The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.14

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Kenneth escorted us from the Gemarkand estate. The letter that Lily Gemarkand had sealed in green wax and given to me to deliver to The Twins was safe in Murith’s satchel.

“Are you certain you don’t need more men to escort us, Kenneth?”

Hi ignored my jibe.

“Are you going to walk us all the way home?”

Kenneth’s square jaw flexed as he ground his teeth together. I could tell he wanted to fight me; I thought it best to get under his skin early, just in case Lily decided to send him against me. In the North, this kind of jesting is settled quickly with fist or insult, but here in Myrrhn, among more civilized people who frowned upon such ‘barbaric displays of dominance’ it often festered, becoming a gateway to true hatred.

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Our trip across Myrrhn was uneventful. Murith and I bought lunch, spiced crab cakes and Kaemoulian lizard kababs and ate them as we walked. Myrrhn has an endless variety of foods from Archaean haute cuisine that costs more per dish than most men make in a year to the wonderful esterman eel stew served dockside to poor sailors.

“By Garm, I hope these kababs don’t become too popular. Do you remember when Lobster was cheap?”

“I’d pray to Nordan gods too, if they could control trends in Myrrhn. You know Lobster hasn’t been cheap in fifteen years, right Ragnar?”

“I can remember fifteen years ago, Murith.”

“Besides your girlfriends are rich, get them to buy you some.”

“You know I hate it when you call them my girlfriends, Murith.”

“I do. Don’t worry I won’t tell Git. Why does it bother you so much, what are they if not your girlfriends?”

I had no answer to that. My relationship with Eiskra and Vethri entwined comradery, pleasure, and shared history. “It’s complicated.”

I often wondered if, for my part, I did not want to commit to defining our relationship because they were creatures of Myrrhn and I hoped one day to overcome my exile.

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“Fucking cunt!”

Eiskra threw the letter on the dark wooden desk in the study where The Twins attended their bookkeeping, looking at it as if it might grow fangs and bite her.

“Easy, dear,” said Vethri.

“No, no, no,” said Eiskra, flushing crimson. “Fuck that rancid highborn cunt. Her offer is an insult. She thinks we are traitors.”

“Dare I ask?”

“She offered us a mithril trade bar each if we threw our support behind Diamond Silvermane,” said Vethri. “We also get ‘control’ of the Redsilks brothels when the Union is dissolved.”

“That is a decent amount of money.”

“She also threatened to ‘tarnish our reputations until they become as dust’ if we oppose her,” said Eiskra. “If she were here right now I’d tarnish her face with my boot-heel.”

“I think it would be the boots that would be tarnished, if even half of what we know about her dealings are true,” said Vethri. “But while I can see the offer making sense, the threat is odd. Lily Gemarkand is not someone who should need to make threats. She is head of one of the seven families…”

“She’ll be a head on a plate when I am done,” said Eiskra, though her colour was no longer that of a maid of Furis about to berserk.

“Do you think she means to goad us into rash action, Ragnar?”

I considered this. Lily was not the type that made threats, at least not in this manner. She was powerful and ruthless, and everyone in the city knew this. It did seem odd that she would threaten The Twins directly. Was she hoping to intimidate them? That seemed unlikely: The Twins were Twiceborn, like me, and considered fearless. Goading them into rash action was a better tactic, but she had to know that Vathri was not nearly as tempestuous as Eiskra.

“No… I think it is something else. I cannot fathom what she hoped to gain with that threat though.”

“Maybe something had her riled,” said Murith, looking up from where she was polishing her arbalest.

“Perhaps, but what?”

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Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser comes from by upcoming novel, Red Fangs, the second book in the Shadow Wolf Sagas.

Besides editing, I had to rewrite some of the text and even add in a few characters that become important later.

And I laughed as they came, because what man can be tired with the rush of escaping the snapping jaws of something monstrous and the red joy of killing it still upon him?

