The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.19

Tis thursday, and time for some Shadow Wolf!

This is my weekly serial. The first story arc can be found here. The first post of the Red Fangs arc can be found here. And the first post of this arc can be found here.

“ENOUGH!”

I turned and saw Bull dangling from the outstretched arm of the Ogre vampire. Though Bull was impressively strong, his struggles were already growing weak. The being that held him was lean, but supernaturally powerful, and half again as tall as either of us. Even in the shadows of the hold I could see the light on the bloodsucker’s fangs as he grinned triumphantly.

“Put him down,” I said.

“Sod your mother, Nordan fuck,” growled the Ogre. “Drop your weapons or your friend dies.”

“If I drop my weapons, you will kill us both,” I said, watching as Bull weakly, but deliberately reached for something at his side. “I have a counter-proposal: let him down and answer my questions about Cinder, and I will let you live. I give you my word.”

“You must think me a fool, Northman,” said the Ogre, shaking Bull. The big man made a strangled sound, but his hand kept moving even as his eyes bulged.

“No,” I said. “My word is worth something. I am not some bottom feeding, infected thug like–“

As the Ogre vampire’s eyes widened at my gall, but then Bull finally found what he was reaching for. There was a click and a metal sliver the size of a man’s finger flashed through the air, catching the Ogre underneath the chin. The massive vampire jerked, dropping Bull, who fell the the planks below.

The wolf was in me then. I sprang, swinging my axe at the Ogre’s face, aiming for his fangs, hoping to take advantage of his momentary distraction. I felt something tug at my leg, holding it fast, and my swing was stopped short, barely nicking my target.

I hopped to keep my balance. Realizing that one of the other, thought to be dead, vampires had grabbed my leg, I swung my axe down. With a splash of blood, I severed the arm that was holding me. I felt the heavy treads of the Ogre vampire as he charged, and I rolled to the side as soon as I was free.

The Ogre vampire moved swiftly, swinging an old gaff hook at my head as I regained my feet. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I spotted rust on the old metal. I brought my gauntlet up to meet the blow. I felt the sheer power of the impact reverberate, but the rusty old metal bent and warped rather than break my immaculately crafted and care-for armour.

Before the Ogre vampire even realized that he had failed, the sharp head of my pick lanced into the side of his knee. He growled and aimed a punch at me, only to collapse as his injured knee gave out. He caught himself on one knee, baring his fangs as I buried my axe in his forehead, cleaving the top part of his skull in half. He twitched, frantically, and then die fell heavily upon the planks.

I made certain that he was dead, then turned to Bull.

Teaser Tuesday: A Throwback

BUY NOW! YAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGH!

The first book of the Domains of the Chosen Series.

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim is out in the world, and selling fairly well (Though I need more reviews up…) So instead of a preview of that book I thought I would go all the way back to book one and post parts of one of my favourite fight scenes: the Deathmatch between Bella + Cat and Gavin + Sadira. Bella has been sent to kill Sadira, and uses Gavin to get under the other Gladiatrix’s skin and get her to agree to a Deathmatch. The pre-fight language is vicious and provocative and the fight is raw and energetic.

“Don’t worry Gavin, we won’t kill you!” Bella said cheerfully as they waited for the match to begin. Fights between Gladiators, especially Deathmatches, often have time allotted specifically for banter. The audience loves it, and Skirmishers like Bella and Ravius like to use this time to get under their opponent’s skin. The Gladiatrix’s armour consisted of a plated brazier, skirt, greaves and bracers. Her light armour was the same golden colour as her hair, edged with emerald green enamel. She carried a trident, a barbed metal filament net, and a long, saw-toothed dagger. She had started talking in a low, clear voice even before the announcer finished the long ceremonial speech that preceded every Death-match. “Like I said, you, me, and Cat would make quite a threesome. I like your armour by the way. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got for me under that kilt, babe…”

Cat said nothing. She wore middle-weighted armour, like Gavin, with large metal gauntlets sprouting curved ten-inch claws for weapons. Her armour was the same gold and green colour as her partner’s. When she noticed Gavin looking at her, she licked her lips slowly. She was wearing a tiger-mask faceplate complete with whiskers. He almost laughed.

