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 3.40

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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A ripple of excitement went through the crowd as Diamond Silvermane stood before them. She was beautiful, wealthy, and courageous enough to try to challenge The Twins in Union Hall: an intoxicating combination.

“Humility does not come easily to me,” Diamond began, her tone contrite, almost reflective. “I was born on the streets of Cliffshadow. After my parents died, my aunt sold my virginity rights for a small fortune. I hated that woman, but she gave me the best advice that I ever heard as the carriage came to take me to Old Town: ‘Sell yourself and take advantage of every opportunity you have, or someone else will.’ I followed that advice and I parlayed my beauty into freedom and fortune. I sought to break the Union to help others follow in my path, but I can see now that I was mistaken.”

There was a ripple of agreement.

“You all know that my patron is Lily Gemarkand. Her sister, Sapphire, introduced us, and our friendship has opened new doors to me. But the rarefied circles that I travel in have coloured my views. Running the Pink Pearl has cleansed them.”

I exchanged a glance with Vethri; Diamond was executing a deft pivot. While her shift would be seen as one of pure self-interest by some, she had the charisma to convince others of her conversion, I could see.

“I am still an individualist at heart, and while I believe that the Union takes far too much gold from hard working Doxies, but it is naive to think that we can do without it. The Union gives us power in city politics and it gives us a way to organize agreements between brothels. I believe in The Union most of all because it gives those who have the talent a chance to work their way into better and better institutions. As a madame within the Doxies’s Union I can attract the best talent from houses of pleasure throughout the city, which is admittedly very difficult if every brothel is a business unto itself.”

I saw more than a few nod at this. It was a point that all the membership agreed upon, and a persuasive opening.

“That is what this Union does best; it gives a smart, ambitious Doxie the tools that she needs to make the connections that will allow her to rise to the full extent of her talent. Without the Union, some of the Doxies and Joyboys would be little less than slaves to violent gangs and pimps, and the great pleasure houses of Myrrhn would have access to less talent. In short, The Union is good because it serves the interest of the individual by protecting her from predators and organizing movement between districts. As for political power, The Union strong enough to resist burdensome outside regulations that other forces in the city might impose on us. Yes, I’ll say it, the Union is good!”

Diamond said it with such enthusiasm that it drew cheers from many.

“But, I still feel that The Union is too intrusive, and too expensive for those of us who work hard to meet the limits of our ambitions. Why should I have to pay a greater percentage of my earnings than someone who has not worked as hard as I have? Shouldn’t we all pay an equal amount? We are all here for they money, and many of us do not get enough back from The Union considering how much we pay in fees. In the end, its just another tax, and no one likes taxes.”

This, of course drew more cheers.

“And while The Doxies’s Union protects us from outside regulation, it is too often used as a tool to regulate hard working Doxies. Do we really need all of these classes to do the things that we are naturally equipped to do? Are the apprenticeships necessary? Do we really need more people telling us what to do? I think we get enough of that from our clients…”

There was laughter.

“I want leadership of The Union to lift burdensome regulations, ease fees, and make The Union a better, safer place where Doxies’s have the freedom to grow. That is why I am here tonight. That is why I am challenging The Twins.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.32

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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Climbing down into the fighting pit, I tried to ignore the excitement rippling through the Nordan. Many of them recognized Garmsbitta, now held by Thyra. They wondered how such a blade would make its way into the hands of an exile and a Twiceborn like myself. Some saw this as a sign, and a fresh round of wagers were placed, likely in my favour.

I wasn’t so sure. It is best not to count your treasure until you have escaped the dragon’s grasp, as they say; it is the same with Fate. I did not know if Skygge would guide my hand or if the Gods were merely mocking me.

It didn’t matter really. Gods or no, I want to win, to kill Ulfgorr and to confront the man who killed Siggurd. No matter how the advantages were tallied, the only way I could do this would be to fight.

There were whistles and catcalls and cheering above me as Ulfgorr walked to the side of the fighting pit, quite naked. He was even uglier without clothing; his skin was patchy, as if it were stitched together from that of many different men. Cadaverously thin, his ribs stuck out as if they were going to burst through the skin.

Despite his ungainly appearance, Ulfgorr moved with the grace of a predator. He looked down on me and snarled.

“Say goodbye Ragnar.”

It is rare to see a skin-shifter like Ulfgorr change in front of witnesses. I suspect that this is mostly because it takes time, and they are quite vulnerable while it is underway. Ulfgorr decided to make the most of the moment, shifting in front of everyone.

Arms held out to the side, his fingers curled like claws, Ulfgorr looked to the heavens and whispered the name of the keeper of the abyss, the Nordan Goddess who oversees the realm of the damned. Then he began to change. His teeth and nails, began to sharpened and lengthen. Hair began to sprout from his patchy skin, changing into fur. It was still patchy, because Ulfgorr was even more ugly as a werewolf, but at least it covered his body.

