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.

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.

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.

Space Probe Rejuvenates Hope

High above the INSL pyramid floats the International Space Station.  The station, launched about five years ago, marked the culmination of years of research and unprecedented international cooperation.  It hovers about 21,000 miles from the planet’s surface, locked in a geosynchronous orbit.  Now, however, a new project has been launched from the space station that has heretofore proved impossible . . . a space probe that has survived beyond the 32,000 mile barrier.

While many of the nations of Valhalla had space flight experience in the world before Valhalla, nobody had been able to successfully launch a probe that reached deeper in space than the famous 32K barrier.  Space vehicles launched using technologies that are available in Megalopolis or even the Allied Nations failed once the probe began to approach that threshold.  Nobody has been able to explain this phenomenon.  It is because of this strange fact, however, that so many nations joined together to create the space station.

It was only about fifty years ago that the people of the Allied Nations decided to start exploring space.  The years before that were too filled with recovering from the Great War to spend much time on space travel.  Though it was believed to be technologically possible, there was little political will to earmark funds for such a venture while the nation’s infrastructure remained in disrepair.  Later, threats of war between Narodnaya Strana and the Axis Nations forced funds to be funneled into more timely pursuits.  The INSL ban on weapons in space and the creation of Tech Zones meant that each nation could rest assured that no other nation would be able to deliver a crippling assault from space, therefore a “space race” to install such weapons never occurred.

It was only when the current era of stability arrived that the possibility of journeying to the stars became a real option.  The Allied Nations, Megalopolis, and the Gorgonians worked separately on the issue for many years.  Each nation kept successes and failures a tight secret.  It was only when they began to trust each other and share their secrets that they realized that they were all suffering from the same enigmatic problem . . . technological tools that began to fail the further away from they got from the planet.  Some would fail outright, exploding dramatically on the launch-pad.  Others would break apart in the atmosphere or on the edge of space.  Still others would survive a launch into space, but then would suffer massive system failures as they plunged deeper into space.  Some scientists mused that it was almost like the Tech Zones extended into space, a fact that was heartily refuted by the INSL.

Despite the assurances of the INSL, a definite link between the zones and the space probes did appear to exist.  Through trial and error they learned that the best chance of a successful launch could only happen if the launch came from a Tech-Neutral Zone.  This, of course, meant that all launches must be performed either at sea, or on Ada-Kar.

The INSL’s continued protests did little to stymy the indignation of the various member nations, in particular the Gorgonians, who regard any interference in their vast technological knowledge as a sign of aggression.  In the hottest debates the Gorgonians accused the INSL of purposely subverting their technology to prevent them from leaving the planet.

All of this tension and rhetoric did achieve one thing that would have previously been impossible.  It enabled a meeting of the minds between cultures and races that would never have normally joined forces.  The Allied Nations, Megalopolis, and the Gorgonians joined together to find a solution to the problem.  Ultimately these endeavors culminated in a scientific breakthrough that proved that these interferences with technology did not come from the Tech Zones, but from someplace off-planet, in the dark reaches of space.  While this discovery frightened many who understood its implications, it also brought the INSL out of its belligerent silence to help study the problem.

Together the brightest minds of the world came together with the joint purpose of breaking out of our earthly sphere and exploring the forces working to keep us bound to the planet’s surface.  This would set off a chain of events that culminated in the creation of the International Space Station.

Today the space station hosts a rotating group of people from across Valhalla.  Studies in science as well as magic have greatly increased the world’s knowledge.  Rockets to space have become obsolete as the Gorgonian technology of Teleportation allows instant travel between the station and the INSL pyramid that rests so many miles beneath it.  In fact, the blue light that shines from the top of the INSL pyramid is a booster beam that enables teleportation to such a distance.

Despite these breakthroughs, however, little has been found that can explain the extraterrestrial force that is interfering with objects as they move away from the planet.  In fact, for years nothing has been able to extend beyond 32,000 miles from the planet’s surface.  Instead, every attempt to send probes beyond this point ended in disaster.  Until now, that is.

On Monday, VLISS (the Valhalla League of Inter-Stellar Studies) announced that they are still in contact with a probe that has breached the 32,000 mile mark.  It was achieved not with technology or magic alone, but by a combination of the two.  The probe itself was designed as a small sphere, less than a meter in diameter.  The outer shell is made of iron, ceramics, and high-density plastic, upon which many mystical runes, wards and protections were etched.  Along with this are four levels of monitors: one emitting radio waves, the next plasma energy from Megalopolis, the third, phase communicators from the Gorgonians, and the last a small mirror imbued with a spell that enables conjurers to see through it within their crystal balls.

