Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as it shambles toward its summertime publication we’re going to be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our next teaser is from E. Catherine Tobler’s “The Living, Vengeant Stars,” which delivers epic battles, doomed heroism, and a conflict older than our solar system…
Sleeping upon the ancient Camorian ice shelf with the northern winds ghosting down the mountains, Elspeth Ernine was warmer than she should have been, given the dark man enfolding her from behind. She tried to elbow him in the ribs, but he didn’t have ribs. He had a mouth, a terrible gaping hole, and he pressed it against her ear as the others in the party slept undisturbed.
Soon, he whispered, and Elspeth shifted away from the voice even as he wormed closer, darkness made damp and corporeal. Within a fraying dream, he showed Elspeth the next place he meant for them to go, a temple shattered into and across a river churning with gelatinous masses of entrails and eyes. The stench of the place enveloped her as the dark man did.
Had killing the invisible horror of S’tya-Yg’Nalle not been enough? Never enough, the dark man said, and Elspeth understood the enormity of what he wanted of them; saw in the far distance the colossal, tentacled beast slumbering beneath green waters, bound to the prison stones with chains as thick as tree trunks. This was the goal. These others paved the way, weakened the great one as he slept unknowing. Why should I serve any longer, the dark man rasped.
Elspeth flinched at the touch of the dark man’s not-hands on her arm, and shifted in her roll, to come face to almost-face with him. From her side, she drew Feymal, the blade said to have issued from the unknowable depths of Holy Wood, seemingly wrought for her hand alone. She pressed its lustrous edge against whatever darkness served as his throat. They needed no words—touching was forbidden him. She would fight for him, because alone she could not overcome the horrors of Lowenhold Prison, the place that bound her sister. She would go for her and her alone, slaying whatever horror she must to get there.
In a dissipating cloud of ink, he withdrew from one world and into another. Elspeth’s gray eyes flicked open to regard the cold, flat sky above. Snow blew down, soft flakes that would never amount to much more than a slippery layer of challenge to the morning’s journey. She had no desire to leave the warmth of her sleeping roll, but watched as Beryl Ghostsign did, feeding the meager breakfast fire.
“Have you dreamed?” Ghostsign asked.
“I dreamed.” Elspeth withdrew the crumpled scroll from her leather bodice. She pushed herself up on elbows, to spread the map before her. As had happened before, the path they were to take had been marked by her dreaming self, showing a path across the ice shelf.
“The River Tayl,” she said…
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
E. Catherine Tobler has never banded together with other lady fighters to put down or accidentally free an ancient evil–unless it was on a D&D board. Among others, her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and on the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award ballot. You can find her online at www.ecatherine.com and @ecthetwit.
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