The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.11

I’m done with the bracket. Honestly, I don’t know why either. Regardless be it (2.11) or 2.11, tis the hour of the wolf!

This is my weekly serial. Here is the first series, in full. Here is the first post of this series. Here is last week’s post, also of this series.

I counted out ten gold pieces and handed them to the guide, trying not to wince. Git’s eyes followed the gold automatically as he chattered on about some sort of mold he wanted to buy tonight.

I could have bought a small house in the city for that sum, but in the end I did not balk. The only metal vengeance cares for is weapon’s grade.

The guide looked the coins over, put them into a rugged pouch, and then looked me in the eye.

“I’ll take you to the Rarest Red, as fast as you are able.” she said. “You will follow my instructions without question. If you try anything ugly, I will abandon you. My friends have seen you, and will come knocking if I go missing. Understood?”

I nodded.

“We would never dream of harming you, my dear,” said Git.

“Right, keep five paces behind me and watch for my signals,” said the Guide.

We set off at a brisk pace. Git kept talking, something about the properties of salamander’s tongues and gin. This close to the guide’s hub the tunnels were crowded. Most of these people were sightseers from abroad willing to pay a premium for a safe “tour” of the undercity markets. Most of these were wide-eyed and kept very close to their guides, There were also regulars, people who had frequent business here, striding purposefully to their destinations. Most of these would have invitations to the shops they were seeking, along with instructions on how to find them. Things always moved around in the undercity. The brightly coloured mohawk on our guide stood out, making her easy to follow in the crowds.

After a few rapid turns and an iron rung ladder downward, people thinned out. Our guide seemed to relax and slowed a bit.

“Do you ever miss exploring the deeps, Ragnar?” Git’s question penetrated my thoughts.

I met Git and Renoit, among others, exploring the “deeps” the ruined, dangerous parts of Myrrhn that were uninhabited save for vermin, monsters, and worse. Bounty-hunting and treasure seeking mostly. It was a dangerous way to live, but potentially lucrative.

“I do, actually,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“Do you remember the sunken temple?”

“The one with the Kraken?” I made a sour face. We lost friends that day.

“Yeah,”

“I think I understand what the cult was about–“

Questions flooded my mind. We never found out what the cult of the Kraken was doing in that sunken temple. It was a sore point with me still. I could still remember that first tentacle shooting out of the water and the chaos that followed. I was about to ask Git what he was talking about when the Guide suddenly halted. Her hand shot up, signalling us to silence. We stopped.

The Guide turned back to us. She looked us both in the eye.

“This is a close as I will take you.” she said, “You know what this place actually is, right?”

“Yes, we are not here to make a donation sister,” I said, patting my axe.

“I don’t want any part of it.” said the Guide, putting up her hands. “Rarest Reds is down that tunnel right there. If I don’t see you by second bell, you are on your own.”

I nodded. Git followed me down the tunnel. There were no lights, but both Git and I could see well enough in the dark of the undercity. As we closed in on the shop the smell of blood became stronger. Other scents tickled my nose and I paused, putting my hand on Git’s shoulder as we caught sight of a figure just ahead of us.

“Murder-wight!” I hissed.

Teaser Tuesday

An old favourite makes his return for a bit of cloak and dagger. This addition came to me after a fan requested more about the Blackcloaks.

Sax trailed his prey. The trees were close to the road and the hills were dark with twilight. There was no one else in sight. The rough wooded hills near Dun Loryn had few travellers on them at this time of year, and so he had to follow out of sight. The man was cautious and Sax sensed that was now suspicious.

Of course, that was part of the game that they both played. Suspicion caused people to make mistakes and Sax had brought about the downfall of more than one careful heretic simply by letting himself be seen once too often. This stretch was the perfect place to set up an ambush.

Sax’s quarry had switched clothes, waggons, and even faces several times. Sax could almost admire him. Only the most experienced agents of the Deliberative would not have been thrown off the trail by now. Even a Chosen would have been fooled, unless it was Mordhawk or his old student Gavin.

Chosen Gavin. It was a disappointment in some ways. The boy would have made an excellent Blackcloak.

A sound from the woods alerted him to danger. A subtle change in the air as a dozen arrows shot from the trees on both sides of the road. Bandits hired to kill him; perhaps it was time to play dead.

Teaser and Commentary — adding minor characters to flesh out my epic fantasy.

The following is a scene I recently added to Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim, the upcoming novel in my Domains of the Chosen Series. It is still fairly raw, although I did fix one sentence where I used the word enough three times.

“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 and 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. 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 I would rather tell you of what wait you on the other side. The warmth of fire and feast, women 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.

