Category: Fiction

The Battle Pit

Reiver Two Swords stood alone on the sands of the Battle Pit of Dnur.  About him lay the bodies of forty-nine fighters, many of their spirits sent to the feast in Dath's hall by Reiver's hand.  Yet Reiver still stood, blades in hand.  After two years of captivity he had grown accomplished at waiting patiently for something new to be thrown against him. Dnur's citizens filled the stands that encircled the Pit with their chanting of his name.  The barbarian in the Pit raised his eyes to the Imperial Box and the sweating form of the corpulent wearer of the Ivory Crown.  Reiver's eyes lingered long upon the barely concealed curves of the girl clad in slave silk who held the Emperor's cup.  He had already decided she would be his.  She looked upon him with both contempt and admiration, contempt for a man fallen slave, admiration for a man who still stood after a Bout of Fifty. Reiver's eyes didn't miss the flash of anger that crossed the Emperor's face, nor the command that caused the slave-girl to blanche.  Minutes later the Beast-gate creaked open and the crowd fell silent.  Nothing stirred in the darkness behind the gate for several long seconds and Reiver stood, silent and poised, waiting.  Then, with a roar that elicited screams, both startled and excited, from many in the crowd, a giant mountain grinyt charged onto the sands, straight for the lone warrior. Reiver dove to the side as the grinyt landed on the…

Interview With Pin Wei

The inside of the tavern was low, dark, and smelled faintly of apples and hard liquor. There was an unexpectedly pleasant aroma of roasting duck coming from the kitchen. There was a fire burning in the hearth, but it was mostly coals and produced barely enough warmth to keep the flagstone floor from frosting over. It wasn’t at all the sort of place I expected a bard of Pin Wei’s fame and standing to frequent. I’d been sitting by the coals for an hour drinking mulled apple cider when a young man came and sat in the chair next to mine. I gave him a glare that was intended to send him on his way, but he ignored me, ordering a drink I didn’t catch the name of. “Excuse me,” I said in my most obnoxious tone. “That seat is reserved.” “Oh? Who are you expecting?” He responded in flawless High-Lugenese and I gave him my full attention, examining his face in the dim light. I soon see my mistake. The lack of facial hair that I had at first thought was due to youth, was actually due to my guest being a woman. Her eyes have the cast and dark colour of a Lugenese woman. Her long hair, worked into a multitude of barbaric braids and bound in a tail at the back, is as black as pitch. “Master Pin Wei?” She nods then turns to accept the drink the waitress has just brought. It was in a large…

The Fall

I was sitting in a tavern at a corner table, a pot of tea at my elbow, writing up my notes from my interview with the new royal family of Sehm. No one there knew who I was, or so I had assumed, but someone, somewhere, knew me, and knew where I was, because the young man didn’t even hesitate at the door. I was watching it when he came in, not that I was looking for anyone, I just happened to be looking in that direction, gathering my thoughts, when it opened. I noticed him immediately, and not just because he didn’t wait for his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room before moving towards me. No, what I noticed was the smoothness of his walk, almost as though he was gliding over the floor. It was a poorly copied and over-exaggerated version of Reaper’s walk. On him it looked entirely natural, and not as though he were doing anything special, on the kid, it came off as an arrogant demand for attention, like a gun-slinger flinging back his jacket to clear the butt of his gun. That was the second thing that caught my eye. The first was his clothing. It wasn’t a uniform, but it was certainly worth a lot more than anyone else’s in that tavern, and was stain-free, which none of ours were. The young man stopped at my table and I blinked up at him in surprise. “Can I help you?” “My…

