Bloodlust: The Great Games

I have been finishing up and submitting Bloodlust: The Great Games, my short story. Bit too tired now to do a Nomads post tonight, so I’ll do that on Sunday.

En lieu of that, here are the first few pages of Bloodlust: The Great Games which should hit Amazon tomorrow.

Coming on Dec 20th to Amazon.

Coming on Dec 20th to Amazon.

Bloodlust: The Great Games

Life is harsh. There is no better way to weed out those who are not worthy of the Gift from those who have the strength to lead.” Chosen Moltar

 “If these games are the heart of our culture, then what does that say about us?” Omodo diYava

 “Keep your head in the game, rookie!” growled Darius. “If you let that metal cool now, even for a fraction of a second, it will be brittle. The last thing the fleet needs is this cannon falling apart when it fires.”

The new kid, Boros, snapped to attention, cheeks reddening even further. Sweat from the heat trickled down his face as he worked the metal with the white-hot sun-rod. Behind his back, Darius smiled; unlike the rookie, he barely noticed the heat, or even the smell of metal and oils, anymore. Young men often seemed to have terrible attention spans these days, but Boros was in good hands; Darius’s crew was the best on the shift.

Further down, Kaz, a lean muscled Orc, slammed the enormous barrel with a number two tempering hammer, sending up a spray of sparks. The noise was often compared to that of a great bell, but flat and ugly. It reminded Darius more of the arena, the sound of arms clashing and blows glancing off armour. Despite not having the Gift, which would allow him to sense magic directly, Darius could feel the discharge from Kaz’s hammer and the aura of Boros’s sun-rod. After working in the foundries for fifteen years, he was exceptionally sensitive to the magics used there. It was one of the qualities that made him so good at his job.

Intense concentration was another. Without even glancing at the brass shift-clock, he knew that they had just over an hour left to finish this gun barrel. He did not trust any of the third-quarter-shift crews to finish their work. The pride of a master workman drove him to see the job through to the finish.

But Darius’s mind wandered, for just a moment, as he started to think about his plans after the shift. He was taking his daughter Rose to the Grand Arena tonight. A thrill of excitement coursed through him. As he pushed his thoughts aside, he caught Kaz looking at him, tusks twitching with a suppressed grin, as he pushed his thoughts aside. Somewhat embarrassed, Darius shrugged. It wasn’t like him to lose focus. All in due time.

The sun-rod sizzled. The hammer struck. The great gun settled into its final shape, ready to be mounted on one the colossal new war-ships of the Domains of the Chosen.

 o—–o

 Predictably, Harlson stalked into their work area as Darius’s shift came to an end. Ever since Darius had intervened to prevent Kaz from being transferred to Harlson’s crew, the third-quarter shift sub-foreman saw him as an enemy. Darius had viewed it as a favour to an old friend, but Harlson had seen it as interference and he now took every opportunity to snipe at them. Somehow their area made it into his `random’ inspections almost every day.

The whip-thin man began inspecting their work. No doubt Harlson knew what today meant to Darius, and thus took extra care, and spent extra time, inspecting the barrel for flaws. Darius sent the rest of the crew to the showers, but did not risk leaving his nemesis alone with the cannon. Harlson wouldn’t dare to find a fake fault in the gun with him watching.

The big man suppressed a snarl as Harlson ran his fingers along the barrel with a gloved hand. Harlson had no business picking on his crew. Their work was top tier, better than anything he could do. Besides how could someone be so clean working in a place like this?

Eventually even Harlson had to give up and sign off on the gun. Darius smiled absently; if Harlson could not find fault with it, it was definitely worthy.

Harlson looked at Darius as he passed, flashing perfectly white teeth in a vicious approximation of a smile.

“I just watched Lord Peerless hit twenty-eight points in the Faction Challenge today,” he drawled. “Think your Reds can beat that score?”

Darius forced himself to be calm. Harlson was slick and he did not want to be tricked. Twenty-eight points was an impressive score however. “Maybe,” he said, hating how faithless he sounded.

“Care to make a wager?” said Harlson, eyes glinting. “A week’s wage?”

“No,” said Darius. He felt himself deflate. He could not afford a wager like that. He had saved for months just for the tickets to tonight’s match. Even though he knew it was the wiser course of action, he still felt like a traitor and a coward for backing down; a good Red never backed down from a Blue.

