Worldbuilding for my hopepunk fantasy novel, both in and out of character.

*Author's Note: There is an audio version of this story available on The Voice of Dog as part of their Ghost of Dog 2023 series. Story starts at 1:14.*

The evening breeze prickled the back of Bert's neck. There was something at the crossroads.

She saw nothing, no pattern among the lightning bugs darting about the tall grass in the corners, heard no sound of footsteps or engines beneath the chorus of crickets. But there was definitely something in the air.

She'd always had a sort of gift, what Ma called the second scent, maybe what the wizards who sold spells in town called feeling the current. She knew little of wizards: in the UNM correspondence course catalog, the magic classes had all been labeled In Person Only, which everyone knew meant No Werewolves Allowed.

She preferred to call it seeing the things that were really there. And it was easier to do with fur on.

She stopped a few paces from where the roads crossed and closed her eyes, shutting out the world and gathering herself the way Gran had taught her, imagining the very fibers of her being knotting themselves together like the rag rug in Mama’s kitchen. When she opened her eyes, the night was warmer and the breeze full of smells and sounds she’d barely noticed in her other body.

The shape in the breeze was stronger now, in some combination of sight and scent that no one but Gran had ever really understood when she tried to explain. And it was a shape she almost recognized. Another werewolf in the middle of the crossroads, as faint and faded as campfire smoke over the next hill, thumbing in vain for a lift that would never pull over.

She approached cautiously, hands out to show she meant no harm. There was no guarantee they could see her, but it never hurt to be careful.

The stillness stretched, the cricket chorus swelling until it threatened to deafen her.

She realized she was holding her breath at the moment the ghost turned their head and looked her dead in the eye.

She dropped her gaze as quick as she could, focusing instead on their mouth and making no sense out of her attempt to lip-read. They held out a hand–maybe inviting her to hitch with them? She shook her head and pointed down another branch of the road.

They paused, head tilted as if hearing a distant whistle, and fixed their eyes on her hand. Looking down at it, she saw the bracelet of braided fur that had fallen out of her shirt cuff.

“To keep you safe on the road,” Mama had said as she'd tied it around Bert's wrist mere days before. “Your ma's fur and mine, it'll find you your cousins no matter where you go.”

She glanced back up at the ghost, who was now holding out their other arm. On that wrist, they wore a bracelet very like hers. She held her arm beside the ghost's to compare them: theirs had a fancier braid, and a bit more wear and tear, but it was definitely still a fur charm. How long ago had they died, she wondered. How far back did that tradition go?

She looked back up at the ghost's face, and found its mouth half-open in a canine grin. The hand with the bracelet moved again, resting above her upturned palm, not quite a handshake, but close enough for someone who could reach right through you. She glanced back down at the movement, and when she looked up, the ghost was gone.

“Thanks, cousin,” she whispered after them. No telling if something of them lingered on the breeze, or if finding unexpected kin out here was what they’d needed to send them on West.

Regardless, her own soul felt a touch lighter as she stepped back from the middle of the road and considered her options. In the direction she’d pointed, she saw a glimmer of campfire just out of reach. That was good enough.

Even if the people there were no friend to werewolves. Bert closed her eyes again and imagined picking up Mama’s old rag rug and snapping it into the wind. The breeze became sharper, the scent of ditch-flowers duller, and there was nothing left to do but head up the road and see who’d built that fire.

If she was lucky, it was someone who needed to hear a story like this tonight.

I have sung to you of Kirnikalam, Mistelin's warrior bride; of the strength and courage of their children, whose children's children became in their time the first werewolves; and how her sudden passing into Death's domain left Him so bereft as to tear a hole in the weave of the world, to create a place neither living nor dead, from which He could in His own time say farewell. This land of rest became His place, and it brought Him peace.

Amruoc, Lord of the Hunt, saw what Mistelin had done, and it gave him pause. He sat in thought for three days without moving, turning these events over in his mind, and for those days no arrow would fly true, no track could be found, no snare would grasp.

At dusk on the third day, two hunters sat hungry beside their fire. And they became aware that they could smell meat cooking, and they found a third man sitting across the fire from them, roasting a fat rabbit and staring without seeing into the flames. And just as it occurred to them who he was, one about to cry out, and the other to rise and kneel before their god, Amruoc spoke: “What is it that you hunt for?”

