Chapter headers by Andrew Shields

As I’m writing novels for Blades in the Dark, I put a snip at the beginning of each chapter from some in-game source as an efficient, high-impact way to do some world-building (and imagination firing) that can expand beyond the exposition in the story itself.

This week I’m writing a story for my Patreon people instead of a chapter, but I’m still putting a snip at the beginning. Here it is.

From the Church of Ecstasy’s lecture series “Let Us Pray” by Mother Eldeen

The Forgotten Gods are nonsense. For example, the Radiant Word is a ‘god’ referenced in the mad prophet Dyzask’s third cycle. Scholars and mystics interpreted a passage to mean the Radiant Word was a herald who brought secrets back from Behind the Mirror. Later analysis of context, linguistic patterns, and translation idiosyncrasies proved that Dyzask was referring to his writing as the Radiant Word.

The faithful in several mystery cults dedicated to this false god solemnly swore that they had encountered the Radiant Word. It was real, it changed their lives, it told them secrets, and it granted them power. If these fools will go all in and double down on a god who was based on a translation error, then no spooky mask is too silly to attract a gullible cult.

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Here is a short story set in Doskvol that I’m sharing, I hope you enjoy. Let me know what you think.

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I seriously love these chapter headers you do, @AndrewShields. They never fail to make me think more deeply about the culture and institutions of Doskvol. Always excellent!

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The chapter header idea is really good, and I wish I had thought of it for my own Blades writing project.

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As I near the end of the first book, Silk and Silver, I can honestly say it is a great read and yes, the chapter headers make the experience even better. GG, man. GG.

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Thank you! I enjoy the challenge of putting together the “appetizer” for the chapter.

@homeworlds, I’m glad you’re enjoying it! I had a great time with the first book, and it’s tremendously gratifying to hear that others like how it turned out.

@solidork, I came to it by mulling over how to do the amount of exposition I’d need to introduce material to the reader without doing a preface summary or having characters do a lot of explaining. My focus is on how to introduce the world to a newcomer, over and over, as each book stands alone, without being repetitive for someone who is already familiar with the setting. I got a suggestion on G+ to make a little mini-book of the chapter headers with some art, and when I’m done with the third novel I’ll have enough of them to collect in that way.

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I really enjoyed the short story! I love how weird the cults are, and how appropriate that is. I also liked your interpretation of how a ghost door works, I’ve always been a little puzzled about what exactly to do with that bit of setting element.

I’m also trying to figure out how to balance exposition about the setting without boring/overwhelming, it’s definitely a learning experience. I’m still very much a novice writer (this is my first fiction writing project), but I had an idea for a story and it just wouldn’t let me go.

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From “Innovations in Governance” by Dr. Uras Kyne

The Sail Lighting festival is the single biggest economic event in Silkshore’s fiscal year. Back in 762 the Sail Fire leveled a third of the Ease; there were always fires, but it was a dry year and cheap, thin sailcloth flooded the market. That year, when enthusiastic sail arsonists ran fires up flagpoles so every breeze carried sparks, the Ease burned for two weeks. Minister Salmek made an unpopular reputation by cracking down on illegal sail burning and mandating that the celebrations would refocus on using light on sails symbolically.

Most people in the Ease grumbled, but those who took this as an artistic and cultural challenge made art with billowing silk, luminescent paints, directed light sources, and public displays. Numerous Ministry-sponsored art competitions drove innovation, and crowds of the curious returned now that they were no longer in danger of burning to death. Now, the Sail Lighting festival is a cultural touchstone and a must-see attraction for visitors to Doskvol.

Marcus Barrsly, Director of Distribution—Silkshore. Clearance Interview notes, Suran 18, 848

My predecessor at the Ministry saw Sanction’s rising star, back when he was a bureaucrat, and dug into his background. Turns out Sanction’s influential family took pains to conceal its many interconnections. You can follow those bloodlines to several nameless luminaries in the Hive, a few holy figures in dark cults of Nameless Gods, and a tradition of criminals. Assassins and fixers. Architects of society and trade on both sides of the law. Uncovering those links shines lights on subtle and old secrets. Their owners have a variety of ways to restore darkness.

Still, Sanction rattled him, so he couldn’t let it go. Therefore, someone arranged an accident for him. At the memorial gathering, I resolved to keep an eye on this young man and his various potentials. Of course that didn’t work out, but when he resolved to leave, I let him go.

As for the name, he got that from a Whisper, the Mistress of Tides. She somehow knew this fresh-faced kid’s blood inclined him to a life of dark influence. Granting permission, threatening penalties. I don’t think he knows his own connections. He is protected, to a point, but shadows connected to his blood would dispose of him if his trouble drew enough of the right kind of attention. Or, if he threatened to bring them to light. Sometimes I wonder if the Mistress of Tides agreed to work with him just to get a step closer to the secrets in his bloodlines.

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From “Physiological Signals” by Dr. Talis Eubarrian Keenwither

The Mortal Reflex, or “yawning,” is the primeval attunement. As the life energy drains through weariness or proximity to unconsciousness, the body signals a need to recalibrate the senses. This stretch and flex of the jaw and surrounding flesh, the ingestion of a mass of air, the imitation of the tight rigor of death stealing through muscle, all pull to rebalance the normalized perspective. Adepts, and of course Whispers, can refocus their awareness on a whim. However, even newborns can shift the range of their perceptions with a yawn, so if an apparition or shadow in the Ghost Field is near they are more likely to detect it. Yawning provides adjustment to pressure shifts in the Ghost Field, as well as shifts in air pressure.

Not a chapter header, but an exchange between a young inspector chatting with an old Bluecoat.