Sadira kept quiet. She knew Bella was trying to make her angry. Gavin had spent the last few months trying to show her that her anger often led to recklessness and poorly executed moves, and she had to admit he had a point. Bella, trained as a skirmisher like Ravius, was at her deadliest when taking advantage of her opponent’s mistakes. She wondered what other moves her opponent had in her repertoire.

The bantering also gave the crowd time to settle, talk, and place wagers while getting a good look at the Gladiators. Betting at Deathmatches that pit Gladiators against each other was much more prevalent than in regular fights, partly because the efforts the Deliberative put into ensuring fairness in such a fight made for a comfortable wagering environment.

“Once I’ve killed this fat milk-cow, Gavin, you can spend the rest of the match eating my dripping wet snatch. Human pussy tastes so much better.” Bella emphasized this by pointing to her crotch and lifting her skirt, “… trust me.”

Cat laughed, making a meowing sound as she did so. Gavin quickly turned his head, rolling his eyes.

Sadira lost the battle with her temper and her hands flew to her swords. Bella grinned. Whispers rose among the audience and there was a sudden increase in bets placed favouring Bella.

“Look how eager the bitch is to die, Cat.” Bella smiled broadly, her perfect teeth gleaming in the sun, confident she could handle Sadira. Cat made a purring sound, eager for the fight. “Shadow-Elf women are so angry… must be because they are so pale and ugly…”

Racism and objectification, oh my! The trash talking aspect of the arena is much better in this match than the rest of the first book. In this fight Gavin is treated as a kind of prize, a non-entity to be used to rile up Sadira. For her part Sadira is talented and physically unmatched, a rising Star among her peers, but the cunning Bella senses that she can easily be angered to the point of recklessness.

One day, when I have more time, I will probably go through and smooth out the rough edges on this scene, but I love it nonetheless.

Let’s skip ahead and see what some of the action is like…

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Sadira felt the heavy, weighted net envelop her, covering her prone form. She rolled, trying to escape and the hooks and barbs of the net ripped into her as she moved. The more she struggled, the tighter the vicious mesh became, the metal strands digging into her. Fear touched her as she saw Bella closing in slowly, strutting, smiling, and whirling her trident. The net flayed her as she rolled back and forth in a blind rage.

“It’s over you stupid slut; struggle all you want, you can’t power your way out of this!” Bella moved forward, intending to take the fight out of Sadira with a few well-placed jabs of her trident. Her intention was to render the Shadow-Elf helpless so she could execute her for the crowd. “It’s almost over now…”

Gavin pushed forward with a surge of pure adrenaline birthed by desperation, using his lion-headed shield as a battering ram. He caught Cat squarely, shoving her to the side. He ran forward two short steps, throwing his spear at Bella as Cat recovered and jumped back on him from behind, claws slicing bloody furrows into his back. The spear sped through the air only to be knocked to the ground with a flourish from Bella’s trident. Gavin and Cat fell sprawling to the moss covered ground, wrestling and clawing.

I will not die like this, Sadira thought; I will not be beaten by the likes of her. She fought to control herself.

Bella turned to her once more, sneering. Sadira slowed her down with a hastily woven grasping-roots spell. She struggled to her knees; a towering white hot rage burned through her as the vicious hooks and barbs ripped her. This time she focused her anger, using it to give her strength to ignore her pain and overcome the hated net. Even her magic responded, her healing spells strengthening as she took control of her rage. She pushed her swords outwards, peeling the net from her arms, feeling the hooks rip their way out of her flesh one by one. Impressed by this display of courage, the crowd began to shout encouragement, which further fuelled her efforts. Shocked by Sadira’s bloody determination, Bella moved forward to finish her off; but in her haste, she made a mistake of her own. Sadira completed her terrible, bloody effort and stood up, freeing herself enough to move just as Bella thrust the trident at her. The hastily thrust tip nicked her side as she pivoted away and threw herself on Bella. The crowd roared as the two fighters collided and went down.

The retiarius is one of the more distinct varieties of Roman Gladiator with the light armor, net, and trident combo. Bella, like Ravius, represents my view of that style of fighting in the books. They circle and taunt, using the folded net as a kind of scourge, baiting their opponents into making a mistake. When the time is right they cast the barbed net onto their enemy and kill them as they struggle.