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.

Herlin began to push against the waters. He made it a about halfway paces 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. They hooked Herlin’s banner and pulled his body out of the water to return the armour and the corpse to his clan. They treated his body like that of a warrior, despite his death. At this stage in the testing, even failure was an honour.

Durekk is a new character, one that I felt compelled to add after I finished the first draft of Blades.I tend to have minor characters here and there in the books, mostly to flesh out the world and avoid exposition without action. A minor character allows me to show the reader a part of the world that the major players don’t get to see. When possible I like to draw these characters from previous works, someone familiar for the reader to latch onto. In this case, however, there are very few familiar faces among the Vvath, with only Twin-Swords being familiar to readers.

Minor characters also have potential for larger roles later on, like many of the fighters in the Bloodlust: Red Glory. Blue Hornet is a good example of this, having become a big part of the series after being a rival fighter in Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s tale.

Durekk is one of The Blood, the warrior-nobility of Khazak Khrim. I wanted to show the reader the aspects of some of that warrior cult, which, like historical warrior cults is very admirable and heroic in many ways, and yet alien and grotesque in others. Durekk allows me to show you what The Blood are like from the inside, which is far more interesting than a clinical analysis.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.10

Tis Thursday once more and time for some Shadow Wolf.

You know the drill, here is the first post of this arc.

Here is last week’s post.

I looked at the envelope, handed to me by Carmen the Assassin-Pup. It contained the name of the Vampire who had turned Curran in exchange for Delilah’s blood.

Truth be told, I never really expected Carmen to complete the task I set for her, and certainly not so swiftly. It seemed unlikely that she was setting me up with this missive. Giving me a name as a way of leading me into a trap was not enough for an assassin to concoct a good plan, especially when I would be preparing to confront an exceptionally dangerous enemy.

But Carmen had delivered what I asked. And so it fell to me to decide how far to travel down the path of vengeance. Curran was dead. Killing another Vampire would not bring back Delilah. And there was a bounty on any Vampire feeding illegally in Myrrhn.

“Be careful what you wish for Ragnar,” I muttered, taking a swallow of good mead.

Vampires are rare among the Nordan. It is still law in the north that they must be destroyed. In Myrrhn is more complex. Vampires have a right to exist, but it is illegal for them to feed and turn others without permission. That law is attached to an impressive bounty, both for informers and enforcers, which ensures that the city’s population of Bloodsuckers is kept under control.

Of course, wealthy and powerful Vampires could afford to break the rules, just like any other rich Myrrhnese.

Curiosity forced my hand. I opened the letter.

Immediately the sweet scent of sickle flowers filled my nostrils. I growled. Carmen showing off again, just when I was starting to like her. I pulled out a folded piece of paper.

Ask for Cinder at The Rarest Red in the under-city shops.

I smiled. A blood merchant with a shop in the undercity, Myrrhn’s black market. A vampire grown fat off selling illegal blood. It seemed easy enough for me to hunt down this Cinder and finish the job. I would need someone to watch my back, however: the undercity is never safe.

<>

“What kind of Vampire is Cinder, Ragnar?” asked Git.

“I don’t know, does it matter?” I was focused on finding a guide. The Undercity was a rambling maze that shifted every night. The only way to find a particular shop, other than by invitation or blind luck, was to hire a guide. Undercity guides explored the shifting geography of the marketplace and sold their lore to those who needed to boy. Given the danger involved in running the undercity, the services of a guide ranged from expensive to astronomical.

“Of course it matters,” said Git. “You would not want me to throw thrice purified garlic oil on on a Jitari Bloodline.”

“Will they all die if I cut off their heads?”

“Yes,”

“Fire?”

“Yes.”

“Then I expect we will manage it, my Goblin friend,” I said. I was certain that just wanted to try out some special concoctions. “After we’ve dealt with Cinder we can chase down your ingredients.”

“You pay for the Guide.”

“Of course.”

It took us some time to find a likely guide. I let it be known that we were looking for The Rarest Red. Eventually a rugged looking orcish woman, younger than I would have expected for an undercity Guide, approached us.

“You looking for The Rarest Red?” she asked.

“We are.”

“You want directions or do I take you there?” she asked.

“Take us there and wait nearby. Afterwards we will need you to guide us to a few ingredients shops. How much?”

“10 gold, Myrrhnese or Thraxian coinage accepted.” she said.

I raised an eyebrow, but I was in no position to haggle.

Teaser Tuesday

Well the first draft of Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim, fifth book in the Domains of the Chosen Series, is finished, and so tis time for teasers once more!