My first attacker gave me plenty of warning, howling ferociously as she leapt off her high perch, teeth flashing in dim light. I swung my blade to meet her and her eyes went wide as it cut deep and sent her flying away in two pieces.

Then they were all around me, driven mad by the curse of the Bloodhydra. They clawed at my face and I pushed them away. They clawed at my sides but my Kingsmail proved too much for them. They clawed at my legs and bit at my back and that proved to be a larger problem.

While most of Cinders minions were poor combatants, used to back alley street fights at best, they were still vampires and much stronger than most men. I chopped the hands off the first couple, but as soon as one got a lasting grip on me my position became untenable.

A body slammed into my side and I staggered. Another jumped on my back, biting at my neck and bearing me down. My sword was torn from my handsI knew that if I fell they would tear me apart. Roaring, I reached back and felt my hand close on the back of the neck of the one on. I pulled him over my shoulder as I wheeled about drunkenly, trying to stay up, the slammed him into the planks. Something snagged my foot, nearly tripping me, and I drove my knife down violently.

Grinning, a vampire with the facial tattoos of a wildsider gang, came at me as I freed my foot. I fed him a mouthful of gauntleted fist, shattering the teeth that he had so proudly displayed. Another fell to a strike to the heart from my knife, shocked eyes wide in the dark.

“Who’s next?”

The vampire that leapt out at was bearing my own blade, shimmering silver in torchlight.

The Influence of Dune

I was thinking about Dune recently.

Dune is one of my favourite books (also movies, even though they are so different). It is one of the few great works of genre fiction that so many subsequent authors draw from that somehow manages to seem cohesive and powerful even today.

Dune remains an unfinished series for me. I loved Dune Messiah, but was disappointed by Children of Dune. I have not had the heart to continue on into the series, despite most people saying it gets better.

Even as a standalone book, Frank Herbert’s Dune is impressive, dealing with topics that we are grappling with even now, in grand fashion.

  • Extractivism: Dune has strong overtones of the age of industry, with the primary driver of conflict in the book being a resource of incredible scarcity and potence: spice. Control of the planet is vital to the Emperor and all of humanity since the spice is the basis of interstellar travel.
  • Fanaticism: In Dune and Dune Messiah, the religious, tribal fanaticism of the Fremen is presented as a potent force. Despite everything man has learned and accomplished, it is the power of his irrational impulses and prejudices that produces the greatest fears. Sound familiar?
  • Automation and AI: In Dune you read in passing of the Butlerian Jihad, a great religious upheaval against thinking machines and robots of all kinds. The Jihad rids known space of AI and sentient machines, but also sets humanity back into a kind of dark age. While Herbert’s view of automation and machines was often repeated in later scifi, his replacements for machinery in the genetic coding of the Bene Gesserit and things like the human computers known as mentats were very inventive. Star Wars has sentient robots but they fight wars like they are in the 1970’s and seems to indicate that they change very little of everyday life, Dune tackles these changes head on and builds a more cohesive universe.
  • Transhumanism: Cloning, genetic modification, and outright shedding of one’s humanity figure deeply into Dune from the beginning. Herbert toys with the idea of prophecy heralding a certain needed sequence of genetics in Paul (or Leto II) and muses on the idea of clones and a human being becoming something else through technology or symbiosis. This is a surprisingly modern idea.

This along with the culture clashes, the philosophy and the deep politics of the series have made it stand out in my mind.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.13

After a long drink at the fabled Inn of the Willing Wench, Murith and I decided on a course of action. We met the next day and made our way to Old Town isle.

To my surprise Lily Gemarkand sent a pair of her guards to greet us as we made our way through the immaculately kept streets of Myrrhn’s most venerable quarter. I recognized one of them, tall and lean with hair the colour of summer wheat and menacing blue eyes. To my surprise as he neared us, an electric shiver ran down my spine and my ears rang out; Lily Gemrakand’s chief bodyguard was now among the ascended.

