Thralls of a Dread Lord (1.1T)

Welcome to my weekly serial. This is a rough draft that I am working on, for your reading pleasure.

It is a fairly grim tale, so be warned.

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The sound of a female’s laughter, mingled with a male’s, both familiar, both loved, the familiar dream is chased away by screams as Retaak the Ogre roared back to consciousness. As he opens his eyes he is greeted by the sight of a Hob standing over him holding an iron poker that glows red with heat. Retaak can smell burning meat and knows that it is his own flesh that sizzles on that dread rod. He tries to pull himself up, to escape, but the bands that hold him do not give; he knows from experience that breaking them is next to impossible.

“I will never understand why you waste your strength on this, Retaak,” said the Hob, hard eyes full of malicious mirth. “We always break you. You never escape. You are lucky that the Dread Lord has not yet given us leave to cast your body into the Maggot Pit.”

There is a hint of frustration underlying that, however; one that most would miss. Retaak hears it well and knows what it means. The Hob cannot fathom why a Fellspawn of less than perfect loyalty is allowed to live.

“Are you questioning the Dread Lord’s will, Waachear?”

The Hob’s eyes narrow. Impugning loyalty is a great slight, especially to one so devout to their master. The glowing iron darts out, flesh sizzles. After a brief resistance, Retaak roars in pain, then laughs darkly as Waachear pulls back his instrument.

“I would never question his will,” snarls the torturer. “At times I think that he must send you here to test our loyalty, Ogre.”

“Thinking has never been your strong point,” muttered Retaak, pulling against his bonds again. Did he hear the wood creak this time?

“You say that as if it should be an insult,” said Waachear. “But I submit to the Dread Lord’s will; why would waste my time with thought beyond that?”

That in Retaak’s mind was the principle difference between himself and the rest of the Fellspawn in the Dread Lord’s horde; he could think, see beyond the purpose he was bred for. Others said that he was as cunning as a Goblin, but Goblins were meant to be cunning in ways that Ogre’s were not. His ability, his desire, to think beyond the purpose he was created for set him apart from his brethren. It made him an abberation in the eyes of spawn like Waachear.

Retaak questioned everything. Worse yet, in the eyes of his fellow spawn, he sometimes found answers to his questions and acted upon them.

But the ability to think and act beyond what he was bred for and instructed to do was what made Retaak valuable in the eyes of the Dread Lord and his chief servants. Some tasks required a little independence.

Waachear motioned to two ogre brutes, their faces hidden in helms, forward. They removed the chains from Retaak. As soon as the metal was no longer holding him back, he lunged for Waachear but the two larger ogres easily overpowered him. He was weak from torture, after all.

“Such a waste,” clucked the Hob as they dragged Retaak away.

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Captain Marvel Review and a Bloodlust: War Teaser

I’m posting this Friday instead of last night, because I went to watch Captain Marvel and then stayed up to talk about it with Viv.

The movie is already ‘controversial’ because of the usual internet trolls who seem to be mad that Brie Larson kicked over their sandcastle in fifth grade or the equivalent. It has a strong message about female empowerment, but the idea that it is overwhelming feminist or anti-male is about as silly as it sounds.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I liked it more than most Marvel movies but would not put it on the same pedestal as the amazing conflict and world-building of Black Panther or the deep delve into the nature of order and justice from Winter Soldier. I would put it on par with Thor: Ragnarok. Brie Larson is believable as Captain Marvel and carries the movie well in both action and dramatic scenes. The rest of the cast is quite good as well.

The action scenes are where the movie shines, as you would expect from a blockbuster. I was surprised at the variety, however with a nice mix of stunts, small scale martial arts, big CGI super-fights, and a heck of a lot of dog-fighting with jets and spaceships.\

The movie is heavy on 90’s nostalgia which you will either love or groan at if you lived through it (Full disclosure, I hated 90s culture for the most part) but could baffle you if you did not. Larson does a superb job with the annoying grunge attitude and there are some good laughs around 90s tech and references.

The messaging is very positive. As I said the movie is an empowerment flick with a female lead and it has decent positive messages about friendship and self-understanding. The best messaging for me, were the parts about overcoming gaslighting, which is kind of central to western society these days. I was pretty happy with the choice of tone, I’m tired of grim movies and books right now.

