Teen Saves Seaside Town

Zach Henry, age fourteen, is being heralded as a hero for saving the small seaside community of Danvers Bay.  “His quick thinking and ingenuity saved many lives, maybe hundreds,” claims the town constable, Derek Sherdon.  “If it weren’t for Zach I know I’d be dead.”

Danvers Bay is a small fishing village in the northernmost part of in the Allied Nations.  Situated just outside of the Arctic Circle, the small community is cut off from most of the world for much of the year.  Even so, their strong fisheries and resilient citizens have made this a surprisingly affluent community.

On the night of Libra 12th, the citizens of Danvers Bay awoke to find themselves in a real life horror story.  “They come up out of the sea,” Constable Sherdon relayed to the Valhalla Crier earlier today.  “I don’t know when they started, but there must have been a hundred of them by the time I was called to investigate.”

“I don’t know what they were,” says Margaret Hailey, a survivor of the attack.  “They looked like people, but they couldn’t have been.  People don’t do what they did.  People don’t come out of the sea like scavenging crabs.  People don’t move around if they’re dead, but these things did.”

The INSL investigators were able to conclude that the deadly nocturnal visitors were ghouls.  These creatures are a rare breed of undead related to zombies or skeletons, but much harder to control and much faster.  Their speed has been well documented.  Studies have shown that they retain the same speed in death as they did in life.

While this by itself makes them very dangerous, the most hazardous thing about them is their bite.  The Center for Disease Control has acknowledged that a ghoul’s saliva carries a potent disease, which causes severe necrosis to the bitten area.  If a character dies from the bite, or dies while the toxin is still in his body, he will also become a ghoul.

Despite this, fourteen year old Zach Henry was able to enact a plan to distract and ultimately destroy the creatures.  “I woke up around two or three in the morning when the pumps blew out by the boathouse,” Zach confides.  “I didn’t know what was going on but it scared me something awful.  I looked out the window and there was these people milling around on the street.  Most of them were across the way at the police station poundin’ on the doors and punching at the windows, but others were trying to break into other houses, including mine.  That’s when Mr. Nelson came out with his shotgun.  He kind of kicked open the door and two of them went flying.  He leveled the gun at the third and unloaded with both barrels right in its chest.”

Though knocked to the ground, the third ghoul didn’t stay down long before it rose again and started coming after Zach’s neighbor.  “The other two that he knocked down were already coming at him, but he didn’t even see them.  Them other two was on him fast.  They grabbed him and started biting.  He screamed something awful.”

The screams, as it turned out, were just the thing to turn the tide.  When Mr. Nelson was attacked all the other ghouls turned on him in a frenzy of biting and clawing.  Zach noticed this and also noticed how they would be turned from their course any time they heard a human scream.

That’s when Zach got the idea to use his drone.  His remote control aircraft was a birthday present that he had been mastering for the past two months.  Along with the camera and lights, the small craft is also equipped with both a speaker and microphone, which he commonly uses to communicate with friends across town.

“I opened up my window and held the drone steady while I worked the lift with my other hand,” Zach explains.  “Once I got it airborne I closed the window.  I knew I didn’t want them hearing me upstairs.  So then I flew up to about forty feet or so, so I could get a real good look at what was going on.  I saw how they was all over at the police station and I heard the shots so I figured the Constable was trapped.  I flew it over there and brought it down to about ten feet.  Then I just started screamin’”

Constable Sherdon heard the screams and thought he had lost another citizen.  Little did he know that those screams would be his salvation.  He had been asked earlier to investigate a disturbance at the docks.  He barely left the station when the first of the ghouls spotted him.

“I didn’t recognize the guy, and I know everyone in this town,” Constable Sherdon explains.  “So I called to him.  He just kind of turns and looks at me and the next thing I know he’s charging at me full bore!  Damnedest thing I ever saw.  He’d’a been on me but he hit an ice patch and went sprawlin’ and slammed into Andy’s truck.  I heard his arm break from clear across the street, but it didn’t slow him down but a step.  By that time I look up and see five more of ‘em coming chargin’ at me from down the way.  I got spooked!  I admit it!  I turned right back into the station and slammed the door behind me.”

While his quick reaction and dumb luck might have saved his life, his harrowing experience was far from over.  By city ordinance the station does not have a lock on the door, the thought being that a public building should never be closed to the public.  So rather than call for back-up, Constable Sherdon was forced to hold the door shut against the increasing numbers of the undead hordes.

“I had my revolver on me, of course,” the young constable explains, “so I drew it when they started pushin’ open the door.  I knew they was undead.  I didn’t even need my training for that.  I could just smell ‘em.  Ain’t nothin’ alive that smells like that. So I figure I better shoot for the head.  That’s how they train you at the academy.”  Constable Sherdon pauses, obviously shaken, before continuing his story.  “You know, they can tell you to aim for the head all they want, but when they’re pushin’ in on you and you can’t see ‘em through the door anyhow, all the tellin’ in the world ain’t gonna help.  I had six rounds and I only killed two of ‘em before I was empty.”

While straining against the gathering ghouls and deciding what to do next, Constable Sherdon heard the screams of a child from outside his door.  He held tight, afraid that somebody was losing their life.  He was devastated that he could do nothing about it.  As the screaming continued though, he noticed the pressure on the door relax.  When the scream started moving away, and the pushing stopped completely he took a look out the window and saw an amazing sight.

“There was one of them toy drones up in the air about ten or fifteen feet off the ground.  There was a light on it, and this weird, screaming noise comin’ from it.  The dead was following it.  They was all angry and snarling and trying to get the thing, but of course they couldn’t reach it.  They was more interested in that little screaming light in the sky than they was in the warm body right behind them.  I couldn’t believe it!”

“Once they started following, I knew I had ‘em,” Zach says while his parents look on, beaming with pride.  “They just kept following, so I kept leading.  Once I got them out of town I figured they might follow a little further so I took ‘em on up to Widow’s Bluff.”

Widow’s Bluff is a sharp cliff overlooking the bay just east of town.  While the waves crash against the rock wall during high tide, during low tide there is only an expanse of rocky boulders at the base of the sharp cliff.  Using cunning that is rare in a fourteen year old, young Zach led the ghouls in a slow, steady march up to the top of the seventy five foot bluff and then hovered about ten feet beyond the cliff’s edge.

“Every damn one of them just walked right off,” Constable Sherdon exclaims in wonder.  “He was like the damned Pied Piper!  That young boy killed more of them things than anyone and he didn’t even leave his bedroom.  The kid’s a damn hero!  A damn hero!”

Over the course of the next few hours the town managed to rebound from the initial surprise and organize.  Once everyone was armed and prepared, dispatching the remaining ghouls was relatively easy.  They have been keeping watch on the shoreline ever since, and the number of ghouls coming from the surf has dwindled each day.  Though they may never look at the unquiet waters of the bay in the same way, they can be secure in knowing that they can deal with the creatures if they arrive again.

Squatter Causes International Firestorm

The INSL has always tried to retain the appearance of neutrality amidst the complex relationships endemic to Valhalla’s many nations.  This has not always been easy.  Even during the very creation of the organization, there were those who hoped to use it as a tool to further punish the Technophiles rather than as the vehicle for peace it was meant to be.  Since then innumerable debates about issues such as slavery, mineral rights, and international raids have kept these tensions alive.

Now a sylph, or air faerie, is causing some of the most intense debates the INSL has seen in years.   This sylph was first seen flying around the top of the INSL pyramid several months ago, but her presence was dismissed until video footage of the mystical creature proved otherwise.

