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Tuesday, December 30

Convergence: Prologue

Groversville was a quaint town. Exterior advertising was restricted to rustic wooden signs bearing each store's name and line of business.

Hammer edged the Civic through the blocks, moving slowly.

"Is it just me," asked Guppy, "or is this place deserted?"

On any other mild Sunday afternoon in September, at least a few residents would be strolling along the cobblestone sidewalks and sitting on the porches and balconies that overlooked Skyline Road.

"It's not just you," said Jim-Bean.

"So I got a phone call yesterday," said Guppy, pointedly avoiding looking at Jim-Bean. "From Lisa Howell."

"Dr. Howell?" asked Jim-Bean, arching an eyebrow. "What about her?"

"We used to date."

"Oh yeah…she mentioned that."

"Mentioned that?" This time Guppy looked at him. "When?"

"On a mission," said Hammer. "Like the one we're on now. Let's stay on topic." [MORE]

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Hidden Greed: Part 1c – The Village of Saeber

“Thanks.” Kham joined him. “So what are you doing so far from Altheria?”

Pallas grinned a white-toothed grin. “I could ask you the same thing, but I suppose wanderlust comes with being the black sheep in the family. Truth be told, I’m on business.” He instantly became more serious. “Speaking of family…I heard about Uncle Corinalous. I’m sorry Kham, he was a good man.”

Kham took a long sip from his cup. “We weren’t that close, to be honest. I went into a dark place when he died. Did you go to his…?” He trailed off.

“His funeral? No, I missed it. I heard that Falthar did an excellent job though on his eulogy. Are you planning to visit soon then? I know your mother would be pleased.”

Kham snorted. “I don’t know that she’d even remember who I am. But yes, I plan on making my way there. How are things at home?”

Pallas leaned forward. “Not well. The Ssethregorans have stepped up their attacks. People are talking about war.” [MORE]

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Monday, December 29

Chapter 29: Convergence - Introduction

This scenario is as good as action horror gets. I don't know if I can top this: a creepy plot that builds, alien interactions that truly feel alien, players willing to role-play inter-party tension, a surprise twist, and a horrible revelation. And oh yeah, a giant blob wielding a crucifix as a weapon.

I was unhappy (as I always am) with the scenario outline. There's a communicable disease (protomatter), but the reveal that one of the character is infected is left up to the GM. There's an amorphous shape shifting ooze that never actually makes an appearance unless the agents actively seek it out. There's an alien conspiracy and a cover-up, but it's not entirely clear to the GM as to the state of the conspiracy.

As usual, rather than the investigation-focus, I shifted the timeline along so things in town are much, much worse and stole liberally from Dean Koontz’s Phantoms. The protomatter spawn shifted from hiding under a government building to a megalomaniacal being that thinks it's a god. I shifted the other aliens’ plans from business as usual (odd, since their protomatter spawn is raging out of control) to actively trying to help the agents kill their Frankenstein monster. And since the agents are Majestic-12, there's no competition with Delta Green. As Jeremy put it once, "horror is having all the military force in the world at your disposal…and it still doesn't help you." That's what happens here.

The other moment is what I call the "Detwiller" moment. Dennis recently explained that A-Cell in Delta Green isn't trying to "win" the war against the Mythos. They're just trying to staunch the wound. Individuals mean nothing: the greater good means all. If there's a decision between an innocent's life and the spread of the Mythos, the innocent loses every time. That was dramatically demonstrated in this scenario in how Hammer (Cowboy) and Guppy (Crackpot) approach the conspiracy.

I combined descriptions from Dean Koontz' book with some of the action-oriented elements added by the movie. For the record, I saw Phantoms in the theater and thought it was dreadfully boring. But as a book it's much more terrifying. It helps that the protagonist is trained in forensics, which provides plenty of mystery for the agents to investigate what happened to the town's victims.

Even better, Guppy, Hammer, and Jim-Bean created their own role-playing tension in both relationships and how they handle (or don't handle) the conspiracy.

Defining Moment: Hammer, faced with a Saucerwatch leak that might spread the truth about the Mythos, plugs the hole…with a bullet. [MORE]

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Hidden Greed: Part 1b – The Village of Saeber

Kham was crossing featureless frosty ground. Aldebaran loomed ahead. It had slipped so low in the sky that it touched the horizon; one could step up to it now.

One could step down from it too. Thousands of stars showed, but they were not the stars Kham knew. There were others with him—friends, but they were just an escort, for it was only he that mattered. No Emperor ever performed an action to match what he was about to do.

He saw a bright, bright light and then a tall figure. His white and yellow robes moved in a wind Kham didn’t feel.

Kham reached out and, awed, he saw himself take it and walk through.

Then he woke up.

Skiz was sitting on the nightstand next to the bed, eyes glittering. “Bad dream, boss?”

“You weren’t sitting there all night watching me, were you?”

“Nah. You just cried out and woke me up. You okay?”

“No,” Kham reached out for a pitcher. Normally it would be filled with wine, but he had shifted to water when the inn was able to provide it. “But that’s nothing new.”

“Well, I’m going to go back to sleep,” said Skiz. The rat rolled over on the nightstand and his breathing became deep and slow.

Kham envied him. He struggled with the covers to get comfortable again.

Skiz watched him with one eye open. [MORE]

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Saturday, December 27

Adventuring Party Politics: The Campaign is Getting Ugly

Basically, it's all the politicians running for president as players in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It more succinctly sums up the personalities (and their attitudes towards each other) than the major news broadcasts. I laughed so hard at this I nearly peed. [MORE]

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Operation Tucker: Conclusion

Bill and Caprice met the other team members at the front of the mansion.

"What the hell happened down there?" asked Bill. "We felt an explosion…"

"Tucker when nuclear," said Hammer. "Just like Blade."

"Who?" asked Bill.

"Former team member,” Hammer said sadly. “It’s a long story."

"That's why Tucker wanted me to shoot him in the head," said Jim-Bean. "He was trying to stop the bomb from going off."

"Wait," said Bill. "Where's Sarah?"

Larry bit his lip. "I called in for a pickup. We had to leave her at the edge of the pond. I tried to save her but…" he shook his head, drenched and shivering.

Bill blanched. "Poor Sarah…"

"We would have gotten out of there if it hadn't been for someone resetting the system," said Morrow.

Bill and Caprice exchanged glances.

"Must have been a glitch," said Caprice without skipping a beat. [MORE]

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Hidden Greed: Part 1a – The Village of Saeber

The village of Saeber lay at the bottom of a verdant valley. A large collection of two and three-story buildings crammed the village area, while small outlying edifices showed signs of steady expansion and growth. The village’s ten-foot high wooden walls clashed against the serene greenery. Village folk milled all around, patching holes and filling ditches left by explosions.

“Explosions?” Kham looked around. “They’re using blackpowder?”

The village showed signs of tumult. People in the streets rushed by in throngs, headed to the village square.

The square was a mess of people yelling and screaming at everyone and everything. Three middle-aged men stood on a makeshift podium.

After they spoke for a few moments, the three leaders of Saeber identified themselves. There was Drafnah, who had a worried look on his face; Lonnek, an older but keenly aware man; and Vanos, a stern-looking fellow with a strong voice.

“Everyone,” he shouted. “Please, be silent, we are awaiting the reports!” After a few loud bangs of a mallet, the village folk fell into silence.

