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Thursday, December 31

70,000 Words!

Just cleared 70k on Paper & Pixels. Planning to finish the remainder before the end of day tomorrow -- not quite the New Year's goal I wanted (book finished by 2009) but pretty darn close.

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Chapter 64: A City Under Siege - Introduction

This scenario is from the adventure “Black Sails Over Freeport” by Green Ronin, 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:

This is it, the final battle to end all battles, the War of the Gods (sort of), and the opportunity to wrap up the campaign with a bang. Kham’s player showed up, finally, but unfortunately Vlad couldn’t be there.


Which made sense, because Vlad would be fighting the war on behalf of Adolphos val’Tensen. Similarly, Quintus is in the service of General Menisis. But I didn’t want the total war on the Continent to get lost in the battle of Freeport. Thus, the attack by the Coryani Empire spy is directly tied to the events that took place in the Continental conflict.

That said, I never played the battle interactive, For the Glory of the Empire, and have only the summary to go by. I inserted characters and summarized as best I could. If there are inaccuracies, consider it artistic license. J

The final bad guy shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know their Cthulhu mythology. Swapping out Yarash was simple. In fact, there’s a quote from the original inspiration for Yarash right in the adventure; I like to see the conclusion going back to Yarash’s roots.

The battle was long and bloody and not without casualties. But it was worth it. The campaign was a fun ride and I’m grateful I had the opportunity wrap it up with all my friends. more

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Wednesday, December 30

The Death of a Famous Tresca


For reasons I don't fully understand, a photograph of my relative Carlo Tresca is on auction. If I had the money, I would bid on it, if only to keep it out of other peoples' hands.

This is one of those moments where art and personal interest intersect, and it's one of the reasons why I find the glorification of Mob culture to be reprehensible.

This. This is Carlo Tresca, anarchist, shot in the face by a mobster. It's possible the reason had nothing to do with Mob business -- it's possible it had everything to do with Mob business. It doesn't matter. A picture of a family member's murder is up for auction:

"Police in New York ... considered him one of the most dangerous anarchists in the United States." Interesting figure with illuminated hat, face hidden, shines a light. The cropping marks are in the negative. Black and white photograph with copy of 1943 slug, "UPI" in pen verso. Corners are weak, in margin.


They make him out to be a mass murderer or something. If you want to learn more about Carlo Tresca, see Wikipedia. If you want to bid on it, see Lot 51.

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Crisis in Freeport: Conclusion

Beldin and Sebastian sat at the Last Resort, nursing their drinks. By now the other patrons knew to leave them alone, and the Brandydales had given them a private room; Sebastian was scaring the regulars.

“The guardsmen who fired the cannon at the Salon du Masque were hired by someone,” said Sebastian. “Someone who didn’t want Arias to talk.”

“The elorii?” asked Beldin.

Sebastian shook his head. “I don’t think so. But if Mentire was working for the Emperor, and he was controlling Persius, he needed a contact here. A wretch like that doesn’t make contacts easily. He was receiving his orders from a go-between. Someone who knows Freeport well.”

The dwarf slurped from his mug. “If the Emperor makes the elorii look like the enemy, Freeport won’t ally with them. Do we have any leads on that spy?”

”We have but one: Cunegunda.”

Beldin stared down into his ale. “How’d you come by that name?”

Sebastian looked up from his drink. “Do you really want to know?” more

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Monday, December 28

Paper & Pixels Update

My non-fiction history of fantasy gaming just cleared 60,000 words. Yes!

Just 20,000 more to go. I plan to have this sucker in rough draft form completed before 2010. Wish me luck!

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Crisis in Freeport: Part 15 – Cannonfire!

Everything seemed to move in slow motion.

Through the open doorway, Sebastian could make out Ilmarė. The groans of the woman they had heard below were the exertions of childbirth. A newborn was in her arms.

Several elorii nursemaids stood protectively around her. Arias burst through the door and, touching Ilmarė and her child, disappeared.

Beldin jumped out the window. It was a twenty-foot drop, but it was better than the alternative.

Sebastian turned the wand on himself and an invisible bubble of force surrounded him. The elorii midwives suddenly understood what was happening. They stared at him, helpless and resigned to their fate. more

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Sunday, December 27

Crisis in Freeport: Part 14 – The Baths

A favorite spot of the rich and busy, the baths at the Salon du Masque provided guests with a comfortable way to relax and relieve stress. Large bathtubs were laid out throughout the room, kept filled with hot water for any who needed a soak. The room was constantly filled with steam by an automatic system that ran water over hot coals. As a result, it was muggy and clouded.

Beldin opened the door and a bell rang above him. “Uh oh…”

A volley of arrows perforated Beldin’s shield as he ducked down just in time. The room was completely filled with mist.

“I’ll deal with this,” said Sebastian. “Incendiares globus!” more

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Saturday, December 26

Crisis in Freeport: Part 13 – Shattered Masques

The front double doors to the Salon du Masque were made of solid oak with metal bands reinforcing the wood, giving them a sturdy and utilitarian appearance. Sebastian rang his chime and they opened as if they had been invited guests.

Inside the doors was a beautiful entryway; a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and fine rugs gave the wooden floor a somewhat richly cluttered appearance. Off to the left, a stairwell ascended to the second floor, with common areas on either side of the entrance. It gave the impression that Salon du Masque was no mere brothel, but rather an upscale home for socialites.

Several tables and chairs were overturned, and elorii soldiers fired a volley of arrows as Sebastian entered. The projectiles stopped a few feet before him and fell to the ground. Beldin stepped out behind him, their roles reversed for once.

“Well, look ‘ew we ‘ave here!” came a familiar voice. “If it ain’t th’ Sea Lord o’ Freetown ‘imself!”

“Price,” said Sebastian. “I thought you were in prison.”

Price stood up from behind one of the tables, and it was clear that things had changed since he was incarcerated. He bore scars and marks all over his arms and face. He had short and unruly brown hair that stuck up at all angles. And somewhere along the line, Price had lost an eye and acquired an eye patch.

“Oh, right. Well, yah, I was afflicted wid a bad case ov incarceration, but I got better.” He swung two long clubs before him, one in each hand, striding towards Beldin.

Sebastian fired back at the elorii bowmen with closed fists, unleashing blast after blast of eldritch energy. One of them shrieked and fell backwards out of sight.

Beldin moved to meet Price, Windcutter at the ready. “There’s no way you’re competent enough to escape prison on your own.”

“Took a bit o’ convincing o’ the Commissioner, yew know, but ‘e got it once I stuck a shiv through ‘is throat.” Price laughed. more

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Friday, December 25

Crisis in Freeport: Part 12b – The Council’s Decree

Two more crossbow bolts thudded into Beldin. One of them lodged in his armor. The other struck him in the upper arm.

“You’ll have to do better than that!” shouted Beldin. He whirled, looking for the assassins.

He didn’t have to look for long. Three feminine forms, one swathed in black, one in dark brown, and the third in dark blue, all converged on him simultaneously. All of their faces were masked.

Beldin recognized one of the assassins. “Jesswin!”

The lead assassin who had fired the crossbow bolt at Sebastian made a feint with her knife, goading Beldin into making a mistake. “Close. We are all Jesswin.”

Marilise Maeorgan screamed for her coach. Other council members reached for weapons.

Her two companions struck simultaneously. Beldin was only able to block one with his shield as the other stabbed him in the arm.

Beldin made the woman flanking his left pay for the attack. He thwacked her hard with his shield, knocking her into the crowd. The orc mob engulfed her. Her flailing hand disappeared in a sea of green fists.

The second assassin back flipped past Beldin. She was making her way towards Emric. more

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Thursday, December 24

Crisis in Freeport: Part 12a – The Council’s Decree

Sebastian and Beldin returned just ahead of the hurricane, only to find Freeport battening down the hatches of one of the worst storms the city had ever seen. Priests of Yarris preached at the waterfront, beseeching their god to show mercy, while others claimed the hurricane was punishment for the desecrations that took place during the riots.

They returned Emric promptly to Thralen’s residence, pausing for several hours to wait out the hurricane. Then they promptly hurried to the Plaza of Gold.

