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 3.46

NOTE: Somehow in the middle of the week, an old cloud save of the last post over-wrote the full post. Sorry about that. I have restored the post, in full.

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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On the few nights in Myrrhn when it is neither raining, nor windy, the streets are hot and wet and the night closes about you like a trap.

The crowd from the Kaemoul’s Playhouse thinned quickly, with the majority of the theater-goers seeking shelter in nearby taverns or waiting carriages. The few groups that left on foot were large, loud, and boisterous. I was the only one who went alone into the night.

Moving through the streets, I watched the shadows, half-expecting to be attacked; while Lily and I parted on good terms, it would be foolish of me to think of us as friends. Still, I doubt she would antagonize The Twins with an attack that could be linked to her so easily.

Of course, Lily was not the only enemy I had. Wolki wanted me dead, of that I could be certain. At the very least he would seek revenge for Ulfgorr, but it was likely he would try to protect this secret route as well. I was fairly certain that he did not know about Old King Siggurd’s Killer, but he knew that I knew something. We Shadow Wolves know secrets, and Wolki was always better than the rest of us with intrigue. A knife in the back was his style, and despite recent humiliations, Myrrhn was not yet beyond his reach.

Thus I was not surprised when three forms materialized out of the shadow and mist on the street ahead of me. I sensed two more behind as I grabbed my weapons, a pair of Nordan daggers hidden in my coat-sleeves.

“Oh, look at this gentleman,” said one of the men, tall and lanky. His clothes were poor and worn, and he carried a brutal looking truncheon. He did not look like much of an assassin. “Wots wrong gent? you look a little lost, not right in the head. Give us your coin and we’ll let you be on your way.”

I laughed. Loudly.

As I laughed, one of the would-be-cutpurses who thought he was creeping up behind me moved. My ears picked up the sound of his feet on the cobbles and of his weapon slicing through the air. Still laughing, I stepped to the side and kicked him in the arse as he missed. The goon sprawled on the cobbles. The rest of his compatriots drew knives and started toward me. I stopped laughing.

“Do you sods even know who I am?”

I let them see my daggers as I asked. Nordan daggers are rather large and intimidating.

“You have picked the wrong mark boys. I am no soft gentleman on his way back from a play. Ragnar Skyggesson, Nordan Exile stands before you. I have battle the devout, killed a nasty werewolf, and stopped a mad vampire in this city recently. I helped the Doxies’s Union cast off Gentleman Jim. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“It don’t matter,” said the tall skinny one. “Your throat will part easily enough.”

“Maybe so. But I have tasted death and returned, boy. Is it really worth the risk for a little coin?”

They wavered. Somewhere nearby, a wolf howled. They back off and started to walk away.

“Be seeing you Northman,” said tall and skinny as he passed me.

“Step on son, there’s nothing for you here.”

I watched them go. It was possible they would return with reinforcements, but I would be long gone by then. When I was certain that they were out of earshot, I spoke.

“You can come out now, I heard you taking position.”

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A Teaser for Tuesday

Barring unforeseen events my next Domains of the Chosen book, Bloodlust: The Sum of Hate will release next week. Here is a taste:

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The body was pinned to a tree with javelins through each shoulder and one in the belly. It was easy to read pain in the features of the dead man, although softened by death and decay.

“This is bad,” said Elder Hissu.

“This is my father’s work,” said Riritaka. “He wants to cause panic.”

“Who is this man?” asked Gavin.

“He is known to me,” said Elder Hissu, sadly. “He is a trader among your people, beloved by both the Legionnaires and those who seek peace among the tribes.”

“The scouts tell me he was put here four days ago,” said Strategos Mora. “This was done while we were attending the sodding peace talks.”

“Yes, that sounds like Gotka,” said Riritaka. “He will come for us soon.”

“How far away from the fort are we?” asked Gavin.

