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Thursday, November 26

Isles of the Damned: Part 4c – Crystal Lake Island

Complete chaos engulfed the Naoke. First it was the two-headed giants. A second later, a four-armed gorilla showed up. Then a huge leopard with tentacles grafted to its flesh and a wolverine with bony plates jutting from its forehead.

“We can’t take them all on at once!” Vlad parried the whip-crack of one of the leopard’s tentacles with his shield. “There’s too many!”

Beldin rolled beneath one of the giants and cut its leg out from under it. Its howl was cut off by Windcutter chopping through its throat. “Bah! I’ll take care of the giants, you take care of the rest!”

Sebastian pointed at the wolverine. “Demitte resisto!” Nothing happened.

“If that was supposed to do something, it didn’t!” Kham took aim at the wolverine and fired. A chunk of fur and flesh blew off the beast, but it kept coming at Vlad.

“I was assaying their weaknesses,” Sebastian said calmly from his position over the deck. “Watch: radius incensio!”

Three spiraling beams of fire sliced into the wolverine, engulfing it in flames. It was all Vlad could do to keep it on the other side of his shield. more

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Wednesday, November 25

Landscrapes: Conclusion

Suddenly, a great cracking noise shattered the silence, followed by a terrifying vision: separating itself from the surrounding evergreens, a tentacle beast bore down on them, tendrils waving, pus-dripping mouths champing. The hideous offspring of Shub-Niggurath screeched and howled. It was the creature that had escaped from Dawn Biozyme, that had killed off the Black Flag team. And now it was coming for Hammer.

Hammer ran. He plunged straight through the open doorway and, leaping over the wreckage, hit the ground running. Behind him, the thing smashed through the cabin, heedless of the obstacle in its path. Jim-Bean never made it out.

Hammer kept running. He could out run it, he was sure, if it weren't for the damn trees. He just had to find some flat ground.

But there was none. The trees were everywhere.

Hammer looked over his shoulder. The thing was right on his heels, tentacles waving towards him, probing, tearing trees out of its path or just smashing right through them with its cloven hooves.

Stars exploded as Hammer ran headlong into a trunk. He fell backwards, bouncing off of the solid oak, stunned.

Tentacles snaked towards him, hungry mouths sucking in anticipation.

Hammer caught sight of the box of dynamite. He'd dropped it as he ran, and now it was partially underneath the tentacle-thing's feet. He took aim and fired. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 4b – Crystal Lake Island

Sebastian launched himself into the air, trying to get a clear shot.

“Don’t use fire!” shouted Baldric. “Ye’ll destroy me ship!”

“I know, I know!” Sebastian shouted back.

Beldin rolled and hacked down one of the mutants. He came up behind another one that was advancing on Vlad. It didn’t see him…

The mutant tossed its hair, and a pair of eyes peered through the strands at him. They went wide and the mutant soldier spun just as Beldin’s axe came down for what would have been a fatal blow.

“They’ve got eyes in the backs of their heads!” shouted Beldin. “Literally!” more

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Tuesday, November 24

Landscrapes: Part 10 – The Forests See All

The portal emptied into an overgrown clearing. At the center was an old, creaky log cabin, a collapsed outbuilding, and a well.

Jim-Bean's mask was gone. He looked around, blinking in the setting sun.

"I recognize this," said Hammer. "This was Waban's place."

The sound of many flies buzzing through the air caused Hammer to unholster his Glocks. Jim-Bean held the braincase in one hand and the Elder Sign in the other.

Pointing the braincase towards to Waban's house, it began to pulse.

Jim-Bean led the way, climbing the rough steps up to Waban’s house. There were a large number of flies around the screen door, accompanied by a revolting stench.

The screen door was black with flies crawling over the torn mesh. Hammer kicked it open.

A scene of grisly proportions greeted them.

"Jesus," whispered Hammer. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 4a – Crystal Lake Island

They gathered on the deck of the Naoke under the pale moonlight.

“So,” said Kham. “What’s the plan?”

Von Grebel glared at Kham. “I never agreed to help you.”

“Yeah, well, I never agreed to help you either. And if I recall correctly, the Leviathan Bell controls undead, right?”

The vampire paused. “What’s your point?”

“I mean, we could just force you to tell us what we want, right?”

Von Grebel crossed his arms.

“That’s what I thought,” said Kham. “Since we’re stuck with each other, maybe we should concentrate on getting out of here.”

The vampire muttered something.

“What was that?” asked Kham.

“You heard me.”

“'You don’t know how'?” more

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Monday, November 23

Landscrapes: Part 9 – PELLUCIDAR

The cavern opened up above and below and to each side. Hundreds of the tiny, fire-like lights provided dim illumination. The light revealed a dome at least ninety feet above, and a canyon below it running approximately three-hundred feet to the northwest, before a bend hid the rest of its extent from view. The sound of a river gurgled up from the canyon floor below at least two hundred and fifty feet away. The opposite side of the canyon was the source of the light, as it twinkled in sparkling profusion from the windows of a majestic cliff dwelling.

The place was large enough to have its own atmosphere. It smelled odd, and strange clicking and buzzing sounds reached their ears.

"What is this place?" asked Hammer.

"I don't think it'z on Earth," responded Jim-Bean.

Up ahead was a pentagon-shaped building made of similar black obsidian. A pentagon-shaped door lensed open before Jim-Bean as he approached.

Inside, the floor was smooth, black obsidian rock. Strange fungus growths were everywhere. They moved to the next room through another pentagon door.

It opened to a similarly sized room emitting loud buzzing and clicking noises like a swarm of wasps. Inside were tiny, winged lobsters, clambering around eating spores from massive toadstools and other fungal growths that filled the chamber, while little black worm larva crawled everywhere else. An organic, transparent membrane stopped the creatures from escaping.

"That iz their young," said Jim-Bean matter-of-factly.

"You're starting to creep me out with that mask," said Hammer.

Metal shelves on the walls held various cylinders, some occupied, others empty. Strange appendages that looked like speakers were also on the shelves. One cylinder had recently been opened and left unfinished.

"We already know what's in those." Hammer swallowed hard. He'd seen a man's brain sucked out through his face. That image would stay with him for the rest of his life. He refused to look inside.

They moved on to the next room. It contained strange alien tables created in human shape. Next to the beds were translucent egg shaped vessels with pipes pumping liquid into them from valves in the ceiling. Inside each vessel were human organs and body parts such as lungs, hearts, eyes, leg muscles and intestines, kept alive and functioning by the strange fluids.