Taff looked him in the eye for a long moment, taking his measure. “Cellar, my boy,” he said quietly, “you screwed up. You lost the hand, and since you kept upping the ante, that’s going to sting.” He slid his hand across the counter, spreading a deck of pasteboard cards face-down.

“You always keep a deck of cards up your sleeve?” Cellar asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Pockets, sleeves, lapels, palm of my hand,” Taff shrugged. “Now pay attention, I’m saving your life right now. You can get tetchy with me, I’m old and indulgent; you take that tone with the chief inspector again and you’re likely to disappear into the Ministry’s filing pool, which may be worse than drowning,” he said. “Now, you know these cards,” he continued, tilting one end of the row of cards up so they all flipped over.

“Standard Dimmerdeck,” Cellar agreed, looking at the celestial suites; the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Void.

“Just one deck,” Taff nodded. “It’s standard, everybody’s got one. But you could find yourself playing Hunt the Leviathan, Corpseriddle, Jumping Three, Settle, or Fishflank,” he shrugged. “So many ways to arrange the rules. One tool can shift the balance between numbers, chance, people reading, and risk management. You get some cards and some people with at least a half a mind each and you can unpack the challenges forever.”

“How have you not retired to become a card shark?” Cellar asked, deadpan.

“Hush, the grownups are talking,” Taff replied. “This isn’t just for games, Cellar. You can do divinations and read the past, the future, your own secrets, the secrets in other people, or even the plainest truths filling up your blind spots.” He tilted the cards back and forth along the line, then swept them together with a wince. “I used to be able to make these things dance ,” he said, flexing his swollen knuckles. “Now I can barely shuffle.”

Cellar took the cards and twisted the deck into a pair of stacks, blending them with a crisp rattle and snapping the deck against the counter.

“This city,” Taff said, watching the deck of cards. “It’s a goddamn deck of cards. You can play all kinds of games. There’s rules set up by the City Council, another set of rules for basic human decency, your family will give you a set, the Bluecoats got one, Inspectors got one, Crows got one, Church of Ecstasy, the Skovs, the Whispers… Everybody at the table, everybody using the same cards.” He looked Cellar in the eye. “It’s a rare few who focus so hard they can only play by one set of rules at a time.”

“Sounds like a mess,” Cellar said quietly.

“It absolutely is, in case you haven’t noticed,” Taff replied, a shadow of a smile under his stained stubble. “Cellar, there’s nothing special about the law,” he murmured, leaning in close. “Written-down laws are no stronger than orders to keep the peace. There’s blood rules, son,” he added as his red-rimmed eyes bored into Cellar. “Rules of revenge and love and sacrifice. Life and death. You know that better than most, and that’s where you got pinched.” He poked Cellar in the chest, hard. “Between the games.”

Cellar studied the old man and said nothing.

I love these and may need to collab with you one of these days for a project because I just adore these! Helps my imagination work even more

Sounds interesting! Let me know if you have an idea for a project. =)

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From “Catalog of Crime! Summer Edition, 848” published by Eel Press Entertainment

The Silkworms! Hardly a mascot that strikes fear into the hearts of their foes. At best, industrious, and at worst, harmless squishy bugs.

You won’t see their mysterious leaders in the Investigator cautions, but a shadowy new crew has mounted the stage. Now they pull the strings for the behind-the-scenes puppet show of corruption infecting Silkshore. Everyone knows you get your name, you don’t choose it, and these subtle newcomers were named by a gondolier threat.

In the summer of 847, their leader was the Trellis of Barrowcleft. According to eyewitness accounts, the Trellis approached the retired-but-still-legendary assassin, Khyro where he held court at the game tables of the Ease. The Trellis matter-of-factly mentioned his crew was going to ascend, and that they would be benevolent masters when the Fairpole Council was under their sway. Furious at the audacity of the man, Khyro reminded him that the gondoliers were the dragons of the canals—Trellis and his lackeys were just worms!

A year later, Khyro is still manning his game table. Those worms influence crime for a third of Silkshore, their light touch almost invisible in the background. So today as you enjoy your creature comforts, like silk sheets or that breezy blouse, spare a thought for the silkworms that make it possible. And remember that as you shop in the Ease, you are helping those businesses pay their protection money to the insidious Silkworms for the fabric of crime.

From personal correspondence between Master Sarzayle and a former student

Knowledge is about using the hammer of information and the chisel of nuance to carve shapes into the faceless block of ignorance, revealing the shapes of truth within.

As a swordsman, you scoff at those who think all fighting is basically the same brutish process. You see the profound gulf between the technique of a master and stylings of an adept, both in the Falling Star style. You can explain how fundamentally different the whole rhythm of the Falling Star style is from the Rising Moon style; who could confuse cloakfighting and sash baffles with dual wielding and daggerplay? Those distinctions that have absorbed your life are still confined in the broader field of Iruvian bladework!

If you think these differences are important and you are annoyed at someone who figures it’s all knife fighting, then I want you to hold on to that feeling. You told your ladyfriend that you didn’t put much confidence in “all that hocus pocus” and in so doing you revealed yourself to be an insentient dolt lacking basic curiosity or education. You lumped into a single block of ignorance the occult worship of the Forgotten Gods, the reverence of the Church of Ecstasy, the ritual forms of the adepts, and the disciplines of the Whispers. In one casual dismissal, you said you can’t be bothered to care about the difference between the Foundation and the Spirit Wardens, much less the limmers and the mediums. You had the poor judgement to say this to an adept who could have spent the whole day telling you about which tradition (of many, each with their own histories and techniques) gave rise to her studies—and where her expertise is located within that tradition.

You thought you were judging the world, but she heard you reveal your proud ignorance. Imagine how you would feel if she said her familiarity with spirit bottles mattered, but your “stabby hobby” was a waste of time. In short, yes, I think you should apologize; but all things considered, I think you should look for a girl with lower standards.