The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.47

Man, I am frantic to play some X-COM 2. Good game so far. But first…

Shadow Wolf time! This is part of my weekly writing exercise, written raw and rough. The first story arc, Blade Breaker, can be found here. The first story of this arc, Red Fangs, can be found here. The previous week’s post can be found here.

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The warehouse that Cinder’s scent trail led us to was to proper buildings what the hulks of the Jetties were to ships. That is to say that I could recognize it in shape and form as a warehouse, but it did not look like it would keep anything within safe and secure, or even dry.

Of course, being overlooked is a different kind of safety. I would never have guessed to find a woman like Zavra here.

Upon arrival we spread out around the building, trying to gauge what was within. It would not do to rush forth only to find the hidden shadows teeming with more bloodsuckers than we could handle.

My eyes, keen as they were, caught only glimpses of movement within. But my nose was a different matter. Often it is difficult to sort out the scents in a place as busy as the Splinterside docks, but Cinder’s warehouse smelled of blood. It pervaded everything, overpowering the salt of the ocean air, masking the stink of nightsoil and urine in the crowded slums nearby, and even the rot of the warehouse nearby. It smelled like a charnel house.

Berkhilda’s eyes were wide, and her fangs glistened in the dim light of the oil lamps that lit the street. She stared at Cinder’s lair. I did not like the look on her face at all. We were alone, waiting for the others to regroup.

“What is it?”

“Blood. There’s something about the blood Ragnar…” the big Vampire took a half step forward, her eyes gleaming. I put myself between her and the warehouse.

“Do you remember the tale of Furis and the Siren at Lothrock, Berkhilda?”

“Not now… the blood…” said Berkhilda, snarling, hands on her axe.

I am a man of considerable size and strength, but Berkhilda was bigger and possessed of the strength of both Vampire and Clan Bloodaxe. Still, she was a friend, and I could not let her pass.

“Are you not Berkhilda Furisdottir?”

My voice cut through to her. She paused. I continued.

“What of Furis and the Siren at Lothrock, sister?”

“When Furis sought the giant Skagurtr out to repay the death of his adopted Clansmen, the giant fled before his fury. Furis pursued him across the white snow, splitting the skulls of a hundred and one Skraelings that the giant left waiting for him in ambush. The giant fled. Furis followed him into the deep caves, cutting through a boulder the size of a cottage when a cunning trap buried him in the dark. The giant fled. Furis nipped at his heels in the high mountains, braving the ruins of the lost halls and the screaming wraiths that bring death and madness. The giant fled. Furis followed Skagurtr to Lothrock. There the cunning giant lured the scion of Rage and Fire past a singing siren’s pool. The sweet siren’s song lulled his heart and cooled fury’s furnace. The whiteness of her arms was unsurpassed and her eyes were like the sea in a storm, and Furis found himself unable to resist her embrace. When he awoke he was on the shore a distant island, far from Lothrock. Skagurtr was escaped and Furis was half drowned. Beside him sat his brother, Skygge the yellow eyed, and before them sat the siren, an arrow from Skygge’s bow buried in her throat. ‘why did you wait so long to rescue me, brother?” said Furis, tugging at his hair and beard in sorrow for vengeance stayed. ‘what would you have learned if I did, brother?” Furis whirled upon Skygge in anger, letting his thirst for revenge get the better of his gratitude. But Skygge stepped into the shadows and was gone, and Furis did not leave the island until much later.”

As she spoke, Berkhilda’s eyes became clearer and clearer. When she was done, I smiled.

“Thank you Ragnar Skyggesson,” she said.

“You are welcome, sister,” I said. “I can hear the others returning. Perhaps you can explain to us what exactly Cinder is doing here.”

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser comes from Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale, first book of the Domains of the Chosen series.

Bloodlust-AGT-Front-cover

Cover for Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale.

The second half of the book takes place in the desert. The parallels to computer games (and certain Fantasy/Sci-Fi films) that have an act in the desert is purposeful. Scorpion’s Oasis is where the Gladiators join the Faction games and begin a kind of popularity grind as they seek to further their careers. Ambitious Sadira purposefully chooses a place where her chosen Faction is on a loosing streak, hoping to win extra glory by turning it around.

For those who are new to my work, Factions are like political parties, but they permeate beyond politics, even owning their own sports teams. Imagine the superbowl if teams or players could represent the Democrats and Republicans.