“Sylphs, like most nature spirits, are extremely reclusive,” explains Dr. Randy Higgins, a professor of Xenopsychiatry at Ada-Kar University.  “While naiads make their homes near water and dryads live in trees, sylphs are drawn to mountain peaks and areas of gusting winds.  The INSL pyramid is just such a place despite the fact that it is not naturally occurring.”

At over three hundred stories the INSL pyramid is the single largest structure in Valhalla.  Indeed, it has the highest elevation on Ada-Kar.  Perhaps then the questions shouldn’t be “why did she come here,” but rather “what took her so long?”

While most experts agree with Dr. Higgins’ assessment, this has not stopped an inordinate number of complaints from all levels of the government.  Within hours of proof of the creature’s existence, a special meeting was called by Evgeny Kuznetsov, the senator from Narodnay Strana.  In his hour-long rant to the general assembly, Senator Kuznetsov laid out seventeen reasons why the faerie should immediately be removed.  He claimed that her presence is at least an improper use of government facilities and at most an unbridled provocation of war.

During the tensest moments of his speech he claimed that “the Technophobic hegemony has been infiltrating advanced societies for years.  Now one of their magical harlots has made the very symbol of international cooperation into her bordello!”

Given that Ada-Kar is a place where we regularly pass centaurs and aliens on the street, why is the presence of this one faerie causing so much trouble?

The root of the problem is that she has apparently made her home at the very peak of the pyramid within the shimmering blue light of the Traekari beam.  The beam has many functions, the most important of which is to set up the delicate web of magic and technology that allows the Technology and Magic Equalization Zones (or Tech Zones) to function.  To Senator Kuznetsov, the presence of a magical creature so closely linked to such a powerful apparatus is like allowing corporate sponsors within the halls of the Kremlin.  It is not only against the interests of his nation, but also a threat to the stability of the entire world.

“We don’t know anything about this creature,” Anita Hawker, the popular blogger and firebrand from Megalopolis stated in her most recent post.  “The wizards may say that she’s harmless, but how do we know?  While we debate evicting this squatter she could be subjugating the entire TMEZ protocol.  How innocent will she seem when she turns our rifles and plasma weapons into pea shooters?”

While most of the adverse reactions have come from high-tech nations, there are a growing number of low-tech nations that are also unhappy with the sylph’s presence.  The most vocal of these are the clergy from The Kingdoms who reject her presence on the grounds that such a creature is the spawn of the devil only there to tempt and corrupt the minds of those in power.

Despite the mounting ire, a growing grassroots movement is intent on letting the faerie stay.  “The presence of one of the fair folk is a sign of beauty and wonder,” states Monica Galesby, an organizer for the so-called “Let the Fae Stay” movement.  “She has chosen the pyramid for her home and now she will help to protect it with all her love and power.”

Dr. Randy Higgins admits that nature faeries do offer a strong level of protection not only to the places they make their home, but also to the surrounding areas.  “It is their home, after all,” the doctor explains.  “Would you not protect your home if it were under attack?”

The odd assembly of nations backing the sylph’s right to stay is using this as the main thrust of their arguments.  They believe that removing the faerie would not only harm her, but also weaken any mystical protections she inherently brings.  Additionally, rooting out such creatures can be extremely difficult given their ability to use magic and call other magical creatures to her aid.  The large number of pixies in the INSL gardens, for example, would almost certainly defend her if she was attacked.

To complicate the matter, however, one must realize that the removal of such a nature spirit from her home would result in her death and the ultimate destruction of her home.  If a dryad is forcibly removed from her tree, for example, both the dryad and the tree would soon die.  Similar things have been known to happen with naiads and their watery lairs.  If the sylph has bonded to the INSL pyramid in this way then it is possible that her removal will result in the slow destruction of the pyramid not to mention her own death.

There is, however, some debate as to how long such bonding takes.  While some experts believe that such a bonding can take years to form, others believe that the connection is permanent and irrevocable the moment the sylph chose it as her home.

It was for reasons like this that the “Indigenous Creatures Decree” was written into law.  This decree gives legal protections to creatures inherently rooted to specific locations.  While a successful suit has never been prosecuted, the law could, in theory, prevent the forcible removal of the sylph.

The fact that the sylph herself has refused to speak with any envoys has also caused problems.  A suit cannot be filed on her behalf if she refuses to take part in it.  While spell casters attempt to reason with the illusive creature, people like Anita Hawker are calling for non-lethal weapons such as sonic cannons to make her stay so uncomfortable that she will attempt to leave on her own.

While Senator Kuznetsov has pressed for an immediate resolution to the problem, opposition senators are attempting to push the issue towards an ad hoc council that will draft a bill.  Their ploy seems to be to delay the decision until tempers settle, or until the sylph becomes so permanently bonded to the pyramid that removal is no longer feasible.

We will learn early next week how the debate will continue, though it will likely be some time before we learn the ultimate fate of the shy faerie.

Unusual Trade Routes Cited for Economic Boom

The INSL council on Economic Advancement announced today that international exchange of goods has reached a record high.  This, combined with the recent report on the burgeoning economy, is leading some to believe that the two are closely linked.

The traditionally open borders among the countries within Valhalla have long been a vehicle for cultural and economic exchange.  Ever since the end of the Great War when the current national boundaries were set, there have been a remarkable number of travelers between the nations.  Naturally many of these travelers have been Newbies, who are renowned for their wanderlust.  These Newbies, however, are far from having a monopoly on international travel and trade.

The Merchant Guild confirmed that their records show a marked year-over-year increase in the international transport of goods for ten consecutive years.  “The majority of world trade seems to be imports arriving in Ada-Kar,” says Langston Raker, a Guild spokesman.  “This is, of course, easily explained by the fact that there is not enough land available on the island to grow food to sustain its population.  While the price of imports makes living here significantly more expensive it’s status as world capital means there are no shortage of people who want or need to live there.”

Beyond this, however, international trade has been booming for many years.  Most notable is the almost universal trade of grains and other food stores from the Nations of the Sun to practically every other part of the world.  The fertile soil and reliable sources of water have made this area one of the largest food producing nations on the face of the planet.

Meanwhile the Nations of the Sun have been importing mass-produced specialty goods from the Allied Nations.  Chief among these goods are plows and other farming equipment.  In fact the so-called “middle-breaker plow” has become so common among the Egyptian populace that it is now one of the sacrificial items that are dedicated to Renenutet, the goddess of the harvest, each year.

Not all goods transported from these Technophile nations are so benign.  It is well-known that inexpensive mass-produced melee weapons have been making their way from the Western Continent to many Low-Tech nations.  The aggressors from the recent Hobgoblin uprising in Xa’cor dy Yelpheet, for example, were armed almost entirely by mass-produced short swords, maces, and spears produced in the Axis Nations.  The Allied Nations have been doing significant business with similar goods in the Nations of the Sun while Narodnaya Strana seems to have been supplying arms to the Coalition of City-States.

Oddly while these countries seem to be exporting such goods at an alarming rate, the trade of specialty hand-made weapons from Technophobic nations to Technophile nations also seems to be on the rise.  Ornately designed and masterfully crafted weapons such as the Japanese katana or the Roman gladius are often given to business partners or political counterparts as tokens of friendship and esteem.  These hand-crafted items are more likely to be seen in a museum than on the battlefield.

It can be said that nearly all nations enjoy some level of international trade.  Besides those already mentioned, there are a wide number of other countries that export and import a plethora of goods.  Such exports include petroleum from the People of Islam, oceangoing vessels from the Imperial Nations, and precious gems and ores from the Coalition of American States.

