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Monday, August 31

Operation Bravo: Part 1 – Gas n' Sip

The remnants of a formerly vibrant company town were still to be found surrounding the core of what Hellbend had become. Derelict buildings, long abandoned and overrun by weeds and witch grass, dotted the roads leading up to town – Hunt Electrodynamics' legacy.

The town once supported an entire workforce of nearly 4,000 people – and they left their dwellings behind. Most had fallen into near-complete ruin; windows long ago shattered, paint peeled off, decks collapsed, foundations shifted. Some, however, were still lived in and some were even meticulously maintained.

Most of the eighty-two residents of Hellbend lived near the center of town or within a few blocks of Main and State streets. Others however lived a bit off the beaten path – further out in the desert. The only business worth mentioning was the Gas n’ Sip – the local gas station/video store/ supermarket/post office on the corner of Main and State. Nearly every piece of mail came or went through the Gas n’ Sip and nearly everyone who stopped in Hellbend did so for one of two things – gas or directions.

The Gas n’ Sip was a two-story rickety looking building with a gable roof that sat on the corner of Main and State streets, dead-center in Hellbend. It was adorned with aging Coke signs, ancient ads for Brylcreem and other less memorable products long since washed out by the relentless sun. There were two old gas pump placed dead center on a simple concrete block out front.

"Jarvis?" asked Androzy, striding ahead of the agents. "Some men here to see you. This is Agents Grange and Baxter."

Jarvis Greene, the current proprietor, lounged in a weather-beaten rattan chair in the shade of the roof. He was a young, sunburned hippy.

"Hey guys." Greene stood up. "You must be here about the murders."

"That's right," said Hammer. "What do you know about them?"

Greene sat back down. "I knew Clifford Potter—" began Greene.

"He discovered Potter's body at the ruins of the Hunt Electrodynamics plant outside of Hellbend," interjected Androzy.

Greene nodded. "I rented Potter the Bobcat Lifter for the afternoon. When Potter didn't return that evening with the equipment, I took my Jeep out to the site and found him. That's when I called the sheriff."

"Did you see much of Potter prior to his death?" asked Hammer.

Greene nodded again. "Yeah. He took to interviewing my grandfather, Montgomery Greene, about his experience in the Hunt Electrodynamics Plant. A few times, Potter taped his interview with Monty, and asked specific questions about Hunt and the plant, though what they were, I can’t recall."

"You said you rented the Bobcat to Potter. Is it still here?"

"Sure is," said Greene. "It's 'round back. Want to see it?"

"Please," said Hammer.

Hammer grabbed his forensics kit from the car and Greene led them to the shade of a garage port. They smelled the Bobcat before they saw it. [MORE]

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Gangs of Freeport: Part 4 – Pier Pressure

Freeport certainly had thrice the ambiance and thrice the character of any other city, and that character coagulated in tiny pools of wonder that mere mortals called “taverns.”

The Broken Mug was constructed at the end of an old pier, leaning out over the water like a drunken sailor about to vomit. The planks creaked alarmingly underfoot, though clearly they were sturdy enough to support the establishment. The sign above the door swayed with the rhythm of the tide lapping at the pier. The symbol painted on it in cracked and fading hues—a mug with a huge fault running through it—confirmed that Vlad was in the right place.

The scent of cheap alcohol, wood shavings, saltwater, and sweat assailed him like common muggers before he even opened the door. The interior of the tavern was dim, lit only by a few flickering lanterns and the light that squeezed in through boarded windows. Tables, and barrels served as tables, strewn about the room with no real sense of order. Half were empty, while the other half seated people in various states of inebriation. Most were men, most were human, and most looked quite at home in a cheap tavern. Several women in blouses cut lower than the afternoon tide flitted from table to table, working to part the drunks from their money by any one of a variety of means. A large stone fireplace stood empty, next to a long bar made of wood, behind which stood a gruff-looking female dwarf.

Vlad, magically disguised as a Cutthroat gang member, walked over to the bartender. He plunked down some doubloons. “I’m looking for Sky-High.”

“Who?” asked the bartender. She looked aggravated by the mere fact that Vlad was talking to her.

The patron next to Vlad turned to face him. “We don’t like your kind here,” he snarled.

A few other patrons stood up. One, a twisted gnome, bent and hunched, grabbed a chair. Another fellow had a bottle in his hand.

The bartender reached for something beneath the bar.

Vlad shrugged as if dropping a cloak from his shoulders and the illusion disappeared. “Do you really want to do this?”

The crowd hesitated. [MORE]

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Saturday, August 29

Operation Bravo: Prologue

"What happened to Archive?" asked Jim-Bean.

Hammer shrugged. "Something about a medical check-up. Majestic's still cagey about him being in the field after the incident in Central Park."

"Yeah," Jim-Bean shook his head. "The incident. I haven't been to a check-up recently, wonder why they're not worried about me."

Hammer smirked. "That's because you're under my supervision."

Jim-Bean rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, right. So we're in this buttcrack of a town because…"

"This is the place where Arthur Hunt's experiment blew up. If there's a legacy of the snake people we discovered in Elberton, it starts here, with the Hunt Electronics plant in Hellbend," said Hammer. "And two people were recently murdered here."

"In Hellbend? Doesn't that reduce the population by ten percent?"

Hammer nodded. "Nearly. It's all on your cistron: The first murder occurred on March 5, on the outskirts of the town. Clifford Potter, a 53 year-old white male, was found mutilated less than four hundred yards from the remains of the ruins of the old Hunt Electrodynamics plant. The county coroner from Independence, Abner White could not readily identify just how exactly he had died."

"Aliens," muttered Jim-Bean.

"You see aliens behind everything."

"It's hard not to when I'm part…something." [MORE]

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Gangs of Freeport: Part 3 – The Narcotics House

At first glance, Vlad thought he was on Dreaming Street. The furtive, the drugged, the soliciting, and the frightened occupied the walkways. Windows were boarded, shuttered, or tastefully curtained, but all were obscured. The entire neighborhood smelled of a bizarre combination of smokes, burning herbs and alchemical substances that make him feel lightheaded.

As Vlad approached his destination, it became obvious that this he was not on Dreaming Street all. The buildings were run-down, the paint and colors peeling. The people had a desperate look to them, and while Dreaming had more than its share of desperation, all who frequented it knew that they could find what they sought—for the right price. He’d learned that when they rescued Corinalous, Kham’s father, from the Well-Dressed Man.

For the people who could not afford Dreaming itself, the streets surrounding it provided a cheaper alternative. People huddled in alleys, shuddering with withdrawal. Red-eyed wretches accosted passersby, begging for sufficient coin to purchase a dose of Ghoul Juice, or a few minutes with their “beloved” harlot, or to pay off their gambling debts before they were fed to the sharks.

Vlad’s target was a shack, sitting on one side of a small alley, sandwiched between a vendor selling cheap used daggers and a brothel so run-down and filthy, it looked as though the venereal diseases might actually leap out and accost passersby on their own. It was a tiny, ramshackle place that might well fall apart if struck sidelong by a stiff breeze. A tiny trail of smoke rose from a tin chimney. The windows were shuttered, and a crude hand-painted sign was tacked to the front door with a rusty nail. It read “Clozed for Bizness.”

Vlad pulled out his tanglefoot bag and began to swing it. People in the street made way for the big Milandisian; he was intimidating enough in full armor…swinging a weapon made everyone think twice.

Then Vlad kicked open the door and threw the bag. It exploded in goo, immediately covering the blitzed out Cutthroats that lazed within.

