Greta and the Woodsperson

Another grim children’s story that probably isn’t suitable for children. Enjoy!

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Greta who lived in a very dark village in a very dark forest. But Greta didn’t mind, she quite liked the dark and was very fond of the little village with its little yurts and high walls.

Now, Greta was a little different to most children in the village. Her skin was very pale, showing black veins that squirmed beneath it. Her teeth were sharp and vicious, like a mouth full of spiny daggers. Her hair was a bright white, the colour of snow and death, and fell straight to her waist like a glacier.

And she possessed a sharp, unkind sort of wisdom that far belied her years.

Sometimes Greta would be teased for being different. “Corpse eater” they would call her, or “little veiny horror”. But Greta bore it all with good grace for she could see the fear in their eyes and knew their barbs came from terror instead of hate. And they would need to learn to conquer that fear if they were to survive the things that lived outside the walls. Greta knew it was for the best.

Also in this village, there lived a woodsperson and her husband (who was also a woodsperson, he just wasn’t as good at it as she was). And the woodsperson was also a shapeshifter, but no-one knew about that. Once upon a time she had been one of the monsters who had tormented the villagers when they hunted outside the walls, but she had taken a woman’s shape when she saw a man chopping wood out in the snow. She became a woodsperson to please him and they were married. And all the shadows in the forest kept clear of her when she gathered wood as they remembered all the teeth she used to have.

But her husband was unhappy. And he drank and this made him more unhappy and also angry. No-one knows why he was unhappy, maybe he had had a troubled upbringing, maybe he had lost one too many loved ones to the dark forest, maybe he just couldn’t handle being only the *second best* woodsperson in the village. It matters little, for he was a sad little man and all that’s left to learn from him now are his mistakes. Whatever the cause, he took out his sadness on his wife in the way that sad, scared men tend to.

That night, the woodsperson left her yurt and, leaving her marriage vows broken behind her, she stepped out into the village with tears in her eyes and started regrowing her teeth.

That night, Greta, who quite liked the darkness, got up very early so she could get a headstart on her chores. She got up so early, in fact, that it was more late night than early morning. When she went outside to check on the little glowing herbs that only bloomed at night, what she found instead was a monster of teeth and shadows roaming the village streets, wailing and crying big ichorous tears from its many eyes.

Greta observed the monster for a moment and thought hard about what she knew of the village and its inhabitants and how this monster could have gotten inside the walls.

“Good morning, Mistress Woodsperson,” she said, taking care to keep her voice steady, “whatever is the matter? Can I help in any way?”

Her question was met by another ear-piercing wail that immediately killed every herb in Greta’s garden. She sighed.

“Oh, little Greta! It’s awful. My husband and I are oh-so unhappy. He has done me wrong, little Greta, such wrong, and has caused me to transform back into this hideous form. He’ll never want me now. I fear there’s nothing for it but to murder the whole village in their sleep.”

“You could do that, Mistress Woodsperson,” said Greta, thinking very quickly, “or you could find another way to fix things?”

“Oh, I don’t think I can, little Greta,” said the monster, licking every one of her lips with her long leathery tongues, “After all, how can things end well when I’m such a monster?”

“It seems to me, Mistress,” said Greta, smiling with every one of her knife-like teeth, “that if he’s made someone as lovely and as good with an axe as you sad, then it’s your husband who’s the monster. And you know what we do to monsters, don’t you…”

Greta wiped the tears from the monster’s many eyes. They sizzled as they bit into her skin, but Greta did not flinch.

“Why, yes,” said the monster, “yes, I believe I do.”

In the morning, there was a great cry that echoed around the village. The woodsperson, once more in human form, ran out of her house screaming that a monster had devoured her husband. She was quite inconsolable.

After the hysterics had died down and the funeral was done, the village started whispering about what possibly could have happened. Various theories were made about how a monster could have gotten inside the walls and eaten the woodsperson’s husband and Greta felt the villager’s untrusting stares grow heavier and heavier as they lingered on her sharp teeth and corpse-like skin.

“It was that corpse-eater,” they would say to one another, “it must have been her who murdered the woodsperson’s husband.”

“Yes,” they would reply, “that knife-mouthed flesh-grinder is certainly the one who did it, that’s for sure.”

