Rotblossom Rose (1.3R)

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The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years.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 present comes down to three names waiting to be crossed off, the last on a very long list.

“Is she really that ugly under the mask?” asks Green Jim, the youngest man on their dive. “I mean… the way she moves…”

“Ask her yourself, kid,” says Scarab, smiling as Rose steps out of the dark.

“Captain, I…” stammers Green Jim.

Rose meets his eyes and holds, letting the moment stretch uncomfortably. She has a reputation for severity. There are rumors about bad things happening to those who cross her. She lets her hood fall back, revealing the mask that covers the ruined half of her face and lifts her metallic arm. Green Jim swallows hard.

“I’d gladly bed you, boy,” says Rose, sitting down slowly. “As long as you don’t mind the rot.”

Everyone else around the fire laughs as Green Jim relaxes.

It is the third day of the dive and Rose is running a crew for Nietch, the man they call The Spider. She is the best sniffer outside The Syndicate, bringing in hauls of Wraithstone that have made her boss into the most powerful man in the Southside Hive. Deep Delving is a dangerous business, far less sure but far more profitable than mining Wraithstone blooms in the badlands further away from The Gash, at least for small outfits.

As always, Rose seats herself across the fire from Geb. She likes looking at him, and does not mind that he knows it, The big man is often smiling, even in the deeps, even with the company he keeps. It does not hurt that Geb handsome in a rugged kind of way, confident, and even-tempered. He even smells nice.

Today though, her choice of seating has more meaning. She is careful to make certain that Chris Cackles is seated to her right, fearing hat if she can see him easily, she might give herself away. It is important that he does not know that she recognizes him, and thinks that she trusts

Like Green Jim, Cackles is new to her crew. Unlike Green Jim, he is an old hand to the deeps. In spite of his grey hair, he is an agile climber and a sharp-eyed scout. The men respect him already and he has already eased into his role on their expedition with little fuss.

“Listen up,” says Rose. “Geb, Scarab, Cackles, I want you to make sure everyone is prepared. Tomorrow we are going after a live one, near the underside of Syndicate territory, bounty on it and everything. You all know what that means.”

“Sure thing, Rose,” says Geb.

“Yes, boss,” say Scarab and Cackles.

“What’s a live one?” asks Green Jim.

“A bleedwarpt thing,” says Scarab, rolling his eyes. “Why the fuck d’you think we need an extra Lancer, boy?”

“I though you just liked my company, Scarab,” says Green Jim, acting hurt.

Most of them chuckle as Scarab gives the younger man a dark look.

“Bleedwarpt have some of the best Wraithstone inside ’em,” intones Cackles. “Not a lot, but potent stuff, full of power. The stones you get from them make the strongest juice… I’ve got a furnace in my shack that still runs off a Red I got from this Bleedwarpt rat-thing fifteen years ago. Have I told you the tale?”

As Cackles spins his tall tale, Rose is only half-listening. Her focus is on the day ahead, and how she intends to cross another name off her list before they leave the depths.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.2R)

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.

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The past is a cesspool.

After escaping the mines, it took Rose almost a month to reach her home on the road to from the city to the kingdom of Avelain. At least that’s how she remembered it: counting the sunrises, travelling only early in the day and just before sunset, trying to avoid predators both wild, and civilized. It was a journey that would have taken her three days walk in better times, when she was whole.

The stump of her arm still bleeds if she moves too quickly, but it does not seem infected, thanks to frequent applications of a bit of the green. In truth, Green Wraithstone is the only thing keeping her ravaged body from breaking down, though it is not what keeps her moving.

Rose stayed away from even the friendliest of places along roads, well-traveled and not. No one takes kindly to a crippled woman whose face has been half-eaten by Skankrot, not in this world.

Aside from the Wraithstone, which she stole from the mines as she escaped, , she also carried a shiv that she fashioned from a broken iron wedge, and the small one-handed pick that she used while she toiled in the mines. Both are excellent weapons, and well-cared for. The shiv had served her well over the last year, even with her arm.