Vlad drew Grungronazharr and put it against the nearest gang member’s throat. “I want to ask you a few questions.” [MORE]

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Friday, August 28

Chapter 43: Operation Bravo - Introduction

This story hour is a combination of “Future/Perfect” Part One by Dennis Detwiller and “Team Bravo: The First Assignment” by Eric Cagle. 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:

There's a certain theme running through these two scenarios that made them go together perfectly. Like the other Future/Perfect scenarios, there's plenty of information on investigation but not on actual confrontation.

Because Archive's player wasn't playing, that really raised the stakes. As George put it, "if one of us goes down it's all over." That heightened the tension and also made the critters that much more deadly – Archive's presence ensures fast healing. Without it, a conflict that goes against the agents is deadly indeed.

This scenario ended up focusing more on the sheriff and deputy who led the investigation. Fortunately, Jim-Bean and Hammer make a good buddy team, so there was plenty of opportunity for role-playing with the locals.

I was surprised by what freaked out the players. Who thought mysterious clicking noises would be so scary? [MORE]

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Gangs of Freeport: Part 2 – Just One of the Gang

Vlad stood over the last corpse of the thugs who had ambushed him. He was about to return to the street to help his friends when he sensed a presence in the room.

Standing half-concealed in the shadows was a figure clad in ratty trousers and a worn cloak. His hood was pulled down low across his face.

“This is a surprise,” said a gravelly yet familiar voice. “Vlad Martell, if I recall correctly.”

Vlad didn’t sheathe his blade. “Finn?”

Finn removed the cloak, his puffy features marred by a shiner around his left eye. “Yes. These are strange times. That is why I have come to you. I need your help. Freeport needs your help.”

Vlad sheathed Grungronazharr. “I’d love to, but my friends are bleeding in the street.”

Finn smiled. “I like that about you Vlad. You care about people. That is why I have chosen you. Your friends will be taken care of. Take a look out the window.”

Vlad peered out the window the thug had been using to snipe at him. Sure enough, cloaked figures scuttled out to bind the wounds of his companions. A cart pulled up and they were placed in it.

“Where are you taking them?”

“Somewhere safe,” said Finn. “We’re running out of those sorts of places.”

“What happened to your eye?”

“I said these were strange times.” Finn gestured at another seat that Vlad had kicked over in the melee. “Please, have a seat.”

Vlad sat down. [MORE]

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Thursday, August 27

Future/Perfect: Conclusion

"Jimmy…" began Hammer. But Jim-Bean already knew what to do.

"Set them on fire!" ordered Jim-Bean.

The cultists set up a huge bonfire and tossed the oddly fluid, red-scaled bodies into the flames. Of the nearly seventy cultists that were engaged in the conflict, only twenty or so remained.

"There's still the cultist bodies," said Hammer.

Jim-Bean nodded. "Set it all on fire!"

The real Moreno and his men arrived, but by then the evidence was already burning. Fire trucks roared in the distance.

"What exactly happened here?" asked Moreno angrily.

"Civil war in the cult," said Jim-Bean. "Two different sides got into a conflict, it spread, then a fire started."

Moreno bit his lip, frustrated. "That's very convenient. You know what I think?"

Hammer looked at him. "I didn't ask."

"Yeah? Well I'm gonna tell you. I think that this was a lot more like Waco then you let on."

Hammer smirked. "You have no idea." [MORE]

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Gangs of Freeport: Part 1 – Rioting for Fun and Profit

The explosion tore up half the street, tossing debris in all directions. Vlad’s mind barely had time to register what had just happened when the whistling of crossbow bolts snapped him out of his stupor.

Two Freeporters, armed with cutlasses, charged out of the smoke towards him. Vlad hesitated as he realized that his friends were in danger, bleeding in the street. If the thugs wanted to rob them or worse, he would only endanger his companions by staying where he was.

He ran. The thugs gave chase, perceiving his tactics as flight. More crossbow bolts punctured the wall behind him, some just missing his head.

Finally, he came to the end of an alley and spun to face his assailants with his back to an old, rusted door.

The thugs hesitated. Then they advanced, grinning. [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 26

Future/Perfect: Part 10 – Snakes in the Grass

Jim-Bean ran to and fro, trying to calm the cultists down.

"Everyone, everyone, this isn't necessary! We don't know what they want! Everyone calm down!"

Ignis agreed with him. "We must not fire first!" he shouted repeatedly. "I will speak with them! Be calm!"

The jittery cultists, who were unaccustomed to armed conflict despite their training, took their positions. The six officers stood calmly in the clearing in front of the farmhouse.

Ignis checked his pistol and made sure it was loaded. Then he approached with six similarly armed men. Jim-Bean watched from a distance.

"Hello!" Ignis squinted in the glare of the spotlights. "Sergeant Moreno, is that you? What brings you to our farm?"

Moreno said nothing. He just slowly turned his head to stare directly at Ignis. Then he lifted the bulk in one hand and dropped it.

It was the guard at the gate.

"What…" Ignis swallowed, horrified. "What did you do to him?"

Moreno was stone-faced. As one, all six of the police officers pointed at the six cultists.

Ignis' arm was up, his pistol drawn.

"Wait!" shouted Jim-Bean, "don't shoot!"

But the envoy of six cultists had all drawn their pistols. They pointed it at their own foreheads. [MORE]

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Gangs of Freeport: Prologue

Sebastian, Beldin, and Vlad stood outside the vacant lot that had once been Cresh Manor. Stephen Aldones Ambrose was gone and with him, the King in Yellow. Behind them, Kham and Scarbelly’s crew were unconscious.

Vendors hawked their wares from street-side stalls while laborers lugged their burdens and barefoot children dashed around and between everyone’s legs, shrieking like tiny banshees. The sea air smelled of salt and old fish, and the lap of the tide against the docks—many blocks behind them—still reached their ears, the city’s constant heartbeat.

Sebastian turned to Vlad. “The ring you hold is very powerful. I can charge it for you, if you like.”

Vlad looked at his left ring finger, the same hand he used to hold his shield. “It’s a strange sensation, knowing how to cast spells all of a sudden.”

Sebastian grabbed hold of Vlad’s hand and concentrated. “There. In your darkest hour, call upon the power of the ring and it will help you.”

Vlad nodded. “Thanks.”

Sebastian didn’t smile. He merely nodded.

Beldin barreled past them, shoving Sebastian aside. “Get down!” [MORE]

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Tuesday, August 25

Future/Perfect: Part 9 – Raid!

Hammer put his recently purchased camping and surveillance equipment to good use. They had managed to set up a camouflaged bivouac near the pond. It was a perfect spot for surveillance of the farmhouse. It was perfect…

Except for the mosquitoes.

Archive slapped his neck. "These mosquitoes are driving me crazy," he whispered. At night, the bugs were even worse than during the day. Concealed as they were so close to the farm, they had to go without electrical lights.

Hammer lowered his night optics. "We'll be here for just another day or so. What have you discovered so far?"

"During the day only lone individuals are wander the grounds," said Archive. "At night, groups of followers walk back and forth between the main house and barn. Guards walk the perimeter at all times of the day and night."

"Armed?"

Archive shook his head. "Nope, but they do carry a flare gun. My guess is they fire that off as a warning."

"Good." Hammer handed the night optics back to Archive. " Jim-Bean's not convinced that the cult has anything to do with these murders and I'm starting to believe—"

There was a splash of light, like lightning, in the distance. Jim-Bean and Archive looked up.