Of course, in the modern day, we associate the barren desert with the wealth of Arabian Nights and the oil princes.

Under Giselle’s patient supervision Scorpion’s Oasis had been built into a resort town of unsurpassed beauty and impressive luxury. The extravagant splendour of the place was known throughout the Domains, attracting an elite clientele, including many of the Chosen. The tall walls of the town were tiled with pinkish-white marble imported from quarries half an empire away, while the streets were paved with beautiful tesserae of bright coloured glass, formed into cunning geometric patterns. These glass cobbled roads seemed cool to the touch, even in the harshest sun. The Gladiators learned that each street had its own intricate identifying motif; simple signs being considered far too common for such a decadent place. Most animals were not allowed to enter the city, for their waste and clacking hooves might offend, and they had to be stabled some distance away from the main town.

Regal palm trees and shapely flowering bushes, planted in rich soil, lined every street surrounding the sprawling waters of the Oasis. Gardens and parks, so rare in the desert heat, abounded here. A dozen palatial bath-houses, magnificently decorated with gold and marble, and a score of opulent inns gathered around the pure, perfect crystal waters. Peacocks wandered freely in front of glorious fountains adorned with beautiful statues of Ezuis, Giselle, and a few allied Chosen. The town was spacious, clean, and beautiful; full of smiling young men and women who were eager to assist in any fashion. Servants lived in small, cunningly hidden compounds on the grounds of the places where they worked. A handful of independent taverns, brothels, and restaurants competed with those that could be found on the expansive grounds of the baths and inns. A hundred or so residences of modest size but great sumptuousness belonged to those who could afford the absurd expense of buying property within the town. Tall lantern posts lit up the city at night and also sprayed a fine mist into the air that kept pedestrians cool during the hottest hours of the day.

The Faction Games have an additional set of rules, based on making challenges to other teams. Often the Gladiators do not fight directly (which would be costly) and rather fight the same match and are awarded points based on their performance. Part of Sadira’s growth is having to learn these rules and get her team to understand them.

Sadira tried not to sound frustrated as she went over it again. “Marius’s additions double the loss of points for any team member unable to stand at the end of the match. This makes defence even more important. If the Blues let anyone tap out, this rule will make them pay a rather hefty penalty, enough to guarantee a victory for us. We included this addition because you, Ravius, haves told us that they don’t field many defenders and we have Vintia and Gavin.” The two defenders smiled. Sadira continued. “The Southshire rules add points for monster kills with a maximum equal to your survival score. This addition will encourage the Blues to attack hard, which might get some of them in trouble.  Also with Karmal and Vintia casting strong spells and my fighting skills, we should be able to keep close to this points cap even though we aren’t all attackers. Overall, with our Defenders and Ravius backing everyone up we should be able to last a long time without anyone dropping, and rack up enough kills to max out our score. The Blues will have to field a really well-balanced team to even come close.” Sadira exhaled emphatically; she was tired of talking. Faction challenges seemed needlessly complex to her, as if designed to foil the novice on purpose. Gavin had told her the intricacies came from centuries of accumulated rules and rulings.

“What happened to the increased number of monster waves?” asked Vintia, pinching her lower lip while looking at the sheet they were reviewing.

“The Blues rejected it; sorry Vintia,” said Gavin. He too, had been looking forward to a longer match; it would give defenders like them a real advantage. They were trained to outlast their opponents. “They also rejected our terrain additions…”

“Well, at least we won’t have to deal with them cheating again with the single-team trial bit,” smiled Karmal. “Those bastards nearly cost us the last match with their cheap tricks. Although, I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on that little spaz Steel Harmony…”

Triumph

The concept of the Triumph has always fascinated me. For those who are not familiar with the idea, a Triumph was a special parade accorded to an exceptionally victorious general or emperor in the Roman Empire. Think of it as a parade with a host of side activities, including gladiatorial games and other huge celebrations.

We know a fair bit about some of these Triumphs because the biggest and the best of them also involved a Triumphal arch, like the arch of Constantine pictured below.

These Triumphal Arches contain interesting details which have helped historians reconstruct and interpret some of the events depicted within.

L’Arc de Triomphe, pictured below, is Napoleons version of a Triumphal Arch, an attempt to invoke and connect the French Emperor with the glories of Rome.

