Their fall sundered mountains, scorching the earth black.
The thundering impact brought a halt to the battle, ripping one apart from the other. The demonic wyrm wailed, choking on blood. It slithered between the rocks, escaping deep within the earth to fester in its agony. Where its blood scalded the ground, rock melted to obsidian glass.
Silent, the Master knelt above the cracks. The feathers of his remaining wing dragged lifeless in the settling dust, even as the Devil’s tongue still writhed around his arm. Lacking the strength to follow, he turned towards beckoning Southern Star.
Days and nights passed, until the cursed land lay behind Him. The unhallowed ground no longer burned the bare soles of his feet. The scraggly plants at the border of the dead lands eventually gave way to cheerful green grass underfoot, and where the Master’s blood fell on fertile soil, soft-petaled flowers sprouted and bloomed to life.
A river had once flowed along the border and down from the mountains, before Men had diverted it to their fields. It was here, in the dry riverbed, that the Master knelt and gathered Earth. And, cradling the Earth in His arms, the Master vanished in a breath, his form crumbling to dust.
Days and nights passed, and the Master sat at His forge.
His Celestial Children walked the Palace in reverent silence, even as the prayers and whimpers and screams of Deathtoll’s victims echoed unbound. One wing still trailed, broken and useless, from the Master’s shoulder. Where the other had been ripped clean, the wound seeped black venom.
Eons long since past, He had given one of His Children a voice. Over eons, the spirit behind that voice had grown bitter and twisted, the sweet music of his words masked a tangled, thorny snare.
Now, under His watchful eye, a long, sinewy tongue rested twitching upon the anvil.
Never again would the Child sing, for Good or Ill. Never again would he ensnare with the sweetness of his melodious promises, whispered in the dark. A harsh, grating hiss, from some befouled corner of the world – a curse and a prayer – was neither lost in the Silence of the Master’s mind... nor answered.
With the same reverence for living Man or Butterfly, the Master collected the tongue from its resting place. It coiled in the smelting basin like a snake, poised to strike. The Master set it in the furnace, and turned away.
The ruined wing, He ripped from His own shoulder. The feathers and flesh burned to ash amidst the coals, and this He mixed with the Earth of the riverbed and clean blood from the fresh wound. The resulting clay, He kneaded and shaped, until it resembled the form of Men.
Within the furnace, the tongue had melted to silver. This, too, the Master mixed with His own blood. The resultant concoction steamed and roiled and became still.
He poured the liquid silver between the lifeless lips of His Earthen clay manikin. And here the Master paused, deep in thought.
For even the monster that called itself Deathtoll had been among His Children once.
His Children, that shared His blood, could never die.
And the Master sighed deeply, and breathed life into the empty shell where there had been none.
Days and nights passed, as the Celestial Child wandered amidst his brothers and sisters, beneath the sunlight and moonlight. There were few voices in the world now, fearful whimpering in the darkest shadows beneath an echoing rasp of laughter, and the gossamer halls of the Palace were as Silent as the Master’s mind.
One long afternoon, the Child came upon the Master sitting cross-legged in the Garden, watching the world below. The Child turned to leave, quietly as he had come, but the Master’s voice followed after him.
“Come here,” He said.
The Child came to his side, and knelt beside him, bowing his head in reverence.
“Tell me, what do you see?”
The Child raised his head, dark eyes glittering with starlight that shadowed the soft curves of his face as he sought what the Master saw. When he spoke, his voice was honey.
“I see the Earth,” the Child said, with a Child’s simplicity. “She’s crying. She’s lonely.”
Breathing deep, the Child squinted. “I see a man.”
“A king,” the Master corrected gently.
“A King of Men.”
“Like you.” The Child closed his eyes, then opened them slowly, tilting his head. “But no, not like you at all.”
They sat side by side in silence, until the Child looked up at the Master, a confused pout twisting his face. “He’s in pain.”
“All living things are in pain, because of this king,” the Master explained. “Can you feel it?”
Again closing his eyes, the Child sought what the Master saw. At once, his eyes snapped open, and he pulled away – what it was that he found had left him pale and shaking. Pressing His thumb to the Child’s forehead, the Master calmed him; he stilled, and his color, wan as it was, returned to his cheeks. But an impression had been made.
“He caused pain.”
“Yes. He sold all souls on Earth to the demon, Deathtoll.”
“He sold every life, for the love of gold.”
“For gold. But what will he do with so much gold?”
The Child shook his head, staring at his immaculate hands where they sat folded in his lap. “I do not understand this King of Men.”
“He is a very foolish man.”
Raising his head to meet the Master’s gaze, the Child asked in his soft, honeyed voice, “Will you punish him?”
Raising an eyebrow, the Master asked in return, “Would you punish a man for being sick?”
Frowning, the Child shook his head, more forcefully this time. The Master smiled, drawing His fingers through His golden beard.
“I forgive him,” He assured the Child. “He was foolish, to cause such pain.”
“But... the Earth is still lonely.”
“She is very lonely.”
“And the pain...”
Squeezing his eyes shut, the Child stood, and the Master followed. The Master cupped the Child’s cheeks between his hands, gently tilting his face upward, until the Child opened his eyes to face Him.
“Would you like to save them?”
In the depths of the Earth and the Silence of the Master’s mind, festering in darkness, Deathtoll hissed his rasping prayer.