Tale As Old As Time
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In the quiet village of Gashea, nestled among the trees, a dark and wicked secret haunts the inhabitants. For ages, a malevolent demon has plagued the villagers, unleashing droughts, diseases, and famine upon their small valley. To appease this demonic entity and protect their livelihoods, the village offers a bride to the demon each new moon, only to discover their lifeless bodies adrift in the radiant river come next morning. As the next choosing draws near, the village elders shockingly decide to offer a man named Fyn as the sacrificial bride. In a world where only women have been sacrificed before, this unprecedented decision sends tremors through Fyn. However, as Fyn finds himself drawn closer to the demon within the forest, love begins to blossom within his heart. With this forbidden connection, secrets of the past unravel, shaking the very foundation of Gashea's beliefs. The villagers question if the true monster they fear lies within the forest or if there is something far more sinister lurking beneath their carefully constructed reality. The truth makes Fyn wonder whether it’s the right monster Gashea fears.
A Tale Of Demons
Since he was young, Fyn has known that the forest is a place of terror and danger.
The truth was, he and the rest of the townsfolk in Gashea were afraid of almost everything, if he were being honest.
The forest of Gashea was a place of primal beauty, with ancient trees that seemed to have been there since the beginning of time. The canopy of the forest was dominated by cottonwood, oak, and rowan trees, whose crowns were so dense that only dappled sunlight could penetrate through to the ground below, where saplings struggled to grow among the boulders. Curling climbing plants hung from numerous trees, creating a beautiful natural canopy. The only plants that could survive in such a hostile environment were thorny vines and poisonous herbs, leaving the land devoid of any other vegetation. As night fell, the forest came alive with the sounds of foraging beasts, causing the townsfolk to fear for their safety, while frogs added their own occasional splashes to the symphony of animal noises.
The light side of the forest was home to Gashea, a quaint and tranquil town. The township looked like it had seen better days, with its crumbling brick buildings and overgrown weeds. The wooden walls were so weathered that it was hard to tell where they ended and the overgrown gardens began.
There was a reason why the settlement was located beside the foreboding forest. Right from the beginning, it was always there. From the shores of Gashea, the ocean stretched out as far as the eye could see, its vastness seemingly infinite. The townsfolk dreamt of leaving, but the memory of the last time someone dared to venture out to sea kept them rooted in place.
At the edge of the forest, there was a small hut that belonged to Fyn.
Being far away from the others didn't bother him in the slightest. The fact that he spent most days alone was of no consequence. None of it mattered. Nothing made him happier than knowing he was safe. He could survive the loneliness that always surrounded him, as long as he had nothing to fear.
The townsfolk of Gashea weren't afraid of the large trees that towered over the forest floor and blocked out the light. It was neither the waves of the enormous ocean that would seem to swallow them whole if they ever tried to leave.
No. It was far worse than those combined.
Deep within the trees lies something dark, cursed, and wicked.
The tales that spread like wildfire around the town whenever night fell were etched into Fyn's memory. The locals had tales about why the forests always sounded like a woman had been screaming inside there all night long - some said it was the ghosts of women who had died tragically, while others believed it was the trees themselves that were crying out. Cautionary tales spoke of the terrible fate that awaited those who stumbled upon the entrance to Gashea's forest without good reason.
According to the legend, those who are trapped in the forest after dark are greeted by the sight of two menacing red eyes staring back at them. The first sign would be a growl, low and menacing, growing louder and louder. A growl that would shake the very soil of the earth. The growl is a warning, a challenge. The next was the scent. A flicker in the mist, and suddenly one would be confronted with a putrid scent of smoke and death.
“Ugh,” Fyn muttered, his eyes darting around nervously as he clutched his basket of herbs. He had already made a pact with himself to muster up some courage when outside the safety of his hut. Most of the men in town were already making fun of him for acting like a frightened kitten. He reprimands himself, “Stop it, Fyn.”
He repeated the nursery rhyme, One for sorrow, like a mantra. Though the song was eerie and morbid, the countdown brought him comfort every time.
With a sigh, he examined the contents of his basket once more, his expression growing more and more troubled. The impending winter season brought with it the knowledge that the crops would soon be gone.
Not that he made much to begin with.
During the spring, his crops flourished and provided a bountiful harvest. Living so close to the river meant that he always had access to fresh fish for meals.
However, things quickly changed after that.
The once-teeming river was now a graveyard for corpses instead of fish.
The scent of death was a constant presence in his hut, as the smell of decomposing corpses would reach him every morning. Regardless of his efforts to place bowls filled with a myriad of dried petals and spices, the foul odor would still rouse him from sleep. Every time he looked out at the river, there was a sense of foreboding, as if waiting for the next lifeless form to float by.
He couldn't play dumb and pretend like he didn't notice them.
It was the demon’s brides.
Fyn remembers watching the village chief and other sturdy men gather the bodies and place them respectfully in their final resting spots when he was young. As time passed, it appeared to him that they had given up carrying the bodies due to exhaustion.
Standing upright, Fyn traced the river's flow until he saw where it ended.
The sight of the blue and bulging bodies stacked up by the mouth of the river was overwhelming. Fyn squinted from a distance, trying to convince himself that the giant blue orbs in the distance were just oversized blueberries. Though he knew they were false assurances, he still found solace in them. Placing one hand on his chest, he bowed his head in prayer, his lips moving silently.
Eternal rest grant unto them, he mused. Let perpetual light shine upon them. Rest in peace.
In Gashea, a sacred ceremony was performed. The forest was home to a demon, and every single new moon, a bride, was offered to it by the villagers. In exchange for the brides, the demon would spare the small town from devastating droughts, diseases, and famines.