"I remember thiz place," said Jim-Bean, his voice evincing a hint of nostalgia.

"That's not…yours, is it?" asked Hammer.

Jim-Bean didn't answer. Maybe he didn't want to know. He walked to the next room.

It was bare except for the back wall covered in strange runes.

The runes on the wall glowed. A large, pinkish, fungoid, crustacean-like entity stepped out of it.

It was the size of a man with a convoluted ellipsoid composed of pyramided, fleshy rings and covered in antennae where a head would normally be. Its crustacean-like body bore numerous sets of paired appendages. It also possessed a pair of membranous bat-like wings. Alien dog. Mi-Go. Mothman. Whatever it was, Jim-bean stood before it unafraid. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 3d – White Gorilla Island

The room took their breath away. Gold and precious gems were encrusted on every surface and carved bas-relief depictions of an idealized Gorilla City lined the walls and ceiling. The subjects in the depictions appeared very happy, as if their queen were extremely benevolent. An ornate throne rested on a raised platform within and covered braziers lit each corner of the room.

“What are you doing, fools?” An unearthly beautiful woman in flowing white robes, tall, raven-haired and imperious stood up from the throne. “Turn around and fight!”

The gorillas, wielding spears, did not hesitate to comply. Beldin and Vlad engaged them.

“Jenny!” shouted Kham. “Jenny, it’s all right. We’re not here to hurt you!”

“Did he just say we’re not here to hurt her?” asked Vlad.

Beldin brandished his axe. “I think so.”

Sebastian launched himself into the air and unleashed a blast of electrical energy from his fingertips. It arced between the rows of gorilla guards, sending them flying.

Sycorax turned to face Kham. “Zoltan? You’re pathetic. You’re a shadow of your former self. You’re even more pathetic because you continue to cling to the idea that you can retain your former glory. Those days are over!”

The apes quickly recovered. Vlad hacked one ape across the clavicle and it went down hard. Another smashed into him, the blow from its huge fists nearly dislodging his shield.

“Are you…” Kham squinted. “You’re WEARING the hook? Are you mad, woman? Its power…”

Sycorax, who had one arm behind her back, sighed. “I had hoped you wouldn’t see that.”

Beldin smashed one gorilla with his shield. When it doubled over, he hacked it sideways with Windcutter. Just as it went down, another gorilla took its place.

“It’s not hard,” sneered Sebastian. “Holding one arm behind your back isn’t exactly concealing it.” more

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Saturday, November 21

Landscrapes: Part 8 – Balance of Power

Jim-Bean was once again at the wall, wearing the bizarre mask. He looked like some kind of alien insect hybrid, not unlike the alien dogs, or Mothmen, they had met in the past. Humming filled the air.

Hammer dashed back into the chamber.

"What'z up?" asked Jim-Bean. With the mask on his speech was garbled.

Gunfire answered Jim-Bean's question. Hammer returned fire. "Work on getting that wall opened!"

The enemy agents were all dressed in black body armor with laser sights on their pistols and nightvision goggles. Hammer suspected they were yet another clean-up crew, sent by Dawn Biozyme to keep them from discovering whatever secrets lay beyond the wall.

There was a flash and a WOOSH as a bullet arced around one of the stalactites at Hammer, narrowly missing his head.

"What the hell waz that?" asked Jim-Bean, reflexively ducking from the small explosion.

"I don't know." Hammer shut his visor lamp off and snapped a glow stick. He kept it out of sight, but close enough that he could still see right a few feet around him.

In the green radiance of the glow stick, the masked Jim-Bean looked even more bizarre. He kept probing the wall, and as he did so the mask resonated. It was almost as if it were trying to find the right pitch to harmonize with the wall's vibrations…

The comms of the pursuing clean-up team were magnified in the tunnels. "This is Agent Balance. Targets sighted. All teams converge on my point."

Another gyroject bullet shrieked around the corner, punching through a stalactite.

Hammer fired blindly in the darkness. "Jimmy, if you're going to do something, do it now!" more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 3c – White Gorilla Island

The Pyramid of Sycorax dominated the skyline of Gorilla City. It was, in fact, the tallest structure on the island, and it was visible from most anywhere except the dark heart of the jungle. It was made from large volcanic-stone blocks in a classic step-pyramid style. A set of stairs ran up from the base to a wide terrace near the apex of the Pyramid.

The stairs led to a large, ornate set of double doors, beneath an archway constructed of two enormous ivory tusks from some gargantuan beast. Two white gorillas stood guard in front of the doors, with a large gong just to the left of them.

Sebastian landed with a flap of his wings. The two white-furred gorillas beat their chests as he descended.

“I’d step out of the way if I were you.”

The gorillas looked at Sebastian, puzzled. Then they looked up. Someone was shouting above them.

“—aaaaaAAAAH!” A dwarf-shaped projectile smashed into the first gorilla. Vlad crashed into the second. more

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Friday, November 20

Landscrapes: Part 7 – Under Owlshead Mountain

When the agents stepped out of the elevator, they entered a cavern containing five small wooden stands cluttered with camp gear and arrowheads. Small crickets chirped in the corners.

Jim-Bean inspected the camp gear. It included a Coleman stove and twenty cans of soup.

"Somebody likes Campbell's Steak 'n Potato Soup," he said.

The stands contained several small arrowheads collected from the cave.

The agents switched their visor lights on and threaded their way through the northern tunnel.

It narrowed amongst flowstone, stalagmites, and columns. There were a few cigarette butts on the floor, accompanying spiders and gnats.

They continued on, passed white to gold flowerlike structures that seemed to ooze and curl from the wall, ceiling, and floor much like icing from a cake decorator’s nozzle. There were also thin-walled naturally formed hollow tubes about an inch in diameter. They splashed through pools of water, where eyeless crayfish and springfish wiggled about in its depths.

Finally, they came to a wall of matte-black substance that blocked the northeast tunnel. Two six-foot tall mushrooms flanked the fifteen-foot wide wall.

"Whoa," said Jim-Bean, eyeing the mushrooms. "Those are some BIG mushrooms."

The mushrooms had bright red caps with sickly yellow spots and a pale milky stalk of a body. They had an eye-like pattern on the stalks with the same sickly yellow color that adorned the cap.

