Hammer to fall
A crow perched atop the highest stone structure of Tallaght. It watched as Birog of the Tuatha De’ descended her horse and cautiously entered the walls of the cursed city.
She stopped in the entryway and seemed to sniff the air taken by a familiar scent. She dropped to one knee taking off one of her gloves and touched the ground with her bare hands.
She rubbed some sort of substance between her fingers before cautiously putting it in her mouth to taste it. She instantly spat it out and said “Sea salt, how odd.”
She rose from the ground and put her glove back and mused to herself “All their salt is surely mined, why would sea water be here, inland of all places? When a fresh water river runs but a stones throw.”
She stopped and straightened rigidly as she craned her neck trying to listen for people or animals but not even the crow cawed. Just dead silence and the calm creaking of the empty houses echoing the empty streets.
“The village is abandoned, but I was sure they were here, perhaps they camped here and then moved on, maybe I can find something in one of these houses”
She tied her horse up at the gates. Briefly she glanced at the standing stone with alien symbols not of her people, she assumed it must have been left from the Firbolg.
She entered the small round house tucked closely by the outer fence which was a stone layered daub and thatch wall. Similar to most perimeter construction in villages at the time.
On the surface the house was fairly unremarkable. A simple stone and clay hut with the standard spiral thicket inlays and a thatched conical roof. The village had seemed strange to her but she had assumed the village had been abandoned but the inside of the hut seemed to tell a different story.
One where food was left to spoil in the pot and a table was lain ready for it to be served. A number of sets of simple hide and leather shoes left untouched and clothes slowly being devoured by all manner of insects.
Conclusion could only be that they fled in a hurry or they hadn’t fled at all.
The same strange smell of sea spray and the salt hanging in the air, so odd for it to be here as well. The building was a very simple dwelling with the fire pit in the centre and the beds on one side and a simple table for eating on the other. The beds looked slept in but untouched, a thick layer of dust covering them. One adult sized and two small wooden frame bed with hide and fur bedding drawn up.
A strange feeling gripped her and she took to looking at the ceiling and the inner thatch working. Staring at the elaborate patterns of cobwebs that had collected there.
She paused breathing in through her nostrils and closing her eyes. Then swallowing her fear and trepidation she marched over to the adult bed and drew back the covers swiftly.
As she feared underneath the remains of a couple clinging to each other, their expressions of horrifying finality. They had no eyes or tongues or lips but there was something there, something that struck a terrible enervation in them. Skin, what little was left was drawn and yellow and putrified. The smell of the sea salt must have masked it or else there was nothing left to rot. The beetles taking all the flesh for their own and leaving naught but cold off white bone.
“They must have been preparing food and then hid here” She remarked to herself. “What could have scared them so?”
She shuddered and covered them up again and looked over at the children’s beds.
“Oh goddess no”
She slowly walked around the adult bed and approached the children’s small simple beds. She took another deep inhale of salty air and turned over their covers.
She sighed in relief to see them empty.
“Empty?” she ground her teeth “Where are the children?”
A noise outside, the clopping of an unfamiliar horse on hard stone, a heavy harsh whinnying that sounded like a howl of a man pained.
She took to the small shuttered windows. She got low and peeped out at the cluttered claustrophobic streets seeing nothing. Only hearing the distant closing sound of devil hooves.
Then suddenly a black horse’s head appeared close to the window too close, the sound of the hooves completely divorced from its distance. She shrunk back into the hut stupidly trying to avoid the gaze of a dumb horse and reaching for a sword that wasn’t there. Terrifying as it was looming over her.
The horse passed by the window and she caught a glimpse of the rider. He was enormous, much larger than any tuatha she’d ever seen. Black armor that looked like bones and a skull death mask with gleaming red jeweled eyes. The black rider silently seemed to throb with breath. His armor rising and falling heavily, making a terrible noise like ribs being scraped with a knife. The plates rattling and shifting as the horse jossled.
The mysterious knight scanned the area, what was he looking for? Why here? Why now?
After a moment, he whipped the reigns as if angry at the air, spurred the horse and disappeared from the frame of the window.
She left it a moment, holding her breathe as she listened to the horses hooves get further away and it’s terrible cries cease.
Cautiously she approached the entrance to the round house, taking careful quiet steps on the earthen floor covered in loose straw.
