Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review Excerpt

This review is posted in full over at booknest.eu! It’s my longest ever review, and I’m wondering whether to publish each of the short stories as a separate blog post over here at the Reliquary. What do you think?

Anyway, here goes:

Abercrombie’s prose is exceptional. His First Law novels are as successful as they are not only because of the unforgettable characters and the breathtaking twists, or because of the brutal world he’s created, one of the sheerest bloody realistic depictions of a world I’ve ever encountered. He’s one of my favourite authors, and for good reason – I’m not pledging to be impartial, but I will do my best to contain my enthusiasm over the next few paragraphs! Okay, lots of paragraphs. Lots and lots of paragraphs.

I’ll say a few words about each of the short stories in the collection, starting off with whether it’s recommended or downright necessary to have read any of the First Law stand-alone novels to get what’s going on.

A Beautiful Bastard

Colonel Sand dan Glokta is a bastard. To anyone who’s read the First Law trilogy, that’ll come as no surprise. He’s a damn likable bastard too, owing to the fact that he tends to wax poetical about life and it’s many and terrible injustices, which Glokta goes on to perpetrate in the course of one of the finest fantasy trilogies. A Beautiful Bastard is before all that, before the Gurkish got their hands on the finest fencer of the Union and ruined his body. Hours, if not minutes before, to be exact – this story takes place on the day when Glokta’s self-aggrandizement leads him to lead a doomed defense on a bridge being overrun by the Gurkish.

The story draws you in quickly enough, and then it thrashes you around with one of the finest descriptions I’ve ever read:

But Glokta was an utter bastard. A beautiful, spiteful, masterful, horrible bastard, simultaneously the best and worst man in the Union. He was a tower of self-centred self-obsession. An impenetrable fortress of arrogance. His ability was exceeded only by his belief in his own ability… Glokta was a veritable tornado of bastardy, leaving a trail of flattened friendship, crushed careers and mangled reputations in his heedless wake. 
His ego was so powerful it shone from him like a strange light, distorting the personalities of everyone around him at least halfway into being bastards themselves. …most committed followers of the Gurkish religion were expected to make the pilgrimage to Sarkant. In the same way, the most committed bastards might be expected to make a pilgrimage to Glokta. …He had acquired a constantly shifting coteries of bastards streaming after him like the tail after a comet.  (5-6)

This is exactly the kind of Abercrombie prose that shines and glitters on the page. The ironic undertone, the sheer emotional charge of it; and at the end of the day, it encapsulates his character at this point in time so well.           

And of course, if the description wasn’t enough, Glokta finds a perfect way to show how much of a spiteful bastard he is to the only true friend he’s had, Goleem West, who just so happens to be one of the finest side characters Abercrombie wrote in the original First Law trilogy. Oh, and there’s Corporal Tunny who will be known to anyone and everyone familiar with The Heroes. He’s the best. And the worst.

This story was the perfect kick-off to an anthology filled with Abercrombie. My score for A Beautiful Bastard is 4.5/5 – because it’s the perfect comfort food of First Law stories, because the style and voice and prose are as sharp as the pointy end of Glokta’s steels but it doesn’t add any new, unknown dimensions to the tried-and-tested Glokta mix.

Small Kindnesses 

Do I need to read any of the standalone First Law novels to get what’s going on? Nope, this one is quite alright with First Law trilogy knowledge, or even without it!

“Small Kindnesses” introduces us to Shev, a thief of great skill and some renown, and to Javre, The Lioness of Hoskopp. A young Severard (one of Sand dan Glokta’s right-hand men) makes an appearance too, though it’s hardly something more than a cameo. Shev’ though barely entering her twenties, is already tired of the thieving life and is actively trying to get out of it when, of course, the local crime lord’s son has to drag her back into it. So Shev does a job – and she does it fairly well, top marks for the way the action scene is written and for Shev’s crabby luck – but some people just aren’t happy at all with what they get, and our thief ends up in a tight spot. There’s a lot going on in here, and Javre and Shev have incredible chemistry as soon as both are on the page together and conscious. 

What’s even more excellent is, the story of Shev and Javre doesn’t end here – no, this is just the beginning of some of the wackiest adventures in the First Law universe! We’ll get back to them when we get back to them. 4.5/5 – because I know how much more hilarious the pair’s adventuring is about to get.

