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Friday, October 31

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Yes, it's long. Yes, it's violent. But ultimately, Nolan's masterpiece is both a meditation on the comic book genre and modern day society. To stop a terrorist, are we willing to bend every civil liberty, burn down every forest, no matter what the cost? It's a bold, uncompromising vision that will haunt you long after the movie ends. [MORE]

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The Fortress: Part 3 – Just Kidding

Jim-Bean stopped short.

“What’s up?” asked Hammer.

Jim-Bean looked over his shoulder. “I think we should stay and fight. We killed those two Feds in Cali and we can kill some more here.”

Hammer caught Jim-Bean’s expression. He turned. “Right. Let’s do it.”

Caprice looked back and forth between them. “$#!*. Somebody gimme a gat!”

Archive just started praying.

There was a moment of stunned surprise and then Machete broke out into more cackling laughter. He held up a remote that tweeted, and the alarm went off. The gunfire and rumbling stopped.

“I was messin’ with ya is all. Gotta be sure.” He slapped Caprice on the back. “I like your style! You ARE stone cold killers!” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:33 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Heart's Blood, Fire's Vengeance: Part 4a – The Trouble I’ve Seen

A few hours later, a man bearing the marks of a high-ranking officer arrived at his cell.

“I am Commander Haron von Grebel,” said the officer. “You have been detained for assisting the insurrectionist who stole the Eye of Sarish from the Sarishan temple in Vrain. I am here to ask you a few questions.”

Kham sighed. “I just went through this in Freeport. Do you all read from the same script?”

Haron summoned a sketch artist to the cell.

“Now, let’s start from the top.” Haron pulled over a chair and straddled it. “From whence do you hail?”

“The other idiot asked me that question already.”

“I won’t ask you again. From whence do you hail?”

“Altheria,” said Kham. “I’m from Altheria.”

Haron checked the sheet in his hand. “You told Captain Virdan-Hartung that you were from Freeport.”

“I just CAME from Freeport. But I’m FROM Altheria. Try to keep up.”

“Where were you going?”

“To Altheria.” He took a long, shuddering sigh. The thought of being imprisoned again made him physically sick. Or maybe it was just the poison. “I’m going to attend a funeral.”

“Umm hmm,” said Haron. “What is your business in Nishanpur?”

“I told Virdan-whatsisname already. I’m looking for a cure. I’m sick.”

“You don’t look sick…”

Kham coughed right in the man’s face.

“That’s it!” Haron kicked the chair away. He turned to the sketch artist. “Leave. Now.”

“What are you gonna do,” snarled Kham. The cough made him see spots. “Convert me?”

“Oh I think not. You obviously profess allegiance to many faiths.” Haron threw the symbol of Yig at Kham’s cell. It skittered across the ground. “Do you know how the Brotherhood of Flame brands its criminals?” He walked over to a smoking brazier. [MORE]

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Thursday, October 30

The Fortress: Part 2 – La Fortaleza

“Our operation is solid,” said Jim-Bean. “Our distribution network and contacts spans all of California. “

“Network, huh? Why ain’t I heard of you?”

“Because we got raided,” said Hammer with a frown. “We had the cops under control and then there was a sting by the Feds…”

Machete muttered a curse about Feds.

“Lots of gang leaders went down,” continued Hammer. “We’re the next wave.”

“No you ain’t,” said Machete. “This is the next wave, right here.” He encompassed the drug manufacturing plant with a sweep of one arm. “But you know, this ain’t a partnership at thirty percent.”

Jim-Bean frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean partners is equals. And that’s fifty percent.”

They made their way over to a lounge filled with garish velour couches. Machete flopped down.

Jim-Bean shrugged. “We don’t know you. Your operation seems sound, but we need to know more about it. Like who supplies your drugs.”

Machete barked out a laugh, a cackle that would have offended a hyena. “And put me out of business? I ain’t stupid, yo.”

“Neither are we,” said Caprice tersely. “But trust has gotta start somewhere, G. And if it’s gonna start, it has to start here.”

Machete pondered that. “I hear ya.” He leaned forward and yanked the gold grill off his front teeth, revealing a mouthful of carefully filed and sharpened incisors. It was like staring into the maw of a shark. “Let’s just say we keep it in the family, dig?”

Hammer didn’t know what he meant. Before he could ask, gunfire went off in the courtyard. A second later a shrieking alarm went off. [MORE]

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Heart's Blood, Fire's Vengeance: Part 3 – Deals and the Art of Double-Crossing

After a day dealing with gibbering monstrosities and avoiding the Nierite authorities, they found themselves in the Merchant’s Square as dusk approached. Merchants quickly closed up shop and the streets were clear in merely half an hour. They stood in the square when a man in a musty, brown robe sewn from burlap approached Sebastian.

“Greetings, travelers,” he whispered. “I am Hemmet, a servant of Sarish. I have been sent here because you have something for me.” He reached into his robe. “Here is the agreed-upon payment.”

Vlad perked up. “I didn’t know we were getting paid.”

Beldin shushed him.

Sebastian reached into the folds of his robe. His eyes widened.

“The dagger…it’s gone!”

Hemmet smiled and raised his hand. “Thank you, friend. It is now in our possession. Know that your actions have helped to bring justice upon these Erdukeen Nierites. There is just one more task that remains.”

Sebastian kept his hands at his sides, a sure sign that he expected trouble. “Oh?”

“Your friend has been arrested.”

Vlad slapped his forehead. “Again?” [MORE]

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Wednesday, October 29

Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama

David X. Cohen, co-creator and executive producer of the animated SF series Futurama, told SCI FI Wire that Bender's Game, the latest made-for-DVD movie, pays homage to fantasy games and movies of all kinds, but especially Dungeons & Dragons. [MORE]

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The Fortress: Part 1 – Get Cranky

A tall black woman with wild, staring blood-shot eyes entered the room. She wore a white overcoat. A posse of four smaller men followed behind her, all of them wearing shades.

"It’s Janky Crank," said Hammer.

After chatting with the bartender, Janky strode over to them.

"You said you wanted to talk to Machete?"

Hammer stood up. "That's right. You don't look like him."

"If it's worth his time, you'll meet 'im," said Janky. "But first you meet with me."

Caprice dismissed the two scantily clad women snuggling up to him with a nod of his head. They scattered, and Janky's men took a few steps back to give them some privacy.

"And you are?"

"Janky. Janky Crank. They call me that 'cause you don't wanna see me cranky." Janky grabbed Caprice's glass and slurped it, finishing off its contents. She slapped it down on the table. "So what's this deal you're talking about?"

Jim-Bean cleared his throat. "Ah yes, Miss Cranky...you see, we were recently working with an organization on the West Coast that was trafficking in Blink--"

"I know it," said Janky. Judging from her bloodshot eyes, she used it too.

"And that operation was shut down. The Three Kings are looking for new opportunities--"

"Three Kings?" Janky eyeballed Jim-Bean. "Never heard of you."

"That'd be us," said Hammer gruffly. "My territory is Southern Cali. Bean's is Northern Cali. Snow Dog's is Hollywood."

"Snow Dog?" Janky barked out a laugh. "Are you serious?"

Caprice got to his feet, gesturing wildly. "Machete's just jerking us around. I'm not gonna take this s#!t from this bitch--"

Janky's revolver was out in a flash, aimed at Caprice's forehead. "See what you made me do? Now I'm gettin' CRANK-AH!" [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:42 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Heart's Blood, Fire's Vengeance: Part 2 – Guards! Guards!

Kham approached the gates of Nishanpur. The ominous hush that ruled over the city seemed far more obvious due to his weakened condition.

A soldier bearing the rank of captain took an interested in him. He waved Kham over.

Kham wearily trudged over to the Nierite.

“From whence do you hail?”

“Freeport,” said Kham.

“Where are you going?”

“Altheria.”

“What is your business in the city?”

“I am trying to find a cure. I think I have the plague.”

The guard arched an eyebrow. “From where?”

“I was traveling near Ventaka.” Kham coughed for effect. It wasn’t hard; the poison was getting so bad that he had difficulty lifting his head. “I found some corpses. I think that’s how I contracted the plague.”

“Damn Ymandrakes,” snarled the guard. He patted Kham down. “What’s this?”

He pulled the holy symbol of Altheres from Kham’s coat.