It was the flickering incandescence of a flare.

"Oh crap," said Archive. [MORE]

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Chapter 57: Gangs of Freeport - Introduction

This scenario is from the Freeport adventure “Gangs of Freeport” by Ari Marmell, adapted to 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:

Some days, no matter how much I try to plan, things go awry. Whenever we don’t have enough players for the D&D game, my plan was to start up a D20 Modern game, which has a larger pool of players. But of course, those folks weren’t available either. So I figured I’d play D&D with the two fighters of our group.

Except that Beldin’s player didn’t show up either. That left Vlad.

Vlad’s something of an everyman hero, and his player Matt is an old school gamer. He likes to kill things and take their stuff. And yet, Vlad is often underestimated because he’s “just a fighter.” Vlad’s much more than that, and Matt demonstrates in this solo adventure that he can more than handle himself.

I pulled few punches. The bad guys play to win, but they play smart, and in a few cases some unexpected things happen. I also applied rules I don’t always remember to use to the bad guys—the lack of Precise Shot when a spell caster attacks with a ray, for example. That kept things in Vlad’s favor.

Ultimately, we both had a great time, and stalled long enough (the adventure took about five hours) until the other players could show up for the next adventure. [MORE]

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Monday, August 24

Future/Perfect: Part 8 – Mister Cab Driver

The Elberton Cab Company was a taxi service located in the downtown area of Elberton. A few questions uncovered that Al Wu was the dispatcher when Ken Stewart was murdered.

Of average height and in his mid-thirties, Wu was a fast-talking man.

"Mister Wu?" asked Hammer. "I'm Agent Grange. This is Sergeant Moreno."

"Yeah?" asked Wu, sizing them up.

"We're here to ask you a few questions about the recent death of Ken Stewart?"

Wu's eyes flicked to Moreno. "I already spoke to the police."

Hammer gave Moreno a look. "Why don't you go get a cup of coffee." It wasn't phrased as a question.

Moreno shrugged. "Fine, whatever." He walked off.

Hammer turned back to Wu. "Sorry about that. We're all very tense because of these murders. Do you mind if I chat with you for a second?"

Wu relaxed a bit. "They told me I was a witness and had to keep quiet," he muttered. "But talking to you should be okay, being a Fed and all. Come into my office."

Hammer and Wu sat at a beat-up card table. Wu lit his forty-third Camel cigarette of the day. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Conclusion

In the center of this room was an ornate mahogany casket. The casket rested on a raised dais. A silver candelabra and an iron brazier stood at the head and feet of the casket. The candelabra held burning amber candles, and perfumed smoke rose from the brazier. A large tapestry covered all the wall space, depicting the murder of Aldones by Camilla.

Carved into the inside lid of the casket were the words “Burn the tapestry to break my curse”. A skeleton wearing a crown of gold lay inside the casket.

Sebastian set fire to the tapestry.

A man dressed in rich yellow robes and wearing a golden crown and other fine jewelry suddenly appeared, stepping out of the smoke and ashes.

“Aldones Stefan Ambrose.” Beldin recognized him from the last time they met in Freeport.

Aldones stretched and said, “Thanks, I’ve been trapped in there for ages.”

The tomb disappeared and they were back outside of the Cresh House in Freeport.

“And thus the war between the masked men and the naked is at an end,” said Aldones. “The King in Yellow has come again to Carcosa…and failed to come to Arcanis, as was foretold. There was much that needed to be undone, which you have completed and by doing so, reforged the Covenant of the Sign.”

“So it’s really over?” asked Vlad. “The Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign? The Unspeakable One? All that?”

Aldones smiled. “We have triumphed in the war. And thus I am the inheritor of the King in Yellow, and have reclaimed the Dynasty.” He turned to Sebastian. “The price was the fixing of the mask. And you have paid it.”

Sebastian reached hesitantly for the mask on his face. “I can…remove it?”

“You could always remove it, poor tortured Sebastian.” [MORE]

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Sunday, August 23

Future/Perfect: Part 7 – When You Wish Upon a Star

"By accepting you, my savior, I am imbued with the spirit of the people who helped build the mound."

Jim-Bean repeated it.

"I believe that through worship at the mounds we will call down others' and these others will take us to a new world."

Jim-Bean repeated it.

"Congratulations," said Ignis. "You are now one of us."

The other cultists applauded and hugged Jim-Bean.

Ignis raised his voice over the crowd. "Do you have a gun permit?"

Jim-Bean started in surprise. "What?" [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 26 – The Fourth Guardian

Sebastian opened the door, only to be assailed by multiple gouts of flame.

“Hydra!” shouted Sebastian. He flew into the room.

The reddish hydra’s heads tracked all three of them as they entered. Six maws gnashed and snapped.

Beldin waited as one head tried to snake around his shield. Then with a quick strike, he decapitated it.

Two more heads grew out of the wound.

“Damn it!” shouted the dwarf. [MORE]

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Friday, August 21

Future/Perfect: Part 6 – The Feds Take Over


"You Feds must have a file on Douglas Yale. The murders fit his MO."

"Yeah."

"Then you know they churn out crazies. Back before Yale, trespassing by townies was a common thing on the New Star Crusade farm, and Danen Ignis, the cult leader, claimed we refused to act with 'necessary speed and clarity' to resolve such situations. Ignis taped his phone calls to our department and recorded our arrival times. He then filed a personal suit against the county and cost us another eight hundred thousand dollars in damages. We've been monitoring the farm since then, but can't do much else without probable cause." Moreno grinned. "I'd say this counts."

"So you've got an APB out for Yale?"

Moreno shook his head. "It can't be him."

"Why not?"

"Because he's dead. We kept it quiet, but we found Yale's bones back in October 2001. Bet that ain't in your file, huh?" [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 25 – Earth and The Third Guardian

“Down!” shouted Vlad.

Foot-long spikes jutted through his shield. A man-faced lion with bat wings and a spiked tail paced before them.

“Manticore,” said Sebastian.

“Now you tell us,” said Beldin. A spike protruded from his shoulder.

With a roar, the manticore batted Beldin’s shield aside, forcing the dwarf to backpedal. Sebastian drove it back with a blast of fire from his hands.

Vlad threw his shield down, useless with all the spikes protruding from it, and wielded Grungronazharr with both hands. “Come on then!”

The manticore hesitated. Then it bounded forward, wings spread wide.

Vlad slid under its paws as it passed, thrusting his blade upwards. The manticore’s forward motion eviscerated it. It landed, all too human-like face twisted in agony before Sebastian.

Beldin yanked the spike out of his shoulder and opened the door to the right.

“Great,” said Vlad.

The hallway was filled with mud. [MORE]

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Thursday, August 20

The Horror!: Can You Hear Me Now?

08/19. Killing the line dead
The Horror finds ways to limit your cell service, in Can You Hear Me Now? T

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Wednesday, August 19

Future/Perfect: Part 5 – The Wrong Guy

Hammer was on his way out of the Elberton general store, when his attention swung to a sudden movement a hundred feel down a dark alley. A dim light glowed weakly from beyond a dumpster, then extinguished as a car door slammed, and then a dark figure dashed away down the alley. Behind the figure, a car horn began to blow unceasingly.

Hammer threw his bags in the trunk of the rental car and approached the blaring auto. It was an idling Elberton taxicab with the body of its driver, horribly mutilated, rammed against the steering wheel. The man's throat was slashed open, his vocal cords exposed. His ribs were broken and bent back. Most of his internal organs lay in a steaming heap beneath the steering wheel.

