The Shadow Wolf Sagas 1.41

Once again tis time for the adventures of Ragnar Grimfang and his merry band!

This is my weekly serial, the first post can be found here.

Last week’s post can be found here.

A helpful guide can be found here.

“Of course,” said Git, reaching into the apron he habitually wore when he expected trouble. A long sweeping garment made of drakescale and reinforced with metal plates, Git’s `utility apron’ ranked among the ugliest pieces of clothing that someone has worn more than once. The drakescales were a patchwork of varying sizes, in varying condition, and from various breeds of drake. There was no discernible pattern to the colours and shapes, and it was covered with pouches, buckles, and buttons. According to Git the drake scales protected him from the elements, and Git always seemed to be able something useful its many compartments.

Git pulled a small globe of white liquid from his pocket.

“Stand back,” he said, rather unnecessarily. “Be ready with your hammer Ragnar.”

Then he tossed the globe against the door. It shattered and the liquid splashed against the metal and wood. I felt the rush of wind, as if from a an explosion, followed quickly by a precipitous drop in temperature. Frost crept outward from the impact, chased by ice. I could hear the frame warping, as if in protest of this violation. Git looked at me expectantly and I stepped forward, raising my hammer.

“Wait!” said Murith. “We don’t know what is on the other side. Let me use my crossbow so you aren’t standing right in the open.”

I nodded and stepped to the side. Murith was right, I would have been easy prey for a line of archers on the other side. Her arbalest twanged. The bolt hit the door with a sound like river ice breaking in spring thaw, along with the screams of metal. Sure enough a volley of bolts lanced through the doors. I wasted no time in charging through the door, figuring that all of the enemy had loosed their weapons.

An armoured figure, big as a half-giant, loomed over me before I could get to the bowmen. I felt that little tingling feeling in the back of my head that signaled the presence of another ascended. I stepped out of the way of a swipe from his two-handed scimitar.

“Lord Torvul, I presume,” I raised my chin defiantly at the Devout Leader.

“You shall not have the honour of meeting our lord in this life,” said the figure. “I am called Varm.”

“I am Ragnar Grimfang, exile of the Shadow Wolf clan,” I returned.

“It is good to know who I am to kill,” said Varm.

As Varm and I circled, Sildus somehow slipped in. I saw the assassin in the shadows as one of the archers fell. A throwing knife perhaps. I was forced to defend myself before I could make sense of it. Varm charged. He was stronger than me, and larger. His armour looked thick. Given time I could wear him down, but time was not on my side.

I ducked to the side, hooking his leg with my pick. Varm tripped, falling toward the tile floor. He did not smash into the ground as I expected, however. Have you ever seen a man in full plate armour roll? It is a simple enough manoueuvre, but made exceptionally difficult by the weight and lack of flexibility of such a suit. Varm managed it, rolling to his feet and sending jumping back with a swipe of his sword before I could close.

“A worthy attempt, northman,” said Varm, his voice jovial. “Only the strong.”

Behind me, Varm’s archers were panicking. I heard a body fall. The twang of Murith’s crossbow. I heard a scream from deeper in the halls. I looked around for a way past Varm.

“Leave him to me Ragnar,” said Renoit, stepping past me.

“You’re sure?” I asked, looking from the duellist to the armoured giant.

Renoit shrugged. “Go!”

Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday again, and time for a teaser from my next book, Bloodlust: Red Glory.

“As you have no doubt heard by now, there will be a Grand Championship Tournament held soon,” said Chloe diSilk, announcer at the Killer’s Circle, gazing down at the finest Gladiators and Gladiatrices in the Death-Leagues. “After some discussion, the members have decided to offer all of you the chance to win their support. This support will guarantee the best of you a place in the Grand Championships, you may be assured.”

Twenty Gladiators, all master ranked or close to it, looked at each other. Some of them could not help but compare their situation to a rabble match.

“The rules are simple, elegant, really,” said Madame diSilk. “You will fight until only four of you remain standing. Let the games begin!”

Spells began to fly almost immediately. A fireball scorched half a dozen fighters before the echo of the trumpets died. None of them fell, however, and the Gladiators broke into knots of action.

Chloe diSilk is a character from Bloodlust: Will to Power, a woman who bootstrapped herself off the streets of Dregs to become the Arena Master of the most important Death League in the Domains.

I fished her out of the backstory to use as a foil for one of the new characters in Red Glory and to show how an influential outsider can try to alter the course of the games.

Of course, where there is a Chloe diSilk, there is also a Baron Bones…

Digital Video Content and Modern Fantasy: A Better Fit?

I'd love to see this as a series.

I’d love to see this as a series.