Arc-de-Triomphe-de-l’Étoile

Triumphs began as parades and grew into political events. The Roman Triumphs also had religious undertones. The sheer glory of having a massive parade with attendant festivities and a monument in their honour, gave the recipient a platform from which to launch themselves into office, or otherwise further their ambitions. Even Emperors wanted Triumphs, which of course meant that they became more and more elabourate and increasingly common as the Empire ground on.

The idea of a Triumph is rife with potential for fantasy fiction. My next novel in the Domains of the Chosen Series begins with one. I use it mostly because I love events, especially huge public events, but I can see a lot of potential here.

  1. The Triumph as a Character Introduction: What better way to introduce a military leader than with a Triumph? The way said character reacts to the honour provides a writer with a grand opportunity to highlight character traits as well as past accomplishments. Other characters can strut their stuff by reacting to the Triumph. For a villainous character, throwing themselves a Triumph is a great way to highlight their arrogance and recklessness, or their political savvy.
  2. The Triumph as a Plot Device: On the other hand, what better finale to an assassin’s chronicle than to have the main character plan and execute a job where the mark is receiving a Triumph? It would frame a series perfectly, a conniving general or despotic emperor reaches the zenith of their power only to be struck down. A nice transition from hubris to comeuppance in a single scene.
  3. The Triumph as a Backdrop: Finally, for almost any series with an Empire with any sense of ritual and style, a Triumph serves as a wonderful backdrop for a common scene. Thieves can fleece crowds. Any sort of action can start. More importantly it is an opportunity to show off some world-building in a dynamic fashion, since a Triumph recounts recent history.

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.46

Shadow Wolf time! This is part of my weekly writing exercise, written raw and rough. The first story arc, Blade Breaker, can be found here. The first story of this arc, Red Fangs, can be found here. The previous week’s post can be found here.

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“Did they get her?”

“I think she managed to get loose on her own actually,” said Murith, examining the remains of Cinder’s bonds near the fire.

“She excels at escaping,” muttered Berkhilda. “I hope you understand what you are doing Ragnar.”

“Yes, what exactly is our plan here, Ragnar?” asked Renoit.

“We doused her clothing in a certain scent,” said Murith. “Only Ragnar can smell it. we will be be able to follow Cinder easily, with her none the wiser. For good measure I clipped a magic stone that is attuned to my crossbow to one of her earings. It should give us a bearing if the scent fails. We will follow her back to her lair and put an end to whatever she has planned.”

“You are committed to this Murith?” asked Git.

“I will see this through,” said Murith, iron in her tone.

“What makes you think she has a plan beyond inciting Vampires and men to fight?” asked Git.

“Look around. What do you see?”

“I’m not playing this game.”

“I see a lot of dead vampires,” ventured Bull.

“Look closer. None of us are badly wounded. Even the weakest of these could come close to matching you in strength, Bull. Yet they failed to cause any serious damage to us. Notice the tattoos, the scarification, and the clothing they are wearing. Most of these were street rats before she changed them. They fought like it too. They did not make the best use of their new supernatural advantages.”

“I see,” said Bull. “I wondered why most of them had such crap gear.”

“Good observation,” said Murith.

“Cinder’s little war will evaporate the moment her troops meet anyone who is ready for them. They are poorly trained and have no discipline. Most of them at least. Do you remember the Ogre bloodsucker we fought in The Jetties, Bull?”

“Hard to forget that bastard. Nearly had me,” said the massive scavenger.

“That one knew how to fight. So did the two that went for Berkhilda, they were well-armed and also worked together. The rest were almost a distraction by comparison.”

“Aye, you would think with all of the drugs and stolen alcohol that she would be able to afford better weapons for her crew,” said Bull.

“But she didn’t even bother to train them,” said Renoit.

“Which means she is either a fool, or her intention was never for them to be a serious threat,” said Git. “So if she has been making money and very little of it has gone to arming and training her followers, what is she doing with it and why does she want the whole city to think that she is trying to start a war?”

“Are you curious enough to join our little expedition to find out?”

“Damn you Ragnar,” said Git.

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We followed the trail back into the city. The scent did not waver, nor did anyone else attack us. Soon enough we found ourselves descending into Splinterside and toward an old, rotting hulk of a warehouse that smelled of blood.

