CORNERSTONES OF CREATION
Classification: Mystical power objects embodying the four elements of the cosmos’ creation
Creator: the Elder Gods of the Hyborian Age (never specifically named and sometimes referred to as the Primal Gods and the Creation-Lords, but possibly the four Elder Gods mentioned elsewhere in the Conan series: Crom, Mitra, Asura, and Set, though Set might have been too evil for that as only three gods are depicted in a flashback)
User/Possessors: Pau-Styss the Demon Lord and Khitain sorceror was the only person known to possess and use all four of the Cornerstones of Creation. Conan thrice wielded the Sword of Strength in battle. Zoroazztor the Sage was guardian of the Crown of Wisdom, but never used it as he could resist it’s siren temptations and his wisdom had somewhat faded with time. The Mirror of Beauty’s unidentified female guardian wielded a magical ‘soul-staff’ and perhaps partook of the beauty and grace in the Mirror. Princess Noyo knew the exact locations of the cornerstones and the means by which they could be obtained, but never exploited this knowledge until blackmailed by Pau-Styss. All four Cornerstones await the Chosen One who will be their true master and use them to redeem the Hyborian World. It was implied the Chosen One was Dreeme.
Appearances: All four first shown @ Conan the Barbarian#128 (Nov 1981), Conan takes possession of Sword of Strength and Crown of Wisdom stolen @ CTB#129, Mirror of Beauty and Rose of Peace obtained @ CTB#130.
Powers/Abilities/Functions: The Sword of Strength was forged by the Primal Gods and is the force which gives man his fortitude, fierceness, and pride. A huge oversized blade taller than a man that can apparently transform into a variety of weapons to match that of the wielder’s opponent, it must be won by strength to be used. The blade appears to not just provide vast physical strength (the extent of which is theoretically limitless) , but can transform the holder into a giant of proportionate size to the sword or shrink itself to fit it’s master’s hand. When it’s appointed task is accomplished or the battle is won the energies imbued by sword leave the wielder until they are called upon again.
The Crown of Wisdom though no different in appearance from other golden, bejewelled crowns is seemingly the most dangerous of the four cornerstones and kept in a cube of magical force, invisible to the eye and its seductive spell muted. It projects a radiant aura and lost secrets dance in its polished surface. Only the Chosen One can wear it without danger. Even the Priestess of Creation nearly succumbed to the Crown’s lure. "A haunting voice seems to call out to Noyo. ‘Take me in your hands,’ it whispers, ‘Place me upon your brow. I can make you a god.’ And trembling, vacant-faced she reaches." Good thing Zoroazztor, guardian of the Crown, stopped her!
The Mirror of Beauty, the source of all beauty and grace in life, exerts a similarly hypnotic power over those who would wish to use it. Those who stare directly into the Mirror find themselves ‘lost forever in the realms of enchantment where Beauty herself dwells’. The Mirror also serves as a gateway to the nameless realm where the White Rose of Peace is hidden if it is struck by the soul-staff of the Mirror’s guardian. The Mirror of Beauty’s guardian possessed such inhumanly great beauty and grace she was able to nearly outfight and ensorcell Conan even while he was held the Sword of Strength. Whether these were innate powers of hers or abilities granted to her by Mirror remains unclear.
The White Rose of Peace grows amongst the serene hills above a gently rippling lake in an unidentified land filled with the singing of doves and whose very atmosphere is suffused with the essence of Peace. Whether this land is on earth, another world altogether, or one of the many dimensions that fill the void is never made clear. The Rose is a gigantic glowing flower until it is held in the hand of one pure enough of heart to pluck it. Conan was inflicted with great pain and found his attempt to hack down the Rose with the Sword of Strength impossible because "only a heart without the taint of violence can pluck the rose", and even the Priestess of Creation was not pure enough to take it.
The Cornerstones have a secondary and pure sidereal state that they dissolve into during the appropriate deification ceremony. This is seen only briefly.