I keep hearing that we live in the Golden Age of television. It is an interesting notion, and much has been written about it. Personally I believe television has quietly been supplanted by digital content. Certainly the traditional pattern of Televison watching has been mostly supplanted by the digital age pattern of consuming media. If my friends miss Game of Thrones or Vikings they store it as a file and watch it when they want. That they cannot legally watch it from their computers or phones in some cases is the vestige of old TV culture, while the pattern and content fits something newer. Of course, much of Digital Content evolved out of TV in many ways, so it is hard to separate the two.

Regardless of whether you agree with me or not that Digital Content is the man in the iron mask, the way we now consume our video media is much better for Fantasy series. Here are a few salient points as to why:

  • Digital Consumption: Fantasy requires more investment. The rules of a particular world require that the audience take the time to learn them. With old media it was often hard to get difficult concepts into a show because of the episodic nature of consumption. If I introduced a complex notion in one episode and then used it in another episode, there was no guarantee that the viewer would have seen it, so I would either have to explain it all over again or risk them not picking up the important points. Since exposition is often dull, this can create problems. Obviously some shows worked around this limitation, but now it isn’t a limitation at all.
  • Serial Format: The Serial has become the dominant form of video content. While it has its roots in mini-series and the early serials from the pre-millennial years serial television came into its own under digital consumption patterns. The fact that we can watch these shows when we want to, often on whatever device we have available, save our place, go back to check things, and so one makes complex serials possible. This serial format is brilliantly suited to Fantasy, which often proceeds at a stately place that is at odds with a movie and impossible in episodic TV. Epic Fantasy, in particular, works better as a serial revolving around a long plot. It still requires adaptation from book form to fit the highs and lows of one hour episodes, but that is becoming easier and easier especially as obstacles like commercial breaks are often absent in digital shows.
  • Cheaper, Better FX: Rome was cancelled after two seasons because of the enormous expense of the show. Game of Thrones pushes the envelope of what is possible on a TV show of any budget. Both would have been impossible prior to the digital age. FX are becoming better and better in nearly every way. Even amateur youtube videos often have better special effects than the TV series that I grew up with. Meanwhile we are reaching the point that a TV series with a modest budget can actually afford to emulate super heroes and magical powers and not come off as cheap or cheesy. This is great news for fantasy fans.
  • The Audience: As formats align and costs come down, it becomes easier to make a profit satisfying a niche audience. With the enormous competition between a multitude of channels it often pays to cater to a niche that has a large ready-made fan base. Not every show can expect to break through into the mainstream, like Game of Thrones, Vikings, Rome, and so on but if we are not yet at a point where a decent Fantasy serial can be made for a niche audience we will be very soon. Of course, as modern fantasy matures and branches out, there are more and more fans willing to watch shows about elves, orcs, magic, and the fantastical and take them seriously. Additionally those who are curious, but not used to the nuances of a particular niche, can easily find online guides and communities willing to help them “get it”.

In short, I believe that the consumption pattern, sophisticated audience, and simple possibilities of the digital age is better for making a Fantasy “TV” series. I hope to see more soon.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.40

The first dusting of snow twinkles like a field of secret diamonds under the streetlights and I set about envisioning the foggy streets of Myrrhn.

This is Shadow Wolf, my weekly serial. Follow this link for the first post.

Watch to catch up by reading last week’s post. Try this link.

Here is a helpful guide.

Sildus did not meet us on the way to meet Madame Glorianna. This worried me somewhat, but Myrrhn is unpredictable, and The Guild doubly so. Who knows what the masters of the Obsidian Spire would think of the assassin’s tale. They might simply cast him down for his impudence, rather than believe foolishness about the Devout and Elemental summoning bracelets that doomed the wearers. Power can cloud the mind, especially against the threat unaccounted for.

We shouldered, stared, and cursed our way through the crowded streets to the Doxie’s Union stronghold. I noted the presence of additional security as I strode up to the front gate. Big men, all scarred.

“Ragnar Grimfang, here to see madame Glorianna,” I said.

“She is currently indisposed, mr Grimfang,” said an enormous Ogre. It was then that I noticed that none of the men were ones that I recognized.

“Of course she is, brothers,” said I, holding up one of the rings we had pilfered from Stazz and Sons. “Hope you saved some for us. Only the strong.”

The guard smiled and the gate swung open.

“Only the strong,” he said. “Glad to see you arrived so soon, brethren. Lord Torvul is within. We have not quite subdued of the whores and their simpering protectors yet. Needless to say you can keep what you conquer.”

“Excellent,” I said, stepping past the Guard.

I nearly made it to the front door before he made us.

“Wait, you’re a Nor–” he began. The rest of his words were drowned in blood as the point of Renoit’s elegant blade blossomed underneath his chin. Of course being a disciple of the Devout, the enormous ogre did not die that easily. Instead he flailed about, trying to get at Renoit, who simply kept behind him. T’would have been grimly amusing if it were not for the fact that the rest of the courtyard exploded into action.