“That’s a symbol of Altheres,” said Kham. It was becoming difficult to speak. “What…you never saw an Altherian before?”

“And this?”

Kham struggled to focus. It was the symbol of Yig.

“That’s…complicated.”

“Uh huh.” The guard grabbed Kham’s arms and pushed them behind his back. “By order of the Sword of the Heavens and his eminence, the Autocrat of Nishanpur, you are hereby ordered to lay down yours arms and surrender yourself into our custody for questioning.”

Kham only heard the words “lay down.” So he did. [MORE]

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Tuesday, October 28

Christian Children’s Fund Refuses Charity Tainted by D

This is just disgusting...
Christian Children’s Fund Refuses Charity Tainted by D&D

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And here is an eloquent response to this insanity.

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Sunday, October 26

The Fortress: Prologue

MIAMI, FL—“Let me get this straight,” said the Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “You CIFA boys want to horn in my operation for what reason again?”

“Terrorists,” Jim-Bean said with a slow smile. “Tang Chasa is on our wanted list for drug trafficking and money laundering for a terrorist organization known as Al-Hazzan.” They were sitting in Trouville’s office, who was none too pleased to see them. “The profits made from drug trafficking here in the U.S. are being used elsewhere—“

“In Iraq,” chimed in Hammer.

“Iraq?” asked Trouville skeptically. “We’ve seen some trafficking in Vietnam, with Tang being half-Vietnamese, but—“

“That’s right,” corrected Jim-Bean. “The drugs funnel through Vietnam and then the money is laundered in Iraq.”

Trouville sighed. “All right. Fine. Our agency will do everything we can to help. But you have to do something for me.”

“Name it,” said Jim-Bean.

“I want full military support. We’re going to move on Chasa, but when we move I’m going to need serious backup. They don’t call the hotel he’s holed up in ‘La Fortaleza’ for nothing. It really is a fortress.”

Jim-Bean nodded and tapped a few keys on his cistron. “You’ll have it.”

“Good,” said Trouville. He handed out dossiers to the three agents, looking askance at Caprice’s rapper/drug-dealer getup. “These are the profiles of the people you’re dealing with.” He tapped the picture of Chasa. “You already know the leader, known as Machete on the street. He’s fond of hacking people up with his gold-plated knife.”

“Charming,” said Jim-Bean. [MORE]

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Heart's Blood, Fire's Vengeance: Part 1b – Watch Your Step!

After opening the heavy grate, they made their way into the sewers.

“Are you sure Kham’s going to be okay?” asked Vlad. “I don’t think we should have left him.”

“He certainly can’t go with us down here.” Sebastian wrinkled his nose. “I don’t even want to be here.”

The putrid smell of the city hit them. The remains of things too hideous to mention floated and bobbed in knee high muck. They stepped inside and began trudging through the refuse.

Beldin led the way. They moved slowly through the slime, but eventually they made their way to the exit.

“That’s it?” asked Vlad.

“That’s it,” said Beldin.

The exit was a small grate at the top of a ladder whose rungs were stapled into the wall. The grated seemed clear.

“Uh oh,” said Beldin.

Sebastian stared up at the grate. “Uh oh, what?”

A bulbous eye stared up at Beldin from the sewage. For a moment, it looked dead. Then horrifyingly…it blinked. Slowly, a mass of fleshy tissue rose from the waste.

“Never mind.” Sebastian took a step back.

More than a dozen eyes focused their attention as the creature’s numerous mouths began to groan and chatter in meaningless gibberish.

Vlad drew his sword. “I think Kham was the lucky one.” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 7:39 PM | 0 comments links to this post


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Chapter 24: The Fortress - Introduction

This scenario, “The Fortress,” is a Spycraft mission from Combat Missions by Yours Truly. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Game Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
  • Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero/Telepath) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
  • Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast/Dedicated Hero/Gunslinger) played by George Webster
  • Sebastian “Caprice” Creed (Fast/Smart Hero/Techie) played by Bill Countiss

It continually amazes me how these little Combat Mission scenarios, which are at most a few pages long and contain vague outlines of a plot, manages to elicit the best role-playing moments in our game. Our gaming group is better at social, free-form planning than straightforward, precision-style hack-and-slashing – they never think to check for traps and can’t be bothered with details.

On the other hand, when it comes to cover stories, they can come up with some insane ideas. But in this case the real surprise was Bill, who role-played his white drug dealer/turned rapper Snow Dog with such convincing vigor that we took turns laughing at him and struggling to keep up.

This scenario also turned into a chess game. I wanted to keep pressure on the PCs to ensure that they didn’t just waltz right into the drug dealer’s den (a tcho-tcho drug dealer, I might add) and bamboozle him into giving up his information. So Tang “Machete” Chasa plays mind game after mind game, convinced that the agents aren’t the real thing but frustrated that he can’t prove it. In the end, it took the pending death of an innocent NPC to break the tension. And then I just let the events go downhill from there.

Once again, the events that took place played out a lot like Burn Notice.

Defining Moment: You haven’t heard about Snow Dog’s new album? It didn’t get a wide release man, otherwise it would have been big: The Blizzard. [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 1:02 PM | 0 comments links to this post


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Heart's Blood, Fire's Vengeance: Part 1a – Watch Your Step!

A guide led them to the entrance of the primary sewage outlet but would go no further.

“The sewers are a maze of tunnels and pipes,” said Beldin, “but Garan gave me directions to an exit that will lead us to a back alley.”

The grate to the sewer system was locked and barred by a blackened metal of unknown origin. It was cool to the touch.

“It’s locked,” Sebastian said to Kham. “Can you open it?”

Kham pulled his trusty dagger from the folds of his jacket. “One way to find out.” He popped a forest of picks from the hilt of his dagger, turned it around, and inserted the pick into the lock.

There was the twang of a bowstring. A dart stuck out of Kham’s arm.

“Ah crap!” His arm immediately went numb. The numbness spread like fire through his veins, infecting all of his limbs. A great weakness overcame him.

“Kham!” shouted Vlad.

The val slumped to the ground, staring at his limbs like they were someone else’s. “Poison…”

“Yeah, we figured,” said Sebastian.

Beldin shook his head. “Should have let me open the lock.” With a mighty blow, the lock shattered.

“Now…” gasped Kham, “…he tells me.” [MORE]

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Saturday, October 25

The Last Castle: Conclusion

The battering ram of an APC anti-riot vehicle blasted through the doors. Floodlights flared overhead. Men in full SWAT gear shouted for people to get down on the floor with their hands up.

Jim-Bean did as he was told. Now was not the time for heroics.

Hammer fell to one knee, arms up. It wasn’t an act; Barry had shot him in the leg.

Guppy and Archive walked in.

“I f*&(#in’ told you man!” shouted Barry to Ridge as they were hustled off into a prisoner transport vehicle.

Guppy caught sight of Hammer on a stretcher.

“Did you get it?” he shouted as he was carted into an ambulance.

Archive nodded. “Yep, all the footage. We’ll process it. Should have you out in a few hours.”

“Great,” said Jim-Bean. “Just a few hours in prison with them.” He swallowed hard as the other prisoners glared at him. With a last mournful look behind him, the prisoner transport vehicle’s doors slammed shut, sealing him in with the drug-dealers and corrupt police.

“I knew we got the boring part of the mission,” Guppy muttered to Archive. “We missed all the action!” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 8:55 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Heart's Blood, Fire's Vengeance: Prologue

The sun had set over the horizon and the night crept slowly over the east. Garan met them at the Dark Gathering, a tavern just outside Nishanpur.

Though still enveloped in the eerie quiet that permeated the air, there was a surprisingly light atmosphere about the inn. Speakers and musicians entertained with audience witch exciting stories, moving songs, and breathtaking poetry…all no louder than a whisper.

“I need you to deliver a Sarishan blade,” said Garan.

“That’s it?” asked Kham, incredulous. “That’s your big plan for an army?”

“You will have to do dis ting vithout questions,” said Garan. “You vill have to trust me.”

“When does it need to be delivered?” asked Sebastian.

“Tomorrow. At dusk, near de Merchant’s Square. Someone vill identify himself as a servant of Sarish. Give him de blade.”

“If this blade is as important as you think it is, “Vlad leaned forward, “then the Order of the Secret Flame will be looking for it.”

