Teaser Tuesday

Tis Tuesday and time for a teaser!

Bloodlust TSM cover

This is part of one of my favourite scenes from the series.

Teven came up to the line of cannons, coming to rest beside Hephus. He saw what was left of Bosh hooked to the bloody banner of the Sixth Cohort. He saw Vintia. He heard the Third, the Second, and the First Cohorts moving into place behind him. He felt their shock at the vista before them. He saw Bosh’s lips moving. After that first moment, however, the emotions of the Legionnaires boiled into iron rage and they snapped into formation, ready and eager.

It would have been easy to lose himself in the grim sight before him, but instead Teven focused on the dawning realization on the faces of the Vvath as Warbound Vintia pulled back and the angry guns of the eighth cohort were revealed.

By the ancestors, it was glorious.

~~~~~~

Vintia had brought them the time to get into to the perfect position. The guns were massed perfectly.

The would fire grapeshot and incendiaries in alternating loads, at short range, against an enemy that was unprepared and closely packed together. It was all academic now, and the equation was very much in favour of the men standing behind the cannons.

All academic, save for one tortured Warbound andthea tiny handful of Legionnaires still holding against the horde that were also within range; the human cost that Hephus would have to carry the weight of for the rest of his life.

“FIRE!” shouted Hephus before the gunners could hesitate. He almost cursing Artillery Master Grannoch for being wounded.

The guns roared, and the day was won in smoke and fire.

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Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, the third book in the Domains of the Chosen series and the first where the reader is truly exposed to the world outside the Arena, following a former Gladiatrix as she joins the Legions on an expedition to a rediscovered continent.

Bloodlust TSM cover

Bosh smiled: today was going to be a good day. The Ninth Legion was nestled in between two immense formations of Kirif. The Kirif were not as heavily armoured as the Legionnaires, but they showed discipline at least. Their ranks were a rainbow, with each Spire identifying itself with bright colours. [Click]kith’s soldiers wore crimson and a deeper red.

The Kirifan Hoplites fought in phalanxes. The outer three rows on all sides used shields and seven foot hooked spears, while the middle four rows used long pikes. Turning one of these groups would normally be difficult, but the Kirifans divided them into small base units, no more than ten files across.

The Kirifan soldiers stood close enough for their shields to overlap, creating a formidable defence from the front. According to the veterans of the First Cohort, these shields left much to be desired. Their saving grace was that they were extremely light and easy to replace, made from a frame woven from tough wicker and covered in tough alchemically treated leather. These shield were not nearly as tough as those of the Legionnaires and would frequently break after the first few blows. Each Kirifan group had squires assigned to it who would carry replacement shields to the ranks. They supposedly drilled replacing shields in the midst of battle. Bosh would believe that when he saw it.

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden (Domains of the Chosen #3)

Bloodlust TSM cover

In the first two books readers only encounter automatons as fodder for the Gladiators in the arena. Hephus is the first important artificer and Bastion is the first Automaton with any real ‘character’. In the upcoming Seeds of Ruin we meet another artificer and hear more about Hephus and Bastion, though I am mostly ‘planting seeds’ for book seven and eight with the later.

Vintia was watching Hephus at work; the Artificer was testing one of his creations, a man-shaped automaton more than twice her size. Barrel chested and broad shouldered, with gleaming metal plates for skin, the clockwork golem was working through a kata with a long spear and a huge shield. Unlike other automatons that Vintia had seen in her travels and fought in the arena, Hephus’s creation did not cough smoke or bellow steam, nor was it as noisy. The clanking sound of gears had been replaced by a smooth hum. She could detect some elemental magic flowing within it, but was unfamiliar with the rest of the magical pattern she could sense; artifice was not her strong point.

“What makes you say it is a he?” asked Hephus. “I don’t see how a sexless automaton can have a gender identity.”

“He looks like a man,” said Vintia. “And he moves like a man. Gender identity does not reside solely in the genitalia Hephus. Much of it is in the way we see ourselves.”

Thrusting the tip of its immense spear into a ring barely thick enough to take it, the metal warrior showed impressive precision as it followed Hephus’ instructions. Vintia swallowed a comment about the phallic nature of the demonstration. She was not yet comfortable in her new surroundings.

“True enough,” said Hephus. “I suppose I did model the automaton’s movements on my own, at least unconsciously. I call him Bastion.”

Lazily sensing the strands that made up the automaton’s patterns, Vintia saw a flash of activity as Hephus said the automaton’s name. Hephus did not react, so she assumed it was normal.

“What are you planning on doing with him?” asked Vintia.