Occassionally someone would say: “But, if she’s a ‘corpse-eater’, right? Then it couldn’t have been her. The woodsperson’s husband was eaten *alive*.”

“Oh yeah,” would come the reply, “that’s a great defence. ‘She’d totally eat a guy, but not while he was still alive!’ Yeah, watertight that is!”

And before long, the stares and whispers became more than that and Greta found herself labelled by the whole village (except the woodsperson, whose voice was drowned out by the crowd) as a monster.

And the villagers built a pyre. And they put took Greta in their rough, grabbing hands and they put her on top of it. She bit at them with her dagger-teeth, but it did her little good; there were just too many of them.

After they’d lit the kindling, and Greta felt her feet begin to warm, she reflected on her life, her choices and that conversation with the woodsperson, and she decided that it could have been worse. At least this way the villagers would be satisfied. And the woodsperson, far from murdering everyone in town, would keep the village safe from the shadows outside.

Greta smiled, showing every one of her bloody spines of teeth, for she was very fond of her little village with its little yurts and its high walls. She just wished they hadn’t done it with fire. She would have liked to meet her end in the dark.

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To the one who loved her previously -(A response to “To the one who loves her next”

To the one who loved her previously

A response to “To the one who loves her next” (http://flashoflife.tumblr.com/post/105128618999/to-the-one-who-loves-her-next-shes-terrified)

Hi there,

So, before we get to the meat of the matter, I have to ask: how did you get my email? Like, seriously, I doubt ‘she’ gave it to you as that’d be *super weird*. Did you hear my name in passing and google me? Whelp, definitely time to tighten my privacy settings.

But, as Buffy said to the vampire, let’s get to the point…

First of all, I appreciate the effort of you taking to write to me. A lot of feeling clearly went into those words and I don’t want to dismiss that. I mean, you’re clearly still hurting here and you obviously want the best for her. I don’t want to dismiss that.

But I will.

I will dismiss your words because the relationship she and I have is different to the one she and you had.

I will dismiss your words because when you offer up so much of yourself to support someone that you end up breaking both of you, that is the very definition of codependency.

I will dismiss your words because I have been you. And as good as it feels to be the white knight, it is time we both let those fantasies go, for she is not a princess. She is a dragon.

I will dismiss your words because she’s a fucking adult and she’s capable of managing her own shit.

I will dismiss your words because it’s wrong to kill spiders. Christ, what’s wrong with you? Release them back into the wild or train them to be your willing attack dogs like everyone else. Jesus.

But, to put your apparent concerns about my assholery to rest, I will address a few points.

There is rarely such thing as a “textbook introvert”. People are seldomly one thing or the other. But, when she needs space I will give it to her. I won’t take it personally as I have my own introvert tendencies and because we talked about it like adults with our words and our scent glands. Plus, I have my own shit going on anyway, y’know?

If she gets jealous, that’s OK. We will both struggle with jealousy because we have fears and desires and loves that ensnare each other greedily. I will try to take jealousy for what it is: the natural intersection of those three things. We may never conquer it, but I hope that together or separately we learn to stop *hating* it and start talking about it.

I will tell her I love when I can’t hold it in and the love erupts out of my mouth like a Geiger-esque alien. I will tell her I love her when the world is big and scary and we’re both caught between its teeth. I will tell her I love her when actually what I mean is “I love you fiercely but are you going to eat that last slice of pizza?” I will tell her I love her when I mean it. I will trust her to do the same to me. Because sometimes I need reassurance too.

I will go out with her and drink too much and do things we regret and navigate the dizzy waters of the hangover the next morning together.

Her independence is something I will respect and adore. Her insecurity is a monster I will trust her to battle herself, but I will be the best squire I can be.

We will take it in turns to make tea. We have a rota.

I will not treat her like royalty as I’m a socialist and that would mean violently deposing her. I will treat her as an equal. If she ever wants to find someone else that’s her choice, I’m not going to stand aside because I don’t fit your weirdly objectivising, one-sided view of whole relationships should work.

If things don’t work out, it won’t mean “losing” her. She’s not so easily lost as my keys (seriously, every day I lose those fuckers), she is not a thing. We will always own a piece of each other made up of the knowledge, bruises and inspirations we took via osmosis and biting. You and she have pieces of each other too, that’s why it feels like you aren’t over it.

