Sports and WoW have more in common than I thought

Obviously, there’s been a lot of whining on blogs about poor sportsmanship in PUGs lately.

What I like about the blogging scene, is that this kind of thing is usually followed by metabloggers complaining about bloggers complaining. 🙂

Let’s swing away from WoW for just a second though, can we?

I promise we’ll still talk about games, and the people that play them.

This last Sunday, in the US, two football teams, the Minnesota Vikings fought the Dallas Cowboys in a hotly contested match.

As an aside, I wish I lived in a world where, if I told you I saw the Vikings slaughter the Cowboys last Sunday, we’d be talking about guys on horses, bang bang six shooters, getting massacred by guys with axes wearing furry hats with horns on. Moving along….

Anyway, listening to the sports journalists and armchair quarterbacks in the week leading up to this game, the expectation was that this was either going to be one close, brutal hard fought game that could go either way, or it was going to be a stunning Cowboys victory.

The Cowboys themselves seemed to think it was going to be a Cowboys victory, but the Vikings quarterback talked a little trash too. Just a teeny bit.

However you slice it, one thing was certain; with the Superbowl game coming up, everyone expected the teams to bring their “A” game.

So yesterday, they played.

The end score last night?

Vikings destroyed the Cowboys, 34 to 3.

Now remember, when you see a score like that, we’re not talking about some kind of unfair matchup, Harlem Globetrotters against your Kindergarten class Little Dribblers.

We’re not even talking about The Vikings against the Jets. (I kid, I kid).

We’re talking about two teams both at the top of their game, both with not just a winning season but a dominant season… and the Cowboys were widely favored because, as one reporter put it, “Having had two powerful wins in a row, the Cowboys are very hot right now. The Vikings have home field advantage, but the Cowboys are the team to beat.”

This is NOT a bully stealing a little kids lunch money. This is not even regular season, this was a game to see who was going to appear in the NFC Championship game next week.

That other team going to the NFC Championship with the Vikings? Yeah, the New Orlean Saints, who ALSO destroyed their competition last weekend, shellacking the Arizona Cardinals, 45-14.

Why am I even talking about this?

Because this morning, every headline about the game that I can find has, as some form of it’s title, mention of Cowboys player Keith Brooking, who is enraged, ENRAGED, that in the last minutes of the game yesterday, instead of the Vikings giving up and pussyfooting around, or taking a knee and handing over the ball so the Cowboys could have a chance too, or whatever, that the Vikings continued to fight hard on their drive, went for and made a last touchdown, a touchdown clearly unnecessary to win, a touchdown being characterized as poor sportsmanship.

It’s being called “running up the score”. It’s being called “poor sportsmanship”.

Or, as Keith Brooking said, “I thought it was totally classless and disrespectful. This is the NFL, that’s not what this is about.”

Oh, sorry, Keith… I thought the point was to give 110% of yourself, every minute you’re out there on that field. I thought that the point was to never give up, to never back down, to fight, and win, never counting your victory until they’re spraying champagne on your car in front of the cameras.

I had no idea that, in the NFL, in a game to decide who goes to the NFC Championship, professional athletes making millions of dollars to play a game most of us play for fun would have the balls to throw a temper tantrum and scream “It’s not fair!”

Maybe I’m naive, but I had no idea that the Cowboys were a special needs team that we needed to coddle, and make sure they left with their self-esteem intact, no matter HOW they performed.

You know what? You don’t like getting crushed? Then how about you bring that outrage onto the field, and translate that into a WIN.

So Keith Brookings is pissed off that the Vikings didn’t give up… apparently, when the Cowboys quit trying and gave up, the Vikings failed to get the memo.

Oops!

I don’t even follow sports that much, but this kind of whiny bullshit is ridiculous.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but if you’re getting paid millions of dollars to play a game in front of thousands of fans, most of them hard working people who had to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of seeing you play live…

You bring your “A” game.

And not just for the first half, until you see who the clear winner is, and then give up and coast so you don’t risk an injury.

You give your “A” game the entire freaking game. Right up until that last second, you fight.

You fight, damn you.

And if you lose, you do not get up in the winner’s face and complain that they fought harder than you!

Keith Brooking, you’re an asshat. We see them in the game WE play all the time, we know what they’re like, and that’s you, babe. All over.

Thanks to your sense of entitlement, the Vikings don’t get headlines focusing on two teams coming from powerful victories over the weekend heading for an NFC Championship confrontation.

No, we get “Were the Vikings poor sports?”, “Did the Vikes run up the score”, “Vikings throw late TD in blowout, Brooking goes after Favre“, “Cowboys star calls Favre, Vikes ‘Classless'”

Classless? Yeah, I think I’ve got a handle on who is classless here.

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The challange of fantasy language

An earlier comment by Domm sparked a discussion about creating original language and terms for places, people, whatever in your writing.

I was going to comment in more depth, but it’s actually one of my, well, if not ‘pet peeves’, it’s certainly one of the subjects that I burn the most brainpower on when I’m writing. So I think it warrants a post of it’s own.

I know that when I’m writing, especially a story set in a pure fantasy setting, it’s one of my biggest weaknesses and concerns. And it’s a weakness that truly cannot be corrected by doing or practising, but by study and learning. By research and knowledge.

For getting the rhythym of a story down, learning character development, designing story arcs and having fun just writing… you can learn as you go, and get better by the simple act of doing.

