The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.34

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 lunged aross the fighting pit, his long legs eating the distance in a single step. Jaws slavering, eyes wide, slashing at me with talons like wicked knives.

Giving ground too quickly would leave me in a bad place, so I stood and swung my greatsword into his wrist. The force of the blow stopped his swing and my blade cut to the bone and came back bloody.

Rather than stop or flinch like any sane being, Ulfgorr simply snarled and kept coming, swinging his other set of claws at my face. I turned and took the hit on shoulder, The talons did not cut through my Kingsmail, but they did drive the rings through the leather undercoat and into my flesh, which was uncomfortable enough.

Worse yet, I staggered, almost losing my footing as Ulfgorr swept in, that nightmare mouth seeming to devour the light above as it snapped toward my face.

My only option was to fall. Ulfgorr’s feet were less dangerous than his teeth and claw. I hit the ground and thrust my blade up with desperate strength. Ulfgorr snapping down to bite me, took the sword in the shoulder. His foul blood spilled out of the wound, flowing down the channel in the middle of the blade and over my hands.

Rather than pull away, the beast reached out with his talons, seizing my helm from either side. I kept pushing on the blade, but a chill ran down my spine as his thump claws snapped into focus inches from my eyes. I twisted my face quickly and they scored my cheek and upper lip. Ulfgorr growled and inched his thumb talons along my face toward my eyes. I twisted the blade, but he did not flinch. My boot connected with his knees and groin, but he did not budge. I thrashed as he closed. Desperate, I lashed out. This time my hobnailed boot connected with the side of his leg. To my surprise that made the beast move. He let go of my helm and grabbed the leg that I kicked him with. As he stood, I felt his weight pull off the sword. I swung it backhanded toward his leg. I felt the shock of the hit and Ulfgorr stumbled.

Pulling my foot away, I heaved myself to my feat. Ulfgorr was already upon me. I barely had time to swing, catching him in the side where my kick hurt him; the burnt side where Git’s fire had melted flesh and fur. He slammed into me, bearing me to the ground, roaring in pain and fury as my steel ripped into his flesh. It was a hideous sound, made all the worse by his charnel breath and the smell of burnt flesh.

Ulfgorr held me down and slashed a talon across my chest. My kingsmail finally gave way a little under his assault, and I felt those grim claws bit into me.

But my sword was still in his sore spot and I jerked the blade deeper into the cut. Ulfgorr threw back his head and howled. I drew blade my blade and smashed it into his face. Blood splashed from the beast and he fell back, freeing me. I stumbled to my feet.

Ulfgorr stood, a great cut across his face. He regarded me through hate-filled eyes and snarled showing teeth through the blood.

I lifted my blade, ready for the next clash.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.33

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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It is disconcerting to lose track of something as large as Ulfgorr, let alone in a space where he would be within striking distance. I fought the temptation to strike the spot where he faded into the shadows, knowing it would be a fatal mistake. Calm was elusive, and my heart thundered in my chest.

Backing into a corner was tempting, but I did not want to back into my enemy. If Ulfgorr got a solid grip on me, I was done. He was just too strong.

I listened, tuning out the sounds of the crowd, jeering Ulfgorr and calling him to fight. The jingle of mail and weapons from dozens of heavily armed warriors. the sounds of footfalls and shifting wood. The sound of the storm above us. My own heart. My own thoughts.

And as it all came into focus, I heard the beast, right behind me, his jaws inches from my neck. Ulfgorr was leaving nothing to chance. I had but a heartbeat to act as his arms closed around me, lifting me off the ground in a gruesome embrace. His jaws closed around my neck and the only thing that kept me from dying in that moment was the thick steel gorget that protected my spine and throat. Even so, Ulfgorr’s teeth pierced my flesh in places, and blood ran down my chest. Through the din I heard a woman’s voice cry out.

I did not struggle against his grip. Ulfgorr was too strong. But as he had grasped me I had remembered the small glass flask that Git had given me. For a long moment I struggled to get it off my belt. I almost fumbled and dropped it. But in the end fate smiled upon me and I got a good grip on the orb.

Then I pushed into into Ulfgorrs leg until the glass broke. When the air touched the concoction within it burst into flame. Even through two layers of armour, the heat made me scream.

But for Ulfgorr, it was far worse. His fur and his skin burned. For a moment, he tried to hold on, his teeth digging further into my neck. Then abruptly, he let go and staggered away, howling in pain. It was a terrible sound, and those above us recoiled.

As Ulfgorr staggered away, his leg burning. I had other concerns. My gauntlet was aflame. The pain was terrible, like setting my palms on a hot skillet. Pulling the knife from my belt I stuck it in through the wrist and pried the gauntlet off. Much of the skin on my right hand came with it. It was a gruesome sight.

