The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.16

Tis thursday night and time for some Shadow Wolf!

This is my weekly serial. You can read the first arc here (link), read the first post of this arc here (link) or read last week’s post here (link)

“I want you to bring me with you when you kill them,” said Bull.

I raised a brow, but having an experienced Jettiesman as a guide would be useful. I traded stories with Bull for another hour or two, mostly to be sure of his character, then made arrangements to meet with him in the morning before I sought sleep. Even the Jetties have places where a traveler can exchange coin for a safe place to sleep. Such is Myrrhn.

Bull was waiting for me when I arrived. He was dressed in a thick leather jerkin and carried a battered old cutlass that had been meticulously cared for, along with a thick belt that held various tools that were of use to those who dealt in scrap and salvage. The bruises that I had left on his face had faded. I nodded to him as I approached and fell in, following him through the Jetties.

Bull moved confidently over paths worn through broken hulls that were older than most elves, I made note of his steps, following in kind, although he was quick to point out wood that was weakened by termites, or simply worn away by age. Much of the land was refuse, packed down over the centuries, and not all of it was good footing.

We passed through the skull of a Leviathan, dragged out to the Jetties after being picked clean after a vicious sea battle. I did not even realized what we were standing in until I saw the teeth. We made our way over the remains of an ancient stoneship, an expansive hull made of enchanted rock that now served as a marketplace for some of the more affluent citizens of the slum. The place was crowded with people selling treasures salvaged from the wrecks. I saw more than a few people perusing these wares who would have been conspicuously out of place in the Jetties even if it weren’t for their bodyguards.

“Good money in salvage some days,” said Bull, following my gaze.  “Someone down there might even be able to buy their way out of here today.”

“Maybe we’ll find something worth taking wherever Cinder is lurking,” I said.

“Hmmm,” said Bull, “Maybe. Truth be told, it is the wrecks nearby that interest me, Nordan. Four boats that haven’t been picked over at all. Those who go near ’em get the shit kicked out of ’em or don”t come back at all”

He pointed out the wrecks in question as we reached our destination. They were all nondescript cargo vessels of a certain size, nestled into a corner of the Jetties that seemed abandoned. None of the boats showed signs of irreparable damage and all were fairly new. It was certainly suspicious, the sort of thing that would bring customs running in other parts of the city.

“Bloodsuckers have been here since afore those new ships came,” said Bull. “If you look between them you can see an old Galleon that’s resting on the bottom. I’ve seen em come out myself, and heard from others that they’ve dragged a few people down there. How are you going to approach this Ragnar?”

I surveyed the scene for a moment. Then turned to bull.

“We are going to make our own entrance, my friend.”

Teaser Tuesday

Here is a little teaser from Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim, fifth book in my domains of the Chosen Series, which should be available on amazon July 17th/18th.

“I apologize for not giving you time to rest after returning from your patrol, Chosen Sadira,” said Teven. “I heard that you encountered some trouble?”

“The Shugothoth ambushed us while we were scouting another approach to the North outpost,” said Sadira. “They were spotted before they could spring the attack and so casualties were minimal. Telshik’s keen eyes saved lives once again.”

“I do only as I was tasked to do,” said Telshik, smiling at the compliment.

“No false modesty Telshik; you and the other Niyiki partisans have been invaluable,” said Legate Teven. “I will have to extend an invitation to Hierult Sassin next time we meet. I would love to hear his thoughts on how the Daeri style of fighting works in this terrain.”

“I’ll have him pen you a report,” said Sadira, “He enjoys that sort of thing.”

“Thank you, Chosen” said Teven, changing his tone and squaring his shoulders. “This is an informal meeting to discuss how we can accelerate out liberation of Niyiki lands. Currently the campaign is grinding. We are winning, but slowly, and I fear that the Vvath are pinning us down here in order to ready efforts on other fronts. As you know, we have had difficulty making our way past the two Vvath outposts that guard the old roads that emerge from the jungle. These provide the solid foothold that our enemies need to draw out this conflict. Standard tactics have failed, forcing us to seek new ways to take these fortifications. I believe magic must play a key role in taking these outposts. As Legate, I have no power to command you Chosen, but I am certain that with your help, we will emerge victorious.

