Friday, July 22, 2016

The Conquests of Essad

In the year 505 of the Tenth Age, Essad was wracked by slave uprisings, rebellions, and war. By early 506, Soloth had declared war and the Agricon was flooded with slave-armies from either side. It seemed clear that Hyrek Thur's loose coalition of High Masters would collapse and plunge Essad back into the lawless nightmare from which it had emerged. However, throughout the course of that year the Rex Exactor relied heavily on the rise of a new generation of adventurers in the Slaver-Kingdom. With great acuity, he funded no less than twelve groups of murderers, some of whom wound up killing each other. With the aid of the Dogs in the capital, the Cowled Hunters in the north, the Slavekillers in the littoral, and a number of other lesser-known groups, he managed to retain control of the kingdom.

The rebellion was badly hurt when one of its leaders, a slave named Ajax, was captured and executed on the fighting sand by none other than the Exactor's most famous Dog, Oloz. However, nearing the end of 506, Oloz and the Dogs of the Exactor turned on their master and caused a disaster in Thurayn: destroying the House of Ashad, and bringing the wrath of Vodei upon the entire city. It was flooded with black rain. The Dogs all but vanished, fleeing to Portomagno, Dorlan, to escape the consequences of their treachery.

But the Exactor did not rely on merely those untrustworthy mercenaries. In the time that the adventurers were helping secure political stability in Essad by, for example, rooting out such traitors as Sabius Omm and the Seftere Masters, the Rex Exactor also secured a lasting relationship with the Fire Giants of Pernag.

When the giants came to the field, the slaves could not resist them. The rebellion was ended in a bloody purge, annihilating the old High House of Seftere and securing the undivided loyalty of the other High Masters. In place of the Seftere, the Exactor offered a position of High Mastership to the Solothan wizard Drozon the Red, who had taken up residence in Essad's capital city. Though he was also a member of the ruling council of Kallatha, City of the Wyrm-King, Drozon accepted and used his magical might to back the Essadi armies on the Agricon.

The Solothans crumbled and, through a series of clever maneuvers, the Exactor's agents triumphed on the field. Soloth was quickly humiliated and Kallatha was forced to sign a treaty granting Essad mastership over all former territories of that city. Within months, Solothans were being put in chains to serve Essad. Many former Solothan overlords and overseers joined the Iron Guard out of fear.

After the failed Solothan invasion, Essad lay dormant for several years. In early 509, swollen with new slaves and wizards, the Rex Exactor launched a series of attacks on Teral and Dorlan. The Dorlish Invasion has conquered most of northern Llun, and Teral capitulated prince by prince. Now, Essad controls much of the north in a grand new Slaver-Empire. The Rex Exactor has appointed governors over all of Teral, and Dorlan now suffers an attack on two fronts: from the Teralian March and the mountains of Llun. Essad is poised to conquer most of the Cloud Sea Coast.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016

Neither a triumphant success nor an unmitigated disaster, Ghostbusters 2016 taps into the same comedy vein as the original 1984 film and certainly surpasses the lamentable Ghostbuster II. The analogs for Egon and Winston are great, with the prize going to Kate McKinnon's Holzman. However, Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig's characters are missing in action—they are generic everywomen without much distinction between them.

One of the things that made the original Ghostbusters work was the characterization of each of the four Ghostbusters (with the lamentable exception of Winston Zeddemore being cut from an integral portion of the movie to being introduced on page 68). Each of the four Ghostbusters has a unique identity with broad character traits that we can identify immediately. Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig were interchangeable. Neither was quite a straight-man (which the movie lacked), and I was always waiting for Kate McKinnon to come back on onscreen.

The plot was good for a piece of Ghostbusters media, although I felt altogether too much time was spent on "how the Ghostbusters got be" portion of the film. Building up the first specter was a wonderfully compact mythology of torment and sorrow, and the constant emphasis on how dangerous the ghostbusting gear is was a much-appreciated nod to the original. Indeed, the movie went out of its way to hang its hat on the original Ghostbusters without paying it overmuch deference.

As others have said, there was an unfortunate lack of mythologizing in the new Ghostbusters. We didn't hear about background material until it was relevant—I feel like there was much more to be done with that book on leylines, for example—and the villain of the piece did not exhibit any of the Lovecraftian awe of Gozor, or even the reduced Lovecraftian awe of Vigo the Carpathian.