She swallowed and listened and when she was satisfied stepped out of the small building and looked around. Without warning a tight gripping sensation around her heart told there was strong magic trained on her. She froze looking at the ground and a huge shadow growing at her feet.
She turned and saw the black knight on horseback standing on the thatched roof of the hut looking down at her. The horse scrapping at the straw and snorting breathing heavily.
“Hello girl, I’ve been looking for you!”
Cur took the welps instruction as he lay dying, there was no lies in him then. All of them spilled on the ground, in his cold glassy stare there was only truth, the only truth. He instructed the barbarian to walk nine times three paces west from the outer most palisade and look for a sign. Although pressed for what the sign might be he merely swallowed over and over before getting still and saying nothing.
Cur left him there and walked around to the western side of the small village and started into the forest. Which looked mainly to consist of ash drinking off the moist soil in the surrounding area.
The feeling deeper in the forest was foreboding, something didn’t want him and the air stung with magic. It was thick with blackthorn trees and tall elders loomed over his head, blotting out the slate grey sky. Plunging the forest into a murky gloom it seemed never to wake from. A dreamlike sucking miasma draining his strength and making his eyes heavy.
The forest noises seemed to breathe in and out as if all things living stopped and started when he stepped on a branch and it snapped like a chicken bone. The leaves turning to stare at him like a thousand lizard like eyes each more indifferent and malevolent than the last.
Then a crow cawed but it’s cry was muffled, as if his head were underwater. Just looking on at the thing making it’s sound and hearing nothing but a cloistered rumbling in his ear.
“Where is that damn shape shifter?” Cur cursed, his jaw tightening his breathing getting heavy, he tried to control it as he let his blade slip from his cloak into his hands.
A sopping licking noise got his attention and he looked over to see a large black mastiff licking it’s lips. Some gore clinging to it, red blood dripping from it’s fangs.
“Red?” Cur hissed.
The dog’s eyes too were red, it’s coat as black as coal. The dog mashed it’s huge chops together flinging blood and saliva about itself as it stood looking at the Firbolg across the marsh.
It reared up on it’s hind legs and growled low, bared it’s sharp back teeth.
Cur growled back at the beast raising his shoulders up high and imposing baring his sharp teeth. His eyes burning with a primal power that rivalled the easy hatred of the black dog.
The dog closed it’s mouth then and smacked it’s chops, it’s eyes dipping slightly and whining and then barking again it turned and walked away.
Cur followed the huge beast deeper into the forest.
It led him across the marsh bristling with energy, things seemed to move everywhere, little wisps in the corner of his eyes never able to focus on them. The trees and foliage shifting without breeze, the sky not visible at all.
The dog carried on not looking back leading him into a small clearing through a blackthorn bush.
Cur hacked at it and emerged on the otherside to find a heavily wooded cottage tucked away almost invisible among the undergrowth.
There was a heavy oppressive feeling to this part, even more so than before. It felt unnatural, wicked and ambivalent. Devoid of life yet seen all around, was it an illusion? It was so still, the quiet was deafening, only the dogs panting could be heard and his own heartbeat in his ears. A burning sensation began to needle him in the scars on his arm and face, which usually signalled magic of some kind.
It felt sterile, like a pocket that shouldn’t exist. Completely separate from the woods, a different place all together, meant to look like it fit right in.
He approached the cottage but before he could enter, a cumly red haired woman exited and waved him on before ducking back into the little cottage.
Stunned, he was sure it was her, the spittle in his mouth building up and the hair on his neck standing, he seemed almost to forget how to walk. The painful burning sensation of the scar keeping him conscious and compous.
“What cruel trick is this?” He spat.
His lungs burned with anticipation but he managed to calm it and stumble towards the door. The ground giving way under his feet, feeling unsteady and wilful.
He braced himself in the doorframe, breathing in sharply almost as a reflex. The smell of cinnamon and spiced meats filled his nostrils and his mouth was full of saliva and he started to feel a rush of blood to the head.
Before he knew it, he was sitting at a table in the small cottage with a plate out before him. The red haired woman stood with her back to him stirring something in a cauldron. She was shapely her figure clearly visible through a dress made of a thin see through fabric.
His eyes couldn’t seem to focus but he looked around at the inside of the cottage and it felt far larger than it appeared on the outside. The angles of the interior in some respects seemed normal and at other viewings seemed impossible and non-euclidian.