“Bastion is an experiment,” said Hephus. “He is one of the reasons why I’m with the Legion. Of the organizations in the Domains that can supply me with the materials and money that I need, the Legion affords me the most creative freedom. As long as I share my research and Bastion can fight, they are happy.”

“Can Bastion do more than fight?” asked Vintia, watching as the huge robot stepped to the side and thrust again, perfect and precise.

“One day, he’ll be able to do whatever you might care to teach him,” said Hephus, “provided he has the proper components installed. I’m working on a cannon and a self-repair module for him, I hope to get them finished before we set sail.”

<>

The First Shield continued. “I am filling in for Nerus until the men can choose a new Legate, as per Marian campaign law. Several of you are new to your duties as well, filling in for the fallen. Being a Centurion in the Legions is often a quick path to the pyre, so make sure to follow the lead of your seniors. This brings me to a slight irregularity. The Eighth Cohort, damned engineers, have recently elected their new centurion: Hephus Krassius.”

Hephus smiled, but for every thankful face in the room, there was a frowning one; by law the Gifted could not command the Legions. Even the Chosen had an established protocol when dealing with the armies of the Domains.

“Technically, the men voted for Bastion,” said Hephus. “And while I appreciate their enthusiasm, I don’t expect I will remain in the position longer than the next battle or two. I would not want to tip the ship.”

“There is precedence for the Gifted commanding in the Legions,” said the First Shield. “But the politics of it are ugly to be sure. Crazy engineers. I accept the Eighth’s choice, but my successor might care more for his or her political future Hephus.”

“Thank you, First Shield,” said Hephus, moustache twitching. “I won’t let you down.”

This little passage is important, as it creates a controversy that begins to come to a boil in the Seeds of Ruin. The Gifted are not allowed to hold command ranks in the Legion, as a check on the power that an individual Gifted or even a Chosen can gain in the Domains. The situation in Ithal’Duin is so bad, however, that the men of the Ninth just push forward the best candidate with no thought to the politics at home, which leads to trouble down the road…

Tuesday Teaser

This week’s teaser hails from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden (Domains of the Chosen #3)

Bloodlust TSM cover

One of the friendships that transcended factions and rivalries. Azure Dream saw people like Sadira as enemies on the field, but honoured them for the challenges that they represented instead of treating them like obstacles in her way.

This beginning is also one of the few times one of my books begins slightly before the final chronology of the previous book. I would not do that again if avoidable, since it can confuse readers. Better to handle the past through flashbacks as Vintia sails across the sea or something…

Azure Dream strolled into the arena. The Blue Gladiatrix knew how to play the crowd, smiling, her every strutting step radiating confidence. Vintia could not help but notice that the people cheered her ambitious opponent more loudly than they had her. She was disappointed, first in the crowd, and then in herself for being jealous of Azure, who was her friend, over such a trivial matter.

Azure Dream was tall with lustrous coffee coloured skin and an angular, noble face. A medium-weight, Azure’s armour was made of a blue material, ensorcelled to be titillatingly transparent. The plates and links looked as if it they were carved out of Sapphires or thick blue glass, edged with gold. Vintia envied that armour: it was striking, stylish, and even a little bit sexy.

The sabre halberd, Azure’s weapon of choice, was a complex instrument that only a few would dare perform with in the arena. The Blue skirmisher was a virtuoso with the weapon, and had humbled many of Vintia’s Reds this season. An earlier encounter had seen Azure triumph over her. Vintia had to admit that she was as cunning as she was confident.

Azure Dream winked at Vintia as she drew close. Vintia shifted uncomfortably. Azure’s perfect teeth gleamed in the sun as she smiled and snarled to the cheers of the audience. The trumpets sounded.

It was customary in this type of match to begin with banter. Vintia considered attacking immediately, cutting the exchange of words, but she hesitated. She didn’t want anyone to think she was afraid.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” said Azure. Her tone was conversational; Vintia was a friend as well a rival. “You’ve done a good job here this season Vin. Try as I might, I could not rally the Blues against you. I’m glad to have the chance to face you one on one: it will make for a great finale.”

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser comes from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden (Domains of the Chosen #3), and features another of the lesser known characters, a Hearthbound to Gavin named Riritaka. She is actually introduced in an earlier book, but features more here, although I feel there is more potential in the character, as a stranger to the perspective culture.

Bloodlust TSM cover

In his first match for Master Rank, Gavin fought Riritaka, a Spirit-Binder from the people called The Pale. In the end, he had decided against killing her, defying convention. Riritaka’s thoughts often turned to the Gladiator known as Lionfang. The mercy he had shown her ensured that she lived, seeking her freedom in the arena. She was too weak to win often, especially without access to powerful spirits to bind, but she cared little for her record as a Gladiatrix. It was enough for her simply to live, for now.