With a sickening series of snapping pops his knee joints bent backward while the rest of his bones lengthened. His flesh seemed to melt and crawl underneath hisfur and swell to fill his new frame. Spines ripped through his skin and his mouth lengthened into a ghastly snout full of jagged ivory blades.

As he settled into his new form, Ulfgorr howled, a ghosly grim sound that sent a shiver down my spine. Even for skin-shifter he was unnatural, and it was easy to see why many considered him touched by the dark goddess that he sometimes prayed to. All around the room people drew back instinctively from that sound and the hideous creature that made it.

Then the head lowered and those mad yellow eyes fixed on me. His snout curled into an impossible smile, all teeth and angles, and he leapt down into the fighting pit, the shadows instantly embracing his monstrous form.

I held up my greatsword and prepared to fight.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’ War 3.29

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That I came to my duel with Ulfgorr wearing the heraldry of The Kingsguard was not lost on those who came to watch.

The fighting ground at Cassander’s Watch was a deep pit, lined with the same stone blocks that made up the outer wall of the keep. The sides were twice the height of a man with vicious iron stakes pointed downward to discourage climbing out before the fight was over. It was surrounded by five tiers of galleries, none of which contained seats.

Today each of the galleries was full of people standing shoulder to shoulder, Nordan with a smattering of Myrrhnese. Men and women shouted my name, some on praise while others heaped scorn. Wolki, standing amidst a knot of Shadow Wolf Clan all painted for a night attack, merely spat when he met my eye.

Birgir of Clan Sea Wolf offered offered me a warmer greeting. Taking my hand a clasping it.

“I’ve wagered heavily on you, Ragnar, and called on the Gods to see you through this,” he said. “The Sea Wolf Clan would be pleased to host your retinue on the second floor, if it pleases you.”

“You have my thanks, Birgir.”

I was genuinely touched. Birgir was risking a loss of face by showing me so much support. I was just an exile, and likely soon to lose a duel to the death.

“You can thank me by taking the Demon Wolf’s head,” said Birgir, smiling. “And giving my clan the honour of hosting the feast once you have done so.”

“That honour belongs to me, Birgir Hurnsson,” said Thyra. “I have stood by this man since you you were nothing more than a tadpole in your da’s left stone.”

Birgir laughed. “Peace Thyra, I have no wish to feel the wrath of Furis’s favourite daughter! Let us feast him together then.”

“I am honoured that you have such confidence in me. I am honoured by all of this support. Thank you friends. Thank you for coming here.”

“It was a long walk Ragnar,” said Murith. “You had better give Ulfgorr a kick in the arse.”

“I will, Murith, just for you.”

Vethri and Eiskra stepped forward. Vethri, I expected to be calm; she rarely shows emotion during a crisis. I found it odd that Eiskra was relaxed; she is more excitable than a wolverine on ragebloom oil.

“You are ready for this fight, Ragnar,” said Vethri. “It is time for you to regain your honour.”

“We will not let you fall here,” said Eiskra, looking over her shoulder. “We don’t want to lose you.”

“And so your friends called in a favour,” said Carmen, emerging from the throng, looking distinctly like a Nordan shield maiden complete with mail and marks of war. “It seems that the Doxies’s Union has valuable information; knowledge that even the Nightblades are willing to trade dearly for.”

“No one can fight this fight but me, Carmen…”

“Of course, male ego made manifest in law, I understand,” said Carmen. “I do, however, have something that will help you.”

And she handed me a sword.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whore’s War 3.24

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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The Pink Pearl was newly renovated and very popular. We were ushered around the back  by a pair of burly doormen in black leather studded with ‘diamonds’. The perfectly manicured garden path let to a little patio cut off from the rest of the grounds, sheltered from the rain by the series of decks and balconies above. A little round glass table awaited us with chairs set all around.

As the doormen left, a pair of servers, one young, one old, appeared, bringing wine and port as well as a tray of cheese and grapes.

“Diamond will see you shortly,” the elder said as they departed.

I could sense more ‘doormen’ nearby, my ears picking up the sound of leather creaking and my nose the odor of the cologne that they were told to wear.

Carmen held up her hand in making a gesture or inquiry. “Five?”

I nodded affirmatively, wondering if she was just guessing or she had some other method to count the guards. I doubted her senses were as sharp as mine.

The Twins sat down at the end of the table facing the door. They were dressed in simple evening wear appropriate to a Myrhnese woman of any station; a knee length back dress, short black blazer, and knee-high black boots. Vethri wore a simple gold chain, while Eiskra wore her favourite ruby ring.

Carmen was still dressed in her ‘apprentice’ clothing, although she now carried weapons both hidden and in-character.