Darkest Dungeon In-Depth: Introduction and Overview — Everything is Resource Management

Hullo, everyone, and welcome back to the recurring topic of this blog nowadays, which is indeed nothing less than the much-loved aphorism, #EverythingIsContent.

This one is in video form! But if you’ve got preference for reading, after the embedded link, I’ll also drop my script — which is most of the vid but not all of it. I tend to go off-script whenever genius strikes!

The Script

Hello and welcome to Darkest Dungeon In-Depth

I’ve spent dozens of hours over the last several weeks playing Darkest Dungeon; spending so long with one game over such a short period has lit in me the desire to take a deep dive into the many facets of this excellent game of tactics, survival and Lovecraftian horror. This I will do in a series of videos released twice weekly, over the next few weeks. Ever since before it was officially released, I’ve thought that Darkest Dungeon is truly an exceptional game, and once I heard about the announcement of the sequel, I realised I’d never actually properly finished it. The thing is – it’s a massive game, especially if, like me, you don’t want to just go through the easier, “Radiant” option; no, a game like this deserves an in-depth dive, in more ways than one. I’ve spent over a hundred hours playing it.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to pretend I’m a good player – I’ve made more mistakes than I’d like, but I am learning, and I have put a of research in each of the different sections of what will, a few weeks from now, turn out to be a fairly long mega-video. Without further ado, let’s get into part 1—the overview.

01: Introduction and Overview      

Darkest Dungeon is, at its core, a game of resource management. These resources come in many forms: first and foremost, they come in the form of the dozens of adventurers you go through over the extent of your journey into the Ancestor’s Estate. In the Hamlet, the resources you manage are gold, and the four types of relics with which buildings are upgraded: portraits, crests, deeds and busts. And in each expedition you send your weekly group of adventurers, the resources you manage range from consumables, like bandages and medicinal herbs, to the very limited inventory space which will force you, time and time again, to decide between riches, baubles, trinkets and the other type of currency mentioned earlier.

Resource management goes very deep indeed, where characters are concerned. Every class of characters has their strengths and weaknesses – the leper delivers devastating blows but his accuracy is a problem, especially on higher level expeditions; the hellion has the ability to buff herself and a reach unlike most other melee characters, as well as take on three enemies at once in a massive assault with her glaive but at the cost of lowered damage and speed; and the vestal…well, okay, she’s the perfect virtuous healing machine. But this isn’t meant to go into the strengths and weaknesses of the different classes, but rather to reinforce my statement – everything is resource management. The weaknesses I discussed can be neutralised with the use of trinkets, as well as the locking in of positive quirks.

Trinkets, I think, are self-explanatory. What’s interesting about them is that the majority have not only a beneficiary effect, but also introduce some new weakness, taking away from characters’ speed, or just about anything else that can negatively impact an adventurer. Perks of the positive variety are  somewhat more interesting, and they can allow for a good deal of hair-thin customization.

Using one of the buildings in town, the medical ward, you can strap on the characters to fancy leather chairs and prod them with needless until the positive quirk is ‘locked in’ i.e. it won’t ever be exchanged by something useless at the end of an expedition. The process is obscenely expensive – which is why I only began locking in positive quirks of characters once they hit resolve level 5, i.e. became champions of their class. Definitely because I hadn’t yet realized that was a possibility by that time, nope.

To conclude on the topic of the original Negative quirks range from mildly annoying to seriously debilitating, depending entirely on randomness. You can remove the

So much for quirks, negative or positive.

Resource management in town is…kind of a pain, sometimes. Fully upgrading any one building in the Hamlet costs hundreds of crests and one additional of the collectible ancestral resources. Paintings are the most rare of these, and are a nightmare to carry, as they stack in threes. For reference, crests stack in twelves, while busts and deeds stack in sixes in your inventory during an expedition. Not that there aren’t plenty of each, and as you’ll be going on dozens of expeditions –even hundreds – the Hamlet will expand before your eyes. In my view, the best buildings to work on are the blacksmith, the guild hall and the recruitment coach, on account of the fact that upgrading the first two allows for unlocking higher level skills, armor and weapon upgrades, as well as cheaper prices in terms of these upgrades. With these upgraded, the coach can in turn be upgraded in order to offer a chance of recruitment of more experienced adventurers, who come in with better gear and access to all combat skills at the level they’re recruited at. While you’ll never recruit a character above resolve level 3, these still save a bunch of money in terms of investing into gear and skill upgrades.

