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Thursday, April 30

Angular Gods: Part 7 – The Tick-Tock Man

Dr. Lisa Howell, Guppy’s former girlfriend, worked for USAMRIID, an organization of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. It was the lead medical research laboratory for the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program. The Institute played a key role as the only laboratory in the Department of Defense equipped to safely study highly hazardous infectious agents requiring maximum containment at biosafety level-4. It also worked for Majestic-12.

Fort Detrick was located in Frederick, Maryland, in the heart of Frederick County, the third fastest growing county in Maryland. Fort Detrick was the center of the biomedical technology growth that had occurred in the county. It was located approximately one hour’s drive from Washington D.C. metro area and Baltimore, Maryland, easily accessible by major interstate highways.

They tried calling Howell’s cell phone, sent emails, faxes, nothing. There was a lockdown of all government communications.

The agents pulled up to Fort Detrick.

“You guys go inside,” said Jim-Bean. “I’m…” he looked pale. “Not feeling so good.”

Guppy didn’t argue. He sprinted towards the entrance. [MORE]

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Secret of Semar: Part 4a – The Evils of (Wo)Man

Sebastian landed on the ground with a whoosh of his wings. They were reptilian in appearance, scaly and black, with a thin membrane spanning each talon. Dust whirled around him.

Vlad eyed Sebastian. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”

“You and me both.” Sebastian folded his wings. “I spotted a plume of smoke just a few hundred yards away from here.”

“The tracks do not lead in that direction,” said Mashudu. “They continue northward. But there is a Hutili village that way. They help our tribe in mining precious metals and gems.”

Beldin grunted. “Sounds like they need our help.”

Kham let out an exasperated sigh. “Do we have to save everybody around here?” [MORE]

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Interview with Jake Alley of World Domination

I recently spoke with Jake Alley, of World Domination, based in Niantic, CT. He's been publishing tabletop games since 2007, and designing them since a good long while before that. World Domination’s flagship game is The Massive Vs. The Masses (MvM), a thrilling giant monster vs. everybody else board game. [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 29

Angular Gods: Part 6 – Fractal Gods

The real heart of CCS was in the basement. Every door was protected by a series of computer locks and the only means of bypassing them was via a set of security cards. Fortunately, Morrow had access.

They passed a sign beyond a pair of steel doors that read: “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.” After passing through a long tunnel, they entered the testing labs.

The testing labs could only be seen as darkness through the window, lit by the occasional flash of reddish light, flaring and dying away. There were definitely larger machines in the lab, but it was difficult to make out what they were. They appeared to be hulking metallic shapes in the darkness, and the flares of light revealed coils of heavy, twisted cables strewn over the floor.

Guppy slid Morrow’s card along the reader and the door to the lab hissed open.

The room itself was dimly lit. The machines had become warped and pitted, as if they suffered severe metal fatigue. Odd smells drifted through the air, and occasionally mist rolled over the cables.

“These are all PlayPals,” said Guppy, inspecting the machines.

“So they’re using the computing power to control the Hounds of Tindalos,” said Archive.

Just then a tall, skull-faced man with receding white hair and yellow teeth entered on the other side of the corridor, eyes blazing. He was dressed in a conservative, dark suit cut in an old style. Four security guards stood behind him with automatic weapons.

“That must be Morton,” said Jim-Bean. [MORE]

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Secret of Semar: Part 3b – The Hunters Return

Kham drank from a gourd. It wasn’t Savonan Red, but it would do.

Atum chanted in front of a small fire. Shadows danced across his features. He had been chanting all night, slowly crafting a strange doll-like object made of wood. Between each chant he would insert a metal bit into it.

“I know of you.” Atum addressed Kham without looking up from his task. “You are of the Abebi tribe. The Orisha tell me that your people left Nyambe-Tanda after the Leaving Time.”

Kham blinked. “Are you saying my ancestors came from this land?”

“Yes. The orisha tell me the Abebi tribe tried to take the knowledge of the Kosan to rule over the rest of Nyambe-Tanda. Of all the humans on Nyambe-Tanda, only your tribe bent nature and the gifts of the Overpower to your will, rather than living in harmony with the land.”

Kham took another swig. “That sounds about right.” [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 28

Angular Gods: Part 5 – Hail to the Chief

Centurion Computer System’s new headquarters sat on flat, empty fields in Partridgeville, which in turn were surrounded by an electric fence that stretched all around the complex except across the main gate. There was a medium-sized sign with “CCS Ltd-MAIN COMPLEX” written on it and a gatehouse. The entire area around CCS seemed empty and lifeless, a feeling enhanced by the way hardly anyone seemed to come and go from the building.

Walter Morrow leaned out his Honda Civic window to greet one of the guards.

“Sir!” said one of the two guards, surprised to see him. “We haven’t seen you in so long.”

Morrow smiled and slid his badge along the scanner. “I’m coming with a few guests. Do you mind clearing them?”

The sensor flashed green.

“Not at all sir,” said the guard. He waved to the other guard and the gate opened.

Jim-Bean, disguised as Morrow, grinned at Guppy. “And that’s how we kick it old school.” [MORE]

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Secret of Semar: Part 3a – The Hunters Return

Before they could do much more than assess each other, a small man with a long wiry beard pushed his way through the crowd. He was dark-skinned, like the others, and wore only a white linen skirt. He looked at Sebastian in surprise and spoke in a rapid-fire language they did not understand.

After a moment the old man took out a small rattle and intoned in a guttural language.

“He’s casting a spell.” Sebastian kept his arms crossed, although his wings flexed in agitation.

Vlad’s hand went to his sword.

“It’s fine,” said Sebastian. “Everyone stay calm.”

“My name is Atum,” said the old man, “and hopefully you can understand me now.”

Sebastian nodded. “I can. I am called Sebastian Arnyal. This is Vlad Martell, Beldin Soulforge, and Kham val’Abebi. Our unconscious friend is Ilmarė Galen.”

Atum’s brow knitted with concern. “Did you come from the stone ring?” One long, crooked finger pointed at an arching stone structure where they had appeared.

“Yes. We are in pursuit of lizard people who came through here.”

Atum nodded. “Ah yes. There was a snake man who was a powerful sorcerer. He caused the huts to erupt into flames with just a wave of his hand.”

“Ffashethh,” growled Kham. “Damn it.” [MORE]

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Hope for gamers over thirty

If you're over 30 and play online, then Geezer Gamers is the place for you. Don't let the name fool you: Geezer Gamers are not just old men waving canes at their Commodore 64s. The community has a diverse range of age and gender, organized into clans. Each clan fits a specific targeted audience, be it by geography (Northeast United States), occupation (police officers), or gender (women only). These clans are the heart of Geezer gamers, competing, organizing, and gathering together to play games and have fun. There's also cross-pollination between the clans, ensuring that the greater Geezer Gamer family that looks out for its own. [MORE]

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Monday, April 27

Angular Gods: Part 4 – Family Matters

Several men dressed in white outfits crept up to the door.

White Shadows. Hammer knew them well.

“Tcho-tchos,” snarled Hammer. “I hate Tcho-tchos.”

He hid around the corner and waited. He had to draw them in first.

A wiry little man wearing dark sunglasses and a business suit stood in the doorway. He barked some commands in Vietnamese and the White Shadows spread out.

Hammer leapt out from his hiding place and, with both Glocks blazing, unleashed the entire clips in a spray at the front door.

The leader held up one hand and some of the bullets ricocheted off of his palm, peppering his nearby companions. They went down, twitching.

But Hammer kept firing. The onslaught was too much even for tcho-tcho magic. The Vietnamese man fell, gurgling from a bullet that pierced his defenses and struck him in the throat. The other White Shadows fled.

The other agents came downstairs.

Jim-Bean stared in wonder at the carnage of tcho-tcho corpses. “Jesus, Hammer, have a bad day?” [MORE]

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Secret of Semar: Part 2 – Massacre

Beldin followed the sounds of screaming and yelling coming from a pair of children and a young woman in front of a flame-wrapped hut. As he approached, the woman rushed into the burning hut and did not reemerge.

“I think she’s passed out inside!” shouted Beldin. A bitter, acrid-smelling smoke spewed from the hut.

Beldin put his shield just below his eyes and charged through the flames.

Seconds past. The dwarf didn’t come back out.

Vlad looked at Kham.

