Enthroned in the pitch blackness of his terrifying Chamber of Conjuration, the Horned Lord could be seen only by the faint green radiance eminating from the eldritch designs inscribed upon his chest and arms. Blind servants, silent and filled with terror, helped him complete the ceremonial ablutions needed before the rite could begin. All had to be purified before the dreaded rite, from the soles of the Horned Lord’s high boots of embroidered silk to the massive antlers that gave him his magename.
As the blood of the carefully-arranged sacrifices stained his ritually-purified boots, the regal Aelfen lord began the summoning, the annual ritual that maintained the potency of his most feared power: The Du Oidhich, the Touch of Darkness.
The Drowned Child
As a child, Caelrun, the future Horned Lord, enjoyed the winter snow as children of any race always have. One bright day in early winter, he fell through the thin ice of a pond near his home. For nearly an hour, the faerie child lay under the ice, drowned and frozen. When he was recovered, his body was cold and pale.
The healers of the Aelfen folk had no real hope, but strove heroically, for even the Unseleigh treasure their rare offsping. Their efforts were fruitless at first, but one among them, a woman both ancient and wise, recalled an old folk magic said to keep death from taking his intended victim. Drawing the signs of an ancient ritual around Caelrun’s inert body, she drew his death into herself. The fey child’s eyes opened, life returning to him even as the wizened elder fell inert to the floor. Poised on the border between life and death, the child could see the spirit of death claiming the woman’s life. As he lay there, he reached out and touched the dreadful thing as it drew forth her spirit.
Blocked from the deadly spirit’s perception by the power of the ancient’s ritual of willing self-sacrifice, Caelrun survived his rash act. Instead of his spirit being drawn out, some uncanny power was instead drawn into him. He was strangely changed; where once he had been fair, now he was bone-pale, with white hair and eerie dark eyes. He had been an unremarkable child, displaying none of the marks of power common to the unseleighlie, but now antlers began to sprout from his brow and strange sigils glowed verdigris green on his arms and chest.
The Aelfen lad had a strong recollection of his spirit’s journey beyond the lands of the living. As his body lay under the ice, his spirit had wandered the corridors of death’s gloomy realm. The dark wonders of that place had filled him with fear, yet he coveted the terrible power that Death wielded. In Death’s labrynthine palace, he had seen things that he couldn’t describe in words, but felt a power that was unlike the magic wielded by anyone living. Within those halls, Caelrun had learned something of death’s cold glamourie.
After his deadly ordeal, Caelrun now ominously manifested an uncanny power over life and death. His spirit marked by his encounter with death, eldritch knowledge of rituals and incantations he had never encountered before seemed to spring fully developed into his awareness. Over the course of the next few years, the Aelfen lad developed lethal magical might that filled all who knew him with dread.
It is the way of all passion:
The lover’s heart is a prize, torn from the soul and stolen forever.
It is the way of all passion, for the heart will always betray its keeper.
It is the way of all passion, that the weak shall suffer love for the strong.
- Faredalt, Bard of the Unseleigh Court of Demonshield
The Aelfen folk of the Unseleighie Courts cynically scorn balance and affection. Instead of finding meaning and purpose in the inevitable cycles of life, they seize on sensation and anarchic impulse to stave off the ennui of an immortal existence.
Truly fey in their moods, these people are not known for compassion or sympathy, yet even they can have their moments of affection, their gentle times of love. But the Horned Lord was not to be so favored.
Somehow, the Horned Lord was missing that softness within his soul. Heartless and calculating, he felt nothing for anyone. The touch of death had extinguished all affection, eliminated all sympathy from him. He was a creature of nothing but ambition; all his drives were focused on gaining power and domination over those around him.
As he matured, he became an ideal leader among the Unseleigh: Cold and relentless, patient and unfeeling, he was known for the patient destruction that he wrought upon his adversaries. As he rapidly rose to power, he was respected for his wisdom and feared for his vengeance.
Names among the Unseleigh Courts
It is a common belief among the Aelfen folk of the Unseleigh that knowing one’s true name gives power over the named. For that reason, they are given a "godname" as a child and adopt a different working name as an adult. These are known as "usenames", unless the one named displays unusual magical ability: Then they are often known as "magenames".
The Unseleigh Lord
In the zenith of his power, the Horned Lord commanded the allegience of dozens of proud Aelfen rulers, binding them with runes of loyalty inscribed into their very flesh. Some chafed under his cold dominion, but none dared resist the whims of their ruler, for all had seen how easily he could annihilate those who angered him. Even worse, he had the power to extract a portion of his minions’ spirits, leaving them shattered automatons, slaves to the mighty Horned Lord’s every command. His magical might continued to grow, as mages entering his service revealed their secrets to their leige.
Within the shadowy halls of the Horned Lord’s court, students of magic gathered, there to learn from each other and study what magic he chose to share. Not all were servants of the Horned Lord: Others were drawn to this hub of sorcerous knowledge, even if the greatest secrets were kept from them.
The Twistened Sidhe
One of the magi studying at the court of the Horned Lord was a beautiful Aelfen maid known as the "Dark Lady". She was as lovely as the moon upon still waters, with dark hair and eyes that captured the hearts of all that saw her. The Horned Lord spoke with her and his heart, which had never known passion before, was caught.
The Dark Lady was not a creature of passion; her flirtations and games were as playful as they were cruel. For many long years, the maiden had toyed with the hearts of those around her, and her fey spirit would not be denied this time.