Just before she sighted her old house, she was thinking of Kragorr, her crew boss in the mines. He was a prime bastard, tall and lean with eyes hard as flint, and a mean streak as deep as The Gash itself. Anyone who did not meet their quota in Kragorr’s crew did not get their rations the next day. When those that failed died, he laughed. Death was the only thing that made Kragorr smile.

By the time Janiye died, Rose had thought tears were impossible for her, but they came nonetheless. Kragorr had roared with laughter.

“She killed herself, Rotblossom,” he said between chuckles. “You know what I think? The little whore was probably sad that her looks were fading and the boys were losing interest. Better to slit her own throat than end up here with–“

Rose had launched herself at him then, blind with rage. It had not gone well. She had lost half of the remaining teeth on the good side of her mouth. Kragorr had laughed at that too. That night had been one of the hardest. Rose should have died from the beating or the thirst, let alone the sorrow for poor Janiye. Seeing Kragorr’s surprise in the morning at finding her still breathing had been a victory of sorts.

Slitting his throat had been better. His foot got caught in the cave-in. She had found him trying to dig himself out after she had freed herself. She came at him slowly, letting him see her, she the shiv that she had been sharpening for him for so long. He had his pick, but her old training was with her that day and she ducked under his swing and slipped around him.

By the time he recovered from his swing, it was already over. His throat was cut and she was out of reach, watching. She savored the sight of those flint-hard eyes, wide with panic as the blood ran through his hands, a flow that could not be staunched.

“For Janiye,” she had rasped as he faded.

That was what she was thinking as she crested a familiar little hill and caught sight of the old house, or rather what was left of it…

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Rotblossom Rose (1.1R)

Hello friends, this week I am starting up a new serial.

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.

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Most of us see what we want to see.

The optimist sees opportunity and good even in places where others see only ruin and rot. The pessimist sees danger and ill-intent even in sources that others see as benign and pure. The poet seeks to find the mythic in the mundane while the rationalist seeks to understand the systems behind existence itself.

Both the drunken aristocrat and the two killers see what they want to see.

The drunken aristocrat, a man nearing his fourth decade, sees a path that is safe and familiar. Shadows that would seem dark and threatening to others are simply ignored as his mind fills in the details the solid, clean stones of the familiar houses beneath automatically. His sword hangs at his hip, a empty wine bottle dangles in his hand. This is his territory and he has walked this path a thousand times or more. He is too close to home to think of danger.

The two killers see an easy mark, a man who has grown careless and arrogant because of position. They have planned this attack, watching his route for days now. They see a fat coin-purse, rings of gold, and a genuine coil-sword worth a small fortune by itself. Better yet, the man carries a small pouch filled with vials wraithstone distillate. They do not see that the aristocrat  is in remarkably good-shape because they have been taught that all those born to wealth are soft. They are too busy thinking of the joy of killing him and spending the spoils.

The drunken aristocrat’s perceptions are coloured by a life of wealth, good health, and fifteen deadly duels won. Moreover a night of dice and drinking have left him in a happy mood, one that he wishes to preserve instead of chasing away with grim alertness.

The drunken aristocrat stops on the familiar bridge. He knows that it is but a few moments from his house. The chasm underneath the bridge is one of those lesser tributaries of The Gash, the great rift around which the city is built. It is a dire drop, and every man know their are dangers in the depths; it is not unknown for Creeperjaws or other things to snatch people off such bridges. But the drunken aristocrat is more worried about what his wife will say if she is awake and worried. He wants to preserve the mood, not to quarrel. He stops in the middle of the bridge, sends the bottle spinning into the dark of the depths and pulls down the front of his trousers to send a golden arc of piss into the dark after it.

The drunken aristocrat gives a satisfied sigh and begins to do up his trousers just as the the two killers begin their well-rehearsed attack. The first killer is conspicuous as he steps out to block. He is big and he is young and he does not try to hide his movements. Most men would run, but he knows that his quarry will not shirk from a fight.

