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 3.26

Hello! 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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“Are you certain you want to face Ulfgorr in one on one combat Ragnar?” asked Vethri, looking me in the eye. “I know that it is the honourable thing to do, but from what you have told us about him, it seems like it will be tough to win.”

“That is putting it diplomatically. Ulfgorr will likely paint the challenge ring with my blood.”

“Then why do it?” asked Carmen.

“Its a Nordan thing,” responded Eiskra. “The nobles are big on honour and single combat, even the women.”

“Without honour I will never be free to return to Nordan lands.”

“It seems like a foolish thing to throw away your life for, Ragnar,” said Carmen. “I know you love your homeland, but even without it, you still have a good thing going here. I envy you.”

“Do you really Carmen?”

I was a little wroth, but she did not seem to care. “Do you think that I would have fallen prey to someone like Sildus if I had friends like yours, Ragnar? The Nightblades recruit ‘most of us from pickpocket gangs and the like in the run down parts of the city. I don’t ‘have very many good memories of my youth; just little victories like getting enough to eat or finding a warm place to sleep when it got cold. I used to think that I was special, just to have escaped that, but now I know better. You have so much more than I do in that regard.”

I nodded. “What you say is true: I have always been fortunate to find myself in good company. But I cannot shirk this fight. Ulfgorr will not stop until one of us is dead. Fighting him in the challenge ring ensures a fair fight, and a chance to regain my honour. I cannot pass it up.”

“Fine,” said Carmen. “What are the rules of this fight? how can we help you win?”

The rules are simple. We both enter the challenge ring. We fight until one of us is dead. No one outside the challenge ring can help.”

“Can I poison your weapons?”

“That would be dishonourable.”

“Can we spend a small fortune on an enchanted blade?” asked Vethri.

“We could, If we had time. It is not exactly sporting, but then again Ulfgorr is a wolf-changing berserk. Sadly, there are no smiths that I know if in this town who could produce a better blade than I have now in the time before the fight.”

“I’ll see if I can get Git to make something useful for you with that fire concoction of his,” said Murith. “It seemed to work well on Ulfgorr the first time.”

“It would have to be thrown though; I don’t want to warp my blade.”

Carmen laughed. Cackled more like. Everyone looked at her.

“This has given me an idea that might help you out Ragnar. I have to return to the tower…”

“Are you going to give voice to this though of yours?”

“Nope. Nightblades prefer surprises. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt your honour, Ragnar.”

And she slipped out of the carriage and melted into the crowd.

“This should be interesting,” said Murith.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.23

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Murith and I sat down for a drink while we waited for The Twins and Carmen. The common room of the Inn of the Willing Wench was full of boisterous men and women from far off ports and smelled of bread, spices, and Brunor’s famous lamb stew.

A light cider accompanied a bowl of stew for me, while Murith drank a dark ale with bread and cheese.

“How can you be certain that Ulfgorr will come after us directly?”

“He’s cunning, but not especially strategic. Given that Ulfgorr rarely faces anyone that he can’t tear apart or sneak around, he’s never had to think that hard about it. Wolki is the brains of the pair, and I managed to beard him in hid den so to speak; he will be wroth beyond thinking. Ulfgorr will seek him out and Wolki will order my demise. They won’t approach the act like idiots, but they won’t be extra cautious unless we give them reason to be.”

“They sound like serial killers.”

“They aren’t called that when they hold positions of power, Murith.”

The Dwarf woman guffawed, I smiled. Getting Murith to laugh is often difficult, but always worth the while.

“Here they are, Ragnar.”

Vethir, Eiskra, and Carmen turned heads as they moved through the common room. Each of them wore leggings of black leather, stitched to reveal a little of their legs down the side, black silk corsets with spikes that looked almost like armour, save for the generous amount of cleavage showing, and long gloves that matched the leggings. Vetheri and Eiskra wore sashes of a deep, rich burgundy around their waists, advertising their status highly skilled Dominatrices and the formal half-masks often used at Doxies’s Union protests and masquerades. Carmen wore a sash of a brighter red, proclaiming her status as an apprentice in the arts that Vethri and Eiskra had mastered. Her haughty look had vanished as well, replaced with that of the watchful student, complete with glasses and a severe bun in her hair.