Life among her people was a distant memory as were the endless interrogations by the Grey-Robes. No longer considered a Heretic, she was as free to travel as any Gladiatrix. She had visited the great cities of the Empire; seen her first snowfall; walked in the bamboo gardens of the Far Isles; fought a Wirn to the death in the Grand Arena in front of more people than she’d imagined could fit in one place. They had cheered her on that day. It was a precious memory, even if it felt like a betrayal of old hates.

The Spirit-Binder often wondered if she was a coward for choosing life over honour, but it was now a philosophical question, no longer a gaping wound that brought sleepless nights and bitter regret. She had chosen life, and that was what she did. She lived.

The Krassian Empire held many wonders, strange foods and interesting people and part of her had come to love it, even though another part of her still hated it. She was at peace with her enemies; books, chipped ice, and Light-Elf men with clear blue eyes were good reasons to live.

Riritaka is an outcast from her people, betrayed by her father and captured by the Legions. As an outsider who uses magic, she is automatically labelled a Heretic and sent to the arena after the Deliberative interrogates her. Here she meets Gavin, who still suffers guilt for killing a heretic early in his career and decided to show her mercy (or perhaps defy expectations, depending on how you see it). After this she fights in the arena for a while in the outsiders league (I don’t have a name for the League where the heretics go to fight if they survive that first Deathmatch) and wins her freedom. Gavin searches her out and she joins him as a Hearthbound.

Sadira looked at Riritaka. The Pale woman was changed, skin covered in spotted fur, features catlike. She moved with admirable silence now that they had shed their disguises, creeping between the great wheels of the juggernaut that housed the war altar.

A Fologi ride had landed them on the coast south of the Deomen, and from there they had circled and entered the enemy camp from behind. They had killed a few sentries and taken their robes as disguises. The Deomen were lax about security now that the battle was underway, especially with Sadira wearing a Gold Mask. Riritaka had bound the spirit used by the mask’s previous owner, a complex weave that had dazzled Sadira. As a consequence the Pale spirit-binder now knew how to speak the Howling tongue of the Deomen.

Riritaka is a spirit-binder, a gifted who wields a form of magic that is unfamiliar in the Domains. She is able to bind spirits and express their characteristics, even shapeshifting to emulate them. Here she invokes some of the abilities of a hunting cat and uses the knowledge gleaned from an enemy spirit to understand their language.

I feel Riritaka, like most of the Hearthbound, has yet to live up to her potential as a character. She works best as a lens through which the reader sees the Domains, but has mostly been stuck in Ithal’Duin so far, which is a weird place for everyone, by design. In Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin (still iffy on that) I will be exploring more of the Domains and the idea of heresy in general, so expect more of her.

Teaser Tuesday

Tonight I am doing a reading at the Red Brick for ChiSeries Guelph, run by the peerless event organizer Angela Keeley and hosted by the Red Brick Cafe.

I am reading from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, mostly because it has some less familiar elements in terms of world building, but a more familiar narrative structure than the first two books.

Bloodlust TSM cover

“I grew up here,” said Auria. Chosen Brightloch’s daughter and Vintia were gazing upon the Spires of Kirif as their ships idled, waiting to Dock at an artificial beech outside of the defensive reefs. Some of the sailors and the Legionnaires were staring at the distant city, but many more were casting looks at the Kirifan dockworkers, especially the women, or the brutish looking Dolphins circling around their ships. “This is my home, not Krass. One of my first memories is a ride on one of the Fologi, the Dolphins you see below us, when I was a young girl. I thought they were wonderful pets then. They are actually equal under the law in Kirif, Spireless, of course…”

“The Spires are amazing,” said Vintia, trying in vain to process Auria’s expository ejaculations while taking in the view of the Spires themselves. They were immense, bigger than the tallhouses of Krass, the fifteen story tenements that were built to house the huge numbers of refugees that took shelter in the city during the Reckoning. Some of the spires were three times that height.  Unlike the square, rigidly structured tallhouses, the Spires of Kirif had an organic look to them. No two were alike, and their natural shape was rounded and smooth, sculpted in places where the inhabitants cared to add features to the structures that they could not grow. They certainly rivalled the majesty of all but the largest edifices of Krass.

More than just physically impressive, Vintia could sense life and magic within the Spires. These buildings were a product of The Reckoning; a mutant form of coral with which the strange-eyed Kirifans formed a symbiotic bond. The unfamiliar patterns, still wild after eleven centuries, dazzled her senses but she could still sense that those within were manipulating them.

