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.

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.

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?”

Gremlins to Blame for Deadly Crash

Captain J.M. Ruggles of the US Aviation Association has confirmed the cause of the deadly crash of passenger jet 203.  In a solemn press conference held today he said, “After extensive study of the forensic evidence, we have determined that the commercial flight 203 crashed due to catastrophic failure of the hydraulic system from an advanced gremlin infestation.”

Gremlins, which are only about two and a half inches tall, have long been a problem on military installations, but this is the first confirmed case of their involvement in a civilian airplane crash.  Unfortunately, it is likely that this is a harbinger of things to come.  Gremlin populations have been steadily rising over the past few years and little has been found to stop them.

The first recorded account of a gremlin infestation occurred during the Great War.  Indeed, it was believed that the Technophobes had managed to create or conjure these creatures in order to sabotage the war effort.

In an attempt to better understand these tiny terrors, the Air Force has captured a number of the beings and performed experiments on them.  What they have learned has been as fascinating as it is terrifying.

These creatures thrive on petroleum and petroleum by-products including oil, gasoline, hydraulic fluid, and coolants.  Of all these fuels, high-octane gasoline, particularly aviation fuel, is the most coveted by these strange beings.  “It is like a fine Scotch to these malicious little bastards,” quipped one of the early scientists to study them.  At that time it was believed that the fuel made them drunk, but as it turns out, random destruction is simply their normal behavior.

Mischievous and sometimes malicious, gremlins tend to play jokes on each other, sometimes with deadly consequences.  They enjoy hitting, tripping, and pushing each other down.  As their population blooms they begin to develop traps, which become more complex with time.  They particularly enjoy creating dead-fall traps for each other, and in extreme circumstances will start to rewire electrical wires with an eye to shocking their playmates.  Ultimately these traps and tricks turn deadly.

Fortunately they keep their tricks to a minimum when their populations are low.  In such times they need little to satisfy their appetites.  Gremlins normally live in small enough numbers to avoid detection and prevent any serious damage.  They may make pinprick-sized holes in fuel lines or hydraulic hoses, but they only drink what they need.  Furthermore, their saliva has a chemical in it that reseals the hose, creating only minor wear and tear on the part.  In this way they are able to successfully feed for years without giving away their presence.   In fact, some studies indicated that gremlins are present in over 85% of all factories, hangars and garages throughout the Republic of Nations.

Experts agree that gremlins really only become a problem when they become overpopulated.  This can happen quickly given the high birth rates and short gestation periods of these creatures.  When the gremlin population explodes, the creatures become more and more belligerent.  Often they start by making humans and other animals the butts of their pranks.  In fact, the lack of mice and other rodents could be an early sign of a gremlin infestation.  Later they will work together to create deadfall traps for pets and people alike, often dropping hammers or similar tools from a height onto the head of some unlucky passer-by.

Even more disturbing is that once they can no longer comfortably inhabit the rafters, walls, and floors of the building itself, they will start to inhabit the vehicles and machinery contained within the building.  It is then that they do serious damage to machinery.  While this most often results in maintenance problems, the issue becomes much more serious when the machine in question is an airplane.

Gremlins do not feel ill effects from low-pressure or high-pressure areas.  They are able to survive in the stratosphere as easily as they do in the ocean’s depths.  The pressure does, however, inhibit their saliva’s enzymes.  Without the ability to reseal the holes that they have made by biting into the hoses, the fluids begin to leak much more quickly . . . sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

This is what appears to have happened with Flight 203.  The flight recorder shows a slow, steady drop in gas levels that is much greater than would have occurred from normal gas usage.  It was, however, the sudden failure of the hydraulics that caused the crash.  Investigators were able to locate a piece of the hose and found that it was riddled with gremlin bites.  Once the investigators knew what they were looking for, they were able to find the bodies of over two dozen dead gremlins scattered around the crash site.

This tragic crash, and fear of others like it, has prompted debates on possible regulations for detecting and deterring gremlin infestations.  Unfortunately not much has been found that can successfully deter them for long.

