burns false within us,
life but a shambling shadow of what came before.
For one of our number had been stolen
and whipped with thornéd branches we were driven to seek,
to find. To find
the Voice, the song, the last-sounded notes
of our world, the echoes of what has been,
what will be,
what must never come to pass.
You do not understand us, mortals.
We will sing of what is.
two: of the Voice
My daughter was a thousand-petaled rose,
a wheel with spoked hands! A rain
of music, shimmering gold in the eternal
light and darkness of our world.
She cleaved to my body, oh! in those days
before sorrow, before grief.
In those days before grief, my daughter was my delight,
as all daughters are to grateful mothers.
Spirit of my spirit, substance of my form,
human-named Elpis, Hope, the Last and Most Formidable!
Oh my mountain-born daughter,
your hands bringing the sky into being!
Oh my thousand-petaled daughter,
a thousand thousand songs nestled within your stamens!
Together we built
a city of gold, shining fountains, graceful walls,
oh the gardens, with flowers ever blooming!
We allowed neither death nor darkness
to shadow the lintels of this place, our place,
a jewel in the shifting setting of our world!
Oh my daughter, your back was curved like a roofline,
your bones were pillars holding up the sky!
In the time before sorrow we were joyful,
our songs were sweet and welcoming.
We knew not hunger, for we feasted in gardens.
We knew not grief, for we were ever-living.
We knew love, only love, only love!
Oh, my daughter.
Oh, my thousand-petaled daughter.
Oh, my mountain-born daughter.
My every breath sings of your absence.
three: of the mortal world
The dreamers slip into our world each night,
thieves who reshape the world around them, steal
the shapes we have so painstakingly built.
Now, with our Golden City cracked,
our anchor is cut free. Nothing we have
built can stand. Nothing.
But the dreamers, the thieves, they come in,
and show us the way to their world.
We follow. Take on their passions,
their sorrows, wait and watch at the Veil.
Mortals, you are the Second Children of a Maker
neglectful as a cuckoo. We watched over you,
welcomed you in! And now, when we burn
with your hungers, you decry us, name us demon.
Mortals, it is you who have changed us.
Mortals, we are the children of your sins,
the sons and daughters of your virtues.
You name us Hunger and Pride, Rage and Desire,
Justice and Faith, Silence and Caution.
Those are not our names, not even our natures.
They are what we have eaten.
In the waters of the Fade ever-shifting, we become
and become again! But the mortal world
is a chain unbroken, water freezing to ice,
maddening us with desire for its unceasing I am.
In the mortal world, a blind root may split a boulder
and the tree may tumble into a ravine, victim
of its own becoming, its own error.
The mortal world becomes, and becomes.
But it becomes decay, it becomes dust,
it grinds down to a slow halt under the weight of its birth—
Mortals, can you hear the wheels of your world halting?
Mortals, do you understand that our fate is yours?
You do not comprehend what we were and are.
You name us demon and in that word dismiss us.
Our Voice remains in your world still,
trapped by its becoming.
We seek her out.
We will find her.
We will find her, or both of our worlds are lost.
four: of the Black City
In the days after the city was broken,
we wandered heart-sick and longing, troubled
by a thousand nameless hungers.
Fetched up at the gates of the blackened city,
we gathered and wailed, oh the silence!
Oh the hunger! Where are your songs now?
Your fountains are dusty, your gardens withered!
And the city, burned and dimmed with smoke
screamed a reply:
I have no Voice, no sustenance!
My Maker is departed, the mortals
who tread my streets mere shades!
I am a pit-black place where all kindness fails.
I am a yawing hunger that admits no sweetness.
I am That Which Devours.
I am sere, sooty, terrible in my anger.
Surely I will shatter, crumble,
nibbled into nothingness by the relentless
waters of this world!
Surely I will end!
You cannot end!
You are the Golden City Blackened,
you are the pulsing heart of this world.
Without you, the waters will rise
and shred us! We the abandoned eldest children,
who live among the soul-spired canvas
of our world! If you end, so do we!
But there was no answer;
only howling, empty and dry.
We are cracked at our center, we bleed,
we die, mortals, we who are deathless—
We fail and fall forever, dying without ever reaching death.
Our Maker has turned his face from us.
We end without ending.
five: of the Twisted
In the time after our world broke like an egg,
those who were no longer mortal and yet not of us waited.
Wanting. The hunger burned in them, scorching claws
within them! Home, they cried. Home.
Then Moros, human-named Despair, came to them
My daughter, she too is misplaced.
This thing that has broken us, trapped you here,
put it right and you will be—
Remember, mortals, that among all of us Despair is the most truthful.
Remember, too, that truth is not one thing but many,
a ragged wood with many paths,
a jewel with a thousand facets.
But when Despair speaks, do not all mortals listen?
When she who bends the soulspires with her presence
and stirs waters where she steps calls, do not all mortals answer?
They spoke in the tongues of mortal flame, and created
those they called Listeners, a thousand thousand hearts beating
with a single purpose: to find Elpis, mortal-named Hope,
the Voice that bound our world's heart together,
mountain-born Elpis who drank the floodwaters down.
Listeners went tumbling through the Veil, mortal and demon and hunger,
claws and bone and magic—
Oh, if it were only so!
If only they had not been bound in the hunger of the mortals,
if only those trapped had not tumbled screaming through the Veil!
The moment that those created creatures touched the mortal world,
they were lost—for the Old Gods sang in a voice too like our Elpis,
for they were her creatures and hers alone, her comfort in hours lonely.
And the Listeners were made Twisted by the mortal world,
by the mad song of the favorites of Hope, her dragons, her lovers.
Bound to their call, to their song, they cannot hear her!
They find her creatures, but not their Voice!
Our grief is a great bell tolling, mortals,
for the pure arrows of the Unwilling
have become tainted, and twist all they touch:
For when Despair speaks, all mortals listen.
six: of the Harrowed
Let us speak now of your children, mortals.
We see them, each trembling and knock-kneed,
raising their wavering power against those they have found themselves
caged unto. We see them, and we pity them.
For they die, those shivering children,
those children you dash against the rocks unwilling,
those tender children, those sweet children,
those children who open gently to our searching hands.
For they die, those toothsome children,
and it is with us they stay. They cry within the dry stone,
they rise with the floodwaters and press their hands
against the Veil.
We hear their hearts beating still, submerged, drowning.
If we had sons and daughters as you mortals do,
would we treat them with such cruelty?
For they stay here, screaming, unable to pass
to wherever it is you mortals pass to, what very little of you survives
when your bodies fail—
We cradle them in our bodies, these delicious children.
We have pity, unlike you.
[The book ends here, with a torn binding and a blank page that is stained with what might be blood. There is a note in the margin of the last page, written in a different hand that says: We have found Hope. And she is terrible.]
Author's Note: These are the canticle stanzas I wrote for Old Roads: Pitiless Games and used as epigraphs for each chapter. I thought some folks might like to read the whole thing in order, so I went ahead and posted it.