In fact there are only a few nations that do not have open trade policies.  These include the ever-secretive Gorgonian aliens who control Gyr Kuzott and the insular fiefdoms within the Kingdoms.

Ironically another nation that has had limited trade options is Megalopolis.  While it would seem logical that the people of this high-tech nation would be a dominant force among the world economy, it has found so few trading partners that the nation is bordering on insolvency.  The reason being that high-tech devices that would normally be in such demand are relatively useless in areas outside of their own borders.  The ability to own an entire library on a single hand-held device or even a holo-phone becomes useless when the devices suffer repeated breakdowns when removed from their native Tech Zone.

Of all their advances, only their cutting-edge medical industry is viable on the international field.  Any number of their pharmaceutical goods can be used throughout the world without suffering ill effects from transitioning to a lower tech zone.  The only interference in such areas is often cultural, such as the Kingdom’s refusal of all medication more advanced than the leach.

Robust trade throughout Valhalla is a sure sign that the nations of the world have many opportunities to cooperate for the betterment of all.  As more time passes and the wounds and sorrows of the Great War are forgotten, it is more likely that international peace will reign.  Economists caution, however, that such open trade can lead to world-wide problems should the current economic boom turn to bust.

Mining Operations Halted

A series of setbacks in the Harmony Hill Mine has resulted in the halt of all operations.  The coal mine has been active for almost two years, but has only recently begun to harvest the ore, which makes the halt in production even more devastating to the mine’s owner, Subterranean Logistics Corporation.

In some ways the mining operations seems to have been cursed from the start.  The mine is located in the southernmost quadrant of the Allied Nations.  It is close to the borders of both Narodnaya Strana and Yod-Zok.  This proximity was the cause of the initial problems.  The Communist Koreans as well as the Iclavian aliens filed suit through the INSL to stop the mining operation.  Both nations believed the mining would infringe on their boundaries.

After dragging through the court system for nearly five years, Subterranean Logistics won the suit and mining could finally begin, or so Jacob Heltergast, CEO of Subterranean Logistics, believed.  “The next problem,” Mr. Heltergast explained in a telephone interview, “was how remote the area was.  While we started building the road we suffered multiple attacks from eco-terrorists and other foes of progress.”

These attacks came mainly by way of sabotage.  Trees earmarked for clearing were spiked with iron rods.  Sugar poured into the gas tanks of heavy machinery proved troublesome and expensive.  Cyber-attacks were used to infiltrate and destroy company records.  The most common weapon, however, was arson, which cost 2.8 Million V-bills worth of damage over a six month period.  Arson, however, quickly fell out of favor with the eco-terrorists when a fire raged out of control and burned nearly 100,000 acres of pristine wilderness.

Attacks also came through the court system.  The suits ranged from disputes over private property to invocation of Environmental Protection clauses.  Foremost among the latter was the now famous “Scupper vs Subterranean Logistics Corporation” which contended that the road would disrupt the only known family of Sasquatch on the Western Continent.

“The Bigfoot suit was probably the biggest obstacle,” Jacob Heltergast claimed.  “Fortunately the tree-huggers baked their own bacon in that one.  When their act of arson went out of control it burned down the very section of forest that the thing called home.  No forest, no Bigfoot, no lawsuit!”

“Once production finally started things went well for the better part of a year.  Most of it was preliminary work, a lot of blasting and structural work while we tried to get to the lode.”  Mr. Heltergast pauses as if to work up to what came next.  “The real problems occurred when we found the network of tunnels.  We saw it first on our seismic scanners and thought it was the remains of an underground river.  We hoped we would be able to use it to extract the ore.  If not then we needed to know if it could compromise the mine’s foundation.”

Once the team reached the tunnel, however, they quickly realized that it was designed by sentient beings and not the work of erosion.  They found support columns and strange statuary, many of which resembled bald cats.  The images seemed both alien and mythic, but were like nothing any of them had seen before.  As the explorers investigated the tunnel, they stumbled upon the first trap.

A worker triggered it when he stepped on a pressure plate which released several three ton slabs of sandstone.  One worker was crushed outright by this while five others were cut off from the surface.  Moments after the stone slabs fell, coal dust began to flood the room.  Within minutes the entire team became asphyxiated by the choking dust.

“At first we thought it was a cave-in.  After we got experts in there and they saw what happened, we knew that there was something else at work.”

As the reconnaissance of the tunnels resumed, the explorers were much more careful.  Over the next few months they found swinging traps, deadfall traps, pit-traps, and imprisonment traps.  Though many of these traps were disarmed before they could do any harm, dozens of lives were still lost.

While this was going on the company started to suffer breakdowns in their machinery.  Workers also began to unexpectedly fall sick.  It turned out that the food was being poisoned with e-coli, though nobody could trace the root of the contamination.  Security measures were doubled yet the mine continued to face disasters both below and above ground.  Miners began quitting at a precipitous rate.

It wasn’t until about eight months after the tunnels were uncovered that they discovered the identity of their new enemy.  Mr. Heltergast showed me the video of the encounter.  The grainy footage is from the helmet camera of one of the miners as he swept the area for more booby-traps.  On the far side of the corridor the viewer is able to see movement.  It is so slight that it appears to simply be a shadow moving from the worker’s headlamps.

The miners become aware of it only a moment later when the question “what’s that?” can be heard off-camera.  A slow pan of the area reveals a small, dark figure lurking in the shadows behind one of the strange cat-like statues.  The miners draw closer to investigate then hesitate as the figure scurries deeper into the shadows.

“Don’t let it escape!” the same voice yells and there is a flurry of activity as the miners attempt to capture it.  The figure appears quite small; no larger than a medium sized dog or a small child.  Though it clearly stands on two feet, it moves slightly hunched over and has an oversized head.

When the team draws closer and cuts off its retreat the figure attacks.  In less than a second the three foot tall creature grows to a monstrous height of over ten feet as it lurches forward!

Playing back the footage in slow motion and manipulated with the finest optical enhancers Megalopolis has to offer, one can finally see the details behind the hideous gray face, its wide serpentine eyes, and a set of sharp needle-like teeth.

In the next instant the camera falls to the ground as frightened cries of the miners can be heard in the background.  The camera remains facing away from the creature as human feet flee the area.  For a moment there is quiet then a raspy laugh, which sounds something like a mix between torn silk and an asthmatic’s wheeze, can be heard . . . then silence.

Finally having solid information of what lurked in the caverns, Subterranean Logistics sent the footage to Ada-Kar University where the esteemed Professor of Xenomorphology, Yazarah Harroz was able to view it.  “It didn’t take me long to figure out what we were looking at,” Professor Harroz explains.  “Creatures similar to this have been found in small, isolated areas throughout Valhalla.  Most often they are found in woodlands and grasslands, particularly in Xa’cor dy Yelpheet, and the Kingdoms.  These creatures are known as spriggans.  The interesting thing about those found in the Harmony Hill Mine is that they are the first ever known species of subterranean spriggan.”

“The thing that really gave it away,” notes Professor Harroz, “is how the creature grew to an immense size when it was threatened.  This is the last defense of a trapped spriggan.  In reality the creature didn’t grow at all, but rather used a powerful illusion to make it appear to be giant size.  While everyone was distracted, the real spriggan hid until the coast was clear.”