I noted that Carmen would easily be able to hide  her weapons in plain sight, as tools of the trade and props. She winked at me and started to make a lewd gestures, but Vethri’s voice froze her.

“Carmina, show some dignity, you are an adept now, not some lusty novice.”

To her credit, ‘Carmina’ did not even flinch. Instead she feigned contrition. “Yes, Domina.”

Murith looked at me, eyebrow raised. It was a convincing disguise and one that would allow Carmen to stay near us without attracting undue attention.

“Well done,” I said to Vethri and Eiskra as they squeezed into the booth with us. “Murith and I think it best to go about our business as usual and try to discover what links Lily Gemarkand, Diamond Silvermade, and Wolki together in this. What is our next course of action?”

“We have arranged a meeting with Diamond Silvermane,” said Vethri. “We want to discuss terms. She has been surprisingly amenable.”

“Since your investigation has run into a dead end we have also decided to offer a reward for any information about Rake’s death,” said Eiskra. “One silver per tip, Two gold bars if it leads to capture of the one responsible.”

“Why such a discrepancy?” asked Carmen.

“We expect to be deluged with useless and misleading tips,” said Vethri. “The silver is a form of charity to those who want to test and see if we are serious or just trying to look good. The gold is the real bait.”

We finished our meal quickly, and then made preparations to meet with Diamond Silvermane.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.22

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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“You want me to dress like a whore?” asked Carmen. “I have no problem with that, it actually sounds fun, Ragnar.”

We needed to disguise Carmen. Ulfgorr was bound to return, but he would be more wary this time and would not attack if he recognized the assassin. We were waiting for The Twins at a private room in The Inn of The Willing Wench.

“And the funeral for dignity with be held next Sixthday,” quipped Murith. “Please dress appropriately.”

“I like you Watch Sargent,” purred Carmen. “We are going to be such good friends.”

“The Doxies’s Union is not just for prostitutes, dancers, and burlesque performers Carmen,” I interjected before Murith could retort. “There are actually a large number of clerks, factors, doormen, bouncers, and support personnel.”

“Support personnel?” asked Carmen, lifting her cleavage and making a face at Murith.

“Cooks, seamstresses, musicians, and craftsmen are all part of the Union. It takes a small army to keep all of the brothels running in Myrrhn.”

“You sure know a lot about whorehouses, Grimfang,” said Carmen.

“I do. I worked as a doorman all over Myrrhn for a decade, and on the side during my adventuring days. Can you act as if this matters? Surely you understand the importance of the guild system.”

Carmen looked at me with a raised brow. “It is not the same. The Nightblades are a serious guild.”

Murith laughed. “I am always amused with the idea that murder for hire is more honourable than harlotry.”

“Fine,” said Carmen. “I will take this seriously.”

“Good. I’ve brought Vethri and Eiskra here to help you with your disguise. You will be posing as one of their aides. They will also brief you on the etiquette of your station, how to act, and who you need to know.”

Since we could not be certain of where and when Ulfgorr would attack, my plan was to continue helping The Twins with their struggles in the Doxies’s Union. I still was not certain who killed Rake and how Ulfgorr was involved, but I was coming to think that it involved Lily Gemarkand, Wolki of the Shadow Wolves, and The Nightblades in some fashion. I did not have to be an alchemist to know that this was a volatile mix.

“What exactly is the situation in The Doxies’s Guild?” asked Carmen. “I thought things had died down.”