But not this.

I’m talking about the etymology of words and the history of language itself. How our current words and usages developed from earlier languages and cultures, what informed and infused our language, and what the roots of words are.

For most fiction, it’s a minor but fascinating topic, because the best way to nail a character in a modern story is to work back to the style of language that person uses, and get the phraseology right. How someone talks is influenced by and indicative of how they think, and someone using the wrong words for their persona, in a well written story, sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s jarring, and for some thrillers and spy novles I’ve read, it’s been used as a technique to intentionally have someone be caught out in the story as an impersonator by those that knew the original person well.

How often have you seen the device used, where one person knocked out a guard, took his radio, and when someone asks if he’s okay, he tries to impersonate the guard he knocked out well enough to fool someone?

Okay, we’re geeks… I can reference Han in the cell block command post trying to run a bluff while Luke went down the row looking for the Princess’ cell.

It’s a device that works best when your grasp of character personality is consistent. The characters talk in a way that is evocative of who they are and how they think, and the reader gets a feel for that, and can even learn to recognise what is or is not ‘appropriate’ dialogue.

We have to delve a whole lot deeper for fantasy literature, though. Most especially when writing a book or books about a fantastic world with cultures and species completely divorced from our own, a world disconnected from our own language roots.

Not only do you have to develop dialogue specific to a character personality, but you don’t have cultural accents that you can use properly without riding the razor’s edge of farce.

How many people expect their dwarves to sound Scottish? Show of hands? Anyone?

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

But far more than that, and the heart of it, is using terms that have a specific, traceable historical etymology that others WILL recognise, in a world that could not have developed a parallel.

It’s a subject I think about all the time.

As an example… I know from my own background what a Company, Regiment, Battalion, Squad, etc are, what they represent. 

I have military organizations in my own fantasy world.

Do I create a whole new organizational structure from scratch, with different terms, starting from base principles and reasoning, and let people figure out what they mean along the way, or do I use known terminology that the reader is already familiar with, take the hit on it being out of place, hoping that the time savings and familiarity have more benefit than irritation?

Many other people are comfortable with the size and organizational groupings that those terms represent. Using familiar terms will help them grasp sizes of forces quickly. Do I use those exact same tems to represent military organizational structure in my fantasy world, at least for this one culutural setting, knowing that for true military historians who know how these terms developed it will be jarring and even, possibly, irritating to see?

Everything has to be subjected to that kind of analysis. Do I go with the familiar, or do I create from scratch? At what level is it acceptable to use the familiar?

Ranks of aristocracy like Count, Duke… these are also prime examples. 

And then you get into naming conventions. Names are so redolent with the flavor of a particular culture, aren’t they?

I really don’t have a good solution for this. As I said, knowing the issue exists, and trying to research the origins of words and make conscious decisions as I go is the best I can do. 

When I call someone a Sergeant, or someone is a Duke, I have at least tried to think about how those terms came into use, and may even have worked into the history of the world why those terms may have come into being… or have knowingly developed an exact traditional reason why Duke Hope has leaders in his forces he has termed Generals, but not a single other Border Lord will promote someone to a rank of General in their own force structures, out of respect. Or why nobody, not even Duke Hope, will name themselves King of their area, why they each respect the limitation of calling themselves Duke as the highest position of authority amongst the Borderlanders.

I’m really curious if any of the other writers amongst my readers have insight into learning more about etymology, or using it in your writing, because really, I would love to learn more about it. The entire subject fascinates me.   

I think that the better you understand the root of language, the better you can work your true meanings, or layers of meanings, into what you write without everything being right there on the surface.

Talking about writing irregularly structured stories

This post is for those folks that are actually somewhat interested in Converging Forces. The rest of you, please have fun in the pool, try not to slip on the wet deck. And don’t spill your drink!

The last posted story bit, “Interlude – The Tale of Samuel the Undying”, was a bit of an experiment for me.

I’m not sure who knows what, but Converging Forces may seem like just a poorly written story, but it’s actually a Play by Email Game (PBeM) that has truthfully become a Play By Blog Game.

The story you are reading is actually composed of game turns for the two characters, Terin as played by James, and Jessie as played by Manny… but all written by m’self.

This is the entire story as far as the two players are concerned. For the last year, after I posted a new chapter, whichever player is under the gun that episode writes me an email with their reactions and response, and branching directions they want to go. I long ago had both players use a random RPG online dice roller, that let’s you choose the number of dice to roll, how many rolls to do, and who to email the results to.  It kinda gives the player the chance to have their luck drive the rolls, as much as a program can, and the website emails me the results directly, so no cheating. Not that they would, but what the heck.

Anyway, point is that yes, a lot of the story is linear in direction… but I am fully prepared to roll the bones and go with the “what the fuck?” flow.

Jessie dying in her attack on the ancient treant? That was all Manny. I gave her all the tools, but truthfully never expected that to happen… and damn, did she blow her Con check.

However, I didn’t just Deus Ex Machina a resurrection. The capabilities and events going on are not the only way the story could go, by a long shot… but the structure of events let me change direction. Honestly, I thought we were screwed… but so far, Jessie’s story seems to be working out. So far.

In Jessie’s last turn, it ended where it did so I could give Manny a chance to change what he’d committed to when prepared for Raktar, once he’d finally seen the orc appear and had the advice of Gavin and Fergus.