Teaser Tuesday

This week, our teaser comes from my newest book, Blade Breaker (Shadow Wolf Sagas #1)

Shadow Wolf Cover

This week’s teaser comes from the intro. I spent an inordinate amount of time on this, hoping to get it just right. I am about 80% satisfied. It establishes Ragnar’s character and some of his unusual abilities well enough, and maybe even makes the reader ask a question. It does not, however, contain enough action for this series.

Tangentially, the mention of The Twins was in passing, but people became curious about them.

The wolf dream again. Snapping awake, heart drumming, with that mournful howl ringing clear and close, and my hand twitching toward my weapons. There was no rush of feet, no blade descending in the dark, only familiar silk sheets and warm bodies. Listening intently, my ears drank in all of the sounds of the old stone house and the streets outside.

The noises that now came to my ears were as familiar as my own breath; quiet, throaty laughter and the clink of glass from a late night revel at the Royal Red, a winehouse three houses down. Beyond that, the jingle of metal rings and the thud of booted feet announced a pair of the city watch rounding the corner at the end of the street. Beside me, my housemates, the women called The Twins were deep in sleep’s rhythms, undisturbed. 

There were other ways of detecting threats; my sense of smell is nearly as keen as that a wolf. The heady scents of perfume and my bedmates filled the room, with undertones of weapon oil, leather, and expensive, fragrant wood. In contrast, the air coming through the armoured shutters was surprisingly pure, as clear and crisp as ever it was in Myrrhn, with only a hint of smoke and nightsoil, not yet congested with the morning fog. The most dangerous scent that caught my nose was that of a sewer viper stalking rats, but it was too faint to be anywhere near.

Without any unusual noise, nor any scent out of place, my sense of alarm faded.

The wolf dream has always been a call to action in my life, perilous to ignore. It heralded many important events, and once even spoke of my death. In Nordan Lands, the sound of wolves, calling to each other as they ran down their prey, was as commonplace as morning birdsong. Some men read fortunes in those calls, as the old Archaens claimed to read the entrails of birds. The dream could not be ignored; something was afoot, but what could the Lord of the Black Wolves want from a disgraced exile like myself?

As my thoughts began to drift Eiskra shifted, making a soft sound burrowing under my arm. Her skin was warm and silken smooth, and her scent both familiar and divine.

“Sleep, old wolf,” she whispered before her breathing took on a steady rhythm once more. Her words and touch put me at ease, and sleep one again took hold.

Fantasy Tropes & Theory: Oaths in The Domains of The Chosen

The idea of the oath, promise, or word of honour is prevalent has been prevalent in Fantasy fiction for some time. The roots of these oaths are the divine promises of mythology and religion as well as the deep bonds of faith and trust required in feudal societies. The old idea of oaths might seem naive to the modern sensibility, especially in a world full of phishing, misinformation, and purposeful double-speak, but it is worth noting that honesty and keeping promises are still big issues with North American voters — and that they are punishing ‘establishment’ candidates because of this.

I circumvent the idea of a verbal contract in the Domains of the Chosen with magical oaths. The basic rundown of these oaths is that if they are broken, something bad happens to the oathbreaker, similar to the sword of Damocles. These binding oaths are part of the very foundation of the Domains, the glue that binds the Chosen to the Covenant, the Warbound to the Legions, and so on. Here is the oath sworn by the new Chosen in Bloodlust: Will to Power.

A million citizens gave voice to the Oath along with them.

“I give my oath to serve and protect the city of Krass,”…Power flowed

“I give my oath to defend the citizens of Krass,”…into Gavin and Sadira

“I give my oath to obey the laws of the people,”…and through them

“I give my oath to act to prevent The Reckoning,”… gentle, but irresistible

“I give my blood to seal this oath, freely in good faith,”…like the tide

“My oath is my honour, and my honour my life,”… scouring them

“I am Chosen, I serve!”… and binding them.

And that’s that, all of the Chosen get along well, magically compelled to follow the oath, and the series ends right there, right?

Astute readers noticed early on that the Oath is based on the interpretation of the Oathbound. What Chosen Moltar thinks is good for the Domains and necessary for their protection is very likely different than what Gavin or Sadira thinks. Their actions in the book flow from these interpretations.

Even more astute readers may have noticed a different reference to Oaths, mentioned in passing in a conversation between Gavin and his father, and how a powerful oath might take precedence over another.

