Sunday, April 12, 2015

Black Coven Teaser 3

Kozalin was a lot more impressive than I’d expected.

Back on my own Earth, low-tech cities were invariably tiny and overcrowded compared to modern megalopolises. It takes enormous amounts of labor to build anything with muscle power and hand tools, especially if you’re working in stone. So aside from a few monuments built at staggering expense by emperors or pharaohs, ancient structures tend to be surprisingly small and cramped.

But in this world they had magic.

I’d gathered that Varmland was a pretty big kingdom, encompassing what in my world would have been the Danish peninsula, southern Scandinavia and a good chunk of the Baltic Coast. The geography didn't quite match up - the Baltic Sea seemed to be a lot smaller in this world, and there was a stretch of flat farmland and a couple of rivers where the Kattegat should have been. All told the Kingdom was about the size of modern France, and had probably had over a million inhabitants before Fimbulwinter began.

Kozalin was the major center of magical learning in the Kingdom, and it showed. The city was built on the north bank of a major river I was pretty sure was the Elb, a few miles inland of where it emptied into the North Sea. The landward side was defended by a wall that had to be forty feet tall, a fact that was all the more impressive because the city was several miles across. A moat wide enough to look like a small lake stretched out from the base of the wall, crossed at three points by stone bridges that would have formed nasty choke points in warmer weather.

Round towers rose well above the level of the wall, their flat tops supporting a variety of both mundane and magical siege engines. At the eastern end of the city a cluster of even taller towers advertised the location of Brokefang Castle, an ancient fortress that was widely considered impregnable after withstanding an attack by dragons several centuries ago. At the western end of the city a gleaming metal spire hundreds of feet tall marked the home of the Red Conclave, the most powerful organization of mages in Northern Europe. The sky overhead was patrolled by a flight of knights mounted on griffons, and I could see the immaterial glow of a vast network of magical protections enclosing the entire settlement.

Unfortunately, any hope of safety we might have entertained was dashed by the breach in the wall.

The frozen moat was littered with the bodies of giants, a mute testament to the price they’d paid for that hole in the city’s defenses. Hundreds of laborers were already at work turning the mound of rubble in the gap into a proper barricade, guarded by several companies of soldiers. But if a band of giants could accomplish that much, what kind of damage would a dragon do? Or a pack of ungols?

A city this size wouldn’t fall easily, but protecting it would demand a steady price in blood from the men who held the walls. If this went on long enough, eventually there wouldn’t be enough of them left to man the defenses.

Judging from his expression, Carl was having similar thoughts.

“There must have been at least a hundred of them,” he observed. “With an enchanted battering ram, I suppose. Damn, but Loki’s allies are getting bold.”

I nodded. “They haven’t been finding much that can stop them. Although I’m surprised they’re already attacking a place like Kozalin. You’d think they’d work their way through the smaller towns first, and then take the time to concentrate their forces.”

Carl shook his head. “Probably just testing our defenses. They’ll strike where we’re weak, and leave the stronger positions for later. So we’d better make Kozalin as strong as we can, eh? I bet you can repair that breach before the next attack.”

“Yeah, I can fix that in an afternoon.”

“See? Come on, let’s get our people settled so I can introduce you around. The High Adepts will be happy to have you.”

The first part of that turned out to be easier said than done, at least for me. The gate guards recognized Carl’s group and let us in readily enough, but once inside we found that the city was packed with refugees. The main streets were mostly clear, but every alley and plaza was clogged with carts, livestock and huddled masses of desperate people.The inns were full to overflowing with nobles and wealthy merchants, and soldiers spilled out of the towers and barracks spaces to cover drill fields and practice yards with closely-spaced tents. By the time we were halfway to the Conclave’s tower Carl was shaking his head apologetically.

“I should have realized the city would be like this,” he admitted. “I’ve probably sent a thousand people here myself, and there were a lot of us working rescue early on. Maybe the Conclave will have room?”

“We’re headed that direction anyway,” I agreed. “Might as well see what they say.”