The fight goes on for some time, and is mostly a struggle between Bella and Sadira with Cat and Gavin negating each other. Again, it is not as polished as some of my newer action scenes, like those in Red Glory, but it has a raw, visceral quality to it that keeps the scene fresh in mind even now.

Gladiators and Armour

Gladiators have been a guilty fascination of mine for many years, long before I started writing my Domains of the Chosen series. What hooked my young mind was not just the blood and the violence, which can be found anywhere in history (sadly), but the ritual, the sport, and the performance aspects. As soon as I saw that there were multiple types of fighters, with different kits and fighting styles I was all in.

While that fascination has been tempered by adulthood, and greater understanding of things like slavery and the politics of the ancient world, it still remains.

GladiatorTess1

A Tessellated art piece showing various types of Gladiators engaged in their bloody struggle.

The relative lack of armour is interesting, although you will note that all of the types present in the above pciture wear full headgear. The Roman Legions of the time were much better armoured, reflecting the needs of formation warfare, while the people filled the seats see Gladiators bleed as well as show their skill upon the sands. Even the heavier types, such as the Samnite were very exposed to the weapons of their enemies.

It is important to remember that Gladiatorial contests began as funerary games and evolved into the armed contests that we imagine today. Rome was still a culture where blood sacrifice to the gods was enacted, after all.

gladiator-seven-types

The variety of armaments and roles each Gladiator would fill on a team also interested me, as did the idea that match-makers would consider different pairings and positions for each type. I have often wondered if the Retiarius with his net and trident, might have had some connection to Poseidon/Neptune when the games had more of a religious significance. Regardless the various types make for an interesting take on fighting, at odds with the more uniform armaments of the Legions. It is an especially rich topic for games, of course.

The Roman Games were as much about spectacle and entertainment as fighting skill, which is reflect in the variety of weapons, armour, and the level of protection provided by a Gladiator’s armour.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.18

Hmmm, I skipped Shadow Wolf last week because I was releasing Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim, my apologies to anyone who was looking for it. Late but in earnest, I suppose.

For anyone else, this is my weekly serial. The first story arc can be found here. The first post of the current arc is here, and the last post, two weeks ago, is here.

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I felt my axe connect, the shock of the blow running up my hand as it bit into a huge, shadowed form. Then, before I could follow up, one of the others jumped on my from behind.

I kept my feet, staggering a little under the sudden weight. I did not elect to throw my newest assailant to the ground, but rather turned so that he, or she, I could not tell, acted as armour of a kind while the third and fourth vampires came at me. A swift-moving form, screamed out of the shadow, motes of dust framing a gaunt face with a mouth like a needle shark as he passed under the hole in the deck. I rode the impact as number three hit me from behind, just then, shacking the bloodsucker on my back off. Needle mouth leapt at me, swift and strong, but not skilled enough. I read his movements, sidestepped, tripping him. As he slammed into the deck, I brought my axe down on the back of his neck. Blood, far more than one would expect, shot out from the wound.

I have always wondered how Vampires can store more blood in their systems than an equivalent being. Once, we killed an old one in the depths of Blackwomb and the room was quickly awash in blood.

As I finished that thought, the big one hit me. This time I was lifted off my feet and slammed into a pile of crates, barrels, and bones. The impact drove the breath from my lungs, but my armour prevented any damage from splintering wood. In the dark, the ogre-vampires teeth glittered as he loomed over me, a heavy barrel raised above his head.

The groan of tortured wood presaged Bull cutting another hole in the deck above. The Ogre Vampire, huge and grotesquely muscled in the sudden light, blinked, giving me time, I rolled to the side as he slammed the barrel down showering me in wood and the foul contents of the barrel — which smelled like tripe. His fist slammed into me as I tried to stand and I caught movement from the corner of my eye as one of the the others swung at me. I raised my gauntlet, catching the blow on my bracer, hard, as I turned my shoulder to blunt the impact of the Ogre’s kick. The strength of the attack lifted me to my feet, and I lashed out with the backspike of my pick, spearing one of the smaller bloodsuckers and heaving him into the ogre. There was a step from behind me just then and I ducked, twisting around. A bloodsucker, swift as a striking serpent, clawed at my throat.

