The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.37

What a week! There is so much going on around the world with Trump, The French Election, and South American politics I almost feel like it has been a month since our last post.

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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I knew who had driven the fatal blow into Old King Siggurd, but until I knew why I could not share that knowledge.

But the treacherous blade was only part of the question. I still did not know what was behind the ambush in which the king had fallen. The sudden presence of a Skraeling army spoke of a much larger conspiracy than a knife in the back. I burned to know and lay the matter bare at last, but caution was in otder.

Once, I would have charged in, accusations flying from my lips, but the wisdom of my clan had sunk in me exile, and I knew it was best to be prepared with all of the facts when I came before Siggurd’s children.

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I slept well that night, better than I had in many years. I would have been content to drift in and out of sleep for the whole morning, but Eiskra jumped on me shortly after The Twins woke.

“Back for more?” I asked, mock serious.

“I wish, we have business to attend to, Old Wolf,” said Eiskra. “We are meeting at the Union Hall. The time has come to clear your name and dispel the rumours that you murdered Rake.”

“Hmmmm, yes… that,”

“You forgot didn’t you?”

“In my defence I have had a busy few days. Are you certain I should show up like this, I look pretty battered and broken. I might limp.”

“We want heroic Ragnar who suffered grievous harm in the pursuit of justice rather than intimidating Ragnar for this meeting. The Carriage will be here soon; Get up or you’ll miss the bacon.”

As I considered complying or stealing a few more moments of sleep, my sensitive ears picked up another presence downstairs.

“Is Carmen here?”

“Yes. She is still playing the part of our new apprentice,” said Eiskra. “She stays downstairs though; we need to get moving…”

“Point made, can you help me with my armour then?”

Eiskra nodded. With her help I quickly donned padded clothing and a suit of black studded leather armour. It was uncomfortable and impractical in a long carriage ride, but I knew that that it looked impressive. As Eiskra finished with the last buckle and stood we kissed and lingered for moment.

“Its the leather, always does it for me,” she said.

Chuckling, I pulled my weapons from the shelves, frowning at the empty space where my greatsword should hang. Instead I pulled down my axe and the elegant truncheon that I used in my days as a doorman for Madame Glorianna; a symbol of my connection to the guild.

“I wish you’d let me do your hair,” said Eiskra.

“I have an image to maintain. One which does not involve fine Myrrhnese braiding.”

The smell of thick slices of bacon had me salivating by the time we hit the bottom stair. Vethri was talking to Carmen, discussing some intricacy of empathizing with a client while selecting their punishments. Carmen, dressed seriously and solemnly, nodded at us.

“Did you give up the Assassin’s life Carmen?”

“You wish, Old Wolf,” she said, breaking character a little. “The Guild has business with The Doxies’s Union still. I am here to observe.”

“Are you the only one of your brethren watching this?”

“Officially, yes. Unofficially, I’m sure you know that several of our members are also part of the Union for their own purposes.”

“Yes, we can respect that,” said Vethri. “So why did they send you?”

“I can’t say,” said Carmen. “But it involves Lily Gemarkand…”

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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 3.18

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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I drank with Birgir and his men late into the night, long after Wolki and his men left. There was no doubt in my mind that the current master of the Shadow Wolves would seek out his henchman, Ulfgorr. Later, when the beast was healed, he would seek me out again, Wolki would make certain of that. I would have to ready myself for that encounter.

I set those thoughts aside and enjoyed my time with the Sea Wolves. Birgir listened to my tales of Myrrhn and repaid me with a wealth of news from Nordan lands. I found it hard to conceal my hunger for news of my homelands and old friends.

It was dark when I left Cassander’s Shield, I doubted that Wolki and Ulfgorr would dare to attack me so close to protected ground, but I kept to well lit and well-trafficked areas on my return home.

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Vethri and Eiskra greeted me as I returned home. Eiskra seemed amused as I related my exploits at the Nordan stronghold, while Vethri rolled her eyes.

“Did you remember to ask about who killed Rake?” asked Vethri.

“As soon as Wolki spotted me that line of inquiry was scuttled. Given his surprise at my presence though, he could not have been involved.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t faking, Ragnar?” asked Eiskra, her face taking on a comical expression of surprise.

“Wolki never fakes something that would make him seem less knowledgeable or less in control of the situation. His reaction would have been different had he expected me there. He seemed genuinely surprised that Murith and I bested Ulfgorr as well.”