You will get over it though. And, should we part, so will we. She is no more magic than you or I. Which is to say: she’s really fucking magic.

I will give her all the love and support I’m able to give without fracturing us and I know she’ll do the same for me.

Not because she’s golden but because she’s a person you patronising, elbow-kneed fuck.

P.s. the cat will still come first. I know it’s because of that weird brain bacteria thing, but I’m cool with that.

P.p.s. I am blocking you.

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Happy Ever After

Another not-for-children children’s story!

This one is called ‘Happy Ever After’

—–

Once upon a time there was a little boy called Stanislav who wanted very much to be a Warden.

“What do you want to be if you grow up?” People said.

“I want to be a Warden!” Stanislav said, unsurprisingly.

“But being a Warden is a very hard life,” they said, smiling the patronising smiles of adulthood, “you have to do a lot of walking and fight wolves (with and without a capital W) and spend your whole life helping people. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Duh.” Said Stanislav.

“But you will probably die.”

“Yes. I will. We all will.”

They found it difficult to argue that point.

“But the best we can hope for is to sell our lives dearly so that others do not have to know the horrors of our forests. And when I lay for the last time in my bed of blood and snow I will do so with a smile on my face.”

They all agreed that Stanislav was very wise, if terribly precocious.

And Stanislav spent his young days sharpening his blade for the kill and hardening his feet for the road. And he spent his nights telling stories to the dark sky, learning the secrets of the shadows and the twilight and sharpening the magic of his mind.

Everyone agreed that he would make a great warden one day and that while he would still almost certainly die, at the very least he would die well.

But, one day, through little fault of his own, Stanislav angered an old crone who was passing through the village. Perhaps he paid some accidental insult to the wild gorse of her hair or the creased ravines of her skin. Perhaps he ran into her while he was training and knocked her down, causing her to spill her basket full of teeth and whispers upon the ground. Perhaps he stepped on her foot in his heavy, iron-shod boots.

What he did isn’t really important, what is is that she laid a curse upon him and the wording of the curse was this: “May you live happily ever after.”

Stanislav tried to forget about the curse and in time he did become a warden as he always wanted. He roamed the frozen roads with his warden company and they kept aflame the fire that held back the night.

Until, one day, they were ambushed by a demon. Though surprised, they used every inch of their strength and cunning, they trapped and bound it within a riddle within a cave within an avalanche. But it killed every one of them except Stanislav.

Over the years, Stanislav was a member of many Warden Companies and though he lost many dear friends nothing so much as scratched him. The other Wardens began to think he was bad luck.

But he found a way to use the curse to his advantage, throwing himself always into the hardest and most hopeless fights, trying to save as many other lives as possible.

He even found love with another Warden in his company and quickly discovered that the curse extended to them as well, as he could not be happy without his love.

Together, the two of them were truly terrible to behold, their hands entwined as gore flew from their axes and dripped from their mouths.

In time, they grew old together. But they also grew slow and weak as the years drank the strength from their flesh and spat up fresh aches for their bones.

“Thank you for all your great deeds.” Their company told them, unable to meet their eyes. “But you cannot keep the pace with us on the roads any longer. It is time for you to return to the village.”

Being Wardens was all the two of them ever wanted and they could not face the idea of hanging up their blades or their boots. So they stepped off the road and into the wilds, determined to kill whatever monsters they found there and meet their end together in their bed of blood and snow.

And they lived happily ever after in the depths of the woods.

Which, in its way, is a kind of death.

And they live there still.

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RIP Sir Terry

After the whole metaphysically messy business of reincarnation (and the even messier business of rebirth) was done, the resulting child grew up more or less as you’d expect.

Then, one day, after several years that consisted mainly of yelling and falling and were thoroughly satisfactory (if tiring) for all involved, the child picked up a new book. They felt a slight sense of deja vu as they looked at the cover, but they put that unfamiliar feeling of familiarity to one side and ploughed on regardless.

Time stopped. Just for a moment.

If you’d been watching, you would have sworn you’d seen the world pulse as a new universe exploded behind the child’s eyes.

And the only sound was the very distinct silence of pupils devouring words as fast as they can scurry across the page.

