Monday, July 4, 2022

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Blade of the Slayer

An aspect of the Golden Age of the Pulps I find especially congenial is the freedom with which its authors borrowed from and included homages to the works of their comrades. H.P. Lovecraft famously encouraged his fellow Weird Tales fictioneers to take whatever they wished from his tales and make use of them as they saw fit; he, in turn, did the same. It was all in good fun and speaks to the easy collegiality of those bygone days (something that, perhaps unsurprisingly, reminds me of the early days of the Old School Renaissance as well). 

I was reminded of this when I recently re-read "The Blade of the Slayer," the fourth of Richard L. Tierney's Cthulhu Mythos-tinged historical fantasies featuring Samaritan gladiator-turned-Gnostic-magician Simon of Gitta. The tale originally appeared in the first issue of Pulse Pounding Adventure Stories (December 1986), a fanzine produced by Cryptic Publications that featured artwork by Stephen Fabian. The 'zine was very short-lived, with only two issues, the second of which (released in December 1987) also included another Simon of Gitta yarn.

"The Blade of the Slayer" takes place in January, A.D. 32, which is relatively early in the career of Simon, as he travels through Parthia on the run from the agents of Rome. The story's action picks up quickly, with Simon evading a band of cutthroats in the desert. While attempting to hide, he encounters an old man, "tall and white-bearded, clad in a dark greenish robe inscribed with the symbols of the Persian Magi." 

"Ho, stranger." The voice of the old man was nearly as thin as the cold wind. "Why do you come here to the site of the First City?"

"The–what?" Simon rose from his fighting crouch and approached the old man cautiously. "What are you talking about–?"

"And you have not heard that the spirit of the First Slayer, who founded it, still lingers about this ridgetop, waiting for unwary strayers?"

Simon glanced about at the numerous worn boulders, at the dry grasses blowing under the chill wind. "Aye, I've heard such tales. But, surely, no city ever stood here–"

"The legend is true. No outsider is safe in this place. You must go."

Simon is more concerned with his immediate safety and so is not put off by the warnings of the Magus. He beseeches the old man to hide for a short time, assuring him he has no interest in anything else. The old man relents, leading him into "a small room carved from the living rock and meagerly furnished with a cot, a wooden table, and two stools." He offers Simon some food, but again warns him about the spirit of the First Slayer, which the old man claims will overwhelm the Samaritan without magical protection. Simon scoffs and boasts that he, too, "[has] been trained in magical arts by Parthia's very own Magi."

"Aye, I know you now," said the oldster, his manner becoming a bit less suspicious. "You are Simon of Gitta, a pupil of the Archimage Daramos. I saw you several months ago, when I and several other priests of my order visited Daramos in Persepolis. Daramos mentioned to us that you were his most accomplished adept."

Simon, too, relaxed a bit more. "Thank you. But your memory is better than mine. I recall your visit, but not your name–"

"I am K'shasthra, priest of the Order of the High Guardians. At least one adept of our Order is always stationed here to guard the secret that–that for now must be kept from mankind. We have kept guard thusly for nearly two years. So much I may reveal to you, who have already been initiated into many secrets of the Magi. Perhaps I shall tell you more–but only with the understanding that the outer world must never know, until the Order has decided that the time is right."

In time, K'shasthra recognizes Simon as a powerful ally and agrees to reveal the secret his Order hides from the rest of mankind. The cave in which the old man dwells is part of a series of underground chambers that were dug beneath the First City, reduced to dust after thousands of years. Despite its name, the First City was actually "a walled fortress, founded by the First Slayer in fear of many who, fired by his example, sought to pursue and slay him."

"But the Slayer was under the curse of the great world-creator Achamoth," K'shasthra went on, "–the Demiurge who has fashioned the First Men to serve him. For his rebellion a Mark was set upon the Slayer; all who saw it shunned him in fear, and he was cursed to leave his city to his followers and wander forever over the face of the earth, hating and slaying, spreading new hatred and death."

"You mean," gasped Simon, "–this was–the city of Enoch …?" 

The strength of the Simon of Gitta stories is the way that Tierney deftly blends the history, myths, and religions of the ancient world – including those of the Bible, as in this case – with all manner of occult and Lovecraftian nuttery to present compelling, almost Howardian tales of blood and thunder. Likewise, Tierney regularly engages in the same kinds of borrowings, homages, and in-jokes as his Weird Tales forebears. In this particular case, he does more than simply have Simon's saga intersect with that of the Biblical first murderer. He brings him into contact with another pulp fantasy character inspired by those same stories. The result is every bit as fun as those of Lovecraft, Howard, or Smith, hence my fondness for "The Blade of the Slayer."

The saga of Simon of Gitta has long been out of print. Fortunately, Pickman's Press has collected them all into a single volume very recently and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in this unusual series of sword-and-sandal stories. 


  1. I just discovered Stephen Fabian a few years ago when I finally picked up a Manual of the Planes and saw his clockwork nirvana illustration. That led to browsing through his website’s gallery of amazing new and old images and that to lining my stairway with Stephen Fabian science fiction black and whites.

  2. Looks like he has a color version of the “Intrigue in Kurdistan” cover in his gallery. Just search on “Adventure” in his gallery at