Runners arrived with various scrolls, which Lonnek read quickly.

“There are no casualties and, as before, Saeber has suffered no significant damage!” Lonnek looked around. “I urge you to all go back to your homes and remain calm.”

He was greeted by shouts of, “No way!” and “We’re not going to just sit here and wait to be slaughtered!”

A tall, ebony-skinned man dressed in rich clothing approached the podium brusquely.

“We should form a strike force immediately!” he demanded in a loud voice. “We have to attack the ss’ressen before they have a chance to destroy our homes! You have been delaying the inevitable while we risk our lives every day that passes!”

Kham slapped his forehead. “I don’t believe it.”

“Is the Altherian a friend of yours?” asked Ilmarė.

“You could say that. That’s Pallas.” [MORE]

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Friday, December 26

Operation Tucker: Part 3f – Into the Web

Larry brought the unconscious forms of Guppy, Sarah, and Morgana into the room, one at a time. He looked down at Tucker.

"So it's over then."

The lights went out. Then they flashed back on, this time a dim red.

"Oh no. NO!" shouted Morrow. "Someone reset the system!"

"That's a bad thing?"

"Very bad!" said Morrow. "It will incinerate every living thing in the cubes and reset the traps. We have to get to the exit." [MORE]

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Hidden Greed: Prologue

The verdant hills of Milandir were truly a sight to behold. A signpost ahead noted the village of Saeber lay only a few miles up the road.

“Considering the sun will set soon, I think Saeber’s a good place to rest,” said Vlad.

Kham and Ilmarė shrugged.

“It’s your homeland,” said Kham. “As long as they’re not crazy cannibals, cultists, or have the plague, I’m happy to stay there.”

The trail cut across a small valley and then went high up a hill.

Ilmarė blinked. “I hear the sounds of battle.”

The clash of swords soon became unmistakable. Small explosions and hoarse yelling signaled a conflict. Once they reached the hilltop, there was no doubt.

In the distance, scantly a mile away, a walled village was under attack. Villages rushed to cover various areas, shooting arrows and throwing spears at a large group of reptilian soldiers. The ss’ressen attacked on foot while a second group, mounted on drakes, rode by and drew their fire.

“Ss’ressen?” Kham asked in disbelief. “Here?” [MORE]

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Tuesday, December 23

Operation Tucker: Part 3c – Into the Web

Larry tended to Sarah and Morgana. Hammer looked after Guppy. They were all burned from the gout of flames that jetted from the cylinders.

"Ready to call a truce?" asked Hammer. "Your team's a mess."

"So is yours," said Larry.

"Not as bad as you might think," said Hammer. "We're Sprague's team."

Hammer knew better than to worry about Jim-Bean. A few seconds later, Jim-Bean's eyes flicked open, despite the fact that his face was blackened to a crisp. He wiped one hand over his features and the dead skin fell off, flaking away like so much dandruff.

"Great," said Larry. "Sprague's team huh?" He held up his cistron. Hammer held up his own cistron and the two exchanged virtual identification. They both checked out. "Why didn't you say so?" [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 4b – I Smell a Rat

Something scampered up Kham’s leg.

“The shaman, Gakyi, is invisible, boss,” squeaked the rat. “He’s standing over there.”

“How do you know that?” asked Kham.

“You gonna keep asking questions or you gonna shoot?”

Kham shook his head in disbelief that he was listening to a rat. He drew both of his pistols and fired where the rat pointed with one tiny claw. [MORE]

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Monday, December 22

Operation Tucker: Part 3b – Into the Web

Caprice pulled up to the mansion in his stolen vehicle. It was locked down tight, with safety shades pulled down over every entrance.

He tried to raise the other agents but had no luck. That meant they were inside. Which could be good or bad, depending on what they found there.

Caprice made his way to the keypad at the front door. He popped the panel off and hooked his cistron to the board beneath it.

With a little time, he could hack his way into the system. While Caprice wasn't quite as good at hacking as Guppy, he was still pretty formidable with code cracking, a skill acquired from his days in aeronautics programming. Code scrolled on the cistron's screen as it clicked away at the firewall—

SPTANG! A bullet ricocheted right near Caprice's head. He ducked and rolled, hands up.

"Down on the ground! DOWN ON THE GROUND!" shouted Bill, from Warner's team. He looked like a geek who didn't know how to wield the shaking pistol in both hands.

Caprice put his hands up. "Easy, easy. Are you trying to mug me? I can give you my wallet…"

"I don't want to mug you, I want you to GET ON THE GROUND!"

"Okay, okay!" Caprice slowly got down to his knees. "Look…I don't live here, okay? I don't have any money…"

"I just said I am not trying to mug you!" Bill inched over to him and pulled out a zip tie from his belt.

"Wait, you're tying me up? What for?" [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 4a – I Smell a Rat

Another day passed and Sebastian’s illness worsened. As the day advanced, more victims of the plague were brought into the courtyard from the city. They were some of the worst cases, born in on stretches covered with blood-soaked sheets.

“At the rate these bodies come in, he’ll never heal Sebastian!” Ilmarė said, exasperated.

“Psst!” a squeaky voice whispered to Kham.

Kham looked around.

“Down here!”

Kham looked down. A large brown rat, sitting on its hind legs, was tugging on his boot.

“Great,” said the val. “Now I can hear what animals are thinking.” He rubbed his temples. “I love being a val!”

“No boss, I’m actually speaking Low Coryan,” said the rat. “Learned it from Gakyi. But that’s not important now. What’s important is that you’re about to be ambushed.”

“An ambush?” Kham looked down at the rat in disbelief. “You expect me to believe a talking rodent?”

As Petru began to minister to the sick, a half-dozen sheets were tossed aside to reveal feral ratmen, armed with wicked swords.

“Told you,” said the rat. [MORE]

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Sunday, December 21

Operation Tucker: Part 1a – Into the Web

The elevator opened into a twenty-foot by twenty-foot box, with doors in each wall. The room was harshly lit from within the wall itself in all directions.

"You know what this looks like?" asked Hammer to no one in particular.

"A ship," said Guppy, his voice cracking. "An alien ship."

"We're in an alien ship?" asked Jim-Bean. "Really? Doesn't look like much."

Music started playing. It was the Wee Bee theme song and it reverberated from every corner of the room.

"What is going on?" shouted Guppy, holding his ears.

Long poles slowly stretched out of the ceiling.

"What the hell is that?" asked Jim-Bean. [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 3b –Blinded by Prejudice

Kham rolled forward underneath the heavy warhorse, drawing Talon and Coombs’ dagger as he did so. He had to move fast; if the horse came down on top of him it would crush his skull.

With lightning speed, Kham slashed the leather restraints that held the knight’s saddle in place. He dove forward between the horse’s hind legs just as the saddle gave way.

Vlad faced down the knight to Oderic’s left side. The knight’s lance jabbed at him, but Vlad slapped it away with his shield. He grabbed a tanglefoot bag form his belt pouch and hurled it at the knight’s horse. It exploded in a sticky mass, bonding the horse’s hooves to the ground.

Ilmarė stood defiant before the other knight. She pointed at the warrior’s horse and said: Îdh. It fell to the ground, unconscious, pinning the knight beneath it.

Oderic slid forward off his horse and landed on his feet. “Fool!” Oderic drew his blade. It glowed with a golden light, singing a heavenly chorus as it was unsheathed. “I have no time for your tricks.”