So much for resource management in town. Coming next, Apprentice and Veteran expeditions.

The Intentionally Unhelpful Villain #01: Help?

Journal Entry The First

Let it be writ:

Today, an oaf of a man, a woodcutter through and through, passed by my cabin.

“Where go you, axeman?” I said.

“A good day to you, villain!” he said, scratching his beard. “I am on my way to cut a little girl and her granny out of the tummy of a wolf. Bad business for the timber business, wolves eating one of my biggest clients and whatnot.” He sighed. “‘Tis the third time this has happened over the past season. Say, care you join me?”

“I’m good,” I said. I wasn’t, but I was going go be. Snicker.

He nodded, and turned around, tugging at his axe, skipping two steps at a time. Little did he know, a single step was worn out and slippery. It was this step, in fact, which his foot gave way under.

He flew into the air for a few glorious moments. Then, he fell to the ground, the head of the axe burying itself in his chest under the monumental weight. I got up, cackled at the sight, then sat back in my rocking chair.

Sometimes, it’s good to be partially precognisant.

Journal Entry The Second

The axeman pulled the axe out of his chest this morning. He seemed displeased with me. Nothing new under the sun.

“Listen here–” he said. The air shimmered behind him, and a shape enclosed in black iron grasped and threw the oafish man far away into the air. The axeman was silent, be it surprise or shock.

His form was gaunt, the face that appeared behind the iron helm an unnatural shade of white. Save for the difference in colour, it was familiar insofar as my own.

“Villain,” he said.

“Villain,” I nodded. “Have you come to free me from this prison, brother?”

He shrugged. “Something like that.” His fist went flying towards my face.

Partial precognition sucks.

Unintentionally Helpful Villain #15: Saved by the Librarian

Diary Entry #215

Ah, my sweet perdition has ended! And to think that I have one of my very own Librarians to thank for it! A nice enough lad, and bright, too–to save me from the throng of half-catatonic Inquisitors–while I’m slowly roasted upon a pyre, no less!

I have named this Librarian the Head Librarian, and have banished his original name unto the Infernal Tempest. He doth not seem very pleased at all by this turn of events. He groans and bemoans my choice, this Head Librarian.

He’ll get over it!

Diary Entry #216

Mine Head Librarian has finally recovered from the loss of his name. He has taken the time to tell me the tale of his discovery that mine body has been in use by an imposter — mine ex-wife. Thus goes his tale:

As My Lord knows, we few remaining Librarians remained behind along with Your Lordship’s champions, to await your return. When first you–rather, your body– returned from the underground of Kresh, we had very well taken ahold of it, and prepared to annex it into the Realm. To everyone in the camp’s chagrin, you ordered us to free the prisoners, to turn the newly-converted Library building to dust, and to ride away. 

We didn’t know what to think. As we moved northwards, a series of events served to confuse us much further; as we made camp near a brook, it was none other than you, Lordship, that ran along to fetch water for our sick and wounded. Later, you offered your pale horse to the Prime Librarian, Sven, as he had taken an arrow to the elbow from a twelve year old child. You also did not order the child be commended as we have witnessed you to do, but punished its entire village. 

As your loyal subjects, Sire, we are used to a certain amount of…aberrant behaviour where your royal decisions are concerned. Your Lordship will forgive me for saying so but there is a certain mercurial side to your magnanimous character. No, no, don’t blush, my Lord, I speak truth. 

When your…imposter, for lack of a better work, allowed another to ride your horse, we knew we were dealing with something altogether different from our true master. So it was that I volunteered my services to return to Kresh, and to seek out the truth behind your change. 

Your…wife, is it, Sire? gave me permission to leave when I told her my darling, old grandmother had health issues several towns away. There is something disconcerting about your gauntleted hand offering me a healing salve to take on the road; that’s what I used on all the burnt flesh, Dark Lord, it works rather well, doesn’t it?

As I got to Kresh, I heard more and more rumors of strange happenings — villages gone rampant against men, magical animals disappearing, a traveling rabbit-beast–werebunny, Lordship?–do forgive me; and much more, besides. 

I seemed to miss you time and time again; until I heard of a woman that refused to die within enchanted flames, a witch that refused to give up on her sinful ways in so terrible a way that one Inquisitor crier had passed on, and another was on the edge between life and death. That is when I knew.