Overall, I think it worth seeing if you are even slightly curious about it or just like the Marvel movies. Given the challenges in making a movie about a character who is more powerful than entire teams of superheroes (see Superman), I think it is especially triumphant.

And, as an apology for not posting lat night, here is a teaser from Bloodlust: war, due out July 17th 2019.

The projectiles clattered against the Homeguard. Without shields their defence was imperfect, but with heavy armour and warding weapons held high, only a few of them went down under the lethal volley.

It was inhuman to stand there and do nothing in return, and yet that is what they did, and the bulk of the Deomen forces charged right toward an intact line. Silver Masks overtook the Gold Masks leading them, who were slowed down by their huge weapons. The plan was to kill them as quickly as possible, avoiding giving them time to gain power from their wounds.

And then they were upon them, howling bestial, all rage and wild power. Raw strength surged through Kingblade as he met the first silver masks with a sweep of his great blade, cutting a red arc into their ranks, sending limbs and broken bodies flying to the side. A gold mask surge through the ranks to meet him, already a head taller than the others, heaving a massive club up into an impossible overhand. Kingblade, much swifter, thrust his blade low and twisted into an uppercut slash, splitting the Gold Mask in half from groin to shoulder. The body warped rapidly as he cut through, growing monstrous, but even a Gold Mask could not live through such a stroke and the two growing halves crashed to the ground. The Silver Masks backed away from him.

Rotblossom Rose (1.68R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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“It was my brother Geb, it was Edword,” Rose is drunk on expensive wine, the stuff she used to drink in the Bedrock wards, at the house she shared with her fathers and brothers. She is not certain why she is even telling him, old faithful Geb, who has saved her life in the deeps a hundred times. The again, who else would she tell? Her life has been about subtraction, not addition, since that day on the road to Avalain.

“That is a right fucked up piece of business,” says Geb. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to do what he did to me…” says Rose. It is left unsaid that she also means Jillia and Stethrey, Geb knows this, but is too loyal to say what he truly thinks of that kind of murder.

“I’ve been thinking of leaving the city, Rose,” says Geb. “Just for a little while… maybe you should come with me, think about your… project. Live life a little.”

She wants to yell at him, to scream, to wail about the dreams that eat at her every night, a torment that only stops when she crosses a name off the list… or, when she is in the depths, with him, searching for Wraithstone under the city.

“I’ll think about it,” she says with finality.

“If you change your mind, Rose, I’ll meet you at the Merry Shank by Beggar’s Gate, I’ll be there for a few days,” and with that, he stood, flashes her a tired smile and walks out of the Rippershead.

Rose wants to say goodbye, but it catches in her throat. She has one last name to cross off, the most painful of them all. She lingers for some time, drinking, but the Ripperhead has lost its charm without Geb, without Ogre…

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She watches Edword that night with new eyes. How many times has she saved him over the years? She had thought that it made her a good person, a kind of hero instead of yet another stone-hearted murderer seeking revenge. But there were few heroes in The Scab, and maybe she had just been seeing what she wanted to see.

Edword dined with Jillia and Stethrey, eating the kind of meal that would have driven men in the slave mines wild. Unlike Rose, Edword had enjoyed that kind of cuisine all his life. Even with his penchant for drunken gambling, he never wasted enough money to lose station. There was always a rich boy who wanted to be tutored in the way of the coilsword.

She knew that it was only a matter of time before he went out again. he would walk across the same bridge into the lower wards as he always did, even though he had been ambushed there at least three times. She could meet him there, end it quickly… decisively. Even meet up with Geb after.

But she wanted him to suffer. She needed him to understand the full depth of his betrayal. Morn nailed to the flagstones outside of his own forge. Little Gared thrown screaming into a cesspit to drown in shit and piss after watching his father die. Janiye raped and sold to the slave mines to be used by men like Kragorr, fading away until at last she ended the pain herself.

She needs to take something from him before he dies, Rose decides darkly. And after she did what she had to do to come full circle, Rose doubts that she could ever look someone like stalwart old Geb in the eye again. Better to end it after that; to expose the lie of Edword’s life with her own blood and begone from this damned world.

And so she watched as Edword left his lovely manse to gamble and drink, but instead of following him, or confronting him, she put on her silver skull mask and crept toward that house, quiet as death, coilsword at her hip.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.61R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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“You don’t scare me, Spider,” growls Rose as her captor sifts through the tools of torture close-by. He picks up short, wicked-toothed saw and then discards in with a long sigh. She stares at him while he stands with his back to her, shoulders slumping like he about to deflate. 