“They had. But on the day that The Twins called quorum to see if they had the support to assume leadership of The Union, we had a guest both who was wondrous and unwelcome; a woman by the name of Diamond Silvermane who announced that she had assumed ownership of The Pink Pearl, a brothel frequented by your mentor, and that she was leaving The Union. Diamond Silvermane spoke to the greed of many of those gathered. Why should they have to pay dues to support older guild members or support personnel? Needless to say, she caused a ruckus. Worse yet, before the night was done, one of our most prominent supporters was found butchered in such a way that it seemed like I was trying to send a violent message to someone. Diamond Silvermane, who is a servant of Lily Gemarkand, was quick to take advantage. The Twins have been trying to negotiate support and keep The Union from falling apart.”

“Lovely,” said Carmen.

There was a knock on the door. Vethri and Eiskra entered. I introduced them to Carmen and then excused myself so that I could get a drink while they became better acquainted.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.20

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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It was foolish to trust Carmen. She was beautiful, she was smart, and she was a nightblade. Still, the information that she gave me about Wolki looking for a sword was nearly as tantalizing as her flirtations. As we walked toward the looming bulk of Night’s Finger itself, my mind danced between thoughts of her lithe form in my arms and what sort of sword Wolki might be be after.

Magic weapons are, as one might expect, considered the greatest of treasure among the Nordan. My people are very fond of their arms and armour and most of the clans have armaments dating back to their great heroes and even the divine founders of the clans. Wolki would certainly kill to recover the lost sword of Skygge, for example, or even a blade from one of the other clans, which could be traded for a favour from a grateful Jarl.

Of course there were other blades that had been lost over the years. I knew one, the Blade of High King Siggurd, lost in the battle where I died my first death. It seemed unlikely that Wolki would care enough about that blade to risk the wrath of the Nightblades though.

“You’re quiet all of a sudden. Nervous?” said Carmen.

“Not at all, I am just thinking.”

“Regretting not taking me up on my offer I hope,” she said with a wicked smile.

“That goes without saying.”

Carmen led us through hidden alleys, past fountain squares, and even over a thin metal bridge between two building. We made rapid progress toward Night’s Finger. I saw a familiar figure waiting for us outside the only visible entrance in the massive building.

“Murith, it is good to see you.”

“Likewise, Old Wolf. Who is your friend?”

“This is Carmen. She is with the Nightblades.”

Carmen smiled. Murith looked her up and down and then nodded.

“How was the meeting?” I asked

“The watch presented our case to a high ranking guild factor and her assistants.”

“Factor?”

“Most of The Guild havenothing to do with assassination, Ragnar,” said Carmen. “A Factor in the Nightblades performs the same function they do in a merchant house. Think of them as an accoutant or a financier. Can I ask the name of this one, Murith?”

“Octavia.”

“I thought so,” said Carmen. “That is a good sign for us. Come on, then. I’ll explain on the way. Octavia handles accounts for the City of Myrrhn itself. She understands the politics  of the city and the world and what needs to be done to keep the peace. If you met with her, it means that The Guild is seriously considering acting against Ulfgorr.”

“That is welcome news,” I said.

Carmen led us into the cavernous foyer of the tower, a room bustling with activity. It looked almost like a bank or a place where commodities were traded. Money changed hands. Transactions were recorded. Deals were made. The only difference was that in this place they sold death and protection.

As she walked, Carmen’s dexterous hands greeted people she passed with rapid hand-signals. I doubt many outside of the guild would notice her signing, let alone be able to read it.

“I’m asking for directions,” she said before I could ask.

She led us up to a fourth floor and along on an elegant balcony overlooking the famous board where the largest contracts were listed and then into a meeting room decorated in brass and dark wood where a bookish looking woman was sitting in a leather chair sipping a glass of wine while she examined reports. She looked up as we entered, and stood.

“Greetings. It is nice to meet you Ragnar Skyggesson. I am Octavia, senior Factor with The Nightblades of Myrrhn.”

“Well met, Factor Octavia,” I said.