“Kenneth, you don’t look like you’ve died and come back and you certainly have not become a living legend,” I said as he stopped before us. “That leaves the perfection of a skill as the most likely path to ascendancy for you. Was it boot-licking?”

“Cross me sometime and find out, Nordan,” said Kenneth, his eyes meeting mine.

“Is that how you greet and old friend Kenneth? I though we understood each other after you and your mistress locked me in a fighting cage with a Devout Warrior.”

“Do not besmirch my mistress with that untruth. You fought willingly and were paid well for it. It was all proven perfectly legal in subsequent investigations.”

“I’m sure,” said Murith.

“Please, let us not dwell on the past. My mistress has sent us to escort you to the Gemarkand Estate, where she will meet with you to discuss your involvement with the Doxies’s Union.”

“I’m surprised that she would be so bold.”

“My mistress won her position by being bold. It would not behoove her to stop now.”

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The expansive grounds of the Gemarkand estate had changed little since my last visit. The lawns, a luxury of wasted space in a city where every pace was priced at a premium, were still perfectly cut, the extravagant emerald tower still glittered in the light, and the servants all moved with the same brusque perfection.

Lily Gemarkand met us in a sitting room at the front of the mansion under the tower. The room was paneled with dark, fragrant wood, shelves of ancient books, and an enormous desk at which our hostess was seated. She was dressed in a simple silk gown with a fist sized sapphire dangling from a silver chain around her neck. She did not stand as we entered, but stopped writing and looked up. Our eyes met, and I was once again taken by that icy resolve and almost inhuman detachment that I saw within.

“Ragnar Skyggesson, I assume that you are here to offer terms on behalf of Eiskra and Vethri?”

“I cannot speak for them, this is more… informal.”

“I see. Perhaps I was mistaken about your intent. Why don’t you tell me why you are here?”

“In a word: Ulfgorr.”

“I’m sorry?” Lily betrayed no reaction to the name. She was a good actress, I knew, but Ulfgorr tended to illicit a strong reaction to anyone who remembered him.

“Ulfgorr is a Nordan of some note, M’am,” said Kenneth. “He is the champion of the Shadow Wolf Clan if I am not mistaken. He is currently here in Myrrhn.”

“Hopefully feeding leeches at the bottom of the docks,” muttered Murith.

Lily’s eyes raked Murith before she turned her gaze back to me. “What does this have to do with me?”

“We were investigating the death of Beauchamps, a murder that was made to look like I had a hand in it, when Ulfgorr attacked us. Given how you and I find ourselves on opposite sides of a struggle for control of the Doxies’s Union I wondered if you might have something to do with it.”

“No. But it does explain why so many of your former allies are eagerly joining Diamond Silvermane. You are mistaken if you think that I want control of The Union, Ragnar, I merely want to break it up. Organizations like that are bad for business. Now that you are done with your silly little accusation, I have a proposition that I want you to bring to The Twins.”

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Teaser Tuesday

It is Tuesday once more, and thus time for a teaser. This week it is a little tidbit from my work-in-progress, Red Fangs, the second book in the Shadow Wolf Sagas.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas does not have as many monsters in it as my other series, The Domains of the Chosen, but I do sneak in a grotesque beast here and there:

“Too wate wittiw man,” came a voice from the passage behind me.

I turned. An enormous humanoid filled the passage, waddling toward me. It was fat and pale with tiny, porcine eyes and a mouthful of finger-sized fangs. One of its arms had a hook instead of a hand, while other held a cleaver. It was a troll of some sort. I drew my axe and hammer.

 “Gonna eat ma fiw!” chortled the thing emerging from the darkness, gnashing its teeth. It was heavyset for a troll and yet moved with surprising agility. I felt the hairs on my neck stand on end and wished that I had some of Git’s firebombs.

“Oh, thank Furis!” said Berkhilda, relief evident in her voice. “I was getting sick of all this prattle!”

Berkhilda pushed past me to meet the creature. The tunnels here were wide enough that she had space to swing her axe. Of course, had we been in a smaller passage, such a beast would not have been able to follow us.

