The V.C.s – Hell in the Heavens

Finally I got to read this!

When I was young, I somehow read the last few issues of the V.C.s in 2000AD comics. I think my brother was given or loaned a few and I got to read them, I’m not sure. But I certainly remember the V.C.s. I thought I had just read the very last issue, I only remembered a few things, but once I had read this graphic novel, I recognised moments from the last few chapters. So turns out I had seen more of the V.C.s than I thought.

So what hit me? Why had I remembered this for so long?

The scenes I remembered was mostly a showdown between the main character and a scummy snob called the Dishwasher, and another character who hated the main character for being from Earth yet still stepped in to kill the Dishwasher. I also recalled that the humans attacking the Geek world by the end.

But as I read toward the end of this book, I realised I had already seen that moment when Hen-Sho forced the other two to take the only escape pods. Then I knew I had seen Smith and Loon landing, and that I had seen what happens to Loon.

Whenever I thought about this weird sci-fi comic I had read once as a teenager, I knew I loved the showdown, the dark tone of the story, the vivid war with an alien race and how brutal it was depicted. Later I found out it was the V.C.s from 2000AD. I read over the wiki page I think, remembered a few things, but it wasn’t until I got Hell in the Heavens for Christmas (finally) that I was able to sit and truly appreciate this. It might sound weird to claim that a comic I had only read a final piece of somehow left a strong impact on me, and yet this one had all those traits I love. Gritty war stories. Dark scifi. Brutal depictions of conflict that cost the characters we are following. So yeah, that brief glimpse of the V.C.s stuck with me, even though I didn’t know the names.

Which leads me to mention Bad Company. This is another story from 2000AD. I picked up the first graphic novel years back and I devoured the first series in one afternoon. I literally couldn’t put it down. My book contained the first two stories; I later bought another graphic novel that had the third series. To be blunt, I didn’t love the other two stories as much as I revered the first, yet I did enjoy them a lot and became a Bad Company fanboy. This was just like the V.C.s yet on an alien planet instead of being set in space. It became a huge influence on me. I can’t imagine what kind of hold it would have had if I had read it when young, like I did with the V.C.s. Still, it hit me.

I bring up Bad Company because I feel there is a worthy comparison between the two. I think if you have read either of these, you’d enjoy the other. Both deal with humans versus aliens in a war in the future, with a high body count and a grim, macabre tone. I would say I still much prefer Bad Company. You can’t beat Kano, Thraxx, Mad Tommy Churchill and co. There are more V.C.s stories and I hope to read them later. Maybe there are better ones to come. Maybe, like Bad Company, the first run was the best. I would say I really liked the universe created in the V.C.s story and would love to see it developed more. It could make a great tv series, as we’re seeing more and more of now, like the Expanse and Sense8. Small cast, strong characters, lots of action, a universe to be delved into.

Okay, so I’ll finally get into the V.C.s – Hell in the Heavens. Oh, and I will get spoilerish.

To give a quick overview: the humans are fighting an alien race called the Geeks. At the beginning it is mostly a space war with the Geeks raiding human territory, so ships with startroopers patrol to intercept and destroy. Our main character is Steve Smith, a human from Earth, newly trained and placed on the ships of the V.Cs. Here, his five crewmates are all humans from other worlds, so they dislike the earthworm and he has to go through a lot before they even see him as tolerable. As the war goes on, things escalate between the humans and the Geeks, with major attacks on the solar system resulting in a revenge mission in search of the Geek homeworld. It has to be said, the humans get a real arse kicking for a lot of the story.