Vethri and Eiskra looked at each other once and settled, still as statues. I contented myself by listening to the sounds of the Pink Pearl and the streets beyond.

Diamond Silvermane waited just long enough to make her entrance. She strolled through the heavy oak door, resplendent in a cloak of white minx fur and the most impressive diamond necklace that I had ever seen. Her silver hair billowed about her head like a candle flame. She smiled at the twins, but there was little warmth in her eyes.

A pair of guards followed her out. These carried swords.

“Welcome to the Pearl, fellow whores,” said Diamond Silvermane. “The best brothel in Myrrhn.”

“You seem a little understaffed, Diamond,” said Eiskra.

“We’re just busy, darling,” said Diamond Silvermane. “But I do thank you for your concern.”

“Half of your rooms are empty,” said Vethri. “We know the capacity of this house and we know that the Silk Swan is already drawing some customers away from you now the Dierdre Dark and Troy work there.”

Diamond Silvermane laughed. “You’re right. Those two do have a loyal following, and I admit that their defection has caused us to lose their regulars. But you can see that we are busy and I assure you I am recruiting new talent; young women who will build their own followings. Now I assume that you did not call this meeting simply to insult me, girls. Let’s do business.”

“We are not going to take you to council.” said Vethri.

“Pardon?”

“We have decided not to challenge The Pink Pearl’s severance from The Doxies’s Union. We welcome the competition; Myrrhn has always been governed by market interests and we will not try to force you or your girls to join us you do not want to.”

“That’s all. No need for wine or anything,” added Eiskra.

The Twins stood, in unison. It was a gesture complicated by the fact that Vethri was a head taller than Eiksra, but they managed it.

Diamond Silvermane look confused for a heartbeat, then she recovered and stood as well. “Are you certain you don’t want to discuss this further?” she said, a little less bombastically.

“What is there to discuss?” asked Vethri. “Thank you for your hospitality Diamond, I know that The Pink Pearl is in good hands.”

“Have a nice afternoon,” added Eiskra, a little too gleefully, I thought.

And we left.

“What was that?” asked Carmen as soon as we were in the carriage.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.21

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 was curious. I knew that The Nightblades were in conflict with Wolki, and that it had something to do with the items that Cinder was trying so hard to steal. I did not know why Factor Octavia and the most powerful guild in Myrrhn wanted my help. To say that my ears were eager for her words would be an understatement.

“Firstly, The Guild has put a bounty on Ulfgorr,” said Factor Octavia. “It is a restricted bounty currently; Ulfgorr is no longer welcome in Myrrhn.”

“How much?” I asked.

“It is an internal affair, Ragnar Skyggeson,” said Factor Octavia. “The bounty is for only for assassins.”

“Then why am we here?”

Factor Octavia pushed her glasses up her nose and looked at Carmen, then me.

“Normally only the very best among us would be able to engage in the hunt for Ulfgorr. There is a promising Adept, however, who has proposed a cunning plan that involves you, Ragnar Skyggesson, and Murith Stouthand. I like her plan, not only because it helps preserve guild assets–“

“She means she does not want to risk any of our top talent,” said Carmen.

“But also because Nordan involvement will make it less likely that your people seek retribution. The adept in question is free to share her reward with you; it will be substantial, possibly even life-changing.”

Carmen grinned.

“If I understand what you are eluding to, you want us to kill Ulfgorr, and Carmen is going to help us. The Guild will be grateful if we do this. You are being tight lipped about the reward, which intrigues me. We both know money is no object to The Nightblades–“

“Money is my job, Ragnar,” interrupted Factor Octavia. “While The Guild has a considerable balance sheet, we Factors take objection to the idea that that our coffers can flow freely.”

“It was merely a turn of phrase, Factor, forgive my lack of precision,” I said. “What I meant to convey is that if it were money being offered you would be more forthright. You are a person who deals in exact sums, as you inferred.”

“Clever, Grimfang,” said the Factor. “Yes. What we give you depends on the outcome of the situation and other external variables. It is a complex calculation that involves many in The Guild.”

“But we get to kill Ulfgorr without repercussions, with help from The Nightblades,” said Murith.

“Yes,” said Factor Octavia.

“That is good enough to get my agreement,” said Murith. “Ulfgorr is a monster.”

“Murith is right,” I said. “Carmen’s help is good news. Ulfgorr will not let our last encounter stand and we are pleased with any assistance that you offer, reward or no… but, I am still curious about why Wolki is here and what has put him at odds with you. It does not bode well, in my mind.”

“It does not. That is why we want you here, Grimfang.”

I looked at Carmen. She smiled slyly. I looked at Murith. She looked annoyed, but shrugged. Ulfgorr was going to come for us regardless, why not act as bait?

“Very well. Let it be done.”

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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