Hammer played his visor light over the wall. "I saw this wall in my vision. It doesn't look like stone to me."

"In your vision, you heard buzzing?"

"Yeah," replied Hammer

"Then the shaman mask might help." Jim-Bean dug it out. "Good thing I left it in the trunk."

"Good thing it wasn't in your satchel," muttered Hammer.

While he was rifling through his satchel to pull out the mask, Jim-Bean's elbow brushed the curious black wall. That was all it took.

The mushrooms unfurled, two stubby arms separating seamlessly out from the main stalk. Legs separated at the base.

"Yaaah!" shouted Jim-Bean, stumbling backwards. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 3b – White Gorilla Island

They stood in the entrance to the Skull’s mouth, near the two ornate, gear-heavy structure.

Beldin peered skeptically at the massive metal cylinders. “I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true!” said Kham, hands spread in a plea. “These cylinders store thousands of gallons of potions of flight. When I command the Skull, engines inside the cylinders distribute the potions to massive, wheezing bellows, where it is atomized and distributed via hoses to the nozzles on the outside of the craft.”

The Skull shuddered.

Sebastian knocked a knuckle against one of the cylinders. “Even if that were true, potions don’t work that way. You don’t simply spray them in a direction to create an effect. By that logic I could poor a healing potion over my head and be healed.”

“As a matter of fact, these two vats,” Kham pointed at the vats overhead, “store exactly that. The Skull showers healing potions on Zoltan’s townspeople after their battles.”

“But potions don’t work like that!” shouted Beldin.

Kham waved the pistol and the jaws of the Skull began to slowly open. Roaring wind tore through the opening.

Sebastian opened up his wings as they caught the air, snapping to his full wingspan. “I suppose if he created them as a form of oil instead…”

“What will happen to the Zaska clones?” Beldin hesitated at the opening. “To the children?”

“They’ll be dead,” said Sebastian without emotion. “Wraps the problem of Zaska and Sycorax up nicely, I think.”

Beldin just stared at him.

“Look, we don’t have a whole lot of time here!” Kham drew Talon and slashed one of the hoses that connected to the cylinders. A bluish liquid gushed from the hose. “Do you want to argue about Althares’ gifts or do you want to not get smashed to a pulp?”

Vlad waved his hand. “I’d like to not be smashed to a pulp, please.” more

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Thursday, November 19

Landscrapes: Part 6 – The Laboratory

Past the Fumo Loco were workbenches and shelves, covered with plants—except that they had grown far out of their own pots, reaching down to the floor and rooting in the earth there, mingling with each other in unholy biological matrimony. Looking closer, the actual species were weird—crossbreeds, bulbs of unnatural shape and flowers of unholy hue.

The lab had obviously not been used for some time. All tools were removed, although some glass containers filled with seeds and samples remained. There was a door on the far side of the room.

Jim-Bean tilted his head. "Do you hear that?"

"No," said Hammer, trying to keep his eyes on every plant at once. "What are you hearing?"

"Singing." Jim-Bean leaned down to a patch of pink flowers. "Yep, singing."

"The flowers are singing to you?" asked Hammer, skeptical.

"Need I remind you that we were just attacked by a tree?" more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 3a – White Gorilla Island

Von Grebel sighed. “We are running out of time. Sycorax will use her ritual to subjugate her followers today. We’ve got to invade or it’ll be another twelve days before she does it again.”

“Sycorax?” Sebastian stared at von Grebel. “Sycorax, mother of Camring, impostor to the Sea Lord’s throne?”

“Black Jenny Ramsey,” Kham said breathlessly. “She’s taken on a new persona as the White Queen of Gorilla Island.”

“Gorillas,” said Vlad. “Seriously?”

Von Grebel nodded. “Sycorax’s slaves built a series of arcane obelisks that focus the Hook’s dominating powers. Once every twelve days, gorilla work crews travel through the city with wagons filled with human prisoners. When they reach the obelisks, the gorillas shackle a human to the top of each one and bleed him to death. The obelisks reinforce Sycorax’s dominance so that her control over every sentient being on the island is complete.”

“Gorillas?” Vlad asked again. more

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Wednesday, November 18

Landscrapes: Part 5 – Forest for the Trees

The explosion was so powerful that it knocked Hammer down, yards away, and blew out all the glass in the greenhouse.

The tree burst into flames, stopping in its tracks. What was left of the work shed disintegrated in a flaming pile of wreckage.

"Jimmy?" Hammer shouted into his cistron. "Jim?"

No response.

Hammer caught sight of a streaking red line moving along the ground. He sprayed wildly with his Glock, missing it.

It darted back into the copse of trees. And another oak, this one larger than the first, painfully tore up its roots.

Hammer, jaw set, knew what he had to do.

"Come on!" shouted Hammer, setting the gas can next to him. "Come on you son of a bitch!"

The tree awkwardly, slowly, stumped towards him. It would have been comical under different circumstances.

Hammer backed up, rifle at the ready. The tree strode within yards of the gas can.

"Come on," whispered Hammer. "Just a little closer…"

The tree stopped. It waved one huge limb, curling branches around it in the chastising gesture of a human finger, as if to say, "Nah ah ah!"

Hammer swore. It was smarter than he thought. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 2g – The Boneshaper’s Throne

They emerged in a room unlike anything they had seen so far in Zoltan’s castle. It was completely black. The darkness came from drapes, heavy velvet ones, strung around the room, covering the naturally gleaming ceramic. Two pieces of furniture dominated the room: a massive four-poster bed, also curtained, and a mammoth pipe organ, which wheezed out the weird atonal music that filled the atrium below.

One hulking mechanical skeleton plunked away at the organ while two others turned the pages of sheet music.

“Ha-ha!” Zoltan leaped from the curtains, looking as roguish, handsome, and charming as ever.

“Great,” Kham sighed. “Please tell me you’re the real Zoltan and we can kill you now.”

“I am indeed,” said Zoltan with a smile. “I have been watching you closely, and you’ve made a fine impression. If you can best me in a fair battle, I will proudly meet my fate and hand over de pistol.”

“Very funny,” said Kham. “Like my comrades would ever let me fight you in single combat. Right guys?”

Silence.

Kham turned around. “Guys? You’re not seriously going to let me fight him one on one, are you?” more

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Tuesday, November 17

Landscrapes: Part 4 – Beating Around the Bush

Hammer ran towards the shed.

"The thing is animating plants!" shouted Hammer.

