Canon Apocrypha

Introduction

This scene was one I added to the second draft of The Painted Man to expand and give background on the dominant religion of Thesa and how it was affected by the Return. It takes place at the end of Chapter 12, “Library”, the night after Arlen and Mery have their argument about religion on the roof of the Duke’s Library, and it was inspired in part by the manner in which the Bible has been altered over the centuries by translation, revision, and hand-copying.

In the scene, I wanted to inform the reader about some key elements of the Deliverer myth, and show some of the roots of Arlen’s general sense of disdain for the current religious doctrine which purports the sins of man to be responsible for the corelings, which are believed to be an instrument of punishment by the Creator.

Why It Was Cut

On my next round of revisions leading up to the third draft, I read through this scene and found it somewhat heavy-handed and more than a little dry. There’s a term in the Turkey City Lexicon (which I encourage any budding SF writer to read) called an infodump, wherein the author gives the reader a big, indigestible lump of background and tells them they have to swallow it if they want the story to make sense. Sometimes infodumps are necessary, but they usually aren’t, and are often the sign of an author too lazy to think of a better way to present the information to the reader. I decided this one could be done without, and threaded the essential concepts into the story elsewhere in a more seamless manner.

A slightly altered form of the creation myth at the end of this piece may be found in The Desert Spear, as the Krasian religion has the same roots as the Thesan one if you go back far enough.  I say “may”, though, because nothing is set in stone until my rewrites are done, and on my next reading I may well cut it from there for the same reasons I cut it here.

Scene

The only light came from a small lantern sitting on the floor by Arlen’s work. It bathed the room in a gray dimness, turning the stacks into great shadowed masses.

Arlen’s eyes wandered across those darkened giants, eager for the night’s reading. He knew the library intimately now, having worked within for well over a year. He loved histories and geographies the most, preferably those recounting great battles or with detailed maps. Sometimes he would look at sciences, but those books confused him. And fiction? Why bother making up stories when the true ones were so much better?

“Leave fiction to the Jongleurs,” he always said.

But tonight none of those categories interested him. His thoughts were on Mery, and that always led back to the Canon and their argument.

“Maybe I haven’t been fair,” Arlen muttered, and headed towards theology.

There were literally hundreds of versions of the Canon in Euchor’s library, and it seemed no two were exactly alike. Many were written in languages he could not read. A full third of the books in the Library were so, with no living scholar who could interpret them. Some Tenders devoted their whole lives to translating such texts, looking for clues about how to lift the Plague.

Choosing randomly, Arlen took more than a dozen versions up to his cell, needing a ladder to get some of the selection. The books on the highest shelves of the Duke’s Library were from before the Return, or BR, as the acolytes called it. They were precious, hundreds of years old and carefully preserved.

BR books were off limits to all but Ronnell, the Duke, and those they gave personal permission to. The tall ladders needed to fetch them were hidden, but Arlen knew where the acolytes stored them, and his deal with Ronnell was for a ‘free run’ of the library. He doubted that Ronnell had meant BR books were included, but a deal was a deal, and there was no one around to stop him in any event.

He selected the oldest version in the pile and opened it. Unlike the hand-cut and stitched books he was used to, the edges of the pages were sharp and even, lining up smoothly as he ran his hand along the sides of the book. He opened it, and his eyes widened at the tight, precise print. No human hand could ever hope to match that sharp, tiny lettering.

Did they use some kind of stamp? Arlen mused. Cob sold wooden stamps of minor wards in his shop as a novelty, but only a fool would use them to actually ward anything of value. They tended to smudge, or leave uneven ink, creating weaknesses corelings could exploit. These letters were too perfect for that.

With Ronnell’s version next to him for comparison, he skimmed through endless pages of praise to the Creator, and the lineage of the first men, all more or less the same as in the version Ronnell gave him. Here and there, he paused to read a passage. His eyes raced with ease across the perfect print.

Much of the text was different from Ronnell’s copy, with whole sections of the new version missing, and other sections that must have been cut over the years. There was some mention of the corelings in the earliest sections of the book. It said they could be held at bay with WORDS of power, whereas Ronnell’s copy had replaced that with WARDS.

But Arlen found no mention of a plague. In fact, the later sections of the book made no mention of demons at all, focusing instead on the sins of man, and how they must be overcome to achieve paradise in the next life. But the sins of man described were different than those in Ronnell’s Canon, for sin was measured by how deeds affected one’s fellow man, and not the deeds themselves.

The last section of Ronnell’s version was filled with prophesies of the Deliverer, but the BR version only said this:

“And lo, there shall come a Deliverer
To show man the true path to salvation
And ye shall know him, for his bare flesh
Will be a sight evil cannot abide

Question not when the Deliverer comes
But follow ye him, and do as he does
For the path he walks will be a long one
Filled with great trial, death, and cataclysm

And the weight of trial shall bow his shoulders
If ye fail to provide support to him
And if he does not succeed in his trial
His failing will be that of all mankind”

Arlen put the book aside, and selected another BR text. It too was printed in that perfect, even line, and as he read, Arlen found it identical to the first. A third held the same result.

