Tim Akers. The Horns of Ruin

To my own Bloody Jennifer, who fights like a girl


hey came for us one at a time, came to kill the last servants of the dead god Morgan. I had lost brothers and sisters before, to battle or old age. Scions of Morgan die all the time. We're warriors. Now we were going to die in alleyways, in our homes, in crowded theaters and empty hallways. They came to kill us, and we didn't know who they were.

They came for me and Barnabas while we were walking through the city, on our way back to the Strength of Morgan from an errand at the Scholar's prison, the Library Desolate. Well. Mostly they came for Barnabas. I just happened to be there, escorting him. It was me. I'm the girl who let the old man down.

He looked good that morning. Healthy. He always looked better out of the monastery. Those old, empty stone halls did little more than weigh him down. Open air, even the dirty air of a crowded street in the city of Ash, always put a smile on his face. He was smiling that morning. This was before the hidden deaths, before the murders and betrayals. Before we knew what was happening. He was the first one they came for, and we didn't know they were coming. Not yet.

We walked down the road, and the crowd parted for us. Barnabas was in his formal robe, a deep maroon hemmed with gold thread, and carrying the staff of his office. Symbolic armor clattered on his shoulders, and the cuffs of his robe were stamped with golden scale mail that shimmered in the morning light. His knuckles bore the calluses of a life spent fighting and working, the twin paths of the scions of Morgan. White hair and wrinkled face sat on a frame thick with muscle and iron hard. Even in the waning days of our Cult, there was glory in the office of the Fratriarch, and Barnabas Silent looked every inch the part.

As proud as I was, I wished he'd left the formal robe at home. I was dressed in my battle-day simples. Pride was fine, and glory was better, but both of those things were bought with attention. As the Fratriarch's only guard, I could have done with less attention. Of course, whatever attention I avoided by dressing simply, I gave up with my holster and sheath. But a girl shouldn't go out half dressed.

'It's a matter of state, Eva,' Barnabas said, his voice as gentle as mist at the foot of a waterfall.

'I said nothing, my Elder.'

'You did,' he said, nodding. 'In the way you stand, in the movement of your eyes. In the weight of your hand upon your bullistic. You do not wish to be here.'

'It's not my fault you like to get dressed up, old man. No, no, I'm happy to be here. Thrilled to be walking through the city with the holiest man I know, just me as a guard. Not like we have any enemies, Barnabas. Not like the Rethari are massing at our borders, or their chameleon spies have been dredged up in the collar countries. No, not at all. This is ideal.' I sped up a little to intercept a group of children who had blundered into our path. The Fratriarch smiled and patted their heads as we passed. They stared at us, whispering. 'I just wish you'd brought more guards. Maybe an army or two?'

Barnabas watched the children, his face equal parts gentle happiness and melancholy. He turned back to me.

'The Rethari are always massing. It's what they do. And as for their spies? We used to make stew of their spies. Besides, we have no other guards, Eva. It's a matter of state. We go to seek the aid of our godbrother. Only Elders of the Fist and Paladins may attend. Among the Elders, Simeon was busy, Tomas and Elias are napping, and Isabel cannot be more than ten steps from her library, for fear that one of her books go unread.'

'I saw Tomas, just before we left.'

Barnabas nodded absently. 'Yes, yes. Not napping. Tomas does not…' He smirked and shrugged. 'Tomas will not be involved in this. And of the Paladins, Eva?'

I grimaced and looked around at the passing crowd. A pedigear weaved past us, its clacking engine momentarily drowning out the perfectly good awkward silence.

'You are the last Paladin of the dead god Morgan, Eva. There are no more, and likely never will be,' he said, patting my hand. 'I am the Fratriarch, and you are the Paladin. Let us attend to our business.'

He walked off. I sighed and followed.

'Yeah, let's just make a parade of it. You and me,' I said quietly, adjusting the hang of my revolver at my hip. 'Maybe I should have rented an elephant.'

'Elephants don't belong in cities, Eva,' the Frat said, gesturing broadly to the crowded streets and towering glass buildings all around. 'It's not humane.'

'To the elephant? Or the city?'

He laughed deeply, and I smiled and caught up. In younger years he would have pinched my cheek or patted me on the head, as he had those children. But now he was the Fratriarch and I was the Paladin. We walked side by side through the city of Ash.

'If it's a matter of state, then we're going the wrong way. Alexander will be at his throne today, in the Spear of the Brothers.' I pointed across the road. 'That way, in case you've gotten senile.'

'It is,' Barnabas nodded, 'and we are not going there.'

'You said-'

'Morgan had two brothers, Eva. We are going to visit the scions of Amon.'

I stopped walking, frustrating the crowd. Barnabas continued on, nearly disappearing into the throng before I snapped out of my shock.

A whole column of elephants wouldn't be enough, nor stone walls. Nothing would make me feel safe in the halls of Amon the Betrayer.

* * *

Ash is a funny city. Not funny, like rag clowns and puppet shows. Funny like it shouldn't exist. Funny like it should collapse in on itself in a cloud of shattered glass and burning streets. My kind of funny.

It goes back an Age, back to when the Feyr were the raceascendant rather than mankind, when the Titans ruled the skies and the earth and the water all around. Before there were people, maybe. I don't know. But it goes back to the Feyr.

What is today the city of Ash was once the capital city of the Titans. Their throne, their birthplace, a city of temples and totems and grand technology. The name of that city is lost to us, but it nestled in a crater, like a giant bowl of stone sprinkled with buildings and roads and carved riverways. We really don't know why the Titans and the Feyr fought their little war, but they did, and that war came to the city in the crater.

The Feyr were masters of the elements. They made water out of nothing, fire out of air. They could sink mountains and freeze the sun in the sky. That's the story my momma told me, at least. Scratch that. That's the story my nanny told me. So the Feyr came to the crater, to the city of the Titans.

They burned it, then they drowned it. Two deaths for one city. It was enough to win the war, and more than enough to scar the Feyr forever. They filled the crater with a lake of cold, black water, and that lake was choked with the slick ash of the dead city below. It was a wound on the soul of their kingdom, the greatest sin they ever committed. In time they tried to atone. They built temples of wood that floated on the lake of ash, trying to suck the sickness out with their prayers.

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