“We came looking for deer,” said the second hunter.

“Not what you hunt,” said Amruoc. “Why do you hunt at all?”

“For food, my lord,” the first hunter said. “We mortals must eat, after all.”

“Is that all?” Amruoc asked, meeting their eyes for the first time.

“What other reason could there be?” they said.

The firelight shifted, and he was gone.

The rabbit remained.

It tasted divine.


Throughout the land, hunters began to tell tales of a man, cloaked and hooded, who appeared at their camp without a sound, gave them meat, and asked them why they hunted. The bowmen of the north forests, the spear-throwers of the southern plains, the fisherfolk on the sweetwater lakes, and the seal catchers on the Seven Rivers all met with him. The Children of Dusk spoke of him, and the orcs, and the lionfolk. Every hunting animal, from bobcat to shrike, said they had seen him. But not one could say he had been satisfied with their answer.

One night at dusk, a young ferret emerged from his burrow to find the Lord of the Hunt had made camp outside his door. He bowed, and tried to hide his fear, and said: “Greetings, my lord. If you've come to take my pelt, at least let me bid farewell to my family first.”

“Am I Mistelin, that you think my heart so movable?” Amruoc stared into his fire. “Yet I have no need of your pelt, nor of anything else from you.”

The ferret felt bolder, enough to feel, instead of fear, the curiosity that now filled every creature that breathed, and to ask: “Lord of the Wilderness, how goes your search?”

“Long and weary,” said Amruoc, “and I know not how much longer and wearier. Were I anyone but myself, I would say that I hunt something which cannot be found, and I would do well to give it up and go home.”

“But you yourself will not?”

“I cannot. I am the hunt, not the hunter. I do not give up. And if I give up the hunt, what home have I to return to?” He looked down at the ferret for the first time. “Do you hunt?”

“Only voles and prairie chickens, my lord.”

“And why is it that you hunt?” Amruoc asked, wearier than ever, as if praying to the rising moon that this would be the last time.

“You have said it better than I ever could,” said the ferret. “More than hunger, more than thrill, more than knowing that, if only I seek it the sun will rise tomorrow: I hunt because I have not given up.”

Amruoc felt a great weight lifted off his soul, and he smiled. “At last,” he said, “my hunt has not been in vain.” Here was a hunter who truly understood the hunt, as Amruoc had thought only he could. “Go and say your farewells, my friend. From this day forth, you hunt with me.”

And so began the Longest Hunt, which continues to this day. And any hunter, if they be wise enough, and determined, and seek to become one with the hunt, may one day find themselves before Amruoc. And if they answer His questions well, they will hunt alongside him forever, in death as in life, and what they seek together, Amruoc alone knows.


The winter solstice is the first day of the year in both Silvanian calendars and Onumbrica's Metropolitan Almanac. In the old days, the holiday commemorated the return of Coren, god of the sun at noon, after (almost, in some traditions) being seduced by Coreas, god of winter, into abandoning his responsibilities. Classical solstice parties typically involved feasting and dancing all night and ended with watching the sun rise, at which time Coren was said to have confronted his father Barolin, the tyrannical god of dawn, who had tried to steal the sun for himself, and set it back on its course.

It's also said that Coreas sulked for weeks after Coren rejected him, which is why Snow is the first month of all three calendars, in spite of Silvania's climate being substantially warmer than the parts of Onumbrica at the same latitude, and the rarity of actual snow anywhere since the Cyclone.

Onumbrican customs

Since the Cyclone, Onumbrican and Silvanian traditions have diverged. Under the judgmental eye of the Senate, Onumbrican solstice secularized rapidly, and has become a festival of gift-giving and community togetherness. Gifts are traditionally placed under a tree in the town square (often a courtyard in urban apartment buildings, and wealthy families may have their own tree), and going outside in the cold to find your gift symbolizes the fresh possibilities of the new year.

