The Births of the Red Horned God

“It’s important that you understand, he doesn’t die,” said the old priest. “You might strike him down. You might prevent him from being born.But you can’t kill him. And he’ll always come around again. That’s the nature of his lot.”

The three swordsman regarded the earnestness etched on to the weathered lines of the man’s face. They remained silent. He sighed.

“You’ll be wanting to look for where the trees are dying, even though they should be ripe with the life of spring. Twisted and gnarled they’ll appear. Somewhere within the dying woods, you’ll find either a shack or a full blown village. It depends on how many people the Horned One’s charlatans have duped into following them. As you get closer to their encampment, the air will grow more oppressive. You’ll encounter stinging gnats and biting flies and other such unpleasantness. You might even begin to hallucinate. It is all on account of their wretched magics. You’ll be looking for a pregnant woman…”

At this, the youngest of the swordsmen grunted.

“Yes, a pregnant woman. You’ll need to run her through her gut. And then,” he paused and produced a small glass phial, “pour this onto her and set her ablaze.”

The oldest of the swordsmen reached out and took the unguent, stashing it securely on his person. The youngest fidgeted with obvious distaste. The priest performed a benediction upon the trio. They left.

Just as the old man from the church had said, the swordsmen found the decrepit woods. They marched over fallen burrs and tangled brush. Grasping and prodding, grayed branches seemed to lash out at them, slowing their progress. As the air grew thicker and hotter than should be found in the region, all forms of insects filled the air. The swordsmen wrapped cloth around their nose and mouths to keep the insects out and lit torches, swinging them ahead to try to clear out the swarms that served to impede their advance.

Not wanting to stop in such squalid conditions, they pressed on despite the fatigue that burrowed into them and sapped their resolve. More than once, the youngest among them tried to dissuade them; force them to turn back. They persisted. The moon rose, an ominous red beacon leading  them onward.

Finally the insects and the trees gave way to a clearing. Spying the single ramshackle hut at its center, the swordsmen paused. Arcane runs decorated the rotting wood of the building, glistening in the moonlight. The youngest swordsman ran away into the woods, terror gripping his heart. The remaining two moved forward, baring their steel.

As they approached the door, a man clad in dark cloth and furs burst forth screaming gibberish into the night, an wood chopping ax raised above his head. He rushed the swordsmen, and was cut down. He unintelligible words turning to wet gurgles. The swordsmen entered the house. Prostrate on the bed, a woman cradled a small bundle of furs, cackling wildly.

“You’re too late,” she cried out to the men, “He is born!”

She unwrapped the bundle revealing the body of a normal babe. Atop its shoulders rested a caprine skull black as night. Red nubs of horns protruded from the skull. The eldest swordsman lifted his blade to strike, but jerked forward in shock. He looked down. His companions steel rose out of his gut, coated with red. As he collapsed to the ground, the cabin blurring and growing dark, he heard his brother in arms whisper.

“He is born.”


 

Apropos of: A larger work.

-Crouse

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