“I didn’t think so. You Reds are all bluster when it comes down to it,” Harlson smirked, and he began to walk away, leaving Darius staring at the ground, fists clenched.

“I’ll take that bet, Harlson,” said Kaz, startling them both. The Orc grinned, as he reached for a cap on a peg at the entrance to their workshop. “Can’t leave this behind.”

“Your loss, workman,” sneered Harlson. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

 o—–o

Darius made a point of thanking Kaz in front of the rest of the crew. Smiling outwardly, he was deeply worried about the bet. Kaz had wagered a full week’s wages to save face for Darius and spite Harlson, but twenty-eight points was a hard score to beat in singles. Even ‘the Executioner’ would have trouble matching that. He would pass some money to Kaz’s wife if the bet was lost; Reds stick together.

 o—–o

 Rose sat in the kitchen waiting for Darius. An intelligent child, she knew why he was late; she had overheard her father mention the name Harlson to her mother many times when he was late. Harlson was a bad man to keep her father like this, especially on their special day. When she pictured her father’s antagonist, he was a monster in her mind’s eye, his personal failings matched by a warped appearance. She had once read that a fair form could conceal a foul mind, but she wasn’t sure of this.

Her mother, Melia, watched Rose out of the corner of her eye. She had prepared a hero’s feast for her husband and their only child, but Darius was late. They would not have time to eat at. Melia had guessed, however, that Darius’s ‘work problem’ might crop up again today. Thinking ahead, when she had left the small, busy restaurant that was one of her passions in life, she had taken some travelling containers.

Melia was conflicted about their nine year old daughter going to the arena. The Great Games were the very soul of patriotism and culture throughout the Empire, and almost all parents who could afford to brought their children on a regular basis. But the violence and the bloodshed had never sat well with Melia. Perhaps it was because she had been raised in a small town, with less early exposure to the Arena. The Games meant so much to Darius though.

Melia knew that her dislike of the Great Games, a centuries old tradition, marked her as an oddity in the Empire. She often hid it from strangers; it might be bad for the restaurant if people knew. Fortunately it did not cause friction with her husband, even though he was an avid fan. She felt lucky to have such an understanding partner.

Rose, through intuition more than perception, stood and opened the door for her father. He smiled down at her her; she was dressed up as her favoured Gladiatrix, the formidable Red Scorpion. With an eye for detail surprising in a child, Rose had asked Melia for pointed ears and a glamour that made her green eyes look deep purple. She had paid for it by helping at Melia’s restaurant, and had hidden it from her father to surprise him.

“There’s my Champion,” said Darius, face lighting up. “My, you look proper fierce, my girl!”

Rose smiled savagely, whirling her imitation blades. Darius was proud of how well his little girl wore the red. Though he was glad that Rose showed no sign of having the Gift, he could not help but think that she would have made a good Gladiatrix, perhaps even a Chosen.

Darius patted Rose on the head and stepped into the kitchen, looking sheepishly at Melia. His eyes always found her in any room, no matter where she stood. Smiling and shaking her head gently, Melia denied that his lateness was his responsibility; she knew him well. The food, packed and ready for travel was in Darius’s hands before he could protest.

“You don’t have time, go go go!” Melia said, taking a moment to plant a kiss on his lips and throw her arms around a squirming Rose. In truth she was glad they were in a rush; a long dinner might allow her discomfort to show. Guilt washed over her; the arena was a fact of life, why couldn’t she just enjoy it instead of burdening her loved ones so?

“Have fun, you two!” she called after the pair as they passed out of their little yard onto the street, trying to sound excited for their sake. She was glad that she had saved this quarter-years taxes to do tonight; it would keep her mind off the arena.

–Yeah, the fighting comes after this bit.

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Logistics in Strange Worlds

“Lembas. Elvish waybread. One small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man.” – J R R Tolkien.

My sister works in the Canadian North, a defence attorney on circuit around the vast, rugged territory of Nunavut, which encompasses some of the coldest, roughest, and most remote places in our land. This week, as she ventured out on a new circuit for the first time, she ran into a cascading series of travel issues that resulted in her being late to court, missing baggage and clothes, and then stranded in a the small community of Gjoa Haven. While she was there she reflected on how different the inconveniences of travel made life in the North, especially for permanent residents. Here is an excerpt from her ruminations:

“In the South (In this case she is referring to southern Canada, Ontario to be exact), we have so much choice. So much cheap and abundant choice about just about everything, from where we shop to who we have as our dentists to how we wish to travel; plane train, or automobile. When I lived in Ontario, I lived in a small town called Shedden, west of London Ontario and more than 200 km from Crieff, where my parents live. To get home, I turned right on the 401 and then right again on Hwy 6 South. It took me about an hour and a half on good day, less on a really good day. I could pursue my profession where I wanted and still see my parents and grandparents regularly, all thanks to the ease and low cost of travel in the South.” – Deanna Harris.

