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.

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.”

Interview with Damon Anseti: Part 4

The Strange Nature of Borders

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

For this most recent interview I asked him to continue a discussion we had about the nature of borders and how strange events seem to occur where two locations meet.

 

Valhalla Crier:  Last week while we were talking you mentioned that strange things always happen around borders.  What did you mean by that?

Damon:  Well whenever two places meet there is a fusion.  This fusion isn’t always easy.  It’s like a bad weld that doesn’t always hold.  Sometimes it starts to crumble and strange things sneak between the cracks.

Valhalla Crier:  I’m not sure I follow you.

Damon:  I’m not sure I can explain any better than that.  It’s really one of those things that you just have to experience before you understand.

Valhalla Crier:  Give me an example.

Damon:  Let’s see . . .  Well, one of the most obvious is the border between Megalopolis and Xa’cor dy Yelpheet.  It’s an unlikely border and things there seem to blend in strange ways.

For example, the sewers of Megalopolis form the headwaters of the Kinzasha River.  The water, as you can imagine, is pretty nasty when it comes out.  A sewer for over a billion people?  Gordo!

Anyway, the elves downriver wanted no part of it so they set up a permanent magic arch that purifies every drop of water that passes beneath it.  One side is disgusting and the other is some of the purest water on earth.

The thing that’s really amazing is that if you are standing there watching you can see things coming out of the foul side and darting into the clean.  Suddenly you can see these things show up, and man they are gross!  Occasionally dead things will wash downriver and nobody knows what to make of them.  Are they alien fish?  Mythical monstrosities?  Or just some creature mutated by all the chemicals and filth they’ve been living in?

Valhalla Crier:  I heard that some things slip into the city through the sewer systems too.

Damon:  You mean the dragons.

Valhalla Crier:  You’ve heard of them then?

Damon:  You know it!  Chameleon dragons don’t seem to care about the smell or the disease.  They lurk in those tunnels and pick off anything that comes their way.

Worse than them, though, are the goblins.  They not only tolerate the environment, they thrive on it!  They say that there are almost as many goblins in Megalopolis sewers as there are in Gyr Kuzott.

Valhalla Crier:  Isn’t that just a fact of the environment?  I mean both goblins and chameleon dragons are opportunistic creatures.  They just found what area served them best and moved into it.  The fact that this was where they entered has little to do with the fact that they were just following their nature.

Damon:  Yeah, but the border was what made it possible.  Just like the members of that group, the Next Step.  They use those same tunnels to escape the cops and move around unseen.  The hills south of the Kinzasha River are filled with tunnels and safe-houses where they can hide out without worrying about infrared optics and plasma rifles.

Valhalla Crier:  Really?  It doesn’t seem like the Gnomes would be too hot to have a declared terrorist group coming into their territory.

Damon:  The Gnomes don’t care.  They get paid in electronics.  Some of the most advanced stuff on the planet!  The Gnomes love that stuff!

Valhalla Crier:  So then it is really just the fact that the borders are there that allows things to cross between them, right?  It isn’t the borders themselves that cause oddities, instead they just enable these oddities to occur, right?

Damon:  No!  Without the borders, the oddities couldn’t occur.  The borders not only allow the opportunity, but force the outcome.  In fact, the more distinct the border, the more acute the abnormalities become.

Valhalla Crier:  I don’t see how that’s possible.

Damon:  Have you ever heard of Lampades?

Valhalla Crier:  No.  What are Lampades?

Damon:  Nymphs.  Spirit nymphs, to be precise.  They’re supposed to guide people in and out of life.  Some say they have a magical blade that cuts every baby’s umbilical cord.  Sort of mystic midwives.  On the other end of life, they greet departing souls and usher them on to the afterlife.

Anyway Lampades are supposed to dwell at every crossroad.  You get me?

Valhalla Crier:  So wherever two roads meet one of these nymphs is lurking around?

Damon:  Yeah, but you’re missing the point.  They are at the crossroads.  Where two points meet!  They are on the border between life and death just like they are on the border between being born and not-born.  You extend that logic and every crossroad, every meeting place, every border where one thing meets another is a gateway to another world.  The points are everywhere around you.  On the threshold of a door.  Between one bathroom stall and the next.  Anywhere!  Everywhere!