“The Sword of Saint Lambertus,” whispered Vlad in awe.

Kham spun, but the warhorse was between him and the knight. He ducked just as the well-trained horse kicked backwards, nearly decapitating him.

Oderic charged forward, straight towards Petru…

There was a horrible shriek. Everyone froze and turned to look. [MORE]

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Saturday, December 20

Operation Tucker: Part 2b – Catching the Fly

Hammer pulled through the gates of the Morrow estate. They had been smashed open by a vehicle.

The smoking radiator of Tucker's Mustang hissed in front of the mansion's double doors, which were still open.

"He must have driven right up to the front doors,” said Hammer.

Jim-Bean and Hammer slipped through the double doors into the mansion, pistols at the ready. Guppy trailed behind them.

"Nothing here," said Guppy. "Where'd he go?"

Hammer pointed at the ground. A butler lay on the ground, jaw slack, a red bullet hole in his head. "Just follow the bodies." [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 3a –Blinded by Prejudice

Shortly after dawn, Petru began his ministrations anew. The ill visibly improved as a result of his blessings, however heretical some thought them to be.

Petru strode over to where Vlad, Ilmarė, and Kham sat. “I believe I have saved de vorst cases. Vhere is your friend?”

“Beldin’s with him in a room not far from here,” said Vlad. “I’ll get—“

Ilmarė cocked her head. “What’s that?”

Then they all heard it. The sound of galloping hooves.

A small body of riders arrived at the Convent, led by a formidable looking knight of advanced years. He clucked his horse right into the courtyard. Redmantle followed behind.

The Abbess bowed to the knight. “Mighty General, how may we simple adherents of Beltine assist thee?”

General Oderic val’Tensen was accoutered in shining blue full plate. His magnificent warhorse was dressed in barding to match. A lance was in one arm a shield in the other. He was flanked by two other knights on horseback, similarly armed and armored in much less impressive fashion.

Oderic slapped his visor open. “Abbess Halfrid val’Ishi, explain yourself!” he demanded. “How could you bring this,” Oderic swung his lance to point at Petru, “our greatest enemy, into our midst? It is clearly he who has inflicted this great harm upon us!”

Ilmarė sighed. “Not this again.” She turned to Vlad. “You may want to leave Sebastian where he is for the moment.” [MORE]

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Friday, December 19

Operation Tucker: Part 2a – Catching the Fly

Guppy dove into the Honda Civic, the world's most anonymous vehicle, as Tucker's Mustang peeled off. Hammer sped after him.

"He's in an awful rush," said Jim-Bean from the passenger seat

"Think he spotted Caprice?" asked Guppy.

Jim-Bean shrugged. "I don't know. Tucker's pretty efficient. If he felt Caprice was a threat I think he'd be dead by now."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," said Caprice over the comm. "I just hot-wired a car. I'll catch up."

Suddenly Tucker's vehicle sped up. Hammer slammed on the gas to keep pace.

On the expressway, another Honda Civic pulled alongside their vehicle.

"Hey look," said Guppy. "Looks like this car really is common after all…"

The passenger window rolled down and a Beretta pointed in Jim-Bean's face.

"That's no ordinary car!" shouted Hammer. He slammed on the brakes. [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 2b – Our Lady’s Mercy Awaits You

They reached the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady’s Mercy after a few hours. The nuns immediately began to treat the sick and separated them into groups in the convent’s courtyard based upon the seriousness of their condition.

After a short while, the Abbess walked out into the courtyard in the company of a man with a shaven pate. He wore brown robes of silk and three golden studs bound his beard.

There was a general gasp of astonishment.

“A Nerothian Canceriman, here?” Vlad said in surprise.

The Nerothian was shown great deference and honor by the Abbess. He walked among the ill speaking words of ritual that praised Neroth and supplicated his mercy. As he passed the poor victims of the terrible plague, his labored breath eases and several of them fell into slumber. [MORE]

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Thursday, December 18

The Horror! Black Jack Bauer

I try for 24, but darker, in the latest installment of my action-horror column, "The Horror!" at RPG.net. [MORE]

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Operation Tucker: Part 1b – The Ointment-Coated Fly

Guppy's cistron flashed face after face as the facial recognition software went to work. No luck.

"Hey!" said a pudgy guy with an "I See Fragged People" t-shirt.

Guppy wheeled his cart over.

"You sell food?"

"Uh, not really, I just have lattes and…"

"Dude!" The fat guy was sweating. "I will give you FIVE BUCKS for a cookie. A bagel. Anything!"

"I'm not sure—"

"Do you know how long I've been on this line?" Guppy tried not to get too close. He could smell how long the guy had been on line. "Two days man! TWO DAYS! You gotta get me some—"

The bell rang and suddenly Guppy was forgotten. He yanked the cart backwards to avoid being crushed. [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 2a – Our Lady’s Mercy Awaits You

They traveled northward into the dreary glade of the Faerdwalden. Even though Illiir shone in his glory of midday, the thick canopy of the forest filled the wood with shadow.

Vlad shook his head as he and Kham trudged along with Sebastian’s litter. “I can’t believe you shot Hayden.”

Kham peered over his shoulder. “The nut with the hammer? I didn’t shoot him. I shot AT him.”

They were walking along with the rest of the infected caravan, carrying litters of the sick and dying.

“There was no guarantee he would dodge the bullet.”

“I had to test his powers somehow.” Kham shrugged. “It seemed like the fastest way to find out at the time.”

“But he was out of his mind!” Vlad lowered his side of the litter.

Kham put the litter down and lowered his lenses to look Vlad in the eye. “Wow, you’re really upset about this, aren’t you? Look, the powers of the val are not something to be given lightly. I can barely control MY powers and I’m supposed to have them.”

“It would be just like the Sorcerer-King to twist the disease so that it gave humans val powers,” Ilmarė added. “With the disease running rampant there would be murder in the streets. Sort of like what we witnessed today.”

“That’s precisely why not everyone should have them,” Kham said with a sniff.

“Well I’ll tell you what I think: I think your high and mighty val powers made things WORSE. I saw those Milandisian cantons. I know they had the plague, but they were healthy enough to fight. It wasn’t until YOU used YOUR powers that they fell.”

“Are you feeling alright?” Kham put the back of his hand to Vlad’s forehead. “Got a fever?”

“Don’t touch me!” the Milandisian slapped Kham’s hand away.

“ENOUGH!” shouted Beldin. A hand axe whistled between them. [MORE]

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Wednesday, December 17

Operation Tucker: Part 1a – The Ointment-Coated Fly

"All right, everybody ready?" The manager looked around. The temps were nervous. "Good. Positions!"

They jogged off to their positions. Caprice clambered up his caged mountain of PlayPals. The fence that ringed the bottom of it wouldn’t hold off an angry customer for long.

"Everybody smile!" The manager retreated to his office, which had a glass window overlooking the floor. His voice floated over the speakers. Insanely happy music started up, cheering the wonders of Wee Bee Toys. A giant bee character started rotating at the center of the store. "And here! We! Go!"

Caprice caught a glimpse of one of the Throwers across the floor crossing himself. Then a buzzing sound signaled the opening of Wee Bee Toys as the glass doors whisked open. [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 1b – Rumblings of Insurrection

The disciplined Knights of Tralia stepped in to deal with the disorganized canton. Halberds came crashing down on shields emblazoned with the white and red shields of the knights.