While the company began to make plans on how to overcome the new roadblock, certain members of the security team hired through the Adventurers Guild went into the tunnels with four canisters of cyanide gas.  The results were as devastating as they were unexpected.  Once the gas was released the guards fled the area.  They made it safely to the surface and waited to see what would happen.  It is unknown how many spriggans were killed in the attack, but there must have been enough left to spring their last trap.

The creatures ignited a fire which spread rapidly when it caught the coal dust wafting through the air.  The flash fire managed to ignite the load of ore, but the sudden removal of oxygen guaranteed it would not burn too hot or long.  Instead it simmered with a low heat in an oxygen-poor atmosphere emitting dark plumes of acrid smoke from the mine’s entrance.  By the time fire fighters could be called to the area it was too late, the coal burned with a low, but constant intensity which refused all attempts to extinguish it.  The firefighters quickly realized that any attempt to access the mine would bring in fresh oxygen which could cause the coal to flash-burn uncontrollably.  The fire was fed with enough oxygen from below, however, to guarantee that it would not suffocate.

“All that coal, all that money, burning away for nothing!” Mr. Heltergast laments.  “The geologists say that the fire will slowly eat the coal for the next thousand years.  The only solace I have is that they killed themselves while doing it.”

“Oh I doubt they are dead,” Professor Harroz replies when asked about their demise.  “Spriggans are survivors.  They are smart and tricky.  If they set the fire they had a plan to get out of it.”

Whatever befell the spriggans, the Harmony Hill Mine is no more.  Rusting machinery and abandoned buildings may still surround the mine’s opening, but all the mine emits now is a dark cloud of noxious smoke that wafts through the hollows and mountaintops.  The haze can be seen for miles.  On still days when air becomes stagnant, the black fog has been known to kill flora and fauna alike, stifling it in the corrupt miasma of soot and ash.

In this sad case nobody can claim victory.  Subterranean Logistics Corporation has declared bankruptcy.  The environmentalists who hoped to stop the mine no longer have a pristine wilderness, but rather one coated in a lung-choking fog that will last generations.  Even the spriggans cannot be thought winners in this.  Even if they survived the presence of the burning coal so close to their homes will have undoubtedly caused unforeseen problems.  Instead all parties involved can only look at the Harmony Hills Mine as a lesson in the hubris of man and Valhalla’s innate unpredictability.

Vampire’s Death Brings Chaos

Four years ago the people of the Imperial Nations rejoiced when they learned that the dreaded vampire Barron Lucio Vitale was laid to his final rest.  During the centuries he reigned, people avoided the Dell’orest Mountains and surrounding forest for fear of the monster lurking in its heart.  Old trade routes traveled before the Great War fell to disuse and became a heaven for bandits and things much more foul.

The Vitale Castle was built along a high mountain pass between the two nations long before the current political maps were drawn.  Situated along the border of Xa’car dy Yelpheet and the Italian sector of the Imperial Nations, the area served as both a border and a melting pot before the Great War.  The long winding road to Vitale pass was a major thoroughfare for travelers and traders eager to visit the wood elves without having to go all the way around the mountain range, or face the perils of passing through Centaur lands.

Barron Lucio Vitale ruled when Randolph Newman forged his infamous Combine and set out to conquer the world.  Though the Barron held authority stemming from the Italian city-states, years in proximity to the mythical creatures of Xa’car dy Yelpheet (along with the matter of his questionable state of un-life) left him predisposed to the Technophobic side of the war.  He refused the call to arms and proffered a stout defense when the Italian armies attempted to cross the Dell’orest mountains.  At the battle of Alto Ponte the Barron held his ground, thereby cutting off the main route between the Italian armies and the mythical lands beyond for the duration of the war.

What the armies of Medici could not do, however, a group of determined adventurers managed to achieve.

Even at this late date it is hard to know exactly who made the successful foray.  Rumors have surfaced and multiplied but little hard evidence has been found.  Most likely it was a band of stout adventurers with powerful clerics to back them.  That they were successful is undeniable, but how much they managed to pilfer and what happened to the great treasure will never be known.  Based on the rumors of what they left behind it must have been a vast sum!

It wasn’t long before news circulated that the Barron was dead.  The brave souls who went to the castle to scavenge tell of vast riches in art, weapons, alchemic bric-a-brac, books, and all other sorts of assorted riches.  While most of the more portable riches had already been carted off, there was still enough plunder left behind to make many men rich.

Violence between rival groups became more common as other treasure seekers began to flood the area.  Sometimes bandits would wait in ambush for those to come down from the mountain before stealing their goods.  As the number of bandits grew they turned their attention to common travelers and traders, demanding tribute for safe passage.  The roads became more dangerous than they were when the Barron ruled the lands.  The bloodshed spilled out beyond the borders and threatened the Strada di Montagna, the main road running the length of the nation.  The disruption of the trade routes finally forced the Italian principalities to take action.

Trouble persisted even after Prince Cesare’s forces cleared the roads.  Having achieved his primary objective, the brave Prince led his men into the mountains intent on reclaiming the castle and allowing trade to flow once more through the area.  By this time, however, some of the more powerful bandits joined together under the banner of a man proclaiming himself to be The Bandit King.  Prince Cesare was thwarted by the Bandit King at the same stone bridge where the Technophile army was stopped over two hundred years before.

The Bandit King maintained possession of the castle for nearly a year, drawing huge numbers of cutthroats and misanthropes to his side (including several bands of hobgoblins and ogres).  He used the castle as a staging area from which he could launch raids on unsuspecting villages on both sides of the border.  Ultimately, he was not able to stop the internal conflicts within the band and soon the bitter in-fighting erupted into a bloody revolt.  By the time it was over, the Bandit King lay dead as fire raged through the castle, collapsing walls and gutting the once proud structure.

Since then the castle has remained abandoned and has all but fallen from public concern.  This does not mean that the intervening years have not seen activity.  What once rested on the borders of the castle and within the dark woods and craggy peaks has crept into the charred ruins and begun to spill down the mountainside.  The few that pass through the area tell harrowing tales of ghastly creatures that enjoy cruel torments and crave human flesh.  Giants, hobgoblins, trolls, hags and harpies have all been described by trusted sources, while wilder tales speak of a dark woman clothed in shadow who corrupts all she touches.

Prince Cesare, ever hopeful of re-opening this once vital trade route, has posted an offering with the Adventurer’s Guild granting 10,000VB for verifiable intelligence about what is going in and around the castle.  After nearly nine months the reward remains unclaimed.

It is doubtful whether the area will ever be truly safe for travel, but those who live closest to the dark mountains wonder if it might have been better if the vampire still ruled.  There has been little peace since the monster was slain, and they fear the unknown shadows that are emerging.  The mountains loom on the horizon as a source of dread.  The common folk fear even talking about them lest they summon the evil down upon themselves.

Though the vampire is dead, the ramifications of the power vacuum created by his demise continue to linger and will likely haunt the land for generations to come.

Shan Fang Escapes in Mass Jail-break

When the outlaw Shan Fang was arrested eighteen months ago, the people of Zhao in the Kuan Ti Territories breathed a deep sigh of relief.  The notorious bandit had plagued the countryside for a full decade, gaining a grim reputation as a heartless killer, marauder, and thief.

Shan Fang and his gang of thugs were convicted of no less than fifty murders, but they are suspected of innumerable other acts of barbarism.  Unfortunately, the other allegations have never been proven given the lack of witnesses.  Shan Fang is notorious for leaving no survivors.  In fact it was only thanks to the a witness surviving the notorious Shangsi Festival Massacre that he could be convicted at all.  The brave testimony of the lone survivor tells a harrowing tale of brutality and degradation.