Murith’s crossbow twanged, taking a man off his feet. Git tossed a glass globe on the ground that shattered, spreading a rapidly expanding gel on the cobbles. Several men slipped and fell as they tried to cross the greasy stuff.

Meanwhile I shouldered into one of the Devout running toward us from the other direction. I was armoured and he was not, but my impact had little effect on him. As he sneered and tried to bring his weapon to bear, however, I swung my hammer up, smashing it into his groin. The fight left his eyes and he fell to the ground as surely as any man would. Another pair were upon me before I could triumph, pushing me back ferocious swings of their heavy swords.

Renoit leapt into the fray beside me, His blade danced, slicing open the eye of one and stabbing the other in back of the knee. I finished the latter as he stumbled, bringing my hammer down on the back of his neck and sending him crashing into the ground. I heard Murith’s crossbow twang again, some shattering glass and a whoosh of flame, then I saw a shutter open above us.

I was about to shout warning when I realized that it was an allie. A woman firing a bow of her own in defence of the Doxie’s Union. One of the unarmoured Devout went down as she shot him in the back and then in the head. Renoit finished the last one with a swift jab to the heart.

Then the Ogre fell down.

I looked at the group. Everyone was fine.

“Git,” I said. “The door with be barred from the inside I wager. Got anything that will get us in without setting the whole place ablaze?”

“Of course,” said Git.

 

Teaser Tuesday

A teaser from Bloodlust: Red Glory, my next novel.

Sadira and Gavin arrived, the smell of the sea still clinging to them, just in time to see Fiona begin. They were ushered into the private box without ceremony. Chosen Marius turned to them, eyebrow raised, but Sadira stopped before she could speak, staring down at Fiona, lost in memory.

Gavin felt a pang of sorrow from Sadira as flame-haired Fiona entered the fighting grounds, moving with the grace of a predator and the swagger of a born performer. The Chosen knew what his beloved was thinking, and would have known even without their mystic bond.

Sadira gripped the hilt of the monstrous war-cleaver at her side, knuckles going white around the hilt: adamantine wrapped in long strands of hair so much like Fiona`s. That hair had once belonged to her rival and friend, Karmal.

I wonder if it is barbaric or touching that Sadira wraps the hilt of her sword in the hair of the woman who once wielded it.

This passage, from the beginning of the book, serves as a bridge between Bloodlust: Red Glory, and Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden. The death of a Chosen serves as a catalyst for events within the Empire…

What makes the Princess Bride hold up so well?

Princess bride

My favourite quote.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I have never read the Princess Bride.

Perhaps it is because I love the movie so much. Just last night, after our monthly Shadowrun Game, we were searching for something to watch. In our household this leads a protracted debate over the enormous smorgasbord of options, which I tend to stay out of. I am by far the least versed in movies and television in the house so I don’t mind letting others choose, with the exception of a few favorites. Besides I will just go off and play a computer game or do some writing if they choose something I am not interested in.

This week, however, The Princess Bride popped up. By then the discussion had been raging for fifteen minutes, and I was already creeping toward my laptop, eager to try the two League of Legends characters that I had just acquired that day (Braum and Yorick, if you know League). This is somewhat ironic given how the book begins.

Nostalgia held me to my seat on the couch. I was initially curious to see how a classic that I had watched so often held up now that Fantasy had hit the a-list. Needless to say I watched the whole damned movie, eagerly, enjoying it greatly. However, for the sake of argument, let’s start with the bad.

The Bad

  • The rodents: Let’s be honest, the giant rats in the fire swamps never really looked good compared to the rest of the movie. Now they just look dated and somewhat awful, like Wesley is wrestling with a particularly hoary blanket. I’d love to see a version with these replaced.
  • The real world intro scene: While it is still topical, the intro scene with Fred Savage and Peter Falk just feels a little awkward to me now. Maybe it is the 80′s decor or perhaps I just feel that modern audiences are familiar enough with Fantasy that they don’t need that kind of trope. It feels a little rushed as well. Grandfathers tend to be less hurried in my experience. I’m not sure how to fix this considering how integral it becomes to the movie.
  • Passive Buttercup: Modern audiences demand more from female characters. Buttercup is just too passive for my tastes. I liked the bit where she jumps out of the boat early on, but that seems to be the only active thing that she does. She just stands there while Wesley wrestles with an enormous Rat, only picking up a log to defend herself (poorly) when it gets close to her. Given that this is her true love being mauled I would have preferred to see her woman up, overcome her fear, and smash some skull. I mean seriously, Buttercup used to be a farmgirl in this world…