“I’ve called for an emergency meeting of the Captain’s Council, as you requested,” said Thralen. “But I’m not sure that having it in public is wise…”

“It’s the only way,” snapped Sebastian. “We’re done hiding. The people must see that Emric is suited for the Sea Lord’s Throne. I will prove it to them all.” more

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Wednesday, December 23

Crisis in Freeport: Part 11 – Felix’s

Felix’s resort was a large building that once offered excellent service, food, and accommodations. It was the perfect getaway for Freeoprt’e elite, serving all of the Captain’s Council, important merchants, and dignitaries from foreign lands.

The one-posh establishment had transformed into a disgusting charnel house, the playground for bloodthirsty pirates. By the time Sebastian and Beldin reached the resort, it appeared that the entire staff had been murdered, their corpses strewn about the beach.

A covered porch dominated the front of the resort. The supporting beams featured a number of hooks for holding nets, hats, baggage, and other items. The porch also held a few chairs and a couple of ceramic pots that served as spittoons. Boards covered the windows to protect them from flying debris. The door hung on a single hinge and swung in the gusts.

“They put up a fight,” said Beldin sadly.

Sebastian crossed his wrists in front of him and promptly disappeared. “Keep them busy,” came his voice from nowhere.

After drinking several potions that increased his strength and size, Beldin soldiered on. Inside, the dining hall was a large open room that had once been filled with tables, chairs, and maritime décor. No longer. The place was a shambles. The iron hoops that served as chandeliers were the only thing still intact, though the candles had burned down to the stubs and sputtered with each blast of wind through the door. Corpses littered the floor and stairs leading up to the second floor. The place stank of beer, blood, and smoke.

Elorii pirates, armed with crossbows, crouched on either side of the room. At the far side was Persius Sharpe, the elorii captain, holding a flintlock to Emric’s head. Mentire Aboir, a hunched gnome with a tattooed in the form of a skull, leaned on his staff next to him. Standing in Beldin’s path was none other than the elorii bounty hunter who had tried to kill them over a year ago in Freeport, Garadon.

“Amazing,” said Mentire said in disbelief. “We surely thought no one would come waltzing through the front door like that. And yet, here you are.” He wheezed a laugh. “Leave it to a dwarf!”

“Let the boy go,” said Beldin. Garadon pulsed with energy, larger and more menacing that he had been when Beldin last saw him.

“Let him go?” said the gnome. “Let him go? You’ve been keeping company with Martell for too long. We’re not going to let the boy go. We have orders to keep him here until Freeport picks a new successor to the Sea Lord’s throne.”

Beldin took a step forward. Garadon crouched.

“And then?”

“There’s always the ghouls outside,” cackled Mentire. “Or Talathiel.” more

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Tuesday, December 22

Crisis in Freeport: Part 10 – Going to the Island

Stretching out about a hundred feet into the water was a sturdy wooden pier. A few smaller ships were stilled tied off and rocked in the turbulent waters. On the shore were beached rowboats, lipped over so their hulls were face up. A stone path led from the pier up to Felix’s, an upscale resort that offered comfort, quality, and a place away from the hustle and bustle of Freeport.

Scattered all over the beach were about a dozen corpses. Strange, serpent-like silhouettes ducked their heads in and out of the corpses, feasting on the dead.

One man was propped up, hair concealing his features, his body tied to an “X” on the beach.

Sebastian unleashed a blast of eldritch energy from his fingertips, scorching one of the serpents. It hissed, and the other four reared their heads. It was clear they were degenerate specimens of ssanu, if such a thing were possible.

“What did you do that for?” shouted Beldin.

“That man,” said Sebastian, beginning an incantation, “might be able to tell us where Emric is.” more

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Monday, December 21

Crisis in Freeport: Part 9 – The Knife

In the sea, rocking on the high waves, was a large ship about the size of a caravel. Despite the driving rain and wind, shapes could be seen moving about on the deck. As they drew nearer, great roaring fires illuminated the shore, revealing a number of burning buildings and a beach littered with the dead. Behind the carnage rose a large inn Lights shined through its shuttered windows. Out in front, a number of smaller boats lay scattered about.

Sebastian clambered up onto the deck of the ship, unaccustomed to such an undignified approach. But there was no help for it; the weather didn’t allow flight. Beldin followed behind, untroubled by the rocking motion of the ship.

The Knife’s main deck was crowded with coils of rope, crates, cages holding chickens and pigs, and assorted other supplies.

Sebastian tried the door to the forecabin. It was locked.

He withdrew a chime from the folds of his sodden robes and rang it once. Despite the roaring wind, a single, clear note rang out. The door unlocked.

Inside was a large cabin with triple bunks lining the walls. The foremast ran from the floor out through the ceilings. A single lantern illuminated the room and its inhabitants.

The bald elorii struggled to pull up his pants at the intrusion. “I shaid I was busy!” he slurred.

A young boy scrambled to his feet.

Sebastian shook himself off, stretching his wings out. “Talathiel. I should have known.” more

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Sunday, December 20

Crisis in Freeport: Part 8 – Bloody Tide

The winds were strong and only through the incredible efforts of the crew did they manage to cross the treacherous waters to reach Windward Isle. Through the lashing rain, they could make out a white strand of beach and the fitful flames of bonfires. A ship of no inconsequential size was anchored a few hundred yards from shore. Though the sails were furled, the other ship rocked alarmingly and its lanterns swung wildly.

As they made ready, a cry of horror pierced the shrieking wind. Climbing over the rails were fearsome creatures, some sort of a cross between a man and a shark. It was led by something grotesque and strong.

The leader was six-feet tall, with slick blue-black skin stretched tautly over knotty cords of muscle, long arms ending in viciously taloned and webbed claws, a bullet-like head with no discernable neck, and a face more fish than human.

“Camring!” gasped Beldin.

“That’s right!” snarled a familiar feminine voice from behind him. “My son has returned to claim his legacy!”

“Sycorax?” Sebastian sighed. “How many vampires stowed away on this ship, anyway?” more

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Saturday, December 19

Crisis in Freeport: Part 7 – The Warehouse District

It didn’t take long for them to find Warehouse 48, owned by none other than Baldric himself. When they arrived, they found a large whale of a man with reddened, leathery skin and stark white eyebrows and beard. He was ranting and raving outside.

“This is intolerable! I’ll take the repairs out of his skinny hide!”

Sebastian landed and the man stopped talking for only a second. “Have you seen six men carrying a sack come this way?”

The white eyebrows shot up. “What? Who are you?”

Beldin stepped forward and shook the man’s hand. “I’m Beldin Soulforge and this is Sebastian Arnyal. And you are…?”

“Captain Bartelbee.” He didn’t take his eyes off Sebastian.

“Nice to meet you, Captain Bartelbee” said Baldric. “What happened here?”

“Yesterday, during the riots, me and my sailors were guarding my ship when a bunch of elves come scurrying back to The Knife in a hurry.”

“The Knife?” asked Beldin. “That’s a ship?”

“Aye. They loaded some small cargo onto the ship and began cutting their moorings and getting it underway. The Knife’s crew worked quickly. They moved like devils were at their heels. In their haste, they smashed the side of my ship!” He started cursed and swearing again. “It’ll cost a king’s ransom to fix!”

Sebastian rolled his eyes and fished out a coin purse full of gold doubloons. “This should fix it. Now which way did they go?” more

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Friday, December 18

Crisis in Freeport: Part 6 – Thralen’s Plea for Help

The riots raged on in the city for hours. By nightfall, the air was thick with the smell of smoke and blood. Except for the most violent mobs still rampaging throughout the city, most of the rioters bled off and returned to their homes, their anger spent by the end of the day. By sundown, the remaining members of the Sea Lord’s Guard managed to disperse most of the crowds and send those few they arrested to prison.

A relative calm settled over Freeport at nightfall, but it was short-lived. As the evening passed, the surviving members of the Sea Lord’s Guard launched an all-out attack on the Cutthroats, taking advantage of the death of their leader. Throughout the city, guardsmen assaulted known haunts and safe houses frequented by gang members, killing dozens in the process. By the time night had fully fallen, the streets of Freeport ran red with the blood of criminals and ordinary citizens alike.