“Don’t look at me.” Kham had Ilmarė in his arms. “I’m worried they’ll eat her or something.” [MORE]

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Accurately representing druids in RPGs

This Beltane, we explore the history of druids and compare their gaming incarnations to their historical roots. ...
Keep Reading »

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Saturday, April 25

Angular Gods: Part 3 – Sacrifices Must Be Made

As Hammer opened the door, his nostrils were assaulted by the smell of rotting meat and the faint buzzing of flies.

“Got the safe open,” said Guppy over the comm. There’s a diary.”

“What’s it say?” asked Hammer. “We’re entering the attic now.”

“Someone named Cho Chu-tsao introduced Morrow to Blink,” said Guppy. “He made her his personal assistant. Then he signed proxy votes of Tiger Transit over to Matthew Lewis, making him Chairman of the Board and CEO. Sounds like he was addicted to the stuff.”

The attic was entered via a very steep staircase that led from the upper landing. Hammer and Archive ascended the stairs. The smell became progressively stronger and stronger until they stepped out onto a confined area, a room piled up to the sloping rafters with sheet-covered crates.

“Something went wrong,” continued Guppy. “Morrow took something new from the tcho-tchos, a more pure version of Blink. His mind went back, far back. Then he says something followed him to the present.”

Archive nodded. “That’s what I was afraid of.” [MORE]

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Secret of Semar: Part 1 – The First Secret of Semar

The usual tingling, slightly euphoric feeling of passing through one gate and exiting through another thousands of miles away was missing. In its place was pain like Kham had never experienced before. 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.

Ilmarė, pale and unconscious, lay on the floor beside him. Beldin, Vlad, and Sebastian stumbled in a second later.

Sebastian dropped to the ground and retched.

“Are you okay?” asked Beldin. The dwarf seemed hardly affected.

“I…don’t feel…right…” said Sebastian.

The stench of burning flesh and the moaning of the wounded filled the air.

“Ahh!” shouted Kham. “Cut that out!”

A small group of dark-skinned children poked Kham with short spears. They stared at the strange quartet in wild-eyed fear and were dressed solely in thick leather sandals. [MORE]

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Angular Gods: Part 2 – Hanging Around

Hammer and Guppy came upon a swinging body, hung from the stairs. It was Morrow.

He was naked, with a full beard and shoulder length hair, both gray. His long fingernails hadn’t been cut in weeks.

“We found this note taped to his chest.” Jim-Bean handed Hammer a note. “It’s addressed to somebody named Melissa.”

“The answer might be in the wall safe we found in his bedroom.” Archive came out of Morrow’s bedroom. “But we can’t open it.”

Hammer nodded at Guppy.

“On it!” chirped Guppy. He disappeared into the bedroom.

Hammer scanned the note. “Blackened cities, twisted shells of buildings. Tortured souls penned for the spheres to feed on from between the planes. What does: Chu htn llo han zob kzad mean?”

“That’s a Tindalosian chant!” began Archive but it was too late. [MORE]

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Secret of Semar: Prologue

Kham was led to the central fortress, a large squat stone tower with smaller side buildings flanking it before they melded into the massive walls that surrounded the city. The boy moved unerringly through the winding streets towards the entrance. The walls of the buildings appeared pocked marked and scorched. Some very heavy fighting had taken place there.

Kham shouldered past a series of weary but agitated sentries with but a few words. It was not long before he was being led downward, deeper into the bowels of the citadel. The air became progressively cooler and damp the further he penetrated the foundations of the fortress.

Ilmarė looked around, eyes wide. “This looks familiar.”

“Yes, the construction reminds me—“ began Beldin.

“Don’t say it,” interrupted Kham. “I know what you’re going to say. Just don’t say it.”

Finally, the runner stopped before an immense door made of dark wood and bound by steel. A few moments later he banged on the door, it swung open easily. A reddish glow suffused the chamber within.

They had arrived at the bottommost chamber of the citadel. It was a huge room, over a hundred feet square. It was featureless, with the exception of a central platform ten feet high. Four sets of ramps led up to the top of the platform where an irregularly shaped stone ring stood. The eerie red glow came from the empty central portion of the ring, bathing everything within the chamber with its light.

“A Ssethregoran gate,” Ilmarė said quietly, despite Kham’s protests.

“I told you not to say it,” muttered Kham. [MORE]

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Friday, April 24

Angular Gods: Part 1 – On the Morrow

The sleepy old colonial town of Partridgeville was small and decaying, and had a New England air about it. There was a village green, narrow winding streets, clapboard cottages, and a white-steeple Congregational church. Out from the center of town, the streets broadened and straighten, and the yards were deep and shady. Out even further were housing developments and a shabby industrial area.

From the outside, Morrow’s house looked perfectly normal. It was a small, two-storied, country house with what appeared to be an attic, and was made from stone with a thatched roof. A van was parked outside. There was no sign of movement about the place, and all of the curtains were drawn closed, except in the attic where it looked as if the small gable windows had been painted over. The garden was well-trimmed, with several small rose-beds and a tall hedge enclosing it from outside observers.

“Phone line’s been cut,” said Hammer, pointing at where the wires would normally connect to the house.

They made their way inside, pistols out. Guppy disabled the alarm system and then unlocked the door.

Inside, the house was well-made, with thick stone walls and new wooden floorboards. All of the rooms combined to create the image of someone who was intensely house-proud, but at the same time loved old worn and used furniture. There were numerous antiques about, many of a simple, pine design. All of the floors were carpeted, and all the rooms were based around a central chimney which had fires in each of the three main ground floor rooms.

The entire house was curved. All the interior walls, windows, and furniture were formed without angles. It gave the normally rustic house a retro space-age look. The filling material was not part of the house proper, a sort of filler foam that clashed with the otherwise attractive home.

Archive looked around. “This is…this is very strange.” [MORE]

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Chapter 51: The Secret of Semar - Introduction

This is a Year Two Living Arcanis adventure, “The Secret of Semar” by Henry Lopez, 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/dwarven defender) 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 takes our heroes to a very different location all the way on the other side of Arcanis. It also has its share of revelations and deaths, and I can honestly say I was surprised how this adventure turned out.

Traveling to Nyambe provides a convenient means of bridging the quest for the King in Yellow with the events in Onara. I replaced the Agogwe with Tcho-Tchos, the ssanu with Ffashethh the samat, Semet with Emric the half-breed, and the final villain with…well, you’ll see.

More importantly, this story hour wraps up a major villain, a major ally, and the announcement of an important event in both the game and in real life. In case you’re wondering, yes, this is how I told my friends. :) [MORE]

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Thursday, April 23

The Horror! How You're Going to Die

Planning a character’s death can be just as rewarding as creating one. [MORE]

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Angular Gods: Prologue

Futures made of virtual insanity
now always seem to be governed by this love we have
for useless, twisting, of our new technology
Oh now there is no sound, for we all live underground

--Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai

It was night. A storm was beginning outside, but the agents were fortunately in a warm place.

Jim-Bean handed Guppy his cistron and Beretta. "Welcome back."

Guppy squinted at Jim-Bean. "Thanks, I think." He was still getting accustomed to life as an agent. They were at the apartment rented in New York City as their temporary base of operations. Guppy scanned his thumbprint. It read: ON PROBATION.

“I’m sure it’s temporary,” said Jim-Bean.

Archive smirked. “Just like my ‘Friendly’ status that Hammer applied for, right?”

There was an awkward silence when Hammer walked into the kitchen. Hammer was somewhat responsible for putting Guppy on mental health leave. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Conclusion

Semar had been liberated, but at a terrible cost. The city and its people would never be the same. They had witnessed the brutality of the Ssethregoran horde firsthand.

Somehow, Kham had produced a wineskin. He took a long drink. He had seen things he would never be able to tell anyone without several bottles of strong drink.

Muatma addressed them all, holding one arm with the other, useless and bleeding. “Some of you have lost trusted companions and love ones. Some of you have witnessed great acts of bravery and terrible acts of cowardice.”

Kham thought of Quablo. Was he dead? Did it matter?

“We have all seen the best and worst of man and beast.”

He thought of Bijoux and Calactyte. Calactyte had been buried under the rubble. They were forced to abandon Bijoux in their flight to the citadel. She could fly, but could she escape the flying Ssethregoran troops? Would she even care to?

“We have been tested by battle and survived!”

The crowd gave a cheer. Muatma left to survey the battlefield.

