The Shape of Horns

10

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The following was found on William R. Roberts' personal belongings by embedded Authority agents in 1866 after his incarceration. Due to the anomalous events that would transpire near Fort Erie and Battle of Ridgeway, William was implicated for providing his Irish revolutionaries with thaumaturgical reagents, of which were used to summon Red-level entities. Upon investigation of his estates, items such as;
  • ampules of Irish Elk blood
  • charred remains of a staff made of Oakwood
  • unknown ferrous materials
  • a vat of anomalous tissues
  • 12 pseudo-factual retellings of the Ulster Cycle
  • 67 ceramic idols depicting the Tuatha Dé Danann
  • 1m tapper
  • grounded horns

were found in relation to ingredients his men had utilized in transformation events.

Subsequently, a wide-scale disinformation campaign ensued with appropriate fabrications made to historical texts, newspapers, books, and reports mentioning the Fenian raids. MST-Xi 59 "Niagara's Cavaliers" are responsible for guarding Fort Erie against further incursions by the neo-Fenian sects sponsored by the Children of Nihil.


Excerpt on "Land Before High Kings"

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Aileen was caught in a frenzy; she danced until her ankles were immolated to the twang of an exhilarated harp.

Brian was a curious child. He was the type to prick his thumbs on thorn bushels and swallow turquoise berries only to vomit them out a short time later.

Was. Now, the child approached the eve of his manhood. During winters, he pestered the elderly on all manner of things. Such as, why did the Sun always set during the day when it was desperately needed during the night? Or, why did the headless, raven-pitch birds saunter the rooftops come night?

In summers, he fought mock battles and suffered defeat. The pangs of failure mentored him on how to wield a shield, sword, spear, and bow.

Brian's tribe had customs wreathed in blood and stag, and as such, he would need to earn his right to grow.

Much like the two-or-so young men who wore gambesons and took the finest iron swords. Much like the fifteen-or-so young men, belonging to ignoble fathers, who chased for leather scraps to fashion armor and peeled wood into spears.

Everyone at the mead-hall was in the process of arming themselves by the time Brian had arrived. He would have to rely on his secondary skills. The fine art of thievery.

He snuck several chestnuts, a silver dagger, an amulet etched with crosses and symbols, and many small items into various compartments he stitched into his clothing.


The sun, set. Twilight unraveled. The soon-to-be men strode out of the mead hall and passed a line of toadstools red. Hillocks and mounds came to the foreground and acted as lumbering guardians near an endless dark green sea. Strains of purple cascaded the sky. Without fire, Brian quickly lost sight of his hands.

██████ bore a torch, forging ahead. ████████ brandished an enchanted spear with more designs then it rightfully should have had. He named it Thyrfing.

Brian looked upon it longingly and morbid glee beset him. In his mind, his deft hands were chopped, replaced with ████████'s own.

"████████ is as dull and calm as a boulder, but you best not test him," █████ tutted.

"Mind reader now? Are you Aileen's kin?"

"Lower your tone!"

"You'll die pissing off the chieftain's warriors and uncles before some witch plagues you with pox."

"Names have—"

"— power. Power binds fae-folk, witches, spirits, and trolls. Can still hear Old Shamus knock'n our arses with a cane until we recited it all."

"Best recite them now, you dunce."

Brian smirked and took out a small satchel from one of his many pockets. He waved it near his friend's nostril, playfully.

"Gods, what is that? Smells like brimstone!," said █████.

"Put your mind at ease █████. Because it is just that. It's some of Aileen."

█████ glared at him. "Why?!"

"You said it yourself! We had no salt!"

"You've cursed us!"

"Not at all. Shamus once taught me how to use cremation ash to catch the Aos Si. Stole many a thing in preparation. The sigils of persuasion and binding, I know them well. But not much else."

█████ stammered, fuming. "I—"

"When we make camp, you let me have a morsel of sausage from your knapsack. You must pay for my protection, somehow."

Brian smiled, bemused at █████'s loss for words. For what the pickpocket loved more than the act of stealing, was the art of gloating.


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Before iron or man visited this land, the Aos Si made barrows, grasshewn domes to shelter their dead. In fire, the plague ridden were cleansed.

Ten paces into the forest.

The owls hooted, cicadas chirped, and things cracked from the unknown corners of the Far Dark. Brian could still barely make out his fellows. All amongst the expedition possessed torches. None lit areas farther than several feet.