“That’s just it,” he say after a while. “I don’t. You don’t consciously remember all of the things that I have done to you in this room. How many times I’ve violated you, cut you open, killed you and brought you back to life…”

Rose feels a knot form in the pit of her stomach. Is this what Lawch was talking about when he mentioned that he’d killed her before.

“I know who you are, Olias, I remember what you did on that day on the road to Avalain. The sorceress freed my memory: I remember everything.”

“I’ve heard that before, too,” says the Spider, frowning. “Sadly, you don’t. No one really understands the genius of what I have done here and you, who was my muse,  don’t even realize half of what I’ve done to you. We’ve been here before, Rose… tell me, does this room look familiar to you?”

“Why should it? Bastard.”

But as she looks around, Rose is struck by the truth of The Spider’s words. She is familiar with this room, this chamber of horrors; the more she looks the tighter the knot in her stomach becomes. Flashes of insight flit through her mind like the ghosts of nightmares. The tools of torture in particular draw her eyes, a hammer, a metal pear, a barbed scourge and a vise call out to her like old, unwanted acquaintances. How could she be so familiar with this room and these tools.

“What have you done to me?” she rasps.

“… Everything,” he answers. “And that is the problem… the joy of it is gone, Rose, don’t you see? When I first started down this path I figured I would keep you after Lawch and that chasm-eaten sorceress were dead. But after years of this, I was ready to move on. I hoped to let you go gently, by letting the sorceress finish you. I never dreamed that you would survive Lawch and manage to kill her.”

Rose wrestles with his words, smothering in confusion; was he mad or was she? “What are you talking about?”

The Spider laughs. “This used to be my favorite part… let me show you, one last time.”

And he turns and looks her in the eye, a predatory smile spreading across his too-symmetrical face and warming his cold, fathomless orbs. She is fixated by that gaze, waiting for whatever grim command he will speak.

Instead, still watching her, he walks over to one of the larger specimen tubes and pulls off the dust cloth covering it. Inside, floating in the liquid, attached to a metal umbilical cord is a woman’s body. Rose’s mind, her very essence tries to edge away from the recognition, from accepting what she sees. Lawch was not lying. But the features are too familiar and the memories come flooding back.

The Spider laughing as he rapes her, on that day and a hundred times since. Being vivisected on this very table. Dismembered. Disemboweled. Cooked. Dissolved in acid. Madness eats at her sense of reality.

“This body was to be your next replacement,” says the Spider. “I honed you into a weapon, Rotblossom, but I’ve had my fun and you’ve served your purpose. You finally killed Lawch. I’ll admit you are still a unique specimen, I’ve never met anyone who could be brought back and transferred to a fresh body so many times… but I’ve learned what I can from that as well.”

Rose struggled and thrashed as her own memories assaulted her. Reflexively she tried to tap into the reservoir of The Blue that was house in her metal arm, but she could not. She was alone with her nightmares.

“It gets worse each time, I think,” said the Spider. “There is a limit to what even you can take. I think this time I’ll watch and see if I break you. It will be interesting to see if you give yourself a stroke or of you warp first.”

A parade of images and memories, each worse than the last assaults Rose, an endless litany of torture and humiliation wrapped in despair. With no narcotic calm her heart races, trying to break free of its cage. She feels herself descend into darkness, being consumed by the abyss, as Spider and all of the others laughed at her.

But in that dark place she hears familiar laughter among the damning, torturous voices. Kraggor. Lawch. She clings to these sounds like a falling man grasping for an outcropping. She knows they are dead, knows that there are names on a list that she has crossed off. And she remembers that the Spider is not the only one with a contingency plan.

The look on his face when she begins to laugh at him is worth a gallon of The Clear.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.57R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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The red-tinged glow of wraithstone lamps casts the metal passage to the Spider’s lair in a sinister light. Rose cannot help but see every new node, switch, or join as a potential trap. It takes an effort of will to banish the thoughts of flesh-melting acid and bone-crushing deadfalls dogging her every step. She had to appear confident in this little game she was playing with The Spider, not revealing what she knew of his betrayals. He was watching her every move, fingers poised to activate his defences, waiting for some sign that would reveal her true purpose. If she fails, he would kill her, but Rose carries the one thing that the Spider would risk everything for: proof of the Sorceress’s death. The Spider’s need and arrogance will be his undoing. Hopefully.