“Drop your coin, and your sword, softborn, and I will let you walk away,” says the first killer.

The second killer is a smaller, swifter man. He is the older of the two, and a veteran of the shadows. He knows that taking an aristocrat like this is a risk, but he was worked hard to maximize their chances. His job is to sneak up behind the drunken, distracted aristocrat and kill, stun, or cripple him. Their is no intention of a fair fight, or of letting the man walk away if he complies.

“Never!” says the Drunken Aristocrat, drawing his sword and dropping into a fighting stance.

The first killer sees his partner emerge from the shadows as the drunken swordsman advances toward him. See the coilsword glitter in the light of the ghostlamps makes him suddenly glad that he does not have to fight this man fairly.

“Come and get it, softborn sod!” says the first killer, stepping forward with his knife and truncheon, making certain to distract as he sees his partner raise his knife behind the man’s back.

“Have at you, mongrel!” says the drunken swordsman.

The first killer is so shocked as a second shadow appears behind his partner, that he is distracted and fails to parry the coilsword. The razor sharp tip pierces his chest and then a thousand tiny wires uncoil within him, liquifying most of his internal organs.  He dies instantly.

The second killer feels cold steel, a silver in his heart from behind, and the stumbles as the first killer collapses. The drunken aristocrat, alerted by the scrape of boot on cobble turns and smoothly drops into a lunge, ramming his blade into the second killer. He does not notice that the man is already more or less dead, having been stabbed in the heart, and then the wires of his coil blade scramble the second would-be killer’s insides. Nor does he see the other figure, the one that foiled his attack, who has already retreated into the shadows.

In the morning, after the constables investigate, tales of the aristocrat’s prowess and heroism circulate. No one mentions the other figure, the one who saved him and no one bothers to investigate enough to uncover that other presence. After all, with a local hero besting two vicious thugs, they already saw what they wanted to see.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War Post-Mortem and link collection.

Last week I finished with the serial version of the third installment of The Shadow Wolf Sagas, The Whores’s War.  Later in the fall I will be re-writing and editing the series and then releasing it in book format around Christmas. For now I would like to post my thoughts on the third book and the series as a whole.

Firstly, the title, The Whores’s War is meant to be kind of sensational. The titular war is a conflict in the book, but it is more about Unions and collective bargaining power than strumpets stabbing each other. I don’t know if it stands out other than that, we shall have to see if it drives interest in the book.

In the book, Ragnar finally uncovers the mysteries of his first death and his exile and then returns to the North to pass judgement on the person who killed his King. Honestly I find this to be the weakest part of the serial, and will likely flesh it out more in the final re-write. The stakes need to be higher, and the reader needs to feel Ragnar’s decision and understand why he comes to it better.

Finally, although this book has the best action scene of the bunch, I do feel it is lacking in that regard. The problems is that simply inserting action sometimes seems forced.

As a whole I enjoyed writing the series. I feel that I have a better grasp of first person perspective. I do feel that the first Shadow Wolf book was the strongest, and sometimes wonder if I should have left it there or taken more time with it later. My next serial will be more of a one-off, i think.

Thanks for reading!

Links

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The Second Post

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Post #55

The finale!

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.56

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“I can’t believe your going back to Myrrhn, Old Wolf.”

“Twenty years is a long time Thyra, I’ve built a life there.”

“You have friends here, too.”

I laughed. “How long will you remain here, Sea Wolf? I’d wager with your wandering ways I will see you as much in Myrrhn as I would at King’s Hall.”

Thyra nodded.

“Besides,” I continued, “my exile may be over, but my clan still hates me, and the king I once served is long dead. The North will always be in my heart, but it is no longer my home.”

Thyra frowned, but it was not in her nature to sulk; after a moment she turned back to me with a sly grin. “Are you certain you’re not a Sea Wolf, wanting to live your life in search of strange places and exotic peoples?”