The characters are the strong point for me. I do think they could have been developed even more, yet they each have strong definitions and change to some degree over the course of the series. Smith is very eager to prove himself and often oversteps or screws up because he is trying to impress the rest. This makes him flawed, but I also liked that he didn’t shrink away as the others put him down. He gets proactive, even aggressive, in order to help win the war and become a true V.C. He goes from rookie to hardened fighter and leader. Jupe is the leader of the crew for most of it. His phrase sums it up – suck it in. Anything, everything that goes wrong for anyone, they get told by Jupe to shut up, take it and get on with things. He is the tough grizzled sargent you often see in films and shows, and you’d certainly hope to have in real life. He keeps people alive. He is tough on Smith, but stands up for him and listens to his ideas over time. Ringer hates Smith. Ringer is the nasty antagonist for much of the story, if also an excellent pilot. He can get a bit one note, but his turn at the very end made all of it worthwhile. The other characters are Loon, Dwarfstar and Hen-Sho. Loon is mad, having spent time on the Moon’s prison. Dwarf is more different looking, having been mutated in space travel. Hen-Sho is a proud Chinese Martian, who is also a bit easier on Smith than the rest. It has to be said, these three have the least depth to them, yet each have their moments. We meet Dwarf’s brother, spend time on Mars where Hen-Sho boasts of his people’s accomplishments, and Loon has a freak out in which he nearly skins Smith. I’d have liked more of these moments, but the crew’s overall story, their differences with Smith as he settles in, the ongoing war and how it changes – these become the bulk of the series. I loved Bad Company’s first story because it was character focused and driven. The second run was more plot driven. The V.C.s story is very much a mix of the two. There was a point toward the end where we were spending a lot more time on Smith alone than the crew together, which I wasn’t so into, but that wasn’t for long. In truth, I would say this is more a Steve Smith story than a story about the V.C.s as Smith is the main focus constantly and gets more to do as he gets sent on important missions. Still, Jupe and the rest stand out enough to make you care. At least, I thought so. As the war starts to cost the crew, I felt for the losses and certainly wished at least one happened differently. That was something I admired the story for. The V.C.s get sent on more and more dangerous missions, and those high risks can’t be avoided for ever.

As much as I say the characters are a strong point, I also felt the world – or universe – of the V.C.s was the other strong seller for me. Yes, it is a fairly typical space war and the Geeks are pretty much just faceless baddies to get vaped. Some might not appreciate how it is very much a good guys versus bad guys war, or rather, the characters are fine with killing the enemy and never question this conflict. The questionable aspect comes in when we meet the Dishwasher. The diplomats are, as can be so, the real enemy of the soldiers. If the Geeks are the opposing force to be defeated, the Dishwashers are the ones the V.C.s really come to hate as they screw up and get startroopers killed. One Dishwasher proves to be Smith’s mortal enemy. That’s certainly the viewpoint depicted in the V.C.s – much like Bad Company and other war movies like the Iron Cross and Paths of Glory – that when you’re the soldier fighting the war, you’re stuck in the middle and have to get through it as best you can with your comrades, struggling against the enemy in front of you while watching out against your superiors behind you.

What is unique with the V.C.s is the variety of humans. Unique might be pushing it, I’m not sure what else touched on this idea by the time the story was printed (in 1979!). I know I read some books by Anne McCaffrey which had heavyworlders in. Pretty good they were too. But few other things have gotten into the concept of humans being different because they are from different worlds. We’re too used to Star Trek and Stargate I think. Babylon 5 at least showed the issues of the Mars colony and others wanting independence.

In the V.C.s, we have Smith, an Earther, who is looked down on by the others. Ringer is from Saturn, Loon from the Moon, Jupe from Jupiter, Dwarfstar from Neptune and Hen-Sho, as mentioned, from Mars. There are indications that the others are tougher and better than Earthers. Jupe and Ringer are certainly stronger. I got the feeling they also saw those from Earth as arrogant and probably having gone soft. In return, though, the V.C.s are looked down on by the command of the human fleet. I’m not sure, but I think most of the frontline startroopers were colonists, and the commanding elite were Earthers. So this story dealt with prejudice going both ways, of conflict and variety among humanity, of the human race spreading out but not staying a happy and united family, as some scifi likes to present. The war with the Geeks is a bit straightforward, yet the current state of the human race is presented as being anything but.

