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 Ben Stewart’s “Two Suns Over Zululand.” With breakneck pacing and mounting dread, Stewart’s breathless story balances brutal action with keen characterization and cosmic horror…
“You are certain that the item we seek is in the midst of that?” asked Lwazi. He and his companions–four fellow warriors and Mandlenkosi the Sangoma resplendent in his headdress of feathers and bones –looked down at the swirling chaos that surrounded Rorke’s Drift from their vantage point atop a nearby hill. The British had erected makeshift barriers around the station’s few buildings using crates and mealie bags, and the fighting around those bulwarks was savage. Shot after shot spat from the defender’s rifles, cutting down charging men by the dozen, and yet the Zulu attack did not falter. Each fallen warrior was replaced by two more rushing forward to add their spears to the assault.
“The Englishman is in there, of that I am certain,” replied Mandlenkosi. The little Sangoma shook his staff, causing the bird skulls tied along its length to rattle, and pawed at the ground with his bare feet as he hopped in a small circle. He tasted the air a few times with his tongue, and then nodded in satisfaction. “No doubt about it. The man called Rafferty is in there, and the idol of H’aaztre is in his possession.”
Lwazi crouched down on his haunches and thought carefully for a moment. In doing so the towering Zulu – who was the best part of a head taller than the largest of the other four warriors – brought himself almost to eye level with the diminutive witch-doctor.
“It would seem wisest to wait until the battle is done before trying to root him out,” he ventured, but Mandlenkosi shook his feathered head.
“No, Lwazi. The idol has already been away from the Cave of Spirits for too long. The birds of the sky tell me that three days have passed since Rafferty arrived at this place. The Sangoma of the nearest Kraal who knew Rafferty from when the white man prospected for gold nearby says he past their huts four days ago. Given the distance to the cave, I fear as many as six days have passed since he found the Idol–H’aaztre will have noticed, and H’aaztre will have spoken to him, Lwazi. We cannot risk waiting any longer.”
Lwazi stood to his full, impressive height again. He was already dressed for war, clad only in a loincloth with no ornamentation adorning his muscular frame. His fellow warriors were likewise ready for action–their spear-blades were freshly sharpened and their faces betrayed no fear at the thought of the task that faced them.
“So be it,” said Lwazi. “We shall return with the idol within the hour. We will not fail you, Mandlenkosi.”
“See that you don’t, Lwazi—of all the horrors you have faced for me in the past this is truly the greatest. If you do not retrieve the statue then the death and destruction of King Cetshwayo’s war with the British will be as insignificant as the bite of a horsefly. If the two suns rise over Zululand then there is no hope for our people… or any other people of this world. Go now, and may the Amatongo guide your hand.”
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
A resident of the dark and frozen reaches of Northern England, Ben Stewart is an aspiring writer who cites the pulp greats like Howard, Lovecraft, Wagner and Burroughs as his main influences. He is an inveterate geek with a love of Japanese Kaiju movies, superhero comics and miniature wargaming, but despite this he’s somehow married with three kids. Ben has managed to get a handful of his short stories published in various anthologies though his ultimate goal of actually completing a novel-length work still eludes him.
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