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“The monster’s first meal was a grizzled codger like myself, singing, weaving a trail to his door from visiting a friend. He cried out at the common, passing the cheer-lit windows of his neighbors. They’d find what was left in a field, devoured and spat out in disgust by no beast that any could name — until they gave him a title.”

The teller of tales swigged from a tankard then puffed heavily, cheeks expelling a ball of somber gray smoke about his head. Sagist Rogan cleared his throat harshly.

“The second was a maiden, a lovely girl fair and ripe, and they felt her loss profoundly.

“The folk knew it was no random act. The village had been marked for desecration. A hunting band set out to slay the miscreant. ’Twas their solitary hope. Stout brave men, the eleven did not return. Thirteen heads were tossed from the fog in fury. Heroic bodies lay shredded, their pieces scattered all directions.

“This town’s doom had been sealed.

“Livestock and horses vanished the next night. Ground was matted with scraps of hide and feathers. A day later, more or less, every woodland animal for miles was taken. Birds flew off in trepidation. Then crops were spoiled, trampled or uprooted.

“The frightened populace was willing to forsake their creed for a darklord in order to survive.

“‘Horrendus!’ they wept, as if a prayer, ‘what have we done to deserve your vile unyielding wrath? How can we serve you, Master?’

“The ogre bade like peals of thunder, ‘You must spread my name, father to son, so all will hear of me. It is a simple task but if you neglect to comply, the consequence shall be dire. I will destroy your village as if it never stood. All that is asked beyond this, the life of one boy or girl from every bloodline in your midst on each centennial of my nascence. Do not begrudge me. And do not beg. I have no mercy, for I have no heart.’

“And so it is that the demon reappears to collect his due — a sample of every family’s young on his hundredth anniversaries. We must not forget lest we incur his rancor and another famine strike. Or this town be swept from the very soil on which it was built!”

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