“Your confidence is undervhelming.”

“Yeah, well, we didn’t exactly have great intelligence last time,” said Kham.

“Dere is another vey.” Garan sighed. “A vey through de sewers.”

Beldin slammed a mug down on the table. “Now you’re talking!”

“But be varned, dey are wrought vith peril. Dey say dere is a monster dat prowls de sewers, seeking whom he may devour.”

“So what’s the downside?” asked Beldin. [MORE]

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Friday, October 24

The Last Castle: Part 4c – Blood Brothers

Hammer came back in with Jim-Bean in tow.

Bentfeld, the toady, had his pistol out, but it wasn’t pointed at Hammer. Yet. “Well?”

“We took care of it,” said Hammer.

Ridge smiled. “See? Taken care of.”

Bentfeld wasn’t going to let it go. “Oh yeah? I wanna see the bodies.”

“It’s taken CARE OF,” snarled Hammer. “Are you calling me a liar?”

Bentfeld’s pistol was waved in his direction. “Not a liar. But awfully damn suspicious. Ridge, you gotta be suspicious, right?”

“Not now,” said Ridge, the smile frozen on his face.

“I dunno man. I dunno.” Barry started pacing. “Don’t you find it strange that these two show up from New York all of a sudden? I think they’re Feds.” [MORE]

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Chapter 38: Heart’s Blood, Fire’s Vengeance - Introduction

This is a Year One Living Arcanis Nishanpur adventure, “Heart’s Blood, Fire’s Vengeance” by Kimberly Wajer-Scott, set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
  • Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
  • Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
  • Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

This adventure flowed smoothly with the first one. It also was my opportunity to run every Canceri module I can get my hands on. The PCs were sick of Freeport, so Canceri offered a welcome, if strange, change.

We’ve seen Kham’s tumultuous life in Freeport, learned about Cal and Vlad’s responsibilities in Milandir, witnessed Quintus’ duties in Coryan, and seen the political machinations of Beldin’s home in Solanos Mor. But we never got to really delve into Sebastian’s homeland, even if he was only there for a short period of time as a young boy.

Sebastian’s feelings about his homeland directly impact the outcome of the adventure. I was fully prepared for the worst, but much to my surprise the PCs ended up taking the nobler route. In the end, I think it was the better choice. [MORE]

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Thursday, October 23

The Last Castle: Part 4b – Blood Brothers

Hammer padded up to the van with the reflexes of a trained professional. He tore open the door and yanked Guppy out onto the street with a yelp.

“Hammer?” asked Guppy in surprise.

“Great job,” said Hammer, pulling out a knife from his boot. “You guys just parked in plain sight?”

“What? We didn’t think the van would be obvious—what are you doing with that knife?”

“Someone has to play dead,” said Hammer. “And I need it to look real.”

Jim-Bean appeared around the corner of the van with Archive, who looked groggy.

“Uh, if it’s all the same to you I have taken quite a lot of abuse lately,” said Guppy, his voice rising. “So I’d like to nominate someone else besides me…” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:25 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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On the Red March: Conclusion

Sagrivan, his remaining apprentices, and Garan were escorted within the walls of the great necropolis once again.

Sagrivan was spellbound by the wonders of the city. “I vow to spend the remainder of my life to help restore the beauty of these dark passages.”

“Yeah, that’s great,” said Kham. “That doesn’t change the fact that Ventaka is still a city under siege.”

Sagrivan quickly set his men to work on the areas surrounding the collapsed Portal chamber, assessing damages to find a safe way to proceed.

“When will it be operational?” asked Vlad.

“I predict it should be usable in a month or so.”

“A month?” Vlad was crestfallen.

Kham clapped him on the back. “By that time, Ilmarė will be here with the Bloody Vengeance and we can go where we want. I don’t think I want to go through a portal ever again.”

Garan joined them. “Akali still refuses to commit troops to open battle against the Swords of Nier. But I tink I know another vay to get the troops we need.”

“Troops WE need?” asked Beldin.

Sebastian walked over. “Yes,” he said with a slow smile. “Troops we need.”

Kham rolled his eyes. “I guess we’re going to be here for awhile.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, October 22

The Horror! I Wanna Shoot Zombies

In this article, I assert what many gamers think this time of year (or anytime, really) by saying I Wanna Shoot Zombies! [MORE]

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The Last Castle: Part 4a – Blood Brothers

He strode over to one of the vats. “First, Blink is turned into a solution in one of these vats.” He grabbed a white t-shirt from one of several boxes piled on the floor. “Then we dip these shirts into the solution.”

Ridge pointed at a pile of shrink-wrapped t-shirts that could be on any department store shelf.

“And here is the finished product in a perfectly ordinary shipping package. Next thing you know we’ll run the post office out of business.”

The men got another laugh out of that.

“Now, let’s get rich.”

The drug dealer, a man named Slice, strode into the room, dripping gold from his ears and throat. Even his teeth were gold. “Yo, you got security hanging out front?”

Ridge looked back and forth at his men. They shook their heads. “We got lookouts, but nobody you should be able to spot.”

“Then you been made, man.” Slice started backing up and drew his pistol. “We ain’t—“

All the Castle TADU tensed up, murder in their eyes.

Jim-Bean drew his pistol. “We’ll take care of it.” He nodded towards Ridge. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, you do that,” said Slice. “If this is an ambush—“

“It’s not an ambush!” said Ridge. “We’ve come too far to screw this up. My boys will clean it up.”

He fixed Hammer with a stare. “You better come back dripping blood.” [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 9 – Double-Crossed

The soldiers moved in with fierce determination on Garan and Sagrivan. Sagrivan’s apprentices drew daggers, but they seemed little match for the Order of the Hidden Flame.

Kham aimed his pistols. “It’s a double-cross!”

“Finally, an excuse to draw my sword.” Vlad jerked his blade free. “This isn’t Sarishan steel, either!” He kicked one of the greatsword wielding warriors backwards.

Beldin hacked downwards at the legs of one of the men, through his banded armor. The warrior dropped with a howl.

Sebastian took a step backwards. “You seek to worship the Fire Lord? I will show you fire: Radius Incensio!”

Spiral flames shot out from Sebastian’s fingertips. Three men fell backwards, clutching their chests.

Vlad went straight for the commander, who was dressed in full plate.

“How did we miss this?” asked Beldin. “Full plate? Greatswords?”

“Magic,” snarled Vlad. [MORE]

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Tuesday, October 21

The Last Castle: Part 3 – Shakedown

“You ready?”

“Let’s do this,” said Jim-Bean.

Hammer couldn’t help but smile. “You sound more like an American every day.”

Jim-Bean got out of the car and slammed the door. The drug dealers looked up.

Hammer strode over to the drug dealer.

“Hey man, what—“

The drug dealer didn’t get anything more out. Customers scattered. Hammer shoved a pistol to the man’s ribs.

“Hey yourself. This is a drug bust.”

“I don’t see no badge,” muttered the man.

Jim-Bean flashed the badge. “There. Happy?”

“No,” said the drug dealer sullenly.

“Today’s your lucky day,” said Hammer. “This isn’t your usual drug bust.” He patted the drug dealer down and found several wads of cash. “I’ll be taking this.”

“What? You can’t do this—“

“We could just arrest you,” said Jim-Bean.

The drug dealer’s mouth clamped shut. [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 8 – An Unraveling Web

It was with relief that at last the great mound of earth in the distance appeared that marked the dome of Ventaka. Unexpectedly, the smoke of a campfire rose in front of it.

Sebastian and Kham exchanged worried looks. Then Kham drew his pistols.

“Well, maybe Garan rolled out the welcome party.”

As they approached, the campfire turned out not to be enemies at all, but rather Garan val’Mehan, once again outside the city.

“Vell, it took you long enough,” said Garan. “Did you bring Sagrivan?”

“Garan, aren’t you on the wrong side of the dome?” asked Sebastian.

Kham holstered his pistols

“Ah, I see dat you have,” said Garan. “Good. Ve can get to vork now.”

Sagrivan approached Garan. “Yes, I am Master Architect Sagrivan. I am honored to be chosen to repair the great dome…”

“Repair it?!” Garan started laughing. “Ve can’t repair it. Vervain threw us out! He von’t commit to de actions necessary. He just vants to hide. I don’t vant you to repair it! I vant you to tear it down!” [MORE]

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Monday, October 20

The Last Castle: Part 2 – The Test

Jim-Bean had just taken a shower after a long day at his new job. As he entered the locker room, several burly officers surrounded him.

