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Once, in the far north, there was a witch of vast primordial power who shared a dream with a human. Together, they built a magnificent city at the edge of the tundra, whose light became a beacon to all humanity. Craft and knowledge crystallized in the utopia birthed by the witch and human’s covenant, but a day came on which the covenant was broken, and the city was destroyed by the armies of man, its people massacred. With the dream shattered, the witch returned to her city’s ruins and sequestered herself among the graves for time uncounted, slowly passing from human memory in all but the sparse myths shared among the races of men. There she waited, bound to the ashes of the once-great city.
A young man sought the witch within the city’s huddled ruins; though it was said that many had been cast from life in the graveling city’s embrace, the young man had no care for the warnings of folklore. He braved the forbidden place with a vision in his heart—one he believed the witch would share, for he desired to rebuild the city of legend that its light might shine upon humanity again.
He found the witch among the ruins, swaddled in black furs. Tucked into a shrine-like hut nearly her exact size, she wore a wide-brimmed hat to shelter her weathered face, and her hands clasped crossed ankles, there warmed by the small campfire before her. Its smoke trickled skyward, a fading beacon.
“O Great Witch,” said the young man, beaming with the joy of his discovery, “I have journeyed long in search of you, and at last we meet. I seek your favor.”
“Favor?” croaked the Witch. “There can be no favors in this world. What does a son of man want from one such as I?”
“I would raise this once-great city from its ancient dust. Let the light of the world shine once more and guide my people, varied as we are, to the fulfillment of our potential! I have heard of your love for this city, Great Witch; let us restore it together.”
The Witch chortled and told the young man that it could not be done. “I am not so great as I once was,” she said, “and I am bound to this place. The city and I are one, and it may not rise again, for its time is as much of the past as I am myself. Build not on the graves of the dead, and leave this mausoleum be.”
“If I cannot match what once was,” said the young man, “then I will build a new city sharing the purpose of the one that once was. I shall build it nearby, that it may always know its inspiration. May it guide humanity half so well.”
The Witch looked into him. He withstood her gaze, and at last she demanded he share the full vision of his mind with her. This he did, such that she understood the warm beacon of hope, standing against the cold dark, which lay in his imagination.
The Witch said, “This I can entertain. I cannot leave this place, but this is not so limiting as I first suggested. I am more deity than the witch you call me—my power is more than you can know. Let you and I form a new covenant, predicated on that which I still honor: I shall split myself into parts of my power who will, with human builders, create new magnificent cities across this land, in image of my ancient home. In so doing, we shall together light humanity’s way through the dark, without forsaking these long-dead souls whom I still protect. Should you agree, you will leave here with the best part of my power, but do not forget to return to me, ‘lest the covenant fail and so too your city.”
The young man agreed at once and, clasping the Witch’s extended hand, burned with white fire. When his vision cleared he saw that he now held the hand of a handsome woman, his equal in race and age, though taller than he by two heads. She seemed to glow like hearthfire, clad in a gown of armored gold, and he marveled at her grace and fortitude and the bright warmth of her hand.
“This is the Witch of Cinders,” said the Great Witch. “She is the greatest part of my power.” And so it was, for the Great Witch was reduced in size and, though the young man did not know it, in kindness and wisdom as well.
“Mother,” said the Witch of Cinders, “I will go now only a small way south to build a city echoing yours in all but warmth, for which it will rival its progenitor. May it be a beacon to those lost in the cold.”
The Second Builder and the Witch of Cinders left the Great Witch and her ruined city, and there she remained in solitude for twenty further years. When the Second Builder returned, tanned and wrinkled by age and toil, he came clad in fine furs and golden charms. “O Great Witch,” said he, “our city burns bright and shelters all who seek nourishment. By the fire of your child’s hands do we all prosper. Thus begun, I have returned to seek your favor once more, that the second city might be built. I thus fulfill our covenant.”
The Great Witch laughed. “I have seen the grandeur of your city through the eyes of my child, but, foolish human that you are, a further covenant is required. Two already you have formed, though you seem not to know it, and a third you may not take. Bring to me another whose vision is equal to your own that they may build the next city in your stead.”
Dismissed, the Second Builder left, returning in two years’ time with a dark-skinned woman.
“O Great Mother,” said the woman, “if thou willst allow it, I shall build for thee a city in the far south, a mirror to that which the Witch of Cinders protects. Just as that city is a warm haven in this cold land, so mine shall be a place of cool respite in the hot south.”
The Great Witch grinned and bade the woman share her vision for the second city, which she did. Approving, the Witch clasped the woman’s hand and in so doing split in twain such that, when the new Builder’s eyes cleared of white fire, she held the hand of a beautiful woman her equal in race and age, though taller by two heads.
“This is the Witch of Ice,” the Great Witch said of the tall, silver-haired woman standing quiet and still in her delicate gown and high crown.
“As Mother bids, so shall I do,” said she softly. “My sister gained the greater part of Mother’s power, but my own is less by only a meagre measure. I shall craft a city as grand as the first. This I swear.”
Again the Great Witch was reduced, and she bade them leave. “Do not forget to return, for there is power left in me, and the covenant is not yet complete.”