History: (BTS) - Before the dawn of the prehistoric Hyborian Age, the Primal Gods created the four Cornerstones of Creation. These power objects, described as embodying all the forces of creation, were used to bring forth life itself. It is unknown if these power objects brought forth all life or merely the humans and animals of the Hyborian Age, since a variety of demons and other creatures inhabited earth before it was suitable to sustain human life.
(CTB#128 (fb) ) - Over five hundred years before Conan becomes involved in the quest for the Cornerstones of Creation the Priestess of the Cult of Creation, Princess Noyo of Khitai, was attacked and pursued by Pau Styss the Demon Lord. Though she later told her husband, Laynenn, Pau Styss sought to capture her because she had spurned his advances it was in fact the knowledge of the location of the Cornerstones he was after (though you couldn’t blame him if he wanted Noyo too. Check out those kinky green pasties!). It is uncertain how long this battle and subsequent pursuit lasted but according to Pau-Styss "long was the war we waged on the subtle planes". Just as victory was within reach Noyo called upon her heavenly masters who transformed her into a mystic wind that ultimately escaped the demon-sorcerer.
(BTS) - During the intervening years between Princess Noyo’s escape and her reappearance Pau-Styss made pacts with various netherspawn to enhance his power and prepare for the day when he found Noyo once more. Whether he was previously known as the Demon Lord or if he acquired that title during this time is uncertain.
(CTB#130 (fb) ) - Just as Noyo was handpicked from amongst mortals to keep the secrets of creation, about 25 to 30 years before the beginning of the quest for the cornerstones the three Primal Gods brought a man-child into being to be Noyo’s ordained lifemate. Little is known of what happened to this child until he arrived in Conan’s village.
(CTB#128 (fb) ) - In the years before Conan left his village to raid a nearby colonial outpost and then wander south a gentle, sickly child with a talent for song wandered in from the forest. The boy’s name was Laynenn and he was beaten and taunted by the youths of the village until a young Conan took up for him. Once Conan left home to pursue his fortune, Laynenn, bereft of Conan’s protection, was driven away by the other villagers who most likely would have stoned him to death had he not fled. Wandering amongst the forests and mountains Laynenn spied a great magical whirlwind which ended it’s five hundred year long flight and practically dropped Princess Noyo at his feet. Before long they were in love and the parents of a son they named Dreeme.
(BTS) - Princess Noyo’s return to physical form is detected by Pau-Styss but either she hid herself with magic or her trail was especially hard to follow since the demon-sorceror does not actually find her until years later.
(CTB#128) - On a visit home to his native Cimmeria and despite his knowledge of woodlore Conan is caught unawares by a blizzard and lost in the northern hill country for days. Spying a log cabin amidst the snow and near delirium Conan uses the last of his strength to kick in the front door and collapses. Conan awakens to discover the remote cabin is now the home of his old friend Laynenn, his new wife, and their son. After some good natured jokes and wrestling, and catching up on what happened to the minstrel in the form of a song, Conan hears a noise and rushes out of the cabin.
Sure enough, it is a raiding party of the demonic hawk-warriors of Pau-Styss. Conan goes to fight them off but they evade him in favor of flying off with Laynenn. Moments later a huge magical image of Pau-Styss holding an unconscious Laynenn appears to Conan, Noyo, and Dreeme. Pau-Styss demands that Noyo obtain that which he truly seeks. Both back in the log cabin and in Pau-Styss’s floating stone fortress the truth is revealed as Conan and Laynenn learn Pau-Styss did not cast the magical wind upon Noyo, but that she did it herself.
Shortly afterward the quest for the Cornerstones begins with Noyo effecting a teleportation even Thoth-Amon could have been proud of, bringing Conan, her son, and herself all the way from snowy Cimmeria to the dinosaur thronged jungles of the lands south of Kush. They make their way to an ancient graveyard where the Sword of Strength awaits. Before they can take possession of it the gigantic and zombie-like Warriors of Eternity rise from their graves to bar Conan’s way.
(CTB#129) - Conan rushes to challenge the Warriors of Eternity, adventurers who had sought the Sword and failed and so were condemned to guard it forever, and is flung back by a blow from a giant mace. Dodging and leaping over the stooping giants Conan reaches the Sword and through an act of prodigious strength (drawing the giant blade from it’s scabbard) is granted its limitless power. Using the power of the blade Conan wreaks bloody havok on the immortal Warriors who are sucked back into the earth as punishment by the gods.