“I know Carmen, and I have already met with Watch Sargent Murith. You may be wondering why you are here and what the Guild’s has decided to do about the actions of Ulfgorr of the Shadow Wolf Clan. I will explain everything.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.19

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Following Carmen through the streets of the Bonemarket, I made an effort not to glance up at Night’s Finger looming over us. The building was fascinating at this distance, a jumble of towers woven together, some of which appeared to be made from black glass, others from bricks of dark grey stone. I did not want to stand out by gaping at it.

The Bonemarket was less crowded than most districts in Myrrhn. The people on the streets moved with purpose, and there were no buskers, food carts, or wagons where merchants sold goods. There were very few shops in general, but I was always surprised at the number of inns, taverns, and fountain squares we passed through.

I did not see anyone who looked like an Assassin, of course.

Carmen had pulled down her hood, and pulled off some of the fake skin that made her look like an old woman. She moved through the streets with real familiarity, ducking through alleys and hidden doorways to shorten our trip. Soon enough we arrived at a sturdy doorway in a back alley courtyard.

“Welcome to my lair, Old Wolf. Come on in.”

I hesitated for a moment, unsure of myself. Was Carmen  just being flirtatious or seeking something more? And what if she was.

Carmen’s was already pulling off her clothes as I entered the little house, hanging the baggy robe in one of three walk-in closets in her front hall. Distracted by the sight of her lithe form appearing from beneath the dumpy clothing, it took me a while to realize that her abode was actually much larger than it appeared from the outside.

“Do you like the view?”

“Yes. The room is nice too.”

By the time that my attention snapped back to Carmen, she was down to her underwear. It was far more functional than the frilly garments that some women wear for display, and much sturdier than the practical stuff. It was held on with sturdy straps almost like a suit of leather armour. As I watched, Carmen’s fingers deftly undid the straps lifted the bra off. Her breasts were not especially large, but they practically exploded as the garment containing them fell to the ground.

“Gods, that thing is restrictive.”

“Combat bra?”

“Something like that. Custom made and very expensive. Do you like it?”

“Sure, I have to say it does look better on the floor though.”

“Thank you. Maybe we can compare equipment a little more thoroughly sometime.”

Carmen stretched, giving me a lovely view of her profile and the muscles beneath her sun-kissed skin. I laughed. Being a doorman for The Doxies’s Union meant I was used to conversations with beautiful and alluring women in various states of undress. Carmen was a skilled flirt, but I wasn’t breaking a sweat as I enjoyed the view and the conversation.

“Honestly, I would enjoy that, in any sense of the sentence, Carmen. You seem alright for an assassin, although I wonder if you are trying to give an old man a heart-attack as part of a contract.”

“You don’t need to worry about my knives anymore, Ragnar. I might have other plans for you, but you’ve shown me great kindness.

“You have been helpful to me as well…”

“Actually, I haven’t.”

I raised a brow. Carmen seemed to deflate a little, shifting from seductive to vulnerable.

“I was thinking of fucking your brains out to assuage my guilt over this, but it seems like a stupid idea now.”

“Over what?”

Carmen looked me in the eye. All thoughts of sex fled as I read the signs of inner conflict in her gaze.

“Do you remember the crates that Cinder was loading onto her ship, and how Ulfgorr was after them?”

“How could I forget? Was that one of the Thirteen with you?”

“Yes, Master Stiv.”

I nodded. I had heard of old man Stiv before. It did not surprise me that one of the Thirteen would appear if Wolki and Ulfgorr were involved.

“You see Ragnar,” said Carmen. “After you set me straight in our meeting in Cliffshadow, the Nightblades gave me instructions to steer you toward Cinder. You have a way of… breaking… complex entanglements.”

“What was in the crates?”

“I don’t know about the ones that we recovered from the ship, but I do know that both The Guild and Ulfgorr searched for the crate that fell off the boat. They found the crate, but not the contents. Ulfgorr attacked you because he thinks you have it; a sword I heard. I don’t know much else, and The Guild would be very angry with me for telling you this much.”