The rest, Lordship, is history. Now that you are well-rested, we should be on our way.

So he spoke, the Head Librarian, and so I found myself moved almost to a murder spree; so strong was the bond of loyalty that mine men have for me, and so well do they know me! Never would I have thought anyone so familiar with mine character.

Now, of course, I might have to murder this Sven, for he is in direct competition with the Head Librarian, but alas — the road ahead is clear.

“Lead on, minion!” I say, and so we go, to kill Sven!

And also, to punish mine ex-wife for her traitorous body-switching ways.

 

Adventurer’s Mishaps: No One Appreciates a Bard!

Welcome to Adventurer’s Mishaps, a new short fiction series on my blog, inspired by my love for role-playing games akin to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Today’s entry is all about the hard life of a bard, as you might’ve gathered. Let’s get started!

“No one appreciates a bard! Here I’m at, a week after I trapped–single-handedly, I may add–Single-Handedly, I tell you– that black monstrosity that’s been terrorizing your piss-poor countryside, and not a dime off tonight’s meal, and a tenth of the official prize for the dragon paid besides! All evening I get ‘Thank you for this , Master Musician,’ ‘Thank you for that, My Lord Minstrel,’ but is there a single coin in my hat, is there a–BARMAID!” Luzwig waved the half-filled tankard, spraying drops of ale across the faces and beards of the villagers that had gathered around from the entire village, expecting to meet their savior.

Any man would’ve noted the storm brewing amongst that crowd; any man save for one as intoxicated as Luzwig. The people of Isthvaan, normally as meek as sheep, had been marinating in the newly-arrived bard’s tirade against King and country for a little over two bells’ time. Where warm smiles and kind words of gratitude had welcomed the bard earlier, only vicious glares and deep frowns were left.

The little gnome’s stay in the tavern had started well enough, with a few merry songs and an ancient epic retold with such mastery as to leave even those men most devoid of imagination speechless. Then, the tiny guest of the ‘Old Lady’ had requested–nay, demanded–a drink. Then, he had called for a second. And then for another one, and one more besides. That had been an hour past.

“Where’s that damn gir–what was I on about? Right, right, the small-minded pettiness of small-town folk. You won’t find smallness so…so…” the bard seemed to fall into a reverie of which only the harsh screeching of a nearby chair could pull him out. “…Tiny,” Luzwig finished. Some semblance of clarity returned to his eyes. The tiny orbs of violet focused on the face of a youth, strangely familiar to him, and sharpened. “Have you a clue of the intricacies of weaving spells into song? The years of study that went into mastering the lyre and the flute, the horn and the harpsichord. Touching the hearts and minds of your listeners, like plucking the strings of a harp, is no easy matter. Here, I’ll show you.” The gnome took to unpacking one of his instruments with care that didn’t reflect his intoxication.

In the silence, murmur broke out like the aftershocks to an eruption. “We gon’let him play us for fools now?”

“Mean-spirited drunk, that one! Throw ‘im out!”

“Not a coin to his name, and yet this one expect us to believe he’s who he says he is? I say cut off his tongue, see him spew that filth without it…”

“No knee-licker is going to disrespect My King in the ‘Lady’, while I’m standing in it! Grab the Trickster, and let the river spirits do away with him!”

The first string notes silenced the growing voices of discontent as if they’d never been there. Music filled the overcrowded common room, found its way through skin and flesh and bone, and, like draconic claws, sank into the villagers’ hearts.  Discontent, pain and hurt flooded the men’s hearts. Anger soon followed, but not towards the bard.

The gnome did not see who threw in the first fist and soon enough, it hardly mattered. One moment, nothing but the music and the baited breaths of the villagers broke the silence; the next, the soft stringing of melody was drowned out in the melee that erupted through the ranks of men.

***

Luzwig closed the door to the small village inn behind him, and hummed a small spell, locking it tight. Then he whistled, a sharp, clear sound that reinforced the doors and windows and walls of the establishment.

“A pity, that,” Luzwig said, before disappearing.

Several hundred feet from the village, a human woman, clad in a black mantle, awaited in the darkness. Her stance exuded of deadly calm, like a serpent awaiting the opportunity to strike.

Before the gnome had removed the invisibility spell off himself, the woman said, “All went well, I take it.”

He almost tripped in surprise.”H-how did you know?”