“A fine compliment, but you’ve seen how well I sail.”

“Hah! we’ll have plenty of time to practice on the way back to Cassander’s shield, brother.”

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Three days after ending my exile, High King Athelbjorn abdicated in favour of his sister, Svana. Knowing what I knew, it was a wise decision; his secret was too great a weakness for the most powerful man in the North.

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The return trip to Myrrhn was free of both bad weather, and bloodshed. The city was shrouded in mist as we arrived, robbing me of a breathtaking view of the place that I had called home for so many years.

“I’ll miss you, old wolf,” said Thyra after we drank a parting round in the great hall of Cassander’s Shield.

“Then visit more often.”

“I’ll try. We’ll see where the wind blows me.”

“Thyra Hurnsdottir, you have been a true friend to me. You never doubted me. You risked your own reputation in supporting an exile. I owe you a debt, old friend… if ever you need shelter from a storm, Sea Wolf, seek me out.”

“I will. Farewell, Ragnar Skyggesson. May the gods watch over you on distant shores.”

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The mist lifted by the time I reached the house I shared with Vethri and Eiskra. The streets were crowded with people, most of them in a hurry, but I did not mind.

My stomach growled as I caught the scent of a steak and kidney pie cooked in Pelaram gravy from one of the charming little restaurants down the street.

There were no guards at the door, and for a moment, as I sounded the bell and heard no movement, I wondered if they’d gone out or…

Then door opened. The Twins and Carmen were there, enjoying red wine and brandy as they conducted Union business. It was a cheerful reunion.

I had just finished telling them as much as I dared of my meeting with Athelbjorn, feet up, glass of brandy in hand, when a knock sounded at the door. Carmen went to answer the door, leaving me alone with Vethri and Eiskra.

“I knew you’d come back,” said Eiskra quietly.

I nodded and smiled, but before I could speak, Carmen led a familiar figure into the room.

“I was hoping to find you here, Ragnar,” said Murith. “I could use your help…”

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And that is it, for now. Thanks for reading. I will be starting up another serial in a week or two!

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.55

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Kingshall was unfamiliar to me now. I kept recognizing bits of the place, but twenty years of prosperity and peace between the clans had shifted much of what I once remembered. The mountains, the hall, and the ocean remained the same at least.

I spent much of the next week drinking with Thyra, telling tales to fellow Nordan, and exploring the city. At some point the realization that I was just a visitor settled on me. The North would always be my homeland, but even if my exile was ended, it was no still not my home.

I longed for Myrrhn, for the people I knew, and for my life there. What was there for me here? My kin were dead or strangers to me, while my clan still resented me because of Wolki,

Once my mind was made up to return to Myrrhn, I began to enjoy my time in Kingshall, experiencing everything that I could, and savouring the tastes and sights without reservation. The rest of the time passed quickly.

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The ceremony was better attended than I was expecting. Thyra and the remaining handful of old Siggurd’s Kingsguard stood at the fore. They were heroes one and all and their presence signaled that they supported my return to their number.

Thyra looked bright and proud at their head, the most loyal guardian of a favoured king. Her heroism was true in my mind, even if that of the man she once served was tarnished.

Jarls, Karls, and others of the nobility of Nordan lands were present, along with those warriors of note and priests to the gods who were willing to attend. They lined the sides of the hall, watching as I passed. Wolki glared at me, but since the cancellation of my exile restored some lost honour to our clan, he could not forgo attendance. I smiled at him. The gesture was not lost on those present and a ripple of laughter passed through the Sea Wolf contingent, with the sons of Harald Magnisson standing proud behind their clan lord. I recognized a few other faces, most of them much older than when I last saw them.

Berkhilda was there, standing proud among the contingent from Clan Furis. I stopped and nodded to the fierce, fiery haired warrior, earning a small smile. No doubt she would want to hear how our battle with Cinder led to the recovery of Garmsbita.

