Three Nocturnal Legends
A lost haffling, four elemental demigods, and a fallen star -- unconnected short stories with a mythological bent
Emalkin stared up at the stars and the moon with the wistfulness that always seemed to haunt him on nights like this. The firefly buzzing next to him seemed to understand. It flickered back and forth, illuminated like a spark that would never turn to ash.
If his stories, if his name, were both right and true, then he belonged up there with those stars. Even now he watched his siblings as their constellations twinkled above. The Trickster. The Protector. The Hunter, the Beauty, the Child. They smiled down at him, as he stared up at them, yellow cat’s eyes unblinking.
His child came forth then. The dark haired elven girl approached quietly, sitting down beside him in the tall grass. Her fingertips scratched the soft fur behind his ears, and he let out a low, rumbling purr, shivers of contentment running down his spine.
“It’s cold tonight. Aren’t you coming back to the camp?” she asked, her voice barely louder than the whisper of the plains grass in the wind.
It may be cold for thee, little one, Emalkin replied. His face turned skywards once more, bathing his gingery fur in the pale blue light of the Arcaring. I have my coat to keep me warm. Moreover, it is far colder up there, with my brothers and sisters.
She paused, her hand deftly switching to the unscratchable itch between his shoulder blades. “The hunters came back with plenty to spare. Won’t you come back and eat with us tonight?” she asked.
I have little use for food, little one, Emalkin replied. Little grows out there, where the air is thin, and the light is cool. I have known lack and plenty alike up there, up there with my brothers and sisters.
She scratched under his chin, and, slowly, he curled up, coming to rest and leaning his head against her leg. “The moon is beautiful tonight. Our night will be filled with joy and laughter and dancing. Won’t you join us in our celebrations?”
I have known celebrations of my own, little one, Emalkin replied. In days of old, the moon and stars would drip with celestial wine, and I would drink my fill with my brothers and sisters.
One of the stars above shot across the sky, over the tops of darkened trees. He blinked lazily. A pleasant omen, little one.
Her eyes traveled to where his gaze seemed to lead, and she watched its path as it fell. “Among my people, we believe that a witness to a falling star is granted a wish.”
Emalkin’s head lolled to one side, and he glanced at her bemusedly. And what wouldst thou wish, little one? he asked.
The elven girl paused, the breeze tousling her hair. “I would wish that you would come back to the camp with me tonight.”
Ahh. The cat stood up, stretching, and letting out a yawn. The hair on his back and neck ruffled slightly, and he met his child’s gaze. It would be cruel of me, indeed, to refuse such a wish. Lead the way back, little one. I will join with thy people tonight.
She grinned, stumbling to her feet and beginning to lead the way back to where the light of the bonfire glowed bright, and where the sounds of drums and flutes filled the air. Emalkin allowed himself one last glance above, to where his siblings rested above, watching over him.
His brothers and sisters could wait. For now, he, Devotion, would remain where he belonged.
The Hunger of Dust
First came Dust, empty, who built himself out of the darkness and nothingness. He was empty, he was hungry, he sought to feed but found no sustenance, and went forth to find it.
He wandered over the lands until he found a volcano, roiling and boiling. The molten rock looked bright, filling, and warm. As he bent to drink of its source, a figure emerged from the smoke and ash of the place, swirling smoke and sparks for eyes, and they named themselves Cinder. They warned Dust not to drink of their fount, for it would surely pain him. Together, they moved onwards, in search of something to fill the emptiness within.
Time passed, and their journeys continued onwards, in search of anything to fill this void. The night fell, and moonlight flowed from the heavens like water, like nectar, and Dust raised his face, drinking in the light of it. As he consumed it, the light of the moon itself seemed to dim, and he turned his attention to the stars, ready to drink their light as well. But as he did so, stepping forth in a raiment of midnight, eyes like gems, came a third figure, who named herself Starlight. She warned Dust not to drink of her fount, for it would leave the world lightless, and would surely pain him. Together they moved onwards, in search of something to fill the emptiness within.
They came at last to a forest, and within the forest, they found the carcass of a deer. Dust, now weak with hunger, bent to consume the animal. But as he did so, a figure emerged from the carcass, ethereal and floating, whitish and strange, and it named itself Spirit.
