Geek Chic, E-Sports, Gamer Communities, and Confidence.

It has been an interesting month to be a Geek. D&D 5th edition surged into the spotlight, leading a large number of luminaries to out themselves as D&D players in various new publications. Gencon, a convention that revolves around RPGs and other very geeky pursuits set record attendance yet again this year. The international, a tournament for DOTA2 boasted an prize pool of over a million dollars this week, while its competitor, League of Legends apparently averages a daily user base of over 65 million people. Oh, and did I mention how almost all of this year’s blockbusters will be based on Geeky fare such as Comic Books, Fantasy Books, and Kaiju?

Geek Culture in all its myriad forms seems to be on the rise in our times. It is a little baffling for someone whose hobbies were a bit of a stigma growing up to see billion dollar fantasy movies competing with comic book franchises to crowd out old school action flicks. That discussion has been done to death, however, and is something that I hope the new generation of geeks, gamers, and fiction fans can avoid.

Sadly this month also saw the whole “Social Justice Warriors” vs. “Men’s Rights Advocates” debate in the gaming community, triggered by an Indy game developer possibly using sex to influence some game journalists. True or not, the whole debate became a colossal flame war that spread out of control and led to a lot of hurt feelings. Geek culture has always had a problem with women and inclusiveness. Geeks are intelligent, but often obsessive about their particular domains. I still remember the vicious wars that erupted in my University Games Club pitting D&D against World of Darkness or Tabletop versus Larp. Don’t even get me started on the Gamist, Naritivists, Simulationist flame wars. The trekkies versus star wars fans are perhaps the most famous example. Today these debates are mostly settled, and thankfully incomprehensible to outsiders, but the reflex that triggered them remains.

Geeks are very protective of  their little piece of culture, even if that piece of culture is an enormous multi-billion dollar industry with millions of fans. This leads to vitriolic clashes as passionate gamers defend anyone and anything who tries to force what they love to change. This may seem reactionary to outsiders who want to try something new or developers who want to put a new spin on an old game, but I still remember when D&D had to change Demons and Devils to Tanar’ri and Baatezu to avoid frantic associations with satanism in the Reagan years. Hell, some of the newer players tell me that D&D still gets banned in some of the local high schools. You would have trouble finding a less harmful past-time, but some people still feel the need to persecute what they see as weird. That these are increasingly in the minority as Geek Chic takes off does not erase the years having to defend our hobbies that many of us lived through. Here are a few cogent examples:

Mazes and monsters: A movie about a group of kids who take their game-playing too far. One of them goes insane and causes a great deal of trouble. Sounds pretty silly… but it stars Tom Hanks

Mass Shooting, Must be Video Games!: This still goes on. Instead of talking about mental health, or limiting the access of dangerous people to dangerous weapons, even a little, almost every time there is a mass shooting in the US, someone brings up video games. It is an ongoing controversy, manufactured by the same fearmongers who gave us the Iraq War.

Some of these are very recent, especially concerns leveled against video games. This creates a defensive mentality in the group and causes them to lash out against perceived threats.

This becomes a huge problem when the reaction extends to an expansion of the medium. We have all seen how a strong core group that resists outside influence vehemently can rot from the inside, becoming increasingly frantic and vitriolic as they man the walls against those who would taint the purity of what they love. New people and new ideas are required to keep geek culture fresh and interesting. The problem is that the worst proponents of these new ideas, even something as benign as gender inclusiveness, frame their criticism as an attack. Fans who are already wary of their beloved medium being beaten up on Fox News often react… stupidly.

What Geek Culture needs now is confidence. The confidence to grow, confidence to include everyone and covert new people, and most of all the confidence to face criticism with an open mind. Everyone will benefit as our space grows more inclusive and incorporates better ideas, aside from a very few to whom any sort of progress is seen as anathema. Here are a few things that need to change.