Silvanian customs

In coastal Silvania, the solstice holiday commemorates the return of the Lady, who fell silent in the days after the Cyclone. The holiday is preceded by three days of vigils, and ends with an elaborate brunch including boiled ring bread (symbolizing the continuity of the year) and smoked meat, most often salmon. In the town of Triumph, the holiday season continues for another seven days, culminating in Dedication Day, which celebrates the first religious services held in Triumph's rebuilt synagogue post-Cyclone. Some of the towns in closer contact with Onumbrica have adopted Onumbrican gift-giving traditions, especially Alliance, where tree decorating has become its own art form.

[Note: No one actually knows what time of year the Cyclone happened. The New Year is as good a time to celebrate as any.]

The Silvanian Outer Forest calendar observes the solstice with a single all-night prayer vigil followed by a feast celebrating the return of the All-Mother. Neither coastal folk nor Outer Foresters have records of whether the people of the Inner Forest observe the day at all.

Note on Hidalguan customs

The nomadic scholarly groups of tropical and southern Hidalgo prioritize celebrating the equinoxes over the solstices, often with a claim that their traditional discourse prefers equilibrium to extremity, though some acknowledge that the custom began in the tropics, where solstices are harder to determine. However, in southern regions, the summer solstice is considered an excellent time to teach children the basics of trigonometry by measuring shadows, and has therefore become a minor holiday of its own. (The Hidalguan winter solstice has likewise become a holiday for teaching astronomy.)

The Director of the Senate Archive knew she was dreaming, because she'd been here before.

Her first day at the Archive, fresh from an internship at the Traymetropolis university library, staring up at the statue of St. Fay that the previous director had inexplicably installed dominating the entryway.

Except the first time she'd seen that statue, it had been early morning, and now it was the dead of night, icy moonlight ribboning down from the windows in the rotunda, across the statue's marble face and down to where she stood, feeling as tiny and defenseless as a hatchling.

The statue hadn't spoken to her that day either.

When she woke, she couldn't remember what the statue had said, but she knew it had been important. That feeling stayed with her through breakfast and all the way to work, where the real statue gazed out at the grand front doors and added nothing to the conversation.

She sat down at her desk in the back office and reached for her inbox, and in that moment everything changed.

The first piece of newsprint she'd drawn from the stack was at least a week old, driven to the back burner in the last several days' flurry of damage control, as the archivists raced to figure out what a vote of confidence overturning a Traditionalist majority meant for them, and for their funding. It was the arts and culture section of the Metropolis Gazette, with nearly all the space above the fold on the front page taken up by a wirephoto portrait of half a dozen people in some public park—

and among them, off to one side, was a woman who looked exactly like that statue of St. Fay.

REVIVAL REALIZED, proclaimed the headline, over a byline from a prairie town where nothing notable had happened in—she couldn't be sure, but at least a couple of centuries—

What had her predecessor known, when they commissioned that statue?

She pulled a memo pad in from the corner of her desk and began to write.


The Deputy Director, arriving just a hair late to the office, found an utterly baffling memo in his inbox.

Dave—Can you take the Committee meeting this afternoon? Sorry about the short notice; I've got work to do in Lest We Forget.

What in Sidney's was so urgent as to send the Director away, without prior planning, to a place he'd never heard of, on a day the Senate expected her?

Not that he had the luxury of sitting around and thinking about it now. There were budget reports to reread.


The Director paused on the platform to look back at the Wildcat Express. She remembered wondering, as a junior librarian, why both it and the City of Metropolis stopped in Lest We Forget, the continent’s busiest rail routes crossing paths in this nothing of a town. Historical reasons, was all the books had said.

“Madam Director?” She turned back. A young Shade woman with a clipboard stood before her. She held out a hand, palm up. “Lyna Richards, Sturmkraw research group.”

The Director held out her own hand to where their palms would have touched, just long enough for a professional handshake. “I don't think I told anyone out here I was coming. Did the Archive send you?”

Lyna shook her head. “Better'n that. There's someone who wants to see you down in Memorial Park.” The look on her translucent face gave nothing away.

Bending down to pick up her suitcase, the Director finally got a good look at Lyna's clipboard. Beneath a newspaper clipping advertising some kind of “sunrise cure” patent medicine was that same wirephoto from the Gazette.

“Is this about St. Fay?”