"What?" Jim-Bean shouted back, reloading his pistol.

Hammer didn't bother to explain. He reholstered his pistols and cocked the rifle slung over his shoulder without losing his stride.

Behind him, an oak tree stumped along relentlessly.

"Is that…?" asked Jim-Bean.

"Yes!" Hammer spun, took aim, and fired.

A burst of wood splintered out of the trunk. Some leaves fell. But it was about as effective as shooting a tree might be – which is to say, not effective all.

"I need a can of gasoline!"

Jim-Bean handed Hammer the gasoline can, dumbfounded. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 2f – The Boneshaper’s Throne

They dropped from the ceiling only to end up in the same maze where they began. The remains of the chuul battle were cleared away, but they were not alone.

A woman lay crumpled in the center of the room.

Kham put his hands out. “I think the walls are gone too.”

Sebastian launched himself into the air as Kham, flanked by Vlad and Beldin, closed on the girl.

“You okay?” he asked.

“I…was taken to Zoltan’s chambers…” rasped the girl. “He beat me…”

A stooped, withered creature in tattered finery appeared on the other side of the room. “You’ve found me at last.”

“Yeah,” said Kham. “Right. Zoltan, you’ve seen better days.”

“In life I was something to behold,” said Zoltan. “Now look at me! Look at how death has ravaged me, what kind of creature it has turned me into!”

“If that’s even the real Zoltan,” said Sebastian from above. more

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Monday, November 16

Landscrapes: Part 3 – "Work Shed"

The equipment shed was cluttered and dirty, filled with agricultural tools and implements. A gasoline-powered electrical generator supplied emergency power to the house.

"Weed killer," said Jim-Bean, pointing at one of the many containers in the work shed.

A humanoid form silhouetted the entryway to the shed. But it was not a human being – not anymore. What was once the corpse of a youth was now a mess of living red creepers that sprouted from his rotting body, his guts, his mouth, and his eyes.

Jim-Bean fired a spray of bullets into the dead kid's plant-inhabited corpse. It reached upwards, tendrils stretching and gripping, and then it was gone.

"What the hell was that?" asked Hammer.

"Steven Tagget, I'm guessing," said Jim-Bean. "I don't think we're going to find Finley here."

The roof thunked as the Tagget-thing clambered around on the shed.

Hammer pointed both pistols at the ceiling.

"No, Hammer, wait—"

Hammer sprayed the ceiling with gunfire.

The thin shed roof, already straining under the weight of a body, collapsed. Hammer and Jim-Bean fell backwards under the debris. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 2e – The Boneshaper’s Throne

They barely had time to reach the boat and find their sea legs when Zoltan’s voice boomed down from the crow’s nest.

“This is where I made my name! On the open seas on moonlit nights. How about you, mi amigos? Do you have what it takes to fight on another man’s decks?”

“Where’d the cliffs go?” asked Beldin.

The cliffs behind them had vanished. Open ocean surrounded them on all sides. A big fat merchant vessel pulled along the starboard side.

“You know,” said Kham, “I’m getting the impression that style matters more in this place than substance. Beldin, come with me.”

The dwarf grunted but complied.

Vlad and Sebastian exchanged glances.

“Any idea what he’s up to?” asked the Milandisian.

Sebastian shrugged. “At this point I’m willing to set that other ship on fire along with the annoying fop who keeps shouting at us.” more

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Saturday, November 14

Landscrapes: Part 2 – The Greenhouse

The farmhouse was unlocked. Inside, all seemed orderly. There were two bedrooms (one unfurnished), kitchen, living room, bathroom, and a utility room with big concrete tubs. Here and there items and utensils were knocked over, or left on a bench. Other than the odd moss that grew in the sinks, over old food and between the sheets of the bed, there wasn't much to see. Finley had obviously not returned to the farm in months.

The agents headed back outside.

Out in the fields stood a relatively new building, about five years old--a greenhouse. Through the glass walls could be seen a riot of vegetation. Adjoining the greenhouse was a newish wooden frame extension, the lab.

Hammer tried the door. "Locked." He smashed the glass door with his elbow and reached in to unlock the door.

The insides sprang out as a mass of billowing greenery--the first impression was of something bursting out. However, the fronds simply bounced and waved, and it was apparent that they outgrew the walls.

Tobacco plants grew where they had no business growing. They towered at twelve feet in height, with stalks as thick as four inches and veins bulging like a bodybuilder. The nicotine in the air among the vibrant plants was palpable. There was a tantalizing flavor that was extremely aromatic.

What the smell was, Hammer could quite pin down.

Hammer stood in the open doorway, taking in the scent, as the tobacco plants known as Fumo Loco waved in a wind that wasn't there.

Deep within the dense foliage, something rustled. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 2d – The Boneshaper’s Throne

They emerged in a nightmare version of a young boy’s room. There was the normal furniture one would expect to find: a bed, writing desk, dresser, bookcase, and toy chest. There was also the usual mess of toys and books scattered on the floor. What wasn’t usual was that everything was five times its normal size.

“Aha,” another Zoltan clone announced, “you’ve made it through infancy.” He sat on the writing desk by the window. Through the window, waves crashed against rocks and a breeze of salty air wafted through the room. “But what happens when you start to grow and learn and de world starts to crush you?”

Beldin climbed out of the trap door behind the others. He wiped chuul ichor off of one of his boots. “I think I liked the maze better.”

“My parents gave me everything, but it meant nothing! I was hollow inside! De only thing that filled me, my only salvation, was the written word—and de lure of the sea!”

Something rolled off to Sebastian’s left. A small yo-yo rolled out from behind a box and fell on its side.

“Man, this guy’s got issues.” Vlad brandished Grungronazharr.

A shadow passed by Sebastian. He turned quickly but saw nothing. “What was that?”

There was a noise from under the bed. Beldin peered into the darkness.

It was a large teddy bear.

“Hey!” said Beldin. “Come out here. Do you know a way out of here?”

The teddy bear walked out from under the bed, revealing fangs, glowing red eyes, yellow horns, and a white skull on its stomach. more

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Friday, November 13

Landscrapes: Part 1 – Barking up the Wrong Tree

The route to the farm was much easier to follow by day. The pavement turned to gravel in parts, and the road took the agents far from other farms.

Further down the road was the turnoff to the Finley farm, recognizable by a galvanized mailbox with RR#3, 237 painted on it. A graveled road led to the farm, sprawled across a narrow valley.