“They are ornery little buggers,” declares Dr. Yazarah Harroz, a professor of Xenomorphology at Ada-Kar University.  “They are extremely difficult to locate and just as hard to kill.  They are immune to many types of poison.  In laboratory tests gremlins can be seen huffing Sarin gas with no other effect than a severe case of the giggles.”

Less high-tech means of eradicating these creatures have also had limited success.  Cats, dogs, or other similar animals can keep numbers low if an infestation has not already occurred.  When introduced into an environment with a full-scale infestation, however, these animals did not fare well.   In these cases the predators quickly became the prey.  The gremlins quickly dispatched these furry foes.

The only sure-fire way to rid a heavily infested area appears to be encasing the building in plastic and then flooding the area with Mustard Gas, which is one of the few poisons that they are not immune to.  As one might expect this is extremely dangerous since the gas has been known to linger for weeks.  The area can be cleansed to be inhabitable for humans, but this is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

Ultimately the best option appears to be prevention.  “Careful placement and disposal of all mechanical fluids is an absolute must,” explains Dr. Harroz.  “Keeping cats or small dogs, like terriers and dachshunds, can also help to keep gremlin numbers low.”

It appears that the gremlin menace is not likely to go away any time soon.  Diligence will be required to forestall any other tragedies like Flight 203.  “Ultimately,” Dr. Harroz concludes, “people need to understand that gremlins are creatures of opportunity.  If they are unable to easily obtain the sustenance they want, they will move.  At the very least, the lack of easily obtained food will inhibit a population boom.  Until some other means can be found, keeping their populations low is really the best we can hope for.”

Merfolk Aid Shipwrecked Crew!

DaughterOfAtlantis_SS                The Dutch brig “Lady of the Seas” was sailing west to Brahmaloka when disaster struck. A rogue wave rose out of the darkness of night and battered the ship. Its rudder was destroyed by the massive wave, making it defenseless against the onslaught of an approaching storm. Over the next twelve hours the ship was forced farther and farther south into the deep, southern waters of the Njord Ocean.

                “She began to take on water about a day into the ordeal,” Second Mate Drika Van Elbert says through a translator. “After thirty-two hours the cause became hopeless. Captain Von Frank ordered the evacuation. Most of us got out, but Captain Von Frank and twenty-five others did not make it. It was a sad day.”

                The storm continued for another eight hours before the weather broke. The high seas capsized two of the life rafts, taking a score of seamen down to the ocean floor. Among the slain was Second Mate Gisbert Koenraad. It was his body, and what was found on it, that would ultimately lead to the rescue of the survivors.

                “Koenraad used to tell us tales of how he saved a mermaid from a fisherman’s net. He used to tell the story all the time. Nobody believed him, of course. It was just one of those tales that you tell to pass the time. Now we find that it was true.”

                The full truth of the story may never be known. Koenraad himself told multiple versions of the tale, and the Merfolk have refused to comment.   The gist of the story, however, was that Koenraad had been working on a fishing vessel. When he retrieved one of his nets he was surprised to see a mermaid inside. She promised him riches to let her go. He cut her loose and she repaid the kindness with a necklace containing one large pearl. Though tempted to sell it, he wore it as a keepsake.

Experts, however, do not believe the story.

                “Something doesn’t make sense,” says Randy Higgins, a Zenopsychiatrist at Ada-Kar University. “Relations between the Merfolk and we ‘surface-dwellers’ have always been strained. At best we share a chilly relationship. She gave him a rare magical item. To say that the Merfolk offered a boon of this magnitude, for that reason, seems unlikely. Something happened there, but I doubt that it is for the reasons that Koenraad shared.”

                Whatever the truth may be, we do know that the Merfolk found Koenraad’s body when it fell to the sea floor. Finding the pearl they were compelled to act upon the mystic spell cast upon it. With the owner dead they rose to the surface and found what remained of the haggard crew.

                “At first we thought they meant us harm,” claims Second Mate Van Elbert. “We had heard about what Merfolk have done to those who disturb their waters.”