All around them was the carnage of war. A child’s bloody rag doll lay silently next to a broken sword. An empty baby carriage sat idly on its side next to a destroyed temple. A tattered Shining Patrol banner wafted languidly in the breeze, keeping silent time with Ilmarė’s hauntingly beautiful lament for the dead. [MORE]

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Character crossovers in gaming and media

The hero pastiche has precedent in modern fiction: Monsters vs. Aliens. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Watchmen. The Hartford Examiner reviews how these odd crossovers are reflective of a typical gaming group. [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 22

I Was Interviewed on Geezer Radio!

Five people on one show...what could go wrong? That question and more are answered in this weeks episode of Geezer Community Cast. Enjoy. [MORE]

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Chapter 37: Angular Gods - Introduction

This story hour is a combination of “Fractal Gods” by Steve Hatherley from The Stars Are Right and “Angular Dreams” by Angus Boylan from The Last Province #1. 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:

Of all the scenarios we’ve played, this is probably the one I tinkered with the most. I took the elements involving Tiger Transit, Coca Loco, and the Tcho-Tcho from Delta Green: Countdown, mixed it with the previously alien-technology swiping of Centurion Computer Systems and Walter Morrow, threw in the Hound of Tindalos-summoning fractal virus, the virtual hangout of Lord Vapor from d20 Cyberscape, the Tick-Tock Man, Terrors from Beyond, a certain geeky damsel in distress…and by the end of it ended up with something that looks a lot like Tron.

The vibe I was trying to go for at the very beginning of the scenario was the same effect as The Ring: the idea that every television (or in this case, cistron) could be a gateway to another world.

Unfortunately, the scenario also looked a lot like the scenario just before it: trapped in another dimension? Check. Can a hacker modify what the agents inside experience? Check. Guppy the central role? Check. In terms of game mechanics, there’s not necessarily that much of a difference between a dream world and a virtual world. I didn’t realize the similarities until we were playing the scenarios back-to-back.

That said, this scenario was an opportunity for Guppy to show off his utility, prove he can still be a team player, and reconnect him with yet another ex-girlfriend. It will serve as a springboard to The Wild Hunt and At Your Door. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 11d – The Final Stand

A large blue Agamis swung its halberd at Kham. He ducked, and the monster struck a fellow ss’ressen, then another. Ilmarė fired two arrows into the blue ss’ressen, causing it to reel back with a cry.

Sebastian pointed at another ss’ressen and a magical bolt ripped through its skull.

An Agamis swung its whip in circles above its head. It swung at Ilmarė and she dodged it.

Rubbery dun-colored tentacles sprung up out of the ground between the ss’ressen and the citadel, leaving a slim path for the ss’ressen to pass through.

“Herd them towards the center!” shouted Sebastian. [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 21

American Stonehenge

The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it's hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it. [MORE]

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Killzone 2 Graphics Technology and the Evolution of the FPS

Joe Tresca why Playstation Fans have something to look forward to that is mind blowing! [MORE]

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Dreams: Conclusion

Hammer blinked awake inside the Dream Imager. Archive was just getting up.

They ran upstairs. Jim-Bean was there, opening the door to the Dreamweb. Guppy groggily disconnected himself from the myriad of wires entwining him.

“It is over?” asked Guppy.

“Yeah,” Caprice’s voice clicked over the intercom. “The light over the lake stopped. Everybody else is dead. I think it’s safe to raise the curtains.” The metal curtains covering the windows slowly winched upwards.

They escorted Guppy outwards. The entire facility was eerily silent. Piling into Jim-Bean’s car, they drove past the gate. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 11c – The Final Stand

“I know you for who and what you are!”

An old man, clad in only a white robe, was the source of the voice and he seemed to address the dragon. Surrounding him were a score of dwarves bearing the distinctive beards of the Encali enclave.

“Illiir will have now what was once denied!” shouted the old man.

The dwarves gestured in unison with him as he chanted a ritual. The dragon’s head snapped around, eyeing the ritual uncertainty. For the first time, the beast hesitated.

With a lightning fast motion, the dragon released another stream of unstoppable fire against the citadel. The old man simply raised his hands and the fire parted harmlessly around him. In the fire, something was outlined…a ghostly image made of the purest white light, with hands outstretched in supplication and angelic wings raised behind it.

“Valinor,” whispered Sebastian.

Seeing his breath weapon so easily thwarted, the dragon suddenly took flight, seeking to flee the battlefield. It had reached the edge of the horizon just as the chant of the dwarves reached a fever pitch. The chanting abruptly ended and as the dragon crested the nearby mountain range, a huge explosion engulfed the creature.

The shockwave traveled for miles, sundering stone, wood, and flesh. Even at a distance, Sebastian was knocked off his feet by the concussion. The dragon was nowhere to be seen, the only evidence of its passing a corkscrew of smoke athat disappeared out of sight.

Muatma circled Sebastian and Ilmarė on his horse. “Reform the line! Reform the line!”

With the loss of their greatest weapon, the Ssethregoran army seemed to despair. The outnumbered Patrolmen began fighting with renewed fury. [MORE]

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Dying Earth on Earth Day

As gamers celebrate Earth Day, it’s worth pausing to consider a different kind of earth that strongly influenced fantasy gaming: Dying Earth. Keep Reading »

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Gaming for Free in a Recession

With the current state of the economy, gaming on a limited budget is entirely possible with the use of your computer...
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Monday, April 20

Dreams: Part 19 – Execution Scenario 2

“It’s time,” said the warden, accompanied by three corrections officers.

Hammer was too disoriented to stand up. Where the hell was he?

The officers helped Hammer to his feet and he began walking to the death chamber.

It was a small gray room with cinder-block walls and a large wooden chair in the center of the room. One wall featured a large plate-glass window, and Hammer could see three rows of folding chairs behind it, where some men and women in suits were scribbling notes or just watching.

Hammer was placed in the chair and his forearms, ankles, waist, chest, and head were tightly secured. A well-worn leather mask was placed over his face, leaving only his nose exposed. Then two electrodes were placed upon his body. The first was attached to a metal receptacle that was encased in a leather shell and rested on top of his head. The second was attached to his hairless right calf.

A sponge was dipped in water and placed on top of Hammer’s head, underneath the leather cap. He was now alone in the room; the guards and executioner had left. It was eerily quiet.

This was a dream. It was just a dream. He was in his own nightmare.

No, he was remembering. That’s right, he was remembering his stress test! This was OUTLOOK. This was his initiation. This was the Datamaster digging into its files and forcing Hammer to relive his worst nightmare.

It isn’t real. IT ISN’T REAL. IT! IS! NOT— [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 11b – The Final Stand

Large green scales covered the massive muscles that propelled the huge creature of legend in an impossibly graceful flight. Reveling in the panic caused by its mere presence, the scaled horror landed its massive bulk just in front of the citadel’s mighty metal gates. The cobblestones beneath the creature burst into dust from the impact of its thunderous landing.

“To the gates! Man the gates!” Muatma was mounted on his Altherian war steed.

Muatma charged his way to the gate. He led several hundred Shining Patrolmen down through the streets. Vlad and Beldin followed behind on their own steeds. Ilmarė and Sebastian followed on foot.

With one massive wing, the dragon swept dozens of cannon and men from the right wall near the gate. A casual flick of its tail decimated an entire squad of Patrolmen foolish enough to attack it.

Then the creature began to draw in a massive breath of air. Its sides expanded even larger than before.

“It’s going to breathe…” whispered Sebastian. [MORE]

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Sunday, April 19

Dreams: Part 18 – The Truth Shall Set You Free

Archive, Jim-Bean, and Hammer sat up.

“Uh, if this is a memory, what are we doing here?” asked Jim-Bean.

“I don’t know,” said Hammer. “But I don’t remember this.”

“Me neither,” said Archive.

“I was in a boarding school for the psychically gifted in Britain.” Jim-Bean looked down at his hands. “Wasn’t I?”

Guppy was staring at Rachel. It was Rachel as he remembered her, before she cut her hair, still in the flower of youth. Gone were the lines of worry and sadness. She still had some weight on her, before her drug addiction turned her into a scarecrow.

The eye flicked open. “Hank,” her voice echoed in Guppy’s mind. “Hank, all I want to do is tell you the truth. That’s all I’ve been doing this whole time.”

“Rachel…” said Guppy. “Rachel, it’s all a lie. All this time you were dead. And I killed you.”

Rachel was fully awake now. She shook her head, still speaking to him from the nutrient bath. “No. No, the real Rachel was already dead. Freddy’s men killed her. She was trying to have you committed. She didn’t believe you. I took this form so you would listen…”

“To what?” Guppy looked around. “So much suffering, for what?”