This got me to thinking. Travel is something we take for granted in modern day, but often serves as a plot device and an integral part of world-building in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Magical and mundane methods of travel that differ from our can drastically alter the feel of a setting. If a science fiction setting does not include some method of faster-than-light travel then it will limit the size of any Galactic empires. Here are a few logistical considerations that I think are key in world-building.

1) Speed — How far can a person travel in an hour/day/month/year? This is perhaps the most important travel question in any setting. Towns and inns will often be set up along major routes at intervals based on a day’s travel by the dominant method of travel (or the dominant method of travel when they were founded) and where major routes cross. If you have instantaneous travel like warp-gates or planar portals you can bet your bottom dollar that the dominant powers will build some form of post to control travel there, if only to prevent their enemies from catching them by surprise. Even road quality can make a difference: the Roman Legions were able to exert control over such a large area partly because travel within the Empire was made easier and faster by their roads. These roads also encouraged trade because they were safe and faster than dirt paths. The legions were also disciplined enough to march for long periods which allows them to cover a much greater distance during the day than most armies at the time. Speed is essential to any narrative involves a lot of travel. If travel is slower it means that rare resources from distant places command even higher prices from those who need them. Slower travel also means greater regional variation between dialects, languages, and culture. It makes central education and control harder as well.

2) Cargo — A ship might be slower than a horse, and even have to take an indirect route to get to a particular destination, but it can carry a hell of a lot more. This obviously matters a great deal for trade. Extensive trade systems involve moving massive quantities of goods. In areas where ships are impossible it might mean a need for massive caravans. Caravans carrying precious cargo attract raids and need guards and so on. In the Terminator, the titular character is unable to bring anything back into the past when he travels, which means he has to search for weapons and clothing immediately. Lack of cargo capacity can make a big difference in construction: it is hard to build a palace out of imported marble if you can’t bring it in by ship or some other form of bulk transport.

3) Fuel/Limitations — Gas stations are a ubiquitous sight in modern day. Expect something similar for whatever fuel is required by your dominant modes of transportation. Helium and Hydrogen stations for Dirigibles. Fueling stations for certain kinds of space ships. Fuel, as we can see with oil and gas, can become a plot point in an of itself in narratives with large scale conflicts. This is true even of muscle-powered travel where food is fuel. Fuel can limit travel on extended trips, especially into areas where provisions are hard to come by; even foot travelers will have to carry more food while vehicles rapidly become useless if no fuel is available. Cargo can make a big difference in this case, as can means variation. Brandon Sanderson does away with conventional logistics of large medieval armies in the Way of Kings, with certain types of mage being able to conjure food if they have an uncommon, but easily portable type of resource in the gem-hearts. Other limitations, like a need for a landing strip for a plane or the difficulty of a magic ritual can alter a method of travel, and how it changes the world, significantly. A steamship has different limitations than a sailing ship, and so on.

4) Knowledge/Exploration — It helps to know where you are going. In some cases a map or special can be more important than a method of travel in a story. Treasure maps, knowledge of where the next oasis is in the desert, and even hints of what exists where you are going can really effect logistics. Language barriers also effect travel and while their effects on world-building may be obvious on other levels, it is not often taken into account with travel and trade. Knowledge is something we take for granted in the modern day, even in our well-mapped fantasies, but it posed a real challenge to people moving beyond the thresholds of their homelands in the ancient worlds.