                Despite their initial language barriers, the two groups were eventually able to communicate. Over the next few hours the Merfolk managed to locate and gather all of the survivors from the flotsam and jetsam strewn across the sea. Eventually they were able to locate a passing vessel, which came to pluck the castaways from the sea.

                “We were far from the shipping lanes. If not for the Merfolk, if not for Koenraad, many more of us would have perished. After this experience, I will never fear the Merfolk again! I owe them too much.”

                In a heartfelt moment, a Valhalla Press interviewer opined about how such an event could pave the way toward better relations. Shaarang Gaarha, a Merfolk spokesman, was typically muted in his response. “It is possible,” he said, before dropping back below the waves.

Mythical City Found in Bedouin Desert

                While Freebirths and long-time newbies may be used to the sudden and unexplained appearance of many strange things, the sudden arrival of an entire city is astonishing even to the most experienced Valhallan.  Indeed, there has been no similar recorded event since the Gorgonian mother ship appeared over three hundred years ago.

                The first known siting came from a group of Bedouin spice traders.  According to the two survivors, the band became lost after an unusually long and harsh sand storm.  They wandered for days before crossing a high mountain range that they had never seen before.  On the far side of the range they saw a small gated city.  They approached with the hope of finding food and water, but were shocked by what they found.

                “The walls of the city were one hundred feet high and as black as night,” claims Amaad Hajjar.  “They were made of stone, but with no seams where they joined.  It was a solid slab of rock stretching to the sky and wide enough for a man to walk a thousand, thousand paces, and never reach the other side.  When we came to the city gates we found them open, yet there was no one about.  I could feel the presence of eyes upon me, but we never saw another living thing.  The buildings inside the dark walls were of made of brass and constructed like no other building I have ever seen.”

                Apparently most of the group decided to enter the city while Amaad and several others refused, deciding instead to watch the camels until the other group returned.  They would wait three long days before they saw any of their companions again.

                “When Hassam returned, he was not the same.  He had aged as if he had been in the city for four decades rather than four days.  He was blind and babbling nonsense.  That night he shook uncontrollably – – crying and screaming, muttering like a madman.  There was not much I could understand.  ‘Kush.’  ‘Shaddad.’  ‘Al-Dimiryat.’  Hassam died in the night.  At dawn we fled into the desert.”

                The group’s woes did not end there, though.  They spent several more weeks in the desert, where several members of the group and all of the camels died of exposure.  Finally, the survivors came upon a friendly village.  Their story awed the villagers and word soon spread.  Eventually several adventurers approached Amaad and asked him to lead them to the city.

                “At first I refused,” he continued.  “They offered much gold though, and I had lost my fortune in the desert.  Even more than that, I felt that I had to return.  My brother had gone into those walls.  I had to return for my brother.”

                Amaad would return from the desert two months later . . . alone.

                “We found the city a second time and the fools went in.  I waited there for five days, as we agreed, but they never came out.  The city is cursed and all who enter are doomed.  I will never go there again.”

                While some might dispute these claims as a fabrication, he came back with proof.  Before disappearing into the city, one of the adventurers was able to snap a photograph of the city.  He left the image with Amaad as proof of their find. 

                The tale of these horrors has done nothing to dissuade others from seeking the city.  “People ask me to guide them all the time,” Amaad laments.  “Though I try to stay on the move, people seek me out.  They all want to find the legendary lost City of Brass.  They want fame and fortune, but I tell them that only death awaits them there.  They offer gold and jewels but I want none of it.  No!  The city is death.  I will not send others to that end.”

New Life in the Sogarian Waste

                At the end of the Great War, the Arch-Mage Sogar the Great devastated the Technophile army with a single, destructive spell so powerful a hundred square mile plot of land, and everything in it, was wiped out.  It is said that the earth shook for days after, and that a cloud of dust engulfed the planet for thirty days.  It is said that even a nuclear warhead could not house the energy that brought down the Newman Combine.

                Over two hundred years after that glorious day, the Sogarian Waste still stands as a stark monument to the power of magic and the folly of men.  Long thought to be uninhabitable, a team of scientists have found evidence of new life in this desolate sea of shifting sand.  They have just published their findings in the trade journal “Flora and Fauna.” 