“Gonna cut you up!” chortled the thing.

Zavra whimpered, cowering behind me. Berkhilda snorted and charged. Her saw-toothed axe blurred as it sliced through the air. The beast made no attempt to dodge, nor did it flinch as the blade clove into its chest. Blood, thick and black, ooozed out of the cut. I recognized the sights of such corrupted vitae from my days as an adventurer.

“Wight… it is some sort of wight!” I shouted.

The massive wight slammed its bulk into Berkhilda as the vampire warrior struggled to pull her weapon from the wound. As strong as she was, the creature’s mass seemed to defy her, and she was pinned to the side of the passage by a veritable wall of pale flesh.

“Hurhurhur,” said the Beast, raising its cleaver. “Gun cut you up good redhairs.”

I leapt at the wight, aiming a blow at its head but something snared my foot, and I stumbled, catching myself before I fell. The Troll-wight chortled and swung its hook hand at me. I was barely able to get my weapons up to shield myself from the blow and the impact knocked the breath from my lungs and lifted me off my feet. I flew back, hitting the brick wall, bracing for impact as best I could, then sliding down.

“Wait yurr turn,” gurgled the corpulent wight. Berkhilda was pounding on it with her fists now, each punch driving deep into the folds of its flesh, but her powerful blows seemed to have little effect. Wights and trolls are notoriously resistant to pain, although I have never heard of any that were so rotund and gleefully hungry.

As I pushed myself up the wight chortled and raised its cleaver again. Berkhilda caught its arm and held the weapon in place with furious strength. The beast raised the hook-hand, scrapping it along her armour. Berkhilda gnashed her teeth angrily.

I pushed up off the wall, charging, and leaping up onto the mass. The troll-wight turned its head toward me, beady eyes widening. I landed on its mountainous back, digging the crowsbeak spikes on the back of my hammer and axe into its flesh, like pitons into a cliffside. Then I begant to hack at the beast, forgoing precision in favour of brutal strokes of my axe into its head and shoulder. Blood and gore splattered the tunnel as I went to work.

“Geddorffff, stoppit!” rumbled the creature, shaking like a dog emerging from the water and trying to reach me with its hook. I pulled myself up, and dug in again.

Social Media, Fake News, and Information Flow

We are all living in bubbles.

One of the fascinating things about this US election, other than the election of someone who was heralded by allies and opponents alike as a potential Tyrant, is the role of social media as the newly dominant form of communication.

I hate social media with contrarian passion, and perhaps a little stupidity. It is inarguable that I would make more sales if I had a greater mastery of Facebook and adwords. Twitter is doing well for me, but I could self-promote there more effectively as well. So, yes, I experienced a little schadenfreude when Facebook received so much heat after people analyzed how much effect the barrage of fake news on the site  had on the US election. But now, in the endless aftermath, it is time to get a little more serious.

Like it or not, a huge swath of people get their news from places like Facebook now. Many of these people are too rushed to fact-check everything, and almost all of us are less likely to check information that confirms our biases. In the deluge of election news, I re-posted at least one, a factoid about Trump saying if he ever ran for president, he would do so as a Republican, because they are the mots gullible. It seems like something he would write, but to my shame it was not.

The sheer deluge of information this election was difficult to process. Facebook makes information easier to digest with reactions from trusted friends and a simple feed based format. It also tends to show only new and information that it thinks you will like, or that others have paid it to show you. It does absolutely nothing to verify if this information is fake or not. In fact, given that Facebook makes money off of social activity and targeted advertising, it has little reason to delve into policing the information that it distributes.

These Macedonian Fake News farmers are just an example.

The idea that this kind of stuff can sway an election is troublesome, especially since social media is still growing in influence. When criticized Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO first that it had any effect on the election. While untrue by any measure, it is an understandable response. Facebook wants to be a big tent, and the only way to do that these days is to avoid controversy. Wading in to halt the spread of fake news would open them to criticism from all sides. Conservatives are already at odds with the social media giant over earlier slights.

