Forgotten Ruin is one of my favorite settings in fiction right now. Jason Anspach and Nick Cole took an idea that could have been mere pastiche:
A few years back, we had an idea for a modern military fantasy that pitted US Army Rangers against vicious orcs, goblins, cruel giants, malignant sorcerers and just about every other monster we could come up against. We called it Forgotten Ruin.
and turned it into one of the most original things in D&D inspired stories in decades. I love Forgotten Ruin, especially in it's audiobook version featuring Christopher Ryan Grant as narrator. The series is written in a pseudo-memoir style, so listening to it instead of reading it heightens the effect of this stylistic choice.
I assume the books are doing well, as there is now an official TTRPG and side stories are starting to appear. This short story, SGT. Thor: Little Sister, features the eponymous Sarn't Thor, the sniper who changed his name and his religion so he could grow the "most epic operator beard ever".
The cover art gives me some serious Conan vibes in its composition, looking a bit like a Frazetta version of Conan with squat proportions. This isn't at all surprising, as Nick Cole in particular has often talked of his love of the character. But if it wasn't clear enough, here is what Jason says on the Galaxy's Edge Substack:
Think what would happen if Conan went through Ranger School and carried a G17 and a .50 cal anti-material sniper rifle named Mjolnir on his adventures.
That promise is amply delivered in this brief teaser of what I imagine will be Sarn't Thor's many adventures in the Ruin. Robert E. Howard wrote twenty-ish Conan stories; I would expect Cole and Anspach could easily create as many for their wayward Ranger, as the Ruin is a big and mysterious place.
This story itself is a homage to the famous Conan story "The Frost Giant's Daughter", but re-imagined in Cole and Anspach's signature style. Fans of Howard will thus likely know the shape of the plot going in, but this kind of a story is about enjoying the journey, rather than being surprised by a twist.
What may surprise those who are not Howard fans is that Thor, like Howard's Conan, is a thoughtful and curious man. As the character has passed into the broader culture and moved away from Howard's originals, to call a character a barbarian is to signal that he acts impulsively without thinking, and prefers the bigger hammer method of solving problems.
Thor may be a professional killer, but that is quite different from being a simpleton. There is a clue to this in the story itself.
As Thor sets off to find his destiny, the Sergeant Major delivers to Thor, sotto voce, the first line of John Masefield's paean to wanderlust and the Faustian spirit, Sea-Fever:
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.
Thor doesn't yet know what the smaj is talking about, but he will.
If you want to see what this all about, why not get your own free copy of SGT. Thor: Little Sister from the Galaxy's Edge Substack?