Still, all in all a decent outing and a fun film. And the post-credits scene certainly layered in what was necessary to continue the series and take it down a darker and more supernaturally rewarding path. Jilian Holtzman and Egon Spengler would be a great couple, for whatever that's worth.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

GIVEAWAY

There shall be a giveaway! Ten copies of Haven, signed, along with a letter by yours truly, shall be won. Simply follow the link on the gadget I'm about to put up on the side of the website on July 21st or later, and a copy can be yours.

I'd ask that you write a Goodreads and Amazon reviews if you have time and you win a copy—whatever you think of the book.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Haven by J.D.G. Perldeiner

Haven

by J.D.G. Perldeiner

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Play Report: Red Robes

The Vesten watched from atop the crest of the hill. Behind him, the big Ussuran was muttering and kicking stones at the feet of the church. But the Vesten was watching for movement on the horizon. The town of Almiera was nestled at the foot of the dusty cliffs, a tightly-packed village center, clustered about the well and the chief households. The bowl of the valley spread away in three directions: waving fields of late-summer wheat. Beyond them where the broken hills of western Castille. If he squinted just right, the Vesten could even make out the gleaming city of Salamancar in the distance.

His real target was the road. A winding track from the seaside city, it led by back league and mile to the Crescentgate. The powder train had come up that road. Now, it was a smoldering wreck of charred wood and corpses. He closed his eyes and probed the wound in his chest with his fingers. Grumfather's balls, that hurt! The little Vodacce scholar may have removed the musket ball, but the wound was still fresh and throbbing with pain. Not one of them had come out of that fight unscathed.

The first they heard of the town of Almiera was back in Salamancar. One morning, they all tumbled downstairs to breakfast in the King's Arms to find a stranger in their dining room. A heavyset man with a black mantle cape and a black patch over one eye. He spoke Montaigne to Beatrix, but with an accent out of Avalon. "That sword," he told her, gesturing to the famous Aquilard. "You'll have to give it to me. You know who sent me." When she refused, the Avalonian shrugged. He had men with him, but they left when he did. He warned her that he would find her again, and the sword would go back to its rightful owner.

It was Dottore Luigi who brought them to the cathedral that morning. "Bishop Carillo has told me that he has work for us; but he will not put anything in writing. We must see him, if we wish to find out more about it."

So they did. The cathedral, up on the hill overlooking the harbor, was gothic in its design, a throwback to the Castillian middle ages. Its interior was dark and grim—shafts of brilliant colored light shone through the stained glass, incising sharp cuts into pools of shadow. The hymns of the canons gave the place a sacral air.

They were led to the bishop's office, an octagonal room bedecked with signs of scholarship and learning: books all in Old Théan, a sextant, globe, and spyglass, and even an old Crescent astrolabe. "You are not the kind of people who wish to see the Inquisition gain more power. This I know." The bishop's words were Vodacce, but translated to Vendel for the benefit of all gathered by Luigi Vasso. "I know this because you asked after the fate of the captain in the ship you brought here. You were concerned. This touches me.

"I wish to know if you would strike a blow against Cardinal Verdugo and his lackeys." With the others giving a grumbling sort of assent, the bishop went on. "Good. As you may know, the Universidad San Cristobal was closed several months ago. The Inquisition shuttered it and demanded no further research take place. With the Hierophant missing or dead, there is no one who can gainsay Verdugo." The bishop shook his head.

"Amongst those men at the Universidad, there was one by the name of Profesor Alónso. He was a scholar in Syrneth lore and history. He had a site, not far from Salamancar, at which he was digging. There is an old Crescent mosque that was converted to a church after the Reconquista. Beneath it, lies a Syrenth tomb. Well, two weeks ago, Inquisitors arrested his diggers and sent them to work on El Murro, the Black Fortress."

"What do you want us to do? Rescue him from an Inquisition dungeon?" asked Signore Fortunato.

"No," said the bishop. "He is here. Hidden in this very church. My knights have kept him safe. But the ship you brought to harbor—the Wanderer... it has brought enough powder to this city that the Inquisition's loyal man, Padre Javier, has been able to requisition it from the army. He finally has the forces to do what he has wanted to do ever since he put Alónso in his sights."