Together it was hoped that one of these modes of communication would enable the scientist to see what would happen when the probe reached the 32,000 mile mark.  Would one technology fail before the others?  Which would last the longest?  To everyone’s surprise, however, the probe not only survived the passage, but continues to survive.

How long will it continue to function?  That is the big question that the scientists are asking themselves.  They are unsure if this is a one-time event, or if somehow the boundaries of navigable space have expanded.  If so, why?  Is there a force keeping us here on Valhalla?  And if there is, is it the same force that brought us here to begin with?  And that, after all, is the biggest question there is.

Dinosaurs Found!

For years rumors have circulated about the presence of dinosaurs in Valhalla.  Time and time again these rumors have proved false.  Often these brief sightings turn out to be known creatures, such as Intulo, or even dragons.  Other incidents have been hoaxes, such as the infamous Appleton Abbey T-Rex scare.

Ice age creatures such as the mastodon and smilodon have been known to exist in certain areas of Bifrost, as well as in remote areas of the Imperial Nations, so why not dinosaurs?  As of today, they can stop wondering.  Dinosaurs have been found!

The news comes upon the return of a scientific exploration from the Razor Reef.  The project was jointly sponsored by the philanthropist Herman James and the British Museum of Natural History (Allied Nations).  They were tasked with mapping this largely uncharted area.  While most of the islands they explored were completely uninhabited tidal islands, others had only limited fauna and flora or served as resting spots for migratory birds.  Others were teeming with sea scags, a constant problem on the reef, and one of the major reasons that the area has been largely ignored.

While already considered a success by the team, the explorers had not found anything earth-shattering until they stepped ashore a large, volcanic island on the last week of the journey.   This island, officially recorded as “James Island 406” would soon become known as “Dinosaur Island.”

“We encountered at least four species of dinosaur while on the island and found trace evidence of many others,” says Dr. Norbert Medaharthy of the British Museum of Natural History.  “We were barely a half hour on the island before we stumbled upon a young ankylosaurus.  Though it was only a juvenile, it already stood over four feet at the hips and probably weighed just shy of a ton.  Not nearly the four ton behemoth that it will become.”

The scientists did not kill the creature or capture it to bring it back for study, citing the fact that this could be the only creature of its kind in Valhalla.  The majority of the specimens that the team retrieved were plaster castings of footprints.  They also brought back hours of video, thousands of photographs, and immense amounts of dinosaur scat.  While remarkable, these finds all took the back seat to the partial remains of two dinosaurs that they did bring back.

“The first one,” Dr. Medaharthy explains, “was found on an open grassy area.  It was the body of a large sauropod, possibly a diplodocus.  Though it had been dead for at least a week by the time we found it, there were scavengers still fighting over its bones.  When they left we quickly went to work scavenging many of the bones for ourselves!”

The other body that they were able to recover was far more complete.  It was that of a Utahraptor, one of the largest members of the raptor family.  “The creature ambushed us around noon of our third day.  Thomas was killed instantly.  The beast didn’t even run away after it made the kill.  It must have thought that we were no threat.  I imagine it is used to creatures of our size running from it.  We humans are not known to be intimidated long, though,” Medaharthy proclaims with muted pride.

A hail of bullets and plasma weapons from hired adventurers quickly brought the creature down.  Saddened by the loss of a team member and the death of the dinosaur itself, the team quickly butchered the one-ton predator and bagged its body parts for study back at the lab.

Ultimately the incident proved the danger that the team was in every moment they stayed on the island.  “It was a combination of Thomas’s death and the T-rex footprint that we found that convinced us to move along.  Our mission, after all, was to study and chart the interior of the Razor Reef, not to fully immerse ourselves on one island.”

With the excitement of the find bringing interest to a fever pitch, Herman James and other financial backers are already considering a return to the island.  If things go well, explorers might be able to set sail within the year.

Renewed Tensions in the Nations of the Sun

For the past two hundred years the Nations of the Sun have been one of the few nations to avoid internal conflict.  Oddly, the long-lasting peace had its roots in a conflict that occurred shortly after the Great War.  Originally, the various nations were drawn to each through worship of the sun and the fact that the pyramids figured so highly in their cosmology.  Despite this, they did not always see eye to eye on all matters.  Misunderstanding and miscommunication were common.