  • Fake Geek Girl shaming (and Fake Geek Guy shaming): This is just juvenile. It reminds me of the idiotic purity tests that some political organizations adopt to protect themselves from dirty, dirty outsiders. Not to mention that many, many women are very fluent in geek culture, and contributors to geek culture these days. Assuming that women, especially “attractive” women are automatically faking their interest in geek stuff is not only sexist and rude, it demonstrates a frightening lack of confidence in the allure of the culture you love. It reflects poorly on Geek Culture when we hound/chase people away because of their gender, appearance, or identity.
  • Flame Wars and Trolling spiraling out of control: I don’t support Aneeta Sarkesian. I do think she deserves to be heard. I think threatening her with rape, dismemberment, and death is rather crazy. Language that is used to taunt your opponents after a game seems insane to outsiders. It reflects very poorly on Geek Culture as a whole when a woman receives ranting threats and has to leave her house. When you disagree with someone, put your brain power to use and attack their ideas instead of posting where they live or threatening them.
    • Sub-Point: We need to be nicer to each other in general. The communities in most games, especially the forums, have a distressing habit of becoming toxic these days. Riot has done some interesting research on how to stop the viciousness in some games, but we need to be more sportsman-like.
  • Mentor, don’t act superior: In general I find that Geeks tend to use their knowledge as a way of finding their place on the social ladder of geek culture. Instead of sharing and educating a few of us will hoard knowledge and then use it to show our superiority over people who know less than us about our area of interest. This is silly. Why not impress people with your lore and skills by helping them instead? The thing is as geek culture grows, there will be a steady supply of new fans who want to learn what you know. Think of them as your students…

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.29

Ragnar Grimfang, twiceborn, exile, lone wolf on the streets of the City of Shadows.

I will have you all know that I braved kitten attacks on my hands as I typed this. Also, I am an uncle today, welcome Grace and congratulations to Aaron and Deanna :D

New to the serial? Start here and follow the links in comments to read along.

Missed last weeks? here it is.

I sent a message to Obsidian Tower, the redoubt of The Guild, addressed to the assassin that I knew by the name of Sildus. I sent it via the Myrrhn Street Couriers, using Madame Glorianna’s seal and my name. The Myrrhn Street Couriers are expensive, but they rarely failed. Rumour has it that they had an understanding with The Guild. I suspected my name would get Sildus’s attention.

Renoit was not difficult to find. Normally I would have trouble getting into Old Town, but with Sargent Murith at my side the Old Town watch was positively friendly.

Renoit owned a small villa in the middle tier. It had high walls and a well-tended garden out front. Old Town is secure enough that some people who live there leave their doors unlatched. Of course, Renoit did not, even though he had far less to fear than most people in the city. I knocked just loud and long enough to irritate Renoit and call him forth.

“Ragnar?” said Renoit, his lean face twisted indignation. “Who let you into Old Town?”

“I did,” said Murith. “Sargent Murith Stouthand, City Watch, sir.”

“I am pleased to make you acquaintance, Sargent Stouthand,” said Renoit. “But if this man expects me to testify on his behalf or vouch for his character or whereabouts I must decline!”

Murith looked at me doubtfully. I grinned.

“Actually Renoit, this is about business,” I said.

“What business could I possibly have with you?” said Renoit, a note of curiosity creeping into the symphony of arrogance.

“Do you remember how I was investigating a murder?” I asked.

“I didn’t do it!” said Renoit.

“Calm down,” I said. “I’m not accusing you. The victim was a prostitute at an expensive brothel. She happens to be the sister of Lily Gemarkand. The murder was done in such a fashion as to implicate The Guild and rile up my people.”

“Yes, yes. How does this interest me,” asked Renoit.

“We have reason to believe that the killer is in League with the Devout, masquerading as the leader of a Sirutiran sect,” I said.

“So?” said Renoit.

“Have you heard of the Devout?” I asked.

“Certainly,” said Renoit, puffing out his chest. “I’ve even killed one. I thought they were a broken power, however.”

