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by T.A. Saunders ©2015 v1.0

There was once a terrible old man, that lived deep in a wood, whose name has been forgotten by the Gods, and lost by Mortals. So terrible was he, that his very presence chased away the singing birds, the scampering squirrels and even made the kiss of the sun shine elsewhere. Without Ka’s rays, and without animals to keep them company, the trees withered and grew angry. Leafy branches grew thorns, and tangled with one another, making a wall of twisted wood to snare the unwary for the terrible old man.

The terrible old man, who Plainsfolk called Old Bloody Bones, and the Sivanoshei called Takalor, was said to once walk with Zorah’s Grace, but fell for reasons Old Bloody Bones likely forgot. So far from the Huntress’s grace was this terrible old man, that he took sharpened knife and black craft to animal, plant and person alike, carving them all up into unrecognizable things, horrible things, that were neither entirely one thing, or another, and made to live by the dark art that coursed within. Old Bloody Bones laughed when he succeeded, and he laughed when he failed. The giving of this horrible new life was not his joy, but rather the breaking of Life, and turning it into something else, something foul, something wretched to fill his blackened forest. The terrible old man did this for as long as folk could remember, longer than most lived. All knew to stay away from the twisted wood, but not everybody did. Not everybody wanted to.

But one day, Old Bloody Bones took one child too many. The daughter of a Human chieftain dared too close, and was caught by the twisted trees and pulled into the dark of the angry woodland. The terrible old man knew who the girl was, with fine black hair, pretty blue eyes, dressed in a lovely little homespun dress. He knew and took special care, to make her his masterpiece. With teeth and tusks of a boar, the claws and snout of a wolf, and the legs of an antelope, the chieftain’s daughter was sent back to her tribe. Living, crying out in a voice that was not hers, that was filled with anguish and hunger.

Soon, scouts of the tribe found the girl, the wept for the girl, and wept for their chieftain. But soon, tears were replaced by cries to ready, to raise spears and bows, for the daughter of the chieftain no longer recognized her own. She only knew agony of the hunger welling within, and knew only the malice of her new father, her terrible old father. When it was done, two scouts lay dead, along with the chieftain’s daughter, who even in death, twitched for a need she could no longer slake.

The chieftain, upon seeing his precious daughter, did not cry, and did not scream. He was silent as he lay her body on the funeral pyre, and was silent when he burned her remains. When all was ash, and only his advisors remained, the chieftain sat down on his great wooden chair of rulership and said: “Burn him. Burn him from the wood. Set it to torch, till there be nothing of Old Bloody Bones.”

Two hundred and twenty tribe folk, men and women, warriors and healers, mystics and hunters, all sought the broken woodland that belonged to the terrible old man. Branches were hacked, trees were burned, and prayers to ancient elementals cried out. But even as they burned, cut and snapped a path within the twisted forest, it fought to repel them with thorny limbs that bit, stung and bled poison into wounds. By the time the chieftain’s heroes found his shambled little hut, all but fifty two remained, the rest taken by the horrors within.

And when they broke into Old Bloody Bones’ hut, they found him laughing, laughing louder and harder than he ever had before, louder than when he turned the chieftain’s daughter into a monster, louder than when he first turned the wood into a darkened blight. He laughed, because, as sword and spear bit his heart, and torches seared his skin, Old Bloody Bones knew where he was going, and knew what he was promised by the Gods of Chaos, for his long, long life of horror and butchery. He laughed till he could no longer bring words to his mouth, for smoke in his lungs and blood caught in his throat.

When Ka rose once more, the wood that was once blackened by the terrible old man smoldered and cracked for the flame the remaining heroes of the tribe put to it. It would burn as Old Bloody Bones did, till there was naught but ash, naught but the horrid memories of what happened here. The Plainsfolk have a name for such acts, when a place is so cursed, that it must be cleansed by flame. That word is Ysil.

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