This was nothing special, of course. The same thing always happens when a child encounters a really *good* book for the first time.

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Vasili and his Favourite Bear

More children’s stories that aren’t for children.

Vasili and his Favourite Bear

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Vasili.

He lived in a little village, in a little vale, in a shadow of a little mountain, nestled in the crook of winter’s elbow.

Vasili was greatly loved by his family and friends and big things were expected of him some day. Yes, Vasili was a very brave little boy and a very wise little boy. Indeed, the only thing greater than Vasili’s wisdom and courage, was his love for his little stuffed bear.

It was a childhood toy that Vasili called Piotr and he carried Piotr everywhere.

His parents said that Piotr had once been a real bear, who Vasili’s mother had hunted over the course of days until finally she had wrestled it into the snow and bashed its head in with a rock until the bear’s blood and viscera had run red across the snow. But Vasili was pretty sure this was just one of his mother’s little jokes and she’d bought Piotr from a passing trader. She was always joking, was Vasili’s mother.

One night, Vasili’s mother put him to bed, saying: “Goodnight, little Vasili. Don’t let the dire bedbugs rip your puny flesh to shreds.”

But instead of sleeping through the night as he usually did, Vasili woke up to find Piotr the bear leaning over him, ticking his nose with his furry paw.

Vasili sneezed and Piotr lept back suddenly.

“Shhhhh!” said Piotr, in an adorable little bear-voice that rumbled like a sudden avalanche, “Follow me!”

And, because he loved his little bear more than anything, Vasili got out of bed and got dressed.

“Don’t forget to put on your shoes!” said Piotr. “It wouldn’t do to go out bear-foot.”

“Ha!” said Vasili, quietly. “It’s funny because you’re a bear. And also because if I put a bear on my foot it would surely rip my delicate limbs apart.”

“Yes.” said Piotr. “That’s why it’s funny. Now come with me.”

And Piotr led Vasili out of his room, out of his house and out of his village, creeping silently past the wards the town’s wizards had put around the walls.

“Where are we going?” said Vasili, wonder sparkling in his voice, for this was the first time he’d been out at night on his own; the first time he’d seen moonlight dapple through the trees and onto the crisp snow, the first time he’d heard the scurry of claws running through the branches over his head.

“We’re going deep into the heart of the woods,” said Piotr the Bear, “I’m going to show you something wonderful there.”

When Vasili went down to the woods, he was sure for a big surprise.

His stuffed bear led him down a long, twisted path, beneath the embrace of thorny branches and across fresh, unblemished snow. The briars snatched at his coat and wolves howled in the distance, but Vasili’s bear puffed himself up until he was the size of a real bear and told him not to worry; he would keep Vasili safe from the wolves.

When they emerged into a clearing, the ground was covered in bright colourful blankets upon which sat a whole group of big, grizzly bears. Vasili turned to Piotr to reassure him, but found that Piotr was puffing himself up even further and was growing into a great hairy, smelly and powerful beast himself.

“Don’t be afraid” said Piotr, “These are all the other teddy bears from all the other villages. We’ve just brought you hear for a picnic. See all the food we’ve brought for you?”

And Vasili looked around and he did indeed see a bunch of picnic baskets laid out across the clearing, each one bound with a thick, iron chain, as was only sensible when you don’t want your food to escape.

“Let’s get started!” cried Piotr, ripping the chains from the first basket to reveal Vasili’s parents cowering within their wicker prison.

All around them, the other bears opened their baskets to reveal the other people of Vasili’s village, quaking with fear beneath the gaping maws and wicked claws of their many bears.

“What’s going on?” yelped Vasili, a shrill cry that ripped from his throat.

“You opened the wards for us, Vasili” said all the bears, as one. “Now we want to reward you with a lovely picnic.”

The bears all turned to stare at Vasili expectantly.

“Aren’t you going to eat with us?”

Vasili looked into Piotr’s fearsome face. He really did love his bear more than anything in the world.

After the bears had eaten, they used handy leg-bones to pick their teeth clean and cleared up the mess from their picnic carefully, leaving not a single morsel of villager for the crows.

Piotr was the last to leave, patting his cub on the head as they walked away from the bears’ picnic.