Kham drew Talon and Coombs’ dagger. Hayden hefted a Tralian hammer.

“Think you can just shoot me and be done with it?” snarled Hayden. “I’m not going to die like a dog in the street; if you want to put me down, you’ll have to do it with your own two hands!”

With both hands, Hayden swung the hammer in an arc over his head. Kham blocked it with scimitar and dagger but the blow rattled his teeth. His lenses fell from his nose, revealing the whites of the val’s eyes.

“Fine, you want to play like a val?” Kham skipped backwards at another swing. “Let’s play.” [MORE]

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Tuesday, December 16

Operation Tucker: Prologue

"Majestic-12 has a long-term surveillance in progress in that area. You have the mission briefing, all relevant reports, and the squad portfolios in your mission packets. Department-specific information has been provided where appropriate."

Jim-Bean scanned the names. Bill, Larry, Sarah, Morgana…he recognized Morgana. She was responsible for seducing Morrow. Larry fabricated evidence of corporate espionage and handed it off to Morgana, who planted it. The subsequent dismissal gave Sarah the opening she needed to be placed on the engineering staff. Bill was in charge of surveillance. That left the muscle, the guy who ensured nobody else but Sarah applied for the position. And that guy was Agent Tucker.

Jim-Bean's blood froze. Tucker, the man who had put two bullets in Jim-Bean’s kneecaps and left him to die. Tucker, who had served as a sacrifice to Ithaqua and was hospitalized with third degree burns over ninety-eight percent of his body. Tucker, who two weeks later was performing missions when no human being on Earth could have possibly survived the damage. Except maybe Jim-Bean. [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Part 1a – Rumblings of Insurrection

Vlad closed his eyes for a moment and let out his breath with a deep sigh. “People are going to get seriously hurt. We have to do something.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Kham shoved his way through the crowd towards Hayden. “Hey, you! Yeah I’m talking to you!”

Hayden faced him down as he approached. “You know, you don’t seem to have the plague either!”

“Calm down.” Kham kept his hands at his sides, but pistols were in his hands. “Vlad, say something that makes you sound important.” [MORE]

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Monday, December 15

Chapter 28: Operation Tucker - Introduction

This scenario is a combination of “Operation Ravenheart” from Pyramid Magazine by C.A. Johnson and “Far Voices” by Rich Redman. 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
  • Hank “Guppy” Gupta (Smart Hero/Field Scientist) played by Joseph Tresca (http://www.creepyportfolio.com)
  • Sebastian “Caprice” Creed (Fast/Smart Hero/Techie) played by Bill Countiss

The campaign is starting to take on a life of its own. Drawing from the protagonists that appeared in previous scenarios and the general course of events, I’ve started to come up with natural connections that help suggest new scenarios. For example, Operation Ravenheart is about a company agent pursuing the CEO of a toy company, and in Far Voices a certain person is looking for the toy. By combining the two scenarios, it gave me the opportunity to wrap up Agent Tucker's personal history, as well as provide a warning to Jim-Bean as to what could happen to him if he's not careful. After all, in the last scenario, Tucker should have been dead, but he wasn't. There's a price for that kind of power, and its name is PROJECT RECOIL.

Because this scenario takes place in a toy warehouse, I tried to maximize the tension. In the original scenario, the bad guy is after a specific toy, and "by now, all the customers that wanted [the toy] have one. So the tired, frustrated, angry people have already left." Boring! I preferred instead to have the agents deal with an angry mob of soccer moms battling it out while the two opposing teams of agents try to out maneuver each other without hurting innocent civilians. As inspiration, I used the scene from A Galaxy Far, Far Away, where a seething crowd struggles to catch one Star Wars figures in a toy store.

The second half of this scenario then takes place in the CEO's mansion (and the original target of the first team). Operation Ravenheart doesn't go into much detail here other than to indicate that the house has been modified by Greys to be “a gauntlet.” Cue my opportunity to put the agents into a death trap, as the two rival teams hunt the poor CEO (who at this point must be wondering why he ever got into the toy business) in a series of shifting rooms filled with traps. That's right, this is my opportunity to use the traps from Cube Zero!

The players were a bit confused as to what was going on, so I tried to sprinkle in some clues, such as the CEO dropping his day planner. I played Willy Wonka music every time a trap was activated, which had the suitable effect of making the scenario both wacky and violent. And of course, this scenario ends with a big bang, the kind we haven't seen since poor Blade…

Incidentally, Far Voices was originally going to be the first scenario we played. As you can imagine, it would have set a very different tone for the campaign. Although I didn't originally intend it to work out this way, the scenario pretty much played out like a battle against the Joker in one of his funhouses.

Defining Moment: Caprice, battling Bill in hand-to-hand combat, drops his pants. It only makes things much, much worse. [MORE]

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I Know Thee Brother: Prologue

Vlad took a deep breath. He knew this was coming. After the Nierites had taken over Cancer, they marched on Milandir, only to be ferociously repelled. “We’ve been looking for healers. That’s why we came here.”

Bruno, a smith who sat to Vlad’s left, chuckled. “Word has it that the only servants of Beltine left anywhere near the city are the Sisters of our Lady’s Mercy. But their convent is in Faerdwalden. Not that you could get to it anyway.”

“The Duke trapped us in here so he could burn the city to the ground,” sneered Hayden, who sat between Vlad and Kham. He wore colored lenses, like Kham. “Just like in Brechau.”

Vlad arched an eyebrow and whirled on the man. “That’s ridiculous. Where did you hear that?”

Hayden hopped off from his barstool. “Even know, Knights from Grozny Castle are marching to seal the city so that the Duke’s sentence can be carried out!”

“No wait a minute…” began Vlad.

“That’s right,” muttered Ilmare. “Next thing you know they’ll be storming the gates.”

“Yeah!” shouted Hayden. “I’m not going to let them just murder us and I’m not alone!” He whirled, sloshing a mug of watered-down mead. His arm was spotted with seeping buboes, a sure sign that Hayden was doomed like the rest. “Who’s with me?”

Raucous shouts joined Hayden’s. Men grabbed chairs and mugs, charging out into the street. Only too sick to move were left behind.

Ilmare shrugged as her companions fixed her with a stare. “What?” [MORE]

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Sunday, December 14

Jack Frost: Conclusion

Jim-Bean, Hammer, and Howell were seated before an impromptu inquisition, in Lewis' tent. Sprague sat on one side, Warner on the other.

"Let me get this straight," said Sprague. "You believe an alien civilization visited this area a millennia ago and set up a—"

"Resonance field," said Jim-Bean. Howell had him well rehearsed. "Using the five mounds—"

Sprague looked down at his notes. "Using the five mounds to create a harmonic vibration that destroyed the Russian device?"

"Well it all starts with Ithaqua. Philip Hodges summoned him out at Exit 23. We stopped him by cracking the Eye of Ithaqua—"

Sprague rubbed his forehead. "Not this demon $#!t again." [MORE]

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Chapter 42: I Know Thee, Brother - Introduction

This is a Year One Living Arcanis adventure, “I Know Thee, Brother” by Eric Wiener, 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:

Sebastian’s had the plague for a while now. It wasn’t intentional; I had no idea if George was going to show up to the game in which the Sorcerer-King’s agent was trying to get revenge. But it just so happened that not only did the Commandant blow himself up, he spread the disease too.