Lyna set off through the station, and the Director scrambled to follow. “Your folks've been librarians just about forever, right?”

“As far back as we have records. There's an old family joke that my eight-greats-grandmother was the high priestess of something or other, but that's it.”

“That'll be less of a joke in a minute. Firial's been lookin' for the descendants of her old priesthood, an' it sounds like you're the only one who's answered. Makes sense you're in the high priests' direct line.”

Dathius' pinfeathers. She had so many questions. “Firial?” was the first to make it out of her beak.

“She don't like bein' called Saint Fay. That's a name was come up with after the Cyclone to hide the history from the Metro. Credit to your ancestors, it worked well enough that you work for the Senate now. But she only answers to the name she gave herself.”

They were out of the station now, and crossing a quiet street into what could only be Memorial Park. Little sparks and swirls of magic faded into the Director's vision, all headed for the sixteen standing stones a little way away, in various states of disrepair, and the striped pavilion that cozied up to them. It felt like something in the current was converging here.

“So does she want me to be a priestess?”

“Nah, it sounds like she likes you where you are. Director of the biggest library on the continent? Keepin' it runnin' every year the Senate tries to cut taxes on itself? You're doin' Her work already. Besides, she's already got me trained up to speak for her, an' I get the sense she don't like changin' her mind much.”

A teenage orc sat against one of the standing stones in the outer ring, current eddying around him and a werewolf in work clothes watching over him. The Director glanced at Lyna, who shook her head.

Not my project. You can ask him what he's doin' if you're still here when he wakes up.”

They stopped before a stone in the inner circle, straight and smooth as the day it was carved, with the sign of St. Fay inlaid near the top. Lyna knelt before it, hands resting palm up on her thighs, and craned her neck to address the faintly glowing glyph. “Firial! An heir to the priesthood has answered your call.”

In the silence, the Director felt the pressure of the current building inside her head. She considered kneeling, but it didn't quite feel right for the moment.

Barely a breath after that decision, she became aware of a figure who hasn't been there before, who seemed to fade into view as she watched. A human woman, but nearly as tall as the obelisk beside her, and identical to the statue in the Archive.

“Welcome home, Director,” the goddess said with the gentle coolth of the waning moon. “I'm glad you were able to join us. We have much to discuss.”


“Cent for your thoughts?”

Startled, the Director looked up from her plate. They'd retreated to a boardinghouse on the far side of the park, and been given hot sandwiches that Lyna swore were worth coming to town for all on their own. Whether or not that was the case, the Director found herself without appetite.

She shrugged. “It's just a lot to take in.”

“The gods never do anything halfway, do they,” Lyna said. “What's eatin’ you the worst?”

“I think…” the Director said, and thought for a while. “When I joined the Order, I got the sense we were safeguarding history for other people. Protecting the truth until we didn't have to anymore and could teach everyone how the world really worked again. And I was good at it.”

“An' it sounds like you can't think of it like that anymore.”

“No, I can't. Because it's my history now. My eight-greats grandmother was the first head of the Order. She watched her parent die of a broken heart after the Cyclone, because Firial was gone. Trying to stay objective about all this, in the face of that, feels like an insult to her.”

Lyna considered. “Maybe try bein’ subjective, then.”


“As I understand it, the gods from the Revival are the ones that really wanted to come back. Every single one of ‘em had somethin' they loved about the world, so much that it held them close and made us able to reach ‘em. Even Firial. You'd think to listen to her she'd be the most distant and impartial of anyone. But every single one of us is here because she decided, as soon as she was back in the world, that she needed her child back too, and she needed mortal help to find him. I say leave the objectivity to folks who're farther away from the history. Study this because you've got ties to it, not in spite of 'em.”

The Director felt that same shrunken and stranded feeling from her dreams. “How?” she asked, mostly at her sandwich.

“Stay a couple days, talk to the librarians here. Maybe they've got somethin’ in their Cyclone archive that'll help you get your bearings. And then you can decide what to do when you feel like you know enough.”

“Spoken like a member of the Order.” The Director looked up. “…Are you?”

“Nah, Firial’s still workin’ out what to do about that. But it could happen.”

”...and he asks me if I can make change for a Senator.”

“Yeah, pull the other one.”

