Bride of Worms
In the north, there lays a small nation engulfed in a shadowland created not many deaths, but by one single death. The death of it's queen. As the ruler is the heart of the land, for her to die was to sink the land into shadow and mire. She died upon a rope, hanging herself above her defiled wedding bed, after her husband shunned her following a rape that took place upon her wedding night. Till then, she had been chaste and virginal for him and had truly loved him dearly, but the husband, a terrestrial and once the champion of their kingdom, was a man of great pride and possessiveness. So much so that it was easy for agents of a foreign power to manipulate him, staging the violation of his virgin bride in the hours after their ceremony, but before they could consummate. It was actually months after that before the queen killed herself, only when she learned of the child growing in her belly - a child that should have been his, but instead belonged to a scarred and salivating man who had ruined her. She hung herself over the wedding bed, which had not been touched since the night of her ravishment, and the shadow of her hanging corpse spread across the entire kingdom.
As a ghost, she returned to rule her kingdom, a cold distant figure. Her corpse still hangs in the wedding chamber, jealously guarded by a bloated and mad po. The queen, who calls herself now the Bride of Worms, is beautiful outwardly, but rotten on the inside. A nest of centipedes follows her around in the shape of a shadow she does not actually cast and when she steps upon soil, black biting worms swell up out of the earth around her feet. Every year on the night of an eclipse, the Bride of Worms comes down out of her decaying palace and walks the length of her land. At every village, she is joined by a group of the communities most handsome young men. They are dressed in white funeral clothes, their faces hooded by prayer-strip veils and in their hands they carry poles atop which shine blue paper lanterns. In tens and twelves they join her, until they are a hundred strong, moving in absolute silence through the foggy dens and bleak forests. The only sounds of life come from the Bride of Worm's bridesmaids, who giggle and titter and celebrate the occasion. The bridesmaids are dead. The Bride of Worms killed them all soon after returning to her kingdom, for her wedding was not even one night annulled before they all began to seduce her husband-to-be into their own beds. Their bodies are covered head to toe, hidden from all sight wave for dainty white feet in tall wooden sandals and boney white arms that can squeeze a would-be lover nearly to death. Not completely to death, as that last step into the abyss is saved for when they bare twisted teeth and sink them in to chew their lover's flesh and drink their blood.
As the parade returns to the palace, a wedding ceremony is held. The Bride of Worms, in one night, marries all one hundred men. She takes only one to her bed chamber though, sending the rest home. This husband, merely a stand-in for the man she truly once, stays one night in the palace.
By morning, he will be dead and her icy womb filled with his living seed. She gives birth barely two months afterwards. One in every ten of such children are still-born, dead already in the womb. Those who do live are strange. They are as cold as their mother, but beautiful. They are contrasts of bloodless white skin and raven black hair, like carvings of ivory and ebony. The sons she sends in tribute to a near-by Deathlord and cares nothing of what becomes of them. The daughters live their lives confined to the palace, seen only in brief glimpses by the public and offered as 'comforts' to visiting emissaries.
Of all her sons, there is only one who has ever remained with her and many often wonder at him, for he is nothing like the rest. He is ruddy faced and red haired, with mad green eyes and a razored smile. He laughs loudly and often, in a palace where no laughter is ever heard. His manner is as rough as his looks, yet where he walks the sun shines and his brutish looks belay a heart of compassion for his mothers subjects. Thick shouldered and thick fingered, he carries an executors axe everywhere he goes, keeping it's blade clean and ready "For a very special someone," and carries shackles of jade "For someone else." In the land of the Bride of Worms, he is called the Jade-Fire and the Dayborn.
He is her first son. Her only completely living son, ejected from her dying body as she snapped down upon the end of her rope. He is the son of her rape and the living reminder of her shame and grief and rage. She has tried to kill him a hundred times over, yet somehow always failed. And no matter what she does, he loves her still, out of sheer pity for his mad mother. The axe he carries for the day he finds his father, so that he can make a gift of the man's head. The shackles are for the day he finds the husband who scorned her, to bring him back in chains and force him to honor the oath the man made to his mother: love and devotion, till the end of them both.