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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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.13

After a long drink at the fabled Inn of the Willing Wench, Murith and I decided on a course of action. We met the next day and made our way to Old Town isle.

To my surprise Lily Gemarkand sent a pair of her guards to greet us as we made our way through the immaculately kept streets of Myrrhn’s most venerable quarter. I recognized one of them, tall and lean with hair the colour of summer wheat and menacing blue eyes. To my surprise as he neared us, an electric shiver ran down my spine and my ears rang out; Lily Gemrakand’s chief bodyguard was now among the ascended.

“Kenneth, you don’t look like you’ve died and come back and you certainly have not become a living legend,” I said as he stopped before us. “That leaves the perfection of a skill as the most likely path to ascendancy for you. Was it boot-licking?”

“Cross me sometime and find out, Nordan,” said Kenneth, his eyes meeting mine.

“Is that how you greet and old friend Kenneth? I though we understood each other after you and your mistress locked me in a fighting cage with a Devout Warrior.”

“Do not besmirch my mistress with that untruth. You fought willingly and were paid well for it. It was all proven perfectly legal in subsequent investigations.”

“I’m sure,” said Murith.

“Please, let us not dwell on the past. My mistress has sent us to escort you to the Gemarkand Estate, where she will meet with you to discuss your involvement with the Doxies’s Union.”

“I’m surprised that she would be so bold.”

“My mistress won her position by being bold. It would not behoove her to stop now.”

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The expansive grounds of the Gemarkand estate had changed little since my last visit. The lawns, a luxury of wasted space in a city where every pace was priced at a premium, were still perfectly cut, the extravagant emerald tower still glittered in the light, and the servants all moved with the same brusque perfection.

Lily Gemarkand met us in a sitting room at the front of the mansion under the tower. The room was paneled with dark, fragrant wood, shelves of ancient books, and an enormous desk at which our hostess was seated. She was dressed in a simple silk gown with a fist sized sapphire dangling from a silver chain around her neck. She did not stand as we entered, but stopped writing and looked up. Our eyes met, and I was once again taken by that icy resolve and almost inhuman detachment that I saw within.

“Ragnar Skyggesson, I assume that you are here to offer terms on behalf of Eiskra and Vethri?”

“I cannot speak for them, this is more… informal.”

“I see. Perhaps I was mistaken about your intent. Why don’t you tell me why you are here?”

“In a word: Ulfgorr.”

“I’m sorry?” Lily betrayed no reaction to the name. She was a good actress, I knew, but Ulfgorr tended to illicit a strong reaction to anyone who remembered him.

“Ulfgorr is a Nordan of some note, M’am,” said Kenneth. “He is the champion of the Shadow Wolf Clan if I am not mistaken. He is currently here in Myrrhn.”

“Hopefully feeding leeches at the bottom of the docks,” muttered Murith.

Lily’s eyes raked Murith before she turned her gaze back to me. “What does this have to do with me?”

“We were investigating the death of Beauchamps, a murder that was made to look like I had a hand in it, when Ulfgorr attacked us. Given how you and I find ourselves on opposite sides of a struggle for control of the Doxies’s Union I wondered if you might have something to do with it.”

“No. But it does explain why so many of your former allies are eagerly joining Diamond Silvermane. You are mistaken if you think that I want control of The Union, Ragnar, I merely want to break it up. Organizations like that are bad for business. Now that you are done with your silly little accusation, I have a proposition that I want you to bring to The Twins.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.53

It has been a banner week for me. My brother and his wife announced that they are having twins! I released Bloodlust: Red Glory, and last but not least I believe this story is over a year old.

Let’s check that date, first post link.

Watch to re-read last week’s post? I have your back, friend.

Want more? how about a guide?

In her will, Madame Glorianna left me a letter. At the time I was not surprised, since many of those present received similar envelopes. The paper was expensive with an enchanted wax seal, the cursive was beautiful and neat, and I could still smell the perfume upon it. It is in fashion in Myrrhn for the elite to scent their letters; even Renoit did it a few times. I could not help but let out a small sigh as I remembered the woman who had given me my first job after my exile. I devoured her words.

To Ragnar Grimfang, faithful friend.