“I am showing the others the realms beyond the first twenty five dimensions. You are my Chosen, you will serve me as my priest.”

Guppy shook his head violently. “No. No!”

Rachel’s gaze turned murderous. “I have given you a blessing, and yet you would still refuse me?”

Guppy pointed at Rachel. “I want you out of my head. Now.”

“Fool,” snarled Rachel, her form twisting and morphing. “You are in MY HEAD.” [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 11a – The Final Stand

The day wore nerves and spirits thin. Through the valiant sacrifices of many, the citadel still held…barely.

Sebastian looked out over the walls from his position at one of the citadel’s tower windows. Kham and Ilmarė watched with him.

The change to the once-proud city was profound. Everywhere, buildings lay burning or in ruin. The sewers of the city could not contain the mass carnage and had backed up. As a result, the streets ran red with blood.

Down below in the base of the citadel, Vlad and Beldin conferred with the general.

“A great host, you say?” asked Muatma.

“It’s as if all of Ssethregore was emptied,” said Vlad.

“How many?”

“Ten thousand strong at least.”

“Ten-thousand!”

“It is an army bred for a single purpose: to destroy Semar.”

“Let them come.” Muatma walked outside. “I want every man and strong lad able to bear arms, to be ready for battle by nightfall. We will cover the causeway and the gate from above. No army has ever set foot inside the citadel.”

“This is not a rabble of mindless orcs,” said Beldin. “These are Ssethregorans. Their scales are thick and their tails broad.”

“I have fought many wars, Master Dwarf,” chastised Muatma. “I know how to defend my own citadel. They will break upon this fortress like water on rock. The Ssethregoran hordes will pillage and burn. We’ve seen it before. Crops can be resown. Homes rebuilt. Within these walls, we will outlast them.”

“They do not come to destroy Semar’s crops or villages. They come to destroy its people. Down to the last child!” [MORE]

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Saturday, April 18

Dreams: Part 17 – The Dream Dies

Caprice called for Jim-Bean and Hammer over the intercom.

Hammer ran over to the intercom button. Jim-Bean was comatose. “Hot Pants? Where are you?”

“I’m in the Datamaster computer room.”

“Open the Dreamweb up! Guppy’s trapped inside and Jim-Bean is comatose!”

There was silence as Caprice tried it. “No luck. There’s an emergency security protocol in effect. I can undo it, but it will take time.”

“We don’t have much time…” said Archive. “That light is going to spread, and if it hits Bountin…”

“I’ve got an idea,” said Caprice. “There’s a door to your left.”

Hammer looked around. A sign on one door read: DREAMWEB CLEAN ROOM. Beneath it was a smaller sign: DO NOT ENTER.

The door clicked and something heavy moved within it. “I just unlocked it. There should be steps on the other side. Go downstairs.”

Hammer and Archive ran down the steps. At the bottom of the steps, directly beneath the Dreamweb itself, was a primitive but efficient laboratory set up around a weird device attached to numerous controls and monitoring instruments. The device consisted of a ten-foot in diameter circular platform with a hard, transparent surface, beneath which was visible a precise arrangement of glass lenses. A duplicate of the platform was suspended from the ceiling, and it was connected to the four chairs by finger-thick fiber optic cables. A bright light pulsed between the two platforms, illuminating the room with flickering shadows.

Around the platform and attached to it by curving plastic struts were four smooth-edged chairs with domed helmets, a bit like a salon dryer chair. The inner surfaces of the domes were also transparent and revealed more glass lenses within.

“The guy who developed the Dreamweb didn’t trust it completely,” said Caprice over the comm. “Fielding developed this Dream Imager as a failsafe. It will plug you into the Dreamweb directly.”

“Plug us in?” asked Hammer in disbelief. “Then what are we supposed to do?”

“Close the gate,” said Archive grimly. “Guppy has opened a portal to another dimension.”

“We’re not trained to do this.” Hammer strapped himself into the chair and Archive did the same. “Hot Pants, can you influence the Dreamweb from there?”

“I think so. What did you have in mind?”

Hammer closed his eyes as the machines whirred to life. “Guns,” he said. “Lots of guns.” [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 10b – Run for It!

Beldin and Vlad slammed into the first wave of barbed tail ss’ressen. The lizards were hissing and spitting, fighting with terrible ferocity.

Vlad smashed into one with his shield and stabbed upwards, but his estimation of lizard anatomy was off. The ss’ressen batted aside Vlad’s shield with its club.

Vlad grunted and whirled, only to see Beldin hack the legs out from one of the advancing ss’ressen.

Kham became a whirlwind of slices and cuts. He ducked low and high, slashing with his saber and plunging his dagger into a nearby ss’ressen, who staggered backwards.

The ss’ressen swung its tail at Vlad. He blocked the blow with his shield and with a mighty hack, chopped the lizard’s tail clean off. As it shrieked in agony, he plunged Grungronazharr through its throat.

Kham dove and rolled, sheathing his blades as he did so. When the val came up, he was directly beneath a surprised ss’ressen. It faced down two pistols…

Ilmarė fired arrow after arrow. Two pierced the eye sockets of a ss’ressen, but it clawed in blind rage towards her.

Beldin swung Windcutter in a wide arc before him, knocking two ss’ressen backwards. Another ss’rsessen to his left exploded up into the air as Kham’s pistols discharged into its chest at point blank range. It fell backwards into its companions in a bloody spray.

“There’s too many!” shouted Ilmarė. [MORE]

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Friday, April 17

Dreams: Part 16 – The Horrible Truth

The other agents ran towards the Dreamweb facility.

“I saw the guards open the gate and let in a bunch of armed survivalist-types,” shouted Archive. “That’s when I came looking for you guys.”

“There’s some kind of interference,” shouted Hammer. “I can’t use cell phones or cistrons.”

Jim-Bean pointed at a blazing white pillar of light over Holly Lake. “You think that might be the reason?”

“Don’t look at it!” shouted Archive.

The bays of guard dogs echoed in the darkness ahead of them.

Hammer and Jim-Bean let loose, cutting down the dogs before they could close.

Automatic weapons fire sparked back at them in the darkness. The three agents took cover in the woods.

“Whoever they are, this was an inside job,” said Hammer. “There’s no way they could have gotten past the defenses so easily.”

“Guppy must be in the Dreamweb!” shouted Jim-Bean.

The beam flared and a long column of light swept towards them.

“Get down!” shouted Archive.

They flattened to the ground and the beam flashed overhead, sweeping the Dreamweb facility.

A series of horrible wails and shrieks rose up from the Dreamweb. There was some sporadic gunfire. Out in the Dinosaur Lodge proper, there was more screaming.

“Go, go, go!” ordered Hammer. They crouched over to the entrance.

The survivalists were all dead. Some had clawed their eyes out. Others had shot themselves or each other.

“What the hell happened?” asked Jim-Bean, stepping over a dead body.

“I don’t plan to find out,” said Hammer.

Klaxons sounded. Security curtains slowly descended all around them. The Dreamweb was locking down.

They made their way past dead and moaning bodies to the Dreamweb monitoring room. The normally transparent glass was covered by metal shutters. The monitors showed only static.

One man was slumped over the keyboard. Jim-Bean yanked him back by his hair.

The man’s head lolled, drool and blood dripping from his chin. His eyes were moist sockets of blood. Blood dripped down the man’s crushed fists, and Jim-Bean knew what he held there.

“The first rule of the Bringers of Sacred Light…” the eyeless man gasped, “is there are no Bringers of Sacred Light.” [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 10a – Run for It!

A grim-faced squad of Patrolmen met them just in front of an advancing group of Ssethregorans,

“Holden?” asked Vlad in disbelief. “You’re stationed here?”

Holden Ash’ur, the Milandisian who had loyally fought at their side at the Gate of Tears, nodded grimly. He took Vlad’s arm in greeting.

“We will buy you as much time as we can.” He handed Vlad his empty flintlock rifle.

“You’ve come a long way from being a clerk,” said Kham.

Holden shook his head. “I’m still a clerk.” His silence indicated the hopelessness of the situation. Even the clerks were fighting.

“But Holden, you can’t…” Vlad trailed off. He could see a bitter determination and a quiet acceptance in Holden’s eyes.

“We will not die easily,” Holden said grimly. They would not survive the day and they knew it.

Holden drew his sword. The other Shining Patrolmen did likewise. Although they were dirty and bloody, they formed up into a line with perfect precision.

He looked them over with a slight smile playing at the corner of his mouth. Then, with tears in his eyes, Holden faced the Ssethregoran horde. “CHARGE!”