A long driveway led up to a gate and the farmyard. In the distant fields a solitary scarecrow stood sentinel. Around the yard were a farmhouse, barn, woodpile, equipment shed, chicken coop, garage, and a few small sheds. Out to the left of the yard was a greenhouse and attached to a wooden frame building, the laboratory. A fence surrounded the farm buildings and yard; to the outside of the perimeter fence was a fifteen-foot-wide band of scorched earth. Through a second gate a track led uphill from the farm to the forest which crowned the ridge beyond.

The agents stopped the car at the band of earth. Hammer got out to inspect it.

Next to the trees on the outskirts of the fields was a five-yards-broad band of earth that had been laid bare, burned, and flattened.

Hammer stuck one finger and the dirt and tasted it. "Lyme…some other defoliants. This patch of earth was chemically stripped."

"Finley trying to keep the woods out?" asked Jim-Bean, looking around at the scraggly oaks and junipers that led up to soaring sugar pines.

"Or keep something in." Hammer checked that both pistols were loaded. "Look at the gate."

The gate was off its hinges, lying by the side of the road, broken and bent. Glass twinkled around it in the dust. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 2c – The Boneshaper’s Throne

They appeared in an empty room of gleaming white ceramic. In the middle of the room stood a man dressed in full-on swashbuckling gear: a longcoat, tri-cornered hat, and polished boots—the whole nine yards.

“Zoltan Zaska,” said Kham with a frown.

Zoltan took off his hat and bowed deeply. “Indeed, it is I!” he said with a thick Salantis accent.

Sebastian launched himself into the air. “Enough of this nonsense, let’s kill him and get the pist—OOF!”

The dark-kin collided with an invisible wall.

Sebastian landed, rubbing his nose. “Walls of force.”

“You have done admirably well on all of my tests so far,” said Zoltan, sneering. “You have proven yourselves superior in mind and body. But now you must prove that you can take on de toughest challenge of all: being Zoltan Zaska!”

Vlad turned to Beldin. “Is he serious?”

“Can you survive de same challenges I have lived through? If so, you earn de right to meet me face to face!”

Kham looked around. “So let me guess: you had to figure out how to navigate an invisible maze once? When was this, when you were still a toddler?”

Zoltan grinned. “Close! Even being born was a challenge for me. My twin sister died in the womb, as and she did, her umbilical cord wrapped itself around my neck. I escape strangulation and made it into de world by the slimmest of margins. Perhaps you can do de same!”

Beldin shook his head. “So this maze is a parallel for his birth?”

A section of the wall on the opposite side of the room shimmered away and two of crab-like beasts with mouthfuls of writing tentacles clattered forward.

“Then what do those represent?” asked Vlad.

“Don’t ask,” said Kham. “I suggest we start moving…” more

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Thursday, November 12

Landscrapes: Prologue

It was a hundred and thirty miles to the hamlet of Delilah, a devolutionary journey from freeway to highway to road, from city to suburb to crossroad. The town was small and ugly, in a plain and boring way.

When they arrived, a convenience store, a service station, a post office and a tavern were open. An assortment of pickups and old autos were parked in front of the drinking establishment, where locals came to down a few at the end of the day.

Hammer and Jim-Bean opened the door to the tavern.

Inside, older men and women sipped their drinks and listened to Elvis croon in crackling tones from the dusty jukebox: the dead man's songs brought back memories of when they were younger and the world was bigger.

"We're looking for a room," said Hammer.

The bartender/hosteller looked them up and down.

"Two rooms," said Jim-Bean forcefully.

With a nod and a smile, the bartender rang them up. A credit card was exchanged for a key.

"Been a bad year all round really," muttered one of the locals, sipping his beer at the bar. "There's the sudden drought, and there was that bad frost in the Spring; some farmers might be seeing their last summer. There's no predicting the weather these days. And then there's the whole thing with Tagget."

Jim-Bean pivoted on his heel. "What about Tagget?"

The man peered quizzically at Jim-Bean. "Pardon?"

"Sorry," Jim-Bean flashed him a smile, then addressed the bartender. "His next drink's on me." more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 2b – The Boneshaper’s Throne

The corridor extended straight for about thirty feet, then curved to the left, sloping gently upward. The corridor, like the rest of the Skull, was smooth white ceramic, with just enough flat space down the middle of the floor for easy walking.

“Hear that?” asked Vlad.

Kham nodded. It was strange, atonal music.

After another hundred feet, the corridor curved again to the left, becoming a walkway. As the corridor bent, the wall fell away and they found themselves on a gangplank overlooking a vast atrium bathed in crimson light—from the round ruby windows.

“That light is from the Skull’s eyes,” said Beldin.

Small crowds milled around the floor of the atrium, which was dominated by a revolving statue of a massive, ornate sculpture of a pistol. The gun, at least thirty feet high, appeared to be the source of the music. Dissonant notes echoed through the high-ceilinged chamber.

Kham slapped his forehead. “I really hope that’s not the artifact. Because I don’t think I can carry that.”

They kept walking, peering into each room. One room was a nursery, with cradle upon cradle filled with babies. Two of the metal things patrolled the aisles, attending to the crying infants.

“What kind of place is this?” asked Beldin, horrified.

“According to von Grebel, it’s where Zoltan Zaska raises his clones.” Sebastian nodded towards a painting hanging on the wall of the room. It was of Zoltan, who somehow managed to look both roguish and beatific, cradling a child in his arms.

“They seem well taken care of,” said Vlad.

Indeed, the strange skeletons were surprisingly gentle with the babies, picking them up and rocking them to sleep, feeding them milk from a beaker, and adjusting their covers.

“This place creeps me out,” said Kham. “Let’s get the Leviathan Pistol from this psycho and get out of here.” more

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Wednesday, November 11

Chapter 48: Landscrapes - Introduction

This story hour is a combination of the scenario from “A Night on Owlshead Mountain” from Arc Dream's Delta Green: Eyes Only by Dennis Detwiller, At Your Door, and The Killing Jar by Bruce Cordell for the Dark*Matter campaign. 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:

At Your Door gets a lot of flak for being goofy, but Landscrapes is singled out as being superior. The irony is that the agents, upon arriving at the farm at night, refused to enter because "that's when all the bad things happen." Of course, that wasn't the case at all.