“So, you’re new, huh?” said one officer whose bald pate was buffed to a shine. “If you want to be part of TADU, you’re going to have to prove you have the stamina.”

He nodded to a smaller, weasely looking cop with bad skin. The smaller cop opened a locker and pulled out a taser. When he flicked it on, blue bolts of energy crackled and snapped between its tangs.

Hammer finished toweling off and stood behind Jim-Bean. They were in deep cover, so no cistrons, no guns except what they were supplied with…nothing.

The smaller man gestured at his bald companion with the taser. “Ridge can go forty seconds,” he grinned at Jim-Bean, “let’s see how you do, huh?”

"Uh…" Jim-Bean looked at Hammer. He’d been practicing his American accent; looked like he was going to need it after all.

"Don't look at him, he ain't gonna help you," sneered the smaller man.

"I don't need this sh—" Jim-Bean threw a fast punch at the man's head, but a meaty fist caught it. [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 7 – A Dream of a Lifetime

As they made they way back north from the workmen’s camp, Sagrivan seemed anxious. He looked Sebastian over many times from beneath his graying eyebrows. Finally, he gained enough courage to look at Sebastian squarely and speak.

“Vhere am I to be going?” he asked. “Have I been reassigned to other vork?”

“Ventaka,” said Sebastian. “We have need of your talents.”

“Ventaka!” Sagrivan gasped and the words came out softly with the sound of awe. “De ancient citadel. I always dreamed of working dere. I thought I vould never see it. But…I thought it vas sealed?”

Beldin nodded. “It’s cracked. We need you to repair it.”

Sagrivan was struck speechless. His eyes became unfocused as he contemplated the vastness and complexity of the task ahead of him. “I am…honored.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Kham waved him off. “Do you need anything else? Tools or anything?”

“Yes,” said Sagrivan. “I must return to de House of Stone in Nishanpur. I vill need to acquire de help of some of my apprentices, and only dere can I discover vhere dey are stationed. Please, let us be swift.”

“Oh sure, now you’re in a big rush,” muttered Kham. [MORE]

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Sunday, October 19

The Last Castle: Part 1 – Roxy Road

“Uh huh.” Guppy rose to his feet. “We’re going to go now, but you are not to speak of this conversation with anyone, especially Mr. Ridgefield. Do you understand?”

Roxy swallowed hard and nodded.

“Good. Remember, we’re CIFA,” said Guppy ominously. “We’re always watching.”

And with that he started towards the door.

“Forgetting something?” asked Roxy.

Guppy looked over his shoulder. Archive was still on the couch, now with his mouth open. A thundering snore rumbled from his throat.

“Oh for the love of…” Guppy walked over and kicked Archive in the shin.

“OW!” said Archive, sitting bolt upright. He looked around.

“Archive!” snapped Guppy. “I mean Agent Fontaine! Ah forget it, let’s just go.” Guppy, arms at his sides, stalked out.

Archive slowly got to his feet.

“I don’t recommend you repeat this to anyone…” he said in nearly the same ominous voice as Guppy. “We’re CIFA. And we’ll be—“

“Watching, I get it!” Roxy scratched her frizzy hair. “What, you guys read from the same script?” [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 6 – Follow the Red Brick Road

“Ve’re here for de Master Architect—” Sebastian affected a Canceri accent.

“Hah!” he turned to his work crew and shouted in the failing light, “Hey, you scum! Any of you here a Master Architect?” The scorn dripped from his voice.

Several of the workers cringed at the shout, but no one turned to respond.

“I guess we don’t have any Master Architects here.”

“Master Architect Sagrivan,” repeated Sebastian.

“I don’t recognize the name,” said the foreman.

“I tink you do. Nageel Sagrivan.”

The foreman sneered at Sebastian. “What if he is here? Even if I had him, why should I give him to you?”

Sebastian reached into the folds of his robes and produced the writ. “I recommend dat you comply or I vill have you reported.”

The man stepped forward to stare Sebastian in the eye. “Are you threatening me?”

Vlad moved to intercept but the dark-kin put one gloved hand out. He never let his gaze waiver from the foreman. “Vhy yes, yes I am. I tink your captain vill be very interested as to vhy ve veren’t able to procure dis specialist. I’m sorry, I don’t believe you introduced yourself. Vhat’s your name?” [MORE]

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Saturday, October 18

The Last Castle: Prologue

“Interesting,” said Guppy. “Look here.” He tapped a key and the screen focused on one of the burglar’s watches. “One of the suspects looks at his watch. It’s a police officer’s watch. Watches like that are only awarded after ten years of service in TADU.”

“What about the van?” asked Hammer.

“Stolen,” said Guppy. “From an airport the night before.”

“Cross-check it with all the TADU cops. One of them has to fit the profile.”

Guppy nodded. “Yep. One Terry Ridgefield’s been spending more on his credit cards than he could possibly afford on a policeman’s salary.”

“What about phone records?” asked Hammer.

Guppy tapped more keys. “He made more than a hundred phone calls the day of the burglary.”

“And right after?”

Guppy scanned through phone records on the tiny cistron screen. “Roxy Zanatelli,” said Guppy. “Must be a girlfriend.”

“You two,” Jim-Bean indicated Guppy and Archive with a nod of his head, “go visit Roxy. Me and Hammer are going undercover as cops transferred to TADU.”

Guppy swallowed hard. “How are we going to get there?”

“You figure it out yourself,” said Jim-Bean. “But it ain’t gonna be SPIDER.” [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 5 – The House of Stone

Dressed in their new Cancerese clothing, they slowly made their way through the bustling and crowded streets of the Trade Quarter, heading for that most posh of neighborhoods: the Street of Green Tiles.

“The guildmaster of the Stonecutter’s Guild is Bashaa Karush,” Sebastian said over his shoulder to his companions. “If anyone knows about where Sagrvian is, Bashaa would.”

Traffic thinned as they neared their goal. Small contingents of private guards, many wearing the clean cut garb of local Cancerese Nierites, stood watch in front of elaborate gates.

“Why do they call it the Street of Green Tiles?” asked Vlad.

“Look down,” said Beldin.

The street lived up to its name: bright green tiles covered the roadway itself and in front of the gates to the various houses, mosaics depicted the major businesses or house crests of those that dwelled within.

“Oh.” [MORE]

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DVD Review: Mirrormask

Mirrormask is a surprisingly feminine fantasy, all too lacking in a genre dominated by sword and sorcery. It's also marketed to a very specific niche, that of the tween heroine fantasy, and that might not go over well with everyone. My wife thoroughly enjoyed it; I was so caught up in staring at all the backgrounds that I didn't always track the plot. [MORE]

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Friday, October 17

Chapter 23: The Last Castle - Introduction

This scenario, “The Last Castle,” is a Spycraft mission from Combat Missions by Yours Truly. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

I mentioned in previous scenarios that despite all the hard work that goes into some of these missions, sometimes the ones I don’t prepare for are the most entertaining. In this case, Combat Missions is chock full of action without a whole lot of setup, which suits my players just fine. Unfortunately, some scenarios utilize their talents more than others.

In this case, the scenario required two agents to go undercover. More than that would be suspicious, which meant that the two non-combat types (Guppy and Archive) didn’t have a whole lot to do. Jim-Bean and Hammer, on the other hand, were having a blast. In the end it all came together with very little conflict, but it didn’t matter. The agents got what they wanted and achieved the mission.

I felt it was all a bit of letdown because I wasn’t able to push for a climactic ending (the kind I routinely preach about that’s lacking from other scenarios). That’s not to demean the players; they did everything right. It just wasn’t quite as exciting as a scenario as I’d hoped.

On the other hand, this exact same plot played out in a recent episode of Burn Notice. A con-man fakes an FBI raid to swindle his marks out of their money. Instead, Michael’s team ambushes the faux FBI agents and makes it appear that they’ve been murdered, turning the tables on the con man. So maybe this scenario wasn’t so bad after all. [MORE]

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On the Read March: Part 4 – A Rat in Hand

A smiling merchant approached Kham, bearing a few robes of shimmering silk from a nearby booth.