Holden led two hundred mounted Shining Patrolmen through the gates of Semar across the courtyard. Behind them, the people of Semar watched from the battlements.

Ilmarė lifted her arms and closed her eyes.

“What are you doing?” asked Sebastian in confusion.

“Singing for the dead.” [MORE]

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Thursday, April 16

ARG! The Answer to What’s in the Box

A recent YouTube video asked: "What's in the Box?" Those four simple words have set off a firestorm in the past month. Is it an alternate reality game (ARG) for a movie? Two guys showing off their video editing skills? Or something more? This article provides the answer and asks a few more questions. [MORE]

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Thanks Guys!

A shout out to the Geezer Gamer gang at Geezer Radio for having me on their podcast. Thanks guys, it was a blast (and Left 4 Dead afterward was even better)! [MORE]

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Dreams: Part 15 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

Caprice used his cistron to hack the elevator call plate. It dinged and opened for him. He took it down to the basement.

He faced an entrance with a keypad. He could see a computer room beyond an antechamber blocked by sliding glass doors.

On the floor before the doors was a black pad. Caprice recognized the room: it was a sterilization chamber. The tacky pad used a harmless electric current to remove dust particles from the clothing of anyone entering the sterile room.

Caprice hooked up his cistron to the keypad and went to work. A minute later the doors whisked open.

“Easy as pie,” said Caprice. He stepped onto the pad…

Electricity tore through his body, jolting him spastically. His only saving grace was that he had already opened the doors. He was blasted into the sterilization chamber.

His body smoking, Caprice tried to clear his head. He looked over his shoulder just as the doors whisked closed. A red klaxon whirled above him.

A sign flashed over and over: STERILIZATION IN PROGRESS.

Caprice shook his head. The tacky pad was supposed to be harmless too. He caught a glimpse of a security camera in one corner of the room focusing on him. The Datamaster was defending itself. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 9b – This Might Sting a Bit!

To the left, several petite women ran from a residence, each cradling an infant. Reptilian soldiers surrounded one of them. She tried valiantly to fight them off, but her efforts were cut short as one of the ss’ressen spat a sticky glob into her face.

“No!” Bijoux shouted in dismay. She pointed with one claw, the other covering her mouth in horror.

With a wicked scowl, the ss’ressen snatched the infant from the woman’s grasp, ripped its head off, and returned the dripping head to her.

“Illiir!” Beldin didn’t stop dragging people out of the path of the tower.

With a flick of its claw, the ss’ressen disemboweled the helpless woman. It grinned in Bijxoux’s direction as it licked its claw clean.

Vlad dropped a serving wench’s unconscious form and struggled to draw his blade. “We can’t rescue everyone and fight those things at the same time!”

Calactyte whirled, axe out. “Go. I will take care of this.”

“Cal!” shouted Ilmarė. “You can’t, there’s too many!”

The venomous scale ss’ressen menaced the remaining women and children.

“GO!” The ss’ressen whirled, axe out. “They will follow me in frenzy.” He roared, ear flaps rising up, muscle bugling with rage. “MOMMA’S COMING!”

The lizards heard Calactyte’s challenge and responded in kind. The human women fled as the ss’ressen were distracted.

Calactyte charged towards them, his clawed feet pounding the pavement beneath him in little clouds of dust. Acid spewed forth, striking the big ss’ressen again and again, but Cal was undeterred. The fury with which he descended upon the ss’ressen shocked even his bloodthirsty opponents.

Cal swung low, disemboweling one of the ss’ressen with a swipe of his axe. His tail slapped another ss’ressen down before it could retaliate.

But there were too many. One leaped on his back. Then another. And another. Clawing, biting, roaring.

Ilmarė knocked an arrow and took aim. Then she stopped and lowered her bow.

“What are you doing?” Bijoux asked, incredulous. Ilmarė was the only one not helping drag people out of the path of the tower. “Help him!”

“Cal knows exactly what he’s doing,” said Ilmarė. “He’s drawing them to him.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 15

What's In the Box?

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Dreams: Part 14 – Blind Date

Jim-Bean straightened his tie. This was his third date with Angela. Hopefully he would have an excuse to switch his shift.

He knocked on the door to Angela’s apartment. No answer.

Jim-Bean called Angela’s cell phone. She didn’t pick up.

Jim-Bean checked his cistron. Nine p.m. He was on time, for once. Something was wrong.

“Angela?” he shouted through the door. “You in there?”

No answer.

Jim-Bean kicked open the door, snapping the chain.

The room was quiet. Angela’s tabby meowed hungrily at him.

Jim-Bean drew his Glock. Yep, something was definitely wrong. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 9a – This Might Sting a Bit!

The sun had just risen and the companions had gathered for an early morning meal at the Shining Shield Inn. The food was, as always, delicious. The Tower of Althares’ Light still sent out tendrils of illumination in the early morning fog. The city was just beginning to awaken. Several merchants began moving wagons about the city.

“Well, the place is a little livelier today,” said Beldin.

There were more patrons, presumably not Shining Patrolmen in disguise.

“That’s strange,” said Ilmarė.

“What?” asked Sebastian.

“A merchant just parked his wagon at the base of one of the warning towers, near the stables.”

“He’s probably bringing a resupply of blast powder,” said Vlad.

Ilmarė stood up suddenly as the merchant lit a tindertwig, tossed into the wagon, and ran in the other direction.

“Down!”

A huge ball of fire engulfed the tower and sent a destructive shockwave in all directions. A patrolman that was passing by disintegrated into a crimson mist. [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 14

I'm a Guest on Geezer Radio!

I'll be a guest on Geezer Radio tomorrow! [MORE]

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Do first-person shooters make you a better killer?

I'd never tried skeet shooting before, but I always wanted to put myself in Ash from Evil Dead's shoes. So I picked the next best thing: skeet shooting. Sure, the clay pigeons looked nothing like zombies. But it was a chance to fire a shotgun, and that counted for something. I later learned that I was scoring better than average, over fifty percent. The owner attributed it to my excessive playing of Halo. [MORE]

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Dreams: Part 13 – Capricious Dreams

The lights flickered. When Sam turned the corner, Caprice was ready.

“Dr. Perov,” called Caprice over the comm. “Brendel’s sleepwalking again.”

Static. He wasn’t getting any reception. Great.

Caprice was curious. What did Brendel want with Guppy? He decided to find out.

Brendel made his way over the door. He tried the lock. It didn’t open.

WHAM! He slammed his shoulder into it. WHAM!

Another slam and the door splintered off its hinges. The strength Brendel had was incredible.

Guppy was awake, sitting bolt upright in bed, staring at Brendel fearfully. “What is—“

That was all he got out. Brendel closed the distance between them and, grabbing Guppy by his hospital gown, hurled him into the wall.

Caprice drew his pistol. “Okay, that’s enough of---“

Brendel slammed into him, grabbing for his pistol.

“Backup!” shouted Caprice into his headset. “I need backup!” [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 8 – The Decision

Calactyte was led to a prison cell. To his surprise, Kham was waiting for him in the cell.

“Stay alert, Yardan,” muttered the first patrolmen who had provoked Calactyte. “We’ll keep both of these traitors here until the general is ready to question them.”

Calactyte’s axe, Kham’s scimitar Talon, and his pistols were all neatly lined up on the far wall, out of reach from the prison cell. The other guardsmen marched out after shooting dirty looks and muttering curses. That just left Yardan.

“What are you doing here?” asked Cal.

“Long story.” Kham lounged on the cell’s one pallet as if it were a cushioned sofa.

Calactyte slumped to the ground. “They don’t like me.”

“True,” said Kham. “But then, you’re pretty scary looking.” [MORE]

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Monday, April 13

When politicians tax violent video games

Happy Tax Day! As you fill out your tax forms, today we turn to the time-honored tactic of politicians pandering to their base: taxing violent video games.
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Dreams: Part 12 – Fielding Questions

Caprice fiddled with the lock to Valentine Krogen’s office. He had placed a repeating image of the hallway on the monitors. The place was far more secure than a simple facility. And yet he had gotten in relatively easily. There was something familiar about it.

Jim-Bean had found out from Angela that there was a receipt from a Burton Fielding. Angela didn’t know what the receipt was for or who made the purchase, but she needed to find out for her accounts. Caprice suspected that the director knew.

