Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and to celebrate its publication we’ve been posting excerpts from each of the stories. Today marks our final teaser, from Caleb Wilson’s spectacular “Bow Down Before the Snail King!” As our curtain descends, it is over a scene of desperate battles and subtle wit, bizarre adversaries and equally strange heroes…
There were only a dozen storks. But on that murky midnight, with the fire burning low and blue from the stink of vanished cities that bubbled up from beneath the plains, there might as well have been a hundred.
Charops’ drab leather outfit was somewhat beak-resistant. Not enough to make her comfortable; the horror birds were known carriers of pestilence, so filthy that their diseases bore diseases. She jumped over the furrows of fallow civilizations, stabbing wildly with her long Strategists’ knife. It was a versatile blade, but better suited to the considered application of force ten times what was needed, measured stabs in the back, and the trimming of extraneous lines from contracts than to fending off a clacking, hissing, disease-ridden flock.
Ichneumon the Weird was stumbling along somewhere behind Charops. Certain stork bait, unless the Weird could get her shit together– which made Charops furious, or maybe that feeling was sadness.
A stork exploded as a slightly larger than life-sized pink stone statue of a stork appeared inside it, displacing feathers, guts, and bone. The bloody statue hit the grass and Ichneumon stuttered out some quavering mixture of glee and agony. That was one way to do it.
Kobius, the man-at-arms, bared his teeth and growled. He whirled a spear as he ran, slapping it up and down, the haft bouncing like a branch in a gale, gore arcing from the blade. He was wearing stork plumes on his hat, and Charops wondered, as she gasped for breath, if he had found them already detached from their original owner. Either way, it seemed that the storks had taken offense at Kobius’ choice of attire.
As for Loron, whose skimpy linen robe seemed so ill-suited for travel outside the courts and couches of Zend… Loron leapt along lightly as a dried leaf.
May we all age so gracefully as Loron.
The Municipal Expedition
Loron, that notorious old poet and flatterer, had found evidence of a treasure hidden in the south. As was the right of every citizen of Zend, Loron petitioned the King’s Vizier to launch an expedition of recovery, with any proceeds to be split evenly between himself and the crown. The Plaster Eminence granted Loron’s petition, though she must not have thought highly of his chances. If she had, she would have authorized a bigger expedition.
The municipal companions were Charops, a Strategist of low rank but high promise; Ichneumon the Weird, whose unsettling presence meant she was sent away from Zend as often as possible; and the man-at-arms Kobius. Kobius had survived the flock of storks they met two weeks south of Zend, but not the sting from the invisible asp he stepped on five days later. His corpse lay beneath a cairn, unless jackals had found him. Charops wondered how long it would be until she forgot his name.
Four weeks south of Zend and Havernar, the expedition finally arrived at the dry river valley marked on Loron’s map. According to the map (according to Loron, who refused to show anyone else the map) the ‘Hall of the King of Snails’ was tucked away at the far end.
Charops felt the weight of the plains behind her as a haunted presence, stretching north many leagues to the mountains that guarded the cradle of civilization.
Ghastly thought: when they were done here they’d have to cross the plains again, in the other direction…
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
Caleb Wilson‘s stories have appeared in Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Ironic Fantastic, and Horror Without Victims. He also designs and writes interactive fiction. He and his wife live in Illinois.