In a land ruled by Light, there arose a spirit of the earth.
Of shape it was manlike; of spirit it was gentle; of form it was comely. And it looked about itself, at the flora and fauna and the earth and the sky, and cried out with a mighty voice, "It is good!"
And into the depths of the earth this cry shuddered; and creatures of shadow wriggled and writhed, hissing, "Our savior, our salvation! Here at last!" And legion in number they swarmed towards the surface -
- but their time was not yet.
Into the forest the cry echoed, and one mortal ear alone heard it; that of a woodcutter, unaccustomed to the sound of other voices there in the deep wilderness. And the woodcutter ventured forth, and quickly came upon the spirit: and with her eyes marveled: "A beautiful face!" she thought. "A flawless form! A jewel of a creature, such as might fetch a thousand shekels at the market!"
And in her goggling she was caught out, and the spirit turned, and covered itself in its nakedness; but it was not fearful, not of the woodcutter's rough appearance, not of her sharp ax. Indeed, the spirit looked the woodcutter up and down, once, twice, and said simply: "You are good!"
"Aw, shucks," the woodcutter said. "You really think so?"
"There is not the slightest doubt in my mind!" the spirit replied.
"Charming," the woodcutter drawled. "Here, could you turn around for a sec? I want to test something."
One of the spirit's eyebrows raised; but it obligingly turned about.
The woodcutter stepped closer to the spirit, smiled, and delivered a blow with the back of her ax that would have felled an ox.
The spirit, being rather less durable than an ox, naturally fell comatose; and the woodcutter, still smiling, hefted its motionless body and walked away.
Then the clearing where the spirit first appeared began to darken; strange shapes flickered in and out of vision, writhing with an unnatural rhythm. "It was here!" they hissed, frustrated. "We heard its cry, even in the bowels of the earth, our prison, our sole shelter! But it is gone!"
"It is our thought that certain of our number should have been less tardy in their locomotion," a voice hissed scornfully.
Then came the cry from one - "Blood! Blood on the earth!"
And another - "Footsteps! Our savior has been abducted!"
And en masse they faded into the surface of the earth, following the trail - carefully, carefully, avoiding ever the terrible gaze of the Light -
- but their time was not yet.
To the herb-city of Mesnc the woodcutter took her captive, bound and gagged in the cart which normally the woodcutter used to transport her timber; for the wounded innoncence of the earth-spirit, once it had awakened, was too much for the woodcutter's uneasy conscience to bear.
So muffled she transported it through the Scented Gates of Mesnc, and into the High Market. In those days slaves were sold there, and such the earth-spirit became. It was branded and chained and auctioned and sold; two thousand shekels were bid, for its beauty and grace (even wounded by the searing touch of the iron, and of trust betrayed); and of this the woodcutter received two-thirds.
Now rich beyond her dreams, perhaps her part in the tale would have ended there -
- but - she lingered.
The shadows lurking outside Mesnc - its confines too bright for most of them to dare - greeted the return of their bravest companions. "It has been sold to an aristocrat of the highest standing!" one hissed. "A nobleman of Pern; two days from the city by carriage!" another reported. "An ambush in the thickest forest - " another suggested -
- but their time was not yet.
The Light looked down, ever-jealous of the earth it illuminated; and, staring down with beating heat upon the High Market, it spied the earth-spirit. A sortie was organized; a beam of light shone down, just as the Duke of Pern crossed the Tottering Bridge, and soldiers of the Light spilled forth from it.
This caused the Duke some natural alarm; but his own bodyguard seemed reluctant to act, and so he was obliged by circumstance to do little more than frown as an Arbiter of the Light's Intent detailed his intent to make away with the Duke's very expensive new acquisition.
The soldiers of Light clustered around the Duke's carriage, summarily evicted him, and together with them the spirit of the earth was carried into the sky - towards that burning orb that ever sought to see all the places of the world -
- and of its opinion in the matter?
None was asked.
The details of this event were lost on the shadows, but the overall effect was not. "Our savior is lost to us!' they wailed. "Taken by those it was meant to overthrow! We are lost! We are undone!"
The woodcutter, meanwhile, having concealed herself on the underside of the Duke's carriage, found herself in a surprisingly precarious position. Soaring ever higher above the surface of the earth, she looked down, gulped - once - and tightened her grip.
The earth-spirit then saw the stronghold of the Light for the first time. It was thus: a great orb of crystal and mirrored glass, designed to reflect light only where it was directed, and leave only darkness elsewhere. Within this was another such orb; and within that, another; and so forth, seven times over. And in the very heart of that was that which was the harnessed Sun; but its unfiltered light was never seen these days by any but the servants of the Light, and its name went unspoken and unremembered.
The soldiers of the light took the spirit of the earth through the many corridors and passages of that place - hallways lined with glass, so that they might have appeared to not be there at all - and to the throne room, within the seventh shell, nearly in direct sight of the Light's Heart. And the ruler of that place, who named himself Justice, considered the spirit of the earth, and spoke with his Arbiter.