Oh, and as I come to an end, I should say what the V.C.s means. Of course, any Brit with a knowledge of military history knows the VC stands for the Victoria Cross, which is the highest honour a soldier can get. So VC has a resonance. Yet in this case the V.C.s stands for the vacuum cleaners. Basically they are there to go around and clean up the mess. It is a neat little philosophy that tells you a lot about the crew early on – matter-of-fact, with a grim sense of humour and a disdain for the enemy. Geeks are rubbish to be removed. These blokes get the dirty work done.

Obviously I really enjoyed this graphic novel and plan to get the others sometime to see how they go. But for more, this had a special, personal side to it. When you’re young and developing your tastes in fiction and entertainment, certain things just click. Often, you become a fanboy/girl and they mean more to you than the same story does for others. Any remake or renewal usually doesn’t have the same power. You seen it all before. You’ve read this story. Little can get to you the same way that first glimpse into something you didn’t know you were into until you met it. That’s how the V.C.s were for me. A quick read when I was young, and yet I never forgot that image of the power-disc cutting through that fat neck. That bitter conflict and deadly exchange.

Very happy to finally be fully acquainted with you, V.C.s.

Random Shakespeare

I have nothing much to post right now, so here’s a random piece of something I wrote on a forum back in 07 (I think). It was done as Shakespeare in a western, and I always remember that my dear, late friend Janrae responded by simply saying: what hath Steven wrought? That, I recall clearly, was the first time she called me by name and I was so tickled as she was the one I was desperately trying to impress at the time.

So here we go:

“Why stand you there, grim visage set, hand but a breath from your gun? You think yourself unequalled; a man of such swift action and reckless nature that the Devil himself would stop from barring your way, instead preferring to skulk to the saloon with the other cowards? Let me assure you, fool youth, that speed of action does not necessarily mean speed of thought, and while you would blaze away in frenetic gusto, my one shot would prove true.”

“As usual you are quicker to words than you are to offer proof with deeds. Your time is past, you are a mere illusion of that deadly spectre who once ruled this town. Arrogantly you claim to perfection, yet how can any aim be honest when my gun, swifter to obey my call, sends shrieking lead to burrow deep in your frame? If I waver, it will be but a little, and you will react to pain as all living creatures must. So come, let us draw, and let loser taste the earth we stand upon, while winner will forever more have his name toasted as the greatest gunslinger of our day.”

Christmas on a Sunday

So I have gotten well behind on posts and posting due to the build up to Christmas. That and time consuming/wasting acts, but the build up to Christmas is a busy time for us all so things go by fast. Can’t believe it is next week. I need to write more Sojourners in Shadow posts to have ready, and I plan to start mixing in character bios for the series, like the ones I was posting last year for my book, the Silent Slayer. I plan to get a lot more going for Sojourners in Shadow and start putting the short stories out there, with help from my former publisher. Still, Christmas comes first.

But I have to say, as much as things have been busy, I’m really looking forward to this week. I still have things to do, but the worst is behind me and I know I’ll be finishing work and other things with time to spare. In the past, I’ve been preparing for Christmas up until the day itself sometimes. You don’t get time to appreciate what’s coming. Christmas can just show up and then you’re done, if you’re not careful.

So while this has been busy, having a week to head for the day itself really helps. I love the fact Christmas is on Sunday. It gives us the entire week to get there. Having it in the middle of the week can leave it feeling very rushed and sudden. If it happens at the start of the week, then it has this off-kilter feel, as you have a special kind of weekend right after the normal one. We may get that this year as we have bank holidays filling in for the holiday weekend, and yet Christmas being on Sunday just fits right. It feels like a perfect fit.

