Yfántra: Mother of Flesh
There are several myths and legends in which the first humans were formed from dirt or from clay and at least one monster to whom our flesh remains torturously malleable.
A terror whose legend was once known across the length and breadth of Cyprus, Yfántra (who was sometimes also known as the Mother of Flesh) might once have been human but, by the end of her preternaturally long life, was an avowed corruption of everything that might reasonably be said to comprise any physical or moral conception we might have of humanity. She came to prominence in the late 1490s when a small fire in Pano Dikomo exposed the cellar of a modest dwelling she had taken. What people discovered, hewn into the bedrock, was something akin to a crypt but filled with the most piteously shattered and reshaped bodies, many of whom were still alive despite their torture. What had been done to them could not be reconciled with the comparatively crude sciences of the day, nor with any advances made to this date: it was as if someone had been able to mould and manipulate flesh and bone as if both were as malleable and mutable as clay.
The most grotesquely violated of the victims, a local man who had disappeared months prior, was somehow still alive. He was staggering, surrounded by dozens of bodies which had been variously reconfigured, insensate from the pain and the horrors he had seen and had had inflicted upon him. He had an arrangement of hands fused into a tapestry of wings that jutted from the shoulder blades, jerking spasmodically and beyond the tormented shell of his conscious control. His face, now abutted on either side by those of two of Yfántra’s other victims which mewled and moaned pathetically with a confused animalistic desperation, had been contorted into an abstract angular approximation of its former appearance, the lips and eyes sealed shut. Someone, trying to help him speak, cut the skin that had been fused over his mouth: he spoke Yfántra’s name and then begged to die. In an act that can only be considered a kindness, he was swiftly obliged.
The other victims were believed to have died of shock, though it was clear that they had suffered for extended periods before finding the relief of oblivion. Whatever vicious art which allowed Yfántra to work also enabled her to keep her prey alive for extended periods of torturous mutilation. Those who were still alive and able, those for whom the pattern of their mutilation hadn’t yet compromised their capacity, screamed themselves to death: lungs and throats torn up by anguish. Yfántra, the unassuming former occupant whose appearance no two people could quite agree on, had been luring and abducting people and animals to create a stockpile for her work. It seems likely that she was using her abilities to ensure her anonymity, making changes to her own appearance to help her work in secret. Nonetheless, the news of what had been found spread quickly and over the months, after other lairs had been found in neighbouring towns (each with their own uniquely brutalised victims within) the story spread, the truth too outlandish to be outstripped by the inevitable exaggerations.
The notoriety born of her monstrosity became infamy and, for one mercifully brief season of hysteria, an increased vigilance throughout the country by an evangelically brutal few forced her to retreat into increasingly remote areas – eventually seeming to disappear completely. This respite came at a cost though; and, despite there being a genuine target for their fear, the collateral casualties were similar to those of the American witch trials or the European inquisitions. The vast majority of those targeted for blind, mob-handed outrage were women, and any disability or a proximal deformity (even owning a farm where an animal was born bodily twisted) could be seized upon by the fearful and paranoid as justification for violence almost as appalling as any Yfántra concocted. That bloody summer passed, albeit not rapidly enough, and when sense returned people stopped speaking of it: Intentional and stubbornly-held amnesia being the easiest method by which to expiate a collective guilt...
As the people did their best to move on, to convince themselves of their relative innocence, Yfántra stayed in hiding. Although there were isolated cases of horribly deformed animal corpses being found, some even coinciding with people in nearby areas going missing, the incidents were never so awful as to be more than suggested as being linked to her murders. This apparent peace lasted for several years, until eventually she resurfaced, living in a long-since abandoned copper mine somewhere outside the tiny village of Malia in the Troodos Mountains. Feeding her appetites by trapping whatever animals happened by, she sent some of the raving and ravening results of her experimentation back out into the world to confound and terrorise the local population from the safety of her hiding place. Eventually she grew bolder and, when a young couple snuck deep into the woods to meet in secret, she was able to take them both. A few days later they were found at the outskirts of the village, already dead. What had been done to them was so vile, so inhuman, that the bodies were immediately burnt, the specifics being taken to the graves of those who had seen them.
This fresh outrage, and the obvious trauma of those who had borne witness to it, overcame their fear. The people of Malia took to the woods, scouring them for any hovel or hole where Yfántra could be hiding. Eventually they located the mine, surrounded by a corrupted miasma and a heavy air with a fetid charnel bite to it which kept even the greediest carrion-feeders from venturing too close. A small group ventured inside, intent on killing the monster, but a short while later their anguished screams began to echo back to those who had been left guarding the entrance. Rather than send more people to their deaths, or worse, a decision was made to collapse the entrance to the mine and then to bury it as thoroughly and entirely as was possible. And so the work was done, carried out in haste, in grim silence pierced by the sounds of a suffering they dared not allow themselves to contemplate and Yfántra, along with her newest victims, was entombed.
All mention of this last and latest incident was stricken from history. The location of the mine was removed from maps, hushed on the lips of those who would speak of it. Eventually the truth lapsed into legend and the Mother of Flesh was written off as folklore, a particularly and peculiarly ghoulish local story told to keep children out of the deeper, darker parts of the woods. The reality behind the myth was kept a secret, shared only sparingly and as necessary to ensure that the truth, and Yfántra herself, remained buried. This pact held for several hundred years but there is a cost for everything, and the burdens of proof can be the heaviest of all. In this regard I can only measure my own sins against those of my predecessors and hope, as they must have done, that the work itself stands as sufficient counterbalance. Sometimes, as with the exploration of the story of Yfántra, it is impossible to argue that what was gained was worth the horror unleashed.
In the winter of 1922 one of those aforementioned predecessors travelled to Cyprus in search of the truth behind a legend that only faded with each passing generation. They were travelling there for months, eventually finding some mention of Malia, before making their way there. In Malia they found a local woman who, although entrusted with the story, was at several removes from the last member of her family who had truly believed that the knowledge they guarded was genuine. Terror having given way to something no more forceful than idle superstition, it was only a matter of time and expense to uncover what had been buried. The predecessor in question returned to mainland Europe some weeks later, but disappeared shortly thereafter leaving only a portentous farewell sealed in an envelope along with their heavily redacted journal. Paying heed to their final, blood-soaked warning, no-one has attempted to retrace their last expedition in Cyprus but Malia remains, to this day, a location which is closely monitored.