It was her eighteenth birthday, but somehow everyone seemed a bit sad. Chione couldn't quite understand why. It was hard to be happy and enjoy the celebrations when the whole village was just a bit withdrawn. Most of her friends had pleaded illness, from a mystery plague that had suddenly struck the village yesterday, but she could see them looking out from their houses. The boys still joked with her, but none of the men, young or old, would meet her eyes. Her father had left that morning for the furthest olive fields, saying there was tree blight which would have to be dealt with or the groves could all be dead by dark. He had a funny catch in his voice when he said "dead by dark".
Her Aunt Leucippe came to her just after lunch, bringing a bowl of sweetmeats. Aunt Leucippe being nice was a novelty in itself, but Chione was so relieved that someone seemed to be happy that she almost forgot her Aunt's years of scorn. When she suggested they go out into the woods to eat the sweetmeats and meet up with some friends, Chione leapt up and skipped down the path. Anything to get out of the village!
Her Aunt led her to a grove, not far from the road. Chione had never liked this place, though she could never say why. Her brothers used to tease her about it when she was little, but Chione knew that she was all grown up now and there wasn't anything to be afraid of in a silly forest. She sat down next to her aunt and tried one of the delicate sweetmeats. It was delicious! She wolfed down a handful, then a handful more. Then she noticed that her Aunt wasn't eating.
"Auntie, why aren't you eating? What's ... whass happnin? Why do I feel so funny? I... Oh!"
Leucippe lifted the plate of sweetmeats from the top of the basket. The body of the basket was filled with gleaming metal chains! She fastened the drugged girl to the tree in the centre of the grove, checked that she was secure. Then she made a sorcerous pass in the air, turned on her heel and left, swiftly. She did not want to be present when the beast of the forest came to claim his price.
Chione awoke, alone, chained to the tree. She screamed and struggled, but the village had closed its shutters to drown out her cries. She stopped suddenly, hearing something impossibly huge moving from the heart of the forest towards her...