A hundred paces.

Impenetrable. This place devoured light, Brian thought. Vapor from previous thunderstorms lingered. It chilled Brian's skin and felt like drool on his neck. Several birds encircled the skies above.

brian

"What?" Brian whispered, turning his head left to right. None responded.

Another hundred paces.

The expedition's disorganized footsteps marched. The sound of hooves clamoring and a neigh in the dark convinced ██████ to push deeper.

where are you

Brian mouthed something, then quickly resisted vocalization.

can't you see, can't you see

He shivered and continued marching. An archer shot an arrow from his bow at vague outlines rustling through the bushels. A shriek, not quite animalistic, shot out from the general direction.

"This way!" the archer said as both he and his brother rushed forward.

blood for blood, they choose your side. blood for blood, you must run and hide

█████, ████████, and Brian attempted to keep up but were outclassed in speed by the more dexterous among the pack. Multiple figures galloped in the background. They kept pace at the outskirts of the torch's light. Sun could not defy night and even then, fire choked into cinders.

"What is that?" someone said as he unsheathed his sword and began using it to pluck at the black figure he thought was a small deer.

"Don't know," ██████ responded, leaning in with his torch. By then a small crowd gathered around. To their shock, the creature had the torso of a young boy, no more than their age, with everything below its stomach in the form of a four-legged creature with singed, brown fur. In lieu of bone, the antlers reminded ██████ of the alabaster pots that merchants back in the town would carry on their lofty wagons. What's more, the antlers protruded from where its "head" should be. The two that belonged to the dying creature twitched and twisted like worms caught on a hook, but its body remained still.

████████████

Unearthly sounds from a carnyx horn merged pig squeal invaded from the Far Dark all culminating into a fierce battle song. Strangely, the percussion of drums followed, as did the vibrations and buzzing associated with wind instruments like an army of drunken bards were playing to their dervish host.

████████████

There. To the west of Brian, it spoke again. Brian shuffled his right leg shivering to his front, accomplishing one full step into the dark. He could not find his companions as their torches fell to the floor in fear.

to the left, feel for it… take from it, and you will survive

The frightened pickpocket obeyed and ran to the direction the voice led him to. His mind resisted his desire to ask, feeling around in the dark until his hand latched onto a leathery pocket, which prompted him to lift the cover and steal its contents.

Bloodcurdling screams rang out. A stampede stomped across fallen comrades. The implements that lit the way for their previous owners, blossomed into grand fires billowing from the grass, untethered by the pitch and wood. Before a tree, Brian could see everything clearly, as if the daylight had come too late.

An unknown warrior attempted to stave off the charge of a creature clad in dark furs, but his head popped with the sound of metal thrashing bone as a flail lodged into his skull and pulled out. Poor █████ tripped near an exposed branch. He reached to his backside desperately. A barbed lash took his neck and another took his ankle. The entangling riders left in separate directions, tugging at █████'s appendages.

The pickpocket's eyes lit up in realization. He plucked out a string connected to a piece of wood with marked engravings at the end from the satchel.

Perhaps in condemnation of himself, Brian attempted to mouth his sorrow until his cowardly hands covered his lips, shoving the words back into his throat.

run, sweet brian, come to me, my splendor…

He felt █████'s stare whilst turning back and away from his friend to flee. █████ roared in pain before a "phliiiiist" sound could be heard proceeding the rattle and crunch of something solid snapping.

On a nearby tree, ██████ held his shield while his brother traded glancing strikes with a rider that stood three adult males long in height. Unfortunately, the shieldbearer's footing slid from the brutal onslaught of his enemy. The horned beast found an opening and struck at his neck. ██████'s head lopped off, tumbled, and stayed beneath the hoof of the thing's forelegs.

"██████! No!" someone hollered.

"Gods save us, back into the woods, we can lose them between the thicker t—" ████████' voice cut-short, as steel whirled through flesh and replaced his voice with the sound of gagging and sputtering.

"Back, back!" someone else said.

"█████ was right! We should've set out by day!" another replied.

The pickpocket instinctively stared to the source of the thing that took ██████'s life only to scrunch his eyes. Impossible light, leaked. The burning sensation peered beyond three twisted antlers that intertwined at the tip while the creature's chest, neck, and shoulders splayed open to accommodate the gratuitous assemblage. Teeth lined the horns like a crown.

The pickpocket began crying not for his fellows, but in awe and shock from the moonlight. As if the forest declared the Wild Crowned creature royalty.