Fearing the worst, Dust fell to his knees. "I cannot drink of Cinder's flame or I will die, I cannot drink of Starlight's fount or others shall, and now comes forth Spirit to deny me! Am I to assume I cannot consume this as well?"
Spirit shook its head and spoke in a whisper like Death itself. "No, Dust, for the spirits will not fill you, and you will feel hungrier than before. But this I offer you -- once I have taken the spirits of those who lived and died, I offer you their flesh and blood and bone, that you may not go hungry."
And so it was that Dust found his meal, and to this day, he lies in wait for the bones of the dead to fill his belly.
The Haffling and The Treefolk
“The first of the forests was deep and full of dangers.”
Grandfather Quinten had told Flynn Thornbrake that much every day since he was old enough to understand the tales he told. That sentence alone began dozens of stories. Haff itself was a fine enough place. It had its share of dangerous sorts of places, as did the rest of the world outside of Haff, he was sure. But the towns and villages were nice enough, and rarely encountered more danger than an early frost or an occasional pack of wild dogs.
Golberryn, the first of the forests, was a distinct exception. Any of the hafflings worth their earth knew the rules of the forest by heart, each of the tenets memorized and kept close as a catechism.
“Never stay within the Golberryn after Nightfall.”
“Follow neither sound nor light within the trees.”
“Stay on the path; turn neither right nor left or be lost to us all.”
No one knew, of course, what would happen if one were to, say, ignore one or more of those rules. There were rumors. Stories and tales told to every little scrap and sprout among their ranks. Stories about faces in the trees, and large creatures with sharp teeth, and wandering huts with chickens’ feet. Most of them were ridiculous, and not at all real.
Or at least, that was what Flynn was doing his best to convince himself of now, as the sun set behind the horizon.
“You’ve really gotten yourself in it now, Thornbrake,” he muttered, bare feet padding on the dirt road, which wound through the wild elms and oaks and pines. “Sun’s down, still with six miles to go.” He lit the lantern he had hanging on his belt, trying to keep his spirits up. The light flickered to life, casting a warm golden glow against the leafless trees. Icethaw would be over soon, and these trees would all be full of foliage, making the whole forest greener and more welcoming. But for now, a cold gloom settled over the whole of the place, and the clouds in the darkening sky showed no signs of letting stars nor moon through tonight.
He clasped his cloak closer to him as he pushed farther into the woods, trying to keep his eyes on the dimming path. A cool wind rustled the branches, causing an odd, echoing creak that seemed to carry for several dozen steps ahead of him. A groaning sound carried on the wind, and his pace quickened slightly. “Children’s tales,” he told himself, mumbling the words over and over. “Nothing but children’s tales and faerie stories.”
Unfortunately, it was at this moment that Flynn spotted the purplish blue lights floating in the distance. He would have thought that they were fireflies, albeit unseasonably early ones, if not for the deliberately unfireflylike way that they drifted and flitted about. In many ways they seemed to dart in and out of existence entirely, vanishing only to reappear a few feet away in a small puff of smoke. “Children’s tales and faerie stories,” he said again, only slightly less sure of himself as he took several steps further, waving his lantern in an attempt to dispel them.
The light of the lantern did little, it seemed, to illuminate the path. At least not enough to Flynn’s liking. If anything, it appeared to cast long and fearsome shadows on the ground and against the other trees, and if not enough to cause fear, it caused a sense of dread, a lack of ease where comfort was once abundant. The groaning, creaking sound echoed again, bouncing off of each of the trees with a reverberating sort of crack. Only now, he realized it was not being carried to a place ahead of him, but was, instead, coming from that place.
Flynn very quickly considered his options. He knew better than to leave the path, but was also firmly warned against following any sorts of odd lights and noises. The thought that the noises and lights might also follow the path had never once crossed his mind, and now he found himself in the rather uncomfortable position of having to choose which adages to follow. It seemed to him that staying on the path would, unfortunately, have to be the choice he made. Following lights and sounds could be uncomfortable and lead to unwanted incidents. Leaving the path, however, was always reported to be deadly.
“Stories and tales… tories and sales.” The murmuring and muttering formed a sort of counterpoint to the groaning, creaking noise that seemed to get ever closer, and if not for the sound suddenly reverberating just over his head, he might have ignored it entirely. He had just passed under a half-fallen tree, a kind of crack in the dead center of it that might have been caused by any number of high winds or storms or mysterious magics. The tree, however, as he ducked underneath it, suddenly groaned and creaked again, almost rolling over.