“How does anyone?” She didn’t await Luzwig’s response, throwing a purse of coins that the gnome hastily caught.

He weighed the pouch thoughtfully, then asked. “Liadrin…what was that whole thing for? If whoever you’re working for now wanted a couple of villagers dead, surely there would’ve been less expensive ways to go about it. More direct. Less a pain in the ass.”

Liadrin’s lips twitched into a humorless smile. “Sometimes, a cut is all the more painful when it comes not from outside, but from the inside, where you would least expect it. My employer will be pleased by a job well done.” The woman turned her back to Luzwig, saying “I’ll be sure to recommend that he use your services again, should he require…a softer touch.”

Before the gnome could respond, Liadrin took a few steps away, and vanished from sight. Luzwig glanced around, frowning, then took one last look at the small village of Isthvaan, a place whose importance he couldn’t have understood if his life depended on it.

“A pity, that,” he repeated in a low mumble, as he began to walk to Keirn. “If only that old miser, Lekaved, had seen fit to pay me more. I bet I’d be somewhere far away, with loads of booze and far away from that bloodthirsty bitch.”

He could’ve sworn, then, that he heard laughter.

 

Thank you for reading! Join me next week for more Mishaps! This series will run through the whole gamut of classes of D&D–I Hope– and while each adventure will be its own story, there’ll also be an overarching storyline running through and connecting each character!

Saturday Night Gaming: Dishonored 2

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Before you decide how to play Dishonored 2, you have a choice to make: The carrot, or the stick?

Will you choose to play as a deadly assassin, unnoticed and quick with his blade, or a merciful ghost that always moves in the shadows, unseen by any? Perhaps you’d like, rather, to strut into a room, take your blade out and cut guard after guard down with excellent swordwork and dark magic. It’s a choice you make every time you begin another level; hell, every time you enter into a new room.

Sure, it’s best to decide what your playstyle is going to be early on, and build your character’s skill set to best complement your style. I say ‘your character,’ since, as you probably know, you are free to choose between Dishonored 1 protagonist Corvo Atano, and his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin.

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Both characters bring unique powers to the mixture, allowing for a lot of replayability in terms of tools used to achieve the objective of taking back the throne. Yeah, you lose your throne to Delilah, Empress Jessamine’s sister, at the very beginning of the game. What a shocker.

That was a bit of a lore tangent–I have to be careful about those, since I always lean towards talking about lore, when I am trying to pay attention to mechanics, and how they allow you to craft your own story.

The Emily you play as a cold, almost bloodthirsty killer is a world away from the one that is ghosting through the levels without ending anyone’s life. Still more different is my Emily, who, try as she might not to kill, occasionally ends up pressed against the wall and will find herself forced to put someone down in the heat of the moment. The dialogue, the flavor texts and the cinematics don’t account for the difference between the ‘ghost’ style of playing, and my own–they’re both dubbed ‘low chaos’ — but they are different, none the less.

That’s what Arkane Studios, the game developer, has managed to do so well–it has recreated the freedom of choice that it brought on the table with Dishonored, and has gone one step further. The choice in characters certainly helps add another dimension to the fun, murder-y business that this little sandbox offers.

The powers at Emily’s fingertips are a great addition — she can summon a rift to the Void that hypnotizes a number of enemies, and can either continue on her way, cut a few throats, or let her opponents have a little nap. She can also link enemies, forcing the faith of one upon them all; as well as pull objects and bodies–living or dead; depending on how much Runes you decide to invest into your ability tree, you can get some pretty awesome upgrades to the base abilities.

Exploration will take you hours, which you will not regret spending…most of the time. Some bonecharms are rather…underwhelming. With the bonecharm crafting mechanics in place, though, that’s not all that worrisome; all you need do is ‘disenchant’ them for their special properties and build anew. The more you invest into that skill, the better the charms; and you can actually help along your play style by making relics which enhance your speed, endurance and so on.

The technical issues I’ve faced are still annoying, despite the game coming out a year ago. Performance has been much improved, certainly but there’s a lot to be desired in that particular aspect. I wish more could be done, but it is what it is, and with that much time having passed since release, I doubt that we’ll see another fix.

I have every intention of putting a video of a bunch more of my thoughts in a couple of weeks. And after…perhaps I’ll tackle Death of the Outsider, the expansion that just came out, on September 15th.