The city’s main roads were surprisingly wide and straight, hinting at some past effort at urban planning. We’d entered into what was apparently a trade district, where shops and inns lined the streets. Most were three-story buildings, and the traditional layout seemed to be a business on the ground floor and living quarters above it. Brick and wood were the main construction materials, but there was a fair amount of stonework as well

I was a bit surprised to note storm drains along the side of the road, and a distinct absence of sewage in the streets. Unlike Lanrest, apparently Kozalin had a sewer system.

We passed through another gate into what Carl referred to as the Wizard’s Quarter, and I noted approvingly that the walls separating the different districts of the city were as stout and well-manned as the outer wall. At least the extra manpower was being put to use.

“How many districts does Kozalin have?” I asked my guide.

“Five,” Carl answered. “The Trade Quarter we just passed through, and ahead is the Wizard’s Quarter. There’s also the Military District back east around Brokefang Castle, the Docks along the river, and the Temple Quarter in the middle of town. The defenses are all designed so we can hold out even if one district falls, and there are a lot of strong points and secret sally ports to make an attacker’s life difficult. Most of the defenses were built against the Saxons, or these days the Franks. But unless the dark gods send all their hordes at us I don’t think there’s any danger the city will fall to outside attack.”

I nodded. “It looks like a good position, at least for us. I wouldn’t want to be one of these refugees.”

Carl shrugged. “Nothing to be done about that. Better an alley in the Trade Quarter than a felwolf’s belly.”

I couldn’t argue with that, although I suspected there would be trouble if something wasn’t done about them soon. No matter how oppressed the peasants were here, I doubted they’d just meekly sit in the snow until they froze to death.

The Wizard’s Quarter was noticeably more prosperous than the Trade Quarter, with larger buildings that often had stone walls or even glass windows. Spacious villas were mixed in among the bookstores and merchants specializing in exotic materials, and there weren’t nearly as many refugees. Then we came to a broad plaza paved in marble, before a massive structure of dark metal.

“The Iron Citadel,” Carl explained proudly. “Home of the Red Conclave for three hundred years now. Only mages and their personal retainers are allowed inside, but your people can wait in the plaza here. I’ll let the guards know to leave them alone.”

I eyed the fortress thoughtfully, impressed despite myself. The walls were half again the height of the ones around the city, and the gates that stood open before us were made of metal a good four inches thick. Obviously the whole place had been built with magic somehow, although how anyone had conjured that much iron was beyond me. Getting pure metals took so much power even I had trouble with it, despite my cheat.

Although, come to think of it, the fortress wasn’t rusted and it wasn’t the distinctive black color of wrought iron. It was more of a brownish gray, with a textured surface that showed a lot of subtle color variations. Interesting. I’d have to think about that.

A squad of men in full plate armor directed traffic before the gates, but behind them I could see rows of large articulated iron statues along the walls of the entranceway that had to be golems. A tough place to break into, and come to think of it getting out might not be easy either. Better be on my best behavior.

Fortunately I’d taken the time to question Cerise and Captain Rain about such topics as court etiquette and the customs of the Conclave. Making the right kind of impression here would be important.

“Gronir, Daria, you’re on bodyguard detail. Cerise, you’re with me. Captain Rain, keep an eye on things until I get back.”

Carl raised an eyebrow at that. “You’re taking a woman as one of your guards?”

“It’s mostly a ceremonial position,” I pointed out. “Unless you think the High Adepts will take it as an insult somehow?”

“No, it’s just odd. But so is everything else about you, so I suppose it fits.”

Visiting mages were only allowed two guards inside the walls of the citadel, and I suppose Carl had expected me to take Oskar and Captain Rain. But the half-wolf couple would be a lot more likely to escape if something went wrong, and their keen senses might pick up interesting information.

Cerise, of course, was accompanying me as my apprentice. If the Conclave accepted me as an ally that would give her access to the citadel as well, and provide a ready explanation for her own magic. Anyone perceptive enough to see exactly what kind of magic she wielded would probably see her binding as well, and conclude she was an enslaved witch that I was trying to hide. Either way would work for most purposes.

The citadel’s entryway fed into a huge hall, big enough to use as a ballroom or to muster a battalion of troops. Wide stairways covered in decorative ironwork swept up to balconies on the second and third floors, and servants dressed in the distinctive red and black livery of the Conclave bustled about everywhere.