I combined this scenario with the Tiger Transit's background, which provided a perfect backdrop for "showing, not telling" the dark history of Dawn Biozyme and Fumo Loco. The last part of this scenario is from The Killing Jar, which takes place in a series of winding cavern passages and ultimately a Mothman base.

Both the Landscrapes and Killing Jar scenarios provide a great setting for conflict but little guidance on how to create narrative tension. In the case of Landscrapes, I created a scene, triggering the intoxicating scent of Fumo Loco with the Gelid-Creature's attack. The Killing Jar, on the other hand, had a series of dangerous environments without an accompanying stress point like an attack. So Agent Balance and friends showed up at the worst time.

Still, the Fumo Loco incident played out more effectively than the underground scene. And the ending? The ending worked out far better than I could have hoped.

Defining Moment: Brain Jar + Elder Sign = a showdown the agents will never forget. more

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Isle of the Damned: Part 2a – The Boneshaper’s Throne

They crawled through an aperture in the Skull’s mouth into a large, high-ceilinged room dominated by two massive metal cylinders, one on each side. Metal walkways lined the wall far above and two large vats were suspended among them.

Ahead, racks upon racks of swords were set on a series of tracks in the floor. Everything in the place clanked loud enough to deafen them—undercut with a sinister groaning and hissing.

“What the hell is this place?” asked Vlad.

A voice boomed around them. “BATTLE IS TRUTH!”

Sebastian pointed up at the walkways above. Just then, six pirates hopped out from their hiding places near the metal cylinders and charged towards the ladder.

Glittering, polished metallic skeletons atop eight-foot frames landed in the pirates’ path. They had reinforced plates across their chests and arms that scraped the floor. There was a hint of flame in their hollow sockets.

“Baumann’s men,” said Vlad. “They must be after the artifacts!”

Kham looked suspiciously at Vlad. “What did you tell them?” more

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Tuesday, November 10

Dawn Biozyme: Conclusion

"Mission accomplished," Hammer reported to Sprague. "We have taken down Dawn Biozyme."

"I heard," said Sprague over the cistron. "Using the files we found on the hard drive, we initiated a full-blown federal investigation."

"Great—" began Hammer.

"But one of MegaCosmo's board members, 58-year-old David Melton, was found dead of his own hand. His suicide note confessed guilt in the funding and covert manipulation of Dawn Biozyme, and records accompanying the note contained information implicating Melton and Matthew Lewis in a plot to fleece millions from Dawn Biozyme, Tiger Transit, and MegaCosmos. The state of California is prosecuting Lewis now."

"So we didn't eff up, huh?" said Jim-Bean, fishing for a compliment.

"If you define not f*&king up as letting the head researcher go in a witness protection program deal that you had no authority to implement, yes, you did a great job," snarled Sprague. "But first things first. I'm sending you information on the Finley's experimental farm he was using to grow Fumo Loco, the predecessor to Coca Loco. Find out what you can, remove the evidence, and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Finley's still out there; we've had his mansion cased for days but he hasn't returned. If he's at the farm, bring him in."

"Can't we just use the JERICHO jets to just scour the place clean…?" began Jim-Bean, but Sprague had already cut him off.

"Guess that's a no," said Hammer. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 1f – The Isle of Undeath

“How did you get here, anyway?” Beldin asked Kham.

They were all concealed in the brush near one of the stone altars. Starlight illuminated their features.

Kham shrugged. “When I got knocked off the ship, I threw my folding boat and landed on it. I drifted for a while, unconscious. When I woke up, I followed you guys.”

“So you were the other ship we saw when we got sucked into the portal.” Sebastian was hunkered down, watching the altar intently.

“And the Kraken’s Claw was the third,” said Vlad. “Captain Baumann’s ship got sucked in as well, that’s how I ended up here.”

“I’m not sure I like this plan,” said Beldin. “And I definitely don’t like that Bell.”

Sebastian held the gold Leviathan Bell in his hands. It pulsed with dark energy. “According to von Grebel, Zoltan Zaska’s flying fortress will seek to rescue one of his many clones from the other island. The bell controls the zombies. So it’s simply a matter of ordering them to kidnap one of Zaska’s clones and bring him here. ”

“Then what?” asked Vlad.

“The fortress will attempt to rescue him. That’s when we board.”

“Sounds simple,” Kham said sarcastically. more

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Monday, November 9

Dawn Biozyme: Part 8 – The Summoning of Shub-Niggurath

Jim-Bean was witness to the source of all miscreation and abomination.

For at the center of the room was a gray mass that quobbed and quivered, and swelled perpetually; and from it, in manifold fission, were spawned the anatomies that crept away on every side through the chamber. The shivering little blobs known as tertiary cnidocytes formed spontaneously from the goo while larger, pulpy white forms crawled across the heaving mother-thing's mass, searching for sustenance.

And madly, insanely, a beast with no such discernible anatomy possessed teats, and the mewling white wormy beasts set their puckered mouths upon them and sucked.

Mechanical hoses snaked forth from hidden chambers and probed the seething mass. Finding a teat, they began pumping the white, stringy fluid that dripped from them, filling a set of ten-gallon carboys at the far end of the chamber.

The thing occasionally faded slightly, in coordination with changes in the pitch of the field generator.

Jim-Bean recoiled, back, back, back into his own insignificant body. Back with the knowledge that in some way, he was part of this thing and she him, that this perversity way his mother, was everyone's mother, and that the benefits of her milk pumped through his veins.

Back in his own mind, Jim-Bean found himself screaming. His nose leaked blood. Jim-Bean curled up into a ball and tried to contain his form lest it melt away and crawl down into the chamber to sup at the All-Mother's teats and slurp from her…

BLAM! Pain slashed through Jim-Bean's thoughts, dragging his disembodied spirit back into his skull, hard. Blood leaked from a bullet hole in his forearm.

Jim-Bean wiped the blood from his nose. "What the hell?"

"I had to snap you out of it!" Hammer shrugged. "We've got to get out of here!" more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 1e – The Isle of Undeath

Kham appeared in a flash.

“Hey Sebastian.” He waved at the dark-kin, as if he hadn’t just walked in on a massacre. “What’s going on?”

“Shiver in fear before the frozen depths of hell!”

Sebastian didn’t have time for banter. “Look out, he’s casting a—“

Kham dove to the side as a cone of freezing wind blasted towards Sebastian. The dark-kin shrugged it off. Some of his defenses were still in place, and it was fortunately the one that protected him from cold.