I began to examine these ideas in Bloodlust: Red Glory and Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim. Blackcloak Sax, a surprisingly popular character, is placed on the trail of a conspiracy that led to the death of a popular Gladiatrix in Red Glory, which leads him to a nest of heretics that almost kills him in Frostbay. Unable to get to the root of the heresy, he calls on aid.

In my next work in the series, Bloodlust: The Roots of Ruin (Or maybe Bloodlust: Oathbreakers), I gather more of these disparate threads. Oaths, lies, and loyalties are revealed and tested. It will be awesome, of course. Better than cats.

The idea is that a promise can be twisted, even a magical one. We see that all the time in real life. The problem is that with magic (or a supposed divine agency) backing up an oath, fewer people will expect those covenants to be perverted than they would a mundane verbal contract, creating a vulnerability than the clever can exploit.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.45

Shadow Wolf time! This is part of my weekly writing exercise, written raw and rough. The first story arc, Blade Breaker, can be found here. The first story of this arc, Red Fangs, can be found here. The previous week’s post can be found here.

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There was a thud, followed by the splintering of wood and the tortured screams of metal. A team of vampires can make short work of all but the strongest of doors. Frenzied forms spilled into the room, fangs glinting in the firelight. Murith’s arbalest twanged and one of them slammed into the wall. More of them pushed in, threatening to drown us.

Berkhilda pushed into them like a stone in a river, her axe cutting a glittering arc in the half-dark. She cut a swathe into them before two burly forms grappled her.

My armaments were a heavy Nordan Broadsword for taking heads and spilling guts and a sturdy skinning knife for close up. Nordan Swords are often mocked in places like Myrrhn for being ungainly, but an extra pound or two on the blade is quite handy when trying to kill a foe that does not balk at wounds that most men find mortal.

The first vampire that closed with me came in head first, lunging for the neck, hungry for blood; idiot. He was faster than a man, but his trajectory was easy to predict and my sword came down on top of his head. There was a jolt of impact, a crunch and a splash, no helm this one. Then he crumpled to the ground.

My next opponent was a crafty one, ducking out from behind the falling body. He was upon me before I could react, stabbing at me with a pair of wicked knives. My kingsmail too most of the sting from his blows. The pommel of my sword crashed against his skull and my knife found his throat as he staggered back, sending him reeling into the shadows to die.

Others closed in on me and I send them back with a few wide slashes of my sword so I could gauge the flow of battle.

Berkhilda was still up but the two big forms she was struggling with had pushed her back into the room. Renoit was killing anything foolish enough to move into the circle of light around the fire. Bull was backed against the wall laying about him with a wicked looking truncheon. Despite his size and strength he was in danger of being overwhelmed. His other hand was fumbling with something, but I could not see what. Git and Murith were lost among the press of bodies.

Pushing my way toward Berkhilda and Bull, I cut down a foolish assailant who made a lunge at me with a sword, battering aside his weapon and bringing my own blade down on the back of his neck as he stumbled. My forward progress was halted, however, when a huge form pushed in on me, swinging a massive weapon, forcing me to duck and back away before countering with a thrust. My blade sunk into flesh, but the brute dropped his weapon and wrapped his arms around me, hoisting me from the ground.

The sight of Murith perched on a beam calmly loading her weapon and firing it into the crowd, greeted me as the brute began to crush me. Across the room Bull threw the bundle in his arm into the air as his attackers bore down on him. It seemed to expand in the air before falling, blanketing them, causing the onslaught to stumble as the big man began to savagely beat the struggling forms. A net most likely.

Murith fired a bolt into the back of my captor and I stabbed him in the neck as his grip loosened. Berkhilda let out a shout of triumph as she hacked down one of the big men vampires fighting her. I saw Git then, standing in her shadow. The Goblin took advantage of the space gained to spray a reeking, thick liquid at the vampires from one of his canisters. A chorus of shrieks followed.

The pressure eased. I cut down two of the vampires as they tried to flee. Then the night was quiet save for the sound of heavy breathing and running feet as our foes retreated from the tower.

Everyone was battered, but still standing. At least a dozen of the Vampires lay dead, most of those were poorly armed, and my guess is that few of them were skilled fighters. One of the forms at Berkhilda’s feet was fully armoured, but the rest lacked good fighting gear.

Satisfied, I turned to Renoit. As usual, his clothes weren’t even bloody and he barely seemed winded.

“Did they get her?”

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