Carl led us up a stairway to the second floor, and through another iron gate into what I guessed must be the interior of the main tower. From there we circled an ornate audience chamber that didn’t seem to be in use, and made our way up another flight of stairs to a meeting area that was laid out along more practical lines. 

The sounds of an argument were audible all the way down the hall.

“...I’m telling you, we don’t have the manpower! This weather working has tied up half our membership, and we've lost four Adepts to those rescue operations you insisted on. We barely have the resources to maintain our existing commitments, let alone tackle another major project.”

“Then drop the damned weather spell! It isn't going to work anyway, Lukas. The gods aren't going to let you reverse Fimbulwinter, and keeping trade going-”

“Trade with who? There’s snow falling in Sicily, Caspar! No one is in any better state than we are.”

“Yes, and we've got thousands of craftsmen ready to keep plying their trades if they can just get raw materials. Damn it all, man, the ocean isn't going to freeze! We just need to keep the ice out of the harbor.”

The speaker was a muscular young man dressed in a suit of armor that must have cost a fortune, considering the amount of gold inlay it featured. The gold circlet he wore identified him as royalty, so that was easily explained. The man arguing with him was much older, with thinning hair and a long grey beard, but he held an iron staff set with a fortune in jewels and his crimson robes looked fancy enough for a king’s court. A small crowd of assorted servants, retainers and onlookers stood about the room, all of them looking like they were trying to spontaneously develop the power of invisibility.

“You want us to work fire magic on water? Hah! You have no idea what an undertaking that would be,” the old man protested. “We've no time for such absurdities.”

The prince looked about ready to explode at this, so I stepped forward. “This sounds like something I could help with.”


  1. Yesss, another teaser. I did think it was about time...

    So, now we know the geography. (Earlier, I had assumed the story took place in the county of Värmland, in the middle part of Sweden.) So the Baltic is an inland sea, then? Cool.
    With snow in Sicily, the winter is probably global. If so, the northern countries might be the better place to stay - I was in Barcelona during wintertime, once, and they did NOT know how to keep the cold out. Of course, that cuts both ways; ACs are few and far between, here up north...

    I thought Caspar's "Yes, and..." bit didn't flow quite right; I wasn't sure what exactly he was agreeing with. Maybe "Yes, but..." or "Maybe so, but..." or "And we're poised to take advantage of that!" instead?
    Also, I think maybe "trade with who" should be "trade with whom". Not super important, but I'd expect big-shot wizards to insist on fancy grammar...

  2. Sweet, any other update on the editing?

  3. Typo: that major river should be the "Elbe" not "Elb".

  4. [quote]The city was built on the north bank of a major river I was pretty sure was the Elb, a few miles inland of where it emptied into the North Sea.[/quote]

    Glueckstadt or Hamburg?

  5. [quote]“This sounds like something I could help with.”[/quote]

    Reinventing the icebreaker, or some kind of heating element based scheme to raise the water temperature? The latter would seem impractical (*)


    * = we're talking a _lot_ of water here, and since it's connected to a major river the warmer water would be constantly replaced as well carrying the extra heat with it.

    1. Or he makes his castle in the middle of the harbor and vents heat into the water. I've been wondering where he would make a stronghold in the middle of an already established city. I wouldn't think there would be a lot of spare land. An Alcatraz type island in the middle of the harbor would be great for his defense. He could even tunnel under the water if he really wanted to for escape routes. And he would have access to the ocean and privacy for whatever magic he wants to employ.

    2. > Or he makes his castle in the middle of the harbor and
      > vents heat into the water.

      That would run into the same problems as using heating elements
      to try raise the water temperature of far too little output for the en-
      ergy sink in question.

      And raising an island fortress in the middle harbor would be prob-
      lematic as it would create a navigation hazard (remember no mo-
      tor powered transport)

      It would also be isolated from the city proper's active defense for-
      ces in case of an attack which is exactly what Daniel _doesn't_
      want, or he wouldn't have come to Kozalin in the first place.

      He intends to to use the local military as a shield slash cannon-
      fodder which means he has to locate his home base somewhere
      that said military _has_ to defend.

