The underworld was a lonely place.
It was created by Volava, goddess of fire, and her husband Siour, god of death. It was meant to be a good place, a happy place free of fear and pain, and it was. People still feared it. Siour would find souls and deliver them to the gates, but then he would leave Volava to greet them. Try as she might, she could never make the souls happy to see her. They left her, searching the underworld for loved ones, finding happiness without Volava’s help.
She was lonely, and as the years passed her loneliness only grew. Though she left the doors to her castle open, none of the souls ever came to her. Siour was always busy. Volava desperately wanted to go out into the world, to visit her siblings, nieces and nephews who ruled the world above her. However, she knew she had to stay to look after the souls in her realm, even if they ignored her.
An idea came to her one day, while she was idly playing with her fire. Her fire was all that kept the underworld lit. She often tried to make the souls happy with beautiful displays of fire swirling into the air. The particular moment, the sparks flying from her fingers caught her interest.
Using a dark wooden chair she never sat in as firewood, she created a small, tame fire within her great hall. She coaxed the fire until it burned a bright, golden yellow. Taking a deep breath, she blew on the flames. Sparks drifted into the air, and then turned, flying in lazy circles. Volava put out her hand and a small, dark beetle landed on it. As Volava watched, delighted, the beetle lit up. Its glow was yellow, the same as the fire it had come from.
Volava watched her creations flitter about the great hall. She turned back to her fire, concentrating deeply until the flames had reddened. She blew on the flames again, and this time the beetles she created flashed red. She spent hours making beetles until the great hall flickered like the night sky. She flung open the windows, freeing the beetles to explore the underworld.
The changes started gradually. The fireflies, as she called them, spread throughout the underworld. The souls noticed them, and were reminded of Volava’s presence. They began to visit Volava to praise her creations. Volava was happy. She lit up the underworld’s sky with swirling fire while her fireflies brought joy to all the souls.
It seemed as if nothing could go wrong. As it often does, bad news came with death. Siour returned to the castle briefly and Volava went to meet him. After a quick embrace, Siour opened his hand to reveal a few dead beetles.
Volava gasped and gently scooped them from her husband’s palm. “What happened to them?” Her fireflies had no souls – they were not supposed to die.
“They were out in the world,” Siour explained. “The air and the light killed them.” He was usually unemotional about death, but sadness seeped into his voice. He knew how important the beetles were to Volava.
“You must help me.” Volava had an idea. She took Siour’s hand and led him to the grand hall, where the fire which created life still burned. They knelt beside the fire and she put the beetles into Siour’s hand. “Put them into the fire.”
He did as she asked. For a moment, the flames burned green. Volava blew. A single green spark flew from the flames. It buzzed around for a moment before coming to rest on Volava’s hand. There were tears in her eyes as she looked down at it.
“You must find me a soul,” she told the green firefly. “The purest, kindest soul you can find.”
The firefly flew away.
Far away, deep in the underworld, there was a soul of a young girl. She had died from a sickness centuries before, so long ago that her memories about life had faded away. All she knew was the underworld, where she stayed with a group of souls who had once been her family. She loved the fireflies, often catching them in her tiny hands and watching, fascinated, as they flashed.
She first noticed something odd when the firefly she caught flashed green. She showed it to the other souls, but as they had in life, they ignored her to go about their daily routine. The firefly only flashed when she was the only one who could see it. The little girl’s family did not notice when the firefly flew from her hands, and she followed it.
Souls do not get tired. The girl followed the firefly for nearly a year before the castle loomed in front of her. The firefly disappeared inside. The girl followed it without pause, through the open doors and down hallways until she walked into the great hall.
Volava was kneeling by the fire with her back to the hallway. When the green firefly flew in front of her, she noticed the little girl and turned around.
“Hello,” Volava said gently. She knew that she sometimes scared younger souls.
The little girl barely noticed her. She was staring up at the sparkling walls and ceiling. She had never seen so many fireflies.
Volava followed her gaze and smiled. “Do you like my fireflies?”
“Fireflies?” the girl asked. She had never given the beetles a name. “I love them.”
“Do you think you could help me with something?” Volava asked.
The girl looked confused. She knew who Volava was, but why would a goddess need her help?
“The fireflies are escaping out into the world,” Volava said. “Once out, they quickly die. They need someone who loves them to go out to protect them. They need a keeper. I would go myself, but I simply cannot leave the underworld.”
The little girl’s eyes widened. “I can protect them!”
Volava laughed lightly. “Yes, I think you will do perfectly. I have been making something to help you.” She held up her right hand, and a small golden cage appeared. She handed it to the girl. “The fireflies can live for a few days in the living world. The reason they keep dying is because, while they can find their way out easily enough, they cannot find their way back. This cage is a doorway for them. The fireflies will find you, or you will find them, and put them into the cage to send them home.”
The girl turned the cage in her hands, looking it over. “What about when there are no more escaped fireflies?”
“They love to explore. They will keep finding their way out, and you will be there to help them. The green firefly will always keep you company. Will you do this?”
The girl nodded eagerly. The green firefly landed on her shoulder.
“Thank you, Firefly Keeper,” Volava said. She waved a hand and the girl disappeared as her soul returned to the world above.
People often caught glimpses of the Firefly Keeper – a pale girl with a glowing cage. If they tried to approach her she would vanish. Children in the forest would sometimes hear her laughter as she played with the fireflies she loved. No one ever managed to speak to her, and eventually sightings became so uncommon that people began to dismiss her as simply a myth.
But people who care for the world and everything in it might still see her in the dark of night. All you have to do is believe and follow the fireflies.
NOTE: The Girl who Keeps Fireflies is a myth from my novel, Without a King. To learn more about the series, please visit
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