My mother and I were discussing it recently and it surprised us how many holidays have a fixed day. Easter and Mothering Sunday. Thanksgiving, for the Americans. There were some others I’m too tired to think of right now. But it left us wondering why Christmas can’t have a set date. I know, it’s the 25th and has been for centuries, and yet that’s a day the early Christians took up from a pagan festival. It’s isn’t a sacred day as such. Christmas could be the last Sunday of the year. I think most of us live by the named day of the week a lot more than we do by dates.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe fixing a day over a date would be too much for too many. I can see the problems. But this year, I really appreciate that Christmas is happening when it is, to give us a week to ease into it, and maybe a week to ease back out.

Infamous Pirate Captains of the Mediterranean

So to return to the world of Sojourners in Shadow, and to the Mediterranean specifically, I thought I’d post a little on some of the more notable pirate captains. Essentially, I’m doing this because at least two of them will be major characters with their own stories to be told, while others will be important to them, and to other characters later on. What happens in the Mediterranean, and to the pirates, and to those other places connected to both – such as the Northern Federation, the market towns of the European peninsulars, to the mutant forces and settlements, to aquatic communities and ranging trade – will only develop and matter more as time goes on.

I’ll keep these bios very brief as I’m not sure how much, or what, I want to reveal just yet.

The first I’ll mention is Tryst. She’s originally from the Caribbean, a survivor of the tiny islands left there, and has unnatural luck. This ability has enabled her to cross an ocean, start a life among pirates and even gain her own ship – the Slim Chance. She has several crew members loyal to her, almost all of them women. As a woman herself and knowing the nature of most pirate crews, and also because she isn’t much of a fighter, Tryst tries to keep her top personnel female so they have her back rather than challenge her. Running a pirate crew is well known to be difficult, with physical intimidation a major factor in keeping your underlings in check. Tryst has luck, charm and wits on her side, so she tends to draw in adventurous seamen. Still, while her luck is famed for helping her, it is also infamous for costing others. When things go wrong around Tryst, they tend to really hurt someone else, and she knows it. She has to take care who she hires, who she trusts, who she count on. If she wants to raise her standing among the pirate captains, she’ll have to take some risks soon.

A captain who loathes risk is Rodrigo. A seemingly simple human from Spain, this individual is known for his cunning and adaptability. His ship – the Grim Fandango – is a wooden vessel with sails and so forth, like all the rest, and yet it has several features that are far more advanced and useful than someone would suspect. Rodrigo has used his ship’s abilities to outmanoeuvre stronger enemies, just as he has used his ruthlessness and sharp mind to outwit opponents. Unlike Tryst, Rodrigo is a pirate to make a living, and he has worked hard to establish connections in the trade networks. Also not a fighter, he has three cloned super-soldiers who are loyal to him, along with other beings who stand out, even among pirates. Rodrigo isn’t considered one of the more powerful or famed captains, and yet, those who know him, know to take him and his determined crew very seriously.

These two are the major characters I mentioned. I have written a short story about each of them so far, not that either has seen the light of day. Yet. I aim to use both to reveal the world of piracy, from different angles, before moving out into wider territory.

To continue on to other captains that will gain mentions or encounters, I should start with Asafa. He is also known as the Black Lion and is one of the strongest captains around. He is also notable because he is from the Northern Federation, as is his entire crew. He began life in a prison on Africa’s coast, until he led a riot, which evolved into a break out as he and others captured a supply ship. From that point on, he has roamed the Mediterranean, unable to go home, forced to find a way for him and his men to survive. He does return to Africa now and then, but only to attack a coastal prison and gain new recruits. This isn’t such a bad thing for the Northern Federation because it means fewer prisoners to deal with and Asafa’s attacks are mostly aimed at Europe. Some would even accuse both parties of co-operation. Either way, Asafa has a much better ship now and a large crew, and he leads them formidably from the front.

A lesser rival and yet an equally aggressive one is Andre. In many respects, this shaven-headed human is just a thug from Europe. Born into the pirate life, growing up on one of the havens, he is well known for being a tough fighter and cruel enemy. Not someone you want to be on the wrong side of. He also isn’t much for restraining his crew. If you want to ride the sea, raid settlements and have your fill of plunder, rape and violence, Andre is the captain for you.