"Destroy the patrimony of the Syrneth," grumbled the Ussuran. "Something which is, by right, the inheritance of all mankind."

"So you see my problem. I need you to escort Alónso out of Castille to safety... and to humiliate Javier, prevent his powder from destroying the ruin. If he is sufficiently humbled, he will not have the power to requisition such supplies from General Montoya again."

It was decided. They met the Profesor, who told them of his time in the ruins, his discovery of a Syrneth machine designed to look like a human hand, but all of red metal. He showed it to them: fused to the stump of his left arm, where a Syrne trap had scythed his flesh away. And he told them the name of the town: Almiera.

Before they left, the bishop took Brother Iakov aside. "I only now realized who you are, and I must warn you. You have an enemy back home who has whispered poison into every ear he can reach. I, and every bishop in Théah, have received letters warning of a dangerous heretic fleeing from justice. I wanted to tell you that my name can save you from the Inquisition... but only in this city. Outside Salamancar, I have no power."

The next day found them out at Almiera, planning an ambush for the wagon-caravan of powder coming from Salamancar. But before they could set their trap in the hills west of town, a familiar face reappeared. The man who had troubled Beatrix the day before, and his eight thugs, were coming up the trail. They learned his name from the innkeep, or rather his title amongst the Castillians: La Espina Noir, the Blackburr.

As he approached on horseback, Beatrix dismounted. Signore Fortunato shouted a challenge to duel in Vendel, but the man did not reply.

Beatrix drew the Aquilard. "I challenge you," she said coldly.

With a laugh, the big man dismounted and threw aside his hat. He drew his sword and main-gauche. "You will regret it. I will take that sword with me to Montaigne."

"If you do," she sneered, "It will be in your belly."

They saluted one another, as swordsmen do. Then, he lunged. At once she was on the defensive. Theus, he was fast! Fortunato fingered his weapons, and Sven drew his axe. The moment she staggered, they were ready to intervene. The Blackburr's epée drew blood, then sliced the buttons from Beatrix's cuff. He smiled cruelly.

Beatrix dared a few experimental strokes, but the Blackburr beat them away. She withdrew; she waited. She parried a thrust, and then a cut. Then, with a quick one-two, she made her counterthrust: deep into the Blackburr's chest. He grunted, but still he came on. He sliced open her coat and cut along the side of her belly.

In response, she opened another pin-prick in his side. His shirt was now soaked with blood. "Damn," he hissed. "Take her!" 

Brother Iakov, ever ready, hurled his great battle axe at the man. The Blackburr fell into the dust, shrieking and clutching at the huge handle. His men were swiftly dispatched, and he himself given bandages to staunch the flow of blood from the wound. They were all bound and carried out of sight.

When the caravan came around the bend, Brother Iakov and Beatrix were hidden behind a nearer hill, Sven and Fortunato behind a farther. Three wagons came trundling down the road, each driven by a white-coated man of the Castillian army. At the head of the column there rode a Vodacce captain in white with a long cloak of red. Near its rear there rode a woman in white with a musket across her lap. Both wore tricorns frilled with fancy Castillian brass and silver. Marching alongside the caravan were fifteen young noblemen, each in a different shade of fine red garb.

The Fortunate Ones stepped from their hiding places. An axe flew; a musket cracked. Beatrix fired her pistol at the horseman. But none were prepared for Sven—for he drew, with a peace of soft chalk, upon his long-hafted Vesten waraxe, an ancient sign, a rune of the Laerdom. With that gesture, the might of the Old Gods spoke. A stroke of lightning tore through the air, sizzling as it went. It touched a powder keg.

All at once, the three wagons were an inferno of hellish fire. Smoke rolled up like the breath of Legion. There was an almighty thunder, and everyone was thrown clear of the wagons. The drivers died instantly, along with their horses. The men marching on either side were hurled to their feet. The captain and his lieutenant were both blasted from their mounts: both horses were scorched by the fire. The men lining the march were tossed into the brush, and even the Fortunate Ones were left with their ears ringing, their feet slipping from under them, and their sight turning white.