“Speaking of which, with Murith’s testimony you could take news of Ulfgorr’s attack to The Nightblades; they will not look kindly upon an outside assassin acting in Myrrhn,” suggested Vethri.

“I don’t know…”

“Well, it might be worth visiting Night’s Finger regardless,” said Vethri. “If Lily Gemarkand is nervous, she might have a price on her head.”

All active assassination contracts are displayed in Night’s Finger, a process that allowed the potential victim to outbid the person who placed the contract, often creating a bidding war of sorts.

“Couldn’t she just buy it out?”

“Not if her available money is tied up in some other pressing venture,” said Vethri. “It is worth checking…”

“…And asking about Ulfgorr while you are there,” added Eiskra, grinning.

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Night’s Finger is one of the most recognizable structures in Myrrhn. Visible from several islands away, it thrusts arrogantly into the sky, crooked and irregular looking. Its odd appearance is due to the fact that it is actually several adjoining towers that have been built into and atop each other over time.

Night’s Finger dominates the Bonemarket, a small district island in the middle of the Myrrhnese archipelago. The tower itself is off-limits to most, save for the foyer at the very bottom where the public can access various records related to assassinations and buy contracts.

More important clientele can arrange meetings with representatives of The Guild at one of the Luxurious hotels or brothels on Bonemarket, or elsewhere in the city.

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I arranged to meet Murith at the bottom of Night’s Finger, but shortly after entering the Bonemarket I sensed someone was following me. Rather than trying to throw them off my trail, I merely stopped and waited.

After a moment an old woman approached me.

“Ragnar, how did you know?” said a familiar voice; Carmen, once an apprentice to my enemy, Sildus.

It took me a moment to see lithe, beautiful Carmen through the wrinkles. I laughed.

“I had no idea, actually. Just though I was being followed. You should have been more patient my friend.”

“Ugh,” Carmen’s wrinkled prosthetic face took on a sour look briefly. “Your friend Murith arrived early with a watch delegation. They are meeting with Guild representatives. Since this disguise is now useless, I want to change. How about you follow me?”

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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: The Whores’s War 3.10

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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Instinctively, I rolled away from the snarling, screaming ball of white flame that had engulfed Ulfgorr. Gaining my feet I turned to face him, only to find the flaming werewolf was still chasing me. His lust for blood over-ruled pain or fear of death, and he swung a blazing claw at me. I could smell the fat of his flesh cooking and yet somehow he still came at me. I kept backing away, as much from the intensity of the blazing white heat than desire to avoid those scything talons.

Ulfgorr screamed and lunged as the fire consumed his fur. His fiery jaws looked like something from a children’s tale. I jumped back and smashed my axe into his nose. He roared and lunged again, forcing me to leap over a cart, which he then upended.

When I recovered and looked over the smoldering cart, Ulfgorr was racing away, howling. I heart the twang of Murith’s arbalest and watched a bolt leapt between them like a racing razorhawk. It hit Ulfgorr square in the back, and he stumbled, but did not fall.

The fire continued to consume the werewolf’s flesh, and I ran after him. He kept moving despite the blaze, smashing carts and doors aside like a drunken titan, and I realized that he was headed for the water.

Even on fire, he was too fast for me to catch. I swore as he half-jumped, half-fell into the water and rushed to the edge of the dock. I could see ripples, but the waters of Burning Hill are far too polluted to see below the surface.

Mumbling about fate, I made my way back to Murith, who was bandaging her leg while taking shelter in a cart. Workers were eyeing us from the other buildings, wondering at the commotion.

“How is it?”

“I’ll live,” said Murith. “Is it dead?”

“Until I see a body, I’m going to assume the bastard is still alive. What did you hit him with?”

“Something that Git gave me,” answered Murith. “It was during the Cinder incident. He said the heat and light was like the sun. I figured it would work. Is it true that only silver can kill a werewolf, then?”

“I have no idea what can kill Ulfgorr. He’s twiceborn, like me, and also a werewolf, but not like other werewolves among my people. I suspect dismemberment and decapitation would do the trick though. If he is alive, he won’t be back until he heals though.”

“How wonderfully reassuring.”

“They don’t call me Joyfang. Can you walk?”

“Aye.”

“Ale?”

“Get me a keg.”

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Teaser Tuesday

Tis Tuesday and time for another teaser. This week it is an excerpt from my new Shadow Wolf book, Red Fangs, which first appeared on my Thursday night serial.

This bit is something I added during re-writes; the appearance of a foil for Ragnar who plays a bigger role in the 3rd book.