Another twenty years the Witch passed in isolation, but as before the Second Builder returned, now accompanied by a youth of the age the Second Builder had been when he first sought the Witch’s power. The Second Builder greeted the Witch as he had done before, and then the youth spoke.
“I am the son of the Third Builder,” he said, “and I have seen the work of both she and the Second, my aged benefactor. I would do as they have done, and through your assistance build a city in the distant east. That people are rich with knowledge unknown to the people of the north and south, and I would help them create a center from which they can share all that they’ve learned.”
“Very well,” said the Great Witch. “I have seen the splendor of the two cities through the eyes of my children. Impart to me your vision, that I may measure it against my own.” When he had done so, she extended her hand, and as had happened before, the new builder burned with white fire, and the Witch split once more, reducing yet further as she did.
“I am the Witch of Storms,” said the new being who shared the youth’s race and age but stood taller than he by two heads. Arrayed in bronzed armor, she cut an imposing figure as she spoke thusly: “I have not the power of my elder sisters, but my wisdom is twice theirs. And more the fool my Mother is for making it so. In creating me, you have reduced yourself beyond reason. Without my wisdom or my sisters’ strength, what is left to you?” She spat at the Great Witch’s feet, extinguishing the campfire, though its smoke still curled into the clouds and the Great Witch still smiled.
“The covenant is yet unfinished,” the Great Witch said. “Bring another, that you may have your fourth city.”
As before, the Builders and newborn Witch left, and as before the Second Builder returned two decades later. Now far advanced in age, he was helped by a broad woman of ample strength who bore him up when his footing slipped.
“O Great Witch, I bring to you my granddaughter, known to all as a warrior brave and true, now ready to engage a new phase in life,” said the Second Builder.
“In the west,” said his granddaughter, “a people live by the sea in small communities. For a time, I lived among them and saw how their lives were ruled only by survival. I have seen the magnificence of the cities protected by your children, and I would return the kindness that seafaring people showed me and a build a like city to give them comfort, that not all their time need be ruled by hunger.”
“So noble,” laughed the Witch. “Intentions as true as my own, when all this began, but now my greatest work lies in ruin; what was it for? Do these people want your help as you want mine? Let this be as you wish and let us see, as I have seen for myself the wonder of the cities three through the eyes of my children. Tell me of the city in your mind.”
The granddaughter complied and took the Witch’s hand, birthing through covenant the Witch of Winds who shared the granddaughter’s race and age, though she stood two heads taller.
“In me rests the remains of my Mother’s kindness,” said she. “My power is feeble compared to that of my eldest sisters, but with what I have, we shall build a beacon of guidance for those wayward souls seeking safe haven.”
Now the Great Witch was so reduced that, as the group made to leave, she stopped them and said unto the Second Builder, “We come close now to the end, and there is little time left for you and I. Tarry not, and bring to me two more who will build, for I will impart the last of my power to them. Hurry! Time is short!”
The Second Builder promised and returned within the year accompanied by the youngest companions yet—youthful twins.
When the Second Builder had made his greeting, the first of the twins said, “O Great Witch, we have seen the four grand cities in all their luminescence. So seeing, we carry a vision whose realization requires you power.”
“A city of splendor you have in every cardinal direction; let us now fill the heart of the compass,” said the other.
“Two cities, joined as one,” said the first twin.
“One city, built of two,” said the second twin.
“Alike in all ways,” said the first.
“But once explored, utterly opposites,” said the second.
“And further examined, again the same,” said the first.
“Until it is not,” said the second.
The witch cackled and in tone of praise declared, “A more ideal pair there could not be! I have seen the realized potential of the cities four, but in you I understand the fifth! Show me your vision now, dear twins, and take my hands!” As she said this, she claimed their hands and they, speaking their vision unto her, burned with white fire. When their voices failed and the fire faded, the Great Witch seemed gone, her black furs left in a pile at the base of her hut, the wide-brimmed hat a cap for her abandoned raiment. In her place stood two slender women, the twins’ equal in race and age, though each two heads taller than either twin.
“Together, we are the Witch of Illusion,” said the two Witches.
The first, clad in the colors of a dove, said, “Identical in all ways, save for when we are not.”
The second, wearing the garb of a grackle, added, “Equal in power always, save for when we are not.”
“One for truth,” said the Bright Witch.
“One for falsehood,” said the Dark Witch.
“And may you never know which is which, or if there is a difference,” said the Witch of Illusion in two voices. “We see your vision and share it.”
The twins still clasped the hands of the Witch of Illusion, and together the four made their way out of the ruins. The Second Builder began to follow them, but a whisper on the wind gave him pause.
“I am spent now,” said the Great Witch’s voice, “but the covenant still stands, and the only soul that is left to me is still bound here.
“Know this, Second Builder: each covenant sustains upon the last and none can stand without the first, for each was built in the image of the one before. You, who occupy the city closest to this vast cemetery; you, who stand beside the Witch of Cinders, carrying the best part of my power; it is to you that I leave the task of guarding this place. Teach your people the importance and value, and ensure that the ruins are never disturbed. If you do not and harm befalls this place, all that we have built shall fall.”
The Great Witch’s voice spoke no more, and the Second Builder returned to his city.