“It appears not,” I said. “They are back. I fought one in Lily’d Gemarkand’s private arena, which means they have dealings in the city. They arranged for Sapphire’s death, mostly to sew chaos. One of their agents actually just tried to kill Madame Glorianna.”

“No!” said Renoit. I smiled inwardly. Renoit will get involved in any event he deems important enough. Once I dropped enough names that he recognized and respected it was easy enough to land his help. “This sounds important Ragnar. I suppose if the city needs my help… let me get Estelle!”

“Who is estelle?” asked Murith.

“His Rapier,” I said.

“Oh,” said Murith. “The city needs her too, I’m sure.”

“He’s actually quite good,” I said.

Git’s shop was closed for the day by the time we arrived. Renoit had to dress you see. Murith knocked, Git’s assistant answered.

“Sargent Stouthand, what is this about?” said the assistant, eyes darting between Renoit and myself. I looked like I usually do. Renoit was dressed in black lace, silk, and burgundy leather. He even had some kind of neck cloth I did not know the name for in some exotic fabric that I could not name. I expect that had he not been with Murith and myself, one of the Burning Hill gangs might have tried to rob him.

“We need to speak to Git,” said Murith. “It is urgent, but he is not in any trouble.”

“Very well,” said the assistant. “I’ll see if I can find him.”

Git’s assistant rose several degrees in my estimation. She was loyal and cool-headed, giving her master time to assess the situation and escape if need be.

Git appeared a moment later. The little Goblin was already dressed in a black leather overcoat with ivory buttons, a broad brim hat, and goggles. “Combat kit or adventuring?” he asked without prompting.

“Are you not curious as to what we are about?” asked Renoit.

“I am,” said Git. “But I am also bored. I’ve been waiting for a chance to test something. Besides Renoit, when I see both yourself and Sargent Murith I know it is important and above board.”

“Bring whatever kit has the most tricks,” I said.

“That was easy,” said Murith. “What next Ragnar?”

“Do we have anything resembling a plan?” asked Renoit.

“The plan is to go the temple of Kamesin Greeneyes and confront the priest,” I said. “Even if he isn’t involved he will know something.”

Divinity: Original Sin Review

The Cover

The Cover

From time to time I like to review games. I play a lot of games, and have worked a little bit in the industry as a writer and designer. If the cards come down in my favour I would even like to take a crack at designing my own games, from the ground up. With engines like Unity the technical side of game making seems to be getting easier and better organized.

Divinity: Original Sin caught my eye just before release. I had always given the Divinity games a pass before, but this one seemed different. The old-school isometric look and the clean, bright environments seemed inviting and the beta community was giving it impressive reviews on steam. So I took the plunge and gave it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised. As a whole Divinity combines the best of old-school games like Baldur’s Gate and Pool of Radiance with some more modern conceits, all without losing track of core gameplay, elegance, and fun. The game starts off with a simple plot hook and then drops the player into the world, allowing them to engage the story on their own terms. Unlike most modern games, the monsters have a static challenge level which acts as a simple throttle on where players can explore. If you are smart enough to find a way around those challenges however, the game does not slap your hand. This is refreshing. The cosmic overplot is reminiscent of older fantasies like Elric, the Riftwar Saga, or the Elminster novels, perhaps with a few elements borrowed from Dr Who.

Here are a the top 5 reasons why I would recommend it.