Hammer backed away. The police would be there soon enough, and this wasn't his business – not yet, anyway.

He got in his car and drove off, circling the area as police vehicles shrieked onto the scene. His cistron buzzed with an alert.

"…police are looking for an African-American man of medium height and build, wearing an overcoat, who fled the scene."

Hammer swore and turned the car around. He pulled up a moment later in front of the Elberton police station.

As he walked his way up the steps to the main office, there were collective gasps.

Officers fumbled for their pistols. "Get down on the ground! Now!" [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 24 – Fire and the Second Guardian

Flames leaped and crackled off the walls and ceiling of the long corridor.

“Are we in hell?” asked Vlad.

Sebastian shook his head. “Another guardian’s lair. It looks like it is possible to walk down the corridor without getting burned as long as you stay in the center of the hallway where the heat is least. My magic will protect you from the rest.”

Beldin and Vlad nodded and advanced ahead of him. It was difficult to hear each other over the roaring of the flames.

As they neared the end of the corridor, the flames coalesced into a massive conflagration with yellow eyes.

“Elemental!” shouted Sebastian. [MORE]

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Tuesday, August 18

How Lovecraft Saved RPGs...in Portuguese

My ongoing effort to completely dominate the Internet take another step forward as my friend Felipe translates "How Lovecraft Saved RPGs" at RedRPG.com. [MORE]

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Sunday, August 16

Future/Perfect: Part 4 – Seeing Stars

Archive looked up from the scope of a mounted sniper rifle. "I see lights," he said. "A few carloads of people." The rifle was trained on the monument from the Mullinex farmhouse, which they had graciously lent the agents for their use. They left out the part about the sniper rifle.

"That's got to be the New Star Crusade," said Jim-Bean. "The Solstice was coming up, right? This must be their ritual."

Archive returned to looking at the scope. "Yeah. We've got them covered if they try anything stupid, but I recommend we observe…"

Jim-Bean didn't respond.

"Jimmy?"

Archive looked up. Jim-Bean was gone. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 23 – The First Guardian

Sebastian touched the Ring of Eibon to the viper’s tail on the mirror frame. The serpent uncoiled enough for the ring to slide over the tail. The ring then slowly moved up the viper’s body until it circled the head like a collar. The viper’s tail was once again gripped its mouth.

Vlad anointed the Enchanted Sword of Sylaire with the potion of time travel. The blade glowed bright gold. Then he touched it to the mirror.

There was a high-pitched humming. The mirror, ring and sword shattered into thousands of shards.

The healing amber haze surrounded them once more. The world of Carcosa faded away and they found themselves on a seemingly endless plain. A massive, square, fifty-foot tall tomb made of amber colored marble stood before them.

Carved over the entrance was the name “Aldones Stephen Ambrose.” On the door was painted the Ambrose family crest; A black shield with a gold phoenix. An amber crown was painted above the crest.

“This is it,” said Sebastian. “This is his tomb.”

Fortified by every potion, protective spell, and wand Sebastian had in his possession, he looked over his shoulder at the two warriors. “Ready?”

“Ready,” said Beldin, hefting Windcutter.

“Ready,” said Vlad, wielding Grungronazharr.

Sebastian threw open the doors. To his horror, sleeping on a pile of coins was a dragon with black scales. [MORE]

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Future/Perfect: Part 3 – A Little History

The Elberton Granite Museum & Exhibit sat in the center of town – a nine room, two story stone structure, fronted by a small park with a statue of Hunt in its center beckoning to the west.

The museum's industrial building was home to a collection of quarry equipment, funky sculptures, examples of etched gravestones, and an older woman at the desk. The placard introduced her as Mary Jarrard.

"Hello gentlemen," she chirped, clearly pleased to have some company. "Interested in a tour?"

"That'd be great," said Jim-Bean with a smile.

Pleased to have some company, Mary fired up the educational video that the agents watched while strolling the exhibits.

"It all began with Arthur Hunt. Hunt was a local legend in Elberton," a deep, pleasant voice narrated. "He was the “success-story” of the town, almost the inversion of Douglas Yale, the Georgia River Killer. "

"Hunt rose from poverty and a life of debauchery in Elberton to forge an electronics empire that has stood the test of time – surviving even after his unexpected death in 1952. But at first, no one in town thought much of him. In fact, he was considered a local ne’er do well – someone more prone to theft, violence and lying than any productive endeavor."

Photos flashed on the screen. Each showed Hunt in various states of intoxication; including one during the celebration of the end of the Great War where Hunt climbed a light pole with his pants down.

"On May 3, 1922, Hunt was discovered at the Elberton Mound, drunk, carrying a pickaxe and shouting drunkenly about Shawnee gold. Hunt was incarcerated, but it was known in town he still visited the mound."

"Yep," whispered Archive. "Psychic vortex." [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 22 – The Viper-Encircled Mirror

There were strange and disastrous portents in the aspect of the skies: flame-bearded meteors had been seen to fall beyond the eastern hills; a comet far in the south had swept the stars with its luminous bosom for a few nights, and had then faded, leaving among men the prophecy of bale and pestilence to come. By day the air was oppressed and sultry, and the blue heavens were heated as if by whitish fires. Clouds of thunder, darkling and withdrawn, shook their fulgurant lances on the far horizons, like some beleaguering Titan army. A murrain, such as would come from the working of wizard spells, was abroad among the cattle. All these signs and prodigies were an added heaviness on the burdened spirits of men, who went to and fro in daily fear of the hidden preparations and machinations of hell.

In Hastur, tales of the grave giving up its sheeted dead were rife. They were admitted without question by the guards at the city gate. Hastur was already thronged with people who had fled to the sanctuary of its stout walls from the adjacent countryside; and no one, not even of the most dubious character, was denied admittance. The walls were lined with archers and pike-bearers, gathered in readiness to dispute the entrance of the dead. Crossbowmen were stationed above the gates, and mangonels were mounted at short intervals along the entire circuit of the ramparts. The city seethed and hummed like an agitated hive.

Hysteria and pandemonium prevailed in the streets. Pale, panic-stricken faces milled everywhere in an aimless stream. Hurrying torches flared dolorously in the twilight that deepened as if with the shadow of impending wings arisen from Erebus. The gloom was clogged with intangible fear, with webs of stifling oppression. Through all this rout of wild disorder and frenzy, Hali, like a spent but indomitable swimmer breasting some tide of eternal, viscid nightmare, made his way slowly to the podium.
“I am Hali,” he told the crowd. “And I was a pupil of Nathaire, the necromancer who animated the colossus that even now ravages our land. Nathaire binds and hurls into the bitter depths of the Black Lake certain victims, such as were designated to feed the hunger of Him That Slept Beneath. And I believe those who constitute the body of the colossus are the same that were fed to the Thing in the Lake. I have a solution, a powder that I have crafted that will cause the dead to return peacefully to their tombs and lay down in a renewed slumber of death.”

There was a mounting hubbub in the streets, and above the shrill, dismal clamor of frightened voices, the far-off roaring of the giant. Hali shouted louder to be heard.

“The dust must be blown into the beast’s face. I have enough for three attempts. Who will take up this challenge?”

