The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.47

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Carmen emerged from the shadow of a drainpipe beside a window ledge two stories above the cobbles. She grinned down at me and then dropped to the ground, making barely a sound as she hit the ground.

“Did you really hear me, or were you just guessing Old Wolf?” she asked.

“You are never as quiet as you think Carmen. Did The Twins send you to watch my back?”

“They suggested that they would be grateful if I did,” she answered, looking around the street. “But even without them, The Nightblades have a vested interest in seeing you survive until the Whores’s War is over and you have returned to the north.”

“Am I allowed to know that?”

“Yes,” said Carmen, turning to face me. “I took a risk giving you the sword. Had you died, The Guild probably would have discarded me.”

“Discarded is a nice way of saying executed…”

“It sounds worse to me, actually. Execution at least has a level of formality. But you killed Ulfgorr and disgraced Wolki and The Guild is very pleased with us both.”

“Did I earn you a promotion?”

“Yes, actually,” said Carmen, stepping in close. Her scent washed over me.  “Feel free to claim your reward… Vethra and Eiskra don’t mind, I asked them.”

I laughed. I was certain that Carmen was serious, but her motives were not nearly as transparent as her body language.

“I think I will, but that will have to wait until I return from the North.”

“You’re coming back?”

“I am. If I am able.”

“I’m intrigued,” said Carmen, stepping back. “Care to share what you know?”

“With you or The Nightblades?”

“Ouch. Point taken.”

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The days after my meeting with Lily were a frenzy of meetings with The Doormen and Bouncers of the Doxies’s Union. After my name was cleared, my former influence returned. Many of the old hands who provided security at the Union’s various brothels had trained with me in Madame Glorianna’s day. They were as loyal as you would expect, and it was not hard to convince most of them that Diamond Silvermane was not good for the Doxies’s. This was no surprise to me, in truth.

What was gratifying is how much my name meant to the newer Doxies. I was no longer old Ragnar the Nordan, I was Ragnar, the guy who killed a werewolf to avenge Rake. News of my deeds had spread throughout the Union and members greeted me wherever I went. My very presence helped our cause. That was gratifying.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.45

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“After Wolki threatened me and Cinder betrayed me, I decided that it was best to remand the matter to the Nightblades,” said Lily, her tone light and conversational despite the serious matters we discussed. “They demanded the sword in payment. I don’t even know how they knew that I had it, but I was in no position to refuse. The threats from Wolki stopped–“

‘”If you gave the sword to The Nightblades, how did Cinder end up with it?”

“I had no idea that Cinder had the sword, at any point,” said Lily. “It does explain why she shifted her aggression though. Cinder was an accomplished smuggler and a skilled thief. Her blood magics helped her greatly in that regard. I have no doubt that she could have stolen the sword before the Nightblades hid it away in their vaults. But there is more likely explanation, in my mind; have you considered why the assassins wanted the blade Ragnar?”

“I have. It is connected to the death of the High King of the North and a suspicious ambush. Wolki deems it valuable. The Nightblades would see that alone as something.”

“My thought is that Cinder stole it from them when they were trading it, or as it was moving to or from the trade,” said Lily. “The sword means nothing to The Guild, save the leverage they can get from whomever wants it. Cinder risked her life to get it, drawing the ire of Wolki and the Nightblades.”

No wonder she felt the need to surround herself with an army of crazed vampires and start a war on her way out of town. Where did she come by the sword, Lily?”

“As I said Ragnar, I sent Cinder to acquire some items that would entice Wolki into aiding me.”

“So he knew where the sword was?”

“No, I had an idea of where to find Nordan artifacts, the sort of things recovered from battles and ruins, from previous dealings with your people. As the head of the Gemarkand trading consortium it is my business to gain access to the very best mines in every corner of the world. In addition to the expertise, equipment, and money that I offer, I make sure to play to local customs. Your people love their weapons and armour, so I had an idea of what might entice Wolki to track down poor cousin Gerald for me. After the initial contact to establish boundaries, I paid for Cinder to find what I needed. She found the sword in the wares of a trader who deals with the Hand of Evernight.”