“If we marched clear through the night we could get there in less than twenty hours,” said Strategos Mora. “We cannot outpace The Pale in the jungle though, Chosen. Only the best of the scouts could manage that feat, and even then, it would be risky.”

“Can we evade them?” asked Gavin.

“No,” said Strategos Mora. “We believe they watch us, even now.”

“It is possible,” said Chosen Brighthoof. “But surely not in numbers large enough to be a threat.”

“The watchers will be directing two groups,” said Riritaka. “One will be between us and the fort, the other will be trailing us.”

“Should we move to the coast then?” asked Gavin, trying to formulate a plan.

“They would expect that, would they not?” responded elder Hissu, turning to Riritaka.

“Yes,” said Riritaka. “The paths to the coast will be heavily trapped.”

“Strategos Mora, how far away are your men?” asked Gavin.

<> (The edits on this next part have not been approved, so this is raw.)

The Duellum Dominantium was one of the few times that both groups enter the fighting grounds at the same time.

Silvius, followed by the mountainous form of the Gorehound entered from the south, while Sadira and Sapphire Kiss entered from the north. A half-million fans, all on their feet, screaming and cheering, greeted the four Gladiators as their feet touched the white sands.

Sadira, known for her flashy entrances, merely gave a salute to the crowd and then plodded to the centre of the Arena. The audience was taken aback; those who hated Sadira filled the air with jeers and boos, while those who loved her felt a touch of fear at the sight of their vivacious hero looking wan and full of sorrow. Sapphire Kiss walked beside her like an energetic filly following in the wake of an old mare, eager and ready to fight.

Silvius strode across the sand, his hair spilling over his shoulders in magnificent curls, jaw set in a confident smile. Everything about him shone, from his armour and the edge of his Draklaive to his oiled skin. He stood a head taller than Sadira and Sapphire Kiss, and looked leaner and more powerful than he had in many years.

Behind him lumbered the Gorehound, huge and foreboding.

For The Duellum Dominantium, Quintus diKrass, the most famed arena announcer of the day had been brought out of retirement. He named each of the fighters in turn and they all gave a salute. Sadira’s was curt, in marked contrast the impressive flourish given by Silvius.

“It looks as if the flower of Daer has wilted,” intoned Silvius. “Have you come to regret challenging me, kitten?”

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 3.43

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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The Twins insisted that I dress appropriately for my meeting with Lily Gemarkand. The Kaemoul’s Playhouse was where the wealthy of Old Town and the Merchant Houses mixed with the creatives of Myrrhn. This was apparently of such importance, that it required that I dress in the ‘manner of a gentleman’, which meant tights, a ridiculously puffed up shirt with ruffles on the sleeves and collar, long soft boots, and a very tall hat. I drew the line at trimming my beard.

“The only way a razor will be applied to my jaw is if it opens my throat first, girls.”

I was bathed, perfumed, and given a crash course on etiquette.

“Try to make a good impression, dear, many of these people are our best patrons,” admonished Vethri.

“I am meeting with our avowed enemy, and a women who locked me in a cage with a Devout warrior,” I growled.

“Hardly a situation which you go out of your way to avoid, given that you were in a pit-fight with a werewolf a fortnight ago,” said Eiskra.

“That was different.”

“Sure thing, Ragnar.”

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The Kaemoul’s Playground was on Belltower, the islet that house the beaurocracy and much of the grand old buildings from the early days of Myrrhn. The Playhouse was a converted gladiatorial arena, magnificently restored by Akbar the Kaemoul, Myrrhn’s wealthiest man at the time. It was built in the ancient Archaean style with tall columns braced by arches, surrounding a massive open space.

The Playhouse was renowned for theater and music. The performance that evening was ‘Chloe & Jaques’ a recently written play about the last Empress and Emperor of Archaea, favoured figures in romance and heroic tales.