“Exactly. Nobody walks around with a hundred bucks in gold, and I sure as Sid don't keep that much behind the bar. So I ask to see it. An' he reaches fer his breast pocket—an' then he stops, an' says he'd really rather not.”


“You've played dice with lionfolk before, yeah?”

“Not our regulars, but yeah, in other places.”

“Ever meet one with a twitchy ear?”

“'Course I have, boss, an' every time it's a tell.”

“This guy had it. So now I know for certain he's tryin'a' grift me outta almost a hundred bucks in my own establishment. And he's bein' so clumsy about it a kid'd see right through 'im an' call the Sheriff.”

“No shit.”

“So I grit my beak, an' I count to ten, an' once I'm feelin' a mite more ladylike I say to him, look, if yer gonna pass a fake Senator, y'gotta have some confidence in it. Let the mark take the coin, let 'em think it's real fer long enough to leave the shop, if not to skip town altogether. Yours is scrap steel on the inside, ain't it? Gotta use somethin' soft, so they can bite it and buy it.”

“Hah! An' what'd he say to that?”

“Well, he stared at me like a fresh-caught fish for a while, went a little pale under his fur, an' then he said, an' I almost couldn't hear him at first, he said, please don't call the Sheriffs on me, I can't go back.

“Now, I was feelin' generous this afternoon, an' I told him to thank Saint Jane an' his lucky star that I was, 'cause I had better things t'do than throw him on the tender mercies of the law. In fact, if he needed somewhere to stay for a while, I supposed I could find him a way to earn room 'n' board here.”

“Generous my ass. You've been lookin' fer someone new to work the back room ever since ol' Garrett went missin' on the way to Metropolis.”

“An' why shouldn't I give that job t'someone who obviously needs it, and was nice enough to fall straight into our lap, and can't afford to rat out our business?”

“Yer not wrong, boss, only...”


“He's an outta-towner, we dunno who's after him, who could end up findin' us 'cause of him.”

“An' that's where you come in. He's on your shift; find out everythin' you can tonight while yer teachin' him t'pack spellbooks the right way. An' see if his penmanship's as good as Garrett's. Maybe we'll make a real criminal outta him.”

“Arright, you're the boss.”

Once, when the river of Time had just begun to flow through the world, there lived a woman in the western forests who could outrun, outshoot, and outwrestle everyone she knew, and everyone they knew as well. Her parents despaired of her ever finding a spouse and giving them grandchildren one way or another, and so, tired of their nagging, she vowed before the community that she would marry the first person who could best her.

Many tried, men and women and otherwise, human and lion and orc; but she was stronger, faster, and cleverer than all of them. Until, one evening at dusk, just as nights began to outrun days in their slow and steady race to the solstice, a dark man in dark clothing found her in a clearing. He challenged her: after three sunsets, if he could cause her to care about him, she would hold to her vow and marry him. She laughed, thinking she could resist any temptation, and accepted his challenge.

On the first night, they met again in the clearing, and the dark man promised her riches beyond her imagination, in jade and leather and the gold that ran in the streams. She heard his proposal, and refused it, for she felt that her family already had all they needed to prosper.

On the second night, he brought with him all the birds of the world to serenade them, and they danced until the stars faded and the music waned, as songbird after exhausted songbird fell silent, and a family of mockingbirds scrambled to pick up the melodies and weave them into something approaching the whole. Again, she refused him; and from that day on, the mockingbird has learned every song it can, lest it be called upon again to sing for the flock.

On the third night, she arrived in the clearing to find it empty. She waited for him, and she waited, and just as the last sliver of sun sank below the treetops and she began to wonder what had happened to him, she saw movement in the trees.

A black squirrel darted out of the forest and leaped into her arms, pursued by two hungry-looking wolves. She stood her ground and raised her bow to frighten the wolves, and was surprised to see them give up, turn tail and head back into the forest without her firing so much as a warning shot. She looked down to check on the squirrel and found it was no longer clinging to her arm. Instead, the dark man stood beside her. He bowed, and in that moment she knew that it was him she’d been protecting. She had been bested, and this was the man she would marry.