Pau-Styss has fun trying to spy on Noyo’s progress and, when confounded by her magic, transforming Laynenn into a bird with a human head deprived of speech, but capable of singing. Meanwhile Noyo teleports the three adventurers to Anshan, the capitol of Iranistan. On the outskirts of the city, in a mosque where seekers of wisdom gather outside, lies the Crown of Wisdom guarded by Zoroazztor. After challenging Zorazztor to the Game (which looks a lot like chess) Noyo nearly succumbs to the Crowns spell when asking for proof of the prize if she wins. Noyo loses the Game, failing to win the Crown by wisdom (which is the according to Hoyle way to do it I guess), so Conan sets the books in Zorazztor’s lair on fire. While the sage is distracted Conan seizes the Crown. Zorazztor causes the door they planned on escaping through to vanish and teleports away, leaving Conan, Noyo and her son to be burned alive.
(CTB#130) - Noyo teleports the three seekers of the Cornerstones to an unidentified city-state in Khitai and safety. Hanging out in his flying fortress Pau-Styss still can’t spy on Noyo’s progress so he decides to torture Laynenn a bit more by letting him out of his cage to fly around and then turning him into a stone statuette. Noyo leads Conan to the end of an ordinary looking alley where they are confronted by what Conan takes to be an ordinary thief armed with a staff.
When the thief attacks Conan draws the Sword of Strength only to have it turn into a staff. Conan is getting his butt handed to him so Noyo sends out her soul to guide his attacks through the Staff itself. Matching the uncommon grace of the Guardian of Beauty the tide turns until she unmasks. Entranced by the inhuman perfection before him Conan kneels to have his life force drank by the Guardian’s soul-staff, but the ‘Staff of Strength’ rises of it’s own accord, giving him the will to resist. The Guardian is knocked unconscious. Using the soul-staff they summon the Mirror of Beauty and then strike it, opening a portal that sucks the three into the Mirror and deposits them in an unidentified land where peace reigns.
In the unidentified land they discover the White Rose of Peace and Conan attempts to cut it down only to experience great pain. Noyo goes to pluck the rose but she is also not pure enough to hold the magical flower. Noyo’s son Dreeme fearlessly rushes forward and plucks the Rose with the innocence of a child, which causes them to appear once more in the back alley of Khitai from whence they came.
Noyo transports the trio with the Cornerstones to face Pau-Styss and free Laynenn. Conan demands to see his friend and Pau-Styss violently returns him to human form. Still weak Laynenn tries to tell them the secret of the Cornerstones, but Noyo misunderstands and sends Conan against the wizard. Pau-Styss rather foolishly engages Conan in swordplay while the barbarian is armed with the Sword of Strength. The demon-sorcerer wins the match through magic, blasting Conan unconscious. Dreeme shakes Conan and urges him to kill Pau-Styss so the sorcerer belts the kid one.
When Conan awakens Pau-Styss is already performing the ritual which will grant him the power of the Cornerstones thus usurping the gods. Pau-Styss begins to absorb the raw magical energy of the cornerstones, utters the words "I... see... it... all", and then swiftly skeletonizes, collapsing into a pile of bones. Laynenn apparently knew this would happen because he realized his true nature upon Pau-Styss revealing Noyo’s identity as the Priestess of Creation. Her memories finally set free by the Lords of Creation, Noyo explains Laynenn’s true nature to Conan. Laynen tells young Dreeme that he is the Chosen One, but only once the stain upon his soul is washed away will he be able to use the Cornerstones to redeem the barbaric Hyborian world.
Conan having already gotten a bellyful of gods, prophets, and cults in the first 125 or so issues of his comic storms out of Pau-Styss’s flying fortress (which luck would have it has landed itself) angry over the loss of a friend only to "find instead that I have already unleashed yet another god upon a world that has seen too many gods already". Without looking back Conan marches off. Laynenn’s tears fall freely at his friend’s departure and it is implied one small tear falls from Conan’s eye as well.