“I thought they were extinct,” I frowned. The Hand of Evernight was a cult that dabbled in Daemon Worship, Vampirism, and the dark gods. They were friends of Skraelings and Murder Wights.

“They probably were,” said Lily, shrugging. “But these groups never remain dead, do they?”

“I suppose not.”

“You seem disappointed, Ragnar.”

“I was hoping for more than a shadowy cult.”

“I see, you were hoping to incriminate Wolki.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps there is more. I can furnish you with the name of the trader, and help you make contact if you promise to play nice.”

“I would like that. Lily.”

“But first, you have to tell me why Wolki wanted that sword so much.”

“The sword belonged to Siggurd Stormbreaker, High King of the North. It was a family heirloom, passed down for many generations. It seems that Wolki simply wanted it for the same reason that any Nordan would: to gain favour with the High King and Queen for returning their father’s sword.”

“You are leaving something out.”

“The High King was slain in an ambush. It was never discovered who set up the ambush, or how the enemy was able to penetrate so deeply into our lands undetected.”

Lily laughed.

“What?”

“Wolki either wants to protect a hidden route of his that these Skraelings accidentally stumbled on, or he wants knowledge of it. You would be surprised at how protective smugglers are of their hidden paths.”

I could only agree. We watched the rest of the play in amicable silence, enjoying the finest wines. Then I parted with lily and made my way home.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.44

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“Who is Diamond Silvermane to you, Lily?”

“Honestly Ragnar, sometimes your stupidity astounds me. Picture Diamond, subtract all the gems and the flair. I think she looks an awful lot like her mother.”

Ignoring Lily’s habitual insult, I considered Diamond. She looked an awful lot like many of Myrrhn’s high class Doxies; tall, slim, and fair. But how many women did Lily and I both know.

“Your niece?”

“Yes. One of the reasons that the woman you knew as Sapphire was exiled from the Gemarkand family was little Diamond. My sister was fifteen when she gave birth, as I understand it. She joined the Doxies’s Union so that she could get proper care during the pregnancy, working as a laundress to start.”

As she spoke, the first act of the play began. A tall muscular man dressed all in black and bearing blades spoke words of love to a beautiful woman on the stage.

“It seems odd to me then, Lily, that you would try to destroy the very same organization that helped your sister in her time of need.”

“My sister should have come to me,” said Lily. “I am family. I dislike what the Doxies’s Union represents because it is good business for me to do so, Ragnar. Imagine if the miners in my families holdings got the same idea; it would cost me a fortune. I am hardly alone in this.”

“So Diamond is your niece and you want to control or weaken The Union through her, correct?”

“Yes. Initially I wanted to break the Union, but that was anger over my sister’s death and Madame Glorianna’s part in it. I wanted to ruin her life’s work for what she did to Sapphire.”

I nodded; it was a surprisingly human sentiment coming from Lily Gemarkand. Even if it fell within the realm of spite, it was on behalf of someone else.

“But that is not what you wish to discuss with me, is it Lily?”

“Would you leave us?” Lily looked at her bodyguard. He seemed ready to protest, but nodded after giving me a cold stare. I waited while he walked out of the box and took up position outside.

On the stage the Assassin’s lover was dallying with another man, never a good sign in a Myrrhnese play.

“Do you remember Cinder, Ragnar?” Lily asked.

“I do. It is hard to forget someone who tried to kill me several times. The Bloodhydra now figures in to my saga, I am told. I now know that one of the crates that she was trying to escape with had the sword of King Siggurd in it. Why?”

“Have you ever wondered how Cinder came to have the sword?”

“Of course.”

“And you wonder at Wolki’s involvement with Cinder and myself.”

“Yes.”

“Cinder originally worked for me, as did Wolki. I hired the Lord of your clan to track down an errant claimant to the family fortune who remained beyond my reach. As you might expect, Wolki required something big in return. I hired Cinder and her crew to retrieve some Nordan artifacts. The sword was one of these, but I kept it instead of handing it over to Wolki.”