Sebastian stepped forward. “We will.” [MORE]

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Saturday, August 15

Future/Perfect: Part 2 – Set in Stone

Five massive slabs of polished granite rose out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks were each sixteen feet tall, with four of them weighing more than twenty tons apiece. Together they supported a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it was hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The only clues to its origin were on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gave the dimensions and explained a series of intricate notches and holes that corresponded to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appeared in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflected a peculiar New Age ideology. Two stood out in particular, "maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature" and "be not a cancer on the earth—leave room for nature."

The stones had been splattered with polyurethane and spray-painted with graffiti. Yale's handiwork included slogans like "Death to the new world order."

"So?" asked Hammer.

"So…what?" Jim-Bean asked back.

"The mound. Can you sense anything?"

"Oh, right." Jim-Bean concentrated. With a gasp, he fell to his knees. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 21 – The Ring of Eibon

To Sebastian there came privily the marshal of Alar, together with the abbot Theophile, whose worn features and bowed form displayed the ravages of mortal sorrow and horror and humiliation. And the two, albeit with palpable hesitancy, asked Sebastian advice and assistance in the laying of the beast.

"You, Phantom," said the marshal, "are reputed to know the arcanic arts of sorcery, and the spells which summon and dismiss demons. Therefore, in dealing with this devil, it may be that you shall succeed where all others have failed. Not willingly do we employ you in the matter, since it is not seemly for the church and the law to ally themselves with wizardry. But the need is desperate, lest the demon should take other victims. In return for your aid we can promise you the Ring of Eibon that you seek. The Bishop of Alar, and the Archbishop of Hastur, are privy to this offer, which must be kept secret."

"That will suffice," replied Sebastian, "if it be in my power to rid Yhtill of this scourge. But you have set me a difficult task, and one that is haply attended by strange perils." [MORE]

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Friday, August 14

Future/Perfect: Part 1 – Guide to the Guidestones

The route headed west, then turned north on Highway 77, towards Elbert County. Small signs beside the highway indicated the turnoff for the Guidestones, which was identified by a street sign as "Guidestones Rd."

The dirt road bounced through bend after bend of cool brush lands. A recent rainfall made the going slippery.

As the car rounded another thicket, a locked wooden gate blocked the road. A wooden house was nearby. No one was visible inside, though smoke rose from the chimney of the small wooden house. There was swamp about a hundred yards to the left and right of the house, flanked by palmetto and even prickly-pear cactus on sandy hummocks. The road continued beyond the gate, disappearing into trees several hundred yards beyond. A sign read “Double 7 Farms.”

A black man in overalls came out of the house and waved at the car. “Hello!” he called. “What you fellas want?”

"You the owner of this farm?" asked Hammer.

"I am," said the older man. "Name's Wayne. Wayne Mullenix. And you are?"

"Agent Hammer," he flashed his badge. "We're here to visit the Georgia Guidestones." [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 20 – The Potion of Time Travel

Sebastian’s negotiating skill and disguise eventually enabled them to find a black market contact in Alar. They were to meet the contact behind an alley, a seller of potions who was willing to risk the Inquisition for a gold piece.

Beldin and Vlad flanked Sebastian as they stood over a barrel with an open flame. It was the only light source nearby, illuminating Sebastian’s sharp features as he waited.

A cloaked figure slid out of the darkness. “I am here.”

Sebastian looked around. “No guards? Security seems very tight in Alar.”

“The Immemorial City has suffered much as of late,” whispered the contact. “A curse is raging that animates the dead. It’s worse in Hastur,” his white smile indicated that he very much enjoyed that fact. “Thanks to the Inquisition, we have put a stop to such animations.”

“Yes, about that. I trust this place is safe for our…particular form of trade.”

“It is,” said the man. “You listed a variety of potions. I have them all. You have the gold?”

“I do.” Sebastian nodded to Beldin, who thrust a bag full of doubloons and imperials at the man.

The contact exchanged a bag with Beldin. It clinked with the sound of potion vials within. “Healing, strength of a bull, and more. It’s all there.”

Beldin handed the bag back to Sebastian. He rifled through its contents. “The potion of time travel is missing.”

The man smiled. “I saved the best for last. Tell me, Stranger. Do you know the sentence for those who practice arcane magicks?”

Sebastian took a step back. “I do.”

Beldin and Vlad raised their weapons. [MORE]

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Thursday, August 13

Future/Perfect: Prologue

Elberton was a sleepy little town in Elbert County, Georgia. It was home to Southeastern Power – the major employer in the town, and several smaller manufacturing plants. The economic dips that came and went since the Great Depression had somehow passed Elberton by, and people liked it that way.

The 5,000 people who called Elberton home loved it; its small town flavor had not been marred by the modern bustle of city life. Life went on there much in the same way as it had for the last seven decades. It was also home to the Georgia Guidestones.

The Georgia Guidestones were a huge granite monument in Elbert County, Georgia. The Guidestones draws tourists, and adds a lot of local flavor. The Georgia Guidestones were located on a hilltop in Elbert County, Georgia, approximately 9 miles north of the center of Elberton. Located at the highest point in Elbert County, the mound, as it was called, had its own history.

But that’s not all Elberton laid claim to. Over the decades it produced some exceptional people in the shadow of that mound. Over the decades it’s produced some exceptional people in the shadow of that mound. It’s most famous son, Arthur Hunt, the town drunk turned eccentric genius, who forged an empire on consumer electronics was born there, and a statue dedicated to him sat in the middle of town.

Jim-Bean looked up at the statue. “Doesn’t look like much.”

Hunt’s statue was a twelve-foot bronze edifice on top of a hollow cement pylon in the center of town. It sat at the heart of the Malcolm Elberton Park, and faced west.

“He’s smiling about something,” said Hammer. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 19b – The Enchanted Sword of Sylaire

Sephora gave them careful instructions that would enable to find the werewolf's den without delay. It was easy to locate the den, for well-used paths ran toward it with little deviation. The place was the mounded remnant of a tower that had crumbled down into grassy earth and mossy blocks. The entrance had once been a lofty doorway: now it was only a hole, such as a large animal would make in leaving and returning to its burrow.

Light poured through several apertures, latticed with wandering tree-roots, where the mound had fallen in. The place was a cavern rather than a room. It stank with carrion remnants. The ground was littered with bones, broken stems and leaves of plants, and shattered or rusted vessels of alchemic use. A verdigris-eaten kettle hung from a tripod above ashes and ends of charred faggots. Rain-sodden grimoires lay moldering in rusty metal covers. The three-legged ruin of a table was propped against the wall. In one corner was a litter of dead grass. The strong, rank odor of a wild beast mingled with the carrion stench.

Beldin and Vlad entered. Sebastian launched himself into the yawning cavern’s heights.

A billowing cloud of mist engulfed them.

“Magic!” snarled Vlad. [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 12

Chapter 42: Future/Perfect - Introduction

This story hour is a combination of “Future/Perfect” Part Two by Dennis Detwiller and “Where A God Shall Tread” from At Your Door. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Game Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
  • Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero/Acolyte) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://jeremyrobertortiz.blogspot.com)
  • Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast/Dedicated Hero/Gunslinger) played by George Webster

I enjoy the Future Perfect series by Dennis Detwiller, especially because he released them for free under the patronage project. I already had a mysterious mound leftover from The Evil Stars, so this gave me an opportunity to explore the Georgia Guidestones in Elberton further. These Guidestones are real and the circumstances surrounding their creation just as mysterious.

What Future Perfect lacks is a way to interact with the shapeshifting serial killer on the loose. Fortunately, Where a God Shall Tread has a similar villain committing murders (in the most idiotic fashion). The modus operandi of killing victims and gnawing their bones clean makes more sense here and provides a narrative to hang the plot off of; otherwise, the agents wander around town waiting for the serial killer they don’t know about to show up.