Caprice popped the lock. The room was peculiar. Several statuettes were scattered about the suite, octopoid in nature and carved of green-veined soapstone. A painting above the mantel depicted a horrendous circle of half-human entities baying at the moon. A brass plaque gave the title and painter: “Ghouls Baying,” by R. U. Pickman. There were piles and piles of periodicals on psychiatry and technology, none of them read.

Caprice made his way over the computer at Krogen’s desk. He hooked up his cistron to it and started hacking.

Security was tight. But it wasn’t insurmountable, complicated by the fact that Caprice was an inside man: he knew how Majestic-12’s systems worked and he knew how to circumvent them. Data from 1966 onward was contained in the computer and text files. He searched for Fielding.

Burton Fielding was an electrical engineer who had worked for some important firms in their research divisions. He was thought of as a crackpot, an alcoholic, and a ne'er-do-well. Caprice also found a record of Fielding’s education. He had taken several university-level courses and advanced study. Fielding’s imagination wavered for several years, then began to gnaw on and race through specific courses, while dropping others and simply failing to attend many more. He had attended six universities, but had no degrees whatsoever.

Caprice found a highly-technical, trail-blazing monograph on advanced dream research by Fielding. It was difficult reading, even for Caprice, but he had an appreciation for the man’s intellect. Fielding was clearly the inventor of the Dreamweb. It was possible, Fielding explained, through the use of a Crystal Matrix Artificial Intelligence. It was the kind of crystal used by the Greys, the kind Caprice and his team had worked hard to prevent Centurion Computer Systems from using, and the kind that powered SINNER and Blacknet.

There was also something else: work on a three-dimensional dream imager, which could be used to monitor a subject’s sleeping visions. Its development easily rivaled the Dreamweb itself in sophistication. The file ended abruptly.

“What happened to you, Fielding?” Caprice asked himself. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 7 – I’m Not as Think as You Drunk I Am!

Calactyte was sipping his drink at the bar when four Shining Patrolmen stumbled into the Shining Shield Inn.

“Hey!” shouted one of them, pointing at Cal. “Looks, it’s a scalebag! Hey, scalebag! I need a new pair of shoes! Why don’t you come over here and we’ll cut a couple of pounds off of you!”

“Ignore them,” said Bijoux, who sat next to him. Calactyte stayed still.

“I’m talking to you, snake boy! Turn around when I’m talking to you!”

Calactyte didn’t turn around.

One of the patrolmen put one hand on Calactyte’s massive shoulder. [MORE]

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Sunday, April 12

Dreams: Part 11 – Power Hour

Angela sighed dramatically. "Oh goody, another note from the Director."

Jim-Bean leaned over her desk to take a look. He'd been spending a lot of time at her desk. "What's that?'

"Director Krogen is complaining about the large electricity bill," she said, holding up a memo. "He even left a nasty note on the employee bulletin board in the lounge."

"What do you think that's all about?"

"Oh who knows with this place," said Angela. "It's probably the furnaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

Angela screamed as she was enveloped by a huge pair of jaws that appeared out of nowhere. She disappeared into the phantom maw. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 6b – Shining Patrol Headquarters

The Shining Patrol headquarters was housed in a huge granite building. Inside were a myriad of offices serving as embassies for every contributing faction to the Shining Patrol. A transition area where recruits were processed into the Patrol or released from service took up the majority of space. A much smaller section housed the permanent local command staff of the Patrol.

Kham made his way to the general’s office. A guard was out front, half-asleep.

“Wake up soldier!” snapped Kham. “You’re guarding the general!”

The soldier blinked awake. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“What’s your name, soldier?”

“Yardan.”

“Listen, Yardan. I don’t want to go in there to talk to your commanding officer about you screwing up. AGAIN. So I recommend we keep this little conversation I’m about to have with him between you and me. What do you say?”

The soldier swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.”

Kham pushed past him and entered the general’s quarters. [MORE]

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Saturday, April 11

Dreams: Part 10 – Mr. Sandman

The first night spent at Dinosaur Lodge was Guppy's acclimation night. No real study or observation was attempted. The idea was that the patient should relax, become used to his surroundings, and be able to have a normal night's sleep the following night.

Jim-Bean stood outside of Guppy's room, yawning. It was going to be a long night.

His date with Angela had gone well, but not so well that Jim-Bean was at her place rather than standing in a cold hallway. As long as things kept going the way they were going, Jim-Bean hoped he would have an excuse to change shifts with Caprice.

Bored, Jim-Bean pulled out a file from the wall bin near Guppy's room and read it.

Guppy's blood work was totally normal. An EEG showed an epileptic wave of force during the times Guppy claimed he experienced a vision. A CT scan indicated an increased ventricular size in the brain, which was an associated finding with schizophrenia. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan measured and map out metabolism and chemical distribution in the brain. Guppy's CAT scan on indicated cortical hyprofrontality and high activity in the left temporal lobe. Both were associated findings in people with schizophrenic illness. Neuropsychological tests (including the Thematic Appreciation Test and Rorschach test) turned up bizarre responses.

In short, as much as Jim-Bean wanted to believe Guppy, he was starting to think Dr. Ivanovna was right. But after what they had all experienced, after what Jim-Bean actually WAS – who was he to say what was real or unreal? [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 6a – The Shining Shield Inn

The Shining Shield Inn was the finest in Semar. Constructed of a shiny golden-hued stone, it literally shined in the sunlight. The crystal shield hanging from the signpost at the front of the inn was positioned to catch one of the light rays emitted from the Tower of Althares at night. When the light struck the shield, it glowed with a brilliance of its own.

Sebastian walked over to the bar. “I hear you have a special stew?”

The bartender looked at him curiously. “You should sit and enjoy the show, my friend. I’m sure we can dig something up for you.”

On stage, a beautiful veiled woman belly-danced, her hips snapping at high speed. She leaned forward and gestured toward Sebastian.

Sebastian shifted in his seat. The woman stepped off the stage and took off one of her veils, roping it around the dark-kin’s neck. She leaned close, so close that Sebastian could feel her breath on his ear.

“Go to the privy. Now.” [MORE]

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Chapter Four of Knight Terrors Posted

Chapter four of Knight Terrors: The (Mis)Adventures of Smoke the Dragon is now up at http://knighterrors.blogspot.com. The chapter, entitled "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," originally appeared in Abandoned Towers online magazine. As a stand-alone story, it was a Top Ten Finisher in the 2008 Preditors & Editors Readers' Choice Awards. It was also the story that landed Nick the book contract for Knight Terrors. This is where the story really hits its stride--enjoy!

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Friday, April 10

Dreams: Part 9 – Welcome to My Parlor

"Now I'm going to ask you some questions about your current state of mind," said Ivanovna. "Answer from zero to five, with zero being not at all, one just a little, two somewhat, three moderately, four quite a lot, and five all the time. Okay?"

"Okay."

"I feel that others control what I think and feel," began Ivanovna.

"Five."

"I hear or see things that others do not hear or see."

"Five."

"I feel it is very difficult for me to express myself in words that others can understand."

"Three."

"I feel I share absolutely nothing in common with others, including my friends and family."

"Three."

"I believe in more than one thing about reality and the world around me that nobody else seems to believe in."

"FIVE!" said Guppy emphatically.

"I talk to another person or people inside my head that nobody else can hear."

A voice spoke in Guppy's head.

LIE, GUPPY.

Guppy paused. He looked at Ivanovna. She hadn't heard the voice.

A voice that nobody else could hear had just told him to lie about hearing a voice nobody else could hear. Guppy broke out into a cold sweat. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 5b – Arrival in Semar

The note Kham received when he was at Klos Ka’Ra indicated that Quablo val’Inares, a politician in Semar, wanted to meet with him for a matter of “unquestionable discretion.”

Finding the council building was a relatively easy task. The building was built to be a very small-scale replica of the meeting chamber for the Council of Wisdom in Althre’. Traveling thorough the first two walls of the city was easy: A cursory glance from some sharpshooters manning the walls and a couple of simple questions asked at the gates. But the third wall was entirely different.

The guard at the gate put one hand in front of Kham’s face. “Halt. Papers please.”

“Oh yeah.” Kham took out the document and showed it to the guard. As he did so, his overcoat revealed the pistol bandolier across his chest.

“Do you have proper authorization to carry those?”