When I discovered that this adventure involved curing a disease, it was a perfect fit for when George couldn’t make a game. It also involved some interesting role-playing opportunities.

I had to dance a bit here: the explanation for why a human has psychic powers is pretty weak (the little rat idol made him do it, basically) and the ratmen (changed to wererats here) didn’t have much motivation. So I played fast and loose and rewrote a lot.

Except for Skiz. I’m a fan of the book Jhereg by Steven Brust; I’m sure you’ll see the similarities.

Seriously, what red-blooded DM can pass up a talking rat cohort? [MORE]

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Saturday, December 13

Jack Frost: Part 15 – Walls of Jericho

Hammer crawled out of the Jericho jet, pistols at the ready. Despite his hypothermia, despite the car crash, despite everything, he was ready to go down fighting….

Until he cleared the lip of the crash site and saw how many of the frozen corpses there were. It had to be almost a thousand, with some of Warner's soldiers amongst their ranks.

Hammer lowered his pistols and waited.

Ithaqua turned his terrible gaze upon them. Rearing back for a final strike, his frozen children watched silently.

Jim-Bean grabbed the Eye of Ithaqua and held it aloft. In a sudden moment of clarity he remembered his dream, what the shaman had said:

"Ia! Ia! Ia!—Ai! Ai!—Hgu!"

Ithaqua paused. Something wasn't right. Out on Crow Lake, the water bubbled. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Conclusion

For the remainder of that night and the two nights following the confrontation, the Festival of the Burning Man descended on the city. The night of the festival, amid the parties, fireworks, and debauchery, a strange thing occurred.

Vlad laughed as he read the tale of Baecinia’s testimony, written on the back of a “Free Vlad!” poster. “So they really made that much of a fuss over me?”

“Indeed, you became a symbol of Nierite oppression,” said Sebastian with a smirk as they descended through the grimy sewers beneath Nishanpur. “Being a Milandisian made you quite a flashpoint of controversy.”

Kham clapped Vlad on the back. “And it got the heat off of me for once.”

“Yeah,” Vlad muttered. “Thanks for getting me in trouble in the first place.”

“Don’t thank me,” Kham grinned. “Thank Sebastian! He paid for all those high priced barristers.”

Sebastian chuckled. “You can repay me when you’re back on you’re feet.”

“I didn’t lose anything!” Vlad was beaming. “They even gave me all my equipment back. I still can’t believe it!”

Beldin shook his head in disbelief. “Baecinia’s testimony was so perfectly copied word-for-word that the Sarishan scribes had to be involved. I wonder how much she HAD really paid them for the service.”

“It was worth it,” said Sebastian. “Anything that reveals the corruption of the occup…” he swayed a bit, “…occupation…”

Sebastian fell forward. Vlad caught him.

When Sebastian’s hood fell back, they could see that his face was covered in splotches.

Beldin bit his lip. “Sebastian’s been covering up his illness. He didn’t want you to know how bad it was.” [MORE]

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Friday, December 12

Jack Frost: Part 14 – 'Thaquafield

Howell pulled the wheel hard just as the jet impacted ahead of them. The shockwave from the explosion tore up trees and earth. For a second the Humvee was airborne as it flipped over and over on its side. It finally stopped rolling.

They struggled out of the Humvee. The forest was burnt all around them, but the incredible cold kept the fire from spreading very far.

Jim-Bean helped Hammer to his feet. Howell was unconscious. He pulled her out of the Humvee.

Hammer looked up. "Look!"

"I know," said Jim-Bean. "They don't have a chance."

The Jericho jets circled Ithaqua, firing again and again, but it seemed to only enrage the thing.

"No, there!" Hammer pointed to the colorful parachute of the downed pilot. He was hanging just above ground level.

They ran over to him.

The pilot was flash-frozen from Ithaqua's presence. His lips were moving slightly.

"What's he saying?" asked Jim-Bean.

"Fingerprints…" said Hammer, listening closely. The pilot lifted one finger and pointed at the location of his crashed jet. He looked into the pilot's eyes and nodded. He knew what he had to do.

"We have to cut him down," said Jim-Bean.

"No time." Hammer drew a knife from its holster around his ankle. "He's a dead man."

"Wait, what are you doing?" [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 8 – And Justice for All

In an occurrence nearly unheard of elsewhere, Vlad was hauled off to the gaol in the Menagerie of the Red Fist. His gear was stripped from him, and in a matter of hours he found himself in a Court of the City, in the Temple Quarter. Nearly a week went by, with only a sullen guard who slipped him moldy bread and dirty water to speak to.

Finally, a Nierite clerk appeared.

“Do you wish a legal advisor?” asked the bored-looking Nierite clerk.

“How much?”

“A mere 100 Baht an hour,” said the clerk.

Vlad blinked. “I’m not sure if I have that much…”

Another clerk handed the first clerk a note. He read it, looked up at Vlad, and back at the note. “Not to worry. A defense counsel has been assigned to you.” He left.

Not one but four Sarishan barristers appeared soon after.

“Do I really need all of you?” asked Vlad in disbelief. [MORE]

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Thursday, December 11

Jack Frost: Part 13 – Purgatory

"Sector Nine, report!"

The voice of the captain on their cistrons was desperate. "Report!"

"We've got multiple hostiles, sir!" Gunfire crackled over the comm. "They're everywhere. The corpses from the locker room just got up…"

There was more gunfire and screams. "Fall back, fall back!"

Desperate commands and garbled pleas for new orders went back and forth across the comm. as Howell drove into Willis.

Lurching, frozen forms milled about, hungry for warm flesh. She kicked the vehicle into reverse, turning back into the forest to avoid the hungry mob.

"BLUE FLY command," shouted Lewis into the comm., his voice cracking and frantic: "JERICHO! PURGATORY! PURGATORY PURGATORY PURGATORY! God help us all!"

"Oh no," said Howell.

"What?" asked Jim-Bean. "What now?" [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 7b – A Truth of Corruption?

“Your timing is certainly impeccable,” Baecinia said after the conflict was over. “I know I haven’t seen the last of them...but it is no matter. Tell me: did Nutesh val’Mehen make it back to the Silver Cage?”

“He did,” said Sebastian grimly.

“Good. Thanks to you, and our mutual friends, we have shelter and a safe way to escape the city. The message will come out, and in a way that no one will miss it.”

“Yeah, a real win for everybody,” said Kham. “I’m not going to miss this place.”

“Nor I,” said Sebastian. “I only hope what we’ve done here is enough.”

“You have my sincerest thanks. I’m sure we will meet again, and I hope that I will be able to aid you even half as much as you have aided me.”

With that final parting comment, she and her conspirators made their way down the street, disappearing into the throngs of evening travelers in Nishanpur.

“Can we go now?” asked Kham.

“Helac will find us safe passage out,” said Sebastian. “There’s just one last person we need to pick up.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, December 10

Jack Frost: Part 12 – Ahead of the Pack

The howling reached a terrible crescendo, deafening, before the wind lifted, rising upward as if from the earth into the sky, drawing leaves and dead brown pine straws and flakes of ice with it.

Still half-frozen, wild-eyed and crusted with frozen saliva and blood, wild dogs, cats, house pets, and deer stumbled toward the nearest living things for the warmth of their meat and blood.

