The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.8


“Something wrong Ragnar?”

Murith’s hand rested on her crossbow. We stood in the slaughter yard of the Ramstag carving house. The iron grating on the floor reminded me of the little arena in the Gemarkand residence and Lily’s game. The smell reminded me of Cinder’s warehouse; an ocean of blood, but here it was tempered by smoke and salt. There were entire warehouses full of ice and carcasses here.

“In the North we still hunt our meat or slaughter the herd animals ourselves. It is sacred. I wonder if this will come to us if our cities grow to be like Myrrhn in size.”

“Your people will have to stop fighting all the time for that to happen,” snarked Murith.

“Or breed more… shouldn’t there be more people around?”

“The Carving House is mostly closed at night. I did not want to disturb the workers.”

I nodded.

“Let’s find the carts.”

We found the carts near the warehouses where they stored the meat. There were a dozen ready and more than a hundred in a nearby building.

“Where are the horses?”

“They likely keep the horses off-premise or have a deal with one of the other guilds. The blood and the sounds would spook some animals,” answered Murith. “Well does it smell familiar?”

“I think that this is the place, let me get a closer look at the carts.”

The scent was definitely familiar. The problem was that we were not alone. I could sense several men lurking, ready to pounce. I signed this to Murith, using the silent language that we used in our time adventuring in the ruins below the Undercity. I wanted to get close to the carts because they would provide some measure of cover against arrows and bolts.

Our attackers were smarter than most. They moved before we got close to the carts. I saw a flash of movement, which prompted me to dive out of the way. Something hit my shoulder, and my roll turned into more of a sprawl.

The twang of Murith’s Arbalest rang out, followed by the sound of a thud. I came to my feet, turning. Something whispered through the air beside my face. Drawing my weapons, I kept moving and took stock of the situation.

Murith was in the back of a cart, shielded while she reloaded. There were two men with bows firing at from the shadows, one on either side of the carts. They were using greatbow, firing arrows as long as my arm. They were big men. I could smell poison on the arrows that fell near me and something else, feral and dangerous. I felt fear, cold and serpentine, knot it my belly — not fear for myself, but fear for my friend.

I waited, watching. The shadows moved, I ducked and dropped by axe, my hand swiftly finding a slender handle. I whipped the knife toward one of the bowmen in a smooth motion, and turned to Murith.


Then the doors of one of the buildings burst open, showering the courtyard with splinters and something, huge, hairy, all teeth and claws charged toward me.


Teaser Tuesday

This week’s post is from my WIP: Red Fangs (The Shadow Wolf Sagas #2)

In this novel, Ragnar visits many of the more out of the way slums in Myrrhn, in search of a murderer masquerading as a revolutionary. As you can tell, it is still very raw, but take a look at Cliffshadow.

I went in to the slums of Myrrhn dressed for war. In hindsight, twas not the best of ideas, but I was angry and wanted to make a statement. People who crawl out of Cliffshadow or West Junker and make something of themselves are special. That is doubly true of those who do so without exploiting their fellows, like Delilah.

I knew it was her brother. As sure as the pack alpha knows which member of the herd they will cleave off from the rest; I knew that the brother was my man. Who else would Delilah risk herself for? She was too smart to fall for some handsome thug who would lure her into an alley and definitely wise enough to steer clear of assassins, thieves, and pimps.

The Cliffshadow Slum clung to sides of three of Myrrhn’s larger islands. It reminded me of the mold and fungi growing on the sides of old forest trees: ugly and slime-ridden, but hardy and full of a vitality and vibrancy at odds with its surroundings.

Dwellings of all shapes and sizes spilled out from the cliffs, a mad honeycomb of wooden shacks, slate hovels, and even shining houses built from discarded copper roofing tiles. There was no rhyme or reason to the place, save that every space that could fit a house would have at least two.

The narrow walkways were crowded as I descended into Cliffshadow. Beggars, labourers, and ill-starred tradesmen mingled with would-be assassins and very real cutpurses. Dirty children, too young for the pickpocket gangs, played in the street, their joyous laughter at odds with my mood and the desperate eyes of some of those around them. As fate weaves, I suppose.

People parted before me. A fully armoured Nordan, obviously angry, is not someone that even the most mindless ganger with a chip on his shoulder wants to pick a fight with, at least not a fair one. It suited me just fine.

In the final re-write I will emphasize the ramshackle nature of the place, but also call out the inhabitants and their activities a little better.