              “Despite the commonly held belief that the desert is completely devoid of life,” says Professor Charles Ludwig of Washington University, “the Sogarian Waste is rapidly becoming a haven for new and fascinating creatures.”

              Along with hundreds of plants, Dr. Ludwig and his associates managed to catalogue thirty species of animals, some of which are new to science.  Others are common creatures that have grown to monstrous proportions.  The most impressive of these is undoubtedly a scorpion that weighs in at over two hundred pounds and measures over ten feet from pincer to tail. 

              Dr. Ludwig, however, dismisses the stir this discovery has caused.  “Yes, it is easy to get sidetracked by such things, but beasts of unusual size are certainly not unheard of in Valhalla.  What really interests me are some of the new species we have found.”  His eyes glitter with schoolboy excitement as he pulls out a small glass paperweight from his briefcase.  Inside is a barely visible spec that is not much bigger than a piece of sand. 

              “This little beauty is the Sogarian Tiger Flea.  It appears similar to your common flea, but its bite causes radiation burns on its victims,” he says giggling with excitement.  “We lost three guards and two scientists before we figured out what was going on.  It was quite exciting!”

              Dr. Ludwig claims to have enough raw data to keep him busy for years.  “My most important task is to determine if these creatures evolved within the waste itself or if they were brought here as Newbies.  Are these creatures alien in nature?  Mythical?  Something else?”

               The discovery has sparked huge interest among the scientific community.  A number of sojourns into the Waste have already been planned and the Adventurer’s Guild is rife with advertisements.  When asked about this, Dr. Ludwig replied, “We only spent a month in the Waste.  I am excited to learn what else is there!”

Mortician Found Guilty of Heinous Crime

                Xander Powell was found guilty today of over two hundred counts of gross abuse of a corpse.  Powel used his Megalopolis-based funeral home service as a front to sell body parts as magic components across the border in nearby Xa’cor dy Yelpheet. 

                Mr. Powell had set up a shell company, Magic Makers LLC, to use as a front for his illegal operations.  The company was chiefly engaged in the sale of legitimate magical goods, but it made a lot of money in the illegal sale of human body parts.  In fact the profits from this second company were so great that he probably didn’t even need to go to the risk of selling the ghastly illegal goods.

                His plot was eventually discovered when a Greek merchant doing business in Megalopolis used the Powell’s Funeral Home to bury his wife.  “I put a coin in her mouth to pay the Ferry Man,” reads his statement to the INSL detectives.  “That is when I noticed that her tongue was missing.”

                Once the police were notified they searched his warehouse and found multiple human remains.  As they exhumed the bodies of many of his victims, the legal counts quickly multiplied.  The fact that so many of the bodies were cremated means that we will never really know the true extent of his crime.  We do know that he will not be getting out of prison any time soon.  He was sentenced to five years in jail for each count.  He will not have a chance of parole for over two hundred and fifty years.

Flying Monsters Torment Kuan Ti Coast

                The name of the creatures attacking ships and villages along the southern tip of the Kuan Ti coast have been positively identified.  They are Oni.

                Long known by the locals, but dismissed as legend by others, these violent creatures are like smaller, smarter ogres that can fly.  They live in tribal groupings and attack in lightning-fast attacks, carrying away people, livestock and equipment.

                Though these creatures are new to most, the citizens of Kuan Ti have had to deal with them for many years.  “They come out of the sun,” Says Chi Lang.  “Normally at dawn or dusk.  They attack for plunder and then they just fly off.”

                It is not entirely clear what happens to the victims.  Tales have come back, however, from one young Taoist nun who claims to have escaped from the Oni.

                “On the first day they split us up into groups.  The men were all slaughtered and eaten.  The rest of us were kept as slaves.  They are bloody-minded beasts, but they are smart.  They even forge their own steel.”

                In order to combat this problem, several communities have banded together to put prices of 100Vb on each Oni head.  It is hoped that this will keep them in check in much the same manner as the INSL culls the number of Sea Scags.  With such potential for loot, it is sure to draw some members of the Adventurers Guild.