I absorbed the information, surprised at Carmen’s candor. Could I believe her? And what kind of sword would set Wolki and the Nightblades against each other?

“Thank you, Carmen.”

“I’m sorry, Ragnar.”

“Don’t be. I understand conflicting loyalties.”

“I’m an idiot, let me get dressed.”

“You are not, and I am certain that the sex would have been fantastic.”

She laughed. “Thanks, I may take an I owe you on that, Old Wolf…”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.56

I could smell it too. There was gold in Berkhilda’s blood. The oddness of such a thing baffled me; how could this be?

“Father always said I was his greatest treasure,” Berkhilda laughed.

I looked down at Cinder. She ginned up at me, her fangs showing beneath red lips. I suspect she might have thought herself seductive at that moment, she was certainly trying.

“What did you do to Berkhilda?”

“Her blood will turn to gold.”

“Not before your head is parted from your shoulders!” said Berkhilda. The giant Vampire reached for her axe, gleaming in the moonlight. She grabbed it with difficulty, but her eyes widened in alarm when she could not stand.

“My only complaint,” said Cinder, “is that the whole process is not nearly painful enough. You had every advantage Berkhilda, and yet you threw it all away to be one of them.”

“Ragnar…” said Berkhilda, looking at the gold on her hands sadly.

I met Cinder’s eyes. Her smiled vanished.

“Fix her.”

“I cannot. Nor would I, even if it was possible. Let it go Ragnar. I can ease your pain with riches beyond imagining.”

“All the gold in the world could never buy back the dead Cinder.”

“Perhaps, but it would help your lovers win the Whore’s War, would it not? Think of that before you act, Ragnar. If you kill me, she still dies. If you let me live, I will reward you. There are no other choices.”

“But there is. Your formula or spell, whatever it is that you use to do this… does anyone else know it?”

“No, it is a secret known only to me. Others have tried, only I can succeed.”

“Good. I know someone who likes secrets… SKYGGE, I CALL UPON Y–“

There was a movement in the corner of my eye. I heard a catch release, and ducked. The bold was not meant for me however.

Cinder’s eyes bulged as the quarrel pierced her temple. Our eyes met one last time and then her whole skull lit up like a paper lantern. Then I was holding nothing but dust.

“Garm’s bloody–” I turned to see who the assailant was. “Carmen?”

“Hello Ragnar.”

The young assassin was not alone. There were two more on the docks. I could see them, but not smell them.

“I did not miss, Northman. There was a contract out on this one; it was important.”

“I don’t care. She was the only hope of me saving my friend.”

“Ragnar, my father–” said Berkhilda, working her jaw with difficulty.

Glaring at Carmen, I stood. A figure seemed to materialize out of the shadows at her side, a masked man, small and old.

“There is a cure, look for the bottles of absinthe that she was hoarding. You wont have time to distill the active ingredient, she will have to drink four — five, to be safe. There is an open case in the forecastle, we will watch over her while you bring it for your friend.”

The case was easy to find. I brought a bottle to Berkhilda, and helped her drink the first few sips. She seemed to relax as I did, and after half the bottle was done she was able to grip it on her own.

I sat down beside her, taking a bottle for myself. Carmen was gone, but the little man remained.

“Care for some?” I asked him.

“No, thank you.”

I took a swig. It had a powerful kick, with a strange, sweet herbal taste.

“Who put out the contract?”

“Someone who has a very great interest in the price of gold remaining where it is,” said the little man.

“Of course. You followed us to identify her, yes?”

“Precisely.”

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We drank until dawn. I told her how I met Bull and Renoit, and she talked about her mother and father. I daresay that it was the first real hangover that I experience in over a decade. Berkhilda took shelter in the cabin of Cinder’s ship when the dawn came, after I hired a messenger to send word to her father.

Cinder’s secret died with her, at least as far as I know.

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And that concludes Red Fangs. I will write up a post mortem and collect all the links over the next few posts, then fix it up (it needs a lot of fixin’) and put it out in the fall…