“Why?”

“I liked the way it looked. I had no idea that it was significant. Cinder felt that I cheated her on compensation and turned against me. That is when she began the whole ‘Cinder’ nonsense actually. Wolki came looking for the sword once he heard that I had it. He threatened me. I’m glad you killed his pet.”

“Ulfgorr. Aye. It was a tough fight, but few will miss him.”

“Wolki will. Without the werewolf protecting him, more Nightblades are likely to be tempted by the money that I am offering for his head.”

I laughed.

“Wolki seemed particularly interested in the sword, and where we acquired it, Ragnar. He seemed very, very interested in making certain that he was the only one who understood the circumstances of how and where it was found. I lied to him and told him that Cinder did not tell me. I am curious to know why he was interested, perhaps you could help me piece it together?”

I laughed. “I think I will.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.42

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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After the cheering died down. Vethri and Eiskra remained in speaking position. Diamond Silvermane frowned.

“Normally we would call for a vote now,” said Vethri. “As is custom for a leadership challenge. But, given the unusual circumstances, we would like to suggest that a full election be held. The Union is only recently recovered from a fractious end to Madame Glorianna’s leadership and Diamond Silvermane entered the race too late to be given fair consideration. It will also give the rest of you a chance to put forth your vision for The Union, should you wish to throw your name into the contest.”

A ripple went through the crowd. Diamond Silvermane’s exquisite face betrayed some surprise.

“As always, we will put this suggestion to a vote. All those in favour of running a full election, at no cost to the Union, in order to be as fair as possible to Diamond Silvermane and others, raise your hands.”

With a sea of hands thrust into the air, the suggestion carried easily. I could see Diamond’s jaw clench in anger. Her supporters seemed to think they were doing her a favour by supporting the motion, but I could tell that she did not want it this way.

After business was concluded, Diamond Silvermane sauntered off into the crowd without another word. Many of the Doxies fell in behind her.

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“Why is Diamond so angry about another election?” asked Carmen while The Twins wound their way through the Union Hall, greeting people and gathering support. It was a thankless task, and one I was not eager to repeat my part in.

“I don’t rightfully know, Carmen. It did make her angry though.”

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Later on the carriage ride back to our home, I broached the subject.

“We knew that Diamond was fairly confident that she had strong support for a single vote,” said Vethri. “That is based on a read of her personality, and the depths of her backer’s purse. A leadership challenge only gives those present a vote, and allows a secondary vote for the rest of a membership if it carries. Winning the challenge would give her a strong case to the membership at large though. Even if she was unable to carry a leadership vote she would be seen as the main opposition by default. Having her run an open election against, not just us, but all of the other factions. It will cost Lily Gemarkand more money and will force Diamond to navigate the difficult areas of Union politics.”

“What she is trying to say,” Eiskra mock-whispered to Carmen. “Is that we want Diamond to suffer through the same bickering and infighting that we have for the last eighteen months.”

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A few days later, as I was researching the last morsel of information that I needed to return to the North, a letter from Lily Gemarkand arrived. It was addressed not to The Twins, but to me, asking me to attend upon the lady of the Emerald Tower in her private box at the Kaemoul’s Playhouse.

I was intrigued.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.39

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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She was clad in gems and adorned in gold, more than a Queen’s ransom, and yet her garment was unmistakably that of a woman advertising her body. I could not help but admire her delicious curves, her poise, and her beauty. Diamond Silvermane stood out in a room full of artful, sexy, pulcherous people, commanding attention as she waited for Eiskra and Vethri to take the stage.

She did not look beaten, and I knew that she had some drama planned, some trick to wrest control from The Twins. Dissolving The Union had failed, but challenging them for control was the next best thing.

The Union Hall was as packed and unruly as ever. I felt eyes on me as I eased into a seat behind The Twins on stage. My name was clear now, with Ulfgrim taking the blame as Rake’s killer. The connection between Ulfgrim and Diamond Silvermane, Wolki and Lily Gemarkand, and the lost sword of High King Siggurd were the last pieces in the puzzle that would end my exile. As The Twins addressed the assembly, representatives of all the whores, joyboys, bouncers, and allied workers, I watched Diamond. She noticed my attention, but did not seem bothered by it.