The Good

  • A love of intelligence: The Movie overflows with wit, even the “lowlife” characters are always armed with a ready quip. I find that modern fantasy often focuses on dark and vulgar humour, which is fine, but I sometimes miss the wit that comes with a lighter style. In The Princess Bride, even the “dumb giant” make jokes and laughs, trying to quip wise. Intelligence also plays a role within the movies conflicts with prince Humperdink’s Machiavellian plan for war and Vezzini’s famed poison game with the Drad Pirate Roberts. I also love that intelligence is not portrayed as odd or somehow warping. If anything Geek Chic has fallen for the view that smart people are somehow always odd and socially awkward, which I find really aggravating.
  • Great acting: The casting choices for The Princess Bride are peerless. The main cast are all able to switch back and forth between quipping wise and acting with resolute seriousness when necessary. Andre the Giant, in particular was a surprisingly awesome Fezzik, suitably majestic every time to see his enormous hands and yet strangely lovable at the same time. You rarely see that in big men in fantasy movies these days. These performances lend depth to the movies in a way that the Hobbit often lacks (so far) in everyone but the main characters.
  • Colourful Palette: The Princess Bride belongs more to the pastoral than to the gritty style that currently dominates Fantasy. Bright colours, bright costumes, and bold scenery combine well with the larger than life personalities of the characters. While costuming had certainly advanced, I find the colours of the old pastoral movies evoke a sense of wonder that is often lacking in modern fantasy. People tend to remember the bright colours of nature and the flashes of the storm more than the shades of grey on a cloudy day or the vagaries of muck for a reason.
  • Darkness when it is called for: While it is bright and witty most of the time, The Princess Bride does have dark moments. Wesley’s torture, Inigo’s difficulties in confronting the six fingered man, and Buttercup’s misery after she hear’s of Wesley’s death are all deep emotional lows. Even knowing that everything turns out in the end, I did not ever feel that the characters escaped unscathed or untested, which is the oft cited flaw in pastoral works.

In the end, I think with a few minor touch-ups the movie would appeal even to people who aren’t looking at it from a nostalgic perspective. It is quite striking that this movie holds up so well in an age where we can conjure up giants, dragons, and massive armies with electronic wizardry. I guess that charm and wonder are a different, more difficult form of magic.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.39

It is late, the road outside is slick with rain, the moon is hiding behind the clouds, and the cat is lying on my laptop. A perfect time for some Shadow Wolf!

This is a serial story, to start reading it, follow this link.

If you missed last week’s post, here it is.

A helpful guide.

“We need to stop this,” I said. Visions of the Devout sacking Myrrhn, enslaving and sacrificing everyone who did not escape, and the long war that would inevitably follow flitted through my head like the ghosts of wargs in the deep wood. I am no stranger to battle, but only the mad desire that kind of conflict. Endless fields of ash and corpses. Harvests left to rot because all of the able bodied are dead or on the march. The Devout had faith only in strength, and that faith could only be proved and expanded in conflict. Like all fanatics their ideology was self defeating, but that would hardly be comfort to those who would fall and suffer.

“How?” asked Renoit. The swordsman was cleaning his blade as we spoke.

“The list,” said Sildus.

“Exactly,” I said. “The list tells us who the Devout have still need to strongarm and who they have already co-opted to their cause with their little rings. If we can identify the specialties of the people on the list, perhaps we can figure out what people they still need. If that trail is cold we can try to find out where this gate is, one of these historians or architects is bound to know.”

“Once we know, we can set a trap for them,” said Sildus.

“We will need reinforcements,” said Murith. “I’ll send word to the Watch.”

“I will contact the Nightblades,” said Sildus.

“Can we trust The Guild in this?” asked Murith.

“The destruction of the city would be bad for business,” said Sildus. “Can we trust the Watch?”

“Save it for the Devout,” I said. “We need to be careful who we involve. The Devout aren’t subtle, but the people who they have enslaved using these rings might be.”

<>

We left Stazz and sons and the Undermarkets, returning to the surface of the city. We reconvened at the Inn of the Willing Wench, the most secure safe Haven we could think of. Sildus left to report to The Guild while the rest of us took turns sleeping and examining the List of names.

“Lily Gemarkand, and Madame Glorianna,” said Murith. “Both of them are failed attempts. They seem to stand out next to many of these names.”

“Crimson Wind seemed intent on killing Madame Glorianna when we confronted her,” I said. “I wonder why.”

Git looked up sharply. “There is only one thing that they would try to prevent us from knowing.”

“The gate,” said Murith. “She must know where the gate is.”

A shiver ran down my spine. That must be it.

“Well then, I suppose we have to pay Madame Glorianna a visit.” I smiled. “Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but I suspect that fate is set on conflict. Arm yourselves and get ready, I will send word to Sildus.”