Yes, it often causes me a spot of bother for exciting flow… having a sudden stop like that. I do so try to have a nice slow buildup, and an exciting culmination, but it is what it is.

Bless him, but Manny actually gave me new direction this time, totally unprovoked, that I think, when coupled with the character disadvantages he chose a long time ago, and what was already going on in Raktar’s head, have given me not only a good story arc conclusion, but an epic one. A Godlike one… if my writing can pull it off. Big damn if, there.

But getting back to an earlier point… The Tale of Samuel the Undying was an experiment.

Because this is an ongoing PBBG, I do not feel that I have the luxury to write from anyone’s point of view except the two main characters, because the players should have no idea exactly what the people around them are thinking. Unless they develop the ability to read the thoughts or emotions of others, heaven forbid. [shudder]

But I also have world setting information that I’d like to share with the players. Some background stuff that will help them understand better things that their characters may or may not already be aware of. Knowledge of other, far away events that tie in to what they themselves may be doing or getting caught up in.

Samuel’s tale was my way of trying to pass on a general impression of duchy politics in general, the personalities and scope of events in Mordant in particular, a feel for how vastly different life in Mordant is compared to Doneghal (the duchy due north of Mordant, where Terin is traveling now), and also the scope of recent events. I wanted to impart some of Terin’s background, Terin being from Madrigal, from the point of view of an outsider.

I didn’t want to do it with a long, lengthy, soul deadening exposition, blah blah blah, that had nothing to do with the current actions of the two main characters, when all it would have served to do was serve as a 30 minute version of the 5 minute pre-episode recap we all fast forward through.

So I decided to try writing an entire story, all 100% based on the existing background of the world setting and all happening in real time in other areas, that would tell what I wanted shared from someone else’s point of view, someone that Terin and Jessie aren’t very likely to meet.

Samuel could someday be encountered, even as a player character. I always intended to end book one shortly after Jessie and Terin meet and join forces. ‘Converging Forces’, you know. Once those forces converge, book one be done.

With book two, and with Jessie and Terin together, I always felt there would be room for one, preferrably two more players. Samuel would make a dandy player character…

Or a main villain controlled by me. He could honestly go either way, and still be true to himself, based on what events unfolded around him, and how they would interfere with or help him towards his own true goals.

Anyway, I hope that the experiment worked. I think it breaks up the ‘single novel’ feel, with a net loss, but I think it added a lot that was new and provides for a richer feel for events that are unfolding, and that’s a good benefit.

I hope you enjoyed it!

Hold the pitchforks, please

I’ve had a lot of emails recently that ask very intelligent questions, mostly relating to helping folks with their tanking, gear choices, how to gather threat, etc.

I’m at the point where I’ve got three hours of work, all after hours when I’ve got internet access during family time, just to research and answer emails.

If you haven’t had an answer, please just be patient.

Thanks!

Converging Forces: Interlude – The Tale of Samuel the Undying

Samuel was born in the Duchy of Mordant, under the iron rule of Duke Hope, the most single minded of the Dukes of the Border Lands, a man driven to forge himself and his duchy into a weapon to destroy the orcs, and any other threats to his power.

Samuel’s father was a high-born bureaucrat in the Duke’s vast court; a landed Baron, powerful and feared. His father, Albert de’Marcos, was responsible for the networks of informants necessary to keep the Duke informed on events that occurred within the duchy itself. It was on the strength of his facts and evidence that other citizens were accused of crimes and brought before the Duke for judgment. In many cases, the onus of discovering who was potentially guilty of a crime was also Albert’s responsibility. He therefore had a great deal of personal power in the form of favors owed to him by nobles and influential citizens alike.

Baron de’Marcos looked over his steepled fingers at the supplicant sitting across from his desk. “I see. Your son is responsible for the south Embarkland supply post, and there are signs that supplies from that post are turning up on the black market. Not to worry, my lord. I’m sure that the investigators will find that your sons’ assistant was involved in illicit trading, and tried to pin the blame on your son. Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of the details to make sure the… true facts come to light. And please, have a nice day…. My Lord.”

Accordingly, Samuels’ early years were spent pleasantly in luxury among the rich and powerful, socializing in Mordant Keep among his fathers’ peers, training with the best armsmen and weapon masters available, and shown the fear his father’s power and influence commanded, far above the minor miseries and concerns of the common people.

When Samuel came of age, and was expected to choose the path he would follow, his father expected him to follow into duty to the Duke and his father in a managerial capactiy, but Samuel chose to join the Army. The path of the handsome, dashing cavalry commander, in particular, appealed to him. They seemed such romantic figures in their cloaks of Mordant black and scarlet, the white sunburst of Duke hope upon their breasts.

His fathers’ influence, deftly used behind the scenes, ensured that he had the best training available to a nobles’ son, accelerated beyond what he’d learned from his personal tutors. He swiftly acquired a post as a junior officer, and it was ensured that all doors and possibilities were open to him.

Surprisingly enough, he proved to have a natural ability at coordinating multiple actions at once, of guiding various activities to a single resolution at a set time, and of balancing multiple objectives to reach a single important goal. To Samuel, it was all like a vast game for his amusement, a game he delighted in playing, and he reveled at doing well.