He moved on to the texts that came after the Return, or AR, as the scholars called it. The first had its perfect print marred with handwritten notes in the margins and splotched ink. It copied the previous books, but the section in the beginning had WORDS crossed out, and a note in the margin saying “WARDS. It’s been so long that we’ve forgotten. What else have we lost? Will the Deliverer return it to us when he comes? Will we last long enough for him to come? Creator help us, the demons are a plague man cannot survive.”

There were more notes and comments like this one throughout the book, wondering if man had somehow failed the Deliverer unknowingly, or if man’s sin could have somehow brought this evil about.

The next version Arlen found had many of these comments worked into the actual text, adding whole sections on the failings of man, and how they had brought down the plague upon humanity.

Book by book, Arlen watched the tone change, and watched the Deliverer and the plague of man take more and more prominence, and the sections on charity, tolerance, and forgiveness dwindle. In Ronnell’s copy, man’s sin was the real evil, not the corelings, and the only hope was to expunge that sin and wait for the Deliverer to come.

Arlen took the books back down to the library, carefully placing them back exactly as he found them, particularly those on the top shelf.

While standing on the ladder, Arlen saw the marker that showed where the BR books began, and noticed that just beyond it was another volume, a single tome in a section marked “AD”. It was placed so that one standing on the floor might never even notice it.

AD? he thought. What could it mean? If BR books were before the demons returned, then the era before that was… the Age of the Deliverer.

Arlen was drawn to that book like a moth to a flame. His hands shook as he took it down and went to the nearest table. Dawn would come soon. He didn’t have much time before the acolytes rose and began moving about the Library.

The cover of the ancient book had been replaced over the years, but the pages were hand-cut and handwritten, yellowed and cracked. He would have feared to touch them, had they not been preserved, coated with a smooth, flexible coating that felt like glass or varnished wood. It was cool to the touch, and his fingers glided across it like ice.

He opened it, and began to read:

The Creator saw the cold blackness of Nothing, and felt no satisfaction there. He created the sun to give light and warmth, staving off the void. He created the world, and set it spinning around the light and life of the sun. He created all the creatures of the world, and watched in satisfaction as His sun gave them warmth and love.

But for half its time, the world faced the dark, and its creatures were fearful. So the Creator made the moon and stars to reflect the sun’s light, a reminder in the night that they had not been forgotten.

The Creator did this, and He was satisfied.

But Nothing had a will, as well. And Nothing looked upon creation, marring Her perfect blackness, and was vexed. Nothing reached out to crush the world, but the Creator stood fast, and Her hand was stayed.

The world had not been crushed as Nothing had wished, but the Creator had not been quick enough to stave off Nothing’s touch. It grew on His perfect world like a plague, the inky blackness of Her evil seeped across the rocks and sand, blew on the winds, and was an oily stain on the world’s pure water. It swept across the woods, and the molten fire that bubbled up from beneath the world.

And in those places, demons took root and grew. Creatures of the blackness, their only purpose was to uncreate; killing the Creator’s creatures was their only joy.

But lo, the world turned, and the sun shone light and warmth across the creatures of the cold dark, and they were undone. The life-giver burned away their unlife, and evil screamed and fled.

Desperate to escape, the blackness took to the shadows, and oozed deep into the world, infecting its very core.

And there, in the heart of creation, grew the Mother of all Demons. She waited only for the world to turn, that she might send her children forth again.

The Creator saw this, and reached out His hand to purge the evil from His world, but Nothing stood fast, and His hand was stayed.

But He, too, touched the world one last time, giving His creatures the means to turn the demons’ magic against them. Giving them wards.

Locked then in a struggle for the sake of all He had made, the Creator had no choice but to turn his back on the world and throw Himself fully upon Nothing, struggling endlessly against Her cold strength.

And as above, so below.

“We have to fight,” Arlen whispered. “No Deliverer is coming to set things right.”

The text that followed spoke of the unity of man, and the debt they owed to their Creator for all existence. It was the duty of every man and woman to join together in the fight against the forces of uncreation, to stand back-to-back in the dark, and remember that the Creator above was doing the same for their sakes.

Arlen closed the book, replacing it on the shelf and stowing the ladder in a daze. He went back to his cell and sat there, his thoughts racing.

As above, so below. The words rang in his mind over and over. The failing of man was not sin. It was giving up the fight. And should the corelings manage to expunge man from the world, what then of the Creator? Would he, too, be undone?

But fighting was hard. It was easier to blame suffering on man’s sin and hide away, waiting and praying for a Deliverer to come and vanquish the corelings.

“We are all the Deliverer,” Arlen said, tasting the words on his lips and finding them sweet. “We have to deliver the Creator a world without demons.”