“And who are you now?” asked Daen, clearly aggravated.

“Nobody important,” said Kham. He drew his pistols. “But I’m guessing you’re a bad guy.”

“Oh, I’m not so bad once you get to know me,” clacked Daen. “But I’ll like you much better dead, I think.” He pointed at Kham.

Nothing happened.

Daen looked at his pointer finger. “Hmm, that usually works.” more

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Friday, November 6

Dawn Biozyme: Part 7 – "Power Plant"

The agents kicked open iron doors stenciled with the words “Power Plant.”

Inside, an ominous cylindrical metal device was mounted on iron clamps in the center of the chamber. The vaguely bullet-shaped apparatus sprouted a jumble of wires that snake into a hole in the floor.

Hammer looked at it curiously. "Weird. It's not running."

Jim-Bean frowned. "That's because it's not a power plant." He pointed to a curious-looking chamber at the center. "This is a firebomb."

"Is it armed?" asked Hammer.

Jim-Bean shook his head. "Not yet." more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 1d – The Isle of Undeath

Beldin kicked open the door with a giant-sized foot, thanks to the growth effects of several potions. He almost seemed like a titan of old.

The room was filled with barrels, dripping with a blackish-red substance that could only be blood. In the northeastern corner of the room was a small copse of tree-like stone formations. Four hairless, rotting apes swung from the branches to block their path.

On the other side of the room stood Daen. He wore a cowl that concealed his features, leaving a bleached skull to glare at them with tiny red fires for eyes. His jaw clacked as he spoke, connected only by magic.

Beldin engaged two of the apes, who wielded spears. Vlad took on the other two, trying to keep them at bay. Sebastian hovered behind them.

Daen strode confidently toward the fray. Blood, crackling with vile energy, covered him from head to toe.

“You are powerful to have come this far.” His voice was a nasal, high-pitched rasp. “You will make a formidable addition to my legions. Answer me true, and your death will be quick and almost painless. Who sent you?”

“You should worry less about who sent us,” said Sebastian, crackling with magical defenses. “And more about saving yourself. Incendiares—“

Daen laughed and pointed at Sebastian. “Oh, that’ll be enough of that: resolvo veneficus!”

Sebastian blinked as the fireball poofed out of existence in front of him. He slowly flapped to the ground, his defenses fading. more

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Thursday, November 5

Dawn Biozyme: Part 6 – Cnidocyte Containment

Hammer slipped past two steel doors. The prominent magnetic card reader and the “airlock” between the exterior and interior chambers demonstrated the scientists’ desire to secure the interior chamber. However, both doors stood wide open.

Inside, stainless steel plates lined the large room. Six-foot tall metal and glass containment vessels lined the walls, while at least twice as many three-foot tall vessels marched in long rows down the center. The vessels all resembled incubators for premature newborns, except for their varying size.

Flashing lights lined the bases of many of the vessels, apparently displaying interior temperature, humidity, and more obscure data. The glass fronts of many vessels were fogged by humidity, but despite the translucency, it seemed that some of the largest containers may contain people. About half of the vessels, both large and small, were smashed open, dark, and empty. The floor near these vessels was slick with clear, gelatin-like smears.

Hammer tapped on the glass of one of the nearest small vessel. It jerked suddenly from the struggles of a tertiary cnidocyte trying to get out. Tentacles probed the glass looking for a way to get at Hammer.

Besides the incubator vessels, a small countertop in the room’s center held several sealed liquid nitrogen vats. Each vat was labeled “PRIMARY SOURCE.”

Hammer rolled the vat to the doorway. Jim-Bean nearly tripped over it.

"What's that?"

"Liquid nitrogen," said Hammer. "Thought we could use it."

Jim-Bean stuck a few blocks of C-4 to it. "Maybe to stop those tentacle things."

"The tertiary cnidocytes?"

Jim-Bean shook his head. "Bigger. And angrier."

"That'd be the secondary cnidocytes." Hammer gazed ruefully on the larger smashed containers. "What about the security team?"

More explosions echoed from further down the hallway. "What security team?" asked Jim-Bean with a straight face. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 1c – The Isle of Undeath

A very peculiar tableau unfolded before them: in the southwestern corner of the room, the lower half of a pallid corpse was sticking out of a hole in the floor. A zombie was slowly jumping up and down on the corpse, assisted by two brethren, who were attempting to force down the lifeless form by prodding it with their swords. Three more zombies stood before them, patiently waiting for their turn with a body of their own.

The zombies whipped their heads around with looks of what could almost be mistaken for shame passing over their twisted miens. But the look faded to their customary grimace, and the grunts of effort changed to low moans of menace.

“I don’t have time for this,” said Sebastian. “Incendiaries globus!”

The room was ablaze with flames.

“I’m not sure,” said Beldin, “but I think one of the zombies fell down the hole.”

A door on the other side of the room burst open as a patrol of ghouls came charging in.

“More ghouls,” sighed Vlad. He held Grungronazharr before him as if to ward off the ghouls by its mere sight alone.

The lead ghoul, wearing chain mail, smiled a wicked, toothsome grin…

That was promptly blasted off its skull by another of Sebastian’s fireballs.

Beldin was busy with his back to the door, heels dug in. “I can’t keep this up all day you know!” more

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Wednesday, November 4

Dawn Biozyme: Part 5 – Red Dots

Hammer edged out into the hall, his ears assaulted by a cacophony of alarms and the soft country rock of WTHQ 101.7. Two bodies littered the hallway, both missing their heads.

Jim-Bean noticed a red dot on the wall. It was joined by another. And another. "Uh…"

"Down!" shouted Hammer.

Short bursts of automatic fire peppered the wall above their heads.

The agents ducked through a door that opened into an adjoining hallway. Hammer closed the door halfway. Jim-Bean knelt down on one knee and rifled through his satchel.

"That must be security," said Jim-Bean.

Hammer returned fire through the opening. "What are you doing?"

"Leaving a little present for our new friends." He attached blocks of C-4 around the door. "I'll set this off when they come through."

"Great." Hammer looked over his shoulder at the dark corridor. "No way to go but deeper in." He ran down to the only door at the end of the hallway, kicked it open, and then ducked inside. more
d

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Isles of the Damned: Part 1b – The Isle of Undeath

“Go, go, go!” shouted Sebastian. He flapped overhead, barely navigating the ten-foot wide corridor with his huge wings.