Of course, the scenario hints that, when push comes to shove, the bad guy decides to wake up his brethren and go on the offensive against the one place most fortified against them. This provided a suitably creepy and tragic finale.

Defining Moment: Hammer, on the phone with the sergeant, discovers an impostor standing in front of him. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 19a – The Enchanted Sword of Sylaire

The area around Sylaire was brown, open moor studded with druidic stone pillars. Sebastian patiently explained that Sylaire was both the name of the ruined castle and the name of an enchanted land.

They jogged across a grassy field, halting under the eaves of a forest of tall and shapely trees: lichen and moss cover them. Leaves twirled down to the earth.

“Stay close,” said Sebastian. “They say that a great sorceress lives in these woods, a witch of terrible power. All who look upon her, fall under her spell and are never seen again.”

Beldin snorted. “Well, here is one dwarf she won't ensnare so easily. I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox!”

The path into the enchanted land led through a stone arch. Beyond the arch the trees were larger and greener than those in Carcosa. Even the seasons seemed different, as the sun shined longer and winter seemed very far away. They climbed a winding way among the great trees as the last rays of evening sun stream through their trunks. They ascended the path until night fell.

In the enchanted land only one high, round tower stood where the mighty castle of Sylaire once was. In the blue glow of a moonlit night, they climbed a twisting stair at the bottom of a tower, past glimmering lights of silver and blue. Far above, the silhouetted shapes of the shadowy tree-branches loomed.

A curving walkway lay before them, leading up a low stair to an archway. Three-pronged, golden leaves were scattered about. Slowly, they gathered before the arch. With a glow issuing forth from her, a Lady descended to meet them.

Thick-curling chestnut hair, bound by a light silver fillet, billowed over her shoulders and burned to red, living gold where the sunrays searched it out through the foliage. Hung about her neck, a light golden chain seemed to reflect the luster of her hair. She wore a bodice of vernal green velvet, baring the upper slopes of her breasts, clung tightly about her as a lover's embrace. A purple velvet gown, flowered with pale azure and crimson, molded itself to the sinuous outlines of her hips and legs. Her slender feet were enclosed in fine soft leather buskins, scarlet-dyed, with tips curling pertly upward.

Vlad and Beldin stared in awe. Sebastian bowed his head in greeting. [MORE]

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Monday, August 10

Castle Ambrose: Part 18 – The Inn of Bonne Jouissance

Thanks to Sebastian’s spell, he seemed entirely normal to the locals at the nearby inn. He looked like his old self, when they had first met him, sans wings. The other guests, a couple of traveling mercers, a notary, and two soldiers, acknowledged their presence with all due civility. Beldin, on the other hand, drew rude stares.

Vlad cleared his throat. “I’d like to introduce Beldin Soulforge, the key attraction to our traveling circus!”

There was a collective sigh of relief. Some patrons came closer.

Beldin glared at Vlad. “Am I some kind of circus freak now?”

Vlad chuckled nervously. “Of course! Why else would we be in a crowded inn where nobody knows us?”

“What does he do?” asked one local.

“He tosses men, of course!” Vlad said theatrically.

Beldin cracked his knuckles. “Want a demonstration?” [MORE]

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Sunday, August 9

Evil Stars: Conclusion

Hammer, Archive, and Jim-Bean were already in their rental car, far away from the chaos that was Hughes Auditorium. For once, Archive was driving.

“This is Hammer, call in a STREETSWEEPER team at my coordinates…”

Jim-Bean tapped him on the shoulder. “Look.” He held up his cistron.

“This is Nina Juarez and I’m live at Hughes Auditorium in Jacksonville, Georgia. God’s Lost Children has played their last song. It appears that Brianne Lochnar, in an attempt to one-up herself from the previous violent concerts, rigged the stage with tear gas to incite the crowd to riot. As you can see behind me, the stage caught fire. There are unconfirmed reports of Brianne playing right up until the stage collapsed, but we’ll have to get a look at the tapes…”

Jim-Bean grinned and tapped a compact disc on the dash of the car.

Hammer turned back to his cistron. “Belay that order. STREETSWEEPER cancelled. Repeat, STREETSWEEPER cancelled.” He frowned over at Jim-Bean. “We got lucky.” [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 17 – The Gate of the Silver Keys

Beldin squinted at the amber statue of a lion. It stood between them and a silver gate with three large keyholes.

“I guess that’s the guardian,” he said skeptically.

The massive amber lion’s head turned to track Beldin’s movements.

“Yep,” said Vlad.

“All right then, let’s get on with it.” Beldin rushed forward.

The amber lion moved much quicker than the dwarf anticipated. It jumped into the air and pinned him to the ground with its bulk.

Sebastian gestured and searing rays of energy struck the amber lion, only to bounce off harmlessly. “It is immune to my magic!”

Beldin was pinned beneath his shield. “Try something else!”

Vlad hacked at the amber lion. Grungronazharr bounced off its hide, utterly ineffective. Still, it was enough to distract the guardian. The amber lion lifted its head in a mute roar at Vlad.

“I have something else,” said Sebastian. “Stand back!” [MORE]

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Friday, August 7

I am now the Sci-Fi Movie Examiner

And take another step towards my plans for global Internet domination. MUAAAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! [MORE]

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Evil Stars: Part 12 – The Show Must Go On

“Okay, everybody out!” shouted a burly-looking biker.

Nina Juarez was strong-armed out by a weasely-looking thug, who shoved her roughly out of the Green Room. Then they came for Archive and Hammer.

Archive put up both hands and whispered something. Smoke billowed up around them, filling the hallway.

“Fire!” shouted one of the bikers.

The security detail, holding onto its morale by a thread, broke at the news of the fire spreading from the stage. Of course, there was no fire, only Archive’s invocations.

Hammer ducked out of sight and ran towards the Lighting & Sound room door. It was locked.

Hammer pounded on it. “Jimmy, open it!”

A second later Jim-Bean unlocked the door. “How did you know I was in here?”

“Because it’s where I would have gone. Did you just kill everyone in the theater?”

Jim-Bean frowned. “No, that’s why I released the tear gas first.” On the monitors, the stage was a burning conflagration. Some of the crowd in the far back was still cheering, unaware that the entire band had been massacred.

“You just murdered three people in cold blood.”

“Four. And they were about to finish the chant,” said Jim-Bean. “And consecrate the mounds…”

“We don’t even know what Lochnar's ritual does! You caused a panic—people are going to hurt, even die, as a result of your actions.”

Jim-Bean shushed him. “Hear that?”

The cameras were still rolling. The screen showed movement in the burning remains of the stage. Rising out of the wreckage, Brianne Lochnar stepped out of the debris, unharmed.

“Son of a bitch!” swore Hammer. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 16 – Entrance to the Land of the Ghouls

Vlad composed himself. “You’re sure it’s in here?”

“We’ve been over this,” said Sebastian. “The key can’t be anywhere else. We dealt with the hellhound kennels and the great worm. Neither of them had it.”

Beldin made a face. “I practically swam through that worm’s entrails looking for it too.”

“But…does it have to be ghouls?”

Sebastian sighed. “We will make this quick. On my count, I will unleash my most destructive magicks. Clean up whatever still moves when I’m done. Ready?”

“Ready,” said Beldin.

“I guess,” said Vlad. “I can smell them through the door.”

“One.”