Interview with Ysmelda

Sehm is much as Reaper described it, an insignificant city trying too hard to appear important. There appear to have been a few changes since the regime change though, for one thing, the poor-quarter has shrunk to a few back alleys populated only by drunks. The old shop where Var’s temple appeared is gone, replaced by a new establishment selling scented candles that ward off the night-midges, and are thus very popular amongst the women of Astarte’s temple. The palace, with the frequent comings and goings of citizens and merchants, looks more like a guild-hall than the abode of a king, but a popular guildhall. Most of the people look happy, and even those who aren’t, don’t look fearful, just irritated. I wandered around freely until I heard the guards calling the hour, then I presented myself at the only guarded door in the palace, that leading into the royal apartments. The guard there asked my name politely, then sent a page boy inside with news of my arrival. He waited outside, studying me, not as though he saw me as a threat, but as though he was curious about something but too polite to ask. The page-boy returned and the guard let me into the apartment. I looked around quickly, and was immediately struck by how spartan everything was. The furniture was simple, comfortable, well-used but well-cared for. The room looked lived in, as though it was the sitting room in any house in the city. There were probably…

Dorthund’s ‘On Magical Artefacts’

ON MAGICAL ARTEFACTS1 Translator’s Note: This text, though incomplete and containing many lacunae, is still of immense interest. From what remains, and the hints we can garner from what was vandalised, we are able to determine a great deal about the state of, and attitude towards, magical objects in Dorthund’s world, and thus a great deal about what should be possible in our own. There are several distinct types of magical artefact, those common objects bespelled to perform specific functions, objects of power, and possessed objects. Many of you will already have assumptions about the nature, use, and construction of magical artefacts, but few, if any, of those assumptions will be accurate, and those that are, are of only limited validity. [Unknown number of paragraphs, or even pages, missing.]2 A magical artefact is any object that has been bespelled or enchanted to perform a particular task, whatever the task, whatever the form. From this, we see that all Objects of Power, and all Possessed Objects, along with every form of common tool carrying a ‘never dull’ or ‘fly true’ enchantment, falls within the category of magical artefact. The extreme inclusiveness of this definition has caused many scholars to attempt the creation of subdivisions within it, the most common of which use the distinction between possessed artefacts and magical artefacts, that is, between those objects that contain a governing awareness and those that do not. This is disingenuous. There are objects that have awareness that are not possessed and possessed objects…

On The Berserk-Gift

[Translator’s Note: The first part of this book was damaged beyond the recovery of anything that made sense. All that was left was individual words and fragments of words. Fortunately, most of the section on the Berserk-Gift, short as it was, remained largely intact. It made for fascinating reading.] Even as recently as forty years ago, it was believed that the Berserk-Gift was a unique talent derived from the gods, and that it was entirely homogeneous. Hersmann’s1 great study, delving as it did into the particulars of all the known gifts, revealed both of these assumptions to be false. Her study showed that the Berserk-Gift is of the same type as both the Mage-Gift, which allows the mage to summon magic, or the Shifter-Gift2, which allows the shifter to change their form, and can, with proper training and the correct trigger, be turned to either of those ends. (See the sections on Mage Gifts and Shifter Gifts for a more in-depth discussion on the nature of those particular Gifts.3) The Berserk-Gift is unique from Divine Frenzy (see ‘On the Nature and Origin of the Gods’4 for more on this), though the two were, and, all too frequently still are, mistaken for each other, a fact which led to the misapprehensions surrounding the Berserk-Gift. The simplest way to differentiate the two, and the proof used by Hersmann, is that in a case of true Divine Frenzy the possessed loses all control over their own actions, and all awareness, not only of…

Interview with Strikes-With-Venom

This is an interview I did with Venom some time after writing Battle Pits… I mean, Gladiator. The publisher re-titled it. I left the first part in because, though it’s not really about Venom, it does indicate the sort of situation I was in when I did the interview. Also, some people complained about the sparsity of the description in Ba… Gladiator. So here’s a description of the town where I met Venom, written by me while I was… let’s say, a little the worse for drink. Enjoy.   Strikes-with-Venom hasn’t shown up yet and I’m bored. I’m also soused. I’m sitting in a stinking little tavern in a smelly little town in what can only be called, by an immense effort of imagination, the last civilised country on the western edge of the D’nuran Empire. A couple of days west of here lies the escarpment which marks the actual border, but there’s nothing between here and there but empty rolling hills occupied only by the occasional shepherd. Beyond the escarpment lies the High Plains, barbarian country. The land of the Marauding Tribes. Venom’s people. Given the history between the Plainsfolk and the Empire, you’d expect there to be a strong Imperial presence along the border. You’d be forgiven for thinking there was a chain of fortifications of impressive size and strength here. No one would laugh at you for believing that the border was garrisoned by highly trained legionnaires who are constantly patrolling. The lack of laughs wouldn’t change…

