Thralls of a Dread Lord (1.2T)

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.

Here is the first post from this series.

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The brutes dragged the struggling Retaak out of the Hall of Screams and out toward the nearest stairs. He relaxed, hoping to lull them into a false sense of security. After a few twists and turns through rough hewn warren and smooth ancient Dwarf-construction, he felt their grips relax fractionally.

With a rumbling growl, Retaak planted his feet on a rough wall pushing his captors off balance. The motion must have surprised them because one of them feel to the ground with a clatter and Retaak found himself free. He wasted no time in running toward the nearest side passage, confident that he could lose the brutes in the warrens.

He made it two paces, feeling the rock beneath his feet and freedom in his heart before a rock hit him in the shoulder, hard enough to send him tumbling. Retaak cursed his weakness as he fell hard, scraping his skin against the rough stone as he came to a halt.

One of the brutes chortled.

“Can’t outrun me rocks,” came the dull voice.

Retaak heaved himself up, but before he could gain his feet the brutes were upon him. He hit the first in the knee, staggering him, but the second caught his hand and smashed a cudgel against his head. Darkness came swiftly.

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The sound of a female’s laughter, mingled with a male’s, both familiar, both loved. Is it a memory, or a fantasy? Retaak does not know.

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Though his head felt like it was being stepped on by a giant, Retaak immediately noticed the sweet, cool air of his new surroundings. The glory of it filled his lungs. Retaak was so used to the dank fetid air of the lower warrens was he that he almost coughed.  As his eyes fought to focus, he reasoned that he must be somewhere important.

He was laying on something soft, a rich red carpet, definitely plundered. The room was filled with similar trophies with racks of weapons lining the walls, and works of art taken from the the enemies of the Dread Lord displayed in a disciplined fashion. A chill went down Retaak’s spine.

“Tsk, tsk,” that sound confirmed Retaak’s Fears. He was in the chambers of the Dread Lord’s seneschal and spymaster, Ushochhushi. “The Paingivers were a bit rough with you, Ogre. Or did you give them trouble?”

“Both,” said Retaak warily. Ushochhushi served the Dread Lord and was no fool. he was one of the most powerful Fellpsawn in the Warren, charged with feeding the Dread Lord information and rooting out traitors. Though he was half goblin/half-hob and Retaak could break him with a single punch, he would never land his attack. Like all of the Dread Lord’s most trusted servants, Ushochhushi had a touch of the compelling; with but a thought he could cause pain worse than the Hobs and their tools of torture, or even kill Retaak. He’d seen many die that way in his time and he knew than the time to struggle was over, for now.

Ushochhushi chuckled, his sharp eyes raking Retaak.

“You are rebellious, Ogre,” he said, though he stated it as a fact rather than an accusation, and seemed more amused than angry. “But you have served others well in the past, and so you are allowed to live.”

“Yes.”

“I mere living enough for you, I wonder? Do you not aspire to greater heights? I know that you think differently than your kind. You question, you can make your own judgements. It is a both a flaw and a gift. You could rise high in the service of the Dread Lord if you put your will to it.”

Retaak knew better than to say what was in his heart. He cared only for freedom. Closer service to the Dread Lord was simply another kind of thralldom, in his mind.

When Ushochhushi realized that Retaak was not going to name his desire, he continued, choosing to overlook the slight. Many of the Dread Lord’s other servants would have compelled him, ripping the words from his throat. Retaak gained a glimmer of respect for Ushochhushi for not playing the game.

“I have a task for you Retaak…”

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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.

Serial Poll and Another Teaser

I’m enjoying the heck out of Civ 6. I’m still unsure of what to do for my next serial and if I should do it on Patreon. Much of my lack of decisiveness is due to lack of sleep (small kids) and being ~80,000 words into the next Domains Novel.

Speaking of which, here is a teaser for Bloodlust: War

What’s that fog?” said one of the Legionnaires.

“Move, get out of the way,” bellowed a centurion.

“Its too fast!”

And then it was on them. The fog was now an ominous mustard colour, moving as if under its own power. The men around Vintia stopped moving convulsed, letting go of the Warbound. Vintia, still disoriented and with an arrow lodged in her head, felt her lungs burn as she inhaled. The gas. The Legionnaires. She needed to save them.

Channelling hurt. Vintia had drawn and held too much power for too long with the ice wall, reaching for more was like forcing an exhausted man to run. She managed enough for a gust of wind before the pain in her head drove her to her knees.