Samuel was also not averse to using any trick to gain advantage over an enemy, having learned at his father’s knee how the game of influence and advantage that seemed so masterful in the conclusion was most often built on months of careful planning and hard work. Perhaps due to his awareness of his fathers’ maneuvers behind the scenes, he frequently showed an extremely sneaky and cunning tactical frame of thought. He also, despite his supercilious attitude and arrogance came to be respected by the men entrusted to him, because his careful plans not only resulted in victory, but also frequently saw his forces with the lowest rates of casualties among all those in their division.

For Samuel, it was all a part of the game, for he had seen that commanders who lost men were looked down upon as sloppy and careless, and he wanted to build his reputation at being the best. To get that reputation, he needed to keep his men alive, and so he planned towards that end most carefully.

His demonstrated abilities led him eventually to be invited to join the SDS, the “Silent Death Squad”, a small unit that served as scouts and occasional assassins for the Army High Command. Trained and experienced in scouting enemy lines, and tasked with performing assassination missions deep in enemy held territory, both that of the orcs and of fellow Duchies, the SDS were the ‘bad boys’ of Duke Hope’s war machine, and served the will of the High Command directly.

Samuels’ career and life both seemed destined to shine as he soared in skill and prestige, the fair-haired golden boy of the SDS. A sterling example of the best and the brightest, word frequently passed along the grapevine that he was on the fast track for a high posting, once he finally tired of playing in the woods with his face blackened, a knife between his teeth.

He had even been fortunate enough to fall in love with a beautiful young woman, Moira, the daughter of General Gavin de’Strom, and she had told him that she shared that love.

Everything was perfect in his life; he had adventure, danger, love and power, just as it should be.

And then, over the course of one searing Autumn, came the end of joy, the end of rank, and the end of his future dreams. With meteoric fury both his career and his life plummeted below the depths, never to return.

Samuels’ father, the Right Honorable Baron Albert de’Marcos, fell victim to the plans of a political rival, Lord Bruya Var in the games of power among the Duke’s High Council. Formally accused of corruption and of using his position for personal gain to the detriment of the duchy, Albert was condemned by his peers in High Court before the Duke, and sentenced to death.

In the ensuing chaos among the court, old alliances were shattered, and steps were taken by families on all sides to distance themsselves from the de’Marcos and to show that their loyalty and dedication to the Duke were unshakeable.

Part of the collateral damage that resulted, was that the entire acknowledged bloodline of de’Marcos was tarred with the same treasonous brush as the father, and steps were taken to remove them from being a threat to the duchy… and to Bruya Var.

Albert’s political rival, and the man responsible for choreographing the de’Marcos’ fall, Lord Bruya Var, was risen to Baron in Albert’s wake, and he made certain that no scion of the line of de’Marcos would ever return to gain revenge… in any way.

Samuels’ sister Margaret was accused of plotting against the Duke’s policies and against the ever constant preparations for war, in collusion with and as a member of the rumored Society for Appeasement. She was interrogated by Duke Hopes’ questioners, and died under torture while they tried to pry the names of her non-existent ‘co-conspirators’ from her lips

Samuels’ mother Juliana was found guilty of collusion in the crimes of her husband, and suffered the same fate as he… a short walk from her barren cell to the headsman’ block. 

And Samuel… for Samuel the pain was only just beginning.

Samuel was unaware of what had befallen his family when he was first brought before a formal court-martial, and accused of being responsible for the deaths of men under his command through gross negligence and dereliction of duty on his behalf.

Samuel had indeed commanded a team in which one of his men had died, but it had certainly not been due to negligence. It had been during action scouting the southern passes that led deeper into the mountains around Torr Baldwin to the east, the steep interlocking rock believed to be impregnable. The accident came when the man in question misjudged the rock he was climbing, and had not been roped properly to the rest of the team.

Regardless of his protestations, Samuel was swiftly condemned and thrown into the bowels of the vast cells beneath Mordant Keep, there to await the time of his sentenced execution. With Lord Bruya Var twisting the truth and applying his now expanded influence, the results of the court-martial were a foregone conclusion, obvious to everyone except the confused and outraged Samuel de’Marcos.

Samuels’ lady love, Moira, added the final straw when she coolly informed him by missive that she could never love a coward and a traitor’s son, and vowed to never look upon his worthless face again.

In prison, Samuels’ arrogance and certainty of his own importance and innocence led him into direct conflict with guards and inmates alike. Tortured systematically by the guards to teach him his new place in life, or lack thereof, and beaten and brutalized by the gang of inmates who had numbers and a fierce rage against the noble classes, it took an excruciatingly long time to counteract a lifetime of privilidge, but eventually he learned the lessons of his new reality… learned them to the bone.

The time for his execution drew ever nearer, with Lord Bruya Var desperate to see a close to the de’Marcos issue, but there was still time for Samuel to learn what had befallen his family, the story spilling from the lips of a sneering guard. Still time for the young man, no longer so arrogant, to realize that help was never going to come from his father, no petition made on his behalf before the court, no last minute rescue. All hope truly was lost. Hurt, confused, broken in body, bereaved for the family and life he had lost, Samuel began to fall into an abyss of despair.

Before the day of his execution came, however, an event elsewhere in the land brought about an unexpected reprieve.

The lands of Duke Hope once more came under attack, no small raid but a massive horde of highland orcs, former lowland clans united as tribes, and led by grey skinned orc highlanders never before seen in the west, who stormed down from the frozen and barren mountains into the rich valleys to take the crops and lands for themselves.