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Advice for anyone considering watching 50 Shades of Grey…

For the price of your 50 Shades ticket, you could buy:

3 pints of local beer
From a wetherspoons
Where the drama will be better

5 minutes with Madam Political Correctia
Who will explain all that’s wrong
With this sparkly, bow-wrapped turd-punch of a film
While spanking you
And it will be kinkier.

575 pieces of neon-bright refined sugar
Little consumable stars each containing
A tiny sugar rush supernova

One-tenth of a murder
If your contract killer is desperate
And a terrible negotiator

115 Freddos in 1995
When they still cost 10p like they should

One rather grubby soul
Or two souls barely held together
With spit and gaffer tape

An £11.50 donation to Refuge
To help offset the damage this film will do

11 a4 notebooks and a biro
& write the words “no means no”
110,000 times.

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Ilyana and the Piper

Another bleak children’s story. Not for children.

Ilyana and the Piper

Once upon a time, Ilyana woke up to the sound of music.

There was not normally music in the mornings, at least not the steel-bright, axe-sharp mornings like this one (she was somewhat used to music at that blurry point in the night where it stumbled across to morning and the grown-ups would begin singing, their voices strangled by liquor).

This music was different to the brash accordions and pounding drums favoured by her village – this music was high and light, dancing through the air as if the wind itself was blowing through a pipe. It was quite captivating and Ilyana found her food tapping along to its wild, cascading rhythm.

Being a naturally curious child, she decided to find out where the music was coming from.

She swung her feet out of bed and into her sturdy and oft-patched trousers, trimmed in the fur of wolves that troubled the village from time to time. She threw on her shirt, embroidered with the patterns of each winter she had survived (soon she would have to begin again on a bigger shirt if she kept living through the cold months like this) and slipped on her comfortably worn leather shoes, fitted to her feet through days of hard work and nights spent running from the terrors of the dark.

(Those pointed leather shoes were quite unsuited to dancing, by the way, but she found the music running down her bones and putting a spring into her step nonetheless.)

Finally, she put on her big, warm, green coat. Lined with fur and patterned with thorns, it was warm as the hearth fire and fine as spring-time and it was the envy of all her friends.

She scurried outside, feet tapping out a perfect rhythm across the rough and warped floor that had tripped many a drunken visitor, pushing hard against the heavy, iron-shod oaken door and the snow behind it.

In the village square, she found the source of the music, as a tall man dressed head to foot in bright crimson stood in the centre by the ashes of the village’s hearth fire. Around him, the people of the village were gathered – the adults squinting in the face of the bright winter morning, while the children bopped and leaped and cavorted to the music that swirled round them like sweet pipe-smoke. Being a naturally curious child, Ilyana found this interesting.

The man’s head was bobbing and his foot was tapping and he played out his tune on an intricately carved pipe without ever seeming to draw breath. The pipe was a mess of eye-catching swirls, scored into pale wood (or perhaps old bone) and the skin on his face had a similar look to it (every other inch of him was covered in that bright red cloth). Not pale because he didn’t get enough sun, but bleached by too much of it.

As the song came to its end, the village chief stepped forward, his gleaming antlers reaching up to spear the morning light.

“That was very nice, sure,” he said gruffly, “but I don’t see how paying you to play will keep the dire rats away?”

“Oh! You’d be surprised how easily rats are entranced by the sonorous sound of an enspirited song.” The man’s voice lilted with the up-down rhythms of his pipe, as if the cleverly carved pipe spread all the way down his throat.

“And, of course” the man continued, “I could keep charming the children with a quick chorus or two. Free of charge.”

As the man and the chief began haggling over price, Ilyana walked slowly up to them, pushing the younger children aside and wriggling past the grown-ups until she was right next to the piper. As Ilyana was a curious child, she took out her small iron boot-knife and stabbed him in the hand.

The blade went straight through his glove and sizzled as the cold iron pierced his ivory flesh. He shrieked and his voice was so high that the grown-ups collapsed to the ground, clutching their bleeding ears. The man stood on his too-long, stick-thin legs above the people of the village, as his screams wracked their bodies with pain.