Torsten is the one who is strict on his crew. He was born into a life as well, but as a mercenary – recruited as a boy and remaining one as an adult. He sees himself as soldier really, and expects discipline and organisation from those who follow him. For some time he was a mercenary captain, but he was later hired to take his fighters to sea. He became a privateer – market towns would compete, even fight, and so would hire people like him to attack each other. To other pirates, Torsten was doing their job but with a permission slip. To him, he was being a soldier for hire. Now with greying hair, he has long moved past the pretence. While he does get hired for work occasionally, Torsten is a pirate captain in name as well as action, raiding as he wishes, yet maintaining his own code of conduct always.

Non-human captains are rare, even now, and Thrasher stands out for this reason and more. She is a super-soldier from the mutant forces in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. She has even fought at Eden. She left that horror some time ago and has forced her way to the higher ranks of pirate captains through sheer force of will, and also force of physique. Her name isn’t the one she once went by but has been earned because she uses a whip of four chains to beat her crew. She also prides herself on being one of the few female captains around, and she doesn’t like competition.

A final mention has to go to Djinn. While many pirate captains are nasty pieces of work, while many have fearsome reputations, even the more violent ones have their limits and try to live the pirate way. Djinn is someone that scares other captains. He is someone pirate crews will flee from. His ship is much bigger than any other, his crew a mix of psychopaths and tormented slaves. Worse still, he is a powerful magic-user with an array of magical rings and gems at his disposal. Few can stand up to him, and none would want to end up in his clutches.

I should add that Djinn has a history behind him that adds weight to the terror he can cause. A history that has left scars across the Mediterranean. I touched on it before, and it gets a stronger mention in Tryst’s story, and it will get more as time goes on, yet I don’t want to say anything here. But once, the Mediterranean was facing a horrifying enemy, and only just managed to win out. Djinn was part of that terror and the only remnant left. He wasn’t the main threat. He followed another. But now he is his own man, free to pursue his own twisted desires. Djinn is a threat all of his own, and yet his presence is a reminder to many of what once haunted them.

So that’s an overview of several notable figures. If everything goes according to plan, all of them will matter over time. Everyone will get an important moment. A lot has to happen in the Mediterranean. Just as so many other parts of the world have been earmarked for turbulent times and climatic changes. In that time, I hope to tell how many lives are lived, until they are ended.

Christmas Mayhem

 

 

I was going to follow up my pirates blog post with another following up on it by running through some notable pirate captains. Maybe next week.

Basically, this last week has been hectic yet fun. Horrible fun sometimes. Essentially my wife suddenly became intent on getting all Christmas shopping done now. I mean NOW. Not next week. Not in December. Not even before December. No, NOWWWWW.

As someone who hates shopping and travel, this was hell for me, and especially as things kept going wrong and we often didn’t get anywhere until later than planned. At least twice, maybe thrice I suggested we didn’t go that day and wait, but no. NOW.

Yet after it all, I can say I’m relieved we have done 99% of the Christmas shopping. We even have some presents wrapped. I still think we could have done it all via a gradual process of smaller incursions rather than one bludgeon charge, but there we go. The missus is happy and that’s what counts.

But it was something I’m glad we did too. I live near a market town called Chippenham and the city of Bath. The first we went to just planning on shopping and ended up watching Torvil and Dean turn on the Christmas lights. So that was nice. The main street was packed like I’ve never seen before. I’ll never walk up it again with dozens of people around and consider it busy.

Speaking of packed, Bath was churning with people. The buses were the same. Only just managed to get a seat on the ride there, but going back – due to the trains being out – it wasn’t just standing room only. We were almost wedged in. The whole thing fogged up, which made it difficult to spot the right stop. We ended up getting off a lot earlier than usual, but both of us wanted out of that jam jar on wheels. Not even going to mention the lights going out. Okay, so I just did.