Ulfgorr batted at the flames, but the cruel liquid fire only stuck to his hands. He yowled and staggered about, too tough and stubborn to lay down and die like a sensible creature. As I heaved myself to my feet, he thrust his talons into the earth of the pit, snuffing the flames. Then he started grabbing handfuls of the mud and slapping it on his leg.

By the time I reached my sword, the fire on his leg was out. I did not intend to give the Demon Wolf of Darkvale time to recover. Two ground-eating strides carried me to him and I swung with all my might, bring the blade down upon him.

With unnatural speed, the beast leapt away. I caught him with the tip of the blade, opening a long cut from his collabone to his abdomen. Ulfgorr snarled and a long arm whipped out. Dagger-like talons flashed in front my face and I stopped.

My eyes met Ulfgorr’s and I saw the fathomless hatred and hunger within them. He growled at me, showing jagged teeth.

I raised my burnt hand, making rude gesture. “Ulfgorr, your face is as rotten as your heart, come at me and die.”

And he came.

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W

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’s War 3.28″

It has been an eventful week here. A windstorm blew shingles off my house yesterday, which is not common in this part of the world. I am dead tired, but here nonetheless. 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 fortress of Cassander’s Shield brooded, outlined in red and gold as the sun set behind it. The docks were thick with longships showing the shields of every clan, with the heraldry of many prominent Nordan among them.

They did not challenge me at the gates of the bridge to the Nordan quarter this time. Instead, the guards, four grey-bearded veterans clasped hands with me as I passed.

“Gods be with ye, Grimfang,” said the eldest.

It appeared that Ulfgorr was even less popular than an exile.

“My thanks, warrior. It is unfortunate that you are stuck out here on guard duty.”

“Mayhap he has no stomach for slaughter, old wolf,” said another of the veterans. They all laughed at this, and I did as well; Nordan have a peculiar sense of humour. Behind us the Twins exchanged glances with Murith,

“If I die, at least I will die with honour.”

“That is true,” said the first.

“Let us hope that the gods smile upon ye, Shadow Wolf,” said the second.

“And that your sword strikes true,” said the third.

“And that your shield is as strong as your will,” said the last.

I nodded and led my procession through the gates. The Twins were with me, of course, as was Murith, Git, and Renoit. There were a great many more besides; friends from The Doxies’s Union and people that I had helped or adventured with over my decades in Myrrhn. Whores and mercenaries bumped elbows with scholars and merchants. It was quite touching.

As we approached the steps leading to the great metal doors of the fortress, I caught a familiar scent. I looked up to see her standing before me, clad in bright armour and bearing her fell spear.

“Thyra! I did not expect to see you here.”

“Old fool. I crossed half an ocean riding Hurn’s own storm to get here. I would not fail to bear witness when my sword-brother faces the demon wolf himself.”

“Ah, you do me too much honour Thyra. You are a hero of the North, the last of Siggurd’s Kingsquard. I am but an exile, shamed for falling before my king.”

“Put away the long face brother. You are not so shamed that this cannot lift your heart.”

And she held up a suit of armour identical to the one that I last wore on the day of my exile from Nordan lands. It was finely made kingsmail with black plate pauldrons, gorget, and vambraces. On it was the insignia of Siggurd ‘Stormbreaker’, once the high king of the North and with that of his successor.

“The Queen?”

“No, the boy. He is old enough to lead now. When I asked, he gave his blessing. Perhaps this will give Wolki pause.”

My mind had trouble keeping pace. The young High King had given me permission to wear this sacred armour; it was a great and unexpected honour. I could not understand why it was being bestowed upon me, save as a courtesy to Thyra, who was a real hero.

“Thank you, old friend.”

“May it bring you victory this time, Ragnar.”

Of course, one might look upon the armour as a last comfort from a merciful king to a fallen exile meeting an honourable death…

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.25

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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“What was that?” asked Carmen as our carriage lurched into motion and began to roll down the cobbles and away from The Pink Pearl.

“We cut Diamond Silvermane loose,” said Eiskra. “Now no one can claim that we are forcing them to remain in the Union.”

“Without membership in The Doxies’s Union she cannot speak at our gatherings, either,” said Vethri.

“And without the Union she will have to find her own doormen,” I added. “Some of the bouncers that I saw there were mercenaries. It takes a very select temperament to tend the door at a brothel; mercenaries are prone to violent solutions and intimidate the patrons.”

“I’m glad it was well thought out,” said Carmen. “The look on her face as you left was pure gold. I loved it. This is fun.”

“Good, I’m glad you think so,” said Eiskra. “We have your first client waiting at our house.”