The inside of the building was dark with only the fire under the cauldron and on the table one hog fat candle. His arm felt heavy and every time he tried to move, he told himself he didn’t have to or there was no point to in it at all. He could feel something cloying at his mind. Something whispering to him pleasant calming allusions but it couldn’t counter the searing pain building in his scar. That voice was much louder and wouldn’t allow him to slip below it.
“I think you’ll like this” The woman said without turning. “I made it just for you.” Her voice was harmonious and it almost seemed like she was singing. Her voice ringing in his ears giving off a strange tone like two talking at once perfectly in sync.
The first voice sweet and melodius like honey poured in his ear by a vestal virgin. The other like a crow with a human tongue flapping viciously as if one of its wings caught in a snare.
He looked around and the room seemed to have no door and he suddenly didn’t even remember entering. But the pain in his scar awoke him again as if falling in a dream, constantly forgetting and remembering the pain.
All this disconcerted him as she turned and her face was eerily familiar.
It looked just like her, it had her eyes and her mouth, her build and her hair but all the features seemed to be just off. Like a crude painting drawn from a reflection, a spectre cast on the surface of water.
She approached with the pot in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other.
She was beautiful and her hips seemed to slash the air and permeate it with an intoxicating scent of sex and wickedness. Which both titillated and disgusted him.
The woman with the red hair put the pot down on the table and licked the spoon lasciviously looking at him. He did not return her looks, his eyes fixed forward through the moving steam rising from the pot in front of him. His arm still too heavy to move and lacked all will to do so. Not trying to suppress the pain but shape it and mold it.
“You would try it?” The thing wearing her face asked.
“I’d sooner try you” He said breathing steadily not looking at her.
“Is that so?” She cooed, letting her translucent dress fall to the floor.
Cur rose as if on strings and felt her crow tongue flapping in his mouth as she kissed him.
The she-devil wrapped her strong lithe legs around his waist and pulled him around to the table. Perching her round bottom on the edge as she pulled him into her.
He thrusted into her powerfully and slowly with each thrust he could feel the strength of his hand and his wit coming back. Her head thrown back in rapturous spasms, she opened her mouth and cried out loudly, her mouth wet with saliva. Cur’s one hand pressed against the table for balance slowly crept behind as he pulled deeper inside her.
She cried out again, breathing heavily. Her hands tracing along his broad back, she dug her nails into his muscular shoulders as she let him have more control. Thrusting harder and more savagely like a wild beast. Her breathing and cries getting louder building to a cacophony of climax. Her mouth opened wider than humanly possible, distended like a snake trying to swallow a buffalo. The muffled hawking of a crow echoed from her throat.
Black feathers coughed from her mouth, then a yellow beak poked out followed by black wings as a crow was fighting to be born from her mouth.
Cur hit her with the cauldron of stew spilling the searing contents over both of them. She fell to the ground limp and stunned writhing naked, her form shrivelling under the scolding liquid.
The Firbolg stood over her naked, breathing heavy and sneering at her. His face twisted in disgust as her true form started to emerge. His skin peeling and bubbling as the hot liquid burned him.
The crow cawed weakly, it’s wing crushed by the blow, pieces of carrot from the stew stuck to it’s black feathers, but it was still alive. Without hesitation the Firbolg swung the cauldron by the handle and slammed it down onto her head. Crushing blow after crushing blow turned her head and the crow into a gritty bloody pulp. Until it stopped cawing and her head and the crow were almost indistinguishable.
Her naked body twitched and shriveled before becoming inert and grey. The little house was silent then, but for a moment. He spat and cursed “Witch!”
The cawing started again, louder and more numerous than ever before, thousands of beaks mocking and laughing in their tongue. The sky black with them, the walls seething with them, the roof lifted and fell apart into a black mass of wings. Savage beaks fell like rain, came down and pecked at the woman’s corpse. Picking it clean until there was nothing left but the remnants of the stew and the cauldron.
Then the walls too fell apart and grew wings and became a black wall of feathers falling away seemingly into nothingness.
Finally, he felt it, the floor shifted beneath him and he shivered as he saw a thousand black eyes staring up at him and a thousand yellow beaks to peck at him. No longer taking his weight, their wings flapped and flopped and they dispersed allowing him to fall into infinity.