But Bath, while so busy it made Chippenham the night before seem spacious, was great to visit as usual. We saw the small stalls and the tree and lights. These two events I’ve never been to before but have heard of, so, thanks to my wife’s insistence, we got to experience them. I STILL maintain we could have done them in a more easier way, especially picking a day less busy for Bath, and yet, hey, it’s all in the past now, and I have a tale to tell.

While I hate shopping and look forward to a lot less busy week, I am glad we went and saw these things. I’m glad we got to share them. As my mum would say, it’s one of those times you get to be sat there some other time, at peace, and chirp “oooh, remember that time we did that thing!” This Christmas, as we had out presents, we have a history to go behind many of the items, which I’m sure we’ll bore the receivers with more than once.

I don’t really care for dates and calendar events. I live for experiences and genuine change in life. This week has had plenty of those. So, while I should post about pirate captains from a fictional world I’m still building, here is a bunch of me going “ooohhh, what a time we had!”

And here’s some pictures of Bath:

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Pirates of the Mediterranean

There are pirates in this world, here and there across the vast oceans. Yet in the Mediterranean, piracy is more than just a means to an end. Around the world, various beings raid at sea, but it can’t be said that there is a lot of traffic for them to prey on. In the Mediterranean, commerce is ongoing, flourishing in recent times, and pirates have been around for decades now. They have havens and hideouts, they have their own culture and hierarchy, so here I’ll discuss all of that.

To understand the pirates of this enclosed sea, you have to understand the land around it and those who live there. Across the north of Africa we have several cities, surrounded by numerous villages. This network is known as the Northern Federation. It has been a long struggle, yet these Africans have managed to raise their level of technology and civilisation to a point where they have ships ready to expand their influence. Many of these ships are steam powered, this has been their level for some time, but better craft have been made recently. Mainly warships.

To the east are the mutants. In Eastern Europe they are mostly mutts – the lesser, deformed types – but there are many super-soldiers who have organised the rest. An army is in charge, centralised at Constantinople. Villages and towns are scattered across this end of the Mediterranean, with military camps and bases among them, keeping everyone in check. The mutants don’t go out to sea, their objectives are all on land, but a good number of them are open to trade, as long as the soldiers don’t find out.

I should add when I say mutants, I don’t include the aquatics. These reside in the sea and are part of the reason why the mutant army don’t intrude on the water – the two groups have an understanding to not interfere with each other. But the aquatics here aren’t exactly the same as those elsewhere. Aquatics swim around the world, sharing everything with their own and supporting each other, while keeping the land races at a distance. But a certain number of them reside solely in the Mediterranean, and they have more contact with the land, and are more influenced by the people there.

Finally, across the European coast line, are human settlements, which have been trading with one another for a long time. A number of these have grown to be known as market towns. Trade has brought many things, including new resources, and also ambition and greed. Wooden ships sail along the coast, transporting goods and spreading the wealth. Everyone wants in on the action. Which returns us to the pirates.

They began as European humans. As trade spread along that coast, many who couldn’t afford to get involved found alternative methods. Grab a ship, bring some ruffians together, try and ambush a trade ship. Simple enough. Of course, this caused a reaction, and soon secrecy became more important to hide the whereabouts of the trading vessels, while fighters were hired to be onboard. Trading was never hindered enough to stop progress, which was good for the pirates as well. As the humans of the Iberian Peninsular got to know those of the Italian Peninsular, and in turn they began to deal with those from the Aegean Peninsular, word spread even further. The Northern Federation wanted to trade – sparsely at first but more as contacts and routes became established. They were also able to provide better ships to combat the pirates, although those kept to African waters unless provoked. Aquatics began helping out, usually for a fee, sometimes for knowledge. The mutants of Eastern Europe, who were under less restriction by the army than in other places, started to trade, and so word spread again, leading to certain mutt settlements becoming part of the network, able to sell military equipment their unknowing overlords had stored away.