“The Fologi are carnivorous,” said Auria, leaning in close, almost breathing in Vintia’s ear.

“… Pardon?” said Vintia; the idea of killer Dolphins snapped her attention away from the Spires and back to Chosen Brightloch’s wayward daughter. Auria was smiling playfully, almost like a girl showing off a favoured toy.

“They feed on the flesh of the enemies of Kirif,” said Auria. “They’re cunning too, dangerous beyond belief in the water. They operate in formations and such. Many of the [click] and [pop] Sounds in the Kirifan language are from Fologi communications. They have fifty terms for water, each a different…”

“Stop, stop, Auria,” said Vintia. “Take it slowly; did you say these Dolphins, the Fologi… are like citizens?”

The first glimpse of the spires of Kirif is an obvious starting point.

“FATHER!” Auria’s anguished voice seemed to tear from her throat.

A second explosion rocked the Spire. Vintia sensed tremendous elemental magic at play. Pieces of spire the size of cottages arced through the air, burning, to slam into nearby buildings and then crash into the sides of nearby Spires and onto the hapless people below.

The revels became a chorus of screams and shouts of confusion.

“We have to get out of the city,” said Katarina.

“No, we have to get to my father,” said Auria.

“We won’t do him any good without our weapons, girl,” said Katarina, severely. “The streets are going to run red now. This kind of Chaos is never good for strangers like us.”

“I need to get to him, ancestors curse you!” said Auria, voice tearing with emotion.

“What good can we do for him, girl?” said Katarina. “He’s a fucking Chosen – anything that can take him down will swat us like flies, especially if we aren’t ready. You will just distract him Auria!”

In response, Auria started to run. The Centurion made a grab for her, but the sly scout slipped around her, diving into the water. Vintia and Katarina started to run after her but Auria disappeared beneath the surface, navigating the dark water with the familiarity of a native.

“Bugger me!” snarled Katarina. “The bitch can swim like a fish.”

“I’ll go after her,” said Vintia. “I can protect myself with magic.”

“FUCK!” shouted Katarina. She stood staring at the water for a moment, fists balled, back hunched, eyes wide and glowing in the light of the distant fires. When she turned to Vintia she was calm again. “You’re right. We’ll gather the men. Hephus and I should be safe. Druin’s boys are on patrol, the camp is secure. If you can’t make it out, hide and we will come for you even if I have to take this place apart!”

Vintia pounded her fist against her breast in salute then they split and turned away, running.

Ash began to fall from the sky as Vintia sprinted along the walkways. The nearby Kirifans stood, shocked, as Spire [Click]kith, the proudest of the Spires of the city, smouldered. Closer to the ruin, screaming could be heard and people limped out of the darkness, some bearing frightful wounds. Vintia’s ears picked up the clash of metal on metal: fighting had already broken out.

Vintia could see no sign of Auria, and so she ran toward the remains of Spire [Click]kith.

A little bit of action without giving the main plot away…

Plumes of earth and rock shot up from the palisade as the cannons of Khazak Khrim loosed another volley. The debris filled walls of the fort were made to withstand such impacts, however, and were holding up so far. The Vvath were being forced to concentrate their fire to small areas in order to even have a chance of creating a breach.

Lightly armoured enemy archers fired at the defenders from behind the shields of their comrades or thick wicker screens. The shots they fired kept the defenders wary, sometimes even killing an unlucky Legionnaire. Vintia responded with attacks of her own, killing a dozen Vvath who strayed too close to Fort Nerus with lightning attacks.

The Krassian siege weapons returned fire. The Legion had fewer guns than the Vvath, but better engineers. Hephus and master Gunner Grannoch, cunning and methodical, had already knocked several Vvath cannons out, shattering them with precise cannon fire of their own.

Around the Vvathi engines the land was now a sea of slave soldiers armed with wicked looking weaponry. Once the Vvath judged that the fortress was sufficiently reduced they would unleash their horde in the hopes of simply over-running the fort.

Vintia was warding their engines, screening them with spells against Vvathi cannon fire. Behind her a group of craft-Vassals drew huge slabs of rock and earth from the ground with their magic. Some of this would go to reinforce the walls and palisades, while the rest would be sculpted into ammunition that would be launched from their own siege weapons. Teven said that, after the first day, this battle would be an endurance test, with both sides forced to manage crucial supplies. The Legion was doing everything it could to prepare for an extended battle.

