The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan – Book Review Repost

Series: The Black Iron Legacy # 1
Published by: Orbit
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Grimdark, High Fantasy
Pages: 544 (kindle edition)
Review Format: e-book
Purchased Copy.

I enjoy playing catch-up at year’s end – time is ever a limited resource and great books fall through the cracks more often than I’d like. One such prime example is The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, the first part in The Black Iron Legacy sequence, a wildly imaginative work. This is the author’s debut and it has put Hanrahan on just about every book blogger’s radar, at least in my tiny corner of the internet. Many have called it “the best debut of 2019” and now that I’ve read it, I can see why.

The Gutter Prayer is immensely imaginative, one of the first books I would hand over to someone who used to love fantasy but has gotten worn down by the conventions of the genre. It is an ambitious novel, unafraid to tackle the nature of gods and their relationship with their faithful, as well as economic inequality, the effects on deadly disease ravaging through the populace and more.

Guerdon is a fully realized city, every detail you could ask for mapped out and integrated into a heterogenous whole. I wouldn’t say it’s seamlessly done – no great city, no harbor port town in our own history could be described as seamless in that sense – but it is masterfully executed. This is a city of industry, with all that comes with that, from the shit-filled gutters and quarters dominated by crime and poverty and the stone plague to the homes of the middle-class and the boroughs of the rich, all the way to the city-within-a-city that is the Alchemist guild’s district. And that’s not even touching on the catacombs and tunnels down below, housing their own chthonic horrors…

So much is at play here, and it is slowly revealed through the eyes of an increasing cast of stellar characters, the first among which is a gutter rat of a thief called Cari, the lost daughter of a once-prominent Guerdon family. Cari is angry, brash and vengeful but above all else, she is as unlucky as they come, as before too long at all, she finds herself under the assault of strange, nightmarish visions whose appearance spells a great deal of trouble not only for Cari but for the city entire.

Her two friends, Spar and Rat – a Stone Man and a ghoul, respectively – further complicate matters. Spar is afflicted with a disease that slowly turns him to stone from the inside out. Before too long, he will be a prisoner of his own body, a living statue dependent on the mercy of others, until his lungs, his heart, his veins and blood also harden and calcify and he expires. The only stop-gap measure is an alchemical compound known as alkahest, expensive and difficult to get unless given directly by the Alchemist Guild; which is why so many Stone Men work as manual labourers for the Guild. But Spar doesn’t work for the alchemists– no, he’s part of the Brotherhood, a Thieves’ Guild, if you will, once under the control of Spar’s father Igde – an idealist who exemplified the romantic Robin Hood mentality of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor –  but now under new, far more cutthroat, less idealistic management. I didn’t necessarily like Spar for the first half of the novel; he’s hard-headed and obstinate, just like his decisions. But he grew on me, just like that crystalline formation keeps growing on him, taking away the physical boundaries of his humanity one inch at a time.

The ghoul, Rat, is a young member in a race of psychopomps, creatures that feed not only on dead flesh but on the souls of the dead, delivering them to the bosom of the Keeper gods, one would think. They’re a fun lot, ghouls are, and Rat most of all.

Ghouls love their eldritch mysterious stairwells descending infinitely into fucking shit-and-mushroom town.

Other characters also loan us readers their headspace – Jere, a thief-taker; an assistant at the university of Guerdon; a saint or two. These myriad viewpoints allow for a depth of experiences within the world, a mapping out of the different layers of society within this city. It’s downright Dickensian in how Guerdon is itself not only the battleground of so many different ways of life trying to assert themselves over the others, but a main character in its own right.

The city hasn’t slept. It staggers, drunktired, into the new day, uncertain of everything and looking for a fight.

Written in the present tense, it might take you a chapter or three of getting used to if you’re as used to reading in the past tense as I am – it’s certainly no hindrance to the enjoyment of The Gutter Prayer. I suspect Hanrahan chose it in order to further reinforce the feeling of immediacy in the action that often dominates the pages of the novel.

I must commend the author for the glossary of delightful monstrosities within these pages, from the alchemists’ insane servants, the Tallowmen with their wax bodies and sharp axes:

Before they can get to it, the door opens and out comes a Tallowman. Blazing eyes in a pale, waxy face. He’s an old one, worn so thin he’s translucent in places, and the fire inside him shines through holes in his chest. He’s got a huge axe, bigger than Cari could lift, but he swings it easily with one hand. He laughs when he sees her and Rat outlined against the fire.

all the way to the Gullheads; from the cursed Stone Men who become stronger the more their deadly disease progresses, to The Fever Knight, a creature of nightmare held together within its plate armour. Oh, and if these aren’t enough, there’s also worm-people, the arcane and utterly disgusting Crawling Ones:

Its voice is oddly musical and warm, but behind it she can hear the flapping and slithering of the worms, like hot fat on a frying pan. “What, may we ask, brings you walking in the places beneath?” It extends a cloth-wrapped “hand” to Aleena and helps her up. She feels worms pop and squish beneath the cloth as she pulls herself upright.