Vlad gripped his sword and shield. He had nearly been turned into a ghoul, dragged by the things in Freeport into their warren.

“Two.”

It took all of Father Peg-Leg’s magic to reverse the curse. It was a painful process.

“Three!” [MORE]

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Evil Stars: Part 11 – The Interview

Jim-Bean escorted Nina to the Green Room.

“Agents Hammer and Archive!” she exclaimed with false enthusiasm. “What a pleasant surprise!”

Hammer hopped up from the couch. Archive stayed where he was. A bird's eye view of the God's Lost Children performance blared on the television.

“Agent Jim-Bean was just telling me…” Nina turned to look over her shoulder but Jim-Bean was gone. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to ask you some questions.”

Hammer sat down again and Ninja joined him on the couch. “Yes, you’re all quite mysterious for government agents. The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t have much on you.”

“That’s on purpose,” said Hammer. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“I could ask you the same question,” said Nina. “Or other questions – like, did you ever catch that serial killer, Agent Archive?”

Archive blinked. “What?”

“You know, Elijah Jackson?” When Archive didn’t respond, she continued. “I spoke to Ms. Dawson and she mentioned that she shot him six times…”

“David Charles killed him,” said Archive.

“Really,” said Nina, flipping through a notebook. “According to my notes you told Detective Gallagher that it was, and I quote, ‘a demon hopping from body to body’.”

“Then you also know that Gallagher threw me out of the police station when I shared that theory,” said Archive.

Nina changed tactics. She turned to Hammer. “Your grandmother’s very nice.”

Hammer’s expression went from guarded amusement to icy rage. “You spoke with my grandmother?” [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 15 – The Demon of Death

A pentagram surrounded by a circle was painted in white on the floor in the middle of the room. An amber colored candle burned at each point of the pentagram. A hunting horn of amber hung from a peg on one wall.

Vlad was filled with dread. “What is that?”

There was movement in the darkness in the center of the pentagram.

“Hello, Vlad Martell. We meet again.”

Standing in the pentagram was a ten-foot tall humanoid covered with a dull gray scaly skin. Its gaunt body was hairless. Ivory fangs protruded from its mouth and its fingers ended in metallic talons. Its eyes glowed like smoldering coals and two huge bat-like wings grew out of its back.

“The Honor of Cadic,” said Vlad.

Beldin looked from the devil to Vlad. “You two know each other?”

“Please, call me Urumeh,” said the devil.

“Don’t listen to him,” said Sebastian. “He’ll say anything to get out of his prison.”

Urumeh looked bemused. “An interesting irony, given your mask and wings.” [MORE]

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Thursday, August 6

Evil Stars: Part 10 – Who You Are in the Dark

“I’d really love to see how this place works. It’d be great if I get beneath the stage…”

Jim-Bean stared intently at a roadie named Tom. Tom shook his head. “I dunno man, press isn’t supposed to be down there.”

“Oh come on,” said Jim-Bean, a little more forcefully. “It’d mean a lot to me. I’ll put you in my article.”

Tom shrugged. “Okay, but you can’t tell anyone, right? Just a quick look around and then you’re back in the green room.”

“Sure, sure,” said Jim-Bean.

They both put on noise-canceling microphones and headsets, the kind helicopter pilots used, that were linked by a comm. With the band playing above them it was nearly impossible to hear otherwise.

Tom opened up a trapdoor that led beneath the stage and climbed down a ladder. Jim-Bean followed behind him, duffle bag slung over his shoulder.

“What’s in the bag?” asked Tom, flicking on a flashlight. It revealed a wooden series of angled beams and scattered debris, including endless cables and discarded metal bars.

“Oh, you know, camera equipment,” said Jim-Bean. He looked around. “So this is beneath the stage?”

“Yeah, I don’t know why you wanted to come down here so badly, there’s really not that much to see—“

Tom spun, blood flying from his face as Jim-Bean smashed his head in with one of the bars. He struck him so hard that his headset went flying.

“Sorry, Tom,” said Jim-Bean, standing over the unconscious man. “But you’re going to have sacrifice yourself for the greater good.” [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 14 – Bobbing for a Key

“And here’s another silver key.” Sebastian pointed at the glass sphere. “Perhaps we need more than one.”

Beldin flipped a silver piece into the pit. It sizzled and disintegrated. “Acid.”

Vlad peered into the pit. “I suppose if you tie a rope to me I could try to…”

Sebastian made a gesture. The glass sphere floated past Vlad and landed at Sebastian’s feet.

“Oh. Right.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 5

Evil Stars: Part 9 – Hard Court Press

Five hours in the hospital and a bumpy SPIDER flight later, Archive and Hammer limped in behind Jim-Bean to the Hughes Auditorium in Jacksonville.

A security guard directed them to the administration office. Seated behind the desk was a burly, florid redhead. He wore neat and expensive slacks, shirt, and shoes, and an ultra-expensive Italian leather jacket, but somehow the clothes were wrong on him – jeans, t-shirt, and a can of beer seemed more appropriate. A title card on his desk labeled him as Barry Watson.

“Look,” Barry said without looking up from what he was doing, “I really don’t have time for—“

“We’re journalists,” said Jim-Bean.

“Yeah, sure.” Barry didn’t look up. “You don’t look like journalists. We don’t need more reporters from GNN…”

Jim-Bean slammed both palms down on Barry’s desk. “Yeah,” he said forcefully, “GNN.”

Barry finally looked up. When he met Jim-Bean’s gaze, his aggravated expression changed to complacence. He pressed a button on his phone.

“Pete?”

“Yes sir?”

“There are three reporters here. Give ‘em a press pack.”

“But sir, the band is playing right now.”

Barry looked uncertainly at Jim-Bean, as if for approval. Jim-Bean nodded encouragingly.

“Right now.”

“Right away sir.” [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 13b – Alchemistry Laboratory

Camilla entered the throne room, her nightgown dirty and torn, her hair stringy and damp. She held the Stranger’s robe tightly to her breast.

Her gaze wandered until she saw Aldones. She smiled broadly, paused a moment, and then danced around the room, waving the robe in the air like a flag.

“As if summoned, she appears,” said Naotalba in wonder.

“Great joy, father,” shouted Camilla, “for the Yellow Sign is found! Great joy to all who see it! Great…”

“Traitor!” snarled Aldones. “You sell us to the priests and the mob! What price your treachery? What profit your crimes?”

Camilla stopped, uncertain and confused. “Dear father…”

Aldones turned to Cassilda. “It is a simple matter, your majesty. If she is mad, that’s one thing. But if she simply acts of it, if she is indeed a traitor, then we must stop her.”

Cassilda eyed her daughter as she spoke to Aldones. “Your explanations wheel like a flight of sparrows, Aldones. I am growing impatient.”

“Hardly,” said Aldones.

Naotalba ignored him. “Did she not see Carcosa’s rising tide?”

”No one sees it now, priest,” said Aldones.

“She, like her brother before her, has dropped your dynasty’s veil behind,” he responded to Aldones. “So crossing from your destiny to mine.”

“So she’s with you, then?”

“Surely she has chosen madness wisely—”

“Riddles!” shouted Aldones. “Riddles! While war wages about us, ruin closer by the minute, you rhyme and preen and gloat! I’ve had enough!”

“I am content to wait,” said Naotalba. “The time cannot be long in coming.”

“But father, how is Uoht?” asked Camilla. “I had him arrested…“

Aldones interrupted her. “The traitor admits it!”

“…as you asked me,” she finished.