      > I've been wondering where he would make a stronghold in the
      > middle of an already established city. I wouldn't think there
      > would be a lot of spare land.

      He's got money and more importantly he'll have pull with the
      secular authorities, and by extension the tradesmen of the
      city, if he can solve the harbor ice problem for the prince (that
      will probably cost him with the head of the Red Conclave for
      publicly upstaging him, but such are politics). I don't think he'll
      have problems acquiring real estate.

      If he's smart he'll buy property in the Trade quarter. It's currently
      overpopulated and underfortified due to the recent influx of refu-
      gees, but that can be a feature instead of a bug. With his earth
      magic it should be relatively easy to recreate an improved version
      of the roman insulae which would solve or at least alleviate the
      living space shortage in the quarter, and provide a steady indepen-
      dent income from rent monies (Daniel Black, slum lord!).

      It would also provide some (geographical) distance to the already
      established political power players, some if not all of whom might
      end up enemies or at least bitter rivals (the Church almost certain-
      ly, the Red Conclave probably, the Military/State could go either
      way depending on personalities and luck).

      And lets face it as culturally the merchant and artisan working
      class are a much better fit for Daniel, even if the identity he's
      assumed makes him part of the feudal establishment. His
      social instincts sofar have been unequivocally those of a
      popularis not an optimas.

  6. I was thinking along the lines of what Grimmelhausen was saying with ice breakers, but I have to admit I like salvationinpillform idea the best. A hot springs island would be awesome. On a side note looks like we have golems in this world. Which gives voice to other possibilities like giant controlled stone golems. Can’t wait to buy the book.

    1. > A hot springs island would be awesome.

      [pedant hat ON]
      Hot springs are only possible at tectonically unstable locations. Contrary to Bond villain tradition you _really_ don't want to build your home on top of an active volcano, especially when you have supernatural enemies who could trigger an eruption or a quake.
      [pedant hat OFF]

    2. Not necessarily. Massive quantities of heavily pressurized concrete (mainly in dam construction) is known to radiate large quantities of heat. "As the dam began to rise to fill the canyon, it grew in fits and starts. Rather than being a single block of concrete, the dam was built as a series of individual columns. Trapezoidal in shape, the columns rose in five foot lifts. The reason that the dam was built in this fashion was to allow the tremendous heat produced by the curing concrete to dissipate. Bureau of Reclamation engineers calculated that if the dam were built in a single continuous pour, the concrete would have gotten so hot that it would have taken 125 years for the concrete to cool to ambient temperatures. The resulting stresses would have caused the dam to crack and crumble away."

    3. The operating words being 'massive' and 'concrete'. Hydraulic cement doesn't occur naturally, it is manufactured (pulverizing limestone, firing it in a kiln and mixing additives). Which in the context of the books means it can't be summoned, or only at a very bad exchange rate in terms of energy and time expended.

      The example you cite above involves an amount of uncured concrete upwards of six-and-a-half million tons. That's about 3.3 million cubic meters, or a solid square cube 450 feet in height, length and width.

      Forget about the time it would take to summon that much mass (even at the best rate he's demonstrated we're talking literal years of non-stop 24/7/365 summoning) i know the area were the city is (most likely) located.

      It's flat as the proverbial board (ground's reclaimed moor land and geest), and the Elbe just not that deep. There simply isn't enough room to put anything that massive. Certainly not without completely ruining the harbor's draught, which defeats the purpose of having one in the first place.

    4. 43.2 Tons of "earth and stone" an hour was the listed amount he was capable of summoning and forming cohesively with his amulet when he was making the wall. He can make a battery powered flamethrower, and fleets of flying rock buses. Stealing a mountain and pulling an Asteroid M magneto style seems well within his current power set and power generating abilities (which are upgradeable). Heating said giant floating rock (he already does it with the buses) would be easy, putting a heated pool inside giant floating rock seems to be the most significant challenge as water is outside his power set. As would pressurizing the air. Still, you don't need to go into orbit, or even 30-50 thousand feet, to give everyone the middle finger. Nor do you need to stay at that altitude or location. Why he hasn't made a multi-layered city sized force dome I will never know. City walls... what a waste of time.

