The blades of heroes clash against the darkest sorcery. Aztec warriors ready for battle, intent on conquering a neighboring tribe, but different gods protect the Matlazinca. For Arthur Pendragon, the dream of Camelot has ended. What remains is a nightmarish battle against his own son, who is not quite human. Master Yue, the great swordsman, sets off to discover what happened to a hamlet that was mysteriously abandoned. He finds evil. Sunsorrow, the ancient dreaming sword, pried from the heart of the glass god, yearns for Carcosa. Fifteen writers, drawing inspiration from the pulp sub-genres of sword and sorcery and the Cthulhu Mythos, seed stories of adventure, of darkness, of magic and monstrosities. From Africa to realms of neverwhere, here is heroic fantasy with a twist.
Lovecraft was a fantasist as well as a horror writer, and a close associate of Robert E. Howard. So of course we needed to represent sword and sorcery in the bundle with this stellar anthology that includes stories by Nadia Bulkin, Maurice Broaddus, and many more. – Nick Mamatas
"An enjoyable read with some excellent moments"– Publishers Weekly
"A solid collection"– Apex Magazine
"Dynamite"– Black Gate Magazine
IN XOCHITL IN CUICATL IN SHUB-NIGGURATH
NELLY GERALDINE GARCIA-ROSAS
Translated from the Spanish by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
"These Tolucans — and, by another name, Matlazinca — did not speak the Mexican language but another different and obscure tongue." — Fray Bernardino de Sahagún. Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España
creams. The sun had not risen yet when the Mexica priests entered the Valley of Toluca, carrying the effigies of their gods. They carried the whistles of death tied around their necks: small clay skulls that produced terrifying shrieks when they blew them. This is how they announced the arrival of war, and with it, of Huitzilopochli and Tezcatlipoca, the lords that the Matlazinca would be forced to worship after being defeated by the Mexica.
Šuti spat when she saw the procession coming closer. Those feathered puppets would never be her gods.
Dawn came. The mist lifted like a ghost that received with cold claws those who wished to make war. The eagle and jaguar warriors would arrive the next day; the rest of Axayácatl's army in a couple of more days. Šuti only needed one night. This one. So, she walked without hurry, breathing the freezing air of the morning at the skirts of the volcano.
Three days have passed since I touched Matlazinca soil and I still do not know anything of the lost warriors. The people of these parts have a mysterious character and speak little to outsiders. Though I know their tongue, it is sometimes difficult for me to understand what they say: Their speech is cryptic. They communicate with subterfuges — mention one thing, but mean something else.
The priests say that words created the world. Perhaps this place may hide something, like the obscure words that are spoken here. That must be the reason why Axayácatl, the huey tlatoani, decided to take over these lands.
Sent by our ruler, other eagle warriors of my order came before me to study the battlefield and discover the weaknesses of the enemy. None returned. I came to the Valley of Toluca to find my brothers and, together, prepare for war.
Despite this, Axayácatl decided not to wait any longer; soon, he will send the army.
She began to climb. The corn fields had been left behind to give way to a coniferous forest where the fog seemed to be a prisoner, impeding the passage of the sun. Šuti whispered something unintelligible, then undid one of the nets tied to her waist, extended it over the ground, and took a step entering the woods.
As she entered the forest she asked Xinantécatl, the extinct volcano, if it would allow her to climb its side. She opened the cotton bag she carried over her shoulder and extracted a shapeless mass of flesh, blood, hair, and feathers, covered by a black snot. It squirmed. She placed it on the net that was lying on the ground. Then she took out a canteen of water, had a sip, spat on the creature, and drank the rest. The tecui tasted like fermented orange and left an echo of warm vomit in her throat, but it cheered her heart. Šuti smiled.
"Tzinantécalelly, whom others call "Xinantécatl," naked Lord, one of the nine lakes, Husband, allow me once more to climb up your body and walk amongst your children. Iä!"
The air became thinner as she ascended and the day grew shorter. Everything was dark in the forest no matter the time of day. Šuti breathed without difficulty. She was used to walking amongst the trees and rocks of the volcano, searching for the favor of her gods.
Her gods. Since she was a girl, she'd learnt to love and fear them. She had spilled her blood and that of others many times, so that the world would continue to exist, and until now, they had never despised her offerings.
There was a screech that interrupted her thoughts. An eagle flew above the thickets. She took it as a bad omen.
We call them Matlazincas because they are capable weavers of nets. Not only do they use them to fish, but also in the harvest, in their clothing and abodes. This morning, I found a group of children that played with an old net. The only girl picked one of her playmates to be enveloped by the net then he was wrapped and squeezed while the other children screamed and sang words that made no sense. The mother, realizing I was watching, seemed to become angry and ordered the children to enter the house without giving an explanation.
I remained for a moment, watching the place where they had been. Traces of saliva and tufts of hair remained as markers of a very strange game. "They imitate what they see," a voice behind me said.
An old, dirty man, with his hair knotted, clutched a wavering cane. He seemed morbidly thin. His gray and wrinkled skin was so cracked that it seemed as it would burst. He was drunk.
"You are not from here."
I replied with a nod of my head.
"We don't like strangers snooping around our things. No, we don't like it."
"What were the children doing?" I asked.
"I told you. They imitate what they see." He approached me, stumbling. His breath smelled like a rotten corpse. Then he continued in a low voice. "The girl. Did you see her eyes? Like obsidian blades. And the black hair. She is an apprentice of the night: Šuti, the priestess. The girl has been in the sanctuary." He went quiet. His eyes seemed to grow lost.