Ew. The descriptions of all these creatures lean almost towards the grotesque but they are all so very excellent. The cover, too, is a work of art, capturing the tone of the book perfectly – illustrated by Richard Anderson and designed by Steve Panton, it is nothing short of exquisite. If you take a look at it, you’ll get an idea, a feeling of what exactly awaits and this is witness to the makings of a great book cover.

Something that left a bit of a negative impression – I spied quite a few typos, an unusual number for an Orbit-published book. Something that could be cleaned up from the ebook and future reprints but at this point, I’m wondering whether to start offering my services as a copyreader.

Politics, magic, religion and alchemy all come to a head in The Gutter Prayer. Driven by a stellar cast of characters and an enviable imagination, this book is a must-read for fantasy lovers. My score for Hanrahan’s debut is 5/5 stars. 

Originally published over at booknest.eu — I’m archiving all my older reviews on this here blog, as it would be easier to categorize them all.

The World Maker Parable by Luke Tarzian – Book Review

Self-Published
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 140
Format: ebook

This is an interesting short novel, whose strengths include worldbuilding, an all-encompassing sense of mystery and intrigue, plenty of misdirection and a hell of a clincher.

But first, lend me your ear. It’s okay, come ‘ere, come a wee bit closer. I’ve a secret to tell you — the only reason I wanted to read this book was the design. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. It’s really good design, though – and it extends past the gorgeous cover. The two PoV characters each receive page-wide character pieces, at once minimalistic and very stylized. Wonderful work, truly.

The World Maker Parable is a game of misdirection. How things are is never certain, always in flux, ever in doubt. The characters of Rhona and Varésh are as unreliable a pair of narrators as you’re likely to find on short notice, and both of them are haunted hounded by past mistakes. There’s enough there to make you connect with them early on, both Rhona and Varésh have something to

The language is a draw…most of the time. This is highly stylized prose, both in speech and in description, and it is well-written. Often, it strikes deep. Sometimes, however, it feels a tad clichéd, a little too familiar. And once or twice, you can even hold the author suspect of trying too hard:

With utopia comes darkness. Every candle lit is another shadow cast. Perfection is a lie. Law requires chaos. It is a vicious circle; one I fear we have realized far too late.

“A little too thick on the universal truths there,” I thought as I read this particular paragraph. Despite that, I enjoyed this one. It was a quick, pleasant read that took me a little over an hour, and it was an hour filled with plenty of surprises, each of them more delightfully dark than the previous ones.

The World Maker Parable is a story of guilt and lost love, and the depths of depravity duty might lead you to. I think, if it were another thirty pages shorter, it would’ve been even stronger. It’s not that it isn’t – but the punch it packs by the closing pair of chapters could’ve been even stronger.

Some of the novel, I disliked. The accents to names and words — especially those I saw as unnecessary or as making little sense — really bothered me. That’s very When it comes down to it, I often find myself disliking the use of fictional words, and those found in the Parable weren’t used in a way that made me overcome this dislike. I also caught a number of typos, annoying little mistakes that they are, early on in the novel.

My score for The World Maker Parable is a 4 out 5 stars on Goodreads and Amazon.

This review was part of the World Maker Parable blog tour! Thanks to Timy and Justine for organising this, and for offering me a copy of the book for the review.

The Shadow Saint by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan – Book Review

Series: The Black Iron Legacy # 2
Published by: Orbit
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Grimdark, High Fantasy
Pages: 567
Format: e-book
Review Copy Courtesy of NetGalley

If you haven’t read The Gutter Prayer and don’t know if you want to, read my review of it here.

The Gutter Prayer was an exceptional debut – no matter how hard I thought about the story, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it! In The Shadow Saint, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan opens up Guerdon to all-new existential threats, which our cast of new and returning heroes are sorely lacking in preparation for; while some characters were dearly missed, their absence keenly felt at one time or another, the cast swells with memorable new names.

I spoke last time of how Guerdon was akin to a living being, a city of immense character equalled by Dickens’ London in Bleak House, for example; what I had not foreseen back when I first drew the comparison was that one of the major characters of the first novel would literally transform into a large part of the city. Following the Gutter Miracle which took place during the culmination of the first novel, Guerdon has undergone a transformation; the so-called New City is a triumph of one man’s will, an organism made of stone with a benevolent will of its own. But some things remain the same:

Feverish, pugnacious, the city is alive in a way she hasn’t seen since before the Crisis. She can almost forget that, less than a year ago, this square was besieged by monsters. When the gutters ran with blood, and the sky filled with vengeful gods.

Time and again, Hanrahan shows mastery over character voice. Eladora’s introspections are an academic’s curiosity through and through (I would know); the spy, meanwhile, thinks exactly as a spy would, studying every angle, observing every situation, looking always for an edge to gain on everyone else for his own purposes. His masks take on a life of their own, personas he puts on and then discards. Some stick, however, and this allows us to touch upon a topic of great interest to me – just when does pretense turn to reality? The spy’s point of view is masterful – not since Sins of Empire have I come across such a compelling shadow operative. And this one, with all due respect to Brian, would run circles around Michel. 