When Shan Fang and his minions were caught and convicted, they were sentenced to death.  While many of his minions were sentence to die by strangulation or quartering, Shan Fang himself was to die by Lingchi.  More widely known as the “Death of a Thousand Cuts,” Lingchi is more torture than execution.  It involves the systematic flaying of skin over a long period of time.  Each week one more of his minions would be killed while Shan Fang would receive another one of the many wounds that should have ultimately killed him.

The horrible death was thought to be just retribution for the countless people he raped and murdered during his long reign of terror.  In this case, the time necessary to carry out the execution made escape possible.

Officials are still trying to piece together the events, but from their preliminary investigation, it appears that one or more of Shan Fang’s compatriots purposely allowed themselves to become captured in order to assist in the breakout.  Meanwhile, a number of other individuals infiltrated the prison from the outside, helping to surprise and overwhelm the guards.

The official report states that the breakout started around four o’clock in the morning when several of the inmates managed to escape from their cells.  Once out they moved quickly and quietly to the block-house guard, where they overcame and killed him without making a sound.  They then freed all the other prisoners within the cell block.

With this accomplished, the murderous crew moved to the solitary confinement block where Shan Fang was being held.  The gang was once again able to overcome the guards.  Speculation about how quickly and silently the assault took place has led some to believe that magical means may have been used to aid the gang.  Indeed, the official report details eye-witness testimony that helps support this speculation.

About thirty minutes after the initial escape a sentry came across the body of the first murdered guard.  The sentry raised the alarm, but it was too late.  By that time Shan Fang was already out of his cell and on his way to the prison gates.

The sound of the alarm bell also served as the queue for those outside the prison to mount their assault.  They brought a wagon loaded with explosives to the prison gate and blew it apart with an ear-shattering explosion.  With the main gates down, a dozen or more men stormed the breach and entered the prison with bags of weapons and explosives.

Fires were lit throughout the surrounding town and a multitude of unlikely creatures were found terrorizing the streets and keeping the town guard busy as the escape commenced.  Sources have verified that a minotaur, a troll, and a flightless Oni were seen and later killed during the night.

“These are all incredibly dangerous and rare creatures,” explains Yazarah Harroz, the Professor of Xenomorphology at Ada-Kar University.  “All are extremely volatile and are known to react violently, particularly when they are cornered.  In crowded situations they could cause a lot of damage and chaos in a short amount of time, which was undoubtedly the gang’s intention.  Because they are so dangerous, it is likely that they used some form of magic to bring the creatures into the city.  Nyisha’s Living Figurines have been used in similar ways in the past.”

Meanwhile, inside the prison, the guards were attempting to restore order, but they soon found that they were being overwhelmed by both the released prisoners as well as those attacking from outside.  As more and more prison guards were slaughtered the guards retreated and locked themselves into one of the cell blocks.  The move saved many of them, but many more were soon cut down by the vengeful horde.

When the prisoners finally joined up with those that stormed the gates, the prisoners quickly exchanged their shanks and makeshift weapons for the real weapons that the invaders brought with them.  Now armed and free of the prison, they turned their bloodlust on the town, burning, looting and slaying indiscriminately as they fled.  Shan Fang and his crew rushed to the outskirts of town where additional gang members awaited with horses for the final ride to freedom.  Non-gang members were left to fend for themselves.  Many of them have already been recaptured or killed in the hours and days since the escape took place.

It has been over a week since the escape, and as of the latest reports Shan Fang has not yet been located.  His trail led into the Jiá mountains where he was able to disappear.  He has used these mountains as a base during most of his career and it is believed that he has gone to ground in some hidden lair as he recuperates and prepares his next crime.

The people of Zhao are terrified of his vengeance, and have asked for government troops to be sent to help protect them from his wrath.  A division of soldiers has been sent to hunt down the gang and bring them to justice, but the area is far too large to guard over a long period of time.  In the interim, local officials are collecting money to help revitalize town defenses and hire additional guards.  Many are resorting to the Adventurer’s Guild in hopes of securing a formidable enough defensive force to dissuade Shan Fang from attacking their city.

“How can we sleep at night?” a villager, who wishes to remain anonymous, summed up for many of the people of the Zhao province.  “A monster is loose and there is no telling where he will attack next.  Today we live, but what of tomorrow?  When Shan Fang strikes the best you can hope for is a quick death.”

Royal Rescue Leads to Lucrative Deal

Sailors with the French Royal Fleet will soon be considerably safer than they were.  Admiral Daniau LaPointe announced that they will be purchasing a thousand Retrieving Ropes from the Sea Elves over the next two years.

The decision comes only a week after Princess Marguerite, aged fifteen, was saved by such a device while traveling to Ada-Kar.  The princess had come to visit the island capital as part of a diplomatic tour.  The mission almost ended in disaster when the princess became enamored with a herd of wild hippocampi near the coastal shoals.  The princess lost her balance and tumbled overboard.  The princess’ heavy gown and rich gold and jewelry would surely have dragged her to her death had it not been for the Retrieving Rope cinched to the port bow.

The rope unraveled itself and darted toward the princess the moment she fell overboard.  It grasped onto her leg and arm then quickly lifted her to the ship’s deck.  After safely delivering the princess, the rope, its magic spent, went limp.  The princess, quite shaken by the ordeal, was quick to find out more about the amazing rope and let her father know all about its wonders.

Retrieving Ropes are Alchemic Items made from hand-woven hemp rope interlaced with a thin thread of gold.  It is set with a trigger that will only unleash the magic under very specific circumstances, so that magic remains dormant until it is needed.  Fortunately for the princess, this rope was set to spring into action when any living human fell overboard.

These ropes have long been used by the Sea Elves in an attempt to make the dangerous work of sailing a little safer.  The ropes, however, have seen little use among humans.  This is mostly due to general distrust of magic and the high cost of the item.  Merchant shipping vessels in particular have a proven history of being cheap.  Turner Layton, a notorious skin-flint and ship owner, was famously quoted as saying “A seaman who falls overboard is not worth his salt.  Let old briny take him and be damned.”  Unfortunately such sentiments are still prevalent in the shipping trade, which is still mostly monopolized by the Kingdoms and the Imperial Nations, times and places that have little regard for labor laws.

After the salvation of their young princess, the French royalty see things differently.  It is thought that the life-lines could save upwards of fifty seamen a year, particularly around the rough seas where the Njord and Aegir oceans meet the Einherjar.

The deal, said to be worth 500,000Vb, is the first of its kind outside of Xa’cor dy Yelpheet.  It is certainly the first to be made by any major nation.  The money will be payable in a mixture of gold, v-bills, and materials, in particular barrels of wine from France’s newly refurbished industry.  Indeed, there has been some speculation that the deal owes more to France’s need to find new markets for their wines than to purchasing devices that could save their seamen’s lives.

It is no secret that the French wine industry has seen major set-backs over the last fifty years.  The problems have stemmed from bad luck, bad choices, and devastating catastrophes.  Perhaps the most damaging single problem was the Witch’s Blight of 205-223ce, a fungal disease believed to be caused from the death-curse of the powerful witch Raine DuMutiler.  Whether magical or natural in its origin, the fungus wiped out vineyards so quickly that even the healthiest vines were killed in only a matter of days.