“As we communicated to you earlier, Legate Teven,” said Blue Hornet, sounding terribly bored, “our peers have sent us to observe the war effort. Nonetheless, if it is needed, we will be happy to lend our assistance.”

“We would be more trusting of your status as observers if Chosen Gorixus had not arrived with ten thousand of his household guard,” said Sadira. “Are you telling me that they are merely here to watch as well?”

“You should be grateful that we had the foresight to bring them, Chosen,” rumbled Chosen Gorixus. “You don’t seem to be making much headway against our enemies.”

“Are you implying that you could do better?” said Sadira, letting her anger show. Runes flared on her war-cleaver and the temperature seemed to rise.

“I am,” said Chosen Gorixus, leaning toward Sadira threateningly.

I feel bad for Legate Teven here. Imagine trying to run a campaign with superhuman pro-wrestlers on the verge of feuding in your map room. #ChosenProblems

The Forge Father, God of the Vvath & Religion in Domains of the Chosen.

This is a primer for my upcoming book, Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim, which will be the fifth full length novel in my Domains of the Chosen series. The Vvath are the major antagonists of the book, a powerful empire based around the ancient fortress-nation of Khazak Khrim and half a continent of subjugated territories. Three of the perspective characters in Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim are from this culture, which is very different that that of the Domains and even more removed from our own experiences.

While the Domains are a multi-cultural society of varying beliefs and races, who venerate their ancestors and verge on atheism the Vvath are a monotheistic, unicultural system who place the mountain fortress of Khazak Khrim and the Forge Father at the centre of all things, often reinforcing this belief with pain and violence. Here are some of the tenets of their faith, keeping in mind that not all of the characters believe in all of it, even in such an authoritarian nation.

The Forge Father is a traditional creator god with a smith motif. He created the world by fashioning it on his mighty anvil. He then set about making things. The Dwarves and the were not his first attempt at creating life, but they were the people that he was most proud of making. He put them in the mountains to shelter them, because he knew that his lesser works would be jealous. After a rebellion of the ‘lesser races’ the Forge Father took pity on his older works and created a path for them to eventually be reincarnated as Dwarves, if they serve him faithfully enough. The Vvath indoctrinate their subject cultures with this last point from birth, instilling both a sense of their own unworthiness and a sense of redemption through service and death. Among the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim themselves this particular tenet is also a justification for racism, war, and slavery.

The leader of the rebellion of the ‘lesser races’ is referred to as the The Adversary. In the works of the faith of Khazak Khrim this ill-defined figure is behind all of the attempts to destroy the Dwarven race and usurp creation. In the view of the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim the Reckoning is kind of like the flood in the story of Noah — an event that is meant to purify the world so it can be repopulated by the faithful. This particular belief clashes with the discovery that the people of the Domains also survived the Reckoning (Imagine if Noah ran into an ark full of Buddhists), who even have Dwarves among them.

The Forge Father, as the god of a patriarchal imperialist culture, emphasize aggressive male traits. Women are generally barred from the highest stations, and relegated to subordinate roles. Toughness, endurance, potency, and the drive to conquest are admired above all, reflected even in the meticulous craftsmanship of everything made by the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim. Phallic, weaponry, and forge imagery are very common.

Pain is seen as cleansing by the Vvath. In the view of the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim, one of the things that separates them from the ‘lesser races’ is their endurance. In practical terms this view of pain as cleansing opens the door for torture and a cult of forced submission through coercion. So ingrained is the idea of pain in the culture of the Vvath that many of the followers of the Forge Father will voluntarily submit to “Excruciation”, cleansing through various tortures, similar to flagellants in our own histories.

Unlike most modern religions in the real world, the Vvath have not left behind the idea of blood sacrifice. The Forge Father is a harsh god, and requires a tribute in blood, at least until the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim reign over all of creation. The idea of blood sacrifice is so ingrained in the warrior slaves of the Vvath that they will compete for the honour of being sacrificed, as has occurred in some ancient religions in the real world.

The Blood are the Exemplars of Khazak Khrim. A warrior-culture as strict as that of Sparta, these men are supposed to be the living embodiment of the superiority of the Dwarves. They train from birth, eschewing everything in favour of martial prowess. The final tests that they must face to join the warrior brotherhood are grueling and fatal to all but the strongest candidates. The Blood are few in number, but they wear incredible armour and wield marvellous weapons. The Kings of Khazak Khrim and the nobility all hail from The Blood.