“More ghouls?” asked Vlad fearfully. They had encountered a room full of armed and armored ghouls, unlike the ones who skulked the drug dens of Freeport.

“Worse,” shouted Sebastian over his shoulder. “Skeletons.”

“Bah!” Beldin turned, Windcutter at the ready. “I’m not going to run from a bag of bones.”

Vlad bounced on his heels, torn between running after Sebastian or staying to help his friend. “How many?”

“More than I can count!” shouted Sebastian as he turned the corner out of sight.

A bleached mass of roiling bones came into view around the corner. They skeletons crawled and scrabbled over each other like ants, filling the entire hallway up with their mass.

“On second thought…” the dwarf took a few steps backwards. more

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Tuesday, November 3

Dawn Biozyme: Part 4 – Wolf at the Door

There was a commotion at the far end of the hall. Jim-Bean peeked out around the corner.

"Another one. He's running hard this way."

Hammer drew a bead on him, then lowered his pistol. "What's that behind him?"

A dark, clanking shape loped behind the scientist. The scientist's features were concealed in the shadows of the hallway. As he passed through the flickering lamplight from above, red stains were visible on his lab coat.

A second later something huge and hairy flashed through the shaft of light after him.

He never made it. The thing landed on the scientist's back, smashing him to the ground with one paw. There was an odd whirring sound as its shining jaws, visible even in silhouette, clamped down on the struggle skull of its prey.

"What the hell is THAT?" asked Jim-Bean.

The bear-sized canine-like form ripped upwards, tearing the head from the scientist's neck. Tentacles dangled from the head, tendrils leftover from the cnidocyte's infestation.

With a crunch, the head was pulped in the jaws of the monstrosity. It looked up at the agents at the other end of the hall, eyes flashing red.

A second later an alarm began to sound.

"I don't think it's with the cnidocytes," said Hammer. He took aim with both pistols.

Jim-Bean aimed his pistol at the thing as it broke into a run. "But does it know WE'RE not cnidocytes?" more

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Islands of the Damned: Part 1a – The Isle of Undeath

As they navigated along the northern side of the island, Sebastian spied an inlet in the distance. When the Naoke sailed close enough for a better look, they saw a cove that extended inward for almost a quarter mile.

After a blessing from Father Peg-Leg, Beldin steered a rowboat past the rocky reef and landed on the island. The slope leading to the island proper became steeper as Beldin climbed, and the rocks and dirt were moist from sea spray. By the time the dwarf reached the top lip, he was wet and covered in a lot of mud.

Sebastian landed next to him. Beldin tried not to glare at the dark-kin with envy.

“From what I can see, there’s a forest over there.” Sebastian pointed to the right. “It appears to have been left undisturbed for hundreds of years. To our left,” he pointed to the left, “is an expanse of grasslands that follows the gradual slope of the eastern half of the island. The highest point that I can see is a large tower on the far eastern end of the island that rises about fifty feet.”

“So the tower it is.” Beldin was struggling to get some of the water and mud out of his armor. It was working its way into some uncomfortable areas.

“There’s also, closer to the middle of the island, some sort of stone table.”

Beldin stopped wringing out one of his boots and remembered Cho Sun’s ring. He concentrated and the mud sloughed off of him. “Sounds like an altar. Which means trouble.”

“Which means that’s our next stop.” Sebastian flapped into the air again.

Beldin stumped along when he suddenly paused. His footsteps sounded different. more

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


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Monday, November 2

Dawn Biozyme: Part 3 – Getting Ahead

Hammer and Jim-Bean caught sight of a figure ducking around a corner.

"Stop!" shouted Hammer.

They sped around the corner to see a technician in a lab coat fleeing down the length of the corridor.

"I said stop!" commanded Hammer again, jogging after the technician.

Coming to the end of the hallway, the man stopped running.

Jim-Bean and Hammer both had him covered with their pistols. "Put your hands on your head."

The figure did as he was told.

"Get down on the ground."

He slowly lowered himself to the ground, face down. His nametag was partially visible: WILLIAM.

Hammer zip-tied his wrists together. "Who are you and why were you running…"

He stopped talking as the man's head exploded. Bits of brain and an eyeball burst in a red spray as what looked like a bloody jellyfish lunged for Hammer's face. more

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posted by Michael Tresca at 6:22 AM | 0 comments links to this post


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Islands of the Damned: Prologue

Someone yanked the blindfold off of Vald’s face.

“Remove his gag,” said a familiar feminine voice.

Vlad blinked his eyes. They had caught him at a weak moment. He had stayed the night at the Marquis Moon in Patricia’s company, only to wake up in the darkness, stripped of his armor and weapons.

Rough hands undid the gag.

Vlad focused on the woman in front of him. She wore black studded leather and knee-high boots. Her waist-length flame-red hair was tightly woven into dreadlocks, and a wicked scar crossed from the top of her forehead to the middle of her right cheek.

“Baumann,” he croaked.

“That’s right,” said Captain Morgan Baumann with a smirk. “Looks like the rumors are true. She wasn’t exactly a serving maid, but yer tastes run a little callow, don’t ye think?”

Vlad swallowed a few times, trying to generate saliva again in his mouth.

“I’m goin’ to ask ye some questions,” said Baumann. “I want answers.”

Vlad tried to shrug nonchalantly, but his head just lolled in her direction. “Go ahead.”

“Where were yer friends going?”

“Going?” Vlad blinked. “Hell’s Triangle. After R’lyeh. Leviathan.”

Baumann nodded. “Right. I know all about that.”

“How?”

“Because we’re trapped in Hell’s Triangle along with ‘em, idiot!” snapped Baumann. “I want t’ know how we get out!”

Vlad tried to peer around him. He was in a small cabin. Another pirate stood with a cutlass out. They feared Vlad even when he was tied up.

“I don’t know,” he said after a moment. “I was along for the ride.”

“Bah,” said Baumann. “They must have told you something.”

“I can find them for you.” Vlad licked his lips. “Give me my sword and my armor and I’ll lead you to them.”

Baumann barked a vicious laugh. “I’m no fool. I know what that sword o’ yers can do. I’ve seen it in action. Ye’ll not be seein’ yer sword again until you get us out o’ here. But in the mean time,” she nodded at the pirate, who leaned forward to put the blindfold over Vlad’s eyes again, “I’ll let ye think on it. Call if ye change yer mind.” more

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