With order at least mostly restored, the city slowly got back into its usual rhythm. Though there were many missing faces on the street the next day—the riot took a severe toll on even the peaceful populace—most of the city was back to doing business. A fearful melancholy hung over most of the inhabitants.

Beldin, fully restored by Peg-Leg’s healing magic, joined Sebastian at Thralen Vodric Ossan’s home. It was clear the man had not slept well in awhile.

“I’d like to thank you both again for coming on such short notice,” said Thralen in his usual baritone. “Much has…” he looked Sebastian up and down. “…changed, since we last met.”

Sebastian pretended not to notice. more

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Thursday, December 17

No Pain, No Gain: Conclusion

"What the HELL is wrong with you?" shouted Hammer.

"Be quiet," said Jim-Bean nervously, "or she might hear you." One second into Armbruster's feeding time and they were arguing. Hammer had been steamed all day.

"Hear me?" asked Hammer. "Hear me? That's pretty mild compared to what you did with her!"

"I didn't!" Jim-Bean sputtered. "I mean, I did but…I wasn't myself!"

"She drugged you," said Archive, giving Jim-Bean a way out.

"Yes! No! I don't know!" Jim-Bean rubbed his temple. "She looked different to me then. She gives off this…this vibe, it's hard to explain."

"Don't explain it," snarled Hammer. "Ever. Do you have any idea what Sprague's going to do to us? Or to her?"

Jim-Bean froze. Although the skittering noise was still audible, Armbruster was standing at the opening. They weren't sure how much she had heard.

"Jimmy," she said softly. "I'd like to take a walk with you if you don't mind."

All the saliva in Jim-Bean's throat evaporated. He rose to his feet. "Okay." more

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Crisis in Freeport: Part 5 – The Sea God’s Shrine

Sebastian landed in front of the Temple of Cadic. It was ransacked and damaged. Shouts of terror and sadistic glee came from within.

Sebastian laid Beldin’s body at the entrance and walked inside, unafraid.

The place was a wreck. A dwarf held a beaten Father Peg-Leg by the hair, blood trailing from the old man’s mouth.

“Let him go,” said Sebastian. “I need him.”

“And who the hell be ye?” snarled the dwarf.

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is you let him go and I might let you live.”

Four thugs stepped out from the pews, battleaxes in their hands.

“Bow yer head!” snarled the dwarf. “Ye be in the presence o’ royalty! I be Bloody Jack, King o’ the Cutthroats.”

“I bow to no man,” said Sebastian calmly. “This is your last chance.”

“Funny,” said the dwarf. “I was thinkin’ the same thing. Get ‘im boys.” more

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Wednesday, December 16

No Pain, No Gain: Part 12 – Cigars for Everybody

"Where were you?" Hammer glared at Jim-Bean, who had returned to the sleeping quarters sometime in the middle of the night.

"I…I'm not sure," Jim-Bean lied.

"You were with her for a long time," said Archive.

"Did you get anything useful out of her?" asked Hammer. They only spoke about escape plans when Armbruster was feeding. The noise drowned out their conversation.

Jim-Bean shook his head. "I need more time…"

"So much for your great escape plan," snapped Hammer. "Archive?"

"I've been experimenting with some of the chemicals," whispered Archive. "I think I could create an explosion if I needed to."

"We'll need it. She keeps the entrance blocked and none of us are strong enough to open it on our own. Only you could do it, Jimmy."

"I don't think I could do it fast enough for us all to get out in time."

"It all may be moot soon. By my count we've been here a week," said Hammer. "Majestic is going to be looking for us."

"Are you sure about that?" asked Archive. "I didn't think Sprague cared if we lived or died."

Hammer smirked. "Not us. Him." He pointed at Jim-Bean. "Jimmy's too valuable." more

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Crisis in Freeport: Part 4 – Shark, Ahoy!

The sun had set, casting an eerie pall over the burning embers across Freeport’s buildings. Sebastian sat atop yet another building, brooding on the events he had caused. It wasn’t so much that he felt bad about it, as things had taken an unexpected turn. He was no closer to stopping Leviathan. But perhaps he could turn things to his advantage…

A strange roar interrupted his thoughts. In the distance, a ball of flames billowed in front of the Sea Lord’s Palace.

Sebastian took wing, flapping his wings to gain lift. Something whistled upwards toward him from the fireball. He twisted and the projectile whizzed past him. It struck the wall of the building behind him with such force that bricks were dislodged in a powder of dust and debris. Whatever it was that nearly hit him, it was heavy.

Sebastian looked down. Rolling to a stop was the head of the Spirit of Freeport, the statue that had been created by Marissa Lapideaux and placed in front of the Sea Lord’s Palace.

Sebastian launched himself towards the Sea Lord’s Palace. Below him, people ran in crowds from the source of the explosion, screaming in terror. He kept flying, only to make out a terrible sight.

The thing was colossal, easily over sixty feet tall. It was draconic in appearance, with vicious maws atop two long, sinuous necks. Its hunched lower body smashed through the street, its tail whipping in agitation. Blood-red eyes released gouts of flame.

The crowd had scattered. A lone elorii stood in the center of the wreckage, facing the beast down, an arrow knocked in his bow.

Sebastian landed next to him. “This thing yours?”

The elorii nodded. “We were transporting the two-headed rage drake to the ship Menagerie. When the riots broke out, the sedation wore off. We’ve got to stop it!” He fired the arrow. more

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Tuesday, December 15

No Pain, No Gain: Part 11 – The Con

After some further conversation from Armbruster wherein Jim-Bean assured her that they wouldn't try to escape, she let them out of the pen. She showed them around the caves, starting with the lab, pointing out the refrigerator and freezer as examples of her good will.

"You're all going to have to pull your own weight around the house, of course," she said.

Willie growled at Hammer whenever he came near. Hammer gave the wolf-beast a wide berth.

Each agent was assigned chores. Hammer had the bulk of the work, including fetching water from an underground pool, cleaning the dishes, and most disturbingly, emptying the latrine.

Archive became Armbruster's research assistant. He had was assigned the dull, dirty, and dangerous work: drawing quivering microscopic horrors, sniffing bubbling alembics pouring off poisonous gases, and reading paragraphs that tempted the mind to disintegration.

She took Jim-Bean aside into another chamber. "You're different, aren't you?"

Jim-Bean swallowed hard. Armbruster poured three bottles of wine into a large glass vat the size of Jim-Bean's head. She poured the remainder of it into a beaker and offered it to him.

"You could say that," he said, taking the glass. Her hand brushed his arm, the contact a little too long to be an accident. more

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Crisis in Freeport: Part 3 – Freeport in Chaos

From the newspaper office, the riots spread like wildfire throughout the city. Within minutes, groups of people that were peacefully gathered before became a riotous mob, violently lashing with other crowds and looting and pillaging as they went. The mobs were increasingly destructive, mowing through the city like a vicious, many-headed serpent. In less than a half hour, Sebastian’s conflagration caused thick billows of black smoke to rise from rooftops around the city.

The sounds of violence echoed down every street as Beldin passed. Those citizens not involved in the riot holed themselves up in their houses and shops, shuttering the windows and barring the doors. Most streets stood empty, with only stray dogs and debris drifting between buildings.

By contrast, the rioting mobs themselves were loud and brutal. Composed of orcs and human gang members, the mobs tore a destructive swathe through Freeport with every passing moment.

Amid the violent brawls and cacophony of the riot, a lone woman sat leaning against the side of a nearby building, eyes unfocused and seemingly unaware of her dangerous surroundings. Strikingly beautiful with long dark red hair and a lithe body, a, she stood out against the ugly backdrop of the unruly crowds. It was likely only her inaction had kept from coming to the attention of the rioters.

Beldin squinted. “You’re Letah Calame, aren’t you?”