“So,” he whispered conspiratorially, “you are interested in architecture?”

“How did you guess?” said Kham with a smirk.

The merchant showed off the silk in the sunlight. “I know that Sagrivan is not all that he used to be. He is no longer the Master Architect of Canceri. Only someone who has been away quite awhile would call him that.” He waved Kham towards his booth.

“We should get some new clothes.” Sebastian looked pointedly at Beldin. “We need to blend better.”

Beldin crossed his arms. “I’m not changing my clothes in this place. I’m a dwarf, and they’ll just have to deal with that.”

“Don’t look at me.” Kham lowered his lenses to display his pupiless eyes. “I already have my own costume.” [MORE]

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Thursday, October 16

Silicon Dreams: Conclusion

Jim-Bean, his feet up on a table, flipped through the channels on a nearby television. A GNN newswoman narrated.

“…a terrorist attack on CCS headquarters. It is believed that terrorists posing as Saudi billionaires attempted to purchase CCS’ computer technology, and when they refused, a suicide bomber rammed a jet full of explosives into the facility. All CCS staff are presumed dead. The death toll currently stands at forty five and counting. We’ll stay on this story as news develops—“

He flicked the channel.

“—UFO was spotted over North Platte Air Force Base. Officials aren’t talking and none of the staff were willing to speak with us on the record. But one person who spoke on condition of anonymity said that there were actually human-like alien hybrids on the UFO, and that this is further evidence that a race of genetically cross-bred mutants are being…“

Jim-Bean lowered the volume.

“We’re lucky Sprague doesn’t have our heads,” said Hammer. “And by that I mean, explode our heads.”

Jim-Bean shrugged. “CCS wiped out? Check. Returned Sprague’s missing saucer? Check. Terrorists blamed for it all so the U.S. government can tighten its stranglehold on America? Check. Far as I’m concerned this mission was damned near perfect.”

Archive winced, massaging his arm. His wounds still hadn’t fully healed. “Speak for yourself.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” said Jim-Bean. “I’m still cramped up from that little cross-country jaunt.” The television they were watching had a DVR connected to it. Jim-Bean paused the screen. “The next time we have to travel across country, no more SPIDER transport.” He jabbed a thumb at the screen. “We’re taking one of those babies!”

Paused on the screen was the blurry image of the UFO flying over Platte Air Force Base. [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 3 – Check Your Bags at the Gates

They joined a long line of whispering travelers seeking entry into the city proper. They ended up waiting a long while on line, watching others get searched by a group of soldiers of the Swords of Nier.

Some crossed to a group of Sarishan priest standing opposite to have a spell cast upon them. It left a glowing red mark on the recipient’s forehead. So marked, the visitors then rejoined the line.

“What is that?” asked Vlad.

“The Mark of Sarish.” Sebastian frowned. “I’ve only heard rumors.”

Kham guffawed. “I’m not getting a mark on my head so they can track me.”

Each of the priests had the same glowing red mark on their brow, though the soldiers did not.

“Quite the contrary,” whispered Sebastian. “It’s for your protection, not theirs. If anyone attacks you, it summons the Vorlerath.”

Vlad leaned in to join the conversation. “The who?”

“The Vorlerath,” said Sebastian. “You don’t want to meet one.”

“Any other little quirks about your hometown that we should know about?” asked Kham. [MORE]

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Wednesday, October 15

Silicon Dreams: Part 6—The Bucket

As the agents approached the ship, a klaxon blared out.

“Warning, warning!” said a calm electronic voice. “Magnetometer readings rising.”

A single entry ramp opened from the bottom center of the craft. The craft rises slightly to allow the small steps to lower. Mist spilled out of the entrance, glowing with a yellow light.

“Let me know what’s inside there,” said Guppy. “I’m not going in.”

Hammer sighed. “Guppy, we could really use your help in there.”

Guppy crossed his arms. “You remember what happened last time. I’m not going in.” He hesitated. “For your own safety.”

Hammer frowned and stepped inside, with Jim-Bean and Archive close behind.

Inside was a low-ceiling interior made of a soft red-brown adobe-like material. It was carefully and ergonomically shaped. The ceilings were gracefully arched and the corridors serpentine and smooth. The floors were made of a shiny black material which under close scrutiny was covered in tiny green and purple writing. Every square foot of the ceiling was covered in tiny sigils.

“You seen one of these before?” asked Jim-Bean.

“Yeah,” said Hammer. “It looked exactly like this. In fact, I’m starting to think this is the same one.”

They passed through a peculiar tunnel with patterned walls. It was clear the ship was much larger on the outside than on the inside. Corridors wound more than thirty feet and opened into large rooms that were somehow all jammed with in the tiny craft.

“How could you even tell?” asked Jim-Bean. “Maybe everything they make looks the same?”

They made their way to what looked like an engine room. A row of inert boxes were about knee high. In the center of the room were strange symbols. A single platform flanked by flimsy bars acted as an elevator of sorts to the next level up.

“Guppy!” shouted Hammer. “Get in here!”

Guppy sounded very far away. A few seconds later he jogged in, his gaze intently focused on Hammer only. “They’re trying to blow the door.”

“Concentrate on the ship for a moment,” said Hammer. “What does this look like?”

Guppy hesitated, then started looking around at what passed for the ship’s engine. He ran his cistron over a few mechanisms. “This is an N-fusion drive,” he said. “It uses hydrogen as fuel, scooping it up as it goes along.”

“So it’s safe to say humans didn’t build this?” asked Jim-Bean.

“No humans I know,” said Guppy. “It normally takes one million degrees to power something like this.” He was starting to talk faster, overcoming his fear. “Plus, this craft isn’t capable of interstellar speed.”

“So where did it come from?” asked Hammer.

“A bigger ship,” said Guppy.

They took the elevator up.

There were panels on one wall lit by silhouettes of different creatures; some recognizable, others utterly alien in appearance. In one corner was a glass tube with what looks like a frozen armadillo. Another was a similarly shaped human-sized chamber, although it was not currently occupied.

Guppy’s eyes turned to slits. “I remember that chamber.”

“What’s it for—“ began Jim-Bean, but Hammer cut him off with a shake of his head. “Oh, right.” [MORE]

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Part 2 – Something Foul in the State of Canceri

Helac led them to the trade road known as the Red March. It led from Nishanpur south and east into the Hinterlands.

“Do we even know where Sagrivan is?” asked Vlad.

“According to Helac,” replied Kham, “he was working on the Red March.”

“So he’s part of a slave gang? Are we even sure he’s in Canceri anymore?”

Sebastian shrugged. “In Canceri, all roads lead to Nishanpur. If we can’t find him there, at least we should find someone who knows where to find him.”

“What about Ilmarė?” asked Vlad.

“I sent word via sending,” said Sebastian. “It will take weeks before she is able to meet us. The orcs of the Bloody Vengeance are still searching for Captain Scarbelly. We won’t see them for awhile.”

Mollified, Vlad finally stopped asking questions.

The winter days wore on them as they trudged along the road back to Nishanpur. After days of empty plains and several hours after passing a row of tottering and unoccupied crucifixes, they finally sighted the tilled fields that marked the populated outlying areas of the great city.

“Something doesn’t seem right,” said Sebastian.

“You mean the fact that your homeland is a real downer?” Kham sniffed. [MORE]

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Tuesday, October 14

Silicon Dreams: Part 5b— Starting Fires

A guard jogged up to the two men at the security station in front of the warehouse.

“Hey! What are you guys doing?” he shouted. “There’s a fire in Zone Four!”

“We’re not supposed to leave our post,” replied one of the other guards.

“Yeah, yeah I know, but we think it’s a prelude to an attack. The government raid is going down – but if you want to let Mr. Morrow know that you guys didn’t follow orders…”

The two guards looked at each other and then jogged off in the direction of Zone Four.

Jim-Bean pretended to jog behind them, but just ran in place.

“I can’t believe that worked,” said Archive. [MORE]

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On the Red March: Part 1 – A Mission for the Dead

The trip inside the ancient city of Ventaka was educational to say the least.

“I never thought I’d see it again,” said Sebastian, looking around in wonder. The city, its architecture long considered one of the wonders of Onara, had stood for over two millennia. But it was beginning to show its age.