The argument that it is too hard to filter fake news is an obvious smokescreen.

Beyond that, there is the moral question of whether or not Facebook should be curating our news feeds based on what it thinks our political affiliations are. This puts everyone in a bubble where they have to go out of their way to seek dissenting opinions. As these bubbles solidify they can drive opposing sides apart when they could be finding common ground.

There is also the idea that social media news benefits flashy, controversial figures simply because they elicit stronger reactions (both good and bad).

Finally the idea that a smart user can actually target misinformation to send to particular groups is especially disturbing. Propaganda is bad, but easily propaganda tailored specifically to your biases and blind-spots is potentially devastating. I fear that this is just beginning; that fact-checking will be a necessary activity for people who wish to be even slightly informed and that often stupid and dangerous ideas will be amplified by social influencers in a way that people who used to decry actors talking politics could never even dream of. Instead of the information age, we will live in the misinformation age as the stream of data becomes clogged with the offal of fake news and profitable falsehoods. The idea is nothing new, just think of climate change denial, but the level to which it can be amplified is.

But please, don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.12

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“Surely you are fucking jesting, Ragnar. I don’t want you bleeding all over my shop during business hours.”

Git’s voice sounded through a hole beside the door, the brass speaking horn adding tin To his whine.

“Not at all. Murith is with me.”

“Oh. Hi Murith.”

“Hello Git,” said Murith in strained voice.

The door to Git’s shop yawned open. His lovely assistant was already waiting at the door with a towel and mop. The goblin himself stood beside her, helping Murith from my arms.

“Tsk, tsk, what happened here?”

“Arrow,” said Murith.

“It is poisoned I would wager. Check for Deathcap and White Spider Venom.”

“I will administer a cureall. What happened?”

“We were ambushed,” said Murith. “Ulfgorr.”

“Murith and I were investigating the Burning Hills carving yards. Someone is trying to frame myself and The Twins for murder and the only clues we could find lead us there. Ulfgorr and two others were lying in wait. Murith drove him off with one of the special bolts you made her.”

“Sunfire?” asked Git excitedly.

“Yep,” said Murith.

“Did you hit him directly?”

“I did.”

“And he lived?!” exclaimed Git. “That is not good Ragnar. Why was he after you?”

“I am not certain. I would have expected Ulfgorr simply to attack at night from an alley rather than set a trap. He is usually more direct. We still have no idea how he is connected to Beauchamp’s death.”

“It did look like a Nordan killed Beauchamps,” said Murith. “Is there anyone else in Myrrhn who could pull off that crazy execution?”

“I can think of over a dozen Nordan in the city who could do it. It is also quite possible the Nightblades have people who could emulate the style.”

“I think we can rule out the Assassin’s Guild, Ragnar,” said Murith. “The Twins represent continuity.”

“You mean they pay their dues.”

“Exactly,” said Murith, wincing as Git treated her wound with a substance that began to foam immediately.

“Who would work with Ulfgorr?” asked Git

“Ulfgorr works with anyone that Wolki tells him to. Wolki works with anyone who can advance his own interests.”

“What are Wolki’s interests?”

“He has many schemes. I can fathom no reason for him to involve himself in the politics of the Doxies’s Union.”

“Maybe he just wanted to kill you and make it look like it was part of the investigation,” said Git. “It would have the added benefit of throwing off the Nightblades.”

“I’m not certain that they would shed a tear if I was killed.”

“But if he killed a watch officer…”

“Oh I see. But he had no idea that Murith would be with me.”

“Let’s leave Ulfgoor and Wolki aside for now. We still need to know who would benefit from the death of Beauchamps.” said Murith.

“Diamond Silvermane, the new owner of the Pink Pearl seems to be the most likely to benefit. She is a pawn of Lily Gemarkand and is challenging The Twins.”

“Well Lily does not like you Ragnar, we know that. But would she stoop to this?”

“Let’s find out.”

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