  1. Divinity: Original Sin rewards intelligent play. The game has quite a few puzzles and mysteries, from riddles to devious traps, but that is only scratching the surface. The game rewards smart play in almost every action you take. A favoured example is the rain spell. Initially I just ignored this spell… I mean why would I need to make it rain? Divinity: OS, however, has a complex layer of object interactions that clever players can really use to their advantages. Thus the simple rain spell can be used to make steam to act as cover, to soak creatures and make them more vulnerable to electricity, to remove poison or fire from the ground, to leave puddles of water that can then be turned in to ice, to weaken fire based creatures, and so on. All of these uses are fairly intuitive, and they all can be used to create impressive chain reaction combos that can reduce tough bosses to into easy victims, if you don’t mess them up and if you are smart enough to make use of them. Of course the enemies can turn these forces against you, so don’t fighting makes with lightning bolts while standing in water and make sure the terrain you are on isn’t going to create real problems when your foes interact with it. In combat and general exploration I found myself keeping an eye out for terrain features that I could exploit to my advantage or that might be used against me and I had great fun trying to make the most of them to gain an upper hand against difficult foes. The game also rewards preparation with many items that can give players different kinds of situational advantages, and it does so without forcing these down the player’s throat.
  2. Old-School with Modern Sensibilities: We put up with a lot of crap in the old RPGs. We have also learned a great deal since those days. Divinity: OS works the most important of those lessons in with more modern elements like randomized items, crafting, and physics objects. Opening chests in Divinity: OS is fin, because you never know what kind of sweet loot you might get. Being able to drag barrels and other objects around gives you more ways to solve problems and more ways to mess with your enemies in combat, while making you feel like you are a greater part of the world. The game also has extensive decision trees, so your actions on various quests have some impact on future play.
  3. Character Creation/Advancement: While the visual customization is simple and you cannot choose a race. You have a wide variety of skills, talents, and abilities with which to customize your two starting characters. The best part, however, is that the basic archetypes that they give you are actually fairly playable. Often with free-form systems the archetypes given are inferior, but these are actually good starting points. Advancing your character is also fairly enjoyable with quite a few interesting choices. The customization isn’t perfect but is a far cry better than most.
  4. A Sense of Impact: When you do things in Divinity: OS the game rewards you with satisfying, visceral effects and beefy bonuses. Knocking an opponent down with a charge is equally rewarding mechanically and in presentation. Most of the special actions have a chance to cause other effects as do a majority of magical weapons. This makes combat far more than an exchange of damage, especially when taken in conjunction with point 1. Divinity: OS goes out of its way to make the players actions stand out, which is a lot of fun.

    In Divinity Original Sin every fight can be wildly epic.

    In Divinity Original Sin every fight can be wildly epic.

  5. Epic: Epic games never really disappeared, I mean Path of Exile and Diablo III are still epic even though they both have dark, horrific tones. Divinity: OS is not afraid to put it all out there however. From the cosmic metaplot to the fantastic environments this is a game that is refreshingly honest about itself. It does not try to hide behind a veil of cynicism or drown everything in sepia tones and faux Grimdark. As you progress through the game (I’m only ~40 hours in) you gain a definite sense of progression of power, venturing into areas that were once daunting without fear. The game does not shy away from fantasy tropes that might be fun in an effort to seem original, but rather dives right and and plays with them. Quite nice really.

In the end I would rate the Game as a A, maybe an A+ to people who loved the old Baldur’s gate titles. It is not perfect, but is ambitious, fun, and deeply rewarding.

Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.28

Tis Thursday, time to join Ragnar Grimfang on the shadowy streets of Myrrhn dispensing… justice.

The first post in the serial, follow the links in comments to read them all.

Missed last week’s post? try this.

“You had better have a very good explanation for this Ragnar,” said Madam Glorianna.

Several burly bouncer types stood behind her, alert now to danger. Of course none of them had expected that she would need protection from her longtime bodyguard, Crimson Wind.

“I don’t actually,” I said, looking down at Crimson Wind’s broken body, blood filling my nostrils. The sword-bride had died a warrior’s death, swords in hand, much better than the whore Sapphire, or her lover Bjorn. “Not yet, regardless.”

“You didn’t seem surprised when she reacted like that Ragnar,” said Madame Glorianna. “Can you at least tell me what is going on?”

Her tone was almost plaintiff. I suppose if someone that I had trusted to guard my life at all times turned on me for no apparent reason I might be somewhat taken aback as well. Sword-Brides never broke their contracts either, or their sisters would hunt them down, sparing no expense. It was altogether mysterious, at least on the surface.