I carried the old High King’s blade in my arms, the burnished decorations of the massive scabbard glinting in the sun. As I approached Athelbjorn on his dais, Svana at his side, I knelt and held out the blade.

“I, Ragnar Skyggesson, called Grimfang, Exile and Twiceborn have returned carrying a lost treasure of the king whom I failed to protect. I present to you, King Athelbjorn, Garmsbita, your father’s sword, lost when he fell at the battle of Drajinskyg, on the Spearmarch, twenty years ago.”

Athelbjorn looked at the blade for a moment, then descended and drew the weapon, leaving the scabbard in my hands. As he held up the blade, shining in the sun, the people gave a great cheer. I remained kneeling until it died down, thinking of the old days and what I knew now.

When the cheering died down, Athlebjorn spoke. “Ragnar Skyggesson fell on the field at Drajinskyg and later clawed his way out of the grave. He was branded a coward, cursed by the gods for failing to protect my father. But today he has proven those accusations wrong. He has, after twenty years of exile, long after lesser men would give themselves over to bitterness, returned to Kingshall in triumph, having recovered the lost sword of his king. In doing so he has proved that the yoke of exile was placed upon his shoulders wrongly, for no coward could have faced what he faced to recover this blade. Rise Ragnar Skyggesson, your exile is over. Your name will once more be honoured among those who served my father and also among those who have served me. There will be other honours paid to you, but now is a time for celebration. For now let us feast, drink, and tell tales in your honour!”

I rose, clasped hands with the king, and the merriment began.

 

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.54

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Athelbjorn stared at me in disbelief, as did his sister and his Kingsguard. The Nordan are an honour culture, and vengeance looms large in our minds. My words would seem strange to them.

“You would let this pass?” asked Svana. She seemed almost offended.

“You did.”

Svana’s eyes widened and her nostrils flared, I could see much of Siggurd in her then, though she had better control, if less humour,

“I was only his bodyguard, not his daughter. If you have given up your claim to vengeance, what right do I have to pursue my lesser claim and the strife that would follow?”

Some of the Kingsguard nodded. The shadows in the hall seemed to lessen, as if the eyes of the Gods were satisfied and passed on to other matters, We stood for a moment in silence, until High King Athelbjorn collected himself.

“Forgive me Ragnar Grimfang,” he said, looking at me. “I loved my father, but i could never forgive him for what he did, I challenged him to a duel to the death, you know.”

“You were barely more than a pup. Siggurd was the greatest warrior-king the North has seen for many years. It was a brave challenge, but it would be akin to a man fighting Furis the day after he finishes shield training.”

“Aye. Father said there would be no honour in it, after he knocked me down. I’ve never been much of a fighter.”

“The North has plenty of warriors. You are a good king Athelbjorn, I can see that in all of your deeds since The Spearmarch. If you believe that I was sent by the Gods to judge you, then take that to heart. As long as you are a good king, no one will seek to uncover your secrets. Even Wolki was more interested in protecting his own than finding some way of attacking you.”

“What do you mean, Ragnar?”

“The mystery of of how the Skaelings and Wights ambushed us on the Spearmarch involves a secret route used for smuggling. Wolki sought to kill me to protect that information. Instead, Ulfgorr met his fate.”

“That is good to know. I must say that you are not at all what I expected, Twiceborn.”

“Twenty years in Myrrhn have given me a different perspective, King Athelbjorn. Honour is not everything, especially to a man whose responsibilities extend further than his own sword arm. I have also seen the violence that some do to those closest to them, and learned to admire those who take what path they can to seek redress, even if it is a knife in the back. I will always admire your father for his deeds, and love him for the honour he showed me, but now that I know what he did to his family I will despise him for that. People are complicated and many of those you meet have a touch of the unexpected.”

“Well said. I will lift your exile, Ragnar Skyggesson. There will be a formal event later, but for now let me have the honour of welcoming you home.”

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