“There are cracks in the dome,” said Beldin. He sniffed the air. “There’s dust floating about. It’s a bad sign.”

“De dwarf speaks true,” said Garan. “De city infrastructure has suffered a major collapse. Sealed for over a year, since de Swords of Nier attempted to conquer it, Ventaka also has all de problems of a city under siege.”

“You guys still haven’t tossed those nuts out?” Kham dusted himself off. [MORE]

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Monday, October 13

Silicon Dreams: Part 5a—Starting Fires

It was 3 a.m. when Hammer finished snipping a man-sized opening in the CCS perimeter fence. Thanks to Guppy’s hacking, he had found a hole in their surveillance cameras. They padded over to a side door near the office connected to a warehouse.

“Our target is that warehouse,” whispered Guppy. “We just need to get inside there.”

“Yeah, sure, piece of cake.” Jim-Bean looked over his shoulder at Archive. “How you doing buddy?”

Archive, despite the serious of his wounds, had fresh scars that had already healed. “The spell’s taking effect.” He winced. “But it still hurts.”

“Yeah, spells,” whispered Jim-Bean. “Whatever that crap you do, if it makes you feel better, go with it.”

“You’re one to talk,” whispered Hammer pointedly. [MORE]

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On the Red March: Prologue

Kham readied himself for the usual sensation of passing through one Gate and exiting another instantaneously yet hundreds if not thousands of miles away. But the usual tingling, slightly euphoric feeling was missing. In its place was pain like he had never known.

Hundreds of red-hot needles pierced his body for what seemed like an eternity until, as suddenly as it began, it was over. He lay face down, nauseated, on a pitted rocky floor.

Kham struggled to his feet. It was difficult. There was a rumbling in his ears and the world swam.

“Get up,” shouted someone, far away. Only they were very close. “Grab Sebastian, the portal’s collapsing!” [MORE]

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Saturday, October 11

Silicon Dreams: Part 4—Desperate Measures

“CCS is going to be wrapping up their operations,” said Hammer. “If they’re bold enough to attack us in broad daylight, they’re not above wiping their offices clean by whatever means necessary. We have to move tonight before they remove all the evidence.”

“But Archive’s still in surgery!” said Guppy, his eyes swimming a bit from the painkillers. “We can’t—“

“Sure we can. He’s into that mystical healing mumbo-jumbo, right?” Jim-Bean stalked towards the door marked RESTRICTED PERSONNEL ONLY. “He can just heal himself.”

“Hey!” shouted a security guard. “You can’t just go in there.”

Jim-Bean held up his CIFA badge and pointed his pistol at the security guard. “Try and stop me.”

He backed his way into the operating room. Archive was splayed out on a table, an IV drip connected to one arm. A staff of surgeons were busy extracting debris from his flesh. The lead surgeon whirled.

“What the hell? Get this man out of here!”

The nurses started tugging at his arm. “You can’t be in here!”

“I’m getting him out,” said Jim-Bean. “Sew him up.”

“He could die!” shouted the surgeon, unruffled by the fact that a pistol was pointed at his head.

“So could you if you don’t do what I say,” said Jim-Bean. “Now. Sew. Him. Up.” [MORE]

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Chapter 37: On the Red March - Introduction

This is a Year One Living Arcanis Nishanpur adventure, “On the Red March” by Kimberly Wajer-Scott, set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
  • Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
  • Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
  • Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

And we’re back in Canceri, just like that. This adventure deals with the plot points we skipped before. Sure, the PCs stopped Akali Vervain from being buried forever. But the Nierites still occupy Canceri. What of them?

I told George to think about how Sebastian felt about his homeland. Sebastian doesn’t love the place, but he certainly doesn’t hate it either. At heart, he understands that fanatics get people killed and that’s never good for anybody.

The question becomes: how far are you willing to go for the greater good? For Kham, it’s never been simpler. For Sebastian, the answer is a lot more complicated. [MORE]

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Friday, October 10

Silicon Dreams: Part 3b—Lucky Brakes

“This is going to attract attention,” said Guppy nervously. He fired his Beretta blindly through the smoke at the hit squad. “If the GNN cameras show up…”

“That’s it!” said Jim-Bean. “Guppy you’re a genius!” He flipped his cistron and dialed 911. “Hello? There’s a firefight going on in downtown Samson. Yeah! Corner of…can you see the sign?”

Archive strained to see through the smoke. “Fifth and Ninth!”

“Corner of Fifth and Ninth! Hurry, the two gangs are heavily armed!” To demonstrate his point, he held the cistron next to his SIG and fired it in the direction of the van.

“What the hell did you do that for?” asked Hammer.

“Who do you think has the better cover?” asked Jim-Bean. “The guys with the CIFA badges or the guys in the unmarked van armed to the teeth wearing bulletproof vests?”

“Good point,” said Hammer. Bullets ricocheted near his head, forcing him to duck behind the limo.

“Uh, guys…?” asked Guppy. “I think I smell gas.” [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Conclusion

Ffashethh’s tail disappeared through the gate as it glowed bright red.

“After it!” Kham plunged through the portal at a sprint and disappeared.

Sebastian hesitated. “I have a bad feeling about this.” Beldin ran past him into the portal.

“What else is new?” asked Vlad. He put one hand on Sebastian’s shoulder. The portal started to pulse. It would close in a moment.

Taking a deep breath, they dove through.

“No, wait!” shouted K’Stallo as he clambered up the steps.

Egil came running down from the upper level. “Father Thuron? What happened?”

The ssanu slumped. “You were usssing that gate?”

“Y-yes,” stammered Egil. “Why?”

The red light pulsed and faded. Whatever its destination was now closed to future travelers.

“That isss a Ssethregoran Gate,” said K’Stallo. “Samats have complete control over them. I am quite sssure that Ffashethh changed the coordinatesss before he fled to Ssethregore.”

“Changed coordinates?” Egil looked nervously at the gate. “To where?”

“I don’t know, Egil,” said the ssanu wearily. “I don’t know.” [MORE]

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Thursday, October 9

Silicon Dreams: Part 3a—Lucky Brakes

“So what’s your plan this time?” asked Guppy.

“This time you get on the phone,” said Jim-Bean. “Talk some techno babble at them, really dazzle them. Tell them something about alien technology that only someone like you would know. That should—“

The car lurched.

“Jesus!” exclaimed Jim-Bean, leaning forward to address Hammer. “I know you were mad at me for kicking the car yesterday but could you take it easy on the hills?”

Hammer’s gloved hands were curled into fists on the steering wheel. “I’m trying!” He stomped on the brake pedal a few times. “No brakes!”

“What?” asked Archive. “What do you mean no brakes?”

“Try the emergency brake!” shouted Guppy.

Archive grabbed the emergency brake lever with both hands and pulled. Nothing happened.

“Someone cut the brakes!” said Archive.

Horns honked as Hammer tore through a four-way intersection, blowing a stoplight. “Not…” said Hammer through gritted teeth, swerving the limo to avoid pedestrians, “…HELPING.” [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Part 3b – The Arena

The sand-stained blood began to bubble slowly at first. Within a few seconds it was bubbling like the boiling mud near a volcano, creating fist-sized bubbles that spattered blood over the first rank of onlookers. The yellow steam that rose from the boiling blood began to coalesce into a yellow form, taking shape over the heads of the congregation.

The ssanu in the arena from both sects prostrated themselves before what they believed to a manifestation of their ancestral god, Yig.

But it was not Yig.

A soundless flash of yellow strands blasted forth from the tatters of the King in Yellow. Guards that were cutting through the webs were plucked from where they stood, sucked into the yellow folds.

“The King in Yellow,” Kham said wearily. “Again.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, October 8

Silicon Dreams: Part 2—The Bluff

“ID please?”

Hammer handed him the forged papers. Majestic-12’s covers were usually impenetrable.

The security guard picked up a phone. There was a lot of “uh huhs,” and “yeahs,” and then finally an “okay, I’ll tell them.” He turned back to Hammer. “Mr. Jaxter’s busy right now but he’s happy to make an appointment.”

They expected this. Jim-Bean rolled down the window. “Who is this?” he shouted in his best eurotrash accent. “Who are these people? Why are they not letting us in?”

“Sorry sir,” said Hammer, feigning discomfort. “I’m sure they’ll let us in.”