As I write this to you, I glance often at the bloodstain where Crimson Wind fell. It has only been a few hours since they removed her body. I have no doubt that I will soon follow. I have made a terrible mistake.

I involved you in this mess out of fear and guilt. I am sorry if you or any of your friends get hurt, but if you are reading this then I am sure you know the gravity of the situation by now. The Devout seek a way to contact their lost brethren. They forced me to help them. I sought your help because I can think of no man more reliable than you, Old Wolf.

That sick bastard Sildus killed Sapphire. I’m sure I saw glee in his face when Crimson Wind died, too. He used you to throw Lily Gemarkand off his trail. I’m sure he thinks he got away with it too, blaming Lord Torvul, who has either fallen or fled if you are alive to read this.

Torvul and Sildus are involved in this because of me. Sapphire and her sister, Lily Gemarkand, tried to have me killed. Sapphire was popular enough to replace me, especially with her sister’s backing. Having the Doxies Guild under her thumb would be of great benefit to the Gemarkand family. Initially I did not know it was them. When was all but certain, I sent Sildus to find out for sure.

I know who killed Sapphire because I hired him. Of course, I did not realized then that Sildus was an agent for the Devout as well as a member of The Guild. I also did not realize how savage he would be. Sildus introduced me to Lord Torvul, who I thought was a mercenary, and I sent them to attack Lily Gemarkand as a warning. In return Torvul wanted information and access. By the time I realized that he presented a threat to the city, he already had me. I hope you killed him slowly Ragnar. I was a fool.

I do not deserve your pity Ragnar, nor do I deserve your friendship. I sold the last of my honour on these streets long before I met you.

But much as you must hate me, hate Sildus more. He is the mastermind behind this. You must end him. Bring this letter to The Guild or kill him yourself. 

Farewell, my faithful northman, Glorianna.

P.S. I have attached a bank note to the letter. You now own the plaza that you and the twins live in. It is the best I can do as an apology.

P.S.S. You should let the twins manage the money and encourage them to take my place. I’m so sorry Ragnar.

I read the letter again and then placed it in my pocket. It was a lot to digest. In the end I decided to forgive Madame Glorianna; she died well, after all. That left Sildus.

Shadow Wolf Glossary and Character Lists

My brother requested that I pull together some terms and notes for my Shadow Wolf serial, just to help people keep up with the story. It is by no means comprehensive.

SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO IS NOT CAUGHT UP

Characters

  • Bjorn Magnison: Sapphire’s lover. Originally Ragnar thought Sildus killed Sapphire because he was jealous of her and Bjorn. Later he finds out that Sapphire, Sildus, and Bjorn were all lovers.
  • Crimson Wind: Madame Glorianna’s Sirutiran Bodyguard. Later revealed to be a Devout agent.
  • Git Thunderpants: Part of Ragnar’s crew. Git is a goblin, skilled in alchemy. He fights well, mostly through the use of distraction. Git and Ragnar met through adventuring.
  • Lily Gemarkand: Young, rutheless, and somewhat deranged, Lily Gemarkand is head of the Gemarkand Family, one of the seven families that dominate much of the trade in Myrrhn.
  • Madame Glorianna: Ragnar’s Boss. Madame Glorianna is the head of the Doxie’s Guild, making her a person of enormous influence in Myrrhn.
  • Magnisons, the: Bjorn’s family and clan are eager to carve up whoever they think killed him.
  • Murith Stouthand: Murith is a dwarf who grew up in Myrrhn. She currently works with the Watch, but is too honest to make it into the higher ranks. She used to adventure with Ragnar, and helps him out with interesting cases.
  • Ragnar Grimfang: Ragnar is a Nordan exile, and the hero of the story. He is average size for a Nordan, raven haired, and somewhat pale. As an exile he is not protected by the laws in Nordan lands. Ragnars past has not been revealed in the story but his exile was caused by failing to protect someone important, and he is a Twiceborn, a type pf ascended, which means at some point he died and later returned from death. Ragnar is a decent fighter, and his sense of Nordan honour makes him reliable in a city known for double dealing and betrayal.
  • Renoit: Part of Ragnar’s crew. Renoit is a swordsman from Loragons trained in Spranos sword-fighting. He is an ascended and made enough money from duelling to retire to Old Myrrhn.
  • Sapphire: Sapphire is the murder victim that starts off the Blade Breaker cycle. She is the lover of Sildus and Bjorn, and the sister of Lily Gemarkand. She worked at the Pink Pearl, a high class brothel that catered to the elite. She was a follower of Kamesin Greeneyes, a Sirutiran God.
  • Sildus: A member of the Guild. Sildus is one of Sapphire’s lovers and was framed for her murder. Sildus is not his real name.