That cleared enough of the gas for her to see the Nosgoth Beastmasters riding their monstrous beasts thundering through the ravine in a mass, hurling right toward her. At their head was a smiling madman riding a wolf that could swallow her whole, nocking a familiar looking arrow into his bow.

“Fuck,” gasped one of the surviving Legionnaires, struggling to rise, blood dribbling from his mouth.

Willing herself to her feet and lifting her shield, Vintia really couldn’t disagree.

Rotblossom Rose (1.70R)

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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Past and present collide as Stethrey, a boy of ten years steps forward to face his father’s killer just as Rose’s own son, Gared, had tried to protect his own family that day on the road to Avalain.

“I will kill you, villain!” snarls little Stethrey, brandishing a small rapier.

Where he found the sword, Rose can not say, but he holds it well and even though there are tears in his eyes as he advances toward her, there is steel in them as well. She can see his father in the set of his jaw and nimble footwork, but the look in his eyes reminds her of his grandfather.

“Heed you mother and walk away, boy,” she says coldly, pointing the tip of her coilsword at him. “My blade still thirsts.”

“Never!” he says, hesitating only briefly.

“Nooo!” screams Amelia, a wrenching sound that seems directed at reality itself as much as her son.

By now their drama has gone on long enough that it has even disturbed even the cynical denizens of the city called The Scab; Rose can here the sound of booted feet running behind her. She does not bother turning, it will be over before they can intervene.

“Come at me then, boy,” she says, taking up a stance that is familiar to them both, circling so she can see both sides of the bridge. “Give the depths their due.”

He obliges. Stethrey’s thrust is surprisingly good, even to Rose. It reminds her of another little boy, so long ago, trying in vain to save his family, somehow striking a true villain. She smiles behind her silver skull mask as the tip pierces her jerkin; her nephew’s eyes are wide as his blade pulls free, stained crimson. Rose plays her role well and she feels no pain as she falls back against the railing where the last name on her list was crossed off moments ago. Her body slumps over the cold stone barrier and then plunges into the waiting abyss. As the shadows take her, Rose closes her eyes, picturing the little boy returning to his crying mother, a hero now, relief washing over them both.

She does not scream on the way down and her body is lost to the depths.

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Later, Geb will be standing by the gate with Scarab. He will have heard of of all that has passed, but faith and loyalty will keep him waiting.

He will catch sight of a face in the crowd that is both familiar and yet strange to him, bereft of both the outward ruin and the brooding weight of vengeance. He will call out.

And if I told you then that it was Rotblossom Rose and that she came to him and they laughed and embraced, would you believe me then? Or would you just tell me that I was seeing what I wanted to see?

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Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think!

 

Rotblossom Rose (1.69R)

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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Rose waits for Edwyrd on the little stone bridge that he always takes when returning from his expeditions into The Hive. One would think that after so many ambushes he would alter his habits, but then again in days he had always emerged victorious thanks to her unseen hand. If only she had known…

Was this part of her brother’s game? Was he some deviant genius on the order of Lawch, or even the Spider, letting her ‘save’ him as a kind of sick joke, all the while knowing that he was the source of her misery?

If that is true, he certainly does not care for Jillia or Stethrey, who are bound and gagged near the bridge, plucked from their beds at sword-point by the skull-masked villain whispered of in lower wards that theirs.

Rose times her arrival at the bridge to coincide with Edwyrd’s, scouting in carefully in case someone else decides to lurk. Satisfied, ignoring the pleading groans of pretty Jillia and young Stethrey, she takes place on the bridge and waits, hand on the hilt of her coilsword, ready to cross the final name off her list.

Edwyrd spots her immediately as he climbs into view. He’s drunk as usual after a night of gambling, but that is not her concern. His gait before he sees her indicates that he had a good night, long confident strides and ease with his own inebriation. When he stops, sighting her, that pleased confidence vanishes. People have heard of the woman in the silver skull mask, and here she is, barring his path, staring at him like death herself.

He hesitates and then walks forward. She knew he would do this; Edwyrd was always overconfident, never understood what a flaw that was in a duelist. She draws her blade, leaving him no illusions as to her intent. His flashes from the scabbard in answer; their father’s old sword.

When he is a few paces away from the end of the bridge, she steps to one side and lets him see the tangled bundle beside her. His frightened wife and their defiant child cry out as best they can with the gags in their mouths.

“Unhand them, Villain!” he shouts, not even slurring his words a little. “Whatever you want from me, they have no part in this.”

Rose keeps her sword leveled at the pair. Part of her simply wants to ram the blade into one of them and watch Edwyrd break and she visited red ruin upon them. Would he drop his sword in anguish or fly into a mad rage? How would he act in the same situation that he had put her in when he hired Lawch and his band twenty years ago.