Kham lowered his green-tinted lenses, revealing his pupiless eyes. “Take a look.” [MORE]

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Fight back against the zombie menace this Easter

In celebration of Zombie Outbreak 2009 this Easter Sunday, it’s time to take a look at how gaming handles the zombie menace. [MORE]

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Adding Dragonball to your gaming

The advent of the Dragonball: Evolution movie is a triumph for fans of the anime series and a perfect setting for a variety of martial arts action games. [MORE]

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Thursday, April 9

Dreams: Part 8 – Dungeons & Dinosaurs

Located at the end of a cul-de-sac on the edge of the mostly suburban incorporated village of Bountin, Dinosaur Lodge sat on nine acres of land covered in standing copses of trees and bushes, surrounded by a twelve-foot stone fence.

"This place looks familiar," said Archive.

They drove all the way down to Maryland from New York, non-stop. Guppy had given up on trying to convince his former teammates that they were wrong and had lapsed into a depressed state, numbly staring at the far side of the van.

They stopped at the front gate. "We're dropping off Hank Gupta at the request of Major Sprague," said Hammer.

The guard looked at his clipboard. "Yep, okay. Welcome to Dinosaur Lodge." He waved the van on. "Go on through."

Archive parked the van in the visitor lot and they walked into the facility. The walls were oak-paneled and the rooms well furnished. The place was more like a vacation lodge than the housing facility of a research center, which the broad verandas and sunlit rooms emphasized.

Impossible to ignore, just within the main entry, was a gigantic mounted skeleton of an allosaur, poised menacingly toward the visitor. A housekeeper cleaned and polished the cool brown bones.

"Wow." Jim-Bean stared up at the allosaur skeleton. "That thing is totally going to come to life and eat us." [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 5a – Arrival in Semar

From a nearby mountaintop, the massive form of the Black Citadel of Semar loomed. An imposing structure, it was carved from a single black piece of rock that rivaled the nearest mountain in size.

“They say that Semar was originally a military outpost built on an ancient ruin,” said Kham.

“I’ve heard that the mountain fortress houses ancient treasures of supreme power that even the scholars of Althares are unable to unlock,” said Beldin.

Ilmarė snorted. “I’ve heard that the Citadel has magic powers too. That doesn’t mean it’s true.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, April 8

Square Butts Burger King Music Video with SpongeBob Square Pants



Ze goggles...ZEY DO NAHTING!

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Dreams: Part 7 – The Trouble With Guppy

Hammer turned around to face Guppy and Grant. They had transferred to a van that Jim-Bean drove to Peterboro, which gave them more room to conduct the interrogation as they drove Guppy to undisclosed location.

"So now that we've got some alone time together, why don't you tell me what you two were doing?"

Grant shrugged his shoulders. "What do I know? I seen Hank last week; haven't seen him in forever since I used to beat him up for his lunch money. Next thing I know Hanky here is talking about aliens and conspiracies…"

Hammer frowned and looked at Guppy. "That's how we got into this mess, remember?"

Guppy shook his head. "You don't understand! I've seen it. They're already here!" He leaned forward to whisper. "Grant is a Protomatter Steward!"

"That's not too hard to confirm," said Hammer. "Jimmy?"

Jim-Bean stepped over to Grant. "Hold still."

He put one hand on Grant's shoulder and concentrated for a second. "Nope. A sleaze ball, but that's it." [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 4d – Do I Know You?

The next morning, they all gathered at a gravesite for soldiers. Dril’s surviving Altherian steeds drew the black carriage, containing only his rifle.

“Present ARMS!” shouted Attalus.

The casket was removed from the carriage. Attalus and Kham saluted.

An Altherian priest led the way to the gravesite, followed by Sebastian, Calactyte, Vlad, and Beldin holding the casket.
They set down the casket and secured the Altherian flag, a white owl on a blue background.

Attalus ensured the flag was stretched out and level, and centered it over the casket. He backed away and the priest performed the service.

“Praise be to Althares, Lord of the Universe,
the Mercygiving, the Merciful!
Ruler on the Day for Repayment!
You do we worship and You do we call on for help.
Guide us along the Straight Road,
the road of those whom You have favored,
with whom You are not angry,
nor who are lost!”

The priest said, “assalamu alaikum.”

“Assalamu alaikum,” whispered Kham.

The priest backed away and Attalus stepped up to the casket. He turned to address the cannoneers along Klos Ka’Ra’s walls.

“Fire!” [MORE]

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Tuesday, April 7

WOTC suspends all downloads over lawsuit

Earlier today, RPGNow was instructed to stop the sale and downloads of all Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) titles...Keep Reading »

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Dreams: Part 6 – Government Lobby

Jim-Bean put the phone down. "That should get them away from the door."

Hammer zip-tied Lillian's wrists. "Stay here."

Caprice looked out the window and swore. "That reporter's coming back here with a camera."

"I thought you shorted out their cameras!" Hammer shouted at Archive over his cell phone.

"Just their transmitting equipment." Archive was walking quickly to intercept her. "I'll take care of this."

"You, sir!" shouted Nina. The camera crew turned to focus on Archive. "Are you affiliated with this—"

He held up one hand, palm open. There was a symbol scrawled on it.

Nina turned and fled, stumbling in her high heels. The cameraman dropped his camera. The boom mic operator just dropped the boom. He struggled for a second as it unplugged from its power source on his backpack, and then he too fled. Archive kneeled down and ejected the tape from the camera. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 4c – Do I Know You?

Bijoux, Vlad, Beldin, Sebastian, and Calactyte spent the remainder of the night alone under heavy guard in the Shining Patrol’s stables. They had a well-watched and somewhat restful evening, but they weren’t allowed to leave the stables except to visit the privy. Even those trips were under heavy guard.

“This sucks,” said Vlad.

“Why are they treating us like this?” Bijoux asked morosely.

“Because of who we are and where we come from,” said Beldin.

Calactyte snorted. “And because of me.”

There was a knock at stable door. A guard handed them a tray of stale bread and moldy cheese.

“Anywhere we can clean up?” asked Bijoux.

The guard pointed to a water trough. “You’re a cat, right? Clean yourself.” [MORE]

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Monday, April 6

Dreams: Part 5 – Mental Estate

"I need to speak to you privately," said Guppy, taking a seat across from Grant.

Grant nodded towards his bodyguards. "Fix yourselves drinks, boys." He turned back to Guppy. "I don't know what you're into, Hanky. But you're in way over your head. I haven't seen you since elementary school, and now I see you twice in one week. The guy you were hanging out with, he's bad people. Did he owe you money too?"

Guppy didn't know what the hell Grant was talking about. "No, forget that. I think you're in grave danger. There are these…aliens. They have taken over the world…"

Grant leaned back and laughed. "Oh man, Hanky. You look like something the cat threw up. Are you high? You need money for drugs, is that what this is about?"

"You're not LISTENING," said Guppy urgently. "I think that you're caught up in some sort of invasion—"

Grant sighed and took a pistol out from behind his back. He placed it on the table. "Hanky, look. People come in here to either give me money or ask for money. You're doing neither, so at this point you're starting to look like some crazy junkie wasting my time. And nobody wastes my time." [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 4b – Do I Know You?

Kham and Ilmarė spent the remainder of the night as Attalus’ guest in the Shining Patrol’s officer’s quarters. Kham and Ilmarė were served a hot gourmet meal and a stout drink.

“Please, eat, drink. It must have been a long journey.”

“It was,” Kham said between mouthfuls. “The caravan was ambushed, but we recovered what we could.”

Attalus nodded. “And I am thankful for that. It seems you are always saving my hide, one way or another.” He grinned a white-toothed smile. It quickly vanished. “I did not see the dispatch pouch amongst the inventory.”

Kham took a swig from a goblet. “Destroyed, sorry.” [MORE]

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Sunday, April 5

Dreams: Part 4 – Change Agent

Hammer was just about to drop Archive off at his apartment when his cistron and Caprice's beeped at the same time. It was an urgent message from Sprague.

Archive had the door partially open when Hammer slammed on the gas, hurling him back into the car and slamming the door shut.

"What the—I thought you were dropping me off!"

"Not anymore," said Hammer.

"It's Guppy," said Caprice, reading off the cistron. “His apartment exploded."

"Was Guppy hurt?" asked Archive.

Caprice shook his head. "There was a body, but it wasn't Guppy's. The STREETSWEEPER team got there too late. It was Rachel Hayward, Guppy's ex-girlfriend. Forensics determined Hayward was dead for weeks."

"Where's Guppy now?"

"Guppy's last access on BLACKNET was to look up John Grant, who went to the same elementary school as Guppy. Sprague thinks he's going to attack Grant where he works, at Puchsky Real Estate in the Uptin Arms Hotel."