“I can, but it requires that you answer a few questions,” I said. “Lets us go somewhere safe and quiet. Instruct your men to behead her and burn the body, just to be sure.”

<>

Madame Glorianna took us to a private study, leaving Murith and I to eat and mill about while she attended to some details. When she reappeared, after a long delay, she was wearing a fresh gown, ruby red silk with a high collar, and very much in control of herself again.

“Now, Ragnar, tell me why my friend and bodyguard of five years just tried to gut me at a word from you,” said Madame Glorianna, eyes burning.

“Greeneyes is a name Murith and I saw that appeared frequently in the books at the Pink Pearl,” I began. “It was on the books every time Bjorn or our Assassin friend visited, including on the night of the murder. Greeneyes is an odd monicker. It put me in mind of Sapphire’s funeral: she was a follower of Kamesin Greeneyes, a Sirutiran deity. So was Crimson Wind, I think.”

“She was,” said Madame Glorianna. “She was always trying to get me to convert, to come to her meetings and meet her high priest. Why the fuck did she try to kill me?”

“I thenk Kamesin Greeneyes is just a cover,” I said. “Do you remember what Crimson Wind said to me before he died?”

“No,” said Madame Glorianna. “I was just focused on surviving.”

“Something about the strong,” said Murith. “Only the strong.”

“That is what I heard as well,” I said. “Only the strong is not a saying that the Sirutirans are known for, especially the Sword-Brides.”

“Who then?” asked Madame Glorianna.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But they wanted access to you, or to disrupt the Doxies Union for some reason. I also feel that they wanted to start a war between my people and The Guild.”

“Darkness falling, who would want that?” asked Murith. “It would be bad for everyone.”

“Someone who does not care about the business of Myrrhn,” I said. “The Devout worship strength do they not?”

“They do…” said Madame Glorianna. “I thought they were broken, gone?”

“No,” I said. “Sapphire’s sister made me fight one in her little private arena to prove myself to her.”

“That’s illegal!” said Murith.

“I’ll file a complaint,” I said. “The word of a Nordan Exile against the leader of the Gemarkand Family…”

“Focus, please,” said Madame Glorianna.

“I’m now wondering where Lily Gemarkand found herself a Devout warrior…” I said. “And who the other names on the list are. This little event of ours is bigger than Sapphire and Bjorn. It is bigger than The Guild, the Gemarkand family, and the Doxies Union. This is about the city as a whole, I think.”

“What do you mean, Ragnar?” asked Madame Glorianna.

“He means the Devout are involved,” said Murith. “Crimson Wind was one of them perhaps, or at least part of one of their Harbinger cults. They invaded Myrrhn once, using an uprising of cults that they had planted and nurtured within the city: little incubators for their sick philosophy.”

“They couldn’t possibly be planning another invasion, could they?” asked Madame Glorianna. “And why would the Doxies Guild matter to them in that case? Why could they want me dead?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “For now, keep word of Crimson Wind’s death from spreading as long as you can. Double your guard: old hands only. Gather as much money as you can and start putting mercenaries on retainer, reputable companies from out of town. Murith, you are going to have to convince the watch that we might have a serious problem here. I am going to see if I can track down the priest of Kamesin Greeneyes and see how he is involved in this, and then I’m going to find out where Lily Gemarkand got her hands on a Devout warrior.”

But first, I had to call on some friends.

Structures and Systems: The Grand Championships in the Domains of the Chosen (part two)

One of the running themes of my musings on this blog are how structures and systems can become the enemies of people, and how this can make for great genre fiction. I find it interesting how modern escapism is often apocalyptic in nature: in some ways we often end up pleased when the Zombies or that Meteorite come along and finally wipe out the monumental systems that dominate our lives. No matter how horrible the walking dead gets at least they don’t have to worry about debt, work, taxes, or unrelenting boredom.