At night Guthus’s Ladder was poorly lit and the ruins provided many dark alcoves that could shelter those who might wish to rob or harm passersby. That several notorious muders had occurred here in centuries past, as well as rumours of a haunting, did nothing to dispel its nightime reputation. In my experience, it acted as a shelter for those who could not find some better place to rest their heads than an ambush point. I had no fear of the place in the dark.

And yet as I approached the looming stone bulk of the place, my nose caught a scent among the nightime cornucopia. It was out of place, and yet familiar, speaking of fur and blood, and madness. I knew that scent well enough, and it filled me with cold dread. I knew the bearer of that scent and what he portended.

Stopping in the narrow street that led to Guthus’s Ladder, I scanned the shadows. There was nothing I could see in the wooden shacks nearby or in the shadows between. The deeper darkness in the ruined tower was impenetrable even to my eyes. I sniffed the air and listened, extending my senses.

The scent was faint but I want not imagining. I could hear music from far behind me and a cart in the distance but nothing nearby. Nothing. Not a breath. Not the sounds of sleepers. Not the faint creep of a rat skulking in the alleys. Nothing of the sounds that one would expect in such a place at such a time. I drew my weapons and faced the ruined tower squarely, ready to fight and to die.

“Ulfgorr, come out where I can see you.”

My voice shattered the stillness. I heard a scrape from within the tower and tensed. I saw a shadow move in the torchlight. I shifted my grip on axe and hammer.

I waited. Nothing else happened. I heard a sound from a nearby alley, a cobblefox or a rat. The scent was gone.

I waited to be certain and then ascended the ancient staircase, weapons still in hand, ill at ease.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.9

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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Ulfgorr the Werewolf came at us in an explosion of broken wood and monstrous rage. It is one thing to know that such a thing exists, but quite another to be suddenly confronted with one. Especially this one.

In this form, Ulfgorr is even more unsettling than when he walks as a man. His features were part man, part wolf as one might expect, but there was something else in the mix, something nightmarish. He was long-limbed and skeletal thin, covered charcoal fur punctured by spines in places, with claws like curved knives, and a gaping maw full of teeth that were unnatural in both shape and multitude. Only his eyes remain recognizable, yellow-irised and full of madness.

I was dismayed with the speed and power with which he moved, smashing through the doors as if they did not exist and covering half the distance between us before my hands reached my weapons and the words escaped my mouth.

“RUN!”

Ulfgorr is feared among my Clan for a reason. He exists for only one purpose; to destroy those who have displeased Rathgrim. Even a Twiceborn champion has reason to be cautious aroundsuch a thing.

I stepped back as he scrambled over a cart, thankfully ignoring Murith. His limbs had deceptively long reach, and his talons scythed toward me, ripping up cobbles. I kept backing up, wishing that I had brought my greatsword. A set of slavering jaws, smelling of blood, snapped shut near my leg. I rolled under a cart. Ulfgorr smashed it aside and pounced. I scrambled away, but he caught me and I was sent sprawling by a blow that slashed through my sturdy kingsmail and raked my ribs bloody.

I smashed into the side of a shed and surged to my feet, but Ulfgorr was too swift. With irresistible strength he massive, sinewy form slammed into me. We burst through the wall of the shed. I twisted desperately, avoiding those reaching claws, turning and slashing at a long forearm with my axe. The blade bit as I backpedaled from the massive clawing form of my foe. I ducked another slash, then another, slammed my hammer into Ulfgorr’s knee and then dove past him, out into the open.

I almost made it.

But he was too fast and too strong. Ulfgorr lunged through the wreckage, growling, and snatched my leg. With a single, powerful motion he lifted me from the ground, dangling my upside down. I kicked and slashed at his arm with my axe, but the beast gave a kind of chuckle and flexed the talons of his free hand where I could see them.

“Garm–” I began to intone.

“Clear!” shouted Murith as she mounted a wagon five paces away, leveling her arbalest at Ulfgorr.

The werewolf looked at the dwarf woman with a puzzled expression. Ulfgarr is not used to being defied. I took the opportunity to swing my hammer as hard as I could, up and between his legs. Ulfgorr dropped me. I hit the ground at rolled, feeling the heat of his maw and the wind of his claws as he close on me. Then I heard the twang of Murith’s weapon.

That won’t do anything, I thought.

Then there was a bright flash, and a rush of heat from behind me, followed by an inhuman scream of pain.

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