“I…” her eyes were glazed. “My bodyguard…we were on the way to the Salon du Masque…”

The dwarf let out a heavy sigh. “Given the lies you’ve been spreading about me and my friends, I don’t see why I should help you, but…” He took out his axe. “Follow me.” more

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Monday, December 14

No Pain, No Gain: Part 10 – Life With Jenny

Other than bland human news in five minute chunks, idiotic talk shows blaring in the background, and unnervingly reactionary soap operas, the march of time became difficult to track. Hours passed.

"Did you hear that?" asked Archive.

They all craned their necks to listen.

There was a scrabbling noise, like brittle silk and powdered glass.

"It sounds like…millions of tiny feet," said Hammer. "Jimmy?"

"I'm not sure I want to look," said Jim-Bean with a frown. He concentrated…

Armbruster was sprawled against the far wall of a cave. A horde of crickets scrabbled down from a hole in the ceiling towards her. At first Jim-Bean thought she was about to be consumed by them, but then he realized it was actually the reverse.

The bugs swarmed over her, fighting to enter her gaping mouth. Her eyes seemed to acknowledge his presence even though she couldn't possibly see his scrying. Without attempting to speak, her gesture seemed to be an offer to share…

Jim-Bean sprang back, once again in the cell, sweating.

"Well?" asked Archive.

"It's better off if you don't know," said Jim-Bean. more

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Crisis in Freeport: Part 2 – The First Signs of Trouble

Sebastian snapped the paper open. It read: “CAPTAIN’S COUNCIL REVOKES LAW OF SUCCESSION IN POWER GRAB.”

The man who read the same headline gathered two of his comrades and stalked down the street towards the paper’s office, a crumpled up copy of the newspaper in hand. Sebastian tracked him from the air.

The low murmur of conversation filled the street in front of the office belonging to the Shipping News. The building was nearly completely surrounded by disgruntled-looking citizens, many of whom clutched copies of the special edition in their hands. Occasionally, an angry shout went up from a person in the crowd, but the general mood was that of simmering unease rather than outright anger.

After a few minutes, the door to the office opened and a short, round man in garish clothing stepped out into the street. With his appearance, the crowd became much livelier, and within a few seconds, the entire street was filled with the deafening roar of hundreds of shouting people.

Cries of “shut this rag down!” and “tell ‘em the truth, C.Q.!” went up, with a chorus of cheers and jeers accompanying each one. Stepping up onto a wooden crate, C.Q. Calame waved the crowd into silence, clutching a tattered cigar between his plump fingers.

“Good people of Freeport, be calm and hear me! Today’s edition of The Shipping News is but a window into the inner workings of the Captains’ Council, and I, your humble public servant, seek only to enlighten the masses as to the recent folly of the council’s members. I know that many of you are upset or frightened, and it is as you should be, fore there are those on the council that seek only to fatten their own purses by crushing you under their boot heels. For those of you that disagree with the columns in today’s special edition, I thank you for your patronage but urge you to remember that I am but the messenger.”

Several people in the audience began arguing loudly with one another. Then suddenly a ripple of violence spasmed the crowd, as fist fights broke out between the two rival groups. Fists flew, blood sprayed, ad the air was filled with a cacophony of terrified shrieks, clashing blades, and angry shouting.

The startled newspaperman was caught in the middle. He turned to the door but discovered it locked.

C.Q. leapt down off his box and hammered desperately on the door. “Let me back in!”

To angry citizens grabbed C.Q. and pulled him down into the crowd.

Sebastian sighed. More violence. more

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Sunday, December 13

No Pain, No Gain: Part 9 – Domestic Bliss

The lab outside of the pen consisted of a large table, handmade from lumber remnants. It was covered with basic lab equipment, books, and papers. Mounds of household objects and appliances rose in odd corners. Boxes and former living room furniture were stacked in disarray. Table lamps, track lighting, and desk lamps illuminated the cavern.

Archive had managed to bind most of his wounds and, through his healing trance, mend his broken bones. Hammer was badly bruised but otherwise okay.

The first day after she captured the agents, Armbruster busily tidied up the caverns. She arranged old bed sheets into relatively modest clothing for herself. She swept up and organized her deep dwelling into one more appropriate for family life. She appears content and determined as she transformed her haphazard environment into one of newly ordered boxes, carefully placed lamps, and scrubbed tables: everything was cleaned and put in proper place.

Finally, Armbruster stopped to address them through the bars. "Well, here we are. Look, I'm sorry to pen you up like this, but you kind of barged in on me, you know? I think you can understand my need for privacy." She laughed grotesquely, every tooth gleaming in the cavern of her mouth. "I know you're going to take this hard, but you're going to have to stay here. Hey--don't worry, Really, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not. I'm not one of those dangerous types who chop people up." She blushed, flustered. "Oh, that's the wrong thing to say. Sorry." Armbruster cleared her throat. ''It's pretty clear you guys know a lot about me, and how—y'know, how I got like this. We'll talk. But not now."

"Jenny, we're agents of the federal government," said Jim-Bean. "People will come looking for us."

Armbruster changed the subject. "So, what do you guys want for dinner? My friends always tell me I'm a pretty good cook."

"Uh…we don't really plan to stay here long," said Hammer.

"Microwave dinners and soup it is!" exclaimed Armbruster. She left the room and bustled back in with microwave dinners, canned soups, and two-liter bottles of soft drinks. Along with the hot meal, she passed in a latrine bucket.

"All the comforts of home," muttered Archive. more

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Part 1 – The Orc Rabble-Rouser

A crowd of over one hundred orcs had gathered in the Field of Honor in the Eastern District. Sebastian decided it was the safest place for him to stay. Thanks to Finn’s protection, few dared hassle the dark-kin. That, and his bat-like wings, stinger-tipped tail, and dusky features provided ample warning that he should be left alone.

An article in the Shipping News didn’t help matters. Whatever Letah had told her father, C.Q. Calame, was taken as fact. Or at least, printed as a possibility. And thus Sebastian knew all about Beldin’s request for armor because C.Q. speculated that the Solani dwarves were siding with the Rebels. Or that Vlad was a ravisher of women, to be avoided at all costs. Or that Kham was a drug dealing ghoul, returned from the dead after an aborted rescue attempt from the Hulks. It apparently never entered C.Q.’s mind that maybe Kham had simply survived and that the Sea Lord found it more convenient to list him as dead rather than acknowledge a potentially embarrassing situation.

As for Sebastian, they labeled him a devil-worshipping serial killer. Sebastian hadn’t killed anyone recently, and he certainly didn’t worship devils. But he didn’t mind the way the Freeporters treated him. And so, like a gargoyle rousing itself, he perched on one of the buildings overlooking the Field of Honor.

A crowd of over one hundred orcs had gathered there, making passage difficult. They clustered around Drak Scarbelly, dressed in his usual blue captain’s coat. Even from a distance he was unmistakable: eye patch, tricorner hat, wooden leg, and a bright red bird that sat on his shoulder. He stood on a crate, screaming to the throng at the top of his lungs.

“Now be the time, me brothers! We’ve been oppressed fer too long! Th’ Captain’s Council revoked th’ Law of Succession just to prevent an orc from sittin’ on th’ throne! We must rise up before it’s too late.”

The crowd applauded his words and shouted encouragement.

“We aren’t going to war! We can stop it! We march to th’ Fortress of Justice and make ‘em hear us!”

As he stepped down from the crate to lead his followers on their march, a large contingent of Sea Lord’s Guardsmen armed with smash sticks entered the plaza from one end. A group of elorii wearing dark green tunics with a golden harp emblazoned on them and wielding clubs entered from the other. Together, the two groups outnumbered the orcs almost two to one.

An uneasy silence settled over the plaza, as if no one knew what to do next. more

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Saturday, December 12

No Pain, No Gain: Part 8 – The Thing in the Cave

Jim-Bean followed the trail of the cable like a human divining rod. He pointed at a large lava boulder near the river. "It leads here."

Hammer looked askance at the boulder. "There's no way we can lift that ourselves."

"Don’t be so sure," said Jim-Bean. "I may not be able to telekinetically move it around, but I'm pretty sure I can lift it straight up."

Jim-Bean put his palms to the boulder and concentrated.

Slowly but surely, the boulder levitated upwards, inch by inch. "When the opening is wide enough," grunted Jim-Bean, "Go!"