She took the Horned Lord as her lover, but teased and betrayed him, heedless of how dangerous a game she played. By the time the capricious girl understood the danger of the Horned Lord’s wrath, he had been goaded to a boil of frustration.
Belatedly growing cautious, she drew upon a magic that yet remained secret from the Horned Lord. She guarded her heart, warding it so that his lethal touch could not harm her. The Aelfen are loath to use such magics, for they deaden all sensation and emotion, but the Dark Lady had learned to fear her estranged lover’s touch, and feared his power to bind the spirits of those who served him. Using her unique gift for transformation, she prepared a charm that would change the Horned Lord’s rune of control into a rune of freedom. If he attempted to bind her as he had done others, he would instead place her beyond his control forever.
Knowing nothing of her preparations, but infuriated by her caprices, the Horned Lord was tortured by his desire for the cruel, unpredictable enchantress. As he grew more and more impassioned, she yielded less and less to his entreaties. He sensed how she envied his power, how she reveled in her control over his passions; he craved her teasing touch and her flirtations, but nothing he did seemed to move her guarded heart to care for him.
His frustration grew worse with every day. Eventually, the Horned Lord could stand no more; he began the incantaion of the Rune of Binding: If she would not offer her heart, he would seize it!
As the ritual was completed, he discovered to his shock that not only was she free of his power, she was suddenly impervious to all his enchantments! Fearing the mighty Aelfen lord’s wrath, the Dark Lady fled to her home demesne within Destinen Wood.
The Horned Lord howled in frustration as he saw his schemes unravel. Blaming the Dark Lady rather than his own arrogance, he threw all of his power into a curse. Unable to bind her with his own power, he turned her own powers against her, twisting and corrupting her into the creature known since as the Twystened Sidhe. He broke her ties with all the world, save for her home forest.
He never again made the mistake of caring for another.
The Court of Death’s Watcher
The Horned Lord’s court, the House of Death’s Watcher, was a lofty citadel of labrynthine chambers and strangely distorted balconies, not all existing within the realities known to men. Within its halls, the lines between the planes of reality became blurred, as the Horned Lord’s magic unraveled barriers that were not meant to be tampered with. Unwary visitors to these echoing halls would sometimes discover themselves among the company of the dead, phantoms of ancient times, or even times that never were. These beings were as likely to regard the visitor as a phantasm as they were to see themselves as such.
In the Court’s lofty Chamber of Bright Darkness, the Horned Lord would hold court, seated in a throne of ivory and green copper, painted with intricate designs in gold and mercuric russet. There, the shades of different realities would gather to debate philosophy and plot the overtthrow of enemies that never existed within the reality men knew. The Horned Lord ruled majestically over this uncanny throng, some seeing him as a king, some as a magus of awesome power, and a few even worshipping him as a god of death.
The Withdrawal of the Aelfen Courts
Long before the coming of humanity, Aelfen seers predicted the coming of the barbarous hordes of mankind. Armed with weapons of iron and powers of destruction alien to the elder races’ thinking, the young races appeared and strove for dominion.
Knowing of lands denied to lesser races, many of the courts of Aelfenkind withdrew from the world. Making their way to lands known only to the fay, they left behind empty halls and moss-covered statues, signs of their people quickly covered over in the ages that followed.
Few thought that the Horned Lord would withdraw as others had. Some of his court even encouraged him to show his power to the upstart races, to smite their leaders and seize rulership over them.
To their surprise, the dark magus prepared to withdraw. He removed his court to a distant reality, where the eons would pass gently until the time came for their return to their accustomed halls. His citadel was secured with puissant enchantments, magic that would preserve it until the distant day when the Horned Lord’s shadowy presence would again fill its halls.
Some wanderers, gifted with elder magics, have claimed that they have walked within the hidden halls of the Citadel of Death’s Watcher. These adventurous souls have spoken of marvels and wonders such as no mortal has ever seen, with the treasure of worlds unimagined hidden in its depths. Many plan to return to the Citadel of Death’s Watcher. Of those who returned to the citadel, few have even been seen again.
Only a fool would believe that the Horned Lord would leave his citadel unguarded.
Visions of the Horned Lord
From time to time, wanderers in the wild have spoken of strange and dreadful encounters with a creature much like a tall elf, crowned with yellowed antlers and filled with an awful majesty. This spirit or god (for none are certain) would speak of power and of the rise and fall of entire ages. Darkness seems to flicker from the appartition’s fingertips, a chill like death only barely held in check.
The fey being often carries strange and wonderful devices of magic: A torc, carven of frozen dragon’s venom, or a cloak, delicately woven from mists of the dawn, are typical of this magical visitor.
Sometimes he has spoken with those who encounter him, asking questions that leave them baffled and amazed. Other times, he has seemed displeased, and they sensed that their doom was but a hair’s breadth away. Those that fled often find that they can never bear to enter the forests again.
Some warriors, more bold than wise, have even stood before the Horned Lord in challenge. Strangely, the mighty figure has only reluctantly faced these opponents. His magic has felled them where they stand, yet an odd sense of unease has radiated from the Aelfen lord as he did so.
None but he understand this mystery.
As he walked through what once was his demesne, sensing the damage wrought by millennia of the Aelfenfolk’s absence, the Horned Lord thought back thousands of years, remembering his sojourn within the chill realm of Death. He remembers a bowl of cracked silver, eternally filled with dark water, the scrying-bowl of death itself. He remembers a vision in the depths, meaningless at the time: A vision of a horned Aelfen lord, mighty and terrible, but felled by a creature of unfamiliar race, a being armed with a humble weapon of iron.
Death would not be denied forever, he thought, and shuddered.