Duke Hope was not caught unawares. He had long expected and prepared for this encounter, or one like it, and for years had watched as events to the south of Mordant brought some kind of confrontation ever neared.

Duke Hope had planned and prepared and scouted the approaches from which danger may come, Duke Freidlaw of Madrigal, the duchy bordering Mordant to the south, had discovered a narrow pass of ancient construction that not only led deep up into the impassable mountains to the east, but broke through to the other side entirely.

Duke Friedlaw, ruler of a small duchy only recently tamed and recognised as more than a scattering of Caers had seen his chance at greater wealth and power.

The land of Felwaithe had always been cut off from the east by the impassable mountains that stretched from the nothernmost edge all the way to the southern seas, splitting the continent in two. All trade and communication between east and west came from long, dangerous sea voyages around the daggers of the south, or through the Straight of Tears to the north.

With a dependable, land based route available, one that only he would control, one whose trade he could freely tax, the fortune of his land would be made. The only concern would be to take it and hold it against the orcs that had been pushed by the human advances from the lowlands up into the mountains on both sides, the orcs who now held the highlands against all comers, and had nowhere else to go.

Duke Friedlaw had sent his forces up into the eastern pass at a measured pace, to work their way into the mountains, clearing out the orcs that had settled into villages along the way, and building fortified structures to mount a permanent support force along the entire length of the pass, each within support of reinforcing the ones to east and west. They also were under strict orders to never venture off the pass; to make it clear that the humans would go this far, but no further.

For over twenty five years, the forces of Madrigal had held and reinforced the pass, settling it, growing and cultivating the lands in vale and gulley, building their watchtowers and keeps. And during that time, they never ventured off the pass.

Duke Friedllaw knew the Orcs had their own trails and ways of getting around, in the mountains, and nobody knew what strength they yet had to draw on if they weren’t given a place to go when pushed. Duke Friedlaw had no intention of being the one to do the final pushing. As far as he was concerned, the orcs were welcome to the mountains and all within them. He wanted the pass, and the trade it represented, and he cared not for mountains that were of no use to farm and the orcs that lived in them. The orcs would raid in small groups, but the Duke felt that a small price to pay, and a benefit as well, for by rotating his forces in and out of garrison in the Madrigal Pass, he gave them chance to be blooded and learn without extreme risk or hardship, even when his land was not in contention with other duchies.

When Duke Friedlaw finally died, his only son, a young and impetuous boy named Gavely, rose to become the new Duke of Madrigal.

Shortly thereafter, the forces of Madrigal were marshalled to enter the pass.

It seemed that young Duke Gavely was not as prone to live and let live with the orcs as his father was, his stated and proclaimed intention to send the brave forces of Madrigal out into the narrow highland trails to seek out the villages and settlements of the orcs, and ‘cleanse’ them from the mountains, making the Madrigal Pass safe for all time.

Within months of the first highland village being burnt to the ground, the orcs poured forth into the Madrigal Pass, breaking out in coordinated raids all along it’s dozens of miles of winding broken trail, striking swift, killing and burning before vanishing back into the highland trails only they knew.

That was a sign of a new shift in the south. For over two years, the fighting in Madrigal Pass had escalated, and Duke Hope’s informants had reported carefully on all spotted banners and flags. Duke Hope knew that whatever else was happening in the lands of Madrigal, it wasn’t an isolated incident of a few clans seeking revenge, for the banners of at least three full Tribes, the standards of over a hundred different clans had been spotted, representing more forces than even Duke Hope had thought the southern range possessed.

Now orcs of the same clans that Duke Gavely had aroused into war were pouring down from hidden mountain passes into Mordant itself, near enough to Mordant Keep and Torr Baldwin to send the weaker nobles of the High Court scurrying to get their families out to the western farms.

As Duke Hope and his Generals rallied the forces of Mordant to shortstop the orc hordes, and pin them back to the valley mouths through which they streamed, Duke Hope realized that he had a pressing need for bodies to throw in the way of the orcs.

He had spent long years building up a strong, heavily structured and efficient army, supported by the only force of magicians to serve any Duke in open warfare in all the Border Duchies.

And now, rather than careful set piece battles of smart tactics and skillful maneuver, he was facing a wall of orc bodies streaming down a pass, and the lives of his carefully trained soldiers were being bled dry in stupid slaughter, undoing all of his hard planning, wasting his carefully built and previously thought unstoppable overwhelming forces.

What Duke Hope wanted was a wall of his own, a wall of flesh to stand against the orc horde and pin them down long enough to let the skilled, trained, valuable army get in their flanks and rear. He needed a force of no value, mere meat to throw at the orc wall to slow them down in slaughter, so he could stop losing valuable manpower and resources.

Looking for expendable shock troops, the vast prison cells were emptied, the prisoners turned out into the courtyard under armed watch, and all the prisoners were given a choice. Stay and die, or serve in a prisoner-only unit and fight orcs for your country.

The message was plain. They would be placed in the most dangerous battles, at the front of the line and in the face of the charge, and likely all die anyway. But, before they inevitably died, they would have the chance to kill. More than that, the thin thread of hope was dangled before them.

If they fought well and bravely, and they lived, then they might be considered for a pardon for their crimes.