Flynn yelped in surprise as he found himself suddenly face to face with an ancient, oaken visage. It rumbled at him as he swung the lantern around to face it.
“Slowly now, small one,” the tree croaked. “Be cautious where you’re swinging those flames. A mere misstep could set us all ablaze, and I should certainly not prefer such a fate, such as I am.”
“Y-you! You can talk!” the haffling exclaimed. He stared at the fallen tree with a sense of fear and wonder alike, and stumbled a few steps back. Very quickly, he realized that he was speaking to a treefolk. Stories and tales, indeed!
“Such things are scarcely unusual, small one.” Their voice echoed, holding an odd sort of hollow quality to it, and it seemed to rattle their branches. “What is unusual, however, is to see one of your ilk out on the ancient paths after nightfall.”
“Well, you see,” he stammered, “I was out with some of my friends in the markets and--”
“I care little for your stories at the moment, small one. I mean no offense,” the tree said, as a sort of afterthought, “but I fear I am in a great deal of pain that is unlikely to cease anytime soon.”
“Oh… well. I can… I can imagine. What with the... “
“Yes. Unfortunate. Many, many years I have withstood the winds and the rains and the lightnings. A pity that one so small as the storm which tore through here a few suns ago was the one to bring me low.”
“Oh… yes. Very unfortunate. I, er…”
Flynn paused for a moment, uncertain if he should continue in his social niceties with this treefolk who had engaged him in conversation. After all, he was already in violation of too many rules of the forest, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue on with --
“Yes, small one?”
“I… was just going to say, I wish I could… find some way to help you with your predicament, but I am unfortunately unskilled with magic. And… Well.. I don’t really have--”
“It needs not be any concern of yours, small one. Such is our life here within the first of forests. We grow. We live. We fall and die. Our times all come, whether we speak aloud or merely sway.”
“But…” Growing braver, Flynn stepped forward. “You said yourself that you are in pain. Is there… Is there something I could do, perhaps, to… to help make it better? To help with this passing?”
The treefolk groaned again, the sound seeming to be picked up by the other trees nearby. “I fear there are very few things that could help me now, small one. A skilled druid with the strength of a giant might be able to reset these old splinters in much the way that one might set a bone, but I fear there are very few of those to be found, at least since the days of Argusen.”
“Argusen the Green?” Flynn asked, not realizing that his stammer had all but ceased. “The follyman from the first of ages? He who healed the heart of the worlds?”
“You know his tales?”
“By heart!” he exclaimed. “My grandfather passed them down such as his grandfather told him, and his grandfather told him before that.”
The treefolk rumbled in approval. “It is good to hear that those with smaller lives than our own still remember these old tales.” There was a small pause, a beat of silence in the creaking song that seemed to come from them. “Perhaps, small one, I spoke too hastily before. Perhaps, there is something that you can do to help with this passing after all.”
Flynn stepped back a few paces, to look the fallen treefolk in the eye again. “Yes? What… what would that be?”
“Would you stay this evening, here in my shadow, and tell me these tales such as your grandfather told you?”
All of the advice and warnings and rules of the forest came flooding back into the haffling’s head like a tidal wave. Perhaps the greatest, the most important, the one that should never be broken, was: “Never stay in the Golberryn after Nightfall.” Yet… he had broken nearly all the other rules of the forest tonight. There had been little consequence to it that he could see. And after all, wasn’t this how the stories came about in the first place? Those who were willing to break the rules in such circumstances? Here lay this treefolk, doomed to their fate, and simply seeking some distraction from the inevitable. Despite himself, his heart ached for this treefolk, fallen now, and waiting to die; despite his better judgment, Flynn cleared his throat, and spoke.
“I would be most honored to do so, friend oak.”