As always, if you are interested in being a beta reader, let me know.

Gavin stood on a balcony of living coral, high up on a purple spire, looking out over the ocean. The light of the setting sun cast his Lion-headed shield, freshly polished, in glorious silver and reflected red. He was considering how strange and wondrous it was to watch the sun sink into the blue horizon to the west, when for most of his life it had risen over an eastern ocean and then set over land. Living on the west coast where the greatest glory of the sun came as it fell into darkness, what kind of effect would that last light had on Kirifan culture? Could Jika’Ri be the natural result of a philosophy distilled by so many sunsets?

The thought reminded Gavin of how little he really understood about Kirifan culture. Just today he had glimpsed a Gifted Fologi, a great black beast with the unmistakable pattern of a magic wielder. The size of a small sail craft, the beast had passed by them, a golden skinned Kirifan woman riding on its back while its smaller brethren formed an honour guard in its wake. The appearance of such a creature had shocked him, provoking gentle mockery from Sadira. No doubt Kirif and Ithal’Duin held many such surprises for them.

This scene, from early on when the cast returns to Kirif, still needs a bit of work. Much of it is meant to remind the reader that they have moved from Krass, which was the locus of the action in Bloodlust: Red Glory, back to Kirif, the Spires, and the “lost” land of Ithal’Duin.

Points to anyone who can identify the Golden skinned woman riding the Gifted Fologi :D

Five things I loved about Mad Max: Fury Road (Review)

Fury Road

Fury Road

If you have any interest in Mad Max, Borderlands, or post-apocalyptic fiction you should go watch Mad Max: Fury Road. It is beautiful and vicious, and powerful in its simplicity and imagery.

The identity politics discussion that has cropped up around the movie is mostly foolish. The female characters in the movie are varied, and the main arc centers around the female characters, but Mad max stories have always been wanderers tales, and wanderers butt in on the stories of others. People who do not enjoy this movie because it is `too feminist’ are either missing the point or their politics are cripplingly strong.

So yeah, that little caveat aside, watch the movie if it even vaguely interests you.

Charlize Theron is stellar in this movie and Tom Hardy makes a great Mad Max.

[Here be Spoilers]

Now, here are the five things that I truly love about the movie, that I think can be used in genre fiction, specifically fantasy stories.

  • The Road Home (And Back): The main action in Fury Road centers around Furiosa, Max, and several other characters escaping from Immortan Joe’s citadel. Max is just trying to survive. Furiosa is trying to get back to the home that she was stolen from. The wives are seeking freedom for themselves and their children. They run and run, eventually reaching their destination, only to discover that the hope of escape was a false one. At that point most of them decide to keep running, but pragmatic Max suggests that instead the real home that they are looking for is the citadel that they are fleeing, and that they are now strong enough to take it. This simple arc makes for excellent storytelling as we complete the arc with the same characters returning home triumphant, defeating the foes that they initially feared by showing that they have gained the wisdom and the strength to defeat them. In essence it is a tale of overcoming fear and despair.
  • The Nasty Old Men: The villains of Fury Road are the rulers of three towns. Immortan Joe controls the water and food. He dresses up like he belongs in a deranged rock video, hiding his corruption under a breathing mask and plastic carapace. The mayor of gas town dresses like a business man, but his suit cannot hide the gout or his horrific obesity. The leader of the bullet factory is dressed with bits of military, police, and justice uniforms. These old men are the representatives of the forces that destroyed the world to begin with, and their power has corrupted their physical bodies. Nonetheless they seem wonderfully dangerous and wonderfully deranged as they send their younger counterparts out to die. You don’t get old in the wasteland by being weak.
  • The Wonderful Old Women: The counterparts to the old men are the old women that await Furiosa, Max, and their group when they fail to find the green place that Furiosa seeks. They are the remnants of a failed colony who have survived in the wastes and kept hope alive. Old women with faces like leather and survivors skills they are the living embodiment of the will to carry on after live has delivered a string of failures. It is fun to see these saintly old crones kicking ass and imparting wisdom on the way to overthrow Immortan Joe.
  • The Cannibalization of a Lost World: This has always been a strong point of the Mad Max series, but twenty years and exposure to the sources that it has inspired (I see lovely references Borderlands and 40K Orks in this movie) has only sharpened how the remnants of the old world are used. I love the bits of other cars welded onto the war-rig, for example.
  • When Everything Fails, Life is What Matters: Water, seeds, and children, the things of new life are what really matter in the narrative of Fury Road. After the apocalypse things that most people need and cherish become rare, and we learn to appreciate them all the more by imagining their loss.