Only within the last ten years have the vineyards been able to start growing reliably again.  Due to improved weather conditions over the last few years, the grapes are now doing wonderfully and the French hope to restart a formerly lucrative industry.  It is thought that by paying the Sea Elves with their casks of wine they will not only get a good trade, but will also be able to sell their product to a much wider market.  The Sea Elves, after all, are the most far-flung trading culture on the seas today.  A good batch of wine could spark interest in their product for years to come.

Because of the time it takes to create these items, the trade will not be completed for several years.  The deal calls for fifty of the ropes to be delivered to the port of La Rochelle each month for the next two years.

Interview with Damon Anseti: Part 5

Preparing for the Unexpected (or) The Wrong Way to Fight a Harpy

Anybody who has spent time in the Kingdoms sector of Ada-Kar has probably wandered into the Pirate’s Gold pub for a drink or five.  A pleasant and entertaining place, the Pirate’s Gold is always lively.  The pub’s owner, Damon Anseti, can often be found pouring drinks, carousing with the patrons, and spinning yarns about his adventuring days.  I asked him to sit with me and discuss a few of his favorite subjects.

For this most recent interview I asked him to tell me how to prepare for an adventure.

 

Valhalla Crier:  You must have learned a lot about how to organize an adventure party during what you call your “Grand Adventure.”  What important things did you learn by the time you came back that you wished you had known when you started?

Damon:  Well, I could cite examples all day.  Any one of the stories makes for good entertainment, but none of ‘em will save your life.  Lives don’t get saved by stories.  They get saved by doing the right thing at the right time.

Valhalla Crier:  Okay, so what are these “right things?”

Damon:  Number one is to work with a crew you know and trust.  The most successful bands are the ones that have been together the longest.  Not only do they know what they are doing by themselves, but they know how to work as a team.  I don’t give a damn who you are, if you don’t have somebody to watch your back you don’t have a chance.  Hell, Dreadnaught Drake refused to work with a partner and see where that got him.

Valhalla Crier:  So get a partner then.

Damon:  Yeah, but not just any partner.  You’ve got to work as a team.  Make sure that you’ve covered all your areas of weakness.  Your weaknesses are more important than your strengths.  You could have some muscle-bound ape that can pound a Minotaur to goo, but if you don’t have the brains to back up the brawn then it’s only a matter of time.  You can’t fight your way out of every situation.

Valhalla Crier:  So what kind of things are we talking about?  I mean, I could make a dream team to cover every potential circumstance, but when is that really going to be feasible?  I mean, where is the line and what is a “must have” versus a “nice to have?”

Damon:  Hold on now.  It doesn’t need to be that tough.  You don’t need to come up with every eventuality, and in fact, you can’t.  There is always going to be something that you can’t plan for.  Crazy shit happens out there all the time, so you better buy in on that before you pack your undies!

What’s really important is that your crew covers a couple of different roles.  Some people can manage many roles, while others might specialize in one and be totally useless in all the others.

Valhalla Crier:  Okay, so what are these roles?

Damon:  First up you got your Capo.  You can run your crew any way you want to, but when it’s go time you need somebody calling the shots.  There’s no time to debate and vote when a couple dozen screaming hobgoblins come charging over the rise.  What this person says goes, at least during combat.  You need somebody who can think fast, get everyone on the same page, and above all, not panic!

Valhalla Crier:  How do you find a good Capo?

Damon:  It’s not easy going, particularly with a new crew.  Unless you’ve got someone hiring through the Adventurer’s Guild and issuing the paycheck, who’s in charge can get pretty murky.  Every adventurer I’ve ever met wants to be alpha-dog.  None of them want to give, particularly if they don’t know each other.  Eventually somebody will step up that everyone can get behind, but until a leader emerges things won’t go smooth.

If you don’t have somebody calling the shots, somebody will get shot.

Valhalla Crier:  Fair enough, what’s another role?

Damon:  You also need a Basher; somebody who you count on to really ramp up the body count.  You need someone tough, fast, vicious, and above all, someone who loves to fight.  It doesn’t matter if they carry a sidearm or a club.  As long as you can trust him to wade through your enemies, you want him on your team.

Valhalla Crier:  Okay, who’s next?

Damon:  Next is your Thinker.  He’s the one who’s got all the angles.  He can read ancient texts and talk foreign and what-not.  It’s even more than that, though.  Your Thinker is the one that’s going to put together connections nobody else can make.  They’ll make sure you know which way to turn in a maze, or even figure out a riddle for you.  That sort of thing.

Valhalla Crier:  All right.  Who’s next?

Damon:  You need a Scout too.  Now I’m using “scout” in a broad sense, you dig?  I’m not only talking about someone who can search ahead, find the trails, but also somebody who always spots stuff that others miss.  They’re good for finding hidden doors, traps, maybe even catching somebody in a lie.  You need this person to keep you safe from what you can’t see and can’t expect.

Valhalla Crier:  All right, any others?

Damon:  Well, the last one you need is your Jack.

Valhalla Crier:  Your Jack?

Damon:  Yeah, as in “Jack of all Trades.”  You need somebody who will be there as back-up for each of the others.  He might not be the best at any one thing, but he can do them all to some extent.  That way, when one of your buddies dies you have the Jack to take his place.

Valhalla Crier: Well, that’s a grim thought.

Damon:  It’s the truth, though.  Any time you head out into the wilds you can bet not everyone’s coming back.

Valhalla Crier:  Well how do you avoid that?  How do you come back from a successful adventure without anyone dying?

Damon:  Well there’s no guarantees, but like I said getting a good crew that works well together is your best bet.  Even then so much can go wrong.  It helps to have a clear idea of your goals, your enemies, potential troubles you might have.  You need to take a good look at the possibilities and probabilities and then make plans.

Valhalla Crier:  So you make a plan.  How detailed do you get?

Damon:  As detailed as you can, but you always have to leave room for improvisation.  Your Jack should be really good at that.  In fact that should be one of his specialties.

It’s tough to know what is going on until you are in the middle of it, though.  Even then you might not know what is really going on.  So you make a plan.  Then you need a back-up plan.  Then a back-up plan to your back-up.  And then, of course, you’ve got your “Go South” plan.

Valhalla Crier:  What’s the “Go South” plan?

Damon:  That’s the retreat plan for when everything goes south.  There is nothing worse than everyone running in panic.

Valhalla Crier:  Can you give me an example of a time when things fell apart?  When you had to switch plans or improvise?

Damon:  I could tell you about the wrong way to fight a Harpy.

Valhalla Crier:  Oh?  Please do.

Damon:  Well we were on our way to do this thing in Babylon.

Valhalla Crier:  The fortress of the dead?  With the White?

Damon:  Yeah.  I told you about that?

Valhalla Crier:  You tell everyone about that.  I wrote an article on it once.

Damon:  So anyway, we were on our way to Babylon and we were passing through the Phoenician islands when we were attacked by a bunch of Harpies.  Have you ever seen a harpy in person?

Valhalla Crier:  No.

Damon:  Well, you don’t want to.  They’re nasty things!  And I’m not just talking about the teeth and claws and their bat wings and nasty disposition and all that.  The damn things stink!  Ugh, it’s like huffing Boca’s pits after a game of racket-ball.  (Boca Raton is Damon’s half-ogre partner and bar keeper at the Pirate’s Gold.)

Valhalla Crier:  Sounds bad.

Damon:  You don’t know the half of it.  It’s like somebody took a batch of Sulphur and mixed in some bleach, then tossed it into a bucket of raw sewage.  It’s so bad that people gag and pass out when they come too close.  That’s their main attack.  They come in and everyone starts hacking and gagging, then they carry off the one that will give them the least trouble.  Meanwhile everyone else is sitting there hoping they will be able to get the stench out of their noses.  Which they won’t!