███ ██████ ██ █████████

Quickly, the pickpocket dived underneath a large hollowed out log, snatching Thyrfing by its blood-warm handle from ████████' unmoving hand. A rider had barely missed at his shoulders and left a wide gash near his collarbone inconsequentially. Shivering, bleeding, the pickpocket's mind raced.

make the circle, with a name

The thing behind vibrated, beckoned.

██████████████ ███████

The pickpocket clumsily pulled out his small bag and spread Aileen all across the floor whilst pushing the scattered remnants into an outline of a circle.

Stomp.

Crisp leaves, aged wood, and the bones of ██████ crunched from afar.

bind bridge wood

He buried the necklace he stole into the epicenter of the circle. Paint, I need… He rummaged through many pockets and hidden compartments on his person until his finger poked through a wide hole on his trousers that previously held the berries.

Stomp.

Panicking, he pressed two of his fingers into his wound— adrenaline pushed out pain from the boy's mind as he spat and lathered the viscous blood dripping from his hand with saliva. He wrote sigils into the soil in practiced motions.

Stomp.

Shields clamored on their own, steel broke.

Stomp.

A gust of air lingered on pickpocket's neck, and it was then he knew the thing could breathe.

sweet, delicious brian…

Incantations rolled out from the pickpocket's mouth in spurts. A honey-laced murmur took his lips for its own. He could feel it underneath yet close to his skin like circumvolving fog clouds that convulsed and squirmed at his nerves. From his lips, warm autumn rain.

Thyrfing, I call you!
Sacred wood, fragrant sweet.
Daylight, I call you!
Pillars golden, from Sun's teat.
The dead my veil,
the circle my hearth.

The entity slammed the wooden spear with Brian's hands. None but fragments and splinters remained. Which then sparked tiny pygmy flames across the lines made from Aileen. Wavy strings of light danced from his hands to his shoulders like bright lightning from a storm.

The Wild Crown reached forward with a talon, but a majestic burning wall erupted from the ground. It fell back and wailed (something between a hawk's heckle, chicken's clucking, and shrew's shriek) in pain. The golden pillar turned green, blue, purple, and all combination of color. Rainbows emanated into the night.

my sweet, my delicous one, run to me

Immediately, a gargantuan snake's head formed from the rainbow and slithered forward, deeper into the forest. Moving past the slaughter, Brian did not once question why he did not suffer the same fate as the cadavers burning to a crisp before his path.

Gray human-like shapes could be seen rising from the trees from the openings left by the snake's cascading scales. They were large and lumbering. They smelled of ash, charcoal, and hair.

Below and outside of the snake, the hair entangled around the rider's legs as the bare bodies of faceless maidens, which acted as the Gray's "head", screeched like Valkyries.

Brian wondered how they could see the riders they eviscerated or clenched with lotus flowers for eyes. Riders were slammed into the ground. Maiden-heads were impaled with throwing axes. A war had broken out and Brian's companions were like swatted upon flies as a bear wrestled with a lion.

Brian ran. Until the unearthly orgy of screams were but echoes. There were sights here that no man should witness. Horrors that vanquished the pickpocket's natural curiosity. All he had was faith, instilled into him by the voice that pressed into his brain.

Blood lingered in the distance, and the trees went on for miles until he found a river at the end of the serpent's mouth. He dived in. Struggling against the waves battering his cheeks and flooding his lungs, he eventually became unconscious.

come, come, come


Three days and three nights came and went.

Brian awoke on a stone slab sweating profusely. Something moved through his blurry vision, almost as if it was waltzing. One shifted to three, as Brian's vision focused on the vague outlines. For some odd reason, each had an uncanny sparkle to them.

"He's awake," whispered the familiar voice that led him here.

"We should feed him, yes— yes," the same voice hissed only from a different direction. From another being.

A sister? Brian surmised in a haze. Water pitter-pattered across mossy stonework. He knew he was somewhere underground as brown mushrooms hung from the ceiling. Lilac, daisy, and the ambrosia of warm honey-milk floated into his nostrils. He realized then and there that creamy porridge dripped from the sides of his mouth. And had his vision remained blurred, he would've thanked his benefactors for nurturing him in his time of need. However, his eyesight returned to him after a few short blinks.