 

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: The Time of The Dark

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Some time ago, I wrote about an appreciation thread on reddit; it was about author Barbara Hambly and her many works, which include but are not limited to vampiric noir, dark fantasy, world-jumping fun with wizards and much more!

The Time of the Dark was the first amongst these recommendations, and the favourite of the thread’s author. Now that I’ve read it,I can certainly see why.

The novel, which tells us the tale of an ancient foe, long dormant but recently awakened, is a lot darker than its cover might have you think, at first. It’s a wonderful cover, by the way — a wizard wearing his rugged robe and sitting amidst an all too normal 20-century kitchen. I love the spilled chips, the empty can of beer and just about everything in that cover; if posters were sold of the drawing alone, I would be hanging it left and right.

You have to appreciate a wizard drinking beer from a can for the first time, is all I’m saying.

There is humor in this book, even though its themes, if you think about them, are downright terrifying, and could traumatize without too much difficulty. Let’s unpack, shall we?

The Dark are horrifying antagonists; they are not individuals as humans are; rather, they have something akin to a hive mind, allowing them to transfer information instantaneously. They have no form–the Dark are like globs of darkness, capable of changing their form at will, growing from five to twenty five feet nearly as quickly as one could blink. The Dark come at night, but they come; their numbers are enough to overrun any city.

But not the Keeps. The Keeps, these ancient constructs of magic and technology of a by-gone age, allowed humanity to survive the Dark’s last incursion, over three thousand years ago. Now, they will have to aid The Realm’s stragglers and survivors, as these attempt to traverse the road’s dangers, and the attacks by the Dark, all to find safe haven.

Amidst all this, we follow the stories of Ingold Inglorion-the elder wizard on the cover, and a wizard who will remind you of the best traditions in the fantasy genre; and that of his two friends from our Earth, Rudy and Gil. Rudy is a biker and an artist; Gil is a woman after my own heart, a medievalist historian with a very cold streak, and a colder heart, still.

These three main characters of ours are absolute gemstones, and they’re not the only ones. The entire cast of support characters are written in a superb way, as is the rest of the book. Descriptions can be both beautiful and haunting, and my pulse quickened as I read through tense moments that absorbed with such impressive ease as to leave me impressed.

Few books have had one character dominate every scene they’re in as Ingold does it. He might often remind you of Gandalf, as he did to me, but at those times, he’s more of a self-aware Gandalf than anything else. Indeed, lines such as the one below speak of self-awareness that is entertaining and feels like Hambly poking innocent fun at fantasy clichés that we’re all too familiar with.

“She barely hid a smile. “That’s a wizard’s answer if I ever heard one.” “Meaning that mages deal in double talk?” His grin was impish. “That’s one of our two occupational hazards.” “And what’s the other one?” He laughed. “A deplorable tendency to meddle.”

You see what I mean?

The Time of the Dark is another book that is well worth your time; I promise!

You might have some difficulty getting a hold of a physical copy, but the trilogy went digital some time ago and if the next two books are anything like this at all…they’ll be well-worth the read.

What’re you waiting for?!

For me to finish? Alright, alright! I’ll see you next week!

To my regular readers…Sorry for the tread-bare content during the last week; I had a birthday, and then had to travel. At one point, I was awake for about…36 weeks, with two short naps on a plane and bus to make up for it. Content should run more smoothly from here on out, thank you for your patience!

 

Fantasy Quote of the Day 25/08/2017

This one is from the Black Company–the very first novel in the series, in fact. You can find reasons to read it here.

It’s a pretty lengthy quote; beware!

The legate said, “Welcome to the service of the Lady, physician.” His voice was distracting. IT did not fit expectations, ever. This time it was musical, lilting, the voice, of a younger woman putting something over on wiser heads.

The Lady? Where had I encountered that word used that way, emphasized as though it was the title of a goddess? A dark legend out of olden times . . .

A howl of outrage, pain, and despair filled the ship. Startled, I broke ranks and went to the lip of the air well.

The forvalaka was in a big iron cage at the foot of the mast. In the shadows it seemed to change subtly as it prowled, testing every bar. One moment it was an athletic woman of about thirty, but seconds later it had assumed the aspect of a black leopard on its hind legs, clawing the imprisoning iron. I recalled the legate saying he might have a use for the monster.