This had been going on since Fyn had been but a child. This had gone on since he became an orphan. He understood it would continue until he breathed his last. The townsfolk persisted in doing the demon's bidding, even though it frequently took the lives of its brides.
Fear was truly a curious thing, Fyn thought. Fear had a way of pushing people to do whatever it took, even if it meant compromising their morals. The weight of their collective guilt bore down on him as he realized they were all accomplices to murder.
The deaths of innocent women would persist as long as the demon remained alive.
I wish it was dead. Fyn's gaze lingered on the gruesome sight of the stacked bodies by the river. He closed his eyes, trying to imprint the image in his mind forever. With a sigh, he turned around and trudged back to his hut.
That was his usual routine for the day. Every day, he would forage for herbs around his hut, scour the shoreline for fish, clams, and mussels to bring back for his meals. Foraging has been difficult lately, especially with winter fast approaching.
In addition to that, the taxes had increased as well. He had been struggling for months to catch up. The only thing that had saved him from being thrown into the river to sleep with the fishes was the distance of his hut from the village chief.
As if the universe had answered his call, Fyn stopped suddenly.
Fyn's heart raced as he stood frozen, watching the three men loom just outside his hut. Looking at them, he saw that they were all dressed in the same outfit as he was. The same white shirt with long loose sleeves, the same pair of brown harem pants. While he wore old, tattered clothes, theirs were noticeably newer and in better condition. Their waists were unadorned, not a black stained sash in sight. The loose maroon tassel belt that stressed his waist and added a pop of color to his outfit was also missing from their clothes.
He couldn't explain why, but it made him flush. Up until this point, he had always been confident in his choice of clothing. As he looked at the men, and then at the village chief, he realized they were all staring at him disapprovingly. He mentally scolded himself, realizing he should have known better. He should have dressed in a more masculine manner.
“See what I'm saying?” Fyn could hear the men whispering to the chief, who still had a perplexed look on his face as he gazed at Fyn. “Don't you think he looks like one?”
Fyn approached them, clearing his throat to get their attention. They were so tall that he had to crane his neck to see their faces. “Is this concerning the taxes?”
He was caught off guard when a man strode into his space and ran his knuckles along his cheeks. Fyn's face turned red as he stepped back, his foot nearly catching on a loose stone. Placing his basket in front of him, he tried to steady his shaking hands while using it as a makeshift shield against them. Their behavior was odd, and he couldn't quite put his finger on why. The chief's scrutinizing gaze made the situation worse for him.
The man who had just touched him chuckled darkly, sending shivers down his spine.
“Fyn, are you honestly a man?”
“What?” Fyn clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. “What in the world kind of question is that?”
“It’s just you look so…feminine,” the other man said. Fyn was left to face the chief's silent stare and the hungry gazes of his two companions. It left him feeling slimy and gross. “I wouldn't mind if you were my wife.”
Fyn paid no attention to the comment. He walked with purpose towards the chief, his gaze unwavering. “Chief, if it's about the taxes, I can look to see if I still have anything worth selling. My apologies if it took this long-“
“No,” the chief's voice held finality when he spoke. “Don't worry about the money, Fyn.”
Blinking, Fyn's face broke into a wide grin. “Really, sir?”
As Fyn breathed a sigh of relief, he felt like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
Finally! Something good has happened to him.
The vagueness of the chief's words suddenly dawns on Fyn's mind, leaving him feeling confused and uncertain. He found himself asking, his voice barely above a whisper. “Then, what is it that you need from me, Chief?”
The chief let out a deep sigh. “There is a ritual tomorrow, Fyn.”
The choosing of the demon’s bride, Fyn thought.
“Yes,” Fyn's whole body shook as he tried to control his fear. “Is it necessary for me to be there, Chief?”
The choosing ritual was not always something that everyone had to attend. Still, Fyn had been away from civilization for as long as he could remember. Since that time, the ritual may have been subject to some changes. He knew better than to say no to the village chief, so he had no choice but to agree without hesitation. He was willing to go to great lengths if it meant erasing all the taxes he owed from their memory.
“Yes,” The chief gave a significant glance to the two burly men next to him, and they nodded in understanding. “Actually, we won't be able to do the ritual without you.”
Confused and nervous, Fyn blinked rapidly and let out a small laugh. He clutched the basket protectively, his knuckles turning white. He stammered, “I’m... I’m sorry?”
“The demon needs a bride,” Stepping closer to him, one of the men spoke. “A bride he shall get.”
“I’m a man.” Fyn pointed out.
The man who touched him minutes ago let out a soft chuckle, as if Fyn had said something humorous. “The demon only needs a bride, and there's no rule saying it has to be a woman.”
Before he could even scream, one of them had grabbed Fyn and put a cloth over his mouth and nose. The scent was both intoxicating and overwhelming, and he found himself muttering the rhyme "one for sorrow" almost involuntarily. The countdown was a source of comfort for him, reminding him that everything had a beginning and an end.
Fyn counted until the darkness consumed him, and he was left with nothing but the sound of his own heartbeat.
Eleven for health, Twelve for wealth, Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.
A Tale Of Brides
The metal concave mirror, which was erected centuries ago, has continually been used to light the ritual torch with the sun's rays in Gashea. The flickering torches served as a reminder of the women who had been chosen as the demon's bride and the sacrifices they had made. It was a constant reminder of how easily life can turn for the worst, and the struggles of those who came before him were a testament to that.
The choosing would take place in the morning, as was the custom. In the village square, the townsfolk would gather to add white baby's breath flowers to the hair of the next demon's bride, a tradition that had been passed down for generations. The bride would climb up the wooden platform to reach the metal concave mirror and light the torch. As the flame ignites, the bride raises the torch high, showcasing her courage in confronting the demon for the greater good.
As soon as night fell, the townsfolk would cover th
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