Valhalla Crier:  So you’re saying that this border area allows things to leak between the world of the living and the world of the dead?

Damon:  Damn straight!

It’s not just the world of the dead and the living though.  It’s every border you can think of.  Different planes of existence.  Space and time and all that shit!

There was this mage I knew back in the day.  He said that you could summon creatures from the elemental planes wherever you were.  A fire elemental at the bottom of the ocean, see?  An air elemental at the edge of space.  He said that sometimes it was easier to call a water elemental on the shore than it was in the middle of the ocean.

Want to know why?

Valhalla Crier:  Sure.

Damon:  There are borders there, you see.  Where the earth and the ocean touch is a border. In the middle of the ocean there is nothing around but more water.  The border isn’t so clear.

Valhalla Crier:  So it’s like the opportunity to blend these things together makes the blending all that more prominent?

Damon:  Yeah, but it’s not the whole story.  I mean national borders are really only lines on a map.  Something that people agree.  A “that is yours and this is mine” sort of mentality.

Valhalla Crier:  And these types of borders are what?  Less prone to weirdness than natural borders?

Damon:  No!  That’s the beauty!  All borders seem to draw equal weirdness.  It doesn’t matter if it’s man-made, natural, or supernatural.  Wherever you have a border, a boundary, a place that separates one from another, you are going to have mysterious forces at work.

I mean, think about where we are, for God’s sake!  This world is the prime example of borders.  It’s like we border every other world and time that has ever been.  Strange things creeping in from all over the place!

Valhalla Crier:  It makes me wonder though.  All these places, all these borders, it seems like you can look at anything and find a way that it is a border.  Touching this table, for example, is a border between me and the wood.  That keg by the bar is a border between the air and the beer inside.  Seems like maybe the weirdness is everywhere, but you are only seeing the weirdness and categorizing it as a “border phenomenon.”

Damon:  It’s the journey man!  You can’t get anywhere by going nowhere!  You have to press through things to get anywhere.  To move forward through life you have to cross borders.  Whether you’re being birthed into the world, walking through a doorway, crossing over between one day and the next, or even dying, you have to break boundaries every day of your life.  With every boundary comes hope, fear, pain, love, life, death . . . whatever.

Maybe the important thing is keeping your eyes open for them.  Seeing the way the world changes around you.  How you change along with it.  Noticing the magic and mystery in the world and how it permeates everything.

Valhalla Crier:  I don’t know if I’m sold.

Damon:  Well keep your eyes open for it, square.  You pay enough attention and you’ll see it.  Once you do, you won’t be able to close your eyes to it again.

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.

Interview with Damon Anseti: Part 3

Must-Haves for High Adventure

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

                For this most recent interview I asked him to detail what equipment to bring adventuring.

 

Valhalla Crier: Damon, you’ve told me before that a poorly equipped adventurer is bound to fail. What are the survival essentials?

Damon:   Knowledge and common sense.

Valhalla Crier: Well, it seems like that goes without saying.

Damon:   Oh, no! Not at all! The world is filled with corpses of yahoos who didn’t know what they were doing. You hear it all the time, people running off in the desert with too much ammo and not enough water. A lot of people think that the worst that can happen to them is getting a sword in the guts.   Let’s see how they feel after a week with no water!

Valhalla Crier: So you’re saying that what you know is more important than what you carry?

Damon:   Yeah, definitely!   It does tie into your equipment, but that comes later. I mean, there are things that you will need, and some things are better than others, but the first step is thinking it through and making sure you are getting the right stuff.

               And this includes hiring a guide, or a few porters, or what-not. Finding somebody who knows the land is going to do a lot more for you than spending thousands of v-bills to buy fancy gadgets and magic spells. Hell, even hiring a consultant to help equip you could mean the difference between life and death.

Valhalla Crier: I understand that the Adventurer’s Guild has classes on that type of thing.

Damon:   Yeah, sure, take a class, whatever makes your dew-box shine. Just don’t go into it thinking you know everything. You think you’ve seen it all? There’s no way you’ve seen everything that lurks out there.