The legate, the terror called Soulcatcher in old tales, a devil worse than any dozen forvalaka, laughed madly. His crewmen cringed. A great joke, enlisting the Black Company in the service of evil. A great city taken and tittle villains suborned. A truly cosmic jest.

The Captain settled beside me. “Tell me, Croaker.”

So I told him about the Domination, and the Dominator and his Lady. Their rule had spanned an empire of evil unrivalled in Hell, I told him about the Ten Who Were Taken (of whom Soulcatchet was one), ten great wizards, near-demigods in their power, who had been overcome by the Dominator and compelled into his service. I told him about the White Rose, the lady general who had brought the Domination down, but whose power had been insufficient to destroy the Dominator, his Lady, and the Ten. She had interred the lot in a charm-bound barrow somewhere north of the sea.

 

Quote of the Day (23/08/2017)

On days like these, when I read a couple of hundreds pages in order to take an exam I don’t much care about, in a university I find boring, at best, I think of futility. Thus, this quote:

‘Tell me, Tool, what dominates your thoughts?’

The Imass shrugged before replying. ‘I think of futility, Adjunct.’

‘Do all Imass think about futility?’

‘No. Few think at all.’

‘Why is that?

The Imass leaned the head to one side and regarded her. ‘Because, Adjunct, it is futile.’

– Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon

Ten Things I would do if I were a Scarred, Self-Proclaimed King

This is a continuation of the Dazzlingly Hot Prince in a Fantasy Realm! post. After the good fortunes that came to shine upon our Dazzlingly Hot new King, his successful spree came to a screeching halt, when a Dark Lord entered the lands. A short skirmish ensured, during which Lerik–the new King– thought the battle his; that is, until the Dark Lord entered the fray.

Now, Lerik is scarred, and, as word of the crime that he committed to take the throne spreads, he faces civil war.

Rebellion!

Merely a week past, I sent envoys to my father’s–mine, now–vassals, in search of mages skilled in restorative magic. The disgusting scar that monstrosity left me with has turned me unrecognizable. When next he crosses my path, I will be prepared for him. My blade will not fail me again, not if I have a squad of mages to neutralize that magic of his.

Where was I? The envoys, yes. This is a foolish waste of time; my head councilor, Kiril, demands that I record my thoughts. “One must record one’s history for those that are yet to come, majesty,” he keeps telling me. I should skin him. How dare he demand anything of me?!

The scribe reminds me, the envoys. They returned with news of the nobles -my nobles!- refusing to send me healers, or assistance, or even bend the knee! Worse yet, they are preparing to move against me. Rabid, they call me. So tells me Kiril, and he would know; the envoys are his, after all. They have seen armies forming up. I must strike now.
I will not stand for open rebellion. I will not have what is mine be taken away!

*****

The battle for Daar Keep was but the first of many. I have already commissioned several artists to portray me as I was, my armor glistening and pure, the blade a lightning in my hand, as I struck the traitors down. Their fear exhilarated me, imbued me with such strength as I have never felt! Kiril tells me that it is the mark of great leadership, to awaken such fear in men.

I have struggled with the idea of this rebellion, but Kiril has helped me move past the pain of betrayal. I am grateful in truth, for all this allows me to become stronger. A finer warrior, by far. I used to despise the idea of battle after battle, with no end in sight. Now, I savor it, this taste…the smell of blood in the air.

*****

It has been weeks since I last had time enough to dictate to my scribe. The little man is positively shaken by the thought of blood, can you imagine?
I have done away with all those who would betray me near the capital. Braze is safe, and will remain so. My loyal subjects will not suffer at the hands of oath-traitors.

Time to turn my attentions to the South. I have dispatched Kiril to the North, where he will subjugate all those that have thoughts of betraying me; he will then strengthen the borders against the Dark Lord’s minions.

I will admit, the scar has begun to grow on me. My ladies-in-waiting tell me that it doesn’t turn them away, but merely accents the beauty I posses, and makes me more kingly. I still intend to remove it, once the opportunity arises; but not now. There is much to be done, yet.

*****

The campaign in the South has gone…well. My armies are being bled, however, and the need for fresh blood grows daily. The call for mercenaries has been sounded; what rats will answer, I wonder. Only time will tell; but there is promise. A number of warlords, still south to the southernmost point in my kingdom, have been known to killfor coin; and they are very efficient.
The news is that some of those are in motion. If they dismantle the Southern lords and their forces, I will make sure that they be paid accordingly…