After the boulder lifted up a few more feet, Hammer ducked inside, scoping out the cavern with his pistols. Archive followed soon after.

When it was about four feet high in the air, Jim-Bean, still keeping his hands pressed against the boulder, carefully ducked inside. Then he let the boulder softly return to its resting place.

They were in utter darkness. Hammer slapped his nightvision goggles over his eyes and the others did likewise.

"You realize," whispered Archive, "we're now trapped in here, right?"

"Can you see anything ahead?" Hammer asked Jim-Bean.

Jim-Bean knew what he meant. He shook his head. "Music stopped, lights went out. They know we're here."

"Okay, weapons hot, eyes peeled," said Hammer. They slowly advanced into a cavernous hallway…

When the ceiling exploded. more

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Crisis in Freeport: Prologue

Beldin checked in to the Last Resort.

Bobbin Brandydale met the dwarf at the door. “Hello Beldin.” He wore a morose expression.

“Hi Bobbin. How are things?”

“Well enough, considering Freeport’s threatened by war. Any news from the front?”

Beldin shrugged. “I’ve been away. Judging from today’s newspaper, I’ve been away longer than I thought. Heard from Kham?”

Bobbin shook his head. “Last I heard, he was leaving for Altheria with his fortunes. Something about buying a gunship.”

“And Vlad’s gone off to war.” Beldin missed his friends. “Has my package arrived?”

Bobbin nodded and led him to a table. “Yes. The crate arrived a while ago. But there was a note on it…” Bobbin fidgeted. “And…well…maybe you should read it yourself.”

He grabbed a mug of beer from the bar and handed it to Beldin. “On the house.” Then he handed him the note.

Beldin sat down and sipped his beer. Judging from Bobbin’s expression, it would not be good news.

“Beldin Ironsoul,” it read in Elebac’s flowery script. “You are hereby summoned to Solanos Mor to prepare for the defense of the Forges. This armor has been forged specifically for you with the assumption that you will wearing it, posthaste, to serve your country and kin.”

Beldin gulped. It was dated weeks ago.

His brooding was interrupted by a familiar character who walked straight towards him.

“Clem?” asked Beldin. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Without speaking, Clem began to sniff Beldin.

“Smell him…yes…he is…he will be…”

“What?” Beldin grabbed Windcutter off the table. “What’s wrong with you?”

He took a better look at Clem. His previously ragged frame had filled out considerably. A large axe dangled from one hand.

Bobbin advanced on them. “Everything all right?”

“Stay back,” said Beldin. “I’ll handle this. Clem, what’s wrong?”

“Give it to me,” whispered Clem, rocking on his heels. “Death…blood…gurlewok…agantio…”

“Give what to you?”

“Crush…kill…destroy!” Clem grabbed his axe with both hands. “NYAAAAAAGH!” he screamed. more

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Friday, December 11

No Pain, No Gain: Part 7 – The Wilderness Retreat Center

"Why don't we just JERICHO jet the hell out of the place?" asked Jim-Bean.

"Too risky," said Hammer. "This is a populated area near Samson's airspace. We're not sure that this is their headquarters yet."

By the time the agents reached the little town of Renuncion, they ascended into open pine forest. The air was s hazy with Samson's smog, blown far east. The day was hot and dry.

Renuncion barely qualified as even a village. There were about four dozen homes, most of which were strung along the town’s main street. The houses were exactly what one would expect to see in a tiny American town: small, unspectacular structures that under some circumstances might seem “cozy.” Here the townspeople carried out their daily affairs almost furtively. Suspicious eyes peeked out at strangers from behind curtained windows. Children played quietly, seldom laughing, shying away from those they didn't know. Dogs, cats, and other animals also avoided contact with outsiders and residents alike.

Hammer brought up a satellite image of the town. "We think this is their headquarters. The book has mention of an address, and that's it."

Set upon a ridge miles from the next house, the property backed up on a national forest. Localized volcanic activity about four thousand years ago left a jumble of black and red surface outcrops in the area. The Wilderness Retreat Center was the last of a handful along the dusty gravel road: the road ended abruptly at a locked Forest Service gate and cattle guard.

"So can't we just send a STREETSWEEPER team in…" began Jim-Bean.

Hammer shook his head. "We scanned the area. No heat signatures. Nobody's in the house."

"That doesn't make any sense," said Archive. "What kind of Retreat is this place?'

"One where everybody's dead." Hammer pulled the car up. "Or they've already abandoned it."

The house was a small, modem, two-story structure. The curtains were drawn closed, but a light was visible burning upstairs. A two-car garage stood across the road. There was no lawn or garden, though the brush and grass were cut back from around the house and garage to reduce the risk of fire.

The agents got out of the car.

"Check this out," said Archive.

The aluminum mailbox, labeled J.A. ARMBRUCE, had deep, regular scratches in it. The base of the mailbox was about forty inches above the ground.

"Something big made those scratches," said Archive, inspecting the scratches. "Judging by the separation of the teeth and the jaw wide required to bite down on both sides…this was made by one really big dog."

Jim-Bean drew his submachinegun. "Great." more

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Chapter 63: Crisis in Freeport - Introduction

This scenario is from the adventure “Crisis in Freeport” by Chris Pramas, Robert J. Schwalb, and Rodney Thompson, 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:

· Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
· Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter/dwarven defender) played by Joe Lalumia
· Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster

A lot of DMs have puzzled over how to deal with the events in Black Sails Over Freeport, which inevitably places the PCs at a much higher level than the events in Crisis in Freeport. Since both adventure involve riots, I simply mixed and matched the two and upped the critters considerably.

Kham and Vlad’s players weren’t able to play in the beginning (Kham showed up later), which meant I was Dming for two. Here I had boosted the adventure to be tough against four high-level PCs, and only two showed up. Surely, they would be massacred, right?

Not at all. In fact, things worked out for the best, because Sebastian and Beldin went on mini-quests of their own in dealing with Freeport’s unrest. Additionally, Sebastian’s sudden change in personality (brought on by the Leviathan Bell, in case anyone’s wondering) ends up actually causing many of the events that lead to the riots. In other words, Sebastian recreated the strife and unrest without any help from me.

Although I would have liked a bigger audience for the adventure, I thought that it wrapped up nicely. You’ll see a cast of characters harkening all the way back to Chapter Eight. Which is ironic; back then, I didn’t even want to DM that module. Who knew the events that took place in that adventure (Emric and Camring) would wrap up the campaign! more

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Thursday, December 10

No Pain, No Gain: Part 6 – The Festival

The festival was a three-day event that began Friday night and ended on Sunday. It featured live music from a variety of bands, food, crafts, speeches, and all sorts of other stuff. The festival was largely confined to the open areas of the park.

On Saturday night a popular pro-environment band held a concert which thousands attended. While everyone else was heading to the show, Cynthia Dexter and her cultists headed for the woods to prepare the sacrifice.

“Ishniggarah!” Dexter slashed precisely at one of the sacrifice's wrists.

The agents crept up to a clearing in the woods. It was a dark and dank part of the forest that felt quite eerie. The area was devoid of animals. In the center of the clearing was a stone that seemed to have been worked at a bit, giving it a roughly cubic shape.

“The Black Mouth!” Dexter used her knife to slice a second sacrifice. She was only inflicting flesh wounds. The real murders would come at the end of the ritual.

All around the altar, nine cultists dressed in dark robes and hoods chanted in unison. Four of the cnidocytes were there, lurking in the darkness, squealing and wailing along with the chanting. Splayed out on the altar were four naked men, all unconscious.

At the center was Dexter, wielding a knife. She looked different. She had dyed her hair blonde and wore blue contact lenses.

“The Black Tongue!” Dexter struck the third sacrifice with a ritual flourish. Blood from all three sacrifices splashed out over the altar.

Archive, Hammer, and Jim-Bean took positions on platforms in nearby trees. The speed of the ritual caught them by surprise – Dexter had moved up her timetable knowing that the ambush would only delay the agents for so long.

Dexter plunged the knife down at the throat of the last sacrifice.

“The Black—"

"Now!" hissed Hammer into the comm.