The tunnel seems much longer than usual, which she tells herself is to be expected considering how far The Spider has extended his contraption. But what if he is just toying with her, sending her round and round in circles until he tired of the game. Rose pushes the thought away, but it is hard to keep cool. Rose desperately wanted a hit of The Blue to steady her nerves, or even some alcohol, but she knows that the Spider is watching her. She needs him to think that he has the upper hand, that he is still in control.

The tunnel shifted and changed, swallowing Rose like a massive, if sterile, Rockworm. It would be easy for her to disappear down here. A bead of sweat formed on her back, trickling down as she crawled.

Then, abruptly, she sees another door, the familiar round hatch that always leads into the heart of the Spider’s Lair. Without hesitation she turns the valve and slides down into the belly of the beast, eschewing the brass-runged ladder, as is her habit.

“Hello, Rose,” the Spider’s voice is like a knife twisting in her. She is unprepared for the surge of hatred and it takes all of her self-control not to snarl. She wishes that she could have smuggled a knife or some kind of weapon in, but her metal arm will have to do.

“Hello, Spider,” says Rose, meeting his gaze. His eyes are as flat and predatory as those of his namesake.

“You said you have proof of her death?”

Rose could hear the hunger in his voice and she knew then that she had made the right play. He needed this, and his need made him as weak as that girl in the house on the road to Avalain, so long ago.

“I do, but first I want to know why you didn’t hold up your end of the deal Spider. What happened to the plan?”

“You have no right to question me, Rose. Show me the proof or you will suffer.”

Rose felt a thrill of excitement now. The Spider’s need robbed him of his detachment, making him seem almost human. She had power here, now.

“No.”

Their eyes met. His hands twitched and he began to weave his metal threads. She did not look at them, knowing now what that motion portended. Funny, Rose had always thought he was drugging her.

“Come now, Rose,” said the Spider and he said the word.

Rose froze. Even now, the word pulled at her, like a ships anchor dragging her down into the deep. A command implanted in her head through years of hypnosis. The web that the spider always wove with his little metal strands.

“No,” she said again.

The Spider froze, eyes wide.

“You wanted her to kill me,” said Rose. “But you misunderstood the nature of her relationship with Lawch, Spider. For all of your plans and your schemes, you failed to see the obvious. She was bound to Lawch, not controlling him. He used love to lure her into a gilded cage, but you could never understand that, could you? Once I killed him, she was free, she was grateful.”

“But you have her ear?” he gasps.

“It was the price I asked of her to do this. For a man who gave me a new body you must realize that it was not hard paid for her, just a little pain. You saw what you wanted to see though. You dared to dream that your plan succeeded better than you hoped. Just as I let my ambitions blind me to who you really are, Olias Neatze.”

The Spider scrambles out his chair. “You remember.”

“I do,” says Rose, advancing on him, her metal arm balling into a fist. And she does, now. He has always been in her visions, her dreams, screaming through her subconscious. That is why she hates him so. he was the man holding her daughter on that day, the key to their little house. Had he worked his magic on Janiye as he had Rose?

“Stop this, Rose. Don’t take another step toward me,” says the Spider, leaping into another Room.

“I am going to enjoy this,” snarls Rose, lunging at him.

And as she passes through the threshold she feels as sharp and sudden pain and falls to the floor. Is it one of his traps? She hits the ground hard fighting the darkness encroaching on her, unable to move. The Spider turns her over.

“I am impressed that you managed to overcome the conditionning, but you really didn’t think that you could kill me in a body that I made for you, did you love?”

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Tuesday Teaser

Bloodlust: Iron Faction is out today and up for sale on Amazon.

IronFactionCover

Here is a teaser from the book.

… A river of fire flowed past Olius’s house, winding toward the central market square of Terlula’s Pride, the second largest city of The Empire and the jewel of the verdant lands called The Thousand Tongues.

The snaking flames were caused by thousands of men and women carrying torches in the dark. Olius could not see them underneath the bright flames but he knew that they would be wearing the black robes and hoods of the Nullifiers, haters of magic and everyone associated with it. That list included Olius, a well-to-do artificer who owned a Steamwaggon near the city’s expansive port and a small curio shop in the wealthy merchants’ quarter.