    5. > Why he hasn't made a multi-layered city sized force dome I will
      > never know. City walls... what a waste of time.

      There seems to be a fairly sharp range limit to how far he can project his force magic that's well short of the hundreds of yards if not miles this would require.

      Even if range wasn't a factor the area which needs to be covered still undergoes a cubic growth with the radius of the hypothetical force dome.

      That means if we take Daniel's personal force field as the base (*) a half dome with a one mile radius would take 1.3 _million_ times the energy to erect and maintain.

      And we know (from the teasers) that operating a force field isn't as simple switch on/switch off either, it requires constant expert monitoring and adjustments (Daniel does it subconsciously but there is only one of him).

      Meanwhile a simple stone wall is a one off labor investment that is just as strong if not stronger, requires only a fraction of the energy to erect, none to maintain, and no expert supervision to operate. It is also not subject to magic nullification or similar anti-magic shenanigans.


      * = which is strong enough to take an ogre's blow straight on but might be hard pressed to do the same from say a frost giant's fist to say nothing of a battering ram operated by multiple giants putting their backs into it.

  7. > He could even tunnel under the water if he really wanted to for escape routes.

    Impractical. That would require constant active pumping or the tunnel(s) flood _very_ quickly.

    > And he would have access to the ocean

    The river not the ocean, from the text Kozalin is located several miles inland from the mouth of the Elbe. Probably near Glueckstadt perhaps as far as Hamburg (depending on your definition of 'several' and differences in geography).

  8. Any idea about the release date? I'm trying to time my next re-read of book 1 properly. 3-7 day warning would be awesome.

  9. Hm, if he can keep the harbour ice-free - say, by lining its bottom with mass-produced stones enchanted with the warmth cloak spell, or coaxing a magma flow closer to the surface, or putting miniature suns up over the place - he ought to defrost the moat as well, while he's at it.

  10. I would think it would be closer to Brunsbuttal as a few miles from where fresh changes to ocean water. the moat could be the start of the canal in our earth. as for as a ice free harbor goes, assigning driver from his team to stone ice breaker boats as a improved version of his first barge could be something they do daily which would earn continuous favor versus a fix and they forget kind of thing. it would also provide a reminder for the traders in the harbor to hold goods or get goods for them

    1. Perhaps. Too little info at this point to say with certainty. Kozalin is described as a fortress town, and you generally put those on or very close to your border. So the question is just how far does Varmland's territory extend to the south?

      One reason i think it's Glueckstadt is this:

      Looks a lot like the description in the teaser, no?

      The old fortifications were razed at the tail end of the napoleonic wars, but you can still see the outlines today in aerial photographs:

  11. I'm guessing he smashes the ice in the harbor, then keeps it from reforming by creating water buoys that produce waves with force magic and heat with fire magic so the water can't solidify at the surface and the buoy can't be frozen in place.

    1. Yeah, the key is to keep the ice from creating a solid surface. Slurry or smaller chunks aren't a problem.

  12. You know they really don't need the ice cleared. He could build ships/ barges for them. Or maybe sleds.

    1. Longterm yes. In the shortterm it's about getting conventional sailing ships from (still) ice free foreign ports to the piers of Kozalin harbor and back out again.

      Loading and unloading cargo, especially mass ones, in a pre-stadardized shipping container world is a very time consuming and labor intensive process. You can't really transfer it from a ship to a specialist barge in the middle of a river, or worse at sea. At least not without extreme difficulty and inefficiency.

  13. people think on top of the ground or above the ground for building his "fortress of doom".... just build down as there is quite a bit of space if he heads that way. heck he could have a 10x10 foot building and then an entire complex beneath that. o and if you did have a flying complex ... its just something that some magics might be able to pull down..

    1. Not a good idea. The location is right next to a major river. in fact that entire area used to be swampland and is kept from reverting by dykes.

      Even people living much further inland and away from the river there frequently end up having to pump out their cellars whenever the Elbe has particularly high water .You try to build downwards at that place i guarantee you it'll flood, big time.