When they came to, they joined the fray. A CRACK! from the woman-lieutenants musket brought Sven low. She dropped it and drew a pistol, slamming a ball into Fortunato's side. The captain hewed a heavy cut at Beatrix, his falchion slicing her coat in twain and biting into her hip. Iakov rushed the him and struck him in the face with the butt off his axe, shattering his nose. As he staggered, spitting blood, Beatrix feinted left, then lunged right, running him through. Fortunato struck the woman in the temple with his hilt.

Before long, the others surrendered. They were gathered together, their breeches sliced to reveal the flesh of their bottoms, and warm pine-tar was poured over them, compounded with bagfuls of feathers.

Beatrix let the Blackburr go after the soldiers departed, walking, in shame to Salamancar. He was deprived of his weapons and his money, and released into the hills. The captain and his lieutenant were sent off to El Murro to report on their failure, be stripped of their rank, and make what little they could of the rest of their lives.

And now, the big Vesten Sven watched. In case someone came riding out of Salamancar looking for the men (and woman) who had bloodied the nose of the Inquisition.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ruqis, the Queen of Cities

Population: 500,000
Rulership: The Merchantine, Zyreus
Defenses: The Rûmilotic Discipline, the Merchantine Fleet, the Ruqeen Kraima



The city of Ruqis stands upon the volcanic island of Asharn. It is called the Queen of Cities by many of its inhabitants, and by many of the other Ambermen. It was the seat of the Amber Emperor, and of the now-lost Discipline of the Thraki. It is the home of the largest Rûmilotic population in the south. Trade with Wahar, Remmar, Joven-of-Poisons, Urush, and Layr. It is the place where the Sword Road and the Spice Road begin. It boasts a huge deepwater harbor, a hinterland of jungles and farms, and a massive slave population.

Ruqis is ruled by a figure known as the Merchantine. When the Merchantine dies, each merchant-lord of the city vies for the seat. The Merchantines are guarded by an elite unit of men descended from the old Amber Empire: the Kraima—swordsmen whose battle-right is a dance of murder. Ruqis, it is said, has a thousand temples. Its main faith is the Cult of Ogo and Lagal, the twin gods of the jungle of Joven-of-Poisons, due to the great influence the Jovenati have in Ruqis.

It is a dark city, with a frowning palace that oversees the harbor. It is a city of secrets, and merchants, and swords. Armies muster on Asharn to fight for Ruqis, or for the other cities. It is the home of a thousand faiths, and a thousand slaves. Its harbor is protected by ancient sorceries. The Amberlands are also home to a number of sorcerers without Disciplines—the Mad, also called the Nagass.

The Merchantine appoints all officials within the city to his own whim. However, it is custom that these positions are purchased of the Merchantine. Those who offer the highest price in Amber and silver, and mayhaps gold, are generally thought to deserve the positions. There are fifteen great merchant-houses in Ruqis, each one a dynasty. Some go back several generations, some were made in this one.

Ruqis controls a number of amber mines on Asharn. Most of the holdings outside the city are not owned by any particular family, but are rather held in common for the good of the entire city. Each of the fifteen gates is "owned" by one of the mercantile dynasties. Any goods coming through that gate are taxed by that dynasty. The profits of the goods when they are sold in the market or abroad return to fund the Merchantine's coffers. This pays for the defense of the city.

Each of the fifteen families maintains a large garrison of men in the city, in their compounds and towers. These men serve as watchmen and guards for the gates of that dynasty as well as that quarter of Ruqis. The Kraima do the same around the Merchantine Palace. Each dynasty also maintains a quarter market, though at the pleasure of the Merchantine and the appointed Market Magistrate, who collects all taxes and ensures law in the marketplace.

The Public Quarter
The Public Quarter is the largest district of the city and is under direct control of the Merchantine and his Kraima. It contains the Public Market, and also encompasses nearly the entire dockfront. The Public Quarter is well appointed with fountains, springs, and streams for water. Foreign residents of Ruqis generally keep to the Public Quarter unless they have business with one of the Dynasties.

The Merchantine Palace also occupies this quarter, atop the Mount of Sorrow, so-called for the executions that once took place on its peak. Its vast corridors and chambers were originally laid down by the old Asharn Amber Emperors.