A pack of starved wolves, frozen to death where they fell in the forest, kept pace with the Humvee. Howell was still driving through rough terrain, struggling to avoid rocks, snow banks, and trees. Two of the wolves scrabbled onto the Humvee. One smashed its ice-hard snout right through the window.

Hammer, still shivering, put his Glocks to the gnashing jaws and fired. The wolf yelped, ice chipping off of its snout, but it lurched forward, struggling with its forepaws to get into the Humvee.

Hammer unloaded the entire pistol into the wolf-thing's face. It shattered into chunks, and the headless body flopped off the side of the Humvee.

"There were two…" said Jim-Bean.

With a terrible wrenching sound, wolf jaws tore through the top of the Humvee. Hammer turned his remaining pistol on the wolf's jaws. It bit down over his pistol.

"Guys!" shouted Howell.

He held the trigger down. Crusted blood and ice erupted in a shower through the hole. The wolf's body thumped its way along the top of the vehicle and off it.

"GUYS!"

Jim-Bean leaned forward to look at what Howell was screaming about. A huge bear rose up in the Humvee’s headlights, its body encrusted with ice and snow, roaring. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 7a – A Truth of Corruption?

Escorting Nutesh val’Mehen back to the Silver Cage was an uneventful but stonily silent trip. Whatever Nutesh thought about the issue, he decided to keep to himself.

“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” said Ilmarė. “Once her story becomes public, what course of action does she intend to pursue to try and see the matter fully investigated?”

“More importantly,” said Sebastian, “how does she stay alive long enough to find out? The Auotcrat won’t tolerate this.”

As they returned to the Ebon Steed, flames exploded out of one of the windows.

Kham drew two pistols. “Looks like someone got to Baecinia first!”

Beldin barreled forward with his axe into the doorway. Sebastian followed behind.

“Nierites!” shouted Beldin. “Don’t they ever give up?” [MORE]

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Tuesday, December 9

The Role of Anonymity in Online Rhetoric

My thesis was quoted for a draft of a research paper:

This escape, however, tends to affect the behavior of anonymous commenters and does not always free them from the consequences of their words. In his article “The Impact of Anonymity on Disinhibitive Behavior Through Computer-Mediated Communication,” Michael Tresca explains that in the use of anonymity “with no fear of retaliation, the inability to perceive or clearly delineate authoritarian positions, and the relative ease with which anonymity can be achieved, a user’s level of disinhibition is likely to be high.” In rhetorical terms, the lack of ethos caused by anonymity leaves the speaker in a position where they believe they cannot be held accountable for their words and are therefore less likely to participate in productive rhetoric. Tresca also delineates disinhibitive actions often taken under the guise of anonymity, including “conspiracy, electronic hate-mail, electronic stalking, libel, disclosure of trade secrets and other valuable intellectual property.” Just this year, an anonymous user created a national stir with his disinhibitive behavior: hacking Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s personal email account. Twenty year old David Kernell then posted both the account name and password on 4chan on September 18th, allowing several hours of access to the account before another anonymous user termed the “Good Samaritan” changed Palin’s password and prevented further access (Citation – AotS video 1). His freedom did not last long – the FBI and Secret Service tracked him down not a month later, and he was indicted on October 10th (Citation – AotS video 2). In this notable case, the illusion of protection that anonymity provides proved to be just that: an illusion. Kernell’s IRL ethos will forever be stained by his online actions, a publicized example of anonymity’s inability to fully disconnect ethos from the speaker. [MORE]

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Jack Frost: Part 11 – Cracked

The shuddering of the temple below sent shockwaves through the ice. The whole tent shook from the violence of the vibration.

Hammer reached for his pistols. One of the guards held his own pistol up. "Don't even think about it."

Hammer slowly but his hands back up. "I think we have bigger problems." The ground was trembling.

Between the guard's legs, a hairline crack traced its way towards Howell. The guard didn't notice. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 6 – A Truth of Purity?

Night fell and the streets were filled with masked and costumed revelers celebrating the Burning Man festival in every way imaginable. A most unusual and unfamiliar sound echoed from every corner and alleyway. It was the sound of laughter and merriment on the city streets of Nishanpur.

Returning with the Sarishan to the Ebon Steed, they found the common room is mostly empty. Caius and the others were settled near the fireplace, discussing matters quietly among themselves. When the Nutesh entered, Baecinia nodded her head and rose, ushering everyone into a private dining room, away from even the few people in the common areas of the inn.

“Good, now we can begin.” Baecinia turned to Sebastian. “Would you do us the honor of shutting the door and making sure we are not disturbed? Listen to our telling, as well, for once this is done, and our record is safe in Sarishan vaults, we would ask you to help us spread this far and wide.”

She turned to Nutesh: “Please witness and record all that is said here. I can assure the honesty of all here, but to lend extra weight to our statements, I would like to use the candle.” Nutesh handed her the large white candle. “By means of this Taper of Truth, let there be no question that all we say is spoken in pure honesty.”

Nutesh readied his quills and parchment and nodded. “Vhen all is done, your testimonies vill be sealed in blood. So it is done, in Sarish’s name. Proceed.” [MORE]

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Monday, December 8

Jack Frost: Part 10 – Tuckered Out

Tucker stepped into the tent.

“Well, well, well. Where’s your playmate?” He asked Hammer, ignoring Howell.

“Down there,” said Jim-Bean. “He’s investigating a shrine.”

“A shrine?” Six other armed men were stationed outside the tent. Tucker was already wearing a wet suit. The other men were still gearing up. “A shrine to what?”

“Ithaqua,” said Hammer. “He’s bad news. I’d be careful out there, we set some bear traps out too.”

“Bear traps? Out here on the ice?”

Hammer shrugged. “You never know.”

“Yeah, right. What did you find down--”

Jim-Bean’s voice shrieked over the comm. “Hammer, it’s Hodges! He’s down here!”

The ice shuddered beneath them, nearly knocking Tucker off balance. “What the hell?”

“Oh that can’t be good,” said Hammer. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 5b – A Reunion

“What’s so special about a block of wax?” asked Kham.

“Dis is no ordinary candle. It is a promise of payment,” said Nutesh. “It is also a Taper of Truth. No lies can be told in its presence. It vill verify dat vhat Baecinia asks me to bear vitness vill be told truly.”

“And we’re bringing you along because…” added Ilmarė.

“Because all who bear vitness vill be Oathbound by Sarish. Dis is no small thing dat Baecinia asks.”

Kham took a swig of his wineskin.

“Don’t worry,” said Sebastian. “The Vorleraths only show up if you break your oath.”

“I didn’t say I was worried,” said Kham. “I just don’t like being bound to oaths.”

“On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t say anything,” added Ilmarė. [MORE]

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Saturday, December 6

Jack Frost: Part 9 – The Temple

The dome was constructed of a strange conjunction of metals and crystalline shapes. Gold and electrum was wrapped among another metal. The metals were twisted and fashioned with great precision, delicate yet unpleasant, around contorted crystalline shapes of no known mineral. The shrine depicted no specific shape or symbol, though there was no question that it was fashioned with some unknown meaning.

Jim-Bean took his breathing mask, goggles, and flippers off. He kept the flashlight on his head. The underwater camera hovered just outside the air bubble.