Valhalla Crier:  Okay, so the harpies attacked you.  What happened then?

Damon:  Well at the time I was below deck when I hear this commotion topside.  I grabbed my gear and headed up there just like everyone else.  By the time I got up there one of the crew members was already being carried off.  Two more of those things were trying to haul away the helmsman.  He was holding tight to the helm though and not letting go.  I pulled out my gun and was getting ready to shoot one of them when Phil Two-Toes decides to scare them off using one of the alchemic concoctions he picked up in Ada-Kar.

He had a whole pharmacy of crap that he bought before we left.  He spent a whole bunch of scratch on that load!   It came in useful too, though not to him.

Anyway, Phil Two-Toes pulls out this dust called “Noxious Cloud.”  You throw it and it makes everything in that area start to gag and reel.  Seems like a good idea right?  Scare off the harpies, they drop the helmsman and everyone’s happy, right?

Valhalla Crier:  Right.

Damon:  Well bad news, square!  Turns out Noxious Cloud is made from a harpy’s stink glands!  Oh they dropped the helmsman alright!  They dropped him and turned right on Phil.  They must have thought he was making a pass at them or something.  They just shot right over to him and started trying to pull him off ship, all ready for love.

The stink was overwhelming!  Phil dropped like a brick.  Me and Boca are both retching.

Fortunately the ship’s captain showed up around then and drove a cutlass into one of them.  The other was already in the air though, climbing higher.  I took a couple of shots at it once I stopped gagging.  I even managed to hit it.  It dropped Phil about fifty yards off the side then took off flying back to the coast.

We scrambled to try and rescue him, but it was too late.  He wasn’t much of a swimmer and he was passed out from the harpy stink anyway.  He ended up drowning before we could get him.

Valhalla Crier:  I’m sorry.  It’s a shame.  He sounds like a good man.

Damon:  Yeah he was.  Well, a good Satyr anyway.

Valhalla Crier:  I see.

Damon:  I think you also better see how fast things can go sour.

Valhalla Crier:  I see.  One minute you are resting below deck and the next one of your crew is dead.

Damon:  Yeah, it happens just that fast.  And that’s why I’m telling you why you need back-up plans and contingencies.  Phil was supposed to be our scout.  Without him we were suddenly weaker.  Fortunately we had Bianca there to take his place.

Valhalla Crier:  So each of these positions, these roles, is not mutually exclusive?

Damon:  What do you mean?

Valhalla Crier:  You don’t need to fill all the roles with one person each?

Damon:  No.  No.  Not at all.  You can have a Thinker who is also a Scout, or a Basher that’s also a Capo.  Most people tend toward one or the other though, so they fit into those roles better, especially when you have a full crew.  When your crew starts to dwindle though, you really miss the blank spots.

I was a pretty good Jack though, and Boca was a damn fine Basher, so that helped a lot.

Valhalla Crier:  Well, you guys made it back so that’s the important thing.  You did that with a good crew and lots of planning.  What other suggestions do you have?

Damon:  Well you need the right equipment, but I think I told you about that before.

Valhalla Crier:  Yes, you did.  I believe that was our third interview.  Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Damon:  Well, I guess you need something else.  The ability to adapt, and to do it fast!  You’ve got to know that when you go into these situations, hell when you go pretty much anywhere in Valhalla, you’re going to run into some strange things.  You might not know the rules that you’re playing by, what these things can do, or what their weaknesses are.  Had Phil Two-Toes known that his Noxious Cloud would do what it did, you can bet that he would have thrown something else.

The rest of us managed to work through it.  The harpies and a hundred other situations like it.  Danger comes out of nowhere and you can never be ready enough.  When it comes you need to move fast, think on your feet, and hope you don’t make it worse.

Valhalla Crier:  How do you know you are doing the right thing?

Damon:  You don’t.  Sometimes it’s just luck.  I guess if you make it back, you know you did the right things along the way.

Court Halts Brain Transplant

Before arriving in Valhalla Flexx Dazmon was serving as a Shock Trooper in Divine Industry Associates, Inc.’s third armored battalion.  He chose to have his body put in stasis while his brain was implanted in the shell of an Enforcer.  When his ten year enlistment period was up, he would be given two and one-half million dollars for his efforts.  He would then be returned safely to his body, unaged and unaltered.  For many poor men and women like Flexx, it meant a longer life, and the promise of economic freedom well beyond what they could imagine.

He signed a ten-year contract to serve in the company’s military arm as it tried to defend against separatist forces and genetically altered rebels as well as foreign and home-brewed terrorists.  During his tenure, he earned both the Silver Star and the CEO Medal of Honor, both of which were earned when he drew fire to enable wounded comrades to escape during the second Battle of New York.

The medals were awarded posthumously.

Upon arriving in Valhalla, Mr. Dazmon realized that he was forever separated from his birth body.  While his mind and the machine that housed it landed in Valhalla, his birth body was lost.  As has happened to others, his ten-year contract turned into life imprisonment in a high- tech chassis.

“When I learned that D-Tech was doing business here in Valhalla, I decided to approach them and see if they could get me out of my can and get me back some skin,” laments Flexx Dazmon, his voice eerily synthesized within the Enforcer chassis.  “I thought they might be able to do something for me, seeing as I died fighting for them.  They couldn’t give me a body.  There was no body to give.  They did give me a job, though, and a promise to keep looking for a suitable host.”

“Finding a host body for a brain is unlike anything else,” explains Gunther Lang, a spokesman for Divine Technology Associates, Inc.  “It isn’t as simple as matching blood type, or even HLA typing.  We discovered that the electro- functions of the nervous system are extremely sensitive.  If the synapses don’t fire properly then the brain and host body will both perish.”

Mr. Dazmon continued to work for Divine Industries for the next seven years, far exceeding his original contract in the simple hope that a body would one day be found.  One early fall morning, his dream was answered.

“They pulled me out of a circuit repair session early telling me that they found a match,” Dazmon paused, his electronic voice strangely filling with emotion as he recalled the incident.  “I just couldn’t believe it.  After all this time to finally be given the chance to really touch something again.  To feel wind on your face, or the taste of food . . . you don’t know how much you miss that stuff until you never think you will feel it again.  Hell, I even miss getting a cold!  That call was the sweetest thing I ever heard!”

Last week that sweetness took a sour turn when the Alpha Sector Court intervened and halted the operation.

The court order stems from a lawsuit filed by The Human Dignity Corps, an advocacy group for the poor and dispossessed in Megalopolis.  It is their contention that the host body, whose identity is unknown, did not give his permission to be used as a host.  They are quick to point out that the man, whom they have taken to calling John Doe, didn’t even have a donor card or any type of identification on him.  A thorough investigation of biometrical data revealed no matches within the INSL records, or within the extensive Megalopolis databases.

“We came to the conclusion that the host was simply a Newbie who was unlucky enough to come to Valhalla on the wrong place and time,” explains Mr. Lang.  “He was shot in the head by rebel terrorists during a confrontation with some of our security forces.  Of course it was our responsibility to identify him, but when we couldn’t, and couldn’t find next of kin, we looked for possible matches with DNA.  Low and behold we found a body match with one of our own Enforcers, Flexx Dazmon.”

“Just because John Doe doesn’t have a record or family doesn’t mean he isn’t a person,” counters Jessimon Bishop, the lead attorney for the plaintiff.  “Mr. Doe has nobody to speak for him.  The law is clear that permission must be obtained by the host or next of kin in order for a procedure like this to be allowed to move forward.  Without his permission the reanimation of his body would be morally destitute and completely illegal.”