Several things happened at once. Hammer, taking aim with his sniper rifle, shot the knife right out of Dexter's hand. Her scream of rage and surprise was immediately muted by a whispered chant from Archive.

An eerie silence fell over the cultists and their squealing cnidocytes.

Whirling around furiously to spot her attacker, Dexter pointed and the cnidocytes spread out like dogs on the hunt.

"They're looking for us," commanded Hammer. "Keep firing while we have the advantage!"

There was a familiar FOONT sound as Jim-Bean launched a grenade. Enchanted by Archive's Elder Sign sigil, the grenade tore through one of the cnidocytes and two of the nearby cultists.

But he gave himself away. As gunfire from Archive and Hammer pounded the cultists, Jim-Bean was violently yanked downwards out of his perch by a deathly white tentacle. The cnidocyte squealed excitedly as it dragged him out of the tree.

Jim-Bean yelled and blindly fired his submachinegun into the thing at point blank range, but that didn't stop it from jerking him spastically closer. more

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Isles of the Damned: Conclusion

The city of Freeport loomed before them, a welcome sight after spending so much time at sea.

“That was quite a risk you took,” said Beldin. “There was no guarantee that Cadic would restore your hand.”

Vlad nodded, flexing his fingers. “But he did. That’s all that matters.”

“The artifacts stopped working,” sighed Kham. “The Pistol won’t even fire. I tried it.”

Captain Baldric clumped by, muttering about reckless sailors.

“Fortunately,” said Kham a little louder. “I loaded the treasure into chests. There’s enough for the crew and all of us too.”

“Now what?” asked Beldin, staring at Freeport’s docks.

“I am deeply unsatisfied,” said Sebastian. “I find it hard to believe that Cadic manipulated us across so many years merely to lift a curse with an artifact that was in his grasp the whole time. If that even was Cadic.”

“Whether or not that was Cadic, I can’t stay in Freeport,” said Vlad. “With war brewing on the continent, Duke Adolphos will want me at his side. I’m hopping the first gate to Milandir.”

“I’ve requested arms and armor from Master Elabac. I suspect he wants me to return home as well,” said the dwarf. “But I agree with Sebastian, whatever Cadic’s got up his sleeve has not yet been fully revealed.”

Kham shrugged. “I’m done with this place. I’m going to buy myself a big Altherian gunship. And then I’m going to drink and whore my way into unconsciousness like any good pirate should.”

“You’ve changed,” said Vlad. “You seem more…hedonistic.”

Kham spat. “Bah. I’m merely embracing my inner pirate. We just encountered a god. We’re lucky to be alive. If I were you, I’d forget this whole war nonsense. I could use a first mate…”

Vlad chuckled and shook his head.

“Besides,” said Kham. “I’m not the only one who’s changed. Sebastian’s been acting strange too, ever since he touched that Bell. I think he’s cursed.”

The dark-kin merely crossed his arms. “The power of the artifacts have unlocked access to powers I did not know I had. But I am hardly…” he said the word with distaste, “cursed.”

“You nearly forgot the most important treasure of all.” Kham tossed Sebastian a tiny box that had contained the gaseous form of von Grebel. He smiled up at the noontime sun.

Sebastian smiled back. “We are technically in Freeport, as I swore by Sarish.” He lifted the lid over his head.

“Now wait a minute,” said Beldin. “You can’t just—“ more

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Wednesday, December 9

No Pain, No Gain: Part 5 – Of Course It’s a Trap

The address led to an abandoned warehouse. Lights were on inside.

Archive, his arm bandaged, was mostly functional. "So…why are we here again?"

They all wore night vision goggles.

"We're ambushing the people who ambushed Fiona," said Hammer. With workman-like efficiency, he placed a small charge next to electrical wiring that led to the warehouse. He handed the detonator to Archive. "Ready?"

Jim-Bean shouldered a submachinegun with a grenade launcher attachment. He slapped his goggles over his eyes. "Ready!"

Archive etched the Elder Sign with chalk on Jim-Bean and Hammer's guns. Then he reluctantly lowered his goggles. "Ready."

Hammer made his way over to the side door of the warehouse. "Jimmy, you've got the count."

Jim-Bean, a pistol in one hand, used his other to count down. He counted off silently with his fingers: Three. Two. One.

Archive pressed the detonator on the charge. It blew, frying the electrical circuits to the warehouse.

At the same, Hammer kicked open the door, both Glocks at the ready.

The warehouse was filled with all sorts of boxes and containers, making it difficult to see. Then they heard a familiar squealing.

"Secondary cnidocytes," swore Jim-Bean. "Lots of them." more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5g – R’lyeh

The piles of treasure climbed up the shaft one by one, dragged themselves across the island, and loaded themselves onto the Naoke.

When they were back on board the Naoke, Harry cleared his throat. “I believe there’s a stowaway in this crew,” he called out, pointing at Kham.

Kham drew the Leviathan Pistol at lightning speed and had it aimed at Harry’s head. “I agree, but you should be pointing at yourself.”

Father Peg-Leg gazed at Harry’s attire, his face, his bearing. “What deity be in that frame, I’m doubtful, but fer sure some deity be there. Whoever ye are, be gracious, bless our labors, and forgive these fellows!” he shouted.

Harry shook himself, as if he were shedding a cloak, and suddenly a divine being glittered before them. He appeared as a charming young man with a roguish smile and icy blue eyes. His rich, dark hair waved about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe.

They were in the presence of a god. more

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Tuesday, December 8

No Pain, No Gain: Part 4 – Finding Fiona

Jim-Bean's cistron beeped.

"The STREETSWEEPER team is finished," he read aloud. "They found a body in the rubble that they think might be Noelle Rand." Jim-Bean left out the part where Sprague bitched them out for destroying the place before the STREETSWEEPER team arrived, but it was probably for the best.

"They think? They're not sure?" asked Hammer.

Jim-Bean shook his head. "They're having difficulty determining the gender."

Hammer frowned. He was having second thoughts about blowing the place up as well. "Because of the blast?"

"Because there's chromosomal damage. The DNA matches up but the gender is all wrong. It's almost as if she was a hermaphrodite."

Hammer blinked. "Was she?"

"I don't think so. There's no medical records indicating such. She always identified herself as female."

"But she was a bodybuilder," said Hammer.

A light went off in Jim-Bean's head. "Who needs steroids when you can use Mother's Milk?"

"Who knows what injecting that stuff would do to you?" asked Hammer.

"Speaking of genetic material, the caretaker, that thing in the water, and those little beasts were all related."

Hammer shuddered. "I didn't need to know that." more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5f – R’lyeh

As Beldin and Vlad climbed their way down to the treasure chamber, they encountered more iron faces that lined the shaft.

“Do you really think he’ll let you leave with it?” one face asked Beldin. The dwarf ignored it.

“Don’t think I won’t find a way out!” snarled another. “And when I do, I’m coming for you!”

“Come after me,” answered Vlad. “I’d like to wipe that sneer off your face personally.”

They finally reached the bottom. Nothing could have prepared them for the sight.

“This isn’t a king’s ransom,” whispered Beldin breathlessly. “It’s a god’s ransom!” more

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Monday, December 7

No Pain, No Gain: Part 3 – It's Fun to Stay at the Y.M.C.A.

The YMCA was still a very handsome design. Despite its condition, the building was stately and bombastic, invoking a more proud and positive time. There was a chain fence surrounding the plot, and the building itself was heavily boarded.

Towards the back, accessible through a small gate in the fence, was a small square building. Lights were visible inside. Heavy weed growth ran from the building right up to the fence.

Hammer peeked in. The cottage had a bedsit-type layout with a kitchen/living room and a separate bathroom/bedroom. It was very clean and tidy, in stark contrast to the surrounding area. "Someone's here, but not in the cottage," he whispered. "So stay alert."

They all drew their pistols as they made their way to the larger building.

Large growths of weeds and fungus were everywhere inside. There were normal varieties, but were prodigiously healthy.

"First, a little preparation for whatever didn't show up in that photograph," said Archive. He scrawled the Elder Sign on their pistols with his chalk.