He leapt away from the town square, jumping far further than a real person should be able to jump, and landed on all four spindly limbs on the side of the village walls. Clinging there like a spider, he scrabbled up to the top and called down to the townfolk:

“Cursed child! It was reckless of you to interrupt this compact. If you’d done a deal I would only have dealt disaster to a dozen or so of your toddlers and other addled broodlings.” His cackle was the sound of bone-chimes clacking in the wind. “Instead I shall slip the noose of my songs around all of your necks and the smoking remains of your homestead shall serve as a sign to all that they should not cross me.”

The village spent the rest of the day frantically preparing, whilst also spitting caustic curses at Ilyana’s foolishness, for the piper would surely return at dusk. While they reinforced the walls and sharpened their axes, Ilyana allowed herself the luxury of lighting her family’s single candle and made some last preparations of her own – just simple chores. She watered and fed the herbs and flowers of the village’s gardens with snow-water she’d gathered in a blizzard at midnight. She polished the floors of her house with bees’ wax taken with the blessing of the hive’s queen and burned fragrant herbs that had grown fat on the earth of her village. And she put a few final stitches into her fine green coat with thread that shined silver.

When the winter sun felt the dark coming and began its slow retreat they heard the capering tune of the pipe – rising wild and strong like a storm around them – and the first of the rats appeared outside the walls. Great, hulking rodents, they were large even for dire rats and they set about gnawing at the villages walls and fortifications, snuffling for weak points.

The village-folk fought them off with iron and fire, but there were so many and they swarmed like a tide of filth up the walls, with the piper riding high upon their back.

As he crested the wall, the tone of his music changed, growing shrill and discordant, spattering out its notes in sharp shards of sound that pierced the peoples’ ears. Many fell to the floor in agony, their bodies shattered by the twisted song. As they fell, the music changed again, to a full-pelt, intoxicating reel of dance that was like the songs he’d played earlier, only faster and spikier. As he began to play it, the children of the village emerged from their homes and set upon their injured parents with tooth, nail and kitchen knife.

But, just as the first child closed its teeth around his father’s throat and began to spill his blood, they heard another song echo from the other side of the village.
Standing in her house’s doorway stood Ilyana, mouth open, song tumbling out in a hearty gust of notes. Her voice had never been pretty to hear, but she sang now with a strength and steel that commanded attention. She sang the song of her people – not the raucous drinking songs or sad dirges – a song of war and blood and snow.

The children faltered, just for a moment, and as they did every plant in the village rose up. Ilyana’s song swelled and the blossoms that had hidden through the winter burst, filling the air with fluttering petals and sweet scents, while bright green tendrils rose up from the earth in which they’d slumbered and ensnared the children and the rats alike.

The piper was furious. Shrugging off the thorns that tried to catch him, he bounded after Ilyana, playing a horrid jig upon his pipe that sounded pained and misshapen, like a man bent upon the rack. The village chief rose up to try and stop him, but upon hearing that jig he collapsed as every bone in his body shattered at once.

Ilyana, of course, heard neither the jig nor the chief’s screams, as her ears were stuffed full of candle wax.

The piper sped across the village, his limbs extending in length so that he clambered easily past every obstacle. Swift as forest-fire he was bearing down upon Ilyana, who ran quickly back inside her house.

The piper followed her inside and choked immediately upon the multitude of sweet scents that filled the hallway. He bit back the bloody bile in his flute-like throat and scuttled on, following the sound of fleeing footsteps.

In his hurry, he slipped upon the slick polish of the uneven wooden floor, his distended limbs skidding across so he landed spread-eagled across it. He retracted his arms and legs to gain better purchase, but as he did so he felt something close tight around him.

As Ilyana bundled the piper up in her coat, the runes of binding she’d embroidered across it blazed with fierce silver flames. The piper struggled and tore, and as he began to rip pieces of the coat away, Ilyana gave him a swift kicking with her old, comfy shoes. The tough leather spread cracks across the man’s porcelain skin and he screamed in rage.

Then Ilyana plunged her small iron boot-knife through his throat and his screamings ceased.

The piper’s cracked body shattered into so many pieces of old bone. The only piece that remained whole was his pipe.

Ilyana had always been a curious girl.

She picked up the pipe and raised it to her lips.

She was never seen again.

But, sometimes, the village’s new chief told stories of a wild little magic girl, bound in her own ragged green coat, who roamed the forests with a bone flute raised to her bloodied lips and a parade of monsters followed her playing.

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