The earth is a great couchant whore and her children are thralls to necessity. Little vauntings are vaunted and petty glories are sought and gained and lost and scattered and on she sprawls and laughs as doomed empires rise and the invincible dark comes after. Small are the dreams of men and short their memories but the hills remember.
Out beyond the nethermost rickety pales of heathen stockades in the rotting black odious forlorn there woke two hills under the moon. Half-a-league of copse and gulch and cruel crag separated them and other slumbering hills beside such that from one it was only possible to glimpse the other in hazy distance. Yet at once upon their waking from immemorial torpor each recalled ancient and bitterest hatred of the other and each in its stony heart laboured at vengeance.
To the North in haggard splendour arose the taller hill. It was, of old, tower-crowned but now the shattered masonry spilled down its brows and it cared not. For the labours of men and elves were but mercurial evanescences to it, a flickering of gnats in the lazy noontide. Now it rose barren, gnarled and dwarfish trees adorned its flanks and the wind blew from the moorland at its back and it hated. Its hate was a murmur in the wind on the grass and a gangrel mockery in the moorhen's cry and echoes of laughter in empty places. In its dream of aeons it marched ever to war and utter conquest against the hill in the south. Now its dream was a waking dream and the insidious poison thereof seeped into the waking world.
To the South there hulked the lower hill. Lower it was but broad and squat and coiled in awful majesty and many were its ridges and gullies and springs spilled from its flanks. It was crowned not in broken towers but in elder groves of sumptuous and evil verdure. If anything the hate of this hill was even more sour and loathly and it flowed forth as a deformity and contagion. Queer glyphs appeared in lichen in the rotting forests that grew in its shadow and newts grown vastly in magnitude and awfulness came writhing down in the summer evenings to bellow its praise.
Each is vast and old and immeasurably wretched. Those who wander unawares into this contested region are taken to be agents of the eternal enemy.
Strangenesses are disgorged;
1. A yellow horse with teeth of bronze comes at a gallop and clouds race above it. It is a phantasm that echoes some archaic grotesque of lost heraldry. None remember that the bite of the Autumn Horse was deadly poison but perchance some thread of ancestral wisdom remains coiled in the dweomer that those who are taken by the illusion and bitten faint dead away.
2. a tumbling deadfall of cobbles and jaggedy shards from precipice and scarp signals the presence of hob-grues, merciless and patient thralls of the northern hill. The boulder-strewn ravines are thick with menace.
3. In an eventide of brooding imminence a discordant whistling precedes the impossibly gaunt and gangly unfolding of a man like a leprous moonbeam. His approach is slow and his face is idiot glee.
4. In a patch of dusky moorland something vast and terrible seems to move beneath the skin of the world. A great carbuncle erupts disgorging seven horrors which take flight upon great feathered wings. They are blue and red like wounds and of sodden and filthy plumage reeking beyond the outermost limits of unbearable stench. They have the monkey-faces of starveling children and with children's voices they sing. The song is a pretty one and tells of the sweet delight it is to be swallowed by the earth.
5. In a glade of shambolic beauty turning to rank autumnal decay a dozen awful piggie-men cavort in a symphony of unspeakable violence. The last child they seek to destroy has eyes that are the black of blackest dark forever. She speaks a word and they are snuffed like candles. Even as the echoes of their horrible laughter fade they are gone.
6. Twenty-seven Hinky-Punks with faces like lunatic grimaciers chortle inanely as they turn over stones in a dry riverbed and draw forth slow-worms to hack in pieces. Each hacking asunder brings contagious explosions of hilarity.
7. On a lowly hunkered hillock lichen-crusted and scantily adorned with brush night leaps up from the earth with a sound like thunder. Out of the groping blackness comes a piteous mewling. A pallid form emerges from the gloom like a stillborn calf all tottery and pristine and dire. It is Knickerel-Knackerel, the Pale Brag and a portent of imminent calamity.
8. In the north a great and knucklesome sturm-cloud fists the immaculate sky. Black rainbows arch into the desecrated firmament. A Skeblous Crake of unwholesome aspect alights in a dead tree and sings a song of night’s encroach. Brazen lightning flickers.