 

To be honest, this post has become more about the Mediterranean region than just the pirates, but they are an important ingredient and reflect the various parts of the region. Pirates are now of many types of being. Mostly they remain humans from Europe, but Africans are not unusual, nor are mutants. In fact, mutants from Normandy are known to travel down and adventure at sea because of the fame of pirates. They sail in wooden ships, yet other tech and types of equipment will usually be found with them too. Pirates raid to sell on, but also to better themselves. The more the market towns of Europe and the Northern Federation try to protect their trade, the further the pirates go to overcome them.

Pirates vary as well in nature, although they are all pretty much criminals aiming to steal. Some are bloodthirsty. Some act according to cunning as opposed to brute force. Some are looking for financial gain. Some want glory and action. Some crews are well organised and well led. Some are little more than vicious gangs. Some are there by choice, others enslaved.

As expected, a captain leads each crew on each ship. In order to be one, you had better either be the scariest bastard on the ship or have some kind of usefulness that makes the crew want you in charge. If you are of the latter, even with popular support, it is best to have a few strong lieutenants to back you up. These could include first mate, bosun, helmsman, quartermaster, navigator, etc. All roles on a normal ship are just as vital on a pirate one. The difference is any failure could meet disposal rather than demotion.

The running of the ship will vary, depending on the type of captain and the way he or she does things. A brutal tyrant who treats the crew little better than slaves will pretty much keep them together, allowing little time off the ship to relax. Most pirate captains tend to rotate personnel. After a successful raid or adventure, crews tend to want to land and enjoy their gains. If things didn’t go so well, part of the crew might want to get away, or the captain might want them removed before they start trouble. Either way, a captain will tend to have a smaller, select crew who have proven themselves over time, while the rest will come and go depending on timing, the risks, the reputation, etc.

Obviously, a successful captain can attract more and better pirates, so reputation counts for a lot. It can also help where enemies are concerned. As occurred in times past, pirates have flags and emblems to let others know who they face, so if your reputation carries weight, a ship may give in without a fight. Also, as used to be the case in our world, pirates of this time and place have a dreadful reputation, and many people around the Mediterranean have heard horror stories. Not all are true, but there’s certainly enough truth in them. Pirates have havens for a reason – anywhere else and you’re a wanted criminal. Even a suspicion of piracy can get someone hung.

Pirates lead very dangerous lives. The sea can be tough enough, along with diseases, illnesses and ailments any ship on voyage might endure, but the problems they have caused for merchants mean rewards for their heads are high. Pirate hunters roam the Mediterranean. Not nearly enough to stop the pirates, but they tend to be formidable foes, so are best avoided. Of course, other pirates are a danger too, and while at sea, everyone is considered fair game. That’s why the havens were created. Mainly they are very small islands, usually with no one in charge. Everything operates on an understanding that everyone plays nice and so everyone benefits. With a few exceptions, it has always worked, not least because even pirates need a place where they can relax.

While pirates are the criminals of the sea, they aren’t the only ones. Merchants from the market towns, even from the Northern Federation, have found these scum to be useful allies or employees. Trade secrets are jealously guarded, so spies are watching and listening, and gathered information tends to get sold onto pirates or handed out with an agreement for joint reward. Betraying pirates is a bad idea though. Pirates are divided and divisive for the most part, but they also understand the need to stand strong, as all groups do. Pirates will strike back if they have been wronged. Not all, many are selfish and will only act if they are the victim, but if someone mistreats one of their community, enough will react, and others will join in seeing the chance for personal gain. In essence, doing business with a pirate is as dangerous an act as it is unscrupulous.