A Question of Difficulty

I have been watching the new HBO series, Westworld, with great interest. I am not a huge fan of the original book, but I like where the series seems to be headed so far. One of the ideas that they have flirted with in the show is the difficulty that people want with their gaming experiences. So far the show has not delved too deeply into it, but it is an interesting discussion, and worthy of our time.

How challenging should a piece of entertainment be?

This question applies to both gaming and writing. It is not a matter of quality in my mind; often a more accessible book or game is better polished and better made than one that is incredibly difficult or dense. Something too simple can lack any real depth.

The best answer that I can give is that it depends on the target audience of the work. An introductory or broad audience work is less difficult than one that is meant for experts.

What I see out there, however, especially in games and large publishing companies is very different from this view. The tendency not toward challenging the reader/player, but rather to create a work that appeals to as broad a base as possible. The idea behind this view is that a game or book that appeals to more people will sell more, just like any other product. This is largely born out over the short term, but questionable in building a long term audience for a property.

To illustrate my point I am going to talk about two games, Path of Exile and Diablo III. I have reviewed and discussed both at length on this blog, and I like using them because they both have similar pedigree in that they were made with the success of Diablo II in mind.

Diablo III is a commercial juggernaut. It might not be the top of Blizzard’s list, but it certainly rakes in a decent amount of money. It is far more accessible than Diablo II in many ways and is designed to appeal to newcomers and old players alike, but many veteran players found it too simplistic and repetitive and far, far too easy. Despite some glaring design flaws, I do like D3. It is not a difficult game at all, although Blizzard does offer some modes and endgame content that offer more challenge in an attempt to carve out as large a swath of players as possible.

Path of Exile is a more difficult game because it is aimed at a seasoned audience that is looking for a greater challenge. Death in POE is punishing at higher levels, even outside of hardcore modes. More interestingly, players are expected to make informed choices about how they advance their character: in POE it is possible to make characters that are sub-optimal and hard to fix them without substantial effort. The flip side to this is that a veteran can create very powerful characters and even search out unique/unusual builds.

In examining these two games it is obvious that Blizzard has come up with a winning sales strategy, but might have hurt the brand. I feel the same way about some elder scrolls games which lose nuance (I’m looking at you fallout 4 conversation system) as they are simplified for wider audiences. Path of Exile on the other hand has a smaller audience, but they are fanatically supportive of the game and the company that makes it.

Recently, difficulty has made something of a comeback, I think. As people have become more and more familiar with genre fiction and games their appetites have deepened. There will always be a need for introductory works with broad appeal, but those are likely to be dominated by companies with deep pockets. On the other hand a challenging work, if of sufficient quality, can help build loyal fans.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.7

It is Thursday once more and time for some Shadow Wolf. <wolf noise> This is my weekly serial, written raw and unplanned.

Here is the first post in this arc.

Here is last week’s post, in case you missed it.


“Can I tell just how pleased I am that you woke me up for this Ragnar?”

“By Skygge, Murith, you would waste away and die from boredom if it weren’t for my company.”

We were at the Burning Hills morgue, examining Rake’s body. I hoped that Murith and I would be able to glean some information about where he died.

Rake’s body was laid out before us. His heart and genitals had been removed from his mouth and laid out beside him.

“Well he definitely struggled,” said Murith.

I nodded. He had scrapes along one knuckled, likely from landing a punch against a hard target.Most Doxies’s knew how to fight and Rake had been a wild one to begin with. There was rope burn along his ankles and wrists.

“So, how does the coward’s feast work?” asked Murith. “They start with the painful stuff, I take it.”

“They do. It is said that a master can keep them alive long enough to see their own beating heart held up before them. Personally, I have a hard time believing anyone feels much after they lose their manhood to the knife. They call it the coward’s feast partly because they scream so much.”

“Your people are so inventive when comes to butchering their enemies.”

“Dreaming up new way of bloodletting helps us pass the time during blizzards. Don’t deny that your ancestors don’t have a way with vengeance as well, Murith; I’ve read the Grudgebearer’s Litanies.”

“My parents were shopkeepers, Ragnar. What else can you see?”

“The weapon that the killer used looks to be exceptionally sharp, I don’t see jagged edges on those cuts. Must have had a steady hand, too.”

“Aye.  other than the wounds, the ropes, and signs of struggle, he only has a few cuts and bruises. No signs of additional torture or working up to the deed with any other assault. It all looks a little too businesslike does it not?”

“You’re thinking a professional then? A nightblade?”

“That would be too obvious, I think.”