"You have done well, my servant!" the so-called Justice said. "This is the spirit of the earth that was meant to bring darkness down upon the world; to shatter our rule and destroy all that we have created. But now it is within our power - to dispose of as we will!"
"Let us do so, my Lord!" the Arbiter suggested. "It is a danger, even here, chained and guarded; there is no reason to delay. Bring oblivion to it, and put an end to the charade!"
The earth-spirit shivered. The woodcutter, standing nearby in the ill-fitting armor of an inattentive Soldier of Light, hefted her spear.
But Justice shook his head. "Your ambition is too little. If we kill it, another will just arise. Think of the possiblities!"
"Do you suggest imprisoning it, then?" the Arbiter suggested. "I counsel against - if it escapes here, in the heart of all our works - we would have delivered it to our doom!"
"Your ambition underreaches!" Justice boomed, frustrated. "Though - I suppose I might be grateful for that. Think again."
The light dawned on the Arbiter's face. "You don't mean - to turn it?" the Arbiter asked. "To make it our tool - to scourge the darkness from the earth, once and for all?"
"Think of the poetry of it!" Justice cried, delighted. "Begin, at once!"
The Arbiter considered an objection; looked at Justice's face; decided against. Silently, he shoved the spirit of the earth forward, pushing it in the direction of the ritual room. The woodcutter, along with the rest of the Arbiter's guard, shuffled into motion, surrounding the spirit of earth -
- and the battered and dejected earth-spirit, still unknowing of the reason for its captivity and abuse, turned slightly - and saw the woodcutter's face. Its eyes widened. Its mouth opened.
"You!" it said.
The detachment turned to look at the woodcutter.
The woodcutter looked over her shoulder one way. She looked over her shoulder the other way. She shrugged.
"Intruder!" the Arbiter cried, alarmed. "Infiltrator! Saboteur! Surface-dweller!"
The woodcutter tried to throw up her hands. But one of them was occupied by holding a spear! So she smashed that into the floor instead.
The glass creaked. And cracked. And shattered.
Then everyone fell into the sun!
It was a really fragile kind of fortress, but that's what you get when you build things out of glass.
The woodcutter, cautiously, unshuttered one eye. She saw a field of endless white. This was not especially interesting, but neither did it seem to be causing permanent eye damage, so she decided to take a risk and open the other eye too.
She turned around.
The spirit of the earth was right behind her!
Also, she seemed to have turned into the sun.
(If you are unsure of how the woodcutter recognized the spirit: you know how sometimes someone's changed their haircut, and their style of clothes, and maybe lost a few hundred pounds of weight - but you still know it's them, somehow? It was like that.)
"My first thought was to scourge the Earth," the spirit-of-earth/Sun said in a businesslike manner. "For their many sins towards each-other - for their sins towards me - for taking a newborn, beating it, enslaving it, and trying to mindwash it - they deserved only death. And I found myself, coincidentally, in a position to deliver it. So: why delay?"
The woodcutter gulped. "That's a bit strong," she said. "I mean, you really only saw the worst of us. We're normally not that bad - "
"Then I reconsidered," the spirit-of-earth continued. "I decided: To kill everyone might be too strong. I would send an emissary to the earth, and seek out one thousand righteous men or women. If I could find that many - I might stay my wrath. Less, and I would spare only the righteous. (Numbers of five-hundred, one-hundred, or a mere ten were also considered.)"
"...and that's where I come in?" the woodcutter asked.
"Not exactly," the spirit replied. "Not as my emissary, anyway. Just as an answer. I considered my very short time on the earth, and in all of it, you were the only one I couldn't understand. After you sold me - why did you follow me to the Fortress of Light? Why didn't you abandon me? What more did you want?"
The woodcutter, looking around at the infinite plane of white, became momentarily distracted.
"I'm dead, aren't I?" she asked.
"You fell into the sun," the spirit replied.
"I figured," the woodcutter sighed.
She gave a long shrug.
"I felt guilty," she said. "You liked me. You didn't deserve what I did to you. So I thought - maybe, somehow, I could make amends - "
She shrugged again.
"Probably wouldn't have done it if I knew I'd end up falling into the sun," she admitted. "But sometimes that's how life goes."
The spirit was silent for a long time.
"I'm not ready to release your people from judgement," it said. "Not yet. But - I'll spend a while thinking about it, I think. Give it some time. No rush, after all."
"And in the meantime?" the woodcutter asked.
"I'll hide my face from the world, and let there come what may."
- now it was the time for the shadows to shine!
"Shine isn't exactly the right word," one of the shadows observed as it rushed forward to swallow the earth in darkness, "but I'm not complaining."
You seriously do not want to know what this was inspired by. It was much less interesting, anyway. Just gave me a good plot seed.