The cistrons beeped again.

"Now what?" asked Archive.

Caprice sighed. "And there's the alert to all the OTHER agents to catch Guppy."

"Great," snarled Hammer, dodging in and out of traffic. "If Warner's Delta boys get to him first…" [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 4a – Do I Know You?

As the sun reached its peak and began to descend in the western sky, the journey continued to take them higher and higher into the mountain peaks. Just when it seemed as if they might actually reach the sun, Klos Ka’Ra came into view.

Klos ka’Ra was no simple mountain outpost. Massive columns of stone supported thirty-foot thick stone walls that extended from an inner keep. The inner keep was carved into the mountain itself, providing natural protection from all sides save the one covered by the huge wall. Dozens of cannons bristled on the wall and hundreds of well-armed Altherian patrolmen marched to and fro along the battlements.

“Interesting construction,” admired Beldin.

Sebastian tilted his head at Beldin. “How so?”

“From the looks of it, twelve stone archways have been recently added to the wall’s interior structure, but they don’t lead anywhere. The decorative artwork seems out of place.”

Several other caravans were also making their way into the hidden fortress from different directions. As the sun dropped below the mountain line directly behind Klos Ka’Ra, it created a warm halo of light around the fortress.

“Don’t try to understand Altherian architecture,” said Kham. “Just enjoy it.” [MORE]

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Saturday, April 4

Dreams: Part 3 – The Bringers of Sacred Light

Guppy looked up at the street sign. He had called the phone number on Freddy's card and it led him to here, Paper Street. It wasn't really a street, more a dirt road.

A stockade sat on one side, facing a lone house on the other. The rest of the land was grass and weeds. It was a grand, old three-story, long abandoned.

Freddy was there, waiting for him. He was dressed in fatigues and splattered with paint. "Come to check on the troops?" He grinned. "Come on in, let me give you the tour." He led Guppy to the stockade. [MORE]

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Serpentine Path: Part 3c – So, We Meet Again…

“Venomous scale ss’ressen!” shouted Calactyte. He charged forward, Vlad and Beldin flanking him. “Keep your shields up!”

They didn’t have to ask why. Seconds later, streams of acid spiraled through the air, splashing against both their shields. Calactyte was struck by a gout of acid, but if it hurt he didn’t show it.

Then they were upon them, three on three, claw against blade. Sebastian pointed at the ssanu, and magical bolts of blue and black energy were exchanged.

“I’ve had just about enough of this,” muttered Kham. He took aim and fired both pistols. The ssanu fell to the ground, its corpse smoking from the impact.

The remaining ss’ressen started, as if slapped. Calactyte took the opportunity to tear one of them apart, hacking and even biting his opponent’s throat. Vlad and Beldin made short work of the other two ss’ressen.

They scoured the camp, looking for any sign of Dril.

“We found only this.” Beldin offered up a twisted piece of metal, bent in half. It was Dril’s rifle.

Vlad took it reverently. “He would want it to be buried at his grave.” [MORE]

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Friday, April 3

Interview With Happy Bishop Games

I recently had the opportunity to interview WJ MacGuffin, President and Sole Employee of Happy Bishop Games. WJ is a game designer, amateur parent, and part-time drinker. He took some time to chat with me about what it's like to launch a new game company in these tough economic times. As it turns out, I reached him at the very beginning of the company's launch. [MORE]

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Dreams Dark and Deadly: Part 2 – From Bad to Worse

After two days of Rachel's new diet, Guppy began to see things differently. The skyline often looked distorted, as if the skyscrapers were made of towering columns of bones. The beings that watched him in a crowd look like strange toad-like beings. The images of the dead were almost always flashing out of the corner of his vision.

On television, Guppy heard messages directed to him: “Obey, zzzerve, and you zzzhall die quickly; rezzzizzztance zhall be met with unending agonizing torture.”

The TV anchor people were cadavers, their flesh melting off their bones; however, they still gave out the news in raspy whispering voices…” Guppy stopped watching television after that.

He got an early morning phone call from Rachel to meet at a busy nightspot, Club Apocalypse. They used to go on dates there, many years ago.

“Come alone,” said Rachel, whispering over the phone. “You can’t trust your teammates. Hammer is not on your side. He’d sooner eat your brain than smile at you.”

As Guppy traveled, many people were going about their business, oblivious to what seems to be around them. Although some buildings seemed normal, others clearly were not.

The alleys were strewn with human bones and decaying corpses. Many structures on the street were built out of bone and human skin. There were large pits off the sides of the street from which he could hear wailing. Many other buildings seemed to have fallen into ruin. The sky was a dark, turbulent smoke color.

Was this the future? Or was it the present, cloaked by an illusion? [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:21 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Serpentine Path: Part 3b – So, We Meet Again…

Muscle rippling, his dual crests fanning behind Calactyte’s head, the ss’ressen seemed to grow in stature, teeth bared. All the ss’ressen on the battlefield turned to face him, even those in mid-combat.

“The frenzy has taken them!” shouted Ilmarė. “Get out of their way!” She twirled aside as one of the barbed tail ss’ressen barreled past her towards Cal.

“What?” shouted Vlad. “No way!” He held his ground as another barbed tail ss’ressen approached. Its claws scrabbled against Vlad’s shield. “Ha!” He lifted his blade for an easy blow. “My turn—“

There was a blinding flash as the ss’ressen heavy tail struck him sideways. Stunned, Vlad stumbled. The ss’ressen jumped past him towards Cal.

“Protect Cal!” shouted Beldin. “They’re after him!” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:18 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Thursday, April 2

Who games with the Watchmen?

The Watchmen comic is pretty compelling stuff, especially considering that the comic book was one of the first to integrate gritty, countercultural themes into the superhero genre. So it’s only natural that gamers would want to play in that same universe. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get your Watchmen on. [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:35 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Dreams: Part 1 – Another Dream

Guppy was back in the terrible world that he had dreamt before. He knew he was dreaming, but the experience was very lucid.

"You're dreaming," Guppy said to himself. He pinched and kicked himself, but he couldn't seem to wake up.

A horde of Grey aliens came rushing from an alley. Guppy ran. [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:30 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Serpentine Path: Part 3a – So, We Meet Again…

The path had risen for the hundredth time to go up over a mountain pass, between two weather-beaten hills. Rocky outcroppings jutted from nearly everywhere. Vegetation was sparse.

Sebastian stood bolt upright. “Something’s wrong.” His wings spread out behind him, wand at the ready.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be there before you know—“ was all Dril got out before his wagon erupted in a violent explosion of fire and debris.

The Altherian mounts were steadfast, but the wagon team neighed in terror as the wagon flew high in the air. With a mournful groan, the wagon split in mid-air and began a slow, scattered return. Flaming remnants of the wagon and its contents came spilling down all around like a grisly hailstorm from the abyss.

Sebastian landed, propelled upwards by the blast. There was no trace of Dril, only the tinkling of wood and metal all around him. “Ambush!” he shouted. [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:27 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Wednesday, April 1

Dreams: Prologue

Guppy sat next to a frumpy woman. They chatted. Guppy turned to look at his food, took a bite. He turned back and saw…

…a bald man next to him, talking. Guppy took another bite, turned back and it was...
…a businessman next to him. Guppy took another bite, turned back, and it was...
…a business woman next to him.

Guppy’s eyes snapped open.

Turgid silence. Guppy turned to the window.

He saw a glowing light next to the airplane and for a second he could see a grey, bulbous head staring at him through the window. There was a bright light and a feeling of intense heat … [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:34 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Serpentine Path: Part 2 – The Crazy Old Fool

A very old man leaned heavily on a gnarled walking stick as he made his way down the road.

“This is the path, yes, the serpentine path…creatures of light and creatures of night, either may lead you to sorrow. For they wind together down a serpentine path, and the rest of Onara will follow!”

He broke into hysterical laughter and a coughing fit.

“He’s blind,” said Vlad.

Noticing Vlad, the old man became agitated. He began another conversation with himself. “Eh? You? Do I know you? No, it can’t be. I saw you in Semar. Or, will I see you in Semar? How can you see if you are blind? Ah, the light of Illiir illuminates all. But is that now or later? Hmmm. Strange…are you late, or early? Shouldn’t you already be in Semar? I’m hungry! What’s for supper?”

Vlad and Dril exchanged glances.

“Heed his words,” said Beldin softly. “I feel a kinship with this creature. It only wears the cloak of a man.”

“Great,” said Kham. “So I guess we better feed him then.” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:32 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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