The temple structure was clearly of alien manufacture. While the structure was not offensive to the human eye, there was something vaguely off about it, something that indicated on a subconscious level it was not a work of man. In the center of the temple was the altar. Ominously, the altar in the center of the dome was most suggestive of a dentist's chair.

The interior has an odd smell to it. There was a pile of skulls and bones collected in one side of the temple.

Jim-Bean crept over to the bones. He snapped a flare and dropped it by the bones.

“I don’t know what these are,” he said over the comm., “but they don’t look human.” He picked some of them up and put them in an evidence bag. Then he made his way over to the altar.

Static answered him. Signals weren’t going in or out of the temple. “Great,” said Jim-Bean to nobody. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 5a – A Reunion

As day began to fade into twilight, the crowds of shoppers thinned. A small numbers of early partygoers began to make their way through the city streets. The festival promised to be huge, in spite of the tension in the city...or perhaps because of it.

An older woman approached, crossing the market with a bit more ease than was possible earlier in the day. She had graying auburn hair and gray eyes. She walked with poise and confidence, her posture almost rigidly straight, and moved straight to Caius.

“Ah, are these the ones you spoke of, Caius?” she said.

“You must be Baecinia.” Sebastian inclined his head. “I am Sebastian Arnyal.” He began to introduce the others when Baecinia interrupted him.

“I can see they are,” said Baecinia. “Tell me, have you been able to locate our friends?”

“Yes,” said Sebastian. “All of them are going to meet you at the Ebon Steed at the agreed-upon time.”

Baecinia smiled thinly. “I hope Caius has negotiated a fair settlement with you for your services? Yes?”

“Actually…” began Ilmarė. [MORE]

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Friday, December 5

Jack Frost: Part 8 – Examining the Lake

The most immediately striking feature of Crow Lake was the presence of the Crow Lake Mounds, just off-shore. These five mounds were arranged in a pentagram, each of them about twelve feet tall and thirty feet in diameter, covered in the same thick, rough grass as the rest of the ground nearby.

Howell pushed her glasses up her nose. Her skin was red and raw from the flash-freezing she suffered, but she had recovered well. “Fascinating.” She tapped some keys on her cistron.

“Indian mounds,” said Jim-Bean.

Howell shook her head. “According to newspaper reports, these mounds were built in the twentieth century, by Hiram Bates. Bates claimed he felt the touch of the "spirits" of the Shrine. He became fixated on the notion that by building a mound would somehow placate the ghosts or spirits that haunted him. When the dreams did not cease after he built the first mound, he went to work on the next one. When five mounds were built, he lost all hope; there’s a brief news report of his suicide.”

“I thought they did an aerial survey of the Lake already?” asked Hammer.

“Bimmel’s team?” Howell snorted. “Aerial surveys noted the pentagonal arrangement of the mounds, indicating intelligent construction, but they’re not interested in archaeology. Bimmel’s too busy taking broad surveys of the area and examining the corpses.”

“Got any equipment in the Humvee we can use to explore the lake?” asked Jim-Bean.

Howell nodded. “I have a fish finder. It’s not much, but when you told me to stow equipment to explore the lake I thought it might come in handy. I also brought along a submersible camera…”

“We’re going to have to go out on the ice,” said Hammer with a frown.

“I brought an ice tent and drill,” said Howell. “And two wet suits.”

“Good girl,” said Jim-Bean.

Howell blushed. “I’ll go get the equipment.” [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 4 – A Smith

Kham returned to the others with a self-satisfied smirk. “Jurbe will go to the meeting.”

Sebastian clapped Kham’s back in surprise. “How in the world did you manage that?”

The val shrugged. “Sometimes you have to earn peoples’ trust.”

“And you know all about that,” said Ilmarė flatly.

“Who’s next on the list?” Sebastian asked Beldin before another argument broke out.

Beldin scanned the list. “The third name on the list is Angven Des. Hmm, there’s a Master Smith in Nishanpur named Harmon Des. If I remember correctly, Angven is his niece.”

“You know her?” asked Sebastian.

Beldin stroked his beard. “I know of her. Angven’s been working at her uncle’s forge, Harmon’s Harnessing.”

“Well since you’re a dwarf,” Kham said to Beldin, stating the obvious. “You handle this one.”

“Now wait a minute,” began Beldin, “just because we’re of the same race—“

“Oh come on, you’re a natural charmer,” rapped a knuckle on Beldin’s helmet. “It’s a woman, right? Say something nice about her eyes when you meet her.”

Beldin grumbled something under his breath. [MORE]

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Thursday, December 4

DVD Review: Beast With a Billion Backs

As one big joke about relationships and religion, Beast With a Billion Backs works pretty well. But for reasons known only to the writers, the plot shambles forward well beyond the Big Revelation by Leela about Yivo, the aforementioned Spaghetti Monster. It's like the drunk guy at a party who tells a joke, discovers no one thinks it's funny, then tells it in a slightly different way that STILL doesn't make it funny. We get it: relationships with people can be just as ridiculous as relationships with God. But this is Futurama, and while I appreciate the depth of meaning the show strives for with this movie, it feels forced. A multitude of guest appearances doesn't make up for it. [MORE]

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DVD Review: Bender's Big Score

It's not bad. It's just not fantastic. Bender's Big Score is a series of muddled plot points, pointless cameos, and a lot of "hey, look, we gave you what you wanted!" fan service. It's great to have a DVD comeback of a great show, but I expected better from a feature-length movie. I mean, Internet scams? That's so ten years ago! [MORE]

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DVD Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a much improved film, but it's the foundation for the Bond mythology, and as such it breaks previous expectations and struggles to establish new ones. It's much better than the Bond films that went before it, but they set the bar pretty low. As a book-end to Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale can't be really appreciated without seeing the two movies back-to-back. [MORE]

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Jack Frost: Part 7 – Dreams of Sacrifice


Jim-Bean awoke in the throes of adrenaline reaction, the "fight or flight" reflex of a physical threat. He was also hungry.

He paged Hammer over his cistron. “Hammer. HAMMER! You awake?”

There was a grunt on the other side. “I am now.”

“I think we should investigate the lake.”

“What lake? Crow Lake?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I’ve had a weird dream. About Indians.”

“I miss Blade too.”

“Who?”

“Blade? Our deceased teammate, remember?”

“Oh, right.”

Hammer sighed on the other end. “I’ll get Howell.” [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 3 – An Undertaker

The second person on the list was Jurbe Nasaran. He was described as a human male, with red hair and hazel eyes, and a scar on his right arm.

“That’s it?” asked Kham. “That’s something to start with, but not terribly distinctive in a city with a lot of red-haired Nierite soldiers.”

“He’s also a priest of Nier,” said Beldin.

Ilmarė rolled her eyes. “And there’s not enough of THOSE in Nishanpur.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, December 3

Jack Frost: Part 6 – Quarantine

This time they had Sprague’s attention.

“The source of the cold was the arrival of this big ice demon known as Ithaqua. He’s summoned with THIS.” Jim-Bean held up the cracked Eye of Ithaqua, which was now frozen and dark. Archive had snuck it to him before being dragged off the site.

“That’s…a snow globe, you realize that?” asked Sprague.

“Yeah,” said Jim-Bean. “But it’s something else too. Some kind of artifact. And we think this demon guy is what is animating the zombies,” said Jim-Bean. “Ice zombies.”

Sprague crossed his arms. “Oh really. And you have evidence of this?”