“You!” Jim-Bean pointed at the security guard. “Who are you?”

“Me, sir?” The guard stuttered. “I-I’m afraid I can’t let you in without an appointment.”

“An appointment? Are you serious? Do you know who I am?” Jim-Bean threw up his hands. “Do you know who I have with me? I heard about this Navi system and I want in!”

“You’re welcome to call Mr. Morrow’s office…”

“No,” said Jim-Bean curtly. “I don’t not feel very welcome at all!” He whirled and pointed at Hammer from inside the limousine. “You! Get this insolent cur on the phone!”

“Right away sir.” Hammer leaned over to the security guard. “If you could give me the phone number?”

The guard nodded and handed a card to him. Hammer punched in the number and handed the cell phone. Before he could answer, Jim-Bean leaned forward and snatched it from him.

“Hello? Who is this?”

“This is Mr. Morrow’s secretary,” said a husky feminine voice. “How may I help you sir?”

“This is Mr. Jaxter! Perhaps you’ve heard of me? The billionaire? I saw the GNN press release about the Navi system and I want to speak with Mr. Morrow right now!”

“I’m sorry sir, but you’ll have to make an appointment.”

“An appointment?” Jim-Bean barked out a laugh. “I have one of the world’s most renowned computer specialists with me and he wants an appointment? What kind of operation is this?” [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Part 3a – The Arena

The arena was bowl-shaped, large enough to hold several hundred people at a time. Passages led out in all directions, connecting with an even greater network of tunnels.

“There!” shouted Kham.

The sixth brothers of Althares fell, the last in a circle of bodies on the ground. A pool of blood slowly spread out beneath them.

“We’re too late!” Beldin cried.

Up on a dais, the ssanu dressed in yellow robes stood, arms outstretched. Ssanu screamed and hissed from the stands.

Vlad eyed the crowd nervously, sword and shield up. “We can’t take them all on…”

“We don’t have to,” said Sebastian. He was strangely calm, arms at his sides. “Incendiares globus!” [MORE]

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Tuesday, October 7

Silicon Dreams: Part 1 — SPIDER Webs

SAMSON, CA—“That was…horrible,” said Jim-Bean, cracking his neck.

“We got here in twenty-four hours, didn’t we?” muttered Guppy.

“Sure,” said Jim-Bean. “But a bus? And a cargo plane with chickens in it? I thought the cabin was going to depressurize there…”

Archive looked a little green. “I could do without the HALO drop at the end.” [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Part 2 – Guard Room

“We have got to end this, fast!” Kham drew Talon and Coomb’s stiletto.

Sebastian took a step back. “I already unleashed a fireball on them. I…”

“Don’t you have anything else?” asked Kham. He blocked a warhammer blow by crossing Talon and the stiletto together. It nearly knocked him off his feet.

Sebastian swallowed. “I don’t…I can’t…”

“Come on!” Kham stabbed the stiletto sideways into the hulking ssanu’s torso. Ice appeared on its ribcage, but it didn’t react. “You’re part devil, right? Get angry!”

Beldin tumbled across the floor like a discarded toy, clanking as he went. His axe skittered one way, his shield another. The roaring ssanu pounded towards Sebastian.

“I…”

“You sssix are now anointed as acolytesss in the cult of Yig the Dessstroyer!” shouted Ffashethh.

It raised its warhammer. Behind the crazed ssanu, a chant had begun.

Sebastian looked down at Beldin’s unconscious body. He was bleeding from the ears and nose. Vlad and Kham were slowly giving ground. The ssanu were most assuredly going to kill them.

Something snapped. [MORE]

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Monday, October 6

Silicon Dreams: Prologue

I sent a message to another time
But as the days unwind, this I just can’t believe
I sent a note across another plane
Maybe it’s all a game, but this I just can’t conceive.

--Your Truly, 2095 by ELO

BOSTON, MA--Sprague’s feathered haircut and piercing eyes filled the team’s cistrons.

“A few days ago, Centurion Computing Systems released a new palmtop computer called the Centex. This computer is equal or better to the Cistron that we issue to Majestic-12 agents. In addition, we've been hearing reports from inside that they're going to release new technologies that are equal or better to our own. There's a suspicion of possible interference by extra-terrestrial influences. You're to discover if this is due to extraterrestrial influences or possible compromise by someone in Majestic-12. Guppy, you’re mission leader.”

Sprague’s image winked out. The other agents looked at Guppy.

“Wow, big time for you, huh?” asked Jim-Bean.

Guppy jutted his chin out. “It makes sense. I am the technology guy!”

“Sure, sure,” said Hammer. “So what’s the plan, Mission Leader?” [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Part 1b – The Holding Area

“What the hell was that?” asked Vlad, staring at the corpse. “A human-headed snake?”

Kham sheathed Talon and the stiletto. “They all look alike to me.”

“I found something,” said Beldin. “Marks on the wall indicate there were prisoners held here not long ago. We must have just missed them.”

“They were priests of Althares,” said Sebastian, his face grim.

“How can you tell?” asked Kham.

Sebastian tossed Kham a wooden hammer, the holy symbol of Althares.

“We’ll never find them down here,” said Vlad. “The prisoners could be anywhere.”

“Sarish’s ass,” muttered Kham. “I know where they are.”

“Where?” asked Vlad.

“This guy Gresty has a crazy theory,” explained Kham. “He said that several of the temples in Freeport were actually built over ssanu breeding pits. That’s why they keep attacking the temples; humans are trespassing on their sacred ground.”

“And that temple would be…”

“Egil’s Temple of Althares,” said Kham. [MORE]

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Sunday, October 5

Now I Want an iPhone

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Chapter 22: Silicon Dreams - Introduction

This scenario, “Silicon Dreams,” is a GURPS Black Ops scenario from Pyramid Magazine by Jonathan Souza. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Game Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
  • Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero/Acolyte) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero/Telepath) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
  • Hank “Guppy” Gupta (Smart Hero/Field Scientist) played by Joseph Tresca (http://www.creepyportfolio.com)
  • Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast/Dedicated Hero/Gunslinger) played by George Webster

Silicon Dreams is another one of those scenarios that’s big on ideas but doesn’t have much advice on how to execute them. The plot revolves around the unfortunately named Morgana Lafayette. Her supposed connection to the Greys is what propels the rest of the scenario.

In actual play, the agents had absolutely no interest in Morgana. While she was admittedly a key person, there were a lot of other key people to focus on, specifically the ones in power like the CEO. The agents put together their usual infiltration plan, led by Guppy and Jim-Bean, except that it didn’t work out as well as they hoped. Then I turned the tables on them. After nearly killing the agents, I pressed them for time to keep the plot moving along, which required some drastic measures on the part of the team.

And then they did what they always planned to do: an out-and-out raid on the bad guys’ headquarters. Which was what I wanted all along, but it wasn’t entirely clear how the agents get from Point A (Morgana) to Point B (raid). Although there was quite a bit of explosions, I got the agents to that point anyway.

When we came to the big finale, I was very pleased. I removed the open conflict with Greys (for obvious reasons, if you know Delta Green) and replaced it with the creepy ending to Hangar 18. Hangar 18’s aliens were pretty terrible, but the rest of the movie creeped me out for years after I saw it. I wanted to reproduce that bizarreness, as well as remind the agents that they are dealing with something far more sinister than UFOs. [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Part 1a – The Holding Area

Beldin, Vlad, Sebastian and Kham crept through the sewers.

“You sure this is the spot?” asked Vlad.

Kham shrugged. “It’s where K’Stallo said Ffashethh was holding the sacrifices.”

“It is.” Beldin traced his stubby fingers along one wall. “There’s a door here.”

“Too bad the elf didn’t come with us,” said Kham. “I can always count on her in a pinch.” He let the jab hang in the air.

“I get the impression Ilmarė would rather research this Sskethvai sect in a ssanu library than do their dirty work,” said Sbastian.

Beldin pushed on the wall and it slid open. “We already told you: we didn’t see the portal when the storm whipped up. You got pulled into Carcosa and we didn’t. The snowstorm was so bad that we had to go back to the Bloody Vengeance.”

Kham shrugged. He pulled out two pistols from his shoulder hostels. “What can I say, Hastur likes me.” [MORE]

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Saturday, October 4

Last Rites: Conclusion

“Any luck?” asked Hammer.