“Few people seek out facts that undermine their preconceptions, Murith. Lily could have just hired a skilled assassin and told them to make it look like a Nordan did it. The damage was done to the Union the moment that woman screamed that I did it. I could have the Nine Masters of the Night’s Finger themselves swear that it was their doing and there are those who would still be certain that I was the killer.”

“Your reputation hardly helps. The witness statements are frustratingly chaotic. Some people saw a single figure, some as many as three. The only consistency is a carriage or cart of some sort, which seems obvious.”

“Cart. He lay on his side for some time. I can smell the wood… and something else.”

My stomach rumbled. Murith raised a brow.

“Meat. It was a butcher’s cart.”

“Ah. There is a rather large carving and processing house not too far from The Haven. They would have many such carts. Why don’t we start there?”

“After you, Watch Sergeant.”


Of course it was a trap.




The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’ War 3.6

It is Thursday once more and time for some Shadow Wolf. <wolf noise> This is my weekly serial, written raw and unplanned.

Here is the first post in this arc.

Here is last week’s post, in case you missed it.


All eyes turned toward me as the woman, ragged and vulnerable, yet undeniable in her seeming grief called me out.

“It was him! He killed Rake. Look at the body: only a savage would do this!”

Savage being another word for Nordan, of course. It was doubtful that this was just a random act of prejudice either. I was not just any Nordan, I was a well-known enforcer for The Twins, probably the most famous of my people connected to the Doxies’s Union. I would have wagered with old Garm himself that this was the work of Lily Gemarkand or her proxy Diamond Silvermane. The rumour would be spread that I killed Rake because he went against The Twins; that I was innocent of the deed would not matter. By the time that was established distrust would run rampant through The Union and others would break away.

I turned to Vethri. “You both need to go and try to get ahead of this.”

“Fuck that,” said Eiskra. “Rake was my friend.”

“I can handle it, for now,” said Vethri. “What are you going to do?”

“I have friends among the watch here,” I said. “Best turn myself in for questioning.”


“What have you gotten yourself into now, Nordan?”

The speaker was a short haired Dwarven woman, neat and sharp-eyed in spite of the fact that my request for her presence had no doubt robbed her of sleep.

“This one is Union business Murith. Someone wants to turn as many people against The Twins as possible. I asked for you so we can establish my innocence as quickly as possible.”

“Aren’t you worried that our friendship will make that suspect?”

“I’m willing to take advantage of your untarnished reputation rather than rely on a watch officer that I do not know or trust.”

Murith smirked.

“Officially then: you had nothing to do with Rake’s death?”

“I did not. Not only that, but the way that he died is reserved for a truly hated enemy among my people; one who has shown great cowardice as well as evil.”

“Sounds like a grudge killing,” said Murith, referring to the sacred oaths of vengeance of the Dwarves.

“There is some similarity.”

“Do you have an alibi that is not The Twins?”

“I’m not sure. We were at The Union and took our carriage home. People will have seen us at both places. But there wasn’t enough blood at the scene. Rake had to have been killed earlier Murith, so until you can determine his time of death–“

“–Fine, fine. We will go over that later. Who do you think did this, and why?”

“Ultimately it comes back to Lily Gemarkand.”

“I can see why she would want to get back at you, but why would she involve herself with The Twins?”

“This is about breaking the The Union. Lily has some plan that involves her own brothels, or perhaps a Union master under her control. We know that from Sapphire. She bought the Pink Pearl yesterday and sent her ‘representative’, a woman called Diamond Silvermane to announce that they were breaking away at tonight’s meeting.”

“Who would join them?” asked Murith inredulously. “The Union is the best thing ever to happen to prostitutes in Myrrhn. I’ve looked at the statistics, Ragnar; even under a beast like Gentleman Jim, The Union is vastly safer and fairer than street pimps and unaffiliated brothels.”

I laughed. “Not everyone looks at the statistics, Murith. It can be hard to explain the tithe that goes to the guild to someone who is beautiful and successful. That is what Lily and Diamond are counting on.”

“I really hate when you are right, Nordan.”

“I know. So, shall we investigate?”


Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: The Great Games, a short story from my Domains of the Chosen series. The story follows a father taking his young daughter to watch a match and highlights the structure of a night’s entertainment at the arena. It introduces characters that appear later in the main series, including Melia, a woman who hates the games. I also delve into sport chants for the first time, which is fun.


I love this cover.

“FIRST ROUND,” Quintus diKrass thundered. The trumpets sounded again and Rose felt herself holding her breath as the monsters entrance opened and four beastmen spilled out from the shadows, snarls sounding from foaming mouths.