The hours passed one after another. Careful to keep it contained, Flynn built a small fire underneath the fallen tree, sitting under the unusual shelter just off the path, and leaning against what still remained of the trunk. His voice echoed well into the night, until the clouds finally passed towards their next location, and the moon and the stars and the light of the bluish ring around the planet illuminated the crisp late winter air. He told the stories of Argusen the Green, of the First Wanderer of the Worlds, of the Day the Sun Flew High. He told the tales of the days when the world was still raw with the death and new life of the Omnigod, when the magic of the shards first filled the air, and boiled and bubbled in the waters of the world. The treefolk listened, for the most part, in silence, only speaking out again when the tale was ended, to clarify certain points, or to mention small anecdotes that the haffling had missed.
Flynn awakened the next morning, unaware that he had even slept. As he stirred to consciousness, he sat up, and looked around, blinking in surprise. The shelter that had covered him the night before was no more. Instead, he found that the tree he had sheltered under was, unusually, standing tall right beside him, branches stretching high into the bright, sunstreaked sky. He saw the oaken face, no more than knots in the old wood, staring blankly out over the forest as a whole.
Straightening up, the haffling hurried back, pressing the remaining miles home to his village. As he arrived, he was further surprised to see a large group of his friends and relations pressed into a small cluster, chattering wildly to each other, with packs on their backs and lanterns in their hands.
“What’s going on?” he asked as he entered their midst. They all turned to look at him with the expressions of those who had just seen a ghost.
“Flynn! By the gods, you’re alive! We were just preparing to send out a search party for you.”
“A search party? I’ve only been gone for a day, surely there’s no need for all of that worry…” The haffling stopped speaking as the eyes of his companions rested on him with a sudden graveness that suddenly worried him to his core.
“A day?” one spoke up. “Flynn, the last anyone saw of you was your friends in the Umbron Valley Market… three days ago.”
The whole town clamored around him to hear the story of what had happened, not just that night, but every night after for nearly a twelveday. The tale circulated among everyone from the scraps to the elders, all of them eager to tell and retell it. Many followed after Flynn to find the old treefolk, but to no avail. None ever found a fallen tree on the path, nor the one that stood tall with its watchful eyes resting over the rest of the woods. Even as they were shared, Flynn maintained it, telling it as it happened, and correcting any exaggerations that came his way.
It was said that Grandfather Quinten had spoken to the assembly of hafflings after several days had passed, again reiterating the importance of not wandering into the first of forests too late in the day. But Flynn remembered for many years afterwards, the warm smile on his grandfather’s face when he asked about the whole situation. The elder haffling’s wizened face spread into a grin, crinkling into a dozen new wrinkles.
“My boy,” he said, “while the sun yet shines over Charim, there will be those, like us, who carry the stories of its folk. Our stories might be small or large, clever or simple, but the truth remains to them all -- a well-told tale is as great a medicine as any physician could provide. And it is often those who need them most who reap their greatest rewards.”
It’s said that Flynn wandered the Golberryn often after that, looking for the old treefolk. Whether or not he ever found him again, however, is a tale for another time.
Thank you very much for reading these three short stories! All three of these were written as part of a series of challenges posed to me by my fellow creators and worldbuilders. Together, over the past three and a half years, the five of us have collaboratively been constructing the world of Charim that so many of the other stories I've shared on my page. If you liked these three little myths and want to see some of the other little pieces of lore, history, and strangeness that comprises this lovely little world, please feel free to check out some of these other samples from my profile!
The Fall of Marza -- A valiant last stand against an invading naval force, and heroism ending in tragedy.
Broken Beast, Part 1 -- A monstrous shapechanger is accused of murder by her tribe, by no fault of her own, the beast within fighting the conscious mind. An excerpt from a NaNoWriMo novel I worked on back in 2019.
Broken Beast, Part 2 -- The introduction of the Gray Band, a group of monster hunters, now being called to help with a strange new threat within the depths of the Ekhor Weald.
The Saint of Circuitry -- Charim has never been purely a fantasy setting; this was a fun experiment in science fiction and cyberpunk in late age Charim, and one of my favorites.
If you've enjoyed any of these tales and want additional short stories from the setting, or further pieces of novels, feel free to like the stories you enjoy the most, comment on them, or subscribe and let me know which one caught your eye the most! And if you want to know some of the lessons I've learned over this worldbuilding process, check out this article I wrote on some tips for making a compelling world setting for fantasy or sci-fi stories.
Thank you all again for reading, and for letting me shamelessly plug all my other stories. If you have any that you'd like more content on, please let me know!