For Dwarves who cannot afford the expense of joining The Blood, or could not survive the tests, there  is crafting and trading, or joining the Excruciators. The Excruciators are the militant arm of the Vvathi religion, including a vast force of infantry, as well as torturers, and even an Inquisition. While not as glorious as joining the Blood is does have its paths into the upper reaches of the priesthood, and even to the Sword-Bearers.

The Reborn, called Sword-Bearers by most, are a monastic warrior society. In reality they are actually the Gifted of Khazak Khrim, the Dwarves who wield magic, but they are presented as a group blessed by the forge father. Each one of them wields a magic blade that they fashioned during their lifetime. Special enchantments ensure than when their physical form dies it inhabits the blade. The Blade can then subvert the will of any who wield it, eventually driving the spirit of the wielder from the body and allowing the sword to possess it. The Sword-Bearers were instrumental in expanding the Empire. The important connection to the Forge Father is that the veneer of religion of the Vvath is required to make a group of what are essentially sword-liches palatable to the rest of their society.

In the end the religion of the Forge Father is the glue that holds the Vvathi empire together. While many who follow the forge father are idealistic fanatics, others are simply pragmatists abusing religion as a tool of dominion. The tensions this creates makes for several interesting narratives in Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.15

Tis Thursday, and time for some Shadow Wolf!

This is my weekly serial. You can find the first story arc here (link). You can find the first post in this arc here (link) You can find last week’s post here (link).

I found Bull much more friendly after fighting him. In the North, this was common; men and women among my people would often iron out their differences with a friendly brawl or some other form of physical contest, like wrestling, or demonstrations of strength or agility. Other would intervene only if the fighting was becoming injurious. In Myrrhn brawls are seen a prelude to greater violence and often dealt with harshly, in order to discourage what follows. I am of the opinion that it is natural for people to fight, and that this desire builds up in some until it reaches murderous levels, which explains why Myrrhn is less violent than Nordan lands, but has far more killers. Of course, it could also be the climate and the laws, I am not expert on this.

Still, Bull and I got along well after we exchanged punches, which comfortably confirmed my biases. We talked while we drank. I told him of some of my days as a doorman for the Doxie’s guild and he regaled me with tales of his life as a salvage hauler in the Jetties. His work involved finding useful parts in the broken vessels hauled to the various graveyards of ships that surrounded the slum. It was dangerous work; not only were the boats unstable, but some vessels became the lairs of lethal predators.

“Have you ever come across any Vampires?” I asked.

“Once,” said Bull, his expression souring. I flagged down a waitress and ordered a bottle of the Broken Whale’s second best whiskey. “Fortunately it was during the day, so we only lost a few men. Can’t say I likes the idea of a truce with the fucking bloodsuckers.”

“Oh?” I poured us both a glass. The whiskey was an ugly colour, but it was strong and tasted pure enough.

“The Old Towners just want the money that the bloodsuckers can give ’em. It us who they prey on, not those who live on big houses on high land.”

“That sounds about right. I’m looking for a vampire myself. One who has crimes to answer for. Have you heard of any activity around here recently?”

“Now that you mention it, I’ve heard of a few bloodless bodies washing up portside with no leech marks on ’em. A few missing as well. I suspect it is the blood trade again. Mind if I ask why?”

“The vampire in question had a friend of mine killed. As you say, it was the blood trade.”

Bull shook his head. “Fucking bloodsuckers. I’m tired of them nibbling at the edges of our place in the city. I can show you where they are Ragnar Grimfang; I know all the places they might be hiding.”

“I sense a condition,” I observed, thinking that he might be angling for more gold.

“Yes,” said Bull. “I want you to bring me with you when you kill them.”

Tuesday Teaser

Here is another teaser from Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim, my upcoming Domains of the Chosen novel.

This one focuses on one of the minor characters, Deathcat, who used to be an enemy of Sadira and Gavin, but is now one of Sadira’s Hearthbound.

Deathcat caught her third Sword-Bearer of the battle as he tried to escape from the Excruciator’s camp. A burly Orcish Hundath carrying what was unmistakably one of the Blades of Khazak Khrim ran swiftly from the camp, headed toward the lines of the Vvath nearby. Deathcat loped toward him, keeping low to avoid being seen as long as possible. She was less than three paces away when the Sword-Bearer whirled.