Coin in Ruqis, Queen of Cities
The Ruqeen trade not with silver or gold, but with coins of iron set with semi-precious gemstones. These coins are minted by the Merchantine, and no other city in the Burning Sea has its like.

The Fifteen Dynasties
Aqa
The Aqa are one of the oldest Dynasties. Zyreus Aqa is the Merchantine, and his family stretches back into the distant haze of imperial Asharn. It is said that the Aqa were once slavemasters for the Emperor, or else they were palace scribes. Either way, they now dominate the trade of leather, particularly vellum and parchment. Their workshops produce the finest inks, which are traded all the way to Spyra and Yewland. Aqise inks are favored by sorcerers.

Morev
The Morev are Manachite, and as such at odds with the Rûmiloi in the city. The Morevan district is also known as the wolfshome in the city; it boasts the most whorehouses, as well as houses of credit where loans can be procured.

Thoris
The Thoris quarter houses the northmen descended from Thoris the Wanderer. They began their rule two generations ago as sellswords. Now, they own the best armories and foundries in the city.

Tren
Tren amber, ivory, and bone workers, as well as leather embossers, are perhaps the greatest in the Amber Cities. Trennish inlay is sought by kings and queens the world over. Their quarter is one of the quietest and most peaceful in the city. Known as the Garden Quarter, one should still make efforts not to be caught there after nightfall.

Maz
It is said that the Maz come from Ancient Phaeria. They import silks from Wahar and poisons from Joven. The Maz also deal with the Atriani, and it is said that a man might make a compact with those far-reaching Disciples through Maz contacts.

Yoq'a
Though Asharn produces no gold or silver of its own, the Yoq'a craftsmen inlay, shape, and emboss; they create jeweled bracers, weapons, and wire. They polish stones and cut them into lozenges. They carve gemstones, and the Yoq'a are called the Jeweled House.

Mere
The Mere are fishmongers. They supply the city with food, and sell fish to many of the other Amber Cities and those along the coast. Their fleets are vast, and their captains are brutally loyal.

Wesh't
The Wesh't Dynasty has made its fortune on conflict. They make and sell swords and swordsmen. Wesh'tun mercenaries fight in every Amber City, for every side. They venerate the old Spyric god Morva, and believe that to be under Contract is a sacred oath. Wesh'tun companies will serve their employers until either the blood or the silver runs out.

Gorra
Strength and labor. That is the motto of the Gorra Dynasty. They bred and sell laborers, and all drayers, movers, and longshoremen in the city (or at least the great majority) work under Gorra contract. The Merchantine pays Gorra men to keep the docks clear and Gorra men to sweep the streets.

Laud
The Laudites have ships and sailors. They transport goods for a price, but they also serve as a navy-for-hire amongst the other Amber Cities. Unlike the Wesh'tun, they do not contract to more than one city, and they will not fight against Ruqis.

Arimore
Weymar knights founded the Arimore Dynasty, after they became lost in the Burning Sea on a trading expedition. The Arimore hold great slave holdings on the mainland. There, they farm and fight, and bring the food to Ruqis for a price. Their Grainmarket is one of the busiest in the city.

Yunis
The Yunisi are priests and holymen of a thousand faiths. The Dynasty puts no stock in any one god, preferring to staff many of the temples in the city. They take offerings from all comers, and almost every temple in Ruqis has at least one Yunis priest within it.

Zaremb
Someone must deal with the dead. Gorra touch refuse, but handling the dead is altogether different. Corpses are believed to carry a pollution with them. The Zaremb Dynasty tends the Necropolis Isle and transports the dead out of the city. Their long black ships are also used to smuggle in anything that other Dynasties don't want to pay Merchantine tariffs on.

Medj
A Khorassin family from the Dominion, the Medj Dynasty trades in skilled architecture and stonework. Many Amber Cities hire Medjeen master masons to design their latest follies and fortresses. As such, Medjeen master masons are also in great demand to give up the secrets of other cities' workings.

Khas
The Khas are the newest of the Dynasties. They make their trade in gemstones from abroad. They have secret ports in the south where they receive their shipments, and then they sell them for cheaper than any other Dynasty can afford at the Night Market of Jewels in the Khas District.