“Errr…” Jim-Bean looked helplessly at Hammer. “Well, we torched them.”

“You torched them? You burnt the evidence?”

“Pretty much, yeah.” [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 2 – A Seer

Traevus val’Virdan was the first of the named ‘witnesses’ on the list provided by Caius.

“You sure this is the place?” asked Kham.

Sebastian nodded. “According to my sources, this is his residence.”

Beldin took up his axe and stood to one side of the door. Ilmarė, thinblade at the ready, stood on the other.

“Let’s try knocking first,” Sebastian said with a smile. He knocked three times. [MORE]

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Tuesday, December 2

Giant amoebas found rolling on sea floor

http://1416andcounting.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/the-blob.jpgUsing a research submarine, marine biologists in the Bahamas have discovered large numbers of an unknown, grape-sized, single-celled animal slowly rolling across the sea floor.

"[It's] huge for a single cell. If I had cells that big I'd be six kilometres tall and weigh three trillion kilograms," said Sönke Johnsen, a biologist at Duke University in North Carolina, and the expedition's chief scientist.

Single-celled animals, known as protists, are usually the size of a pin-head or much smaller, but the size of this "sea-grape" isn't the most unusual thing about it.

"We watched the video over and over," said Johnsen. "We argued about it forever… [we thought] these things can't possibly be moving. There are other large protists, but none of them move." [MORE]

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Jack Frost: Part 5 – The Howl of Sirens

Jim-Bean and Hammer dropped Howell off at the base. They scarcely arrived before the howl of the emergency sirens went off. Sprague summoned them to his tent.

“Fifteen minutes ago, one of the reconnaissance helicopters crashed while attempting to return to the base, probably due to the weather conditions.”

Jim-Bean and Hammer exchanged glances. They knew what caused the crash.

“We’re having the chopper defrosted now. I want you to go out there and find out what happened.”

“We know what happened,” interrupted Jim-Bean.

Sprague crossed his arms. “You can give me your report when you get back. Tucker is running circles around us and I want you two to get the jump on him before he gets there. ”

“But sir—“ began Hammer.

“NOW,” said Sprague, brooking no argument.

Hammer and Jim-Bean joined a chopper pilot at the recently defrosted helicopter. It was already gearing up for takeoff when they arrived.

Jim-Bean donned noise cancelling headphones. “Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea to use one helicopter in bad weather to find another helicopter in bad weather?”.

“Don’t worry!” shouted the pilot. “The designer probably wouldn’t be pleased with this method of flight prep, the helicopter’s advanced construction makes it able to withstand the stresses of freezes and thaws. Once airborne and powered up, the heating elements incorporated into the helicopter will be adequate to keep the ice formation down to a minimum.”

“That makes me feel much better,” said Jim-Bean. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Part 1 – A Request

Though it was not as large as the Bone Market, the Lower Market in the Trade Quarter of Nishanpur still featured a staggering variety of goods of sale. There were foodstuffs of all varieties, innumerable household goods, and even a blacksmith selling arms and armor of Sarishan steel. The Factors’ Guildhouse was the largest building in the square, and it, along with every pub and inn, was thronged with people of all sizes and descriptions. Merchants displayed their wares on tables, in booths, or just on rugs spread out on any available patch of ground, creating a maze of milling people.

One of the male merchants, who had a bit of a Hinterlander look about him, was having a rather animated debate with a female Val customer, both of them alternately pointing at one another and at the various goods that the merchant had laid out on a colorful rug. After a moment, the woman threw up her arms in disgust and marched away, quickly disappearing into the crowd. The merchant, a somewhat sheepish look on his face, sighed and began rearranging his wares, which included a number of gemstones and even some ingots of a strange, reddish-tinted metal.

“Who was that woman?” asked Sebastian.

The merchant was a man of middle age, of average height with a lean but not overly muscular build. He had dark auburn hair, slightly graying, and brown eyes. He looked rather unsettled and nervous

“Yes...well, er...that was not a customer...that was my, ah, wife, actually.” The merchant spoke Low Coryani with a Hinterlander/Altharin accent that placed him as an Erdukeen. “She and I are new to the city, and so far our journey has not been very successful. She is ...unhappy ...with my efforts thus far in resolving our situation, and my wife is not a woman who hesitates to make her displeasure known. There is no mistaking the echoes of Nier’s fire that flow in her veins, that’s for certain!”

“Yeah, Nierite ladies can be a fiery lot.” Kham chuckled at some joke only he got. [MORE]

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Monday, December 1

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - the AWFUL TRUTH!

I just have to get this off my chest, because nobody else seems to be making this connection on the Internet:

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is a pretty macabre song, all things considered. Grandma, drunk and undermedicated, stumbles out into the snow and suffers a hit-and-run incident by a popular Christmas character. Pretty sucky Christmas day, if you ask me.

But if you consider for a moment that Santa didn't do it (either because he doesn't exist or because Santa is a much better driver than that), then there's one other person who seems to be an obvious culprit.

Now were all so proud of Grandpa.
He's been takin' this so well.
See him in there watchin' football,
drinkin' beer and playin' cards with cousin Belle.
Granpa's taking it all a little TOO well, don't you think? Grandpa clearly murdered grandma, stamped hoof prints on her forehead and "Claus" marks on her back (what is that, a boot print?). Why would grandma go out in the snow by herself? What the heck was grandpa doing? Plotting her murder, that's what. She probably died from her lack of medicine -- what medicine was that, anyway? Grandpa got her drunk, conveniently forgot her medication, and then left her to die in the snow!

He was offing the old biddy! Now that you know the truth, can we all stop listening to this awful song? Or at least bring grandpa up on charges?

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Jack Frost: Part 4 – The First Night


Jim-Bean followed Howell up the slope. He looked around after the long climb.

“Wow, you’re right,” he said. “It is a beautiful view.” Jim-Bean took out a cigarette and lit it.

He tried to spark the lighter several times with no luck.

Howell brought a mini-acetylene torch to Jim-Bean’s cigarette and lit it for him.

Jim-Bean grinned at her. “You know with a pixie haircut and a bit of makeup you wouldn’t be half--”

He was cut off by a terrible howling: it wavered across the earth from some point unutterably far above, deeper and more mournful than the wind or any animal of the wild, undulating slowly over endless minutes.

A moment of silence gripped the air, and then the howling begins again, filling the night. The air grew colder, achingly cold.

“Look!” shouted Howell. [MORE]

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Purity and Corruption: Prologue

The weeklong Burning Man festival was finally coming to a close. Tensions were high; the week had witnessed a series of clashes between the Swords of Nier and the populace. Everyone was expecting something to happen, but what exactly that would be was anyone’s guess.

If ever there were a night for strange events, the last day of the Burning Man festival was it. In honor of Cadic, everyone went masked, with many groups of revelers traveling around in gaudy costumes. Like a dark carnival, the general citizenry held lavish parties, and all social boundaries were temporarily suspended.

“It reminds me too much of the King in Yellow,” said the purple-and-silver haired elorii with a frown. “I don’t like it.”

“If something is going to happen, it will happen tonight,” replied her dark-kin companion. Sebastian smoothed back bone-white hair. “What better time for an insurrection against the oppression of the Swords of Nier to rise, than the night when no one can clearly be identified and nothing is necessarily what it seems?” [MORE]

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