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In the spring, the Dine of the copper mountain fished the river. In the summer they gathered fruits, grains, and berries. In the winter they hunted the white-tail. They fought off wolf and bear. None had returned from across the river, for that was the home of the enemy and skin walkers. But the copper mountain was safe. The lands were plentiful. Women grew fat. Men grew old.

They lived happy lives; all except one.

The girl was an orphan. Her father had died of sickness. Her mother had been stolen away by the skin walkers. Her brother followed after. She lived in the home of her uncle, who was kind but would not speak to her sadness. The one wish the girl had for herself was to marry the second son of the chief. He was handsome, and strong, and quick, but he had eyes for another girl who was a great beauty.

The girl came of age, but her heart still longed, and her sadness kept others away. So, she went to the Mother of Madness for medicine.

The witch lived alone, under a hill, south of the copper mountain. She was old and frightening. She covered herself in corpse dust, her hair was adorned with tresses of snake skin. She wore only the skin of a bear that was mottled, tangled with weeds and pickers, and too long to keep out of the dirt.

The Mother of Madness asked why the girl had come, so she spoke of her sadness.

The Mother of Madness said, “I have no medicine for you, but I do know a path you can walk.

“Catch a rabbit, young and unspoiled. Take it into the woods. Find the red path. It will lead you to the Blood Tree. Anoint the rabbit with your woman’s blood and call out. You will get your wish. Do not offer more than you are willing to give.”

The next day the girl caught a rabbit. She waited several more until the time was right, and when no eyes were upon her, she walked into the wood. The sun was falling before she found the narrow path of red clay walled by dark berries and red blossoms. She followed it until she came to a clearing. It was a large circle of dark red clay, packed hard, and edged by a ring of knee-high stones spaced an arm-length apart. In the middle of the clearing was a pond of muddy water, three times as wide as she was tall. In the center of the pond were two thin, bone-white trees. They stretched out of the water like arms, and their bare branches clasped like fingers.

Removing her clothes, the girl stepped into the pond. She marked the rabbit with her woman’s blood above its eyes and across its throat.

She called out, “Blood Tree! I bring you this gift!”

There was no answer, but she felt something move in the water. At her feet, she saw roots reaching up. She placed the rabbit in the water and watched it squirm as roots pierced its flesh.

She did not run.

She saw the water turn bright red.

She did not run.

She saw the tree bloom red flowers.

She did not run.

The flowers fell from the tree and floated in the red water. When they came to her, she ate the flowers.

Then the voice spoke to her. Not to her ears, but to her spirit.

Child of the mountain. I feel your sadness. What do you desire?

She said, “I want to marry the second son of the chief. He is handsome and strong and quick, but he has eyes for another girl who is a great beauty.”

The voice said, Take my flowers. Give them to the other girl. She will no longer be the great beauty. If you desire more. Call to me again.

The girl went home.

In the morning she gave the flowers to the beauty. That night the beauty was gone. The people searched but could not find her.

The girl went back to the Blood Tree and offered another rabbit.

She called out, “Blood Tree! I bring you this gift!”

The voice spoke. Child of the mountain. I feel your sadness. What do you desire?

”The beauty is gone.” the girl said.

The voice answered, Yes.

The girl said, “The people search for her. The second son cries for her.”

The voice spoke. Take my water. Put it in the cooking pots. The people will forget.

In the morning, the girl put the water in the cooking pots. That night, no one remembered the beauty. But still the second son did not look to her.

The girl went back to the Blood Tree, but she had no blood or rabbit to mark.

She called out, “Blood Tree!”

The voice spoke. Child of the mountain. I feel your sadness. What do you desire?

She said, “The beauty is gone.”

The voice answered, Yes.

She said, “She is forgotten.”

The voice answered, Yes.

She said, “The second son is alone, but he does not look to me.”

The voice answered, Yes.

”Make him love me!” the girl cried.

The voice answered, What do you offer?

The girl said, “I brought no gift, but there is nothing more I want.”

The voice answered, What do you offer?

The girl cried into the pool and said, “Everything I have.”

The voice answered, Done.

The girl went back to the mountain. In the morning the second son stood outside her home and spoke of his love. They stayed together the whole day and night.

In the morning the second son was gone. The girl left her home to look for him, but she saw all the people were gone as well. She looked all day, but could not find her people.

That night, she cut her hand and marked a snake she had caught. The girl walked down the red path, and that is where she found the people.

The Dine of the copper mountain called to the Blood Tree. They asked for food. They asked for grand homes. They asked for good seasons. They asked for health. They asked for youth. They asked for everything in their hearts.

The girl called out, “Blood Tree! What have you done to my people?”

The voice answered, They are my people. You gave me everything you had. Now your people are mine.

The girl cried, “Why?”

The voice answered, I am Bel Ah’Shemec. I feed on desire. You fed me small meals. Now the Dine of the copper mountain will stay here. They will want for everything. They will be given nothing. I will feast. I will let you keep your freedom, but no matter what you do, or where you go, your desire for your people’s freedom will be the sweetest.

The girl ran.

She ran to the Mother of Madness.

The witch laughed when she heard the girl’s story. The Mother of Madness reminded the girl of the warning not to offer more than she was willing to give.

The girl asked if there was a way to stop Bel Ah’Shemec. The mother of Madness smiled and said that the skin walkers across the river knew a way.

The Mother of Madness said, “Cross the river. Take nothing with you, not even your clothes. Walk straight. Keep your eyes on your feet. Tell them of your sadness. Obey their words.”

The girl was frightened, but this time, she did as she was told.

She crossed the river. She walked until her feet were sore.

Finally someone spoke. “What are you doing here girl of the copper mountain?”

The girl said, “There is a monster in the woods. It has taken my people.”

The voice asked, “Why should I care? They are not my people. Why should I not kill you now?”

The girl spoke through tears. “My father is dead. You took mother. You took my brother. I am alone. My people are dying.”

”Wait here. Do not move.” the voice said.

The girl waited all day and all night. She shivered, but she did not move. She was scared, but the girl did not run.

In the morning, she heard the sound of an animal approach.

”I am White Heart of the wolf tribe. Climb on my back. I will help you.”

The girl obeyed.

White Heart carried her across the river. He carried her past the mountain. He carried her to the Blood Tree.

The girl told White Heart her story. The girl asked how Bel Ah’Shemec could be stopped and her people freed.

White Heart said, “Do not feed it.”

The girl watched as White Heart bit open the throats of the people.

The Dine of the copper mountain called to the Blood Tree. They asked for help. They asked for protection. They asked to be spared. They asked for health. They asked for everything in their hearts.

The Dine of the copper mountain died.

White Heart spoke with his mouth full of the blood of the people. “Do not cross the river again, my sister. You will not be spared a second time.”

The girl called out, “Bel Ah’Shemec!”

The voice spoke. Child of the mountain. I feel your sadness. What do you desire?

She said, “The beauty is gone.”

The voice answered, Yes.

She said, “She is forgotten.”

The voice answered, Yes.

She said, “The second son does not look to me.”

The voice answered, Yes.

She said, “I am alone.”

The voice answered, Yes.

”Make me forget!” the girl cried.

The voice answered, What do you offer?

Children of the Night: The 2012 Halloween Horrorquest

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