Nearly all of the prisoners accepted. Samuel was made one of the few officers in command of these scum, a disgraced officer in command of a disgusting band, watched over at all times by the Dukes’ personal overseers.

Scarred, starved, fingers repeatedly broken and poorly healed from the endless abuse he had received in prison, flayed in body and desolate in spirit, Samuel found himself a senior officer in the newly formed Front Line Brigade.

They were quickly named the Ravens by the regular army instructors that put them through a brutal, fast training grinder; a slur on their stink, their filth, and the pathetic idea that honorless jailbird trash could ever fight as a unit. The Ravens were rammed through the most brutal forced combat training ever imagined. Their instructors literally did not give a damn if the former prisoners lived through the training or not, so it wasn’t surprising that barely one in four of the Ravens, mostly political prisoners or those thought to be weak in loyalty to Duke Hope, survived the Meatgrinder.

Those that made it were the hardest, toughest, meanest bastards imaginable, men and women both joined by only one common element; a hatred and need for killing so deep it could never be washed away by any amount of blood. Most of the Ravens were insane by any standard by the time the training was done, a combination of the suffering they had endured, the poor food and hygiene they lived with, and the brutal training that had as it’s point to forge the survivors into a group that would stand and charge anything, and psychology of forces be damned.

All had an absolute refusal to quit, or they could not have survived the training. Of those that did, so many suffered a bloodlust so deep, so all consuming, that they were almost impossible to control when not in the front lines. But Duke Hope got what he wanted. All were hardened survivors, callous and indifferent to their own pain… at least, those few who hadn’t come to like the pain, and the taste of their own blood. And they would certainly race forward and eagerly fight the orc front line.

Samuel remained mostly sane, for a given value of sanity in that time of war. The despair and loss in his heart was joined by a bitter hatred of Bruya Var, and a blazing fury at all that he was made to endure that sometimes spilled forth in a desire for blood and revenge, a fury so strong that he was unable to completely control it. At those times, he had to find a place apart from others, often in the seclusion of his tent, and grip himself until the shaking and madness finally left. It took all the strength he had just to pretend to be in control to the overseers, to avoid being purged for unreliability.

When the time for battle finally came for the Ravens, the regular army moved aside to let them through to the heavily contested war zone at the foothills where the orcs staged and made their advances, and the orcs found themselves facing something they never dreamed to see; human warriors driven insane with bloodlust, alive with the single-minded desire for slaughter, a force gripped in boundless pleasure at finally paying back some of the pain, hatred and fear they had endured for so long.

Ravens were thrown into the front line, joyously, singing as they killed and died, and Ravens died by the dozens, but the orcs were stopped in their tracks, and they died  as well. Sometimes, as word spread among the tribes, sometimes the orcs even broke and ran as the Ravens were unleashed into a battle, shivering as the humans screamed their hatred, or laughed in childish delight as they carved their way through the ranks. 

Always the orcs tried to drive through the lines of Mordant forces, and the Ravens at their front, to break through to the softer lowlands, and always the Ravens were there, in the forefront of the enemy, leaping forward to set free the fountains of blood and offal.

The war against the orcs that started in southern Madrigal two years before was to drag on for another year in the foothills of Mordant. As Madrigal fell and eventually was consumed, the lines shifted, and the southern border of Mordant had to be held against the orcs that now had all the Madrigal lowlands to roam and manuever.

In that time, the Ravens bled out their lives by the dozens, their ranks refilled with a fresh stream of convicts flowing through the Meatgrinder, most now coming from the politically unreliable, and from black marketers and deserters from the regular forces.

While Duke Hope’s regular army enjoyed the services of the most skilled battle surgeons in the Western Kingdoms, none were made available to the Ravens. They had to make do as best they could, or die. And often, the kindest cut was the one Samuel gave as he ended the misery of one of his men or women, screaming on a cot in the mud, no priest to watch their passing, no family to mourn their loss.

The new Ravens that joined what was still called a Brigade could not come close to replacing losses, and the unit steadily dwindled in size. But always Samuel remained; leader, eventual Commander, refusing to die until revenge was finally his. A secret revenge, a private hope, that someday he would have the man responsible for the fall of his family within the reach of his hands.

Ever growing in strength, in skill, in determination and in uncaring brutality of his own life, he continued to endure, and as all his compatriots died around him, the greater his legend grew from the amongst the normal forces, who knew of him, and of the truth behind his fall, and who passed on news of his living when each battle was done. 

When the war finally drew to a shuddering pause, the borders watched but stable to east and south, the orcs solidly in control of Madrigal, Duke Hope chose to consolidate his forces and fix his lines. He also decided to end the disturbing rumors of a Raven hero among the worthless convicts, and clean that mess up for good. The Ravens had served their purpose, but having a dark romantic figure rise to inspire thoughts of revenge or remind the commoners of occasional injustice had no part in his plans. 

Those few Ravens left alive were returned to prison, to once again await their justly sentenced executions.

All the Ravens were returned to prison, that is, except the four Raven officers that yet lived, chief among them Samuel de’Marcos.

Duke Hope knew better than to kill a hero and create a martyr that would long be remembered. Much better, in his experience, to have pension them off and leave them to their own devices, recognised and then forgotten, to eventually die in a drunken stupor in some back country brawl when fame ran it’s course.

It was  announced that the four officers had redeemed themselves in service to the duchy, and had earned pardons for their crimes before the Duke’s High Court.