One major miscommunication plunged the Egyptian and Aztec empires into bloody war.  This famously occurred when the Aztecs sought a bride for their god, Tlaloc.  The Egyptians thought that one of the Pharaoh’s daughters was to marry an Aztec prince.  Believing this would bring the two nations together, Pharaoh Teti readily agreed.

Upon receiving news that his daughter was actually ritually sacrificed, the Pharaoh’s wrath was absolute.  He quickly summoned his armies, which had grown quite weak after suffering heavy losses during the Great War.  Those that were still alive, however, were exceptionally skilled.  To bolster his numbers, the Pharaoh hired sell-swords, cut-throats, and adventurers of all kinds.  Then he moved swiftly into the heart of Aztec territory and left a trail of death and destruction that came to be known as the March of Blood.

Villages and cities were burned.  Their inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved.  The Aztecs were surprised by the suddenness and ferocity of the attack, but soon started putting up a solid defense.  They were aided greatly by the jungles of their homeland.  Unused to such terrain, the Egyptians soon started to sustain significant losses.  Sell-swords were tempted away with Aztec gold, and the Egyptian war machine began to struggle.

“The Aztecs reached out to their Incan and Mayan neighbors,” explains Ada-Kar University’s Military History professor Dr. Christopher Husten.   “While they were certainly not friends in the world before Valhalla, they at least shared a similar experience.  A root language and base cosmology that tied them together.  The Aztecs were sure that the others would heed their call.”

They didn’t.

As it turns out, none of them trusted Axayacatl, the Aztec King.  They had been allied with him against the Technophiles.  They knew what kind of man he was and wanted nothing to do with him.  Neither did they want to side with the Egyptians, whom they hardly knew.  They were just starting to get over the Great War and had no desire to be dragged into another.

The Mayans then contacted the INSL and asked them to intervene.  What became known as the Coatepec Peace Accords was the testing ground for the INSL’s ability as a body politic.  Successfully navigating that conflict gave the INSL the respect it needed to broker future treaties.

The major provision of the truce had Azayacatl sacrifice his eldest son, Eztli.  Through a joint ceremony, the Aztec son and the Egyptian daughter would join in marriage in the afterlife and become gods.  Likewise, Phetthre, the Pharaoh’s eldest living son would marry the Aztec’s eldest living daughter, forging the Phetthre bloodline.

“Suddenly you have these two kingdoms coming together and really mingling in both a physical and metaphysical way.  These bonds suddenly become the focal point of both cultures.  It gives them a shared past.”

Their progeny would become a separate class of society.  Not able to rule directly through the male line, the women from the bloodline could and did often marry royalty of either the Egyptians or Aztecs.  The Phetthre clan would also be called upon as ambassadors between the two nations, and eventually with other nations.  In time they became advisors to Pharaoh and King alike.

“The Phetthre were to act as conduits between the two peoples throughout eternity,” Dr. Husten explains.  “In this case, eternity lasted about two hundred years.”

The current crisis had its roots in an incident from six years ago.  It was then that Pharaoh Thutmose II died unexpectedly.  The dead Pharaoh’s son, Thutmose III, was next in line.  Since he was only three years old, however, a regent was named to rule in his stead until he turned of age.  The regent, however, proved to be a mere pawn for Menes, a particularly clever member of the Phetthre bloodline.

Over the next few years, Menes assumed more and more power.  He shifted authority and privileges to himself that his class had not previously been allowed.  Menes began to influence others within the Phetthre bloodline and sought ways to extend his clan’s interest with the Aztecs as he had with the Egyptians.

“In this matter Menes overreached,” explains Dr. Husten.  “His counterpart with the Aztecs, Teplitzin, was young and inexperienced.”

Three months ago a power play was planned whereby Tepiltzin would claim many of the rights that Menes had already assumed.  Most prominent among these was the right of the male line to claim the right to rule should the current bloodline be severed.

The Aztecs were informed of this plan and Tepiltzin was captured and brought before the king.  He did not refute the charges, but claimed that the rain god Tlaloc demanded these changes.  Unconvinced by his arguments, the king decreed that Tepiltzin’s heart should be removed from his chest for one minute and then replaced.  If he survived then the king would adopt the amendment.