The City: Myrrhn is a port built on a rocky archipelago that sits between the continents of Cayllandros and the Old World. It sees a lot of mercantile traffic and has been a free city for much of its existence (on and off). Myrrhn is often called the City of Assassins because of The Guild. Myrrhn is very cosmopolitan, but somewhat savage and dangerous to the unwary. The city is very old and has many tunnels and lost places, often attracting adventurers.

  • Doxie’s Union, the: Most of the prostitution in Myrrhn is affiliated with the Doxie’s Union. The Doxie’s Union is very influential, but decentralized.
  • Old Myrrhn: The oldest (intact) and richest neighborhood in Myrrhn. The seven families, greatest of the old Merchant Houses, live here.
  • The Guild: The Guild is an organization of Assassins, sometimes called the Nightblades. They openly operate in Myrrhn with semi-legal status. Their actions are governed by the laws of Myrrhn and The Guild itself.
  • Tallowglass: The seat of government and administration in Myrrhn. The name is apocryphal, coming from industries that used to be practiced there.
  • Watch, the: The Watch is a militia that keeps order in the city. Old Myrrhn has its own, privately run, watch.

The World

  • Nordan Lands: The Nordan Occupy a vast, rugged land west of the Old World. There are many Kingdoms in the Nordan Confederacy, as well as Clan Domains, independent tribes, affiliated peoples, and so on. All of them are, in theory, bound to obey a summons by the Nordan High King or High Queen in times of war.
  • Verdant Court, the: The Elves are ruled by the Verdant Court, which is located to the North of Myrrhn, in the Old World.
  • Sirutira: Sirutira is a vast plain southeast of Myrrhn, famed for its vast herds of cattle and the fierce horsemen who live there.

Glossary

  • Ascended, the: The ascended are those who gain immortality and great magical power. One type of ascended are the Twiceborn.
  • Devout, the: The Devout worship strength. The Strong rule those who are weaker than them, while the weakest are vermin in the eyes of the Devout. The Devout adhere to their philosophy with fanatical zeal. They were once feared in the south until a rare alliance of all of the powers of the civilized world came together to smash them at the end of the War of the Ascended.
  • Garm: The Nordan God of secrets and rulership. Called the fate-thwarter. Think of him as an Odin figure, but with the key difference that he reads the strands of fate and tries to avert the worst outcomes.
  • Forgotten, the: Old Gods who maintain some of their divinity, but are no longer worshipped,
  • Kamesin Greeneyes: An ascended who became deified by eating the heart of a Forgotten God of Death.
  • Kiyari: A Sirutiran sword. Analagous to a katana in quality and fanboy reputation, if not in form.
  • Shadow Wolves, the: One of the Nordan Clans. The Shadow Wolves skirt the Nordan sense of honour. They do not fight fair, and often employ subterfuge. They are looked down on by the other clans for this, but are still considered part of the clans.
  • Skygge: The god of shadows, trickery, and wolves. Skygge is one of Garm’s sons. He is analagous to Loki in Norse Mythology, but never actually betrays his family.
  • Twiceborn: The Twiceborn are those who rise from death. Often they seek to revenge a great wrong. Some Twiceborn even rise if their body has been destroyed. Killing them a second time usually does the trick, although they are ascended so they are tougher and more capable than mere mortals.

Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.28

Tis Thursday, time to join Ragnar Grimfang on the shadowy streets of Myrrhn dispensing… justice.

The first post in the serial, follow the links in comments to read them all.

Missed last week’s post? try this.

“You had better have a very good explanation for this Ragnar,” said Madam Glorianna.