The dancers were misshapen; some possessed lanky legs and small arms while others dressed in flowers grew elongated dorsal fins across their jaws and temples. All were faceless— with some manner of shimmering, inset rock cloaking their flesh —each vibrated like hummingbird wings whenever they spoke.

"Who are you?" Brian snapped.

The creatures laughed then spoke. "The Fuath, as known by your kind. Who label us water spirits that spurn the day and hide in the freshwater rivers."

"Are you going to eat me?" Brian replied in a hesitant manner.

This could all be dismissed as a fever dream, Brian thought to himself. If not for the unskinned corpses, stacked atop one another. A malignant flesh hill. The pungent stench of it all. He could feel his stomach attempting to crawl out his throat. Water plummeted from the surface and bathed the highest peaks. With five feeble senses, Brian inhaled rapidly, pretending to comprehend the absurdity. A figure rose from the waters blackened by a fermented type of blood.

"Sweet Brian, delicious mate. I and my sisters would've carved your innards and wore your succulence if we so choose." The figure was more shapely, curvaceous even.

"Then, why haven't you?"

"Commerce," the being said, wiping an obsidian knife. Ivory white cloaks fashioned from skin hung loosely from the thing's shoulders. Braided hair wrapping around its waist held the skins together. The wardrobe was worn in a revealing manner, accentuating a nonexistent chest. With buxom breasts carved from thighs.

Brian's eyes welled up, but the creature came to him and caressed its cold, clammy hand on his cheek.

"Unintelliglbe screaming and ugly crying… can wait, my love. I only ask for a name." Its cold eyeless stare contorted his mind.

"Maeve," murmured Brian as he shivered, attempting to salvage the name from a farmer girl in a previous tryst.


Names were harvested in the following two days by the Fuath. Once the graverobbers harnessed an identity, they dispersed gratuitous human shapes and sizes into the rivers. Only Maeve dressed appropriately, never appearing as an uncanny compilation of tumors like the rest had. The colony depleted over time and Brian did not try to guess at where they had gone to. In their place, Maeve revealed to Brian a sacred artifact; a large antler. A funeral dirge was written upon it using a language only the Riders could know.

They strode out by morning as Brian was granted a costume made of dead Fuath. Eagar to end the gruesome and tiresome journey, he followed Maeve's auspices which led them to the Wild Crown's domain, so that they may settle on a compact. Mercantile diplomacy and persuasive wards had won that day as Brian cast his sigils; signs to Ogma were burned and pressed unto the underside of his tongue. The royal beast could not tell who the pickpocket boy was, and the two left with an overabundance of boar, deer, and elk, brought back by horse-drawn wagon. Even morsels of fruit were stowed away in large bags.

The night was finally over.


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maeve

[…]

None else of name.

The Chieftain said in a pretty speech. He mourned his son █████ but dared not pronounce a name lost to the Lord of the Aos Si. For contracts contrived by blood, must be respected. Hungry stomachs staved away the unease and inability to bury their loved ones. Before long, the townspeople commenced with festivities.

Turnip lanterns glowed iridescently. The young practiced apple-bobbing from the ample fruit birthed by the sacred treants. Bards played songs from lutes and mead flowed like rivers to anyone with two legs. All shoved meat into their gullets, without care. At least, the elders pretended to.

Mothers dressed their daughters in new clothes whilst fathers wrestled with their sons. Children matched witts on boardgames under white tarp canopies. The fire festival went off without a hitch.

████████'s father went to Brian and brandished a beautifully engraved ax. He solemnly shuffled it into Hero of the Hunt's arms.

Brian accepted the gift, but his eyes lingered elsewhere. Maeve stared at him, a gleam of mischief in her eyes. She wove with her new hand and smiled with a new face. Thereafter, she chirped with other girls on the topic of husbands and apple peels.

Every so often, skin cracked like eggshell punctures cross the nape of her neck, but no one noticed, no one could notice except Brian, who clung to an old truth. Who clutched to the ax's sharp until he bled, letting go before the iron pushed flesh, sawing bone. A thing twitched belly-up with raven hair caressing the surface of the crystalline lake, and Brian for the very first time felt the talon of a past clutch its last before sinking.

The winter would come and pass. Brian would do as all men from his tribe did: sow the crop, drink mead, hunt deer, fuck, and bear children with a betrothed. He traded doubt and curiosity for numbness and routine. Each cycle's pass meant granaries flush with jerked meat.

Whatever vexed Brian gradually fell out like shades of Autumn pressed snow.


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