There was a goblin, or a trickster or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. Nothing could stop it or hold it or reason with it. One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world...
That's not the start of the story of course, but it's everyone's favourite bit. The bit that makes the children squeal and pull their bedcovers up to their chin and makes fathers put on their very best monster's voice and mothers chide them for giving the youngest nightmares.
This is the real start of the story...
Once upon a time...
Because all fairy stories start that way...
Once upon a time there was a world of wizards. A world of shining cities, of glass spires and silver forests and wide red plains.
The wizards ruled that world and the worlds beyond, travelling between the stars and between the ages in winged chariots, which disappeared into thin air only to reappear wherever their wizard owners commanded
As rulers these wizards were neither remarkably good, nor remarkably evil. They liked laws and order and routine and since they were the only beings in creation who could control the magical powers of that world, laws and order and routine were mostly what they got. They took no part in the trials and struggles and battles of others for their minds were fixed far higher things.
And then, one day, in one of the great schools of wizards an apprentice arrived. Apprentices, of course arrived regularly, they arrived ignorant and curious and through study and learning became wizards themselves.
This apprentice was neither remarkably able nor remarkably inept but in one way he was different from the others. He asked questions. Not just the questions which all apprentices asked about their lessons but questions about why the world was as it was, why only these few wizards ruled such a vast universe, even questions such as why they did not share their magic.
The senior wizards were outraged, the apprentice was punished and for a while the questions stopped. The apprentice grew, as boys will, and in due time became a wizard himself. With the further passing of time he had a family and the senior wizards allowed themselves to believe that his incessant curiosity was merely an adolescent fancy.
That this young wizard had in fact merely been nurturing his dangerous questions in his own heart never occurred to the other wizards. No one had ever defied them, no one had ever rebelled.
So when this young wizard stole one of the magical chariots and fled the palaces and cities of the wizard's world there was uproar. He was declared an exile and it was decreed that should he ever return he would be put to death for his treason. His name was reviled across all the worlds where the wizards ruled, rubbed from the records of the world and has never been spoken again to this day.
This rebel wizard roamed the stars for centuries, sometimes alone, sometimes with companions from a dozen worlds to ease the loneliness of his outcast state.
There is a small chorus of "Awws" at this point, especially from the girls, and even from those who've heard the tale before. Willing suspension of disbelief as only children truly can. They're more than half on his side than the wizards' anyway – 'laws' and 'order' and 'routine' holding little attraction for them of course.
The story winds on.
In his exile there was no one to stop the Rebel from doing as he pleased. He interfered where the wizards had held back. He set himself up in judgement on warring races, choosing one side over another and using his magic to help them triumph. He told the wizard's secrets to his strange short-lived companions.
He ran unchecked and careless between the stars and between the ages. He asked all the questions he desired and searched in forbidden places for the answers.
In time he grew old, as even wizards grow old. But wizards are hard to kill, and when he finally died, in the wake of another battle between his chosen favourites and their enemies, he was reborn a new man, every bit as reckless and inquisitive as the last.
But no one can run unchecked forever and eventually the Rebel faced a battle too large even for him and was forced to return home and plead for the wizards to intervene.
They did so, but this time they vowed the Rebel's exile would be of their making and not his own. They were not unmerciful however and chose his place of exile well, on a world he had at least some fondness for. But they cut the wings from his stolen chariot so he would trouble them with his escapades no longer.
But wizards are hard to stop and the Exile was still growing older and more cunning and silver-tongued and in time he talked his way out of his exile, restored his chariot's flight and set off once more cavorting between the stars and between the ages.
Nothing could stop him. When he fell in battle, or to trickery, or to poison, or to any cause at all, he would rise up again, all the stronger, all the older, all the cleverer.
His enemies, and he made many enemies, learned to fear him as the primitive peoples on some worlds still fear the storm or drought or other disasters from the sky and the gods.
His friends, and he gathered many friends, joined him in his battles, flinging themselves alongside him, heedless of caution, heedless of the fact that their fleeting lives were so much more fragile and brief than his.
And then, one day a new enemy rose up.
Some say it was an enemy of the Exile first, that he disturbed something that would grow to threaten all the wizards, and all the worlds.
The wizards were ill prepared for war. They had no generals, no commanders, no experience of using their great magic power for attack or defense.
Worlds burned in the sky as the enemy advanced and in their desperation the wizards called on the Exile, the only one of them who had raised his hands to use his magic in anger.
He came back to them.
He watched as the wizards and their great enemy fought.
And then, as he had judged countless other races worthy or unworthy of his help, he chose.
He destroyed the enemy.
He destroyed the wizards.
Cheers turn to gasps and squeaks and the eyes get wider behind the clutched bedcovers.
The Exile was now the last wizard in the cosmos, and the most feared.
The other worlds and other peoples came quickly to know of what had happened and were afraid for their lives. Seers and omen-readers gazed at the portents and foretold worse yet to come.
One day the Last Wizard would destroy the world
So a pact was formed between the greatest warriors of all the worlds and ages.
They would capture the Last Wizard, trap him for the rest of time, lock him safely away until the universe faded and the stars went out.
And so that the danger would never be forgotten, they would tell a story to warn the worlds.
This is how the story began...
"There was a goblin, or a trickster or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. Nothing could stop it or hold it or reason with it. One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world..."
Delighted shivery squeals and the youngest already hiding under the sheets.
The oldest frowns. "But how did they trick him, if he was so clever and old and dangerous...?"
Father smiles knowingly and shrugs.
"They made him trick himself. He was the most curious creature in creation don't forget... How could he resist a locked box?"
The symmetry of the story satisfies and there's only a token amount of fidgeting and shuffling before lights-out is acceded to, heads are lowered onto pillows and silence falls.