“Calm yourself, Aldones,” said Cassila. “She sounds to me as though her madness retreats a little, if such a thing were possible. Hear her out.”

“If you will not defend your dynasty, I will!” Aldones grabbed a musket from a guard’s hands and aimed it at Camilla.

Naotalba dove to the ground. “Save us!”

Cassilda rose to her feet and screamed. “No!”

Aldones fired. The musket flashed with fire and smoke and Camilla crumpled to the ground. As the explosive sound echoed away, absolute silence reigned.

“So. ‘Tis true. ‘Tis all true,” said Cassilda, resigned. “After a fashion.” [MORE]

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Tuesday, August 4

Evil Stars: Part 8 – Between a Place and a Hard Rock

Jim-Bean grabbed one of the blue polo-shirted employees fleeing from the store as the THING that was Billy strode towards them, fanged maw chattering madly. The employee’s badge read: HI THERE, I’M BOBBY!

“You, Bobby!” shouted Jim-Bean. “You know how to work a computer?”

Bobby swallowed. “Uh…yes sir?”

Jim-Bean waved his badge at the teenager. “I’m a federal agent and I need your help, right now!”

The word “now” was drowned out by the smash of Billy striding right through the glass doors, its spiked fists easily shattering the glass.

“Go to the back office,” commanded Jim-Bean. He shoved Star after Bobby. “Both of you.”

Hammer and Archive engaged the thing as Bobby ran to the back office. Jim-Bean jogged over to the music aisle and flipped through the “G” section of the CDs.

After a few seconds and more screams from the fleeing patrons, Jim-Bean found the most recent God’s Lost Children album. He ran over to the back office.

Jim-Bean handed the CD to Bobby. “I need you to play this backwards over the audio system.”

“W-what?” stuttered Bobby, who was torn between staring at the faceless thing swinging clumsily at Hammer and the pistol dangling from Jim-Bean’s shoulder holster. “That’s not simple.”

Jim-Bean drew his pistol. “Then you’d better get working on it now, huh?” [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 13a – Alchemistry Laboratory

Sebastian looked around. “Looks like an alchemist’s laboratory.”

The room had long wooden tables and myriad wood shelves filled with strange flasks and glassware: alembics, calcinators, sublimators, athanors, retorts and distillation apparatus.

The door slammed shut behind them.

Kham turned. “What was that?”

Vlad tried the door. “We’re locked in.”

There was a soft hissing noise.

“What’s THAT?” [MORE]

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Monday, August 3

Evil Stars: Part 7 – The Thing from the Video

“I know how to take care of biker gangs,” said Archive. He whispered something and concentrated.

Billy’s bike suddenly sparked, flames licking from the sides of the engine. He lost control, swerving the bike too quickly. It flipped sideways, hurtling Billy to the ground.

He hit the pavement hard, tumbling, rolling, sliding with a chattering screech as flesh stripped away. He hit the guardrail, bounced up, tumbled along the top and then pitched out into space. Billy smashed to the pavement in the middle lane and lay there, face-down. Still.

“Got hi—“ was all Hammer got out. Jim-Bean wasn’t paying attention to the road. He swerved, striking the guardrail as the two lanes suddenly diverged.

The car screeched, one wheel wobbling. Jim-Bean struggled to regain control of the vehicle.

“Stupid rental piece of CRAP,” he snarled. The car began to slow down, the transmission wrecked.

“Guys…” said Star. “I think Billy’s…I think he’s getting up.”

Billy slowly rolled over and sat up. He was a mass of blood, clothing and skin in tatters. Headlights flared behind him and an air horn blared.

A double-trailer Kenworth gasoline tanker smashed him down and under with a crash. Billy rolled, clattering, and the mass blurred above him. He ricocheted between the pavement and the speeding undercarriage until a stray bounce flung him up into the rear suspension. The stunned driver hit the brakes. The air brakes howled.

“Is he dead?” asked Star. “He’s got to be dead…”

“Don’t be so sure,” said Jim-Bean. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy s*&t in my day…”

The body of the driver was tossed out of the side of the tanker, rolling.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Hammer. [MORE]

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Castle Amborse: Part 12 – Cells

They passed four dungeon cells. The back and side walls of each cell were made of stone. The front wall was a grid of iron bars. In one cell was a longhaired man holding a paintbrush and a bucket of paint. He was huddled in the corner of the room, staring rapturously at a highly realistic painting of the moon on the back wall of his cell.

Vlad battered the lock open.

“What are you doing?” asked Beldin.

Then Vlad stepped inside the cell with the man and stared at the painting of the moon.

Sebastian looked away. “Don’t look at it!”

Kham felt his way back to the cell. “What’s going on?”

Beldin frowned. “Vlad seems to be enchanted. He’s staring at a painting of the moon.”

Kham reached into his haversack and pulled out a can of paint.

“Where?”

“Straight ahead of you.”

“Not going to have much use for this paint anyway,” Kham muttered to himself. Then he pulled back and threw the bucket. [MORE]

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Saturday, August 1

Evil Stars: Part 6 – Hasta la Vista

There was the sound of wrenching metal.

“Hammer?” asked Jim-Bean. “Come back.”

Archive and Jim-Bean exchanged a worried glance.

“What?” asked Star. “What?!”

“Hammer’s not answering his comm.” Jim-Bean loaded a pistol. “Stay close to me.”

Archive drew his Glock and followed a worried Star out the door to the main chamber.

The double doors had been torn off their hinges with incredible force. The proof of impact was evident in Hammer, who lay underneath one of the doors, unconscious. Another door across the way had been struck so hard that it was nearly folded in half.

“The armory,” said Archive. “He’s going to get his weapons.”

“Maybe. I don’t plan to stick around to find out. Grab Hammer.”

Archive dragged Hammer out from underneath the door and onto the elevator in the center of the room, onto the elevator platform. Jim-Bean and Star joined him. He punched the red button labeled UP.

Jim-Bean rifled through his bag.

“What are you doing?” asked Star.

“Leaving a parting gift,” said Jim-Bean. He pulled out a few blocks of C4, with detonators attached. “Courtesy of the armory Billy is raiding.”

Just before the elevated platform cleared the ceiling of the entrance, Jim-Bean rolled the C4 through the opening. [MORE]

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Castle Ambrose: Part 11 – Magical Letter Square

A large square grid was painted on the floor in the middle of the room. The grid was five ten-foot by ten-foot squares long and wide, a total of twenty-five squares. A huge capital letter was painted in the middle of each square. There was a door on the other side of the room, but to reach it they would have to step on several of the painted squares.

Sebastian mulled it over. “It’s all in Hasturic: Gohen, Orare, Hazah, Eraro, and Nehog.”

Kham peered at the letter in front of him. “And that means…”

“Eraro means shapeshifters. That’s all I know.”

“Great, so I don’t want step on Eraro.” Kham swigged a potion. “In fact, I don’t plan to step on any of them. He took a running lead in the hallway before the room.

“No, wait!”

Kham leaped, clearing the room and slamming into the door on the far side of the wall.

“He made it,” said Beldin with relief.

“Oh sure,” Kham called out behind him. “I just can’t see anything.”

“Blind again?” asked Vlad. “One day I’ll teach you how to blind-fight.”

“Yeah, thanks, that’s helpful. I’m going to keep going.”

“But you can’t see!” shouted Sebastian.

“Skiz will guide me. SKIZ! Wake up!”

Kham felt his way out of the room as his pet rat poked its head out of his haversack. [MORE]

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