As The Twins went through the simple minutae of the meeting; quorum, minutes, old business and so on, the tension in the room grew. Everyone present knew that Diamond Silvermane was going to challenge them and unless she was a fool, Diamond would have enough backing to call a vote. The deep pockets of her patron would be enough to sway the more mercenary members of the Union, I was certain. Others had come to the same conclusion and I could see them looking around, gauging strength for the coming conflict. The room was thick with intrigue.

“And now,” intoned Vethri. “We come to new business. Anyone who wishes to bring a point of order may do so.”

A ripple went through the room as Diamond Silvermane stood. She stepped in front of the audience, regal and commanding, waiting for a hush to fall before she began to speak, her voice as clear, crisp, and cultured as one would would expect from such a queenly specimen.

“I wish to Challenge for leadership,” she said.

It was what everyone expected her to say, and yet it still drew a collective gasp. The Twins had enough support to claim leadership, but not enough to prevent others from contesting it. The volume in the room increased considerably, as everyone began to murmur, and some shouted for or against.

“Quorum of support is waved, you may address the floor, Diamond Silvermane,” said Vethri. “Both sides will plead their case and then the members will vote.”

To her credit, Diamond Silvermane did not even blink. By not contesting her support, The Twins had denied her the chance to show it before the vote, and appeared divinely confident as well.

“Don’t worry, we got this,” whispered Eiskra as Diamond moved forward once more. “If not, we’ll come live in the North with you…”

I smiled at her and then turned my attention back to Diamond Silvermane as she began to speak.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’ War 3.36

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Eiskra was the first to greet me as I climbed out of the pit, throwing her arms around me, heedless of the blood. I breathed in her scent and let her take some of my weight. As a fellow Twiceborn, Eiskra was much stronger than a normal woman of her size.

Thyra slapped me on the pauldron and smiled. “That was one for the Sagas, Ragnar.”

“I am just happy to have survived.”

“Don’t be coy, my friend,” said Thyra, “Word of this battle is going to spread among our kin. Am I right Nordan?”

The room around the fighting pit thundered with cheers. Eiskra and Carmen seemed to yell loudest, adding their voices to the din. Vethri and Murith just looked relieved, while Git was unreadable and Renoit’s eyes seemed to roam the room like a watchful wolf-hound’s.

In fact, the only ones not celebrating or relieved were my own clan. Wolki was staring at me with an unreadable expression while most of the others looked like they might be willing to challenge me right then and there.

“This, along with the fact that the exemplar of Furis has called for your return, will surely grant you an audience with King Valdur,” said Thyra.

An audience with King Valdur was at the forefront of my thoughts, considering the vision that I had when I held his father’s sword.

“The exemplar of Furis? what’s that?” asked Carmen.

“The exemplars are the living embodiment of their deity,” said Vethri. “They are not priests, exactly, but they are agents of their God and are considered above mortal politics.”

“It is said the your friend Berkhilde made quite an impression on Clan Furis,” said Thyra.

I smiled at the thought. It had been months since Berhilda, a half-Nordan vampire, had sailed into the North. I was certain that the tales of her deeds had grown by now, but pleased to hear that her mother’s clan had accepted her without reservation. The North is not always as accepting as Myrrhn.

Everyone wanted to congratulate me, and the rest of the night was lost in drinking and the telling of tales. In the morning I left with The Twins and Carmen. Thyra escorted us from the old fortress.

“I want you to come with me into the North, old friend,” said Thyra. “I know you have much to keep you here, but the king’s sword fell into your hands. It should be you who returns it.”

I nodded. Thyra did not know that I knew the identity of the man who killed our King. I wonder what she would do with the knowledge. Thyra was always one to confront her problems directly, no matter the cost. I was not certain that this was the best course of action.

“Are you certain that King Valdur and his sister will welcome an exile, even if he bears their father’s sword?”