This served to get Duke Hope and the High Court off the hook for anything that wuold follow.

Now that the civil authority found them innocent, however, all four were remanded into the care of the Military for dismissal… and each had also been found guilty of a formal court-martial, their sentences still to serve.

Still officially sentenced to death, the four officers were given a final choice by the High Command, that wanted nothing to do with any of these monsters amongst the regular forces; to die by the headsmans axe, or to fight each other in the Mordant arena, to the death, winner taking his life and his freedom.

All four had fought together, and bled together. But they were also the ultimate realists. They knew that they had a choice of fighting and killing each other, and maybe one would go free, or refusing to fight and being butchered and dying together. The four were allowed to meet together to decide, and they came up with a plan. They would all do their best to fight for victory, each for their own reasons, but before they did, they shared with each other their secret plans and dreams for revenge for the wrongs done to each. Whoever was to win, they each pledged to the others that the survivor would work to bring all their dreams of revenge to fruition.

During the war, Baron Bruya Var had solidified and consolidated his power in the courts, eliminating other possible rivals to his position, but now he found himself impossibly blocked in his attempts to deny Samuel his chance for freedom. Too many Generals, now favored war-heroes, some even in the High Command, remembered how Samuels’ court-martial was fabricated at Var’s direction. It was one thing to deny Samuel a place in the army’s regular forces, but they were nevertheless strong enough to ensure that Samuel had an honest chance at freedom in the arena.

Indeed, when the battle in the small arena of the Keep was over, no more than a brief side to the end of the war, no one present was surprised to see Samuel de’Marcos, the Undying, Raven One and Commander of the Front Line Brigade, walk out the gates of Mordant Keep alive… and free.

Indeed, Samuels’ incredible bravery and deeds on the field of battle had caused so many well known victories that he had become something of a darkly romantic hero to many people from afar, and that had been twisted by the rumormongers Duke Hope employed into a symbol of how, no matter the depths to which a man might have fallen, a loyal soldier of Mordant is still willing to commit himself to the defense of the people.

When Samuel finally had his freedom, he found that while his story and that of the Ravens was well known, when faced with the reality of his scars and haggard appearance, the first thing people were reminded of was not his heroism or bravery, but of the stigma of his court-martial, and his apparent willingness to kill his three fellow officers to earn his freedom. 

Samuel is free, and for now he travels on his own, moving from place to place, always staying within the borders of the duchy of Mordant, doing whatever small services he can to secure lodging and food.

Samuel knows, no matter what others might think, that the current lull in fighting, this brief pause in the war will end, all too soon. Few among the Western Kingdoms or the other Border Lords to the north and west knew the full scope of what Duke Friedlaw had begun in Madrigal, but Samuel knew full well the number of banners he had seen, and had learned the hard way what they meant. Whatever the reason the three united tribes had retreated back into the great mountains, they weren’t yet done. They would be back, and when they did, Samuel would be ready.

Ready to do whatever it took to reach close enough to Bruya Var to wrap his fingers around the old mans’ throat, and drink deep of the revenge he had dared to dream of.

Until that time, he has the tasks set to him by his three brothers to attend to. Brothers of blood and terror and pain, if not of birth. The only kind of brotherhood that still has any meaning for him.

And seeing those tasks to completion will keep him busy until his time has come.

PBeM: Lauchlin Chapter 3 Section 9

“This place is my place. The only will is my will. I am the one in control.”

Jessie stood in the clearing, and thought on what Gavin had said, and what it meant for her here.

“Aye, this clearing is only in my mind, and my will is the will that drives it. Mine and no one elses. What is it that would make me choose this open clearing for a fight, instead of my home in the keep, where I always felt defended?”

She looked around the clearing, the blade of the sword she held, unsheathed and at the ready, gleaming in the sourceless light.

“Ah, Fergus, I swear I wonder more every day if I’m still sane at all. Here I am, and it’s all become such a relentless joke, hasn’t it just? You always told me I should be more open to the world around me, and to have the learning of it, but did I listen? No, never. Knew it all, I did, and where did that land me? All I ever wanted was the feel of a blade in my hand, and the respect that would come with it, and I haven’t yet found a problem I could cut my damn way out of.”

Jessie felt a peaceful presence approach from behind her, a warm, comforting presence she knew so well. The scent of spiced ale and horse, the light half step of his curious mincing walk, the sound of his breath catching, rasping in his deep chest, always so loud when he wasn’t mindful of being silent.

Jessie looked over her shoulder, and gazed back into Fergus’ cold blue eyes.

He looked just as she liked to think of him, before he took ill, before he wasted away in a crude hut hidden deep in the woods. He looked strong and confident and clear eyed, his gray beard stained brown with tobacco and his skin darkened by endless days riding in rough weather.

He placed his hand heavily on her shoulder, and squeezed it gently in greeting, shaking her a little as he always did, meeting her as master to trusted student instead of guard to the lord’s daughter.

“Jessie, you know in your heart why you think this place as safe. When the time comes, when you’re ready, you’ll deal with it right enough.”

Jessie gazed back at him over her shoulder, and felt the calm his presence always brought her. “So now when I talk to myself, I’m after answering as well, is that it? Well, it’s all of a piece, but I’m still glad to see you here.”

He smiled at her, as he always did when he was going over the days lessons before a fight, for if there was one thing Fergus had always loved, it was teaching a willing student that paid close attention.