Identity Thief

“What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?” asked Pin Wei. Reaper leaned back against the rock and drew deeply on his pipe. He held the smoke in while he thought about it, then sent up a long plume of smoke that broke up in the breeze that was whipping over the top of the narrow gully they were taking shelter in. “I dinna ken ifn it be th’ strangest, but t’were unusual, an’ all th’ fault o’ a young minstrel what liked ta embellish me stories an’ make ’em more… palatable-like.” Pin Wei snorted. “You’re always blaming minstrels for the way people treat you.” Reaper chuckled. “An’ ye dinna think tis all yer fault, eh lass?” “It’s not!” Reaper nodded. “Mebbe ye be right.” Pin Wei smiled. “But then ag’in, mebbe ye be wrong. Ye tell me.” He took another pull on his pipe and this time sent a flurry of smoke rings sailing away out of the gully. “So, this were a long span back, afore anythin’ what happened in Ishmek. I’d been out an’ about in th’ world some years, mostly fightin’ as a mercenary in one war or ’nother. People was startin’ ta know me name an’ ta want th’ glory o’ havin’ killed me, but dinna yet know th’ futility o’ tryin’.” Pin Wei snorted. Reaper quirked an eyebrow at her but when she didn’t say anything, he kept on with his story. “I’d just finished up a contract fer a bunch o’ merchants…

Last Stand

  I’d never given death much thought, never had much reason to despite the fact that I kill people for a living. When you’ve been killing people for as long as I have, you’ve seen it all. Death isn’t some mysterious thing to be scared of, it’s some guy in a bar sticking a rusty knife in your guts while you try to throttle him, or a guy with an axe knocking your brains out as you lie in the mud, or any number of other scenarios. I’d been death for enough people that I’d grown comfortable with the idea that, some day, someone I met would be mine. After that I guess I just put it all out of my mind and got on with the work of being other people’s death. I didn’t think about dying, not until that last day when I knew it was inevitable. I know, I’ve often said that nothing is impossible, nothing inevitable, but I lied. Some things are. The Captain told us that General Borgensen had chosen my mercenaries to be the rear guard. We were to hold the pass as long as possible and give the rest of the army time to retreat and regroup. That was shaite, and we all knew it. The general’s feet hadn’t touched the ground once between him hearing that the enemy was coming and him clearing the edge of camp. The regular army, mostly green recruits who couldn’t hold a spear straight let alone use…

Vampire Hunter

    Jonathan saw the demon’s eyes glaring balefully through the dark and the snow while he was still only half-way up the path. Their glow, glinting off the heavy brass ring in the demon’s mouth, followed him as he stepped carefully though the snow drifts towards the front door. He stopped at the bottom of the portico stairs uncomfortably aware that the demon could probably see the steel barrel of the Remington derringer through the heavy material of his right coat pocket. He had to screw up his courage before he could approach the demon any closer. With every step he took its grin grew wider, its eyes more sardonic. By the time he stood in front of it, his shirt was soaked with nervous sweat. The demon was even uglier and scarier when seen up close. He stared in fascination as the demon strained, soundlessly, to work itself free from the heavy oak door in which it was buried up to the shoulders. Its skin was covered in bronze edged black scales that seemed to ripple in the lantern light. After staring at it for several long moments, Jonathan grasped the ring clenched between its teeth and raised it. The demon’s tongue rasped across his fingers and he jerked his hand away, releasing the knocker which fell onto the demon’s fore claws with a heavy clanging thud that echoed through the house. Jonathan jumped away from the door. His fingers, already burned from where he had carelessly handled…