Legend Of Evening Star

Centuries ago, on a night lit by shooting stars, a meteorite struck into the heart of the hill country where rock gnomes, halflings, and other folks eked out a living by gathering rare herbs and unusual rocks.

“What is that?” Belle the halfling asked, pointing to a particularly warm glow against the night sky. She and her friends, including her boyfriend, Hassfred Beaucoat, had seated themselves on a high hill to enjoy the spectacular parade of stars.

“It’s like a fire flower,” her younger sister said, as the glowing star shot across the vault of the sky like a demon on a chariot.

The shooting star grew in size from a flower to a small sun, though they felt no heat yet. Everyone exchanged excited yet worried glances.

“It looks like it will fall only a few tens of miles from here, maybe closer,” Hassfred offered. “No worries.” He reached into their supper basket for more chicken.

The sky grew warm and as luminous as day.

“Everyone, cover your ears and eyes,” Belle said. Her mother had once been this close to a falling star. The village geomancer said they came every twenty-three years or so.

Thunder peeled the sky in two. A few miles away, the hills briefly lit up with a blinding light. Belle’s sister screamed and then cried softly, mostly from embarrassment.

“What a baby,” Hassfred said, standing up. “Hey, let’s take a look!” He was among the tallest boys Belle knew, and certainly tall for a halfling at three feet and four inches.

A fiery glow danced behind the hills where the star fell, but with so little brush, fire was not a danger. Besides, the recent rains had turned half the hills to mud.

After more than two hours, Hassfred, Belle and four of their friends, including Belle’s sister, reached the crash site. Hassfred conjured light for all of them where the gullies grew dark; he was studying under the

They came to a crater. Small fires and charred brush dotted the whole valley around the crater. A fine mist hung everywhere.

“The heat should have burned away any fog,” Hassfred said. Belle looked at him with a smile. She felt he was quite smart, though good thing she was the one who had the sense to bring the supper basket.

“Look, there’s the mouth of an old mine,” Elton said.

“The mine is probably full of water,” Hassfred explained to his friend, “and the mist seeps up. Notice how the mist is moving near the mouth.” Elton looked hard and nodded in agreement.

Belle shivered. The mist was moving into the mine opening, not away from it. She clutched her sister’s hand. “I think we should go,” she offered.

“Nonsense,” Hassfred and Elton responded at once. Poor Elton wanted so much to be like Hassfred; he was not even accepted to the shoemaker’s apprenticeship much less to a geomancer’s tower.

“We need to collect some rocks,” Hassfred added. “No one will believe us if we don’t.”

“I’ll believe you,” Belle offered.

“And Master will be impressed if I bring him fresh star rocks,” he said, referring to the geomancer wizard.

“Well, you two stay then,” Belle said. “I’m taking everyone else home.” She was a tiny bit envious and wanted to collect rocks with Hassfred but her sister was more important. Maybe she would come back in a few days. The rocks would be cool by then anyway.

Hassfred conjured light on a stone and gave it to Belle. They kissed and she led the others toward home. As she reached a roundabout, she looked back. Hassfred and Elton were poking with sticks and chatting; they had ventured a little further in, and the mist swirled around their knees. I love you, Hassfred Beaucoat, she thought, and I am going to marry you. She waved to them although they could not see her by now.

On the way back, they stumbled across the carcass of a wolf. The others feigned disgust and then joked but Belle knew it was not a good sign. The wolf’s fur looked singed but not lethally; and it had not been on the path earlier.

They hurried home.

The next day Belle did not see Hassfred because she had to travel to the human town with her mother.
Although, she did spot Elton from a distance, tossing rocks along the road. He looked tired and grey. She thought, he is probably depressed after last night’s excitement, and only Hassfred gets any honors.

When Belle and her mother returned, everyone in town was talking about Elton; apparently, he had begun acting strangely and ran away. At the same time, some of the sheep brought in acted up. The miners came home too, complaining of mist. Someone said some sheep just fell over and melted into the ground, which Belle found unbelievable. Or perhaps not.

She ran over to the geomancer’s tower to see Hassfred and knocked hard on the giant oak and iron door.

After a spell, the old geezer answered. “Come in, Belle.” His expression told her something was wrong. However, old halflings were often the biggest worrywarts in the world.

“Is Hassfred here?” she asked as she stepped in, trying to remain positive.

“Uh, come with me, won’t you?” the geomancer asked. Belle followed him upstairs. There sitting restrained in a big iron chair was Hassfred, grey-skinned and writhing with a multitude of hair-like tentacles, grey, green, and mauve in hue. She could not take her eyes off of the squirming sight.

“I’m sorry to say he will not be the same,” the geomancer said grimly. “He’s just an empty shell now.” Then he took her forearm lightly and examined it. A narrow line like a worm moved under her skin.

Belle sat frozen; it was all she could do to keep back tears. “The good news,” the geomancer said, with a heavy, sad smile, “Is that it may certainly not be too late for you.”

Belle wept. None of her dreams of love were going to come true.

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