“No, don’t,” he pleads as she considers, and it is the sound of the boy still in him, her brother that stays her sword for a moment. “I am a man of means, tell me what you want!”

“Revenge,” says Rose. “To cross the last name off a very old list.”

He licks his lip, talking a half step toward her, eyes bright in the dim light. At Rose’s feet, young Stethrey is struggling mightily, as young Gared had when Morn had been reduced to screaming and dying, on that day.

“What do you mean? How have I wronged you?”

“You signed my death warrant, Edwyrd.”

He looks at her, memory blossoming in him. His eyes dart to the coilsword and recognition washes over him.

“You can’t be her, she is dead,” he whispers.

“I have been to the depths and back, brother,” sneers Rose. “I’ve killed Lawch and all of his band, and now I have come for you. But first, I think I will kill your wife and your child so that you can know the despair I felt. I wonder little blade, if you could have cut off your own arm to escape the slave pits or survived the machinations of the spider.”

Rage burns through Rose, like wildfire on dry grass, and she raises her metal arm. Edwyrd stares at her aghast, his face pale like a dead man’s. She savors his tortured expression, knowing that, at last, she has him where she wants him.

And then, unceremoniously, Edwyrd drops his blade. The priceless weapon clatters to cobbles, thunderous in her ears.

“I was never a fighter like you, Rose. You’re right. I would never have made it past all of the trials that you have survived,” as he speaks he walks past the blade and onto the bridge, lingering near the thick stone railing, eyes darting for a moment to the abyss below. “I could never beat you in a duel, and as long as you were alive I was second best. I won’t watch them die. If you want to kill me, you will have to be fast.”

And he was up and over the railing, leaping into the dark below.

“No!” howls Rose, flashing toward him with desperate speed.

But as fast as she is, the depths are faster. She catches a brief glimpse of him as he is swallowed into the dark and that was it. She listens but does even hear him strike the side or scream on the way down.

“FATHER!”

“Stethrey, no!”

Rose, tearing her gaze from the spot where Edwyrd dissappeared, turns. And there is little Stethrey, sword in hand, advancing toward her, vengeance in his eyes.

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[One more to go, folks]

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 (1.67R)

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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We are in the past, but not so far back now, to the Sorceress naming names.

“I should have known it was The Spider,” sneered Rose, after the Sorceress revealed his true identity and how he had hypnotized her.

“I will help you strike him down,” answered the Sorceress, sitting back in the luxurious room where Rose had first awakened after killing Lawch. “He won’t be able to resist so bloody little trophy from me, if it promises my death. I will regrow it after he dies or maybe keep it as a reminder of my part in this ordeal.”

“And what if he doesn’t?” said Rose. “He lives in a mad maze of traps with a moving entrance.”

“Do you think we are the only enemies that a man like the Spider has?” asked The Sorceress. “You and I will only be gaining entrance for a group of people who have the power to see him dead.”

“Who?”

“The Syndicate.”

“You can do that?”

“I have some contacts within the Synidcate, but you have all the evidence you need to bring them down upon him, and with a little piece of me, you will gain them access to his lair.”

“What evidence?”

“Your blood, Rose. He has reconstituted your body. That stuff is forbidden even within the Syndicate. That kind of blasphemy has brought war in the past. They will be very eager to… question… him.”

Rose laughed. It was a mad plan, but a good one.

“Fine. What about the surprise name. The one you say I got wrong.”

We see what we want to see, until the truth forces itself upon us giving us the choice between stark, spoiled reality and mad, but comfortable dissonance. These moments of truth are profound, but rare. Beliefs are challenged, faith is lost or becomes fanatical, the armour of innocence is breached.

One such moment for Rose, came when the Sorceress uttered that second name, the one that she got wrong.

“No, you’re lying,” spat Rose, but it was too late. She could already see it, feel the ring of truth in it, feel her faith wither. How may times had she cursed her father in the last twenty years for dying before she could sink her blade into him? How many times had she saved her brother from death or dishonour in the shadows of the city?

And yet, now this strange woman, Lawch’s Sorceress, who had been on her list was telling her that her own brother, little Edwird, had been the one to hire Lawch and his band of bastards to come to the house of the road to Avalainn. Her faith in him was not strong enough, and the truth bit deep, ripping away the illusion of his innocence in the matter.

“Edwird. His name for mine, Rose. His and the Spider’s.”

“Edwird,” said Rose, crying at last, broken and remade by the truth.

“Edwird.”

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