5) Means Variation — Different people have access to different methods of travel. If one group has access to a form of travel that others cannot match it can give them a tremendous advantage. This advantage can create Empires: think of British Sea power, Druids traveling between stone circles, or Dragon riders: their mobility is as much or more of an advantage than brute force because it allows them to leverage their assets over a much wider territory. Those with access to special forms of mobility will almost always be in the dominant classes, either because they can afford that rarer form of travel or because they can use it to gain power or wealth. Just think of the advantages that a man with access to a horse or cart-oxen would have in the old days over someone who did not. The navigators in Dune have tremendous power because they control much of the means of travel (though not the fuel)

6) Local Variation — Local variations in travel will change the way a specific place feels. A crossroads town that sees a lot of traffic will be more worldly than a mining town. A port will pick up some of the customs of the sea and attract faraway travelers.  You are unlikely to find a cosmopolitan place that is hard to travel to. Variation often depend on local resources. Terrain itself is the most important local variation. A desert is hard to traverse because of lack of food and water, as well as the difficulty of travelling on sand. Thus there are few cities in deep deserts. Mountains and swamps pose entirely different problems. In Science Fiction this often represented as planets/places that have access to space travel and those that do not. In Fantasy magic can make a difference as well, with magical barriers isolating communities or strange riding beasts that only live in one area. I was particularly enamoured of the Stiltwalkers in Morrowind, huge creatures that could traverse the island very quickly.

Other issues of logistics are equally important as the travel question, Middle-Earth or Westeros may be cool but we’d probably miss indoor plumbing after a while (Among other things). Crossing a desert or a mountain pass are rarely arduous in modern day, but can easily be the focal point of an entire book in a medieval fantasy setting.

1) Communications — is communication faster than travel? Instantaneous communication is still changing the modern world. The impact of being able to share information across vast distances is staggering when you think about it. If communications aren’t faster than travel methods it makes detecting invading armies more difficult, which leads to things like castles and stronghold to keep a permanent foothold in important territory. There are plenty of unusual methods of communication in fantasy and sci-fi each with their own quirks which influence the setting. Astropaths in 40k are living beacons that help guide ships and communicate over vast distances, but their rarity and the danger inherent in their powers inform the setting, making it isolated and grim.

2) Food and Weather — even if food is not the primary means of fuel, it is still a necessity in long distance travel. Water is an important consideration as well. Almost no cities were built away from convenient sources of food and water outside the modern era. Ease of travel has alleviated this, somewhat. Weather is another consideration for travel and local custom. In Europe, warfare was nearly impossible in the winter months, and “General Winter” is still credited with many victories even as recently as WWII.

In Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale the Chosen have access to many unusual methods of transportation. Steamships, magically enhanced horses, and even airships make an appearance. These methods of travel, combined with sophisticated communications, allow the Chosen to rule over a vast Empire. Gladiators are forbidden from using most of these methods of travel and communication because of lessons learned in past rebellions, which means they often have to travel by foot. The fact that the Gladiators have to travel with Grey-Robes also serves as a limitation. The Gladiators often feel out of sync and isolated from the rest of their world, and the limitations on their communications and travel are as isolating as the walls around the Gladiator’s quarters which separate them from the rest of the Domains.

The same is true for individual Domains in some cases. Chosen Eudora prefers to keep her Domain wild, which makes it very different than the rest of the Empire, and far less inhabited. Chosen Moltar’s Domain is isolated by cultural barriers and laws as well as mountains, very easy for men and women to travel to, but sometimes hard to leave. Because of their mystical prowess many of the Chosen are able to build and maintain structures in places that others could not, such as Brightsand Halls, raised on stone pillars,  Chosen Giselle’s garden fortress in the desert.

Overall the citizens of the Domains have an easier time getting from one place to another. The roads are excellent, and winter only limits travel for normal people in a very few places. Magical roads, steamships, and well organized trade routes make travel within the Empire much easier than in the world outside. Trade is very important within the Domains, and regional variations are such that goods are moved about with great frequency. I’d rank it as close to 19th century real world, but with much closer to the classical age in terms of contact with the outside lands and cultures outside the Empire. Other factors that influence travel are the dangers of the taint and frequency of attacks in any border area. One of the flaws of the first Bloodlust book is that I should have had an ambush or attack to demonstrate the occasional dangers of travel off the beaten path. Next book I guess.

In the timeline I am writing about the Domains are slowly adopting new technologies as the magic of artifice becomes more and more available. The Chosen are long-lived, which I have decided acts as a general hindrance to adopting new technology. However, they are now on the cusp of a revolution in travel with Steamships and trains and so on becoming not only possible for individual Domains but adopted by the people of Krass. The main effect of this will be to make it easier for the Empire to expand. New methods of travel make for better ways of bringing power to bear at distant borders. Of course, a new Chosen will need to carve out their own territory…

Edit: I have no idea why I originally wrote Brian instead of Brandon… oops.