The Haithian, Terevant’s, way of viewing the world is that of a poet in a soldier’s uniform. I adored the story of this failed officer, a failed younger scion of the powerful Everesic family, as he sought to redeem himself in the eyes of kin and country, only to realize…but no, that would spoil something, wouldn’t it? “He dislikes feeling hollow. He wants to be on his way already, to fill himself with purpose.”  Terevant has a lot going for him, and his storyline is satisfying from beginning to end.

I took great pleasure in Eladora’s stolen moments of thaumaturgical studies, the magic system Hanrahan employs is interesting and costly to the caster:

She clenches her first, slowly, imagining the spell paralyzing a target, holding them in unseen chains of sorcery- but then she loses control, the magic slipping through her fingers. For a moment, her hand feels like she’s thrust it into an open fire, the unseen chains suddenly turned to molten metal, her skin blistering. A spell gone awry can discharge unpredictably – if she swallows the power she’s drawn down, she can ground it inside her body, risking internal damage. If she lets it go, she might ignite something, and this cramped backroom in the IndLib’s parliamentary office is crammed with papers and books.

But a little magic is far from the most interesting skill Eladora acquires. Her evolution through The Shadow Saint marks the best character arc Hanrahan has written yet and I look forward to seeing how it’ll resolve in the third book of the series. There’s a lot of her former teacher Ongent in Eladora – as much, perhaps, as the effects of the Thay blood she was so uncomfortable with, in The Gutter Prayer.

The spy – his endgame is such a good fucking mystery. I’m proud of calling his true identity about mid-way through. Still there was plenty to surprise me, and I wish, I really wish I could gush about how cool all of it is – but I dare not.

What I missed, more than anything else, was the active part the Alchemists’ guild previously took in the political and social life of Guerdon. The horrid Tallowmen are gone, and so are the other vat-grown monstrosities that so chilled and thrilled me and many others. A little something was teased out towards the end of the novel, to do with a certain alchemist who appeared  previously – which gives me hope that this most devious of players on Guerdon’s political board will make her return before all is said and done.

The Keeper Church, meanwhile, features prominently throughout. I, like Eladora, missed Aleena, the fuming, cursing, flame-wielding saint of the Church; the Keeper Gods have kept busy after her fall, and have made themselves a fair amount of crazy idiot saints. Fanatics, plenty of fanatics – and you’ll love to hate them, just as I did.

I appreciated what Hanrahan showed us of the world outside the city of Guerdon – the necromantic empire of Haith, a place in which the dead have long since outnumbered the living, once the greatest power in the world – now in retreat before an enemy that defies even their countless undead hordes; glimpses of Ishmere, with their mad gods, thirsty for ever greater expansion. Oh, and a cartel ran by dragons is a thing. Wicked, I know.

Supporting character, whether new or returning ones, left an impression. Politician and reformist Effro Kelkin makes a return after his miraculous survival, attempting to finagle his way back to power. I love the man, and this description encapsulates everything great about his character: “He manages to be simultaneously the wily old trickster who knows how to pull every lever and work every cheat in the system, and the firebrand who’s going to burn it all down and build something better…A better tomorrow, if only you’ll believe in him – and yourself. No guilds, no gods – just honest hard work, charity and integrity.” Great character, possibly born in the wrong world. Other supporting characters I cheered for include the Haithian war hero Olthic, brother to Terevant, who works to make an ally of Guerdon, no matter the results of the oncoming election; a career politician who switches affiliations faster than I switch hairstyles; Ramegos, a brilliant thaumaturgist whose knowledge is indispensable to the IndLibs and Eladora alike; and Emlyn, a child-saint whose story is intricately linked to that of the spy.

I continue to fall in love with this world and characters, the more I think about them. As I revisit the hundred passages I’ve highlighted for one reason or another, I am awed by the mastery Hanrahan shows – in quality of his prose, in the mastery of voice, in the deep worldbuilding he’s woven into this story of saints and mad gods. This is my book of January 2020, no doubt about it. My score for The Shadow Saint is 5/5 stars. The Black Iron Legacy series is worth every hour you’ll put into it, every minute. Every fucking second.

This review was originally published over at Booknest.eu.

Darkest Dungeon In-Depth: The Crimson Curse DLC Isn’t Too Great

A hundred and forty hours spent playing the Darkest Dungeon, and at least half of them spent in putting out the horrors caused by the inhabitants of the Crimson Curse DLC. Great boss design, fantastic new class – the Flagellant — and beautiful character/environment art do not make up for the infuriating amount of grief that the Blood causes. Awful, awful mechanic.

But I’m done with these videos — I only have to put them all together and upload the completed version, and that’ll be the end of it. To tell you the truth, Reader, I lost some of my enthusiasm towards Darkest Dungeon — even so, I did my best not to let that show in these last few videos.

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!