Several burly bouncer types stood behind her, alert now to danger. Of course none of them had expected that she would need protection from her longtime bodyguard, Crimson Wind.

“I don’t actually,” I said, looking down at Crimson Wind’s broken body, blood filling my nostrils. The sword-bride had died a warrior’s death, swords in hand, much better than the whore Sapphire, or her lover Bjorn. “Not yet, regardless.”

“You didn’t seem surprised when she reacted like that Ragnar,” said Madame Glorianna. “Can you at least tell me what is going on?”

Her tone was almost plaintiff. I suppose if someone that I had trusted to guard my life at all times turned on me for no apparent reason I might be somewhat taken aback as well. Sword-Brides never broke their contracts either, or their sisters would hunt them down, sparing no expense. It was altogether mysterious, at least on the surface.

“I can, but it requires that you answer a few questions,” I said. “Lets us go somewhere safe and quiet. Instruct your men to behead her and burn the body, just to be sure.”

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Madame Glorianna took us to a private study, leaving Murith and I to eat and mill about while she attended to some details. When she reappeared, after a long delay, she was wearing a fresh gown, ruby red silk with a high collar, and very much in control of herself again.

“Now, Ragnar, tell me why my friend and bodyguard of five years just tried to gut me at a word from you,” said Madame Glorianna, eyes burning.

“Greeneyes is a name Murith and I saw that appeared frequently in the books at the Pink Pearl,” I began. “It was on the books every time Bjorn or our Assassin friend visited, including on the night of the murder. Greeneyes is an odd monicker. It put me in mind of Sapphire’s funeral: she was a follower of Kamesin Greeneyes, a Sirutiran deity. So was Crimson Wind, I think.”

“She was,” said Madame Glorianna. “She was always trying to get me to convert, to come to her meetings and meet her high priest. Why the fuck did she try to kill me?”

“I thenk Kamesin Greeneyes is just a cover,” I said. “Do you remember what Crimson Wind said to me before he died?”

“No,” said Madame Glorianna. “I was just focused on surviving.”

“Something about the strong,” said Murith. “Only the strong.”

“That is what I heard as well,” I said. “Only the strong is not a saying that the Sirutirans are known for, especially the Sword-Brides.”

“Who then?” asked Madame Glorianna.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But they wanted access to you, or to disrupt the Doxies Union for some reason. I also feel that they wanted to start a war between my people and The Guild.”

“Darkness falling, who would want that?” asked Murith. “It would be bad for everyone.”

“Someone who does not care about the business of Myrrhn,” I said. “The Devout worship strength do they not?”

“They do…” said Madame Glorianna. “I thought they were broken, gone?”

“No,” I said. “Sapphire’s sister made me fight one in her little private arena to prove myself to her.”

“That’s illegal!” said Murith.

“I’ll file a complaint,” I said. “The word of a Nordan Exile against the leader of the Gemarkand Family…”

“Focus, please,” said Madame Glorianna.

“I’m now wondering where Lily Gemarkand found herself a Devout warrior…” I said. “And who the other names on the list are. This little event of ours is bigger than Sapphire and Bjorn. It is bigger than The Guild, the Gemarkand family, and the Doxies Union. This is about the city as a whole, I think.”

“What do you mean, Ragnar?” asked Madame Glorianna.

“He means the Devout are involved,” said Murith. “Crimson Wind was one of them perhaps, or at least part of one of their Harbinger cults. They invaded Myrrhn once, using an uprising of cults that they had planted and nurtured within the city: little incubators for their sick philosophy.”

“They couldn’t possibly be planning another invasion, could they?” asked Madame Glorianna. “And why would the Doxies Guild matter to them in that case? Why could they want me dead?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “For now, keep word of Crimson Wind’s death from spreading as long as you can. Double your guard: old hands only. Gather as much money as you can and start putting mercenaries on retainer, reputable companies from out of town. Murith, you are going to have to convince the watch that we might have a serious problem here. I am going to see if I can track down the priest of Kamesin Greeneyes and see how he is involved in this, and then I’m going to find out where Lily Gemarkand got her hands on a Devout warrior.”

But first, I had to call on some friends.