“Not bloody likely,” I said, grinning as his nails snapped against the tempered metal of my gorget. Before he could recover I nailed his foot to the deck with my pick and then pulled his other leg out from under him, throwing myself forward to bury my axe in his face as he hit the planks.

“ENOUGH!” roared a voice from behind me, as I gained my feet.

Turning, I saw the Ogre-vampire, with Bull struggling in his grip.

A Teaser for Tuesday

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim is out! Here is one of my favourite passages from the book, with a little author commentary afterward.

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim Cover

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim Cover

The test called the Waters of Sorrow took place in a specially constructed channel fed by the waters from the ice-melt atop the Father’s Pulpit, the mountain in which most of the halls of Khazak Khrim were built. The test was simple enough: Durekk would be lowered into the channel and expected to make his way to the other side. Of course, he would be submerged over his head, pushing against rapidly flowing water that was cold enough to sap the warmth from his body in less than a minute. On the other side of that channel waited a steep ramp that the survivors of the test would not only have to find as they pushed their way to the other edge and find the strength to climb while fighting hypothermia, fatigue, and lack of breath. It was daunting, but it was the only way to prove one was worthy to join the greatest warriors in the world.

Prince Thorkhrim himself was overseeing the testing this year. Of all the many sons of old king Keurik, Thorkhrim was the most respected among The Blood. Not only had he been initiated into their ranks at an early age, but his heroism had been proven many times on the field of battle since then. No other living Dwarf had earned so many accolades. Thorkhrim favoured The Blood and they favoured him.

“Candidates!” the Prince’s voice carried clear and strong over the sound of the waters. “This is the final obstacle between you and your destiny. If you survive these waters, you will join The Blood. You will be elevated to the status of Nobility with all of the rights and privileges of your station. You will be blessed in the eyes of the Forge Father and your offspring will have the right to train to join the Blood. Your clan will be honoured as well. It will not be easy. I am often told to emphasize the harshness of the cold waters and the difficulty you will face holding your breath for the long minutes required to claw your way across. But you have all heard of the Waters of Sorrow; I would rather tell you of what awaits you on the other side. The warmth of fire and feast, women ready to serve you, and above all the honour of standing with me as we defend these sacred halls and earn our place at the Forge Father’s right hand!”

Durekk cheered, even though his throat was parched from hours of marching without water. The other aspirants raised their voices as well.

The first dwarf lowered into the river was Herlin of Stonebreaker. The fast-flowing waters of the channel were so deep that only the tip of Herlin`s back-banner stood out, yet they were clear enough that he could see the other man’s form well. The tip of his weapon glittered like a diamond in sun and snowmelt.

As soon as he touched bottom Herlin began to push against the waters. He struggled about halfway before he paused. After a breathless moment, the banner began to move again, more slowly this time. Then less than two paces from the ramp, it shuddered to a halt once more. Several voices, led by the prince shouted encouragement. The banner twitched for a moment, then stopped. The cheers slowly grew silent. Durekk’s heart felt heavy. Herlin had been a good man from a good family. They hooked the banner and pulled the body out of the water to return the precious armour and the corpse to clan Stonebreaker. They treated his body like that of a warrior, despite his death. At this stage in the testing, even failure was an honour.

The next candidate, Keldin of Sharpedge, forged his way steadily across the waters, never wavering. The cheers grew louder as he approached the other side. As he emerged from the water, the prince himself greeted the new member of The Blood by slitting the throat of a sacrifice, a strong Niyiki boy. Keldin’s massive heaume was removed from his head and the prince poured steaming blood, mixed with whiskey, down his throat. Keldin’s armour was removed by comely dwarf maidens and a shapely Orcish slave-girl, all naked, and then he was led away, dazed and smiling, to the feast.

Durekk wanted nothing more than to join him.

This passage was added well after the first draft. Durekk is a character that I added to give the reader some insight into the rank and file of the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim, especially The Blood. He appears in several passages as a minor character.