Gunther Lang and the Divine Technology legal team contend that with no identity or family, they are the party responsible for the body, the de-facto next of kin. “Section 9-503 of the Revised Moral Code indicates that the burden of post mortem remains internment is the responsibility of the owner of the property where death occurred if next of kin can’t be located.  We not only have the right to decide what is to be done with his body, we are required to do so by law.

“In addition to this, we are also obligated to fulfill our contact with Mr. Dazmon.  He has been waiting a long time to regain a mortal life.  How can we morally refuse to allow him this opportunity when another chance may never come?”

Jessimon Bishop contends that Section 9-503 allows for only the internment of remains, not for use of remains in any other way.  “Mr. Doe’s body is his own, in death as in life.  He has the right to retain the dignity of his physical nature.  Such decisions should never rest in the hands of a corporation regardless of how well intended their motives may be in this specific instance.

“It is a slippery slope we are treading.” Ms. Bishop continues.  “If today we allow an unidentified body to be used as a host for a retiring enforcer, tomorrow the companies will declare the right to use any body that dies on their property in any way they choose.  Forced organ transplants and human experimentation are already happening, how much further will we let this Oligarchy push the limits of individual human worth versus profitability?  Laws are made to protect all citizens of Megalopolis, not to cater to the machinations of the corporate elite.”

Gunther Lang dismisses such sentiments as paranoid, leftist group-think.  “It is this type of backward thinking that has caused terrorist groups like the Next Step to make such violence and chaos in our streets.  The host body was killed during a terrorist attack.  Perhaps Ms. Bishop should confront these violent groups who target our institutions, our economy, and our people rather than preventing a war hero from a chance at a normal life!”

“I just want to be able to breathe the air again,” Flexx Dazmon says.  “I’ve been locked in this machine so long now, I don’t even remember what it’s like to draw air.”

It is unlikely that this will happen any time soon.  The case is not due to go to court for another six months.  Regardless of the outcome of that trial, the case will surely go to appeals.  A case such as this is destined to drag on for years to come.  In the meantime Mr. Dazmon continues to work security for Divine Technology Associates, Inc. while the unidentified body remains frozen in stasis, awaiting either the grave or the brain that will grant it new life.

Hag Horror Discovered in New Detroit

The citizens of New Detroit were horrified to discover that one of their downtown neighborhoods has been host to a Hag for nearly a century.  The revelation came over the weekend when a team of adventurers slew the creature in her urban home.

The team was hired by a Janice Henttle, a prominent business woman, who was attempting to locate her son.  According to Mrs. Henttle’s attorney, her son went missing two months ago.  A freshman in college, Ryan Henttle was last seen walking home from the library.  He never returned to his dorm room and the worst was expected when his cell phone was found in a garbage can two days later.  When the police could find no leads Mrs. Henttle turned to the Adventurer’s Guild and assembled a crew that she hoped could locate her son.

Though it took over a month of investigation, the search finally bore fruit.  “We noticed a pattern of disappearances in the area,” explains Derik Rathbone, a member of the crew that is now being hailed as heroes.  “We took the rough data of missing persons reports from throughout the city from fifty years back and ran it through an algorithm.  What we found was that a five block area just south of the college was six times more likely to have a missing person than anywhere else in the city.  Strangely enough, the older the disappearance, the more likely it was to have happened in this area.”

With this in mind another crew member, Ajaku Qotor, an Elvish Necromancer, began to expand their search, looking for potential non-human factors.  Though originally suspecting a vampire, her research quickly turned up what she immediately suspected to be a Hag.  “It is not common to find Hags outside of low tech areas,” Ajaku says in an interview with the Valhalla Crier.  “It is not common to find Hags at all, for that matter.  Everyone assumes that they live only in remote places where they can conceal themselves and their identities, but it was just that type of thinking that allowed her to stay hidden for so long.  Nobody expected her, and that made concealing herself easier.”

In essence, the Hag is a nature spirit.  It is strictly tied to the changing of the seasons, its true form apparently aging through the passing of the year rather than over the course of many years.  While they appear as young children in early spring, they gradually age, becoming young women in summer, matrons in autumn and old crones in winter.  With the coming of spring the cycle begins again.  Throughout the year, however, they are able to create illusions that enable them to project anything they want, not only allowing them to appear in any form, but also subtly changing their environment.  The stench of a rotting corpse could be made to smell like freshly baked bread.  The run-down shack could be made to look warm and inviting.  These deceptions are used to attract prey to add to her cooking pot.

While they are not particularly strong creatures when confronted directly, their powers of trickery, deceit and obfuscation make them extremely dangerous.  They are often master trappers and deal with all manner of poisons.  Some have been known to keep spiders, snakes, and other venomous animals as pets, extracting their poisons to use for their own vicious ends.  Toxic herbs are used in similar manners.  It seems, however, that their most deadly characteristic is the ability to get their prey to trust them.  A Hag’s victim is almost always willingly lured into her lair where they are quickly captured, killed, and consumed.  Children brought home as a playmate by a young-looking hag, or a young man brought into her lair on the pretext of sex are but two of this creature’s tricks.

Evidence of the ghastly success of this creature can readily be seen in its lair.  The hovel located near the corner of Wilson and Elm appears now like a house from a horror story.  Its weather-beaten façade and sagging roof combined with the overgrown lawn and garden of mushrooms and mandrake is only upstaged by the heavy stench of rot emanating from the house.  Neighbors, however, tell of how just two days ago the house was one of the bright spots in the neighborhood, well-maintained, and often smelling of baked goods.  They tell of a lively young girl digging in the back garden, and the nice old lady who always smiled and waved as she sat on her rocking chair.  These illusions are gone now, leaving only the vile truth of the creature’s heinous nature.

Nightmare tales of the inside of the house make even the stoutest warriors cringe.  Human meat hung by hooks drying in the kitchen, piles of cracked bones sucked clean of marrow, grinning skulls lining the hallway, flayed skin used as curtains and bedding, and necklaces made of desiccated eye balls are only the tip of the horrors held within the home.  It has been said that the discarded bones in the root cellar were knee-deep in places.

It is believed that the Hag has taken hundreds, if not thousands, of victims over the long years of her life.  The creature’s true age may never be known.  As nature spirits, Hags can live for centuries.  The number of lives she has taken could outnumber those lost during some of the bloodiest battles in history.

The Medical Examiner spent three days cataloging and removing remains from the home.  It is projected that it will take months to identify the victims, if they can be identified at all.  Tragically the body of Ryan Henttle has already been identified.  Though the crew failed to find him alive, they were at least able to recover his body for a proper burial.  They were also able to stop the long and terrible reign of a dangerous predator.

Questions about how such a thing could happen in such a modern city have the entire Republic of Nations in an uproar.  The INSL has been called in to look for possible collusion from foreign nations.  The citizens of the once-quiet neighborhood are pressed with questions about how they could not know about it, how they could miss the signs, or how a mythical creature could dwell so easily inside a high-tech area without detection.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Ajaku Qotor answers.  “Hags are nature spirits, after all.  There are four seasons here.  You can’t stop the change of seasons any easier than you can stop a Hag’s magic.  Tech Zones are tied to Elemental magic and Alchemy, not to the changing seasons.  You can’t stop nature with concrete and air conditioning.  Humans have this illusion that they can control the world, but humans can’t even control themselves.  How can they stop nature?”