In the earliest days of humanity, all humans lived in the city of Desh, which was shaped like a rectangle and surrounded by tall walls. Originally Desh had only been a single room, but when the families of Desh grew too large the King of Desh ordered the room cut in two. When the families in the second room grew too large, the King of Desh ordered the second room cut in two, building a wall at a right angle to the first, and so on, until the city had become a sort of spiral with the largest rooms on the outside and the smallest in the center. In the smallest room, the King of Desh kept his daughter, who was named Astra in honor of the first human woman. Believing her to be his greatest treasure, and told by oracles that the day she left would be his death, he decided to keep her in her room forever.
This younger Astra, despite her limited mobility, was beloved of the gods, and they each gave her a gift. Myrhiss gave her beauty, Lirr gave her a lovely voice, Heironeous made her skin invulnerable, Hextor taught her skill with weapons, Istus taught her to weave, Boccob taught her magic, Pholtus taught her law, Erythnul taught her fear, Ehlonna made her fertile, Ralishaz gave her luck (though not the kind she wanted), Corellon Larethian gave her some elf junk that she put in a drawer, Incabulos gave her a disease, Pelor healed that disease, and Nerull made it possible for her to die. Trithereon had only one precious gift to give her, which was Liberty, but this was something Astra's father the King of Desh would not allow her to have, so instead Trithereon gave her a kitten.
The years wore on and the population of Desh continued to grow, so Astra kept having to move into smaller and smaller rooms and she despaired of ever seeing the world beyond the walls of Desh.
Meanwhile, the Night Man had spent the last thousand or so aeons strolling from the seething nuclear chaos at the center of the universe that had spawned him to the furthest reaches of the cosmos, exploring the myriad stars and nebulae and worlds he came across on his journeys. When he came to Oerth and the City of Desh, he decided it was too crowded and slaughtered two thirds of its inhabitants in various inventive ways. Some he turned inside out, some he hung from the ceiling by their intestines, some he drained of blood, and some he implanted otherworldly parasites in so that they mutated into howling and gibbering hairy beasts that could say nothing coherent but his name, "Nyarlathotep." When he reached the center of Desh, however, he couldn't kill Astra because her cat was standing in his way, and cats are the only thing the Night Man fears. Seeing the Night Man hesitate, Astra nudged her cat so that it stood between the Night Man and the door, trapping him inside.
"Please pick up your cat," said the Night Man. "So that I can leave."
"First give me a gift," said Astra, who as previously recounted had gotten a lot of gifts in her time.
"What would you like?" asked the Night Man.
"Liberty," said Astra.
"Well," said the Night Man. "I've killed everyone who was guarding your room, so you can walk out whenever you want."
"Oh," said Astra. "Is it safe outside the gates?"
"Not even slightly," said the Night Man.
"Who will look after me? Who will give me gifts?"
"No one," said the Night Man. "I've killed everyone who ever cared about you."
"Maybe I won't leave, then," said Astra, whose gift from Erythnul had been fear.
"What a funny people," said the Night Man. "Even when they're given freedom, they're imprisoned by their own minds. Well, what do you want, then? Your cat is licking itself in disgusting places and is still in my way."
"I need someone to care for me and guide me, so that I can explore the world outside without fear."
"Ah," said the Night Man, "You need new family, I suppose. Would you be satisfied with bearing half-breed godlings with some of my powers?"
"That would be a good gift," said Astra, and so it was that two twinkles in the Dark Man's eye began to quicken in her womb. Thanks to Ehlonna's gift of fertility, before too long Astra had given birth to twin sons. She named the older twin Fharlanghn and the younger one Celestian. Fharlanghn looked little different from mortal humans, but Celestian looked like his father, black as the void between the stars.
"Thank you, Night Man," said Astra when she had recovered from her labor. She picked up her cat. As soon as it was no longer in his way, the Night Man was gone, and Astra would never see him again, at least not while she still lived. As for Astra, she and her sons wandered the world, though Celestian kept disappearing to explore the stars, and she saw him only occasionally.
Many decades passed, and with Fharlanghn to guide her Astra saw every inch of the Oerth. Eventually her body wore out, as mortal bodies do, and because of Nerull's gift she was able to die. Her shade, standing beside her cooling corpse, turned to her elder son. "What should I do now?" she asked him.
"You can continue wandering the world with me, Mother," answered Fharlanghn. "I'll keep your shade safe, and you can see the world as it changes and grows, as humanity spreads across the continents and builds cities and kingdoms."
"Or," said Celestian, who had returned from his far wanderings to be with his mother as she passed, "You can come with me. You've seen all of Oerth, Mother, but you've yet to see the stars."
"I think I'd like to see the stars," said Astra's shade, and Celestian took her hand and led her into the sky.
Last edited by rasgon on Mon Dec 13, 2021 7:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
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