Tepiltzin did not survive the ordeal and the remainder of the Phetthre clan in Aztec lands quickly distanced themselves from Tepiltzin’s schemes.  Even so, there was a series of arrests and sacrifices made over the following months that all but crushed the clan.

Infuriated by the assault against his clan, Menes has instilled a number of economic sanctions that have stopped all normal trade and relations with the Aztecs.  Rhetoric from the capital has been heating up as well, and there have been calls for troops to assemble.

“This is the closest these two cultures have come to war in almost two hundred years.  The very clan that brought them together for so long has become the engine that is tearing them apart,” frets Dr. Husten.  “There is now the very real possibility of war between the Egyptians and the Aztecs.  Should open war be waged, both sides will suffer greatly.  Both sides are strong, the Egyptians probably the more economically powerful, but long years of relative peace have left them unskilled in war.

“The Aztecs, on the other hand, have very few dealings with the outside world though their land is rich in gold and other valuable metals.  Their most valuable assets are undoubtedly their warriors.  They have retained their warrior skills and attitudes.  Raiding parties into neighboring lands are common.  All able-bodied men are required to spend time in the Aztec army and many of them join the Adventurer’s Guild to gain experience.”

Whatever happens, it seems unlikely that the two countries will be able to escape bloodshed.  It is also unlikely that the INSL will step in to stop the violence unless it begins to spill over the border.  It is yet another sad reminder of the tenuous peace that runs throughout Valhalla.

Four More Demonstrators Killed in Megalopolis

Increasing tensions in Megalopolis have led to several nights of violence and rioting in the destitute neighborhoods of the city nation.  While disturbances have occurred throughout the city, most of the violence has been found in Gamma Sector.  The poorest of the sectors, Gamma has long been known as a crime-ridden haven for underworld figures and the notorious “Next Step” movement.

In Megalopolis it is possible and often desirable to travel the city without once stepping foot on the streets.  Catwalks, elevated hover-trains, and elevated roadways ensure that many never have to reach “street level,” a euphemism that is synonymous with drugs, prostitution, thieves, and derelicts.  Indeed, the more wealthy and influential the person, the higher up they live in this city of skyscrapers.  It is no wonder then that the worst of the violence happens far below these buildings dizzying heights.

Last Tuesday, it was on the street corner of 13,026th Street and Grendel Road that four demonstrators were killed by government security forces.

“They wasn’t doing nothin’,” said a witness, who goes by the name Jolly Juno.  “They was standin’ there singin’ songs and chantin’ when the cops come up on ‘em.  They told the kids to go way.  They was ‘disturbin’ the peace’ or whatever.  Them kids started singin’ louder. Next thing you know, them rifles come up and they start blastin’ ‘em!  Shootin’ right into ‘em.  They was just kids!”

When the shooting ended, three people lay dead.  A fourth person died two hours later when she was taken off of life support.  She, like most of the others injured in the event, had no insurance, and with the severity of her wounds, protocol demanded that she be allowed to expire.  All four individuals ranged in age from sixteen to twenty-four.  There were numerous non-fatal injuries in the crowd, including severed limbs from plasma rifles cutting and cauterizing the struck extremities.

Official reports recite an entirely different scene.  When asked about the case, Watch Commander Louis Staal said, “Officers were dispatched to the scene after a call came in about disorderly conduct.  When our officers arrived they were confronted by a riot situation.  The perpetrators began to throw rocks and bottles.  Our officer’s attempts to disperse the crowd peacefully were thwarted by a second group carrying the flag of the terrorist group, ‘the Next Step.’

“Realizing the danger, the police raised their rifles and one of our officers fired a warning shot over the heads of the rioters.  One of the hooligans returned fire and so our officers were forced to fire in earnest.  Aiming only at the most dangerous members of the rioting group, the officers neutralized several of the targets.  Along with the four terrorists, we were also able to make a dozen arrests, ridding the citizens of Megalopolis of these dangerous malcontents.”

When asking the eye witness about this statement, Ms Juno scoffed.  “Secon’ group rioters my ass!  Them was just some kids comin’ out of June Bug’s Lounge.  Weren’t no rioting but what them police did.  Weren’t no rioters!  Weren’t no Next Steppers neither.  Wish they was though.  Would have shown them screws what fo’!”

Though the Next Step Movement has been branded as a terrorist organization by the Megalopolis government, it has gained the respect and support of many of the city-nation’s poor.  Seen as a “Robin Hood” figure by many, the movement is as secretive as it is organized.  The group is best known for its attacks on businesses that form what they consider to be an Oligarchy.