Darius noted the scales and the mix of snake-like and crocodile-like features. Beastmen were one of the unfortunate leftovers from the wars that led to the Reckoning, a foul joining of man and beast, driven to crazed bloodlust by wild magic. They were a staple of the arena.

The reptilian Beastmen towered over Fiona, making the powerful Gladiatrix look like a mere slip of a girl. They rushed her, growling and snarling, foamy spittle flying from their jagged maws.  The crowd tensed in anticipation.

For her part Fiona channelled power, readying her magic for a spell if she needed it. Beastmen were hardly a challenge for her.

The first, slim and serpentine, reached Fiona, darting forward to snap at her with a surprisingly long neck. Calmly, the Gladiatrix stepped aside. She caught the light glinting off its scales. Its jaws snapped past her as she brought her axe down on the long neck.

“YES!” shouted Darius as Fiona was awarded the extra points for a decapitation.

Roses eyes widened as the beast’s head fell to the ground, a great gout of blood spilling on the white sand as the body tumbled to a halt. She looked over at her father and saw the joy on his face as the crowd roared all around them. The score ticked up to two, a spectacular kill. She turned back to the match, smiling.

Meanwhile Fiona had moved away from the remaining beastmen. In truth, she did not want to kill them too fast; she wanted to entertain the crowd and warm up for the coming rounds. She dodged slashing claws and gnashing teeth with practised ease, barely breaking a sweat in spite of her heavy weapons and thick armour.

After a minute of this the Gladiatrix lured the largest of the Beastmen, a thick-scaled crocodilean fiend, towards her. Its massive jaws snapped shut above her as she ducked and shifted to the side, her sickle raking across the beast’s belly. Thick scales were no match for the true-steel alloyed edge. A mess of entrails spilled from the beast as she danced away.


Review: Path of Exile

This week, after a long hiatus I returned to Path of Exile. My main computer gaming pastime of late, Total War: Warhammer, is still building up to a major and I am content to give it a rest until then.


Path of Exile is a free to play action rpg that has been out for several years. The game that most people would compare it to is Diablo (more like 2 than 3). Regular updates and a strong community keep it fresh.

Path of Exile plays like a typical isometric action RPG. Your character will fight hordes of enemies and nasty bosses for levels and loot. Compared to Diablo 3 the graphics are less impressive, but also less gaudy, and when the action starts much, much easier to follow than the explosion of special effects that define a high level confrontation in Diablo 3. It is much easier to follow what is going on in Path of Exile and the no nonsense approach to graphics means that special touches like an impressive boss or unusual item stand out. I also like that the combat is more tactical, with nods to positioning and ability use and less about dodging ground effects.

Path of Exile is a game that does not hold your hand. It is possible to make characters that are far better than others. The game’s skill web makes the skill trees of Diablo 2 look like shrubs and the skill choices of Diablo 3 seem like preschool.


Each of those tiny nodes is a single skill point. Most are small bonuses, but can radically change your character over time, while some nodes can completely change the style of play. There are also ascendancy classes.

While the sheer variety may seem daunting, it is fairly intuitive once you understand how to read it ad the community are always, always talking about builds. The endless theorycrafting helps promote the game.

Melee (STR/Marauder) is supposedly among the weaker built types, but I have no trouble in single player on the first such character I made.

Not that anyone who likes the game would ever stop at just one character, the possibilities of that skill tree are a great lure.

At first glance the item system in Path of Exile is nothing special. The usual rares and artifacts make their appearances. Slots are in as well, though in Path of Exile this is where you get your active abilities from. In is interesting to note, however, that none of the shops use currency, but rather trade in useful commodities like identify scrolls and orbs that reroll the properties of magic weapons. There is real depth in the item system and it certainly holds the game together.

The dungeons and environments are well designed. My favourite is the labyrinth where you get your ascendancy class; a randomized set of trials with challenging traps and interesting, varying mechanics in the boss fights, all with a tight story about an emperor with no heir trying to find someone worthy.

Speaking of story, the world building in Path of Exile is unlike any of its competitors, steeped with western archetypes and what seems to be some sort of Maori warrior lore and crazy ruined empires than run on blood, gems, and the dreams of gods (and men of infinite ambition). If the story of Diablo is Dante’s Inferno cross with a world war, Path of Exile is more comparable to Vance, Moorcock, and the Malazan series. It is dark and brooding, but teeming with life and ambition. All of that grandness though is brought down to earth by interesting characters and a simple motivation: you have been cast out, exiled and left for dead, but you lived and now it is time for revenge.

Best part is the micro-transactions are not prohibitive at all. No pay to win, or pay to remove obstacles to play here.

Good game.