Deathcat slowed. The Sword-Bearers were phenomenally skilled fighters, and some exhibited additional magic. They seemed able to enhance their hosts to almost the same level of strength and reflexes that a Gladiator-trained Gifted enjoyed.

The pair of them began to circle. Deathcat wondered if the Sword-Bearer had lost the form that it had started the battle in. Most of them seemed to be found in larger, more powerful bodies specially bred for battle.

Deathcat flexed her talons and crept toward the Sword-Bearer. His blade gave him the advantage of reach, and so she wanted to force him into attacking so that she could close. As she inched toward him the Sword-Bearer stood still, his eyes fixed on her, his blade held ready. Even when she was close enough for him to lash at he remained motionless. Was it a test of wills then?

Deathcat smiled.

Enjoying the challenge, Deathcat moved a little closer. She focused on her opponent, the shifting of his stance. The sound of his breathing. Every little movement and hint of action was laid out before her. She took one big step. He shifted. She slid forward. He backed away and slashed. Deathcat jumped, leaping onto the Sword-Bearer, locking her legs around his chest and driving her talons into his skull, scrambling his brains. He shook for a moment and then expired.

Deathcat took the blade and added it to the two hanging from the belt around her shoulder. They would have to be destroyed later, and she did not want to leave them where they could be recovered. Then she looked around, searching for her next target.

I try to give every character a moment to shine in the big battle. Deathcat is a loner now, so she prefers to prowl the edges of the field and pick off enemies. I’m hoping that giving everyone a moment in the sun helps readers connect with moments from the older works and also ensures the epic cast of characters remains manageable.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.14

“Did you fucking hear me, Nordan?” asked the largest of them. He stood almost half a head taller than me and had arms like an ogre, muscles hardened by days of hard labour. Like most of Myrrhn’s slums, The Jetties were a harsh place, and many of those who lived here relieved stress with heavy drinking and the occasional brawl.

“I heard you well enough,” I answered. “You don’t appreciate my presence. What of it? I don’t like oafish half-wits who waste my time and breath with their pointless nonsense, but I did not not feel the need to tell you so. I have manners, you see.”

The people nearest us let out a cooing sound and scrambled to clear space as the young titan stepped forward. He stopped when I pulled back my coat and showed him my weapons. Silence descended on the The Broken Whale with all the swiftness of a winter gale. I met the brute’s gaze.

Before anyone could react, I removed my weapon belt, handing it over to the nearest waitress. Relief was written on her face as she took the deadly implements from me.

“Take care of those for me, please,” I said, handing her a silver coin. She nodded.

“Yer brave mister, but what if these were the only things standing between yourself and the beating o’ a lifetime?

I shrugged, removing my coat and then pulling my chainmail vest over my head and putting it down next to the weapons. Her eyes widened as she saw the scars and marks upon my body. Alone among the ascended, the Twiceborn scar. No one knows why.

“Tis safe to say I’ve had worse in my lifetime deary.” I said.

I noticed then that she had the most beautiful eyes, wide and round in surprise and blue as the ocean. I turned back to the brute.

“What shall I call you?”

“People here call me Bull”

“I am Ragnar Grimfang of Clan Shadow Wolf, an exile from the North, Care for a wager Bull?”

“Your loss.”

“First one on the ground loses. Loser buys the house a round of drinks.”

The whole place cheered like I was handing out gold coins and ambrosia. I smiled at the enthusiasm. In truth The Broken Whale reminded me of many a drinking house back home.

“Sound fair?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bull, but his eyes betrayed the lie that I was looking for.

“On three then, count us in boys.”

“ONE.”

Bull raised his fists. His stance wasn’t bad.

“TWO.”

I smiled.

“THREE.”

With surprising agility Bull stepped forward and threw a hook with his right hand. I stepped back, feeling the hand pass. and then aimed a boot at his knee. Tavern brawlers often think that kicking is somehow unfair, and are surprised when I do. Bull was an exception. He shifted so that my boot glance off his thigh and then made a grab for my foot. I kicked up again, and my foot connected with his chin. He barely moved. I nearly fell. Bull grinned and then came in swinging.