Comments: Created by J.M. DeMatteis and Gil Kane
For clarity’s sake I refer to the gods that forged the Cornerstones of Creation as the Primal Gods or the Lords of Creation so that they will not be confused with Marvel’s Elder Gods, though they are quite often referred to by that name as well. How and if all this ties into the official history of the Marvel Universe and the Elder Gods Cthon, Set, and Gaea is unknown.
Pau-Styss though grandiosely (but perhaps accurately) titled the Demon Lord was presumably once human, though he has lived far longer than ordinary mortals; and hailed from Khitai, since he referred to Laynenn as Noyo’s ‘white-skinned husband’, though he looks nothing like most Khitains.
According to Noyo the Crown of Wisdom can only be won by wits and not violence, so it seems a little odd that Conan’s particular brand of wisdom (setting Zoroazztor’s mosque full of books on fire and just stealing the Crown) is what attained them this particular cornerstone.
Zoroazztor is an obvious reference to Zoroaster (or in Greek, Zarathustra) the sage that popularized the Persian Light and Darkness cult that came to be known as Zoroastrianism and whose teachings were based on the eternal war between the spirit of good and light, Ahura Mazda or Ormazd, and the spirit of evil and darkness, Ahriman. Further, Zoroastrianism (itself sharing a common origin with Hinduism) also features a deity that Conan fans may have familiarity with: Mitra (aka Mithra and Mithras). More on this under the Zoroaster profile comments.
Conan isn’t a sissy! He wouldn’t have cried even if his heart was breaking over losing his friend to the gods.
Laynenn, Noyo, and Dreeme are never seen again. What happened to them? Did they live out the rest of their lives as mortals? Did they go back to their cabin or take up Pau-Styss’s landed castle as their new home? Did they send the Cornerstones back to their hiding places until such time as Dreeme became the Chosen One and needed them?
What happened to the hawk-men of Pau-Styss? Did they go back to the netherworld they came from or lurk somewhere in the dark shadows of the Hyborian world? How about Zoroazztor? Or the Guardian of Beauty?
For the record, though his moment in the sun was brief, Pau-Styss was a pretty heavy duty wizard. He was over 500 years old, had a flying fortress, and was served by an army of demonic hawk-men. Both he and the Cornerstones of Creation (for my money some of the coolest magical artifacts around) would make great material for a Dr. Strange story of some sort.
The Cornerstones of Creation have a small entry in Mystic Arcana: The Book of Marvel Magic. Further, the Mystic Arcana series re-defined the Cornerstones as the Darkhold (powered by Chthon), Ebon Rose (powered by Gaea), Serpent Crown (powered by Set), and Sword of Bone (powered by Oshtur). I'm not 100% certain how that story fits in in with this one, so I'm leaving this entry as is for now.
by Greg O'Driscoll
Clarifications:Pau-Styss shouldn’t be confused with:
The Mirror of Beauty shouldn’t be confused with:
The Cornerstones of Creation and the Crown of Wisdom should not be confused with:
The Rose of Peace has no KNOWN
The Guardian of the Mirror was dressed as a common Khitain thief (which looks a lot like a ninja) and moved with unearthly grace and beauty. Even armed with the Sword of Strength Conan could not defeat her without Noyo’s help. When unmasked the Guardian was revealed to have inhuman beauty capable of hypnotizing even Conan. The Guardian when enraged shoed fangs but walked about in sunlight so she is most likely not a vampire and was also armed with a ‘soul-staff’ that could drain the life force of an opponent or open a portal to the real of the Rose of Peace when the Mirror of Beauty is struck with it.
Conan the Barbarian#128 (November, 1981) - J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Gil Kane (pencils), Gil Kane (inks), Louise Jones (editor)
Conan the Barbarian#129 (December, 1981) - J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Gil Kane (pencils), Gil Kane & P. Craig Russell (?) (inks), Louise Jones (editor)
Conan the Barbarian#130 (January, 1982) - J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Gil Kane (artist), Louise Jones (editor)
First Posted: 02/29/2002
Last updated: 04/22/2019
Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.
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