Valhalla Crier: Well, that makes sense. If you are going somewhere in particular you might need to pack certain things that you might not need elsewhere. But, what about in general? What key things are you going to need on any adventure?

Damon:   I see your angle, Euclid. You just want the basics.

Valhalla Crier: Yes, please.

Damon: All right, but just know that you’ve got to use your knowledge to sup this list. Every part of this is going to vary depending on where you are going, who you are, what you are, what you expect to meet out there, and any other possible factor. Clear?

Valhalla Crier: Clear.

Damon:   All right then. They say that the three things you need to survive are food, water and shelter. While that’s basically true, you will also need weapons and armor. Now, everything that you take with you needs to address one of these needs, preferably two or more. If it doesn’t, its dead weight.

               Do you like to read a book before going to bed at night? Not out in the wild! Unless it’s a book about wilderness survival or some such, you don’t need it!

Valhalla Crier: Okay, then, so we have food, water, shelter, armor and weapons. Which is the most important?

Damon:   Food and water. Water is more important than food, but for the sake of this interview I think we can lump them together.

                You’ve got to figure out a way to keep well-nourished when you’re out there. Unfortunately all that crap is heavy, so if you are going to be out for any length of time, you need to figure out alternatives. If you are lucky you can forage for stuff along the way. This is one way that a guide can help you. They know what you can eat and what you can’t. They can tell you where to find water, so you don’t have to carry that heavy-assed shit.

                If you’re lucky enough to have transportation then you can stow extra food and water. I highly recommend pack animals. Not only will they carry your crap, but if you get in a jam, you can always eat them. Donkey burger tastes mighty fine!

                Always have a back-up plan, though. For that, magic is really the thing! Of course if you’re in a higher-tech area it may fizzle, but it’s worth bringing along just in case. Yandalli’s table-cloth is a wonderful thing! Perhaps the best out there! But you can also use Nyisha’s Mystic Embroidery. It’s real ripe to lug around a fifty gallon cask of water that weighs almost nothing! If that isn’t in your price range then a scroll for locating water or something similar works okay too.  

Valhalla Crier: Sounds good. So what’s next?

Damon:   Well, that might depend on where you are. Here again, nuance inside of nuance. If you are going to the Greco-Roman Alliance, then weapons and armor are going to be more important than shelter. If you’re going to Czarist Russia, then you better damn well take your thermal undies and your seal-skin boots.

Valhalla Crier: Thermal undies and seal-skin boots? Those sound more like clothes than shelter.

Damon:   When I’m talking shelter, I mean anything that can help keep you warm and dry. That includes anything from clothing, to tents, to fires. Anything that will keep the elements away.

Valhalla Crier: So what are some of the better items to put on your list?

Damon:   A nice wool cloak is always handy. Often you can find one that is at least water resistant. Even if it does get wet, it keeps insulating. It’s not pleasant being wrapped up in a soggy rag, but at least it won’t be sucking away your body heat!

                A good sized plastic tarp is probably even better. Eight by eight should do it. You can use that to wrap up your stuff when you’re hiking or hang up over you when you’re in camp. It is a lot lighter than a tent, but serves pretty much the same function. It might not keep the bugs out, but that’s not the end of the world. Just make sure to get your malaria shots before you go!

                So far as fire goes, a regular old disposable lighter is probably the best thing to keep. It’s cheap, easy to use, lightweight, and it’s pretty low-tech. You might have troubles starting it in some TL One, hell-hole, but even there it should eventually work. Some other even lower tech item could be useful. Flint and steel will work anywhere so long as you know how to do it. And if you can’t you probably shouldn’t be out there anyway!

Valhalla Crier: What about magic items? I understand that a lot of people have magic items for this kind of stuff.

Damon:   Oh yeah, there’s lots of good magic out there. Most should be used sparingly because they run out just when you’re getting comfortable. The best bargains are probably Ariell’s Fire, or Arnak’s Campfire. Arnak’s campfire has saved my ass multiple times. Ariell’s fire is nice when you are low on fuel. You can find them at Big Bob’s Adventure Emporium.