One of the problems with my early D&D games, and other works is that when I put effort into world-building I often created these clockwork societies and systems that never changed. Much of this is because I wanted to preserve my work. Sadly, I found that these eternal structures were lacking because they did not change. Imperfect beings create imperfect things, and that includes institutions, cultures, and even beliefs. Only those that acknowledge their imperfections and take steps to adapt and change can really stand the test of time. (Change just for the sake of change doesn’t count — that is just another system in a way. I’m looking at you new WordPress UI.)

Last week I outlined the basic system of the Grand Championships. This week I will illustrate the sort of corruptions that have changed this system over time. Think of this as an example of how systems can change over time. There are exploits, and then regulations put in place to halt those exploits, then there are corruptions that become popular changes, almost an evolution of the system.

Here are some examples, using the structure of the Grand Championships from last week’s post

  • Location: The Grand Championships are always held in the City of Krass. How can this be exploited? well for one, any Gladiators who have easy access to the City of Krass have a kind of home-field advantage. While people come from all over the Domains for the Grand Championships, the largest significant group in the arena crowds will be from the City. Gladiators who spend time wooing the people of Krass thus have a significant advantage in a show of thumbs.
  • Selection Part One: Part one of the selection is a general vote open to any citizen in Krass. The system here is the same as gaming the system in any Democratic election. Skilled Gladiators will often lose out to more interesting or popular fighters. In a sense this is the original corruption of the games. It was supposed to pick the best fighter, but popularity soon became a factor.
  • Selection Part Two: This part is utterly corrupt. The Factions and the Chosen trade favours and butt heads over the previously selected candidates. The only oversight is that the people will riot if a favourite is left out. Exploits here include getting rid of fighters who might be a danger to your Gladiator, changing patrons, and so on.
  • The Parade: On the surface the parade is the least important part of the Grand Championships, merely a way for the Gladiators to present themselves to the people. And yet it becomes surprisingly important, since Gladiators who make a great impression here can sway the crowds of Krass. I like The Hunger Games for understanding the importance of presentation in a contest of this sort with Katniss and her flaming gown. There are other exploits in the parade as well. Most importantly: who gets to provide food and drink and who gets other important contracts for parade day. The parade is a huge holiday in Krass, and very few places are open. Those that are given contracts to provide services during the parade gain wealth and reputation, at least if they don’t mess up. Getting these contracts becomes a matter of great importance with all sorts of wheeling and dealing.
  • The Qualifying Round: Each Gladiator faces a monster in the qualifying round. Judges score how each Gladiator fares and the lowest eighteen fighters are eliminated. Judging is fraught with corruption, of course, just look at Olympic figure skating. However, it is also possible for a Gladiator to be put up against a monster that is too easy or too hard.
  • That One Little Wrinkle: Ut Nex, the challenge to a Deathmatch forces the other Gladiator to make a split second decision on whether or not they will put everything on the line. Deathmatches tend to gain the attention of the crowd, which allows a less skilled fighter willing to risk more a secondary path to victory. Few Gladiators will turn down Ut Nex, mostly due to pride, so one must make sure one can win. Interestingly enough Ut Nex in the qualifying round is another way for a Gladiator to show show mad courage.
  • That Other Little Wrinkle: Assassinating the other Gladiators is just plain ol’ cheating. However the politics of such a manoeuvre would likely be very interesting
  • Cheating and Exploits: Anything that can be abused to gain an advantage will be abused to gain an advantage. The Gladiators have to be on guard. The Deliberative have to monitor everything. And yet all of these people are human with desires and needs that can be pried at to gain advantage. A lusty Gladiator might be lured into a late night dalliance before a crucial match that leaves him strangely drained. A lucky pre-fight meal at a favourite restaurant might be drugged. Last minute advice on how to exploit an opponent’s fighting styles. An accident on the training grounds. The sudden death of a loved one. There are many possibilities for exploitation, and the best of them are the head games that mess with the psychology of individual fighters. After all, at the highest levels of competition, it is often focus and the will to win that carry the day.