I ducked his first punch, blocked a hard right, and then hit with a fast uppercut. I felt my fist smash into his chin, but his head barely moved. He caught me then with a swift left that sent me staggering back, following up with a thunderous right that broke my nose. I stumbled, but I did not fall. He looked puzzled my this,

We came together again. He caught me with a body blow that took me off my feet. I caught his hand as he pulled it back and rammed my forehead into his nose. Bull grunted and took a wild swing as his eyes watered. Stepped around him and punched him in the kidney, hard. He went down on one knee, I grabbed the back of his head and smashed my knee into his face, and then did it again. On the third repetition he caught my blow and heaved me into the air. I broke his hold and threw a punch, hitting him in the shoulder. He landed a left jab on my chin and then threw a swift, powerful punch that I caught with my left hand. I then proceeded to slam my fist into Bulls face as hard as I could. Blood and spittle flew from his mouth and he toppled. The patrons cheered. I smiled. Unfortunately Bull caught himself and stood.

I considered smashing flagon on his thick skull, but that wouldn’t get me what I needed. There is a certain etiquette to these things, after all.

We circled. We were both more cautious now. Bull was a skilled brawler, moreso than I expected.I threw a punch, he blocked and then rocked me with a swift jab, I shook it off and jumped back to avoid a second jab. I felt the timbre of the ship behind me. Bull seized the opportunity and rushed, hoping to pin me.

This was a mistake. I dropped and lunged at his legs, snagging his foot and sending him tumbling. He hit the ground hard.

I looked over at the Barkeep. “Round of drinks on Bull.” Everyone cheered.

I walked over to Bull and offered my hand. He looked at me angrily. A round of drinks in a crowded pub would be a dear price for him. I smiled.

“I need information,” I said, showing him a gold coin. The gesture was lost amidst the chaos. “This is for listening. If you can tell me what I need or know someone who can, there is another just like it waiting.”

Bull snorted, smiled and allowed me to help him to his feet.

Teaser Tuesday

Here is a little teaser from my upcoming Domains of the Chosen novel, Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim.

Sax watched the two renegade Grey-Robes from a hidden vantage-point. Heziod did not betray any signs of stress. The man was a born liar, it seemed; cowards often were. In fact, the skill with which his turncoat spun falsehoods, triggered a mental inventory in Sax of what the man had revealed to him. Traitors and liars should not be trusted. Satisfied that he was acting on the best possible information, the Blackcloak turned his attention back to the conversation.

Skaerus and Heziod were seated across from each other at a simple table in a well-appointed Frostbay pub. It was a mix of pine and imported wood, luxurious seats upholstered with fur and leather, and deep, private booths like the one Sax was currently lurking in. There was nothing notable about the place, in truth, although Skaerus was clearly at ease here, given his demeanour and the deference shown to him by the staff. According to Heziod this place was a favourite of Skaerus, being near Grey-Robe’s abode of many years.

“I don’t know why you are worried about this, Heziod,” Skaerus was saying. “Darabnius is dead.”

“I only have your reassurances to go on,” said Heziod. “So of course I want more. You have always sat higher in this than I have.”

“Well perhaps if you weren’t such a weak-knee’d cur, running off with your tail between your legs at the first sign of trouble, your fortunes would rise,” growled Skaerus. “Since you won’t grow a spine you will have to take my word for it. The Dead Blackcloak and Darabnius have been blamed on the Eagle’s Lodge crew. Just state what you saw in the interview, nothing more, nothing less. In the end you are too inconsequential for anyone of importance to actually pay attention to, one of the benefits of being such a worm I suppose.”

“Fuck you, Skaerus,” muttered Heziod.

Skaerus said nothing, staring at Heziod with  contempt written on his features. Heziod met his gaze for a moment, then looked at the ground. Skaerus chuckled.

“Now, you might be an old fool and a coward,” expounded Kaerus. “But you do have your uses. I would like you to make sure that the duty logs line up with our reports. We need to note that the explosion happened as we arrived, not after. It turns out that the Blackcloak in question is an elementalist–”

“How do you know that?” asked Heziod, seeming incredulous.

“Idiot, do you think Frostbay is the only place where we have eyes?” mocked Skaerus. “Blackcloaks can be made to see the truth as well as Grey-Robes.”

Sax shows up a point of view character more often in this work, at the request of a few readers.