                Then, you know, I have also heard of some other really cool ideas. I met this guy who built a log cabin that was totally stocked with a wood burning stove, canned goods, and everything else you could want. He had Nyisha’s Permanent Embroidery cast on it and took it with him wherever he went. Cost an arm and a leg, I’m sure, but he took care of food, water, and shelter in one swoop. Hell, he probably had some extra weapons and ammo in there too.

Valhalla Crier: Wow, yeah, that does sound like some serious planning.

Damon:   Yeah, just hope the tech-zones don’t mess with it. That’s a lot of money to be leaving in the middle of nowhere. It could happen pretty easily too.

Valhalla Crier: Okay. So, we have weapons and armor left. What armor would you suggest to people?

Damon:   Yeah, that’s a tough one. The armor is probably the most complicated. You want something that will protect you but doesn’t weigh a ton. Full plate mail is awesome and will stop pretty much anything, but who wants to wear that crap? Slows you way down, makes it next to impossible to see or move. It costs a fortune to boot. No thanks!

                And then you can go to the other extreme, you know? Wear light clothing that doesn’t protect you at all. Keeps you nimble, but couldn’t even stop a butter knife.

Valhalla Crier: Ultimately it is going to be up to the person wearing it, right? What they are comfortable in, how they’ve been trained, and so on.

Damon:   Yeah, all of that plays into it. Even so, there are a few items to keep an eye out for. My favorite bit of armor is Kevlar. I love the stuff! I would have Kevlar undies made if they didn’t cramp my style. It is lightweight compared to a breastplate and can stop a bullet dead. Not even plate mail will do that! It also does a damn fine job of stopping other weapons. Hell, it will even absorb plasma energy. It melts the Kevlar, though. God, it stinks!

               My second recommendation is a wool cloak. As I mentioned, it is great to keep you warm. It also can be thick enough to deflect a glancing blow. It’s not going to stop a bullet, but it might stop that knife. Even a little protection is better than none, and since it is really helping you on the shelter front, it is a good item to have.

Valhalla Crier: So what about other armor?

Damon:   Well, a good helmet is absolutely necessary! Anybody that goes into battle without a helmet is a fool! Plain and simple! I always push for the Kevlar, of course, but pretty much anything will do. Hell, a bicycle helmet is better than nothing!

Valhalla Crier: What about shields?

Damon:   Yeah, they can be really great, but they are heavy. I never got into them myself, but some people I know swear by them. They do a great job of deflecting damage, but I think that the coolest thing about them is their usefulness as a weapon. That is a great example of multi-functional equipment. Defensive armor and a weapon tied together. A gauntlet works the same way. It’s a pretty good way to work the angles if you’ve got the skills.

Valhalla Crier: I guess that just leaves us with weapons.

Damon:   Yeah, that’s everyone’s favorite!

Valhalla Crier: So what weapons are key to surviving in Valhalla?

Damon:   First of all, stick with what you know. A katana is a fabulous weapon in the right hands, but it’s going to take you years to learn how to use it right. In the meantime you’re more likely to cut yourself than kill your enemy. Stick with what you know and keep practicing.

                Secondly, diversify!

Valhalla Crier: Tell me more.

Damon:   It has more to do with the tech level of your weapons than what type of weapon you are using. Firearms are without a doubt the best weapons out there, but you have so many different ones to choose from.

               You could use an Arquebus really well in a low-tech area, but the fact that you can only squeeze off a round every minute or so really limits its effectiveness. On the other hand, if you have a heavy plasma pistol you can blow a huge hole in anything you want. Good luck hitting anything with it if you go to Xa’cor dy Yelpheet. The Tech-Zones will mess with you like mad! You will be lucky if the damn thing doesn’t blow up in your hand!

                Similarly, you always want to make sure that you have a back-up weapon. Something distance and something up-close is the best. A rifle and a knife is a good combination. Or, if you prefer working close up, a sword and a bow. If you throw a mad shot-put then maybe you want to use that, I don’t know. Use a sling for all I care. You could even combine both your ranged and melee weapons by using a spear, or even better, slap a bayonet on the end of your rifle. There are numerous combinations. Just be sure to use ones that you excel in, and then look to fill the gaps.

Valhalla Crier: Anything else?