"They say that in the ceremonial center of Xinantécatl, magical things happen. I know. I saw them. I saw the Wife," he said with a strange smile.
He did not want to speak to me after that.
The old man walked away, babbling to himself.
When Šuti arrived at the limit of the forest, the sun began to hide towards the horizon. The sanctuary of the gods, barely protected by the trees, rose at the spot where the path that led to the crater of the volcano began. The hut covered with nets was decorated with deer legs and antlers. The scent of the copal disguised the stench given off by the bloody organs spread over the floor and the walls.
Šuti took a jar of tecui from the great earthenware vessel in the middle of the hut. She poured it into a gourd and lit the fire. Small, blue flames illuminated the ceremonial center. When almost all the alcohol had been consumed, the Priestess blew out the fire and drank with closed eyes. She thought of all the ways the tecui could move the heart. Then she washed her face, her arms and legs.
"Iä! Xinantécatl! Naked lord, Husband. Iä! Shub-Niggurath, black deer, Wife!" She said, raising her arms towards the sky. Someone whimpered in a corner.
In xochitl in cuicatl, flower and song: This way shall begin the poems that tell the feats of this war. No name shall be forgotten. No drop of blood spilled in vain. No sacrifice ignored.
I woke due to the whistles of death in the Valley of Toluca. The shrieks sounded far away, as if in a dream. I wished this was a dream.
The sun was setting by the time I began to climb the side of Xinantécatl, seeking the sacred place of the Matlazinca; perhaps, using their magic, I could find my eagle brothers. When night fell, I penetrated deep into a forest where the air felt so thin that it was difficult to walk and I had to slow down. Every time I stopped to rest, I could hear behind me, very close, the sound of the hooves of a deer. However, the almost-extinct moon and the tenuous light of the stars hardly allowed me to see anything a few feet from me.
I climbed towards the top of the volcano, where perhaps I might find a path or some signal of the sanctuary. It was then when I stumbled onto an old hut covered with nets. A penetrating stench, like death, filled the place. I stood in the threshold of the hut; the ground was sticky and wet beneath my feet.
"Is there someone here?" I asked cautiously. My answer was the whimpers of a man, followed by the steps of a deer. Then silence. Darkness. Nothing.
An eagle flies above this cursed place. Huitzilopochtli has not forgotten us.
Darkness crept over Xinantécatl and all the Valley of Toluca. It was the night of the new moon. In the ceremonial center, Šuti thought about pleasing the ones who would always be her gods to ensure the moon would rise again in the sky and the world would not cease to exist.
"Drink," she said, pressing the canteen of water against the lips of the eagle warrior. He struggled beneath the net that kept him captive and took a long sip. He coughed several times, arched his body, but stopped weeping.
"Thanks to your sacrifice tomorrow, the moon will rise and swell in the sky until the Husband grows hungry again. Your blood will stop the world from being extinguished. You must feel joyous," Šuti said with a smile.
"Witch!" cried the other eagle warrior who was also being held prisoner.
"Wait, eagle man, your offering will be well-received by the gods. You will allow a greater good. Now drink."
Again the hooves of a deer. Someone entered the hut when the shadows lengthened until they disappeared. A woman: the Matlazinca priestess. She lit a fire. The flames shone in her eyes as black as obsidian knives. Her head was shorn, except for a single lock of hair in the middle of the head that fell, reaching her hips, which were covered with nets that served as a dress. Beautiful and terrible, she blew until the flames died away.
Then she gave a drink to my brother eagle. And as though she were weaving a net, she must have casted a spell with her words because the warrior ceased to be afraid. Now he smiled with sickly stupidity.
I refused to drink her strange potions.
For a while, nothing happened, until someone or something lifted the nets that held the warrior, and began to twist them above his body with such strength that it broke his skin and fractured his bones. Blood and guts drained over the lattice that once held a man, forming a thick puddle. I could do nothing except tighten my mouth because of the pain and impotence.
"Iä! Shub-Niggurath! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Deer of the Woods with a Thousand Young!" the Priestess screamed over and over again, between spasms.
Suddenly, the stars disappeared. There are no words to describe what I saw in the darkness. I do not believe the priests will ever be able to imagine it. A gigantic, amorphous mass appeared floating above us. It had innumerable eyes and mouths. From the black snot thatoozed from the creature, the deformed legs and hooves of a deer emerged.
The priestess screamed terrible words and danced over the blood and organs of the dead warrior. Her skin shone due to the sweat that plastered her long hair against her body.
The great beast opened one of its mouths. It resembled a cave with hundreds of sharp little teeth and a black, pasty tongue, which caressed the sorceress for a moment.
Then it swallowed her with a single bite.
The monster began to spasm. The hooves twisted; the mouths salivated. With a single violent motion, it expelled the figure of a woman. The sorceress seemed more beautiful and terrible than before: Her obsidian eyes shone like flames, the long, dark strand of hair grew long and thick. From her hips sprouted two thin legs that ended in black hooves. She seemed as tall as a tlatoani.
I heard the sound of innumerable deer galloping away.
Šuti, the night, smiled gravely. She walked slowly towards the eagle warrior and kicked him twice. Then she raised her arms and closed her hands into fists. The net that held the warrior began to twist and tighten until there was a crack and the blood flowed.
The offspring of the Wife neared slowly; they looked like trees that shook their fibrous arms.
There came a bleating. Dawn was arriving.
From the Valley of Toluca, the people were able to see how the entire forest descended from the volcano to battle the Mexicas.
Šuti remained still in front of the threshold of the hut. She wondered how the poems that told the feats of this war would begin.