The cannons boomed again, shaking Vintia from her reverie; this time a small section of the wall collapsed, spilling debris down the rise. The Vvath slave warriors cheered, a sound like the roar of a wave smashing against rugged coast. The defenders tensed and shifted, but the break was too small. The rubble fill cascaded into the breach, temporarily plugging the hole. Breach crews rushed to reinforce using magic and a quick-stone mix. The Vvathi began reloading their cannons, aiming for the new weak-point.

“Two volleys,” said the First Shield from beside Vintia. “Anyone?”

“I won’t bet against that,” called Hephus from behind the battery.

“Two for sure,” said Teven.

“I’ll call three, on ten to one odds, First Shield!” shouted Centurion Drusus from down the palisade.

“Fair enough,” said the First Shield, grinning broadly. “If the wall goes on two I make some money, if it lasts for three, I lose a month’s pay to Drusus, but get another ten minutes of rest. I win either way.”

The battery behind them fired. This time one of the Vvathi cannons suffered a direct hit, flipping through the air and shattering the wooden casings around the iron barrels. A cheer went up from the Legionnaires.

And a taste of the final battle!

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, third book in my Domains of the Chosen Series.

Bloodlust TSM cover

At its heart, The Shield Maiden is a tale of imperialism, strangers in a strange land, and people making the best decisions that they can when the shit really hits the fan.

Most of the book takes place on Ithal’Duin, a ‘lost’ continent that the people of the Domains have rediscovered. After an initial exploration, Chosen Brightloch, the newest of his kind besides Gavin and Sadira, forms an alliance with the people of Kirif and decides to make his Domain in Ithal’Duin. Vintia, fresh from retiring as a Gladiatrix becomes a Warbound with the Ninth Legion which joins his expedition.

The Domains are meant to be the reader identification culture in the series. The Cultures of the Domains are strange. The Kirifans frolic in the waves and live in strange towers of living coral. The Fologi are vicious man-eating Dolphins who live in Kirif. The Deoman are unknowable behind their masks, driven by strange impulses. The vast Empire of the Vvath is populated by slaves and ruled by Swords that bear the spirits of the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim.

But the strangest of all of the creations in the book is the sentient magical disease known as the Shugothoth. This creature is inspired in part by Lovecraft and in part by Everblight (from the Warmachine miniatures game, a Hordes faction). Once the Shugothoth infects a creature it can spy on the world through them and attempt to take over their body. It can then mutate the creature if it desires. The Vvath hate the Shugothoth and are engaged in the genocide of the Niyiki to stop it from spreading. We learn that Dwarves are immune to it, but only later find out why.

“ENOUGH!” snarled the First Shield. “Your demands do not matter. We have discovered this disease. We also know about your swords. We are the Ninth Legion of Krass. We have claimed this land and paid for it in blood. We will not surrender our arms to a foreign power. If you wish to make war on us, do so at your peril. Even if you kill the last of us others will come.”

“The Vvath do not fear your petty Empire,” said the Blade-Bearer. “As for your deaths, we could just leave you here. Shugothoth is no simple foe. It will starve you out until you are too weak to resist and then add your men to its ranks. You have no hope of survival but us. If you surrender, we will negotiate safe passage, under escort, for any uninfected men. Ithal’Duin belongs to us. Your skulls will decorate our walls before long.”

“Then come for us,” said the First Shield. “The Ninth Legion is ready for any foe. If any of our men wish to join you now, I will not stop them.”

None of the Legionnaires moved.

“Your leader is a fool,” said the Vvath loudly. “Your Kirifan allies have been ruined by our thralls, the Deomen. Surrender to us and you will live, if you are not infected. The alternative is to stay here and die. Our armies can fill the horizon.”

“Perhaps they can,” said Strategos Teven, stepping to the fore, “but unless I miss my mark, you won’t risk exposing most of them to this disease. Just how many Shugothoth-resistant soldiers can you afford to lose before you can no longer contain it?”

This happens to be true.

Alarmed, Shugothoth reacted to this new threat. The head of the great serpent and the beady eyes of all of the remaining Crocodilians snapped towards the Shield Maiden. A keening sound rose above the din of battle and, as one, they all charged toward Vintia.

While the Crocodilians were slowed by Vintia’s ice, the great serpent was far too massive, cleaving through the frozen water like an ironclad. Drovers and Legionnaires fired spiked guns into the beast, but these seemed as pinpricks to such a creature.

Vintia raised her shield as the serpent reared back. She could see something else, hateful and alien, staring out at her from behind the window of its eyes. She did not flinch, but returned that hateful glare with a look of defiance in her eyes. The head of the beast twitched and then dove toward her, maw gaping until it seemed about to swallow the sky.

I like the idea of looking into the eyes and seeing something else in there, something unexpected…