“Found an email from Jason, but that’s it,” said Jim-Bean. It’s vague – talks about a potion given to him by someone else, who he doesn’t identify. It was sent through an anonymous remailer and encrypted. The Redlight boys are working on it.”

“And her psychic powers?” asked Archive.

“Dr. Ettringer knew about them,” said Jim-Bean. He kept the latent memory that had surfaced to himself. “He convinced Lucy’s mother to have her committed to Arkham Asylum so he could keep conducting his field experiments. As a Majestic-12 friendly, he recruited psychic talent; sort of like an American version of the PRA.”

“I want to know how Lucy found out about Sophie,” said Archive with a frown. “The only people who knew about that were me and Hammer.”

Guppy tapped on his cistron. “It’s in your report.” He tapped a few more keys. “Looks like Ettringer was granted special access to review your file when he did a keyword search on ‘Ennis’.”

“That son of a bitch,” snarled Jim-Bean. “So he KNEW what would happen! He was pushing her and that was the only way he could get Lucy to use her powers…”

“Thus the ‘field trip’ to Runville. Don’t tell me,” Hammer addressed Guppy. “He read our file on Robert Monroe-Tyler too.” [MORE]

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Soul of the Serpent: Prologue

“Squeak!”

A tiny ssanu half-slithered and half-hopped up to Kham’s foot.

“Emric?” asked Kham. “What are you doing here?”

“Squeak,” said Emric.

“We’re not sssure, but we think he found a Ssethregoran portal,” came a sibilant voice. The ssanu visibly relaxed. “Be at peace, brothers. This is a guardian of the Chosen One.”

“Yeah,” Kham holstered his pistols and lifted the amulet of Yig. “See? I’m part of the club.”

A ssanu slithered forward, dressed in blue robes. “Hello Kham. It’sss good to sssee you again.”

“Good to see you too…uh…”:

If the ssanu had been capable of smirking he would have. “K’Stallo. I know, to your kind we all look alike.”

Kham cleared his throat but didn’t add anything to K’Stallo’s observation. [MORE]

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Friday, October 3

Last Rites: Part 5 – Daddy’s Home

Lucy calmly stepped out of the house as the roof collapsed. Debris seemed to avoid her, despite falling shingles, splinters, and beams.

She took a few steps towards the docks and the agents and then fell to her knees. “It’s over! It’s finally over!”

Jim-Bean put Archive down on the ground next to Guppy. Hammer ran to get the van.

“Lucy, I know people who can help you.” He took her hand. “If you’ll come with me…”

There was a groan from the flaming wreckage.

“Oh no,” said Lucy quietly. “Oh no.”

Jim-Bean looked up.

A smoldering hand shoved a section of the roof aside. [MORE]

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Chapter 36: Soul of the Serpent - Introduction

This is a Freeport adventure, “Soul of the Serpent” by Graeme Davis, set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

Jeremy’s been playing D&D with me so long that he can second guess plot points with ease. He confidently stated, “the snake people must be good guys, because that’s the only way you can get the other PCs back into the adventure.” Of course, he was right.

There were still some plot points even he didn’t foresee, though. I was pleased that there were enough surprises to keep him (and the other PCs) on their toes. This adventure moves quickly and doesn’t give the heroes a lot to do; mostly they fight ssanu and watch the madness unfold.

This is also a farewell to Freeport, of sorts. The PCs won’t be returning for some time. Somehow, I don’t think anyone minds. [MORE]

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Thursday, October 2

Last Rites: Part 4 – The Showdown

The place looked as if it had been hit by an earthquake. A marble pillar was collapsed on one side of the room, and cracked statuary was everywhere. A rumpled red carpet was splayed out the length of the hallway into the room. Oil lamps flickered up and down the length of the upper level.

“Something very bad went down here,” said Jim-Bean. “And I don’t think it was Henry.”

“You’re right,” said a young woman’s voice from atop the balcony. “It was me.”

Lucy Ennis, her long dark hair covering much of her face, leaned over the banister.

“Lucy?” asked Jim-Bean. “Lucy Ennis?”

The door slammed shut behind them. Then the multiple deadlocks and bolts locked the door, seemingly of their own volition.

“He won’t stop,” whispered Lucy. “I can’t stop him. No one can.”

“Who?” asked Jim-Bean. He started making his way up the steps along the left side of the stairwell. “Henry? Your father?”

She slowly nodded.

“What happened to Bernadette Springer?” asked Hammer. “This is her place…”

Lucy pointed up at the ceiling.

An old woman hung from the chandelier, a cord tied around her throat. Her tongue stuck out from her mouth, her face purple.

“She killed herself?” asked Guppy.

Lucy shook her head. There was no way the woman could have hung herself from that height without assistance; the chandelier was over twenty feet off the floor.

“Lucy,” said Jim-Bean, almost close enough to touch her. “I understand your pain. I’ve been there. I was a patient of Dr. Ettringer’s—“

WHAM! The door shuddered off its hinges.

“He’s here,” said Lucy. [MORE]

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To Walk in Carcosa: Conclusion

Stepping through the portal, Ilmarė noticed that the pebbles pressed into the packed earth glowed in the form of the Yellow Sign. Carcosa was nowhere to be seen.

Kham stood, both pistols out.

“Kham, what…” she trailed off.

They stood before a colossal statue of a snake-like being, some fifteen feet high. Against the wall stood an altar, and the walls were carved with relieves of ssanu building and consecrating the temple. The statue, altar, and relieves were all chipped, but showed signs of having been recently cleaned.

Over a dozen ssanu surrounded them, spears out. They were outnumbered.

“Snakes,” said Kham. “Why did it have to be snakes?” [MORE]

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Wednesday, October 1

No Halo Tonight

I'm still pretty sick, so I won't be attending my regular Halo Team Slayer game tonight, sorry.

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Last Rites: Part 3b – The Smith Home

Guppy and Archive peeked around the corner of the Smith house. There was no one there. The savage wind whipped the trees and bushes.

Then a monstrous mottled form lurched into view. It was a walking corpse, bloated from its time in the water. It had no face, the eyes and nose long since rotted away to form a death mask. A chainsaw was gripped in both hands. With a sharp jerk, it buzzed to life.

"What the hell?" sputtered Guppy. "Why does it have a chainsaw?"

Ettringer ran past him screaming, stopping short at the sight of the hulking behemoth before him. His mouth clamped shut and he ran back towards Guppy and Archive.

"Keep it away from me!"

Guppy drew his pistol and fired twice. The bullets made little "puft" sounds as they penetrated the walking corpse. The only response was that water streamed out of the holes. It kept coming, holding the buzzing chainsaw over its head.

Archive drew his own Glock and took aim. They gave up ground one step at a time, firing as they went, keeping the plodding corpse at a few feet distant.

"What makes you think that's going to work?" asked Guppy.[MORE]

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To Walk in Carcosa: Part 12 – Leaving Carcosa

They dashed from room to room, hall to corridor. Byakhee stalked them at every turn.

Kham swigged potion after potion. He tossed one to Ilmarė.

“Drink it!” When she shook her head, he shouted. “Trust me!”

They found the garden to be a surprisingly large, formally laid out affair comprised of lawns, gravel paths, clipped hedges, fountains, and pools. High red brick walls grown over with ivy surrounded the whole. A small hedge maze was in the middle of the space and had at its center a stone arch.

“Through there!” shouted Yolanda.

The orcs trailed behind.

“Aren’t you coming with us?” asked Kham.

“I will not be harmed!” said Yolanda. “Go!”

Two large byakhee flapped down to land on either side of the entrance to the arch. With a mighty heave, Kham launched himself through the air; assisted by magic, he catapulted past the things and into the gate beyond.

Ilmarė attempted to duplicate his feat. But one of the byakhee slapped her out of the air with one claw. She hit the ground hard.

Snapping jaws shrieked towards her face but were smashed away by an axe.

“Keep going!” shouted Scarbelly. “We’ll hold them off!”

Ilmarė had scraped her knees and hands on the ground. Despite the danger, she noticed that the milk white glass beads pressed into the turf prescribed the pattern of the Yellow Sign.

She broke into a sprint. Byakhee swarmed around the three orcs even as she stepped through the archway. [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:47 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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