Damon:   Yeah, bring lots of healing magic or some of those Healing Nano-bots. Everyone should have something to stop bleeding. Other healing methods are good in a pinch, but magic or tech is the fastest and most versatile. I can’t speak highly enough of Photosynthetic Skin. Whatever fits your budget, but do yourself a favor and make sure you have something on hand.

Valhalla Crier: Thanks a lot for your time! It has been most enlightening. Any other final words of wisdom for those who want to survive an adventure in Valhalla?

Damon: Well, if your primary concern is survival, then don’t go adventuring. Don’t get into this business thinking you will grow old. Only a lucky few ever actually retire. You might be able to survive a few outings into the world, but eventually the reaper’s going to come for you. Make your fortune and get out.

Menagerie Exhibit Brings Interest and Ire

                When the Ada-Kar Menagerie and Aquarium announced that its newest exhibit would include a manticore, the excitement was outweighed only by the outrage. Now that three months have passed, there has been little common ground to find between the two divergent factions. Indeed, the opinions of experts as well as the layman are as diverse as the people of Valhalla.

                On one hand, the opponents of the exhibit cite numerous reasons why housing a manticore is a bad idea. Perhaps the most outspoken of these objectors is Kira Meadows of PEToC (People for the Ethical Treatment of Creatures). “Of course, our primary objection is the same as it is for any caged wild creature. These beings should be loose in their natural habitats, not jailed for our entertainment,” Kira explains. “The normal range of a manticore covers nearly seven hundred hectares. Now these creatures are confined to only three. Manticore are known to be particularly hostile when they are cornered. So what is the wisdom of keeping them in cramped conditions where they are sure to lash out at the least provocation?”

                Maxine Headrow of the Ada-Kar Menagerie and Aquarium begs to differ. “The reason these creatures have such wide hunting ranges is that they are large creatures living in sparse areas. They have to continually hunt for food in order to maintain their body weight. This forces the creatures to roam far and wide for sustenance. Such will not be the case at the Menagerie. They will be well-fed, well-tended, and well-secured. They will have one of the most advanced enclosures ever made. When the exhibit opens next month the world will be gifted with the sight of one of the most rare and exotic creatures alive.”

                The exhibit itself is situated in the “deserts” area of the Menagerie. Though the enclosure only takes up less than two hectares, there is a cave complex along the western wall that extends the living area to well over three hectares. With 90% of this area viewable by portholes and remote cameras, there is little doubt that the Manticore can feel privacy while still being observable by the public.

                But the welfare of the creatures is not Kira Meadows’ only concern. She also indicates the danger of having such creatures in a major population center. “These wild beings have complex problem solving skills. They are alpha-predators. They don’t earn that title by being stupid. Studies have shown that they are able to solve complex mazes and puzzles with impressive speed and accuracy. They learn and adapt quickly. Any creature that can do that can learn to escape a cage.”

               As proof she cites the incident last year at the Khrushchev Zoo in Narodnaya Strana. A mastodon broke loose of its enclosure, trampling and goring ten people before it was put down.   “And that is not the only incident like this,” she continues. “Something similar could easily happen here. Is it really worth exposing our children to such a possibility?”

                “The walls are made of poured concrete,” Maxine Headrow retorts. “The glass is five inches thick and made of Polycrominite Glass . . . the same stuff Megalopolis used on the space station. Manticore may have sharp claws and wicked teeth. They may even be able to shoot their tail spikes over a hundred feet, or inject enough neurotoxin to kill two elephants, but they cannot shred, bite, pierce, or poison their way through Polycrominite Glass!”

                Despite the protests, the plans are moving forward. Two manticore have already been selected and plans for moving them into the enclosure are under way. The female, Tiamat, will be a permanent resident at the menagerie, while the male, Abzu, is on loan from the personal menagerie of King Nur-Adad of Babylon. Abzu will remain in Ada-Kar for two years. It is hoped that during this time Tiamat will conceive an offspring.

                The exhibit is scheduled to be completed in less than three months. As the time nears, there is little doubt that the conflict will continue. A candlelight vigil held outside the gates of the menagerie every Saturday night has been steadily growing over the last few weeks. The vigils have started drawing counter-protestors as well. It is reported that harsh words were exchanged between the two groups last Saturday, and that police will be on scene this weekend to deter escalation.