 

 

Title Change for Book Three

After much soul searching, more like agonized dawdling I suppose, I have decided to change the name of Warbound: The Shield Maiden to Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden. Many readers are not connecting Warbound with the first two Domains of the Chosen Books. This is entirely my fault, as most of my beta readers suggested that I keep the name Bloodlust for consistency. I should have listened, but I was focused on getting the book out and not thinking enough about branding issues.

Hopefully the switch does not cause any problems. Here is what the new cover looks like. It will release on the 16th. If you have the old cover, don’t worry about switching over, the book itself remains unchanged.

Not a huge change, but it is still a mistake on my part.

Not a huge change, but it is still a mistake on my part.

If this does cause a problem for anyone, let me know and I will send you a file in any format you choose.

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.27

Time for some Shadow Wolf!

New to the series? start here and follow the links in the comments.

Missed last week’s installment? I have your back!

“Hello, Greeneyes,” I said.

Sometimes you just have to roll the dice and see where they lead you. I had little to go on but suspicion, and Murith counselled me to check simple reactions. Sometimes the guilty react to certain keys, even when they should not. I half expected her to greet me with a look of confusion, or even irritation at the inappropriate use of her God’s moniker.

“What is the meaning of this Ragnar?” asked Madame Glorianna, more annoyed than alarmed.

Interestingly enough Crimson Wind went for her employer first. She lunged across the room, Kiyari swords a cascade of glittering metal, blurring as they swept.

I moved. A crossbow thrummed. Murith, shooting blind, still hit Crimson Wind centre of mass. An springloaded arbalest, a holdwarden’s weapon, powerful enough to split a stone block. The Sirutiran woman slammed into the wall behind Madame Glorianna’s desk.

“What the fuck Ragnar–” madame Glorianna began. 

“Get behind me Glory,” I said. “I don’t think she’s done.

Madame Glorianna moved with alacrity that should not be possible in the kind of dress that she was wearing. Crimson Wind kicked to her feet, I moved between the two, axe in one hand, pick in the other. 

“You won’t get another shot, Dwarf,” said Crimson Wind.

“I won’t need one,” said Murith. She was right. Crimson Wind was deadly with a blade, but she had a crossbow bolt thought her belly. I was surprised that she could stand. She lifted her Kiyari, long swords with an elegant curved blade. The glinted in the warm light of the glow crystals. I could hear people running. It would be over by the time they got here.

“You don’t have to do this Crimson Wind,” I said, meeting her eye, watching her response. “We already know about your friends–“

“You know nothing, Northman,” she spat, painting the hardwood with red.

“Why don’t you tell me?” I asked. “Did Sapphire betray your little cult?”

She swayed and for a moment I hope that she would drop. Madame Glorianna had people who could keep her alive and make her answer questions. But Sword-Brides are tough, and she snapped back into focus and came at me. 

The Kiyari is the worlds deadliest slashing blade. I love my people dearly, but our swords seem like lead footed adolescents trying to match steps with dancers next to a Kiyari. Crimson Wind’s swords split the air beautifully, one coming high from my left, one coming low from my right. She left me no choice.

I stepped in, burying my axe in her skull. Her high blade cut through my mail and grazed a rib. Her low blade bounced off my pick. She twitched, still trying to kill me. Her mouth moved, drooling blood.

“Only the strong, Northman,” said Crimson Wind, then she collapsed.

I frowned. I had hoped to question her, but she chose to attack me in such a way that I was forced to kill her or suffer a terrible wound. As it was my arm was bleeding more than I was used to. Kiyaris seem sharp enough to wound even a Twiceborn it seems.

Madame Glorianna let out a breath behind me. Her people were already in the room, including two enormous bouncers. She held up a hand before they could interfere.

“You had better have a good explanation for this, Ragnar” she stated.