Fantasy Thriller

As dusk dimmed the sky, light flickered through the forest.

It swelled, reflecting off of frosted grass, making the shadows of the trees stretch and dance around the sprinting creature. The fox’s coat remained mostly black, but the faster he moved and the deeper the sun set, the more sparks shot from his tail, the fur of which steadily took on an iridescent sheen.

Energised by the thrill of his nightly run, and the crisp wind against his face, he bounded up crags and over logs. A river coursed across his path, wide enough to stop a regular fox, but he crouched and leapt over it with ease. He raised his head towards the stars, which emerged from the darkening sky, and flicked his tail. Flames rose, drifting past pine boughs instead of setting them alight, since this was no earthly fire. Even the frost on the branches remained intact. The fox fire – revontulet – ascended and curled high above the land like a shimmering veil. The Northern Lights.

It wasn’t long until night settled fully, yet the arcs of flames overhead softened the darkness. Although the fox’s eyes could see well in the dark, he knew this was not the case for some creatures, including humans.

“The night is perilous for travellers, and I can only weave so much light.” He recalled these words from Kuutar, the moon goddess.

“So guide them, Tulikettu, with your fire,” her sister, sun goddess Paivatar, had instructed. “Until it’s time for me to weave the dawn. But take care not to draw too close to them.”

The tulikettu galloped further away from the villages and paths at the edge of the woods, sending more embers darting upwards, carrying out the will of the gods. It amused him to create something so visible, yet remain elusive. As he reached a clearing, he slowed to a trot towards a lake, the water of which hadn’t yet frozen over. Glancing this way and that, he panted to catch his breath, which rose as white mist. He bowed his head and drank, ripples spreading across the reflection of the Northern Lights, and of his own form, now fully luminous. His entire body still buzzed with exhilaration – which soured to apprehension as he caught a scent on the breeze.

Humans. And horses. He drew back, ears perking in the direction of distant hoofbeats, and bolted. Something streaked through the air in the corner of his vision. Its tip buried itself into the ground. An arrow.

He wove in and out of the trees, leaving a trail like a shooting star as the rhythm of hooves accelerated behind him. The more speed he picked up, the more of a beacon his pelt would become – the pelt the hunters surely sought. The rest of Paivatar’s warning echoed through his mind.

“Humans have a tendency to covet rare treasures. Shining treasures.” Her face had been solemn, her implication clear. “Many, after all, seek our gold and silver. Keep on your guard, and evade them.”

Eluding lone hunters was an easy task, even ones on horseback, but this time there had to be at least three. One veered to the side, aiming from a new angle. The tulikettu jumped aside, an arrow only just missing his flank. Another thud against the earth told him he’d almost run into the path of another shot.

“That accursed creature!” he heard one of the men grumble. “It’s too fast!”

“It can’t run forever,” another replied. “It’s bound to tire eventually.”

Panic surged through the tulikettu as he tore ahead. Their words rang true. For all his speed and stamina, he had his limits, as all creatures did. The further his legs carried him, the more they seared in protest. His breath came in short huffs. Nonetheless, he forced himself to keep up his pace. If he slowed for so much as a second, the hunters would have the treasure they sought, the wealth he was rumoured to grant.

His glow fell on a patch of shrubbery. This would be a significant risk, but he had no other option. Changing course, he dived into it, hoping the leafy cover would dull his luminescence long enough to pull this off. Twigs and thorns scratched his ears, making him bite back a yelp. Crouching and scurrying through the gaps where the greenery was thinnest, he swished his tail from side to side.

When he burst out of the thicket, so did several other streaks of flame, as large as he was. They darted in all directions, winding past the trees like pursued prey. Behind him, shouts of bewilderment went up.

“Where did it go?”

“That one! That’s the real one!”

“No, it’s this way! Hurry!”

The voices and the stamping of hooves grew distant. A rib-shaking huff of relief left the tulikettu’s maw, but he couldn’t let his guard down. Thanking the gods that it had not yet snowed, that any tracks he left would be faint against the frost, he rushed onwards, as did the foxfire constructs until they vanished into the furthest reaches of the forest – hopefully with the hunters on their trail. It was only well after the commotion faded to nothing that he slowed his pace, although every muscle in his body remained tense. His ears swivelled, alert to the faintest of sounds. Even the rustle of an owl in a tree made him jump.

To think that earlier, running had brought him elation. That sprint had been a world apart from the one that had narrowly saved his life. The sense of liberation had snuffed out, replaced with the brutal reminder that he was never truly free, not so long as the greedy sought the riches his remains would bring.

He kept on the move until he reached his den, the location of which he changed on a regular basis. By now, much of the revontulet had faded, both from the Northern Lights as the shadows lessened, and – thankfully – from his fur. He cast one more look behind him, at the sliver of Paivatar’s sunlight welling on the horizon, before heading into the burrow.

Safe inside, he rested his head on his paws, which had once again turned dark. Watching the sunrise sweep away the last of his creation, he braced himself to recreate it as soon as night next fell.

March 12, 2023 20:55

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Sonny Red
23:43 Apr 26, 2023

This was an absolutely amazing story; it was so deep and cinematic, and it felt magical. It reminds me of how special nature is and the sadness of it being threatened due to man's greed of treasures. I'm curious about the origin of the mythology in the story, does it have an origin, or did you create it yourself? Awesome job!


Philippa Hibberd
07:56 Apr 27, 2023

Thanks, the lore isn't mine though, it's based on Finnish mythology. It isn't explored much despite having a lot of story potential, and the tulikettu struck me as a particularly fascinating figure, for all the reasons you pointed out.


Sonny Red
20:56 Apr 27, 2023

Oh yes, I thought the names sounded kind of Finnish to me, the way they roll off the tongue so elegantly. Very nice!


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