"Every YMCA has to have a pool," said Hammer. He led the way into the main room.

It was a wreck. Fallen masonry made footing precarious, the walls were filthy and cracked, and broken skylights let the elements in. The whole place reeked of feces and the hot coppery scent of blood.

The main pool was a filthy brownish green, with a thick oily sheen upon the surface. In one corner of the pool sat a bloated, humanoid figure about the size of a car. Atop a pale flabby body was a flat round face with tiny black pinprick eyes and a wide mouth full of needle-like teeth. A brown tentacle-like tongue occasionally flicked from between the teeth, leaving a glistening trail. If the creature had lower limbs, they could not be seen past its vast, distended belly.

"What. The Hell. Is That," said Hammer calmly.

"Just another tentacled beast stewing in a pool of blood and feces," said Jim-Bean wryly. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5e – R’lyeh

They reached a circular room at the top of the stairs. An enormous pit was in the middle and a creepy, expressionist sculpture at the other end.

Vlad wiped ichor off of Grungronazharr. “Those were some big scorpions.”

Beldin beat his chest. An ugly purple wound bulged from one of his forearms. “Dwarves don’t poison easy.”

On the other side of the hole sat what appeared to be a grotesque sculpture of black iron, a collection of limbs twined horribly and grasping at the air with long, wicked claws. Forming a backdrop for the misshapen array were a pair of wings, torn and broken but still spanning over a hundred feet. Between them, hanging monstrously below the ribcage on a serpentine iron neck, was a face. It was a bare black skull with six long tentacles in place of its maw. Burned into the forehead of the villainous visage were five stars.

“There he lies,” said Harry. “The wicked one himself!”

“Leviathan, you mean?” asked Vlad.

Harry nodded vigorously. “Aye. Cadic flung Leviathan into this island, and then piled his cult’s ill-gotten gains atop him. When Cadic ripped the island out of Arcanis and set it wandering, he coated Leviathan’s body with molten metal, and he made a tower of the same. The treasure lays straight down there,” he pointed down the hole, “hundreds of feet. But beware, horrible things await anyone who tries to take the booty.”

“We don’t want the treasure,” said Sebastian. “We’re here to stop Leviathan.”

Something rustled behind the remains of Leviathan, cutting off Harry’s reply. more

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Sunday, December 6

No Pain, No Gain: Part 2 – The End of Rand

Hammer jimmied the lock to Rand's apartment. The agents spread out, carefully surveying each room. A few minutes later, they joined Archive in Rand's office.

"What have you got?" asked Hammer.

"There's a poster of a woman named Jennifer Armbruster in her bedroom," said Jim-Bean. "Not a bad looking chick, for a bodybuilder. I also found this." He showed Hammer a jar. "That residue look familiar?"

Hammer nodded. "Oh yes, how could I forget? Tertiary cnidocytes."

"Or at least Mother's Milk. I also found this notebook. Has mostly shopping lists and household notes. Rand was a bodybuilder too; there are weightlifting sets in there. But take a look at the weird chant."

Archive took the notebook from Jim-bean and scanned it. "This is an endurance chant." more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5d – R’lyeh

As the forest started to break up, Beldin pointed out a deep, ridged furrow in the earth.

“Looks like claw marks,” he said, “the same as in the tunnel.”

“Howled all the way, he did!” said Harry. “The ground didn’t stop blazing for ten winters!”

They followed the trench out of the forest. As the forest fell away to marshland, the ground turned to brackish, rust-colored mud that bubbled and oozed, sending off heady clouds of sulfur. The stink was overpowering.

“Bled himself dry, he did, when he tore through here!” observed Harry. “Mark the ground well—the rest of his wine, as willful and wicked as it were when he lived! Look lively now, else ye’ll melt down into the earth yerself!”

Finally, they saw it. more

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Saturday, December 5

No Pain, No Gain: Part 1 – The Ecotopian, Again

SAMSON, CA -- Agents Archive, Hammer, and Jim-Bean sat at the desks of the Ecotopian. The staff eyed them warily, but the hostile atmosphere of the office had changed since they last visited.

The office was staffed mostly by young people working phones, but there were also people writing reports and analyzing soil and water samples. There were posters up everywhere announcing the Festival of the Earth that was happening next weekend.

"Noelle Rand was our photographer. She quit the Ecotopian's staff and Full Wilderness completely a few weeks ago," said Fiona in her Scottish accent, incongruent with her Asian appearance. She was half-Chinese. "That's when I got the email."

She handed a print out of the email to Hammer. He scanned its contents. "So she left to join a women's environmental group…"

"The Sisterhood of New Potential," said Fiona. "Which is why I called you. She was suffering odd lapses in her memory and strange attacks of extreme fear. She disappeared shortly after I received that email."

"Why us?" asked Jim-Bean curiously. "I didn't think you were particularly fond of…our operation."

Fiona frowned. "The Sisterhood of New Potential has been recruiting several women from here," she said. "I had a fight with Cynthia Dexter about it."

"You spoke with her face to face?" asked Archive, curiosity piqued.

Fiona nodded. "She's either a religious nut, a scam artist, or both. She was always talking about her great goddess."

"We'll check it out," said Hammer. "And maybe afterwards I can brief you over dinner."

Fiona cocked her head, eyeing Hammer. "Maybe. Let's see what you find first." She handed Hammer an address. "This is Noelle's address. The police haven't paid much attention to the case, but I bet you can find out more."

"We have our methods," said Hammer cryptically. He tucked the note into a pocket and turned to go,

"Agent Hammer?"

Hammer spun on his heel, a little too quickly. "Yes?" he asked hopefully.

She pointed a finger at the printed email, still in Hammer's hand. "Don't forget to recycle that printout," she said with a sly smile. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5c – R’lyeh

“I just had an unsettling thought,” said Beldin. “I thought that the mountain range was intended to keep people out. But I’m starting to think it’s meant to keep things in.”

The island landscape spread out before them was a tableau of pure evil. A forest sent black-barked trees high into the mists—trees that seemed to tremble and groan without wind to urge them on. Beyond the woodland lay a roiling, steaming marshland, blood red in the dim light and giving off a sulfurous stink strong enough to reach them halfway up the mountain. In the middle of the fetid bog rose a black spire.

“That’s where he lies,” said Harry. “The wicked one! That’s where the good lord flung him. He keeps him locked up fast. Buried like a pirate, he is—with a treasure chest on top!”

The forest began at the mountain’s base and spread to occupy about a third of the valley.

As they stepped into the dense wood, the air filled with familiar creaks and groans.

“That almost sounds like…” began Beldin.

”A boat tacking against the wind,” finished Sebastian. “But no boat should be here.”

The noise was grotesquely appropriate. The trees weren’t made of solid wood, but planks, the kind that made up the deck of the Naoke, grown thickly together and bound with brass collars. Jutting out from the north face of every last one of the oaken monstrosities was a figurehead—a leering, cowled figure with clenched teeth.

As Vlad stared closely at one, its eyes sprung open. For a moment they appeared to be black, but he realized they had no iris at all. An emblem—a tentacled skull with five stars—crowned the head.

“Talk not to the trees,” warned Harry. “They got nothing good to say!” more

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Friday, December 4

No Pain No Gain: Prologue


Hammer's feed was interrupted by a call. He picked it up.

A woman's voice answered. "Agent Hammer?"

Hammer blinked . He recognized her voice. "Fiona?"

"Listen, I just saw the news report about the Sisterhood of New Potential. Are you working on that case?"

"Yes, why?"

"I think I have some information you'll want to hear about. Can you visit me at the Ecotopian offices?"

"We'll be right over." more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5b – R’lyeh

R’lyeh brought its own weather. When it appeared in the archipelago, the sunlight dimmed and the skies filled with rolling purple storm clouds that delivered a constant downpour as they approached the island. A thick, soupy fog poured off the waves, occluding the island and reducing visibility to a matter of yards.

Through the forbidding mists, hints of shapes were visible. The stony inclines of mountains, rugged and vast, lurked beneath the fog. At their peaks, crags suggested themselves like faces under a shroud.

