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The Dead Skin Mask

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Once upon a time, there lived a merchant who had been so fortunate in his undertakings that he became very wealthy. He had four children, three sons and one girl who were not ungrateful, but used to a lavish lifestyle and loved their silks and toys. However one day, their castle caught fire and they were thrust out of their home to a small cottage that lied deep in the forest, far away from the city and friends who failed to help them when they needed it. The merchant was not bitter, but his family did fall into a terrible poverty, as none of the family knew how to get along without all their money.

Their little cottage was modest, but stable. Eventually through much trial and error, and after they had grown thin, they managed to start a farm and sustain themselves. The father and daughter cultivated the fields while the younger ones, the sons learned to make clothes and kept the home. While things were not easy, after two rough years they made their way back to their feet.

One of the sons, the middle one, discovered the forest around them was filled with magical properties and he found himself very in tune with them. It wasn’t long before the family was prospering under their new life with Lance now able to provide things they couldn’t make easily, but still when a letter came most of the family was eager to jump on it.

“One of father’s ships was thought to be lost, but its returned full of the treasure it was supposed to be!” Beamed the oldest son as he read it.

“This is fantastic!!” the youngest of the family grinned, “We can go back home!”

“Oh I can’t wait to have a bed of down feathers again!” The daughter sighed dreamily.

“Lance? What’s wrong, aren’t you happy that we won't have to work so hard anymore?” his father gently placed a hand on his son’s back. Lance had been very quiet until then.

“It’s not that,” he said, “I just don’t want to get our hopes up- and things here have been just fine is all.” He rubbed his arm before fumbling with his hands until they were in his pockets.

The others gave him a skeptical eye before turning back to their father, “All will be well, I promise.”

He asked them what they’d like from town before he returned and the children bombarded him with requests and desires of treats. However, Lance remained quiet until his father asked him what he would like as a gift. Lance simply smiled and said, “The only thing I want is for us to be together, so return home soon, papa?”

His father smiled back at him, “Of course, but are you sure there isn’t anything you’d like while I’m there?”

Lance sighed, and after further coaxing from his father, he asked for a bit of wolfsbane since it didn’t grow in the forest and he wanted to continue his work in magicks. The father accepted it as an answer with a loving smiled and gave each one of his children a kiss on the forehead. They all worked together to help their father prepare for the journey and gave him a big send off, hoping all their troubles were over.

After six months of travel through hard terrain, mountains, and windy fields that wished to blow him away, he arrived. However once he made it to the town he found that his boat and all its riches had been claimed to cover his outstanding debt. The merchant was terribly upset that he’d have to return empty handed to his children once more.

Tired and lacking supplies and money, he had no choice but to return home empty handed. Through the worst weather that nature could muster, he made his way home and was merely a few days from home before winter began to overtake him. He took shelter in a hollow tree trunk and once the snow stopped there was no road to be seen. Eventually he found something that looked like a road that was very old. He followed it to what seemed to be an abandoned castle.

Intimidating was the first thing the man would use to describe the castle. The architecture towered over him in a way that reminded him of some churches, to impose the fear of god to its patrons. Gargoyles sat at every corner and stained glass murals were in nearly every window, telling cautionary tales he couldn’t decipher from where he stood.

He knocked softly at first, then loudly when no one answered. After a few minutes of silence, the door was opened and a towering man with lilac skin and electric purple eyes stood in front of him. His snow white hair went past his waist, the only thing that matched the unsettling castle he owned were the fangs that curved gently over his bottom lip. “Hello, sir. May I help you?” he hummed down at him.

After admiring the man for a moment, finding him strangely magnetic, the merchant politely asked if he may stay the night. He explained what had happened and that he would only need a night to recover. After a calculating glance, the stranger granted him passage inside. Generously, the man clothed the merchant and fed him a hot meal before showing him to a lavish room.
The next day he readied himself to leave, but on his way out he stopped at a plant of wolfsbane in the garden, remembering his son’s gentle request. Lance had been such a help, keeping them fit with his remedies and making things to sell, how could the man not get the modest gift he asked for. With a pair of gloves, he snipped some of the plant up and put it in an herb bag in his things.

Suddenly, ghostly quiet feet stepped in front of the merchant and scowled. “How dare you, you thief! I show you kindness and you repay me with robbing me if my treasured flowers? Surely you don’t expect me to allow this to go unpunished? Most disappointing,” he growled in an ungodly tone.

The merchant shook with fright and while the creature was beautiful and had a hypnotic allure, he knew it must be a very old and powerful thing. “I’m so very sorry- your home and all it’s frightening glory is so amazing, I did not think you would miss a couple flowers!” he pleaded on his hands and knees, fearing what the fanged beast would do to him.

The creature frowned, angered further by the man’s words, “Flattery? All I hear is excuses. You will pay for your crime and I shall see that you don’t leave this castle alive.”

The merchant’s heart ached as he thought of his son Lance, who couldn’t have known what his request would have cost him. Desperately he tried to explain that the flowers were a gift to his son who had a tallent with plants and herbs. “I could have never asked for all that my sons and daughter asked for, but for my son Lance- he asked for only my safe return and a flower. Please, I only wished to deliver at least one thing to my dear family,” he pleaded again, “Please forgive me and let me go.”

“Very well, you may take the flowers and yourself home- but in exchange I ask for one of your children,” he told him, “Take your flowers and go, but in a month either return with one of them or yourself.”

The father sat in awe at the terrible burden he was now faced with, “What sort of father would I be to exchange my child’s life for my own? What lie could I possibly tell them to make them come here?”

He frowned and shook his head, “None. If they come, it must be willingly. They are to feed me for the rest of their live. Go now and see if one will take pity on you an love you enough for you to keep your life at the expense of the rest of theirs. And do not attempt to hide or I will find you. And I will kill you.”

The man left in a fright and found his way home after two days. After being sat down and calmed with tea and worried looks of his children, he began to tell them what happened. He told them first of his ship being taken to pay his debts and then of getting lost and cold, and finally of the mysterious vampire who gave him kindness until he unwittingly broke that trust. Wracked with grief, the daughter and two sons tried to come with a way to kill the vampire or run far away.

Lance looked over his family as they shouted and panicked. With a pit deep in his stomach, he smiled and stood from his chair.

“I will go.”