The Blood are warrior nobility, like the Spartans, Knights, or Samurai. They are born into it, and train their whole lives, with the weak being weeded out by horrific tests. The Waters of Sorrow is the last of these horrific hazing rituals. Anyone who survives is part of The Blood until the day they die, bringing great honour to family and clan.

The Blood combine the worst elements of Nazis, Confederate Slavers, and Crusade/Jihad Theocracies with a twisted view of reincarnation thrown in for good measure. That they are fantasy Dwarves is mostly incidental — it just makes sense that people who believe in defensive architecture had a better chance of surviving the Reckoning, after all. Despite all of this, Durekk is almost likeable. He has empathy, to a point. He is determined, optimistic, and brave. Of course, he is also a fanatic whose views on race, gender, and religion are shocking to modern sensibilities (represented by the Domains). The point is that bad people don’t immediately grow horns and start cackling, it helps to understand where the Vvath are coming from.

Another point of interest is how The Blood immediately begin an orgiastic feast after The Waters of Sorrow, complete with comely maidens and sex slaves (ew). They are accepted now, the kings of Khazak Khrim. The test is not a demonstration of competence or certification in a particular set of skills, but rather a claiming of position and birthright.

Political Snuff Porn

This is a blog post about Canadian politics, terrorism, and the pornographic nature of attacks ads. I usually wrote about fantasy, systems, and history, but politics and propaganda are easy enough to relate to Fantasy literature.

The situation is familiar, even to those outside of Canada. A powerful incumbent politician who had led the country for close to a decade is facing a strong challenge in the next election. Prime Minister Harper’s economic plan is as deflated as the price of Texas crude. In response to a shooting on Parliament Hill last year he introduced C51, an ugly piece of legislation which gives spy agencies a host of new powers, including ignoring the rights of Canadian Citizens who the government deems terrorists. Of course, the definition of terrorist in the bill is so vague that it can include any form of protester and specifically includes economic threats or threats to state power. While many supported this stronger powers against terrorists early on, people have become very wary of C51. What was was once a strong position for the incumbent has eroded, but he had nowhere to go without backtracking, hence the attack ads. [Link for those who wish to read more]

This particular ad juxtaposes heavily edited footage of an opponent (Justin Trudeau) with fairly graphic images of Isis murdering people. The intent of the ad was to make everyone terrified of what Isis will do to Canada if this opponent is elected. The fact that they chopped up and distorted the man’s speech is grotesque enough, but actually recycling parts of the vicious terrorist propaganda of Isis for political purposes may actually be a new low, even for professional politicians. I mean, stop and think about it for a moment: Isis creates these videos in part to sew fear, as terrorists are wont to do, then our government, takes parts of these same videos in order to sew fear, in this case in order to increase their electoral chances. Both use the same footage to create fear and both say that the only way to avoid the fate shown in the video is to side with them. The only real difference is that Prime Minister Harper and his Conservatives (what else?) say that they will protect us from Isis.  We should be scared, but only of seeking other options.

One of the definitions of pornographic is “the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction”. By that definition, political attack ads are almost always pornographic. However, there is a specific term for the vile movies that use actual death to ply their audience: snuff. Our government has created political snuff porn.

Happily Canadians have reacted strongly against this ad, and it has been pulled. Still it is bad enough that Isis is using these kind of videos to attract attention and cause fear, but to have politicians in a western democracy using this kind of footage for their own ends is deeply disturbing.

Front Cover Thursday? (I’m reaching here…)

Here it is, the cover for Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim Cover

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim Cover

Pretty awesome, eh? Dan Barclay delivers as usual!

Here are a some of the mockup covers we went through.

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This is a little discussion piece, basically a mockup that Dan did while we chatted, highlighting the basic composition.

Front-cover

This is Dan’s first attempt at the background, pretty much nailed it on the first go. I like the water/foam effect, and the blue is very striking.

TBoKK-Front-cover-3

Here we are with the first attempt at putting the swords and background together. In this version the swords just overwhelm the background, which is not what we wanted.

TBoKK-Front-cover-1

This version is one of the three versions that Dan tried before coming up with the final cover. You can see he is experimenting with various tints and transparencies. Also note that there are only 11 swords, whereas in the final version we have 12, placed like points on a clock.

Book should be out tomorrow folks.  Let me know if you want a review copy.