They came upon a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which could be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth's supreme terror - the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.

Only as they approached did the scale become clear: the fearsome summits soared many hundreds of feet into the air and began almost at the waterline. They formed a high, unbroken wall around the island, a formidable gate around the treasures of R’lyeh.

Sebastian landed on the deck of the Naoke. “It’s difficult to tell with the fog, but about halfway up the cliff face is a hole gouged into the rock. It’s at least as big as the ship. There’s a dim red light coming from inside the cavern.”

The dark-kin whispered “inlumino!”

His fist glowed with a reddish light. Sebastian took to the air, and although he was no longer visible in the fog, the red light served as a beacon for his companions.

“Looks like we’ll have to climb it,” said Beldin. He dusted his hands, relishing the thought of pitting himself against a mountain, no matter how strange.

“Speak for yourself,” said Kham. He crouched and then launched himself skywards, disappearing into the mist.

Vlad, who was far less enthusiastic about climbing the mountain, exchanged glances with Beldin. “Something’s different about Kham. That Leviathan Pistol has changed him somehow.”

“And Sebastian too,” said the dwarf. “He seems…less human.”

They rowed from the Naoke to the cliffs.

They clambered slipperily up over titan oozy blocks that could have been no mortal staircase. The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarizing miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion, and twisted menace and suspense lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance showed concavity after the first showed convexity.

“Is it just me, or do these handholds look strange?” asked Vlad.

“It’s not just you.” Beldin grunted with exertion above him. “They seem a little too well-placed to be natural. The nooks in the rock have been scratched out with stone.”

“Judging from the flecks of blood, fingernails,” added Vlad.

“Strong fingernails, then.”

They climbed on in silence, with Sebsatian’s beacon occasionally coming into focus, until they reached a zigzag path that led steeply but surely to a tunnel.

Vapur curled from the cave’s lip and a dim red light came from inside the cavern. In the shifting half-light of R’lyeh it looked like an open wound.

Sebastian and Kham landed. Sebastian looked the val up and down.

“Since when can you fly?” he asked.

“Since when can you?” asked Kham nonchalantly. more

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Thursday, December 3

Eight Ways In-Vitro Meat will Change Our Lives

Gross and yet...somehow inspiring. more

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Chapter 49: No Pain, No Gain - Introduction

This story hour is a combination of the scenario from At Your Door, "No Pain, No Gain," by Barbara Manui, Chris Adams, and L.N. Isinwyll, Dinner With Susan by Kelvin Green, and Goddess by Dr. Michael C. LaBossiere. 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:

Up to this point, we've established that Dawn Biozyme has been dabbling with "Mother's Milk," that it comes from Shub-Niggurath, and that several of the spawn of said Great Old One have gotten loose. The team barely, just barely, defeated a fully grown Dark Young. Now it's time to up the stakes.

It all starts with Noelle Rand's disappearance, a photographer for Full Wilderness' Ecotopian magazine.

That connection is Cynthia Dexter, and she will be one of the many casualties as the agents run and gun their way through this scenario. But first, we start with the Mother of Pus, replacing the flabby monstrosity in Dinner with Susan. She's more disgusting than difficult, and it set the tone for just how gruesome the worshippers of Shub-Niggurath can get. This scenario was flesh-crawlingly gross, especially when Archive gets infected…

Next is a series of ambushes between cultists of Cynthia Dexter's Sisterhood of New Potential. We also get to see Fiona Lin-Wei back in action.

Finally is the scenario we've all been dreading: No Pain, No gain. The one with the horny giantess, talking dog, "Jennikins" and a railroad ambush. I played it straight – I used d20 rules for an explosion and cave-in and gave the agents a decent chance to escape. But they didn't.

So you know what happens next. In my defense, the only thing I changed was Willie. I changed him from Clifford the Big Red Dog to Rover from the Prisoner. This whole scenario turned very, very strange, but at no point did the players feel it was comical or out of sync with the rest of the conspiracy narrative. In fact, much to my surprise, they enjoyed it very much. more

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Isles of the Damned: Part 5a – R’lyeh

A low vibration the crew of the Naoke awake, growing in intensity as they scrambled to the deck.

“All hands!” shouted Baldric. “All hands on deck, ye mangy dogs! Move it!”

The cause of the alarm became evident as they sprinted on deck to the first red rays of the morning sun…a wave, nearly fort-feet high, was heading straight for them.

“I’ve got it,” said Beldin. He outstretched the hand that wore Cho Sun’s ring and focused.

The prow of the Naoke bit into the wave, launching a blast of spray that drenched them to their skin. The water lifted the bow and forced the ship skyward.

Still they kept climbing, the boat standing nearly on end as they made their way up, up, ever up. The last stars of the night sky were visible, and then the bow blocked them from view.

Still up they went, until the bow was above and behind, pushed farther back by the wave’s crest. And then they were over, the prow pushing through the top of the wave and down.

Beldin never lost his footing as the front of the ship crashed into the back of the wave, sending another torrent of water over him and below decks.

Then the sea calmed, the tidal wave passed. Ahead, the cause of the disturbance was plain: an island, one that hadn’t been there yesterday, sitting alone as the waves caused by its appearance extended outward like ripples fleeing a tossed stone.

Sebastian twisted the seawater out of their map, his wings and hair sopping wet. “That would be R’lyeh.” more

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Wednesday, December 2

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

There was little evidence in Moab Cys’varion’s wretched form that he was once an elorii. His hair had long since fallen out and his pupiless eyes were pink. His flesh was splotchy white in patches, gray in others. He stood at the far end of the ship.

“I should be thankful,” Moab said in soft tones. “I had hoped to send my armies into Freeport. Instead I have sent them here and they have all failed. Or rather, they have achieved what I wished for them to accomplish.”

Beldin and Vlad stood resolute. “What’s that?” asked the dwarf as they advanced on him.

“They softened you up so that I may have you as experiments. You will make suitable replacements for my former adventuring companions. I need good warriors.”

Beldin circled around one side of the Naoke’s mainmast and Vlad around the other. Sailor and mutant bodies were littered everywhere.

“But for the moment, I think you will make quite a nice statue.” Moab pointed at Beldin. “Corporeus lapideus!”

A sparkling green beam struck the dwarf but it didn’t slow him. “That the best you got?”

Moab sneered. “Perhaps the former giant would like to become smaller: Resilio adstringo!”

The dwarf didn’t slow his stride.

Moab frowned but didn’t waste time on threats. He pointed at Vlad. “Polymorph alius!”

Nothing happened.

Beldin slapped Windcutter in an open palm. “This is going to be easier than I thought.” more

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Tuesday, December 1

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

A twisted gnome with a red Mohawk tumbled up to him, crossbow at the ready.

“Wait a minute…” said the gnome. “I remember you! You’re that idiot I tried to kill in Freeport!”

Kham tried to track the gnome with the Leviathan Pistol. “Funny, you don’t ring a bell.”

“Rooster Tumblefoot! You don’t remember me? You were blitzed out of your mind on Ghoul Juice when that flapping idiot up there,” he jabbed a thumb in Sebastian’s direction, “melted me into slag!”

“Nope, don’t remember you.”

The gnome fired his crossbow but it went wide. “What? Aren’t you surprised I’m still alive?”

Kham kept tracking him with the pistol. “Not really.”

“Don’t you see how amazingly powerful Moab’s magic is?” The gnome was becoming visibly frustrated. He drew his short sword and advanced on Kham. “I mean, I was his one success with the Leviathan Spyglass…I managed to escape this crazy place! Then when I nearly died, it drew me back. Moab saved me from the brink of death.”

Rooster lunged with his blade, but Kham blurred sideways out of his field of view.

“Skin grafts take a LONG time! A lot of people died so I could live.” The gnome looked around. “You sure you don’t remember me?”

Kham was standing on the rigging above him. Kham’s eyes flashed from behind his lenses.

Rooster’s eyes rolled in his head. He collapsed to the deck, drool dripping from his slack jaw, his brain smashed from Kham's psychic attack.

“Sorry, nothing’s coming to mind.” Kham landed next to him and kicked Rooster’s dying body overboard. more

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