Carmen laughed, looking down at the array of devices that were part of her costume. “I would hate to be that guy.”

“Who said that the client is a man?” asked Vethri flatly.

Carmen’s eyes went round. Even I had trouble telling when Vethri was lying. After a moment they both burst out laughing.

“Sorry, Carmen,” said Eiskra. “There actually is a client waiting for us at the house. After all this I’m eager to see to her. Our business requires strict confidentiality though; you never know what they will let slip during the… interrogation.”

“It does sound like fun,” said Carmen.

“Should you be discussing this in front of me?” asked Murith.

“You would need to join The Union, and swear an oath,” said Vethri.

“I will get back to you,” said Carmen. “We have members in The Doxies’s Guild, of course, but I am not certain what my superiors would think.”

I was about to respond when the driver lost control of the horses. The carriage rocked violently and then came to a stop.

“You better come out and see this Ragnar,” said the Driver.

I stepped out of the carriage, hand on the hilt of my hammer. I could smell him. There, standing in the street like a lunatic was Ulfgorr. He was in human form, wearing an old overcoat. There were still signs of burns on his face, but I was dismayed at how quickly the damage seemed to have been undone.

“I see that the burns have made you less ugly, Ulfgorr. Did you come back for more?”

Ulfgar rippled, a grotesque sound rising from his throat. I heard Murith load a bolt in her arbalest behind me. Then, with visible effort, Ulfgorr relaxed.

“Wolki…” he began, spiting out the words as if they were spoiled. “Wolki bade me speak to you Grimfang. He wishes to meet and settle differences. To negotiate, or fight if that is your desire. At the fortress, in the challenge ring.”

My heart sank. The challenge ring was used for single combat. For a warrior of renown to refuse a challenge there was a great dishonour. This was a setup for humiliation or death.

“I will be there.”

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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 3.15

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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Further discussions about the contents of Lily Gemarkand’s letter to The Twins bore no fruit. Eiskra was angry, but allowed Vethri to talk her out of rash action. We could not find proof of Lily’d gambit, not determine what would upset her enough to engage in a direct threat with little to gain. In the end her motivations and goals remained a mystery, for now at least.

Murith and I set forth to Burning Hill once more. She was set to report in for duty, and I wanted to make certain that she arrived safely; if Ulfgorr still lived he would revisit his hurt on Murith if he could.

We walked through the busy streets of Myrrhn only when necessary, navigating through alleys, hidden under-bridges, and out of the way tunnels to move across the city rapidly. We saw others making their way through these paths and I watched them closely, but none approached us or paid more mind than basic courtesy required.

We did happen upon a vendor selling ginger cakes at the fountain in the Sea King Grotto, and when we stopped to buy some our conversation returned to the murder.

“It has to be related to one of Lily’s schemes; who else would have something to gain from framing you for the murder, Ragnar?”

“It doesn’t really count as framing me for murder. I’m not even being questioned in regards to the crime.”

“I meant what I said,” Murith looked up at me from her ginger cake.  “Lies often run far ahead of the truth Ragnar, and the bigger lies only seem to excite more interest as they travel. People will see the lack of investigation as confirmation of the sway of The Twins or the corruption of The Watch. For most of them, the truth is irrelevant until well after the event. I have arrested more than a few murderers who thought that their partner or lover was cheating on them and only found out that it was just a rumour after the deed was done.”

“There’s truth to that.”

“Could Lily have hired Ulfgorr?”

“It is possible. Ulfgorr only acts at the behest of Wolki, the current leader of the Shadow Wolf clan though, and I cannot see a connection between him and Lily.”

“What about money?”

“Wolki is not interested in gold.”

“Everyone is interested in gold Ragnar; you keep stacking treasure in front of them and eventually you will get anyone’s attention.”

“Fair enough, but Lily is too miserly to appeal to Wolki’s greed. She would have to have something else he wanted.”

“What about the stuff from Cinder’s ship?”

“The Nightblades took that. I know Lily would not risk their wrath again. She learned her lesson with Sapphire’s death.”

“Which brings us back to Ulfgorr. We need to find out who killed Rake and if it wasn’t Ulfgorr then we need to know why he was waiting for us in the carving house.”

“Well someone is bound to have seen Rake before he died. He was a vibrant enough figure. The only problem is that I cannot question any of the Doxies he worked with since they might think I’m involved.”

“I can do that, Ragnar. Meanwhile, why don’t you check among your Nordan contacts? The method used to kill Rake is Nordan, and even if none of your countrymen is involved whoever did it had to learn it from one of them?”

“Well, it is a thin lead, but I have nothing else to follow.”

“Good, I will let you know what I learn.”