    2. Couldn't he just fuse the rock like in book1 and have something less porous?

    3. my concern is that i think the sewers are the weak point of the city. if he fuses stone then he needs to go deep and make a very long freight elevator in the black coven castle. also it will need backup air supply. I really wish he had chosen light over heat so he could have underground farms

    4. Personally I'd have gone with 'energy' over 'fire' and 'matter' instead of 'earth', but such are the breaks, and it would probably have made the protagonist far to versatile and powerful right out of the box. Having powers that are flawed by (over)specialization creates hooks from which to hang dramatic tension.

    5. > Couldn't he just fuse the rock like in book1 and have something
      > less porous?

      I doubt you could get it watertight that way. For one the ground's not that stable. You add a crap load of weight on top of it and it'll shift/sink (unevenly). Which will put stress on the whole structure, which in turn will very likely end up compromising the water seal you were trying to achieve.

      And even if you don't get flooded there are whole bunch of other issues you are going to run into like ventilation and heat management. Basically all the things that make mines so challenging to build, and uncomfortable and dangerous places to work (which is a whole laundry list).

      And what happens if an enemy manages to take the (small) entrance structure on top? All they have to do is lay a pipe/dig a trench from the nearby river to drown everybody in the subterranean fortress of doom like so many rats. Heck you just need to plug the opening of the ventilation shafts and that's all she wrote.

      No, unless you are trying to shield yourself from aerial bombardment, and have a geologically suitable location, building underground just isn't worth the associated risks and problems imo.

  14. Using those rock heater things and making more to sell them should be a priority. Not only for the money. they will allow the city to become more self sufficient. I doubt Mr. Black could make the thousands they need for a whole city, but they would be an incredable savings for the city. Less wood to collect. Loggers need to be protected by soldiers to look out for monsters in the woods.

    Using the barges as ice breakers for the harbor is a good idea. So would using them for transport over the snowy grounds. Use the flame throwers to keep the roads clear of ice. What are the options of steam heating the city. Or just a few buildings?

  15. For the short term ice breakers/ barges may be the answer, but the real problem still remains. The moat and the docks are still open for attack. The ice needs to be gone or turn back into water again.

    1. A lot depends who or what does the attacking. A dragon for example could simply ignore the moat regardless of its state and fly over it (and the wall too).

      An alternative might be to try work with the weather instead of against it: use magic to mirror-polish the surface of ice in the moat to make it very, very slippery, or embed sharpened metal stakes and poisoned caltrops in it, or lay (magical) minefields, or... .

      Ultimately all passive defenses have only one purpose: to slow the attackers down so the defenders behind them have time to whittle away at them. Exactly _how_ that slow down is achieved is fungible.

  16. Considering the amount of comments and threaded conversations - getting rather hard to find latest comments in a threaded list...

    Just in case someone wasn't ware - you can view latest comments chronologically using comment feed:

  17. Hey it's getting to be the end of the month and I just wanted to know if the release date was still going as planned.

  18. ^ what that guy said cause i got a wallet with not much money that really wants to be spent getting this book XD please give us a update sometime

    1. You're not the only one, brother. (c:

      The pattern so far has been a teaser half-chapter every three weeks, give or take a day. If i were a betting man (and I've been known to indulge) my money would be on teaser 4 dropping next Friday concurrently with (fingers crossed) launch of the book.

      I could be wrong of course, but i think we're close enough to the projected deadline that if there were any foreseeable delays on the horizon the man would have posted an update to that effect by now.

      So break out you're wallets and reading glasses (if needed) dear friends, we're on countdown.

  19. the sucky thing about when a release is posted is how long it will take amazon to post the book.... so i hope its soon !!

    1. I may be wrong, but I recall William mentioning that because he was essentially self-published Amazon's two week delay period between manuscript upload and posting didn't apply to him. That's also the reason the book can't be per-ordered.

    2. I believe he means the up to 24 hourish delay that you can get after an author actually uploads the book. I've been there many times refreshing amazon every 30 minutes for 12 hours after an author announces they uploaded a new book.

    3. Yes, they have some delay in their system. When I posted Fimbulwinter it showed up on the US Amazon site in a couple of hours, but the various international sites took a lot longer.

  20. He did say in his update thread that we will be getting one or two teasers in April, so there is hope for a teaser this weekend! I would rather have the book but I'll take what I can get.