Lily’s box was once reserved for Archaean high nobility come to spend an afternoon watching slave-warriors butcher each other or face off against monsters on the sands below. It was tastefully decorated, with tessellated murals depicting scenes of violence that played out many centuries ago. I particularly liked the one that depicted the legendary swordsman Kael facing a strange abomination with a second, tiny figure growing from its chest in front of a roaring crowd. It was spacious and richly appointed, as befitted one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the city.

Lily Gemarkand stood at the front of the box, next to her ever-present bodyguard. She was dressed in green silk and wore an abundance of emeralds.

“Welcome Ragnar Skyggesson,” she said. “I am pleased that you accepted my invitation.”

“I must admit that I am curious, Lily. Your path has crossed mine again and again, often at times that seem more like the hand of fate that coincidence.”

“Have you forgiven me for testing you, Ragnar?”

“No.”

She laughed.

“Let us begin with Diamond Silvermane,” she said. “My sister and I had plans for the Doxies’s, you know that. When I found out that Madame Glorianna, had Sapphire murdered, I wanted to destroy the the Union. Diamond has convinced me that this was… irrational.”

“It is. Who is Diamond Silvermane to you, Lily?”

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Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from my upcoming work, Bloodlust: The Sum of Hate (Domains of the Chosen #7).

The book centers around a duel between Chosen Sadira, one of the series most popular characters, and Chosen Silvius, an enjoyably scummy villain who takes on a new light in the Trump era.

This teaser focuses on an event that stretches all the way back to book #3, Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, involving accusations against former Senior Centurion Hephus, who took field command of the Eighth Cohort of the Ninth Legion at the battle of Fort Nerus. Hephus is a Gifted (a magic-user) and the Gifted are not allowed to command in the Legions, by ancient tradition. The good guys argue that an exception had to be made for conditions in the field, while others argue that the Law is the Law.

Hephus’s focus snapped back to the inquiry as Assemblyman Skavetz called a witness.
“Legionnaire Septimus Bron, please take to the podium of truth.”

Maximus Skavetz cut an impressive figure in his formal toga. He was tall, square-jawed and straight-backed, with dark curly hair and piercing eyes. His voice, however, was what set him apart; a rich, a commanding bass that could thunder in judgement or offer deepest sympathy.

Hephus recognized Septimus Bron. The Legionnaire looked nervous and uncomfortable before the assembly as he moved forward and took his seat behind a heavy marble table facing the assembly. He had a noticeable limp and one side of his face was viciously scarred.

“Legionnaire Bron, do you know this man?” Skavetz pointed toward Hephus without looking at him.

“I do, sir, that is Senior Centurion Hephus of the Eighth Cohort,” said Bron, looking at Hephus. “He’s a good–”

“Please refrain from offering your opinion unasked, Legionnaire,” interrupted Skavetz.

There was some muttering among the assembly at his title. In the Legion, the Gifted were not supposed to command the Legionnaires. It was a fear founded in The Reckoning, the disaster cause by those who commanded the forces of magic, nearly destroying the world. The Legions were now see as a counter-balance to the power of The Chosen and The Gifted, answering to their own command structure and the people of Krass.

“Legionnaire Bron, firstly I would like to acknowledge your bravery and your service to The Empire. You have suffered greatly to bring us victory. We have brought you here to clarify some questions about the battle of Fort Nerus and the role played by one Hephus Krassius. I will be asking you questions which you should answer to the best of your ability. Please refrain from conjecture or colour commentary; this inquiry is purely factual. Do you understand, Legionnaire?”

“Yes sir,” said Septimus Bron.

“Very well, my first question concerns the promotion of Hephus Krassius to Senior Centurion. Septimus Bron, were you aware of any other surviving Centurions in the Eighth Cohort?”

“Yes, but…”

“Please keep to the questions Legionnaire Bron,” said Maximus Skavetz in a patronizing tone. “Were any of these other Centurions Gifted?”

“No, sir.”

“Interesting. What position did Hephus occupy before his ascension?”

“He was in charge of munitions and forging, sir.”

“Is that a command position, Legionnaire?”

“No sir.”

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