Attacks on such institutions as Gen-e-Tech LLC and Divine Technology Associates, Inc. have garnered the fear of the elite as well as the approval of the dispossessed.  Their hour-long take-over of Thornton Media Group was perhaps their best-known coup.  During that time they broadcasted numerous clips of high-profile professionals and government officials interacting in illegal, immoral, and unethical activities.  While many of these scenes were dismissed as staged, falsified, or taken out of context, many others could not be disregarded so easily.  Several arrests of low-level government and business officials did occur over a year ago, but trials are still pending.

Meanwhile, demonstrations and protests have continued to crop up across Megalopolis and have even begun to spread.  Many of these disturbances have turned violent as protestors and police have clashed.  Each side blames the other and the middle ground is quickly turning into a no-man’s-land.  Given the increased rhetoric, it is likely that the violence will worsen in the days and years to come.

Nazi Werewolf Den Discovered

                The soviet newspaper Pravdivost released a report today detailing alleged lycanthropy within the highest ranks of Nazi Germany.  The report, accompanied by a series of grainy photos, is said to be proof that the Waffen SS Standartenfuhrer Claus Fleischer, and a number of individuals under his command are indeed werewolves.  The photos, individual frames are reportedly all that are left of a ten minute film which was destroyed shortly after Herr Fleischer and his cohorts shifted into lupine form.

               A study of the images by experts affiliated with the Indie Times Network vouch for the image’s authenticity.  On condition of anonymity, our expert stated that “the images themselves have not been tampered with.  There is no evidence of photographic manipulation of any kind.  This does not mean that there was not some other form of manipulation going on, however.  Perhaps a look-alike who shifted shapes through magic.”

               The soviet report goes on to explain that Standartenfuhrer Fleischer and his crew of werewolves are actually part of a devious Nazi plan.  They claim that Standartenfuhrer Fleischer is the leader of a specialized hit-squad formed to infiltrate, terrorize, and murder across borders.  It is said that they are trained to seek out specific targets and hunt them down and murder them with the aid of their extraordinary physical traits.  This is meant to leave the victim looking as if they were attacked by a wild animal while striking fear into the hearts of the locals.

               If it is indeed true, the political fall-out could be immense.  Though not strictly forbidden, the weaponized use of magic or technology has always brought the close scrutiny of the INSL.  Already drawing disdain from most nations, the Nazi regime will become an INSL target should any of these rumors prove to be true.

               Indeed, Standartenfuhrer Fleischer is on Amnesty Now’s top ten list of war criminals and human rights’ abusers.  Though little is known of his current whereabouts, Amnesty Now does have a fair amount of information on his history.  It appears that he is a Freebirth who was born into a family of staunch Nazi supporters.  He served as part of the Hitler Youth and eventually joined the Waffen SS.  He served as second in command of a prison camp for political undesirables for three years.  After this his history grows hazy.  His name pops up here and there in relation to a number of “political cleansing” sweeps.  It is even believed that he may have taken part in the now infamous Gen-e-Tech conspiracy, (see archived post) though nothing has been proven.

               While Nazi Germany has not responded to these claims, others refute parts of the Soviet allegations.  Yazarah Harroz, an elven professor of Xenomorphology at Ada-Kar University does not refute that the images show a human transformation into a werewolf, but doubts other aspects of the Soviet claims.

               “The Soviets claim that these werewolves are being trained to become assassins.  Such a plan is ludicrous!”  Mr. Harroz explains.  “It is true that werewolves are violent killing machines, but they cannot be trained to accomplish missions.  Their violence is opportunistic.  They hunt and kill without thought.  When they shift into their lupine form they lose all sense of reason.  They will kill whatever crosses their path, whether it be their best friend or a dear family member.  If they were left alone in a room with their target when they turned, they would certainly attack that person, but this is not planned.  It is nature.  The strong killing the weak.  No more and no less.”

            The truth of this story is still unknown.  Nazi Germany has tampered with experimental magic, gene manipulation, and unconventional weaponry.  It is certainly conceivable that they would attempt to institutionalize lycanthropy.  Standartenfuhrer Fleischer also seems like a good candidate for such a mission.  According to Amnesty Now, he is already a monster.

On the other hand, it could be another Soviet deception.  They have been caught multiple times releasing well-time, if inaccurate stories that help them to retain power and sway public support.  

            We may never know.