Now funding on Kickstarter: THRILLING ADVENTURE YARNS 2021! I'm pretty excited to be part of this one, especially since editor Bob Greenberger let me run with an idea I've wanted to tackle for a while: sword and sorcery with an intellectual barbarian hero. Conan with a Beautiful Mind, if you will.
I'm a big fan of Robert E. Howard, whose work I came to as an adult. But opportunities to write in that style don't come up too often. I jumped at the chance to take this rich tradition, add a twist to the main character, and modernize the whole thing without losing the drive and power that makes sword and sorcery so compelling.
I hope, anyway.
You can judge for yourself—here's an exclusive excerpt from my story. It's a stretch goal, so you'll only get to read the rest of it if the campaign earns $7,250. The good news: As I write this, we're more than halfway there.
Enjoy...and then follow this link to back the book!
Queen of the Violet Flame!
by Stuart Moore
The air hung hot and wet on the plains, raising thick sweat on the brow of Kurak Rush as he led his warriors cautiously out of the forest. Flies buzzed, swarming in angry clouds against the crimson light of the rising sun. Kurak’s horse reared back, whinnying.
“Save your strength, my stallion,” Kurak growled. “I fear we’ll face worse than insects today.”
Hercya, his finest warrior, was less patient with her steed. “Be still!” she cried, slapping its flank with her mailed hand. “Or I’ll trade you in for a racing dog, next market time!”
Kurak opened his mouth to scold her, then smiled instead. Hercya’s blood flowed fierce in her veins—too fierce, sometimes. Like the rest of his soldiers, her muscled arms and legs were pale white, bronzed slightly by the merciless summer sun. Kurak’s own skin was dark, betraying his southern origins.
“You see, my lord?” Hercya asked, pointing ahead. “It is as I said.”
Kurak followed her gaze, and the breath caught in his throat. A dozen warriors drew up behind them, pausing at the flat, open plain just beyond the treeline. Old Oengus, the Latic priest, came last, muttering and grousing at his horse. Kurak barely heard the words. He liked the priest, but sometimes the old man’s complaints grated on his nerves.
And Kurak’s attention was riveted by the sight before him. Ahead, beyond an expanse of low, burnt grass, a strange structure rose from the ground. It was dome-shaped, about the size of a large barn. Its surface shone smooth and unnaturally reflective, as if it were made of iron—but not of iron, at the same time.
“Aye, lass,” Kurak said, “you spoke true. And you say it appeared all at once, three days past?”
“Yes, my lord.” Hercya’s hand tensed on her sword hilt. “I was scouting for game, when a blaze of fire shot down from the sky and shook the earth. When its fury passed, this remained.”
“Sorcery!” the priest, Old Oengus, exclaimed. “And so close to our lands…a mere forty miles from the royal castle.”
“Thirty-eight miles,” Kurak murmured. “And a few odd feet.” He spurred his horse forward a few steps, gesturing for the others to stay back. Then he pulled up on the horse’s reins, halting it again, and peered ahead.
The structure stood roughly one point two miles away. Kurak’s vision was unparalleled at a distance; from here he could discern a strange symbol on the front of the otherwise featureless building. It looked like an inverted letter “V,” or perhaps a primitive rendition of a hawk or eagle in flight, viewed head-on. As he stared at the symbol, Kurak felt a strange crumbling sensation, as if reality itself were falling away. He found himself drawn to this mystery, spurring his horse once more to action, its nimble hooves dodging patches of burnt, steaming grass.
Hercya and the priest exchanged worried glances, then moved to follow their king across the plain. The others fell in line behind them.
As the inverted V grew larger in Kurak’s vision, its pull seemed to seize hold of him even more strongly. It called to him on some deep level, reminding him of something he’d known long ago, perhaps in another life. The thick air pressed down on him, and he felt as if he were falling, drawn down into an endless abyss filled with hidden, terrible truths.
Kurak shook his head, the spell broken. His warriors surrounded him now, swords drawn for battle. Old Oengus drew up alongside, letting out a worried gasp.
“Bugger,” the priest said.
Just ahead, between Kurak’s host and the featureless citadel, stood an army of the undead, newly risen from holes in the ground. White tendons showed through torn clothing; their hands were naked bone, gray skin scraped clean away as they’d clawed their way out of unmarked graves. They advanced on Kurak’s throng, slow but numerous in their advance.
“My lord?” Hercya called urgently.
Kurak tensed, drawing his broadsword.
“Attack!” he cried.
Two things were whispered of Kurak, in the rat-strewn alleys and sodden beer halls of the Latic Kingdom. First was that he held an Object of Power, some unknown talisman that he consulted before battle, and that ensured his continued rule over his adopted subjects. For Kurak had not been born of the Latic people. His parents were slaves from the southern lands, viciously slain when they dared to speak out against unimaginably cruel masters. It was said that Kurak had witnessed this atrocity with his own eyes, when he was but seven years of age.
The second whisper spoke of a Curse that lay on Kurak’s head. No living soul knew the nature of this Curse, nor the name of the mage or demon who had cast it upon him. But as long as it held sway, the rumors said, Kurak Rush would never know peace.
One thing was certain: Kurak’s sword-arm was the swiftest in all of Latia. With it, and his near-unnatural cunning, he had conquered this land, slain the tyrant king Jan and assumed the throne. And today, on this burnt plain before the strange reflective building, Kurak swung his sword with all the strength and skill that had raised a simple barbarian to the highest office in this land. His blade was a blur, slicing through a dozen undead necks in one blow, scattering brittle bones and flesh-tattered limbs to the four winds. Hercya and the others fought with admirable vigor, but no warrior downed half as many attackers as did their beloved monarch.
As his blade ground through undead bone, Kurak saw red, recalling the slavers who had slain his parents. That fire, that rage, spurred him ever forward, always on to the next conquest, the next righteous victory.
Continued in THRILLING ADVENTURE YARNS 2021!