The pirates of the Mediterranean are a frustrating yet inevitable part of the expanding trade there. While the attempts to prevent them from raiding settlements and stealing ships goes on, many have come to accept their presence, along with storms and human error. When pirates steal, the goods usually end up back in the trade system anyway, so often merchants put more effort into buying their cargo back rather than seeking revenge. In this way, sometimes they even buy it back from those who stole it. Cuts out any middle-men. Pirates can be bought and bribed, same as anyone else. Well, many pirates can. To some, being a pirate is something to maintain. Yes, they are criminals – cutthroats and thieves, raiders and marauders. But merchants and mercenaries are no better. Pirates should keep their word to one another. Pirate captains need to listen to their crews and rewards need to be handed out justly. Havens are to be respected. Fear must be maintained but excessive cruelty only brings down greater repercussions.

Pirates have their place in the ecosystem of the Mediterranean. That is, as long as they don’t push it. Once, someone did. A pirate climbed the ranks and became head of a number of ships and crews, and terrorised the sea and coastlines. He went so far that all sides came together – the Northern Federation, the market towns, and even other pirate captains. They all wanted him gone. After a severe battle, he was chased out, and what was left of his fleet was hunted down. That was twenty years ago. There are those who fear his return, his name is even banned in some places, but for now, pirates know they can keep making this life work as long as they don’t overstep too far. Breaking the law is one thing, but the trade of the Mediterranean has to keep going. For everyone.

Do Monsters Eat People?

More from the Shadow World:

This is designed to be a short post.

So do monsters eat people? The answer is yes.

Fair enough, it is a bit more complicated than that. People have flesh and flesh is food, even to other people, so it makes sense that monsters will eat that. They need to eat and sometimes food isn’t easy to come by. After all, people eat animals, and vice versa, so why wouldn’t monsters eat either of those?

In truth, people can and do eat monsters too. This is much more rare, not least because most humans think monsters would taste disgusting, possibly be poisonous or at least stomach churning. In some of the more desperate regions, humans eat whatever they can kill, and will prey on monsters for that reason. Some human groups will track, hunt and trap monsters regularly. It can also be done as a terror tactic. Most humans will say monsters have terrorised their kind for centuries. Acts of barbarity are committed as a brutal form of defence but also as revenge.

When monsters first came to this world, they ate people, and that got around quickly. In fact, many suspect stories were spread rapidly in order to inflame fear and enable the more tyrannical regimes to impose tighter laws and use stronger force. People hating monsters was useful to a lot of individuals and organisations, and monsters found the fear useful. So yes, monsters ate people and that became the norm in short time.

Perhaps monsters were used to hunting and killing and eating. Certainly some are naturally designed to do so. The murky history of the Shadow World is that the larger monsters preyed on the smaller ones, that life was a cruel and grim existence. Then again, it isn’t known for monsters to eat each other much now. It happens, but less so than humans eating monsters. Probably because it is a lot of hard work to seek brutes, vandals, harbingers, deemi etc as prey. It could also be that monsters have gotten used to preying on the human race rather than each other.

Monsters vary. Totems are herbivores, perhaps by choice, no one is sure. Ghouls eat the dead only and they don’t care which dead it is. Vandals are omnivores, eating whatever their short, blunt teeth can chomp down. Most are like brutes or writhers, eating flesh when they can, plants when those are available. Some have preferences. Deemi like to be known as predators, ensnaring humans and draining their life essence in order to create new life within themselves, so feeding on the remains suits them. Harbingers like to hunt and kill too. Perhaps it is their nature, perhaps a choice – not all of those kinds do that. Devil-beasts love to eat people in gory displays, but they’ll do that to all life. Sphinx have been known to eat people. Not nearly as much but they are part lion and part eagle, so never think that the human face bestowing wisdom isn’t considering what you taste like.

Do monsters eat people? The reputation is somewhat overplayed yet has centuries of evidence to say yes. It might seem unfair to single the monsters out. Machines will recycle corpses of living beings. Mutants are far less likely to eat humans – while the two kinds are considered different, in truth it would still be cannibalism – but depravity can be very difficult to resist. Monsters do eat other living things and many like to do it. The name monsters isn’t exactly accurate, but it has stuck for a reason.

Always remember monsters come in many forms.

A monstrous form could even respect sentient life.

You can never be sure.