“It was they who bid me to return your old armour, Ragnar,” said Thyra. “Come with me to the North. Meet Siggurd’s children and reclaim your name.”

“I will,” I said. “But it will have to wait until spring. I have business here, my own and Siggurd’s. I would not want to meet with King Valdur without full knowledge of the mysteries surrounding this sword.”

Thyra opened her mouth to speak, but pause. “What do you know Old Wolf? have your memories returned at last?”

“Yes,” I said. “Skygge has blessed me with a grand secret; one that demands the King’s ear. But I do not have the whole of it, and I do not want to spoil the telling.”

Thyra stepped close. “Ragnar, if you think you can leave me out of the revenge taking for my king…”

I laughed. “No Thyra, this will be decided in The Hall of the High King; I just need to fill in all of the gaps before I make my accusations.”

“Was it Wolki? I will gut him like a fish.”

“No. Your part in this is clear, Thyra Hurnsdottir, you are the bright sword who cleaves a path. Let them know that I am coming, and that I bear news. Bring them the Sword and recommend me to them. Until then, I am a wolf and I will do what a wolf must do.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.35

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Blood dripped from our wounds as the Demon of Clan Shadow Wolf faced me.

The people around the fighting pit chanted and shouted. Many of them hated Ulfgorr, which made me surprisingly popular despite my exile.

My sword was steady in my hands despite wounds and fatigue. I felt sharp, almost like I could see better than I ever had before. I was in the moment, as they say in Myrrhn, experiencing that transcendent clarity where time seems to flow like molasses and everything in perfectly clear. Perhaps Skygge was with me, brought by the secret that I now carried; of course it could be that blood loss was making me giddy. Either way, now was a vital moment.

Ulfgorr was watching me warily. I was surprised at his lack of aggression. Then I realized that the cut on his face was rapidly healing, the flesh on either side of the cut pulling together like amorous red worms. I understood his strategy immediately. He was healing and not trying to hide it, which meant that he wanted me to come to him.

But while the flesh of the cut on his face was healing, the cut on his side in the midst of the burn was not. Git’s fire hindered the beast’s regeneration.

He expected me to attack and was waiting for it. But I knew this. Now was the time to turn it to my advantage and break the stalemate.

I stepped back and reached behind my back with my left, grinning savagely at Ulfgorr. I saw the realization flash through his eyes. To him, it looked like I was reaching for an item. Perhaps it was something he feared. Perhaps it was a one of Git’s fire flasks.

With supernatural swiftness, the long-limbed monstrosity lunged at me, wicked claws slashing, eyes flashing with mad hatred.

I was bluffing. As he swept in, I went low, grabbed my blade in both hands and slashed up and into him with all my might. Committed to his attack, Ulfgorr could not dodge. My greatsword connected with shocking force. Blood splashed on my face and I felt a tremor run through the blade as it shattered.

My slash carried me to one side of Ulfgorr’s charge. The beast fell to ground on the other, leaving a smear of blood on the ground as his momentum carried him a few paces closer to the wall.

I was left with a broken sword.

“Still alive Ulfgorr?” I asked, strolling toward the twitching body. I could see that he was, his monstrous frame trying to get up, his flesh trying to mend. I could not let that happen.

I drew my knife and approached, It was unwise to turn him over, but it was the honourable thing to do. I nudged his bulk over and looked the beast in the eye. His chest was a ruin. His eyes were wide, with fear or hate, I cannot say. He grabbed my leg with shocking strength and raised his jaws to bite. But my knife found his heart, my strong hand twisted, and the Demon of Clan Shadow Wolf was no more.

Cheers erupted from above me. I felt exultation, mostly at simply being alive.

At my feet, Ulfgorr’s form shifted back into that of a man. He looked almost pathetic, naked and torn, but my countrymen were expecting a line, I could tell, something that they could recite to end the tale with a flourish when they told it.

“Tis a shame,” I said loudly, looking at the body below me. “I was looking forward to having the ugliest fur cloak in all the North.”

And they cheered. Most of them.

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