With his stomach in knots, Olius watched the progression of the parade. Here and there he could see the torchlight glimmering off the breastplates of the handful of Legionnaires who were keeping the peace. Olius thought that it was possible, likely even, that those torches would be applied to his house if those men were not there.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Yndira, his wife. She sounded angry, rather than fearful, but that was because she had been a Gladiatrix in her early life…

And another for good measure.

... The Wyvern landed on her. Talons gouged into Sadira’s thigh and hip as she caught the beast by the jaws before they could snap shut on her head. Despite the disparity in size, Sadira’s ferocious strength and sheer desperation kept the jaws from ending her. She raged and spat and they struggled until the red Wyvern shook its head, tossing her into the air, and moving with supernatural swiftness as it snaked forward to snap at her again.

Gavin crawled forward toward Sadira. The Wirn woman, obviously some kind of Gifted, slid off her mount’s back and came toward him, drawing power. Gavin reached for power of his own but found only pain as he tried to channel. The Wirn Gifted laughed, weaving her own spell.

“I am Coraxia, you killed my sister, Callabraxia, Mindripper…

Rotblossom Rose (1.42R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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“All I am saying is that you are too good a man to drink yourself to death, Geb,” Rose spoke as loudly and clearly as she could, even though it hurt her tattered throat to do so.

“Tell it to Jack and the others,” said Geb. He looked like a shadow of his former self, drink and guilt gnawing at him like hidden leeches.

The table between them was inhabited by two empty glasses and a half-full bottle of good gin. In the background two muscled figures faced each other a fighting ring, trading blows that would down most men in a single hit. Rose had money on the Kolim. Kolim were a rarity in any kind of sport, being inclined toward calm, but this one was a little warpt. He was very aggressive.

“You were half asleep when the Fisher nabbed him,” said Rose. “I was standing right beside him. I felt his body jerk and die. If anyone was to blame for his death it was me; I was standing watch with him.”

“You didn’t know what a Fisher was, Rotblossom.”

He was trying to alienate her by calling her Rotblossom; it was cute.

“Even people who live sheltered lives in the bedrock wards know what a Fisher is, Geb.”

“Bullshit,” said Geb, his cheeks reddening. “You’ve heard the stories, you might even know the theory or seen some corpse in a museum, but until you’ve faced one in the depths, you don’t know shit. You didn’t know better, I did.”

“So did Jack,” said Rose. “Miriam told me last time I saw her; he’d seen them before, even killed one. He should have listened to you Geb. You did your best. None of them were your fault.”

“Fuck off, Rose.  I’m not coming back.”

It had been six months since her first expedition into the Depths. Rose had returned twice more, successfully, but she needed someone like Geb to anchor her team.

“What makes you think I’m here just for you?”

“You’re here to watch the Kolim fight?” scoffed Geb. “You’ve seen him kill before, when we first met here. I can’t imagine he’d hold much interest for someone like you after watching him in more than a few bouts. He never loses. The bastard is a wrongblood, I’m sure of it.”

“You’re not far off in that regard,” said Rose. “But he can be beaten.”

“Not by anyone here,” said Geb, flatly.

“The night is yet young,” answered Rose. “But you’re right, Geb, I do want you on my team. I’ve been down twice, and we take casualties every time. There’s never a shortage of wannabe Scabbers out there, but a man of your talents is hard to come by. You can keep my people from dying. We can build the best crew The Scab has seen in decades. Think about it.”

Geb grunted, then changed the subject. “What’s with that new arm of yours?”

Rose held up her mechanical arms. It was a wonder of the craft, and powered by Wraithstone essence. It gleamed in the light and drew a few looks from nearby tables.

“While the ol’ pickaxe had a certain charm, this affords me the agility I need, Geb,” she answered. “I can climb with both hands, hold a weapon, and so much more. Even better, it has a Wraithstone injector for emergencies.”

“That’s crazy, you’ll end up warpt.”

“I’m more careful than that.”

“Says every Scabber who ends up warpt, ever.”

“Okay,” said Rose, smirking. “But I thrive on danger, Geb. As you are about to see, again.”

“What?”

Behind them The Kolim stood, bellowing his anger.

“Is there anyone who can fight me, anyone at all?”

Rose stood. “I can, you honourless son of a gutter-rutting ghoul.”

Ogre stared. Geb swore.

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