Sun Tzu in Valhalla!

                Within the Kuan Ti Territories many old rivalries exist in Valhalla much as they did in the world before. Sometimes these old enemies are replaced with new foes. Occasionally ancient rivals will even unite in a common cause against some greater foe. It is a scene that plays out over and over again across the face of Valhalla.

                Within the Chou Principalities, a number of small kingdoms coexist. Though in the world before Valhalla these kingdoms fell into war, the horror and tears of that war have not continued here. Instead the small nations have found a way to retain peace.

               To the north, the Mongols and the Ming Dynasty approach all-out war. This fact is destabilizing the nation. Some of the smaller nation states have begun to choose sides in the conflict. To date, the Win, Yah, Zhau and Wei have assembled small armies and marched them to aid the Ming Dynasty. Many of the other principalities have begun to marshal home-guards to defend against possible Mongol raids.

               In the midst of this turmoil a name from the past has stepped into Valhalla. Though he is a Newbie, his name is synonymous with war. The venerable Sun Tzu is alive and well among us. He has been named the General of the Wu army.

               The first rumors of his arrival were ignored, rejected out of hand as the fantasy of the desperate and hopeful. With the announcement of his generalship, however, the last doubts of his existence have been wiped away. What still remains is the debate over his intentions, and how effective he will be.

               “This is not the same world he knew,” explains Christopher Husten, a professor in Military History from Ada-Kar University. “In his past life he was used to iron age weapons. He not only didn’t know what firearms were, but couldn’t possibly conceive how they could be used in combat. Sun Tzu might have many of the key principles of combat down, but how quickly will he learn to utilize the musket and the cannon? How well can he defend against it?”

               Others, however, offer a different theory. Sean Chow of the World Free Press believes that Sun Tzu has been in Valhalla a lot longer than believed. According to his article, he first saw Sun Tzu five years ago when he was on assignment in the Kuan Ti Territories. He was in a small village in Wu when he heard a rumor that Sun Tzu had arrived in Valhalla. He managed to track the Newbie down and even snapped a series of photos as he was whisked away into the king’s palace.

               In his article, he details this occasion: “I was able to take about a roll of film before he disappeared. Unfortunately, due to the Tech Zone, only three of the photos turned out.” The three grainy photos depict a confident-looking man walking amongst a military guard.

               Not seeing the man leave the palace, Sean started asking questions. Eventually he met with a government official who laughed at the rumor and told him that the story was exaggerated. The Newbie in question was not Sun Tzu, but a simple foot-soldier who had come to Valhalla. Welcomed as a hero, the man had decided to rejoin the army and was promoted and was already en-route to his new post. Being a common enough story, Sean pursued it no further.

               Now, five years later, Sean has posted the two-day-old photo of Sun Tzu being given supreme command of the Wu Army next to his photos taken five years ago. The likeness is uncanny!

               It is unclear what this means, if the allegations are true. Ostensibly, it means that Sun Tzu has spent the last five years learning about Valhalla. That would be more than enough time to travel the world and learn not only about modern weaponry and their uses and limitations, but also how tactics have changed over the years. With such information, a military genius like Sun Tzu could easily develop plans and contingencies to create a truly effective army.

               Even if Sun Tzu just arrived in Valhalla, the effects of his presence have sent shockwaves around the globe. The people of Wu have started leaving their homes to join the army, every one of them wanting to fight for the famous general. The King of Wu has called for mercenary forces to assemble as well. The Adventurer’s Guild is rife with offers to join a division of soldiers under Sun Tzu’s command.

               What will eventually be done with this army is not quite so clear. To date the Wu Principality has been reluctant to get involved with the Mongol-Ming conflict. It is unlikely that the arrival of a single general would alter that political stance. On the other hand, having a powerful army often leads to the overwhelming desire to use it. Some have suggested that such an army could threaten the other Principalities in the alliance. Others believe that the news might entice the Mongols to perform a pre-emptive strike before the Wu army can be fully formed.

               Whatever eventually happens, it is clear that Sun Tzu’s arrival will continue to arouse speculation and interest throughout Valhalla. How Sun Tzu eventually performs in battle could pave the way for new strategies and tactics, or we could be witness to the fall of greatness.