When her firstborn children were twin wolf pups, some in the village took this as an evil omen. Others were convinced that the man she had married was a god. But she and the dark man cared for these pups as if they were any other children, and by the time her third and fourth children were born human, it was no longer strange.

The four children of Dusk lived together peacefully until they had grown enough to go their separate ways: the wolves returned to the forest with their divine father, and the human children stayed in the village with their mortal mother.

And so their descendants lived, in their separate worlds, until the tribes of humans and wolves had each grown to the point where something had to give, and war broke out among the Children of Dusk.

And Dusk wept, seeing his children dying around him, but for all his cunning he could not find a way to end the fighting. So he made the desperate journey to the top of the world to speak to the Sage. And there where the air is thinnest, on the night Her light was brightest, She gave him a shape to add to the pattern of the world, a spell that would change his children forever, so that they would never again forget their kinship.

And so he journeyed again, back down the world to the place where his children fought. And standing between humans and wolves, he set the Sage’s spell into the shape of the world, and set it free to do as it would.

And his children were transformed around him. No longer simply wolves, or merely humans, they would hereafter belong to both worlds, and move between them as their ancestor did. And so it is that we call werewolves the Children of Dusk.

The fighting did not end immediately, because no conscious being forgets a quarrel easily. But this moment was the beginning of peace among werewolves, and there was little left for their ancestor to do but gather the souls of all his kin who were lost and bring them West.

from Richards, L. “Antecyclonic Narrative in Modern Literature.“ Firialite Journal of Recovery. North Metropolis University Press: Sprout 518 ed. pp. 36-38.

Records retained by the Order of St. Fay suggest that the Twofold Quest was one of the foundational narrative structures of antecyclonic Onumbrica. In reconstruction, the story concerns a hero seeking something, usually impossible or very difficult to obtain; at their wits’ end, they seek out Firial in a ritualized journey structure usually culminating in an encounter on a mountaintop at the full moon, during which Firial grants our hero a partial answer that sends them on a second quest, often to the home of another god, often featuring intermediate intervention by yet other gods. Whether or not the hero ultimately reaches their goal, lessons are learned along the way that, with few exceptions, align with familiar Onumbrican values.

Among the most common variants of the Twofold Quest is one nicknamed the Search for Dusk, or Journey to the West, in which the hero has lost someone dear to them and seeks a means of returning them to life. Their encounter with Firial sends them toward Mistelin, who consoles the hero and, most commonly, teaches them that while death may not be reversible, grief is temporary, and that memories of lost loved ones are inevitably a blessing.

Variants in which the hero ignores Mistelin’s advice, and journeys on to seek out Feruoc and demand the return of their beloved, nearly always end disastrously, most often with the hero entering the land of the dead well before their lost love leaves Mistelin’s domain and can be reunited with them.

As tales of the gods were banished altogether to the realm of obscure folklore during the Senate era, few written variants of this tale can be found outside Fayite archives. The one that may be familiar to readers of this chapter is the epistolary novel Black Dog, published in serial form in the mid-380s in the North Metropolis Gazette under the byline Staniel Hill (almost certainly a pseudonym—see Section IV, Werewolves in Urban Fiction), and read to this day by introductory literature classes at all three universities. The story concerns the journey of Shade carpenter Perseverance Greenway from Huntswood to Mistelins following the death of her spouse, a loss from which she never truly recovers.

The structure of the second quest is clear in the text: her goal is the ancient home of Mistelin, which bore his name throughout the Senate era; the unnamed elderly boardinghouse keeper who takes her in and dispenses his wisdom about mortality at great length (Hill was almost certainly paid by the word) clearly representing the god himself; and the uncertainty in the ending about whether Greenway will return home mirroring the lack of closure often found in Search for Dusk tales. Various secondary characters encountered throughout the novel can be mapped to Revived gods (for a full analysis, see the Appendix).

The presence of the first quest in the novel is much less clear to the casual reader; in fact, it is entirely contained within the first installment. Greenway’s sibling, the only person in whom she confides about her plan to travel west, and in fact the person to whom every installment of the novel is addressed, is an archivist at Huntswood’s town hall, and by extension a member of the Order of St. Fay. Firial is, therefore, represented by the tradition which has represented her throughout postcyclonic history.