“Jessie, just hold on tight to what I taught you, and keep your wits about you. Remember your speed.”

“Orcs as a rule are stronger, tougher, they’ll always be after having the reach on you. Aye, they’re bigger and stronger, always have been, always will be. So when you’ve got to fight one face to face, without your mates beside you, use your size to your advantage, use your quickness, your speed. Don’t block up front, deflect to the side. Don’t stand toe to toe, direct around and away.”

“They’ve got power like a wild raging horse, all sudden explosions of motion and fury, but you don’t fight a power like that direct, you use it, you move it, and you send it where you want it to go. A wall of brick might not stop a charging horse, but a gentle push from the side can guide one around that wall… and into the pits beyond.”

“They think and fight and act like crazy brave heroes, looking to carve a name for themselves, to be remembered and sung in their sagas. They will give themselves willingly to their rage, the primal fire of bloodlust, losing planning and reason. They are terrible, fearsome foes when the berserker takes them.”

“And time and again a calm head, a fast blade, and a wise eye will be the victor. You have to stay calm, centered, keep your head, use your speed and flow from act to act.”

“When you fight the Orc, it’s your speed against their power. For most men, it’s a hard thing to beat into their heads. Most want to go into a fight smashing their way to victory, proving they’re man enough to overpower an orc.”

“But you, Jess, remember on what I’ve told you. You’re the quickest I’ve ever seen, a true daughter to the MacQuarrie with the blood of the Imperial Scout running free and true within you. You’ve got the balance, and you’re nimble like none I’ve seen or taught before.”

Use it. Use your speed. Ride the lightning into his guts, and don’t give ’em a chance to blink.”

Jessie turned to face forward once more, somehow knowing the direction her enemy would soon come. She placed her hand briefly over the memory of Fergus’ hand, and squeezed it back, gently.

“I miss you, too, old man” she whispered, feeling cold and suddenly alone.

She waited patiently, calm, repeating to herself as if a prayer, “Ride the lightning, Jessie. Ride the lightning.”

The false sky overhead darkened suddenly, the clearing lit only from within, each blade of grass and stand of tree glowing with an inner luminescence, as though she stood alone in a clearing that floated within a void.

With a startling rush, the sky erupted with light, a burning rainbow of blazing colors like chaotic fire streaming across the false heavens.

The violent madness of lights was accompanied by no sound at all, the scene in the clearing dancing with crazed fire in an eerie, unsettling silence.

Without pause, the lights in the sky blinked out in tune with a sudden feeling of power, foreign, unnatural, other. A power that had nothing to do with anything of Jessie. An intruder.

Raktar.

An awful sense of foreboding washed over her, that something was wrong, that what she felt was too much power, too soon. She thought she felt a sense of Gavin’s presence briefly around her, worried, no, terrified, and then that too was washed away in the looming presence that stepped from the treeline before her.

Snatches of thought ripped through her head as she looked at the gray skinned Orc that advanced upon her.

She felt herself, as though from far away, grow still within. The swirl of thoughts drained down and out of her, leaving her empty, cleansed.

All that was left to her was the voice of Fergus, as if from far away, saying, “Move fast, fast as lightning. Ride it in, and never stop” and then a last sigh from Gavin, whispering to her from far too far away, “You’re fast as fast can be, here. This is your place to rule, Jessie.”

Jessie had seen Raktar Single-Blow in the darkness of night, after death had taken him, but even as she cut his life from him she had never truly seen him face to face.

Somehow, she knew that never in life did Raktar look as he did now. He stood massive, much bigger than life, twice her height and more, his hair braided in pleats of jet down to his waist, knotted with victory ties of blood scarlet to their full length.

He held the axe itself, that axe she hated so much, and what was for her a clumsy weapon for both hands swung easily for him in his right alone, as though it were nothing more than a child’s toy.

The head of the axe was hard to make out clearly, seeming surrounded in and covered by shadows or darkness, no matter that the light of the clearing had no discernable source and showed all other features as clearly as day from all angles. Somehow, this felt to Jessie only right, that even the shadow of a weapon so foul should be hard to look on.

Raktar continued across the clearing towards her at a measured pace, his armor of brown leather creaking as he moved, every detail of his gray leathery skin clearly visible as the scarred flesh danced over his corded muscle.

In the emptiness of her waiting, the thought touched Jessie, briefly, that even in death Raktar thought of himself as scarred.

The huge warrior stopped, just out of reach of axe or sword, and stood there, looking her over with care.

This close, Jessie could feel the heat of him pounding against her. Somehow, she knew that it was wrong, unnatural, that he felt too powerful, too unrestrained. Even Gavin and the Katarese, beings that radiated strength and power, didn’t beat on her just by standing there.

She felt as though her skin were softening, weakening, as she sometimes did when standing too near an open furnace for a long time helping with the roasting, when her skin grew pink and sore.

Raktar just stood still in front of her, eyes narrowed, studying her closely from head to toe as if he had never seen a human close up before.

Or as if he wanted to study the human whose sword had finally killed him.

Whatever Raktar had been waiting for, the perfect moment to strike, for her will to crack before him, for any of a thousand things, it didn’t matter anymore, because deep within Jessie, in the silence at the heart of her, she felt the moment when it came.

The moment when waiting became acting.

The moment to go for a ride.